Presidents and Others
December 03, 2008

W.--Lionsgate Stages--Lemming Film Oliver Stone is, for me, the most adventurous and exciting American director of his time. Struck by some of our era's soul-chilling events and forces, he has seized them with electrifying art. No other American director has so consistently explored large political and social ravages of the day. This is not a matter of civic duty. Stone's best films are, in complex and helpful ways, discomforts. His new film, W., is about George W. Bush. Among his major films, two have also been on presidential subjects.

Finding Out
November 19, 2008

One Day You'll Understand Kino International Dear Zachary: A Letter to A Son About His Father Oscilloscope Pictures Jeanne Moreau has reigned in French films since 1950, sensual, brainy, wryly dangerous, free. She was a woman whom men sometimes didn't dare to fantasize about, and for some women she figured as an agent of reprisal. All these qualities were heightened by her talent and technique. (Before she entered films, she was schooled in the theater, an ingénue at the Comédie Française.) But time has had its way with Jeanne Moreau, too, and now she appears as a grandmother.

Departure, Arrivals
November 05, 2008

Paul Newman Stranded: I've come from a Plane That Crashed on the Mountains (Zeitgeist Films) Let the Right One In (Magnet Releasing) Three kinds of performers appear in films: actors, stars, and star actors. Some very good actors lack the looks and personality to become stars. Some stars, iconic though they may be, have just enough talent to get by. Then there are the actors who have both talent and charisma.

Triad and Tumult
October 22, 2008

Ballast (Alluvial Film Company) Elite Squad (IFC Films)    Still another extraordinary new American director comes along--the third in just a few months. After Courtney Hunt with Frozen River and Chris Eska with Autumn Evening, here is Lance Hammer with Ballast. Though these three directors have little in common stylistically, all three of their films deal with working-class people. Hammer's film, which he also wrote and edited, is his first feature. Set in the Mississippi Delta, its three principal characters are black, yet the first person we see is white.

Matters of Belief
October 08, 2008

Vicky Cristina Barcelona (Metro Goldwyn Mayer and the Weinstein Company) A Secret (Strand Releasing) Two young American women, Vicky and Cristina, go to spend a summer in Barcelona. Dining one night in a restaurant, they see a good-looking man across the room. Soon the man, a Spanish painter fluent in English, comes over to their table, says that he is about to fly to Oviedo to look at a favorite sculpture there, and invites them to come with him. To their own surprise, they accept.

September 24, 2008

The Pool (Vitagraph Films) August Evening (Maya Releasing) Place, the place where a story is set, can figure powerfully in our encounter with a film--perhaps even more in our memory of it. Think of what Manhattan did for some of Sidney Lumet's films, or Arizona for some of John Ford's, or that Swedish island for some of Ingmar Bergman's. Surely the overwhelming example is what the desert did for David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia. The Pool by Chris Smith raises the subject again, in an unusual way.

Two Achievements
September 10, 2008

'I Served the King of England' (Sony Pictures Classics) 'Momma's Man' (Kino International) Jiri Menzel is back. This Czech director made a considerable splash in 1967 with Closely Watched Trains, but although he has been busy since then, his later work has not had comparable impact. Now comes I Served the King of England, and strangely, the intervening four decades whisk away. The new film has the same deceptive light touch as the earlier one, a lightness that partially masks the serious subject and yet explores it. The time frame is again around World War II.

Assorted Gifts
August 27, 2008

Man on Wire Magnolia Frozen River Sony Pictures Classics A Girl Cut in Two IFC On August 7, 1974, a man walked across a tightrope stretched between the roofs of two Manhattan skyscrapers. The buildings were the twin towers of the World Trade Center. The funambulist was a Frenchman named Philippe Petit, to whom the feat was much more than daredevilry. Man on Wire tells us how Petit came to do what he did and what it meant to him. The buildings had figured in his mind since he was a teenager.

Crime and Style
August 13, 2008

A Very British GangsterAnywhere RoadBoy AThe Weinstein CompanyThe base, the very source, of many documentaries is not often acknowledged-- the confidence that the people in the film have in the director. In A Very British Gangster, a criminal named Dominic Noonan, notorious in the extreme, talks on camera about his career with almost complete frankness. Murder he evades, though not the murders he has threatened. Everything else he talks about in a chatty way, as if he were discussing a conventional life.

July 30, 2008

The Last Mistress (IFC) Trumbo (Samuel Goldwyn and Red Envelope)   The French director Catherine Breillat uses plentiful sex in her films. This is notable not for its candor, a quality that is nowadays general, but for its cunning purpose. Her easy, open attitude toward sex makes the viewer wonder (this seems to be Breillat's plan) what the difference is between her films and pornography. So we consider the context of those naked scenes even more thoroughly, and we decide that the context gives her films a thematic texture that pornography never has.