COLUMNS

  • Greatest Hit

    YOU CAN BE KNOCKED OUT by the craft of Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman but remain convinced that its twilight-of-the-mob narrative is unworthy of the director’s effort. That was basically my response the first time I saw the movie. But great works have a way of hanging around in your head “in the still of the night,” to quote the Five Satins’ 1956 doo-wop hit that accompanies the opening and final sequences of the film, which is, at the least, one of the funniest yet deadly serious melodramas ever made. Scorsese was thirteen in 1956. Eternity, which is the subtext of the Five Satins’ song—and of

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  • The Longest Doomsday

    THE VOICE-OVER EPIGRAPH to Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia (1999)—“We may be through with the past, but the past is never through with us”—could also serve for Lost and The Leftovers cocreator Damon Lindelof’s remix of Watchmen, a new HBO series based on Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s multigenerational, self-deconstructing superhero comic from the 1980s. It is about the eruption of long-buried secrets, relationships, grudges, and atrocities into the present—a present very different from our own, save for certain recognizable details, artfully exaggerated in the tradition of near-future dystopias.

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  • Mixed Signals

    A SON OF NEW HAMPSHIRE, Robert Eggers, in the course of two features, has established himself as a fanatic fetishist of the old, weird New England of popular imagination. His first, The Witch (2015), set in the forests of Plymouth Colony, takes place in the seventeenth-century Massachusetts now associated with Nathaniel Hawthorne and his reckonings with the Puritan legacy, while his follow-up, the late Victorian period The Lighthouse, moves out to sea. We’re now in the territory of Herman Melville, whose work is at one point invoked, though Providence native H. P. Lovecraft is perhaps the more

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  • Cul de Sacked

    IF BONG JOON-HO’S PARASITE WERE AN EQUATION, it would be expressed as Space = Class2. Bong’s rippling socioeconomic comedy lays out inequality in both schematic and organic terms: two diametrically opposed worlds, two status-indicative smells (pristine affluence, dank deprivation), two intertwined households (each consisting of father, mother, son, and daughter). In one tight corner are the scrappy, underclass Kims, struggling to stay afloat in jury-rigged “semi-basement” living quarters (their toilet is perched on a counter) at the wrong end of a flood-prone, bug-infested cul-de-sac. “Open the

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  • Eternal Present

    PROJECTIONS, now in its sixth year, remains the most eclectic sidebar of the annual New York Film Festival, now in its fifty-seventh year. While at first the series seemed to be the heir to Views from the Avant-Garde, Projections has increasingly embraced works that could easily be part of the main slate or other sidebars of the festival, in addition to films and videos by artists who were regularly presented at Views. Among the latter are Pat O’Neill, whose dazzling 35-mm Saugus Series (1974) was recently restored by the Academy Film Archive and the Film Foundation, and is being screened at

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  • MAD MONEY

    THE WORLD looks pale and wan—as if about to expire—in Steven Soderbergh’s The Laundromat, an unsparing political, economic, and social satire in which almost every major character gasps for breath at one point or another. Scott Z. Burns’s screenplay is adapted from journalist Jake Bernstein’s 384-page Secrecy World: Inside the Panama Papers Investigation of Illicit Money Networks and the Global Elite (2017), an extensive analysis of the hidden practices of money laundering, bribery, and tax evasion first exposed in 2015 when 11.5 million documents belonging to the forty-year-old Panamanian law

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  • Bleeding Edge

    THE TITLE 48 WAR MOVIES seems straightforward, and so is one’s immediate impression of Christian Marclay’s single-channel video installation, which debuted at the Venice Biennale and is currently at Paula Cooper Gallery in New York. The piece is kinetic, cacophonous, and in-your-face. But it’s what you don’t see that gets you thinking. Marclay digitally layered forty-eight feature-length war films, each slightly larger than the one that almost conceals it, so that only the four outer edges of each film’s frame are visible. The movie in the center is the exception. We can watch it entirely,

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  • Sticky Situations

    OH THAT VOICE, that hoarse, insinuating whisper, which simultaneously sucks you in and spits you out. It was Vito Acconci’s stock-in-trade during the first two decades of his career, when he was what he later described as “a situation maker.” Acconci began as a poet, and language was central to his video and performance work. He began making moving-image pieces, first in Super 8 film, then in video, toward the end of the 1960s, when Minimalism had hit a wall but survived by embedding itself in Conceptualism, performance, body art, film, and video. Between 1968 and 1977, Acconci made close to a

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  • LAUGH IN, LAUGH OUT

    WHEN LILY TOMLIN’S FIRST FILM, Robert Altman’s Nashville, was released in June 1975, the actress and comedian had been a star for at least five years, celebrated for her array of voluble characters. Some of these personae—Ernestine, the floridly passive-aggressive telephone operator; Edith Ann, an uninhibited five-year-old emotional savant—made their debut during her 1969–73 tenure on NBC’s Laugh-In. Others, like Bobbi Jeanine, a bromide-dispensing lounge-circuit organist, premiered on The Lily Tomlin Show (1973), the first of her four eponymous TV specials from the ’70s. These personalities

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  • Hot Seat

    THE SERBIAN WRITER AND DIRECTOR Ognjen Glavonić introduces Vlada (Leon Lučev), the terse, determined protagonist of Teret (The Load), in a rare moment of inattentiveness, dozing off in the back seat of a van meandering across the Balkan countryside. Flames dotting the road and reflecting off the vehicle’s window catch Vlada’s momentary attention but barely rouse him from his slumber. As an intertitle indicates, the setting, now an accustomed daily reality for the characters on-screen, is wartime: the former Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, 1999, when Serbian state forces and Kosovo-Albanian

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  • Fear of Fear

    TWO ENTWINED VIGNETTES open Roberto Minervini’s What You Gonna Do When the World’s on Fire?, a documentary shot among black communities in New Orleans and Jackson, Mississippi. The first shows a child, brandishing a prop machete, strutting down the middle of a city street, howling challenges into the night in one of the peacockish costumes of the Mardi Gras Indians. The second shows two brothers, one seemingly just into his teenage years, the other a few years younger, cautiously walking the corridors of a strobe-lighted haunted house, the smaller whimpering and begging to leave while the older

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  • Parental Controls

    IT WAS NOT UNTIL the documentary filmmaker Nanfu Wang had been living in the United States for several years and was pregnant with her first child that she began to think about China’s one-child policy. “The personal is political” was an axiom of the women’s liberation movement, invoked most powerfully in relation to women’s right to control their own bodies. Just six years after the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision made access to obtaining an abortion a fundamental right in the United States—a ruling which has not since been as endangered as it is today—China instituted a policy prohibiting a woman

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