Andrew Bujalski’s swimmingly strange and dense fourth feature, “Computer Chess,” is a valentine to all things analogue, a burlesque of masculinity, a stoner comedy, a New Age satire, and a contemplation of artificial intelligence. Taking place across a weekend tourney for teams of computer programmers dead-set on creating software that can beat humans at chess, the movie is flush with odd characters. When the first images shimmer onscreen, it feels for a moment, until you get used to the look, not that you’re seeing a time capsule, but are in fact transported to the 1980s, dropped right into the middle of this ratty, perhaps haunted motel, witnessing the slightly self-conscious dorkiness of computer whizzes caught on rudimentary, ghosty, silvery Sony video that a community college would have used to record a basketball tourney or a water district meeting. At first, the film looks like it wasn’t even made, that it just happened, and sat, shedding magnetic flakes on a closet shelf for decades. But along with a visual grammar that seems to be inventing itself as the film goes along—including blown takes, jumps in sound recording, inexplicable traveling shots and mismatched shots—it also becomes apparent that “Computer Chess”’ deep-ecology tech comedy is completely under control, never sacrificing an innate, lovely weirdness. Read the rest of this entry »
Photo: Josh Filauri
Film noir may have had its heyday in the forties and fifties, but it is no less entrancing on today’s screens. Hesperidian Productions roots their new neo-noir short “Stiletto” in present-day Chicago, a twenty-five-minute film that pays homage to noir while also aiming to create something new. “You can see all the roots [of film noir in the short], but it is something that people who love noir and have watched it extensively haven’t seen before,” says Kyle Thomas, president of Hesperidian Productions and director of “Stiletto.” “It’s really interesting being able to take that essence and then be unlimited to create something that expands upon it.” Read the rest of this entry »
By Ray Pride
“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” a labyrinthine tale about British espionage and spycraft, is an adaptation of John le Carre’s 1974 novel, from Tomas Alfredson, the director of “Let The Right One In.”
The level of patience and control is similar between the two films: in the superb, measured “Tinker Tailor,” we realize there’s horror inside all of us, the potential for terrible things. George Smiley (Gary Oldman) may not even know it consciously, but he’s just waiting to spring cruelty on someone. After a botched mission, a search for a double-agent in Britain’s MI6 begins: the complex interlocking narratives are enacted by a brilliant, precise Oldman, but also John Hurt, Mark Strong, Ciarán Hinds, Tom Hardy, Benedict Cumberbatch, Simon McBurney, Toby Jones and Colin Firth. Read the rest of this entry »
Photo: Ray Pride
By Ray Pride
The first “Saw” movie was more clever, cruel clockwork than the kind of hostile horror that later entries in the series became.
After its unexpected success, its creators, the Australian director James Wan and screenwriter Leigh Whannell, then in their late twenties, were directly connected to only one of the sequels. In the years since their original 2003 short and the 2004 feature, Wan has directed only two other films. Their latest, “Insidious,” is a blood-free variation on classic haunted-house stories, with the duo hoping to avoid “false” scares of sudden sounds and leaping cats if at all possible. A young couple (Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne) moves into a new home, and soon their youngest child falls into a coma and scary happenings fill their nights with fear. They also address another bugbear of the genre: why don’t characters move out of houses possessed by supernatural and otherworldly agents? (There’s a bizarre detour involving a psychic and a pair of sub-”Ghostbusters” investigators that turn “Insidious” into two, two movies in one.)
“We wanted to have the family move!” Wan says with the youthful exuberance he displayed when we first met seven years ago. “That’s the number-one gripe with haunted-house movies. If your house is so haunted, why don’t you move? Even though it is a haunted-house movie, we want to take the subgenre and in a lot of ways break these clichés, or subvert it. One of the things people always complain about is, why don’t they move out of the creepy house they’re living in?” Read the rest of this entry »
Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio’s very smart, genuinely troubling “Cropsey” revisits a tale that had been told when they were children on Staten Island, a much-embellished urban legend about an escapee from a nearby mental institution. Cropsey was the local bogeyman, the all-purpose chiller of children, handy to keep the tykes in line. But Cropsey was a real man, one Andre Rand, who was tried for the disappearances of disabled local children, and Zeman and Brancaccio’s horror documentary is a real jaw-dropper. Comparisons have been drawn to the fear-filled “Blair Witch Project” and David Fincher’s close, clammy “Zodiac,” as well as Stephen King stories and “Capturing the Friedmans,” yet the parallels are mere flattery, considering the film’s own unique savor, an alternately genial and sinister tone: I’d go more for saying this deeply paranoid chiller plays like Errol Morris in a good mood, sharing his favorite shaggy-dog story about true-life murder. And about true-life suspicion, real-world ambiguity: as in “Zodiac,” you’re hardly certain if Rand is criminal or scapegoat. “Cropsey” is small, but small like an earwig, cozying up in your memory once you’ve seen it. The local, the most personal things, will, at the best instants, always suggest the universal, and “Cropsey” does. Children must have their bogeymen, fear is cultivated like a perennial crop. I don’t want to describe Geraldo Rivera’s role in the story’s unfolding, but he’s a compelling key. (The Ghost Robot production company presentation logo that opens the film is a swift delight.) 84m. (Ray Pride)
“Cropsey” opens Monday at the Music Box; it continues after its Thursday closing on VOD on cable systems until August 12.
By Ray Pride
“You mustn’t be afraid to dream even bigger, darling,” a character says in “Inception” (and in its trailers), elevating an enormous weapon into frame and immediately blasting away his adversaries.
A lesson heeded over the course of a decade of writing and production on Christopher Nolan’s “Inception,” a hall of mirrors of artistic allusions in the form of a heist thriller that takes place in the space of sleep. The intricate carpentry and lacquering of “The Dark Knight” director’s filmmaking shines when you see it a second time: craftsmanship has pleasures, if not limitless mystery. Putting plot synopsis aside—the story’s contours are so neatly delineated and dovetailed, describing them at length defines the word “Spoiler”—Leonardo DiCaprio’s Dom Cobb assembles a dream team of experts, in the best tradition of heist thrillers, to commit an anti-heist in the dreams of a powerful man: inserting themselves into his subconscious and leaving behind a powerful suggestion.
Like Alain Resnais’ aggressive mind loop, “Last Year at Marienbad,” “Inception” revolves around memories of a past love, which may or may not be “true.” Memory is fallible, dreams are malleable. Charmingly, Nolan has said he’d only ever seen that feat of bold parallel editing after completing this James Bond-scaled movie, but he felt all the other films that had been influenced by “Marienbad” had influenced him. What other influences rest lightly on Nolan’s shoulders? Read the rest of this entry »
If Pippi Longstocking were flesh-and-blood and modern and an uncommonly pissed-off 26-year-old, what would her dark night dreams consist of? The answer’s opening around the country this week, starring one of the most memorable of twenty-first-century fairytale characters, built for our Age of Terror. A lurid, satisfying surprise, “The Girl Who Played With Fire” works on a different scale and in a different dramatic key than “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.” Made on a noticeably lower budget than its predecessor and originally intended for Scandinavian and German television, “Played With Fire,” directed by Daniel Alfredson (brother of “Let the Right One In”‘s Tomas Alfredson), begins with two virtuous elements: diminutive powerhouse Lisbeth Salander and the woman who plays her, Noomi Rapace. There’s a genuine extra-diegetic thrill to the conception of the character, however the films are executed. Read the rest of this entry »
(Kynodontas) I’ve thrown out half-a-dozen ways to write about Yorgos Lanthimos’ “Dogtooth,” a weird gem of Greek black comedy made with an uncommonly assured hand. Contemporary Greek cinema, which I’ve watched a lot of in the past decade, sometimes offers moments of grace and beauty but seldom a fully realized film. “Dogtooth” is a revelation, especially arriving from Greece. Even the elder statesman of Greek cinema, Theo Angelopoulos, began a drift into mannerism with “The Weeping Meadow,” no matter how glorious its production. (Angelopoulos has gone on record as being an admirer of Lanthimos, which is in a class with Ingmar Bergman anointing Lukas Moodysson, the brightest hope of Swedish cinema after his second feature.) “Dogtooth,” which I had the fortune to see among a few hundred extremely amused young Icelanders at the Reykjavik Film Festival, attuned to the film’s black world, is funny peculiar, funny ha-ha and a remarkable singularity: it should come across as pastiche, as a rehash of provocations and surrealist gestures past. Read the rest of this entry »
By Ray Pride
Buenos Aires has a timeless air, but that illusory sensation masks history. In “The Secret in their Eyes,” the 2009 Academy Award-winner for Best Foreign Language Film by writer-director-editor Juan José Campanella, a flashback-driven structure makes its characters’ histories both distinctly of their time but also embedded in memory.
A former Buenos Aires state court investigator, Benjamin Espósito (Ricardo Darin, “Nine Queens”) has just retired and to get some kind of perspective on his life, starts to write a novel about the memory from his career that most troubles him: the unsolved brutal murder of a young woman twenty-five years earlier, in 1974, in the months just before the dictatorship took over the country. Espósito is impressed by the devotion of the woman’s widowed husband, which mirrors his relationship with his superior, Irene Menéndez Hastings (Soledad Villamil): how far can fixation go, and last, if unrequited? In the husband’s case, it’s the separation enforced by death; in Benjamin and Irene’s, there are issues of class, of propriety, of simple shyness that keeps a dance of flirtation from becoming a tango toward commitment. The story, based on a novel by co-writer Eduardo Sacheri, shifts confidently back and forth in time, with surprises not only in plotting but in character development. Campanella’s work on U. S. television includes episodes of “Law & Order SVU,” which, while at a stylistic remove from the cinematic style of “Secret,” suggests the director’s range of storytelling skills. (His next project is an animated film based on… Foosball.) Read the rest of this entry »
Bong Joon-ho’s follow-up to “The Host” surfaces a different monster: perhaps it’s a clutching mom, perhaps the unknowability of even those closest to you. In “Mother,” (Madeo) the 40-year-old South Korean writer-director continues to grow more confident in mixing tones, from terror to comedy, from pity to pitiful, from delight to fright. He even opens with a Kitano-esque sequence where the never-named mother (the enthralling Hye-ja Kim, known for maternal roles in her country, harrowingly intense and vital here) is crossing a vast field of dry grass, a foggy field where some yet-unspecified sorrow turns to a privileged moment where she begins to dance in a kind of techno-calypso music only she (and we) can hear. “Mother” will return to that scene, but first we learn of her uncommon devotion to her grown, simple son (played by Bin Won, whose cuteness is used with great irony). From her feudal-seeming herb shop, the mother watches over her son through a doorway into the modern world: chopping sheafs of sage, a drop of her blood falls as her son is lightly struck by a passing car. Sound and light and frame deepen every scene. Complications grow, and he’s accused of killing a young girl. As he’s jailed, she conducts her own investigation of the murder. “Mother” approaches the intensity of Shohei Imamura’s great “Vengeance is Mine,” but Bong’s mix of bumptious humor and strong plotting makes for a more eccentric mix, leading to a musical climax that’s the cinematic equivalent of acupuncture, releasing all the knots, gliding into a glorious sunset. 126m. (Ray Pride)