Thursday, December 20, 2012

Wrapping 2012

As 2012 (the calendar year) nears its close, 2012 the film year has long since finished - at least for critics expected to file their year-end lists and ballots well in advance of December 31. The result is that my own contributions to several best-ofs have been already been published. I once again participated in Slant Magazine's collective top 25, although due to the increasing number of participants, my only contribution (writing-wise) to the piece was my capsule of Almayer's Folly (number 22 on the list). I also contributed to the Indiewire, Village Voice and Sight & Sound polls, although the individual ballots for the last of these three have not yet been posted online. Below are links to my year-end contributions plus my complete top ten and honorable mentions:

Slant Magazine's 25 Best Films of 2012
My ballot for the Village Voice Film Poll
My ballot for the Indiewire Film Poll

Best Films of 2012:

1. The Turin Horse
2. Oslo, August 31
3. This Is Not a Film
4. Holy Motors
5. Attenberg
6. Moonrise Kingdom
7. Vamps
8. Almayer's Folly
9. Girl Walk//All Day
10. The Pruitt-Igoe Myth

Honorable Mentions:

Las Acacias
The Color Wheel
The Day He Arrives
The Deep Blue Sea
The Five-Year Engagement
Keep the Lights On
Take This Waltz
Tears of Gaza

Another Five:

Booker's Place: A Mississippi Story
How to Survive a Plague
Silver Linings Playbook
This Must Be the Place

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Take Me to the Promised Land: On This Season's Political Cinema

From Argo to Lincoln to Zero Dark Thirty, this season’s biggest Oscar contenders are all explicitly political films that, whether set in the distant or very recent past, aim to speak to the contemporary moment. Although the attitudes towards American history and its bearing on the present on display in these movies range from the cartoony to the intentionally ambiguous, all three films are problematic in their embrace (in partial or whole) of some of the less felicitous aspects of Obama-iste politics. Instead, it’s another year-end film, more modest in its ambitions and less spectacular in its payoff, that represents the satisfying political narrative unachieved by the more vaunted trio.

While a solid, engaging, attractively lensed piece of cinema, Gus Van Sant’s hydrofracking drama, Promised Land never hits the heights of the other films, offering neither the cross-cut thrills of Argo, the intelligent observation of behind-the-scenes political process of Lincoln or the stunning concluding set-piece of Zero Dark Thirty. What it gives us instead is a balanced look at the false dichotomy between job creation and environmental protection that shows its protagonist moving from one side of the issue to the other as he talks with the townspeople who will be affected by his company’s decision to frack their hamlet for natural gas. If the conversion feels somewhat inevitable - especially knowing that the film is made by good old liberals - it’s still an honest look at political understanding as a process of weighing the benefits of both sides of an equation before reaching the decision that the film’s creators (Van Sant and stars/screenwriters Matt Damon and John Krasinski) have seemingly foreordained.

Damon stars as Steve Butler, a salesman for a natural gas company that heads out with co-worker Sue Thomason (Frances McDormand) to an economically depressed Pennsylvania town in order to sell it on the merits of gas extraction. While many townspeople welcome this potential economic boon, Butler is immediately confronted at his first town meeting by a local teacher, Frank Yates (Hal Holbrook), who proceeds to harangue him with the dirty facts about hydrofracking. As presented by Van Sant, Butler seems a decent enough man (even those in the town who oppose his project call him a “nice guy”) who honestly believes he’s doing the struggling berg a service. On the other side of the fence is a charismatic environmentalist, Dustin Noble (Krasinski), who begins distributing pictures of fracking-induced devastation, visiting local classrooms, and generally turning sentiment against the project.

While it ultimately takes a revelation about the corporate skullduggery of his company to fully alienate Butler from his former position, the path has been paved by his conversations with the locals and their citing of irrefutable evidence as to the dangers of fracking. Van Sant doesn’t push the film’s conclusions into more complex political territory (i.e. posing other solutions, such as green jobs), but by treating the generally overlooked people most affected by top-down decision making as not only viable individuals but as people whose voices need to be heard, whose complex needs must be balanced, the movie allows for the honest possibility of democratic triumph over corporate interest - at least in this one isolated instance.

Alas, for all the film’s flag waving, true expressions of democracy are wholly wanting in Ben Affleck’s Argo. Set during the Iranian revolution in 1979, the film, after dispensing with its almost perfunctory stabs at historical balance, becomes a rah-rah tale of C.I.A. heroism and Muslim duplicity, as Affleck’s agency stalwart, Tony Mendez, leads a daring rescue of American diplomats from the newly minted Islamic Republic. Adding to the film’s irresponsibility are its obvious present day parallels, as contemporary sentiment for war with Iran, a sentiment the film’s choice of historical incident and blinkered perspective on that incident encourages, continues unabated in both the United States and Israel.

Far more complicated are the two other major political films of the season, both, like Argo, centered on true-life events. Steven Spielberg’s Tony Kushner-penned Lincoln details the 16th president’s efforts to get the 13th amendment (the one prohibiting slavery) through the House of Representatives. While geeking out on behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing, the filmmakers present a view of the political process as a corrupt game of give-and-take in which bribes and sought-after appointments are the necessary instruments required to secure much-needed votes. But for Spielberg and Kushner, the American political system is one that ultimately works despite, or even because of, this corruption. What’s remarkable about Lincoln is not that it acknowledges the imperfections of the system, but just how uncynical it is about this acknowledgement.

Read with an eye on the current political situation, which seems inevitable given the set-up of a charismatic president devoted to compromise, the film becomes a tad dicier. Yes, it’s easy to applaud Lincoln (and abolitionist congressman Thaddeus Stevens) for effecting the outlawing of slavery, especially as no one today, excepting racist fanatics, could possibly be against the 13th amendment. But while compromise may have worked for Lincoln - he achieved a great victory for human rights at the price of a few bribes - Obama’s willingness to play ball with conservatives over Social Security and Medicare cuts in order to avoid going over the so-called “fiscal cliff” is quite another story.

More problematic is Kathryn Bigelow’s Oscar front-runner Zero Dark Thirty, precisely because its tale of one C.I.A. agent’s decades-long hunt for Osama bin Laden is so scrupulously objective and anti-heroic and because it’s supposedly based on true-facts delivered straight from government agencies to Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal. Recently Glenn Greenwald stirred up a good deal of controversy with an article in the Guardian in which, without having seen the film, he condemned it for “glorify[ing]” torture. While Greenwald’s unfortunate decision to forgo the viewing of the movie before writing about it leads him to mischaracterize the film as a heroic, pro-C.I.A. piece of propaganda and invalidates much of his argument, part of what he says remains wholly valid. While the film’s torture scenes make “enhanced interrogation” look like no fun for anyone involved, the movie does indeed confirm that torture yields useful results, in this case intel essential to the finding of bin Laden. Greenwald argues that this claim is inaccurate, that torture did not lead to the discovery of the whereabouts of the 9/11 mastermind, but either way, the film’s decision to unambiguously confirm the efficacy of torture, even if it can’t be said to glorify it, stands as far too much of an endorsement of the practice.

Because the film hides under cover of its objectivity, it’s difficult to pin it down to a single political position - and that is undoubtedly the point. But a film based on real events does not simply portray what happened, it presents it in a certain way through deliberate choices on the director’s, screenwriter’s and actors’ parts. Furthermore, when dealing with charged political events, the lack of a definitive viewpoint must itself be considered a viewpoint. Thus, while detailing the final raid on bin Laden’s hideout, Bigelow stages a thrilling set-piece that, while it avoids triumphalism and is careful to show the collateral damage inflicted by U.S. forces, nonetheless has us rooting for the Navy SEALS that carry out this illegal assassination. Bigelow even takes a few scenes to humanize these soldiers, showing them hanging out before the operation, the better to forge viewer identification. This may be as close as we’ll get to seeing how the killing of bin Laden actually happened, but it’s still a fictionalized take presented from a specific point of view. That this point of view confirms the dominant narrative of the war on terror makes Zero Dark Thirty a troubling movie indeed.

Friday, December 7, 2012

December Links Galore

No, I haven't been idle, just busy catching up with the major films from 2012 in advance of my participation in several year-end lists and surveys which should be posted soon. In the meantime, my regular reviewing has continued unabated as the below series of links reveals.

Hitchcock (Slant)
Dragon (Slant)
Only the Young (Slant)
Waiting for Lightning (Slant)
Off-White Lies (Village Voice)
Gottfried Helnwein and the Dreaming Child (Time Out New York)
Wagner and Me (Time Out New York)
The Man Who Shook the Hand of Vicente Fernandez (Indiewire)

10 Screenwriters to Watch: Profile of Bill Dubuque (Variety)
10 Screenwriters to Watch: Profile of Ken Scott (Variety)

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Awards Season Mishmash

Awards season is now underway and with it the onslaught of overwrought Oscar-bait - some of which isn't half bad. Among the contenders, I consider Joe Wright's semi-successful take on Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. Also of note among the below links, a profile of Variety's annual Power of Comedy benefit event.

Anna Karenina (Slant)
Barrymore (Slant)
A Royal Affair (Slant)
Burn (Village Voice)
First Winter (Village Voice)
Turning (Village Voice)
La Rafle (Time Out New York)
28 Hotel Rooms (Indiewire)

Comedy Impact Report 2012: The Power of Comedy (Variety)

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Slant Magazine's Best Films of the 1990s

I am delighted to have participated in Slant Magazine's feature on the top 100 films of the 1990s which has now gone live. I contributed blurbs for films number 81, 73, 60, 48, 37, 29 and 12 in addition to voting in the selection process.

My personal list of the top 100 films of that decade, which I submitted for consideration in the poll, is below:

1. Central Park
2. A Brighter Summer Day
3. Goodbye South, Goodbye
4. Center Stage (Actress)
5. Satantango
6. Public Housing
7. Jungle Fever
8. Safe
9. The Mirror
10. The River
11. To Sleep with Anger
12. Naked
13. Through the Olive Trees
14. The Puppetmaster
15. Vive L’Amour
16. Beloved
17. Bitter Moon
18. Eyes Wide Shut
19. Cold Water
20. The Straight Story
21. White Hunter, Black Heart
22. Abraham’s Valley
23. Rosetta
24. Secret Defense
25. Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train
26. Rebels of the Neon God
27. The Power of Kangwon Province
28. Mother and Son
29. A Moment of Innocence
30. In the Heat of the Sun
31. Life, and Nothing More
32. American Dream
33. A Confucian Confusion
34. The Last Bolshevik
35. Lessons of Darkness
36. Maborosi
37. Dead Man
38. Husbands and Wives
39. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me
40. Drifting Clouds
41. Close-Up
42. From the East
43. Clean, Shaven
44. The Decalogue
45. Late August, Early September
46. Hoop Dreams
47. Lovers on the Bridge
48. Hard Boiled
49. The Hole
50. The Player
51. My Own Private Idaho
52. Eternity and a Day
53. Good Men, Good Women
54. Zoo
55. Secrets and Lies                              
56. The Last Days of Disco
57. Histoire(s) du Cinéma
58. The Crying Game
59. Fallen Angels
60. Ladybird, Ladybird
61. Crash
62. All the Vermeers in New York
63.The Long Day Closes
64. Mother
65. Xiao Wu (Pickpocket)
66. Princess Mononoke
67. Totally F****d Up
68. Breaking the Waves
69. Voyage to the Beginning of the World
70. Before Sunrise
71. Short Cuts
72. Blue (Jarman)
73. Underground
74. Faust
75. I Can’t Sleep
76. Get on the Bus
77. Wild Reeds
78. Matinee
79. The Bridges of Madison County                    
80. La Haine
81. Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!
82. Life is Sweet
83. Rock Hudson’s Home Movies
84. Days of Being Wild
85. High School II
86. La Promesse
87. Sling Blade
88. Mahjong
89. eXistenZ
90. Calendar
91. The Dreamlife of Angels
92. Clueless
93. Tribulation 99: Alien Anomalies Under America
94. Charisma
95. Career Girls
96. The Glass Shield
97. Irma Vep
98. Flowers of Shanghai
99. Careful
100. Gremlins 2: The New Batch

Friday, November 2, 2012

Not Quite in Time for Halloween...

...there's Vamps, Amy Heckerling's excellent new film reuniting the director with Clueless star Alicia Silverstone. While the characters are vampires, the true horror in the movie is the sense of being out of place in time, a feeling that Heckerling communicates with humor, inventiveness and pathos.

Vamps (Slant)
The Details (Slant)
Dinotasia (Slant)
Long Shot (Village Voice)
The Understudy (Village Voice)
A Man's Story (Time Out New York)
Orchestra of Exiles (Indiewire)

Friday, October 19, 2012

Argo and More

Of potential interest in my latest batch of reviews, articles, etc. are my take on Ben Affleck's Argo: or How Not to Make a Political/Historical Movie in 2012 and, oddly, a think piece on Looper and time-travel for the Mumbai-based English-language newspaper, The Indian Express.

Argo (Slant)
All Together (Slant)
Hotel Noir (Village Voice)
Brooklyn Castle (Indiewire)
The Flat (Time Out New York)

Past Masters (article) (The Indian Express)

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Wrapping NYFF

This year's New York Film Festival is all but over and my final two reviews have been posted, both at Slant Magazine. Especially recommended is Sally Potter's Ginger and Rosa, a '60s set period piece done right.

Ginger and Rosa (Slant)
Our Children (Slant)

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Good Stuff

Amidst endless New York Film Festival screenings, I managed to review a few first-run titles along the way. The good news is that they're all very much worth seeing, whether it's Rian Johnson's scarily accomplished time-travel drama Looper, Eugene Jarecki's scathing takedown of the war on drugs The House I Live In or the delightfully tongue-in-cheek Anna Kendrick Glee-style vehicle, Pitch Perfect.

Looper (Village Voice)
The House I Live In (Slant)
Pitch Perfect (Slant)

Thursday, October 4, 2012

New York Film Festival: Part Two

With the New York Film Festival now well underway, Slant's coverage continues. My latest contributions cover a pair of films highly divergent in quality, one fiction and one documentary.

Fill the Void (Slant)
First Cousin Once Removed (Slant)

Sunday, September 23, 2012

New York Film Festival: Part One

Slant Magazine's coverage of the 50th annual New York Film Festival has gone live and with it my first two reviews from the fest, taking on a pair of French pictures, the more significant of which is You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet, the latest from Alain Resnais. As always, I also contributed the introduction to the feature.

Introduction (Slant)

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Documentary Fortnight

While my reviews from the last two weeks didn't exclusively cover documentaries, the majority of them did. Of special interest is Tears of Gaza, Vibeke Løkkeberg's uncompromising look at the aftermath of Israel's Operation Cast Lead offensive. Also of note, my take on Woody Allen's latest, To Rome with Love.

Tears of Gaza (Slant)
Hellbound? (Slant)
To Rome with Love (Little White Lies)
Liberal Arts (Village Voice)
The Other Dream Team (Time Out New York)
Snowman's Land (Time Out New York)
Step Up to the Plate (Time Out New York)
They Call it Myanmar (Time Out New York)

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Reviews by Twos

My latest batch of reviews divides off nicely into pairs. Two films about thirtysomething women losing their boyfriends/husbands and jobs/social roles who are forced to rethink their life for Slant and two gory horror pictures for the Village Voice. Of greater note, though, is Tsui Hark's latest, The Flying Swords of Dragon Gate, in which the Hong Kong filmmaker tries his hand at 3-D IMAX filmmaking.

Hello, I Must Be Going (Slant)
The Flying Swords of Dragon Gate (Slant)
For a Good Time, Call... (Slant)
The Three Stooges (Little White Lies)
Serving Up Richard (Village Voice)
[Rec] 3: Genesis (Village Voice)
The Good Doctor (Indiewire)
Beauty is Embarrassing (Time Out New York)

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Compliance, Premium Rush and More

I was as surprised as anyone to see the outpouring of critical acclaim for Craig Zobel's Compliance, a film that apparently divided critics and audiences during its run on the festival circuit, but met with near universal accolades upon its recent theatrical release. I found this to be especially disheartening as Zobel's film is one that really rankles, a work full of unjustified sadism, couched in a dishonestly presented framework. I also felt that too many critics were too willing to take the movie at its word, arguing that it successfully implicates the viewer's (inevitably) passive observation. As I wrote (via e-mail) to a colleague:

The thing everyone says is that Zobel "implicates" the viewer. This is only half true. He would certainly like to implicate the viewer but he doesn't really know how. He gives us no choice but to watch passively what goes on, so, yeah, in that sense we're implicated, but he also lets us off the hook (not in the sense that we're not subjected to much unpleasantness though) by placing us in a superior position to everyone on screen. It's a bad faith manipulation that makes nonsense of any constructive purpose Zobel might imagine he's attempting.

So, yeah, I didn't like the movie for reasons stated above - and below in my review. But, in other, better news, there's also Premium Rush. Also, I tried my hand at another music review.

Premium Rush (Slant)
Compliance (Slant)
Why Stop Now (Slant)
Somewhere Between (Indiewire)

Henry Threadgill & Zooid: Tomorrow Sunny/The Revelry, Spp (In Review Online)

Friday, August 10, 2012

Diary of Two Weeks at the Cinema

The tween-oriented franchise Diary of a Wimpy Kid unveiled its latest hotly anticipated entry and I was on hand to report. But there was more to the last cinematic fortnight than Dog Days. Of special interest is the low-key doc Drought, a portrait of a communal Mexican village and the parched landscape and arid conditions that define its existence.

Drought (Slant)
Supercapitalist (Time Out New York)
You've Been Trumped (Indiewire)

Friday, July 27, 2012

Antonioni, Stiller/Vaughn/Hill/Ayoade and Rising Stars of the Comedy World

My published writing for this week represents a rather a diverse set of work, so, for a change, the following links don't lead exclusively to snarky reviews of subpar new releases. Not to worry, there's plenty of that, too, (and I save some special venom for the new Ben Stiller/Vince Vaughn/Jonah Hill/Richard Ayoade sci-fi/comedy The Watch), but there's also my consideration of Michelangelo Antonioni's 1964 masterpiece Red Desert and profiles of two up-and-coming comedians which I contributed to Variety's "10 comics to watch" feature.

Film reviews
Red Desert (Little White Lies)
The Watch (Slant)
Big Boys Gone Bananas* (Time Out New York)
Deranged (Indiewire)

Comedian profiles:
Kurt Braunohler (Variety)
Rory Scovel (Variety)

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The July Longlist

It's been awhile, so let's get right into it. Here are my reviews from the last two weeks:

Trishna (Slant - originally posted during 2012 Tribeca Film Festival)
Union Square (Slant)
The Do-Deca-Pentathlon (Slant)
Crazy Eyes (Slant)
Ponies (Village Voice)
Starry Starry Night (Village Voice)
Grassroots (Time Out New York)
Family Portrait in Black and White (Indiewire)

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Seeking a Film for the Middle of the Year

Summer traditionally means blockbuster film season. While neither of the wide-release films I reviewed recently quite qualify for blockbuster status, these movies (the end-of-the-world rom-com Seeking a Friend for the End of the World and the self-discovery weepie People Like Us) should have you searching for better cinematic fare.

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (Slant)
People Like Us (Slant)
Ordinary Miracles (Village Voice)

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A Fresh Set of Reviews

From the self-absorption of a romantically-obsessed 29-year old woman to the post-fame life of '70s singer Paul Williams to the world-historical events of the Arab Spring, the films in my latest set of reviews cover a wide range of territory. They also - per the norm - vary rather considerably in quality, from the pretty good to the not so very hot at all.

Tahrir: Liberation Square (The L Magazine)
Lola Versus (Slant)
Peace, Love, & Misunderstanding (Slant)
Paul Williams Still Alive (Slant)
The Kite (Slant)

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Massive Catch-up Time

Well, it's been a couple of weeks since my last post, which means there are a ton of reviews to link here. Happily, I'm able to report that at least two of them are quite excellent, Wes Anderson's latest, Moonrise Kingdom, and the new near-masterpiece from Japanese master Sion Sono, Himizu. Unfortunately the latter is only opening in the U.K. at this time, but hopefully it will get a stateside release sooner rather than later. Also, of interest is my take on the Andy Garcia vehicle, For Greater Glory, with my objections to the film's implicit embrace of Catholicism seeming to have provoked a tad bit of controversy. Enjoy!

Himizu (Little White Lies)
Moonrise Kingdom (Slant)
Mighty Fine (Slant)
For Greater Glory (Slant)
6 Month Rule (Slant)
Wish Me Away (Village Voice)
High School (Village Voice)
One Day on Earth (Village Voice)
Pink Ribbons, Inc. (Time Out New York)
U.N. Me (Time Out New York)
Crooked Arrows (Time Out New York)

Thursday, May 17, 2012

What to Expect When You're in Dell City, Texas

My two reviews this week cover a pair of very different films: a terrible, regressive mainstream blockbuster and an intriguing under-the-radar documentary. Such is the world of New York first-run movie programming that there's room for all types of offerings.

What to Expect When You're Expecting (Slant)
Tales from Dell City, Texas (Village Voice)

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Four New Films of Varying Quality

It brings me no pleasure to report that the last four films I reviewed ranged in quality from poor to terrible. The worst of the lot, though, was undoubtedly the latest Kate Hudson vehicle, the regressive Nicholas Sparks-style weepie, A Little Bit of Heaven.

A Bag of Hammers (Slant)
Small, Beautifully Moving Parts (Slant)
A Little Bit of Heaven (Slant)
Last Call at the Oasis (Slant)

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Six-Film Engagement

This week I reviewed a sextet of films of which the standouts are the documentary Booker's Place and, by far the most high-profile of the lot and the film which gives this post its (somewhat strained) title, The Five-Year Engagement. It seems that I'm in the minority in digging this one, with most of the critical hatred seeming to center on the film's formulaic nature. The thing about genre, though, is that it is formulaic. It's a question of tweaking the formula and using the genre's dictates intelligently, tasks ably handled by Nicholas Stoller's fine rom-com.

The Five-Year Engagement (Slant)
Dolphin Boy (Village Voice)
Inventing Our Life: The Kibbutz Experiment (Village Voice)
Payback (Time Out New York)
Booker's Place (Time Out New York)
96 Minutes (Time Out New York)

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Long Delayed Return of the Linkthrough

After several weeks of not posting, there are plenty of reviews to be rounded up including my second ever stab at music criticism. As far as the films go,most occupy a middle ground between excellence and decrepitude, though nearly all are of some interest.

Chimpanzee (Slant)
The Moth Diaries (Slant)
Trishna (Slant)
Here (Slant)
Downtown Express (Time Out New York)
Unraveled (Time Out New York)

Vijay Iyer Trio: Accelerando (In Review Online)

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

We Have Four Reviews...

...of films ranging from fair to middling. (Actually, MIS: Human Secret Weapon, a documentary about Japanese-Americans who aided the US war effort during World War II via the Military Intelligence Service, is worth a look.) Otherwise, it's business as usual.

We Have a Pope (Slant)
MIS: Human Secret Weapon (Village Voice)
Surviving Progress (Time Out New York)
We the Party (Time Out New York)

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

This Island President and Other Fresh Cinematic Offerings

Among the highlights to hit theaters this week is Jon Shenk's docu-portrait of former Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed (who was deposed since the making of the film.) For the rest, tread carefully.

The Island President (Slant)
Turn Me On, Dammit! (Slant)
God Save My Shoes (Village Voice)
The Beat Hotel (Time Out New York)

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Links Catch-Up: New Directors/New Films and More

It's been awhile since the last roundup of links to my work, so here is a belated collection of my recent reviews. Of special interest here are my four pieces from this year's edition of Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art's New Directors/New Films festival.

New Releases
Brake (Slant)
Jeff, Who Lives at Home (Slant)
Saviors in the Night (Slant)

New Directors/New Films
Crulic: The Path to Beyond (Slant)
Gimme the Loot (Slant)
Porfirio (Slant)
Romance Joe (Slant)

Friday, March 2, 2012

Project X and More

While this week's high-profile release Project X does little more than revel in its own juvenile antics, the far less heralded (and unfortunately titled) Art Is... the Permanent Revolution offers an incisive look at the ongoing tradition of politically motivated printmaking. I reviewed both films this week, along with the mediocre New Zealand offering Boy.

New Releases
Project X (Slant)
Boy (Slant)
Art Is... the Permanent Revolution (Time Out New York)

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Act of Idiocy

In many ways, this week's most significant movie release is the Navy SEALs propaganda piece, Act of Valor since, while utterly dispensible - indeed, inept - as cinema, it crystalizes so many of the myths that surround the conventional narrative of U.S. military action and the war on terror. Needless to say, my review has not met with approval from all quarters.

New Releases

Sophia Lin (Variety)

Book Reviews
American Film and Society Since 1945 (Cineaste - print only)

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Film Comment Selects and More

It's that time of year in which The Film Society at Lincoln Center offers up New York City's most underrated and, arguably best, annual program, Film Comment Selects. While I only covered two films from the fest this year - and neither can count as an unqualified success - there are plenty of other fine entries in the series very much worth checking out.

Film Comment Selects
I Wish (The House Next Door)
Whores' Glory (The House Next Door)

Theatrical Releases
Return (Slant)
Michael (Slant)
Putin's Kiss (Slant)
Undefeated (The L Magazine)

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Chronicle of a Fortnight's Work

Josh Trank's Chronicle, the latest supernatural faux found footage feature, highlights (so to speak) the films I've covered in the last two weeks, although it's my review of the wind-power "exposé" Windfall that's apparently proved the most controversial.

Chronicle (Slant)
Declaration of War (Slant)
Splinters (Time Out New York)
Windfall (Time Out New York)

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Crazy Horse and More

Of the three films I reviewed this week, by far the most significant is Crazy Horse, Frederick Wiseman's strong, if problematic (but what Wiseman film can't be described as "problematic") latest. If it doesn't rank among the director's finest, it does nothing to diminish a body of work that is richer than that of any other living American filmmaker.

Crazy Horse (Slant)
Watching TV witht the Red Chinese (Slant)
The City Dark (Time Out New York)

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Recent Work: Slant, Variety, The L Magazine

My latest published pieces consist of reviews of two very bad films, Beneath the Darkness and Albatross, for Slant, a profile of promising young director Benh Zeitlin for Variety (accessible if you can get past the site's paywall) and my contributions to a final best-of-2011 poll, The L Magazine's fine survey, for which I penned blurbs for films number 12 and 19.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Ten Worst Movies of 2011 (in alphabetical order):

The Artist

Burning Palms

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

The most shameless milking of tragedy for unearned tears in many a year, Stephen Daldry's 9/11 weepie makes this season's other atrocity pics, In the Land of Blood and Honey, Flowers of War, and (from slightly earlier in the year) Sarah's Key look restrained and vital by comparison. Joining such dreck as United 93 and Rebirth on the September 11th shitlist, Extremely Loud focuses on a borderline Asperger's kid's search for a clue that will unlock the meaning of his father's death on "the worst day." Never mind that Thomas Horn's individual quirks are nearly impossible to stomach, it's the kid's sense of self-importance born of tragedy that's especially galling. Yes, he eventually realizes that other people have suffered too and he's not the only one that lost loved ones on 9/11, but for most of the movie he's allowed to roam free as if he's the only person that matters in the world. But Daldry's biggest offense is to include about 10 different emotional climaxes to make sure no opportunity for bathetic tear-jerking goes unrealized. And, yes, we do have to hear the kid's father's final answering machine message sent just before perishing in the towers, but what good that does for either Thomas or his audience is anyone's guess.

An Invisible Sign

The Iron Lady

An unholy mess of a biopic, Phyllida Lloyd's impressionistic portrait of Margaret Thatcher unfolds as a fever dream in the ex-Prime Minister's Alzheimer's riddled brain. The film cuts back and forth between present and numerous different pasts with such rapidity that it never settles down long enough to focus on any single incident in the woman's life (except for a relatively restrained sequence on the Falklands War). Awash in cheap-shit aesthetic touches (canted angles, wide angles, overhead angles) designed to, perhaps, mirror the disorientation of both present-day Maggie's forgetful brain and the experience of being a woman in male-oriented British politics, the film succesfully communicates neither. In fact, its focus on the latter theme attempts to turn Thatcher's life into something like a feminist parable, as if simply being a woman succeeding in politics were enough, never mind what she actually did once she became Prime Minister. I suppose there are those who still think that Maggie did a fine job as Britain's chief executive, and those people will find nothing to challenge that belief in Lloyd's film. But those people will be wrong; a more responsible biopic would at least touch on Thatcher's shameful legacy of strike-breaking and neo-liberal economics and portray the Falkland's incident as the desperate grasping at the last straws of imperialist control that it was - even if it chose to humanize its subject in the process. And as for Meryl Streep's much lauded lead performance, it's a fine act of mimicry, but in the aesthetic wash of Lloyd's incredibly unfocused film, she's given little chance to actually do any acting.

Life in a Day

Like Crazy

Drake Doremus's film is the one that offers viewers the least of any motion picture from the last year. Lazily shot and conceived, it's a tale of thwarted love between two pretty young things whose only problem seems to be that they live in different continents and, thanks to a visa snafu, can't live together. There's no sense of any wider understanding of the complexities of human relationships or international politics - it's simply the story of two people (or, really, two virtual abstractions) that love each other (a fact we have to take on faith) and are prevented from being together. Devoid of context or characterization, there's precious little to grab onto in Doremus's folly and the film's final notes of ambiguity fail to register as anything more than a desperate grasping after complexity because to that point the movie hasn't given us the slightest reason to care about what happens to its vacuous, if handsome, young leads.

A Love Affair of Sorts



Plenty of ink has already been spilled over Steve McQueen's portrait of New York richie/orgasm addict Brandon Sullivan (Michael Fassbender), so there's little left to add to the already well-noted observations that everything about the film is a hopeless abstraction (whether it's Brandon's psychology or the city itself), that it asks us to take the personal sexual problems of a privileged individual as inherently important without giving us any reason to do so, and that it indulges in a rather shameless homophobia by showing its protag stooping to entering the den of inequity that is a gay club, so desperate is he for sexual release. So, I'll just add that the one moment in the picture that seems to me to be at all interesting - the semi-famous restaurant scene in which a nervous waiter adds some comic relief while Brandon takes out a comely co-worker for dinner - strikes me as a pretty specific comment on racial discomfort. Brandon's date is, of course, black, and not only does the waiter never look her in the eye, except for the briefest, most perfunctory glances, but he employs loaded terms such as "pink," obviously meant to signify race. But what the waiter's obvious uncomfortableness with biracial couples has to do with the rest of McQueen's misguided exercise in style is well beyond me.