Credits normally withheld for a closing crawl open Aleksandr Sokurov’s (Russian Ark) latest self important hymn to the importance of art museums. Listen as the disembodied voice of the documentarian expresses disappointment over his latest production. He’s not the only one. Borrowing a page from the Michael Moore playbook, Sokurov surrenders to the urge to inject himself into the proceedings — he could learn a lot from Werner Herzog when it comes to delivering narration — a move which adds appearance, if nothing more. When not padding the running time with poetically staged dramatic re-creations or taking us on a virtual reality tour of the collection, he does present compelling material that draws attention to the point in the Louvre’s history when the museum was ordered to partner with the Nazis. But given how well this ground has been covered of late (Stealing Klimt, The Rape of Europa), Francofonia frequently feels like little more than a fanciful footnote.
— Scott Marks
Randall Wright’s documentary about the English artist is forced to trade drama for detail: that’s what happens when your still-living subject has led a relatively happy, comfortable life. (Yes, he was born into English austerity during the war years, and yes, it wasn’t easy being gay, but he still comes off as mostly unscathed — well adjusted, even.) And even then, it’s largely a specific sort of detail: personal but not quite intimate, the stuff of home movies and recollections from old friends. But that’s okay, because Hockney’s work is similarly personal: lots of old friends and the sort of stuff you might see in home movies (including a few naughty bits). Hockney painted just what he wanted to paint (so many pool pictures!) and made oodles of money doing it. What’s remarkable is that he didn’t let money and fame destroy his restless quest to keep seeing things afresh, and to keep finding new ways to convey that vision. It takes nearly an hour before anyone discusses anything conceptual, but what comes before is sufficiently entertaining, and what comes after, sufficiently illuminating.
— Matthew Lickona
Yrgos Lanthimos’s Dogtooth was the sturdiest satiric broadside against the concept of a narrowly designed nuclear family unit since John Waters’s Pink Flamingos. The Lobster expands the writer-director’s hermetic vision from a modest suburban household to an imperious resort, where recently dumped schlub David (Colin Farrell) joins a group of lonelyhearts with exactly one thing in common: they have 45 days to find a romantic replacement or they will be transformed into the animal of their choosing — in David’s case, the titular marine edible.
At first, Lanthimos finds much humor to mine in his hallucinating amalgamation of mandatory Herbalife faculty retreat and well-regulated eHarmony seminar. It’s good not to dine alone; one never knows when a Heimlich maneuver might come in handy. Participants are encouraged to pair up with someone who shares similar “defining characteristics.” That means, if the girl of your dreams is prone to nosebleeds, you’ll stop at nothing short of using an ax to induce epistaxis, as long as it means not having to spend the rest of your days as one of Bambi’s woodland playmates. And remember: the ass you shoot may be your husband.
But surreal signification can buy only so much good will. One of the most dangerous rules of the game asks that guests participate in random hunts for homeless people. (The players use tranquilizer darts for ammo, not bullets.) Other than adding a layer of surplus social commentary — and opening the door for a second-act reversal — what stalking the disenfranchised has to do with romantic couplings skipped past me.
With love always just around the corner, and our hero forever unable to make the necessary turn, David ultimately joins up with the hunter’s targets lest he face the big pot of boiling water in the sky. Led by Léa Seydoux, the rebel bloc known as the Loners operates in diametric opposition to all things romantic. It’s here that David encounters the forbidden object of his affection, a nameless woman (Rachel Weisz) who is instantly smitten by him.
This change of direction trifles away the crazed satiric setup in favor of a more traditional saga of romantic survival of the fittest. This is Lanthimos’s and regular co-writer, Efthymis Filippou’s first English-language film, and the team’s hesitant unfamiliarity with the vernacular shows in every syllable. If the goal was to replicate a cold table reading in which every character speaks with the same voice, consider this a resounding success.
— Scott Marks
In a bit of pre-emptive metacriticism, this third entry in the “early X-Men” series that began with First Class and hit its stride with Days of Future Past sends its young, ’80s-era mutants to the mall to see Return of the Jedi, whereupon one of them declares that third entries in film trilogies always suck. Instead of Ewoks, this movie has Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac, sadly buried under makeup, costuming, and voice effects), the first mutant, roused from a lengthy nap beneath the pyramids and eager to make up for lost time. He wants to destroy weak humanity and everything it has made, and he wants his fellow mutants to help out. That much is clear. What’s much less clear is why a humanity-free world would be any better, or even desirable — you gotta rule somebody, no? Or why he can turn most people into dust with but a thought, but can’t seem to do it to his adversaries. Etc. It’s a shame: this installment brings in some interesting new blood with teleporting blue devil Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and troubled telepath Jean Grey (Sophie Turner). (For once, the baddies, including weather-witch Storm [Alexandra Shipp] and psychic-swordster Psyclocke [Olivia Munn], are the more boring bunch.) Then it turns them into gears in the Big Final Fight Machine. Familial drama and big special effects come via fast-guy Quicksilver (Evan Peters) and metal-mover Magneto (Michael Fassbender). But without a compelling villain, it’s hard to resist feeling like it’s just more of the (mutated) same.
— Matthew Lickona