The Oscars are over! You may now openly admit that Silver Linings Playbook offered just a slightly edgier twist on a pretty predictable rom-com, with one great lead performance (duly rewarded) and a De Niro crying scene. Time to revisit the should-have-won-everything Holy Motors (which came out on Blu-ray this week) and cheer that theaters will finally begin phasing out all the awards hopefuls and bringing in fresh new movies.
This week: Cinequest continues in San Jose, the Roxie screens both a gleefully nasty pre-Code fest (Dennis Harvey's appreciative article here) and a Jeffrey Dahmer doc (my review here). Hollywood trots out yet another fairytale-inspired CG spectacle, Jack the Giant Slayer; a submarine drama with Ed Harris and David Duchovny, Phantom; and a PG-13 horror sequel, The Last Exorcism Part II.
Lore Set in Germany amid the violent, chaotic aftermath of World War II, Lore levels some brutally frank lessons on its young protagonist. Pretty, smart 14-year-old Lore (Saskia Rosendahl) is tasked with caring for her twin brothers, sister, and infant brother when her SS officer father (Hans-Jochen Wagner) and true-believer mother (Ursina Lardi) depart. Her seemingly hopeless mission is to get what’s left of her family across a topsy-turvy countryside to her grandmother’s house, a journey that’s less a fairy tale than a kind of inverted nightmare — yet another dystopic vision — as seen by children who must beg, barter, and scrounge to survive when they aren’t singing songs in praise of the Third Reich. Enter magnetic mystery man Thomas (Kai Malina), who offers Lore life lessons about the assumed enemy. Tarrying briefly to savor the sensual pleasure of a river bath or the beauty of a spring landscape, albeit one riddled with bodies, director and co-writer Cate Shortland rarely averts her eyes from the sexual and psychological dangers of her charges’ circumstances, making us not only care for her players but also imparting the dark magic of a world destroyed then born anew. (1:48) (Kimberly Chun)
No Long before the Arab Spring, a people’s revolution went down in Chile when a 1988 referendum toppled the country’s dictator, Augusto Pinochet, thanks in part to an ad exec who dared to sell the dream to his countrymen and women — using the relentlessly upbeat, cheesy language of a Pepsi Generation. In No's dramatization of this true story, ad man Rene Saavedra (Gael Garcia Bernal) is approached by the opposition to Pinochet’s regime to help them on their campaign to encourage Chile’s people to vote “no” to eight more years under the brutal strongman. Rene’s well-aware of the horrors of the dictatorship; not only are the disappeared common knowledge, his activist ex (Antonia Zegers) has been beaten and jailed with seeming regularity. Going up against his boss (Alfredo Castro), who’s overseeing the Pinochet campaign, Rene takes the brilliant tact in the opposition’s TV programs of selling hope — sound familiar? — promising “Chile, happiness is coming!” amid corny mimes, dancers, and the like. Director-producer Pablo Larrain turns out to be just as genius, shooting with a grainy U-matic ‘80s video camera to match his footage with 1988 archival imagery, including the original TV spots, in this invigorating spiritual kin of both 2012's Argo and 1997's Wag the Dog. (1:50) (Kimberly Chun)
A Place at the Table Obesity gets all the concern-trolling headlines, but America's hunger crisis is also very real — and the two are closely related to each other, as Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush's sobering, informative documentary investigates. A Place at the Table assembles a mix of talking-head experts, celebrities (actor and longtime hunger activist Jeff Bridges; celebrity chef Tom Colicchio, who's married to Silverbush), and (most compellingly) average folks dealing with "food insecurity:" a Philadelphia single mom who joins the Witnesses to Hunger advocacy project; a pastor in small-town Colorado who oversees his struggling community's crucial food bank; the Mississippi elementary-school teacher who uses her own struggles with diabetes to educate her students about nutrition. The film digs into the problem's root causes (one being a government that prefers to subsidize mega-farming corporations that produce ingredients used in processed food), and conveys its message with authentic urgency. (1:24) (Cheryl Eddy)
The Sweeney Based on the 1970s British TV series, Nick Love's action drama is bolstered enormously by Ray Winstone's snarling-bulldog lead performance. He plays skull-cracking cop Regan, head of an elite unit that has relied upon freely violent, rule-bending methods to bust many an in-progress armed robbery. As his worried boss (Homeland's Damian Lewis) warns, internal affairs has taken an interest in Regan's activites, and the situation isn't helped by the fact that Regan is having an affair with a comely co-worker (Hayley Atwell) who is married to IA's prick-in-chief (Steven Mackintosh). When a Serbian assassin enters the picture and monkey-wrenches Regan's career, love life, and tenuously calibrated moral compass, all hell predictably breaks loose. Shot in moody, London-appropriate gray and blue monochrome, and featuring bravura set pieces (a shootout in Trafalgar Square) and a supporting cast that includes Ben Drew (a.k.a. rapper Plan B) and Downtown Abbey's Allen Leech, The Sweeney doesn't surprise much with its beat-by-beat plot. But it's enjoyable — maybe not enough to travel to Antioch (its only local theatrical opening) to see it, but worth a look on its simultaneous VOD release. (1:52) (Cheryl Eddy)