There are three things you don’t discuss at a dinner table: politics, religion, and your unending suffering at the hands of those two beasts. Andrei Zvyagintsev’s Leviathan manages to bring all three of those into a modern retelling of Job by way of Thomas Hobbes. Taking influence from such classic texts puts Zvyagintsev in the realm of other Russian storytellers known for grand-scale ambitions: Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Tarkovsky. Luckily, his cultural inheritance is well-utilized — the title implying a mammoth tale from a political beast encapsulates a present-day Russia dominated by systems out of its citizens’ control.
Alice Rohrwacher’s The Wonders often sets itself up as if a rural Italian Little Miss Sunshine. A dysfunctional beekeeping family live under the patriarchal reign of Wolfgang (Sam Louwyck), fully contained in a proud rural lifestyle without doors, privacy, or privilege. Rohrwacher takes a standard fish-out-of-water comedy , throwing in a few moments of beauty and absurd humor, but ultimately falls short of anything other than an updated but familiar tale of adolescence.
Atom Egoyan’s The Captive pits Ryan Reynolds as a blue collar vigilante in an investigatory drama of pedophiles and police-work. However, while its central themes seem reminiscent of the recent Prisoners, its execution is regrettably drawn from cartoons, Lifetime schlock, and the worst traits of primetime detective shows. Following an increasing number of recent failings for the Canadian director, The Captive sets itself up for a return to the form of his heartfelt mid-90s melodrama The Sweet Hereafter, but thanks to the exacerbated direction and faux-camp spirit, it evokes hardly any reaction other than groans and pity-guffaws.
Timothy Spall depicts the revered J.M.W. Turner as a bumbling, grumbling, disgusting genius in Mike Leigh’s new historical biopic Mr. Turner. With Dickensian villainy spewing through his constant frown and spells of decided grunts, it may appear as if the legendary Turner is appalling and hard to relate to. In fact, many of his behaviors show a solid dedication to his art (and a disconnect to the world at large) as he visits a brothel for curvy female subjects and surveys the docks for his consistent stream of maritime landscapes. Yet Leigh equips Spall with an amiable humor, enough so to make him a creative curiosity. Our attention to his peculiar faults and eccentricities are needed as the figure is used to describe the role of art, how we see it, and how we may fall in love with it.