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Raffey Cassidy

“THE OTHER LAMB” My rating: B-

97 minutes | No MPAA rating

The feminist allegory “The Other Lamb” flirts mightily with pretension.  Good thing it’s so visually ravishing that it keeps you from asking the sort of questions that could deflate the whole affair.

Realizing that  Malgorzata Szumowska’s drama is about life in a religious cult, one might expect it to follow the template of other movies on that subject.

But Szumowska and screenwriter C.S. McMullen are more interested in establishing a dreamlike state than depicting harsh reality. And while their film eventually wears out its welcome, at least in the early going it’s fabulously seductive.

In a forest that looks like something out of a Grimm’s fairy tale there is a small religious community.  It consists of nine adult women clad in long red dresses — they call themselves “the wives” — and nine younger females in blue identified as “the daughters.”

There’s only one man in sight. He’s known as The Shepherd (Michael Huisman, a veteran of HBO’s “Treme” and “Game of Thrones”) and he rules his flock with a seductive self-assurance.

His theology…well, it’s hard to say.  Occasionally the ladies will break out in a traditional Christian hymn, but The Shepherd practices a form of monotheism in which he’s at the top of the food/sex chain.

The women do all the work…herding real sheep, preparing meals, maintaining the shacks in which they live.  The Shepherd thinks deep thoughts, allows himself to be pampered like a pasha and each night takes a different bride to bed. (more…)

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“RESISTANCE” My rating: C 

120 minutes | MPAA: R

Fiercely earnest but curiously unaffecting, Jonathan Jakubowicz’s “Resistance” is an inspired-by-fact World War II drama that shows a generally unrecognized side of Marcel Marceau, world’s most famous mime.

In pre-war France Marcel Mangel (Jesse Eisenberg) works in his father’s butcher shop but dreams of a life in the arts. At night he takes the stage at a local cabaret…we see him doing an act based on Charlie Chaplin.

Marcel is Jewish…nominally so.  His obsession with performing overshadows even the encroaching threat of Hitler’s forces.  His brother Sigmund (Edgar Ramirez) must shame Marcel into helping deal with newly-arrived German Jewish orphans who have been ransomed from the Nazi government.

Marcel claims to hate children, but warms up when he realizes that these traumatized kids are receptive to his mime routines…he at least can take their minds off the horrors they have endured. He forms a special bond with Elsbeth (Bella Ramsey, the tweener scene-stealer from “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”). He also sticks around because he has the hots for Emma (Clemence Poesy), who is dedicated to the relief effort.

With the arrival of the Germans the young people in Marcel’s circle go underground, joining the Resistance and risking their lives to hide Jewish children (often by passing them off as Catholic orphans) and leading the youngsters on dangerous treks to sanctuary in Switzerland.

Though it has been sumptuously mounted and features several suspenseful sequences, “Resistance” is a dramatic mess.  Jakubowicz’s screenplay has no real center…it zigs and zags between numerous characters, including the infamous Gestapo torturer Klaus Barbie (Matthias Schweighofer), who has made it his mission to wipe out these Hebrew agitators.

There’s also a clunky framing device, a post-war segment featuring Ed Harris as American Gen. George S. Patton (the multi-lingual Marcel, reborn as Marcel Marceau, actually served as a liaison on Patton’s staff).

The major stumbling block here, though, is the film’s leading man.  Jesse Eisenberg just isn’t right as Marcel. He lacks gravitas, and would need Brando-level charisma to keep this sprawling yarn centered. He gets to recreate a couple of Marceau’s famous mime routines, but the results are uncomfortable…like swimming in a three-piece suit.

Also, he looks really uncomfortable in a beret.

| Robert W. Butler

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Amy Ryan

“LOST GIRLS” My rating: B (Now on Netflix)

95 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Anger radiates from “Lost Girls” like steam from a boiling pot.  It swirls around us; we inhale it; we burn with it.

Liz Garbus’ film is about the decade-old (and still unsolved) case of the Long Island serial killer, believed responsible for the deaths of at least 10 young women.

But it’s not a police procedural. More like a study of official indifference and incompetence.

The victims, you see, were call girls. No big loss, right?

The point of view taken by the filmmakers (Michael Were adapted Robert Kolker’s non-fiction book) is not that of a dedicated cop finding answers but of a grieving mother, wracked with uncertainty and played with extraordinary fierceness by Amy Ryan.

Mari Gilbert (Ryan) lives in a small town in upstate New York.  She’s a single mother (no mention of any man in her life, past or present) making ends meet with blue-collar gigs (waitressing, driving heavy construction equipment) and struggling with domestic issues.

One daughter, Sherre (Thomasin McKenzie of “Jojo Rabbit” and “Leave No Trace”), has a bad case of late-teen resentfulness. The second, tweener Sarra (Oona Laurence), is bi-polar, jerked between phases of defiance and crushing melancholy.

There’s another daughter whom we never really get to meet. Shannan, we learn, hasn’t lived with her mother since  puberty; she was raised by the state in foster homes. Now she resides in New Jersey, returning home on rare occasions but regularly contributing money to support her mother and siblings.

Shannan is a prostitute who uses Craig’s List to troll for customers. Mari undoubtedly knows this; she just won’t say it out loud.

(more…)

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“BLOW THE MAN DOWN” My rating: B- 

90 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Easter Cove, Maine, is just as picturesque as the name implies.

Lots of boats, weather-worn houses, gray winter skies, residents bred of  tough New England stock…hell, the commercial fishermen even punctuate their daily grind by singing sea chanties directly to the camera.

But beneath the quaint facade things are rotten. At least according to Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy’s noir-ish “Blow the Man Down.”

Our protagonists are sisters Pris and Mary Beth Connolly (Sophie Lowe, Morgan Saylor), who as the film begins are burying their mother and discovering that Mom’s retail seafood shop is on life support and the mortgage on the house is way past due.

Their current economic crisis only exacerbates the differences between the two young women. Priss is the “good” sister who runs the shop and toes the line. Mary Beth is a bit of a wildcat, resentful that she had to suspend college to care for her dying mother and desperate to leave Easter Cove behind.

Which is why the night after the funeral Mary Beth goes bar hopping (actually, there’s only one bar in town), picks up a scuzzy and vaguely threatening fisherman (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) and ends up defending herself with an old harpoon.  (Murder by harpoon…you don’t get more New England than that.)

The panicked sisters opt not to talk to the cops. Instead they stuff the body in a big styrofoam ice chest (some dismemberment required…a fish filleting knife comes in handy), weigh it with an old anchor and toss it off a cliff into the roaring sea.

Oh, yeah…in the dead man’s shack they discover a plastic bag with a small fortune in cash. (more…)

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Betty Gilpin (right)

“THE HUNT” My rating: C+

89 minutes | MPAA rating: R

The premise of “The Hunt” —  a bunch of rich sphincters go hunting for other humans on a private game preserve — has been recycling through the cinema ever since 1932’s “The Most Dangerous Game.”

But this is the first time the hunters have been  elite libtards and their prey Trumpers.

Okay, okay. Step back and take a deep breath.

Craig Zobel’s film lets us know early on with a bombastic musical score that it isn’t meant to be taken too seriously.  Ditto for the laughably over-the-top violence.

Which is not to say that “The Hunt” doesn’t have some fairly serious subtext.  At its core it’s about how America’s deep political and social divisions are leading to self-destruction.

Mostly, though, the picture is played for thrills and yuks.

A dozen individuals awaken in a forest. Rubber gags have been locked onto their faces. They discover a large wooden crate containing a small arsenal of weapons and a key that opens their mouthpieces.

And then all hell breaks lose. These individuals — some played by familiar faces like Emma Roberts, Jake Barinholtz, and Justin Hartley (Kevin on TV’s “This is Us”) — must negotiate a dangerous landscape.  They may be shot with bullets and arrows, blown up by land mines, poisoned with dosed donuts or skewered in pits filled with sharpened wooden stakes. (more…)

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John Turturro

“THE JESUS ROLLS” My rating: C+

85 minutes | MPAA rating: R

The lavender-loving, sexually ambiguous bowling fanatic Jesus Quintana appears for only five minutes in the Coen Brothers’ “The Big Lebowski.”

But “the Jesus” — portrayed by John Turturro with machismo-spewing relish — apparently has enough of an enduring fan base that 22 years later we get “The Jesus Rolls,” a sort-of toss-off sequel written and directed by Turturro.

Basically this is one big criminal road trip.  Jesus (Turturro, naturally), recently released from prison, is met by his old buddy Petey (Bobby Cannavale) and together they go on a car-stealing spree, accompanied by a soundtrack of furious flamenco guitar.

Along the way they explore the joys of three-way sex, first with a ditzy hairdresser named Marie (Audrey Tautou…yes, “Amelie”) and later with an older woman portrayed by Susan Sarandon (more of that later). There is a fair amount of nudity…much of it involving the two leading men’s derrières.

The tone here is one of comic goofiness fueled by Jesus and Petey’s bone-headed banter.  Nothing even vaguely resembling a plot emerges; what we get is a series of vignettes, at least one of which is quietly heartbreaking.

(more…)

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Steve Coogan

“GREED” My rating: C+  

104 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Steve Coogan has portrayed so many supercilious asshats that many of us — including some of my fellow film critics — have come to the conclusion that he really is a supercilious asshat.

“Greed” is not going to change anybody’s mind.

In the latest from prolific writer/director Michael Winterbottom (“24 Hour Party People,” “Welcome to Sarajevo,” “Tristam Shandy” and “The Trip” franchise) Coogan plays a billionaire whose very existence sums up just about everything wrong with the “one percent.”

This is asshattery on a grand scale.

Sir Richard  McCreadie (Coogan) has made a fortune  in the fashion industry. Not that he knows anything about fashion — his talent is buying cheap and selling dear, and his financial history is an epic tale of acquiring brands (purchased with other people’s money), running them into the ground and selling off the corpses at a profit, leaving others holding the bag.

McCreadie is smug and entitled and vicious. He’s been hailed as “The Mozart of retail” and “The DaVinci of deal making,” but most people simply refer to him as “McGreedie.”

(Trump haters will want to identify McCreadie with our current President; well, both men employ the same dubious business model, but in truth Coogan’s character is vastly more witty and charismatic.)

Winterbottom’s screenplay has pretty obviously been inspired by Orson Welles’ great “Citizen Kane.”  As preparations are underway for McCreadie’s big blowout 60th birthday celebration, a hack journalist (David Mitchell) hired to write the Great Man’s authorized biography conducts a series of interviews with McCreadie’s battle-axe mother (Shirley Henderson in old-age makeup), his ex wife (Isla Fisher) and a slew of McCreadie lovers and haters.

These moments are interspersed with flashbacks from McCreadie’s young adulthood (he’s played as a scheming young man by Jamie Blackley).

(more…)

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Barry Ward, Maeve Higgins

“EXTRA ORDINARY” My rating: B- 

94 minutes | MPAA rating: R

A supernatural comedy of exceeding drollness, “Extra Ordinary” feels like a mostly successful mashup of “The Frighteners,” “Ghostbusters” and “What We Do in the Shadows.”

Rose Dooley (Maeve Higgins) is a thirtysomething spinster living in small-town Ireland. She’s a big woman, socially inept and saddled with a weird family history from which there is no escape.

Rose is the daughter of Vincent Dooley (Risteard Cooper), who back in the ’90s had a best-selling series of VHS tapes dealing with the supernatural (the film is punctuated with snippets from his broadcasts).  In fact, little Rose was her Daddy’s assistant in his investigations of the paranormal.

Now a grown woman, she blames herself for Papa’s untimely death years before. Even more unsettling, eerie happenings seem to follow her like needy doggies. She used to do consultations for people with supernatural problems, but has given all that up to run her own not-terribly-successful driving school.

Enter Martin Martin (Barry Ward), a widower haunted by the ghost of his late wife.  This unseen and temperamental spirit is always knocking bad food (especially donuts) out of Martin’s hand before he can stuff them in his mouth. Even from the grave she’s bossing him around.

Their teen daughter Sarah (Emma Coleman) is sick of all these spooky shenanigans; she urges her dad to contact Rose and set up an exorcism.

(more…)

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Liam Neeson, Leslie Manville

“ORDINARY LOVE” My rating: B+

92 minutes | MPAA rating: R

In an era of caped escapism, an intimate cancer drama like “Ordinary Love” has about as much chance as a penguin in the shark pool.

But those daring enough to take the risk will discover an acting tour de force saturated in pain and beauty, a drama that effectively tells a universal story precisely because its characters are largely unremarkable.

The challenge facing writer Owen McCafferty, directors Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn and their principal players (Liam Neeson and Leslie Manville) is to make their yarn compelling without resorting to heroics, histrionics or bigger-than-life characterizations.

They succeed to a degree I didn’t think possible.

Tom and Joan (Neeson, Manville) are a retired couple living in Belfast (we never do learn anything about their careers). At first glance their marriage seems more or less ideal. He’s charmingly irascible, a guy who goes for long walks with the Missus, then claims that entitles him to one more beer.

She’s no shrinking violet, apparently relishing the banter that has them dueling with gentle witticisms.

They’ve got a nice house and apparently no money woes. Their mantel feature a framed photo of a pretty young woman, obviously their daughter.  Only much later do we realize that the subject, their only child, died some years before.

The unremarkable patterns of Tom and Joan’s life are upended when she discovers a lump in her breast.

(more…)

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Julia Garner

“THE ASSISTANT”  My rating: B+

87 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Just another day at the office becomes a moment of moral reckoning for the title character of “The Assistant,” a minimalist drama that only grows in potency the more you think about it.

Jane (Julia Garner) is a recent college graduate neck deep in her new job in the Lower Manhattan office of an independent film company. She gets up before dawn, naps during the Uber ride from Queens, and is the first person on site, turning on the lights, firing up the computers, brewing coffee.

Many a viewer will find the monotony all too familiar.

As the low man on the office totem pole, Jane is determined to keep her head down and establish a rep for quiet competence. She wants to be a producer some day.

A good chunk of Kitty Green’s film finds our protagonist doing both movie-related chores (Xeroxing spec scripts) and scutwork (donning rubber gloves to clean stains off the upholstery).

But the biggest chunk of her day is devoted to the Boss, a never-seen mogul (his muffled voice — heard through walls, open doorways and the telephone — is provided by Jay O. Sanders) of unassailable power.

Stationed outside the Boss’s private sanctum, Jane greets and ushers in guests, guards the door when the Boss doesn’t want to be disturbed, and fields phone calls.  She also is in charge of arranging transportation and lodging for the Boss’s frequent trips to the West Coast.

Writer/director Green is so good at nailing both Jane’s daily grind and the moments of gut-twisting anxiety (periodically she finds herself caught between the imperious Boss and his angry wife; more than once she endures a verbal chewing out from the executive suite) that the film’s true subject matter only slowly sneaks up on us.

(more…)

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