Linda Kallerus/Broad Green Pictures
Learning to Drive (2015)
In the same way that the feel of an average Sundance festival film is usually apparent before the opening credits have wound up, Isabel Coixet's "Learning to Drive" wears its origins as a New Yorker article on its sleeve. A gentle meander through the social and emotional lives of two decent middle-aged adults in a multicultural New York, it's a soft-centered comedy of manners in which understanding your wayward spouse might be less tough than grappling with the Department of Motor Vehicles, but more likely to lead to a quiet life.
Continue reading "Minimum Overdrive" »
13 Minutes (2015)
A lone individual assembling his bombs without obvious radicalization or a network of coconspirators tests the character of all nations, even when that nation is Nazi Germany and has already thrown its character into the trash. Oliver Hirschbiegel's willingness to look the Third Reich in the eye — proven in "Downfall" — carries over into "13 Minutes," the less showy story of Georg Elser's failed attempt to assassinate Hitler motivated by nothing more complex than basic unease: no allies, mania or contingency plans involved. No wonder the gentlemen poking hot wires under Elser's fingernails can't figure him out.
Continue reading "Homeland" »
Gilles Bruno Mingasson
Last Days in the Desert (2015)
The weathered figure emerging from the wilderness after five weeks of contemplation and fasting in "Last Days in the Desert" is referred to either as Yeshua or by the all-purpose epithet of Holy Man; but there's no ambiguity in Rodrigo Garcia's film about who he actually is. And he's also clearly Ewan McGregor, an actor whose skills at underplaying inner conflicts don't get much of a run out these days but which potentially suit the son of God and his inklings of an appointment at Calvary pretty well. If you happen to think that a hyperbolic screen Jesus is the wrong approach, then Mr. Garcia's sober and sedate film may be right up your aisle.
Continue reading "Holy Family Business" »
Agatha A. Nitecka
45 Years (2015)
After "Weekend" cast a nonjudgmental eye over the couplings of people savoring their early decades on Earth, "45 Years" looks with equal tolerance at a married couple hovering around their seventh — in the process confirming Andrew Haigh as one of current British cinema's rarely-spotted authentic humanists. With the domestic industry's choices too often amounting to use of the heritage card, indulgence in histrionic aggro or a swing the other way into micromanaged oxygen starvation, Mr. Haigh once again proves to be one of those searching for a fourth way.
Continue reading "That's Amour" »
The Legend of Barney Thomson (2015)
Robert Carlyle gets a bad case of the accidental serial-killer blues in "The Legend of Barney Thomson," playing a sad-sack Glasgow barber with an unfortunate tendency to stab people with the styling shears. Poorly suited to employment burnishing other mens' self-image and tied to the apron strings of a potty-mouth mother whose manner could alarm the horses, Barney's impotent frustration with life's unfairness leads him into a new sideline as what looks like Scotland's least ingenious murderer. Unfortunately for him, another — rather more skillful — one of those is on the prowl already, sending victims' severed body parts through the post and confounding a police force of Keystone-level uselessness.
Continue reading "Bad Hair Day" »
The Face of an Angel (2015)
With daunting synchronicity, Michael Winterbottom's sideways meditation on the Meredith Kercher murder trial arrives just as Italian justice passes another milestone on its lengthy process of failing to get to the bottom of the case. Mr. Winterbottom and writer Paul Viragh aren't heading in that direction either, since "The Face of an Angel" has more abstract fish to fry than who precisely stabbed whom. Its business is the male heart and ego; specifically the ones inside Thomas (Daniel Brühl), whose efforts to navigate the fallout from a very similar legal case are derailed by neuroses, heartbreak, an inability to keep his pants on and a prodigious intake of gak. He is, needless to say, in the movie business.
Continue reading "The Italian Mob" »
Depictions of child poverty in well-meaning screen entertainments are bound to end up fudging the heart of the matter, since catching even five percent of the true grinding horror would bring an audience to its knees. "Trash" can't really do anything about that, substituting instead a YA tone of earnest adolescent adventuring in a landscape of adult corruption and violence — ultimately the easier option.
Although Andy Mulligan's source novel described a slum of imprecise location, Stephen Daldry's film plants its flag in Rio de Janeiro, giving the greedy politicians and murderous cops an imminent Olympic bonanza as extra rationale for lining their own pockets and ignoring the kids rummaging through their garbage mountains. Three of those — Raphael (Rickson Tevez), Gardo (Eduardo Luis) and Rato (Gabriel Weinstein) — find evidence of high-level corruption in a discarded wallet somewhere in there, and the chase is on.
Continue reading "Modern Life Is Rubbish" »
Stations of the Cross (2014)
Dietrich Brüggemann's deftly moving film about the dire consequences of religious devotion teeters between black satire and blacker comedy, but settles in the end on simple tragedy. "Stations of the Cross" adapts the stages of the Via Dolorosa into 14 extended scenes of staged formal rigor, an ongoing domestic calamity regarded almost entirely from a stationary camera at roughly eye level.
Continue reading "Suffer Little Children" »
Winter Sleep (2014)
"Winter Sleep" crosses the tape at 196 minutes; long enough to watch all of "Once Upon a Time in Anatolia" and then revisit the first quarter of it all over again. Whether Nuri Bilge Ceylan's recent running times are an indulgence, a tactic or a mistake — he himself says that he pays the matter no mind at all — it again allows him to divide a film into formidably gorgeous tectonic plates of narrative, grinding against each other at geological pace while the men and women traveling on them completely fail to understand each other.
Continue reading "Giant Steppes" »
Anna Matveeva/Sony Pictures Classics
"Leviathan" suggests an entire nation marooned in state of despair. Andrey Zvyagintsev's new inquiry into the wrong turns taken by modern Russia reaches much the same conclusions as his previous ones, but tells a more explicitly political tale in the process — which makes the fate of the little people caught in the wash seem even more pitiable and inescapable than ever.
Continue reading "Northern Exposure" »