Something Was Missing

Annie-movie-review-jamie-foxx-quvenzhané-wallis
Studiocanal

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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Suffer Little Children

Stations-of-the-cross-movie-review-lea-van-acken-florian-stetter
Film Movement

MOVIE REVIEW
Stations of the Cross (2014)

Dietrich Brüggemann's deftly moving film about the dire consequences of religious devotion teeters between black satire and blacker comedy, but settles in the end on simple tragedy. "Stations of the Cross" adapts the stages of the Via Dolorosa into 14 extended scenes of staged formal rigor, an ongoing domestic calamity regarded almost entirely from a stationary camera at roughly eye level.

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Giant Steppes

Winter-sleep-movie-review-haluk-bilginer-melisa-sözen
Mongrel Media

MOVIE REVIEW
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.

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Northern Exposure

Leviathan-movie-review-sergey-pokhodaev
Anna Matveeva/Sony Pictures Classics

MOVIE REVIEW
Leviathan (2014)

"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.

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Cultural Inappropriation

Tokyo-tribe-movie-review-nana-seino-young-dais
BFI Film Festival 2014

MOVIE REVIEW
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.

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Sable Clouds Playbook

Serena-movie-review-bradley-cooper-jennifer-lawrence
Larry D. Horricks/Studiocanal

MOVIE REVIEW
Serena (2014)

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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Creature Discomforts

Wild-life-movie-review-mathieu-kassovitz-vie-sauvage-david-gastou-sofiane-neveu
Carole Bethuel/Le Pacte

MOVIE REVIEW
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.

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Odd Man Out

71-movie-review-jack-oconnell
Studiocanal

MOVIE REVIEW
'71 (2014)

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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Adventures in the Screen Tirade

The-rewrite-movie-review-hugh-grant-marisa-tomei
Anne Joyce/Lionsgate

MOVIE REVIEW
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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Batshit Crazy

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Atsushi Nishijima/Fox Searchlight Pictures

MOVIE REVIEW
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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