Women-Directed/Photographed Films Coming to Theaters: December 2016

Director/producer/actress Katie Holmes (center) on the set of All We Had, 2015.

Here are twelve new movies due to be released in theaters this December, all of which have been directed and/or photographed by women. These titles are sure to intrigue cinephiles and also provoke meaningful discussions on the film world, as well as the world in general.

DECEMBER 2: Best and Most Beautiful Things (dir. Garrett Zevgetis) (DPs: Sarah Ginsburg and Jordan Salvatoriello)PBS Independent Lens synopsis: “In rural Maine, a quirky, charming, and determined young woman named Michelle Smith lives with her mother Julie. Legally blind and on the autism spectrum, Michelle has big dreams and proudly wears the badge of outcast. Searching for connection, Michelle explores love and empowerment outside the limits of ‘normal,’ including a provocative sexual awakening. Best and Most Beautiful Things tells Michelle’s joyful story of self-discovery as a celebration of outcasts everywhere.

“After receiving an extraordinary education at the Perkins School for the Blind, a world-famous institution outside Boston which was attended by the young Helen Keller, Michelle becomes isolated after graduation, spending hours and days alone in her room, struggling to envision her future. She attends an alumni weekend where a school administrator unexpectedly offers her the possibility of an animation internship in Los Angeles. While Michelle eagerly anticipates this dream opportunity, her family and teachers worry about real-world logistics and Michelle’s readiness to live independently on the other side of the country.

“Michelle passes time on the computer, feeding her interests and bold curiosity about the world beyond her walls. Online, she meets and falls in love with a young college student named Michael, and together they become involved in a local fetish role-playing community. Through her relationship with Michael and their adventures with kink and BDSM, Michelle experiences a burgeoning empowerment and finds the acceptance that has eluded her since her time at Perkins. Best and Most Beautiful Things gently reveals how all the most beautiful things, including love and sexuality, are not bound by disability.”

DECEMBER 2: First Lady of the Revolution (dir. Andrea Kalin)From the film’s official website: “While visiting an aunt and uncle in the exotic countryside of Costa Rica, a young Southern Belle from Alabama accepted a ride on the back of a motorcycle belonging to a charismatic local farmer. That ride would propel her into history.

First Lady of the Revolution is the remarkable story of Henrietta Boggs, who fell in love with a foreign land and the man destined to transform its identity. Her marriage to José ‘Don Pepe’ Figueres in 1941 led to a decade-long journey through activism, exile and political upheaval, and ultimately, lasting political reform.

First Lady of the Revolution is not only a depiction of the momentous struggle to shape Costa Rica’s democratic identity; it’s also a portrayal of how a courageous woman escaped the confines of a traditional, sheltered existence to expand her horizons into a new world, and live a life she never imagined.

DECEMBER 2: Things to Come (dir. Mia Hansen-Løve)Excerpt from Variety review by Guy Lodge: “Midway through Things to Come, Isabelle Huppert’s protagonist has a disconcerting encounter in a cinema, distracting her from Juliette Binoche’s own on-screen emotional uncertainty in Abbas Kiarostami’s 2010 jewel, Certified Copy. It’s a cheeky move to so fleetingly cameo that level of perfection in one’s own work, but Mia Hansen-Love’s fifth — and possibly best — feature pulls it off with warmth and grace to spare. At once disarmingly simple in form and riddled with rivulets of complex feeling, this story of a middle-aged Parisienne philosophy professor rethinking an already much-examined life in the wake of unforeseen divorce emulates the best academics in making outwardly familiar ideas feel newly alive and immediate — and has an ideal human conduit in a wry, heartsore Huppert, further staking her claim as our greatest living actress with nary a hint of showing off. Following widespread distribution for the dazzling but younger-skewing Eden, the arthouse future for Hansen-Love’s latest is surely a bright one.

“Among the more minor losses endured by heavily burdened philosopher Nathalie (Huppert) in the course of Hansen-Love’s gently meandering narrative is one of pedagogical authority. As her favorite student, Fabien (Roman Kolinka), grows into a writer and thinker of independent, often conflicting, agency, she’s both gratified and saddened that the path on which she placed him has diverged from hers; the student has become not the master, but merely his own man.

“Hansen-Love knows a thing or two about what we give and take from our teachers. Like her four previous films, Things to Come bears the delicate tonal imprint of her former mentor and now husband, Olivier Assayas — the wily presence of the great Edith Scob isn’t the only nod here to, in particular, Assayas’ Summer Hours. Yet the pic’s glinting aesthetic textures and searching philosophical preoccupations are quite plainly her own. As filmmakers, they share tastes and interests in the way lovers must do, as if they were mutually beloved songs. Hansen-Love’s sharply feminine and subtly feminist worldview, however, is marked by a guarded generational idealism and resistance to nostalgia that sets it richly apart from others in the current French canon; in Things to Come, her rotating sensibilities as intellectual, humanist and sensualist converge most satisfyingly.”

DECEMBER 2: Two Trains Runnin’ (dir. Samuel D. Pollard) (DP: Natalie Kingston)From the film’s official website:Two Trains Runnin’ is a feature-length documentary directed by acclaimed filmmaker Sam Pollard, narrated by Common, and featuring the music of Gary Clark Jr. The film pays tribute to a pioneering generation of musicians and cuts to the heart of our present moment, offering a crucial vantage from which to view the evolving dynamics of race in America.

“In June of 1964 hundreds of college students, eager to join the civil rights movement, traveled to Mississippi, starting what would be known as Freedom Summer. That same month, two groups of young men–made up of musicians, college students and record collectors–also traveled to Mississippi. Though neither group was aware of the other, each had come on the same errand: to find an old blues singer and coax him out of retirement. Thirty years before, Son House and Skip James had recorded some of the most memorable music of their era, but now they seemed lost to time.

“Finding them would not be easy. There were few clues to their whereabouts. It was not even known for certain if they were still alive.  And Mississippi, that summer, was a tense and violent place. With hundreds on their way to teach in freedom schools and work on voter registration, the Ku Klux Klan and police force of many towns vowed that Freedom Summer would not succeed. Churches were bombed, shotguns blasted into cars and homes. It was easy to mistake the young men looking for Son House and Skip James as activists. Finally, on June 21, 1964, these two campaigns collided in memorable and tragic fashion.

“In telling this remarkable story, Two Trains Runnin’ revisits an important moment when America’s cultural and political institutions were dramatically transformed. The movie is all the more pointed and relevant today, in an era of renewed attention on police brutality and voting rights.”

DECEMBER 9: All We Had (dir. Katie Holmes)Tribeca Film Festival synopsis by Genna Terranova: “Ruthie Carmichael (Stefania Owen) makes the best of bad circumstances, pulled along in the wake of the hard luck of her mother Rita (Katie Holmes). From escaping a bad boyfriend to their car breaking down on the road to going broke, they continually find themselves in search of stability. When their attempt at settling in a new town hits a stumbling block, and as the shine wears off of the kind strangers who supported them when they had first arrived, even Ruthie struggles to keep it together. Based on Annie Weatherwax’s 2014 novel, Katie Holmes’s feature directorial debut is a sensitive rendering of the Great Recession as told by people who were unprepared for the shortfall and could not have seen it coming. Owen and Holmes are perfectly matched as they explore a mother-daughter bond crashing against universal teenage themes: growing up under hardship, realizing the imperfections of parents and facing the many little dramas that overwhelm positivity and progress. Holmes finds in All We Had a stimulating and ultimately enriching coming-of-age drama about a resilient mother and daughter who find strength in each other.”

DECEMBER 9: Solitary (dir. Kristi Jacobson)Human Rights Watch Film Festival synopsis:Solitary tells the stories of several inmates sent to Red Onion State Prison, one of over 40 supermax prisons across the US, which holds inmates in eight-by-ten foot solitary confinement cells, 23 hours a day. Profoundly intimate, this immersive film weaves through prison corridors and cells, capturing the chilling sounds and haunting atmosphere of the prison. With unprecedented access, award-winning filmmaker Kristi Jacobson investigates an invisible part of the American justice system and tells the stories of people caught in the complex penal system – both inmates and correction officers – raising provocative questions about punishment in America today.”

DECEMBER 16: Collateral Beauty (dir. David Frankel) (DP: Maryse Alberti)Excerpt from Warner Bros. synopsis: “When a successful New York advertising executive suffers a great tragedy he retreats from life. While his concerned friends try desperately to reconnect with him, he seeks answers from the universe by writing letters to Love, Time and Death. But it’s not until his notes bring unexpected personal responses that he begins to understand how these constants interlock in a life fully lived, and how even the deepest loss can reveal moments of meaning and beauty.

Collateral Beauty features an all-star cast, including Will Smith (Suicide Squad, Concussion), Edward Norton (Birdman or [The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance]), Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game), Michael Peña (The Martian), Naomie Harris (Spectre), Jacob Latimore (The Maze Runner), with Oscar winners Kate Winslet (The Reader, Steve Jobs) and Helen Mirren (The Queen, Trumbo).”

DECEMBER 25: Fences (dir. Denzel Washington) (DP: Charlotte Bruus Christensen)Excerpt from The Wrap review by Robert Abele: “It’s taken nearly 30 years for August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Fences to make it to movie screens since its roiling portrait of an embittered African-American mid-20th-century man exploded on Broadway in 1987. But if anybody was going to do it justice as a film, it’s Denzel Washington.

“The stage-trained megastar played Wilson’s Troy Maxson — former ballplayer, ex-con and struggling Pittsburgh garbageman — in a celebrated 2010 revival, and he’s now taken the reins behind and in front of the camera for a film adaptation that amounts to a great actor’s dedicated stewardship of the late dramatist’s considerable gifts. Can you tell it’s a play? Absolutely. Does that mean a damn thing? Not when the writing is this richly evocative, and the cast so often soars with it.

“It’s not just Washington in home-run form, but Viola Davis, too, as Troy’s long-suffering wife Rose, a role she also played in the Washington-headlined production. Together they bring to vivid life the complexities and contradictions in an 18-year marriage built on a sense of duty neither realized was as fragile as it was. It’s a safe bet these in-the-moment powerhouses will be in plenty of accolade-centric conversations for the rest of the season.”

DECEMBER 25: Hidden Figures (dir. Theodore Melfi) (DP: Mandy Walker)Fox Movies synopsis:Hidden Figures is the incredible untold story of Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe)—brilliant African-American women working at NASA, who served as the brains behind one of the greatest operations in history: the launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit, a stunning achievement that restored the nation’s confidence, turned around the Space Race, and galvanized the world. The visionary trio crossed all gender and race lines to inspire generations to dream big.”

DECEMBER 25: Toni Erdmann (dir. Maren Ade)New York Film Festival synopsis: “An audacious twist on the screwball comedy—here, the twosome is an aging-hippie prankster father and his corporate-ladder-climbing daughter—Toni Erdmann delivers art and entertainment in equal measure and charmed just about everyone who saw it at the Cannes Film Festival this year. Maren Ade’s dazzling script has just enough of a classical comedic structure to support 162 minutes of surprises big and small. Meanwhile, her direction is designed to liberate the actors as much as possible while the camera rolls, resulting in sublime performances by Sandra Hüller and Peter Simonischek, who leave the audience suspended between laughter and tears. A Sony Pictures Classics release.”

DECEMBER 30: Dr. Feelgood: Dealer or Healer? (dir. Eve Marson)From the film’s official website: “Dr. William Hurwitz was a preeminent doctor sentenced to 25 years in prison for overprescribing painkillers. His story provides a window into the ethical dilemma of opioid prescriptions. Painkillers give doctors tremendous power to relieve pain, a primary goal of any physician, but this power begets trouble when the same drugs can lead to addiction, abuse and death.

“In 2016, painkiller abuse continues to skyrocket, the federal government has issued its first guidelines to control opioid prescriptions, and the investigation into Prince’s death only furthers finger-pointing at Big Pharma, doctors and addicts.

“There could not be a more critical time to spark discussion on the topic and call for careful thought and action.”

DECEMBER 30: Miss Violence (dir. Alexandros Avranas) (DP: Olympia Mytilinaiou)Excerpt of Starburst review by Martyn Conterio: “Ever since Yorgos Lanthimos’ Dogtooth wowed audiences back in 2009, Greek cinema has become the new Michael Haneke. Although Lanthimos and others have weaved into the fabric of their sometimes controversial work a certain absurdist humour, the award-winning second feature by Alexandros Avranas, Miss Violence, paints it black and black only.

“Angeliki (Chloe Bolota), on her 11th birthday, jumps out of an open window. She is smiling as she does so. The family appear sad and upset for five minutes and then carry on as if nothing untoward has happened. No questions are asked and no soul-searching undertaken. It’s like the poor girl has been erased from memory. But why?

“For a long time, and the film’s pace is pitched at glacial, Avranas feeds the viewer crumbs of information about the dynamics at work within the family unit. From the very first scene, even before the shocking act of Angeliki’s suicide, there’s something not quite right. Could it be the Leonard Cohen song, “Dance Me To The End of Love,” playing on the stereo system or the bland colour scheme of the home interior and costume design?

Miss Violence is an experimental mixture of thriller narrative (removed of all genre thrills), a horror movie and a detective story, complete with a series of revelations so astoundingly grim that the overall reaction, as the film draws to a close, is one of absolute devastation.”

2016: Part 3

Arrival. Directed by Denis Villeneuve. Notes from November 10, 2016: I had the opportunity to see Arrival in a screening at MoMA, the premiere of their annual “Contenders” series. Here’s the good: there are a number of genuinely tense and exciting scenes in Denis Villeneuve’s new sci-fi film, mostly the ones regarding the interactions between Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker and the aliens. But the writing for Amy Adams’ character is paper-thin; she has no discernible personality, making her an almost completely blank slate except for her beyond-genius capabilities as a linguist that allow her to figure out the extraterrestrials’ vocabulary. If only we had a stronger sense of Adams’ character as a person aside from certain events in her life, it would be easier to connect to her and sympathize/empathize with her. It is not enough to see a protagonist deal with developments in the plot; we also have to perceive a noticeable effect on the character, much more than what we see for Adams in Arrival. She’s a great actress, capable of doing so much more with a character than whatever the script’s words mandate, but even she falls short here. Forest Whitaker, as the colonel who enlists Adams for communication with the aliens, is a generic authority figure whose only purposes are to scowl and question Adams’ decisions. On the plus side: Jeremy Renner does well with another severely underwritten role, injecting some much-needed levity as the scientist paired up with Adams to decipher the foreign entities’ language.

Every year we are given science films that are meant both to entertain and to provoke meaningful discussions about the intersection of humanity and universal, interspecial contact: 2012 had Prometheus, 2013 had Gravity, 2014 had Interstellar, 2015 had Ex Machina (as well as The Martian, although there were no aliens). Gravity was a thrilling experience in IMAX and the film gave a great lead role to Sandra Bullock, who carried the film almost entirely by herself and imbued her performance with both heartbreak and occasional humor; Ex Machina felt fresh and modern, with Alicia Vikander pushing boundaries in her performance as an android learning what it means to be human (or close to being one); Interstellar had some narrative issues here and there, but the acting was solid all around, it was another exciting IMAX encounter and the organ-centric score by Hans Zimmer is one of my favorite scores of the last decade, maybe even the 21st century so far. I should also mention Under the Skin (2013/2014) in this list; it was an independent film rather than a blockbuster or, in Ex Machina’s case, a more widely-seen indie, but Under the Skin is similarly concerned with the relationship between humans and nonhumans, and what happens when the different characters interact. (Plus Scarlett Johansson’s performance is brilliant and I think it’s the best work she has done, other than 2003′s Girl with a Pearl Earring.) This is all to say that Arrival did not surpass what any of those previous films achieved, either perfectly or imperfectly. Like Denis Villeneuve’s last film, Sicario, I am left feeling disappointed that a potentially interesting female protagonist in what we would traditionally call a “genre” film has been given short shrift.

Eddie the Eagle. Directed by Dexter Fletcher. Notes from December 2, 2016: Most inspirational, overcoming-the-odds sports films, from Rocky (1976) to Hoosiers (1986) to Rudy (1993), follow predictable formulas. Eddie the Eagle is no different, although that’s not necessarily a bad thing. There is something inherently satisfying in watching an underdog rise above difficult circumstances and beat the more experienced competitor(s). That is exactly what ski jumper Michael “Eddie” Edwards represents for us, as portrayed by lead actor Taron Egerton; Edwards’ evolution from a middle-class, bespectacled, socially awkward English kid with “dodgy knees” to a beloved Olympian at the Calgary ’88 Winter Games is enjoyable to watch, following all the expected beats but doing so with heart and humor. Egerton, who shot to fame last year as the James Bond-esque star of the action-comedy Kingsman: The Secret Service, does really good work as our plucky hero. He hasn’t made many films, but given his natural, likeable presence onscreen and his successes with Kingsman and Eddie, I anticipate bigger projects and greater prestige in Taron Egerton’s future.

Hugh Jackman does a nice job as Eddie’s coach, Bronson Peary, a former golden-boy athlete whose clichéd descent into drunken grumpiness is turned around by the shining redemption that Eddie’s Olympic journey offers. British character actor Tim McInnerny steals his scenes as the snooty head of the British Olympics committee (determined to prevent Eddie from participating in the games and therefore, he assumes, embarrassing the UK), while Keith Allen and Jo Hartley also do respectably as Eddie’s parents. Jim Broadbent and Christopher Walken also get in on the action, contributing cameos as a BBC commentator and Jackman’s former coach, respectively. Little in Eddie the Eagle will surprise you, but the film’s ensemble displays a collective spirit as warm as the sweaters that Eddie wears in the film’s many alpine climes.

How to Be Single. Directed by Christian Ditter. Notes from November 10, 2016: Full disclosure: I watched this film last night to take my mind off of the election. It filled a gap between 2:40 and 4:25 AM, allowing me to forget for a little while that the words “President-Elect Donald Trump” were about to become a real thing. As a result, my thoughts on the film are a scattered collection of notes. Take them for what they are:

  • Yet another movie where a young woman moves to NYC to “find herself.” Reminds me a lot of Lola Versus, especially the similarity in the endings. After seeing Dakota Johnson’s performances in Fifty Shades of Grey (exhibit A) and How to Be Single (exhibit B), maybe someone should write an essay titled “Dakota Johnson, Greta Gerwig and the Politics of Awkward Womanhood in 2010s Cinema.”
  • Just like in another bad rom-com from recent times, That Awkward Moment, NYC is a magical wonderland where the snow is always clean, there is no evidence of sociopolitical strife and none of the characters has a Noo Yawk accent since they all grew up somewhere else.
  • I freely admit that the scene with Leslie Mann and the baby was cute.
  • Alison Brie was less a character than a lesson for Anders Holm’s character. She’s a woman who obsesses over dating apps because her sole purpose in life (or at least in this plot) is to find a man; he’s the bartender who refuses to ever get into a relationship because he only cares about sex, not romance. Surprise, surprise – Holm falls for Brie but things don’t work out as he hopes. Must have been fun for Alison to play a living, breathing plot device!
  • Some of the lighting by the cinematographer, Christian Rein, was excellent. He’s German-born, so perhaps he has studied Fassbinder? (Is that too much to hope for?)
  • One of the songs in the end credits is by The Cairo Gang, and they once recorded a pretty good version of Rowland S. Howard’s “Shivers,” so that’s a +1 just for association’s sake.

Loving. Directed by Jeff Nichols. Notes from November 18, 2016: Loving is probably the best film I’ve seen this year, rivaled only (in the fiction/drama and biopic departments) by Star Trek Beyond and Florence Foster Jenkins and, in the documentary category, by Chicken People and One More Time with Feeling. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Jeff Nichols is the best young American director of the past decade. From Shotgun Stories to Take Shelter to Mud to Loving (I have not yet seen Midnight Special, but I will ASAP), Nichols has proved that no other filmmaker of his generation has such an amazing track record for capturing the complicated and compelling nature of the human experience in small-town America, whether in the 50s/60s or our modern-day nation. The story of Richard and Mildred Loving is an incredible tale of love, determination and strength despite the systemic racism they faced and the oppression of their civil rights. Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga do a beautiful job of portraying their characters, imbuing the Lovings with dignity and backbone as they quietly battle for the freedom to live and raise their family in peace. Plaudits also go to Terri Abney (Garnet Jeter, Mildred’s sister), Marton Csokas (the sheriff who repeatedly arrests the Lovings for violating Virginia state law), Bill Camp (the Lovings’ first lawyer), David Jensen (the Caroline County judge who forces the Lovings to leave Virginia at the beginning of the film), Nick Kroll and Jon Bass (the ACLU attorneys who bring the Loving v. Virginia case all the way to the Supreme Court) and Michael Shannon (in a wonderful cameo as Grey Villet, a LIFE magazine photographer who is sympathetic to the couple’s situation).

As with all of Jeff Nichols’ films, the cinematography is by Adam Stone, creating images of the actors and the landscape that will stay with you long after the film has ended. Rarely do I consider any up-and-coming director a true auteur – I don’t yet see that in the works of Tom McCarthy (good at directing actors but lacking a particular directorial style) or Denis Villeneuve (I have been disappointed by his two most recent films), for example – but in Loving and the three other Jeff Nichols films that I have seen, I see a specific point of view and the shaping of perhaps the most significant voice in American cinema today. I was lucky to see the film in a screening at MoMA, where Jeff Nichols and Joel Edgerton took part in a post-film conversation and Q&A; only two questions were taken from the audience, but each answer was so lengthy, detailed and thoughtful that us moviegoers were left with a lot to mull over. Joel Edgerton’s hope for the film’s viewership – that Loving’s message will reach the masses (which is to say, beyond the MoMA/NYC crowd) and encourage them to “go on the empathetic journey” with Richard and Mildred Loving and therefore gain a greater understanding of the human condition – is what has stayed with me most of all.

Marathon: The Patriots Day Bombing. Directed by Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg. Notes from December 3, 2016: I’m sure that most, if not all, Americans remember the horrific bombing at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon and the subsequent manhunt for the perpetrators, resulting in the deaths of four people (one of whom was a police officer) and injuries for over two hundred other civilians. The recentness of the attack does not diminish the importance of the need for this story to be told – terrorism and mass violence are obviously occurrences that continue to plague the US – but by cramming too many participants and perspectives into Marathon, directors Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg do their film an unquestionable disservice. We watch several survivors rebuild their lives with the aid of prosthetic limbs and physical therapy, including mother and daughter Celeste and Sydney Corcoran, spouses Patrick Downes and Jessica Kensky, and brothers Paul and J.P. Norden. It would have benefited the film to focus on only one of those pairs so that you don’t feel as though one story was more significant than another (the filmmakers certainly spend the most time on the medical and psychological struggles of Kensky and Downes), which I know that Stern and Sundberg could have done well since their documentary Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work (2010) shone an incredible spotlight on only one subject. It also feels as though the forays into thriller territory (as the Tsarnaev brothers are apprehended) and courtroom drama (when Dzhokhar Tsarnaev goes on trial) are sequences from what should have been a separate film.

Friday Music Focus: 11/25/16

This week I am focusing on artists based in the UK (hence the photo of Joan Collins, glamorously posed with records).

Placebo, “Nancy Boy” (performed live on “Later… with Jools Holland,” 1997; studio version appears on the album Placebo, 1996) and “Jesus’ Son” (performed live for BBC Radio 6 Music at Maida Vale, 2016; studio version appears on the compilation album A Place for Us to Dream, 2016). Sometime last week, my favorite presenters on BBC Radio 6 Music, Radcliffe & Maconie, started their program with Placebo’s “Nancy Boy.” The band has been on the periphery of my musical tastes for many years, ever since their cover of Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” back in 2003, and I heard “Nancy Boy” and various other singles at different points, but only now is the band’s discography really coming to the fore for me. I like that Brian Molko’s intercontinental upbringing is evident in his singing – although it is arguably even more apparent when he talks, his accent shifting from word to word – and there is something aesthetically pleasing in how his nasal, nationally-ambiguous voice meshes with the heavy, sometimes menacing demeanor of the band’s music.

The Duke Spirit, “Serenade” (appears on the Serenade EP, 2016). “Serenade” has gotten quite a bit of play on the Radcliffe & Maconie show as well, and I appreciate that since this (even after more than a decade) up-and-coming English band’s single has a deep sense of mood and atmosphere, not unlike the music of Placebo.

Honeyblood, “Love Is a Disease” (appears on the album Babes Never Die, 2016). Scottish duo Honeyblood is another constantly-played favorite from the Radcliffe & Maconie show, and this particular song is my favorite track from the band’s newest album. I think that musicians Stina Marie Claire Tweeddale and Cat Myers are relatively new on the scene (Honeyblood was formed four years ago) but after a little more growth, they could become the next Sleater-Kinney.

Meilyr Jones, “How to Recognise a Work of Art” (music video) and “Don Juan” (both appear on the album 2013, 2016). For a different tack, Welsh singer-songwriter Meilyr Jones is a breath of fresh air for those who long for a lovely, feather-light voice and some classical, baroque and folk sounds within their popular music choices. (He apparently studied classical music at some point, either formally or in his spare time, according to this clip.) For years, Jones was the frontman of the band Race Horses, who made more “rock” types of music (see “Pony” and “My Year Abroad”), but I think Jones’s voice is better suited to his solo record’s many delicate melodies.

Hooton Tennis Club, “Lauren, I’m in Love!” (appears on the album Big Box of Chocolates, 2016). I’ll close with perhaps the sunniest song I’ve encountered in some time, an ode (quite fittingly, given the underlying theme of this post) to BBC Radio 6 Music presenter Lauren Laverne. Hooton Tennis Club, a band of English fellows in their twenties, have a lot of potential; “Lauren” is the only song on their second album, Big Box of Chocolates, that really stands out to me, but what a song it is – truly delightful stuff.

Indelible Film Images: Late Autumn

Late Autumn (1960) – dir. Yasujirô Ozu

Starring: Setsuko Hara, Yôko Tsukasa, Mariko Okada, Keiji Sada, Shin Saburi, Chishû Ryû, Nobuo Nakamura, Kuniko Miyake, Sadako Sawamura, Ryûji Kita

Cinematography: Yûharu Atsuta

(Note: Ozu’s color films from the late 50s and early 60s remind me of Edward Hopper’s paintings from the same time, particularly 1962’s New York Office.)


Friday Music Focus: 11/11/16

Despite this week’s soul-crushing news that Donald Trump is going to be our forty-fifth POTUS, the music-blogging wagon must roll on.

Bash & Pop, “On the Rocks” (music video, 2016; studio version will appear on the album Anything Could Happen, 2017). Bash & Pop is fronted by Tommy Stinson, former bassist for seminal Minneapolis punk/alternative rock band The Replacements; B&P released their first (and also last) album, Friday Night Is Killing Me, in 1992, so their new follow-up has certainly earned the adjective “long-awaited.” The lyrics for “On the Rocks,” which is the upcoming album’s lead single, are largely clichéd but the overall catchiness of the melody and Stinson’s lengthy guitar solo toward the end make this song a lot of fun.

PJ Harvey, “Ministry of Defence” (performed live at Terminal 5 in Manhattan, 2016; studio version appears on the album The Hope Six Demolition Project, 2016). I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating: “To Make America Great Again We Need Less Donald Trump, More PJ Harvey.” With the realities of a Trump presidency still sinking in, we need proudly political, saxophone-driven music more than ever. If we could elect a British woman to the highest office in our land, PJ would get my vote.

Angel Olsen, “Never Be Mine” (appears on the album My Woman, 2016). In recent months I have made a habit of reading Pitchfork’s music reviews, and in late August I saw a review by Jenn Pelly for Angel Olsen’s My Woman that was more effusive and praiseworthy than anything I had beheld in ages. I had never heard of Olsen, but the descriptions of this St. Louis-raised singer-songwriter’s new work as “tough and tender at once, a bold rumination on how love and autonomy require one another” and that “My Woman walks a tightrope of love to figure out what it is—how to find it, how to allow it in, how to feel it, how to fight for it, how to let it go—by a person who does not lose herself in the process” made me want to learn more. The song that I love the most from the album, “Never Be Mine,” has an especially great write-up: “My Woman contains soda-pop rippers as pained and distraught and irreducible as any girl-group classic: ‘Heaven hits me when I see your face,’ Olsen sings with wide-eyed optimism that wilts on arrival, ‘But you’ll never be mine.’ So much of My Woman is rock‘n’roll in the traditional sense, from a ’50s or ’60s jukebox, and it is positively electric, a total blast.”

Suede, “What I’m Trying to Tell You” (appears on the album Night Thoughts, 2016). Suede is one of those bands that I’m forever trying to foist on my circle of friends (in the best possible way) since, like my beloved Manic Street Preachers, I’m pretty sure that Suede (or “The London Suede,” as they are legally forced to be called here) never found a wide fanbase in America, just some die-hard devotees scattered in random pockets of the country. Suede’s seventh album, Night Thoughts, was released in January, which earned them high marks from the British music press and – as you might expect – absolutely no fanfare at all in the US, where the band essentially doesn’t exist. (They played at Coachella a few years ago, but otherwise I don’t think they’ve toured here since the late 90s or early 2000s, and the only late night talk show appearance they have ever done here was on Jay Leno’s “Tonight Show” in 1993. For more discussion of Suede’s lack of impact on our nation by a longtime American fan, take a gander at this article: “Trash: The Problems of Being an American Fan of the London Suede.”) Anywho, Night Thoughts is a solid album and “What I’m Trying to Tell You” is just as enjoyable and hook-laden as any of their earlier songs; I’m particularly fond of the fact that “Tell You’s” final minute sounds similar to the “la la la…” outro of 1996’s “Beautiful Ones,” which, incidentally, was the first Suede song I ever heard, when the music video was made available for free on iTunes one day almost a decade ago and I just happened to notice it on the iTunes homepage.

Weezer, “I Love the USA” (music video; single, 2016). When Weezer put out this song over the summer, the band said that it was an honestly patriotic anthem that had to do with NASA, or something. Now that the music video is online (released last month, starring none other than Patton Oswalt), the intent is obvious. While listening to the track again, I’ve had a late-breaking realization: Rivers Cuomo sounds exactly the same at age 46 as he did at 24, the age he was when Weezer released their self-titled debut album back in 1994. Is that good or is that weird?

Rowland S. Howard, “Dance Me to the End of Love” (performed live at the Melbourne Public Bar, 1995). I cannot pretend that I am well-versed in the late Leonard Cohen’s discography since I am only familiar with the songs of his which have been covered by my favorite artists. Enough singers have been performing “Hallelujah” (from Various Positions, 1984) for the last couple of decades that the New York Times actually ran an article this past September titled “How Pop Culture Wore Out Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah,'” so instead I present you with a different song from Various Positions, a cover of “Dance Me to the End of Love” by Rowland S. Howard. I’m going to end the post with an excerpt of an interview with David Todd that Rowland did shortly before his death in 2009 (the piece was published in Todd’s book Feeding Back: Conversations with Alternative Guitarists from Proto-Punk to Post-Rock, 2012):

Women-Directed/Photographed Films Coming to Theaters: November 2016

Screenwriter/producer/director/editor Logan Kibens (right) with actor Martin Starr (middle) and others on the set of Operator, 2015/2016.

Here are nineteen new movies due to be released (either in theaters or via other platforms) in November which have been directed and/or photographed by women. These titles are sure to intrigue cinephiles and also provoke meaningful discussions on the film world, as well as the world in general.

NOVEMBER 2: Don’t Call Me Son (dir. Anna Muylaert) (DP: Barbara Alvarez)Film Forum synopsis: “Tall, dark, androgynously handsome, Pierre wears eyeliner and a black lace g-string, while having sex with both boys and girls. The confusion only goes deeper when the teenager’s single, working-class mom is arrested for having stolen him (and his ‘sister’) at birth. Thanks to the wonders of DNA, he’s returned to his biological parents: bourgeois, straight-laced and thrilled to have him back — at least until he shows up in a zebra-print mini dress. The turmoil of adolescence is plumbed with wit and compassion by writer/director Anna Muylaert, whose previous film, The Second Mother, also dealt with familial loyalty and class tensions. Actress Dani Nefussi gives completely believable knock-out performances as both mothers, and newcomer Naomi Nero defies expectations as a broodingly intense, potentially volcanic six-footer in stiletto heels.”

NOVEMBER 4 (NYC), NOVEMBER 11 (Pasadena, CA): Beauty Bites Beast (dir. Ellen Snortland) (DP: Maria Elena Chavez)From a KOAM TV article: “Ellen Snortland, filmmaker and author of a groundbreaking book on women’s self-defense of the same title, has just finished a new documentary: Beauty Bites Beast. Her film reveals the missing conversations about ending violence against women through teaching them how to defend themselves and that they are powerful and capable enough to do so.

“Women and girls have a right to set boundaries–emotionally, verbally, and, if push comes to shove, physically. Ellen calls it the ultimate manifestation of the premise, ‘Think Globally, Act Locally’: ‘Females of all species know how to protect themselves and it’s a birthright for human females, too. There’s nothing more local than one’s own body.’

“Gloria Steinem had this to say about the film: ‘Female elephants, lions — all are just as fierce in self-defense as males. Only our species is taught to be “feminine” and defenseless. Beauty Bites Beast shows how women around the world are taking back our strengths and lives.'”

NOVEMBER 4: The Prison in Twelve Landscapes (dir. Brett Story) (DP: Maya Bankovic)From the film’s official website: “More people are imprisoned in the United States at this moment than in any other time or place in history, yet the prison itself has never felt further away or more out of sight. The Prison in Twelve Landscapes is a film about the prison in which we never see a penitentiary. Instead, the film unfolds as a cinematic journey through a series of landscapes across the USA where prisons do work and affect lives, from a California mountainside where female prisoners fight raging wildfires, to a Bronx warehouse full of goods destined for the state correctional system, to an Appalachian coal town betting its future on the promise of prison jobs.”

NOVEMBER 4: What Happened Last Night (dir. Candice T. Cain)From the film’s Indiegogo fundraising page: “A guy and a girl wake up in bed next to one another and don’t know who each other is, where they are, how they got there, where their clothes are or… What Happened Last Night.  This feature-length romantic comedy is set on a college campus and tells a story of heartbreak, friends, rebounds, Greek life, college parties and the fog some of us have experienced the morning after.

What Happened Last Night was originally a successful play produced by C2 Productions in Washington, DC back in 1996. It has since been updated and transformed into a hysterical screenplay.

“This film is going to give some up and coming talent the opportunity to work with some talent that has already been established in the entertainment industry, and that is all contingent on YOU! It has been a long time since we’ve had a great romantic comedy with a college setting… What Happened Last Night is exactly that.”

NOVEMBER 8 (on iTunes and on demand): Operator (dir. Logan Kibens)From the film’s Facebook page: “Joe (Martin Starr) loves data. He tracks his diet and exercise, his mood and sex life – turning the information into beautiful charts that help him control his often overwhelming anxiety. At work Joe designs personalities for digital customer service voices, but his latest robo-agent for a client is a disaster. In a moment of inspiration, he enlists his wife Emily (Mae Whitman) to serve as the template for the redesigned voice. The project goes well until Joe’s obsession with replicating his wife’s empathy threatens their marriage.

NOVEMBER 11: The Love Witch (dir. Anna Biller)From the film’s official website: “Elaine, a beautiful young witch, is determined to find a man to love her. In her gothic Victorian apartment she makes spells and potions, and then picks up men and seduces them. However her spells work too well, and she ends up with a string of hapless victims. When she finally meets the man of her dreams, her desperation to be loved will drive her to the brink of insanity and murder. With a visual style that pays tribute to Technicolor thrillers of the ‘60s, The Love Witch explores female fantasy and the repercussions of pathological narcissism.”

NOVEMBER 11: The Monster (dir. Bryan Bertino) (DP: Julie Kirkwood)A24 synopsis: “Acclaimed horror filmmaker Bryan Bertino (The Strangers) directs this suspenseful and scary new film, in which a divorced mother (Zoe Kazan) and her headstrong daughter must make an emergency late night road trip to see the girl’s father.  As they drive through deserted country roads on a stormy night, they suddenly have a startling collision that leaves them shaken but not seriously hurt.  Their car, however, is dead, and as they try in vain to get help, they come to realize they are not alone on these desolate backroads—a terrifying evil is lurking in the surrounding woods, intent on never letting them leave…

“A chilling and tension-filled experience, The Monster pits two ferociously strong women against one of the scariest and most shocking monsters you’ll ever see. It will be a battle no one will forget.”

NOVEMBER 11 (NYC), NOVEMBER 18 (LA): National Bird (dir. Sonia Kennebeck)From the film’s official website:National Bird follows the dramatic journey of three whistleblowers who are determined to break the silence around one of the most controversial current affairs issues of our time: the secret U.S. drone war. At the center of the film are three U.S. military veterans. Plagued by guilt over participating in the killing of faceless people in foreign countries, they decide to speak out publicly, despite the possible consequences.

“Their stories take dramatic turns, leading one of the protagonists to Afghanistan where she learns about a horrendous incident. But her journey also gives hope for peace and redemption. National Bird gives rare insight into the U.S. drone program through the eyes of veterans and survivors, connecting their stories as never seen before in a documentary. Its images haunt the audience and bring a faraway issue close to home.”

NOVEMBER 13: Black Women in Medicine (dir. Crystal Emery)Cinema Village synopsis:Black Women in Medicine is the first documentary to explore the history, contemporary issues, and future possibilities of African American women physicians by featuring the diverse voices of young medical students, practicing physicians, and elder trailblazers all of whom share intimate stories of what it means to be a Black Woman Doctor in America. This groundbreaking  film includes rarely seen documentation of Black women practicing medicine during critical operations, emergency room urgent care, and community wellness sessions as well as in depth original interviews and compelling archival images. In telling the stories of women who have persevered in medical fields in part by overcoming barriers linked to race and gender, Black Women in Medicine provides audiences with a vivid and stunning experience of the triumph of the human spirit.”

NOVEMBER 18: Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened (dir. Lonny Price) (DPs: Elaine Epstein and Matthew Howe)Film Society of Lincoln Center synopsis: “In 1981, Stephen Sondheim, Harold Prince, and George Furth embarked on Merrily We Roll Along, a musical based on the 1934 George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart comedy told in reverse: the characters, played by a cast of teenage unknowns, begin as disillusioned adults and end as starry-eyed adolescents. Though the original, much-ballyhooed production was panned by the critics and closed after just 16 performances, Merrily We Roll Along would go on to attain musical theater legend status. This alternately heartbreaking and euphoric film by original cast member Lonny Price features never-before seen footage of Prince and Sondheim at work on the show and revisits many of Price’s fellow actors, all of them united by this once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

NOVEMBER 18: Blood on the Mountain (dirs. Mari-Lynn C. Evans and Jordan Freeman)From the film’s official website:Blood on the Mountain is a searing investigation into the economic and environmental injustices that have resulted from industrial control in West Virginia. This new feature documentary details the struggles of a hard-working, misunderstood people, who have historically faced limited choices and have never benefited fairly from the rich, natural resources of their land. Blood on the Mountain delivers a striking portrait of a fractured population, exploited and besieged by corporate interests, and abandoned by the powers elected to represent them.”

NOVEMBER 18: Divines (dir. Houda (or Uda) Benyamina)Toronto International Film Festival synopsis/review:Girlhood meets Scarface. Houda Benyamina’s debut is a suspenseful and kinetic film about a pair of young women determined to make their own way in a world that seems set against them.

“In the banlieues of Paris, teenager Dounia (Oulaya Amamra) dreams of having it all: money, power, and a man. Unsatisfied with their socially prescribed career prospects, she and her friend Maimouna (Déborah Lukumuena) start dealing drugs as a way to make some quick cash. They are soon embroiled in a world of crime, which drives a wedge between Dounia and the object of her amorous interest: a sultry security guard who moonlights as a dancer (Kévin Mischel). The beautiful and cunning Dounia is ordered by her dealer to seduce and scam a local kingpin, but the plan spirals out of control, and Dounia is left fighting to save not just her dreams but her best friend.

Divines won the Camera d’Or at Cannes (the first time a film by an Arab director has garnered this honour), and it’s easy to see why: shot with a ferocious intensity, it careens from scene to scene, capturing the vitality and wildness of its young stars. Amamra matches its energy with a commanding, chameleonic performance. Her Dounia — by turns a posturing teen, a shy girl, and a tough gangster — is a force to be reckoned with.

“Benyamina doesn’t shy away from critiquing contemporary French racial and religious dynamics. Set in a predominantly black and Muslim housing block, Divines highlights the discrimination entrenched in French society and policing. This rough and raw coming-of-age story has as much fight in it as do the two unforgettable women at its centre.”

NOVEMBER 18: The Edge of Seventeen (dir. Kelly Fremon Craig)From a Variety review: “In the best teen films, from Sixteen Candles to Clueless to Superbad to the greatest high school movie of the last ten years, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, the main characters have a way of occupying the moral high ground. Even when they’re outcasts or ‘losers,’ their cleverness and wit — the sheer humanity of their alienation — puts us right on their side. But that’s not quite the case with Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld), the radiantly troubled heroine of The Edge of Seventeen.

“She’s a creature of intense magnetism who, in theory at least, has all the qualities that an audience could want. She’s poised and beautiful, with a wardrobe — colorful wedgy sneakers, parochial-school skirt worn as ironic fashion statement — catchy enough to be just this side of fatally hip. She speaks in drop-dead verbal volleys, which she stretches out into entertainingly long and winding sentences, and she surveys the world with an awareness that links her to several generations of precocious movie rebels. When she interrupts one of her teachers, Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson), during his lunch hour, all so she can deliver a big speech about how she wants to commit suicide, it’s clear that she’s drama-queening whatever’s going on with her. We sit back and chuckle at her over-the-top audacity. It all seems a bit broad, and maybe a bit too familiar.

“But Nadine, it turns out, isn’t just an outrageous charmer. She’s a pill, a narcissist who speaks in forked tongue — a girl who uses her God-given brains and humor by turning them against everyone around her. The Edge of Seventeen was written and directed by Kelly Fremon Craig (it’s her first feature), with James L. Brooks serving as its lead producer, and it’s a teen movie that starts off funny ha-ha but turns into something more like a light-fingered psychological thriller. The drama is all in Nadine’s personality, in how far she’ll go to act out her distress.

“…It takes a certain high-wire daring to make a teen comedy in which the heroine acts like a holy terror, and The Edge of Seventeen all but invites you to gaze at Nadine and think of her as, you know, the B-word. Except for one important qualifier: Deep down, she’s not really out to wound people — she’s trying, almost compulsively, to push them away. Ever since her big-screen debut in 2010, playing Mattie Ross in True Grit, Hailee Steinfeld has gathered confidence as a performer, and The Edge of Seventeen is her breakthrough. She’s a fantastic actress, with a sharpness and verve that belies the catlike softness of her features. She’s like the young Elizabeth Taylor, with playful flexing eyebrows that italicize her every thought. Even when she’s just tossing off lines, Steinfeld makes Nadine a hellion you can’t tear yourself away from. She isn’t just the star of The Edge of Seventeen — she’s its center of gravity.”

NOVEMBER 18 (in theaters), NOVEMBER 21 (HBO premiere): Marathon: The Patriots Day Bombing (dirs. Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg)Cinema Village synopsis:Marathon: The Patriots Day Bombing recounts the dramatic story of the April 2013 terrorist attack at the Boston Marathon through the experiences of individuals whose lives were affected. Ranging from the events of the day to the death-penalty sentencing of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the film features surveillance footage, news clips, home movies and exclusive interviews with survivors and their families, as well as first responders, investigators, government officials and reporters from the Boston Globe, which won a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the bombing. In the wake of terrorism, a newlywed couple, a mother and daughter, and two brothers — all gravely injured by the blast — face the challenges of physical and emotional recovery as they and their families strive to reclaim their lives and communities.”

NOVEMBER 25, DECEMBER 2 (depending on the city, I think): Always Shine (dir. Sophia Takal)Roxie Theatre synopsis: “Two women, both actresses with differing degrees of success, travel north from Los Angeles to Big Sur for a weekend vacation in Always Shine, Sophia Takal’s twisty, psychological thriller. Both see the trip as an opportunity to reconnect after years of competition and jealousy has driven a wedge between them, but upon arrival to their isolated, forest retreat, the pair discovers that their once intimate friendship has deteriorated into forced conversations, betrayals both real and imagined, petty jealousies, and deep seated resentment. As the women allow their feelings to fester, each begins to lose their bearings not only on the true nature of their relationship, but on their own identities. Mackenzie Davis (“Halt and Catch Fire”) and Caitlin FitzGerald (“Masters of Sex”) give brave and raw performances as Beth and Anna, two women whose ideas of success are dictated as much by external cultural criterion as their own sense of self-worth. Beautifully photographed and assuredly directed by Takal, Always Shine wraps itself in an evocative shroud of dread and paranoia that lingers long after the final frame.”

NOVEMBER 25: Apparition Hill (dir. Sean Bloomfield) (DP: Cimela Kidonakis)AMC Theatres synopsis: “From the acclaimed director of The Triumph comes a powerful new film that chronicles the incredible journey of 7 strangers who embark across the globe to investigate one of the greatest mysteries of the modern era. Apparition Hill is an emotionally charged ‘cinematic pilgrimage’ to the little-known village of Medjugorje nestled along the Croatian-Bosnia-Herzegovina borders. Discover the shared miracle as two atheists, a skeptic, two terminally ill patients, a widower, and a recovering addict learn about life … and what comes after it.”

NOVEMBER 25: Behind “The Cove” (dir./DP: Keiko Yagi)From the film’s official website: “The Japan-bashing, anti-whaling documentary The Cove won an Academy Award in 2010. But was it entirely truthful?

“This is Japan’s first on-film response to The Cove. And more.

“Negative media coverage on the never-ending whaling issue prompted first-time documentary filmmaker Keiko Yagi to find out more about the topic. With no budget, limited experience in filmmaking, no fluency in English, but armed with a video camera and a strong desire to find out about the truth of the matter on whaling, Yagi started her research.

“What started out as a personal investigation triggered by childhood memories of whale dishes inevitably led her to the town of Taiji, the center of the whaling debate and the stage of The Cove. What she found through her experiences there and elsewhere was a much bigger story than she had initially imagined.

Behind ‘The Cove’ is director Keiko Yagi’s attempt to present a comprehensive picture of the dolphin and whale hunting issues in Japan, which includes interviews of people on both sides of the whaling dispute, its sinister political side, what The Cove could not offer, and a unique take on the topic.”

NOVEMBER 25: The C Word (dir. Meghan O’Hara)DOC NYC synopsis:From filmmaker and cancer survivor Meghan O’Hara (producer of Fahrenheit 9/11, Bowling for Columbine and Sicko), comes a daring and intimate film that seeks to change the way we think about cancer.  O’Hara investigates the connection between the current cancer epidemic and our western lifestyle, including medical professionals’ tendency to treat only the symptoms and not the underlying causes of what ails us. Backed by personal experiences and the scientific validation of Dr. David Servan-Schreiber, O’Hara asks us to reconsider the way we currently treat cancer, advocates for society-wide lifestyle changes, and tackles the institutions that stand in the way of those important changes. Narrated by Academy Award® winner Morgan Freeman, The C Word challenges us to step up and take control of our health.”

NOVEMBER 25: Evolution (dir. Lucile Hadzihalilovic)IFC Films synopsis: “This eerily seductive mind-bender is a dark, dreamlike descent into the depths of the unknown. Ten-year-old Nicolas (Max Brebant) lives in a remote seaside village populated only by boys his age and adult women. But when he makes a disturbing discovery beneath the ocean waves—a dead boy with a red starfish on his stomach—Nicolas begins to question everything about his existence. What are the half-remembered images he recalls, as if from another life? If the woman he lives with is not his mother, then who is she? And what awaits the boys when they are all suddenly confined to a hospital? The long-awaited new film from the acclaimed director of Innocence is awash in the haunting, otherworldly images of a nightmare.”

1984: Part 1

(As with my last post of reviews, I am including notes from when I first saw each film, when applicable. In the case of Ghostbusters, however, I first saw it long before when I started officially writing reviews.)

Ghostbusters. Directed by Ivan Reitman. The mediocre recent reboot notwithstanding, the Ghostbusters franchise will always be well-loved thanks to the first, best movie in the series (although, granted, there were only two anyway) and the joys of seeing its stars in their collective prime. Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson all chip in to help the people of Manhattan fight a spectral infestation that threatens to wipe out the entire city, even though the mayor (the late, great David Margulies) and an especially odious EPA inspector (William Atherton) refuse to believe what’s happening. Sigourney Weaver plays Murray’s reluctant love interest, whose body unwittingly becomes the host for a supernatural villain; Rick Moranis is Weaver’s neighbor, a nebbishy nerd who means well but still gets himself into quite a few scrapes; Annie Potts is the receptionist at the Ghostbusters office; last, but never least, Alice Drummond (one of my favorite character actresses) is the terrified librarian whose hair-raising encounter with a phantom in the bowels of the New York Public Library sets up the opening scenes of the film.

Paris, Texas. Directed by Wim Wenders. Notes from March 11, 2015: What a film to see on the big screen! True to form, MoMA served up annoying moviegoers – this time in the form of a guy sitting right behind me with the worst respiratory problems I’ve ever heard, 2 ½ solid hours of heavy breathing/snorting/snoring that made a woman swear angrily about it at one point – but Paris, Texas is such an impactful, 100% cinematic, engrossing experience that I can put the memory of that unfortunate audience member aside. Harry Dean Stanton: what an actor. Amazing guy. He plays Travis, a man in search of his long-lost wife and young son, so beautifully even though he says so little during the film. Bernhard Wicki, the always wonderful Dean Stockwell, young Hunter Carson (son of L.M. Kit Carson, who wrote the film, and Karen Black), Nastassja Kinski as Travis’s wife, Jane (her eyes and mouth! the pink sweater dress! the Texas twang!), plus the small role that the great John Lurie plays… all superb. The only kind of weak note for me is Aurore Clément, whose voice/accent/line delivery I find distracting. Otherwise, the exceptionally painterly cinematography by Robby Müller (how was he not Oscar-nominated for this movie – or for anything in his whole career?) and the score by Ry Cooder help make this movie one that no film buff should miss. It’s a great, great experience and Wim Wenders gives me faith in the emotional power of films.

Purple Rain. Directed by Albert Magnoli. Notes from April 26: This was truly an unforgettable experience on an appropriate rainy Tuesday afternoon/evening at the AMC Empire 25 theater in Times Square. Obviously everyone in the theater wished we were there under different circumstances, but by the end of the film, I think the sadness over Prince’s death had abated somewhat because of the sheer joy of the music. Every one of Prince’s nine songs in the film is amazing: the “Let’s Go Crazy” opening, Prince and Apollonia Kotero riding his motorcycle along the Minnesota highway to “Take Me with U,” the frenzy of emotion at the end of the ballad “The Beautiful Ones,” the montage that accompanies an abridged cut of “When Doves Cry,” the one-two punch of “Computer Blue” and (Tipper Gore’s favorite) “Darling Nikki,” and of course the trio that ends the film, “Purple Rain,” “I Would Die 4 U” and “Baby I’m a Star.” When those last three songs played, the audience erupted into thunderous applause, cheers, some laughs and I’m sure a few tears as well. You can’t exactly make a strong case in favor of the acting in the film, and the love scene with Apollonia is laughable (IFC once labeled it one of the 50 Worst Sex Scenes in Cinema History), but who really cares about how Prince delivered his lines? He acted through his music, his voice and his undeniably electric stage presence. If you hadn’t already known from his music videos and live performances, then Purple Rain is certainly a perfect document of how much the camera loved him. (Donald E. Thorin’s cinematography certainly captures our protagonist beautifully.) Few faces were better suited to the big screen than Prince’s, and I’m sure every person in the theater today must have felt just a little bit swoony every time those big brown eyes gazed into the distance or stared into the lens. We’ll not see the likes of Prince again in this life, but film is forever and we will always have this film to remember him by.

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. Directed by Leonard Nimoy. Notes from September 12: The Search for Spock, the third entry in the film series, is so much more enjoyable than you would expect from a sequel. The fact that almost all of the movie’s running time is spent with the Enterprise crew trying to return to the site of the action in the last film (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan), the Genesis planet, where Spock’s body was left after his “death” (because of course that’s not permanent in a franchise…) at the end of Khan, means that Leonard Nimoy is barely in Search for Spock. (To simplify the explanation for Spock’s return: before he succumbed to radiation poisoning at the end of Khan, Spock mind-melded with Dr. McCoy, placing his metaphysical being – or katra – inside Dr. McCoy’s head. This means that even though Spock’s body dies, his soul is still alive inside McCoy. Since Spock’s body was left on Genesis, a planet that allows for extreme growth and renewal of life forms, Spock is reborn.) Our favorite Science Officer has no dialogue until the last few minutes of the film since it takes more than ¾ of the movie to retrieve his body and then, after he is returned home to Vulcan for a special revitalizing-the-dead ceremony led by the High Priestess (played by 86-year-old Judith Anderson!), Spock does not wake up and speak until about two minutes before the end credits.

(Oh, and Christopher Lloyd plays the main antagonist, a Klingon named Commander Kruge, but there’s not much to say about him. Kruge is suitably evil and Lloyd does a pretty good job of emoting under all the makeup and chewing plenty of scenery.)

Despite the weird stuff and the many leaps of faith, the action is so entertaining and so many of our beloved Star Trek mainstays have wonderful scenes that it’s hard to resist this sequel’s charm. There’s the toast to “absent friends” (Spock) between Kirk and his shipmates back on Earth (a moment which was reused in this year’s Star Trek Beyond), somewhat homoerotic tinge to the close-ups during the mind-meld between Kirk and Sarek (Mark Lenard, reprising his role as Spock’s father) in front of Kirk’s fireplace (bless Leonard Nimoy and his occasionally odd directorial choices), the wacky interstellar bar scene between Dr. McCoy and a bizarre alien (who I was convinced was played by Leonard Nimoy), Sulu and Uhura have time to shine when the crew is forced to steal the Enterprise in order to make their covert return mission to Genesis, the surprisingly tender pon farr scene between Lt. Saavik (Robin Curtis, taking over for The Wrath of Khan’s Kirstie Alley) and teenage Spock while they are stranded on Genesis and, perhaps my favorite of all, there’s the scene where McCoy talks to Spock’s unconscious body – I think it’s the finest acting I’ve seen from DeForest Kelley thus far. And then, of course, there are the amazing costumes designed by Robert Fletcher: Kirk’s not-very-futuristic tracksuit, McCoy’s ascot, Sulu’s outfit (how could I possibly begin to describe it? as a leather cape-jacket with an Asian-fashion-inspired wrap-shirt underneath?) and, at the end of the film, Spock’s fuzzy white robe. That Vulcan never met a long, hooded garment he didn’t love, an observation which I suspect is – besides striving for intergalactic understanding, respect and peace – one of the greatest takeaways from this series of films.

Stranger Than Paradise. Directed by Jim Jarmusch. Notes from March 22, 2015: As endearingly oddball as Jarmusch’s 1986 masterpiece Down by Law, though even weirder, Stranger Than Paradise has three great leads in John Lurie, Eszter Balint and Richard Edson (later the scene-stealing (and Ferrari-stealing) garage attendant in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off). I was especially certain that the film would be good when Balint walks down the street to the tune of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You,” a song that plays throughout the film. As the trio stumbles through a black-and-white world photographed by Tom DiCillo, encountering other colorful characters (played by Cecillia Stark, Danny Rosen, Richard Boes, Rockets Redglare, the aforementioned Mr. DiCillo and others), their anti-adventures and aimless exploration of America keeps you watching. Stranger charms you as you try to figure out where these characters are headed, how they feel about one another, and what happens after the movie ends.