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Movie Reviews

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    REVIEW | Gone With The Wind: Larry Fessenden's "The Last Winter"

    No one would mistake Larry Fessenden's independent horror project--encompassing films such as "Habit," "Wendigo," and now "The Last Winter"--as anything other than ambitious; yet this auteur certainly proves divisive among viewers. One needs to slough off expectations of what a "horror film" is supposed to deliver in order to get on his wavelength; naturally many will not be willing to do so, since, like his askew creature-feature "Wendigo," "The Last Winter" moves back and forth between subtle atmospherics and thudding exposition, and teases its audience with scares that often never come. It would be overstating things a bit to say that Fess...

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    REVIEW | Material World: Francois Girard's "Silk"

    Alessandro Baricco's slim, lovely novel "Silk" works through structure and language (and structural and linguistic repetition) rather than character or plot. Sure, there is a plot: Herve, its nominal protagonist, travels to Japan a number of times in search of silkworms and returns to his native France, each journey bringing greater material reward, until violence in Japan makes the journey impossible. But there are women at both ends of the world--a French wife and a mysterious young girl whose "eyes did not have an oriental slant" (in Baricco's words)--and Herve's relationship to these two women, related obliquely, occupies the real center ...

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    REVIEW | Outer Limits: David Cronenberg's "Eastern Promises"

    Filmed in burnished yellows that alternate between the sickly pallor of death and the glossily seductive underworld of organized crime, David Cronenberg's "Eastern Promises" is all about surfaces. Those of his characters, their clothes and skin, as well as the dimly lit restaurants and apartments they frequent and dwell in. Though Cronenberg and his director of photography, Peter Suschitzky, obviously have invested this narrative with a proper, coherent visual framework, the focus on the outer layer is all too appropriate for "Eastern Promises," which manages to be a surprisingly superficial gangster picture, ploddingly directed with a minimu...

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    REVIEW | Fool's Gold: Mike Cahill's "King of California"

    Michael Douglas is crazy (like a fox!) and lookin' for gold in "King of California," the debut feature from writer-director Mike Cahill. Cahill's a novelist who also happens to be friends with "Sideways" and "About Schmidt" auteur Alexander Payne--and just in case you miss Payne's producer credit he...

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    REVIEW | After Effects: Paul Haggis's "In the Valley of Elah"

    For many, the jury is still out on Paul Haggis. The erstwhile television scribe turned Oscar-winner has certainly built an impressive resume in a short time, including partial or full screenwriting credit on four of the most acclaimed studio movies of recent years: Clint Eastwood's magnificent three-film run of "Million Dollar Baby," "Flags of Our Fathers," (okay...eh...) and "Letters from Iwo Jima," plus the genuinely awesome Bond flick "Casino Royale." But Haggis's colossally stupid directorial debut "Crash," despite its Best Picture victory, hardly delivered on the promise suggested by his other successes--it's difficult to imagine the sam...

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    REVIEW | Wild Life: Griffin Dunne's "Fierce People"

    It's rare that a film as initially unfocused and scattershot as Griffin Dunne's mock-ethnographic "Fierce People" would halfway redeem itself through the introduction of an anal rape/revenge narrative--but here we have it. Discussion of redemption in this case is tricky--it's not as if the two halves of this decidedly odd film display a marked difference in filmmaking and performance quality, but the whole enterprise does become a much more energized affair once the crime has been committed. However, my positive reaction to the "added value" Dunne serves up in "Fierce People"'s latter portions may have less to do with its narrative necessity...

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    REVIEW | Another One from the Heart: John Turturro's "Romance & Cigarettes"

    If John Turturro's "Romance & Cigarettes" had been financed and released by a studio, it would have been a calamity on the level of Francis Ford Coppola's infamous "One from the Heart." That's not meant to be an insult. Though "One from the Heart" was one of many Hollywood productions (Michael Cimino's "Heaven's Gate" among them) that hearkened the last gasp of the much-hallowed days of Seventies filmmaking, when directors were given big budgets and free reign to experiment on large canvases, it was also a gloriously earnest film that purposely, necessarily alienated its audience in order to collapse conventional narrative parameters--much in...

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    REVIEW | Return of the Repressed: William Friedkin's "Cruising"

    There are untold artistic benefits to living in a culture of critical reassessment--otherwise, what would current generations think of "Vertigo?" But if the glut of superfluous "special edition" DVD packages over the past ten years is any indicator, then there are also some sorry side effects. Falling somewhere between the enshrined camp package ("Mommie Dearest"'s Hollywood Royalty Edition, complete with John Waters commentary track!) and the sober-minded resurrection of the long unavailable and disenfranchised as crucial artifact (the recent "Films of Alejandro Jodorowsky" box set, featuring "El Topo") will surely be Warner Home Video's imm...

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    REVIEW | Love Among the Ruins: Eytan Fox's "The Bubble"

    Of course, it would follow that an Israeli filmmaker would center his films mostly around dichotomies, doubles, and impasses. Popular gay filmmaker Eytan Fox, whose previous two films, "Yossi and Jagger" and "Walk on Water," enjoyed healthy limited-run success in the U.S., returns with "The Bubble,"...

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    REVIEW | Slippery Slope: Aaron Katz's "Quiet City"

    Of late, there's been a lot of ink spilled over that new group of filmmakers currently being honored at New York's IFC Center as "Generation DIY" (and inadvertently forever dubbed "mumblecore," in an interview in these very pages at indieWIRE), so it might now be somewhat pressing to put aside questions of collectivity and look at the films themselves and see how they stand on their own. Being released directly after a week-long run of Joe Swanberg's "Hannah Takes the Stairs," Aaron Katz's second feature (after last year's "Dance Party USA") "Quiet City" evokes a memorable aesthetic to surround its minor-key maybe-romance, focusing almost as ...

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