This Issue

Home Theater (A Very Special Episode of Reverse Shot)

Is it really true that American cinema has largely been made irrelevant by television’s serial dramas and serious-minded comedies? Or does the argument—which is sometimes difficult to counter—simply feed more fuel to the “film is dead” proponents? For the first time, Reverse Shot is going to look—partly—to the small screen. What, then, is television? How is it distinct from cinema? Read more.

The Latest

Closed Curtain

closedcurtain_t.jpg Where This Is Not a Film played as an overt act of defiance, putting the filmmaker and his legal troubles front and center, Closed Curtain moves into more ambiguous and oblique territory. Both a companion piece to This Is Not a Film and a cinematic break from it, Closed Curtain at first seems to mark a return to “fiction” filmmaking for Panahi—to whatever extent categories like “fiction” and “nonfiction” even apply to his cinematic practice—and so it also invites a certain recalibration.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

dawn_t.jpg Caesar has more swagger in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, which has partly to do with his status as the unquestioned leader—the benevolently unilateral dictator, in fact—of the realm, and also the sensibility of new director Matt Reeves, a talented and overbearing filmmaker with an Alfonso-Cuarón-ish fondness for extended single-take set pieces (i.e. the backseat-camera car crash in Let Me In) and a reverence for generic conventions that’s occasionally indistinguishable from slavishness.

Boyhood

boyhood_t.jpg We’re not following the gradual formation of a lost soul but of an emotionally healthy, intellectually curious, and, perhaps most refreshing of all, somewhat average all-American kid who is the product of divorced parents yet isn’t defined by that; whose single mom twice subjects him to the emotional tumult of alcoholic stepfathers, yet isn’t traumatized by that; who is the younger brother of a more outspoken, overachieving sister yet isn’t particularly bothered by that; who even by film’s end has yet to find his true creative or professional calling yet isn’t distressed by that.

Land Ho!

landho_t.jpg Most of the filmmaking decisions—like the use of two cameras during shooting, allowing the actors to behave organically and spontaneously without having to worry about hitting their marks or being fed lines of dialogue off-camera—are geared primarily toward showcasing the two distinct personalities at the movie’s core. An early scene in an airport consists mainly of Nelson reading a series of prospective restaurant menus from a guidebook—basically a variation on the age-old joke of someone being so interesting that you could listen to them read the phonebook.

Snowpiercer

snowpiercer_0_t.jpg Sadly, the box office charts these days are dominated by the ponderous look-at-me slow-motion of Zack Snyder; the spatially incoherent, epileptic editing of Joss Whedon; and the sloppily canted framings and needless digital lens flares of J. J. Abrams. Compared to these three, Michael Bay is practically John Ford. There’s not a section of action or combat in The Avengers that seems considered enough to be worth remembering, but there are more than a handful of such sequences that linger after the credits roll in Bong’s new film, Snowpiercer.

An Interview with Joanna Hogg

joanna_hogg_t.jpg "I was challenging myself with the idea of not just depicting a certain fictional reality, but trying to depict its different levels, in a more subconscious, dreamlike way. At the same time, I didn’t want to simply have dream sequences, but to give the whole film a different quality. These ideas interested me before I started making feature films, but I had somehow moved into something much more realist [in television]. And now I think I’m going to push that side of myself even more in my next film."

Norte, The End of History

norte_t.jpg Though several of his films skirt around and pick up themes and situations from the Russian author’s most venerated work, Norte is Diaz’s first full-throated stab at Crime and Punishment. His Raskolnikov is Fabian (Sid Lucero), a brilliant drop-out law student introduced in the film’s rangy first scene spouting off his own personal philosophy, one that twists the ethical ambivalence of the postmodern moment towards an essentialist view that demands the negation of those things he deems “wrong.”

Exhibition

exhibition_t.jpg Story-wise, little happens over the course of Exhibition’s run time (though the sex does improve considerably). Unbound to a conception of time as mere forward progression, Hogg luxuriates in the endless sensations one can experience at any given moment. Though it is not narrative-driven, Exhibition is not a strictly aesthetic exercise either.

Test

test_t.jpg For all their accomplishments, the current crop of AIDS films seems to position us in a somewhat related manner: as mournful and vigilant witnesses, grateful to absorb the experiences of those who fought and survived without quite being able to access what said experiences felt like in the moment-to-moment flux of daily life . . . If Chris Mason Johnson’s Test feels like something of a minor-key revelation, it is in part because it attempts to locate the rhythms of commonplace existence at a time when each instant was imbued with almost existential uncertainty.

The Sacrament

sacrament_t.jpg The same logic gap that has plagued most of these films (that their characters never put their cameras down even at the most agonized, dangerous of moments) is here far too wide to skip across. What’s worse is that this is not The Sacrament’s most glaring problem. Once we discover the crux of the film—what the central threat of Eden Parish is—it’s revealed that West has traded his refreshing classicism for the tastelessness and slapdash technique that defines our contemporary horror moment.

Night Moves

nightmoves_0_t.jpg Whatever conversations about environmental activism, radical politics, or even the desperate state of contemporary agriculture are ambiguously raised in the first half of the film end up as prelude to the second’s increasingly standard “crime doesn’t pay” thriller elements, complete with claustrophobically shot, guilt-fueled violence and hushed, noirish cellphone talks.

Gebo and the Shadow

gebo_t.jpg It has become obligatory to talk about each new Manoel de Oliveira film by observing how remarkable it is that there is a new Manoel de Oliveira film. For decades, Oliveira has been the elder statesman of Portuguese cinema. By 2012, when he completed Gebo and the Shadow, his latest feature, he had become something like an elder statesman of cinema, period, having passed his own centennial four years before.

Cannes Film Festival 2014: Dispatch Two

cloudsofsils_0_t.jpg The camera appears enthralled with every move of Binoche’s sculpted frame within the carefully modulated mise-en-scène, while at the same time the narrative allows for convincing deliberations on the evolution of acting and genre hybridization in contemporary filmmaking, topics which echo critical discussions regarding Assayas’s own rebellious past with such progressive works as demonlover and Irma Vep, the latter a particularly useful thematic corollary for his latest.

Cannes Film Festival 2014: Dispatch One

wintersleep2_t.jpg The 2014 Cannes Film Festival main competition slate thus far has been gratifying in its topical and stylistic breadth— and pleasing in its attendant refusal to cohere around any clear motifs that might be further reduced by critics in search of subjective shorthand. For example, two titles that confirm such notions, for better or worse, are Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner and Bertrand Bonello’s Saint Laurent. Both are biopics, but despite the fact that they’re dedicated to the strictures of this particular mode of storytelling, in many ways they couldn’t be more different.

The Immigrant

immigrant_t.jpgThe Immigrant is less intriguing if viewed as the umpteenth variation on the so-called dark side of the American Dream, and most compelling as an intimate anti-love story that comes into being on cross-currents of thwarted desire and romantic sacrifice. This is not new subject matter for Gray, whose Little Odessa and Two Lovers, especially, burrowed in close with denizens of tight-knit New York communities who are stalled by their own weaknesses and frustrations, and hampered by their pasts.

Ida

ida_t.jpg There’s a profound difference between these women. One serves a Christian God, the other serves a political ideology. As the film progresses, each woman’s beliefs will waver. One will see a way out; the other will not. In a smart bit of casting, Pawlikowski pits a professional against a non-actor, but you cannot really tell which is which.

Manakamana

manakamana_t.jpg Produced under the aegis of Harvard University's Sensory Ethnography Lab, Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez's film Manakamana seems to engage with something like a phenomenology of attention. Like so many of SEL's projects, this film is a kind of neostructuralist endeavor: eleven eleven-minute shots—roughly the length of a reel of film—taken from a fixed position inside of a cable car ascending (six times) and then descending (five times) a mountain in the Trisuli valleys of Nepal.

Only Lovers Left Alive

only-lovers-left-alive_t.jpg Jim Jarmusch’s films have a knack at catering to (and implicitly confirming) the taste of their ideal viewers: the record collectors crate-digging for that near-mint promo copy of Rain Dogs; the aging punks jostling for a front-row spot at a Stooges show; the adventurous indie kids braving a doom metal set. It’s no coincidence that so many of the director’s reference points are musical: there’s always been an especially clear parallel in rock n’ roll fandom between what you listen to and who you are—or at least who you seem to be.

Looking/Interior. Leather Bar

looking_t.jpgHowever unsuccessful Interior. Leather Bar may be in turning sex, rather than anxiety about sex, into a storytelling device, Franco’s observation about the urgency and power in such a pivot is astute: in a visual and storytelling culture in which gay sex remains taboo, other, and fundamentally threatening, there is political power in destigmatizing queer sex and recognizing it as a part of the fabric of everyday life. Looking does just that.

The Wire/Juice

misgivings_t.jpg Despite The Wire’s density, it is rarely difficult to follow, yet—crucially—the dialogue remains free of clunky exposition. The logical conclusion to draw from this is that The Wire is a fine example of pure visual storytelling, which is surely a key facet of both successful television and cinema.

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