Film Reviews

The Wolf of Wall Street: Why should we admire such figures?

By David Walsh, 30 December 2013

Martin Scorsese’s new film treats the career of convicted stock swindler and con artist Jordan Belfort, who benefited from the rise of financial gangsterism in the US to make a fortune in the late 1980s and 1990s.

Philomena: Crime and forgiveness

By Dorota Niemitz, 20 December 2013

Stephen Frears’ new film deals with the Magdalene asylums, which operated in Ireland and other countries where the Catholic Church had a strong influence from the 18th well into the 20th centuries.

Filmmaking and social life in postwar America

The Crime Films of Anthony Mann: A comment and a conversation with the author—Part 2

By David Walsh, 19 December 2013

The early film work of American director Anthony Mann, a major figure of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, is the subject of a new book. This is the second of two parts.

Filmmaking and social life in postwar America

The Crime Films of Anthony Mann: A comment and a conversation with the author—Part 1

By David Walsh, 18 December 2013

The early film work of American director Anthony Mann, a major figure of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, is the subject of a new book. In two parts.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug: The filmmakers waste considerable talent and skill

By Christine Schofelt, 17 December 2013

Peter Jackson directs, co-writes and co-produces the second installment of a three-part film series based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s children’s fantasy book, The Hobbit (1937).

The Book Thief: The Nazis and the assault, then and now, on culture

By Joanne Laurier, 16 December 2013

Brian Percival’s movie deals in part with the horrors of the Kristallnacht period and is an effective reminder of the impact of Nazi atrocities on everyday life.

Paganini or The Devil’s Violinist?

By Bernd Reinhardt, 14 December 2013

Bernard Rose’s Paganini biopic focuses too much on audience frenzy and not enough on the genuine artistic abilities of the great virtuoso.

The Coen brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis: The story of a struggling musician … but which one?

By Fred Mazelis, 12 December 2013

The memoir of the late singer and songwriter Dave Van Ronk helped inspire the latest film by Joel and Ethan Coen.

Tokyo Filmex 2013

Transit, Ilo Ilo and Youth: Three films that rise above the average

By John Watanabe, 4 December 2013

Tokyo Filmex, founded in 2000, is a film festival that features mostly new Asian releases. The 14th Filmex, held from November 23 to December 1, presented a number of interesting films.

Europa Report: Gripping drama of manned mission to Jupiter’s moon

By Patrick Martin, 28 November 2013

This spare, restrained science fiction film deserves a wider audience.

Oxyana highlights prescription drug epidemic in Appalachia

By Clement Daly, 26 November 2013

The film centers on the small coal mining town of Oceana in southern West Virginia.

Dallas Buyers Club: A “cowboy” style of fighting the authorities

By Joanne Laurier, 25 November 2013

Jean-Marc Vallée’s film is set in 1985 in Dallas, at a time when AIDS was ravaging the gay population. It concerns the fate of Ron Woodroof, who is told by doctors he is HIV-positive and has 30 days to live.

A new film version of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations: “Those wretched hankerings after money and gentility”

By David Walsh, 20 November 2013

British filmmaker Mike Newell has directed a valuable, moving adaptation of Dickens’s remarkable novel.

The Rocket: Modest but sympathetic tale about Laotian villagers

By Suphor Samurtharb and Richard Phillips, 16 November 2013

Set in Laos’ rural north, the film centres on a 10-year-old peasant boy and the impact of a major dam development on his family.

Detroit Unleaded: “This is the American Dream?”

Also, an interview with director Rola Nashef

By Joanne Laurier, 11 November 2013

While the film is not a head-on social critique, it is a warmhearted piece about the complicated interactions between the city’s Arab and African American populations.

Hayao Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises: Blocking out the rest of the world

By John Watanabe, 7 November 2013

The new animated film is a mixture of striking imagery and the wrongheaded views of a disillusioned and disheartened artist.

Costa Gavras’s Capital: A critique of “cowboy capitalism”

By David Walsh, 6 November 2013

The most recent film from Greek-born director Costa-Gavras, best known for Z (1969), State of Siege (1972), and Missing (1982), is Capital, a scathing assault on the world of financial speculation.

Robert Reich’s Inequality for All: A friendly warning to the powers that be

By Zac Corrigan, 30 October 2013

Democratic Party politician Robert Reich narrates the new documentary and attempts to convince viewers it is possible to oppose social inequality within the framework of a liberal reform agenda.

The Fifth Estate: A dishonest film about WikiLeaks and Julian Assange

By Robert Stevens, 22 October 2013

Despite claims by the director and others involved that the film was not conceived as an attack on Assange and WikiLeaks, it is a tendentious work promoting a definite agenda.

Captain Phillips: A hijacking drama unfolds

By Julien Kiemle, 19 October 2013

The film tells the story of US merchant marine captain Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks), whose vessel, the MV Maersk Alabama, is boarded and taken over by a small band of pirates off the coast of Somalia.

Salinger: Phony stuff

By Sandy English, 17 October 2013

Unhappily, Shane Salerno’s film is not a particularly objective, profound or sympathetic work.

Two films, and the limits of mere sympathy: The Girl and Dragon Girls

By Dylan Lubao, 16 October 2013

The Girl chronicles an American woman’s journey to reunite a Mexican girl with her grandmother. Dragon Girls provides a glimpse into the lives of three girls studying kung fu in China.

Born again: Gravity directed by Alfonso Cuarón

By Hiram Lee, 14 October 2013

Sandra Bullock stars as an astronaut stranded in space following a catastrophic accident in the new film from Mexican-born director Alfonso Cuarón.

7th Heaven (1927) and Street Angel (1928): two silent films by Frank Borzage

By Charles Bogle, 12 October 2013

The two works from the golden age of silent film feature Borzage’s mastery of visual style to convey his career-long theme of a couple in love struggling against rigid, often irrational societal laws and conventions.

Toronto International Film Festival 2013—Part 6

Disappointments, blind alleys and other problems

By David Walsh, 11 October 2013

This was the 20th year of covering the Toronto film festival, and the experience continues to be fascinating, illuminating and maddening in perhaps equal measure.

Kick-Ass 2: Frat boy ethics, and worse

By Dylan Lubao, 16 September 2013

Kick-Ass 2 follows the vigilante exploits of a bored teenager and his sidekick.

The Law in These Parts: Israeli military justice in the Occupied Territories

Available on PBS online until September 18

By Kevin Kearney, 12 September 2013

Ra’anan Alexandrowicz’s The Law in These Parts deals with the Israeli military legal system in the Occupied Territories on the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip over the last 45 years. It is available online at PBS’s POV until September 18.

Closed Circuit: The state and its dirty secrets

By David Walsh, 30 August 2013

Closed Circuit is a drama, directed by John Crowley, about the infiltration of a terrorist cell by the British intelligence services and how it goes wrong.

The Spectacular Now: The happiness of youth

By David Walsh, 28 August 2013

James Ponsoldt’s new film treats young people in an American town (it was shot in Athens, Georgia), based on a 2008 novel by Tim Tharp.

Lee Daniels’ The Butler: Identity politics at odds with history

By Joanne Laurier, 23 August 2013

Lee Daniels’ The Butler is a fiction film based on the life of Eugene Allen, an African American who worked in the White House for 34 years, from the administration of President Harry Truman to that of Ronald Reagan.

Again on Alex Gibney’s We Steal Secrets

By Richard Philips, 22 August 2013

The US documentary did poorly at the Australian box office following its release last month and was withdrawn from local cinemas after a few weeks.

Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine and The Way Way Back

By Joanne Laurier, 16 August 2013

Woody Allen has directed more than 40 films in the past 44 years, not to much purpose in recent years. The Way Way Back is a likable, but overly familiar take on growing up.

Neill Blomkamp’s Elysium: To have or have not

By David Walsh, 13 August 2013

The principal challenge in writing about a film like Elysium, a science fiction work that treats inequality in the year 2154, is to make neither too much nor too little of it.

5 Broken Cameras: “Forgotten wounds can’t be healed”

By Kevin Martinez, 2 August 2013

This Israeli-Palestinian-French co-production movingly depicts the struggle of the Palestinian people against Zionist occupation.

Copperhead: What are these people up to?

By Joanne Laurier, 24 July 2013

What is the significance of director Ron Maxwell, who made the generally laudable Gettysburg two decades ago, coming out with a favorable treatment of Lincoln’s Northern opponents in the year of the battle’s sesquicentennial?

The Act of Killing and The Attack: Mass murder in Indonesia, a suicide bombing in Israel

By Joanne Laurier, 22 July 2013

Two films that were screened at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2012 have now opened in North America.

20 Feet From Stardom: The “most incredible artists you’ve never heard of”

By James Brewer, 18 July 2013

Morgan Neville’s documentary explores the phenomenon of backup singers in popular music.

The Lone Ranger: Where is justice?

By Christine Schofelt, 16 July 2013

In a familiar tale with few surprises, the masked “Lone Ranger” rides again.

Dirty Wars: Revealing material, but missing the most important questions

By Joanne Laurier, 11 July 2013

The documentary film, directed by Richard Rowley, follows reporter Jeremy Scahill into the covert, murderous world of American Special Forces as the latter prosecute the US government’s so-called war on terror.

Much Ado About Nothing: The merry war resumed

By David Walsh, 10 July 2013

American film and television producer, director and writer Joss Whedon has adapted William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing for the screen.

Star Trek Into Darkness: Militarism in space

By Kevin Martinez and Clodomiro Puentes, 9 July 2013

The twelfth installment of the franchise, Star Trek Into Darkness has made over $438 million in ticket sales as of this writing and is the most profitable installment of the series yet.

The German mini-series Generation War: Five young people traumatized by World War II

By Bernd Reinhardt, 3 July 2013

The television mini-series, which set records for viewership in Germany, depicts the lives of several young people during and after World War II.

A cinematic disinformation job on Julian Assange

Alex Gibney’s We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks

By Richard Phillips, 2 July 2013

Peppered with factual errors and outright falsifications, Gibney’s documentary is an attempt to discredit WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and defend the US intelligence apparatus.

Max Brooks’ World War Z brought to the screen, or is it?

By Christine Schofelt, 27 June 2013

After much anticipation and several false starts, Max Brooks’ World War Z has finally hit the screen.

Man of Steel: Superman returns…again

By Hiram Lee, 22 June 2013

Summer blockbuster Man of Steel brings Superman back to theaters in the first of a planned trilogy.

Hannah Arendt: Margarethe von Trotta’s film revisits debate over Eichmann trial

By Fred Mazelis and Stefan Steinberg, 20 June 2013

The film focuses on a few critical years in the life of the German-American writer Hannah Arendt, best known for The Origins of Totalitarianism and her study of the trial of Nazi leader Adolf Eichmann.

Judy Blume’s Tiger Eyes brought to the screen: An understated examination of grief

By Christine Schofelt, 17 June 2013

Tiger Eyes, based on the book by Judy Blume and directed by Lawrence Blume, is a sensitive look at personal loss.

Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha and Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell: Incompleteness as a problem

By Joanne Laurier, 14 June 2013

Frances Ha and Stories We Tell are articulate and well-made films. What’s missing from them, however, is as interesting as what’s there.

Once again, on the filthiness of the makers of Zero Dark Thirty

By David Walsh, 7 June 2013

A leaked government report reveals that Zero Dark Thirty screenwriter Mark Boal attended a CIA awards ceremony in June 2011.

San Francisco International Film Festival 2013—Part six

Two very different documentaries: Sofia’s Last Ambulance and Sing Me The Songs That Say I Love You—A Concert for Kate McGarrigle

By David Walsh, 4 June 2013

The recent San Francisco film festival screened a number of documentary films, including these two, contrasting works.

San Francisco International Film Festival 2013—Part five

La Sirga and In the Fog: When will the “fog of war” settle?

By Kevin Kearney, 30 May 2013

La Sirga from Colombia and In the Fog, from a Belarusian filmmaker, deal with painful wartime situations, with varying degrees of success.

San Francisco International Film Festival 2013—Part four

The plight of African boat people in The Pirogue, and other films

By Joanne Laurier, 27 May 2013

Moussa Touré’s The Pirogue is a fictional account of West Africans seeking to escape grinding poverty in a desperate voyage. Also, Joanne Laurier comments on documentaries about the Beatles’ secretary and the Chinese art scene.

San Francisco International Film Festival 2013—Part three

Museum Hours and The Artist and the Model: In defense of art and the artistic personality

By David Walsh, 24 May 2013

At least two films at the San Francisco festival treated art, the artistic personality, or both, in a compelling fashion.

Milestone Films’ Mary Pickford: Rags and Riches Collection: The inventor of movie acting

By Charles Bogle, 23 May 2013

Milestone Films’ 2012 release of Mary Pickford: Rags and Riches Collection reacquaints contemporary audiences with silent film star Mary Pickford’s lasting achievements.

San Francisco International Film Festival 2013—Part two

Let the Fire Burn and The East: The MOVE bombing in 1985 and present-day anarchism

By Kevin Kearney, 22 May 2013

Let the Fire Burn, about the police bombing of the MOVE compound in Philadelphia in 1985, was one of the most outstanding and challenging documentaries at the San Francisco film festival this year.

Mira Nair’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist: A clash of rival “fundamentalisms”

By Fred Mazelis, 20 May 2013

Mira Nair’s latest film provides a vivid but limited view of the tension between the US and Pakistan

San Francisco International Film Festival 2013—Part one

The Kill Team: The murderous reality of the US war in Afghanistan

By Joanne Laurier, 16 May 2013

The 56th San Francisco International Film Festival recently concluded. The event this year screened 158 films from 51 countries, including 67 fiction features, 28 documentary features and 63 short films.

A new film version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby

By David Walsh, 14 May 2013

In the 1925 novel, the various desperate and delusional relationships set off a tragic series of events, which result in death and misery for the upstarts and have-nots. The wealthy characters alone escape unscathed.

HBO’s production of George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones unfolds a violent, complex tale

By Christine Schofelt, 10 May 2013

The epic fantasy series takes place on two fictional continents, Westeros and Essos, over the course of many years and involves a civil war over the Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms.

New revelations about filmmakers’ collaboration with CIA on Zero Dark Thirty

By David Walsh, 10 May 2013

New information has surfaced about the level of cooperation between Mark Boal, who wrote the script for Kathryn Bigelow’s pro-torture Zero Dark Thirty, and the US intelligence apparatus.

HBO’s Phil Spector: David Mamet’s mythological tale

By James Brewer, 4 May 2013

Playwright David Mamet wrote and directed the docudrama centering on the 2007 murder trial of famed record producer Phil Spector.

42: A tribute to integrating baseball falls short

By Alan Gilman, 25 April 2013

One of baseball’s most iconic moments, the breaking of baseball’s color line in 1947 by Jackie Robinson as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers, is at the center of Brian Helgeland’s new film.

The Flat: A family examines a Nazi-Zionist friendship

By Fred Mazelis, 22 April 2013

A documentary about a German-Jewish family and its emigration to Palestine 75 years ago raises vital historical issues about the nature and role of Zionism.

The Place Beyond the Pines: Fathers and sons

By David Walsh, 18 April 2013

The new film from director Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine, 2010), set in and around Schenectady, New York, is made up of several interconnected stories that take place over the course of fifteen years.

No from Chile and The Sapphires from Australia

By Joanne Laurier, 12 April 2013

No by Chilean director Pablo Larraín is the last in a trilogy of films about life under the Pinochet dictatorship. The Sapphires, directed by Wayne Blair, centers on an all-Aboriginal female singing group in the late 1960s.

Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States

By Christine Schofelt, 11 April 2013

Untold History is a 10-part documentary series that premiered on Showtime in November 2012. Its stated aim is to shed light on little known or deliberately obscured aspects of American history.

The Gatekeepers from Israel and a film version of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road

By Joanne Laurier, 4 April 2013

Dror Moreh’s new documentary is a glimpse into the crisis wracking Israeli society. Brazilian filmmaker Walter Salles has brought Jack Kerouac’s Beat novel to the screen.

Letter from a reader on Zelary, a Czech film set in World War II

28 March 2013

Zelary is a remarkable 2003 film from the Czech Republic, directed by Ondrej Ontran (and available from Netflix and Amazon).

Kino Video’s Griffith Masterworks: Watching movies become art

By Charles Bogle, 28 March 2013

The Kino Video collection entitled Griffith Masterworks provides an opportunity to watch pioneer filmmaker D.W. Griffith invent much of what came to be known as the grammar of cinema.

A Place At The Table: A damning picture of hunger, with feeble conclusions

By James Brewer, 27 March 2013

The recent documentary shows that the hunger and nutrition crisis in the United States has steadily increased through both Republican and Democratic administrations since the 1970s.

Bryan Wizemann’s About Sunny (Think of Me) released on video on demand

By David Walsh, 26 March 2013

One of the most compelling films screened at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival, Think of Me, directed by American filmmaker Bryan Wizemann, now retitled About Sunny, is finally available.

63rd Berlin International Film Festival—Part 5

Raoul Peck’s Fatal Assistance: An indictment of Western aid to Haiti, but…

By Stefan Steinberg:, 6 March 2013

The latest film by Haitian-born director Raoul Peck focuses on the aid operation organised by the US and Western powers in the wake of the deadly earthquake that struck Haiti in January 2010.

63rd Berlin International Film Festival—Part 4

An honest Russian citizen: Boris Khlebnikov’s A Long and Happy Life

By Bernd Reinhardt, 4 March 2013

The film depicts the futile struggle of a small farmer in the Russian provinces against corrupt local authorities.

63rd Berlin International Film Festival—Part 2

The Plague: The “loneliness, strength, humanity and beauty” of ordinary people

By Francisca Vier, 27 February 2013

The Plague (La Plaga) from Spain, directed by Neus Ballús, was one of the most satisfying films at the 63rd Berlinale.

Set for Life: The effects of recession on an older generation

By Nick Barrickman, 27 February 2013

This documentary examines the lives of several over-50 workers who have lost their jobs since the 2007-2008 economic collapse.

Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master: The limits of making it up as you go along

By Joanne Laurier, 25 February 2013

In Paul Thomas Anderson’s new movie, The Master, a World War II US Navy veteran facing an uncertain future is attracted to a quasi-religious movement and its charismatic leader.

The intellectually bankrupt defenders of Django Unchained and Zero Dark Thirty

By David Walsh, 22 February 2013

The release of Lincoln, Zero Dark Thirty and Django Unchained in the latter part of 2012 ignited an intense and still ongoing media debate on the films’ respective merits and related historical issues.

Not Fade Away: “Oh! Pleasant exercise of hope and joy”

By David Walsh, 20 February 2013

In David Chase’s film, a young man and his friends pursue various dreams, or fail to, in suburban New Jersey in the mid-1960s.

Steven Soderbergh to retire after Side Effects?: Problems of independent filmmaking

By Joanne Laurier, 15 February 2013

A new antidepressant has unexpected side effects that unravel the lives of a psychiatrist and his patient in American filmmaker Steven Soderbergh’s most recent—and possibly last—feature film.

Netflix’s US remake of House of Cards stands up despite weaknesses

By Christine Schofelt, 9 February 2013

Staring Kevin Spacey as Congressman Frank Underwood and Robin Wright as his wife, the new production of House of Cards is a largely well-translated version of the UK original.

Dustin Hoffman’s Quartet: Aging and the artist

By Joanne Laurier, 1 February 2013

The movie concerns itself with a group of retired opera singers and musicians housed in an elegant manor in pastoral Britain.

The Impossible: A narrow view of a major disaster

By George Marlowe, 31 January 2013

The Impossible, directed by Juan Antonia Bayona, is the story of one British family’s experience in the carnage and destruction of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

Gus Van Sant’s Promised Land: A deal with the devil?

By Phillip Guelpa and Julien Kiemle, 25 January 2013

The film portrays the conflict between a fictional energy company and residents of a small Pennsylvania town over whether “fracking” will be allowed in their community.

Vadim: German documentary chronicles a family destroyed by immigration authorities

By Bernd Reinhardt, 24 January 2013

The tragic story of Vadim K. and his family documents the callous inhumanity of Germany’s immigration authorities and politicians and refugee law.

Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables: Social misery, with a vengeance

By Hiram Lee, 21 January 2013

Director Tom Hooper returns with a film version of the well-known musical based on Victor Hugo’s classic 1862 novel.

Director Kathryn Bigelow defends her indefensible Zero Dark Thirty

By David Walsh, 18 January 2013

The filmmaker and her screenwriter Mark Boal, in their political blindness and misreading of the current state of American public opinion, thought they could get away with murder, as it were.

2013 Academy Award nominations: Extraordinary and glaring contradictions, even greater than usual

By David Walsh, 11 January 2013

This year’s Academy Award nominations were announced Thursday morning during a media event at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills, California.

Hitchcock: Small change, for the most part

By Joanne Laurier, 10 January 2013

Sacha Gervasi’s new film focuses on the making of Psycho (1960), one of Alfred Hitchcock’s best known works.

Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained

By David Walsh, 5 January 2013

A German-born bounty hunter teams up with an ex-slave in the antebellum South in Quentin Tarantino’s newest film.

Best films of 2012

By David Walsh and Joanne Laurier, 29 December 2012

The general state of the film world presents a sharper contradiction than ever, as underlined by a number of recently released films and the critics’ reactions to them.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower: Growing up in the early 1990s

By David Walsh, 28 December 2012

In Stephen Chbosky’s film, based on his 1999 novel, the central character, Charlie, a 15-year-old high school student, narrates the story in the form of letters to an anonymous “friend.”

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey—not so unexpected as all that

By Christine Schofelt, 27 December 2012

Filmed as a prequel to the Lord of the Rings series, this first part of The Hobbit covers approximately half the book as written by J.R.R. Tolkien (published in 1937).

A new film version of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina (and Sean Baker’s Starlet )

By Joanne Laurier, 22 December 2012

British filmmaker Joe Wright and screenwriter Tom Stoppard have collaborated on a new film adaptation of Tolstoy’s classic novel. Starlet tells the story of a relationship between two women in California’s San Fernando Valley.

Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty: Hollywood embraces the “dark side”

By Bill Van Auken, 20 December 2012

Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty brings to film-making what “embedded” reporting did for journalism—an uncritical embrace of and identification with the military-intelligence complex and its crimes.

The Life of Pi: In a lifeboat alone with a tiger

By David Walsh, 15 December 2012

The new film directed by Taiwanese-born Ang Lee is based on a 2001 novel—winner of the Booker Prize—by Canadian author Yann Martel.

The Central Park Five: A story of injustice

By Joanne Laurier, 12 December 2012

Directed and produced by renowned documentarian Ken Burns, daughter Sarah Burns and her husband David McMahon, The Central Park Five chronicles an infamous case in 1989.

Dangerous Remedy: Bertram Wainer and the struggle for abortion rights

By Richard Phillips, 3 December 2012

New Australian telemovie falsely marketed as crime drama.

Silver Linings Playbook: It’s the little things in life …

By Joanne Laurier, 29 November 2012

In this comedy-drama, former substitute history teacher Pat has just been released from a psychiatric facility when he meets Tiffany, the widow of a policeman. Together they struggle to overcome their difficulties.

The Man with the Iron Fists: Reactionary Kung-Fu

By Kevin Kearney, 26 November 2012

The film, directed by rapper-music producer RZA, follows a collection of warriors in mythical 19th century China who band together to defeat a common enemy.

The Law in These Parts: Israeli military justice in the Occupied Territories

By Kevin Kearney, 21 November 2012

Ra’anan Alexandrowicz’s documentary is a penetrating look at the Israeli military legal system in the Occupied Territories on the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip over the last 45 years.