Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Year in Film

Below is what I believe to be an accurate list of all the first-run films I've seen from 2011 along with links to my reviews where applicable. (Qualifying films must have made their theatrical debut in New York between January 1 and December 31, 2011 and must have had at least a week-long run.) My top 30 films are singled out for commendation with the top 10 ranked. Beyond that, films are listed alphabetically.

1. A Brighter Summer Day
2. To Die Like a Man
3. Mysteries of Lisbon
4. El Sicario, Room 164
5. Extraordinary Stories
6. Take Shelter
7. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
8. Beginners
9. Margaret
10. Le Havre

11-20
In the Family

The Interrupters
Kaboom
Love Exposure
Nostalgia for the Light
Of Gods and Men
Petition
Polytechnique
Terri
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives

21-30
Caterpillar
Cold Fish
House of Pleasures
Poetry
The Princess of Montpensier
The Skin I Live In
The Sky Turns
Tabloid
The Time That Remains
Tuesday, After Christmas

The Rest
0s and 1s
3
3 Backyards
13 Assassins
50/50
Addiction Incorporated
The Adventures of Tintin
Agrarian Utopia
Albert Nobbs
All She Can
American: The Bill Hicks Story
The Arbor
Armadillo
The Artist
Attack the Block
Aurora
The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu
Bad Teacher
Bal
Battle for Brooklyn
Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest
The Beaver
Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey
Bellflower
Benda Bilili!
Berlin 36
A Better Life
The Big Bang
The Big Fix
Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son

A Bird of the Air
Bombay Beach
Bride Flight
Bridesmaids
Buck
Buried Prayers
Burning Palms
Buttons
Carancho
Cargo
Carnage
Cave of Forgotten Dreams
Cedar Rapids
Certified Copy
Chasing Madoff
Circumstance
City of Life and Death
Cold Weather
The Colors of the Mountain
The Conquest
Contagion
Coriolanus
Cougar Hunting
Cracks
Crazy, Stupid, Love.
Crime after Crime
A Dangerous Method
The Debt
The Descendants
Desert Flower
Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame
Dolphin Tale
The Double
Drive
Dzi Croquettes
Elevate
Elite Squad: The Enemy Within
Even the Rain
Every Day
Exodus Fall
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Fading of the Cries
The Family Jams
The Family Tree
Fanny, Annie & Danny
Film Socialisme
The First Grader
The Flowers of War
Footprints
Foreign Parts
Forks Over Knives
Friends with Benefits
The Future
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Go Go Tales
God's Fiddler: Jascha Heifetz
God's Land
The Guard
Gun Hill Road
Hanna
Happythankyoumoreplease
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2
Harvest
Heartbeats
The Heir Apparent: Largo Winch
Hell and Back Again
Hello Lonesome
The Help
Hesher
Higher Ground
Home
Hood to Coast
House of Boys
The Housemaid
How I Ended the Summer
How to Live Forever
Hugo
I Am
I Melt with You
I Saw the Devil
The Ides of March
If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle
I'm Dangerous with Love
Immigration Tango
Impolex
In the Land of Blood and Honey
Incendies
The Inheritors
Inside Out
Insidious
Into the Abyss
An Invisible Sign
Ip Man 2
The Iron Lady
J. Edgar
Jane Eyre
Jane's Journey
Jig
The Journals of Musan
Journey from Zanskar
Jumping the Broom
Just Go With It
Just Like Us
Laredoans Speak: Voices of a South Texas Border City
The Last Circus
The Last Mountain
Leap Year
Lebanon, PA
The Lie
Life in a Day
Like Crazy
London River
Lost Bohemia
Louder Than a Bomb
A Love Affair of Sorts
Love Crime
Margin Call
Martha Marcy May Marlene
Meek's Cutoff
Meet Monica Velour
Meeting Spencer
Melancholia
Midnight in Paris
The Mill and the Cross
Miral
Moneyball
Monogamy
The Mouth of the Wolf
Mozart's Sister
Mumbai Diaries
My Joy
My Kingdom
My Piece of the Pie
My Week with Marilyn
The Myth of the American Sleepover
The Names of Love
Now and Later
One Day
One Fall
One Hundred Mornings
Oranges and Sunshine
Our Idiot Brother
Outrage
The Over the Hill Band
Page One: Inside the New York Times
Pariah
Passione
Paul
The Pill
Pina
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
La Pivellina
Plastic Planet
Potiche
Prince of Swine
Project Nim
Psychohydrography
Putty Hill
Le Quattro Volte
Queen of the Sun
Queen to Play
R
Rage
Rampart
Rango
Raw Faith
Rebirth
Rejoice and Shout
Repo Chick
Restless
Rid of Me
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Road to Nowhere
The Robber
Romantics Anonymous
Rubber
The Rum Diary
Sarah's Key
Scream 4
Senna
A Separation
Septien
A Serbian Film
Seven Days in Utopia
Shame
Shaolin
Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness
Silent Souls
Skateland
Sleeping Beauty
The Sleeping Beauty
Source Code
Submarine
Sucker Punch
Summer of Goliath
Super
Super 8
Surrogate Valentine
Sympathy for Delicious
Take Me Home Tonight
Tales from the Golden Age
Tanner Hall
There was Once...
Toast
Tomboy
The Tree
The Tree of Life
The Trip
Twelve Thirty
Two Gates of Sleep
Tyrannosaur
Under Fire: Journalists in Combat
Under the Boardwalk: The Monopoly Story
United Red Army
A Useful Life
Vidal Sassoon: The Movie
Vito Bonafacci
War Horse
Warrior
The Way
We Are What We Are
We Need to Talk About Kevin
Weekend

Monday, December 26, 2011

Year-End Poll Mania

It must be that time of year. While the temperature plunges precariously close to freezing and tentpole releases work their way across movie theaters, best-of lists and polls begin to proliferate. This year I was asked to participate in several surveys of which three (Slant Magazine, the Village Voice and Indiewire) have recently been published. Below are links to both the polls themselves and to my individual ballots. For the Slant piece, I contributed capsules for films number 9 and 15.

Slant Magazine
poll
ballot (scroll down)

Village Voice
poll
ballot

Indiewire
poll
ballot (no direct link, scroll down to list of participating critics)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

End of the Year Atrocities

As December rolls around, we can be sure of one thing: movie theaters screening epic films dealing with historical atrocity. While the Holocaust has traditionally furnished filmmakers with sufficient award-season gravitas, this go-round finds directors beginning to branch out. While Angelina Jolie, working from her own screenplay, tackled the Bosnian War in her film In the Land of Blood and Honey, Zhang Yimou became the latest Chinese filmmaker to take on the Rape of Nanking with The Flowers of War. Both are covered in reviews linked below; neither is recommended.

In the Land of Blood and Honey (Slant)
The Flowers of War (Slant)
The Pill (Village Voice)
Addiction Incorporated (Time Out New York)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Tinker, Tailor, Sight and Sound

This severely belated set of linkthroughs comes well amidst December awards season, when the Oscar-baitiest films start to hit theaters and critics cram to see all the major releases before submitting their year-end lists and their contributions to best-of polls. While I'm rarely particularly impressed by the Hollywood December crop, this year my admiration does extend to Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, Tomas Alfredson's perfectly modulated, exquisitely rendered adaptation of John LeCarré's classic spy novel. As for lists and polls, there will be plenty more to come, but the British film magazine Sight and Sound has already posted their year-end survey, featuring, for the first time, a contribution from yours truly.

New Releases
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (Slant)
My Piece of the Pie (Slant)
London River (Slant)
Romantics Anonymous (Slant)
Franny, Annie & Danny (Village Voice)
The Big Fix (Time Out New York)

Polls
Sight and Sound ballot

Thursday, November 17, 2011

All the Reviews That're Fit to Link...

...or at least all the reviews I published this week. The only film of note covered below, however, is Raphael Alvarez and Tatiana Issa's documentary Dzi Croquettes, an affectionate look back at the eponymous cabaret/performance art dance troupe that emerged from Brazil in the 1970s.

The Lie (Slant)
Rid of Me (Slant)
The Heir Apparent: Largo Winch (Slant)
Buried Prayers (Slant)
Laredoans Speak (Village Voice)
Dzi Croquettes (Time Out New York)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Belated Linkthrough

It's been far too long since I collected links to my latest reviews, so here's a belated round-up of my work for the last two weeks. Although it's probably too late now to catch up with it, by far the best of the below-mentioned films is Patrick Wang's In the Family, which sneaked in for a short run at New York's Quad Cinema and deserves far wider recognition.

Young Goethe in Love
(Slant)
The Conquest (Slant)
Under Fire (Slant)
In the Family (Village Voice)
God's Fiddler: Jascha Heifetz (Village Voice)

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Take Shelter and More

Though not exactly a "new" release, Jeff Nichols' Take Shelter, the subject of my recently posted "webtakes" review for Cineaste Magazine, is one of the year's finest - and may still be playing at a theater near you. At any rate it's far preferable to The Rum Diary, Bruce Robinson's unsatisfying attempt to further mine the Hunter S. Thompson legacy for cinematic fun and profit.

Take Shelter (Cineaste)
The Rum Diary (Slant)
God's Land (Slant)
The Double (Village Voice)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

We All Are Captains...

...in the exciting world of film criticism, but some are more so, thanks to the weight of institutional authority. Such is the case with one of the most embarrassing movie reviews I've ever read, David DeWitt's inane take on Oliver Laxe's You All Are Captains for the New York Times, which, among its other sins, seems not to understand the work in question one jot.

I can say this because I've actually seen the film - which plays for one week at New York's invaluable Anthology Film Archives - and contributed my own modest take for Slant Magazine, one of five reviews I published this week.

New Releases
You All Are Captains (Slant)
Being Elmo (Slant)
Oranges and Sunshine (Slant)
Cargo (Village Voice)
Elevate (Time Out New York)

Monday, October 17, 2011

New York Film Festival Addendum

Although my previous post seemed to announce an end to my New York Film Festival coverage, a pair of last minute assignments for The L Magazine means I get to weigh in on two more items, Alexander Payne's surprisingly decent The Descendants and the dreadful silent film pastiche The Artist.

The Descendants (The L Magazine)
The Artist (The L Magazine)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Wrapping NYFF

As this year's New York Film Festival nears its close, my last batch of reviews has been posted. While not covering any masterpieces such as The Turin Horse (see previous entry), this set of pieces spotlights at least one very worthwhile film.

New York Film Festival
Sleeping Sickness (Slant)
Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Slant)
Footnote (Slant)

New Releases
The Way (Slant)

Thursday, September 29, 2011

New York Film Festival and More

This year's New York Film Festival kicks off tomorrow, opening with a screening of Roman Polanski's Carnage. While the latest offering from the Chinatown director is not among those films I covered in my first set of reviews, several of the fest's finest entries are, most notably Béla Tarr's latest masterpiece, The Turin Horse. Also, as usual, I wrote the introduction for Slant Magazine's comprehensive coverage of the event.

New York Film Festival
Introduction (Slant)
The Turin Horse (Slant)
The Loneliest Planet (Slant)
Le Havre (The L Magazine)

New Releases
Benda Bilili! (Slant)
Surrogate Valentine (Slant)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Busy-with-New-York-Film-Festival Linkthrough

As I've been attending as many press screenings as possible for the upcoming New York Film Festival, I will have to keep this introduction short. So let's just get to the goods (by which I mean the links.) Look for NYFF coverage soon.

First Run Films:
Toast (Slant)
White Wash (Slant)
A Bird of the Air (Slant)
There Was Once... (Slant)
Journey from Zanskar (Village Voice)

DVDs:
Les Cousins (Slant)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

All in a Week's Work

Five new film reviews this week, though, despite the occasional pleasures offered up by a few of the movies (most notably, Tom Tykwer's 3), none is really worth seeking out. Twas ever thus...

In other, non-film related, doings, I contributed my first ever music piece, a review of the Mekons' solid new offering.

Film
3 (Slant)
Berlin 36 (Slant)
Prince of Swine (Slant)
Jane's Journey (Time Out New York)
One Fall (Time Out New York)

Music
The Mekons: Ancient and Modern (Slant)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

It's Martial Arts Mania!

Or so it would seem from my selection of reviews this week which includes two titles featuring Chinese-style hand-to-hand combat. While Shaolin's monks practice something called "martial Zen", the stars of My Kingdom are "opera warriors" fighting onstage amidst ornate costumes and makeup, making the latter film the (marginally) more appealing of the two.

Shaolin (Slant)
My Kingdom (Slant)
Tanner Hall (Slant)
Inside Out (Time Out New York)

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Cineaste and More

The new issue of Cineaste is ready to hit stands and included among its pages is my take on the very good, though necessarily problematic, documentary The Interrupters. (The piece is not available online.) My other reviews for the week, linked below, are of lesser degrees of interest.

Love Crime (Slant)
Buttons (Village Voice)
Rebirth (Time Out New York)
Seven Days in Utopia (Time Out New York)

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

An Idiotic Week...

...isn't such a bad thing when the idiot in question is Paul Rudd's character in the new Jesse Peretz film entitled, appropriately enough, Our Idiot Brother. Idiotic in its typical, less positive connotations may not quite describe the rest of the movies I reviewed this week, but it's safe to say that none provide anything close to the pleasure of the Peretz.

Our Idiot Brother
(Slant)
Tales from the Golden Age (Slant)
Chasing Madoff (Village Voice)
The Family Tree (Time Out New York)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Help, It's Milton Moses Ginsberg

My latest batch of reviews covers not only the dreadful feel-good racial quagmire The Help, but a piece on two intriguing films (screening next week at BAM) by cult director Milton Moses Ginsberg as well as a pair of not entirely unsuccessful new releases.

Sex Games, Werewolves and Nixon: Two by Milton Moses Ginsberg (The L Magazine)
The Help (Slant)
One Day (Slant)
Mozart's Sister (Slant)

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Blood and Guts on the Cinema Screen

There's plenty of blood and guts to be found in the two films I reviewed this week, both substances (literally) in Cold Fish, Shion Sono's gruesome portrait of thwarted masculinity, the second of the two (metaphorically) in Gun Hill Road, Rashaad Ernesto Green's look at growing up transgenedered in a patriarchal Bronx family.

Gun Hill Road
(Slant)
Cold Fish (The L Magazine)

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Crazy, Stupid, Week.

Not too many of the films I reviewed this week have more than their incidental share of merits, but it has to be said of the high-profile release Crazy, Stupid, Love. that it's far from the worst thing to hit screens this Friday. In better news, New Yorkers have the chance to take in the fine new film by Steve (Hoop Dreams) James, The Interrupters. My take on that picture will appear in the upcoming Fall issue of Cineaste Magazine.

Crazy, Stupid, Love. (Slant)
The Future (Slant)
Life in a Day (Slant)
All She Can (Village Voice)
House of Boys (Village Voice)

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Fuck Buddies and the Holocaust

An unlikely pairing, the above named items are the subjects of the two films I reviewed for Slant Magazine this week. What do both have in common? Their use of questionable strategies in support of conventional aims: in Friends with Benefits, a "critique" of rom-com conventions which it then proceeds to employ with abandon, in Sarah's Key, the use of the Shoah to milk easy sentiment.

Friends with Benefits
(Slant)
Sarah's Key (Slant)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Errol Being Errol

While Tabloid, Mr. Morris' latest, finds the Gates of Heaven auteur exploring familiar ground, he does so with a panache, curiosity and sense of play that are most appealing. The same can't be said for the other two films I reviewed this week.

Tabloid
(Slant)
The Tree (Slant)
Hood to Coast (Village Voice)

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Chimps, Rhymes and L'Chayim

A trio of docs, all of interest and all reviewed by me in the (metaphorical) pages of Slant Magazine, open this week in New York. While James Marsh's Project Nim, detailing the post-celeb afterlife of mid-'70s ape sensation Nim Chimsky, disappoints and Michael Rappaport's Beats, Rhymes and Life, a portrait of legendary hip-hoppers A Tribe Called Quest, is a mixed bag (as I detail in my review reposted from this year's Tribeca Film Festival), Joseph Dorman's Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness, is comprehensive, intelligent and fully satisfying.

Project Nim (Slant)
Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness (Slant)
Fading of the Cries (Village Voice)

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A Sunday Outing, Legal Injustice and Jewish Identity...

...are the subejcts of the films I consider this week, highlighted by my review of Criterion's new release of Edgar G. Ulmer/Robert Siodmak/Billy Wilder/Fred Zinneman's 1930 "before they were stars" outing People on Sunday. Also, opening this week is Cristi Puiu's challenging Aurora which I tackled last year at the New York Film Festival.

Crime After Crime (Slant)
People on Sunday (DVD) (Slant)
Between Two Worlds (Village Voice)

Monday, June 20, 2011

New Releases: Passione, A Love Affair of Sorts and The Names of Love

While John Turturro's fourth directorial effort, Passione, an ode to the music of Naples Italy, and The Names of Love, Michel Leclerc's heady romantic comedy, are not without their merits, there's little of worth to be found in A Love Affair of Sorts, the latest how-technology-affects-young-vacant-lives monstrosity.

Passione (Slant)
A Love Affair of Sorts (Slant)
The Names of Love (Slant)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Buck, etc, etc.

Not to take an anti-populist stance, but as a general rule of thumb, if a film wins an audience award at Sundance, well, chances are it's one to skip. Such is certainly the case with Cindy Meehl's Buck, a documentary profile of real-life "horse whisperer" Buck Brannaman.

Buck (Slant)
Battle for Brooklyn (Slant)
R (Village Voice)
Jig (Village Voice)

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Late Spring Roundup

While it already feels like the dog days here in New York, summer has yet to officially kick in. But just as the heat has already made its presence felt, so the seasonal blockbusters have started to hit theaters. Not that I've reviewed any of them this week; the closest thing to a hit I've covered is Michael Winterbottom's The Trip which is actually a re-post of my Tribeca review. Still, at least one of the films below - rather the opposite of a summer blockbuster - is worth a careful look.

Bride Flight (Slant)
Agrarian Utopia (Village Voice)
Just Like Us (Village Voice)
Queen of the Sun (Time Out New York)

Monday, June 6, 2011

Cineaste: Left of Hollywood Reviewed

Though not available online, my review of Chris Robé's book Left of Hollywood: Cinema, Modernism and the Emergence of US Radical Film Culture can be found in the latest issue of Cineaste Magazine, on newsstands now.

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Tree of Life

If The Tree of Life is to be taken as the personal statement that it seems to want to aspire to (and that everyone writing about it seems to take it as) then we can probably conclude that Terrence Malick’s childhood in Texas in the ‘40s and ‘50s was a wholly unremarkable affair that evoked nothing so much as those shopworn images that have come to signify “growing-up-in-the-heartland” as filtered through a half-decade’s worth of films and television. The crux of Malick’s latest film is an hour-and-a-half stream of glimpses of this coming-of-age, focusing on the oldest of three young brothers in Waco and his relationship with his disciplinarian Navy-man father and earthy, saintly mother. Moving his camera up close to his characters, relying on wide-angle lenses to supplement his off-kilter compositions and replacing dialogue with a soundtrack that ranges from ambient drones to opera, Malick attempts to make strange the “archetypal” images of childhood. Those who swear by the director will no doubt claim that by showing us the familiar through a deliberately estranging aesthetic, Malick makes the quotidian unfamiliar and thus, given his obviously spiritual orientation, sacred. Those less inclined to be generous might note that the central section of Tree is a mass of clichés: a baby being born to adoring parents mesmerized by his tiny foot, kids roughhousing in the front yard, a long-suffering mother long suffering, but Malick’s aestheticizing and the fact that all these scenes are depicted in small impressionistic glimpses simply cover up for the fact that what the director’s really given us is a gallery of shopworn images that aim to universalize the particular, in this case one white boy’s by-the-book boyhood in the middle of the last century.

But holiness is the theme here, as frequent invocations to God and family – all breathed in a pseudo-profound whisper – make clear, and out of nowhere the eldest boy, now grown up into a successful architect, recites an invocation to his boyhood, which leads to Malick employing a cosmic display of the earth’s origins as an introduction to that kid’s childhood and following it up with a glimpse of his adult self being transported from a glass skyscraper in Dallas to what feels like a mental defective’s view of some mythic spiritual plane where he’s reunited with his family. It’s a regressive vision to say the least: in Malick’s world, a man can only be fulfilled by convening cosmically with his not particularly happy past, but our director is ever the nostalgist, so long as that nostalgia isn’t troubled by the pesky demands of particularizing details. In his takedown of the film, Robert Koehler smartly remarked that Malick “has fatally forgotten the wisdom that in the specific lies the universal.” Instead the filmmaker takes a top-down approach to spirituality that results in a generic set of circumstances being worked into an underimagined framework. We know nothing about this family or their Waco surroundings – except that they travel to the black part of town to buy brisket – and we don’t really need to know more. Bringing up questionable dichotomies between grace and nature via voice-over helps little. These people are simply clichéd props to deliver Malick’s increasingly out-of-touch vision of dubious spiritualism.

*****

My reviews of two documentaries, Rejoice and Shout and The Last Mountain have been posted at Slant Magazine.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

New Releases: United Red Army and Hello Lonesome

Without question one of the two major new releases this week (the other being Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life), Kôji Wakamatsu's United Red Army is both a major statement from the legendary filmmaker and a remarkably inconsistent piece of work. It's far preferable, though, to Adam Reid's dreary Hello Lonesome.

United Red Army (Slant)
Hello Lonesome (Time Out New York)

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Pirates and Poets

If your weekend plans involve choosing between the latest Pirates of the Caribbean flick and Louder than a Bomb, Greg Jacobs and Jon Siskel's rousing documentary about teens competing in a slam poetry contest, might I humbly suggest the latter?


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A Quartet of Stinkers

Well, the title of this post just about says it all. Steer clear of the following four films at all costs:

The Big Bang (Slant)
The First Grader (Slant)
Skateland (Slant)
How to Live Forever (Time Out New York)

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

An Extraordinary Week

Eight new reviews this week, but the one to look out for is Mariano Llinás' sui generis four-hour masterwork, Extraordinary Stories, playing for just one week at the Museum of Modern Art.

Extraordinary Stories (Slant)
Caterpillar (Slant)
Jumping the Broom (Slant)
An Invisible Sign (Slant)
Harvest (Village Voice)
Under the Boardwalk: The Monopoly Story (Village Voice)
Vito Bonafacci (Village Voice)
Forks Over Knives (Time Out New York)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Mark Ruffalo Directs, "Planned Parenting" Helps Teen in a Bind

Not too much of interest in my recent non-Tribeca reviews, unless you count Mark Ruffalo's misguided directorial debut, Sympathy for Delicious or the pro-choice drama Lebanon, PA in which Planned Parenthood - here known as "Planned Parenting" - comes to the heroic rescue of a pregnant teen living in rural Pennsylvania.

Sympathy for Delicious (Slant)
Exodus Fall (Slant)
Lebanon, PA (Village Voice)
When Harry Tries to Marry (Time Out New York)

Friday, April 22, 2011

Tribeca 2011

This year's Tribeca Film Festival is underway. Slant Magazine's huge and ever-growing coverage is, as usual, the definitive guide to a confusingly vast and generally inconsistent event. Among the six films I reviewed, my faves are definitely The Miners' Hymns and the bizarro Underwater Love, but unlike in past years, I haven't found that one great movie (Still Life, Still Walking, The White Meadows) that makes the fest. I also wrote Slant's intro.

Introduction (Slant)
Beats, Rhymes and Life (Slant)
Bombay Beach (Slant)
Flowers of Evil (Slant)
The Miners' Hymns (Slant)
The Trip (Slant)
Underwater Love (Slant)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

New Releases: The Princess of Montpensier, Armadillo and Footprints

Below are links to my reviews of three of this week's releases - the obvious keeper being Bertrand Tavernier's The Princess of Montpensier. View the other two titles at your own risk (although, to be fair, neither is without its merits).

The Princess of Montpensier (Slant)
Armadillo (Slant)
Footprints (Slant)

Friday, April 8, 2011

To Die Like a Man, Silent Naruse and Much More

Two of the more significant cinematic events of the past week are the theatrical release of João Pedro Rodrigues' outstanding To Die Like a Man, last seen in these parts way back at the 2009 New York Film Festival, and Criterion/Eclipse's release of the box set Silent Naruse, containing all five extant silents from the Japanese Master.

To Die Like a Man (Artforum)
Meet Monica Velour (Slant)
Eclipse Series 26: Silent Naruse (DVD) (Slant)
American: The Bill Hicks Story (Village Voice)
The Family Jams (Village Voice)
Meeting Spencer (Time Out New York)

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Between ND/NF and Tribeca...

...comes the void. Or at least a temporary lull in New York film festival/series activity. Which gave me a chance to catch up with some new releases of varying degrees of quality (mostly low). In addition to the links below, Slant has reposted my review of Michelangelo Frammartino's Le Quatro Volte from last year's New York Film Festival which makes its theatrical debut this week.

Queen to Play (Slant)
Two Gates of Sleep (Village Voice)
Wretches and Jabberers (Time Out New York)

Saturday, March 26, 2011

New Directors/New Films Part Two

With New Directors/New Films firmly underway, Slant Magazine's coverage (both on the main site and on the blog, The House Next Door) has been fully posted. Among the gems reviewed in my second - and final - batch of ND/NF reviews are Curling and Winter Vacation. Do see these two if at all possible.

Curling (The House Next Door)
Incendies (Slant)
Majority (Slant)
Winter Vacation (Slant)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Bal and One Hundred Mornings

With all eyes on MoMA tonight as New Directors/New Films kicks off its 2011 incarnation, it's easy to forget there are other good films opening this week in New York, including two small gems which I had the opportunity to review.

Bal (Slant)
One Hundred Mornings (Village Voice)

New Directors/New Films Part One

Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art's 40th annual New Directors/New Films festival opens today and Slant's coverage has gone live. So far three of my reviews have been posted, including my take on arguably the series' best film, Attenberg. I also contributed the introduction. Check back later as Slant's ND/NF page is updated with more pieces from yours truly.

ND/NF Intro (Slant)
6, 7, 8 (Slant)
Attenberg (Slant)
Gromozeka (Slant)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Late Winter Link Roundup

The films I reviewed this week seem positively brilliant compared to last week's selection but, as usual, they're a mixed bag. Still, as promised, New Directors/New Films reviews will be posted shortly, with coverage of several movies very much worth seeing. And just in time for spring!

Cracks (Slant)
Winter in Wartime (Slant)
0s and 1s (Village Voice)
Desert Flower (Time Out New York)

Monday, March 7, 2011

Not Recommended

Though neither quite approach the wretchedness of last week's Happythankyoumoreplease, the films covered in my latest Slant Magazine reviews, I Am and Monogamy, comprise a pretty sorry pair. Things continue to look pretty bleak for low-budget cinema with the upcoming release of Skateland, but some much needed vitality promises to be injected into the scene with the 4oth anniversary edition of MOMA/Lincoln Center's New Directors/New Films festival looming. Look for ND/NF reviews starting next week.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Take Me Home Tonight and HappyThankYouMorePlease

Just two reviews this week, both from Slant Magazine. First up is Michael Dowse's intermittently amusing, ultimately dull-minded '80s-set coming of age comedy, Take Me Home Tonight. For all its shortcomings, though, the film is infinitely superior to some unholy thing known as HappyThankYouMorePlease.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Film Comment Selects Continues

As Lincoln Center's Film Comment Selects series picks up steam, my last two reviews from the mini-fest have been posted at the House Next Door, covering Gianfranco Rosi's fascinating El Sicario, Room 164 and Lu Chuan's misguided The City of Life and Death. In regular release Xavier Beauvois' excellent Of Gods and Men begins its theatrical run this week with Slant Magazine reposting my review from last year's New York Film Festival, while my brief take on the forgettable The Over the Hill Band can be found in the Village Voice.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Film Comment Selects Begins

While this week's batch of first-run reviews contains the usual underwhelming mix, there's good news for film fans. That's because Lincoln Center's annual Film Comment Selects series starts today, kicking off with at least two worthwhile entries, both of which I covered for The House Next Door.

First Run Films
Even the Rain (Slant)
Putty Hill (The L Magazine)
Immigration Tango (Time Out New York)
Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son (Time Out New York)

Film Comment Selects
I Wish I Knew (The House Next Door)
Bas-Fonds (The House Next Door)

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Sandler, Aniston and More

Of the films covered in my latest batch of reviews the most high profile is undoubtedly Just Go with It, the new Adam Sandler/Jennifer Aniston romantic comedy. The best is likely The Sky Turns, Mercedes Álvarez's 2004 meditation on history, memory, time and technological progress, getting a belated release starting Friday at the Anthology Film Archives. Both reviews are from the Village Voice.

Vidal Sassoon: The Movie (Slant)
Home (Village Voice)
Just Go with It (Village Voice)
The Sky Turns (Village Voice)

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

New Releases: Rage and Ip Man 2

Two lesser items for review this week, but not without their pleasures. Admittedly those gratifications are more to be found in Wilson Yip's kung fu sequel Ip Man 2 which alternates splendid action sequences with less splendid good vs. evil anti-imperalist drama than in Sebastían Cordero's rather tired immigrant love story.

Rage (Slant)
Ip Man 2 (Time Out New York)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Sex in Fetters

One of the odder entries in the Museum of Modern Art’s current, massive retrospective of Weimar Cinema, a series that certainly doesn’t lack for its share of lesser-known, outré offerings, Wilhelm Dieterle’s 1928 Sex in Fetters presents itself as a social problem film about prison reform. Best known for his émigré Hollywood work (signed as “William” Dieterle and achieving its highest visibility in the series of high-toned biopics he directed with Paul Muni for Warners in the ‘30s), the Life of Émile Zola director charts a considerably less glamorous milieu in this psychological melodrama posing as a message movie. Set among both the struggling inter-war middle class and the jailhouse crowd, Sex in Fetters suggests the fluidity of the two sets, where impoverished ex-bourgeois often end up imprisoned after being driven by economic or social circumstance into desperate activity.

One such middle-class convict is Franz Sommer (Dieterle), who in the film’s opening act, which establishes the economic morass of Weimar Germany, suffers the tripartite humiliations of having to accept a part-time job as a door-to-door salesman, to countenance his wife’s taking a gig as a cigarette girl and to lie to his snobbish father-in-law about his job situation. When he visits his spouse Helene (Mary Johnson) at the café where she works and finds her being harassed by an aggressive suitor, the sexual affront seems to crystallize the previous assaults on his manhood and he silences the man’s advances with a quick punch to the face which results in his falling down a landing, banging his head and eventually succumbing to his injuries.

But if Sommer’s de-manning had already looked pretty grim, it only gets much worse, for it's the film’s contention that the true evil done by the penal system is its denial of prisoners a proper sexual outlet. As far as jails go, the one that Sommer is sentenced to for three years on a manslaughter charge hardly seems excessively punitive, but Franz and his three cell mates are in a constant state of acute misery because of the brain-warping denial of possibilities for heterosexual release. One prisoner builds a small model woman (with exaggeratedly pointy breasts) out of smushed up pieces of bread, while another, astonishingly, attempts to “unman” himself (the word given by the film’s English translator) with a rock. But other denials of hetero notions of manhood rapidly follow as Sommer gives in to the subtly articulated advances of an effeminate fellow prisoner, while his increasingly crazed wife runs, half-mad, into the arms of her protector, Steinau (Gunnar Tolanæs), an ex-cell mate of Sommer’s who promised to look after her upon his release and who is himself a strong advocate of prison reform. For Steinau, who despite his questionable role in seducing Helene, stands as something like the film’s mouthpiece, denying prisoners conjugal visits can only lead to “evil”, which in the context of the quotation is easy enough to take as meaning homosexual intercourse. Thus in the film’s orientation, Sommer is twice unmanned, first by resorting to an inter-prison affair and then by being cuckolded by his wife.

Dieterle’s film is often at its strongest in making palpable the agony of unfulfilled sexual tension. In one prisonhouse visit between husband and wife, the couple hug, before Sommer drops to his knees and, sinks his head into Helene’s vaginal region in a subtly miming of cunnilingus. The director then cuts in for a close-up of the character’s head, his features largely hidden, while prominent beads of sweat lace his forehead. Earlier, during a stint in solitary, Sommer sketches his wife's face on the wall with a piece of dirt, then, visualizing it coming to life (an imaginative gesture literalized by Dieterle) kisses the cold, filthy surface. Similarly, the secrecy of jailyard hookups is expertly staged in a scene where Sommer’s lover passes him a note with their two names scrawled atop one another while attending a chapel sermon. Dieterle cuts from close-ups of hands and faces to a long shot of the endless rows of prisoners, separated by partitions and made anonymous by their uniformity. It takes the viewer a few seconds to pick out the lovers amidst the crowd, where they sit at the frame’s middle-right, their impending rendezvous granted invisibility to fellow prisoners and (briefly) film audiences alike amidst the apparently homogeneous mass of prisoners.

But for all the filmmaker’s skill at evoking the agonies of involuntary sexual repression that trigger the film’s inquiry into jailhouse reform, its treatment of the central social question can only register as jarringly odd, at least to the contemporary viewer. To alleviate his miseries, one inmate takes his case to the prison doctor and asks him how to avoid going insane without sex, to which the physician replies “simulation”, presumably an inducement to masturbate. But oddly, no one seems to take up the doctor’s rather self-evident advice. Granted, the film already treads what was obviously taboo territory, so it’s no surprise that the screenwriters didn’t want to further push boundaries by adding onanism to the mix, but the highly didactic script presumably addresses what was perceived as a real-life problem. Certainly, no one would suggest that masturbation is a full-fledged substitute for intercourse, but leaving aside the film’s problematic treatment of homosexual relations, certainly a steady diet of auto-eroticism would be enough to prevent a man serving a three-year sentence from going insane.

And yet by not addressing that possibility, except in a brief, largely ignored, coded suggestion, the film essentially negates its own argument that the biggest failing of the penal system is its ban on conjugal visits. As a social message movie, the film fails to convince, but since despite its didactic orientation, it unfolds largely as engaging melodrama, there’s no reason to confine the work to the margins of historical curiosity. Not when the movie ends on a remarkably (and given the nature of the subject matter, inevitably) subtle scene of spousal reunion in which the now estranged pair don’t so much confess their failings as each guess the other’s supposed transgression through lightly proffered hints. Having understood the necessity of compromise and the futility of sexual possession, the couple is now free to resume their relationship on a higher, presumably more enlightened plane.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

New Releases: The Housemaid and Mumbai Diaries

Under review this week are Im Sang-soo's engaging remake of the 1960 Korean classic The Housemaid and Mumbai Diaries, Kiran Rao's ultimately mediocre, if thematically intriguing multi-character piece. Also up, a re-post of my take on Peter Weir's The Way Back, which I reviewed for Slant Magazine during the film's brief December Oscar-qualifying run and which now opens in earnest.

The Housemaid (Artforum)
Mumbai Diaries (Slant)

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Bringing in the New Year (Belatedly)

My first six reviews of the New Year (all published this week) run a predictable gamut from the excellent (Zhao Liang's distressing exosé Petition) to the utterly vile (Burning Palms). Other links of note, the L Magazine's year-end poll in whose voting I participated as well as writing the blurb for Lourdes (#12) and my newly established critcWIRE page. Check back with the latter for my rapid-fire (letter grade) takes on contemporary movies, plus links to reviews.

Plastic Planet (Slant)
Burning Palms (Slant)
Petition (The L Magazine)
Twelve Thirty (Village Voice)
Every Day (Time Out New York)
I'm Dangerous with Love (Time Out New York)