History of Film: The Apartment

by Tomris Laffly

“Your home is your domain” the saying goes, a simple enough concept I’ve been pondering quite a bit lately, going through a transitional and rather plainly “domainless” phase that will entail living in a temporary arrangement. I suspect anyone who has dealt with similar ordeals in this callous city could boil living in New York City –or living anywhere– down to one sorry narrative (that a standard lease would also dryly include): one presumably has the right of “peaceful and quiet enjoyment” of one’s domain, if nothing else. Thus, revisiting Billy Wilder’s much celebrated, luminous romantic comedy The Apartment recently, I was admittedly captured less by the romantic or comedic aspects of the beloved classic, but caught more with a profound, nostalgic sense of empathy towards its sleazy, soft-spoken and at first glance disgraceful protagonist C. C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon) who had not been bestowed with such a basic entitlement despite holding the keys to a cozy (“nothing fancy,” he calls it) Upper West Side 1-bedroom.

And that is the irony of it all. C. C. Baxter creates his own problems and isn’t unavoidably robbed out of such a right. It is the parties and “honky tonky” (in his landlord’s words) taking over Baxter’s apartment daily that prevents him from reclaiming the warmth and security a home is supposed to shelter an individual within.

Click here to read the rest of Tomris’s piece, part of our Top 10 Films of the 1960s.

REVIEW: Love and Down’s Syndrome Battle in Yo también

by Jesse Knight

Traditional love is an unattainable commodity for certain types of people. It’s a frustrating fact to grapple with, and an even tougher one to accept. Such is the journey of Daniel (Pablo Pineda), a recent grad student who on his first day of employment is bowled over – figuratively and almost literally – by bleach-blonde force of nature Laura (Lola Dueñas). Laura reacts toward Daniel with uncertainty and condescension, the way most outsiders do. Daniel has Down’s syndrome, and it doesn’t take long before the intoxicated smiles he sends her way from across the office cement a path to unrequited love.

A friendship blossoms quickly, and Daniel only becomes more enamored. One might see Laura as leading him on, but Daniel reveals himself to be self-aware about his condition and societal status. “How are you like this?” she asks at one point, referring to his sharp intelligence. The fact that Daniel is better-educated and more self-assured than many of his peers does him no favors when trying to reign in that most untamable emotion of desire.

Grade: B+

Click here to read the rest of Jesse’s review.

History of Film: Playtime

by Andy Crump

It happens to all of us: urban befuddlement. Perhaps you’ve had the pleasure of jaunting around a city that wasn’t your own, lost as a nun on a honeymoon and overwhelmed by your dislocation. Maybe you’ve gone out for a job interview and wound up wandering around a building that, despite being clearly large on the outside, feels infinitely more cavernous on the inside. And everyone has, at one point or another in their lives, been made to confront the distinct possibility that time and modernity have passed them by (particularly now, in the age where Facebook is slowly fossilizing into a hoary relic of a bygone era).

You’re not alone: French filmmaker Jacques Tati knows these sensations all too well. In point of fact, he dedicated an entire sprawling, ambitious, melancholy, and thoroughly delightful movie toward exploring them. Playtime, despite its incredible pedigree and rate of recommendation, is, perhaps, a minor entry in 1960s international cinema, and yet it’s also one of the era’s great films, not to mention Tati’s most accomplished work. It’s art that manages to distill the experience of isolation into two hours and change of running time, yet never feel stuffy, heavy, or even the least bit highfalutin’.

Click here to read the rest of Andy’s piece, part of History of Film’s Top 10 Movies of the 1960s.

REVIEW: Hercules Better Than Its Drab Marketing Would Lead You To Believe

by Dan Schindel

We still haven’t gotten the Hercules film we fully deserve, but this version is entertaining enough. It’s far more intentionally funny than its trailers let on, for one thing. Overall, the bait-and-switch the marketing campaign has pulled, promising a grim movie full of monster-fighting but delivering a fun movie that’s all about swords and sandals combat, worked out for the better.

Grade: C-

Click here to read the rest of Dan’s review.

8 Great Modern Films in Black & White

by Jake Pitre

Films have been in color, in one way or another, since nearly the beginning of the medium. From meticulously hand-painted prints like in the films of Georges Méliès to additive color systems like Kinemacolor in the early 1900s, black and white has never been enough for filmmakers. Curiously, however, a significant number of films continue to be made in black and white — and not just low-budget or amateur ones, either. Some filmmakers use it for effect, an aesthetic choice that reflects a theme, or perhaps simply creates a certain mood or atmosphere. Whatever the reason, it’s a surefire way to make your movie stand out amid all the vivid color. Here are 8 modern black and white films (which I have arbitrarily decided to mean post-2000) that are made richer for it.

Click here for Jake’s full list.

REVIEW: Very Good Girls is a Delicate, Heartfelt Coming-of-age Tale

by Anna Tatarska

If you’ve never been a 19-year old girl, to paraphrase The Virgin Suicides, you might not get the gravity of Lilly’s (Dakota Fanning) and Gerri’s (Elizabeth Olsen) dilemmas in Very Good Girls. But the path these girls are following during their last summer before college are familiar in their then-seriousness and unfledged complexity. Both sexually inexperienced, the inseparable besties have promised each other to finally get over their virginity before separating for school. One day, while strolling on the boardwalk after some oh-so-crazy skinny-dipping, the duo meets a guy (Boyd Holbrook) and they both fall for him, each in their own way. The seemingly more confident, attractive, and bohemian Gerri dares to go for it, but it’s the more conservative and shy Lilly, without her friend knowing, who actually catches David’s eye. The yet unspoken conflict thickens, as David’s importance steadily grows and Lilly’s heart goes cuckoo; confused and unsure, she’s unable to reveal her true feelings to a friend. Simultaneously, the girls’ family lives keeps on stumbling upon steadily growing crises, their father figures being brutally deconstructed. Lilly’s good-hearted but utterly immature lack of assertiveness will either cement their relationship, or break it forever.

Cleanly, softly shot, Very Good Girls is a delicate and heartfelt story of a friendship on the eve of its maturity test, told in a nuanced, balanced way. Quite sensual and purposefully light, it avoids the trap of a shallow stupid comedy about the first time that it could have easily become. Devoid of dry penis jokes and alcohol/drug experiments, Very Good Girls is simple, but not trivial. Yes, it does shove the male perspective aside, shaping its male characters rather as props than actual human beings. But it truly succeeds in portraying what financially privileged, intellectually promising girls still with YOLO in their heads go through while taking their first steps to, one day, become women who know what love and sex might be, but first and foremost, who understand that a true mature female friendship is worth more than any of those.

Grade: B

Click here to read the rest of Anna’s review.

REVIEW: In Lucy, ScarJo Access 100% of Her Awesomeness

by Andy Crump

And now for something completely different: Luc Besson presents Cosmos. Wet blankets across the Internet will invariably find a reason to fault Lucy, Besson’s latest, for leaning on urban legends and pseudo-science as the make-up of its basic conceit. If Neil DeGrasse Tyson found fault in Gravity‘s verisimilitude, then Lucy is liable to give him a fatal aneurysm; the film goes all in on the misconception that humans can only make use of 10% of  their brains’ full neural capacity, supposing that a person (the titular Lucy) with access to ever-increasing percentages of their brain power might become a superhero, or a god, or, at the very least, Sheldon Cooper.

What Lucy patently does not do is attempt to pass itself off as smart. In point of fact, it’s willfully stupid, ratcheting up its levels of ridiculousness with an anarchic mixture of defiance and glee; it’s easy to imagine Besson, who dropped out of school to pursue a career in filmmaking, cackling on the other side of the camera at the rampant parade of idiocy he marshals in scene after scene. Rather than bring Lucy down, though, the intentionally dopey bent invigorates it. The smarter Lucy becomes, the dumber the film becomes, and the dumber the film becomes, the more entrancing it is.

Grade: B+

Click here to read the rest of Andy’s review.

REVIEW: Happy Christmas is an Enjoyable Mumblecore Entry

by Daniel Schindel

Am I supposed to have an opinion on mumblecore? Because I honestly don’t. And I feel like any review of a Joe Swanberg film is supposed to be prefaced with some expounding on how the writer feels about mumblecore, as it’s a style that draws reactions in a very binary, love-it-or-hate-it range. Thus, one must make clear what stance they take on the film in question in relation to all those “other” mumblecores. “I usually don’t like it, but this one is different!” “I liked it, but it should be noted that I don’t mind mumblecore.” And so on and so forth. I have liked some mumblecore movies, and I have disliked others. I’m distrustful of anyone who dismisses whole aesthetics out of hand. All of this is a long roundabout to saying that I enjoyed Happy Christmas quite a bit, but I can’t help you if you harbor any distrust of mumblecore.

Grade: B-

Click here to read the rest of Dan’s review.

INTERVIEW: Michael Pitt and Mike Cahill on I Origins and New Sincerity

by Jake Mulligan

I Origins is divisive. Even the statistics bear that out: go to the (admittedly specious) Rotten Tomatoes website, and you’ll find that exactly 50 percent of critics have given it positive marks – battle lines are being drawn around it as we speak. You can count me in the pro-Cahill camp, but identifying which uniform I’m wearing isn’t our focus today. What I’m interested in is hearing director Mike Cahill and star Michael Pitt respond to the idea that their work is egregiously self-serious.

First, let’s pour some context into the suggestion that negative reviews for the film have been particularly aggressive. Our own Tomris Laffly volunteered that it “will give you many reasons to hate its guts (hipster scientists, anyone?).” Grantland’s Wesley Morris wrote, in his own mixed piece, that the film “skates on a rigorously pretentious lake of pseudo-science.” The Village Voice’s Calum Marsh grouped it alongside other “Serious Intellectual Films” (like Donnie Darko) and suggested you’ll like it if “you are a serious person who only has time for serious films.” A.O. Scott, in the Timesmay have landed the curtest strike. “It may blow your mind,” he wrote, “but only if you’re not in the habit of using it.”

What say the filmmakers to this kind of charge? While interviewing Cahill and Pitt for another outlet, I found myself broaching the subject. And while I stopped short of quoting the aforementioned reviews to them (for one thing, they don’t represent my opinion on the film, and for another, it was way too early in the morning to ask people to respond to negative reviews), I did ask them to discuss the danger of lapsing into “strained seriousness” in I Origins. Their response – and thus, in an indirect sense, their counterpoint to these criticisms - led us through a discussion that spanned from Blade Runner to “post-postmodernism” and David Foster Wallace. That counterpoint, copied below, show us two men who are well aware that they’re fostering hostile responses from some, and who seemingly plan to continue doing so, unfazed.

Click here to read Jake’s full interview with the star and director of the divisive sci-fi film

REVIEW: A Most Wanted Man is a Precise and Moody Curtain Call for Phillip Seymour Hoffman

by Daniel Schindel

The bulk of the planning for the September 11th attacks did not take place in an Afghan manse or a Saudi backroom — it happened in an apartment in Hamburg, Germany. Contrary to what the public may think, terrorism is not Middle Eastern, not even Islamic terrorism; like everything else in the 21st century, it is globalized. The international movements of dissidents, fundamentalists, and criminals, as well as the social, political, and economic forces that influence them, all intersect at major ports like Hamburg. At the beginning of A Most Wanted Man, a title card informs the audience of how the city remains a hotbed of anti-terrorism attention more than a decade after 9/11.

Stumbling onto this stage is Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin), a Chechen-Russian and recent convert to Islam who’s hoping to escape the persecution and torture he endured in both of his home countries. He immediately draws the attention of multiple intelligence agencies, including a black ops group headed by Günter Bachmann (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Günter is particularly drawn to how Issa stands to inherit millions in Mafia money, and thus believes him to be the perfect bait with which to catch prominent philanthropist Faisal Abdullah (Homayoun Ershadi), whom he suspects of financing terrorism. But Günter, a cautious, patient, big-picture-thinker, is at constant odds with his superiors and his American colleagues, who want to bring Issa in as soon as possible. Caught in the middle of this clandestine push-pull are Issa’s lawyer, Annabel Richter (Rachel McAdams), who wants to help him inherit his money and legally settle in Germany, and Tommy Brue (Willem Dafoe), the head of the bank that holds the inheritance.

A Most Wanted Man is the latest adaptation of a book by John le Carré, who remains one of the most sociopolitically perspicacious writers of fiction 50 years into his career. Like much of his work, the story blends elements of fact (drawing on the case of Murat Kurnaz), fiction, and his personal experience in the espionage business (le Carré was a SIS agent and British consul in Hamburg at one point) in the service of a devastatingly on-point message about the failings of the institutions that are supposed to safeguard us.

Grade: B+

Click here to read the rest of Dan’s review.

Beyond Blaxploitation: Other Voices, Other Faces

by Adam W. Hofbauer

In August, 1965, the Los Angeles neighborhoods of Watts and Compton caught fire.  After years of racial tension, segregated housing and police brutality, the largely African American community had rioted. Surviving footage shows flames, rubble, devastation.  But there are no faces.  The only people visible are the National Guard and the police.  A few residents flit by the camera, out of focus and seemingly unimportant.  This is an event of numbers, seen from aerial views, history as determined by dates and statistics.  But twenty-one year old Charles Burnett would have only had to look outside to see the rubble forming, and there would have been faces everywhere.  Over the next decade, the images of Blaxploitation filled in the gap left by those absent Watt’s faces and left little room around its edges for anything otherwise.  But Burnett was about to become a filmmaker himself.  And his future contemporaries would soon converge at UCLA, hungry to speak the truths of absent faces.

Click here to read the rest of Adam’s piece on blaxploitation

REVIEW: Magic in the Moonlight is an Unabashedly Optimistic and Romantic Entry in Woody Allen’s Career

by Jesse Knight

What a period of refinement this is for Woody Allen. With last year’s Blue Jasmine, 2011’s Midnight in Paris, and now Magic in the Moonlight, the storied writer-director has ushered in his most confident work in years, maybe decades, as he maintains his one-film-a-year output. His notorious reclusiveness means that any shared touchstone with the outside world is likely coincidental, which only makes it all the more impressive when it does sync up. His 2012 entry, the bizarre and embarrassing To Rome With Love, was evidence that he’s not immune to the failure to connect, (some comfort is to be taken in looking at that hodgepodge of interconnecting stories as a dumping ground of afterthoughts and an opportunity to sojourn in The Eternal City) but otherwise, Woody Allen’s title card is currently synonymous with timely event viewing.

This is strange to consider since he’s mostly telling stories from the past. His heartfelt fascination with The Jazz Age continues to palpitate in Magic in the Moonlight, a deceptively trivial time-passer with a whole lot more meat on its bones than at first sight. Like Midnight in Paris, for which Allen won the Best Original Screenplay Oscar, the simple joys derived from the inherent whimsy of its premise are accentuated by grander themes, which take an indescribable human experience and whittle it down to plainest terms. In Midnight in Paris, it was the devastating realization that nostalgia is a sham; in Magic in the Moonlight, it’s something different, something more hopeful, but a message that fosters no less of a reeling impact.

Grade: A

Click here to read the rest of Jesse’s very positive review.

OUTFEST 2014 Round-Up: Tom at the FarmThe Foxy MerkinsSalvation Army, and more

by Dan Schindel

The 2014 iteration of Outfest, Los Angeles’ premier LGBTQIAetc film festival, has now come and gone. For 10 days, West Hollywood was abuzz with new movies that explore all manner of non-heteronormative characters, topics, and ideas. Here are capsule reviews of the feature films we caught at the fest:

Click here to read Dan’s entire dispatch from Outfest 2014

The Claire Denis Retrospective

by Matt Hughes

Claire Denis is a woman of few words, so I shall use that as an excuse to introduce this retrospective briefly. Though I have seen all of Denis’ features now, it feels to me that we barely know each other, that the more we learn, the more we know we do not know of each other, that if we were to see each other at a bar I would not say hello for fear of sounding a fool. She is the type of person with whom you sit by a campfire, and feel as if you must tell her everything you know, but you know that she already knows it all.

Click here to read Matt Hughes’s full retrospective of the entire filmography of director Claire Denis.

REVIEW: The Purge: Anarchy Thrills While Critiquing the Kills

by Andrew Johnson

“It’s not about catharsis… it’s about money,” a character says at the beginning of The Purge: Anarchy. He might as well be talking about the film itself (and all the inevitable sequels). Last year’s horror offering The Purge was a sleeper hit that ended up making over twenty times its budget at the box-office, so it’s hard not to view Hollywood’s insistence on churning out a follow-up within a year as anything other than a frantic cash-grab. Yet surprisingly, the high concept premise – in the future, America institutes an annual 12-hour period in which all crime is legal – is strong enough to remain thematically resonant. The Purge: Anarchy isn’t just the best mainstream film of the summer; it cements the series’ status as one of the most timely and unfortunately necessary cultural satires of the past few years.

Grade: A-

Click here to read the rest of Andrew’s review.