Sony Pictures Classics
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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Nicole Rivelli/IFC Films
Certain Women (2016)
Kelly Reichardt is starting to get deserved attention for her style of filmmaking, which is the quiet telling of ordinary working-class stories in western America from a woman’s point of view. Michelle Williams was the first big-name actress to realize what Ms. Reichardt was doing; they made “Wendy and Lucy” together in 2008, and then “Meek’s Cutoff” in 2011 – a historically accurate film about a lost group of settlers in 1840s Oregon. There is no one else making movies like hers in America now, and for that reason a lot more people are paying attention. With that attention, she has chosen to adapt three loosely-linked short stories by Maile Meloy about women in and around Livingston, Mont.
Continue reading "What Women Want" »
Joe Anderson/The Orchard
As people were exiting the cinema after the London Film Festival showing, the chatter all seemed to agree that Christine Chubbuck had a mental illness of some kind. That without that mental illness she would not have done what she did. But we had just spent two hours watching a film in which the chain came together, link by link, that made her decision a small step – not a giant, unexplainable leap. Do we have to hide behind mental illness because this story from 1974 feels very close now? Or is the movie by Antonio Campos so bad that it’s easy to miss the point?
Continue reading "Bearer of Bad News" »
Sam Emerson/Columbia Pictures
The Magnificent Seven (2016)
Remakes interest because, in making an old story new, they tell us what is important now. “The Magnificent Seven” is of course a remake of a remake – and “The Seven Samurai” remains one of the most influential films in cinema. It was one of the first to show the assembling of a team for a fight against a superior enemy, which is all cinema (especially the superhero kind) seems to be these days. When it’s done again with this level of expertise and charm, it’s easy to overlook the things we should be focusing on.
Continue reading "How the West Was Worn-Out" »
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" »
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" »