Saturday, October 3, 2015


A once vile drunk and murderous outlaw (Clint Eastwood) lives a reformed life on his barren pig ranch, a widower struggling to raise two young children, at the close of the Old West. When a prostitute is disfigured by visiting cattlemen in the town of Big Whiskey, Wyoming a bounty is placed on their heads (against the orders of the no nonsense sheriff (Gene Hackman)) calling the aged, out of practice gunslinger along with his long serving associate (Morgan Freeman) back to his vicious ways. Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven is a stoic, uncompromising meditation on killing that turns the Western on its ear. Crafted from a thoughtful script from David Webb Peoples, it offers painterly scenery, a spectacularly haunting and meaningful finale, and an outstanding cast with tired, worn, and soberly powerful performances from Clint and Freeman, a brilliantly complex and hardened turn from Hackman and fine support from Richard Harris, Frances Fisher, and Jaimz Woolvett.
**** out of ****

Sunday, September 27, 2015


Gathering for shelter at a desolate city entrance, two witnesses to a vicious rape/murder recount the court testimony of the atrocious affair from the viewpoint of the perpetrator (Toshiro Mifune), his surviving victim (Machiko Kyo), her slaughtered samurai husband (Masayuki Mori) as told through a seer, and the sole witness (Takashi Shimura) to view the actual crime. By breaking free, not only from traditional cinematic narrative forms and perspective, but also in how movies could actually be filmed, through Rashomon Akira Kurosawa would forever change the way in which movies would be made. Working from two short stories from Ryunosuke Akutagawa, using stark settings and featuring unforgettable performances from Mifune and Shimura, perhaps the film's greatest achievement is the way it imbues humanity into a lurid story.
**** out of ****

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Star Trek: The Motion Picture

Captain Kirk (William Shatner) and Dr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) return to their posts on the Starship Enterprise when a formidable and mysterious alien life force wreaks havoc on a neighboring planet. Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the long gestating adaptation of the popular Gene Rodenberry series, is a somnolent, murky affair that loses a lot of the campy fun and appeal of the original, and features a welcomed but tired, aged cast.
** out of ****

Saturday, September 19, 2015

The Judge

A sleek and arrogant big city attorney (Robert Downey Jr.) returns to his hometown to defend his estranged, alcoholic father (Robert Duvall), a respected local judge and community lion, when he is accused of vehicular homicide. The Judge is trite, well worn fare boasting pathetic dialogue along with lazy plotting, and culminating in a laughably schmaltzy wrap-up. RDJ delivers yet another one of his tired stock performances and Duvall, though garnering critical accolades for his part, is way over the top and hard to accept at face value.
** out of ****

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Black Mass

The story of Whitey Bulger (Johnny Depp), a relatively unknown South Boston crime lord and sociopath who built his bloody legacy not with the help of his State Senator kin (Benedict Cumberbatch) but through an unholy alliance with childhood friend and ascending FBI agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton). From the unthinkable, cold-blooded crime story that served as partial inspiration for The Departed, Black Mass is really just another tiresome attempt to remake Goodfellas (and the third or so that Depp himself has been involved with), here with Irish tough guys being portrayed (poorly) by Brits, Aussies, and other Hollywood  flakes. Edgerton's performance is given to mugging and frankly is embarrassing (which sadly has become standard with him), Cumberbatch brings nothing to the table, struggling with his accent and seeming an unlikely casting choice, and Depp does his best screen gnawing Nicholson impression while combing his hair back, adopting steely blue eyes, and wearing far-fetched Nosferatu makeup. Further, Scott Cooper has yet to establish himself as a competent director (Crazy Heart, Out of the Furnace) and really seems out of his element here with a poorly written screenplay and an irritating camera addressing narrative approach as told in flashback by Bulger's cohorts during interrogation. The film is saved from becoming a total wash by talented actors inhabiting very minor roles, namely Kevin Bacon, Peter Sarsgaard, Adam Scott, Corey Stoll, and Julianne Nicholson.
* 1/2 out of ****

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Ferrell Takes the Field

Raising funds for a USC classmate's cancer charity and inspired by Bert Campaneris, a popular young Oakland A who became the first MLB player to play all nine positions as part of another publicity stunt in 1965, Will Ferrell travels the Cactus League circuit playing 10 different positions (DH included) for 10 different teams in the course of one day. Ferrell Takes the Field is presented as a mockumentary with Ferrell playing his usual incensed, deadpan character to amusing effect.
*** out of ****

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Inglourious Basterds

A Jewish woman (Melanie Laurent) escapes slaughter at the hands of a ruthless SS colonel (Christoph Waltz) and both of their fates will intertwine with that of the Basterds, a ruthless band of Jewish American brothers led by a bloodthirsty lieutenant (Brad Pitt) who specializes in taking Nazi scalps. Inglourious Basterds is inspired, intelligent, intense, entertaining, and sometimes off-putting and self-indulgent revisionist World War II fare from Quentin Tarantino, with an over-the-top ending that thwarts at least some of the great work that preceded it. Waltz steals the show in his brilliant, multilingual star making performance, Pitt is entirely effective in an amusing comic turn, and Laurent is quite good in a challenging role.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Monday, September 7, 2015

Eric Rohmer's Six Moral Tales

When the New Wave landed on shores of France and rocked world cinema, Eric Rohmer quietly but intently observed the work of his contemporaries from the Cahiers du Cinema offices where he worked as an editor. There he plotted a series of ostensibly related films, all dealing with a middle class protagonist's responding to a temptress, which were filmed over the period of a decade, and were grouped together as the Six Moral Tales.

The Bakery Girl of Monceau (1963) is a short two reeler, simple, offbeat, talky, icy, and beautifully shot, effectively setting the tone for the entire series. Featuring future directors Barbet Schroeder in the lead and Bernard Taverneier as narrator, it tells the story of a young attorney who makes increasingly frequent visits to a neighborhood confectionery to encounter the title clerk.
*** 1/2 out of ****
Suzanne's Career (1963) followed, and is an intelligent and incredibly prescient, here detailing a woman coming in between the friendship of two friends, one a skirt chaser the other a bashful introvert.
*** 1/2 out of ****
La Collectionneuse (1967) was the first feature film realeased in the series but was actually intended as the fourth tale, bumped up on the shooting schedule when Rohmer failed to achieve weather effects and postponed My Night with Maud. It tells an idyllically set and beautifully shot story of cruel intellectualism about two friends vacationing on the Riveria who find their vacation impeded by a promiscuous guest. 
*** 1/2 out of ****
My Night with Maud (1969) may be the best known of the lot and is my candidate for the finest realization in an unrivaled program. An uptight intellectual bumps into an old friend around the holidays, is invited for dinner to a recently divorced knock-out's chateu, where the two wind up alone, discussing love and philosophy before getting down to business. Perceptive, crisply filmed, and wonderfully acted
*** 1/2 out of ****
Claire's Knee (1970) involves a diplomat on vacation and awaiting marriage who, while visiting with an ex-lover, becomes obsessed with the idea of caressing his landlady's stepdaughter's knee. 
This fifth entry is somewhat creepy, but again retains the film values of its predecessors and remains very watchable
*** 1/2 out ****
Chloe in the Afternoon (1972) concluded the series and, true to form, is involving, low key, and dialogue heavy. Its plot revolves around a happily married Parisian lawyer who hopelessly pursues a bohemian seductress.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Sunday, August 30, 2015


An alcoholic, mildly retarded street performer and recent parolee (Bruno S.) befriends a prostitute (Eva Mattes) and is harshly harassed by her pimps. Together, along with an elderly friend (Clemens Scheitz), the trio decides to flee Berlin for Wisconsin seeking a better life but only find their miseries compounded. Werner Herzong's Stroszek is a humorous, hauntingly strange, and ultimately powerful film filled with bizarre, unforgettable imagery, heart aching interactions, and one of the most shocking and fascinating finales ever put to film.
**** out of ****

Saturday, August 29, 2015


(Spoilers Ahead. This whole show is a series of spoilers, so be forewarned)
Seasons 3 and 4
Season three picks up with Carrie being the subject of Senate Investigation following the catastrophic attack on CIA headquarters, Brody seeking asylum in South America, and his family grappling with the horrific act. The fourth season sees Carrie named station chief in Kabul where she is faced with a Benghazi-like invasion and a hostage situation involving her mentor Saul. Following the outlandish second outing, Homeland returned with an intense, exciting, though still nonsensical third season, with superfluous domestic scenes at the Brody household taking away from the focus of the show. The fourth series is somewhat lacking and, due to the "terror threat at home" nature of the program, loses something by being set almost entirely overseas. Rupert Friend shines in support.
Season 3: *** 1/2 out of ****
Season 4: *** out of ****

Season 2
Following the botched attempt on the Vice President's life, Brody is now learning the ropes as a freshman U.S. Congressman while Carrie, teaching English as a second language and recovering from her stint in the booby hatch, is contracted by the CIA to lend her expertise to an expedition in Beirut. As Abu Nazir moves his pawns into place for his next terrorist attack, Carrie and Brody's stars align once more, placing their careers and lives into imminent danger. It becomes clear that the high-wire act done so well during the first season cannot be maintained, and while all the pieces don't quite come crashing down, preposterous plotting  has seized the day. Clare Danes character, where she was so effective before, has become nearly intolerable, going into hysterics several times an episode. Damian Lewis is doing what he can, and I think he should be commended for going through some of the things they put his character through with a straight face. Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the show is how insipid Mandy Patinkin's Saul has become and the addition of Rupert Friend adds very little, if anything to the series. Most of these complaints can be chalked up to the writing. How could anyone seriously expect the show to maintain its momementum? And while the leads still maintain rooting interest, the second season plays its cards way too fast and serves them up in ways we can't possibly accept.
** 1/2
sidenote: As the "Homeland" season finale concludes the shows I watch for the year, I feel obliged to comment on the disappointment of nearly every series I've followed this year, especially one's in their sophomore season ("Homeland", "Games of Thrones", "Downton Abbey", "Sherlock"). In what has been termed as a "Golden Age of Television", these and other fan favorites such as "Boardwalk Empire" and "Breaking Bad" make it seem like a low karat era.

Season 1
A Marine (Damian Lewis) is rescued after eight years of being held captive in an Iraqi compound, and returns home to much fanfare and great difficulty adjusting to domestic life. Meanwhile an ambitious, volatile, and surreptitiously bipolar CIA agent (Clare Danes), having been informed several months prior by an al-Qaeda bomb maker that an American POW has been turned, suspects the heralded Marine of being the conduit of the next terrorist plot against the United States. "Homeland" is an ingeniously plotted tightrope act, which seems doomed to fail but never looses its footing once. Developed from the Israeli series "Prisoners of War" by Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa, who take their unlikely story to an intense, sheerly believable level because they always prioritize the human elements. Ten years after his tremendous work on "Band of Brothers", Damian Lewis returns with another powerful performance in a uniquely American role. As the unorthodox agent running a one person operation, Clare Danes is excellent and has some heartbreaking, almost unbearable scenes later in the season. Mandy Patinkin also contributes tremendous, nuanced work as a veteran operative and mentor/counterbalance to Danes. The plot description for "Homeland" makes one think of something destined for a short-lived run on network television, but due to the intelligent and sensitive writing (I can't stress this enough) and its endearing, perfectly realized cast, the first season is something of a wonder.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

A Most Violent Year

A proud, self-made foreign born business owner (Oscaar Isaacs) finds his crucial upcoming business deal thwarted by a series of truck hijackings, a government investigation into his books, and a loyal but calculating wife (Jessica Chastain) who remains insistent on the issue of retaliation. A Most Violent Year is gritty movie making from writer/director J.C. Chandor who adopts an enriched, spectacular color palette of films of a bygone era while telling a story that great urban filmmakers of the 1970s would have felt at home with but, like Chandor's other films (Margin Call, All is Lost) the slow burn style employed is alternately potent and dull. Isaacs is strong in a role where he perhaps channels too much of Pacinco, Chastain also is forceful in a somewhat diminished role, and Albert Brooks has a nice turn playing Isaacs' attorney.
*** out of ****

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Finding Vivian Maier

The story of a secretive spinster nanny to several Chicago families who, after her death in 2009, was revealed to be the capturer of over 100,000 polished photographs and has since become one of the most esteemed photographers in the world. Finding Vivian Maier begins with an intriguing story that successfully interweaves Maier's narrative and surreptitious lifework before becoming stagnant for much of its duration until it takes a dark and very satisfying final turn.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Two Days, One Night

A disconsolate mother and wife (Marion Cotillard) receives her walking papers at her factory job and is told by management the only way to retain her position is to rally a majority vote among her coworkers favoring her job retention over their yearly bonus. Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne's Two Days, One Night is made in the esteemed Belgian brothers' trademarked stripped down, realistic style that normally works so well but here, with its repetitive and barebones plot line, makes the pacing seem glacial. However, if there ever was a compulsively watchable actress to cast in such a movie, it would be Cotillard, who nobly and subtly inhabits her role.
** 1/2 out of ****

Wednesday, August 19, 2015


A would be musician (Domhnall Gleeson) rescues a suicidal keyboardist and falls in with the band, led by an inscrutable vocalist (Michael Fassbender) who never removes his oversized paper mache mask. Frank is yet another sterile little indie exercise, an excruciating, painfully unfunny film providing putrid performances (Fassbender and Maggie Gyllenhaal included) and headache inducing songs, all the while purporting itself as a brilliant satire on the creative process.
No Stars out of ****

Tuesday, August 18, 2015


When the daughter of a staunchly religious midwestern businessman (George C. Scott) goes missing on a bus trip to California, it is quickly revealed by the aid of a shifty P.I. (Peter Boyle) that she has fallen in with a circle of pornographers, and the shattered father decides to take it in his own hands to find her. Paul Schrader's Hardcore features a powerful performance of melancholic rage from Scott but the movie is continually off-putting (as it should be) and certain elements of the picture seem to work against each other.
*** out of ****

Monday, August 17, 2015

Night Will Fall

At the close of World War II, the British government assembled a team of filmmakers (which included Alfred Hitchock) to capture the liberation of several German concentration camps and document the atrocities committed there. Although the film faced financial difficulties in post production and the final product was never released, the footage has survived and the story of its circumstances is presented here. Night Will Fall is comprised of haunting, visceral footage, an informative story, and illuminating contributors, a few of whom that survived the ordeal.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Wednesday, August 12, 2015


A humble and reputable Catholic pastor (Brendan Gleeson) hears confession from a troubled young man who claims he was abused by a priest as a child and vows to kill the good reverend in exactly a weeks time. With the threat of mortal violence hanging over his head, the cleric must tend to his distressed daughter (a product of his layman days), his dying dog, and the troubled flock of his rural Irish diocese. Reteaming with John Michael McDonagh following The Guard, Gleeson is absolutely tremendous in a powerful and nuance performance.  The film boasts outstanding direction and gorgeous photography even though much of the dialogue is irksome and tends towards self-righteousness.
*** out of ****

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Venus in Fur

An arrogant playwright (Mathieu Amalric) is about to lock the theater doors following a frustrating day of casting the female lead in his latest play when an disordered unwieldy blonde (Emmanuelle Seigner) arrives to read. Following great protest and many tears, the director finally concedes and, after being astonished that she knows the script like the back of her hand and is a natural for the part, finds himself falling under her spell. Based on the NYC based play by David Ives (who drew on Leopold's von Sacher-Masoch's 19th century novel Venus in Furs) and reset in Paris by Roman Polanski, Venus in Fur is intelligent, funny, and alluring with great acting from Amalric and  
Seigner, the director's real life wife.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Monday, August 10, 2015

Irrational Man

A college student (Emma Stone) is drawn towards the latest faculty newcomer at her idyllic Newport college: a brilliant, burned out, suicidal philosophy professor (Joaquin Phoenix) who stumbles across a perfect philanthropic murder plot which he sees as lifting him out of his existential funk. Woody Allen has explored similar themes before to more compelling ends (Crimes and Misdemeanors, Match Point) here borrowing Hitchockian motifs (Strangers on a Train and even Shadow of a Doubt to a greater degree) and again explicitly citing Dostoevsky. Although not all of the ideas come together in the film, Stone strains to hit dramatic notes later on, and Phoenix surprisingly is off key when attempting to play the Allen type, and I find myself saying this whenever one of Woody's movies is panned (here likely the result of a recent tabloid resurgence), his films are still more engrossing than most of the other shit to come down the Hollywood pike.
*** out of ****

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Nymphomaniac (Vols. I and II)

A woman (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is found beaten in an alley by a lonely stranger (Stellan Skarsgard) who takes her home, providing food and shelter, while she relays her promiscuous biography and her growing and alarming propensity for perilous sexual encounters. With over four exploitative, sadistic, explicit, dull, and uninvolving hours (and an even greater duration in a godforsaken director's cut), Nymphomaniac represents Lars von Trier at his boorish, pretentious worst, and features putrid acting from an embarrassed cast except for a strong though disturbing performance from von Trier's perpetual punching bag Gainsbourg.
1/2 * out of ****

Saturday, August 8, 2015


A meager and underfunded though determined group of park rangers defend the gorilla inhabitants of their forested Congo terrain from poachers and other external forces that threaten their existence. This Academy Award nominated documentary depicts a fascinating story presented somewhat aloofly in a narrative that, considering its subject, surprisingly lacks urgency.
*** out of ****

Friday, August 7, 2015

Hannah Arendt

When Adolf Eichmann was captured by Israeli forces in Argentina and taken to Yagur to stand trial for war crimes, German Jew intellectual Hannah Arendt took a leave of absence from her teaching post  to cover the hearings for The New Yorker. Instead of the hateful, cunning monster most had painted in the press, Arendt viewed Eichmann as unassuming and even kindly, leading to her controversial Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. Margarethe von Trotta's Hannah Arendt is thought provoking, academic filmmaking although its story is slight and would have benefitted from expounding. Barbara Sukowa is impressive in the title role and trial scenes including actual footage are effective.
*** out of ****

Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Double

A government pencil pusher (Jesse Eisenberg) finds his life in free fall with no sign of solid ground when the latest hire at his grim agency turns out to be his perfect match in appearance and complete opposite in every other way. After his fresh and uniquely structured freshman outing Submarine, Richard Ayoade follows it up with this lifeless, uninspired, and somewhat muddled adaptation of a Dostoevsky story, which contains a strong dual performance from Eisenberg but totally wastes Mia Wasikowska in support.
** out of ****

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation

As the IMF faces Congressional oversight and inclusion in the CIA, Ethan and friends are forced to thwart another threat of global domination, this time led by a crafty and ruthless British agent, a mysterious femme fatale, and a squad of lethal, once presumed dead operatives. M:I - Rogue Nation is a step back from its outstanding Brad Bird helmed predecessor with a lazy, formulaic script from writer/director Christopher McQuarrie, a weak villain in Sean Harris, and a downgrade from Paula Patton in the drone like Swedish actress Rebecca Ferguson. The installment is not without its entertainment value with some exciting chase sequences, an affable principle cast, and a 53 year old Tom Cruise maintaining his signature bravado.
** 1/2 out of ****

Tuesday, August 4, 2015


A Brooklyn orphan (Jake Gyllenhaal) sits undefeated atop the light heavyweight world with his  foster care sweetheart (Rachel McAdams) by his side until his temper and a tragic accident cost him everything forcing him to regroup, with the aid of a lowly, faithful trainer (Forest Whittaker), to win back the title and the thing that matters most in the world: his daughter. Southpaw seems like a 12 year old stayed up all night watching 8 Mile and The Rocky Marathon, wrote a screenplay, and invited his friends over to film it on his phone. Antoine Fuqua's punchless pugilistic saga isn't only packed to the gills with boxing and standard movie cliches, it is shockingly lacking in style and form, hurried to the point of sloppiness, and contains bout sequences that couldn't have been filmed with any more disinterest. The cast is either out of their element (McAdams, 50 Cent) or strong in roles that give them nothing to work with whatsoever (Forest Whitaker, Naomie Harris) and the usually reliable Gyllenhaal enters the ring with an impressive build and coughs up a lot of blood in the process but is surprisingly unconvincing as a slimshady.
* 1/2 out of ****