Monday, September 29, 2014

Last Hijack

Last Hijack is playing on October 3 at the New York Film Festival.

A recent wave of films about Somali pirates cleaves to the pattern one culture usually follows when incorporating stories from another into film. The first generation of features dramatizes a phenomenon from the point of view of the culture that produces the films; the second looks at it from the perspective of the culture in which the story is rooted. It usually takes years for that cycle to play out (just think how long it took mainstream American movies to explore race relations from an African-American perspective), but the Somali pirate movies emerging from the West have condensed it into just a couple of years. In 2012 and 2013, A Hijacking, Captain Phillips, Stolen Seas, and The Project adopted the perspective of white people, most of them Europeans and Americans, who were being held hostage by, negotiating with, or trying to outwit pirates. This year's Last Hijack, like another 2014 documentary, Fishing Without Nets, constructs its narrative around one of the pirates, focusing not so much on what he does as on why.


Whiplash played September 28 and 29 at the New York Film Festival.

Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), a teacher at a prestigious Manhattan music school, is a sociopath with a mission. Obsessed with the story of how drummer Jo Jones supposedly inspired a young Charlie Parker to practice harder by throwing a cymbal at his head after he messed up onstage, Fletcher casts himself in the role of mentor as tormentor, bullying his students ruthlessly in the belief that shaming them into relentless practice is the only way to bring out whatever greatness they may possess. Or so he tells Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller), a drum student whose hunger to excel has become tied up in a need to win Fletcher’s approval, making him particularly vulnerable to the teacher’s taunts and mind games.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Homeland Season 4

The death of Damian Lewis's Nicolas Brody at the end of the last season left Homeland's creators free to reboot, and its fans free to hope that it would ditch the melodrama—from Carrie (Claire Danes) and Brody's doomed love affair to the tiresomely detailed travails of his wife and daughter—that had turned the series into a high-class soap opera. Sure enough, like a le CarrĂ© novel once again, Homeland grants what feels like an insider's perspective on espionage and the politics behind it, offering up characters whose often shifting or hidden loyalties make it hard to know who to trust and exploring complicated issues that muddy the morality of the decisions made by Carrie and her colleagues.

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Wonders

The Wonders is playing on October 3 and 4 in the New York Film Festival.

Alice Rohrwacher returned to her hometown for The Wonders, an emotionally rich tale about the countryside between Umbria-Lazio and Tuscany and the people who live there. Strong forces, epitomized by an annual TV contest called "Countryside Wonders" that awards people who "represent traditional values," want to turn the region into what amounts to an Etruscan theme park, encouraging farmers to conform to an image of the past as constricting as the campy wigs, gowns, and headdresses worn by the contest's hostess, Milly Cantena (Monica Bellucci). But people like the freethinking family of beekeepers at the center of the story have other ideas.

Monday, September 22, 2014


Misunderstood is playing on September 27 and 29 in the New York Film Festival.

In her directing as in her acting, Asia Argento exudes a wounded intensity that brings to mind a very young child who doesn't know how to get the attention she craves except by acting out. Misunderstood, her third feature as a director, is only slightly dependent on the self-pity that informed her last effort, The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things, but it feels similarly airless. You never question the authenticity of the emotions, but you may get tired of the operatic way in which they're expressed, and of the solipsism that exempts the main character from any attempt to understand others while bemoaning the fact that no one loves or understands her.


Pride is an act of reverse alchemy, turning something beautiful and rare into depressingly ordinary dreck. In 1984, a handful of gay people in London formed a group, Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM), to raise money for striking miners in the Dulais, Wales during Margaret Thatcher's icily anti-labor reign. It was a visionary response to a grave threat—both to the miners and, as an LGSM member noted in a documentary made at the time, all the other unions the Thatcher regime would surely go after if they beat this one—yet the film it has spawned is as formulaically cheery, didactically "uplifting," and fundamentally false as a Disney sports movie, bloated with swelling music, healing hugs and hearty handshakes, suspiciously eloquent impromptu speeches, and tight-lipped expressions of bigotry smacked down by smugly delivered liberal pieties.

Monday, September 8, 2014

My Old Lady

My Old Lady is basically a three-character play without a single character you can believe in. Mathias Gold (Kevin Kline), a penniless failed novelist and three-time divorcé, arrives in Paris to sell the stately apartment his father has just bequeathed to him. But he can't take possession, he learns, as long as Mathilde Girard (Maggie Smith), his elderly tenant, is alive, because she sold the apartment to his father under France's viager system, in which a buyer gets a property in exchange for a low down payment and a commitment to pay the seller a monthly fee for the rest of his or her life. Mathias makes an uncomfortable and highly unlikely arrangement with Mathilde, settling into an empty room in the apartment to wait for her to die. When he's not learning about her past or haranguing her about his, he's selling Mathilde's furniture piece by piece behind her back to finance his stay, or trying to find a way to dislodge her and her daughter, Chloe (Kristin Scott Thomas), a tart-tongued woman who takes an instant dislike to him.