Monday, November 13, 2017

I Love You, Daddy (2017) A Film by Louis C.K.


"Fittingly, the perennial question of whether art and artist can possibly be detached from one another looms heavily over I Love You, Daddy, which finds C.K. alter ego Glen Topher tormented by the sudden involvement of his teenage daughter, China (Chloë Grace Moretz), with an illustrious film director, Leslie Goodwin (John Malkovich), who also happens to be a rumored sexual predator—a simultaneously cerebral and ingratiating type who splits the difference between Woody Allen and Roman Polanski. A terrific Malkovich is fully at ease under a goatee and a sarong, investing every one of Leslie's highfalutin proclamations with a strange brew of sociopathic detachment and charitable curiosity. Slyly repelling any villainous narratives surrounding himself, Leslie is defined by an inscrutability that drives C.K.'s prosperous TV writer—and us—up the walls and fuels the film's anguished interrogation."

Full review of Louis C.K.'s new (and now not-to-be-released) film I Love You, Daddy is up at Slant Magazine. Note: I filed this piece shortly before a NY Times exposé was published outing C.K. as a sexual predator. I stand by my review, but there's certainly discomfort in having it out there, knowing that in some way pieces like this enable a Hollywood system that has historically supported men like C.K.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Princess Cyd (2017) A Film by Stephen Cone


"At once a vacation movie and a homecoming story, a coming-of-age and coming-out tale, and a study of both teen epiphanies and adult convictions, writer-director Stephen Cone’s Princess Cyd is distinguished by a dramatic complexity that would seem to run counter to its remarkably even-tempered tone. The film’s summertime plot picks up nine years after a tragic incident left Cyd Loughlin (Jessie Pinnick) without a mother—a backstory revealed obliquely in the police recording that opens the film, then detailed later in a cathartic speech delivered by Cyd in close-up to the camera. In spite of this turbulent history, however, the film’s characters exhibit few obvious traces of having persevered through unthinkable trauma, and this is the clearest indication of Cone’s maturity as a dramatist. Instead of underlining past disturbances with ornery character traits, the director examines well-adjusted individuals who’ve managed to compartmentalize their pain."

Full review continues at Slant.

Friday, November 3, 2017

The Square (2017) A Film by Ruben Östlund


"After scrupulously analyzing the rippling effects of a man’s moment of human weakness in Force Majeure, Ruben Östlund has adopted a more panoramic view for The Square, edging his latest film closer to the vignette-driven narrative terrain of 2008’s Involuntary. Juggling the handful of interconnected tribulations that overwhelm Christian (Claes Bang), the curator of a reputable Stockholm contemporary art museum, in the run-up to the opening of a new relational art exhibition called The Square, the film grabs at a pinwheel of hot-button social topics including class privilege, liberal guilt, urban poverty, viral marketing, and mutually reinforced passivity in the face of mounting inhumanity, winding up with something simultaneously overstuffed and undercooked. While Östlund’s mastery of visually amplifying social unease is still very much intact, he’s partially undone here by his own thematic ambition, which, in scene after exquisitely staged scene, threatens to put too fine a point on otherwise thrillingly indeterminate situational comedy."

My review of Ruben Östlund's very disappointing Palme D'Or winner and NYFF selection continues at Slant.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Western (2017) A Film by Valeska Grisebach


"'War is war. Life is life. You can’t lump them together,' says a burly construction worker early on in Valeska Grisebach’s Western, immediately invoking the dichotomy between civility and savagery at the heart of the genre referenced by the film’s title. The seasoned audience member will recognize the hollowness in such a statement, as the most ageless westerns have proven time and again that violence—physical and otherwise—is the engine of civilizing progress. And though blood is scarcely spilled in Western, the film nevertheless teems with nervous tension as a German construction crew descends on a modest Bulgarian village to conduct work on a hydroelectric power plant in the hills nearby. In a supremely understated style, Grisebach sets this all-too-modern scenario in motion and charts the ways in which power and privilege unconsciously manifest themselves, turning a boilerplate engineering initiative into a loaded culture clash."

Full review of Valeska Grisebach's recent NYFF competition title, Western, continues at Slant Magazine.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Lover for a Day (2017) A Film by Philippe Garrel


"Like In the Shadow of Women, Lover for a Day is shot in widescreen black and white by Renato Berta, staged in a prosaic suite of bedrooms, cafés, and side streets, and narrated in a terse short-form prose style. But in contrast to Garrel’s last film, which diligently plucked away at the morose self-importance of its male lead, the wise French dramatist’s latest foregrounds the malleable spirits of its young female characters, leaving Gilles something of an implicit gravitational force rather than a subject of sustained consideration. In doing so, the film adopts an unbiased lucidity. Instead of the wry, pitch-perfect assessments of human behavior contained within In the Shadow of Women, we get a hushed sense of awe and empathy as Garrel ruminates on the burgeoning womanhood of his daughter, here cast for the first time in a lead role under his direction, by way of the character she inhabits."

Full review of Philippe Garrel's latest film continues at Slant Magazine as part of the site's annual coverage of the New York Film Festival.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Rebel in the Rye (2017) A Film by Danny Strong


"Making liberal use of inner monologue to give form to Salinger’s feverish stop-and-go writing process, Strong ties the epiphanies and crushing disappointments of the author’s life to key passages within his body of work. In doing so, Holden Caulfield becomes less a spontaneous fictional creation than the logical sum of Salinger’s romantic frustrations, his run-ins with hectoring authority figures, and his scarring visions of Nazi death camps (realized on budget here as blue-tinted glimpses of gaunt silhouettes and hands clutching past barbed wire). The whole affair suggests dramatic Tetris, and it leeches the artist and his process of any mystery."

I reviewed Danny Strong's boring-ass J.D. Salinger biopic over at Slant Magazine.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Dayveon (2017) A Film by Amman Abbasi


"Shot in 4:3 with sliver-thin depth of field and a lush palette of swampy greens, Amman Abbasi’s Dayveon is largely predicated on the idea of imparting a hyperreal sensuality to a region—an almost exclusively black small town in rural Arkansas—not often depicted on the big screen. The results, which sometimes conjure the spirit of Eugene Richards’s medium-format photojournalism in the Arkansas Delta in the late 1960s, are frequently breathtaking—and in no way trivial aestheticism. Small truths of the milieu, like the way leather peels off a sofa in the moist summer heart, or the smudgy details of a window in a 'hotboxed' Oldsmobile, become prominent pieces of mise-en-scène in Abbasi’s careful, patient framing, accumulating in a way that richly contextualizes the downtrodden lives of his characters."

Full review continues at Slant.