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Movies

November 23, 2016

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was once a slim little book, a for-charity effort pretending to be a Hogwarts textbook. Fantastic Beasts the film (written solely by Harry Potter et al. author J.K. Rowling) bears very little resemblance to that tiny tome, apart from containing many beasts.

November 17, 2016

If you’re looking for a distraction from the state of the world, Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival both is and isn’t the movie you’re looking for. The film’s previews suggest an actiony alien invasion, and while there are aliens, they’re hardly the angry insects that infest so many science fiction films. Instead, they look like hands with too many fingers, suspended, tips down. They sound like whalesong mixed with the groans of a building in a storm — a language Louise Banks (Amy Adams) can hardly hope to speak.

November 10, 2016

Some people say there are two sides to every story. Others say three. I wonder how many Park Chan-wook (Oldboy, Thirst) would argue for. Park’s latest film, the stunning The Handmaiden, is a glorious exploration of the truth, or a truth: People are made up of the stories they tell, and those stories are rarely entirely reliable.

November 3, 2016

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

October 27, 2016

“Not all opinions are equal.” This statement, tucked into Denial with little fanfare, forms the meat of the film’s focus. A sturdy yet affecting courtroom drama, Denial is about a lot of things, including a man’s desire to be bigoted and racist without being called out for bigotry and racism. 

October 20, 2016

Denial

October 13, 2016

The Birth of a Nation:

Director Nate Parker purposely reclaims the title of perhaps the most racist film of all time, D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation of 1915, and retools it as a tale based on the true story of Nat Turner, an enslaved African-American who helmed a slave rebellion in 1830s Virginia. (Bijou Art Cinemas)

 

Hell or High Water

October 6, 2016

Movies about being a teenager have come a long way since I was a teen. (Let’s not talk about exactly how long it’s been.) The last few decades of teen storytelling have their charms, from John Hughes to 10 Things I Hate About You, but many teen movies have looked outward in a way that doesn’t always feel true to adolescent life, when the mess of things going on inside is as distracting, or maybe all-consuming, as school and friends and mean girls and attraction.

September 22, 2016

Of all the literary devices used to grant a physical wallop to a character’s metaphysical situation, I suppose making a pathological narcissist blind isn’t the worst. I mean, it ain’t Ahab’s missing leg or the impotence of Jake Barnes, but what the hell? It works, in a slight to middling way.

September 15, 2016

Ron Howard has said that he hoped to make Eight Days a Week both for dedicated Beatles fans and for a younger generation that has little sense of who The Beatles were. I’m not sure where this leaves me, as I’m neither a millennial nor a Beatles diehard, but a person who appreciates a good music documentary. And Eight Days is fine — a solid mix of archival footage, new interviews with Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, crowd-sourced footage and reminiscences from musicians or now-famous people who once saw The Beatles.

September 8, 2016

As the riotous ’60s bled into the scabby ’70s, a lot of people in this country found themselves asking what happened to the American Dream, and movies from that era reflected this swooning miasma. In film after great film, directors like Martin Scorsese, Sam Peckinpah and Robert Altman, to name just a few, tapped into our growing sense that something had gone seriously, desperately wrong — that the great social experiment of democracy and prosperity had finally begun rotting from the inside out.

August 25, 2016

Don’t Think Twice, Mike Birbiglia’s second feature (following Sleepwalk With Me), starts with the rules of improv comedy. One of the rules: It’s all about the group. If you break that rule, everything falls apart. Even — or especially — if you break it by attaining the success every member wants. 

August 18, 2016

It goes without saying that horror, strictly speaking, is not among cinema’s most expansive genres. Most times, it’s as conservative and formulaic as porn, and its requisite elements are as familiar as a bowl of chicken noodle soup.

August 4, 2016

Hunt for the Wilderpeople by Taika Waititi is about an unlikely pair of outcasts who scamper into the New Zealand backcountry to escape the bumbling clutches of a nationwide manhunt. The film is derivative, predictable, grandiose and utterly sentimental.

It is also smart, funny, big-hearted and disarmingly adorable, and it juggles these absurd qualities with dexterity and a winking charm that is almost impossible to deny.

July 28, 2016

Star Trek Beyond soared into theaters last weekend under the weight of 50 years of expectations. Some were notably lower after the mess that was 2013’s Star Trek: Into Darkness. Some can never be met; those belong to the old guard who would rather the movies be more like (one of) the series. When Justin Lin was announced as Beyond’s director, there was a certain amount of groaning online: “It’s just going to be Fast and Furious in space!” 

July 21, 2016

Clocking in at just 72 minutes, The Fits is less full-length feature than a new form of cinematic poetry, a visually stunning film that is at once as inscrutable and straightforward as a parable.

Co-written, co-produced and directed by Anna Rose Holmer in her filmmaking debut, the movie focuses — with physical intimacy and minimal dialogue — on Toni (Royalty Hightower), a quiet, observant 11-year-old girl who seems to spend all her waking hours in a gym, surrounded by boxers and the fierce women of a competitive dance team.

July 14, 2016

What a strange beast Our Last Tango is. This short documentary (original title Un tango más) has the peculiar distinction of being both inventive and unsatisfying. It’s experimental in ways that work on an emotional level, but as a whole it leaves a viewer wanting much more.

July 7, 2016

“I started this journey curious about a bizarre sport called competitive endurance tickling,” says New Zealand journalist David Farrier near the conclusion of his strange and upsetting documentary Tickled. “But I now think this was never even about tickling. This is about power, control and harassment. It’s about one person’s twistedness and how far that can go.”

June 30, 2016

Few things are as staid and predictable as the lone-athlete sports film. Since the sleeper success of Rocky in 1976, such movies have become increasingly formulaic potboilers in which we dutifully witness, as though through a fisheye lens, the algorithmic progress of an underdog as he confronts endless obstacles on the way to inevitable triumph. Cue ovation.

June 23, 2016

It’s always wonderful to be reminded that Kate Beckinsale is an excellent actress.

In 2003, Beckinsale became the face of the Underworld franchise, and people seemed to stop taking her the least bit seriously. She’s too often cast in dopey rom-coms (Serendipity) or knock-off action flicks (Van Helsing), and so we forget that she was great as Hero in Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing and as Charlotte in Whit Stillman’s The Last Days of Disco.

June 16, 2016

War is hell, no doubt. But for all those nameless, faceless refugees escaping the war at home, the realities of relocation can plunge them into a new kind of nightmare, one almost as bloody and chaotic.

June 9, 2016

The Lobster is the English-language debut of Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos. As far as I can tell, it’s a near-perfect film, a movie of surpassing oddness and eerie beauty, though hardly an easy one to digest. Nor is it very pleasant, in the conventional sense.

June 2, 2016

The most terrifying villains are never monsters, only men — a fact that Green Room writer-director Jeremy Saulnier reiterates, most effectively, with his third feature film.

June 2, 2016

It’s not the fault of X-Men: Apocalypse that its villain, with his plan to destroy the world and all the puny people in it, feels extra tired just now. The filmmakers surely didn’t know that a very similar plot would play out in DC’s televised universe this season: On Arrow, a TV show based on comic-book character Green Arrow, the terrorist kingpin Damien Darhk wanted to do away with most of humanity.