Winter Sleep (2014)
"Winter Sleep" crosses the tape at 196 minutes; long enough to watch all of "Once Upon a Time in Anatolia" and then revisit the first quarter of it all over again. Whether Nuri Bilge Ceylan's recent running times are an indulgence, a tactic or a mistake — he himself says that he pays the matter no mind at all — it again allows him to divide a film into formidably gorgeous tectonic plates of narrative, grinding against each other at geological pace while the men and women traveling on them completely fail to understand each other.
Continue reading "Giant Steppes" »
Anna Matveeva/Sony Pictures Classics
"Leviathan" suggests an entire nation marooned in state of despair. Andrey Zvyagintsev's new inquiry into the wrong turns taken by modern Russia reaches much the same conclusions as his previous ones, but tells a more explicitly political tale in the process — which makes the fate of the little people caught in the wash seem even more pitiable and inescapable than ever.
Continue reading "Northern Exposure" »
BFI Film Festival 2014
Tokyo Tribe (2014)
Erstwhile purveyor of inventive Japanese fare Sion Sono follows up his subversive 2013 picture “Why Don’t You Play in Hell?” with yet another dollop of ludicrous cinema. “Tokyo Tribe” is a manga-inspired world of hip-hop gangsters and comic-book villains; grimy, corrupt and fueled by blood, money and women. Mr. Sono’s vision is singular; and his highly stylized tale plays out as a hip-hop musical number, a trope that is as deliriously mad as it sounds: think “The Warriors” meets “West Side Story” with a dash of “Sin City” thrown in for good measure.
Continue reading "Cultural Inappropriation" »
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.
Continue reading "Sable Clouds Playbook" »
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.
Continue reading "Odd Man Out" »
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.
Continue reading "Adventures in the Screen Tirade" »
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.
Continue reading "Breaking a Code of Conduct" »
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.
Continue reading "In the Pits" »