Howie Movshovitz

Film Critic

Howie Movshovitz came to Colorado in 1966 as a VISTA Volunteer and never wanted to leave. After three years in VISTA, he went to graduate school at CU-Boulder and got a PhD in English, focusing on the literature of the Middle Ages. 

In the middle of that process, though (and he still loves that literature) he got sidetracked into movies, made three shorts, started writing film criticism and wound up teaching film at the University of Colorado-Denver. He continues to teach in UCD’s College of Arts & Media.

He has been reviewing films on public radio since 1976 (first review: Robert Altman’s Buffalo Bill and the Indians). Along the way he spent nine years as the film critic of The Denver Post, and has been contributing features on film subjects to NPR since 1987.

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courtesy Flicker Alley

Made in 1929 and silent, it's been called "the best documentary ever made." Now this recently restored avant-garde classic is available on Blu-ray.

The title is The Man with a Movie Camera. The director is Dziga Vertov, which is not his real name – that was Denis Kaufman. Born in Poland and an enthusiastic believer in the Russian Revolution, Vertov made agitational-propaganda films for the fledgling Soviet Union (which for a while took the official position that the cinema was one of the wonders of the new world). The name the filmmaker gave himself, Dziga Vertov, means "spinning top," and when you this film you'll understand why he took this name.

courtesy Music Box Films

The Innocents is a spare and intensely focused movie about nuns in rural Poland at the very end of World War II, December 1945. There’s little talk. The nuns sing at prayer time, but otherwise the film provides almost no music. The nuns live in a convent that looks old. As if it’s always been a church building; it’s a space full of arches and arch-like features on the walls – you can’t avoid feeling the constant presence of the church, and neither can the nuns.

Linda Callerus / IFC Films

Filmmaker Todd Solondz has a low opinion of humankind. It was there in his first successful film, Welcome to the Dollhouse, and scorn for people has been key to his work ever since. His characters are grim-faced, sometimes nasty, usually depressed, exploitive, exploited, stupid, self-indulgent and dishonest. With a few exceptions, Solondz’ latest work, Wiener-Dog, follows the others, and in fact, he continues a story of Dawn Wiener, the lead character of Welcome to the Dollhouse.

courtesy A24 films

When you boil it down – which is not a bad idea – Swiss Army Man is a film about a blatant kind of human exploitation. Marooned on an island somewhere in the middle of a vast ocean, Hank (Paul Dano) is about to hang himself when he spots a body where the water laps at the beach. Hank's suicide attempt fails; he runs to the body (Daniel Radcliffe), only to surmise that it's not quite dead, because it suddenly farts, the kind that will send an 11-year-old boy laughing into the next decade.

Music Box Films

Any film in which a vampire sneers that the vial of blood he’s sipping tastes like it came from an aging diabetic must have something good going for it. And it does. This vampire, known as Graf Geza von Közsnöm, played by Tobias Moretti, needs other help as well, which brings him to seek out the pioneering psychiatrist Sigmund Freud to ease the pain of his despair.

Therapy for a Vampire comes from Austria and it’s aware of its Germanic roots – the very first vampire film, F.W. Murnau’s 1922 Nosferatu, is a German production. Like Nosferatu’s vampire, Von Közsnöm is an overdressed nobleman, here in a pin-striped suit with the stripes too wide and the material looking too much like vinyl.

Courtesy IFC Films

Known for his fiery liberalism, Anthony Weiner was a seven-term congressman from New York who suddenly got famous for something else. It came to light that Weiner liked to send out sexually provocative messages and photos on his phone. The one that did the most damage was a frontal picture of his underpants, with him inside.

As seems to happen when anyone gets infamous, there’s a documentary film about Anthony Weiner, which raises many more questions than it answers.

Jon Pack, Hall Monitor, Inc. / Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Rebecca Miller's Maggie's Plan is a comedy of manners, of sorts. What's obvious from the start is that the characters have no manners. They don't spit at each other or use the wrong fork at dinner; they have no essential manners. They have no framework for how to relate to one another, how to venture into another's personal space, or how to define themselves with respect to the society that contains them.

As soon as Greta Gerwig, as Maggie, walks into the movie, you might start thinking about the films of Noah Baumbach, but I think Rebecca Miller has a better handle than Baumbach on what it's like to be in your mid-30s without a clue to who you are in the world.

Despina Spyrou / a24 Films

American pop movies have settled into patterns of action and rhythm so drearily predictable that just about anything different comes as a relief – no matter how bizarre or even cruel.

It’s never obvious – or even clear – where The Lobster is heading. In his first English-language feature, Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos rejects lots of typical moves. He builds basic action in unexpected ways, as if he’s reinventing parts of the grammar of film. He rarely puts the camera where conventional filmmakers would; the story doesn’t turn where you think it might. You can’t coast while you watch, you have to be alert to stay with the basic storyline. At that point, the film has you right where it wants, for surprises that smack you in the gut. It’s fascinating.

Ross McDonnell / courtesy of Amazon Studios, Roadside Attractions

Whit Stillman was born to make a Jane Austen film. His godfather was the famous sociologist E. Digby Baltzell, whose book The Protestant Establishment brought us the acronym WASP, for White Anglo-Saxon Protestant. Stillman grew up in that world; he knows about social class and how intricate ganglia of manners work in society.

courtesy Janus Films

One of the greatest Chinese martial arts films has just been restored and is showing at theaters around the country.

Writer and director King Hu set 1967's Dragon Inn in the late 15th century, the time of the Ming Dynasty in China, in the midst of a conflict between two powerful groups. The bad guys, the East Espionage Secret Police, execute a man unjustly, his family flees and the Secret Police go after them.

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