New on DVD:
Kiss Me Deadly

For sheer brazen weirdness, it’s hard to top Robert Aldrich’s nervy noir 1955 adaptation of the skull-busting Mickey Spillane novel. It’s a mystery that never gets solved, and a thriller that creeps more than thrills. The closest one gets to an explanation of who’s behind everything is a cynical, tired reference by the hero’s gal Friday to “nameless ones who kill people for the great whatsit.” All the confusion could be a good example of why directors shouldn’t make films out of books they have no respect for, but then it’s hard to say that a greater fidelity to the source material would have improved matters much…
Kiss Me Deadly is available in a spiffy new edition from Criterion. You can read my full review at filmcritic.com.

New in Books:
What?

For an author who has arguably made much of his career out of answering queries that you didn’t know you wanted answers to (how important was salt to the development of human civilization?), Mark Kurlansky has some nerve positing an entire book as one long inquiry. Granted, What? isn’t exactly a tome, at 96 pages it’s the nonfiction equivalent of a novella – the tomette…
What? is available in finer bookstores most everywhere. You can read my full review at Re:Print.

New in Theaters:
United Red Army

United Red Army is a three-hour-plus treatment of two groups of student radicals who were forged in the fire of protests against Japan’s involvement with the United States during the Vietnam War, before unifying as the United Red Army. A lengthy screed of grainy news footage, backed by a deep-voiced and emphatic narrator, and punctuated with some introductory dramatic recreations, sets the scene. From marching and battling in the streets, some of the students are forged as would-be warrior radicals in the crucible of a government crackdown, going underground to continue their “revolution”…

United Red Army opened recently in limited release. You can read the full review at Film Journal International.

New in Theaters:
Page One: A Year Inside the New York Times

There’s an old joke which says that the second title to roll off Gutenberg’s printing press after the bible was a book on the death of the publishing industry. Whatever the media, predictions have been made about its demise nearly ever since its inception. This drumbeat of doom has been particularly thunderous during the past couple years when it comes to print newspapers, with their ad revenue ravaged by digital competitors and a readership depleted by Twitterized 21st-century information overload. Not long after an infamous January 2009 feature ran in the Atlantic asking whether the New York Times could be out of business by that May, director Andrew Ross embedded himself at the Old Gray Lady herself to watch the storm play out…
Page One is playing now in limited release, make sure to check it out. You can read the full review at filmcritic.com.

New on DVD:
Public Speaking

Barbed-wire raconteur and bon mot factory Fran Lebowitz has many theories about the proper methods of creating and appreciating art, and few of them would be likely to be found in the frequently touchy-feely literature on the subject: “Sitting in bars, smoking cigarettes, that’s the history of art.” To Lebowitz, holding forth in Martin Scorsese’s amber-lit, relaxed bar-stool hangout of a documentary on her, the craft of making art is a social phenomenon – one has to be in the thick of things to accurately mine them for one’s art. Fortunately for viewers, Lebowitz is no tortured soul of the Barton Fink variety, even if she is just about as famously blocked…
Public Speaking is now available on DVD from HBO. You can read the full review at filmcritic.com.

New in Theaters:
Road to Nowhere

Filmmakers from Fellini to Ferrara who have centered their work around a director character have had the foresight to make the man (it’s always a man, of course) a fool. At best he’s a naïve dreamer, at worst he’s a destructive cretin. Either way, he’s utterly complicit in his own demise. It’s difficult to know exactly how seriously long-absent director Monte Hellman (Two-Lane Blacktop) is taking his somewhat ridiculous director character, Mitch Haven (Tygh Runyan), in this densely packed and deliberately obscure film. That uncertainty unfortunately also extends to the film itself, which skirts laughability more than once but also casts a certain kind of spell…
Road to Nowhere is playing now in limited release. You can read the full review at Film Journal International.

Filmology:
June 9th

“Some are born to sweet delight, some are born to endless night.”

Today’s entry from Filmology is Dead Man (1995), Jim Jarmusch’s gorgeous, deadpan-funny, bloody, and poetic pseudo-Western starring Johnny Depp as a hapless quester named William Blake.
My book, Filmology: A Movie-a-Day Guide to a Complete Film Education, is available in both paperback and ebook formats.

New on DVD:
The Great Dictator

Charlie Chaplin plays a Hitler-like dictator in this controversial wartime satire, as well as a good-natured Jewish barber who is then mistaken for the dictator. Hijinks and tragedy and speechifying ensue. The film is not always as funny as it could be and is frequently too innocent for its own good (a common complaint with Chaplin). But nevertheless, this is still better than just about anything else the Tramp ever made…

The Great Dictator is out now in a great two-disc set from Criterion. You can read the full review at filmcritic.com. 

New in Theaters:
Beginners

Sadness is layered on top of sadness in Mike Mills’s seriocomic account of a determinedly gloomy young man’s (Ewan McGregor) coming to terms with the death of his recently-out-of-the-closet father (an Oscar-worthy Christopher Plummer). It comes incrementally at first, parsed by a stuttering narrative that can’t seem to decide what the film is actually about, but by the end is washing over you in choking waves. There is little movement here, rather a lot more running in circles, much like the admittedly adorable Jack Russell, Arthur, who is able to speak to the mourning protagonist in subtitles. Were it not for a trio of magnificently calibrated performances, the whole thing would be less than unbearable…

Beginners opens today in limited release. You can read the full review at filmcritic.com.