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November 22, 2017

In Lady Bird, her directorial debut, Greta Gerwig looks at familiar moments of teen dramedy — parental spats, ill-chosen crushes, disagreements with friends, a chafing disregard for the place you grew up — with an eye for what they actually feel like.

November 16, 2017

Take just about any film — Casablanca perhaps, or Fast Times at Ridgemont High — utterly drain it of emotion and affect, and you’d end up with something that feels a lot like a film by Yorgos Lanthimos.

In no way is this meant to diminish Lanthimos’ obvious brilliance; in fact, it redounds to his credit that, as with heavies like Kubrick and Lang, the mannered formalism of his style is becoming so identifiable, so chillingly familiar. You could parody the hell out of Lanthimos.

November 9, 2017

In the lineup of Marvel movies, Thor: Ragnarok deserves a lot of superlatives. Best, funniest, most comic-booky; prettiest, smartest, most sincere.

In the same movie, we get the gold-lamé clad Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum), who could’ve stepped out of an old comic book, and the breathtaking, painterly image of the god of thunder descending on a pile of undead soldiers who look like ambulatory old pennies, their armor a moldy green. 

November 2, 2017

There’s one scene in particular that perfectly captures the generous, heartbreaking humanity animating The Florida Project, director Sean Baker’s tragicomic ode to the tattered residents of a flea-bitten motel in the heart of Florida’s commercialized wasteland of strip malls and amusement parks.

October 26, 2017

“And if you gaze long enough into an abyss,” Nietzsche wrote, “the abyss also gazes into you.”

This, for me, perfectly describes the face of the late, great Hollywood actor Harry Dean Stanton, who died Sept. 15 at the impossible age of 91. A desiccated topography of defiant suffering and hard-bitten acceptance, Stanton’s visage — carved, craggy and truck-stop sad, with a twinkle of devious mirth — speaks to something at once glorious and damned about the human condition itself, and the American character in particular.

October 19, 2017

In Ambrose Bierce’s classic story “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” a plantation owner in the Civil War is hanged from a bridge. Between the time he is pushed off and the moment he hits the bottom of the rope, the prisoner dreams of escape, hallucinating an elaborate story that ends, surprising the reader, when his neck snaps in the noose.

The chilling implication of this story, of course, is that life itself is but the dream of a dying animal, a fantasy concocted before oblivion closes in for good. Egad — perchance to dream, indeed!

October 12, 2017

Will we reach a moment in time when the real world looks more science-fictional than movies? Or does it already?

Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, released in 1982, was set in 2019 — just 15 months from now. They have flying cars and replicants; we have tiny computers that go everywhere with us, digital cameras, drones and a constant connection to people around the world. 

October 5, 2017

This Flatliners remake is truly mystifying. What called for a new version of the 1990 Julia Roberts/Kiefer Sutherland/Kevin Bacon thriller now? (Or ever, for that matter?) If you have wondered whether the remake itself might answer this question, well: It does not.

The new Flatliners updates the very-early-’90s original film with a more-diverse cast and a dollop of awareness about privilege — both good things, but that’s about as far as the good things go.

September 28, 2017

For my money, Lady Macbeth is second only to Iago among Shakespeare’s depictions of pure Machiavellian evil. She is delicious — a monster of insidious intent and malevolent manipulation, fueled to bloody purpose by an ambition that turns obstacles to mincemeat. “Art thou afeard,” she whispers in her husband’s ear, “to be the same in thine own act and valour as thou art in desire?”

Translation: Kill ’em all, and take the throne.

September 21, 2017

It’s been a while since a major studio movie has been as divisive as Darren Aronofsky’s Mother! There is no spectrum of audience appreciation for this film, no middle ground — only high praise or vehement disgust.

And rightfully so. Mother! is not a movie for everyone. 

Although I fall into the former category of people who loved Mother!, it’s not hard to gather an inkling about why people hated the film. 

September 14, 2017

I read Stephen King’s It when it came out in 1986, and even if that’s suddenly a hell of a long time ago, I do recall having a vague and queasy suspicion at the time that perhaps King, the undisputed master of modern horror, had at last jumped the shark — that the novel, despite its significant strengths, tended toward the bloated and formulaic, being regurgitative, cheap in a tawdry way, and somehow indicative of a macabre genius that was finally starting to parody and cannibalize itself.

September 14, 2017

Beach Rats is a lot of things in one film: beautiful, ominous, crushingly sad, tender, lonesome, scary, new and yet too familiar. Its contradictions are many, but central among them is the way it expands cinematic New York by showing us a part of it that feels like a lonely small town. 

August 31, 2017

My favorite moment in writer-director Taylor Sheridan’s new thriller Wind River comes at the very end of the film. Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner), a Fish and Wildlife tracker who’s assisted the FBI in a rape and homicide investigation, comes to visit his friend Martin (Gil Birmingham), the grieving father of the Native American teenager discovered by Lambert at the start of the film lying bloodied and frozen in the snowy Wyoming tundra.

August 24, 2017

The Big Sick is an odd duck. As a romantic comedy, it is neither very romantic nor particularly funny, despite the fact that one of its two main characters, Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani), is a struggling stand-up comic trying to break out of the Chicago club circuit. Aside from a handful of gut-busters, the film’s humor is awkward and a bit ill at ease, as though wanting desperately to pause at every moment to ask, “Was that funny?”

August 17, 2017

About 20 or 30 minutes into writer-director Gillian Robespierre’s new film Landline, I started tearing up, and I continued tearing up intermittently throughout the rest of the movie. Quiet, sniffly, sometimes giggly tears, the kind that leak unexpectedly from the far corner of your eye and that you wipe off with a shirtsleeve pinched between your forefinger and thumb.

August 10, 2017

There is a tendency in Hollywood to profit from Black suffering — think 12 Years a Slave, The Help, Django Unchained. These films are prevalent, but not inherently bad. 

August 3, 2017

I went to see Atomic Blonde twice — in part because, halfway through the first viewing, I realized I wasn’t paying attention to the plot. Not just that: I didn’t really care about the plot. The movie is set in Berlin in November 1989 against the fall of the Berlin Wall. But it’s not telling that story. That story hovers in the background, in a shot of Kurt Loder’s was-he-ever-that-young face on MTV news, in the kids drinking outside doorways, dogs barking at checkpoints. That story of something bigger at stake is present, but not central.

July 27, 2017

A masterpiece can be a hard thing to overcome, especially when it occurs early in an artist’s career.

For my money, director Christopher Nolan’s second film, Memento (2000), is as nearly perfect as any movie released over the past, say, 40 years — a stunning existential thriller that begins exactly where it should end and then runs seamlessly backward from there, until it reaches, like a tail-eating snake, its own insidious genesis, in a moment that feels for all the world like the big bang of original sin itself.

July 20, 2017

Where to begin with The Little Hours, a new comedy written and directed by Jeff Baena and based on Boccaccio’s 1353 masterpiece The Decameron?

July 13, 2017

It’s oddly easy to forget how important Spider-Man is to the current superhero movie bonanza. 2002’s Spider-Man was the first movie with a $100-million opening weekend — a green light for the continuing superhero invasion. There’s a reason Spider-Man is now in his third incarnation: People really like their friendly neighborhood superhero.

July 6, 2017

You know the voice: a burbling purple baritone hung like a bass note plucked by the hand of God, a testosterone lullaby, a heavenly man-purr, canyon-deep in its middle passages and twisted at the bookends by a lispy twang that lops off syllables like a hot knife separating warm dough, altogether an emblem of life, liberty and pastoral beauty, like an echo resounding from the unconquered American West, at once primordial and ruggedly civilized.

June 29, 2017

Are there still interesting stories to be mined from the notion that we all do — or would do — shitty things to survive? Umpteen seasons of The Walking Dead harp on this note; dystopia as a trend is very much interested in what survival is, what it looks like, what it takes. “Survival is insufficient” reads the Star Trek-inspired tattoo in Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven.

There must be more than just surviving.

June 22, 2017

If you found yourself at dinner with Donald Trump, what would you do? Grit your teeth and get through it, not wanting to upset or inconvenience your hosts? Drink until liquid courage prodded you to say something? Fantasize about taking the future of the world into your hands?

When faced with wealthy developer Doug Strutt (John Lithgow), Beatriz (Salma Hayek) does a little of each of the above, but mostly, she considers. A holistic healer, she’s stuck at the blandly giant home of one of her clients, Cathy (Connie Britton), when her old VW breaks down.

June 15, 2017

Too much has already been said about It Comes at Night, a completely insidious and utterly unsettling new horror film that continues to worm its way under my skin, days after viewing it.

So, instead of talking about It Comes at Night, and thereby disarming its power to shock and disturb you, I’d like to speak for a moment about horror films in general, and what they tell us about ourselves.