Thursday, September 22, 2016

Hermia and Helena (2016) A Film by Matías Piñeiro


"Matías Piñeiro's Hermia & Helena offers an implicit rebuke to the received notion that the American debuts of eccentric international filmmakers are bids for accessibility. The film's narrative concerns the residency of a young, Bueno Aires-based theater director, Camila (Agustina Muñoz), in New York City, where she's been invited to translate A Midsummer Night's Dream into Spanish for a new take on Shakespeare's canonical comedy. And while her adventures feature rekindled romances and a familial reunion, Piñeiro takes considered measures to steer clear of saccharine self-discovery drama. In utilizing a temporally and geographically jumpy structure, a series of detours and doublings that frustrate Camila's centrality in the story, and a visual surface that delights in non-narrative distractions, he even goes so far as to obfuscate whatever crowd-pleasing qualities may have existed in the material."

I wrote about my favorite Matías Piñeiro film thus far as part of Slant Magazine's NYFF coverage.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum (1939) A Film by Kenji Mizoguchi


"On the back cover of their Blu-ray release of The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum, the Criterion Collection heralds the 1939 Kenji Mizoguchi film as 'the first full realization of the hypnotic long takes and eloquent camera movements that would come to define the director's films'—a seductive claim, to be sure, but one with the potential to mislead. The Japanese filmmaker was experimenting with the cited aesthetic as early as 1935 with The Downfall of Osen, which withheld a close-up revelation of its titular protagonist until the tail end of a lugubrious flashback structure, while 1937's criminally underseen The Straits of Love and Hate, inspired by Leo Tolstoy's Resurrection, plays like a model for Hou Hsiao-hsien's work in its serene patience and pictorial distance. That's, of course, to account for only Mizoguchi's extant films; within the dozens undiscovered, it's reasonable to assume, given the stylistically bold temperament of something even as early as 1925's The Song of Home, that there's some sophisticated time-sculpting going on elsewhere."

Reviewed the new Criterion Blu-ray.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Contesting History – The Films of Oliver Stone


"Regarded as a politically radical firebrand nearly as often as he’s discussed for his filmmaking, Oliver Stone is one of the monolithic voices of contemporary Hollywood—a figure about whom opinion tends to be divided starkly between derision and adulation, with little room for ambivalence in between. As a veteran of the Vietnam War whose Bronze Star and Purple Heart belie a profound disillusionment with his experience there, Stone has spent a considerable chunk of his directorial career depicting the events of the 1960s and 70s, paying particular attention to the ways in which the era’s tensions and contradictions act as barometers for more enduring problems in American politics. His overarching thesis as a filmmaker—that passive faith in one’s nation leaves one blind to the fact that the interconnected forces of government and national media construct digestible narratives for their citizenry in ways that protect their own interests—doubles as a call to action, which therefore brands Stone as an activist working within the entertainment business, a perch from which he wields a rare influence."

The Harvard Film Archive is hosting a small survey of Oliver Stone's political filmmaking this fall. They generously asked me to contribute the introduction and, with the exception of the blurb on Snowden, all of the program notes for the series, which can be viewed here.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Be Sure to Share (2009) A Film by Sion Sono


"An anomalous tearjerker from Sion Sono couched between some of the director’s most outré genre eruptions, Be Sure to Share channels Sono’s own grief over the loss of his father into a modest tale of filial piety renewed against the backdrop of terminal cancer. Shiro (Akira), who’s happily employed in his late twenties and on the cusp of engagement to his mild-mannered girlfriend, Yoko (Ayumi Itô), has his world rocked when his father Tetsuji (Eiji Okada) unexpectedly keels over and is rushed to the emergency room. When the diagnosis consigns Tetsuji to the hospital bed for what will likely be a permanent stay, Shiro, recognizing that his relationship with his dad extends scarcely beyond old-fashioned tough love, endeavors to deepen their connection before it’s too late. The premise is a melodramatic softball right over the middle of the plate, the kind of idea that Hollywood would hypothetically poach and transform into two hours of sad-macho life lessons handed down from an award-sniffing veteran actor to a handsome newcomer."

My second contribution to the Sion Sono retrospective at In Review Online continues here.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Girlfriend Experience: Season 1 (2016) A TV Series by Amy Seimetz and Lodge Kerrigan


"Seimetz and Kerrigan’s first stab at mainstream television proceeds with series producer Steven Soderbergh’s 2009 feature of the same name as its narrative and aesthetic model, and they’ve clearly studied up on his coolly anthropological late style. The show’s action occurs exclusively in office buildings, apartments, hotels, and restaurants of the most exquisite architectural modernism, with immaculately dusted reflective surfaces and symmetrically arranged décor implicitly demanding that anyone within these spaces hold themselves with a comparable degree of sharpness. And true to their overseer’s contempt for perfunctory shot-reverse-shot editing patterns, Seimetz and Kerrigan, who swap helming duties on a more or less episode-by-episode basis, exhibit a fondness for covering scenes in wide establishing shots that weigh principal and background talent equally, creating a sense of ambient surveillance only compounded when one master shot is followed with yet another spatially disorienting angle from some other distant corner."

I actually wrote about TV. My full review of the excellent first season of The Girlfriend Experience continues over at Slant.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

I Am Keiko (1997) A Film by Sion Sono


"I Am Keiko is a film caught within the dimensions of its maker’s head, composed of and consumed by the limits of that brain’s capacity for thought. This is a statement of fact, not a value judgment, and a twofold statement at that. Sion Sono may have directed I Am Keiko but Keiko herself, a 22-year-old waitress grieving from the recent loss of her father to cancer, is positioned within the film’s fictional framework as the sole author of its images and structure, with the film we’re watching ostensibly a celluloid diary transmitted to us as we’re witnessing it. Keiko plainly addresses the parameters of her film in voiceover: in exactly one hour and one minute’s time—she dictates to us as we contemplate the ticking of a statically framed clock—we will finish watching a series of recordings from her daily life, over which she will exercise total freedom with regard to the content and means of expression."

Review continues at In Review Online, which is currently holding a Sion Sono retrospective.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Richard Linklater: Dream is Destiny (2016) A Film by Louis Black and Karen Bernstein


"'He kinda has to create another world to express how he feels about this one,' enthuses Boyhood star Ellar Coltrane of director Richard Linklater during the procession of admiring quotes that opens Richard Linklater: Dream Is Destiny, the third recent release to offer a peek into the life of the Texan filmmaker and the second to do so in the style of a conventional expository documentary. Such an awe-strikingly general statement (about what director could this not be said?) isn't exactly a surprise from a young actor, but it's also not really the kind of sound bite that primes a viewer to expect critical rigor, and in placing it right at the head of their film, directors Louis Black and Karen Bernstein set an unfortunate precedent that's seldom surpassed. In fact, Coltrane's quote isn't even the flimsiest inclusion: At one point, longtime Linklater editor Sandra Adair declares that “he knows his characters so well and he understands the kinds of films he's making.”

Full review at Slant.