⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Rated: R for violence, language throughout and sexual content.
The late, incredibly great Philip Seymour Hoffman dazzles in one of his final performances. In “God’s Pocket,” he plays a small-time crook in a clannish, blue-collar urban neighborhood where everyone’s running some kind of scam. Based on Pete Dexter’s cynical comic novel, the plot is complicated to a degree that seems perverse. When Hoffman’s lunatic stepson is killed in a suspicious “accident” (he had it coming), he promises the grieving wife (Christina Hendricks) he’ll get to the bottom of things. Instead, the film wanders off into blackly funny vignettes involving a newspaper columnist (Richard Jenkins brilliantly channeling a small-time celebrity’s messiah complex), a grinning undertaker, shady butcher shops, the deceased’s endlessly mishandled cadaver and an old lady florist who is hardly the pushover she appears. The film, the feature writing and directorial debut of “Mad Men” actor John Slattery, is more about atmosphere and can’t-catch-a-break humor than story, in a way that feels right and fearless. The seedy locations are wonderfully glamour-less, and Slattery’s silky touch with his actors suggests serious talent. It may take a while for you to figure out it’s all a comedy. This is Irish gallows humor at its darkest. If that’s your cup of ink-black tea, as it is mine, it’s a rare treat.
⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Rated: PG for thematic elements, some language and brief smoking images.
The lavish costume drama stars Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay, the daughter of a Royal Navy admiral and an African slave, who was the first mixed-race woman to be raised as an English aristocrat. The film is hardly short on ideas about race, class and gender as Belle navigates her way through the hierarchy of George III’s England. Belle is too wealthy to wed below her station, yet too exotic to marry a man of social standing. To the heroine’s Jane Austen-like romantic issues, the film adds courtroom drama. Belle’s stern but kindly uncle (Tom Wilkinson), the nation’s lord chief justice, will decide a milestone slavery case. The production values are sumptuous, with outstanding, painterly cinematography. The performances, from a top cast including Matthew Goode, Miranda Richardson, Tom Felton and Emily Watson, are predictably flawless. The luminous Mbatha-Raw more than holds her own. Directed by Amma Asante with highly capable craftsmanship.
⋆⋆⋆½ out of four stars
Unrated: Adult themes, smoking, brief partial nudity. In English and subtitled Chinese and Tagalog.
Theater: St. Anthony Main.
This 2013 Singaporean family drama won the Camera d’Or at last year’s Cannes and a raft of honors at other international festivals. Good call. It’s the kind of poignant, funny, character-rich humanist fare we need more of. A self-involved middle-class family takes on a Filipina domestic servant just as they begin to feel the squeeze of a serious recession. Mom (Yeo Yann Yann) is a domineering presence at home but studiously low-profile at work, where she mostly types out termination forms for other employees. Dad (Chen Tianwen, an Asian John C. Reilly) is a middle-aged nobody whose tempered-glass product samples break as easily as his confidence. Their 10-year-old boy (Koh Jia Ler) is a holy terror inches from expulsion. The arrival of their docile but unswervingly honorable maid, Terry (Angeli Bayani), causes relationships to shift, face to be lost, bonds to form and character to be gained. The setting may be exotic, but director Anthony Chen makes the situations and personalities instantly relatable.