Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Autumn, Autumn (2016) A Film by Jang Woo-jin

"If conventional narrative cinema grammar has trained us to understand scenes taking place prior to the broadcasting of a film’s title as build-up to the story proper, a whetting of the palette for the more significant events to come, then how do we negotiate the import of Ji-hyeon’s tale, remarkably slight as it seems? This is just one of the gentle perplexities of Autumn, Autumn, a deft realist miniature that operates as both a record of everyday spaces and a document of the emotionally charged, albeit ephemeral, human dramas that pass through them. When the film abandons Ji-hyeon after its delayed title card to resume a different narrative thread, it becomes apparent that Jang’s conception of storytelling isn’t linear but delicately cubist, and rooted less by human agency than by a fixed time and place."

Full review of Autumn, Autumn, now showing at New Directors/New Films, continues here.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Song to Song (2017) A Film by Terrence Malick

"In the end, Song to Song has next to nothing of consequence to say about the music scene in 2017, just as Knight of Cups's gloss on Hollywood deal-making and networking was nothing if not incidental. Though the film features dozens of musical cues from artists ranging from Bob Marley to Sharon Van Etten to Julianna Barwick, its snapshots of big-venue machinations and backstage antics comprise only a fraction of its content. Instead, the music industry—as a combustible, always-moving collaborative enterprise in which nothing's guaranteed—provides the textural backdrop for another long-form, free-associative investigation into the highs and low of romantic love, and one that arguably constitutes the most rewarding of Malick's recent output."

Full review of my favorite Malick film since The Tree of Life continues at Slant Magazine.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Brimstone (2017) A Film by Martin Koolhoven

"Running 148 minutes and encompassing four chapters (portentously titled along biblical lines, such as 'Exodus' and 'Retribution'), the film returns over and over to scenes of frontierswomen being ruthlessly degraded by vile men; in a recurring scenario, Koolhoven frames the agonized faces of victims being dealt blood-drawing belt whippings. That Brimstone ultimately postures as a feminist yarn is unsurprising given the current market demand for Strong Female Leads, but its bid for social correctness—manifested most plainly in a last-minute uplifting voiceover—does nothing to make the film’s juvenile and numbing fixation on brutality any more palatable."

Full review at Slant Magazine.

Friday, February 24, 2017

The Human Surge (2016) A Film by Eduardo Williams

"Were it not for one showy transition of a camera burrowing through topsoil for a macro-photographic tour of an ant colony, The Human Surge might easily be mistaken for a particularly interminable YouTube video, unfolding as it does like the aimless time-killing of bored boys without much to do and a crummy camera to record whatever ends up happening. Facetious as such a characterization may seem for a film with the temerity to divide its action across Argentina, Mozambique, and the Philippines, it's not exactly unsuitable given director Eduardo Williams's subject matter, which concerns the lives of minimum-wage slackers from the aforementioned locales who fill their downtime forging tenuous human connections across Internet platforms. Using a pair of nifty cuts to connect these disparate milieus, the film develops in chapters as if to imply a fundamental interconnectedness between people across the world in similar dead-end situations, yet often the only quality holding the episodes together is the amateurishness of the staging."

Full review continues at Slant Magazine.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

A Cure for Wellness (2017) A Film by Gore Verbinski

"Verbinski excels at such disorienting crosscuts (the film’s literally hell-raising climax juxtaposes ghastly happenings in the spa’s basement with jubilant festivities in the ballroom above), and in a larger sense, A Cure for Wellness thrives on a collision of tones. The immaculate cosmetics of the wellness retreat itself, from the prudently manicured foliage to everyone’s spotless white uniforms, contrast with an alarming emphasis on creepy-crawly body horror. There’s enough sickly exposed white flesh on display throughout the film—often submerged in water filled with man-eating eels—to make Ulrich Seidl blush, while one bit of dental treatment/torture administered to Lockhart produces a retina-searing image worthy of early Cronenberg."

Full review of this highly entertaining movie at Slant Magazine.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Anatahan (1953) A Film by Josef Von Sternberg

"The film's starting point is the real historical incident of a Japanese squadron found stranded alive on the titular island years after the defeat of their army. What Sternberg freely imagines are the seven years of toil and hardship endured by these men while separated from their homeland, which constitutes an act of speculative empathy that puts the project squarely in the realm of storytelling. Complicating this understanding, however, is the filmmaker's decision to narrate the tale himself in a droll tone that pinballs between Job-like questioning, poetic musing, and impartial reportage, including the use of such documentary-tinged phrases as 'we can only reconstruct the events' and 'we can only surmise what happened.'"

Full review of Anatahan, now playing in a Kino Lorber restoration at Metrograph in New York City, continues at Slant.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Leonard Cohen: Bird on a Wire (1974) A Film by Tony Palmer

"Like [D.A.] Pennebaker, [Tony] Palmer shoots in 16mm in anonymous green rooms and regal concert halls but plays looser with his aesthetic (mixing monochrome and color stock) and allows himself more fanciful editorial digressions. A live performance of 'Sisters of Mercy,' for instance, intercuts Cohen's on-stage act with both contemporaneous footage of him on tour and various flashback snippets of the singer reading and writing poetry, while a radiant rendition of 'So Long, Marianne' intermingles impressionistic home movies of Cohen as a young boy. In a more dubious example, Palmer sources graphic clips of suffering in Vietnam during the war to complement Cohen's musings on the political utility of his music—an intrusion which effectively sullies the suggestive vagueness of his lyrics on these subjects."

Full review here.