KTEP - El Paso, Texas

Ella Taylor


When Cameron Post, a Montana teenager with bee-stung lips and an air of quiet intransigence, is caught smoking weed and making out with a girlfriend on prom night, her evangelical guardians pack her off to God's Promise, a gay conversion therapy center whose inmates — no other word for it — are required to make and regularly revise drawings of the sinful roots of their sexual identities. At God's Promise the word homosexuality makes the authorities jumpy, and even the gingerly label "same-sex attraction" signals the downhill road to moral rot.

Which is worse, corruption you can see or corruption you can't? In Dark Money, a documentary about invisible corporate shenanigans in her home state of Montana, director Kimberly Reed makes the incisive case that the latter threatens to sink our democracy outright.

What is left to say about the spectacular rise and agonizing fall of Whitney Houston, whose drug-fueled decline played out in such full public view that it's hard to imagine any biopic rising above tabloid cliché? Give or take a few new tidbits about the pop superstar's childhood scars and fluid sexuality, Scottish director Kevin Macdonald's absorbing documentary Whitney doesn't break with the sad blueprint that frames rock docs by the handful.

Now in his grizzled late fifties, Bobby Shafran is an affable, ordinary fellow whose life ran away from him back in 1980, when the nineteen-year-old freshman drove his beat-up Volvo to enter community college in upstate New York. He was puzzled at being effusively greeted by fellow students who called him Eddy. It quickly transpired that he was a dead ringer for another student at the college named Eddy Galland, who turned out to be the twin Bobby never knew he had. The discovery got into the local press, and soon a third lookalike, David Kellman, turned up.

In July 2009 Gabriel Buchmann, a Brazilian student researching poverty in Africa, disappeared while on the last leg of a year-long backpacking trip through the continent. Gabriel and the Mountain, a docudrama made by his friend Fellipe Barbosa, lets us know right off the bat that Gabriel's body was found by local villagers in Malawi nineteen days after he'd vanished.

I expect you'll be wanting to know whether Mr. Rogers was really like that in life. According to Won't You Be My Neighbor? Morgan Neville's loving portrait of the much-beloved champion of slow television for children, the answer is yes, but it's complicated. Which is just what you want from a tender tribute that's anything but a hagiography of the ordained Presbyterian minister who took the pie-in-the-face out of TV-for-tots.

Deep into Rodin, Jacques Doillon's quietly satisfying portrait of the famed French sculptor, a group of stuffy sponsors circles Auguste Rodin's almost completed statue of France's beloved novelist Honore de Balzac. Rodin (Vincent Lindon) has given the writer an enormous gut (he used a pregnant young woman and a draft horse rider as models for the belly), which the artist made capacious enough to house, in his imagination, the teeming characters who peopled the 19th-century writer's stories. And, perhaps, his appetites.

Michael Mayer's The Seagull, a fluid and faithful reading of the endlessly remounted stage play by Anton Chekhov, opens and closes with what looks like the same scene. The curtain has just gone down on a final act, and we hear clapping as the camera moves in to focus on leading lady Irina (Annette Bening, in superb command as always), flushed and beaming under the adulation she plainly can't get enough of. Until, that is, someone whispers troubling news in Irina's ear and rushes her away to — where else?

When it comes to undercutting her glam loveliness for the sake of a meaty role, Charlize Theron is the champ of champs. Meaty's the word: Having packed on the pounds and several tons of vicious attitude to play serial killer Aileen Wuornos in 2003's Monster and shed a (virtual) limb or two for 2015's Mad Max: Fury Road, Theron comes to us in Jason Reitman's Tully lugging a baby bump so massive, you can barely see her bringing up the fleshy rear.

Let the Sunshine In is the poorly translated title (more on that later) of the new film by French director Claire Denis. It opens with a scene that has launched many a tale of female romantic travail.

Early in the Swedish-made sports movie Borg vs. McEnroe, Bjorn Borg (Sverrir Gudnason) ducks into a Monaco bar to escape a pack of screaming girls after practicing for an especially tricky upcoming Wimbledon championship. The tennis star is without his wallet, so he helps out schlepping boxes in return for a free espresso and tries to convince the bartender that he's an electrician by trade. The barkeep doesn't buy it, and really, who would when confronted with those chiseled facial bones, maximally toned leg muscles, and blond curls improbably squashed under a baseball cap?

The Scottish director Lynne Ramsay has a rapturous way with a camera that has served her beautifully in a small but impressive resume of intense films that skew to the dark side of blighted psyches. In works like Gasman, her moody 1998 short about a little girl who discovers by chance that she has a sister, and Ratcatcher (also 1998), about life on Glasgow's grimy underside, Ramsay has been the best of the handful of women working in noir terrain.

Keep an open mind going into a film by Arnaud Desplechin, and if you can stand the abundance of enigma and apparent disorder you're likely to come out with an opened mind and a filled heart.

Nobody shuts up for a nanosecond in The Death of Stalin, a wickedly gabby black comedy about the noxious power vacuum that followed the Soviet dictator's sudden collapse from a stroke in 1953. We've come to expect untamed banter from director Armando Iannucci, creator of In the Loop and Veep, who, with his frequent collaborators David Schneider, Ian Martin and Peter Fellows, adapted The Death of Stalin from two French graphic novels by Fabian Nury and Thierry Robin.

Among his other abundant talents, Stanley Tucci gives great smirk.

British filmmaker Sally Potter, a bold adventurer with form and genre, has racked up a formidable resume of hits and some misses, among them the gorgeous historical gender-bender Orlando (1992); the sexy dance movie The Tango Lesson (1996); The Man Who Cried (2001), a tone-deaf Holocaust misfire; and the terrific Ginger and Rosa (2012), which explored the tricky friction between ideology and private behavior on the lefty margins of 1960's London, where Potter came of age.

As is often the case, this year's crop of Academy Award-nominated live action shorts — several of them made as newbie filmmakers' calling cards — make up in earnest humanity for what they lack in technical sophistication. One way or another, all of this year's nominees turn on themes of terror — that's if you count the lone comedy, which speaks to the fear, fantasy, or wishful thought that psychiatrists may be crazier than their patients. Here they are, ranked from best ... to best-intentioned.

My Nephew Emmett

In 2012 Ben Lewin made The Sessions, an irreverent and perceptive fact-based dramedy with John Hawkes as a horny, lovelorn polio survivor in an iron lung, and Helen Hunt as his sex surrogate. Lewin, too, had polio as a child, which may account for his nuanced ability to picture the disabled as, you know, people who happen to be carrying an extra load.

Based on a YA novel by Heidi McLaughlin, the endearingly old-fangled Forever My Girl is basically a stretched-out country music song with eye-catching Southern visuals and a familiar loop of lovelorn sorrow topped with uplift you can see coming from scene one.

In Between, a bold, brassy and beautiful first feature about living while Arab and female in Israel, was made by a young Palestinian woman with Israeli funding. But that is not what earned writer-director Maysaloun Hamoud a fatwa from her own people.

In case you're wondering whether the last-minute dropping of Kevin Spacey ruined Ridley Scott's movie about the 1973 kidnapping of billionaire J. Paul Getty's grandson, I can testify that there's barely a technical seam showing in All the Money in the World. Scott is a master craftsman who re-shot Spacey's scenes in nine days without turning a hair.

What is known for sure about American military scientist Frank Olson is that on November 28, 1953, the bacteriologist and father of three plunged to his death from the 13th floor of the Statler hotel in New York City, not long after he was secretly drugged with LSD on the orders of his CIA superior. Whether Olson was pushed, or jumped, or was nudged into committing suicide remains unclear.

In the family drama The Tribes of Palos Verdes, in theaters this week, the warmly maternal actress Jennifer Garner plays a mother from hell. Not that her Sandy Mason is one of those ubiquitous gorgons who have eaten friends and family for dinner since movie time began, from Bette Davis's coldly bullying mater in 1942's Now, Voyager through the ice- queens in two incarnations of The Manchurian Candidate (1962 and 2004), all the way to (coming December 8th!) a wickedly funny and scary Allison Janney as Tonya Harding's monster mom in I, Tonya.

A guy walks into an Alaska bar at night. The bar is called Chums, and his two pals are deep in heated discussion about an upcoming election and the fabulous age of business dominance to come in its wake. The dialogue is not played for winks at the audience, and Sweet Virginia is not, now or later, one of those jokey neo-noirs that keeps poking the genre in the ribs. Next thing you know, a stranger — young, good-looking, intense — comes in demanding the Early Bird Special.

"Can we please stop with the remakes of Murder on the Orient Express?" I ask upon exiting Kenneth Branagh's fatally tepid new reading of the Agatha Christie classic.

Having cut an audacious path through any number of film genres, from Dazed and Confused to the animated Waking Life, the wonderfully gabby Before Sunrise/Before Sunset/Before Midnight trio all the way to his acclaimed Boyhood, Richard Linklater lands another smart one with Last Flag Flying.

When God's Own Country, a superb feature debut from British writer-director Francis Lee about a love affair between two male farmhands, drew wide acclaim at film festivals, it spawned comparisons with Brokeback Mountain. They're understandable but misleading, and not only because the time and place are different. God's Own Country is set in the West Yorkshire wilds where Lee grew up and still lives, and where sex is organic to the everyday flow of lives surrounded by animal activity.

In a scene of startling beauty in Ai Weiwei's Human Flow, a group of refugees huddles together, with light bouncing off golden insulation blankets handed out by workers to warm them up as they arrive off a boat in Europe. Ai's work is often meant to provoke, but the shot isn't meant to plunder suffering for art's sake. It's a moment of noticing, in a gorgeous-looking documentary that never spares us the ugly, unspeakable miseries of forced migration.

Una, an intelligently talky, properly claustrophobic chamber piece directed by Benedict Andrews and adapted by Scottish playwright David Harrower from his 2005 stage play Blackbird, revisits a middle-aged man's past sexual abuse of a precocious adolescent when the victim confronts him many years later. In form and subject, if not in tone, the film recalls David Mamet's 1994 Oleanna, a stridently partisan polemic adapted from Mamet's play about a college professor's alleged sexual assault of a female graduate student.

Victoria & Abdul is not the first movie to show the Queen of England cavorting with the help. And you don't have to be a cynic to read Stephen Frears' new film as a brazen attempt to piggyback on the runaway success of 1997's Mrs. Brown.

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