Toni ErdmannSaying that Toni Erdmann is a great film is easy. Explaining why is considerably more difficult. Rarely is a movie so obviously good in the viewing and so elusive in the analysis. A simple synopsis yields few clues as to the work’s manifest virtues. A frustrated career woman is forced to deal with the stresses of her job and the unexpected appearance of her practical jokester of a father, and that is essentially the whole show for two hours and forty-two minutes. And it’s in German. And it’s billed as a comedy. That’s what’s known in the business as a “tough sell.”

Maybe, just maybe, Toni Erdmann is the rare contemporary film for which critics and reviewers can play an outsized role in raising awareness so that audiences don’t miss the opportunity to see an indescribably transcendent work. Bottom line: if you love movies, you have to see this one. Read the rest of this entry »

RawRaw (aka Grave) represents the best elements of the London Film Festival. Not only did this neat, original, out-of-nowhere film about living zombies at a veterinary school play at the festival, it actually won the Sutherland Award, given to the first feature with “the most original and imaginative directorial debut.” Last year, the same award went to Robert Eggers for his outstanding maiden effort, The Witch. That’s two years in a row in which this prize has gone to horror films. London is at the forefront of the major festivals at showcasing and promoting excellence in genre films. It is part of what makes those 12 days in October in the UK capital so special for film fans. Read the rest of this entry »

autopsyofjanedoeIt is more than a shame that The Autopsy of Jane Doe is not being released this weekend. It’s bad business not to make this film available for audiences at Halloween. One can easily imagine a huge opening weekend for one of the best horror films of 2016, courtesy of teens and millennials keyed up for a good scare. Instead, the film will hit the cineplex on December 21, when it will try to find an audience on the one or two screens not showing Rogue One on a continuous loop. Talk about leaving money on the table… Read the rest of this entry »

La La LandSimply put, La La Land is empty calories.

The film is a beautiful confection of color with huge amounts of artificial sweetener added to hide the rather stale ingredients that constitute the story. The resulting concoction produces a sugar rush of excitement initially, but the effect wears off well before the end of the 128-minute runtime, leaving viewers logy and dispirited.

It’s boy-meets-girl, boy-gets-girl, boy-loses-girl all against the painfully familiar backdrop of HOLLYWOOD!, because in HOLLYWOOD! anything can happen and does with absolute painful predictability. After all, it’s HOLLYWOOD! Mia (Emma Stone) is an aspiring actress and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is a pianist who dreams of opening a jazz club. Gee, you think the odds might be against them? Well, then you don’t know…

HOLLYWOOD! Read the rest of this entry »

Nocturnal AnimalsAfter suffering through a seemingly interminable summer of cinema that offered mediocrity, at best, most weeks, but, more often, a too familiar awfulness of stale, sequeled premises noisily and poorly executed, dedicated film goers have earned an autumn of excellence at the movie theater. We deserve movies like Nocturnal Animals. Tom Ford’s second feature film is everything that was missing from movies this summer. The film is challenging, intelligent, fierce, uncompromising, wrenching, and, most definitely, for adults. And, no, this is not simple Oscar bait material. No one among the A List cast is bravely portraying a disability, nor are we spoon fed a Hollywood interpretation of an important moment in history. Nocturnal Animals is original, in-you-face art. Read the rest of this entry »

ArrivalArrival is the finest first contact film since District 9 and takes its place alongside that work and Spielberg’s standard setter, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, as one of the best tales of the initial meeting between humans and extraterrestrials ever told on film. (Note: Comparisons to 2001: A Space Odyssey are unfair; Kubrick’s masterpiece occupies a unique and special place.) Arrival earns this distinction by way of its thoroughly original take on the alien life forms that come to Earth in 12 huge elliptical ships that hover off the ground in an inexplicable set of locations that include Russia, China, Australia, and Sudan. The aliens in Arrival not only sport an unexpected look, but their manner of communication is something we have not seen in a mainstream movie before.

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The HandmaidenThe Handmaiden, the latest and most lascivious of offerings from Korean bad boy director/writer Chan-wook Park, gives whole new meaning to the phrase “guilty pleasure.” Many, if not most, will enjoy this wicked, naughty (oh, so naughty) tale of deceit, sexual politics, and betrayal, but be careful: too much enthusiasm for this luscious work may generate suspicion. Are you really so enamored of Park’s decision to transplant the story from the source material, the novel Fingersmith by Sarah Waters, from Dickens’ London to 1930’s Korea? Are you a genuine fan of Asian film noir and relish a pitch black look at the human soul in its quest for money, power, and the upper hand? Or are you simply an educated pervert, engaging in blatant voyeurism, much like the gentlemen who listen to Lady Hideko’s readings of ribald tales at the invitation of her uncle? Read the rest of this entry »