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The End of the Affair

Passages-movie-review-ira-sachs-franz-rogowski-adèle-exarchopoulos
Guy Ferrandis/Courtesy of Sundance Institute

MOVIE REVIEW
Passages (2023)

Finally, a chaos bisexual. Tomas (the outstanding Franz Rogowski), a German movie director who lives and works in Paris, has just finished his latest film. At the wrap party he complains to a man at the bar that no one wants to dance with him. The random woman next to him overhears and offers. This is Agathe (the incredible Adèle Excharopoulos), a Frenchwoman whose friends worked on the film and who quietly, but with some satisfaction, has just dumped her boyfriend. Tomas grins and meets Agathe on the floor. As they dance, the man with whom Tomas was talking makes his goodbyes; we realize he is Tomas’s husband, the English Martin (a superb Ben Whishaw). Between Agathe and Tomas, one thing shortly leads to another. But when someone is as careless in their personal life as Tomas is, no path is ever straightforward.

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Spousal Support

You-hurt-my-feelings-movie-review-julia-louis-dreyfus
A24

MOVIE REVIEW
You Hurt My Feelings (2023)

Nicole Holofcener is a national treasure who should be protected at all costs. There is hardly anyone in America anymore doing similar work to her, which is to say, making midbudgets about the everyday problems of middle-class people without a lick of special effects; it’s obvious why the Sundance Film Festival loves her. There are filmmakers all over Europe being praised to the skies for making movies about the first-world problems faced by the well-off in Paris or Amsterdam or cosy second homes in the countryside. Why is Ms. Holofcener one of the very few Americans working in this vein? Her movies are not twee and they are certainly aren’t boring; they just might have a little more realism than people care to deal with. It’s the drama of the everyday things, when a disagreement over a rack of tasteful earrings can be as high stakes as an infinity stone.

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Sleeping With the Enemy

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Courtesy of Sundance Institute

MOVIE REVIEW
Fair Play (2023)

Emily (Phoebe Dynevor) is supposed to be smart. She is the only woman analyst on the trading floor of her finance organization (the details of which aren’t really important, though it’s rare for a finance company to be so blind to gender optics these days) but she doesn’t know two things. Firstly, men in finance are the most gossipy and self-serving backstabbers on the planet, capable of making million-dollar gambles based on nothing more than a feeling and a few columns on a spreadsheet, and generally prepared to shank their grandmothers if there is a commission in it. Secondly, while she earned her position by being exceptional at her job, her fellow analyst Luke (Alden Ehrenreich) was a nepo hire, only maintained on payroll because somebody owed his brother a favor, which Emily somehow never realized. “Fair Play” only works if the very smart Emily is inexplicably stupid about these two things. The opening sequence, of a sex scene at a wedding reception which breaks new ground in how menstruation is shown on film, is meant to explain why: Luke and Emily have been in a secret relationship for so long and so seriously that Luke proposes right there on the bathroom floor. Emily accepts, which is the beginning of the worst week of her life, as she learns what every professional woman should already know: No office dick is worth the office drama.

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Double or Quits

Infinity-pool-movie-review-mia-goth-alexander-skarsgård
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

Little-richard-i-am-everything-movie-review-sundance-film-festival
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

Saint-omer-movie-review-guslagie-malanda
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

Broker-movie-review-song-kang-ho-gang-dong-wong-iu-lee-ji-eun
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

Jeanne-dielman-23-quai-du-commerce-1080-bruxelles-movie-review-delphine-seyrig
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

Aftersun-movie-review-paul-mescal-frankie-corio
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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