Time to Die

Stephen Vaughan/Warner Brothers Pictures

Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

At its heart, the story of the blade runner demonstrates the importance of human feeling over machines. The blurred line of this story (as in the first installment, released in 1982 and again in 1992 in a director’s cut) is the problem that comes when the machines are designed to have human feelings, too. It’s unusual to see a movie exploring what it means to have a body. The failure of “Blade Runner 2049” is how it discriminates between men and women, and how that discrimination surpasses the distinction between human and machine. That failure leaves you with no hope for the future.

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The Fast and the Fallacious

Maarten Vanden Abeele/Wild Bunch

Racer and the Jailbird (2017)

Michael Mann’s “Miami Vice” had to revamp its entire second half from scratch after an incident on set, but if you saw the movie without knowing that you’d never be able to tell. Fatih Akin’s “Head-On” remains one of the best movies of the new millennium despite the lead actor having to be packed off to rehab for several months. The major plot shift that created is startling and noticeable, but the cast and crew were talented enough to adapt and make a movie of incredible emotional power. Something along those lines clearly happened to “Racer and the Jailbird.” If it didn’t, that is much worse, because the movie really looks like it did.

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Stars and Shadows Ain't Good to See By

Scott Patrick Green/A24

Lean on Pete (2018)

Novels are interior things which expose us to people’s thoughts first; from there we learn about how they move. Movies are exterior things; we watch first how people move and from there learn about how they think. Low-budget American movies tend to be about noise, covering a small budget through an enormous amount of dialogue. Low-budget British movies tend to be about silence, how people react to think and allow their thoughts to dance over their face. Andrew Haigh, a British director, has adapted Willy Vlautin’s American novel without a lot of money nor with much noise. Some parts of the adaptation work brilliantly. Others needed a little more thought.

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The Agony and the Effigy

Parisa Taghizadeh/Sony Pictures Classics

Final Portrait (2017)

Stanley Tucci's fifth film as a director – and the first in which he doesn't appear himself – tells an episode from the late life of artist and sculptor Alberto Giacometti, a topic that clearly chimes with Mr. Tucci's long-standing interest in fine art and the turbulent urges that go into its creation. "Final Portrait" features Geoffrey Rush in full shambling dishevel as the 63-year-old Giacometti and Armie Hammer as James Lord, a younger American who sits for one of the artist's last works and starts to wonder if it will never actually be finished. The film has the utmost compassion for artists helplessly at the mercy of their own creativity and libido; and if its small scale keeps the external world mostly out of view, it at least believes the art to be worth all the internal aggro.

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Nun of the Above

Sundance Institute

The Little Hours (2017)

Watching Aubrey Plaza shout at people ranks high on my personal list of reasons to turn out for movies, only slightly behind the joys of Tracy Letts being cruel and vindictive. In "The Little Hours" she shouts and swears like a stevedore, a raucous deadpan dynamo restrained by a 14th century nun's habit and wimple in the same way that a tin can constrains an atom bomb. Jeff Baena's film transfers a bunch of thoroughly modern comics — Ms. Plaza, Molly Shannon, Nick Offerman, Kate Micucci, several others — to Middle Ages Tuscany with their vocal patterns and wry exasperations intact, for a tale sliced out of Giovanni Boccaccio's "The Decameron" that drips with frustrated desire and the sins of the flesh. Hit or miss, it's at least a reminder that American sex comedies weren't always modern-dress bosses and bridesmaids, or offcuts from the Judd Apatow factory.

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Eating Disorder

The Orchard

The Dinner (2017)

The third film adaptation of Herman Koch's eponymous novel (following Menno Meyjes's 2013 "Het Diner" and Ivano De Matteo's 2014 "I nostri ragazzi"), Oren Moverman's "The Dinner" indeed plays out like a European art thriller — perhaps one by Thomas Vinterberg (despite that he's Danish and Mr. Koch is Dutch).

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Estranged Bedfellows

Robb Rosenfeld/A24

The Lovers (2017)

In "The Lovers," Debra Winger and Tracy Letts play wife and husband on the brink of divorce, keeping up appearances for the sake of a visit from their son and his girlfriend. Suffering symptoms of midlife crises and ennui, Mary (Ms. Winger) and Michael (Mr. Letts) absent-mindedly drift through their workaday obligations just so they can make excuses to each other to spend time with and pacify their respective long-suffering, ultimatum-giving paramours. As the extramarital affairs grow increasingly tedious, Mary and Michael inexplicably rekindle their passion for each other — which their son, Joel (Tyler Ross), interprets as a façade presaging the marriage's inevitable dissolution.

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Bust for Life

Jaap Buitendijk/TriStar Pictures

T2 Trainspotting (2017)

Being young is easy, in that many of your choices are made for you. You can’t control where you live or where you go to school. Your social circles are the ones your family moves in. The kids you spend time with on the playground become your friends. In many places with a homogenous background you all know the same things. You sing the same songs; tell the same stories; eat the same food; go the same places.

And then you grow up some, and start making choices. To cut your hair this way or that way. To play this sport or that instrument. To watch this program on the telly instead of that one; to love this band instead of that one; to have this tattoo or that piercing; to love this person instead of that one. So you grow apart from certain people because of these choices, and closer to others due to your interest in the same things. And then you fall in love and choose someone to spend your time with and that narrows things down still. And then you wake up one day – when you’re much older than you’d ever thought you’d be – and you have to reckon with all of your choices.

The 1996 film “Trainspotting” was famously about a group of junkies who “choose not to choose.” All their energy was on getting money for their next fix. The ferocity and single-mindedness with which they pursued their happiness through drugs catapulted “Trainspotting” past being another after-school special into a worldwide phenomenon. Its lust for life (sorry) was a rare thing, and the movie has absolutely stood the test of time. A sequel was not, of course, inevitable; who could imagine the characters would all live so long? But here it is; and here we are.

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Free Fire (2017)

Obsessive readers of the small print, having spotted that Edgar Wright was an executive producer of Ben Wheatley's "Sightseers" and drawn some conclusions about that film's intentions and wobbly rate of return, can go to town on "Free Fire" once the name of Martin Scorsese appears in the same capacity. It features a closed group of armed characters in a sealed location, a weapons deal that collapses in mistrust and sweary machismo, plus some ironic popular music on the soundtrack; so the director is hugging a certain strain of American crime story pretty tightly, at a time when that strain has become so naturalized as to have lost a lot of its virulence and surely all its surprise. Mr. Wheatley has a distinctive cinematic temperament, a very British high-altitude remove that on the domestic scene stands out so much that it might count as auteurist; but it isn't the right tool for all jobs.

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Part Company

Emmanuel Guionet/2016 Tribeca Film Festival

Reset (2017)

The documentary “Reset” recounts Benjamin Millepied’s brief tenure as the director of dance at the Paris Opera Ballet. Mr. Millepied rose to fame as a principal at the New York City Ballet, and went on to found the L.A. Dance Project and choreograph Darren Aronofsky’s “Black Swan.” But he remained an outsider to the Paris Opera Ballet for not having risen within its ranks.

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