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October 1, 2015

The idea of dance on film is as old as film itself. More than a century ago, artists experimented with capturing lush, elusive movement using a wonderful new technology: film. 

Born of the artistic collaboration between choreographer and filmmaker, “screendance” pushes dance from the confines of a theater’s stage to video. 

October 1, 2015

The documentary Best of Enemies explores the significance of a series of debates between Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley Jr. held during both the Republican and Democratic conventions in 1968. The intellectual titans of both the new left and the new right square off in a scheme meant to boost ratings and cut the costs of convention coverage by the perennially-broke ABC network. By that metric, the plan was a success.

September 23, 2015


September 17, 2015

Among the several pleasures of writer-director Paul Weitz’s new film Grandma is watching Lily Tomlin drop a petulant teenage slacker to the floor with a hockey stick to the nuts. The aggression is not unfounded: Elle (Tomlin) is simply avenging her newly pregnant granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner), who is trying to collect enough money for her abortion appointment, and her baby daddy (Nat Wolff) won’t cough up his share.

September 10, 2015

Noah Baumbach has been making delightful movies about white twentysomething angst for, well, 20 years. He aged up a little bit with this spring’s While We’re Young, which lovingly skewered both its fortysomething leads and the twentysomething “artists” they befriended. The director got a little sweeter with 2012’s Frances Ha, the first movie in which Greta Gerwig served as his star, co-writer and muse.

Mistress America, which Gerwig also co-wrote, is somewhere in the middle. 

September 3, 2015

As Minnie, the boldly curious and sexually precocious 15-year-old girl who inaugurates an affair with her mother’s roustabout boyfriend in Diary of a Teenage Girl, Bel Powley is a revelation. With her saucer eyes popping beneath dowdy bangs, Powley perfectly registers the outsized emotions of a teen exploring the sticky chaos of adulthood; Minnie is all snap judgments, lightning revelations, puppy love, daily heartbreak. It’s the performance of the year so far.

August 27, 2015

Now that Armageddon is actually breathing down our necks, it’s sort of cute to look back at all our quaint, fancy ideas about how the end might pan out — especially in movies, where post-apocalyptic scenarios are less a warning than an enticement to some grand new adventure where hunky good guys in steampunk rags wage war against evil fuckers in spiked hockey masks for the last drop of water, gas, food, etc.

August 20, 2015

There was a time, not all that long ago, when writers could become cultural icons in this society — endangered emissaries who, like canaries in a coal mine, sniff out the poison seeping from the rank spigots of our popular culture. The late, great David Foster Wallace was such an author. Wallace’s prose, a kind of rococo thicket that belied deep veins of compassion and understanding, acted as a funhouse mirror reflecting back our malaise in a discursive, catch-all style that was frustrating, assaultive, revelatory and liberating, often all at once.

August 13, 2015

Set in the less traditionally photogenic streets of Los Angeles — the ones lined not with palm trees and fancy lounges, but with doughnut shops, car washes and dicey motels — Sean Baker’s sun-drenched, scrappy, vibrant Tangerine follows the day-long quest of Sin-Dee Rella (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez). Flat broke and fresh out of prison, Sin-Dee is hell-bent on finding the cisgender white girl that her boyfriend-slash-pimp Chester (James Ransone) has been sleeping with.

August 6, 2015

Anyone who has dealt up close and personal with mental illness will tell you it can be an unmitigated hell — a black hole that devours solutions faster than they can be hatched. Families wrecked by schizophrenia and manic depression discover, all too quickly, that frustrated applications of love and discipline and pills and despair tend to come up empty in the face of a condition that, by its very definition, defies all reason.

July 30, 2015

In 1971, Stanford professor Philip Zimbardo planned a two-week project that had such incredible results we’re still talking about it more than 40 years later. On the surface, Zimbardo’s idea was simple: Put college students into a simulated prison environment — some serving as prisoners, some as guards — and observe the psychological effects.

July 23, 2015

The documentary Cartel Land is about the Mexican drug trade in the same way Moby Dick is about a fish — nominally, symbolically, as a single point of contact in a tale so monstrously bloated with violence, corruption and thwarted desire that it baffles comprehension at every turn. Just when you think you have a bead on this film, it wriggles free of easy assessment, turning morality inside-out to such an extent that life itself becomes a blur of guilt and complicity, every hand bloody.

July 9, 2015

Asif Kapadia’s new documentary, Amy, does what nothing else could when Amy Winehouse was here, and so famous  — not the Rolling Stone interviews, the profiles, the photos, and definitely not the tabloids, the gossip, the cruel jokes. It turns Winehouse back into a person, letting her history speak for itself while quietly painting a damning picture of celebrity culture, particularly when that culture turns its gaze on young women.

July 2, 2015

People are neurotic, kids ruin your sex life and Los Angeles is a weird place to live. These are the basic truths at the center of The Overnight, a deliciously, painfully uncomfortable comedy about two couples who are just trying to make new friends in the big city.

June 25, 2015

The subject matter of Crystal Moselle’s new documentary The Wolfpack sounds like the premise for some creepy, postmodern young-adult novel: In Manhattan’s Lower East Side, the seven Angulo siblings — six teenaged brothers and a sister, with names like Govinda, Bhagavan and Krsna — have been raised in almost total confinement, held captive in a subsidized apartment by their paranoid-mystic father and dazed, abused mother.

June 18, 2015

A trillion monkeys typing for all eternity might eventually reproduce the complete works of William Shakespeare, but it wouldn’t take them five minutes to bang out a turd like Jurassic World — a flat hash of a movie that, at every furiously empty gesture, fails to scale even the most vulgar logical requirements of crass entertainment.

Exhibit one: In the middle of a pterodactyl attack, as hundreds of people are getting viciously tossed around and torn apart, two star-crossed lovers stop to share a passionate kiss.

June 11, 2015

As Ex Machina opens, Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), a lanky, awkward coder of some sort, wins a staff prize. He’s whisked off to the middle of nowhere, landing in a glass-and-concrete home-slash-bunker where his company’s founder, Nathan (Oscar Isaac), is out boxing on the deck. Nathan is a man of extremes: shaven head, giant beard, either drinking himself into a stupor or working himself into a sweat. 

June 4, 2015

A fine and fascinating new documentary, Sunshine Superman provides an intimate portrait of the founder of a movement in which participants — perhaps I should say followers — commit protracted suicide in circus-like gestures that are public and grandiose and defiantly illegal. And for these gestures they are widely heralded as free-spirited heroes whose failed attempts to burst the bonds of human limitation are considered tragic evidence of their own greatness.

May 28, 2015

The fashion documentary has become a bona fide film genre. In the past decade alone, filmmakers have spun out more than two dozen docs, from the delicious Vogue insider flick The September Issue to the incredible story of a global fashion editor in Diana Vreeland: The Eye Must Travel and, of course, the quirky life of New York Times street-style photographer in Bill Cunningham New York

May 21, 2015

The apocalypse has come, and it’s the work of men. This shouldn’t really come as a surprise, after three Mad Max movies that saw the world getting progressively darker (even as the third movie went to a strangely playful place that felt more Goonies than Road Warrior).

It’s unclear when, exactly, Fury Road takes place in the Mad Max timeline, but it doesn’t matter. The world is in ruins, and Max (Tom Hardy) is (still) just trying to survive in what’s left of it.  

May 14, 2015

Film has a long and fairly distinguished history of satirizing the insidious allure of televised celebrity — Being There, King of Comedy and To Die For come immediately to mind — and yet few films to date have captured the way our newly acquired addiction to selfies and social media is elevating narcissism to a collective pathology.

May 7, 2015

Even if Joss Whedon hadn’t already been telling the press that he’s (probably) done directing Avengers films, it would’ve been clear to Whedon fans that Avengers: Age of Ultron is his finale. There’s the iconic tracking shot that opens the film, nodding to each of our superheroes as it checks in with them amid a snowy forest fight. And there’s the Hellmouth, a gaping hole in the earth where a small town once stood.

April 30, 2015

On May 4, 1970, the Ohio governor called a regiment of the National Guard onto the campus of Kent State University. The troops then opened fire on a crowd of unarmed civilians — mostly students protesters — killing four and injuring nine more, including one man who was paralyzed for life.

It bears repeating: U.S. troops fired 67 rounds into a crowd of U.S. citizens exercising their right to peaceably assemble.

April 30, 2015

Festival season is upon us. No, nix that. In 2015, festival season is always upon us. Seemingly every cultural niche carves out at least four days to celebrate its existence with exorbitant ticket prices, overpriced beer, flower crowns and Honey Buckets. The ever-looping circuit has led to a new phenomenon: festival fatigue. 

Sometimes, it’s just easier and cheaper to stay home.