Depressed, drunk, Falstaff-bellied philosophy professor Abe Lucas (Joaquin Phoenix) takes a gig at a small-town Rhode Island college, where his mumbling recitations of platitudes of 1950s collegiate existentialism curricula woo the women, including married Rita Richards (Parker Posey) and undergraduate Jill Pollard (Emma Stone). But he’s shit in the sack, unoriginal in his thinking, and ready to Russian roulette his way into readily forgotten campus lore. He’s an oblivious, serene sociopath. (Phoenix finds a walk for Abe that’s part Chaplin, part Mr. Potato Head.) Read the rest of this entry »
You want obsession? Obsessive, obsessive obsession? Sanguinary intimacy? Fabrice du Welz, Belgian director of 2004’s “Calvaire” goes blissfully bloodily bonkers with “Alléluia,” a lusciously lurid based-on-fact tale of a shy single mom, Gloria (Lola Dueñas) who falls in love with womanizer-cum-hustler Michel (Laurent Lucas). (It’s based on the 1949 history of “lonely hearts killers” Martha Beck and Raymond Fernandez, whose crimes have inspired other films, including Leonard Kastle’s blanch-and-white 1970 singularity, “The Honeymoon Killers” and Arturo Ripstein’s stodgier 1996 “Deep Crimson.”) The more Gloria learns about Michel’s perversity, which has its own substance, the more thrilled, the more fixated she becomes. Read the rest of this entry »
Kris Swanberg’s confident third feature, “Unexpected,” is an intimate made-in-Chicago tale of two unplanned pregnancies, by inner-city public high school teacher Samantha (Cobie Smulders) and her star A-student, Jasmine (Gail Bean). Written by Swanberg and Megan Mercier, low-key sophistication (with bursts of strong language) and the healthily nuanced performances by Smulders and Bean carry the day. Samantha tries so hard to comprehend her young friend’s circumstances, and they’re worlds apart. But, she tries, hopes, and in a not clichéd way, grows. Not every scene is as strong as the very best, but Swanberg’s empathy is admirable. It’s a lovely, auspicious piece of small-budget filmmaking. Read the rest of this entry »
While his recent films have all gotten U. S. releases, the great, seventy-two-year-old French post-Nouvelle Vague writer-director André Téchiné’s work doesn’t get the attention it did two decades ago with dramas like “Les voleurs” (Thieves, 1996). There’s not as much appreciation for the quiet satisfactions of his closely observed dramas of adult relationships striking stress points and abruptly fracturing to dramatic but too-believable result. With “In the Name of My Daughter” (L’homme qu’on aimait trop), Téchiné draws on “l’affaire Le Roux,” a 1970s French murder case, again in the news this month, about the disappearance of a young woman in the midst of a family intrigue over control of a Riviera casino. Catherine Deneuve is the mother who won’t stop her search for the daughter who disappeared after a suicide attempt, leaving no trace and no body. There’s patience, chilliness and even sustained quietude in Téchiné’s telling, but the brightest burst of emotions make for memorable fireworks. Read the rest of this entry »
By Ray Pride
“Tangerine” is a brash, vivacious screwball comedy of West Hollywood street life, told in the course of several blocks across several hours as Christmas Eve moves from day to dusk to dark of night and ache of heart.
Sean Baker’s masterful, vividly gritty follow-up to 2012’s “Starlet,” shot entirely with iPhones, is also a bold, intimate challenge to mild-mannered contemporary notions of independent filmmaking. There are camera moves you’ve never seen before, but the characters are even more gratifying: The opening line, “Merry Christmas Eve, bitch!” is one of the raucous story’s politest bursts of frank language. Read the rest of this entry »
“Ant-Man” is giant comedy.
It’s been more than three decades, but I once spoke fluent Marvel. My recollection is that Hank Pym’s super-small alter ego was one of Stan Lee’s minor creations, a character whose narrative never outgrew the challenges of rendering a tiny world in a medium better suited for inscribing oversized imaginings. (In order to draw fine detail, comic book artists typically work at a scale much larger than the cartoon frame, then reduce the work to scale. This tends to favor actual, or, in the case of superheroes, super-sized, images.) Though launched as a solo act in “Tales to Astonish” (one of the referential jokes in the film that generated a surprising quantity of chuckles in the preview screening, since it dates to circa 1962, long before most of the chucklers were sketched), “Ant-Man” never made it on his own, becoming instead a founding member of the Avengers and then joining his super-brethren at the other end of the telescope, usually donning the Giant-Man or Goliath persona.
So it’s not really a tall tale to say the film surpasses the comic book—though it’s also a medium of storytelling by virtue of sequential frames filled with images and dialogue, film thrives in larger-than-life scale. At its very best, it magnifies the smallest of moments into larger truths. The depiction of our almost-microscopic world on the big screen easily blends awe and humor, attributes almost innate to the plot device, even in times of lesser CGI tools (“Honey, I Shrunk the Kids,” for example). “Ant-Man” has plenty of action to mollify the vegetative fanboys who seem to control modern movie culture, but with a twist. It’s life-and-death battle fought, for example, inside a briefcase. Instead of blowing up skyscrapers, our hero smashes into an iPhone. And that’s funny, really funny.
Sturm, drang, mini-“Fury Road” dust storms, missing children, sexual frustration and maybe a little more drang, are the backdrop to Kim Farrant’s “Strangerland,” a mood-heavy thriller set in the super-heated Australian outback, and starring Nicole Kidman and Joseph Fiennes. It’s nowhere the knife-edge thriller of Phillip Noyce’s “Dead Calm” (1989), with a young Kidman, but its similar willingness to wound almost makes it seem like we’re witnessing a film from an alternative universe, where Australian cinema and an iconic antipodean actress have progressed in that vein and there’s a market for the mad and bruised and downright grownup. The dual masterpieces of Nicolas Roeg’s “Walkabout” and Peter Weir’s “Picnic at Hanging Rock” are obvious gongs the filmmakers cannot reach to strike, and there are echoes of more recent movies as well, like Denis Villeneuve’s “Prisoners.” Read the rest of this entry »
Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy’s Cannes-prized “The Tribe” (Plemya) is a gorgeously wrought provocation about nightmarish violent daily life at a Ukrainian boarding school for deaf youth. Even a third viewing of this unvarnished and passionately unrelenting movie across eight months reveals a filmmaker who cuts little slack, including the unsubtitled local sign language in which the characters communicate. (If this device comprises a gimmick, all on-screen gimmicks ought to be used as audaciously.) Sex, jealousy, revenge and violence are the essential elements of Slaboshpytskiy’s elemental story, cast with nonactors. Slaboshpytskiy and Valentyn Vasyanovych, credited as both cinematographer and editor, alternate between the ragged and the well-wrought, between objet d’art and the incidentally observed, between extended long takes and icy tableaux. And even when the motives are unclear, the intensely gestural performances fascinate. With Grigoriy Fesenko, Yana Novikova, Rosa Babiy. 132m. (Ray Pride)
“The Tribe” opens Friday, July 10 at the Music Box for an extended run.
Director-producer-shooter-co-editor Matthew Heineman’s Sundance-prized “Cartel Land” brandishes impressive access on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border, alternating vignettes of vigilantes waging extra-legal battle versus Mexican drug cartels. Bookended by middle-of-the-night, middle-of-nowhere scenes with meth cookers out in the desert, “Cartel Land” is impressive filmmaking in the service of dispiriting fact, figures on both sides of the law saying that lawlessness and corruption cannot and will not end. On the Mexican side, an aging surgeon and womanizer turned leader of the Michoacán “autodefensa” gains popular support until his followers grow as corrupt as their adversaries. In the States, recovering alcoholic, reformed meth-using gravel-voiced, leather-tanned, neck-tattooed “Nailer” with dead, ice blue eyes, observes, “Back in the day, vigilante wasn’t a bad thing.” The meth men are among the most articulate of the profane men on screen, saying of their nighttime trade, “Those fuckers studied chemistry and taught us how to make this shit.” Whatever Heineman’s study of filmmaking, the stylishly shot, severely framed and mostly finely edited scenes that include the camera operators under fire in street shootouts rise to a level of technique that led action master Kathryn Bigelow to add her name to the many listed producers. Read the rest of this entry »
Wistful yet muscular late Ken Loach, “Jimmy’s Hall” tenderly massages the biography of Jimmy Gralton, an innate, indefatigable Irish rebel who was driven from his County Leitrim home during the Civil War, and again ten years later, when he returns in the spring of 1932. Jimmy’s sin in both instances, met with hate, hysteria and obstruction by the Church and police, was to erect a meeting place outside the tight societal strictures of the time, a place where poetry and dance and a dash of politics could be communicated. For this, he’s labeled a “communist,” and later, with his compatriots, “antichrists.” But the sense of community is rich, deftly sketched, defiantly progressive. The sense of landscape is gentle, and Loach’s eye is still avid for supple imagery. And even in a scene where Jimmy (Barry Ward) rallies his friends after they’ve taken back the home of a dispossessed family from a wretched landlord, and he speaks in spirited cadence about timeless idealism toward economic justice, the battle of labor versus big and bigger money, Loach and the great cinematographer Robbie Ryan (“Wuthering Heights,” “Red Road,” “Fish Tank,” “Ginger and Rosa”) position him in a calm frame, imploring in middle distance against a backdrop of a wood, of greenery waving gently, everlastingly, history rustling a timeless landscape. Read the rest of this entry »