Tag Archives: Movies (2018)

In ‘Happy as Lazzaro,’ worker exploitation is nothing new

In its fidelity to what we imagine are the sunbaked rigors of rural Italian poverty, Happy as Lazzaro will be familiar to admirers of Ermanno Olmi’s The Tree of Wooden Clogs but with a magical realist component folded as seamlessly and sinuously into the narrative as the turning of the seasons. Writer-director Alice Rohrwacher (The Wonders) presents images of formidable clarity; we can see the caked dust on the faces of the tobacco farmers who have no idea sharecropping is illegal. This story about the eponymous character, a variant on Prince Myshkin played by Adriano Tardiolo, avoids sentimentalizing peasantry and, impressively, lets no one among the exploiters off the hook. How Happy as Lazzaro will surprise those who expected another denouement based on its first third, and it works. Continue reading

Thirteen ways of looking at ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’

Greeted with what I can generously call mixed reviews last fall, Bohemian Rhapsody has faced no such obstacles with the general audience. The producers can’t argue with the grosses ($200 million in American box office alone), nor can Queen argue, in depressed times for legacy acts with no new material, with fattened revenue streams. Rami Malek, who plays Freddie Mercury, will likely win Best Actor at next Sunday’s Academy Awards ceremony.

My November experience was such a bore that I lacked the motivation to write a review. Instead of offering one now, I offer a series of impressions based on one of my mentors. Continue reading

In ‘At Eternity’s Gate,’ van Gogh remains mad, bad, dangerous to know

Wilem Dafoe already played an artist. In To Live and Die in L.A., William Friedkin’s shimmering tone poem about posing in Los Angeles’ fickle light, Dafoe played Masters, a painter and counterfeiter so sure of himself — so psychotic — that he can postpone the creation of masterpieces to kill cop William Petersen. Already in 1985 the actor boasted the ovular jaw and worn leather wallet of a voice that would make casting him a challenge for the next thirty years. Watch the jaw, though, whose positions he manipulated as surely as John Gielgud did pitch and timbre.

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‘Vox Lux’ and its muddled look at how pop music works

A film, to use a flattering verb, organized around climaxes, Vox Lux begins with its most memorable and exploitative. In 1999, high schooler Celeste (Raffey Cassidy) suffers spinal injury after a Columbine-indebted shooting. Writer-director Brady Corbet stages the violence with restraint and precision: the shooter has his back to the camera until the shots fire, and its balletic movement has the chill of Goya’s The Third of May 1808. Why Corbet expended so much skill isn’t clear; it’s as if the delight of staging overcame squeamishness or narrative sense. This approach to filmmaking informs Vox Lux, Corbet’s second film after 2016’s The Childhood of a Leader: an exercise in decadence that were it not for Corbet’s buttoned-up tendencies would have been a recognizably mad entry in the Ken Russell school of directing. Vox Lux is a kooky film that is, alas, not made by a kook. Continue reading

The best films of 2018, part one

I saw more movies than ever yet I saw more consensus than ever as critics released their year-end lists. Two of the world’s best directors released more than one film in 2018; one of those directors has catapulted himself to the top of the essential list.

Click on director credits below for full reviews.

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Period piece ‘1985’ shows how the art of losing is hard to master. 

Watching 1985, the first year of Ronald Reagan’s second term disassembling the federal government, I remembered that my uncle Lelio, who changed his name to Andrew but whom we knew as Tata, joined the Army as a grunt and was sent to Korea, a move kicking off a cycle of peripatetic travel during which he contracted the HIV virus whose complications killed him a decade later. Continue reading

‘If Beale Street Could Talk’ offers confused, necessary myth making

Written during a period of personal tumult, James Baldwin’s If Beale Street Could Talk dared to present a young American black couple in love — unusual in 1974 when colleagues Saul Bellow and John Updike avoided love stories, radical for a novelist watching the collapse of the bipartisan consensus over civil rights legislation and nothing with which to replace it. The black family in the Nixon era was on its own. Continue reading