Saturday, September 22, 2018

Cinema as Deep Healing: August at Akiko's (2018)

Alex Zhang Hungtai in August at Akiko's (2018).

August at Akiko’s (2018) is the debut feature from Christopher Makoto Yogi, who also wrote and edited, and it’s nothing short of transcendent. It's a crime against the art of cinema that it has yet to find a distributor; I was lucky to catch it at the 2018 Taoyuan Film Festival. I have often felt a film to be limited by its need to follow a plot, which is why Terrence Malick is one of my favorite directors. Malick’s films still have a plot; he just distracts us from it at every step of the way. His films therefore only come together at the level of auteurist vision, without which they would merely be three-hour-long scattershot images with soundtrack and voiceovers. Yogi gives us the real deal; nothing distracts us from being immersed in this plotless marvel.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Neglected Gem: The Secret Garden (1993)

Kate Maberly, Andrew Knott and Heydon Prowse in The Secret Garden (1993)

Agnieszka Holland’s The Secret Garden is the second film version of the beloved Frances Hodgson Burnett children’s novel about a young girl who’s sent to live in the English countryside after her parents die in colonial India. The first was directed by Fred Wilcox at MGM in 1949, in glistening black and white and (in the garden sequences) the intense storybook Technicolor we remember from The Wizard of Oz and Meet Me in St. Louis and National Velvet. Done up in the lavish MGM bound-classics style, it’s a handsome production that provides a deluxe Gothic mansion, a stunning carriage ride through the moors in a heavy evening rain, and – best of all – the formidable child actress Margaret O’Brien (the morbidly fanciful Tootie of Meet Me in St. Louis) as contrary Mary Lennox. Though Wilcox’s technique is a trifle shaky (the camera’s not always in the right place), and the late scenes drip into melodrama, the movie is highly satisfying.

Monday, September 17, 2018

A Note Regarding Scheduling at Critics at Large

Dear reader,

This note is to let you know that after nearly nine years of daily publication, Critics at Large will be moving to a more relaxed publishing schedule.

This is a necessary choice not just to maintain the health and sanity of our volunteer workforce, upon whom the operation and maintenance of this site depends, but also to help enhance the quality of writing that we publish. Our writers can now take the time they need to choose topics that inspire them, and can feel free to write to their fullest potential.

We feel strongly that the quality of the content we produce is paramount. That much we vow to maintain, no matter the frequency of postings. And it goes without saying that none of this would be possible without you, the reader  so please accept our heartfelt thanks for your years of dedicated support, and your continued interest.

If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to us.

-The Critics at Large Team

Sunday, September 16, 2018

The Contemporary Relevance of Jake Tapper's The Hellfire Club

Jake Tapper signing copies of his new thriller, The Hellfire Club. (Photo: Harrison Jones/GW Today)

Jake Tapper's debut historical political thriller, The Hellfire Club (Little, Brown & Company 2018), opens at dawn on March 5, 1954 with an echo of the Chappaquiddick incident reset in Washington’s Rock Creek Park. A rookie congressman, Charlie Marder, wakes up from a drunken stupor after a car accident. The body of a young cocktail waitress lies nearby in a ditch. As he tries to make sense of what has happened, an influential lobbyist known to Marder passes by, incinerates the evidence and whisks Charlie away.

With this harrowing start, before Marder or the reader can figure out whether he has been set up, Tapper backtracks three months to when Marder, a Columbia University professor with a well-connected New York GOP lawyer for a father, is chosen to fill a seat left vacant by the mysterious death of a congressman. Initially, Marder appears to demonstrate the idealism of the eponymous character in the Frank Capra movie Mr. Smith Goes to Washington as he questions on the House floor whether an appropriation earmarked for a big tire company is ethical given that it manufactured defective gas masks that Charlie witnessed first-hand when he served in the war overseas. But he does not have the mettle, the will or, to be fair, the allies to resist a powerful committee chairman who humiliates him, forcing him into a series of compromises of backroom deals which lead to Marder's actually voting for a bill that will enable that company to produce something decidedly toxic.