Tag Archives: Movies (2019)

‘David Crosby: Remember My Name’ emphasizes the life, not the art

In David Crosby: Remember My Name, the long-haired rock scion allows the camera to catch him in two moments of empathy. Describing Christine Hinton, whose death in a 1969 car accident accelerated a descent into a miasma of addictions, Crosby uses her as a stand-in for the “hundreds,” in his words, of women whom he has treated wretchedly — the girlfriends he turned on to heroin and coke, for example, the abuse of which led to prison terms for charges of hit and run and possession of concealed weapons in the 1980s, not to mention a liver transplant (Phil Collins paid for it!) a decade later. Noting that “Croz,” as his friends refer to him, got tut-tutting fingers shaken in his face for years because of the glow of his iconicity doesn’t diminish the depths of his agony. Continue reading

Soothing, reassuring ‘The Farewell’ takes a close look at Chinese families

The Farewell understands how families, with their reliance on received gestures and rehearsals of ancient hurts, don’t get the best of us. Even by ourselves we are more ourselves. When Billi (Awkwafina), failed Guggenheim fellowship applicant, learns that her grandmother Nai Nai (Zhao Shuzhen) has terminal lung cancer, she joins the family on the trip to Changchun. Affection and exasperation are inseparable. Beyond the charming performances writer-director Lisa Wang’s film offers little beyond a TV-style mimesis; it shows no interest in challenging assumptions (as, for example, Arnaud Desplechin’s 2008 A Christmas Tale, working similar ground, does). Yet judging from the screening audience’s response The Farewell looks like a late summer sleeper. We’re going to hear more about this movie through December and January. Continue reading

Telling stories, writing fantasias: ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’

(Spoilers, if you care for this sort of thing)

In Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, no one has lung cancer, Sharon Tate lives, and Paul is dead. Well, expect Quentin Tarantino to write and direct an alternative history of The Beatles someday. His film depicting the intersections of several characters in a six-month period in 1969 that culminates in the Manson murders lacks rhythm; it’s often a shapeless piece of filmmaking. You may watch Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and wonder what the hell was the point. Savor it then as a triumph of art direction first and an elongated example of Tarantino’s latter-day obsession with rewriting history. Charlie Manson reduced to a footnote, yes, but also a film where in the right state of mind dog food is as savory as mac and cheese. Continue reading

‘Cléo from 5 to 7’ remains as startling and fresh as ever

As Cléo, Corinne Marchand gives a performance of great charm and a startling freshness. Introduced in an opening sequence with a card reader that proscribes her fate, she and her maid Angèle wander the next few hours through a Paris whose temptations seem more irresistible now that a possible cancer diagnosis has foreclosed her life. Popular film writing has often mentioned Agnès Varda’s 1962 film as an essential component of the French New Wave yet it hasn’t been embraced like Breathless, The Four Hundred Blows, and Les Cousins. Varda’s death last spring, I trust, has kicked off interest in a filmography of attention to gesture and curiosity about people, which in turn subverts the pace and form of conventional narrative structure; she used the jump cut as eloquently as Jean-Luc Godard (who has a cameo in the film within a film shot by an acquaintance of Cleo’s). Dividing Cléo from 5 to 7 into chapters gives the ninety-minute film its fable-like urgency. “Varda didn’t transform her men and women into people worth studying; her approach insisted that men and women as they are were all worth studying,” I wrote in my March obituary. Continue reading

‘Peterloo’ a radical call for change on a grand scale

And each dweller, panic-stricken,
Felt his heart with terror sicken
Hearing the tempestuous cry
Of the triumph of Anarchy.

For with pomp to meet him came,
Clothed in arms like blood and flame,
The hired murderers, who did sing
`Thou art God, and Law, and King.

We have waited, weak and lone
For thy coming, Mighty One!
Our purses are empty, our swords are cold,
Give us glory, and blood, and gold.’–Percy Bysshe Shelley

English majors lucky enough to have been assigned Shelley beyond “To a Skylark” and “Ode to the West Wind” will recognize “The Mask of Anarchy,” in which ninety-one quatrains advance an allegory condemning one of the worst massacres on British soil. Although a triumph for the British monarchy, the costly wars against Napoleon in Europe had drained the coffers. The passage of the Corn Laws stirred a hungry populace in a manner that spooked landed gentry and His Majesty’s Government to its core. Suffusing every gesture was a fear of a reprise of the French Revolution, of which the Napoleonic Wars were its terrifying apotheosis. Continue reading

‘Midsommar’ wants to be more than a horror film

Midsommar opens with a shot of a suburban street whose tranquility is ruined by a ringing phone — the loudest ringing phone I’ve heard in movies all year; the news on the other end isn’t good. The film ends with a close-up of Dani Ardor (Florence Pugh), freshly crowned the May Queen of Hårga, smiling triumphantly as she and her fellow commune-nists watch purgative fires consume a temple. If Ari Aster’s followup to Hereditary is “about” anything, it’s how a young woman replaces her community with a new one. Continue reading

‘The Fall of the American Empire’ a dud as thriller and commentary

Primed to expect another part of a trilogy that included The Decline of the American Empire (1986) and The Barbarian Invasions (2003), I got about a third into The Fall of the American Empire and wondered if I wasn’t watching a thriller — one of those anonymous ones starring Ashley Judd or something that used to regularly top the box office charts. But québécois writer-director Denys Arcand has other plans. The Fall of the American Empire also purports to offer commentary on The Way Things Are — sideways, though, not in the form of the prodigious and often grueling talkfests of Arcand’s previous films. By the time –at more than two hours a long time — The Fall of the American Empire has ended, it has failed as a thriller and failed as commentary. Maybe we’re supposed to cut it slack because one of its characters quotes Marcus Aurelius. Continue reading