FOREWORD: You might be wondering why Check the Reel‘s been so barren. Briefly: I made the transition back to college at the start of September; since then schoolwork and personal life have done their part to keep my online output limited beyond cursory Facebook posts. Now I once again have the time, means, and energy to pick up with CtR. I did not drop film writing entirely during my hiatus. For some reviews and articles I’ve written recently, check out my school newspaper The Knox Student. To those who have continued to read CtR while I’ve been absent, thank you. I hope it continues to be of some interest.
It’s been a good autumn for film.
Scratch that: it’s been a fucking awesome autumn for film. I can’t remember a better time to attend movies on a regular basis than these last few months. If summer dragged between tentpoles, the end of August opened a can of worms with ParaNorman, and now – trucking through October, still a month away from the big Thanksgiving releases – I can name a dozen films at least worth a ticket for the discussion they inspire. Several of these films have already guaranteed places in my “Best of 2012” list. Regardless if Dredd, The Master, Seven Psychopaths, End of Watch, or Hotel Transylvania are accounted for at this year’s Oscars, they deserve to be experienced and shared; each speaks with a unique voice, showing visions of worlds and characters that linger with you long after leaving the theatre.
It’s also been an instructional time for film. While summer caters to superhero mega-hits and winter gushes with speculative award winners, fall welcomes film’s “Misfit Toys”: the weird genre experiments, not-quite-indie dramas, and Halloween frights you’ll find scrunched together on the marquee. Some seasons you can process every film with the same part of your brain. Not fall. You’re always switching gears, figuring out what viewing process the film demands and what method its madness wields.
You might be wondering why I listed Hotel Transylvania, a slapstick animated comedy about monsters voiced by Adam Sandler and Selena Gomez, alongside The Master, Paul Thomas Anderson’s dissection of human guilt, malady and obsession, a difficult but rewarding watch with images that match its ambition in beauty. How does the merciless End of Watch stand toe-to-toe with the shameless Dredd, one a few day in the life of two LAPD cops, the other a few days in the life of the steel-armored, dystopia-wandering, sci-fi menace Judge Dredd? These films clash in subject and delivery, and they cater to very different sets of expectations. How do we reconcile these genre barriers and view each film on equal ground?
The answer comes from a film released nearly thirty years ago, not in the fall but the spring, though it also carries the spirit and difficulty of autumn films. It baffled critics upon its release like Roger Ebert, continues to baffle viewers today, and I’m not afraid to admit for the longest time it stumped me too. I’ve seen it at least seven times, spread out across five years and many stages of my mental growth. Only now do I feel comfortable talking about The Coen Brothers’ quirky American fable, Raising Arizona, a film I fought just to love.