True Crit

Weekly film reviews. by Howard Feinstein

  • Samuel L. Jackson, Walton Goggins in The Hateful Eight Staggered: The Hateful Eight

    The following review contains spoilers. In Quentin Tarantino’s superbly balanced ensemble piece, The Hateful Eight, the passengers and drivers we meet at the start of the picture, dropped off at Minnie’s Haberdashy, a spacious Wyoming way station, by two different stagecoaches on different but overlapping missions, all have masked identities. Six years after the end of the Civil War, these are some of battle’s renegade residue, Confederate vets with few prospects who depend on bounty hunting to survive in a particularly testy postwar America. In the second coach there’s Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins, displaying the best of his high-energy talent),…  Read more

    On Dec 24, 2015
    By on Dec 24, 2015Columns
  • Geza Rohrig in Son of Saul The Designated Mourner: Son of Saul

    “You failed the living for the dead,” Abraham (Levente Molnar) chides fellow Hungarian Jew Saul Auslander (Geza Rohrig) in the bowels of Auschwitz-Birkenau in October, 1944. It’s a damning comment, almost a charge of treachery: That is the occasion for the single act of resistance by camp inmates against the occupying Germans. Given recent Russian advances, the Nazis pushed to quickly liquidate not only those who had defied the odds, who had survived unimaginable brutality, epidemics, and freezing temperatures, but also the camp’s naïve newcomers right upon arrival. The latter actually believed they were disrobing for a group shower before…  Read more

    On Dec 18, 2015
    By on Dec 18, 2015Columns
  • The Big Short Of Human Bondage: The Big Short

    Adapted by Charles Randolph and Adam McKay from The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine, Michael Lewis’s behind-the-scenes book about the 2008 housing market crash, McKay’s star-stuffed The Big Short is a brilliant demystification. Two scenes, hilarious in completely opposite ways, take place in the middle of an otherwise enervating securitization session at the American Securities Forum in Las Vegas. Hold on: hilarious and securitization jammed into the same sentence? Most people don’t even know what the latter word means. When a term completely sidesteps consciousness, it is probably unavailable to the unconscious—site of the split-second manufacture of humor. To…  Read more

    On Dec 11, 2015
    By on Dec 11, 2015Columns
  • Joe Odagiri, Koji Yakusho in The World of Kanako In Extremis: The World of Kanako

    In loving memory of Richard Corliss, who early on championed low and high art in Asian cinema In Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, the sheltered titular character exposes her pre-adolescent consciousness. Willing to navigate uncharted waters, she follows a dapper rabbit, even allowing herself to fall into the hole he’s entered. Jefferson Airplane sticks with this plot point in the ‘60s acid-anthem “White Rabbit,” adding au courant psychedelics to scramble the child’s perception: Tell ‘em a hookah-smoking caterpillar/Has given you the call. In book and song, Alice is in her element: She basks in unexpected encounters with extraordinary characters and…  Read more

    On Dec 2, 2015
    By on Dec 2, 2015Columns
  • Mediterranea Booted: Jonas Carpignano’s Mediterranea

    A crushing scene in the intense Mediterranea, the first feature by New York City native Jonas Carpignano, exemplifies the nearly unbridgeable chasm that separates recent black African migrants from their reluctant white hosts in contemporary Italy, where the filmmaker has lived for the past five years. Ayiva (Koudous Seihan, an immigrant himself and currently an advocate for migrants’ rights), the single father of a seven-year-old daughter and a recent arrival from Burkina Faso, rides in a truck driven by his boss, Rocco (Davide Schipilliti), on whose estate in the Calabrian town of Rosarno — near the toe of the geographical…  Read more

    On Nov 19, 2015
    By on Nov 19, 2015Columns
  • Cynthia Nixon and Christopher Abbott in James White Love and Death: James White

    Bereavement brackets James White. At the beginning of producer Josh Mond’s impressive directorial debut, we encounter the nearly catatonic eponymous character to the accompaniment of a drug-enhanced, inside-the-mind sound mix: Bursts of blasting synthesized music vie for dominance with smoother, softer fragments from Ray Charles and Billie Holiday. Sweaty, stinky, loaded, and dressed down in his signature raggedy sweatshirt and hoodie after a full night of clubbing, drinking, and pill popping, twentysomething James (Christopher Abbott, no longer the pretty, slender androgyne hooked on Allison Williams in Girls, but hefty and hirsute, hopefully for role construction) barrels past dressed-up adults in the hallway…  Read more

    On Nov 12, 2015
    By on Nov 12, 2015Filmmaking
  • Saiorse Ronan in Brooklyn Now, Voyager: John Crowley’s Brooklyn

    “Sometimes it’s nice to be in a place where everybody doesn’t know your auntie,” her heavily made up, peroxided cabin mate tells unadorned Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan) on the latter’s maiden crossing from Ireland to the US. It is 1952. Eilis is headed to Brooklyn, home to thousands of Irish immigrants. Having made the trip before (and hardly a maiden), the brassy young woman offers advice on comportment at immigration to avoid quarantine and other hazards. She proceeds to decorate the face of the pasty girl, a withdrawn naif who insists on not ending up resembling a trollop. “Looking like a…  Read more

    On Nov 4, 2015
    By on Nov 4, 2015Columns
  • In the Basement On the Down Low: Ulrich Seidl’s In the Basement

    “Fassbinder died, so God gave us Ulrich Seidl,” wrote John Waters in Artforum in 2012. You can find obvious parallels between the directors; both are German-speaking iconoclasts (Seidl is Austrian; Rainer Werner Fassbinder, who died in 1982, was from Bavaria), whose precisely arranged and shot films cloak worlds of odd and over-the-top individuals with a patina of intense, self-conscious color, supplemented with frequently incongruous, unanticipated music. Before it became de rigueur, they explored in depth the intersection of the personal and the political in unique, ideologically loaded and often grotesque narratives. It’s not by chance that their bodies of work…  Read more

    On Oct 29, 2015
    By on Oct 29, 2015Columns
  • Olivia Wilde and Ty Simpkins in Meadowland Enter Olivia: Reed Morano’s Meadowland

    The response to a student’s query about any deeper meaning behind a simple cigar — for which his professor had a signature fondness — was Freud’s possibly apocryphal, and definitely overly quoted, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” Right. At times, however, it isn’t. Anything can be either real or imaginary, or perhaps occupy a middle ground. That which lies in the in-between is often the most intriguing, revealing and nuanced of all. Working from a script by Chris Rossi that she significantly revised, Meadowland’s first-time director and very experienced cinematographer Reed Morano transports us and her female protagonist,…  Read more

    On Oct 16, 2015
    By on Oct 16, 2015Columns
  • Abraham Attah and Idris Elba in Beasts of No Nation Rumble in the Jungle: Beasts of No Nation

    While undergoing mandatory initiation — some of it colorfully ritualized, some deeply humiliating — into a unit of mostly adolescent anti-government soldiers in an unnamed, junta-led West African country, pre-teen Agu (Ghanaian first-timer Abraham Attah, a natural on camera) is deposited by these potential comrades-in-arms in a fully dug grave. “You must die before you are reborn!” booms the voice of the Commandant (Idris Elba, in a tour-de-force), a man who can be either extremely sweet or violent but not much in between. Beasts of No Nation, directed by genre-magician Cary Joji Fukunaga (Sin Nombre, Jane Eyre, True Detective), has…  Read more

    On Oct 9, 2015
    By on Oct 9, 2015Columns
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