New in Theaters:
How Much Does Your Building Weigh, Mr. Foster?

The ability to conjure art out of massive edifices has something to do with the reverence many hold for our world’s top architects. It could also be that most of the buildings the average person walks past or finds themselves inside on a daily basis don’t have much to recommend it. Whereas the moment that you come across a structure that cuts through the air in a way that snaps your head back or causes a flutter of awe is so rare that the people who made such a thing happen can seem like modern-day magicians. It’s that sense of being in the presence of greatness which both animates and stultifies this glinting bauble of a documentary about architect Norman Foster… 

How Much Does… is playing now in extremely limited release. You can read my full review at

New in Theaters:
Ultrasuede: In Search of Halston

A dishwater-dull film about an electric subject, Whitney Sudler-Smith’s documentary about the rise and fall of designer Halston has everything it needs for success. There’s an iconoclastic, paradigm-shifting artist who’s also an aggressive businessman, dozens of fashion icons and hangers-on willing to peddle their stories, and a backdrop of cocaine-dusted and sex-scented Studio 54 decadence. The makings are all there for a glamorous documentary that could combine the wicked appeal of Billy Corben’s Pater Gatien biopic Limelight with the more serious fashion-nerd leanings of something like The September Issue. But instead of letting his story naturally unfold like one of Halston’s famous shirtwaist dresses, Sudler-Smith gums up the works by inserting his own stiff self front and center in one of the most ill-considered framing devices ever used in a documentary…

Ultrasuede is playing now in limited release. You can read my full review at

The Year in Film:
American Gothic

It was a bad year for America at the movies. Of course, that’s rarely not the case in these days of CGI disaster porn and 3D monstrosity. Still, the threats facing the nation in 2011 movies were exceptional. 

Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion sent a plague across the land, with only Matt Damon’s plucky determination and Laurence Fishburne’s cool composure standing between the easily panicked populace and both total decimation and a skeevy Jude Law. The dull-eyed ambition of James Franco doomed humanity in Rise of the Planet of the Apes. An alien armada in Battle: Los Angeles blew up a good part of the Southland, either a natural-resources grab or just for kicks. And Transformers: Dark of the Moon made Chicago feel special, finally noticed by Hollywood long enough for Michael Bay to annihilate it… 

You can read my article “American Gothic,” and all the gloomy portents it contains, over at PopMatters.

New on DVD:
Long Story Short

It’s no surprise that Jerry Seinfeld’s name was plastered all over the advertisements for Colin Quinn’s surprise hit one-man show Long Story Short. The signs helpfully reminded everyone that Seinfeld directed this 75-minute history-based standup routine done by one of his good friends. They came up with the idea over breakfast. After all, putting the name of the man behind one of the era’s last widely recognized great sitcoms all over the posters for a show that started out on a little theater on Bleecker Street before graduating to Broadway just made good business sense…  

Long Story Short ran off-Broadway, on Broadway, then on HBO, and now on DVD. You can read my full review at PopMatters.

New in Theaters: 

Joy isn’t a feeling that one associates with Wim Wenders all that much. Wonder or ennui, maybe irony, but not joy. But nevertheless that’s the first thing that springs to mind with his electric new 3D dance documentary, his first feature to get a real Stateside release since 2005’s moody, downbeat Don’t Come Knocking. There are other feelings and moods wrapped up here, tragedy and loss, but with all the sunlight (has the man ever shot a brighter film?) and sweeping movement, the joy prevails. This is filmmaking as glorious music…

Pina is playing now in very limited release; it’s worth seeking out. You can read my full review at

New in Theaters:
The Iron Lady

There are some honest moments in The Iron Lady. They are practically wordless and give us glimpses into a human routine—that of Margaret Thatcher and her current caretakers—that are extraordinarily moving. Unfortunately, these moments come mostly right at the movie’s beginning and conclusion. In between is a film that does nearly all it can to test the patience of the audience and to see exactly how little light it can shed on one of the most important political figures of the 20th century…

The Iron Lady is playing now in limited release. You can read my full review at PopMatters.

The Year in Film, Again

The hardworking bunch over at have all submitted their picks for the 10 best films of 2011

Herewith the list:

  1. Drive
  2. We Need to Talk About Kevin
  3. The Descendants
  4. Martha Marcy May Marlene
  5. The Tree of Life
  6. Hugo
  7. The Artist
  8. Warrior
  9. Certified Copy
  10. Super 8

And, just for argument’s sake, my own personal list:

  1. The Tree of Life
  2. Into the Abyss
  3. The Trip
  4. Of Gods and Men
  5. Incendies
  6. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
  7. Take Shelter
  8. A Separation
  9. The Interrupters
  10. The Guard

New in Theaters:
A Separation

The metaphor doesn’t get any clearer than this. As battling spouses shout at an invisible judge sitting where the camera is, the message is undeniable: they’re not just fighting over a relationship, but over a country, one that has both abandoned and entrapped them. The wife doesn’t want to stay with her husband, but it’s more their circumstances that she’s fighting to escape from with their daughter. Not that she, or Ashgar Farhadi’s film, comes out and says this. When the unseen judge asks if she thinks their daughter has a future in Iran, she ducks her head and doesn’t respond. Writer-director Farhadi’s subtle but explosive domestic crime story, dancing nimbly around censorship rules, makes a ringing statement as clear as the injustice witnessed in each of the main characters’ eyes. 

A Separation is playing now in limited. It’s one of the best things you’ll see in 2012 or any year, check it out. You can read my full review at