Ella Taylor

What is left to say about the spectacular rise and agonizing fall of Whitney Houston, whose drug-fueled decline played out in such full public view that it's hard to imagine any biopic rising above tabloid cliché? Give or take a few new tidbits about the pop superstar's childhood scars and fluid sexuality, Scottish director Kevin Macdonald's absorbing documentary Whitney doesn't break with the sad blueprint that frames rock docs by the handful.

Now in his grizzled late fifties, Bobby Shafran is an affable, ordinary fellow whose life ran away from him back in 1980, when the nineteen-year-old freshman drove his beat-up Volvo to enter community college in upstate New York. He was puzzled at being effusively greeted by fellow students who called him Eddy. It quickly transpired that he was a dead ringer for another student at the college named Eddy Galland, who turned out to be the twin Bobby never knew he had. The discovery got into the local press, and soon a third lookalike, David Kellman, turned up.

In July 2009 Gabriel Buchmann, a Brazilian student researching poverty in Africa, disappeared while on the last leg of a year-long backpacking trip through the continent. Gabriel and the Mountain, a docudrama made by his friend Fellipe Barbosa, lets us know right off the bat that Gabriel's body was found by local villagers in Malawi nineteen days after he'd vanished.

I expect you'll be wanting to know whether Mr. Rogers was really like that in life. According to Won't You Be My Neighbor? Morgan Neville's loving portrait of the much-beloved champion of slow television for children, the answer is yes, but it's complicated. Which is just what you want from a tender tribute that's anything but a hagiography of the ordained Presbyterian minister who took the pie-in-the-face out of TV-for-tots.

Deep into Rodin, Jacques Doillon's quietly satisfying portrait of the famed French sculptor, a group of stuffy sponsors circles Auguste Rodin's almost completed statue of France's beloved novelist Honore de Balzac. Rodin (Vincent Lindon) has given the writer an enormous gut (he used a pregnant young woman and a draft horse rider as models for the belly), which the artist made capacious enough to house, in his imagination, the teeming characters who peopled the 19th-century writer's stories. And, perhaps, his appetites.

Michael Mayer's The Seagull, a fluid and faithful reading of the endlessly remounted stage play by Anton Chekhov, opens and closes with what looks like the same scene. The curtain has just gone down on a final act, and we hear clapping as the camera moves in to focus on leading lady Irina (Annette Bening, in superb command as always), flushed and beaming under the adulation she plainly can't get enough of. Until, that is, someone whispers troubling news in Irina's ear and rushes her away to — where else?

When it comes to undercutting her glam loveliness for the sake of a meaty role, Charlize Theron is the champ of champs. Meaty's the word: Having packed on the pounds and several tons of vicious attitude to play serial killer Aileen Wuornos in 2003's Monster and shed a (virtual) limb or two for 2015's Mad Max: Fury Road, Theron comes to us in Jason Reitman's Tully lugging a baby bump so massive, you can barely see her bringing up the fleshy rear.

Let the Sunshine In is the poorly translated title (more on that later) of the new film by French director Claire Denis. It opens with a scene that has launched many a tale of female romantic travail.

Early in the Swedish-made sports movie Borg vs. McEnroe, Bjorn Borg (Sverrir Gudnason) ducks into a Monaco bar to escape a pack of screaming girls after practicing for an especially tricky upcoming Wimbledon championship. The tennis star is without his wallet, so he helps out schlepping boxes in return for a free espresso and tries to convince the bartender that he's an electrician by trade. The barkeep doesn't buy it, and really, who would when confronted with those chiseled facial bones, maximally toned leg muscles, and blond curls improbably squashed under a baseball cap?

The Scottish director Lynne Ramsay has a rapturous way with a camera that has served her beautifully in a small but impressive resume of intense films that skew to the dark side of blighted psyches. In works like Gasman, her moody 1998 short about a little girl who discovers by chance that she has a sister, and Ratcatcher (also 1998), about life on Glasgow's grimy underside, Ramsay has been the best of the handful of women working in noir terrain.

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