Inequality for All

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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

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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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We Can Do It

Suffragette-movie-review-sarah-gavron-carey-mulligan
Steffan Hill/Focus Features

MOVIE REVIEW
Suffragette (2015)

Watching movies in school — on a television borrowed from the AV closet with a bunch of kids chatting and heckling and teasing each other — is a pretty good test of how a film stands. When the movie is good it can rise above this setting. But movies in school also serve another, broader purpose; they make tangible the stories kids ignore in their history books. They enable the kids to feel what it would have been like to be alive at that time and in that place, to feel their feelings and understand how the people who lived 100 years ago were not so different from us right now. And if a movie is really good, it makes the kids think about how its story is relevant now. On those levels, “Suffragette” succeeds admirably.

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Sinking Into Despair

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Jeremy Pelzer/Pinewood Pictures

MOVIE REVIEW
Pressure (2015)

Most of us don’t spend our time thinking about the world’s infrastructure. We turn a button on the stove; and there is gas with which to cook dinner. “Pressure” is about the men who are on the front line of making that happen. That front line happens to be at the bottom of the ocean, where they travel in submersibles only loosely tethered to larger ships. They walk in diving suits along the sea floor to do underwater welding, if necessary. This is an amazing place to work; and the underwater setting, at the edge of human endurance, is a great place for telling an interest story. Unfortunately “Pressure” buckles.

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Blood Thick as Thieves

Anti-social-movie-review-gregg-sulkin
Kingsway Films

MOVIE REVIEW
Anti-Social (2015)

You know how when someone means well; and his or her heart is in the right place; but he or she just doesn’t quite get it, right? “Anti-Social” is that, in film form. It wants to be a commentary on the fine line between legal and illegal ways of making a living and ends up being a budget fantasia about both. It doesn’t quite succeed, but it’s a film that’s impossible to hate.

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Teacher's Pet

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David Dare Parker/A24

MOVIE REVIEW
Son of a Gun (2015)

This Australian crime caper doesn’t quite know what to do with itself. It has Ewan McGregor, perfectly cast as a man who remains a fundamentally decent human being even while murdering villains left and right. It has Alicia Vikander — about five minutes before she becomes a global superstar — as an appealingly vulnerable combination of curdling sexuality and stifled intelligence. It has one of the most inventive settings for a robbery in cinema history. And somehow — somehow — the movie blows it.

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Something Was Missing

Annie-movie-review-jamie-foxx-quvenzhané-wallis
Barry Wetcher/Columbia Pictures

MOVIE REVIEW
Annie (2014)

The 1982 “Annie” was my first experience in the cinema. I thought the whole experience was wonderful. Basically I was Annie: I was a little girl, mistreated by the adults in her life, who deserved to be plucked from nothing and set up in the big time. I wanted red hair; I wanted the red dress; I wanted a smelly old dog. And at the big finale — when Annie is chased up the crane and has to be rescued by the Sikh bodyguard — I was so frightened that I had to be removed from the theater in screaming and crying disgrace. We then got the movie on Betamax and I watched it approximately a billion times before I turned 10 years old, without any further disgracing, as I believe. Although I have not seen the original for some time, “Annie,” as was, remains one of the cleverest movies aimed at little girls, who are natural hams perfectly happy to believe that their parents/guardians are big meanies and a better life is waiting for them, if only someone would see how special they are. As a child, the original political satire of the comic strip on which all is based was utterly lost on me. But I never did understand why, when it was obvious Daddy Warbucks had the ability to take all of them on, only Annie was adopted.

The new “Annie,” directed by Will Gluck, time-shifts the story to right now while keeping many of the original elements almost the same. Annie (Quvenzhané Wallis) now lives in the overcrowded apartment of her alcoholic foster mother Miss Hannigan (Cameron Diaz) in Harlem. Safely in midtown, cell-phone billionaire William Stacks (Jamie Foxx) is running for mayor on a platform of “never drop a citizen” (as if citizens were calls) while definitively not being a man of the people. One day he saves Annie from a traffic accident; the resulting viral video and bump in the poll numbers causes his chief-of-staff Guy (Bobby Cannavale, who has finally made the big time and visibly enjoys every second) propose that he foster Annie to ensure he wins the election. Stacks’ lonely assistant Grace (Rose Byrne, who is quietly carving herself one of the most interesting career paths in modern Hollywood) is of course roped in to do the practical stuff, as she is a woman. And of course spoilers follow: Kids, go play outside or something!

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Odd Man Out

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Studiocanal

MOVIE REVIEW
'71 (2014)

The most unusual thing about this thriller is that it exists at all. The situation in Northern Ireland was so tense, fraught and full of horror that an accurate, clear-sighted telling of it has been almost impossible to do. Steve McQueen’s “Hunger” — which many critics loved but this one loathed, did open the doors for a more visceral type of discussion about the Troubles — in the focus on the minds and bodies instead of the politics of the relevant people. Written by a Scot (Gregory Burke), funded with British money and directed by a French-Algerian (Yann Demange), “ ’71” has no apparent interest in sectarian propaganda of any kind. Any of these things is extremely unusual; but the combination is, until now, unheard of. And the result is one of the sharpest British movies in some time.

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