Film

ONG-BAK: THE THAI WARRIOR

No stunt doubles. No computer graphics. No strings attached. These nine words represent the most astonishing element of “Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior,” the first Thai film to break through in the martial arts market. Having seen documentaries showing how stunt men are “flown” from wires that are eliminated in post-production, having seen entire action sequences made on computers, I sat through the movie impressed at how real the action sequences seemed. Then I went to the Web site, and discovered that they were real. Yes, they do a lot with camera angles and editing tricks. With the right lens and angle and slow-motion, you can make it Read More

THE TALE

“Can you just let me sit with my own memories?” This plea, from Jennifer (Laura Dern) to her mother (Ellen Burstyn), is a key moment in “The Tale,” an extraordinary and disturbing new film directed by Jennifer Fox, based on Fox’s own experience with childhood molestation. It’s key because “The Tale” is, in many ways, about memory, and memory’s unreliability and slipperiness. Memory can cloak trauma in another “better” narrative, sparing us until we’re ready to deal. Joan Didion famously wrote “We tell ourselves stories in order to live” (Jennifer quotes this in “The Tale” during a lecture to her film students). Didion’s words are often recast Read More

SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY

As unnecessary prequels go, “Solo: A Star Wars Story” isn’t bad. It’s not great, either, though—and despite spirited performances, knockabout humor, and a few surprising or rousing bits, there’s something a bit too programmed about the whole thing. It has certain marks to hit, and it makes absolutely sure you know that it’s hitting them. Everything that you expect to see visualized in “Solo,” based on your experience with previously stated “Star Wars” mythology, gets served up on a silver platter, from young Han Solo’s first meeting with Chewbacca to Han winning the Millennium Falcon in a card game from its original owner, Lando Calrissian, and making the Read More

FIRST REFORMED

Paul Schrader’s “First Reformed,” in which Ethan Hawke brilliantly plays an alcoholic Protestant minister undergoing a profound spiritual and psychological crisis, is a stunning, enrapturing film, a crowning work by one of the American cinema’s most essential artists. Yet in the moment I deliver that unstinting endorsement, I feel compelled to add that this is a very special film for a certain, inevitably rather limited audience. In line with other Schrader movies, but perhaps more so than any, it defines itself against many of the central assumptions and conventions of most mainstream moviemaking. In his seminal 1972 book Transcendental Style in Film: Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer (written at age Read More

BLINDSPOTTING

Making a debut at Sundance is an ambitious film by Carlos López Estrada’s “Blindspotting,” a movie that has already been criticized for some tonal jumps in the final act. Sure, the film bites off a bit more than it can chew, but I’ll go to bat for a creative team that tries something this ambitious and culturally resonant instead of so much of the lazy indie filmmaking we so often see. “Blindspotting” is a raw, abrasive call for an adjustment in the way we see each other. It is so much a film of its moment that there were also opening night criticisms arguing it was too on Read More

A BAG OF MARBLES

There was a time in which films set during the Holocaust were made with the expressed intention of keeping history alive for future generations. For my junior high history class, I analyzed three movies that observed the impact of Nazi atrocities from strikingly different perspectives—the encroaching dread of a family in hiding in George Stevens’ “The Diary of Anne Frank,” the visceral horrors of a concentration camp in Steven Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List” and the monstrous denial of Nazi judges on trial in Stanley Kramer’s “Judgment at Nuremberg.” As a kid, this unofficial trilogy served as a sobering illustration of the unthinkable evil committed by ordinary human beings Read More

MIDNIGHT SUN

“Midnight Sun” does what it means to do for the people it means to do it for—and that might just be enough. The 12-year-old girls who are the film’s target audience probably won’t realize what it’s derivative of: a little bit of John Hughes and a lot of “Love Story.” “Midnight Sun” also bears more than a slight resemblance to last summer’s Young Adult drama “Everything, Everything,” in which a rare disease supposedly spells doom for a blossoming teen romance. (Director Scott Speer’s film is actually based on a 2006 Japanese film of the same name.) Xeroderma pigmentosum—a one-in-a-million skin ailment that makes exposure to the sun’s rays Read More

LOVE, SIMON

“Love, Simon” is a mainstream-styled teenage rom-com that uses every cliche in the book. There’s the nerdy Vice Principal, the bacchanalian high school party, supportive yet somewhat clueless parents, witty voiceover from the protagonist, public declarations of love in front of the whole school, all held together by a stream of catchy pop tunes. But “Love, Simon”‘s use of these cliches represents a huge first, because it is the story of a young closeted gay kid’s difficult and often humorous march towards coming out. Director Greg Berlanti, who has helmed a string of hit television shows as producer and writer, uses the familiar teenage romance genre to tell Read More

6 BALLOONS

It is incredibly difficult to love an addict. Not only does their addiction continuously define the dynamic of your relationship, but they are like a drowning man, able to take you down with them as they flail their arms and fight for air. Rarely has a film captured this better than Marja-Lewis Ryan’s “6 Balloons,” premiering next month on Netflix after its world premiere at SXSW. It features a pair of young actors who are mostly known for comedy in a heartfelt, scary drama about what addiction does to the people around the addict. We’ve seen countless stories of junkies trying to get clean, but how does Read More

A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME

Hawking is the theoretical physicist whose theories about space, time and black holes have formed the way we now think about the universe. His brilliance takes on a poignancy because his mind occupies a body which has been wasting away for years with ALS, a disease that has left him incapable of speech or movement – except of a few fingers with which he uses a computer to communicate with the world. His voice, heard throughout the film, is synthesized. I saw him once, being pushed in his chair across a busy street in Cambridge, England, and I noticed that he was followed by the eyes of Read More