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!
Sheila O’Malley on Lady Bird for Film Comment:
“Gerwig co-directed and co-wrote a number of features in her “mumblecore” beginnings before her fruitful collaboration with Noah Baumbach (Frances Ha, Mistress America). Her first solo flight as a director and writer is beautifully confident in its rhythm and mood, the script whip-sawing from humor to earnest emotion to raw pain and back.
Christine (Saoirse Ronan) is a nervy, restless high school senior, lost in the shuffle of a big Catholic school. She has re-named herself “Lady Bird” as a declaration of independence.”
Scott Tobias on Lady Bird for NPR:
“Lady Bird recalls coming-of-age films like Pretty in Pink or The Slums of Beverly Hills, in that it’s about a teenage girl growing up with fewer advantages than their peers, who don’t think twice about their limitless credit cards or the luxury cars they’re entitled to own on their 16th birthday. What separates it from its predecessors, beyond the wondrous particulars of Gerwig’s observations, is that the film is about achieving a specific form of enlightenment, when a young person finally gains insight into the lives of those closest to her.”
Sheila O’Malley on The Light of the Moon for RogerEbert.com:
” “The Light of the Moon” is refreshingly honest in its acknowledgment of the impact rape has on a couple, not just in the bedroom, but in all aspects of their lives. Matt doesn’t know what to do to help. She knows he’s trying but it just serves as a reminder of what happened to her. Suddenly he doesn’t want her working late? Suddenly he’s cooking for her? Where was all this caring before she was raped? There are a couple of truly extraordinary scenes where the couple try to have sex again, and he’s afraid of hurting her, and she wants him to do it like he used to do it, and they’re both worried the other is thinking about the rape … These scenes are so honest! The actors are so honest!”
David Ehrlich on The Light of the Moon for IndieWire:
“Regardless of where we are on the timeline, [Jessica M.] Thompson takes familiar beats and stares at them until they yield insights that have seldom been seen on screen. One scene finds Bonnie minimizing her trauma by telling a co-worker that she only got mugged. But rather than cut away, Thompson lingers as Bonnie has to repeat that falsehood over and over for all of the well-meaning people in her office, forcing us to sit with the sheer exhaustion of victimhood.”
Sheila O’Malley on Princess Cyd for RogerEbert.com:
“An extended scene about halfway through Stephen Cone‘s “Princess Cyd” is a perfect illustration of what he does so well as a director. A group of friends gather twice a month to eat, drink, and read excerpts of literature to one another. Everyone comes with something prepared. One person reads the famous final pages of James Joyce’s The Dead. An old woman reads Emily Dickinson’s poem starting with the line “There’s a certain Slant of light.” Excerpts from James Baldwin, Thoreau … In the room is a palpable space of intent group focus, the scene perfectly evoking the pleasure of the ritual for everyone involved.”
Mike D’Angelo on Princess Cyd for The A.V. Club:
“Cone attempts to walk a very thin line here between admirably low-key and maddeningly bland, mostly landing on the right side of it. He frequently lets his actors perform uninterrupted at length, shooting them from a distance and tracking in slowly; they reward the attention with intricately detailed work that makes tiny shifts in perspective feel momentous. Spence, in particular, nails the slight self-consciousness with which professional writers choose their words even in casual conversation, and makes Miranda seem flummoxed but not threatened by Cyd’s youthful impetuousness.”
Tasha Robinson on Beyond Skyline for The Verge:
“Beyond Skyline has a grave and thoughtful setup, with Mark and Trent digging up old grievances at each other, and suggesting a kind of shared suffering that neither of them knows how to acknowledge. The Laos segment pokes a little at America’s foreign policy, and the ways institutional corruption harms vulnerable people first. But even so, this isn’t a particularly serious story. It feels more like a throwback to They Live-era pulp science fiction, with ultra-modern CGI effects merging with just-short-of-camp badassery.
Put it this way: at one point in this film, a woman gives birth without taking her pants off first. (They suddenly disappear somewhere in editing.)”
Kate Erbland on A Bad Moms Christmas for IndieWire:
“While the primary joy of directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore’s original “Bad Moms” was seeing the wacky mix and mingle of stars Mila Kunis, Kirsten Bell, and Hahn unspool in increasingly deranged (and very entertaining ways), the structure of the sequel means that they’re mostly apart during their various dramas. Occasionally, they’ll be tossed back together for a short-lived adventure during which they complain about their current situations and then act out in true Bad Moms fashion. […]But the cheerless, choppy nature of “A Bad Moms Christmas” keeps each storyline feeling oddly singular, and it’s worse for it.”
Mike D’Angelo on Bad Moms Christmas for Las Vegas Weekly:
“Like the original film (which came out only 16 months ago—this is quite a rush job), Christmas was written and directed by the team of Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, who are apparently jointly convinced that there’s nothing more hilarious than people doing outrageous things in slow motion, set to a recent pop hit. In between montages, the film alternates between raunchy (including an attempt to top The 40-Year-Old Virgin by having Carla wax a stripper’s junk) and heartwarming (see: Christmas movie) with the regularity of a metronome. ’Tis the season for diminishing returns.”
Craig J. Clark/Hooded Justice on Lycan for Werewolf News:
“In the new indie Lycan, the pretext is that the six students are working on a group project where their vaguely defined assignment is to “recreate a moment of history,” and between the title and the fact that the landmark they’re looking for (on horseback, no less) is the supposed grave of the Werewolf of Talbot County (get it?), it’s reasonable to assume that whatever is stalking them is a werewolf. Then again, the opening title does specify that it’s “A FILM Based on a TRUE LEGEND,” so the chances of anybody in it actually sprouting fur and fangs before going on their co-ed killing spree land squarely between slim and none, and slim isn’t liking its chances.”
Keith Phipps on Blade of the Immortal for Uproxx:
“[Takashi] Miike’s pace has slowed a bit in recent years, which have seen him turning out an average of two films a year. That his productions have gotten more elaborate partly explains that. Clocking in at two-and-a-half hours, the new Blade of the Immortal is a sweeping story of samurai, revenge, and supernatural bloodworms (more on those in a moment) that adapts the long-running manga and anime series to live action in a film that plays partly as a stately epic, partly as an over-the-top spectacle of blood and clanging swords.”
Matt Singer on The Book of Henry for ScreenCrush:
“The following post contains SPOILERS for The Book of Henry. You’re going to think I made a lot of it up, but I promise I didn’t.
[…]What genre would you say it belongs to? The subject matter — child abuse, violent retribution — suggests a revenge picture, or maybe a bleak thriller. The fact that the whole murder scenario appears in a notebook that seems to have anticipated its readers’ every thought could come from a work of magical realism. But the dialogue, particularly the scene-ending punchline, sounds like something out of a broad comedy. It’s a strange mix of stuff, like a cookie made from a batter of butter, borscht, and falcon eggs.“
Nathan Rabin on Transformers: The Last Knight for Lukewarm Takes:
“These aren’t movies. They’re industries and the fact that nobody seems to like them somehow has not kept Transformers from becoming one of the biggest biggest franchises in film history.
[…]The Transformers movies have always been stupid and ridiculous. They’ve got a reputation for idiocy to uphold so Transformers: The Last Knight opens in the time of King Arthur and Merlin (Stanley Tucci), whose big secret is that he’s down with the Transformers, and that gives him a distinct advantage over wizards without a direct line to superhuman robot monsters from outer space.”
Sam Adams on A River Below for Slate:
“Contemporary documentaries are lousy with these sorts of action-packed flash-forwards, a way of reassuring audiences that if they’ll just stick it out through the tedious process of getting to know the movie’s characters and its setting, they’ll be rewarded with some honest-to-goodness excitement. But this isn’t a simple case of a movie opening with a teaser for itself. That piece of footage turns out to be like the picture of children on a Icelandic road that opens Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil, a piece of evidence that poses as many questions as it answers.”
David Ehrlich on A Gray State for IndieWire:
” “A Gray State” is not an uplifting documentary. It doesn’t exhume Crowley’s abbreviated life story for lessons, nor constructively target the toxic people who might have encouraged him towards his ultimate fate. On the contrary, it’s an unflinching cinematic autopsy of a guy whose life was unexamined until his death became a conspiracy — it’s a morbidly fascinating portrait of a sick man in a sick world. What’s lost in the narrowness of its scope is gained in the honesty with which it sees its subject.”
Nathan Rabin on Dan in Real Life (2007) for Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place:
“It’s a little like Bee Movie in that regard: Bee Movie was barely a movie, but as an object of kitsch and cult, it’s weirdly irresistible.
As a movie, Dan in Real Life is eminently forgettable. As a weirdly unforgettable piece of kitsch, however, it possesses what Malcolm Gladwell calls “stickiness”, that ineffable X factor that causes some silly little nonsense like Dan in Real Life to be instantly forgotten, while other nonsense, also like Dan in Real Life, are remembered and written and talked about long after more important, successful and meaningful art and entertainment are forgotten. “
Nathan Rabin on Hellbound (1994) for Cannontober:
“Here’s the deal: if you’re a Chuck Norris movie, you don’t get a fucking opening crawl. Never. Nothing you can possibly be doing would merit a fucking opening crawl. You’re movies for little boys about an emotionless dude kicking people.
[…]The Phantom Menace was arguably the most anticipated movie of all time, and it barely merited an opening crawl. Hellbound sure as shit does not. It barely merits opening credits, let alone an opening scroll. If I was involved in the making of Hellbound, I wouldn’t want to publicly advertise that fact, and I am a proud Juggalo.”
Nathan Rabin on Sidekicks (1992) for Control Nathan Rabin:
“Norris is amazing at growing facial hair and damn near Jay Leno-like in his flair for denim ensembles. He’s also good at kicking people in the head and shooting them with machine guns and/or rocket launchers, but he lacks certain qualities superior action heroes possess, things like, “magnetism”, “charisma”, “presence”, “a sense of humor” and “personality.”
[…]So what does Chuck Norris do in this ostensible Chuck Norris vehicle? Well, he plays Chuck Norris, stiffly and unconvincingly, for about ten minutes or so, then literally vanishes into thin air, like a ghost who’s really good at kicking people in the face.”
Jen Chaney on The Witches of Eastwick (1987) for Vulture:
” “None of them seem a match for Mr. Nicholson’s self-proclaimed ‘horny little devil,’” Janet Maslin wrote in a New York Times review, referring to the three female protagonists. “As battles of the sexes go, this is barely a scrimmage.” In other words, this is a movie with a trio of female leads in which a man somehow still steals focus.
That type of contradictory signaling is what makes The Witches of Eastwick such a thought-provoking movie to consider 30 years after it became a box-office hit, and especially right now, when there’s so much active, public discussion about women’s struggles to assert themselves in a society where men hold most of the power, sexual and otherwise.”
Nathan Rabin on Delta Force (1986) for Cannonvember:
“Golan and Globus loved movies but they also loved cutting corners and oftentimes that love of cutting corners usurped their genuine passion for cinema.
Every once in a while, however, Golan took the time to get it right. That seems to have been the case with Operation Thunderbolt, which obviously hit the proud Israeli close to home. That also seems to be the case with easily the best and most entertaining Cannon movie I’ve written about for this column, 1986’s Delta Force.”
Kate Erbland interviews Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady for IndieWire:
” “One of Us” follows a trio of Hasidic Jews who are each attempting to break away from New York City’s tight-knit community — while facing tremendous backlash from their former tribe.
“Something about this one is a different experience for us,” Ewing said. “Partly because our subjects live here, and there’s contact and we’re involved in their lives right now. It’s like an ongoing saga. The movie is over, but it really still feels like we’re in the middle of it.”
[…]After bowing at TIFF, this vital window into a hidebound culture is now watchable by one click on Netflix all over the world. “It’s a different experience than we’ve ever had, and this is our sixth feature film,” said Grady, who is awed by the global feedback.”
Sam Adams interviews Ruben Östlund for Slate:
“The Square is about the gap between the ideals we hold and the way we actually behave, and one of the places in life that’s most apparent is in raising children. Force Majeure is about that, too: The father knows he should stay and protect his family, but when his life is threatened, he just runs. Kids see what you do, not just what you say.
Exactly—and that is painful. That is also why I love that the boy is confronting him, you know? Like, “You’ve accused me of being a thief, you should apologize!” It’s scary when you know that the child is right and you are not. There’s something very scary about that as an adult.”
Kate Erbland on how “Hollywood’s Biggest Stars Use On-Camera Appearances to Act Inappropriately, And Now It’s Impossible to Ignore” for IndieWire:
“[Adam] Sandler, it seems, didn’t think it was a big deal, and neither did [Claire] Foy, whose own comments hit the wire swiftly after Sandler’s. Yet even if Foy herself didn’t care about what happened (or, at the very least, was willing to shake if off), the incident played out in front of millions of eyes, broadcast to the world, yet another example of a powerful man grasping at a woman as if she had the same agency as a piece of furniture. It’s bad behavior, and the kind the sets an uneasy example during a time when many people are being forced to reckon with how their behavior is perceived by others.”
Rachel Handler on how “Horror Movies Are Now, Officially, Preferable to Real Life” for Vulture:
“After the film ended, I walked out of the theater into the thick October heat and was confronted with all manner of real-world horrors: My phone bleated with news of another Harvey Weinstein victim; I had texts from my brother in Oakland letting me know that he’d found a face mask to help him breathe the ash-clogged California air; a drunk bro I had never met approached me in the street and asked me, cheerfully, for a high five. And I realized something strange and disturbing: I missed the comforting, insular world of The Blair Witch Project.”
Nathan Rabin on “The Bravery of Asia Argento” for Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place:
“The public response to Argento’s story helps explain why a lot of women are reluctant to come forward with stories about being raped. They know that they, as well as their accusers, will be judged in the public eye, and sometimes judged viciously and unfairly. Argento knew that she would be shamed viciously, maligned, insulted and misunderstood for coming forward with her complete story, and she went ahead and did so anyway. That’s courage. That’s real courage. She should be commended for her bravery, not attacked for being human.”
David Ehrlich on the “Changing Oscar Landscape” for IndieWire:
“The most relevant film isn’t always the one that wins (unless I’m overlooking the urgent social context of watching Michael Keaton run through Times Square in his tighty-whities), and yet there’s no use denying that we live in an age where what something is about is of greater importance than how it’s about it. “Dunkirk” might be a profoundly rousing testament to the power of selflessness and solidarity, but its themes may be too diffused to connect with people who feel the need to make a more literal statement; this is where “The Post” could gain valuable subscribers. It’s not alone on that front.”
Tasha Robinson, Genevieve Koski, Keith Phipps, and Scott Tobias on The Graduate and The Meyerowitz Stories for episodes 100 and 101 of The Next Picture Show podcast:
Koski: “I also have vague memories of seeing it when I was far too young to see it–probably my mom watching it whether on cable or video cassette–but I didn’t really sit down and watch it myself until graduate school, when I was basically the same age as Benjamin Braddock, and I specifically remember I watched it on my very small 12-inch television that was in my dorm room, so I didn’t take as much notice at the time of what I took a lot of notice of on this viewing, which is the style. This is an incredibly visually compelling movie, and the amount of storytelling that happens through both camerawork and editing is just something that I think you can study and appreciate and see new things every time.”
[…]Tobias: “So many of my first viewings of these classic films came on a very small screen, on VHS, or if I was lucky, Laserdisc at the University of Georgia library, and so I’m sure I’ve gained an appreciation for the visual style of it over the years. […]I think your reading of it is correct in terms of how you interpret it or what you end up focusing on at certain points of your life: if you’re a young person — a young man, in my case — Benjamin’s plight is what you’re tracking, or what you’re engaged by, and now as a middle-aged person, I’m feeling much more of a connection with Mrs. Robinson and all the things that she has to go through. It’s interesting in that respect, and of course, the irony now of a Baby Boomer worrying about how his parents have screwed up his life is a pretty ironic thing to experience in 2017.”
Robinson: “It played for me like such a retread of The Royal Tenenbaums, which is a movie we considered pairing it with, and like so many Woody Allen films. I’m just really tired of the neurotic, intellectual, talky, Jewish extended family living in New York where New York is a character, and it’s an ensemble film with a lot of really famous people, and it’s beautifully shot, but everybody’s insecure and dumps their insecurities on each other and then nobody really goes anywhere. All of this put together should not be a cliché, but it is; I feel like I’ve seen this movie so many times before.”
[…]Phipps: “This is way up there in my list of Baumbach movies and maybe my favorite since The Squid and the Whale, certainly since Frances Ha, and I’ve like them all, some more than others. […]He kind of went away for a little bit, and when he came back with The Squid and the Whale, he was a director who had found several new gears of emotional complexity, and was just able to set a mood, and to me, this film is marrying everything he learned there and subsequent films with that wit and the nonstop dialogue of Kicking and Screaming.”
Robinson: “When I first see Jack Nicholson in this movie, I see him as Jack Napier with the flesh makeup on. He’s got this rictus grin, and he just does not look human to me. He doesn’t look natural, he doesn’t look like he’s capable of producing natural facial expressions.”
Koester: “I was actually thinking a couple times of a line right in that scene, which was where the guy’s like, ‘Why do you have that stupid grin?”, and he’s like, ‘Life’s been good to me.’ It’s that same sort of explaining away anything that might seem to be a problem just in the fastest possible way.”
Robinson: “And, I mean, life has not been good to Jack Torrance, but he still looks like he’s making that ‘Yuuup’ kind of thing going on.”