Film Review

An irregular online film supplement edited by A. S. Hamrah.

Rise of the Machines

Rise of the Machines

On the Fast and the Furious movies

Every film franchise is a testament to growth and conquest. In the case of the Marvel movies, that growth is exponential and expanding: movies beget more movies, more spinoffs, more series that emerge from spinoffs. What sets the Fast and the Furious series apart from franchises like this—at least for now—is its habit of folding all that hot-media-property energy back into itself, making the movies all the more strange and intense.

And then the Strangest Thing Happened

And then the Strangest Thing Happened

What is Adam Curtis doing?

There is nothing in HyperNormalisation Adam Curtis has not done before, except that his pace is increasingly relaxed, with lengthy, drifting, wordless sound/image juxtapositions that feel closer to contemporary “artists’ film” than anything on television. You could read this languor generously, as a conscious new direction in his work. Or it could simply be the sign of burgeoning self-indulgence, the kind of thing cult figures often become susceptible to.

Never a Hippie, Always a Freak

Never a Hippie, Always a Freak

“They write about me like I’m a maniac. I’m not . . . I’m forty years old, I’ve got four kids, a house, and a mortgage.”

When Zappa shows up in a suit and tie debating Robert Novak on Crossfire, the effect is less the ’60s freak who became a normal adult than an uncompromising individual voice channeled into a different format.

Assassinate the Bird

Assassinate the Bird

On Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet

Anecdotes swirl around Straub and Huillet. On set, they preferred phrases like “please” and “thank you” to “action” and “cut.” They considered over-dubbed sound, studio sets, and illusionistic cuts phony and cheap, but they praised filmmakers—including Chaplin, Mizoguchi, and John Ford—who used those devices particularly cannily. According to the filmmaker and critic John Gianvito, Straub once proclaimed that most films were “made to keep [the masses] in their place, to violate them, or to fascinate them,” and boasted that his and Huillet’s own movies “give people the liberty to get up and leave.”

We Other Puritans

We Other Puritans

No doubt many Puritans, like many film critics, were self-righteous.

The Witch is effective as a chiller, and the acting is tremendous—everyone’s wound so tight you expect springs to pop out of their heads. But we are aware from the first shot that this is a Serious Film, more Arthur Miller than Eduardo Sanchez, because the cinematography is trendily washed out, the better to show off the blood that spatters every other scene. There are visual echoes of Goya; the end title informs us loftily that much of the dialogue comes from period sources. The filmmakers are so desperate to be taken seriously that they’ve forgotten to have much fun.

We're Not Ugly People

We're Not Ugly People

Oscar Movies, 2016

The movies can put a positive spin on anything. Seeing the world anew, or for the first time, becomes an allegory of motherhood and childhood in Room, which puts its protagonist (Brie Larson) in a situation not unlike Matt Damon’s in The Martian, but Earthbound, and worse.

Cold Comfort

Cold Comfort

There have been surprisingly few recent English-language films about infidelity, at least once you exclude movies that treat the subject as little more than a secret for characters to hide and reveal, a temptation for them to resist, or a sin for which they’re obliged to atone. It’s striking to see two films that consider their characters’ romantic betrayals so quietly and reflectively, with so little moralizing. That they arrive at very different conclusions—about what it means to be unfaithful, about how much strain a relationship can take, and about the extent to which committed relationships between people are, in the end, possible—suggests how many dramatic possibilities infidelity can give a filmmaker when it’s treated with seriousness and care. It also suggests a good deal about Haigh and Kaufman’s relative degrees of comfort with the kinds of grown-up, advanced-age relationships they’ve chosen to depict.

Army Wives

Army Wives

On Fort Buchanan

With its recycling of soap opera dialogue and its knowing embrace of cliché, Fort Buchanan seems to imply that melodrama applies the same logic to emotion that pornography applies to sexuality—that it creates a world in which vast and spontaneous intensities of feeling are exchanged with prolific frequency and little consequence.

Trials and Error

Trials and Error

Court and the Indian state

The first scene of Chaitanya Tamhane’s debut film, Court, opens with a distant view of a makeshift stage in a Bombay slum. Workers have gathered to watch a charismatic Dalit singer, who, backed by vocalists and drummers, belts out jeremiads against the false gods of the age: the greed found in glitzy new shopping malls and the “dense” thickets of racism, nationalism, and caste-ism into which people have fallen.

The Limits of the Camera-Eye

The Limits of the Camera-Eye

On the sequel to The Act of Killing

Eyes gouged; eyes augmented; eyes blinded with old age; eyes guarded, darting, glassed-over; eyes squinting to check if the horizon has sharpened. A boy shuts his hard as he struggles to absorb his history lessons at school. His sister puts on their father’s glasses, giggling at how they warp her world. Eyes multiply, kaleidoscopic, as the structuring metaphor of Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Look of Silence, a new documentary on the anti-Communist purges in Indonesia that, between 1965 and 1966, killed up to a million people.

Going Her Way

Going Her Way

On Clouds of Sils Maria

In the opening scenes, you can feel Assayas clearing the ground for the drama of persuasion, seduction, and control between Maria and Val that will eventually take up the film’s center. Here there will be no men, and no attempts on the part of men to claim a right to either woman’s body, history, or name.

The Specter of Cosbyism

The Specter of Cosbyism

This flood of black faces on screens both big and small is enough to summon the ghost of Hansberry, peddling her sanguine ’50s vision—but A Raisin in the Sun is a play about the dignified underclass, the downtrodden-but-upright proletariat, whereas Dear White People and Black-ish don’t dare to gesture—however idly—at the poor. These days, even the upright cannot be downtrodden, so the face of blackness thrust forth by both the TV series and the film is well-spoken, well-heeled, white collar.

On <em>Level Five</em>

On Level Five

Level Five is having its first theatrical release at a moment when wars are not just being remembered in digital arenas, but are increasingly being fought in them too.

Marker knows his fakes. There’s a video from the Vietnam War of a man burning alive, but part at the end where he gets up is typically cut out. “[The burning man] testifies against war, you cannot weaken his testimony for the sake of a few frames,” explains Marker, probing, “Truth? . . . The truth is, most didn’t get up. So what’s so special about this one? The ethics of imagery?”

Life Events

Life Events

On Boyhood

Most artworks about childhood and adolescence have to account for the fact that children don’t see their internal crises reflected in the adults around them. This is why parents always say, “It’s not the end of the world,” and why to children it sounds like a lie.

Sleez Sisters

Sleez Sisters

On Times Square

The film is a mess. It denounces gentrification, consumerism, television, psychiatry, censorship, cops, dads, and squares, and though its flailing critiques and silly romanticism befit a teen movie, they give away the film’s agenda to cash in on all things rebellious. It doesn’t even make sense, socially or geographically, to set a punk movie in Times Square.

<i>Slacker</i> at Twenty

Slacker at Twenty

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.

Apichatpong “Joe” Weerasethakul

Apichatpong “Joe” Weerasethakul

If Weerasethakul’s movies are everything I think they are—mysterious, haunting, inventive—in a word, good—why do they make me fall asleep?

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. Weerasethakul’s films present a challenge to the normal grammar of criticism, which strives to articulate what a work is “about.” What they are “about” is less interesting than what they are about to get into, or turn into.

Rise of the Machines

Rise of the Machines

On the Fast and the Furious movies

Every film franchise is a testament to growth and conquest. In the case of the Marvel movies, that growth is exponential and expanding: movies beget more movies, more spinoffs, more series that emerge from spinoffs. What sets the Fast and the Furious series apart from franchises like this—at least for now—is its habit of folding all that hot-media-property energy back into itself, making the movies all the more strange and intense.

And then the Strangest Thing Happened

And then the Strangest Thing Happened

What is Adam Curtis doing?

There is nothing in HyperNormalisation Adam Curtis has not done before, except that his pace is increasingly relaxed, with lengthy, drifting, wordless sound/image juxtapositions that feel closer to contemporary “artists’ film” than anything on television. You could read this languor generously, as a conscious new direction in his work. Or it could simply be the sign of burgeoning self-indulgence, the kind of thing cult figures often become susceptible to.

Never a Hippie, Always a Freak

Never a Hippie, Always a Freak

“They write about me like I’m a maniac. I’m not . . . I’m forty years old, I’ve got four kids, a house, and a mortgage.”

When Zappa shows up in a suit and tie debating Robert Novak on Crossfire, the effect is less the ’60s freak who became a normal adult than an uncompromising individual voice channeled into a different format.

Assassinate the Bird

Assassinate the Bird

On Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet

Anecdotes swirl around Straub and Huillet. On set, they preferred phrases like “please” and “thank you” to “action” and “cut.” They considered over-dubbed sound, studio sets, and illusionistic cuts phony and cheap, but they praised filmmakers—including Chaplin, Mizoguchi, and John Ford—who used those devices particularly cannily. According to the filmmaker and critic John Gianvito, Straub once proclaimed that most films were “made to keep [the masses] in their place, to violate them, or to fascinate them,” and boasted that his and Huillet’s own movies “give people the liberty to get up and leave.”

We Other Puritans

We Other Puritans

No doubt many Puritans, like many film critics, were self-righteous.

The Witch is effective as a chiller, and the acting is tremendous—everyone’s wound so tight you expect springs to pop out of their heads. But we are aware from the first shot that this is a Serious Film, more Arthur Miller than Eduardo Sanchez, because the cinematography is trendily washed out, the better to show off the blood that spatters every other scene. There are visual echoes of Goya; the end title informs us loftily that much of the dialogue comes from period sources. The filmmakers are so desperate to be taken seriously that they’ve forgotten to have much fun.

We're Not Ugly People

We're Not Ugly People

Oscar Movies, 2016

The movies can put a positive spin on anything. Seeing the world anew, or for the first time, becomes an allegory of motherhood and childhood in Room, which puts its protagonist (Brie Larson) in a situation not unlike Matt Damon’s in The Martian, but Earthbound, and worse.

Cold Comfort

Cold Comfort

There have been surprisingly few recent English-language films about infidelity, at least once you exclude movies that treat the subject as little more than a secret for characters to hide and reveal, a temptation for them to resist, or a sin for which they’re obliged to atone. It’s striking to see two films that consider their characters’ romantic betrayals so quietly and reflectively, with so little moralizing. That they arrive at very different conclusions—about what it means to be unfaithful, about how much strain a relationship can take, and about the extent to which committed relationships between people are, in the end, possible—suggests how many dramatic possibilities infidelity can give a filmmaker when it’s treated with seriousness and care. It also suggests a good deal about Haigh and Kaufman’s relative degrees of comfort with the kinds of grown-up, advanced-age relationships they’ve chosen to depict.

Army Wives

Army Wives

On Fort Buchanan

With its recycling of soap opera dialogue and its knowing embrace of cliché, Fort Buchanan seems to imply that melodrama applies the same logic to emotion that pornography applies to sexuality—that it creates a world in which vast and spontaneous intensities of feeling are exchanged with prolific frequency and little consequence.

Trials and Error

Trials and Error

Court and the Indian state

The first scene of Chaitanya Tamhane’s debut film, Court, opens with a distant view of a makeshift stage in a Bombay slum. Workers have gathered to watch a charismatic Dalit singer, who, backed by vocalists and drummers, belts out jeremiads against the false gods of the age: the greed found in glitzy new shopping malls and the “dense” thickets of racism, nationalism, and caste-ism into which people have fallen.

The Limits of the Camera-Eye

The Limits of the Camera-Eye

On the sequel to The Act of Killing

Eyes gouged; eyes augmented; eyes blinded with old age; eyes guarded, darting, glassed-over; eyes squinting to check if the horizon has sharpened. A boy shuts his hard as he struggles to absorb his history lessons at school. His sister puts on their father’s glasses, giggling at how they warp her world. Eyes multiply, kaleidoscopic, as the structuring metaphor of Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Look of Silence, a new documentary on the anti-Communist purges in Indonesia that, between 1965 and 1966, killed up to a million people.