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 King Arthur: Legend of the Sword for The Verge:
“Ritchie zips past an impressionistic version of the boy’s childhood — a whisked-together blur of physical abuse, childhood scheming, and fight lessons — and lands at a point where Arthur has become a streetwise, frequently shirtless Charlie Hunnam. As an adult, he’s haunted by nightmares of his father’s last stand, without understanding what they are. Meanwhile, Vortigern has become a creepy, preening tyrant, prone to plummy speeches about the pleasures of being feared. Eventually, he comes looking for Arthur. As the “Born King,” the rightful Pendragon heir, Arthur is only other person who can control Excalibur, here re-imagined as an obscurely magical plot device that periodically lights up blue like a lightsaber, and occasionally grants its user superpowers. And then, as Arthur is unwillingly dragged out of his street life and into the fight, King Arthur becomes a reluctant-hero story, about a kid from the gutter being ordered to fight a series of frenetic, kingdom-shaking fights involving hordes of faceless baddies and even more CGI monsters.”
Keith Phipps on Paint It Black for Uproxx:
“Adapted from a novel by White Oleander author Janet Fitch, Paint it Black is the directorial debut of Amber Tamblyn, who originally planned to star in the film herself and let someone else direct. That might have worked. Tamblyn’s a fine actress who certainly could have played Josie well. But she’s found an ideal lead in Shawkat, who gets to exercise dramatic chops here we don’t always get to see in the best performance she’s ever given. But, even more fortuitously, the change in plans reveals Tamblyn as a first-time filmmaker who arrives with the skills of a veteran.
This is tricky material to adapt and it would be easy to let the L.A. gothic trappings do much of the work. Tamblyn develops the atmosphere well. Meredith presides over a crumbling, cluttered estate, accompanied only by a silent maid (Nancy Kwan). She drinks a lot, and though she’s much more put together than Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard, their characters would probably have a lot to chat about over tea.”
Scott Tobias on Everything, Everything for NPR:
“There’s real potency in that hook, especially on screen, which can play so effectively with windows as avenues for voyeurism and self-reflection, not to mention the exquisite tension of would-be lovers on opposite sides of the glass. But Everything, Everything hasn’t thought through the implications or possibilities of its premise very deeply. The glass could be a metaphor for virginity or purity on one end and repression on the other, like an extreme example of parents controlling their child’s experience or knowledge of the world. And on the most basic level, surely 18 years indoors, without a moment’s contact with nature or access to her peers, would have a severe impact on a developing mind.”
Keith Phipps on Abacus: Small Enough to Jail for Uproxx:
“But for all the harm perpetrated by big-name institutions, only one bank tied to the crisis ever was ever indicted for mortgage fraud, the family owned Abacus Federal Savings Bank headquartered in New York’s Chinatown. Where others were deemed “too big to fail,” Abacus wasn’t. It could take the fall.
That’s the central thesis of Abacus: Small Enough to Jail the latest from documentarian Steve James (Hoop Dreams, The Interrupters). And it’s one the film argues well. In pursuing Abacus, the New York District Attorney’s Office found a convenient target that offered some good press. Abacus was not blameless, largely due to its employment of a con man who used his job to fill his own pockets. But the bank’s higher-ups also began cooperating as soon as they realized something was amiss — yet ended up indicted anyway.”
David Ehrlich on Sea Sorrow (Cannes 2017) for IndieWire:
“Less a documentary than it is a 74-minute infomercial trying to sell European politicians on their own humanity, Vanessa Redgrave’s “Sea Sorrow” neither qualifies as art nor aspires to be considered as such — it’s far too urgent for interpretation. Funded by and featuring the legendary actress (newly minted as a director just a few months after her 80th birthday), this glorified PSA is essentially the negative image of Gianfraco Rosi’s “Fire at Sea.” Redgrave’s film is as direct as Rosi’s film is impressionistic, her plea as haphazard as his is elegant. Of course, the world is wide enough to support both approaches, and the situation is dire enough to demand them.
While much of “Sea Sorrow” speaks to its audience in the abstract language of history and statistics, Redgrave is wise to ground this portrait on a personal level.”
David Ehrlich on Wonderstruck (Cannes 2017) for IndieWire:
“[…][D]on’t be fooled that his latest feature is a hyper-faithful adaptation of a half-illustrated children’s novel by “The Invention of Hugo Cabret” author Brian Selznick — “Wonderstruck” is nothing if not a Todd Haynes movie. And it’s an exquisite one, at that. Fresh off the greatest triumph of his career (that would be “Carol”), Haynes is still operating near the peak of his powers, returning to Cannes with an immaculately crafted fable about the ways in which people of all ages learn to break out of their bodies and connect with the world.
Adapted by Selznick and tethered to the birth of museums much as “Hugo” was to the birth of film, this mesmerizing and open-hearted drama charts the parallel journeys of two deaf pre-teens — one in 1927, the other in 1977 — as they follow the treasure maps of their personal histories in search of a place where they might belong, a gap that they were born to close. There’s an Oscar Wilde quote that “Wonderstruck” returns to a half-dozen times: “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” These characters are desperately trying to arrange them into constellations.”
David Ehrlich on Let the Sunshine In (Cannes 2017) for IndieWire:
“[…][I]t comes as something of a (pleasant) surprise that “Let the Sunshine In” plays like Claire Denis’ idea of a Nancy Meyers movie, complete with Juliette Binoche as her perpetually unsatisfied female lead and Gérard Depardieu as an obese fortune teller who tries to insert himself into her future. Of course, for all of its bourgeois charm and wine-induced eros, Claire Denis’ idea of a Nancy Meyers movie is still light years removed from an actual Nancy Meyers movie.”
David Ehrlich on Jupiter’s Moon (Cannes 2017) for IndieWire:
“Rising Hungarian director Kornél Mundruczó’s staggeringly well-shot but painfully strained new film is the first since his staggeringly well-shot but painfully strained “White God.” It opens with a title card informing us that Jupiter has 67 moons, but Europa is the only one that might be capable of supporting life. At the time, such information seems like it could be a helpful bit of context for the adventure to come. But “Jupiter’s Moon” is not set in outer space. In fact, neither Europa nor any of the gas giant’s other 66 moons are mentioned again. It turns out that the factoid is only the first salvo of a senseless metaphor that’s stretched across two hours of the visually dazzling movie that follows.”
David Ehrlich on A Ciambra (Cannes 2017) for IndieWire:
“Sorely lacking the energy that made “Mediterranea” such a vital shot in the arm, “A Ciambra” is a half-step backward for Carpignano, whose clear sense of place is too often hampered by shapeless plot. Not that it matters all that much when you’ve got a protagonist as pure and watchable as Pio Amato. Effectively playing a version of himself, Pio is a gawky 14-year-old who’s very ready to graduate from the awkward purgatory of adolescence. He’s old enough to recognize that he’s growing up in a punitively tribalistic environment, but not old enough to do anything about it.”
David Ehrlich on Promised Land (Cannes 2017) for IndieWire:
“The premise of “The Promised Land” is as simple as the movie is complicated. Jarecki, after having somehow gotten his hands on Elvis Presley’s 1963 Rolls-Royce Phantom V (which sold for almost $400,000 at auction a few years ago), decides to outfit the luxury car with cameras and take it across the United States, retracing the trajectory of The King’s life story from Tupelo, Miss. to Las Vegas and beyond.
Occasionally, he picks up some musicians along the way, squeezing everyone from M. Ward to Emmylou Harris into the back seat, which has been modified into a mobile recording studio of sorts. The passenger seat, on the other hand, is reserved for a truly random grab bag of celebrity guests that range from Ethan Hawke to Alec Baldwin to… Ashton Kutcher? It seems that Jarecki was happy to let anyone famous ride shotgun so long as they were willing to spitball about Elvis or the America that he did so much to create and/or clarify.”
Noel Murray on The Wizard of Lies for The New York Times:
“One striking sequence assembles an audio montage of clients testifying to how they’d been bilked, over a succession of arty black-and-white photos. In another, Bernie and his wife, Ruth, make a halfhearted suicide attempt with fistfuls of Ambien, prompting a nightmare sequence in which Bernie is haunted by his conscience.
Mr. De Niro gives one of his best screen performances in years as Mr. Madoff, playing that securities broker as an embittered old man, more inclined to grumble that the world’s become a garbage heap than to reckon with how much he’s contributed to the stink.”
Kate Erbland interviews Robert De Niro and Barry Levinson on The Wizard of Lies for IndieWire:
“De Niro approached the role with his trademark professionalism. That meant not passing judgment on a man that he personally reviles.
“I don’t go in not liking him. I’m trying to understand why he did it as best I can,” he said. “That’s all you can do. You make that choice and you might be right, according to the reality, the real situation, or to Bernie Madoff, or his wife, or any other person close to the family. You make these choices and there’s not much more.”
Levinson was equally compelled by a desire to stay away from personal assessments. What he really wanted was to craft an honest, full-bodied feature that would ask its audience to come to their own conclusions.
“You don’t need to make a judgment. What you need to do is show the behavior,” Levinson said. “What you want to do is find a way for the audience to be fascinated by this individual, that you’re caught up and you’re watching and your brain is at work and you’re involved in that. The judgment is to the audience’s eyes and mind.” “
Kate Erbland interviews Everything, Everything director Stella Meghie for IndieWire’s Girl Talk:
“Adapted from Nicola Yoon’s bestselling YA novel of the same name, “Everything, Everything” follows the curious life of Maddy Whittier (Stenberg), a precocious and charming teen who also has a disease that keeps her immune system so weak that she can’t leave her hermetically sealed house. Maddy’s life is thrown into major hormonal turmoil when Olly (Nick Robinson) moves next door, and the pair strike up a friendship that turns to love. But given her predicament, what kind of relationship can Maddy have?
As for her studio experience, Meghie was surprised to find that it wasn’t much different from an indie production. “You still have to win every single day for your movie to be good,” she said. “You still have to get every single performance. The job does not change. You still have to have the same amount of ownership over it and be as confident and as assertive with what you want to be done, if you want the film to have a voice.” “
We don’t have any complete reviews of Wonder Woman yet, but here’s Kate Erbland’s early reaction:
WONDER WOMAN: Easily my favorite DCEU film. Has the humor and heart the franchise so desperately needs. Gadot and Pine are charming as hell.
— Kate Erbland (@katerbland) May 19, 2017
Nathan Rabin on xXx: Return of Xander Cage for Lukewarm Takes:
“Back when I worked at The Dissolve, we noticed that a Forgotbuster piece I had written about the forgettable, forgotten Vin Diesel semi-blockbuster xXx was unusually popular. It was more than unusually popular. It was suspiciously popular. It was popular enough that we started wondering why exactly this particular piece of content did so well.
[…][T]he surprising and persistent popularity of my xXx Forgotbuster entry had absolutely nothing to do with the article itself, or my writing, or Vin Diesel. No, it had everything to do instead with the movie’s title: xXx.
[…]As I have hopefully already established, Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place is 100 percent pure and untainted by compromise or calculation. The list I posted on Monday about how there will never be lists spelled that out pretty clearly. So I can assure you that I am not cynically writing about the new xXx movie in a calculated attempt to trick search engines and generate traffic. If I wanted to do that, I would have littered this article with phrases solely calculated to attract the attention of search-engine perverts, like “Sorority House Lesbian Orgy”, “Kim Kardashian sex tape” and “Catholic Schoolgirls in Trouble.” “
Nathan Rabin on Hillary’s America for Control Nathan Rabin:
“At the start of D’Souza’s demented vanity project, a dude at a piano sings a Democrats-themed parody of “Happy Days Are Here Again” called “Crappy Days Are Here Again.” To paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen, I know “Weird Al” Yankovic. I’ve worked with “Weird Al” Yankovic. I’d like to call “Weird Al” Yankovic a friend. You, Dinesh D’Souza, are no “Weird Al” Yankovic.
[…]Hillary’s America is predicated on what it imagines is a mind-blowing reveal: even though African-Americans vote overwhelmingly Democratic today it was actually a Republican President, Abraham Lincoln, who freed the slaves.
Is your mind blown yet?
D’Souza clearly thinks he’s found the smoking gun revealing the secret truth behind the Democratic party: even though Democrats talk a good game about empowering African-Americans and fighting police brutality, a mere one hundred and fifty to two hundred years ago, the Democrats had some very different ideas about black people.”
Kate Erbland’s reflects on Alien‘s Ripley for IndieWire:
“When we first meet Ripley, she’s just as petty and aggrieved as the rest of the just-awakened Nostromo crew. Scott takes his time letting on what the real star of the film is, and you’d be correct to spend the first hour or so of “Alien” thinking that it’s Skerritt, who stars as Captain Dallas. But as the rest of the crew is winnowed away by one hell of a murderous alien creature, Ripley becomes a de facto leader who is forced into a heroic position that she soon discovers suits her just fine.
In early moments, Ripley reads as starkly human. She’s curious and brash and outspoken, unafraid of voicing her opinion to either Dallas or Ash (Ian Holm) in the midst of the facehugger freakshow that has set the Nostromo alight. Ripley evolves quickly, however, moving from unformed ideas (“Well, good! Let’s get rid of it!” is certainly a good way to deal with an alien force bent on killing you, though it lacks actionable items) and a deference to Dallas, straight on to steel-jawed determination and a brand new plan (“blow it the fuck out into space” is always a good strategy).”
Noel Murray reflects on Stanley’s Kubrick’s filmography for Oscilloscope:
“The discord between the affectless and the over-the-top in Kubrick’s films dates all the way back to his earliest work—though in the likes of Paths Of Glory, the artificiality was disguised by an overall swiftness of pace that Kubrick would later eschew. There was a gradual evolution to the director’s style. What unites Kubrick’s awkward early independent films and his later big-budget studio work is a sophistication and worldliness, far removed from the palliative approach of other movies from their era. As a young filmmaker he’d treat each shot and each scene as a unique creative exercise, in effort to make audiences say, “Well, that’s new.” Early on he wove his preferred stylized acting into images that were strikingly lit but otherwise steeped in photographic realism. Meanwhile, his scripts that make liberal use of narration and time-jumps, suggesting fresh, inventive ways of telling stories through cinema.”
Charles Bramesco reflects on Ishtar for its 30th anniversary for The Guardian:
“Today marks thirty years since May’s last stand premiered in stateside theaters, and a few decades’ worth of perspective have provided some flattering clarity to the film. While Ishtar has not appreciated into a stealth masterpiece in the mold of Showgirls’ long road to reappraisal, its stature as the definitive cinematic failure has been outed as undeserved. May’s final film was flawed but idiosyncratically so, hardly the ruinous quagmire suggested by its legacy. It survives today as a curious artifact of film history, more fascinating than entertaining, deserving of study rather than popcorn.”
Noel Murray’s five-film introduction to the “well-curated, deeply weird Sponsored Films online archive” for The Verge:
“Last week, the National Film Preservation Foundation launched a remarkably well-curated and easily accessible online collection of movies featured in Rick Prelinger’s book The Field Guide to Sponsored Films. These are mostly educational shorts, financed by government agencies, charitable organizations, or corporations with something to say. In the latter half of the 20th century, these shorts were fairly common in schools, workplaces, and civic institutions. But these days, most people encounter them only when they’ve been comedically repurposed. The gang from Mystery Science Theater 3000 often riffs on sponsored films. So do video bloggers like Everything is Terrible! And then there are the countless tongue-in-cheek TV commercials that have made fun of educational films’ flatly placid Americana.”
Matt Singer on “What Hollywood Should Learn From ‘Logan’s R Rating” for ScreenCrush:
“This is the reason why Logan felt like a breath of fresh air while so many would-be blockbusters now feel stale: They’re designed to feel stale, or at least incredibly safe. They’re meant to appeal to the widest possible audience, and so they’re made to be understood by the widest possible audience. That limits what they can be, what they can say, and what they can do, because all of it has to be palatable (not to mention comprehensible) to second graders. To put this in perspective: When I was a second grader my favorite TV show was ALF. What I’m saying, essentially, is that second graders are morons and the rest of us should not be beholden to their crappy taste.”
Genevieve Koski, Scott Tobias, and Keith Phipps on Jonathan Demme’s Stop Making Sense and Justin Timberlake + The Tennessee Kids for episodes 76 and 77 for The Next Picture Show podcast:
From Part 1 (download it here):
Phipps: “So guys, whenever there’s a discussion on the greatest concert film ever made, Stop Making Sense is always in the mix and usually at the top of the list. Having just re-watched this film, is that earned?”
Tobias & Koski, respectively: “Yes.” “Oh, yeah.”
Phipps: “Cool, let’s move on!
Koski: “Episode over.”
Tobias: “[…]On Demme’s part, I think he really tried hard to make a specific cinematic achievement, rather than, sort of the live supplement that we’re often used to seeing as part of a band’s work. The titles are by Pablo Ferro, who did Dr. Strangelove. He’s got Jordan Cronenweth who was the cinematographer who did Blade Runner two years before. You know, he’s using digital audio techniques that have never been used before, so he cared very much about the sound of the film. He had a substantial budget, this is a real film, it’s not a filmed performance.”
From Part 2 (download it here):
Koski:”[…]Timberlake came to Demme with Stop Making Sense in his head as something he wanted to strive for. And I think that really shows both in terms of Demme’s approach and how Timberlake apparently worked with him and had him on many, many stops of the tour to work out all the kinks. It wasn’t just a filmed concert; they were making a concert film.”
Keith Phipps with Mike Ryan on Regarding Henry for the Random Movie Night podcast:
Phipps: “[…]He comes out of it brain-damaged, and basically, the central thesis of this film is: brain damage makes him a better person.”
Ryan: “…Yes, that’s fair, yeah.”
Phipps: “And that’s rough. That to me is a borderline offensive premise for a movie. That, intelligence and experience and all this — really, to be good, we have to be reduced to being children again. I don’t know, that’s a tough thing to swallow for two hours, and I don’t think the script does it any favors. I mean, maybe I’m bringing what I know about it, but it feels like the kind of script about being middle-aged that a young person writes.”