Lady Macbeth (2016)
Written by Alice Birch and Nikolai Leskov
Directed by William Oldroyd
This is not a movie about Lady Macbeth. It’s not an adaptation of Shakespeare. It’s not a reimagining of the events of his play. This is a film noir, set in the English Victorian era, about a classic femme fatale, told from her perspective coldly and neutrally. She’s a child bride, sold off to a wealthy man so his son can have a wife. The problem is that the son has no attraction to her; we later learn why, and it’s not what you expect. Left alone in a dusty manor house, our protagonist seeks out the affections of a gruff stablehand, someone like she used to know before this life. The two engage in a torrid affair, the house staff knowing exactly what is going on, and this all leads to murder.
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Under the Shadow (2016)
Written & Directed by Babak Anvari
It should come as no surprise that, being a Westerner, I know very little about the Iran-Iraq War. The opening prologue of this film explains that it went on for almost a decade, the 1980s. I would suspect most ignorant Americans like myself, not helped in any way by the media, consider Iraq and Iran the same in most ways. However, the Middle East is a more complex region than most in the West give much credence too and if anything comes of watching this film I’ve already found a well-reviewed text on the Iran-Iraq War to read and educate myself on. That opening prologue was most definitely added for audiences outside of the region, and the rest of the film doesn’t spend time expositing the details of the conflict, which is precisely as it should be. The human element becomes the focus, and primal emotions help us connect with the characters.
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Written by Jay Cocks & Martin Scorsese
Directed by Martin Scorsese
There has been more than one Martin Scorsese. He’s become most famous for pictures like The Wofl fo Wall Street, Raging Bull, and Goodfellas. These are movies about intense, volatile figures that eventually explode. There is also the Scorsese of muted and contemplative films like Kundun and The Age of Innocence. Much like the man himself, his filmography is slightly manic, overflowing with ideas, and able to appreciate art across the spectrum of tone and theme. Silence is one of the quieter films, but it addresses monumentally enormous concepts and touching on a message that resonates across the ages. Few films deal so maturely with matters of faith, genuinely questioning and looking at belief from all angles.
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Written & Directed by Jim Jarmusch
I first encountered William Carlos Williams and Jim Jarmusch in college. The former was reading “This is Just to Say” in an English II class and the latter was through the film Coffee & Cigarettes. I loved both but just haven’t done a good enough job continuing to explore the work of either artist. Paterson is a perfect merger of both creators’ sensibilities. There is no plot, no conflict, just life being lived by a full-time poet, a part-time bus driver in Paterson, New Jersey. The result is a movie that is entirely sublime, the spotlight on Adam Driver as the lead who walks through life in a measured, observant manner. No film will thoroughly chill you out like Paterson.
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Personal Shopper (2016)
Written & Directed by Olivier Assayas
When they were children, Maureen and her twin brother Lewis made a promise that whichever one died first would send a message from the afterlife. Now in her mid-twenties, Maureen has come to France where her brother succumbed to their shared genetic heart condition. She works a day job as the personal shopper for a demanding model named Kyra and spends her evenings in Lewis’ old house hoping to make contact with him. One night a presence makes itself known to her, something angry and raging. The following morning she begins to receive text messages on her phone from a blocked number. The person on the other end of the phone appears to know a lot about Maureen, and she begins to lose her grip on her insanity.
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The Love Witch (2016)
Written & Directed by Anna Biller
We find Elaine speeding down a California coastal highway, running away from the death of her ex-husband Larry. She starts a new life in Arcata, taking an apartment her friend Barbara used to live in, still decked out in the witchy paraphernalia that links these two women. Elaine has one focus in life, the attainment of the love of a man. Using magic, she begins seducing local men who end up overwhelmed by the feelings that bubble up inside them. Unable to process all of this love they meet their ultimate fate and Elaine shrugs it off and move onto the next guy. However, the police are investigating, and it’s only a matter of time until this witch is caught for her crimes.
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Certain Women (2016)
Written & Directed by Kelly Reichardt
I was drawn the short story form in college. I think what excited me about this mode of storytelling was the urgency of the moment and way this specific event reveals a profound depth to a character. Authors I enjoyed when first discovering the short story were Raymond Carver, Andre Dubus, Steven Millhauser, among others. Today I still get no better satisfaction than from a well crafted short story collection, leaning more into fantastical writers of horror and magic-realism. However, if the stories don’t center on character, then they lose any potential magic. Filmmaker Kelly Reichardt loved the short stories of writer Maile Meloy and has taken three of them to weave into a meditation on a variety of women in complicated situations.
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