Jia Zhangke’s heartfelt, melancholy, ever-mysterious eighth feature, “Mountains May Depart,” is an intimate drama that, on a globalized level, teems with enigma and patterns with grace. On black, under the main titles, we hear birds and the sea. Young Chinese men and women dance in a line in a nondescript hall while we hear the Pet Shop Boys’ cover of the Village People’s “Go West.” The camera moves in. They’re happy. A title arrives: “1999.” Fireworks erupt. Read the rest of this entry »
By Ray Pride
Guilt as gossamer, memory as wraith, woman as other, love as labor lost: Terrence Malick’s seventh released feature, “Knight of Cups,” years in the shaping, is dense yet featherlight, elusive yet specific, a wonderment comprising one once-worldly man’s memories, the tide of a single life pummeled by remorseless undertow.
Malick’s murmurous, susurrant, sea and tear-soaked night dream by flat Los Angeles daylight glides alongside Rick (Christian Bale), a man steeped in loss, needful in love, aswirl in lissome seraphim, the lost souls of his longing. A man in crisis. Rick is a sought-after comedy screenwriter who hasn’t a laugh to his name, even as he trails after joy (women he’s known) or diversions in clubs and parties, blissed-out without bliss, in zone after zone of emptiness. Is he drugged, spent, abandoned, abandoning? Itching-scratching-tickling-howling beneath the surface? “Knight of Cups” is as sure and swift a depiction of unbidden memory you could hope to find: gentle, ever in motion, all-wounding. Read the rest of this entry »
Stephen Cone has been articulate in his admiration for American masters of the ensemble comedy-drama, not limited to Jonathan Demme, Robert Altman and Gregg Araki, and in “Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party,” he wears influence lightly and well. The latest from the Chicago-based filmmaker is an ensemble piece that assuredly demonstrates maturity can be found in the citing of questions as much as the unfurling of answers, a formulation as suited to the filmmaking as to the characters we meet in one location across one long day as a preacher’s son (Cole Doman) celebrates his seventeenth birthday with a pool party. On a night-before sleepover, Henry demonstrates his crush on his friend Gabe (Joe Keery), enacted with geometric simplicity. Arrivals from church, school and family, young and old, dot the next day, with religion and sex the core concerns, gently bounding and abrading through each transition. What is love? Where is love? Read the rest of this entry »
At seventy-three, mandarin filmmaker Peter Greenaway’s newfound fixation is Soviet silent director Sergei Eisenstein, the feature “Eisenstein in Guanajuato” marking the start of a larger, multimedia project. A kind of cockeyed puzzle box about ribald sexual adventures in ten days after the dashed hopes of his Mexican adventure, “Que Viva Mexico!”, “EIG” gains much from an antic high-haired, let-it-all-rise-up, full-frontal performance by eager Finnish actor Elmer Bäck as the sexually backward but soon active and adventurous film pioneer. Greenaway has shown little fear in the past of depicting conflicted sexuality and explicit male nudity and homosexual activity, so why stop now? 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 »
By Ray Pride
Michael is a weary middle-aged man, a motivation expert who flies overnight to Cincinnati to address a customer service convocation, where the attendees know him for his most recent book, “How May I Help You Help Them?” Charged moments come from the seemingly commonplace: A perfunctory call to his wife back in Los Angeles, an impulsive call to an ex and an ill-advised drink, meeting a sweet, younger, seemingly uncomplicated younger woman, a baked-goods customer-service rep named Lisa (a tenderly winsome Jennifer Jason Leigh) who’s admired him from afar. Simple, except that “Anomalisa” is stop-motion animation, turned to the very adult means of fleshing out a screenplay by Charlie Kaufman that began as a staged “radio play” for three voices. The combination of simplicity and intricacy make the strange, thrilling “Anomalisa” discernibly a Charlie Kaufman object, as refined and diamond-dense as his directorial debut, “Synecdoche, New York” was sprawling. We talked about the movie a few weeks ago, along with his co-director and animator Duke Johnson.
The group I saw the movie with was ecstatic afterward. How exuberant and joyous have people been talking to you about the movie?
Kaufman: Many people weep. Read the rest of this entry »
An unhappily married woman’s life shifts when she begins to receive a weekly anonymous gift of bouquets in Spain’s official Foreign Language Film submission, Jon Garaño and Jose Mari Goenaga’s moody, broody “Flowers” (Loreak). Their story of three women who pine for a particular man is the first fracture in a convoluted narrative, beautifully shot (by Javi Agirre Erauso), engagingly acted, mostly inert. Read the rest of this entry »
Do. Or do not. There is no try. Take your money, they shall. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” J.J. Abrams’ best movie by fourteen, well, maybe twelve parsecs, will satisfy most and annoy few. “Force” is a sleek machining of a platonic ideal of a memory of George Lucas’ original trilogy, after pleasure seeps into recollection and over generations becomes warm vapor, pop-cult hallucination. Any twinges of nostalgia are countered with bittersweet awareness of the ravages of time and the leaving of life.
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By Ray Pride
What if it had been good?
What if it had been a movie?
“Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace” is the product placement of all time, the runestone, the grail, the altar upon which billions of dollars of cash will be placed in the next few weeks, and its surge of activity in the economy, coursing from fan-hand to Hasbro or Galoob bank, from T-shirt sweatshop to Lucasfilm coffers, may be more instrumental in lubricating the economy than any amount of e-commerce day-trading in Internet stock ever could. The Force is money. The movie is crap. Read the rest of this entry »
Oh so pretty. Oh so plain. Oscar-season filmmaker Tom Hooper (“The King’s Speech,” “Les Misérables”) relates the true, 1926-set story of a Danish man who was the world’s first to undergo sex reassignment surgery. A pair of Copenhagen painters live in seeming bliss: Eddie Redmayne (“The Theory of Everything”) is provided a more flattering backdrop for his distinctive, pale ginger beauty than “Jupiter Ascending” earlier this year, and Alicia Vikander (“Ex Machina”), as the wife who stands behind him and offers gentle nudges as he transforms into Lili Elbe, is mesmerizing, at once translucent and grounded in her flickering gestures, a perfume floating above the commonness of the storytelling. Lucinda Coxon adapted David Ebershoff’s book, and the pacific pace of the film obscures at first that the story is more about wife than husband. Read the rest of this entry »