Diane Carson

Diane Carson, Ph.D., Professor Emerita, has reviewed films for over 25 years and has covered the Cannes, Telluride, Toronto, Palm Springs, and Sundance festivals. She writes for KDHX, 88.1 FM. St. Louis’ community radio. One of the founders of the St. Louis International Film Festival, she continues to serve on juries. A past president of the University Film and Video Association, she taught film studies and production at St. Louis Community College and at Webster University. Her new book, written with two colleagues, is “Appetites and Anxieties: Food, Film, and the Politics of Representation,” Wayne State U. Press, 2014.

 

Articles by Diane Carson

 

THE EXPERIMENTAL CITY — Review by Diane Carson

The Experimental City chronicles an inventive, futuristic venture. Athelstan Spilhaus is not well-known but should be. He can still teach our environmentally abusive and wasteful society a great deal, for he spearheaded an impressively progressive, inventive futuristic venture beginning in the 1960s. Spilhaus and a distinguished steering committee, including Buckminster Fuller, researched and proposed an experimental city of 250,000 residents to be built in northern Minnesota. Continue reading…

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MOUNTAIN — Review by Diane Carson

mountain posterMountain surveys attitudes toward the world’s highest peaks. Director Jennifer Peedom’s documentary essay is as varied as the subject it tackles. From black-and-white archival footage of the first mountaineers to contemporary high-tech daredevils, the relationship between humans and mountains encompasses everything from awe to terror, triumphs to disasters, enthralled obsession to unfettered risk taking. While not in depth on any one element, this overall meditative, fairly solemn consideration delivers a moving tribute to nature and a provocative examination of individuals confronting our highest peaks. Continue reading…

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AMERICAN ANIMALS — Review by Diane Carson

American Animals tells the astonishing, true story of a rare book heist. The narrative twists and turns conventional heist movie formulas into a riotous blend, thereby delivering a wildly creative, tragicomic remix. It begins with a perfect flourish. Interviews capture astonished, appalled parents trying unsuccessfully to fathom how four privileged young men, their sons, could go so wrong that they decided to steal extremely valuable books from Transylvania University’s special collection. Continue reading…

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THE SEAGULL — Review by Diane Carson

The Seagull masterfully present Chekhov’s character study. Nineteenth-century Russian playwright Anton Chekhov wrote psychologically insightful, emotionally powerful plays, among them The Cherry Orchard, Three Sisters, Uncle Vanya and The Seagull. Good actors love sinking their teeth into the vortex of intertwined, colliding lives with irreconcilable priorities and/or personalities. All of this is on display in director Michael Mayer’s new cinematic adaptation of The Seagull. Continue reading…

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WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR — Review by Diane Carson

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? celebrates the amazing Mister Rogers. It is wonderfully uplifting in those increasingly rare instances when we learn that a dear television star is, in fact, the persona he projects. Welcome, Mister Rogers, who, it turns out, not only embodies the amazing person hosting Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood but actually has supreme humility given the literally life-changing work he did. Continue reading…

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SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY — Review by Diane Carson

Many have been Star Wars fans from its 1977 debut, have faithfully followed subsequent episodes, and have forgiven occasional missteps. But with the latest chapter, Solo: A Star Wars Story, profound disappointment will overtake us with the direction of the franchise, that is, more the video game route instead of ideas steeped in mythology and archetypal themes, what we loved. Continue reading…

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BIG SONIA — Review by Diane Carson

Big Sonia captures the love and beauty of Holocaust survivor Sonia Warshawski. There are those who endure inconceivable challenges: refuges to the U.S. who arrive as survivors of nightmare wartime experiences, including loss of family members. The resiliency of these individuals is both admirable and astonishing. But few have Holocaust survivor Sonia Warshawski’s ability to communicate her astonishing life and fewer still her grace to inspire listeners to defy hate. Continue reading…

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LET THE SUNSHINE IN — Review by Diane Carson

letsunshinein.PLet the Sunshine In charts Isabella’s mid-life attempts at romance. French cinema specializes in narratives mining the infinitely intricate and often exasperating difficulties of modern relationships among family members, friends and lovers. French writer/director Claire Denis is no stranger to such subjects, probably still best known here for Chocolat (1988) and perhaps 35 Shots of Rum (2008). Now her Let the Sunshine In tackles the daunting challenges of middle-aged romance. Continue reading…

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RBG — Review by Diane Carson

RBG celebrates Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s amazing career and life. Twice in the documentary, Ruth Bader Ginsburg quotes nineteenth-century abolitionist and suffragette Sarah Grimké, “I ask no favor for my sex. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks.” RBG’s decades of legal work is testament to her lifetime commitment to human dignity and equality. Continue reading…

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THE THIRD MURDER — Review by Diane Carson

The Third Murder interrogates the elusiveness of truth. Ever the careful observer of psychological complexities, Japanese writer/director Kore-eda Hirokazu probes nothing less than life’s existential challenges in The Third Murder. Taking an unconventional approach, the exploratory narrative begins in the opening scene with a second, brutal murder. We’ll soon learn that the victim, a dishonest factory owner, was allegedly killed by an ex-worker with a previous, similar conviction. Continue reading…

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BEAST — Review by Diane Carson

Beast presents an unnerving psychological immersion. Throughout writer/director Michael Pearce’s feature film debut, Moll struggles with violent behavior visited upon others and herself as an eruption of her internal rage. Upstaged at her twenty-something birthday party by her newly pregnant sister, Moll reveals the depths of her troubled psyche as she crushes shards of the glass she accidentally breaks into her hand. Continue reading…

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RACER AND THE JAILBIRD — Review by Diane Carson

Racer and the Jailbird meanders and drags through two lovers’ lives. Bibi is an accomplished race car driver, Gino a professional criminal in Racer and the Jailbird. They fall mind-numbingly in love. So hopelessly enamored of Gino, Bibi doesn’t ask questions when he occasionally disappears to rob a bank or a money transport van. In and out of trouble and then in again, they talk, pledge their hearts, and suffer. Continue reading…

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THE RIDER — Review by Diane Carson

Brady Jandreau as Brady Blackburn is The Rider in the film of that title. Brady, family and friends play barely altered versions of themselves in what is close to a documentary. All credit to Chinese writer/director Chloé Zhao who sets and shoots the main action of this poignant character study on the Pine Ridge Lakota Sioux Reservation. Continue reading…

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A QUIET PLACE — Review by Diane Carson

A Quiet Place gives horror a new sound—silence. The horror film A Quiet Place is exactly that—very quiet, meaning viewers increase their attentiveness to every sound—the wind in the trees, the crunch of a footstep, water running over rocks. This glorious call to our senses comes courtesy of co-writer/director John Krasinski’s technical achievements, including dazzling camera angles and striking compositions, plus superb performances. Continue reading…

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WHERE IS KYRA? — Review by Diane Carson

Where Is Kyra? is not a film that grabs headlines; it is one that lingers with a profound emotional, empathetic appeal. For Kyra is that rare woman in narratives: middle-aged, unemployed, down-on-her-luck, and becoming increasingly desperate. With credit cards canceled and homelessness looming, Kyra becomes resourceful by necessity, adopting her recently deceased mother’s identity in order to cash her checks. Continue reading…

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LOVE & BANANAS: AN ELEPHANT STORY — Review by Diane Carson

The documentary Love & Bananas: An Elephant Story begins in northern Cambodia with David Casselman in a helicopter surveying and commenting on the appalling deforestation of seventy-five percent of the Cambodian jungle by logging companies. Casselman makes clear the related peril for the endangered Asian elephant and the critical need for the one-million-acre Cambodia Wildlife Sanctuary he has co-founded. Continue reading…

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BEIRUT — Review by Diane Carson

Beirut paints a retrograde picture of Lebanon and US involvement. As the story set in and simply called Beirut begins in 1972, cultural attaché Mason Skiles hosts a lavish formal reception and dinner at the U.S. embassy. Mason clearly enjoys sharing the event with his wife, thirteen-year-old Palestinian ward Karim, and colleagues. Suddenly and catastrophically Mason’s world will be destroyed, and a politically retrograde plot set in motion. Continue reading…

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FINAL PORTRAIT — Review by Diane Carson

True to its title, Final Portrait chronicles, in tiresomely repetitious detail, Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti’s cajoling American writer James Lord to sit for what becomes Giacometti’s final portrait. Promised as a few hours’ work, the 1964 event stretches to nineteen days because of Giacometti’s characteristic self-criticism and his obsessive need to undo (his words) several days’ work, to start afresh. Continue reading…

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THOROUGHBREDS — Review by Diane Carson

Thoroughbreds lacks admirable pedigree. Thoroughbreds is one of those films that lives in its own hermetically sealed world, one that defies any suspension of disbelief. Two young women—Lily and Amanda—reunite as teenagers when Lily begins to tutor Amanda, as organized by Lily’s mother. Amanda lacks emotions, is profoundly unresponsive, though she’s learned to mimic those she observes. Continue reading…

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SUBMISSION — Review by Diane Carson

Submission lacks insight into sexual victimization. It’s certainly the right time to tackle the important topic of sexual harassment and sexual victimization. But we don’t need director Richard Levine’s Submission, a dim-witted film that reinforces insulting male and female stereotypes as it follows a veteran college writing professor, naïvely malleable and easily seduced by an attractive, ambitious, duplicitous female student. Continue reading…

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BLACK PANTHER — Review by Diane Carson

black pantherBlack Panther thrills and inspires. Since the 2014 announcement, eager fans have waited with great anticipation for director Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther. I won’t bury the lead: the film merits the hype and the record-breaking advance ticket sales. It is terrific in so many ways, enhancing the conventional superhero dichotomy of good and evil with conflicting loyalties in three-dimensional, culturally grounded African characters. The conflict and surprises (no spoilers here) begin in Oakland, California, 1992 on an outdoor basketball court before moving indoors to a small apartment. Continue reading…

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THE BALLAD OF LEFTY BROWN — Review by Diane Carson

lefty brown posterThe Ballad of Lefty Brown is a retro western of revenge and frontier justice. Announcing lofty intentions in its opening, The Ballad of Lefty Brown begins with an onscreen quotation from Frederick Jackson Turner, influential historian of the American West. He wrote, “The frontier environment is at first too strong for the man. He must accept the conditions which it furnishes or perish.” The character study that follows highlights that dichotomy: adapt or die. Continue reading…

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A FANTASTIC WOMAN — Review by Diane Carson

In an early scene in Chilean director Sebastián Lelio’s A Fantastic Woman, performing on stage, the transgender, sultry nightclub singer Marina flirts with Orlando, her older lover and partner. They return to their apartment, make love and go to sleep before a medical emergency initiates the tragedy Marina will face and the treatment she’ll contend with from Orlando’s family. Continue reading…

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FILM STARS DON’T DIE IN LIVERPOOL — Review by Diane Carson

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool finds love and compassion triumphing. Films seldom candidly portray the last days of once glamorous, sultry actresses. Admirers prefer to revisit their triumphant performances in which these women command screens with captivating energy and irresistible appeal. Kudos then to Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, an exception that dramatizes the physical and psychological challenges faced by 1940s/1950s Hollywood star Gloria Grahame in her final months. Continue reading…

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THE INSULT — Review by Diane Carson

The Insult tracks a personal and political confrontation. The personal is political and the political gets intensely personal quickly in director Ziad Doueiri’s The Insult. What begins as a minor problem escalates into legal confrontations with international reverberations. At first glance, it seems such a simple issue to resolve. Instead, it quickly becomes apparent that in the charged atmosphere of Beirut, Lebanon, nothing is truly innocuous. Continue reading…

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