Inherent Vice (2014)

Inherent Vice / Paul Thomas Anderson / 2014 / fivestarScreen Shot 2014-10-07 at 9.44.13 AM

Active Ingredients: Mix of tones; Exceptional cast; Theme of American identity
Side Effects: Overstuffed; Some jarring narrative transitions

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[Inherent Vice made its world premiere at the New York Film Festival on October 4th. It opens in limited release on December 12th.]

Paul Thomas Anderson’s delirious new acid trip of a film is a hazy descent into a surrealized 1970s L.A. full of drugs, paranoia and combustible cultural tension. It’s absurdist, discursive, elegiac, madcap, laugh-out-loud funny, surprisingly tender—and most importantly—expertly balanced. Anderson is one of our most ambitious and talented filmmakers, and Inherent Vice shows that his skill reaches beyond bold cinematography into an impressive mastery of tone. Read more…

The Rover (2014)

The Rover / David Michôd / 2014 / threestar

Active Ingredients: Central performances; Music
Side Effects: Heavy-handed screenplay; Neutral visual style

Like Michôd’s previous film Animal Kingdom—and perhaps even closer to Killing Them SoftlyThe Rover is a blunt and moralistic fable of the causes and effects of a violent world. Still, it feels sinewy, shifty and more mysterious in tone than those other films, and benefits from this vague ambiance where its heavy plotting and world-building fails. Read more…

The Long Day Closes (1992)

The Long Day Closes / Terence Davies / 1992 / fivestar

Active Ingredients: Evocations of memory and sensations; Music; Editing
Side Effects: Weightiness in tone; Preference against characterization

[The Long Day Closes is now available on a new Criterion Blu-ray.]

The Long Day Closes is like a memory so delicate, if you blow it away the whole film-spell would disappear on the wind. A wispy and expressive sketch of director Terence Davies’ childhood in 1950s Liverpool, the film seeks to evoke fragments and sensations of the past rather than to build a narrative world. Davies imbues the personal details of his youth—his withdrawn personality, the warmth of his family, the solace he finds in the cinema—with such poetry and sensitivity, however, that the film speaks more to the feeling of memory than the realities of any specific life. Read more…

Manakamana (2014)

ManakamanaStephanie Spray & Pacho Velez / 2014 / fourstarAvailable on Netflix Instant at time of posting

Active Ingredients: Structural design; Playfulness and humanity
Side Effects: Lack of thematic depth, resonance across scenes

The latest experimental documentary from Harvard’s Sensory Ethnography Lab, Manakamana is a playful and contemplative glimpse into culture and human behavior. There’s an obvious and effective structural simplicity to the film’s design—several, 10-minute long takes documenting cable car rides to and from a temple in Nepal—and it’s a pattern that begins to expand in significance from its repetition. Ultimately, the work of first-time directors Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez doesn’t reach the conscious-shifting brilliance of Sweetgrass and Leviathan, but its pleasures are smaller and more intimate. Read more…

Closed Curtain (2014)

Closed Curtain / Jafar Panahi / 2014 / threestar

Active Ingredients: Artistic and political defiance; interior digital cinematography
Side Effects: Limited resonances from fictional/documentary divide

[Closed Curtain plays at the Boston MFA until August 24th.]

Closed Curtain is equal parts defiance and despair. Made by a persecuted filmmaker legally barred from making films, it’s the expression of a man banned from self-expression. Like many Iranian films since that country’s “new wave” in the ‘80s and ‘90s, Closed Curtain is full of contradictions, forcibly joining two opposing conditions to observe their strange alchemy. Yet unlike, say, Abbas Kiarostami’s Close-Up, Jafar Panahi’s new film isn’t a celebration of the limitless possibilities created by these juxtapositions. Rather, Closed Curtain becomes a sober exploration of the very limited aesthetic possibilities open to a silenced artist who nonetheless feels a deep human need to speak. Read more…

The Strange Little Cat (2014)

The Strange Little Cat / Ramon Zürcher / 2014 / fourstar

Active Ingredients: Off-kelter perspective; Framing and editing
Side Effects: Emotionally vague

The Strange Little Cat is a strange little film, a brisk, unassuming and cleverly choreographed collection of everyday magic. The whistle of a kettle, a peculiarity of afternoon light streaming through a window, these are the occasions that draw the eye of first-time director Ramon Zürcher. They’re not particular dramatic moments, just opportunities to look at familiar things in a new light. They’re moments we all experience, but perhaps not ones we often pause to consider or bother to put into words. Sometimes it takes a film with a pleasantly askew perspective to conjure them in our minds, and thankfully The Strange Little Cat does exactly that. Read more…

Boyhood (2014)

Boyhood / Richard Linklater / 2014 / fivestar

Active Ingredients: Deeply effecting portrait of time and growing up; Warm spirit
Side Effects: Spotty acting; Occasional talky and over-written dialogue

Boyhood is a difficult film to write about, emerging as it does from the constructive interference of two very different sensations. On the one hand is the grand experiment of its construction, by now well-known: director Richard Linklater filmed the fictional narrative of a 6-year-old boy growing into a young man over a dozen years with the same set of actors. It’s a simple formal idea, but the many thoughts it provokes about how we experience time, both in our own lives and through the technology of cinema, are illuminating, profound and significant. And yet, lofty statements such as these don’t do justice to the spirit of the film itself, to its warmth, compassion and approachability. I suppose, then, that Boyhood is a very rare film indeed, and not merely because of its structural ambition or thematic richness. Instead, Boyhood is as moving and powerful as it is because it achieves this richness through simplicity and humility, and with a wisdom, sincerity and depth of feeling it graciously extends to the audience. Read more…

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