By rifling through hundreds of films that had wide US releases or made the international-festival rounds during these 11 years—movies that share a distribution schedule, a certain level of prominence, and little else—Hamrah wants to give a composite picture of the political atmosphere in which they all have a share. What they dwell on are particularly charged visions of disaster, carnage, and decay ... The capsule format, to which many of the pieces here commit, can energize ... The capsule form gives and takes. It militates against close dissections of any given film, but offers Hamrah a heightened, compressed vocabulary for describing the impression a movie makes as it spills out ... Another side of Hamrah—more patient, a closer viewer—emerges in The Earth Dies Streaming’s single-subject essays, on directors like Lynch and Herzog or older films like High Noon and The Grapes of Wrath. At his best he has it both ways, putting movies in constellations that suggest unexpected echoes and congruities between them.
As the resident movie critic of the journal n+1, Hamrah is committed to his ambivalence, conveying it with a mixture of precision and conviction that will remind you how much more there is to be gleaned from a review than whether a movie is 'good' or 'bad' (even if it’s a movie you happen to deem very good or very bad indeed) ... A political awareness imbues Hamrah’s criticism without weighing it down. He doesn’t succumb to a leaden moralizing because he pays close attention to the medium he’s writing about, alert to what he sees and hears ... Hamrah is suspicious of anything that dulls the senses, lulling audiences into a false sense of security and therefore complacency. Part of his vigilance extends to being attuned to the circumstances under which he watches movies.
...Hamrah practices the kind of acid criticism that divines the difference between gold and iron pyrite. His work favors acute observation over the roster of what happened to whom during the course of a movie. Hamrah is not a fanatic, favoring both Uncle Buck and Uncle Boonmee, Who Can Remember His Past Lives. He can be intransigent, as when he refuses to review Life of Pi on the grounds that they wouldn't let him in the theater with the expensive cup of coffee he had just brought ... But as was said of the critic's critic Manny Farber, you learn something even when Hamrah is beating up a movie you like ... Today, it's quite hard to tell where the political spectacle begins and the cinematic spectacle ends. But pull threads as deftly as Hamrah does, and the whole ugly tapestry falls apart.