In Review: Peterloo

The luckiest period films are sometimes remembered for how we feel like can reach out and touch them – its fabrics, its realized era details, the life given to figures we’ve known solely through the distance of history books. However, Mike Leigh’s Peterloo is one to by known by its odor, and in the best possible way. Here the typically idiosyncratically observed director gives us a massive textbook with the dust clouding off of it as he slams it in our laps, reeking of the kind of appealingly pungent book mold that immediately promises something austere and of a bygone time. But most importantly, it also instantly appears substantial.

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In Review: Little Woods

A stark but auspicious feature debut arrives with Nia DaCosta’s Little Woods, a tale of two sisters stuck at the bottom on the economic food chain. In the depressed Dakotan landscape, DaCosta finds a spiritual abyss for abandoned souls, with its two central women risking the law to improve their lives by marginal degrees. The film is spare, its narrative stripped to its very dry bones in quintessentially American piece of traditional storytelling. But the film’s success lies in how underneath the oppressive coldness it reveals in our society, burns a will to prevail that spites our limitations.

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In Review: Under the Silver Lake

David Robert Mitchell previously turned pastiche into high terror with It Follows, a quasi-giallo horror film that used sexual metaphor to both reinforce and solidify genre. His follow-up Under the Silver Lake does the same and then some, this time setting its sights on film noir traditions and even the slacker comedy. This time, Mitchell is ambitious without abandon, crafting another grimey piece of thoughtful genre exercise but miring it in intentional obliqueness. For better or worse (and there are equal doses of both qualifiers), Under the Silver Lake feels like Mitchell prematurely cashing in on all of his earned credit.

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In Review: Teen Spirit

Somebody said we got a new pop saga on the screen. Does it love us better than the slew of others can? Turns out that actor and now first time director Max Minghella has made one by the numbers that follows every beat we’re familiar with and almost nothing more. Teen Spirit follows a very familiar pop ascension narrative trajectory to acceptably involving results, relying largely on its ultrahip playlist of pop covers. However, the real draw is its headliner Elle Fanning, giving us a new facet to her reign as cinematic teen ingenue.

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In Review: Sauvage

With Sauvage, writer/director Camille Vidal-Naquet creates a film that refuses to be overcome – not to prurient sexual displays, not to emotional manipulation, not to bleakness. This realist telling of a homeless male sex worker’s life is many things, but never is it exploitative. But most exciting is Vidal-Naquet’s achievement in crafting a story that shirks tidiness or the dishonesty of an overly pat, definitively complete character arc. The film is a dark night of the soul where personal demons might always remain to haunt, where darkness has as much potential undertow as optimism. From Sauvage’s vantage, the human spirit is a transitional creature.

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