Rachel Weisz as historian Deborah Lipstadt

Rachel Weisz as historian Deborah Lipstadt

“DENIAL”  My rating: B (Opens Oct. 21 at the Glenwood Arts and Tivoli)

110 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

The arrival of “Denial” could hardly be more timely, given the increased white nationalism encouraged — or at least not denounced — by Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

Based on historian’s Deborah Lipstadt’s 2005  memoir History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier, Mick Jackson’s film  is a legal drama with repercussions far beyond the courtroom.

In 1997 Holocaust-denying historian David Irving  sued Lipstadt (of Emory University) and her publisher, Penguin Books,  for defaming him  and his theories in  her book Denying the Holocaust.

Irving opted to sue in a British court, choosing that venue rather than one in America at least in part because under British law persons accused of libel must prove their innocence  (in theU.S. it’s the plaintiff who must prove wrongdoing).

Timothy Spall

Timothy Spall

The resulting film is well acted, informative, and emotional for the quiet contempt it heaps upon anti-Semitism with a scholarly face.

Rachel Weisz portrays Lipstadt with a tightly-wound, steely exterior that periodically bursts into fierce flame.

She first encounters Irving (Timothy Spall) face to face when he shows up at her college lecture and waves $1000 which he’ll give anyone who can prove that any Jew was ever killed in a Nazi gas chamber.

The bulk of the film centers on Lipstadt’s interactions with her British solicitor (the lawyer who will prepare her case) and her barrister (who will argue it in court).  These figures of probity and quiet dignity are portrayed, respectively, by Anthony Scott (best known as Moriarty on the PBS “Sherlock”) and the ever-wonderful Tom Wilkinson.

Part of the team’s preparations involves a trip to Auschwitz (on a eerily beautiful foggy winter’s day), where Lipstadt is moved by the echoes of dead souls but also somewhat perplexed…before the war ended the Germans blew up the gas chambers in an effort to destroy evidence of their crimes.

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Ethan Hawke and canine costar

Ethan Hawke and canine costar

“IN A VALLEY OF VIOLENCE” My rating: C (Opening Oct. 18 at the Screenland Tapcade)

104 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Notwithstanding the participation of two major stars — Ethan Hawke and John Travolta — Ti West’s “In a Valley of Violence” is a toss off,  an indifferent diversion at best.

It’s a mashup of Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western elements — an animated credit sequence that mimics that of “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” and an ersatz Morricone soundtrack of tympani, Indian flutes and electric guitars — and oater cliches somewhat bent by eruptions of oddball humor.

Paul (Hawke) is a lone rider headed to Mexico in the company of his dog, an adorable mutt.  Everybody who sees the pooch wants to know if it does tricks. “She bites,”  is Paul’s sullen reply.

John Travolta, Ethan Hawke

John Travolta, Ethan Hawke

In an all-but-abandoned former mining town Paul slows down for a bath and a shopping spree in the general store.  But he runs afoul of Gilly (James Ransone), the pushy, trigger-happy deputy and son of the local marshal (Travolta).

After leaving the burg Paul is waylaid by Gilly and his fellow deputies, who do bad things to him and his dog.  Left for dead, Paul gets his shit together and heads back to town for revenge.

There are some small pleasures here.  Travolta’s Marshal is a loquacious sort out of a Tarantino film, and he at least has the decency to be embarrassed by his idiot offspring. Taiga Farming plays a teen-age hotel maid who becomes our hero’s confidant; Karen Gillan is her prettier spoiled sister.

The film looks good but, really, West’s “High Noon”-ish plot is way too familiar and the abrupt tonal changes — bloody sadism to goofy silliness — are less intriguing than irritating.

| Robert W. Butler

man-ove1452256400306_0570x0400_1452256432643“A MAN CALLED OVE” My rating: B

116 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Black comedy and heart-tugging sentiment are strange bedfellows. It’s the rare film (“Harold and Maude” and “Bad Santa” come to mind) that can stir them together without curdling the meal.

To that short list we can now add “A Man Called Ove,”  writer/director Hannes Holm’s amusing and surprisingly moving adaptation of Fredrik Backman’s international best-seller.

Basically it’s a droll character study of an old grump who, in the wake of his beloved wife’s death, is bent on suicide.

But every time crusty Ove (Rolf Lassgard) is about to do the deed — his proposed methods range from noose to shotgun — he is interrupted by one of his neighbors with some sort of emergency that must be seen to. (A man can’t even kill himself in peace, goddammit.)

For though he is a royal pain who patrols his housing estate every morning, anally obsessed with violations of the community ordinances, Ove possesses skills that his hapless fellow humans lack.

He’s a handyman with a garage full of tools,  a car mechanic  capable of bringing the automotively deceased back to life.  (A loyal Saab customer, he breaks with his oldest friend when the other fellow has the temerity to purchase a BMW.)

He’s a firm hand at the wheel, a big plus since he seems always to be taking someone to the hospital (though he does cover the car seats with newspapers, lest his riders befoul his precious upholstery).

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Ben Affleck

Ben Affleck

“THE ACCOUNTANT”  My rating: C+

128 minutes | MPAA rating: R

A killer with autism.

How has it taken Hollywood this long to glom onto such an awesome concept?

Consider: An efficient, ruthless assassin whose Asperger-ish condition guarantees that he won’t empathize with his targets no matter how much they beg. A stoic largely immune to crippling emotions like guilt, fear and panic. A wrecking machine who can pass for civil but at heart cannot create lasting attachments. An obsessive who, once he’s started a job, is driven to finish it.

I’d pay to see that movie.

Unfortunately, that movie isn’t “The Accountant.”

Oh, Ben Affleck’s latest makes noises like it’s heading that direction before deteriorating into silliness and mayhem. But the pieces never add up.

Affleck plays Christian Wolff, a CPA with an office in a south Chicago strip mall and a roster of mom-and-pop clients. But that’s only his cover.

In reality Christian is a mathematical savant and emotional cipher whose clients include drug cartels, mobsters, international arms dealers and other nasty folk. Whenever these crooks suspect that someone has been pilfering cash or cooking the books, they call in Christian to do a little forensic sleuthing.

With a mind like a mainframe computer, he always finds the culprit — who usually ends up in a landfill.

It’s dangerous work but pays well. In a rented storage facility Christian keeps an Airstream trailer packed with cash, weapons and authentic Renoir and Pollack canvases (which he has accepted from grateful clients in lieu of cash).

And as flashbacks reveal, he’s also deadly, having been trained by his military father in martial arts, ordnance, sniping and other skills that might be useful for a kid who is always being bullied.

The plot is set in motion when Christian is called in to audit a robotics firm where a lowly bean counter (Anna Kendrick) has stumbled across a bookkeeping anomaly. What our man finds puts both Christian and his gal pal in the crosshairs of an international criminal conspiracy. Continue Reading »


Shia LaBeouf, Sasha Lane

“AMERICAN HONEY”  My rating: B

163 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Andrea Arnold’s “American Honey” is about being young, horny, and blessedly free of  what adults view as “normal life.”

This near-plotless road trip across the Heartland (including a long sequence shot in Kansas City) is all about  the journey, not the destination. Arnold flirts with self-indulgence (some will say she positively wallows in it), but offers a haunting portrait of disaffected youth while surveying the vast emptiness (physical, moral, intellectual) that makes up so much of modern America.

We first encounter 18-year-old Star (newcomer Sasha Lane) somewhere just off the interstate in shit-kicker Oklahoma. She and two young children (her siblings? Perhaps the offspring of her redneck boyfriend?) are dumpster diving for lunch. They appear to be old hands at scrounging provisions.

But Star’s world is about to change.  At  the local K-Mart she encounters a crew of young people  behaving like a bunch of good-natured rowdies.  She’s particularly intrigued by their leader, Jake (Shia LaBeouf), a charismatic guy whose conservative shirt and slacks are in stark contrast to  his dangling rattail and bristly chin.

Oozing sly seduction, Jake explains that his party-hearty entourage sell magazine subscriptions door to door. Angel is welcome to join them.

The possibility of romance with Jake and the chance to leave her crummy life behind provide an irresistible temptation.

Not that her new world is all spliffs and cognac.

Jake answers to Crystal (Riley Keogh, Elvis Presley’s granddaughter), the owner of the operation. A decade older than her teen crew members, Crystal sports  the come-hither fashion sense and hardass authority of a whorehouse madam (“Show me you can do it or I’ll leave you on the side of the road”).

She’s a steel fist in a velvet glove kind of manager — she provides meals,  cheap motel lodging, weed and booze for her tribe of misfits, most of whom are running away from bad homes. She picks the neighborhoods they’re going to hit, sets sales quotas and pockets the money (whether the operation actually sells magazine subscriptions or just scams customers out of their cash is never explained).

While the youngsters are packed like sardines into a minivan, Crystal scouts ahead in her shiny white convertible — usually with Jake in the passenger seat.  It soon dawns on Angel that Jake is Crystal’s kept man…which only makes him sexier in her eyes.

Much of “American Honey” is devoted to simply observing how Angel’s new friends behave.  They’re a rambunctious bunch, always a bit stoned and ever ready to roughhouse or party down around a camp fire. Arnold has cast the film with non-actors, and they radiate uncontrollable energy. So unforced and spontaneous are these kids that they rub off even on the cast’s few professional actors, who eschew anything like conventional performance mannerisms.

There’s a marvelous sequence shot in Mission Hills (“Rich motherfuckers,” observes  Jake. “We’re hopin’ to do very well today.”) in which Jake and Angel, posing as brother and sister, charm their way into the home of an uptight suburban mom (Laura Kirk).

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Harry DeLeyen and Snowman

Harry de Leyer and Snowman

“HARRY & SNOWMAN” My rating: B

84 minutes | No MPAA rating

For those who regard horses as beautiful, dumb brutes, “Harry & Snowman” poses a conundrum.

Ron Davis’ documentary is a real-life man/horse love story featuring an animal whose personality threatened to outshine those of the humans around him.

At age 85, trainer and rider Harry de Leyer looks back on his life and declares that “Snowman was more than a horse. He was my best friend.”

Snowman, for those with little interest in the equestrian sports, was a plow horse on his way to the glue factory when he was rescued by de Leyer.

The Dutch immigrant (he had been active in the anti-German resistance in his native Netherlands, hid Jews in his cellar and saw friends executed)  had come to a livestock auction in 1956 hoping to pick up a few cheap mounts for his students at a posh Long Island boarding school for girls.

The horse  he would name Snowman was already in a trailer destined for the rendering plant, having found no buyers.

As Harry recalls, he looked at the horse. The horse looked at him.  It was love at first sight.

He bought the newly christened Snowman for $80, and over the next few years rode this Cinderella steed to the world championship of jumpers.

(Snowman’s story bears an uncanny resemblance to that of Dream Alliance, the Welsh racing champion featured in last summer’s doc “The Dark Horse.” The two films would make a hell of a double feature.)

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Nate Parker (center) as Nat Turner

Nate Parker (center) as Nat Turner


120 minutes | MPAA rating: R

The first provocation in Nate Parker’s provocative debut feature comes with the title.

“The Birth of a Nation” was, of course, the blatantly racist (though artistically daring) 1915 silent film that President Woodrow Wilson said was “like writing history with lightning.”

Parker’s film — he co-wrote it, directed it and plays the lead role — appropriates the title of D.W. Griffith’s epic celebrating the rise of the Ku Klux Klan. Except that Parker’s “Birth” is more a case of writing history with dignity and sorrow.

His subject is Nat Turner, the Virginia slave who in 1831 led a two-day rebellion that left as many as 60 whites dead. In the aftermath more than 200 blacks were murdered out of fear and retaliation.

It’s a fictionalized biography that follows Turner from childhood — he grew up playing with the white boy who would become his master, and despite his slave status learned to read and became an accomplished preacher — to his death on the gallows.

As with any film set in the antebellum South, we get plenty of pain (Jackie Earle Haley plays a slave catcher who exudes toxic cruelty).

But this “Birth” is no mere wallow in atrocity. Parker devotes much of the film to depicting familes and universal experiences.

So while the screenplay by Parker and Jean McGianni Celestin follows Turner’s slow radicalization, it also deals with the tiny joys and pains of just existing.

That may be why, despite scrupulously accurate art direction, much of the movie is composed of close-ups. Parker appears obsessed here with the landscape of the human face and how it registers joy, pain, fear and yearning. Slavery cannot be blithely dismissed as a “peculiar institution” when you can look deep into the eyes of those on the stinging end of a whip.

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Emily Blunt

Emily Blunt

“THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN”  My rating: C 

112 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“The Girl on the Train” is something of an anomaly — an otherwise mediocre film containing an Oscar-caliber performance.

That the award-worthy performance comes from Emily Blunt should surprise no one. This English actress has an uncanny ability to meld with diverse screen incarnations (she’s played Queen Victoria, a modern dancer, a futuristic kidkass Marine, an ethically compromised FBI agent). As Rachel — the alcoholic, anguished, out-of-control heroine of Paula Hawkins’ best-selling novel — Blunt is by turns painfully compelling and utterly alienating.

Too bad that the rest of Tate Taylor’s film is indifferent.

One could argue with some of the Hollywoodization at work here . The novel is set in Great Britain and its heroine is a slightly zaftig  sad sack who comes off like a tormented Bridget Jones. The film, on the other hand,  takes place in a bucolic suburb of New York City and Blunt can hardly be called overweight.

But that’s not the real problem. No, the film’s downfall is the screenplay by Erin Cressida Wilson, a hodgepodge of narrative feints that makes it almost impossible to relate to any of the characters and which leaves the cast members to emote to no good end while director Taylor (who had a vastly better film with “The Help”) must try to pave over the narrative hiccups and improbabilities with a slick visual style.

You can almost feel the desperation.

We first encounter Blunt’s Rachel on the commuter train that takes her to the city every day.  As the train passes the neighborhood where she used to live with her now-ex husband, Rachel is always on the lookout for the beautiful  young blonde woman who lives just a few doors down from her old home.

That would be Megan (Haley Bennett), who likes to lounge on her balcony (facing the train tracks) in her skimpy undies. Megan has a husband, Scott (Luke Evans, late of the “Hobbit” franchise), and frequently Rachel can see the couple passionately spooning through the windows or around a fire pit in the back yard.

In voiceover narration Rachel tells us that she has built a huge romantic fantasy around the couple. She doesn’t know them, but between slugs of vodka (she keeps the booze in one of those plastic sports-drink bottles), Rachel imagines herself part of their loving scenario.

Uh, have I mentioned that since her divorce Rachel has become a pathetic basket case?

Turns out that Megan is currently the nanny for Rachel’s ex, Tom (Justin Theroux), and his new wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson).  Poor needy Rachel is making life impossible for the couple, phoning at all hours of the day and night, and on one occasion sneaking into the house and walking out into the yard with their new baby. (Rachel and Tom couldn’t conceive, and this failure haunts her.)

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Eva Green

Eva Green


127 minutes  | MPAA rating: PG-13

Filmmaker Tim Burton’s latest is pretty much par for the course: Two hours of great art direction in search of a movie.

This adaptation of “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children,” the first entry in the popular young adult series by novelist Ransom Riggs, might be classified as a goth version of the X-Men foundation story: Shunned children with supernatural powers are sheltered and trained in a special facility.

The main difference is that this story unfolds in semi-creepy Victorian circumstances that are right up Burton’s visual alley.

The film looks terrific — so dark and weird that even sunlit afternoons seem gloomy.

It’s got the ever-watchable Eva Green as the titular Miss Peregrine, a sort of witchy version of Mary Poppins who can transform herself into a falcon, and Terence Stamp as the occultist grandfather whose secrets launch the story.

What it hasn’t got is any sense of drama, forward motion or a central character interesting enough to warrant our attention.

Young Jake (Asa Butterfield) is a moderately miserable Florida teen (his clueless parents are portrayed by Chris O’Dowd and Kim Dickens, both wasted) who witnesses the death of his beloved grandfather under mysterious and alarming circumstances.

The child psychologist (Allison Janney) who subsequently treats the traumatized teen suggests that Jake go to Wales to confront the reality of Grandpa’s wild tales of the “peculiar children” who were his boyhood friends. Once Jake sees that it was all in the old man’s head, says the shrink, everything will be fine.

Or not.

Jake discovers that Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is a rotting shell, flattened by a German bomb back in 1943. And then, magically, he finds himself transported back to the day of the disaster.

Not only is the school restored to its former gingerbread grandeur, but Jake meets Miss Peregrine and her oddly talented wards. Like the lighter-than-air girl (Ella Purnell) who must wear leaden boots lest she float away. Or the teen (Lauren McCrostie) who can start fires with her fingertips. Continue Reading »

Kate Winslet

Kate Winslet

“THE DRESSMAKER” My rating: B-

119 minutes | MPAA rating: R

So many stories, moods and contradictory elements are swirling around in Jocelyn Moorhouse’s “The Dressmaker” that it’s no wonder it never settles down into a coherent whole.

Parts of this Down Under oddity, though, are delightfully memorable.

Adapting Rosalie Hamm’s novel with her husband, filmmaker P.J. Hogan (“Peter Pan,” “Muriel’s Wedding”), Moorhouse has given this period piece a distinct visual look and no shortage of eccentric characters.

And almost everywhere you look, “The Dressmaker” is paying homage to other films and literary works.

There is, for starters, the film’s basic setup: A woman returns to the provincial town of her childhood, not so much to be reacquainted with old friends as to explore her tormented past and perhaps take revenge on those who made her youth a living hell.  That, combined with its blend of absurdist humor and angry drama, makes “The Dressmaker” a sort of modern-day clone of Friedrich Durrenmatt’s often-revived 1956 tragicomedy “The Visit.”

At the same time “Dressmaker” borrows freely from the spaghetti Western tradition. Though it’s in Australia, the town to which our heroine returns looks like nothing so much as a barren Wild West burg, complete with dirt main street, weird rock formations, ramshackle buildings and  a few leafless dead trees.

David Hirschfelder’s musical score is heavy on ersatz Ennio Morricone, right down to the electric guitars, pounding tympani and clanging chimes.

It’s 1951 and after an absence of nearly 20 years Tilly Dunnage (Kate Winslet) has returned to dusty Dungatar (emphasis on the “dung”). She moves back in with her half-cracked mother Molly (Judy Davis), who lives in bag-lady squalor in a crumbling hovel overlooking the town.

Tilly reintroduces herself by attending a local football match in a flaming red evening gown that must be the brightest object within 100 square miles.

In the years she was away Tilly worked in the fashion industry in London, Paris and Milan and she relishes the opportunity to rub the townspeoples’ faces in her sophistication.

Some locals aren’t buying this vision in their midst.  As a child Tilly was suspected of murdering a classmate and was shipped off to a boarding school in Melbourne for her own safety. She’s not exactly everyone’s favorite person.

But others, mostly long-put-upon women, see her arrival as a godsend.  Especially after Tilly uses her dressmaking and makeup skills to transform a drudge of a shopgirl (Sarah Snook) into a glamorous fashion plate capable of luring and hooking the wealthiest young man in town.

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snowden-750x490“SNOWDEN”  My rating: B

134 minutes | MPAA rating: R

The story of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden was practically made for Oliver Stone.

Government overreach, conspiracy and corruption, plus a hero who acts alone in defiance of hopeless odds — they’re all the elements of a typical Stone film (“Wall Street,” “Platoon,” “Salvador,” “JFK,” “Born on the Fourth of July”).

And with age has come a certain mellowing of the Stone approach. It’s not like he’s any less radically left — it’s just that now he can make his case without the hysteria and hyperbole that often marred his earlier work.

And in Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Stone has a leading man seemingly at the peak of his powers.

Those whose minds are not already made up when it comes to l’affaire Snowden will find Stone’s new film “Snowden” largely convincing. Even if you’re inclined to brand Snowden as a traitor worthy of death, the film will remain troubling.

(OK, time out. Let me say up front that while “Snowden” is a good film, it pales in comparison with “Citizenfour,” the Oscar-winning documentary from 2015 in which the real Snowden, a newly-minted international fugitive hiding in a Hong Kong hotel room, is interrogated by the journalists who would leak his most inflammatory revelations to the awaiting world. Everyone should see “Citizenfour.” But most people dislike documentaries, and so the fictional Stone version will be the one most people will see and remember. Fact of life.)

Most of ”Snowden” is one long flashback. In the present we’re in that hotel room with filmmaker Laura Poitras (Melissa Leo) and reporters Glenn Greenwald (Zachary Quinto) and Ewen MacAskill (Tom Wilkinson).

Tell us about yourself, one of the journalists says, and the next thing we know we’re at an Army training camp where young Edward Snowden is preparing to take on the terrorists who leveled the World Trade Center. Continue Reading »

beatles_592x299“THE BEATLES: EIGHT DAYS A WEEK — THE TOURING YEARS”  My rating: B+ (Opens Sept. 15 at the Tivoli)

106 minutes | No MPAA rating

There have been plenty of Beatles documentaries and no doubt there will be plenty more.

But if I had to explain to one of today’s teens what Beatlemania  was all about, I’d sit them down to watch Ron Howard’s “The Beatles: Eight Days a Week — The Touring Years.”

The doc focuses on the first five years of the Beatles’ timeline, ending with the 1966 concert at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park that ended their live performances.

Employing endless archival footage (some of it shot by fans and never before disseminated) and cleaned-up audio tracks that prove just how terrific a live band the Fab Four were (even if concertgoers couldn’t hear much because of all the screaming), the movie is more than just a factual document.

It is an emotional one.  Want to know what it was like to be young in 1964? Watch this movie.

What’s really amazing is how well the four Beatles — John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr — kept their shit together in the madhouse of Beatlemania.  They were bemused and not a little awed by it all, but tried to keep their heads on straight with cheeky humor and a what-the-hell attitude.

Asked if they saw themselves as pioneers of a cultural revolution, the Beatles said they were having a good “larf.” Who knew when it might end?

Ringo reveals how they had an entire floor of New York’s Plaza Hotel and still couldn’t get any privacy.  The four lads ended up hiding in a bathroom, laughing over the insanity of it all.

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Aaron Eckhart, Tom Hanks

Aaron Eckhart, Tom Hanks

“SULLY”  My rating: B  

96 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Clint Eastwood is not a film stylist. No fancy camera angles. No innovative editing. No signature flourishes.
What he is is a terrific and seemingly effortless storyteller, one of the best now making movies.
Exhibit A is “Sully,” Eastwood’s recreation of 2009’s “Miracle on the Hudson,”  in which a crippled jetliner landed on the Hudson River without the loss of one of the 155 souls aboard.
Tom Hanks stars as Capt. Chesley Sullenberger, the 40-year aviation veteran who within seconds of losing both engines to a flock of Canada geese realized a return to La Guardia Airport was impossible…that the only chance of salvation was a water landing.
Todd Komarnicki’s screenplay (based on the memoir by the real Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger) devotes half of the film’s 96-minute running time to the brief flight and the crash itself.  
The near-disaster is experienced from several vantage points (pilots and crew, passengers, first responders, witnesses), with each iteration providing new insights and not a few thrills.
This is absorbing, shocking, logic-defying stuff.
Now we all know that nobody died on US Airways Flight 1549. Still, the film generates tension by revealing that  NTSB investigators were all but prepared to pin the blame on Sully and first mate Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart). (The film takes dramatic license by launching the hearings immediately after the incident; in reality, they came 18 months later.)
Computer simulations suggested that the damaged aircraft could have returned to the airport. Did Sully make a bad call that put everyone on board at risk?

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Alicia Vikander, Michael Fassbender

Alicia Vikander, Michael Fassbender


  132 minutes | MPAA rating:  PG-13

There’s a world of weeping on display in “The Light Between Oceans.”

The good news is that most of the sobbing is done by Alicia Vikander.  If you’ve got to stare for two hours at a tear-stained face, it might as well be that of this Oscar-winning actress. She makes suffering almost transcendent.

The not-so-good news is that in making its transition from best seller to big screen, M.L. Stedman’s story has lost a good deal of its power.

For all the lacerating emotions displayed by Vikander and co-stars Michael Fassbender and Rachel Weisz, relatively little of it is experienced by the viewer.

What was deeply moving on the printed page seems mechanically melodramatic when dramatized.  You want to be moved, but can’t shake the feeling that mostly you’re being manipulated.

After four years in the trenches of World War I, Tom Sherbourne (Fassbender) returns to his native Australia a hollow man. Seeking solitude and time to rediscover himself, he signs up as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Island, a windswept hunk of rock 100 miles from the nearest coast.

But he won’t be alone for long. In one of the most satisfying passages in Derek Cianfrance’s film, he meets, woos and weds Isabel (Vikander), a local girl who seems to relish life on the island. Their’s is a civilization of two…the only thing that could make it better would be a baby to share the experience.

Fate has other plans.  Isabel suffers a miscarriage (during a hurricane, no less) and later gives birth to a stillborn child.  Things are looking pretty glum.

And then a rowboat floats in on the tide. Inside is a dead man and a baby girl. Continue Reading »