07/01/15 5:20am
07/01/2015 5:20 AM |
photo courtesy of A24

Directed by Asif Kapadia
Opens July 3

Many music documentaries tend to take a wistful perspective on an artist’s life and work—a sort of good-person-despite-it-all tack that privileges creative genius over complex experience. (It only matters what they say about you, not how you got there.) The subjects in these sorts of films tend to come off as Teflon saints, their flaws rationalized, their edges sanded. Much of this has to do, surely, with interviewees and others not wanting to speak ill of the dead. Yet being raised to the level of a god often does the artist a disservice, leeching them of their humanity, hollowing them out by making them easy sells.


07/01/15 5:18am
photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

Magic Mike XXL
Directed by Gregory Jacobs
Opens July 1

Your favorite male strippers are back with the same chisel—but not quite the same sizzle. Magic Mike was one of 2012’s surprise hits, so a sequel to Steven Soderbergh’s unexpectedly incisive socioeconomic skin flick was inevitable. That film’s advertising campaign targeted the female gaze, luring in its audience with the promise of oiled-up abs, and delivered alongside them an existential exploration of the relationship between profession and identity as well as a commentary on business ethics. This time, the semi-retired Soderbergh is relegated to cinematographer and editor, and his longtime assistant director Gregory Jacobs takes the helm.


07/01/15 5:12am
photo by Adam Uhl

Mala Mala
Directed by Antonio Santini and Dan Sickles
Opens July 1 at IFC Center

“I want to see you at the march,” trans activist Ivana Fred calls out her car window to a streetwalker. Earlier that night, she’s visited one of San Juan’s nightclubs, drumming up the turnout for the next day’s rally between drag acts. The documentary Mala Mala understands the link between performance and activism: for the trans-identified Puerto Ricans profiled by Antonio Santini and Dan Sickles, presenting an identity is a political act.


07/01/15 5:10am
photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Jimmy’s Hall
Directed by Ken Loach
Opens July 3

The latest from Ken Loach, UK cinema’s working-class hero of long standing, takes a misty-eyed look back at Ireland’s Pearse-Connolly Hall, a rural community center that was for a few brief moments in the 1920s and 30s an unlikely oasis of political activism and progressive ideas. Its founder, homegrown communist leader James Gralton (played by Barry Ward), twice found himself in exile for his activism: first to escape the outbreak of the Irish Civil War in 1922, and again in 1933, after being deported for his political activities, never to return.


07/01/15 5:05am
photo courtesy of Still Rolling Productions

Stray Dog
Directed by Debra Granik
Opens July 3 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center

Stray Dog begins with leather-clad, grizzly-bearded bikers line-dancing in a strip-mall parking lot, and then picnicking, chopping up cheese with a hatchet while bantering in voices like James Gammon’s “Fisherman’s Greek” bit in Cabin Boy. The air of crusty cuddliness never quite dissipates, but the loving tone of Debra Granik’s documentary portrait of Ron “Stray Dog” Hall—a nonprofessional actor whom she recruited to play a backwoods kingpin during the location shoot for her Winter’s Bone—deepens into a heartening, sometimes melancholy portrait of Americana’s tattered fringes.


06/26/15 9:00am
06/26/2015 9:00 AM |


I know how I feel about the comedy of Seth MacFarlane. Even without watching Family Guy in over a decade, his foulmouthed teddy-bear movie Ted pretty much got me up to speed, and it was only my indifference to that movie that allowed me to like his follow-up perhaps just a tiny bit more than some people (though still not very much). So: MacFarlane and me, we’re pretty much sorted, far as the likelihood of me getting more than a few laughs out of his feature films. What I found myself wondering during Ted 2, which opens today, was how MacFarlane feels about that same work.

Just last year, I would’ve said he must feel great; smugness radiates from the MacFarlane oeuvre (not least when he’s casting himself as an on-screen romantic lead, even when he’s kinda-sorta making himself the butt of a joke). But two things happen during the opening minutes of Ted 2: first, the opening sequence drops us into the wedding of Ted (voiced by MacFarlane) and his beloved Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth), which includes a reception, which includes a velvet-voiced wedding singer… who is somehow not played by MacFarlane himself, which must have taken near superhuman strength considering that the man has fashioned a side career for himself as a crooner (and, due credit: despite the recycled Boston accent he provides for Ted, the man has an impressive vocal range as a voiceover artist). Second, the opening leads into an opening-credits musical number, which not only doesn’t feature MacFarlane either (Ted is silent and uncharacteristically merry-looking through the whole thing), but doesn’t feature any jokes at all.


06/25/15 2:00pm
06/25/2015 2:00 PM |


Two remarkable films from Hong Kong-based director Ringo Lam will screen on 35mm prints at Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater during this year’s New York Asian Film Festival. In City on Fire (1987, screening this Saturday at 8:30pm), a charming undercover detective (played by a young Chow Yun-fat) surrenders to departmental and familial pressure to infiltrate a gang of jewel robbers, which leads both to his stranding his fiancé (Carrie Ng) and to growing perilously close to the group’s most intelligent thief (Danny Lee). In Full Alert (1997, screening this Sunday at 2 P.M.), an initially family-grounded police investigator (Lau Ching-wan) veers towards psychopathy as he leads an increasingly obsessed and isolated hunt for a prison-escaped gang member (Francis Ng) and the man’s girlfriend (Chung Lai-Hung).

In both films—which are ostensibly urban action movies—violence is seen as a social disease. It infects decent people living on both sides of the law, and spreads from them virally to engulf their loved ones. These grim films might be unbearable were it not for Lam’s warm and sensitive attentions to his characters and for his actors’ richly emotional performances. The men and women at the hearts of these films live dreaming of escape from present-day sufferings, and make their best efforts to survive through a fragile hope (sometimes a delusion) of rising above them.

Lam himself (who was born in Hong Kong in 1955) will attend this year’s NYAFF presentations of his films and receive the festival’s Lifetime Achievement Award following City on Fire’s screening. In the interview below, he speaks about the making of both films as well as that of the forthcoming Wild City (2015), his first feature in eight years, and one that he has spoken about in other interviews as an informal close to a trilogy. Thanks go to Emma Griffiths, and particularly to NYAFF programmer and Lam assistant Dana Fukazawa, for facilitating the conversation.


06/25/15 8:00am

tokyo tribes

Though the New York Asian Film Festival has traveled far uptown from its humble 2002 beginnings at Anthology Film Archives and the (late, lamented) ImaginAsian, the fancier Lincoln Center digs haven’t tamed its mission to present the weirdest and wildest visions that Asian cinema has to offer—mostly popular, but sometimes art-house. (In fact, this year sees the festival returning downtown, in a sense, in its last weekend at the School of Visual Arts’ Beatrice and Silas Theatres.)

This year’s lineup presents yet another wide-ranging case in point. Alongside the likes of its opening-night selection, Philip Yung’s Aaron Kwok-led, Christopher Doyle-lensed crime drama Port of Call, and Ghost in the Shell director Mamoru Oshii’s latest live-action film Nowhere Girl, are festival-circuit travelers like this year’s centerpiece pick, Sabu’s Chasuke’s Journey, and Sion Sono’s gangster rap musical Tokyo Tribe. As usual, however, the programmers at Subway Cinema—the nonprofit organization that has overseen this festival from the beginning—have not forgotten the past in favor of highlighting the present, as evidenced by the inclusion in its lineup of films as recent as Tsui Hark’s 2014 3D martial-arts epic The Taking of Tiger Mountain and as vintage as Teruo Ishii’s 1965 prison drama Abashiri Prison and Kinji Fukasaku’s ultra-violent 1973 yakuza thriller Battles Without Honor and Humanity.


06/24/15 8:15am
06/24/2015 8:15 AM |

Orson Welles in Carol Reed’s THE THIRD MAN (1949). Courtesy Rialto Pictures / Studiocanal. Playing June 26-July 9.

The Third Man (1949)
Directed by Carol Reed
Holly Martins (Joseph Cotton), author of pulpy, second-rate Western novellas, is lured into the foreboding danger of postwar Vienna by his estranged lifelong friend Harry Lime (Orson Welles). Typically down-on-his-luck and over a barrel, Martins succumbs to the offer—only to find when he arrives that Harry is dead, impelling Martins into a chiaroscuro chase of ambiguous morality. This Vienna is threadbare and rain-slick; skepticism abounds and there’s nary a native Austrian in sight. Reed’s direction and Graham Greene’s screenplay reach a summit of perfection: a balloon man, a sewer chase, and an inimitable Ferris wheel confrontation—all to the sounds of the unrelenting zither. Samantha Vacca (June 26-July 9 at Film Forum in new 4K restoration; showtimes daily)

06/23/15 10:30am
06/23/2015 10:30 AM |

TON_STILLS_53_corrected_v1 (1)

About two thirds of the way into Patrick Brice’s orgiastic comedy, The Overnight, which opened in New York this past weekend, a very high Emily (Taylor Schilling) offers up a little wisdom a little too late to her even-more-stoned husband, Alex (Adam Scott). “I think we’ve reached that point in the evening,” she says with a glassy-eyed sense of calm, “where it’s time to go before anything crazy happens.” Having already hit the bong and swam naked with a couple they met less than 24 hours prior, the two are well past the point of no return.