Sunday, December 4, 2016

Walking Dead recap, Season 7 Episode 7, Sing Me a Song

The Hitchockian opening scene of tonight's episode of The Walking Dead, “Sing Me a Song,” makes clever use of Michonne's (Danai Gurira) inscrutability. Walking down an initially empty country road and whistling “The Farmer in the Dell” to attract her prey, Michonne is the epitome of the existentially alone western hero she personifies more than anyone else in Rick's group as she sets a walker-lined trap whose purpose is disturbingly opaque. The close-up of the sword and walkie-talkie she leaves behind as she drags a body down the road is a particularly unsettling bit of misdirection: Is she planning to commit suicide by walker? And even if she's doing something else, like setting things up to make it look as if walkers got her so she can go underground, how long can she survive without that sword?

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Walking Dead recap, Season 7 Episode 6, Swear

The beginning of “Swear” echoes the ending of “Go Getters,” in which Jesus and Carl exchanged a long look in the back of the Savior truck they'd separately boarded, in a faceoff between the old and new world order. This time, Cyndie (Sydney Park) is the pragmatic but pacifist adult trying to play by the old rules, while Rachel (Mimi Kirkland) is the child young enough to have adapted without question to brutal post-apocalyptic survivalism. As in the last episode, the child's point of view seems to be in the ascendancy. Cyndie's status as an adult and the granddaughter of one of her group's leaders would have made her an undisputed authority figure in the pre-walker world, but when Cyndie and Rachel find Tara (Alanna Masterson) on the beach, Cyndie's humane impulse to spare Tara's life just barely prevails over Rachel's grim insistence on shooting the stranger on sight, as instructed.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Walking Dead Recap Season 7 Episode 5, "Go Getters"

One of the things that has kept me loyal to The Walking Dead over the years is its matter-of-fact feminism. Some of the best fighters and most strategic thinkers in Rick's (Andrew Lincoln) gender-neutral meritocracy have always been women, and they were usually toughened up by the kinds of trials that all too often turn women into skilled survivors, like the spousal abuse Carol endured or the loss of an adored child that galvanized Michonne (Danai Gurira), a somewhat passive and subordinate housewife, into becoming a latter-day ninja. Even Paula, the Savior who captured and nearly killed Maggie (Lauren Cohan) and Carol in season six, gained our respect—and a soul-sister acknowledgement from Carol—for her focused ferocity after we learned that she had been a mousy, abused secretary in the pre-walker world who seized on the apocalypse as her chance to stop eating so much as one more morsel of paternalistic shit, even from her own men.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Rules Don't Apply

Like Jonathan Demme's Melvin and Howard, Warren Beatty's Rules Don't Apply pairs an elderly, reclusive Howard Hughes with a much younger person who's far from wealthy. But while Melvin and Howard's umami mix of poignant sweetness and pungent unpredictability accentuate both the complicated, often comic humanity of its main characters and the increasingly desperate unreality of the post-post-war American dream, Rules Don't Apply turns nearly every one of its characters and situations into tropes. Perhaps because Beatty grew up in the mid-century Hollywood the film is set in, his portrayal of Hughes has the overly polished feel of an anecdote that's been told too often.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Asperger’s, the MTA, and the Criminal Justice System: Interview with Off The Rails director Adam Irving

Off the Rails, which opens November 18 at the Metrograph, is the story of Darius McCollum, a winningly friendly New Yorker with Asperger’s syndrome. McCollum’s obsessive love of the the subway led him to learn all about how its trains and buses operate. At times, he even managed to get behind the controls of one, happily and conscientiously guiding it through its route until he was caught and arrested for impersonating an MTA employee. At first the documentary appears to be a quirky imposter story, but it turns out to be a bit of an imposter itself. You might think of it as a case study, illuminating our educational and criminal justice systems’ tragic inability to provide properly for people with special needs by tracing one of the lives that has been permanently derailed by their hamfisted mismanagement.

I caught up by phone last month with director Adam Irving, an LA-based filmmaker with a master’s in cinema studies from NYU. Irving talked about what makes New York City a worse place than most to get arrested, why he and his editor decided not to include any discussion of the role Darius’ race likely played in the criminalization of his neurological condition, and the gratifying reaction to his first feature.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

The Walking Dead recap, Season 7 episode 4: Service

“Service” approaches war and other forms of carnage, which appear more and more to be the true subject of The Walking Dead, from a new direction, focusing on the stockpiling of weapons. Its two parallel themes, exploring who controls those weapons and the shifting allegiances within Alexandria, may explain the extra length of this episode, which actually felt less repetitive than many hour-long episodes from the show's past seasons that have pounded home the same point one or two times too many.

Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) saunters through the gates a graceless winner, still marinating in douchebag brio, bullying and terrorizing his opponents, in part by issuing constant threats of violence—though thankfully his only victim this time around is a walker. Ever the sexual predator, he slavers after Maggie, and he spews casually entitled hate speech like his homophobic aside to Rick: “In case you haven't caught on, I just slipped my dick down your throat and you thanked me for it.” All the more reason to root for Rick's diverse group to win their inevitable war with The Saviors—especially if they have the sense to entrust that inclusive, humanist, and surprisingly chill black guy (I mean Ezekiel, of course) with the day-to-day governing.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Interview: Isabelle Huppert on Elle and Things to Come

Isabelle Huppert was hours into a series of back-to-back interviews when we met in New York’s Regency Hotel earlier this month, yet there was no hint of exhaustion in her intelligent, lively gaze, or the precise, often detailed answers she offered up between sips of coffee and bites of food. Like most of the characters she plays, she was magnetic in part because she appeared to be so self-possessed, forming opinions about other people without much caring what they may think of her. At the same time, she was kinder and warmer than her characters usually are, and her sly sense of humor hinted at an ironic perspective that may keep her from taking anything—including the hype that’s been heaped on her over the years—all that seriously.

The hype has been piled high for good reason. One of her generation’s greatest female actors, Huppert is also one of the most awarded in her native France, where she has been nominated more than any other for the César, the country’s national film award. In a career that spans well over 100 films, she’s played a wide range of characters, but nearly all share the quiet, near-feral intensity and steely resolve that have led many of the best directors of her time to cast her in their films—and often, as she pointed out on the day we met, to make her character the center around which the entire plot turns.

The Walking Dead Recap Season 7, Episode 3, "The Cell"

The latest colony explored on The Walking Dead is Negan's dispiriting dictatorship, a world of gunmetal grays and muted greens and blues whose residents exude an air of beaten-dog obedience. Angela Kang's screenplay efficiently establishes both the riches that are available to the Santuary's elite and the price paid by one and all for their relative safety and comfort.

The stage setting starts with the opening scene, in which Dwight (Austin Amelio) moves through the compound to build a sandwich, taking bread from a group of chefs in a big kitchen, adding mustard so unnaturally yellow it can't be homemade, and passing by a bunch of chickens to get tomatoes and lettuce from a garden. The room where Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) receives people is a time capsule from the pre-walker world, with its comfy armchair, bookshelf, and matching kitchen cabinets. Luxuries like booze and cigarettes appear to be plentiful, at least for Negan and his inner circle.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Interview: Melanie Lynskey and Linas Phillips on Rainbow Time

Rainbow Time is about Shonzi, a developmentally delayed middle-aged man who spars and sparks with his neurotypical brother Todd (Timm Sharp) and Todd’s girlfriend Lindsay, challenging them and their relationship by crossing boundaries in ways that are sometimes disturbing, sometimes funny, and sometimes both at once. The film opens today at Brooklyn’s new Alamo Drafthouse, where I talked with writer-director Linas (prounounced LINN-us) Phillips, who plays Shonzi, and Melanie Lynskey, who plays Lindsay. The film is executive produced by Jay and Mark Duplass, and Jay plays a small role in it.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

The Walking Dead, Season 7, Episode 2: The Well

Given The Walking Dead's fondness for settling every conflict with a bloody fight to the death (or undeath), I suspect the show's creators arranged for Carol (Melissa McBride) and Morgan (Lennie James) to encounter the Kingdom mainly so its residents can team up later with Alexandria and the Hilltop against the Saviors in a war to end all wars. But even if that's the ultimate goal, watching the two most pacifist members of Rick's group explore this seemingly humanistic new world provided a much-needed respite from the nihilistic violence of the seventh season's premiere episode—and a welcome change of focus, from how to merely survive in a post-apocalyptic world to how to live.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Gimme Danger

As uninterested as usual in preaching to the uncool, Jim Jarmusch aims Gimme Danger straight at the hearts of those who already love, or at least appreciate, his good friend Iggy Pop. The filmmaker declares at the start of the documentary that Iggy and the Stooges were “the greatest rock and roll band ever,” but makes little effort to back up that claim, never interviewing critics or other musicians for officially sanctioned opinions or offering much in the way of analysis about what made the group's music so special.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Walking Dead Recap: Season 7, Episode 1, The Day Will Come When You Won't Be

My husband used to fret that I was convinced civilization was about to collapse because I watched zombie movies, but he had it backwards. Having grown up in 1950s and '60s Detroit, I saw firsthand how fragile even apparently solid social infrastructures can be, and ours seem particularly vulnerable these days. To pick just three existential threats out of a very large hat, hackers are poised to shut down the Internet, a foreign dictator plays chicken with nukes while an American presidential candidate keeps asking why we don't use ours, and a global refugee crisis makes homelessness in New York City look manageable by comparison. That's why I love stories about the zombie apocalypse: They're a safe way to explore my fears about the breakdown of society, and to imagine how we might rebuild our lives and create communities after a major disaster.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

New York Film Festival 2016 Interview: Laura Dern

Laura Dern likes to tell the story of how, when she was a teenager, Martin Scorsese complimented her for having already started to build a body of work—a feat, as he pointed out, that directors often accomplish but actors rarely do. Since then, she's built an impressive portfolio of complicated women who experience life deeply. She's probably best known for Jurassic Park's highly competent Ellie, but her most memorable characters are those, like Amy Jellicoe from HBO's Enlightened, whose volcanic inner lives keep spitting up burning lava onto the character herself and anyone who gets close to her.

I spoke to Dern earlier this month about her latest role in Kelly Reichardt's Certain Women, a quietly bubbling cauldron of subterranean emotion that follows three tangentially related female characters. One of those women is Dern's Laura Wells, a lawyer with a troubled client (played by Jared Harris) whose life goes completely off the rails after he suffers an on-the-job injury his employer won't compensate him for. 

In person as on screen, Dern's warm, expressive voice conveys layers of feeling. She takes her time as she answers questions, her alert attentiveness a form of grace that makes the person across the table from her feel fully engaged with. She talked about, among other things, why she loves playing “difficult” women, what has changed in her personal and professional lives since she turned 40, and how Reichardt helped her overcome the challenge of playing a character whose emotions are hidden even from herself.

I read or watched a lot of your interviews in preparation for this. You always give very thoughtful answers and even seem to enjoy yourself.
That's nice to hear! Thank you. I've never had anyone say that to me. You know, I love movies, and my parents [Bruce Dern and Diane Ladd] love movies, and I was raised with a real love of being able to connect on a love of film. Some of my parents' dearest friends have been journalists and film critics. Sheila Benson at the Los Angeles Times was one of my first godmother-advocate supporters of the choices I was making and of my staying true to loving filmmakers and participating in a vision.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Miss Hokusai

“This life is nothing special, but we're enjoying it,” says O-Ei (voiced by Anne Watanabe), a young woman who apprenticed under her well-known painter father in early-19th-century Japan, at the end of the animated biography Miss Hokusai. That sentiment is probably true of most of us, yet when we're telling stories, we tend to magnify the more sensational bits. Not so with Keiichi Hara's quietly lyrical film, which condenses everyday interactions, memories, and dreams in O-Ei's life into a potent mix of all the major ingredients of a well-lived life, including family love, companionship, humor, sex, work, natural and manmade beauty, and sorrow.

New York Film Festival 2016: The Unknown Girl

The Unknown Girl plays October 12 and 13 as part of the main slate of the 54th New York Film Festival. Sundance Selects will open the film theatrically in 2017. 

An excellent doctor, Jenny Davin (Adèle Haenel) pays close attention to her patients, treating them with a respectful warmth that puts them at ease. What’s more, she’s unafraid of standing up to disreputable patients who try to bully her into falsifying medical records so they can shirk work. The same skills that make her a good doctor also make her a gifted amateur detective when an African immigrant who had knocked at her clinic door after hours one night turns up dead the next day.