By Roger Costa
THE IRON CLAW
Zac Efron is almost unrecognizable as the protagonist in this family saga about fame, glory, tragedy and loss directed by Sean Durkin. In his third directorial effort, Durkin continues to examine the human condition going full out-of-control. Based on the true story of the Von Erich wrestling family, the film brings convincing and emotionally charged performances but suffers from a hollow screenplay. Instead of making room for studying each brother’s tragic destiny and their submissiveness to their father, the film insists on spending more time recreating the championship fights and the journalistic material of that time. That aspect is respectfully inventive in such a sports drama flick, but it lacks emotional connection and turns out to feel like a mockumentary. It is a compelling brotherly love story, mostly graced by its players and their surprisingly exceptional chemistry. But it has no consistency. Durkin is yet to make a film that will better represent his dysfunctional family ideas.
(A24. 12/22. Regal Union Square)
ANYONE BUT YOU
Ring in the Holidays…it is time for the worst fim of the year. I confess I felt like strangling myself for walking in to watch this ridiculous, raunchy and unnecessary rom-com. Starring two of the sexiest players in Hollywood, Sydney Sweeney and Glen Powell, this is a total disaster: since its opening sequence, where the two college students who will fall in love and hate each other for the rest of the narrative, meet at a coffee shop, the film insists on showing its stars under embarrassing, humiliating situtations. Then, when she overhears him making disdain comments about her, they start an unusual, bizarre and fun-less relationship, pretending to be together just to keep their respective families away. I kept thinking that the screenplay was written by interns or teenagers, but then I realized that director Will Gluck (who made decent films before like “Easy A” and “‘Peter Rabbit”) is the co-responsible for this cinematic tragedy, getting the credits along with Ilana Wolpert. So, if once he was a talented, promising filmmaker, it seems like now he just destroyed his chances to get any respect. The whole concept feels so lazy, lame and outrageously non-sense to the point that at one circumstance both protagonists decide to finger each other’s buttocks to get attention from the rest of the cast: it made me feel like vomiting. So, if you are in for the beauty of the central pair (the camera loves their healthy, well-defined bodies) you might have it as a decent meal; otherwise, it’ll feel like rotten leftovers.
(Sony. 12/21. Alamo Drafthouse)
German master and Oscar-nominated filmmaker Win Wenders returns to the 3-D stylish aesthetic with this new artistic-life documentary. Within the last decades, he had documented musicians (Buena Vista Social Club), a photographer (Salt of Earth) and a choreographer (Pina). This time around he gets exclusive access to the life, stories, experiences and creative process of renowned and controversial German artist, painter and sculptor Anselm Kiefer. Listening to his stories of cultural clashes, his ideas related to Nazism and the consequences of war, and his unique life style- he decided leaving the big city to create art among the forests, and fighting for preservation, Wenders delivers a magnificent look at one man’s journey for self-understanding. Immersive, deeply engaged and provocative, Wenders conducts a dazzling and inspiring portrait of an artist determined to protect his art and principles. Plus the 3-D effects make wonders as the camera wanders through his gigantic atelier and outdoor sculptures, surrounded by strikingly beautiful natural landscapes. This is pure, essential cinema.
(Janus Films. 12/20. Film at Lincoln Center)
THE COLOR PURPLE
Gorgeously shot and fueled by enthusiastic musical numbers and complex dramatic plots, Blitz Bazawule’s sophomore directorial effort confirms him as a major cinematic force but leaves little room for authenticity. Despite all the Awards buzz and nominations for Best Actress, I disagree Fantasia is a good actress. As much as I like her on stage (I’ve seen her show just a few months ago), her vibrant chords and moves, she did not deliver a fully convincing performance. She is the latest addition to the trend of singers turning into actress. Beyonce did beautifully in “Dreamgirls”, Lady Gaga did not convince me either, as I think she was playing herself in “A Star is Born”. In Fantasia’s case, she tries her best to hide her strong persona under a coy, humble and humiliated character but the result feels fake. Adapted from the beloved tragic novel by athour Alice Walker, from the Tony Award winning Broadway show, the director efficiently addresses rape, abuse, sisterhood, courage, forgiveness and the unmeasurable power of God to lift up His creatures, punctuated by marvelous and contagiously affecting musical numbers. There’s one undeniable force here: Danielle Brooks steals every scene she is in, making her character an unforgettable one. The resulIt is a melodramatic, beautiful, moving and heartbreaking film, but there’s an inevitable sense of presumption all over it.
(Warner Bros. 12/25. Cinema Village, Quad Cinema, AMC Empire)
ALL OF US STRANGERS
Mysterious and intriguing, Andrew Haigh’s ghost love story brings one of this year most powerful male performances: Andrew Scott. He is the center and emotional combustible of this melancholic drama that efficiently blends a spiritual journey, a late Queer coming of age story, and a family drama. Joined by Paul Mescal as his heavy-drinker boyfriend, he will try to make sense of all the traumas he suffered in childhood while setting up a safe future. Claire Foy and Jamie Bell give memorable performances as his parents, worth of Oscar nominations. Despite the fact I do not enjoy much films that portrait such subject so serious (the living communicating with the dead), Haigh conducts the material with his usual sensitivity as well as his precise observations on gay modern life, extracting superb performances and creating a mysterious atmosphere. But it all loses steam and sense: the film relies too much on the gay trauma, becoming a corny, obvious and repetitive pseudo-spiritualist work.
(Searchlight Pictures. 12/22. AMC Lincoln Square)
THE TEACHER’S LOUNGE
A stirring moral tale with unexpected twists, Ilker Catak’s efficient, propulsive and nail-biting school-set whodunit drama brings a top notch performance by German star Leonie Benesch. Investigating a theft inside her classroom, a teacher becomes dangerously involved in a scandal of ethics, morals and social clashes. German’s official entry for the Oscars, this is one of the year’s best thrillers. Timely and provocative, it will cause discussions about the rules of school’s system and how far can teachers go to protect and defend their students.
(Sony. 12/25. Angelika Film Center.)