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October 20, 2016


October 13, 2016

The Birth of a Nation:

Director Nate Parker purposely reclaims the title of perhaps the most racist film of all time, D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation of 1915, and retools it as a tale based on the true story of Nat Turner, an enslaved African-American who helmed a slave rebellion in 1830s Virginia. (Bijou Art Cinemas)


Hell or High Water

October 6, 2016

Movies about being a teenager have come a long way since I was a teen. (Let’s not talk about exactly how long it’s been.) The last few decades of teen storytelling have their charms, from John Hughes to 10 Things I Hate About You, but many teen movies have looked outward in a way that doesn’t always feel true to adolescent life, when the mess of things going on inside is as distracting, or maybe all-consuming, as school and friends and mean girls and attraction.

September 22, 2016

Of all the literary devices used to grant a physical wallop to a character’s metaphysical situation, I suppose making a pathological narcissist blind isn’t the worst. I mean, it ain’t Ahab’s missing leg or the impotence of Jake Barnes, but what the hell? It works, in a slight to middling way.

September 15, 2016

Ron Howard has said that he hoped to make Eight Days a Week both for dedicated Beatles fans and for a younger generation that has little sense of who The Beatles were. I’m not sure where this leaves me, as I’m neither a millennial nor a Beatles diehard, but a person who appreciates a good music documentary. And Eight Days is fine — a solid mix of archival footage, new interviews with Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, crowd-sourced footage and reminiscences from musicians or now-famous people who once saw The Beatles.

September 8, 2016

As the riotous ’60s bled into the scabby ’70s, a lot of people in this country found themselves asking what happened to the American Dream, and movies from that era reflected this swooning miasma. In film after great film, directors like Martin Scorsese, Sam Peckinpah and Robert Altman, to name just a few, tapped into our growing sense that something had gone seriously, desperately wrong — that the great social experiment of democracy and prosperity had finally begun rotting from the inside out.

August 25, 2016

Don’t Think Twice, Mike Birbiglia’s second feature (following Sleepwalk With Me), starts with the rules of improv comedy. One of the rules: It’s all about the group. If you break that rule, everything falls apart. Even — or especially — if you break it by attaining the success every member wants. 

August 18, 2016

It goes without saying that horror, strictly speaking, is not among cinema’s most expansive genres. Most times, it’s as conservative and formulaic as porn, and its requisite elements are as familiar as a bowl of chicken noodle soup.

August 4, 2016

Hunt for the Wilderpeople by Taika Waititi is about an unlikely pair of outcasts who scamper into the New Zealand backcountry to escape the bumbling clutches of a nationwide manhunt. The film is derivative, predictable, grandiose and utterly sentimental.

It is also smart, funny, big-hearted and disarmingly adorable, and it juggles these absurd qualities with dexterity and a winking charm that is almost impossible to deny.

July 28, 2016

Star Trek Beyond soared into theaters last weekend under the weight of 50 years of expectations. Some were notably lower after the mess that was 2013’s Star Trek: Into Darkness. Some can never be met; those belong to the old guard who would rather the movies be more like (one of) the series. When Justin Lin was announced as Beyond’s director, there was a certain amount of groaning online: “It’s just going to be Fast and Furious in space!” 

July 21, 2016

Clocking in at just 72 minutes, The Fits is less full-length feature than a new form of cinematic poetry, a visually stunning film that is at once as inscrutable and straightforward as a parable.

Co-written, co-produced and directed by Anna Rose Holmer in her filmmaking debut, the movie focuses — with physical intimacy and minimal dialogue — on Toni (Royalty Hightower), a quiet, observant 11-year-old girl who seems to spend all her waking hours in a gym, surrounded by boxers and the fierce women of a competitive dance team.

July 14, 2016

What a strange beast Our Last Tango is. This short documentary (original title Un tango más) has the peculiar distinction of being both inventive and unsatisfying. It’s experimental in ways that work on an emotional level, but as a whole it leaves a viewer wanting much more.

July 7, 2016

“I started this journey curious about a bizarre sport called competitive endurance tickling,” says New Zealand journalist David Farrier near the conclusion of his strange and upsetting documentary Tickled. “But I now think this was never even about tickling. This is about power, control and harassment. It’s about one person’s twistedness and how far that can go.”

June 30, 2016

Few things are as staid and predictable as the lone-athlete sports film. Since the sleeper success of Rocky in 1976, such movies have become increasingly formulaic potboilers in which we dutifully witness, as though through a fisheye lens, the algorithmic progress of an underdog as he confronts endless obstacles on the way to inevitable triumph. Cue ovation.

June 23, 2016

It’s always wonderful to be reminded that Kate Beckinsale is an excellent actress.

In 2003, Beckinsale became the face of the Underworld franchise, and people seemed to stop taking her the least bit seriously. She’s too often cast in dopey rom-coms (Serendipity) or knock-off action flicks (Van Helsing), and so we forget that she was great as Hero in Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing and as Charlotte in Whit Stillman’s The Last Days of Disco.

June 16, 2016

War is hell, no doubt. But for all those nameless, faceless refugees escaping the war at home, the realities of relocation can plunge them into a new kind of nightmare, one almost as bloody and chaotic.

June 9, 2016

The Lobster is the English-language debut of Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos. As far as I can tell, it’s a near-perfect film, a movie of surpassing oddness and eerie beauty, though hardly an easy one to digest. Nor is it very pleasant, in the conventional sense.

June 2, 2016

The most terrifying villains are never monsters, only men — a fact that Green Room writer-director Jeremy Saulnier reiterates, most effectively, with his third feature film.

June 2, 2016

It’s not the fault of X-Men: Apocalypse that its villain, with his plan to destroy the world and all the puny people in it, feels extra tired just now. The filmmakers surely didn’t know that a very similar plot would play out in DC’s televised universe this season: On Arrow, a TV show based on comic-book character Green Arrow, the terrorist kingpin Damien Darhk wanted to do away with most of humanity.

May 26, 2016

From the exact moment I spied Susan Sarandon rubbing lemons on her naked torso through the apartment window in Atlantic City, I was in love.

Yep, me and Burt Lancaster, forever united in our voyeurism, but it isn’t quite what you think: Sure, the scene was rawly, almost excruciatingly erotic as Sarandon, utterly unaware of being observed (they don’t call them apartments for nothing), went about slowly disrobing and squeezing citrus on her flesh to slice out the proletariat stink of the oyster bar where she works.

May 19, 2016

In order to understand my response to Sing Street, director John Carney’s love letter to Irish teens starting a garage band in mid-’80s Dublin, I’m going to have to tell you a bit about myself.

I came of age in a small Northwest town at the ass end of the Cold War, when the threat of nuclear annihilation was about to be replaced by the plague of AIDS as the greatest goad to adolescent nihilism. Things weren’t good at home, and as it went at home, so it seemed to go with the world.

May 12, 2016

Those of us who have been complaining that the stakes in superhero movies have gotten ridiculously high, that it’s always the end of the world, will be relieved that Captain America: Civil War brings things back down to Earth. There are no aliens, no artificial intelligences, no angry gods or malignant outside forces.

The villains here are just men.

May 5, 2016

Jason Bateman was that kid in high school everybody pretty much liked  — the vice president of the student body who ran track and dated not the prettiest but easily the coolest cheerleader, and who was on friendly terms with jocks and stoners alike (although secretly preferring stoners). 

And yet, something about the guy strains against his better angels, as though being nice just isn’t cutting it. His mean streak is only a centimeter wide, but when he finds it, it’s like coming home.

April 28, 2016

Still very much with us, the 105-year-old Chinese-born painter Tyrus Wong is quite possibly the most influential American artist you’ve never heard of — until now, that is.

As the sole inspiration for the expressionistic animated style of Disney’s Bambi (more on that in a moment), Wong’s elegant and economical style, a melding of traditional Asiatic ink-and-brush painting and Western modernist influences, has literally suffused American culture, from dishware and Hollywood to Hallmark cards and museums everywhere.