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…

I Know Where I’m Going! (1945)

I Know Where I’m Going / Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger / 1945 / fivestar

Active Ingredients: Elegant screenplay; Whimsical direction; Warmhearted tone
Side Effects: Visual effects and style of storm sequence

The films of Michael Powell (both with and without his frequent collaborator Emeric Pressburger) are justifiably remembered for their imaginative use of lush Technicolor, their technical virtuosity and their grand sweep. But Powell’s cinema is just as affecting and masterful when operating on a much smaller scale, as is the case in 1945’s I Know Where I’m Going. Made immediately before a trio of much larger and more colorful films (A Matter of Life and Death, Black Narcissus and The Red Shoes: masterpieces all), this small gem demonstrates the radiant positivity and generosity of spirit that pervades all of Powell’s work, a quality that persists even after the luminous Technicolor is drained away. Read more…

Top Short Films Made with Smartphone Cameras

icon-Sponsored-Post Top Short Films Made with Smartphone Cameras icon-Sponsored-Post


As new mobile devices become more equipped with better lenses and powerful processors, it’s no surprise they’re being used by filmmakers as tools to create their visual masterpieces. Thanks to this equipment, artists are able to weave tales with great visual quality without the burden of heavy production costs. In this entry, we will provide you with a list of the most dazzling smartphone short films that you must watch. Read more…

Mission:Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015)

Mission:Impossible – Rogue Nation / Christopher McQuarrie / 2015 / threestar

Active Ingredients: Action setpieces; Rebecca Ferguson; Visual clarity
Side Effects: Pacing and length; third act complications

In today’s blockbuster climate, the Mission:Impossible series represents a refreshing and much-needed return to a bygone era of lighthearted action/adventure cinema. With no futuristic worlds to conjure, robotic mayhem to slog through or comic book lore to cater to, Tom Cruise‘s improbable franchise relies on a much more concrete and satisfying brand of spectacle. The latest entry, Christopher McQuarrie’s Rogue Nation, continues in the vein of the previous two successful films, pitting Cruise’s Ethan Hunt and his team of agents and quipping comic relief supporters against a tangible and formidable adversary as he dangles precariously from high places. Read more…

Horse Money (2015)

Horse Money / Pedro Costa / 2015 / fourstar

Active Ingredients: Sympathetic evocation of memory; Haunting imagery
Side Effects: Stillness and repetition


[Horse Money opens in limited release, including at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, on July 24th.]

A 19-year-old young man, green and optimistic from hope in hard work, is admitted to the hospital. He’s been wounded in a skirmish, briefly caught up in the leftist revolution of Portugal in the 1970s. Only the year is 2013, and the man isn’t 19 but in his seventies. He isn’t brash and viral, but old and infirm, his hands restlessly shaking from a nervous disease as he responds to the questions he was grilled with decades earlier.

Pedro Costa’s haunting documentary/fiction hybrid Horse Money is full of extraordinary temporal discontinuities like this one. Time becomes collapsed, splayed out before us in the darkened halls of an otherworldly interior space, a kind of purgatory inhabited by living ghosts, representing memory and disillusionment. Read more…


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