Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Hostiles

An embittered cavalry officer and notorious Indian killer (Christian Bale) is commissioned against his will to escort a long imprisoned chief (Wes Studi) and his family from New Mexico to their tribal home in Montana. Along the way, they pick up a young woman (Rosamund Pike) who just saw her husband and daughters slaughtered by natives, and encounter danger from both sides of their dispute. Scott Cooper's Hostiles is historical revisionism and apologism, but incredibly well-crafted on beautiful locations with an affecting Bale lead performance and a capable supporting cast.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Wormwood

A docu-investigation into the death of CIA scientist Frank Olson (Peter Sarsgaard) in 1953, whose fall from a 13th story window in a New York City hotel was ruled a suicide, as seen through the eyes of his son Eric whose own inquest, carried out at his own professional peril, reveals several conspiratorial and sinister layers. Errol Morris' mini documentary series is highly effective, sorrowful and scary but probably would have worked better if the live action bits were cut (though Sarsgaard's emotiveness is generally compelling) and the material was presented as a usual Morris production.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Monday, June 18, 2018

The Iceman Cometh

Dead end drunks waste away their days at a New York saloon/boarding house, talking about their delusionary dreams and begging for free drinks while awaiting a visit from a travelling salesman  and fellow drunkard (Lee Marvin) to lift them out of their stupor. When he arrives however, they find a reformed and unhinged version of their former friend, now preaching to the gang to give up their "pipe dreams", much to their chagrin. John Frankenheimer's American Film Theatre production is a powerful, mournful, and comical adaptation, purportedly faithful to Eugene O'Neill's play, with great performances from old film veterans Robert Ryan, Marvin, and Frederic March surrounded by an excellent supporting cast.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Edge of the City

An Army deserter (John Cassavetes) gains employment as a stevedore through use of a false name and forms a tight bond with a black coworker (Sidney Poitier) while another prejudiced longshoreman (Jack Warden) blackmails, bullies, and pushes him to the end of his rope. Martin Ritt's melodramatic Edge of the City suffers from a lack of realism it clearly strives to achieve but is assuredly directed in sharp black and white and boasts strong supporting performances from Warden and Ruby Dee as Poitier's wife.
*** out ****

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Suspicion

An unassuming woman (Joan Fontaine) seeming destined for spinsterhood, and heir to a modest fortune, is swept off her feet by a charming layabout (Cary Grant) who soon arouses her paranoia that she is his target for murder. Light, even unplotted and silly, Hitchcock's Suspicion is made worthwhile by great direction, its stars, and Nigel Bruce in an amusing supporting role.
*** out of ****

Friday, June 8, 2018

The Naked Kiss

A prostitute (Constance Towers) beats up her abusive pimp and takes what is owed to her before relocating to a small village where she is run out of town by a local police chief (Anthony Eisley) and lured back into the life before finding peace as a nurse at a children's hospital and getting engaged to a millionaire (Michael Dante), a situation that proves too good to be true. Highly suggestive and melodramatic Sam Fuller B-movie is sensationalist and shocking, especially for its time. The low budget affair is crisply edited and features several memorable sequences including the opening and the morbid culmination of a strange musical number.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

The Disaster Artist/The Room

When a nervous, failing aspiring actor (Dave Franco) meets the indescribable, bizarro, and independently wealthy Tommy Wiseau (James Franco), they form a quick friendship which leads to the production of The Room, one of the most notorious and successful cult movies, which the oblivious Wiseau approaches the making of with tyrannical cruelty and reckless abandon. James Franco's The Disaster Artist is amusing and off-putting, like the movie and subject it's chronicling, with an uncanny impersonation by the director at its center. Questionable choices are made, especially in the prologue and epilogue, begging the question of whether there is enough here to support a feature film and is there too much meaning being invested in the success story of one of the worst feature films ever produced. As for the The Room itself, I didn't really understand the midnight movie cult classic so bad its good hype (although I didn't watch it in a theater) and mostly just thought it unfathomably bad though it does contain some laugh out loud moments.

Friday, June 1, 2018

The Thomas Crown Affair

A stultified millionaire businessmen (Steve McQueen) concocts the perfect crime in the form of a bank heist by assembling a handful of criminals who remain anonymous to each other. Soon he is targeted by a beautiful investigator (Faye Dunaway) with the two finding their attraction to each other more than palpable. Norman Jewison's The Thomas Crown Affair is dated, aloof and dull with awful Academy Award winning music and horrendous usage of multiple split screens. The stars maintain interest but are still misused.
** out of ****

Monday, May 21, 2018

American Made

Bored airline pilot Barry Seal (Tom Cruise) finds himself running top secret missions for the CIA, in bed with the drug cartels, and swimming in cash until a fallout proves potentially deadly. Doug Liman's American Made patterns too closely to Goodfellas and whatever knockoff that classic has spawned (Blow comes to mind here). The narrative is messy, marred by undercharacterization, and almost too fast paced but is still watchable thanks to a typically charismatic Cruise.
** 1/2 out of ****

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Bullitt

A rigid, hotshot detective (Steve McQueen) whose star is on the rise is tapped by a shrewd senator (Robert Vaughn) to protect a key witness before a federal mob trial. What begins as a simple, somewhat irritating task turns into a perilous chess game as the officer must chase the perpetrators through the sloping streets of San Francisco, contend with the increasingly irritated politico, and unravel the peculiarities at the heart of the plight. From Robert L. Pike's novel Mute WitnessBullitt is best known today for its esteemed car chase sequence, and rightly so, but Peter Yates' film is really just a measured, solidly made procedural. While not really functioning as a character study (Jacqueline Bissett's scenes where she tries to make McQueen come to terms with his occupation only really succeed in showing off her great beauty), the movie is absolutely dynamic as a connect the dots mystery and an actioner, even if the plot is somewhat murky. And in the role that defined his career, McQueen clearly demonstrates why he earned his King of Cool moniker.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Thursday, May 17, 2018

A Quiet Place

In the near future hyper aural and predatory extraterrestrials have wiped out most of humanity as a man (John Krasinski), his pregnant wife (Emily Blunt), and their two children (one of whom is hearing challenged) struggle to survive on their deserted rural farm. Krasinski's A Quiet Place is a well-made wholesome horror thriller with an interesting premise that turns silly and is littered with plot holes. The creatures are nothing more that uninspired Alien replicas.
*** out of ****

Monday, May 14, 2018

Munich

Following the 1972 Olympic Massacre which claimed the lives of eleven Israeli athletes at the hand of Black September, a PLO sect, Israel's government sanctions a Mossad agent (Eric Bana) and his heterogeneous team to carry out retaliatory hits on nine of the involved planners of the mass murder. Steven Spielberg's Munich, with a thoughtful screenplay by Eric Roth and Tony Kushner from a book by George Jonas, is intense and relevant, and unlike most thrillers doesn't settle for the easy road out.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Downsizing

An occupational therapist (Matt Damon) who has taken care of his sickly mother and lived in the same house his whole life decides to undergo a new revolutionary procedure with his depressed wife (Kristen Wiig), have himself shrunk to the size of a french fry and live in opulence in a mini commune. Downsizing is a minor work and pointless satire, a real disappointment from Alexander Payne who, collaborating with his longtime work partner Jim Taylor, sadly seems to be phoning it in, with a whiny Damon, an incredibly irritating Hong Chau as the love interest, and feeble attempts at comedy and parody.
* out of ****

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Wonder Wheel

A miserable waitress (Kate Winslet) married to a drunken though loving lout (Jim Belushi) in the Coney Island home begins an affair with an aspiring writer and current lifeguard (Justin Timberlake) which is complicated when her estranged stepdaughter (Juno Temple) returns home and repairs her relationship with her father. Stiff, overly familiar and coming off like a bad play, Woody Allen's Wonder Wheel takes form somewhat in the end but is still too routine, plus it features unnatural performances from Winslet and Timberlake. I initially thought this was just another victim of the Me Too inquisition but sadly and truly is one of Allen's worst outings.
** out of ****

Thursday, April 19, 2018

The Player

A narcissistic studio executive (Tim Robbins) who green-lights movie scripts finds his job jeopardized by a rival shark and his life threatened by one of the many writers he has turned down over the years, leading him to commit a dubious murder and cast into a paranoid, Kafkaesque nightmare. From Michael Tolkin's novel, Robert Altman's skewering of Hollywood is both a hilarious black comedy and effective noir showcasing the maverick director at the top of his form. With the spectacular opening tracking shot, to a perfectly cast Robbins, the endless celebrity cameos, and the insider's script, The Player is a masterful Hollywood satire on par with Sunset Blvd. and The Bad and the Beautiful

Monday, April 9, 2018

The Asphalt Jungle

Fringe types including a ruffian career criminal (Sterling Hayden), a seedy attorney (Louis Calhern), a diner cook (James Whitmore), a numbers runner (Marc Lawrence), and an ingenious safe cracker (Sam Jaffe) just released from prison converge to execute an extremely lucrative but ultimately doomed jewelry heist. John Huston's tough, gritty, and influential noir (informing both classics and cheap imitations alike) is starkly shot, exciting and lifelike with a great cast of characters, Hayden, Calhern, Lawrence, and Jean Hagen as Hayden's doting and naive girlfriend standing out among the lot. Marilyn Monroe is unforgettable too as Calhern's mistress in her breakthrough role.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Cleo from 5 to 7

A self-involved pop singer (Corrine Marchand) walks the streets of Paris in an all-consuming anticipation of her biopsy results during the afternoon hours of the title. Agnes Varda's New Wave near real-time work is smooth, free flowing, and crisply and beautifully shot, while a little light in plot though not substance. Marchand is a unique and glamorous presence.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

The Fountain

A doctor (Hugh Jackman) ignores his dying wife (Rachel Weisz) in an obsessive attempt to find a cure for the cancer ravaging her body by way of a life sustaining substance. Meanwhile, she is struggling to finish her novel about a conquistador (Jackman) on a quest to find the Tree of Life for his queen (Weisz) during the Inquisition while, 500 years in the future from the present day, a spaceman (Jackman) is bringing his wife's remains to a far off nebula in the hopes of renewed life. The Fountain is ill-conceived, overornate, and self-serious with artificial looking special effects. Though containing potential, writer/director Darren Aronofsky doesn't know how to culminate its lackluster stories. Jackman is strong but strained and the soundtrack is excellent.
** out of ****

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The Life of Oharu

A woman in waiting (Kinuyo Tanaka) of modest respectability falls to woeful and pitiable levels after partaking in a relationship with a commoner (Toshiro Mifune). Cast out from her village, she soon finds herself bearing a son to powerful lord she is forbidden to see, widowed on another occasion, and sold into a life of prostitution by her father. Kenji Mizoguchi's The Life of Oharu is bleak and sorrowful, somewhat labored, shot in beautiful black and white, and made with precise craft. Tanaka is heartbreaking as the doomed and innocent Oharu.
*** out of ****

Monday, March 19, 2018

Charade

Three war buddies (James Coburn, George Kennedy, and Ned Glass) stalk and terrorize the widow (Audrey Hepburn) of their recently murdered comrade believing she knows the location of the pilfered loot taken during their tour of duty. After involving the local Paris prefect (Walter Matthau), she now becomes unsure whether or not to trust the dashing and suspicious acquaintance (Cary Grant) just made at a Swiss ski resort. Stanley Donen's Charade is a light and breezy romantic/comedy suspenser with a fun and silly plot, second rate dialogue, and great chemistry between its stars.
*** out of ****

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Roman J. Israel, Esq.

A  L.A. defense attorney (Denzel Washington) on the spectrum finds himself in dire straights when his prominent partner dies and begrudgingly accepts a job offer with a top firm and soon finds himself taking drastic, uncharacteristic measures to ensure his security. Dan Gilroy's Nightcrawler follow up is a sometimes engaging but underwritten and ultimately lackluster film that is redeemed somewhat by a strong, surprisingly quirky Denzel performance.
** 1/2 out of ****

Monday, March 12, 2018

Assault on Precinct 13

At a dilapidated Detroit police station scheduled to close at midnight, a burned out sergeant (Ethan Hawke) keeps watch with a few other functionaries. When a busload of prisoners is diverted during a snowstorm and forced to unload the inmates at the precinct, they find themselves under siege by crooked cops seeking to eliminate one of their new prominent guests (Laurence Fishburne). Assualt on Precinct 13 is a satisfying if overly violent and dopey B-thriller, successfully paying tribute to John Carpenter's original while providing worthy updates. Hawk is engaging but the overall cast's acting and dialogue often feels forced.
*** out of ****

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Born Yesterday


A loutish junk tycoon (Broderick Crawford) travels to Washington D.C. to buy a Senator and hires a journalist (William Holden) to cultivate his ditsy, equally unrefined girlfriend (Judy Holliday). As the pair inevitably hit it off, she is also informed of the nature of her boyfriend’s business and his bullying personality. From Garson Kanin’s hit stage play which also starred Holliday, Born Yesterday contains often dumb, cornball humor and is occasionally amusing while much of it is an uninspired civics lesson. Holliday is the quintessential ditsy blonde (in an Oscar winning role), Holden is stiff as a foil to Crawford, the latter being entertaining as the brute.
*** out of ****

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The Three Faces of Eve


A downtrodden southern housewife (Joanne Woodward) begins to exhibit strange behavior at home before a second, reckless personality manifests itself followed by a third, more normalized one. With the help of a psychiatrist (Lee J. Cobb), she seeks treatment and gradually begins to eradicate the more flawed. The Three Faces of Eve, straightforward and plainly directed, seems like a phony, shallow representation of the rare psychological condition despite the ‘true story’ touting of the opening monologue and the screenplay participation of two of the real life shrinks involved in the case. That being said, Woodward is the whole show here, impressively versatile as the three distinct personalities. Cobb is strong but hardly credible as the sensitive psych doctor.
*** out of ****

Saturday, March 3, 2018

The Florida Project

A preschooler (Brooklyn Prince) and her friends are free to play and cause mischief in the low-rent motels just outside of Disneyworld while her derelict mother (Bria Vinaite) runs scams, prostitutes herself, and lays around and all are watched over by the curt but benevolent property manager (Willem Dafoe). Sean Baker's The Florida Project feels like it could have worked better as a short, with too much filler and not quite enough to sustain a two hour feature, and it also treats the issue of neglectful parenting a little too lightly but I liked the way the film gradually reveals itself and the tracking shots and colorful cinematography bring it a sort of dreamlike quality. Dafoe is in excellent, empathetic form and Prince gives an amazingly well-rounded, funny performance.
*** out of ****