Thursday, November 12, 2015

Interview: Christopher Abbott

With roles in Nurse Jackie, Martha Marcy May Marlene, and A Most Violent Year already under his belt, not to mention his most famous part to date, as Marnie's initially lovesick, then over-it boyfriend Charlie on Girls, Christopher Abbott appears to be as talented at picking interesting projects as he is at acting in them. His latest film is writer-director Josh Mond's James White, an astute character study of a young man pushed to his limits, for better and for worse, by the death of his father and the rapid decline of his cancer-stricken mother. In his first starring role, Abbott runs a gauntlet of emotions as the title character, who lives, as his mother warns him, too much on the high or low end of the emotional scale and not enough in the middle. I met up with him this week to talk about the film, which he calls a “personal project” for both Mond and himself. Low-key but engaged, he talked about his work and his interest in what makes people tick with unpretentious sincerity.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

100 Words on ... Moana (with sound)

The measured pace and muted drama of this partly staged 1926 documentary mirror the rhythms of the lives it observes. In a probably somewhat idealized snapshot of an obsolete culture, co-directors (and husband-wife team) Robert and Frances Flaherty structured a loose story around the everyday activities of a few photogenic residents of a small Samoan island town. Depicting some recently abandoned customs and costumes as if they were still in use, the Flahertys and their Samoan collaborators capture in fascinating detail things like snaring a wild hog and creating a garment from a strip of mulberry bark. Dialogue and ambient sound recorded by the Flaherty’s daughter Monica on the island five decades later was seamlessly integrated into the originally silent film in this newly restored version, augmenting the vitality of the unshowily beautiful and enviably well-balanced way of life it depicts. Written for Brooklyn Magazine

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The 33

The saga of the Chilean copper miners trapped when the Mina San José collapsed in 2010 was mesmerizing for the millions who watched it unfold. Not only did all 33 of the men who were working nearly half a mile underground survive there for more than two months, but, in a miracle of sorts, an international team of engineers managed to drill a narrow hole through tons of rock to hit the sweet spot where the men were hidden, without further destabilizing the precarious mine. The machine that hauled the men up to the surface looked endearingly crude, like a man-sized vacuum tube or a clunky Dr. Who time-travel machine, and their reunions with their thrilled loved ones supplied a whole gaggle of blockbuster-worthy happy endings.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words

Stig Björkman's Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words highlights the potent dichotomies—a deep-seated sense of melancholy and an equally strong joie de vivre, watchful shyness and magnetic charisma—that, combined with the Swedish-born Ingrid Bergman's relatively unmediated beauty, made the actress luminescent both on and off screen. It also anatomizes the contradictions—a determination to lead an authentic, earthy life versus a love of Hollywood-style glamour, and a strong nesting instinct contrasted with a compulsion to uproot herself every decade or so—that made her a dearly loved, but mostly absent, presence in her own family life.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

What looks good ... December 2015


A Royal Night Out

Before: Because if this is half as charming as Roman Holiday, it will be worth seeing. And because Bel Powley, who plays Princess Margaret, was wonderful in Diary of a Teenage Girl, and the rest of the cast looks good too. After: Oh well, so much for that. It's mildly entertaining, if you're in the mood for something light and sweet, but Roman Holiday it ain't.

What looks good... November 2015

When people find out that you write about movies, the first thing they want to know is what's playing now or opening soon that's worth seeing. So I often find myself scrolling through a couple of lists I keep in Evernote: one of movies I've seen, the other of upcoming films that look interesting. I create the second list each month when Ed Gonzalez at Slant asks his reviewers which movies they'll want to write about for the month starting six or eight weeks out.

I thought I'd start posting my list of upcoming movies here, as a way of keeping track of the movies I like--or expect to like. This month’s list is long, since a lot of good stuff always gets rolled out at this time of year, and it all opens here in NYC.  If I review one of these, or interview someone attached to it, I'll link to my piece from this list when it's published. If I don't write about it, I may add a sentence or two about the movie after I've seen it.

Hope this helps you figure out what you're interested in seeing. Are there other movies you're looking forward to?

In Jackson Heights

Ok, I've seen this now, and I'm glad I did. I wanted more on some of the cultures that make Jackson Heights one of the most multicultural neighborhoods not just in the city but in the nation (where were the Indians and Pakistanis?), but it's very good on Jackson Heights' LGBT history and on what immigrants bring to this country, the price they too often have to pay to get/stay here, and how the real estate investors behind so-called Business Improvement Districts are attempting to gentrify and homogenize this area just as they have other parts of New York. As always, Frederick Wiseman documents things that would have happened without him, and he finds plenty of evidence of a strong neighborhood with a proud history, which a lot of smart activists are fighting to keep affordable and livable for the people who made it what it is.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Sand Dollars

With the plaintive ballad that bookends Sand Dollars, bachata singer Ramón Cordero could be speaking for seventy-something Anne (Geraldine Chaplin). She's fallen for a young Dominican girl, Noeli (Yanet Mojica), who makes her living from the gifts and tips she gleans from tourists like Anne, engaging in a less overtly mercenary version of the “girlfriend experience.” As Anne wanders the streets of Las Terrenas, a Dominican seaside resort town, pining for her elusive love, Cordero croons: “I live in grief because I don't see you here.” Meanwhile, Noeli and her boyfriend, Menor (Ricardo Ariel Toribio), suffer the pain of another kind of thwarted love, more often triggered by seeing than by missing one another: Any time they run into each other in their favorite nightclub, Noeli is almost sure to be with one of her meal tickets, around whom the two pretend to be brother and sister.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

100 Words on ... The House of the Devil

Set in the mid-80s, with pitch-perfect clothes, hair and props, The House of the Devil earns its screams with integrity, building slowly to a strobe-lit, blood-slimed, twist-ending final few minutes. Except for those last few minutes and the first shocking event, which happens about halfway through, our growing sense of dread is fed mainly by relatively subtle cues, like a camera that keeps pushing slowly in to pick out a suspicious detail; the creepy voice of Tom Noonan on the phone; or his even creepier behavior in person. Other than that, this is a largely realistic slice of likeable college student Samantha’s (Jocelin Donahue) life, culminating in the night when her loyal best friend Megan (Greta Gerwig) drives her far into the country for a babysitting gig Sam doesn’t think she can afford to say no to, though no-bullshit Megan keeps begging her to. Written for Brooklyn Magazine

Thursday, October 22, 2015


Adam Jones (Bradley Cooper) is a bad-boy chef trying to make good. You can tell he's bad because of his six-pack abs, movie-star shades, and leather jacket—and because we're forever being told about all the drugs, drinking, and women he used to do. As for the good part, he's clean and sober as the movie opens, determined to take over the kitchen of a fancy hotel restaurant and win his third Michelin star. (I wonder if he'll succeed?) But first he must round up his staff, recruiting a series of flattered and eager young men and one recalcitrant beauty, Helene (Sienna Miller).

Wednesday, October 21, 2015


Women are still far from having achieved equal rights almost everywhere in the world, but think how much worse we would be without the right to vote—those of us who have that right, that is. We make up half of the world's population, yet some of us are still denied the vote, and those who have it won it only through great struggle—and, as title cards at the end of Sarah Gavron's Suffragette point out, shockingly recently in many nations.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Interview: Sebastian Silva

Writer-director Sebastián Silva makes smart, funny movies about the messy business of human relationships, putting his characters into complicated situations that often feel both deadly serious and slightly absurd. His films explore the rifts caused by money (or the lack thereof) and social class, from the upper-middle-class urban Chilean family and their quietly rebellious servant in The Maid, to the happily scruffy, arty/intellectual aging parents and their resentful, more materialistic daughter in Old Cats, to the obnoxious American tourists in search of an exotic high and the rural Chileans who tolerate them graciously in Crystal Fairy.

Shot in Silva's apartment in Fort Greene, and featuring his own furnishings and cat, his latest, Nasty Baby, concerns a happy couple, Freddy (Silva) and Mo (Tunde Adebimpe), trying to have a baby with their close friend, Polly (Kristen Wiig). For much of the film, their main problem seems to be Polly's inability to conceive. Then a running battle Freddy wages with The Bishop (Reg E. Cathey), a mentally unstable neighbor, escalates into a shocking third-act showdown, and a charming comedy of manners—albeit an unusually perceptive and realistic one—warps into a deeply unsettling morality tale.

On the eve of Nasty Baby's release, I spoke to a warm, seemingly unguarded Silva about how he manipulates his audience, what makes Wiig's sense of humor so special, and why it's hard to kill a hipster. Read the interview in Slant Magazine

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Miles Ahead

Miles Ahead played in this year's New York Film Festival.

Like the unruly spawn of The End of the Tour and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Miles Ahead is a fictionalized biography of a real artist that pairs its subject with a journalist turned sidekick of sorts. Unlike The End of the Tour's logorrheic David Foster Wallace, Miles Ahead's Miles Davis (Don Cheadle) is tight-lipped and enigmatic, too cool to ever spill his guts—except maybe literally, in one of the comically inept gunfights he keeps getting into. Instead of talking to Rolling Stone freelancer Dave Brill (Ewan McGregor), he makes him his wingman on a series of quixotic quests, pursuing a tape of the only music he's recorded during a long fallow period; the $20,000 he says his thuggish producer, Harper (Michael Stuhlbarg), owes him; and the mounds of cocaine that fuel his erratic, often violent, possibly paranoid behavior.

Sunday, October 11, 2015


Like the novel on which its screenplay is based, Lenny Abrahamson's Room is a fictional high-wire act. Filtered through the viewpoint of an intelligent five-year-old boy, a story that might easily have been sensationalized or made saccharine—the imprisonment of a kidnapped, sexually enslaved young woman and the son she bore and is raising in captivity—becomes a tough but tender tribute to the creative power of maternal love.

Thursday, October 8, 2015


Brooklyn played in this year's New York Film Festival.

A sentiment-rich, resolutely life-sized portrait of a relatively unexceptional young woman, director John Crowley's Brooklyn, based on the novel by Colm Tóibín, concerns the random twists and turns that can determine the course of an ordinary life. It's also a timely reminder of the fact that a life is shifted off its axis whenever someone is forced to emigrate to a foreign country.

The Measure of a Man

The Measure of a Man played in this year's New York Film Festival. 

Like last year’s Two Days, One Night, The Measure of a Man is a triumph of realistic cinema, and a dirge for a blue-collar European worker left stranded after a once-solid job has melted away. Co-writer/director Stéphane Brizé often thrusts us into situations without any prior exposition, then gives the scene plenty of room to unspool as we figure out what’s going on and soak in the atmosphere and emotions. He starts the film in the midst of an intense session between a frustrated Thierry (Vincent Lindon) and an apologetic job counselor. Thierry, we learn, is running out of both money and employment options after being out of work for more than a year, and he has just found out that he wasted months on training that the counselor now admits was useless.