Screening Room: ‘The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution’

"Power to the people" (PBS)

“Power to the people” (PBS)

After a series of documentaries that dug into the 20th century African American experience with uncommon power, Stanley Nelson (Jonestown, Freedom Riders) turns his gaze to the story of the country’s last great radical movement, and how it was destroyed just before falling apart.

My review of The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, which opens this week in limited release and will likely come to PBS sometime soon, is at PopMatters:

At some point, revolutionaries have to decide what else they want to be. Too often, they can’t. That’s why so many successful insurrections end up emulating the very same oppressive regimes they overthrow: fighters are often miserably bad peacemakers. That’s why Che Guevara ran off to die stupidly in Bolivia rather than figure out sugar cane production back in Cuba…

Here is the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Mistress America’

Greta Gerwig and Lola Kirke take Manhattan in 'Mistress America' (Sony Pictures Classics)

Greta Gerwig and Lola Kirke take Manhattan in ‘Mistress America’ (Sony Pictures Classics)

For his second film of 2015, Noah Baumbach left aside the dyspepsia of his Ben Stiller aging comedy While We’re Young for the fizzier retro ’80s irony of Mistress America, the latest of his off-kilter comedies with his partner Greta Gerwig.

My review of Mistress America, which opens Friday, is at Film Journal:

Like its hero-villain, Brooke, Mistress America tries on many styles in an effort to make something stick. There’s a bleak coming-of-age story here, a breathless escapade through glorious neon Manhattan, a manic-pixie giggle-montage, a satire on writers mining their lives for material, high-toned irony, and a stagy farce. It’s a busier film than Noah Baumbach usually delivers, and not always a cohesive one, with its disparate plot shards often crashing at right angles to each other. Sometimes those collisions make for stinging, loopy, oddball comedy. At other times, they simply confuse…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Best of Enemies’

William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal think of new insults for each other. (Magnolia)

William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal think of new insults for each other. (Magnolia)

In 1968, the third-place network ABC wasn’t sure how to make a splash with its presidential convention coverage. Since they didn’t have much money, they went for a gimmick. Over the course of ten nights, Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley would debate the issues of the conventions. Or just throw insults at each other.

Best of Enemies is playing now in limited release. My review is at PopMatters:

Best of Enemies is a fascinating film about brilliant people behaving stupidly. It would be reassuring in a way to think that in the distant past, there was a time when American intellectuals could duke it out on the public stage before a mass audience held rapt by the sight and sound of ideas being wrestled into coherent form. We know such things don’t happen anymore. How many Americans can even name two intellectuals to have such a debate?…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Gueros’ – French New Wave in Mexico City

'Gueros' (Kino Lorber)

‘Gueros’ (Kino Lorber)

Style doesn’t go out of style. That’s why directors around the world are still aping the French New Wave, in good and bad ways.

Güeros is a grab-bag of the right and wrong ways to appropriate the Nouvelle Vague’s stream-of-conscious plotting and jazzy rhythms. It did the festival circuit last year and is now getting a limited release. My review from the Tribeca Film Festival is at PopMatters:

[Güeros] gets a lot of traction from its mainly directionless young protagonists. They wander through Mexico City through a couple formless days backgrounded by worries about the future and uncertainty about their place and purpose in the present. It’s a film riddled and with questions and switchbacks, circling in on itself time and again…

Here’s the trailer.

Now Playing: ‘Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck”

Young Cobain (HBO Films)

Young Cobain (HBO Films)

Even though it was produced in association with Kurt Cobain’s family, the new documentary about his tragically short life has a bracing honesty that makes it required viewing.

Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck is playing now in limited release and also on HBO. My review is at Film Racket:

Brett Morgen’s deft and fascinating documentary about America’s last true rock star is shot through with inevitability. But that never detracts from the raw emotional power of a film made up mostly of Kurt Cobain’s nakedly confessional journals and recordings. The film’s story can’t help but carry a mythic quality. That doesn’t mean that Morgen, working with the authorization of Cobain’s family, created a worshipful monument to genius. It’s true that to appreciate Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, it certainly helps to at least approve of a Nirvana song here and there. But this isn’t a fan’s valentine. At times it feels closer to hate mail from the artist himself…

Here’s the trailer:

New in Theaters: ‘Clouds of Sils Maria’

Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart in 'Clouds of Sils Maria' (Sundance Selects)

Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart in ‘Clouds of Sils Maria’ (Sundance Selects)

In Olivier Assayas’ Clouds of Sils Maria, a venerable actress with a prickly assistant agrees to play the older character in a play that made her famous when she was in the younger role, now cast with a Lindsay Lohan-esque up-and-comer. It’s a rich dramatic environment, suggesting a marriage of Persona and All About Eve.

Clouds of Sils Maria opens this week; my review is at Film Racket:

In this richly satisfying film about age and art, a battle of wills over a new production of a classic play becomes a Rorschach test for two women’s friendship. It’s another subtext-laden drama from Olivier Assayas, whose best work has dug into the simmering tensions of long-term relationships and come up with melodramatic gold. Clouds of Sils Maria won’t be counted among his greater achievements like Summer Hours. But it’s a return to form for a director whose more recent films (Carlos, Something in the Air) have been packed with energy but lacking heft…

Here’s the (somewhat misleading) 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: