The Neon Demon Doesn’t Know When to Quit

A review of The Neon Demon, directed by Nicolas Winding RefnRemember Drive, the stylish 2011 film about a stunt driver (Ryan Gosling) who falls for a woman whose husband is in prison? Driven by a moody electronic score from composer Cliff Martinez, the 2011 film was moving but was also marked by outbursts of violence that weren’t easy to shake.Refn followed Drive two years later with another project starring Gosling. Provocatively titled Only God Forgives, it again played the Cannes Film F … [Read more...]

Sunset Song Sure Is Something to See

Review of Sunset Song, Directed by Terrence DaviesChristian audiences have long asked for moral stories undergirded by strong, Biblical values. The impulse for such stories has given rise to an industry of Christian films aimed at evangelical audiences and built around explicit gospel pitches. As art, the films have largely failed, in part because the message is presented at the expense of artful storytelling.That’s why audiences interested in tales with moral themes are so often drawn to o … [Read more...]

Jazz Biopic Battle Goes to Baker

Reviews of Born to Be Blue, Directed by Robert Budreau, and Miles Ahead, Directed by Don CheadleIn the late 1980s, I used my transition to college as an excuse to explore music beyond the heavy metal and hard rock of my teens.Jazz reissues on CD were about to become a booming sector of the music market, and having played trumpet earlier in life, I wanted to explore the genre. When I mentioned my need of guidance to a music-store clerk, he directed me to a then-new Chet Baker double-CD, … [Read more...]

With ‘Knight of Cups,’ Have We Already Seen the Best Film of 2016?

Review of Knight of Cups, Directed by Terrence Malick“I think [Christian Bale is] really playing Everyman. We all get lost. …[Director Terrence Malick has] always found importance in people that are suffering, and I think that’s part of the spiritual side of him. I think this film is very spiritual.”—Jack Fisk, Production Designer, Knight of Cups, in conversation with Michael Sragow for Film Comment“I sinned and perverted what was right, and it was not repaid to me. He has redeemed my soul … [Read more...]

A Longing for Something More Suffuses Only Yesterday

 Review of Only Yesterday, Directed by Isao Takahata If you saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens—and who hasn’t?—and were impressed by the young actress who played Rey, Daisy Ridley—and who wasn’t?—then you might be interested in her latest film. No, it’s not Episode VIII of Star Wars, which has just started production. Instead, it’s Only Yesterday, a 1991 film from Japan’s Studio Ghibli, just now receiving a 25th anniversary release in North America.The English-dubbed versi … [Read more...]

The Top 20 Films of 2015

20. Crimson PeakSee it for the production design, the gothic mood or just because you miss the atmospheric horror films of an earlier era. I can’t say the film is deeply meaningful, but it sure was a pleasure to watch. Director Guillermo del Toro has made one like they used to make ’em.19. MustangAnother great religious drama, this one about a group of sisters facing a series of quick marriages after they cause a mini-scandal in their community. Director Deniz Gamze Erguven brings an ene … [Read more...]

Middleburg Film Festival Puts Spotlight on Church Scandal

By Christian Hamaker The Middleburg Film Festival just wrapped its third year in Northern Virginia horse country, but it’s already on strong footing. The only nearby competing festival, the troubled FilmFest DC, is held in the spring, while the Virginia Film Festival in November is closer on the calendar but a longer drive for those in the populous Northern Virginia region.The Middleburg festival’s late October timing also puts it close to the peak of fall foliage season, enhancing the dr … [Read more...]

Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet Can’t Transcend a Tired Framing Story

 Review of Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet, Directed by Roger AllersMany consider Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet a profound literary work, but the animated film adaptation of Gibran’s book traffics in easy laughs aimed at the younger set. Whether it’s a guard hitting his head on a window frame, an older character cracking wise after a bird eats a wedding cake or a sheep upending a stern character, Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet (that’s the full title of the film) is clearly trying to achieve a delicate … [Read more...]

Mavis! Closes AFI Docs Festival With a Gospel Shout

Very Semi-SeriousFestival documentaries tend to lean on “issues” films that highlight injustice or that profile important or famous individuals. Rare is the film that leaves audiences laughing. That’s what made Very Semi-Serious, a look at the artists behind the New Yorker cartoons, so refreshing. The film centers on New Yorker cartoon editor Bob Mankoff, who sheds light on the selection process for each issue’s cartoons, We learn that an astonishing 1,000 cartoons are received weekly by the … [Read more...]

Anger, Artistry Characterize AFI Docs Audience Award Winner

Last year’s AFI Docs’ festival opener, Scott Teems’ Holbrook/Twain, provided a model for showbiz documentaries. Not only is actor Hal Holbrook a fascinating subject when discussing his best-known performance (a one-man show in which he plays Mark Twain), but director Teems includes Holbrook’s’ children discussing the impact of their father’s constant time on the road while they were young. While not exclusively negative, their regrets, and Holbrook’s’ own rueful comments about what he missed out … [Read more...]