A Lesson in Egg Sucking

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Sony Pictures Classics

MOVIE REVIEW
Grandma (2015)

Stereotypes are inherently unfair, but they have a way of perpetuating themselves because of the few people who fit them to a T. The angry lesbian was only a thing within gay circles until the one-time Queen of Nice, Rosie O’Donnell, stopped being polite and started getting real following her very public coming out. Given the double dose of homophobia and sexism, the anger is certainly justifiable — it is just sometimes misdirected at allies instead of those who deserve it.

“Grandma” is a film about one such angry lesbian: a rude curmudgeon whose poetry anthologies were taught in women’s studies courses. But she’s not your typical man-hater: She's an equal-opportunity hater. In the opening scene, Elle (Lily Tomlin) inexplicably kicks her starry-eyed much-younger lover, Olivia (Judy Greer), to the curb; curtailing their May-December romance after just four measly months.

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Blood Thick as Thieves

Anti-social-movie-review-gregg-sulkin
Kingsway Films

MOVIE REVIEW
Anti-Social (2015)

You know how when someone means well; and his or her heart is in the right place; but he or she just doesn’t quite get it, right? “Anti-Social” is that, in film form. It wants to be a commentary on the fine line between legal and illegal ways of making a living and ends up being a budget fantasia about both. It doesn’t quite succeed, but it’s a film that’s impossible to hate.

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The Italian Mob

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Concorde Filmverleih

MOVIE REVIEW
The Face of an Angel (2015)

With daunting synchronicity, Michael Winterbottom's sideways meditation on the Meredith Kercher murder trial arrives just as Italian justice passes another milestone on its lengthy process of failing to get to the bottom of the case. Mr. Winterbottom and writer Paul Viragh aren't heading in that direction either, since "The Face of an Angel" has more abstract fish to fry than who precisely stabbed whom. Its business is the male heart and ego; specifically the ones inside Thomas (Daniel Brühl), whose efforts to navigate the fallout from a very similar legal case are derailed by neuroses, heartbreak, an inability to keep his pants on and a prodigious intake of gak. He is, needless to say, in the movie business.

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Con Me if You Can

Focus-movie-review-will-smith-margot-robbie
Frank Masi/Warner Brothers Pictures

MOVIE REVIEW
Focus (2015)

After the critical drubbing given to the flawed but earnest “After Earth,” Will Smith returns with “Focus,” playing a character that seems like natural territory for one of Hollywood’s most charismatic leading men. Mr. Smith is Nicky, a quick-witted veteran con artist who recruits inexperienced crook Jess (Margot Robbie) to join his team of professional thieves, with things quickly getting personal between the two of them when romance blossoms.

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Somewhere Over the Rainbow, a Blue Blood Flies

Jupiter-ascending-movie-review-channing-tatum-mila-kunis
Warner Brothers Pictures

MOVIE REVIEW
Jupiter Ascending (2015)

After debuting with “Bound” in 1996, followed by the worldwide phenomenon of “The Matrix” in 1999, the Wachowski siblings have consistently followed their own path instead of resting on their laurels, writing and directing films that have pushed the boundaries of what is expected of the Hollywood blockbuster — both in terms of storytelling and in technical prowess. “The Matrix Reloaded” and “The Matrix Revolutions” were elaborate deconstructions of the traditional hero’s journey seen in the first film; “Speed Racer” was a candy-colored computer generated wonderland in which the traditional family values faced rapacious corporate interests; while the ambitious epic “Cloud Atlas” — co-directed with Tom Tykwer — featured a multitude of characters and actors whose stories spanned centuries.

Now there is “Jupiter Ascending,” which at first glance may seem like an attempt by the Wachowskis to create a more conventional science-fiction saga. Despite appearances, though, this new film is not just the first, unresolved part of a franchise blockbuster or action filmmaking sound and fury signifying nothing. Instead, the film takes topics relevant today, such as genetic engineering, unregulated capitalism and consumption, and a privileged few exploiting an impoverished mass, and mixes them into a tale of intergalactic rivalry and intrigue, topping it off with striking images and sequences that delight the senses. This is unmistakably a film by the Wachowskis, splicing together elements from movies, television, comics, philosophy, politics and gaming, as well as mixing styles and tones, to create a singular cinematic universe.

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Modern Life Is Rubbish

Trash-movie-review-rickson-tevez-eduardo-luis-gabriel-weinstein
Universal Pictures

MOVIE REVIEW
Trash (2015)

Depictions of child poverty in well-meaning screen entertainments are bound to end up fudging the heart of the matter, since catching even five percent of the true grinding horror would bring an audience to its knees. "Trash" can't really do anything about that, substituting instead a YA tone of earnest adolescent adventuring in a landscape of adult corruption and violence — ultimately the easier option.

Although Andy Mulligan's source novel described a slum of imprecise location, Stephen Daldry's film plants its flag in Rio de Janeiro, giving the greedy politicians and murderous cops an imminent Olympic bonanza as extra rationale for lining their own pockets and ignoring the kids rummaging through their garbage mountains. Three of those — Raphael (Rickson Tevez), Gardo (Eduardo Luis) and Rato (Gabriel Weinstein) — find evidence of high-level corruption in a discarded wallet somewhere in there, and the chase is on.

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None Is Full of Love

Ex-machina-movie-review-oscar-isaac-domhnall-gleeson
Universal Pictures

MOVIE REVIEW
Ex Machina (2015)

When young computer coder Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) wins a competition to visit the secluded home of solitary tech entrepreneur Nathan (Oscar Isaac), head of the search engine company Bluebook, it seems like a dream come true for the star-struck employee. Caleb arrives at Nathan’s hideaway home and discovers the reason for the competition, a chance to meet Ava (Alicia Vikander), an android created by Nathan.

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Teacher's Pet

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David Dare Parker/A24

MOVIE REVIEW
Son of a Gun (2015)

This Australian crime caper doesn’t quite know what to do with itself. It has Ewan McGregor, perfectly cast as a man who remains a fundamentally decent human being even while murdering villains left and right. It has Alicia Vikander — about five minutes before she becomes a global superstar — as an appealingly vulnerable combination of curdling sexuality and stifled intelligence. It has one of the most inventive settings for a robbery in cinema history. And somehow — somehow — the movie blows it.

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Lead a Dog's Life

White-god-movie-review-zsófia-psotta-luke-body
Magnolia Pictures

MOVIE REVIEW
White God (2015)

Kornél Mundruczó’s “White God” is a curious creature. Ostensibly, this is the tale of the fierce bond that binds the teenage Lili (played with impressive maturity by the elfin Zsófia Psotta) and her mongrel mutt Hagen (Luke and Body) together. However, Mr. Mundruczó envelops this story in a somewhat suffocating layer of allegorical social commentary that belies a considered intelligence, but ultimately results in a tonally uneven picture. That said, “White God” picked up the prized Un Certain Regard award at Cannes, rightly rewarding Mr. Mundruczó for his innovative and ambitious vision, which — while flawed — is at least a fiercely original piece of work.

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Something Was Missing

Annie-movie-review-jamie-foxx-quvenzhané-wallis
Barry Wetcher/Columbia Pictures

MOVIE REVIEW
Annie (2014)

The 1982 “Annie” was my first experience in the cinema. I thought the whole experience was wonderful. Basically I was Annie: I was a little girl, mistreated by the adults in her life, who deserved to be plucked from nothing and set up in the big time. I wanted red hair; I wanted the red dress; I wanted a smelly old dog. And at the big finale — when Annie is chased up the crane and has to be rescued by the Sikh bodyguard — I was so frightened that I had to be removed from the theater in screaming and crying disgrace. We then got the movie on Betamax and I watched it approximately a billion times before I turned 10 years old, without any further disgracing, as I believe. Although I have not seen the original for some time, “Annie,” as was, remains one of the cleverest movies aimed at little girls, who are natural hams perfectly happy to believe that their parents/guardians are big meanies and a better life is waiting for them, if only someone would see how special they are. As a child, the original political satire of the comic strip on which all is based was utterly lost on me. But I never did understand why, when it was obvious Daddy Warbucks had the ability to take all of them on, only Annie was adopted.

The new “Annie,” directed by Will Gluck, time-shifts the story to right now while keeping many of the original elements almost the same. Annie (Quvenzhané Wallis) now lives in the overcrowded apartment of her alcoholic foster mother Miss Hannigan (Cameron Diaz) in Harlem. Safely in midtown, cell-phone billionaire William Stacks (Jamie Foxx) is running for mayor on a platform of “never drop a citizen” (as if citizens were calls) while definitively not being a man of the people. One day he saves Annie from a traffic accident; the resulting viral video and bump in the poll numbers causes his chief-of-staff Guy (Bobby Cannavale, who has finally made the big time and visibly enjoys every second) propose that he foster Annie to ensure he wins the election. Stacks’ lonely assistant Grace (Rose Byrne, who is quietly carving herself one of the most interesting career paths in modern Hollywood) is of course roped in to do the practical stuff, as she is a woman. And of course spoilers follow: Kids, go play outside or something!

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