Author's posts

Elephant

“Elephant,” about an elephant herd crisscrossing the African veldt in search of water, is a variation on the same nature documentary that has been the Walt Disney Corporation’s default since the 1960s, when the company aired similar tales on its weekly omnibus program “The Wonderful World of Disney.”  These episodes were built from attentive photography of animals in their …

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Human Capital

“Human Capital” is so exquisitely cast, down to the smallest role, that it puts viewers in the unusual position of wishing a film were a TV series or a much longer movie, the better to take advantage of its best assets. Written by Oren Moverman (“The Messenger,” “Ramparts”), directed by Marc Meyers (“My Friend Dahmer”), and …

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Phoenix, Oregon

“Phoenix, Oregon,” about a depressed middle-aged man who gets his groove back by helping revive a small-town bowling alley, feels like a relic from the pre-Internet, video store era, when putting enough recognizable faces on a VHS box could get a indie movie funded and seen. It’s hard to dislike, thanks to its sharp cast, …

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A Hidden Life

Terrence Malick’s “A Hidden Life,” the true story of a World War II conscientious objector, is one of his finest films, and one of his most demanding. It clocks in at nearly three hours, moves in a measured way (you could call the pacing “a stroll”), and requires a level of concentration and openness to …

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Midnight Family

The night comes alive in “Midnight Family,” Luke Lorentzen’s film about a private ambulance service in Mexico City. This is one of the great contemporary films about the look and feel of a big city after dark, luxuriating in the vastness of almost-empty avenues lit by buzzing streetlamps. It’s a real-life answer to fiction movies like “Taxi Driver,” “Bringing …

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A Million Little Pieces

I must’ve blocked the real-life details of writer James Frey’s professional scandal out of my mind, because it wasn’t until a half-hour into the movie version of his drug rehab book “A Million Little Pieces” that I started to question why, if this story was true, it felt fake.  To be more precise, the movie’s story felt too familiar in …

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63 Up

For 55 years, Michael Apted’s “Up” series has been producing documentary features about the lives of 14 regular people, joining James Bond as one of world cinema’s few constants. The latest installment—and according to Apted, probably the last—is a melancholy reminder that nothing lasts forever, certainly not a series that tracks specific lives over the decades. …

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Varda by Agnès

The history of art is filled with late pleasures that coincidentally seem to comment on the death of the artist who made it. But once in a while you encounter a piece that seems like a premeditated farewell—a conscious summing-up of the life and work—whether or not it was intended that way. “Varda by Agnès,” a combination …

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Dark Waters

“Dark Waters,” starring Mark Ruffalo as an attorney trying to punish the DuPont chemical corporation for dumping toxic waste in West Virginia, is a lone-crusader-against-the-corrupt-system film, in the tradition of  “The Insider,” “A Civil Action,” and “The Verdict.” Director Todd Haynes (“Carol,” “Mildred Pierce”) embraces that lineage, giving viewers the sense of what a long, tedious, spiritually draining process this can …

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Mickey and the Bear

“Mickey and the Bear,” about a young woman and her Iraq war veteran father living in Anaconda, Montana, is an almost perfectly realized drama that feels as if it was time-warped in from forty or fifty years ago, when people still wanted to see movies about people living in the actual world. It’s getting a limited release and probably won’t …

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Klaus

The goofy and charming “Klaus” probably plays better if you don’t know going in that it’s a Santa Claus origin story. That’s almost inconceivable considering the tip-off title, the trailers, and, well, everything else about the project, but you take your pleasures where you can. Jason Schwartzman provides the voice of the hero, Jesper, the spoiled descendant …

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The Best Films of the 2010s: The Tree of Life

This feature is a part of a series on the best films of the 2010s, resulting from our ranked top 25, which you can read here. This is #1.  Cinema history is filled with movies that try to combine the mundane and the cosmic, but few do it with as much sincerity and showmanship as “The …

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Motherless Brooklyn

The most surprising thing about director-writer-star Edward Norton’s “Motherless Brooklyn” is how drastically it departs from its source. Jonathan Lethem’s National Book award-winning novel focused on a Lionel Essrog (Norton), a detective with Tourette’s Syndrome posing as a reporter to investigate the murder of his boss and surrogate father (Bruce Willis’ Frank Minna), who plucked him …

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The Kill Team

“The Kill Team,” writer-director Daniel Krauss’ dramatization of actual wartime atrocities by U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, is lean, sincere, impassioned filmmaking, yet it fails to leave as much of an impression as it clearly wants to.  Part of the problem is that the movie, while focusing on unique events, takes a form that’s too reminiscent (sometimes knowingly so) of other American movies …

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Smile When You Say That: Joker’s Last Laugh

As of this writing, Todd Phillips’ “Joker” has earned nearly $1 billion globally, making it one of the most successful comic book movies ever released. But the discourse surrounding it will outlive this moment. No comic book-derived film since “Black Panther ” has sparked more commentary, although the discussion surrounding this one has been more oppositional …

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Maleficent: Mistress of Evil

Angelina Jolie is one of the last movie stars, although in recent years, Hollywood has seemed mostly unable to fashion projects that would demonstrate why. Her work as Maleficent, the bad queen from Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty,” is a reminder of how electrifying and fun she can be.  Jolie first played the part in 2014’s “Maleficent,” a live-action …

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The Gift: The Journey of Johnny Cash

So many documentaries follow rigid and predictable playbook that when you see one that’s trying to do something different, you cheer for it to succeed and feel sad when it doesn’t quite get there. The YouTube documentary “The Gift: The Journey of Johnny Cash” is that kind of documentary. The filmmaker is Thom Zimny, a longtime editor who cut …

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"The Bed Thing": A Short Film by MZS

The short film you’re about to watch was more than ten years in the making. I directed, edited and cowrote it. It’s the story of two friends who lean on each other during a difficult period of their lives. It’s also the story of what happens when life gets in the way of art, and also how …

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Memory: The Origins of Alien

“Memory: The Origin of Alien” is one of the best documentaries about a single film that I’ve seen. It is reductive to call it a “making-of” documentary, because the phrase conjures images of the weakest of those supplements that used to appear on DVDs—the ones where filmmakers and actors sat in chairs in front of a poster …

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The Irishman

Robert DeNiro excels at playing closed-off, unreachable characters—hard men who might seem a bit dull if you met them for the first time, but have complicated inner lives that they rarely let anyone see, and who are mysteries to themselves. DeNiro was 75 when he played yet another of those characters in Martin Scorsese’s “The …

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