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. Her entrancing, beautiful footage frequently features blurred images, soft colors, slow pans, slow motion, and scenes involving water, which set the stage for her concluding metaphor for the healing power of time: “Little by little, the pain turns to water, becomes memory.”

Written for The L Magazine

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.

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.

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). It also relies a bit too much on talking heads. But, as those talking heads point out more than once, violence comes in all kinds of forms, and people—-particularly women—-are victimized by it with numbing regularity. So it’s interesting to hear from a handful of women who just said no to the status quo by founding a cooperative that provides affordable and accessible self-defense training.

Written for The L Magazine

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.