The Divide (2016)
Director Katharine Round has a clear political agenda here, which is fine. The marketing tagline is “What happens when the rich get richer?” The trouble is that this is not remotely what her movie is really about. It’s a simple setup: She follows seven different people who talk about how their lives are affected by their jobs. The Americans are a Walmart employee, a fast-food clerk, a stay-at-home mother in a gated community, a psychiatrist to the wolves of Wall Street and a man who’s been in prison for more than 20 years. (There are also two British participants, a care worker and a drug addict, who add unfortunately little to the film.) Vignettes of their lives are interspersed with talking-head commentary about the financial crisis and how the international financial markets have been shaped by political choices during the last 30 or so years.
Continue reading "Inequality for All" »
The Brand New Testament (2016)
Here is a movie that makes two textbook mistakes: It takes a wildly clever setup and fails utterly to deliver on its own premise; and does so in a visual language lifted wholesale from other, better films. Either one of these faults would be forgivable, but to combine them puts “The Brand New Testament” at the level of a student film — though it’s unlikely any student director would have dared treating Catherine Deneuve like this.
Continue reading "Just a Slob Like One of Us" »
This is a very capable small Scottish film, but it is let down by two things: The first is the obvious plot developments — they are meant to be twists, but perhaps only to people who know nothing of human nature. The second is that the title character (Ruth Negga), who was awkwardly named after the island where she was born and raised, is the only mixed-race person in the film.
Continue reading "Coming Home to Roost" »
Music Box Films
The Club (2016)
“The Club” is the opposite of flash-bang-wallop cinema, where ordinary life hardly exists under the explosions which are meant to bring peace and justice but instead vanish into nothing but tidy blockbuster profits. This movie is a disturbing slow burner, without a superhero in sight, which takes a level gaze at the cost of evil and how to manage the humans responsible for it.
Continue reading "House of Godforsaken" »
Mia madre (2016)
After a political streak with “The Caiman” and “We Have a Pope,” Nanni Moretti returns to an intimate portrait of the grieving process that recalls his 2001 Cannes winner, “The Son’s Room.” “Mia madre” recounts Italian filmmaker Margherita (Margherita Buy) becoming increasingly preoccupied with her ailing mother, Ada (Giulia Lazzarini), and adolescent daughter, Livia (Beatrice Mancini), while directing a high-profile project with pompous and flamboyant Hollywood hotshot Barry Huggins (John Turturro) attached.
Continue reading "The Son's Gloom" »
Brian Douglas/Sony Pictures Classics
Miles Ahead (2016)
The Miles Davis biopic “Miles Ahead” seems less a treatise on the jazz trumpter’s enduring artistry and legacy than a showcase for its star-director-co-writer, Don Cheadle.
Continue reading "Sketches of Pain" »
Alison Rosa/Universal Studios
Hail, Caesar! (2016)
The Coen brothers’ homage to classical Hollywood, “Hail, Caesar!” stars Josh Brolin as Eddie Mannix, a studio honcho working around the clock to put out fires such as starlets posing for “French postcards,” unwed mothers, kidnappings and actors who can’t act.
Continue reading "Caesar Salad Days" »
J. G. Ballard's 1975 novel "High-Rise" famously cold-opens with a hot sentence about a dead dog; Ben Wheatley and Amy Jump's film adaptation opts to cut directly from the urbane sophisticate Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) glancing at the animal to the spit-roasting aftermath. The elision makes for a decent cinematic effect, showing not telling; but also sounds a warning shot about conventionality, a distilling down of Ballard's haunted prose into nothing more adventurous than good old black humor. Mr. Wheatley's taste for unsympathetic British grotesques also starts to crop up early before running rampant across the narrative by the end, joining a handful of Ballard's dots about the inhabitants of the island without getting much of a grip on his social science.
Continue reading "Penthouse and Pavement" »
Consistent screen universes are a mixed blessing — as proved by the smell of burnt wiring hanging over the film called "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" — and it might have been better in the long run if James Bond had not caught the history bug. "Spectre" ties Daniel Craig's four Bond movies into a final fixed alignment, concluding the chain of events initiated in 2006 when Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) walked into "Casino Royale" and commented on his ass; and also gives the guy yet another layer of familial pain for the ongoing motivational pot. But in the process the film has a mild personality crisis, scared rigid at the prospect of there being any corner of Bond fandom not addressed by the current product and trying to build a machine that could appeal to every single vested interest in existence. A crazy, ambitious, expensive quest. And doomed.
Continue reading "Live. Let Die. Repeat." »
Steffan Hill/Focus Features
Watching movies in school — on a television borrowed from the AV closet with a bunch of kids chatting and heckling and teasing each other — is a pretty good test of how a film stands. When the movie is good it can rise above this setting. But movies in school also serve another, broader purpose; they make tangible the stories kids ignore in their history books. They enable the kids to feel what it would have been like to be alive at that time and in that place, to feel their feelings and understand how the people who lived 100 years ago were not so different from us right now. And if a movie is really good, it makes the kids think about how its story is relevant now. On those levels, “Suffragette” succeeds admirably.
Continue reading "We Can Do It" »