• Tammy

    Tammy

    Tammy, the new comedy co-written by and starring Melissa McCarthy, is a hell of a lot better than anyone had a right to expect. In light of this, perhaps we can take a moment to think about the film and its star as participants in the ongoing tug-of-war we call feminism, even if you might not immediately think of Tammy as some kind of statement in the culture wars. Indeed it's not, but part of what makes McCarthy such a…

  • The Last Film

    The Last Film

    Everything is dying. It's a truism that all cultural expression is a faint shadow of what it was a mere 20 or 30 years ago, that we're in a perpetual state of decline. As a result, one of the dominant themes of contemporary arts discourse is the Death of This and the Death of That. Some of this is more of the same nostalgia talking — that sense that once upon a time, more people read poetry, attended experimental one-act plays, and debated the relative merits of Sibelius over Rachmaninoff.

    Continued at the Nashville Scene.

  • Mood Indigo

    Mood Indigo

    Much like Frenchman Georges Perec deciding to compose his 300-page novel A Void without ever using the letter "e," a good critic must take up the challenge to write about the work of Michel Gondry without using the word "whimsy." Granted, the writer-director doesn't make it easy. Gondry made his name in the 1990s with a series of eye-catching music videos for the likes of Björk ("Human Behavior," "Hyperballad"), Chemical Brothers ("Let Forever Be"), The White Stripes ("Fell in Love With a Girl," "Denial Twist") and others. Gondry's work was immediately recognizable even in the typically bland MTV form.

    Continued at the Nashville Scene.

  • Inside Llewyn Davis

    Inside Llewyn Davis

    It's not a gimmick or an ironic twist that a shadowy figure of Bob Dylan appears onstage in the final moments of Inside Llewyn Davis. On a certain level, the sight of the man can provide a certain trainspotting amusement for viewers who have enjoyed the Coens' exacting reconstruction of the Greenwich Village folk scene of the early 1960s. (It could also function as the Coens' nod to their colleague Todd Haynes. Dylan doesn't need to play any explicit role…

  • The Past

    The Past

    I realize that I am breaking with conventional wisdom (and, according to Farhadi mega-booster Mike D'Angelo, fundamental sanity) by preferring The Past to A Separation, the director's Golden Bear-winning previous film. Granted, my preference for the newer film is incremental at best, since I admire A Separation a great deal as well. I can't really say the same for the film Farhadi made before A Separation, 2009's About Elly, however, and my sense of steady improvement (or at least gradual…

  • Jimmy P.

    Jimmy P.

    There are a number of different Arnaud Desplechins, it seems. The kind of filmmaking that has become his signature style, the work that has consistently gotten the most attention from audiences and critics, is perhaps best exemplified by three of his major works: My Sex Life (or How I Got Into an Argument), Kings and Queen, and A Christmas Tale. In my discussions with a number of critics and friends (including Mike D'Angelo, Steve Erickson, Ryan Wu, Victor Morton, and…

  • Nebraska

    Nebraska

    Payne's last film, The Descendants, was also his most transparently mainstream effort. I mean that in no way pejoratively, and while I had decidedly mixed feelings about that film, there was quite a bit that it got right. In particular, Payne is getting good at observing the timeworn dynamics that define families, the way that we leave those spaces and come back to them only to find that superficial changes are outweighed by decades of shared history. This can be…

  • Only Lovers Left Alive

    Only Lovers Left Alive

    Centuries-old vampires setting down roots in Detroit, the contemporary exemplar of an undead city. Jarmusch's guiding metaphor is so bang-on that the film makes no effort even to remark upon it. Instead, Only Lovers (quite wisely) treats it as warp and woof, the fundamental overtone of a film organized primarily around mood and texture. This is not to say there is no plot, although it is rather minimal. Vampire Adam (Tom Hiddleston) seems to have sent out a long-distance soul-call…

  • Shield of Straw

    Shield of Straw

    Here's an odd little factoid for ya. As of this writing (mid-April 2014), Miike's Shield of Straw and the universally reviled A Castle in Italy are the only two Competition films never to have received North American distribution. Granted, Shield's reception at Cannes was chilly indeed, but this strikes me as rather unfair. I'm prepared to accept that my liking the film is a minority opinion, although I'd make no great claims for it. But here's an instance in which…

  • Venus in Fur

    Venus in Fur

    A naughty director tries to lord it over a woman and ends up getting justifiably put in his place? Even though Polanski adapted this highly theatrical two-hander from a play by David Ives, it's difficult not to read Venus In Fur as at least partially self-critical on the director's part. Those who think Polanski identifies with his persecuted protagonists might need to look closely at Venus, which strikes me as an acknowledgment that even though he (and Samantha Geimer) may…

  • Behind the Candelabra

    Behind the Candelabra

    There are times when you just can't be certain what you're looking at. Michael Douglas's performance as Liberace manages to avoid all easy caricature, showing him to be vain, materialistic and somewhat Machiavellian, but also funny, clever, sexually liberated (at least in private), and unexpectedly clear-eyed about his overall place in the entertainment firmament. Instead of a career-spanning biopic, Candelabra zeroes in on his tempestuous relationship (a marriage in all but name, really) to Scott Thorson (Matt Damon), a lonely…

  • The Immigrant

    The Immigrant

    In films like The Yards and We Own the Night, Gray has proven himself to be a master at revivifying a lost demimonde, one we might call "deep New York." By this I mean that Gray shows us different facets of a general undertow characterized by family and tradition, particularly as they inscribe themselves on men and women who attempt to move forward into modernity. Interestingly enough, Gray has repeatedly found his avatar for this fraught dialectic in Joaquin Phoenix…