Divine Entertainment: The Young Pope (2016)

Man oh man, the criticism out there on this TV series is so, so far off the mark! The Young Pope (2016) is a deeply thought-through meditation on the two perennially warring factions of the Catholic Church and, despite what it seems, it displays a solidly Catholic perspective. But to really get it, you’ll have to go farther back in the history and traditions of the Church than the Second Vatican Council—which, ironically, is exactly what Lenny Belardo, Pope Pius XIII (Jude Law; I’ll call him Lenny), would have wanted you to do. (The date of the series is 2016 because, though there’s a planned second season, it’s titled The New Pope, which fits the ending of this season perfectly and seems in all likelihood to follow a different story.)

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Two Actors in Search of a Play: Clouds of Sils Maria (2014)

Rare it is for a film to make me question what I do. Clouds of Sils Maria (2014), which seems to be about acting and the actor’s world, or even about time, desire, and aging, is for me at least a meditation on what it means to interpret a narrative work of art.

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The Art of War: Apocalypse Now (1979/2001)

This is a film that needs no introduction. An adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness set during the Vietnam War, the legendarily troubled production history of this Francis Ford Coppola masterpiece, documented in the 1991 documentary Hearts of Darkness, features the second star leading performance of Martin Sheen (after Badlands (1973)) while also including known commodities such as Marlon Brando and Robert Duvall. It’s a lush piece of episodic cinema (shot by Vittorio Storaro) that ends in a world even more surreal than the build-up, or even the novel, could prepare us for. Captain Willard (Sheen) takes on a mission to find and kill supersoldier Colonel Kurtz (Brando) deep in the Southeast Asian jungle, and his numerous and wide-ranging but almost always antagonistic encounters along the way show him and us the true face of the Vietnam War. In 2001, Coppola and editor Walter Murch released an extended and re-edited version called Apocalypse Now Redux, and that’s what I saw.

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Insanely Erotic: The Piano Teacher (La pianiste 2001)

A demanding and high-strung mother, a devoted artist in a classical field, plus a tinge of sanity-driven passion—these are the components of Austrian director Michael Haneke’s film, The Piano Teacher (La pianiste 2001), which features Isabelle Hupert as Erika Kohut, a piano tutor at Vienna Conservatory.

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Recollected in Tranquility: Paterson (2016)

Many reviewers praise Paterson (2016) for finding meaning in the quotidian. That’s not exactly true. Some reviewers call it a fantasy, and this gets closer to the heart of things. What makes Paterson such a wonderfully coherent and satisfying film, and what makes every shot meaningful, is its cinematic conceit: We are seeing the world as it is perceived by (but not necessarily from the point of view of) the protagonist, a poet named Paterson (an amazingly understated Adam Driver).

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A Thing of Beauty Is a Joy Forever? Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

Wow, first time reviewing a film that’s still in theaters! So as I bang this one out while the Vangelis Blade Runner (1982/2007) soundtrack plays in the background, please remember that this site does not give spoiler warnings—we just give spoilers.

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