Nicole Rivelli/IFC Films
Certain Women (2016)
Kelly Reichardt is starting to get deserved attention for her style of filmmaking, which is the quiet telling of ordinary working-class stories in western America from a woman’s point of view. Michelle Williams was the first big-name actress to realize what Ms. Reichardt was doing; they made “Wendy and Lucy” together in 2008, and then “Meek’s Cutoff” in 2011 – a historically accurate film about a lost group of settlers in 1840s Oregon. There is no one else making movies like hers in America now, and for that reason a lot more people are paying attention. With that attention, she has chosen to adapt three loosely-linked short stories by Maile Meloy about women in and around Livingston, Mont.
Continue reading "What Women Want" »
Joe Anderson/The Orchard
As people were exiting the cinema after the London Film Festival showing, the chatter all seemed to agree that Christine Chubbuck had a mental illness of some kind. That without that mental illness she would not have done what she did. But we had just spent two hours watching a film in which the chain came together, link by link, that made her decision a small step – not a giant, unexplainable leap. Do we have to hide behind mental illness because this story from 1974 feels very close now? Or is the movie by Antonio Campos so bad that it’s easy to miss the point?
Continue reading "Bearer of Bad News" »
Sam Emerson/Columbia Pictures
The Magnificent Seven (2016)
Remakes interest because, in making an old story new, they tell us what is important now. “The Magnificent Seven” is of course a remake of a remake – and “The Seven Samurai” remains one of the most influential films in cinema. It was one of the first to show the assembling of a team for a fight against a superior enemy, which is all cinema (especially the superhero kind) seems to be these days. When it’s done again with this level of expertise and charm, it’s easy to overlook the things we should be focusing on.
Continue reading "How the West Was Worn-Out" »
Laika Studios/Focus Features
Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)
A young boy named Kubo (voiced by Art Parkinson) lives in a cave on top of a mountain with his mother. His mother has been mentally disabled since she hit her head when Kubo was a tiny baby, so he is her carer. He also has only one eye, because at his birth his grandfather and aunts kidnapped and tried to blind him. The beautiful but nihilistic opening sequence shows all this. In the daytimes he goes down to the village with his samisen and some magical origami paper, and tells the story of a samurai named Hanzo for food. He always heeds his mother’s warnings not to stay out after dark — until one day he doesn’t.
Continue reading "One String Short of a Samisen" »
Sony Pictures Classics
This is an interesting movie about the world of finance, made extremely interesting by the fact that three of its main characters are women. The fact of their being women is both incidental and intrinsic to the plot. This movie is so, so smart, in a way that intelligence is rarely depicted onscreen — we see people putting strategies in place during bar chitchat that their opponent doesn’t even need to verbalize to understand and respond to. It’s fascinating. And none of this would have broken down the same way if the people involved were all men.
Continue reading "Equal Opportunist" »
Sour Grapes (2016)
The best movies are supposedly about one thing, but – if you pay attention to the subtext – are really about something else. “Sour Grapes” begins as a movie about how a wealthy young Chinese-Indonesian, Rudy Kurniawan, showed up in Los Angeles and permanently altered the way wines are sold across the world. It ends as a movie about something else entirely; but to their great shame, the directors bottle it.
Continue reading "Putting the Con in Connoisseur" »
BFI London Film Festival 2015
The Hard Stop (2016)
The press screening of “The Hard Stop” was on June 22, the night before the referendum during which the Britain voted to leave the European Union. Since then the country has gone through enough upheaval to fill a thousand history books, and it is very far from over yet. But the most visible result of the referendum on British streets has been an increase of racist abuse — from an American academic being told to “go back to Africa” on a Manchester tram, to the Polish center in Hammersmith being daubed with abuse. It is a nasty, uncertain time, especially for immigrants and for people of color who are perceived to be immigrants regardless of their actual status. But there has as yet been no civil unrest like Britain experienced five years ago, after a man named Mark Duggan was shot dead by police in north London. After the shooting and the riots, director George Amponsah picked up a camera and began filming Kurtis Henville and Marcus Knox-Hooke, two friends of Mr. Duggan’s, while the investigation into the shooting was carried out. Mr. Knox-Hooke was so involved in the rioting that he was put on trial for instigating them; his act of smashing the window of a police car was found to be the spark which led to five deaths, hundreds of millions of pounds in property damage and criminal trials against thousands of people.
Continue reading "A Matter of Black Lives" »
Sydney Film Festival 2016
The Commune (2016)
The Copenhagen of the 1970s lurked groovily over the horizon like a seven-day saturnalia to anyone peering toward the source of all the noise from the wrong side of the North Sea at the time. But Thomas Vinterberg revisits the environment of his childhood in "The Commune" and is careful to make it seem brittle, awkward and potentially corrosive to domestic harmony, full of the same misjudged fumblings toward happiness as everywhere else. Based primarily on a play by Mr. Vinterberg and Mogens Rukov and more distantly on the director's own experiences, its characters are either helplessly insensitive or just hard of thinking, as well as adrift in an ocean of beige.
Continue reading "Peace, Free Love and Understanding" »
Little Men (2016)
Ira Sachs's "Love Is Strange" had moments of inspiration from top to bottom; but the most finely honed of all was the last one, when the story of two longtime companions in their 60s ended by drifting dreamily down the generations and following a pair of teenagers on a wordless glide through New York, skateboarding into a future of infinite possibilities. His new film "Little Men" starts with the relationship between two 13-year-old boys and looks up at the adult world of labor and gentrification from there, admitting that the possibilities might not be so infinite in practice. Life goes messily on anyway.
Continue reading "Boyhoods" »
2015 Busan International Film Festival
The Virgin Psychics (2016)
Sion Sono's gonzo gangster-cannibal-hip-hop fantasia "Tokyo Tribe" had its tongue in its cheek and death on its mind; "The Virgin Psychics" puts mortality to one side and gives Eros its day, but without feeling the need to calm down. Originally a manga by Kiminori Wakasugi (and already brought to TV by Mr. Sono in 2013 with a bunch of the same actors as here), it's a relentlessly ribald sci-fi burlesque about a group of young virgins with shared prenatal connections who all acquire lascivious superpowers at the same time. They then get caught up in a particularly carnal version of the end of the world on loan from some cheapo 1970s porn parody - which for all the resulting difficulties certainly looks like more fun than the Midwich Cuckoos ever got up to.
Continue reading "Dickman & Throbbin Ride Again" »