Some capsule reviews of films I caught recently on travels in New York and New England, which may or may not have or will play locally:
Breathe (2014) - Actress Melanie Laurent (Inglourious Basterds) is a superb director and her latest film shows why. You know what happens when you befriend a more self-assured, outgoing and a bit idiosyncratic friend in high school. They become a kind of hero and you become their protégé. Such is the case with Charlie (Josephine Japy) and her affection for Sarah (Lou De Laage) (picture above), the new girl in class. But what becomes an endearing if unequal friendship sours as Sarah takes on the trappings of a sociopath. This is eyeball-riveting stuff from beginning to end.
The Fool (Yuri Bykov, 2014) The story centers on an honest workman (Artyom Bystrov) in a teeming public housing slum on the outskirts of a contemporary Russian city. A busted pipe exposes a huge crack in the wall of the nine storey building, shifting the foundation and which will cause an imminent collapse. The movie is all about corruption. This could have been made 40 years ago and the indictment would have been against Soviet authorities. Today, it’s local politicians in an allegory for Putin’s Russia whose dereliction is the source of calamity. The acting is generally good though I felt the flick had something of a stage-managed presence with scenes carefully calibrated.
Goodnight Mommy (Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala, 2014) (currently screening in Detroit) is a horror film, yes. But in the hands of these deft Austrian filmmakers right away you know this isn’t going to be Hollywoodish. And you can see why it was that country’s entry for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. Horror is always best when it’s more psychological than starkly visual though this film mediates successfully between the two. Two boys (played by namesake brothers Elias and Lukas Schwarz) find their mother (Susanne Wuest) much changed after having facial surgery. Still wearing gruesome bandages she looks like, well, an Egyptian mummy. She’s ill-humoured and seemingly picks on one child over the other. The boys come to the conclusion she isn’t their mother and begin a series of tests to prove for sure.
Leaning to Drive (Isabel Coixet, 2014) This is an intelligent feel good story about two very different classes of New Yorkers - a struggling Sikh immigrant from Queens, Darwan Singh Tur (Ben Kingsley), and an Upper West Side well-off writer, Wendy Shields (Patricia Clarkson). Shields, recently divorced, has never learned to drive and decides to take lessons. Darwan, a taxi driver, has a second job as driving instructor. The movie takes us on their various driving classes on the streets of New York with Shields’s inevitable miscues behind the wheel. The movie’s humorous, yes, but also subtly endearing as the friendship between the two characters builds. It’s a modern tale of people from both sides of the tracks, or in this case the river.