New York

Taking Back the Night

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61st BFI London Film Festival

MOVIE REVIEW
Beauty and the Dogs (2017)

Two young women are jammed together in a toilet stall. Mariam (Mariam Al Ferjani) has ripped her dress; her roommate has brought a blue one for her to borrow. She gets changed; they fix their makeup and take some selfies after Mariam dodges a call from her father. They enter a club for a private party, which is in a beachfront hotel; and after a little welcome chat from someone at their university get down to dancing. There’s a cute guy. Mariam gets to talking to him and they go outside together.

This meet-cute-gone-wrong between Mariam and the cute guy (Ghanem Zrelli), whose name turns out to be Youssef, is depicted in nine single steadicam shots lasting around 11 minutes each. The technical skill it must have taken to put these shots together is worn extremely lightly. The pacing is not always great, but that gives us some breathing room during the worst night of Mariam’s life. Because once she left the hotel, she became the victim of a crime.

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Time to Die

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Stephen Vaughan/Warner Brothers Pictures

MOVIE REVIEW
Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

At its heart, the story of the blade runner demonstrates the importance of human feeling over machines. The blurred line of this story (as in the first installment, released in 1982 and again in 1992 in a director’s cut) is the problem that comes when the machines are designed to have human feelings, too. It’s unusual to see a movie exploring what it means to have a body. The failure of “Blade Runner 2049” is how it discriminates between men and women, and how that discrimination surpasses the distinction between human and machine. That failure leaves you with no hope for the future.

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The Fast and the Fallacious

Racer-and-the-jailbird-movie-review-matthias-schoenaerts-adèle-exarchopoulos
Maarten Vanden Abeele/Wild Bunch

MOVIE REVIEW
Racer and the Jailbird (2017)

Michael Mann’s “Miami Vice” had to revamp its entire second half from scratch after an incident on set, but if you saw the movie without knowing that you’d never be able to tell. Fatih Akin’s “Head-On” remains one of the best movies of the new millennium despite the lead actor having to be packed off to rehab for several months. The major plot shift that created is startling and noticeable, but the cast and crew were talented enough to adapt and make a movie of incredible emotional power. Something along those lines clearly happened to “Racer and the Jailbird.” If it didn’t, that is much worse, because the movie really looks like it did.

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Stars and Shadows Ain't Good to See By

Lean-on-pete-movie-review-charlie-plummer
Scott Patrick Green/A24

MOVIE REVIEW
Lean on Pete (2018)

Novels are interior things which expose us to people’s thoughts first; from there we learn about how they move. Movies are exterior things; we watch first how people move and from there learn about how they think. Low-budget American movies tend to be about noise, covering a small budget through an enormous amount of dialogue. Low-budget British movies tend to be about silence, how people react to think and allow their thoughts to dance over their face. Andrew Haigh, a British director, has adapted Willy Vlautin’s American novel without a lot of money nor with much noise. Some parts of the adaptation work brilliantly. Others needed a little more thought.

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Stoop to Conquistador

Zama-movie-review-daniel-giménez-cacho
Strand Releasing

MOVIE REVIEW
Zama (2017)

Adapted from Antonio di Benedetto's acclaimed 1956 novel, "Zama" is Lucrecia Martel's first period piece. The film concerns the eponymous 18th-century Spanish officer, played by Daniel Giménez Cacho, stationed in a middle-of-nowhere colony (Paraguay per the novel) away from wife and child, repeatedly kowtowing to successive superiors in a desperate and futile bid for a recall or transfer.

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Whipped Into a Sunshine State

The-florida-project-movie-review-willem-dafoe-brooklynn-prince
Marc Schmidt/A24

MOVIE REVIEW
The Florida Project (2017)

"The Florida Project" depicts the impoverished lives of people who take up seemingly unending residence in a low-rent highway-side motel, tackily wrapped in lavender paint, and seen through the eyes of 6-year-old Moonee (Brooklynn Prince). Moonee's cohort passes the time by getting into such mischief as spitting from the balcony at cars parked below, panhandling in front of an ice cream stand and setting abandoned homes ablaze.

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The Agony and the Effigy

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Parisa Taghizadeh/Sony Pictures Classics

MOVIE REVIEW
Final Portrait (2017)

Stanley Tucci's fifth film as a director – and the first in which he doesn't appear himself – tells an episode from the late life of artist and sculptor Alberto Giacometti, a topic that clearly chimes with Mr. Tucci's long-standing interest in fine art and the turbulent urges that go into its creation. "Final Portrait" features Geoffrey Rush in full shambling dishevel as the 63-year-old Giacometti and Armie Hammer as James Lord, a younger American who sits for one of the artist's last works and starts to wonder if it will never actually be finished. The film has the utmost compassion for artists helplessly at the mercy of their own creativity and libido; and if its small scale keeps the external world mostly out of view, it at least believes the art to be worth all the internal aggro.

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Nun of the Above

The-little-hours-movie-review-alison-brie-kate-micucci-aubrey-plaza
Sundance Institute

MOVIE REVIEW
The Little Hours (2017)

Watching Aubrey Plaza shout at people ranks high on my personal list of reasons to turn out for movies, only slightly behind the joys of Tracy Letts being cruel and vindictive. In "The Little Hours" she shouts and swears like a stevedore, a raucous deadpan dynamo restrained by a 14th century nun's habit and wimple in the same way that a tin can constrains an atom bomb. Jeff Baena's film transfers a bunch of thoroughly modern comics — Ms. Plaza, Molly Shannon, Nick Offerman, Kate Micucci, several others — to Middle Ages Tuscany with their vocal patterns and wry exasperations intact, for a tale sliced out of Giovanni Boccaccio's "The Decameron" that drips with frustrated desire and the sins of the flesh. Hit or miss, it's at least a reminder that American sex comedies weren't always modern-dress bosses and bridesmaids, or offcuts from the Judd Apatow factory.

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Eating Disorder

The-dinner-movie-review-richard-gere-laura-linney-steve-coogan-rebecca-hall
The Orchard

MOVIE REVIEW
The Dinner (2017)

The third film adaptation of Herman Koch's eponymous novel (following Menno Meyjes's 2013 "Het Diner" and Ivano De Matteo's 2014 "I nostri ragazzi"), Oren Moverman's "The Dinner" indeed plays out like a European art thriller — perhaps one by Thomas Vinterberg (despite that he's Danish and Mr. Koch is Dutch).

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Estranged Bedfellows

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Robb Rosenfeld/A24

MOVIE REVIEW
The Lovers (2017)

In "The Lovers," Debra Winger and Tracy Letts play wife and husband on the brink of divorce, keeping up appearances for the sake of a visit from their son and his girlfriend. Suffering symptoms of midlife crises and ennui, Mary (Ms. Winger) and Michael (Mr. Letts) absent-mindedly drift through their workaday obligations just so they can make excuses to each other to spend time with and pacify their respective long-suffering, ultimatum-giving paramours. As the extramarital affairs grow increasingly tedious, Mary and Michael inexplicably rekindle their passion for each other — which their son, Joel (Tyler Ross), interprets as a façade presaging the marriage's inevitable dissolution.

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