Larry D. Horricks/Studiocanal
Susanne Bier's odd, mournful, memorable "Serena" looks like a western, sounds like a costume drama and behaves like a Greek tragedy; a potent combination to which the word uncommercial might also apply. Its central couple — would-be timber magnate George (Bradley Cooper) and new bride Serena (Jennifer Lawrence) — are involved in reshaping 1930s North Carolina and fending off a growing conservation movement, while doom rolls unstoppably toward them like a storm front. Not for nothing is "Serena" scripted by Christopher Kyle, author of two films for Kathryn Bigelow and one for Oliver Stone: large passions brew, big gestures abound — most items in both columns involving Ms. Lawrence.
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Carole Bethuel/Le Pacte
Wild Life (2014)
The fascinating true story of Xavier Fortin — a father who took to the land with his two young sons for more than a decade — forms the basis of Cédric Kahn’s latest picture “Wild Life.” Mr. Fortin — here portrayed as Philippe “Paco” Fournier with great guile by Gallic stalwart Mathieu Kassovitz — is a desperate father to three sons, faced with the dismal prospect of a failing relationship and the death of his vision for an idealistic life living off the land. Mr. Kahn wisely steers clear of moralizing and judgement, instead choosing to focus on the nature and reality of Paco’s desire for a pure existence and upbringing for his boys and the circumstances that led to their flight to the hills.
Continue reading "Creature Discomforts" »
The most unusual thing about this thriller is that it exists at all. The situation in Northern Ireland was so tense, fraught and full of horror that an accurate, clear-sighted telling of it has been almost impossible to do. Steve McQueen’s “Hunger” — which many critics loved but this one loathed, did open the doors for a more visceral type of discussion about the Troubles — in the focus on the minds and bodies instead of the politics of the relevant people. Written by a Scot (Gregory Burke), funded with British money and directed by a French-Algerian (Yann Demange), “ ’71” has no apparent interest in sectarian propaganda of any kind. Any of these things is extremely unusual; but the combination is, until now, unheard of. And the result is one of the sharpest British movies in some time.
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The Rewrite (2014)
Hugh Grant and Marc Lawrence — now as telepathically linked as Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese — continue their long-term project of knocking the actor down a peg or two in "The Rewrite." Way back in "Two Weeks Notice" he was a billionaire, but their latest comedy finds Mr. Grant busted all the way back to Hollywood scriptwriter. And it's tough to get lower than that. Marooned in the sticks by an uncaring Tinseltown, this cynical grinch sees the appeal of honest toil and the affections of a feisty local lady — a plot that once kept Michael J. Fox in business and today feels like being beaten to death with a marshmallow.
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Atsushi Nishijima/Fox Searchlight Pictures
Birdman or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance (2014)
“Birdman” continues Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s shift from gritty realism toward surrealism, first signaled at the end of “Biutiful.” Michael Keaton stars as Riggan Thomson, a washed-up actor desperate to shed his signature role in an eponymous ’90s Hollywood superhero franchise by writing, directing and starring in a Raymond Carver adaptation on Broadway. What’s surreal is the fact that Riggan does in fact possess Birdman’s superpowers.
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Jack English/The Weinstein Company
The Imitation Game (2014)
There is something disconcertingly unsatisfying in the fact that the complex life of master mathematician, cryptanalyst and key figure in the outcome of World War II, Alan Turing (played by a magnificent Benedict Cumberbatch), is relayed here in such formulaic fashion. Turing was an enigmatic man: fiercely intelligent but emotionally distant, impersonal and difficult — yet his very genius relied on him being just so. While Morten Tyldum does attempt to unravel Turing’s tale and character by touching on his formative years at school and his ultimately tragic postwar fate, the focus here is on Turing’s work at Bletchley Park during World War II and his pioneering work on cracking the Enigma code.
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John Sturrock/Bad Bonobo
Still the Enemy Within (2014)
The British miners’ strike of 1984 to ’85 was a wholly divisive and socially transformative industrial action that threatened to paralyze the country and bring down Margaret Thatcher’s government. It was the last great battle cry of the socialist unions, fed up with the Tory diktat of rampant privatization of British industry but ultimately one that served to signal the end of overt unionist power. The struggle was pitched as “Arthur’s army” (after influential National Union of Mineworkers’ leader Arthur Scargill) versus the enemy within, a vicious moniker coined by Thatcher to describe the striking miners. “Still the Enemy Within” is the unashamed and wholly single-minded story from the miners’ perspective of those dark days that came to define Thatcher’s decade-long reign and that changed a country forever.
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Simon Mein/Sony Pictures Classics
Mr. Turner (2014)
A biopic on 19th century British painter J. M. W. Turner, “Mr. Turner” is unequivocally the most visually arresting film to date from Mike Leigh. The co-steward of kitchen-sink British realism here proves beyond doubt that he’s capable of more than just one trick, unlike his Belgian counterparts.
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Michael Muller/52nd New York Film Festival
Inherent Vice (2014)
Let the conspiracy theorizing begin: Paul Thomas Anderson must not have gotten over “There Will Be Blood” losing the Oscar race to the much inferior “No Country for Old Men.” That would explain him going all Coen brothers on us with his latest, an adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s “Inherent Vice.” Inherently a Coenesque film noir, it features an uncannily Coenesque universe of cartoonish oddballs and a distinctive vernacular.
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Entertainment One Films US
Maps to the Stars (2014)
Bruce Wagner's novel "Dead Stars" — the sister-mother to his script for David Cronenberg's "Maps to the Stars" once the production process had run its course — is fevered and fixated: a tirade about the sight of Hollywood parents and their kids locked in self-destruction. Its presiding spirits could include Terry Richardson, who's miraculously never actually mentioned; and whoever first hacked into Jennifer Lawrence's iCloud, whose coming is practically foretold. If Mr. Cronenberg had made his film equally feverish it might be easier to embrace, but instead he applies a bucket of cold water. Any actual zeitgeist is given such a wide berth that everything happens in a safely isolated sandpit, somewhere in a Never-Never-La-La-Land.
Continue reading "Burn Hollywood Burn" »