Movie reviews: new releases for January 7

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  • Penelope Cruz, Jessica Chastain, Lupita Nyong’o and Diane Kruger in The 355

The 355 ** 1/2

The title – a reference to an never-identified spy from the Revolutionary War era – may be meant to honor every woman in spy history, but the film itself feels more like a homage to the power of the MacGuffins. When a powerful cyber “master key” capable of accessing any computer system goes missing, a multinational group of veteran secret agents: CIA agent Mace (Jessica Chastain), MI6 technologist Khadijah ( Lupita Nyong’o), German Agent Marie (Diane Kruger) and others join forces with a Colombian government psychologist (Penélope Cruz) who reluctantly participates to help save the world. The screenplay (co-credited to Theresa Rebeck and director Simon Kinberg) tries really hard to inject a layer of emotional consequence as all of these women try to balance their dangerous missions and their personal lives, with specific reference to how they hurt more than James Bond; they bring home the bacon, fry it in a pan, then throw the bacon fat in a villain’s face and use the pan to beat him until he loses consciousness. But at its core, it’s a functional action thriller, with Kinberg delivering some potent action beats – the best involving a prolonged chase through a French fish market – driven by an almost uninterrupted chase of the bouncing ball of the crucial whoziwhatsit. As Kruger makes the strongest impression, playing his lonely character with almost savage intensity, The 355 I can’t quite convince myself that he is more interested in these people than in the location at any given time of the thing. Available January 7 in theaters. (PG-13)

Drive my car ****

Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s adaptation of a short story by Haruki Murakami does something counterintuitive, developing the text into a rich, multi-layered three-hour exploration of grief, guilt, and how we process emotions through it. ‘art. The extended prologue begins with the relationship between a married couple, actor / director Yûsuke Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishijima) and writer Oto (Reika Kirishima), complicated by Yûsuke’s awareness of Oto’s extramarital affairs. Two years after Oto’s unexpected death, Yûsuke goes to Hiroshima to produce a multilingual adaptation of Chekhov Uncle Vanya, where his contract requires him to be driven by a professional driver, Misaki (Tôko Miura). Hamaguchi digs deep into the relationships between his characters, providing almost uncomfortable moments of revealing and withholding information through long, patiently-held takes. And he allows them to be both nice and petty at the same time, as Yûsuke uses his authority as a director to make things difficult for a particular member of his cast. Everything comes together through the concept guiding the Vania production, which includes actors speaking (and signing) several languages. It’s a powerful notion, especially for those who are often intimidated by non-English speaking films: the most powerful forms of communication are things you sometimes feel more than you understand. Available January 7 at Broadway Center Cinemas. (NR)

A hero ****
See the feature review. Available January 7 at Broadway Center Cinemas; January 21 via Amazon Prime. (PG)

See for me ** 1/2
There are enough potentially intriguing variations in this rotation on Wait for the night that it is inevitably disappointing when most of them do not quite pay off. Sophie Scott (Skyler Davenport), a promising competitive skier before losing her sight, takes a job as a cat sitter in an isolated McMansion, only to find work disrupted by a group of thieves. Among the twists and turns is Sophie’s addiction to a phone app that turns military veteran Kelly (Jessica Parker Kennedy) in her eyes, but a subplot hinting that Kelly needs to redeem herself for a mistake at work. collapses without being resolved. There’s also some promising material to make Sophie a thief herself, though Davenport doesn’t quite play up all the nuances required to make her both likable and kind of a jerk. Director Randall Okita does a good job of tensioning Sophie’s situation through a solid sense of geography and keeping the adrenaline rush high even during times when people are doing the dumbest thing possible. Maybe there is nothing wrong with the simple satisfactions of a solid, rote thriller, except when you can see that a little more effort could have resulted in something more than solid and par. heart. Available January 7 in theaters and on VOD. (R)

Ripped ** 1/2
It is not in itself a problem that director Max Lowe is so close to the subject of his documentary; it is a problem when the outcome is almost entirely his personal therapy session. Max is the eldest son of Alex Lowe, the world famous mountaineer who died in an avalanche in 1999 in the Tibetan Himalayas, leaving his mother Jenni widowed with three children. Alex Lowe’s extensive archive footage does a great job of creating him as a character, including the ever-present tension between his urge to travel and his sense of parental / marital responsibility. The majority of the film, however, deals with what happens after his death, including the role in the life of the Lowe family of Conrad Anker, Alex’s climbing partner and survivor of the same avalanche that killed Alex. . Anker himself is said to have been a fascinating central subject as he struggles with survival guilt and his own emotional connection with Jenni. But Max only seems able to ask the most obvious questions of Conrad, Jenni and his brothers, which results in something thin when it should be complex. And while everyone here is looking for some sort of resolution, it’s clear that Max is trying to get himself to “replace” Alex with another father figure. The harder material surrounding that material ends up being put aside in favor of something that gives the director a sense of closure. Available January 7 at Broadway Center Cinemas. (NR)

Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy *** 1/2
It was a hell of a year 2021 for Ryusuke Hamaguchi (see Drive my car above), which here shows an ease for exactly the kind of short story structure it avoided when expanding Drive my car. Three independent segments each tell stories built on coincidences: A woman (Kotone Furukawa) overhears her best friend (Hyunri) describe a magical night with a new man, gradually realizing that the man (Ayumu Nakajimi) is her own ex-boyfriend. friend; a married student (Katsuki Mori) agrees to participate in a “honey trap” plot to get revenge on a teacher (Kiyohiko Shibukawa); a woman (Fusako Urabe) attends her high school reunion and meets a classmate (Aoba Kawai) whom she remembers as her first love. Structurally, each segment is masterful, finding the news’s precise emphasis on a specific moment or interaction, even if the third segment’s vanity of a world deprived of digital communication by a computer virus seems underdeveloped. Mostly, these are examples of a powerful connection fueled by formidable performances, which Hamaguchi captures through characters who could avoid eye contact until they are looking directly at someone – and the viewer. Like any omnibus collection, it might not be able to contain the last shot of a single narrative, but each piece here is its own little beauty. Available January 7 via (NR)

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