Pick of the week: “Interstellar” (Amazon Prime) — My full review is here. Christopher Nolan’s latest film comes so close to greatness and just can’t quite grab it. The first third of the film is a plausibly realized version of a dystopian Earth, with humans just getting by as the planet seems to be shutting down all around us. It’s when a mission to save the planet takes flight that the film finds its most breathtaking outer-space visuals, but also its most misbegotten ideas, and the attempt to build an emotional father-daughter through line never quite materializes. Still, it’s a terrific attempt.
“Phoenix” (Netflix) — My full review is here. Christian Petzold’s film riffs on “Vertigo” to tell a heartbreaking and layered story of identity and betrayal, as a Jewish women disfigured in the camps returns to a destroyed Berlin after World War II. She attempts to resume her life where she left it, but her husband doesn’t recognize her, and enlists her in a plot to “impersonate” herself so he can get her inheritance. Nina Hoss is mesmerizing as the wife, who finally reclaims her sense of self in one of the best movie endings of 2015.
“Cutie and the Boxer” (Amazon Prime) — My full review is here. Initially, the eye is drawn in this documentary to Ushio Shinohara, an 80-year-old artist who makes brash art, including abstract paintings where he pummels the canvas with boxing gloves. But then we’re pulled towards his wife, Noriko, who often lived in the shadow of her husband’s art (and alcoholism). The film ends up being about their marriage, and Noriko quietly but firmly establishing her own identity as a partner and an artist.
“Rob the Mob” (Netflix) — My full review is here. Michael Pitt and Nina Arianda play a pair of charming lunkhead thieves who find success robbing mobsters at their private clubs — which are gun-free zones. Directed by Raymond De Fellitta (“City Island”), “Rob the Mob” is an ingratiating comedy-drama that loves its Bonnie-and-Clyde characters, and even feels some affection for the goombahs they rob, especially Andy Garcia as a ruthless but grandfatherly mob boss.
“Hoffa” (Netflix) — Speaking of the Mob, Danny DeVito made a gritty epic in the early 1990s about the Teamster boss, with Jack Nicholson (wearing prosthetics that make him look like Bert after Ernie stole his nose) effective as the fearsome union kingpin.