Harry Dean Stanton’s final role must be in consideration for one of his best. In actor-turned-first-time-director John Carroll Lynch’s Lucky, Stanton’s wiry, weathered presence dominates a film that is, fittingly, about endings and death. Stanton’s titular character is a version of himself that never acted or became tangentially famous. Many of the details are the same. Neither Stanton nor Lucky ever married or had children, they both served in the Navy during WWII, both lived much longer than their actuarial tables would suggest, and they’re both friends with David Lynch, who plays a barfly who’s lost his tortoise. From that shared backstory, the film puts Lucky in a dusty California town and simply observes his daily routine and the philosophy that has guided his life. The film knows that Stanton is a charismatic presence in spite of himself, and it’s a pleasure to watch him do anything, even if it’s as acinematic as working on a crossword puzzle in a diner.
Singing show competitor turned rising film star Jessie Buckley’s gets a centerpiece role in Tom Harper’s Wild Rose, a film bursting with charisma and energy thanks to its irrepressible lead. Harper and writer Nicole Taylor break out from the many movies similar to this one and find new wrinkles and pathways for the aspiring musician protagonist to follow. They incorporate class and the limited choices a lesser financial status provides with a clear-eyed vision of what it takes to distinguish oneself in a crowded market, and with Buckley at the helm, construct a lead with considerable stage presence while also showing how that might not be enough. With uniquely American country music as the chosen art form and a setting in Glasgow, Wild Rose pits the social strata of the old world against the optimism of the new and lets them fight it out.
Seven directors have taken a crack at adapting Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel Little Women, and it’s difficult to imagine any of those versions or a future version topping the one that Greta Gerwig has brought to screens. Gerwig’s second film avoids the autobiographical trap so many indie-bred directors fall into, where her first film, Lady Bird, succeeds based on a deep personal connection and future projects lack the same authenticity. Instead, she seals herself as one of the greatest auteurs of her generation. Her directorial resume might be short, but when both of a director’s films are the best of their respective years, attention must be paid. With Little Women, Gerwig recreates the tonal structure that she brought to Lady Bird, a structure that foregrounds irresistible world-building with a melancholic back half, and builds a hang-out movie out of a beloved text that is also deftly updated for the current moment. Alcott’s original work is clearly powerful if it has persisted for so long: Gerwig’s take should endure indefinitely alongside it.
After Morgan Neville’s tear-jerking, highly successful documentary about Fred Rogers, Won’t You Be My Neighbor, one might think the public’s interest in once again spending time with the beloved-by-all children’s TV host might be satisfied. Marielle Heller disagrees, and proves that interest is bottomless with A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, an equally great fictionalized depiction that casts the equally beloved Tom Hanks as Rogers. Unlike Neville’s documentary, Heller and writers Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster make Rogers a supporting character to Matthew Rhys’ irritable journalist, but Rogers’ calming and mystifying presence radiates out over the film. It might be the tumultuous times we live in, but as long as the cinematic output around Rogers is so strong, his presence and message remains welcome and needed.
There is something so strange and off-putting about the Hasidic community in New York. In the midst of a multicultural metropolis, a cloistered, repressive, and conformist group remains dedicated to staying in a bygone era of vaccine-preventable disease and women informally barred from the workplace. The Amish just come off differently, probably because it makes more sense to be insular in a rural community. The oddness of the Hasidim is on display in Joshua Z. Weinstein’s Menashe, a film about a man on the outside of his community who wants to return to full status. Though Menashe doesn’t sell why that would be the best option for him, it does provide an opportunity for a peek inside a closed-off world.
It’s easy to forget that, despite their Scandinavian progressivism, Denmark has been at war in Afghanistan for almost the entirety of the 21st century. This particular kind of warfare, where the combatants are mixed in with civilians, seems especially hard to square with a generous welfare state that sees all people, including Afghanis, as worthy of dignity and support. As depicted in Tobias Lindholm’s A War, this is an admirable and perhaps impossible way to wage war. His thorny moral quandary forces the viewer to question their own assumptions and biases, and is also one of the best films made about the war in Afghanistan.
Robert Eggers’ staggering debut The Witch took the worst fears of its Puritan protagonists and made them real. His follow-up, The Lighthouse, does the same with the legends and superstitions of 19th century seamen, but to lesser effect. Eggers’ talents for immersion remain as potent as ever, relying on the lighting implements of the time as well as the speech patterns and vocabulary of a particular subset of people. With its addition of a palpable foulness, The Lighthouse doesn’t prompt a lean-in like The Witch did. This is an environment worth running from. One can only be so immersed before rebellion sets in.
It doesn’t take any great cultural perception to call James Mangold’s Ford v Ferrari a movie for dads, but it satisfies too many stereotypical expectations to not make mention of it. This is a film about cars and motor racing. It’s set in the 60’s, but the Mad Men, Americana part of it that’s far away from the counter-culture. Plenty of recognizable names show up for those that have read the Wall Street Journal for several decades, and it has an unthinking patriotism that equates corporate success with national success. Ford v Ferrari was designed in a lab to air on TNT on Saturday afternoons in the golden hours between the completion of yard work and the eating of dinner. Its old-fashioned-ness and its unwillingness to challenge its subgenre make it just as well-suited to a midday distraction, as disposable and meaningless as an acrid puff of exhaust.
If the only Pedro Almodovar film a viewer has seen is the horny plane comedy I’m So Excited, like this viewer has, then one might be surprised that all the Spanish director’s work isn’t similarly adrenalized. In his latest film, Pain and Glory, Almodovar creates a scene where characters with a lot of drug experience discuss the difference between coke and heroin, and that’s close to the dissonance I had watching it. I’m So Excited is a cinematic stimulant, while Pain and Glory is a groggy recollection in a comfy recliner, a film that visualizes the amount of energy required to stand up and do something when the banal pleasures of routine have otherwise cemented a person in place. Contemplative and languid and likely a window into the aging director’s mind, Pain and Glory is a transporting and sensual film about artistic creation and the epitome of the directive to ‘write what you know.’
If Gavin O’Connor’s sports movies had to be compared to the kind of candy Nick Nolte’s lone old man character in Warrior would have in his living room, the strawberry candies with the distinctive wrappers would be it. Hard on the outside and soft and sweet on the inside especially describes Warrior, O’Connor’s best yet still imperfect outing. Taking place in the decidedly unsentimental world of ultimate fighting, Warrior has a level of fraternal, male-oriented weepiness that’s typical of the genre but becomes sharper and more effective by standing in relief to such a testosterone heavy environment.
Random projects from the MMC Universe.