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Movies

February 4, 2016

My press email about this year’s crop of Oscar shorts notes that all the animated shorts are rated approximately PG, except “Prologue,” which is described as “not suitable for children.” I would go a step further and say it’s not suitable to be a nominee; it’s more of a five-minute demo reel for someone who clearly has talent but little to say.

January 28, 2016

The screenwriter and occasional director Charlie Kaufman has been delightfully gas-lighting moviegoers since 1999’s Being John Malkovich, a film that takes place, quite literally, inside the head of John Malkovich. Like Rod Serling before him, Kaufman loves to knock everything just slightly off kilter, creating an existential free fall that is at once exhilarating and upsetting. Using wry humor to offset his philosophical heebie-jeebies, Kaufman’s what-if movies pry open absurd cracks in accepted reality until a plausible explanation of our human condition emerges.

January 21, 2016

Windows. Lenses. Curtains. More windows. There are layers between the actors and the audience in Todd Haynes’ Carol, some of them narrative, some literal. Haynes loves to show the gently blurred image of Rooney Mara, elfin and pensive, shot through glass. Mara, though the various award nominations (and the title) might suggest otherwise, is the star of Carol. As Therese, an early-1950s young woman with a department store job, a well-intentioned beau and a lovely little apartment, she floats through the film with wide eyes and the occasional sharp glance.

January 13, 2016

Mexico-born director Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu is custom-built for Hollywood. Like Hollywood, Iñárritu is neither as deep nor as heavy as he believes himself to be, and he regularly mistakes size and scale for epic seriousness.

January 7, 2016

Although the party line these days is that one must have a stridently absolute, carefully outlined position about being pro or con Quentin Tarantino, it is in fact possible to have thought Inglourious Basterds was brilliant and also to find The Hateful Eight a tiresome, incoherent, overlong slog.

December 31, 2015

Cinema is losing its love for the elemental force of the human face. Amid the empurpled pomp and droidy digitization of endlessly retooled blockbusters, that which is purely and quietly us — our complexity, our contradictions, our neocortical slumps and secret struggles — is being phased out, replaced on screen by the endless crowding of martial abstractions that speed headlong for the fiscal orgasm of consumer approval.

December 24, 2015

December 17, 2015

Macbeth might not be Shakespeare’s most sophisticated play — it is nasty, brutish and short — and yet, among the tragedies, it remains my personal favorite, if only because it contains the most blunt and chilling expression of nihilism yet registered in the English language.

December 10, 2015

Spotlight is a brilliant piece of meta-storytelling: a film that tells a story about how another story was found. In early 2002, the The Boston Globe’s Spotlight team published a story uncovering years of hidden abuse by Catholic priests. That piece is out there, online, for anyone to read. But what director Tom McCarthy (The Station Agent) and his co-writer Josh Singer tease out, in a movie that plays like a quiet, tense thriller, is how that story came to be — and how it took decades to come to light. 

December 3, 2015

Recipe for an emotional pummeling: A mother and her 5-year-old son are locked up in a dank shed, held hostage by an evil piece of white shit who makes routine visits for creaky sex acts while the kid counts time, faking sleep in a tiny closet. Mom was abducted seven years ago, which means that the tight walls of “room” are all the child knows, all he comprehends of the world: his universe is a sink, bed, tub, table, television and the shed’s single skylight revealing endless blue nothingness.

November 25, 2015

Mockingjay Part 2 has no illusions about being anything but the final movie in a series. There are no reminders, no “previously, on The Hunger Games” montages to put you back in the story; it just starts, opening on a Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) who is, as we so often see her, bruised but not broken. Which, in a nutshell, is the problem with this movie: It doesn’t know how to grapple with the way that book-Katniss really is broken, traumatized and angry after all she’s been through.

November 19, 2015

Someday, a movie will be worthy of Carey Mulligan again. An Education deserved her; little else has, though her sharp performance in Inside Llewyn Davis was a highlight. Mulligan is so delicate looking, so fresh-faced, that filmmakers either underestimate her or don’t know what to do with her. Like Brie Larson, so prickly and good in Room, she hides a steeliness behind wide eyes. I want to see her play a superhero, but she’d probably get cast as the sidekick.

November 12, 2015

James Bond is a real son-of-a-bitch. Emotionally withdrawn and given to bouts of depression, the agent known as 007 is a classic anti-hero — sadistic, taciturn and misanthropic, he is an assassin driven by the icy requisites of duty but given to the thrill of stepping outside the lines when he smells a rat within his own intelligence organization.

October 22, 2015

Dear Guillermo del Toro:

Qué pasó? Did someone hijack your latest movie, Crimson Peak, and simply keep your name on the writing and directing credits? I smell a rat. Maybe Tony Scott? No, sorry, he’s dead. Please tell me it wasn’t Michael Bay. Anybody but Michael Bay.

October 8, 2015

For the most part, the genre of horror has been a much-maligned cinematic ghetto populated almost exclusively by male directors, and God bless ’em all: They’ve titillated and tantalized and torn us apart to the best of their abilities over the years, some with more sophistication and some with less, mining every sexualized psychosis and reptilian yelp under the blood moon.

October 1, 2015

The idea of dance on film is as old as film itself. More than a century ago, artists experimented with capturing lush, elusive movement using a wonderful new technology: film. 

Born of the artistic collaboration between choreographer and filmmaker, “screendance” pushes dance from the confines of a theater’s stage to video. 

October 1, 2015

The documentary Best of Enemies explores the significance of a series of debates between Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley Jr. held during both the Republican and Democratic conventions in 1968. The intellectual titans of both the new left and the new right square off in a scheme meant to boost ratings and cut the costs of convention coverage by the perennially-broke ABC network. By that metric, the plan was a success.

September 23, 2015

Grandma

September 17, 2015

Among the several pleasures of writer-director Paul Weitz’s new film Grandma is watching Lily Tomlin drop a petulant teenage slacker to the floor with a hockey stick to the nuts. The aggression is not unfounded: Elle (Tomlin) is simply avenging her newly pregnant granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner), who is trying to collect enough money for her abortion appointment, and her baby daddy (Nat Wolff) won’t cough up his share.

September 10, 2015

Noah Baumbach has been making delightful movies about white twentysomething angst for, well, 20 years. He aged up a little bit with this spring’s While We’re Young, which lovingly skewered both its fortysomething leads and the twentysomething “artists” they befriended. The director got a little sweeter with 2012’s Frances Ha, the first movie in which Greta Gerwig served as his star, co-writer and muse.

Mistress America, which Gerwig also co-wrote, is somewhere in the middle. 

September 3, 2015

As Minnie, the boldly curious and sexually precocious 15-year-old girl who inaugurates an affair with her mother’s roustabout boyfriend in Diary of a Teenage Girl, Bel Powley is a revelation. With her saucer eyes popping beneath dowdy bangs, Powley perfectly registers the outsized emotions of a teen exploring the sticky chaos of adulthood; Minnie is all snap judgments, lightning revelations, puppy love, daily heartbreak. It’s the performance of the year so far.

August 27, 2015

Now that Armageddon is actually breathing down our necks, it’s sort of cute to look back at all our quaint, fancy ideas about how the end might pan out — especially in movies, where post-apocalyptic scenarios are less a warning than an enticement to some grand new adventure where hunky good guys in steampunk rags wage war against evil fuckers in spiked hockey masks for the last drop of water, gas, food, etc.

August 20, 2015

There was a time, not all that long ago, when writers could become cultural icons in this society — endangered emissaries who, like canaries in a coal mine, sniff out the poison seeping from the rank spigots of our popular culture. The late, great David Foster Wallace was such an author. Wallace’s prose, a kind of rococo thicket that belied deep veins of compassion and understanding, acted as a funhouse mirror reflecting back our malaise in a discursive, catch-all style that was frustrating, assaultive, revelatory and liberating, often all at once.

August 13, 2015

Set in the less traditionally photogenic streets of Los Angeles — the ones lined not with palm trees and fancy lounges, but with doughnut shops, car washes and dicey motels — Sean Baker’s sun-drenched, scrappy, vibrant Tangerine follows the day-long quest of Sin-Dee Rella (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez). Flat broke and fresh out of prison, Sin-Dee is hell-bent on finding the cisgender white girl that her boyfriend-slash-pimp Chester (James Ransone) has been sleeping with.