(Trudno byt bogom) Russian director Aleksey German’s last, decades-in-planning and years-in-production epic is cryptic, insurgent, vital, near-pilotless and nigh-on-unfathomably dense in its creation of grotesque medieval horror centuries in the future, on another, faraway planet observed by a scientist who is forbidden from interfering in the affairs of the populace. (Well, maybe.) You want a masterpiece? You want to see a certifiable, unquestionable masterpiece on the big screen in its first theatrical release? Come get yourself some “Hard To Be A God,” which is mud, and more, in your eye, and timorous moviemaking of all kinds. Read the rest of this entry »
In Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez’s structuralist film “Manakamana,” a cable car, high above a jungle, ferries pilgrims to a Hindu shrine in remote Nepal near the Chinese border, shot in eleven ten-minute takes, shot in the duration of 400-foot reels in the 16mm film format. Produced by Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel and Harvard’s Sensory Ethnography Laboratory, who were behind “Leviathan” and “Sweetgrass,” “Manakamana” is a similar exertion of form on content, designing nonfiction with nonfictional means to construct eccentric yet fixating minimalism. There’s a trick to it. Beyond the rich, post-production sound design, the faces we examine in these unbroken takes, the verdant world roiling behind their heads on their journey to worship a wish-fulfilling goddess, aren’t random, but instead were cast to strengthen both the essential portraiture and the unpredictable tensions between the participants. Read the rest of this entry »
(La Danza de la realidad) Before “The Dance Of Reality,” Alejandro Jodorowsky hadn’t made a feature in two decades, but the eighty-five-year-old Chilean director’s brisk recreation of his childhood in the coastal town of Tocopilla bursts with eminently buoyant and decidedly earthy passages. In a career of films consisting largely of longeurs, Jodorowsky continues to litter the screen with what will be treasures or travesties, depending on one’s taste. The indulgent eye will witness a sensibility that remains out of time, within one protean mind. And indeed, in the rollout of the documentary “Jodorowsky’s ‘Dune,’” and in promoting his own film, the Chilean filmmaker repeated variations on “I don’t live in time. Time doesn’t exist for me.” Read the rest of this entry »
Jonathan Glazer’s third feature, and his first in nearly a decade, “Under The Skin,” reduces Michel Faber’s 300-page-plus 2000 novel to a quintessence: how would an alien see our world if it were to walk among us, if it were to hijack a human form and harvest us by exploiting elemental desire?
The form the unnamed creature assumes is Scarlett Johansson’s, and in the production and post-production of the movie, plot and narrative peeled away in favor of sound and image, and the alien’s encounters on the real-life streets and nearby beaches of Glasgow, Scotland. It’s maximal minimalism, of the kind of heightened sensation you’d expect from the maker of “Sexy Beast” and “Birth.” In a way, his character is the ultimate consumer, shopping for men among the faces on the street, who will be literally taken by desire?
“Oh, yeah?” Glazer says, smiling slightly, on a recent Chicago visit. Then she is, too, as she begins to take pity on her prey. “Yeah, there is something interesting about the fact that for someone to live, someone else has to die.” Read the rest of this entry »
Sophie Fiennes’ “The Pervert’s Guide To Ideology” extends the highly entertaining intellectual vaudeville that she and prolific Slovenian philosopher and showman Slavoj Žižek began with the kaleidoscopic entertainment, “The Pervert’s Guide To Cinema” (2006). Movies are still their mind, but Žižek now extends his daunting dialectics and deciphers them as vessels of far-reaching “ideology,” and the pair further their practice of inserting Žižek and his psychoanalytical discourse into sets modeled after Travis Bickle’s monastic cell of a bedroom from “Taxi Driver,” the dumpster-lined alley from John Carpenter’s “They Live,” the suicide latrine of “Full Metal Jacket,” and in full regalia as a nun from “The Sound of Music.” Read the rest of this entry »
Partially shot guerrilla-style at Disney theme parks but largely on soundstages or enhanced by green-screen work, Randy Moore’s amateurish labor-of-weird-love, “Escape From Tomorrow,” follows a single day in a middle-aged father’s life after he’s lost his job via phone call on a balcony overlooking the Magic Kingdom while his wife and two kids just want to see the park. Semi-surreal science fiction complications, botched horror and bad, flat acting erupt, as well as dad’s perverse and lecherous desire for two underaged French girls. Male middle-aged crisis writ large on a washed-out post-David Lynch palette, Moore’s subversive ambition is submerged by his project’s mere ickiness. Read the rest of this entry »
(Light After Darkness) Mexican intellectual-naturist-mysticist-pictorialist-diplomat Carlos Reygadas takes a non-professional cast, including his daughter, into a verdant yet dangerous world very much like his own. An urban family with money has moved to the countryside, a beautiful place that gives itself over to lightning storms, flurries of animal madness and a bright red demon with horns and tail that goes door to door with a toolbox. (While the film reveals little, Reygadas says this is his own home and property.) “I watch lots of movies, and I truly appreciate the directors that don’t try to lead me by the hand through their stories. I want to be considered one of them,” the director of “Japón,” “Battle in Heaven” and “Silent Light” has written. Carlos: with your fourth feature, you win at art-house again. Read the rest of this entry »
By Ray Pride
“Love, love Amy Seimetz’s pixie cut. Love,” I wrote on Twitter directly after the press and industry screening of Shane Carruth’s “Upstream Color” at Sundance 2013. I meant those words as a kind of high praise: the remarkable Seimetz is as central to the film as women in Krzysztof Kieslowski’s late films, like Irène Jacob in “Three Colors: Red” and “The Double Life of Véronique” or Juliette Binoche in “Three Colors: Blue.” The Pole’s project was always to make the indelible prompt the ineffable. Carruth’s ambition, after a decade in the weeds unable to make his epic “A Topiary” script, rises to Kieslowskian ambition in its insistence on sensations of the body and eruptions of memory and the tactile artifacts of the material world: consciousness is broken apart for the viewer to reconstruct. Read the rest of this entry »
(Les contes de la nuit, 2011) Six folk tales from around the world comprise the new caravan of silhouette animation from the animator of “Kirikou and the Sorceress” and “Azur & Asmar.” The genteel “Tales of the Night”‘s most striking passages evoke an endearingly imperfect variation on Indonesian shadow puppetry, but the boldly, incautiously colored animation has a flat sameness over the duration of adventures, which may not have been the case in its original 3D production format. Students of Lotte Reiniger’s painstaking films like “The Adventures Of Prince Achmed” will also find things to admire. Read the rest of this entry »
The Sanskrit word, “Samsara,” in my laptop’s dictionary, is defined as “the cycle of death and rebirth to which life in the material world is bound.” I like “Farrago” better, defined as “a confused mixture.”
In Ron Fricke’s follow-up to his 1992 picture-fest “Baraka” (or, “blessing”), we’re treated to a free-associative montage, or flow, of the beauty of nature and the bad, bad, bad, bad, bad things that man does to the planet and to each other. It’s grating, grandiloquent work: it’s also bad, bad, bad, rising to the level of a gratuitously good-looking, promiscuously photographed tract rather than the feat of filmmaking it aims toward. It’s as pretty as a succession of postcards: having a great time, wish you were coherent. Or, you’re having a great time, wish I were stoned. Read the rest of this entry »