14 items from 2017
The following essay was produced as part of the 2017 Locarno Critics Academy, a workshop for aspiring film critics that took place during the 70th edition of the Locarno Film Festival.
The term “independent film” is vaguer than ever, but film festivals are the best place to look for its evolving definition. While American independent film has developed a unique identity thanks to Sundance and other North American showcases, it takes on a very different profile when these films travel abroad.
The Locarno Film Festival has developed something of a reputation for enabling European festival-goers to discover the best of American independent film, its visitors relying on the festival’s programmers to delve through the material sold as independent to find the films that deserve the label. Here’s a look at four highlights from this year’s lineup that were well-received by the festival’s audiences.
Though it »
- Matt Turner
The summer movie season may start winding down by early August, but for cinephiles, that’s when the real fun begins. While the fall season festivals — epitomized by the trio of awards season influencers Telluride, Toronto and New York — are a massive platform for major prestige titles at the end of the year, the Locarno Film Festival has the jump on all of them, and provides the most diverse range of cinema you’ll see anywhere in the world.
The 70th edition, announced this week, provides the latest example. No festival embodies the “something for everyone” philosophy better than Locarno, which complements its cinephile-oriented sections with another one exclusively designed for wider audiences. That would be the Piazza Grande, where 16 features screen outdoors for an audience of 8,000 people. But rather than simply showcasing the same summer blockbusters that have dominated the box office, the Piazza features international efforts well suited to pleasing massive crowds, »
- Eric Kohn
Ben & Joshua Safdie's Good TimeThe lineup for the 2017 festival has been revealed, including new films by Wang Bing, Radu Jude, Raúl Ruiz and others, alongside retrospectives and tributes dedicated to Jean-Marie Straub, Jacques Tourneur and much more.Piazza GRANDEAmori che non sonno stare al mondo (Francesca Comencini, Italy)Atomic Blonde (David Leitch, USA)Chien (Samuel Benchetrit, France/Belgium)Demain et tous les autres jours (Noémie Lvovsky, France)Drei Zinnen (Jan Zabeil, Germany/Italy)Good Time (Ben & Joshua Safdie, USA)Gotthard - One Life, One Soul (Kevin Merz, Switzerland)I Walked with a Zombie (Jacques Tourneur, USA)Iceman (Felix Randau, Germany/Italy/Austria)Laissez bronzer les cadavres (Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani, Belgium/France)Lola Pater (Nadir Moknèche, France/Belgium)Sicilia! (Jean-Marie Straub & Danièle Huillet, Italy/France/Germany)Sparring (Samuel Jouy, France)The Big Sick (Michael Showalter, USA)The Song of Scorpions (Anup Singh, Switzerland/France/Singapore)What Happed to Monday (Tommy Wirkola, »
Rome – The Locarno Film Festival has unveiled a rich mix of titles spanning many genres for its 70th edition, marked by a strong French presence that will include Isabelle Huppert playing a physics teacher who undergoes a major personality shift in “Madame Hyde” and Fanny Ardant playing a man who has had gender-reassignment surgery in “Lola Pater” (pictured).
Focus Features’ spy pic “Atomic Blonde” with Charlize Theron and Netflix’s sci-fi thriller “What Happened to Monday?” will also screen in Locarno’s open-air, 8,000-seat Piazza Grande, though without talent in tow.
As in past editions, the lineup of the Swiss fest dedicated to indie cinema combines potential discoveries with new works by known festival auteurs such as Noemie Lvovsky, Anup Singh, F.J. Ossang, Wang Bing, Annemarie Jacir, and a posthumous pic by Raul Ruiz. The official competition comprises 14 world premieres, four of which are films by first-time directors.
Lvovsky’s “Tomorrow and Thereafter,” a »
- Nick Vivarelli
30 June 2017 11:30 AM, PDT | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »
Back at the indie helm after a decade-plus of directing gigs for high-profile TV dramas, Jim McKay demonstrates with En el Septimo Día (On the Seventh Day) that his gifts as a filmmaker are as vital as ever. As with Girls Town and Our Song (which marked the feature debut of Kerry Washington), the day-to-day lives of working-class New Yorkers are the writer-director's concern, but this time he turns his focus from teen girls to a thoroughly engaging group of men, immigrants from Mexico who work six days a week and hit the soccer field Sundays. They're played by a »
- Sheri Linden
Jim McKay, whose early, mid ’90s/early-aughts features (Girls Town, Our Song, Everyday People and Angel) were empathetic and involving New York dramas suffused with a love of neighborhood and feeling for community, makes a welcome return to feature filmmaking with the Brooklyn-set En el Séptimo Día (“On the Seventh Day”), which premiered last week to strong notices at BAMcinemafest. With a fresh cast of mostly Spanish-speaking newcomers, McKay tells the story of Jose (a soulful Fernando Cardona), an undocumented Mexican immigrant who, weekdays plus Saturdays, does deliveries at an upscale Carroll Gardens restaurant while, on Sundays, playing as the star […] »
- Scott Macaulay
Well, let me tell you something, brother: Hulk Hogan always goes over in the end. The result of last year’s tabloid-friendly trial between Hogan (real name Terry Bollea, as Jenny Slate kindly reminded us in “Obvious Child”) and Gawker may have been less surprising to pro-wrestling fans than it was to everyone else, but its long-term impact will likely be even more consequential than the Hulkster body-slamming Andre the Giant in front of 93,000 screaming Hulkamaniacs.
“Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press” isn’t as indulgent with wrestling references as that last paragraph, which is probably to its credit. Brian Knappenberger’s documentary is compelling and slickly produced in the way that timely Sundance documentaries often are, with no shortage of talking heads and trial footage assuring us that there’s nothing normal about the new normal in which we all find ourselves. Also like a lot of similar movies, the subject itself is more engaging than the filmmaking.
The plaintiff in the trial was a lifelong showman whose fame and fortune are a direct result of his ability work an audience, whether it be in an open-air arena or an intimate courtroom; one of the defendants made a massively ill-advised joke about child sex tapes. To say that Hogan acquitted himself well and his opponent did not would be an understatement.
But however self-inflicted Gawker’s wounds may have been — they chose a questionable hill to die on, and die they did — the implications of that trial are troubling, to say the least. What other casualties might follow suit in the future? This concern is put best by a First Amendment attorney interviewed here: “The reason to save Gawker is not because Gawker was worth saving,” he says. “The reason to save it is that we don’t pick and choose what sort of publications are permissible, because once we do, it empowers the government to limit speech in a way that ought to be impermissible.”
The reading of the verdict and $140 million in damages comes halfway through the film, and it’s then that “Nobody Speak” pivots to its ultimate focus: Peter Thiel and other billionaires who seek to muzzle the press. Lawyers are expensive, and litigants with deep war chests tend to win. Knappenberger presents his case with all the passion of a trial lawyer who knows that his case be unwinnable but presses on anyway.
Read More: Netflix Close to Acquiring Hulk Hogan Doc ‘Nobody Speak’ — Sundance 2017
It was Thiel who financed Hogan’s lawsuit and considered doing so a philanthropic act. He’d been outed by Gawker nearly a decade earlier. The potential danger is obvious: Other millionaires and billionaires could follow suit and use their vast financial resources to sue journalistic outlets they don’t like as a means of score-settling.
Knappenberger links this to Donald Trump’s promise to “open up libel laws” and his rabid supporters’ violent threats toward journalists at rallies, not least because Thiel was an early supporter of then-candidate Trump. These conclusions are persuasive, frightening and (one hopes) a little alarmist — surging background music and other theatrics have a tendency to detract from the film’s arguments rather than enhancing it. A film about the vital importance of speaking truth to power needn’t be so concerned with dressing up its own frightful truths, but “Nobody Speak” still compels as an opening statement on journalism’s dubious future.
“Nobody Speak” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. It’s available to stream on Netflix as of June 23.
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Related stories'Transformers: The Last Knight' Review: Here's the Most Ridiculous Hollywood Movie of the YearJ. Hoberman's Best Movies of the 21st Century'En El Séptimo Dia' Review: Jim McKay's First Movie in a Decade is the Summer's Surprise Crowdpleaser »
- Michael Nordine
Discussing the ways in which fiction films shift between their linear, wholly narrative impulses and something approaching ethnography is among the most illuminating aspects of movies so deeply tied to a specific time and milieu. En el Séptimo Día, written and directed by Jim McKay, is particularly upfront about this. Near the beginning of the film, a set of onscreen text locates the events of the narrative as Sunset Park, Brooklyn in the summer of 2016, discretely divided into the days of a single week (beginning on Sunday) and the following Monday. With the sole exception of one shot — a cybercafé in Mexico — the movie never leaves this setting, exploring the seemingly endless maze of streets and the establishments and restaurants just off the beaten path with careful detail and an almost unerring eye.
The viewer’s guide and focal character is José (Fernando Cardona), a Mexican immigrant and avid soccer player who, over the course of the week, attempts to juggle his responsibility as captain of his football team, which is due to play in their league’s finals on Sunday, and his job as a bicycle delivery-person for a somewhat upscale Mexican restaurant. This latter occupation forms much of the backbone of En el Séptimo Día, as a good deal of time is spent observing José as he pedals around the borough making deliveries, often waiting for lackadaisical customers or various other impediments – one day prominently features torrential rain which he must fend off using only a poncho.
Through all of this, there is a certain veneer of repeated indignities inflicted upon him due to his social status as a lower-class worker, primarily – but not solely – by his boss, the most prominent non-Spanish speaker in the film (all English dialogue is also subtitled in Spanish as well, in an intriguing bit of alignment with the viewpoint of the immigrants). José is never discriminated against specifically because of his race per se, but there is an undeniable and continual feeling of uncaring disdain that emanates from almost every character that isn’t friends with him, and indeed they exist on a certain continuum of helpfulness or unhelpfulness that McKay manages to conjure without ever creating a straw-man that can be simply tossed aside.
The idea of Mexican heritage and community as being worthy of celebration in spite of the surrounding culture is repeatedly emphasized, both in the soccer league – at one point it is remarked that only people of Mexican descent can play in the league, and José’s team seems to be named after Puebla F.C. – and in the more “important,” mundane concerns. Much of the central conflict lies in the choice that José must make between working on Sunday, and therefore missing the final that his team will likely lose without his skill, or playing and thus losing his job. An additional wrinkle is thrown in by the imminent birth of his daughter: unless he keeps his job, he cannot go on vacation in a month to bring his wife to America so that his child can obtain U.S. citizenship.
It is to McKay’s credit that these weighty concerns only rarely dominate En el Séptimo Día, which derives much more of its interest from the small, tossed-off interactions of a Skype call, or the banter between the teammates that share a cramped apartment. Even the technical aspects have a lightness to them, as almost all of the film is conveyed through shot/reverse-shot and quick, clean pans, deploying handheld on only a few occasions. In a way, this reflects a certain ethos on the part of the cast and crew: En el Séptimo Día aims not for a glorified, glamorized version of an existence only slightly above poverty nor an excessive grittiness with pretenses towards “realism.” Rather, it seeks to portray a certain way of life with compassion, vitality, and above all fidelity, aims that are deeply felt and executed throughout this remarkable, vigorous film.
En el Séptimo Día premiered at BAMcinemaFest. »
- The Film Stage
“Transformers: The Last Knight” opens in medieval times with a drunken Merlin (Stanley Tucci) and closes with a futuristic man-versus-aliens showdown set in Stonehenge. In between those ludicrous scenarios, director Michael Bay’s fifth entry in the most overproduced movie franchise of the 21st century stuffs in a new love interest for Mark Wahlberg, a deep space journey to a robotic villainess intent on destroying mankind, and a robotic British butler with martial arts skills operating at the whims of Anthony Hopkins. It’s an unabashed freewheeling mess of CGI explosions, fast-talking strategies and shiny metal monstrosities clashing in epic battles. And it’s actually kind of fun, in an infuriating sort of way, to watch the most ridiculous Hollywood movie of the year do its thing.
Here’s the thing about the “Transformers” movies. Bay managed to drag a nostalgia-laden franchise best known for the toys it inspired into the 21st century in part by not taking the premise too seriously. That changed after the success of the first live action installment 10 years ago; “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” and “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” turned the playfulness of the earlier entries into a gleaming mass of commercial showmanship; each runs well over two and a half hours, and “The Last Knight” is no exception.
But the craziest thing about the movie is that it practically dares audiences to grow anxious while watching its restless, bloated contents, and keeps tossing out shiny nuggets of entertainment to cloak from the overwhelming ridiculousness in spectacle. The closest thing in American movies to an epic, Bollywood-style genre mashup, “The Last Knight” continues the trend of the series in borrowing liberally from every filmic tradition possible in the quest to crush all competition and leave viewers with the sense that they don’t need to see anything else, ever. That underlying implication is made all the more infuriating because Bay excels at the aesthetic of distraction, with the masculine intensity of a jock and the soothing words of a hypnotist: Sit back, relax, and enjoy the stupid ride. What, you don’t like fun movies?
Bay’s craftsmanship is impeccable, but per usual, the real stars of the show remain the wizards at Industrial Light & Magic responsible for the range of special effects. The degree of visual information crammed into every frame never ceases to amaze, particularly when enjoyed on an IMAX screen capable of conveying the full scale. It helps that the ongoing story has gotten to the point where Transformers have blossomed around the globe, providing an excuse to unleash so many dazzling images the brain can’t possibly process them all at once.
At the end of the third movie, Transformers leader Optimus Prime left Earth for a mysterious journey back to his home planet, leaving Earth at odds with the remaining Transformers inhabitants as they hid from the law while defending the planet from an onslaught of Decepticons. In other words, we’ve gone beyond the “Age of Extinction” singled out in the 2014 movie and headed into post-apocalyptic territory: Since defending Transformers has been outlawed, rascally inventor Cade Yeager (Wahlberg) hides out in a junkyard with the usual motley gang of tower-sized defenders, including the ever-endearing Bumblebee (still eager to find a new voice box).
Bay’s mastered the art of showcasing these beings and their colorful personalities so well that he could easily craft a digitally-enhanced comedy about passive-aggressive Transformers with roommate problems and call it a day. But bigger things are at stake! Or, at least, more plot is necessary to drive the ongoing perception that this giant mass of moving images deserves your 20 bucks.
Summarizing a Transformers movie is a good way to fall prey to its traps, but here goes: At some point while running from the law, Cade is kidnapped by the mysterious Sir Edmund Burton (Anthony Hopkins, doing a kooky riff on his “Westworld” character), who maintains a group of aging robots stretching back millennia and belongs to a secret society of humans who have protected the secret of the Transformers’ existence. (These include Da Vinci, Shakespeare and Harriet Tubman, all of whom might have provided more ambitious fodder for a framing device than Tucci’s Merlin, but hey, there’s plenty of time for more sequels.)
In any case, Cade saved a medieval Transformer space traveler who gifted the human with a protective amulet dating back to Merlin’s days, so now the inventor’s a genuine superhero. He’s paired with spicy British academic Vivian Wembley (Laura Haddock), a Merlin descendant whose knowledge of the lore informs her understanding of Wahlberg’s qualifications to save Merlin’s magical wand from an incoming alien invasion. Bay’s flimsy capacity for directing substantial women roles gets especially dicey here, with a cardboard cutout version of a brainy academic who ultimately melts into Wahlberg’s arms. Make no mistake: These movies are the most sensationalistic illustrations of the male gaze in history.
They’re also terribly reductive. When Cade and Vivian aren’t scrambling, “Indiana Jones”-style, to comprehend an Arthurian legend, a neurotic scientist played by “Veep” funnyman Tony Hale urges the government to do something about the invaders from space. As if this watered-down “Independence Day” scenario weren’t enough, the movie keeps veering off in jagged directions. At one point, we meet a range of Decepticon villains released from jail to take down the Transformers, a robotic Suicide Squad with names like Nitro Zeus and Dread bot who vanish almost as quickly as they’re introduced.
But, you know, who cares? It’s a “Transformers” movie! More coherent than “Age of Extinction,” the third act of which took place in Beijing for no other apparent reason than to outsource the production to China, “The Last Night” lands a lot of good laughs with its cartoonish robots and equally over-the-top chemistry between its two leads. Hopkins’ character is even helped along by a senile robot named Cogman, an unapologetic C-3Po ripoff whose very existence proves that Bay thinks nothing is sacred in his plundering of cinematic traditions. In these transparent times, when the ills of capitalism are no longer hidden under the guise of moral superiority, the sheer absurd cash grab of “The Last Knight” feels like more than just a commercial coup. It’s the zeitgeist. Just go with it.
Or don’t. In 2007, audiences keen on “Transformers” counterprogramming went to see “The Hurt Locker.” This time, “Transformers: The Last Knight” opens the same weekend as “The Big Sick,” a smart and intimate romcom that transforms those formulaic traditions into a more personal story about the travails of an interracial couple. As summer crowdpleasers go, it’s a lot more credible than “The Last Knight” — and the contrast between the two movies couldn’t be more extreme. One carries the implication that the modern world is a complex place in which the process of discovering new people and ideas leads to bountiful rewards. The other rejects all that and implores you to settle for a flashier version of the same old thing.
“Transformers: The Last Knight” opens nationwide on June 20, 2017.
Related storiesJ. Hoberman's Best Movies of the 21st Century'En El Séptimo Dia' Review: Jim McKay's First Movie in a Decade is the Summer's Surprise Crowdpleaser'All Eyez on Me' Review: Tupac Shakur's Complicated Life Deserves More Than This Sprawling Biopic »
- Eric Kohn
There have been a lot of lists about the best films of the 21st century. IndieWire has been digging through the last two decades one genre at a time; meanwhile, the New York Times’ top movie critics provided their own takes. J. Hoberman, the longtime Village Voice film critic who now works as a freelancer, decided to join the fray. Here’s his take, also available at his site, and republished here with permission.
People have been asking me, so I thought I might as well join (or crash) the party initiated by the New York Times and put in my two cents regarding the 25 Best Films of the 21st Century (so far). I don’t see “everything” anymore and I haven’t been to Cannes since 2011.
There is some overlap but this is not the same as the proposed 21-film syllabus of 21st Century cinema included in my book “Film After Film.” Those were all in their way pedagogical choices. Begging the question of what “best” means, these are all movies that I really like, that I’m happy to see multiple times, that are strongly of their moment and that I think will stand the test of time.
My single “best” film-object is followed by a list of 11 filmmakers and one academic production company (in order of “best-ness”) responsible for two or more “best films,” these followed by another eight individual movies (again in order) and finally four more tentatively advanced films (these alphabetical). I’m sure I’m forgetting some but that’s the nature of the beast.
Jean-Luc Godard: “In Praise of Love” & “Goodbye to Language”
Sensory Ethnology Lab: “Leviathan,” “Manakamana,” & “People’s Park”
“The Strange Case of Angelica” — Manoel de Oliviera
“Corpus Callosum” — Michael Snow
“West of the Tracks” — Wang Bing
“Carlos” — Olivier Assayas
“Che” — Steven Soderbergh
“Ten” — Abbas Kariostami
“Russian Ark” — Aleksandr Sokurov
“The World” — Jia Zhangke
“Once Upon a Time in Anatolia” — Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Related stories'Transformers: The Last Knight' Review: Here's the Most Ridiculous Hollywood Movie of the Year'En El Séptimo Dia' Review: Jim McKay's First Movie in a Decade is the Summer's Surprise Crowdpleaser'All Eyez on Me' Review: Tupac Shakur's Complicated Life Deserves More Than This Sprawling Biopic »
- J. Hoberman
The most satisfying aspect of “En El Séptimo Dia” (“On the Seventh Day”), Jim McKay’s first feature in 12 years, stems from the way it combines a simple premise with profound concerns. Set across one week in the life of a Mexican immigrant in Brooklyn, it harkens back to classic neorealist traditions by providing a window into the everyday challenges of a lower-class existence all too often ignored in mainstream cinema. At the same time, it positions the drama as a feel-good crowdpleaser, a rousing sports movie about characters trapped by their surroundings and galvanized by their communal spirit.
It doesn’t take long to establish the plight of José (Fernando Cardona, a non-professional newcomer like the rest of the cast), who works a bland job as the deliveryman at a Mexican restaurant in Brooklyn’s Carroll Gardens when he’s not leading his soccer team to a championship in »
- Eric Kohn
Fernando Cardona, the star of Jim McKay’s supremely confident and captivating independent feature “En el Séptimo Día” (“On the Seventh Day”), has the most hypnotic face I’ve seen on an actor in months. Cardona is handsome — bedroom eyes, chiseled smile — and in the movie his stoically sexy features are set off by a rather extreme fade haircut: shaved all the way up on the sides, but longish and combed on top, like an oil-slicked Mohawk.
In another context, you could see him as a real player, but Cardona’s José, an undocumented Mexican immigrant who works as a delivery guy in Brooklyn, doesn’t speak much English, and the image he presents is quiet, passive, and cautiously controlled. One false move could destroy everything he’s worked for. Cardona uses that stillness to express unspoken currents of fear, hope, and desire; he comes off like a boy in »
- Owen Gleiberman
This month’s BAMcinemaFest isn’t just for New York cinephiles, as the annual festival routinely rolls out a slate that includes the year’s best indie offerings, giving many of them a major boost before they roll out theatrical runs. This year is no different, as the Brooklyn-based event will play home to a slew of festival favorites, including a hefty dose of Sundance’s buzziest titles and some big-time SXSW winners and everything in between, most of them bound for a release in a theater (hopefully) near you.
As we look ahead to the rest of the year in indie cinema, these 20 titles stand out as some of the best and the brightest still left on the calendar. Fortunately, we’ve got plenty of information on each of them to satiate you. »
- Kate Erbland and Eric Kohn
If one wants to experience the best independent cinema the year has to offer this summer, one of your best bets is the well-curated line-up at Brooklyn’s BAMcinémaFest. They’ve now unveiled this year’s slate for the festival running from June 14-25, including some of of my favorite films of the year thus far (A Ghost Story, Golden Exits, Columbus, Marjorie Prime, and Landline) as well as highly-anticipated others (the SXSW hit Gemini and Stephen Cone‘s Princess Cyd come to mind).
“I’m incredibly proud of the program our team has put together,” says Gina Duncan, Associate Vice President, Cinema. “From the endearing comedy The Big Sick to the micro-budget Princess Cyd and Lemon, the audacious first feature from Janicza Bravo, the line-up truly reflects the breadth of American independent cinema today. Other highlights include the world premiere of Jim McKay’s, En el Séptimo Día an »
- Jordan Raup
14 items from 2017
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