Sunday, October 7, 2012

Taken 2

Which of the three is most effective?

The deadening frustration in watching Taken 2 shares it blame with the filmmakers and the audience. In most instances, a moviegoer should hope to be entertained in a comparatively intelligent manner, but he or she should also not have high expectations for a cash-grab sequel of a flawed, grimy B-movie. Taken at least delivered Liam Neeson as Bryan Mills, a mean wrecking machine of a security consultant, in a series of outlandish set pieces that were viscerally exciting, though severely lacking intellectually and highly questionable in their international and gender politics. If you haven’t seen its weekly television airings, it’s about Mills violently taking down the Albanian sex trafficker thugs that kidnapped his estranged daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) during her Paris vacation with her friend. The plot for the sequel – spoilers – is that Mills and his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) get taken by relatives of those traffickers at the start of an impromptu family vacation in Istanbul. Though this is an eye-roll of a conceit, suspension of disbelief should be granted for nearly any movie, until it fails to present anything in a tonally consistent and logical manner.

Monday, October 1, 2012


Writer-director Rian Johnson’s Looper is one of the most entertaining films I’ve seen in recent memory, and more than delivered upon both its genre premise and what I hoped would be its thematic approach. It’s daring and measured, both playing to and subverting expectations of its audience. I avoided every piece of marketing for the film before seeing it: I knew it concerned time-traveling hitmen, and that its two leads, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis, played the same character, but that was it. The news that Johnson was directing this type of picture was enough of a draw for me, so that I didn’t feel the need to convince myself further, and risk spoiling the experience.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Master

[The few spoilers are marked; the opening touches on what exists in an official trailer, below.]

When Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) stands, he stands bowed: his shoulders hunched, his head drawn to the earth. He shows the history of his varied career in his posture: aboard a naval vessel in the waning days of World War II, maneuvering below a torpedo bay; a department store photographer, always bending over the camera, taking pictures of those fortunate to have a carefree smile; a farm hand, stooping to break open head after head of cabbage. In each of these roles he concocts his own moonshine, at once brazen and secretive, and doesn’t care when this vice forces him to move on. Freddie moves like a beaten dog, never certain but always expecting. He is an outsider, literally – on the edges of whatever group he’s allowed to orbit.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Seeing The Master

I never thought I'd need to frame a Rorschach test.
Last night I was fortunate to attend an advanced screening of Paul Thomas Anderson’s new film, The Master, which was shown in its 70mm glory in the gorgeous Castro Theatre in San Francisco. That it was held as a benefit for The Film Foundation was a fitting bonus, giving the venue and format. Aside from my proper review, I would like to comment on the “event” itself, as I could not have been more excited for it and it turned out to be a once-in-a-lifetime kind of deal. Anderson is my favorite filmmaker, and made my favorite film, Magnolia. I saw Sydney on tape (!) just before Boogie Nights was released, and I’ve been going to opening night shows of Anderson’s films ever since.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

As The Dark Knight Rises comes to an end, and with it the conclusion of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, it overcomes its faults and delivers on the collective fascination audiences have had with this character, decades beyond the seven years since Batman Begins reinvigorated the franchise. Even given this modern myth’s reach and importance, the film’s emotional through-line is greater than what might be expected for a tale of such a dark, complicated hero – a credit to the actors and how they embodied familiar iconography. The initial resonance the film had was personally humbling, but the ending also cements the themes that Nolan has been exploring throughout his feature film career, themes that are tragically apropos in recent days.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia

Death cannot be hidden under the guise of earth.
Over the course of one night driving through the central steppe region of Turkey, a confessed murderer, an accomplice, the police commissar, a prosecutor, a town doctor, and several officers attempt to find where the victim is buried, the search complicated by the dark landscape and the primary suspect’s drunken recall. The story is simple, but not simplistic. This death, and the notion of death itself, hangs in the air among the men; it will steep throughout the film. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia is a remarkable, beautiful film directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan, who co-wrote the script with Ebru Ceylan and Ercan Kesal.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Northern Exposure S1E6

“Sex, Lies, & Ed’s Tapes,” Season 1 Episode 6, originally aired August 16, 1990
After the arguably single storyline of the Russian flu in the last episode, this episode has a lot going on but moves along really well, and finds a balance of solid comedy-drama about relationships and fantasy sequences that play with character. Though this isn’t a stellar example of the series, this is the type of episode that I think exemplified Northern Exposure: one that advances character dynamics and experiments with form, all played out in a seemingly idyllic setting. 

Top 10 Cinema Experiences

I wanted to make a list of the most memorable and formative films I’ve seen in theaters – I’ve seen better films than some on this list, and more influential films as well, but not in the unique environment of a movie theater. I’ll go in reverse chronological order, by the date on which I saw them. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


Breathable atmosphere, yes, but with significant amounts of Moronium.

The film Prometheus is a work of abjection, in regards to both its subject matter and its execution. As directed by Ridley Scott, it trades in imagery like the films in the Alien franchise that he began: of feminine power and horror, of corporeal boundaries, and identity overtaken by an “Other.” It aspires to be something much more than a prequel to or reimagining of the Alien origins, and yet it is at once so dependent on Scott’s 1979 film without earning the comparison, and so mired in its own visceral problems, that the sense of disappointment is palpable and unsettling. 

Monday, June 4, 2012

Moonrise Kingdom

No man is an island.

It seems traditional now that a new Wes Anderson film brings critical reactions that are not focused solely on the work itself, but of how it fits in his oeuvre. Anderson’s style, even as it develops and matures – and this extends to characterizations, not just production design, cinematography, music, and editing – has become so identifiable that it overshadows much of the discussion of his individual stories. This either becomes an easy target for those critics who don’t care for his films, or a default through-line for those who appreciate them. With Moonrise Kingdom, the tale of young, troubled lovers who attempt to run away off a New England island, Anderson seems to address this critical tendency, both obliquely and directly (which will be covered in the last part of this review). While this may not provoke a new approach to his work, he delivers his most balanced and sophisticated film to date.

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Avengers

As a film, The Avengers has much in common with its team of heroes. It has to bring together disparate characters, many who have led their own franchises: genius billionaire Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), who becomes Iron Man with his high-tech armor suit; patriotic super soldier Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) as Captain America; Norse god of thunder Thor (Chris Hemsworth); and Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo here, in the best casting of the character yet), the brilliant gamma radiation scientist who turns into the enormous rage-fueled monster Hulk if he’s not careful. The team is rounded out by master spy Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and expert archer Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner): they don’t have superpowers, but they become incredibly useful and integral members. The film has to have a reason for these heroes to assemble, given their different methods and ideologies, and it has to provide each member with a purpose, even though their capabilities lie across a broad spectrum. In short, the team the Avengers and their new film have a lot of complex heavy lifting to do – and both ultimately succeed like gangbusters.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


Hi all!

Today I can share a special project I worked on, which is the first legitimate piece of criticism that somebody else put on the Internet for me! Cory Barker was kind enough to let me write on the pilot of one of my favorite shows, Homicide: Life on the Street, for his Test Pilot feature about the modern police drama, on his TV Surveillance site.

Please read my thoughts about the pilot of Homicide as well as Cory's great piece about it here.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Northern Exposure - S1E4, S1E5

“Dreams, Schemes & Putting Greens,” Season 1 Episode 4, originally aired August 2, 1990
Jack and Hurley playing golf... oh wait.
To be upfront about it, I didn’t have a strong emotional or critical reaction to this episode or the next, reviewed below. They’re both good outings – each is funny, which the series seems less known for, somehow – and they continue the trend of establishing more about the characters and the town, and there are some nice moments (including some that take advantage of the location), but I wasn’t “hooked” by my nostalgia or by anything inherent to the episodes, except perhaps the sense of community that has been building. I think part of what took me a while to review these, besides my schedule, is that I didn’t have a response at the ready. But here we go…

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Synecdoche, NY - The Collected "Drink Tweets"

Earlier tonight, I drank what was to me a lot of vodka (I'm pretty much a "straightedge" kind of guy) and live-tweeted the unique and challenging Charlie Kaufman film Synecdoche, NY, mostly just for the hell of it. Many of my kind tweeps interacted with me during it, and I miraculously didn't lose any followers. These are the results - I've included "conversations," with my responses posted right after the comments from others:

Monday, January 16, 2012

Eric Van Uffelen's Top 10 Films of 2011

I’ve abandoned the premise of “these are the best films” – these types of lists are always so arbitrary, so these are my favorite new movies that I saw in 2011. This is a healthier angle to pursue, as you can argue about objectively ranking art, but you can’t dispute taste. (Please note that I've included an addendum at the end, now that I've thought about this some more and seen other films.)

Northern Exposure - S1E3

Check out the big brain on Ed!

“Soapy Sanderson,” Season 1 Episode 3, originally aired July 26, 1990
In the last review I touched on how much of a formative impact Chris had on me, especially during my adolescence. The truth is that many of the characters from the show influenced me in some way. This is almost to be expected: a well-told story will have characters that the audience can identify with in some capacity – if not sympathize with – across the board. During the run of an ensemble television show, though, we tend to glom onto one or two characters. Frequently this takes the form of the oft-mocked “shipping” between the de facto romantic leads, as that lends both a dynamic tension and an element of consistency: seeing the characters weather something together, aside from whatever the episodic storylines might be. There is not much of this to be had in Northern Exposure, as it’s pretty clear from the pilot forward that Joel and Maggie are destined for some sort of romantic entanglement. So the tension there is more of a “when, when, when?”