Hit the Road (Panah Panahi, Iran)

By Adam Nayman / June 21, 2022

Many years ago, I sat down for a festival screening of an Iranian film next to another local Toronto critic whose pugnacious reputation preceded him. Unsolicited and not-so-rhetorically, he asked me if the long scenes of rural driving native to so many of that country’s arthouse exports were—and here I am quoting from memory—somehow equivalent to the action scenes in Hollywood releases. It wasn’t a serious question, of course, just a bit of sarcastic saber-rattling before the lights went down.

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Everything Everywhere All at Once (Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, US)

By Angelo Muredda / June 21, 2022

Eager to celebrate a theatrical box-office win, Variety recently praised the success of Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s equally moving and galling Everything Everywhere All at Once, chirping that its broad appeal beyond arthouse crowds attests not only to adult audiences’ willingness to return to theatres for the right sort of movie, but also to the fact that “ticket buyers really love the concept of a multiverse.”

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Nitram (Justin Kurzel, Australia)

By Michael Sicinski / March 21, 2022

Shortly before the close of the 2021 Cannes Film Festival, word began to circulate that a very successful, cash-flush US distributor had snagged the rights to Nitram, the fifth feature film by Australia’s Justin Kurzel. Although the film didn’t seem to make much of an impression upon its Croisette premiere, the Spike Lee-led jury took notice of Nitram’s star, Caleb Landry Jones, giving him a somewhat unexpected Best Actor prize.

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The Tale of King Crab (Alessio Rigo de Righi, Matteo Zoppis, Italy/France/Argentina)

By Jay Kuehner / March 21, 2022

Rigo de Righi and Matteo Zoppis expand and deflate, by slyly cinematic means, upon a tradition of racconti popolari and fiabe.

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The Tragedy of Macbeth (Joel Coen, US)

By Robert Koehler / January 4, 2022

Why do Macbeth? As a dare, to confront the challenge of one of Shakespeare’s most problematic plays? To “beat it into submission,” as Sir Laurence Olivier once put it? To face and overcome the curse of “the Scottish Tragedy?” Kurosawa Akira came up with an original answer in Throne of Blood (1957), which was to transfer the play’s medieval Scotland setting to feudal Japan and explore its theme of the fatal hubris of ambition as a means of reflecting, 12 years after the end of the Pacific War, on the folly of Japanese imperial ambitions.

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The Worst Person in the World (Joachim Trier, Norway/France/Sweden/Denmark)

By Beatrice Loayza / January 4, 2022

Desire tends to figure as a destructive force in the work of Joachim Trier. Anders (Anders Danielson Lie), the protagonist of Oslo, August 31 (2011), is a recovering drug addict who, by the end of the film, slips back into his old ways after a day of morale-crushing confrontations with his past.

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Night Raiders (Danis Goulet, Canada/New Zealand)

By Katherine Connell / September 20, 2021

apocalyptic cityscape backdrops an anti-authoritarian alliance between two characters from traditional Cree stories (Wesakechak and Weetigo). Goulet’s first feature, Night Raiders, not only returns to the realm of dystopia, but also shows the degree to which its creator’s interest in the genre goes beyond the use of futuristic settings as a mere aesthetic surface.

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Siberia (Abel Ferrara, Italy/Germany/Mexico/Greece/UK)

By Michael Sicinski / June 15, 2021

Abel Ferrara is a changed man. While the evidence suggests that this is very good news for Ferrara himself and his immediate family, it could result in a minor schism in the manner in which his films are received. For most of his career Ferrara has been the subject of a Romantic cult that glorified his legendarily self-destructive behaviour, and often read this (literal) lawlessness as an integral part of his renegade creative vision.

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New Order (Michel Franco, Mexico/France)

By Adam Nayman / June 15, 2021

“Mexico’s upper classes are asking for trouble,” Michel Franco told Variety last fall. With New Order,trouble has found them. The deep-crimson dress selected by prosperous newlywed Marianne (Naian González Norvind) for the lavish post-wedding party at her family’s spotless steel-and-glass estate is couture at its most ominous; don’t look now, but there will be blood.

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Azor (Andreas Fontana, Switzerland/France/Argentina)

By Jay Kuehner / June 15, 2021

Mark Twain’s quote that virtue has never been as respectable as money could easily delineate the sumptuously sordid habitat limned in Azor, except that it’s precisely the kind of wisdom that the film’s wealthy habitués and their attendant financiers might invoke with complacent irony from within their insulated milieu of smoky parlours, agapanthus-lined lobbies, manicured hippodromes, and dutifully swept piscinas.

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Sound of Metal (Darius Marder, US)

By Angelo Muredda / April 5, 2021

Entering Riz Ahmed in the disability cosplay sweepstakes as a young drummer coping with hearing loss, Darius Marder’s Sound of Metal originated as a lightly meta vehicle for husband-and-wife sludge-metal duo Jucifer to be directed by Derek Cianfrance, with whom Marder co-wrote The Place Beyond the Pines (2012). That the final result is more surprising than the rote uplift narrative suggested by its edifying logline is a testament to both Ahmed’s cagey intensity…

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A Glitch in the Matrix (Rodney Ascher, US)

By Gabrielle Marceau / March 25, 2021

In 1977, Philip K. Dick gave a speech titled “If You Find This World Bad, You Should See Some of the Others,” in which he revealed that many of his dystopian novels weren’t the products of his imagination or dreams, but came from recovered memories of actual alternate worlds. Dick was entirely sincere, and this realization plagued him. Footage of this speech (and of Dick’s skeptical French audience) punctuate Rodney Ascher’s A Glitch in the Matrix, which explores the psychological and cultural impacts of that moment when science fiction seeps into our reality.

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Nomadland (Chloe Zhao, US)

By Robert Koehler / December 22, 2020

By Robert Koehler A passage in Jessica Bruder’s book Nomadland describes the unlikely birth and hard death of the life of Empire, a mining town in northwest Nevada. “In 1923,” Bruder writes, “laborers established a tent colony on the site of what later became the town. By some accounts, Empire boasted the longest continuously operating…

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Hillbilly Elegy (Ron Howard, US)

By Darren Hughes / December 22, 2020

By Darren Hughes In his 1892 inaugural address, governor William MacCorkle warned that in the coming years West Virginia would find itself occupying the same “position of vassalage” that Ireland held in relation to England, and for similar reasons: “But the men who today are purchasing the immense areas of the most valuable lands in…

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The Inheritance (Ephraim Asili, US)

By James Lattimer / September 22, 2020

The role of past insights in (still) present-day struggles is at the heart of The Inheritance, a playful, erudite, and boundary-blurring examination of what performing Black theory, literature, music, and testimony in a contemporary Philadelphia commune might set in motion.

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Possessor (Brandon Cronenberg, UK/Canada)

By Mallory Andrews / September 22, 2020

If it’s true that Brandon Cronenberg sought to cheekily poke fun at his father David’s needle-phobia in his first film (Antiviral, 2011), it feels like parts of Possessor might have been engineered specifically to make my skin crawl.

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Never Rarely Sometimes Always (Eliza Hittman, US)

By Courtney Duckworth / June 23, 2020

One May evening, I dipped into a Twitch stream in search of a fresh current. Within the weird undertow of quarantine, there is a new lustre to these live events, which mark unfixed days with a fixed hour—a dupe for the transient communion gone from cinemas that now lie empty. Some 200 of us “gathered” for a program, co-presented by Screen Slate and Electronic Arts Intermix, of short works from Cecelia Condit, a singular scrambler of feminine tropes and fairy tales since the ’80s. New to me among them was last year’s We Were Hardly More than Children, an oneiric memoir.

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Blood Quantum (Jeff Barnaby, Canada)

By Mallory Andrews / June 23, 2020

The hook is intriguingly straightforward: in Blood Quantum, an infectious zombie disease spreads through the world, save for the residents of a Mi’kmaq community along the Québec-New Brunswick border who appear to be immune to the undeadly virus. In the post-apocalyptic remnants of their town, Sheriff Traylor (Michael Greyeyes) and his deputies guard the boundaries of their land against the violent hordes of “Zeds.”

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Beanpole (Kantemir Balagov, Russia)

By Michael Sicinski / March 20, 2020

Kantemir Balagov’s debut feature Closeness (2017) garnered significant attention on the festival circuit, for reasons both positive and negative. Primarily a look at an insular Jewish community in a small town in the north Caucasus, the film institutes a tragedy that tests the bonds of immediate versus extended family.

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And Then We Danced (Levan Akin, Sweden/Georgia/France)

By Katherine Connell / March 20, 2020

From drag performances to ballroom extravaganzas, booming club sequences to solitary swaying, queer cinema has often depicted moments of yearning or self-actualization through dance: think, for instance, of the erotic and essayistic function it serves in Isaac Julien’s Looking for Langston (1989),Edward and Gaveston’s spotlit slow dancing in Derek Jarman’s Edward II (1991), the adolescent hero’s furious romp through back allies and rooftops in Stephen Daldry’s Billy Elliot (2000),or the sublime hotel dance party to Rihanna’s “Diamonds” in Céline Sciamma’s Bande des filles (2014).

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Jojo Rabbit (Taika Watiti, US)

By Angelo Muredda / December 28, 2019

By Angelo Muredda “Don’t get into the Nazi stuff,” Taika Waititi’s deadbeat dad tells his son, the eponymous protagonist of the New Zealand-born actor-writer-director’s sophomore feature Boy (2010), gesturing to a swastika he once carved into the wall of his childhood bedroom, the remnant of a reformed punk’s youthful exploits. Hindsight being 20/20, it’s almost…

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Portrait de la jeune fille en feu (Céline Sciamma, France)

By Chloe Lizotte / December 28, 2019

By Chloe Lizotte The very title of Portrait de la jeune fille en feu seeks to pin down the unpinnable: to fix a flame in place. Céline Sciamma’s 18th-century romance centres on the innate slipperiness of condensing someone’s presence into oil on canvas, a process in which the act of rendering becomes an intimate exchange…

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Invisible Life (Karim Aïnouz, Brazil)

By Katherine Connell / December 28, 2019

By Katherine Connell Chronicling the life of the legendary Rio de Janeiro drag performer, hustler, and street fighter, Madame Satã (2002) announced Karim Aïnouz as a filmmaker attuned to the conceptual richness and subversive potential found within liminal spaces: individuals who fluctuate between seemingly fixed identity categories, and whose fullness of life outside the social…

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Cinema Scope 80: Editor’s Note

By Mark Peranson / September 23, 2019

Having been in Locarno at the premiere of Vitalina Varela, I can testify that every single one of the 3,000 people who remained in the Fevi for the duration of the film were overwhelmed by the power Costa’s vision, and leapt to their collective feet in standing ovation as the credits rolled. That’s just as believable a scenario as, say, a cadre of radical critics and programmers imposing their beliefs on a bunch of uneducated suckers by sheer will, which is essentially what the Variety argument implies—a bunch of suckers, mind you, that includes a jury of rather experienced filmmakers, watchers, and actors, all of whom as far as I can tell are sentient beings with brain stems unconnected to the cinephile Matrix.

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Fire Will Come (Oliver Laxe, Spain/France/Luxembourg)

By Azadeh Jafari / September 23, 2019

By Azadeh Jafari After two films set in Morocco—You Are All Captains (2010) and the Cannes Critics Week winner Mimosas (2016)—French-born Spanish filmmaker Oliver Laxe returns to his parents’ homeland of Galicia for his third feature, Fire Will Come, which the director has called a “dry melodrama.” The narrative is certainly simple enough: a middle-aged…

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The Traitor (Marco Bellocchio, Italy/France/Brazil/Germany)

By Celluloid Liberation Front / September 23, 2019

“The most beautiful film is our own history,” confessed Marco Bellocchio to a journalist following the release of The Traitor, after it surpassed Godzilla: King of the Monsters at the Italian box office, proving yet again that the Mafia movieis still a commodity worth investing in.

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The Souvenir (Joanna Hogg, UK/US)

By Robert Koehler / June 27, 2019

Given the evidence of Federico Fellini’s 8½ (1963) and François Truffaut’s Day for Night (1974), time isn’t kind to moviemakers who decide to leap into autobiography: too often, such an endeavour entails rampant solipsism, a romanticization of history, and getting the practice of moviemaking (and cinema itself) entirely wrong.

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The Hottest August (Brett Story, Canada/US)

By Adam Nayman / June 27, 2019

It is, it seems, the End of the World as We Know It. Forty-two years after R.E.M. wrote the West’s definitive apocalypse-now anthem, the song’s essentially optimistic subtext has become even more sharply double-edged; its parenthetical proviso can be interpreted as much as a sign of denial as resignation, a means of keeping any anticipatory psychic torment at bay.

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Répertoire des villes disparues (Denis Côté, Canada)

By Josh Cabrita / March 26, 2019

To appreciate the historical scope and layered references of Denis Côté’s Répertoire des villes disparues, we would do well to begin before the film does, at a time when some of the apparitions that haunt Irénée-les-Neiges, the film’s fictional northern Québec setting, would have existed as flesh and bone.

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Green Book (Peter Farrelly, US)

By Angelo Muredda / December 21, 2018

By Angelo Muredda  There’s a handy visual metaphor for auteurist progress in the way that road-movie savant Peter Farrelly trades the shaggy-dog van that carried his heroes most of the way from Providence to Aspen in Dumb and Dumber (1994) for the sleek vintage ride in Green Book. Farrelly’s first solo project since that debut…

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The Favourite (Yorgos Lanthimos, Ireland/US/UK)

By Courtney Duckworth / December 21, 2018

By Courtney Duckworth  Yorgos Lanthimos begins and ends his scurrilous The Favourite with the susurrus of rabbits. Tricky to place, almost subliminal over the opening parade of myriad multinational financiers, the strange sounds scratch at the ear. Soon we understand: the rabbits are the odd, probably apocryphal, attendants of Queen Anne, who presided over Great…

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Transit (Christian Petzold, Germany/France)

By James Lattimer / September 28, 2018

By James Lattimer Christian Petzold’s progressive drift away from realism gathers pace in Transit, another melodrama of impossibility and despair that unfolds in a hyper-constructed amalgam of past and present as unstable as it is seamless. Yet the deliberately unresolved tension between ’40s Marseille and today is hardly the only element of slippage in the…

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The Load (Ognjen Glavonic, Serbia/France/Croatia/Iran/Qatar)

By Azadeh Jafari / September 28, 2018

By Azadeh Jafari The debut fiction feature by Ognjen Glavonic is the second time that the Serbian writer-director, who lived through the Yugoslav wars as a child, has explored the same shocking incident from the time of the Kosovo conflict. In his feature-length documentary Depth Two (2016), he mixed spoken testimonies from those involved with…

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The Rider (Chloé Zhao, US)

By Chelsea Phillips-Carr / July 2, 2018

By Chelsea Phillips-Carr Having worked with horses his whole life and without any other means to make a living, Brady Blackburn (Brady Jandreau) is left without his passion and his livelihood after he incurs a head injury during a rodeo. His shaved head gleaming with bloody staples, Brady subsists on a cocktail of pills during his…

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The Work (Jairus McLeary & Gethin Aldous, US)

By Manuela Lazic / March 16, 2018

By Manuela Lazic Early on in The Work, a documentary chronicling intense group therapy techniques practiced inside Folsom State Prison outside of Sacramento, California, a man suffers a violent meltdown. He is Brian, one of three outside visitors that directors Jairus McLeary and Gethin Aldous follow as they join inmates over a four-day course of…

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Visages villages (Agnès Varda & JR, France)

By Erika Balsom / March 16, 2018

By Erika Balsom The Normandy village of Pirou-Plage almost became a holiday destination. In 1990, property developer Pier Invest launched a plan to build a hotel, two tennis courts, and 80 vacation homes. The initiative would transform the built environment and economy of this seaside area of 1,500 inhabitants—but not as anticipated or desired. Within…

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Phantom Thread (Paul Thomas Anderson, US)

By Robert Koehler / December 19, 2017

By Robert Koehler SoCal being SoCal, it’s hard to leave it, especially if you were born there. The only good joke in Beatriz at Dinner has someone cracking wise about living in Newport Beach and the problem of going on vacation: Where do you go, since the best weather is here? People who don’t know…

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Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Martin McDonagh, UK/US)

By Angelo Muredda / December 19, 2017

By Angelo Muredda There’s a moment early in Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri that neatly encapsulates the playwright-turned-filmmaker’s competing instincts toward moral sophistication and childish self-indulgence. As the bereaved protagonist Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) struts through the local sign shop—the first step in her campaign to use the title’s eponymous placards to shame…

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Ex Libris – The New York Public Library (Frederick Wiseman, US)

By Tom Charity / September 28, 2017

  By Tom Charity Let’s start with this: the transitions in Fred Wiseman’s new film (and there are many) have a simple and specific beauty. They double as establishing shots, each comprising a brief cluster of New York street views, usually including an intersection sign to pin us to one of the 88 branches in…

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Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun? (Travis Wilkerson, US)

By Celluloid Liberation Front / September 28, 2017

By Celluloid Liberation Front Throughout his artistic militancy, Travis Wilkerson has rooted his praxis in a confrontational understanding of American history and, most crucially, in the reactivation of its repressed radical passages. From the margins of the film industry, Wilkerson has frontally challenged its dominant procedures and manifestations. In his pamphlet-like films, political invectives of…

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Mañana a esta hora (Lina Rodriguez, Canada)

By Angelo Muredda / September 28, 2017

  By Angelo Muredda The first image we see in Lina Rodriguez’s deceptively modest second feature Mañana a esta hora (This Time Tomorrow) is something of a puzzle: a gradually lightening shot of a tree in a leafy park in Bogotá, standing sturdy and still. While this depopulated, evergreen overture might seem to promise an…

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Araby (Affonso Uchôa and João Dumans, Brazil)

By Jay Kuehner / June 23, 2017

By Jay Kuehner An epistolic ode to labour, love, and life on the road, Affonso Uchôa and João Dumans’ Araby opens with a seemingly innocuous sequence that belies its ambition: teenage Andre (Murilo Caliari) pedalling his bike on a mountain road in the southern Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, a Townes Van Zandt song on…

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Silence (Martin Scorsese, US/Taiwan/Mexico)

By Andrew Tracy / March 24, 2017

By Andrew Tracy  Silence is Martin Scorsese’s best film in 20 years—since Kundun (1997), in fact, which also happens to be the last of his films to focus primarily on matters spiritual. In claiming this, I have no desire to put forth a return-to-form narrative to counter that of the Scorsese acolytes, for whom the…

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Jackie (Pablo Larraín, US/UK/France)

By Adam Nayman / December 19, 2016

By Adam Nayman In In the Line of Fire (1993), John Malkovich’s crack-shot-slash-crackpot gets off a wickedly funny line about JFK, gloating that the 35th Commander-in-Chief’s favourite poem was Alan Seeger’s “I Have a Rendezvous with Death,” which, he adds, “is not a good poem.” It’s a bad-taste joke touching on the verboten notion that…

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Snowden (Oliver Stone, Germany/US)

By Robert Koehler / September 10, 2016

By Robert Koehler If Snowden, director Oliver Stone and screenwriter Kieran Fitzgerald’s version of the Edward Snowden affair, is remembered for anything, it will be as the first Hollywood movie that turned Barack Obama into a bad guy. Time was, back in the day when Obama walked on water, there was a thing you could…

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Daughters of the Dust (Julie Dash, US)

By Steve Macfarlane / September 8, 2016

From Cinema Scope #68 (Fall 2016) By Steve Macfarlane It arrives as both throwaway moment and photo-historical anachronism: dozens are adorned in white on a sand dune, whiling away the hours before dusk; a girl is passed a 19th-century stereopticon, brings it to her eyes, and sees images in motion—glimpses of a city on “the…

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L’Avenir (Mia Hansen-Løve, France)

By Adam Nayman / September 7, 2016

By Adam Nayman A decade after her youthful debut Tout est pardonné (2007), the now-35-year-old Mia Hansen-Løve has become a veteran. But she’s always been an old soul. Her films are rife with scenes of teenagers being forced to confront hypocrisy and loss well ahead of schedule, and she’s very good at capturing the split-seconds…

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Nocturama (Bertrand Bonello, France/Germany/Belgium)

By Blake Williams / September 6, 2016

By Blake Williams To waste no time: Bertrand Bonello’s Nocturama has nothing to say about either Nick Cave or the Bad Seeds, and, more crucially, is not a film about terrorism. Perhaps a strange assertion, the latter, given that the movie spends all 130 of its sublime, stomach-churning minutes in the company of a crew…

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Love & Friendship (Whit Stillman, Ireland/Netherlands/France/US)

By Alicia Fletcher Alicia Fletcher / June 23, 2016

By Alicia Fletcher. “Mansfield Park? You’ve got to be kidding! That’s a notoriously bad book,” asserts Tom Townsend (Edward Clements) in Whit Stillman’s Metropolitan (1990), moments before memorably declaring that he never reads novels, favouring “good literary criticism” instead (though he later relents by confessing to a mild enjoyment of Persuasion). That onscreen disparagement aside,…

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Il Solengo (Alessio Rigo de Righi and Matteo Zoppis, Italy)

By Jay Kuehner / March 21, 2016

By Jay Kuehner The talking-head documentary, anathema to the more purposive (i.e., “show, don’t tell”) modes of nonfiction filmmaking, is revived with stubborn, prolix determination by the brood of Etruscan elders who preside over the unassuming habitat of Il Solengo. An award winner at last year’s Docslisboa, the film traces the speculative and spectral existence…

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Room (Lenny Abrahamson, Ireland/Canada)

By Angelo Muredda / December 21, 2015

  By Angelo Muredda Another awards-season thoroughbred is foaled in Room, Lenny Abrahamson’s take on Ireland-born, Canada-based Booker Prize nominee Emma Donoghue’s best-seller. For all its touchy subject matter, Room is the sort of film for which People’s Choice awards were made: a lightly conceptual, sturdily acted piece of redemptive cinema that peers into the…

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Carol (Todd Haynes, US)

By Phil Coldiron / December 21, 2015

By Phil Coldiron It is a question of pleasure after all… Reporting from Cannes, Daniel Kasman concluded his dispatch for Mubi’s Notebook on Carol with an apparently simple question, one to which he admitted he was unable to find a satisfactory answer: “So what is at stake here?” To be certain, the stakes of Todd…

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High-Rise (Ben Wheatley, UK)

By Tom Charity / September 22, 2015

By Tom Charity “Later, as he sat on his balcony eating the dog, Dr. Robert Laing reflected on the unusual events that had taken place within this huge apartment building during the previous three months.” That, friends, is an opening sentence: J.G. Ballard at his best. And damn if Ben Wheatley doesn’t find just the…

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The Club (Pablo Larraín, Chile)

By Quintin / September 22, 2015

By Quintín The Club, the fourth feature by Pablo Larraín, is set in a small town in coastal Chile. There’s an unassuming house in this town that the Catholic Church runs as an open prison for priests who have committed serious crimes, sheltering them from the prying eyes of society. One priest (Father Vidal) is…

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Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller, Australia/US)

By Christoph Huber / June 22, 2015

By Christoph Huber “Who’d have thought 20 years ago that people would one day be nostalgic for the apocalypse?” Australian director-writer-producer George Miller mused before the release of the fourth installment of his most famous creation, which barrelled into theatres under the name Mad Max: Fury Road, showing out of competition in Cannes at the same time…

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It Follows (David Robert Mitchell, US) 

By Jason Anderson / March 26, 2015

By Jason Anderson Understandably reluctant to give a more specific appellation to the ever-morphing threat that imperils the teenage characters in his insidiously unnerving thriller It Follows, David Robert Mitchell tends to stick with “the It” in interviews. Given his second feature’s wealth of John Carpenter references, however—a heritage it shares with Adam Wingard’s The…

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White God (Kornél Mundruczó, Hungary/Germany/Sweden) 

By Samuel La France / March 26, 2015

By Samuel La France Given its spoiler-heavy advertising and the considerable word of mouth following its screenings at Cannes and Sundance and numerous festivals in between, few will see Kornél Mundruczó’s White God without advance knowledge of its climactic set piece of hundreds of dogs running riot through the streets of Budapest. It’s hardly surprising…

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Burn, Hollywood, Burn: David Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars

By Adam Nayman / February 27, 2015

  By Adam Nayman Back in September, when the world was young, I opined in this space that Maps to the Stars was its director’s worst movie in fifteen years. Six months later, on the eve of its American release, I’m not so sure. It’s a peculiar quality of David Cronenberg’s films that they almost…

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Mann’s Fate: Michael Mann’s Blackhat

By Adam Nayman / January 16, 2015

By Adam Nayman It’s a measure of Michael Mann’s self-awareness—and, all evidence to the contrary, he must have some—that over the course of Blackhat Nick Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth) gets to play at being both Hannibal Lecter and Will Graham. Introduced in manacles and prison whites with a full complement of armed guards monitoring his every…

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The Babadook (Jennifer Kent, US)

By Adam Nayman / December 18, 2014

By Adam Nayman A semi-surprise winner of the New York Film Critics Circle’s Best First Film award, Jennifer Kent’s Sundance breakout The Babadook feels very much like a debut even as nearly everything in it is familiar. It’s a fine line between cliché and archetype, and Kent’s tale of a single mother trying to protect…

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Force Majeure (Ruben Östlund, Sweden/France/Denmark/Norway)

By Angelo Muredda / December 18, 2014

By Angelo Muredda With all respect to David Fincher’s Gone Girl, Ruben Östlund’s Force Majeure is the best formalist black comedy about marriage since Eyes Wide Shut (1999). Inasmuch as its outline suggests an essay on the crisis of masculinity—one distilled to a defining image (emblazoned on the vaguely apocalyptic poster) of a patriarch shirking…

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Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson, US)

By Blake Williams / December 18, 2014

By Blake Williams First we see the ocean—again. Before introducing us to the hazy, neon-stroked nocturne with which Pynchon chose to open his “lite” novel, Inherent Vice—wherein Shasta materializes from a back alley to offer a fateful proposition to ex-boyfriend Larry “Doc” Sportello—Paul Thomas Anderson presents a blip of a prologue to begin his adaptation.…

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Last Rites: Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher

By Adam Nayman / November 14, 2014

By Adam Nayman Early on in Foxcatcher, the eccentric and bottomlessly deep-pocketed John du Pont (Steve Carell), heir to an American munitions dynasty and a collector of expensive military gadgets, expresses his frustration about the indifference afforded to young men who’ve served their country overseas. That the veteran in question is a wrestler rather than…

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Easy Virtue: Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman

By Angelo Muredda / October 24, 2014

By Angelo Muredda What could be a more appropriate fate for Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)—a slick film about a disgruntled director baring his soul and guts for unfeeling audiences and critics alike—than its doubtlessly smooth course to award-season glory? While the film is ostensibly an angry manifesto stumping for…

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Pursuits of Happiness: David Fincher’s Gone Girl

By Adam Nayman / October 2, 2014

By Adam Nayman [MAJOR SPOILERS ahead] Lest anybody doubt that Gone Girl is a comedy, consider that it includes, in no particular order: a scene where America’s favourite bad actor Ben Affleck is coached on his line readings by a character played by a well-known Hollywood film director (Tyler Perry); that his punishment for uninspired…

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20,000 Days on Earth (Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard, UK)

By Angelo Muredda / September 16, 2014

By Angelo Muredda “Songwriting is about counterpoint,” Nick Cave insists early in 20,000 Days on Earth, Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard’s curious documentary slash postmodern biography of the Australian singer-songwriter and Bad Seeds frontman; you put two disparate images beside each other, he explains, and see which way the sparks fly. That Cave’s definition of…

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The Sting in the Tail: Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer

By Michael Sicinski / July 18, 2014

By Michael Sicinski [Note: this review contains mild spoilers.] In his most recent film with Sophie Fiennes, The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology (2012), Slavoj Žižek pauses to diagnose the seemingly endless spate of apocalyptic films in recent years. His analysis, brief though it may be, points the way toward an understanding of cinema’s role in…

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Karlovy Vary International Film Festival | Escape Artists: Bird People and Locke

By Adam Nayman / July 11, 2014

  By Adam Nayman A film seemingly made to be screened at film festivals, where its scenes of characters logging into hotel wi-fi on their laptops and thrashing around in the throes of jetlag will pack an affective punch (for journalists, at least), Bird People has divided critics as neatly as its own bifurcated, his-and-hers…

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Stop the Pounding Heart (Roberto Minervini, USA/Italy/Belgium

By Jay Kuehner / June 25, 2014

By Jay Kuehner Faith, so often deployed as narrative substance, is a phenomenon (or noumenon) that’s difficult to represent with film. It is often reduced to milieu, mood, or mere matter: think transcendental styles and stylized transcendance, either abstractly implied or imposed in formulary fashion (Bresson’s ascetic methodology vis-à-vis Malick’s metaphysical morass). A character either…

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Sing Your Life: Matthew Porterfield’s I Used to Be Darker

By Adam Nayman / May 9, 2014

By Adam Nayman If Matt Porterfield were a basketball player, he’d be the skinny two-guard who curls stealthily off of screens and puts up quality shots, who you don’t even notice has eighteen points until it shows up in the box score. What I’m saying is that the 36-year-old Baltimore native is skilled in a…

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Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer, UK)

By Blake Williams / March 20, 2014

By Blake Williams In their attempt to adapt of one of those ornery “unfilmable” novels to the big screen, Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jonze transformed Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief into a meta-satire on film adaptations called, appropriately, Adaptation (2002). Following a short prologue in which Kaufman (played by Nicolas Cage) is shown being shooed…

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The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson, US/Germany)

By Julian Carrington / March 20, 2014

By Julian Carrington. “Let’s make an agreement,” declares Anjelica Huston’s estranged matriarch to her trio of wayward sons in the penultimate scene of The Darjeeling Limited (2007): “We’ll stop feeling sorry for ourselves. It’s not very attractive.” Following the downbeat double-header of Darjeeling and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)—which had seen cinema’s most…

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Persona Non Grata: Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac

By Michael Sicinski / March 18, 2014

By Michael Sicinski [Note: This review contains SPOILERS.] A few technical notes as we begin to talk about Lars von Trier’s latest film: 1) For the purposes of this discussion, I will refer to Nymphomaniac as a single work, rather than treating its two-volume release as an integral part of its construction. 2) I will…

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Indistinct Chatter in Arabic: Jehane Noujaim’s The Square

By Michael Sicinski / March 1, 2014

By Michael Sicinski When compared to its fellow Academy Award nominee The Act of Killing (2013), Joshua Oppenheimer’s supposedly radical examination of memory, myth, and representation in the construction of historical meaning, The Square probably comes across as reflecting a more conventional approach to documentary filmmaking. Its title, of course, refers to Tahrir Square, the…

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Fake Empire: Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street

By Adam Cook / January 6, 2014

By Adam Cook Based on the memoirs of ’90s stock swindler Jordan Belfort—whose investment firm cum criminal enterprise Stratton Oakmont made him a multi-millionaire by the age of 26, and resulted in investor losses of over $200 million by the time he was sent to prison for fraud and money laundering in 1998—Martin Scorsese’s The…

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Death of a Sailsman: J.C. Chandor’s All Is Lost

By Adam Nayman / December 13, 2013

By Adam Nayman Robert Redford dies at the end of All Is Lost. This is not, strictly speaking, a spoiler, as the climax of J.C. Chandor’s sophomore feature is calculatedly ambiguous—an existential Choose Your Own Adventure, if you will. The final image of Redford’s unnamed seaman reaching out to grasp the outstretched hand of an…

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12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen, US/UK)

By Julian Carrington / December 13, 2013

By Julian Carrington Despite frequent disclaimers that Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave is “difficult to watch,” the reverence that has greeted the film’s theatrical release speaks to its essentially and calculatedly benign character. There can be few clearer indications of the film’s eminent palatability than its garnering of the audience award at this year’s…

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Inside Llewyn Davis (Joel and Ethan Coen, US)

By Adam Nayman / December 13, 2013

By Adam Nayman For a pair of authentically brand-name filmmakers, Joel and Ethan Coen have a funny thing for pseudonyms and noms de plume. It’s common knowledge that they’ve edited all of their productions (and been nominated for multiple Oscars) under the assumed identity of “Roderick Jaynes,” and the films themselves are filled with examples…

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Victory Lap: Alexander Payne’s Nebraska

By Adam Nayman / November 22, 2013

By Adam Nayman Alexander Payne’s Nebraska is a mechanical movie, and the machine it resembles is a duck press—an old-fashioned device, but darned if it doesn’t squeeze something out in the end. Such moist entreaties have been the director’s stock-in-trade since the smiling-through-tears conclusion of About Schmidt (2004), a road movie that cast Jack Nicholson…

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A Sculpted Homily: Bruno Dumont’s Camille Claudel 1915

By Michael Sicinski / October 20, 2013

By Michael Sicinski Not long after the release of Bruno Dumont’s third film, his infamous American folly Twentynine Palms (2003), James Quandt published his equally infamous polemic against the “New French Extremity” in the February 2004 issue of Artforum, where he placed Dumont on the naughty list right alongside Catherine Breillat, Gaspar Noé, and Philippe…

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Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating in Space: Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity

By Adam Nayman / October 4, 2013

By Adam Nayman [SPOILERS, as they say, below.] In space, apparently, no one can hear you scream “Cut!” That’s the sensibility of Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity, which unravels its tale of two astronauts stranded outside their damaged shuttle in a series of gossamer-glossy long takes, with perilously dangling (digital) camera movements courtesy Cuarón’s house DP Emmanuel…

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Buried Child: Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners

By Michael Nordine / September 27, 2013

By Michael Nordine It’s abundantly clear from very early on in Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners that rough-hewn carpenter Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) is something of a survivalist: his basement is full of worst-case-scenario provisions, he repeats his father’s “Be Ready” mantra to his teenage son, and recites the Lord’s Prayer while the boy shoots a deer…

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This Is Martin Bonner (Chad Hartigan, US)

By Cinema Scope / September 15, 2013

By Calum Marsh Chad Hartigan’s This Is Martin Bonner tells a simple story: two fiftysomething men develop what can only be described, in clichéd trailer-speak, as an unlikely friendship. Thankfully this proves less precious than it sounds. Its men are serious, world-weary, and inhabited so naturally by their performers that they seem to carry the…

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Terrible Beauty: Yonah Lewis and Calvin Thomas’ The Oxbow Cure

By Jason Anderson / August 22, 2013

By Jason Anderson Though feelings of fear and pain are palpable in almost every moment of The Oxbow Cure, a curious sense of exhilaration cuts through the frigid dead. Maybe that’s due to the co-directors’ Yonah Lewis and Calvin Thomas’ possible realization that they’ve managed to do something uncommonly brave within a Canadian system that…

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The Talented Mr. Allen: Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine

By Adam Nayman / August 2, 2013

By Adam Nayman Cate Blanchett’s best film performance remains her slight but crucial supporting turn in The Talented Mr. Ripley (1998). Playing Meredith Logue, a nouveau-riche heiress who has trained herself to swoon at the opera, Blanchett gently underlines this society neophyte’s would-be sophistication. The moment when she strategically nuzzles up to her date on…

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Men With Guns: Thomas Vinterberg’s The Hunt

By Michael Sicinski / July 19, 2013

  By Michael Sicinski “You can be a one-hit wonder, so long as you make it count.” A film programmer friend of mine made this remark a few years back, regarding a particular avant-garde filmmaker who has essentially been dining out on a particular canonical entry for the past twenty-some-odd years. It’s true, no one…

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Mourning in America: Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale Station

By Adam Nayman / July 17, 2013

By Adam Nayman Pulling into a gas station to fill up after a morning spent doing errands, Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan) witnesses a speeding car barrels over a stray dog hanging out on the curb. Startled and enraged, he chases the car halfway down the block before turning his attentions to the victim. Looking…

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Behind the Candelabra (Steven Soderbergh, US)

By Jason Anderson / June 26, 2013

By Jason Anderson For all the delight it takes in displaying the hard, shiny surfaces of its celebrity subject’s beloved “Austrian rhinestones,” the luxury automobiles he buys on a whim, and gilded crap of every variety, Behind the Candelabra reserves its most ardent attention for a certain array of body parts. Indeed, three of them…

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Short Term 12 (Destin Cretton, US)

By Kiva Reardon / June 26, 2013

By Kiva Reardon The title of Destin Cretton’s first feature suggested that the director knew his audience. Premiering at Sundance in 2012, I Am Not a Hipster seemed tailor-made for the festival’s indie-centric crowd: focusing on a lovesick California indie musician, the film sketched a spot-on portrait of young white male malaise, awash in scruffy…

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Mud (Jeff Nichols, US)

By Andrew Tracy / June 26, 2013

By Andrew Tracy A ways back, in Cinema Scope’s saddle-stitched days, I speculated (à propos Eagle Pennell’s excellent The Whole Shootin’ Match [1978]) on the curious dynamic between regional and “national” (i.e., New York and Los Angeles) filmmaking in the US. The fact is that the majority of successful regional filmmakers do not remain regional…

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Bauble Heads: Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring

By Adam Nayman / June 20, 2013

By Adam Nayman Taking its title from Steely Dan’s barbed, the-kids-aren’t-alright tract “Show Biz Kids” and its plodding, piano-driven beat from Elton John’s “Benny and the Jets,”  Frank Ocean’s single “Super Rich Kids” is a wasted daydream of (literally) high-living largesse (“Start my day up on the roof / There’s nothing like this kind of…

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Boring Twenties: Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby

By Adam Nayman / May 10, 2013

By Adam Nayman Before it’s even begun, Cannes 2013 is off to a dubious start with The Great Gatsby. Even if nobody really expected this latest version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s epochal novel to be worthy (of an Opening Night slot or anything else), it doesn’t even manage to be outrageous. For long stretches Baz…

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By the Book: Evil Dead

By Adam Nayman / April 5, 2013

By Adam Nayman In Fede Alvarez’s Evil Dead—which pointedly but pointlessly drops the definite article from its title—the demonic spirit is willing and the flesh is as weak as it needs to be: not since Carter Smith’s underrated 2006 adaptation of The Ruins (or maybe Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours) has a movie focused so intently…

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“No One Can Survive In That Water”: Jane Campion and Garth Davis’ Top of the Lake

By Michael Sicinski / March 31, 2013

By Michael Sicinski Although the new miniseries Top of the Lake had its world premiere this past January at the Sundance Film Festival, it is darkly fortuitous that it should have its television run two months later. March has seen the emergence of details from the rape of a young woman in Steubenville, Ohio, material…

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You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet (Alain Resnais, France)

By Blake Williams / March 21, 2013

By Blake Williams That Alain Resnais would endow his follow-up to his neurologically scrambled masterpiece Les herbes folles (2009) with the title You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet seems like a goad to premature eulogists. As Resnais would be turning 90 a fortnight after the film’s Cannes premiere last year, many journalists in attendance presumptuously deemed…

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Django Unchained (Quentin Tarantino, US)

By Quintin / March 21, 2013

By Quintín In one of the first scenes of Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln (2012), a black soldier stands proudly and defiantly in front of the President and, without technically overstepping the bounds of respectfulness, argues that African-Americans (it sounds ridiculous to use that term in this context, doesn’t it?) deserve pay equal to that of white…

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Passion (Brian De Palma, France/Germany)

By Andrew Tracy / March 20, 2013

By Andrew Tracy Allow for the possibility that perspective can trump prejudice, I suppose. Eight months after seeing Brian De Palma’s Passion and thinking it ludicrous (probably intentional) and dreadful (presumably not), I’ve since scaled it back to the former—though the fact that it isn’t dreadful does not ipso facto mean it’s any fucking good.…

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And Everything Is Not Going Fine: Steven Soderbergh’s Side Effects

By Vadim Rizov / February 12, 2013

By Vadim Rizov Critics arriving late to press screenings of Steven Soderbergh’s Side Effects were greeted by an unusual sign: “Dear Invited Guest, due to the non-linear nature of this film, it would be unrewarding for you to enter at this point. We look forward to welcoming you at the next screening. Best regards, The…

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Fight Club: Judd Apatow’s This Is 40

By Adam Nayman / December 21, 2012

By Adam Nayman When Paul Rudd declared midway through Knocked Up that marriage was like a “tense, unfunny episode of Everybody Loves Raymond,” it was meant as a warning to a friend. As it turns out, he was also offering an advance review of This Is 40. Judd Apatow’s “sort of sequel” to his career-and-industry…

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Argo (Ben Affleck, US)

By Quintin / December 16, 2012

By Quintín Argo might be thought of as Inglourious Basterds (2009) in reverse, or at least as a reply to Quentin Tarantino’s film. While in Inglourious Basterds, cinema teaches reality how things should have worked, Argo presents an example of how things really worked with the aid of cinema. Although extracting a few hostages from…

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Spring Breakers (Harmony Korine, US)

By Blake Williams / December 16, 2012

By Blake Williams Only three years later, Harmony Korine has essentially remade Trash Humpers. In so doing, he has also made a few changes, replacing the cretinous geezers, low-grade VHS presentation, and cacophonous sound mix with heavenly creatures, high-def radiance and candy-pop shellac. If that sounds like an altogether distinct and wholly unrelated film, it’s…

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Stories We Tell (Sarah Polley, Canada)

By Adam Nayman / December 16, 2012

By Adam Nayman Even if they didn’t say it in print, there were plenty of Toronto critics who suspected that Sarah Polley was being disingenuous when she claimed her sophomore feature Take This Waltz (2011) contained little to nothing in the way of autobiography. That Polley crafted her Parkdale-set Scenes From a Marriage after the…

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The Unkindest Cut of All: Hitchcock

By Jose Teodoro / November 29, 2012

By José Teodoro The murder of Marion Crane in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) remains one of the cinema’s most traumatic turning points in part because it so completely refutes causality. Only the most obtuse (or misogynist) of moral misers could regard the shower murder as any kind of karmic consequence of Marion’s theft from her…

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So You Think You Can Dance: David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook

By Adam Nayman / November 16, 2012

By Adam Nayman The amateur-hour pas de deux that climaxes Silver Linings Playbook is the best indicator of  what the film’s director thinks he’s doing the rest of the time. Led by a series of plot contrivances that raise the term “Byzantine” by several minarets, recently institutionalized history teacher Pat (Bradley Cooper) and manic-depressive pixie-dream-girl/black-eyeliner-widow…

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Reboot, Rebirth, Repeat: Skyfall

By Andrew Tracy / November 10, 2012

By Andrew Tracy The problem with the Daniel Craig era of Bond is that it refuses to get started—or rather, is compelled to restart itself with each entry. The franchise overhaul of Casino Royale (2006) was an object lesson in how to pull off these “reboots” successfully, paying homage to the character’s legacy while pointing…

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Star Maps: Wachowski/Tykwer/Wachowski’s Cloud Atlas

By Michael Sicinski / October 29, 2012

By Michael Sicinski As a teacher, two things I often find myself coming back to are Speed Racer and Jean-Marie Straub. Lest that sound willfully perverse, let me explain. We all have built-in aesthetic prejudices and predilections, based on our viewing histories and other extrinsic factors. Theorizing taste is a complex matter indeed. But as…

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Regular Lovers: Ira Sachs’ Keep the Lights On

By Adam Nayman / October 14, 2012

By Adam Nayman Keep the Lights On begins with a very modern kind of masquerade: from his single bed in a Brooklyn apartment, Erik (Thure Lindhart) tries to sell himself as a sneering stud to a series of strangers on a gay-sex party line. Yet while this opening creates an expectation that the film will…

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Après mai (Olivier Assayas, France)

By Andrew Tracy / September 11, 2012

As one is virtually a companion piece to the other, it is only natural to begin discussion of Après mai (Something in the Air) with Olivier Assayas’ 2002 memoir A Post-May Adolescence, just published in an elegant English translation by the Austrian Filmmuseum to accompany their new, Kent Jones-edited anthology on Assayas. Eloquent and thoughtful,…

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Rebelle (Kim Nguyen, Canada)

By Kiva Reardon / September 11, 2012

The year in cinema has been stamped with a modicum of magical realism. First up at Sundance was Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild, a film routinely described as “lyrical” and “heartwarming.” Now there is Montréal director Kim Nguyen’s Rebelle, arriving at fall festivals after bowing in Berlin and taking top honours in Tribeca.…

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The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson, US)

By Gabe Klinger / September 11, 2012

The evolution in Paul Thomas Anderson’s oeuvre towards impeccably researched, stunningly visualized mythological explorations of the American character in There Will Be Blood (2007) and The Master represents a starling 180-degree turn. Staying within a certain autobiographical comfort zone in his first four features—Hard Eight (1996), Boogie Nights (1997), Magnolia (1999) and Punch-Drunk Love (2002),…

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Sifting Through the Guano: Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises

By Michael Sicinski / July 20, 2012

By Michael Sicinski 1. Every film does at least two things: it enters a broader social context, and it generates its own context. This seems obvious to the point of dullardry, but even by the usual standards of Hollywood blockbusters, the new Batman film (and allegedly final franchise entry—more on that below) emerged, like its…

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Here’s Looking at You, Kid: Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild

By Adam Nayman / July 13, 2012

By Adam Nayman A prize winner at both Sundance and Cannes, Beasts of the Southern Wild has made an industry darling of its 29-year old writer-director Benh Zeitlin and a Film Comment cover girl out of its six-year-old star Quevenzhané Wallis. It’s been rubber-stamped in various venues by Manohla Dargis, Scott Foundas and Amy Taubin,…

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Ass and Ye Shall Receive: Steven Soderbergh’s Magic Mike

By Kiva Reardon / July 6, 2012

By Kiva Reardon “Let’s fucking get it on right now.” So begins Magic Mike, the distinctive Southern drawl of Matthew McConaughey intoning over a black screen followed by a swift cut to our man’s leather-encased rear thrusting vigorously towards a cheering, all-female audience. From this slam-bang opening, it would seem that Steven Soderbergh’s much-anticipated exploration…

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Compliance (Craig Zobel, US)

By Adam Nayman / June 24, 2012

By Adam Nayman In a 2007 interview with Filmmaker magazine, Craig Zobel opined that “there’s something sexy and cool about being a scam artist…it just never fully lets you empathize with the person on the other side of it.” He was referring to the fact that his debut feature Great World of Sound (2007) included…

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Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson, US)

By John Semley / June 24, 2012

By John Semley Kubrick has his monolith, Lynch his voyeur peering through the closet door, Spielberg his countless shots of faces wide-eyed and slack-jawed, awash in the wonder of some off-screen astonishment, all images that singularly apprehend broad authorial sensibilities. It’s been hard to narrow in on any one characteristic image that defines the cinema…

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Split Decision: Sarah Polley’s Take This Waltz

By Adam Nayman / June 22, 2012

By Adam Nayman The first sign that Take This Waltz is going to be too writerly comes in the very first scene, when Toronto parks worker Margot (Michelle Williams) is coerced by a group of Nova Scotian historical re-enactors into pantomiming flogging an adulterer. As a self-contained scene, it’s pretty funny: the Canadian Heritage Site…

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Analogue Dreams: Panos Cosmatos’ Beyond the Black Rainbow

By Jason Anderson / June 14, 2012

By Jason Anderson For Panos Cosmatos’ Beyond the Black Rainbow to take such a slow and tortuous path into wider circulation seems oddly appropriate for a movie that seems not only anachronistic but downright atemporal. After escaping a rift in the space-time continuum in order to premiere at the Whistler festival in late 2010, it…

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The People Speak: Richard Linklater’s Bernie

By Adam Cook / June 8, 2012

By Adam Cook One could label Richard Linklater’s oeuvre “sideline cinema”: it exists on the margins of the popular film world. Unlike a Tarantino or Wes Anderson, “Linklater” is too diffuse to be a brand, his filmography too varied (trailers for his films ensure that he’ll forever be “the director of Dazed and Confused [1993]”)…

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Escape Hatches: The Cabin in the Woods

By Adam Nayman / April 21, 2012

By Adam Nayman **SO, SO MANY SPOILERS BELOW** It’s one thing to get a lesson in remedial spectatorship from a professional scold like Michael Haneke, whose films can sometimes feel like the cinematic equivalent of the headmaster ritual; it’s quite another when the lecture comes courtesy of Joss Whedon. His script for The Cabin in…

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Agrarian Dystopia: David Wain’s Wanderlust

By Adam Nayman / March 1, 2012

By Adam Nayman One of the great joys of David Wain’s Role Models (2008) was the way that it satirized live-action-role-playing culture while also conceding the appeal—and even exhilaration—of attaining one’s second-life goals. When Augie Farcques (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) finally topples the arrogant weekend-warrior monarch of L.A.I.R.E. (which stands for “Live-Action Interactive Role-Playing Explorers”) it’s not…

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We Sing, But Not Ourselves: Terence Davies’ The Deep Blue Sea

By Michael Sicinski / March 1, 2012

By Michael Sicinski Is Terence Davies a radical conservative? Often one of the signs of a great artist is his or her ability to thwart the comfortable compartmentalization of our thinking, to dislodge the habits with which we navigate our ordinary existence. We are accustomed to thinking of a cinematic “mainstream,” organized around surface realism…

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Shame (Steve McQueen, UK)

By Andrew Tracy / December 20, 2011

By Andrew Tracy At the midpoint of Steve McQueen’s Hunger (2008), what had heretofore been a largely dialogue-free immersion into the sights, sounds, and smells of an Irish prison takes a pointed interlude for a veritable torrent of discourse. In a lengthy, unbroken two-shot followed by two shorter close-ups, Bobby Sands (Michael Fassbender) and Father…

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A Separation (Asghar Farhadi, Iran)

By Michael Sicinski / December 20, 2011

By Michael Sicinski A Separation is one of the year’s most accomplished films, and like so many films we might characterize as “accomplished,” it hasn’t garnered actual detractors. It merely fosters a coterie of skeptics. Several commentators felt that Farhadi’s film shouldn’t have won the Golden Bear over Béla Tarr’s more deserving The Turin Horse…

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A Moment of Silents: Michel Hazanavicius’ The Artist

By Michael Sicinski / December 9, 2011

By Michael Sicinski This “serious” breakthrough by French comic director Michel Hazanavicius, best known for his OSS spy-flick parodies, is a head-scratcher, a problem that won’t go away, and above all an object that isn’t worth the ire of any hardcore cinephile. It’s basic mediocrity in a clever new disguise. One can take umbrage, I…

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Horrible Bosses: Margin Call

By Adam Nayman / November 11, 2011

By Adam Nayman The Occupy Wall Street protestors who assault the hapless Kenneth Park ( Bobby Lee ) near the beginning of A Very Harold and Kumar 3-D Christmas are a sight gag: an excuse to restage James Caan’s tollbooth execution in The Godfather (1972) with hucked eggs in lieu of bullets. “They’ve lost their…

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Currency | Martha Marcy May Marlene (Sean Durkin, US)

By Andrew Tracy / September 29, 2011

By Andrew Tracy If “indie-ness” conveys a certain generic intimation unto itself, some of the most celebrated recent independent films have also strategically adopted broader generic tactics, usually related to violence. As sensation, whether shockingly enacted or tautly withheld, has started to become an ever more important element for independents to attract the necessary attention,…

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Terri (Azazel Jacobs, US)

By Max Goldberg / June 28, 2011

By Max Goldberg Azazel Jacobs’s fourth and most polished feature to date grants its eponymous hero (Jacob Wysocki) a surprising foundation of confidence—surprising because he’s a husky adolescent boy who wears pajamas to school. His equanimity is clear from the moment we see him cutting through a dry creek bed with the stride of a…

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Midnight in Paris (Woody Allen, US)

By Adam Nayman / June 28, 2011

By Adam Nayman Trolling through the dispatches from Cannes, I’ve yet to read one review of Midnight in Paris that invokes La Jetée (1962). This is possibly because in a film that, pace the worst of Woody Allen, takes pains to underline its other references and homages, the nod in Chris Marker’s direction is rather…

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The Hunter (Rafi Pitts, Iran)

By Jonathan Rosenbaum / March 16, 2011

By Jonathan Rosenbaum Underneath the Persian credits, over heavy metal music, the camera roams around inside a colour photograph, grazing over pointillist surfaces and male faces—finally pulling back to reveal the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps in 1983, getting ready to drive their motorcycles over a huge replica of the American flag on the pavement in…

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Road to Nowhere (Monte Hellman, US)

By Quintin / March 13, 2011

By Quintín A couple of months ago, I watched Monte Hellman’s Two-Lane Blacktop (1971) on TV. The film is marvellous for more than one reason (not just great, but truly marvellous). Among other things, it’s a correction of Easy Rider (1969), the juvenile blockbuster made a couple of years earlier. The proof that things are…

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Death of the Author: The Ghost Writer

By Adam Nayman / January 8, 2011

By Adam Nayman “Did you notice anything suspicious?” asks a sign posted inside a ferry in The Ghost Writer. Well, of course you did: this is a Roman Polanski film after all, and the near-octogenarian auteur is peerless when it comes to grinning intimations of conspiracy. The film, which won Polanski Best Director in Berlin…

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Twelve Notes on Twelve: A Film by Joel Schumacher

By Christoph Huber / January 7, 2011

By Christoph Huber 1) Twenty-five years ago, a film by Joel Schumacher about young, self-centred, superficial people was greeted by mostly dismissive reviews: it was called St. Elmo’s Fire. 2) This year, a film by Joel Schumacher about young, self-centred, superficial people was greeted by abysmal reviews: it was called Twelve.

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Currency | Putty Hill (Matthew Porterfield, US)

By Jason Anderson / December 17, 2010

By Jason Anderson There’s an ocean between what used to be Fontainhas and what remains Putty Hill. But watching Matt Porterfield’s second feature—named after the Baltimore suburb where the film takes place, and where the director was raised—it’s hard not to feel like both places could share the same decrepit corner of the world, even…

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Currency | Somewhere (Sofia Coppola, US)

By Scott Foundas / December 17, 2010

By Scott Foundas Literally speaking, the “somewhere” of Sofia Coppola’s newly minted Golden Lion winner is the Chateau Marmont—that hilltop monolith of celebrity decadence, modelled loosely on an 11th-century Loire Valley estate, staring down upon Sunset Boulevard along with the ghosts of the many (Garbo, Belushi, Dean) who lived, died, or at least partied hardy…

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Currency | I Wish I Knew (Jia Zhangke. China)

By Tony Rayns / September 21, 2010

By Tony Rayns Full disclosure: I did the English subtitles for Jia Zhangke’s new film, and may yet get paid for doing them. I wasn’t in Cannes for the international premiere, but a magazine editor of my acquaintance tells me that “some smart people” who saw it there “think it’s just a by-the-numbers commission piece.”…

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Currency | The Blacks (Goran Dević and Zvonimir Jurić, Croatia)

By Christoph Huber / June 22, 2010

While Edgar Allan Poe’s black cat cries its way out of a walled-in-tomb, the one quietly meowing while feeding its offspring at the beginning of Goran Dević and Zvonimir Jurić’s impressive war drama The Blacks (Crnci, 2009) remains in the centre of a trap. Quite literally—a typical offhanded reveal late in the film makes shockingly…

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Currency | MacGruber (Jorma Taccone, US)

By Jocelyn Geddie / June 18, 2010

In one of the many incarnations of “MacGruber”—a recurring Saturday Night Live sketch in which the rubber-faced Will Forte plays a hotshot operative whose attempts to defuse a bomb are always derailed by his rank incompetence (or reflexive racism)—the titular character undergoes plastic surgery to compensate for his anxieties about aging. Turning to the camera…

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Currency | La Danse: The Paris Opera Ballet (Frederick Wiseman, US/France, 2009)

By Michael Sicinski / March 17, 2010

It’s a bit difficult not to feel as if this review is already written. At this particular point in cinema history, the verdict is in on Frederick Wiseman. Much more than his compatriots in the loose confederation once called Direct Cinema, Wiseman has become consecrated as a kind of national institution, so much so that…

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Currency | Un prophète (Jacques Audiard, France)

By Richard Porton / December 16, 2009

For certain film critics, the encomium “well-made” has near-talismanic powers. While it would doubtless be condescending to damn a novel with faint praise by saying it’s, say, “well-structured,” a number of commentators seemingly believe that film craftsmanship today is so slipshod that merely acknowledging a basic level of competence adds up to a huge endorsement.…

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Currency | Up in the Air (Jason Reitman, US)

By Adam Nayman / December 16, 2009

Like Tony Gilroy’s Michael Clayton (2007), Up in the Air casts George Clooney as a crinkly-eyed corporate bogeyman—specifically, Ryan Bingham, a “transition counselor” who racks up frequent-flyer miles travelling cross-country to various white-collar companies and firing their employees as a courtesy to confrontation-averse middle-managers. And, like Michael Clayton (which, it should be said, is a…

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CS40: Editor’s Note

By Mark Peranson / September 29, 2009

Before we begin with the quarterly ranting, a quick clarification regarding last issue’s incendiary Cannes wrap-up. I fear that many readers might have missed the humorous undercurrent in the piece, one that, perhaps adventurously on my part, was written under the assumption that readers would have connected it to previous such Cannes wraps of varying…

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Currency | Belle tojours

By Jay Kuehner / September 4, 2009

Belle toujours (Manoel de Oliveira, Portugal/France) By Jay Kuehner When considering the case of indefatigable Portuguese director Manoel de Oliveira, a likely and illuminating association can be drawn with compatriot writer Fernando Pessoa (1888–1935), whose prose masterpiece, The Book of Disquiet, consists of a listless Lisbon bookkeeper’s rueful, digressive meditations on a life not fully…

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Currency | The Lives of Others

By Richard Porton / September 4, 2009

The Lives of Others (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, Germany) By Richard Porton As a sort of postmortem to the aborted East German workers’ uprising of 1953, Bertolt Brecht, despite his own cozy relationship with the regime, wrote a poem entitled The Solution that facetiously urged the State to “dissolve the people and elect another.” The…

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Knocked Up (Judd Apatow, US)

By Jessica Winter / September 3, 2009

By Jessica Winter. As funny and endearing as Judd Apatow’s proudly vulgar new comedy can be, it may give the viewer nostalgia for the sequence in Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) when Jennifer Jason Leigh falls pregnant by a guy she shouldn’t be with, promptly gets an abortion, and rides back from the clinic…

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Currency | Shining Trench

By Jay Kuehner / September 3, 2009

Shining Trench (Jim Finn, Argentina) By Jay Kuehner As a ticket to peer into the culturally cluttered imagination of artist/filmmaker Jim Finn, take his 2000 photograph Snow and Farm, a faux landscape diorama featuring a model farmhouse and its surroundings that’s unremarkably true to its title but clearly a labour of fastidious reconstruction. Undermining the…

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Currency | Eastern Promises

By Robert Koehler / September 3, 2009

Eastern Promises (David Cronenberg, US/UK/Canada) By Robert Koehler Just as he turned the cameras on the press hordes at Cannes in 2005 by snapping photos of the snapping photographers, David Cronenberg has been in the process of turning the camera—that is, his point of observation and by extension, his concerns—on a 180-degree axis. First, with…

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Currency | The Darjeeling Limited (Wes Anderson, US)

By Edward Crouse / September 3, 2009

  By Edward Crouse “Look at these assholes,” a dissolute industrialist murmurs about some village children crossing a raging river in India. He’s about to jump outside of his own life, while The Darjeeling Limited, Wes Anderson’s latest daft intimate odyssey, is about to tear its own heart out. The assholes of the movie, sort…

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No Country For Old Men

By Jessica Winter / September 1, 2009

By Jessica Winter. I saw No Country for Old Men twice in three days, partly because I sort of missed it the first time. The usually peaceable art-house cinema where we went for Round 1 had on this particular evening turned into a multimedia feedlot, all the punters searching through their popcorn or their gallon…

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Currency | There Will Be Blood

By Tom Charity / September 1, 2009

There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson, US) By Tom Charity In the beginning there is darkness. And, in the darkness, a man with a pickaxe claws at the earth as if he’s looking for the way back in. He grunts from such heavy labour, but keeps digging, driven. Anderson’s Fifth shapes up like this,…

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Currency | Diary of the Dead

By Adam Nayman / September 1, 2009

Diary of the Dead (George A. Romero, US) By Adam Nayman It matters not a whit that Diary of the Dead is a dreadful movie: its themes are easily discernable, and thus it has been subject to high-end critical cooing. “One of the most revealing and fascinating critiques of image-making since Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom”…

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Currency | Elite Squad

By Quintin / September 1, 2009

By Quintín Once upon a time there was a film called Z (1969), directed by a certain Costa-Gavras. The film is so old now, that if you look at the IMDB for a brief summary, you’ll find out that the Greek-set Z is about “the overthrow of the democratic government in Czechoslovakia.” Funny enough, the…

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Currency | Baghead and Frownland

By Rob Nelson / September 1, 2009

Baghead (Jay Duplass and Mark Duplass, US) and Frownland (Ronald Bronstein, US) By Rob Nelson Both Baghead and Frownland offer early proof of their post-postmod, pre-apocalyptic place in American life with opening scenes of their characters watching variably scary movies. But of course there’s no one way to watch a movie these days, and whatever…

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Currency | The Exiles

By Quintin / August 31, 2009

Quintin Kent Mackenzie, USA) By Quintin Shot around 1958 using ends of studio reels, premiered at the Venice film festival in 1961, and never released during the director’s lifetime, Kent Mackenzie’s The Exiles resurfaced for screenings a few years ago on the festival circuit thanks to the clips Thom Andersen included in Los Angeles Plays…

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Currency | Happy-Go-Lucky

By Richard Porton / August 31, 2009

Happy-Go-Lucky (Mike Leigh, UK) By Richard Porton Mike Leigh—celebrated playwright, filmmaker, and world-class blowhard—rarely misses an opportunity to pay homage to his own work. In the case of his latest film, Happy-Go-Lucky, he sums up his agenda as life affirming and “anti-miserablist”—a riposte to critics who consider him an avatar of British realist gloom. Audiences…

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Currency | Milk

By Johnny Ray Huston / August 29, 2009

Milk (Gus Van Sant, USA) By Johnny Ray Huston Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to witness the wedding of Harvey Milk, the extroverted, theatrical, political leader, and Gus Van Sant, the recessive, outright chilly film formalist. Van Sant has been engaged to the idea of a movie adaptation of Milk’s life for over…

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Currency | Synecdoche, New York

By Andrew Tracy / August 29, 2009

Synecdoche, New York (Charlie Kaufman, USA) By Andrew Tracy For those who haven’t yet read the latest issue of the online magazine Rouge, proceed there to witness Kent Jones, in his article “Can Movies Think?”, knocking out another support beam from the already rickety edifice of critical self-justification. Jones’ brief, pinpoint-accurate dissection of the “moral-aesthetic…

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Currency | Encirclement: Neo-Liberalism Ensnares Democracy

By Adam Nayman / August 28, 2009

Encirclement: Neo-Liberalism Ensnares Democracy (Richard Brouillette, Canada) By Adam Nayman In an interview conducted at this year’s Hot Docs festival, Montréal-based filmmaker Richard Brouillette recalled being inspired by a viewing of Francisco de Goya’s etching The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters—a wryly frightening 1797 self-portrait depicting the painter prone at his desk beneath a swarm…

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Currency | The Limits of Control

By Andrew Tracy / August 28, 2009

The Limits of Control (Jim Jarmusch, Spain/US/Japan) By Andrew Tracy The title’s wholly disingenuous, of course. The Limits of Control is not only rigorously ordered from moment one, it’s also positively overflowing with theoretical pleasures for the self-identifying cinephile. A shame then that those pleasures remain almost exclusively in the realm of theory. Strange that…

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