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Movies

February 9, 2017

Things to Come is an odd title (translated from the French L’avenir). Is it a threat or a promise? It’s a little of both, and all happening to Nathalie (Isabelle Huppert).

January 19, 2017

Oddly enough, it was a misguided defense of Elle that made me come around — to some degree — to Paul Verhoeven’s latest Rorschach test of a film. A tireless provocateur, Verhoeven (Starship Troopers, Showgirls) can also be tiresome, and Elle is a bit of both sides.

January 12, 2017

The assassination of President John F. Kennedy in a Dallas motorcade on Nov. 22, 1963 was a national tragedy, but it was also a nightmare, and one from which we’ve never recovered. The parameters of tragedy are timeless and defined, but a nightmare is a different beast altogether: disorienting, chaotic, darkly impressionistic and symbolic of reality in a way that is ominous, apocalyptic and forever ill at ease.

January 5, 2017

Despite opening to a fairly lukewarm reception in 1943, Casablanca has become one of the most beloved, if not the most beloved, Hollywood films of all time. The film struck an unexpected chord in audiences, and it continues to do so, offering a bittersweet vision of love that is almost cosmic in its implications — a vision in which romantic possibilities remain only possibilities, and soul mates don’t always mate. This is less tragic than resigned.

Life is sad, Casablanca tells us, but it’s not the end of the world.

December 29, 2016

For the first 30 minutes or so, Passengers is a decent film. If you like Chris Pratt, you’ll probably raise that decent to a “good” or “interesting,” as the first section is essentially a solo act for one of America’s Favorite Chrises.

On the good ship Avalon, which soars through space on a century-long mission to another planet, 5,000 passengers pass the years in hibernation — until Pratt’s Jim Preston wakes up, 90 years too soon. 

December 22, 2016

There’s never been a Star Wars movie as simply beautiful to look at as Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Whatever his other flaws as a director, Gareth Edwards (Monsters, Godzilla) has set the bar on just how breathtaking this universe can be. The varied landscapes glimmer; a Rebel ship sets down gracefully on a desert world; a moon-sized weapon eclipses a distant sun. Costumes are practical; locations feel heavy and real.

December 15, 2016

There came a moment early in Kenneth Lonergan’s new film when I knew I was in trouble, emotionally speaking: Led by the doctor into a viewing of his brother’s corpse on the hospital table, Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) stands stiffly at the threshold of the room, incapable of approaching, his body coiled, his hands flexing and fidgeting before he slides them uncertainly into the pockets of his jeans.

December 8, 2016

Tom Ford’s second feature, Nocturnal Animals, is a movie within a movie, and while both are lushly attractive, full of precise light and deep reds, neither is very good.  

Ford, who is more famous as a fashion designer, has an eye for a certain kind of pristine, art-directed beauty — an eye that served him well in 2009’s A Single Man, the film that made me take Colin Firth much more seriously. But no one in Animals can bring the same soul to the movie’s multiple narratives. 

December 1, 2016

As a critic expected to say something moderately interesting and revealing about the film at hand, I find myself in a difficult position here. I walked into a screening of Moonlight knowing little about the movie, only that it was receiving a good amount of acclaim.

In other words, I had no expectations, which allowed the film to wash over me unfiltered by any of the preconceived notions that, no matter how hard we try to stay open-minded, inevitably frame our experience.

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!”