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  • Straight Outta Compton

    Straight Outta Compton 2015

    ★★★★ Added

    Straight Outta Compton is the best superhero-origin film of recent years (even better than X-Men: First Class, dude) in the way that it charts the rise of rap supergroup N.W.A. by first introducing each of its individual members and then pitting them against the music-industry supervillains (i.e., Jerry Heller and Suge Knight) who threaten to tear the team apart. The fact that Compton has already become a cultural phenomenon must be seen as a testament to how hungry general audiences…

  • Near Death

    Near Death 1989

    ★★★★★ Added

    Legendary documentarian Frederick Wiseman is famous for his thoroughness and objectivity even if he’s not quite as unimpeachable in these areas as some of his partisans claim; 2013’s AT BERKELEY, for instance, gave surprisingly short shrift to the title university’s professors while letting its administrators ramble on forever. 1989’s NEAR DEATH, however, has both of these qualities in spades and is a monumental achievement of the documentary form; it takes as its subject the medical intensive care unit of Boston’s…

  • The Blue Room

    The Blue Room 2014

    ★★★★ Added

    “Life is different when you live it and when you go back over it after.” So says Julien Gahyde (director and co-writer Mathieu Amalric), an adulterous–and possibly murderous–farm equipment sales rep, in response to a gendarme’s incessant questions concerning an ambiguous crime. Gahyde’s year-long affair with a beautiful but unstable pharmacist, Esther Despierre (co-writer Stephanie Cleau), also married, ends in tragedy but this erotic thriller is ingeniously constructed to only teasingly parcel out the narrative information; the nonlinear structure, which…

  • A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

    A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night 2014

    ★★★ Added

    Distributor Kino/Lorber has cannily but misleadingly marketed A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT as the “first Iranian vampire western.” The film’s writer/director, Ana Lily Amirpour, was born in London to Iranian parents and raised in America; it was shot in Bakersfield, California (standing in for a fictional Iranian ghost town named “Bad City”); the cast consists almost entirely of Persian-American actors speaking Farsi; and, aside from a stray spaghetti-western-inflected song or two on the diegetic-heavy soundtrack, the movie bears…

  • Mr. Turner

    Mr. Turner 2014

    ★★★★ Added 1

    Mike Leigh’s brilliant, quasi-secretive methods of constructing his unique brand of cinema — his completed screenplays apparently grow out of intensive improv-workshops with his actors — always yield spontaneous and dynamic results but there is something particularly fascinating about seeing his style applied to period pieces (as in Vera Drake, Topsy Turvy and now this); Leigh has a way of making the past feel less mummified than other directors. Mr. Turner is a biopic of 19th-century British painter J.M.W. Turner,…

  • Top Five

    Top Five 2014

    ★★★½ Added

    Though I’ve long admired his stand-up comedy, Top Five is the first film I’ve seen that was actually directed by Chris Rock (it’s his third feature). There are occasional tonal inconsistencies — there almost always are when anyone other than Jean Renoir tries to meld comedy and drama — but this is, on the whole, a smart, raunchy and very funny satire of celebrity and black life in 21st century America. As a cinematic vehicle, it is worthy of Rock’s…

  • The Cannibals

    The Cannibals 1988

    ★★★★½ Added

    Director Manoel de Oliveira wrote the screenplay based on a novel by the Portuguese writer Álvaro Carvalhal and then had a contemporary classical composer, João Paes, write the music and the libretto. The plot concerns Marguerite (Silveira), a high-society woman who marries a wealthy Viscount (Luis Miguel Cintra, Oliveira’s favorite leading man) over the objections of her jealous ex-lover, Don Juan (Diogo Doria). On their wedding night, the Viscount reveals to Marguerite his darkest secret, which leads to a devilish, uproariously funny climax that you have to see to believe.

    From my "Celluloid Flashback" review: whitecitycinema.com/2014/12/01/celluloid-flashback-the-cannibals/

  • Goodbye to Language

    Goodbye to Language 2014

    ★★★★★ Added

    In an era when independent American and foreign-language movies are receiving ever-quicker assignments to the “Video On Demand” graveyard, Goodbye to Language feels like a form of protest (whether conscious on the director’s part or not). By creating an “art film” that can only be properly experienced in palaces devoted to mainstream “entertainment,” Godard has exposed the increasingly large gulf between such silly concepts and made a movie whose true viewership would seem to be some imaginary but more enlightened audience of the future.

    whitecitycinema.com/2014/11/17/2014-the-year-of-the-jlg/

  • Fort Tilden

    Fort Tilden 2014

    ★★ Added

    This microbudget feature debut comedy by co-writers/directors Charles Rogers and Sarah Violet-Bliss plotlessly examines the lives of two vapid, twenty-something rich girls in Williamsburg (Bridey Elliott and Clare McNulty) as they spend a needlessly difficult day trying to meet up with two boys at a beach near their home. Fort Tilden inspires some lascivious chuckles but, even if you disagree with the notion that satirizing hipsters is past its sell-by date, there’s no denying it’s also visually sloppy and tonally…

  • The Midnight After

    The Midnight After 2014

    ★★½ Added

    Of the two misfires I caught at this year’s CIFF (Fort Tilden being the other), this one was particularly painful because of my investment in its director and cast: the once-worthy Fruit Chan (Made in Hong Kong) adapts a sci-fi/comedy novel by someone named “PIZZA” about a bus full of characters played by several generations of HK movie stars (Kara Hui, Simon Yam, Lam Suet, Sam Lee, etc.) crossing into an alternate-reality universe that resembles our own but which is…

  • Winter Sleep

    Winter Sleep 2014

    ★★★★ Added

    Nuri Bilge Ceylan follows up his 2011 masterpiece Once Upon a Time in Anatolia with this impressive near-companion piece, which is focused on dialogue-driven interior scenes as much as the earlier film was on its majestically filmed journey through the barren Turkish landscape. The central figure here is Aydin (Haluk Bilginer), a retired actor who runs a hotel in Anatolia with his pretty young wife, Nihal (Melisa Sözen), and his combative sister Necla (Demet Akbag). The verbal sparring with which…

  • Land Ho!

    Land Ho! 2014

    ★★★★ Added

    I don’t want to oversell it — because the virtues of this low-key comedy are modest by design — but I enjoyed the hell out of every one of Land Ho!‘s breezy 94 minutes and left the theater wondering why I can’t see a new indie movie like this every week. This is the first film I’ve encountered from either of its two chief architects, Aaron Katz and Martha Stevens (a pair of American independents who have previously only worked…