Articles by

<Glenn Heath Jr.>

06/11/15 11:00am

Film Title: Jurassic World

“These people never learn.” Jurassic World’s sermon on the mount is spoken as almost an afterthought by a helpless supporting character frustrated by the chaos and idiocy that surrounds him. No one hears his words (except the knowing audience), and this is exactly the point. In a series of films about the horrors of gene splicing and human ego, why would common sense be relevant now?

Director Colin Trevorrow (Safety Not Guaranteed) understands how sequels work. It’s not about reinventing the wheel but watching the wheel careen through familiar narrative territory, this time on fire. With Jurassic World, he manipulates such a framework to casually expose Hollywood’s ham-fisted and exploitative tactics toward audience development. Much like the denizens of the super-successful theme park in this latest Jurassic entry, we sit in Plato’s cave with a barbaric need to see something bigger and longer, with more cutting.


05/23/15 12:53pm


What a strange festival. From the very beginning of Cannes 2015 things have felt slightly out of whack. The press lounge was stripped of some key seating, making it even more difficult to overtake the swaths of paparazzi that defend key sections of terrain like warlords. Queues are ballooning with Bleu badges earlier and earlier. Strolling down the Croisette is like trying to maneuver a sea of drunken walkers; more than a few espressos have been felled thanks to errant elbows. It’s survival of the swiftest.

Somewhat fittingly, as extreme exhaustion sets in desperation has become a key theme in the last throes of Cannes’ festival slate. On polar opposite sides of the quality spectrum live the singularly fractured and sublime narrative of Hou Hsian-hsien’s quiet masterpiece The Assassin and two laughably self-important social critiques: Jacques Audiard’s loud misfire Dheepan and Michel Franco’s absurd and antiseptic euthanasia drama, Chronic.

Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario resides somewhere in between.


05/20/15 1:00pm


The 68th annual Cannes Film Festival runs through Sunday. Read Glenn’s first dispatch here, and check back this weekend for his closing thoughts.

Attending the Cannes Film Festival ensures you’ll receive a master’s degree in the art of transition. One must think on one’s feet while rapidly navigating various schedules, commitments, films, and social outings, not to mention finding time to jot down whatever hazy memories remain from the day’s films. Ironically, all of this seems super-serious until you wake up the next day and decide to do it all over again, promptly forgetting whatever disappointment or inconvenience has popped up before. Silly Cannes.

Many of the festival’s most interesting films thus far deal with larger, life-changing moments of transition for stubborn characters. In the Un Certain Regard sidebar, Radu Muntean’s stewing One Floor Below uses a single wordless exchange to set up a narrative founded on momentary shifts in tension. Evoking Hitchcock in its gripping sense of stretched temporality and simmering menace, the film contemplates how small escalations in aggression lead to life-long patterns of indecision.


05/17/15 10:06am
son of saul


The 68th annual Cannes Film Festival began May 13, and runs through May 24. This is Glenn Heath’s first dispatch from the South of France, with more to follow.

Sweat has been a prominent byproduct of the 2015 Cannes Film Festival. Shiny brows are in full effect, multiple critics are sporting deck shorts, and nobody can seem to find enough water. Hell, the first screening in The Grand Theatre Lumiere was George Miller’s supercharged bat-out-of-hell action film Mad Max: Fury Road, a desert symphony of sand and blood that drew rowdy applause from the normally subdued Cannes audience.

The incessant sunshine, mugginess, and heat have made the already bustling festival scramble a little more slippery. Hay fever sneezes have vastly outnumbered any rowdy boos (Gus Van Sant’s Sea of Trees aside). Leagues of festivalgoers are already sporting farmer’s tans and slight cases of delirium. No bones about it, people are trippin’ (quite literally in the case of this dear writer).

After four days of competition screenings a clear-cut favorite has yet to emerge. But multiple entries have exhibited an intense volatility and visceral rigor that matches the intense and blinding weather outside the balmy theater interiors. Maybe Festival Director Thierry Frémaux can see into the future, taste be damned.


08/01/12 4:00am

Last Embrace
Directed by Jonathan Demme
Friday, August 3 at 92YTribeca’s “Bastards of Hitch

“All I need is a little work,” says traumatized secret agent Harry Hannan (Roy Scheider) to his worried psychologist in the opening moments of Jonathan Demme’s Last Embrace. Coming on the heals of his wife’s brutal murder and his own three-month stay in a sanitarium, it’s a cocky and dismissive sentiment that echoes L.B. Jefferies presumptive attitude at the beginning of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window. Both men see their professions—the former a spy for some shady government outfit, the latter an extreme photographer—as an escape hatch from the emotional repression building up inside.

This is just one of the many Hitchcock references in a shifty and sometimes convoluted narrative that tracks the unstable Harry as returns to New York City and battles sudden fits of paranoia. When he meets a young graduate student (Janet Margolin) who relies on her physical appearance to hide her true nature, the darker shades of Vertigo become apparent. An accidental bump on a train platform gets stylistically ballooned into an extreme riff on the opening cursory nudge in Strangers On a Train, an absurd confrontation involving a shower curtain echoes Pyscho, and Last Embrace‘s extended-climax at Niagara Falls is a direct descendant of North By Northwest‘s Mt. Rushmore finale. Even more fascinating in regard to Demme’s Hitchock-borrowing is his brilliant use of public places (parks, courtyards. cemeteries, trains) as seemingly silent areas brimming with malicious intent. No matter where Hannan goes, or how calm the place may appear, the open environment masks multiple hidden threats.

While Demme isn’t as adept as Brian De Palma at capturing the sheer terror of Hitchcock’s subjective aesthetic, the plot’s treatment of heritage—a string of murders foreshadowed by Aramaic death threats—parallels, and shows his understanding of, his artistic debt. Demme uses some of Hitchcock’s greatest camera tricks to reflect on his own character’s survivor guilt. It seems the cost of ignoring the past is an ongoing roller-coaster ride of self-sabotage and masochism.

06/22/12 4:00am

The Machine That Kills Bad People (1952)
Directed by Roberto Rossellini
Monday, June 25, 9:15 as part of BAMcinemaFest

In Roberto Rossellini’s post-WWII black comedy The Machine That Kills Bad People, the camera becomes a fully operational merchant of death, weaponized in the name of social justice. The operator of the titular machine is Celestino (Gennaro Pisano), a disgruntled photographer who believes the patron saint of his small Italian village has deemed him judge, jury, and executioner, allowing him to take revenge against the politically corrupt and greedy with the snap of a shutter. He picks off vile politicians, scheming businessmen, and clueless dilettantes, hoping to even the odds between classes.

Interestingly, it’s a role the man first resists out of some kind of instinctual morality, but slowly embraces out of frustration with the institutions around him. As a result, Celestino becomes a formidable proxy for the hand of god (or the devil) invoked during both the opening and closing credits, creating his own autuerist form of justifiable homicide. Celestino’s rage can be felt in every desperate moment, every futile attempt to convince the legion of upper class crooks their debilitating actions will have a ripple effect on the poor.

The elite’s brazen indifference and buffoonery toward the public’s collective wellbeing is consistently shocking, most notably in their consistent bastardization of WWII nostalgia and heroism. This motif is introduced immediately when Rossellini cuts to a pair of ex-soldiers standing above the beautiful Mediterranean, plotting to build a hotel over a sacred communal burial ground—a place they once landed as part of the Allied invasion forces. The horror of these men’s troubling intentions is expressed through their vast moral obliviousness, confirming what the omniscient 4th-wall breaking narrator foreshadowed in the film’s first scene: that all the film’s characters are “thieves, schemers, and concerted swindlers.”

Drenched in acidic surrealism and blunt social commentary regarding the evils of cronyism and profiteering, Rossellini’s hilariously satire still feels relevant today. A Coen brothers remake would be heaven on Earth.

06/20/12 4:00am

Directed by Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman

Sometimes, fairy tales can be downright Grimm, rendering complex ideas in ambiguous tones. Pixar Animation Studios attempts to enter darker territory with Brave, an often haunting but earnest fable about a Scottish princess named Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald) who learns just how much her teenage impulsiveness affects both her family’s sense of tradition and her kingdom’s communal fabric. The ripples of Merida’s rebellious actions resonate outward in fascinating ways, specifically toward her loving but demanding mother, Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson). In this sense, Brave becomes a kind of anti-Bambi, constructing a double origin story around the primal danger of over-pro-tective motherhood.

While rollicking adventure and physics-defying archery have proven to be the film’s top selling points in terms of advertising, Brave is actually far more spiritual and sobering than Pixar’s marketing team would probably like to admit. By placing Merida’s struggle for identity within the realm of classic folklore, Brave avoids overt preachiness despite its sharp feminist slant. Despite the fact that many of its male characters are clueless straw men, Brave never completely disavows their perspective or keen ability to appreciate female empowerment. King Fergus’s (Billy Connolly) surprising acceptance of the way his daughter and wife take an active, magic-enhanced role in their own mythmaking is the best example of Brave’s flexibility toward gender.

Pixar has deservedly become known for immaculate detailing in films like Finding Nemo and WALL•E, and Brave’s hues and textures are similarly lush. Dense forests pop with green moss and brown tree bark, creating a brilliantly organic color scheme broken only by the sudden presence of Merida’s flowing red hair. Her striking locks are often a symbol of freedom, even rage, like when a few strands pop out from underneath a tight headdress during her public betrothal that will dictate the kingdom’s future.

If there’s one thematic constant in Brave, it’s that change is destined, and watching strong but conflicted characters like Merida and Elinor realize their own personal evolutions is something to cherish.

Opens June 22

05/30/12 11:40am


This is the last of Glenn Heath’s dispatches from the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, which concluded over the weekend.

In the Fog’s title is indeed overtly symbolic and quite literal: war blurs the line between reality and perception, good and evil, creating a desperate environment of ambiguity, unanswered questions, and crushing heartache. But director Sergei Loznitsa’s harrowing examination of three Belarusian soldiers trying to survive Nazi occupation is not simply an example of blunt proselytizing. Entirely constructed from brilliant long tracking shots that stalk worn-out characters slowly traversing a landscape dominated by silence and sudden violence, In the Fog explores the organic overlap between ideology and physical action within a volatile space. The background of each fluid frame momentarily hints at other experiences grappling with same dynamic, people caught in the middle of life-changing moments.

The opening act of In the Fog feels like a cross between Anthony Mann’s The Naked Spur and Elem Klimov’s Come and See. After a wrenching opening shot watches a group of POWs walking through a Nazi base to their deaths, Loznitsa cuts to Burov (Vlad Abashin) and Voitki (Sergei Kolesov), two partisans tasked with executing Sushenya (Vladimir Svirski), a suspected informant for the Germans. As the trio make their way deeper into the dense forest, the narrative splinters back and forth between perspectives and time periods. The flashbacks provide a necessary context to each man’s origin in relation to the war, expanding their stories outside the realm of the film’s initial Western-style storyline. Loznitsa makes it seem In the Fog could go on forever, jettisoning in different directions depending on whoever crosses the frame.

As a nightmare of revolving war-film possibilities, In the Fog explores how quickly a character’s trajectory can evolve within such a terrifyingly fluid space. Maybe that’s why its deeply cynical ending doesn’t feel entirely hopeless. Even though the rigors of war are relentless and uncompromising, there are small moments of peace hidden within these tragic compositions, reminders of togetherness that, no matter how fleeting, have to count for something.


Darezhan Omirbaev’s Student, a modern adaptation of Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, takes a more minimalist approach in constructing a world being ripped apart by injustice. The film’s titular nebbish witnesses so many daily acts of oppression that his deformed perception of reality drives him to an unspeakable act of violence. Flashes of dream-logic provide blips in the young man’s otherwise droll reality, but Omirbaev makes each frame an interesting examination of social negligence. Whether it’s the disavowal of verbal communication or struggle for physical domination, the fight or flight mentality in Student reveals an alarming critique of modern-day class division.

Finally, as I was gleefully indulging in Lee Daniels’s “you have to see it to believe it” melodrama The Paperboy, the Cannes jury headed by Nanni Moretti announced its 2012 award winners. While I guessed Alain Resnais would be the sympathetic favorite for You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet, Moretti and company went with a safe but excellent choice in Haneke’s Amour for the Palme d’Or. It was really the only film most critics universally agreed on. Surprisingly, Matteo Garrone’s Reality took the Grand Prix and Ken Loach’s The Angel’s Share was awarded the Jury Prize. Garrone’s film was one of the better entries in competition and while I can’t vouch for the Loach (it was the only competition film I missed), I’d bet it doesn’t hold a candle to In the Fog or Abbas Kiarostami’s Like Someone in Love. Apparently jury member Ewan McGregor was a huge fan.

Mexican filmmaker Carlos Reygadas was awarded best director for his impenetrable Post Tenebras Lux, a disappointing choice considering Leos Carax’s Holy Motors and Kiarostami’s masterpiece were completely shut out. The great Mads Mikkelsen took home the Best Acting Prize for his turn as a wrongly accused man in Thomas Vinterberg’s downright awful Lifetime movie, The Hunt, while the two leads in Beyond the Hills (Cosmina Stratan and Cristina Flutur) shared the Best Actress Prize. Cristian Mungui’s film was also awarded Best Screenplay, which I would have given to Andrew Dominik’s uber-talky gangster saga, Killing Them Softly.

05/24/12 2:22pm


In Killing Them Softly, those citizens who believe in “America the Beautiful” are soft, meek, and doomed. Andrew Dominik’s brutally pessimistic vision of modern American capitalism resonates with anger from the very beginning, spraying its raging ideology across the frame in sharp flashes of violence and stylized dialogue sequences. While it lacks the poetry and melancholy of Dominik’s previous film, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Killing Them Softly feels like a spiritual cousin to that masterful Western. Both deal with the subject of economic Manifest Destiny, and in this particular Gangster universe, pulling ones self up by the bootstraps has never been so punishing and filthy.

An opening crescendo of white noise, radio banter (the Obama/McCain 2008 election is a didactic framing device), and visual starkness establishes a dilapidated world constantly moving in and out of consciousness. The Great Recession is in full swing, and low-level thugs like Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn) are forced to get creative in order to make ends meet. The two are contracted to rob a high-stakes card game by another gangster, and the stickup creates a ripple of economic uncertainty in the underworld arena. Enforcer Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) is brought in to eliminate the guilty parties and restore confidence.

Killing Them Softly isn’t subtle in the way it connects the American government to the mob higher-ups Jackie is forced to negotiate with (via middleman Richard Jenkins). The plot’s Red tape, slow decision making, and mishandlings are all deeply entrenched in the film’s political agenda. The brilliant grey/black/brown color scheme and vintage 70s mise-en-scene (cars, clothing, lingo) connect our present with a past moment in American history equally maligned with economic and political duress. The strategically placed slow motion shots only heighten this spatial overlap, like the dripping sweat on Russell’s brow or the droplet of rain kissing a bullet casing from Jackie’s 45. Nostalgia for the past and hope for the future are equally contemptible offenses, and that’s a scary thought.


Walter Salles’s long-gestating On the Road proffers a far more benign version of American angst, regurgitating into a coming-of-age slog the Westward travails of Sal Paradise (Sam Riley) so beloved in Jack Kerouac’s novel. Between stunning wide shots of various countryside settings, the film crams the viewer inside a car with beatnik assholes for what feels like a century in the cinema of slow. There’s no escape from Kristen Stewart’s smirking Marylou or Garrett Hedlund’s brute Dean Moriarty, only the suffering that comes with listening to their hilariously awful attempts at emotional complexity.

While each major performance is atrocious in its own way (especially Amy Adams and Viggo Mortensen), Salles’s consistently inert sense of pacing confirms On the Road as a soulless adaptation, lacking the dangerous allure of Kerouac’s book. Like the rambling drunk father Dean searches for throughout the film, On the Road feels perpetually lost, unaware of how important it could have been. Even worse, the film’s trite look at sexual liberation and creative freedom only glosses the surface of what it means to gain life experience in sudden, strong bursts of time.

05/21/12 12:39pm


Reported to be Alain Resnais’s final film, You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet certainly feels like a sendoff. After a rousing credit sequence full of adventure film graphics and loud symphonic bangs, a montage of mysterious phone calls leads a veritable all-star team of Resnais regulars (Michel Piccoli, Sabine Azema, Mathieu Amalric, Lambert Wilson and more) to a chateau villa in the mountains of France. Their journey comes at the posthumous request of a recently deceased theater director who asks his former stars via video to critique another troupe’s minimalist performance of Eurydice. As the piece unfolds, the elder actors begin performing the scenes themselves, interpreting the interpretation of the roles they played decades before.

At first, this meta-production about the process of artmaking is both breakneck and funny. Resnais seems to be skewering the fact that each actor can’t simply experience a fresh perspective on their work without taking back control of their “characters” and overpowering their peers with a louder staging. As each actor inhabits their original roles, they become more immersed in the spotlight of performance, more gleefully obsessed with reimagining their past. Resnais’s fluid camera, faux digital backdrops, and jarring editing flourishes (split screens, vignetting, and quadrants abound) further illuminate the artificiality on display, and for a while the film plays brilliantly.

But You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet is no satire. The darkly comic tone of the opening scenes turns self-congratulatory rather quickly, becoming a veritable hangout session between Resnais performers selfishly reinvigorated by old material. The final act is especially vapid, celebrating the talent of A-listers and ignoring the upstarts in desperate need of attention. What matters most to You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet is the death’s-doorstep reaffirmation of importance, a final pat on the back before the house lights dim. This is Resnais’s Ocean’s 11.


While the end of Resnais’s career feels seeped in ego, Brandon Cronenberg’s (son of David) begins in promising fashion. Antiviral envisions a future where celebrity culture has gone organic; people are so obsessed they will pay special bio-corporations to infect them with the viruses and diseases that their favorite stars suffer from on a daily basis. Syd (Caleb Landry Jones), a young technician at one of the largest firms trading in celebrity masochism, smuggles out samples in his bloodstream for black market profit. His after-work activities eventually turn sour, turning his body into a petri dish.

Obviously influenced by the elder Cronenberg’s much explored themes of body horror and deterioration, Antiviral is a nasty bird. The antiseptic white mise-en-scene is often splattered with blood that seems to darken in color as the film progresses. Fleshy horrors abound, like the growing herpes patch on a key character’s face, or the edible celebrity cell steaks harvested from star’s DNA. As a commentary on the escalating fetishism of celebrity culture, Antiviral smartly incorporates the most ghastly details in the narrative background, markers of a society slowly eating itself. Cronenberg shows his age in the film’s second half, twisting the narrative so much that it takes away from the brilliantly disturbing mood. But there’s plenty of talent on display in Antiviral, and not simply because the younger Cronenberg has nicely merged his own messed-up world with that of his father’s.


Also playing in the Un Certain Regard sidebar is Sundance sensation Beasts of the Southern Wild, which has garnered enough critical hyperbole since its January premiere to sink a ship. After seeing this brazenly abrasive slice of magical realism, it’s hard for me to justify all that praise. Director Benh Zeitlin’s debut film rampages forward from the very beginning, entrenching the viewer in a ramshackle bayou community outside of New Orleans.

Zeitlin has a brilliant eye for set and costume design, establishing a dynamic sense of a place that feels like it could split apart at any second. But the heavy-handed symbolism and militant ideology are off-putting from start to finish, simplifying a 99-percenter’s perspective into an angry and reactionary stance. Some have labeled the film Malickian, which has unfortunately become a safe way for a critic to describe anything lyrical or poetic. But Beasts of the Southern Wild is no The New World, lacking Malick’s understanding of grace.