Category Archives: Close Readings

Looking in depth at an individual scene or line.

Jodie Foster as Clarice Starling in a southern funeral home in The Silence of the Lambs.

A battle of the sexes in ‘The Silence of the Lambs’

With the Academy Awards having officially dished out their annual little gold men to primarily white, male recipients, there is little in film news worth writing about. Rarely does the beginning of the year offer much that lasts. With that in mind I’ve decided to take a look at a rare instance in which a film from early in the year took home the top prize at the Oscars and, more importantly, remains a brilliant and important film that reveals more with each subsequent viewing. I am referring to Jonathon Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs. Continue reading A battle of the sexes in ‘The Silence of the Lambs’

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Joaquin Phoenix stares off into the distance, stoned, in Paul Thomas Anderson's Inherent Vice.

The first 8 minutes of ‘Inherent Vice’ offers more than many of last year’s films

This piece is half inspired by the fact that Paul Thomas Anderson’s masterful Inherent Vice (my favorite film of last year) is finally being released on DVD and Blu-ray next week on April 28. Also a couple of days ago I took the time to dissect the opening sequence of Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas  and I couldn’t help but recall my admiration for this scene. The sequences, interestingly enough, don’t have a ton in common even though the directors and their films do. Where Goodfellas opens with a framing device, Inherent Vice starts with about the most narratively logical sequence possible. What is shared though, is a skilled navigation of  the art of characterization. Through camera angles, poignant cutting, the characters’ positions on the set, and even their clothes, many unspoken but calculated elements are present in Paul Thomas Anderson’s elusive masterpiece. Continue reading The first 8 minutes of ‘Inherent Vice’ offers more than many of last year’s films

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Rober Deniro, Joe Pesci, and Ray Liotta in Goodfellas.

Goodfellas: “As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.”

I’ve lately come to appreciate Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather as the masterpiece that it is. But growing up it didn’t really click; I pretty much saw it as big New Hollywood movie. I could see all the ways it took the 30s gangster flicks like Scarface or Little Caesar and updated them with the gritty realism of heroin, sex, and tragic violence. I understood how it took on the moral complexity of something like Bonnie and Clyde or Easy Rider and brought it to a different genre. But I did not track with its very central notion of cultural integration within America. And I certainly did not understand the fine nuances of the character arc of Michael Corleone (Al Pacino). I could go on about this. But frankly, that is for another day. Today is about Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas; the gangster film that really clicked when I was a teen. Continue reading Goodfellas: “As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.”

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“I would never wanna belong to any club that would have someone like me for a member.”

When I applied to college, I carefully selected prospective institutions in a fashion that allowed me to use a only one application service and get away with writing a single, generic essay for all of them. My choice of topic was Woody Allen’s Annie Hall. At the time I saw a lot more of myself in Alvy Singer than I do now. But that doesn’t make this film mean any less to me. And one line that, without looking, I believe I did not write about way back when, continues to resonate with me. In the middle of the opening monologue, Alvy utters “I would never wanna belong to any club that would have someone like me for a member.” Continue reading “I would never wanna belong to any club that would have someone like me for a member.”

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“We’re not murderers, in spite of what this undertaker says.”

This is the last line of the opening scene of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather. It’s one of my favorite quotes from the entire trilogy. Yet it is not one heard casually thrown around at cocktail parties or mocked on SNL the way  “I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse” and a couple others from the same film often are. Continue reading “We’re not murderers, in spite of what this undertaker says.”

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