MMOCA Spotlight Cinema shines on “Dheepan,” “Sand Storm” and “London Road”

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While the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art’s Rooftop Cinema series in the summertime may be one of the most distinctive film series in town, the museum has plenty to offer cinephiles when it goes indoors as well. Spotlight Cinema brings eight films to the museum at 227 State Street this fall, all premieres of recent award winners at Cannes and Sundance and other critically-acclaimed independent film. Without MMOCA, it’s highly unlikely they would play theatrically in town.

The series kicks off next Wednesday with Jacques Audiard’s “Dheepan” and runs at 7 p.m. every Wednesday through mid-November. It’s free for museum members or $7 per ticket for adult in the MMOCA screening room. Here’s the schedule — I plan to have reviews of each movie up beforehand either here or at captimes.com.

Dheepan” (Sept. 28) — Jacques Audiard (“A Prophet,” “Rust and Bone”) drew from the real-life experiences of his lead actor, Jesuthasan Antonythasan in this drama about a former child soldier from Sri Lanka who faces more conflict when he becomes the caretaker of a violence-prone housing complex in the suburbs of Paris. The film won the Palme d’Or at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival.

Sand Storm” (Oct. 5) — This Israeli film won the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, telling the story of a Bedouin woman who is forced by tradition to host the wedding party for her husband’s marriage to a second, much younger wife.

Kaili Blues” (Oct. 12) — A hypnotic and entrancing first feature from 26-year-old Chinese filmmaker Bi Gan, this film blends past, present and future in its tale of a doctor who comes to a mysterious small town seeking a lost child.

Homo Sapiens” (Oct. 19) — Listen to the Talking Heads song “Nothing But Flowers” on the way to the screening of Nicholas Geyrhalter’s new documentary, which looks at manmade spaces like malls and factories that have been abandoned by humans and are now being reclaimed by nature. A vision of a post-human civilization?

Little Sister” (Oct. 26) — Set around Halloween before another big election (Obama in 2008), this affecting comedy follows a  young nun-in-training who returns home to a hippie mother (Ally Sheedy) and traumatized Iraq Vet brother, and reverts to her old teenage Goth persona as she attempts to heal her family.

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London Road” (Nov. 2) — Tom Hardy and Olivia Colman star in this unlikely cinematic opera, based on a series of murders that happened in a small British town. Every sung line is taken from the official transcripts of the case.

After the Storm” (Nov. 9) — The last film by master Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda (“Our Little Sister“) just played at Sundance Cinemas, and now comes his newest film, another tale of a fractured family learning to heal itself. In this case, it’s a deadbeat dad reconciling with his family amid a typhoon.

Don’t Call Me Son” (Nov. 16) — A gay teenager rebels when he learns that his mother adopted him from a wealthy conservative family in this Brazilian family drama.

Instant Gratification: “The Finest Hours” and four other good movies to watch on Netflix and Amazon

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Pick of the Week:The Finest Hours” (Netflix) — My full review is here. Before Chris Pine and Ben Foster starred in the excellent Texas crime thriller “Hell or High Water,” they were co-stars in this old-fashioned rescue drama, based on a true-life event in which a Coast Guard crew battled an epic storm to save the crew of a sinking ship. Casey Affleck may be the film’s MVP as the ship’s quietly heroic engineer.

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“Modesty Blaise”: The spy who accessorized me

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In retrospect, it’s kind of amazing how quickly spy movies became ridiculous in the 1960s. You start the decade with the relatively sane “Dr. No” and “From Russia With Love,” and in the space of a few years you get to “Danger: Diabolik” and “Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine.” It’s as if the counterculture looked at the Ian Fleming novels that their dads were reading, saw the silliness that underlay the machismo and violence, and decided to flip it inside out.

One of the shining examples of the genre is the gloriously silly spy-chedelic 1966 spoof “Modesty Blaise,” just released in a new extras-packed edition from Kino Lorber Studio Classics. Take the most hard-to-swallow moment in any James Bond movie, magnify it by a hundred, and put it in a great outfit, and you have “Modesty Blaise.”

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Instant Gratification: “The Confirmation” and four other good movies new to streaming

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Pick of the week: “The Confirmation” (Netflix)My full review is here. You want the very definition of a hidden treasure on Netflix? It’s this gem from Bob Nelson, who wrote Alexander Payne’s “Nebraska” and brings his unsentimental but affectionate eye for small-town characters to his debut as a writer-director. Clive Owen plays an alcoholic divorced dad who brings his eight-year-old son (the wonderful Jaeden Lieberher) on a quest to find his stolen toolbox. It’s a riff on “The Bicycle Thief,” both eloquent and no-nonsense, and Owen and son run across a ton of great character actors on their journey, including Patton Oswalt, Maria Bello, Matthew Modine and Robert Forster. This one’s a keeper.

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Sundance Cinemas Fall Screening Room Calendar features “The Innocents,” “Mia Madre,” “Starving the Beast”

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As a film critic, you sense the change of seasons before you actually feel the change in temperature.

A month ago, in the middle of the summer, I was writing one or two reviews a week, at least one of them a big blockbuster. Now I’m juggling five or six reviews a week, mostly of independent films, as the fall season gets underway. Believe me, I am not complaining.

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“De Palma”: A master class from one of cinema’s most controversial directors

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“DePalma” has its Madison premiere at 7 p.m. Friday at the UW-Cinematheque, 4070 Vilas Hall, 821 University Ave. R, 1:50, three and a half stars out of four. FREE!

The Village Voice once ran dueling columns by its film critics, Andrew Sarris and J. Hoberman, on Brian DePalma. One was headlined “Derivative” and the other “Dazzling.”

Such has been the competing views of DePalma. Like his spiritual mentor Alfred Hitchcock, he’s been a deeply polarizing figure in American cinema who only now, late in life, may be finally getting his due. During his heyday, many critics couldn’t look past the blood or the naked women or the bloody naked women in “Dressed to Kill” or “Carrie” or “Body Double.”

But he had his champions, most notably Pauline Kael of The New Yorker, and has come to be renowned as one of the masters of cinematic storytelling. Even if those stories got a little overheated. The fine new documentary “De Palma,” by fellow filmmakers Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow, features just one interview, with De Palma himself, talking about every single film he ever made. No other interviewee is necessary.

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Instant Gratification: “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” and four other good movies on Amazon Prime and Netflix

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Pick of the Week: “Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation (Amazon Prime and Hulu) — When word of a fifth “M:I” was announced, I thought “Really?” Sure, Brad Bird’s “Ghost Protocol” was the high point of the franchise for me, but did Tom Cruise really need to go to the well for a fifth time? As it turns out, “Rogue Nation” (directed by Christopher McQuarrie) is sparkling entertainment that blends the humor and panache of caper films of yore with cutting-edge stunts. Bring on No. 6.

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