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!
Tasha Robinson on The Circle as part of the The Verge’s Question Club:
Elana Fishman: I’m with Adi on this one: I fully acknowledge the fact that The Circle is not a good movie, but I enjoyed watching it in the same way I enjoyed watching, say, Passengers or The Island. I thought the movie looked great, and that Emma Watson and Tom Hanks both gave decently strong performances. Particularly for fans of the book, like myself, I’d say sure, go ahead and watch it — but preferably at home or on an airplane.
Adi [Robertson]: There’s one very funny scene satirizing the modern “you’ve got to spend your entire life here, but it’s fun!” workplace mindset. But The Circle’s implicit reduction of humanity to sinister techies, credulous progressive sheeple, and off-the-grid objectors seems so insufficient. At the very least, a movie about privacy needs to acknowledge things like doxxing and the anti-government surveillance movement in Silicon Valley, if only to dismiss them.
You could argue that The Circle is carefully addressing one sliver of web and startup culture. But that’s the problem with simplistic, overreaching dystopias. The Circle blocks out everything except gamified social media oversharing, then says people have been consumed by gamified social media oversharing. It’s like writing a scathing rebuke of how Americans live on alcohol, because you went to a restaurant and only read the wine menu.
Tasha Robinson: […]This is theoretically a movie about the subversion of democracy, the eradication of personal privacy, and a quiet global takeover. But Watson’s tiny, indrawn performance is more like “shy 20-something can’t decide whether she really feels Instagram-worthy today.”
Adi: She was, but I preferred her blankness to the book’s smug “I’m portraying a vapid millennial lady!” tone, since very little of what she does makes sense in either iteration. As I touched on above, though, Tom Hanks’ performance is the best thing the movie has going for it. I’m not sure anybody could sell “secrets are lies” as a friendly startup slogan, but he has enough charisma that I could buy him telling dad jokes while announcing our impending totalitarian nightmare world.
Nathan Rabin on Saturday Night Fever for Vanity Fair:
“[…][T]he disco serves as a paradise and a palace for Tony and his friends. While their leader isn’t as quick to toss around the N-word or gay-bash as his colleagues are, he’s not exactly preaching about tolerance either. That Tony Manero is sympathetic at all is a testament to the incongruous sweetness Travolta brings to the role. Even when he’s heaping abuse on the women who throw themselves at him, there’s something boyish and vulnerable underneath—a sense that Tony never outgrew being the little Italian boy who loved to dance. And sprinkled throughout Saturday Night Fever are moments of clarity when the boozy, sad fog of Tony’s existence dissipates, and he can see just how sad and small and hopeless his life really is—how little his talent and hunger mean without connections.”
Nathan Rabin on Christian Mingle in the first entry for his new column Control Nathan Rabin:
“Christian Mingle is more or less a feature-length commercial for the popular Christian dating site of the same name. It casts the once moderately popular Lacey Chabert as Gwyneth Hayden, a secular, on-the-go business woman and career gal who is tired of men who only want to have sex with her. So she decides to take a chance and logs onto Christian Mingle in hopes of meeting a man that only wants to marry her and is willing, even eager, to forego sex indefinitely (maybe even for eternity!) in order to make that happen.”
Nathan Rabin reflects on his career, his life, and Batman v Superman in the first entry for his new column Lukewarm Takes:
“[…][M]y angelic two year old son Declan is obsessed with Batman and Superman. I’ll hum the fanfare and carry him around the apartment with his arms and legs outstretched in the classic Man of Steel pose.
“I’m Superman!” Declan will announce joyfully.
“Sorry, sweetie, but Superman isn’t an adorable boy, or the nice flying good guy of your young imagination. He’s a brooding, joyless man-God from outer space as well as a glowering Christ figure whose existence raises troubling and provocative questions about the nature of power and its corrupting influences.” I’ll gently correct him, as I slide him a few beginner philosophy books to help him better understand the issues at play in Superman’s life.”
Charles Bramesco on Get Me Roger Stone (Tribeca 2017) for The Playlist:
“Both Stone himself and “Get Me Roger Stone,” Netflix’s new documentary chronicling his rise to power within his party, marvel at how gobsmackingly weird this dude has been able to remain while living in the public eye. But while filmmakers Dylan Bank, Daniel DiMauro, and Morgan Pehme convey a mouth-agape horror that a clear maniac could amass so much political capital, Stone’s tickled that he was able to do it all his way, Sinatra-style. Instead of softening his edges to fit in, Stone remolded Republican politics in his own image as a modern ‘Nam where claiming victory (by any means necessary, no matter how underhanded) supersedes petty ethical concerns. Like our current Commander-in-Chief, the Frankenstein’s monster now beyond Stone’s control, he divides the world into winners and losers. It just so happens that complete moral bankruptcy cut the shortest path to the top.”
Bramesco responds thuslier: “GET ME ROGER STONE, coming to Netflix on May 12th!”
Charles Bramesco on Contemporary Color for Vox:
“In one sequence, the camera quickly racks focus so that every flag in a cascading line comes into sharp relief just as it twirls overhead. The St. Vincent-tracked number plays out over a series of double exposures, a transparent Annie Clark wailing on top of a wide-angle shot of the rifle-twirlers’ shifting formations. It’s art for art’s sake, a purely pleasurable feast for the senses that the Rosses accredit both to the swirly, far-out musical numbers of ’70s variety programs and Walt Disney’s wild experiments with color and sound in Fantasia.”
Charles Bramesco on Alien: Covenant in his first review for Polygon:
“Chief among Covenant’s virtues is the sneaky fluidity with which the film drifts from tone to tone, even genre to genre; this installment hews much closer to no-mercy horror than many of its forebears, and yet operates on the titanic scale of the $200 million studio action tentpole that this is. Scott keeps his audience on their toes from start to bitter finish, and though the cumulative effect leaves a scattered impression after the fact, it makes the process of watching the film a suspenseful, even anxiety-producing one. In a good way! Mostly.”
David Ehrlich on Last Men In Aleppo for IndieWire:
“[…]Fayyad’s film — a remarkable document of life during wartime — suggests that there aren’t any profound revelations to be found amidst the ruins. “It cannot be comprehended by humans,” sighs one of Fayyad’s subjects as he gathers his wits between rescue missions. A vérité portrait of The White Helmets, the volunteer group of ordinary civilians (workers, students, etc.) who have effectively been operating as Syria’s 9-1-1 since 2013, “Last Men in Aleppo” is less about finding meaning amidst a massacre than it is about people who are trying to survive without it.”
Matt Singer on T2: Trainspotting for Screencrush:
“Almost all of the surviving characters from the original film (based on a novel by Irvine Welsh) appear in this one; almost all of them openly yearn for something or someone from their past. That includes Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor), who returns to Edinburgh for the first time since the events of Trainspotting, when he stole £16,000 from his best friends and fled to Amsterdam. Stepping out of the airport in Edinburgh, he’s greeted by beautiful young women in plaid skirts handing out flyers to tourists — and speaking in Eastern European accents. Mark then pays a visit to his father and learns about his mother’s passing. In an astonishing shot, the shadow of Mark’s mom seems to sit in her empty chair at the family’s dinner table. In this world, you can go home again, but that doesn’t mean the people there will welcome you back.”
Keith Phipps on It Comes At Night for Uproxx:
“In the Q&A session following the surprise premiere of his second film, It Comes At Night, at the first Overlook Film Festival at Oregon’s Timberline Lodge, writer/director Trey Edward Shults didn’t have a lot of answers. Or, better put, he kept quiet about any answers he might have supplied. Asked about any of several ambiguous plot points in a film filled with them, Shults largely demurred — even when asked what the “It” of the title was. This may sound like a director being precious, but it didn’t feel that way and nobody in attendance seemed annoyed. If anything, it confirmed that what they’d just seen wouldn’t be enriched by easy answers, and that it’s apt for a film so concerned with the unknown, the fear it creates, and what that fear does to those in its shadow to keep its secrets to itself.”
Tasha Robinson interviews Naveen Andrews on Sense8 for The Verge:
“What’s Lana told you as a director that’s been most useful to you?
I think what’s unique about Lana is that she draws on the emotional mood of a room, which,of course, can change at any given moment. She seems to be viscerally connected to the camera. Like, she’s literarily behind [Steadicam operator] Daniele [Massaccesi] — who shot The English Patient, so it’s weird for me, seeing him there again — and she has her hands on his back, and she’s steering him toward you, and then pulling him back, and then pushing him in again. And she’s talking to you the whole time this is happening, yeah? And I’ve never had that before, like “Repeat the line!” “Say that again!” “Now with a different inflection, because you’re thinking about something else!” “Now say this line as Whispers, and see what it means!” It’s tremendously exciting, because you discover things about the part that you’ve never even considered.”
Keith Phipps interviews Roger Corman for Uproxx:
“[…]With Bucket of Blood, I was thinking that’s a movie that could play here, because it’s something that’s trying entirely new things with horror, and working on a limited budget, but doing something really creative.
It has actually played sort of as a retrospective in some festivals, and the audience likes it, because… It was not original with me, but I don’t think it had been done for a while, the idea with combining horror with comedy. I shot it in five days for a very low budget, because I wasn’t certain the combination would work. It was really just, to a large extent, an experiment.
And you followed it shortly thereafter with Little Shop of Horrors, another horror comedy, and certainly one that’s had a tremendous afterlife. It was famously shot in, what was it, two days?
Two days and a night.”
Kate Erbland interviews Kurt Russell on his career for IndieWire:
“What made you want to get back into movies over the past few years? Was it a question of personal interest or simply getting better offers?
I did “Death Proof” with Quentin [Tarantino], and after that I did get very interested in something that I had been wanting to do for a long, long time, and that was make wine. I wanted to learn to make a specific wine and I wanted to learn how to make pinot noir and chardonnay.
I’ve got to be honest with you, the things that I was feeling in terms of what I was spending my time doing in the vineyard was more interesting to me than the screenplays I was reading. I just wasn’t reading things that I had been wanting to do, so it was kind of an easy to just say, “I’d rather do this for a while.” “
Charles Bramesco interviews Dave Bautista for Metro:
“How does the skill set of wrestling translate to acting for the screen? There’s kind of a performance element to wrestling, no?
There’s really no similarity between the two. Some of the things I picked up from the job of wrestling carried over into the film industry, but not so much as far as performance. They’re so different.They’re apples and oranges. Wrestling is so big and so broad, and it’s a very physical performance. Acting is very small and very intimate, it’s much more precise.”
Kate Erbland on Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2‘s female superheroes for IndieWire’s Girl Talk:
“The sisters’ thorny relationship was framed with some large-scale action in Gunn’s 2014 Marvel Cinematic Universe entry. The new film casts it in a different light, one that doesn’t hinge on the two of them kicking the crap out of each other in skintight suits (though that happens, too). The pair reunite early in the film, and as the narrative winds on they are required to be more open and honest with each other — mainly about why Nebula hates Gamora so much, and what kind of future bond the pair could ever hope to have, if any.
[…]“There’s just a great array of women in [“Guardians Vol. 2″], and different types of women,” Gillan recently told IndieWire. “Yes, there are females in big action, sci-fi movies, but we were sort of in danger of them becoming stereotypical in the sense that they’re ‘badass’ and ‘super strong’ and ‘sexy.’”
[…]In particular, Nebula offers a refreshing alternative to what has become the stereotypical “strong female character.” She’s a wounded warrior with issues to spare, an emotionally damaged villain who is not “likable.” But that doesn’t mean she’s not a rich or realized character.”
Kate Erbland on Judy Greer’s career and directorial debut for IndieWire:
” “It’s flattering and frustrating, and sometimes the scale tips more in one direction and sometimes more in the other,” Greer said in a recent interview. “It’s so flattering that people want me to have bigger roles. I can’t even tell you how nice that is, imagine if they didn’t. And then it can also be frustrating because it’s not like I’m not trying to get bigger roles.”
[…]Greer’s manager, Principato-Young partner David Gardner, first came across Lundy’s script, a day-in-the-life dramedy that centers on a particularly bad 24 hours for account manager Daniel (Common). The film’s tone is its most unique element, a mix of comedy and drama approaching the work of Alexander Payne or Mike Judge. His fears were allayed once he and Greer met for an introductory lunch to talk about the project. “Judy had an amazing vision for this, from the get-go, a vision,” Lundy said.
Greer’s humor and sensibility is clear in the final film, and her personality pops in every scene. “A Happening of Monumental Proportions” is a talky, fun comedy that doesn’t balk at adding on some painful parts. For one thing, its action kicks off with the discovery of a dead body at Daniel’s daughter’s school, zooms into Daniel getting canned and heads on into even more ill-fated waters.”
Kate Erbland elaborates thusly: “Was on phone yesterday with Judy Greer (relatable, normal) when car whizzed through red light, nearly hit her. She yelled, “Holy buckets!””
Kate Erbland on Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s career in celebration of his 45th birthday for IndieWire:
“[E]ven as Johnson picked up a steady stream of roles that seemed tailor-made for him, he began to exhibit a real desire to do some majorly out of the box work with ambitious directors. There’s no other outlier on his stacked resume quite like that of his turn in Richard Kelly’s critically maligned and unfathomably unique “Southland Tales,” where Johnson plays a former action star who gets mixed up with the Kelly’s wild, dystopian vision (and that’s the short version).
The role was a self-reflective gamble, amusingly placed in a movie that was all about the dangers of the future and the promise of a world without limits. The film was notoriously booed at Cannes and never quite bounced back when it was released in 2007, but it served one purpose — casting Johnson’s cinematic appeal in an entirely new light.”
David Ehrlich on Bong Joon-Ho’s The Host and its legacy for IndieWire:
“From its pointed prologue (which builds off a real-life incident to broadly criticize the toxic effects of America’s lingering military presence in Korea) to its heavy-handed allusions towards WMDs and the Iraq War, “The Host” has never been a particularly subtle movie. And that’s always seemed like part of its charm. Per Bong tradition, its characters are complete idiots who tend towards slapstick, an assessment that’s as true of Song Kang-ho’s bumbling burnout of a hero as it is of the shady official who shows up in a hazmat suit and promptly falls on his ass. But now — as the special effects start to show their age and it’s easier to see the monster for what it really is — Bong’s masterpiece is finally beginning to reveal its true form.”
Craig J. Clark, a.k.a. Hooded Justice, on the Fu Manchu series for The A.V. Club’s Run The Series:
“In these theoretically more enlightened times, Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu is the dictionary definition of “problematic.” Created in 1913, the character is “yellow peril” personified, a renegade Chinese warlord and evil genius bent on world domination and the extermination of the white race. His nemesis: resourceful Scotland Yard commissioner Nayland Smith, who stands for everything good, proper, and most importantly, British. An unmistakable product of an imperial power on the verge of losing its supremacy, Rohmer’s adventure yarns (which he continued writing until his death in 1959) were extremely popular with the reading public, and eventually the viewing public, when they were brought to the screen in two dozen silent shorts made in the U.K. in 1923 and 1924, with Irish actor H. Agar Lyons playing the villain.”
Genevieve Koski, Scott Tobias, and Keith Phipps on Burden of Dreams and The Lost City of Z for episodes 74 and 75 of The Next Picture Show podcast:
Tobias: “It is interesting to see [Herzog] talking about nature as being chaos and murder, and not harmonious, but a place of just overgrowth-“
Phipps: “Don’t forget misery.”
Tobias: “Misery. The trees are in misery, the birds are in misery, it’s a fascinating point of view.”
Koski: “I mean, he’s not wrong. And I say this as someone who avoids nature whenever possible, but I think it’s much easier to romanticize nature when you haven’t spent a lot of time in it against your will. And I think, as someone who has spent a lot of time in a very trying part of nature, it seems like Herzog probably kind of already had this view of nature, but this experience had to have calcified that for him, or intensified it. But, dude, nature sucks.”
Phipps: “I liked it, I felt very immersed in it the entire time. I feel like it has masterpiece aspirations it doesn’t quite reach as a film, but I was along for the ride, and I liked it quite a bit.”
Koski: “[…]I really like James Gray, I loved The Immigrant a lot, and I think this movie shows off his talents as a director very well. The acting is much better than I was expecting; I think this is the first movie where I bought Charlie Hunnam as a star, and a couple other performances were really good, too. I’m not super passionate about this film, but I still really liked it.”
Tobias: “[…][Gray] has the ability to evoke period very well and very specifically, and the ability to make the film look really expensive. He did that with The Immigrant too, which could not have cost much of anything, and he just does it. I mean, one of the people that helps him do it is Darius Khondji, the cinematographer, because–Good Lord, the photography in this film is so astonishing, and that’s really what got to me.”