‘Middle of Nowhere’
With “Selma,” director Ava DuVernay went from relative obscurity to the forefront of the movement to bring diversity to Hollywood. But it was far from her debut. In fact the reason she got the “Selma” gig was due in part to “Middle of Nowhere,” her second feature, and, like her debut “I Will Follow,” a very different and tinier drama. Emayatzy Corinealdi, soon for Don Cheadle’s Miles Davis movie “Miles Ahead,” plays a young woman with a husband doing eight years in prison. She’s supportive, and yet she still winds up falling for another man anyway. He’s played by David Oyelowo, who went on to recommend DuVernay for the “Selma” job, though the film’s real stars are the director and the cinematographer, Bradford Young. “Middle of pull things back into focus.
Young, who followed DuVernay to “Selma,” lights scenes as dimly as he can, and both of them like to place the actors in unlikely places in the frames. The script itself never gets too pat; it even has a genuinely impossible dilemma, with both of our hero’s love objects worthy of sympathy. One can see the cool-headedness she would later bring to “Selma,” though “Middle of Nowhere” is far more than a mere sign of things to come.
‘The Blue Room’
Mathieu Amalric is known as an actor, and a terrific one, but he’s also a terrific director himself. He even, with “On Tour,” won the director trophy at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival. His latest stint behind (as well as in front) of the camera is a succinct and precise adaptation of a succinct and precise novel by Georges Simenon, France’s leading classic pulpist, albeit one that takes a more abstract approach to your standard tale of sex and murder. Indeed, plot details are doled out piecemeal over its first 45 (of only 75) minutes, and have something to do with a cheating husband (Amalric), his mistress (Stephanie Cleau, Amalric’s IRL boo) and a mystery dead body.
Every shot and cut has been lovingly selected and doted over, like pieces in an elaborate puzzle, but it’s about more than exactitude. What Amalric is exploring is the disconnect between intention and action, with characters who do things on a whim finding it difficult to explain it to others — in its characters’ cases, a court of law. Some viewers don’t approve of the film’s third act, which gives way to a lengthy courtroom battle, but it makes sense with what it’s doing. In a way, this film is perfect.
Laika is the new animation house you should be paying attention to, specializing in eccentric, mordant and only modestly expensive stop-motion films like “Coraline” and “ParaNorman.” Their latest is a whimsically dank tale of gross, green, chummy trolls at seized upon by a picturesque, hilly town, who’ve been taught to irrationally fear them. It’s delightful of course, no less because of the sing-songy vocal stylings of Ben Kingsley, as the lactose-intolerant yet cheese-loving baddie, proving again that few serious thespians are as good at this particular kind of “slumming.”