Film Review

Silenced

 

John Kiriakou is not well known to every American, but he should be. I regret that I had only a vague idea of who he was until I saw James Spione's extraordinary documentary Silenced, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in April 2014 -- at which point Kiriakou was in jail. He was released last month, having served almost two years in a Federal prison. After seeing the film, I'll never forget him or his story.

The Last Five Years' Richard Lagravanese Films a Musical for Purists

"It's important to think. It's what separates us from lentils." --Richard Lagravanese, The Fisher King

He did it the hard way, like David battling Goliath this past Valentine's Day. Yes, Richard Lagravanese's latest effort, The Last Five Years, a romantic musical of sorts with next to no spoken dialogue, opened against the whip-wielding Fifty Shades of Grey, a syrupy soft core melodrama with perhaps too much dialogue.

Desecrating Pynchon. Inherent Vice Arrives on DVD

There are films that make you want to run to the bookstore or, in reality, Amazon.com. Any Jane Austen or Dickens adaptation. Atonement. Requiem for a Dream perhaps.

Then there is Paul Thomas Anderson's adaptation of Thomas Pynchon's Inherent Vice starring Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Martin Short, Reese Witherspoon, Maya Rudolph, and Benicio Del Toro, plus a bevy of other game thespians. This adaptation has a contrary effect. It makes you want to hightail it to the incinerator with every Pynchon paperback you might own. Farewell, V. Sayonara, Gravity's Rainbow.

Seventh Son and Jupiter Ascending: Two Current Oscar Nominees Fizzle

Who doesn't adore Julianne Moore?

Especially in Still Alice, the film for which bookmakers are betting she'll take home the Best Actress Oscar, Moore's portrayal of a linguistics professor battling early onset Alzheimer's is letter perfect. Myself having a sibling now encased in a memory care facility in Florida after being ravaged by the same affliction, every step of Alice's deterioration is recognizable: the random loss of memories, the awareness she's losing her identity, the outbursts of anger, the inability to control bodily functions, and the short-lived moments when the person you have always loved reemerges out of a fog of despair.

Sadly, Moore's performance and that of her peers in Seventh Son capture a forgetfulness, too, although not one symptomatic of an infirmity, but one characteristic of creative bankruptcy. By the time this adaptation of Joseph Delaney's bestselling young-adult classic, The Spook's Apprentice, ends and you've emptied your bladder in your mall's stall, you'll have trouble recalling what you've viewed on screen. So generically configured is this tale of medieval witches who turn into dragons, and the alcoholic heroes who try to eradicate them, you'll swear you'll have come down with an incurable case of chronic déjà vu before the credits finish rolling.

Mommy’s Boy: Xavier Dolan on Women, Gays, and Taylor Lautner

The former boy wonder, Xavier Dolan -- he's now 25 -- sauntered into New York about a week or so ago with a new movie, Mommy -- his fifth -- for which he won the Jury Prize at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival and received a thirteen-minute standing ovation. Well, truthfully, he shared the prize with Jean-Luc Godard (Goodbye to Language), which is inarguably like winning a second award. After all, having one's name forever linked with a kingpin of La Nouvelle Vague is nothing to sneeze at. (Who will ever forget Streisand and Hepburn sharing a Best Actress Oscar? New guard joining old guard.)

Appropriate Behavior: "Bi"-Polar Sexcapades in Brooklyn

If Woody Allen were a tall Iranian bisexual woman with a gawky Sandra-Bullockish beauty and an exasperating, egocentric outlook on the world, Appropriate Behavior would have been his Annie Hall.

"Banal sex shouldn't happen until maybe a year into the relationship.... She wasn't even fucking you at the end," advises a best friend at the beginning of Appropriate Behavior, the indie film directed and written by the Iranian-American Desiree Akhavan. 

Little Q & A: Allison Burnett + Dusty Wright

Allison Burnett is a rarity in Hollywood. He is not just a successful Hollywood screenwriter, a respected novelist, and a published critic and poet, but also a film director. His new film, Ask Me Anything, which he wrote and directed based on his own novel Undiscovered Gyrl, was released two weeks ago in selected theaters and on all digital platforms. It stars Martin Sheen, Christian Slater, Justin Long, and, in the lead role, luminous newcomer Britt Robertson. Recently I sat down with Allison in his Los Angeles home to discuss the challenges of indie filmmaking in general, as well as the difficulties with his leading lady that has caught the attention of the national media.

Cartoon Christmases!

Animated Christmas specials have become traditional to American holiday celebrations, ever since they first began airing in 1970s. Stop-motion productions like Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer and Santa Claus is Comin' to Town became instant classics, and have since been aired in marathons and special segments on TV for decades, and become an integral part of many families' Christmas festivities.

No, Really. Ask Me Anything

Screenwriter, director, and novelist Allison Burnett adapts his critically-lauded book Undiscovered Gyrlretitled Ask Me Anything for the screen, with excellent results. (By the way, only two writers I can think of have even attempted to migrate their prose from page to screen as both writer and director -- Norman Mailer and Stephen Chboksy.) This dramatic coming-of-age indie boasts an outstanding cast with a wickedly twisted plot twist that is so left field that you may have to watch it again to get it. Part Lolita meets Looking for Mr. Goodbar a la a precocious teenage blogger gone rogue.