Review of reviews: Film
Directed by John Lee Hancock (PG-13)
Ray Kroc builds a fast-food empire.
The rise of McDonald’s is “a classic red-white-and-blue success story, in more ways than one,” said Richard Roeper in the Chicago Sun-Times. In 1954, Ray Kroc, a salesman pitching milkshake mixers, stops in at a San Bernardino, Calif., hamburger stand and there meets two brothers who have invented fast food but don’t realize their concept’s potential. It’s hard not to like Michael Keaton’s fast-talking huckster as he pushes the McDonald brothers to franchise. The “whip-smart, breezy, and yet also darkly funny” business tale that unfolds from there recalls 2010’s The Social Network. Kroc fleeces the McDonalds of their stake, and even of their name, all while convincing himself that he remains an underdog hero, said Alan Scherstuhl in The Village Voice. The Founder, after leading viewers to assume it will embrace that rags-to-riches story, “slowly reveals itself as a don’t-let-the-devil-in-yourhouse parable.” Alas, that mixed message proves “a tough sell,” said Joe Morgenstern in The Wall Street Journal. Though Keaton’s performance is “fascinating from beginning to end,” the movie ultimately “doesn’t know what to make of its subject.”
Directed by Maren Ade (R)
An eccentric dad pranks his adult daughter.
“There’s nothing quite like German filmmaker Maren Ade’s Toni Erdmann,” said Stephanie Zacharek in Time.com. On paper, this front-runner in the Oscar race for Best Foreign Film sounds simple: Winfried, a divorced, retired teacher who loves practical jokes, tries to reconnect with his estranged daughter, Ines. She’s an uptight corporate consultant, and when Winfried sees that his daughter’s job is making her miserable, he invents a goofy alter ego named Toni Erdmann, showing up at Ines’ office in a bad wig and worse fake teeth to tell outlandish stories. “To say Toni Erdmann is funny doesn’t even begin to capture the out-there texture of the jokes,” or of Peter Simonischek’s and Sandra Huller’s timing. The movie is likewise “bizarrely affecting,” said Emma Myers in TheDailyBeast.com. Ines is initially furious with her prankster father, but soon recognizes that her male-chauvinist colleagues cause her worse humiliations. As she warms to her dad’s antics, “every inch of space is packed with painful humor and overwhelming humanity.” The movie looks initially like farce, but it’s “driven by a savage satirical energy,” said A.O. Scott in The New York Times. “There are things you will look at differently after seeing Toni Erdmann.”
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan (PG-13)
A man with multiple personalities abducts three girls.
“M. Night Shyamalan’s latest surprise twist is his own career revival,” said Peter Hartlaub in the San Francisco Chronicle. The writer-director behind The Sixth Sense followed that 1999 megahit mostly with flop after flop, but this lowbudget horror- thriller extends an upswing and proves to be his best movie since 2000’s Unbreakable. Star James McAvoy (X-Men) anchors the film with one of his strongest performances, said Bryan Bishop in TheVerge.com. He abducts three teenage girls in the opening scene and locks them in a basement. His character, we learn, has dissociative identity disorder and harbors 23 distinct, recurring personalities, including a prattling 9-year-old, an aristocratic British woman, and a menacing germophobe. To escape him, the girls must understand and outsmart each of the villain’s personae. The “exquisitely crafted” cat-andmouse sequences that ensue “recall Hitchcock’s best work,” said Tirdad Derakhshani in The Philadelphia Inquirer. McAvoy is by turns “terrifying, grotesque, pitiful, lovable, brilliant, and happy,” and his moods drive the suspense. Though Shyamalan pulls away for some secondary scenes that fall flat, he has delivered “a remarkably weird and wonderful exercise in psychological terror.”