Deeply misguided “Churchill” puts the “wince” in “Winston”

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We’re awash in Churchills right now in pop culture. There’s John Lithgow scowling away on Netflix’s “The Crown,” and later this month Gary Oldman will pile on the prosthetics in “Darkest Hour.”

But if there’s an actor who seems most suited to play the gruff but charismatic bulldog, called the greatest Briton of the 20th century, it would be Brian Cox. And he wouldn’t even need much makeup or prosthetics, having arrived to the set pre-jowled.

So it’s baffling, almost angering, that the movie “Churchill” so completely wastes Cox’s performance as Churchill. Cox’s performance is just fine in the movie (out now on DVD from Cohen Media Group). But the movie itself is so incredibly misguided, so willfully ignorant of the history both as it was and as the audience perceives it to be. It fails as drama because it fails at history.

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Kristen Stewart haunts “Personal Shopper,” a very French ghost story

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In her last collaboration with director Oliver Assayas, “Clouds of Sils Maria,” Kristen Stewart’s character literally disappeared halfway through the movie.

While watching the pair’s next film, the haunting “Personal Shopper,” one half-expects her to vanish before our eyes in this movie, too.

“Personal Shopper” is a ghost story, elliptical and surprising, and it’s not always clear that Stewart isn’t the ghost. The film is out now in a new Blu-ray edition from the Criterion Collection.

Assayas says in an interview on the Criterion disc that he wanted to make a ghost story that was quintessentially French. That included the Paris setting, and references back to the 19th century, when Europeans would regularly hold seances and even craft crude portraits in which their deceased loved ones “appeared.” In “Personal Shopper,” the ghosts seem to be all around us.

Stewart plays Maureen Cartwright, an American living in Paris who works as a personal shopper to a wealthy celebrity philanthropist, Lara (Sigrid Bouaziz). Since Lara is too famous to go out in public, Maureen goes out and buys expensive clothes and jewelry for her. We hardly see Lara in the film, and she hardly sees Maureen, and each is an almost spectral presence in the life of the other.

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UW’s Hyphenated American Film Festival kicks off this weekend at Union South

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I’ve been a big fan of the Wisconsin Union Directorate’s Film Committee’s programming over the last few years — they seem to fill the Union South Marquee Theatre with just the right mix of recent hits that will bring in the students and indie films that people might have missed during their brief theatrical runs, or didn’t play in Madison at all.

One thing I’ve really liked is WUD Film’s commitment to use their fall and spring film festivals to target specific kinds of films, and subtly try to make a point with those festivals. Last spring, when there were plenty of articles about how so few female directors get the chance in Hollywood to get behind the camera, WUD responded with the Directress Film Festival, made up entirely of films made by women.

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