Monday, October 16, 2017

Lover for a Day (2017) A Film by Philippe Garrel

"Like In the Shadow of Women, Lover for a Day is shot in widescreen black and white by Renato Berta, staged in a prosaic suite of bedrooms, cafés, and side streets, and narrated in a terse short-form prose style. But in contrast to Garrel’s last film, which diligently plucked away at the morose self-importance of its male lead, the wise French dramatist’s latest foregrounds the malleable spirits of its young female characters, leaving Gilles something of an implicit gravitational force rather than a subject of sustained consideration. In doing so, the film adopts an unbiased lucidity. Instead of the wry, pitch-perfect assessments of human behavior contained within In the Shadow of Women, we get a hushed sense of awe and empathy as Garrel ruminates on the burgeoning womanhood of his daughter, here cast for the first time in a lead role under his direction, by way of the character she inhabits."

Full review of Philippe Garrel's latest film continues at Slant Magazine as part of the site's annual coverage of the New York Film Festival.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Rebel in the Rye (2017) A Film by Danny Strong

"Making liberal use of inner monologue to give form to Salinger’s feverish stop-and-go writing process, Strong ties the epiphanies and crushing disappointments of the author’s life to key passages within his body of work. In doing so, Holden Caulfield becomes less a spontaneous fictional creation than the logical sum of Salinger’s romantic frustrations, his run-ins with hectoring authority figures, and his scarring visions of Nazi death camps (realized on budget here as blue-tinted glimpses of gaunt silhouettes and hands clutching past barbed wire). The whole affair suggests dramatic Tetris, and it leeches the artist and his process of any mystery."

I reviewed Danny Strong's boring-ass J.D. Salinger biopic over at Slant Magazine.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Dayveon (2017) A Film by Amman Abbasi

"Shot in 4:3 with sliver-thin depth of field and a lush palette of swampy greens, Amman Abbasi’s Dayveon is largely predicated on the idea of imparting a hyperreal sensuality to a region—an almost exclusively black small town in rural Arkansas—not often depicted on the big screen. The results, which sometimes conjure the spirit of Eugene Richards’s medium-format photojournalism in the Arkansas Delta in the late 1960s, are frequently breathtaking—and in no way trivial aestheticism. Small truths of the milieu, like the way leather peels off a sofa in the moist summer heart, or the smudgy details of a window in a 'hotboxed' Oldsmobile, become prominent pieces of mise-en-scène in Abbasi’s careful, patient framing, accumulating in a way that richly contextualizes the downtrodden lives of his characters."

Full review continues at Slant.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

They Live by Night (1948) A Film by Nicholas Ray

"François Truffaut called They Live by Night 'the most Bressonian of American films,' and while his characterization was overzealous, there’s more than just these performer resemblances to link the two directorial sensibilities. Like many Bresson films, Ray’s debut is a genre movie featuring only the bare minimum of generic trappings, one that favors the quiet dramas of decision-making and one-on-one commiseration to the louder spectacles that occur, often unseen, to push the plot along. It’s also a story about a pursuit of grace cut short by the callousness of society, which is manifested most plainly in a number of scenes detailing monetary transactions."

Full review of They Live by Night, now out in a stunning Criterion Blu-ray, continues at Slant.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Ascent (2016) A Film by Fiona Tan

"Splendor can't be diminished by context or weakened by one's overexposure to it. That's one of the principal lessons of Fiona Tan's Ascent, a docufiction photomontage film that meditates on Japan's magisterial Mount Fuji via its representation in photographic material captured over the course of the last century. Tan's comprehensive project discriminates against no particular era or pedigree of imagery, meaning that the depictions of Mount Fuji on display run the textural gamut from exquisitely staged shots on early color-tinted celluloid to pixelated, drive-by cellphone snaps and everything in between. The mountain's singular presence—astonishing, enchanting, intimidating—remains the one constant throughout, emanating in even the lowest-grade photos a peculiar autonomy, a tendency to float apart from the surrounding image as though possessed of its own life force."

Full review continues at Slant.

Monday, May 15, 2017

The Woman Who Left (2017) A Film by Lav Diaz

"Having demarcated his world cleanly into abject cruelty, haunted victimhood, and pure saintliness, Diaz eases into The Woman Who Left's primary plot around the two-hour mark when a trans woman, Hollanda (John Lloyd Cruz), on the brink of death after a brutal beating, collapses her way through Horacia's front door. The scenes that follow, which feature Horacia patiently fielding Hollanda's torrents of self-loathing, healing her open wounds, and talking her down from a cliff, represent the tender highpoint of the film, and yet they're also dramatically inert, functioning transparently as allegory for a wounded nation. That the eventual resolution of this thread implies transference of violence from one outlet to another hints at the director's pained and pessimistic assessment of the country's past and present."

Full review of Lav Diaz's latest film at Slant Magazine.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Woman of the Year (1942) A Film by George Stevens

"Harping on the politics of a 1942 romantic comedy is a dubious game, especially when one considers that the context for Woman of the Year's American exceptionalism was the pall of Nazism. But the film plays particularly poorly in 2017, and not only because its central narrative thrust involves the question of how to handle refugees, the relevance or lack thereof of the traditional blue-collar American male, and the place of feminism within American life. The film's conservative agenda also shortchanges Tracy and Hepburn's chemistry. The former's earthy restraint and the latter's electric sensuality are best collided in the early stages of the plot before Sam and Tess's differing worldviews stir conflict (one alcohol-lubricated back and forth in which the lovers hesitantly flesh out their respective backstories features a sizzling arrangement of intimate close-ups). But the screenplay's emphasis on Sam and Tess's disparities quickly fosters an environment that runs counter to Tracy and Hepburn's finest asset when sharing the screen together: the sense that the actors, and not just the characters they're playing, can barely contain their affection for one another."

Full review of The Criterion Collection's new Blu-ray release of Woman of the Year continues here.