By William Wolf

THE BEST TEN FILMS OF 2018  Send This Review to a Friend

The films on this list have been selected from among those released in New York theaters during the year and are listed in order of preference.

1. Blackklansman

2. Cold War

3. Becoming Astrid

4. Roma

5. Fahrenheit 11/9

6. The Insult

7. Capernaum

8. Happy as Lazzaro

9. RBG

10. On the Basis of Sex

Other outstanding films of 2018 listed in no particular order include: A Star is Born; Leave No Trace; Lives Well Lived; Memoir of War; A Private War; The Death of Stalin; Can You Ever Forgive Me?; The Front Runner; The Other Side of the Wind; Wildlife; Tea With the Dames; If Beale Street Could Talk; Green Book; Widows; Back to Burgundy; Measure of a Man; The Wife; Chappaquiddick; Eighth Grade; Rodin; Operation Finale; The Bookshop; Crazy Rich Asians; Nelly; Vice; Colette; Love, Gilda; The Ballad of Buster Scruggs; Pick of the Litter; The Guilty; Submission; Summer 1993; At Eternity’s Gate; The Favourite; First Reformed; Boy Erased; Shoplifters; Shoah: Four Sisters; Searching for Ingmar Bergman; Monrovia, Indiana; The Price of Everything; On Her Shoulders; The Waldheim Waltz; Studio 54; Call Her Ganda; Lizzie; American Chaos; Bisbee ’17; Let the Sunshine In; Godard mon amour; Lou Andreas-Salomé –The Audacity to Be Free; Ben is Back, Three Identical Strangers, Summer 1993 and Itzhak.

NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL 2019--MARRIAGE STORY  Send This Review to a Friend

If you’ve ever been divorced or thinking about it, or just contemplating marriage, “Marriage Story” should make you pay attention. Writer-director Noah Baumbach’s film, showcased at the 57th New York Film Festival before going into commercial release, is an intensely dramatized textbook story of the legal and personal antagonisms that can take hold when couples decide to part.

Cast as the warring pair are Charlie, played by Adam Driver, and Nicole, portrayed by Scarlett Johansson, and since they are at the top of their acting game here, the film has a built-in compelling edge. Baumbach’s screenplay is savvy, as is his direction, although there is a point during the legal entanglements at which the film seems to grind on too long Yet the legal details are what heighten the fascination with the story.

Charlie and Nicole, married ten years, have an eight-year-old son, Henry (Azhy Robertson). Charlie is directing a New York Theater company that is close to his heart. Nicole, who is from Los Angeles, has been his leading actress and has moved to New York to marry him. There have been all the earmarks of a couple getting on well, but geography intrudes.

Nicole is given the opportunity to star in a pilot for what could become a hit television show. It is her opportunity for a big break and they move to Los Angeles, a change that is supposed to be temporary. But Charlie’s interests are rooted in New York and he finds himself commuting. Henry is enrolled in school in Los Angeles. Differences become irreconcilable and there is a decision to divorce. The intention is to work everything out amicably. Good luck.

Charlie gets a low-key, homespun lawyer, nicely played by Alan Alda, who recommends settling and avoiding a costly court battle. But Nicole hires Nora Fanshaw, flamboyantly played by the excellent Laura Dern, a hot-shot killer lawyer with smarts and one who goes for the jugular. This compels Charlie to engage Jay, a take-no-prisoners lawyer sharply portrayed by Ray Liotta.

All legal hell breaks loose, with Nora wanting the case tried in Los Angeles, where Nicole would have the advantage and Jay wanting it tried in New York. In addition to financial issues escalating, Nicole wants custody of Henry. When Nicole and Charlie meet to try to settle things between them, invective pours out at each other in a very ugly scene.

The mechanics of the legal fight are intriguing as they provide insights into how divorces play out in court, and what effect they have on the participants. Nora sees her role as fighting for the rights of women as part of the battle.

Although there could be some tightening—the film runs 136 minutes -- Baumbach has achieved a major accomplishment in creating an intelligent, entertaining film that is sometimes funny, but also disturbing, with much to reveal about relationships, how they collapse and the bitterness that can erupt. A Netflix release. Reviewed October 19, 2019.

MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN  Send This Review to a Friend

As producer and director, actor Edward Norton has reached back to the style of 1940s private eye films to give us a story about power and corruption with “Motherless Brooklyn,” shown at the 57th New York Film Festival prior to its commercial release. In addition, Norton plays the lead character, Lionel Essrog, who, with Tourette syndrome, has a prominent nervous tick with which friends and foes alike have to deal. At times this leads him to erupt with foul-mouthed language, which becomes amusing rather than vulgar.

“Motherless Brooklyn,” is what Lionel is called as a result of his having been an orphan adopted by private detective Frank Minna, played by Bruce Willis, for whom Lionel works and has great affection. When Frank is gunned down on a job and whispers a clue before dying, it falls to Lionel to follow through on the case.

The intricate plot, along lines of old-fashioned film noir and set in 1950s New York, is detailed in a screenplay written by Norton and Jonathan Lethem, based on Lethem’s book. The story with typical twists and turns and lots of action is challenging to follow.

The villain is Moses Randolph, played menacingly by Alec Baldwin with his customary powerful screen presence. Giving him the first name Moses is a giveaway linking the character to the late New York Parks Commissioner Robert Moses, who wielded power in his determination to enhance the city with elaborate building projects. The film’s Moses wants to tear down poor and black neighborhoods to achieve his shady goals and will go to any lengths to succeed. In addition, as the film reveals, he harbors a major secret.

Among those opposing him is Laura Rose, a young, light-skinned African-American woman played by the talented and intriguing Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who lives over a Harlem jazz club and with whom as the plot spins Lionel becomes close. This is also a film loaded with goons, violence and extreme danger to Lionel as he goes about his sleuthing. Meanwhile, nailing down the detective office is Bobby Cannavale as Tony Vermonte.

Norton gives an outstanding, colorful performance as the afflicted but persevering Lionel, making the most of the opportunity. As a director, in addition to successfully filling supporting roles with the right actors, he gives the film the noir look, and he has achieved some excellent settings with the aid of digital technique, creating, for example, the look of the old Penn Station.

The film is constantly absorbing, partly because of the performances, but also because of the need to concentrate so hard to understand all that is unfolding. A Warner Brothers release. Reviewed October 15, 2019.

NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL 2019--PARASITE  Send This Review to a Friend

Quite a stir has been caused by “Parasite,” the provocative South Korean film directed by Bong Joon Ho from a screenplay he wrote with Han Jin Won. It was showcased by the 57th New York Film Festival and is currently in commercial release. Why has “Parasite,” which won the top prize of Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, become such a much-discussed art film?

The answer lies in its unusual take on class differences in present-day South Korea. The renowned director injects dark humor into a plot involving polarized families, one the financially upscale Park family, the other the struggling lower class Kim family living in a basement.

How the director brings them together and what happens are carefully plotted, and while there is plenty of amusement in the situation he creates with colorful characters and settings, the film also evolves into an outburst of revolt and violence. While I especially appreciate the cleverness and the entertaining and sociological elements, I do have trouble with violent scenes that are hard to watch, but it is important to recognize that the violence is central to the director’s overall perspective and even his comic vision.

At the core is the film’s clever satirical thrust. The poor Kim family, headed by Kim Ki-taek (Song Kang Ho) and trying to get by in whatever ways possible, also consists of Ki-taek’s devoted wife and two siblings, a daughter and son. The plot takes hold when the son, Ki-woo (Choi Woo Shik), gets an opportunity to be hired to tutor the Park family daughter Da-hye (Jung Ziso), and that sets the stage for the interaction between the disparate families as other Kims deceptively manipulate their way into also working for the Parks.

Thus the film is geared to sharp commentary about the disparities in Korea today, but juxtaposed in a very original way by incorporating the film’s gallows humor into the mix. The cast that the director has assembled is first-rate.

“Parasite” is likely to emerge at awards time, so on that basis alone, you may want to keep up with this year’s cinema by seeing it for yourself. A Neon release. Reviewed October 11, 2019.

NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL 2019--PAIN AND GLORY  Send This Review to a Friend

Writer-director Pedro Almodóvar’s new film “Pain and Glory,” included in the 57th New York Film Festival, is awash in memories, feelings, compelling characters and his customary expertise in communicating depth with the aid of extraordinary visuals. What’s more there is a strong, intricate performance by Antonio Banderas, long associated with Almodóvar’s films, as a director whom many might take to have autobiographical inferences to Almodóvar himself.

The story involves Salvador Mallo (Banderas), in his sixties, with a slew of medical issues and worry about lack of inspiration, at a time when a film that he made 30 years ago is being shown in a revival. There are unpleasant memories associated with making that film because he feels his leading actor messed up what he aimed to do. However, after harsh words in a new encounter, Salvador wants to patch up the bad feelings and surprises the actor, Alberto (Asier Etxeandia) in his home. Alberto has a liking for cocaine and wants Salvador to join him.

Important and intriguing parts of the film are flashbacks into Salvador’s childhood when he was nine years old (played by Asie Flores) and being raised in poverty by his mother Jacinta, given an earthy performance by Penélope Cruz. Young Salvador undertakes to teach reading and writing to a handyman, Eduardo (César Vicente), who is very muscular. When Salavador gets a view of Eduardo’s physique, he begins to have feelings he doesn’t yet understand. Later in the film there will be a fresh and poignant connection that occurs.

There are also later scenes demonstrating Salvador’s close feelings for his mother (the elderly mom portrayed by Julieta Serrano). She is ill and envisioning impending death. The acting is excellent, but in terms of looks, it is difficult to accept her as an aged version of Cruz.

“Pain and Glory” is packed with so much detail and has a broad scope that keeps one enthralled. If I had to pick one scene that stands out above everything else, it is the encounter between Salvador and Federico (Leonardo Sbaraglia), a man from the past, and it turns out both Salvador and Federico have clung to happy memories and old sexual feelings that are now rekindled in a tender emotional encounter that sums up so much of what “Pain and Glory is about. A Sony Pictures Classics release. Reviewed October 4, 2019.

NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL 2019--BULLY, COWARD, VICTIM: THE STORY OF ROY COHN  Send This Review to a Friend

Coming on the heels of another documentary about Roy Cohn, this one directed and co-produced by Ivy Meeropol is more powerful and expansive and strikes from a different and personal angle. Meeropol is the granddaughter of executed Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, against whom Cohn was an unethical prosecuting attorney. The film gains strength by strong emphasis on the injustice done to the Rosenbergs, as well as the more usual excoriating Cohn for his work as assistant to Senator Joseph McCarthy in the anti-Communist hearings hysteria he worked up in the 1950s.

The documentary, a selection of the 57th New York Film Festival, is a Motto Pictures and Red 50 Production for HBO Documentary Films and is to premiere on HBO in the spring of 2020.

Meeropol deftly puts together the overall indictment of Cohn as a lawyer eventually disbarred, a fixer, a wielder of behind-the-scenes power, as well as one more point of importance the resonates today. He was a mentor of Donald Trump. The film director doesn’t have to do any excessive pounding to make us see similarities in the behavior of Cohn and the man occupying the White House today. (The other Cohn documentary is titled after a remark by Trump-—“Where's My Roy Cohn?”)

Meeropol’s film includes personal comments by her father, Michael Meeropol, son of the Rosenbergs, who talks about his own life and the point at which he came forward to fight to establish the truth about the injustice in the Rosenberg “conspiracy to commit espionage case,” which Cohn viciously pursued and exploited, even with illegal exparte conversions with trial judge Irving Kaufman to seek the death penalty that Kaufman delivered. The film stresses the injustice of the trial being pumped up to falsely claim that the Rosenbergs gave the Russians the so-called secret of the atomic bomb.

Among the fascinating discovered film clips that Meeropol includes is a panel discussion hosted by Jean Vallier, with Michael Meeropol brazenly confronting Cohn with his accusations against him and urging Cohn to sue him for libel. Cohn never took the challenge. The film also includes shots of Rosenberg sons Michael and his brother Robert as children visiting Sing Sing and Michael's memories about his feelings at the time, a clip of Julius’s mother wailing at the cemetery, and scenes of mass protest—all of which retain a strong emotional impact today.

Meeropol also is artistically creative, working in clips from Tony Kushner’s play “Angels in America,” in which Nathan Lane played Cohn as a mean-spirited bully dying of AIDS with the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg coming back to taunt him at his bedside.

The film reflects a tremendous amount of research and efforts to uncover previously unseen material. There are discussions between Cohn and journalist Peter Manso. Lawyer and professor Alan Dershowitz is candid and specific in denouncing the injustice done the Rosenbergs. Among those interviewed are playwright Kushner, director John Waters, Nathan Lane, columnist Cindy Adams, and various people who knew Cohn.

The film notes what a homophobe he was, although there apparently was no secret that he was having relationships with men, and to the very end he denied he was dying of AIDS.

I don’t quite understand the “Victim” in the film’s title. I guess Cohn saw himself as a victim when he was under attack, and I suppose you could say he was a victim of AIDS. Also, Donald Trump, for all of his enthusiasm about him, as the film notes, eventually distanced himself when he learned that Cohn had AIDS. But the real victims were Cohn’s victims.

However, to the credit of Meeropol, she strives in her film to get to know Cohn as a person and not just as an ogre—to examine what made him tick and how he built his position of power. As she previously demonstrated, for example, with her film “Indian Point” (see Search for review), she is a superb filmmaker who works hard to dig at the facts and put them into perspective. Her new film about Cohn continues to show her expertise and commitment and is well worth putting on your must-see list. Reviewed October 2, 2019.

NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL OFF TO ROUSING START IN 57TH EDITION  Send This Review to a Friend

The opening night of the 57th New York Film Festival was especially exiting this year. The eagerly awaited attraction was director Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman,” which Film at Lincoln Center, the presenter of the Festival, wisely nabbed for the opener.

I went to the three o’clock opener at Alice Tully hall on Friday (September 27) and the after party at the Tavern on the Green, and there was another opening night celebrated after that with a later party at the Tavern on the Green. Such was the demand that more than one screening and party were required.

The Tavern parties were sponsored by Campari, and people arriving were greeted by attractive “Campari” hostesses. Drinks from the bar were generous, and so was the food, consisting of chicken, eggplant parmesan, pasta with sausage, spinach and salad, with severs circulating with shrimp and assorted hors d’oeuvres.

There was a gala atmosphere at the opening I attended. Wendy Keyes, former programmer and current Film at Lincoln center board member, welcomed the full-house audience, paid tribute to sponsors, and introduced Festival Director and Chair of the Selection Committee Kent Jones, who is stepping down after this year. He in turn introduced Martin Scorsese, who was given a huge ovation when he took the stage. Scorsese than introduced a large contingent of his cast members.

Particularly loud applause greeted Joe Pesci, Al Pacino and Robert De Niro, the latter left to address the crowd. He was a man of few words. De Niro said, “All I’ll say is I hope you like the movie.”

“The Irishman” (see review in Special Reports) runs three hours and a half, a long time for filmgoers who often complain when a movie runs even a bit over two hours. The challenge was set, and as it turns out, Scorsese was proven justified in creating his lengthy epic. (There were long restroom lines at the end.)

The 57th Festival, which runs through October 13, is a particularly ambitious one. There are 29 films in the main slate, plus a slew of others in various categories, including documentaries, revivals, shorts, special events, free talks and podcasts. Overall there are 153 films from which to choose. In addition to its expanded programming, there is a smart look to the Festival’s printed material and to on-screen visual highlights.

This year’s Festival is dedicated to the late director and French icon Agnès Varda, whose final film “Varda by Agnès” is part of the main slate. On opening night Varda clips were shown, and the announcement that the Festival is dedicated to her received enthusiastic audience approval.

For detailed information and ticketing go on line to filmlinc.org. Posted September 30, 2019.

NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL 2019--THE IRISHMAN  Send This Review to a Friend

Director Martin Scorsese is in top form with his “The Irishman,” the opening night selection at the 57th New York Film Festival. Don’t be put off by the length of the film at three and a half hours. Perhaps one could chop a little here or there, but “The Irishman” is thoroughly engrossing with so much of interest contained and such good acting that you might even want to see it again.

The guts of the film, adapted from Charles Brandt’s book “I Heard You Paint Houses,” concerns the question of whatever happened to the powerful Teamsters Union head Jimmy Hoffa, who suddenly disappeared in 1975. He had to be assumed dead, and various stories have arisen about his demise and claims that his body was discovered.

Scorsese’s film builds to a specific answer about Hoffa, with leaving nothing to the imagination in the screenplay by Brandt and Steven Zaillian. The entire story unfolds from a narration by a character named Frank Sheeran, the Irishman of the title, and played by Robert De Niro in a devastatingly convincing performance. ( Sheeran was a real life character who claimed information about Hoffa.) Here De Niro as Sheeran not only reports on his life but is the conduit for the film’s searing look at Mafia crime that raged in the United States, with various real-life assassinations grimly recorded. Scorsese has a neat touch—every so often when a character appears a brief obituary reporting on the time and manner of death is posted.

Hoffa is portrayed by Al Pacino in a blistering acting turn that stresses Hoffa’s arrogance, insistence on power, his making enemies and his activities that landed him in prison for a while. Upon his release, he bids to resume the power he held before prison in the face of opposition. Pacino’s Hoffa is a full-bodied character who dominates a major portion of the film.

But it is through Sheeran’s story that we get the corrupt wielding of power that keeps people in line. When he meets Joe Pesci, another Scorsese stalwart, as the all-powerful crime boss and fixer Russell Bufalino, the story line of mob rule begins to develop, with Sheeran going along as a cooperative player.

The film is also replete with dark humor, family depictions and complications. One of Sheeran’s daughters, from childhood on, looks disapprovingly on her father, as if she knows that he is corrupt and resents it. We meet a host of characters through the film, including wives, gangland pals, victims, union men, cops, government men, bodyguards, and young people tending to Sheeran in old age who don’t even know who Hoffa was.

The film rings with authenticity both in settings and characterizations. De Niro as Sheeran maximizes the sadness of his handicaps as he is elderly and frail, but given all of his contributions to corruptness, it is difficult to feel compassion for him even though some of what he has done was against his will.

Details about the period in which the story unfolds are included, as for example,the Bay of Pigs fiasco and the assassination of President Kennedy. Hoffa’s hatred of Kennedy’s brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, is dramatized. Curiously, the film doesn’t include Robert Kennedy’s assassination.

But with everything that is included, Scorsese’s “The Irishman” emerges as a grand epic that should hold a place among the best of the director’s films. It is a powerhouse of a movie-going experience, and you will find special strength in the acting of a huge cast that complements Scorsese’s directorial savvy and includes, among others, Harvey Keitel, Bobby Cannavale, Ray Romano, Stephen Graham and Anna Paquin. The film reflects excellent work by cinematographer Rodrigo Pieto, production designer Bob Shaw and editor Thelma Schoonmaker.

Look for “The Irishman” to appear on this year’s best lists; it is a must-see triumph. A Netflix release. Reviewed September 30, 2019.

STEPHEN SILVERMAN'S NEW BOOK IS A MERRY ROLLER COASTER RIDE THROUGH WORLD-WIDE AMUSEMENT PARKS  Send This Review to a Friend

When I went as a teenager to Coney Island and braved the roller coaster to show off before the girls, and later, when I took my young daughters to Disneyland, there wasn’t a thought in my head about the history of amusement parks, those who created them or how many of them there were in other parts of the world.

Now along comes Stephen M. Silverman with his book, “The Amusement Park—900 Years of Thrills and Spills, and the Dreamers and Schemers Who Built Them” (432 pp. Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers. $35). And what a book it is! Not only is it jam-packed with extensively-researched information, but Silverman presents it all with his jaunty style and frequently injected humor, and to boot, the book is handsomely designed and produced and liberally illustrated with intriguing photos and drawings. It is substantiated in an extensive bibliography that reflects all of the work that went into covering the amusement park scene from spanning its fascinating history to current attractions appealing to yet another generation of thrill-seekers.

The 900 years in the subtitle is an eye-catcher. That far back? In the book’s “Part One—The Fun Begins” the author recounts how England’s King Henry I (1068-1135), at the urging of his court jester, established in 1133 in honor of St. Bartholomew the first St. Bartholomew Fair in Smithfield that initially lasted three days but went on to become an institution.

“Under an ever-widening expanse of colorful tents and aromatic stalls,” Silverman writes, “the fair helped establish several standard practices carried out in the merriment arena: Exotic animal shows. Freak shows. Magic Shows. Acrobatic shows. Theatrical spectacles. Rides. Refreshment stands. Dedicated lodgings for visitors. Prostitutes. Actually the prostitutes were already well established; there were just more of them at fair time.”

Then Silverman adds one of the informational touches like those that he sprinkles throughout his survey: “The Smithfield gallows also made a substantial contribution, particularly on Bartholomew Fair’s opening day in 1305. Before a standing-room-only crowd, William Wallace, the controversial Scottish patriot known as Braveheart, was brought to the fair site in shackles, strung up, hanged, and, for good measure, disemboweled. With that fairgoers went back to making music and merry.”

Silverman persistently sees the broad picture, not only with respect to the varied amusement attractions, but how, for example, the hot dog came to be popular at Coney Island. He also follows the ups and downs of real estate deals and investments related to numerous amusement parks.

Yes, there is also the progress of inventiveness aimed at capturing public attendance. We can follow the development of roller coasters, the higher and more risky the better, the merry-go-round, the Ferris Wheel, bumper cars etc. There are the noted names, of course, whether P.T Barnum or Walt Disney. Silverman reports on competition, budgets, profits and losses and all of the excitement that projects generated. He covers the international spectrum, with amusements abroad, as in countries such as Denmark, Germany and Japan, just to name a few.

Silverman saves elaborating broadly on the amazing Disney phenomenon until near the end of the book. He meticulously details what was involved in creating Disneyland in California and Walt Disney World in Florida, as well as other Disney projects.

Sometimes at certain sections there may be even more information than we want to know, but the strength of the book lies in its comprehensiveness, right up to the recent concept of parlaying the Harry Potter saga into an amusement attraction.

You may be most interested in learning about amusement parks closest to where you live. I particularly enjoyed reading about the development of Coney Island and problems involved there. I also was especially interested in Six Flags Great Adventure amusement park in New Jersey and attractions in Atlantic City, where I repeatedly enjoyed visits to its famous Steel Pier.

The New Jersey shore was a big part of my fun territory when growing up. For example: Having been born with a club foot (long since mostly corrected), I regularly attended a clinic in Somerville, N.J. Once a year the Elks Lodge in my nearby town of Bound Brook would lay on a trip for clinic patients at a Jersey shore entertainment locale and treat everyone all day to a treasure trove of rides and all the food we could consume. I recall a big banner on our bus one year that said “Annual Labor Day Crippled Kiddies Outing.” Can you imagine a politically incorrect sign like that today? But who cared then?

“The Amusement Park” covers more attractions throughout the United States than I could possibly cite here, including at World Fairs. There is special emphasis on the important onrush of amusement park development in the 19th century, and how proliferation followed along through the 20th century and now in the 21st.

Hats off to Silverman for having the vision to take amusement parks as a unique subject for a book and entertainingly amass evidence to show what a major role they have played—and are still playing-- in lives in many parts of the world. Reviewed August 26, 2019.

NEW DIRECTORS/NEW FILMS 2019  Send This Review to a Friend

Thirty-five films from 29 countries are included in this year’s 48th annual New Films/New Directors series (March 27-April 7) presented by the Museum of Modern Art and he Film Society of Lincoln Center. A sampling was selected for previewing to the press in advance of the event.

Of those, there is only one about which I am completely enthusiastic. That is the American film “Clemency,” directed by Chinonye Chukwu, which arrives with the credential of having won the Jury Prize in the U.S. dramatic competition at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. It is a wrenching drama dealing with capital punishment from a two-pronged perspective.

Alfre Woodard gives a memorable, deeply felt performance as Bernadine, a prison warden who has been overseeing executions on death row in an unidentified state. First, it is unusual to have an African-American woman warden in a prison yarn. This one is told from the perspective of both the warden and a prisoner who is scheduled to die for a crime he insists he did not commit. The film is more concerned with the issue of capital punishment than with the alleged crime itself or the guilt or innocence question. Anthony (Aldis Hodge) has admitted taking part in a robbery but denies having fired the gun that led to a fatality.

“Clemency” opens with a harrowing botched execution in which a condemned man suffers greatly before he can be pronounced dead. Bernadine is sickened by it, and has become increasingly upset with the responsibility of putting people to death. However, she is committed to work scrupulously by the book and do her job professionally no matter what.

The drama intensifies when Bernadine becomes closer to Anthony, the next prisoner set to be killed. He is given a powerful performance by Hodge, who veers from stoicism to an attempt at suicide. One becomes deeply involved in Anthony’s plight in response to Hodge’s mesmerizing acting. His lawyer is desperately trying hard to save his life, and Bernadine clearly would like that to happen, but she has to go through with the execution if clemency is not granted.

The build-up is extremely intense, and there are complications, as a woman with whom Anthony has had a son comes forward to talk with him after keeping a low profile to protect the boy and herself from the stigma. Meanwhile, widespread protests have been taking place, and they are described to Anthony to make him feel that he is not alone and will at least be remembered if he is denied clemency.

While we are led to feel sympathy for Anthony, we are also induced to sympathize with Bernadine as she gets more and more upset about the idea of the state putting people to death and her role in the process. The job takes a toll on relations between her and her husband Jonathan, well-played by Wendell Pierce.

“Clemency” emerges as one of the important films of this year as capital punishment is increasingly debated, as evidenced, for example, by the temporary moratorium on executions declared by the governor of California. The film is extremely well done and lands like a punch in the gut.

I somewhat like “Genesis,” a Canadian film by Philippe Lesage that examines the lives of young people experiencing the pangs of growing up and forging relationships. Part occurs in a boys’ boarding school in which there are cruel complications.

A portion involves students at a Quebec summer camp, and there is an especially tender scene between a boy and girl silently expressing affection for one another. Lesage is observant in following characters who reflect various personality characteristics and surveying them in defining situations.

“Monos,” directed by Alejandro Landes, seemingly inspired by “Lord of the Flies” and taking place in the jungle of an unnamed South American country, is an ambitious attempt to follow young rebels in their battle for survival. However, the group is such an oddball entourage that one is hard-pressed to be sympathetic.

A captured American woman engineer escapes and is hunted down. Despite harsh training by the group’s leader, the youths are ill-equipped for the challenges they encounter, and one knows matters will not end well.

“MS Slavic 7,” directed by Sofia Bohdanowicz and Deragh Campbell, has an interesting premise, but is more suited to an essay than the static film that emerges. The story involves a young woman (Campbell), who is executor of her great-grandmother’s estate. She goes to Harvard to research correspondence between her great-grandmother, who was a Polish poet, and another poet suspected of being her lover.

Much of the film is occupied with letters, as well as with rights of their ownership, and while the subject is worth exploring, it is hard to create a strong film out of correspondence and the scholarly pursuit of the truth.

“Bait,” directed by Mark Jenkin, is a British film set in a Cornish fishing village. It follows characters and their relationships, as well as the effect of tourists on the locality. The story is less interesting than Jenkin’s method of shooting. He uses 16mm black and white and has a mania for shooting objects in close-ups.

Thus Jenkin treats objects as importantly as faces, sometimes seemingly more so, and there is an endless pattern of zeroing on in things. Enough already. But the style is surely distinctive.

The most exasperating film screened in advance is “Present.Perfect,” director Shengze Zhu’s exploration of live streaming that has taken hold in China and brought fame to participants. Most of those babbling away into the camera are utterly boring, whether a woman factory worker, a street dancer or a young man who utters a stream of nonsense.

The one interesting person is a malformed man with a great face who has interesting things to say and shows intelligence above some of the others. The film was constructed from some 800 hours of footage, and running a little over two hours, the barrage mostly tries one’s patience.

“Manta Ray,” set in Thailand and directed by Phuttiphong Aroonpheng, is a delicate story of a friendship between a fisherman and the man he rescues from a swamp, a refugee who is mute. Although the film can seem long, there is an underlying feeling of a bond that can develop between people, and we follow what happens in the wake of tragedy.

“End of the Century,” an Argentine film directed by Lucio Castro, is primarily a gay relationship story. It is marked by absorbing conversation when two men, one who is Spanish and the other from Berlin, get together while in Barcelona. The dialogue is interesting, the sex provocative. The director flips back and forth in time as the film examines what happens in the future, not only with respect to the men, but concerning a woman as well. At the Walter Reade Theater, 165 West 65th Street. Posted March 28, 2019.

  

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