Screening Room: ‘Coup 53’

The crackerjack documentary Coup 53 opens this week, with a revealing new angle on the infamous Anglo-American overthrow of Iran’s democratic government in 1953.

My review is at Slant:

When something is an open secret, does confirmation matter? Coup 53, director Taghi Amirani’s crackling, if somewhat hyperbolic, documentary about the overthrow of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh during a 1953 coup d’état, argues loudly in the affirmative. Amirani spends too much of the film recounting his dogged years-long pursuit of this or that document in trying to affirm British involvement in what was usually described as a C.I.A.-led operation. But once he finds the goods, the filmmaker engineers a highly dramatic coup of his own that snaps everything into focus: a long-buried interview in which MI6 agent Norman Darbyshire details with petulant pride how His Majesty’s Government demolished a functioning democracy that wouldn’t play ball…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Official Secrets’

(IFC Films)

In the new thriller from Gavin Hood (Rendition), Keira Knightley plays the real-life whistle-blower who tried to stop the UK from bending to US pressure to cook up intelligence to justify the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Based on Marcia and Thomas Mitchell’s book The Spy Who Tried to Stop a War, Official Secrets opens this week. My review is at PopMatters:

This is usually a time of drudgery, when sloppy comedies and stupid worn out action franchises waste everyone’s time. So it comes as a nice surprise to watch a corker like Gavin Hood’s unexpectedly jarring and immediate espionage thriller Official Secrets unspool in a close, carefully calibrated way that actually grabs one by the conscience…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘A Bigger Splash’

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Ralph Fiennes and Dakota Johnson in A Bigger Splash. Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.

A rock star on vacation in the Mediterranean with her boyfriend get up to mischief with her old flame and his blonde young tart of a daughter in the newest film from Luca Guadagnino (I Am Love).

A Bigger Splash is playing now in limited release and will probably expand throughout the summer. My review is at PopMatters:

Ralph Fiennes takes A Bigger Splash hostage in much the same way that the late Philip Seymour Hoffman once did, taking over from the likes of Tilda Swinton and Matthias Schoenaerts and even filmmaker Luca Guadagnino. All appear perfectly happy to play along. It’s a game that works beautifully until Fiennes’ motor starts to sputter, and the film’s fragile dramatic structure becomes all too apparent…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ Deserves to Win It All

Ralph Fiennes lives it up while he can in 'The Grand Budapest Hotel' (Fox Searchlight)
Ralph Fiennes lives it up while he can in ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ (Fox Searchlight)

Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel was nominated for nine (count ’em) Academy Awards. There’s no guessing exactly how it will fare up against the competition from Birdman and Boyhood, but it’s easy to say that whatever awards those films don’t get, should be sent Budapest‘s way.

grand_budapest_hotel-posterMy article about the film is at Short Ends & Leader:

Wes Anderson isn’t our greatest living filmmaker; his style is too narrowly defined for such a grand title. We tend to think of our greatest directors as both having a signature style but also being flexible enough to tackle many styles: Howard Hawks could move from urbane comedies to Westerns and epics, Martin Scorsese from urban grit to musicals and children’s’ fantasias, and so on. By contrast Anderson has one style, and each of his films simply refine it. All those twee little trinkets and fussy outfits could drive you mad, were one to watch too many in a row. But as perfectly Andersonian a spectacle as The Grand Budapest Hotel is, it also expands his reach in surprising ways. Being one of the year’s most unique spectacles, it’s also the first Anderson film made up of tragedy as much as it is comedy…

Here’s the trailer:

New in Theaters: ‘Wuthering Heights’

My review of the new film of Wuthering Heights is up now at PopMatters:

From the second that it was announced Andrea Arnold was adapting Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, might have guessed that hers would be no ordinary costume drama. Arnold’s previous features, the bracing Red Road (2006) and unforgettable Fish Tank (2009), both mined a seam of bleak UK council estate angst via raw performances. The new film is similarly tough.

Arnold has not “modernized” the original text or packed it with appeals to the tween set, a la Alfonso Cuaron’s Great Expectations or Baz Luhrman’s Romeo and Juliet. Instead, she deploys her signature dramatic style, casting some unknown and scintillating actors, such that the film has a sandpaperish honesty that is true to Bronte’s messy source novel…

Wuthering Heights is playing now in limited release and should be expanding to several cities over the next few weeks.

You can see the trailer here, buckle up: