In Hannes Holm's A Man Called Ove, a Swede's numerous suicide attempts keep getting postponed by the goings-on of his rule-bending next-door neighbors. Ove’s only joy in life was provided by Sonja, a full-of-life woman who died and left him alone again. Now his days are filled with maintaining order in his pedestrians-only cul-de-sac—including berating the afore-mentioned neighbors for driving their car to their house to unload the groceries and two cute kids. The story arc is predictable (misanthrope is coaxed back into living life again by the love and honesty of ordinary folk), but the flashbacks of Ove railing against the bureaucratic “white shirts” and the tender scenes of loving Sonja, make this import very special.
I’ve enjoyed watching (and writing about) British actor Timothy Spall for decades. His Mr. Potato Head face has never been more rotten-looking than playing Holocaust denier David Irving in Mick Jackson's Denial. In 1996, Irving sued historian Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) and her publisher for libel for branding him with that term in her book. Adhering to British law, Irving must prove to the Court that the Holocaust did in fact, occur. Seems simple right? Except that the Nazis painstakingly expunged all records of genocide, and modern day Germans, Austrians and Poles are convinced that so-called “death camps” never existed. Filmed in a “just the facts,” style that would have pleased Jack Webb, Spall provides the much-needed emotion as he chews up the scenery playing a man so sure of his own belief system, that he could run for office as Britain’s Prime Minister in today’s political madhouse.
In a set up that Alfred Hitchcock would like, in Girl On the Train, Rachel (Emily Blunt) is a divorced, vodka drinking young woman who dresses in a business suit to ride the commuter train each day. She no longer has the job she needed for the suit, but she enjoys peering in the houses that pass by—especially the one inhabited by her former husband and his new family, and the lusty young couple who live next door. When she spies the neighbor woman flirting with another man, Rachel goes on a bender and wakes up with a bloody head wound, a loss of memory and a detective asking pointed questions. The rest of the film is a Rashomon-like recollection from each of the women involved with director Tate Taylor deftly elaborating the book’s inner dialogues by opening them up onscreen. You will quickly learn that memory is a very elusive commodity.
An old, crumbling building on a mysterious island once was the site of Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children. As 16-year-old Jacob explores the ruins, he discovers the supposedly long-dead residents not only possessed supernatural powers, but are still “alive” in a parallel time-warp. Of course not all superheroes can run faster than a speeding bullet, leap buildings in a single bound, and bend steel with their bare hands. Some, like the time-frozen children in this film have an extra mouth filled with sharp teeth on the backs of their heads, are immune to all poisons, can bring dead things back to life, see the future in their dreams, or be invisible all the time. The set-up in the first half is slow, but the last part is Tim Burton at his most Burtonesque.
There is a scene in John Sturges’ classic 1960 western, The Magnificent Seven, where Steve McQueen keeps toying with the hat in his hands to upstage the film;s “star,” Yul Brenner. In the “updated” version, none of the actors would dare to try such a stunt with Denzel Washington. Instead of a dusty Mexican village terrorized by a bandito, we watch a post-civil war town held hostage by a White industrialist. Joining the poorly paid fight are seven, purposefully diverse outlaws—a bounty hunter, gambler, sharpshooter, tracker, assassin, bandito and Comanche warrior. With Nic Pizzopallo and Richard Wenk’s tepid script, and Antoine Fuqua constantly asking himself “would grandma like this?” it is James Horner’s music and Mauro Fiore’s cinematography that carry the film.
I had a great conversation with Jean Hegland, the Healdsburg novelist whose quiet, post-apocalyptic book Into the Forest was the basis for this film https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/krcb-fm-word-by-word/id514744798?mt=2 . She told me that although the modernistic house onscreen is nothing like her vision, and they had to “cut out some things,” producer Ellen Page and screenwriter/director Patricia Rozema have done “a good job.” Jean is especially pleased that the “tone” at the end of the film is very similar to the end of her book.
Clint Eastwood’s spare and carefully planned directing style works well with Sully, the story about airline captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger and his air and ground crew. Dubbed “the miracle on the Hudson,” Sully carefully set his U.S. Airways plane on the surface of the Hudson river and saved the 155 passengers and flight crew. Sully is a semi-local hero (he lives in Danville), and his TV appearances as an airline safety expert, as well as accolades from Presidents Bush and Obama and being grand marshall of the Rose Parade have resulted in him being labelled a “Jimmy Stewart, aw shucks, kinda guy.” Since Stewart is no longer with us, Tom Hanks (who played astronaut Jim Lovell in Apollo 13), is perfectly cast as Sully. Presented within the setting of the FAA investigation, the story is told in flashbacks. What we learn is that except for the Canada geese disabling the jet engines, everyone involved in flight 1549 did what they were trained to do. . “I’ve got to thank my crew,” Sully says in testimony, “in the plane and on the ground. Everyone did their job.”
In Little Men, a film written and directed by Ira Sachs, 13-year-old Jake moves into his recently deceased grandfather’s Brooklyn house where the shop downstairs is rented by a Chilean dressmaker and her son. Finding Brooklyn very expensive, Jake’s parents raise the rent on the shop, and ignite a feud between the two families—including the two boys.
What were you doing in 1989? In Southside With You, a young law associate and community organizer was escorting his advisor on a sunny, day-long walk through Southside, Chicago that included a trip to an art exhibit, and an ice cream shop. He wants this to be their first date, while she believes they should remain colleagues—and nothing more. Until a fateful incident with the ice cream cone—when the relationship between the man named Barrack and the woman named Michelle blossoms before our eyes.
Mired in the aftermath of the 2008 recession, two Texan brothers begin robbing banks in an amateurish fashion. They are soon pursued by a pair of Texas Rangers—a grizzled one nearing retirement, and a Native -American/Mexican one. Everyone does what he’s gotta’ do while empathizing with their counterparts and hating the bankers getting fatter from ordinary people’s misery. The background is littered with abandoned stores and houses, graffiti-slashed moans of despair, and an underlying sense of inevitable grief. The acting, in Hell Or Highwater especially by Chris Pine as a bank robber and Jeff Bridges as a lawman, is astoundingly mournful.