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!
Dissolve On returns, and just in time for some Tribeca 2017 coverage! Not quite in time, unfortunately, for Season 1 of Rachel Handler’s weekly column and podcast Lady Problems, which “looks at how the entertainment industry — and its corresponding culture and constituents — is treating women in a given week. (Hint: It will almost always be “poorly.”)” The first season ended just last month and can be found on MTV News, and the podcast can be downloaded off Podbay.
Kate Erbland on The Departure (Tribeca 2017) for IndieWire:
“Emmy-winning filmmaker Lana Wilson knows a thing or two about illuminating embattled professions through the movies, as her 2013 breakout “After Tiller” (which she co-directed with Martha Shane) brought a keen, careful eye to the work of a small group of abortion doctors. The documentarian brings similar consideration her follow-up feature, the immensely moving “The Departure.”
Much like “After Tiller,” Wilson’s latest film dives into the intricacies of a mostly misunderstood line of work, following Buddhist priest Ittetsu Nemoto, a former punk musician who has dedicated his middle-aged years to helping people end their lives.
It’s understandable that Nemoto’s commitment would cause problems in his own life, but Wilson slowly eases her audience in to Nemoto’s own struggles. For the film’s first act, Nemoto moves through a remarkable everyday routine that is always in danger of being interrupted by a single text that reads “I want to die” (that happens) or delicately handling a sobbing man in a nondescript noodle restaurant (that too). He’s inundated with their pain and their questions — the texts, calls, voicemails, emails, in person meetings never seem to end — and while he manages to remain calm and straight-faced throughout his interactions, the price is high.”
David Ehrlich on Super Dark Times (Tribeca 2017) for Indiewire:
“The ominous prologue of Kevin Phillips’ “Super Dark Times” arrives like a shiver, and that chill lingers until the bitter end, continuing to sink into your skin even as the rest of the film begins to melt into the atmosphere. A slow-burn high school thriller that’s like a tortured cross between “Stand By Me” and “Donnie Darko” (with a bit of Dostoyevskian madness thrown in there for good measure, Phillips’ feature-length debut begins by welcoming us to a grey Hudson Valley town that’s lost in the barren phantom zone between fall and winter.
[…]Regardless, Phillips’ film transcends the limits of its narrow-minded nostalgia because it doesn’t revisit some lost idyll so much as it corrupts one. “Super Dark Times” might technically be called a coming-of-age story, but it’s less interested in growing up than it is in holding on — life is about to get way too real for these kids, and some of them are going to survive that transition better than others.”
David Ehrlich on Gilbert (Tribeca 2017) for IndieWire:
“You probably recognize Gilbert Gottfried’s name (after all, he’s the most famous Gilbert who’s ever lived), and you definitely recognize his voice, but other than his career-defining performance as Iago in “Aladdin,” how much of his work can you remember off the top of your head?
Mileage will vary, of course, but even Gottfried devotees could agree that the guy’s persona has outsized his resumé. That’s not to knock his stand-up comedy or his appearances in the likes of “Beverly Hills Cop II” and “Saved By the Bell: Wedding in Las Vegas,” but rather to say that he’s become an ambient part of our culture, less of a celebrity than the human embodiment of a modern court jester. He’s not a man, but a squint and an aggressive whine; he’s the joke you shouldn’t tell in public, the furniture at a Friar’s Club roast.
The last thing the world needs right now is another portrait about the fraternity of comedians and their hardscrabble existence as America’s schlubbiest road warriors (“Funny People” cast a much longer shadow than most people care to admit), but “Gilbert” rises above the glut thanks to the strength of its subject. Intimately directed by Neil Berkeley (“Harmontown”), this sweet and sensitive film delves inside the inner life of a man who has seldom been accused of having one, offering entertaining — if scattershot — proof that even the most abrasive people should never be defined by their surfaces (note: does not apply to politicians).”
Jen Chaney on Oprah Winfrey in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks for Vulture:
“Oprah Winfrey is a very good actress. This is not news.
We have known this since she earned an Academy Award nomination for playing the strong-willed Sophia in The Color Purple and have been reminded again over the years via her turns in Beloved, Selma, The Butler, and the OWN series Greenleaf. But in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, the HBO film based on Rebecca Skloot’s best-selling nonfiction book, Winfrey delivers a performance that’s on another level. It can be challenging, even when she’s convincing in a film or on a series, to forget that we’re watching Oprah. But as Deborah Lacks, the daughter of a woman whose endlessly generating cell lines allowed for major advancements in biomedicine, she consistently does it. Oprah Winfrey completely disappears.
[…]And then there are the personal implications of the role. Winfrey’s playing a woman from Baltimore, the city where her media career was born. (It’s a nice touch that Deborah visits with Rebecca at Celie’s Waterfront Inn, a hotel in the Fells Point section of Baltimore that shares a name with the main character in The Color Purple.) She’s playing a woman who dealt with trauma and abuse while growing up, as did Winfrey. And she’s playing a daughter whose primary goal is to shine a light on what an African-American woman’s contributions meant to society, which certainly aligns with a lot of Winfrey’s goals as an artist and media figure. (She’s also one of the producers on The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.) Her performance isn’t about her or these experiences, but reflecting on all this after watching the movie makes her portrayal of Deborah that much more powerful.”
Scott Tobias on Jeremiah Tower for NPR:
“In this, the age of the celebrity chef, documentaries have become a form of canonization, even though not all chefs (or food-doc profiles) are on equal footing.
The middling documentary Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent makes the case for the reclusive and irascible chef as the chief innovator of California cuisine, a distinctly American answer to the sophistication and depth of its European counterparts. Introduced walking alone through Mexican ruins as his self-parodic philosophical musings are piped onto the soundtrack — think Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story for food — Tower is presented as a mystery the film seeks to solve, though the answers are firmly baked into the proverbial pie. Director Lydia Tenaglia just heats and serves.”
David Ehrlich’s profile on Terence Davies and for IndieWire:
“It’s hard to believe that Davies’ “A Quiet Passion” is the first movie ever made about Emily Dickinson — hard because she’s a literary icon and arguably the greatest of all American poets, and hard because the last eight months alone have brought us a biopic about the founder of McDonald’s, a biopic about a guy who used Google Earth, and a biopic about some rich lady who couldn’t sing very well. On the other hand, it’s easy to understand why filmmakers and financiers alike haven’t raced to tell Dickinson’s life story — easy because most of her human interactions were in writing, and easy because she was a reclusive virgin whose later years were spent holed up in her family’s Amherst home (where she suffered from agonizing bouts of Bright’s disease and refused to greet anyone who came calling for her).”
[…]“What drew me to Emily Dickinson,” Davies said, “is that hers may not appear to have been a very exciting life, but it was so hermetically sealed. It was rich with drama. She had an incredible standard as far as morals and ethics are concerned, and if anybody fell below them, she was swift and deadly — including to herself.” If Davies knew that he was describing himself, he didn’t let on.”
David Ehrlich on Netflix’s (mis)handling of great films for IndieWire:
“…[S]oon after its premiere — “Tramps” suffered a fate bound to bury its potential: It was bought by Netflix. On Friday, this lovely little movie that I watched on a giant screen, a scrappy gem that required my full attention and rewarded every ounce of it, will quietly be uploaded to a computer server and added to an ever-expanding menu of content in the cloud. I saw it in a theater; you’ll see it buried somewhere between “Iron Fist” and “Sandy Wexler.”
[…]Netflix doesn’t help movies find an audience any more than it helps audiences find a movie (not that filmmakers ever have any idea how many people are watching their work on Netflix — the company refuses to share data with its content suppliers, meaning that Leon will have to trawl social media to glean even a vague idea of whether or not “Tramps” is being seen). The streaming service is a volatile sea of content that likes to measure itself in terms of dimension rather than depth; pull up the homepage, and the first thing you’ll see is text boasting about the sheer number of new shows that have been added to the site in the past week.”
Kate Erbland on “10 Iconic Women Who Changed Cinema” for IndieWire:
“Widely believed to be the very first female film director, [Alice] Guy-Blache did it all before it even occurred to most people to do anything. A director, writer, producer and actress, she was also a driving force behind early studio Gamount and founded her own, The Solax Company. While many of her films — believed to number in the hundreds — have been lost over time, a number of them (including many Charlie Chaplin-starrers!) are still kicking around. They’re worth the search.”
Matthew Dessem on High and Dizzy for Slate:
“Today is 4/20, and slackers, college students, scofflaws, and other disreputables are marking the occasion the way they always do: quietly contemplating the comedic legacy of Harold Lloyd, born on April 20, 1893. And what better way to celebrate, today of all days, than by watching him in his groundbreaking 1920 short, entirely coincidentally titled High and Dizzy?”
Noel Murray on Fargo‘s Season 3 premiere “The Law of Vacant Places” for Rolling Stone:
“Noah Hawley, who wrote and directed this episode, tends to be inspired not just by the movie Fargo’s people, places, and situations, but by the way its creators Joel and Ethan Coen construct plots. Hawley pays attention to the details of every character in every moment, carving little dominoes that he then puts into position to topple.
So even if “The Law of Vacant Places” weren’t so packed with incident – including a couple of murders, some tense cops-and-robbers action and one kick-ass bridge montage – it’d be a pleasure to watch just for the writing and performances in each scene, each of which have the quality of amusing little playlets. The meeting between brothers, for example, features a subtly cruel exchange wherein Emmit boasts about his daughter’s exclusive shoes-optional wedding on the beaches of Cabo San Lucas. The aside prompts his business partner Sy Feltz (Michael Stuhlbarg) to tell Ray he wasn’t invited because the event was “super high-end … don’t take offense.” Later, when Varga shows up to announce that Stussy Lots will be laundering his mob money, he comes off as befuddled and unimposing, right up to the moment when he explains what’s what. The show often doubles as a masterclass at writing dialogue where characters impart a lot of information without ever directly stating anything.”
From Part 1:
Koski (during the feedback segment for their previous Alien and Life episodes): “Life finds a way…to rip off Alien.”
From Part 2:
Phipps: “[…]The design of this movie is so much smarter and more interesting than the movie it’s supporting. It kind of makes me feel sad for all the artists who worked really hard and did a great job in service of a vehicle that wasn’t worthy of their talent.”
Robinson: “Yeah, when I say ‘distinctive’, I really am thinking about those exterior visuals of this world that has become completely dominated by hologram advertising. And it just seemed to me that when Minority Report came out, so much of the cultural conversation revolved around the future of advertising: how oppressive and invasive it was, how visually beautiful it was, how believable it was, like this is where we would end up. And I had the same reaction to the skylines, with these giant building-sized people hawking various exercise equipment and soft drinks. I can see us being in that future. But all of that felt more real to me than Major did as a character.”
Tobias: “[…] When we talked about The Matrix, I talked about how it worked so well because, beyond the opening, it reveals the world of the film through this character, and you get this great introduction to it, you get a sense of what life is like, and you never get that in Ghost in the Shell. You never really get a sense of following her, how this world came to be, what it’s like to be a citizen…”
Koski: “You kind of do, but you get it in prelude. You get it in onscreen text in the beginning, which is so much less interesting than having it unfold for you the way it does in the Matrix, and there’s not that sense of discovery that there is in The Matrix of, ‘Oh, this is how the world works’, you’re just being told this is how the world works.”
Tasha Robinson and Genevieve Koski (Scott Tobias is also briefly mentioned) on The F8 of the Furious for the first half of this week’s Filmspotting podcast – the minutes are:
0:00-33:26 – The F8 of the Furious
35:55-39:03 – Notes/Polls
39:03-1:13:53 – Top Five Fast & Furious Moments (revisit)
1:13:53-1:17:05 – Close