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Talking with Olivier Assayas of ‘PERSONAL SHOPPER’

Man of vision Olivier Assayas is not your average filmmaker. The Parisian director is the kind of filmmaker that makes critics blush, his last feature Clouds of Sils Maria making its way onto a sizable share of Critic Top Ten Lists circa 2014/15. Dedicated to making bold, often female-led poetic musings, Assayas is celebrated for helping shape rounded, vibrant characters. For the second time, Assayas pairs with Kristen Stewart to tell an unconventional ghost story in Personal Shopper, a woeful tale of a woman’s tedious professional life and search for peace after her brothers passing ingrained within larger themes of spirituality and self-doubt. Unsurprisingly at this point, Stewart is phenomenal in the role, with more emotion spilling from her jittery, anxiety-wracked texting fingers than in some lesser performer’s entire arsenal.  Read More

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Out in Theaters: ‘BILLY LYNN’S LONG HALFTIME WALK’

Let’s get one thing out of the way first. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is a terrible name for a film. You know it. I know it. Everybody knows it. A clunky mouthful, the title is culled directly from the celebrated novel of the same name from Ben Fountain, who won several novelist awards for his work including the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction, but that doesn’t mean that such a jargony mouthful needed to remain in place when translated to film. The terrible, horrible, no good, very bad name comes under fire again when you realize that Billy Lynn doesn’t really walk all that much, he kinda just plops down in his Dallas Cowboy stadium seat and remembers exchanging “I Love You’s” with Vin Diesel until it’s his chance to perform with Destiny’s Child. If the previous sentence didn’t make a lick of sense, welcome to Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.
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Out in Theaters: ‘CAFE SOCIETY’

Woody Allen can’t get the cross-contemporary relationship off his mind. He’s obsessed with it. Fascinated by it. He strokes it like Gollum does his precious. He stokes the fires of inter-generational relations year after year after year. As if he’s constantly reworking and reframing his own internal logic. Grooming his Dylan Farrow defense and justifying his Soon-Yi marriage. The latest in Woody’s old man dates young woman romantic comedies is Café Society, a venture into the lifestyles of the rich and the famous that can be as hollow and pretty as the doe-eyed starlets and pocket-squared producers littering the Hollywood Hills. Read More

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Out in Theaters: AMERICAN ULTRA

Everybody knows that smoking weed can make you paranoid. And anybody who’s spent much time in Cannabis Culture probably knows that guy, who spends too much time getting high, drawing weird comics and spouting weird theories. But what if those weird, paranoid theories turned out to be true? This is the premise around which Nima Nourizadeh‘s unlikely new stoner/action/comedy/romance American Ultra is built, and ultimately succeeds. Read More

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Out in Theaters: CAMP X-RAY

NOTE: Reprinted from our 2014 Sundance Review

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Agenda-slinging, headline drama Camp X-Ray transcends expiration date glitz with universal tale of friendship. Burdened with a Guantanamo Bay premise and Twilight sensation Kristen Stewart in a headlining spot, expectations may come half-popped but Camp X-Ray manages to steer clear of inflammatory hot topic territory as Stewart and co-star Peyman Moaadi probe powerhouse territory.

Strange though it may be to imagine the perpetually dulled Bella putting in a considerable performance, her work here is undoubtedly the pinnacle of her career (as it currently stands.) Not exclusively involved in high-profile, low-quality blockbusters, Stewart has peppered her cast credits with the occasion indie film and has even gained mild praise for her work in On the Road and Adventureland, but neither carries the burden of proof that she brings to the table here.

This type of zero to sixty change spotlights a shifting celebrity ethos and proves Stewart wants to be around for a while longer. For a fantastic example of an actor turning a laughable career into a respectably credited empire, look to Matthew McCougnahey. She’s not there yet but baby steps Kristen, baby steps.

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In Camp X-Ray, Stewart plays Amy Cole, a tabula rasa of an army woman. Battling gender stereotypes and the unwanted attention of her male counterparts, she exacts bottled frustration out on the detainees, a label she’s commanded to use in place of prisoner (otherwise they would be privy to Genova Convention statutes).

She’s certainly no polaroid-snapping prisoner-piler but her jaded indifference is a telling glimpse into U.S. indoctrination of a polarized world view. She’s trained to think there’s two sides to this war but learns that the political game she’s just a pawn in is infinitely more complex. When she meets Ali, or as he’s better known, 371, her concept of justice, goodness, and Army policy is thrown for a ringer.

Camp X-Ray could have capitalized on the good grace of one political camp or the other but it knowingly avoids falling into that pattern of tabloid drama. Peter Sattler is not fence-sitting either as he certainly gets his personal statements across. The intention is not to disgrace or discolor so much as it is to ponder and think.

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When challenged to confront our biases, we come to know not just the world around us but ourselves, Sattler tells us. Cole, through her conversations with Ali, finds herself undergoing a spiritual transformation, letting go of blind judgement and trying to come to terms with the impossibility that is the current state of US affairs.

As Ali and Amy’s lives become intertwined, their relationship shifts, opening up the opportunity for conversation among equals. With this table set, a pensive and powerful exchange unfolds about what one ought to do with a caged lion that serves as the film’s bated breath highlight and a phenomenally powerful metaphorical footnote. Scenes like this, anchored by Stewart and Moaadi’s unflinching engagement with one another, give Camp X-Ray a chance to viscerally body check its audience into taking a  long hard look at their own ingrained partisanship. There’s no denying, we could use more thought-provoking, if not entirely novel, films like this.

B

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Sundance Review: CAMP X-RAY

“Camp X-Ray”
Directed by Peter Sattler
Starring Kristen Stewart, Peyman Moaadi, Lane Garrison, J.J. Soria, John Carroll Lynch
117 Mins

CampXRay.jpg
Agenda-slinging, headline drama Camp X-Ray transcends expiration date glitz with universal tale of friendship. Burdened with a Guantanamo Bay premise and Twilight sensation Kristen Stewart in a headlining spot, expectations may come half-popped but Camp X-Ray manages to steer clear of inflammatory hot topic territory as Stewart and co-star Peyman Moaadi probe powerhouse territory.

Strange though it may be to imagine the perpetually dulled Bella putting in a considerable performance, her work here is undoubtedly the pinnacle of her career as it stands. Not exclusively involved in high-profile, low-quality blockbusters, Stewart has peppered her cast credits with the occasion indie film and has even gained mild praise for her work in On the Road and Adventureland, but neither carries the burden of proof that she brings to the table here.

This type of zero to sixty change spotlights a shifting celebrity ethos and proves Stewart wants to be around for a while longer. For a fantastic example of an actor turning a laughable career into a respectably credited empire, look to Matthew McCougnahey. She’s not there yet but baby steps Kristen, baby steps.

In Camp X-Ray, Stewart plays Amy Cole, a tabula rasa of an army woman. Battling gender stereotypes and the unwanted attention of her male counterparts, she exacts bottled frustration out on the detainees, a label she’s commanded to use in place of prisoner (otherewise they would be privy to Genova Convention statutes).

She’s certainly no polaroid-snapping prisoner-piler but her jaded indifference is a telling glimpse into U.S. indoctrination of a polarized world view. She’s trained to think there’s two sides to this war but learns that it’s infinitely more complex. When she meets Ali, or as he’s better known, 371, her concept of justice, goodness, and Army policy is thrown for a ringer.

Camp X-Ray could have capitalized on the good grace of one political camp or the other but it knowingly avoids falling into that pattern of tabloid drama. Peter Sattler is not fence-sitting either as he certainly gets his personal statements across. The intention is not to disgrace or discolor so much as it is to ponder and think.

When challenged to confront our biases, we come to know not just the world around us but ourselves, Sattler tells us. Cole, through her conversations with Ali, finds herself undergoing a spiritual transformation, letting go of blind judgement and trying to come to terms with the impossibility that is the current state of US affairs.

As Ali and Amy’s lives become intertwined, their relationship shifts, opening up the opportunity for conversation among equals. With this table set, a pensive and powerful exchange unfolds about what one ought to do with a caged lion that serves as the film’s bated breath highlight and a phenomenally powerful metaphorical footnote. Scenes like this, anchored by Stewart and Moaadi’s unflinching engagement with one another, give Camp X-Ray a chance to visceral body check its audience into taking a  long hard look at their own ingrained partisanship. There’s no denying, we could use more thought-provoking, if not entirely novel, films like this.

B

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