Archive for the ‘Drama’ Category

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. (more…)

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. (more…)

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? (more…)

The Eyes of My MotherEvery year, we invariably hear of one or more movies that “redefine” or “reinvent” the horror genre. Most times, careful viewings of the films in question reveal a slick repackaging of familiar conventions. Often, the redefining is a twist on a twist; the reinvention is a reversal of expectations. Horror fans take these slight alterations in style in stride, noting the degree of success by the extent of the imitations they spawn. The new becomes the old within a relatively short period of time, and the genre is reset. (more…)

Under the ShadowThe Iran-Iraq War was an interminable sequence of horrors, largely unseen by the West and then quickly overshadowed by Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait and the subsequent Gulf War. The conflict stretched from 1980-88 and featured some of the most brutal warfare since the First World War including child soldiers, chemical weapons, trench fighting, human wave offensives, and wide-scale civilian bombing. To set a fantastical horror movie within the horribleness of this conflict would seem to risk trivializing the tragedy, but the eloquent, understated film Under the Shadow amplifies the terrors of the war and the all too real consequences for the populace. (more…)

High-RiseQ: How many times do you see a movie before you review it?

A: With few exceptions, one viewing is all I get before I pull the trigger. And, with even fewer exceptions, one viewing is generally all I need. And by that, I do not mean that I know all there is to know after a single screening. Rather, it’s unlikely that my basic opinion will change from that initial reaction. One notable exception is The Dark Knight. I’m not sure what it was, but my response after seeing it was, “Meh.” I’ve seen it twice since then and have been awestruck both times. Not sure if it my expectations were too high or if I was just having a bad day, but that’s one time when my first impression was not worth a damn. I really enjoyed Map to the Stars the first time I saw it and decided to use it as a critical experiment. I waited a week and then saw it again before writing a review. The additional viewing provided some nuance, particularly regarding performances, but had little effect on my overall evaluation. Otherwise, too many movies and too little time limits me to one shot per flick. (more…)

ALOYSFor many, full immersion into a film festival – that is, seeing between 30 and 40 films in the course of less than two weeks – does not seem a pleasurable or meaningful way to spend one’s life, or even one’s vacation. Considering that in 2014, the average number of movie tickets sold per person in the U.S. for the year was 3.7, the idea of seeing that many films in a day is mind boggling for many. Other than an intense love of film, another explanation exists for why someone would travel 11 hours over two flights to a foreign country, spend 12 nights alone in a hotel, only to watch three or four movies per day – which is the thumbnail itinerary for this critic’s February trip to Germany for Berlinale. Invariably, over the course of the festival, at least a hidden treasure emerges, one film, maybe two, that might otherwise go unnoticed or unreleased internationally.  At the 2015 Berlinale, Austrian films Homesick and The Last Summer of the Rich were two gems on display that have been seen only sporadically since their premieres.

At the 2016 Berlinale, Aloys, a Swiss feature that defies categorization, but might be best be described as a post-modern detective flick in which an Asperger Sam Spade goes off in search of himself, was the prize that made the trip worthwhile. (more…)