Sunday, February 26, 2017

Florence Foster Jenkins

A delusional New York socialite (Meryl Streep), a great patron of the musical arts with one of the most horrendous, glass shattering voices on the face of the planet, is able to secure singing gigs all the way up to Carnegie Hall thanks both to her status and charity but also to the doting of her loving, philandering husband (Hugh Grant). Florence Foster Jenkins is the kind of substanceless mush that lately seems to always secure Streep a nomination (even when she's nothing to write home about) and, maybe even the bigger headscratcher is director Stephen Frear's involvement, working way below his talent level. That being said, Grant is quite good in a touching, pointed performance and is the film's only saving grace.
** out of ****

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Life, Animated

The profile of a young autistic man who learned to cope with life's turmoils and ever changing emotions through Disney movies, which he obsessively consumes and knows verbatim. Life, Animated, one of this year's Academy Award nominees, is a poor excuse for a documentary: soppy, forced, borderline exploitative and, perhaps at its basest, a shameful Disney Ad.
* 1/2 out of ****

Friday, February 24, 2017

Enemies: A Love Story

At the close of the 1940s, an unnerved Jewish immigrant (Ron Silver) lives in Brooklyn with the simple-minded Polish girl (Margaret Sophie Stein) who hid him from the Germans during the war and carries on with a sensual fellow survivor (Lena Olin) across town when, out of the blue his thought dead wife (Anjelica Huston) resurfaces in his life. From a novel by Isaac Bashevis Singer, Paul Mazursky's Enemies: A Love Story is a cruel spirited and even unimaginative film with an inadequate Silver in the lead, although the women are exceptional.
** 1/2 out of ****

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Zulu

After being massacred by Zulu warriors at the Battle of Isandlwana, greatly undermanned British soldiers at Rorke's Drift in what is now South Africa prepare for another onslaught under a mixed feeling of emotions. Zulu is needlessly overlong with a muddled narrative but still contains some spectacular visuals and set pieces. Michael Caine and Nigel Green are standouts.
** 1/2 out of ****

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Best Years of Our Lives

An elder Army sergeant (Frederic March), a bombardier (Dana Andrews), and a sailor (Harold Russell, a real life veteran and Oscar winner for the role), who lost his hands in a bombing and now is fairly functional with metal hooks, return from their tour at war's end and find their families, jobs, and themselves almost unrecognizable as they struggle to cope with their return. William Wyler's The Best Years of Our Lives is overlong and at times mannered, but extremely touching and well realized with tremendous acting by all involved, also including Myrna Loy and Teresa Wright playing March's wife and daughter, respectively.
*** 1/2 out of ****.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

War Dogs

A young, struggling soon to be father (Miles Teller) reconnects with an arrogant, successful long lost childhood friend, learns he has been dealing weapons, and takes up the racket and become so successful they secure a multimillion deal with the U.S. government in the early days of the Afghan War. Todd Phillips's War Dogs is a lame Goodfellas knockoff and you'd be better off seeing Andrew Niccol's overlooked Lord of War, which this weak attempt at serious filmmaking also knocks off. Hill is amusing in bits and Teller further adds to the puzzlement as to why and how he is a movie star.
** out ****

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

The plot description bears nothing more than boy meets girl, boy gets drafted, boy loses girl forever. After seeing it cited so many times as an inspiration to the lacking, overpraised La La Land, I watched Jacques Demy's simplistic, entirely sung The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and wound up with the same insipid, uninspired, and totally forgettable feelings I had for its recent progeny and if not for Catherine Deneuve's timeless beauty and the film's radiant use of technicolor, Umbrellas would be a total wash.
** out of ****

Camelot

Lerner and Loewe's musical rendering of the Arthurian Legend features winning performances from Richard Harris (Arthur) and Vanessa Redgrave (Guenevere) amidst tacky production design with a pace that dies in the second act of a long affair.
*** out of ****

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Indignation

With the Korean War casting a pall, the astute son (Logan Lerman) of a Brooklyn kosher butcher begins his freshman term at an Ohio Christian college, struggles with his obnoxious roommates and the chapel requirement, dates a beautiful, forward, and troubled WASP girl (Sarah Gadon), and locks horns with the dean (Tracy Letts). James Schamus's Indignation is a literate and cinema worthy adaptation of Philip Roth's novel, with Lerman and Letts contributing fine performances especially in an extended, heated back and forth.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Mishima: A Life In Four Chapters

As celebrated Japanese author Yukio Mishima (Ken Ogata) summons his own private army to meet one of the Emperor's Generals, take him hostage, and address the crowds before committing suppuku, we are shown flashbacks of his early life with the aid of three dramatizations of his own stories for insight. Paul Schrader's Mishima, which he wrote with his brother Leonard and his wife Chieko, is a bizarre, completely unique biopic with an unforgettable central performance by Ogata.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Unsinkable Molly Brown

A spunky hayseed (Debbie Reynolds) leaves her adopted backwoods home (from which she was rescued after found floating down the Colorado River as a toddler after a flood) with the determination of marrying rich and does so when she stumbles across a soon to strike it rich gold prospector (Harve Presnell). Rejected by Denver high society, she finds acceptance in Europe before famously playing the part of heroine while commanding her lifeboat to retreat in search of survivors after the sinking of the Titanic. Based on a popular stage musical, The Unsinkable Molly Brown is an irritating piece of hokum and inferior to similar musicals of the period. Reynolds has her moments although the dance sequences along with Presnell (who seems otherwise ill-suited to the big screen) are worth the price of admission.
** out of ****

Friday, February 17, 2017

Gallipoli

Two young Aussie runners (Mark Lee and Mel Gibson) befriend each other at a race, enlist in Her Majesty's Army as the Great War rages, and carouse in Cairo before being sent to the deadly eponymous Turkish battle where so many of their countrymen needlessly lost their lives due to arrogance and shortsightedness. It is surprising how little of Peter Weir's Gallipoli is dedicated to battle and just how non urgent it feels for a war movie and is closer to a slice of life picture with wonderful period detail and made with the director's sure hand and his usual muted color palette. The final shot is enduring and an excellent touch.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Sansho the Bailiff

Journeying to reunite with their noble patriarch, a lord exiled for many years for an unpopular decision that would have benefited his subjects, a mother is duped, captured, separated from her son and daughter, sold as a slave to a brothel while her children are beholden to the sadistic warden of the title while they dream of rejoining. Kenji Mizoguchi Sansho the Bailiff, from a short story by Mori Ogai, is a mournful dirge shot in stark, spectacular cinematography.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Weiner

Just when Anthony Weiner appears to have weathered the storm of his 2011 "twitter bulge" scandal and looks promising in the NYC Democratic Mayoral Primaries, more salacious online allegations surface in the middle of his campaign as another media circus begins to foment. Made with incredible access and footage, Weiner is an often very funny political profile that curiously has a lot more to say about our judgmental culture and hypocritical media than its impulsive, foolhardy focus.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Innocents

In the immediate aftermath of WW2 in a decimated rural Polish area, a young French female doctor working for the Red Cross is surreptitiously summoned to a local convent to treat several impregnated Benedictine nuns, victims of rape at the hands of conquering Russian troops. Anne Fontaine's solemn and dirge-like The Innocents is pristinely filmed but, especially for its material, is surprisingly almost entirely dramatically inert.
** 1/2 out of ****

Louder Than Bombs

When an impending New York Times piece threatens to expose the truth about a renowned photographer's (Isabelle Huppert) death, her widower (Gabriel Byrne) wrestles with how to relate it to their introverted, sullen son while not realizing how his outwardly composed older child (Jesse Eisenberg) may be hurting. Joachim Trier's Louder Than Bombs is dull and talky with a muddled screenplay more pretentious than profound, the latter which it so strainingly strives for.
** out of ****

El Topo

A man in black (Alejandro Jodorowsky) travels on horseback with his unclothed son across a decadent, psychadelic Western desert landscape encountering all sorts of variant, distorted people and places. Jodorowsky's El Topo is wildly bizarre, pointless, and surprisingly not all that fun for what is one of the original midnight movie phenomenons.
** out of ****

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

American Honey

Attracted to the outward leader (Shia LeBeouf) of a travelling Midwest magazine selling crew, a young Oklahoman (Sasha Lane) opts to ditch her life of poverty (and hinted at probable abuse) and join the wild band of tattooed, carefree, merrymaking outcasts aboard the sales bus. Though way longer than it needs to be, Andrea Arnold's American Honey is unorthodox and freewheeling, with memorable sequences, an amusing soundtrack, and fine performances from Lane and LaBeouf.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Alice

A bored Manhattan socialite (Mia Farrow), married to a disinterested philanderer (William Hurt), finds herself considering an affair with the attract parent (Joe Mantegna) of one of child's schoolmates, and does so with the assistance of an Eastern healer who also acts as a life guide of sorts. Woody Allen's Alice is imaginative, funny, scrutinizing and brought to life by a sound cast with farrow leading the way while demonstrating her versatility.
*** 1/2 out of ****

The Missouri Breaks

The leader of a gang of horse thieves (Jack Nicholson) and a mercenary (Marlon Brando) contracted by a Montana rancher are destined for a showdown following the calculated murder of one of the rustlers. Arthur Penn's much maligned Western is awkward and offbeat with lively, unsung performances from Brando and especially Nicholson.
***

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Wiener-Dog

After almost being inadvertently sent to an early grave by his wide-eyed juvenile owner, an insensible daschund passes through the hands of a lonely, sweet natured vet tech (Greta Gerwig), a hack screenwriter and film school professor (Danny DeVito), and a caustic elderly woman (Ellen Burstyn). Wiener-Dog features a typical Todd Solondz screenplay, residing somewhere between blackly humorous and just wrong, telling another distinct and accurately feeling suburban story that is found nowhere else in cinema I can think of. Much of the film's merit can be found in each individual story but not necessarily as a cohesive whole and it is odd that Solondz seems to be following the Au Hasard Balthazar blueprint, but generates almost no empathy for his star. Burstyn is wonderful in the final segment.
*** out of ****

'Breaker' Morant

Three Aussie soldiers fighting the Boer War for the Queen's Army are expected to be offered as a peace sacrifice during a rigged military tribunal for their role the massacre of an enemy unit, that is until they are given an impassioned defense by their tenacious attorney. Bruce Beresford's powerful and intelligent 'Breaker' Morant, named after one of the eloquent laureate defendants, soars due in large part to its brilliant editing and, when considering the material, is right on par with Paths of Glory. Jack Thompson is excellent as the defense attorney.
**** out of ****

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Executioner's Song

The Gary Gilmore story: a recently released ex-con (Tommy Lee Jones), who has spent more than half his life in prison mostly on robbery charges, is driven to murder when his significantly younger girlfriend (Rosanna Arquette) leaves him. Looking at an interminable stay on death row at a time when the country hadn't seen an execution in over a decade, he decides to fight for his right to die. Directed for television by Larry Schiller, who also figures prominently into and provided most of the material for Norman Mailer's expansive book on which the film is based, The Executioner's Song is hurt by its low budget, with key pieces missing, but the core is intact and young couldn't ask for a better performance from TLJ.
*** out ****

Werckmeister Harmonies

A philosophizing postman (Janos Valuska) is stirred, along with the rest of the members of his Eastern European village, by the arrival of the circus (with an extended panel truck hauling a whale as its centerpiece) and a nihilistic prophet. Bela Tarr's challenging but rewarding Werckmeister Harmonies generates scenes of wonder with great camerawork and a sparing using of Mihaly Vig's profound score (the opening is worth the price of admission alone) and is interspersed with other protracted, dull sequences.  Valuska is expressive and just right for the role.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Mission

After the martyrdom of one of their own, a Jesuit priest (Jeremy Irons) is sent to the Amazon jungle to bring Christ to the indigenous people and, after converting a stern mercenary (Robert De Niro), finds himself engaging against the Portuguese who have come to exploit the land and cast its people into servitude. Roland Joffe's The Mission contains beautiful cinematography, breathtaking even with great performances from Irons and De Niro and a literate screenplay that doesn't know where to take its story and winds up being muddled and confused.
** 1/2 out of ****