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" »
Larry D. Horricks/Studiocanal
Susanne Bier's odd, mournful, memorable "Serena" looks like a western, sounds like a costume drama and behaves like a Greek tragedy; a potent combination to which the word uncommercial might also apply. Its central couple — would-be timber magnate George (Bradley Cooper) and new bride Serena (Jennifer Lawrence) — are involved in reshaping 1930s North Carolina and fending off a growing conservation movement, while doom rolls unstoppably toward them like a storm front. Not for nothing is "Serena" scripted by Christopher Kyle, author of two films for Kathryn Bigelow and one for Oliver Stone: large passions brew, big gestures abound — most items in both columns involving Ms. Lawrence.
Continue reading "Sable Clouds Playbook" »
The Rewrite (2014)
Hugh Grant and Marc Lawrence — now as telepathically linked as Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese — continue their long-term project of knocking the actor down a peg or two in "The Rewrite." Way back in "Two Weeks Notice" he was a billionaire, but their latest comedy finds Mr. Grant busted all the way back to Hollywood scriptwriter. And it's tough to get lower than that. Marooned in the sticks by an uncaring Tinseltown, this cynical grinch sees the appeal of honest toil and the affections of a feisty local lady — a plot that once kept Michael J. Fox in business and today feels like being beaten to death with a marshmallow.
Continue reading "Adventures in the Screen Tirade" »
Entertainment One Films US
Maps to the Stars (2014)
Bruce Wagner's novel "Dead Stars" — the sister-mother to his script for David Cronenberg's "Maps to the Stars" once the production process had run its course — is fevered and fixated: a tirade about the sight of Hollywood parents and their kids locked in self-destruction. Its presiding spirits could include Terry Richardson, who's miraculously never actually mentioned; and whoever first hacked into Jennifer Lawrence's iCloud, whose coming is practically foretold. If Mr. Cronenberg had made his film equally feverish it might be easier to embrace, but instead he applies a bucket of cold water. Any actual zeitgeist is given such a wide berth that everything happens in a safely isolated sandpit, somewhere in a Never-Never-La-La-Land.
Continue reading "Burn Hollywood Burn" »
The Riot Club (2014)
"The Riot Club" wants to mortify and astonish, presenting a bunch of Oxford University's finest on an apocalyptic privilege-fueled binge through a country pub which leaves no prole uninsulted, no woman unmistreated and one well-meaning innocent on a saline drip for the crime of social climbing. But the satire is surely old news, certainly for anyone primed by the gloriously awful old photo of David Cameron and pals in the preening outfits of the Bullingdon Club, an image that no copyright lawyer can now stake through the heart — the film recreates a version of it, just in case. Most of Lone Scherfig's movie is spent shaking the English establishment so warmly by the throat that it summons up Monty Python's "Upper-Class Twit of the Year" as much as anything else.
Continue reading "Let England Shake" »
Before I Go to Sleep (2014)
Nicole Kidman spends the bulk of "Before I Go to Sleep" in a state of high anxiety, although only an audience prepared to leave all skepticism at the door will be able to say the same. Despite the best efforts of Colin Firth to seem mysterious and Mark Strong to inspire trust – so a bit of a stretch for both of them – what vitality there is in the film comes from Ms. Kidman's cowering, shrieking and panicking; and even that's not really the actor's strong suit.
Continue reading "Unloving Memory" »
Christine Plenus/Sundance Selects
Two Days, One Night (2014)
The arrival of Marion Cotillard's star wattage into the midst of Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne's template of realist urban travails in "Two Days, One Night" turns out to have little effect on the brothers' business model, which trundles merrily onward as if nothing untoward had happened. It does though bring to mind some fresh questions about their success rate, especially for any refuseniks already inclined to wonder how reliably they succeed at all.
Continue reading "Labor Pains" »
Nicole Rivelli/Vértigo Films
Welcome to New York (2014)
The pre-emptive disclaimer opening Abel Ferrara's "Welcome to New York" urges that no one interpret the film as commenting on any real-life events in particular; but its lines are so far apart that reading between them and detecting the name of Dominique Strauss-Kahn is taken for granted. Duly primed, the audience is then dealt a disorientating conversation between Gérard Depardieu and three rapt listeners, in which he gnomically ponders why he, the actor, took the part. "I'm an anarchist," he growls. "I don't like politicians. I hate them. I prefer acting where I don't like the guy." Then you notice that one of the folks paying rapt attention is Shanyn Leigh: a Ferrara regular, memorable in "4:44 Last Day on Earth," a face in "Go Go Tales." She's billed as female journalist. What is going on? Are they holding an acting seminar? Is Mr. Ferrara making a point about life and performance being a hair's breadth apart? The cloying fakery of the rich and shameless? Or just a way to hang the audience by the heels? Ninety seconds in, and it's straight down the rabbit hole.
Continue reading "Mo Money Mo Problems" »