~Upstairs at the Savoy~
Starts Friday, December 26
Rated R; 119 minutes
Stephen Farber, The Hollywood Reporter (excerpted)
Based on a best-selling memoir by Cheryl Strayed, Wild is a vivid wilderness adventure and a powerful story of family anguish and survival, directed by Jean-Marc Vallee (Dallas Buyers Club). Wild is alternately harrowing and heartbreaking, but laced with saving bursts of humor.
Reese Witherspoon plays Strayed, who was just 26 when she decided to hike the 1,100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, from the Mexican border to the mountains of Oregon. Witherspoon transforms herself both physically and emotionally into this hardened yet needy young woman seeking to reinvent herself after a series of personal tragedies. She chose this marathon hike almost on a whim, and was completely unprepared for the challenges. Witherspoon captures all the conflicting, dizzying emotions that the adventure stirs in her.
The adventures that Cheryl has on the trail are always startling, from her encounters with wildlife to the nightmare of a freak snowstorm. Yet the human encounters also enrich her journey, and here screenwriter Nick Hornby’s ability to bring minor characters to life and Vallee’s fine work with an extraordinary supporting cast make all of these episodes richly compelling. The director is helped by exceptional cinematography which takes us through varied landscapes from the scorching Mojave desert to the imposing mountains of Northern California and Oregon.
The film has unmistakable parallels to Sean Penn’s movie, Into the Wild, and if this story is ultimately more uplifting, we always feel that Cheryl is just a few beats away from catastrophe. The profound precariousness of all her life’s journeys is what makes her hard-won victory so stirring.
~Upstairs at the Savoy~
The Imitation Game
Rated PG-13; 114 minutes
Peter Travers, Rolling Stone (excerpted)
The Imitation Game is a crackling spy thriller and an immersive true story that laces dizzying tension with raw emotion. Benedict Cumberbatch, (Emmy winner for Sherlock), turns on the brainpower again to play Alan Turing, a genius mathematician and social misfit who teamed up with a handful of English cryptanalysts during World War II to crack the Nazis' naval code. That he did, only to see his achievements buried in government secrecy and to end his own life in 1954 after being persecuted for the then-crime of homosexuality. The queen pardoned him posthumously last year.
Norwegian filmmaker Morten Tyldum (Headhunters) directs with masterly assurance, fusing suspense and character to create a movie that vibrates with energy. The film's prime force is Cumberbatch, a great actor whose talent shines here on its highest beams. It's an explosive, emotionally complex performance. Keira Knightley is terrific as Joan Clarke, giving a supporting role major dimensions. It's sharply poignant to watch these two delude themselves into considering marriage.
The action ignites when, after two years of effort, Turing invents his Enigma-busting machine, a proto-computer geared to break a code that the Nazis change every 24 hours. It's been a long time since intellectual sparring created such excitement onscreen. I've heard a few critics dismiss this mind-bender as hopelessly old-hat. Ha! If so, long live retro.
~Downstairs at the Savoy~
Not Rated; 92 minutes
Erik Childree, Film Threat (excerpted)
Writer/director Jennifer Kent knows just where to begin a horror film: with a child, his mom and a monster. Throw in a few fresh images, a pair of great performances and enough creepy audio to have you fearing those dark corners again, and you have one entertaining and frightening experience in store.
Amelia (Essie Davis) has already experienced her share of horror. On the way to the hospital to deliver their first child, her husband is killed in a car wreck. Six years later, Samuel (Noah Wiseman), has grown up with a little ingenuity in his pocket. Making homemade inventions – that can only be a hazard inside the home – Amelia has her hands full between being a single mom and her nursing home job.
Samuel, like many small children, is convinced there is a monster roaming around the house. Nothing in the closet. Nothing under the bed. But there it is in the pages of his storybook entitled “Mr. Babadook.” Parents would read just about anything if it would get their kids to sleep, but we all know the effect such pages have in the world of horror. Soon, mom begins to hear the creaky sounds around the house that turn into loud knocks and, try as she might, is unable to silence them.
~Downstairs at the Savoy~
Rated R; 149 minutes
Scott Foundas, Variety (excerpted)
English painting’s renowned master of light, Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851), gets an illuminating screen biography from director Mike Leigh in Mr. Turner, an ecstatically beautiful and exquisitely detailed portrait of the artist as a cantankerous middle-aged man whose brilliance with the brush overshadows his sometimes appalling lack of social graces. Mr. Turner seems a natural awards contender in multiple categories.
Returning to the large-canvas period filmmaking of his Gilbert & Sullivan bio Topsy-Turvy, Leigh has made another highly personal study of art, commerce and the glacial progress of establishment tastes, built around a lead performance from longtime collaborator Timothy Spall that’s as majestic as one of Turner’s own swirling sunsets. Leigh’s affinity for his subject is palpable in virtually every frame of the film, which concentrates on roughly the last 25 years in the life of the painter who pushed landscape painting towards the vanguard of impressionism.
When the movie opens, it is the late 1820s and Turner, recently returned from a painting expedition in Belgium, is settling back in the home studio he shares with his elderly father and the forlorn housekeeper who doubles as his lover. Among the skeletons in the painter’s closet are an estranged mistress, two grown daughters and a grandchild, whom he collectively pays little mind and whose existence he denies to the outside world.
~Downstairs at the Savoy~
Two Days, One Night
Rated PG-13; 91 minutes
In French w/subtitles
Kim Newman, Empire Magazine (excerpted)
Belgian writer-director brother duo Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne specialize in a brand of down-to-earth, socially committed, unfussy realism. Their latest film is an acutely credible portrait of the victims of a casually cruel (yet horribly believable) social system and also a suspenseful, gripping drama in the vein of 12 Angry Men.
A small company asks employees to choose between getting bonuses and making just-back-from-sick-leave Sandra (Marion Cotillard) redundant. Sandra spends a weekend trying to persuade enough of her workmates to change their votes so that she can keep her job.
Complicating the story is the impression Cotillard, among the contemporary screen’s best actors, conveys that maybe the Xanax-popping Sandra — for all the support from her husband (Fabrizio Rongione), kids and loyal friends — really isn’t mentally up to going back to work. Then again, her round of pleading calls would be stressful and depressing enough to break the will and mind of a completely balanced person.
Even if you’ve skipped the Dardennes’ previous work until now (L’Enfant, The Kid with a Bike), this is a talking-point movie — and an outstanding lead performance — you need to see. It’s a rare film of unforced simplicity that will stick with you for a long time. And it’s honest right to its perfectly judged ending