When the late, great website The Dissolve ended operations, it’s 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 (and occasionally other stuff) somewhere on the Internet.
These folks are talented and prolific, so please share the pieces we missed in the comments!
Nathan Rabin on the Sub-Cult status of Good Burger for Rotten Tomatoes:
“[A]t one point in Good Burger, Ed and Dexter are shuttled off to Demented Hills Asylum after they find out too much about Mondo Burger. This part doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, even for a live-action cartoon like Good Burger, but while lurching about in the loony bin one day, Ed literally bumps into George Clinton and leads his fellow mental patients in a “Thriller” style group dance to the funk Clinton is laying down.
If I was on the fence about Good Burger’s brightly lit, endearingly goofy nonsense before this sequence, this production number conclusively tipped me over to the film’s side. It’s not funny, necessarily, but it is genial, likable and mildly amusing throughout, and full of gags and characters that hint at a subversive intelligence being kept in check by the necessity to appeal to a mainstream family audience.”
Tasha Robinson on the YA Novel Zeroes for NPR books:
“The trend [Stan] Lee kicked off, where superheroes are as flawed and troubled as the people they protect, dovetails nicely with the rise of young-adult genre novels, which also usually focus on dramatic action running parallel to big, painful personal problems. Series like Michael Grant’sGone or Michael Carroll’s Super Human thoroughly embrace Lee’s idea that with great power comes great excitement, great misery, and great narrative hooks.
Authors Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan, and Deborah Biancotti continue the trend with their first collaborative young-adult novel, Zeroes, but they focus more on weakness and frustration than on agony. Their protagonists don’t suffer as much as other comics heroes, but they spend as much time wrangling faulty or uncontrollable abilities as they do facing larger problems. They call themselves “the Zeroes” as a self-effacing joke, but there’s real frustration behind the label.”
Scott Tobias goes to bat for Robert Zemeckis’ The Walk for NPR movies:
“The first half of The Walk gets into the origins of Petit’s philosophy and craft, as well as the support he brought with him to America, but Zemeckis can’t get through that obligatory business fast enough. Once it’s wheels-down in New York City, however, Petit (and the movie) really set to work. The second hour of The Walk has the quality of a great heist film: Petit assembles a team of trusted confidantes and motley additions, stakes out the location, plans a complex operation down to the very last bolt, and then finally sets about executing it. But for all of his meticulousness, there are still plenty of close calls and hair-raising feats of improvisation.
Petit’s self-described “coup” has been recounted before, in the fine documentary Man on Wire, but Zemeckis’ combination of digital artistry and old-school storytelling chops brings a singularly exquisite tension to the final act. It’s not often that a sequence is at once suspenseful and moving, but that’s where grunt work of establishing the stakes and paying close attention to detail pays off. The audience can feel the tension—and the possible points of vulnerability—in the wire itself, and appreciate what it means for Petit (and for America) to be held in precarious balance between the Towers, giving them a story to tell.”
Jen Chaney on the resurgent use of practical effects for the Washington Post:
“The art of the practical — physically creating special effects that are captured in-camera, as opposed to crafted in computers in post-production — has returned on the big screen in a major, blockbustery way.
Earlier this year, “Furious 7” continued its long-standing tradition of Vin Diesel daredevilry by hyping up a centerpiece scene in which five cars were legit lobbed out of an airplane. “Mad Max: Fury Road” was praised as one of the more viscerally exciting franchise reboots in recent memory, in part because so much of its desert-dust, crash-bang, flame-shooting guitar insanity was captured as it happened by director George Miller and crew. And then there’s “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation,” another tent-pole release that beat its authenticity drum by, among other things, hanging actual movie star Tom Cruise by his actual finger tips from an actual Airbus A400M as it took off from an actual runway. All of this realness prompted the Verge to declare 2015 the year of Hollywood’s practical effects comeback, a comeback that may be cemented further by upcoming releases such as Ridley Scott’s “The Martian,” which features a pivotal dust storm shot in-camera using a mix of vermiculite and black paper to double for Mars detritus, and a modestly publicized little film called “Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens.”
Keith Phipps on The Martian, Alien and Prometheus for Uproxx:
“Yet part of the beauty of Alien comes from the way science plays no favorites. The Xenomorph is a pitiless beast hardwired to reproduce at the expense of every living creature around, “a perfect organism,” in Ash’s words. But it’s also a true monster from the id, the product of the imagination of Swiss surrealist H.R. Giger, who combined images from nightmares and erotic daydreams with reckless abandon. It looks like an oozing phallus and has claws seemingly made to pluck out eyeballs. It looks, in other words, like it crawled out of hell. Yet, in the film’s final scene, it’s physics that does in what looks like a monster from realms beyond human comprehension. Ripley pushes a button and blows it out of the airlock. It dies, screaming, in the silence of space, just as any other living thing else would.
Without giving too much away, there’s a neat, if purely coincidental parallel to that airlock scene in The Martian, one that drives home how much the two films have in common — and how little they share with Prometheus, a sort-of prequel to Alien released in 2012.”
Noel Murray on Jon Schnepp’s documentary The Death of ‘Superman Lives’: What Happened? for the LA Times:
“Schnepp’s passion-project (largely crowd-funded) is an often insightful reminder of what [Kevin] Smith calls Hollywood’s “1996 mentality” when it came to superheroes. Even beyond “Superman Lives,” this is a lively, opinionated movie about how the studios stopped trusting creative people to generate blockbuster box office from men in capes.
Similar to the recent “Jodorowsky’s Dune,” about director Alejandro Jodorowsky’s attempt to adapt that Frank Herbert novel, Schnepp’s film uses original concept art and test footage to explain what [Tim] Burton and [Nicolas] Cage had in mind. The result is a compelling “what if,” which not only rebuts longstanding fan speculation that the filmmakers were going to make something embarrassingly silly, but also suggests that Warner Bros. sacrificed potential greatness.”
Charles Bramesco on the Liberty Valance reboot and the state of the Western for Forbes:
“It just so happens that The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance was one of the last classical Westerns of the genre’s heyday. In 1962, national attitudes were turning against the set of thematic values common in the Western form. The sense of righteous duty, brave American expansion, and transformation of societal chaos into codified order resonated strongly with domestic audiences in the years preceding and decades following World War II. John Ford cranked out classic after classic with his iconic star John Wayne in and around Monument Valley, and while many of his most seminal works didn’t perform that admirably at the box-office (1939′s epochal Stagecoach turned around a cool million on its half-million budget), they were rich in cultural import and lasting influence. But as America swung into the turbulent ’60s and the countercultural tide turned away from the establishment and the notion of American patriotism at large, the Western fell far out of favor. The dominant trends of subversion and challenges to authority didn’t gel with the Western moral code in the slightest, and so films in that mindset hemorrhaged money until studios abandoned the form completely. Foreign directors and indie types repurposed Western tropes into psychedelic deconstructions of the genre, the so-called ‘acid Westerns’, but for the most part, audiences have seen little of cowboys and bandits since the early ’60s.”
David Ehrlich goes long on A24 Films and “the distributor as auteur” for Slate:
“Meanwhile, A24 has already been building an ark. At a time when young people are increasingly going to the movies only for blockbuster spectacle, A24 has established itself as the film industry’s most forward-thinking company by releasing the kind of midsized, stylish, quality films that seemed on the verge of going extinct, transforming them into a collective theatrical experience, and aiming them squarely at a demographic that would rather watch movies on their phones. It’s not remarkable that A24 had set such a goal—it’s remarkable that the company is accomplishing it. By surgically inserting each release into the zeitgeist, it has paved a new road for provocative, modestly sized cinema, bridging the gap between microbudget indies and monolithic studio products in much the same way Italy’s Autostrada A24 connects Rome to Teramo. As [Harmony] Korine told Rolling Stone: “I want to do the most radical work, but put it out in the most commercial way.” A24 just took him up on it.”