Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

“WOMEN AT WAR”(Netflix):  Four French women — a prostitute, a nun, a fugitive from the law and a well-to-do wife and mother — find their world upended with the outbreak of World War I in this impeccably produced eight-parter.

“Women…”  (in French the title is “Les Combattantes,”  which I much prefer) seamlessly blends brutal realism with soap opera-ish plotting;  the results are wildly entertaining.

Set in the Vosges region of France in the early days of the conflict (this was before things bogged down in the awful limbo of trench warfare), the series gives us female protagonists struggling to survive in the absence of their menfolk.

Caroline (Sofia Essaidi) is left to run the family’s truck factory while her husband goes off to war. Plus she struggles to hide her disreputable past from his disapproving family.

Nurse Suzanne (Camille Lou) is on the run from the law after a patient dies during an illegal abortion; she takes the identity of a dead woman and begins treating wounded soldiers at the convent/hospital run by the tormented Mother Agnes (Julie De Bona), who finds herself questioning her vows when she falls for a shellshocked patient.

Meanwhile prostitute Marguerite (Audrey Fleurot) silently watches over the son she abandoned twenty years earlier…the kid is now a soldier stationed nearby. 

The series is crammed with intrigue, romance, close calls and some very well staged battle scenes. What you’ll remember most is the ghastly parade of mutilated bodies.

Staunchly feminist without making any big speeches, the series gives us menfolk who range from a decent army surgeon to a skin-crawling pimp, a predatory priest, a revenge-obsessed police detective and a dissipated rich boy. Even the villains are presented as complex characters.

Toss into the mix French cinematic royalty like Tcheky Karyo and Sandrine Bonnaire, and you have an absorbing historic piece that blends the epic and the intimate.

Itzuiar Ituno

“INTIMACY” (Netflix): Also carrying a feminist cudgel is the Spanish eight-parter “Intimacy.”

Part political thriller, part angry dissection of contemporary male privilege, the show centers on Malek (“Money Heist’s” Itziar Ituno), deputy mayor of Bilbao. She’s a tough, talented woman aiming to run the city, but her plans are threatened with the release of a video showing her having sex on a French beach with a man not her husband.

The crisis has implications for both her career and her family, but is only the starting point for a half-dozen subplots centering on wronged women.

A high school teacher (Patricia Lopez Arnaiz) looks for answers to the suicide of her sister (Veronica Echegul), who was humiliated when a years-old sex video goes viral among her coworkers at a factory.

Malek’s teen daughter (Yune Nogueiras) is dealing with a jerk boyfriend who has shared their sexting photos with classmates.

And a female police detective specializing in sex crimes (Ana Wagener) — smells a bigger conspiracy in Malek’s sexual outing.

“Intimacy” offers some great roles for women.  The guys — not so much.  The male characters are much less nuanced, ranging from outright thuggery to bland nice guys.

At least there’s Malek’s husband Alfredo (Marc Martinez), torn between anger at his newfound status as poster boy for cuckoldry and his rueful continued support of his wife’s ambitions.

“Behind every great woman,” he shrugs, “is an emasculated man.”

“THE INVESTIGATION”(Hulu):  That old reliable the police procedural gets an inspired overhaul in this Danish miniseries, a docudrama recreation of one of that country’s most notorious murder prosecutions.

2017’s “submarine case” centered on the death of Kim Wall, a journalist who was last seen getting onto a homemade submarine owned and operated by a Copenhagen industrialist.  Days later her torso — sans head and limbs — was found floating in Koge Bay.

The six episodes from writer/director Tobias Lindholm center on the efforts of a homicide detective and a public prosecutor  (Soren Malling and Pilou Asbaek, both veterans of the excellent “Borgen”) to find enough evidence to indict the rich creep.

But “The Investigation” departs from every other crime drama in never depicting either the criminal or the victim.  We hear about the cops grilling the suspect…we never see it. As for the dead woman, we meet her grieving parents, but only see a photograph of her during the closing credits of the final episode.

Mostly the show zeroes in on the nuts and bolts of police investigation and the case’s flabbergasting million-to-one payoff:  the cops placed cadaver-smelling dogs on boats that crisscrossed the bay for days until they picked up the telltale gases of human body parts decomposing beneath the waves.

Driving the whole enterprise is the dogged determination of the homicide detectives, who fight through numerous reversals and dead ends — along the way risking their own mental/emotional stability — to get justice for the dead woman.

| Robert W. Butler

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Charlbi Dean, Harris Dickinson

“TRIANGLE OF SADNESS” My rating: B+ (Hulu)

147 minutes | MPAA rating: R

In 1974’s “Swept Away”  filmmaker Lena Wertmuller  pondered the romantic and political implications of two wildly dissimilar individuals — a spoiled rich woman and a proletarian sailor — becoming castaways on an uninhabited Mediterranean isle.

Ruben Ostlund’s Oscar-nominated “Triangle of Sadness” (it’s competing in the best picture, best original screenplay and best directing categories) takes that idea and expands it tenfold.

Instead of just two individuals representing different castes we get a dozen characters whose societal prejudices and economic backgrounds collide in a heady mashup of satiric comedy… and no small amount of seasickness-induced vomit.

It takes a while before we get a handle on what “Triangle…” is all about.  

It starts with dozens of shirtless male models gathered to audition for a major advertising campaign. Among these desperate hopefuls (all of whom are working desperately not to to look desperate) is Carl (Harris Dickinson), who tries to remain upbeat and positive even after one of the agents doing the hiring comments on his features exhibiting a “triangle of sadness,” whatever the hell that might be.

Anyway, Carl doesn’t get the job.  Later the depressed hunk is joined at dinner by his gorgeous model girlfriend Yaya (Charlbi Dean).  The pair get to bickering…Carl points out that Yaya, despite having the more successful career, always finds ways not to pick up the check. It’s pretty clear that she’s always looking out for No. 1.

Ostlund’s film only kicks into truly comic mode when the couple are invited to cruise on an ultra-high-end yacht. The other passengers  are a mix of old and new money — one genteel British couple turn out to be international arms dealers with much blood on their hands. But, hey, it’s a chance for our young protagonists to eat well and soak up rays on somebody else’s tab.

But clearly something’s off.  The boat’s captain (Woody Harrellson) is undergoing a mental breakdown; he refuses to leave his cabin and appears to be on a world-class drug-and-drink bender. He’s joined in these dissipations by one of the passengers, a rags-to-riches  Eastern European entrepreneur (Zlatko Buric). Between shots and snorts the two carry on a friendly socialism-vs.-capitalism debate.

Woody Harrellson

Ostlund takes immense pleasure in quickly reducing the pampered passengers to wretched wraiths. A raging storm turns the ship into a roller coaster awash in puke; an attack by pirates sends the boat to the bottom of the sea and a handful of survivors flopping on a deserted beach like so many washed-up fish.

It’s in this castaway sequence that the film really pulls out its knives.  The only person with any survival skills is middle-aged Abigail (Dolly De Leon),  a crew member whose specialty was  cleaning the passengers’s toilets. Now, by virtue of being able to catch and cook fish, Dolly ascends to the status of tribal queen.  If the others want to eat, they’d better satisfy her whims…including her sexual demands.

“Triangle of Sadness” might be dismissed as misanthropic; it takes for granted that we’re all self-deluding and selfish fools, no matter where we stand on the economic spectrum.

But it takes such obvious glee in bringing its characters down to the same miserable state that we cannot help but get caught up in the proceedings.  Even a non-ending that tends to dribble away with little closure can’t undo the malevolent pleasures here exhibited.

| Robert W. Butler

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My rating: A- (Opens Feb. 18 at the Glenwood Arts)

Once upon a time an animated short needed to do nothing more than make you laugh.

This year’s batch of Oscar-nominated shorts may make you chuckle now and then, but for the most part they’ll leave you gasping in admiration at their intellectual/emotional breadth.


This world-class mind molester from writer/director Lachlan Pendragon is like a “Twilight Zone” version of “The Matrix,” only animated in the stop-motion style made familiar by the folk at Aardman.

In a colorless office telemarketer Neil suffers through his soul-killing job as a toaster salesman. Actually we’re watching Neil on a video monitor that fills much but not all of the frame. You see, around the monitor’s edge we can see things moving. They’re out of focus but, yes, it appears to be an animation studio…we can see the animator moving his toy figures a fraction of an inch between shots to create the illusion of life.

Whoa…Neil thinks he’s living in reality (just like Neo in “The Matrix”) but he’s actually occupying a fictional space created by a filmmaker.

Mind blown yet?

About halfway through Neil falls asleep at his desk and awakens in the darkened office to find himself dealing with a chatty ostrich who informs him that he is living a lie: “Question everything, young man. The world is not quite what it seems.”

Now when Neil looks closely at his existence he sees evidence of the animator’s previously unseen hand. It’s freaking him out.

The meta-rich “An Ostrich Told Me…” is about as clever as a short film can be.

“ICE MERCHANTS” (Portugal; 14 minutes)

From a chalet perched high on the side of a mountain glacier, a man and his young son take advantage of the frigid air to make ice. Every day they load up a back pack with the frosty stuff and base jump to the valley floor below. Down there folks are happy to pay for crystal clear ice.

Just one problem. Things are starting to melt.

Joao Gonzalez delivers this wordless global warming parable in a spectacular graphic style. His images are simultaneously simple and sophisticated. Dominated by the colors orange and blue, the film looks like a silkscreen come to life. Ultimately “Ice Merchants” becomes a touching story of parental love and loss.

MY YEAR OF DICKS” (USA; 25 minutes)

Pamela Ribon’s memoir about the year she tried desperately to lose her virginity has been fashioned by director Sara Gunnardsdottir into a mini-epic of teen angst and social discomfort. Over a half hour we meet the various boys to whom our heroine is drawn…and, yeah, most of them are dicks.

Like the skateboarding lout David; the moody skinhead she meets at a party, and the movie theater employee who in her fevered imagination comes off as a Gallic lover out of a foreign film. Fact is, none of them are worthy of her…except maybe her best bud Sam, who serves as Pam’s emotional wingman and yearns to be something more.

Pam also has a sex talk with her father that is bleakly hilarious, not to mention so embarrassing as to put a girl permanently off carnality.

“My Year…” is both deliciously literary (much of the narration is a parody of flowery/bad romance novel prose) and astonishingly visual (at certain romantic moments our heroine turns into a manga version of herself, all big eyes and rounded features). Director Gunnardsdottir employs a plethora of visual styles, with each segment getting its own special look.

“THE FLYING SAILOR” (Canada; 8 minutes)

A sailor witnesses the explosion of a ship carrying a load of dynamite. The blast tears off his clothes and sends him flying through the sky head over heels, all the while reliving moments from his life. It’s both dreamlike and deeply disturbing.

A final credit informs us that the film was based on the actual experience in 1917 of a seaman who was blown more than a mile by an explosion and lived to tell about it.

“THE BOY THE MOLE THE FOX AND THE HORSE” (Great Britain: 32 minutes)

Peter Baynton and Charlie Mackesy’s animated adaptation of Mackesy’s 2019 children’s book is the sort of thing that can turn hobnailed tough guys into blubbering messes. It’s a simple story — heck, there’s hardly any story at all — with the emotional kick of a Clydesdale.

A tow-headed boy wanders a gorgeous winter landscape. He encounters a chatty mole (voiced by Tom Hollander), who senses the boy is lost and wants to provide assistance. The boy says he doesn’t know who he is or how he got there — only that he wants to go home.

His cross-country quest will bring him into contact with a sly fox (Idris Elba) who wants to chow down on the mole…at least until the mole does him a major favor. Later on a beautiful white horse (Gabriel Byrne) allows the other three to ride his broad back as they make for the distant lights that suggest a human settlement.

The simple yarn is crammed with moral uplift and emotional wisdom; it’s presented with such poetic polish that the viewer’s cynicism evaporates before it can do any damage.

Visually “The Boy The Mole…” is so gorgeous you want to hang every frame on the wall. The backgrounds are like exquisite water colors, while the characters have been rendered in a pencil-like style that recalls E.H. Shepard’s illustrations for the original Winnie-the-Pooh books.

The film is a marvel that returns the viewer to a childlike state of charity and openness…not bad for a short film.

| Robert W. Butler

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Bill Nighy

“LIVING” My rating: A- (Theaters)

102 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Just about every element of “Living” works perfectly…which one half expects given that it’s a Brit remake of the brilliant Akira Kurosawa film “Ikiru (To Live).”

To that 1952 humanist triumph (about a gray civil servant whose life finds focus only when he faces death), screenwriter Kazoo Ishiguro and director Oliver Herman add a funny/sad study of a singularly English form of emotional constipation. There are actually some chuckles in this tale of a man with a fatal disease.

And the fact that the man in question is portrayed by the great Bill Nighy kicks “Living” into the emotional stratosphere. Nighy has won an Oscar nomination for his work here…I’ll be rooting for him to take home the golden boy.

“Living” opens with vintage color footage of post-war London, then cuts to a suburban train platform populated by identically-clad office workers (three-piece suits, bowler hats, briefcases and umbrellas) on their way to their jobs in the city. Director Herman has a good time framing and choreographing their movements to remind us of the zombie proles in Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis.”

We are introduced to Wakeling (Alex Sharp), a new hire at the public works office overseen by Nighy’s Mr. Williams. The kid learns quickly that the office is a place of Scrooge-ish joylessness; he and his colleagues are expected to shuffle much paperwork while accomplishing very little.

Woe be the citizen who enters this daunting bureaucratic maze, as Wakeling discovers when assigned to assist three housewives seeking to have a children’s playground built in the rat-infested bomb crater near their tenement.

Early on the sepulchral Williams visits a physician’s office where he gets bad news. The normally uncommunicative widower considers revealing his grim diagnosis to his live-in son and daughter-in-law, but can’t quite bring himself to open up.

Instead he plays hooky for the first time in his life. Rather than commuting to his desk Williams takes the train to a seaside resort where he is befriended by a rather seedy young intellectual (Tom Burke) and led on a Nighttown-style tour of disreputable cellars, jazz venues and strip-tease shows. It may be the closest thing to a holiday the stiff scarecrow has allowed himself in decades.

Back in London he befriends a young woman (Aimee Lou Wood) who recently left his employ; it is slowly dawning on Williams that while he is surrounded by other people, he actually knows none of them.

Bill Nighy, Aimee Lou Wood

“Living” effortless adapts the unusual narrative of the Kurosawa film — the second half is devoted to Williams’ co-workers reflecting on how he chose to spend his final months — and we’re once again reminded of the original’s stroke of genius, the ways in which it mines emotions without stooping to stridency or heavy-handed bathos.

That savvy sense of restraint also permeates Nighy’s performance. His Williams at first presents as a human chalk stick — dry, white and brittle. Small wonder his newfound female friend describes him as “dead but not dead.”

But little by little we see the character grow aware of sensibilities that have been long dormant. Some actors would aim for the big moment, but Nighy gives a performance of astonishing subtlety. He knows a little goes a long way; he can make us feel more with a straight face than other players could evoke with howls and breast beating.

The resulting movie is a quiet triumph and an unexpected paradox: a feel-good film about dying.

| Robert W. Butler

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“EO”: Beast of burden

“EO” My rating: B (In theaters)

89 minutes | No MPAA rating

What you get out of the donkey-centric “Eo,” I suspect, depends upon what you bring to it.

The latest from veteran Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski (“Moonlighting,” “The Lightship”) is an acknowledged nod to Robert Bresson’s 1966 “Au Hazard Balthasar”…both follow a donkey as the animal encounters a diverse variety of human beings whose behavior runs the gamut from loving to indifferent to cruel.

Neither film attempts to Disney-fy its subject. Both Balthazar and Eo are animals, pure and simple. They don’t do cute things, they are not ascribed the same emotions as people. Stare into their eyes and find what you can there.

This neutrality makes the movies challenging, for the filmmakers don’t tell us what we’re supposed to be feeling at any given moment. Rather we observe and, ultimately, impose on the donkey our own sensibilities. It’s not so much about the animal as our reactions to it and its plight.

“Eo” begins in a traveling circus where under a fierce red light Eo goes through his repertoire of simple tricks with his trainer Kasandra (Sandra Drzymalska). This young woman is clearly devoted to the animal, showering it (is it a he or a she? I don’t know…) with affection and kisses.

But in short order things go south. The circus goes bankrupt at the same time it’s assailed by animal rights activists. Eo and the other four-footed performers are shipped off.

Over the film’s 90 minutes we’ll follow Eo through a series of misadventures. He/she ends up in a high-end horse breeding stable, pulling a cart loaded with feed and other necessities. Eo spends time at a farm that serves as a sort of petting zoo for special needs children.

Sandra Drzymalska, Eo

These interludes are presented as neither good nor bad. Is requiring an animal to haul our stuff or be ridden a form of exploitation? Is it cruel? You decide.

It could always be worse, as we’ll soon learn. Wandering off the farm Eo stumbles across a village whose soccer-crazy residents adopt him as their club mascot. Even the minimum pampering he receives from the beery celebrants has a downside; when the skinhead hooligan fans of a vanquished team show up to break heads, they decide to beat poor Eo as well.

Eventually Eo finds himself the companion of a young man (Mateusz Kosciukiewicz) who takes the donkey home to meet his rich mother (played by none other than the great Isabelle Huppert). Seems like a pretty nifty place to wind up, but Eo’s sense of wanderlust kicks in yet again, and he’s off.

Periodically the film reverts to crimson-soaked flashbacks to Eo’s days with Kasandra. This is as close as “Eo” comes to suggesting that the animal has an inner life, memories, yearnings.

We never really get to know the human characters, most of whom are treated with the same neutrality as Eo. Some have a mean streak, some are jerks, most are just schlepping through life.

In truth, “Eo’s” neutrality will strike many as its own form of indifference. Happily the film is a technical tour de force, with sumptuous photography by Michal Dymek and a powerful orchestral score from Pawel Mykietyn that imparts an eye- and ear-catching grandeur to the proceedings.

There’s a good deal of Christian symbolism percolating throughout “Eo,” though one needn’t glom onto it to appreciate the film.

I suspect a certain variety of animal lover — the folk who can handle humans killing each other but blanch when someone shoots a dog — will find in Eo’s story a heart-tugging tragedy.

Others — present company included — will see here a pretty standard-issue life: work, food, sleep, a few moments of pleasure and hopefully fewer of pain, all leading up to that big abattoir in the sky.

| Robert W. Butler

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Zen McGrath, Laura Dern, Hugh Jacckman

“THE SON” My rating: C+ (In theaters)

123 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

The performances are strong. The subject matter is important. The execution is, well, fine.

But “The Son” is the most unpleasant, upsetting two hours I’ve spent watching a movie in months. For all of its strong elements, the damn thing is so disheartening and joyless that I’m loathe to revisit the memory just so I can write this review.

The latest from director Florian Zeller (like last year’s “The Father” it is adapted from a Zeller play, once again with an assist from Christopher Hampton) addresses the issue of teen depression. It’s almost brutally insightful, and not the least bit encouraging.

Peter Miller (Hugh Jackman) is an executive with a Manhattan-based charity. He has recently married his second wife, Beth (Vanessa Kirby) and together they have welcomed to their lives a baby boy.

But Peter’s cozy world comes crashing down when he is approached by his ex, Kate (Laura Dern), who reports that their teenage son Nicholas (Zen McGrath) is in trouble at school. More specifically, he hasn’t been to class in a month. The kid leaves home every morning and God knows where he spends the day.

Peter doesn’t need this, but he’s a decent guy who genuinely loves his firstborn and wants to do the right thing. He invites Nicholas to move into his place (new wife Beth is surprisingly amenable…she’s a decent person, too) and enrolls him in a new school.

But here’s the thing. Nicholas is tormented, unhappy, friendless. He cannot find words to express his feelings, and rather than share them he prefers isolation.

Peter tries to put an optimistic face on all this, but he’s simply denying the inevitable. And the pressure is starting to unravel both is career and his marriage.

Zeller’s narrative nails the pain and frustration of parents incapable of alleviating their child’s misery. And young McGrath delivers a borderline brilliant depiction of a kid whose unhappiness has led him down an antisocial path (among other things he’s a genius at parental manipulation). Watching this performance we’re jerked back and farther between compassion and indignation — exactly the emotions the adults in his life are experiencing.

Though Nicholas is the clockwork that makes the movie tick, “The Son” also serves as a personality study. Jackman has spent so much of his career in Spandex that it’s easy to forget that he’s a solid dramatic actor. A scene in which Peter visits his semi-estranged father — played by Anthony Hopkins as a sarcasm-dripping capitalist elitist — goes a long way towards establishing why Peter operates in the not-for-profit sphere and why he’s determined to be a genuine father to Nicholas.

But sometimes broke cannot be fixed.

“The Son” does contain one spectacularl improbability. Ask yourself…if you were the parent of a suicidal adolescent, would you keep a loaded firearm in the laundry room?

Didn’t think so.

| Robert W. Butler

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WOMEN TALKING” My rating: B + (Theaters)

104 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

True originality in filmmaking may be impossible. After a century plus of cinema most of the easy fruit has been picked; it takes something pretty special to make us sit up straight and pay attention.

“Women Talking” does that with regularity. It’s a mix of poetic parable and docudrama that hits an emotional/intellectual sweet spot, leaving the viewer with a heady mix of feelings unlike anything I’ve experienced.

Written and directed by Sarah Polley (it’s based on the nonfiction book by Miriam Toews, who shares screenplay credit), “Women Talking” is inspired by real-world events. A decade ago in Bolivia the women of a Mennonite community realized that some of their menfolk had been dosing them with animal tranquilizers and raping them in their sleep.

This film (the setting appears to be rural Canada) imagines how those women — purposely uneducated but by no means unintelligent — might gather to decide whether to stick with their religious community or seek lives in the greater world few know much about (they’ve had no radio, no TV, no Worldwide Web).

“Women Talking” opens with a disturbing image, an overhead shot of the maiden Ona (Rooney Mara) awakening to find her legs and bedclothes smeared with blood.

Cut to a man cowering in a corncrib and being beaten by the furious Salome (Claire Foy); other men have to pull her off the miscreant lest she kill him.

In just a few carefully selected moments the film gives us the lay of the land. The men have gone off to town to bail out their lecherous brothers arrested by the cops. For a few hours the women are left alone to make a choice.

Do they forgive the transgressors and carry on as if nothing had happened? Do they stay in the colony and fight the societal structure that has always limited their ambitions? Or do they pull up stakes and move out, taking with them the younger children?

The bulk of “Women Talking” is exactly that. A dozen or so women retreat to a hayloft overlooking the fields to debate their future. Interestingly enough, none exhibits religious doubts; rather, their beef is with men who don’t live up to their half of the bargain.

Some women — embodied by the scar-faced Janz (Frances McDormand) — will stay no matter what the others decide. They simply cannot fathom a life other than the one they’ve experienced in the colony.

Salome, whose violent temper we have already witnessed, bristles with defiance, sneering at admonitions to behave with traditional feminine submission and restraint. “I’ll stand my ground and deal with God’s wrath if I have to,” she seethes.

Mariche (Jessie Buckley) is torn between fury and fear. Her husband (like the other men, we see him only glancingly, as if out of the corner of our eye) enforces household rules with his fists. If she attempts to leave with their children might be the last thing she ever does.

Striking a more conciliatory tone is Ona, now pregnant by one of her nocturnal molesters. Despite this she exudes a preternatural calm — you can’t help thinking of another virgin who found herself with child.

Ben Whishaw, Rooney Mara, Claire Foy

The debate is overseen by Agata (Judith Ivey), the oldest of the women. There are some teenage girls eager to bail on the colony if given the chance. A bit of a wild card is Greta (Sheila McCarthy), a benign eccentric who mostly wants to talk about her beloved buggy horses.

There is but one man to witness all this. August (Ben Whishaw), the colony’s school teacher, has been brought in to take notes on the proceedings (apparently none of the women can read or write). This gentle soul offers advice when asked and quietly worships Ona from afar…clearly he is hopelessly in love.

“Women Talking” could feel claustrophobic and stage bound, but Polley periodically takes us outside to mingle with the colony’s children who are awaiting their mothers’ decision. Sometimes the camera roams the rows of corn or lifts overhead like a hovering bird.

Luc Montpellier’s photography employs a desaturated color scheme; the absense of bright hues somehow focuses our senses on the issues and personalities at hand. Similarly, Hidur Gudnadottir’s quietly evocative musical score suggest a world of simple pleasures — acoustic guitar, hammered dulcimer and chimes that ultimately subsume into a piece for string orchestra.

Polley and Toews string it all together with voiceover narration provided by one of the colony’s adolescent girls (I was reminded of Linda Manz’s narration for Terrence Malick’s “Days of Heaven”). This monologue is in the form of a letter to Ona’s unborn child.

All this masterfully builds into a quietly devastating emotional crescendo, sending us off with a rare mingling of sadness and hope.

| Robert W. Butler

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“A MAN CALLED OTTO” My rating: B (In theaters)

126 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Marc Foster’s “A Man Called Otto” is a remake of the 2015 Swedish film “A Man Called Ove,” which was based on the international best-seller by Fredrik Backman.

Aside from being set in America instead of Sweden, “Otto” feels like a shot-for-shot copy of the earlier film, with only a few minor variations (a gay character is now trans, an Iranian woman in the European version is Latino this time around).

Both films juggle black comedy and heart-tugging sentiment, both feature a Scrooge-ish fart who in old age discovers a sense of compassion for his fellow man.

Given the overwhelming similarities between the two films, one might reasonably ask the point of a remake. Well, here it is in four words:

Tom Hanks.

Mariana Trevino.

Hanks, among our most affable actors, is cast against type as a dour grinch. A recent widower, Hanks’ Otto fills his days with routine, patrolling the housing estate of which he is de facto manager. He’s continually calling his fellow residents to task for parking improperly, failing to sort their trash, and for just being hopeless morons in general.

Otto, you see is a proudly competent American male (he’s got a garage full of tools for any crisis, and he keeps his 50-year-old Ford humming in tip-top shape). He’s utterly contemptuous of everyone else, an attitude that has only grown stronger in the year since his beloved wife Sonya passed.

Early on we discover that Otto is bent on self-destruction. He’s given suicide a lot of thought, and before the film is over he’ll have tried to off himself with a rope around the neck, with poisonous car exhaust, and with a faceful of buckshot.

But every time he’s ready to do the deed (having laid out plastic sheeting to minimize cleanup) Otto is interrupted by one of his neighbors who needs something of him.

Mariana Trevino, Tom Hanks

Enter Mariana Trevino as Marisol, who moves in across the street with her adorable kids and doofus husband. From his first cranky insult, Marisol has Otto’s number, and over the course of the film she will be the prime mover in his reluctant reclamation (you know Otto’s on the mend when he’s adopted by a stray tomcat…you can’t fool animals).

A Mexican actress with mostly TV credits, Trevino delivers a star turn which should earn her an Oscar nomination. She’s funny, soulful, wise and about as sexy as her pregnant state will allow. And absolutely believable. The complete package.

A good chunk of the film is devoted to the courtship decades earlier of Otto (played as a young man by Truman Hanks — yep, Tom’s kid) and Sonya (Rachel Keller); we learn that the guy has always been socially awkward but that Sonya excelled at drawing out his tender side. If I have a major complaint it’s that I’m not sure I can square the young Otto with the misanthrope he’s become.

But that’s a minor qualm. For the most part “…Otto” works quite well, allowing us to bask in Hanks’ reassuring presence while introducing us to a fresh face who could very well become an audience favorite.

| Robert W. Butler

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Brendan Fraser

“THE WHALE” My rating: B- (Theaters)

117 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Yes, Brendan Fraser is terrific in “The Whale.” So terrific that his stellar performance accentuates the picture’s overall shortcomings.

The latest from director Darren Aranofsky (“Pi,” “Requiem for a Dream,” “Black Swan,” “The Wrestler”) is a claustrophobic pressure cooker of a drama.

Adapted by Samuel D. Hunter from his decade-old Drama Desk Award-winning play, “The Whale” unfolds almost exclusively in the living room of a suburban home occupied by Charlie, an immense blob of a man who survives on pizza and weighs so much it’s a struggle to stand up.

Charlie pays the rent by convening an on-line literature class, imparting his hard-earned wisdom about writing to college kids who have never laid eyes on him. Ashamed of being seen, he lies that his computer camera has gone haywire.

Over the course of the film Charlie will interact with several individuals.

The first of these is Liz (Hong Chau), a registered nurse and the sister of the man Charlie loved and lost. The compassionate but tough-loveish Liz is the closest thing he has to family or friends; she drops by almost daily to deliver food and observe Charlie’s physical deterioration. His blood pressure is off the charts, he wheezes with every breath, and Liz urges him, without success, to check into the hospital.

And there are unexpected guests.

Thomas (Ty Simpkins) is a young missionary from a nearby church — Charlie regards it as a cult — who drops by to proselytize and, despite Charlie’s rejection of his religious message keeps coming back.

Sadie Sink

Then there’s Charlies teenage daughter Ellie (“Stranger Things'” Sadie Sink), an angry young woman who hasn’t seen her father for a decade (not since he ran off with another man) and now observes his blubbery state with a jaundiced eye and a sharp tongue. Charlie is thrilled to see his offspring (Ellie’s mom cut him out of her life). He attempts to soften her up by noting that he has more than $100,000 in savings earmarked for her use.

Finally there’s a late appearance by Charlie’s ex, Mary (Samantha Morton), who is furious at the thought of a father/daughter reconciliation — not the least because she believes Ellie’s cynical snideness is outward manifestation of an evil soul (!!??!!).

With its single set and clockwork introduction of new characters, “The Whale” is more a filmed play than a fully cinematic experience.

Which is fine. My beef with the material is that the characters are more representative of points of view than of individuals, and their introductions into the story feel so carefully thought out and manipulative that there’s little or no sense of spontaneity. It all feels a little canned and preordained.

On the plus side, the story — and Fraser’s performance — humanizes the sort of individual who carries a boatload of societal shame and disapproval. “The Whale” suggests that Charlie wasn’t always morbidly obese, that he began binge eating after the death of his lover. Now in failing health, he’s desperate to rebuild bridges with his estranged family.

Despite a bulbous fat suit and layers of prosthetic jowls, Fraser uses his voice and expressive eyes to bring Charlie’s interior world to life. It’s an extraordinary performance, sad but knowing and leavened with bursts of self-deprecating humor.

| Robert W. Butler

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Greta Gerwig, Adam Driver and family

“WHITE NOISE” My rating: C+ (Netflix)

136 minutes | MPAA rating: R

The consensus has long been that Don DeLillo’s novel White Noise defies movie adaptation.

Now we have writer/director Noah Baumbach’s take on the 1985 book and…well, the consensus was right.

There are several passages in this long meandering effort that grab the viewer by the eye and the ear and won’t let go.

But by the end most watchers will shrug and wonder, “What was that all about?”

Set in the early 1980s, the film follows a middle-class American family. Father Jack (Adam Driver) teaches at the picturesque College on the Hill where he has pioneered the field of “Hitler studies” despite his inability to speak, read or write German.

Mom Babette (Greta Gerwig) convenes exercise classes for seniors. And there are four kids, the most interesting of whom is Heinrich (Sam Nivola), a teen whose encyclopedic knowledge of a wide variety of subjects makes him some sort of ambulatory information retrieval system. (This is an era before personal computers, much less smart phones.)

The gently mocking tone is set early on as we eavesdrop on a classroom presentation by one of Jack’s colleagues (Don Cheadle), who maintains with a straight face that movie car crashes epitomize American optimism, that despite the carnage they are “brimming with the spirit of innocence and fun.”

It’s a nonsensical argument that only seems plausible because of the seriousness and erudition with which it is delivered…indeed this college community is crammed with chatty pedants, many of whom inexplicable wear their academic gowns not only to classes but to the campus cafeteria, and all of them so wrapped up in their arcane specialities that it’s a wonder they can dress themselves.

If Jack’s academic world flirts constantly with the absurd, his family situation is cozy. They’re a loving if eccentric bunch.

“Life is good” Babbette says during a post-coital cuddle.

Yeah but that won’t last. The collision of a tanker truck and a freight train releases a cloud of …well, something. Everyone at College on the Hill and in its environs are told to get out of Dodge, like yesterday.

So family members pile into the sedan, only to find themselves in the world’s biggest traffic jam. Baumbach conjures up some pretty interesting imagery here while delivering an homage to Godard’s “Weekend” (home of the traffic jam to end all traffic jams).

When they’re not outrunning the “airborne toxic event,” Jack and crew are establishing a new world order at a series of refugee camps for the dislocated.

In its third act the film shifts into a mystery of sorts, with Babette addicted to a new and untested antidepressant, and Jack going Sherlock Holmes to find her dealer.

By the time “White Noise” reaches the two-hour mark many a viewer will be tempted to bail. Baumbach’s effort is kinda funny, kinda romantic but way too diffuse to really grab our emotions.

But wait…he’s saved the best for last. The film’s final title sequence is a long, massive dance number set in the town’s A&P where the products appear not to be organized by type but rather by the colors of their packaging. It’s a marvelously entertaining, giddily addictive passage that somehow celebrates American consumerism while satirizing it. And it will send you out with a big stupid grin on your mug.

| Robert W. Butler

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