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:
‘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:
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:
This is what lies look like: ‘Merchants of Doubt’ (Sony Pictures Classics)
How do you get people to believe in a lie. Well, when it’s something like climate change, it helps to have a well-paid mini-industry of fakers and dissemblers to help spread the mistruths. Whatever the subject, there’s plenty of so-called “experts” who will tell people what they want to hear.
That’s the subject of Robert Kenner’s new documentary Merchants of Doubt, which opens tomorrow in limited release. My review is at Film Racket:
This is an ugly film, though it has an upbeat spirit. Director Robert Kenner starts off with magician Jamy Ian Swiss giving a deft performance in close-up magic. “My expertise is in deception,” Swiss says with no small amount of pride. Kenner features Swiss so prominently, and laces the film with visual nods to card tricks, because as Swiss states about magicians, “We are honest liars.” The professional charlatans Kenner profiles later would be hard put to make such a claim. The tragedy of the film is that depressingly few people get the difference…
Here’s the trailer:
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:
Miles Teller drums and J.K. Simmons berates in ‘Whiplash’ (Sony Pictures Classics)
A brutal and (literally) bloody musician’s tale that’s about many, many other things besides music (surprise), Whiplash was the little awards film that could. While never quite making a splash along the lines of a Boyhood or The Imitation Game, it plugged along for months on little more than sheer word of mouth. Just like movies used to do.
Whiplash, which was ultimately nominated for five Oscars, will be available next week on DVD and Blu-ray. My review is at Film Racket:
In Damien Chazelle’s steam-heated pressure cooker, socially maladroit student Andrew (Miles Teller) is determined to be a brilliant jazz drummer. Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), the demon-teacher at a New York music conservatory who Andrew thinks guards the entrance to greatness, sees potential in this student but won’t let him past without a serious flaying. From the second Andrew steps into Fletcher’s studio band, the insults and cutting remarks fly from Fletcher’s lips. The only question seems to be how long Andrew can tough it out. But since he and Fletcher have a surprising amount in common, the story then becomes more about who will outlast the other…
You can see the trailer here:
Justin Peck directs his dancers in ‘Ballet 422′ (Magnolia Pictures)
In the new documentary Ballet 422, one of New York City Ballet’s dancers is given the opportunity to choreograph the company’s 422nd original ballet. Only he also has to dance a different program the night that his ballet premieres, and he’s got just two months to pull it all together.
Ballet 422 is playing now in limited release. My review is at Film Racket:
There is no such thing as a permanent piece of art. Paper yellows, paint cracks, celluloid burns, memories fade. But compared to those ephemeral forms, dance is even more transitory. The choreography can be recorded, but not the swing of limb and flair of line that exists for a moment on stage and then only for those who happen to witness it. Jody Lee Lipes’ sinuous documentary about a dancer at the New York City Ballet who’s given two months to choreograph an original ballet would seem to be an attempt to capture that fleeting sensation on film. But instead, it highlights the vast gulf between the great expanses of time given to creating an artwork and the finger-snap speed with which it can be delivered, and possibly forgotten …
Here’s the trailer: