Thursday, December 20, 2007

Honeydripper (2007)

"If all you know John Sayles from is the incredible Lone Star (1996), you might not be prepared for Honeydripper, which seems destined for high-school history classrooms."

Read my entire review of Honeydripper online here at The L Magazine.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Cinema of Max Ophuls

It’s a source of daily frustration that the films of Max Ophuls are not more widely available, and BAM’s extensive retrospective comes like a long-awaited oasis of rare and incomparable cinema. At the moment, only Lola Montes (1955), Ophuls’ final film and only one in color, is available on DVD. The film is the perfect culmination of a career dedicated to illicit affairs and turbulent passions; tortured women caught between their desires and society’s strict mores; and a swirling, mobile camera that expresses life’s fatalistic merry-go-round unlike anyone else’s before or since.

Read my full review of The Cinema of Max Ophuls here at The L Magazine online.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Audience of One; Shotgun Stories; The Killer Within

With echoes of Faulkner, Shotgun Stories tells the story of a deep-seated feud between two different families — familes that shared the same father and who were raised to despise one another. After the father dies, both families’ sons become progressively vengeful and violent. Produced by David Gordon Green (George Washington), this is the debut of writer/director Jeff Nichols. He expresses the same poetic sensibility of his producer, yet distinguishes himself with an almost Viscontian sense of epic tragedy.

A father and professor of psychology at a local university, Bob Bechtel’s secret is that in 1955, he committed one of the earliest school shootings in America while at Swarthmore University: He killed one fellow student before turning himself in. Macky Alston’s perceptive direction does its best to break Bechtel’s seemingly impenetrable mask, which makes The Killer Within all the more compelling and unforgettable.

“In 1994, at age 40, Pastor Richard Gozowsky saw his first movie.” This title card provides the genesis for Michael Jacobs’ fascinating, infuriating and uncomfortably funny documentary Audience of One. Within one year, Gozowsky received a message from God — “I want you to be the Rolls Royce of filmmaking” — and began production on Gravity: The Shadow of Joseph, a biblical sci-fi epic described as “Star Wars meets The Ten Commandments.”

Read reviews of Michael Jacobs' Audience of One, Jeff Nichols' Shotgun Stories, and Macky Alston's The Killer Within here at The L Magazine online.

War/Dance (2007)

Husband-and-wife co-directors Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine artfully interweave politics, personal stories and performance, and all three areas of the film seem in perfect harmony as they inform and inspire one another. The competition story is neither too uplifting nor too detached from the film’s political consciousness: even the most optimistic moments are tinged with a perseverance that reflects a troubled past and an uncertain future.

Read my full review of War/Dance here at The L Magazine online.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

"Terror's Advocate" (2007)

"One can see a predilection for fringe characters throughout Schroeder’s career: More, with 1960s counterculture; General Idi Amin Dada, about the infamous Ugandan dictator; and Barfly, based on the writings of skid row’s poet laureate Charles Bukowski. Schroeder doesn’t necessarily align himself with his subjects, nor does he exploit or malign them. Instead, he is fascinated by the performance and construction of extreme individualism."

Read my full review of Terror's Advocate here at The L Magazine online.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

"Finishing the Game" (2007)

"But racial politics seem to have got the better of Lin in Finishing the Game, as he spends so much time mocking cultural stereotypes that his characters rarely get the chance to move beyond them into any nuanced performances. Though reminiscent of Christopher Guest’s films (and the fake Dirk Diggler documentary featured in Boogie Nights), Finishing the Game lacks Guest’s subtle eccentricity, as well as his ability to render idiosyncratic characters with simultaneous strangeness and familiarity."

Read my entire review of Finishing the Game here at The L Magazine online.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Francois Truffaut's "The 400 Blows" (Les Quatre Cents Coups)

"Forty-eight years later, the film has lost none of its energy and continues to resonate with an ever-enlarging audience. Think of it as that guy/gal down the street that everyone knows and loves."

Read my review of Francois Truffaut's The 400 Blows (Les Quatre Cents Coups) here at The L Magazine online.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

"Film Noir Classic Collection, Vol. 4"

"The real value of this set lies beyond the worth of any individual film (Mystery Street, while fascinating, is uneven and dated) but in the reviving of such obscure curiosities alongside long out-of-print classics such as Nicholas Ray’s debut They Live By Night. Film noir was as much the creation of artists as it was hacks, of youthful innovation (Ray) and experienced craftsmanship (Andre de Toth, director of Crime Wave), and it is befitting that this box-set celebrates the union of such a cinematic myriad."

Read my full review of the "Film Noir Classic Collection, Vol. 4" DVD box-set here at The Brooklyn Rail online.

"The Last Winter" (2006)

"Fessenden imbues the natural-disaster genre with an ambiguity that neither preaches environmental awareness nor contents itself with the spectacle of nature’s special effects-ridden wrath (unlike Twister, Volcano or any of its late-90s brethren). There’s an ethereal evil akin to J-Horror, a mood that spells disaster without actually spelling it out, leaving much interpretation open to the spectator."

Read my full review of Larry Fessenden's The Last Winter here at The L Magazine online.

"UnAmerican Activities: The Films of Abraham Polonsky"

"The films of Abraham Polonsky are filled with the ambitious and the opportunistic, with double crosses and betrayals, and with capitalist corruption and exploitation. They are the stuff of McCarthy-inspired nightmares, laden with paranoia about the loss of one’s constitutional rights."

Read my full review of "UnAmerican Activities: The Films of Abraham Polonsky" here at The L Magazine online.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

"In The Shadow of the Moon" (2007)

"More than mere historical or scientific record, In the Shadow of the Moon is entrancing — and often exhilarating — as it returns the staid nostalgia of Ron Howard’s Apollo 13 to the level of mythology it deserves (Howard, ironically, helped distribute the film). Above all, it is the space footage itself that is so remarkable and captures, with a Lumiere-like simplicity, the majesty of moving images."

Click here to read my entire review of In The Shadow of the Moon at The L Magazine online.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

"The Early Films of Samuel Fuller" DVD Box Set

"I Shot Jesse James and The Baron of Arizona are daring, unconventional Westerns: the former offers a sympathetic portrayal of a cold-blooded murderer who shoots his boss in the back for a reward and a woman (Fuller’s reworking of genre conventions precedes such revisionist films as The Wild Bunch and The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly by more than a decade), while the latter focuses on a forger’s attempt to rewrite history in order to inherit the state. The real gem of the set, however, is The Steel Helmet, the first American film to address the Korean War (only six months after it had begun). Unusually brutal for its time, the chaotic and unmannered finale remains potent 56 years later."

Read my review of The Early Films of Samuel Fuller DVD Box Set here at The L Magazine online.

"Manda Bala" (2007)

"There is an undeniable pulse to Manda Bala (Send a Bullet), a highly kinetic narrative somewhere between the stylized realism of City of God and the eccentric absurdism of Werner Herzog’s documentaries."

Click here to read my review of Manda Bala at The L Magazine online.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Hong Sang-Soo's "Turning Gate" (2002)

"Hong’s distinctive blend of comedy and drama never sinks to the conventions of either genre, striking an ambiguous and ironic chord somewhere in between the two. Awkward silences speak louder than words in Hong’s films, as though the characters are never quite sure what to say or what they want out of life. When they do speak it is always the wrong thing, and when they decide what they want they are always wrong: self-delusion and uncertainty haunt Hong’s characters like an unwanted epithet."

Click here to read my entire review of Turning Gate at The L Magazine online.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

"Summer '04" (2006)

"Stefan Krohmer’s Summer ‘04 is a masterful and original thriller that matches Rohmer’s vacationing plots with the paranoid and anxious underpinnings of Polanski, coming together in a noir-tinged story of desire, infidelity, responsibility — and, of course, moral ambiguity."

Click here to read my review of Summer '04 at The L Magazine online.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

"The Camden 28" (2007)

"Like many liberal-minded activist documentaries, The Camden 28 has its heart in the right place, but its mind seems to wander. The play-by-play explanation of how they cased the building and planned the robbery is inspiring (if not educational), yet the recreation of the trial nearly 30 years later seems to lack the expected vigor."

Read my review of The Camden 28 (2007) here at The L Magazine online.

"I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry" (2007)

"I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry is shamelessly offensive, and it makes no apologies for the endless parade of gay jokes, fat jokes, gay fat jokes, and assorted humor about farts, bondage, boobies, and anything else your 13-year-old nephew has on his mind. Thirty minutes of this movie will bring the chuckling, immature inner bigot out of even the most staunchly mature liberal."

Read my review of I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry (2007) here at The L Magazine online.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

"Drama/Mex" (2006)

"With echoes of the moral ambiguity of Eric Rohmer and the emotional torrents of John Cassavetes, Gerardo Naranjo’s probing second feature, Drama/Mex, is an urgent and melancholic look at emotional entrapment as it affects five people over the course of one day in Acapulco."

Click here to read my review of Drama/Mex (2006) at The L Magazine online.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

"Introducing the Dwights" (2007)

For all its cathartic kicking and screaming (and drinking and blubbering), there’s not much of a story here, just a lot of conventional wisdom about growing up and growing older, that we’ve all seen and heard before. At her best, Brenda Blethyn’s performance borders on Mommie Dearest-territory, but every potentially interesting dark undertone is erased by a cringe-inducing happy ending that is all too reminiscent of Little Miss Sunshine.

Read my review of Introducing the Dwights (2007) here at The L Magazine online.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

"Live Free or Die Hard (2007)

"As worthless as the movie actually is, it’s fascinating culturally as an attempt at making a politically correct post-9/11 action flick. We see car crashes galore, yet we never see any dead civilians... Omitting the casualties, however, doesn’t erase the endless banality of poorly paced action and definitely-not-clever one-liners."

Click here to read my review of Live Free or Die Hard at The L Magazine online.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

"Black Sheep" (2006)

"Equal parts The Birds, Jurassic Park and The Host, Black Sheep is more a satire on the horror genre than it is a cautionary tale about genetic engineering-gone-wrong in the New Zealand countryside. It continually reinvents the most clichéd elements of the horror genre, using easily recognizable and iconic shots from any number of other films…but this time with sheep."

Read my review of "Black Sheep" here at The L Magazine online.

"Fido" (2006)

"Informed by 1950s Communist-paranoia/ science-fiction classics such as Invasion of the Body Snatchers, director Andrew Currie similarly wants Fido to be seen as a political allegory. But for all the contemporary touchstones (countless references to “fences,” xenophobia, and even a John Kerry look-alike), it rarely moves beyond an experiment in genre cross-pollination."

Read my review of "Fido" here at The L Magazine online.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

"Four Lane Highway" (2005)

"First time writer-director Dylan McCormack renders the characters of Four Lane Highway so plainly and with such connect-the-dot dilemmas that it is difficult to sympathize with them."

Read my review of "Four Lane Highway" here at The L Magazine online.

"Crazy Love" (2007)

"Director Dan Klores may take a little while to get the story really churning, but once he begins to expose the underbelly of every mother’s dream son-in-law, the film becomes a fascinating exploration of love in the age of the tabloid, where chivalry is no longer part of the social-consciousness and courtship rituals have become perverse beyond anything Buñuel could have imagined."

Read my review of "Crazy Love" here at The L Magazine online.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

"Angel Face" (1952)

Otto Preminger’s domestic noir Angel Face (1952) makes absurdly good use (twice!) of one of the great cinematic clichés—death by “going over the cliff.” The cliff, in this case, is a 150 ft drop behind a posh mansion owned by a once-great writer, his young and fabulously wealthy second wife, and her stepdaughter Jean Simmons. Robert Mitchum is the chauffeur that Simmons drags into her murderous, Oedipal melodrama. He is slightly less interested in “all that,” however. Mitchum’s disaffected, disconnected persona fits perfectly in this overly stuffed psychodrama. Just as Simmons takes her neuroses and anxieties too seriously, Mitchum seems interested only in the sex, and what little pay his driving skills can earn him. Together, they strike a balance that makes the film watchable, but hardly credible. Too much time is spent on resolving the murder plot, which is ultimately of little importance, and not enough on the lesser, not-so-symbolic details. Writers Frank Nugent and Oscar Millard (working from a story by Chester Erskine) assemble the narrative rather haphazardly, inserting scenes for a singular effect only, while never fully grasping the overall impact of the completed scenario, which is more psychologically affected than effective. Otto Preminger’s direction is so consistently slight it is as though he were trying to remove himself as director from the film. At his most effective, Preminger is able to communicate not only plot, but also psychological motivations, purely through visual and sound montage—that is through cinematic means, rather than literary. The most haunting scene of the film is a short segment that begins with a character sitting down to play the piano, and as the notes ring out Preminger cuts to another character stepping into a car. The piano carries over on the soundtrack, and its presence transcends to omnipresence; without any other hints, we become aware of the murderous trap that has been set. But moments such as these are rare in Angel Face, and more often than not, instead of being reticent Preminger seems only remotely interested in the material at hand.

"Two Smart People" (1946)

Jules Dassin’s Two Smart People (1946) goes too far in trying to create that sellable, box-office concoction of the charming criminal: a man so handsome women can’t help but to be manipulated, a thief but nothing so reviling as a murderer, and one who’s caught between the desire to get away with the loot or to get away with the girl. John Hodiak is on a train back to Sing Sing to do time for stealing some bank bonds (that are still missing), Lloyd Nolan is the officer assigned to ensure he makes it back to New York, and Lucille Ball is the femme fatale who’s after the bonds (and who of course falls for Hodiak in the process). I couldn’t care less for the plot, but sadly Dassin and his screenwriters Leslie Charteris and Ethel Hill clearly do. The narrative is strictly literal, and even Karl Freund’s cinematography can’t bring any abstraction or ambiguity to the film. But whereas Hodiak’s and Ball’s characters are too compromised—perverted by the need to appeal to a mass audience—Elisha Cook’s is able to maintain a relative purity, and is the only worthwhile element to the film. Cook plays a sleazy lightweight crook who tries to use Ball as bait to get the bonds, and while he’s a convenient complication for the plot (audiences need drama, no?) he isn’t overly villainized nor sweet-toothed. He’s the only authentically hardboiled character in the film, and one gets the impression that he is acting without regard for popularity, without pretense, and without ulterior motivations: likeability, plot, sex-appeal and commercialization haven’t gotten to Cook yet (nor did they ever). Ultimately, Two Smart People’s concoction of romantic comedy and film noir is neither so satiating nor satisfying: it brings with it all the weakness of the former (complacency, corn and cheese) and disregards all the strengths of the latter (a primary concern for atmosphere, a minimalist conception of plot, and an overall sense of moral ambiguity).