Child Nonsupport

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Anna Matveeva/Sony Pictures Classics

MOVIE REVIEW
Loveless (2017)

As a metaphor, “Loveless” is as subtle as an anvil. As an examination of a very ordinary way lives can be ruined, it’s spectacular and devastating. It’s somehow both extremely kind and extremely cruel, although often the kindness is given to the people who need it the least. And it all hangs on one moment in a restaurant – more on which later.

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Taking Back the Night

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61st BFI London Film Festival

MOVIE REVIEW
Beauty and the Dogs (2017)

Two young women are jammed together in a toilet stall. Mariam (Mariam Al Ferjani) has ripped her dress; her roommate has brought a blue one for her to borrow. She gets changed; they fix their makeup and take some selfies after Mariam dodges a call from her father. They enter a club for a private party, which is in a beachfront hotel; and after a little welcome chat from someone at their university get down to dancing. There’s a cute guy. Mariam gets to talking to him and they go outside together.

This meet-cute-gone-wrong between Mariam and the cute guy (Ghanem Zrelli), whose name turns out to be Youssef, is depicted in nine single steadicam shots lasting around 11 minutes each. The technical skill it must have taken to put these shots together is worn extremely lightly. The pacing is not always great, but that gives us some breathing room during the worst night of Mariam’s life. Because once she left the hotel, she became the victim of a crime.

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Time to Die

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Stephen Vaughan/Warner Brothers Pictures

MOVIE REVIEW
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

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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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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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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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What Women Want

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Nicole Rivelli/IFC Films

MOVIE REVIEW
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.

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Bearer of Bad News

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Joe Anderson/The Orchard

MOVIE REVIEW
Christine (2016)

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?

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How the West Was Worn-Out

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Sam Emerson/Columbia Pictures

MOVIE REVIEW
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.

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