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Good news: Your weekend moviegoing needs have been simplified. Every Thursday morning, our What To See guide will highlight the new releases opening in New York City and NYC repertory screenings that are most worth your time.
Here's your guide for the weekend of November 6 – November 8.
If you've been wanting James Bond to lighten up a little post-Skyfall, you're in luck…
Director: Sam Mendes
Stars: Daniel Craig, Léa Seydoux, Naomie Harris, Christoph Waltz, Monica Bellucci, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, Dave Bautista, Rory Kinnear, Andrew Scott, Stephanie Sigman
One's take on the 24th James Bond movie will depend on how he or she feels about the following statement: In Spectre, Daniel Craig's 007 isn't miserable anymore.
For fans of the excellent yet punishingly sinister and brooding Skyfall, that's bad news; director Sam Mendes' 2012 go-round with Bond channeled Christopher Nolan's approach to the Batman universe by cloaking Bond in emotional darkness, literally darkly lit set-pieces, and widespread death—for all of its technical prowess and storytelling power, Skyfall is the rare kind of Hollywood spectacle that leaves viewers needing a couple dozen stiff Dry Martinis in order to process its weight. Spectre, on the other hand, is old-school 007, allowing Craig to deliver well-timed wisecracks amidst elaborate action set-pieces that, too, are punctuated by fun-loving punchlines.
After Skyfall's heft, though, the breezier Spectre feels oddly lightweight. The plot sends Bond on the hunt for the mysterious Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), a criminal mastermind who’s been considered deceased for decades. To help find the bad guy, Bond teams up with Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), the beautiful and much younger daughter of an old enemy. As familiar as Spectre’s set-up sounds, the film itself is even more traditional. Waltz’s interpretation of the super-villain is just Waltz being Waltz—he's an anticlimax following Javier Bardem's memorably creepy Silva in Skyfall. Naturally, Bond and Madeline fall in love and have throw-down sex; Oberhauser’s muscle-bound, dialogue-free enforcer (played by Dave Bautista) is the WWE version of The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker's goon Jaws; and Mendes tries so forcibly hard to connect Spectre to Craig's previous 007 movies, to establish a deeply rooted mythology, that the film feels like a "James Bond in the 2000s Greatest Hits" compilation.
While Spectre fizzles in story form, it dazzles as an exercise in visual overload. Fortunately, Mendes cares as much as about adrenalized grandeur as he does honoring the 007 legacy. Spectre's cold open, set in the heavily populated streets of Mexico City during a Day of the Dead parade, is a one-take whirlwind of toppling buildings, gunplay, and a fistfight inside an out-of-control helicopter bouncing around the sky as if it's in a washing machine—the sequence is Michael Bay with a brain. A brutal rounds of fisticuffs between Craig and Bautista on a moving train crunches bones and pounds flesh with the lifelike intensity of Gareth Evans' The Raid movies.
It's in those knockout sections, however, where Spectre's biggest flaw comes to light: for the first time in ages, a James Bond movie’s action apes popular cinematic touchstones instead of continuing to define 007's own. Pair that with Spectre's narrative repetition and all you've got is an entertaining diversion. Unlike every woman he's ever met not named M or Moneypenny, you won't want to take Bond home with you afterwards.
Where to see it: Opening in wide release
The best movie about journalism since David Fincher's Zodiac…
Director: Tom McCarthy
Stars: Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Brian d'Arcy James, Stanley Tucci, Billy Crudup, Jamey Sheridan
This week's biggest scandal is both ridiculous and indicative of these modern, Internet-dominated times: People are outraged that Twitter changed its "favorites" to "likes," and, concurrently, its clickable star options to Instagram-like hearts. News stories were written about the matter; investigations into why Twitter would do such a thing were launched. Which is why Thomas McCarthy's Spotlight couldn't arrive at a better time. It's a love letter to the old-fashioned school of journalism, when newspaper reporters didn’t have social media or multiple online databases from which to pull information—they needed to hit the streets, take notes by hand, develop sources, and do the proper legwork in order to tell their stories.
And what a story the real-life Boston Globe reporters dramatized in Spotlight told back in 2001. McCarthy’s brilliantly cut-and-dry film looks at how the paper's “Spotlight” team uncovered nearly 100 cases of sexual abuse on minors by Boston’s much-beloved and seemingly untouchable Catholic priests. The reporting squad was led by Walter "Robby" Robinson (played by an aces Michael Keaton), a lovable but often stern chief whose team included the borderline neurotic but detail-obsessed Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo, doing award-caliber work) and the hard-nosed Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel MacAdams, wiping True Detective's stink off nicely).
Their tireless diligence, forged in a city where religion is everything and its detractors are treated like pariahs, was eventually rewarded with a Pulitzer Prize. But Spotlight isn't about their awards or the millions of lives they changed through their work. It's all about the process. Similar to David Fincher's exceptional Zodiac, McCarthy’s film relishes the step-by-step meticulousness of investigative journalism, tracing the newspaper crew's findings at their most granular. And it's constantly riveting, due largely to the uniformly great performances but most importantly because McCarthy takes full advantage of nuts-and-bolts, out-and-about journalism's inherently fascinating allure. There's a reason why we'll likely—or, at least, hopefully—never see a movie about someone who uses his or her smartphone as their sole researching tool.
One of the year's best performances comes from one of Hollywood's most underrated actresses…
Director: John Crowley
Stars: Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, Domnhall Gleeson, Jim Broadbent, Julie Walters
In Brooklyn, the beauty is in the simplicity. Director John Crowley's (Boy A) beautifully intimate adaptation of Colm Toíbín’s 2009 novel is lush with 1950s-era NYC period decoration, but it’s otherwise scaled-down to the most internal of emotions.
Saoirse Ronan is Eilis Lacey, an insecure Irish teenager whose nondescript life gets shaken up when she moves to Brooklyn to accept a new job—and, in effect, a completely new life—offered by a priest (Jim Broadbent) with ties to her family in Ireland. At first, she's terribly homesick, but once she meets a young Italian boy, Tony (Emory Cohen), with ample room in his heart for her alongside his emphatic love for the Brooklyn Dodgers, Eilis comes of age. In doing so, though, she's left her older sister and mother behind in Ireland, and when a death in the family sends her back overseas, her newfound maturity presents new opportunities that makes returning to NYC, and Tony, less appealing.
Brooklyn's sets are ornately gorgeous, and its sense of time and place are superbly rendered, but Crowley wisely puts all of his attention onto Ronan. She's long been one of Hollywood's most underrated young actresses—see the underrated Hanna, in particular, to understand why. As the frumpy-to-fancy Eilis, though, Ronan is on another level entirely. She’s simultaneously heartwarming and heartbreaking. Eilis is caught between two worlds, and thrust head-on into becoming an adult faster than most teenagers ever have to, yet Ronan plays those changes with a delicateness that's both restrained and ever-near-combustion.
If you thought Bryan Cranston peaked as Walter White, think again…
Director: Jay Roach
Stars: Bryan Cranston, Diane Lane, Helen Mirren, Louis C.K., Elle Fanning, Michael Stuhlbarg, John Goodman, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Alan Tudyk, David James Elliott
Breaking Bad's Walter White will most likely forever remain Bryan Cranston’s greatest achievement, if only because his performance as the AMC drama's meth-cooking teacher gone bad is one of the all-time great pieces of acting, whether in film or television. But damn if Cranston isn't determined to nail a character in ways that are even more dynamic and laudable as that. The ways in which he tears into Dalton Trumbo, the antihero in director Jay Roach’s based-on-true-events dramedy Trumbo, suggest an actor who's eager to prove himself beyond his signature role. For that alone, Trumbo is a must-see. It's Cranston owning the screen for nearly two hours, and entertainment-watching doesn't get much better than that.
Back in the 1940s, Dalton Trumbo was one of Hollywood’s best screenwriters, but he was also a proud left-winger whose outspoken political activism triggered right-wingers to label him a “communist,” place him on the blacklist alongside nine other screenwriters, collectively known as the "Hollywood Ten," which meant studios were forbidden to hire them. Trumbo, though, didn't abide by the doctrines of righties like John Wayne (David James Elliott) and gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren); he wrote under fake names and ghostwrote movies for friends whose names would appear in the credits. Before he'd eventually helped to end the blacklist, Trumbo won two Academy Awards, for Roman Holiday (1953) and The Brave One (1956), without being able to accept the Oscars on stage or even take any credit for either.
Trumbo is an Old Hollywood lover's dreams realized, showing Trumbo working side-by-side with the likes of Kirk Douglas (Dean O'Gorman) and Otto Preminger (Christian Berkel) and capturing the vintage glitz much like Tim Burton did in Ed Wood. To its detriment, though, Roach’s buoyant film is also comparable to 2012's Hitchcock, the too-cutesy film about Alfred Hitchcock, an icon whose legacy is heavier and more complicated than that Anthony Hopkins-led film displays. Trumbo, fortunately, retains enough of its character's saga's tumultuousness to avoid feeling slight, and that's primarily due to its leading man.
Cranston's Trumbo is charming, witty, steadfastly determined, and smarter than everyone else in any given room, but he fights the good Hollywood fight at the expense of his family. It's in the closed-door moments with Trumbo's wife, Cleo (Diane Lane), and teenage daughter, Nikola (Elle Fanning), where Cranston taps into his Walter White reserves.
Sometimes the world just needs a good old-fashioned monster movie…
The Hallow (2015)
Director: Corin Hardy
Stars: Joseph Mawle, Bojana Novakovic, Michael McElhatton, Michael Smiley
In recent years, the horror genre has been overrun with an ongoing roster of familiar rogues: ghosts, zombies, demons, people possessed by demons, and vampires. But what about those creatures that aren't easily classifiable? The monsters who don't instantly remind audiences of countless other, and, frankly, better, ghouls of movies' past? Hatchet franchise overseer Adam Green made a valiant effort to restore horror's creature feature glory days with Digging Up the Marrow, but its monsters didn't leave much of an impact. First-timer Corin Hardy, on the other hand, fares much better with The Hallow, which the Irish filmmaker has dedicated to legendary monster makers Ray Harryhausen, Stan Winston, and Dick Smith. Those three late FX gods would be pleased.
Hardy is much better at showcasing his fantastic beasts than telling a story. The Hallow pits a botanist husband, his thinly written and one-note wife, and their adorable toddler against an assortment of nightmarish antagonists, ranging from hideous fairies to alien-like banshees, that live in the woods surrounding the family's secluded new home. They're rote plot-movers, not fleshed-out characters. But once The Hallow settles into its full-scale and breathless horror stretch, which happens rather quickly, Hardy's debut turns into a no-frills survival flick with hints of District 9 and The Evil Dead and an overall creature-specific agenda, without any pauses for comic relief or exposition dumps. His excitement over reviving horror cinema's classic monster mashing is as contagious as the dangerous goo found on The Hallow's trees.
Where to see it: IFC Center