Laika Studios/Focus Features
Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)
A young boy named Kubo (voiced by Art Parkinson) lives in a cave on top of a mountain with his mother. His mother has been mentally disabled since she hit her head when Kubo was a tiny baby, so he is her carer. He also has only one eye, because at his birth his grandfather and aunts kidnapped and tried to blind him. The beautiful but nihilistic opening sequence shows all this. In the daytimes he goes down to the village with his samisen and some magical origami paper, and tells the story of a samurai named Hanzo for food. He always heeds his mother’s warnings not to stay out after dark — until one day he doesn’t.
Continue reading "One String Short of a Samisen" »
Sony Pictures Classics
This is an interesting movie about the world of finance, made extremely interesting by the fact that three of its main characters are women. The fact of their being women is both incidental and intrinsic to the plot. This movie is so, so smart, in a way that intelligence is rarely depicted onscreen — we see people putting strategies in place during bar chitchat that their opponent doesn’t even need to verbalize to understand and respond to. It’s fascinating. And none of this would have broken down the same way if the people involved were all men.
Continue reading "Equal Opportunist" »
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.
Continue reading "Putting the Con in Connoisseur" »
BFI London Film Festival 2015
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.
Continue reading "A Matter of Black Lives" »
Sydney Film Festival 2016
The Commune (2016)
The Copenhagen of the 1970s lurked groovily over the horizon like a seven-day saturnalia to anyone peering toward the source of all the noise from the wrong side of the North Sea at the time. But Thomas Vinterberg revisits the environment of his childhood in "The Commune" and is careful to make it seem brittle, awkward and potentially corrosive to domestic harmony, full of the same misjudged fumblings toward happiness as everywhere else. Based primarily on a play by Mr. Vinterberg and Mogens Rukov and more distantly on the director's own experiences, its characters are either helplessly insensitive or just hard of thinking, as well as adrift in an ocean of beige.
Continue reading "Peace, Free Love and Understanding" »
Little Men (2016)
Ira Sachs's "Love Is Strange" had moments of inspiration from top to bottom; but the most finely honed of all was the last one, when the story of two longtime companions in their 60s ended by drifting dreamily down the generations and following a pair of teenagers on a wordless glide through New York, skateboarding into a future of infinite possibilities. His new film "Little Men" starts with the relationship between two 13-year-old boys and looks up at the adult world of labor and gentrification from there, admitting that the possibilities might not be so infinite in practice. Life goes messily on anyway.
Continue reading "Boyhoods" »
2015 Busan International Film Festival
The Virgin Psychics (2016)
Sion Sono's gonzo gangster-cannibal-hip-hop fantasia "Tokyo Tribe" had its tongue in its cheek and death on its mind; "The Virgin Psychics" puts mortality to one side and gives Eros its day, but without feeling the need to calm down. Originally a manga by Kiminori Wakasugi (and already brought to TV by Mr. Sono in 2013 with a bunch of the same actors as here), it's a relentlessly ribald sci-fi burlesque about a group of young virgins with shared prenatal connections who all acquire lascivious superpowers at the same time. They then get caught up in a particularly carnal version of the end of the world on loan from some cheapo 1970s porn parody - which for all the resulting difficulties certainly looks like more fun than the Midwich Cuckoos ever got up to.
Continue reading "Dickman & Throbbin Ride Again" »
2016 Sundance Film Festival
A Flag Without a Country (2016)
Bahman Ghobadi's new sort-of documentary "A Flag Without a Country" declares itself to be scripted from the lives of its subjects, making it a spiritual cousin of "No One Knows About Persian Cats" - his 2009 film about two Iranian musicians trying to leave the country - which blurred the distinctions between invented characters and nonactors playing themselves into a continuous smudge. It worked then in urban Iran, and it works again now in beleaguered Kurdistan, where a much thinner helping of anything resembling a narrative is balanced by wider humanitarian concerns. "Flag" and "Cats" may share some kindred drollery, but it feels like Mr. Ghobadi has found a suitably fissile material for his method in the faces of Kurdish children scanning a horizon only just far enough away to conceal the ISIS fighters hurrying toward them, as if the interlocking sadnesses of northern Iraq were now dense enough for documentary truth to become bent by gravity on its way out.
Continue reading "It's Time to Listen; It's Time to Fight" »
Samuel Goldwyn Films
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.
Continue reading "Low-Hanging Forbidden Fruit" »
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.
Continue reading "Inequality for All" »