Heart and Soul

BPM (120 Beats Per Minute)

by George Wolf

Transitioning slowly from a sweeping, outrage-fueled political drama to a hushed and intimate personal study, BPM becomes a deeply emotional portrait of hope and love.

It is France in the early 1990s, when Act Up/Paris is becoming increasingly confrontational in their protests, demanding an official AIDS prevention policy from the state, and an end to the indifference of the population.

Early on, director/co-writer Robin Campillo (Eastern Boys) skillfully uses Act Up’s regular meetings to bring us up to speed on procedures and strategies. Through the group’s infighting and organized protests, the film speaks to the often fragile power of activism, especially when some of the activists are dying.

The confusion caused by the AIDS epidemic is heavy in the air, and Campillo effectively pairs it with the desperation of those most personally effected, eventually settling on two in particular.

Sean (Nahuel Perez Biscayart) is HIV-positive and a veteran Act Up member, full of a passion that draws in the shy newcomer Nathan (Arnaud Valois). As the two draw closer, Campillo narrows his focus to the touching, slice-of-life glimpses that lie at the very heart of the cause.

BPM builds an earnest base through faithfully re-creating an era while reinforcing that era’s continued relevance to the present. But the film reveals its purpose through the smaller moments that inspire, reminding us of the courage needed to take a stand, and just what’s at stake if we don’t.

Scrape it Off your Shoes

Sweet Virginia

by Hope Madden

Which is a better death—a bullet, or a broken heart? Aah, the neo-noir, always trodding that lonesome, masculine road.

Director Jamie Dagg’s latest effort, the brooding Sweet Virginia, contemplates many of the same bruised musings in many of the old, familiar ways. But between Benjamin and Paul China’s taut script and an ensemble’s powerful performances, you won’t mind.

Jon Bernthal leads the cast as Sam, former rodeo star and current proprietor of small town motel Sweet Virginia. It’s the kind of place where a drifter (Christopher Abbott) might stay, a high school kid (Odessa Young) might take a part-time job, a new widow (Rosemary DeWitt) might find comfort or a femme fatale (Imogen Poots) might find danger.

Bernthal charms playing against type and spilling over with tenderness. His every moment onscreen is abundant with warmth, a curious choice for a hillbilly noir’s male lead, but it pays off immeasurably.

Abbott is his fascinating opposite. Both dark and imposing, Abbott’s Elwood festers and stews, a pot of simmering violence waiting to bubble over. Like Bernthal, Abbott chooses an approach to his character that is nonstandard and, in both instances, carving such believable and unusual men in such a familiar environment gives Sweet Virginia more staying power than it probably deserves.

DeWitt reminds us again of her skill with a character, embracing Bernie’s brittleness and resilience to craft an authentic presence. More impressive, though, is Poots in an aching performance.

Daggs shows confidence in his script and his performers, siding with atmosphere over exposition and letting scenes breathe. His string-heavy score and fixation with reflections and the spare light cast by a lonely street lamp create a mood that is familiar, yes, but fitting and welcome.

This is Coen territory, and where the Brothers can always find texture in even the most threadbare of material, Daggs’s film feels superficial. It holds your attention and repays you for the effort with a series of finely drawn and beautifully delivered characters, not to mention a script that invests in clever callbacks as well as character.

It’s a gripping film that lacks substance, a well-told reiteration on the same theme.

The Glamorous Life

Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story

by George Wolf

You won’t find many violins playing for the sad, lonely lives of good-looking people, but Bombshell makes a compelling case that a brilliant mind was long dismissed simply for belonging to a beautiful woman.

The woman was Hedwig Kiesler, an Austrian-born “enfant terrible” who found fame as Hedy Lamarr in the old Hollywood studio system while lamenting her label as nothing more than a glamour girl.

Over the last several years, Lamarr has finally gotten due credit for her ingenious idea of “frequency hopping,” the radio communication technology which laid the foundation for everything from remote controlled torpedoes in WWII to today’s wi-fi and GPS systems. That was far from all that was going on in Lamarr’s “pretty little head.”

The debut feature from writer/director Alexandra Dean, Bombshell lets Lamarr tell much of her story herself, thanks to a long-lost interview from 1990 that was discovered just last year. We hear of her talent for inventions, which began with re-assembling an old music box at the age of five, and plenty of highs and lows in a truly fascinating life.

A privileged childhood in Vienna is followed by family scandal over her landmark nudity in 1933’s Ecstasy, stardom, entertaining Mussolini, inventing a “Coca Cola cube” for soldiers, selling millions in war bonds, becoming one of Hollywood’s first female producers, building one of Aspen’s first ski resorts and finally, inspiring her plastic surgeons with ideas on better techniques.

Some classic archival footage and interviews with family and friends paint Lamarr as a woman with “so many sides and faces” who felt trapped by her beauty ’til the end, becoming a recluse when it left her.

Bombshell is an effortlessly compelling portrait, a bittersweet ode to a maverick who searched in vain for a way to unite her two worlds, and a time when she might get to be both “smart and Hedy Lamarr.”


I Don’t Want to Go Out – Week of November 28

This week it’s quality, not quantity. Three movies to pick through, and if box office numbers are to be believed, you probably haven’t seen any of them. Remedy that! And let us help.

Click the film title for the full review.

Logan Lucky

Super Dark Times


The Screening Room: Holidays, Lawyers and Billboards

Welcome to The Screening Room. This week we take a look at new theatrical releases Coco, Three Billboards Outside Billing, Missouri, Roman J. Israel, Esq., Novitiate and I Remember You. Plus, we’ll help you pick through new home entertainment.

Listen HERE.

Chilly Memories

I Remember You

by Hope Madden

“Children just don’t disappear in Iceland.”

This line, slyly delivered shortly into co-writer/director Óskar Thór Axelsson’s
film I Remember You, let’s you know that you are not really watching the movie you think you are.

Indeed, the Icelandic thriller weaves two separate stories together using this missing child as the thread.

As the line is delivered, Freyr (Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson 0, a psychiatrist, is filling in for a medical doctor at the site of a suicide. An elderly woman hung herself in an old church, writing the word “unclean” on the wall and vandalizing the building before taking her own life.

Though he’s only a fill-in, Freyr begins working with local authorities on the case, which begins as an apparent suicide but quickly turns into something sinister, perhaps supernatural.

Meanwhile, the film spends time with a trio—a man, his wife and her friend—refinishing a would-be bed and breakfast on an isolated Icelandic island.

What does Freyr’s son Benni, who vanished three years ago, have to do with all of it?

To be honest, Axelsson has trouble really clarifying that point. It takes a medium (who also happens to be a lawyer for no reason I can discern) to begin to explain Benni’s connection, but the truth is that these three tales of human misery—the suicide, the DIY trio and the mourning father— are spinning disconnected around us and no amount of spiritual mumbo jumbo can truly bring them all together

Still, I Remember You offers plenty of fine performances. Though Freyr behaves in ways no psychiatrist would (having his ex-wife point that out does little to remedy the problem), Jóhannesson’s caring but distrusting turn gives the film a center of gravity.

The three fixer-uppers (Anna Gunndís Guðmundsdóttir, Thor Kristjansson and Ágústa Eva Erlendsdóttir) offer the most tender and believable performances, and the ghost story itself sits best with them on that secluded island.

There’s also an effectively foreboding score and the endlessly imposing if beautiful Icelandic backdrop. The biggest issue is that Axelsson, working with Ottó Geir Borg to adapt Yrsa Sigurðardóttir’s novel, can’t bring the most intriguing threads to the surface and tie them together.

It’s a movie that refuses to stay with you. The final image is provocative, but even that won’t help you remember I Remember You.

Preparing the Bride


by Rachel Willis

When Cathleen Harris (Margaret Qualley) is seven years old, her mother, out of a sense of duty and more than a little boredom, takes her daughter to church. So begins Cathleen’s love affair with God.

And it is a love affair, as Novitiate seeks to show its audience as it follows Cathleen from that first encounter to her time as a novitiate seeking to become a bride of Christ.

As a postulant (the first step in becoming a nun), Cathleen meets the Reverend Mother (Melissa Leo), a woman who joined the convent 40 years earlier and has not left the convent in those 40 years. With the introduction of the Reverend Mother, the film branches into two narratives. We see the convent through both Cathleen and the Reverend Mother on the eve of monumental changes to the Catholic Church.

If writer/director Margaret Betts had kept her story limited to these two perspectives, we would be treated to a tighter film. Cathleen is a mostly silent observer, her few words devoted to her devotion to God, but we see a great deal through her. When the film branches off to follow other postulants in the convent, as well as a sister questioning her faith, we lose the intimacy established in the beginning with Cathleen.

Betts is aware that many in the audience will not understand what it takes to become a nun, nor will they be familiar with the Church in the early 1960’s, so there are a few moments of exposition. However, they never feel heavy-handed or forced. It feels as if we’re entering as a postulant, then a novitiate, with Cathleen.

As our eyes into this world, Qualley is phenomenal as Cathleen. She brings an intensity to the role that is needed to understand the level of commitment to Christ it takes to become a nun.

Leo as the Reverend Mother brings a different level of intensity, one that not only explains her devotion to Christ, but her faith in the perfection of the Church as Vatican II seeks to alter the world to which she’s given her entire life.

There are moments when the film sinks into melodrama, and some scenes feel unnecessary to the story, but it’s a captivating glimpse into a world few of us witness.

I See Dead People


by Hope Madden

Pixar is probably still the best bet in animation, though they followed up their 2015 high point Inside Out with the somewhat mediocre The Good Dinosaur and Finding Dory, and finally the underwhelming third installment in their least impressive series, Cars 3.

Can Coco, a story of finding your place between family and dreams, between this world and the next, set things right?

The film follows Miguel (well voiced by young Anthony Gonzalez), a musician, like his great-great-grandfather. The one no one is allowed to mention. The one whose face has been torn from the family photo. The one the whole family is supposed to forget.

Instead of being a musician, Miguel is supposed to make shoes, like the great-great-grandmother who taught herself to make shoes when her husband left her to pursue his dreams of being a musician.

But Miguel prefers music—who wouldn’t?—and “borrows” the guitar of the great, long-dead hometown hero Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt) so he can play in the talent show during the Dia de los Muertos celebration.

One thing leads to another and Miguel finds himself in the Land of the Dead.

There are a number of things Coco does quite right. Though its themes are reminiscent of other Pixar films—Ratatouille, in particular—the cultural execution is a welcome change in a long and Euro-centric list of movies.

The film is also characteristically gorgeous, many frames spilling over with vivid color and imagery.

Coco also tells a satisfying story that packs an emotional wallop. Like the animation giant’s 2009 masterpiece Up, Coco invests in elderly characters and celebrates death as a tragic but inevitable consequence of life.

The structure by now has become common, with too many notions borrowed from other Pixar films. Worse, the laughs are rarely hearty and the genuine emotion is saved for the climax leaving too much time spent with little serious audience connection.

That’s the tough thing about being Pixar, though, isn’t it? We’ve become so accustomed to treasures that we disregard a lovely, heartfelt piece of family entertainment. Coco is no Toy Story, but it’s a lovely film.



Trouble Man

Roman J. Israel, Esq.

by George Wolf

Roman J. Israel is a character. And Roman J. Israel, Esq. is a fine character study, one that can’t quite use that device for all the resonant insight it’s aspiring to.

Last time out, writer/director Dan Gilroy rode a very similar formula to spellbinding heights with the brilliantly slick and cynical Nightcrawler. Though Gilroy’s writing is often just as sharp in this legal drama, a third act buoyed by sentiment and idealism weakens the film’s overall effect.

Sadly, Denzel Washington is wildly miscast as the titular Mr. Israel.


Sustained. Of course, Washington is characteristically terrific as a savant-like attorney with decades fighting for civil rights amid the “dominant tendencies of society.” Slowly, he’s seduced by the dark side, succumbing to the high-rolling lifestyle that comes with working for the suave and successful George Pierce (Colin Farrell).

As Roman moves from one world to another, Gilroy rails nicely against the systemic inequalities of our justice system, with Washington’s seemingly effortless brilliance bringing the nuance needed to make Roman’s moral waverings feel authentic.

They do, and the film has a nice groove going until Gilroy needs to find himself and Roman a way out of what they’ve boxed themselves into. Suddenly scenes are feeling padded and resolutions a bit tidy, and you’re waiting for the dreaded grand courtroom speech that’s destined to torpedo all these good intentions.

Thankfully, Gilroy’s instincts are better than that, leaving Roman J. Israel, Esq. with his integrity still intact, just a little dented.



Christmas Rush

The Man Who Invented Christmas

by George Wolf

“Invented” might be an exaggeration, but Charles Dickens certainly gave the Christmas spirit a boost. Published less than a week before Christmas in 1843, his A Christmas Carol sold out in days, igniting an instant spike in charitable giving.

As the well-meaning but unremarkable The Man Who Invented Christmas points out, the soon-to-be holiday classic arrived under a looming publishing deadline, at a time when Dickens badly needed a hit.

Director Bharat Nalluri (Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day) and screenwriter Susan Coyne (in her feature debut) adapt Les Stanford’s book with a mix of fantasy and biography, never making the commitment to either that might have elevated the film beyond merely pleasant holiday distraction.

As Dickens (Dan Stevens) searches for inspiration, it arrives in the form of Mr. Scrooge (Christopher Plummer). Their interactions, though often charming, only touch on the personal demons Dickens was exorcising through his tale of mercy and goodwill, and the film is too eager to trade darker edges for sustained wholesomeness.

The peeks we do get into Dickens’s life are worthy, the period setting effectively detailed, and the whimsy entirely likable. Though certainly no classic, file this one under “satisfactory.”