~Downstairs at the Savoy~
Starts Friday, November 28
Not Rated; 114 minutes
Peter Travers, Rolling Stone (excerpted)
We're so used to being conned by everyone that a film purporting to tell it like it is, raises suspicions. Laura Poitras directs this potent and profound documentary that bears cinematic witness to history with the actual participants instead of the usual pontificating talking heads. Citizenfour is a wake-up call that hits you like a cold slap in the face.
The subject is former NSA intelligence analyst Edward Snowden, the whistleblower who first made contact with Poitras under the codename "citizenfour." We see Snowden, then 29, meeting in 2013 with Poitras, journalist Glenn Greenwald and U.K. intelligence reporter Ewen MacAskill over eight days in a Hong Kong hotel room. Snowden, charged with violating the Espionage Act, owns up to his personal responsibility, and his fear and vulnerability are palpable. His argument, cogently expressed, is that the public has a moral right to the know the widespread extent to which the government, cloaked in the defense of monitoring global terrorism, is spying on its citizens, right down to each email and Google search.
The film escalates in tension as the journalists help Snowden disseminate his stolen data to the world. Citizenfour leaves you reeling. That's its intention. It's a wow of a thriller with a soul that isn't computer generated. Poitras may be guilty of taking Snowden at face value, but she succeeds brilliantly in evoking a shadow villain intent on world domination. Big Brother is back, baby, and he's gone digital.
~Downstairs at the Savoy~
Rated R; 118 minutes
In English and Swedish w/subtitles
Chris Knight, National Post (excerpted)
Writer/director Ruben Östlund presents the perfect Swedish nuclear family – Tomas and Ebba, with children Vera and Harry – on a skiing holiday in the French Alps. With their late-model mountain gear, electric toothbrushes and matching blue sleepwear they look like a spacefaring household from the other end of this century.
On the second day of their five-day trip, they’re eating lunch at an outdoor terrace when an explosion sounds, and a controlled avalanche starts rolling down the mountainside. Cameras are brought out to record its beauty. But as it gets closer, with no signs of slowing, expressions of awe turn to terror. Just before the whiteness envelops them, Ebba grabs the kids and pulls them under the table. And Tomas makes a run for it.
Later, when the snow has settled, Tomas makes light of what has just happened, but there’s an unspoken question hanging in the air with all that white dust. Why didn’t he cling to his family when disaster threatened? Force Majeure offers a what-would-I-do scenario that is so banal, yet so life-changing, that some of us may have been through something like it already. Warning: Thinking about its implications may keep you up at night.
~Downstairs at the Savoy~
Rated R; 120 minutes
Jeffrey Anderson, Combustible Celluloid (excerpted)
Based on a classic novel by Glendon Swarthout, The Homesman is a great modern-day Western. As evidenced by his last film, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, director Tommy Lee Jones has a keen eye for hard landscapes (including his own weathered face) and emotional compositions. The Homesman is full of striking imagery: the locked, coffin-like coach, fresh new buildings in hardscrabble dirt, or a disturbed grave on a gnarly plain.
Mary Bee Cuddy (Hilary Swank) is an upright, single pioneer woman in the Nebraska Territory, unable to find a husband on account of being "plain" and "bossy." When three local women go insane and need to be transported to Iowa for special care, Mary Bee volunteers for the unpleasant, dangerous job. She happens upon a so-called claim jumper, the ragged, uncouth George Briggs (Jones), at the end of a rope, she rescues him in exchange for his help on the journey. Besides adapting to the unpredictable and disturbing behavior of the women, the unlikely pair must face ever-increasing dangers.
Jones is wise enough to step into the supporting role, giving Hilary Swank room to do her best stuff as Cuddy, an extraordinary woman, strong as a man, yet full of yearning and forever giving more than she gets. As Briggs, Jones sometimes provides cranky comic relief from the grim material but eventually grows into a sympathetic, essential character (thanks to several women). Meryl Streep works her magic in the later scenes, as does young cowgirl Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit).
~Upstairs at the Savoy~
The Theory of Everything
Rated PG-13; 123 minutes
Lou Lumenick, The New York Post (excerpted)
Stephen Hawking is the most famous physicist since Albert Einstein — and arguably the best-known celebrity disabled by a progressive neurological disease since Lou Gehrig. The Theory of Everything is a tremendously moving and inspirational look at this genius — based on a memoir by his first wife, Jane (a superb Felicity Jones), who met and fell in love with Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) when he was a fully able and very promising student at Cambridge University in 1963.
But a serious fall leads to a diagnosis of motor neuron disease, which is closely related to Gehrig’s ALS, and a doctor’s grim prediction that Hawking, then 21, would be dead within two years as his condition rapidly deteriorated. Of course, it’s well known that Hawking is still around at 72, having published his best-selling masterwork, A Brief History of Time, detailing his groundbreaking theories.
And despite being confined to a wheelchair and using a computer with a voice synthesizer to communicate, he’s a huge international celebrity who’s appeared in everything from documentaries to TV’s The Simpsons and The Big Bang Theory. James Marsh, who directed the Oscar-winning doc Man on Wire, sensitively reveals the less familiar story of how Stephen and Jane Hawking married and had three children, their love tested by the terrible progression of his disability, which ravages his body but not his brilliant mind.