Popcorn & Candy: Why is My Body Roughing It Edition

(Bleecker Street)


Teenaged Tom (Thomasin McKenzie) and her father Will (Ben Foster) live and thrive in the woods of the Pacific Northwest but struggle when they are forced to live in conventional society. Director Debra Granik (Winter’s Bone) paints a delicate picture of a father-daughter relationship in isolated, rural communities. Their life off the grid is depicted without condescension or sensationalism–a less subtle movie would have been far more heavy-handed about the father-and-daughter’s encounters with technology; what most flummoxes Will is the bureaucratic intrusiveness of an impersonal personality questionnaire. The restrained lead performances, especially from newcomer McKenzie, carry the movie’s unobtrusive, naturalistic observances.

Watch the trailer.
Opens today at Landmark E Street Cinema, Landmark Bethesda Row, AMC Shirlington, and Angelika Mosaic.



As part of its Wednesday Signature Series program, the Avalon will be screening the new documentary of the prolific and versatile Japanese musician, whose career includes collaborations with David Bowie and Michael Jackson. Director Stephen Nomura Schible will appear for a Q&A.  The movie isn’t currently slated for a commercial run in the DC area, so this may be your only chance to see it theatrically.

Watch the trailer.
Wednesday, July 11 at 8 pm at the Avalon.



You’ll have to take a long lunch to see it, but next Wednesday’s the Freer’s Japanese Classics series brings a 35mm print of  Kenji Mizoguchi’s 1954 classic. Based on Saikaku’s classic tale of a samurai’s daughter (Kinuyo Tanaka) who falls from grace and the upper class. New Yorker film critic Anthony Lane wrote, “I have seen Sansho only once, a decade ago, emerging from the cinema a broken man but calm in my conviction that I had never seen anything better; I have not dared watch it again, reluctant to ruin the spell, but also because the human heart was not designed to weather such an ordeal.”

Wednesday, July 11 at 2 pm at the Freer. Free.



The National Gallery of Art’s centennial tribute to Ingmar Bergman continues this weekend with this early screenwriting credit from 1944. It’s a coming-of-age tale as only Bergman, who was 25 at the time, could have envisioned, “charting the ill-fated romance between painfully adolescent Jan-Erik (Alf Kjellin) and older, alcoholic widow-turned-hooker Bertha (Mai Zetterling), whose lover is Jan-Erik’s sadistic Latin teacher Caligula. Also screening is Crisis, Bergman’s 1945 directorial debut, about which he wrote, “I knew nothing . . . and felt like a crazy cat in a ball of yarn.”

Frenzy screens Saturday, July 7 at 12:30 pm, followed by Crisis at 2:30 pm at the National Gallery of Art, East Building Auditorium.



Director Alberto Negrin’s 1978 giallo, which also goes by the more lurid titles Virgin Killer and Rings of Fear, stars Fabio Testi (Go Gorilla Go) as a sleazy inspector investigating the brutal murder of a 16-year-old schoolgirl.  A presentation of the Washington Psychotronic Film Society.

Watch the trailer.
Monday, July 9 at 8 pm at Smoke and Barrel.

Popcorn & Candy: Distressing Damsels Edition

Mia Wasikowska and Robert Pattinson (Magnolia Pictures)


The Zellner brothers’ Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter was one of my favorite movies of 2015, so this self-conscious, precious genre subversion is a major disappointment. Robert Pattinson stars as a goofy 19th century pioneer who travels with a neophyte preacher (David Zellner) on a quest to marry his beloved (Mia Wasikowska). The dynamic shifts, drastically, but despite gorgeous locations and a score that evokes Popul Vuh’s music for Werner Herzog, the movie is stymied time and again by knowing, unfunny dialogue. Read my Spectrum Culture review.

Watch the trailer.
Opens tomorrow at E Street Landmark Cinema.

Andrea Riseborough (Samuel Goldwyn Films)


Nancy (Andrea Riseborough) is a sallow, socially awkward 30-something who lives with her sick mother (Ann Dowd) and escapes from her dreary existence by creating alternate identities online. When she sees a news report about a couple (J. Smith-Cameron and Steve Buscemi) who’s daughter went missing 30 years ago, Nancy is startled that the age-progressed image of the lost child looks something like her. Writer-director Christina Choe tells a potentially intriguing tale about deception in the age of the internet–look at that still!–but the central character  is too lost for us to want to follow her.

Watch the trailer.
Opens tomorrow at E Street Landmark Cinema.

Victor Sjöström and Ingrid Thulin (The Criterion Collection)


To celebrate Ingmar Bergman’s centennial year, the National Gallery of Art and the AFI Silver are combining forces to present a thorough survey of the Swedish master’s films –and yes, that includes The Touch with Elliot Gould (August 15 at the Silver). The National Gallery launches the series this weekend with a 35mm of Bergman’s 1957 classic about an august professor (Victor Sjöström) who looks back on his long life.

Watch the trailer.
Sunday, July 1 at 4 pm at the National Gallery of Art, East Building Auditorium. Free.

Sorry, honey, I’ve never rampled.


My Critic’s Pick in this week’s Washington City Paper, where I wrote, “’Or maybe it was just the plain fact that I am tired and growing old,’ says Philip Marlowe in the opening lines of Farewell, My Lovely. The AFI Silver’s tribute to Robert Mitchum wraps up with this 1975 adaptation of the novel by Raymond Chandler. Hard-boiled private detective Philip Marlowe is a perfect character for the aging, jaded actor. Set in 1941 Los Angeles, the movie is drenched in a neon art deco that was once the standard for film noir but now has all but disappeared from the big screen, much like icons such as Mitchum. Co-starring Charlotte Rampling as a rich judge’s young wife and Sylvester Stallone as a small-time thug, the movie seems to be passing the silver screen baton to the next generation. Despite a subplot involving a rare jade, Farewell, My Lovely is no Chinatown, but they still don’t make them like this anymore.”  Look for a cameo from hard-boiled crime writer Jim Thompson as Rampling’s cuckolded husband.

Watch the trailer.
Monday, July 2-Thursday, July 5 at the AFI Silver.

Also opening this week, the barely recognizable NBA all-stars of Uncle Drew. Stay tuned for my Washington Post review.

See Fashion & Finns at the Movies This Weekend

British designer Vivienne Westwood ackno
Westwood closing her show at 2007 Paris Fashion Week (Courtesy of Greenwich Entertainment)


Iconoclasts like fashion designed Vivienne Westwood deserve more interesting documentaries than this. In my Spectrum Culture review, I wrote, “What happens when a rebel is embraced by the establishment? Irreverent fashion designer Vivienne Westwood emerged from the shock tactics of ‘70s punk but by 1992 was awarded an OBE from the very queen at whom British youth sneered. Director Lorna Tucker’s profile of the designer is intermittently inspired by its subject’s world-weary attitude, but, hewing close to a familiar fashion doc template, it often makes Westwood’s life and work seem more ordinary than edgy.”

Watch the trailer.
Opens Friday at Landmark E Street Cinema.

(Janus Fims)


The National Gallery of Art’s From Vault to Screen series presents new restorations and infrequently-revived titles. This year’s focus is on Finland, which means rare silents such as Anna-Liisa (screening with live accompaniment by Andrew Simpson on Saturday, June 23 at 4 pm) and a 35mm print of this 2011 immigration drama from director Aki Kaurismäki. In a four-star review, Roger Ebert wrote that, “There is nothing cynical or cheap about it, it tells a good story with clear eyes and a level gaze, and it just plain makes you feel good.”  Shown with Shadows in Paradise, a 1986 title that is the first in the director’s worker’s trilogy.

Watch the trailer.
Sunday, June 24 at 4pm at the National Gallery of Art, East Building Auditorium. Free.

(The Criterion Collection)


The AFI’s Robert Mitchum series enters its final week with his finest late-career performance (if you want to see the lengths to which he’d go for a paycheck, read my Spectrum Culture piece on his 1990 sitcom pilot A Family for Joe). Mitchum stars as an aging Boston gunrunner caught between the bank robbers he’s supplying and an ATF agent who claims he can make him a deal if he’ll just snitch. Directed by Peter Yates (Breaking Away), this bleak, grimy, gloomy masterpiece is one of the great crime dramas of the ’70s.

Watch the trailer.
Friday, June 22 and Sunday, June 23-Wednesday, June 27 at the AFI Silver.



(Listed this for the wrong date a few weeks ago.) Next week the Washington Psychotronic Film Society screens this 1988 drama from New Zealand director Vincent Ward, who in the ’90s specialized in an ambitious sort-of-magical realism with such films as Map of the Human Heart (which I loved at the time  but kind of cringe to think of now). Set in 14th century England, the movie follows a visionary young boy who instructs villagers to dig a tunnel to escape the Black Plague–leading his people into the future.

Watch the trailer.
Monday, June 25 at 8 pm at Smoke and Barrel.

Popcorn & Candy: Corporate Music Edition

Popcorn & Candy was DCist’s selective and subjective guide to some of the most interesting movies playing around town in the coming week.

(Gunpowder & Sky)


Frank (Nick Offerman) is at a crossroads; he has to shut down his Brooklyn record store, and his daughter Sam (Kiersey Clemons) is about to head to UCLA for a pre-med program. But she’s also a talented musician, and when dad records a “jam sesh” and uploads the results to Spotify, can magic strike? Director Brett Haley (I’ll See You in My Dreams) pushes a lot of well-meaning buttons that should play me: the vinyl resurgence, parental loss, musical chemistry, and his script, co-written with Marc Basch, namechecks lots of bands that I like. But the longer and louder these hearts beat,  the more it feels pandering, like a feature-length TV commercial version of heartfelt indie rock. The strong performances don’t make up for what is ultimately an unconvincing fantasy — and  remember, this is coming from someone who likes the Step Up movies.  Despite actors who mostly seem like real people, they’re placed in situations that seem like so much daydreaming, with a few mourning grace notes for realism. But that realism is stymied by the ridiculous suggestion that Frank’s record store needs “better flow.” Have these people ever been to a neighborhood record store? Most independent record stores DREAM of that much space. Hearts Beat Loud is a sweet Father’s Day movie, but it makes my bullshit detector beat louder.

Watch the trailer.
Opens Friday at Landmark E Street Cinema, The Avalon, ArcLight Bethesda, and Angelika Mosaic. 



I wrote about two of this year’s AFI Docs titles for the Washington City Paper preview, but the film I’m most looking forward to wasn’t available for critics. First-time director  Dava Whisenant tells a story near and dear to my heart: vinyl obsession. But this isn’t your ordinary music documentary. The movie follows comedy writer Steve Young, who had a gig looking for strange records for Late Night with David Letterman when he stumbled on a most unusual subgenre: the industrial musical, which generated cast recordings commissioned by such corporations as McDonald’s, Ford, DuPont, Xerox, and General Electric.

Saturday, June 16 at 3 pm at the AFI Silver and Sunday, June 17 at 8 pm at Landmark E Street Cinema. $15. Get tickets here.

(Cohen Media Group)


Chloé (Marine Vacth) isn’t feeling well, and on her gynecologist’s advice begins to see  Paul, a psychoanalyst (Jérémie Renier) who soon becomes a lover. In need of a new shrink, she starts seeing an analyst (Jérémie Renier) who claims to be Paul’s twin brother. Things get hairy! The most recent film from François Ozon (Swimming Pool) got mixed reviews and was barely released in D.C. , but the Avalon brings it back for one night only next week as part of its French Cinematheque series (I’m still kicking myself for missing their screening of Bruno Dumont’s Joan of Arc musical last month). The New York Times’ Glenn Kenny, in one of the film’s more positive reviews, wrote that despite being “freely adapted” from  Joyce Carol Oates’ Lives of the Twins, the movie, “spins its influences into a frenzy that ultimately reveals the story to be very much its own thing. And a crazy, and eventually strangely moving, thing it is. ”

Watch the trailer.
Wednesday, June 20 at 8 pm at the Avalon.



My Critic’s Pick in this week’s Washington City Paper. I wrote, “One of the screen’s great sex symbols, Alain Delon was an aloof pretty boy who brought a cool confidence to stylish French gangster movies. As part of its tribute to director Jean-Pierre Melville, the AFi Silver is screening this 1967 masterpiece that provided the actor with one of his signature roles—and one of his coolest. Delon plays Jef Costello, a Paris hitman who survives by refusing to form attachments—hence the title, explained by a fictional quotation about the loneliness of the samurai. But when a bold assassination in a swanky jazz club goes wrong, Jef is forced to evade the cops and his employers. Even if you’ve never seen Le Samourai before, if you’ve seen enough action movies you’ve seen its influence in such directors as Walter Hill, John Woo, and Quentin Tarantino. Delon and Melville defined the cinematic myth of the alienated assassin, and this is where it began.

Watch the trailer.
Tuesday, June 19-Thursday, June 21 at the AFI Silver.



Next week the Washington Psychotronic Film Society screens this 1970 exploitation aka Space Amoeba. In my program notes for a 2007 screening at the Mary Pickford Theater, I wrote, “Three monsters … they are scary!’ So goes the trailer for this widescreen meditation on the crossroads of science and real estate. Developers uncover a hidden island in the South Pacific and make plans for a family resort. Meanwhile, a satellite falls from the sky bearing the titular organism and her transformative powers. This is how the island is taken over by three giant creatures: a cuttlefish, a crab and a snapping turtle. ‘Who will win? Man or monsters?’ This was the penultimate film by director Ishiro Honda, who unleashed Godzilla on an unsuspecting world and said of his terrifying creations, ‘Monsters are born too tall, too strong, too heavy; that is their tragedy.'”

Watch the trailer.
Monday, June 18 at 8 pm at Smoke and Barrel.

Popcorn & Candy: Young Thieves and Visionaries Edition

Popcorn & Candy was DCist’s selective and subjective guide to some of the most interesting movies playing around town in the coming week.

Barry Keoghan and Evan Peters (The Orchard)


Based on the true story of four college buds who in 2004 almost pulled off a $12 million  rare book heist, this lively if derivative crime drama is framed by documentary interviews with real-life thieves who share their unreliable and often conflicting memories of what really happened. It’s an apt sophomore project for writer-director Bart Layton, whose first feature, the 2012 crime documentary The Imposter, used reenactments to tell the story of a French on artist who convinced a grieving Texas family that he was their missing teenage son. If this movie too often becomes a game of spot-the-reference, that’s by design–the culprits watched old heist movies before planning one of their own. American Animals is consistently watchable and has fun playing with genre tropes and needle-drops, but it doesn’t quite make the best use of its resources, from Barry Keoghan, who was a revelation in The Killing of a Sacred Deer, to Udo Keir, who was wickedly funny in Downsizing and is just wasted here.

Watch the trailer.
Opens Friday at Landmark E Street Cinema, Landmark Bethesda Row, and Angelika Mosaic.



You know you’re in for a hard slog when a director’s idea of an exciting opening set piece involves a (slow) file transfer computer screen. The latest Nicolas Cage straight-to-VOD thriller plays like a channel-surf through at least three different duds, weaving together the story of a financial deal-gone-wrong in Afghanistan, a successful banker, a bullied high school student, and finally, a veteran police officer (Cage) who’s about to be forced into retirement. Naturally, the officer’s normally uneventful beat becomes a day that changes everybody’s lives. Writer-director York Alec Shackleton made his name as a young snowboarding and skateboarding whiz, but unlike the great explorer with whom he shares a name, he comes up empty on this expedition.

Watch the trailer.
Available Friday on VOD platforms.

(Venice Film Festival)


Two illegal immigrants from Burma struggle to survive in Bangkok Thailand, and fall in love in this 2016 drama. .Part of the Freer’s series devoted to Taiwanese director Midi Z, who will appear at the screening. Also screening this weekend is City of Jade (Saturday, June 9 at 2 pm), a documentary that follows the director’s attempt to reconcile with his older brother, Zhao, who abandoned the family when Midi Z was just five years old; after rumors that Zhao had found fortune in a mythical city, he showed up at their father’s funeral as an impoverished opium addict.

Watch the trailer.
Friday, June 8 at 7 pm at the Freer Gallery of Art. Free.



As part of its Lions of Czech Film Series, the Avalon Theatre screens this 2016 drama about Czech diplomat and politician Jan Masaryk, who as Ambassador to Britain tried to save his country from Nazi occupation but was betrayed by Allied forces. Also known as A Prominent Patient, the movie shuttles between London, Prage, and a psychiatric hospital in New Jersey where he fled after the war. The Hollywood Reporter writes, “With all that going on, one would think there was ample material for a fascinating pre-war thriller…but the screenplay is missing a lot of pieces and the humdrum staging looks numbingly like jazzed-up Euro TV fare.”

Watch the trailer.
Wednesday, June 13 at 8 pm at The Avalon.

Popcorn & Candy: Vital Vitali Edition

Popcorn & Candy was DCist’s selective and subjective guide to some of the most interesting movies playing around town in the coming week.

Leon Vitali (Kino Lorber)


Leon Vitali was a well–regarded character actor who was thrilled to get a part in Stanley Kubrick’s 1975 adaptation of Barry Lyndon. After a taste of working with the maestro, Vitali essentially ran away to join the circus, working long hours for Kubrick doing everything from casting the boy in The Shining to checking print quality for thousands of reels to such mundane tasks as cleaning the billiard room and monitoring the director’s sick cats. Director Tony Zierra found a terrific documentary subject in a man who looks like an aging rock star but was for decades a tireless, underappreciated assistant. Unfortunately, most of the talking heads  are terribly photographed, completely washing out everyone from Ryan O’Neal to the  late R. Lee Ermey (curiously, Eyes Wide Shut‘s Marie Richardson is one of the few to benefit from professional, flattering light, though her even lighting seems to come from within an uncomfortably confined box). The shoddy cinematography doesn’t completely detract from Vitali’s creative bromance, and there’s plenty of on-the-set footage (much of it on commercial grade video) from several late-career films. Maybe the movie’s technical shortcomings prove how crucial Vitali was to a film set. But just a little more effort (and really, a coupla hundred bucks, tops!) could have made this good documentary a much better one.

Watch the trailer.
Opens Friday at E Street Landmark Cinema

(Peter Beard/IFC Films)


Edith ‘Little Edie’ Bouvier Beale and her mother Big Edie became documentary superstars thanks to the 1975 film Grey Gardens, directed by the Maysles brothers with Ellen Hovde and Muffie Meyer. But three years earlier, in the Summer of 1972, photographer Peter Beard descended upon the Beales’ run-down Long Island home, capturing the estate that was falling apart even among glitterati such as Andy Warhol, Mick Jagger, and Truman Capote. Director Göran Olsson (The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975) assembled this long-lost footage for a film that sheds new light on these fallen aristocrats.

Watch the trailer.
Wednesday, June 6 at the Avalon.

A lampshade at Bemelman’s bar, an all-too-brief historical detour in this 90-minute hagiography (Good Deed Entertainment)


Director Matthew Miele’s ode to the iconic New York hotel is starry-eyed in the worst way. Why is this puff piece even playing here? In my Spectrum Culture review, I wrote that, “the movie is dominated by fanboy fawning, announced from the start by commemorative photos of famous guests President John F. Kennedy, Princess Diana and Frank Sinatra. Copious testimonials come from frequent guests such as George Clooney, Sofia Coppola and a heavily accented European visitor whose accent turns her praise of ‘atmosphere’ into what sounds for all the world like ‘utmost fear.’ Worst is the endorsement of author Fran Lebowitz, who laments that the Carlyle is an emblem of a dying city, one in which visits to the Metropolitan Museum of Art are forever marred by ‘a billion people from Kansas,’ as if the movie didn’t already wear its class consciousness on its sleeve.”

Watch the trailer.
Opens Friday at Regal Gallery Place.



This weekend the AFI Silver screens a 35mm print of director William Wyler’s 1956 drama about a Quaker patriarch (Gary Cooper) who tries to hold on to his pacifist beliefs during the Civil War. Co-starring Dorothy Maguire and a pre-Psycho Anthony Perkins, who earned one of the film’s six Oscar nominations (although blacklisted screenwriter Michael Wilson could not appear on the ballot). At a 1988 summit meeting in Moscow, President Ronald Reagan gave Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev a VHS copy of the film. The screening will be followed by a  Q&A with Catherine Wyler (daughter of director William Wyler) and Maria Cooper Janis (daughter of star Gary Cooper).

Watch the trailer.
Saturday, June 2 at 2 pm at the AFI Silver.



Finally, the Washington Psychotronic Film Society presents this Italian exploitation from 1964, written and directed by King of Kong Island auteur Roberto Mauri. As the WPFS programmers explain, “Hidden in the bowels of a wine cellar, a vampire spreads a rat-like black death throughout a castle and into the minds of the women living there who accept his fanged attacks with rapture. One of the most stylish Italian Gothic horror films, this moody and terrifying story of undead lust will have you clutching your neck long after the final scream!”

Watch the trailer.
Monday, June 4 at 8 pm at Smoke and Barrel.

Please check out my recent music reviews at Spectrum Culture, which cover a two-disc set of sacred flute music from New Guinea and an album by a jazz cellist who collaborated with frogs in the Florida Everglades.

Popcorn and Candy: Luv and Hat Edition

Popcorn & Candy was DCist’s selective and subjective guide to some of the most interesting movies playing around town in the coming week.



My Critic’s Pick in this week’s Washington City Paper, where I wrote, “The AFi Silver’s tribute to Robert Mitchum continues with this dreamlike 1955 thriller that gave the actor one of his most iconic roles. Mitchum stars an ex-con who poses as a preacher in order to  sweet talk a seemingly helpless widow (silent screen legend Lilian Gish) out of the 10 grand that her bank-robbing husband hid before he was executed. With the words “LOVE” and “HATE” tattooed across his fingers, Mitchum’s charismatic performance created one of that rarefied group of cinema villains who has earned pop culture immortality in a Simpsons episode. In his sole credit as a director, actor Charles Laughton adapted David Grubbs’ Southern Gothic novel, inspired by the true story of  a lonely hearts killer who killed two widows and three children in West Virginia in 1931. The Night of the Hunter was a critical and commercial failure upon its release, but it has since become one of the most beloved movies of the era.”

Watch the trailer.
Friday, May 25 and Sunday, May 27-Thursday, May 31 at the AFI Silver.

(Barn Owl Pictures)


One of my favorite films from the 2017 AFI Docs lineup is finally getting a commercial run. As I wrote last year, “Frank and Indiana Brinton were entertainment pioneers who put on magic lantern and early motion picture programs in America’s heartland in the late 19th century. This wonderful documentary by Tommy Haines and Andrew Sherburne provides an impressive glimpse of what was then a newfangled spectacle. But as the title suggests, the real subject of this film is the quest, and its quixotic dreamer, the endearing Michael Zahs, who discovered the Brinton collection in a basement and spent 32 years trying to find someone who thought it mattered (disclosure: part of this documentary was shot at the National Audio-Visual Conservation Center in Culpeper, part of the Library of Congress, where I work, but I was not involved in the projects depicted in the film.) . Watching this documentary, you wonder why it took him so long to persuade anyone; he’ll have you eating out of his hand as soon as you learn that he takes in stray animals on his Iowa farm (this revelation appears about 30 seconds into the movie). As someone who tries to keep readers informed of 35mm film screenings in town, of course I would say this ode to film preservation is a must-see. But that’s thanks to Zahs and his remarkable character, gentle but persevering in the face of indifference.”

Watch the trailer.
Opens Friday at the AFI Silver.

(courtesy Collectiv Jeune Cinéma)


The National Gallery of Art’s series on Philippe Garrel and the French underground film collective Zanzibar continues with a 35mm print of this biblical allegory made when Garrel was just 20 years old. Pierre Clémenti (Sweet Movie) stars as a hippie Christ figure and Zouzou (Chloe in the Afternoon) as both Mary and Mary Magdalene. Shown with a 16mm print of the behind the scenes featurette “On the Set of Le Lit de la Vierge.”

Saturday, May 26 at 2 pm at the National Gallery of Art, East Building Auditorium.



The Washington Psychotronic Film Society describes this sort-of-much-loved 1985 action movie: “The skill of gymnastics, the kill of karate! The U.S. govt. wants to put a satellite monitoring station in the remote, not-at-all-made-up country of Parmistan. But before they can do so, Olympic gymnast KURT THOMAS must survive THE GAME, an international winner-takes-all competition where he’ll face ninjas, unsportsmanlike competitors, a village of insane criminals, a traitorous strongman, and even more ninjas. If only there was a pommel horse in the middle of the town square.”

Watch the trailer.
Monday, May 28 at 8 pm at Smoke and Barrel.