When the late, great website The Dissolve ended operations, its commenting community had The Solute to call home, but the staff and writers of The Dissolve have been scattered to the winds of the Internet. With Dissolve On, we collect some of the essential film writing being done by these essential film writers. Because there’s always a Dissolver writing something notable about the movies somewhere on the Internet.
These folks are talented and prolific, so if we missed a piece, share it with us in the comments!
Tasha Robinson on Annihilation for The Verge:
“Annihilation is a portentous movie, and a cerebral one. It’s gorgeous and immersive, but distancing. It’s exciting more in its sheer ambition and its distinctiveness than in its actual action. And by giving away so many details about the ending up front, writer-director Alex Garland (Ex Machina) seems to be emphasizing that Annihilation isn’t about who-will-live dynamics, or the fast mechanics of action scenes. It’s about the slow, subdued journey Lena and the others take into the unknown, and how it affects them emotionally.
Garland’s film owes a lot more to an older movie, though: Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 Russian masterpiece Stalker, also about a group of people who set out on an expedition toward the center of an alien region, where their internal struggles manifest as part of a grand metaphor about the human condition. Like Annihilation, Stalker is a heady, cerebral movie about the baggage people carry, and how it might manifest in a surreal setting that reflects people’s interior lives in unpredictable ways.”
Scott Tobias on The Housemaid for Variety:
“Perched in the brilliant green lushness of Vietnam during the First Indochinese War, an old plantation estate becomes a locus point for the collision of history, supernatural horror and mild eroticism in Derek Nguyen’s “The Housemaid,” a hearty but over-seasoned bowl of genre pho. Not to be confused with the 1960 Korean classic of the same name (or its 2010 remake), the film courts exploitation in summoning the real ghosts of Vietnam’s colonial past for gothic shocks, all while teasing out a glossy wartime romance. The sheer busyness of the conceit is both asset and liability, whipping up a tonally calamitous mélange that’s nonetheless compelling for its absence of caution. Though the movie opened in its home country two years ago, an IFC Midnight release in the States stands to revivify it for niche audiences, especially on streaming platforms.”
Sam Adams on Game Night for Slate:
“There’s a morbid undercurrent to Game Night, which was directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, the duo behind the Vacation remake, and written by Mark Perez. But the movie’s not interested in exploring the dark side of gamification or what happens when life becomes a contest to be won. (There’s a running gag about rich people staging actual fight clubs for their own amusement, but it’s a goof, not a Purge-style critique.) The movie’s establishing shots make the real world look like a model-railroad diorama, but up close, the movie’s performers—including Catastrophe’s Sharon Horgan, who turns up as Magnussen’s improbably smart and non-twentysomething date—are too ingratiating to work as satirical stand-ins. That’s especially true of (Rachel) McAdams, whose Annie starts to glow when the adrenaline of taking her competitive skills outside of their living room kicks in.”
Keith Phipps on the new Criterion edition of Night of the Living Dead for Uproxx:
“As The Walking Dead lumbers on (and on and on) fans can be forgiven a bit of zombie fatigue. The cure for that: revisit George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead in this new edition that features a stunning restoration overseen by Romero shortly before his death. The film has circulated in tattered prints for so long it’s shocking to see how eerily artful it all is, and how breathakingly unsettling this first glimpse at the modern zombie remains. This new edition fills supplements the film with everything from a workprint cut with a different title (Night of Anubis) and a look at Romero’s early days making commercials in Pittsburgh. It’s touching to see a passionate filmmaker’s signature film finally get the respectful treatment it deserves.”
Nathan Rabin on Blankman for Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place:
“Damon Wayans has a nostalgic appeal to members of my generation due to his breakout role in In Living Color and then in a series of kiddie favorites he made in the twelve years between when 1991’s The Last Boy Scout launched his career as a cinematic leading man in a big way and 2003’s Marci X confirmed, yet again, that Wayans was a cable and Blockbuster rental favorite but not a bankable movie star.
Wayans’ track record, film-wise, was actually a whole lot more impressive before In Living Color catapulted him to stardom. In the eighties, he appeared in small roles in a string of hits and cult classics, including Beverly Hills Cop, Hollywood Shuffle, Roxanne, Colors, Earth Girls Are Easy, Punchline and I’m Gonna Get You Sucka. One of the major reasons those movies were successful is because they were not Damon Wayans vehicles. It also helps that Wayans did not write or co-write those films either. As a film actor, Wayans frequently went broad and one note in a way better suited to sketch comedy than film.”
Matt Singer on Iron Man, kicking off his film-by-film review of the MCU, for Screencrush:
“Looking back, it’s impressive how much of the Marvel formula was set down right from the very beginning. There’s a villain who represents a darker, twisted version of the hero’s ideas and values, feisty banter between the hero and the female lead (Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts), animated closing credits, a Stan Lee cameo, and, of course, a post-credits scene that teases future adventures.
Even if we give Marvel credit for having the foresight to see where they would be in 2018 back in 2008, it seems very clear in hindsight that this whole boondoggle could have collapsed immediately with a few different creative choices. It is sort of astonishing how little plot Iron Man has. It’s basically a character study with a lot of cool special effects (and they are cool; 10 years later, the original Iron Man suit still looks very good.) Until the final 20 minutes, this movie doesn’t even have a villain. A large portion of Iron Man is just watching a dude tinker in his basement.”
Sheila O’Malley on Love Me Or Leave Me for Film Comment:
“Love Me or Leave Me has slipped through the cracks of serious critical consideration, despite its box office success, multiple Oscar nominations, and the draw of two gigantic stars like Doris Day and James Cagney. Even at the time, contemporary reviewers damned with faint praise. Bosley Crowther wrote in his New York Times review: “To say that the Metro production, in color and Cinema-Scope, is expensive and atmospheric of the era of night clubs and booze is simply acknowledging the dependable, and to say that Charles Vidor’s directing is perceptive of the values in the story is to note what’s expected of him.” Being “perceptive of the values in the story” is nothing to be sneezed at, however, and “dependable” directors do a lot of terrific work. Love Me or Leave Me doesn’t fit into an auteur theory bucket since Vidor, mostly remembered for turning Rita Hayworth into a supernova with Gilda—didn’t “mark” his films with a particular stamp. He wasn’t prolific, but his career included screwball comedies, horror films, crime stories, and musicals, and films as diverse as Ladies in Retirement, Cover Girl, Gilda, Farewell to Arms, and Love Me or Leave Me. Doing what was “expected of him” yielded wonderful results.”
Kate Erbland on Amma Asante and mentoring emerging female filmmakers for Indiewire:
“It’s a very comfortable feeling for me to have other women around me,” Asante said. “I’ve been very lucky with my crews and I’ve always had a majority of crew – I will say a majority, at least 95%– who have always been extremely respectful of women and who have always really seen women as equals. I’ve always found when you have had that odd one out who has had an issue or a problem, they’ve really stood out because they just haven’t fit in with the rest of the team.”
Even from her vantage point, Asante is loath to cast herself as someone who has it all figured out. For her, the mentoring process is part of the creative process. It’s an exchange.
“I’ve always kept my mentoring relatively informal in the sense that I have maybe five or six women at the moment who know that they can always come to me if they’ve got questions,” Asante said, “I’ve found it a really kind of two-way rewarding experience.”
Charles Bramesco on Liv Ullmann and her work with Ingmar Bergman for Vulture:
““Muse” is a limiting term, even offensive to some, positioning women in an subject-object relationship to the male artists they inspire. But it’s one of the best ways to describe what Liv Ullmann meant to Ingmar Bergman, the greatest filmmaker Sweden ever produced and Ullmann’s longtime partner both professionally and personally. She starred, to rapturous acclaim, in his films throughout the ’60s and ’70s; their occasionally tempestuous but profoundly intimate bond (which included a discreet romance while they were both otherwise involved, and a daughter born out of wedlock) provided Bergman with an emotional crucible, inflicting pain and making him confront his own flaws as frequently as it lifted him up
CB: While rewatching Bergman’s work, I’ve wondered about your relationship to films from your own past. Do you revisit them at all? Is that experience comforting or unsettling?
LH: No, no, I really do not. I’ve made a lot of movies with Ingmar, I’ve directed some from his scripts, but I do not watch them. You do a movie or a play, it’s tremendously important at the time, and then you go on. It’s part of life. For me, what’s special with Ingmar — first of all, he’s an incredible director. But that doesn’t mean I want to watch his movies again and again. I don’t understand actors that do that. I was once with a very famous actor in Hollywood at a dinner he had thrown, and afterward, he put his movies on the TV for the rest of the guests to watch! I don’t want to be that actor, not even at my age.”
David Ehrlich on 9 movies that distributors should buy from the Berlin Film Festival for Indiewire:
“Transit – An inscrutable film that unfolds like a remake of “Casablanca” as written by Franz Kafka and set in 2018, Christian Petzold’s follow-up to “Phoenix” tells a story that’s unstuck in time. Boldly adapted from Anna Seghers’ 1944 novel of the same name, “Transit” takes an existential romance about a man (Franz Rogowski) who’s trying escape from Nazi-occupied Europe via Marseille, and transplants it into the present day — sort of. While the film was clearly shot on the streets of modern France (the roads hum with electric cars, and the cinematography isn’t aged in any way), digital technology is also nonexistent, and the bureaucracy our hero encounters is decidedly old-fashioned. As our desperate hero assumes the identity of a dead writer and begins an oblique flirtation with the late author’s wife (Paula Beer), Petzold’s beguiling new feature loses itself somewhere between reality and allegory, blurring the two together in order to create something that belongs to both and neither.”
Genevieve Koski in conversation on Phantom Thread‘s Best Picture chances for Vox:
“…I love fashion-industry stories, which are rarely attempted at the difficulty level Anderson is working at here. And even though I was a little disappointed that fashion design was more embellishment than underpinning with this movie, I did appreciate the acknowledgment of the physical labor that goes into couture, from the close-ups of calloused fingertips to the — too brief, in my opinion — glimpses we get of the Woodcock atelier. (If you’re intrigued by the atelier and want more insight into that system, allow me to suggest the 2015 documentary Dior and I, which is streaming on Netflix.
…what makes Phantom Thread so sticky is that what it’s really about is not there on the surface; it’s tucked away in the seams and lining of this rigorously designed and structured film — its phantom threads, so to speak. (Don’t worry, I am groaning at me on your behalf.)”
Noel Murray on why the Best Picture race is a “crapshoot” for The Week:
“This year, of the nine Best Picture nominees, there are four that would fit into what could be called the “traditional” Academy Awards mold. Darkest Hour and Dunkirk are stylish, large-scale movies about war and sacrifice; Phantom Thread is a handsome, well-acted period-piece; and The Post is a star-studded, politically relevant dramatization of an important moment in American media history. And yet none of these are considered favorites to win the Oscars’ big prize.
Neither does there seem to be much hope for Call Me by Your Name, Get Out, or Lady Bird, each of which falls into the old “honor just to be nominated” slot. They’re critics’ darlings (and in the case of Get Out and Lady Bird, big box office hits) that may score in one of the less-prestigious Oscar categories. If any of these three won Best Picture, it’d be a Moonlight-level upset.
But here’s what’s strange about this awards season: Taking into account what is now nine full decades of Oscar history, in most races this year’s two frontrunners would’ve likely been underdogs too.”