Nick Cave drives to parts unknown with Kylie Minogue in ‘20,000 Days on Earth’ (Drafthouse Films)
20,000 Days on Earth is a meta-fictional documentary about Nick Cave, art, life, death, and above all writing. It’s beautiful and transfixing and is opening in limited release this Wednesday.
My review is at Film Journal International:
The last thing that audiences need is another documentary about the greatness of another band or artist of the past. It’s all too easy once artists have their glory days behind them to lock all that rough chaos up into a neatly packaged movie, maybe a box set filled with B-sides and rarities. That doesn’t mean that the likes of Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me, Finding Fela and A Band Called Death aren’t worthy films. But today’s documentary audiences could be forgiven for thinking that to be a music fan today is akin to being an archivist. Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard’s new documentary about Australian Goth-poet Nick Cave is a long overdue reversal of that nostalgic trend…
You can see the trailer here:
Dakota Fanning, Jesse Eisenberg, and Peter Sarsgaard in ‘Night Moves’ (Cinedigm)
A trio of environmental conspirators try to blow up a Pacific Northwest dam in Kelly Reichardt’s superbly quiet but tension-laced new film, Night Moves, which is playing now in limited release.
My review is at Film Racket:
The green activists plotting to blow up a dam in Kelly Reichardt’s sublimely nervy new film don’t talk about why they’re doing it. By the time the film catches up with them, the trio has already set their minds on a plan of action. They talk shop here and there, one grousing about all the golf courses being built in a dry climate, another about how the oceans will be dead from pollution by 2048. But there’s no deeper investigation into the why of what they’re about to do or whether they should do it. They just know that the dam, that hulking concrete symbol of humanity domineering nature, must come down. “It wants to come down,” one says dreamily. The introspection comes afterward, with a vengeance…
Here’s the trailer:
Marion Cotillard, Joaquin Phoenix in ‘The Immigrant’ (Weinstein Company)
The newest lovesick melodrama from James Gray is a gorgeously-shot period piece about an immigrant woman (Marion Cotillard) caught between two dueling performers (Joaquin Phoenix, Jeremy Renner) as she desperately tries to free her sister from quarantine on Ellis Island.
The Immigrant is playing now in limited release. My review is at Film Racket:
James Gray’s relentlessly, intoxicatingly melodramatic period love triangle The Immigrant starts on a passenger ship docking at Ellis Island in 1921 and never gets much further than the teeming tenements and seamy fleshpots of Lower East Side. It’s a claustrophobic story, appropriate to the heated-up emotions at play and the specter of a poisoned, dangerous Old World waiting for the heroine should she fail to find a place in the New. Like Gray’s other New York potboilers like We Own the Night and The Yards, The Immigrant is a stubbornly old-fashioned lovesick tale in which the bonds of passion and family are stretched to their snapping point…
Here’s the trailer:
Madison, Wisconsin, ground zero for the Koch brothers’ political campaigns. (Variance Films)
You would think that a hit-job documentary about the Koch brothers—billionaire conservative villains par excellence—would have been something of a slam-dunk. But Citizen Koch, for all the surrounding it for having been supposedly yanked from PBS (which receives a lot of money from David Koch), is a disappointingly toothless thing.
Citizen Koch is playing now in limited release; not on PBS. My review is at Film Journal International:
Citizen Koch has passion aplenty, but it begins as a well-starched and solidly structured argument about the dismantling of campaign-finance reform. It’s smartly and entertainingly told in the by-now standard format of attack documentaries: stringing together television news footage for a pulse-pounding narrative and cutting away to talking-head interviews for context. Instead of jumping all over the Kochs from the start, the filmmakers lay out out how the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision opened the floodgates for increased corporate donations to political advocacy groups. Former Wisconsin senator and campaign finance reformer Russ Feingold calls the decision a “huge power grab” by corporations, who were now freer to support or attack politicians of their choosing…
You can check out the trailer here:
Jesse Eisenberg and Mia Wasikowska in ‘The Double’ (image courtesy of Magnolia Pictures)
In Dostoyevsky’s 1846 novel The Double, a St. Petersburg bureaucrat encounters an identical version of himself, who proceeds to take over his life. In Richard Ayoade’s hallucinogenic, picaresque adaptation, Jesse Eisenberg plays both halves of the office-drone doppleganger—one an ignored sad sack who can’t get the girl and the other a life-of-the-party predator who can get any girl. Frustration results.
The Double is playing now in limited release. My review is at Film Racket:
If Wes Anderson immersed himself in Orwell, Kafka, and other high priests of chilly, bureaucratic horror, the result might look something like Richard Ayoade’s metaphysical nightmare The Double. That would never happen, of course, as Anderson is an optimist and fabulist who believes in the happy ending, warted though it might be. Ayoade is a colder fish, as he showed in his first film, Submarine, which had a little too much fun reveling in its young protagonist’s studied quirk for its own sake. But that directorial remove, coupled with a lack of desire to pretend that a character’s suffering in any way automatically creates nobility, helps make Avi Korine’s adaptation of the Dostoyevsky novella into a bracing, darkly crystalline film that isn’t easily shaken off. If there were ever such a thing as the nightmare comedy, this is it…
You can see the trailer here:
(Image courtesy of the Tribeca Film Festival)
Two of the award-winning narrative films at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival didn’t quite fit the fest’s usual mold. Neither Zero Motivation (which won for best narrative feature) or Gueros (best cinematography) were the usual small, tightly-focused chamber-piece dramas. Both had large ambitions that might have outstripped their abilities, but were thrilling nonetheless.
My review for PopMatters is here.
Zero Motivation is a deft Israeli comedy set in a military post’s administrative office that’s most easily described as a mash-up of M*A*S*H* and Office Space, with a little surrealism thrown into the mix:
Sullen whiner Daffi is so resistant to doing anything of value that she’s been designated “Paper Shredding NCO;” a position at which she fails miserably. All she cares about is transferring to cosmopolitan Tel Aviv, which holds an exalted a position in her mind. The kibbutz-raised Zohar doesn’t understand Daffi’s desire, and finds her own distractions, channeling her energy into desperately trying to lose her virginity. They kill more time with an epic staple-gunfight and general slackness. In other words, these are barely soldiers you would trust to carry live ammunition, much less defend a nation’s borders…
The Mexican film Gueros is a sprawling, black-and-white, French New Wave-inspired ramble through Mexico City:
Even with its striking compositions and embrace of visual disorder, Güeros gets hung up on its own cleverness. The longer it ambles on, the more it takes on the feel of a string of short films mashed together. A midpoint breaching of the fourth wall (we see a clapper, and one actor talks out of character regarding his opinions on the screenplay so far) doesn’t serve much purpose. Neither does Sombra’s declamation on the state of Mexican film: “They grab a bunch of beggars and shoot in black and white and think they’re making art movies.” Enough moments like that, and the film begins to take on an unfortunate tone of self-satisfaction. There’s beauty here, though, that portends greater things in Ruizpalacios’s future…
Hopefully these wins will lead to both films getting at least a limited American release and enlivening what’s been a fairly limited slate of foreign films that made it to these shores so far this year.
Two common Tribeca tropes in this pair of reviews: an interesting but underwhelming drama with name performers doing their level best and a solid historical documentary that’s practically required viewing. My most recent dispatch from the Tribeca Film Festival is here.
The drama is Stephen Belber’s Match, a three-performer melodrama about a high-strung, Wildean dance instructor (Patrick Stewart) who gets an unwelcome blast from his wild past:
Match is a tight, comically uncomfortable little box of a story about selfishness and pasts that refuse to die. It features enough salty turns of phrase and violently clashing expectations to generate a reasonably entertaining evening in its company. But essential it isn’t…
‘1971’: Picking the FBI’s locks
Highly essential is 1971, a pitch-perfect historical thriller about antiwar activists whose burglary told the country what hippies had thought all along: the Feds are spying on us:
Johanna Hamilton’s sharp film looks back on the Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI, a meticulously organized protest cell who brainstormed possibly the single most significant act of illegal political protest in US history. Perhaps most remarkably, they were never caught. The film describes not just how these eight Philadelphia-area activists came to break into an FBI office and helped expose the heretofore unknown COINTELPRO, but also why they risked everything to do it…
Both films should probably get some kind of release later in the year.