12.27.2015

The Films of 2015: Amy



Asif Kapadia’s Amy played in theaters this summer to favorable notices and has since gone on to win the majority of this year’s critics’ awards for Best Documentary.  I decided to catch up with it this week, and I’m very glad I did: the film is a devastating portrait of the late Amy Winehouse, the British jazz and R&B vocalist who recorded two hit albums and won four Grammys before dying of alcohol poisoning in 2011 at the age of twenty-seven. 

12.22.2015

Merry Christmas from Bill and Sofia


 

Perhaps only Sofia Coppola could have convinced Bill Murray to star in an hour-long Christmas special—a throwback to television classics like The Judy Garland Christmas Show—let alone one that opens with Murray crooning “Christmas Blues” while wearing plastic reindeer antlers.  It’s lucky that she has, though, because he makes a consummate host. Self-deprecating and crusty though he may be, he’s not above making himself look silly at times; he’s up for anything.  Like its star, A Very Murray Christmas cloaks its soft heart in a veneer of gentle irony.  It plays a cool game, but it’s warm and sweet underneath. 

12.21.2015

The Films of 2015: Two short takes


As the year draws to a close, I’ve been catching up with some of this year’s films that I missed the first time around.  Here are two that I screened this week.


Hard To Be a God (dir. Aleksei German).  Forget It Follows: this is obviously the year’s most horrifying film, a literal slog through a medieval hellscape flooded with mud, piss, shit, and rotting animals.  Hard To Be a God is more mordantly funny than Tarkovsky and more hideous than Tarr, though it resembles both of these filmmakers’ work at different points, as German’s constantly roving camera moves through spaces that are as eerily beautiful as they are repugnant.  While Hard To Be a God is more or less incomprehensible on a plot level (officially speaking, it’s about a scientist exploring another planet, the human inhabitants of which appear to be stuck in the Dark Ages), it’s difficult not to be staggered by the density and visceral power of the world of the film, which was made over the course of some thirteen years and the completion of which coincided with German’s death.  Critics as formidable as Glenn Kenny and J. Hoberman have called it profound and transcendent; I was more impressed with it as a triumph of cinematography and mise-en-scene.  Mileage for this one is sure to vary wildly.