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.
Tasha Robinson on 1922 (Fantastic Fest) for The Verge:
“[Muschietti’s] It is the first half of a two-film package, Dark Tower was planned as one installment in a sprawling film-and-TV cinematic universe, and The Mist and Mr. Mercedes are both in a position to continue their stories if the ratings justify the expense. Which is why 2017’s latest King adaptation, Netflix’s feature film 1922, comes as such a comparative relief. It isn’t trying to lay the foundations for a grand, cosmic universe. It isn’t trying to build characters who can sell their own merch and carry their own spin-offs down the road. It’s just a simple, single self-contained horror story.
It’s also a phenomenally grim one, as King readers can already attest.”
Tasha Robinson on Anna and the Apocalypse (Fantastic Fest) for The Verge:
“[…]Anna and the Apocalypse[…] is exactly as advertised: a low-budget, high-energy independent musical comedy made in Scotland, and centering on how a group of angsty high-schoolers on the cusp of graduation deal with a sudden outbreak of living-deadism.
[…]The film probably won’t win over anyone who’s tired of zombie films, the rash of musical entertainment that followed Glee’s breakout TV success, or seniors-facing-the-future stories in general. But for anyone who’s predisposed to like these things, but is ready to see them in a new combination, Anna and the Apocalypse is an entertaining blast of fresh air that just happens to include a fine spray of blood.”
Tasha Robinson on Mary and the Witch’s Flower (Fantastic Fest) for The Verge:
“[…][F]or longtime Ghibli fans, the release of Mary and the Witch’s Flower comes as both an immense relief and a significant surprise. Its production company, Studio Ponoc, was founded by Ghibli veteran Yoshiaki Nishimura (producer of the company’s When Marnie Was There and The Tale of the Princess Kaguya), and the film features a variety of Ghibli vets. It’s no wonder it looks and feels so much like a Ghibli film, from the character designs to the story dynamic to the source material. But given Ghibli’s uniqueness in the world, it’s still surprising to see another studio so perfectly reproducing all the things that make Ghibli movies magical.”
Tasha Robinson on Gerald’s Game (Fantastic Fest) for The Verge:
“It’s one of King’s worst novels, a book that wholeheartedly gives in to his worst tendencies to have a protagonist’s magically knowledgeable inner voices explain the world and reveal information. Those voices in the book are quaint, weird characters that emerge from the main character’s psyche, and the whole story winds up feeling claustrophobic in a limiting way rather than a scary one.
That makes it all the more fascinating that writer-director Mike Flanagan (Hush) and co-writer Jeff Howard have turned Gerald’s Game into one of the most compelling, eerie, memorable Stephen King adaptations to date.”
Keith Phipps on Gerard’s Game for Uproxx:
“Carla Gugino plays Jessie, the wife of Gerald (Bruce Greenwood), a successful attorney. […]Gerald hasn’t been a faithful, loving husband to her and this is a weekend designed to rescue a marriage in distress — an effect Gerald hopes to achieve in part by spicing up their sex life with a pair of handcuffs.
Jessie goes along, until it becomes clear that Gerald’s drawn the line between fantasy and reality at a spot that makes her uncomfortable. Still chained to the bed, they argue. Then Gerald keels over from a heart attack, leaving her no way to escape.”
Tasha Robinson on Radius (Fantastic Fest) for The Verge:
“One of the serious advantages to smaller, indie speculative-fiction movies is that you generally don’t know what you’re getting up front. In today’s anticipation culture, websites often drool over every possible detail and reveal about the bigger nerd-friendly properties. It’s easy to walk into a big movie feeling like you already know all the major beats, because they’ve been discussed to death online already in “Everything we know about this movie” articles, and “Let’s pick apart this trailer frame by frame” videos.
And then along comes something unheralded, under-the-radar, and authentically strange, like the Canadian movie Radius.”
Tasha Robinson on Salyut-7 (Fantastic Fest) for The Verge:
“This breathless, intense sequence is just the opening salvo in a high-tech thriller that’s familiar in many respects to American space blockbusters, from fiction like Gravity to historical dramas like Apollo 13 and The Right Stuff. Salyut-7 is also based on real history: it tracks the USSR’s dramatic 1985 mission to reboot and rescue the crippled Salyut 7 space station, after an accident left it unpowered and unresponsive to ground control. The station was empty at the time, which left ground crews with no way of determining how badly it had malfunctioned, or whether it could be repaired.”
Scott Tobias on Good Favour (TIFF) for Variety:
“A young man stumbles out of the woods, wounded and desperate. A village of devout Christians welcomes him with open arms, nursing him back to health and giving him a place to stay. They don’t know who he is or where he came from, and the children in the village follow him closely, as if he possesses some magical powers. Is he a force for good? Or is he a malevolent spirit tasked with punishing them for their sins and hypocrisy? These questions hang in the air in Rebecca Daly’s “Good Favour” — and they just keep on hanging, until the intrigue gradually slips into boredom and the film’s determined ambiguity starts to feel like aggravating coyness.”
Scott Tobias on The Price of Success (TIFF) for Variety:
“In “The Price of Success,” a a cliche-larded drama about celebrity malaise, Tahar Rahim, best known for his galvanizing turn in “A Prophet,” stars as a blockbuster comic who sells out arenas but seems incapable of making people laugh. It doesn’t help that the film bears so much similarity to Chris Rock’s “Top Five,” a funny drama by and about one of the world’s premier stand-ups. The absence of humor here feeds into the perversive inauthenticity that dogs the action. Rahim remains a magnetic leading man, but original insights into fame, family and ethnic identity are few and far between.”
David Ehrlich on Before We Vanish (NYFF) for IndieWire:
“[…]“Before We Vanish” doesn’t really improve when its various storylines finally knot together, even if there are some fun things to see along the way (one favorite: Narumi’s misogynist boss, who’s alleviated from a certain concept and immediately starts throwing paper airplanes around the office). Each individual episode touches on how words can trip us up and trap us together, but [Kiyoshi] Kurosawa fails to bring that sentiment to life, and his overarching thesis about the power of the individual consciousness doesn’t really take root until the shlocky third act, which involves a lot of bad rear-projection and a man dodging missiles from a flimsy CG drone.”
Tasha Robinson on Flatliners (2017) for The Verge:
“[…]Oplev and screenwriter Ben Ripley (who also wrote Duncan Jones’ Source Code) opt for the laziest, most predictable route — an almost blow-by-blow remake that runs a new crew of flatliners through the exact same beats as the old ones, but with less energy and creativity. Sutherland’s character is a near-nonentity, a cameo who turns up in a few scenes as a generic cranky medical-center administrator. The character doesn’t do anything specific or interesting to justify Sutherland’s presence. The same could be said of the film as a whole.”
Noel Murray on Flatliners (2017) for the Los Angeles Times:
“The best that can be said about the “Flatliners” remake is that the new filmmaking team of writer Ben Ripley and director Niels Arden Oplev makes the original’s members look like peerless masters of horror.
The 2017 “Flatliners” stars Ellen Page as Courtney, a medical student in a prestigious program, who’s having trouble getting past the death of her sister. Whenever she’s not on call, Courtney revives the experiments from the first film, enlisting the help of four other young docs — played by Kiersey Clemons, James Norton, Nina Dobrev and Diego Luna — to explore the realm beyond death.”
Mike D’Angelo on Flatliners (2017) for The A.V. Club:
“Ripley demonstrated some ingenuity with Source Code, but he fails to solve this premise’s fundamental problem. Creating necessary tension during the flatlining scenes requires that the characters nearly die, permanently; every single time, there’s frantic medical activity and shouts of “It isn’t working!” Yet Jamie is unaccountably eager to have his heart stopped after watching Courtney barely make it back, and Marlo insists that she’s next right after Jamie almost winds up in the morgue, and so on. What we see of the ostensible afterlife—just ordinary depopulated locations on Earth, made mildly strange via smeared neon or overexposure—doesn’t justify all this mortal recklessness.”
David Ehrlich on Flatliners (2017) for IndieWire:
“[…][S]ome of the scenes where they’re all together manage to evoke a certain kind of millennial Darwinism. These kids are literally dying to succeed. While “Flatliners” is largely disinterested in acknowledging how the world has changed during the 27 years since this story was first told, the recklessness of start-up culture sometimes creeps its way into the film as if by mistake.
Likewise, it’s tempting to make something of the fact that the two non-white characters are the least entitled and most level-headed, but the storytelling is so egregiously haphazard that even the most intriguing details feel more like happy accidents than they do actual choices.”
Noel Murray on Don’t Sleep for the Los Angeles Times:
“There’s scarcely a new or old horror movie cliché that goes unused in “Don’t Sleep,” a supernatural thriller that tries a little bit of everything — all competently, none memorably.
[…]Possessed kids? Creepy suburbs? Shower scenes? Shadowy figures popping up in shadows and mirrors? Writer-director Rick Bieber (a Hollywood vet who produced the original “Flatliners” 27 years ago) brings all that and more.
But even with a solid cast at his disposal, Bieber can’t make “Don’t Sleep” anything more than a disconnected compendium of time-tested shock tactics.”
Mike D’Angelo on Lucky (2017) for The A.V. Club:
“The directorial debut of ace character actor John Carroll Lynch (Marge’s husband in the movie Fargo, the creepiest suspect in Zodiac, etc.), this lightly eccentric, virtually plotless meditation on mortality would likely have attracted attention under any circumstances—indeed, even had it turned out to be terrible—simply because it offers Stanton his first leading role in a feature film since 1984’s Paris, Texas. (First-time screenwriters Logan Sparks and Drago Sumonja reportedly conceived it with him in mind; it’s hard to imagine who else they might have turned to had he said “No.”) So it’s a remarkable gift to fans and cinephiles that Lucky serves as a first-rate showcase for its star as well as an ideal swan song.”
Keith Phipps on Lucky (2017) for Uproxx:
“Stanton plays Lucky, a loner who lives on the edge of some unnamed desert town and keeps to a routine. He gets up, smokes, exercises, has some coffee, then makes the rounds in town, stopping at a diner, and then a convenience store. Eventually, he heads home to watch some game shows after making his usual excuse (“Well, I gotta go, my shows are on”), then heads out to a bar presided over by the brassy Elaine (Beth Grant) and her smooth-voiced husband Paul (James Darren).”
David Ehrlich on Lucky (2017) for IndieWire:
“You get the sense that, by this point, Stanton was scared as well — that he took the part in the hope that it might help ease his fears, or at least distract him from thinking about death for a while. Sure, this is a movie about death, but only in the beginning. Over time, as Lucky starts to comes out of his shell, his story shifts its focus away from the grave. It’s a small adjustment, as subtle as someone just standing up a little straighter, but no actor has ever done a better job of negotiating the difference between resignation and acceptance.”
Sheila O’Malley on Super Dark Times for RogerEbert.com:
“A strong and specific mood can cover up a multitude of sins in a film. Mood can hypnotize an audience, scare them, capture them in a rhythm and not let them go. In “Super Dark Times,” director Kevin Phillips, in his feature film debut, creates a mood from the opening shot, a mood sustained wonderfully well, even if the third act moves into cliched territory. What matters in “Super Dark Times” is not what happens. We’ve seen it all before. What matters is how it happens, and how the landscape—a picturesque New England town—seeps into the characters’ psyches as a kind of cold and lonely malaise.”
Scott Tobias on Super Dark Times for NPR:
“[…][T]he script, by Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski, goes wildly astray when it starts treating the boys’ psychological stress as the grease that lines a slippery slope. When Super Dark Times makes the shift from somber coming-of-age film to out-and-out grisly thriller, its credibility as a character study withers away in the process. Perhaps the filmmakers felt there was some need to understand how teenage minds are warped by circumstances that can lead to violence, but getting from where Zach and especially Josh are in the beginning of the film to where they are at the end of it is more a leap than an evolution.”
Keith Phipps on Super Dark Times for Uproxx:
“Nostalgia has a way of overwriting reality. Memory can put the good times in spotlights while shrouding the everyday dissatisfaction and awkwardness of growing up in mist. Also shrouded: the frequent awfulness of the people we used to be when we were young. One of the great strengths of Super Dark Times — the first feature film from director Kevin Phillips, working from a script co-written by Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski — is the way it refuses to forget those moments, or that awfulness.”
Matt Singer on Blade Runner 2049 (2017) for ScreenCrush:
“Gosling’s part is tricky. K is an extremely internal, reactive character; most of his performance involves bottling up his emotions and letting them leak out in the subtlest of ways while wearing an insanely stylish retro-futuristic shearling overcoat that is going to become the go-to Halloween costume for film nerds until at least 2049. There’s not a lot of smiling or quipping in the world of Blade Runner, crutches Gosling can often use to power him through weak scenes. K demands a very different kind of acting from him, and he delivers.”
David Ehrlich on Our Souls at Night for IndieWire:
“Told with with the gentle touch of a partner taking your arm on an afternoon stroll, Ritesh Batra’s “Our Souls at Night” is a wise and wistful drama about life after death; regardless of how old you are, this is the kind of movie that your parents would like. It begins with the folksy twang of a guitar and shots of streetlights blinking awake as night falls on a small Colorado town. A widower named Louis Waters (Robert Redford) sits alone in the kitchen of a house that was clearly meant for two. This is the only sort of night that he has. At least, until it isn’t.”
David Ehrlich on The Mountain Between Us for IndieWire:
“Amusingly billed as a “romance-disaster” on the film’s Wikipedia page, Hany Abu-Assad’s dreary but diverting high-altitude epic is a “will they or won’t they?” flirtation superimposed onto a classic story of survival. It’s fantastically unrealistic stuff from the first minute to the last (and there are far too many minutes between them), but Idris Elba and Kate Winslet generate enough heat to keep the frostbite at bay, and Mandy Walker’s stunning location cinematography ensures that the film looks considerably more authentic than it feels.”
Noel Murray on The Sound for the Los Angeles Times:
“Though writer-director Jenna Mattison’s debut feature has a slim story and very little dialogue, she brings heft to her atmospheric horror exercise “The Sound” just by cranking up the bass.
[…][Rose] McGowan is excellent in what she’s claimed will be her last acting role; and Christopher Lloyd is equally memorable as one of the lost souls the heroine encounters in Toronto’s labyrinthine underground.”
Sam Adams on American Made for Slate:
“Barry is the closest thing Tom Cruise has played to a regular Joe in more than a decade, and the part isn’t a snug fit. The real Barry Seal was paunchy and balding, but Cruise plays him as a charismatic hotshot. It’s fitting that American Made’s time frame, which spans from 1978 to 1986, overlaps with the beginning of Cruise’s on-screen stardom. With his cocky grin and metal-rimmed sunglasses, Barry acts like a guy who’s seen a few too many Tom Cruise movies.”
Scott Tobias on American Made for Uproxx:
“Liman directed Edge of Tomorrow, one of the most entertaining films of Cruise’s career, and his remarkable dexterity as an action filmmaker was established earlier in The Bourne Identity and Mr. and Mrs. Smith. But his most crucial contribution to American Made is a lightness of tone, which synchs up with his insight into Seal’s true motives, which wouldn’t be served by the gravity that usually attends docudramas about the Iran-Contra affair or the Medellín Cartel or Ronald Reagan’s initiatives in the war on drugs and the fight against Soviet influence.”
Mike D’Angelo on Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House for The A.V. Club:
“Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down The White House (a title better suited to a History Channel documentary) replays Nixon’s downfall from the whistleblower’s point of view, with no less commanding a presence than Liam Neeson in the title role. Unfortunately, Felt’s actions, while historically important, don’t exactly make for riveting drama, especially compared to a classic about two dogged reporters. Nor does the film succeed in making Felt himself particularly interesting, except perhaps as a proxy—purely by coincidence, one assumes, given any movie’s lengthy gestation period—for another, recently terminated FBI honcho.”
Nathan Rabin on Money Monster (2016) for Lukewarm Takes:
“So instead of treating myself to something like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, I ended up satiating my vague curiosity regarding the indifferently received Jodie Foster directorial opus Money Monster. The film aspires to a Paddy Chayefsky level of operatic social commentary and dark comedy but honestly isn’t that much better than Rampage: Capital Punishment, a thematically similar cross between Dog Day Afternoon and Network written and directed by Uwe Boll, who is generally considered to be a lesser filmmaker than Jodie Foster.”
Nathan Rabin on Scooby-Doo! and Kiss: Rock and Roll Mystery (2015) for Control Nathan Rabin:
“I’m no fan of Scooby Doo, or Hanna-Barbera, the prolific, overly loved crap factory that churned it out, alongside plenty of other barely-animated horse shit, or the rock and roll band Kiss.
So I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this seemingly mercenary shotgun wedding of things I’m on record as thinking are on the “terrible” spectrum—Scooby Doo, Hanna-Barbera, Kiss—is actually pretty terrific. It was made by people who clearly love Kiss, and have a deep and nuanced understanding of their legacy but who have a sense of humor about Kiss as well.”
Nathan Rabin on Achmed Saves America (2014) for This Looks Terrible! :
“Instead of Dunham performing Dunham material opposite his trusty supporting cast of dummies, Achmed Saves America was written by Michael Price, a veteran comedy writer best known for his work with The Simpsons. Needless to say, this is an improvement, even if the sixty-one minute “movie” feels unmistakably like a back-door pilot for a “politically incorrect” social satire that imagines what Family Guy might be like if fan favorite Stewie was replaced with a ghoulish caricature of a crazed Jihadist who is supposed to come from a fictional Middle Eastern country but who actually shares the eastern european accents and much of the personality and inflections of Triumph the Insult Comic Dog and Ren of Ren & Stimpy fame.”
Nathan Rabin on Police Academy: Mission to Moscow (1994) for This Looks Terrible/Squeakquels! :
“The famously troubled making of Police Academy: Mission to Moscow was interrupted by an unsuccessful military coup and Michael Winslow was apparently so convincing making bleep bloop bloop robot sounds during a scene where he does bike tricks that because the frequency his microphone was using was also employed by the military they reportedly descended on the production to investigate.
Yes, Michael Winslow’s mastery of sound effects very nearly caused an international incident. That is one million times more interesting than anything in the movie itself, which is, in true sixth sequel form, a fuzzy Xerox of something that wasn’t very good in the first place.”
Jen Chaney interviews Henry Thomas for Vulture:
“[Pamela Adlon’s] first film credit was in 1982 and that’s when you were in E.T., and I just figured, “Oh, they must have crossed paths at auditions or things like that.” But I guess not.
We worked with the same people. Like, Alan Carr, who produced Grease 2, produced a film I was in called Cloak and Dagger back in ’84. We had probably crossed paths but, you know, it’s that crazy Hollywood thing where you don’t really ever meet anybody except at award shows and things like that, and I don’t frequent many of those events.”
Charles Bramesco interviews Ali Fazal for Vulture:
” “Theater is almost looked down upon in India,” he explains. “There are ‘theater guys,’ you have a sling bag with a kurta, and you’re that guy. It’s a type. Which is sad, because theater gave me a lot. You gotta be smart to go from one to the other, because cinema and theater are very different things in India.”
By his own count, then, Fazal’s a pretty smart guy. After scoring a couple of dead-end roles in English-language projects — one being a forgotten 2009 sitcom in which Chris Kattan pursued Bollywood stardom — he parlayed a memorable cameo in the Hindi smash hit 3 Idiots into leading-man roles, and a solid foothold in the bustling sprawl of Bollywood.”
Kate Erbland on the recent Fantastic Fest and Fantastic Fest-adjacent scandals for IndieWire:
Kate Erbland and David Ehrlich, with Eric Kohn, “Debate the Value of New York’s Biggest Film Festival and Who It’s Supposed to Serve” for IndieWire:
“KATE ERBLAND: […]At NYFF, the quality is always high, but the risks remain low. I’d love to see that change, because the NYFF audience is interested, educated, film-loving one that could certainly stand it.
DAVID EHRLICH: The question that seems to be driving this conversation is a simple one: Who does the NYFF actually serve?”
Charles Bramesco compares cuts of Blade Runner for Vulture:
“If you crave order and justice in this chaotic, amoral world:
Ridley Scott himself considered the U.S. theatrical version to be something of a betrayal, having been spliced together by executives after postproduction without the director’s knowledge. While Scott’s own cut drew praise for its defiantly ambiguous stance on big questions both of philosophy and its own plot (is Deckard a replicant or what?), the cut released to theaters during the film’s initial run tied everything up in a big, happy bow.”
Kate Erbland on Noah Baumbach’s return to shooting on film for IndieWire:
“At a New York Film Festival press conference this afternoon, Baumbach got honest about his flirtation with digital, and why he’s all about film…again.
“I shot ‘The Squid and the Whale’ on Super 16, and in a kind of different way, though, we hand-held the movie,” he explained. “It was a more, for lack of a better way to define it, more documentary-like, less structured in terms of the blocking.” Baumbach’s initial turn to digital came care of 2012’s “Frances Ha,” a free-wheeling, location-hopping feature that benefitted from the ease of use that can make digital cameras so appealing, followed by further digital forays with “Mistress America” and “While We’re Young.” “
David Ehrlich on “Why J.J. Abrams’ Your Name’ Remake Could Be a Golden Opportunity for Hollywood to Get Things Right” for IndieWire:
“[…][T]he idea of borrowing and building upon narratives from other nations is considerably older than the movies themselves, and — when done right — can be one of the most beautiful things about storytelling. We used to be pretty good at it, too, and the obvious examples of this cross-cultural exchange still hold up as the best ones (e.g. Akira Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai” was inspired by the Westerns of John Ford, and then itself remade as “The Magnificent Seven”). There’s real value in transposing great stories to new contexts, but that context has to be something more complicated than just “white people.” “