One String Short of a Samisen

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Laika Studios/Focus Features

MOVIE REVIEW
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.

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Equal Opportunist

Equity-movie-review-anna-gunn
Sony Pictures Classics

MOVIE REVIEW
Equity (2016)

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.

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Putting the Con in Connoisseur

Sour-grapes-movie-review
Dogwoof Global

MOVIE REVIEW
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.

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A Matter of Black Lives

The-hard-stop-movie-review-marcus-knox-hooke-kurtis-henville
BFI London Film Festival 2015

MOVIE REVIEW
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.

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Low-Hanging Forbidden Fruit

Bang-gang-a-modern-love-story-movie-review-marilyn-lima-lorenzo-lefebvre
Samuel Goldwyn Films

MOVIE REVIEW
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.

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Inequality for All

The-divide-movie-review
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

The-club-movie-review-jaime-vadell-alfredo-castro-alejandro-goic-alejandro-sieveking
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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