Screening Room: ‘De Palma’

de palma-poster

Brian De Palma isn’t the kind of director who usually gets his own appreciative documentary. For one, he’s still alive and making films. For another, those films are usually twisted psychodramas just barely this side of exploitation thrillers.

Directed by filmmakers Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow, De Palma opens this week. My review is at Film Journal International:

Baumbach and Paltrow’s approach is simple: Put a camera on De Palma as he walks us through his oeuvre, inserting strategic clips from his work or cinematic references as needed. There’s a brief dash through his autobiographical particulars before getting to the heart of the matter. Afterward the structure is chronological, bracketed by his little-seen college work from the 1960s (Wotan’s Wake) to the smaller independently financed films made since his self-imposed exile in Paris (Redacted, Femme Fatale). In between is one of cinema’s most unique and unlikely careers, swerving from psychological thrillers to horror, camp, gangster and war epics, and back again to psychological thrillers. It’s more than enough for De Palma to discuss…

Here’s 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:

New in Theaters: ‘While We’re Young’

Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts in 'While We're Young' (A24)
Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts contemplate their oldness in ‘While We’re Young’ (A24)

Noah Baumbach continues his filmic project with Ben Stiller on the agitations of middle age and disappointment in While We’re Young, playing now in limited release.

My review is at Film Racket:

Age is wasted on the old, especially when they want to be young again. When Noah Baumbach’s hit-and-miss comedy of urbane humiliation catches up with Josh (Ben Stiller) and Cornelia (Naomi Watts), they are stuck dead in middle age nowhere without a road map. A long-married couple doubting their comfortable but deadened relationship, they emphatically reassure themselves of their contentment. They don’t need kids to be happy, they tell each other, saying they are free to jet off to Europe at a moment’s notice. Well, probably not that soon. Maybe a month…

Here’s the trailer:

On Cinema: ‘Frances Ha’ in IMAX!

THRILL to Greta Gerwig's dancing in 'Frances Ha' in IMAX!
THRILL to Greta Gerwig’s dancing in ‘Frances Ha’ in IMAX!

It’s been nice to see The Onion spicing up their pages with the addition of some bold-faced names lately. Check out, for example, Joyce Carol Oates’ recent advice to aspiring young writers trying to get published (“A good writer should always be curious, constantly looking around for new and more powerful people to sleep with”).

Almost better, though is this satirical piece from director Noah Baumbach (or an Onion staffer doing a nice impersonation of his dry style that’s been used for a few “Shouts & Murmurs” essays in the New Yorker) about his new talky black-and-white micro-budget comedy, Frances Ha; now helpfully providing summer counter-programming for all those who don’t feel like seeing anything with The Rock in it. In short, Baumbach says, you haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen this sucker in 3D:

I just went all out when I was writing it, tailoring every character and scene for maximum impact on a six-story IMAX screen in a 601-person amphitheater…. And the effect, to be honest, is simply stunning. Through the magic of IMAX, every social faux pas, every quiet epiphany, every dinner party, and every awkward conversational exchange practically jumps off the screen. You feel as though you can almost reach out and touch the glass of white wine that a character is drinking. Simply put, no celluloid version of Frances Ha could provide the same visceral impact as witnessing a 30-foot-tall Greta Gerwig towering above the audience as she negotiates her relationship with her best friend or tries to find an apartment, all displayed in vivid black-and-white.

Now, if only it were true; the possibilities are nearly endless.

New in Theaters: ‘Frances Ha’

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Mickey Sumner and Greta Gerwig live the perfect friendship in ‘Frances Ha’

film-francesha-poster-200Greta Gerwig co-wrote and stars in Frances Ha, the new black-and-white pseudo French New Wave comedy from Noah Baumbach, whose Greenberg served as Gerwig’s calling card to Hollywood. It’s a dark-ish comedy, but with plenty of romp and play that should make it a solid summer offering for those less interested in checking out Fast & Furious 6.

Frances Ha is playing now in limited release, and should expand around the country over the summer.

My review ran at PopMatters; here’s part of it:

If life were like school, and grades were actually assigned in this manner, than the titular star of Noah Baumbach’s fresh-faced and spirited black and white comedy Frances Ha would get an “A” for effort. As played by Greta Gerwig, one of the most intriguing and effortless performers on the current American film scene, Frances is a flailing wipeout at life. She’s a dancer who can’t quite dance and a 27-year-old who doesn’t possess furniture, much less any clue as to where her life might lead…

You can watch the trailer here: