By Ray Pride
The latest sweet shimmering sliver of romantic regret from sixty-seven-year-old French master Philippe Garrel, “In the Shadow of Women,” plays out in an efficient seventy-nine minutes, filled more with pause than with plot. But its restraint, its quiet virtues, are feats of maturity and mastery. Garrel shares screenplay credit with eighty-four-year-old Jean-Claude Carrière (“Belle de Jour,” “Every Man For Himself,” “Birth,” “That Obscure Object of Desire,” “The Unbearable Lightness of Being”), and the silken severity of the widescreen black-and-white images is by seventy-year-old Renato Berta (“Jonah Who Will Be 25 in the Year 2000,” “Full Moon in Paris,” “Au Revoir Les Enfants”).
Old guys! But the characters are younger, young-ish, caught within timeless trappings of the heart, in modern, urban, bourgeois society. (Garrel’s work began in bohemia but this is now his milieu.) In contemporary Paris, a thirtysomething couple, Pierre (Stanislas Merhar) and Manon (Clotilde Courau) make small-scale documentaries, including one about the Resistance activities of an aging raconteur. Pierre and Manon have an apparent emotional equilibrium in both life and work, but Pierre is taken by a young trainee, Elisabeth (Lena Paugam), and starts to see her on the side. Pierre thinks he can hold onto both women, until the unexpected twist of Elisabeth discovering that Manon herself has a lover, which she tells Pierre, which leads him back to his wife. But…He cannot contain these minor multitudes, he demonstrates through jealousy that you only ruin yourself. Read the rest of this entry »
In the six years since his commercially unsuccessful, turgid magazine-style film, “Capitalism: A Love Story,” Michael Moore hasn’t gotten soft so much as giddily optimistic, couching his hope for the United States as a society in what can be drawn from other cultures. But fluffy Mike is not as effective as bristling Mike, and “Where To Invade Next,” his well-meaning comedy of straw men and false equivalencies stays on the surface, a likable, intermittently annoying personality-driven essay that lacks the pinch and punch of his earlier work. The range of stunts, including waving an oversized U.S. flag while surveying the economic safety nets in other countries like France, Norway, Italy, rely too heavily on being charmed by his cuddly-bully persona. Nothing wrong with the politics or the examples, just a consistently annoying tone. Read the rest of this entry »
By Ray Pride
I miss medical marijuana.
Not so much the stuff itself, more so the women I’ve known who partake and partake, and then watch and rewatch Coen brothers movies. It goes all the way back to, duh, “The Big Lebowski,” a movie that grated on me at first turn, at an advance Manhattan screening the night before interviewing the bros. Coen, where I was entirely sober and straitlaced and my tumultuously laughing, giggling, snorting then-girlfriend was baked within an inch of all her five feet tall. She got it and was gotten good, and explained afterward what I missed with increasing exasperation. It clicked the next day when most every entreaty I offered up to the writer-producer-directors was met with grins and giggles, a smokescreen entirely befitting that particular picture.
The latest Joel and Ethan Coen joint is “Hail, Caesar!,” superficially a satire of the entitled, juvenile doings behind the scenes at an apocryphal 1950s Hollywood studio, Capitol Pictures, modeled in matters small and large after the Melrose Avenue landscape of Paramount Pictures (and MGM, too). In a way, it’s like what might have been going on back at the studio while Preston Sturges’ “Sullivan’s Travels” film director was out on the road looking for so-serioso subject matter.
Read the rest of this entry »
Portmanteau horror films are, formally, a practical expression of the modern means of no-budget film production: minimal, refined anecdotes that a director or team can do in a few days or weeks, and pragmatically, more economically remunerative than a standalone story. And creative risk, with lessened exposure, can result in bold work that can’t be sustained across the full duration of a feature. 2012’s “V/H/S” was one of the first, and most commercially successful, as well as two “The ABCs of Death” anthologies. But it’s not all blood and roses: of the second “ABCs,” producer Ant Timpson told a reporter at the 2015 SxSW festival, “We got pirated before VOD, even. Before our world premiere. That’s the worst-case scenario. It really hurt us a lot, so we’ll have to crunch the numbers, talk to Magnolia Pictures, and see what’s going on.” Some of the same players repeat behind the camera for the very good, unusually cohesive “Southbound” deserves a finer fate than instantaneous financial immolation. For the five travelers-on-the-road tales, directors David Bruckner, Roxanne Benjamin, Patrick Horvath and film collective Radio Silence sup successfully at the spiked well of “Twilight Zone” and EC Comics-style nightmares. Read the rest of this entry »
One of the most charming and recurrent of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s statements in the past decade about his progressively more ethereal features, shorts and art installations is that it’s perfectly alright, even appropriate to nod at some point, waking at an indeterminate later moment when the world has changed (or obstinately remained the same) for his dreamers and sleepwalkers. In the latest simmering surrealism by the School of the Art Institute graduate who likes to be called just “Joe,” “Cemetery of Splendour” (Rak ti Khon Kaen), he literally engages a sleeping sickness, based on a true story, with a cast of soldiers confined to a clinic that stands atop a burial ground for Thai royals. A rich melancholy pronounces itself more readily than any apprehensible allegory. Read the rest of this entry »
The human face; the ear, provoked. Two of the most powerful tools available to filmmakers are the human face and psychologically suggestive sound design. A couple of quotes, then, in service of glancing at thirty-eight-year-old Hungarian director László Nemes’ death-camp-set debut feature, the unlikely fable of faith “Son of Saul.” First, from French master Robert Bresson’s “Notes on Cinematography”: “The eye solicited alone makes the ear impatient, the ear solicited alone makes the eye impatient. Use these impatiences. Power of the cinematographer who appeals to the two senses in a governable way. Against the tactics of speed, of noise, set tactics of slowness, of silence.” And from George Orwell, the all-too-familiar “If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever.” Read the rest of this entry »
Writer-director-actor Tim Blake Nelson assembles a stellar cast for his chatty, appropriately named “Anesthesia,” a would-be brooding meditation on mortality on Manhattan’s Upper West Side—Sam Waterston, Glenn Close, Kristen Stewart, Corey Stoll, Gretchen Mol, Michael Kenneth Williams, Mickey Sumner, himself—and then produces a perfectly competent, wholly forgettable 1990s-style indie ensemble “web of life” pic. We’re all connected, but are we connected at all? Take, drink, this is the thesis to my sketch drama: “The world has just become so inhuman. Everyone’s plugged in, blindingly inarticulate, obsessed with money, their careers, stupidly, arrogantly content. I crave interaction, but you just can’t any more.” A stabbing on an apartment stoop introduces us to a roster of ennui-istas and depressives that include a drug abuser, a self-destructive twentysomething, a suburban mom who misses the city, and a Columbia University professor on the verge of retirement. Read the rest of this entry »
In Nicholas Hytner’s “The Lady in the Van,” Maggie Smith stars as “Miss Shepherd,” an unwanted neighbor of playwright Alan Bennett, a homeless woman who parks her caravan in his London driveway for fifteen years. Brusque comedy ensues as Bennett adapts his own memoir and 1999 stage play and Hytner shoots the story at Bennett’s home and its Gloucester Crescent locations. (Hytner also directed Bennett’s earlier screenplays, “The Madness of King George” and “The History Boys.”) As an elevated microcosmic portrait of the classic English eccentric, tended to by a less eccentric observer, “The Lady in the Van” is particular and ultimately piquant. Read the rest of this entry »
Spanish director Fernando León de Aranoa’s grit-bomb comedy, “A Perfect Day” subjects aid workers in the post-war Balkans of 1995 to drip-drip-drip absurdism. An NGO team for “Aid Across Borders,” led by Benicio Del Toro and Tim Robbins (with Olga Kurylenko and Mélanie Thierry along for the bumpy ride) alternate grue, boo-hoo and bountiful bad, loud music choices. Read the rest of this entry »
“Everything changed in the blink of an eye. One minute everything was fine, then everything turned to shit”: this is the opening narration from the mouth of Lale, the youngest of five headstrong orphaned sisters in “Mustang,” a provocative yet joyous celebration of the power of female agency. A self-conscious fairytale, it’s one of 2015’s smoothest, most confident directorial debuts, superficially a Turkish “Virgin Suicides,” but very much the thirty-seven-year-old Turkish-French director Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s own wild creature, drawing upon western European cinematic sensibilities as well as the verdant yet rustic setting in a Turkish backwater, Inebolu, a town on the Black Sea 600 kilometers from Istanbul. Read the rest of this entry »