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 Home Again for IndieWire:
“The first thing we learn about Alice (Reese Witherspoon) in Hallie Meyers-Shyer’s directorial debut, “Home Again,” is that she’s a modern rom-com’s dream leading lady: a newly separated single mom with a kick-ass house who is just trying to make it (all of it, any of it) work. The second thing we learn about Alice is that she’s the daughter of a very famous, very respected, and very dead American director, a tongue-in-cheek reference to Meyers-Shyer’s own heritage — she’s Nancy Meyers’ daughter — that marks one of the film’s few original ideas. Still, it’s an amenable enough ramble of a romantic comedy, and Witherspoon is as charming as ever in the genre in which she excels.”
Tasha Robinson on It (2017) for The Verge:
“[…]It has two major saving graces: Muschietti’s eye for striking images is one of the film’s core assets, and his ghost story Mama often comes to mind throughout It. Unlike most monster movies, which withhold their central critters until the end to build up suspense and mystery, Muschietti put Mama’s monster on-screen early, and trained viewers to fear her for her unsettling eeriness and malice. He does the same with Pennywise, leaving any sense of mystery and dread out of the film, but replacing it with sharp shocks and Uncanny Valley creepiness.
And the convincing child cast carries the film when the scares start to feel redundant.”
Scott Tobias on It (2017) for NPR:
“[…]Muschietti can’t resist making Pennywise the star and the barrage of evil-clown manifestations has a diminishing effect on the film as it trudges along. It’s a simple case of mathematics: There are seven kids in “The Losers Club,” the adolescents who square off against Pennywise, and all seven require their own individual hauntings, on top of the multiple times they try to confront the threat as a group. That adds up to a relentless succession of nerve-shredding sequences, but the effect is fatiguing over the long run and does a disservice to the children and the town that summon this beast from the depths.”
Kate Erbland on On Chesil Beach for IndieWire:
“Based on Ian McEwan’s novella of the same name, the film follows a pair of honeymooners (Saoirse Ronan and a revelatory Billy Howle) on their first night together, interspersed with a series of flashbacks that clarify the shaky state of their newly-sealed relationship. Set in the early 1960s, both Florence (Ronan) and Edward (Howle) have mostly sidestepped the rising cultural tide, instead finding themselves enmeshed (and often trapped) in traditional expectations that keep them from being honest with each other. Ultimately, it is what dooms them in a flat-footed take on McEwan’s compelling story.”
Tasha Robinson on Manhunt for The Verge:
“Like so many Woo films, Manhunt is well aware of Hong Kong movie history and the visual language of international action movies. But it also approaches satire in its ridiculous mining of tropes and its conscious visual excesses. Everyone involved looks like they’re a moment away from outright winking at the camera. And the plot, which involves super-soldier assassins and the comically evil conglomerate enabling them, is often equally hard to take seriously.”
Charles Bramesco on Journey’s End for The Guardian:
“The great pathos of Sherriff’s 1928 work unspools in this pressure chamber of near-death anxiety, as soldiers drink and fight and sullenly sit in silence while waiting for the heat of battle to come to them.
The trouble is that during the considerable amount of time spent in that cramped subterranean hideaway, the audience can feel Dibb fidgeting to get out so he can do and show more. In this respect, his behaviour mirrors that of the young troops itching for action. What makes for a good serviceman, however, doesn’t necessarily make for a good director.”
Matt Singer on Suburbicon for ScreenCrush:
“Clooney and his producing and writing partner, Grant Heslov, took an old Coen brothers script (which only featured the white family) and then added the Meyers, based on real incidents that took place when an African-American family moved into Levittown, Pennsylvania in 1957. But beyond placing them in the same setting, Clooney never attempts to merge the two into a singular story. They fit together so poorly, in fact, that at a certain point you begin to wonder: Was the overwhelming friction between the two halves deliberate?[…] Is it possible they wanted to turn the tension in this community, and in American communities like Suburbicon in 2017, into an overt onscreen tension?
If that was their goal, it was an audacious one they did not quite achieve.”
David Ehrlich on Hostiles (Telluride 2017) for IndieWire:
“A stiff-lipped story that confronts our country’s most foundational problems with the gravity of someone who thinks he can actually solve them, “Hostiles” has no intention of reinventing the wagon wheel. Like all of the director’s previous work, it’s less interested in saying something new than it is in reiterating something old, only this time in a much deeper voice. Based on a manuscript by the late Donald Stewart (“The Hunt for the Red October”), this is a proudly traditional oater that travels down old trails with new sadism, as though the Western genre only died off because the movies weren’t cruel enough.”
Tasha Robinson on I Kill Giants for The Verge:
“[…]I Kill Giants is about loneliness and how hard it can be to face our fears, let alone to let other people in on those fears. Barbara takes on her solitary task with the ferocity of any hero saving the world because no one else seems to be doing it, but she also tries to let other people into her life. It’s telling, and tragic, that she seems to be most balanced and confident when she’s keeping everyone at arm’s length. Only opening up seems to leave her vulnerable, frightened, and uncertain.”
David Ehrlich on Molly’s Game for IndieWire:
“Arguably the first great poker film ever made (don’t you even think about rebutting that with “Rounders”), Sorkin’s electrifying directorial debut is adapted from Molly Bloom’s 2013 memoir, which she wrote while awaiting sentencing for her role in one of the most exclusive and extravagant high-stakes underground hold-em games in the United States. She probably should have waited; as her lawyer smarts during one of the many conversations invented for the movie: “You finished writing a book before the good part happened!” “
Scott Tobias on The Hungry for Variety:
“William Shakespeare’s first tragedy, “Titus Andronicus,” has never been among his most revered plays, but there’s a primal appeal to the raw, blood-caked nastiness of its plotting and the themes of revenge and political treachery that would resurface in later works.[…]For “The Hungry,” writer-director Bornila Chatterjee tosses out the dialogue and updates the story to an estate in modern-day India, where a marriage of convenience around a business partnership turns into an all-consuming internecine battle. Yet the conceit is narrow and banal, losing not only the poetry of Shakespeare’s work but its populist charge, too, which is weakened by yawning gaps in the storytelling.”
David Ehrlich on Thelma for IndieWire:
” “Thelma” — an ominous, unnerving, and strangely powerful thriller about the most devious of human desires — might appear to be a change of pace for “Oslo, August 31st” writer-director Joachim Trier, but the story tenses and frets with the same melancholy glimmer that courses through his dramas. Here, the Norwegian’s filmmaker’s signature brand of existential dread (always coupled with and complicated by a youthful sense of becoming), is expressed through style more than action. This isn’t a movie where all that much happens, but every decision ripples with darkness.”
Matt Singer on Brad’s Status for ScreenCrush:
“I went to high school with a woman who’s now on a CBS sitcom. I have good friends who are museum curators, authors, and animators. I value our relationships, and I’m genuinely happy for their successes. But in insecure moments, it’s hard not to compare our lives, and maybe to feel competitive or even jealous. Mike White’s Brad’s Status acknowledges these ugly feelings exist … and that’s about it. With little drama or humor, it mostly amounts to watching a guy complain about his fairly decent life for 100 minutes.”
Scott Tobias on The Upside for Variety:
“Five years after the French comedy-drama “The Intouchables” became an international sensation, including a healthy $13 million theatrical return and the remake rights for the Weinstein Company, the Weinsteins have dipped back into the well with “The Upside,” an Americanization that accepts the original’s crowd-pleasing formula as holy writ. That means all the flaws of the original film are present — the lurching swings between irreverence and sentimentality, a reliance on stereotypes, and racial politics that could charitably be described as “quaint” — but two strong lead performances go some distance toward alleviating them.”
Kate Erbland on Stronger for IndieWire:
“Bolstered by sterling turns from stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Tatiana Maslany, and Miranda Richardson, the film is a showcase for what [David Gordon] Green has always been able to do so well, and what his actors continue to excel at.
Based on the autobiography of Boston Marathon bombing survivor Jeff Bauman (penned alongside author Bret Witter, and with a script by screenwriter John Pollano), “Stronger” sensitively takes on the story of a very unlikely hero, upending the sort of readymade narrative of a person pushed to extreme ends coming out better on the other side, instead opting for a raw story wrapped up in still more riveting performances.
Kate Erbland on Professor Marston and the Wonder Women for IndieWire:
“Angela Robinson’s fact-based film follows the eyebrow-raising personal life of Dr. William Moulton Marston (Luke Evans) and the two great loves of his life, his wife Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall) and their shared partner Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote), and how its unconventional bent led to the creation of Wonder Woman.
For as subversive as her subject matter is, Robinson couches her film in familiar trappings — the film uses a wraparound narrative device that connects past and present, with a deft touch towards the more shocking elements of William’s life.”
David Ehrlich on Battle of the Sexes for IndieWire:
“Played with shy steeliness by a warm and immediately believable Emma Stone, [Billie Jean] King is the best female tennis player in the world (the first to net an $100,000 purse), and she’s straight pissed that the women in the sport are paid a fraction of what the men get despite drawing similar crowds.
She and her manager (Sarah Silverman) make an impromptu declaration to get back at the men by starting their own women’s tour. The script doesn’t do a lot with that premise, but Dayton and Faris use the underdeveloped endeavor as a framework on which to hang the rest of their story, and also as an opportunity to support King with a sisterhood of characters who are played by great young actresses like Bridey Elliott and Natalie Morales.”
Matt Singer on Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House for ScreenCrush:
“Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House is a mouthful of a title, but I guess Deep Throat was already taken. Felt was the fabled anonymous source that provided the information to Washington Post reporters that ultimately exposed the full scope of the Watergate conspiracy. The Post’s Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s side of this story was presented onscreen in All the President’s Men. Now it’s Felt’s turn. […][I]n its tone and style, Mark Felt plays like a companion piece to All the President’s Men, illuminating the motivations of the man who was Watergate’s greatest mystery.”
Mike D’Angelo on Rebel in the Rye for The A.V. Club:
“Given how ferociously J.D. Salinger guarded his privacy, he likely would have objected to being the subject of any biopic, no matter how intelligent and respectful its portrait of him might be. There’s a special cruelty, though, in consigning Salinger—an author whose most famous character incessantly rails against phoniness—to the superficial cliché factory that is Rebel In The Rye. This is the kind of hackwork that signifies writer’s block by having the writer angrily hurl his pencil across the room in frustration, even though he’s sitting at a typewriter.”
David Ehrlich on Borg/McEnroe for IndieWire:
“The parallels between McEnroe and the volatile young actor who plays him in “Borg/McEnroe” are obvious enough to make themselves, but the saving grace of Janus Metz’s relentlessly self-serious sports drama is that the film doesn’t take its casting for granted — it refuses to rest on the meta-textual fun of watching one explosive celebrity play another. On the contrary, LaBeouf is asked to peel back his increasingly opaque veneer and confront the rage that has always seemed to be simmering just beneath the surface.”
David Ehrlich on I, Tonya for IndieWire:
“The “Rashomon” approach is underutilized and has a way of gumming up the works once Tonya’s fortunes take a turn for the worse, but Rogers never lets up on the idea that everyone has their own truth. The trouble for Tonya is that most people aren’t interested in learning about it until someone exhumes it in the form of a riotously entertaining movie, slaps some very obvious classic rock cues on the soundtrack in order to make the scenes of abuse more appealing, and lets a sex symbol like Margot Robbie dirty herself down to play the lead.”
Scott Tobias on The Final Years for Variety:
“For most of the 90 days director Greg Barker and his crew followed President Barack Obama’s foreign policy team for “The Final Year,” they surely believed they were making a documentary about the merits of diplomatic engagement, which led to hard-won achievements like the Iran nuclear deal, the Paris climate accord, and the normalization of relations with Cuba. But Donald Trump’s shocking victory in the 2016 presidential election casts the film in a different light, exposing the fragility of policies and agreements that can be upended with the stroke of a pen. Yet “The Final Year” clings to a precooked thesis about the Obama Doctrine that misses the behind-the-scenes drama and candor of superior political documentaries like “The War Room” or “Weiner.” “
David Ehrlich on Ex Libris — The New York Public Library for IndieWire:
“[Frederick] Wiseman’s 43rd film in 50 years begins by introducing the NYPL as a public-private partnership, and not one of its 197 minutes strays far from that idea. Whether sitting in on free talks by great thinkers like Patti Smith and Ta-Nehisi Coates (these uncut sequences lasting long enough for us to get lost in the subject at hand), observing a job fair in the Bronx, or peeking into the downtown recording studio where a tireless employee is recording every word of “Laughing in the Dark” so that blind patrons will be able to enjoy Nabokov’s bitter tale of lust and deceit, Wiseman bounces between three different boroughs without ever losing sight of how the Library survives by giving people the resources they need to return the favor.”
Charles Bramesco on Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken! for The Guardian:
“Morgan Spurlock is his own worst enemy. Ever since he bottomed out America’s collective stomach in 2004 with the fast food exposé Super Size Me, Spurlock’s films have gradually nudged his public persona into the foreground at the expense of the trenchant reportage that originally endeared him to us. Though his vanity hit its nadir with the male-grooming documentary Mansome — a feature-length ode to Spurlock’s trademark handlebar ‘stache — that narcissism still threatens to eclipse the subject at hand. And by revisiting his breakout pet topic of cheap food’s steep costs, Spurlock’s made his own self-absorption more abundantly present than ever.”
David Ehrlich on Love Means Zero for IndieWire:
“Bollettieri, the star of “Manda Bala” director Jason Kohn’s thin but entertaining (and cleverly titled) new documentary, spends the vast majority of “Love Means Zero” sitting on a chair in front of some dilapidated tennis courts and washing his hands of all the heartache he’s caused. “If you asked me right now to give the name of my eight wives” he boasts, “I couldn’t do it.” That is, uh, quite the declaration. It’s one of the first things we hear Bollettieri say, and Kohn’s film gives us no reason not to take the octogenarian at his word.”
Mike D’Angelo on Trophy for The A.V. Club:
“Which sounds more painful to watch, for those sensitive to animal suffering: a deer being shot for sport, or a rhinoceros being forcibly held down and having its horn sawed off? Trophy, a documentary about the uneasy, seemingly oxymoronic junction of big-game hunting and conservation efforts, kicks off by showing both of these events, and speedily reveals that neither situation is as clear-cut as it might initially seem. The group of folks who mutilate the rhino do so in an effort to save its life—the amputation is painless (no different, really, than clipping one’s fingernail; both are made of keratin), and the animal, until its horn grows back, is theoretically of no value to the poachers who would otherwise kill it.”
Nathan Rabin on Crazy Enough (2013) for Control Nathan Rabin:
“Crazy Enough belongs to a curious subset of movies like What About Bob? or Captain Ron where a kooky or mentally challenged free spirit becomes a surrogate father figure to a family annoyed and underwhelmed by their uptight, un-fun actual father. The family has to know on every level that the 12 year old in an adult’s body is not their accomplished doctor father but this new guy seems more chill and is a lot more supportive, so everybody just kind of rolls with it. Ted is excited to finally have a family and job until it becomes narratively convenient for him to spill the beans.”
Craig J. Clark on Moon of the Wolf (1972) for Werewolf News:
“For such a short film (it’s only 74 minutes), Moon of the Wolf sure takes its time getting to the werewolf attacks (or even hinting that the attacks are being carried out by a werewolf). Apart from an old man on his deathbed raving in French about the “loup-garou,” no one even suspects that they have a lycanthrope on their hands (except maybe for the old man’s superstitious nurse, who knows how to ward them off), which leads the gun-toting populace to organize a wild dog hunt (the results of which are kept tastefully off-screen).”
Kate Erbland on “How Film Forum’s Expansion Plans Could Impact Indie Distribution” for IndieWire:
“New York City’s movie-going options are getting even bigger, thanks to the news that Film Forum is set to not only renovate its three screens, but to add a fourth screen to its fold. The venerated theater — known for decades as a haven for specialty releases and repertory programming — will undergo a simultaneous renovation of its current screens and the addition of a new theater. Stephen Tilly, who designed Film Forum’s earlier incarnation on Watts Street (alongside Alan Buchsbaum), is the architect in charge of this project.
The news is exciting for New York cinephiles, but has a potentially even greater value for the specialty film marketplace.”
David Ehrlich on how “Industry Anxiety at Telluride Proved Even Critics Must Embrace Oscar Hype” for IndieWire:
“This year, talking about a movie’s Oscar hopes doesn’t seem reductive; it just seems rational. I may not like it, but the fact is that Oscar nominations — or even the potential for Oscar nominations — are one of the few things that can still provoke people out of their comfort zones and into a movie theater. We have to reckon with that.
Films that score “Oscar buzz” immediately transform into something bigger than just another piece of content. At worst, they become relevant. More often, they become almost mandatory, at least for the percentage of the population who cares about such things.”
Nathan Rabin on UHF: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack for Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place:
” “The Biggest Ball of Twine of Minnesota”, which ends out UHF on a triumphant note, is the ultimate oddball album 1980s album-closer, a nearly seven-minute long story-song in the vein of singer-songwriter types like Harry Chapin that packs in so much wonderful, banal, wonderfully banal detail that it feels almost like a family road comedy movie on wax or a short story in song form rather than a mere ditty.”
Tasha Robinson, Genevieve Koski, Keith Phipps, and Scott Tobias on Soderbergh’s Oceans Eleven and Logan Lucky for episodes 92 and 93 of The Next Picture Show podcast:
Tobias: “It’s funny how, on this show, we like to dig in to the deeper themes of what certain films have to offer, and I actually think that Ocean’s Eleven is a surface-level kind of experience by design […]It is about Soderbergh showing off his dexterity as a filmmaker and as a storyteller.”
Phipps: “I don’t think I’m gonna make a great case for its deep subtext, but I think it is a wonderful example of what you want from a Hollywood movie sometimes. […]Sometimes you want to see Brad Pitt get in and be really tortured, really disappear into a character; sometimes you just want to see Brad Pitt be a really handsome, charming man on the movie screen.”
Robinson: “[Logan Lucky] hasn’t done well at the box office, but also for me, I just didn’t hear about this film much before it hit theaters. I didn’t have much of a sense of it. Which for me was great, because I got to walk in and sit down without having had every plot detail spoiled, but the entire time I was enjoying it, I was thinking, ‘If more people had more of a sense of what this is, it would be doing better.’ Because it’s such a fun film.”
Koski: “[…][Soderbergh] was talking about how he had, in his head, conflated the process of getting a movie made with directing, and his experience working on The Knick in television reminded him that he really enjoys directing, and that’s not what he wanted to retire from. So it seems like this tendency of his to try and figure out a way to get films made outside of the typical system is part of that frustration that he felt that drove him out of the business for a brief period of time.”
Sam Adams joins Slate’s Spoiler Special podcast on It (2017):
“In this episode, Slate’s movie critic, Dana Stevens, Slate culture writer Aisha Harris, and Slate senior editor Sam Adams discuss It, Andy Muschietti’s take on Stephen King’s 1986 horror novel. Does It’s cosmology make sense? Does the film overuse jump scares? And what’s lost because of what the movie leaves out—including the original novel’s ending and its infamous prepubescent orgy?