Film Reviews by Joanne Laurier

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.

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.

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.

Entourage and Spy: Celebrity, wealth and the CIA—Hollywood’s idea of summer fun

By Joanne Laurier, 19 June 2015

Two new, not-so-comic comedies: one preoccupied with the life of Hollywood celebrities and the other, with the intelligence apparatus. What fun.

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.

The Dardenne brothers’ Two Days, One Night: Who should pay for the present situation?

By Joanne Laurier, 29 January 2015

In a small Belgian factory, a woman fights to keep her job by trying to convince her workmates not to take a pay bonus.

Tim Burton’s Big Eyes: Kitsch has never helped anyone yet

By Joanne Laurier, 3 January 2015

Tim Burton’s new film Big Eyes tells the story of Margaret Keane, the American artist who created the “big-eye art” that became a mass marketing sensation in the 1960s.

Best films of 2014

By David Walsh and Joanne Laurier, 30 December 2014

Some interesting films opened in North America in 2014, a greater number than in many recent years. At the same time, sections of the film industry associated themselves more than ever with the American state.

Foxcatcher: Under the thumb of a wealthy madman

By Joanne Laurier, 23 December 2014

Bennett Miller’s film is based on events that culminated in the shocking 1996 murder of an Olympic wrestling champion by the multimillionaire scion, John Eleuthère du Pont, of the American chemical dynasty.

Devil’s Knot, The Congress, The Giver and The Last Sentence: A few of this year’s films

By Joanne Laurier, 15 December 2014

As 2014 draws to a close, the WSWS will comment on a number of films that were released in North America and, in some cases, globally in the course of the past 12 months.

Whiplash: Heaping scorn on mediocrity

By Joanne Laurier, 4 December 2014

A young drummer at an elite music conservatory becomes the protégé of an abusive instructor who believes artistic genius is formed by sheer force of will.

Jon Stewart’s Rosewater: Fatal sins of omission

By Joanne Laurier, 21 November 2014

Stewart, host of The Daily Show, has written and directed a film treating the Iranian government’s incarceration and torture of a London-based, Iranian-born journalist in the immediate aftermath of the 2009 presidential election.

Three darkish comedies: Birdman, The Skeleton Twins and St. Vincent

By Joanne Laurier, 30 October 2014

Birdman deals with the washed-up star of a super-hero franchise. The Skeleton Twins portrays two siblings trying to overcome a painful psychological legacy. St. Vincent features a misanthropic Vietnam veteran who forms a life-changing attachment.

The Gary Webb story in Kill the Messenger: Shedding light on CIA criminality and conspiracy

By Joanne Laurier, 17 October 2014

Michael Cuesta’s film tells the story of the journalist whose 1996 investigative series, “Dark Alliance,” uncovered ties between the Central Intelligence Agency and massive drug peddling by the right-wing Nicaraguan Contras.

Toronto International Film Festival 2014—Part 5

99 Homes, Shelter and harsh American realities: Filmmakers inch their way toward important truths

Director Ramin Bahrani: “The villain is the system”

By Joanne Laurier, 10 October 2014

99 Homes deals with the foreclosure and eviction crisis, Shelter with the homeless. Also screened was a documentary about a Mexican citizen 30 years on death row, The Years of Fierro.

John le Carré’s A Most Wanted Man brought to the screen

By Joanne Laurier, 1 August 2014

The film deals with post-9/11 intrigues and conflicts between European and American spy agencies triggered by the illegal arrival in Germany of a suspicious young Chechen

HBO’s Remembering the Artist: Robert De Niro Sr. and Ida

By Joanne Laurier, 10 July 2014

The 40-minute documentary on the postwar American painter Robert De Niro, Sr. is a delicate and moving homage, in which his son, the actor Robert De Niro, figures prominently.

Entre Nos (Between US) and Red Father: Aspects of US life and history

By Joanne Laurier, 23 June 2014

Entre Nos dramatizes the plight of a Colombian immigrant and her two children in New York City. Red Father, a documentary, recounts the life and career of Bernard Ades, a lawyer and longtime member of the Communist Party.

Million Dollar Arm and Words and Pictures: Two Australian directors in Hollywood, for better or worse

By Joanne Laurier, 13 June 2014

A sanitized version of how professional baseball made its entry into India, and a clichéd version of how writing and painting complement one another.

Belle’s moving and enlightened story (and The Immigrant)

By Joanne Laurier, 30 May 2014

Amma Asante’s film recounts the remarkable 18th century story of Dido Belle, a mixed-race girl who ends up in the care of William Murray, England’s lord chief justice. James Gray’s The Immigrant is set in New York in 1921.

Captain America—The Winter Soldier: So much noise and action you almost fall asleep

By Joanne Laurier, 15 April 2014

This is the latest film installment featuring Marvel Comics’ character Captain America, one of the most prominent and patriotic superheroes introduced in American comic books in the World War II era.

Jason Bateman’s Bad Words: An inauspicious debut

By Joanne Laurier, 3 April 2014

Actor-director Jason Bateman plays Guy Trilby, a petulant, miserable 40-year-old who breaks into the spelling bee circuit by taking advantage of a loophole in the rules.

The Grand Budapest Hotel from Wes Anderson

By Joanne Laurier, 25 March 2014

The Grand Budapest Hotel is a stylish, fantastical film, sometimes comic and sometimes tragic in its re-imagining of the period between the two world wars and the emergence of fascistic forces in Europe.

Tim’s Vermeer: Art and technology

By Joanne Laurier, 8 March 2014

The intriguing documentary centers on the attempt by Texas inventor Tim Jenison to explore the possibility that painter Johannes Vermeer used optical devices to help achieve his intricate interweaving of light, color and proportion.

House of Cards, season 2: The American politician as conspirator and murderer

By Joanne Laurier, 21 February 2014

The second season of House of Cards, the series produced by Netflix, reveals more of the exploits of Frank Underwood, Democratic Party vice president and chief conspirator.

The Monuments Men: An establishment film, in almost every way

By Joanne Laurier, 11 February 2014

George Clooney’s new film is the story of a squad of art experts serving in the US and Allied military who, toward the end of World War II, attempt to rescue art masterpieces stolen by the Nazis.

The Invisible Woman: Moralizing about Charles Dickens

By Joanne Laurier, 31 January 2014

The Invisible Woman, directed by Ralph Fiennes, sets out to treat the relationship between 45-year-old novelist Charles Dickens, then at the height of his fame in the late 1850s, and his 18-year-old mistress Ellen Ternan.

David O. Russell’s American Hustle: Nearly everybody gets a free pass

By Joanne Laurier, 6 January 2014

David O. Russell’s new movie is loosely based on the “Abscam” sting operation conducted by the FBI in the late 1970s and early 1980s, which led to the conviction of one US senator, six members of the House of Representatives and the mayor of Camden, New Jersey.

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.

Alexander Payne’s Nebraska: How a great many people live today

By Joanne Laurier, 6 December 2013

The comedy-drama, shot in striking black-and-white, centers on Woody Grant of Billings, Montana, who is determined to get to Lincoln, Nebraska to claim one million dollars in a sweepstakes prize.

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.

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.

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?

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.

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.

New on US television: Arrested Development (again), Behind the Candelabra and Family Tree

By Joanne Laurier, 1 June 2013

The much anticipated new season of Arrested Development was released last week. Steven Soderbergh’s biography of Liberace also aired on HBO. Christopher Guest’s Family Tree is a new and promising series.

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 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

A comment and an interview with filmmaker Minda Martin

Free Land: American dreams and realities

By Joanne Laurier, 15 November 2012

Minda Martin’s 2010 film Free Land, at the same time a documentary-essay and personal memoir, poetically and evocatively connects a variety of social and personal events.

Toronto International Film Festival 2012

A comment from Robert Connolly, director of Underground: The Julian Assange Story

By Joanne Laurier, 6 November 2012

Robert Connolly, director of Underground: The Julian Assange Story, responds to questions from Joanne Laurier of the WSWS.

Arbitrage: False advertising

By Joanne Laurier, 27 October 2012

Robert Miller, a powerful Wall Street figure, is trying to sell his business to cover losses from a bad investment. His seemingly idyllic personal life falls apart after a car accident in which his mistress is killed.

Toronto International Film Festival 2012—Part 7

Underground: The Julian Assange Story and Roman Polanski: Odd Man Out

By Joanne Laurier, 12 October 2012

Julian Assange’s early life is fictionalized by Australian director Robert Connolly, while documentarian Marina Zenovich offers the latest installment in the Roman Polanski saga.

Toronto International Film Festival 2012—Part 5

Detroit’s belated “renaissance”—on film

By Joanne Laurier, 5 October 2012

A number of films about Detroit have suddenly emerged … including now a fiction work about the complicated interactions between the city’s Arab and African American populations.

Toronto International Film Festival 2012--Part 3

Filmmakers respond to important events—but how they respond is also important …

By Joanne Laurier, 28 September 2012

The 2012 Toronto film festival screened numerous serious documentaries and docu-dramas, reflecting the impact of the current social crisis and the increasing resistance of the global working class.

The Intouchables, record-breaking French film, and Ruby Sparks, “small change” in Los Angeles

By Joanne Laurier, 20 August 2012

The Intouchables is a predictable but touching comedy about the relationship between an upper class Frenchman and his Muslim Senegalese caretaker. Ruby Sparks is a version of the Pygmalion myth.

Moonrise Kingdom: Wes Anderson’s latest wispy, wistful adventure

By Joanne Laurier, 4 July 2012

Set in 1965 on an island off the coast of New England, Wes Anderson’s new movie tells the story of two pre-teenage misfits who escape to a deserted corner of the island.

Stephen Daldry’s Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close: Not really a movie about 9/11, whatever else it might be

By Joanne Laurier, 25 February 2012

A young boy, grieving for his father, a victim of the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center, searches New York City for the lock that matches a key left behind by his beloved parent.

Polanski’s Carnage: Not a dispute about fundamentals

By Joanne Laurier, 10 February 2012

In New York City, cordiality turns to anger and chaos when two sets of parents meet to discuss an altercation between their 11-year-old sons.

The Artist: An amiable gimmick

By Joanne Laurier, 7 January 2012

The near-silent, black-and-white film recounts the demise of a fictitious silent screen icon.

Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar

By Joanne Laurier, 17 November 2011

Clint Eastwood’s new film treats the life and times of J. Edgar Hoover, FBI director and a malignant presence in American society for nearly half a century.

Toronto International Film Festival 2011—Part 5

The defense of Iranian filmmakers, and their artistic decline

By David Walsh and Joanne Laurier, 26 October 2011

The recent Toronto film festival screened several films from Iran—including This is Not a Film, about the house arrest of filmmaker Jafar Panahi, co-directed by Panahi and Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, and Good Bye from Mohammad Rasoulof.

Toronto International Film Festival 2011—Part 4

The permanent, painful search for truth

By Joanne Laurier, 15 October 2011

A number of films at the recent Toronto film festival offered serious presentations of life and artistic problems themselves.

Toronto International Film Festival 2011—Part 2

Crimes and upheavals past and present

By Joanne Laurier, 5 October 2011

The best films from France in recent years have concerned themselves with the country’s colonial past and related issues today.

Incendies: Trauma and tragedy in the Middle East

By Joanne Laurier, 28 June 2011

Based on the acclaimed play by Wajdi Mouawad, French Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve has fashioned a movie that evokes Lebanon’s painful conflicts in the 1970s and 1980s.

HBO’s Mildred Pierce: A Depression-era drama aimed at a contemporary audience

By Joanne Laurier, 29 April 2011

Based on the novel by James M. Cain, director Todd Haynes’s five-part miniseries is an account of an unhealthy mother-daughter relationship in 1930s southern California.

David O. Russell’s The Fighter: “Big-hearted” people treated seriously

By Joanne Laurier, 11 January 2011

Set in the early 1990s, the movie fictionally recounts the story of welterweight Micky Ward and his trainer, half-brother Dicky Eklund, as they battle poverty and adversity.

The Next Three Days: a thriller with something more on its mind

By Joanne Laurier, 30 December 2010

A drama starring Russell Crowe and Elizabeth Banks in which a woman is accused of murdering her boss after an altercation at work. Her college professor husband becomes obsessed with the idea of breaking her out of jail.

An additional comment on Inside Job, the documentary about the financial meltdown

11 November 2010

Joanne Laurier of the WSWS recently commented on the documentary film, Inside Job. A WSWS supporter adds this comment.

Three films: Conviction, It’s Kind of a Funny Story, Inside Job

By Joanne Laurier, 9 November 2010

A number of films that appeared at the 2010 Toronto film festival, and on which we commented, have opened in North America. We repost the comments today.

Toronto International Film Festival 2010—Part 2

Tears of Gaza director: “How could one not want to show the world what is happening?”

By Joanne Laurier, 28 September 2010

Tears of Gaza, directed by Norway’s Vibeke Løkkeberg, is a powerful documentary. The filmmakers collected video footage shot by Palestinians during the Israeli onslaught in December 2008-January 2009. The film follows three children in particular.

I am Love and The Leopard: Italian cinema new and old

By Joanne Laurier, 27 July 2010

Numerous critics argue that director Luca Guadagnino’s I am Love represents something of a revival of Italian cinema, and compare the new film favorably to Luchino Visconti’s 1963 masterpiece, The Leopard.

Globalization and its human consequences: The Red Tail

By Joanne Laurier, 6 July 2010

The Red Tail, a documentary co-directed by Dawn Mikkelson and Melissa Koch, is a human drama that treats a question of immense importance: the consequences of a globally-integrated economy.

Jacques Audiard’s Un prophète: An extreme case of making a virtue out of necessity

By Joanne Laurier, 20 April 2010

A 19-year-old homeless youth of North African descent is jailed in a French prison, where he develops into a new type of gangster.

Up in the Air and the social calamity in the US

By Joanne Laurier, 5 January 2010

Jason Reitman’s Up in the Air features George Clooney as Ryan Bingham, who fires people for a living while leading the life of an “elite status” traveler who packs light and depends on no one.

The Coen Brothers’ A Serious Man: a suburban Job

By Joanne Laurier, 5 December 2009

A black comedy set in 1967 about a Jewish college professor in an American Midwestern state whose life is falling apart.

Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story

By Joanne Laurier and David Walsh, 6 October 2009

Veteran documentary filmmaker Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story sets out to examine the recent financial collapse. His aim, he suggests, is a critique of the existing economic set-up.

The Hurt Locker: Part of a deplorable trend

By Joanne Laurier, 10 August 2009

The new film directed by Kathryn Bigelow focuses on an Army bomb deactivation—or Explosive Ordnance Disposal—squad, during its last 38 days of deployment in Iraq in 2004.

Is Chéri genuinely ‘subversive’?

By Joanne Laurier, 1 August 2009

In Stephen Frears’ new movie, Chéri, based on a novel by Colette, a voiceover asserts that in Paris, during the Belle Époque (the 1870s to World War I), successful courtesans were the most powerful women in society.

Public Enemies and a pivotal moment in American history

By Joanne Laurier, 11 July 2009

Based on material in Bryan Burrough’s Public Enemies: America’s Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34, Michael Mann’s new film chronicles John Dillinger’s spectacular and shortlived crime spree.

2009 San Francisco International Film Festival Part 3: The trauma produced by events

By Joanne Laurier, 25 May 2009

The recent San Francisco film festival, its 52nd, presented 151 films from 55 countries to a combined audience of some 82,000 people. This is the third article in a series.

Everlasting Moments: The world to be explored and preserved

By Joanne Laurier, 30 April 2009

At the age of 77, Swedish director Jan Troell is one of Europe’s more distinguished filmmakers. His latest film, Everlasting Moments, tells the story of Maria Larsson, a Finnish-born mother of seven and wife of Sigge, a flamboyant, militant docker.

Billy the Kid: “Can you see inside me?”

By Joanne Laurier, 31 March 2009

Billy the Kid is an unusual independent film, about a teenager in a small town in Maine.

Defiance: Those who did not “wait for God”

By Joanne Laurier, 31 January 2009

Four Jewish brothers in the Nazi-occupied Soviet Union organize a partisan group in the Belarusian forest and save the lives of more than 1,000 people.

The Reader: Entering into history light-mindedly

By Joanne Laurier, 10 January 2009

In post-World War II Germany, a young law student discovers that his former lover is on trial for Nazi war crimes.

The blues in Chicago: Cadillac Records

By Joanne Laurier, 20 December 2008

Director Darnell Martin traces the rise and fall of Chess Records, whose roster at one time or another included such musical giants as Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Howlin’ Wolf, Willie Dixon, Chuck Berry and Etta James.

Milk, identity politics and Gus Van Sant’s art

By Joanne Laurier, 9 December 2008

Veteran US director Gus Van Sant has made a new film about the life and times of gay politician Harvey Milk, assassinated in San Francisco in 1978, with mixed results.

Few surprises in What Just Happened

By Joanne Laurier, 22 November 2008

Barry Levinson’s new film is an adaptation of the autobiography of veteran producer Art Linson, who also wrote the screenplay. It recounts two weeks in the life of a big-time Hollywood producer, whose reputation is threatened.

Changeling: more cult of the individual

By Joanne Laurier, 14 November 2008

Clint Eastwood’s Changeling is based on a true story about a Los Angeles mother who is given a runaway boy in place of her kidnapped son.

Body of Lies and Flash of Genius: One closer to the truth than the other

By Joanne Laurier, 3 November 2008

Ridley Scott’s Body of Lies gives advice on how better to prosecute the so-called “war on terror,” while Flash of Genius provides a moving account of a real-life battle against corporate criminality.

Vancouver International Film Festival 2008—Part 4

Repentance, betrayal and the less dramatic

By Joanne Laurier, 23 October 2008

This is the fourth in a series of articles on the recent Vancouver International Film Festival (September 25-October 10).

Vancouver International Film Festival 2008—Part 2

Art, artists, the difficulties of the 20th century

By Joanne Laurier, 16 October 2008

This is the second in a series of articles on the recent Vancouver International Film Festival (September 25-October 10).

Toronto International Film Festival 2008—Part 4

Some urgency about the state of the world

By Joanne Laurier, 26 September 2008

This is the fourth of a series of articles devoted to the recent Toronto film festival (September 4-13).

Toronto International Film Festival 2008—Part 2

Social drama

By Joanne Laurier, 20 September 2008

This is the second of a series of articles devoted to the recent Toronto film festival (September 4-13).  Part 1 was published September 18. A deeply felt humanism characterized many of the films seen by this reviewer at the Toronto festival. For the most part, such films exhibited insight and sensitivity about how people operate in their daily lives in distressing social circumstances. Not much was taken lightly, even in comedies. The plight of immigrants or the native-born in some of the poorest—and richest—of lands was often rendered with care.

Buffalo '66: "All my life I've been a lonely boy"

By David Walsh and Joanne Laurier, 22 July 1998

Vincent Gallo's Buffalo '66, co-scripted by the director and Alison Bagnall, is one of the most beautiful and moving American films I have seen in a very long time. It deserves the support of every serious moviegoer.