January is all about the movies with a blockbuster lineup at Florence’s historic Odeon Cinema (piazza Strozzi 2, Florence, 055/295051, odeonfirenze.com). Check out the website for showtimes.
Bridge of Spies ****
In a world on the brink, the difference between war and peace was one honest man. That man is James B. Donovan, the New York lawyer chosen to negotiate the release of captured American U2 pilot Gary Powers. This is solid Spielberg stuff, following the usual formula of highlighting a human interest story to paint a bigger picture, giving insights on the macro level into the Cold War and its implications. ‘A meticulously detailed period piece that revisits the anxieties of the past while also speaking to those of the present’ (New York Times). ‘So godlike is Spielberg’s status that we often take his talents for granted. The strange, riveting mix of Bridge of Spies is another sterling reminder that we shouldn’t’ (Empire). ‘You might suggest that Bridge of Spies plays everything a touch safe, and that its encomium to American decency need not be quite so persistent. But when a film is as enjoyable as this one, its timing so sweet, and its atmosphere conjured with such skill, do you really wish to register a complaint? Would it help?’ (New Yorker). ‘The film has a streamlined efficiency, but it feels like the work of a master who wants to please rather than probe’ (Slant Magazine).
Australian director Justin Kurzel’s stab at the Scottish Play is a welcome revisiting in familiar territory and an opportunity for Fassbender to shine in the title role. ‘Inspired, innovative, stunning, with unforgettable performances and images, this is up there with the great screen Shakespeares. The playwright surely would be thrilled with it in its full-blooded vigour’ (Empire). ‘Fearsomely visceral and impeccably performed, it’s a brisk, bracing update, even as it remains exquisitely in period’ (Variety). ‘There is a lot of sound and fury in this Macbeth, but not without meaning. It’s not perhaps a very subtle version, and I felt that Kurzel should have perhaps worked more closely with Fassbender with the contours of his speeches, and shown the painful mind-changing and nerve-losing in the early stages. There is an operatic verve’ (Guardian). ‘Kurzel and three screenwriters have figured out a way to make Macbeth boring. Now that they proved it can be done, no one need ever do it again’ (San Francisco Chronicle).
The Big Short ***
January 11, 13–15, 17
‘When four outsiders saw what the big banks, media and government refused to, the global collapse of the economy, they had an idea: The Big Short. Their bold investment leads them into the dark underbelly of modern banking, where they must question everyone and everything’ (Paramount Pictures). ‘Only in America … could filmmakers illuminate such a dire subject, and the financial debacle that ensued, with the sort of scathing wit, joyous irreverence and brilliant boisterousness that make The Big Short an improbable triumph’ (Wall Street Journal). ‘A true crime story and a madcap comedy, a heist movie and a scalding polemic, The Big Short will affirm your deepest cynicism about Wall Street while simultaneously restoring your faith in Hollywood’ (New York Times).
Todd Haynes’s beautifully shot and meticulously recreated period piece adaptation of the Patricia Highsmith novel gives Cate Blanchett a platform for an outstanding performance as the central character, Carol, caught between a disintegrating marriage and a new passion. ‘Under Haynes’[s] sure hand, Blanchett and Mara deliver a love story to melt to. Every glance means something, no strain shows: it’s filmmaking as natural as breathing” (Total Film). ‘At once ardent and analytical, cerebral and swooning, Carol is a study in human magnetism, in the physics and optics of eros. With sparse dialogue and restrained drama, the film is a symphony of angles and glances, of colors and shadows’ (New York Times). ‘Even high expectations don’t quite prepare you for the startling impact of Carol, an exquisitely drawn, deeply felt love story that teases out every shadow and nuance of its characters’ inner lives with supreme intelligence, breathtaking poise and filmmaking craft of the most sophisticated yet accessible order’ (Variety).
Details of Giuseppe Tornatore’s first English-language film remain firmly under wraps at the time of writing.
The Revenant *****
January 28–31, February 1–2
Blood lost. Life found. This gruelling survival story set in nineteenth-century North America, Iñárritu’s wilderness drama is gripping from start to finish, with Leonardo di Caprio perhaps finally providing some irresistible Oscar bait. ‘What is so distinctive about this Iñárritu picture is its unitary control and its fluency: no matter how extended, the film’s tense story is under the director’s complete control and he unspools great meandering, bravura travelling shots to tell it: not dissimilar, in some ways, to his previous picture, Birdman. The movie is as thrilling and painful as a sheet of ice held to the skin’ (Guardian). ‘I’m not sure The Revenant is quite as tough and uncompromising as it thinks it is: it’s coffee-table existentialism, with psychological brush-strokes so thick they might as well have been put on with a mop. But there’s no question it’s an extraordinary, blood-summoning, sinew-stiffening ride’ (Telegraph).
David O Russell’s cross-generational biopic about Joy Mangano and her mop tackles capitalism head on, but its mood swings and incidental wackiness make it uneven and not entirely satisfying. ‘Since Joy is a David O. Russell film, the presence of a) Lawrence and b) bizarre, fizz-popping explosions of catharsis are to be expected. But the ringmaster of The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle seems to have mellowed a little, which means fewer outright belly laughs, but a more layered and involving emotional landscape’ (Telegraph). ‘That the film itself is nearly as chaotic as the clan it examines can either be regarded as an admirable artistic correlative or a crippling defect, but the splendidly dextrous cast ensures that this goofy success story, which could just easily be titled American Hustle 2, keeps firing on all cylinders in the manner of the writer-director’s previous few outings’ (Hollywood Reporter). ‘Despite another solid performance from Jennifer Lawrence, anchoring Russell’s sincerely felt tribute to the power of a woman’s resolve in a man’s world, it’s hard not to wish Joy were better—that its various winsome parts added up to more than a flyweight product that still feels stuck in the development stage’ (Variety).