Mike Mills’s follow up to “Beginners” tries to be too profound for too many generations
Mike Mills’s “20th Century Women” is trying to be too profound for too many different people. It aims to encapsulate the life experience of men and women, adolescents and adults, mothers and daughters, yuppies and the ordinary. And it does so in a string of literary axioms and bluntly illustrated anecdotes. It attains higher meaning only in doses, a result of a smattering of smartly written scenes and thoughtful performances. But it’s never universal, namely because it’s trying too hard to be.
The three women in teenage Jamie’s (Lucas Jade Zumann) life are his divorced mother Dorothea (Annette Bening), his wants-to-be-much-closer-yet-still-platonic best friend Julie (Elle Fanning), and his mother’s 30-something roommate who acts like a cool, older sister Abbie (Greta Gerwig). Dorothea senses that because he doesn’t have a strong male presence in his life, what Jamie really needs is a stronger female influence. Continue reading “20th Century Women”
6-year-old Sunny Pawar carries Garth Davis’s observant, anecdotal film on his tiny back.
Saroo Brierly got separated from his family in India when he was just a boy and spent his whole childhood raised in Australia by a foster family. It wasn’t until he was in his 20s that he used Google to trace down a past he could hardly recall and a home he didn’t know would still be there.
What makes “Lion” special is that it shows that Saroo’s story isn’t entirely unique. It spends its first hour immersed in young Saroo’s perspective. It observantly and anecdotally illustrates the livelihood of poverty-stricken children across India. Saroo’s story feels profound not only because of the journey toward a tearful reunion, but because it devotes so much time at the eye level of this young boy. Continue reading “Lion”
Ken Loach’s Palme D’Or winning film is a powerful tearjerker and scathing indictment of the State.
If Americans can’t respond to the politics of the Palme D’Or winning “I, Daniel Blake” as strongly as the Brits, they’ll still be able to appreciate its emotional wallop. Director Ken Loach has spent his life in film defending the poor, working class by championing human fortitude and decency. And by taking on the worst form of inane bureaucracy, something that Republican or Democrat, Green, Labor or Conservative have all found frustrating, he’s told a story that’s as funny as it is heart wrenching.
We first hear a frustrated Daniel Blake (Dave Johns) impatiently fielding invasive questions about his health to a faceless bureaucrat with a voice so blandly calm it sounds like a recording. His doctor says he’s not fit for work, but the government says he’s fine. Daniel’s caught in limbo: unable to work but also unable to receive benefits.
We hear stories like this in the US, and in Trump’s America it’s anyone’s guess as to whether someone could find empathy for this person. “I, Daniel Blake” however is very specific to Britain, exposing a convoluted system that should inspire as much debate as sentiment. Continue reading “I, Daniel Blake”
Be patient with this slow-burning, yet hilariously unpredictable German comedy
You need to be patient with “Toni Erdmann.”
This nearly three hour-long German film goes nearly an hour as just a modest family comedy with some awkward humor before finding its voice. It’s only with a complete and sudden surprise does the movie’s naturalistic, deadpan filmmaking get thrust into full on anarchy. It’s worth the wait.
Maren Ade’s film milks the absurd from the ordinary, a loving comedy between a father and daughter grown estranged. And yet “Toni Erdmann” overcomes its Hollywood log line by establishing a tone of suspense and uncertainty. The film is rarely manic, but the set pieces defy predictability. Continue reading “Toni Erdmann”
J.K. Rowling plays up the whimsy over the darkness in her first of five Harry Potter spinoffs.
You may have forgotten how whimsical the original Harry Potter book and film once were. J.K. Rowling’s first novel was akin to a Roald Dahl classic, a magical story fit for children and only slowly developing the stakes and the real world connections across the entire series.
Now comes “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” a Harry Potter spinoff in which the story is not based on a book but is an original screenplay developed by Rowling. It carries the weight and expectations of the darker, later films, all of them directed by this film’s director David Yates. But the story’s charms are far lighter in nature, only hinting at the many directions this blossoming franchise can go.
For instance, the movie opens with the portent of the rise of Gellert Grindelwald, the evil wizard who believed in magical purity before Voldemort came around. But that prelude soon gives way to Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) chasing a fuzzy, teleporting platypus around Manhattan. Continue reading “Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them”
Director Mat Whitecross captures Oasis at their best and most important in this fascinating rock doc
I can envision two different Oasis documentaries. The first would be called “Wibbling Rivalry,” named for a 14-minute audio recording between a journalist and Noel and Liam Gallagher in which the two bicker incessantly and show their unique brotherly love and hatred for one another. It would focus on how the band broke up simply because these two tossers can’t find a way to get along. It would culminate in a moment a few months ago, when asked if the band would ever reunite, Liam tweeted “FUCK OASIS” and proceeded call Noel a “POTATO.” I would pay good money to see that movie.
The other is “Oasis: Supersonic.” This film takes Oasis at their absolute best and indulges the Gallagher brothers’ massive egos as though they really were the biggest rock band in the world. Director Mat Whitecross ignores the rest of the musical world around them and unironically refers to Oasis as the last pre-Internet phenomenon. That may not be true, but it works because the doc immerses us in the perspective of the Gallagher brothers and how they looked at themselves. It has the same treasure trove of archival and live concert footage as Ron Howard’s recent Beatles doc “Eight Days a Week,” but it is far better at examining what about these songs captured the attention of a generation. Continue reading “Oasis: Supersonic”
Isabelle Huppert shines in this intellectual character study from Mia Hansen-Love
Many movies can barely muster one thought provoking central question to guide their characters. Mia Hansen-Love’s “Things to Come” is full of them: “Can truth be debated?” “Can we put ourselves in the place of the other?” “A government so perfect is not suited to men.”
And yet “Things to Come” crosses over into being too academic once we’re introduced to the “anarchists” who commune in the mountains, talk about philosophy and do seemingly nothing. “Things to Come” may be touching and thoughtful as a character study, but it’s too talkative and introspective to be profoundly memorable.
At the very least though, Isabelle Huppert as philosophy teacher Nathalie grants “Things to Come” warmth and wisdom alike. Her character may hide behind her intellect, but it’s Huppert’s poise to withhold her emotions and make her authority known in front of her students that makes the performance great and Nathalie wonderful.
And she’s forced to soldier on through a lot. At first her book on philosophy will not be renewed for a new edition. Then it’s the death of her mother and a split from her husband that send her in pursuit of companionship and solace from a handsome former student.
While many will admire “Things to Come’s” intelligence, many more will appreciate it’s simpler charms, like a nuisance of a cat named Pandora, a name that simply invites trouble. Perhaps most profound of all is how that stupid animal, as much as it wanders and vanishes, will be the most consistent part of Nathalie’s life as she aims to reinvent herself.
In that way, “Things to Come” will make you ponder your own values and philosophies before reminding you there’s more to life than just those philosophy.
Robert De Niro can’t get laughs with a thin premise and outdated view of the comedy scene
In the Post-“Louie” era of TV and film, people have become fascinated with the psychology of The Comedian. And it’s hardly Earth shattering to suggest that these people who make us laugh are not one-dimensional clowns but artists with personal struggles and complexities.
Taylor Hackford’s film “The Comedian” has been an idea percolating with Robert De Niro as long as eight years ago, but eight years later it now has the familiar premise of “Bojack Horseman,” barely the heart of even a mediocre “Louie” copycat and an antiquated view of Internet comedy and stardom. Continue reading “The Comedian”
Can Mel Gibson’s movie about faith justify its amount of gratuitous violence?
Can a movie about non-violence be violent? That’s the question that tormented me as I watched “Hacksaw Ridge,” a war film of immense power that’s inspiring and emotional but also endlessly brutal. How does director Mel Gibson square the film’s religious values with the film’s gratuitous bloodshed? What amount of gore crosses the line, or is the question moot?
Many war films before “Hacksaw Ridge” have depicted unspeakable horrors on screen, all with the conclusion that war is bad, but the context and the means are what separate the good films from the bad, the noble from the tasteless. In fact, Gibson faced similar questions with his film “The Passion of the Christ.”
But “Hacksaw Ridge” does justify the means. The film is one-dimensional in its value system: life can be disturbing and painful, but those who stay true to faith and belief can do real good in this world. There’s much that can be said about the nature of religion in this film, the absence of other forms of belief than a Christian god, the short sighted approach to the values of the Japanese soldiers, let alone the secular American soldiers as supporting characters. But Gibson so earnestly believes with old-fashioned charm and honest storytelling that such a message is worth sharing, no matter the bloodshed the story requires. Continue reading “Hacksaw Ridge”
Jeff Nichols’s modest true story values romance above civil rights melodrama
Jeff Nichols should make all civil rights dramas. He’s not interested in making history, in exposing melodramatic movie racism or in grand speeches and moments of righteousness. “Loving,” a film about the landmark Supreme Court case of Loving v. Virginia that allowed interracial marriages, separates the broader cultural and historical significance of this couple’s story from their more personal struggles to keep a family together. “Loving” is impressive because it ignores so many clichés, but more so because it’s a modest drama that’s intimate and understanding when looking at this romance.
The film’s first words are said in close-up on Mildred (Ruth Negga): “I’m pregnant.” It cuts to Richard (Joel Edgerton), who breathes a long pause before smiling. Before we know what time period this movie is even set in, or whom these people are, we know that this pregnancy will be a point of contention, whether because of their skin color or because of reasons we can only begin to surmise. The question of if they can make it work will be far more interesting than the inevitable court decision.
And in Mildred and Richard’s country lives, the Supreme Court doesn’t even register as a concept. Upon traveling to Washington D.C. to get married in a court house, Mildred asks her brother what the city is like. For the people in Mildred’s family, their marriage is far less a question of decency but whether it will threaten to take Mildred away from the country. Integration nationwide may be on the minds of Mildred and Richard Loving, but it’s hardly the only challenge in their lives, and the movie feels more naturalistic and less overbearingly political as a result. Continue reading “Loving”