‘The Wild Pear Tree’: the texture of a novel, the freedom of good film

Films about writing tend toward the cloddish. Besides the challenge of presenting visually an internal process working itself out externally, the prose shared by the writer often isn’t worth the bother. The Wild Pear Tree avoids these missteps. By concentrating on the long simmering tensions between Sinan and his family, The Wild Pear Tree pointsContinue reading “‘The Wild Pear Tree’: the texture of a novel, the freedom of good film”

‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire’: life depends on art

In the films she’s directed (Girlhood, Tomboy) and written with others (André Téchiné’s marvelous Being 17), Céline Sciamma has shown a fascination with the spaces that queer people can populate without the help of the larger world, thank you. As rigorous in its eroticism as its mise-en-scène, Portrait of a Lady on Fire is herContinue reading “‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire’: life depends on art”

On the dour, inchoate ‘Joker’

“All I have are negative thoughts, and you won’t listen!” Arthur Fleck cries in the second film in less than twelve years about Batman’s most indelible foe. An origin story subject to the whims of Hollywood notions of pathology, Todd Phillips’ Joker often unfolds like a series of imaginative renderings of self-help books piled upContinue reading “On the dour, inchoate ‘Joker’”

Soto’s piping hot 2019 Oscar predictions!

Rare indeed is the Oscar ceremony in which two nominees for Best Picture look likely to survive in the files of the collective memory. Joker continues to impress men and women of all ages who, understandably, confuse histrionics, spectacle, and doleful cello noise with Serious Art, while the more people watch Parasite the louder itsContinue reading “Soto’s piping hot 2019 Oscar predictions!”

‘Judy’ prefers the star’s victimhood to her artistry

In 2001, Judy Davis put two decades of skill at playing observant women whose nerves rub against their considerable intelligence into her portrait of the title character in Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows. This TV film has no magic except for the steady vibration of Davis at its core; critics have notedContinue reading “‘Judy’ prefers the star’s victimhood to her artistry”

The worst films of 2019

As usual I avoid the obvious flops. Skewering prestige pictures strikes me as a more efficacious use of time. 5. Non-Fiction (Olivier Assayas) Every good director tries farce. Most fail. 4. All is True (Kenneth Branagh) Kenneth Branagh as Shakespeare. “I thought ‘do no harm’ applied to films about great artists,” I wrote last May. “DesecrateContinue reading “The worst films of 2019”

The safeness of ‘Harriet’ and its biopic cliches

4130_D002_00630_R Late into this film about the Underground Railroad’s most famous “worker,” the title hero turns to a group of frightened slaves she’s “stolen” and taken North and announces, “I’m Harriet Tubman, leader of this group. You do what I say!” Aglow in a sympathetic close-up, Cynthia Erivo projects determination. Yet this scene should feelContinue reading “The safeness of ‘Harriet’ and its biopic cliches”

Good luck, America: Oscar nominations 2020

Even I gasped in my otherwise empty apartment when five white actresses, including Scarlet Johanssen and her mystifying accent in Jojo Rabbit, beat Jennifer Lopez in Hustlers, Park So-dam in Parasite, or Zhao Shuzhen in The Farewell to slots. In the category of Supporting Actor, as predicted, the Academy surrendered to the Slumming Stars. Worse,Continue reading “Good luck, America: Oscar nominations 2020”

Beyond a filmmaking gimmick, ‘1917’ has no resonance

An ideological muddle has made World War I a blank slate for novelists (Pat Barker) and now directors. As there would be twenty-five years later, Allied powers fought a German-led coalition, but without a Hitler or Mussolini as bugaboo what remains is an abstracted horror, a senselessness that scarred a generation. If a series ofContinue reading “Beyond a filmmaking gimmick, ‘1917’ has no resonance”

Art and ardor: ‘Little Women’

Film adaptations of Louisa May Alcott’s beloved novel reflect their decades. An air of making-do with genteel poverty suffuses George Cukor’s 1933 Depression-era version starring Katherine Hepburn as Jo March. The air of a proficient radio show melodrama characterizes the credible 1949 version directed by Mervyn LeRoy. Gilliam Armstrong’s 1994 adaptation glows as if theContinue reading “Art and ardor: ‘Little Women’”

Ambition meets hysteria in ‘Uncut Gems’

Adam Sandler never stops acting in Uncut Gems; if he did, the film would collapse from angina. As Howard Ratner, a gem dealer in NYC’s Diamond District, Sandler plays a garrulous hustler familiar to fans of Richard Widmark in Night and the City and John Cassavetes’ early seventies work. He’s a liar, unable to keepContinue reading “Ambition meets hysteria in ‘Uncut Gems’”

Thirteen ways of looking at ‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’

Readers know I don’t post traditional reviews of Star Wars flicks. Why expend energy on paragraph lengths and introductory clauses? But I’ve few remarks to share about The Rise of Skywalker, a film that reunites the unfortunately named Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), the easily startled Finn (John Boyega), and the increasingly callow Rey (Daisy Ridley)Continue reading “Thirteen ways of looking at ‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’”