After decades of winning praise as a screenwriter, Aaron Sorkin makes his directorial debut with Molly’s Game, a bold biopic about a resilient and notorious poker entrepreneur. Electric with Sorkin’s signature wit and fronted by Jessica Chastain in a powerhouse performance, the film has a sharp and undeniable charm. Then Sorkin gambles away audience good will with a stupid, ham-fisted ice rink sequence. [Read more…]
Ken Burns achieved renown with lengthy film histories of the Civil War, World War II, jazz, and baseball, but he describes his documentary The Vietnam War, made in close collaboration with his codirector and coproducer Lynn Novick, as “the most ambitious project we’ve ever undertaken.” Ten years in the making, it tells the story of the war in ten parts and over eighteen hours. Burns and Novick have made a film that conveys the realities of the war with extraordinary footage of battles in Vietnam and antiwar demonstrations in the United States. [Read more…]
Dvorák: Symphony No.9 In E Minor, Op.95, B. 178 “From the New World” – 1. Adagio – Allegro molto, by Wiener Philharmoniker, Herbert von Karajan. 1985
One sits in the dead of night, listening to Dvorak, while attempting to form thoughts on a strange, beautiful film. Guillermo Del Toro’s sensuous new film, The Shape of Water, is love as monstrosity, as a distortion of a conformist view of love. Del Toro could not have known how timely his parable would become. If the arts can interpret the psyche and the mood of a time, then Del Toro is but one of several artists and filmmakers who is producing art that responds to our predicament with a radical heart, but a radicalism based on the revolutionary act of seeing the other beyond their veils. [Read more…]
This movie is intense. But then again, Richard Hambleton was kind of intense. Also much like the artist, the documentary itself is infuriating at times, emotionally compelling, and a bit sad. As an early pioneer of the legendary Lower East Side art scene of the early 1980’s, Hambleton cut quite a figure. Stylish, handsome, brilliant, and troubled. He had demons and great ideas. He was friends with Basquiat and Haring. He basically invented a genre — conceptual graffiti. He was famous at home and abroad, in the galleries and the glossies. He had great clothes and gave extensive interviews. He had a slow-moving drug problem that eventually became unmanageable. He disappeared. He was homeless, addicted, evicted. He never stopped painting. “He followed his muse I guess,” says performance artist Penny Arcade at one point in the film. “But Richard’s muse was a cracked out junkie ho.” [Read more…]
In the post-Weinstein era, we look around at the carnage of shattered lives and wonder how we got here. What a poor time for the release of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread, which pushes the narrative that geniuses are on some level allowed to be abusive. If your work is beautiful enough, your soul can be made of scabs and darkness. The world excuses so much if you’re talented and male. [Read more…]
Inspired by true events, The Divine Order tells the story of a housewife’s servitude and her quest for emancipation in a remote part of Switzerland. She rallies other women to fight for the right to vote, shifting the scales of power politically and domestically, while awakening to her own sexual potential. [Read more…]
It is quite possible that the most fitting work of art to premiere onstage this year as an appropriate expression of the times is Thomas Ades’s searing opera, The Exterminating Angel. Apocalyptic, cataclysmic, it tells the story of a group of wealthy dinner guests who cannot leave a mansion, pushed back by an invisible force. Civilization soon crumbles and they become savages. The opera is noteworthy as both a work by Ades, certainly one of the great modern composers, and because it is an adaptation of a film by Luis Buñuel. More than most filmmakers, Buñuel’s cinema endures as both landmark filmmaking and as a powerful set of visions which interpret the human condition. His body of work spans from 1929 to 1977, yet feels even more at home now, in this age of surreal gestures and civilization as madhouse. Buñuel was keenly aware that humans are driven by desire, tribalism, and the power of fantasy. It is when these three mix within his cinema that even his lesser films maintain a dangerous undercurrent. [Read more…]
Visionary filmmaker Guillermo del Toro has long been enchanted by monsters. From chilling yet tender films like The Devil’s Backbone to Pan’s Labyrinth, and Crimson Peak, he’s offered creatures terrifying, yet uniquely beautiful. In Hellboy he made his monsters unabashed heroes. With his latest, del Toro turns an aquatic “affront” into a swoon-inducing romantic lead. The Shape of Water is a positively enchanting fairy tale that celebrates misfits, and reveals true monsters. [Read more…]
As the year reaches its twilight, it is becoming clear that 2017 was the year of iconoclasm. The wave of scandals and shocking revelations (shocking to those unaware of the habits of the elite) has cracked the great marble edifices of many a celebrity or political persona. For a population as addicted to social media and the religion of fads as ours, it is very telling that it has taken sex to shock the public consciousness into the realization that fame is a mask, popularity a vulgar makeup. But the current, lurid headlines still distract from a truth everyone knows but would prefer to whisper: There are darker ceremonies taking place in the deepest, darkest chambers of the American halls of power.
Reviewed by Kristy Puchko
Writer-director Dee Rees earned buzz out the gate in 2011, with the compelling coming-of-age drama Pariah. She followed this up with the bawdy and bold Bessie, a made-for-TV biopic that starred Queen Latifah as legendary blues siren Bessie Smith. Now, after months of touring film festivals, winning praise, and sparking Oscar speculation, Rees’ latest, Mudbound, is coming to select theaters and Netflix to offer a bittersweet period piece that’s ripe with political undertones. [Read more…]
Rat Film, a riveting new feature by Theo Anthony, plunges into the dark recesses of Baltimore’s rat-infested streets; in doing so, it takes its viewers into the gaping breach of socio-economic segregation.
Once upon a time – because all tales innocuously anchor their footprints in reality – Anthony notices a rat desperately trying to jump out of the confinement of a trashcan. This momentary experience soon leads the director into the chaos of the human condition, which the film masterfully begins to explore while an eerily autocratic voice over (Maureen Jones) ushers us into behavioral neuroscience with references to Curt Richter’s experiments compiled into his book: “Rats, Man and the Welfare State”. [Read more…]
There’s a haunting clarity that hits women when they look back at their reckless youth and reflect on how we treated our mothers. When we were teens, they seemed petty tyrants hungry to criticize everything from our grades and clothes to our posture and friends. But as we grow and encounter the oft-merciless world for which our mothers strove to prepare us, we come to understand their perspective. Looking toward our futures, they sometimes sacrificed our affections for our good. But neither were they flawless in this. It’s a hard to accept your parents want what’s best for you, yet are flawed. That is the lesson at the heart of Greta Gerwig’s stupendous coming-of-age dramedy Lady Bird. [Read more…]
Cinema in our time is almost completely dominated by aesthetic. This has curiously been the case with both Hollywood mastodons and lower budget fare. The look of a film now supersedes its narrative, as evident in much of this year’s offerings ranging from Blade Runner 2049 to Wonderstruck. But Loving Vincent, an elegant and enrapturing film experience, proves that when approaching the life of a great artist, aesthetic is key — the trick is how to fuse the gesture with an engaging narrative. The film is an exploration of the cryptic life of Vincent van Gogh, his dark aura and wondrous talent, brought to life through his own visions. Here is a film worth seeking out in whichever local arthouse lucky enough to be showing it. I am grateful I accepted an invitation to see it from a dear friend who had just returned from those burning lands in the Middle East, who confessed Van Gogh was her muse and so was drawn to this film like a moth to flame. [Read more…]
After starring in several Coen Brothers comedies, actor/writer-director George Clooney strives to make one of his very own, helming Suburbicon. The crime-comedy began as a Coen Brother’s script nearly 20 years ago. Then Clooney and his writing partner, Grant Heslov, gave the draft a makeover, working in a true story of suburban racism they’d hoped to spin into a compelling biopic. But the result is a jarring combination that goes together as well as peanut butter and poison. [Read more…]
There is a strange sense in modern cinema that to be avant-garde means to be vague, whereas pop entertainment wears its idealisms or opinions on its sleeve. A look at this year’s offerings offers a startling set of comparisons to make this point. Early in the year the surprise box office hit Get Out offered a vicious B-movie critique of race relations in contemporary America, while the arthouse darling It Comes at Night was a somewhat sluggish bore about people in the woods, trapped in some vague post-apocalyptic future without much of a point (or coherent plot). Even Ridley Scott’s latest rehash of the Alien franchise, Alien: Covenant, had more to say about the rise of Fascism in the modern world than anything else released in the season. [Read more…]
The Snowman had all the makings of a great horror crime-thriller in the vein of Silence of the Lambs. It too was based on a provocative mystery novel, Jo Nesbø’s acclaimed international bestseller. It was helmed by an esteemed director, Tomas Alfredson. The Swedish filmmaker chiseled a reputation for crafting compelling adaptations of tricky novels with his celebrated vampire tale Let the Right One In, and the Oscar-nominated espionage drama Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. With a cast that boasts such critically heralded stars as Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, Charlotte Gainsbourg, and J.K. Simmons, Alfredson seemed destined for a three-peat success with his latest. So perhaps the greatest mystery of The Snowman is not the identity of its merciless murderer, but just how all this promise came together in an incoherent and tone-deaf mess. [Read more…]
Tom of Finland might not be the movie you’re expecting it to be, but it’s the movie it needs to be. This quiet masterpiece of a biopic assumes that the viewer already knows how the story ends, with its eponymous protagonist becoming a living legend of progressive gay culture in the late 20th century, an artist whose critical and popular claim both celebrated and transcended its context. Tom’s art was boldly proud and beautiful in a specific way that demanded respect for his community, making sure as his partner says in the film, “that everyone knows we exist,” while at the same time, the work was also just so undeniably original and fresh and exuberant that no one could resist its charms. Based only on the art, one might anticipate more of a romp from this film — and there is romping; but its true power lies in its strange subtleties and in Tom himself, an unexpectedly unassuming army vet and urbane ad guy whose inherent sense of dignity and justice combines with his talent to make him exceptional. [Read more…]
Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you. — Friedrich Nietzsche.
It is hard to doubt that many inhabitants of the American imperium are going insane. The irrational nature of sudden, public outbursts of violence escalates to new levels of horror every year. The recent bloodbath in Las Vegas has raised many, quite necessary, debates over the gun-crazed culture that frames the American mindset, but little attention is being paid to the actual mental state of the republic. Surrounded by hyper-capitalism, predatory competition, and an increasingly isolated way of living, new monsters are being bred and formed, to roam the countryside and inflict new body counts. It is almost fitting that the current White House occupant is himself deranged, because shouldn’t a leader be a mirror image of his people? [Read more…]
There is a sense in our increasingly electronic era that everything is surface. We are defined by our social media pages and herd to the gym to look a specific way. What defines us is becoming an increasingly complex series of ponderings based on many material factors. It is only appropriate then, that Warner Brothers would decide to revive Blade Runner here and now. Denis Villeneuve’s new Blade Runner 2049 is a film that is indeed all surface, with the cold heart of an android, but this makes it a fitting fable for its audience.
Writer/director Sean Baker does not make flashy films, but slowly unfolding, naturalistic narratives that’s revelations bloom for hours and days after you’ve first seen them. In 2015, he had critics raving over Tangerine, his heartwarming and at times hilarious breakout about a pair of trans sex workers. For his follow-up, Baker awes with his frank yet beautiful portrait of poverty-stricken Americans living in the shadow of The Happiest Place On Earth. [Read more…]