The Souvenir review

(This review originally ran during our coverage of the Sundance Film Festival. The Souvenir is in theaters today.)

Almost all narrative films follow the same structure. A clear beginning, middle and end. A main storyline involving main characters. A problem or situation that must be worked out or resolved. There are very few deviations of this format, for two distinct reasons. One is that we’re accustomed to it – it’s all we’ve ever known. The other is that it works – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

So when a movie comes along that bucks the trend, shrugs off the norm, and unfolds in a different way, it can be quite jarring. Such is the case with Joanna Hogg’s transcendent The Souvenir. Hogg ignores a traditional narrative approach for a series of vignettes that make up a bigger picture. It works wonderfully – if you stick with it. But you need to prepare yourself for the long-haul.

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Frankie Review

Ira Sach’s Frankie is a light, lovely film about complicated family dynamics and coming to terms with mortality. With a formidable cast anchored by Isabelle Huppert, the sun-dappled setting and multi-generational storyline makes for a relaxed, enjoyable visit with this extended onscreen family.

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Parasite Review

For decades now, South Korea has generated some of the strongest, most original cinema in the world. With a pantheon of directors that seamlessly draw from a myriad of genres, their films manage to be deeply provocative, with grand themes and subtle character moments interspersed with broad shifts in tone. Bong Joon-ho has been celebrated for his strange and dark tales like Okja, Snowpiercer and The Host, each of them equipped with high-concept sci-fi elements that create an unsettling vision of the world. With his latest, Parasite, he shifts gears once again, creating a family drama wrapped in a grifter’s guise that’s blisteringly good.

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Aladdin

At a crucial juncture in the new live-action Aladdin, our eponymous hero is in the puffed-up guise of a fancy prince, supposedly encountering the comely Princess Jasmine for the first time. In reality, though, they’ve met before even as Aladdin is trying to pretend otherwise. In this moment, Aladdin is hopelessly tongue-tied, desperate to please but failing at just about every moment, valiant effort aside. Such is the experience of Aladdin in a microcosm. This film is desperate to please, and trying very hard to do so. And it comes up short almost every chance it gets.

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brightburn review

What would happen if Kal-El crashed to Earth from Krypton, and grew up to be Michael Myers instead of Clark Kent/Superman? That’s the exact set-up of Brightburn, a nasty, gory superhero horror film from director David Yarovesky. Yarovesky and screenwriters Mark Gunn and Brian Gunn aren’t reinventing the wheel here. They’re not transcending genre, or attempting to take the superhero film into uncharted territory. Instead, they’re crafting a bleak, brutal subversion of the Superman mythos. And it works.

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The Whistlers Review

When even fans of contemporary Romanian cinema describe the films that achieved global appreciation from a wide swath of cineastes, “funny”, “action packed”, and “plot heavy” are not usual talking points. It’s a country that for decades has generated films that are precisely constructed by often being narratively spare, reveling in character beats and the ennui of boredom in works that stretch hours and hours. This “new wave” was embraced by the same fickle arthouse crowd that now just might find themselves thrilled by Corneliu Porumboiu’s The Whistlers, a movie that dares to pander to audiences with such proletarian incorporations like a conventional story line, echoes to Hitchcock and other trappings of genre cinema.

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The Climb Review

The Climb begins, as most Sisyphean tasks do, with a schlepp up a hill. Instead of rolling a boulder up like the original myth, here we meet tragic figures of a different kind. Two Americans, a svelte and athletic Mike (writer/director Michael Angelo Covino) and Kyle (co-scribe Kyle Marvin) biking in the mountains of Southern France. In a comically long tracking shot that sets the film’s aesthetic, we soon learn between the huffing while velocipeding that Mike has slept with the fiancé that Kyle is about to wed.

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Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Review

It’s more challenging than usual to talk about Quentin Tarantino’s latest film, Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood, without spoiling a lot of the power of the film. It’s a work that generates much of its power from surprise, and how it’s willing to diverge from the historical record in ways some may find daring and others disturbing. After all, the Manson murders were real, the events took place and no film, as broad or as manic as this one, can in anyway erase that fact. Yet in three glorious hours, Tarantino imagines something quite different about the events in 1969.

Without diving into the divergences, the key to recognize is what the film does, and does brilliantly, is evoke what the Manson murders represent, and the period that they took place in. This isn’t some superficial look at a bunch of rabid hippies and the violence they committed, but is rather more the story of the wild and rampant societal changes that the end of the ’60s represent.

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The Lighthouse Review

Robert Eggers smashed onto the indie scene with his 2015 Sundance hit The Witch. A highly stylized, theatrical film with dialogue drawn from the 17th century and a diabolic edge, the film made ten times its budget and garnered carte blanche for his follow up film. In the interim, iconic actor Willem Dafoe approached Eggers and said he’s do anything the director wrote. Thus was born The Lighthouse, an acerbic, haunting film of maritime madness and mayhem.

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Bull Review

There will be numerous connections made between Annie Silverstein’s Bull and Chloe Zhaos’s 2017 film The Rider. There’s a similar, documentary-like tone that also involves riding animals, the subculture that surrounds them, and the characters that gravitate towards these powerful beasts. Yet taken on its own, this debut manages to carve out its own path, firmly establishing Silverstein as a director to watch.

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