James Marsh’s bright-eyed documentary Man on Wire is the unaccountably thrilling story behind that nearly quarter-century-old exploit, shot in much the same proficient and playful manner as would befit the man who did it. The tightrope walker was Philippe Petit, a prank-prone street performer and theatrical jack of all trades who had trained himself as an accomplished high wire artist. Since walking on a wire in a circus tent with a long pole for balance simply didn’t fit his personality, Petit graduated to illegal performances, like walking between the towers of Notre Dame cathedral and the towers on the Sydney harbor bridge. Then he set his sights on the Twin Towers…
Man on Wire is in theaters now; see it now before the inevitable Oscar buzz. The full review is at filmcritic.com.
Darin Strauss’ second novel, The Real McCoy, was a big shout of a book about a real-life scam artist, hurling all the noise and steamy racket of turn-of-the-century New York at the page and ended up being one of the great novels of 2002. His newest, More Than It Hurts You, starts out with similar aspirations. Instead of letting the contemporary setting stifle his imagination (as sometimes happens), Strauss turns the same sociological eye on his cast of characters and seems at times on the verge of creating a Bonfire of the Vanities for the new millennium.
More Than It Hurts You is in stores now. You can read the full review at PopMatters.
Apparently the lamentable last season or two of The X-Files and the 1998 mega-episode film Fight the Future wasn’t insult enough to the show’s legacy as a groundbreaking, mythopoetic phenomenon. No, yet another film had to be made, some six years after the series ground to a halt, in order to further degrade one’s memory of the once-respected pop-culture totem. That film is The X-Files: I Want to Believe, and far from making believers out of the audience, it does everything possible to turn them into staunch realists, not to mention people who might then wonder, What was the big deal about that show, anyway?
The X-Files: I Want to Believe opens today, for whatever it’s worth. You can read the full review at filmcritic.com.
There would be an interesting story in John Crowley’s film of Jonathan Trigell’s novel Boy A almost regardless of how it was done and who was performing in it, but it’s certain that no other adaptation would be quite as affecting if it didn’t include Andrew Garfield (Lions for Lambs), who turns in nothing less than a career-making performance here. Winsomely charming without groveling for the audience’s affection, Garfield presents an indelible portrait of a young man trying to figure out how to continue his life in the face of haunting secrets and a world that doesn’t want to let him forget it…
Boy A opens in limited release tomorrow. You can ready the full review at Film Journal International.
It’s easy to see the attraction that Kent Mackenzie’s 1961 film The Exiles — a jazzy cinema-verite portrait of 14 hours in the life of a band of Native Americans living in a picturesquely downtrodden Los Angeles neighborhood — would have for distributor Milestone, as it marries the socioeconomic concerns of their re-releases like Mikhail Kalatozov’s I Am Cuba with a similar brand of bravura Southern California underground auteur style seen in Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep. Although Mackenzie’s work will probably attain the kind of totemic stature of those films, it certainly deserves to stand alongside them as one of the great under-seen gems of the 1960s.
The Exiles is in limited release right now and should not be missed. Read the full review at Film Journal International.
If most Americans too young for membership in the Greatest Generation have any inkling at all who Bill Mauldin was, the knowledge probably comes smeared with a dash of sepia, like some Norman Rockwell of the cartoon world. The actuality of the man and his art, as presented in the fantastic new two-volume box set, Willie & Joe: The WWII Years, has quite a bit more of the stink of reality to it. Said reality is accentuated by the olive-drab packaging and old typescript-dossier design. Not someone who trafficked in instant nostalgia (just as, come to think of it, Rockwell wasn’t either, regardless of his current reputation), Mauldin was instead a chronicler of the everyday grime and misery that was the life of the average G.I., “These strange, mud-caked creatures who fight the war,” as Mauldin called them later.
You can read the full review of Wille & Joe at PopMatters.
The worlds of both science fiction and great literature lost a smart, acerbic voice on Friday when Thomas M. Disch committed suicide at the age of 68. It’s often said of uncommonly talented writers that they defied description; in Disch’s case, that actually managed to be true.
A child of the upper Midwest—he was born in Des Moines in 1940—Disch later moved to New York and spread his talents over a multitude of endeavors, excelling in most. He had a sharp tongue in his criticism, but since he was generally smarter than the opposition, it was rarely without cause. Like most science-fiction writers who came to prominence during the brief window of creative opportunities afforded by the genre’s experimental New Wave period (like Brian Aldiss, J.G. Ballard, Samuel R. Delany, and others), Disch received waves of critical accolades that could never translate into mainstream stardom. Also like most of the stars of that period, his writing will probably endure in print for years longer than many of their once-bestselling but less-adventurous cohorts.
You can read the remainder of “In Memoraum: Thomas M. Disch” at PopMatters.com.
The potential for wartime satire is almost unbearably high in the setting for Tony Gerber and Jesse Moss’s documentary Full Battle Rattle, a fact which unfortunately may have left them unable to do much more to capitalize on their subject, assuming that it would provide the context and satire for itself. This can happen sometimes to the best of filmmakers, where they become almost paralyzed by the full weight of what they’re beholding. The better ones learn how to dig deeper, those on the lower end of the scale skate along the surface. Gerber and Moss are the latter.
Full Battle Rattle opens today in New York, after having played a number of festivals. The full review is at filmcritic.com.
It looks bigger than it actually is, if that’s physically possible. A 720-page tome that lands with an imposing, Tolstey-esque thud on any surface it might happen to be dropped upon, Dash Shaw’s Bottomless Belly Button (Fantagraphics, June 2008, $29.95) is a serious brick of a thing, which may actually work against it. As Shaw notes on the title page (after identifying the work to follow as “not for children”), the book that follows is divided into three parts, and readers should “take breaks from reading between them.” Given the propensity of the reading public to avoid most things this hefty that aren’t the Bible, it might have made sense to split Shaw’s work into three, less-imposing volumes. It’s fortunate, though, that they didn’t, because—Shaw’s admonition to the contrary—no breaks are necessary or even desired while reading Bottomless Belly Button; he’s right, though, that it’s not for children.
Bottomless Belly Button hit stores last month. You can read the remainder of this appreciation of it at Re:Print.
Sometimes it requires the eyes of a foreigner to make the old new again. In adapting American crime writer Harlan Coben’s 2001 novel Tell No One, French filmmaker Guillaume Canet brings a distancing Gallic fracturedness to a straightforward mystery. By doing so, Canet adds layers that probably weren’t there in the original story but also puts us at a distance from its more pulp elements, which are left adrift in this calmly-paced homage to Hitchcock’s wrong-man scenarios. An odd policier, Tell No One isn’t without its rewards, but is also certainly not without problems.
Tell No One opens in limited release today. You can read the full review at filmcritic.com.