Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Meet Me in St. Louis















Judy Garland is at her soft-eyed, honey-voiced, urgently empathic best in this story of an upper-middle-class Smith family in St. Louis in the year leading up to the 1904 World’s Fair. But the film’s greatness comes mainly from its detailed and relatable depiction of the emotional ups and downs of three of the family’s daughters: Rose (Lucille Bremer), a proper beauty on the brink of marriage; the emotionally labile Esther (Garland), who’s nursing an enormous crush on the boy next door; and young Tootie (Margaret O’Brien), a strongwilled tomboy who gives the film its most wrenching scene when she knocks the heads off all her snowmen, heartbroken by the thought of the family leaving their beloved city (Dad’s been offered a promotion that would involve a move to New York). Director Vincent Minnelli dances nimbly on the line between comedy and drama, keeping the camera and the story moving as he cuts from one member of the family to another.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Hollars












In John Krasinski's second feature as a director, no sooner have we met Hollar family matriarch Sally (Margo Martindale), her perpetually verklempt husband, Donald (Richard Jenkins), and Ron (Sharlto Copley), the grown son living in their basement, than Sally collapses and is diagnosed with an advanced brain tumor. John (Krasinski), the Hollars' other son, a depressed graphic novelist trying to make it in New York, is summoned home and soon joined by his very pregnant girlfriend, Rebecca (Anna Kendrick). The rest of The Hollars observes the family members as they coalesce around Sally or splinter into smaller groups or pairs to conduct charged conversations about their work lives, their love lives, and their relationships with one another.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Hands of Stone












Considered one of the greatest boxers of all time, the Panamanian-born Roberto Duran punched so hard that he earned the nickname Manos de Piedra. The man was known for his iron will, never quitting and almost never losing, yet he infamously blew his hard-won reputation by walking away in the middle of a fight to defend his welterweight title. His story has all the makings of a fascinating film, but Hands of Stone isn't it.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Interrupters












The Interrupters will screen on August 19 for opening night of the Museum of the Moving Image’s Kartemquin Films retrospective; Steve James will be on hand for the 162-minute original cut of the film, which was never released theatrically.

In the five years since I first saw Steve James’ indelible documentary, I’ve never heard about another killing in Southside Chicago without thinking about The Interrupters’ stars, Ameena Matthews, Cobe Williams and Eddie Bocanegra. Former gangbangers who abhor the violence they perpetrated and bear the scars of the harm done to them, they are now “violence interrupters” with a program that treats violence as a socially transmitted disease rather than an individual failure. The interrupters aim to disrupt the vicious cycle of shootings in their city by helping their neighbors manage their emotions and learn new patterns of behavior, choosing not to react to insults and attacks with more of the same. James’ tiny crew (three people, including him) anatomizes Chicago’s violence pandemic close-up and from many angles, attending monthly meetings where the interrupters strategize and compare notes, learning about the three leads’ backgrounds and the paths they found out of the mayhem, and tracking their fitful progress and their enormous outpouring of effort and love as they work with several of their cases. If Chicago’s violence epidemic is ever cured, it will surely be largely through the heroic interventions of people like these. Written for Brooklyn Magazine

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Florence Foster Jenkins












Florence Foster Jenkins was a mid-20th-century New York socialite who became known for her generosity to musicians and musical institutions, then grew notorious for the abysmal singing voice she insisted on sharing, through concerts and recordings, with an increasingly amused public. Florence Foster Jenkins, the latest take on her life (the most recent before that being Marguerite), is the story of a long con told from the point of view of the perpetrator and her enablers. That technique worked well in Penny Lane's recent Nuts!, where it set up a second-act reversal that revealed the dark truths behind the triumphal myth that film's subject had created around himself. But director Stephen Frears and screenwriter Nicolas Martin construct a suspiciously simple and sympathetic story about Jenkins (Meryl Streep) and play it straight through (though not entirely straight, as a streak of broad comedy runs through the film), leaving audiences to wonder about the very things that make Jenkins's story intriguing in the first place.