Well folks, it’s time to dust off your multi-lingual dictionaries and recharge your digital translators because, this week, it’s all about the foreign language film. Movies from Sweden, Greece, and France are in attendance, and an adaptation of a British novel – set in India – and a documentary centered on a Frenchman round out the global palette. Meanwhile, adventures in primordial lands and expeditions in parapsychology offer journeys to the past and to another dimension. And the voyages don’t stop here. Next week: the fabled Gotham City awaits!
Manny the woolly mammoth (Ray Romano), Diego the sabre-toothed tiger (Denis Leary), and Sid the sloth (John Leguizamo) are back in the fourth (yes, fourth!) installment of their animated franchise: “Ice Age: Continental Drift.” A massive earthquake jolts the three heroes out into the ocean on an ice floe, and they must find a way to reunite with their friends and family before they’re devoured by sea monsters or captured by Sirens (yes, those sirens, a la “The Odyssey”). Oh, and there are threats from pirates too (history is immaterial, you see), captained by a Peter Dinklage-voiced primate. Queen Latifah, Keke Palmer, Seann William Scott, Josh Peck, Aziz Ansari, Nick Frost, and Jennifer Lopez also lend their vocal talents. Our review heralds the animation and recognizes “a story that, while hopelessly familiar, at least seems to be part of a whole,” but admits, referencing the series as a whole, “the problem with these movies is that scenes rarely click into place, and lack an overarching narrative, which is a huge problem both practically and thematically.” Rotten Tomatoes: 45% Metacritic: 50
When attempting to discredit false accounts of the supernatural, “Red Lights” are the key, signaling something out of the ordinary for parapsychologists Margaret Matheson (Sigourney Weaver) and Tom Buckley (Cillian Murphy) in this Rodrigo Cortés-helmed thriller. The pair is infallible, solving every case they encounter by employing rational thought processes, and managing to attract followers (Elizabeth Olsen and Craig Roberts) and enemies (Toby Jones, as a better-funded rival) alike. That is, until they meet their match in Simon Silver (Robert De Niro), a blind, telekinetic psychic who comes out of retirement hoping to debunk the debunkers. Our review says, “it’s the rare kind of swing-for-the-fences effort that confirms talent, and it has precisely the kind of ending that will divide audiences” and names the film “a bold effort by Cortés to step up his directorial game, equal parts deft and daft, that coyly addresses the divide between seeing and believing.” RT: 35% MC: 36
Bart Layton’s documentary “The Imposter” decodes the wickedly tangled story of a French grifter who (maybe) convinced a Texas couple he was their long lost son with surprising empathy and an even more surprising twist. In 1997, Frederic Bourdin told European authorities that he was Nicholas Barclay, a San Antonio family's youngest son who had gone missing three years prior; though there was plenty of evidence to the contrary, he was “returned” to the Barclays soon after. Using reenactments and interviews, Layton unwraps the many layers of this story, from the initial kidnapping to Bourdin’s ruse to the Barclays’ possible involvement in the con, as well as in their child’s disappearance. Shifty, gritty, alarming stuff. Our review calls the film “a great commentary on the subjectivity of any event, and one that probes deeply into the motivations of its subjects. And while in a beautiful way it declines to judge either side’s observations and arguments, its examination of that nebulous space between one perspective and another reveals more about both parties than any concrete definition of the truth ever could.” RT: 96% MC: 79
“Trishna,” from director Michael Winterbottom, offers a modern-day, India-set translation of Thomas Hardy’s “Tess of the D’Urbervilles.” Jay (Riz Ahmed), the son of a wealthy hotelier, falls in love with a poor waitress (the titular Trishna, played by Freida Pinto) who works at one of his family’s establishments. He gives her a high-paying job at a more luxurious hotel in the state’s capital, sparks fly between the two, and, thus, the drama of inter-class relations begins. Unfortunately, the film fails to live up to its source material in nearly every realm, including some major plot points and leading characters. Our review commends the cinematography and score, but notes, “everything seems timid and passionless, Winterbottom is more interested in picturesque locations than making it seem that his characters care about anything…you feel like you're watching Winterbottom's holiday video, that happens to have some actors wandering in and out of it.“ RT: 76% MC: 54
The French aristocracy dabbles in Sapphic pleasures before the masses take their heads in “Farewell, My Queen,” from director Benoît Jacquot. Sidonie LaBorde (Léa Seydoux) is a handmaiden for Marie Antoinette (Diane Kruger), characterized by unwavering loyalty and hopeless infatuation. Yet the queen does not return her love, favoring the affections of Gabrielle de Pontignac (Virginie Ledoyen). With the swell of the political uprising comes the swell of passions and tensions within the halls of Versailles, concluding with terrible acts of jealousy and betrayal. Our review says, “while ‘Farewell, My Queen’ does boast admirable elements overall, despite some showy trappings it is a frustratingly empty experience, built around a character whose blankness is supposed to be a virtue, but ends up costing the film dearly in terms of identification and interest.” RT: 87% MC: 67
Yorgos Lanthimos’ very dark and sometimes comic “Alps,” a follow-up to the highly regarded and well-awarded “Dogtooth,” centers on an underground organization that helps those in mourning to deal with the losses of their loved ones. This isn’t quite what you’d call traditional therapy though: the members of Alps (as the organization is called) impersonate the deceased, interacting with their families and friends as though they were still alive. A nurse (Aggeliki Papoulia), a gymnast (Ariane Labed), and her coach (Johnny Vekris) make up the crew’s main body, and are led by a paramedic (Aris Servetalis) who calls himself Mont Blanc. While this type of work obviously requires a certain discipline, the nurse takes it upon herself to operate outside the written rules. Our review praises the Greek director’s work here, calling him “one of the most fascinating filmmakers anywhere right now,” and notes that the film is “probably a more accessible film than its predecessor…It plays up the jet-black comedy, while retaining the humanism — as strange a world as Lanthimos creates, he genuinely cares for his characters, even as they do incomprehensible things.” Also, our reviewer recommends seeing the film as cold as possible, without much more knowledge than the brief summary given here. RT: 88% MC: 67
A working-class student finds the means to a more lavish existence through less than legal means in the Daniel Espinosa-directed Swedish thriller “Easy Money,” which opened Wednesday. JW (“The Killing”’s Joel Kinnaman), desperate for money and status, begins moonlighting as a bounty hunter. His book- and street smarts allow him to rise quickly, and he falls under the tutelage of Serbian gangster Mrado (Dragomir Mrsic). Soon enough, however, JW is drawn deeply into a seedy, violent world and finds himself in way over his head. Our review says, “‘Easy Money’ does not reinvent the crime drama wheel, but that is not its aim. This is simply an absorbing story told like it has electricity pumping through its veins. The narrative pulses forward and the picture often smolders with intensity,” and calls the film “well shot (stylish yet not overtly so), well-scored (moody minimalism) and acted.” RT: 85% MC: 78