Haitian Child Support

Javier Labrador

Mountains (2023)

The marketing describes “Mountains” as about the generational gap between immigrants and their children, but it’s considerably more nuanced than that. The gap is between parents who work with their hands – Xavier (Atibon Nazaire) works in demolition, part of a small crew tearing down unwanted properties in Miami’s Little Haiti, while his wife, Esperance (Sheila Anozier), is a crossing guard and dressmaker – and adult children whose job prospects are much more ethereal. Junior (Chris Renois) parks cars at a hotel and is attempting to build a stand-up comedy career by night, relying on a set that discusses how he is a disappointment to his parents. The physical realm is what previous generations are used to, while the younger people must search for their place in the cloud, the nebulous atmosphere where relationships are all. The mountains of the title are metaphorical, but this very good film knows how they rise up between where you are and where you want to be.

Continue reading "Haitian Child Support" »

Spirited Astray

Beijing October Media

Deep Sea (2023)

You thought an animated movie set in a restaurant-submarine owned by a magical clown-chef, staffed by walruses and otters and patronized by fish-people customers who are glued to their phones, with an 11-year-old human girl as the main character, was a kids’ movie? You rube. You fool. You absolute nincompoop. This movie is so grim – it has no problem with child abuse and mental cruelty, in addition to holding young Shenxiu (voiced by Wang Tingwen) responsible for the behavior of the adults around her – that only an idiot would show it to anyone under 12, though depressed teenagers will probably love it. This is also probably because the animation is unusually beautiful, in a smeary, lacquered way, populating every centimeter of every frame with the world-building detail found in the best kids’ movies. Sometimes the little otters, who generally work as waiters and bussers in the restaurant, even dress up in animal onesies and sing songs. But all of this anthropomorphic detail and visual depth wallpapers a plot of jaw-dropping horror that builds to a ghastly ending. The combined beauty and trauma is undoubtedly what brought it to the Tribeca Festival, but as such it’s very hard to recommend. Director Tian Xiaopeng has made a gorgeous atrocity.

Continue reading "Spirited Astray" »


Tribeca Festival

Rather (2023)

It must be nice to be able to participate in your eulogy, even if not every aspect of your life is one you care to remember. Dan Rather got his start on local news in Texas, meaning he was the man on the spot when John F. Kennedy was shot in 1963; and 60 years later here we are watching a documentary about his journalism career at the Tribeca Festival. Mr. Rather is in his 90s, still participating in the news cycle through his Substack and a sassy Twitter feed, and witnessing a world of news and journalism which he directly shaped through his choices and his mistakes. The movie is more of a primer for those too young to remember journalism before the 24-hour news cycle, but its examination of Mr. Rather’s legacy pulls no punches.

Continue reading "Anchorman" »

Blind Faith

Hiba Khodr

Q (2023)

It’s a sad truth that a great many Americans have had to witness their parents become swallowed by an organization called Q which tells them what to think and how to think it, but not quite like this. This documentary is about Lebanese-American director Jude Chehab’s mother, Hiba Khodr, who has devoted her entire adult life to a secretive all-female religious order in Lebanon, Q for short, run by a leader referred to as the Anisa. Ms. Chehab’s generally normal middle-class life has been in the shadow of her mother’s relationship with the sect, which has been the dominate relationship of Ms. Khodr’s life, as Ms. Chehab’s father, Ziad Chehab, knows only too well. This is a riveting attempt to explain why Ms. Khodr chose to hand over her life to this order, and to attempt to unpick the consequences of this choice.

Continue reading "Blind Faith" »

The Conformist

Stefan Weinberger

The Line (2023)

It’s not that boys will be boys, or men will be men. It’s power corrupting power. It’s an ugly mentality but one that we, as a society, seem completely disinterested in changing, even as movies about disgusting frat-house culture can be made anew every couple of years. “The Line” is a solid, but not smart, addition to the genre. On the plus side, it knows to its bones the games men play with each other that aren’t really games. On the minus, it has no idea at all about how power includes women. This lazy omission means “The Line” comes up short.

Continue reading "The Conformist" »

Nuclear Option

Guy Ferrandis/Le Bureau Films

La Syndicaliste (2022)

While “La Syndicaliste” cannot pretend to be an act of justice, it is an act of respect, as is every attempt to redress a wrong by making good art about it. But at its core this is a movie about work. Gainful employment, health care, clean water and cheap utilities: we forget just how much work goes into all of these things. It’s the same as the amount of work that goes into a clean home, a happy family, good schools and a dignified old age but on a national scale. As you observe Maureen Kearney (Isabelle Huppert) assert the truth – not her truth, the truth – over and over again to indifferent power, you think about how much work everything takes.

Continue reading "Nuclear Option" »

Bury My Heart at Fenway Park

Jeff Powers

Bucky F*cking Dent (2023)

Based on his work as a writer, David Duchovny loves three things: New York City, erudite puns and baseball. He has written novels which tackle each of these subjects individually, but began his public writing career with an episode of "The X-Files" (the '90s TV show/zeitgeist in which he also starred) centered around baseball’s segregated Negro leagues. In the episode, set in the 1940s, a baseball-loving alien (Jesse L. Martin) decided to stay on earth as a black man so he could still play baseball without attracting major league attention. When the episode premiered it was a big surprise, both for its quality and the idea that an intellectual type such as Mr. Duchovny would have chosen a sports theme. But more importantly, the existence of the Negro leagues had been allowed to slide from pop-culture memory, and Mr. Duchovny’s willingness to confront his beloved sport's shameful past was noted and appreciated. "Bucky F*cking Dent" doesn't operate on nearly as big a scale: It's about how sports is a bonding tool between men who otherwise prefer silence and makes no serious political points. In this case, the love of the game is supposed to be enough. And once again, somewhat to everyone’s surprise, it is.

Continue reading "Bury My Heart at Fenway Park" »

Falling Into Place

Carlos Vargas

Melody of Love (2023)

What this strange, quiet misfire has to offer is its unusual location – Addis Ababa. The concept of middle-class people living ordinary lives in an urban African setting is still somewhat unusual in Western cinema, but the good news is things are changing. “Melody of Love’s” writer-director Edmundo Bejarano is Bolivian, with no obvious connection to Ethiopia, and pleasantly uninterested in poverty porn or cruel stereotyping. The terrible trouble is he forgot to give his movie a plot, and left both his protagonist and his audience twisting in the wind.

Continue reading "Falling Into Place" »

Just Wandering

Slot Machine

Eureka (2023)

“Eureka” has too many ideas and no shape for them. It's especially irritating as some of the images were the strongest of the Cannes Film Festival. But images need a plot; and a plot needs structure, or at least more than this.

Continue reading "Just Wandering" »

A Killing Spree

Festival de Cannes

The Settlers (2023)

On a windswept pampas a group of English-speaking men are building a barbed wire fence in silence, until the machinery makes an awful noise and a man lets out a scream. It was only his arm, he says from the ground, as the severed stump pulses blood and the others watch in silence. He'll be up and back at work in just a moment, if someone would bandage it. No one moves, except the overseer, a Scottish lieutenant named MacLennan (Mark Stanley), who rides up on horseback. The injured man's affirmations that he’s absolutely fine reach a higher pitch as MacLennan sighs in frustration, unholsters his gun, and shoots the injured man in the head. That's how callously death arrived for you at the turn of the last century in Tierra del Fuego, the literal end of the world.

Continue reading "A Killing Spree" »

© 2008-2023 Critic's Notebook and its respective authors. All rights reserved. | Privacy Policy | Terms of Use
Subscribe to Critic's Notebook | Follow Us on Twitter | Contact Us | Write for Us | Reprints and Permissions