Welcome to another installment of our monthly feature in which a rotating cast of film critics hold forth on the highs and lows of month of moviegoing.
5. The Fate of the Furious
Wait, before you close out of this tab—I know this is neither a critical darling nor I think even a fan favorite, but The Fate of the Furious satiated my fast and furious thirst for this daredevil franchise that I’ve been following for 16 years now and, at some point, just straight-up stopped playing by the rules of physics. These movies continue to inch towards the batshit insane (surely you’ve seen or heard about the submarine scene by now?), so they’re obviously best appreciated when you embrace the ridiculousness of it all. Here, OG F&F member Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) betrays the squad after getting dragged to the dark side by Charlize Theron’s cyber-terrorist, Cipher. The remaining members—with the help of a past enemy—must go up against their own, and you bet a bunch of inconceivable stunts are involved. Doesn’t that sound like fun for the whole family?
4. Your Name
This Japanese animation—the fourth highest-grossing film ever in its home country—finds two teens in a body-swapping Freaky Friday type situation. The boy, from Tokyo, and the girl, from a rural town, wake up as each other at random times, and when they do, they must navigate each others’ lives as smoothly as possible (though dating, surprisingly, becomes easier during the switch). This wondrous movie from writer/director Makoto Shinkai starts off as a humorous comedy of errors before it becomes an apocalyptic clock-stopper with much more than impressing the cute girl at stake. Beautifully animated (we’re talking Studio Ghibli standards here), Your Name captures that sensation of waking up from a dream you wish lasted longer, or misplacing a name that’s still warm on your tongue, but has just departed.
3. Slack Bay
If Mr. Bean were to sneeze on a Magritte painting, the result would look something like Slack Bay. That’s the madcap je ne sais quoi that occupies Bruno Dumont’s latest film, which stars Juliette Binoche in a keel-over comedic role alongside Fabrice Luchini—both members of the posh Van Peteghems, who are vacationing in a beautiful seaside French town. What otherwise would have been an idle summer gets disrupted by a group of missing tourists, the bumbling inspectors on the case, and a family of matching-sweater cannibals who inhabit the land (you can guess where those tourists have gone). Throw in a star-crossed love tale between cannibal son Ma Loute and gender-swapping Van Peteghem teen Billie, plenty of chuckle-worthy body humor, and Binoche’s theatrical hysterics, and you’ve got a French absurdist comedy that feels wholly original, whether it’s your cup of tea or not.
How is James Gray so good at filming pockets of light? They stream in to illuminate the wild world of Colonel Percival Fawcett, the explorer who had spent much of his life consumed with the idea of finding this rumored ancient civilization—the mystical city of Z—deep in the Amazon. Charlie Hunnam steps into the role as a man whose politics set him aside from his fellow white men, but whose taste for adventure pushes him to make difficult familial choices (though Sienna Miller doesn’t play her part as just the wife left home alone). At times filled with mist and awe, and at other times thrillingly heart-racing (arrows—they shoot right at you!), The Lost City of Z feels like a gem dug out from a time capsule.
Cynthia Nixon is an absolute marvel in Terence Davies’ must-see biopic—one of my favorites of the year—portraying Emily Dickinson. She colors the poet as the sharp-minded, sharp-tongued, difficult, loving, private, stubborn genius I imagine she really was. In the movie she drags her aunt, won’t let men near her, and in one scene, argues with her editor, stating that his reworking of her punctuation is an “attack.” But in a more tender moment—when she holds her newborn nephew in her arms and while lovingly gazing upon him, recites her famous “I’m Nobody! Who are you?” poem—I found myself moved to tears. Davies chooses to mark Dickinson’s life story not so much by specific events, but by her character, and Nixon captures the many facets of it with bite and empathy.
Best New Old Movie: Yi Yi
As part of the newly-renovated Quad Cinema’s First Encounters series—in which a notable film person presents and sits in for a screening of a new-to-them movie—Manchester by the Sea director Kenneth Lonergan screened Edward Yang’s Yi Yi this month. 2017 already happens to be my year of crossing off Yang blindspots (I had done Taipei Story and A Brighter Summer Day earlier this year and fallen in love with both), but Yi Yi absorbed me whole—I felt like I had lived it, and not just because of its nearly three-hour runtime. “My uncle says we live three times as long since man invented movies,” one character says. “It means movies give us twice what we get from daily life.” Yi Yi contains the life cycle through its cast of characters—pregnancy, birth, childhood, a wedding, and a funeral—but it’s the way Yang lingers with each one of them that makes this movie feel so lived-in. The character who resonated with me the most (and I assume is a favorite among many) was Yang-Yang, the small boy who uses his camera to let us see what we cannot see for ourselves (the back of heads). By extension, the director taps into our latent memories and feelings, while soaking us in his primary-adjacent color palette—the mustard yellows of the stuffy indoors with the neon reds of nightlife and the quiet blues of dusk.
Dud of the Month: The Circle
There are far worse movies out this month, but those also happen to be not worth wasting a breath on (I’m looking at you, Rupture). But The Circle—oh my god, The Circle is just the right kind of bad where I’m like, you should maybe just go see it for yourself. (I just DMed the unbelievable plot points of this Dave Eggers adaptation to someone and was met with explosive, incredulous laughter.) Watch it for Tom Hanks as a charismatic but evil Steve Jobs figure, or Emma Watson as the sharp newbie employee, but mostly watch it for the Internet troll comments that bombard the screen and poor Ellar Coltrane who faces an online witch hunt after an incredibly silly social media misunderstanding. I’m still wrapping my head around this film, but I’m not so sure if director James Ponsoldt himself knows what a comedy this is.