Reviews

Reviewer: Steve Dollar
Rating (out of 5): ***½

Whether you take it at face value or gradually get the feeing that you're watching an art-world answer to This Is Spinal Tap, the much yakked-about Exit Through the Gift Shop is a knowingly subversive commentary on subversive art - and one of the year's best screen comedies, intentional (which I fully believe it is) or otherwise (a little too good to be true).

Pulling a meta-Warhol move, the pseudonymynous UK street artist Banksy, now an international art celebrity, introduces a putative documentary about his work by turning the tables. Banksy, a silhouette in a hoodie whose voice is altered by distortion, tells us about a Los Angeles-based, French filmmaker who proposed making a movie about him, but instead it's Banksy who has made a film about the other guy: Thierry Guetta, a thrift shop owner turned obsessive video shooter of guerrilla street artists. Guetta, who is - or portrays - a classic sort of wacky Frenchman, becomes a funhouse double of what Banksy, and his LA pal Shepard Fairey, represent.

Blog entry 12/15/2010 - 12:06pm

Reviewer: James Van Maanen
Rating (out of 5): ****

The exquisite French film Mademoiselle Chambon has been co-adapted (with Florence Vignon, from the novel by Eric Holder) and directed by Stéphane Brizé, who a few years ago, gave us the quietly entrancing Not Here to Be Loved [sadly not yet on DVD in the US]. Brizé now offers an ever better, though just as quietly entrancing, film -- this time using two of France's best actors at the very top of their form: Vincent Lindon (Friday Night) and Sandrine Kiberlain (Apres Vous). A film with minimal dialog, but never obviously so, it relies on the in-the-moment response of the two actors, who are simply marvelous at expressing their inner selves while appearing to camouflage their feelings.

Blog entry 12/13/2010 - 11:19am

Reviewer: Jeffrey M. Anderson
Rating (out of 5): ***

Two years ago, Matteo Garrone's Gomorrah re-invented the Italian gangster film for the 21st century, and now Marco Amenta's The Sicilian Girl sends it back again. Like many movies based on true stories, it's hamstrung by a need to stay faithful and respectful to the original players, and never completely comes alive.

Ironically, the best scenes are the early ones set in 1984. They ooze a traditional kind of gangster movie, with slick mafia dons in pinstripe suits strolling around the town square, and the loyal peons kissing their rings. There's also more sheer movement here; the rest of the film gets rather stuck. It's in these early scenes that we first meet little Rita (Miriana Faja), who idolizes her father, and who witnesses his violent death.

Blog entry 12/10/2010 - 4:57pm

Reviewer: Jeffrey M. Anderson
Rating (out of 5): ***

Most American romantic comedies depend on some kind of lie to keep the drama going for 90 minutes. One love partner has some big secret that he or she just can't quite manage to tell the other. This basically means that, if someone would just speak up, there wouldn't be a movie. It goes without saying that this renders most romantic comedies totally uninteresting. Happily, Nanette Burstein's new Going the Distance is merely about a tough situation. Both partners are totally honest with one another, and they're genuinely in love, but they're simply having a tough time with the distance between them.

Blog entry 12/07/2010 - 3:08pm

Reviewer: James van Maanen
Rating (out of 5): ***½

Ah, family -- what a goldmine of fodder for our future creative life! If only we can get through the trying times of growing up. A sentiment that comes to mind as you view the new Belgian film The Misfortunates, the bleak but often quite funny and sometimes very moving look at a hard-scrabble childhood among a family of wastrels.

How life becomes art (and how and why a young boy grows into his older, not-so-happy self) is given wonderful specificity by director/co-writer (with Christophe Dirickx) Felix Van Groeningen, from the novel by Dimitri Verhulst. We can see with surprising clarity not only how art is created (and expanded upon) from life but also how difficult it is to become something other than the child we were. Older? Yes. Different, better? Not so much.

The Misfortunates is set in a low-end town in the Flanders region of the country, which tends, I suspect, toward Belgian's Dutch character rather than its French. The family at hand is pretty much a disaster, though certainly an interesting one. Our hero, the thirteen-year-old Gunther has a father who's a drunk, uncles who each have their self-made cross to bear, and a grandma who can only be called an enabler. The boy, clearly smart, is not doing well own in school, even with the administration trying, against all odds, to take his side.

Blog entry 12/06/2010 - 5:41pm

Reviewer: Erin Donovan
Rating (out of 5): ****

Within America’s conversation about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan much criticism has been lobbed at journalists who reported from warzones while being embedded with the troops. Critics say a reporter’s chief concern should be objectivity which would (understandably) be comprised when sharing life and death situations on a daily basis. Proponents say it provides an invaluable view of war from the ground-eye perspective of the troops. I tend to fall in the latter category, and feel it’s a far more damning statement about the predicament of journalism that any one reporters’ work is expected (by editors or readers) to be all things to all people.

Restrepo [official site], the collaborative effort between author Sebastian Junger (who also penned the bestseller The Perfect Storm) and photographer Tim Hetherington, depicts five months (over the course of a year) spent at an outpost in the Korengal Valley, the most violent front in the Afghanistan war. The film -- which opened the Sundance film festival earlier this year and picked up the Grand Jury Prize --builds its story with on-the-ground footage as the soldiers inch along the valley, picking off Taliban members and trying to convince locals not to accept the $5/day payment to fight the United States on the Taliban’s behalf.

Blog entry 12/02/2010 - 12:52pm

Reviewer: James Van Maanen
Rating (out of 5): ****

How unusual to see a love story for adults, one that takes its sweet time (yes, the Cairo Time of the title) while it alternately surprises, soothes and shakes you up. But quietly. Though it seems aimed at older audiences, it was made by a youthful filmmaker: Ruba Nadda, a Canadian writer/director with Middle-Eastern roots who is still in her 30s. To reap the full benefits of the film, you must be willing to enter the soul of the protagonist, a happily-married, middle-aged woman (Patricia Clarkson) arriving in Egypt for a vacation with her husband (employed by the United Nations and posted in Cairo).

Blog entry 11/30/2010 - 1:20pm

Reviewer: Craig Phillips
Rating (out of 5): ***

A John Lennon mini-revival is underway, with Sam Taylor Wood's recent theatrical release Nowhere Boy focusing more on the enigmatic Beatle's adolescent struggles and this 2010 BBC TV production Lennon Naked, which whips forward through a few seminal moments in Lennon's life from 1964 to 1971, as both the world at large and Lennon's own world went through extreme changes. The BBC film explores how Lennon dealt with that rocky upbringing and ways it affected his relationships as an adult, with friends and family (including his sensitive son Julian). The sudden death of manager Brian Epstein, often called "the Fifth Beatle" for his importance to the band, is another event that, as depicted in the film, made Lennon resentful and empty. And Lennon's long-estranged father (played by British telly mainstay Christopher Fairbank) comes back into his life to attempt to make amends -- or to glom on to his wealth.

Blog entry 11/30/2010 - 12:06pm

Reviewer: James Van Maanen
Rating (out of 5): **½

American eccentrics overflow the work of film-making duo Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, from what you might call the eccentric celebrity-dining pictured in their 1997 debut film Off the Menu: The Last Days of Chasen's to their masterpiece -- one of the more original American films in recent memory -- American Splendor. Even their so-so, somewhat misfired adaptation of The Nanny Diaries was saved by the eccentricities of its lead character (and the fine performance by Laura Linney, an actress who finds the latent oddities in all her characters). Berman and Pulcini seem more than intrigued by and attracted to the oddballs among us; they actually champion them.

Blog entry 11/29/2010 - 1:08pm

Reviewer: Steve Dollar
Rating (out of 5): ****

One of the grimiest slabs of blood-soaked sleaze to emerge from the grindhouse era, Maniac is the menacing brain-child of one William “Bill” Lustig, a childhood devotee of the 42nd Street theater circuit who nourished himself on a decade of exploitation fare before he became what he beheld. And it was good.

Good enough for everybody's favorite French auteur, Olivier Assayas (Carlos), to select the film - along with Zodiac - for reappraisal during this spring's BAMfest at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. And certainly good enough for Lustig to re-release in Blu-Ray, through his own Blue Underground DVD label, which has been steadily updating its 200+ film archive with the new format. The releases typically include bonus features, and Maniac offers not only two commentary tracks (both with Lustig alongside some key players) but a second disc of interviews, trailers and documentary featurettes.

Blog entry 11/24/2010 - 12:55pm

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