Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Wed Sep 20, 2017 4:02 am 
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Anastasia Shevtsova in Polina

NEW YORK MOVIE JOURNAL (Sept.-Oct. 2017)
The title-director line is linked to the longer review where there is one.

AMERICAN ASSASSIN (Michael Cuesta 2017). A dark, violent sub-Bourne production with Dylan O'Brien of the Maze Runner franchise as the invincible and unbridled, revenge-bent action hero Mitch Rapp, and Michael Keaton as Hurley, the badass CIA counterterrorism trainer who doesn't trust him. Mostly valuable as a way to clear the mind of thought. And Keaton is - badass - and O'Brian is handsome, athletic, and charismatic. The movie, as one put it, "has some of the more terrifying, brutal, and visceral action sequences to be seen on the big screen so far this year" (Alex Welch) but the plot's not well structured. Metacritic 46%. (Curiously, Cuesta's first film was the daring L.I.E.) Watched 17 Sept. at AMC Village 7.

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AMERICAN MADE (Doug Liman 2017). Tom Cruise stars (and that's the important thing: he's still smooth) as a jazzed-up version of Barry Seal, a TWA flyboy from Louisiana in the Eighties who became a CIA spy in Latin America then drug runner and Iran-Contra player.Cruise still seems youthful and indestructible, but unfortunately, as Guy Lodge says in his Variety review, this movie, which is more the hype of itself than a movie, "lacks the sense of moral reckoning and self-effacing human irony it needs to achieve the emotional payoff or tragicomic heft of American Hustle, let alone Scorsese’s masterwork [Goodfellas, which Liman cited as a model]." With the dp of City of God. TRAILER (all you need see). Watched at AMC Village 7 on 29 Sept. 2017.

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THE BATTLE OF THE SEXES (Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris 2017). The true story of the 1973 tennis match between World number one Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and 55-year-old former tennis champion and serial hustler Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell). The directors, surprisingly, made Little Miss Sunshine (also Ruby Sparks.). The conventional underdog-wins-big sports story also is about King's coming out (to herself) as a lesbian and an addiction, Riggs' to gambling. Most of all of course it's about the blatant male chauvinism of the time as embodied and blatantly mouthed by tennis ex-star and manager-announcer Jack Kramer. Howard Cossell's actual announcing of the match is used, so the replay must be pretty literal. Nice quiet likeable performance by Stone. Movie worth knowing about. Watched at Regal Union Square 3 Oct. 2017.

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BLADE RUNNER 2049 (Denis Villeneuve 2017).. Ripley passed the mantle on to French Canadian Villeneuve and he has made a beautiful, thoughtful sequel, if too long and solemn to match the offhand, witty cult original. Ryan Gosling hasn't the heft and conviction as the new hero to compete with Harrison Ford, who's present in a few key scenes. Lots of good visuals though, and all sci-fi fans should see this. Watched at first showing at Regal Union Square Thurs., 6 Oct. 2017.

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BRAD'S STATUS (Mike White 2017). Like White's previous outing this year, Beatriz at Dinner , directed by frequent collaborator Miguel Arteta, this movie sometimes feels curiously like a glossy instructional film. Beatriz was about politics and the blindness of the one percent; this one is about recognizing the value of living a good life over achieving mere success. Ben Stiller is Brad Sloan, a perfectly well-off man with wife and talented college-bound son in Sacramento who starts thinking that four richer more famous former college pals are better than him. Stiller now seems almost too distinguished and calm to be fully convincing as this man in midlife crisis, but he's still good. Austin Abrams is interesting to watch as Troy, his cool, zen son. A very watchable film, but the lecturing bent limits it. Metacritic 70%. Watched 16 Sept. 2017 at Angelika Film Center.

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CALL ME BY YOUR NAME (Luca Guadagnino 2017). Adapted or coadapted by James Ivory from André Aciman's admired (or loved?) gay romance/coming out/coming of age novel from 2007, this is Guadagnino's simplest and most straightforward movie yet but not lacking in his trademark sensuousness, and his most successful. As the young gay lovers, Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalamet have great chemistry and perform splendidly. The summer 1983 northern Italian setting contributes to the warmth. This movie, in theaters around Thanksgiving, which debuted at Sundance and Berlin and has been included in two dozen festivals, is a big hit with the public and critics love it too (Metacritic 97%). Oscar buzz. Watched at Alice Tully Hall 9 pm Tues. 3 Oct. 2017 as part of the Main Slate of the NYFF.

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CITY OF GHOSTS (Matthew Heineman 2017). Heineman is known for his bold, intense Oscar-nominated previous doc Cartel Land, a risky look at drugs on the US-Mexican border. For this one, not an easy watch, he had to rely on other people's footage from that poor Syrian city, but ran around Germany to safe houses filming the brave guys who acquired it and broadcast it to the world. They are RBSS, Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently ( الرقة تذبح بصمت), a small band of men of that city from various walks of life who have taken it upon themselves to risk lives and families reporting the truth about how ISIS (aka Daesh/Da'ish) has choked and destroyed their home town in trying to make it their "capital." The ISIS in Raqqa sequences are horrifying, and Heineman doesn't edit out the brutality. In his own footage he has to make it interesting to watch bearded men sitting smoking in small rooms in front of computers, but with trust and access to their most intimate moments and judicious editing in of the Raqqa footage, he succeeds admirably. An A&E IndieFilms production, this film, which depicts a bloody media war between real vs. fake news, had limited theatrical release already in July but was shown specially for Academy consideration and to mark its 9/26 Amazon Prime release. Metacritic 86%. Watched 19 Sept. 2017 at the posh new screening room of the Whitby Hotel, 18 W 56th St. On hand for the Q&A were Heineman, Alex Gibney, a producer, and Aziz, RBSS's dryly witty, pessimistic spokesman. TRAILER.

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THE DEPARTURE (Laln Wilson 2017). The maker of After Tiller returns with a documentary about Ittetsu Nemoto, a radical, cool, and flawed Japanese Zen priest who had an alcoholic father and led a wild youth and now may be killing himself with the stress of suicide prevention counseling. This Tribeca hit makes you uncomfortable because you don't know if this man is a role model or a cautionary tale, but that's interesting. Is his workshop about death really helpful to suicidal people? Why is suicide so prevalent in Japan? A press screening prior to Magnolia's release of the film in NYC and DC 10 Oct. 2017, elsewhere 20 Oct and thereafter. Watched at the Metrograph 4 Oct. 2017.

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L'ENFANT SECRET (Philippe Garrel 1979)- NYFF Revivals series.Also showing 18-24 Oct. 2017 as part of the Metrograph Theater's extensive two-part retrospective of Garrel's films. Typical of Garrel's doomed, poetic, autobiographical films that are an offshoot of the Nouvelle Vague and the post-1968 "age of powder" he celebrated in his 2005 Regular Lovers. This one received the Jean Vigo award in 1982. It's about a man, a woman, and a child and touches on Garrel's memories of drugs and insanity and shock treatments. Weak as storytelling or entertainment but touching and mythic, its alternately sharp and fuzzy black and white in a digitally remastered print has a poetic beauty and a classic quality. Watched at a press screening at the Metrograph in Chinatown 25 Sept. 2017.

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FACES PLACES/VISAGES, VILLAGES (Agnès Varda and JR 2017) - NYFF Main Slate. Now in US theatrical release this film of the young photo muralist and old film icon is a pleasant tour of France doing art pieces and narrating them with the conversations of the duo. Very French and very smooth, an accomplished, entertaining little film (maybe 88-year-old Varda's last? Watched at Quad Cinema 7 Oct. 2017.

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THE FLORIDA PROJECT (Sean Baker 2017). NYFF Main Slate, now in US theatrical release. Baker moves up a couple notches with this larger-scale (but kid-level) picture of low life at an Orlando, Florida motel run by a kindly Willem Dafoe, shooting in 35mm instead of on iPhone5's. Watched at Angelika Film Center 7 Oct. 2017.

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HUMAN FLOW (Ai Weiwei 2017). Chinese superstar artist Ai Weiwei deserves credit for being comprehensive here, covering every major refugee story going, and actually going to all these places, visiting around 23 countries, from "The Jungle" in France to Gaza to Africa to the Tex-Mex border, as we can see because he appears, like a quieter, more benign MIchael Moore, in many of the shots. Lots of on-screen statistics which also though redundant and overwhelming are valuable: this is a problem of numbers. But if he's thinking globally, and this is truly an epic documentary, still Ai Weiwei is only describing: he proposes no solutions. We sure could use those. Human Flow opens in New York and Los Angeles 13 October 2017. Watched in a press screening at Magno 2 Screening room 4 Oct. 2017. See the 9 Oct. Democracy Now! hour with Ai Weiwei and this film.

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INDIVISIBLE/INDIVISIBILI (Edoardo De Angelis 2016). An Italian film in Neapolitan dialect about conjoined twin sisters (at the hip), Viola and Daisy (non-conjoined twin singers Angela and Marianna Fontana), "exploited" by their sleazy songwriter dad to support him and his pothead wife and themselves by singing in their working-class neighborhood for weddings and such. A priest and rich promoter also want to use them. Just as they're turning 18 a doctor tells them it's possible to separate them, and Daisy, the more independent of the pair, wants to do it. But things don't turn out quite as expected. De Angelis, helped by the pretty and talented twin sisters, who play off each other sublimely at times, combines Felliniesque freak show with a touch of fabulist magical realism, but the film often feels becalmed, not in a good way. Contrast with Fulton and Pepe's perhaps over-complicated but stimulatingly risky and kinky 2005 Brothers of the Head (SFIFF 2006), about conjoined male Brit twins turned into punk novelty singers who fall into drugs and violence. The latter made better use of the omnipresent creepiness of this birth abnormality and the risk of exploiting it and had a lively, authentic sound track. US theatrical release (Metacritic rating 80%) from 15 Sept. 2017, now showing at Laemmle Theaters, L.A.. Watched on a screener 30 Sept.

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IT (Andy Muschietti 2017). This lengthy adaptation of an epic Stephen King horror novel - which is just Chapter One, so another is coming - contains a wealth of young talent in the children's roles. It's also packed with elaborate special scary effects, and transmogrified clowns, notably Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård). But it doesn't add up to much. We'd rather watch the kids bond and have an exciting summer, like in Stand by Me or J.J. Abrams' Super 8. It doesn't know if it wants to be a coming of age movie or a horror movie. It winds up a disorganized jumble of carnival fright rides. The clown is irritating, and never really scary. This movie also contains a lot of very ugly stuff, sexual abuse, patricide, brutal bullying, etc., that you don't need to see. Some reviewers think it vintage King, explaining an inexplicable Metascore of 70%, but it's best avoided unless you're a diehard fan of old school fright shows. Watched at Regal Union Square 21 Sept. 2017.

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LUCKY (John Carroll LYnch 2017). A quiet little film featuring the late Harry Dean Stanton as a version of himself living on the edge of a desert, it is a fitting homage and only the second movie the legendary cult actor had a starring role in, the other being the celebrated Wim Wenders vehicle written for Stanton by the late Sam Shepard. Watched on an online screener, in a few theaters , including, in NYC, the Quad, which is having a 22-film retrospective of Stanton, starting 29 Sept. 2017.

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MARJORIE PRIME (Michael Almereyda 2017). Adaptation of a sci-fi play about people using holograms of dead relatives to stimulate memory and deal with loss feels like an over-long "Black Mirror" episode (see that series' "Be Right Back"). Critics have been admiring, audiences moved, but this is curiously humorless and flat, especially considering Almereyda's usual adventurousness. Great cast headed by Lois Smith, who played her role on multiple stages. Watched at the new Quad Cinema 5 Oct. 2017.

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MAUDIE (Aisling Walsh 2016). There is a Beckettian combination of grimness and cheer about this little film by the Irish, mostly TV director Aisling Walsh, depicting the life of a real person, the little naive artist Maud Walsh (Sally Hawkins), crippled from childhood with arthritis, now seen as a Canadian regional treasure. Living in a little seacoast town in Nova Scotia, she leaves her cruel aunt and exploitative brother, answering an ad to be the live-in housekeeper of Everett Walsh, a poor fishmonger raised in an orphanage (Ethan Hawke). In the dry soil of the tiny house, with the grumpy man who pretends to rate her lower than his dogs and chickens, Maud is happy and covers the walls with her cheerful paintings of flowers and birds, makes Christmas cards and paintings that eventually sell so well she becomes the breadwinner. Facts may have been tweaked by writer Sherry White to enrich the picture of hardscrabble love: it's said the couple actually married after a few weeks, but here, it takes her time to convince him. Yet there is a hard core of authenticity about this restrained little film, and the performances of Hawkins and Hawke are gold. Hers is a triumph of technique and I've never seen him so disappear into a role. Watched at Cinema Village 21 Sept. 2017. Metascore 65%.

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MOTHER! (Darren Aronofsky 2017). Aronofsky often winds up making a horror movie; this time he started out to make one, with the trappings of a haunted house and spooky, threatening, invasive visitors. It's occupied by Jennifer Lawrence, too pure and serene for her neurotic role as wife of an egomaniacal, blocked poet so needy he will sacrifice everything, the house, their marriage, even their newborn baby to cannibalistic mobs of devouring "fans." Noah ended in floods; this goes up in flames. Astonishing almost throwaway apocalyptic crowd scenes. People walk out saying "What was that?" "Wasn't that weird?" Metacritic 74%. Watched at Regal Union Square 15 Sept. 2017[.

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POLINA/POLINA, DANSER SA VIE (Valérie Müller, Angelin Preljocaj 2016). Interesting in that its eponymous dancer coming-of-age heroine isn't there to be seen getting brutalized by a ruthless art or cold teacher but for her time of self-discovery as a choreographer. A creditable effort to do that impossible thing, capture the creative process. You will see a lot of dancing. As Polina, Anastasia Shevtsova (played by Veronika Zhovnytska as a young girl) is plain, not a great dancer, but nurtured by the initially tough choreographer-teacher Bojinski (Aleksey Guskov). Just before the tryouts for the Bolshoi Ballet training program, she runs off to Aix-en-Provence with French dancer-boyfriend Adrien (Niels Schneider, who has the profile of a Greek statue, or a Jean Cocteau drawing). Then after she and Adrien clash with the quirky French modern dance choreographer played by Juliette Binoche, Polina runs off and becomes virtually a drifter in Antwerp, finding a new dancer bf, and finding herself. No triumphant prize or performance awaits us, only the effort to realize a childhood dream as an adult pro. Metacritic 69%. Watched 19 Sept. 2017 at Angelica Film Center.

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SPOOR/POKOT (Agnieszka Holland with Kasla Adamik 2017). From a novel by the apparently controversial Olga Tokarczuk, a kind of ecological murder story centered on an eccentric sixty-something retired lady who goes on the rampage after her two dogs disappear. She has a thing about hunters and poaching and a lot of it goes on around the Polish-Czech border where she lives. A lot of energy here, but in the end it feels kooky and diffuse. Watched at Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center as part of the New York Film Festival 30 Sept. 2017.

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STRONGER (David Gordon Green 2017). The story of Jeff Bauman, the young man who lost both legs in the Boston Marathon bombings, based on his own book, stars Jake Gyllenhaal (with Oscar potential) as Jeff, with Miranda Richardson as his drunken mother Patty, and Tatiana Maslany as Erin, his girlfriend. The whole interest in this film emerges as how it's gritty and unheroic, even though Jeff is also tough and a survivor. It shows Jeff as a thoroughly flawed individual and his Boston family as flawed too. There's nothing fancy about this film, or particularly patriotic or thrilling. Instead it realistically depicts Bauman's struggles and goofs. The acting is good. Green deserves credit for a new angle on a conventional genre, even if Jake is a little old for the 20-something role and the depiction of life's mess is a bit messy itself and the movie doesn't find a great place to end. Watched at Regal Union Square at a sparsely attended preview screening Thurs. night, 21 Sept. 2017.


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TOM OF FINLAND (Dome Karukoski 2017). Touko Valio Laaksonen, best known for his pseudonym Tom of Finland, is familiar to homosexual men of a certain age for his iconic gay porn drawings of fantasy hunky muscular super-hung leathermen - more and more widely published from the 1950's on and practically gay mainstream by the 1970's. This film spans the years from Laaksonen's service in WWII in the difficult repressed early years up until the AIDS epidemic, for which he blamed himself. But in his last years he was widely embraced in - California. Unfortunately Karukoski's film, though thorough and well acted by Pekka Strang in the lead, is terminally tame and slow. Something so radical, fantasy-driven, and extreme should be more inventive and fun. Perhaps Tom of Finland will come to life another way. He already has in leather bars and gay fantasies for half a century. Metacritic 60%. This film will be Finland's Best Foreign Oscar entry - they're behind it, which is pretty cool, I guess. 20 Oct. 2017 release. Watched at a press screening at Quad Cinema 26 Sept. 2017.

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WESTERN (Valeska Grisebach 2017). Much smaller theater than for Agnieszka Holland, edgier, more experimental filmmaking. Docudrama using all non-actors, a story of a German crew in Bulgaria working on a water system enhancement project. What's "Western" apart from the director's childhood fascination with the genre is the focus on machismo and the feel of outlaws on a frontier. The main character makes nice with the locals and it's all a study of the joys and pains of bonding without language. Seen in the NYFF 1 Oct. 2017 at Elinor Bunin Theater, Lincoln Center. The director and actor Syuleyman Alilov Letifov were on hand for a Q&A with Programming Director Dennis Lim. Cinema Guild.


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ZAMA (Lucrecia Martel 2017). This is from a 1956 cult novel about a downgraded New World-born official of the late 18th-century Spanish colonial authorities marooned in a remote outpost, dreaming hopelessly of being transferred to Buenos Aires. It has only recently been translated into English, but a review of same by South African novelist J.M. Coetzee reveals its phantasmagoric complexity and helps explain the enigmatic beauty of this strange but beautiful and disturbing film, Martel's long-awaited first feature in nine years. Watched in Alice Tully Hall 6 pm 2 Oct. 2017.

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©Chris Knipp. Blog: http://chrisknipp.blogspot.com/.


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