Enigmas and heartaches at Miami Film Festival GEMS 2018

Several of the most acclaimed festival screeners arrive on our shores this weekend for Miami Film Festival GEMS, an autumnal amuse-bouche for cineastes who can’t wait until March for the full MFF experience.

Among the items airing at the Tower Theater: actor Paul Dano’s directorial debut Wildlife and Cold War, Pawel Pawlikowski’s followup to his Oscar-winning 2014 Ida. Capernaum and El Angel, Cannes Jury Prize winner and Un Certain Regard favorite, respectively, will get airings too. Thursday’s opening night film was Birds of Passage, Columbia’s entry for the 2019 Foreign Language Academy Award. Given that GEMS has screened Call Me By Your Name and Certain Women in previous years, this prequel to MFF isn’t a mere addendum; its programming has equaled and sometimes surpassed the spring festival’s.

Below are reviews of two films I screened. I’ll join critics Juan Barquin, Hans Morgenstern, and Rubén Rosario for a panel discussion on Lee Chang-dong’s Burning moderated by Lauren Cohen. Hope to see you there.

Click here for Rubén Rosario and Juan Barquin and Hans Morgenstern’s coverage and reviews.

Click here for full schedule. Continue reading

Horror-struck: ‘Mandy’

We critics are suckers for directors who tart up genre exercises, and Mandy is one painted tart. Jacking up the pitch of grindhouse horror fare, writer-director Panos Cosmatos (Beyond the Black) never once winks at the audience: Mandy is a slasher film treated as Persona. But tarting up and jacking up also tried my patience. There is no reason why this thing should be two hours long and this hysterically (over)directed. Continue reading

Gaga dons her straight apparel for ‘A Star is Born’

For anyone who has watched the three versions of A Star is Born (four if you count 1932’s What Price Hollywood?), the moment when the drunken has-been accidentally slaps his wife as she accepts an award onstage creates the greatest, sickest anticipation. I’ve watched George Cukor’s 1954 Grand Guignol version at least fives times and my stomach knots every time as Esther has to keep her star’s dignity while her husband humiliates himself and her for putting up with his sodden ass (James Mason manipulated his natural courtliness to shrewd effect so that Norman Maine is never merely gross). Well, it’s 2018, and, realizing how gauchely this might play, director Bradley Cooper confines himself to collapsing in front a televised audience of billions when pop singer wife Ally accepts her Best New Artist Grammy. Continue reading

Heist film ‘Museo’ weighs the worth of cultural history

Thanks to increasing production in the petroleum industry the previous decade, the Mexico of the 1980s could flex its muscles internationally and intrastate. Nationalism is to a large extent the projection of a cultural identity. For his second film, Alonso Ruizpalacios (Gueros) examines how the Christmas Day 1985 theft of Mayan artifacts from Mexico City’s Anthropology Museum re-awakened the country’s outrage over several century’s worth of cultural looting. Museo functions as heist film and social comedy; its last third is pure absurdism. It confirms Ruizpalacios as a director to reckon with. Continue reading

‘The Land of Steady Habits’ finds no drama in the male midlife crisis

For twenty years writer-director Nicole Holofcener has specialized in films about women whose ideas about living are subject to constant revision. Their emotional geography is precise. Why the Netflix production The Land of Steady Habits fails is so baffling that the only explanation I stumble is on is the casting of Ben Mendelsohn as a middle-aged divorcee. Where previous Holofcener protagonists like Julie-Louis Dreyfus, Jennifer Anniston, Brenda Blethyn, and especially Catherine Keener got to show their intelligence and avidity in ways they rarely did onscreen, Mendelsohn acts like the straight man in an 1930s comedy. It’s also possible that Holofcener is a more acute observer of women than men. Continue reading

All work, little play: ‘Support the Girls’

In the organic foods era, the so-called family chicken wing spot with girls in Daisy Dukes is the equivalent of a moderate Republican. Lisa (Regina Hall), general manager of the subtly named Double Whammies, understands. Yet she does her job with enthusiasm, reciting the company patter with enough skill to fool around, like a favorite poem, with the emphases. Support the Girls is one of the few American films about a black woman hanging on by her teeth to a lower level management position. Although the last act substitutes the energy of a game cast for inspiration, Andrew Bujalski’s comedy is a good time. Continue reading

Fraudulent ‘The Wife’ has no clue how writers work

From The Lost Weekend and Some Came Running to Finding Forrester and Started Out in the Evening, movies about writers often don’t know a damn thing about writing or writers. They assume poets and novelists say plummy things, writing sentences with autobiographical correlatives. Leaden and often ridiculous, The Wife is among the worst of the bunch, despite committed work by Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce. Continue reading

‘Nico, 1988’ presents the last days of an icon

Until the moment of her 1988 death in the most banal of accidents, Nico had earned her distance from the Velvet Underground material that turned the model into a camp and often transfixing chanteur in the seventies: like any star, would-be and real, the costumes that the poor girl wore and the hand-me-down dresses from who knows where she also wove into challenging self-presentations. Continue reading

Japanese master turns to courtroom thriller in ‘The Third Murder’

The Third Murder is a rarity: a thriller that gets quieter as it approaches its denouement. The latest by newly prolific Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda isn’t up to the challenges set up by his script and his camera choices, but it represents another entry in a series of films about the wages of family. Continue reading

A horse and his boy: ‘Lean On Pete’

From National Velvet and The Black Stallion to this year’s The Rider, movies about kids and their horses stress the uniqueness of the bond. In Lean On Pete, the horse is a device for illustrating how rural American poverty chips away at the hope of its teenaged hero. Andrew Haigh’s adaptation of Willy Vlautin’s novel is an unexpected choice for the English director, even though the progress from Weekend (2011) to 45 Years (2015) showed his growing confidence filming exterior spaces away from urban centers. Continue reading