• Test Pattern

    Test Pattern

    ★★★★½

    I spent the 82 minutes of Shatara Michelle Ford’s feature dazzled by the kind of direction that signals an absolute powerhouse talent, to the point that the movie’s ideas almost snuck up on me. At the outset, it’s almost a meet-cute romance as we see the early days of the relationship between Renesha (Brittany S. Hall) and Evan (Will Brill), full of initial awkwardness and a first sexual encounter that makes asking for consent amazingly hot. The narrative eventually turns…

  • Flora & Ulysses

    Flora & Ulysses

    ★★½

    The “Disney-fying” of certain stories is a tricky business, and some things emerge from the process a bit worse for wear. Kate DiCamillo’s Newbery Medal-winning novel is adapted for the story of 10-year-old Flora Buckman (Matilda Lawler), a cynical child whose parents (Alyson Hannigan and Ben Schwartz) have recently separated. Into this messy life falls Ulysses, a squirrel who seems to have been imbued with super-powers after a run-in with an automated vacuum. Director Lena Khan and screenwriter Brad Copeland…

  • Blithe Spirit

    Blithe Spirit

    ★★

    Cinematic farce has a spotty history, largely because the manic energy required to maintain the premise doesn’t translate particularly well to the screen. Director Edward Hall—an episodic television veteran overseeing his first feature—essays Noël Coward’s 1941 play about a blocked writer named Charles Condomine (Dan Stevens) whose lark of a home séance with medium Madame Arcati (Judi Dench) results in the apparition of his late first wife, Elvira (Leslie Mann), much to the consternation of Charles’ second wife, Ruth (Isla…

  • I Care a Lot

    I Care a Lot

    ★★★½

    Salt Lake City Weekly feature review here.

  • RUTH - Justice Ginsburg in her own Words

    RUTH - Justice Ginsburg in her own Words

    ★★

    It’s not the fault of veteran Oscar-winning director Freida Lee Mock that RBG got there first, nor that Ruth Bader Ginsburg died prior to the release of this film—but those two things did happen, and neither one in the favor of this movie. As the title would suggest, Mock focuses on Ginsburg’s own public statements—in lectures, visits with elementary school students, pleadings before the court and her own Supreme Court decisions—which presents the inherent problem that speeches aren’t particularly cinematic,…

  • The Map of Tiny Perfect Things

    The Map of Tiny Perfect Things

    ★★★

    It’s a young-adult spin on Groundhog Day that makes sure you know it exists in a universe where Groundhog Day is the frame of reference to what’s going on, but self-awareness alone doesn’t provide a justification for repetition. Screenwriter Lev Grossman adapts his own short story about Mark (Kyle Allen), a teenager who has for some time been aware that he’s reliving the same day over and over, with nobody else seemingly in the same loop—until he meets Margaret (Katharyn…

  • The Mauritanian

    The Mauritanian

    ★★½

    I’ll be honest: I have no idea what the idea way is to represent torture on screen. I only know when it feels … off. Director Kevin Macdonald adapts the memoir of Mohamedou Ould Slahi (Tahar Rahim), a Mauritanian national imprisoned at Guantánamo Bay in 2002 on suspicion of his involvement in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and held without charges for years. The narrative also follows the two attorneys involved in his case—Slahi’s own attorney, Nancy Hollander (Jodie Foster), and…

  • Leona

    Leona

    ★★★½

    The parts of this narrative that feel familiar at the outset actually contribute to what makes it feel distinctive by the end. At its core, it sets up as a “forbidden love” story: 25-year-old artist Ariela (Naian González Norvind, part of the Mexico City Jewish community, begins dating non-Jew Iván (Christian Vazquez), setting her on a path towards conflict. In the expected version of this narrative, Ariela spends a lot of time dodging the truth before getting caught, but here…

  • Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar

    Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar

    ★★★½

    Surreal endeavors like this should be referred to as “mood comedies”—I can easily understand someone checking out early, but man was I apparently in the right mood for it. Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wiig co-wrote and co-star as Barb and Star, two best friends from Soft Rock, Nebraska who work together, finish each other’s thoughts and even moved in together after they were respectively widowed and divorced. After they lose their jobs, they decide to take their first-ever vacation together…

  • Mayday

    Mayday

    ★★½

    Writer/director Karen Cinorre certainly does something unique with the cultural antecedents she’s drawing from, but the potency of the result will definitely be a “your mileage may vary” scenario. A catering worker named Ana (Grace Van Patten) finds herself transported from a traumatic day at her job to a strange coastline, where a young woman named Marsha (Mia Goth) is leading an army of other women in an unexplained war. The structural bones here come straight out of The Wizard…

  • Prisoners of the Ghostland

    Prisoners of the Ghostland

    ★★

    You’d think it would be easy to wrangle some excitement out of a movie that includes samurai swordfights, toxic waste zombie-ghosts, spaghetti western shootouts and Nicolas Cage in black leather screaming about his “TESTICLE!” Sadly, you would be mistaken. Director Sion Sono’s hyperactive but underbaked mash-up casts Cage as a convicted criminal referred to only as Hero, forced by a town’s all-controlling Governor (Bill Moseley) to retrieve his “granddaughter” Bernice (Sofia Boutella) from … some sort of post-nuclear wasteland place…

  • Pleasure

    Pleasure

    ★★★½

    Even if you’ve seen this particular plot structure before—and odds are you probably have, more than once—there’s still some anthropological fascination for those who have a strong stomach. Co-writer/director Ninja Thyberg expands her 2013 short by telling the story of Bella Cherry (newcomer Sofia Kappel), a Swedish immigrant to Los Angeles with dreams of breaking into the porn industry. The narrative arc is straight out of a hundred “naïf has show-biz aspirations” tales from All About Eve on up, where…