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War Story

Director Mark Jackson’s drama is a chilly study in grief starring Catherine Keener as a war-zone photographer shattered by her experiences in Libya.

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Hercules

Dwayne Johnson tries, but he’s surrounded by poor CGI and a terrible adaptation of yet another comic book. Ian McShane steals what little movie there…

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Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

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Monsieur Hire

Patrice Leconte's "Monsieur Hire" is a tragedy about loneliness and erotomania, told about two solitary people who have nothing else in common. It involves a…

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Contributors

Steven Boone

Steven Boone

Steven Boone has written film criticism for over 20 publications in print and online, including The Village Voice, The Star-Ledger, Time Out NY and Salon.com.

Boone is a writer at large for the website Capital New York and a contributor to three popular blogs: Fandor's Keyframe, Indiewire's Press Play and Slant Magazine's The House Next Door. His experimental video essays blend film commentary, memoir and documentary in a provocative DIY style.

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Visitors

(2014)

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Lone Survivor

(2013)

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The New Rijksmuseum

(2013)

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Paradise: Hope

(2013)

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Homefront

(2013)

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Detroit Unleaded

(2013)

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Narco Cultura

(2013)

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Great Expectations

(2013)

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I'm in Love with a Church Girl

(2013)

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Escape Plan

(2013)

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Cassadaga

(2011)

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All Is Bright

(2013)

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The Grandmaster

(2013)

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Lee Daniels' The Butler

(2013)

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Lovelace

(2013)

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The Artist and the Model

(2013)

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Breaking the Girls

(2013)

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Evidence

(2013)

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R.I.P.D.

(2013)

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The Act of Killing

(2013)

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Fruitvale Station

(2013)

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V/H/S/2

(2013)

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Byzantium

(2013)

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Dirty Wars

(2013)

Serbian porno gang takes show on the road

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"The Life and Death of a Porno Gang" is available on DVD and Blu-ray from Synapse films.

Cinema, that traditionally aristocratic medium, has always found unlikely ways to commiserate with the working man and the poor. In America, King Vidor's "The Crowd" showed us a man trapped on the treadmill of lower middle class survival in the big city. A few years later, Frank Borzage's "Man's Castle" gave us Spencer Tracy as a street hustler who learns that Depression-era struggle is no excuse to turn his back on a chance at family life. It's the same in every country, every era: Societies that place the bulk of their economic burden upon the low man's shoulders often send that man scrambling in the opposite direction of happiness, in the name of happiness. A random spin of the world cinema wheel will turn up great directors whose finest work touches on this phenomenon: Ken Loach, Ousmane Sembene, the Dardenne brothers, Ulrich Seidl, the Italian neorealists, the blacklisted Americans, and so on.

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Hara-Kiri: Of courage, compassion & cowardice

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In Takashi Miike's "Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai," power and tradition crush good people, just as they did in Masaki Kobayashi's 1962 version. Both films are expressions of social rebellion, but where Kobayashi's conveyed a spirit of righteous vengeance that anticipated the course of its revolutionary decade, Miike's is more plaintive and despairing. There are struggles, but nobody wins, ever. Weak and cowardly people who happen to be tending the levers of power simply carry out meaningless rituals that destroy lives.

As in the '62 film, through flashbacks we get a good, long look at the lives an inflexible Samurai code has destroyed. With the elegance and shyness of an Ozu domestic drama, Miike renders a family formed under bittersweet circumstances: A poor Samurai dies, leaving his son in the care of his old war buddy, a fellow widower with a daughter of his own. Raising these children in early 15th Century peacetime means drawing from meager earnings as an umbrella maker rather than as a soldier of fortune. Hanshiro Tsugumo (Ebizo Ichikawa) might have been tough on the battlefield, but he imparts a gentle nature, not a warrior's stoicism, to the boy, Motome Chiziiwa (Eita). Motome becomes a schoolteacher and, inevitably, marries Hanshiro's daughter Miho (played as an adult by Hikari Mitsushima, the radiant star of Sion Sono's Miike-like masterpiece, "Love Exposure"). He fulfills both obligations with his father's patient, nurturing ways.

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The Moth Diaries: Young hearts aflutter

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"The Moth Diaries" is now available via IFC On Demand, Sundance Now, iTunes and other outlets. It opens in theaters April 20th.

A secret co-star of "The Moth Diaries" is cinematographer Declan Quinn. He brings to this tale of supernatural incidents at a girl's boarding school a palette of navy, teal and black to match the school uniforms, and pale flesh tones out of Vermeer. No great innovation there, but quite striking in the service of the story. Director Mary Harron makes sure these images don't overwhelm the drama by casting young ladies with powerful presences.

Model-actress Lily Cole's broad face and wide set eyes are terrifyingly beautiful, or maybe just terrifying. Either way, her turn as Ernessa, the mysterious new girl on campus, gives the "The Moth Diaries" a more solid reason for being than its familiar, "Twilight"-tinged plot. She's a head taller than the rest of the girls, striking an improbable balance between willowy and robust. Her famously red hair is dyed a deep brown (or covered in a masterfully applied wig), providing a stark frame for that porcelain doll face. In one scene, without the aid of special effects, her fleshy yet spindly arms seem to stretch out of proportion, like some Tim Burton creation. (It's easy to imagine Burton tripping over himself to add her to his gallery of living 19th century humanoids, alongside Lisa Marie, Christina Ricci and Helena Bonham-Carter.) The mystery: Is Ernessa some kind of vampire, witch, ghost or... what?

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Tim and Eric Mediocre Movie, Great Job!

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"Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie" is available for streaming/download on iTunes, Amazon Instant, Vudu and YouTube. In theaters March 2.

"Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie" is a lot like "Tim and Eric's Awesome Show, Great Job!." They're both experimental video art posing as sketch comedy. In them you can see DNA from Ernie Kovacs, John Waters, the Kuchar brothers, Robert Downey, Sr., Tom Rubnitz, early Beck music videos, Damon Packard, Aqua Teen Hunger Force (and every other Adult Swim psychotic episode) and Harmony Korine, to name just a random few. But it's likely that actor-writer-directors Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim took inspiration from none of these freaks.

The duo's work seems to flow directly from three sources: Bad corporate promotional and instructional videos, absurd local TV programming and assaultive blockbuster films. Their collages of chopped-and-screwed sounds with spastic motion graphics and sloppy green screen don't seem much different (in effect, if not production values) from what's on cable any given Sunday. It's just that they put unattractive, demented-seeming people in front of the green screen instead of the usual telegenic emoters. They spout nonsense where platitudes and corporate messages usually go. When celebrities appear on the show, they flub and stutter like robot hologram versions of themselves. It's as if the show's editor was a spam bot.

Whether any of it is funny is almost beside the point. The creeping surrealism often takes away your ability to blink, especially, I suspect, when, like me, you have no history with the show.

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The Loving Story: A romantic interracial landmark

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"The Loving Story" premieres on Valentine's Day, February 14, at 9 p.m. on HBO (check local listings), and is available via HBO On Demand and HBO Go thereafter.

"The Loving Story" is as modest and taciturn as its subject, an interracial couple who, in 1958 rural Central Point, Virginia, just wanted to be left alone. For the most part, they were, and that was the problem as much as it was their fervent wish. When the local sheriff busted into their bedroom at 4 am and hauled them off to jail for violating the Racial Integrity Act, there was no national audience, in contrast to the fire hosings, bombings and other acts of racist terror that couldn't help but make the evening news at the time. The whole world was not watching. It's hard to fathom why after seeing the luminous 16mm footage uncovered in "The Loving Story." Documenting many pivotal moments in the case, it adds a dash of something rarely seen in the grand narrative of the American Civil Rights struggle: romance.

In the footage and iconic photographs, the Lovings appear to be deeply in love. Richard is a silent, barrel-chested Ed Harris lookalike; Mildred is shy and beautiful, the essence of poised intelligence. How could a story this simple and universal, with two photogenic romantic leads captured in a Life magazine feature, get lost in the Civil Rights shuffle?

The Loving case eventually went all the way to the Supreme Court, and all along the way, the couple insisted upon discretion and privacy. Only a small documentary crew -- filmmaker Hope Ryden and cinematographer Abbot Mills -- gained access to their home, but they made the most of it. The photography is as discreet but watchful as Mildred herself. When she, well, lovingly buckles her little daughter's suede shoe as they prepare for an outing, the camera isolates the mother's slender brown arm steadying her child's pale leg. In the film's context, as assembled by producer-director Nancy Buirski, moments like this one simply cry out, "Why on earth would a decent person want to disrupt this beautiful life?"

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