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.
Continue reading "Minimum Overdrive" »
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" »
Gilles Bruno Mingasson
Last Days in the Desert (2015)
The weathered figure emerging from the wilderness after five weeks of contemplation and fasting in "Last Days in the Desert" is referred to either as Yeshua or by the all-purpose epithet of Holy Man; but there's no ambiguity in Rodrigo Garcia's film about who he actually is. And he's also clearly Ewan McGregor, an actor whose skills at underplaying inner conflicts don't get much of a run out these days but which potentially suit the son of God and his inklings of an appointment at Calvary pretty well. If you happen to think that a hyperbolic screen Jesus is the wrong approach, then Mr. Garcia's sober and sedate film may be right up your aisle.
Continue reading "Holy Family Business" »
Agatha A. Nitecka
45 Years (2015)
After "Weekend" cast a nonjudgmental eye over the couplings of people savoring their early decades on Earth, "45 Years" looks with equal tolerance at a married couple hovering around their seventh — in the process confirming Andrew Haigh as one of current British cinema's rarely-spotted authentic humanists. With the domestic industry's choices too often amounting to use of the heritage card, indulgence in histrionic aggro or a swing the other way into micromanaged oxygen starvation, Mr. Haigh once again proves to be one of those searching for a fourth way.
Continue reading "That's Amour" »
The Legend of Barney Thomson (2015)
Robert Carlyle gets a bad case of the accidental serial-killer blues in "The Legend of Barney Thomson," playing a sad-sack Glasgow barber with an unfortunate tendency to stab people with the styling shears. Poorly suited to employment burnishing other mens' self-image and tied to the apron strings of a potty-mouth mother whose manner could alarm the horses, Barney's impotent frustration with life's unfairness leads him into a new sideline as what looks like Scotland's least ingenious murderer. Unfortunately for him, another — rather more skillful — one of those is on the prowl already, sending victims' severed body parts through the post and confounding a police force of Keystone-level uselessness.
Continue reading "Bad Hair Day" »
Sony Pictures Classics
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.
Continue reading "A Lesson in Egg Sucking" »
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.
Continue reading "Blood Thick as Thieves" »
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.
Continue reading "The Italian Mob" »
Frank Masi/Warner Brothers Pictures
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.
Continue reading "Con Me if You Can" »