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The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography: Scratch the Surface, by David Bax

30 Jun

Elsa Dorfman has photographed a number of famous people in her time, from the Beat poets (most notably and most often her good friend Allen Ginsberg) to Bob Dylan to later musicians like Steven Tyler and Jonathan Richman. Yet, as good as those pictures are, they will not be her legacy. She will, especially if Errol Morris’ new documentary The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography anything to say about it, be remembered for the decades she spent taking beautiful, straightforward individual and family portraits in a rare and notable format. Morris, in pointing a camera at her the same way she did and the same way he has done many times before, explores as much about himself as he does his subject.

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Pop Aye: Good Memories, by David Bax

30 Jun

Nostalgia would be an inadequate word to sum up the motivations, both thematic and character-based, of Kirsten Tan’s Pop Aye. The protagonist here is not merely romanticizing his past. He’s painstakingly attempting to return to a time and place that literally no longer exists. The driving philosophy can best be summed up by the title of Thomas Wolfe’s novel You Can’t Go Home Again. But with an elephant.

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The Little Hours: Pious as Fuck, by David Bax

29 Jun

It will be hard to avoid reviews of Jeff Baena’s The Little Hours that accuse it of being a “feature length sketch.” It’s not an entirely unfair charge, given the basic comedic presence of a film that takes place in the 14th century but has all its characters speaking in modern, vulgar language. Certainly, it’s funny to see nuns gossiping about each other like shallow sorority sisters and then yelling at the convent’s field hand, “Don’t fucking talk to us!” But if that were the only joke, it would wear thin quickly. Luckily, Baena has more in mind.

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LA Film Fest 2017: On the Beach at Night Alone, by David Bax

28 Jun

Like a surprising number of compelling movie protagonists, Kim Min-hee’s Young-hee, the woman at the center of Hong Sang-soo’s On the Beach at Night Alone, is an almost completely passive, reactive character. Distinguished by her severe, long black coat (or coats; it does appear to be longer in the early section), Young-hee spends the movie in cities where she doesn’t live, relying on the hospitality and whims of friends and acquaintances.

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LA Film Fest 2017: Don’t Come Back from the Moon, by David Bax

28 Jun

Bruce Thierry Cheung’s Don’t Come Back from the Moon stands out less as a coming-of-age story or a portrait of economic malaise than it does as a simple, extended work of tonal discipline. In viewing the movie, you float from scene to scene on softy, grainy imagery, much of it captured during the magic hour. Cheung’s aesthetic command is laudable but often static, making his narrative feel inconsequential.

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Baby Driver: I Hit the Road and I’m Gone, by Ian Brill

28 Jun

Tire squeals and gunshots are all set to rhythm in Edgar Wright’s latest film. While there’s plenty of levity to be found in Baby Driver but this is Wright’s first film where the action, not the comedy, comes first. Nevertheless, even when the film becomes more serious than any of his previous offerings, the director handles the pacing and tone like a bandleader that keeps his group in tune and on beat.

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13 Minutes: …For Good Men to Do Nothing, by David Bax

28 Jun

Oliver Hirschbiegel’s 13 Minutes, based on a Hitler-adjacent true story and therefore representing a return for the director to the milieu that brought him so much acclaim for 2004’s Downfall, premiered at the Berlin Film Festival just over two years ago. Given its age and, of course, the fact that it was made in Germany, it’s impossible that Hirschbiegel could have intended it to be so startlingly relevant to an American audience in early 2017. But from minor details like a notable event taking place on November 8th to major, thematic concerns about how the people of Germany made the rise of Hitler possible, 13 Minutes has become accidentally but powerfully vital.

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Okja: Giving You the Business, by David Bax

27 Jun

Director Bong Joon-Ho has made a reputation for himself as someone who can reimagine and blend together familiar cinematic elements in clever, heartfelt and surprisingly coherent ways. His latest, Okja, is a bit creakier than past efforts but, still, it’s no exception. Even when it feels less than fresh (after Free Fire, it’s not even the first movie this year to set an action scene to “Annie’s Song” by John Denver), it’s always fun. Except, that is, when it’s breaking your heart.

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The Beguiled: Sad and Lonely, by Tyler Smith

23 Jun

It is remarkably difficult to write about Sofia Coppola’s superb Southern Gothic film The Beguiled. How exactly does one lead off with a film like this? To talk about any particular element first is to suggest that this element is somehow more important than the others. But part of the brilliance of this film is how perfectly all of its elements fold together, feeding into each other, until the film is a seamless melding of narrative elegance, visual beauty, and thematic complexity. It is a deeply engaging film, and one that lingers in my mind like a morning fog.

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LA Film Fest 2017: Patti Cake$, by David Bax

22 Jun

It may not be immediately clear to you, when watching Geremy Jasper’s Patti Cake$, that the movie is set in Northern New Jersey (it may take you as long as until the first Bruce Springsteen song shows up on the soundtrack to figure it out). But, thanks to Jasper’s firm command of tone and atmosphere, you’ll understand that you’ve set down in a place of scrappy strivers and bitter burnouts who are both inspired and intimidated by the shadow they live in. For what it’s worth, it takes place in Bayonne.

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