New York's Film Forum kicks off a 30-film retrospective of the films of Akira Kurosawa today with a nine-day run of his 1949 noir "Stray Dog." The series commemorates the 100th anniversary of the Japanese director's birth which Criterion has also celebrated with the release of a massive box set.
"When you think of Akira Kurosawa, you think, most likely, of swords and flags, of castles under siege, of men in dark armor and women in brilliant kimonos, of horses galloping to battle in driving rain," writes Terrence Rafferty in the New York Times. "So it might seem a little strange that Film Forum’s centennial Kurosawa retrospective should begin (on Wednesday) with a nine-day run of the 1949 urban noir 'Stray Dog,' in which there isn’t a horse or a castle in sight, and where the weapon of choice is a Colt pistol. It shouldn’t. Of the 30 movies Kurosawa directed, better than half tell stories of present-day Japan, and a fair number of them, including 'Stray Dog,' rank with his greatest works."
The Village Voice's Nick Pinkerton: "'Stray Dog' is emotionally full-contact, stylish, and profound in its details—the slatternly pickpocket who stops and buys her pursuer a beer, then kicks back to suddenly notice the stars above—but Kurosawa's thin-line-between-cop-and-killer story has more on-the-nose symbolism and significantly less psychological insight than the mature 'hard' novels of his model, Georges Simenon."
"Kurosawa, like the Italians picking through the rubble in 'The Bicycle Thief,' is held rapt by the details of a ruined society rebuilding itself.," observes Joshua Rothkopf in Time Out New York. "And still, his movie is wedded to the satisfactions of by-the-book genre plotting—Kurosawa never forgets his audience. The result is a film that’s traditional yet modern, one that even includes a ball game."
Also beginning its run today at Film Forum is Ilisa Barbash and Lucien Castaing-Taylor's documentary about Montana sheepherders, "Sweetgrass." Salon's Andrew O'Hehir: "For three summers from 2001 through 2003, Barbash and Castaing-Taylor (who take credit as the film's producer and cinematographer, respectively, although in any normal sense of the word they are also its directors) followed a group of Montana ranchers and hired hands into the public lands of the Absaroka-Beartooth mountains, where sheep have been herded to summer pasture since the 19th century. First and foremost, they came back with motion-picture images of startling beauty and range: close-ups of the weatherbeaten, laconic sheepherders and their steaming, stoical charges; night images of pulse-raising encounters with grizzly bears looking to poach a lamb or two; extreme long shots of the pulsing gray-white tide of sheep as they're pushed by dogs and men up or down the dramatic mountain landscapes."
Manohla Dargis calls "Sweetgrass" "the first essential movie of this young year."
"A record of the last time, in the early aughts, that cowboys led their flocks up into Montana's Absaroka-Beartooth Mountains for summer pasture, 'Sweetgrass' captures the arduousness and the awe (not awww) of a vanishing way of life," writes Melissa Anderson in the Village Voice.
"As subcultural anthropology, it’s unassailable. Yet the often ugly-looking DV aesthetic dilutes the cumulative effect," notes Keith Uhlich in Time Out New York.
Watch the trailer for "Sweetgrass" on YouTube.
Another documentary, Mai Iskander's "Garbage Dreams" opens today at IFC Center. The Village Voice's Andrew Schenker calls the film a "handsomely shot and intermittently fascinating look at Cairo's Zaballeen community of trash collectors." "Using microcosmic examples to demonstrate universal issues of globalization, modernization, and coming of age, Iskander braves the smell to provide us with a transportive cultural exchange," observes Mimi Luse in The L Magazine. More from the New York Times, Slant Magazine, Pop Matters, and Trust Movies.
Iskander discusses the film in an interview with indieWIRE.
Watch the trailer for "Garbage Dreams" on YouTube.
Meanwhile, MoMA will screen Caroline Link’s “A Year Ago in Winter" between now and January 11. "You could describe this movie by Ms. Link, whose film 'Nowhere in Africa' won a 2002 Oscar for best foreign-language film, as a precisely calibrated and persuasively acted mood piece that doesn’t throw you a reassuring lollipop," writes Stephen Holden in the New York Times. More from Vadim Rizov in the Village Voice.
Watch the trailer for "A Year Ago in Winter" on YouTube.