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Kunstler’s Capsule Movie Reviews

Elle (Dir: Paul Verhoeven, with Isabel Hubbert. English subtitles). Is it the astonishing beauty of everyday life in France that drives people batshit crazy? This movie fascinated me for reasons beyond its taut and compelling high-velocity story-telling, namely the grace on view in that country, the handsome social presentation of people, and the formality of their manners, the elegant streets — such a contrast to the tawdry slobbery of America in all those particulars. So, the movie is a little bit like a visit to another planet. Isabel Hubbert plays one Michele LeBlanc, a stylish and beautiful woman of a certain age who runs a company that produces the most extraordinary violent and vulgar video games (the scenes depicted of these monsters will remind you of everyday life in the USA). Michele also has a dark past: her papa was a mass murderer in a Paris suburb back in 1976. The story begins with a horrifying home invasion rape and from there we meet the well-drawn tribe of friends and relations in Michele’s world on our way to discovering the identity of said rapist. In the end, you are reminded of Sartre’s bon mot: “Hell is other people….”  Highly recommended.
American Honey (Dir: Andrea Arnold, with Shia LeBeouf, Sasha Lane, Riley Keough). A fascinating and raw trip into the dark underbelly of post-prosperity America. Sasha Lane plays a questing teen from the parking lot wastelands of Muskogee, Oklahoma, who hooks up with a band of young grifters led by a 25-ish alcoholic reprobate woman (Keough) who transports the kids from town-to-town around the Midwest and houses them in cheap motels to run a door-to-door magazine-selling scam. Shia LeBeouf is her sometime lover and enforcer, and the kids in the van are uniformly lost and psychologically deformed by the awful tensions in a socially broke-down land. The story comports with the sad reality of what can easily be observed in Flyover America. Excellent performances.
Silence (Dir: Martin Scorcese, with Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Liam Neeson)
Quite a stately slog through the hardships of the Portuguese Jesuit missionaries in 16th Century Japan. For me, the society of that time and place holds deep fascination with its richly aestheticized culture — even in its methods of torture and execution. That said, the brutality of the story is taxing, and it’s a little hard for a non-religious person (yours truly) to wrap his head around the strange exigencies of Roman Catholic practice. Beautifully photographed (or cinematogged), with sturdy performance by all concerned, especially the chap who plays the frisky old Japanese grand inquisitor.
La La Land  (Dir: Damien Chazelle, with Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend.)
A genuinely charming and smart contemporary love story with a really good score by young Justin Hurwitz. Critics have compared it to Singing in the Rain, which it resembles only slightly. I actually had a look on disk at Francis Coppola’s 1982 musical One From the Heart (music by Tom Waits), which La La Land resembles more. Both are pastel-colored pastiches of movie musical conventions, set in the palm-treed urban west (LA and Las  Vegas). But the earlier movie was a spectacular flop and brought down Coppola’s fledgling Zoetrope Studios. The difference is largely better casting. In La La Land, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone both radiate intelligence, tipping off the audience that, whatever else happens, they will not end up as losers. Chazelle says it took six years to get it made. Surprising to me  that it got made at all, actually.
Jackie (Dir: Pablo Larrain, with Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig, and Billy Crudup.)
Surprisingly deft and moving portrait of Jacqueline Kennedy in the four days following the assassination of her husband, President John F. Kennedy, focusing on the events around the funeral arrangements. The movie is remarkably devoid of sentimentality and projects the viewer forcefully back into the very different world of the 1960s.  Portman is outstanding in the title role.
Nocturnal Animals (Dir: Tom Ford, with Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson.)
An interesting, complex, well-paced thriller for grown-ups. A story-within-a-story about lost soul LA art gallery owner (Amy Adams) reconnecting with the college love she spurned (Jake Gyllenhaal). Ford knows all the practical details about life in the .01 percent demographic and the pathetic status-signaling it entails. Will make you kind of glad you don’t live that way. Former fashion-designer Ford understands human emotion and orchestrates the drama confidently.

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