Baby Talk

The-pod-generation-movie-review-emilia-clarke-chiwetel-ejiofor
Courtesy of Sundance Institute

MOVIE REVIEW
The Pod Generation (2023)

Into this moment of tension over reproductive rights lands "The Pod Generation," a gentle sci-fi satire of parental unease that isn't toothless but wants to try mediation and understanding rather than scream at anyone in anger. Whether this is actually a failing, or bad timing, or just a missed opportunity might depend on the eye of the beholder along with their feelings about the set of reproductive organs lower down; but it does produce a film skirting around the full nature of its own topic at a safe distance so as not to get singed.

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Everybody Hurts

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Dustin Lane/Courtesy of Sundance Institute

MOVIE REVIEW
Sometimes I Think About Dying (2023)

The obvious joke that "Sometimes I Think About Dying" could have come from the Sundance Random Title Generator is deflated a bit by the fact that the film already heard this gag, back when the original short of the same name played at the festival in 2019. But the shoe does fit. The new expansion is from the same writers - Stefanie Abel Horowitz who also directed the short, Katy Wright-Mead who also starred in it, and Kevin Armento who wrote the original play that inspired both short and feature - and has the same outline: a meek, introverted Fran (here Daisy Ridley) is lonely and depressed in the overcast Oregon gloom. The short was essentially a two-hander, while this feature, directed by Rachel Lambert, has room for all the co-workers Fran endures at her office job, well-meaning overly upbeat cubicle dwellers that might make anyone consider oblivion, if not freelancing.

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Double or Quits

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Neon

MOVIE REVIEW
Infinity Pool (2023)

Brandon Cronenberg's previous film, "Possessor," had moments of gore and violence, while manipulating you mostly through drastic quiet unease about mind and body; a film in which Andrea Riseborough calmly stared at you while you were staring at her. "Infinity Pool" barges in and breaks the window and makes a mess on the floor; a film in which Mia Goth screams at you about your unease until you decide that maybe you don't feel so bad. Emboldened, reasonably enough, by the last film's success, Mr. Cronenberg now attacks on multiple fronts. In "Infinity Pool" there are clones and doubles and sleight of hand about which is which. There are rich white people going off the deep end into drug-fuelled violence in a country offensively poorer than Los Angeles. There's a bag of storytelling tactics, harsh editing and strobe lighting and subliminal glimpses of genitalia, the tool kit that gets called experimental - but really isn't because it isn't chasing a state of mind, just an instant of disorientation, not the same thing. All these flammable items go into the test tube, without catching fire.

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The Boy Can't Help It

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Courtesy of Sundance Institute

MOVIE REVIEW
Little Richard: I Am Everything (2023)

Baz Luhrmann's film "Elvis," already cooking at 450 Fahrenheit, is goosed even further when Alton Mason turns up playing Little Richard, screaming "Wop Bop-A-Loo-Bop" from a range of two inches as you rock backwards in your seat. Mr. Mason gives "Tutti Frutti" all he's got; but even skilled impersonations of Little Richard look like best guesses after 10 seconds of reminder about the real thing. This is handy for "Little Richard: I Am Everything," a documentary about the life and career of the singer born Richard Wayne Penniman, which samples a range of his performances but opts not to run any of them at length or let archive footage of the singer in action just unspool. The film wants to talk about the many contradictions and agonies in Little Richard the man, rather than the thermal updraft of the music; and for those issues, you have to hear him speak.

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Trial by Fire

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Super Ltd.

MOVIE REVIEW
Saint Omer (2023)

As fairytales are to children, courtroom cases are to adults. A terrible thing has happened; and society comes together in a highly structured and regulated format to decide how to handle it. Instead of the terrible thing, the focus becomes the process of how society deals with it. A courtroom is a mirror of society, but structural issues such as racism or sexism are not under its purview; only individual actions are up for discussion. And once the decision of the court is made, the terrible thing can be wrapped up with a tidy little bow. Whether or not justice was done is not quite the point.

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Die Another Day

Puss-in-boots-the-last-wish-movie-review-antonio-banderas
DreamWorks Animation

MOVIE REVIEW
Puss In Boots: The Last Wish (2022)

“Puss in Boots” came out in 2011, which is kids’ movie years is back around the dawn of time. Its lead character, the suave sword-fighting cat based on Zorro, was introduced to the “Shrek” universe back in 2004, a.k.a. slightly after the big bang. The big bang in American animation was “Shrek” itself, an anti-fairytale from 2001 that took its studio, DreamWorks Animation, into the big leagues. It changed the animation game both stylistically, moving away from hand-drawn work into computer animation, and tonally. Shrek was a disgusting ogre who behaved the exact opposite to the picture-perfect characters from a mouse-themed studio. The movie itself was chock full of pop-culture references (bored parents laugh out loud but the references don’t usually age well), it cast famous actors as the characters which permanently altered how animation has been performed since, and furthermore its knowing, snide tone has also been aped by most of non-Disney kids’ movies released in its wake. Once upon a time, all that was fresh, but kids who saw Puss in Boots debut in “Shrek 2” in 2004 have their own kids now.

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Family Business

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Neon

MOVIE REVIEW
Broker (2022)

“Broker” is a mess. It doesn’t quite know what point it wants to make about parents who can’t, or won’t, look after their babies, which means that it’s never sure where its sympathies ought to lie. At the start it seems simple. It’s a rainy night when a young woman in a black raincoat approaches a church in Busan, South Korea. It has a baby box, a place where unwanted infants can be safely left, but instead the young woman leaves her baby on the ground. Two other women (Bae Doona and Lee Joo-young) are watching from a car, and one approaches the baby and puts him in the box instead. What? Inside the church two men pick up the baby and delete the security camera footage. Wait, what? One of those men in Dong-soo (Gang Dong-won), who works part-time in the orphanage attached to the church; the other is his friend Sang-hyun (Song Kang-ho). Sang-hyun and Dong-soo are traffickers (the “brokers” of the title), prepared to sell abandoned infants for, well, it depends on the gender. Male babies are 10 million won (£6,200/$7,600). Female ones are 8 million won (£5,000/$6,100). This baby, whose name, Woo-sung (Park Ji-yong), is left in a note, is a male one.

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This Woman's Work

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BFI National Archive

MOVIE REVIEW
Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975)

Sight and Sound magazine is the leading repository of film criticism. It used to be the critical outlet of record – i.e., it was responsible for reviewing every single movie released in British cinemas – and is still one of the main resources for critical thinking on world cinema and non-Hollywood movies in Britain. As part of the British Film Institute, its critical reportage also aligns with the repertory program of the BFI cinemas in central London. And once a decade, the magazine asks hundreds of people heavily involved with cinema what the 10 best movies of all time are. There are no constraints on what people can choose, and this time 1,600 critics, film professionals and generally interesting people were polled. And the new film that headed the poll was a shocker. It was “Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles,” a Belgian movie about a widowed housewife made in 1975 by a 25-year-old woman, Chantal Akerman. It was only her second film. As a result of the poll result, “Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles” is now available to stream for the first time ever in Britain, and will be shown via a BFI program in cinemas around Britain next year. It is suddenly up for critical reassessment in a way that few movies are ever granted, and the reasons for that are just as interesting as the film itself.

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Faulty Memory

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A24

MOVIE REVIEW
Aftersun (2022)

First time writer-director Charlotte Wells very nearly did an excellent job with “Aftersun,” but she didn’t trust herself to get her point across, and overdoes it so badly the whole movie spoils. The framing device of adult Sophie (Celia Rowlson-Hall) obsessively revisiting the camcorder footage of a holiday her 11-year-old self (Frankie Corio) took with her absentee father Calum (Paul Mescal, playing five years older than his real age), is completely unnecessary. Worse, Ms. Wells doesn’t trust the audience to figure out the import of this story, and therefore included several brief scenes about Calum’s state of mind which Sophie is not party to. The scene on the dive boat is an unforgivable cheat; the same point is just as beautifully, and more sadly made, when Sophie asks Calum how he spent his own eleventh birthday. But “Aftersun” is not meant to be an exercise in realism; it’s one of memory, and how wallowing in thin evidence can build its own narrative. That constructed narrative is not necessarily accurate of course, but that’s a problem for another film.

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Crash Dive

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Vince Valitutti/Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures

MOVIE REVIEW
Thirteen Lives (2022)

“Apollo 13” might have been the film that changed the game in Hollywood. It was a dramatic re-enactment of a real-life event most people had either forgotten about, or not quite understood the historical importance of. But that aborted space flight happened in 1970; and Ron Howard directed the movie version in 1995. Nowadays the rush to adapt real-life events into filmic re-enactments happens almost as soon as news cameras arrive on the ground. “Thirteen Lives” is about a Thai football team getting trapped in a flooded cave in 2018 – that is to say, four years ago. The teenagers who were in that cave are still teenagers now. Is that a spoiler? But how can it be, when the incident is so fresh in our minds? So what Mr. Howard needed to do was find an angle like what “Apollo 13” had. In that case, it was to remind us of human ingenuity in times of crisis and what humanity lost by stopping our exploration of the universe. It is unfortunate that this time around, Mr. Howard did no such thing.

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