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Set for Life

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Peter Marley/Cohen Media Group

MOVIE REVIEW

Nowhere Special (2021)

It’s always a little sad when a child is given up for adoption, because it means that something, somehow, has gone wrong. But to acknowledge that you’ll be unable to raise your child and choose a better family for them is an extraordinary act of love. It’s the quiet sadness of “Nowhere Special” that gives that exceptional love its full power, especially as, for a movie about death and dying, it makes the unusual choice to be utterly focused on the future.

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Brothers in Arms

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Courtesy photo

MOVIE REVIEW

Bade Miyan Chote Miyan (2024)

The first half of “Bade Miyan Chote Miyan” is a jolly action buddy comedy which includes our heroes, Freddie (Akshay Kumar) and Rocky (Tiger Shroff), beginning a hostage rescue by riding some horses off the back of a helicopter. The second half of “Bade Miyan Chote Miyan” is a fantasy war thriller based on the password to the scientific shield keeping India safe from missile attack. In both halves the evil villain, Kabir (Prithviraj Sukumaran), strides around in a bedazzled MF Doom mask, a large selection of stylish full-length black coats, and enough evil plans to justify the Indian army going rogue, not that his evil results are terribly impressive. But this is not one of those movies a person is meant to take seriously. We're meant to admire the pretty stars and have a great time knowing the nation is safe in their hands. It's a delight.

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Folie à une

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Altered Innocence

MOVIE REVIEW
The People's Joker (2024)

The sole showing of “The People’s Joker” at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2022 was hugely important in film history. When legal threats cause any film to be pulled from a festival that means that something important has gone wrong, and of course nothing is more interesting that something that’s officially been pulled. But this is no “Sita Sings the Blues,” a highly personal animated story of one woman’s very bad breakup which never got a mainstream release thanks to music licensing rights. Instead, “The People’s Joker” uses characters from the DC Universe to discuss the brandification of our imaginations, the difficulties in maintaining an artistic career, the after-effect of abusive relationships and how all of these things are heightened when you’re trans. To say it is one of the most important recent American movies is an understatement. It’s entirely fresh, extremely funny and with a talent for meeting the zeitgeist that can’t be bought. It never should have been threatened, as the backlash has only brought more publicity, especially since the use of the “Batman” characters is done in an exceptionally personally (and parodic) way. It’s an extraordinary film.

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A Slap in the Face

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Courtesy photo

MOVIE REVIEW
Family Star (2024)

He hits her in the face in what is meant to be a sweet love story. He hits her in the face and we're meant to think she owes him an apology for driving him to it. He hits her in the face and it's supposed to show just how committed he is to the welfare of his family that he would protect them at any cost. He hits her in the face in what’s supposed to be a romantic comedy. Better by far to die alone.

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Bite Club

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Shanna Besson/Apollo Films

MOVIE REVIEW
Dogman (2024)

Many an underdog ultimately has their day – often it's her day – in Luc Besson films, and in "Dogman" some actual canines ride the roller-coaster of abuse and transcendence that the director likes to think about. So too does their male human ally, Douglas (Caleb Landry Jones), whose childhood of relentless suffering culminates when his own Neanderthal father blasts him with a shotgun for the crime of caring about some helpless and photogenic puppies. Now largely confined to a wheelchair, an adult Douglas lives in a dilapidated old school with a pack of equally world-weary dogs, liberated from a pound. After what must have been some formidable training, which the film declines to show, he and the dogs happily cohabit in mutual respect and support. They fetch Douglas the correct ingredients from the kitchen for his cooking, and listen raptly while he reads Shakespeare to them. Retreating from society but still helping those who come to him with problems, Douglas sends his canine colleagues out on coordinated missions of justice, like Nick Fury dispatching the Avengers. The dogs evade capture and squeeze past obstacles and scamper between legs and through closing doors in order to locate exactly the right Latino gangster, and then clamp their jaws on his nuts.

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Danger Zone

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Courtesy photo

MOVIE REVIEW
Operation Valentine (2024)

“Fighter” was the Hindi-language response of “Top Gun: Maverick;” and now we have “Operation Valentine,” the Telugu-language equivalent. It's about the same real-life incidents from 2019 also referenced in “Fighter,” but “Operation Valentine” is much the worse movie for two reasons. Firstly, director Shakti Pratap Singh chose to use footage of the real-life funerals which followed the 2019 attacks, which is desperately inappropriate. Secondly, it reduces the entire history of hostilities between two nations into one man's struggle with himself. It's a breathtaking achievement but perhaps not the intended one.

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Spider Sense: Far From Home

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Larry Horricks/Netflix

MOVIE REVIEW
Spaceman (2024)

After “Gravity” came out, Tina Fey famously quipped that it’s about how George Clooney would rather die in the blackness of space than spend time with a woman his own age. Along those lines, “Spaceman” is about how Adam Sandler would rather die in the blackness of space than spend time with his pregnant wife. Deep space is a long way to go to learn that your wife’s feelings are just as valid as your career; and a talking space spider is one hell of a therapist, but hey, whatever works.

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Air Show

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Courtesy photo

MOVIE REVIEW
Fighter (2024)

“Fighter” is much, much more interesting than its topline, a.k.a. the Indian answer to “Top Gun: Maverick” and “Born to Fly.” The influence of American war movies and all their cheery flyboys is strong, but “Fighter” is much more pointed than either of the American and Chinese celebration of their armed forces in that it has a clear conflict and enemy: Kashmir, and terrorists who commit crimes against Indian citizens while finding shelter in Pakistan. This specificity is very unusual in recent worldwide blockbusters and means that the relentless patriotism, such as a poem about how no coffin is more beautiful than one draped with an Indian flag, is way more meaningful.

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The Long Goodbye

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Eric Zachanowich/Searchlight Pictures

MOVIE REVIEW
Suncoast (2024)

End-of-life care becomes an issue on almost everyone's plate one way or another. The dilemma faced by the family in "Suncoast" as they place Max (Cree Kawa), a young man dying of brain cancer, into a hospice will resonate a little or a lot with most people; for this is the art and craft of the medical drama, to which few are fully immune. In this one premiering at the Sundance Film Festival, writer-director Laura Chinn gives the mother of the patient, Kristine (Laura Linney), and her other child, Doris (Nico Parker, daughter of Thandiwe Newton and with some of her mother's wary watchfulness), equal focus in their shared but different grief. So the film is about one parent's agonies and one young woman's coming-of-age at the same time, two films for the price of one. And there's a political dimension, since Ms. Chinn sets her story in 2005 at the same hospice where Terri Schiavo is receiving care, the real-life right-to-die case playing out in the background on all news channels. The tact and delicacy of the film will have much to do with all this being based on experience: the film maker has fictionalized things for narrative purposes, but Ms. Chinn's brother did die in that hospice; it was at that time; and she was that sister.

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Art Attacks

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Leo Matiz/Sundance Institute

MOVIE REVIEW
Frida (2024)

Carla Gutiérrez's documentary about Frida Kahlo wants to focus on the artist as a person and a woman, rather than get dragged into the higher showbiz orbit of the cultural presence, Madonna-influencer and biopic subject also called Frida Kahlo, famous enough that her unibrow is enough to spark recognition. The result could be termed back-to-basics. In the absence of any third-party commentary, "Frida" uses Kahlo's own letters and diaries, alongside other contemporary texts written by lovers and friends, all read in voiceover by actors. Meanwhile the screen shows still photos, clippings and newsreel footage, plus views of Kahlo paintings. The film, premiering at Sundance on its way to audiences via Amazon, is after authenticity, fact rather than legend, although Ms. Gutiérrez is an editor by trade and knows that assembling a montage is as much of an active manipulation as a dramatized narrative can be.

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