Category archives: Film

  • The second film from Swedish director Kasper Collin, I Called Him Morgan is an evocative, beautifully filmed documentary of a remarkable life cut short and a remarkably fertile period in New York City’s jazz scene. In February 1972, acclaimed 33-year-old trumpeter Lee Morgan was shot to death by his common-law wife Helen in an East Village club. The murder shocked all who knew the couple, including Morgan’s fans and fellow musicians, many of whom tried to make sense of the tragedy afterwards.Using interviews; gorgeous, iconic, black and white still photos; archival film clips, and moody reenactments—all underscored by a fabulous soundtrack—Collin constructs compelling portraits of both Lee Morgan and his common-law wife Helen, making their way in New York City’s hopping jazz scene from the late 1950s through the early '70s. The story slowly builds up to that fateful night, providing details that many have apparently pondered for years. In doing so, Collin gives us a glimpse of the great talent possessed by Morgan, along with poignant memories of the people who nurtured and appreciated it. With its potent music, atmospheric footage of vintage NYC and artfully abstract recreations, the film also gives us a palpable sense of time and place.Collin's main resource is an interview that Helen gave to radio host and jazz scholar Larry Reni Thomas in 1996, a month before she passed away. This fortuitous conversation came about when Thomas was teaching adult education a[...]
  • Written and directed by Boo Junfeng (2010’s Sandcastle), Apprentice is a quiet yet gritty drama about a newly hired young prison guard who is “promoted” to working on death row. (It was Singapore’s official entry for the 2017 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.) Unlike other movies of its genre, Apprentice doesn’t go for big, sweeping statements or emotions, but instead shows one man struggling with a soul-wrenching job as he comes to terms with his own family’s past.We first meet Aiman (newcomer Fir Rahman) as he’s being interviewed for a position as a guard in a maximum security prison. His stated reason for being there is idealistic: he wants to help people change. Initially, pending a background check, he has limited security clearance, i.e. no access to the “condemned cells.” Scenes of him joking around with prisoners in the yard and helping them with shop equipment indicate that he truly does want to help. He glimpses an older, white-haired man in the cafeteria and there is a wary recognition. This is Chief Rahim (played by the excellent Wan Hanafi Su).Later, when helping another guard move equipment in the condemned block, Aiman brings himself to the attention of Rahim by volunteering information about where to get a certain type of rope. As the camera casually hovers over an open trap door, we realize that this is where hangings take place. The no-nonsense tone and mundane conversation illustrate the businesslike nature of death here.Scenes at the pr[...]
  • Founded in 1962, Film Comment has long been the critical voice of art-house and independent cinema, while also offering thoughtful coverage of more mainstream movies. The Film Society of Lincoln Center, which has published the magazine since the 1970s, annually presents the Film Comment Selects festival, which runs this year from Friday, Feb. 17, through Thursday, Feb. 23. Now in its 17th year, the festival screens movies that are not generally shown elsewhere, mixing the new and noteworthy with older, sometimes forgotten films that deserve another look.The scope of the festival is demonstrated by its opening night films: a premiere of Stéphane Brizé’s A Woman’s Life, an intricate adaptation of the Guy de Maupassant novel; and an Ultra-widescreen IMAX presentation of Terrence Malick’s trippy Voyage of Time, a visual and aural treat. The festival also features a four-film tribute to recently deceased cinematographer Raoul Coutard and revivals including 1972's The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds and rarely seen 1962 short On the Harmfulness of Tobacco, both directed by Paul Newman.Here’s a look at a couple of other films to be screened:Bitter Money, Wang Bing’s rambling, fly-on-the-wall documentary about Chinese migrant workers, is sometimes a tough slog. His loose, observational style doesn’t always serve the stories of his subjects—various individuals who have traveled to Huzhou to work in the city’s garment factories—nor does it consistently[...]
  • Tomer Heymann’s documentary about choreographer Ohad Naharin, Mr. Gaga: A True Story of Love and Dance, begins with a rehearsal scene in which a dancer falls backward repeatedly, as Naharin encourages her to “let go.” This painstaking (and literally painful) process is familiar to most dancers and anyone who’s witnessed the art of making tough choreography look easy. In the case of the iconoclastic Naharin, artistic director of Israel’s Batsheva Dance Company and founder of the Gaga (no relation to Lady) movement technique, the choreography is both incredibly demanding and extremely rewarding, as his dancers and audiences can attest. Mr. Gaga, which delves into Naharin’s creativity as well as his personal life, includes interviews, archival footage and many performance clips. The result is a visually thrilling and soul-satisfying portrait of a remarkable talent and individual.Born and raised on a kibbutz, Naharin was an instinctive dancer as a child, influenced by his music-loving mother Tzofia. Home movies show bucolic kibbutz life as an idyllic setting for a creative child. Later, Naharin served as an entertainer in the Israeli Army, during which time he first began to create dances. The choreographer, who narrates much of his own story, explains how the “absurd theater” of performing for soldiers influenced dances such Sadeh21. We also learn via an early interview that he began dancing because of a family tragedy, a dramatic story that will be revisited later in th[...]
  • A solid directorial and screenwriting debut by Australian actor and theater director Simon Stone, The Daughter borders on melodrama, but still manages to pack a considerable wallop. Stone originally converted Henrik Ibsen’s 1884 play The Wild Duck into a production set in present-day Australia for Sidney's Belvoir St Theatre in 2011. Like that version, some of the original story's details have been stripped away for The Daughter, yet the film retains a Nordic moodiness. As with live plays, the actors often sell the thing and The Daughter is no exception; Geoffrey Rush, Sam Neill, Miranda Otto and Ewen Leslie, especially, deliver intense performances that make the film’s escalating drama compelling throughout.These events are set in motion by Christian (Paul Schneider), who returns to his Australian hometown after 15 years in the U.S. to attend the wedding of his father Henry (Rush)—a wealthy lumber mill owner—to his much younger housekeeper, Anna. There is obvious friction, as the son seems disgusted both by Anna’s age and the fact that his father is still using the car that belonged to his late wife, Christian’s mother.Complicating things, Henry has just shut down the mill, leading to an exodus of unemployed workers and their families from the town. Christian’s childhood friend Oliver (Leslie) is one worker who hasn't left; he and his wife Charlotte (Otto) dote on their daughter Hedvig (Odessa Young in a tough role), a bright high schooler who is also very cl[...]
  • Have you seen the movie 'Hidden Figures' yet? It's the first film, with an all female (and predominately black) cast, to remain the Number 1 movie in America for two weeks in a row since 2011's 'The Help,' according to Huffington Post!And after Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, the movie is poised to surpass the $100 million dollar mark.Yas, kween!What's also extraordinary about the 60s-era gender and race-barrier-breaking movie is the costuming by Renee Ehrlich Kalfus who recently a nomination for Excellence in Period Film by the Costume Designers Guild of America (CFDA). "In many ways it's not a flashy picture, so the costumes have a fresh reality in a period way that's not... flashy," Ehrlich Kalfus tells Fashionista. To create the stunning looks seen in the movie, Ehrlich Kalfus referenced vintage issues of Ebony magazine, while adhering to NASA's ironclad rules for office attire.However, Ehrlich Kalfus managed to find inventiveness and individuality when it came to the film's vibrant looks.Regarding Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson)'s costuming, she adds: "There was some liberty in terms of colors, styles and shapes, because she did make her own clothes and I took advantage of that."Photo Credit: Hopper Stone/20th Century Fox Film Corp. h/t Fashionista Vivid and rich colors abound in 'Hidden Figures,' including 60s-era jewel-toned 2-piece suits and soft prints -- a sharp contrast to the male costuming of white button-down [...]
  • How much do we really know someone? That’s the main question posed by Claire in Motion, a quiet, uneasy new film co-written and directed by Lisa Robinson and Annie J. Howell. A sort of hybrid mystery/character study, the movie stars Betsy Brandt (best known for her role as Marie Schrader in Breaking Bad) as a math professor at a Midwestern university whose husband—a fellow academician—fails to return from a hiking trek. There’s no hysteria or big, crashing emotions in this missing-persons drama; conversely, it's a slowly-unfolding account of a woman traditionally ruled by logic and order, as she comes to terms with the unexpected and (initially) incomprehensible.When Claire Hunger’s husband Paul, an ornithology professor and nature-loving survivalist type, fails to return from his solo hiking trek on schedule, she doesn’t immediately panic. That emotion sets in slowly as the days turn into weeks, the police call off their fruitless search, and the couple’s young son Connor (an exceptionally poised Zev Haworth) begins to accept the inevitable—that his father probably died somewhere out in the wilderness. Even then, however, Claire refuses to believe Paul is gone and keeps going back into the woods to hunt for him. (Overcast skies and a slightly greenish palette give everything a heavy, muted tone that accentuates the sense of disquiet.) When the town's police chief mentions having interviewed a grad student with whom Paul was working on an art project, the usually unde[...]
  • It’s fitting that HBO is choosing to air Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey’s Every Brilliant Thing during the holiday season (starting on Monday). Their filmed version of the one-character play of the same name about depression, suicide and survival is funny, moving and heartening—appropriate viewing at a time of year when many people are not feeling their psychological best despite all the trappings of merriment. Recorded over three performances at the Barrow Street Theatre in 2015, Every Brilliant Thing stars British comedian Jonny Donahoe (best known in the UK for his comedy band Jonny and the Baptists), who co-wrote it with Duncan Macmillan.We enter the small theater-in-the-round along with the audience, as they file in and take their seats. Donahoe, a stocky, cheerful sort, distributes pieces of paper containing various phrases and instructs the recipients to yell them out at his signal. He then proceeds to tell his character’s decade-spanning life story, punctuated by the items of the show’s title. “Every Brilliant Thing” refers to an inventory of things to live for, started by Donahoe’s narrator at the age of seven when his mother first tried to kill herself. The list—which begins with “ice cream”—would become a running theme in his life, disappearing,  resurfacing, and evolving as he got older (“Hairdressers who listen to what you want”).Aside from calling out list entries, audience members are enlisted to impersonate people in the narrator’s life during cru[...]
  • Matthew Miele and Justin Bare’s documentary Harry Benson: Shoot First is an entertaining, at times astonishing, look at the career of a man who is responsible for countless iconic images from the past 50 years. In addition to a dizzying succession of photographic images, the film includes an array of testimonials from famous contemporaries and subjects in addition to family members, plus droll commentary from the 86-year-old Benson himself. Dan Rather, Carl Bernstein and Bryant Gumbel are among the journalists who weigh in on Benson and his work; Sharon Stone, Joe Namath, and (sigh) Donald J. Trump, among others, contribute anecdotes about their own experiences with the venerable photographer.One of the film’s striking motifs is Benson’s uncanny ability to be in the "right" place at the "right" time, whether in Memphis when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated or on a beach when the famously camera-shy Greta Garbo was taking a swim. Another running theme is how the charming Scot befriended almost everyone he shot, a diverse group including Muhammad Ali, Richard Nixon, and Mark David Chapman. His talent and tenacity resulted in a huge collection of photographs unmatched in their immediacy and intimacy, from shocking images of a dying Bobby Kennedy to dreamy photos of reclusive chess champion Bobby Fischer nuzzling a white horse.Though mainly known for shooting celebrities and political figures, Benson also traveled to places like Mogadishu, Somalia, and the [...]
  • Johnny Ma’s solid debut feature Old Stone is a naturalistic yet surreal tale of a Chinese taxi driver whose good deed results in a bureaucratic nightmare. When cabbie Lao Shi (Chen Gang) is distracted by a drunken passenger and hits a motorcyclist, he brings the victim to a hospital rather than wait for the police or ambulance to show up. Though he has probably saved the man’s life, his flouting of procedure causes him no end of suffering at the hands of callous officials and others, including his own wife. As outrageous as Lao Shi's predicament may seem at times, it is not really so outlandish in a country where insurance policies exist specifically for rescuers of elderly people who have fallen, in case the Good Samaritan gets sued for causing the mishap.The Shanghai-born, Toronto-raised Ma switched from a career in business to documentary filmmaking in 2008 (after receiving an MFA in film from Columbia University). His unique sensibility is reflected in Old Stone, which is has both both a raw, realistic quality and a moody, noir-ish ambience. Though the film (like its protagonist) eventually makes a sharp turn into a very dark place, it doesn’t feel disjointed or tonally uneven, as events build to an almost inevitable ending.Lao Shi’s decency is apparent in the accident's aftermath, when he ignores the advice of rubbernecking bystanders and takes matters into his own hands. A cool, taciturn type, the cabbie is a classic misunderstood antihero, seemingly at odds wit[...]
  • Documentary lovers, take note! The seventh edition of DOC NYC, America’s largest nonfiction film festival, begins this week, with screenings at Manhattan's IFC Center, SVA Theatre and Cinepolis Chelsea. The 2016 festival, which runs from Thursday, Nov. 10, to Thursday, Nov. 17, boasts over 250 films and events overall, including 110 feature-length documentaries. Included are 18 world premieres and 19 U.S. premieres, with more than 300 filmmakers and special guests on hand to present and discuss their films. Notable documentarians will be honored at the Visionaries Tribute Awards on Nov. 10, including Jonathan Demme and Stanley Nelson, who are receiving Lifetime Achievement Awards.Opening Night film will be Citizen Jane: Battle for the City, directed by Matt Tyrnauer, about writer and activist Jane Jacobs and her fight against NYC’s most ruthless power broker, Robert Moses. Closing Night film will be Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary, directed by John Scheinfeld. In between the two is a dazzling variety of docs divided into several categories: Viewfinders Competition (directorial visions), Metropolis Competition (NYC), American Perspectives, International Perspectives, Fight the Power (activism), Jock Docs (sports), Sonic Cinema (music), Modern Family (unconventional clans), Wild Life (animals), Docs Redux (classics), Art & Design (artists), Behind the Scenes (filmmaking), DOC NYC U (student work), Shorts, plus two new sections, True Crime and Science Nonf[...]
  • The title of A Stray, a sharply observed and gracefully filmed drama written and directed by Musa Syeed, refers to its teenage protagonist, Adan, a refugee living in Minneapolis’s large Somali community, as well as his canine co-star, Laila, a soulful terrier he reluctantly befriends. Visually, the film is both naturalistic and artful, featuring beautifully framed scenes shot throughout the city.  A Stray seems to be a bittersweet valentine to Minneapolis, whose buildings, bridges, and landmarks (such as the iconic Pillsbury Best Flour sign) are featured prominently. In addition to its glimpses into Somali culture and the day-to-day lives of this particular refugee community, the film has a strong undercurrent of spirituality, with several scenes taking place in a mosque, and various prayers discussed and recited.The story concerns the headstrong Adan (Barkhad Abdirahman, one of the pirates in Captain Phillips), who is thrown out of his mother's place after she suspects him of stealing jewelry, then flees a temporary crash pad after getting on the nerves of his disreputable friends. Adan initially finds sanctuary in a mosque where a kindly imam lets him stay in exchange for cleaning up the place. Adan asks for advice and a prayer to help him stay out of trouble.He finds work at a restaurant through Faisal, one of the mosque's congregants, but loses the job when his car hits a dog en route to a food delivery. (The zealous Faisal is horrified when Adan brings the po[...]