Search Film Reviews

Thursday, June 25, 2015

BAMcinémaFest 2015 Review: QUEEN OF EARTH

Courtesy of IFC Films
BAMcinémaFest Review
2015, 90 minutes
Not Rated

Review by Joshua Handler

Queen of Earth will be screening once again at BAMcinémaFest on June 28 before releasing theatrically on August 26.

Viewing Alex Ross Perry's Queen of Earth, I couldn't help but wonder whether what I was watching was supposed to be a comedy or a drama. Perry has one of the most unique voices of any American director working today, and his films are frequently so acidic that they blur the line between dark drama and dark comedy. Queen of Earth is no exception. While it was difficult to discern whether the film is a comedy or not at first, it reveals itself to be one in a scene so verbally brutal and long that it's impossible not to laugh. This kind of scene is a trademark of Perry's (his last film, Listen Up Phillip, opened with one of these acidic verbal takedowns - and that was the lightest part of the film). At its best, Perry's dialogue is sharp, intelligent, knowingly pretentious, and stings like salt on a wound, and Queen of Earth's last portion is a showcase for that. 

It would have been beneficial to see Queen of Earth again before reviewing because knowing how it climaxes and ends would help to decipher the cryptic first hour. There's no doubt that the filmmaking on display is top-notch, though. Sean Price Williams' typically stunning, highly atmospheric 16mm cinematography evokes psychodramas of the '60s and '70s. His use of dramatic dim light and long, slow zooms create an atmosphere of dread. The centerpiece shot of the film is showy while still subtle and one of a few moments of pure cinematic brilliance in the film. 

Katherine Waterson and Elizabeth Moss are quite strong. Perry brings out the best in Moss, as her work in Listen Up Phillip and now Queen of Earth is among her most impressive to date. Moss seems to relish every nasty line Perry gives to her and brings out the emotions vividly. Waterson is quickly proving herself to be one of the most exciting actresses around. Her work here is subtly moving, and she has a magnetic screen presence that makes watching her a pleasure. 

Overall, Queen of Earth is a confounding watch that's worthwhile mostly for fans of Perry's work and for fans of '60s and '70s European psychodramas. The acting and craft here are superb and Robert Greene's untraditional editing builds atmosphere beautifully. Queen of Earth, as mentioned, will likely benefit from a second viewing. After only one viewing, I haven't cracked it, but it's impossible to get out of my head. 


Tuesday, June 23, 2015

FSLC Announces World Premiere of TRAINWRECK

Courtesy of Universal Pictures
FSLC To Host World Premiere of TRAINWRECK
By Joshua Handler

Judd Apatow is one of the most talented auteurs working in film today. And yes, I used the word "auteur" for Apatow because you know an Apatow film when you see one. They're very distinct. I have been a fan of Apatow's work for years, so it's very exciting to see that all of his directorial efforts along with many films that he's produced will be shown next month, most on 35mm, at the Film Society of Lincoln Cenrer. FSLC will also feature the world premiere of Apatow's latest Amy Schumer-scripted, TrainwreckRead the press release below to find out more info. 

July 10-14

Includes An Evening with Apatow and Lena Dunham; FREE Freaks and Geeks marathon; a complete showcase of the films he’s directed, selected films he’s produced, and two from Hal Ashby that have influenced him 

On July 14 the series concludes with the World Premiere of Apatow’s latest film from Universal Pictures,Trainwreck, which will screen at Alice Tully Hall as a benefit to the Film Society with the director and star Amy Schumer in attendance

New York, NY (June 23, 2015) – The Film Society of Lincoln Center presents I Found This Funny: The Comedy World of Judd Apatow, July 10-14. The five-day showcase celebrates the Emmy-winning director, producer, writer, and comedian on the occasion of the release of his latest feature, Universal Pictures’s Trainwreck, which will have its World Premiere on Tuesday, July 14 at Alice Tully Hall and serve as a benefit screening for the Film Society, with Apatow and cast in attendance. Tickets for Members are on sale now and go on sale to the General Public on Thursday, June 25. Special VIP packages are available for purchase for the fundraiser, and 212-875-5620. Visit to purchase tickets, and for more information.    

Florence Almozini, Associate Director of Programming said: “Thankfully it is no longer controversial to suggest that Judd Apatow is a major artist, but nevertheless, the opportunity to show his endlessly influential body of work—all of the films he has directed and some of the most essential films he has produced—mostly on 35mm (his preferred format!) is really special. His films are as moving as they are hilarious, and having Judd on hand to place his work in context will be a can’t-miss experience.” 

Comedy auteur and architect of the “slacker-striver romance” subgenre, Judd Apatow has a style that is both consistent and immediately recognizable, whether as a writer, director, producer, or all of the above. A stand-up comic in high school, Apatow enrolled in the screenwriting program at the University of Southern California and was soon a co-creator and executive producer of The Ben Stiller Show, sharing an Emmy for writing. His five-year stint onThe Larry Sanders Show brought him his first directing credit and an assured grasp of character-based comedy.
He then developed Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared, two of the most beloved cult television series in recent memory, and in the process assembled what would become his stock company. After a decade of producing films (including Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy), he became a household name with The 40-Year-Old Virginand Knocked Up, as well as a slew of other hits he produced: Superbad, Pineapple Express, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and HBO’s Girls, all of which instantly joined the ranks of the past decade’s key pop-cultural objects.
Apatow asserts his belief in romantic fidelity despite the protestations of many of his characters, and his frequent collaboration with friends—nine projects with Paul Rudd, eight with Seth Rogen, seven with Jonah Hill—give the impression of a joyful, laidback cottage industry. Apatow cites John Cassavetes and Hal Ashby as favorite filmmakers, influences that surface in his masterful use of improvisation and his obvious fondness for his characters, flawed and immature though they may be. 

Tickets for I Found This Funny: The Comedy World of Judd Apatow go on sale at noon today to Members, and to the General Public on Thursday, June 25. Single screening tickets are $7 for Members/Students/Seniors and $10 for the General Public. Several events include special pricing: An Evening with Judd Apatow and Lena Dunham, $25 for Members and $35 for General Public; the World Premiere of Trainwreck, $50 for Members and $75 for General Public; and take advantage of special Double Feature pricing for Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Get Him to the Greekor Funny People and This Is 40, just $10 for both films! The Freaks and Geeks marathon will be FREE to the public and tickets will be distributed at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center box office on a first-come, first-served bases starting one hour prior. Limit one ticket per person, subject to availability.        

*All screenings and events will take place at the Walter Reade Theater (165 West 65th Street, between Broadway and Amsterdam), unless otherwise noted

An Evening with Judd Apatow and Lena Dunham
We are delighted to have comedy auteur Judd Apatow sit down with his most celebrated protégé, Lena Dunham, creator and star of HBO’s Girls. Apatow approached Dunham after seeing her 2010 feature-length debut, Tiny Furniture, to develop her acerbic sensibility into a serialized format. Dunham’s portrayal of modern life in NYC is characterized by her ability to reassemble her characters from disastrous personal and professional decisions, and in many ways Girls is the post-graduate successor to Apatow’s patented television portraits of arrested development (Freaks and GeeksUndeclared), which never got to see life past their initial seasons. Join us for what is sure to be a fascinating and hilarious discussion between these two collaborators and pop-culture luminaries.
Monday, July 13, 8:00pm
The 40-Year-Old Virgin
Judd Apatow, USA, 2005, 35mm, 116m
Daily Show correspondent Steve Carell received his first starring with Andy Stitzer, an electronics-store drone approaching middle age with a vast collection of action figures and no social life to speak of. When his co-workers (including Paul Rudd and Seth Rogen, in his breakout role) discover he’s been celibate all his life, they resolve to end the dry spell right away. Between disastrous fix-ups and attempts at self-improvement (including a hilariously unfeigned chest-waxing), Andy embarks on a timid courtship with a divorced eBay merchant (Catherine Keener). Apatow’s directorial debut, co-written by Carell, was a surprise box-office smash and was named one of the best films of the year by AFI (the only comedy on the list).
Friday, July 10, 7:00pm
Being There
Hal Ashby, USA, 1979, 35mm, 130m
“I like to watch.” Such is the mantra of Chance (Peter Sellers), a simple-minded guy who’s led a sheltered life on the Washington D.C. estate of a wealthy old man, tending his garden and gleaning all he knows from television. When his protector dies, he’s released into a society he’s ill-equipped to navigate (he’s surprised that threatening people don’t disappear when he clicks his remote at them). Soon Chance the gardener is mistaken for sage “Chauncey Gardiner,” as his horticultural truisms are read as allegories for economic trends (“As long as the roots are not severed, all is well”)—becoming a media darling and confidant to a dying tycoon (Oscar winner Melvyn Douglas) with the ear of the U.S. President. Sellers struggled for nearly a decade to adapt Jerzy Kosinski’s satirical novel, finding a like-minded director in Apatow favorite and acknowledged influence Hal Ashby and offering a poignant performance (in his final film to be released).
Saturday, July 11, 1:30pm
Paul Feig, USA, 2011, 35mm, 125m
The most successful production to bear Apatow’s name (no small feat), Bridesmaids was the brainchild of SNL alum Kristen Wiig, who wrote the screenplay with her Groundlings improv cohort Annie Mumolo. Wiig plays Annie, whose love life consists of periodic summons to the bed of a narcissist (unbilled Jon Hamm), and whose dreams and savings evaporated when her bakery went bankrupt. Now lifelong friend Lillian (Wiig’s SNL castmate Maya Rudolph) has asked her to be maid of honor at her wedding, but none of her plans seem to work out—and she’s outdone at every turn by competitive bridesmaid Helen (Rose Byrne). Putting a distaff spin on Apatow’s trademark crudeness-to-sentiment ratio, Bridesmaids was also the first of his films to connect with the Academy, earning nominations for Wiig and Mumolo’s script and Melissa McCarthy’s scene-stealing turn as the groom’s crass sister.
Saturday, July 11, 6:45pm
Double Feature! 
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Nicholas Stoller, USA, 2008, 35mm, 111m
Between her stints as Veronica Mars and Princess Anna of Arendelle, Kristen Bell gave rise to Sarah Marshall, star of TV’s Crime Scene: Scene of the Crime. When she ends her five-year relationship with Peter (Jason Segel), who writes “mood music” for her show, the shattered composer hopes a trip to Hawaii will help him to move on with his life. As luck would have it, he winds up in the same hotel as Sarah and her new rock-star squeeze, Aldous Snow (Russell Brand, in the role that put the Brit comic on the international map). Nicholas Stoller, a writer for producer Apatow’s cult series Undeclared, directs Segel’s riotous script, which culls from personal experience—including his lifelong dream to stage a Dracula-themed puppet musical. Mila Kunis radiates charisma as the hotel concierge who takes a fancy to Peter.
Sunday, July 12, 1:15pm

Get Him to the Greek
Nicholas Stoller, USA, 2010, 35mm, 109m
Nicholas Stoller’s Apatow-produced sequel to Forgetting Sarah Marshall finds Russell Brand reprising his role as ridiculous English rocker Aldous Snow, who has hit rock bottom following a breakup with model/singer Jackie Q (Rose Byrne) and the calamitous reception of his record African Child. The head of Aldous’s record label, Sergio (Sean Combs, a revelation), tasks hapless A&R man Aaron (Jonah Hill), reeling from what seems to be the end of his relationship with med-student girlfriend Daphne (Elisabeth Moss), with retrieving an out-of-it Aldous from London and delivering him to the Greek Theatre in L.A. for a potentially career-revitalizing performance. Suffice it to say, numerous complications (and just as many music-industry cameos) arise to insure a chaotic, hilarious journey for this odd couple. This sorely underrated farce, as with all films and television shows associated with Apatow, has some sneakily profound things to say about friendship, loyalty, and figuring out what one wants from life.
Sunday, June 12, 3:25pm

Double Feature!
Funny People
Judd Apatow, USA, 2009, 35mm, 146m
Apatow’s former roommate Adam Sandler appears as George Simmons, star of obscenely successful Sandler-esque comedies (with titles like MerMan: “A love story that’s a little fishy”). Diagnosed with leukemia, his prospects grim, George must confront the self-serving choices that have left him friendless and alone. Suddenly contrite, he begins confiding in the young comic (Seth Rogen) he’s hired to write his jokes, and resolves to make amends with the lover he let slip away (Leslie Mann, the director’s wife). Apatow’s most mature and ambitious work engages with questions of mortality and acutely portrays the lifestyle and temperament of comedians (with many noted comics playing themselves). The stars wrote their own stand-up material, and Apatow and Mann’s children, Maude and Iris Apatow, appear as Mann’s on-screen daughters.
Sunday, July 12, 5:45pm

This Is 40
Judd Apatow, USA, 2012, 35mm, 134m
Pete and Debbie (Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann), the in-laws whose marital strife formed the counterpoint in Knocked Up, face midlife turmoil in Apatow’s fourth and arguably most personal feature. The titular age sees the long-married couple tackling personal and professional hardships: his record label is barely solvent due to his unbending artistic ideals, and one of the two junior employees at her boutique (Megan Fox) is clearly embezzling money. Added to the stew are their strained relationships with their fathers (memorably played by Albert Brooks and John Lithgow), spousal tensions, and Debbie’s discovery that she’s pregnant. Apatow and Mann’s children Maude and Iris Apatow return as Pete and Debbie’s two daughters, now aged 13 and 8, and Apatow regulars Jason Segel, Chris O’Dowd, Charlyne Yi, and Melissa McCarthy contribute their distinctive comedic flavors.
Sunday, July 12, 8:30pm

Knocked Up
Judd Apatow, USA, 2007, 35mm, 129m
Conceived as a follow-up to The 40-Year-Old Virgin starring the ensemble that formed Andy’s Greek chorus, Apatow’s second feature introduced new characters but retained his burgeoning stock company. Seth Rogen takes the lead as Ben Stone, perhaps the prototypical Apatow hero—a likeable stoner sharing vague entrepreneurial dreams with his equally shiftless roommates (played by Jonah Hill and Freaks and Geeks veterans Jason Segel and Martin Starr). When a one-night stand with a career woman (Katherine Heigl) results in unplanned pregnancy, Ben must decide if he’s willing and able to accept responsibility. Gleaning many details from the pregnancy of Apatow’s wife Leslie Mann, who appears as Heigl’s sister (with their two daughters playing Mann’s children), Knocked Up was named “an instant classic” by The New York Times.
Saturday, July 11, 4:00pm
The Last Detail
Hal Ashby, USA, 1973, DCP, 104m
Naval petty officers “Badass” Buddusky (Jack Nicholson) and “Mule” Mulhall (Otis Young) are assigned to escort 18-year-old seaman Larry Meadows (Randy Quaid) to a naval prison, where he’ll serve eight years for stealing $40 from his Admiral’s wife’s charity. Taking a shine to the luckless lad, the two career sailors decide to show him a good time in the major cities between Virginia and New Hampshire. Notable for Robert Towne’s foul-mouthed screenplay, which held the record for expletives in the callow pre-Tarantino days—Columbia Pictures stalled production for years hoping Towne would clean up the language. Nicholson’s zesty performance won Best Actor at Cannes; he, Quaid, and Towne received Oscar nods; and Andrew Sarris praised Hal Ashby’s “sensitive, precise direction.” Look fast for Gilda Radner as a Nichiren Shoshu Buddhist in her movie debut. Echoes of this New Hollywood classic resound throughout Apatow’s films.
Friday, July 10, 4:30pm
Pineapple Express
David Gordon Green, USA, 2008, DCP, 111m
Freaks and Geeks co-stars Seth Rogen and James Franco are reunited as process server/perpetual stoner Dale and his emotionally needy drug connection Saul. When Dale leaves a joint at a murder scene containing the rare titular marijuana strain, the hapless pair find themselves in very grave danger. Rogen intended to play the more flamboyant role of Saul, the good-natured slacker who deals weed to provide for his Bubbe, but producer Apatow suggested Franco, whose comic chops netted him a Golden Globe nomination. The film also marked the comedy debut of director David Gordon Green, who made his name with acclaimed indie dramas like George Washington and All the Real Girls. More than the aimless farce it portends to be, the film contains startling bursts of violence and against-type work from Gary Cole (Office Space) as a drug lord and Rosie Perez as a dirty cop, and a show-stealing turn by Danny McBride.
Saturday, July 11, 9:15pm
Greg Mottola, USA, 2007, DCP, 113m
The end result of a script begun by Seth Rogen and his writing partner Evan Goldberg when the pair were 13,Superbad was meant to star Rogen as the more outgoing half of a pair of high-school misfits. With three weeks left in the school year, the two inseparable friends face all manner of unfinished business before college plans drive them apart—most urgently, the hoped-for consummation of their respective crushes. By the time financing came through for the project (with Apatow producing), Rogen had aged out of the lead role, but the two antiheroes retain the names “Seth” and “Evan.” Borrowing from American Graffiti, Dazed and Confused, and American Pie but staking its own claim in the coming-of-age sweepstakes, Superbad offered important career stepping stones for stars Michael Cera and Jonah Hill and marked the feature-film debuts of Emma Stone and Christopher Mintz-Plasse (as “McLovin”).
Friday, July 10, 9:30pm
World Premiere Benefit Screening!
Judd Apatow, USA, 2015, DCP, 122m
In many ways an inaugural film for Apatow: his first time directing another writer’s script, his first film set on the East Coast, and, most significantly, his first directorial effort with a female protagonist. The acclaimed stand-up comic and eponymous star of the sketch-comedy series Inside Amy Schumer plays the titular mess, taught by her father (Colin Quinn) to eschew relationships and cherish her freedom. Now she’s an intimacy-averse adult, writing for Maxim-like S’nuff Magazine and flitting between one-night stands to the exasperation of her sister (Brie Larson). But when she’s assigned to profile Aaron (Bill Hader), who performs reconstructive surgery on pro athletes, she faces the frightening possibility of long-term commitment. Schumer’s feature-starring and screenwriting debut is a return to comic form for Apatow after recent sojourns into more somber territory. Repeat collaborator Hader is joined by many new faces, including Tilda Swinton, centenarian Hitchcock vet Norman Lloyd, and LeBron James in a deft comic turn as himself. A Universal Pictures release.
Tuesday, July 14, 7:30pm
*Alice Tully Hall, 1941 Broadway (at 65th Street)
*For information on special packages for the event, contact and 212-875-5620.

Freaks and Geeks Marathon – FREE AND OPEN TO THE PUBLIC!
Though it was canceled by NBC in 2000 before the completion of its lone season, frequent Apatow collaborator Paul Feig’s series—executive-produced by Apatow and featuring many of the performers (Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jason Segel, Martin Starr) who would go on to comprise his stock company—has become one of the key texts of recent pop culture. The show’s rabid following has only increased in the years since its cancellation, and it now ranks among the most beloved television series of all time. Simply put, few works of art have captured the uncertainty, frustration, and absurdity of the American high-school experience with so much sophistication, honesty, and sweetness, wondrously embodied by its sibling protagonists, Lindsay (Linda Cardellini) and Sam Weir (John Francis Daley). The Film Society is pleased to present every episode of Freak and Geeks in our Amphitheater.
Saturday, July 11, 3:00pm (Episodes 1-9)*
Sunday, July 12, 3:00pm (Episodes 10-18)*
*Venue: Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, 144 West 65th Street

Founded in 1969 to celebrate American and international cinema, the Film Society of Lincoln Center works to recognize established and emerging filmmakers, support important new work, and to enhance the awareness, accessibility, and understanding of the moving image. The Film Society produces the renowned New York Film Festival, a curated selection of the year’s most significant new film work, and presents or collaborates on other annual New York City festivals including Dance on Camera, Film Comment Selects, Human Rights Watch Film Festival, New Directors/New Films, New York African Film Festival, New York Asian Film Festival, New York Jewish Film Festival, Open Roads: New Italian Cinema and Rendez-Vous with French Cinema. In addition to publishing the award-winning Film Comment magazine, the Film Society recognizes an artist's unique achievement in film with the prestigious Chaplin Award, whose 2015 recipient was Robert Redford. The Film Society’s state-of-the-art Walter Reade Theater and the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, located at Lincoln Center, provide a home for year-round programs and the New York City film community.

The Film Society receives generous, year-round support from American Airlines, The New York Times, HBO, Stella Artois, The Kobal Collection, Variety, Trump International Hotel and Tower, RowNYC, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the New York State Council on the Arts. For more information, and follow @filmlinc on Twitter.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

BAMcinémaFest Review: UNCLE KENT 2

BAMcinémaFest Review
2015, 73 minutes
Not Rated

Review by Joshua Handler

Uncle Kent 2?! What is Uncle Kent? How could there possibly be a sequel to a film that virtually no one has seen? The answer is because we are living in an age where anything and everything is possible. And that's a good thing. Before hearing all of the raves for Uncle Kent 2 out of SXSW this year, I had never heard of Uncle Kent. Uncle Kent is a little-seen 2011 film by Joe Swanberg (Drinking Buddies, Happy Christmas) starring Kent Osborne. Uncle Kent 2's first segment is directed by Joe Swanberg (it features Kent Osborne pitching Uncle Kent 2 to Swanberg) and the last hour is directed by Todd Rohal. It's nearly impossible to synopsize Uncle Kent 2 because it's "about" so much and is made of so many crazy pieces.

Uncle Kent 2 has everything and the kitchen sink and then some in it. It's the kind of film where Rohal, Osborne, and crew decided that they would put everything they could in without caring if it made sense in the traditional kind of way. I say "traditional" because after about 20 minutes, we realize that anything is possible in this movie.

I can't say whether Uncle Kent 2 is a "good" or "bad" movie, but I can say that it is worth a watch if you can handle something this offbeat. It's a film full of ideas that are explored in a manner that no one can fault for being unoriginal. The cast seems to be enjoying themselves immensely, which makes viewing Uncle Kent 2 like watching a group of friends making a bizarre home movie at a party. Of particular note is Steve Little who plays a doctor who helps Kent with an auditory issue. His performance is among the more memorable in a film full to the brim of memorable performances.

Overall, there hasn't been another movie quite like Uncle Kent 2. Again, it isn't for everyone, but this one will hopefully find its audience. This is a cult film in the making. And hey, if you don't get anything else out of this movie, maybe it will introduce you to the work of Joe Swanberg (Drinking Buddies is one of my favorites of the past few years).

There's no way to assign a score on a film like this. I will say that I recommend Uncle Kent 2 to those who love cult films.

BAMcinémaFest Review: COP CAR

Courtesy of Focus World
BAMcinémaFest Review
2015, 86 minutes
Rated R for language, violence and brief drug use

Review by Joshua Handler

BAMcinémaFest runs June 17-28. Cop Car will be released theatrically on August 7 and on demand August 14.

Jon Watts' Cop Car is a classically-made film that entertains and thrills, but that also engages the head - it is a smart thriller in the guise of a by-the-numbers B-movie. Cop Car tells the story of two kids who find a cop car in the middle of the woods and proceed to steal it. The car is owned by Sheriff Kretzer (Kevin Bacon), a murderous man who's desperate for his car back. 

Knowing very little about Cop Car going in, I expected a bad-cop movie starring Kevin Bacon as a psychopath. Instead, I got a much better film about two children losing their innocence and going on a crazy adventure. Seeing a film like Cop Car at BAMcinémaFest is refreshing given how entertaining it is. While this year's lineup is typically great, it isn't full of films that one would call "entertaining". That is not to say though that Cop Car is any less of a film than the others. As mentioned above, Cop Car has unexpected dramatic heft and intelligence, which causes it to be all the more impressive. 

Watts is a very good filmmaker, confident in his craft, reverential of his influences, but certainly his own filmmaker. There are enough directorial decisions and touches that distinguish this as Watts' work rather than a rip-off of the work of someone else. It will be interesting to see how Watts' sensibilities and style develop with his next film. 

Watts' style is very classical and each shot is carefully-composed, drawing comparisons to the Coen Brothers and Steven Spielberg. What he and co-writer Christopher D. Ford deserve the most credit for, though, is their scripting of the children. The children behave like children, nothing but. Too often in films do children behave with an unbelievable amount of stupidity or an unreal amount of intelligence. It's nice to see children who actually act and speak like ordinary children who would go out and make mischief in the woods. 

The performances in Cop Car match the talent behind the camera. The two child actors, James Freedson-Jackson and Hayes Wellford are believable and natural. They carry the film and are quite fun to watch. Bacon too is highly enjoyable to watch and makes the klutzy, sinister Sheriff Kretzer memorable. Camryn Manheim also has a hilarious supporting role.

Overall, Cop Car is a consistently tense and funny film that should please fans of genre movies. While not completely original story-wise, its dialogue is strong enough and it takes enough clever twists and turns to mostly make up for its lack of originality. 


Saturday, June 20, 2015

BAMcinémaFest Review: KRISHA

Courtesy of A24
BAMcinémaFest Review
2015, 83 minutes
Not Rated

Review by Joshua Handler

It's a bit of a miracle that Krisha was made. Shot in 9 days on a micro-budget and starring first-time feature director Trey Edward Shults and his own family and friends, this could easily have been a disaster. But it wasn't. It was far from it. Premiering the day before the 2015 SXSW awards ceremony, Krisha was shown at the last minute and ended up winning both the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award, only to have Shults be picked up for a two-picture deal by A24 when the film was shown at Cannes. While this all may seem outrageous, it's not hard to see why A24, audiences, and the SXSW jury all went crazy for this film. It's an astonishingly confident, cinematic, yet disturbing and intimate drama about a woman, Krisha (Krisha Fairchild, Shults' aunt), who comes to her family's Thanksgiving dinner, causing tensions to rise and Krisha to become unnerved.

With Krisha, Shults has created something new: an emotionally raw, realistic character study told in a surreal, cinematic manner, like Cassavettes by way of Paul Thomas Anderson. The first shot of Krisha is an uncomfortable, yet gorgeous close-up of Krisha's face. Following that is where the film's story really begins. The first scene or two is told in one extremely long (likely 10-minute) take that follows Krisha from her car to the inside of her family's house. Drew Daniels' cinematography is fluid and immaculately-framed, yet it never calls attention to itself. Daniels knows exactly where to point the camera to maximize the emotional impact of the scene, and Shults' directorial control is amazing. Even in the film's latter portion when reality is questioned, Shults still retains control over the film, never letting it fall apart.

All that Shults has created though is centered around Krisha Fairchild's performance, which is unforgettable. Natural and completely unnerving, Fairchild embodies Krisha, creating wonderful idiosyncrasies and ticks that make Krisha an unstable, unpredictable character  It takes a special kind of actor to lead a film like this where the film's impact rises and falls on that actor's performance, and Fairchild is that kind of actor, rising to the challenge, commanding every second that she's onscreen. 

Overall, Krisha is a provocative, daring debut from Trey Edward Shults that will impress filmgoers with a love of dark family drama. While the film should be slightly longer to allow the impact of the powerful climax to land harder, the film is nonetheless quite an achievement and is the second time in three years that the SXSW winner has been stronger than the Sundance winner (the other instance being in 2013 when Short Term 12, a small masterpiece, won SXSW and the still-powerful Fruitvale Station won Sundance).


Friday, June 19, 2015


Left to right: Mark Ruffalo as Cam Stuart, Imogene Wolodarsky as Amelia Stuart and Ashley Aufderheide as Faith Stuart
Photo by Claire Folger, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

2015, 88 minutes
Rated R for language

Review by Joshua Handler

Maya Forbes' Infinitely Polar Bear is a film of great love and heart. Many movies released nowadays are well-made, yet lack heart, so to find one like Infinitely Polar Bear is a rarity. Based on Forbes' experiences growing up with a manic-depressive father, Infinitely Polar Bear's tone shifts as drastically as protagonist Cam Stuart's temper, and while this will throw many viewers off, the film is wrapped in so much love that it made me want to experience the highs and lows. And, because Forbes has control over her film, these shifts seem natural. Many have criticized Forbes for shying away from the darker aspects of mental illness, but I would argue that it's completely appropriate because Forbes has such a reverence and respect for her main character

Infinitely Polar Bear follows Cam Stuart (Mark Ruffalo), his wife, Maggie (Zoe Saldana), and his two children, Amelia (Imogene Wolodarsky, Forbes' daughter), and Faith (Ashley Aufderheide) as Cam has to care for his children when Maggie goes off to school in NYC to try to make a better life for the family. 

Forbes never sugarcoats the fact that mental illness is devastating, but she never revels in it because her film is told largely from the point of view of two children, meant to represent Forbes and her own sister. The effects of their father's illness loom large on their lives, but because they're children and try to see the good in things, they and the film focus on the positive. 

Through Infinitely Polar Bear, Forbes has shown herself to be a sensitive and humane director. As memorable and moving as Infinitely Polar Bear's biggest moments are, it's in the small moments that the film really shines and Forbes' knack for capturing minute behavior is most apparent. Take, for example, a scene in which Cam comes back home after exploding in anger. He goes back into the family apartment appearing to be angry. As he goes over to his children, we worry that he will explode on them once again. Instead, he goes towards the children and puts his arms around them, apologizing. It's unexpected moments like this perfectly played, unpredictable moment of vulnerability that showed Forbes' strength as a director and her love and understanding of her material and her father.

Mark Ruffalo carries much of the weight of the film on his shoulders, and it's his charm, energy, and personality that make Cam Stuart lovable, flaws and all. Ruffalo's performance is big, but he knows when to hold back. Through him and through the excellent screenplay that Forbes has written, it's always apparent why Forbes loved her father so much. It should also be noted that Wolodarsky and Aufderheide are also very strong and complement Ruffalo very well. Additionally, Theodore Shapiro's score is delightful.

Overall, Infinitely Polar Bear is a loose string of anecdotes that come together to create a warm, realistic portrait of an unconventional family. Many might wonder why they should see this over the countless other Sundance films about unconventional families dealing with mental illness. While Infinitely Polar Bear certainly isn't narratively daring or original, it is an impressively-directed debut with a stellar performance by Mark Ruffalo. There are numerous scenes and moments that stand out from other films due to their insightfulness, tenderness, and universality. Audiences may not be immediately drawn to Infinitely Polar Bear due to its subject matter but should take a leap of faith and see it because it's a sweet crowd-pleaser about embracing flaws and adversity that's very hard not to enjoy