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Putting the Con in Connoisseur

Sour-grapes-movie-review
Dogwoof Global

MOVIE REVIEW
Sour Grapes (2016)

The best movies are supposedly about one thing, but – if you pay attention to the subtext – are really about something else. “Sour Grapes” begins as a movie about how a wealthy young Chinese-Indonesian, Rudy Kurniawan, showed up in Los Angeles and permanently altered the way wines are sold across the world. It ends as a movie about something else entirely; but to their great shame, the directors bottle it.

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A Matter of Black Lives

The-hard-stop-movie-review-marcus-knox-hooke-kurtis-henville
BFI London Film Festival 2015

MOVIE REVIEW
The Hard Stop (2016)

The press screening of “The Hard Stop” was on June 22, the night before the referendum during which the Britain voted to leave the European Union. Since then the country has gone through enough upheaval to fill a thousand history books, and it is very far from over yet. But the most visible result of the referendum on British streets has been an increase of racist abuse — from an American academic being told to “go back to Africa” on a Manchester tram, to the Polish center in Hammersmith being daubed with abuse. It is a nasty, uncertain time, especially for immigrants and for people of color who are perceived to be immigrants regardless of their actual status. But there has as yet been no civil unrest like Britain experienced five years ago, after a man named Mark Duggan was shot dead by police in north London. After the shooting and the riots, director George Amponsah picked up a camera and began filming Kurtis Henville and Marcus Knox-Hooke, two friends of Mr. Duggan’s, while the investigation into the shooting was carried out. Mr. Knox-Hooke was so involved in the rioting that he was put on trial for instigating them; his act of smashing the window of a police car was found to be the spark which led to five deaths, hundreds of millions of pounds in property damage and criminal trials against thousands of people.

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Low-Hanging Forbidden Fruit

Bang-gang-a-modern-love-story-movie-review-marilyn-lima-lorenzo-lefebvre
Samuel Goldwyn Films

MOVIE REVIEW
Bang Gang (A Modern Love Story) (2016)

With her first feature, Eva Husson has set out her calling card to be France’s Catherine Hardwicke — which is a major compliment. She has made a movie which gets under the skin of what it’s like to be a teenager and doesn’t shy away from either the good or the bad. But Ms. Hardwicke is American. Ms. Husson has made a movie which right now could only have been made in France, which looks at how teenagers explore their sexuality. And in a major miracle she has done this without exploiting her actors.

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Inequality for All

The-divide-movie-review
Dartmouth Films

MOVIE REVIEW
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.

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Just a Slob Like One of Us

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Le Pacte

MOVIE REVIEW
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.

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Coming Home to Roost

Iona-movie-review-ruth-negga
Verve Pictures

MOVIE REVIEW
Iona (2016)

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.

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House of Godforsaken

The-club-movie-review-jaime-vadell-alfredo-castro-alejandro-goic-alejandro-sieveking
Music Box Films

MOVIE REVIEW
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.

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Caesar Salad Days

Hail-caesar-movie-review-josh-brolin
Alison Rosa/Universal Studios

MOVIE REVIEW
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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Penthouse and Pavement

High-rise-movie-review-tom-hiddleston
Studiocanal

MOVIE REVIEW
High-Rise (2016)

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.

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Live. Let Die. Repeat.

Spectre-movie-review-daniel-craig
Columbia Pictures

MOVIE REVIEW
Spectre (2015)

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.

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