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!
Jen Chaney on Dirty Dancing (2017) for Vulture:
“Across the board, the liveliness levels stay stuck on low, perhaps because everyone involved can sense they’re going through motions previously established and perfected 30 years ago. Though there have been some additions and changes to the plot, mostly involving peripheral characters like Baby’s sister, Lisa (played here by Modern Family’s Sarah Hyland), and her parents (Debra Messing, taking over the role once occupied by Kelly Bishop, and Bruce Greenwood as the doctor patriarch originated by Jerry Orbach), Dirty Dancing 2017 is more or less a beat-for-beat retread of a more enjoyable movie. “You will have the time of your life,” it keeps insisting, “as long as you ignore the fact that these are different actors and all the great music from the original has been translated into watered-down contemporary cover songs. Now, repeat after me: You’ve NEVER felt this way before. You swear.” “
Tasha Robinson on Joshua: Tenager vs. Superpower for The Verge:
“The causes in Joshua are radically different from the ones currently preoccupying America, but the pattern of government action and popular resistance is much the same. The eponymous Joshua is a fiercely optimistic figure, providing an successful example of civil disobedience in pursuit of institutional change.
Joshua Wong is a Hong Kong high-schooler who created a wildly popular resistance movement against China’s attempt to colonize Hong Kong schools with a mandatory propaganda program. His timely response to a new political leader and a set of unpopular new initiatives leaves Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower feeling half like a template for proactive protest, and half like an uplifting rallying cry, promising that it’s possible for a popular uprising to secure the attention and cooperation of even the most resistant state.”
Noel Murray on Long Strange Trip for The A.V. Club:
“[…]Long Strange Trip (which comes to Amazon Prime on June 2 after a limited theatrical release) is a strong piece of documentary filmmaking and not mere fan service. That’s evident in the way Bar-Lev uses those bits of Grateful Dead ephemera. He follows a narrative model mastered by Ken Burns, where seemingly minor tidbits from history serve as a way into something larger. For example, when Long Strange Trip digs into the culture and hierarchy of the band’s roadies, that soon winds its way into observations on what it cost to maintain the Dead’s enormous touring “Family,” and then into a mention of how the pace of life on the road led to a shift from gentle psychedelics to harder drugs, which in turn made the complexity of the music onstage harder to achieve. Bar-Lev understands how the little things matter.”
David Ehrlich on The Meyerowitz Stories (Cannes 2017) for IndieWire:
“A noticeable improvement over Adam Sandler’s previous three Netflix originals — in much the same way that a glass of Manischewitz is a noticeable improvement over drinking one of those ominous puddles that forms in the groove of a New York City subway seat — “The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)” isn’t the wittiest or most exciting movie that Noah Baumbach has ever made, but it might just be the most humane.”
David Ehrlich on Happy End (Cannes 2017) for IndieWire:
“All of these characters unfold through Haneke’s cold, eerie style. With no soundtrack, plenty of long takes that linger on big, empty rooms, and grave performances in which everyone’s allergic to smiles, “Happy End” quickly makes it clear that the title is an ironic device. Haneke has a fascinating, mysterious approach to assembling the layers of narrative, starting with an ambitious epilogue seen from the perspective an iPhone. The POV shot turns out to belong to Eve, who livestreams her bland existence in a feeble bid to find companionship beyond her family’s grim routine. Elsewhere, Haneke observes prolonged Facebook chats unfold for minutes on end, in most cases holding back on revealing the face of the author for reasons that become clear later on.”
David Ehrlich on The Killing of a Sacred Deer (Cannes 2017) for IndieWire:
““The Lobster” alum Colin Farrell stars as Steven, a Cincinnati surgeon with some bloodied latex in his trash can and some skeletons in his closet. He’s thinner, bushier, and more imposing than Ferrell’s previous Lanthimos role, but he speaks the same way; “Sacred Deer” might be the least affected movie that Lanthimos has made since his 2005 debut, “Kinetta,” but everyone still communicates in stilted, uncomfortably blunt sentences, like they’re being spied on by the government or acting in a terrible instructional training video for some big corporation. Half of the dialogue is small talk, but the small talk often consists of unprovoked lines like “Our daughter started menstruating this week.” “
David Ehrlich on Faces Places (Cannes 2017) for IndieWire:
“Indeed, notions of finality and (im)permanence cast a long shadow over “Faces Places,” which finds [Agnès] Varda teaming up with a semi-anonymous street photographer named JR, who serves as the film’s co-director, for a whimsical tour of the French countryside. The plan is to drive from one bucolic village to another, invite the locals to pose in the van that JR has transformed into a mobile photo booth, and paste massive print-outs of the resulting portraits onto the environments their subjects call home. Varda loves the idea, she’s compelled to “photograph faces so they don’t fall into the hole of memory.”
But while all of the people they meet are delightful characters who the film manages to milk for every ounce of their personality, Varda and JR inevitably emerge as the real stars here.”
David Ehrlich on The Beguiled (Cannes 2017) for IndieWire:
“Shot in Louisiana’s Madewood Plantation House (a location recognizable from the “Sorry” portion of Beyoncé’s “Lemonade”) and almost entirely confined to the seminary’s withered interiors, Coppola’s film is told with surgical precision and savage grace. The story reveals itself across a tight 93 minutes — a considerably shorter runtime than that of Siegel’s film — packing all manner of ripe details and intimations into each of its frames.
The writer-director trims Cullinan’s book down to its bare essentials, cutting out all of the most heightened elements (like incest) so that she could see these girls more clearly and represent their conflicting perspectives with less clutter to get in the way. The result is a movie that sometimes feels too compressed, like a bonsai tree that’s suffered one too many cuts, and the scale of the story can be uncomfortably dwarfed by the depth of its characters, and the performances that bring them to life.”
David Ehrlich on Top of the Lake: China Girl (Cannes 2017) for IndieWire:
“Less of a second season than it is a sequel, “China Girl” begins and ends with one body in particular. It belongs to a Thai prostitute named Cinnamon, who’s stuffed into a suitcase and hurled into the dark waters of Sydney’s Bondi Beach. When the luggage washes ashore, streaks of Cinnamon’s fine black hair sticking through a crack in the plastic, detective Robin Griffin (Elisabeth Moss) is quick to claim the case. Freshly returned from the remote glades of New Zealand and understandably still traumatized by the events of the first series four years earlier (a familiarity with which is sometimes crucial to understanding these new episodes), Robin has gone full Clarice Starling. She’s cut her hair, buried her pain, and tried to move on, but the process is already hitting a few bumps in the road.”
David Ehrlich on The Day After (Cannes 2017) for IndieWire:
“Hong Sang-soo’s third film of 2017 (and his fourth in the last eight months), “The Day After” finds the singular Korean auteur deviating from his signature formula in some pretty seismic ways. Case in point: The selfish, horny, soju-guzzling male character at the center of this one is an emotionally confused book publisher, and not an emotionally confused movie director. Sorry, I should’ve warned you to sit down before you read that. Really though, the most striking difference between this film and the last few efforts from cinema’s drunkest one-man genre, is that “The Day After” is so black-and-white.”
David Ehrlich on L’Amant Double (Cannes 2017) for IndieWire:
“Welcome to “L’amant Double” (“The Double Lover”), a fitfully amusing erotic thriller in which nothing is what it seems, anything could happen, and everything is at least a little ridiculous. Much sillier than anything Ozon has made before — it unfolds like an overcorrection to the prolific French filmmaker’s staid and serious “Frantz” — but still lubricated with his usual psychosexual Euro-sleaze, this kinky story of jealousy and obsession feels like it’s been genetically engineered from the D.N.A. of “Dead Ringers” and “Possession” with a little bit of Brian De Palma thrown in for good measure. Or maybe it’s just the horniest movie that Alfred Hitchcock never made? Or maybe there’s simply no precedent to a Cannes Competition film in which someone yells “Just get your fetus out of here before I kill you!” “
Scott Tobias on War Machine for NPR:
“The key is a strong point of view, because a straight telling of the events risks the same rudderless feeling the film is trying to articulate. And it’s here where War Machine fails, despite its abundant insight into the War in Afghanistan and Michôd’s meticulous staging of bloody conflicts in strategy meetings and hotel rooms, as well as on actual fields of Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan. It’s not quite a satire or a journalistic drama or a boots-on-the-ground thriller, but a vague, two-hour amalgam of all three, with no clear perspective to carry it across.”
Matt Singer on Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales for Screencrush:
“[T]he plot in a Pirates of the Caribbean is more excuse than selling point; it’s only there to motivate Depp’s inebriated antics and the action set-pieces. Still, it would be easier to forgive this Pirates’ general incoherence if it didn’t spend so much time trying (and mostly failing) to explain these characters’ complicated backstories in boring dialogue scenes. There’s a whole flashback that reveals why Salazar hates Jack Sparrow, that glosses over the part where he turns into a strange undead creature after being exploded and drowned in the span of a minute. (It seems like that’s kind of an important detail?) The same sequence does reveal, with great fanfare, how Jack Sparrow got his hat. In case that’s something you’ve always wanted to know. (SPOILER ALERT: Someone gave it to him.)” ”
Scott Tobias on Baywatch (2017) for The Washington Post:
“Attempting a straightforward, big-budget version of “Baywatch” would be commercial suicide, so instead, the filmmakers treat it like a piece of cultural flotsam that has washed up on the shore. The tone is affectionate parody, appealing to a certain couch-potato self-awareness. That knowing attitude is key to turning small-screen dross into big-screen gold, and it has become a successful formula of its own.
[…]But how deep into this hall of mirrors can we go? “Baywatch” may not attempt the earnest adventure of the original TV show, but there are many times when its irreverence doesn’t make it any brighter — or even much different an experience. When Mitch and the gang try to infiltrate a narcotics ring running out of a fancy resort, we’re meant to laugh over the deliberate silliness of it, but after a while, it doesn’t seem like a joke anymore.”
Matt Singer on Baywatch (2017) for Screencrush:
“Is Baywatch meant to be a send-up to the old ’90s TV show or to evoke it on a much larger scale? The film never quite decides. There was a clear model for Baywatch’s creators to follow here — the 21 Jump Street movies — but even with a successful film to copy, they managed to screw it up. The big-screen Jump Street had an assured tone and style; it knew exactly what it was (broadly meta buddy action). Baywatch’s comedy (credited to six different writers) is second-rate and its action is even worse, with special effects that rank among the absolute worst I’ve seen in a big summer movie in many years.
[…]Mel Brooks never directed a movie longer than 104 minutes. Baywatch is 116 minutes. Go ’watch something else.”
Nathan Rabin on The Comedian (2016) for Control Nathan Rabin:
“The Comedian is so astonishingly misconceived that it’s hard to know where to start. So we’ll begin with the epic miscasting of Robert De Niro as Jackie Burke, a cult comedian so explosively funny he sends everyone around him into the laughing equivalent of multiple orgasms every time he opens his mouth and lets loose with a ribald quip.
De Niro plays the title character as the comedy answer to The Incredible Hulk. Only instead of hulking out, growing huge and shredding his clothes whenever he gets angry, when Jackie gets mad he shreds the delicate egos of the uptight busybodies who serve as his satirical targets.”
Nathan Rabin on Moving Violations for Rando! :
“The 1985 traffic school comedy Moving Violations introduces its protagonist driving cheerfully down the street happily singing along to “I Feel Good” and occasionally augmenting his off-key crooning with regular toots on a harmonica hanging around his neck. It’s “I Feel Good” to be sure, but it sure isn’t being sung by James Brown.
[…]The film itself is also a poor imitation of something extraordinarily popular. Just as John Murray could at least claim that his resemblance to his superstar brother Bill is genetic and biological as well as a case of blatant imitation, Moving Violations screenwriter Pat Proft and Neal Israel (who also directed) could argue that Moving Violations feels suspiciously like 1984’s Police Academy because they also wrote that sadly influential blockbuster.”
Nathan Rabin on The Little Rascals (1994) for Trumpterpiece Theater:
“The result is like trying to understand “Who’s on first” from hearing your drunk uncles mangle it during a Thanksgiving dinner. I was never much of a fan of The Little Rascals or Our Gang but Spheeris’ film feels like a bad simulacrum of something that wasn’t particularly inspired in the first place, and certainly didn’t need to be updated.
Astonishingly, The Little Rascals features a cameo from Donald Trump and revolves around the antics of the He-Man Woman-Haters Club yet these two developments are somehow unrelated. In fact, the child of Trump’s character (this marks one of the few times that Trump actually plays a character who is not explicitly Donald Trump) is actually one of the few children in this waking nightmare who does not belong to the He-Man Woman Hater’s Club.”
“So even though I’m not much of a fan of Star Wars as whole, watching it in 2017 powerfully activated nostalgic pleasure centers I didn’t even know existed. Forty minutes into the film, a warm rush of dopamine entered my blood stream and my stupid grown-up-baby brain gushed guilelessly, “Oh my God! It’s Harrison Ford as Han Solo and whoever it is as Chewie!” and my heart swelled. It genuinely fucking swelled! A lot! Major swelling! And I have very mixed-to-negative feelings about Harrison Ford these days because he seems like such a checked-out asshole of a human being. Yet I still had a powerful emotional response to an actor I don’t even particularly like re-entering a franchise I’ve always been lukewarm on.”
Kate Erbland on the women of Cannes 2017 for IndieWire’s Girl Talk:
“With Sofia Coppola, Naomi Kawase, and Lynne Ramsay in this year’s competition, the lineup included more work from female filmmakers than almost any other year of the aughts, although that still worked out to just 15.8% of the 19-film competition slate. But beyond the numbers, things are changing.
Nicole Kidman, the unofficial queen of this year’s festival thanks to her turns in four of its most anticipated entries (two of which were directed by women), used her platform to call for more female filmmakers across the board. “Still only about four percent of women directed the major motion pictures of 2016,” she said at the press conference for Sofia Coppola’s “The Beguiled.” “That there says it all. I think that’s an important thing to say and keep saying. Luckily, we had Jane Campion and Sofia here. We as women have to support female directors, that’s a given now. Everyone is saying it’s so different now — but it isn’t. Listen to the statistics.” “
Kate Erbland on nine television shows “That Should Never Be Made Into Films” for IndieWire:
“Vince Gilligan’s classic AMC series has already been the subject of a fan-made movie version (it hit the web earlier this year, before eventually being yanked) and its whipsmart prequel “Better Call Saul” ably continues the legacy of good intentions run totally amok in Albuquerque, but that doesn’t mean it’s at all suited for its own film. For one thing, a sequel just… uh, well, wouldn’t make much sense (unless you’re eager to see what’s going on with the few characters who emerged from the gobsmacking finale even remotely intact, and even that sounds mostly depressing) and any kind of condensed retread would rob the series of so much of its slow-burn brilliance. Certain projects are simply made for the serialized medium, and “Breaking Bad” is one of Peak TV’s most sterling examples.”
David Ehrlich’s trades notes with Eric Kohn on the 2017 Cannes Film Festival for IndieWire:
“ERIC KOHN: “The digital platform may have started its first Cannes as a controversial industry disrupter, but now that we’ve seen its two big movies, it’s clear that Netflix is also enabling a range of filmmakers who would otherwise not have the easiest time getting their work made. Noah Baumbach’s “The Meyerowitz Stories” may not forge new ground in the subgenre of New York movies about neurotic Jewish families, but it’s certainly a paragon of the form, and millions of people will have access to it around the world very soon. It may wind up as his most visible movie ever — which is crazy when you consider what it’s about — and could also become an ideal access point to his work.”
“DAVID EHRLICH: Eric, the most incredible thing about your report is that — for all of the examples you cited — it still doesn’t tell the whole story. Case in point: Jane Campion’s “Top of the Lake: China Girl.” I cannot possibly overstate how perverse it is that the best thing I’ve seen (by FAR) at my first Cannes Film Festival is a television show. I feel like a traitor to my kind.”
Kate Erbland joins Jude Dry, Zack Sharf, Chris O’Falt on “The 25 Best Films Directed By Women of the 21st Century, From ‘Lost in Translation’ to ‘Persepolis'” for IndieWire:
“23. “Cameraperson,” direted by Kirsten Johnson (2016)
Over the course of 2016, Kirsten Johnson’s “visual memoir” completed a starry trot around the festival circuit, kicking off with a lauded debut at the Sundance Film Festival, before making its way around the world and earning fans at nearly every stop. It’s easy to see why. Johnson made her bones as a cinematographer on a number of well-known (and well-loved) documentaries, from “Citizenfour” to “The Invisible War,” and she takes all of that experience and packages it inside a vivid, original documentary that’s as much about her personal life as it is her professional career. Using footage from her life and work, Johnson effectively and personally examines what it all means, how it all adds up and why we even film this stuff to begin with. Enormously touching and deeply felt, it’s a documentary — and a story — like you’ve never seen before. -Kate Erbland”
Sam Adams’ obituary for Roger Moore for Slate:
“Before Bond, Moore had already created another iconic character in the TV version of Leslie Charteris’ The Saint, which ran for 118 episodes from 1962 to 1969, but afterwards, his most iconic character was himself. In three of his last four live-action film appearances, he plays “Roger Moore,” a role he’d settled into with easy and long-running grace. He spent much of his last decades devoting himself to charities like UNICEF, and when he knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2003, it was his charity work, not his film career, that he was cited for.”
Nathan Rabin on “Roger (Moore) and me” for The Big Whoop:
“Looking back, I never realized how lucky I was to grow up in an era where James Bond movies and superhero flicks were used to baby-sit and entertain children and entertain nerdy adults, and not illustrate the deafening despair of God’s silence in a world gone mad the way they do now. Roger Moore subscribed to the now-inexplicable belief that James Bond movies should be good, campy fun and not bleak action melodramas about a man alone. “
Matt Singer reflects on “Roger Moore’s Best James Bond Moments” for Screencrush:
“As Moore aged, he handed off more of his fights and chases to the franchise’s extremely capable stunt team, but in his early days, he was an awesomely physical action hero. I’ve always loved this fight sequence from The Man With the Golden Gun, where Moore clearly performs almost all of his own punches and falls. His one-liner to the woman as he walks out the door, complete with the nonchalant adjustment of his tie, is quintessential Moore.”
Robinson: “Part of it is just–they take his hat away. We go from that shot of him with his hands chained up over his head, and he looks grim, he knows that it’s a bad situation, but he’s got his hat on, he’s got his jacket on, he looks like Indiana Jones: Angry Man of Action. And then within this minute, we see him tied up without his jacket, without his hat, and he looks vulnerable. His armor has literally been stripped away. The iconic things that make him Indiana Jones have been taken away from him. Although, it’s weird because in the very first shot of him chained to the giant skull candelabra — they just poked a candle in every orifice on that skull and then gave it a teeny-tiny little candle hat for some reason, somebody thought that would look cool — he looks like William Shatner in Star Trek.”
Keith Phipps with Mike Ryan and guest C. Robert Cargill on Cannonball Run 2 for the Random Movie Night podcast:
Ryan: “They stop racing! Pretty early in the movie, they’re like, “Oh yeah, the race is over, ’cause Jamie Farr got kidnapped, and that was our money, so we gotta rescue him now!”
Phipps: “Well, Siskel and Ebert famously complained about how it’s a cross-country car race movie with no cross-country car race because at the end they simply do a cartoon showing everyone going across the country.”
Cargill: “But it’s even weirder than that because the race–it’s an hour and forty-eight minute-long movie about a cross-country race: the race doesn’t start till minute forty-five; it’s not till forty-five minutes into our car racing movie that we actually start the car race. The first act is essentially a 45-minute first act. And then the car race starts, but the movie then becomes a Wile E. Coyote cartoon in which several members of the cast of The Godfather are trying to kidnap Jamie Farr, who is driving around, almost inexplicably, with Doug McClure and the doctor from the first Cannonball Run, because they wanted to put the three most inept characters in the movie in one car so they wouldn’t notice that they’re constantly being attacked.”
Sam Adams talks with Mark Harris on The Manchurian Candidate (1962) for the first episode of the new Conspiracy Thrillers Movie Club podcast:
Adams: “[…][I]t has kind of drifted in and out of the popular consciousness at times where it seems to be either perfectly in sync or very much out of sync, and when it first came out in 1962, that was when the Cold War was really at its hottest, it was right around the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis. The assassination aspect of the novel, the Richard Condon novel which it was based on, and then the film itself was considered very politically inflammatory at the time. The story then is that Sinatra, who was friends with JFK, kind of had to get his blessing in order for United Artists to go ahead with the movie, and in fact, it turned out that Kennedy was a big fan of the novel. Then, as I mentioned, I think the Kennedy assassination kind of put a damper on the way people felt about the film. As far as I can tell, the story about that being the reason it withdrawn from circulation is at least unconfirmed. It seems to be more a matter of: there was a dispute between Sinatra and UA about who was going to get the money from the film, and Sinatra kind of got the rights back in ’72 but wasn’t actually getting the money from it and then figured if he wasn’t gonna get it, then no one was. But I really hesitate to debunk any conspiracy theories around this particular movie, because that’s just not in the spirit of the film itself.”