Les Grands Ensembles (The Housing Projects) (2001, Pierre Huyghe)

Properly exhibited, Les Grands Ensembles should be projected in an art gallery. In an endless loop. The film runs just under eight minutes. In it, artist Pierre Huyghe tells a strange little story about two buildings. Now, the full title of the piece is (apparently) Les Grands Ensembles (The Housing Projects), and so, one should look on the buildings as projects.

I’ll bet, if you just Google, you can read all about their importance in Ensembles, which has very little to do with the film itself. Removed from the exhibition context, it is instead this meticulous, exhilarating race towards exhaustion.

The film is a single shot. The two buildings, a park in between. The problem with seeing it as representational of time passing is the lack of human representatives. The buildings are models. Great models. The park is a great model. There’s fog (live action fog) clouding the buildings. Then people get home. How do we know? Lights go on. One here, one there, then in the tower.

But then too many get home at once, too many leave at once. And there aren’t any cars, so what’s going on. Well, then Ensembles becomes this celebration of light, the two buildings taking on personalities as they try to out light one another. Until the fog gets worse, until there’s window attacking the park, attacking the buildings.

There’s this quiet, invading music from Pan Sonic and Cédric Pigot.

Ensembles is a technical marvel.

3/3Highly Recommended


Directed by Pierre Huyghe; music by Pan Sonic and Cédric Pigot.


Terminator Genisys (2015, Alan Taylor)

Terminator Genisys is an inept attempt at turning the Terminator franchise into a young adult series à la The Hunger Games or Divergent or Twilight or Harry Potter. Only there’s no “literary” source material for Genisys, not even the original Terminator films. Because screenwriters Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier absolutely refuse to give Emilia Clarke a character. More than anyone else in the film, including Jai Courtney–who’s terrible, but is also ludicrously miscast–or old man Terminator Arnold Schwarzenegger, Emilia Clarke doesn’t get a character. Maybe because if the film does acknowledge the importance of Emilia Clarke’s Sarah Connor, all the other malarky would become even more obvious. It still tries to get away with being a spectacle action movie occasionally.

The first forty or so minutes of the film, which still manages to feel longer at two hours, are a witless reimagining of the first Terminator movie with Terminator 2 technology thrown in. If it weren’t for the terrible acting (Emilia Clarke’s only more likable than Courtney because she gets fewer lines and the script mistreats her something awful), and if director Taylor actually had any regard for the James Cameron’s Terminator films for their filmmaking and not just iconography, this first forty minutes should have been awesome. It wouldn’t have been any good in the long run, since it’s just a preamble to the rest of the film, but it would have been awesome to see.

Well, not with Kramer Morgenthau’s photography or Lorne Balfe’s music. Some of the technical decisions on Genisys suggest a deep hatred for the Terminator franchise, which seems strange because the film has almost no personality otherwise. The entire plot hinges on a failure to understand the importance of not recasting and trying to jump on the cloud computing zeitgeist.

Skynet. There’s an app for that.

I do want to talk about the acting, since almost everyone is aping someone else’s performance. Even J.K. Simmons is sort of aping Earl Boen, just as a different character.

Schwarzenegger’s lousy, but you feel sorry enough for him you almost want to see what he’s going to do. Taylor doesn’t understand what he’s doing, so he doesn’t play up that aspect of it. Schwarzenegger’s the loose third wheel who should be the strongest. But Taylor is terrible at directing fight scenes too.

Jason Clarke is really bad doing an impression of Christian Bale. None of the other characters, not even Schwarzenegger, are written like their previous film versions. Except Jason Clarke’s character, who Bale played in Salvation.

(It’s hilarious how many hands have fumbled the franchise since Cameron stopped doing it).

But Emilia Clarke and Courtney aren’t doing Linda Hamilton and Michael Biehn impersonations, which they really should, because neither has anything going for them. Courtney’s always getting these soulful moments and his blank expression–combined with Balfe’s lame score–just drags Genisys down further.

In the end, Terminator Genisys is a movie made by people who don’t care about the Terminator franchise. They aren’t fans. They don’t even pretend to be fans. And, you know what, it would have been fine if they at least cared enough about Genisys to try. It doesn’t even try.



Directed by Alan Taylor; screenplay by Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier, based on characters created by James Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd; director of photography, Kramer Morgenthau; edited by Roger Barton; music by Lorne Balfe; production designer, Neil Spisak; produced by David Ellison and Dana Goldberg; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger (The Terminator), Jai Courtney (Kyle Reese), Emilia Clarke (Sarah Connor), Jason Clarke (John Connor), J.K. Simmons (O’Brien), Dayo Okeniyi (Danny Dyson), Courtney B. Vance (Miles Dyson), Matt Smith (Alex), Michael Gladis (Lt. Matias), Sandrine Holt (Detective Cheung) and Byung-hun Lee (T-1000).


The Empire Strikes Back (1980, Irvin Kershner)

The most amazing aspect of The Empire Strikes Back is its effortlessness. The film is clearly exceptionally complex–the three story lines have different sets, different actors, different tones, not to mention entirely different special effects requirements–not to mention Frank Oz’s Yoda–but it all appears effortless. Director Kershner is infinitely confident, infinitely assured. He simultaneously manipulates the actors while trusting their abilities entirely.

A lot of Empire’s success is due to Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan’s screenplay. The relationship between Mark Hamill and Oz, the one between Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher–not to mention the beautiful acknowledgement of the first film–the little character moments, acknowledging the time they spend together, Anthony Daniels getting to acknowledge the “unreality” of the film, every little thing is so good. There’s a beautiful flow to the film.

And John Williams is responsible for a lot of that flow. Kershner, Williams, cinematographer Peter Suschitzky, editor Paul Hirsch, production designer Norman Reynolds. Those five people are responsible for Empire’s lush, emotive style. It’s a treat. It’s meant to be a treat. These five people get to flex their abilities. They get to show off. But they don’t, because it’s even better to produce something magnificent. Empire is, hands down, my favorite example of a well-produced film. So I guess Gary Kurtz is the most responsible.

Anyway. Williams. Williams and the music. It’s entirely possible between Williams, Suschitzky and Hirsch, no one could give a bad performance in the film. There’s no way to test the theory, unfortunately, because all of the actors are phenomenal. The script–and Kershner–acknowledge the cast’s chemistry and different styles and molds Empire around them. What’s most strange is when Billy Dee Williams arrives, he fits in with them perfectly. Of course, perfect is the only word to describe the film’s performances.

I’m at a bit of a loss as how to close. I thought about talking about how Brackett and Kasdan borrow a lot of plotting techniques from Westerns, but Kershner doesn’t, which actually makes for a more interesting discussion but not a closing.

The Empire Strikes Back is sort of a humanist, escapist picture. Kershner and the rest of the crew–I mean, come on, the special effects are astounding and the way Kershner builds to bigger, then smaller, sequences is breathtaking–they do an amazing job. Everyone does. It’s singular.



Directed by Irvin Kershner; screenplay by Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan, based on a story by George Lucas; director of photography, Peter Suschitzky; edited by Paul Hirsch; music by John Williams; production designer, Norman Reynolds; produced by Gary Kurtz; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Harrison Ford (Han Solo), Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia), Billy Dee Williams (Lando Calrissian), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), David Prowse (Darth Vader), Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca), Kenny Baker (R2-D2) and Frank Oz (Yoda).


A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010, Samuel Bayer)

Watching A Nightmare on Elm Street, I can’t believe remake director Bayer ever saw any of the original movies. Because he doesn’t even want to borrow the better techniques of those films. He instead goes with a thoughtless approach to the film. Specifically, the dream stuff. He doesn’t have any interest in it. Not just as narrative possibility or narrative tricks to play on the audience, things to get them to think about to get a built-up scare instead of a jump scare. Bayer doesn’t even have interest in the effects. He’s cashing a check and doesn’t have the professionalism to feign interest.

The script’s terrible, but it’s clear Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer are familiar with the original movies. They try to make it more realistic and try to exploit little kids. They succeed with the latter, which makes for an unpleasant viewing experience (though it’s “funny” how prime time procedurals desensitized audiences better than slasher movies ever could have). The script just uses tragedy to fuel the characters because they have nothing else. The film’s universally badly acted, but there’s not a single well-written part.

Also, the script’s arranged poorly. Strick and Heisserer try to show off plot feints, but they’re obvious ones. Maybe if Bayer were doing anything but he’s not, except dressing Katie Cassidy like an eighties Barbie doll. It’s the only time in Nightmare I actually thought Bayer was trying, but I’m not sure. Maybe it was coincidence. Anyway, with the eventual reveal, it’s clear the film should’ve at least had a more natural flow.

So real bad acting from the following–Kellan Lutz, Thomas Dekker, Katie Cassidy. Bad acting but in completely the wrong part from Kyle Gallner and Jackie Earle Haley. These two are exceptionally miscast. It’s kind of hilarious how little anyone actually tried making this movie any good.

And Rooney Mara’s almost okay. She goes from really bad to not as bad to deserving of pity. She and Gallner’s arc is rough going as far as what Mara gets to do with scenes.

There’s no reason a Nightmare on Elm Street remake couldn’t be good. This film’s problems are all ones it intentionally, maliciously and not, brings to the table on its own.



Directed by Samuel Bayer; screenplay by Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer, based on a story by Strick and characters created by Wes Craven; director of photography, Jeff Cutter; edited by Glen Scantlebury; music by Steve Jablonsky; production designer, Patrick Lumb; produced by Bradley Fuller, Michael Bay and Andrew Form; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Rooney Mara (Nancy Holbrook), Kyle Gallner (Quentin Smith), Thomas Dekker (Jesse Braun), Katie Cassidy (Kris Fowles), Kellan Lutz (Dean Russell), Lia D. Mortensen (Nora Fowles), Connie Britton (Dr. Gwen Holbrook), Clancy Brown (Alan Smith) and Jackie Earle Haley (Freddy Krueger).


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