• Cinephilia

    Review: Les Misérables

    Though Victor Hugo’s classic novel—and its themes of the haves and have-nots, challenging a corrupt authority and the oppression of poverty—factor into Ladj Ly’s Les Misérables, the film is not another remake of the story of Jean Val Jean, Inspector Javert and company. Instead, the debut feature film from the French filmmaker is set in the present day and said to be inspired by the riots that country endured in 2005. Driven by tense race relations, cultural clashes and a general sense of frustration with under-employment and lack of upward mobility, the riots put the suburbs of Paris in turmoil for three weeks. But rather than let his film be consumed…

  • Cinephilia

    Review: Invisible Life

    A sweeping drama about two sisters who lose track of each other but never forget one another, Invisible Life navigates the internal and external lives of two very different women connected in ways no one but them can understand. Though directed and written by a man (Karim Aïnouz, who co-wrote with Murilo Hauser and Ines Bortagaray), the film is an adaptation of a 2016 novel by Martha Batalha, who creates women of such depth and nuance that each of the sisters comes to embody the devastating effects of a far-reaching, inescapable patriarchy. Set in Brazil in the 1950s, Batalha’s narrative echoes those of Partricia Highsmith (author of books including The Talented Mr. Ripley and The…

  • Cinephilia

    Review: Troop Zero

    Jim Gaffigan has no fewer than nine credits to his name for 2019, from the beautifully rendered Light From Light to a voice role in Playmobil: The Movie, one of the year’s biggest flops. Somewhere in between is Troop Zero, a direct-to-Amazon Prime feature film about a young girl named Christmas (McKenna Grace, I, Tonya) who grows up fast one summer in small-town, 1977 Georgia when she joins a fictional scout group with her fellow misfits. Gaffigan is Ramsey, Christmas’s over-the-top Southern lawyer of a father who’d go to the ends of the Earth for his little girl since her mother died, if only he knew the first place to begin. His office assistant Miss…

  • Cinephilia

    Review: Just Mercy

    It’s a busy time of year at the movies, as Oscar nominations are imminent and theaters are booked with that odd mix of year-end must-see movies still playing on the big screen and the kind of low-brow stuff weekends in January are made for. Into this fray comes Just Mercy, the latest from Destin Daniel Cretton (The Glass Castle, Short Term 12) and based on the true story of lawyer and advocate Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan) and his years-long battle to prove the innocence of death-row inmate Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx). In a year with noteworthy films like Dark Waters and Clemency, both steeped in the inequities and bureaucracy of the American…

  • Cinephilia

    2019 [in films]

    For the last three years, I’ve managed to watch more films than I did the year before. In 2017, I saw 181 films. In 2018, it was 182. In 2019, I watched 184 films in all, not counting rewatches and works in progress. I know this because I’m a big old nerd and I keep track of what I see in not one but two places: a spreadsheet I keep for my own records, and my tracking online over at Letterboxd (go ahead and give me a follow!). I do it for the fun of it, because when you watch as many films as I do (which actually pales in…

  • Cinephilia

    Review: Cunningham

    Merce Cunningham died in 2009 at the age of 90, and in his decades-long career as a dancer and choreographer, he redefined American modern dance as we know it. Fond of reminding his dancers, audiences and the media that he wasn’t designing the movements but rather allowing them to be revealed, Cunningham broke the mold of what the performing arts understood dance to be, from the way his work unfolded to the way he ran his eponymous dance company. Alla Kovgan’s captivating new documentary—fittingly titled Cunningham—explores the artist’s work, life and lasting legacy in a film that blends the past and the present in beautifully inventive ways. In order to…