~Upstairs at the Savoy~
Starts Friday, December 20
Rated R; 98 minutes
Patrick Mullen, CinemaBlog (excerpted)
Philomena boasts one of the best scripts of the year, provocative and hilarious, based on Martin Sixsmith’s non-fiction work The Lost Child of Philomena Lee. The tale follows Martin (Steve Coogan) as he assists Philomena (Judi Dench) in tracking down the child that was taken from her by the church when she was a teenage mother. Coogan and Jeff Pope’s screenplay is a compelling character study and a bold social commentary alike as the film reveals the coldness of the Catholic Church and shows how some overzealous, not to mention criminal, piety betrayed members of the faithful.
Director Stephen Frears (Dirty Pretty Things, The Queen) makes a comeback after a few misses in his filmography as Philomena takes the audience on an emotional journey that has viewers in stitches one moment and shedding tears the next. Relying primarily on the strength of the actors and the calibre of the script, Frears provides a tale that plays like a crowd-pleaser but offers an eye-opening study of a deeply flawed system.
Dench devastates in a turn that is bound to be an award-season talking point as the actress portrays her daft character with a jaw-dropping range of emotion. Philomena could very well make atheists of us all, but the final note of forgiveness and plainness, conveyed so eloquently by Dench, offers the perfect sentiment with which to end this profoundly stirring story.
~Downstairs at the Savoy~
The Armstrong Lie
Rated R; 122 minutes
Justin Chang, Variety (excerpted)
One of the most compelling rise-and-fall narratives in recent years gets exhaustive and penetrating documentary treatment in The Armstrong Lie. Focusing primarily on the past four years of Lance Armstrong’s life — from his 2009 post-retirement comeback bid to his recent admission that he had used performance-enhancing drugs, despite vehement denials over the course of his extraordinary career.
Director Alex Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, Taxi to the Dark Side, We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks) delivers not just a detailed, full-access account of his subject, in all his defiance, hubris and tentative self-reckoning, but also a layered inquiry into the culture of competitiveness, celebrity, moral relativism and hypocrisy that helped enable and sustain his deception.
~Upstairs at the Savoy~
Rated R; 115 minutes
KJ Doughton, Film Threat (excerpted)
Woody Grant (Bruce Dern), a 75 year-old retired auto mechanic, is a disheveled, wispy-haired wreck of a man. Woody’s mind and body have become rusty from the residue of alcoholism and onset of dementia. He responds to questions with a delayed, “Eh?” From behind wire-framed glasses, he stares vacantly at… something, somewhere.
One day, a psychic light-switch flicks on in Woody’s brain. A sweepstakes letter arrives in the mail, proclaiming him winner of one million dollars. Suddenly, the curmudgeonly codger lurches into life. He turns defiant, vowing to venture from his Billings, Montana home to Lincoln, Nebraska, where he’ll collect the fortune he believes he’s won. His younger son David (Will Forte) rightfully smells a scam. Perhaps sensing an opportunity to connect with his emotionally unavailable dad, David reluctantly agrees to drive Woody to Lincoln and claim the prize money.
Nebraska directed by Alexander Payne (Sideways, The Descendents) is about both the cruelty and wisdom of old age. Depressing? Not really. There’s humor and hope to be found amidst the stark reality of Woody’s plight. Payne films in black and white, as if to strip artifice away from this very intimate road story, to focus completely on the characters. But so luscious and vivid are the film’s people and landscapes, that Payne’s movie becomes magnetically compelling. Ordinary human faces are made extraordinary and barren flatlands are transformed into a poetic heartland heaven.
~Upstairs at the Savoy~
Inside Llewyn Davis
Rated R; 105 minutes
Robbie Collin, The Telegraph (excerpted)
The new film from Joel and Ethan Coen is a perfectly pitched melancholic comedy set in the New York City folk music scene of 1961. Oscar Isaac stars as Llewyn Davis, a struggling folk singer who plays thinly attended gigs at The Gaslight Café in the city’s West Village. But despite his low profile, he is extraordinarily talented.
The film suggests that, with a little more luck and slightly better timing, he might have won the Dylanesque degrees of success and acclaim that he so hungrily craves. Instead, he sleeps on friends’ sofas, tramps the cold streets of Manhattan without a sensible coat, and treats other performers at the club with florid contempt.
A hymn to squandered potential, missed opportunities and unsung genius, Inside Llewyn Davis strikes the near-impossible balance of being uproarious entertainment in the moment and a profound philosophical treatise in retrospect, and you drift out of the cinema on an intensely weird cloud of existential angst and toe-tapping acoustic guitar music. This is instant A-list Coens; enigmatic, exhilarating, irresistible.