• Pit Stop

    Pit Stop

    ★★★

    This indie hints at big emotions while staying earnest and modest in tone. It’s admirable if not exactly balanced. 

    Co-written by David Lowery, the script follows two separate stories, so you know they’re going to intertwine eventually. That it happens so late leaves the film feeling rushed off; what you’re so clearly cued to anticipate barely gets explored. 

    Most of the conversations are awkward or tense. The one time two people seem to truly connect in conversation, we see their…

  • Adventures of Arsene Lupin

    Adventures of Arsene Lupin

    ★★

    A Hollywood-style action film staged as a French costume drama with the excesses of both.

    It’s brisk and packs a ridiculous amount of plot into just over two hours. That’s not a plus. Seriously, I lost count of how many endings this movie had before the real, unsatisfying one finally arrived. 

    Green has the thankless wife role, while Scott Thomas plays a glamorous villain so shallowly written that it manages to be thankless too. 

    Duris gets the diva part, and…

  • L.I.E.

    L.I.E.

    ★★★½

    A nervy, warm-hearted indie that I was long overdue to revisit. 

    Dano seemed fully developed already; his Howie is intelligent, moody, and with an insecurity that makes his craftier side something of a shock. He fully holds his own against classically trained veteran Brian Cox. As Big John, with the cheeky “BJ” vanity plate, Cox is charismatic, creepy, and always fully human. 

    Cox’s performance is so rich, the taboo material handled so sensitively, that the familiar side plot with Howie’s…

  • Residue

    Residue

    ★★★½

    This is unusually dreamy for an explicitly political film. Writer/director Merawi Gerima freely cuts between past and present, the former filtered through a swirl, like its impact is still rippling out in waves decades later. 

    Gerima cast non-actors from the Black DC community where it’s set. He gets performances that range from the urgent to the relaxed, and they contribute immeasurably to the movie’s vivid sense of place. 

    Pointedly, the white characters are almost all faceless. One pair of legs…

  • Limbo

    Limbo

    ★★★

    Some poignant, even stunning sequences make this refugee comedy/drama worth catching, despite the filmmaker’s heavy hand.  

    The opening dance lesson immediately recalls the comic surrealism of The Lobster. The overdetermined framing and too-clever images (the girl in the dolphin mask, for instance) make this feel like an homage, and it distracts from what’s working in the film. 

    And a fair amount does work. Writer/director Ben Sharrock makes pointed use of the brutal, lonely landscapes. The scene in the blizzard…

  • The Kindergarten Teacher

    The Kindergarten Teacher

    ★★★

    The more pedestrian, but still affecting, remake of Lapid’s exhilarating film from just four years earlier. 

    Gone is the dreamlike choreography of camera movement. Screenwriter/director Sara Colangelo keeps her camerawork simple and leans hard into the lead character, here named Lisa and played movingly by Maggie Gyllenhaal. 

    Where the original left the title character’s motivations cryptic and philosophical, Colangelo underscores Lisa’s dissatisfaction. She’s almost an empty-nester and feels unloved, unappreciated, and unattractive. She’s more relatable than the original’s inscrutable Nira,…

  • The Kindergarten Teacher

    The Kindergarten Teacher

    ★★★★½

    As with his electric follow-up, Synonyms, Lapid shoots with an energy like no one else I know. He opens on a foot, which gets replaced by the back of a head, then a torso, and his camera is on the move before we get to a face. He finds obscure angles that suit his approach to character. I was consistently left curious and rapt and somehow vaguely sad. 

    Elsewhere, his camera smoothly tracks to follow faces of the kids or…

  • The Sleepwalker

    The Sleepwalker

    ★★★★

    A troubling psychological thriller that slowly, steadily sinks you deeper and deeper into its mysteries. Writer/director Mona Fastvold never reveals all. As she answers questions, new ones get raised. 

    It’s a family story, starting with a standard dramatic premise that twists to rope in class tensions, mental illness, half-forgotten memories, and of course, family secrets. It’s fully engrossing. 

    It’s also a gorgeous picture, shot in an architecturally imposing home in a stately forest setting. Her camera takes in the spaces…

  • Beautiful Thing

    Beautiful Thing

    ★★★½

    Oh, this corny movie made me get all teary again. Chalk it up to the two winning leads, a lovely Cass Elliot song, and a bit of wish-fulfillment played with full commitment.  

    It’s no great shakes visually. Its strengths lie in the script and performances. The main supporting cast — Jamie’s tough-as-nails mom, her hippie-dippie boyfriend, and their dreamy-eyed neighbor, Leah — all have distinct, revealing voices. (When someone needs a tissue, the mom says gently, “There’s a box…

  • Shiva Baby

    Shiva Baby

    ★★★★½

    I’m so impressed that this lived up to all the hype. I laughed except when my skin was crawling. Rachel Sennot brings a mix of insecurity, disgust, vulnerability, and hostility, and it seems ideal for Seligman’s perverse, claustrophobic, roller-coaster take on the quarter-life crisis. 

    A multi-instrumentalist named Ariel Marx scores it; the sound is spare and dissonant and enhances the movie’s undercurrent of psychological horror. It’s a strange and inspired choice for what’s primarily a comedy. 

    Polly Draper steals most…

  • The Conjuring

    The Conjuring

    ★★

    If the cast is your primary reason to watch a mainstream horror film, you’re likely setting yourself up for disappointment. The always reliable Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga play noble and blandly tormented. The brilliant Lili Taylor is effective enough for the two dimensions she’s asked to play, but she couldn’t save 1999’s wretched Haunting remake, and this one’s beyond her redemption too. 

    It’s by-the-numbers with a procedural twist, which is to say that part of it is duller and talkier than it might’ve been. The doll and the birds freaked me out though. And the kid’s hands. It has its moments for sure.

  • Attack the Block

    Attack the Block

    ★★★★

    Stylish, unexpected, and a whole lot of fun, with a dose of class consciousness to boot. I’m glad that I finally caught up with this.

    Joe Cornish does a great job balancing the tension and the restrained gore with the lighter elements, namely the nine-year-old gangster wannabes and Luke Treadaway as the pretentious stoner white boy. The scene in the hallway with the fireworks is inspired. 

    And of course, Boyega is terrific as the not-so-subtly named Moses.