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!
Kate Erbland on Tulip Fever for IndieWire:
“While the characters of “Tulip Fever” exist in a world ruled by passionate insanity, much of the film hinges on out-there coincidences and convoluted plot points that are big asks even in a world driven crazy by flowers. The various plotlines intersect late in the film (punctuated by distracting turns from Cara Delevingne and Zach Galifianakis, just for good measure). Essential pieces of narrative rely on ludicrous mishaps involving items as diverse as really long cloaks, fat bags of coins, and in one case, a priceless tulip bulb that is chopped up and eaten by a drunk. Reason may not rule in a tulip-mad Amsterdam, but that doesn’t mean tossing away actual logic like so many rotten stems.“
David Ehrlich on Lean on Pete for IndieWire:
“A searching, violently unsentimental coming-of-age drama about all the things we have to offer one another, Andrew Haigh’s “Lean on Pete” isn’t the kind of heartwarming indie that its opening moments might lead you to expect.
[…]Del sells his steeds to a Mexican slaughterhouse the moment they let him down, no exceptions. Not even for Lean on Pete, the five-year-old quarter-horse with whom Charley has formed an obvious bond. So Charley does what a lot of kids might do in that situation: He runs away with the animal, blazing a trail towards Canada in search of the aunt he hasn’t seen in years.”
David Ehrlich on Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool for IndieWire:
“It’s in these moments, too few and few between, when the film hints at its dormant potential, using the language of film itself to express how the medium can fog up the lens through which we see the world and ourselves reflected in it. More often than not, however, Matt Greenhalgh’s script is far too straightforward for such a sordid affair, and the specificity of the drama’s first half (highlighted by two great scenes in a cinema) rots away as the story gets over the hump and begins its inevitable comedown. Eventually so generic that it might as well be about anyone, “Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool” creates a foul tension between the paint-by-numbers quality of its approach and the uniqueness of its affair.”
Mike D’Angelo on Unlocked for The A.V. Club:
“[…]Unlocked starts off sturdily and then wobbles more and more as the plot twists multiply. Director Michael Apted has plenty of experience in this arena, going all the way back to 1983’s Gorky Park; his résumé even includes a Bond movie, albeit one of the weaker ones (The World Is Not Enough). He knows how to wring maximum tension from the early sequence in which Alice, taking a break mid-interrogation, receives a phone call assigning her the very job that she’s already nearly finished. Once Bloom shows up with his transparently bogus cover story, however, the movie becomes a relentless series of fake-outs and reversals, as if half a season of 24 had been compressed into under two hours.”
David Ehrlich on Loving Vincent for IndieWire:
“It took 125 painters, 62,450 paintings (yep), and the better part of a decade for writer-directors Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman to get it done, but “Loving Vincent” is the first feature-length animated film to be made entirely of oil paintings on canvas. Given the amount of work involved, and the stilted effect of the finished product, it will most likely also be the last.
An extraordinary (and entirely demented) labor of love that makes for a wan and uneven viewing experience, “Loving Vincent” takes the phrase “every frame a painting” to very literal new levels.”
David Ehrlich on Darkest Hour for IndieWire:
“An electric chamber piece that couldn’t more perfectly complement “Dunkirk” if Christopher Nolan wrote it, “Darkest Hour” is as rousing and ferocious as Winston Churchill was himself. It’s also a hell of a lot more controlled. Unfolding with the clockwork precision of a Broadway play — director Joe Wright has always been at his best when he’s at his most theatrical — this tightly coiled retelling of Churchill’s first days in office is more than (yet another) passionate appeal to our collective goodness; it’s a deliciously unsubtle testament to the power of words and their infinite capacity to inspire.”
David Ehrlich on Human Flow for IndieWire:
“There are any number of unforgettable images in Ai Weiwei’s “Human Flow,” the most necessary and comprehensive documentary to date about our planet’s current refugee crisis, but the most indelible of them all is borrowed from a movie about a very different humanitarian failure. For 1956’s “Night and Fog,” Alain Resnais ventured into the haunted ruins of concentration camps Auschwitz and Majdanek, training his camera on the evidence that had been left behind. A still ocean of women’s hair. A mountain of empty shoes, spilling through the rooms of a building like a flood. Symbols that convey the scale of apathy and death better than bodies ever could, because the horror of bodies is too all-consuming to allow for any deeper understanding.”
Nathan Rabin on Baywatch (2017) for My World of Flops:
“Remember how Baywatch was famous for its lingering shots of buxom women running in slow-motion along the beach? Baywatch sure hopes you do because it is deeply committed to making all of the jokes you would imagine a tongue-in-cheek film version of Baywatch would make, and then making those same jokes over and over. The Baywatch film, for example, is full of self-referential dialogue about how strange it is that women seem to running in slow-motion, or super-slow-motion, in real life, and kind of expects you to nod approvingly and give it a cookie for making jokes and also being in on the joke.”
Nathan Rabin on Point Break (2015) for Control Nathan Rabin:
“The woeful miscalculations begin with the casting of the bland and boring Luke Bracey as Johnny Utah. It does not help that in his first few minutes onscreen he’s cursed with having to deliver “timely” dialogue like, “This is exactly what our (extreme sports) sponsors want, the impossible realized and all those Youtube hits!”
Bracey makes so little impact in the performance that launched him to anonymity (to use an old line of mine) that my primary memory, heck, my only memory of his character is that he’s really hung up on scoring Youtube hits, which, understandably, was not part of Reeves’ conception of the character.”
Nathan Rabin on Overnight (2003) for Rotten Tomatoes:
“A couple months ago, it was announced that, after a blissful decade away from movies, The Boondock Saints writer/director Troy Duffy was returning to film with his third motion picture, The Blood Spoon Council, a gloomy new thriller that looks an awful lot like The Boondock Saints.
[…]But Duffy is just as well-known — if not better known — as the subject, star, hero, anti-hero, and villain of Overnight, a movie so utterly damning in its depiction of Duffy as a boozy, obnoxious monster of id and ego that it’s surprising it didn’t kill his film career in its infancy.”
Kate Erbland interviews Lake Bell for IndieWire:
“Bell also recognized that working for other directors could benefit her own still-burgeoning filmmaking career. It’s her own film school, and one she doesn’t see leaving behind anytime soon.
“I learned how to direct from other directors, from being in the trenches of an actor and observing, being a respectful and quiet observer of how the mechanics of production work,” she said. “It’s really important to me to continue to act, to be an actor for hire, because that is how I get to have a profound, one-on-one kind of learning curve.” “
David Ehrlich with Hanh Nguyen on “Why ‘Death Note’ Is Guilty of Whitewashing, and What We Can Do to Prevent More Movies Like It” for IndieWire:
“Hanh: In particular with “Death Note,” the concept of a death god is very common in Japanese lore, and therefore comes with a set of expectations or rules. Setting the story in Seattle and not having anyone Asian American play the role of Light Yagami, now Light Turner, removed that context.
David: Agreed. There were definitely attempts to change the story for its new setting, and Light’s relationship with the (increasingly sociopathic) Mia character is an interesting way to shrink a mammoth mythology down to a feature-length installment, but the original “Death Note” is so culture-specific, and it seemed like Wingard and his team decided to ignore that altogether rather than grapple with what it meant, and how it might be altered.”
Matthew Dessem’s obituary for Tobe Hooper for Slate:
“Hooper, who hailed from Austin, Texas, began his career in film with The Heisters, a 1964 comedy short that was the first film produced in Austin to get national distribution. He rose to national fame a decade later with 1974’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, a low-budget masterpiece that was one of the most profitable independent films of the decade and one of the most influential horror films of all time. Every 16 mm frame, from the opening shots of a gruesome sculpture made from the contents of recently-robbed graves to the haunting closing image of Hooper’s Ed Gein stand-in Leatherface maniacally dancing with his chainsaw, seemed like documentary footage from some other, crueler planet.”
Noel Murray remembers Tobe Hooper for Oscilloscope:
“Carpenter and Romero have largely gotten their due from critics and scholars, however belatedly. Hooper’s legacy has been less secure. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is in the cinematic pantheon, but beyond that, only Poltergeist gets much attention from non-connoisseurs… and that’s primarily because of the Spielberg connection. Yet for 12 years, from Chain Saw to Chainsaw 2, Hooper directed eight movies that collectively are as daring and visionary as Romero and Carpenter’s output in the same era. These films are often heavily flawed, but charged with a fervid intensity, and guided by a purposeful mind.”
Scott Tobias on “The secrets to making great Stephen King movies” for The Washington Post:
“[…][T]here are some connections to be made among the strongest King adaptations. The first is counterintuitive: King characters are best understood from the inside out. That goes against conventional wisdom, because the most adaptable books tend to be short on interior monologue and long on external action, which is why a sledgehammer narrative such as James M. Cain’s “The Postman Always Rings Twice” has been adapted multiple times in English, in Italian (“Obsessione”), in German (“Jerichow”) and in Chinese (“Ju Dou”), and the novel’s murderous love triangle has been resonant every single time. Finding some visual analog for a character’s thoughts is a trickier proposition.”
Noel Murray on Nicolas Cage’s “unlikely, but undeniable, ’80s ascent” for Uproxx:
“Nicolas grew up around his actress aunt Talia Shire, and future moviemaking cousins Sofia and Roman Coppola and Jason and Robert Schwartzman. When he got ready to enter the family business as an actor, he followed in his uncle’s footsteps and went to UCLA. He changed his last name to Cage — after one of his favorite comic book characters, Luke Cage — to avoid being judged by his connections. Still, he had every reason to expect that he’d be stepping into the “New Hollywood” that the Coppolas had helped build.
And then the 1980s happened.”
Nathan Rabin on UHF: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack for Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place:
“The idea of Spatula City, a somewhat guided commercial enterprise that’s able to cut out the middle-man by dealing only in spatulas, didn’t take hold in the psyches of “Weird Al” Yankovic fans despite being such a silly, goofball, ephemeral joke. No, it lodged itself in the minds of All super-fans specifically because it’s such a silly, goofball, ephemeral joke. Sometimes those are the best ones.”
“There’s an unmistakably random element to the soundtrack that’s particularly pronounced on “Fun Zone.” The song was originally recorded as “Stanley Spadowsky’s Theme” during the sessions that yielded the UHF soundtrack after the iconically obnoxious janitor character Michael Richards plays in the film, but the track began life as the theme for Welcome to the Fun Zone, a sketch comedy pilot from 1984 Al’s manager Jay Levey wrote on.”
“It seems silly to call out a twenty-eight year old comedy song about Spam for not sticking to a cohesive point of view, but I was struck by some of the parody’s lyrical inconsistencies. On one level, the singer of “Spam” is one of Al’s kooky obsessives, a weirdo whose sad, small life is changed and transformed by something ridiculous, in this case Spam. The singer posits that Spam is “the best” and, among its myriad other virtues, makes a “darn good sandwich”
Yet that doesn’t keep him from cracking wise at Spam’s expense.”