A Ghost Story: Love in the Time of Death

**** (out of 4)

Anyone who’s been through childhood knows how it goes. In the middle of the night, somewhere in your house or apartment, something abruptly creaks or thumps. You turn the lights on, maybe check locks if you’re paranoid – but nothing turns up, no matter how hard you look. By the time you’re an adult, these moments usually mean little, and they’re easily forgotten. But if you really did have a childhood, you at some point probably came up with some kind of theory to explain all those noises away, whether that entailed bogeymen, mice, ghosts, or a combination of all three.

In A Ghost Story, writer-director David Lowery supplies his own explanation for the source of such noises: they’re movements of those spirits who cannot bear to abandon this world. Continue reading

The Lovers: The Hormonal Urges of Middle Age

** (out of 4)

The initial premise of Azawal Jacobs’ The Lovers is that the two protagonists, a married couple named Michael (Tracy Letts) and Mary (Debra Winger), dislike each other so much that they’ve each resorted to cheating on the other. If you were just going by the opening scenes, however, you’d be hard-pressed to believe that either of them really enjoys being adulterous. On Michael’s side, after all, the movie gives us an image of his girlfriend Lucy (Melora Walters) wailing inconsolably, all while he resignedly leans his head against a wall in the background. And on Mary’s side, we watch as she gives her boyfriend Robert (Aidan Gillen) an awkward, somewhat exasperated embrace outside her workplace. Add the fact that these scenes are filmed with meditative long takes, and you have all the makings of a reincarnation of Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’Avventura: a story where everyone wants love but never succeeds in getting it.

First impressions, however, can deceive, and the turn the story subsequently takes shows why. Continue reading

Their Finest: Britain, World War II, and Alphabet Soup

** (out of 4)

WARNING: Spoilers ahead.

If there’s just one thing Danish-born director Lone Scherfig wants you to take away from Their Finest, her new movie about a (fictitious) woman named Catrin (Gemma Arterton) who scripts a “morale-boosting” film for the British public during World War II, it’s that movies, above all else, are an escape. You get a first inkling of this notion when Catrin’s screenwriting colleague, a sharp, somewhat arrogant man named Tom (Sam Clafin), abruptly bursts into a nostalgic monologue on how life, unlike film, doesn’t have “structure” or “purpose.” The events that follow – right after the two of them first kiss, he dies in front of her eyes when a large crate falls on him – only hammer the point in further. And by the end, as we see moviegoers cry in a theater and a final image of Catrin happily working at her screenwriter desk, the self-serving, Sullivan’s Travels-esque message of the story has been all but firmly implanted in your brain: life is cruel, and the world of cinema is the best way to deal with the pain.

How ironic, then, that Their Finest itself turns out to be anything but a pleasant, painkilling escape. Continue reading