Rand Richards Cooper

Rand Richards Cooper, one of Commonweal's film critics, is the author of two works of fiction, The Last To Go and Big as Life.

By this author

'The Babadook'

My pleasure in being scared silly by movies dates to age eight, when I shrieked in my seat as a murderous Alan Arkin, kitchen knife flashing, hunted Audrey Hepburn in Wait Until Dark. Ever since, I have taken guilty pleasure in horror movies, terror movies, thrillers, suspense, and all films whose goal is to make you feel temporarily unsafe in the world. You either crave this kind of thing or (like my wife) you detest and avoid it, finding real life already unsettling enough on its own. 

The Charms of the Conqueror

Imagine a writer who would be the perfect antithesis to today’s literary culture, where confessional narratives of family dysfunction and personal struggle, conveyed in prose styles edgy, blunt or angry, reiterate the eternal theme of the Tormented Artist. Our Un-Tormented Artist would be an Ivy League–educated WASP, groomed for success by his family. His precocious career would have proceeded from triumph to triumph; his prose would combine effortless eloquence with an easy comfort in its own leisurely peregrinations.

'Listen Up Philip'

Sometimes rave reviews of dreadful movies seem like a conspiracy to lure you into the theater and force you to endure the same misery the reviewers did. How else to explain the enthusiasm for Listen Up Philip?

'The Trip to Italy' & 'Land Ho!'

As Hollywood knows perhaps all too well, road movies and buddy movies churn out powerful cinematic pheromones long proved to lure men into the theater.

The Time of Our Lives

Writer-director Richard Linklater made a name for himself with a pair of cult films in the early 1990s. Slacker captured the rants and rambles of coffeehouse anarchists, conspiracy theorists, punks, and other emblematic college-town figures culled from Linklater’s hometown of Austin, Texas. Dazed and Confused—a coming-of-age ensemble comedy that followed a bunch of teenagers on the last day of school in 1976—offered a less glossy, de-romanticized American Graffiti.

Miner of Mania

A touch of dread descends every time you click onto the Times website and see a front-and-center head shot that instantly tells you, this person has died. But I had zero expectation of seeing Robin Williams there. Not him; not yet.

Stillness & Silence in 'Ida'

Austere, quiet, its gravity tempered by bursts of harsh irreverence, Ida grabs your imagination and won’t let go. Set in the dreary Communist Poland of the early 1960s, the film charts the spiritual travails of Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska), an orphan raised since infancy in a convent. Now a beautiful and dreamily solemn twenty-year-old, Anna is preparing to take her vows when her Mother Superior discloses that she has one living relative—an aunt—and orders the novice off on a visit.

Give It to Us Straight, Doc

Can we please get some clarity on the politics of the Affordable Care Act?

A front-page article in the New York Times recently described Democratic officeholders facing fall elections “anxious about an onslaught of television ads hitting vulnerable Senate and House candidates for their support of the new health law.” The conventional wisdom seems to be that masses of Americans, feeling ripped off by the new policy, are ready to pounce. But does this correspond to reality? (See "Catastropic Coverage.")

A Soulless Soul Mate

Her is a movie I’ve been waiting for. Portraying the curious romance that develops between a man and, well, a digital operating system, it crystallizes the worries and complaints of anyone who—like your reviewer—laments our culture of digital distraction. We’re awash these days in articles and books about the dying art of conversation, and for good reason. Frequently, as I sit with someone whose attention is divided between me and his smartphone, I have the feeling, part droll and part resentful, that I am being…replaced. 


I can’t recall a film released to more unanimous critical joy than Gravity, Alfonso Cuarón’s taut chronicle of a space mission gone disastrously awry. Garnering an out-of-this-world 100 percent rating from the review clearinghouse rottentomatoes.com, the film has won ecstatic accolades from critics ranging from A. O.