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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. 

April 23, 2015

If 2013’s Frances Ha seemed a little nicer than writer-director Noah Baumbach’s usual fare — fewer pointed observations, more gentleness toward his characters, no matter how self-deluded — While We’re Young is a trip back to slightly rougher territory (though not quite as rough as Greenberg). Sly and self-aware, Baumbach is a deeply fair storyteller, giving his characters room to hang themselves and room to get their shit together all at once. 

April 16, 2015

In his groundbreaking 1978 book Orientalism, the late critic Edward Said went after the West’s misconceptions about the exotic and inscrutable otherness of Asian cultures, often so lavishly and fantastically portrayed in colonial writing. “From the beginning of Western speculation about the Orient,” Said wrote, “the one thing the Orient could not do was represent itself.”

April 9, 2015

It’s not often that one gets to enjoy — honestly enjoy — the seventh movie in a series, but Furious 7 is one of those times.

April 2, 2015

Kumiko is as wide-eyed and offbeat a beautiful loner as there ever was. 

Strip away the playful tenderness and uplifting score of the French film Amélie, and it has much in common with Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter, the latest work by American actor and director David Zellner, known for his indie flicks Goliath and Kid-Thing.

March 26, 2015

In his groundbreaking 1996 movie Scream, director Wes Craven — with help from Kevin Williamson’s cheeky postmodern screenplay — peeled back the mask on modern horror, revealing a set of previously unspoken rules governing the mayhem in teen slasher flicks. Among those rules to avoiding murder (“Don’t do drugs!”), perhaps the most resonant for a generation living under the specter of AIDS was this: No premarital hanky-panky. In other words, when it comes to surviving a horror movie, always remember that sex equals death.

March 19, 2015

Still Alice wastes absolutely no time. Based on the novel by Lisa Genova, the movie gives you its purpose in the title; it’s an empathetic, compassionate movie about a woman desperate to remain herself, to be the person she’s created, in the face of early onset Alzheimer’s. 

March 12, 2015

Vampires: They’re just like us! They have terrible housemates who don’t do the dishes. They worry about looking good when they go out at night, even if the clubs they’re going to are dead and boring. They get twitchy when the cops come by. And they hate it when their roommates bring home uncool new friends.