Dennis Hopper was a legend. His tumultuous career — replete with soaring highs and harrowing lows — was matched only by his turbulent and unruly personal life. The director behind the prototype for American independent cinema, the classic “Easy Rider,” Hopper’s career began alongside that of James Dean, whom he shared the screen with twice, before bottoming out with his ambitious disaster “The Last Movie” when he was blackballed by the industry for his indignance and difficult attitude. His story for the next two decades was basically cyclical: the dizzying highs of cinematic masterpieces (“Apocalypse Now,” “Blue Velvet”) and plenty more ghastly misfires and personal woes. His life, as he lived it with passion and abandon, was an imposing story just waiting for the right documentary to piece it together. “Along For The Ride,” from director Nick Ebeling, is not that doc, for better or worse.
The nature of the medium of documentary is built around an unknown. Filmmakers journey into a subject or a life without all the answers (the worst documentaries purport to hold all the cards), and what often makes a good documentary riveting is the narrative of exploration, the uncovering of a truth. But, what often defines the best documentaries is their ability to pivot and spot, mid narration, a wellspring of truth more compelling than that of the original focal point of the film. In Luke Korem’s new documentary “Dealt,” that’s just what happens. What is, at its outset, a rather charming film about the world-famous card mechanic Richard Turner and the obstacles he has overcome, winds up being a searching study of the painful nature of coming to terms with your own vulnerabilities.
Telling a good love story on the big screen is a challenge of originality in 2017. The trite and cliche rom-com narrative is over burdened with expectation and is running on empty, and the year’s best rom-coms have relied heavily on shattering the formula (even “The Big Sick,” the most typical of romantic comedy of the year, is also one that challenges stereotypes and confronts nuanced culture clashes). It’s no surprise then that the documentary form has answered the call and offered up one of the most surprising and thoughtful romantic comedies of the year in “Dina.”
Admittedly, we paused when we found out Todd Haynes (a Playlist favorite) was adapting a YA novel, but sometimes you just gotta have faith. Haynes, after all, has rarely let us down, and, more often, he has blown us away. While some consider him to be a provocative, subversive filmmaker, labeling him as such misses so much of the beauty and nuance that he invests in his wildly tender and luscious films. In truth he is one of the most balanced and rounded filmmakers working today and any new film from him is one we eagerly await. And “Wonderstruck” is no different. While it doesn’t hit the highs of his magnificent “Carol” (our 4th favorite movie of 2015), our B+ review out of Cannes said, “Haynes has made a lovely wish-fulfillment movie, and you do not have to believe it, to be struck by wonder.” Plus, this trailer has done nothing but whet our appetite for his latest.
It had been a long four years after “Bright Star” waiting for Campion to return, but when “Top Of The Lake” finally came, it was obviously worth the wait. The seven-episode first season, which premiered at Sundance in a single seven-hour showing (there was a lunch break), is exactly the slow-burn sort of mystery we expected from the director: the twists and turns serving only to reveal and revel in the nuanced relationships at its core. Campion’s show weaves a complex, thoughtful set of narratives between an even more complex set of characters, each of whom is carefully drawn and beautifully realized. “Top Of The Lake” is packed with colorful, recognizable people that we all live among (with some obvious exceptions) struggling to do the right thing in a broken world, one where accidents define us as much as — if not more — than the choices we make. By its finale, Campion’s series has transformed into something grand and soulful, a moving exploration of the dynamics between strong, whole women and the toxic, masculine world they’re bucking against. And, while “Top Of The Lake” is by no means as gracious or damning as some of Campion’s other work, it is an achievement for its sense of harmony and for how badly it left us wanting this much-deserved second season.
Few artists have made a claim for so drastically altering the shape of their medium than Cecil Beaton, the fashion photographer turned war photographer turned royal photographer turned costume and production designer, who arguably forever reshaped the concept of possibility in the static image. Beaton faced his share of adversity and controversy, rubbed shoulders with the biggest stars and the Queen herself, and generally lived the sort of bohemian life that artists dream of. And while he is best known for the iconic images that he captured of the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Cary Grant, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Beaton himself was a fascinating, lively character who imprinted himself on the lives of anyone whose orbit he entered. And all of this is the life that “Love, Cecil” aims to — and mostly succeeds in — capturing, despite taking such an openly adoring stance. The rest…
There is a world that exists that is hard to fathom, which today, in our vastly connected digital age, where our social media feeds are inundated with photos from Syria and Venezuela, is itself hard to comprehend. In part, because we have all seen the imagery of war — shocking photos and footage are nearly commonplace and working to dull us into desensitization. And because we perceive war as a thing that ends, as a tragedy to be overcome, as something that is not simply a way of life. Similarly, there abounds images of abject poverty and hunger, starving children whose forms and bodies we know well enough to conjure without reference. The rest…