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.
First, some nostalgia from Noel Murray:
Gradually cleaning up old sent email. Reached the part of 2014 when I lost my Dissolve job and resumed freelancing. Fascinating/bittersweet.
— Noel Murray (@NoelMu) October 21, 2017
That was one of the scariest moments of my professional life, but it turned out to be a boon. One never knows.
— Noel Murray (@NoelMu) October 21, 2017
— Noel Murray (@NoelMu) October 21, 2017
Tasha Robinson on Geostorm for The Verge:
“The system is commonly referred to as Dutchboy, after the fairy-tale story of a little boy who saved a Holland town by plugging a leak in a dike with his finger. Dutchboy consists of a global network of satellites surrounding the world, ready to disrupt storm systems with bombs, or employ high-energy lasers to… well, that part isn’t exactly clear. Something-something altering the conditions that let high-pressure systems form, or whatever. Point is, an international coalition of concerned countries built a giant space system that can incinerate anything on earth through a variety of means.
And yet somehow, no one ever even conceived of the idea that it might be used as a weapon.”
Matt Singer on Geostorm for ScreenCrush:
“No one pays $15 to watch Gerard Butler pretend he knows how to hack a computer. They pay for the geostorms! Where are the geostorms?
This is what is so baffling about Geostorm. Not that it’s bad; of course it’s bad. It’s the way it’s bad that makes no sense. It’s not a bad movie filled with a lot of ridiculous disaster sequences where cities are leveled and people manage to outrun tornados made of fire or tsunamis the size of skyscrapers. I mean, yes, eventually Geostorm becomes that kind of bad movie, but only in the last 20 minutes.”
Charles Bramesco on Geostorm for The Guardian:
“When writer-director Dean Devlin titled his handsomely budgeted new action tentpole Geostorm, he entered into an unspoken pact with his prospective audience. He chose a goofy, make-believe word, and in doing so, promised a goofy, make-believe movie.
[…]If Devlin had his act together where the storm is concerned, viewers might be willing to overlook such trivial matters as pat characterization, a ludicrous plot and stale dialogue. But he doesn’t earn a tenth of the goodwill it’d take to get away with a creation as absurd as Jake Lawson (Gerard Butler).”
Mike D’Angelo on Geostorm for The A.V. Club:
“Geostorm[…] features man-made weather disasters so over the top that they might as well have been devised by a comic-book supervillain, and thus requires a corresponding hero. That would be the otherwise tediously ordinary Jake Lawson (Gerard Butler), who headed the international team that designed the satellite system[…]. At the beginning of the movie, Jake gets fired from the project by his younger brother, Max (Jim Sturgess), after mouthing off to a senator. But once folks start getting roasted and popsicled, the U.S. president (Andy García) and his secretary of state (Ed Harris) task Max with persuading Jake to visit the International Space Station and see if he can figure out what’s gone wrong.
David Ehrlich on Geostorm for IndieWire:
“How do you cast Ed Harris in a movie about people controlling the weather and not have him say: “Cue the sun?”
[…]The kind of movie that’s somehow both incredibly predictable and completely incoherent, “Geostorm” unfolds in discrete blocks of nonsense. Jake is up in orbit, performing some fun “Gravity” cos-play with a German astronaut named Fassbinder (because if you can’t make great cinema, you might as well make people think of great cinema). These scenes range from useless to boring, with one truly incredible detour into intergalactic product placement (“Dutch Boy isn’t a Chromebook,” Jake tells his little brother, “you can’t just touch it and expect everything to work!”).”
but how can i live without seeing geostorm
— Kate Erbland (@katerbland) October 17, 2017
Keith Phipps on Wonderstruck for Uproxx:
” “I need you to be patient with this story and read it slowly,” begins a crucial text found by a character late in Wonderstruck, Todd Haynes’ adaptation of a 2011 YA novel by Hugo author Brian Selznick (who also scripts). It’s advice that could be applied to the film itself. Told across two timelines with, at first, no apparent connection to one another, the film demands careful attention and a willingness to surrender to its deliberate rhythms as it slowly reveals its story’s details and draws everything together in a final sequence as moving as anything you’ll see this year. But patience is necessary.“
Charles Bramesco on Boo 2! A Madea Halloween for The A.V. Club:
“The enduring hilarity of Madea’s funny-talk is chief among a handful of truths that her franchise holds as immutable: the absolute sanctity of family and religion, respect for even the most ill-tempered elders, the unfailing foolishness of white folks. The franchise can graft these notions onto any milieu or genre Perry figures he can wring a few bucks out of, from jail to witness protection to Christmas, and, only last year, Halloween. But because that film ended up as the second-highest-grossing in the Madea cycle, the sequel mandate couldn’t be avoided. So here we are again, trick-or-treating at the house that gave out raisins last time around, hoping against hope.”
Matt Singer on Thor: Ragnarok for ScreenCrush:
“His immortality and invincibility are an asset for superheroing, but they’re a major liability for his movies, because it’s almost impossible to care about a pompous god who can’t be killed. Figuring out ways to bring variation to an inherently static character has proven difficult for the Thor movies. Director Taika Waititi and the rest of the Marvel team’s smart idea with Thor: Ragnarok was to lean in to the notion that Thor laughs in the face of danger by creating a movie that’s almost non-stop jokes, and inviting the audience to laugh along with him.”
Scott Tobias on The Snowman for NPR:
“[Tomas] Alfredson’s one-size-fits-all atmospherics are woefully ill-suited to The Snowman, which attempts to class up the sort of genre material that’s far better suited to the down-and-dirty. […]It’s the rare case where the presence of top-of-the-line talent — a cast that includes Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, Charlotte Gainsbourg, and J.K. Simmons; photography by Dion Beebe, who shot Chicago and won an Oscar for Memoirs of a Geisha; and Martin Scorsese’s editor, Thelma Schoonmaker, sharing a co-credit — winds up exacerbating the problem. If there’s anything the film doesn’t need, it’s more self-importance.”
Matt Singer on The Snowman for ScreenCrush:
“Fassbender plays Harry Hole, a name that only gets funnier every time a character onscreen says it (and people say it a lot), a detective whose drinking habit destroyed his personal life. Ferguson is Katrine Bratt, a new addition to the local force who studied Harry’s whole career in the academy and considers him a legend.
[…]Despite a poster inspired by the killer’s letters that read “You could have saved her, I gave you all the clues,” there aren’t any clues in the movie, and certainly none from the snowman guy.”
Sam Adams on The Killing of a Sacred Deer for Slate:
“It’s hard to think of a young actor who’s embodied characters as diametrically opposed as the ones Barry Keoghan plays in Dunkirk and The Killing of a Sacred Deer. In the former, he’s George, a tousled teenager from a seaside town who jumps at the chance to make himself a hero. […]He makes a similarly strong first impression in The Killing of a Sacred Deer, but it takes much longer to understand how you feel about him and why. All you know at first about Martin—the young man he plays in Yorgos Lanthimos’ screw-tightening morality play—is that there’s something off about him and his friendship with a middle-aged surgeon, Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell).”
David Ehrlich on Jungle for IndieWire:
“For the second time in the last 18 months, the former “Harry Potter” star has wandered off into the wilderness, following the miraculously inventive “Swiss Army Man” with a true-life survival story about a restless Israeli kid who wound up stranded by himself in an uncharted stretch of the Amazon. And while “Jungle” glaringly lacks the flair and depth of feeling that defined Radcliffe’s previous stroll through the great outdoors, it’s somehow even more disgusting than “Swiss Army Man,” a movie in which the actor plays a corpse whose farts are so explosive that they propel his body across the surface of the ocean like a jet ski.”
Jen Chaney on Too Funny to Fail for Vulture:
“As a revisitation of the history behind the extremely short-lived Dana Carvey Show, Too Big to Fail is like a lot of documentaries. If you come in already well-versed on the subject — in other words, if you’re a comedy nerd or happened to read GQ’s oral history of The Dana Carvey Show a few years ago — you’re not going to learn anything terribly new. But if you know very little about the button-pushing ABC sketch-comedy series built around the former Saturday Night Live MVP and featuring a murderers’ row of writing and performing talent, the 90-minute film will be a revelation.”
David Ehrlich on Liberation Day for IndieWire:
“These days, it almost feels like Westerners are only allowed a look inside the world’s most secretive country if they promise to make a documentary about their trip, and “Liberation Day” — despite the zaniness of its premise — will definitely seem familiar to anyone who’s seen “A State of Mind” or “The Red Chapel” or any of the various different Vice programs in which some hapless white kid goes to gawk at Pyongyang. But this strange film has one unique advantage: In keeping with the ambiguity of the Laibach brand, Traavik explicitly acknowledges the ethical dilemma of portraying a dictatorship on its terms. And he doesn’t really care. “I’m not interested in peace,” the director bluntly declares, “I’m interested in truth.” “
Mike D’Angelo on Jane for The A.V. Club:
“Misplaced for decades, these reels, constituting some 160 hours, were rediscovered in the National Geographic archives three years ago, just sitting in a hallway. (Some alternate takes had been used in a 1965 TV special, Miss Goodall And The Wild Chimpanzees, narrated by Orson Welles. None of the footage in Jane has previously been seen.) Morgen has assembled what was clearly a jumble of random shots into something that plays—for a while, anyway—remarkably like what you’d expect from a scripted Goodall biopic, except that it “stars” the actual Jane Goodall.”
David Ehrlich on Dealt for IndieWire:
“[…]He’s completely blind. And he might not want you to know that. The fact might sound self-evident — he’s a close-up magician! — but Turner never gives anything away.
[…]Not only does the gambit deprive us the pleasure of fully appreciating what Turner has taught himself to do, it also deprives Turner the privilege of “coming out” on his own terms. In what is ultimately a movie about a blind man learning to rely on the support of his loved ones, it often feels like “Dealt” is actively pushing its subject toward the ending it wants him to have.
Fortunately, Korem is working with one hell of a subject.”
Nathan Rabin on The Boss (2016) for Lukewarm Takes:
“McCarthy has the physicality, magnetism and presence to fill a stadium. Early in the film, she does just that, putting on a show that’s part Jim Cramer, part Kiss and part Diddy, complete with a climactic cameo from T-Pain singing his hook from the DJ Khaled posse cut “All I Do Is Win.” As Darnell, McCarthy raps Ludacris’ entire verse from the song in an audacious move that quickly becomes tiresome, like so much of the rest of the film.
I probably watched the Unrated version, on account of I was genuinely offended by the film’s level of profanity, but The Boss makes a point of continually going too far in a way that’s at once admirable exhausting.”
Nathan Rabin on Leprechaun: Back 2 tha Hood (2003) for Control Nathan Rabin:
“He murders a young black man and then, for shits and giggles, answers the dead’s man’s phone, where the woman on the other end of the line peppers him with questions about himself.
She’s intrigued when he says he has a good body and red hair, but when he tells her, “I’m three foot six but I make up for it in other areas” she abruptly hangs up. Apparently it doesn’t matter how enormous his penis is: being leprechaun-sized is a deal breaker for her, which to me means that she’s racist against leprechauns, which in my book is worse than being a leprechaun who murders everyone he encounters.”
Nathan Rabin on Missing in Action (1984) for Cannontober:
“Missing in Action and Missing in Action 2: the Beginning were filmed back-to-back but when Cannon screened the movies, they discovered that the movie they had intended to kick off the series, which would eventually be released as Missing in Action 2: the Beginning, was so bad, even by Cannon and Chuck Norris standards, that if it were released first it would bomb so hard that there would be no market for a sequel.
So Cannon decided to release the intended sequel first. […]The sequel was released before the prequel, which helps explain why Missing in Action’s opening feels like the muddled third act of a fourth sequel. “
Kate Erbland interviews Kevin Feige for IndieWire:
“Feige is the last person who would ever say that any MCU film was a misfire, but he will admit to the wealth of possibilities opened up by a third film, complete with some handy resetting.
“It’s one of the great pleasures of getting to do additional stories with the same characters,” he said in an interview. “‘Thor: Ragnarok’ is a great version of that, taking what we’ve learned and improving upon it and trying something new and getting a chance to get a second or third chance is one of the great privileges of doing an ongoing series.” “
Charles Bramesco interviews Todd Haynes for Nylon:
“What’s your take on the current state of the American queer film?
I don’t really know. I think some of the political culture around queerness that I grew up with during the AIDs era galvanized an independent film culture into having an assertive role. There have been tremendous victories in the fight against HIV, in the fight for legislative freedoms for queer people in America, but that’s lightly lessened the urgency to speak out politically. To look at the status of independent film’s role today, we’re in a period of change in how media is experienced. That’s drained a lot of the resources that used to go into independent filmmaking and diverted them to the small screen and streaming options.”
David Ehrlich interviews Ai Weiwei for IndieWire:
“When Ai Weiwei was detained by China’s secret police, the dissident artist imprisoned for 81 days for his supposed crimes against the state, the men tasked with interrogating him must have faced a unique challenge: He speaks in a stage whisper, murmuring with the flatness of someone to whom the world is always revealing itself. “They said I watched too many Hollywood movies,” he remembered. His voice barely went up a tick, even when imitating his furious jailers: “’This person is out of his mind! He’s talking about human rights and freedom of speech… can’t he just grow up?’” “
Scott Tobias interviews Yorgos Lanthimos for
“Speaking from his hotel at the Toronto International Film Festival, where “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” was making its North American premiere, Lanthimos says his way of making films simply reflects his interests as a moviegoer. “It’s much more intriguing and rewarding if I watch something and I’m engaged in an active way,” he says, “and not just presented with a very specific reality and told what I must think and what I must feel. I don’t have the answers, and it allows people to have their thoughts and opinions about certain things.” “
Sheila O’Malley on Angela Lansbury for her 92nd birthday for The Sheila Variations:
“One lazy afternoon in Chicago, Mitchell and I turned on the television, and the 1992 TV movie Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris was on. We settled in to watch. There’s a scene where Mrs. ‘Arris (Angela Lansbury) sits on a park bench and breaks down into tears. There are so many great moments in her career, but that one stands out as one of the most heart-wrenching.
Mitchell and I watched the scene in silence, and then glanced at each other when it was done, and saw we both were sobbing. The movie went on, but Mitchell sobbed next to me, “I’m trying to get past it … but I just can’t …” I sobbed, “I can’t either.” “
David Ehrlich asks Kate Erbland, Charles Bramesco, and other critics, “In the Aftermath of Harvey Weinstein, Can We Separate the Art from the Artist?” for IndieWire:
“Kate Erbland (@katerbland), IndieWire
[…]Harvey didn’t make these films, even if he produced them or distributed them or, as so many people know he loves to do, edited them in his own shape, and there’s a tremendous amount of work that went on far beyond his reach. But they do feel tainted now, and likely always will.
How do we watch? With an eye to the good people and talented artists who helped make them, and with a tremendous amount of care and respect when they involve women who have spoken out against Weinstein, who have voiced their own allegations.
Charles Bramesco (@intothecrevasse), Freelance for The Guardian, Vulture, Nylon
[…]We factor background into our reviews because it enriches our understanding and appreciation of a film; “Crimes and Misdemeanors” takes on some sickly new hues when you realize who it is that’s telling this story of a man forgiving himself for a great wrongdoing. But the background of a film impacts me most strongly in my real-world engagement with it.”
Sheila O’Malley on Rita Hayworth’s dancing for The Sheila Variations:
“Watch her moves. This was a woman who started dancing, every day, all day, before she learned to read. Along with her phenomenal gift as a dancer, she was also a hell of a dramatic actress. But her “way in” to Hollywood was as a dancer. Late in his life, Fred Astaire admitted, reluctantly (probably not wanting to piss off Ginger Rogers), that Rita Hayworth was his favorite dance partner.
[…]Despite her technical brilliance, there was a certain beautiful mess in her style. It made her such an exciting performer.”
Sheila O’Malley remembers Montgomery Clift on his birthday for The Sheila Variations:
” “I watched myself in Red River and I knew I was going to be famous, so I decided I would get drunk anonymously one last time.” – Birthday boy Montgomery Clift
He was right.
He is one of my favorite actors.”
Sam Adams on “Val Kilmer’s Hacked-Up, Redubbed Role in The Snowman” for Slate:
“Kilmer’s Gert Rafto sits silent as a man tells him about his missing wife, and when it’s his turn to speak, the film cuts abruptly to a shot from behind Kilmer’s head so he’s only visible as a silhouette. His shoulders jerk as he talks, like a puppet being operated by an unseen hand. It’s only subtly disorienting at first, but then you realize that the voice that’s purportedly coming out of Kilmer’s mouth doesn’t sound like him at all, and when the film finally cuts to his face on his third (of three total) lines, it’s clear Kilmer’s lines have been redubbed by another actor.”
Tasha Robinson, Genevieve Koski, Scott Tobias, and Keith Phipps on Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049 for episodes 98 and 99 of The Next Picture Show podcast:
Koski: “I watched the theatrical version for the first time in preparation for this, just because it seemed like something I should do. And while we’re confessing semi-shameful opinions, I don’t think that the voiceover in the original is good–I mean, it’s famously a terrible voiceover, and Ford, you can hear his reluctance in every single syllable–but I kind of like the idea of the voiceover, and I can imagine a world in which that voiceover is delivered in a different way, where it really works. […]The happy ending is trash, and I’m glad it’s gone.”
[…]Robinson: “I think that the movie cues you in that the owl isn’t real because it keeps catching those reflections of its pupils, which are exactly the same as what you get from the replicants. The thing I never understood about the Voight-Kampff test is, why do you need these abstract questions when you could just look at their weird glowing eyes and see that they’re artificial? I mean, it’s a great effect, it’s unnerving and eerie every time it comes up, but every time it comes up, I think, ‘Why did you need all these questions?'”
Tobias: “My reaction to the film, if I’m being completely honest, was that I was bored out of my mind. […]But, I also feel like that is the reaction that a lot of people had to Blade Runner, in that I’ve come around to seeing the merits of the original Blade Runner. And so, that is central to my mistrust in my own reaction, on top of which there are obviously wonderful things about Blade Runner 2049 that, my level of engagement aside, you have to appreciate. I mean, it’s freaking beautiful, this movie.”
[…]Phipps: “I’m not really shy about my affection for the first Blade Runner, and this one kind of had–this is going to sound worse than I really mean it, but it kind of had a Matrix Reloaded feel to me, where the first one is visually amazing and raises the interesting philosophical questions, and to stay compelling, the sequel has to come up with these strange, twisty variations on those philosophical questions that are probably less interesting than the questions raised in the first one. I don’t know, though, I think a second viewing might change that, but there’s things that stuck with me that really bugged me about it.”