Reviewer: Jeffrey M Anderson
Ratings (out of five): ****

In 1974, Luchino Visconti was nearly seventy and had worked as a filmmaker for thirty years. He was in ill health and his most glorious films were behind him. When it came time to make Conversation Piece, which would become his second-to-last film, he needed something fairly simple to shoot, like something that took place in one building.

Having hit upon an idea, he called up some of his favorite actors, including Burt Lancaster, who had starred in Visconti's opulent masterpiece The Leopard (1963). The presence of Lancaster in a much smaller-scale Visconti production can only draw unfavorable comparisons. And, no, Conversation Piece is not nearly as impressive, ambitious, or powerful as The Leopard. But that doesn't make it a bad film.

Blog entry 04/10/2012 - 1:17pm

Reviewer: Jeffrey M Anderson
Ratings (out of five): *** 1/2

Constance Marks' documentary Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey tells the story of a shy black kid, growing up poor in Baltimore. Kevin Clash has a dream, but it has nothing to do with sports or hip-hop music. Rather, he wants to be a puppeteer on "Sesame Street."

This is a great twist for a movie, but Being Elmo does not dwell on it. In fact, it hardly brings up Clash's skin color at all, and it only brings up his former poverty in terms of the obstacles he overcame. For example, in order to meet puppet designer Kermit Love, he had to wait for a school trip to New York; his family couldn't afford train fare otherwise. (What the movie does not explain is why there was a camera present and footage of this first meeting.)

Blog entry 04/05/2012 - 2:30pm

Reviewer: James van Maanen
Ratings (out of five): ** 1/2

Among its other accomplishments, the new documentary The Swell Season manages very clearly to differentiate fan bases: that of the fans of the 2006 movie Once (which starred the subjects of this new film: Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová), or the fans of the performers themselves. Fans of the former -- such as myself, who found Once a tiny, no-budget marvel with a lovely story, some wonderful songs and a bittersweet ending about as close to perfection as movies get -- can only feel supremely indebted to John Carney, the writer/director of Once, who, probably more than anyone, brought this film to fruition with his sense of pacing, subtlety and story-telling skills.

Blog entry 03/22/2012 - 10:32pm

Reviewer: Philip Tatler IV
Ratings (out of five): *****

I really don’t want to say a thing about  World on a Wire. I wish you could just take the above five-star rating to heart and watch it, untainted by any sort of preconceived notion other than how awesome it is.

That said, I’ll try my best to describe its awesomeness while tiptoeing around the finer points of the plot.

World on a Wire is a made-for-German-television science fiction film directed by enfant terrible Rainer Werner Fassbinder. The film is set during an approximation of the present in a Euro-metropolis. A technological thinktank – the IKZ – is developing a synthetic reality, known as Simulacron-B. The project’s purpose is to create an algorithm that can predict future occurrences so that trends in business, defense, and government can be anticipated and planned for. Simulacron-B is a resounding success and a few trouble-shooting sessions away from a full launch.

Blog entry 03/22/2012 - 8:30pm

Reviewer: Jeffrey M. Anderson
Ratings (out of five): *** 1/2

The wonderful Raro Video is single-handedly reminding the world that the Italian crime director Fernando Di Leo once existed. Last year they released a wonderful four-disc box set of Di Leo films (with a Blu-Ray set added just a month ago). The company has also been releasing some of Di Leo's screenwriting efforts for other directors, notably the awesome Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man (1976).

Now comes Young, Violent, Dangerous (Liberi Armati Pericolosi) (1976), directed by Romolo Guerrieri. Though it has an equally crazy title, it's distinctly different in tone. This one is more cautionary, and comes with a little bit of conscience.

Blog entry 03/20/2012 - 2:19pm

Reviewer: Philip Tatler IV
Ratings (out of five): **** 1/2

In one of the opening shots of Mikhail Kalatozov’s Letter Never Sent, four Soviet explorers struggle wordlessly through a throng of birch trees in the middle of a Siberian hinterland. The hand-held camera lurches along with the adventurers as they push on, hip-deep in water and dragging their gear behind them on rafts. There’s something about this scene – the close-up, shaky images of desperate characters fighting against a cold, indifferent nemesis – that instantly recalls George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. In fact, much of Letter Never Sent’s man-vs.-nature conflict plays like a horror film. Here the relentless boogeyman doesn’t wield an axe but fire and ice.

The bare-bones plot involves a geological expedition into Russia’s unforgiving taiga. A team of four surveyors has been sent on a third and final mission to find diamonds, in the hopes that the gems will spur an “industrial revolution” and revitalize the stagnating economy.

Blog entry 03/20/2012 - 1:41pm

Reviewer: James van Maanen
Ratings (out of five): ****

At times, and very briefly, as I watched David Cronenberg's new movie A Dangerous Method -- about Freud and Jung, their relationship, a female patient whom they "shared" for a time and another, male, whom one analyst passed to his peer -- the 1962 John Huston film Freud would flicker through my mind. This was brief, yes, because I wanted nothing to distract me from the excellent work at hand. But I could not help but marvel at how much movies have grown up -- in terms of subject matter and how it is handled -- in the nearly half-century between the two films. That is to say, when cinema actually takes the trouble to make real and intelligent use of what is permitted, now that so many barriers have fallen in regard to what may be shown and discussed on screen, what marvels we can sometimes be served.

Blog entry 03/13/2012 - 4:56pm

Reviewer: Jeffrey M. Anderson
Ratings (out of five): ****

Clint Eastwood more or less established the modern-day biopic formula back with Bird (1988), though it was not a formula back then; the proof is that the movie only received one Oscar nomination, for its sound design. Two years ago, Eastwood revisited the biopic genre with the interesting, if not entirely successful Invictus; if anything, that movie simply bit off more than it could chew. Now Eastwood is back with a third biopic, J. Edgar (also on Blu-Ray), and given the first two, there was no reason for high hopes.

However, thanks to a smart script by Dustin Lance Black, who also wrote Gus Van Sant's Milk (2008), and Eastwood's typically understated direction, J. Edgar turns out to be a fascinating portrait, not so much of a man, but of the way that man tried to manipulate his own legacy.

Blog entry 03/13/2012 - 4:30pm

Reviewer: Craig Phillips
Ratings (out of five): ****

With a title that makes it sound like an action film, Steve James' new documentary The Interrupters actually is an action film in a way -- it's about the brave actions of a few reformed souls who try to do some good in a world of violence. James, who co-directed the masterful epic Hoop Dreams, one of the most important documentaries of the past thirty years, returns to Chicago for this story of those who call themselves "interrupters," people who try to mediate gang-related disputes before they escalate into violence.

The film, based on a book by Alex Kotlowitz, has a remarkably fluid, fly on the wall style of which Frederick Wiseman would approve. Though snubbed by this year's Oscars, it did at least win the Indie Spirit Award for Best Documentary.

Blog entry 02/28/2012 - 3:50pm

Reviewer: Philip Tatler IV
Ratings (out of five): *** 1/2

The Criterion Collection’s release of Lena Dunham’s Tiny Furniture has been met with much consternation from a certain type of cinephile. Dunham – the argument goes – is too young, too amateurish and too privileged to receive the imprimatur of the venerated DVD label, especially with her first film. For many basement-dwelling film theorists, the Criterion label is sacrosanct – the equivalent of cinematic sainthood – and Dunham’s inclusion represents a type of apostasy.

I first caught up with Tiny Furniture after reading all the outraged blog posts (about a year before the actual DVD release) and braced myself for the worst. It wasn’t bad. Then, a year later, I received the reviled DVD in the mail and – before my second viewing – dove deep into the disc’s ample extras.

Blog entry 02/28/2012 - 3:20pm

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