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 where we missed a piece, share it with us in the comments!
Scott Tobias on The Last Movie Star for NPR:
“All that pathos — and then some — trails [star Burt] Reynolds like a phalanx of Southern lawmen in The Last Movie Star, which casts him as a version of himself, a lonely and cantankerous old man whose public image has all but faded to black. As Vic Edwards, the “Box Office King of 1975,” Reynolds tacitly acknowledges the mistakes that led him to this humble place in his life and the writer-director, Adam Rifkin, seems intent on humbling him further. The entire film is about Vic accepting a lifetime achievement award from the International Nashville Film Festival — not to be confused with the actual Nashville Film Festival, which is a jewel on the small-city circuit — but paying the price for his stubborn vanity. At times, it feels less like self-deprecation than elder abuse.”
Sam Adams on Unsane for Slate:
“Unsane’s aim is to make you feel crazy, too. [Director Steven] Soderbergh shot the movie on an iPhone 7 Plus, two generations past the 5S that Sean Baker used for Tangerine, but where Baker used the phone’s mobility to harness the edgy vibrancy of street photography, Soderbergh exploits its higher resolution to let it stay put, getting so close to [actress Claire] Foy’s face you can almost see her pores sweat. Fisheye lenses make the walls close in around her, and when the camera does move it’s sometimes attached to her body, careening around the psych ward like it’s looking for a place to dry heave. Credited as Peter Andrews, Soderbergh has served as his own cinematographer for years, and often his own camera operator as well, and on a project like [Cinemax’s] The Knick you could feel the intimacy and fluidity that came from practically serving as a one-person camera crew.”
Mike D’Angelo on Outside In for AV Club:
“[The plot has] a potentially disturbing love triangle, and Outside In (which [director Lynn] Shelton and [actor Jay] Duplass co-wrote) doesn’t shy away from its complexities. Carol [played by Edie Falco], in particular, is acutely aware of Chris’ [played by Duplass] emotional vulnerability and makes a token effort to discourage his romantic attentions, but his passion stirs something in her, blurring the boundary she keeps trying to set. As an actor, Duplass is a bit of a liability here—he’d remained almost entirely behind the camera prior to Transparent, letting Mark do the performing, and that was a sensible arrangement. Chris could have used more of Mark’s nervous energy; Jay somehow never seems more carefully guarded than when he’s striving to appear open and vulnerable. Falco, however, digs deep into a rare big-screen showcase (her last great movie role was in John Sayles’ Sunshine State, way back in 2002), exploring the giddy anxiety of a woman whose charitable hobby now threatens to upend her entire life. It’s a rich, vanity-free performance, providing a much-needed sense of genuine danger.”
Nathan Rabin on Best Worst Movie, in the return of Sub-Cult, for Rotten Tomatoes:
“Two decades after Troll 2 was unleashed upon the public, [Michael Paul] Stephenson parlayed his relatively brief acting career into a directing gig on 2009’s Best Worst Movie, an unexpectedly tender and moving documentary about the curious life and afterlife of Troll 2. Just as the relationship between Sestero and his oddball director forms the heart of The Disaster Artist, Stephenson’s relationship with his inscrutable, oddball director — as well as with George Hardy, the actor/dentist/All-American goober who played his dad — forms the heart of Best Worst Movie.
While [Troll 2 director Claudio] Fragasso is revealed to be a brooding, dark cloud, Hardy is all sunlight. The latter is everyone’s corny dad, an irrepressible Alabama dentist, beloved in his community, who could not be more quintessentially American, in no small part because he dreamed of being an actor and making it in show business despite having no discernible talent in the field. He is, by every account, a great guy, but also a terrible actor whose moment of glory as a thespian doubled as a moment of profound shame and embarrassment — or at least it would have, if guys like Hardy were capable of embarrassment.”
Matt Singer on Avengers: Age of Ultron, in his History of the MCU series, for Screencrush:
“Age of Ultron is not as good as The Avengers; it’s messy and busy and it’s got too much going on (so good luck with being even bigger and longer with way more characters, Avengers: Infinity War!). I still like it though, and I love the ending where the Avengers save Sokovia, not just because it’s an impressively mounted superhero action sequence, but because it is a forceful argument in favor of selfless heroism. Cap’s pep talk to the Avengers before the final battle includes the line “Ultron thinks we’re monsters. This isn’t just about beating him. This is about whether he’s right.” The sequence that follows resolves that question.
The climax isn’t just the Avengers smashing a bunch of robots (although if that’s what you want, there is plenty of that too.) There are way more beats where the Avengers rescue innocent people who have been trapped by Ultron’s plan to lift Sokovia into the atmosphere and then drop it back down to the surface, killing millions or even billions of people. Even with the stakes that high, the Avengers (and particularly Captain America) keep fighting to save each and every resident of Sokovia, including the aforementioned sequence where Hawkeye leaves a transport off the floating city to protect a single kid.
These moments reinforce the idea that true heroism has nothing to do with magic hammers or suits of armor; it’s about sacrifice, determination, and helping others.”
Sheila O’Malley on Sucker Punch and Gold Diggers of 1933 for Oscilloscope Musings:
“Halfway through my first viewing of Zach Snyder’s Sucker Punch—as I tried to disengage from the negative criticism floating around the film, as I admitted I was not only getting sucked in, I was actually moved by all of it—a confused thought drifted into my head: “Am I crazy, or is this a little bit like Gold Diggers of 1933?” (That’s a rhetorical question, although I can already hear the response.) The thought was so ludicrous it felt like a hallucination, not to mention a sacrilege, but it kept nagging at me. Maybe 15, 20 minutes after that, there’s a scene where the evil pimp-orderly Blue Jones (Oscar Isaac) comes into the rebellious girls’ ratty dressing room to read them the riot act. On the wall is a collage of old movie posters, and I got a brief flash of the words “GOLD DIGGERS” behind his head. I paused the film, and squinted at the screen.
The posters I could make out were:
— Night and Day, the 1946 biopic about Cole Porter, starring Cary Grant.
—Blues in the Night, the 1941 film about a guy putting together a jazz band.
— My Dream is Yours, the 1949 musical where Doris Day replaces a singer in his popular radio show.
— Thank Your Lucky Stars, the 1943 film about a wartime charity show, starring Eddie Cantor as himself.
Most notably, though, there was not one, not two, but three posters for various “Gold Diggers” films. (There had been many in the “franchise”: The Gold Diggers (1923), Gold Diggers of Broadway (1929), Gold Diggers of 1933/1935/37—released in each respective year, and Gold Diggers in Paris (1938).) The three overlapping posters created bristling antlers out of the word “Gold Diggers” flar-ing out around Oscar Isaac’s head. These posters were obviously deliberate choices.”
Tasha Robinson on Anders Walter and his movie adaptation of the graphic novel I Kill Giants for Verge:
“TR: Who is I Kill Giants for, ultimately? Do you mean for it to be accessible for kids, or families?
AW: I don’t know! Obviously I’ve been in meetings for three years trying to finance this, and sometimes I found myself lying about it, just to try to get the money out of people. [Laughs] It is a weird hybrid. I always ask people this question, and people have very different answers. Obviously, as a storyteller, I think it’s for everyone. Why not? People make distinctions between grown-ups’ films and kids’ films, but I think the emotional impact is so universal, it’s for everyone. But you can’t say that! You’re supposed to pick one thing.
TR: The film version closely respects the graphic novel, even in places where it becomes pretty unconventional for a film story.
AW: It was obviously a difficult thing. Barbara is quite a character, and you can see how some people trying to finance this wanted to do certain things with the way she was acting out, and make it more sweet. But I was lucky with having producers who really understood that either you do it and stay truthful to the graphic novel — because that’s the charm of the story — or you do something entirely different and you fuck it up.”
Kate Erbland on Cameron Diaz, her retirement announcement and her contributions to women in Comedy for Indiewire:
“Consider it official: Cameron Diaz is, in her own words, “actually retired.” The actress’ “Sweetest Thing” co-star Selma Blair made waves earlier this month when she tweeted that her pal had retired from the acting business, a note she later retracted, only for it to be confirmed by Diaz when the actresses (alongside fellow “Sweetest Thing” star Christina Applegate) reunited to chat about their raunchy 2002 feature. Diaz out.
Diaz had plenty of time to shine in two decades on the big screen, but it’s her comedic contributions that deserve the most attention. What made Diaz exceptional was her generosity as a performer — not just to the material, but to her fellow actors, especially when they were other women. Diaz’s two best-known roles, comedic or otherwise, will always be “The Mask” (her first movie, somehow) and “There’s Something About Mary,” but her resume is filled with other features that showed off her desire to not just be funny, but to be funny alongside other funny women. (Although nothing will ever top her work in “Mary” — the pinnacle of on-screen giving, all for a great joke.)”
Keith Phipps on the March Home Video releases worth your while for Uproxx:
“The ‘Burbs (Shout! Factory)
It’s been a good year for fans of director Joe Dante. No, a new movie doesn’t seem imminent, but his older films have continued to enjoy a second life via Blu-ray. January saw a nice new edition of Matinee and it’s now followed by The ‘Burbs, a hit comedy from 1989 starring Tom Hanks as a nosy suburbanite who grows suspicious of his creepy-seeming new neighbors. It’s not one of Dante’s best, trying too hard for laughs and struggling to stretch a thin story out to feature length while wasting Carrie Fisher in a thankless role. But it features some inspired casting, with Bruce Dern joining Dante’s usual ensemble, and it’s fascinating to look at it as part of an end of an era for Hanks, who spent much of the ‘80s headlining broad mainstream comedies but who’d started to stretch out by decade’s end thanks to films like Big. With this and, later that year, Turner & Hooch he mostly said goodbye to such roles to find what else was out there for him. This wasn’t a bad way to end the decade, even if better roles awaited him in the next one.”
Charles Bramesco on the Akira Kurosawa references in Isle of Dogs for Vulture:
“[Wes] Anderson hasn’t minced words about the inspiration for his latest effort Isle of Dogs, a stop-motion fantasy set in a futuristic Japan where a canine epidemic has gotten all pooches exiled to an island made of garbage. During the press conference following the film’s world premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival in February, Anderson name-checked two pop-cultural precedents. The first was the Rankin-Bass stop-motion specials, the herky-jerky holiday gems featuring your old pals Santa, Rudolph, and the Miser Brothers. The other was Akira Kurosawa, the single greatest filmmaker that Asia has ever produced. (Sorry, Ozu fans, but the truth hurts sometimes.)
Anderson remained mum back in Berlin when questioned as to how, exactly, Kurosawa’s work figures into Isle of Dogs. But even on the first watch, a viewer is smacked right in the face with a panoramic visual grandeur that could only belong to the painterly master of yore — just rendered on an itsy-bitsy scale. Some of the references are more Easter egg-ish and some have been integrated into the general fabric of the film, but either way, Kurosawa’s all over the place. For the benefit of the casual viewing public, Vulture has made five selections from his extensive filmography that most closely inform Isle of Dogs, as a pre- or post-viewing companion to this worthy homage.”
Noel Murray on the recent wave of projects looking back on the legacy of Fred Rogers for The Week:
“So why is the adult world so enamored right now with Mister Rogers?
Partly it’s nostalgia. When I saw [documentary] Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, I sat next to a good friend who later described the experience as like stepping into a time machine. Just seeing the old 1970s PBS logo alone was enough to send him whooshing back to childhood, with all its attendant comforts and anxieties.
I’ve long felt that our compulsion to revisit the shows, movies, and music we grow up with isn’t just about some vague belief that “those were the good ol’ days.” There’s an investigative impulse behind our looking back. Our memories of our own pasts are so hazy sometimes. Revisiting bygone popular culture can help solidify images and notions that we’ve half-forgotten, or that we were maybe too preoccupied to notice the first time we encountered them. In the case of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, what stands out most is the overall calmness and clarity.”
David Ehrlich on his sit-down with Anders Walter (interviewed by Tasha above) after he panned a festival screening of I Kill Giants for Indiewire:
“Walter flicked on his phone as soon as the wheels touched down at [Toronto airport] YYZ [site of the first press screening for I Kill Giants at TIFF], eager to see the critical response he knew was waiting for him. Four decades of aspiration distilled into four years of struggle. Four years of struggle distilled into 106 minutes of drama. 106 minutes of drama distilled to 140 characters of opinion. And the very first one he saw was a tweet that read: “I HATED this.”
That tweet was from me.
Walter was waiting at a table when I arrived. It wasn’t awkward. He had more to gain from our meeting than I did, but this was the rare festival encounter that didn’t feel inherently transactional; we were just two people sharing a civilized moment in the eye of a massive storm.
Since our meeting was spurred because I “HATED” his movie, it’s not like some early morning charm offensive could wipe the slate clean. Besides, I was only keen to meet with him because we both effectively wanted the same thing: To better understand why I HATED his film. Walter seemed much less interested in changing my mind than he was in wrapping his own head around it. There’s a vast distance between making a movie and seeing a movie; it was in that gap that our conversation took place.”