Monday, November 30, 2015

The Lady in the Van

Maggie Smith carries herself like a countess in this “mostly true story” about a homeless woman in London, while hinting at a deep well of remorse and shards of panic beneath her grand froideur. In a kind of literary bait and switch, however, The Lady in the Van isn't really about the supercilious Miss Shepherd (Smith), but the fastidious, somewhat timid, and reclusive playwright Alan Bennett (Alex Jennings), the author of this screenplay, in whose driveway Miss Shepherd parked her van for more than 15 years.

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 I want to see ... 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 I want to see in... 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 expect--or hope--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.