Reviews & More: Foreign & Domestic

“Foxtrot” (in limited release)

This Best Foreign Film Oscar finalist from Israel is a haunting puzzle piece that has the audience wondering what’s going on for much of it, only to have all of the parts put into place at the end. I was thoroughly engrossed from the start in this story of a middle class family whose lives are upended by a death in the family that isn’t quite what it seems. That’s all I will say about the plot, because to give more away would spoil the “Aha!” moment that is so richly deserved by an audience. It’s a brilliant film; my only reservation is that Samuel Moaz, “Foxtrot”’s writer/director, shows off his visual gifts a little too freely: tracking shots that linger too long, too many overhead camera angles, little unnecessary flourishes here and there. But those are minor flaws because the film’s effect is so powerful, its timeless themes so beautifully dramatized: War is hell and senseless but inevitable; love is what binds us together and rips us apart; life is a series of accidents—both awful and joyous—waiting to happen. Heavy stuff? Yes. But there is also humor and tenderness, complex characterizations that feel all too real. Kudos to the cast: Lior Ashkenazi, Sarah Adler, Yonathon Shiray. And the biggest kudos of all to Moaz for this important and moving film.

 

“Icarus” (streaming on Netflix)

Filmmaker Bryan Fogel had no idea when he began documenting his journey to dig deeply into sports doping what he would discover and uncover—shocking stuff to be sure. He had no idea, in fact, that the Oscar winning film itself would have such far-reaching consequences. What started out as a somewhat self-serving (he is an amateur cyclist with a strong competitive streak) investigation impacted multiple lives, changed sports as we know it… and yet did not change the way our world works when it comes to nationalism and winning, whatever the cost.

Fogel—his camera crew documenting it all—was able to contact someone who knew all about doping athletes without getting caught, namely a Russian whom he befriended and who becomes the film’s main focus, Grigor Rodchenkov. As the scientist running the state-of-the-art lab that supposedly made it impossible to cheat on drug tests, Rodchenkov is, when we first meet him, charming, relaxed, cynical and thoroughly comfortable with himself. His world works a certain way, and as long as he can steer clear of disfavor, he’s just fine. We then observe the subtle changes in him as he and Fogel become closer (via Skype, mostly), the investigation into doping becomes more and more widespread and closer to his part in it, as Putin and his henchmen become displeased and threatening. This is fascinating, scary stuff, not the least of which is the bald-faced lies told all around that are delivered as fact. “Icarus” is the perfect fable for our time, but whatever moral lesson we are supposed to learn from it doesn’t seem to exist.

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“Jessica Jones,” Season Two (streaming on Netflix)

It’s been a long wait, nearly two years, for season two of this intriguing series from Marvel—but well worth the wait if you’re a fan, which I most definitely am. Krysten Ritter is back as Jessica, a private investigator with a super power, a dark, difficult past and a dark, difficult personality. Not an easy person to like, Jessica is angry, witty and rude. Even so, we root for her. It doesn’t hurt that Ritter’s face is striking (the camera adores her), with eyes that reflect a soul-deep sadness. This season has terrific plot twists and surprises. The excellent supporting cast—Rachael Taylor, Eka Darville, and Carrie-Ann Moss—is back, as well as some new faces, among them the magnificent English actress Janet McTeer as a mysterious woman with severe anger issues, to say the least. I’m happy to be back in the world of “Jessica Jones.”

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