It’s a sign of filmmaking prowess, and occasionally genius, when a director can hand viewers a scenario with a foregone conclusion and make them get lost in the story anyway. In A Mighty Heart, Michael Winterbottom shows that he is definitely that kind of director, flinging us into a panicked maelstrom of chases and false leads that all lead to the same murderous finale, one that is likely clear even to people unfamiliar with the true story the film is closely molded from. Daniel Pearl, respected and beloved journalist for the Wall Street Journal, was kidnapped in Karachi in late January 2002 as he was researching a story on the shoe-bomber Richard Reid. His pregnant wife, journalist Mariane Pearl, marshals an ad-hoc group of his co-workers, Pakistani police, and U.S. officials to find him before it’s too late. They’re too late.
The full review was published in filmcritic.com. Link
An elliptical, moving film about a cruel murder and the agonizing road a family takes to get past its effects, Beyond Hatred is a fine kind of documentary that doesn’t feel for a second like it has to follow the rules and is all the stronger for it. Director Olivier Meyrou begins by telling the story of François Chenu, a 29-year-old gay man who in 2002 happened across a trio of skinheads in a park in Reims, France, looking for an Arab to bash. Spotting François, they demand to know if he’s gay, he responds proudly in the affirmative and bravely tells them what cowards they are. For not denying his nature and illustrating theirs, François was killed. Two years later, the skinheads are about to go on trial and François’s family is a miserable wreck, still trying to wrap their heads around the death.
The full review was published in filmcritic.com. Link
The pre-grunge, slashing cyberpunk poetry of Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation makes for an album that inspires ridiculously devoted fans. Truly ridiculous. Which makes it a perfect candidate for Continuum’s excellent 33 1/3 series, in this case authored by a fan possessed of such serious devotion to this band and this collection of songs that it makes this author look like a mere piker in comparison. Matthew Stearns is a writer of considerable moxie, possessed of a thoroughly unhinged and seemingly endless thesaurus, and supremely convinced of this album’s majesty. What this all means is that Mr. Stearns is quite well suited to do justice in this close listening guide to what he refers to as “some of the most gripping, adventurous 70 minutes 51 seconds in contemporary rock.” And that’s a mild compliment considering the volcanic eruptions of praise that cascade throughout this slim little volume.
You can read the full pieces at PopMatters. Link
This year’s Human Rights Watch International Film Festival is a bruising compilation of educational cinema that would be thrilling if it weren’t testament to the astounding misery people are around the world endure at the hands of others. Running from June 14-28 at Lincoln Center, the festival is showing some 20 features that run the gamut from narrative fiction (Mon Colonel) to journalistic documentary (The Devil Came on Horseback, pictured) to imaginative non-fiction (The Unforseen). It’s an unusually strong year, in which even the weakest entries have something of value to impart. All in all, if you’re in town, don’t miss it.
The full coverage is available at filmcritic.com. Link
If it’s intended as a nightmare, then the whole enterprise has a strangely pleasing look about it. Percy Gloom is the first graphic novel from children’s director Cathy Malkasian (Rugrats, The Wild Thornberrys Movie), and as debuts go, it’s hard to beat. A fantasy landscape drawn in looping, fairy tale swirls and telling a story redolent with totalitarian darkness, Gloom is an unsettling mixture of whimsy and evil, like a Kafka tale retold in the spirit of Dr. Seuss’s The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins.
I interviewed Malkasian for Publishers Weekly. Link
Like many popular authors long slotted into the public education canon, Kafka’s a name everyone knows they should know. A literary touchstone. A clever reference. A joke. In that classic of post-graduate slacker ennui, Noah Baumbach’s Kicking & Screaming, the aspiring writer protagonist grouses upon hearing his girlfriend is leaving for Prague, “Prague… you’ll come back a bug.” It’s this sense of a great author being severed from his own writing that motivates the awe-inspiring new graphic biography Kafka, with text by David Zane Mairowitz and illustrations and comic panels by Robert Crumb. The book states its case rather plain: “No writer of our time, and probably none since Shakespeare, has been so widely over-interpreted and pigeon holed… [Kafkaesque] is an adjective that takes on almost mythic proportions in our time, irrevocably tied to fantasies of doom and gloom, ignoring the intricate Jewish Joke that weaves itself through the bulk of Kafka’s work.”
The full article is published in the June issue of Bookslut. Link
So let’s just eschew the usual “summer read” picks (James Patterson … again) and look at some of the more intriguing books coming out these days. I’ve got a couple short takes in The Chicago Reader, one on the new novel by Jim Crace, The Pesthouse, and also a very interesting non-fiction title by Mike Davis called Buda’s Wagon: A Brief History of the Car Bomb. They’re both apocalyptic to a degree, Crace’s novel being a love story, of sorts, set in the aftermath of societal collapse, while Davis’ book shows how one very simple weapon can be used to bring civilization to its knees. Grim stuff, of course, but worth your time — particularly the Davis, which is close to being essential reading.
You can read the full pieces in the reviews section of The Chicago Reader‘s spring books feature. Link
There he is, Lars von Trier, perched behind a camera on a crane that’s extending itself up the side of an anonymous cube of an office building, shooting footage of himself reflected in the windows, riffing on Bergman’s famous self-shot from Persona but talking in a way that couldn’t be less serious. It’s going to be a comedy, he explains, with a whiff of exasperation. In case the point wasn’t firmly enough made, he goes at it again: “This film won’t be worth a moment’s attention.” He’s wrong, of course. The film, The Boss of It All, is certainly worth attention, even if only for the roughly 100 minutes that it’s unspooling on the screen. It’s a phantom sort of construct that wouldn’t stand up to much inspection, nor is it meant to.
The full review was published in Film Journal International. Link
Co-directors Dan Klores and Fisher Stevens’ reserved and respectful yet utterly transfixing documentary Crazy Love documents the decades-long odyssey that was the tortured relationship of Linda Riis and Burt Pugach, a couple of Bronx kids who indulged in what may have been the perfect tabloid relationship. Perfect for the tabloids, at least. Burt was ten years older than Linda, and already a gadfly-about-New York in 1957 when he met the 20-year-old Linda. A good girl with a reputation for being a tease, Linda was immediately taken with Burt, who, despite his nebbish appearance was a wealthy, womanizing, hotshot lawyer specializing in negligence cases (less charitable souls would characterize him as an ambulance chaser) who ran his own nightclub and frequented many others, always in a hot car and usually with an adoring Linda on his arm.
The full review is available at filmcritic.com. Link