from Indy Week 

A few months after V-E Day, outside a small Hungarian village, two strangers disembark from a train that pours sinister black smoke into the sweltering summer sky. Dressed in somber black suits, the men hire a cart to transport two steamer trunks into the village. Their arrival and the rumored contents of their cart trigger a panic in the village. In conspiratorial whispers, the news spreads: “The Jews have returned.”

Director Ferenc Török’s 1945, based on the short story “Homecoming” by Gábor T. Szántó, is a grim parable about guilt and the wages of sin. Filmed in dramatic, high-contrast black-and-white, it borrows tropes from classic Hollywood Westerns to tell a story that moves through darker territories.

A quick bit of history helps: during and after World War II, many rural villagers in occupied Europe profited from the deportation of their Jewish neighbors. Ownership of all those homes and storefronts had to eventually change hands. Self-appointed local officials had a vested interest in this system. But sometimes, the Jews returned.

The film unfolds over one afternoon, and the story has the dark, elegant efficiency of a fable—the old and scary type. The villagers clearly share a terrible secret, and each reacts differently to the arrival of the strangers. The mayor scrambles to destroy incriminating paperwork. His wife numbs her guilt with morphine. Only the town drunk seems prepared to face the truth.

Török’s furtive camera peers through curtains and around fence posts. Small objects take on terrible significance: a property deed, a child’s shoe. Spare, haunting music adds tension and complexity to carefully arranged visual compositions. When the purpose of the strangers’ visit is finally revealed, it’s devastating. This is cinematic storytelling at its finest, and 1945 is one of the best films of the year.

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It
★★★★

Theodicy is a theological term that refers to the problem of evil as an active force in the world.  More specifically, it’s an attempt to resolve the dilemma in many Western religions of how evil can exist in a universe supposedly created and governed by an all-powerful and benevolent God. It’s a puzzler, all right.

In the very excellent, very scary horror film It—based on Stephen King’s famous novel—there’s no ambiguity about the existence of evil. In the hard-luck town of Derry, Maine, the power of darkness manifests as a terrifying clown named Pennywise, a shapeshifting demonic force that wakes up every twenty-seven years to hunt and kill children.

The evil clown thing has been done to death, of course, but Pennywise is practically the originator, and surely one of the freakiest fictional entities ever dreamed up. In the new It, director Andy Muschietti sprints right past the tired scary-clown tropes and delivers a story so disturbing that you may find yourself thinking of arcane terms like theodicy.

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from Indy Week 

In the realm of pop sociology, the term “ghosting” has developed several connotations. As an update of expressions like French Exit or Irish Goodbye, it means slipping out of a party without saying your farewells. It has an even newer application in the dating world, where it means breaking up by abruptly dropping communication.

In the indie drama Wakefield, starring Bryan Cranston, Manhattan lawyer Howard Wakefield ghosts on his entire life, impulsively abandoning his family after a hard day at the office. Rather than taking the traditional route, emptying the bank account and driving to the Florida Keys, Howard sneaks into the storage space above the garage and perches behind a dusty window, where he can observe the family’s tony suburban compound.

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Alien: Covenant

★★★★
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It’s generally acknowledged that the creature in the Alien franchise is the scariest monster in all of science-fiction cinema. Based on original designs by Swiss artist H.R. Giger, it’s a triumph of sinister design—a Freudian nightmare of biomechanical sex and death.

Alien: Covenant, the latest installation by veteran sci-fi director Ridley Scott, burrows into the psychosexual roots of the monster to present a bloody, baroque, deeply weird story. A sequel to 2012’s inscrutable misfire, Prometheus, the new film concerns yet another spaceship crew encountering yet another alien infestation. All the franchise elements are present: derelict ruins, extreme body trauma, a strong female lead, and lots of dripping water, not to mention other fluids.

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arthur

In the would-be franchise starter King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, director Guy Ritchie gets medieval on our collective asses by twisting Arthurian legend into a British caper film. Hunky Charlie Hunnam is our hero, Jude Law is the baddie, and the future Knights of the Round Table are portrayed as a gang of streetwise fixers from the mean streets of Londinium circa 573.

Critics are slamming the movie as a ridiculous attempt to transpose august mythology onto a laddish action picture. They’re not wrong, but they’re mad for the wrong reasons. The ridiculousness is the fun part. Legend of the Sword is chock-full of signature Guy Ritchie maneuvers—frantic montages, switchback time signatures, tough-guy dialogue—and it’s a kick to see Arthurian legend so gleefully abused. The effect is similar to watching radically updated Shakespeare. What’s the problem? Besides, as a visual stylist, Ritchie is genetically incapable of being boring. The film’s opening sequence will flip ya for real, as black-magic siege engines and colossal war elephants stomp Camelot. The mystical elements are creative and convincing, and the script provides some intriguing speculation about how that sword got stuck in that stone.

Spanish actress Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey is just this side of hypnotic as a persecuted sorceress, and Arthur’s motley crew functions as the medieval equivalent of a heist gang, complete with nicknames like Flatnose Mike and Goosefat Bill. The key is to embrace Ritchie’s goofball riffing and try to ignore the more egregious flourishes, like Jude Law’s designer jackets. Tune in to the film’s anachronistic wavelength and Legend of the Sword works just fine.

Land of Mine
★★★★
Now playing

In the final months of World War II, German forces buried more than 1.5 million landmines on the western beaches of Denmark. Germany believed that the Danish shore was one of the probable landing spots for an Allied invasion.

After Germany’s surrender, Danish officials commandeered four thousand German POWs to remove the landmines. By then, most of the original occupying forces were dead or gone. The final wave of German soldiers sent to Denmark were mostly teenagers—children, essentially—conscripted by Hitler in a cruel last gasp.

This largely forgotten episode of World War II history is dramatized in the Danish film Under Sandet (Under the Sand), nominated for an Academy Award and generally acknowledged as among the finest Danish films of the last several years. For some goddamn reason, the film has been retitled Land of Mine for its limited U.S. theatrical release. What were they thinking? This film does not need a pun in its title.

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gifted

GIFTED
1/2
Now playing

So this happens sometimes at the movies: a film comes along and does things you’ve seen a hundred times before. You know you’re being worked over emotionally, with cinematic tricks and techniques that have been around forever. But the story soars anyway, and you walk out genuinely moved and entirely satisfied.

Such is the case with Gifted, the story of Mary, a seven-year-old math prodigy caught in a custody battle that will determine the trajectory of her life. Chris “Captain America” Evans plays Mary’s uncle and guardian, Frank, a former philosophy professor turned boat mechanic. Mary’s mother (Frank’s sister), a math prodigy herself, committed suicide just after Mary was born. The trauma sent Frank spiraling out of academia and into the bars and harbors of coastal Florida. (He’s the “damaged hot guy,” as one tavern admirer says.) Frank and Mary live in a trailer park, where Frank tries to provide his niece with a poor-but-normal, nongenius life.

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