Auto Focus (2002)

Soldiering, Winking, Filming Paul Schrader simultaneously fascinates and repels me. That’s because he has such intelligent ideas for films, and then makes then in such a pedestrian fashion the inspiration is all but trod away. And his ideas are so very clever in addition to being intelligently cinematic. Here’s the notion behind this one: America… Continue reading Auto Focus (2002)

Murder She Said (1961)

Tumbling Down My history of introspection in film starts with clever mystery writers. Then when talkies fell on us there was a huge experimental breeding ground for techniques that worked. By the 40s that chapter was all over and noir was incubated. Agatha Christie played a central role in this history with her wild experiments,… Continue reading Murder She Said (1961)

Poirot: Death in the Clouds (1988)

Intersecting Planes Agatha Christie was probably our most careful student of the genre. She was all over the map, so to speak, trying all sorts of variations. Her twists on the genre were intended to complement the twists within the story. The most interesting and adventuresome were the Marple ones. The most technical were the… Continue reading Poirot: Death in the Clouds (1988)

The Hound of the Baskervilles (1988)

The Elusive Core of the Genre If you want to understand film, you need to understand the three main narrative types: noir, that genre derived from the musical, and the detective story. While the detective story in film essentially means Agatha Christie, you can’t understand that unless you understand Holmes. And the “Hound“, my friends… Continue reading The Hound of the Baskervilles (1988)

An Education (2009)

Wonderful Soul, Unwonderful World The story happens all the time, I suppose. A young woman is bright, much brighter than her peers. She deeply understands the forces and passions in novels, real literature. That means that she is not only smart, that she understands life, but she knows that passions exist, waiting for her. The… Continue reading An Education (2009)

Doctor Who The Unicorn and the Wasp (2008)

Minority Report A reader suggested that I watch this. So I engaged with a few episodes, enough to find the most appealing ones to me. The supposed attraction is the extended magical journey, sort of a cross between “Doctor Strange,” the best Marvel comic character and “Hitchhiker’s guide,” with a plucky, admiring redheaded sidekick. I… Continue reading Doctor Who The Unicorn and the Wasp (2008)

Appalossa (2008)

Shifty Sometimes you can see the notes of the writer in a film. It is as if he or she sat down with the intent of accomplishing certain things and wrote a story. But instead of the story, we still see the unerased list of goals. When the writer isn’t a real writer, but an… Continue reading Appalossa (2008)

An Inspector Calls (1954)

Inspecting the Story If you want to understand film, the first thing on the list is narrative structure, specifically cinematically structured narrative. If I were teaching in film school, I would introduce this subject in a semester’s worth of detective narrative. Nowhere are more tricks pulled, more folding made than in this general notion of… Continue reading An Inspector Calls (1954)