Yeah, the male stripper movie. Well, actually, no: Not “the male stripper movie” — a preponderance of lightly-clothed men dancing on a stage obviously notwithstanding — but a probe into what being a “masculine” man counts for in a day and age where dreams are hard to attain. Of course, Steven Soderbergh could not only make that kind of film under a major studio, but also convince hordes that Channing Tatum is a real star. The stripping’s pretty good, too. – Nick N.
In a visceral manner, the Mexican thriller Miss Bala brings into focus a serious problem the country faces with the ever-growing danger of drug cartel violence. It centers on an young girl Laura Guerrero, played intensely by newcomer Stephanie Sigman, aspiring to become a beauty queen to win some money for her brother and father. Director Gerardo Naranjo displays a strong and confident cinematic voice with excellent use of carefully-composed long shots that drive up the tension tenfold. By creating a character whose situations are impossible not to sympathize for, the film becomes a tour de force of action wrapped within the sub text of serious socio-economic issues. – Raffi A.
Wes Anderson’s newest pop fantasy would be “enough,” so to speak, if it only gave me that special tingly feeling with almost every shot, so, hats off for making something as rich in formal ingenuity as it is in emotional depth. (An overwhelming sense of humanity matches its overpowering aesthetic beauty, you see). Here we have a film that boasts a lot of 2012’s “best” ensemble, cinematography, soundtrack and screenplay. The more time passes, the more I think Moonrise Kingdom is Anderson’s finest hour. – Nick N.
Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
Turkish writer-director Nuri Bilge Ceylan has always shown a preference for the methodical, but he reaches new slow-burn heights in this two-and-a-half-hour procedural mystery that doesn’t quite end up solving much of anything. What it does do, rather, is use its teasing premise — a dead body is missing somewhere in the symmetrically winding hills of rural Anatolia — as a way to slowly unravel the deep, dynamic humanity of its main characters. The sidebar philosophizing can, at first, seem irrelevant, but once you realize that Ceylan is more interested in the living than the dead, there is a lot of feeling to be discovered at the end of the tunnel. — Danny K.
Oslo, August 31st
I’m not sure this meditative, thoughtful character study has quite the same lyrical bang as Joachim Trier’s first feature, the altogether phenomenal Reprise, but considering the intense love I have for that film, my uncertainty in picking one over the other should be read entirely as a full-fledged endorsement of Oslo. Starring a fiercely committed Anders Danielsen Lie, who was one of the two spearheads of Reprise, Trier’s sophomore effort distances itself from his debut in its intense focus on one character’s psychology, but it confirms the writer-director’s remarkably nimble sense of temporality, shifting from past to present with such streamlined grace that everything becomes one with Lie’s existence-questioning psyche. – Danny K.
Stop-motion done well is an accomplishment in itself, considering the painstaking detail that must go into each tiny movement for the process to feel genuine. Even more impressive is crafting a film with as much heart, humor and nuance as studio Laika has done with Paranorman, a charming children’s film that resonates equally with adults. Dealing with mature themes and confronting the notion of death head on, the plot is never afraid to stray away from genuinely frightening concepts while still feeling fun. Yet it is the unbelievable level of expert animation that elevates the film’s charm to a whole other level of wonder. – Raffi A.
Safety Not Guaranteed
This quirky dramatic comedy is what you would hope to expect from the producing pair behind Little Miss Sunshine. When three Seattle magazine employees go in search of a man who placed a classified ad in search of a time travel partner, what we end up with is a story full of compassion and the ability to believe in others. The tale is fueled by odd but likable characters portrayed by Mark Duplass, Aubrey Plaza and Jake M. Johnson, all who work together with great synergy. This may be remembered as one of the most endearing films of the year. – Kristen C.
The Sanskrit definition of Samsara means “the ever turning wheel of life” and serves as a sort of mantra for watching this gorgeously shot 70mm spectacle by filmmaker duo Ron Fricke and Mark Magidson. Shot over 5 years in 25 countries, the film has no dialogue, plot or voice over per se and instead favors an operatic sense of visual wonder to sweep you away. It is a unique kind of cinematic experience that requires a bit of patience from the audience to appreciate, but if you give yourself into it, its a marvel to witness. – Raffi A.
The Secret World of Arrietty
Though it doesn’t quite match fan favorite Spirited Away, this film is a triumph in its own way. Gorgeously drawn and soulfully written, The Secret World of Arrietty is a wonderful return to the old school world of children’s storytelling. The visuals are stunning, the detail and imagination are surreal, and the world Studio Ghibli has brought to life is a wonder to behold. The heroine Arrietty is a gem, the kind of adventurous, courageous character all girls young and old can look to and see a bit of themselves in. With a beautiful score and a heartfelt script, Studio Ghibli have truly brought forth a masterpiece bound to become a favorite amongst fans for years to come. – Winn P.
Shut up and Play the Hits
It’s been well over a year now since LCD Soundsystem’s final show, but now we’re able to relive the experience thanks to an expertly shot and insanely loud documentary. Interwoven between the concert snippets from Madison Square Garden is a candid interview with frontman James Murphy as he deals with letting go of his baby — it’s a must-see for any artist. – Jordan R.
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