Film Reviews: New Releases for Dec. 8 | Buzz Blog

Thursday, December 7, 2023

Film Reviews: New Releases for Dec. 8

The Boy and the Heron, Maestro, Eileen, Leave the World Behind

Posted By and on December 7, 2023, 8:38 AM

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click to enlarge The Boy and the Heron - GKIDS / STUDIO GHIBLI
  • GKids / Studio Ghibli
  • The Boy and the Heron
The Boy and the Heron ***
Full disclosure: Where the films of Hayao Miyazaki are concerned, I’ve generally admired them more than I’ve loved them, finding a mixture of delight in the design of his fantastical worlds and distance from the super-dense mythology that often accompanies them. Miyazaki’s return from ostensible retirement finds him returning to the World War II-era setting of 2013’s The Wind Rises, following a boy named Mahito (Soma Santoki) who loses his mother in a fire, then moves from Tokyo to the country with his father, where he finds himself searching for his missing stepmother (Yoshino Kimura) in a strange underworld. The opening sequence capturing the tumult surrounding the fire matches some of Miyazaki’s most urgent work, though he also demonstrates the patient pacing and appreciation for quiet that has always made his work so unique in feature animation. It also winds its way through plenty of strange narrative paths, including alternate-reality versions of people Mahito knows, adorably puffy creatures that apparently are pre-born human souls, impossibly intricate rules that Mahito is bound to break without knowing, and more. The design of all these elements is predictably impressive, making The Boy and the Heron consistently fascinating to watch. But how it all builds to an emotional resolution—and how much that resolution is tied to the specifics of post-war Japan—remains just elusive enough for it to feel more stylish than substantial to an outsider. Available Dec. 8 in theaters. (PG-13)

Eileen ***
Film adaptations of books have to exist on their own merits, but it’s kind of fascinating the extent to which this one succeeds so well through some of the key things it changes, and stumbles largely in the ways it’s completely faithful. Set circa 1964 in a coastal Massachusetts town, it follows a young woman named Eileen (Thomasin McKenzie), whose sad life of caring for her alcoholic ex-cop father (Shea Whigham) and working at the local juvenile prison gets an unexpected spark with the arrival of Rebecca (Anne Hathaway), the glamorous new prison psychologist. The script (by the book’s author Otessa Moshfegh and Luke Goebel) abandons the novel’s framing device of being told by Eileen from a 50-year remove, which forces Eileen’s growing excitement—and unexpected attraction to Rebecca—to be conveyed through McKenzie’s physical performance. She’s 100 percent up to the task, with director William Oldroyd framing shots so that McKenzie’s facial expression captures everything from despair to elation to homicidal stirrings. The filmmakers do, however, stick to a plot structure that takes an abrupt third-act turn—and the rush towards resolving that turn also hindered the book. Here, it allows for a stunningly good monologue by Marin Ireland, but an anti-climactic end to a psychological drama that’s less effective when it becomes a psychological thriller. Available Dec. 8 in theaters. (R)

Leave the World Behind **1/2
Writer/director Sam Esmail’s adaptation of Rumaan Alam’s novel is about a dramatic, possibly apocalyptic event—and for more than two hours, he’s not about to let you forget it. The events begin with a New York family—Clay (Ethan Hawke) and Amanda Sandford (Julia Roberts) and their two teenagers (Charlie Evans and Farrah Mackenzie)—renting a Long Island beach house for a weekend getaway. The timing of that trip, however, coincides with strange occurrences like the loss of cell phone service, followed by the arrival of the rental house’s owners, George (Mahershala Ali) and his daughter Ruth (Myha’la Herrold) in the middle of the night. The deeply disturbing source material offered a simmering spin on the vintage Twilight Zone episode “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street,” speculating on how little it might take for theoretically civilized people to turn on one another. Esmail, unfortunately, is determined to underline those ideas both verbally and aesthetically, directing this story within an inch of its life—turning the camera literally upside-down or spinning it around from a God’s-eye-view, panning through the floors of the house, etc.—while cranking up the dissonant piano chords of Mac Quayle’s score. The performances prove wildly uneven at capturing response to crisis, including a particularly unfortunate turn by Roberts as an alpha-Karen, blunting the ideas about who we become in a crisis because the filmmaker refuses to grant us a moment to think about it without shouting at us. Available Dec. 8 via Netflix. (R)

Maestro ****
See feature review. Available Dec. 8 in theaters; Dec. 22 via Netflix. (PG-13)
Scott Renshaw

Scott Renshaw

Scott Renshaw has been a City Weekly staff member since 1999, including assuming the role of primary film critic in 2001 and Arts & Entertainment Editor in 2003. Scott has covered the Sundance Film Festival for 25 years, and provided coverage of local arts including theater, pop-culture conventions, comedy, literature,... more

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