Capsule reviews for May 17

The English Teacher

Sharp performances can’t save this ill-conceived drama set in a contemporary high school that seems to exist on some faraway planet. The title character is Linda (Julianne Moore) a respected but socially awkward teacher who becomes a mentor to a former student (Michael Angarano) who returns home after a failed stint as a playwright in New York. So she enlists the help of a flamboyant drama teacher (Nathan Lane) to stage the promising writer’s work at the school. Various sitcom contrivances ensue in a film that doesn’t convince as either a relationship comedy or a coming-of-age story, not to mention its disdain for the artistic process. (Rated R, 93 minutes).

 

Frances Ha

There’s a level of audacity beneath the lightweight whimsy in this unassuming low-budget comedy from director Noah Baumbach (Greenberg), in which the title character (Greta Gerwig) is a Manhattan ballet dancer at a crossroads both in her career and her personal life. As she tries to find steady employment, her best friend (Mickey Sumner) finds stability that Frances lacks. Shot in black and white, the evocative film feels somewhat pretentious and self-absorbed, like its protagonist, before winning over viewers with a charming collection of eccentricities and authentic vignettes. Baumbach and Gerwig, who collaborated on the screenplay, convey a sense of playfulness while also turning modestly profound. (Rated R, 85 minutes).

 

Pieta

The latest from Korean filmmaker Kim Ki-duk (Bad Guy) is a twisted tale of reconciliation and revenge about a ruthless young loan shark (Lee Jeong-jin) who is visited by a mysterious woman (Jo Min-soo) claiming to be the mother who abandoned him as a small child. He reluctantly accepts her arrival as an opportunity to turn his life around, unaware of more sinister motives. Kim crafts a quietly powerful, character-driven morality tale that is less about the relationship between mother and son than it is about money and happiness. Even amid its abundance of melodrama and disturbing violence, the film’s emotional and spiritual complexities remain haunting. (Not rated, 103 minutes).

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