Junun (2015)

Junun / Paul Thomas Anderson / 2015 / fourstar

Active Ingredients: Music; Focus on the rhythms of travel
Side Effects: Unfocused camerawork

[Junun is available to stream exclusively on mubi until November 9th.]

I’ve begun to notice an unabashed strain of humanism in Paul Thomas Anderson’s recent output, an emotional underpinning to the director’s technical virtuosity that has made his work sing in new and exciting ways. Beginning with the warm, empathetic and open-hearted coda of The Master and continuing through the aching and tender nostalgia of Inherent Vice, this breath of benevolence in PTA’s most mature films finds its purest expression in the positively lovely Junun.

A sprightly, off-the-cuff jaunt of a documentary, the 50-minute Junun depicts the recording of a unique musical collaboration between Radiohead guitarist and frequent Anderson composer Jonny Greenwood, Israeli musician Shye Ben Tzur and an Indian qawalli collective playing percussive devotional music. Recorded at a beautiful fort in Jodhpur, the music is fiery, passionate and intoxicating; Anderson’s companion-piece is both punchy and laconic, a cinematic travelogue capturing the spirit of communion and dialogue that pervades the music. Read more…

Sicario (2015)

Sicario / Denis Villeneuve / 2015 / threestar

Active Ingredients: Cinematography; Tension; Ensemble cast
Side Effects: Lurching rhythm; Moralistic third act

Sicario is a tense thriller of murky borders, both geographical and moral. As young female tactical operative Kate (Emily Blunt) gets brought into the very masculine world of Mexican drug cartels and the nebulous network of agencies that fight them, the motives and allegiances of all parties quickly become clouded. Read more…

A Trio of Recent Releases

Some quick thoughts on three new releases now in theaters: the crime drama Black Mass, starring Johnny Depp as Boston mobster “Whitey” Bulger; the 3D disaster film Everest; and the provocative post-WWII drama Phoenix.

Black Mass / Scott Cooper / 2015 / onestar

Black Mass is an aggressively mediocre and middlebrow film, unconvincing and utterly inert. Through three features, director Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart, Out of the Furnace) hasn’t demonstrated much of a personal style, but where Out of the Furnace at least exhibited competent dramatic staging and a tidy understanding of character, Black Mass is completely leaden and tone-deaf. Read more…

Cop Car (2015)

Cop Car / Jon Watts / 2015 / threestar

Active Ingredients: Kevin Bacon; Tonal balance; Structural precision
Side Effects: Lack of dynamic variation; Slight, insubstantial feel

[Cop Car will be released on DVD and Blu-ray on September 29th.]

A satisfying and successful independent genre film, Cop Car moves with precision and focus.

Wandering through the woods outside a rural southern town, two young boys stumble upon the titular vehicle. Hesitant at first, they approach and become incrementally more entangled in a dangerous game of cat and mouse. The car belongs to a dirty local sheriff (Kevin Bacon) who, unbeknownst to the boys, was burying a body nearby when they decided to take it on a joyride. Desperate to retrieve his car and cover his tracks, the sheriff sets off to intercept the kids with a frightening zeal. Read more…

The Rules of the Game (1939)

The Rules of the Game / Jean Renoir / 1939 / fivestar

Active Ingredients: Sharp satire and warm spirit; deep-focus cinematography
Side Effects: Imbalance of comedic skill among cast

Jean Renoir’s enduring classic, a comedy of manners with both a sharp satirical bite and a gracious spirit, almost never became the masterpiece it is today. Like so many other great films, The Rules of the Game was misunderstood upon its initial release, cut to ribbons to appease contemporary tastes, and promptly abandoned and forgotten. It was reconstructed in 1959, and over the decades new audiences have appraised it with fresh eyes. Although perhaps the French public didn’t misunderstand the film at all back in 1939; perhaps they simply despised it for what they rightly perceived as a pointed indictment of the haughtiness, hypocrisy and tragic solipsism of the bourgeoisie, perilously retreating into their wealth as a great menace spreads across Europe. Read more…

Queen of Earth (2015)

Queen of Earth / Alex Ross Perry / 2015 / fourstar

Active Ingredients: Unique textures and style; Nervy lead performances; Editing
Side Effects: Occasional heavy-handedness and histrionics

[Queen of Earth is open now in limited release, and is also available on streaming platforms.]

A genuinely fresh and bracing film, Queen of Earth further heralds the arrival of an important voice in American cinema. Alex Ross Perry’s follow-up to last year’s hilarious and bitter intellectual comedy Listen Up Philip is ostensibly about depression, or perhaps a destructive friendship, but it’s much more potent as a barbed psychological examination of how people struggle to define themselves vis-a-vis each other. Read more…

Quick Takes – Aug. 18, 2015

Some quick thoughts on what I’ve been watching lately, including noteworthy films from 2015 and titles newly available to stream now.

Burying the Ex / Joe Dante / 2015 / onestar

There’s a certain joviality and appealing looseness even to Dante’s worst films, among which this zombie horror comedy certainly belongs. Maybe the old-fashioned tone he favors (wholesome towns and aw-shucks, unironic male leads) only works with child actors, or else feels especially strained coming from modern actors. For example, Dante showed his enduring skill and relevance with the excellent kid-lead The Hole, but Burying the Ex feels cheap and hollow by comparison. Alexandra Daddario as a quirky new crush perhaps understands Dante’s approach, but Anton Yelchin is lost in the earnestness of his beleaguered lead, an earnestness which also applies to the film as a whole.
Read more…


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