COLUMNS

  • Based on a True Story

    SO FAR, IT’S RAINING REALITY at this year’s Berlin International Film Festival (or “Berlinale,” for short). If only someone would invent an umbrella that protects against blades, bullets, and toxic masculinity! The world would then certainly be a better place, but then what bitter truths would be left for all these cinematic bigwigs to unpack?  

    Among the most talked-about films this year is the latest from Fatih Akin, The Golden Glove—named after the trashy Hamburg pub that Fritz Honka frequented in the early 1970s. Honka enjoyed drink and the company of middle-aged to elderly prostitutes, most

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  • Stalk Footage

    EARLY ON in Female Human Animal, the docufiction by Josh Appignanesi, novelist Chloe Aridjis makes an observation that will echo throughout the film. “Well, this modern life and modern art and modern love—I don’t know, it all seems a bit soulless to me,” the author laments to an off-screen interlocutor. “I was probably born in the wrong century. But one just has to keep giving the century a chance: see what happens.” Dislocation and disenchantment are central tropes in Appignanesi’s cinematic portrait, which divides its attention between Aridjis and the late artist and writer Leonora Carrington,

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  • Good with Faces

    WITH ITS EXPANSIVE PROGRAMMING AND BOLD CURATION, the International Film Festival Rotterdam is a standout event on every European cinephile’s calendar. In that regard, this year’s edition was not an exception. Packing into twelve days everything from the latest statements from seasoned auteurs to the distilled essence of the next generation, Rotterdam was the one place this festivalgoer was eager to arrive at and sad to leave (food and weather aside).  

    My journey began with a screening of Tsai Ming-liang’s new film, Your Face. Departing from the wandering, dreamlike narratives he has become

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  • Coercive Theater

    ABOUT HALFWAY THROUGH Brian De Palma’s 1970 film Hi, Mom!, a white woman, dazed and recently raped, gives a fuzzy exit interview on camera. “Well, [New York Times theater critic] Clive Barnes was really right,” she says. “It was some experience. I’m gonna tell all my friends that they’ve gotta come.” The experience that she’s referring to is Be Black, Baby, an immersive opportunity (and Hi, Mom!’s film-within-a-film centerpiece) for well-heeled whites to, per the title, temporarily “be Black.” If this white woman and her kin had predicted correctly that they would be given “soul food,” and be

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  • A GORY TALE OF TERROR!

    “CAN A GENIUS BE UNTALENTED, TOO?” This, for John Waters, is the vital question posed by the films of Andy Milligan, the director behind a prolific streak of distinctively seedy exploitation vehicles. Over the past several years, a number of works by Milligan, the “Fassbinder of Forty-Second Street,” have come back into circulation via home-video distributors specializing in outré offerings—BFI Flipside, Vinegar Syndrome, and, most recently, the American Genre Film Archive, which has just released hi-res scans of Guru, the Mad Monk (1970) and Fleshpot on 42nd St. (1973). Preservation initiatives

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  • COURT RULES

    SOME MOVIES tunnel into your emotions, some into your kinetic center, and some make you feel like your mind is on fire. The last are as pleasurable to think about after the fact as they are to watch. That High Flying Bird (2019), a movie about an NBA basketball lockout, is heady rather than kinetic is a surprise. Then again, maybe not, considering that its director is Steven Soderbergh, a filmmaker who gravitates toward puzzles and mindfucks but doesn’t always have scripts strong enough to sustain his vision. Here, he’s working with an exceptional writer, Tarell Alvin McCraney, who coauthored

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  • Blank Canvass

    SPOILER ALERT (sort of): What Is Democracy? doesn’t deliver an answer to its titular question or a remedy for our bleak times in the United States. What the film offers instead is a peripatetic and sweeping glance at a centuries-old problem through a chorus of shrewd assessments. And by chorus, I mean to denote ancient Greece and tragedy. This isn’t a hopeful documentary—how could it be?

    In lieu of speaking primarily with philosophers as in her past films—Zizek! (2005) and Examined Life (2008)—here writer and director Astra Taylor gathers a divergent group of interviewees: young students in Miami,

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  • Shadow Play

    I DON’T REALLY BELIEVE IN CANONS, but if Anthology Film Archives were to expand their Essential Cinema collection, one of the films they should add is Niki de Saint Phalle’s 1976 Un rêve plus long que la nuit (A Dream Longer Than the Night). The film is having a rare American showing in “Out of the Shadows: Experimental Feminist Films by Jane Arden, Niki de Saint Phalle, and Penny Slinger.” Curated by Alison Gingeras and Nicoletta Beyer, the series will be presented by Anthology from January 25 to January 31.

    A fairy tale that, like the revisionist fairy tales of Angela Carter, refuses the

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  • Lust in Space

    NUDE ON THE MOON, a 1961 oddity by the trailblazing sexploitation director Doris Wishman (under the male pseudonym Anthony Brooks), offers a compelling if implausible premise. Eight years before Apollo 11, Wishman envisioned the moon as a tropical paradise, filled with frolicking, topless women (and even a few men). There’s only the faintest hint of a plot, and the sci-fi framing of two jumpsuit-clad scientists going to explore the moon quickly gives way to a parade of nudie cuties. Recently restored by the American Genre Film Archive and showing at New York’s Museum of Modern Art on January

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  • Trial Runs

    THE ANNUAL FIRST LOOK SERIES at the Museum of the Moving Image provides an opportunity for adventurous New Yorkers to see international movies not likely to show up elsewhere. Among the must-sees in this year’s edition, which opens January 11, are three titles focused on Russian history, past and present. Sergei Loznitsa’s Donbass (2018), the opening-night feature, with the director present, is a somewhat absurdist rumination on the civil war that continues to plague Ukraine. Conflating contrived situations with newsreel-worthy facts in mosaic-like fashion, the movie is composed of long-take

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  • X Post Facto

    ON PRINCIPLE, I appreciate holiday counter-programming, and this year into next, the Christmas season festivities at the Quad are a nasty wonder. “Rated-X” is an ultra-democratic selection of movies that once received an “X” from the MPAA ratings board, which throughout its history has been composed largely of retired people from Los Angeles and Orange Counties who have the time to look at unreleased movies all day and give them ratings that supposedly are meant to protect children, but occasionally adults, from seeing things that could have a deleterious effect on society. (I’m not kidding: In

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  • 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

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