Screening Room: ‘Epicentro’

In Hubert Sauper’s new documentary Epicentro, he explores the in-between world of Cuba, where utopian dreams meet cinematic propaganda amidst rotting infrastructure and tourist fantasia. It makes for a fascinating mix, even if the result is more essay than movie.

My review is at Slant:

Epicentro explores some of the filmmaker’s favorite topics, particularly colonialism, apocalypse, and the law of unintended consequences. But while some of his previous films, most notably Darwin’s Nightmare, showed a developing world careering toward catastrophe, this one illustrates something closer to a feedback loop. Although the Cuba he shows here is actively embracing a tourist economy that seems antithetical to the ideals of the 26th of July Movement, that pivot appears to signal less a capitalist future than a return to the island nation’s colonized past…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Babyteeth’

Babyteeth

Shannon Murphy’s stylized melodrama captures a terminally ill teenager raging against the dying of the light.

Babyteeth opens this week. My review is at Slant:

Babyteeth neatly threads the needle between tragedy and comedy. The film follows Milla (Eliza Scanlen), a teenage cancer patient who’s mostly given up on life when Moses (Toby Wallace), a slightly older drug dealer, bumps into her on a train platform. For her, it’s deep crushing love at first swoon and a reason to keep getting up in the morning. For him, it’s having an adoring fan to goof around with—especially when he discovers that her father, Henry (Ben Mendelsohn), is a psychiatrist who happens to have lots of pharmaceuticals lying around…

Screening Room: ‘The Ghost of Peter Sellers’

In 1973, director Peter Medak (The Ruling Class) and Peter Sellers set off to Cyprus to shoot the rollicking pirate comedy Ghost in the Noonday Sun. Everything fell apart and the movie only limped onto home video over a decade later to widespread derision.

Decades later, Medak returns to the scene of the crime to describe what happened. The Ghost of Peter Sellers is opening next week for online screening.

My review is at PopMatters:

The Ghost of Peter Sellers is a highly personal and somewhat airless account from Medak about an event that happened over 40 years ago whose painful memory he still seems unable to process. Walking through London and the shooting locations in Cyprus with a rotating cast of friends and former colleagues, Medak acts the part of self-investigator. He’s like a self-flagellating version of John Cusack’s Rob Gordon in High Fidelity

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Spaceship Earth’

Spaceship Earth Doc

The new documentary Spaceship Earth opens digitally (like everything else has to now) tomorrow. My review is at The Playlist:

Matching jumpsuits. Soaring white geodesic Fuller domes. Desert setting. Beaming smiles from people who appear not unfamiliar with things like EST seminars and primal scream therapy. Grainy film footage. The sense of embarking on a mission that is technically Earth-bound but holds within it the potential for cosmic transcendence. In other words, the story that lies at the core of Matt Wolf’s documentary “Spaceship Earth” bears more than a passing resemblance to the Dharma Initiative in “Lost”…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Capital in the 21st Century’

Six years ago, a 700–ish-page economics tome by a French academic with a Marxian bent became a surprise bestseller. Now, Capital in the 21st Century is a documentary.

My review is at PopMatters:

Justin Pemberton’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century takes the fundamental arguments of Piketty’s book and presents them in an engaging, visually brisk manner that has the gleaming appeal but somewhat narrow one-sidedness of a TED Talk. The author himself lays out his thesis: Modern capitalism has created a concentration of capital that is ultimately unsustainable. He references the “misery” of communist rule to show that despite his being well-versed in Marxist analysis, he is no doctrinaire Red demanding state control of industry. Rather, he is more interested in laying out a modern history of capital to show how pre-modern economic models, replete with tiny cliques of aristocrats distant from the teeming masses, are reestablishing themselves in our time…

Capital in the 21st Century is available through virtual cinemas starting May 1.

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: 20 Years of IFC Films

Given the extra time that so many of us have on our hands right now to catch up on movies, the issue tends to be narrowing down our choices.

IFC Films just had their 20th anniversary and wouldn’t you know, there’s a 30-day free trial of their streaming service. My survey article at Slant runs through a quick history of the distributor’s varied output (Linklater to Soderbergh to Herzog to…) and then rounds up 20 of their movies worth seeking out:

IFC Films has spent the last two decades championing some of the world’s most innovative cinema in a no-fuss, under-the-radar manner. Less attention-grabbing than distribution houses like A24, IFC also cast a wider net of aesthetic styles than distributors such as Grasshopper and Oscilloscope. Across its 20 years, the company has continued to release a fairly eclectic grab-bag of movies—from mumblecore to earnest kitchen-sink drama to more unclassifiable what-the-fuckery—that other labels would likely have passed on…

Screening Room: ‘Slay the Dragon’

The new documentary Slay the Dragon is a timely reminder of the importance of decennial elections because years like this one are when census results can be leveraged by gerrymandering politicians to redraw districts in anti-democratic ways.

My review of Slay the Dragon, which opens On Demand today, ran at PopMatters:

Directors Chris Durrance and Barak Goodman are pursuing two goals with Slay the Dragon. One is a portrait of modern resistance to gerrymandering. The other and perhaps more pertinent is to provide a short modern history of gerrymandering itself. They do this in large part by going to one of the best sources: David Daley’s pungently hard-nosed 2016 expose: Ratf**ked: Why Your Vote Doesn’t Count. Daley is one of the many experts corralled by the directors to lay out this history…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Cunningham’

Cunningham
‘Cunningham’ (Magnolia Pictures)

The new documentary Cunningham does double duty, first telling how pioneering modern-dance choreographer Merce Cunningham built his thrilling body of work in the 1940s and ’50s, and second recreating those dances in colorful 3D.

Cunningham is playing in limited release. My review is at Slant:

Focusing on Cunningham’s works dating from 1942 to 1972, and his longtime collaborations with composer John Cage and other artists from Robert Rauschenberg to Andy Warhol, [director Alla] Kovgan balances loosely sketched biography with artistic recreation…

Screening Room: ‘Official Secrets’

(IFC Films)

In the new thriller from Gavin Hood (Rendition), Keira Knightley plays the real-life whistle-blower who tried to stop the UK from bending to US pressure to cook up intelligence to justify the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Based on Marcia and Thomas Mitchell’s book The Spy Who Tried to Stop a War, Official Secrets opens this week. My review is at PopMatters:

This is usually a time of drudgery, when sloppy comedies and stupid worn out action franchises waste everyone’s time. So it comes as a nice surprise to watch a corker like Gavin Hood’s unexpectedly jarring and immediate espionage thriller Official Secrets unspool in a close, carefully calibrated way that actually grabs one by the conscience…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Sword of Trust’

swordoftrust
(IFC Films)

In the new comedy from Lynn Shelton (Humpday), podcaster, comic, and Glow star Marc Maron plays a disgruntled pawn shop owner who gets sucked into a screwball plot about Civil War truthers when he comes across a rare sword.

Sword of Trust opens this week. My review is at PopMatters:

Sword of Trust is in many ways a quintessentially Southern movie. But that sensibility is primarily expressed in the laconic humor and slippery slides from bonhomie to violence. Shelton expends little effort on a cinematic sense of place, aside from some melancholic insets of faded storefronts around the Birmingham, Alabama pawn shop where the action takes place. That is, except for the obsession with the Civil War, or as some characters might characterize it, “Thuh Wah of Nawthun Aggression”…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘In the Intense Now’

In Joao Moreira Salles’ beautifully wrought documentary, In the Intense Now, an impressionistic flow of amateur footage captures the joy and despair of the revolutionary movements of the 1960s. It’s an incredible trip.

My review is at PopMatters:

The movie’s first half (“Back to the Factory”) starts with the street battles that ripped through Paris in May 1968. As far as Salles tries to explain it, narrating with a sonorous moodiness and marveling wonder, the protests were a sudden flaring crucible in which all the ferment of the Sixties burned white-hot over a few short weeks…

Here is the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Combat Obscura’

During 2011-2012, cameraman Miles Lagoze tracked the lives and deaths of his fellow Marines as they battled the Taliban, boredom, rage, ennui, and bafflement at what the hell they were even doing in Afghanistan’s Helmand province. When he came back home, there was a lot of footage the Corps didn’t want the public to see.

The result is his documentary Combat Obscura, which is playing now in limited release. My review is at PopMatters:

The best and most vital documentary about front-line combat in the never-ending Wars on Terror since Sebastian Junger’s Restrepo (2010), Combat Obscura comes in swinging, with something of a chip on its shoulder…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Transit’

An adaptation by Christian Petzold (Barbara) of Anna Seghars’ novel about refugees fleeing the Nazis somewhat roughly and surreally adapted to modern times, the romantic, disturbing drama Transit opens this week in limited release.

My review is at PopMatters:

It’s a sign of the times, maybe, that when one of the characters says at the start of Christian Petzold’s Transit, “Paris is being sealed off,” the first thought is not of war but of terror…

Screening Room: ‘Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin’

My review of the new documentary Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin was published at PopMatters:

Hard times are coming,” author Ursula K. Le Guin said in her fiery 2014 speech accepting the National Book Foundation award. Her tone was somehow somber, yet also chipper, as though she had already acknowledged the worst and now was girding for battle. She was fixing her bayonet in bright spirits and about to go over the top…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Monrovia, Indiana’

‘Monrovia, Indiana’ (Zipporah Films)

The newest documentary from Frederick Wiseman, Monrovia, Indiana, is opening this weekend around the country.

My review is at Eyes Wide Open:

There is nothing like a Frederick Wiseman movie. With an allergic resistance to the messaging and urgency prevalent in today’s nonfiction filmmakers, he has amassed a singular body of work that has done more to illuminate the human condition than any other single American filmmaker. He could be our greatest living documentarian…

Here is the trailer: