Monday, January 30, 2017

The Comedian

Somewhere around the year 2000, Robert De Niro's appearance in a film stopped being a sign of promise and became a flashing yellow light. Every now and then he's still part of an intriguingly complicated film like the ones he's made with David O. Russell, who used the actor's truculent skepticism to challenge Jennifer Lawrence's screwball optimism and sheer life force in Joy and Silver Linings Playbook. More often than not, though, De Niro's characters suggest 3D men in 2D universes, like the funnyman at the center of director Taylor Hackford's flabby and formulaic The Comedian.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Interview: Asghar Farhadi

Like many great writer-directors, Asghar Farhadi has spent most of his career ringing variations on a theme: In a classic Farhadi setup, fissures within a family or other intimate group are thrown into relief when a trauma or a primal conflict brings out previously hidden aspects of the main characters. Thanks to their fine-grained realism and the intimacy of their settings, his films convey a lot of information about life in contemporary Iran, particularly among Tehran's educated and artistic elite.

The filmmaker also has a good ear for the way men and women communicate, and a sharp eye for the politics of gender. His latest--and this year's Foreign Language Film Oscar winner--is The Salesman, which is set in the world of theater in which Farhadi started out. Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti) and Emad (Shahab Hosseini), a youngish married couple, are starring in their theater group's production of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman when a violent sexual attack shakes Rana's world, propelling the normally sensitive and supportive Emad into a state of macho rigidity.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Accidental Courtesy: Daryl Davis, Race & America

Matthew Ornstein's Accidental Courtesy aims straight at the heart of the post-election debate over how to deal with the racist groups emboldened by Donald Trump's victory: Is it best to engage in conversation and try to change hearts and minds, or to simply work to defeat them? The documentary follows African-American musician and self-appointed race ambassador Daryl Davis as he befriends members of the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist groups. Davis has been engaged in this experiment in radical friendship for nearly 30 years, and he proudly displays roughly two dozen Klan robes that were given to him by former members of the KKK, convinced that his friendship was an important factor in causing their change of heart.