INDIE FLICKS: Son of Saul
Filmmakers so often dwell on the Holocaust's horrific scope that the intensely personal Son of Saul (R) is a bracing experience, hard to watch and tough to shake off.
Director/co-writer Laszlo Nemes’ suffocating debut is an Academy Award nominee for best foreign language film, and the odds-on favorite, which would make it the second winner from Hungary after 1981's Mephisto.
In framing, shallow focus and sound, Nemes focuses entirely on the perspective of Saul Auslander (Geza Rohrig), an Auschwitz prisoner forced to work in the Sonderkommando, leading others to crematoriums and removing their remains. The work force will soon join the exterminated, and a rebellion is being planned. However, Saul takes on a conflicting mission built on guilt and a faint hope of redemption.
One day among the corpses Saul finds a boy barely alive, later killed by a Nazi doctor. Saul believes the boy to be his estranged son and desperately wants him buried, not burned, and with a rabbi's blessing, all of which must be covertly done. Son of Saul makes this surreptitious task appear credibly grim, without grand emotional flourishes or graphic terror.
Instead, Auschwitz's worst is shown and heard almost matter of factly; blurred in backgrounds, with disembodied screams. The effect is stifling, almost unbearably so. I'll confess to pausing a screener DVD several times before making it to the end, yet always admiring. In a bold act of respect to the lost, Son of Saul won't allow never forgetting to be pleasant. A- (Opens Feb. 26 at Veterans 24 in Tampa)
The Lady in the Van
Maggie Smith's Golden Globe-nominated performance as a Dumpster dowager is the main attraction in The Lady in the Van (PG-13), an odd true story given a bit too much whimsy it doesn't need. Smith is a sourpussed delight as Miss Shepherd, a transient who parked her van and lived in playwright Alan Bennett's driveway, inspiring him to write about it.
Miss Shepherd's tragic backstory explaining her imposition is introduced to jarring effect by Bennett and oft-adapting director Nicholas Hytner (The History Boys, The Madness of King George), with a dual-narrator conceit that likely played better on stage. Alex Jennings portrays both the playwright and his conscience, commenting more than necessary in cinema on his conflicted feelings. Smith is delightful as always, in a role that's essentially Miss Jean Brodie — her Oscar winner 46 years ago — well past her prime.
The Lady in the Van opens Friday in select theaters. B
Get your popcorn munchies before Rolling Papers (unrated, probably R), Mitch Dickman's documentary about Colorado's legalization of marijuana, and the Denver Post’s trailblazing coverage of this emerging industry. Think Spotlight with a smile smeared across its reporters' faces.
The Post hired Ricardo Baca as mainstream journalism's first marijuana editor, gave him an investigative reporter and a couple of pot critics (one of whom is also a parenting advisor), and created an enterprise helping to keep the newspaper afloat in troubled times. Whoopi Goldberg contributed columns.
Rolling Papers is composed like an inverted pyramid, frontloaded with the most interesting material: an expose of edible marijuana products with only traces of THC, a medical loophole stalling a child's cancer treatment, dispensary visits with fetishistic close-ups of affectionately cultivated buds with names like Death Panda and Jelly Bean, a trip to the Cannabis Cup honoring the best in buzz.
The effect wears off when Dickman takes a long detour with Baca to Uruguay, on a thin story idea to compare that country's new legalization laws to Colorado's. Rolling Papers knows its audience and hopes they find the theater to see some real talking heads. B- (Britton 8 in Tampa)
The Jesse Owens biography Race (PG-13) finds itself in a similar situation as the Olympic legend himself, expected to excel because of color, at a time when Hollywood's sincerity about diversity is being questioned.
Race is the first wide release of a prestige movie about a black man since #OscarsSoWhite trended (again). It will be under a microscope, like Owens in a much less tolerant era, with many hoping it succeeds in proving a point and others wishing it fails.
Stephan James (Selma) stars as Owens, whose four gold medals at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin with Adolf Hitler watching is considered one of the greatest achievements — athletically and as propaganda — of all time. Jason Sudeikis looks a wee bit uncomfortable in the trailer, tackling his first serious role. Oscar winner Jeremy Irons plays Olympic president Avery Brundage, while Carice van Houten should be interesting as filmmaker and Third Reich profiler Leni Reifenstahl.
Remember Kevin Reynolds? The Waterworld director who Kevin Costner tossed under the ship? Twenty years and a make-up miniseries later, Reynolds is back in movies directing Risen (PG-13), literally an epic of biblical proportions.
Risen stars Joseph Fiennes as Clavius, a Roman centurion assigned to investigate rumors of Jesus' resurrection after crucifixion, who comes to see the light. Tom Felton (the Harry Potter series) co-stars as Clavius' aide while Peter Firth plays Pontius Pilate. Risen looks like the movie George Clooney's character is making in Hail, Caesar!, a spiritual costume ball with a cast of dozens.
in theaters: our Top 5
Current movies recommended by the Tampa Bay Times:
1 The Revenant: Twelve Academy Award nominations, including best picture, actor (Leonardo DiCaprio) and supporting actor (Tom Hardy, above).
2 The Witch: An exercise in slow fuse occult horror, like watching something forbidden.
3 Deadpool: Gleefully graphic adventures of Marvel's superantihero (Ryan Reynolds).
4 Son of Saul: Holocaust grimness, and the leading candidate to win the best foreign film Oscar.
5 Kung Fu Panda 3: The roly-poly warrior (voice of Jack Black) finds his father (Bryan Cranston).
(dates subject to change)
Feb. 26: Eddie the Eagle; Gods of Egypt; Triple 9
Mar. 4: Zootopia, Desierto; London Has Fallen, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot; The Other Side of the Door
Mar. 11: 10 Cloverfield Lane; The Brothers Grimsby; The Perfect Match; The Young Messiah
Mar. 16: Miracles from Heaven
Mar. 18: The Divergent Series: Allegiant
Mar. 25: Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice; My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2; The Disappointments Room