07/15/15 7:18am
07/15/2015 7:18 AM |

Courtesy of Drafthouse Films and Participant Media

The Act of Killing, documentary director Joshua Oppenheimer’s first film about the 1965 genocide in Indonesia, jump-started a national dialogue about an atrocity that had been a toxic secret for decades. Largely unknown in the rest of the world, the killings were actively celebrated in Indonesia, where the perpetrators, who are still in charge of the government, described their gruesome deeds in heroic and triumphant terms. But as impressive as that was, it is not the most extraordinary thing about the film. After something much more transformational than merely revealing buried truths or eliciting the easy sympathy of moviegoers for victims from a far-off time and place, Oppenheimer sought out perpetrators, not victims, to tell the story of the genocide, inviting them to reenact their crimes for the cameras. It is deeply unsettling to watch mass murderers matter-of-factly act out some of their more horrific deeds, often enlisting terrified locals to reluctantly reenact the tortures, rapes and murder they are still traumatized by. It is even more disturbing to get to know the perpetrators well enough to see ourselves in them.

In The Look of Silence, the second of his films about the genocide, Oppenheimer switches to a victim’s point of view.


07/15/15 6:19am

image courtesy of Kino Lorber

A Hard Day
Directed by Kim Seong-Hoon
Opens July 17 at the Village East

A Hard Day’s title is somewhat misleading: the 24-hour period in which homicide detective Go (Lee Sun-kyun) kills a man while speeding, possibly under the influence, away from his mother’s funeral and back to police headquarters, in order to hide evidence of his unit’s corruption from Internal Affairs, is over within the first thirty or so minutes of Kim Seong-Hoon’s black-comic thriller. But the film maintains its momentum thereafter, with a finger-trap murder inquiry and blackmail scheme, cleverly interwoven and made constricting moment-to-moment with recursive obstacles—it’s the kind of movie in which a character who must load a gun must first, invariably, decide whether or not to retrieve the bullet he’s just fumbled away. It plays like a feature-length version of Robert Walker losing Farley Granger’s cigarette lighter down the storm drain in Strangers on a Train.


07/10/15 6:50am
07/10/2015 6:50 AM |


Directed by Dito Montiel
Opens July 10

When a busy working actor dies unexpectedly, an extended wake continues onscreen. James Gandolfini died in the summer of 2013, but his final work in The Drop didn’t surface until over a year later. Three Philip Seymour Hoffman movies came out after his January 2014 passing, and his final one, the last Hunger Games movie, won’t debut until the fall. And here now is Robin Williams, gone just under a year, in Boulevard his final onscreen performance after two posthumous releases in 2014 (one more, his voice-only work in Absolutely Anything, will follow this year in Europe, and probably next year in the U.S.).

It finds Williams in understated, dramatic mode, rather than the pseudo-edgy bluster he played up in The Angriest Man in Brooklyn and Merry Friggin’ Christmas; though of course it doesn’t really matter in that his legacy is assured, I’m glad this one went last.


07/09/15 8:00am
07/09/2015 8:00 AM |

sound of a million insects

Japan Cuts 2015
July 9-19 at Japan Society

This year’s edition of Japan Cuts marks a few changes for the Japan Society’s yearly showcase of contemporary Japanese film, cutting ties with the New York Asian Film Festival and adding a focus on restorations, documentary, and a new experimental film spotlight screening. The changes are for the best, with the new categories providing the most interesting elements of an always diverse festival, which now swings even more vigorously between the mainstream Japanese film landscape (sometimes a tough find in NYC) and the various currents of the Japanese independent and avant garde world.


07/08/15 1:00pm
07/08/2015 1:00 PM |


Most midlife crises are far less productive than David Thorpe’s. Following a difficult break-up, the filmmaker found himself single in his 40s and newly disgusted by the shrillness of his voice, which he perceived as stereotypically gay. As documented by his film Do I Sound Gay?, he went to a round of speech therapists to try and learn how to “sound straight.” The film, which opens Friday at the IFC Center, tackles the difficult subject of many gay men’s self-loathing and fear of effeminacy, which should be familiar to anyone who’s perused gay personal ads, with a welcome wit. Thorpe talked to George Takei, Dan Savage, Margaret Cho and CNN anchor Don Lemon about the implications of the “gay voice,” but also spoke to linguistics experts and gives a mini-Celluloid Closet lesson in the history of that voice’s association with cinematic villainy.


07/08/15 7:28am


Prince of Broadway (2008)
Directed by Sean Baker
Many of the most acclaimed micro-budget directors working in America today—Joel Potrykus, Alex Ross Perry, Rick Alverson—create films centered on hostile narcissists. Not Baker. His films look at marginalized communities with a sympathetic eye, aided by the casting of non-professional actors. Here, that eye is turned toward an illegal Ghanaian immigrant who sells counterfeit merchandise and suddenly finds himself forced to care for an 18-month-old. Baker’s shooting places you alongside the characters while his cross-cutting forces examination of how seemingly disparate experiences are shaped by the same system, generating insight through observation and epiphany through experience. Forrest Cardamenis (July 9, 5:30pm at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Baker series preceding the theatrical release of Tangerine)

07/07/15 7:00am
07/07/2015 7:00 AM |

photo courtesy of Film Movement

Stations of the Cross
Directed by Dietrich Brüggemann
July 10-16 at Anthology Film Archives

As narrow-minded as the religious oppression it seeks to condemn, Stations of the Cross masks a lurid fascination with martyrdom behind a façade of empathy. German director Dietrich Brüggemann (who co-wrote the 2014 Berlinale prizewinner with his sister Anna) has fashioned a well-orchestrated exercise in minimalism, but it also an airless and manipulative one which is a shame, really, considering the talent and skill on display.


07/07/15 7:00am

photo courtesy of Broad Green

10.000 KM
Directed by Carlos Marques-Marcet
Opens July 10 at IFC Center

The 23-minute-long shot that opens 10.000 KM is an unshowy tour-de-force that accomplishes its aim with impressive economy, introducing us to an attractive young couple and setting up their coming separation without ever feeling contrived or expository. It starts with Alex (Natalia Tena) and Sergi (David Verdaguer) in mid-fuck, capturing the intensity of their physical connection and the teasing ease of their banter as well as the important fact that they’re trying to get pregnant. Then they get out of bed and the camera follows them through their cosy Barcelona apartment as their comfortable morning routine is disrupted by big news: Alex has been offered a year-long photography residency in LA. Initially supportive, then resentful, Sergi sulks while Alex apologizes, tries to justify her desire to have a rewarding career as well as a family, and finally concedes to Sergi’s wishes. By the time he relents, urging her to go, we have a visceral sense of their dynamics.

When Alex and Sergi’s relationship goes long-distance, the film switches to short scenes with frequent cuts to mirror the change in their relationship. But it continues to focus solely on the couple and to show them almost entirely inside their apartments. Those parameters may have been chosen partly to minimize the cost of the film, which director Carlos Marques-Marcet shot on the cheap. But they also keep the focus on the relationship, and on the technology that both keeps the two close and pulls them apart.

Frequent texting, occasional phone calls, and lots of Skyping initially give Alex and Sergi the illusion of living together, kibbitzing as they do domestic chores or falling asleep while gazing at each other’s faces on their laptops. But a sense of melancholy and increasing distance soon seeps in through the cracks, surfacing in her plaintive request that they jump-start a stalled Skype session by talking about “something other than our relationship” or his pique when she drunk-Skypes him giddily, eager to show off her new salsa moves, and forgets to ask about an important exam he took the day before—and failed. The mechanical limitations of the technology can be frustrating too, as their images on each other’s screens freeze, break up into abstract collections of pixilated bits, or disappear altogether with a sad “whoosh.” These failures feel realistic while also functioning as metaphors for the gap between them that, once opened, just keeps getting wider.

The final shot plays over “Veinte Anos,“ a beautiful song about the pain two lovers experience after one falls out of love with the other. With its poignant delicacy and respect for both parties’ feelings, the ballad is a fitting end to a tenderly insightful modern romance.

07/06/15 8:00am
07/06/2015 8:00 AM |

photo by Daniel Bergeron, courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

Sean Baker’s independent films feature protagonists you don’t normally see on screen: a Chinese delivery guy who sends money back home (Take Out), an elderly woman convinced she’s too old to drive to the store (Starlet), a Ghanaian immigrant who hawks designer knock-offs (Prince of Broadway). Baker’s latest, Tangerine, is about two transgender sex workers, Alexandra (Mya Taylor) and Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez), who spend Christmas Eve hunting down Sin-Dee’s two-timing boyfriend on Santa Monica Boulevard. Though the stories sound like depressing social-realist works—in some ways that’s not entirely inaccurate—Baker’s work is infused with an infectious humor that brings out the best and worst in each character. Abuzz with positive reviews since its Sundance premiere, where it was revealed the film had been shot entirely on an iPhone 5s, Tangerine redefines contemporary American independent cinema. The film opens July 10 in New York.


07/03/15 8:45am
07/03/2015 8:45 AM |

My saddle's waiting; come and jump on it.

Late in Magic Mike XXL, new in theaters, our reunited stripper—excuse me; male entertainer heroes are waiting backstage to perform at the 2015 stripper convention, or as it’s professionally known, “2015 Stripper Convention.” Though the purpose and possible reward for a performance slot at this convention are even vaguer than the rules at a Step Up dance off, the boys want to do their best, and one of them observes their competition performing a hilariously ludicrous stripper re-enactment of Twilight, to delighted shrieks from the crowd. Annoyed and dejected, he reports the vampire routine to his fellow entertainers. They grumble, but one of them concedes: it’s a smart business move. The rest are forced to agree.

I got where they were coming from as a viewer of Magic Mike XXL. To be clear, this movie is not Twilight-style pandering. It is, in fact, a well-assembled, sometimes smart, extremely likable, and oddly respectful good time. But Magic Mike XXL is also an unmistakable case study in giving the audience exactly what they want. Specifically, it gives to whatever audience went into Magic Mike expecting a bawdy stripper revue and disappointed by Steven Soderbergh’s funny and humane but still slightly chilly and more-than-slightly economics-conscious drama. Here is their reward for showing up: a sequel that more or less is the movie that Magic Mike advertised.