Nick Pinkerton

  • film May 16, 2019

    Well, Well, Weltschmerz

    WHEN IT COMES TO THE WILD WORLD of European genre cinema, a few national strains—UK horror, Italian everything—have tended to dominate repertory screentime and suck up critical oxygen, but recent years have revealed something of the depth of the dark horse Teutonic tradition, which has produced an abundance of films giving evidence of repressed rage and verboten desires howling for release behind the open-for-business official façade of West Germany.

    A 2015 documentary, Cinema Perverso: The Wonderful and Twisted World of Railroad Cinemas, examined the checkered legacy of the cinemas opened by

  • film April 25, 2019

    In the Palm of His Hand

    IF ONE IS PRESSED TO EXPLAIN the sensual and often masochistic beauties particular to postwar Mexican cinema, there are perhaps a half-dozen passages in Roberto Gavaldón’s La otra (The Other One, 1946) that could do the job in a trice. Tempting as it might be to go with the sequence of a footsore manicurist María (Dolores del Río) numbly negotiating the streets of a rain-plashed Mexico City while dreaming of a wealth beyond her reach, or the rooftop idyll between María and her cop boyfriend (José Baviera) that owes something to the yearning working-class romanticism of Frank Borzage, or the

  • film April 04, 2019

    Utter Chaos

    TO DESCRIBE A FILM AS “TALKY” IS, as often as not, to indicate a pejorative judgement; in a thousand screenwriting primers, you can read the adage “show don’t tell”—like any rule in art, to be discarded at will when circumstances demand. Mike Leigh never read any of those books, thank God, and though you could dismiss his latest, the oratory-laden Peterloo, as talky, to do so would be to fundamentally misunderstand the nature of his project, which is precisely concerned with the relationship between speech and action, the butterfly effect principle whereby words spoken in, say, the House of

  • film March 14, 2019

    Last Hurrah for Chivalry

    WHEN WE FIRST ENCOUNTER ZHAO QIAO, the central character in Jia Zhangke’s Ash Is Purest White, she is perhaps a little over twenty, her face untrammeled by time or worry and framed by the most perfectly engineered bangs in Datong, the northern mining town whose streets are run by her boyfriend, Bin, a big man in the local jianghu gangs. The year is 2001, but by the time the story ends, in 2018, Qiao, played by Zhao Tao, is closer to the actress’s own age. At no point does Tao have recourse to actorly affectations in transforming the character from a young, wide-eyed moll to the shrewd, hardened

  • film February 28, 2019

    Danse Macabre

    GASPAR NOÉ’S CLIMAX is an encyclopedia of ways in which the human body can bend and break, a sailor’s knot guide of the contortions possible with four limbs, a trunk, and a head, skulls seemingly empty of thoughts other than sex and death. Set in an isolated school somewhere outside Paris where a troupe of hip-hop dancers has assembled for intensive rehearsals before an impending American tour, the movie unravels in something like real-time. Cutting loose at the end of a day’s work, the dancers dip into a punch bowl of sangria before discovering that one of them has spiked it with LSD, precipitating

  • film December 13, 2018

    Mule Serenade

    A BIZARRE, BRAZEN, AND OFTEN WONDERFULLY SURPRISING FILM, The Mule will slink into cinemas without the benefit of year-end awards season campaigning—its director and star, Clint Eastwood, is a two-time Best Director winner. But despite all his prestige and success, he has somehow managed to retain a distinct tang of the déclassé. His latest film is a departure of sorts, for Eastwood’s last three directorial efforts, American Sniper (2014), Sully (2016), and The 15:17 to Paris (2018), make up something of a trilogy dedicated to professional expertise put to service under extreme duress, each

  • film November 21, 2018

    Snide and Petulance

    THE FAVOURITE MAY BE MARKED AS A DEPARTURE for director Yorgos Lanthimos, but his recent work, unusual among his that of his peers in a film festival circuit that often rewards familiarity, has comprised a series of such departures, this following an English-language debut with The Lobster (2015) and an American excursion in The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017). Now we have Lanthimos’s first period film, set at the beginning of the eighteenth century during the reign of Queen Anne, though it’s a particularly irreverent and tawdry approach to the hallowed tradition of the English heritage film,

  • film October 25, 2018

    Mild Roast

    PYROMANIA AND CLEANSING FIRE play key roles in Burning, Lee Chang-dong’s sixth feature and his first since 2010’s Poetry, but for most of its run time, the film works at a slow smolder. At the heart of the movie is a glowing ember of resentment and suspicion, softly and steadily blown on and piled with kindling from scene to scene, until it has no choice but to ignite.

    The screenplay, by Lee and Oh Jung-mi, was adapted from “Barn Burning,” a ten-page short story by Haruki Murakami. While retaining key scenes and premises, it departs in many crucial ways from its stated model, which is to be

  • film October 18, 2018

    Gross Value

    BOXER’S OMEN (1983) MAY NOT BE THE BEST of the hex-hectored horror films turned out by the Shaw Brothers Studio beginning in the mid-1970s, but it does exemplify the qualities that make these movies prized by a small but dedicated cadre of sickies: the anything-goes spirit of excess, the air of the lurid and the lunatic, and, above all, the sheer viscous nastiness. They are movies that leave you ready to scour your pupils with a Brillo pad, their approach something like the funny-smelling kid on the playground who’d sidle up to you and go, “Hey, wanna see something gross?”

    Directed with garish

  • film September 13, 2018

    Day Shifts

    RAMELL ROSS’S FEATURE DOCUMENTARY DEBUT Hale County This Morning, This Evening isn’t a character study in the usual sense, though it does single out two principal characters, both young black men living in a low-income area of rural Alabama, for name-tag identification. Daniel is an incoming freshman joining the basketball team at tiny HBCU Selma University. Quincy, seemingly around the same age, has already begun shouldering adult responsibilities, raising a son, Kyrie, with his wife Boosie. We get to see into the lives of both young men, and rather more into the vivid life of the community

  • film August 10, 2018

    Square Space

    ASIDE FROM THE OBVIOUS—the low-resolution artifact of the square monochrome image that leaves cirrus-like trails when in motion, all framed in a black box—what is most striking about the pictures produced by the Pixelvision camera is their sense of intimacy. Designed to be used by young, untutored shooters, the teensy plastic lens holds a foggy but constant approximation of “focus” without need of manual adjustment, in both long shots and close-ups as near as a few centimeters from the subject.

    This ability to get close—extremely close—was taken advantage of by Sadie Benning. While making short,

  • film July 20, 2018

    Oh Henri!

    THE PHRASE THAT PHOTOGRAPHER HENRI CARTIER-BRESSON IS FOREVER LINKED TO—that of “The Decisive Moment”—seems near to an assertion of the primacy of the still image’s power over that of the moving image, the single absolutely right frame over hundreds of approximate ones, and suspended tension and mystery over unfurling drama. The phrase provides the title for an exhibition of Cartier-Bresson’s photographs currently on display at the International Center for Photography, accompanied by a program of moving-image work produced by or dedicated to the photographer at Anthology Film Archives. In a

  • film July 03, 2018

    Creative Nonfiction

    ONCE THE BLAZING FURNACE OF THE NORTH OF ENGLAND, Sheffield’s steel mills had for the most part gone cold by the 1980s. It was around this moment of postindustrial bottoming out that the city was reinvented, via much public money, as a haven for the arts, one outgrowth of this being the founding in 1994 of the nonfiction Sheffield Doc/Fest. During the course of the quarter-century since, the reputation of Doc/Fest—the largest festival of its kind in England and one of the largest in the world—has waxed and waned, as festival reputations tend to do, though this year was held up for particular

  • film June 08, 2018

    The Royal Treatment

    WE TAKE IT FOR GRANTED—or should, at least—that access to the motion picture apparatus at the highest levels of authority indicates a certain advantage of birthright. If feature fiction filmmakers’ publicity doesn’t make a point of mentioning that they didn’t grow up more than comfortable, it’s a pretty safe bet that they did. Hollywood nepotism and garden-variety privilege march through top-ranked film schools every year, and then there’s the case of Count don Luchino Visconti Count di Modrone. There aren’t many defectors from the ruling class coming from this high in the ranks; as such, their

  • film April 26, 2018

    People, They Ain’t No Good

    ALAN RUDOLPH IS AN URBAN FILMMAKER, particularly if not exclusively so. It is telling that the title of his first major movie, Welcome to LA (1976), reads like a sign you encountered on the way into town. His camera moves like a flaneur’s readily distracted eye, and Rudolph loves the opportunities that a city affords for lives to intersect, cross, and recross while heading along their individual orbits.

    As any cityscape is the sum total of the layers of years past, so too are Rudolph’s films, the better part of which can be seen in a twenty-one-film retrospective at the Quad. Rudolph began his

  • film March 30, 2018

    Between You and Me

    A WOMAN LISTENS TO A PLAINTIVE, MEANDERING KEYBOARD BALLAD performed by a musician, with whom she’s having an affair, for an audience of her alone. Tears run freely down her cheeks as the camera almost seems to move to caress her face and comfort her, the scene running the full four minutes of the song. An amped-up white longhair buttonholes an incredulous black restaurant manager and self-professed Reagan voter at a party and proceeds to harangue him for trying to join the oppressing class. At a civil and quiet memorial gathering, the angry and unreconciled daughter of the deceased lashes out

  • film March 29, 2018

    Pooch Rising

    LOYALTY IS A PARTICULARLY PRIZED QUALITY throughout Wes Anderson’s filmography—a man’s puppyish longing for his half-sister, who he has loved since she was a girl, in The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), or the bonds of fealty that tie together boys’ adventure clubs such as the Khaki Scouts of Moonrise Kingdom (2012) or Steve Zissou’s Belafonte crew in The Life Aquatic (2004). Looking over the nine features that the director has made since 1996’s Bottle Rocket, a movie anchored by one man’s indefatigable devotion to a slightly cracked friend, it is difficult to recall a single instance of a contented

  • film January 05, 2018

    Journey to the East

    MICHELANGELO ANTONIONI ARRIVED IN CHINA IN MAY OF 1972, about seven hundred years after Marco Polo and a few months after Richard Milhous Nixon. The People’s Republic of China, established in 1949, was then coming out of more than a decade-long period of almost total diplomatic estrangement, the thaw overseen by premier Zhou Enlai with the permission of the sick, senescent, and increasingly erratic Mao Zedong after the official close of the morally and materially catastrophic Cultural Revolution. During the preceding period of isolation, precious few images of China had been seen abroad, and so

  • film December 19, 2017

    Little by Little

    DOWNSIZING, ALEXANDER PAYNE’S SEVENTH FEATURE FILM, is an enormous movie—enormous in its ambition, and enormous in its ingenuity. As such, it is distinctly out of step with the times. Monumentality is acceptable in the action blockbuster, but when it comes to anything else, the small and the subtle and the half-toned are the markers of refined taste. Payne and his collaborator and frequent cowriter Jim Taylor produced one of the great American comedies about taste as a social marker, Sideways (2004), and so they must have known they were going way out on a limb here. What they’ve created

  • film November 15, 2017

    Lost and Found

    “WE WERE A GENERATION OF ORPHANS” is how Werner Herzog, the most prominent survivor of the celebrated class of filmmakers whose disparate practices were said to constitute the New German Cinema, has described the situation he and his contemporaries faced coming into their own in the 1960s. In their most literal sense, his words refer to the ruinous casualties of World War II, but Herzog was also speaking to the peculiar situation of German cineastes looking for a way to connect to a national tradition whose continuity had been severed during the years of National Socialism, when the mighty