By Tony Beal
A grumpy boarding school professor forms a unique bond with a troubled student and the head cook over the Christmas break.
It’s admirable that “The Holdovers” succeeds in recreating the look and aesthetic of the decade it is set in and inspired by. Thankfully, it’s not just a superficial homage but also its own complete picture about the complicated people we call family. Paul Giamatti reminds everyone how good he truly is after staying mostly out of the spotlight, playing a gruff man who is more thoughtful than he seems. Meanwhile, Da’Vine Joy Randolph brilliantly portrays a range of emotions as a woman who has gone through an unspeakable tragedy while maintaining empathy. Newcomer Dominic Sessa elevates what could have been a clichéd “rough kid with a heart of gold” role. It’s a movie that feels familiar yet brings something fresh to the table, and that alone is worth your attention.
“Leave the World Behind”
A family’s trip to upstate New York is interrupted by the appearance of the house’s owners and signs of terror.
One of the most jarring movies of the year, “Leave the World Behind” is surprisingly amateurish, especially compared to the great writer/director Sam Esmail’s TV series, “Mr. Robot.” The film hammers you with its attempts at ideas without saying anything particularly intriguing. The filmmaking is also incredibly self-indulgent, flashy for the sake of flashiness. Most of the cast delivers subpar performances, though Julia Roberts and Mahershala Ali certainly do their best with what they’re given. It’s the type of film that fails to be intense or engaging, instead becoming merely irritating. By the midway point, you might find yourself disinterested in the characters’ fates. It’s also worth noting it features one of the most ill-conceived final jokes in recent cinema.
An actress becomes entangled in the lives of a couple whose controversial romance is the subject of her new movie.
“May December” has been mistakenly described as camp because its camera movements, music, and uncanny tone showcase how unsettling the movie can be. You’re peering into the nightmare of the predatory relationship between Gracie and Joe, portrayed convincingly by Julianne Moore’s emotionally manipulative character and Charles Melton’s portrayal of quiet suffering. Natalie Portman delivers a performance that reflects a strange obsession with the world around her, bordering on inappropriate, mirroring our culture’s odd fascination with true crime without considering its impact on those involved. Director Todd Haynes creates a palpable unease around our protagonists and their surroundings, making us feel we should look away, but we can’t. It’s a remarkable achievement from everyone involved.
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“Candy Cane Lane”
A father and his family race to beat a mischievous elf who brings the 12 days of Christmas to life and to win the neighborhood’s contest for best-decorated home.
Director Reginald Hudlin attempts to capture the spirit of the holiday season, and there is some charm to be found, particularly in the stop-motion animation. However, “Candy Cane Lane” mostly goes through the motions as a family film, dragging on too long and ending up rather dull. Eddie Murphy still manages to charm just with his smile, but one can’t help but wish for more, especially after his brilliant performance in “Dolemite Is My Name.” The rest of the cast shows potential in their comedic timing but isn’t given much to work with. The film is an example of a missed opportunity for what could have been an enjoyable experience.
“Society of the Snow” (Netflix)
“The Book of Clarence”
“Role Play” (Amazon Prime Video)
“Sometimes I Think About Dying” (Limited)