by Walter Chaw I've been better now for a long time. I get depressed. I'm in recovery, and it's going well. There's a line in a new song by The National that makes me cry every time I hear it. It goes:
*/**** written by Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman, Jacek Dehnel directed by Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman
by Walter Chaw I love stop-motion animation. William Blake referred to the "infernal method," talking about etching plates with acid and how each print of his work would be touched by him, the artist, to better imbue it with life. Stop-motion animation to me is evidence that there's something to the idea of a transference of vitality through human contact. It's why I was curious about Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman's insane Loving Vincent, a feature-length film composed of over 65,000 hand-painted oil paintings, animating Van Gogh's most famous paintings and making characters of his subjects. It's a fascinating experiment, the product of one of those late-night bull sessions fuelled by cigarettes and whiskey where aspiring artist-types and freshman cosmology students get profound with one another. Consider Loving Vincent to be the cold reality of the morning after. Over 100 artists laboured over 10 years to essentially make a tedious rotoscope cartoon held together, barely, by an embarrassing screenplay dependent on loads of exposition and a repetitive flashback device. It's an endurance test of rare sadism.
****/**** starring Ethan Hawke, Amanda Seyfried, Cedric Kyles, Victoria Hill written and directed by Paul Schrader
by Walter Chaw The title character of Robert Bresson's Diary of a Country Priest is consumed by his inconsequence. Determined to make a difference, he can't even make an impression on the vile inhabitants of the little town that is his parish. It consumes him. It kills him. No one notices. There's nothing to notice. Bresson doesn't even bother to show it. The priest's voiceovers become more urgent, though his faith never flags. He develops terrible stomach pains he seeks to soothe with an austere diet of bread soaked in wine: the Host, I guess, that nourishes communion with the holy spirit, but also the cancer in his gut that consumes him. His last words? "All is grace." Paul Schrader, raised in the Dutch Calvinist Christian Reformed Church, which basically believes that Christians don't earn their salvation but rather receive it as a gift they don't deserve, has made it his life's work to react against his faith--and to live it, too, when reaction fails. Towards the end of his new film, First Reformed, the priest, Toller (Ethan Hawke), writes on his church's whiteboard "Will God Forgive Us?," which is less Calvinist--God already has forgiven us--than a sign of a faith in severe crisis. Schrader's riffed on Bresson's film before with his script for Taxi Driver, still his best-known work despite a career littered with masterpieces of individual fears, men in isolation from God, and spiritual self-loathing. In Taxi Driver, the Priest is a sociopath driving through a Times Square hellscape, praying for the apocalypse to come as a purifying, obliterating rain. He tries to kill himself, but becomes a hero instead. First Reformed is either less cynical or more cynical than that. It's complicated.
Man Hunt **/**** starring Zhang Hanyu, Masaharu Fukuyama, Qi Wei, Ha Jiwon screenplay by John Woo, based on the book by Jukô Nishimura directed by John Woo
HAPPY END **/**** starring Isabelle Huppert, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Mathieu Kassovitz, Toby Jones written and directed by Michael Haneke
by Bill Chambers About five seconds into John Woo's Man Hunt (no relation to that Fritz Lang movie with George Sanders in a cave), there's a freeze-frame. Followed shortly by another. It's glorious. Digital filmmaking has no doubt made it easier for Woo to be himself, as has being back in Asia: Hollywood never did warm to his Peckinpah flourishes, nor his melodramatic flair. But something is off in Man Hunt, which finds Woo returning, a touch desperately, to the Heroic Bloodshed genre in the form of a gloss on The Fugitive. (Officially, it's a remake of a Ken Takakura vehicle variously known as Manhunt and Hot Pursuit.) Chinese Du Qiu (Zhang Hanyu) is a hotshot lawyer for a pharmaceutical company that frames him for the murder of an alleged lover (Tao Okamoto, bestowing her iconic look on a role that doesn't thank her in return) to protect its secrets; Japanese Yamura (Masaharu Fukuyama) is the hotshot Inspector sent after Du when he escapes custody. Du repeatedly eludes Yamura's clutches, but over the course of the chase they build a rapport that transcends lawful and cultural barriers and, à la Hard-Boiled, unite against a common enemy, corrupt CEO Yoshihiro Sakai (Jun Kunimura). I should mention the two female super-assassins hot on Du's trail, since Woo's daughter Angeles plays one of them. For better or worse, this is personal filmmaking.
**½/**** starring Ben Stiller, Austin Abrams, Jenna Fischer, Michael Sheen written and directed by Mike White
by Angelo Muredda Nobody captures the insidiousness and pervasiveness of depressive thinking quite like Mike White, who returns to the middle-aged professional anxiety and panic-inducing Impostor Syndrome of "Enlightened" with Brad's Status, a quiet, obstinately minor film that largely unfolds through the emotionally-stunted protagonist's daydreaming voiceover critiques of his own minimal actions onscreen. Brad's Status positions itself as a lower-middle-class American B-side to Éric Rohmer in its focus on one man's interrogation of his own moral failings, a modest goal it mostly pulls off.
**½/**** starring Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges written and directed by Greta Gerwig
by Walter Chaw Greta Gerwig's hyphenate debut bears the influence of erstwhile collaborator Noah Baumbach's urbane micro-comedies--Hal Hartley's, too, along with some DNA borrowed from Ghost World and Welcome to the Dollhouse for spice. It's a talky domestic drama featuring a precocious, strong-willed iconoclast who has named herself "Lady Bird" (Saoirse Ronan) and is, as a character, the best description of the film that houses her. She's smart but not book-smart and, in the end, not smart enough to avoid having her heart broken by a couple of bad decisions on her way out of senior year in high-school and the great grey beast Sacramento. She tells her first boyfriend, Danny (the already-great Lucas Hedges), that she's from the "wrong side of the tracks," which, when he lets it slip in front of Lady Bird's mom Marion (Laurie Metcalf), obviously hurts Marion's feelings a lot, but she bites her lip. When he does it, he's there to pick up Lady Bird for Thanksgiving at his grandmother's place. His grandmother lives in the nicest house on the other side of the tracks and, to feel better about her life, Lady Bird tells her shallow new "bestie" Jenna (Odeya Rush) that it's Lady Bird's own house. A miserabilist story about the horror of adolescence that is obviously helmed by a first-timer, Lady Bird is redeemed by a cast so sterling that I actually wished the film were longer. It's that kind of movie.