Monday, December 27, 2010

New Year's Wrap Up

My last reviews of 2010 cover a mixed bag of films, from the solid (The Red Chapel) to the mediocre (everything else). Better off checking out The Strange Case of Angelica which I reviewed for Slant during this year's New York Film Festival and which now begins a short run at the IFC Center or Derek Cianfrance's excellent Blue Valentine, also opening this week.

The Way Back (Slant)
Biutiful (The L Magazine)
The Red Chapel (The L Magazine)
The Sound of Insects (Village Voice)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Village Voice Film Poll

For the second year in a row, I was asked to participate in the Village Voice's annual film poll. I was gratified to see the support among fellow critics for my favorite film of the year Our Beloved Month of August. Click here to see my ballot.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Somewhere and Some Reflections on "Personal" Cinema

While Somewhere’s obvious film-opening symbolism of a car driving in endless circles or a later image of the film’s aging movie star protagonist Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff) relaxing on a float in a hotel pool, straying aimlessly offscreen, is meant to suggest the repetitive driftlessness of that character’s booze-, drug- and sex-fueled lifestyle, they speak just as eloquently to the impasse of director Sofia Coppola’s career. Her fourth feature, and fourth to deal with the isolating nature of celebrity – from the local (The Virgin Suicides) to the world-historical (Marie Antoinette) level - this is the one where the trail has officially run cold. Anyone with a reasonably good eye and Harris Savides as her cinematographer can frame a decent image, and, whether taking in an amateurish double stripper pole dance performed for Johnny’s purported pleasure (mostly he just looks bored) or the aforementioned car looping its way around a private race track, Coppola’s largely fixed takes are certainly handsome enough. Similarly, the director occasionally nails the absurdity of the rituals of celebrity, particularly in an amusingly offhand press junket and photo shoot that gain their disorienting power from the fact that they’re just one more non-emphatic event in Johnny’s life. Things change slightly when his young daughter (Elle Fanning) comes to stay with him at his L.A. hotel. At least he has to pass on most of the sexual opportunities that present themselves with credulity-straining frequency, perhaps because, as Miriam Bale suggests, he learns to see women as women through the lens of his female offspring, but also, undoubtedly, because of sheer logistical difficulty. Still, by the time the actor’s whining out the film’s thesis “I’m not even a human being” and wandering off down the road to nowhere in a film-ending gambit that last worked forty years ago in Five Easy Pieces, the limits of not only Johnny’s lifestyle, but Coppola’s trademark themes have most definitely been reached.

A problem with so much of recent American cinema is an insistence on that old Creative Writing 101 saw, “Write about what you know.” Whether it’s the insular mumblings of filmmakers like Joe Swanberg, the privileged wallow of Lena Dunham’s overpraised Tiny Furniture that makes a virtue of its deliberately narrow world-view or the wave of look-at-me-and-my-family first-person docs, our national independent filmmaking has become practically synonymous with what often feels like a round of glorified vanity projects. Critical responses to such self-reflective films have ranged from ambivalent pieces like Dan Callahan’s consideration of Coppola and Dunham’s efforts (he finds the latter promising, while disliking the former) appropriately titled “On Rich Girl Cinema” to Richard Brody’s ample praise of a strain of filmmaking that allows sheltered youth the privilege of self-expression, a position most clearly articulated in his consideration of the recent book of essays What Was the Hipster?. Taking to task the book’s chief contributor Mark Greif for chiding middle-class whites who focus on “their struggles for their own pleasures and luxuries… rather than asking what makes their sort of people entitled to them”, Brody counters by praising the art being made by “young people” that “depicts themselves and the specifics of their own lives,” including “their economic circumstances, the places in which they live, the assumptions on which their choices are based.” Brody’s own assumption seems to be that all subject matters are uniformly valid, and that Greif’s prescription is essentially anti-democratic.

But are all subjects equal? Just because you’re white, middle- (or upper-) class and apolitical does that make your story any less valid than those of less privileged people? (Certainly if a film’s focus on working-class life consists of an unholy mix of sentimental heroics and class contempt like David O. Russell’s The Fighter, it doesn’t). But whether dealing with Coppola’s filthy-rich movie star, Dunham’s wealthy recent college grad or the aimless twenty-somethings of Joe Swanberg's and Kentucker Audley’s films (presumably the latter two examples are what Brody has in mind), I would say that the answer is that these films' subjects are simply not terribly interesting objects of study. Not everybody’s life is.

As a young, white, middle-class (by lifestyle if not income), though hardly apolitical person, I wouldn’t think of turning my life into a film; it would probably be the dullest thing ever committed to celluloid. But at least I can say this: Unlike the protagonists (and directors) of most American independent films, my interests extend beyond my own daily existence. In reading my Tiny Furniture review one can take me to task for putting my set of cultural references above Lena Dunham’s and asserting my superiority to the filmmaker and her character. My response would be that my interests aren’t more valid because they’re more highbrow, but because they don’t begin and end with the specifics of my personal existence. As someone interested in the cinema (like Dunham’s character), I don’t try to limit myself by declaring a blanket dislike of “foreign films”, but try to engage with all forms of movies. And rather than assert that my social life is more important than the larger issues facing the world (impending climate catastrophe, growing wealth inequality, endless wars abroad - or the politics of sexual inequality that play out daily in less dramatic theaters), I freely admit my personal insignificance. In the final analysis, what’s ultimately lacking from the vast majority of independent American films being released to groundswells of critical acclaim is any kind of political awareness.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Slant Magazine's Best of 2010: Film

Slant Magazine's year-end film feature, highlighting the top 25 movies of 2010 as selected by seven staff critics (myself included), has gone live. Check out my capsule reviews for the films that ranked 22nd, 21st and 7th. Then click here to see my personal top 10 (along with honorable mentions).

Monday, December 13, 2010

Casino Jack and Alien Girl

My latest reviews, both for Slant Magazine, cover Casino Jack, the late George Hickenlooper's docudrama about the downfall of Jack Abramoff, which as I argue, is considerably less effective than Alex Gibney's recent documentary treatment of the same material, and Russian director Anton Bormatov's scuzzy gangster picture Alien Girl.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Company Men and The Temptation of St. Tony

The Company Men

This year’s Up in the Air, but bleaker, without the leavening humor. Also, (see the title) more male-centric. In theory, there’s no subject unfit for cinematic treatment, but the chastening and redemption of an obnoxious corporate player forced to adjust to a less gilded lifestyle (George Clooney’s professional downsizer in the Jason Reitman picture; Ben Affleck’s sales exec in John Wells’ current feature) puts that theory rather severely to the test. Unlike Clooney’s charmer, Affleck’s Bobby Walker is pretty much all asshole, defining himself by the luxury life (Porsches, Patriots season tix) that he can barely afford on his middle-class salary. When he gets the axe in a round of corporate downsizing, he can’t pay his mortgage, suffers a crisis of class-sliding dread and is finally forced to take a job hanging drywall for his contractor brother-in-law. Ennobled by his brief contact with the working class, he’s (spoilers ahead) free to rejoin the white collar world, netting a more ethically responsible position, albeit at half his old salary. As if there was any question of Affleck’s character ending up a full-time laborer.

Semi-upbeat ending aside, this is a world of corporate double-crosses, humiliating employment agency exercises, suicides and small businesses that can’t break even, where anyone above the age of 30 is seemingly unemployable, a state of affairs that emerges through the stories of the other “company men” of various levels of seniority also terminated from Walker’s company. Bloated CEO pay and outsourcing are the culprits according to the film’s endlessly reiterated talking points, but for all its attempts to speak to our moment and address the larger picture of economic failure, this is one more redemption-of-corporate-man melodrama, in this case effecting the ethical deliverance via a dubious embrace of the purity of working class labor, a “lower” world which it eventually discards as beneath its white collar characters.


The Temptation of St. Tony

A mourner at a funeral reflects that everything in the world is evil. A priest denies a feeling of any connection with God. A sinister figure of occult power mocks notions of goodness and laughs at protestations of love. And they all live in a bleak Estonian landscape of rocky expanses dotted with the occasional ultra-modernist structure (the incongruity of post-Soviet capitalism). Against such a backdrop, the semi-ironically nicknamed “Saint” Tony (Taavi Eelmaa), a factory manager with a cheating wife, a recently deceased father and a pitying love of dogs, searches for something like redemption (or at least some alternative to the void). The priest, a man blessed with superhuman omniscience, tells Tony the only thing he believes in is individual accountability, a lesson not lost on the industrial manager. But no matter if he’s reporting the discovery of a pair of severed hands to a provincial policeman only to narrowly escape ill treatment from that petty bureaucrat or trying to save a comely factory worker’s daughter from a sinister network of sex slavery for which he nearly suffers far greater punishment, Tony proves a perennially impotent figure. Whether or not one is inclined to take all this as allegory (at one point a nearly naked Tony wraps himself in the Estonian flag and runs across a snowy field), Veiko Õunpuu’s stunningly photographed second feature (shot in tactile black-and-white by Mart Taniel) presents a sardonically bleak picture of man’s existential, and Eastern European man’s political, state (though not untempered by ample doses of black humor). If the film works best in individual moments, there are few in the recent cinema as memorable as a posh dinner party where the guests go from discussing swinging to dancing drunkenly in various male-female-female combinations or, better, the climactic Eyes Wide Shut-inspired set-piece which takes the notion of the hidden sinister farther than even Kubrick (or Arthur Schnitzler) could have imagined.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Two Up, Two Down

This week's reviews cover two films very much worth seeing and two that are best avoided. Which are which? Click below to find out.

Rabbit à la Berlin
(Slant)
All Good Things (Slant)
Queen of the Lot (Slant)
Bhutto (Time Out New York)

Monday, November 29, 2010

Track of the Cat

The opening credits of William Wellman’s Track of the Cat unfold above a series of overhead shots of two horsemen wending their way across a snow-drenched valley, dotted only with the occasional tree or shrub and given a sense of endless expanse by the Cinemascope framing. There’s no mistaking Wellman’s meaning as the pair of puny figures are all but swallowed up by the vast landscape, but the director’s 1954 western-set drama is at least as much about the debilitating cruelties and constricting power struggles of the nuclear family as they are the expansive, age old theme of man versus nature. Cutting back and forth between the isolated homestead and the primal wilderness, Wellman treats the scenes set in the former as part high psychological drama and part parody, those situated in the latter as allegorical journey, a decaying domestic set-up vying with (and being symbolically linked to) brutal blizzards and wild cats as sites of libidinal menace.

Everything in Wellman’s film is seen at its terminal stage: the family, the frontier, history itself. Set at the earliest in 1896 (the date of an inscription glimpsed in a book of Keats poems), at least three years after Frederick Jackson Turner famously declared the western limit of American expansion achieved, Track of the Cat focuses on an extended clan that plays like a grotesque parody of familial values. While Bible-spouting Mom (Beulah Bondi), along with her favorite son, the domineering Curt (a well-bearded Robert Mitchum), solidifies her power over her offspring, her husband (Philip Tonge) comically stumbles around in a perpetual drunken stupor, endlessly searching out the bottles of whisky he’s hidden in any number of spots throughout the house. Rounding out the picture are Curt’s siblings, the mystically-inclined Arthur (William Hopper), the deeply unhappy Grace (Teresa Wright) and the cowering, ineffectual youngest brother Harold (Tab Hunter), constantly ridiculed by Curt in front of his intended bride Gwen (Diana Lynn), the latter the recipient of filthy-sounding innuendos from her future brother-in-law.

While this clan’s passions either get repressed or simmer hotly in their isolated home which, for all Curt’s claims as to having built up the surrounding valley, seems situated at something like the end of history if not the world itself, a specter comes to haunt the land that may itself be a reminder of that now-conquered past. A panther has been attacking the local cattle and, after Arthur is killed by the animal, Curt embarks mid-snowstorm on a perilous journey to bring in this beast. Writing about Wellman’s later films, critic Richard Combs notes that the director’s style becomes “more introverted… his subjects tilted more interestingly toward allegory.” But Combs goes on to dismiss Track of the Cat as a “very thin abstraction,” complaining that the “cat of the title” is reduced “to a wholly unseen, metaphorical threat.” While it’s true that the “painter” (as he’s referred to in the characters' western-speak) is never glimpsed on screen and serves a largely symbolic purpose, the exact nature of that purpose is by no means a simple question. Like the white whale of Moby Dick (or the gold doubloon which Ahab offers to the man who first spots that leviathan), the cat has a different meaning for each character.

For the family’s Native American servant Joe Sam (Carl Switzer) who, after having most of his family wiped out by U.S. soldiers, suffered the loss of his wife and child at the hand of the panther, the beast represents something like pure evil or, according to Arthur, the only member of the family with whom the he speaks freely, it “stands for the whole business of being run out by the whites.” Thus having lost the battle to save his land, the American Indian is reduced to working for his vanquisher while transferring the weight of his past onto the shoulders of a semi-mystical creature. For Curt, the stakes are not so simple, but pursuing the beast single-handedly with dogged purpose, it’s clear it’s tied up with claims of patriarchal authority, a reading enforced both by a discussion with his mother about mounting the beast on the wall (where it would serve as a symbol of his masculine power) and his continued taunting of his brother’s intended Gwen about making the pelt into a blanket for her wedding bed, thus asserting his sexual privilege over the young woman and linking domestic control with dominance over primal nature.

If history – along with that bedrock of “civilized” society, the family – is at an end, then Curt would seem to be its winner while Joe Sam, reduced to spouting mystical nonsense, is its obvious loser. But for all his arrogance and his bragging about having tamed the valley, nature is not finished with Curt. Introduced wearing a blood red poncho cut through with a bold horizontal line of black, Curt trades his top for a less assertive black and white-spotted outfit that mirrors the monotone of both the wilderness and the family’s home. In making the switch, Curt seals his doom by forgetting to transfer the food from the pocket of the old garment to the new. As the days go by and his older brother inches closer to death, Harold begins to assert himself as the only viable male figure left in the household. That this assertion consists of telling his fiancée what to do rather than demurring to her wishes and then setting out on Curt’s path to kill the panther himself suggests that instead of overturning his brother’s cruel authoritarianism, he might well develop a similar bearing in order to stabilize an increasingly degenerative household.

Although it’s Harold and not Curt who ultimately shoots the panther (the action hidden by a well-placed tree) and thus asserts his right to both his familial and sexual inheritance, the victor lacks his brother’s arrogance and promises to be a more benign patriarch as he prepares to take control of the household from his increasingly impotent (and remorseful) mother. Still, at film’s end, the last symbolic vestige of threatening wilderness has been killed, the frontier has been definitively closed and the stage is set for the increasingly revisionist western of the mid-1950s to give way to the final apocalypse that brought the genre to a close in the next two decades. The wild land may be tamed, but the wilderness at the heart of man – represented via the rottenness of his deteriorating organizational modes, the family and the larger society – is primed to take center stage.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Day Before Thanksgiving Link Round-Up

Enjoy your Thanksgiving holiday, while hopefully giving wide berth to the three films to which I've linked reviews below.

Undertow
(Slant)
The Legend of Pale Male (Slant)
Open Five (Village Voice)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Made in Cinema Hell

What could be more inspiring than a film about a successful wildcat strike staged in the name of equal pay for women? If it's Made in Dagenham, Nigel Cole's silly amalgam of inspirational speeches and embarrassing sentimentality, then just about anything, actually.

Made in Dagenham (Slant)
Today's Special (Slant)
Family Affair (Village Voice)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Marxism Goes to the Movies: On Pioneering Activist Film Critic Harry Alan Potamkin

It would probably be an exaggeration to call Harry Alan Potamkin America's first great movie critic. The country would have to wait for the advent of the mature Many Farber in 1949 for sustained, idiosyncratic greatness. (I intentionally bypass Otis Ferguson and, for all the pleasure his prose affords, James Agee). Read nearly any of Potamkin's reviews or articles and his distinguishing faults become immediately apparent: the abstract terminology ("visual motor-graph," "social idea"), his now-naïve faith in the Soviet Union as the most promising hope for civilization, the occasional clumsiness of his prose, his ultra-stringent criteria for a film's accomplishments that left a personal canon of only about half a dozen films that were deemed worthy of inclusion. But for all that, Potamkin remains America's first critic who produced a body of work of lasting value, the first to understand film's role as a social medium that wasn't either passive entertainment or isolated work of art, but one that played an active role in shaping the society that produced it.


To read the rest of this article, please continue to Bright Lights Film Journal.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Tiny Furniture and The Practice of the Wild

Just two reviews this week, covering Lena Dunham's Tiny Furniture, the latest barely watchable "hit" to emerge from Austin's famous/infamous South by Southwest festival, and The Practice of the Wild, an agreeably modest profile of poet Gary Snyder. Links are to Slant Magazine and the Village Voice respectively.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Elliot Spitzer and More

As we prepare to welcome our new budget-balancing, union-hating governor to Albany, it's a good time to reflect back on what might have been had Eliot Spitzer not been outed as a prostitute user - or run afoul of Joe Bruno and other conservative opponents at the capital. A reasonable place to start might be Alex Gibney's Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer, a provocative, if problematic piece of work that posits the investigation that brought down the former governor as a right-wing hit job.

Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer (Slant)
Outside the Law (Slant)
Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench (Artforum)
Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story (Time Out New York)
A Marine Story (Time Out New York)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Gloomy Week at the Picture Show

As a three day gloom hangs over New York City's skies, little relief from the fall doldrums can be expected at the local cinemas. Of the four films I reviewed this week, two are positively awful, while two are middling at best. Better luck next week...

Welcome to the Rileys (Slant)
A Small Act (Slant)
Walkaway (Village Voice)
Jolene (Time Out New York)

Sunday, October 17, 2010

New Releases: Samson and Delilah and The Portuguese Nun

Just two reviews this week, Australian director Warwick Thornton's impressive debut feature Samson and Delilah (for the Voice) and Eugène Green's intriguing, but ultimately unsuccessful formalist redemption tale The Portuguese Nun (for Slant). Note that the last line of the Voice review refers specifically to Delilah's act of symbolically washing away Samson's psychic wounds (as she literally washes away his physical ones) and not to a generalized "spirituality" that runs throughout the film.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Zoo

Frederick Wiseman’s 1993 film Zoo begins with a succession of brief shots depicting the splendor and diversity of the Miami Metrozoo’s animal population: Elephants, giraffes, white tigers and chimpanzees all get their close-ups. Placing us in the position of ideal spectator, Wiseman implicates the viewer in what might be termed, with a nod to Laura Mulvey, the human gaze. Flipping around his camera, the filmmaker then takes in the zoo’s visitors, as they crudely snap pictures, beat their chests in mocking imitation of a gorilla and generally seem to enjoy themselves at the animals’ expense. Wiseman wastes no time establishing the fact that the zoo’s mission is largely a distasteful enterprise – epitomized in an early sequence in which elephants perform a series of “tricks” for an appreciative audience who seem to have no idea how vulgar the whole thing appears – but in what relation the organization’s staff, the film’s viewer and the filmmaker himself stand in relation to this operation is a point that the project leaves perpetually open to question.

It’s no coincidence that Zoo contains the most on-screen video and still photograph cameras of any of the director’s 15 films I’ve had the pleasure of screening – clear stand-ins for the directorial presence even if they function in a largely different manner from Wiseman’s own apparatus – as well as the most disturbing series of surgeries and naked carnivorism. (The filmmaker’s animal-themed films tend to be the bloodiest). In an early sequence, an on-screen camera tracks along with a group of lions as they move across their zoological enclosure, while one crew member holds up a piece of flora in front of the lens, manipulating the image into suggesting that the shoot took place in the animals’ native habitat, as opposed to a “fake” setting of captivity. By showing us the falsehood inherent in this act of image-creation, Wiseman calls upon the viewer to question the director’s own choice of material. While his approach obviously aims for a less altered view of “reality”, it’s clear that any endeavor that strives toward a sense of the objective is no less shaped by a selective process and by authorial prejudices, even if Wiseman’s subjects never call attention to the camera’s presence. (This last fact always strikes me as vaguely unsettling when watching his films.)

In one sense, Wiseman’s 16mm camera operates in similar fashion to the various film crews and tourist photo shoots that he captures on screen. But what separates his method is the access he allows to far more privileged moments of the organization's inner workings, offering a larger context for his images and, with it, a definite authorial perspective. This point of view places the audience in an uncomfortable position in relation to the animals (which it’s likely to regard with the same voyeuristic urge as the zoo’s visitors), the visitors themselves (who tend to come off somewhat less than flatteringly) and the behind-the-scenes activities performed by the zoo’s staff. Though clearly enamored of the animals they tend to, these workers nonetheless engage in acts that to the viewer unaccustomed to such operations can only register as unnecessarily brutal.

These squirm inducing sequences comprise a good portion of the film’s running time: In one heartwrenching scene, a rhino gives birth to a still-born child, the mother registering a look of sad resignation (in so far as it’s possible to project human emotion onto an animal’s face) as she regards her deceased offspring. Later, that dead animal is chopped up into pieces, some to be sent to scientific research centers, the rest discarded in an incinerator. A lizard is fed a meal of dead birds; when he’s finished, a speck of plumage clings cruelly to the corner of his mouth. A wolf is castrated while the doctors deadpan lines like “out they come”. After a tour guide explains to visitors that most offspring at the zoo are raised by the mothers, we watch workers steal a crocodile’s newly hatched eggs for observation.

While part of this brutality is inherent in the feeding process, it seems all the more pitiless for being performed in an artificial manner necessitated by the animals’ removal from their native environments. Some of the other acts can be justified as furthering the aims of science (the egg removal) or, more dubiously, as being in the general interest of “education”, a vague term that a tour guide vaguely throws around. It’s clear, however, that the real purpose of the zoo is to indulge the voyeurism of its paying customers, a voyeurism in which Wiseman implicates both himself and the viewer by showing us shots of animals that are undeniably striking, even if he later undercuts our visual pleasure by exposing the bluntly executed processes behind the operation.

Two late sequences give us some of the wider context of that operation, starting with a board meeting in which the zoo’s administrators discuss the negotiations involved in obtaining komodo dragons for their menagerie. Since they have to deal with the Indonesian government (then run by the U.S.-supported military dictator and genocidist Suharto), discussions lead to tricky economic, as well as moral, questions. This sole look at the administrative process of the institution (less than we’ve come to expect from such near contemporaneous Wiseman films as Near Death and Central Park), is particularly telling: After our immersion in day-to-day process, we’re finally granted a glimpse at the wider decision-making that allows for the zoo’s continued operation. The price of that continued operation is further emphasized in the film’s final sequence, a gala benefit, crudely entitled “Feast with the Beasts”. Under a full moon, VIPS dressed in black-tie cavort with elephants and dine on cooked meat that in the dim light reminds one of the flesh burning in the incinerator that reappears like a bad conscience throughout the course of the film. While the chefs at the feast cook up fancy steaks, the daily workers perform a far less glamorous act of flesh-frying. These two acts – fund-raising and disposal of the dead – represent the twin poles of activities necessary to the maintenance of the institution. But whether or not that institution deserves this upkeep is a question that Wiseman’s film continually, fascinatingly leaves open to interrogation.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

New York Film Festival, Part Three

The festival comes to a close this Sunday with one of its best films, Raul Ruiz's sly, endlessly rewarding 4 1/2 period piece, The Mysteries of Lisbon and arguably its worst, Clint Eastwood's thoroughly silly Hereafter. Neither was reviewed by me, though, as my last two pieces for Slant's fest coverage take on considerably more mediocre fare.

New York Film Festival
Old Cats (Slant)
Revolución (Slant)

Other Film Reviews
Letters to Father Jacob (Slant)
Make Yourself at Home (Time Out New York)

Thursday, September 30, 2010

New York Film Festival, Part Two

My second set of reviews from what's turning out to be a pretty good New York Film Festival has been posted - along with some briefer considerations of theatrical releases. The highlight of the bunch is probably 101-year old Portuguese filmmaker Manoel de Oliveira's deceptively simple fable, The Strange Case of Angelica.

New York Film Festival
Aurora (Slant)
The Strange Case of Angelica (Slant)
Boxing Gym (Slant)

Other Film Reviews
Leaving (Slant)
Nine Nation Animation (Village Voice)
Speed-Dating (Time Out New York)

Saturday, September 25, 2010

New York Film Festival, Part One

With yesterday's opening night screening of The Social Network - David Fincher's slick-as-hell account of the founding of Facebook, lined with non-stop faux-clever dialogue and played at a pace commensurate with the spread of information via virtual technology, a film appropriately (given its subject) both entertaining in the moment and completely disposable - the 48th New York Film Festival is officially underway. There's a lot of good stuff in this year's edition, though, including the subject of one of my first two reviews which, along with some of my other work from the past week, is linked below.

New York Film Festival
Festival Introduction (Slant)
Of Gods and Men (Slant)
Le Quattro Volte (Slant)

Other Film Reviews
A Mother's Courage (Village Voice)
Tibet in Song (Time Out New York)

Book Review
Philip Roth's Nemesis (The House Next Door)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

End of Summer Link Round-Up

As summer reaches its end and New York Film Festival excitement mounts, the studios continue to turn out their usual mediocre product, whether it's Mark Romanek's uninspired adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro's celebrated novel Never Let Me Go or Philip Seymour Hoffman's dud of a directorial debut, Jack Goes Boating. Better off staying at home and taking in Kino's new first-rate release of Louis Feuillade's 1913-1914 serial Fantômas.

Jack Goes Boating (Slant)
Catfish (Slant)
The Freebie (Slant)
Fantômas: The Complete Saga (DVD) (Slant)
Music Makes a City (Time Out New York)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Latinbeat, Heartbreaker and more

With the New York Film Festival looming just around the corner, it's easy to overlook Lincoln Center's Latinbeat fest, an admittedly uneven sampling of the work of lesser-known Latin American directors, which runs from September 8 to 18. At the Village Voice, I highlight five of the festival's 16 films all of which are better than the (semi) high-profile French rom-com Heartbreaker, also new in theaters this week.

Latinbeat Film Festival
(Village Voice)
Who is Harry Nilsson? (Village Voice)
Heartbreaker (Slant)
Race to Nowhere (Time Out New York)

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

New Releases: Our Beloved Month of August and Prince of Broadway

This week sees the (highly limited) release of probably my favorite film of the year, Miguel Gomes' Our Beloved Month of August, opening for a week-long run at New York's Anthology Film Archives and reviewed by me in the L Magazine. Also, very much worth seeing is Lixin Fan's doc Last Train Home about mass numbers of Chinese migrant workers making their annual return to their native villages. I reviewed the film back when it played at New Directors/New Films. Now, it gets a much deserved theatrical release. Considerably less essential is Sean Baker's Prince of Broadway, the subject of a short review in Time Out New York.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Forced Incest at Gunpoint, Necrophilia (Sort Of), and the Shallow Lives of the Haute Bourgeoisie...

... plus regressive (and racist) nostalgia via Dan Pritzker's faux-silent Louis. To be sure, an off-putting group of subjects mark the films I reviewed this week, but there's one clear winner in the bunch. That would be the Deagol Brothers' teen zombie movie, Make-Out with Violence, a film infused with the tender yearning of youth (and hints of necrophilia). It opens this Friday at Brooklyn's new reRun Gastropub theater. Also, very much worth seeing is Claudia Llosa's The Milk of Sorrow which I reviewed last year during New Directors/New Films and which (finally) gets a theatrical release this week.

Change of Plans
(Slant)
Louis (Slant)
Make-Out with Violence (Village Voice)
Daniel and Ana (Village Voice)


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

One Up, One Down

In recent years, there's been no shortage of films exploring (or exploiting) the more brutal episodes of World War II and the trend shows no sign of letting up anytime soon. But as two films opening this week show, the results can differ dramatically: While A Film Unfinished offers a stunning analysis of the Nazi's often contradictory propaganda mission by offering a reading of a single German cinematic production, Robert Guédiguian's French resistance drama, Army of Crime, proves to be, as I conclude my Slant review, "more interested in sentimentalizing history than in analyzing it."

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

New Releases: Peepli Live and The People I've Slept With

Two films among many will come to New York screens this week and then depart just as quickly, memorialized only by a handful of reviews such as mine below. Neither film is great, and neither is awful, just another pair of mediocre pictures getting a limited run at one of Manhattan's less visible venues.

Peepli Live (Slant)
The People I've Slept With (Time Out New York)


Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Twelve Times the Agony

I covered seven films this week and only one (Last Letters from Monte Rosa) is at all worth seeing. But the real stinker of the lot is Joel Schumacher's unspeakable Twelve, arguably the worst film released so far this year. Consider yourself warned.

Twelve (Slant)
Cairo Time (Slant)
The Disappearance of Alice Creed (Slant)
Brotherhood (The L Magazine)
Last Letters from Monte Rosa (Village Voice)
The Kid: Chamaco (Village Voice)
Patrik, Age 1.5 (Time Out New York)


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Khmer Rouge, Suicidal Depression, PTSD and Other Cheery Subjects

Of this week's spate of releases, the clear winner is Enemies of the People, Thet Sambath and Rob Lemkin's extraordinary and extraordinarily personal excavation of the brutal legacy of the Khmer Rouge. Other new films dealing with mental illness (Helen) and the after-effects of war (The Dry Land) seem shallow and obvious by comparison.

The Dry Land (Slant)
Who Killed Nancy? (Slant)
Enemies of the People (Village Voice)
Helen (Village Voice)
Smash His Camera (Time Out New York)


Thursday, July 22, 2010

Tirador and Countdown to Zero

Just two reviews this week, the belated release of Filipino director Brillante Mendoza's 2007 film Tirador which is worth a look and Lucy Walker's fear-mongering nuclear exposé Countdown to Zero which isn't.

Tirador (Village Voice)
Countdown to Zero (Slant)


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Odds and Ends

Lots of new links to get to and not all negative. For New York viewers, there's the chance to catch up with festival faves Alamar and Henri-Georges Clouzot's Inferno which each get a theatrical run this week and, while the results may not be revelatory, both are very much worth seeing. As is Racing Dreams, a sort of Hoop Dreams for the NASCAR set.

Alamar
(Slant)
The Contenders (Slant)
Two Films by Yasujiro Ozu (DVD) (Slant)
Henri-Georges Clouzot's Inferno (The L Magazine)
Racing Dreams (The Village Voice)
To Age or Not to Age (The Village Voice)


Saturday, July 3, 2010

South of the Border

Bias is a tricky concept when it comes to political reporting. It’s what the right always seems to accuse left-leaning (or even mainstream) channels of being dictated by. But surely every news broadcast is colored by some political ideology or adherence. Whether it’s the deliberate distortions (or outright lies) of networks like Fox News or the free pass center-left organs seem to give our desperate-for-consensus president, there’s no such thing as purely objective reportage.

Questions of bias and inaccuracy have long dogged such leftist filmmakers as Oliver Stone and Michael Moore and, while one can easily question the conspiracy theories unleashed by the former in films like JFK, it’s less easy to dismiss the slanted reportage of the latter. Yes, Moore engages in a selective arrangement of facts – as well as a gut-punching rhetoric that often seems like he isn’t playing fair – but no more than his counterparts on the right, and unlike them his presentation gets much nearer to the truth in its active engagement with progressive change that will benefit rather than harm the average citizen.

All of which is why I can’t agree with my colleague and good friend Keith Uhlich who considers Stone’s new work of Moore-style infotainment, a docu-profile of left-leaning South American presidents, “near worthless as reportage” in his Time Out New York review. South of the Border may be “as distorted and evasive as the Fox News footage it so often demonizes,” as Uhlich notes – though not quite: nothing’s as distorted as footage Stone includes of Fox News reporters calling democratically-elected presidents “dictators” when the real dictators are the ones that the United States installed in place of democratically-elected Latin American presidents throughout the twentieth century – but with a key difference. While the extreme right’s take demonizes these leaders for their understandable anti-American bias, Stone, despite his omissions and obvious untempered enthusiasm for each of his subjects, emphasizes the most important fact about the state of South American politics: that after a century of being in thrall to the interests of North American and European corporations who pilfered the countries’ most valuable resources while leaving the people in states of extreme poverty or subject to torture, they’re finally being run by nationalist-minded presidents who are turning the nation’s assets to the benefit of the people.

Any other concerns pale in comparison and while the viewer may surely want to follow up with some additional reading for a more rounded picture, Stone’s film succeeds in contrasting the reports of the American right-wing media with something that approaches a more essential, even if only partial, truth. Once the viewer accepts these conditions, it’s easy to enjoy watching Stone schmooze with best-bud Hugo Chavez as he talks over the failed (American-sanctioned) coup attempt on his presidency or chew cocoa leaves with Bolivian leader Evo Morales. Or at least it would be if the unctuous director didn’t insist on putting himself at the center of every scene. As presented by Stone, the presidents are a varied and sympathetic gallery of personalities, from the fiery Chavez to Paraguay’s soft-spoken leader (and ex-bishop) Fernando Lugo; it’s only the filmmaker himself whose presence grates. Asking leading questions and insisting on his privileged position with his subjects, Stone’s as unbearable a presence as ever. For the rest, his film’s an engaging and, yes, informative look at a new trend in global politics that anyone who takes the word “democracy” to mean something other than American hegemony ought not to dismiss as quickly as the shit-spinners from the so-called "fair and balanced" media.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Love Ranch and Great Directors

My newest reviews cover Taylor Hackford's latest stinker Love Ranch and the mildly entertaining, if hardly revelatory, Great Directors, in which Angela Ismailos interviews ten of her favorite directors. Both pieces are from Slant Magazine. Also on that site, my dismissive review of Alain Resnais' Wild Grass which was originally posted when that movie - currently enjoying its New York theatrical run - screened at last year's New York Film Festival.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

An Outpouring of Cinema

A remarkable number of interesting films open this week in New York - of which the best may be the least heralded, Bill and Turner Ross' 45365, sneaking in for a week's run at the Anthology - and at one point or another I covered almost all of them. While new pieces for the Village Voice, Artforum, the L Magazine and Time Out New York bring me up to date, two older reviews - covering Luca Guadagnino's I Am Love and Michael Winterbottom's The Killer Inside Me - first ran when those film's played the local festival circuit, at New Directors/New Films and Tribeca respectively. Now they're getting theatrical releases and I'm re-running the reviews.

New Reviews:
Stonewall Uprising and 8: The Mormon Proposition (The L Magazine)
Let it Rain (Artforum)
The Nature of Existence (Village Voice)
45365 (Time Out New York)

Old Reviews:
I Am Love (Slant)
The Killer Inside Me (The House Next Door)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

"A" as in Awful

The new A-Team picture hits theaters tomorrow and, while I usually don't review such slam-bang action fare, I made an exception in the case of Joe Carnahan's aggressive re-think of the popular '80s TV show. A combination of nostalgia for the moral simplicity of boyhood and a steady stream of amped-up, near incoherent bursts of violence combine to make this one very bad picture indeed.


The A-Team (Slant)
Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work (Slant)
Reel Injun (Village Voice)

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

New Releases: Double Take and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Undead

Among this week's new releases are Double Take, Johan Grimonprez's overambitious mating of 1950's Folger's TV spots and clips from Alfred Hitchcock Presents with a Borges derived narrative about doppelgangers and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Undead, a joyless Hamlet-vampire movie which manages to kill all the potential fun implied in that set-up. Now in its second week of release is The Father of My Children, which I covered during this year's New Directors/New Films festival. All reviews are from Slant Magazine.

Friday, May 21, 2010

MacGruber and More

Since this week's highest profile opening, MacGruber - actor Will Forte and director Jorma Taccone's big screen expansion of their Saturday Night Live sketch - didn't screen for the press until last night (the film opens worldwide today), my review of the film has just been posted at Slant Magazine. So how is it? Click below to find out - and to read reviews of a trio of other new films.

MacGruber (Slant)
John Rabe (Slant)
Holy Rollers (Village Voice)
After the Cup: Sons of Sakhnin United (Time Out New York)

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

New Releases: Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo and The Living Wake

Just a pair of reviews this week, both from Slant Magazine, covering Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo, Jessica Oreck's intriguing if problematic look at the Japanese obsession with insects, "traditional" Japanese values versus contemporary urbanism and other relevant issues, and The Living Wake, Sol Tryon's trying and unfunny comedy of death which quickly gets swallowed up in its own brand of insufferable quirkiness.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

New Releases: Mother and Child, Gravity was Everywhere Back Then and Floored

For the second week in a row, it looks like I'm about the only one not taken in by a highly dubious art house offering, in this case Rodrigo Garcia's ideologically perverse ode to motherhood, Mother and Child, a film to be avoided at all costs.

Mother and Child (Slant)
Gravity was Everywhere Back Then (Slant)
Floored (Village Voice)

Friday, April 30, 2010

The Human Centipede (First Sequence)

To the list of bizarre and insalubrious objects that occupy our world, we must now add Tom Six’s The Human Centipede (First Sequence), which as you’ve probably heard involves a mad scientist experiment of unsurpassing zaniness. Grossness too. Following the modern exploitation template of callous Americans getting tortured abroad, Six’s film sets up a pair of nubile New Yorkers who catch a flat en route to a party in Germany as bait for a menacing ex-surgeon who imprisons the pair in his basement when they knock at his door for help. Along with a young (male) Japanese tourist, they’re subject to the sinister German’s pet project: sutured together into the eponymous creature, they’re transformed into a three-pronged entity, connected by conspicuously visible stitches, mouth to asshole, feeding on each other’s shit for sustenance.

Give Six credit for crafting a memorable central image. Even granting my rather severe ignorance of the state of the modern exploitation flick, I doubt there’s much out there to compare to the site of the trio crawling around on their knees, struggling to move in synch, while the horrible stitches in the mouth of the centipede’s “tail” ooze with puss. Or when the “head” confesses in subtitled Japanese which none of the other characters can understand that he’s sorry, but he’s gotta shit and we see the horrified face of the woman in the middle while their captor coos the word “feed” to his creature. Slicker and tauter than you’d expect, Six’s film is still nothing but cynical grindhouse nihilism. Deliberately unpleasant, as free of subtext as an Eli Roth gorefest, Human Centipede can’t be said to be entertaining, but it is compellingly watchable.

At least for fans of the next thing, the seekers of the extreme. The only difference is the film isn’t being tucked away in some grindhouse ghetto (well, actually these don’t seem to exist anymore), but touring the arthouse circuit thanks to a distribution deal from IFC films, so that it plays next to such innocuously genteel fare as Mercy. An interesting juxtaposition and one which has earned Six’s film more attention from the press than it would have received say, thirty years earlier, when it wouldn’t have been heard from outside the insular precincts of 42nd street. And, despite my now adding to that press, more attention than it deserves, since such perverse creativity as Six possesses is a dubious object of celebration. And after giving cinematic birth to his six-legged monstrosity, the only possible way to bring his project to an end is in an orgy of nihilism, which is precisely what Six does, the final tell of a cynicism that delights in repulsion for its own sake.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Wrapping Tribeca

My final two (or three depending on how you count) reviews from this year's Tribeca Film Festival are in the bag! While I cover Open House and Michael Winterbottom's disappointing The Killer Inside Me at the House Next Door, over at Slant, I take on Nicole Holofcener's vile Please Give which I'm covering in advance of its release this Friday, but which is premiering just before that release as part of (you guessed it) the Tribeca Film Festival. Since everyone else seems to love Holofcener's piece, seems I'm once again pretty much on my own with this one, but if you happen to see it and share my disgust for the film, drop a line in the comments section below. And once more, if you get a chance before the end of the fest, be sure to check out Mohammad Rasoulof's great The White Meadows.


Tribeca Film Festival

The Killer Inside Me (The House Next Door)
Open House (The House Next Door)


New Releases

Please Give
(Slant)
The Good Heart (Slant)

Monday, April 26, 2010

Tribeca 2010: Dream Home and The White Meadows

Since my latest Tribeca review for The House Next Door, covering Andrew Paquin's Open House, can only be classified, like my first two pieces for that publication, as an out-and-out pan, I wanted to take a little time to briefly discuss two films that I'm not covering for any other outlet, but which I liked considerably more than the films I've written about so far. Like any festival, Tribeca's a mixed-bag - especially when compared to that higher profile and much smaller (in terms of cinematic quantity) festival taking place uptown each fall at Lincoln Center. If Tribeca's still struggling, as the saying goes, to find its identity, it should be noted that in recent year's it's produced such masterpieces as Still Life, Still Walking and (this year) Mohammad Rasoulof's The White Meadows, which I discuss below. Which is all to say that Tribeca 2010 is anything but a lost cause and there are no doubt many more films than I was able to see that are well worth the ticket-buyer's attention.


Dream Home

While I can't label Pang Ho-Cheung's Dream Home an unqualified success, it makes for a productive comparison - and serves as an instructive counter-example - to Open House, one of the festival's weakest entries. Like Andrew Paquin's film, Dream Home is a gory slasher flick about (a) character(s) who commit(s) crimes in order to fulfill his/her otherwise unachievable real-estate dreams. (Note the "house"/"home" in both films' titles). But whereas Paquin's movie is a dull mixture of tensionless plot mechanics and unimaginative slayings that leaves the characters' sense of economic discontent unexplored in favor of a stale psycho-sexual dynamic, Pang's work fully embraces its relation to the world around it, particularly the difficult real estate climate and rapid urban development of its Hong Kong setting - as well as showing a bloodily vivid imagination light years beyond the Open House director's dim reckoning.

Starring Josie Ho as Chen Lai-sheung, a young woman lusting after the dream apartment of the title, a modern complex occupying the once-impoverished neighborhood where she grew up, Pang's film follows its hero as she works multiple jobs to save up for her new digs. Finding the apartment still out of reach, she begins brutally slaying the building's bourgie inhabitants, driving down the desirability (and price) of the location. While Nicole Holofcener's Please Give (another Tribeca 2010 entry) pats yuppies on the back and tells them not to feel guilty about how they acquire their wealth, Dream Home makes members of that same class the victims of hilariously brutal slayings, while painting its biggest real-estate obsessive as a psychotic mass murderer. While the film relies too heavily on elaborately art-directed killings for my taste, I found myself reluctantly admiring the cleverness of their staging (chuckling while one disemboweled man tried to take a last hit from his joint only to find it no longer lit), and, less reluctantly, the level of the critique with which they're charged.


The White Meadows

I suppose when living in a country like Iran, where citizens are subject to seemingly random punishments from a totalitarian government, it helps to have a well-established sense of the absurd. Arrested a month and a half before the Tribeca festival along with fellow director Jafar Panahi, Iranian filmmaker Mohammad Rasoulof builds his latest film The White Meadows out of a catalogue of images of incomprehensible ritual and absurd acts of punishment. (As of this writing, Rasoulof has been released on bail, but is unallowed to leave the country; Panahi, who edited the film, remains imprisoned). When, late in Meadows, we see a shot of a painter trapped up to his neck in sand because he stubbornly claims that the sea is red and refuses to paint it any other color, it's impossible not to read the scene as a commentary on the Iranian government's treatment of "subversive" artists. But while The White Meadows is certainly a political film, it should not be taken as a basic allegory, a simple matter of easy correspondences.

At once too abstract and too richly expressive for reductive interpretation, Rasoulof's film follows an aging man who paddles his boat from island to island in a salt-filled Iranian sea, landing on tiny masses of land to extract tears from the islands' inhabitants which he then collects in a glass jar. The meaning of the ritual is never explained and it's always accompanied by a ceremony specific to each island. While some of these ceremonies (as one where the participants symbolically place their troubles in a cloth bag) seem designed for healing, most have sinister overtones. In an image composed in equal measure of beauty and horror (neither of which are in short supply in Rasoulof's film), the inhabitants of one island send a young girl adrift on the sea to which she is to be "married". Pushed off on atop a makeshift bed, she floats past countless pans of fire also drifting in the water, the smoke forming an irrepressible black smudge at the top of the screen. Later, our intractable painter is forced to climb a three-rung ladder suspended in the middle of the sea and stare into the sun, an absurdist image of impossible striving and forceable blinding that stands at the heart of a film in which ritual - with its potentially positive connotations of tradition and wholeness - gives way to the palpably ridiculous which, in Rasoulof's vision, becomes not only an apt approximation of life under an oppressive regime, but of life in general in a world not designed for our ready comprehension.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Tribeca and More!

The Tribeca Film Festival kicks off in earnest today and my first two reviews are up at the House Next Door, covering a pair of rather disappointing films, including Brillante Mendoza's latest, Lola. My coverage of other new releases is spread across three outlets (surprisingly none of which are Slant Magazine): the Village Voice, the L Magazine and in my inaugural (and modest) contribution to the venue, Time Out New York.


Tribeca Film Festival

Lola (The House Next Door)
Travelogues (The House Next Door)


New Releases

Red Birds (Village Voice)
Behind the Burly Q (The L)
Oceans (Time Out New York)

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Early Spring Link-O-Rama

New Directors/New Films is over. Tribeca has yet to begin. And the theatrical pickings are as mixed as ever. For evidence, see below.

Death at a Funeral (Slant)
No One Knows About Persian Cats (Slant)
The City of Your Final Destination (Slant)
When You're Strange: A Film About the Doors (Slant)
La Mission (Slant)
NoBody's Perfect (Village Voice)

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Egoyan, Costa and More

While Hailie Gerima's Teza, a cinematic coming-to-terms with several decades of modern Ethiopian history, opening this week at New York's Lincoln Plaza Cinemas, is certainly worth a look, cinephiles might be better off staying home and taking in Criterion's excellent new Pedro Costa boxed set. I reviewed both this week as well as Atom Egoyan's sexy, but disappointing Chloe and the coming-to-terms-with-loss drama The Greatest.

Teza (Village Voice)
Chloe (Slant)
The Greatest (Slant)
Letters from Fontainhas: Three Films by Pedro Costa (DVD) (Slant)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

New Directors/New Films Round 2

My second and final round of reviews from this year's New Directors/New Films series is a lot like my first: it covers a handful of movies that it's hard to get particularly excited about along with one obvious highlight. In this case, the one to see is Laura Poitras' The Oath, a dense, complex documentary profiling Osama bin Laden's former bodyguard and (in absentia) his Guantanamo-detained ex-driver.

The Oath (Artforum)
The Father of My Children (Slant)
Down Terrace (Slant)
Every Day is a Holiday (Slant)
Northless (Slant)

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

New Releases: City Island, Kimjongilia and Shutterbug

Amidst my ongoing coverage of the New Directors/New Films series, I found time to review a few first-run releases, none of too great interest. The best thing opening this week may be Marco Bellochio's Vincere, which I reviewed at last year's New York Film Festival and which Slant has reposted.

City Island
(Slant)
Kimjongilia (Slant)
Shutterbug (Village Voice)

Sunday, March 14, 2010

New Directors/New Films Round 1

My first round of reviews from Lincoln Center/MOMA's annual New Directors/New Films series comes with one obvious highlight, Lixin Fan's Last Train Home. This doc deals with the world's "largest human migration," the annual return of China's 130 million migrant workers to their rural hometowns, telling its story by focusing on a single family. It may not be the country's next great documentary, but Lixin's film is forcefully revealing about the displacements engendered by fast-track modernization.

ND/NF introduction (Slant)
Last Train Home (Slant)
I Am Love (Slant)
How I Ended This Summer (Slant)
La Pivellina (Slant)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

New Releases: Our Family Wedding, Severe Clear, Stolen and The Exploding Girl

It seems like I was the only one even remotely impressed by Rick Famuyiwa's culture-clash comedy, Our Family Wedding - currently standing at 0 % approval on Rotten Tomatoes - but while the film's negatives probably outweighed the positives, I think it's a far more interesting work than others give it credit for, at least if you can get past all the ethnic stereotypes and Viagra-based humor. It's certainly better than Bradley Rust Grey's low-fi outerborough indie The Exploding Girl which is pretty well disastrous.

Our Family Wedding (Slant)
Severe Clear (Slant)
Stolen (Slant)
The Exploding Girl (The L Magazine)

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Brooklyn's Finest, Film Comment Selects and Opera in Harlem

My latest set of links covers the most recent stinker from hack director Antoine Fuqua, two more reviews from the Film Comment Selects series and, finally, the uptown fairytale Harlem Aria, whose belated release (the film was completed in 1999) has everyone asking the obvious : why this film and why now?

Brooklyn's Finest
(Slant)
Kinatay (The House Next Door)
The Time That Remains (The House Next Door)
Harlem Aria (Village Voice)