Because the telekinetic, laser-shooting, teleporting teenage mutants in X-Men: Apocalypse are just like kids anywhere, they cut school to head to the mall and see a movie. As Bryan Singer's epic is set in the 80's, they see Return of the Jedi, laughing amongst themselves and joking that the third one is always the worst. In a dawning realization, that knowing aside turns into prophecy with this third film in the rebooted X-Men franchise. In the current glut of superhero films and franchises, a series that was clawing back towards the top of the heap falls back several notches, not quite to the DC level but further away from the MCU leader.
Stop-motion studio Laika's third feature, The Boxtrolls, isn't as intense or resonant or ambitious as their other work in Coraline, Paranorman, or Kubo and the Two Strings, but it might be the most charming entry from the house of Travis Knight. With its fish-out-of-water story in an eccentric steampunk society straight out of Gulliver's Travels, The Boxtrolls is aiming for comedy first. Directors Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi craft an oddball Dickensian world of social hierarchy where the overall motif tilts toward grotesquerie in all things, starting with the cheerful, bug-eating titular creatures and extending to the sallow faces and bad teeth of the human characters. Despite how outwardly repulsive and industrial the world is, The Boxtrolls still contains the beating heart implied by the Laika stamp, though in this case, that heart is held together with spit, gears, and lubricant.
Antonio Campos depicts the rare female anti-hero in Christine, the adaptation of the tragic end of Christine Chubbock. The last few months of Chubbock's life are depicted in nervy, brittle fashion, culminating in her infamous on-air suicide during the evening news. The second of two films about Chubbock released in 2016, the other, an experimental documentary called Kate Plays Christine, has high expectations set for it based on the strength of Campos' entry.
The over-the-top nature of the films of Korean director Park Chan-wook meets his granular attention to detail in The Handmaiden. He merges the high of immaculately-dressed costume dramas with the low of a gritty heist film, a melding of genres that wildly succeeds. Park's filmography, with its oft-repeated themes of sexual taboos, vengeance, and pathetic yet deadly men, feels like its reaching a climax here, like this is the film he's always been supposed to make. The Handmaiden, drowning in sensuality and subterfuge, is at the level of the best this auteur has ever done, if not his best work to date.
A coming-of-age two-hander set amongst the mountains of southwestern France, Being 17 gives its two protagonists emotional peaks and valleys that mirror the geography outside their windows. August French director Andre Techine infuses chaotic life into his film, while co-writer Celine Sciamma contributes the perceptive inner lives of children that she's also brought to Tomboy and My Life As a Zucchini. Their combined effort supports a film simmering in heated feelings barely contained beneath the surface, giving Being 17 a primal urgency and an emotional momentum that lasts all the way to the end credits.
It seems every famous actress now eligible for Social Security is getting their indie showpiece. Lily Tomlin had Grandma, Sally Field had Hello, My Name is Doris, and Blythe Danner had I'll See You in My Dreams. While I haven't seen Danner's entry, Grandma and Doris both were excellent showpieces for their protagonists, and Susan Sarandon gets her turn with The Meddler, the only of the aforementioned films to be directed by a woman in addition to starring one. Lorene Scafaria and Sarandon team up for a low-key, sweet film, proving that Sarandon is still deserving of lead roles and that Scafaria deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as other female indie directors like Lynne Ramsay and Nicole Holofcener.
Watchers of the Sky
Watchers of the Sky makes the case for the necessity of powerful international organizations while also demonstrating how difficult it is to corral so many national interests into a single directive. Edet Belzberg's documentary about the various genocides of the 20th and 21st century and the legal structures that had to be build around these atrocities by dedicated public servants is blood-boiling reportage that condemns nations for clinging to as much of their sovereignty as they can while ethnic or religious minorities are blotted out. The diplomatic and bureaucratic labyrinths that the various principles have to go through seem tailor-made to strangle idealism at its earliest manifestation, but somehow, the principals of the film persist in their mission.
Random projects from the MMC Universe.