Film Reviews

Jia Zhangke’s Mountains May Depart: Three periods in modern China, a good deal of confusion

By David Walsh, 13 February 2016

Veteran independent Chinese filmmaker Jia Zhangke’s Mountains May Depart is opening in theaters in the US this week.

The Coen Brothers’ Hail Caesar!: The “Passion” of a film studio troubleshooter

By Joanne Laurier, 9 February 2016

Hail Caesar!, directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, is a comedy about Hollywood set in the early 1950s.

45 Years: A nightmare on the brain of the living?

By David Walsh, 5 February 2016

In Andrew Haigh’s 45 Years, a childless, middle class couple living in a provincial English town, are on the eve of their 45th wedding anniversary.

Flint pre-screening of the documentary MisLEAD: America’s Secret Epidemic

Parents fighting lead poisoning denounce government inaction and lies

By Tim Rivers, 4 February 2016

Following a preview screening of the film MisLEAD: America’s Secret Epidemic, which documents the epidemic spread of lead across America, a panel of parents was joined by the director of the film and a state expert for lead risk assessment.

Racialism, art and the Academy Awards controversy

By David Walsh, 30 January 2016

It is no exaggeration to point out that, in ideological terms, Cara Buckley in the New York Times and others, in their obsession with race, are spouting a conception of society and art identified historically with the extreme right.

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi—Michael Bay’s mythmaking

By Kevin Martinez, 30 January 2016

Hollywood’s latest propaganda piece tells the story of the 2012 attack on a US base in Libya from a right-wing perspective, with predictable results.

Drone, a Norwegian-made documentary: “We just made orphans out of all these children”

By Joanne Laurier, 29 January 2016

The documentary brings together opponents of the CIA drone program and includes interviews with two former US Air Force drone pilots.

A modern Antigone: Son of Saul by László Nemes

By Dorota Niemitz, 28 January 2016

The debut film of Hungarian director László Nemes depicts the horrors of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp during the prisoner uprising of October 1944.

Charlie Kaufman’s often charming, moving Anomalisa (and Michael Moore’s feeble Where to Invade Next)

By Joanne Laurier, 23 January 2016

Anomalisa is an adult animated film created with stop-motion puppetry centering around an angst-ridden, self-help author. Where to Invade Next is a non-comment on Washington’s never-ending wars.

Neorealism: We Were Not Just Bicycle Thieves—a documentary on Italian cinema

By Richard Phillips, 19 January 2016

The 72-minute film provides a general outline of neo-realist cinema, but it is a seriously limited one.

The Revenant: Are we all savages? (And Paolo Sorrentino’s Youth )

By Joanne Laurier, 16 January 2016

The Revenant is a sensationalized account of the life of American fur trapper Hugh Glass, who famously survived a mauling by a bear. Youth is a banal meditation on aging.

The 88th Academy Awards nominations

By David Walsh, 15 January 2016

The Academy Award nominations revealed the usual muddle-headedness, liberal good intentions and severe limitations of the social grouping that decides these things.

Concussion: Highlighting the perils of American football

By Alan Gilman, 14 January 2016

Despite its limitations, Concussion serves to bring before a mass audience the grave risks inherent in playing America’s most popular sport.

Carol and The Danish Girl: Real problems, but the danger of exclusivism

By Joanne Laurier, 8 January 2016

The two films address significant subjects that could potentially shed light on society and its moral and psychological condition.

Racism and revenge: Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight

By Hiram Lee, 7 January 2016

Tarantino’s latest is a deeply unpleasant work, another in a long line of the director’s blood-soaked revenge fantasies.

Frank Capra: The Early Collection—The American filmmaker’s most ambitious and honest work

By Charles Bogle, 6 January 2016

The box set contains five pre-Code movies: Ladies of Leisure (1930), Rain Or Shine (1930), The Miracle Woman (1931), Forbidden (1932) and The Bitter Tea of General Yen (1933).

The failure of David O. Russell’s Joy, or, what any “sensible” person should know about modern society

By David Walsh, 5 January 2016

Russell’s film is loosely inspired by the life story of millionaire inventor and entrepreneur Joy Mangano, who created a self-wringing mop and other products.

The Big Short: The criminality of Wall Street and the crash of 2008

By Joanne Laurier, 31 December 2015

Adam McKay’s new film The Big Short is a hard-hitting comedy-drama about the 2008 financial meltdown.

Best films of 2015

By David Walsh and Joanne Laurier, 31 December 2015

The most interesting films we saw in 2015, both those that played in a movie theater in the US and those not yet distributed.

In Jackson Heights: Documentarian Frederick Wiseman on life in a New York City neighborhood

By Mark Witkowski and Fred Mazelis, 29 December 2015

If nothing else, Wiseman’s new documentary is a reminder of the fact that, even in this wealthiest city in the world, the working class makes up the vast majority of the population.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens: No real awakening

By Matthew MacEgan and David Walsh, 22 December 2015

The new Star Wars offering serves as the first part of a “sequel” trilogy that tells the story of the next generation by reusing many of the same ideas and visuals.

“Bloody instructions ... return to plague the instructor”

A new film version of Shakespeare’s Macbeth

By George Marlowe and David Walsh, 19 December 2015

A new version of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth with Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard emphasizes the bloody, barbaric times.

Legend and Room: Once again, celebrating the underworld—and a peculiar film about captives

By Joanne Laurier, 17 December 2015

Legend is a British crime drama about the Kray twins, London’s most notorious gangsters in the 1960s; Room concerns a mother and her five-year-old son held prisoner in a shed for seven years.

Who would celebrate Hitler today?: The German satirical film Look Who’s Back

By Bernd Reinhardt, 16 December 2015

The satirical film, based on the novel of the same title by Timur Vermes, has been seen by over two million people, making it one of the most watched in Germany this year.

Killing Them Safely: The big business of police tasers

By Kevin Martinez, 15 December 2015

The documentary is a disturbing look at TASER International, the company that has cornered the market for police electro-shock weapons.

Chi-Raq: A satire of social life in Chicago

By George Marlowe, 14 December 2015

In Spike Lee’s latest film, young women in Chicago seek to end gang violence and social breakdown by means of a sex strike.

Brooklyn: Irish immigration through rose-colored glasses

By Joanne Laurier, 10 December 2015

Brooklyn focuses on a young Irish girl who emigrates to America in the early 1950s and struggles with homesickness and adjusting to an alien environment.

Interview with Indian filmmaker Rahul Roy, director of The Factory

By Lee Parsons, 7 December 2015

Roy’s film chronicles the struggle of autoworkers at the assembly plant operated by Maruti Suzuki India, in Manesar, northern India.

Janis: Little Girl Blue–Amy Berg’s valuable documentary about singer Janis Joplin

By David Walsh, 5 December 2015

Singer Janis Joplin, born in Port Arthur, Texas, was immensely popular for the last several years of her life until her tragic demise from heroin and alcohol in October 1970.

Spotlight: A telling exposé of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church

By Joanne Laurier, 3 December 2015

Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight is a taut, quasi-political thriller that chronicles the Boston Globe’s 2002 exposure of child sexual abuse by Catholic priests in the Boston area.

The 33: A drama of the 2010 Chilean mine disaster

By Hiram Lee, 2 December 2015

The new film from Mexican-born director Patricia Riggen tells the story of the 2010 mine disaster in Chile, in which 33 miners were trapped underground for more than two months.

Trumbo and the history of the Hollywood blacklist

By Fred Mazelis, 30 November 2015

Jay Roach’s film about the anti-communist Hollywood witch-hunt, though politically limited and marred by the conventions of the biopic genre, deserves to be widely seen.

Sarah Gavron’s Suffragette: What do Mrs. Pankhurst and an East End laundress have in common?

By Joanne Laurier, 28 November 2015

British filmmaker Sarah Gavron’s Suffragette is a fictionalized account of the women’s voting rights movement in Britain in the pre-World War I period.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 2: Worn seriously thin by now

By David Walsh, 26 November 2015

The new film treats the climax of the struggle in Panem between the rebels, morally led by Katniss Everdeen, and the forces of the Capitol, presided over by the tyrannical President Coriolanus Snow.

The Factory: Documentary brings Indian auto workers’ struggle to an international audience

By Sampath Perera, 25 November 2015

The documentary from filmmaker Rahul Roy sheds important light on the brutal conditions facing workers in India’s rapidly expanding, globally integrated auto industry.

The Holocaust as Via Dolorosa: The mysticism of Piotr Chrzan’s Klezmer

By Dorota Niemitz, 19 November 2015

Piotr Chrzan’s directorial debut deals with the subject of the organized search for the Jews, or the Judenjagd, in Nazi-Occupied Poland.

Force of Destiny—a thoughtful film about surviving cancer

By Richard Phillips, 16 November 2015

Australian filmmaker Paul Cox’s first dramatic feature in seven years explores some of the complex emotional issues confronting those fighting cancer.

“Cinema must have a social conscience”

Veteran filmmaker Paul Cox discusses his latest feature

By Richard Phillips, 16 November 2015

Australian writer and director speaks about Force of Destiny, his artistic approach, concerns about militarism and the commercial pressures on filmmakers.

The Wrecking Crew: The “secret star-making machine” of 1960s pop music

By Joanne Laurier, 14 November 2015

Denny Tedesco’s lively documentary is a heartfelt tribute to a group of studio musicians in Los Angeles, nicknamed the Wrecking Crew, who were behind some of the biggest hits of the 1960s.

Our Brand is Crisis: US political consultants at their dirty work in Bolivia

By Joanne Laurier, 9 November 2015

Based on a documentary, the new David Gordon Green movie, Our Brand is Crisis, is a comedy-drama about the activities of American political operatives in the 2002 Bolivian presidential election.

Benedict Cumberbatch at the Barbican in London

“Foul deeds will rise…”: Hamlet, in a world on the brink

By George Marlowe, 5 November 2015

The weight of our time is felt, even if unevenly, in the overall mood of the recent production of Hamlet with Benedict Cumberbatch.

Truth: The victimization of CBS’s Dan Rather and Mary Mapes

By Fred Mazelis, 4 November 2015

The film at least partly reveals the role of the media as a virtual propaganda arm of the military and the CIA.

Steve Jobs fails to transcend conventional mythologizing

By Kevin Reed, 2 November 2015

Based on Walter Isaacson’s authorized biography, the film presents its title character as a clairvoyant and brilliant business leader with significant character flaws.

F.W. Murnau’s classic, groundbreaking Nosferatu in US theaters …

… and two poor, new films (Beasts of No Nation, Rock the Kasbah)

By Joanne Laurier, 30 October 2015

Several movie theaters in the US are currently screening F.W. Murnau’s classic silent film, Nosferatu (1922). We also look briefly at Rock the Kasbah and Beasts of No Nation.

Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies: An episode from the Cold War

By David Walsh, 24 October 2015

Spielberg’s new film deals with the arrest of Soviet spy Rudolf Abel in New York City in June 1957 and his subsequent exchange for U-2 spy plane pilot Gary Powers some five years later.

Coming Home: A small, sincere film about big, complex times

By David Walsh, 20 October 2015

In the late 1970s, after two decades in a remote “rehabilitation camp,” a Chinese political prisoner returns to his long-suffering wife, who does not recognize him.

Sicario: A Zero Dark Thirty for the “war on drugs”?

By Joanne Laurier, 15 October 2015

Denis Villeneuve’s new movie is a crime thriller that deals with the top-secret efforts of American intelligence forces to take down a Mexican drug cartel.

Toronto International Film Festival 2015: Part Five

Eight films from Africa, the Middle East, China, Latin America and Eastern Europe: Contemporary social realism

By David Walsh, 14 October 2015

A number of films at the recent Toronto film festival sought, with varying degrees of persuasiveness, to present pictures of modern life with an emphasis on social relationships.

“Artists have the capacity to expose the reality of war”

Sri Lankan filmmaker Prasanna Vithanage speaks with the World Socialist Web Site

By Wasantha Rupasinghe, 13 October 2015

Vithanage discusses With You, Without You and the political difficulties facing contemporary Sri Lankan filmmakers.

Black Mass: The story of Whitey Bulger, gangster and FBI informant

By Kevin Martinez, 10 October 2015

Despite exhibiting a healthy cynicism toward the authorities, the film fails to give a satisfying picture of Boston’s underworld, or the city’s social relations, in the 1970s and 1980s.

The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution: No lessons learned

By Clare Hurley and Fred Mazelis, 9 October 2015

Riveting video footage along with complacent commentary adds up to a misleading account.

Toronto International Film Festival 2015: Part Four

Guantanamo’s Child, Thank You for Bombing, The Hard Stop: Filmmakers take on the global “war on terror” and police violence at home

By Joanne Laurier, 8 October 2015

Several documentaries and fiction films treat the consequences of war in the Middle East and Central Asia and a police killing.

The Martian: A modern Robinson Crusoe

By David Walsh, 7 October 2015

One member of a manned mission to Mars is presumed dead and left behind on the desolate planet.

Time Out of Mind: Richard Gere as a homeless man in New York City

By Robert Fowler, 5 October 2015

Some of the more authentic moments in the film come in the form of George Hammond’s difficulties with government bureaucracies and homeless shelter officials.

Toronto International Film Festival 2015: Part Three

I Saw the Light (Hank Williams) and Janis: Little Girl Blue (Janis Joplin)—Popular music and its discontents

By David Walsh, 3 October 2015

Country music performer Hank Williams (1923-1953) and rock and roll singer Janis Joplin (1943-1970) were both significant figures in the history of American popular culture.

Re-released after 40 years: The strengths and weaknesses of Robert Altman’s Nashville

By David Walsh, 30 September 2015

The nearly three-hour work follows two dozen characters over the course of several days in the city of Nashville, Tennessee, the official capital of country music.

Toronto International Film Festival 2015: Part one

The physical and emotional toll that capitalist society takes

By David Walsh, 26 September 2015

The 40th Toronto International Film Festival screened some 285 feature films and 110 shorts from 71 countries.

99 Homes’ director Ramin Bahrani: “The villain is the system”

By Joanne Laurier, 24 September 2015

Iranian-American writer-director Ramin Bahrani (Man Push Cart, 2005; Chop Shop, 2007; Goodbye Solo, 2008) has created a compelling work that puts flesh and blood on the foreclosure epidemic.

Noah Baumbach’s Mistress America offers some hints of humanity

By Christine Schofelt, 10 September 2015

A young student in New York City, an aspiring writer, meets her energetic, difficult stepsister-to-be.

Jacques Tourneur’s Out of the Past (1947): The weight of history

By David Walsh and Joanne Laurier, 5 September 2015

Tourneur’s film, adapted from Build My Gallows High, a novel by American writer Daniel Mainwaring published in 1946, has one of the most suggestive titles in cinema history.

Phoenix: After WWII in Germany, a woman rises from the ashes

By Joanne Laurier, 3 September 2015

Set in the immediate aftermath of World War II, a Jewish concentration camp survivor, Nelly Lenz (Nina Hoss), is grossly disfigured and traumatized.

Xavier Dolan’s Mommy: The story of a troubled youth

By Laurent Lafrance, 22 August 2015

The fifth feature film by Quebecois director Xavier Dolan, only 25 years of age, won numerous awards in 2014 and 2015.

Woody Allen’s Irrational Man: The familiar flatness and lack of conviction

By David Walsh, 14 August 2015

Allen’s latest film focuses on controversial philosophy professor Abe Lucas who arrives at fictional, liberal arts Braylin College in Newport, Rhode Island to teach a summer course.

Amy, a documentary film about the British singer Amy Winehouse

By Joanne Laurier, 12 August 2015

Asif Kapadia’s documentary is a straightforward and compelling account of the performer’s life starting at the age of fourteen.

Mr. Holmes: Old age, the perils of science, a minor mystery solved …

By David Walsh, 6 August 2015

In post-World War II Britain, the great detective Sherlock Holmes lives in seclusion in rural Sussex, with his housekeeper, Mrs. Munro, and her young son Roger.

Trainwreck: The latest from Judd Apatow

By David Walsh, 1 August 2015

In Apatow’s Trainwreck, Amy Schumer, the stand-up comic and writer, is the psychological mess of the title.

Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity (1944) and the phenomenon of American film noir

By David Walsh and Joanne Laurier, 28 July 2015

Turner Classic Movies, the US cable and satellite television network, presented Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity (1944) at selected theaters on July 19 and 20.

R.W. Fassbinder at 70: the German filmmaker’s life on display in Berlin

By Hiram Lee, 23 July 2015

An exhibition at Berlin’s Martin-Gropius-Bau pays tribute to German filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder on the seventieth anniversary of his birth.

What Happened, Miss Simone?: The life of African-American singer, pianist and civil rights activist Nina Simone

By Helen Hayes and Fred Mazelis, 22 July 2015

Simone did not so much move between different genres—jazz, gospel, blues and folk—as combine them into her own unique and powerful style.

Manglehorn and The Cobbler: The influence of social-gravitational forces

By David Walsh, 13 July 2015

The two films, Manglehorn, directed by David Gordon Green, and The Cobbler, directed by Tom McCarthy, both fall into the independent drama, or comedy-drama category.

The Face of an Angel and Danny Collins: A notorious murder trial and an aging musician

By Joanne Laurier, 10 July 2015

The Face of an Angel is a fictional treatment of the Amanda Knox murder trial. Danny Collins is the story of a rock star who changes his life after receiving a letter that John Lennon wrote him decades earlier.

Terminator Genisys and the trajectory of American “independent” filmmaking

By David Walsh, 8 July 2015

A number of the independent filmmakers of the 1990s and early 2000s have found their way, like Alan Taylor, to one or another blockbuster franchise.

NBC’s American Odyssey: Mercenaries, jihadists and Machiavellian US corporations

By Christine Schofelt, 6 July 2015

American Odyssey, cancelled after the first season, exhibited some good intentions, but ultimately familiar confusion.

The Wolfpack, Dope: American experiences, oddities

By Joanne Laurier, 3 July 2015

The Wolfpack is a documentary about seven children who were locked away for many years in an apartment in a public housing project in Manhattan.

The Apu Trilogy: “Art wedded to truth must, in the end, have its rewards”

By Richard Phillips, 29 June 2015

Indian director Satyajit Ray’s cinematic masterwork, The Apu Trilogy has been meticulously restored by Janus Films and is currently screening in North American cinemas.

Julie Taymor’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream

By David Walsh, 24 June 2015

The film was made during a run of Taymor’s version of Shakespeare’s play at the Theatre for a New Audience in Brooklyn in 2013-14.

Jurassic World, summer blockbuster

By Christine Schofelt, 23 June 2015

Though largely formulaic, the film is not without its charms and touches on some interesting questions—albeit lightly.

La loi du marché (The Measure of a Man): An attempt at a drama of the French working class

By Antoine Lerougetel, 20 June 2015

Fifty-one-year-old Thierry, who has lost his job in a factory closure, urgently tries to find work since his unemployment benefit will soon run out.

Noah Baumbach’s While We’re Young: No need to fight

By Christine Schofelt, 17 June 2015

Riddled with generational stereotypes, While We’re Young pleads the case against intellectual honesty in favor of “personal fulfillment.”

Mad Max: Fury Road: A “feminist” demolition derby

By Kevin Martinez, 15 June 2015

The fourth film in the post-apocalyptic Mad Max franchise, Fury Road is a brutal and depressing experience, despite the positive comments from various critics.

Orson Welles symposium at University of Michigan

By David Walsh, 13 June 2015

The University of Michigan’s library is the home of the largest assortment of Orson Welles archival papers and documents in the world.

A new film version of Far from the Madding Crowd; Brian Wilson’s story in Love & Mercy

By Joanne Laurier, 12 June 2015

Set in rural England in the 1870s, Far from the Madding Crowd is the story of a free-spirited young woman who attracts three suitors of diverse social and psychological make-up.

The Divergent Series: Insurgent—More talent and resources squandered

By Christine Schofelt, 30 May 2015

Any attempt at building a thoughtful story has been abandoned in favor of a special effects bonanza, leaving one to ask: Where is this heading?

Alex Garland’s Ex Machina: Will artificial intelligence replace human efforts?

By Dorota Niemitz, 20 May 2015

Ex Machina is an elegant and thought-provoking science fiction thriller that considers the future of humanity in relation to the rapid developments in computer science technology.

Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal’s Zero Dark Thirty

CIA-embedded Hollywood liars and their lies

By David Walsh, 15 May 2015

We now know, thanks to Seymour Hersh and his article in the London Review of Books, that, along with everything else, the Bigelow-Boal film was a pack of lies from beginning to end.

The Gunman, Sean Penn’s attack on WikiLeaks and related matters

By David Walsh, 15 April 2015

Penn’s views and activities are worth considering, especially in the light of his recent disgraceful comments about Julian Assange of WikiLeaks and NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Cymbeline: Michael Almereyda returns to Shakespeare

By David Walsh, 11 April 2015

Michael Almereyda, who previously directed a version of Hamlet starring Ethan Hawke, has turned to one of Shakespeare’s lesser known plays, with intelligent results.

Harun Farocki’s Labour in a Single Shot in Berlin: An exhibition of films about working people

By Hiram Lee, 9 April 2015

The final project of German filmmaker Harun Farocki (1944-2014) brings together dozens of short films about working people.

FICUNAM 2015: Part 4

Tackling life head on: The films of Uzbek-Soviet director Ali Khamraev

By David Walsh and Joanne Laurier, 28 March 2015

One of the genuine contributions of the recent FICUNAM film festival in Mexico City was its presentation of the works of veteran film director Ali Khamraev.

FICUNAM 2015

I Remember You: A comment on the history of his film by director Ali Khamraev

28 March 2015

Filmmaker Ali Khamraev explains the difficulties surrounding the making of his remarkable film I Remember You in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

FICUNAM 2015: Part 3

Pedro Costa’s Horse Money, Jean-Marie Straub’s “leftism” and other problems

By David Walsh, 25 March 2015

The recent FICUNAM festival in Mexico City screened a number of films which, while not belonging to a single school by any means, provide the opportunity for something of a generalized overview.

Chappie: Is the sum greater than the parts?

By Christine Schofelt, 21 March 2015

Neill Blomkamp’s latest release presents an oddly sweet, if rather violent, tale, but something is missing.

FICUNAM 2015: Part 2

The rule and the exceptions—three good films: Court, National Gallery and The Gold Bug

By David Walsh, 20 March 2015

There are filmmakers who devote themselves seriously and conscientiously to representing life, not life in the abstract, not “life as a river,” but concrete life, the life of social classes and relationships.

FICUNAM 2015: Part 1

A remarkable film festival in Mexico City

By David Walsh, 18 March 2015

David Walsh and Joanne Laurier recently attended the film festival associated with the National Autonomous University of Mexico in Mexico City.

65th Berlin International Film Festival—Part 4

Every Thing Will Be Fine from Wim Wenders, Taxi from Jafar Panahi, and other films

By Hiram Lee, 27 February 2015

New films from veteran German director Wim Wenders and Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi were screened at this year’s Berlin Film Festival.

87th Academy Awards: A more intriguing event than in recent years

By David Walsh, 24 February 2015

Social and political realities found expression on Sunday in a manner that accords with the film world’s peculiarities and contradictions.

The upcoming Academy Awards: Selma, American Sniper and other issues

By David Walsh, 21 February 2015

If recent ceremonies are anything to go by, Sunday’s event will be thoroughly scripted and lacking in spontaneity.

The Two Faces of January: Three Americans joined together by crime

By David Walsh, 16 February 2015

Set in Greece in the early 1960s, Iranian-born director Hossein Amini’s film, based on a Patricia Highsmith novel, follows a trio of Americans caught up in a series of increasingly traumatic events.

The Water Diviner: Russell Crowe’s contribution to the WWI centenary

By Richard Phillips, 14 February 2015

The movie dovetails with the Australian government’s reactionary promotion of the war centenary and the Gallipoli incursion.

Wild and Black or White: Social problems, but the solutions?

By Joanne Laurier, 11 February 2015

Wild tells the true story of one woman’s 1,100-mile hike of self-discovery. Black or White recounts a custody battle between the white maternal grandfather and black paternal grandmother of a seven-year-old girl.