Call for Essays About Any Aspect of Popular Culture, Present or Past

 
Film

5 - 1

Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA


cover art

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Director: Tomas Alfredson
Cast: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, John Hurt, Toby Jones, Mark Strong

5


Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy


While some critics found Tomas Alfredson’s take on the classic John le Carre spy novel cold and overcalculated (not to mention complex and—perhaps—confusing), the truth is that, along with David Fincher’s fascinating Zodiac, this is one of the few thrillers that understand the inherent suspense in the old way of doing things. Back before cellphones and omnipresent surveillance cameras, long before computers instantly called up data, Cold Warriors walked the hallowed halls of their agencies, using footwork and hunches to discover the truth. With terrific performances from an amazing cast and a collection of period piece beats bound to make any ‘70s survivor smile, the results truly resonate. As a matter of fact, this may be one of the best examples of the post-modern movement riffing on its predecessors ever. Bill Gibron


 

cover art

Into the Abyss

Director: Werner Herzog
Cast: Werner Herzog, Michael Perry, Jason Burkett

4


Into the Abyss


Sending Werner Herzog into the woods of East Texas with his jabbing camera and querulous Germanic bark would seem like a recipe for unmitigated laugh-at-the-rednecks disaster. But Herzog’s documentary about a horrific murder and the execution scheduled to follow it turns out to be a stunningly impactful, open-minded, and humanistic investigation into the morality of and the industry of death. Taking in all sides of the issue while still hitting home a strong editorial viewpoint, director curtails the fuzzy amblings that critically wounded other recent efforts like Cave of Forgotten Dreams to deliver what should be the last film needed to be made about the state-sponsored barbarism that is the death penalty. Chris Barsanti


 

cover art

Meek’s Cutoff

Director: Kelly Reichardt
Cast: Michelle Williams, Bruce Greenwood, Will Patton, Zoe Kazan, Paul Dano, Shirley Hendereson, Neal Huff, Tommy Nelson, Rod Rondeaux

3


Meek’s Cutoff


Kelly Reichardt’s latest is marked by its setting: The barren, desert terrain of Eastern Oregon. It’s 1845 and three pioneer families are being led West by Stephen Meek, a mumbling, bearded, egotistical guide. Their planned two-week trip has extended to five, with no end in sight. The first word we see is “lost”, being etched into a tree trunk; the first words we hear are the consolations of a bible passage. Meek’s Cutoff is a trudge, like the journey it chronicles, but it’s a thoughtful, entrancing one. A remarkable new take on the Western, Reichardt’s movie is made all the more powerful by the prominent emphasis it places on the three female travelers and the hesitancy toward the unknown that unravels in various ways over the course of the film. Tomas Hachard


 

cover art

Drive

Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Christina Hendricks, Ron Perlman, Oscar Isaac, Albert Brooks

2


Drive


Nicolas Winding Refn’s thrilling film charms you with the smooth lights of Los Angeles and then pulls back the curtain to reveal the brutality underneath. Ryan Gosling’s unnamed lead is a quiet guy who appears kind and gentle on the surface, but that emotionless mask hides the brutality underneath. With ‘80s synth-pop tracks playing the background, he smoothly drives for small-time heists in the dark of night. These moments hearken to the best of Michael Mann’s urban visions, but then Refn takes the story to a much-different place. The shift can be up-putting and works much better after reflecting on the filmmakers’ deft moves. Despite a cute, brief romance with Carey Mulligan’s Irene, there’s little chance for this guy to find peace in this nasty world. It’s a stunning film with a singular style that places it at the pinnacle of a strong crop of 2011 releases. Dan Heaton


 

cover art

The Tree of Life

Director: Terrence Malick
Cast: Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, Jessica Chastain, Hunter McCracken, Laramie Eppler, Tye Sheridan, Fiona Shaw, Irene Bedard

1


The Tree of Life


Terrence Malick’s shimmering and audacious The Tree of Life, about a Texan family in the ‘50s, was my favorite film of 2011, but I almost couldn’t bear to watch it. No other film in recent memory has made me feel—in such a trembling, visceral way—the fragility and miraculousness of life, from the level of the cosmic to the everyday. Nostalgic but never precious, The Tree of Life envisions the world as one imagines a child might, where fragments of daydreams, memories, and beloved picture-book illustrations comingle in the mind’s eye. The rhythm of the film is a wonder, capturing the joys, bewilderments, and terrors of childhood with a nimbleness and accuracy that few other movies will ever match. Its stunning images convey intense sensations, like the thrill of jumping on a springy bed, or the jolt of seeing the singed scalp of a neighborhood boy who survived a fire, or the dread of being summoned by one’s volatile father before knowing what type of mood he’s in. But Malick is also concerned with larger issues: How do we conduct ourselves if no one may be watching? How do we endure the pain of life if no one is listening to our secret, plaintive thoughts? While the conclusion of The Tree of Life may not be as powerful as everything that precedes it (nor as enthralling as the finale of Malick’s earlier film, The New World), the film is a singular, glorious achievement. Marisa Carroll


Related Articles
9 Sep 2014
Never once do Night Moves's three lead characters genuinely consider the ramifications of what they're doing. Naturally, they can't foresee their downfall.
4 Sep 2014
Room 237 is one of the only films that respects and even admires cinephilia and its various forms.
19 Aug 2014
Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon are reinvesting the so-called buddy comedy with the concept that, sometimes, friendship is not enough.
13 Aug 2014
Again and again, The Knick makes visible the traumas suffered by bodies, at risk, unequal by law, and struggling to survive.
Comments
Now on PopMatters
PM Picks
Announcements

© 1999-2014 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters.com™ and PopMatters™ are trademarks
of PopMatters Media, Inc.

PopMatters is wholly independently owned and operated.