Sometimes a hat is just a hat.

The gangster jaws at the screen, the camera jammed right up into his jowly face, sheened with just a scrim of sweat. “So it’s clear what I’m saying?” he asks, after delivering a lengthy soliloquy about trust, morality, and anarchy that neatly sums up the pining for order that underlies many a middle-aged lawbreaker’s more larcenous thoughts. Returning the man’s imploring hostility with steely boredom from the other side of the polished desk — the whole room a gleaming imitation of some robber baron’s den of power — the other gangster grumbles back, “As … mud.”

From that point on…


Suhail Dabbach in ‘Mosul’ (Netflix)

One of the most important movies of 2020 is on Netflix right now, but you probably don’t know it. Most people did not notice when the service dropped Mosul onto the service in late November. That was not unusual. A lot of movies were getting lost in the deluge of digital sound and vision being pumped into our devices. But even during more ordinary times, this is a movie that would have had a difficult time getting traction. After all, it’s an Iraq War without Americans.

Written and directed by Matthew Michael Carnahan, Mosul is based on Luke Mogelson’s 2017…


(NEON)

If history matters — an assumption we might have once taken for granted — one reason is to ensure crucial events are not forgotten due to the march of time. In today’s climate of manufactured truths and glib whataboutism, it is hard to believe that any historical memory has the power to change minds or poke holes in some demagogue’s balloon of hot air. But in the Soviet Union portrayed in Andrei Konchalovsky’s icy yet searing historical drama Dear Comrades!, the commissars busy erasing the record of a massacre make the argument that history does matter. They are so certain…


Timothée Chalamet in ‘A Rainy Day in New York’ (MPI Media)

Could there be a cabal of Young Turk filmmakers out there imitating Woody Allen? Is it possible they convinced name movie stars like Timothée Chalamet, Elle Fanning, and Liev Schreiber to star in a purported Allen project that the writer/director actually had nothing to do with? The prospect is unlikely. But given the disinformation, subterfuge, disappointment, and mimicry that currently clouds modern life, is it impossible? Also, how else to explain a movie like A Rainy Day in New York which makes one pine for even subpar latter-day Allen efforts like Scoop or his miniseries Crisis in Six Scenes?

Originally…


Just about the greatest thriller to ever turn a moviegoer’s knuckles white, Henri-Georges Clouzot’s The Wages of Fear is to nail-biter cinema what Raymond Chandler is to detective fiction: pretty damn essential. For pure thriller mechanics, it’s a textbook in step-by-step screw-tightening, while those looking for something of more substance will find themselves swimming in the stuff.

The South American village of Las Piedras is located just past the edge of nowhere, baking in the sun and providing just the correctly seedy backdrop for a batch of sallow Europeans to abuse the locals and laze about the cantina, to the…


For sheer brazen strange, it’s hard to top Robert Aldrich’s 1955 noir adaptation of the skull-busting Mickey Spillane novel. It’s a mystery that never gets solved and a thriller that creeps more than excites. The closest that it gets to an explanation is a cynical, tired reference by the hero’s gal Friday to “nameless ones who kill people for the great whatsit.” All this confusion very likely derives from Aldrich clearly holding Spillane’s book in some contempt (as he did most things). …


Opened in 1954, the Pruitt-Igoe public housing complex in St. Louis was imploded just 18 years later after nearly two decades of neglect.

Repeat a distorted version of the truth often enough, and it becomes accepted fact, regardless of the realities on the ground. This verity has rarely been more vividly evoked than in Chad Freidrichs’ moving and revelatory documentary The Pruitt-Igoe Myth. First released in 2011, it continues to prove its relevance as race- and class-fraught divisions around cities and the right to housing fail to be resolved.

In The Pruitt-Igoe Myth, Freidrichs breaks down the legacy of this infamous public housing complex, built in St. Louis in 1954. Initially lauded as a promising new frontier for urban housing, they quickly fell…


Christian Bale in ‘Empire of the Sun’ (Warner Bros.)

There’s something about Steven Spielberg that makes people want to describe him as a child. Given the films that first catapulted him into the top rank of world directors, it’s not hard to see why. From man-eating sharks to loving aliens, Southern melodrama and showdowns with platoons of easy-to-kill Nazis, the pre-1987 Spielberg oeuvre was not the most grown-up body of work.¹ This is not a judgment of the relative merits of Raiders of the Lost Ark, 1941, or even that lugubrious segment he shot for Twilight Zone: The Movie. Whatever one thinks about his films from that period, there’s…


‘The Hottest August’ (Grasshopper Films)

Good documentaries tell you a story; the great ones open your eyes. But even the most mediocre nonfiction movies serve a purpose: They provide a snapshot in time for what people in a particular place were doing, thinking, and planning. Or, to use another metaphor, they open a window into lives different than our own.

Those of us who are not — by choice or economic necessity — out there on the front lines right now are spending a lot of time in narrow circumstances. The virus limits our movements. Almost by definition it can then also limit our perceptions…

Chris Barsanti

editor, writer, occasional bon vivant

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