Friday, January 20, 2017

Zootopia

In a metropolis overflowing with personified animals, an overachieving, small-town bunny aims to be the first hare on the city's police and finds adversity at every turn. Soon, she finds herself teaming with a conniving and equally ostracized fox in a case that has greater and more shadowy implications. I'm not really sure why the praise for this has been elevated compared to any of the other cookie cutter talking animalized CGI animated flicks of the last couple decades. Pretty run of the mill and geared exclusively to kids with a simplistic liberal message. Idris Elba shines in another animated voice performance.
** out of ****

My Fair Lady

On his way home from the opera, pompous linguistics professor Henry Henry (Rex Harrison) happens upon uncultivated, cockneyed, and uncouth flower girl Eliza Doolittle (Audrey Hepburn) and wages his assistant that he can transform her into a passable member of the upper class. From George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion, which drew on the Greek myth, George Cukor's My Fair Lady is an entertaining, insightful take on the battle of the sexes/classes with sleek production values, memorable and sophisticated Lerner and Loewe songs, and only a few lulls. Harrison is brilliant in an Oscar winning role and Hepburn is absolutely lovely (or loverly as you would have it) and makes her transformation almost believable.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Pride and Prejudice

Popular miniseries, and one of the countless adaptations of the Jane Austen novel, is very well done, acted, mounted, etc. but doesn't do enough to elevate itself above TV period dramas. Or maybe it is the epitome of highbrow TV. But when the story was done so well in much abbreviated form with Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier prior and Keira Knightley after, its sheer length begs the question of necessity. Still, its hard to imagine a better cast Elizabeth than Jennifer Ehle (an American nonetheless) and Firth is very brooding but quite good also as Mr. Darcy.
*** out of ****

American Gigolo

A vapid, worldly Beverly Hills male escort (Richard Gere) finds his ordered empty, life spiraling out of control when he forsakes his current madam in favor of freelancing and takes a job from his former pimp where his wealthy client winds up dead and himself unable to secure an alibi. Now, his only hope for redemption may lie with a beautiful politician's wife (and client) (Lauren Hutton) who seems to show genuine feelings of love and affection. Paul Schrader's American Gigolo offers a fairly tasteful presentation of its seedy material and is surprisingly well made and plotted (with obvious thriller elements) with polished direction and even strangely affecting on a certain level. Gere's performance is flat though occasionally effective and believable much of the time. The plot and especially the extremely well handled finale owe a lot to Bresson's Pickpocket.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Forbidden Games

Following their evacuation from the city, a young French girl's parents are mowed down on a country road during a German air raid. Taken in by a family of peasants, she befriends their slightly older son as the two begin to purloin religious objects in order to build a pet cemetery. Rene Clement's Forbidden Games is a distinctly filmed, darkly humored children's movie with the constant threat of war looming in the shadows and the theme of childhood innocence lost conveyed heavy handedly. The young actors are excellent.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Wheel of Time

Werner Herzog documents the annual Buddhist pilgrimage of thousands to Bhod Gaya, India, a place  where the Buddha is thought to have earned enlightenment, and where the Dalai Llama addresses the faithful and symbolically distributes the minutely constructed colored sand object of the title to the wind. Herzog does an excellent jobs documenting the voyage but things really start to drag after the destination is reached. Also, an interview between the filmmaker and the Llama seems really poorly thought out and only adds the tedium of the concluding half of the documentary.
*** out of ****

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Atlantic City

An aged mob underling (Burt Lancaster), who makes his living waiting hand and foot on his old boss's widow, is sprung back to life when he attempts to unload some stolen cocaine and serve as protector to the recently bumped off thief's card-dealing wife (Susan Sarandon). Louis Malle's Atlantic City is a brilliantly realized, European-minded character study with Lancaster perfectly suited to play the sweet, vain loser and Sarandon is just as great as one of many of the city's itinerants trying to buy a ticket out but beset on every side.
**** out of ****

Monday, January 16, 2017

Crumb

As he prepares for a move to France, misanthropic cartoonist R. Crumb, best known for Fritz the Cat or the Keep on Truckin' caricatures, meets with fans and publishers, listens to records and sketches, and introduces us to his strange, intelligent, and disturbed family. Terry Zwigoff's documentary profile is a revealing, fascinating, in-depth portrait on the talented, creepy artist and his troubled family that looks inward and outward at its subject and makes wonderful use of Crumb's work.
**** out of ****

Embrace of the Serpent

In two separate expeditions with spanning the course of several decades, an Amazon jungle native leads Westerners on a search for a rare plant with healing powers, while witnessing the effects of colonization around them. Ciro Guerra's Embrace of the Serpent is probably too straightforward for the enigmatic film it purports to be, but is still powerful, often striking, with great cinematography.
*** out of ****

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Prizzi's Honor

A slow-minded hitman (Jack Nicholson), adopted into the powerful Prizzi New York crime family, catches a glimpse of a beautiful WASP (Catherine Turner) at a wedding and goes to extreme lengths to acquaint himself and start an affair, at the expense of his ill-reputed, longtime girlfriend (Anjelica Huston). The truth about the occupation and intentions of the mystery woman will, however, jeopardize the long-held standing of the family and put the hitman's life in imminent danger. Watching John Huston's Prizzi's Honor a second time through, it didn't seem to play as well in this post-Sopranos era and felt more like timeworn ganster comedy material. Still Robert Loggia and John Randolph  are really good in support and Jack is excellent playing a man who is completely sharp and capable when his brain finally catches up.
*** ou of ****

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Silence

In the Mid-17th Century,  two Portuguese Jesuit priests (Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver) embark to the incredibly perilous island of Japan where Catholicism has been banned where they perform the sacraments on the furtively practicing peasants and to learn the fate of their stalwartly devout mentor (Liam Neeson) who they learned has left the priesthood and is living as a layman with a wife. From a novel by Shusaku Endo, Silence is an impassioned work of devotion, doubt, and faith by Martin Scorsese, who wrote the screenplay with longtime friend and collaborator Jay Cocks, which will serve as a challenge for modern movie-going audiences. Grueling, measured, and thoughtful with the preeminent direction, production values, and performances (especially Garfield's tortured turn) you would expect.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Friday, January 13, 2017

The Dresser

The delusional star (Anthony Hopkins) of a travelling Shakespeare company begins to show signs of dementia while preparing for his latest King Lear performance as the other members of the troupe, most notably his loyal dresser (Ian McKellen), assist and tiptoe around him while coming to terms with the news. It's hard not to compare this made for TV adaptation of Ronald Harwood's play to Peter Yates excellent 1983 film version (and also the leads to the superlative performances of Albert Finney and Tom Courtenay), yet Richard Eyre's treatment is damned good and the material just as moving and sad, even tragic in its own way. Emily Watson is unsurprisingly extraordinary and Edward Fox is lovely in a smallish role.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Heaven's Gate

A privileged, gritty Harvard man (Kris Kristofferson) heads West in the late 1800s to serve as a lawman in Johnson County, Wyoming and instill decency in the still lawless territory. There, he finds himself as lead defender of the migrant workers who are being violently targeted by the cattle barons and in a personal rivalry with friend and hired gun of the organization (Christopher Walken) who is also romancing his girlfriend/bordello house madam (Isabelle Huppert). Heaven's Gate is one of the most notorious debacles in Hollywood history, one that crippled United Artists and independent movie making while, in effect, ending director Michael Cimino's career. However, the biggest tragedy may be that there was probably a decent, salvageable picture here. The performances almost work, Kristofferson is strong, Sam Waterston ok in parts playing a ludicrously evil villain, and a badly miscast Walken has his moments. Also present is some grand, intricate staging and great camerawork capturing majestic Western vistas. However, the movie is poorly edited, overlong by over a half, and contains just about the worst color hue and sound I've ever seen in an epic movie. Judging from the imprudent, ill-advised final product left on screen, Heaven's Gate infelicitous reputation (which some are now trying to lift) seems all but justified.
** out of ****

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Lion

While persistently accompanying his older brother to his night job, a young Indian boy loses steam and falls asleep at a train station, where he is left until the end of the shift. Awakened in the middle of the night, he boards an abandoned train which carries him thousands of miles away to Calcutta where he is swept up into an orphanage and, after a cursory search for his family, sent to live with an Australian couple (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham). Twenty years later (now played by Dev Patel), living happily as a student and at the urging of his girlfriend (Rooney Mara) and with the aid of newfound online GPS technology, he desperately attempts to jog his memory and locate his birth family. Lion is extremely well-filmed and effective Oscar bait (in what is really a can't miss story), which is actually fairly involving until the introduction of the principal cast about halfway through, though Patel and Kidman's performance are in earnest.
*** out of ****

September

At a weekend home in Vermont, a love square develops between a despondent woman (Mia Farrow), her older, lonesome neighbor (Denholm Elliot), her lover (Sam Waterston), and her married best friend (Dianne Wiest) while the presence of her over-the-top mother (Elaine Strich) drums up those old familiar familiar feelings. Woody Allen's September tends towards soapy melodrama, some of which really doesn't come off but is very funny in bits (Strich in particular) and, at its center, it is a pleasure to watch a talented casts convey Woody's usual ideas and themes.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Fat City

An aging, drunk boxer (Stacey Keach) living in a Southern Californian slum and romancing a taken, volatile lush (Susan Tyrrell) becomes inspired to get back into fighting condition after sparing with a young, green pugilist (Jeff Bridges) headed down his same path. With great performances leading the way, John Huston's Fat City begins with boxing movie cliches and takes a deeper look while also sensibly commenting on poverty, race, and exploitation in sports.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Mustang

Five female Turkish teen aged siblings are caught playing on the beach with a group of boys by meddling neighbors who report it to their parents. Restricted to the home, the process of finding suitable suitors is stepped up and as the younger girls witness their older sisters married off to unworthy admirers, they decide to rebel instead of being forced to face the same fate. Mustang handles a tough subject lightly but with regard and is in turns funny, moving, and sad.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Monday, January 9, 2017

Elle

A successful video game company executive (Isabelle Huppert) is assaulted and raped by a masked intruder at her suburban Paris home which she responds to in a shockingly casual fashion as she goes about her daily life dealing with her hack writer ex-husband dating a younger woman, her debutante mother shacked up with a gigolo, a nincompoop son fathering a child that isn't his, the launch of her latest game, continual harassment from her attacker, and the potential parole of her serial killer father, whose crimes she potentially played a significant role as an adolescent. Paul Verherhoeven's Elle is a dark, twisted, nihilistic thriller which surprisingly manages to ultimately humanize its main character thanks in large part to a superb, underplayed performance from the peerless Huppert.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Tribe

At a school for the deaf, a new student is initiated into a gang and begins to try his hand at thuggery, petty theft, and pimping. A version of Kids featuring deaf/mute youths, The Tribe is an overlong, sloggish piece of nastiness made with technique and craft. With a disclaimer proudly boasting "made entirely with no subtitles...," the film is so simple and drags on and on that it would have almost benefited from taking this obvious route rather than going by its daring narrative decision.
** 1/2 out of ****

The Lobster

In a dystopian present where single people unable to procure mates are turned into the animal of their choosing, an awkward and perpetually single man (Colin Farrell) competitively vies for a partner with other residents (John C. Reilly, Ben Whishaw) of their last stop resort while a female-centric guerrilla unit plots in opposition and serves as prey in the woods nearby. Yorgos Lanthimos' The Lobster is dark, deadpan satire, offbeat, very strange, but often right on the money which boasts a challenging excellent performance from Farrell, funny supporting turns from Reilly and Whishaw, and fine work from Rachel Weisz and Lea Seydoux as members of the rebellion.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Dark City

In a futuristic world resembling the past where foreign beings of a higher intelligence control human thought, a man (Rufus Sewell) wakes up in a dingy hotel bathtub with no memory of his previous life with a dead body alongside him on the bathroom floor. A fugitive from justice, he begins to piece together the fragments of his memory while coming to the realization that he now possesses powers rivaling that of his controller. Alex Proyas' Dark City is a visionary work both inspired by the great science-fictions (and also noirs) of the past and carving out its own place as a great genre entry with mind bending sets, a serpentine, well-plotted narrative, and fine performances from Sewell and William Hurt as a dogged veteran detective.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Friday, January 6, 2017

The Dead

At his aunts' annual Feast of the Epiphany Party, lecturer Gabriel Conroy (Donal McCann) toasts and addresses the revelers while being confronted with uneasy realities, including the unsettling revelation stirred by his wife Greta's (Angelica Huston) sudden memory of a deceased lover. In his last film of a lengthy, robust career, John Huston's The Dead is reflective and evocative, made with an acute eye for detail, and (in a screenplay by his son Tony) faithful to James Joyce's short story to a tee, especially the beautiful and starkly captured final passage. Angelica (also kin to the director) and McCann are superb.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Thunderbolt and Lightfoot

On the lam and masquerading as a preacher in a desolate Far West town, a bank robber's (Clint Eastwood) past finally catches up with him in the form of assassins at which point he hitches a ride with a cocky young car thief (Jeff Bridges) and decides to get the old gang back together to pull one last score. Michael Cimino's directing debut (and audition for The Deer Hunter) which he also penned is a broad comedy with a pretty dumb ending that seems ripped off from Midnight Cowboy. However, the buddy movie aspects work surprisingly well with the two game stars (particularly a lively Bridges) and the picture features tremendous Western filming locations and cinematography.
*** out of ****

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Theeb

In the midst of World War I in a barren Jordan desert, orphaned nomad boys are approached by a British officer carrying a mysterious container and tasked to lead him to an ancient Roman well. With parallels to Lawrence of Arabia in more ways the one, resplendent scenery doubles as character and carries Naji Abu Nowar's mostly involving story during lags or segments of disbelief.
*** 1/2 out of ****

The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!

After breaking up an international terror conference comprised of America's greatest foes, bumbling, incompetent Police Squad Lieutenant Frank Drebin (Leslie Nielsen) attempts to foil an assassination plot against Queen Elizabeth II to take place at the Angels game. From the short lived though very funny Police Squad! series that still wore thin during 25 minute episodes, the first movie installment of The Naked Gun series is done about as well as can be expected for slapstick so stupid, with Nielsen and a supporting cast perfect suited to their roles.
*** out of ****