Bending the Law

Loris T. Zambelli

The Last Night of Amore (2023)

Honestly, it should be in the police manual: If it's the last day before your retirement, absolutely do not under any circumstances agree to one last job. And if on the last day before your retirement you agree to one last job, absolutely do not under any circumstances take your single-parent partner along with you. And if on the last day before your retirement you agree to one last job and take your single-parent partner along with you, absolutely do not under any circumstances agree to any, and that means any, change of plan. Of course if the characters had learned any of this, there would be no movie.

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Know When to Hold 'Em

Universal Pictures Content Group

The Adults (2023)

This is a minor movie, your enjoyment of which will mostly depend on your tolerance for watching a group of adult siblings squabble like little kids, but if that is your thing you'll have a wonderful time.

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The Emperor's New Foes

Filmgalerie 451

Seneca – On the Creation of Earthquakes (2023)

When did John Malkovich become this generation's Orson Welles? By this I do not mean as a director. I mean as an actor, able to single-handedly enable the financing and carry the weirdest projects with ease just by showing up? If anyone is in doubt of this, I invite you to enjoy a viewing of “Seneca – On the Creation of Earthquakes,” a ridiculous Eurotrashfire of a movie which could not possibly have existed without him. Why did we stop making movies like this? They are so beautiful and so over the top you feel smarter just for thinking about them.

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Cold Case

Bunya Productions

Limbo (2023)

The town of Limbo is built in the opal mines which dot the Queensland landscape. Literally inside the mines; the town church was hewn out of the rock, as is the eerie motel where Travis (an unrecognizable Simon Baker) pitches up. On arrival the first thing he does is shoot up; he's that kind of a cop. His addiction is controlled, but he's annoyed to be on a fool's errand, a cold case of the disappearance of an Aboriginal girl named Charlotte 20 years ago. But his presence in Limbo won't pass unremarked.

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Celebrations of Life


Tótem (2023)

There's a birthday to celebrate, so sisters Nuria (Monserrat Marañon) and Ale (Marisol Gasé) have a big day of preparations ahead. The party is in their large family home in Mexico City, with Nuria's little daughter, Esther (Saori Gurza), and their niece Sol (Naíma Sentíes, who radiates a knowingness unusual in a little kid) underfoot. Their father, Roberto (Alberto Amador), who speaks with a voicebox, is still seeing his therapy patients in his studio as usual, which hardly helps. Sol's mother, Lucía (Iazua Larios), has had to go to work but she’ll be back for the party, which is for Sol's dad, the sisters’ sweet artist brother, Tona (Mateo García Elizondo). He is barely in his 30s, and lives in a slightly separate, quieter part of the house, but no one will allow Sol back in there to see him. He needs to rest before the big occasion. After all, this is his last birthday.

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Siren Song

Nabis Filmgroup, Nevada Cine

The Klezmer Project (2023)

What happens when a self-described “mediocre cameraman” falls in love with a klezmer clarinetist he meets at a wedding in Buenos Aires? They get funding from Austrian television to make a documentary about klezmer music in Eastern Europe, of course. This unusual Argentinian documentary melds three intertwined strands – Yiddish folk tales, the lives of and the romance between the directors and the search for Jewish music in the parts of the world where the Jews were most thoroughly exterminated – into a story of how music and language are used as the building blocks for personal identity, and what personal identity means in a globalized world. It’s not an entire success, largely for reasons which should have been obvious to codirectors Leandro Koch and Paloma Schachmann before they started, but it’s such an unusual story the weaknesses are easily forgiven.

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Darkened Door

"Suzume" Film Partners/Crunchyroll

Suzume (2023)

American cinema currently churns out an endless parade of superhero movies to counteract how powerless most Americans now feel, but Japanese art is the best in the world at metaphors for trauma. “Godzilla” and its uncontrollable rampages through Tokyo and other cities was an obvious stand-in for nuclear destruction, and its many imitators were able to exist because the need was still there. “Suzume” is more specifically about a more recent disaster, that of the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami in 2011, but its combination of the supernatural and modern everyday life builds to create a tearjerker of surprising emotional power.

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Secret Mission

Reinhold Vorschneider/Heimatfilm

Till the End of the Night (2023)

We have a unicorn here, in that “Till the End of the Night” is both a movie that is entirely impossible without the trans character at its core and also completely normal about said trans character. This is, in every way, new, strange and startling, to see a movie which is so matter-of-fact about topics this sensitive, especially when that movie is a crime thriller. Everything stands or falls on the sensitivity, though, which is also fairly special. The crime part of the thriller can’t quite keep up, but then again, when does it ever?

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Bitter Sweet Symphony

Faktura Film/Shellac

Music (2023)

This is a puzzling and frustrating film about - well. It's told in fragments, with only the bare minimum of dialogue, with songs (primarily opera) serving as verbal cues for what is doing on. This kind of minimalism - over four decades pass; and the action slowly morphs from Greece to Germany without anything directly being said about it - is so minimalist it's tricky to know what writer-director Angela Schanelec was going for, though she won the award for Best Screenplay at this year’s Berlinale for it. “Music” is one of those emotional experiences it might take another couple decades for me to process. Does this make it good? I don't know.

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Painted Into a Corner

Wolfgang Ennenbach/Focus Features

Inside (2023)

It's tough to imagine a movie about a man (Willem Dafoe) trapped in an apartment not immediately drawing pandemic parallels, but “Inside” is such a compelling puzzle that it takes a while for the metaphor, if that is what it is, to become apparent. This is more about how art helps you survive when the immediate necessities, like running water and windows that open, are denied you. Instead there's a refrigerator that plays “Macarena” when you leave the door open too long and a collection of modern art so impressive it's listed in the credits. If you have to be trapped, it might as well be in the nicest apartment anyone has ever seen, but still, it's no way to live.

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