The Fast and the Fallacious

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Maarten Vanden Abeele/Wild Bunch

MOVIE REVIEW
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

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Scott Patrick Green/A24

MOVIE REVIEW
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

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Parisa Taghizadeh/Sony Pictures Classics

MOVIE REVIEW
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

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Sundance Institute

MOVIE REVIEW
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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Bust for Life

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Jaap Buitendijk/TriStar Pictures

MOVIE REVIEW
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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Crapshoot

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Studiocanal

MOVIE REVIEW
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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Unsung Heroes

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2016 Tribeca Film Festival

MOVIE REVIEW
Bad Rap (2016)

The documentary “Bad Rap” encapsulates the travails of Asian-American rappers striving to make their voices heard. Some profiled here are relatively well known, most notably Awkwafina, who has parlayed her viral hit into VH1 punditry and bit movie roles. Another is Dumbfounded, an underground artist who recently garnered mainstream attention spitting verses on #OscarsSoWhite and #WhitewashedOut with the viral track “Safe.” Jin, the first Asian-American rapper to score a major label deal following an impressive freestyle-battle winning streak on BET, gets honorable-mention treatment.

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Part Company

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Emmanuel Guionet/2016 Tribeca Film Festival

MOVIE REVIEW
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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Suspicious Minds

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Steve Dietl/Bleecker Street

MOVIE REVIEW
Elvis & Nixon (2016)

Extrapolating entirely from a photo of Richard Nixon and Elvis Presley shaking hands in the Oval Office, “Elvis & Nixon” reimagines the events leading up to the curious meeting between the king of rock and roll (Michael Shannon) and the disgraced former president (Kevin Spacey). Suffice it to say, there’s less value to the history lesson on offer here than, say, the one from “Frost/Nixon.”

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Daddy Issues

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Sony Pictures Classics

MOVIE REVIEW
Toni Erdmann (2016)

This deeply strange German movie is about the limits of not only capitalism but also the human heart. Although it is focused on a German father and daughter, it is set mainly in Romania with characters who almost all speak at least three languages fluently. There is a genuinely outré sex scene which you will remember every time you see petit fours for the rest of your life. It’s being described as a comedy; but since the comedy is an odd combination of pathos and slapstick, it’s not the relaxing kind of laughter. In other words, this is a genuine one-off.

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