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!
After leaving *~The Dissolve~*, Nathan “Nabin” Rabin returned to his My Year/World of Flops series back at the A.V. Club. Alas, the A.V. Club has recently canceled the series “on the eve of its 10th birthday for not being popular enough.” Luckily, Rabin has also recently started his new website, Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place. You can find Rabin’s written introduction here and his video introduction here (complete with image warping courtesy of Youtube’s unwieldy stabilization tool). You can also support Rabin through his Patreon.
Nathan Rabin on The Bronze in his
final second-to-last entry for My World of Flops:
“The Bronze very well could have been a modest commercial success. But because it opened wide, expectations were higher than the film’s exceedingly modest scope and budget would suggest. Wide releases just don’t make sense for movies this small, weird, distinctive, and intentionally off-putting.
But before The Bronze gets ingratiatingly dark and strange, it begins in a fairly generic manner. The flop opens with a brief rundown of protagonist Hope Ann Greggory’s early glory as an accomplished, obsessive gymnast whose career peaked with a stunning turn at the 2004 Olympics where, through sheer determination, she won a bronze medal despite being injured.
[…]There’s depth and substance to Rauch’s performance, as well as a pervasive sadness that comes with her character’s desperate yearning for a past that can never be recaptured. As filthy and dark as the film gets, there’s an emotional authenticity to its depiction of the aftermath of fame, unhinged narcissism, and a simultaneously loving and deeply dysfunctional and unhealthy father-daughter bond that makes it more than just a delivery system for some very big, very dirty laughs and the most athletic sex scene this side of Team America: World Police.”
Nathan Rabin on The Jerky Boys: The Movie in the first entry for his new column Rando!, wherein he’ll be seeking out “morbidly fascinating randomness”:
“The Jerky Boys’ “potty mouth Don Rickles with a telephone” shtick always struck me as one-note. But when I worked at Blockbuster as a teenager I was fascinated by a promotional clip for The Jerky Boys: The Movie where comedy legend, future Academy Award winner and Jerky Boys: The Movie cast-member Alan Arkin discoursed at length about what comic geniuses the Jerky Boys were and how honored he was to help them make the leap from entertaining the dumbest kids in ninth grade via an exclusively audio format to becoming full-on movie stars.
Nothing in The Jerky Boys: The Movie amuses me a tenth as much as the image of Arkin coming home after a long day of perfecting his craft, slipping into his study and lovingly sliding a Jerky Boys CD into his Sony Disc man and booting up “Pico’s Mexican Hairpiece” or “Gay Hairdresser” from The Jerky Boys 2 and then smiling warmly as the hilarity sweeps over him as he relaxes in a silk bathrobe, a glass of scotch in his hand.”
Nathan Rabin on Mad Families in the first entry for his new column This Looks Terrible!, wherein he’ll be diving into terrible-looking films to arrive at a World-of-Flops-esque verdict on whether they truly are as terrible as they look:
“[T]he film’s main plot involves three very different families, one black, one white and one hispanic, who descend upon the same camping plot July 4th weekend, and must compete in a series of contests and challenges to determine who gets to remain.
These contests don’t fucking matter to the movie at all. You know what matters to the movie? Not a goddamn thing. I would describe the film’s style of comedy as “sedentary” more than anything else. This is an opportunity for a bunch of journeyman actors and actresses (including Leah Remini and Pedro from Napoleon Dynamite) to sit in chairs and sleepwalk their way through scenes and subplots no one will remember—not even them—and technically still have acted in a genuine motion picture.
It’s not true, actually, that nothing matters to the movie. Mad Families is lazily apathetic but it does seem to believe intensely in the healing power of laughter. But not just any kind of laughter, mind you. No, Mad Families is an 89 minute valentine to the liberating, empowering, cathartic power of the kind of laughter that, in its mind at least, always greets racist jokes from the Big Book Of Bigoted Nonsense.”
Nathan Rabin on Wishmaster in the first entry for his new column Stuff I Wrote About Because I Got It For Free:
“The movie opens in Persia in 1127, with its villain, Djinn (Andrew Divoff) granting a ruler’s wish to see “wonders” in the darkest, most ominous possible fashion.
As a special effects guy, Kurtzman delights in showing wonders that horrify as well as dazzle the human eye. This misguidedly open-ended wish leads to a stunning set piece where a Persian pleasure palace devolves into a circle of hell as otherworldly creatures begin to burst out of people’s stomachs, Alien-style while others instantaneously melt, devolving into puddles of blood and guts and muscle and goo. The special effects are not breathtakingly original. The film wears its influences proudly, borrowing extensively from the Alien and Evil Dead franchises, but the creature effects are impressive.
[…]The opening set piece for The Wishmaster made me think that maybe I’d stumbled across a bona fide sleeper. The film grows much more clunky and stiff once the action is updated to the present and special effects and disgustingly inventive creature make-up take a backseat to wooden dialogue and lame plotting.”
Tasha Robinson on Copwatch (Tribeca 2017) for The Verge:
“As Copwatch notes, flashing back to the 1991 police beating of Rodney King, the conversation around police violence changes radically when people can watch and rewatch the events for themselves. The videos that open Copwatch have become familiar flashpoints and rallying cries, and they carry a hefty emotional resonance. They’re a natural lead-in for a doc about the ways increased video monitoring of police activity is changing how citizens, activists, and legislators look at and engage with the police.
But Copwatch never gels into that documentary. Director Camilla Hall starts off looking at the organization We Copwatch, which puts cameras into citizens’ hands and trains them about their legal rights and obligations when it comes to filming police. But then it diverges into a more diffuse portrait of We Copwatch’s most famous members, and it loses track of the bigger picture. It becomes an intimate and often painful story with plenty of close-up access to its subjects, but it’s frustrating to see how much bigger this topic is than the film supposedly documenting it.”
Tasha Robinson on The Circle (Tribeca 2017) for The Verge:
“One of the most fundamental problems with Dave Eggers’ future-thriller novel The Circle is that its protagonist, Mae Holland, is a cipher. Eggers’ book has a satirical agenda: his future society, where a Google-esque tech company attempts to eradicate privacy, is an extension of the current social media landscape, where people voluntarily document and publicize even the most mundane aspects of their lives. But its central character isn’t a person so much as a plot function, a mouthpiece who forwards Eggers’ agenda without developing a personality that would explain it.
That problem extends into the film adaptation, a stripped-down, unemphatic version of the story that streamlines the book’s plot and alters the ending, but nonetheless preserves many of its biggest faults. In theory, having real human faces attached to some of The Circle’s more unlikely statements and beliefs should humanize the story, making it more grounded and real, and raising the stakes. In practice, the film version feels even more disconnected from reality than the book. Where the book feels deliberately arch, the film just feels vague and out of touch. The modern technological tug-of-war between privacy and security is a real and significant issue. The version of that conflict in the film version of The Circle is bland, neutered, and cartoony.”
Kate Erbland on Blame (Tribeca 2017) in “How a 20-Year-Old Filmmaker Wrote, Directed and Starred In Her Feature Directorial Debut” for IndieWire:
“[Quinn] Shephard was inspired to modernize Miller’s Salem Witch Trials-set drama after starring in the play when she was in high school. It was the character of Abigail Williams, who Shephard played in the production and who inspired her “Blame” character, that spoke to the budding filmmaker, who had been acting from a young age (including a lead role on the TV series “Hostages” and appearances in indie films like “Assassination of a High School President” and “Windsor”).
“Like the character that I play in ‘Blame,’ I used to actually latch on to characters from literature and be very Method about them,” Shephard said. “I did that with Abigail when I was playing her. I started to embody her. I had a lot more confidence in myself, I started exploring my own power as a woman, in a way that I never had before. It really influenced my own coming of age in a lot of ways.” “
Rachel Handler interviews Andie MacDowell on Love After Love (Tribeca 2017) for MTV News:
“When I met up with MacDowell, 59, at New York’s Smyth Hotel a few days after the premiere, it was clear that she was thrilled about the role, which has already been called her “most nuanced in years.” In a conversation appropriately peppered with long, thoughtful pauses, MacDowell talked about the singular experience of filming Love After Love, the time she told off a director who explained that audiences “go to movies to see men,” how she responds to people who tell her she’s “beautiful even though she’s old,” and why she takes to Twitter to feel less lonely.
This movie is pretty unorthodox structurally, dialogue-wise, and character-wise. Did it feel really different from other things you’ve done?
Andie MacDowell: I liked that it was about the behaviors of these people, rather than a bunch of dialogue or having to explain things. That’s the most interesting work to do. Yes, it was unique for me. If I had to compare it to anything, it’d be Sex, Lies, and Videotape, which had the same sense of being a voyeur, watching people and their behaviors. A lot of times, when you’re acting, you have to explain things to the audience, and it’s boring work to do that. It’s really hard to make that interesting. I like the discovery of characters. I think people are smart. Audiences are intelligent and can figure things out by just watching behaviors.”
Rachel Handler interviews Liz Garcia on One Percent More Humid (Tribeca 2017) for MTV News:
“Liz Garcia’s One Percent More Humid premiered at Tribeca this week, but it’s been in the making for more than 15 years. Garcia first wrote the coming-of-age indie drama at age 24, in response to, as she puts it, an onslaught of “hideous teen-boy gross-out comedies.” But thanks to an industry that treats female writer-directors like niche oddities, it took more than a decade — and directing 2013’s black comedy The Lifeguard, a starring vehicle for proven, bankable star Kristen Bell — for her to find financing and support.
The result is a dark, explicitly sexual, gorgeously filmed story about loss, grief, and self-delusion. Juno Temple stars as Iris, a troubled but free-spirited twentysomething spending her summer vacation alternating between slicing meat at a local deli and boning her married professor (Alessandro Nivola) by way of avoiding her feelings about a recent tragedy. Her best friend Catherine (Julia Garner), more inextricably entangled in the traumatic event, distracts herself from pain in her own misguided ways, like pretending she’s completely healed and having ill-advised sex with a local boy (Philip Ettinger) who can hardly stand her. Garcia tells both young women’s stories with a lack of judgment, peppering the movie with eroticism, empathy, and stoner-y observations espoused during late-night swims. MTV News caught up with Garcia during her Tribeca downtime to talk about taking young women’s lives seriously, her fascination with humanity’s “darker instincts,” filming sex scenes that “celebrate female beauty,” and her work on the next Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants installment.”
[…]Liz Garcia: […]At the time, I was working as an assistant, and I wanted to be a screenwriter, and I’d just gotten a manager. It was 2001, and everything that was being made was a hideous teenage-boy gross-out comedy. It was like, “Write a spring-break romp!” And I tend to react perversely to any kind of expectations, and I certainly did in this case, because I wrote this tiny movie instead of something that could sell. I’d never read anything like this. The world of film and TV has changed a lot since I wrote this, because when I did, there wasn’t a script that went across anyone’s desk that took young women’s lives seriously, that was honest about their sex lives, the drugs they did, their interior lives. So when I wrote it, I thought, “Nobody’s ever gonna read this, nothing’s ever gonna come of this, and also, is it too embarrassing to show anyone, because it’s so personal?” And it ended up being the script that changed my career — it just took forever to get made.”
Charles Bramesco on The Trip to Spain (Tribeca 2017) for The Playlist:
“As a sort of litmus test, noted film critic Gene Siskel would ask of a film, “Is it more interesting than a documentary of the actors having lunch?” Michael Winterbottom’s trilogy of “The Trip” films effectively turn the question inside out, rendering the act of watching a pair of actors having lunch as something riotous, a touch melancholic, and yes, infinitely interesting. Limey comic virtuosos Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon have hit the road yet again, bringing their egos, insecurities, and fully loaded arsenals of celebrity impressions with them. And enough has changed since they ate their way through Italy — “Philomena” landed Coogan a pair of Oscar nominations, and he won’t let anyone forget it — that this dish remains just as sumptuous in the third tuck-in, “The Trip To Spain.” “
David Ehrlich on Rock’n’Roll (Tribeca 2017) for IndieWire:
“[Guillaume] Canet’s new comedy (his first outing behind the camera since his English-language debut [‘Blood Ties’] flopped in 2013) is a bruised, self-deprecating spectacle that finds the French celebrity mocking himself for the fragility of his own ego.
Yes, the movie argues that stars might sense their expiration dates approaching more acutely than the rest of us, and yes, it dwells on how difficult it is to know that everyone is watching you and judging you and measuring you against your former self. Still, “Rock’n’Roll” is able to circumvent the otherwise toxic combination of privilege and self-pity (and inside jokes about the French film industry) because Canet makes his meltdown into a hyper-literal expression of a universal fact: Famous actors or not, we all need to learn how to play new roles in our lives.”
Sam Adams reflects on Jonathan Demme following his passing for Slate:
“Demme’s was a protean career, marked less by a stylistic fingerprint than a pervading generosity of spirit and a great ear for music. He first made his mark as the director of bittersweet comedies about white working-class dreamers, including Handle With Care (also known as Citizens Band) and Melvin and Howard. The latter, released in 1980, was an early highlight and established Demme’s love of underdogs, telling the possibly apocryphal tale of a down-on-his-luck striver (Paul Le Mat) who claimed to have befriended Howard Hughes (Jason Robards) near the end of his life and produced a will making him the heir to the famous eccentric’s billions.”
Genevieve Koski reflects on and provides recommendations on the late Jonathan Demme and his concert filmmaking legacy for Vox:
“Though as evidenced by his filmography, Demme could seemingly work comfortably in just about any mode, concert filmmaking is where he truly excelled, and where he will be most missed. From Stop Making Sense through last year’s (excellent) Justin Timberlake Netflix film Justin Timberlake + the Tennessee Kids, Demme proved himself an unparalleled chronicler of the unique energy that accompanies live music performance.
Concert filmmaking is an oft-dismissed branch of the documentary genre, but Demme proved time and again that concert films could be more than glorified marketing for musicians. His concert films unobtrusively but insistently tell a story, subtly guiding the films’ energy through the use of picture and sound alone (rare is the talking-head interview in a Demme concert film). He was meticulous in his approach, often shooting multiple performances to guarantee he’d have the necessary coverage to bring across a complete picture of the concert experience.”
David Ehrlich, Charles Bramesco, and other critics reflect on the late Jonathan Demme for IndieWire:
Bramesco: “I got the chance to sit down with Demme at TIFF last year, and he affirmed that this was just about the afterlife he intended for “Stop Making Sense,” that it should be a euphoric and communal experience. He seemed happy when I told him that his movie could still inspire people to near-religious displays of ecstasy by the hundreds. I think that’s how I’ll like to remember him.”
Ehrlich: “Hours before we learned that Jonathan Demme had died (before I even knew that he had been sick), I randomly tweeted a clip of the scene from “Rachel Getting Married” where Tunde Adebimpe stands at the altar across from Rosemarie DeWitt and fills the slimmest of silences with a heart-stopping a cappella rendition of Neil Young’s “Unknown Legend.” It’s a porcelain moment, fragile enough to drape a movie theater with the hush of a concert hall, beautiful enough to both define that movie and also survive beyond it. I didn’t need a good reason to want to share it. His movies lived with you like that; they’re tightly edited, but they never end.”
Charles Bramesco with Monica Castillo on “Where to Stream Jonathan Demme Movies” for The New York Times:
” ‘The Manchurian Candidate‘
Where to watch: Netflix, Amazon
A 2004 remake of the seminal political thriller from 1962 starring Frank Sinatra and Angela Lansbury, this version of “The Manchurian Candidate” stars Denzel Washington as a soldier who suspects that a former comrade, now a vice-presidential nominee, might have been brainwashed by the enemy. Updated from the Cold War settings of the original to those of the Persian Gulf war of 1991, the film’s creepy premise remains intensely suspenseful. And if you’re going to have someone play Lansbury’s role — one of cinema’s great evil moms — you might as well call in Meryl Streep.”
Charles Bramesco on Unforgettable for Vox:
“For as much as Unforgettable is indeed the film in which [Katherine Heigl] attempts to dead-ass murder Rosario Dawson, it is also a film of valid ideas and sound drama. I’d like to preemptively beg forgiveness for the following phrase, but Unforgettable is one film that does not deserve to be forgotten — or, more pressingly, remembered as a hokey camp artifact.
[…]Unforgettable blows right past the so-bad-it’s-good classification, and resists simple, ironic camp appreciation. Simply put, it’s good, but good at a specified mode of entertaining that takes some acclimation for those who aren’t used to it.
[…]As much as we may wish otherwise, Unforgettable isn’t just 100 minutes of Katherine Heigl trying to gouge out Rosario Dawson’s eyes. The film also happens to contain a plot and characters, two of whom happen to be well-shaded women with recognizably real insecurities. Di Novi probes both sides of a difficult personal transition, as Julia and Tessa struggle to accept their new roles as stepmom and ex-wife, and fight to break out of cycles of trauma.”
Scott Tobias on Harold And Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story for NPR:
“What it is like to be married in Hollywood? We have a good idea about what it’s like to be divorced in Hollywood, we’ve seen famous couples run aground by egos and scandal, and we’re well-versed in the ups-and-downs of a lifestyle where fortunes vary and relationship are jostled like luggage on a turbulent flight. The beautiful documentary Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story celebrates a marriage and creative partnership that lasted six decades in the business, one that survived stretches of poverty and joblessness, catastrophic injury and alcoholism, and the challenges of raising an autistic son at a time when “refrigerator mothers” were blamed for the condition. Bottom line: A Hollywood marriage can be sublime and inspiring, but it’s always an adventure.”
Sam Adams on The Circle for Slate:
“[Tom] Hanks has done the best work of his career excavating his role as “America’s Dad” from the inside out. In Sully, and Bridge of Spies, and Captain Phillips, he’s a man who rises to the occasion and is nearly crushed by it; the scene at the end of Captain Phillips when he realizes he can stop being a hero and let the trauma of his near-death experience take over his body is one of the most extraordinary moments in recent movies. But in The Circle, Hanks doesn’t seem to know whether he’s playing a deluded futurist who fails to understand the dangers of what he’s created or a snake-oil salesman who knows just what he’s doing—and the failure to distinguish between the two, or even to acknowledge how one can become the other, is a major part of what makes the movie such a damp rag. It’s like Black Mirror and Silicon Valley had a baby, and then left it to be raised by wolves.”
David Ehrlich on Dog Years for IndieWire:
“[L]est there be any confusion about the central conceit of this sweet-natured but fatally half-realized meta-drama about growing old and giving up, writer-director Adam Rifkin (“Detroit Rock City”) introduces his fictional hero with footage from one of Reynolds’ vintage talk show appearances, dubbing over the real actor’s name with that of his latest character.
The message comes through loud and clear: Burt Reynolds is communing with his past and coming to grips with the images that continue to haunt him, but he’s also adding one more (or one last) character to his wrinkled body of work. Unfortunately, while either one of those ideas might have made for a fun movie on their own, the corny and haphazard way that Rifkin smushes them together results in a well-intentioned but tedious tribute that’s too generic to take advantage of its introspective lead performance.”
David Ehrlich on The Wall for IndieWire:
“As with most movies like it, “The Wall” immediately makes you wonder how it might possibly sustain itself for a full 90 minutes. And, as with most movies like it, “The Wall” makes that happen by stretching its believability to the breaking point (while indulging in a mild degree of body horror along the way). Panicked characters lead to impatient storytelling, and that unfortunate dynamic tends to result in all sorts of contrivances. Here, the biggest head-smacker is the enemy shooter himself, who only grows more absurd after he stops impersonating a U.S. med evac unit over Eyes’ radio. The stilted chatter between the two men nearly proves fatal to a film that would have been far more suspenseful as a silent.”
David Ehrlich on I Am Heath Ledger for IndieWire:
“[T]he newest installment of [Derik Murray’s] non-fiction franchise is a tender, worthwhile remembrance for an irrepressible star whose light continues to shine upon the people he left behind.
Co-directed by Adrian Buitenhuis, “I Am Heath Ledger” is far too loving a portrait to be confused for art — don’t expect another “Amy” — but the film’s superficial approach is buoyed by an overwhelming degree of sincerity. On one hand, there isn’t a negative word said about Ledger across these 90 minutes. On the other hand, the lucid, lingering awe with which the late actor’s friends and family remember him makes it remarkably easy to believe that they don’t have anything negative to say about him; that their grievances were as petty as their gratitude remains profound. This is a documentary with no agenda other than to assert that Heath Ledger was a remarkable human being, and to that end it makes a mighty convincing argument.”
Matt Singer on Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 for Screencrush:
“Here is a movie that will surely please fans of the original, just as surely as it won’t please them quite as much as the original did.
How could it? The first Guardians delighted viewers with plot twists, offbeat humor, and a cast of lovable misfits. James Gunn’s initial foray into the Marvel Cinematic Universe was one charming surprise after another. Now we know these characters and their world; having already assembled these so-called a-holes into a convincing team, Gunn struggles to find new ways to pull them back apart and recreate Vol. 1’s sense of urgency and suspense. Where the original Guardians felt fresh, Guardians Vol. 2 now feels familiar — sometimes pleasantly so and sometimes not.
[…]Everything is focalized around the idea of family, those we’re born into and those we build by choice, and which matters more. Does Star-Lord’s new relationship with Ego trump his budding romance with Gamora? Can Gamora put aside her differences with Nebula? Will Drax put down his grief about the death of his wife and child?
Charles Bramesco on Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 for Metro:
“Smirky and wisecracking, the original “Guardians of the Galaxy” arrived in 2014 as a tonic to Marvel’s doctrine of stony-faced superhero spectacles. But three years and a handful of imitators later (“Deadpool”got the joke; “Suicide Squad”extremely did not), the whole juvenile irreverence shtick has started to get tiresomely familiar.
Though it reaps plenty of laughs, director James Gunn’s follow-up doesn’t do itself any favors by rehashing many of its predecessor’s fan-favorite moments beat for beat. Those hoping for a nearly-identical “Guardians of the Galaxy”featuring a few new nouns will be pleased with the sequel, but the rest of us will recognize it as a karaoke cover of a solid-gold pop hit. It’s a serviceable rendition, but like any drink-emboldened belting of Toto’s “Africa,”it just makes the audience long for the genuine article.”
Keith Phipps with Mike Ryan on You Don’t Mess with the Zohan for Random Movie Night:
Phipps: “For this next episode we got the numbers 9 and 29, and that takes us back to the year 2008, and the 29th highest-grossing film of that year, which is You Don’t Mess with the Zohan, and we have a very special guest. We have joining us — I’m burying the lede here — we have the co-writer of that film, Robert Smigel, who really needs no introduction, but you may know him for [being the] creator of Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, and many other funny things.”
[…]Phipps: “There are a lot of butts in this movie. For a PG-13 movie, anyway.”
Smigel: “There’s a lot of sexual situations. Even if it wasn’t, because we worked hard not to say — we weren’t allowed to use the word ‘bang,’ you know. Originally we wrote it as an R-rated movie, and then 8 years later, or 7 years later, when we’re actually making it, they decided they wanted to go for PG-13. So it’s funny what you can’t do, and yet, what they still allow in.”
David Ehrlich, Matt Singer and other critics on “[…]the Best Movie Podcasts” for IndieWire:
Singer: “Besides “Filmspotting: SVU” (PLUG PLUG PLUG PLUG PLUG), lately I’ve really been enjoying “The Next Picture Show,” featuring some of my former colleagues from The Dissolve. Each episode is broken into two parts, connecting a movie currently in theaters with an antecedent that relates to it in some way. The chemistry of the hosts is terrific, their knowledge is top-notch, and the discussions are both light and extremely in-depth. Some film podcasts I only listen to when I’m interested in the movies up for discussion. “The Next Picture Show” is good no matter what the pictures are.”