Articles by

<Nicolas Rapold>

07/15/15 10:01am

Directed by Judd Apatow
Opens July 17

Much of today’s big- and small-screen comedy exists in a landscape staffed, designed, or at the very least branded by Judd Apatow, but the canny director-producer perhaps makes his biggest impact now through the talent he has encouraged, most notably Lena Dunham in Girls and Amy Schumer in Trainwreck, but dating back to casting unconventional leads (Steve Carell in 40-Year-Old Virgin, Seth Rogen in Knocked Up) or the prescient lineup of underdog TV touchstone Freaks & Geeks. That may also amount to a strategy that preserves his viability when his movies fail to connect (This Is 40, Funny People), but Trainwreck, written by its star, powers into theaters with a formidable head of steam thanks to Schumer’s success and enduring viability as a subject for magazine features—which makes her self-casting as a staff writer for a misogynistic lad mag another installment in the comic’s running satire on the culture and the industry.


07/01/15 12:50pm


A Poem Is a Naked Person
Directed by Les Blank
Opens July 1 at Film Forum

“I seem to gravitate to those things which I felt were beautiful and valuable that I guess a lot of people took for granted because it was all around them. The songs, the way people interrelate with one another, the sincerity of feeling, and people being true to themselves and not being hypocritical… In a family, the feeling of love among various family members. I wanted to document it, record it, in case it changes in the future.”

That was Les Blank in an interview with me a few years ago, on the occasion of a Museum of Modern Art retrospective of his work. And that was Les Blank’s films, celebrations of life in sound and image which—he said in the same conversation while eating squid—became a whole new medium when combined. But that didn’t happen with just anyone shooting, and upon the death of Blank in 2013, film lost another invigorating, original voice, comparable to two other virtuoso cameramen of the moment, Ricky Leacock (who’d passed two years earlier) and the late Albert Maysles. If Leacock and Maysles were better known for photographing better-known performers, Blank was drawn to food, music, and people that maybe didn’t have a high profile, and to fellow feeling wherever he found it.


06/17/15 8:29am
photo courtesy of Broad Green

Directed by Mia Hansen-Løve
Opens June 19

At the risk of raising the ire of EDM militants (and using a somewhat nebulous term of critique), house is not the most cinematic of musical genres. It sounds and feels like background (even to some fans), something that sets a mood and a beat but that accompanies rather than stands alone. So the notion of a film—at one point conceived as two separate installments, à la Che—set in the world of the subgenre of “French touch” didn’t set this heart racing at new rates of BPM. Did I mention the film shares its title with the word for prelapsarian Paradise? In fact, Mia Hansen-Løve’s beguiling Eden blooms into a touching reflection on the dialectics between life, memory, and culture, reaching a depth beyond the apparent reach of the metrical signatures of its chosen music.


06/03/15 7:48am
photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

The Wolfpack
Directed by Crystal Moselle
Opens June 12

“I felt he overdid it,” says one of the six Angulo brothers, with remarkable diplomacy, about being confined to a Lower East Side apartment by their father for years. In Crystal Moselle’s disturbing-fascinating documentary, The Wolfpack, these polite, soft-spoken, long-haired kids describe their cloistered existence and the movie love that became a form of survival and sustenance. With homemade re-creation of scenes from Reservoir Dogs and a strategically gappy backstory, Moselle’s film encourages us to cheer on their pluckiness without really comprehending the full extent, or pain, of the familial weirdness underlying it.

Call it the anxiety of influence: The Wolfpack charts a headlong succession of creative visions, beginning with Daddy Angulo’s fanatical goal of raising a sprawling family befitting Hare Krishna belief, which his sons in turn follow with a devout, even desperate investment in movies. Evoking a visit to your third-grade friend with the weirdo parents, the Angulo siblings trickle out details regarding the family arrangement, which was made bearable due to home-schooling by their Midwest-born mother and the boys’ independent study of movies. Their public-housing apartment, in Moselle’s intimate interviews, comes to seem capacious, limited in square feet but unlimited in its inhabitants’ voracious imaginations; lo-fi home videos of the family horsing around together suggest private rituals and arcane subjugation.

What charms any flesh-and-blood moviegoer is the group’s unabashed zeal. Movies are reborn as folk art—like sheet music in a pre-recorded age—with brothers restaging and giving new life to films (preferably those with enough roles for all brothers to play). Another movie might have rendered the Angulos as outsider-artist oddballs, but, complicating tabloid views of pop-culture consumption, they’re self-aware, doting on their mother, and sensitive, the portrait complete with one elder sibling having his episodes of adolescent rebellion and breakdown.

An irony of the father’s paranoid scheme for controlling his sons’ lives is that the rampant film consumption he allowed opened up grander worlds than any walk down the street might have. The problem is that these worlds also didn’t prepare the Angulos for that walk, and the flip side to the pack’s cinephilia is a perhaps not fully plumbed legacy of isolation and repression.

05/20/15 8:39am
photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

Directed by Andrew Bujalski
Opens May 29 at IFC Center

Like lazy, looping boomerangs that never quite make it back, Andrew Bujalski’s films routinely take a gamble on desultory paths, living with his characters but never wanting to impose. Primarily concerning two trainers and a schlub, Results continues that illusory insouciance, as unconcerned as its deviously witty title is targeted, but significantly it’s also Bujalski’s first work starring two established actors rather than the moonlighting postgrads and postpostgrads his usual casts resemble.

Starting off with a spring in its step, the Austin-set comedy shuffles among Danny (Kevin Corrigan), an ornery trainer named Kat (Cobie Smulders), and Trevor (Guy Pearce), for whom she works. This might be thirteen years after Funny Ha Ha, with people supposedly further along in life, but the aimlessness still obtains, as does the variability. Playing divorced Danny, who inherits a pile of money and has zero idea what to do next, or how to do it, Corrigan flourishes; Guy Pearce has the ready-made fit-and-upbeat look of a trainer with a program to market—namely, his character, Trevor—but never quite finds his footing.

Lanky, bright-eyed, and ever a step away from calling people on shit, Kat is given an appealing unpredictability by Smulders (who reminded me of a rising French actress, Adèle Haenel, in a film also being released this month as, awkwardly, Love at First Fight). But Results rises and falls with Corrigan’s hilarious performance as a sad-sack with some fight in him, and the money to buy weed and distractions and dinner, if not quite able to stick to the regimen prescribed by Kat, whom he predictably lusts after. Corrigan’s been a personal favorite since an earlier era of indies, and despite sometimes being treated elsewhere as a character on the periphery, here he gives a command performance of marvelous subtlety and comic timing, and not a little pathos.

Corrigan’s slow-burn consternation in this film never fails, on par with the greats, and when the story renews itself with a fresh focus on Kat and Trevor, it’s a bit of a letdown, not least because the two actors never seem to mesh. But just for giving Corrigan free rein, Results gets… itself.

05/06/15 6:17am
photo courtesy of Lucio Bonelli, Cinema Tropical/Ruda Cine

Two Shots Fired
Directed by Martín Rejtman
May 13–19 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Rejtman Retrospective

People put up with all sorts of nonsense, their own included, in Martín Rejtman’s shifting symphony of deadpan neurosis. Focused in its eccentricity and weirdly entertaining, Two Shots Fired is the first new feature in a decade from the writer-filmmaker whose 1990 debut Rapado lit a path to the New Argentine Cinema. Something of the film’s flavor is felt from the confounding opening, in which a bored, lawnmowing teenager chances upon a gun in the shed, carefully shoots himself twice, and survives, carrying on with a kind of weary poise.

Soon enough we’re acclimated to the family dynamic of Mariano, whose stern mother pursues fearful solutions that solve nothing, and whose brother shows a touching concern for the boy’s love life and sanity. Rejtman shuffles into the mix Mariano’s delightfully dorky rehearsals with a classical quartet—which has been disrupted by the harmonic Mariano now produces thanks to an embedded bullet—and soon Two Shots Fired proves to be made of stranger stuff than mere suburban haplessness and romantic misadventure, its shadowy interiors suggesting backwaters of the mind.

Peppered with the blips of ancient cellphones amid scrupulous soundscapes, Rejtman’s film circulates through his characters according to some unseen plan, content to dwell on their logistical obsessions and prickly routines. At some point the story spins off into a beach vacation taken by Mariano’s mother, who takes on new traveling companions, who in turn introduce their own little ecosystems of ways and means. “I prefer to just leave things like this,” the mother, who works in law, says of her overgrown backyard, and the attitude expresses a sense of inevitability underlying the film’s breakups and screw-ups.

Rejtman and DP Lucio Bonelli maintain a certain distance from these resigned characters, while Mariano and company themselves seem helpless to deviate from their bumpy trajectories. Modulating the game cast into an intelligent design and never throwing up his hands in whimsy, Rejtman understands his characters’ travails without giving the film over anyone entirely, and in so doing portrays their places in the world all the more aptly.

04/22/15 6:29am
Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

Directed by Albert Maysles
Opens April 29

With and without his brother David, the late, great filmmaker Albert Maysles returned again and again to artists of all shapes and sizes. While it can be misleading or facile to identify a documentarian with what he shoots, it’s hard to miss a degree of identification going on between portraitist and subject, from Gimme Shelter and its explicitly reflexive editing scene to Maysles’s multiple biographical sketches of musicians and other artists through the 1980s and 90s. He kept circling the creative process in terms of accumulation, negotiation, receptivity—all qualities crucial to his practice of Direct Cinema—and even the bittersweet Salesman with its art of the spiel must have felt familiar to a cameraman in motion who would very often be the new person in a strange room.

The link, and bond, between director and subject grows poignant with Iris, which together with the Amtrak travels of In Transit—Maysles’s official final credited work, screening in the Tribeca Film Festival—reads as a valedictory farewell journey to a rich life and towering career. A fashion innovator and storied interior decorator, 93-year-old Iris Apfel hasn’t ceased her mockingbird activity of assembling outfits from cross-cultural costume and fabric, the rattle of her signature chunky accessories audible even before the film’s first image hits the screen. Giant glasses—a counterpart to Maysles’s own signature frames—suggest someone who doesn’t want to miss a thing (rather than the eccentric-socialite look that uninformed observers might assume). But after headlining a last-minute Met show in 2005 despite retiring over a decade earlier, Apfel has entered a phase of tributes, teaching, taking stock: The “sage” has spoken, she jokes at one event covered by the 87-year-old director, who late in life himself only took on more new adventures with the founding of the Maysles Documentary Cinema.

Beside the public appearances and events, Iris shows Apfel at her crazily cluttered Park Avenue home—every room as absurdly busy and colorful with detail as a magazine shoot; it’s an ecosystem as much as the Hamptons house of Grey Gardens, though this rampant organic growth is a tad more curated. As befits a roving marketeer and expert bargainer, Iris is a maven at snap judgments, nearly as ear-catching as her outfits are arresting, even if you want to see even more of her in action putting together each assemblage rather than listen to her narrate them. Likewise, there’s a little of the praise chorus endemic to fashion documentaries (among others), while the use of montage varies between vivid, glamorous tours of Iris’s travels with her husband and business partner Carl, and more conventional sequences (not helped by bouncy catwalk music, kept almost apologetically muted in the mix).

Iris’s greatest concern at the time of the doc isn’t what she’ll wear next, but her 100-year-old husband’s health, though Maysles and his editor take care not to let this be the drama. But those intimations of mortality are present in the film’s very portrait of Iris, repeatedly seen selecting clothes to let go and donate to the Peabody Museum or to sell off from her vast Long Island storage loft. The racks upon racks, in rooms upon rooms that suggest an apartment going on forever off screen, only evoke all that remains in Iris that won’t be passed along, the impossibility of summarizing a person’s cornucopia of experience. The camera dwells at one point upon a closed box of clothes, the perspective like that on a toe-to-head look at a coffin. “You don’t own anything. You just rent,” Iris quotes a friend.

In the heyday of Direct Cinema, the strength of cinema at portraying the passage of time was newly felt as the electricity of the fleeting instant—the moment, the attention to the wavelet in the news that betrays the movement’s origins in television newsmagazines. What Maysles, compassionate but steadfast, has also been able to recognize are the other life streams at work as time goes by. Besides the work of Frederick Wiseman, a countering force to the prevalence of big, outlying names such as JFK or the Rolling Stones has been Maysles and his ability to show the strain and the grace of it all. That is an awareness and a wisdom that never goes out of style, and with the film’s final shot, Maysles sits down, for one mightily well-deserved rest.

04/08/15 6:50am
Photo courtesy of Sundance Selects

Clouds of Sils Maria
Directed by Olivier Assayas
Opens April 10

It’s not often that a filmmaker takes a challenge head-on and, without aspiring to create a self-aggrandizing masterpiece, makes an exceptional film with its own weather system of feeling and elusive, ineffable workings. Olivier Assayas has always chosen his material with a hypermodern self-consciousness and fashioned his films with an equally self-aware syncopation, a higher state that’s cool to the point that his last film, post-68 reminiscence Something in the Air, could seem oddly bloodless. With Clouds of Sils Maria, the 60-year-old director sets loose a superb, mysterious drama about the relationship, the flux, between an aging actress (Juliette Binoche) preparing for a stage role in Switzerland, and her personal assistant (Kristen Stewart).

You might call this a new version of the backstage drama, though in fact much of it takes place in a mountainside house lent by the widow of a famed playwright whose death first puts the film on its first off-kilter step. Maria Enders (Binoche), mid-divorce, speeds on a train with Val (Stewart) through the Alps, toward an award ceremony for the playwright that becomes a memorial. The play she thereafter agrees to undertake, Maloja Snake, is the same one in which she’d played the ingenue role herself, years ago; now, swapping fates, she’ll be the older character who’s taken down a peg. It’s a reckoning of sorts, with multiple reflections and refractions taking place, between actor and assistant, actor and self, assistant and self, text and life, public and private, high and low, past and present.

Those binaries sound a little rigid—this is something like a dance, or running battle, or simply ongoing conversation that never quite lets up, as the connection between Maria and Val is constantly renegotiated. Amidst the anodyne backdrop of the Alps and cosseting hotels, Assayas uses the close-yet-removed, intimate-yet-efficient personal assistant relationship for some heightened perception of character and shifting emotion, backstage and stage collapsed into one. It’s a film that envelopes you without your realizing it, curling its seemingly simple, ever unpredictable story not unlike the heavenly phenomenon of the Maloja Snake, a formation of Alpine valley clouds (glimpsed in a clip from a silent film).

Embodying different generations and styles of acting, Binoche and Stewart are improbably well-matched, especially when they feel mismatched. Binoche’s respected theater doyenne, who’s ever trying to stay up to date, throws everything at Stewart’s bespectacled girl Friday, who on a movie outing mounts a serious defense of the sort of superhero character played by a Lindsay Lohan figure (Chloë Moretz) who will star opposite Maria in the play. Assayas’s highly intuitive dialogue includes the sort of exchanges you don’t much see, a whisker-sensitive rendition of the shaping of opinion and intention, with more impassioned feelings flickering at the edges. Yet throughout, there’s a pregnant sense of suspense, too, achieving something like the late great Oliveira or Kiarostami with Certified Copy, or maybe Rivette, yet utterly grounded.

As fun as Carlos could be, and affecting as Summer Hours could be, the magic of Clouds of Sils Maria makes it Assayas’s strongest work in a decade, and feels all the more satisfying from a filmmaker on so relentless a search for fresh truths as this one.

03/25/15 8:36am
photo courtesy of A24

While We’re Young
Directed by Noah Baumbach
Opens March 27

It might be the quintessential Noah Baumbach character: somebody deathly afraid of hanging around too long, and existing in an embittered, yet almost comically eloquent, state of regret and discontent. Baumbach’s films catch these hapless creatures at moments of reckoning, when their selective self-consciousness is only magnifying the distance between where they are and where they think they should be: the liberal-arts graduates of Kicking and Screaming lingering through summer into the beginning of another college year; Greenberg, the guy who stuck to his indie-band credo and then went nowhere right into 40; and the happily roommated and perpetually apprenticing dancer of Frances Ha. While We’re Young stars Ben Stiller as a filmmaker endlessly tinkering with a bloated unfinished documentary and wondering, with his wife (Naomi Watts), whether the “really not nervous” Brooklyn youngsters they befriend might have figured it out.

In Baumbach, the tendency to fear being lapped by life is just as closely connected to anxieties over achievement (rather than, say, money or class or ethnic difference) as it is to romantic desperation. The mindset has nearly become a writerly convention, a fiercely productive neurosis for throwing out observations, and it’s fascinating that While We’re Young begins with Josh (Stiller) and Cornelia (Watts) trying to soothe their friends’ baby with a fairy tale they can’t remember—scrambling, in other words, not to lose their audience. When the baby’s parents return to the apartment, a volley of platitudes about capitulating to parenthood follow (“We’re just animals!”), but Baumbach swiftly turns his wit back on Josh and Cornelia back home, where they cherish their little-exploited freedoms as a childless couple. The film’s portrait of their new, chill friends—Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried as Williamsburgers Jamie and Darby—is likewise complicated by the fact that Jamie’s a kiss-up striver who probably knew that Cornelia’s father is documentary godfather Leslie Breitbart (a masterful Charles Grodin).

Josh and Cornelia rapidly go through the life cycle of embracing the habits (and hats and hip-hop classes) of their younger counterparts, with Baumbach efficiently poking fun at reflexive retro leisure pursuits, or rather at what the older folk notice about these strange and wondrous lifestyles. (Actually, one of my bigger laughs came not from the film but an audience member: When Jamie’s documentary subject turned out to be played by the ubiquitous Brady Corbet, some critic burst out uncontrollably with “Goddamn it!”) Taken at face value, While We’re Young is quite effective at expressing that what-next feeling of encroaching middle age, and the realization that the next generation is not exactly primed to be impressed by its predecessors, with the churn getting more rapid with each year. But in the milieu of a comfortable creative class—only Josh’s unpaid editor seems to worry about where the money will come from—isn’t this also equally a story of creative anxiety as it is about aging?

Baumbach’s self-proclaimed comedy of a marriage diverging and reconnecting is also a dramatization of a skilled screenwriter’s perpetual warring impulses between cynicism and the well-turned perceptive one-liner. Josh may have a clear conscience on his side with his six-hour-plus essay-doc treatise “about America,” but nobody wants to watch it, and he can’t finish it; concerning another filmmaker in the story, we hear the judgment that rings through the ages of creative endeavor: “I think he’s an asshole… but the movie’s pretty good.” No one owns experience exclusively in While We’re Young, and ultimately the attractions of talent wins out; growing up, such as it is, means accepting the beauty of the impurity inherent in art and life.

03/11/15 6:52am
Image courtesy of Amplify

Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter
Directed by David Zellner
Opens March 18

“How to go Fargo?” asks a depressed Tokyo “office lady” who believes she can find a fictional briefcase of cash buried in the North Dakota snow. The title role of Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter is played by Academy Award nominee Rinko Kikuchi, blanking it up as another in a line of movieland foreigners fixated on some item of American culture (first shown here in a blurry VHS tape of Fargo). But unlike, say, a Jarmusch hipster tourist, Kumiko’s a bit more explicitly delusional, and as she hops from home—harried at work by old-school boss and on the phone by her marriage-minded mom—to Minneapolis, hers is a journey into a wilderness of her mind as much as the punishing Great Plains winter.

As directed by David Zellner, who co-wrote the story with brother Nathan, the globe-spanning but pocket-sized film has a snappy visual design, as the cloaked Kumiko, after fleeing Tokyo, picks her way through lustrous landscapes (and snowscapes). First she wears a red cloak, and then, once her idée fixe has outrun the resources of the company credit card, a mottled motel blanket turned dreamcoat. But the Zellners, who partly bring it upon themselves by embedding the finely tuned likes of Fargo in their own creation, strand Kumiko in more than the story sense. Even accounting for an addled outsider’s point of view, her encounters (with airport hucksters, with a grimacing deaf cabbie) are scripted and shot for cheap cross-cultural comedy rather than character nuance, with halting delivery offering a veneer of folksy authenticity, and an electronic blizzard of a score.

Director Zellner plays a cop, who first rolls up with apologies for the siren and takes pity on Kumiko; he tries to teach her the difference between fiction and real life and the problem of their “cultural barrier,” but can’t distinguish between Japanese and Chinese (cue buffet restaurant slog). While David and Nathan Zellner have acquired (or cultivated) a certain brand with Kid-Thing and its comedy with a primitive streak and hyperlucid visuals, the mysteries of Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter prove to be as illusory as the real-world existence of Fargo’s filthy lucre.