Movie Review: Now playing in cinemas
Is it true that all great artists are also great monsters, or have we been telling ourselves that lie for far too long? In Todd Field’s TR, a colossal monolith of a film built around a remarkable, earth-shattering performance by Cate Blanchett, the vectors of ego, talent, and personal liability collide.
She is Lydia Tár, a conductor of classical music whose fame has brought her a unique kind of cultural cachet: Moguls and doe-eyed groupies compete for the pleasure of her company, and people pay to watch her speak about her EGOT or her opinions on Mahler. Her world is one of the quiet hotel rooms, Gulfstreams, and stern, understated luxury (The devil definitely wears Margiela.)
In Berlin, where she conducts the city’s elite orchestra, Lydia has a young daughter and a companion named Sharon (played by the legendary German actress Nina Hoss). Even though they live in a luxurious townhouse and are immersed in daily business politics (Sharon is also her lead violinist), there is still some trepidation in their personal life.
In addition, Lydia’s interest in a new cellist, a loud Russian girl named Olga (Sophie Kauer), seems less than strictly professional. The pills Lydia hurriedly eats while no one is looking aren’t hers. She actually has a track record of highlighting attractive young ladies in the industry and then abruptly withdrawing her affections in ways that don’t always work out.
The orchestra’s press department and her patient assistant (Portrait of a Lady on Fire’s Noémie Merlant) are unable to control the questions of guilt and improper intimacy that arise after one of her own former mentees commits suicide. These are the basic plot points, however what happens in the movie’s roughly two hours and forty minutes of running time defies practically all attempts at simple summaries.
TR took 16 years to complete, and it truly seems like Field’s magnum work. His two previous movies, In the Bedroom from 2001 and Little Children from 2006, both received eight Academy Award nominations.
Whatever the opposite of a sensory deprivation tank is, this is it. His plot is so expertly crafted, and Lydia’s universe is so fully, viscerally portrayed, that the movie becomes a kind of profound immersive experience.
Hoss, who does more with her eyes in one tragic scene than most actors can accomplish with their entire toolkit, and Mark Strong, who plays a colleague conductor who yearns to take Lydia’s brilliance and cover himself in it like a balm, are two examples of superb acting in supporting roles. In spite of this, Blanchett’s portrayal feels more like a full-body possession than a performance since it is so demanding and massive.
It is really impressive because she frequently slips into fluent German and performs professional-level piano in the movie, among other things (watching her conduct, it feels like lightning might actually shoot out of her fingertips). However, Lydia is not a collection of tics and antics. She is a superstar and virtuoso who may have forgotten that she is still human; this is bad news for all of us.
Grade: A – Leah Greenblatt
Movie Review: A well-known civil rights story told from a mother’s perspective
An emotional, if occasionally obedient, new drama about the murder of Emmett Till has a breakthrough performance by actress Danielle Deadwyler.
The specifics of one’s past tend to fade with time, transforming untidy realities into tidy myths.
However, it brought home an ugly reminder of the proverb that the past is neither dead nor even past when a Mississippi grand jury decided not to indict Carolyn Bryant for her part in the 1955 lynching of Emmett Till. Bryant is now in her late 80s and appears unrepentant, or at least not particularly interested in atonement.
Bryant was famously abducted, tortured, and killed as a result of his claim of impropriety — or, more specifically, the fact that a young Black child in the Jim Crow South dared to speak familiarly to a white woman at all. The civil rights movement was severely impacted by Till’s death and the complete absence of punishment meted out to those involved.
Since then, his story has been told in a variety of contexts and has been reframed for decades in the works of artists ranging from William Faulkner to Bob Dylan. The upcoming film Till, which centers on Emmett’s mother Mamie Till-Mobley (Danielle Deadwyler) and her heroic, frequently lonesome quest to achieve any form of justice and accountability for her son, approaches the subject from a distinctive albeit more oblique position.
The end result is a film with unwavering empathy that is embodied by Deadwyler (Station Eleven, Watchmen) with singular grace and ferocity, even if it is also one that feels more impactful as an acting showcase and a meticulously researched history lesson than as a fully realized drama on the screen.
Author-director Chinonye Chukwu (Clemency), who cowrote the film with Michael Riley and Keith Beachamp, has made the conscious decision to veer away from any explicit retelling of the actual incident, focusing instead on the gloomy moments before and the agonizing moments after.
Instead, she creates a charming but partial portrayal of Till, noting that he was only 14 when his life was tragically cut short. About a cheeky Chicago child (Jalyn Hall) and the family that adore him, including his widowed mother Mamie, her own mother (an effective but underutilized Whoopi Goldberg), and the nice fiancé (Sean Patrick Thomas) she’s about to wed.
Emmett is a cheeky, exuberant charmer who loves to sing along to TV commercial jingles and patiently endures Mamie’s repeated anxious instructions as he gets ready to visit his cousins in Mississippi: Be quiet, be respectful, make yourself small. Emmett suffers from a mild stammer but has the bright spark of a born performer. (“They have distinct rules down there for black people.”)
However, he is too young and perhaps too ignorant to carry his city-kid swagger into the modest grocery shop where Carolyn (Cyrano’s Haley Bennett), who was then 21 years old, worked as the cashier.
When it comes to the details of what happened after that, Till may have taken some controversial liberties (whether he really wolf-whistled at Bryant, or even spent time alone with her in the store, has been the subject of much dispute in historical record). But the story ends the same way: Emmett is kidnapped by a group of neighborhood men in the middle of the night, and he is not seen again until his dismembered body is discovered in the Tallahatchie River.
Chukwu transforms Mamie into the audience’s harrowing stand-in for all of that by teasingly evoking a dreamy dread in the circumstances leading up to it.
The soundtrack pulses with jovial pop songs and ominous orchestral swells, while the production and costume design flawlessly replicate the signifiers of midcentury style, from Mamie’s pressed hair and perfectly matched jewelry sets to the cowboy wallpaper in Emmett’s bedroom.
An authentic and nuanced sense of who the Tills were outside of their defining tragedy might be what the almost flawlessly respectful script lacks.
Even when the script doesn’t rise to meet her, Deadwyler—an actress best known up until this point for her outstanding supporting roles in films with larger ensemble casts like The Harder They Fall—brings a haunted immediacy to Mamie, with grief, rage, and fierce dignity washing across her face in obliterating waves.
When Till-Mobley publicly ordered an open casket at her son’s funeral, she decided to let the world see what Mississippi had done to her son. This decision helped spark a movement and changed the course of history. Even though it obscures the full scope of her life, Till bears moving witness to that.
In Triangle of Sdnaess, an acidic, sun-drenched satire from the enduring Swedish provocateur Ruben Ostlund, money talks and beauty walks—it dips and spins, twirls and sashays, and stares passionately into its own void.
Harris Dickinson and Charlbi Dean play the roles of Carl and Yaya, a fashion-model pair whose almost obscene visual symmetry doesn’t always translate to their relationship. The acclaimed filmmaker of The Square and Force Majeure has two virtually ideal muses in these actors.
She is lovely and a little bit harsh, a social Darwinist with a poor tolerance for Carl’s continual tsunami of sentiments; he is attractive and needy, a paragon of talkative Gen Z angst.
They’ve settled their differences sufficiently to last for a while as long as Carl remains obediently silent and shoots all the “casual” bikini photos Yaya needs for her Instagram feed. They accepted a trip on a luxury super-yacht, which is all expenses paid because Yaya is also an influencer.
Most of the other visitors are older and have become accustomed to the benefits of excessive prosperity. No request from a guest is too little, and the cheerful team that serves them all, under the watchful eye of a dedicated ice-blonde manager named Paula (Vicki Berlin), are exceedingly obliging.
Howie Harrelson’s (the captain’s) situation, though? In addition to refusing to leave his room for meals while wearing his dress uniform, his rooms are filled with numerous booze bottles and outdated socialist literature.
It’s preferable to know as little as possible about what happens after the movie’s halfway point, but there’s a reason why tiny airsick bags were left, winkingly, on every chair in early press viewing. Once Harrelson emerges, he appears to have enjoyed himself this much on screen in a long time. (The meaning of the title’s origin is also fascinating; fortunately, it is revealed early on.)
The film’s final act features a significant shift in tone and setting that is meant to be startling and is, but it also gives Filipina actress Dolly de Leon the chance to shine as Abigail, a middle-aged ship’s custodian who may be the only person on board with a better understanding of Machiavelli and trade economics.
Dickinson and Dean are consistently entertaining as archetypes whose flaws are genuinely defined; they’re messy, mercurial canvases for the director, not just gorgeous blanks. Hers is the kind of sneaky performance that awards-season breakouts are made of. Dean passed away unexpectedly last month at the age of 32, adding an oddly sad coda to her stay here.
Stlund’s sense of irony occasionally tends toward the overt or blatant. The self-centered follies of the ultra-wealthy, the idiocy of social media, and beauty as currency are some of his targets, and they are all so vast and brilliant that the occasional drop seems almost unavoidable.
However, Triangle more often hits than misses, and amid a depressing, frequently unimpressive season of would-be arthouse hits, the film is a genuine trip: perhaps not the funhouse mirror we need for these absurd times, but one we deserve.
Grade: B+ – Leah Greenblatt
Luckiest Girl is the kind of dark, engaging, and blatantly ridiculous thriller that Netflix was designed to produce. It’s also a bit of a mess, but a portion of that is probably due to the crammed, gory events of a best-selling book being crammed into less than two hours of screen time.
It has been transformed into a scathing melodrama here by Knoll and director Mike Barker (The Handmaids Tale, Fargo), starring Mila Kunis as Ani FaNelli, a woman resolutely living her best Manhattan life.
Finn Wittrock, her charming wealthy fiancé, her Tribeca condo, her glamorous media profession, and her toned pilates figure are all things she can’t live without.
She’s constantly angry and still traumatized from her time as a scholarship student at an exclusive prep school known for the Columbine-style slaughter, which an eager documentary filmmaker (Dalmar Abuzeid) is pressuring her to discuss on camera 15 years later.
Flashbacks show a young Ani (Cruel Summer’s Chiara Aurelia), back when she was known as Tifani, and the cycle of abuse and acceptance she learnt to suffer as an outsider among her privileged peers who weren’t slender or wealthy. This pattern culminated one night in a terrible sexual assault.
Although the overall tone of the movie is soapy and slick, with all the outlandish plot twists and well-known character archetypes of a prime-time network drama but without the FCC to censor its strong f-bombs, Barker films those scenes with searing realism.
Jennifer Beals receives too little screen time as the lady-boss editor-in-chief who promises to take Ani with her once she leaves the blow-job surveys and punny cover lines of their Cosmo-esque publication for more prestigious shores, while Connie Britton is stuck playing Ani’s gaudy working-class mother, a woman whose ambitions for her daughter easily outstrip her empathy. (If you drink any time Ani beatifically says “New York Times Magazine,” you might literally pass away by the time the credits roll.)
Ani-Tifani is a character that Kunis must play who is so frail, guarded, and self-destructive that she almost borders on villainy, but the actress is astute enough to make the character stay even as the plot veers toward an increasingly absurd conclusion.
Girl isn’t a fantastic or even a good movie, but you should watch it because Kunis kicks her heel through a cab window and quotes William Faulkner. Will you genuinely object?
Grade: B– – Leah Greenblatt
Movie Review: Now in the Cinemas
There are no supporting players in Amsterdam; instead, a flurry of celebrities and surprise appearances—Chris Rock, Mike Myers, and Taylor Swift—are dancing as quickly as they can to David O’s music.
Russell’s tense, frantic, and frequently puzzling adventure. It’s unclear whether the film, which is based on a real-life attempt to overthrow the United States government, is intended to be a comedy, a murder mystery, or perhaps even a musical that goes wrong because the protagonists frequently break into song.
The movie’s meager profits, though, felt like a lot of hoopla and celebrity flop sweat to invest in, given Russell’s strange pivot after a seven-year sabbatical from the big screen. His most recent endeavor, the misleadingly titled Jennifer Lawrence home-shopping biography Joy, was released in 2015 (after the full-court bombardment of The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook, and American Hustle).
Harold Woodsman (John David Washington) and Burt Berendsen (Christian Bale) are best friends who were in the trenches of World War I together. They still bear the scars from their time there, with Harold having a deep gash across his otherwise flawless jawline and Burt having a glass eye and a back covered in shrapnel scars.
Swift, a damsel in distress, storms into Burt’s office one day and demands to know what happened to her war hero father, Sen. Bill Meekins (Ed Begley Jr.), who recently passed away. She claims that only this unlikely pair, both of whom were once soldiers under his command, can solve the case.
Although neither of them are private investigators, they make an effort to uncover the truth about what turns out to be a massive conspiracy in which they have already been implicated. They enlist the aid of Zoe Saldaa, a sympathetic friend in the coroner’s office, and Rock, Harold’s less-than-enthusiastic legal assistant.
Margot Robbie plays the combat nurse who was once Burt and Harold’s favorite conspirator and also Harold’s lover. Matthias Schoenaerts and Alessandro Nivola play two not very smart NYPD detectives in pursuit. Rami Malek and Anya Taylor-Joy are a silly couple of married aristocrats who may have a clue.
Prior to their magical Dutch utopia being ended by the social and economic realities of life, they enjoyed a wild time together in post-war Amsterdam.
Robert De Niro, who doesn’t even bother to read his lines, shows up as a decorated general, while Myers and Michael Shannon play a pair of crazy intelligence agents who masticate their small pieces of scenery into a fine pulp while playing their parts suitably weird.
Hearing Malek say “graham cracker” with his tongue rolling over the words is a pleasant surprise, and the production and costume design are flawless.
A buzzing music-box curiosity in quest of some elusive purpose and a point, Amsterdam’s weird, meandering trip and almost embarrassing glut of stars never quite justify the resolution of the fundamental mystery, which is both hurried and confusing.
Grade: C+ – Leah Greenblatt
Movie Review: Now Streaming on Peacock
Jan Broberg, the real-life woman who serves as the film’s protagonist, sends a message at the film’s outset. She says she wants to share her family’s experience because “so many seem to think that anything like this could never happen to them.”
Broberg underwent a remarkable, peculiar, terrible journey, and the life she has created as a kidnapped and sexual abuse survivor is immensely admirable. Less noteworthy is Peacock’s nine-episode portrayal of her story, which is a respectable reenactment without any in-depth analysis like so many other recent true-crime plays.
When Robert “B” Berchtold (Jake Lacy) and his family relocate to Pocatello, Idaho, in the early 1970s, fellow Mormons Mary Ann (Anna Paquin) and Bob Broberg (Colin Hanks), who reside nearby, warmly welcome them.
Brother B. develops a particular fondness for young Jan Broberg (Hendrix Yancey) and spends the following years winning her trust while also wooing Mary Ann and ultimately tricking Bob into a dubious predicament of his own.
Like most Americans, the Brobergs had never heard of “grooming” or the term “pedophile,” so even when B. took Jan horseback riding in the fall of 1974 and didn’t bring her back for weeks, it was nearly difficult for them to comprehend the monster their family had been battling for years.
Hanks portrays Bob’s stoic restraint while B. alternately emasculates and enrages him, and Lacy portrays a good psychopath who can change from being buttery smooth to icily dangerous with a shift of his eyes. Both Yancey and Mckenna Grace (The Handmaid’s Tale), who plays Jan as a preteen, give the role a true tenderness and sensitivity.
Candy, Brand New Cherry F, and more by Nick Antosclavor), Mary Ann and Bob make some startlingly naive decisions about B. and their daughter in A Friend of the Family, but the book isn’t trying to judge them or stand up for them. However, the show doesn’t spend any time investigating the Brobergs to see what would have made them so vulnerable to Brother B.’s evil plots.
It makes sense that the genuine Jan Broberg, who previously took part in the 2017 film Abducted in Plain Sight, continues to share her experience.
But what is it that Antosca wants us to understand? The Mormon church’s patriarchal (read: sexist) structure is only vaguely mentioned, presumably to imply that both Mary Ann and Jan were raised to follow orders from a reliable male companion. Even while that lacks the depth necessary to support nine hours of television, it will have to do in this age of true-crime awards bait.
Grade: C+ – Kevin Baldwin