Saturday, December 30, 2017
"With Happy End, Michael Haneke takes circuitous routes to arrive at rather simplistic observations—namely, that modern technology is a plague and that the rich are soul-sick and insulated from real-world troubles. He’s concocted a plot just busy enough to distract from these worn cynicisms and a set of characters too enigmatic to dismiss as mere chess pieces off the bat, but by the end, Happy End reveals itself as something vacuous and cold, a bizarrely seductive pseudo-thriller lacking a thoroughly worked-out payoff."
Review continues at Slant.
Tuesday, December 5, 2017
"Somewhere deep in the foggy Italian countryside, in an abandoned barn in the middle of the night, Michael Jackson's 'The Way You Make Me Feel' booms over a sound system for the dancing pleasure of a mob of leather-clad Gen X-ers. On the evidence of The Voice of the Moon, this was an aging Federico Fellini's vision of a world under the spell of globalized pop music and youth culture, where the new and the hip is a pervasive bug filling every crevice left by the old and the archaic. When this endearingly absurdist illusion manifests itself around the three-quarter mark of the film, however, it's a sense of euphoria, not cynicism, that prevails."
Full review of Fellini's swan song, now out on Blu-ray from Arrow Video, continues at Slant.
Monday, December 4, 2017
"Rooted so firmly in African-American settings that any appearance of a white person comes as a surprise (in itself a substantial political act), Everson’s films obsessively fixate on the everyday, offering immersive depictions of people working, passing time in their neighborhoods, running errands, going to the doctor, fixing their cars, and enjoying brief respites of leisure. These slivers of quotidian activity stand on their own as “complete” cinematic subjects, not mere fragments of larger narrative scaffolding, and the plainly descriptive titles of Everson’s films speak to his unwavering conviction in the seemingly undramatic minutes and seconds that mainstream cinema—or, for that matter, even a wide swatch of documentary and avant-garde cinema—routinely passes over as unworthy of prolonged attention."
The Harvard Film Archive is hosting a formidable retrospective of the films of Kevin Jerome Everson this winter. I spent my September and October consuming and researching the man's work and contributed the entirety of the program notes for the series, which can be found here. Everson's a highly unique figure. I don't think there's anyone quite like him on the contemporary scene. He makes films that almost necessitate accompanying texts to make sense of, and I hope what I've done here suffices.
Monday, November 13, 2017
"Fittingly, the perennial question of whether art and artist can possibly be detached from one another looms heavily over I Love You, Daddy, which finds C.K. alter ego Glen Topher tormented by the sudden involvement of his teenage daughter, China (Chloë Grace Moretz), with an illustrious film director, Leslie Goodwin (John Malkovich), who also happens to be a rumored sexual predator—a simultaneously cerebral and ingratiating type who splits the difference between Woody Allen and Roman Polanski. A terrific Malkovich is fully at ease under a goatee and a sarong, investing every one of Leslie's highfalutin proclamations with a strange brew of sociopathic detachment and charitable curiosity. Slyly repelling any villainous narratives surrounding himself, Leslie is defined by an inscrutability that drives C.K.'s prosperous TV writer—and us—up the walls and fuels the film's anguished interrogation."
Full review of Louis C.K.'s new (and now not-to-be-released) film I Love You, Daddy is up at Slant Magazine. Note: I filed this piece shortly before a NY Times exposé was published outing C.K. as a sexual predator. I stand by my review, but there's certainly discomfort in having it out there, knowing that in some way pieces like this enable a Hollywood system that has historically supported men like C.K.
Monday, November 6, 2017
"At once a vacation movie and a homecoming story, a coming-of-age and coming-out tale, and a study of both teen epiphanies and adult convictions, writer-director Stephen Cone’s Princess Cyd is distinguished by a dramatic complexity that would seem to run counter to its remarkably even-tempered tone. The film’s summertime plot picks up nine years after a tragic incident left Cyd Loughlin (Jessie Pinnick) without a mother—a backstory revealed obliquely in the police recording that opens the film, then detailed later in a cathartic speech delivered by Cyd in close-up to the camera. In spite of this turbulent history, however, the film’s characters exhibit few obvious traces of having persevered through unthinkable trauma, and this is the clearest indication of Cone’s maturity as a dramatist. Instead of underlining past disturbances with ornery character traits, the director examines well-adjusted individuals who’ve managed to compartmentalize their pain."
Full review continues at Slant.
Friday, November 3, 2017
"After scrupulously analyzing the rippling effects of a man’s moment of human weakness in Force Majeure, Ruben Östlund has adopted a more panoramic view for The Square, edging his latest film closer to the vignette-driven narrative terrain of 2008’s Involuntary. Juggling the handful of interconnected tribulations that overwhelm Christian (Claes Bang), the curator of a reputable Stockholm contemporary art museum, in the run-up to the opening of a new relational art exhibition called The Square, the film grabs at a pinwheel of hot-button social topics including class privilege, liberal guilt, urban poverty, viral marketing, and mutually reinforced passivity in the face of mounting inhumanity, winding up with something simultaneously overstuffed and undercooked. While Östlund’s mastery of visually amplifying social unease is still very much intact, he’s partially undone here by his own thematic ambition, which, in scene after exquisitely staged scene, threatens to put too fine a point on otherwise thrillingly indeterminate situational comedy."
My review of Ruben Östlund's very disappointing Palme D'Or winner and NYFF selection continues at Slant.
Wednesday, October 25, 2017
"'War is war. Life is life. You can’t lump them together,' says a burly construction worker early on in Valeska Grisebach’s Western, immediately invoking the dichotomy between civility and savagery at the heart of the genre referenced by the film’s title. The seasoned audience member will recognize the hollowness in such a statement, as the most ageless westerns have proven time and again that violence—physical and otherwise—is the engine of civilizing progress. And though blood is scarcely spilled in Western, the film nevertheless teems with nervous tension as a German construction crew descends on a modest Bulgarian village to conduct work on a hydroelectric power plant in the hills nearby. In a supremely understated style, Grisebach sets this all-too-modern scenario in motion and charts the ways in which power and privilege unconsciously manifest themselves, turning a boilerplate engineering initiative into a loaded culture clash."
Full review of Valeska Grisebach's recent NYFF competition title, Western, continues at Slant Magazine.