Sometimes you just wish filmmakers would get out of their own way. Grace Jones is a fascinating figure, a Jamaican-born reggae/funk/pop singer-songwriter who was equally at home in the Studio 54 scene and Andy Warhol’s factory and who parlayed her androgynous, exotic looks into an international modeling and acting career. I first saw her as a fierce warrior alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger and Wilt Chamberlain in “Conan the Destroyer” and a Bond girl/villain who manhandled Roger Moore in a sex scene in “A View to a Kill,” and I was curious enough to find out more about her. But you won’t see any of that in Sophie Fiennes’ cinema verite portrait “Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami.
Over the last few years, the Avengers, together and separately, have spawned a number of good, very good, or reasonably entertaining movies. But with “Avengers: Infinity War,” the Marvel Comics franchise arrives at the stage of decadence. There’s just too much of it. A victim of its own success, there are just too many appealing characters here to stuff into one story. It’s no longer one team of superheroes fighting a single villain, but several teams fighting the same villain throughout the known universe, over the course of 150 minutes of screen time.
“Zama,” from Argentine director Lucretia Martel, tells a story of how colonialism victimizes people, but from an unusual angle. It’s the story of a 17th century colonial magistrate, stuck in some awful South American outpost, with only one dream — to get reassigned, so he can return to his wife and newborn child. We find Zama (Daniel Giminez Cacho) at the start of the movie standing near the edge of the shore, wearing his uniform, and his hat, and his sword, looking as out of place in that setting as he might look walking down Market Street in the same outfit. He just doesn’t belong there, and yet he’s there all the same, part of the functionary class, a bureaucrat who applied for the wrong job.
Amy Schumer’s trademark as a stand-up comic was self-delusion. She’d tell stories that supposedly showed how generous or socially concerned or irresistible she was and reveal the opposite. Now in “I Feel Pretty” that comic strategy is blown out to fill a feature length movie that turns out not only to be funny but endearing and humane. Schumer plays Renee, an office-worker in a cosmetics firm who wishes she were beautiful. She sees her life as a series of minor deflations and humiliations: She goes into a clothing store and the salesperson walks over to say that they don’t stock her size. She would love to be the cosmetic company’s receptionist, but she doesn’t even dare to apply.
Annihilation This attempt at a thinking person’s action movie devolves into a motiveless slog, in which a group of women soldiers go on a suicide mission, for little or no reason, and end up seeing some very gory, disgusting things. But Jennifer Jason Leigh has a major role, so it can’t be all bad. Rated R. 115 minutes.—M.LaSalle A Bag of Marbles Two French Jewish boys are sent on a journey from Paris to the “free zone” to elude the Nazis. They get by on intelligence, resiliency and some luck.
If I were Jonathan Tropper, who wrote the “Kodachrome” screenplay, I know what I’d be doing. I’d be watching Ed Harris’ monologue over and over and marveling at the miracle of it. I’d feel great that I wrote something so good that an actor was able to turn it into a masterpiece. The scene comes about 15 minutes before the finish, in a situation that easily could have been corny and clichéd. The father (Ed Harris) is sick in the hospital, and he’s talking to his estranged adult son (Jason Sudeikis) about the mistakes he made as a father. The lines are good. So the first hurdle is cleared. And then Harris takes it from there. The first thing Harris does is he doesn’t launch into a “monologue.
Milos Forman, the Oscar-winning director who died at 86 on April 13, made only a dozen feature films, but they include the undying classics, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (1975) and “Amadeus” (1984), as well as a string of major and sometimes under-appreciated titles such as “Hair” (1979), “The People vs. Larry Flynt” (1996) and “Goya’s Ghosts” (2006). Forman’s legacy is diverse, with films in a variety of styles and genres. Yet his work has two qualities in common, one visual, one thematic. In terms of visuals, Forman’s films are full of color and beauty. Forman wasn’t like most directors, who would do just as well in black and white (and some would be better off). Forman understood color.
“Little Pink House” deals with a legal case that has implications for everyone who owns their own home, or hopes to, or just aspires to having a precious, inviolate space where the world can’t get at you. It tells the true story of Susettle Kelo, a paramedic who decided she wanted to live in a quiet place, so she bought a house in New London, Conn., completely renovated it and painted it pink, as in the John Mellencamp song. In 1997, New London was a working-class neighborhood with a depressed economy, but Kelo had a beautiful view, the kind usually reserved for people with money.
“Ismael’s Ghosts” is a very French concoction, partly self-indulgent, partly obscure and partly long-winded, and yet, in the main, original and emotionally compelling. There are moments in this movie that are richer than anything you can possibly see in a movie theater this month, scenes that will fill you with awe. And then there’s a scene of Marion Cotillard dancing solo to Bob Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me Babe” that makes you wonder how it’s possible that French people think it’s actually OK to dance to folk music. Or, for that matter, to subject audiences to the spectacle.
Lynne Ramsay is a Scottish writer-director whose movies invariably contain brilliant moments of character insight and quiet flourishes that light up the mind. But her films drag. They have story problems. They engage, but only intermittently. Sometimes they feel opaque, sometimes indulgent — and yet always intelligent and bespeaking a genuine cinematic talent. The case of “You Were Never Really Here” seemed like it might be the solution. It’s based on a novella by Jonathan Ames, with a tight plot involving a hit man suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. What a match it might have been: Ramsay is weak on story, but strong on character.
If you’re going to take the Chicago architecture tour, pick a day when a gigantic sea creature isn’t terrorizing the city. Likewise, if hundred-foot wolves and apes are crashing into buildings, it’s probably best to take a personal day and avoid downtown. “Rampage” is a monster movie, and in many ways an old-fashioned one, with a misunderstood ape, not unlike King Kong, a sea monster who’s akin to Godzilla, and with effects that are striking and yet just cheesy enough to be more fun than disturbing. Mixed in, there’s a warning about science run amok, but mostly it’s all about giving viewers a good time, and it does. But what makes “Rampage” especially enjoyable is the way it sneaks up on the audience.
There’s a political idea, a stylistic idea and a story idea in “Where Is Kyra?” and all of them taken separately are interesting enough, or at least sincerely committed in a way that’s not typical in movies. There is also a serious actress on the premises — Michelle Pfeiffer — willing to go to the wall for this film and give it everything she has. This is what Pfeiffer always does and is one of the reasons she’s an extraordinary talent. But the movie’s stylistic idea gets in the way of its story, and the story is too slim to sustain a full-length feature.
It’s a bit odd to see a feel-good animated war film, but “Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero” is interesting in a couple of ways: It’s the only film I’m aware of that commemorates the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I (1914-18), and it’s the true story of the most decorated dog in military history. World War II movies are still a reliable genre — two of the nine best picture nominees of 2017 were set during that wartime — but the Great War, “Wonder Woman” aside, rarely gets much love. The 100th anniversary of the war’s end is Nov. 11, but I doubt a wave of World War I films will be flooding the front lines of awards season.
Has anyone ever watched a Tony Gilroy movie and understood what was going on? We’re not talking here about knowing generally, but rather, moment-by-moment, actually knowing what’s happening, and why. Gilroy’s art seems to be not about illuminating, but about persuading an audience to not mind obfuscation. And the odd thing is, most of the time he gets away with this. Most of the time we end up not really minding, or not minding much. Such is the case with “Beirut,” which he wrote and which he dominates, even though Brad Anderson (“The Machinist”) directed. You may spend half the film feeling like there are four or five books you probably should have read before walking into the theater.
“Chappaquiddick” is a drama based on the 1969 Ted Kennedy scandal, in which the senator and presidential hopeful got into a car accident that left a young woman dead. Driving at night, Kennedy drove his car off an unlit bridge that had no guardrails. The car flipped, and he swam to safety, but 28-year-old Mary Jo Kopechne was trapped inside the car and died. If you’re looking for something to make you feel good about chubby, cherubic Ted, the venerable lion of the Senate, this is not your movie. “Chappaquiddick” is about a young, entitled man, fortified by a coterie of hangers-on and boosted further by family connections, who got away with doing very bad things.
It’s about time there was a movie centered on a girls’ high school volleyball team, after a million-plus films about prep football. This sentiment carries one through about a third of the true-story-based “The Miracle Season,” before awareness hits that high school volleyball is not an exciting sport to watch on a big screen. At least not the way “Miracle” director Sean McNamara presents it. Matches move too quickly, without McNamara slowing down to highlight the raw power behind a great spike or serve. We rarely get a clear picture of lead character Kelley (Erin Moriarty) setting the ball for her Iowa City West High teammates during competition.
“Finding Your Feet” gets off to a brilliant start. We meet a woman in her 60s, very sure of herself, preparing for a party in celebration of her husband’s being awarded a knighthood. Through her thin facade of British reserve, we can tell she is thrilled about this, and especially excited about everyone having to call her “Lady.” Everything about the atmosphere suggests a polite movie about the upper class — and then Lady Sandra Abbott (Imelda Staunton) catches her husband in a full-on make-out session with another woman. This caustic introduction is followed by some equally harsh comic scenes of Sandra’s going to stay with her bohemian sister (Celia Imrie) and being appallingly condescending to everyone she meets.
Chun, a teenage girl, has set herself quite the challenge: to safeguard the soul of a boy who died saving her life that one time she was a dolphin (more on that later) until she can restore him to his human form. Inspired by Chinese folklore and surely Hayao Miyazaki as well, the Chinese anime “Big Fish & Begonia,” is a sweet and lyrical fantasy film filled with inviting visuals and inventive characters that might, if nothing else, make you look at dolphins in an entirely different way. Directors Xuan Liang and Chun Zhang spent 12 years making this feature film from their 2004 short made when they were college students.
“Itzhak” is a warm, engaging documentary about the life of the violinist Itzhak Perlman, presenting both his daily life and his origins. It’s an interesting story of a consummate talent, but the biggest advantage the documentary has, just as a piece of entertainment, is Perlman, who is unaffected and likable. So the movie is a chance to hang out with a great guy, who is also a great musician. The movie begins with Perlman at Citi Field in New York, preparing to play the national anthem at a Mets game. Right away that tells you the kind of New Yorker he is — not an obnoxious, superior Yankees fan, but a friendly, down-to-earth Mets fan. We see him playing with Billy Joel and later with pianist Martha Argerich.
The first sign that “A Quiet Place” means business comes in the opening shot, in which the words “Day 89” are flashed onto the screen. This means a movie that contains no scene of a technician in some remote outpost, looking at a computer and saying, “Oh . . . my . . . God.” This means no somber address to the nation by President Morgan Freeman about aliens on the march. The worst has happened already, with even more worst to come. Now it’s just a family of five creeping through what remains of a drug store, gathering provisions. We notice at once that they are being really, really quiet.