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

Burnt


















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

Suffragette












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

Room












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













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.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Dukhtar












Based on a true story, writer-director Afia Nathaniel's Dukhtar is an unsentimental tribute to the transformative power of maternal love. A tribal leader in the northern reaches of Pakistan agrees to marry his 10-year-old daughter, Zainab (Saleha Aref), to Tor Gul (Abdullah Jan), the middle-aged head of a neighboring tribe, in order to settle a feud. Zainab is far too innocent to comprehend what's in store, but her mother, Allah Rakhi (Samiya Mumtaz), knows what kind of wall her vivacious daughter is about to crash into, since her own marriage at age 15 was, she says, when “my story ended.”

Friday, October 2, 2015

Don't Blink: Robert Frank














Don't Blink: Robert Frank played in this year's New York Film Festival.

What Robert Frank's The Americans did for the nation, presenting the post-war United States with an X-ray of its soul, the free-form, intensely personal films he started making a few years later did for New York City. Watching a charismatic character in one of those movies in Don't Blink: Robert Frank, the photographer-filmmaker says, “I don't know people like them anymore.” Maybe not, but he seems to have known just about every artist who passed through mid-century New York, and he distilled the rebelliously ragged genius of people like a young Allen Ginsberg and a skeletal William Burroughs in films like Pull My Daisy and One Hour. As a result, Laura Israel's documentary is a portrait not just of the Swiss-born artist, but of his adopted city, especially during the Beat era that was his heyday.