Archive

Film

30 March 2014

Is the money that financed the film in black hands from the beginning? Will the rewards find their way to black hands in the end? In the meantime, will black audiences have the film marketed to them, have places where they can easily see it? Will they identify with its themes and aesthetics? It’s all just posturing until those questions are answered. More…

18 February 2014

Terminal Island is a left-ish fata morgana by a femme with no time to lose. If James Cameron, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorcese, and several other, male protégés of Roger Corman made B movies as practice for A movies, Rothman made B movies as a way to make movies, period, but also as blueprints for a world in which, someday, Kathryn Bigelow would beat Cameron for the Oscar. More…

17 February 2014

In the rape-revenge section of the exploitation film library, Lady Chun has little company on the shelf for lesbian antagonists belonging secretly to the political vanguard. However, aggression easily cohabits with affection in women-in-prison films, where wholesome new convicts enter homosocial worlds that either break them or are broken—or something in between. More…

17 February 2014

“The world doesn’t look any less pretty when skull-bashings and stabbings take place,” the film critic Stanley Kauffmann once wrote of Shohei Imamura’s serial-killer film Vengeance Is Mine. The same could be said of Jack Hill’s Coffy, and it has everything to do with Pam Grier, who plays the title heroine. More…

16 February 2014

This fairytale scene is the Tomlin character’s stoned-out fantasy of how she would off their “sexist, lying egotistical, hypocritical pig” of a boss. She, Fonda, and Parton have left work early and headed to a bar after boss (Dabney Coleman, delightfully unctuous and dim) fires a coworker unfairly. “Let’s revolt,” jokes the blowzy office drunk. More…

14 February 2014

Mary tells an interviewer, amid well-timed pauses and mild whimpers, “I just try to think beautiful thoughts, so that the beauty will come out in what I write.” She, herself, is equipped with an abundance of beauty. She even has her own isomorphic companion of sorts—a hot Latino butler named Garcia, clad in cheap satin open-faced shirts. More…

13 February 2014

We have many real-life, terrifying examples of what alienated teenage boys are capable of, but we don’t seem to know, or care, what tormented girls go on to do. At the end of I Was a Teenage Serial Killer, Jacobson’s debut film, the protagonist explains that the systemic silencing of her rage has led her to kill. “No one wants to listen to my story,” she says, holding a broken bottle to a hippie drifter’s throat. More…

13 February 2014

There is no face better suited to portray a woman seeking revenge than that of Sandrine Bonnaire, whose taut jawline, sharp glare, and high-planed, somehow strategizing forehead all suggest payback. It’s a look she wears well. The slightest arch of her eyebrow seems capable of pulling a trigger; not so much piercing someone’s heart, but dismissing it entirely. More…

13 February 2014

Charles, however, has no aptitude for cards, can’t tell the difference between beer and ale, and seems never to have talked to a woman before. As he sits alone at dinner in his spotless white tuxedo reading a book called Are Snakes Necessary?, he is both ridiculous and a blank slate, an unexplored continent—an Adam to her Eve. More…

12 February 2014

One of the first statements that The Heiress makes about gender is that women are easier to taxonomize than men. We are made to understand that Catherine is the kind of girl who would wind up sitting alone at a party, and then she does. More…

12 February 2014

While money has given Ramatou power, the film emphasizes that power makes no guarantees against the force of history. In his death, Drameh is recast as the lynchpin for an equally prejudicial development strategy, which offers modernization’s commodities in exchange for brutal retrenchments. The film suggests that where one patriarchy is razed, another finds its foundations. More…

11 February 2014

Revenge, for these women, tastes like blood, and like sex. In ritual executions that masquerade as seductions, Shige and Yone draw samurai back to their home and pick them off, one by one. These scenes bring the film’s taut surrealism into sharper focus, and Kuroneko manages to feel both rigorous and languid without any sense of compromise. More…

9 February 2014

You can sense Akerman’s irritation at the continual fascination with her youth; in a 2010 interview, she snapped back to a question about watching Godard’s Pierrot Le Fou, long cited as a life-changing experience for Akerman: “Oh, I have said that a hundred times. Forget about it. You know all about that. I have told that story one million times.” More…

8 February 2014

Critics were surprised at the subtlety of Callas’ camera acting, but they shouldn’t have been. Callas experienced her darkest rages in private. Her secretary describes a late-night call from Onassis that sent Callas into hysterics on the eve of the first day of filming. The staff tried to console her, but when it got late, they made to leave Callas in privacy. “You’re going to abandon me now? You’re just like him! None of you care!” She reportedly yelled. More…

7 February 2014

Where her friend’s backtalk nips unwanted advances in the bud, Thana’s silence reads to the men around her as an invitation. Eventually, she starts carrying the gun. She hacks Rapist 2, still stashed in her bathtub, into pieces, dumping trash bags full of his remains around the city two at a time. When one sleazy guy chases after her—Hey lady! You forgot your bag!—she panics and shoots him. Her muteness offers a good enough explanation for why she’s a perfect shot: she’s a cowboy. More…

6 February 2014

I suppose most of the films involve a certain triangulation of gender, justice, and moral catastrophe, so there’s a unity of theme. But a crucial question of the series is how can this triangulation find a form within cinema, and the answers are many and varied: the grindhouse vocabulary of Rothman, the durational aesthetics of Akerman, the camp apotheosis of She-Devil, the glamorous screwball of The Lady Eve . . . More…

14 August 2013

The political and moral problems involved with particular bureaucratic practices are largely whitewashed by those same narrative and aesthetic techniques that draw all of these films into generic proximity. The filmmakers, like their characters, are just doing their jobs. More…

1 August 2013

World War Z is a dumb movie, even dumber than it looks, because it doesn’t know what it’s about. 2012, in many ways a dumber movie, was about how the rich were going to be given inside information about the end of the world and sold tickets aboard an escape ship—it goes without saying that this is obviously quite plausible—and only John Cusack would be able to figure it out. More…

6 March 2013

Haneke has often said, referring to the unhappy ending of The Piano Teacher, that he aims “to rape the spectator into autonomy.” He abuses his audience in order to make us self-aware and liberate us from bad habits. Critics have mostly taken him at his word, repeating the sleight of rhetoric that conflates the act of analyzing and violating movie conventions with bashing in the skull of an animal. More…

22 February 2013

“At the same time everyone unknowingly becomes accustomed to the horror, which little by little is accepted by morality, and will quickly become part of the mental landscape of modern man; who, the next time, will be able to be surprised or irritated at that which will in effect have ceased to be shocking?” More…

26 March 2012

Vincent Gallo is one of the most disliked of current film actors, while George Clooney is one of the most admired, but most viewers of Essential Killing—American, Belgian, Sri Lankan, or Japanese—probably have more in common with Gallo’s “Mohammed” than they have with Clooney. More…

21 March 2012

That Murdoch would become a modern-day William Randolph Hearst seemed predictable, but Mel Gibson’s transformation into the raving id of the American psyche took the world by surprise; the culture is still recovering. Fittingly, Gibson’s story is reminiscent enough of Oedipus Rex that it leaves cinephiles with the desire to pluck out their eyes. More…

20 March 2012

Slacker, though often canonized as a portrait of 1990s youth culture, is at root a local film. It was shot and produced entirely in Austin with local non-actors and musicians like the Butthole Surfers’ drummer Teresa Taylor. The fictionalized, documentary-style film doesn’t have a plot or recurring characters. More…

19 March 2012

Cinema in Cambodia—the medium itself—is metaphor. It stands in for historical memory. It makes it tolerable. And unnecessary. More…

16 March 2012

Where does Godard take us in Film Socialisme or, more appropriately, where do we take ourselves? An anarcho-communist distrust of money and the state infuses the film. We are told that “money was invented so as not to look men in the eyes.” More…

15 March 2012

These are very slow, irruptively weird movies, where ugly faces break spontaneously into gorgeous, toothy grins and no one screams and runs away when a monkey-man shows up to dinner. More…

14 March 2012

Despite mostly rave reviews, it’s safe to say that there’s no comparison between 30-year-old Brecht and Margin Call’s 37-year-old writer-director J. C. Chandor, first-time filmmaker and son of a Merrill Lynch lifer. Margin Call has an emptiness at its core, a refusal to answer or even really ask the questions about the system it portrays. More…

13 March 2012

Late style, on the other hand, refuses death and refuses the world outside art. Chabrol, Rivette, and Rohmer might be thought of as timely in this sense. But there is a filmmaker equally timely, old, and French Quandt leaves out: Agnès Varda. More…

5 March 2012

Jealousy was a given, and forgivable. But the pettiness Dunham’s success inspired was of a kind not usually seen outside children’s parties. Like infants driven to tears by the sight of someone else getting all the gifts, human adults became incapable of hiding their envy. More…

24 February 2012

This second edition of the N1FR, n+1‘s film review, is very late. Its lateness has nothing to do with n+1 or with any of the contributors, or with our generous sponsor IFC Films. It’s entirely my fault. More…

16 May 2011

“Feedback!” explained our friend, a medical student and ex-New Yorker. “San Francisco is all about feedback. The people here don’t complain, really, they just fill you in on how things are going.” Our friend kept talking about “feedback sandwiches.” But on the BART, in the café, at City Lights, we thought we were the only people talking, let alone complaining. More…

25 February 2011

Documentaries now do what both TV news and horror movies used to do—break real stories and scare the shit out of you. Gasland, a documentary and personal essay film about hydro-fracking, provided the year’s scariest image—water from people’s faucets bursting into flames. This one image of tap water on fire should be able to bring down Halliburton. More…

24 February 2011

That night we dined with Costa and the critics. It was not a banquet of equals, so we were left to observe. After some chips and salsa, the conversation gravitated to films-of-the-year, and someone lazily broached the name Terrence Malick. Costa grinned, then leaned over to ask us: “Do you like this Tree of Life?” More…

24 February 2011

Must a 3D movie be seen in 3D? Is a movie with both a 3D and a 2D release the same movie or two different movies? The “high” and “low” culture divide that is emerging—with Thor and The Green Hornet on one side, and Avatar and Werner Herzog on the other—seems to track along these very lines. More…

24 February 2011

Cinema’s soul, once glued to the photograph, has become unstuck. It now tarries in the Beyond, in an afterlife somewhere between the death of film and the childhood of the digital image. More…

24 February 2011

N1FR: Why does it often seem as though there is no film criticism on the left in North America, even in leftist publications? Walsh: If your question excepts the World Socialist Web Site, which I hope and trust it does, I would direct you to our generally low opinion of what passes for the left, not only in North America, but globally. More…

24 February 2011

If the polymath currently holds great purchase with American audiences, perhaps it serves to work through a pervasive free market psychology that makes no distinction between diversification and dexterity, power and genius. More…

24 February 2011

But forget all that and focus on this for a minute: it was said that Raoul Ruiz’s dream was to film Hamlet with a cast of vegetables. More…

24 February 2011

Film festivals are an odd congregation of people by nature but Cannes takes the cake for competing media agendas. There is almost no common ground except for this odd, spectacular event. Every critic brings a different motivation. Some are in town for snapshots, some are television crews, some run other film festivals, some just want some gossip and autographs. More…

24 February 2011

Still, I knew that this kind of frankly depicted, boys-will-be-boys, besides-the-point sexism was only part of the reason I was angry. The other reasons would not become clear to me till I saw the movie a second time. More…

23 February 2011

The real is in a period of reinvention. Among the new “real” films, Matthew Porterfield’s Putty Hill is an attractive candidate for all kinds of designations: minimal realism, hybrid film, fictional documentary, docu-fiction, regionalist cinema. More…

23 February 2011

The truth of the matter is that the films by Bozon and company, while being wildly inventive, are, with few exceptions, the polar opposite of non-narrative avant-garde cinema; they are deeply rooted in storytelling and dialogue, “the pleasure of the writerly,” as Bozon puts it, conflating two Roland Barthes notions into one. More…

23 August 2010

The current notion that 3D somehow radically changes, or will save, cinema—either by dragging it further toward some aesthetic destiny or just by bringing more asses into the theater—is the kind of apocalyptic idea that comes out of a crisis perception, as happened before during the crisis of the early 1950s, when Hollywood studios were desperate for some gimmick to lure viewers back to the box office; let’s call it Bwana Devil Syndrome. More…

23 August 2010

What begins as an interesting documentary about how Banksy and other famous graffiti artists make their art soon turns into a semi-mockumentary that plays into people’s desire to believe the art world is too easily manipulated and therefore something they don’t have to pay attention to; that, in fact, they would be idiots to pay any attention to it at all. More…

23 August 2010

Last February, I went to a screening of a film I love, Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman. In Jeanne Dielman, a middle-class Belgian single mother and part-time prostitute (she stays at home for that, too) spends two-hundred minutes doing dull housework and then stabs one of her clients to death with scissors. It’s a long haul. More…

23 August 2010

Good movies, or at least pleasurably bad movies, make the worthless ones even worse. They remind us that watching Kick-Ass was not inevitable, that there are other, better ways to spend a Tuesday afternoon, an afternoon that will not come again. Maybe you can get your money back but not your time, and so whatever worth Kick-Ass has is only as a memento mori. More…

23 August 2010

The Headless Woman does fuse the schematic and the intricate. But once you’ve granted Martel her brilliantly established premise and her fastidious approach, both the crude social schema and the delicate filigree of private relationships come to seem like features of the observable, inevitable world rather than impositions by the director. More…

23 August 2010

From the moment I wake up in the morning, I live in a world fraught with danger. Is this going to be the day that some disgruntled reader mails me a toxic substance? It happened once, in the 1980s—a gram of odorless dung in the kind of tiny plastic bindle dealers use for meth, with an unsigned letter reading “Have some dialectical materialism! The Kremlin dishes it out every day!” More…

23 August 2010

Somehow, the sentence “I grew up in Amherst, Massachusetts, in the 1980s” sounds depressing. In truth, growing up there was excruciating. The economy in my town was centered on education. That is not a bad thing in itself, but it bred a smugness which rendered my childhood a minimalist dystopia in which pop culture had to be consumed surreptitiously. More…

23 August 2010

America is a country of overgrown boys, stunted and warped, who, left to their own devices, are fit to do little more than play video games, stare at pornography, and crack jokes about genitals, flatulence, and defecation. The country’s womenfolk match men’s obnoxious behavior with a reflexive shrewishness. They are ever vexed by anxiety about their diminishing horizons and fading looks. More…

23 August 2010

Pedro Costa’s films are meant to be letters. For Costa, letters act as metaphors, ways of addressing the possibilities of cinema. In a speech at the Tokyo Film School in 2004, he told his audience that making a good film is like writing a love letter in a bank: “Few people are going to see this love letter in a bank, and still fewer are going to write a love letter in a bank. . . . Your work is to continue trying to write love letters, and not checks.” More…

23 August 2010

The surrealists André Breton and Paul Éluard used to enter movie theaters at random and stay only a little while, until the plot became clear to them and the films’ images were drained of their power. In the Cineplex you can do the same thing all in one building. I did that one day this summer. What I saw was not excerpts from ten different movies, but one movie made up of ten interchangeable parts—the imperial power of Hollywood, still alive and well, surviving postmodern fragmentation and resisting détournement. More…

18 August 2010

We’re very pleased to announce the imminent launch of N1FR, our new online film review. If you subscribe to our RSS feed, you may already have seen a preview of the issue. If not, you’ll have to wait until next week. More…

16 May 2010

It takes some work to make people into wildlife. Nature shows, for starters, have narration. They are shot from the perspective of the scientist, or the tour guide, or the hunter—some human spectator. Babies does the reverse. It takes away the linguistic meaning “natural” to human life, transforming it into a mere sound, pleasant as a rushing stream or a whistling wind. More…

23 April 2010

Anderson has succumbed to the same Salinger syndrome that plagued the Tenenbaum kids. He proved himself a boy genius, and now he doesn’t want to grow up, and probably doesn’t know how. Perhaps he sensed that there is an artistic limit to the parody and decided that he’d rather cruise the high seas animating jellyfish than remove the faux from his earnestness. More…

31 March 2010

The new work by Noah Baumbach is of interest as a confused deployment of contemporary status symbols. The three cardinal post-collegiate vanities are career achievement, coupledom, and procreation, and these are all that are at stake in Greenberg. More…

30 March 2010

Moore’s film has revived the old debate on the left between ends and means. If Bush is thrown out of office thanks to Fahrenheit 9/11, is it enough? Or ought a man who rose to power dishonestly be thrown out honestly? Slate’s David Edelstein recounts an argument with a friend, angry over Moore’s inclusion of the now famous grieving mother, Lila Lipscomb. More…

22 January 2010

Someone is walking somewhere from someplace—so begins an Eric Rohmer movie. Two secretaries in an office chat about nothing in particular; mail is sorted; a boat is at sea. The pointless opening is crucial for establishing the rhythm of these movies, and what happens as they unfold is not that events get more exciting but that the pointless events grow richer . More…

1 January 2010

James Cameron’s 3-D movie Avatar gave me a four-hour headache. Probably the headache was caused by a combination of the 3-D effect, a seat near the front and at the far edge of the theater, the way the 3-D glasses skewed my plain old glasses beneath. But I can’t help but also attribute the headache to the movie’s moral corruptness. More…

25 November 2009

Stephanie Meyer has said that the idea for the Twilight series came to her in a dream, but it may as well have come to her in a graduate seminar. There are, after all, few other contexts where so much cultural baggage comes together under the sign of so many backpacks. More…

30 August 2009

I dislike alien/zombie movies and vowed I would never see another after 28 Weeks Later (the worst sequel in the world and a clumsy parable for the war in Iraq). But District 9 is nimble. It does not abandon its allegory in favor of interminable chase scenes, paramilitaries with poor aim, and spumy alien entrails; it incorporates these things judiciously. More…

10 August 2009

The pathos of comedians used to be that they were funny because they wanted everyone to love them. They were motivated by their psychic wounds, their difficult personalities, their inability to tolerate the world as they found it. Gags and jokes were a way to triumph over brute physical reality and the intractability of the human race. More…

25 February 2009

Examined Life ignores and therefore refutes television techniques. It is serene yet exciting, allowing us to understand and experience the mind-states evoked by the thinkers in the movie: “anxiety is the mood par excellence of ethicity” (Ronell); philosophy emerges from “personal catastrophe lyrically expressed” (West); “we should develop a much more terrifying abstract materialism” (Zizek). More…

18 February 2009

Encounters at the End of the World gratifies on three levels: it is apocalyptic, it has cute penguins, and it stars a man with a German accent berating us because we are inadequate. It is an animal show, end-of-the-world adventure travel, and a trip to a German dentist. Herzog’s impatience with people has become palpable. More…

26 September 2008

For a few weeks every summer I escape the humidity of Brooklyn and go to Oakland, California. I stay on a street that runs off an iron drawbridge into the town of Alameda. Alameda sits on an island in the San Francisco Bay. To me, Alameda is an enchanted place. It is everything you want America to be but never is. When I retire, I’d like to move there and run for mayor. More…

15 August 2008

Since Portnoy’s Complaint Philip Roth has been our national chronicler of horny male vigor. Not because such characters are a constant in his work (they aren’t), but because they boast a vividness that verges, just barely, on the cartoonish. And because they are smart—and, amazingly, it helps. More…

6 August 2008

Few movies have been so adept at providing easy metaphors for their own incompetence. But The Dark Knight, while doing this, eagerly does more: it presents itself as not just a comic book movie (though it is decidedly that); it is also an allegory, as thick as the Divine Comedy, for the condition of America’s debilitated relationship to the world. More…

7 May 2008

I have a red-and-white Netflix envelope in my hand, sealed and ready to be returned. I must have watched the movie in it, but I can’t remember what it was. The ground rises to meet me; this appears to be one of those dreams where you experience your own demise. I crash and feel my bones break. The DVD inside the Netflix envelope shatters, but the envelope remains intact, not even torn. More…

7 April 2008

You may think it’s unfair to judge a movie based on seeing eighty minutes of a pirated DVD in a health-clinic waiting room. The banks of fluorescent lights did not create an optimum screening environment, it’s true, nor did the moans of pain, nor the old lady sitting next to me. But as I sat there, in pain myself and barely able to focus, I realized that this was the future of moviegoing. More…

13 February 2008

I didn’t see Juno it because I hated Little Miss Sunshine so much. After I saw Little Miss Sunshine I really wished I hadn’t. I refuse to make that mistake again. If that’s what a feel good movie is, I can’t stand to feel that good. It’s physically painful for me to feel that good. More…

13 January 2008

It helped Pennebaker’s documentaries that they were nearly contemporary with their subject, humanizing him against the tide that claimed him as a new Isaiah. But since then, Dylan’s music has gotten worse, while his image in the nostalgic public mind—thanks to marketing by record labels and their useful idiots in the media (like Scorsese)—has been perpetually burnished. More…

9 November 2007

Directed and produced by relative newcomer Sophie Fiennes, The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema is above all a vehicle for the ideas of its oddly charismatic presenter, Slavoj Zizek, the Slovenian intellectual billed in this film’s opening credits as “philosopher and psychoanalyst,” who has risen to prominence for his deft fusions of popular culture and Lacanian theory. More…

10 July 2006

Van Sant does not sensationalize. Instead, in each film we see plot distilled to a single, profound arc: the slow, strange transition of a body from being alive to not being alive. Taking the silence, the mystery, the essential unknowability of death as a given, Van Sant makes no attempt to interrogate or explain. He simply enacts this transition and encourages his viewers to watch. More…

31 October 2005

People over age 50 are signally absent from Park Slope, Brooklyn. It’s a neighborhood where members of the “creative class” move during their breeding years to mate, spawn, and keep housepets. All three of Noah Baumbach’s films partake of the neighborhood and its pathologies. More…

27 June 2005

It makes sense that critics have embraced this indie—and its vision of love as a salve—during a month when the romantic comedy at the top of the box office charts, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, locates love in ultraprofessional homicidal violence. While the cineplex revels in bosom, brawn, and blowing stuff up, the art house preens its emaciation and wants to stay safe and warm. More…

7 May 2005

Suburban-spawned urban hipsters harbor a famous animus for suburbia. Call it the father-killing side of the Oedipal impulse whose mother-loving component is the type of nostalgia enacted in obsessive conversation about 1980s trivia or trophy dog ownership by dwellers of closet-size apartments. Of course, if the suburbs weren’t so stifling, misfit youths wouldn’t grow up to be hipsters. More…

20 March 2005

The perfect woman is married to your best friend. Or she’s his mistress. She’s your wife’s younger sister. Or she’s engaged to your rich brother-in-law. She’s a few months shy of being legal. She’s a student in the class you teach. Or she’s been committed to a mental institution in Hawaii. By no means is she your wife. And chances are you haven’t slept with your wife in months. More…

23 November 2004

What happens when you make a film and every single person interviewed has no idea what they are talking about? In this case you’re making a film about the music industry. DIG!, a well-crafted documentary focusing on The Dandy Warhols and The Brian Jonestown Massacre, manages to piece together a compelling work out of the thoughts and actions of a lot of ignorant and delusional people. More…