In Review!: “The Square”

The silly and serious The Square delights in the agony it creates for the audience. In extended, increasingly uncomfortable sequences surrounding the curator of a national museum, the film delivers cringey laughs over its lethargic length. Director Ruben Östlund has even more on his mind than his previous film, the acerbic family dark comedy Force Majeure, but just as much intention to make the audience uncomfortable for what he reflects back at them.


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In Review!: “BPM”

This year’s Cannes Grand Prix winner, Robin Campillo’s BPM (Beats Per Minute) is a staggering film. Detailing the Paris branch for the Act Up movement during the height of the AIDS epidemic, Campillo and his sprawling ensemble make the most humane film of the year in a year full of them. Embodying a spirit of activism that makes BPM an urgent and timely piece of filmmaking, there is hope in the act of resistance.

That sentiment is putting it mildly for the multitudes that BPM contains. Campillo is intellectually ambitious with the film and exacting in the breadth of what he achieves. It is a film of human beings that love one another, that bicker over crucial nuance and maneuver group dynamics. Human beings that protest, dance, fuck, and that live joyously and die unceremoniously. The outside world is cruel, but in here the water is warm. BPM is a masterpiece.


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In Review!: “Novitiate”

In Novitiate, a young Catholic school transplant Grace enters the sisterhood amidst the unspoken coming changes of Vatican II, a church ruling that would reduce the distance between clergy and follower. Directed by Margaret Betts, the journey that follows finds the shattering of traditions to be matched in the degradation of the spirits of its young inductee nuns. The film is led by Melissa Leo as the punishing and unyielding Mother Superior, but features a stunning cast led by Margaret Qualley as Grace and Julianne Nicholson as her wary, unreligious mother.


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In Review!: “Coco”

In an attic hideout, young Miguel not only hides a stash of memorabilia of legendary musician Ernesto de la Cruz, but also his own secret longing to become a musician himself. Trouble is, his small village life in Mexico is already predetermined to follow in his family tradition of making shoes and shunning music. But the discovery that Cruz is the great-great grandfather that abandoned the family and spurred their rules against music sends Miguel on a journey to the spirit world to reconcile the two halves of his heart. In so many ways, Coco feels deeply personal.


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In Review!: “Wonderstruck”

Todd Haynes returns with what may be his most mainstream film yet, Wonderstruck. Or perhaps it’s that this is as mainstream as Haynes gets, with his strange juxtapositions and nuances interests still on full display. It’s a whole different kind of ambition for one of our most ambitious filmmakers, and perhaps daring to make a movie with children in mind that neither panders nor plays by the children’s movie rule book. Haynes often recalls his previous work with new films, and Wonderstruck recalls his most structurally inventive but least accessible efforts, Poison and I’m Not There. The pairing of unexpected approach from an unexpected voice telling this particular story makes Wonderstruck a very special film.


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In Review!: “Blade Runner 2049”

Much has changed in the futuristic world of replicants and blade runners, but as ever in the real world, destructive forces remain the same. Blade Runner 2049 takes up decades after Ridley Scott’s influential vision and gives us something glossier and just as morally intricate. Ryan Gosling’s Officer K discovers a mystery than ultimately puts him on the search for Harrison Ford’s Deckard, with the potential for earth-shattering consequences. This time, in the hands of director Denis Villeneuve, the epic elements are also a bit glacial.


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In Review!: “Menashe”

A bustling New York City street hums at the start of Menashe, a sea of different lives moving independently, ready to become our story by catching the camera’s eye. It’s the titular grocery cashier, casually dressed by the standard of his Hasidic Jewish community, that sparks director Joshua Z. Weinstein’s eye.


His coatless, hatless frame is the first suggestion of his role as outsider to tradition, as is his timid and stifled sweet disposition. He’s a grieving widower, with his preteen son in the care of his brother-in-law until Menashe can remarry and provide the nuclear unit demanded by the doctrine. But in his humble pleading to care for his son without interference and attempts to memorialize his wife in ritual is the faintest quake of rebellion against stricture.

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In Review!: “Beach Rats”

Eliza Hittman’s Beach Rats is a study on the mind and body of a closeted Brooklyn teenager Frankie, with an enigmatic breakthrough performance from lead Harris Dickinson. Frankie cruises for sex with older men on webcam chat rooms, gets high with his shirtless friends, and starts a relationship with a sexually charged young woman. All of these serve as some kind of escape from Frankie’s separate selves.


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In Review!: “Good Time”

Josh and Benny Safdie have delivered another severe opus of desperation with Good Time, a crime film that fetishizes the gutter to much less humane effect than their last feature Heaven Knows What. Robert Pattinson stars as troublesome Constantine “Connie” Nikas, whose sway over his mentally handicapped brother Nick (also played by Benny Safdie) strays closer to control than doting protection. When a bank robbery that Connie forces Nick to participate in goes south, the film shuttles into Nick’s urgent haphazard overnight quest to gather the cash to bail Nick out of jail.


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In Review: “Brigsby Bear”

In Brigsby Bear, Kyle Mooney plays grown man-child James, coping with being reunited with his birth family after a lifetime spent in a idyllic bunker with his captor-parents. Having believed that the outside world was inhabitable, his life was spent with the singular obsession with a children’s educational program starring the cuddly (and creepy) creature of the film’s title. Discovering that the program was just one of the lies created by his benevolent captors (played by Mark Hamill and Jane Adams) is just the beginning for James’s adjustment into the real world. It’s not as icky or depressing as it sounds, but it sure is as affected.


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