Now Playing: ‘The Unknown Known’

Don Rumsfeld faces the past (or not) in 'The Unknown Known'

Don Rumsfeld faces the past (or not) in ‘The Unknown Known’

Late last year, possibly in an attempt to garner an Oscar nomination, the Weinsteins’ Radius-TWC outfit gave Errol Morris’ newest documentary The Unknown Known a short pre-holiday run. Now, this riveting, feature-length interview with the Bush era’s greatest poetic dissembler, Donald Rumsfeld, is getting a proper release.

The Unknown Known is playing in limited release again starting this week. My review is at Short Ends & Leader:

In The Unknown Known, Rumsfeld shows time and again why he’s a perfect subject for another of Morris’s documentary investigations into American military adventurism and hubris. For one, he’s the sharpest verbalist of the three. For another, he’s willing to tangle with other points of view; though not necessarily concede an inch of ground. If the film can’t compare in the end to 2003’s The Fog of War, that’s because Rumsfeld doesn’t appear to have had the come-to-Jesus moment about Iraq that Robert McNamara had about his role in the disaster that was the Vietnam War. Given the placidly combative figure presented here, that moment will probably never come…

Here’s the trailer:

 

Now Playing: ‘Anita’

anita-poster1In 1991, the first of the decade’s great, somewhat shameful, televised scandal melodramas was broadcast: Anita Hill’s grilling by the Senate Judiciary Committee over her allegations of sexual harassment by Clarence Thomas. Then, as now, Hill is a dignified figure who chooses her words carefully and keeps emotion in check. Although the society at large has, surprisingly, moved on from this watershed moment, Hill finally gets her overdue consideration in a thoughtful, if not exactly thrilling documentary.

Anita is playing now in a few theaters and should be on DVD and VOD soon. My review is at Film Racket:

Anita is a functional film about an astounding person who faced the whirlwind and didn’t blink. It doesn’t do meaningful service to the larger story of persecution and discrimination and never scratches the surface of the poisonous vituperation that swirled around it. None of these things may have been necessary, though. Director Freida Lee Mock (Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision) may have simply wanted to tell the story of one brave, famous, and yet surprisingly disregarded American hero. If so, she succeeds, but somewhat wanly…

Here’s the trailer:

New in Theaters: ‘Omar’

Training to kill in 'Omar'

‘Omar’: Terrorists or freedom fighters?

Omar-posterIn the Oscar-nominated thriller Omar, a young Palestinian man in the West Bank is faced with two challenges: First, how to convince his friend that he’d be a good bet to marry the friend’s little sister? Second, and more importantly, how does he escape the law after helping to murder an Israeli soldier?

Omar opens this week. My review is at Film Racket:

For such a razor-sharp thriller, the West Bank-set Omar smuggles a dense packet of ambiguity into its compact running time. This shouldn’t be a rarity, given how many stories there are about the conflict between occupiers and occupied, the dueling taxonomy of “freedom fighters” and “terrorists.” But too often these clashes are related in absolutes, where one narrative is bought into more than another. Hany Abu-Assad’s skillful story wrestles with those grey moralities without spoon-feeding one or the other to the audience. It’s a story about people, not ideologies, but it knows how inextricably the former intertwine with the latter…

Between a rock and a hard place.

Between a rock and a hard place.

Here is the trailer:

New in Theaters: ‘Child’s Pose’

Luminita Gheorghiu schemes in 'Child's Pose'

Luminita Gheorghiu schemes in ‘Child’s Pose’

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Winner of the Golden Bear at last year’s Berlin Film Festival, Child’s Pose is playing now in limited release, and is worth seeking out. My review is at Film Racket:

“A mother’s love” has rarely felt more dagger-like or malevolent than in the chilling morality thriller Child’s Pose. Part anatomy of a villain and part crime procedural, Calin Peter Netzer’s film follows what happens after a domineering upper-class Bucharest mother finds out her coddled son has been accused of running down and killing a young boy from the outskirts of town. It’s another in a series of European films (Italy’s The Great Beauty, in particular) that have served as X-rays of societies riddled with corruption like mold veined through a hunk of old cheese. What makes Child’s Pose even more affecting is that many of its characters come off as spiritually corrupt as the society at large. And the rot comes from the top…

Here is the trailer:

Now Playing: ‘Like Father, Like Son’

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Are You Really My Son?

likefatherlikeson-posterImagine you’re the parents of an adorably well-behaved six-year-old boy. Then the hospital calls and tells you that in fact, your child was switched with another family’s when they were born—your biological son has been raised by somebody else. What do you do? That’s the conversation-sparking premise behind Kore-Eda Hirokazu’s brilliant new melodrama Like Father, Like Son, playing now in limited release.

My review is at Film Racket:

There’s a Lifetime movie lurking not far beneath the deceptively placid surface of this cutting family drama about a Japanese couple who discover that their six-year-old son is actually somebody else’s. Now, not only do they have to come to terms with the realization that their son is not related to them, but that their biological child is still out there, waiting to be met. What is their real son like, and if they haven’t raised him, what makes that boy their real son and not the one they’ve been creating a family with? Over the course of its smartly plotted two hours, writer/director Kore-Eda Hirokazu’s emotionally knotty film raises question after question about this interruption of what seemed initially like domestic bliss. The biggest of them being: Does any of this even matter?…

likefatherlikeson2

Like Father, Like Son strangely missed out on this year’s foreign film Oscars, but won the Jury Prize at Cannes, where Steven Spielberg saw the film and nabbed the rights for a perhaps inevitable American remake by Dreamworks.

Here’s the trailer:

New in Theaters: ’12 O’Clock Boys’

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’12 O’Clock Boys’: Today, We Ride

12-o-clock-boys-posterEvery so often in Baltimore, swarms of teenagers and twentysomethings will come swarming through an intersection, doing paralysis-defying tricks on their bikes or four-wheelers. They’re called “12 O’Clock Boys,” and they’re the subject of an interesting new documentary about hope (or the lack of it) and fantasy in the inner cities.

12 O’Clock Boys opens in limited release this week after playing the festival doc circuit. My review is at Film Journal International:

…Their name comes from a signature move where a rider pops a wheelie so high that the front wheel goes straight up like an hour hand on a clock pointing to twelve. It supplies phenomenal footage for local news shows, confuses many of the drivers and pedestrians they’re swarming past, thrills some bystanders, and infuriates others. “What are we doing about these little scumbags?” shouts a talk-radio caller. Over the three years that director Lofty Nathan follows his young protagonist, Pug, his enraptured camera witnesses one all-consuming emotion: Pug wants nothing more than to be a 12 O’Clock Boy. The film feeds off his enthusiasm…

Here’s the trailer:

Best Movies of 2013: First Take

bestfilmtv2013-films

Since it’s a brand new year already featuring its own share of miserable, do-I-have-to-go-out-there? weather, what better time to sit back and figure out what exactly was the year that was? Film-wise, that is.

I contributed to a few of those lists at different websites this month. Over at PopMatters, you can see their gargantuan Top 35 films list here; they’ve also produced similar lists broken out into DVDs and foreign/indie films. I also contributed to their sections on the year’s worst films, and best female and male performances.

Sarah Polley's 'Stories We Tell'

Sarah Polley’s ‘Stories We Tell’

Also, the writers for Film Racket published their own individual Top 10 lists here. My list is something of a first draft that I’ll be going back over and redoing for the publication (hopefully later this month) of the new edition of Eyes Wide Open 2013: The Year’s 25 Greatest Movies (and 5 Worst). Here’s the short version:

  1. Stories We Tell
  2. 12 Years a Slave
  3. Gravity
  4. Before Midnight
  5. Fruitvale Station
  6. A Touch of Sin
  7. August: Osage County
  8. Gimme the Loot
  9. Room 237
  10. Captain Phillips

Coming Soon: ‘The Unknown Known’

Rumsfeld: 'The only things that are lasting are conflict, blackmail, and killing.'

Rumsfeld: ‘The only things that are lasting are conflict, blackmail, and killing.’

The_Unknown_Known_posterErrol Morris’ riveting new documentary is a feature-length interview with none other than the Bush era’s greatest poetic dissembler, Donald Rumsfeld. The Unknown Known has been playing festival dates recently and is going to hit theaters on December 13.

My early review is at Short Ends & Leader:

In The Unknown Known, Rumsfeld shows time and again why he’s a perfect subject for another of Morris’s documentary investigations into American military adventurism and hubris. For one, he’s the sharpest verbalist of the three. For another, he’s willing to tangle with other points of view; though not necessarily concede an inch of ground. If the film can’t compare in the end to 2003’s The Fog of War, that’s because Rumsfeld doesn’t appear to have had the come-to-Jesus moment about Iraq that Robert McNamara had about his role in the disaster that was the Vietnam War. Given the placidly combative figure presented here, that moment will probably never come…

Here’s a look at the trailer:

 

New in Theaters: ‘The Square’

Khalid Abdalla (star of 'The Kite Runner') and Ahmad Hassan, two of the Tahrir Square activists profiled in 'The Square'

Khalid Abdalla (star of ‘The Kite Runner’) and Ahmad Hassan, two of the Tahrir Square activists profiled in ‘The Square’

thesquare-poster1Jehane Noujaim’s incandescent documentary about the Tahrir Square revolution first played Sundance back in January; she went back to Egypt to shoot later developments. The version of The Square that just opened in limited release now has a dramatic arc, from the 2011 resignation of Mubarak to this summer’s coup that toppled Morsi. It’s an elegantly put-together and passionate story of the tragedy of revolutions and the resilience of ideas.

My review is at Film Journal International:

The film is thick with dense collages of tear gas, gunfire, and seas of people leaping and shouting in unison. But it also cuts away to zoom in on a few of these people who would otherwise just be specks in a pointillist portrait. What Noujami has captured is not just a protest, but a diagnostic of the different emotional and political struggles which protesters like Khalid, Ahmed and Magdy are having in the street or on the phone because they don’t live in a country where those arguments can yet be honestly had at the ballot box. 

The trailer is here:

 

New in Theaters: ‘Blue is the Warmest Color’

Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux in 'Blue is the Warmest Color'

Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux in ‘Blue is the Warmest Color’

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The winner of the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival is finally getting its American release after months of controversy, hype, and speculation. That’s what will happen with a sexually explicit, NC-17, three-hour romance about two young women who literally seem to fall in love at first sight. Blue is the Warmest Color is opening this week in limited release and should be expanding around the country through the fall; at least to those theaters that agree to screen NC-17 films.

My review is at Film Racket; here’s part:

Unabashedly romantic in the grandest, tear-stained way, Blue is the Warmest Color is also a strangely empty epic of the heart. Abdellatif Kechiche’s extravagant film is an indulgently overlong romance of long pauses, watchful glances, and infatuated lovemaking. It features two glowing performances from Lea Seydoux and Adele Exarchopoulous as the young women bound up in a relationship whose minefields and fireworks they can barely comprehend, let alone control. This old-fashioned, love-at-first-sight view of romantic attraction is not exactly en vogue these days, so it’s even more frustrating that Kechiche botches it…

The film is based very loosely on Julie Maroh’s gorgeous graphic novel, which is one of the best things to hit bookshelves this year. The author herself had some criticisms of the (male) director’s take on her story here.

You can watch the trailer here: