Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A Master Builder

“I would like to tell you a very strange story—I mean, if you’d be willing to listen to it,” title character Halvard Solness (Wallace Shawn) says in A Master Builder, a production headed by Shawn (who wrote the screenplay from his own translation of Henrik Ibsen’s play) and his longtime collaborator Andre Gregory (who adapted it for the stage and plays another of the main roles), with the help of Jonathan Demme, who the two recruited to direct. Halvard’s line, which could easily have come from either of the two old friends’ other films, is spoken early enough to feed our hopes that A Master Builder will follow in the nimble footsteps of My Dinner with Andre and Vanya on 42nd Street, deftly exploring human nature and the nature of language—both the stories we tell and the things we leave unspoken. Unfortunately, this film is as flatfooted as the others are agile. Read more

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Land Ho!

The industrial-strength whine of an unseen engine dominates the opening moments of Land Ho! What could it be? A plane getting about to take off for some exotic place? A chainsaw preparing to rip through something--or someone? Nope, it’s a vacuum cleaner, wielded by Mitch (played by Earl Lynn Nelson, co-director Martha Stephens’ second cousin). Mitch, we soon learn, is a recently retired surgeon who’s cleaning up a bit before his favorite ex-brother-in-law, Colin (Paul Eenhoorn) comes over for dinner.

That aural punch line is a nice introduction to this deadpan but lively film, which presents everyday situations and encounters with just enough of a twist to focus our attention on them. And you’ve got to savor the small stuff, as Land Ho! gently reminds us, because those seemingly inconsequential moments make up the warp and the weft of our lives. Read more

Monday, June 16, 2014

Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2014: The Supreme Price

The recent kidnapping of hundreds of schoolgirls by the terrorist group Boko Haram highlighted many of the problems that are corroding civil society in Nigeria, including a brutal and growing disregard for women's rights and a government that is as ineffective at protecting its citizens as it is adept at punishing them. Those are the problems that Hafsat Abiola, the heroine of The Supreme Price, is devoting her life to addressing. Read more

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

100 Words on ... Elena

An homage to the beloved older sister cowriter-director Petra Costa lost when she was 7 years old, Elena is a detailed anatomy of grief—-and a poetic tribute to life, love, and the transformative power of art. Costa combines family video, photos and testimonials from her sister with new footage of herself and New York, the city where she retraces the contours of Elena’s life and explores its effect on her own. Read more

The Life and Crimes of Doris Payne

Part of the fun of movies like To Catch a Thief and Ocean's Eleven is identifying with famous actors playing thieves, thrilling at their inventiveness and insouciance. But as The Life and Crimes of Doris Payne reminds us, it's more than just lack of nerve or poor bone structure that keeps most of us from a life of heisting. Doris Payne used that Hollywood trope as a template for her life, remaking herself as a glamorous jewel thief. She plays the part well, fooling countless sales clerks over the years and always looking great—even in her mug shots. There's a backstage-pass kind of thrill in learning just how she ripped off so many high-end jewelry stores, but this somewhat hamfisted doc is strongest when exploring the flip side of that fantasy. Read more

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

We Are the Best!

A humanist with a rare sensitivity to the inner lives of children, Lukas Moodysson is one of the best living directors of young people, and he’s especially good with girls and young women. As he did in Lilya 4-Ever and Together, he gazes at the young people in We Are the Best! eye to eye even when they are all but invisible to those around them, capturing the awkwardness and innocent sincerity of youth without a trace of condescension or sentimentality. But, like all true humanists, he knows that loving human frailty and finding humor in it are not mutually exclusive. Even as we empathize with the protagonists of We Are the Best! we also laugh at them--and the laughter is energizing, because there’s nothing mean-spirited about it. It’s just another way of acknowledging the humanity we share with three teenage girls in 1982 Stockholm. Read more

100 Words on Rock, Rage & Self-Defense

This documentary by first-time filmmakers feels as rough-edged and sometimes unwieldy as Home Alive, the Seattle collective it documents, which initially made decisions only by consensus (“a gigantic pain in the ass,” says one of the founders). Read more

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Horses of God

Inspired by five suicide bombings that took place on the same day in Casablanca on May 16, 2003, Nabil Ayouch's Horses of God lets us see how young suicide bombers—-"horses of God," as the man in charge of their mission calls them—-might deserve our pity. When we first meet sensitive Yachine (Abdelhakim Rachid), his charismatic big brother Hamid (Abdelilah Rachid), and his vulnerable friend Nabil (Hamza Souidek), they're more or less raising themselves and each other in Sidi Moumen, a slum just outside Casablanca. Read more

Monday, April 28, 2014

More Than the Rainbow

The photographers featured throughout Dan Wechsler's More than the Rainbow are a pretty scruffy, competitive bunch, sometimes supportive of one another, but often critical too-—and not just of its main subject, New York City street photog Matt Weber. Julio Mitchell, for instance, says he doesn't find most of Cartier-Bresson's moments decisive—-just trivial. "Maybe that's why he's so popular," he sniffs. Their jostling opinions make for some interesting exchanges, as a handful of photographers, plus a few critics and other tastemakers, talk about things like the merits of film versus digital and the importance of finding one's voice. Most people are interviewed one-on-one by the filmmaker, but segments are edited deftly together to make the film feel like a good conversation, moving seamlessly from one topic to the next with the unselfconscious ease of a good dinner party. Read more

The One I Love

The One I Love, which played at this year's Tribeca Film Festival, is a likeable falling-out-of-love story with a clever but somewhat underdeveloped premise. Ethan (Mark Duplass) and Sophie (Elisabeth Moss) are trying to salvage their marriage, though all the talk just seems to be making things worse. Then their therapist (Ted Danson) sends them to an idyllic retreat in Ojai, where the grounds are gorgeous, the weather is sunny, and Sophie and Ethan have a beautiful main house and a guest house all to themselves. At first, the place seems to be rejuvenating their relationship, but they soon realize that all the fun they thought they were having together actually wasn't with one another; it was with two other people who look and act almost exactly like they do, only a little better. Read more