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Six Dramas from Sony Pictures Classics

Broken Wings (January 22/13)

Written and directed by Nir Bergman, Broken Wings follows one family's attempts at coping and moving forward after the death of its patriarch - with the film especially detailing the exploits of guilt-ridden teenage daughter Maya (Maya Maron) and overwhelmed (and overworked) mother Dafna (Orly Silbersatz Banai). Filmmaker Bergman has infused the majority of Broken Wings with a subdued feel that ideally complements his low-key screenplay, and although the movie isn't, as a result, consistently engrossing in its opening hour, there's no denying the impact of the film's various performances - with Maron's wrenching turn, in particular, standing as a consistent highlight in the proceedings. It's clear, too, that the movie improves substantially as it goes along, as Bergman does an effective job of transforming each of these disparate characters into wholeheartedly compelling figures - which ensures that the viewer ultimately can't help but connect to (and sympathize with) their ongoing exploits. The film's watchable yet far-from-enthralling atmosphere persists right up until it enters its final stretch, with the subsequent inclusion of a few palpably heartrending moments - eg Maya breaks down during a musical performance - ensuring that Broken Wings finally packs far more of an emotional wallop than one might've anticipated. The end result is a strong debut from a promising new filmmaker, and it should certainly be interesting to see where Bergman goes from here.

out of

Footnote (April 27/14)

Footnote details the rivalry between a father (Shlomo Bar-Aba's Eliezer) and his son (Lior Ashkenazi's Uriel) within the field of Talmudic Studies, with the plot kicking into motion after Uriel makes a shocking discovery regarding the award that Eliezer is set to receive. There's little doubt that Footnote gets off to a nigh disastrous start, as writer/director Joseph Cedar opens the proceedings with an off-putting and completely uninvolving initial stretch that's focused more on the protagonists' work than their personalities - which ensures that one's early efforts at forming any kind of attachment to either man fall hopelessly flat. Cedar's use of slick visuals can't mask the film's pervasive lack of compelling figures, and yet it's clear that Footnote improves demonstrably once it passes a very specific point - with this radical about-face arriving once Uriel learns of the circumstances of Eliezer aforementioned award. (It doesn't hurt, either, that this scene, which transpires entirely in a comically undersized office, is nothing short of fascinating in its execution.) The emphasis on the central characters' father/son relationship ensures that the movie is at its best in its midsection, as Footnote peters out significantly once the two figures go their separate ways - with the less-than-engrossing atmosphere compounded by Uriel's confusing third-act exploits (ie he figures something out but it's not clear what or how). By the time the underwhelming, anticlimactic final stretch rolls around, Footnote has firmly established itself as a consistently inconsistent drama that could and should have been so much better.

out of

Kill Your Darlings (November 26/13)

Kill Your Darlings purports to tell the story of Allen Ginsberg's (Daniel Radcliffe) early days and his friendships with several well-known beat poets, and yet filmmaker John Krokidas' refusal (or inability) to offer up an entry point for casual viewers cements the movie's massive failure right from the get-go. Krokidas, working from a script cowritten with Austin Bunn, perpetuates the movie's arms-length atmosphere by employing a disastrously episodic structure, with the emphasis, for the most part, placed on Ginsberg's frustratingly uninvolving antics alongside well-known figures like Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston), Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan), and William Burroughs (Ben Foster). There's a pervasive absence of context here that proves a consistent hindrance to one's enjoyment of the film, and it goes without saying that virtually all of the movie's interludes - eg an absolutely pointless scene in which Ginsberg and friends surreptitiously substitute banned books for historical manuscripts in a library display case - fall completely, hopelessly flat. By the time the endless, astonishingly meaningless final half hour rolls around (ie it's impossible to work up an ounce of interest in the impact a certain death has on these one-dimensional figures), Kill Your Darlings has established itself as one of the most incompetent and flat-out interminable biopics to come around in quite some time - with the movie's listless sensibilities ensuring that even fans of the various characters will find little worth embracing here.

no stars out of

Wadjda (April 29/14)

Written and directed by Haifaa Al-Mansour, Wadjda follows the 10-year-old title character (Waad Mohammed) as she enters a contest to earn enough money to buy a coveted bicycle. Al-Mansour, making her feature-length debut here, has infused Wadjda with a deliberately-paced sensibility that heightens the movie's authentic atmosphere, with the filmmaker's willingness to slowly develop the central character and a handful of periphery figures - most especially Wadjda's mother (Reem Abdullah) - ensuring that they become impressively three-dimensional over the course of the movie's 98 minute running time. It's equally obvious that the film's most potent weapon is Wadjda herself, as Mohammed does a superb job of stepping into the oppressed girl's Converse sneakers - with the viewer's growing attachment to the character playing a significant role in the picture's minor success. There's little doubt, however, that Al-Mansour's reliance on decidedly familiar elements wreaks havoc on Wadjda's tenuous momentum, as the narrative contains a number of detours and subplots that ultimately diminish the strength of the central character's story (eg an ongoing emphasis on an overbearing school official). It does, as a result, become more and more difficult to wholeheartedly embrace the affable protagonist's plight, with Al-Mansour's ultra-patient modus operandi ultimately exacerbating the film's less-than-engrossing vibe (ie the movie's slowness consumes everything and finally dulls the impact of the feel-good finale). The end result is a well-intentioned yet terminally uneven endeavor that nevertheless bodes well for Al-Mansour's future behind the camera, with the movie faring best as an eye-opening look into the inner workings of a seriously backwards culture.

out of

When Did You Last See Your Father? (May 1/14)

Based on Blake Morrison's autobiographical novel, When Did You Last See Your Father? details the relationship between Jim Broadbent's quirky Arthur and his straightlaced, increasingly exasperated son, Blake (Colin Firth) - with the film containing a number of flashbacks designed to flesh out the rocky bond between the two disparate characters. It's ultimately clear that When Did You Last See Your Father? works best as a showcase for the various performances, as the erratic narrative proves unable to hold one's attention on a consistent basis - with, instead, the strength of both Firth and Broadbent's work here going a long way towards keeping things interesting. Scripter David Nicholls employs a time-shifting structure that's compounded by director Anand Tucker's often excessively flashy visuals, with both elements effectively perpetuating the movie's hands-off, superficial atmosphere. There is, nevertheless, little doubt that When Did You Last See Your Father? boasts several unexpectedly poignant moments, including a stirring sequence in which a teenaged Blake (Matthew Beard) discovers the truth about Arthur's extramarital activities. Emotional interludes like that are increasingly rare, however, and the movie is ultimately unable to pack the tearjerking punch it's clearing aiming for in its final stretch - which finally does cement When Did You Last See Your Father?'s place as a disappointingly by-the-numbers drama that rarely lives up to the effectiveness of its performances.

out of

Winter in Wartime (August 9/14)

Set in Holland during the Second World War, Winter in Wartime follows a young boy (Martijn Lakemeier's Michiel) as he befriends a British soldier (Jamie Campbell Bower's Jack) caught behind enemy lines - with the film detailing Michiel's increasingly frantic efforts at helping Jack escape to freedom. There's little doubt that Winter in Wartime benefits substantially from filmmaker Martin Koolhoven's strong directorial choices and an overall atmosphere of authenticity, and yet the movie is, for the most part, unable to capture the viewer's attention or interest for more than a few minutes at a time. It's clear that Koolhoven's decision to employ an oppressively deliberate pace plays a key role in the film's downfall, as there's a lack of momentum here that prevents the viewer from connecting to the material on a frustratingly continuous basis - with the uninvolving vibe effectively draining the tension out of the narrative's many suspenseful moments. Having said that, Winter in Wartime does boast a handful of engrossing sequences in its second half that temporarily lift the proceedings out of its doldrums - with, for example, Michiel's desperate efforts to prevent an execution standing out as one of the movie's best scenes. And although Koolhoven likewise peppers the film's final stretch with several better-than-expected interludes, Winter in Wartime is ultimately unable to establish itself as anything more than just another run-of-the-mill coming-of-age story - which is unfortunate, to be sure, given the potential afforded by the premise.

out of

© David Nusair