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February 2023


Triptych Pictures

The Survival of Kindness (2022)

This is one of a very few movies that is without language (absolutely not the same thing as being silent), which means “The Survival of Kindness” is to be recommended on that basis alone. The lack of language is a crucial part of the film's message, which is about the brutality of racism, especially as that manifests in Australia. And for the most part it works extremely well, until it doesn't.

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Hope Floats

TS Production/Longride

On the Adamant (2023)

In 2002 Nicolas Philibert scored a major international hit with “To Be and To Have,” a documentary about a year in the life of a small rural school. That film took pains to disguise that the school was small because it was for children who needed greater care and individual attention. Now Mr. Philibert has outdone himself and won the Golden Bear at this year’s Berlinale with “On the Adamant,” but here the people needing greater care and individual attention are adults. The Adamant is a day center for patients at a mental hospital serving central Paris, built on a repurposed barge permanently tethered on the Seine; and the atmosphere is one of gentle growth and support. Adults are not as inherently sympathetic as little children, of course. But over the course of the film sympathy for the tribulations of the attendees only grows. As a practitioner of gentle empathy Mr. Philibert is a master.

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Get Along Like a Forest on Fire

Christian Schulz/Schramm Film

Afire (2023)

He wears all black to the beach, so you know without being told that he’s a writer. An insufferable one at that, too. His name is Leon (Thomas Schubert) and he is beside himself with anxiety about his new book, which is expressed through childish sulking and rudeness, as well as an irritating tendency to see the worst in everything. Over the course of the movie – the German title of which literally translates to “red sky” – Leon learns the hard way about the importance of the social graces and the value of human kindness. But the way in which these lessons are taught leave a great deal to be desired.

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Sunset Strip

Warner Brothers Pictures

Magic Mike's Last Dance (2023)

How can an entire film industry look at Channing Tatum for nearly 20 years and still not know what to do with him? Gene Kelly couldn’t believe dancing wasn’t as easy for everyone as it was for him; and his resulting arrogance made him a beloved bad boy. Fred Astaire combined the vibe of a disapproving uncle with a litheness and elegance on his feet that has kept him a byword for physical grace. And Mr. Tatum is like your best friend’s goofy little brother, somehow so likable and charming that you smile just thinking about him. There’s very few actors who have ever had his combination of killer physique, relaxing physicality and sense of humor. He should be surprising us with fresh new tricks as often as Kelly and Astaire did. It is devastating to report that instead “Magic Mike’s Last Dance” doesn’t know what to do with him, either.

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Accessory to Crime

Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Eileen (2023)

While the charming animated movie “Inside Out” made it plain that disgust is one of the core emotions necessary for our survival, it’s also the one people enjoy the least. Therefore a movie about disgust must find a way to portray disgusting things in such a way that audiences are not disgusted themselves. It’s a very, very fine line to walk, and therefore something of an achievement that “Eileen’s” director William Oldroyd does it so well, and no doubt why “Eileen” screened at the Sundance Film Festival. But the human instinct to sniff one’s fingers after masturbating is not to be encouraged.

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Home Care

Courtesy of Sundance Institute

La Pecera (The Fishbowl) (2023)

Noelia (Isel Rodríguez) is a filmmaker in her early 30s living in San Juan, Puerto Rico. She has a colostomy bag and a boyfriend named Jorge (Maximiliano Rivas), whose cloying concern for her is more annoying than the colostomy bag. A fun night celebrating a friend’s birthday involves Jorge serenading Noelia before the entire bar, but also giving her an unpleasant lecture about her behaviors on the way home. This means when Noelia and Jorge get some further news about her health, she shuts him out completely. Instead she gets on the ferry and goes home to her mother, Flora (Magali Carrasquillo), a widow who lives on an island called Vieques and spends her free time clearing the local beaches of land mines the American military left behind. She wears a homemade suit for protection, so it’s fine. Besides, nobody else wants to do it; and somebody has to.

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Down to Earth


All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt (2023)

History wraps around itself while you're watching "All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt," setting the life of one person against those of her parents, grandparents, sister and her own child. Different time periods in the same Mississippi setting mesh together, not urgently for impact but languidly for poetry, events crossing across each other like the wandering tuning of an old radio. Dialogue is sparse but the soundtrack is dense with the noise of rain, insects, running water, while the images are lengthy shots of hands, vegetation and mud. A story about one young rural mother builds up incrementally, a sad story; but the film roots her so firmly into the landscape that she and her pain might be aspects of some larger, more spiritual thing.

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On the Rebound

Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Rye Lane (2023)

South London rise up for “Rye Lane!” Finally we have a fun movie for us! In the past quarter-century, West London has enjoyed posh romcoms like “Notting Hill” or cheery kids movies like “Paddington 2.” North London has worthy tales for the moneyed set of a certain age like “Hampstead” or “Lady in the Van.” East London can claim endless gangster movies (including “Anti-Social,” a.k.a. the one with Meghan Markle) as well as Hollywood attempts at British realism like “Run, Fatboy, Run” and the latest “Tomb Raider.” All south London previously had to call its own was the standalone excellence of “Attack the Block” (which gave us John Boyega) as well as many grim misery-porn crime flicks. (Despite Bridget Jones famously living in Borough Market, in tone and style those are West London movies.) The general common thread of South London movies was violent cliché, like in 2019’s “Blue Story,” a crime thriller with Micheal Ward in his first lead role, which was a big financial success.

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The Awkward Age

Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Judy Blume Forever (2023)

Too often as a culture we wait until someone is dead before we say nice things about them. Judy Blume’s books have meant a great deal to a great many people. Since her first one was published in 1969 they have sold over 82 million copies; to put it another way, that’s about 4,000 books a day, nonstop, for over 50 years. Since most young adult literature has a shelf life of a decade – the time it takes for a generation to grow up – this is an earth-shattering achievement. Certainly at this reviewer’s school, Judy Blumes were passed around in secret, with absolute shock that an adult was talking about sex, masturbation and bullying, in ways which understood what we were feeling too. Ms. Blume’s great talent is for dealing with the dramas of being nine as seriously as the dramas of being 19, or 49, and being able to articulate all the feelings kids experience but can’t articulate themselves. Very few have matched her achievements, and on this scale it’s unlikely to happen again.

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Queer as Folk

Michael Lavine/Courtesy of Sundance Institute

It's Only Life After All (2023)

Young people seem to think the open-minded acceptance most queer people currently enjoy has always been the case, instead of the biggest cultural shift most gay people over 40 have seen in their lifetimes. Amy Ray and Emily Saliers met in elementary school in Georgia in the ’70s and admired each other all through their schooling. As teenagers, they realized they had similar interests in music and songwriting, and some time later, when they ended up at the same college, they realized that together they were something special. They both had singing and guitar talent; Emily had the knack for writing catchy songs, and Amy had the drive to make things happen. They called themselves Indigo Girls, and the rest is documentary history.

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