Sunday, November 29, 2015

Listen to Me Marlon

While Marlon Brando remained an enigma for his entire life, constantly evasive of the press and public, he kept thousands of hours of self-revealing audio footage in which he engaged in meditation, reflection, autobiographical narrative, and self-hypnosis which, along with a digitization he had taken of his face and footage from his career, was cobbled together in order to tell illuminate his story. Listen to Me Marlon takes a unique, edifying, and even moving approach for a documentary profile which is even further enhanced by its unusual and brilliant soundtrack, even though the film meanders and focuses too closely on the actor's most familiar high and low points.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Saturday, November 28, 2015


A young lass (Saoirse Ronan) leaves the fishbowl that is her impoverished, low opportunity Irish village on a steamship for a new life in America where, after overcoming the initial heartache and homesickness, she gains her footing, working as a shopgirl while attending night classes and courting an obsequious, blue collared, Italian American boy (Emory Cohen). From a novel by Colm Toibin as adapted by Nick Hornby, John Crowley's Brooklyn is an observant, lovingly filmed, warmly old fashioned, and beautifully done piece of wistfulness with an extraordinary and lovely Ronan who leads an exemplary cast, with Julie Walters, another standout, as a boarding house matron.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Friday, November 27, 2015

Cries & Whispers

A woman lays dying of cancer in a remote country estate (Harriet Andersson) and receives no comfort from her emotionally cold, self-serving sisters (Liv Ullmann and Ingrid Thulin), and gains her only solace from a saintly and mistreated servant (Kari Sylwan). Ingmar Bergman's Cries and Whispers astonishingly and in a quietly moving manner finds hope and affirmation in a harsh, castigating, and utterly bleak story. The film is brilliantly shot in profuse reds and whites and expertly acted by a band of Bergman familiars.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Planes, Trains & Automobiles

A cranky, closed off ad executive (Steve Martin) trying to make his way home for the Thanksgiving holiday encounters an oafish, chain smoking, chatterbox (John Candy), also Chicago bound, whom he is thoroughly unable to detach himself from during their disastrous and many detoured excursion. As far as road movies, buddy comedies, or holiday pictures go, it feels trite to gripe about John Hughes' Planes, Trains & Automobiles as it is probably one of the finer entries in any of those genres, and contains more than its of share of laughs and, yes, tender moments. However, the film does reach it's "Enough Already!" point both for scenarios and soppiness and is not done any favors by its wretched, unnecessarily cheesed out score. Martin doesn't always come off well either but Candy is ideal, whether for generating earned laughter or straight pathos.
*** out of ****

Sunday, November 22, 2015


After operating without orders to thwart a terrorist plot in Mexico City, a lead from his most recently dispatched target leads 007 to the shadowy titular organization that has dogged his entire career, all without the cover of MI6, who are facing disbandment resulting from a global surveillance alternative to a secret agent outfit. With a hand to hand combat sequence on a moving train, a high speed chase through the hills of a chalet, and a major revelation on Bonds' #1 nemesis (among other elements) Spectre, Daniel Craig's purported final outing as the archetypical British agent and director Sam Mendes' second go round following the dazzling Skyfall, tries too hard to recapture specific Bond moments effectively setting the series back, all of which is further inflamed by overplotting, overlength, about four endings too many, and an incredibly stupid screenplay. That being said, the film is expectedly punctuated by moments of intensity, excitement, and dazzling set pieces. Christoph Waltz makes a terrific foil and the film contains surprisingly spectacular camerawork, particularly in an opening tracking sequence and in several magnificent vistas. When considered on a whole, it all results in the kind of entertaining mixed bag popcorn you'd thought the series had grown out or were possibly banking on.
** 1/2 out of ****

Saturday, November 21, 2015


A young woman (Brie Larson) has spent seven years of her life held captive in a soundproof shed in her abductor's backyard, having been joined the previous five by her son whom she conceals knowledge of  outside life. Following a miraculous escape opportunity, mother and son must adjust to life in the real world while contending with the effects of dealing with lost time, a media onslaught, and still grieving parents (Joan Allen and William H. Macy), among other issues. From a novel by Emma Donoghue, which drew on an extreme case out of Germany (and holds relevancy following the recent occurrence in Cleveland), Lenny Abrahamson's Room is a thoughtful, well conceived take, which tactfully leaves certain questions unanswered and situations explored while focusing on its primary theme of finding hope in a hopeless situation, resulting in an intense and moving experience. Larson is an earnest, appealing actress who offers her best but struggles during the most most demanding scenes and Allen is tenderly powerful in support.
*** 1/2 out of **** 

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Mr. Turner

The last passage in the life of J.M.W. Turner, the gruff, eccentric, and masterful British landscape painter as he lives alone with his neglected housekeeper, battles members of the art establishment while preparing his latest gallery, moves to a seaside community, and grieves over his recently departed father while facing is own mortality. In Mr. Turner, Mike Leigh employs his unorthodox, understated approach with a result that is somewhat plodding but strives to create an honest portrait of an uncouth genius and entirely bypasses the usual biopic trappings. Timothy Spall turns in a bold and somewhat unsympathetic performance and Dick Pope's cinematography beautifully captures its subject's inspirations.
*** out of ****

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Blue Ruin

A mentally ill drifter receives the news that the man responsible for his parent's deaths is returning to their rural childhood town. After dispatching the killer in an unplanned, slipshod manner, he finds himself the target of a manhunt led by the recently deceased's redneck kin. Jeremy Saulnier's Blue Ruin is a competently made, carefully photographed, bloody and deeply intense thriller that throws in some some illogical plot detail and opts for an unnecessarily over the top shootout conclusion. Macon Blair contributes a fine leading performance.
*** out of ****

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Premature Burial

A coma prone Englishman (Ray Milland) with a pathological fear of being buried alive goes to extreme measures to prevent his greatest nightmare from coming to fruition. Premature Burial, Roger Corman's third adaptation of an Edgar Allan Poe work, offers an inventive screenplay (considering Poe's story was more of an informative on catalepsy) whose collaborators including Twilight Zone veteran Charles Beaumont. In addition, the film boasts wonderful set design which includes a memorable tour through a "survival" crypt. Milland's performance is enjoyable, especially when he atypically ranges out in the heightened conclusion.
*** out of ****

Friday, October 30, 2015


A student takes a respite at an old hotel and quickly is haunted by a bloodthirsty female vampire. Though made several year after the introduction of talking pictures, Carl Theodor Dreyer's Vampyr is a mostly silent, disorienting, dreamlike exercise. Based on the short story Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu, the film is virtually plotless, but is incredibly atmospheric with Dreyer's brilliant direction making fantastic, horrifying use of light and shadow.
*** out of ****

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

The director of an insane asylum travels to a small German town with his muted, semi-catatonic assistant where he performs sideshows and uses the sleepwalker to commit a series of grisly murders. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is a cornerstone of silent cinema and German Expressionism which remains widely influential to this day. Robert Weine’s film, which was co-written by Carl Mayer and Hans Janowitz, is suspenseful, wildly imaginative, and bizarre which extends to the atypical titles, mind bending sets, and overstated actors.
**** out of *****

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Only Lovers Left Alive

A centuries old vampire (Tom Hiddleston) lives alone in his decrepit, isolated Detroit home, separately from his Mediterranean stationed wife (Tilda Swinton), where he composes popular rock ballads and relieves the local hospital of their choicest O-negative stock. When the couple senses sorrow in each others voices over the phone, they decide to reunite but find their visit interrupted by her reckless younger sister (Mia Wasikowska). Jim Jarmusch's Only Lovers Left Alive is well crafted, and a nice rebuke to the onslaught of vampire movies which seems to have cooled as of late, but wears thin and begins to plod after awhile. Hiddleston and Swinton are immensely appealing.
** 1/2 out of ****

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Fall of the House of Usher

Jean Epstein's early, silent take on Edgar Allan Poe's popular short story, with the head of title house receiving a visitor and, along with his sister, giving way to melancholia and madness, is a surrealistic,  unsettling, and nightmarish experience. Unconcerned with narrative continuity or traditional storytelling approaches, The Fall of the House of Usher is an atmospheric triumph abetted with the aid of many incredibly effective and what have to be (at least in a few cases) introductory camera techniques.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Steve Jobs

A window into the life of the megalomaniacal Apple visionary as told in three acts in the frantic moments leading up to three launches (the 1984 Mac, the introduction of 1988's NeXT computer, and the iMac in 1998) as he strategizes, confronts, insults, embraces, threatens, or demeans several major players in his life including his faithful assistant and conscience Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslett), head programmer Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Sthulbarg), close friend and pc pioneer (Steve Wozniak), former Pepsi chair and current Apple CEO and father figure John Sculley (Jeff Daniels), and Chrisann Brennan, a troubled ex-girlfriend (Katherine Waterston) whose daughter Jobs initially denies paternity of. An endless source of fascinating, the latest Steve Jobs movie (and hopefully the last) was hatched by top industry talent. At first, Aaron Sorkin's relentless, droll, sometimes forced dialogue and Danny Boyle's kinetic, stylistic approach do not seem to mesh, but they eventually gain footing and even approach greatness, especially in a second act brilliantly edited and acted wrangle between Fassbender and Daniels. Although to my mind Michael Fassbender seems miscast, he appears to come close to the core of his enigmatic and in many ways despicable character and is given truly fine support by a uniformly excellent cast.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Beasts of No Nation

As war reaches their unnamed African village, a young boy's (Abraham Attah) mother and younger siblings make their narrow escape for refuge while his father and older brother are gunned down by the pillaging invaders. Scared and alone, he is picked up by a rebel militia, led by a sadistic, imbalanced commandant (Idris Elba), where he begins his life as a child soldier. Even with its unthinkable, harrowing subject matter, Beasts of No Nation both generally resembles films of the same ilk or feels like pictures we've seen before (War Witch and City of God spring immediately to mind). Director Cary Fukunaga successfully adapts Uzodinma Iweala's novel into a nightmarish, intelligent though overlong film which could have benefitted from tauter editing and loses steam in its second while typically making fantastic usage of shooting locations. Elba delivers a towering, complex, and menacing performance while child actor Attah does quite well with a extremely demanding role.
*** out of ****

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Bridge of Spies

At the height of the cold war, a pragmatic insurance attorney (Tom Hanks) is tapped by his firm to defend an overwhelmingly guilty, both by the questionably attained evidence and in the fervant court of public opinion, stoic Russian spy (Mark Rylance)  to present an international view of fair treatment. Shortly after procuring a relatively light sentence for his client and becoming a much maligned figure in the press, the counselor is once again called upon to travel to East Germany to negotiate for the swap of an American spy pilot, recently shot down behind enemy lines. Bridge of Spies is a well made though overlong spy pic, intentionally drab and dreary, crafted in the vein of a John le Carre quasi thriller by the Coen Brothers along with Matt Charman. In spite of the material and its intentions, its director still strives for nauseating Spielbergian moralizing and uplift, with a first act that plays like a civics class and a second which isn't as dramatically pulling at it should be. Hanks is well cast, putting his affable attributes to good use and Rylance, an unknown to me, is a self-effacing standout.
** 1/2 out of ****

Saturday, October 17, 2015

The Martian

When an exploratory mission to Mars is interrupted by a major storm, the crew is forced to evacuate and make their long journey back to earth, leaving behind their thought to be dead botanist (Matt Damon). Miraculously making his way back to base, the hopeful and self-reliant scientist must either find a way to sustain himself on the lifeless planet for four years when the mission will resume or devise a plan to signal NASA to prompt rescue efforts. With his treatment of Andy Weir's The Martian, Ridley Scott demonstrates his acuity in assembling a sci-fi picture, offering awe inspiring photography and occasionally breathless moments, in a studio film that has absolutely no faith in its material. While treating its audience like adults with a highly scientific and technical screenplay, it alternately panders to the masses with its corny screenplay and empty blockbuster cliches which would feel right at home in a Roland Emmerich production. Damon's character is strangely given no background (along with the rest of the cast) and, though there are no misgivings with his performance, his unrelenting optimism and almost total neglect to explore any of the other caveats of being stranded alone 250 miles from humanity winds up being a real drag.
** 1/2 out of ****

Monday, October 12, 2015


After witnessing the latest cartel horror house as part of an FBI tactical team, a novice but talented agent (Emily Blunt) is recruited by a dubious team of federal agents, led by a law bending cowboy (Josh Brolin) with the aid of a mysterious liaison (Benicio del Toro), in an effort to root out a nefarious drug lord. Sicario is gripping, murky and unrelenting, brilliantly directed by Denis Villeneuve, with crisp, haunting cinematography from Roger Deakins, and superb performances from the well cast principle performers. Not only serving as a petrifying imminent issues movie and conversation stirrer but standing on its own as a meticulously crafted thriller, even if these lines are blurred in the end as the film lends itself more towards a revenge picture.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Assault on Precinct 13

After acquiring an arsenal of automatic weapons, a street gang declares war on the LAPD, focusing specifically on the soon to be closed Precinct 13 station house whose only hope for defense is a novice commander, a few administrators, a victim of the gang's coldblooded violence seeking refuge, two prisoners on layover from a prison transport, and a short supply of weaponry. John Carpenter's Rio Bravo inspired Assault on Precinct 13 is stylized and surprisingly low key, offering well drawn characters speaking cheesy though admittedly amusing dialogue. The finale is anticlimactic but is preceded by a great escape attempt sequence.
*** out of ****

Saturday, October 10, 2015

12 Angry Men

A Puerto Rican slum kid is on trial for the murder of his father, an open and shut case as far as members of all-white mostly middle aged jury is concerned. As the restless tribunal settles into the jury room to deliberate, anxious to depart on the mercilessly hot summer day, one lone juror insists on respecting the defendant's right of due process and thoroughly examining every bit of evidence. For his feature film debut Sidney Lumet took his know how from an early career in television and, through the brilliant use of lighting, close ups, and camera angles, the benefit of a tried and tested group of veteran actors, and an enlightened, informative microcosmic treatise on the legal system by Reginald Rose, transformed a one-set story into one of the finest dramas ever put to film. Atop the fine cast (without forgetting to mention a supremely composed turn from a hostile and bigoted Lee J. Cobb) stands Henry Fonda in one of his most nobly idealistic and memorable performances.
**** out of ****

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Walk

The story of a brazen, arrogant young Parisian street performer and amateur wire walker who, after seeing a sketch for the under construction World Trade Center buildings in a magazine ad, saw his life's dream of breaking into the towers, gaining roof access to the 94 floor structures, running a steel cable across its 140 foot gap, and performing one of the most daring stunts ever fathomed. Although the film version of Phillipe Petit's unrivaled triumph offers nothing in the way of character development, lacks narrative drive and tension, is overly cheesy, features a servicable but unremarkable Joseph Gordon Levitt star performance, wastes Ben Kingsley in a throwaway role, and feels like a literal live action translation of James Marsh's superlative documentary Man on Wire, it is worth the price of admission alone for the special effects, generally for director Robert Zemeckis' masterful use of 3D and specifically for the queasy, awe inspiring, unspeakable high wire act of the title.
*** 1/2 out ****

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 ****