Harlan Jacobson

Film Critic

Harlan Jacobson became WBGO's film critic in 2010, covering the international film scene for the "WBGO Journal," with reports from film festivals around the world about films arriving on the scene in the greater New York-New Jersey metroplex.

Jacobson covered the entertainment industries for VARIETY, edited FILM COMMENT for a decade and for over 30 years has written worldwide on film and pop culture, including extensive coverage of independent film and international festivals for major news media. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, USA Today, The Toronto Globe & Mail, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Boston Globe, The New Democrat, Interview, The Village Voice, Rolling Stone, The Boston Phoenix, Le Point, on NPR´s "Morning Edition," the CBC´s "The Arts Tonight," and more.

Jacobson's interview with Michael Moore ("Michael & Me") for the film ROGER & ME, appearing on the cover of FILM COMMENT, sparked the U.S. and European press to debate Moore's misrepresentations of fact in the film Roger & Me, and was widely hailed in print (Pauline Kael, David Denby, The NY TIMES).

For 20 plus years, Jacobson wrote on film and pop culture and regularly covered major international films and festivals for USA TODAY and other key news media. Recent subjects for his "Brief Encounters" interview column in Film Comment, where he continues as Contributing Editor, include Francis Ford Coppola, Julianne Moore, Steve Buscemi, Anthony Hopkins, Ridley Scott, Larry David, Agnes Jaoui, Jason Reitman, Mike Leigh, Robert Duvall, Tilda Swinton, Abbas Kiarostami, Ben Kinsgley, and more.

Jacobson was film critic for WFUV 90.7 FM Public Radio in New York for 15 years, served as the Artistic Director of the PHILADELPHIA FILM FESTIVAL and directs the national TALK CINEMA screening and lecture series on critically important new films at Lincoln Center in New York, and in a dozen locations around the US.

An Ohio native, Jacobson lives in Croton on Hudson, NY. He's a member of the BROADCAST FILM CRITICS ASSN., FIPRESCI (The INT'L FILM CRITICS ASSN) and PEN. He graduated from Haverford College, is married, the father of three children, and the Mighty Alpha Male to two dogs, both mutts from the local pound.

First Man
Harlan Jacobson for WBGO

It’s the last hurrah for the mid-century WASP, those men born before WWII, come of age after it, and built or dodged the System, the Death Star of the Military Industrial Complex Eisenhower warned us about in his farewell address in 1960. Time to consider the corporate white male who pre-dated the rise of the Boomers, my crowd, who inherited much, did little but resisted BS in all its manifold guises and forms.

Harlan Jacobson
TIFF

The serious fun season of movies kicks off just after Labor Day with the Toronto International Film Festival that closes this weekend.

Now in its 43rd year, Toronto, or TIFF, as it’s known has become increasingly one of the most important sales and marketing conventions in the film industry.
 

With nearly 260 films, that’s pared down from as recently as two years ago when there were some 350—Toronto is the dominant festival in North America and quite possibly the world.

The Wife
Harlan Jacobson for WBGO

Just when we’re getting used to the noir-like crime stories from Sweden that started with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by writer Stieg Larsson about his alter ego Michael Blomqvist, the hard-bitten reporter swept up in murder, along comes a new film, The Wife, from Sweden also about a writer. 

Eighth Grade
Harlan Jacobson for WBGO

There have been plenty of movies about High School. There’s only one about 8th Grade. I dropped in on comedian turned writer-director Bo Burnham’s 8th Grade, which brings it all up to date.

I don’t know about you, but I was a little surprised by how on the surface my own 8th grade still is by watching Bo Burnham’s first film which updates the experience from transistor radios of my era to the ubiquitous cell phone and social media of 13-year-old Kayla at the Miles Grove Middle school somewhere in suburban NY.

First Reformed
Harlan Jacobson for WBGO

While writer-director Paul Schrader gets serious from the first minute of First Reformed, Schrader lets the full first act unfurl before he ups the ante in his new film, First Reformed by showing us at the 35-minute mark a suicide vest packed with TNT. That’s a long slow fuse, and the mark of a filmmaker who either has faith in his audience or has stopped caring whether anyone out there is watching. Well, I am.

Schrader has written 24 films and directed 20. It’s been mostly glorious, and always aspirational. His is a terrific filmography.

Solo
Harlan Jacobson for WBGO

WBGO film critic Harlan Jacobson has just returned from the 71st Cannes Film. It’s the highest platform for film art on Planet Earth.  One of the films he saw there had some familiarity to it to say the least.

Solo: A Star Wars Story is the 10th installment in George Lucas’ saga begun in 1977.

Even the title is generic: Solo: A Star Wars Story. That’s like “Memorial Day Sale at General Motors: A Sedan!”

Tribeca
Harlan Jacobson for WBGO

This is as good a time as any to take a little time out from the crazy-making news cycle and check in at the movies. The Tribeca Film Festival opens this week, and it’s the festival that counts now in NYC, with close to 100 films in the feature film lineup of which 46 are directed by women.

There are 10 films in this Year’s Tribeca International Competition, and I’m looking forward to seeing Amateurs a Swedish comedy about competing films about a small town—the one by the town investment board and the other one by a couple of teenagers, who tell a different story.

When you think of France, sure you think of cheese and berets, baguettes and love--or at least adultery--and what else? Wine. You think of the Bordeaux you can’t afford, snapped up by those pesky Russian oligarchs and Chinese financiers. Or the Rhones that are earthy, or the Rosés that, while not fine wines are runaway must-have now on the American Left and Right Coasts to augment their Mediterranean diets.

Black Panther
Harlan Jacobson for WBGO

The good guys, the bad guys, the good women, the bad women and the missing link in the form of a long, lost son who lays claim to the throne of the fictional, all black Central African, Brigadoon-style republic of Wakanda, are all black.

An all black super hero movie? That’s great—if you’re 13. It’s even great if you’re 8 and have figured out how to sneak into a PG-13 film. And no review should tamper with how those age groups see the film. In fact, I’d say it will do any and all kids good to see Black Panther.

Crystal Moselle’s Skate Kitchen is almost the perfect Sundance film.

First, it is written, produced and directed by a woman—one of some 45 features at Sundance directed by women this year of the 120 spread out over nine main sections, including US and international feature and documentary competitions. Second, it’s characters and milieu are quintessentially young, mostly broke and minority born. Thirdly, it’s proudly no-budget.

NEON

2017 was, all in all, a good year for movies. The quest for the perfect too often drives out the arrival of the merely wonderful and good in parts. We’ve been hectored by the self-esteem tyrants that we are sublime creatures who deserve only the very best every second of the 24-hour day — in food, clothes, cars, beds, books (whatever they were), TV, and seats at spectacles, music, and movies. The demand for perfect self-offerings prevents us from appreciating what is merely wonderful and good in parts. We short change ourselves that way, particularly when it comes to film.

Harlan Jacobson
David Tallacksen for WBGO

It’s been a good December at the movies.

Major titles that are out there to see include James Franco’s The Disaster Artist, which finds fun and meaning in the worst movie of all time, The Room, made in 2003 by a couple of strange actors; Guillermo del Toro’s, The Shape of Water, a sugar water addition to his fantasy canon, with Sally Hawkins courting a best actress nomination as cleaning crew in a top-secret military research facility who is in the tank for an alien merman.

The Square
Harlan Jacobson for WBGO

There’s plenty to see in this run up to the Oscar qualifying season. Both good and bad.  Here's how to zig and zag through it all.

You’ve lived a good life. Made a few bucks. Are on a few boards, because you gave some of those bucks to the opera, maybe a cancer fund, the art museum. You look good in a tux. Woman you came with fills out a dress, and it costs some money for hair like that. Not to mention the ear rings.

TIFF
Harlan Jacobson for WBGO

The 42nd Toronto International Film Festival concludes this weekend.

Toronto has been the home of big titles for the past two decades, ramping up from a local festival at its inception to becoming the dominant film festival in North America—the other key festival in North America being Sundance -- and one of the three or four key debut festivals in the world. Think American Beauty some 18 years ago and Moonlight last year. That achievement reflects how the business model has changed over the last two or three decades, with the word festival something of a misnomer.

It was the worst summer in 25 years in terms of ticket sales. August tickets sales are down 35% from a year ago. The Memorial Day to Labor Day period, which accounts for about two fifths of Hollywood’s annual domestic revenue is on track to fall 16%--worse than the 10% insiders predicted in May. 

patticakesmovie.co.uk

Think of summer and you think of escape. It’s built into the architecture. Hot sun, summer in the city, escape to the beach, escape to the Cape. And go to the movies to escape the escape.

How about escape the cops? Traditional summer escape movies have crashed and burned by the dozens this summer. 

Dunkirk
Harlan Jacobson for WBGO

WBGO film critic Harlan Jacobson gives high marks to Christopher Nolan's latest movie Dunkirk.

Summer movies are about heroes. And in this hyper-sharpened environment of the performance arts, apparently it takes one to know one. This is the season of Hollywood hero movies, which… I mostly skip. What’s Tom Cruise in the Mummy got to say to me? Worse, last week he said he was going to do a Top Gun sequel. He’s 54 now. He was 23 the first time out. What will they call this one, Shogun… or No Gun? Then there’s Transformers: The Last Knight, which I recall vigorously defending first as a toy in 1985 to fellow parents of toddlers and later as a film, 87 installments ago.

The Lost CIty of Z
Harlan Jacobson for WBGO

Film Critic Harlan Jacobson has three ways to embark on adventure at the movies.  Harlan reviews The Lost City of Z, Tommy's Honour and Graduation.

Academy Awards
oscarwinners2017.com

A recent Hollywood Reporter poll, however, shows that 66% of Trump voters turn off the show when it goes political, but 43% of Clinton voters want speechifyers to slam Trump. And 60% of the country can’t name one best picture nominee. Well I can, and that’s Barry Jenkin’s Moonlight, and it’s the film of the year. Superbly made, with pitch perfect performances, in a script that began as a play and continually plays with our notions of black life and character.

Harlan Jacobson
Susan Jacobson for WBGO

What a work of man Sundance is, namely Robert Redford. It’s his legacy, after all, far more than the Way We Were or All the President’s Men or that near-silent film he starred in, ALL IS LOST, as a sailor adrift at sea. The 33rd Sundance Film Festival wraps up this weekend.

If you stop thinking of film as art—the 7th art, in fact—which the majority of Americans don’t anyway—and think of it for a second as a product, Sundance didn’t invent the independent film. But it did find a way to make it a business.

Hidden Figures
complex.com

Silence, by Martin Scorsese, is a good old fashioned art film about selflessness in a Facebook planet. The Jesuit mission to convert Japan to Christianity has failed in 1633, as Buddhist Japan searches out and executes Jesuit priests and their followers. The last priest, Father Ferreira, played by Liam Neeson has sent word back to Portugal that he has apostasized—renounced God and become a Buddhist.