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.
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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.
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Jeremy Pelzer/Pinewood Pictures
Most of us don’t spend our time thinking about the world’s infrastructure. We turn a button on the stove; and there is gas with which to cook dinner. “Pressure” is about the men who are on the front line of making that happen. That front line happens to be at the bottom of the ocean, where they travel in submersibles only loosely tethered to larger ships. They walk in diving suits along the sea floor to do underwater welding, if necessary. This is an amazing place to work; and the underwater setting, at the edge of human endurance, is a great place for telling an interest story. Unfortunately “Pressure” buckles.
Continue reading "Sinking Into Despair" »
Linda Kallerus/Broad Green Pictures
Learning to Drive (2015)
In the same way that the feel of an average Sundance festival film is usually apparent before the opening credits have wound up, Isabel Coixet's "Learning to Drive" wears its origins as a New Yorker article on its sleeve. A gentle meander through the social and emotional lives of two decent middle-aged adults in a multicultural New York, it's a soft-centered comedy of manners in which understanding your wayward spouse might be less tough than grappling with the Department of Motor Vehicles, but more likely to lead to a quiet life.
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Giles Keyte/Roadside Attractions
Mr. Holmes (2015)
With so many adaptations and interpretations of Sherlock Holmes on and off the page, and with the character so ingrained in popular culture, it is a remarkable achievement to come up with a story that feels fresh. Most recently and notably, there have been two Robert Downey Jr. films with the character, the British TV series “Sherlock” and the American TV show “Elementary,” so there would appear to be enough of Holmes on screen to satisfy eager fans of Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation. However, the arrival of “Mr. Holmes” proves to be a worthy and significant new screen depiction of the great detective.
Continue reading "A Case of Memories" »
13 Minutes (2015)
A lone individual assembling his bombs without obvious radicalization or a network of coconspirators tests the character of all nations, even when that nation is Nazi Germany and has already thrown its character into the trash. Oliver Hirschbiegel's willingness to look the Third Reich in the eye — proven in "Downfall" — carries over into "13 Minutes," the less showy story of Georg Elser's failed attempt to assassinate Hitler motivated by nothing more complex than basic unease: no allies, mania or contingency plans involved. No wonder the gentlemen poking hot wires under Elser's fingernails can't figure him out.
Continue reading "Homeland" »