Amy Taubin

  • film June 10, 2016

    Watch and Learn

    AN EXCEPTIONALLY VARIED AND STRONG EDITION of the Human Rights Watch Festival opens with the multi-award-winning Hooligan Sparrow, an ingeniously made first documentary feature by Nanfu Wang, who is the recipient of the festival’s Nestor Almendros Award for courage in filmmaking. The film follows Ye Haiyan, aka Hooligan Sparrow, a Chinese political activist who focuses on women’s rights, as she organizes protests against a middle-school headmaster and a government official who allegedly raped female students. Sparrow’s mastery of the internet has made her a high-profile enemy of the state. The

  • film June 01, 2016

    Elastic Heart

    SATISFYING DOCUMENTARIES about artists are rare. This year there are already two: Timothy Marrinan and Richard Dewey’s Burden, as in Chris Burden, acquired at Cannes by Magnolia Pictures for release in the coming months, and Marcie Begleiter’s Eva Hesse (2016), currently playing at Film Forum and distributed across the US by Zeitgeist Films. The dramatic turns in the lives—and work—of both artists invite movie treatment. But what makes the films a cut above most art documentaries is that they depict their subjects’ accomplishments not simply as evidence of maverick genius, but as contingent on

  • film May 09, 2016

    Hershey’s Kiss

    EARLY IN THE ALLURING, bittersweet Sin Alas (Without Wings, 2015), there is a shot as mysterious as a passage in Jorge Luis Borges or José Lezama Lima, the writers that inspired filmmaker Ben Chace’s memory piece about love and loss in a city where past and present soon will be obliterated by the tidal wave of capital that is its future. High above the cluttered cityscape of Havana, the camera captures a pigeon soaring and circling to land inches from the lens. A reasonable explanation: The bird is a homing pigeon and its coop is probably on the roof where Chace and his ace cinematographer Sean

  • film March 25, 2016

    Too To

    A 3-D MUSICAL BY JOHNNIE TO, Hong Kong master of balletic gun battles to the death: Who could ask for anything more? To’s Office (2015) is certainly the most kinetically entertaining, ingeniously staged spectacle in town, and the splendid projection at the new Metrograph theater is bound to do it justice. But as a movie about the capitalist greed and corruption that has replaced communist greed and corruption in China, it lacks the satiric bite and inspired insanity, not to mention the moral complexity, of The Big Short’s vision of greed and corruption, American style. Nor does it have the energy

  • film March 07, 2016

    Sisters’ Keeper

    VALERIA BRUNI TEDESCHI’S adaptation of Chekhov’s Three Sisters is a remarkable film, perhaps the most brilliant version of the play I’ve ever seen on stage, screen, or television. It will be shown twice in Rendez-Vous with French Cinema at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, with Bruni Tedeschi doing a Q&A after both screenings. Because it is part of a series of collaborations between the Comédie-Française and the European television channel Arte, it’s unlikely to get commercial distribution in the US; these two screenings (March 9 at 3:30 PM and March 11 at 6:30 PM) may be your only chances to

  • film February 17, 2016

    Reality Check

    JANUARY 25: I am sitting in the ClaimJumper, once a dive bar on Park City’s Main Street and now the headquarters of the Sundance Film Festival’s New Frontier section, which in 2016 is devoted almost entirely to virtual reality. Because I committed to writing about New Frontier, I scored VIP passes for the 11 AM to 1 PM slot on two mornings, when the wait-time for each piece is supposed to be short. Nothing doing. In the end, even with the help of New Frontier curator Shari Frilot and her staff, I managed to “experience” a mere ten pieces, most of them under five minutes long. Meaning there was

  • Amy Taubin

    CHANTAL AKERMAN’S astonishing body of work begins and ends with explosions—deafening but unseen. In Saute ma ville (Blow Up My Town), the 1968 short film of which she was director and star, she concludes a manic series of household chores by turning on the gas, lighting a match, and blowing herself up along with her apartment—and, if you take the title literally, Brussels, where she was born and where she lived with her parents at the time. We see a freeze frame of a mirror reflection of eighteen-year-old Akerman, her head bent over the stove, waiting, as we wait, for the inevitable.

  • film December 28, 2015

    Capital Punishment

    THE SETTING FOR Ken Kobland’s installation 2 Jumps in a Row, 2015, is the bare stage of the Performing Garage, home for over four decades to the Wooster Group. For frequent theatergoers, empty stages are categorically evocative—charged with free-floating memories and anticipations. Thus the beautifully proportioned Garage space, with its spare lighting grid and cement block walls lined with theatrical trunks, is well suited to Kobland’s moving-image diptych, which depicts Moscow at two memorable moments in the recent past: the collapse of Communism in 1990 and the chaos of neocapitalism eighteen

  • film December 19, 2015

    Friends with Benefits

    JONAS MEKAS IS A FILM DIARIST. He is also an archivist and a historian. His films are a tool for the preservation of knowledge about how artists worked and lived in the second half of the twentieth century and on into the present. They are about aesthetics and economics, about the ties of friendship and family, about the pleasures of eating and drinking and talking into the night. All of this is recorded with cameras so unassuming that people have always taken them for granted. I sometimes wonder why no one ever says, “Jonas, put away the camera. I don’t want my words to be recorded for posterity,

  • film November 16, 2015

    Grad Canyon

    IT HAS TO BE the best movie title ever: My Sex Life… or How I Got into an Argument or, as it was reversed in the original French release, Comment je me suis disputé… (Ma vie sexuelle). But any way you parse it, the film to which the title belongs—Arnaud Desplechin’s second feature, released in 1996 and currently available only in a dark and wan DVD—is a delayed coming-of-age masterpiece and one of the great French post–New Wave films. Desplechin has revisited the central narrative of My Sex Life—Paul Dedalus’s tortured first love affair with the unsuitable Esther—in the 2015 My Golden Years,

  • film October 30, 2015

    Moving Image

    “I DON’T JUST TAKE PHOTOGRAPHS. I think.” That’s Don McCullin, the great British photojournalist, doing a formidable show-and-tell in Jacqui Morris and David Morris’s documentary McCullin (2012). Throughout the 1960s, ’70s, and half of the ’80s, the London-based McCullin covered wars, civil and international, briefly for The Observer and then for the Sunday Times, filing from Cyprus, Congo, Biafra, Northern Ireland, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Lebanon. Those are the conflict zones depicted in the documentary; there were more, images of which are collected in over twenty books, among them Unreasonable

  • film October 25, 2015

    Sister Act

    THE MEN ARE FUCKED UP and the women fucked over. The dynamics of patriarchal power are even more devastatingly etched in the second season of Steven Soderbergh’s The Knick than in the first. As the series becomes less focused on the Knick’s two brilliant, driven surgeons, John Thackery (Clive Owen) and Algernon Edwards (André Holland), the women, subordinated by the institutions of medicine, the family, and the church, assert their desires and beliefs and attempt to turn the direction of the action, of which there is an abundance.

    This observation is based on the first four episodes of what is

  • Amy Taubin

    “IT'S POIGNANT TO ME that the end of the celluloid era might be found in these fragile 16-mm poems,” said Nathaniel Dorsky, one of the most celebrated American avant-garde filmmakers. We were discussing the looming demise of photochemical material—i.e., film—for the recording, printing, and preserving of moving images. The “16-mm poems” are the films that Dorsky has been making for fifty-one years. Thirty-three of them are currently being presented (Sept. 28–Oct. 2) in a retrospective of his work at the Fifty-Third New York Film Festival. The program also includes five films by Jerome

  • film September 05, 2015

    Jobs Report

    ALEX GIBNEY’S twisty, engrossing documentary Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine approaches its subject from an oblique but highly productive angle: Why, Gibney asks, was there a worldwide outpouring of grief when the CEO of Apple, which at that moment in 2011 was the most valuable corporation in the world, died from cancer at the age of fifty-six? Without opening the larger issue of our hysteria-prone society, Gibney examines how Jobs, a storytelling genius, wove a narrative about the machines that Apple produced: a romance in which we are one with our iPhones and iPods and iMacs, and, because

  • film August 12, 2015

    Lost for Words

    I WISH I HAD A COPY of the script that Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig wrote for Baumbach’s comedy Mistress America, which stars Gerwig as Brooke, a thirty-year-old It Girl desperate to succeed at something before her shelf life expires. Brooke has a way with words. Her nonstop stream of non sequiturs, snarky putdowns, and paeans to her own accomplishments and ambitions defied my pathetic note-taking ability. I ended up with dozens of “maybe not exactly what she said” and “middle missing” appended to questionable transcriptions of gems that would have been worth reprinting here.

    Or maybe the

  • film July 09, 2015

    Hanging on the Telephone

    SEAN BAKER’S TANGERINE is fated to go down in film history as the first really enticing-looking film to be shot entirely on an iPhone 5s. Without the barrage of making-of articles about the movie, including two in the New York Times, you might not have been aware of its production tools until the last of the end credits—and who stays for those, although everyone should. It reads: “Shot entirely on the Apple iPhone 5s; captured with FilmicPro app; Anamorphic capture courtesy of Moondog Labs first edition 1.33x Anamorphic Adapters.”

    So don’t think you can use your iPhone as it comes out of the box

  • film July 08, 2015

    Chasing Amy

    ELLEN WILLIS wrote that Janis Joplin’s death was “an artistic as well as a human calamity.” So too was the death of Amy Winehouse. Calamity is an easier word than tragedy, which carries all that classical baggage. But as he showed with Senna (2010), his documentary portrait of Formula One champion Ayrton Senna, filmmaker Asif Kapadia is a master of the modern tragic narrative, and his documentary Amy fulfills the form.

    Pity, terror, and, rather than catharsis, heartbreaking loss: The film limns Winehouse’s short, brilliantly creative life and overdetermined death in 2011 at age twenty-seven. You

  • film June 12, 2015

    Gray’s Anatomy

    AVANT-GARDE FILMS, as Jonas Mekas often explains, are to narrative movies as poetry is to prose. Mekas was a poet before he ever picked up a camera. Now ninety-two, he continues to both write and film. Stephanie Gray, roughly half Mekas’s age, is also both a poet and a filmmaker. Poetry informs the place from which she speaks as a moving-image maker and her camera-eye informs her words. “Super 8mm Poetics: The Films of Stephanie Gray,” a three-evening retrospective at Anthology Film Archives, coincides with the publication by Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs of her second poetry collection, Shorthand

  • Crystal Moselle’s The Wolfpack

    THE WOLFPACK, which won the grand prize for documentary at Sundance 2015, is a celebration of movies and the cinephiles who live through and by them as if their obsession weren’t going out of style. A male coming-of-age narrative, it delivers sometimes frustratingly fragmentary information via crude video imagery and a subtle sound track in which an undercurrent of dread is punctuated by moments of exhilaration. Not until the film’s end does one realize what an epic and intimate story has been told by fledgling documentarian Crystal Moselle.

    In the spring of 2010, Moselle spied six adolescent

  • “China: Through the Looking Glass”

    Among the most subtly erotic images in all cinema is the slow-motion shot of Maggie Cheung wearing an iridescent cheongsam that shimmers red to green as she ascends the stairs in Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love (2002). Working with his longtime production and costume designer, William Chang, Wong is the artistic director for “China: Through the Looking Glass,” a collaboration between the Met’s Costume Institute and its Department of Asian Art. The exhibition will showcase decorative objects and clothes from three centuries of Chinese history, as well as fashions by