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

Soon after eschewing socialism in the early ‘90s, Albania was one of the first countries to re-form a representative government. However, many Albanians returned to an older form of self-governance: the Kanun.

A set of moral laws dating back at least to the fifteenth century, the Kanun is essentially a ratification of common courtesies and basic principles, transcending political or religious affiliation. One of its more aberrant tenets is the Gjakmarrja, or blood feud.

Blog entry 11/12/2012 - 12:12am

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

What's in a name -- or more to the point, in a title? The original French title of Mia Hansen-Løve's third feature (after the OK All Is Forgiven and the much better Father of My Children), Goodbye First Love, is the much simpler Un amour de jeunesse, which translates to "Young Love," or maybe "A Love in Youth." The point of this talented writer/filmmaker's latest movie -- if I am anywhere close to understanding it -- concerns how difficult it is for her heroine, Camille, to actually bid good-bye to this first love. Instead she allows herself to become utterly obsessed with it and its vessel, the hunky young man named Sullivan (Sebastian Urzendowsky), who keeps telling her, by word and deed, to cool it. 

Blog entry 09/25/2012 - 4:31pm

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

Movies about teachers can run the gamut from goopy to overly earnest, and even occasionally inspiring. Tony Kaye, the controversial director of American History X, gets credit for trying to explore the dark side of the genre, even darker than Half Nelson. In that movie, Ryan Gosling's history teacher wrestles his demons externally with drugs, but in the emotionally powerful, enlightening drama Detachment, the main character keeps everything inside.

Blog entry 09/17/2012 - 5:38pm

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

On his ballot for the recent Sight and Sound poll, Weekend director Andrew Haigh cited Michael Mann’s The Insider as one of the ten best films ever made. Watching Weekend, the inclusion makes total sense. Haigh’s tightly controlled, color-coded mise-en-scene is very closely akin to Mann’s. Weekend also shares visual DNA with two other recent astonishing breakthrough films – Steve McQueen’s Hunger and Antonio CamposAfterschool. However, unlike the three filmmakers mentioned above, Haigh’s film has a deep humanity that provides a messy contrast to his visual restraint.

Blog entry 09/04/2012 - 12:42pm

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

Making Plans for Lena is writer/director Christophe Honoré's third film to use Chiara Mastroianni, but it comes nowhere near the level of his earlier Love Songs. I find myself running hot and luke-warm to the work of this filmmaker; his latest is definitely in the latter category. Beautifully filmed in Brittany, the movie -- as well as the Lena character played by Mastroianni -- fairly reeks of entitlement.

Blog entry 07/09/2012 - 5:26pm

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: Philip Tatler IV
Rating (out of five): ****

Francesco Rosi’s The Moment of Truth is a blood-soaked poem observing (if not totally celebrating) the gory pageantry of the bullfighting circuit.

The film begins with an extended, dialogue-less trek through a religious festival in a Spanish city. Onlookers line the street while Catholic acolytes in Klan-like capirotes lumber through clouds of incense, holding grotesque statues of Jesus and the Virgin. The eerie, slow-paced ritual is suddenly interrupted by a group of manic bulls pushing and bucking their way through the crowd. The solemnity is shattered; people are trampled and tossed and one of the bulls is vanquished for the camera. This is the first of many unsimulated animal deaths in the film. The squeamish are hereby advised.

Blog entry 01/24/2012 - 4:42pm

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

That anyone could steal the thunder out from under an actress as always-fine as Charlotte Gainsbourg is surprising enough; that it would be a small girl named Morgana Davies with but a single credit behind her (for a film unreleased anywhere but in Australia -- and given but a single star on its IMDB site!) is a further oddity.

Yet Davies, in only her second role, excels. The movie is called The Tree, and it is very much worth viewing. The film's director, Julie Bertuccelli (of the much-heralded Since Otar Left), either cast her film strikingly well (every actor is on-point here, including the expansive arboreal giant in the title role) or else she has been able to bring out a remarkable emotional range coupled to an acute intelligence from Gainsbourg’s young co-star. Probably both.

Blog entry 11/15/2011 - 1:36pm

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