Gang Up


The Hill Where Lionesses Roar (2021)

The awkward title might sound better in the original Albanian. The lionesses are three poor, socially outcast 18-year-olds in an Albanian-speaking village in Kosovo, impatiently kicking their heels as they wait to discover if they have passed their college entrance exams. Education is the only ticket out, and they are desperate for its escape; no country will give them visas without an education, and none of them want to spend their lives in their backwater town, cleaning toilets or cutting hair like their mothers. They have ambitions but no one else has any of these things for them. But as the summer passes their dreams alter, twisting a coming-of-age story into something else altogether.

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R. Arpajou/Kino Lorber

France (2021)

At a press conference held by President Emmanuel Macron, the first question goes to famous and well-respected TV journalist France de Meurs (Léa Seydoux). Her question is so scorchingly insulting it takes the president a little while to answer, and as he does, France makes eye contact with her assistant, Lou (Blanche Gardin) at the side of the room. They egg each other on with increasingly obscene gestures, laughing in triumph, as he wriggles on her journalistic hook. It’s very clear writer-director Bruno Dumont is using real footage of Mr. Macron, edited together for the appearance of a real event with Ms. Seydoux C.G.I.-ed in – something American cinema hasn’t allowed itself to do with a sitting leader since the speech purportedly given by Bill Clinton in 1996’s “Contact.” This is by far the most interesting part of the movie.

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Sleuth Operator

Glen Wilson/Netflix

The Guilty (2021)

Some years ago, Halle Berry starred in a movie about a Los Angeles emergency dispatcher plagued with guilt and chained to her phones called “The Call.” A few years ago, Tom Hardy starred in a movie about a man overwhelmed with responsibility and chained to the phone in his car having the worst night of his life called “Locke.” Neither of these were the impetus for “The Guilty” – that was a Danish film of the same name that came out in 2018. But if you mashed up “Locke” and “The Call,” you have the idea; an emergency dispatcher suddenly has the worst night of his life. It all takes place at a few desks in the 911 dispatch center in Los Angeles, in the middle of last summer’s wildfires, and Jake Gyllenhaal is the man chained to his phones, desperately hoping it’s not too late.

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Opposites Attract


Ali & Ava (2021)

Without putting too fine a point on it, there is no greater signifier of mental illness in the United Kingdom than deliberately “making a show of yourself,” i.e., publicly acting in a way that might draw attention. Yet the most shocking sequence in this improbable British romance between two 50somethings does exactly this. On a busy train, Ali (Adeel Akhtar) is playing his ukulele and singing to Ava (Claire Rushbrook), who is blushing with happiness. These are people from a place who would have learned not to make a show of themselves in the cradle. As a piece of rule-breaking it’s off the charts. So it’s hard to tell which is more shocking: that Ali does it, that Ava is charmed instead of mortified or that the other passengers don’t tut themselves to death.

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Solitary Animal


Aloners (2021)

“Aloners” is being marketed as an exploration of a life isolated by choice, but it felt much more about how easy it can be to become isolated when you’re dealing with grief – especially when your everyday life isn’t all that wonderful in the first place.

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Hostile Work Environment


Violet (2021)

This movie could only have been made in United States, and not just because it’s about what happens when fear is your primary emotion. There’s a sequence of Violet (Olivia Munn) at a party for work – she is a film producer in Los Angeles – mingling with various peers in the large backyard of someone’s lovely home. By the pool there’s an open, catered bar. She orders a dirty martini, which takes a little while to prepare, but when it comes she allows herself only two tiny sips before giving it to a passing waiter. But of course, when she leaves she must pick up her car from the valet parking and drive herself home. No wonder she is fearful and anxious; the lack of external help for something as simple as getting home from a party means true relaxation is an impossible dream. If we needed a metaphor for the emotional state the country has worked itself into, this movie would be a good place to start.

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Sure as Shootin'

Courtesy photo

Ucha Pind (2021)

Though parts of it are culturally specific, “Ucha Pind” easily trumps Hong Kong movies in the number of times ruthless characters double-, triple-, quadruple-cross one another. It sets up the titular village as a lawless gangland under tyrannical rule, but a few dauntless and reckless outsiders, who may or may not be working with one another, are willing to challenge boundaries. The violence is also gratuitous and graphic, traits seemingly more characteristic of H.K., South Korean or even Hollywood films.

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Stuck at Home


Islands (2021)

“Islands” shines a light on someone that few would spare a second thought: Joshua (Rogelio Balagtas) is a middle-aged Filipino custodian at a Canadian university who lives with his elderly parents. Although his coworkers invite him for lunch and even offer to pick up the tab, Joshua prefers to sit alone in the breakroom eating baon packed by mom (Vangie Alcasid) and scratching a ticket. He doesn’t have much of a social life, not to mention a love life. When both of his parents become ill and require full-time care, he quits his job to tend to them. Soon after, he relents and calls his cousin Marisol (Sheila Lotuaco), who has just fled an abusive job situation, to help look after mom and dad (Esteban Comilang) and move into his brother’s old room.

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City Still on Fire

Well Go USA

Raging Fire (2021)

Donnie Yen and Nicholas Tse face off in “Raging Fire.” Finally, we have a bona fide Hong Kong action flick more than a decade after the once prolific and self-sustaining industry began to suffer a talent and capital drain mostly to the burgeoning and lucrative mainland Chinese film scene – and also to Hollywood, where Mr. Yen has landed a few supporting roles in high-profile tentpoles such as “Rogue One.”

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Court of Last Resort

Courtesy photo

Chehre (2021)

Any time a movie character on the road suddenly finds themself stranded on some god-forsaken stretch of earth, in rotten weather and with no cell reception to boot, and then a helpful stranger appears out of nowhere to offer refuge, that should raise all kinds of red flags for viewers. But Sameer (Emraan Hashmi) apparently hasn’t seen “Misery” or the recent “In the Earth,” so he follows Bhullar (Annu Kapoor) to a chateau where a group of giddy seniors eagerly awaits a visitation.

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