6-year-old Sunny Pawar carries Garth Davis’s observant, anecdotal film on his tiny back.

Lion PosterSaroo 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”


Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara star in Todd Haynes’s first film in 7 years.

CarolPosterRooney Mara as Therese Belivet in Todd Haynes’s “Carol” has perky, rosy makeup, frayed bangs beneath a plain black hair band, cute plaid outfits and a checkered fall hat. She looks like one of the toy dolls in the department store where she works. Enter Cate Blanchett as Carol Aird, who wears a movie star aura with a giant coat of golden fur, a stylish red French cap and later in the car an elegant green shawl to keep her looking perfect.

In fact, both characters are particularly magnetic, and the attraction they form in “Carol” is mutual. “Carol” is a coming-of-age story for the young Therese, but it’s a movie about two people entering into separate worlds and learning to feel at home. Haynes’s film is lush, poetic, and ravishing, a stellar romance in which the unsaid words and thoughts seep into the movie’s background and color everything.

After all, “Carol” is all about backgrounds. Haynes admires the patterned sewer grates in his opening crane shot and the beads of rain on a taxicab that give the whole film an elegiac tone. There are soothing green backdrops viewed through windows and individual stills that have painterly beauty.

Haynes adorns these details with care because the many words and themes of Carol and Therere’s courtship go unsaid. Set in 1952, when being gay was considered a psychological illness, Haynes avoids the thorny jargon and the explicitness of their affair. Carol and Therese are desperate to feel close to each other, and Carol begs Therese to “Ask me, please!” They want to speak their emotions and not have them be taboo.

Unlike the racial tension of Haynes’s other ‘50s period piece “Far From Heaven”, “Carol” is not a social issue film. It’s a deeply personal love story; Carol’s desires are tearing her apart from her husband (Kyle Chandler) and her young daughter, and Therese’s uncertainty about her sexuality complicates her relationship with a potential fiancée (Jake Lacy).

Mara and Blanchett have impeccable chemistry. When they first have lunch together, Therese again echoes her innocence, with Mara ever so slightly propping herself up in her seat as though she’s never had a cigarette before. It’s a wonderful little touch, and she as an actress maintains the film’s mystique by never appearing too indecisive or too waifish. Mara’s an accomplished actress, but here she channels a young Audrey Hepburn’s natural graces.

Blanchett meanwhile channels just about all the rest of Old Hollywood, and slowly she reveals herself to be a flustered, hurt woman without ever losing her poise or leaving her bubble. It’s not unlike the work she did that won her an Oscar in “Blue Jasmine”, but here she’s likeable and ultimately as vulnerable as her innocent young lover.

Phyllis Nagy’s debut script from a novel by Patricia Highsmith (“The Talented Mr. Ripley”) is poetic, profound and beautiful. The cinematography by longtime Haynes collaborator Edward Lachman is dreamy. And the aforementioned costumes by three-time Oscar winner Sandy Powell are impeccable.

But above all the technical brilliance, heed a piece of advice given to Therese: “I have a friend who told me I should be more interested in humans.” “Carol” delves deep into the world of these two human beings and finds a home.

4 stars


Spike Jonze’s “Her” deepens our relationship with humans by embracing love and technology.

We live in a world of screens. There are now more screens and devices on this planet than there are humans. So it’s amazing how few of them there are in Spike Jonze’s “Her.”

Jonze’s film only invokes technology as a way to communicate the imperfect beauty of human nature. “Her” has a sci-fi high concept but it’s as true and honest a relationship movie as any ever made.

In Jonze’s near future, men don un-ironic mustaches, pants are beige and hitched high with no buttons or belt loops for style, walls and homes are pristine white and softly focused but not exaggeratedly so, and few people crane their necks staring down at cell phones. Everyone can be seen talking with head held high, but they’re speaking to indiscreet ear buds implanted in their sides, getting headlines and emails read aloud to them on the subway. In this new age Los Angeles, everyone is alone together. Continue reading “Her”

Side Effects

Steven Soderbergh’s movie “Side Effects” may just be his last film. Hopefully that’s not true, as this coldly clinical, but limp conspiracy thriller would be a disappointing way to end a great career.

“Side Effects” is supposed to look like a Zoloft commercial, correct? Steven Soderbergh’s film, which I hope is not his last despite his hints, sustains a flat, picturesque aesthetic resembling a medicine ad in a magazine or on TV. It’s designed to make the characters appear phony or untrustworthy, but the unfortunate side effect, for lack of a better term, is that the whole film falls limp in the process.

That you can’t trust these people or their actions is about all the hint I can give you without treading in spoiler territory. It involves the months after Martin (Channing Tatum) has just been released from a white-collar prison to his wife Emily (Rooney Mara). His presence, though loving and supportive, causes her to try and commit suicide shortly thereafter. A doctor named Jonathan (Jude Law) agrees to release her from the hospital on the condition that she come in for treatment and therapy, both of which will eventually lead to Emily’s mental breakdown, a lawsuit, some jail time and a conspiracy.

“Side Effects” is a film about the unexpected consequences of trying to do good. We look for a fix, or a cure, and more problems are borne out of it. Jonathan will drive himself insane trying to mend this problem he’s created in Emily, and he’ll eventually become a slave to his own medicine. Continue reading “Side Effects”

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

David Fincher’s “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” has made a stark, coldly digitized thriller that is at times brilliant and others tedious.

The Social Network” gave me false hope.

It was my favorite movie of last year. The prospect of seeing David Fincher (and not to mention Trent Reznor) tackling “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” after seeing the Swedish version (I haven’t read the book yet. I know, pathetic, right?) was just too good to be true.

I assumed Fincher’s approach to Facebook and the Zodiac Killer would make him a perfect fit for the cold, computerized, technology driven thriller that made the original so riveting.

In this American adaptation of the Millennium novels and not a remake, Fincher has done exactly what I expected and has made a film that is at times thrilling and brilliant and at others frustrating, slow and dry. Continue reading “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011)”