Los Angeles

Lady Killer of the Night

Profile Pictures and One Two Films

Holy Spider (2022)

It’s 2001, in the Iranian city of Mashhad, the nation’s spiritual capital. At first we follow a drug-addicted sex worker (Firouz Agheli) as she leaves her little daughter asleep in bed and goes about her unhappy trade. Her only comfort comes from smoking opium with a friend; the johns she meets cheat her of money and physically abuse her. Then she is murdered in shocking close-up by a man who wraps her body in a carpet, lays it across the back of his motorbike and rides out of the city to dispose of her in the hills.

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Misery Loves Company

Carole Bethuel/Sony Pictures Classics

One Fine Morning (2022)

Pity the poor Parisian bourgeois bohemian, whose lives are full of nothing but booklined apartments, interesting careers and family nearby. Pity harder the daughters of elderly Parisian intellectuals, who must put their freelance work and artistic endeavors on pause when their daddies develop the cinematic version of old age and infirmity that requires only the most mild care. But pity the most the Parisian boyfriends of these Parisian daughters, who must provide emotional support to these women instead of just getting to cheat on their wives scot-free. This low-stakes emotional merry-go-round so beloved of French cinema can be both relaxing and irritating to watch, and as shown at the Toronto International Film Festival “One Fine Morning” breaks no new ground. At least everything is beautifully and expertly done. If you like this sort of thing, you’ll love it.

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The Handmaids' Tale

Women-talking-movie-review-michelle-mcleod-sheila-mccarthy-liv mcneil-jessie-buckley-claire-foy-kate-hallett-rooney-mara-judith-ivey
Michael Gibson/Orion Releasing

Women Talking (2022)

The subject of “Women Talking,” the phenomenal new movie from Sarah Polley which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, is so bleak it’s hard to talk about. We are in Canada in 2010 – the unwelcome presence of a census truck blasting “Daydream Believer” as it drives through the rural farming community goes to necessary trouble to establish this – but we could be up to 200 years ago. The women all wear modest hand-sewn dresses, with caps over their hair. There’s no technology in their farmhouses and the men are all gone. Why are the men gone? To bail one of them out of jail. Why is he in jail? Because Salome (an outstanding Claire Foy) attacked him with a scythe and he was arrested for his own protection. And why did meek farmwife Salome attack a man with a scythe? Because all the female members of the community were, over months, repeatedly dosed with animal tranquilizer (a knockout spray) and while unconscious raped by the men of the community. All of the female members of the community. All of them. Including Salome, and Salome’s four year old daughter.

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The King of Queens

Ilze Kitshoff/TriStar Pictures

The Woman King (2022)

There’s nothing like a good old-fashioned Hollywood blockbuster to really make for an enjoyable evening at the cinema. Fight scenes, women in peril, countless evil enemies and the right amount of nudity to maintain a PG-13 rating: “The Woman King” has it all. And better still, it uses this standard blockbuster template in an entirely fresh setting: the kingdom of Dahomey in west Africa in 1823. It’s plagued by the slave trade, where innocent villagers are kidnapped and sold to disgusting white men, here personified by the cocky Brazilian Santo (Hero Fiennes Tiffin). The new king, Ghezo (South London’s favorite son John Boyega, getting to do something different from his previous blockbuster fare and have a great time doing so), has pledged to stop selling his own people, if nothing else. And he has the manpower to put his money where his mouth is. Well, womanpower, actually. He has an elite squad of soldiers, the Agojie, all women, and all the stuff of nightmares.

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Ship of Fools

Fredrik Wenzel

Triangle of Sadness (2022)

“Triangle of Sadness” continues writer-director Ruben Östlund’s preoccupation with the upending of hierarchical social constructs – gender, race, wealth, class, chain of command etc. – in the face of disasters natural or manmade. It’s certainly the kind of stuff that plays well at festivals, as evidenced by Cannes twice bestowing on him the Palme d’or. But does anyone honestly remember what happens in “The Square,” which won him his first in 2017, without looking up the plot? “Triangle,” Mr. Ostlund’s second Palme d’or winner, has a wild ending that feeds right into the rush of the festival setting; the problem lies in the uneven two and a half hours it takes to get there.

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Death Wish

Carole Bethuel/Curzon Film

Everything Went Fine (2022)

Broadly speaking, François Ozon directs two kinds of movies. The first are about young gay men getting themselves into a situation that ends with somebody dying. The second kind are about women in some sort of family-themed trap, to which they learn they must submit. The traps vary (a crappy marriage in “5x2,” a slutty houseguest in “Swimming Pool,” a parasitic twin in “Double Lover”) but they cannot be escaped, and writhing in the net only draws the knots tighter. The daughters in “Everything Went Fine” learned their lessons about their gilded cage in childhood, and tell anyone who asks that it’s impossible to deny their father anything. Mr Ozon must have been thrilled to option the memoir by Emmanuèle Bernheim, the late screenwriter of “5x2” and “Swimming Pool,” on which this movie is based. This is a family in which the ties do significantly more than bind.

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Highway to the Comfort Zone

Scott Garfield/Paramount Pictures

Top Gun: Maverick (2022)

An aircraft carrier is 90,000 tons of diplomacy (as they say on the T-shirts) and its smell is hard to describe. It’s an enveloping sensation that permeates the entire world around you, especially when the carrier is out at sea and a floating city for thousands of people. Below decks the air is heavy with the weight of the ship, metal and body odors, recycled air and watertight doors. The flight deck smells like salt air and overheated tarmac, wind and jet fuel. It gets under your skin like very little else.

“Top Gun: Maverick” is all about what it’s like to chase a sensation. It begins with old-school renegade expert Maverick (Tom Cruise) taking an experimental plane for a test flight before its program is shut down by an admiral so tough (Ed Harris in a delightful cameo) he doesn’t even flinch as the plane passes so low overhead it knocks the roof of a guard hut. It transpires that Maverick is needed urgently at the flight school outside San Diego, where a secret mission – think the targeting of the Death Star in “Star Wars,” only more convoluted – requires training only Maverick can provide. The training is overseen by Cyclone (Jon Hamm), a by-the-rules admiral who dislikes Maverick, personally and professionally. One of the trainee pilots is Rooster (Miles Teller, phenomenally cast and with a superb mustache, and otherwise serviceable), whose late father was Maverick’s wingman and who has daddy issues galore. Maverick’s daddy issues from the original are forgotten. As the world turns, eh? The rest of the plot is pretty standard blockbuster stuff.

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True Bromance

DVV Entertainment

RRR (2022)

Gatekeeping is and has been a serious problem plaguing international film culture. Even those most deeply immersed are often blissfully ignorant of this fact. A tiny, overwhelmingly white group of tastemakers ­­– programmers, critics, editors, distributors – essentially dictate what is fit for Western consumption. For the past year, nary a week has gone by without at least one new Indian release surfacing at multiplexes across the U.S. thanks to the pandemic-related short supply of Hollywood products. Yet major outlets and critics have deemed these films unworthy of any attention. They would of course never do this with a French film, even one without stars or festival credentials. “RRR,” a Telugu-language Indian film which has so far grossed in excess of $10 million in the U.S. – more than four times what “Drive My Car” made in its theatrical run – did not land a review in The New York Times until 12 days after opening, yet that was better than what most films from that country could get.

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When the Saints Go Marching In

The Kennedy/Marshall Company/Sony Pictures Classics

Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story (2022)

In a way, “Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story” feels like “Summer of Soul ( . . . Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)” with melanin vastly depleted. Directors Ryan Suffern and Frank Marshall seem oblivious at best, ignorant at worst, glossing over glaring questions so as to not hold anyone accountable for apparent inequities on display, making the proceedings as pleasant and inoffensive as possible to make nice with white upper-middle-class boomers who presumably make up their target audience.

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Game Boy

Paramount Pictures and Sega of America

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (2022)

It’s easy to get cynical about “Sonic the Hedgehog 2,” sequel to a live-action movie based on a Sega video game character (voiced by Ben Schwartz) that travels at supersonic speeds. You may recall the original’s disastrous, universally loathed first trailer, which prompted the studio to postpone the release many months to overhaul the CGI, finally delivering it just before the global pandemic hit in 2020. Yet it’s already getting the sequel treatment, and ahead of 2019’s “Detective Pikachu,” the live-action movie based on a more contemporary Nintendo video game character.

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