My festival reviews of the films Beats, Rhymes and Life and Let the Bullets Fly can be read at PopMatters.
2011 Tribeca Film Festival: Beats, Rhymes and Life and Let the Bullets Fly
Based on the applause that greeted each name appearing in the jazzy animated opening credits of Michael Rapaport’s debut film, it was a crew-heavy audience at the film’s New York premiere. And as the room bounced and cheered with the opening beats of nearly every song, everybody else in the place thought A Tribe Called Quest is about as good as hip-hop ever was. Beats, Rhymes and Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest is the sort of movie that gets called a labor of love, but in this case, that’s not a minus…
New in Theaters:
Cave of Forgotten Dreams
There are few things more off-putting than being repeatedly told how astounding something is, whether it’s a work of art or natural phenomena. The thing, whatever it is, should be allowed to speak for itself whenever possible. To drown the object in question with rhetoric that serves only to pump it up, not to actually elucidate its importance, is nearly always to lessen its power. Werner Herzog’s latest nonfiction toss-off, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, violates this cardinal rule whenever it’s not indulging in 110-proof Herzogiana (not as entertaining or enlightening as in some of his previous works) and some rather beside-the-point 3D trickery…
Cave of Forgotten Dreams opened today in limited release. You can read the full review at filmcritic.com.
2011 Tribeca Film Festival: Koran By Heart and L’Amour Fou
“My parents told me to learn the Koran before everything else,” says Djamil, a 10-year-old boy from Senegal. And he did, working to memorize the entire text in its traditional Arabic script even though he doesn’t speak any Arabic. “I like the way the letters look,” Djamil says. How much he or any of the children taking part in the 2010 International Holy Koran Competition in Cairo comprehend the words they are reciting is a question unanswered in Greg Barker’s superb documentary, Koran By Heart…
My festival reviews of the Tribeca documentaries Koran By Heart and L’Amour Fou are at PopMatters.
The 2011 Tribeca Film Festival – Day One
It was a good and appreciative crowd on Thursday, 21 April. The previous night, which opened the 10th Tribeca Film Festival, had seen the usual throngs over at the gala premiere of the new Cameron Crowe documentary on Elton John and Leon Russell, The Union. It was a strange choice for the Festival’s first film, being neither New York-identified nor attention-grabbing, but then Tribeca has had problems like this nearly from its start…
I’ll be posting more coverage of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival next week. My review of one of the first night’s films, Tsui Hark’s gonzo chopsocky mystery flick Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame is at PopMatters.
The photojournalist Tim Hetherington was reported today to have been killed while covering the fighting in Libya. He is pictured above (right) with Sebastian Junger. The two of them co-directed last year’s Restrepo, a studiously apolitical but nevertheless passionately delivered documentary about an embattled company of American soldiers in the rugged Korengal valley in eastern Afghanistan; review here. (Since then the area has, for all intents and purposes, been abandoned to the Taliban.)
Hetherington’s brave, intensely personal photography was the perfect complement to Junger’s respectful and engaging portrait of these hard-bitten men fighting in thin air and murky circumstances at the ends of the world. There aren’t many who dared to go where he went and document what he did.
“He says the sun came out last night. He says it sang to him.”
Today’s entry from Filmology is Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Steven Spielberg’s stunning science-fiction fantasia of obsession, mystery, and wonder.
60 Minutes, Jon Krakauer, and Three Cups of Tea
Three Cups of Tea has proved a smashing success, with millions of copies sold and readers thrilling to Mortenson’s stories from the ends of the world, which seem to be equal parts hair-raising adventure and heartbreaking pathos. The stories which 60 Minutes’ Steve Kroft relates from the books – Mortenson dragging his exhausted self into a remote village whose poor residents then took care of him, his later kidnapping by the Taliban – are all the sort of thing we want to believe can happen. But Kroft isn’t the one who tells us that Mortenson’s stories might all be bunk. He leaves that to Jon Krakauer (Where Men Win Glory, Into Thin Air), exactly the kind of tenacious bloodhound nobody wants on their tail…
This article, “We Will Be Fooled Again,” can be found at Re:Print.
New in Theaters:
Honesty is rare in films, even documentaries. So it’s particularly thrilling to find that Janus Metz’s aggressive, boldly-directed story of Danish soldiers in Afghanistan doesn’t pretend that they don’t find war to be the most exciting thing they could ever experience. That isn’t to say that Metz doesn’t present a rounded view of what these young men go through, from tedium and confusion to gut-clenching horror and spiritual anomie. Some will come back from the war physically broken, many of them scarred in ways that may take years to become fully visible. But many of them will want to come back, because that’s where the action is…
Armadillo is playing now in limited release. You can read the full review at filmcritic.com.
New in Theaters:
“It was like our lives were movies,” says one of the filmmakers profiled by Danhier early in the documentary, and it’s easy to see why. As the director stitches together grainy black-and-white footage of New York from the late 1970s, she slips in blips from the work of avant-punk filmmakers like Amos Poe and Eric Mitchell and sets it all to a pulsating metallic and arrhythmic soundtrack. The sensation is one of danger, bleak beauty, and possibility—anarchic freedom amidst the rubble…
Blank City is playing now in limited release. You can read the full review at Film Journal International.
New in Theaters:
Kelly Reichardt’s newest odyssey into the big blank spaces of the American West is less Western or anti-Western than it is a masterful bad trip littered with foolish expectations and “we should have” regrets. Working with a mostly minimal and dust-dry script by Jon Raymond, Reichardt sets a band of nineteenth-century explorers loose in the wilderness and watches as their bonds are strained to the snapping point by the elements and the great, gaping void of the unknown. It’s a gritty fable of fate that should rightfully move Reichardt into the top ranks of American indie filmmakers…
Meek’s Cutoff is playing in limited release now, and will be expanding around the country throughout the spring and (hopefully) summer. You can read the full review at filmcritic.com.
New in Theaters:
Just a couple of weeks after Sucker Punch lulled audiences into stupefaction with its video-game aesthetic and faux female empowerment, here comes another mostly brain-dead genre mashup that just can’t feature enough explosions or barely clad actresses. The difference this time is that the early adolescent males that Your Highness targets likely won’t be bothered to look up from their phones long enough to notice…
Your Highness is playing now throughout the land. You can read the full review at PopMatters.
“But you are, Blanche, you are in that chair!”
Today’s entry from Filmology is What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), Robert Aldrich’s utterly demented circus of camp sadism and black humor, featuring perhaps the only cinematic evidence of Joan Crawford being upstaged, by a frighteningly on-point Bette Davis willing to chew every millimeter of scenery.
New in Theaters:
There is a better place for films like David Schwimmer’s Trust than a theater, and that place is the Movie of the Week slot on broadcast television. Working from an Andy Bellin and Robert Festinger script that manages to be spot-on regarding the story’s subject but hopelessly banal in terms of character, Schwimmer’s issue drama starts in one of those sublimely happy upper-tier suburban film families for whom tragedy is always just about twenty minutes away from striking..
Trust is playing now. You can read the full review at filmcritic.com.
Now in Theaters:
There’s an old and all-too-true joke that asks: if the French are funny, and sex is funny, why are French sex comedies never funny? Maybe it’s a question of translation. Happily, François Ozon’s latest, a sublimely goofy (and apparently loose) adaptation of the popular (in France) 1970s play Potiche, blasts that rule right out of the water. That it does so under the direction of a man better known for serious arthouse fare like Under the Sand and while starring two of France’s most awards-encrusted stars — neither of whom have ever been known for bringing the silly — is all the more enjoyably unexpected…
Potiche is now playing in limited release. You can read the full review at filmcritic.com.