It’s a good week for new releases with plenty of the best, most acclaimed films of 2015 finally receiving the Blu-ray treatment. There’s the new Todd Haynes film (and the best LGBT film according to the latest BFI poll), a financial disaster dramedy, a heartwarming immigrant’s story, a raunchy sister comedy, a new season of the most popular cable show, and much, much more.
Let’s start with Todd Haynes’ “Carol,” one of the most generally acclaimed films of last year, and one that received six Academy Award nominations. Based on the Patricia Highsmith novel “The Price of Salt,” “Carol” follows the forbidden love affair between a young shop clerk (Rooney Mara) and an older woman amidst a difficult divorce (Cate Blanchett). Haynes tracks their growing attraction with profound sensitivity and formal rigor. Edward Lachman’s photography and Carter Burwell’s score also highlight both the early 1950’s period as well as the feeling of entrapment and excitement that dominates the film. “Carol” received widespread acclaim from critics and audiences alike, topped multiple end-of-the-year critics lists, and has a die-hard fanbase that were infuriated at its lack of awards attention. But they can rest easy: Years from now, “Carol” will certainly be considered one of the best love stories of the decade.
Other new releases this week include “The Big Short,” Adam McKay’s adaptation of the Michael Lewis book, which seeks to explain and dramatize the financial crisis from the perspective of those who saw it coming from a mile away. After that, John Crowley’s “Brooklyn,” the story of a young Irish immigrant navigating her way through 1950’s Brooklyn, including finding a job and falling in love. Next, there’s “Sisters,” the raunchy Tina Fey-Amy Poehler comedy about two sisters who throw a last big bash in their old childhood home. Finally, HBO has the fifth season of the very popular, “tits-and-dragons”-filled “Game of Thrones.”
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On the classic front, we have a few releases. Criterion has John Frankenheimer’s classic paranoid thriller “The Manchurian Candidate” about a U.S. army hero who returns home but unbeknownst to him has been programmed by Communists to assassinate a presidential candidate. Finally, Twilight Time has five releases this week: Robert Rossen’s “Alexander the Great,” the sword-and-sandal epic about the titular hero; Anatole Litvak’s “Anastasia,” a historical epic about a Russian businessman who tries to pass of an imposter as the Grand Duchess Anastasia; Otto Preminger’s “Exodus,” about the founding of the state of Israel; Ralph Nelson’s “Lilies of the Field,” about an African American traveling handyman who encounters a group of nuns who think he’s been sent by God to build their chapel; and finally Richard Fleischer’s “10 Rillington Place,” a crime drama about the serial killer John Christie.
More thoughts from the Criticwire Network:
Criticwire Average: A
A.O. Scott, The New York Times
Mutual attraction may be central to our notion of love, but it is a curiously rare occurrence in art, which tends to split desire into subject and object. Poetry traces a vector from lover to beloved. (“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”) In painting and sculpture, the eye of the beholder lingers on the face and body of the beheld. Students of film are schooled in the erotic power of the gaze, and readers of romance fiction know the seductions of the first-person narrative and the free indirect style, which concentrate lust and longing within a single consciousness. (“Reader, I married him.”) Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 novel, “The Price of Salt,” published under the pseudonym Claire Morgan, uses these conventional methods to tell the story of what was at the time a scandalously unconventional love. That story, which begins in Manhattan just before Christmas, is related from the perspective of Therese Belivet, a young theatrical set designer in New York who falls for an older suburban housewife named Carol Aird. Therese’s infatuation with Carol is immediate and total. Carol’s feelings, while equally intense, are more elusive, partly because the reader experiences them at second hand, from Therese’s point of view. In bringing this book to the screen in his gorgeous new movie “Carol,” Todd Haynes has, as filmmakers will, changed a few details, characters and plot points. (Therese is now an aspiring photographer, though still temporarily employed at the doll counter of a department store.) But Mr. Haynes and the screenwriter, Phyllis Nagy, have also done something more radical. In Highsmith’s prose, desire is a one-way street. For Mr. Haynes, it’s a two-way mirror. At once ardent and analytical, cerebral and swooning, “Carol” is a study in human magnetism, in the physics and optics of eros. With sparse dialogue and restrained drama, the film is a symphony of angles and glances, of colors and shadows. It gives emotional and philosophical weight to what might be a perfectly banal question: What do these women see each in each other? Read more.
“The Big Short”
Criticwire Average: A-
Dana Stevens, Slate
The screenplay, co-written by McKay and Charles Randolph, dismantles prettified clichés about “moral hazard” and “complex financial instruments” to reveal the simpler, uglier words bundled into them like so many bad mortgages: Fraud. Theft. Lies. These plain-spoken deconstructions of financial jargon are delivered direct to camera as tongue-in-cheek PSAs — most memorably by the dazzling Margot Robbie (“The Wolf of Wall Street”), who sips champagne in a bathtub while sensually breaking down abstruse financial concepts. Celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain likens the housing scam to restaurants that hide three-day-old fish in overpriced seafood stew. A distinguished behavioral economist shows up to play a hand of blackjack with Selena Gomez, by way of explaining the “hot hand fallacy” that tricks both gamblers and investors into believing they can’t lose. Because these incursions are fast-moving, funny, and short, they don’t slow down the film’s pace; if anything, “The Big Short’s” 130-minute running time careens by, eased along by bouncy pop-cultural montages that trace the nation’s trajectory from the Reagan years to 2008 — from Thatcher to Greenspan to Bernanke, yes, but also from Cyndi Lauper to Cartman to Ali G. The cronyism, deception and systemic malfeasance that led up to the crisis of 2008 have been seen on screen in recent years, in the form of tense workplace dramas (“Margin Call,” “99 Homes”), grim documentaries (“Inside Job”), and old-fashioned gangster pictures set in the world of high finance (“The Wolf of Wall Street”). But McKay’s saucy, innovative comedy accomplishes something no other movie about that time has yet tried. It plays the whole absurd shell game for laughs, even as it acknowledges that the last and bitterest laugh is on the rest of us. Read more.
Criticwire Average: A-
Glenn Kenny, RogerEbert.com
While Tóibín’s novel feels very much rooted in the time in which it’s set, the movie has more the feel of what Tennessee Williams calls a “memory play.” I’m sure that the excursion-to-a-Coney-Island-day-at-the-beach scenes in the 1941 comedy “The Devil And Miss Jones” or the 1959 “Imitation of Life,” as Hollywoodized as they were, presented more realistic versions of such excursions than this movie does — I mean, Coney Island is/was a lot of things, but lyrical is not one of them. (The Brooklyn colloquial description of the location would be something along the lines of “zoo.”) As a choice, though, it serves the movie’s vision well. If I may be utterly, unabashedly frank, I admit that the first time I saw this picture I started crying about forty minutes in and never really stopped. They were not all sad tears, I hasten to add. The persistent feeling that this movie so beautifully creates is that even when the world is bestowing blessings upon us, it’s still at the bottom a sad place, and the key to an emotionally healthy existence involves some rooted acceptance of that. The movie ends with Eilis having made some substantial steps to that accepting place, and also determined to move purposefully forward. People have spoken about how understated and old-fashioned “Brooklyn” is, to the extent that it might come across as a pleasant innocuous entertainment. Don’t be fooled. “Brooklyn” is not toothless. But it is big-hearted, romantic and beautiful. Read more.
Criticwire Average: C+
Ann Hornaday, The Washington Post
If the outrageous bits of “Sisters” are meant to be howlers — and they admittedly are — it’s the film’s quieter moments that wind up being most memorable. A sequence during which Kate and Maura are trying on clothes bubbles and burps with off-color brio (“We need a little less Forever 21 and a little more Suddenly 42,” Maura mutters). Of course, it’s patently absurd to believe Fey, pop culture’s go-to hyper-accomplished multi-hyphenate, as a screw-up who brazenly bares her breasts at an onlooker while invoking “poppin’ fresh” cookie dough. The spectacle of her playing Kate is strictly of the “Freaky Friday” variety, while Poehler’s Maura feels like a far more spontaneous and natural extension of the sweetly daffy persona she’s honed since her days on “Saturday Night Live.” Whatever characters they’re playing, Fey and Poehler can be counted on to infuse even their crassest moments with disarming likability. “Sisters” goes for broke in both directions, with winning, helplessly entertaining results. Even at its naughtiest, it’s never not nice. Read more.