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.
Kate Erbland on Kingsman: The Golden Circle for IndieWire:
“As the film’s primary baddie, nefarious drug kingpin Poppy, [Julianne] Moore gleefully zips her way through every wacky scene, bolstered by an inventive setting that speaks to Vaughn’s intense imagination and the scope of his off-kilter super-spy vision.
Yet, for all that crazy fun, “The Golden Circle” doesn’t go wild enough to break Vaughn’s well-set mold, instead fitting neatly inside his filmography alongside other action-heavy offerings. It’s fun, but it’s blockbuster overkill after an already-crowded summer season.”
Matt Singer on Kingsman: The Golden Circle for ScreenCrush:
“This sequel to 2015’s Kingsman: The Secret Service continues its predecessor’s colorful reinvention of campy ’70s Bond tropes, and broadens the franchise’s mythology to introduce a whole new group of spies, an American intelligence agency known as Statesman. The new characters and concepts don’t add a whole lot to a film is way too long and plodding in its middle act, but the returning heroes and giddily vulgar comedy and action are still good for some solid laughs and thrills.”
Sam Adams on Kingsman: The Golden Circle for Slate:
“[…][T]he movie’s method in miniature: Leer at an attractive woman in her underwear, then pretend it’s only leering ironically. (Never mind that even though Delevingne’s character is cast as the sexual aggressor—even when Eggsy tells her he has a girlfriend, she’s still hot to trot—sticking an electronic device inside her without her consent is still a form of sexual assault.) Regardless, the movie itself goes limp when it strays too far from the genre’s bedrock. Its emotional beats play as if they were copy-pasted from other movies. They have the shell of sincerity but can’t be taken seriously, so they end up as vast stretches of nothingness.”
David Ehrlich on The Children Act (TIFF) for IndieWire:
“Like so many of the movies that stem from McEwan’s novels, “The Children Act” is a soulful and sophisticated adult drama that peers into the void between the beauty of ideals and the cost of living by them. And, like so many of the movies that stem from McEwan’s novels (such as “Enduring Love,” and TIFF 2017 premiere “On Chesil Beach”), “The Children Act” works best during its first acts, when the story is still setting its terms and carefully moving its characters to the ledge. Once these people are pushed off and forced to forge their own paths back to happiness, things start to test the limits of believability.”
David Ehrlich on Woman Walks Ahead (TIFF) for IndieWire:
“Is a film still considered a “white savior” story if its white protagonist never actually saves anything? In the case of Susanna White’s “Woman Walks Ahead,” it’s certainly not for lack of trying. A listless but lustrously shot biopic about the 19th century New York widow who traveled to North Dakota, painted the Sioux chief Sitting Bull, and then served as an advocate for his tribe as they fought the United States government’s attempts to expropriate their land, the movie almost credits Catherine Weldon as being solely responsible for the Native American resistance to the Dawes Act. Moreover, it also forgives her role in the massacre that followed.”
Scott Tobias on Razzia (TIFF) for Variety:
“If political courage were a measure of artistic merit, Moroccan director Nabil Arouch’s “Razzia,” a kaleidoscopic drama about intolerance and social tumult in Casablanca, would be a formidable achievement. As it stands, Arouch’s decision to keep courting controversy after his last film, “Much Loved,” was banned from Morocco for its depiction of prostitution in Marrakech is laudable in a country where the censors hold sway. Yet the everything-is-connected framework, linking five stories across a 30-year span, plays like a multipronged pitchfork wielded against the establishment, with each character sharpened to a point. The message-first approach drains the film of spontaneity and depth, despite the rousing passion of its director.”
Scott Tobias on Vampire Clay (TIFF) for Variety:
“A sinister pile of modeling clay could be anything, after all, but Umezama’s ersatz “Evil Dead 2” knockoff imagines few compelling forms for a plasticine demon that terrorizes a rural art school. Despite a high-profile launch at TIFF’s Midnight Madness and Fantastic Fest, the film’s shoddy craftsmanship stands to limit its schlock appeal.
The notion of “vampire clay” is a fun thought experiment, and Umezama seems to intend it that way, too, embracing both the utter ridiculousness of sentient hunks of plasticine and its endless creative applications. After all, every sculpture begins with the raw materials, so it makes sense for a film with claymation effects to make the clay itself a natural starting point.”
David Ehrlich on The LEGO Ninjago Movie for IndieWire:
“But seriously, where the hell are all the ninjas? And why does something with such explicitly Japanese origins open with a logo that riffs on the (Chinese) Shaw Brothers? Needless to say, anyone expecting “The LEGO Ninjago Movie” to be a historically accurate (or racially sensitive) experience may need to adjust their expectations — capitalism is the only culture that matters here, even if Lord Business is missing in action. The futuristic megalopolis of Ninjago wasn’t really built with specifics in mind; on the contrary, the whole thing is just kind of vaguely Asian, an opportunistic fusion of symbols and references that suggest a part of the world without meaningfully representing it.”
Matt Singer on The LEGO Ninjago Movie for ScreenCrush:
“Sit through the end credits of The LEGO Ninjago Movie and you will learn it was made by three different directors, nine different writers, five different editors, and a whopping 17 credited producers. If you’ve been paying attention up to that point, that’s not shocking information.
The LEGO Ninjago Movie is sorely lacking in the one department that distinguished its predecessors from the competition in the animated kids movie marketplace: A unique personality. Both 2014’s The LEGO Movie and 2017’s The LEGO Batman Movie had their own identities with quirky offbeat humor. The LEGO Ninjago Movie mostly settles for being an energetic facsimile of the two. It’s got different pieces, but it could have been built from the same instruction manual as the previous films.”
Noel Murray on Thirst Street for The A.V. Club:
“One of the more endearing quirks of 1970s European erotica is the persistent sense of danger. Adjust the lighting a bit, tweak the score just a few degrees from “dreamy” to “nightmarish,” and the typical French, Italian, Swedish, or Spanish skin flick from 40 years ago could just as easily pass as horror. After all, both genres—back then especially—were often about the anxieties of young women, thrust into situations fraught with excitement and personal peril.
Writer-director Nathan Silver draws heavily on that hazy Eurotica atmosphere for his Thirst Street. Co-written with C. Mason Wells, the film follows a rootless American stewardess named Gina (Lindsay Burdge) as she reels from a recent romantic tragedy.”
Noel Murray on Happy Hunting for the Los Angeles Times:
“A mean little mash-up of “The Most Dangerous Game” and “The Purge,” the bloody thriller “Happy Hunting” initially comes across as entertainingly simplistic, before gradually revealing its bigger picture. Writer-director team Joe Dietsch and Louie Gibson (making their feature debut) inject a dose of acerbic contemporary political perspective into their low-budget saga of people hunting people.
Martin Dingle Wall stars as drug-dealing drunk Warren, who’s making one last effort at redemption by swindling his fellow criminals, getting clean, and moving to Mexico to find his long-lost daughter. But Warren makes the mistake of stopping off in Bedford Flats, a dried-up desert town that holds an annual human-hunting competition in order to cleanse the community of “undesirables.” “
Noel Murray on The Houses October Built 2 for the Los Angeles Times:
” “The Houses October Built 2” brings back the core cast and the same team of filmmakers (led by writer-director-star Bobby Roe and writer-producer-star Zack Andrews). This time out, both the characters and the people playing them have become famous among scare aficionados, due to the first film.
Roe and Andrews add a few other new wrinkles, including drone cameras and a new “holy grail of haunts” for the heroes: a shadowy group named Hellbent that treats its clientele to an experience akin to being kidnapped and tortured.”
David Ehrlich on Woodshock for IndieWire:
“[…][T]he film doesn’t tell a story so much as it offers a full-body simulation of the phenomenon described by its title, a specific kind of disorientation that that some people supposedly suffer when they get lost in a forest. The legitimacy of the term might be suspect — good luck finding it in the DSM-5 — but the Rodarte duo isn’t very interested in doing things by the book. Or in using a map. Or a script, it would seem. On the contrary, they’re in a race to go off the beaten trail, chasing their muse wherever it leads them. This movie is a lot of things, but compromised isn’t one of them.”
David Ehrlich on World of Tomorrow Episode Two: The Burden of Other People’s Thoughts for IndieWire:
“If “World of Tomorrow” was a journey outwards to the furthest reaches of thought, “World of Tomorrow Episode Two: The Burden of Other People’s Thoughts” is an epic voyage inward, a dizzying spin down the rabbit hole of the human subconscious. A true sequel in every sense of the word, this second chapter is bigger, longer, and a lot more complicated than the original. The ingeniously knotted timeline is easy enough to follow the first time through — fatalism has its perks — but multiple viewings are required to appreciate the full intricacy of Hertzfeldt’s narrative, which draws a half-dozen concentric halos around a story that ultimately stands still[…].”
Scott Tobias on Stronger for NPR:
“The key to Stronger is that it treats Bauman’s story as a coming-home narrative, like a soldier returning from the front lines with grievous injuries to his body and mind. The only difference is that Bauman faces an unusual set of circumstances that challenge his recovery and rehabilitation. Though the film stays firmly in his corner, it doesn’t assign him any special nobility and it doesn’t absolve his mother and father (Clancy Brown) of the mistakes they make along with way, too. When Bauman returns from the hospital, for example, he gets thrown a big party, but he doesn’t get a wheelchair-accessible staircase or any accommodations inside his mom’s apartment, either.”
David Ehrlich on Goodbye Christopher Robin for IndieWire:
“Once upon a time we used to tell stories; now we just tell stories about how we used to tell stories. At least, that’s how it feels to watch a consistently milquetoast, comfortably middlebrow bit of true-life fluff like “Goodbye Christopher Robin,” which does for Winnie the Pooh what “Finding Neverland” did for Peter Pan (which is to say that it takes a formative and utterly unique work of literature and reverse engineers it into a passable biopic that has no hope of changing the world or anyone in it).”
Sheila O’Malley on Bobbi Jene for RogerEbert.com:
” “Bobbi Jene,” Elvira Lind’s documentary about Bobbi Jene Smith, a longtime dancer in Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin‘s Batsheva Dance Group, is unclear in its intentions. It doesn’t know what it wants to be, or what story it wants to tell. The film is about a dancer, but there’s not all that much dance in it. It’s about a woman making a life-changing choice, but the movie itself has a very low-stakes atmosphere. Bobbi Jene Smith has had a unique life as a dancer, but her personal problems are extremely ordinary. Lind gets sucked into these personal matters to such a degree that they take over the film.”
Mike D’Angelo on The Force for The A.V. Club:
“Documentary filmmakers who tackle current events need to be open-minded and flexible, following the story wherever it leads them. Sometimes, this results in a movie that bears little resemblance to what the director imagined when shooting began. […] That appears to be what happened with The Force, which observes the perpetually controversial Oakland Police Department over a period of roughly two years, starting a few months after the 2014 Ferguson protests. To his credit, director Peter Nicks (The Waiting Room) accepts the dispiriting trajectory that this initially hopeful film ultimately takes—there’s no dissembling here. Trouble is, most of the ugly stuff happens off-camera, necessitating a secondhand second half that amounts to an embarrassed “Oops.” “
Nathan Rabin on All Wifed Out (2012?) for Control Nathan Rabin:
“The whole goddamn world learned that Fat Jew was all flash and zero substance within the past few years, but that was achingly apparent to the very small number of people who saw his would-be star-making vehicle All Wifed Out.
[…]All Wifed Out is so nakedly a Hangover rip-off that it deserves an Asylum title like The Day After Excessive Drinking. Like The Hangover, All Wifed Out follows the theoretically debauched but actually fairly time misadventures of a trio of pals after the loving, understanding and sexually aggressive girlfriend lead Blandy McDullGuy (Scott Rodgers) fucks up his head with her sinister suggestion that they move in together.”
Nathan Rabin on Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever (2002) for Rotten Tomatoes:
“[…]Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever holds the distinction of being the single worst-reviewed movie in Rotten Tomatoes history.
[…]As Ecks, Banderas has the scruffy, world-weary air of someone who hasn’t shaved, bathed, or changed his clothes since his wife was killed in a car bombing — a scene the movie returns to again and again in histrionic, over-the-top flashbacks until the effect is unintentionally comic rather than tragic. Though Banderas can be enormous fun, Ballistic frustratingly refuses to allow him to be himself. The funny, brawling, live-wire charisma he brought to his best roles is replaced by a dour, black-eyed humorlessness that any number of second-rate action heroes could have contributed to the role.”
Nathan Rabin on Maximum Overdrive (1986) for My World of Flops:
“In Hollywood’s Stephen King, King says, with characteristic self-deprecating bluntness, that he was“coked out of [his] mind all through its production, and [he] really didn’t know what [he] was doing.”
That comes through loud and clear in every frame of the movie. King is credited as director here but this might be another case of a giant bag of cocaine becoming sentient and deciding to direct a movie that reflected its sensibility in its purest form. King is one of our greatest storytellers, but a movie about a crazy world full of Southern-fried assholes where all the machines suddenly become sentient and try to kill all humans sure seems like the kind of idea a sentient bag of cocaine would come up with.”
Tasha Robinson with Bryan Bishop on “What binge-watching bloody movies at TIFF taught us about the modern horror genre” for The Verge:
“Tasha: […]Watching so many horror films in such close proximity, though, I started to pick up some lessons that don’t fully come into focus when I’m just watching a single movie. So, I thought we should talk through some of the lessons we learned about horror at TIFF this year.
I’ll start with this: if you’re going to do jump scares, they should at least have a payoff. I’m reaching a point where I think the jump scare is the lamest, limpest form of horror. It is to real suspense what a day-old Big Mac on the warming chute is to real food. Anybody can make an audience flinch by ramping up the scary music and then having something lunge abruptly at the screen.”
Noel Murray reflects back on TIFF 2017 for The Week:
“Because major film festivals screen hundreds of movies each year, some are bound to have overlapping subjects … in fact, sometimes that’s even by design. I’d bet that as soon as the programmers at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival booked Battle of the Sexes — a star-studded dramatization of the controversial, zeitgeist-defining 1973 exhibition tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs — they immediately went after Borg/McEnroe, a smaller-scale Swedish film about two very different Wimbledon champions.
Which film has the advantage? Call it square.”
Tasha Robinson and Bryan Bishop present “The Verge’s TIFF 2017 Awards” for, well…The Verge:
“Best angry performance: Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
[…]The key to McDormand’s performance is that she plays Mildred as perpetually angry: sometimes weary and angry, sometimes sad and angry, sometimes conciliatory angry, and sometimes hugely, destructively angry. It’s a nuanced portrayal that’s often funny, and always capable of drawing sympathy. She isn’t a Punisher-esque rage monster. But she does seem capable of absolutely anything, including fighting the whole town of Ebbing if she needs to. McDormand’s performance makes this largely outlandish story seem plausible, and always entertaining. —Tasha”
Tasha Robinson interviews Peter Dinklage for The Verge:
“What drew you to Rememory?
My good friend Mark Palansky wrote the film with me in mind. We talked about the idea years before we shot the film. It’s dark and fascinating stuff from one of the funniest people I know. Makes for a great day at work.
I always love a slow burn in a character. Not revealing too much. Especially in a story like this one, where you are going down a rabbit hole with someone you don’t know too much about at first as your guide. I really enjoyed working with all of the different actors and the variety of their perspectives on the story as my character tries to piece it all together. I probably worked with Julia Ormond the most, and she is an absolute joy.”
Charles Bramesco interviews Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani for Nylon:
“Though they share credit, they’re clearly of independent minds, often responding to questions in perfect tandem with completely opposite answers. In the production process, their disagreements act as a vulcanizing agent, toughening and refining each idea. “During the preparation, we are fighting a-lot-a-lot-a-lot,” she says. “But after the fight, we’re on the same wavelength, and we can shoot with no problem. Then, in editing, a lot of fighting again.”
“On [The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears], we had more disagreement,” Forzani adds. “It was nearly chaos at the end, at the breaking point. We wanted to do Let the Corpses Tan because it was not such an intimate story; it’s based on a book, so it’s neutral for us. It was easier for us to communicate again.””
Charles Bramesco remembers Harry Dean Stanton in Paris, Texas for Vulture:
“Harry Dean Stanton had seen some shit. That was arguably the defining quality of a varied career that cast the actor as heroes and villains, wanderers and guides. Even from his youngest years, the man’s unmistakable sunken-in eyes seemed like they had borne witness to entire millennia; to paraphrase Andrew Lloyd Webber describing Pilate describing Jesus Christ, he had that look you very rarely find — the haunting, hunted kind. Those eyes didn’t need to change to convey emotion, instead refracting a given situation back through their unflagging stoicism. In an upbeat moment, the stillness of his gaze would hint at isolation, an inability to feel along with the rest of us.”
Nathan Rabin on “Harry Dean Stanton and Public Mourning” for Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place:
“Stanton was a character actor rather than a star. The world might have known his face but he was not a household name, nor any kind of a box-office attraction. Indeed, I actually just chuckled at the very idea of people trying to sell a movie on the basis of Harry Dean Stanton’s popularity at the box office.
So I was very pleasantly surprised at the incredible outpouring of love and attention that followed Stanton’s death. We live in a culture with a tiny memory and the attention span of a fruit fly. Unless the deceased is someone like David Bowie or Prince, we tend to give the dead a day or so to be remembered, then move onto less depressing and more timely manners.
But that hasn’t happened with Stanton.”
Craig J. Clark/Hooded Justice on Eastern Promises‘s anatomical storytelling for Crooked Marquee:
“[…]Viggo Mortensen (Cronenberg’s leading man of choice at the time) plays Nikolai, an up-and-comer who has modified his body by getting an array of tattoos to infiltrate the Russian mob in London.
Cannily, like a horror filmmaker revealing his monster piece by piece, Cronenberg unveils Nikolai’s body art one body part at a time. Even the most attentive viewer may not register the initial glimpses of the ring-like tattoos on his fingers and the small one on his wrist, but Cronenberg lingers on the one on the back of his right hand long enough that it would be impossible to miss. And the same goes for the ones on his forearms when he rolls up his sleeves to process a corpse that needs to be gotten rid of. (All part of the job when you’re a chauffeur for the mob.)“
Kate Erbland on “Why CinemaScores Don’t Matter If You Want More Great Movies” for IndieWire:
“[…]CinemaScores don’t measure quality. They measure “movie appeal,” which boils down to one major question: Does the movie I saw reflect the movie advertised?
Movies that tend to do well on the CinemaScore curve — recent “A” movies include “Girls Trip,” “Leap!,” and “Spider-Man: Homecoming” — are typically more mainstream: straightforward marketing for straightforward movies. There’s nothing wrong with marketing films to their audience. However, the system also dings films for going in unusual directions with their marketing, which is further proof that metrics may or may not correlate with quality.
The latest victim of CinemaScore metrics is Darren Aronofsky’s ambitious, divisive, and utterly bonkers “mother!” “
Sam Adams on why “Darren Aronofsky Needs to Stop Explaining What Mother! Is About” for Slate:
“Humans being fallible creatures, artists’ explanations of the work they intended to make are often more intriguing than the work itself. But one hallmark of great art is that it’s about more than its creators intended, or at least that it allows people other than the artist(s) to find their own meaning in it. To his credit, Aronofsky isn’t shutting down alternate interpretations of his movie, but he also can’t resist providing his own: He’s like a magician so pleased with his own trick he can’t wait to show you how it’s done.”
Kate Erbland on “Why Emma Stone’s Performance as Billie Jean King Deserves a Much Better Movie” for IndieWire:
” “Battles of the Sexes” essentially stuffs a long-necessary King biopic, one that follows the most personally formative experiences of the tennis champ’s life, into a crowd-pleasing story about the infamous sporting event from which it takes its title. It’s a character-driven drama crammed inside a sports film, and while that sort of engineering has often led to some revelatory offerings (think “Ali” or “The Fighter,” “Rudy” or “The Babe,” and scores more), “Battle” does not join their ranks.”
Kate Erbland with Dana Harris on the recent Harry Knowles sexual assault allegations for IndieWire:
” “Harry Knowles groped me, opportunistically, on more than one occasion,” said Jasmine Baker. “I cannot just stay silent. I am not interested in remaining silent.”
[…]IndieWire spoke with two friends of Baker’s who confirmed that she had shared stories of the incidents, and that Baker told them of multiple occurrences in which Knowles touched her without consent.
Reached by phone, Knowles responded to the charges: “I categorically deny it.” Knowles said they were friends and “she treated me like a confidante.” He said their friendship ended in 2002, shortly after Knowles and a mutual friend broke up.
The reason she’s speaking up now, Baker said, is she’s hopeful that attitudes are changing toward what’s considered acceptable behavior and how people address accusations. Baker said when she originally told mutual friends about the incident, they shrugged it off.”
Kate Erbland on the Duplass brothers’ new effort to support indie filmmakers for IndieWire (previous post here; Erbland’s previous article here):
“Submissions opened for the initiative in August, and campaigns began running last week (going through October 13). In the first six days of the rally alone, the campaigns have altogether raised $259k and gained 11k followers. As of this writing, 73 projects from 26 states (aiming to raise over $1 million in total funds) are currently in the running. A number of projects directly impacted and displaced from Hurricane Harvey are also still in the competition.
[…]People can support each campaign by funding directly through the Seed&Spark platform, or by simply following the projects. The 10 successfully funded campaigns with the most campaign followers at the end of the rally will go on as finalists to pitch the Duplass brothers in October.”
Rachel Handler’s Serious Quiz asks “Will I Hate Mother!?” for Vulture:
“Before you head to the theater this weekend and maybe accidentally ruin your life, why not take our handy quiz to determine, preemptively and with 100 percent certainty: Will You Love or Hate Mother!?[…]
Tasha Robinson, Keith Phipps, and Scott Tobias on Stand By Me and It (2017) for episodes 94 and 95 of The Next Picture Show podcast:
From Part 1 (download it here):
Tobias: “[Stand By Me] was a film that I saw as a teenager and liked quite a bit, and revisited many times back then–profanity certainly played a role in that, certainly as a boy connecting with other boys–I was into the film. I mean, as an adult, I can see some of the flaws in the film, particularly the framing device, and I think the film could stand to be a little harder-edged when it kind of goes a little bit more towards the sentimental side. […]But not entirely, and the essence of the material certainly comes through in a powerful way.”
Robinson: “Revisiting it as an adult, I don’t love this movie, still to this day. […]But I appreciated it a lot more than I did as an adolescent, in part because it’s such a time capsule, in part of Reiner’s directing, but mostly just the four central kids: these are all people who went on to have pretty big impact on movies, on television, on pop culture in general, and seeing them all as little boys hanging out with each other, and making some very particular King dialogue actually sound believable, it’s just a lot of fun.”
From Part 2 (download it here):
Phipps: “I liked this movie just fine, but I was expecting maybe we’d get a revelatory Stephen King adaptation. It’s been a while since we’ve had one of those, and certainly the material lends itself to that, and you[Tobias]’re right where I think it gets less convincing as it goes along, in part because I think that first scene is, as you[Robinson] say, really eerie. I think most of the Pennywise appearances are; there might be too many of them, and it is a little assaultive, but I think there’s some inventiveness to the way they’re presented. I think part of the problem is there aren’t a lot of characters, and the kids are really good–I think this is a strong cast, which helps a lot–but a lot of them are really thinned out John Hughes clichés.”
True confession: I didn't think Pennywise was very funny.
— Keith Phipps (@kphipps3000) September 21, 2017
Charles Bramesco joins the Everything But Sports podcast on TIFF 2017:
Bramesco: “I was forced to see Super-Size Me 2[…] One of maybe four interesting things that the movie has to say in its sprawling 88 minutes is that[…]McDonalds’ branding has just tried to promote that idea–that they’re selling salads and shit now–but the data that they bring up: no one buys these salads. Now they’ve renovated all the McDonaldses so that they look like real restaurants, and they sell crap with kale, but everyone’s still buying Big Macs. It’s just good for the optics.”