Film

  • It Follows

    IT’S HALLOWEEN NIGHT, 1984, in the new season of Stranger Things, and police chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour) is talking to a locked door. The show’s telekinetic heroine Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) is on the other side, age thirteen, reenacting Poltergeist (1982) with the TV tuned to a dead channel. “Sorry, kid,” he mumbles, trying to be a dad. “I lost track of time . . .”

    That could be a hot new slogan for Netflix, which produces the series. In the fictional small town of Hawkins, Indiana, the 1980s are brought back from the dead in high definition, every frame like a window into a dollhouse

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  • DESIRING MACHINE

    “FROM THE START, pianists have an uphill battle to become good musicians, because of the essentially mechanical nature of their instrument,” the critic Nicholas Spice once wrote of Glenn Gould. “Where string players, wind players and singers are obliged to involve their bodies and their breathing in their technique, pianists can sit at their keyboards like computer operators.” If the piano is a kind of machine, one could say that hands—famously fetishized by Michael Haneke’s cool gaze in The Piano Teacher—are the link by which the pianist yokes herself to the machine. Or, better,

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  • O Pioneers!

    NEVADA IS FAMOUS for shotgun weddings, but from 1931 to 1970, the state was a mecca for prospective divorcées. It was one of few places in the US that offered a wide range of legal grounds for ending a marriage, and it had a lax residency requirement—a mere six weeks. Divorce became a veritable industry in Reno, where dude ranches catered specifically to those looking to untie the knot.

    This Wild West is the unlikely setting for the same-sex romance depicted in Desert Hearts (1985), which was recently digitally restored by the Criterion Collection, Janus Films, and the UCLA Film & Television

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  • To B, or Not to B

    POVERTY ROW WASN’T A PLACE ON ANY MAP. The studios were scattered around Los Angeles and its environs: Republic was based in Studio City with a ranch for cowboy pictures in Encino. Monogram did its oaters in Placerite Canyon, with a lot on Sunset Boulevard owned today by the Church of Scientology. Producers Releasing Corporation moved from Gower Street to Santa Monica Boulevard, where they would eventually acquire the pompous sobriquet Eagle-Lion Films after being purchased by British producer J. Arthur Rank. What unified the “B-Hive” wasn’t geography but the sort of work that they did—B pictures

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  • Hyde and Seek

    PERHAPS MOTHER!, that self-gormandizing envisaging of Roman Polanski’s Stardust Memories as an all-you-can-swallow buffet of metaphysical leftovers and creamed corn à la mode, left you unsatisfied. Then Stephen Frears’s much-maligned and oft-magnificent Mary Reilly (1996) is the perfect Goth-Hitchcock antidote. A subliminally satirical reworking of the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde tale from Frears and screenwriter Christopher Hampton, Mary Reilly is a batty extension of their previous Dangerous Liaisons into the overlapping terrain of Victorian manners and sexual horror. The film is a world of

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  • Wave After Wave

    PHILIPPE GARREL WAS NOT YET A TEEN when the French New Wave first hit the shores of international cinema in 1959, and like many filmmakers over subsequent decades he would be heavily influenced by its leading lights, Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut. Garrel made his first film in 1964 and, in the fifty years since, has written and directed more than thirty others, but has never achieved the reputation of his mentors. It was not until the late 1970s that his cinema assumed the distinct, quasi-autobiographical quality that remains his strength.

    Earlier stabs at allegory and symbolism had mixed

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  • Night and Day

    THIS YEAR’S NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL pays tribute to actor Robert Mitchum, whose career began in Hollywood’s golden age, weathered the demise of the studio system, and continued with the rise of television and the birth of the miniseries—125 movies in all between 1943 and 1983. Known primarily as the quintessential noir tough guy with the moony countenance in the genre of the 1940s, he was a bit player in many B movies before his breakthrough performance in William Wellman’s The Story of G.I. Joe (1943), the only film to earn him an Oscar nomination. G.I. Joe kicks off the retrospective, followed

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  • Irony of Ironies

    NEAR THE END of Finnish artist Jaakko Pallasvuo’s Filter, screening at this year’s Projections sidebar of the New York Film Festival, a man wonders, “Why am I watching this movie?” It’s a question we’ve all asked ourselves countless times and one we assume programmers of film festivals wrestle with as they decide what merits attention. Given the current political climate, it’s not surprising that many works in this year’s Projections were selected in light of growing concerns about the expanding list of endangered species—not only of the racial, gender, ethnic, and environmental varieties, but

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  • Small Wonder

    A SHELTER AWAY from the vast and all-consuming Toronto International Film Festival’s red-carpet parades, the Wavelengths program is TIFF’s home for all things experimental and otherwise undefinable. As of last year, the mandate of Wavelengths programmer Andréa Picard had even expanded to include off-site installation works, such as Albert Serra’s multiscreen Singularity.

    Such expansions were curtailed in 2017. Wavelengths was slightly smaller this year—as, indeed, was TIFF in toto, part of an across-the-board attempt to rein in a megafestival that had become too big to present a cogent identity.

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  • Eight Ball

    IF YOU SAW 8 MILLION WAYS TO DIE (1986) via the movie equivalent to Downbeat Magazine’s Blindfold Test—sans credits, prior knowledge, or preconceived context—it could seem like a film that had come unstuck in time. Draping itself in the moody trappings of neo-noir action-romance, it boasts minimal action and its romantic pièce de résistance features a drunken failed seduction that culminates with the femme fatale vomiting down the hero’s pants. Its slouching posture suggests an affinity for Robert Altman’s loser-reverie The Long Goodbye (1973), updated with all the cold accoutrements of mid-’80s

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  • Music to My Ears

    THE ROSTER LIVES UP TO ITS TITLE: “The Whole World Sings: International Musicals.” I wish I could spend a week at the Quad seeing all thirteen features in the series organized by the theater’s programmers in collaboration with Village Voice critic Bilge Ebiri. Whether bittersweet, semitragic, joyous, or somewhat deranged, almost every one of these films will lift your spirits as you enter a fall season that looks to be as depressing—I’m not referring only to culture—as this summer was.

    Screening in a new digital restoration, Chantal Akerman’s 1986 Golden Eighties (aka Window Shopping) is a study

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  • By the Book

    ONE OF THE MYSTERIES OF Ex Libris: New York Public Library is how a movie consisting almost entirely of people sitting around talking on library grounds manages to feel urgent and invigorating.

    The film is the latest of the institutional studies that Frederick Wiseman has been producing for the half century since Titicut Follies (1967), set in the Bridgewater State Hospital for the criminally insane. Wiseman’s project is among the most ambitious ever undertaken in nonfiction cinema, a nearly comprehensive chronicling of (mostly) American institutions, and his rigor and intelligence are so

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