Mark Jenkins

The first half hour of The Final Year is as pointlessly hectic as one of those action movies that's all incidents and no plot. But gradually documentarian Greg Barker's look at Barack Obama's foreign policy team comes into focus, thanks in large part to the counterpoint played by the Trump campaign.

When you're in love, "you just feel good, like you're wrapped in a big coat," says a character in Lover for a Day. Yet there are no big-coat moments in veteran director Philippe Garrel's latest examination of French erotic discontent.

In the most hopeful story recounted by In the Land of Pomegranates, a mother takes her young son from the Gaza Strip to an Israeli hospital for repair of a potentially fatal heart blockage. But no other hearts are mended in Hava Kohav Beller's documentary, whose centerpiece is an encounter session between 20-something Israelis and Palestinians in Germany, the historically fraught land of the director's birth.

Poignant and complex if occasionally frustrating, Fatih Akin's In the Fade is the story of a marriage. Not a conventional one, as the director announces with a prologue in which white-suited Nuri (Numan Acar) struts through a lineup of wedding-day well-wishers to meet his much-tattooed bride, Katja (Diane Kruger). Nuri's pals are fellow inmates, and the ceremony is performed in a prison classroom.

Jared Moshe, the writer and director of The Ballad of Lefty Brown, is a fan of classic Westerns and he's made a movie that should please fellow aficionados. He offers one twist on the formula, but the plot, setting, and widescreen images are all as standard-issue as a Colt 45.

A murder mystery narrated by a toxically self-aware teenager, Sam Munson's 2010 novel The November Criminals is the kind of book that attracts smart filmmakers and serious actors — that then, all too often, gets diluted into a bland disappointment like November Criminals.

Arriving in supposedly liberal Europe, a refugee is hounded by the authorities but saved by a handful of scruffy outsiders. If the scenario of Aki Kaurismaki's The Other Side of Hope sounds familiar, that might be because it's essentially the same as the plot of its predecessor, 2011's Le Havre. The principal distinction is that the Finnish writer-director's latest comic melodrama is darker and more directly tied to current events.

In 1823, the publication of "A Visit from St. Nicholas" (aka "The Night Before Christmas") put into circulation holiday lore that retailers, advertisers, and other true believers have been rejiggering ever since. So it's a tad presumptuous to call Charles Dickens, whose A Christmas Carol was published 20 years later, The Man Who Invented Christmas.

'Wonder': Why?

Nov 16, 2017

Life is hard for the Pullmans, the affluent Brooklyn family at the heart of the watchable but underachieving Wonder — or at least that's what this semi-comic weepie sets out to demonstrate. Yet the Pullmans' troubles, which stem from their youngest member's medical condition, turn out to be as superficial as the boy's disability.

The protagonist of Thelma is immensely powerful. But does teenage Thelma (Eili Harboe) derive this mojo from her budding sexuality? Does the woman, just beginning college in Oslo, squeeze demonic juice from rejecting her parents' austere Christianity? Is the small-town naif's chandelier-shaking force a medical matter?

Or is Thelma just a fledgling filmmaker?

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