Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Be Sure to Share (2009) A Film by Sion Sono

"An anomalous tearjerker from Sion Sono couched between some of the director’s most outré genre eruptions, Be Sure to Share channels Sono’s own grief over the loss of his father into a modest tale of filial piety renewed against the backdrop of terminal cancer. Shiro (Akira), who’s happily employed in his late twenties and on the cusp of engagement to his mild-mannered girlfriend, Yoko (Ayumi Itô), has his world rocked when his father Tetsuji (Eiji Okada) unexpectedly keels over and is rushed to the emergency room. When the diagnosis consigns Tetsuji to the hospital bed for what will likely be a permanent stay, Shiro, recognizing that his relationship with his dad extends scarcely beyond old-fashioned tough love, endeavors to deepen their connection before it’s too late. The premise is a melodramatic softball right over the middle of the plate, the kind of idea that Hollywood would hypothetically poach and transform into two hours of sad-macho life lessons handed down from an award-sniffing veteran actor to a handsome newcomer."

My second contribution to the Sion Sono retrospective at In Review Online continues here.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Girlfriend Experience: Season 1 (2016) A TV Series by Amy Seimetz and Lodge Kerrigan

"Seimetz and Kerrigan’s first stab at mainstream television proceeds with series producer Steven Soderbergh’s 2009 feature of the same name as its narrative and aesthetic model, and they’ve clearly studied up on his coolly anthropological late style. The show’s action occurs exclusively in office buildings, apartments, hotels, and restaurants of the most exquisite architectural modernism, with immaculately dusted reflective surfaces and symmetrically arranged décor implicitly demanding that anyone within these spaces hold themselves with a comparable degree of sharpness. And true to their overseer’s contempt for perfunctory shot-reverse-shot editing patterns, Seimetz and Kerrigan, who swap helming duties on a more or less episode-by-episode basis, exhibit a fondness for covering scenes in wide establishing shots that weigh principal and background talent equally, creating a sense of ambient surveillance only compounded when one master shot is followed with yet another spatially disorienting angle from some other distant corner."

I actually wrote about TV. My full review of the excellent first season of The Girlfriend Experience continues over at Slant.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

I Am Keiko (1997) A Film by Sion Sono

"I Am Keiko is a film caught within the dimensions of its maker’s head, composed of and consumed by the limits of that brain’s capacity for thought. This is a statement of fact, not a value judgment, and a twofold statement at that. Sion Sono may have directed I Am Keiko but Keiko herself, a 22-year-old waitress grieving from the recent loss of her father to cancer, is positioned within the film’s fictional framework as the sole author of its images and structure, with the film we’re watching ostensibly a celluloid diary transmitted to us as we’re witnessing it. Keiko plainly addresses the parameters of her film in voiceover: in exactly one hour and one minute’s time—she dictates to us as we contemplate the ticking of a statically framed clock—we will finish watching a series of recordings from her daily life, over which she will exercise total freedom with regard to the content and means of expression."

Review continues at In Review Online, which is currently holding a Sion Sono retrospective.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Richard Linklater: Dream is Destiny (2016) A Film by Louis Black and Karen Bernstein

"'He kinda has to create another world to express how he feels about this one,' enthuses Boyhood star Ellar Coltrane of director Richard Linklater during the procession of admiring quotes that opens Richard Linklater: Dream Is Destiny, the third recent release to offer a peek into the life of the Texan filmmaker and the second to do so in the style of a conventional expository documentary. Such an awe-strikingly general statement (about what director could this not be said?) isn't exactly a surprise from a young actor, but it's also not really the kind of sound bite that primes a viewer to expect critical rigor, and in placing it right at the head of their film, directors Louis Black and Karen Bernstein set an unfortunate precedent that's seldom surpassed. In fact, Coltrane's quote isn't even the flimsiest inclusion: At one point, longtime Linklater editor Sandra Adair declares that “he knows his characters so well and he understands the kinds of films he's making.”

Full review at Slant.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Indignation (2016) A Film by James Schamus

"Schamus's debut feature is impressive for how its tamped-down style and the coming-of-age narrative work so confidently in tandem, with the filmmaking's sedate professionalism increasingly reflecting a milieu in which decorum is paramount, and any behavioral deviation stands out. Marcus's decision, egged on by his vigilantly cautious parents, to attend Winesburg College while his peers ship off to the Korean War is itself a deviation, and it sets into motion a slowly dawning realization for the young man to the limited pathways allowed by the conservative society he's been raised in. If Newark feels to him like a hermetically sealed mini-universe lorded over by his paranoid father (Danny Burstein) and orbiting around only the prospect of the small-time family butchering business, then Winesburg, with its mandatory sermons and rigidly compartmentalized campus social groups, is just another trap."

Full review here.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

For the Plasma (2014) A Film by Bingham Bryant and Kyle Molzan

"Among the films to emerge in recent years to exhibit the influence of Jacques Rivette, Bingham Bryant and Kyle Molzan's For the Plasma wears its reverence for the French director most transparently. It gives us a coastal Maine setting vibrating with an air of the unreal; two female protagonists who, while tasked initially with one project, gradually become embroiled in other clandestine pursuits signifying some slippery conspiracy; a chain of scenarios involving mapping, tracing, and analyzing; and well-dressed businessmen with apparent connections to a larger, just-out-of-reach intrigue. The film's two leads resemble Rivette muses of yesteryear, with frizzy-haired, monotone Rosalie Lowe evoking Bulle Ogier and the boyish Anabelle LeMieux inviting comparisons to Juliet Berto circa Out 1. Eventually, one even goes boating."

Review continues here.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Van Gogh (1991) A Film by Maurice Pialat

"In 1956's Lust for Life, Vincente Minnelli captured Vincent van Gogh's antisocial mania and his harum-scarum dealings with the mainstream art world. With 1990's Vincent & Theo, Robert Altman fixed his attention on the swirl of meretricious forces surrounding the doomed artist, and in typical Altmanesque fashion, the ways in which the talons of commerce make fools of those with integrity. French filmmaker Maurice Pialat evidently found both approaches too dramatic. His own fictionalized account of the Dutchman's waning days, 1991's frankly titled Van Gogh, leeches late-19th-century France of sensationalism, barely treating it different than he would one of the drab modern locales of his contemporary dramas. In doing so, van Gogh's neuroses and shortcomings end up looking much like those of Pialat's standard anti-hero, a man driven to let his worst self gradually overshadow his best."

Full review here.