Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Sun Sep 13, 2015 5:10 pm 
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Again I'll follow the same format of brief viewing notes for commercial releases seen in NYC at spare moments while covering the New York Film Festival.

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SLEEPING WITH OTHE PEOPLE (Lesley Headland, of Bachelorette, 2015). An American rom-com with up-to-date vulgarity and a classic format: a couple (Jason Sudeikis, Alison Brie) who meet-cute in college, take years of sleeping around to realize they love each other. Also including Adam Brody and Amanda Peet. The movie belongs to Sudeikis for his energetic, deft delivery of the frequently funny dialogue penned by Headland. Is this also how young women talk now? At Regal Union Square with an enthusiastic young crowd Sat. night 12 Sept.2015.

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WELCOME TO LEITH (Michael Beach Nichols, Christopher K. Walker 2015). A stark, chilling little documentary about how notorious white supremacist Craig Cobb, long followed by the Southern Poverty Law Center, attempted to take over a "registered ghost town" in South Dakota of 24 inhabitants, mostly farmers or ranchers. A perhaps more extreme version of the Skokie issue. During the filmmaking, Cobb and his young cohort Dutton are jailed for a menacing "armed patrol" and Cobb is convicted of a felony but released in a plea bargain deal. Like the town of Jesse Moss' The Overnighters Leith is in an area that benefitted from the recent oil boom and it's a documentary that developed interestingly for the filmmakers, but The Overnighters isa richer, better film. At IFC Center 13 Sept. 2015.

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QUEEN OF EARTH (Alex Ross Perry 2015). Perry moves Elizabeth Ross up from a minor rejected woman in his witty, acerbic Listen Up Philip to a spoiled drama queen hit by the double whammy of her famous artist father's suicide and being dumped by her boyfriend. As the friend who hosts her at a posh country house, Katherine Waterston provides limited dramatic contrast with a soppy performance. Perry ramps up the Strindbergesque angst without satisfying dramatic action. Patrik Fugit provides some clarity. At IFC Center 14 Sept. 2015. CK review.

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THE GOLD OF NAPLES/L'ORO DI NAPOLI (Vittorio De Sica 1954). Revival of this omnibus film as part of a De Sica retrospective at Film Forum. Based on a famous story collection by Gioseppe Marotta, it is in six episodes and includes famous actors like Totò, Paolo Stoppa, Sofia Loren, De Sica himself, and Silvana Mangano. On the one hand it is a wonderful, atmospheric collection; on the other hand, the stories are of uneven effectiveness cinematically, and the whole is less fun than other Italian collections of the period. At Film Forum 14 Sept. 2015.

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SICARIO (Denis Villeneuve 2015). A blazingly focused and simple film for Villeneuve, his most economical and effective yet, violent, exciting, shocking, and full of surprising moral complexity where the good guys are also bad guys or you just don't know anymore. Emily Blunt is the FBI innocent who would play by the books. Benicio del Toro is terrific as the questionable dark ops Latin American allowed to do what the DOD or CIA (represented by a smirking, gum chewing Josh Brolin) would have done south of the border. At Regal Union Square opening night 18 Sept. 2015. See my full review here.

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PAWN SACRIFICE (Edward Zwick 2015). Bobby Fischer feature with Tobey Maguire (better than you'd think), Liev Schreiber (speaking only fluent Russian as Spassky) and Peter Sarsgaard (as a lean elegant priest who was with Bobby at Reykyavik). Covers Bobby's younger years, his sister and mother, first matches against adults, then moves quickly to the climax of his media fame and greatest glory in the eyes of the world public, the 1972 match against Spassky. Uses expressionistic exaggeration to dramatize Fisher's paranoia and possible schizophrenia; not much about his certain charm as a media personality (he did a self-spoofing skit with Bob Hope). Best moments are not all that but the few when the beauty and genius of his games are mentioned. For a moment or two we see him as a virtuoso and immortal, greatest chess player of all time, and forget the demanding nut case. Zwick's film is conventional but well crafted. Maguire of course is short and Fischer was tall. At Landmark Sunshine 19 Sept. 2015.

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MAZE RUNNER: THE SCORCH TRALS (Wes Ball 2015). The second episode of this YA franchise is more violent and scary but makes less sense than the first, saved only by the appealing cast and some new actors, including Lili Taylor, Aiden Gillen of Queer As Folk, Rosa Salazar, and Giancarlo Esposito. There's lots of action, not much narrative you can get a clear grip on. The Gladers, escaped from the Maze, are rounded up and confined for some kind of experiment because they're "Immunes," but they escape, to run across urban and desert landscapes (sets and locations are the thing here, some cool ruins plus some cool ghouls), only to have Patricia Clarkson turn up again looking dour and dressed in white. Stay tuned for what Thomas (Dylan O'Brien) will lead them to next. He doesn't know yet. Metacritic 43%. Regal Union Square 19 Sept. 2015.

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BLACK MASS (Scott Cooper 2015). South Boston arch criminal Jimmy "Whitey" Bulger's long term as an FBI informant is an oddity worth examining, but this is such a rote gangster flick it's uninteresting to watch, were it not for Johnny Depp's truly scary turn as Bulger. The real protagonist in between Jimmy's beatings and murders (when he doesn't want to mess up the decor he prefers to choke his victims to death) is his old pal John Connolly (Aussie actor/director Joel Edgerton, excellent). John rises in the FBI on the strength of Bulger's informing, which is a sham, and he is doomed. I wish all this could have been more atmospheric, tragic, and intense. We get the added novelty of seeing Brit it-boy Benedict Cumbarbatch doing a Southy accent as Jimmy's State Senator brother. There's also Peter Sarsgaard and Kevin Bacon, so talent has been brought in this time by Cooper, whose previous features were smaller. At Regal Union Square 20 Sept. 2015.

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MERU (Jimmy Chin, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi 2015). Three men climbed Himalayan mountain Meru, not as high as Everest but tougher, steeper. And they filmed themselves doing it. It took two tries. On the first try, an unusual storm kept them confined to their tent for four days so their supply of food, water, and time ran short. In the several years before their second and successful try two of their members almost died, and one suffered serious skull injuries. This has all the jaw-dropping thrills and chills of the most extreme sports and derring-do and may be considered one of the year's significant documentaries. It is partly narrated by the expert Jon Krakauer of Into the Wild and Into Thin Air. And yet, because for me these mountain climbing movies are beginning to merge into each other, I forgot I had seen it a week later and had to look through my daily journal to find out what day I saw it. So no, it's not one of my favorites. Mike D'Angelo gives it a 51. At Angelika Film Center 21 Sept. 2015.

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MISSISSIPPI GRIND (Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck 2015) The Half Nelson team do a buddy/road picture about two lost soul gamblers who team up to work their way to New Orleans making the $25,000 entry fee for a high stakes poker game. It's all about the acting of all-around great Aussie thesp Ben Nicholson and the underrated Ryan Reynolds, who shines in a career-best role as his nine-years-younger mascot brought along for luck. The local color is thick, the dialogue is rich, and the cast has great depth, and I wish I could feel the action really went anywhere, but it's all in the journey. Who knows? This may be one of the year's best American movies. At Angelika Film Center 27 Sept. 2015.

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99 HOMES (Ramin Bahrani 2014) The Iranian independent filmmaker from North Carolina who made Man Push Cart, Chop Shop and Goodbye Solo turned to issue pictures in a muddled way with his 2013 farm family drama At Any Price, and goes full-on in this powerful, if someone one-note drama set in Florida in the grim aftermath of the housing bubble. A real estate salesman (Michael Shannon) has turned into a ruthless foreclosure czar. One whose family he evicts (Andrew Garfield), an all-around young master of building trades and up-and-comer, unable to find other work and lured by the big money, becomes his junior partner, taking on the role of his own victimizer. (A more low-keyed treatment of the dilemma of Garfield's character is found in Stéphane Brizé's recent Cannes film The Measure of a Man/La loi du marché.) Look at Garfield's face and you know it's not going to last, so this is predictable. But unlike At any Price this is a successful movie, full of the nitty gritty and complexities of the subject and gripping to watch. With Shannon and Garfield equally intense, it's a constant succession of intense scenes that leave you shattered and keenly aware how a poorly supervised housing market has led to ruined lives. With Laura Dern as Garfield's mom. At Angelika Film Center 27 Sept. 2015.

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THE MARTIAN (Ridley Scott). Robinson Crusoe in space. Amiable everyman (and team botanist) Matt Damon accidentally left by himself on Mars a billion miles from Earth -- and he jokes. It's fun. But tough. "I'm going to have to science the shit out of this." Writer Andy Weir's book puts the science back into science fiction. You may not understand a lot of the chatter if you're not scientific, but this is a good story, with constant interplay between loneliness and togetherness: the Chinese even chip in and help the Americans save their man. If that doesn't work for you, enjoy the lovely images of space suits and orange landscape (the Red Planet turns out to be the color of Jessica Chastain's hair) -- and disco music, all Watney's got to listen to. At Regal Union Square 3 Oct. 2015.

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TAXI (Jaafar Panahi 2015). When in Iran, Kiarostami liked to shoot films in a car. Panahi is officially barred from filmmaking, and can only work clandestinely, so this time he drove around Teheran posing (sort of) as a taxi driver and shooting himself, his passengers, and the road with a swivel-mounted dashboard camera. A succession of people get on board, ncluding a self-declared mugger advocating brutal sharia law, a liberal schoolteacher, two nutty ladies with a goldfish bowl, a dealer in contraband DVD's who recognizes him, an old neighbor, his talkative niece who wants to be a filmmaker, a disbarred woman lawyer carrying flowers who salutes him, and brigands who go off with his dashboard "security" camera at the end. Panahi retains a smiling demeanor as this understated panorama of Iranian society and its ills unfolds. The film received the Golden Bear at the Berlinale, more as a tribute and political statement, perhaps; it seems not his most effective recent film. It is our duty to watch it nonetheless. There are many sly messages and self-references contained here and this is an act of courage to be admired. At IFC Center 4 Oct. 2014.

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THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING (Avi Kaufman 2015). Somewhat a missed opportunity, because this documentary based on Naomi Klein's book on climate and grassroots activism seems muddled and defanged in this form, the word "capitalism" rarely mentioned though the book's subtitle is Capitalism and the Climate. A NY Times review of the book shows it to be far more sweeping, vigorous, and smart -- but the subtitle should say "neoliberalism" not "capitalism." TAXI was Metacritic 90% by the way; this is Metacritic 59%. But I came, because the subject is important and Naomi Klein is usually lively. At IFC Center 6 Oct. 2015.

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DRUNK STONED BRILLIANT DEAD: THE STORY OF THE NATIONAL LAMPOON (Douglas Tirola 2015) . A short busy documentary about the history of the National Lampoon humor magazine using much archival footage and many talking heads assembled from the original participants. The magazine was more provocative (wildly so, in an extreme schoolboyish way) than satirical, and provided more outrage than wit; but one of the original members was British. We learn that it grew out of the Harvard Lampoon, and that there was a radio show offshoot, and that it then grew into "Saturday Night" with Belushi, Chevy Chase, Gilda Radner and other US Seventies comedy greats, then branched into Hollywood with Animal House, and as the magazine declined, its contributors went to Los Angeles and became an influence there. The line to Apatow is clear. Important cultural history here. At IFC Center 10 Oct. 2015.

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©Chris Knipp. Blog: http://chrisknipp.blogspot.com/.


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