October 2016 movies

Here are the movies I reviewed for the October issue of EL Magazine, which was distributed in Tokyo last week.

THE BFGThe BFG
The title of this Spielberg-blessed fantasy will obviously provide hours of off-color entertainment for nasty-minded adolescents, but it stands for “big friendly giant,” a phrase whose cheerful tone belies the kind of dark humor favored by its author, Roald Dahl. Suffice it to say that it was obviously penned in a spirit of irony, though with Spielberg at the controls the sentimentality is bound to be more pronounced. In the land where the BFG (Mark Rylance) resides, his gentler nature is ridiculed by other giants who aren’t so friendly. They’re, in fact, bigger, stronger, and generally more unpleasant in the way bullies tend to be. They also eat people, which they refer to as “human beans.” The BFG appears to be a prototypical vegan. He’s also something of a voyeur, and the most magical scene comes right at the beginning, when we see him stalking the night streets of London and peering in windows, listening to children’s heartbeats and sucking out their dreams for future uses. When human contact seems imminent, he effortlessly blends into the shadows and, despite his size, disappears from sight. One night, Sophie (Ruby Barnhill), an orphan living in a dormitory, can’t sleep and wanders the halls of the orphanage. She spots the BFG from her balcony, and, in a panic, he scoops her up and brings her back to his lair in the land of the giants. Spielberg’s peculiar genius is realized in such scenes, a combination of borderline terror and magic wonder at the effortless way he presents this abduction. It doesn’t take long, however, for Sophie to figure out she’s not in danger, and their relationship warms to a glowing ember of trust, even love. Though much is made of the BFG’s simple diet of snozzberries and his weird command of English (“Often I is left instead of right”), there isn’t much in the way of plot development to this long establishing passage, and the viewer gets the feeling that Spielberg is less interested in Dahl’s story than he is in luxuriating in a world he fell for thirty years ago, when the book was first published. Eventually, however, action calls, and the BFG’s tormentors show up to sniff out Sophie, and at about this point Spielberg loses the thread. Though the action set pieces are thrilling and comprehensible, their relationship to the concluding situation—a meeting with the queen to destroy the human-gobbling giants once and for all—feels as if it were imported from a different movie. One can imagine Dahl getting off on the spectacle of the queen of England battling monsters, but the way it’s handled here is more ludicrous than charming. Speilberg should have stayed in Giant Country. (photo: Storyteller Distribution Co. LLC and Disney Enterprises)

x-defaultBridget Jones’s Baby
It’s been a decade since the world’s favorite singleton last appeared on screen, and despite Renee Zellweger’s infamous transformation, the Bridget we see is not much different from the old one. She’s slightly slimmer, thus obviating the need for jokes at the expense of her figure; and, in a sense, that’s a relief, even if it doesn’t mean anything in the long run. It’s hardly a spoiler to point out, per the title, that she spends a good portion of the film pregnant. But first things first. Bridget and Mark Darcy (Colin Firth) didn’t work out the way the last installment predicted: His busy schedule as a human rights barrister kept him at the office so much that the shine went out of their relationship and he married someone else. She’s still in television, though no longer an on air talent; rather, the producer of an inadvertently funny news show: This is what broadcast news has come to and no one seems wise to its deterioration. After Bridget turns 43, her news reader pal hauls her off to a Glastonbury-like rock festival for the express purpose of getting her laid, and she does, by an oddly gracious American hunk (Patrick Dempsey) whose name she doesn’t bother to learn. Panicking the morning after, Bridget splits the festival only to find herself next to Darcy at the christening of a mutual friend’s baby, and when he confesses after the ceremony that he’s left his wife, they end up in bed. The titular bundle becomes the movie’s theme-cum-running joke in a series that thrives on them: Who is the father? Is it the American hunk, whose name turns out to be Jack and whose vocation happens to be IT billionaire—he’s developed an algorithm that perfectly matches couples. Though the situations are thin and the characters caricatures, on the whole the movie is funnier than the first two, owing mainly to the aforementioned treatment of modern media truisms. And while it doesn’t get overly soppy on the subject of motherhood—or fatherhood, for that matter—one would hope that by this time Bridget might have gotten over her romantic insecurities and decided that single life isn’t half bad—even with a kid on the way. If such a conclusion disregards the socioeconomic problems that single mothers face even in developed cultures, then you’re already reading too much into Helen Fielding’s fictional character, which, frankly speaking, wasn’t meant to last this long. Things have changed, not least of which are attitudes toward popular entertainment, and Bridget Jones’s Baby can’t help but come off as a desperate effort to keep a once decent, but instantly dated, idea alive as a film franchise. I’m sure this is the end of the series, but in any case it’s a Bridget too far. (photo: Universal Studios, Studiocanal and Miramax)

bytheseaBy the Sea
Though the premise of Angelina Jolie’s marital potboiler is the fragility of sexual relationships, by setting it in a time and place that will resonate with cinema-savvy viewers the movie risks drowning in a flood of signifiers. Vanessa (Jolie), a depressive ex-dancer, and Roland (Brad Pitt), an alcoholic blocked writer, are trying to recharge in an old seaside hotel on Malta, a place even Antonioni would find pretentious. Vanesssa is so far gone on ennui and pills she can barely walk, and Roland spends all his time out of the room drinking and frowning at the horizon. When a honeymoon couple shows up in the adjacent room and commence loud sex on a continuing basis, the strain on the Americans is palpable. Set in the 70s, the film doesn’t have to compensate for our current culture’s contentious take on sexual freedom, but it still feels dated. Whatever it lacks in originality, it makes up for in Pitt’s unself-conscious performance. People will talk—how much mirrored the Pitt-Jolies’ own marriage, which since this was released has gone kaput? That Pitt makes you uncomfortable renders the question more than compelling. (photo: Universal Studios)

eightdays-copyEight Days a Week
Though it contains live footage never made available publicly before thanks to a crowdsourcing project connected to the production, and the sound has been cleaned up, at this late date Ron Howard’s meticulous chronicle of the Beatles’ “touring years” (??? to 1966) reveals little that’s new, and as such it may simply annoy millennials, the demographic that boomer Howard says he wants to reach. No generationn escapes Beatlemania alive, and the latest to reach nascent adulthood may already be sick of this particular species of nostalgia, even more so than previous generations. The operative morpheme here is “-mania,” since all the live footage has to be heard through an aural scrim of teenage female keening. The band was notoriously bewildered, and later sickened, by the outpouring of pubescent enthusiasm. It’s why they quit touring in the first place, despite their obvious love for performing and their facility at playing, arranging, and singing, which come through marvelously in the cleaned up segments that show full performances. (The proper documentary is followed by a half-hour film of their legendarily unhearable performance at Shea Stadium, which is very, very good) Even those of us who were alive at the time may not have completely understood how insane this reaction was, and while Howard may focus a little too much on it, it accentuates a theory about The Beatles that’s come to be taken for granted and thus not fully appreciated. Most significantly, the group’s reaction to their fame presents their appeal as being more than just musical or cultural. What the four British rockers represented in the 60s was confidence and savvy that had no use for false modesty or tolerance for bullshit. Dylan may have done the same thing with more force, but The Beatles did it with more humor. Despite the suits and the synchronized bows—hoisted on them by manager Brian Epstein—they reveled in their common sense approach to being impolitic smart alecks. The surviving insiders and journalists interviewed by Howard make it clear that it was this attribute that gave them credibility among squares who otherwise couldn’t stand their songs, but who eventually came to accept the music and recognize its inherent genius. The boldest manifestation of this sensibility was their refusal to play segregated venues in the South, a move that one black activist claims accelerated the civil rights movement. But mostly it showed that talent wasn’t an isolated event; it sprung from a mentality that was free to express itself. That’s a revolution in itself. (photo: Apple Corps Ltd.)

everybodyEverybody Wants Some!!
Though it can be viewed as a kind of overdue sequel to Dazed and Confused, the high school graduation comedy that kickstarted Richard Linklater’s career, this nostalgic trip to college life in 1980 seems less autobiographical, more experimental narrative-wise. Set in the off-campus house where Southeast Texas State University’s baseball team lives, the movie wallows in pre-AIDS, pre-PC debauchery while interrogating the meaning of proto-adult comeraderie. Blake Jenner heads a cast of game unknowns as Jake, a freshman pitcher from California who has to prove himself in various ways to the team, and by narrowing the time frame to the three days prior to the start of the school year, most of the tests are in the realm of social acceptance. Linklater gets to vicariously relive those heady days of endless, guiltless drinking, drugging, and making out while at the same time wondering what toll it actually takes on the young male mind and body. He does this by exploiting the athletes’ obsession with partying to present disparate counter-cultures: there’s a party in a disco, a party at a punk club, and, most revelatory, a party at another off-campus house for art students, where Jake gets to know a young artist (Zoey Deutch) who earlier made encouraging remarks in his direction when a carload of his teammates made a move on a bunch of her friends. What’s interesting about these set pieces is that they not only point up this generation’s tolerance for differences (as long as their having a good time), but that the differences aren’t really that important. Even within the team, where macho competitiveness fuels the players’ respective will to succeed, there’s much less resentment and backbiting than you’d expect from a movie like this, and most of the time the viewer wonders when the other shoe will drop: There isn’t a whole lot of conflict going on. Eventually, Linklater’s purposes become clear, that the conflicts are less interpersonal than intrapersonal. Some of the players fret that they won’t make the grade as athletes, but not because they’ll lose out to someone else, but because they’ll fail on their own merits. The partying is thus a salve and a trap, and while breaking the house rules (no alcohol, no girls in the upstairs bedrooms) is par for the course, there are limits, which are mostly represented by Jake’s relatively even-handed approach to having fun. When one character is quietly removed from the movie because it’s been found he’s been hiding his advanced age, it leaves a hole that goes unremarked by the other characters, and you feel their anxiety all the more. Linklater presents us with a mini-utopia—the soundtrack, mustaches, and other period signifiers are juiced for maximum enjoyment—that forces you to consider nostalgia in a new way, because everyone at one time wanted some. (photo: Paramount Pictures)

LA DERNIÈRE LEÇONThe Final Lesson
An exhausting exercise in button-pushing, Pascale Pouzadoux’s melodrama isn’t simply about a 92-year-old woman deciding she’s had enough of life and talking her family into letting her end it, it’s also about the French as a uniquely tolerant race. Following several scares involving mobility and cognitive capabilities, Madeliene (Marthe Villalonga) is sent to a nursing home by her daughter Diane (Sandrine Bonnaire) and son Pierre (Antoine Dulery). She resists mightily and ends up back in her perfectly appointed Paris apartment, where she firmly sets a date for her departure from this mortal coil. The family freaks out at first, though Madeliene’s Malian maid, who sings her African folk songs, understands completely. What makes Pouzadoux’s premise less-than-convincing is the clear-headed way Madeliene puts her affairs in order. The decision seems all the more strange when you realize what a vital person she is. A former midwife, she even helps birth a baby on a park bench. Compounded by the sympathies of Madeliene’s surfer grandson, the movie’s almost whimsical take on end-of-life prerogatives leaves a bizarre taste in the mouth. In French. (photo: Fidelite Films-Wild Bunch-France 2 Cinema-Fantaisie Films)

francophoniaFrancofonia
Unlike his ode to the Hermitage, Russian Ark, which was distinguished by one long take of the St. Petersburg museum, Aleksandr Sokurov’s documentary about the Louvre is conventionally didactic. Still, no one will mistake him for Frederick Wiseman. Sokurov sees the Louvre as a stand-in for European civilization, which is why its cooptation by the Nazis is covered so extensively. Sokurov dramatizes the relationship between the museum’s director and the art historian-cum-officer put in charge of transferring the Louvre’s treasures to Germany. Though the director could have fled the Nazi onslaught, he decided to remain so as to keep the collection in France. He succeeded through subterfuge but also by dint of the centrality of those art works in the collective consciousness of Europeans. Hitler and Napoleon are compared in ways that make you think differently about both men. But the point is that the Louvre, even more than the Hermitage, is a monument to “national interest.” Though pedantic in spots, the movie contains breathtaking camerawork and witty juxtapositions that underline French culture as being the most characteristic “immigrant” society in the West. In Russian and French. (photo: Ideale Audience-Zero One Film-N279 Entertainment-Arte France Cinema-Musee de Louvre)

7X2A8283-3.cr2Genius
Was the period between the wars the greatest era for American literature? Director Michael Grandage thinks so, but his subject is Thomas Wolfe (Jude Law), whose verbose style quickly went out of fashion. The story centers on his relationship with Scribners editor Maxwell Perkins (Colin Firth), and it says something about the movie’s take on the topic that we’re not sure if the “genius” of the title is Wolfe or Perkins, but in any case Perkins felt Wolfe was the most gifted of his illustrious charges. But unlike Hemingway and Fitzgerald, Wolfe was almost impossible to edit. In the film’s centerpiece scene, he delivers the first draft of Look Homeward, Angel in multiple crates of single-space scrawl. Later, after Perkins has helped whittle it down to publishable length and it becomes a bestseller, he frets over whether or not he destroyed a masterpiece. Since Wolfe’s life was as unruly as his art, there’s enough drama to make up for the inordinate amount of time spent on literary theory, but if writing is your passion this movie is just candy. (photo: Genius Film Productions Ltd.)

UNTITLED JOEL EDGERTON PROJECTThe Gift
Joel Edgerton’s debut as writer-director is a standard stalker thriller with a social conscience. Edgerton depicts the victim couple, played by Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall, as upwardly mobile, consumer-conscious leftists, a demographic usually derided in the movies. At first, Gordo (Edgerton), a high school acquaintance of Simon’s (Bateman) who keeps showing up at the couple’s mansion-like new SoCal abode after Simon takes an executive position with an IT company, seems like an earnest dork. It isn’t until after his attentions become creepy that we learn anything about his relationship with Simon back in the day, and the viewer is forced to take Robyn’s (Hall) POV, since she has distressingly little knowledge of her husband’s past. This dynamic is different, since the usual jolts and spins associated with the genre are replaced with insights into the striving nature of the current employment scene, but Edgerton isn’t as precise as he could be, and the twisty comeuppance suggested by the title, with its impossible logistics, is just as gimmicky as the psycho lurking behind the closed door with the knife. (photo: STX Prod. LLC and Blumhouse Prod. LLC)

harmoniumHarmonium
Koji Fukada’s dark domestic drama takes place in an urban environment where the streets are empty and so are the lives. Toshio (Kanji Furutachi) runs a small metal fabrication shop. His wife, Akie (Mariko Tsutsui), does the books and keeps house. Their 10-year-old daughter, Hotaru (Momone Shinokawa), plays the titular pump organ and attends church with her mother, a pastime Toshio has no interest in. This dull trio is invaded by an overly polite man named Yasaka (Tadanobu Asano), who has just gotten out of prison and asks for a job, confident Toshio will hire him because of some awful secret they share from the past. Yasaka’s insertion seems harmless at first, until Fukada starts dropping little shock bombs. Because the movie is so quiet and underpopulated, the surprises are particularly unnerving, and the movie pulls you in, even if you wished it would just leave you alone. Thoughtfully written and carefully directed, Harmonium eventually comes across as an exercise in queasy manipulation, and once Fukada’s emotional aims are made apparent, the movie doesn’t really have anywhere to go. In Japanese. (photo: Eiga Fuchi ni Tatsu Seisaku Iinkai/Commes des Cinemas)

heartofdogHeart of a Dog
This art project by Laurie Anderson has been called an “experimental documentary,” a weak term that does nothing to indicate its effect, which is primarily emotional. Though it’s ostensibly an aural memoir of her rat terrier, Lolabelle, Anderson conflates her mourning for the dog’s loss with a treatise on the lives of New Yorkers since the 911 attacks and thus a thesis paper on death in general. In the movie’s most moving essay, she recounts walking in a California forest with Lolabell when a hawk descends in an attempt to catch the dog, which realizes for the first time that “death can come from above.” Visually, the movie is unremarkable—home videos and treated photos mixed with stock footage—but combined with Anderson’s sublimely melancholy soundtrack music and the lilting, almost sing-songy quality of her hushed narration, the images take on a haunting immediacy, as if the past really were being brought back to life. Much of the power of the stories are in their tangential but fortified proximity to the main subjects at hand. A late, detailed recounting of a long period of convalescence when Andersen was an adolescent following a pool accident is meant to illuminate the fraught enterprise of storytelling. Months spent prone in bed excited Andersen’s young imagination, but now she’s not sure if her recall of those days is accurate, only that they remain vivid. “The creepiest thing about stories is that you get your story and you hold onto it,” she says. “And every time you tell it, you forget it.” This approach to storytelling is, of course, an acknowledgment of how we deal with loss, and while she never mentions her husband, Lou Reed, who died while she made the film, by name, his spirit imbues every impulse, not to mention our own reception of the movie since she must know that many people will be thinking of him as they watch. This is where the copious mentions of Buddhism not only make sense, but make you appreciate the everyday utility of Buddhist thought. But just in case, it’s one of Reed’s songs that plays over the closing credits. Anderson’s tales and commentary are specific and personal, but they extend readily into the viewer’s consciousness, and forces us to contemplate our own stories for connections and meaning. Though the movie basically exploits trauma for its own aesthetic ends, it does a marvelous job of assuaging the pain caused by bad memories. The only real tragedy, Anderson seems to be saying, is not feeling anything at all. (photo: Canal Street Communications Inc.)

janisJanis: Little Girl Blue
Amy Berg is forced by necessity to hold back on the pronouncements in her documentary about Janis Joplin, and the restraint allows the viewer to take in the late singer’s life and career without overbearing analysis. What’s fascinating is how well Joplin navigated frontier territory. Though judged a tragic figure by history because her drug death at 27, she is shown as a woman who knew what she wanted and went for it without much damage to her soul. The overdose was more of an unfortunate mistake than something that seemed inevitable. Though she has little to work with, Berg mixes poignant reminiscences of surviving acquaintances with powerhouse footage that proves Joplin was more than just a hippie blues chick. There was no one like her, and no one has really taken her place. Moreover, she cut a mean figure in a world totally dominated by men without surrendering anything of her self, and in most cases the men respected her for it and were better persons. The title mostly refers to her sad childhood, because in the end, Janis Joplin was a confident, original artist. (photo: Janis Productions LLC & Thirteen Productions LLC)

jasonbourneJason Bourne
The most dispiriting aspect of current popular movie culture is the idea that familiarity is the only currency everyone understands. This idea drives not only the multi-platform strategy that sees video games and comics instantly transformed for the screen, but also the endless streams of sequels to once original stories that no one really remembers any more. Paul Greengrass wasn’t the first director to helm the Matt Damon-starring Bourne series, but he oversaw the second one, which is generally thought to be the best, or at least the most characteristic in terms of bringing out the main character’s superhuman capabilities under duress. Greengrass is the ultimate “kinetic” director, a man who is not squeamish about attaching his camera operators to wires and fast-moving vehicles, the shakier and more nausea-inducing the better. With his return to the series, not to mention Damon’s after a one-off with Jeremy Renner, Jason Bourne the movie feels like old times, though it’s only been 12 years since the two first worked together. And while the action is as chaotic and exciting as ever, the ring of the familiar renders it all indistinct. We’ve seen it all before, so many times in fact that even while we’re watching we’re not sure we’re following an actual plot. This confusion is an inadvertent function of the Bourne mythos: as a former CIA agent who lost his memory, his understanding of his own powers and what they were used for is an ongoing process, and in each installment he learns something new and momentous, mostly having to do with his former employer’s ruthless realpolitik. This time, Bourne, who has been slumming around Eastern Europe as a bare-knuckle street boxer, is contacted by his former fellow Company rogue, Nicky (Julia Stiles), who informs him that hackers have uncovered some intelligence about his father. While tracking down this info, Bourne’s existence is once again noticed by Langley, which has been pursuing and trying to kill him for the last four episodes. Supplemental intrigue is provided by the dynamic between the head of the CIA (Tommy Lee Jones) and his most ambitious underling, Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander), who thinks she has a plan. Violence on the ground is provided by the grudge-holding assassin known as the Asset (Vincent Cassel). Again, these are all plot devices we’ve seen before, and combined with Greengrass’s patented wild style, it tends to become a blur without Cliff Notes. Though there are a few nods to current headlines (Wikileaks, Islamic terrorism), the movie never feels connected to any sort of recognizable reality, despite the globetrotting frenzy and filmic naturalism. This a world created by and for Jason Bourne. We’re only here to watch. (photo: Universal Studios)

infinityThe Man Who Knew Infinity
As A Beautiful Mind showed, it’s very difficult to convey the appeal of mathematics in a movie. This biopic of the Indian Srinivasa Ramanujan (Dev Patel) has the same problem and attempts to shoo it away by repeatedly trying to convince the viewer that his genius was “instinctual.” Born into poverty in Madras, Ramanujan was self-taught and landed an accounting job with a local Brit exporter (Stephen Fry) to earn money for a dowry. He is encouraged by an educated mentor to publish his theories, which lead him to G.H. Hardy (Jeremy Irons), a professor at Cambridge, who invites him to England. Given his religious beliefs, the journey turns into a huge trial of faith and endurance for the Indian, who is subjected to racial indignities both on campus and off. And while Hardy recognizes his talents, he tries to bend the young man to scholarly protocol. “You need proofs,” he keeps telling Ramanujan, who resists, saying that he “knows” his theories to be true. In the end, you have to take both men’s word for their respective positions, because its all calculus to me. (photo: Infinity Commissioning and Distribution LLC)

Our Kind Of TraitorOur Kind of Traitor
Director Susanna White gives John le Carre’s novel a tongue-in-cheek Hitchcock treatment that often confounds the themes le Carre cares about. Perry (Ewan McGregor) is befriended by a Russian money launderer named Dima (Stellan Skarsgard) while in vacation in Marrakech with his wife (Naomie Harris). In exchange for a night of premium debauchery, Perry is asked by Dima to help him and his family defect to the UK with a list of names of Russian sympathizers in the British government. This is way above Perry’s pay grade, and when he passes this request on to MI6, the spymaster in charge, Hector (Damian Lewis), knows he needs to keep the deal under wraps unless someone in government finds out. Though the script previews some of the issues the UK is currently struggling with in its relations with the EU, too much energy is expended on mechanics that don’t work due to Perry’s somewhat cavalier attitude. He’s hardly espionage material, and his wife is nothing more than a troublesome fifth wheel. You know you’re in trouble when you need long speeches to provide exposition. (photo: Studiocanal S.A.)

pkPK
Director Rajkumar Hirani and actor Aamir Khan, who made the global hit 3 Idiots, team up once again for this space-alien comedy with a pointed social message. Khan plays the titular ET, a bug-eyed innocent who comes to earth to study our species and is immediately robbed of the device that will summon his space ship. He spends the entire movie trying to retrieve it, and along the way undergoes a masters instensive class in the nature of religious orthodoxy, and not just one or two religions, but many. An ambitious young TV journalist (Anushka Sharma) tries to make PK’s simple pronouncements about the inherent hypocrisy of most organized religion a news story, and the film climaxes in a heated debate between PK and a shifty hindu guru. The movie’s broad Bollywood prerogatives—sappy production numbers, even sappier romantic melodrama, stilted slapstick—sometimes get in the way of Hirani’s carefully considered cultural commentary. It could only be considered daring and provocative in contrast to movies that wouldn’t contemplate such matters, but it’s also more entertaining than those movies. (photo: Rajkumar Hirani Films Private Ltd.)

Fusion x64 TIFF FileThe Red Turtle
Dutch animator Michael Dudok De Wit’s feature length fairy tale is the first movie Studio Ghibli has commissioned from an outside filmmaker. What attracted Ghibli to De Wit was the gentle melancholy of his short film Father and Daughter, a trait that characterizes Ghibli’s own work. This fairy tale, produced in France, makes excellent use of De Wit’s trademark simple lines and cinematic camera placements by conveying the crushing loneliness of a man shipwrecked on a deserted island. The man’s attempts to return to civilization via homemade raft are confounded by the titular sea creature, which at first seems like the man’s nemesis but turns out to be his savior, both spiritually and physically. And while the magical elements don’t add enough to the moral component of the story, the mix of naturalism and dream-like digressions are effective emotionally. There’s no dialogue, and none required. As to whether the movie’s melancholy approach will appeal to Ghibli diehards, the film’s thin plot doesn’t resonate, but the images do, and for De Wit’s purposes that’s more than enough.

seymourSeymour: An Introduction
Ethan Hawke, directing his first documentary, admits that his subject precludes the need to “direct.” Septuagenarian pianist Seymour Bernstein is capable of clearly explaining himself and his art, and as you watch you understand that this special skill is a function of his vocation as a teacher. Though a gifted technician, Bernstein decided to forego a career as a concert pianist due to his nervous temperament. He just never felt comfortable on stage, and so decided to mentor young artists. Hawke gives over a good portion of the film to scenes of Bernstein instructing, and the measured, confident tone of his instructions on style has a plainspoken appeal that even laypersons can appreciate. If the film errs on the side of hagiography, it at least gives voice to classical music views that rarely get aired, such as Bernstein’s polite contempt for the popularity of Glenn Gould. Otherwise, he’s as close to a saint as an artist can be, and clearly an object lesson for Hawke, who has always been overly sensitive to his dual image as a serious actor and Hollywood heartthrob. (photo: Risk Love LLC)

sullySully
At 90 minutes and directed with all the visual economy Clint Eastwood is famous for, this recreation of the “miracle on the Hudson” has bullet-proof appeal, but Todd Komarnicki’s script, besides being a well of pokey, trite dialogue, keeps revisiting those decisive 208 seconds when a U.S. Airways flight just out of LaGuardia on Jan. 15, 2009, made an emergency landing in the icey waters of the Hudson River and all 155 people aboard survived. The point is to get to the kernel of Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger’s (Tom Hanks) mind to determine why he made the decision to ditch the plane in the drink, especially after federal transportation authorities conclude he had enough time to return to LaGuardia despite the loss of 2 engines. Eastwood aims for cognitive dissonance that his heart doesn’t buy: We know Sully is a hero, but his own professionalism and military-trained temperament eat at his confidence until the mandated epiphany of clear-sightedness. The resolution of those doubts, though rendered with bracing realism, doesn’t require much persuasion. The drama is forced. (photo: Warner Bros.)

treasureThe Treasure
The latest by Romanian director Corneliu Porumboiu is a post-communist scan of a capitalist conceit—the promise of money for nothing—that proves the old adage that nothing is free. Adrian (Adrian Purcarescu) asks his neighbor, Costi (Cuzin Toma), for a loan to rent a metal detector so that he can locate gold supposedly buried on family property. Costi involves himself in the scheme, though as a bureaucrat he knows all treasure must be submitted to the authorities. The two conspire to make sure the police don’t find out, because they are living beyond their already meager means. But the plan will only work if they’re the only two people who know about it, and eventually family and friends get hip. The search becomes more labor intensive than either man imagined, but just when the viewer figures they will either kill each other or die from exhaustion, Porumboiu pulls a stunt so ridiculously apt you may lose all faith in the power of hard work as an equalizer; which is exactly the point. Life is rigged, no matter which social system you live in. In Romanian. (photo: 42km Film, Les Films du Worso, Rouge International, Arte France Cinema)

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