Now Playing: ‘Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter’

Rinko Kikuchi goes to the Great White North in 'Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter' (Amplify)

Rinko Kikuchi goes to the Great White North in ‘Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter’ (Amplify)

Do you like Fargo? Chances are, even if so, you don’t know it as well as the titular anti-heroine of the Zellner brothers’ chilly odyssey of quirk, Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter. It might be one of the first great films of 2015.

kumiko-posterKumiko, the Treasure Hunter is playing now here and there. My review is at PopMatters:

She’s alone and obsessive, and her particular object of obsession is the Coen brothers’ film Fargo. Sitting night after night in her dingy apartment with only her adorable rabbit Bunzo for company, she pores over a worn-out VHS tape with Talmudic fervency, keeping a notebook full of scribbled clues that only make sense to her. Because of Fargo‘s famous opening epigraph—“This is a true story. The events depicted in this film took place in Minnesota in 1987”—she takes it as a faithful transcribing of reality. That’s why she keeps re-watching the scene where Carl (Steve Buscemi) buries the suitcase of cash by a fence in a snowy field. In Kumiko’s mind, she just needs to get to Minnesota…

Here’s the trailer:

New in Theaters: ‘While We’re Young’

Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts in 'While We're Young' (A24)

Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts contemplate their oldness in ‘While We’re Young’ (A24)

Noah Baumbach continues his filmic project with Ben Stiller on the agitations of middle age and disappointment in While We’re Young, playing now in limited release.

My review is at Film Racket:

Age is wasted on the old, especially when they want to be young again. When Noah Baumbach’s hit-and-miss comedy of urbane humiliation catches up with Josh (Ben Stiller) and Cornelia (Naomi Watts), they are stuck dead in middle age nowhere without a road map. A long-married couple doubting their comfortable but deadened relationship, they emphatically reassure themselves of their contentment. They don’t need kids to be happy, they tell each other, saying they are free to jet off to Europe at a moment’s notice. Well, probably not that soon. Maybe a month…

Here’s the trailer:

New in Theaters: ‘The Salt of the Earth’

One of Sebastio Salgado's iconic photographs in 'The Salt of the Earth' (Sony Pictures Classics)

One of Sebastio Salgado’s iconic photographs in ‘The Salt of the Earth’ (Sony Pictures Classics)

Given a brief Academy Awards run late last year, Wim Wenders’ magisterial documentary about photographer Sebastio Salgado is finally getting a proper theatrical release this week.

My review is at Film Journal International:

“A photographer,” Wim Wenders intones at the start of his elegantly respectful documentary on Sebastião Salgado, “is literally somebody painting with light.” This definition sounds grand, to be sure. But the act of creation that Wenders captures here doesn’t quite seem to resemble painting. Salgado’s work is in some ways the definition of high-concept photography. His rich, lusciously layered, black-and-white shots of teeming gold mine workers, refugees streaming across a desert, or a line of penguins flinging themselves off a glacier are so elegantly composed as to almost defy reality…

Here’s the trailer:

New in Theaters: ‘White God’

 

'White God': The dogs are coming (Magnolia Pictures)

‘White God': The dogs are coming (Magnolia Pictures)

Ever year the Cannes Film Festival awards the Un Certain Regard prize to a standout film. For 2014, that film was Hungarian director Kornel Mundruczo’s White God, which is not about race or religion, but rather about what happens when people push dogs a little too far. Yes, it’s a metaphor.

White God is opening this week in limited release. My review is at Film Journal International:

They say that the eyes are the windows to the soul. That hasn’t always proven correct with some performers, who could look forcefully into a camera and still reveal nothing about themselves or the character they are inhabiting. The same problem presents itself in Kornél Mundruczó’s White God, only this time the eyes in question aren’t those of human actors, but canine ones. Eyes are important in this film because the story has so little to offer; about all that’s left to engage with are the dogs who spend a good amount of time peering soulfully out of the screen. And that’s before they rise up against their human oppressors…

The trailer is here:

New in Theaters: ‘Jauja’

 

Viggo Mortensen (right) in 'Jauja' (Cinema Guild)

Viilbjørk Mallin Agger and Viggo Mortensen in ‘Jauja’ (Cinema Guild)

Jauja, a ghostly pseudo-Western set in the wilds of late-nineteenth century Argentina and starrting Viggo Mortensen, is opening this week in limited release. My review is at Film Journal International:

Given a précis of what Lisandro Alonso’s Jauja is ostensibly about, some might imagine they’re in for a South American updating of The Searchers. But even John Ford—who would have been happy to have a stolid leading man like Viggo Mortensen in his company—at his pokiest was never this unconcerned with story. Alonso is happy to let his scenes spool out at their own unhurried pace, captured in the old-fashioned boxy Academy framing. This can lead to some gorgeously observed tableaus but also stretches of dry tedium, hemmed in by a layered and mannered aesthetic…

Here’s the trailer:

Department of Shameless Self-Promotion: Here Come the Robots

More artificial futures in 'Ex Machina' (A24)

More artificial futures in ‘Ex Machina’ (A24)

Last Friday’s Wall Street Journal featured in its arts and culture section an article by Don Steinberg about the prevalence of robots and artificial intelligence in movies coming soon to a multiplex near you. It’s a subject that filmmakers just don’t seem able to stay away from.

Don very nicely included a few quotes from myself on the subject in the story: “Invasion of the Friendly Movie Robots.” Check it out.

New in Theaters: ‘Maps to the Stars’

Robert Pattinson looks properly mystified in 'Maps to the Stars' (Focus World)

Robert Pattinson looks properly mystified in ‘Maps to the Stars’ (Focus World)

It was probably only a matter of time before director David Cronenberg and novelist Bruce Wagner found some way to work together. Cronenberg’s love of festering wounds (both physical and psychological) and Wagner’s bleak and blackened comedies of Hollywood soul-deadness would seem somehow made for each other. That’s how we, unfortunately, ended up with Maps to the Stars.

After a short, awards-qualifying run late last year, Maps to the Stars is playing now in limited release. My review is at Film Racket:

There is a moment when satire turns into pure spleen. That moment comes pretty early in David Cronenberg’s disjointed Maps to the Stars. Benjie Weiss (Evan Bird), a child star with the dead but predatory eyes of a middle-aged addict, lashes out at his manager. Benjie lets loose a stream of insults notable for being not just petty but anti-Semitic and homophobic to boot. It’s a terribly clumsy moment (see how awful actors can be), the satirical equivalent of a punch to the nose. Much of the film that follows is played in much the same key of bilious hate, the only variant being the talent of those spitting out the lines…

Here’s the trailer: