Category: Reviews – New Releases/Festivals

*** (out of 4)

Last August, while Suicide Squad, Sausage Party, and Don’t Breathe were perched atop the North American box office, a different sort of movie fever was taking ahold of Japan. Your Name, an anime about a boy named Taki (Ryunosuke Kamiki) and a girl named Mitsuha (Mone Kamishiraishi) who find themselves suddenly “switching” bodies, opened to become the most financially successful anime film of all time, beating out established classics like Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle. Only this past weekend has it finally made it across the Pacific to North American theaters, and its arrival has been met with fervent acclaim from American reviewers: several of them have gone so far as to declare that director Makoto Shinkai has a claim to being “the next” Hayao Miyazaki.

When you consider just how much there is to take in on the movie’s surface, it’s not hard to see why people are so ecstatic.

Reviews - New Releases/Festivals

* ½ (out of 4)

When I last visited my relatives in China, I was asked by a group of them to play something on the piano. Since I had not touched a keyboard in several months, I decided to play Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C-sharp Minor, a piece that I thought would sound impressive enough to save face. I hadn’t even gotten halfway through the large, banging chords of the climax before all my relatives started breaking out into exclamations — and by the time I was done, I found myself inundated with compliments on my playing. Never mind that my “interpretation” had no expression, or that I had obviously messed up some notes. To them, loud and big were sure signs of greatness.

On a visceral level, the new live-action version of Beauty and the Beast often feels like it’s trying to do what I did then: dupe its audience into admiration by assailing it with noise.

Reviews - New Releases/Festivals

** (out of 4)

2016 played host to two movies about interracial marriage. The first, Jeff Nichols’ Loving, wasn’t flawless, but it studiously avoided flash in its attempt to show that Mildred and Richard Loving were just an ordinary couple unwillingly thrust into the spotlight. The second is A United Kingdom — another true story, but this time about Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo), the king of the British protectorate of Bechuanaland (today the country of Botswana), and his controversial decision in 1947 to marry a white Englishwoman named Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike). Oyelowo and Pike are both grade-A actors — he was MLK in Selma, she Amazing Amy in Gone Girl — so you’d think that with people like them involved, this movie would be able to do good with its subject matter.

Unfortunately, if Loving just fell short of perfection, A United Kingdom isn’t even minimally decent: it’s unsubtle, superficial, and a rundown of one too many clichés about racism and love.

Reviews - New Releases/Festivals