Discovering good movies, one bad movie at a time

Every week this summer, we’ll be taking an historical tour of the Hollywood blockbuster by examining an older film that is in some way a spiritual precursor to one of the weekend’s wide releases. The week just ended: Keanu Reeves has spent some 20 years now as a sometimes hand-to-hand combat god, as John Wick: […]

It is well to avoid making absolute statements, especially absolute statements about weirdly idiosyncratic and fundamentally unquantifiable things, but I’m feeling feisty. So here goes: I think it’s entirely likely that the most interesting and important thing happening to cinema anywhere in the world right now is the Chinese film industry’s attempts – largely successful […]

So here’s the thing: The Meg is actually able to concoct a reason for Jason Statham to get into hand-to-hand combat with a 75-foot shark. That is, in a sense, the whole of what the film needs to do, and I unhesitatingly admire it for this, and even love it for this, even though I’m […]

The controversy is dead, dead, dead, and far be it from me to bring it up at this late, but I think the pre-release outrage in the United States over The Great Wall is telling. Matt Damon in a historical action movie set in 11th Century China? Must be a pandering White Savior gesture, went […]

Alright, kiddies, it’s time for some box office numbers: 1. Star Wars: The Force Awakens: $936,662,22 (winter 2015-2016) 2. Avatar: $749,766,139 (winter 2009-2010) 3. Wolf Warrior II: $679,495,519 (as of 13 August, 2017) What we have there are the three largest single-territory grosses in the history of worldwide box office. The first two of those […]

Rock Dog is a low-down, no-damn-good movie. But terribly fascinating anyway, if more in theory than actuality. The film exists as a hoped-for evolutionary link between the second- and third-largest film markets in the world;* it has been 100% financed by Chinese production companies but 100% created by U.S. artists at a U.S. studio. The […]

Mountains May Depart is not the first film to completely lose the thread as it approaches the ending, of course. But it’s extra-awfully disappointing that it does so, because before that happens, it puts up a really impressive case for being one of the very best movies released in the United States in 2016. The […]

Here’s an object lesson in what cultural hegemony looks like, from the perspective of the hegemon. So at this point in history, China is the second-largest market for American films after the United States itself, and several of the highest-grossing films in the history of the Chinese box office are American studio blockbusters: Furious 7, […]

There’s a notion going around that The Assassin is a hard movie to parse out at the narrative level. This is so. I have now seen The Assassin three times, in fact, and if you were to tell me that I had to clarify what every scene contributed to the overall narrative at each point, […]

Screens at CIFF: 10/11 & 10/13 & 10/17World premiere: 12 February, 2014, Berlin International Film Festival It might have been filmed in color; it might have been filmed in China; it might have been filmed decades after of the essential cultural context of the post-WWII America; but other than those little things, Black Coal, Thin […]

Jia Zhangke’s A Touch of Sin is in some ways a harsh departure for the filmmaker, one of the reigning masters of Chinese cinema; the quiet gracefulness of his films best-known in the English-speaking world has been replaced by anger and violence, a lingering despair clinging to the movie like a bramble. But at the […]

Screens at CIFF: 10/19 & 10/21World premiere: 29 September, 2012, CNEX Documentary Film Festival It’s not the exact literal first thing that happens in Mothers, but it’s awfully early on that director Xu Hui-jing, in voice-over, explains his particular relationship to China’s “One Child” population control policy: he was the second child born to his […]