Once while interviewing the now-sober, not-then-sober Abel Ferrara, we reminisced on a particular moment in the “Bad Lieutenant” when Harvey Keitel’s so-bad cop displayed himself to a couple of young girls he’d pulled over in a traffic stop. “Heh-heh,” Ferrara said, “The L-T was rockin’ it!” Whenever Ferrara finds moments to pull from the fire, especially in his erratic recent work, I just think of that heh-heh. With “Welcome to New York,” Ferrara is indeed again rockin’ it, with a theme-and-variation on the facts of the alleged sex crimes committed by banker and former International Monetary Fund head and once-potential French president Dominique Strauss-Kahn. It’s a deeply disturbing, calibrated unhinged, compulsively careering portrait of entitlement. Read the rest of this entry »
For his directorial debut, “Ex Machina,” novelist and screenwriter Alex Garland (“28 Days Later,” “Sunshine”) crafts a deceptively simple social comedy deeply invested in ideas about artificial intelligence, the nature of desire and the mind-body divide. But cheekily glib, oft-vulgar banter between its two male characters—a billionaire inventor (Oscar Isaac) and the so-bright employee/programmer (Domhnall Gleeson) he’s chosen for a one-man Turing Test—and a female robot (Alicia Vikander) that can flirt, think and scheme—likably mask the hoped-for profundity. (“Ex Machina” could have easily been called “The Imitation Game.”) Read the rest of this entry »
Specific yet elusive, as in Olivier Assayas’ best work, “Clouds of Sils Maria” rises to the challenge that longtime colleague Juliette Binoche’s offered him: create a role for a woman of fifty that’s not all about a romantic relationship. What he came up with resembles a number of other movies, including a hint of “All About Eve,” as a professional triangle oscillates between her mid-career actress, her devoted and indispensable assistant, juggling multiple iPhones, Blackberrys and agendas (Kristen Stewart), and an ambitious young actress (Chloe Grace Moretz) repeating a role she played years earlier. (There’s also something of Joseph Mankiewicz in Assayas’ taut, gnomic gab, with professional status and personal moment indicated in snappish, contemporary dialogue.) Binoche’s performance matches Assayas’ visual style, alternately brittle and supple, while Stewart is laconic yet electric in conveying her character’s quiet, emphatic passion for her boss. Read the rest of this entry »
Taiwanese cinema grandmaster Hou Hsiao-hsien turned sixty-eight the day I wrote this, a melancholy day if only for the fact that he’s been working on his wuxia martial arts period piece, “The Assassin” for five years, neglecting the masterpieces of observation of the modern world he could have been making. The Siskel’s essential six-film 35mm retrospective of his work continues with the still-modern fragrance of “Millennium Mambo” (2001) and the sorrowful play of history, memory and performance in “Good Men, Good Women” (1995). Read the rest of this entry »
There are wispy visual rewards in Larry Clark’s minimalist 2012 “Marfa Girl,” which the unregenerate seventy-two-year-old filmmaker-photographer-peddler of picturesque prurience at first said would never be distributed theatrically or on DVD. But here it is: More free-floating than haphazard, Clark arrays scenes about a Texas teen (bright-eyed ephebe Adam Mediano) skateboarding through drugs and sex and seemingly random run-ins in the titular West Texas small town on the occasion of his sixteenth birthday. Adolescents just do what adolescents do in Larry Clark films. Sex is spoken, sex is transacted, and there’s a fucking lot of fucking. Read the rest of this entry »
By Ray Pride
What was indie? What was this thing, “indie film”?
In the 1990s, Hal Hartley passed for it: a deadpan pasticheur from Long Island who liked French movies and poker-faced piquant variations in highly verbal comedies drawing from Godard and Gallic epigrammatists, dropping in complications a la screwball comedy with just a smattering of vulgar provocations. A modest, blunt, elemental visual style. Simplicity and directness. And catchphrases like “There’s no such thing as adventure and romance, only trouble and desire.” Yeah, that becalmed romanticism spoke to me and the yet younger me inside the movie-mad me. But indie didn’t last.
Hartley nourished a modest following—perhaps only a certain stripe of film critics? A few neurotic romantics here and there across the land?—with his 1989 debut, “The Unbelievable Truth” and on through “Trust,” the short feature “Surviving Desire,” “Simple Men,” “Amateur” and “Flirt.” While none of those movies made true money, Hartley’s earliest films were distributed by Miramax in that go-go decade for the Weinstein brothers’ first company, and even Sony Pictures Classics got into the mix with the Isabelle Huppert-starring “Amateur.” While there’s been a gap in both quantity and quality in his output, Hartley’s twelfth feature, “Ned Rifle” (a pseudonym Hartley has used for his minimal, melancholy scores) is out, partially financed by Kickstarter and primarily distributed on Vimeo with big-screen showings in a handful of cities including Chicago. I don’t want to even think of how few dollars are involved in an enterprise like this, which as a late-century debut might have been a $50,000 film and a couple projects along, a million-dollar one. But “Ned Rifle”? A confident yet very, very self-effacing fable. Read the rest of this entry »
In multiple countries in greater Europe, right-wing parties have risen to power, perhaps to most dramatic effect in contemporary Hungary. In Kornél Mundruczó’s fantastic and often fantastically beautiful, Budapest-set revenge parable, there may or may not be useful allegory in the casting out of thirteen-year-old Lili’s dog, Hagen, for being “unfit” as a mixed-breed dog. Both Hagen and Lili search for a return to “home,” and for each other, but in the meantime the once-domesticated dog rounds up a canine cohort to face the cruelty that is the human race. It’s a child’s tale, in a way, but with hundreds and hundreds of extra sets of teeth. Read the rest of this entry »
With the gorgeously shot, sweetly paced “Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter,” David and Nathan Zellner make a strange, funny, sometimes alarmingly deadpan leap forward from their likable earlier features like “Goliath” (2008) and “Kid-Thing” (2012). An inspired fable, a riff on “Fargo,” a Herzog-like look at landscape, it’s like Rinko Kikuchi in “The Great Ecstasy Of The Treasure Hunter Kumiko,” with a motel quilt with a pattern worthy of Sergei Parajanov. The ineffable Kikuchi (“Pacific Rim,” “The Brothers Bloom”) plays an office worker in Japan who is convinced that her VHS tape of “Fargo” is a documentary, and she’s dead-set on going to America to find that suitcase of hot, frozen cash in the pure white winter wastes of North Dakota. Knowing little of the language, nearly broke, making mistake after mistake, she trudges on, with little more than crazy hope and visions of a bunny—Bunzo!—to keep her going. Read the rest of this entry »
By Ray Pride
The news, oh the news from Hollywood. What providence does the future hold for the eager moviegoer? What fate lies ahead?
A few of the facts: Worldwide box-office is up one measly percent, but only because China’s audiences spent a whopping thirty-four percent more on tickets. “Star Wars VIII” gets a release date in 2017 and Rian Johnson (“Looper”) is confirmed as writer-director. A “Star Wars” standalone movie will be called “Star Wars: Rogue One.” The female-cast “Ghostbusters” will be joined by another sequel to the thirty-one-year-old movie, likely starring Chris Pratt and Channing Tatum, following the original misogynist cries on the internet with questions of why anyone’s childhood needs to be spoiled twice. Disney says they’ll rerelease the original “Star Wars” trilogy without the additions, deletions and graffiti George Lucas added across the years when he still owned Lucasfilm. And look! “Frozen 2”! Announced the day before the short “Frozen Fever” debuts before “Cinderella”! Let it go!
Damning, distressing, infuriating. Not the sequels to the news of sequels, not limited to the Marvel “Universe,” but in the universe around us. And not the economic fact that newspapers and legacy media continue to shrink as the interest in nonfiction filmmaking grows and grows. Damning, distressing and infuriating is another fine documentary opening this week, Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering’s blunt, forceful advocacy doc, “The Hunting Ground,” a sort of sequel in itself, which takes aim at another dreadful contemporary social ill after the investigation of the plague of rape in the military and its willful, systemic whitewash in the military in “The Invisible War”: the rash of sexual violence and the cover-ups that follow on college campuses today. Read the rest of this entry »
By Ray Pride
A movie about movies and about butterflies and two lovers deep in the woods, dense with influence, about decadence and desire, the third feature by Peter Strickland (“Berberian Sound Studio,” “Katalin Varga”), “The Duke Of Burgundy” dabbles as well in entomology, taxonomies, field recordings, roleplaying and domination. In a European never-neverland (shot in Hungary, largely in a fancy, secluded turn-of-the-century house), the apparently dominant Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen, “Borgen”) and the seemingly submissive Evelyn (Chiara D’Anna) occasionally venture into a larger world confined to the presentations of butterfly scholars, but mostly remain at home, engaging in ritualistic sadomasochistic roleplaying.
“Burgundy” is a keen pastiche of 1970s Euro-sleaze and high art, and looks amazing on the big screen, calmly florid, precise yet bonkers, bristling with detail. It’s preposterous, delirious and delicious. “It’s great to get it into the cinema, such a short life in the cinema these days, isn’t it?” Strickland says in his firm, fast British accent at the Thessaloniki International Film Festival in November 2014. Read the rest of this entry »