Sunday, October 30, 2016

Walking Dead recap: Season 7, Episode 2: "The Well"












Given The Walking Dead's fondness for settling every conflict with a bloody fight to the death (or undeath), I suspect the show's creators arranged for Carol (Melissa McBride) and Morgan (Lennie James) to encounter the Kingdom mainly so its residents can team up later with Alexandria and the Hilltop against the Saviors in a war to end all wars. But even if that's the ultimate goal, watching the two most pacifist members of Rick's group explore this seemingly humanistic new world provided a much-needed respite from the nihilistic violence of the seventh season's premiere episode—and a welcome change of focus, from how to merely survive in a post-apocalyptic world to how to live.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Gimme Danger












As uninterested as usual in preaching to the uncool, Jim Jarmusch aims Gimme Danger straight at the hearts of those who already love, or at least appreciate, his good friend Iggy Pop. The filmmaker declares at the start of the documentary that Iggy and the Stooges were “the greatest rock and roll band ever,” but makes little effort to back up that claim, never interviewing critics or other musicians for officially sanctioned opinions or offering much in the way of analysis about what made the group's music so special.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Walking Dead recap: Season 7, Episode 1, "The Day Will Come When You Won't Be"












My husband used to fret that I was convinced civilization was about to collapse because I watched zombie movies, but he had it backwards. Having grown up in 1950s and '60s Detroit, I saw firsthand how fragile even apparently solid social infrastructures can be, and ours seem particularly vulnerable these days. To pick just three existential threats out of a very large hat, hackers are poised to shut down the Internet, a foreign dictator plays chicken with nukes while an American presidential candidate keeps asking why we don't use ours, and a global refugee crisis makes homelessness in New York City look manageable by comparison. That's why I love stories about the zombie apocalypse: They're a safe way to explore my fears about the breakdown of society, and to imagine how we might rebuild our lives and create communities after a major disaster.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

New York Film Festival 2016 Interview: Laura Dern













Laura Dern likes to tell the story of how, when she was a teenager, Martin Scorsese complimented her for having already started to build a body of work—a feat, as he pointed out, that directors often accomplish but actors rarely do. Since then, she's built an impressive portfolio of complicated women who experience life deeply. She's probably best known for Jurassic Park's highly competent Ellie, but her most memorable characters are those, like Amy Jellicoe from HBO's Enlightened, whose volcanic inner lives keep spitting up burning lava onto the character herself and anyone who gets close to her.

I spoke to Dern earlier this month about her latest role in Kelly Reichardt's Certain Women, a quietly bubbling cauldron of subterranean emotion that follows three tangentially related female characters. One of those women is Dern's Laura Wells, a lawyer with a troubled client (played by Jared Harris) whose life goes completely off the rails after he suffers an on-the-job injury his employer won't compensate him for. 

In person as on screen, Dern's warm, expressive voice conveys layers of feeling. She takes her time as she answers questions, her alert attentiveness a form of grace that makes the person across the table from her feel fully engaged with. She talked about, among other things, why she loves playing “difficult” women, what has changed in her personal and professional lives since she turned 40, and how Reichardt helped her overcome the challenge of playing a character whose emotions are hidden even from herself.

I read or watched a lot of your interviews in preparation for this. You always give very thoughtful answers and even seem to enjoy yourself.
That's nice to hear! Thank you. I've never had anyone say that to me. You know, I love movies, and my parents [Bruce Dern and Diane Ladd] love movies, and I was raised with a real love of being able to connect on a love of film. Some of my parents' dearest friends have been journalists and film critics. Sheila Benson at the Los Angeles Times was one of my first godmother-advocate supporters of the choices I was making and of my staying true to loving filmmakers and participating in a vision.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Miss Hokusai












“This life is nothing special, but we're enjoying it,” says O-Ei (voiced by Anne Watanabe), a young woman who apprenticed under her well-known painter father in early-19th-century Japan, at the end of the animated biography Miss Hokusai. That sentiment is probably true of most of us, yet when we're telling stories, we tend to magnify the more sensational bits. Not so with Keiichi Hara's quietly lyrical film, which condenses everyday interactions, memories, and dreams in O-Ei's life into a potent mix of all the major ingredients of a well-lived life, including family love, companionship, humor, sex, work, natural and manmade beauty, and sorrow.

New York Film Festival 2016: The Unknown Girl












The Unknown Girl plays October 12 and 13 as part of the main slate of the 54th New York Film Festival. Sundance Selects will open the film theatrically in 2017. 

An excellent doctor, Jenny Davin (Adèle Haenel) pays close attention to her patients, treating them with a respectful warmth that puts them at ease. What’s more, she’s unafraid of standing up to disreputable patients who try to bully her into falsifying medical records so they can shirk work. The same skills that make her a good doctor also make her a gifted amateur detective when an African immigrant who had knocked at her clinic door after hours one night turns up dead the next day.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Interview: Sarah Paulson and Mark Duplass









The four-film deal Mark Duplass and his brother, Jay, made last year with Netflix is just one indication of how successful the prolific brothers have been at cranking out and marketing smart, talky, emotionally honest and sneakily funny movies and TV shows, in collaboration with an ever-expanding cohort of equally talented youngish actors and filmmakers. Blue Jay, directed by Alex Lehmann and written by Duplass, is the first of those four movies.

Improvised from a detailed but very short treatment and shot over just seven days, the black-and-white two-hander is about a reunion between two former high school sweethearts, Jim (Duplass) and Amanda (Sarah Paulson), and the distorting magnetic pull a lost love can exert on a person's life. Throughout the film, Paulson's centered warmth and slightly goofy humor make Jim's enduring infatuation plausible while showcasing a loose-limbed, charming side the actress has never quite unloosed before on screen.

At a Four Seasons restaurant in New York to publicize the film on the day of its theatrical release, the two exhibited the same chemistry they exude in the film, watching each other intently as they spoke, occasionally leaning into one another for a hug and often cracking each other up.


So, Sarah, Blue Jay was your first experience with improv. Do you want to do it again?

Sarah Paulson: Yes! Yes! And I didn't know that I would feel that way when I started.

What did you like about it?

New York Film Festival 2016: Julieta












Julieta played October 7 and 8, and will play again October 16, as part of the main slate of the 54th New York Film Festival. Sony Classics will release the film theatrically beginning December 21. 

Alice Munro, the author of the three stories on which he based his latest film, “inspired me to a different way of telling a story,” said director Pedro Almodóvar at the Q&A after the New York Film Festival press screening of Julieta, later adding: “I tried to make a drama, not a melodrama, which is my natural inclination.” No kidding. Almodóvar’s attempt to channel Munro may be in keeping with the shift visible in his work since 1999’s All About My Mother, as his female characters become more complex and less cartoonish, their inner lives almost as well-rounded as his pulchritudinous leading ladies’ tightly encased curves. Still, the flamboyant Spanish king of baroque plots and peacock exteriors is one of the last people you might expect to adapt the understated Canadian master’s realistic stories about resolutely ordinary people.

Monday, October 3, 2016

New York Film Festival 2016: Abacus: Small Enough to Jail, I Called Him Morgan, & Uncle Howard












Steve James displays his usual savvy for picking culturally resonant topics in his latest documentary, Abacus: Small Enough to Jail. This time it's the oddly underreported story of Abacus, the eponymous family-owned Chinatown business, which is the only U.S. bank ever indicted for fraud in connection with the subprime mortgage scandal of the late 2000s. The rest of the film's title comes from journalist Matt Taibbi, who explains that the banks actually responsible for the crisis were all deemed “too big to fail,” so none were prosecuted for their crimes. “Too big to fail translates to small enough to jail, and Abacus is small enough to jail,” he says.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

New York Film Festival 2016: 13th













13th was the Opening Night film of the 54th New York Film Festival. The film is now available to stream on Netflix.

The past couple years have seen a creative outpouring of works, mostly by African Americans, that anatomize the systemic discrimination and violence perpetrated against black people since this country’s inception. These include books like Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, Ta-Nahesi Coates’ Between the World and Me and Colson Whitehead’s Underground Railroad; TV series like OJ: Made in America and the remake of Roots; and movies like 12 Years a Slave, The Central Park 5, The House I Live In and Ava DuVernay’s majestic Selma. DuVernay’s latest film, the feature-length documentary 13th, is an important addition to that lineup.

New York Film Festival 2016: 13th













13th was the Opening Night film of the 54th New York Film Festival. The film is now available to stream on Netflix.

The past couple years have seen a creative outpouring of works, mostly by African Americans, that anatomize the systemic discrimination and violence perpetrated against black people since this country’s inception. These include books like Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, Ta-Nahesi Coates’ Between the World and Me and Colson Whitehead’s Underground Railroad; TV series like OJ: Made in America and the remake of Roots; and movies like 12 Years a Slave, The Central Park 5, The House I Live In and Ava DuVernay’s majestic Selma. DuVernay’s latest film, the feature-length documentary 13th, is an important addition to that lineup.