Monday, August 21, 2017

Fight Club

A disaffected auto recall adjuster (Edward Norton), suffering from insomnia and addicted to 12-step groups, finds his life radically changed by a nihilistic, narcissistic soap procuring stranger (Brad Pitt) with their initial creation of underground boxing clubs growing into something more radical, coordinated, and dangerous. From Chuck Palahniuk’s novel, David Fincher’s cutting edge and kinetically crafted Fight Club is often cruel, unpleasant, and ultimately senseless though it strikes a resounding chord while sending out mixed messages. Norton, Pitt, and a crucial Helena Bonham Carter are all at the top of their craft.
*** ½ out of ****

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Wind River

While searching for a predatory mountain lion on a Wyoming Indian reservation, a hunter/tracker (Jeremy Renner) for the Fish and Wildlife Service instead locates the raped and murdered body of a young Native woman who died in the same fashion as his own daughter several years earlier. Still grieving himself, he teams up with an FBI agent (Elizabeth Olsen) and local law enforcement in an effort to track the killer. Led by a commanding and stoic Renner performance and featuring beautiful location scenery, Taylor Sheridan's Wind River is an often profound mystery thriller that favors character and emotion over action, while purveying all exceedingly well.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Tender Mercies

A broken down country singer (Robert Duvall), estranged from his work partner wife (Betty Buckley) and their 18 year old daughter (Ellen Barkin) and lost in the bottle, is shown sympathy by an angelic single mother (Tess Harper) who runs a gas station/motel in the desolate part of Texas. As the two connect and marry, the singer attempts to repair his soul while fixing old wounds and moving on with the next act of his life. From a screenplay by Horton Foote, Bruce Beresford's Tender Mercies is a rare kind of film in that it embodies quiet and good-naturedness and resolves to be always emotionally honest. Duvall, in his sole Oscar winning role, is reserved, moving, and shows an aptitude for singing, some of the songs which he wrote himself. Harper is lovely as the young widow, Buckley is strong, and Wilford Brimley is great in support playing the latter's manager in a manner only he can. Beautifully photographed by Russell Boyd.
**** out of ****

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Souls for Sale

After getting bad vibes from her murderous fugitive husband (Lew Cody) en route to their honeyman, a young beauty (Eleanor Boardman) hops off her train in the middle of the barren California desert and is rescued by an actor (Frank Mayo) riding a camel filming latest adventure story. Now she struggles to gain fame in the cutthroat industry, falls into a love triangle between the dashing male lead and a stern director (Richard Dix), while her husband, having noted her stardom, returns to reclaim her. Solid silent studio film contains great insider vantage points and cameos, including fascinating appearances by Charlie Chaplin at work and Erich von Stroheim on the set of Greed, and a fantastic, apocalyptic finale.
*** ½ out of ****

Monday, August 14, 2017

Everyone Says I Love You

A depressed neurotic expatriate (Woody Allen) romances a beautiful fellow American (Julia Roberts) in Venice with inside information through his daughter from her psychoanalyst while his ex-wife (Goldie Hawn) and current husband (Alan Alda) and the rest of their sprawling family frolic in New York City while falling in and out of love. The usual Allen fare musicalized to old standards, Everyone Says I Love You is too unfocused, light, and scattered but often very funny. Highlights include specters singing during a wake, Goldie and Woody’s elegant number along the Seine, and the closing Marx Brothers masquerade.

*** out of ****

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Spy Who Loved Me

After British and Russian nuclear subs are hijacked by a maniacal billionaire (Curt Jurgens), with a gargantuan metal mouth henchman (Richard Kiel), a penchant for sharks, and hellbent on submerging the planet and creating an underwater civilization, Bond (Roger Moore) is called into action and paired with a slinky Moscow agent (Barbara Bach) with a deadly vendetta against the British spy. The Spy Who Loved Me is a surprisingly strong, well made, and often spoofed entry with Bach a game Bond girl and Moore finally settling into the role nicely. Jurgens makes a less than formidable villain but Kiel's entry into the series is both fun and menacing.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Detroit

An aspiring Motown singer (Algee Smith) and a friend, along with a security guard (John Boyega), a returning Army vet (Anthony Mackie), and others regrettably assemble at the Algiers Motel near the epicenter of the 1967 Detroit riots and find themselves victims of the crazed and tortuous police force searching for a sniper alleged to have fired from the establishment. Made with screenwriter Mark Boal, collaborator on her recent high profile projects (The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty), Kathryn Bigelow's Detroit is made with the sole and express intention to incite plus is scattershot and overlong, with too many unnecessary, drawn out scenes and underdeveloped characters, and a misguided inclination to treat the dreadful incident like a horror movie.
** out ****

Saturday, August 5, 2017

The Beguiled

A critically wounded Union soldier is discovered and taken into a Southern all-girls boarding school where he is reluctantly nursed back to health while he stokes the ire, passions, and curiosities of its residents. Don Siegel's The Beguiled is more diabolical and carnal than Sophia Coppola's recent respectable remake, made with a very 70s, hallucinatory aura, and a surprisingly talkative role for Eastwood who is quite, especially later on when his character becomes possessed with uncontrollable rage.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Friday, August 4, 2017

Exotica

A grieving bank auditor (Bruce Greenwood) seeks emotional comfort from a dancer (Mia Kirsher) at a specialized Toronto gentleman’s club which stirs the ire of her ex-boyfriend and house DJ (Elias Koteas) while an animal smuggling pet shop owner (Don McKellar) is brought into the damaged circle. Atom Egoyan’s Exotica is pretentiously and obliquely drawn but extremely involving and even spellbinding in parts, with a big assist to the Leonard Cohen soundtrack. Greenwood and especially Koteas standout in the cast.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Night Moves

A cuckolded L.A. private eye (Gene Hackman), who finds his current line of work a far cry from his glory days on the gridiron, takes on the case of a missing teenager (Melanie Griffith) which leads him to the Florida Keys and ultimately has greater ramifications of plundering, sleaze, and murder. Made on the heels of Chinatown and perhaps mirroring that classic a little too closely in terms of plot, Arthur Penn’s Night Moves works marvelously both as a detective story and on an existential, psychological plane while incorporating a snappy, insightful screenplay into an involving story. Hackman shows his unique ability to play a sensitive tough guy and I can't imagine anyone else delivering these lines with such conviction and believability, although Penn doesn't direct the actresses well.
**** out of ****

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

La belle noiseuse

A great master (Michel Piccoli) lives in his picturesque manor in the south of France having not painted in over ten years since he halted work on his masterpiece after the storm it created with his then muse and current wife (Jane Birkin). Now, he is visited by an art dealear, a photographer, and his beautiful, independent minded girlfriend (Emmanuelle Beart) who is seen as a new source of inspiration for the artist as the storms begin to brew once more as he believes he will now be able to finish his magnum opus. Though tough going at times and with an extreme running time, Jacques Rivette's La belle noiseuse is a painstaking, incredibly in-depth look at the creative process and how during which the human factor takes its hand. Piccoli and Birkin are excellent and the gorgeous Beart offers a fearless and nuanced performanced.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Monday, July 31, 2017

Dunkirk

Beat back by German troops to the French port city of Dunkirk, hundreds of thousands of Allied troops wait in desperation for an unlikely deliverance. Over the course of this harrowing week, we witness a French soldier trying to smuggle his way onto a fleeting British carrier, a dogfight between RAF and Luftwaffe pilots, and a civilian and his sons answering their country’s call to aid in the evacuation. Christopher Nolan’s most solemn and serious movie to date is a visually arresting, fluid, even balletic experience told with minimal dialogue and the aid of fine performances including Kenneth Branagh, Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy, and Tom Hardy. The movie does reach a problem area however when the panoply of the filmmaking itself starts to take precedence over the actual events it is depicting.
*** ½ out of ****

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Founder

Persistent, energetic, and struggling milkshake mixer salesman Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) is dumbfounded when a San Bernardino restaurant places an order for eight machines when he can barely sell one himself and drives halfway across the country to check out the operation. There he meets the McDonald brothers (Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch) and discovers their “fast food” concept in what amounts to a revelation from God, and places all his energies into franchising the restaurant and expanding his burger empire at all costs. The Founder amounts to little more than an unabashed, unashamed two hour McDonald’s commercial that decides it wants to be Citizen Kane in the last ten minutes and helped little by Keaton’s frenetic, tic-conscious performance.
* 1/2 out of ****

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

A Streetcar Named Desire

After losing the family farm and being run out of town, a fragile, delusional, aging ex-schoolteacher (Vivien Leigh) moves in her pregnant sister’s (Kim Hunter) noisy and humid French Quarter flat and finds herself being bullied, abused, and driven to madness by her crude and brutish brother-in-law (Marlon Brando). Elia Kazan’s screen treatment of Tennessee Williams’ monumental play is stagy and claustrophobic, while showing its age a bit, but still daring and potent with Brando’s revolutionizing and sometimes hammed up performance standing atop a phenomenal cast which also includes the noble and dopey Maldin.

*** ½ out of ****

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Lost City of Z

The story of Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam), a British colonel whose disgraced family name prevented his Army advancement and who, in several perilous trips up the Amazon river, saw a way to redeem it, seek insight into the misunderstood indigenous people, and find a mythic lost jungle city that would prove their advancement. Filmed on a beautiful canvas, James Gray’s somber Amazonian adventure piece is captivating in segments, but languidly paced and probably should have been drawn tauter while ultimately lacking resonance and paling somewhat to the great jungle river works of Coppola, Herzog, or Huston. Though Hunnam gives it an earnest go, I can’t help but think the project would have fared better on another, stronger actor’s shoulders. As for the rest of the cast, Robert Pattinson provides a quieting, stoic presence as Fawcett’s assistant, Miller seems lacking as the worried, progressive minded wife, and Angus Macfayden is memorable as a cowardly national hero who joins one of Fawcett’s expeditions.
*** out of ****

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Baby Driver

Mostly mute and traumatized from a childhood accident with a preternatural ability for getaway driving and earbuds constantly playing an array of popular music, an idiot savant (Ansel Elgort) is compelled to work off an exaggerated debt for a crime lord (Kevin Spacey) and, when attempting to emancipate himself, he is targeted along with his waitress girlfriend (Lily James) by psychotic fellow bank job members (Jaime Foxx and Jon Hamm). Another cute and ostensibly hip entry from Edgar Wright is the latest Goodfellas knockoff and adds nothing to the heist movie except bad music. Elgort boasts zero charisma and the rest of cast, with the exception of an amusing Spacey, appear in write-off roles.
** out of ****

Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Crucible

Vendettas, paranoia, personal interests, and mass hysteria rule the day in colonial Salem when rumors of witchcraft start circulating the village with a young, calculating girl (Winona Ryder) and her brood of posturing "victims" leading the mass accusations against residents, her aim to remove the wife (Joan Allen) of her former employer (Daniel Day-Lewis), a noble farmer who once fell prey to her advances and must summon the courage to stop this grave injustice. With Arthur Miller writing the script to his own seminal play (which again has relevance regarding today's media) some 40 years on, The Crucible is well-set and properly cast but nonetheless a tone-deaf treatment, even largely so in the Day-Lewis performance, but is truly worth the price of admission just to witness Paul Scofield's supporting turn as the cold and esteemed inquisitor.
** 1/2 out of ****

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Thief of Bagdad (1924 and 1940)


In the first of these two diverging tellings of the Arabian Nights tales, Douglas Fairbanks stars as a beggar and master pickpocket in the Bagdad bazar who becomes completely awestruck at the sight of the princess (Julanne Johnston) and seeks to break into the castle at the same time she is visited by an evil Mongolian sultan and two other loutish princes all trying to win her hand. An Alexander Korda produced (and partially directed by Michael Powell) barely related follow-up sees a feckless King (John Justin) overthrown by his iniquitous right-hand Jafar (Conrad Viedt), finding his purpose in the princess (played by June Duprez also targeted by Jafar), and sharing the fate of an industrious street urchin (Sabu) who happens upon an insolent, all-powerful genie. Raoul Walsh’s 1924 treatment of The Thief of Bagdad is a rousing silent entertainment, boasting an exciting story, remarkable sets, and an engaging Fairbanks performance. The 1940 British update, released to a besieged wartime audience, is a fantastic family entertainment featuring state of the art Technicolor special effects that make you lament the current state of the magic-lacking movies. Sabu, Justin, Viegt and Ingram all leave an imprint.
1924 version: *** ½ out of ****

1940 version: *** ½ out of ****

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Withnail & I

Two unemployed, drug addled, alcoholic actors (Richard E. Grant and Paul McGann), living in complete filth and squalor in a London flat in the late 60s retreat to an uncle's countryside manor where they are dogged by the weather, the locals, and an unexpected visit from their forward, flamboyant provider (Richard Griffiths). Bruce Robinson's drawn from real life black comedy is hilarious and humanized with great performances all around, especially Griffiths as Withnail's ostentatious Uncle Monty.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Thursday, July 6, 2017

The Double Life of Veronique

Two identical, unrelated women in Paris and Warsaw (both played by Irene Jacob) are nonetheless metaphysically bonded and, when one dies suddenly from a heart condition during a music recital, the other, a music teacher, feels acute grief and sorrow while simultaneously being stalked by an aware puppeteer as part of a social experiment. Unique though specific to the director's canon, Krzysztof Kieslowski's The Double Life of Veronique is marked by its stunning cinematography, resplendent music, and a luminous, nuanced performance from the enchanting Jacob although the opaque subject is not expanded upon and left rather abstract.
*** out of ****

Monday, July 3, 2017

The Quiet American (1958 and 2002)


A jaded British journalist (Michael Redgrave in the original, Michael Caine in the update) covers the French colonialists' war with the communists in 1950s Vietnam and finds his much younger local mistress being swept away by an unassuming, idealistic, and also much younger American aid worker (Audie Murphy and Brendan Fraser) who proves to be something totally different than he initially appears. Graham Greene's cynical story was first adapted by Joseph L. Mankiewicz into a great, depoliticized screenplay that ultimately leaves much less of an impact whereas Philip Noyce's remake keeps much of the contentious politics intact, though this version seems to detract from the main love triangle where our sympathies mostly reside. In both films, it is the wary and consummate lead performances from Redgrave and Caine which make the film worth seeing and Fraser is quite good as well, crafting a humanized, three-dimensional character out of a vapid blueprint that is far beyond Murphy's empty portrayal in the earlier picture.
1958: *** out of ****
2002: *** out of ****

Sunday, July 2, 2017

The Man with the Golden Gun

On his own private island buried deep in the seas of Red China, Francisco Scaramanga, the world's most deadly assassin with a just a rare birth mark, hunts the top men of his trade before setting his sights on MI6's top agent who, upon receiving word, treks to Macau, Hong Kong, and Thailand in search of a solar device while bedding his stalker's mistress and a beautiful and jealous fellow agent all before the final showdown. The Man with the Golden Gun is a vapid and cruder than usual 007 entry with Moore still an effete, ineffectual Bond in his second outing. Stupid throwbacks to previous movies don't help and a Lady from Shanghai inspired ending is anticlimactic. The villains and the women continue to be the reasons for these movies with Christopher Lee making a formidable baddie and Britt Eckland and Maud Adams lovely Bond girls.
** 1/2 out of ****

Saturday, July 1, 2017

The Beguiled

Well past the turning point of the Civil War, a gravely wounded Dublin born Union conscriptee (Colin Farrell) is discovered on the grounds of a largely deserted Virginia plantation now being utilized as a low enrollment all-girls boarding school. Reluctantly taken in and given aid and shelter by the headmistress (Nicole Kidman), a repressed teacher (Kirsten Dunst), and the curious pupils whom he uses his wiles to charm and create jealousy and dissension before it all pivots back onto him. Sofia Coppola's remake of a 1971 Don Siegel/Clint Eastwood film (unseen by me) is, if a little underwritten, slowly involving and richly atmospheric thanks in large part to the beautiful, foggy and muted cinematography in addition to the wonderful period details. Farrell, Kidman, and Dunst all inhabit their roles superbly.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Split

Three teen-aged girls are kidnapped from the parking lot of a restaurant and held captive by a man (James McAvoy) with dissociative identity disorder, 23 distinct personalities to be exact, who converses with his psychiatrist (Betty Buckley) while trying both to cultivate and ward off the monstrous, superhuman 24th temperament that is quickly emerging. After years of poor reviews, misguided genre exercises, and big budget flops, Split is a mostly welcomed return to form for M. Night Shyamalan thanks largely to an amusing, winning performance from McAvoy, in a turn that could have easily been laughable, Anya Taylor-Joy's presence as the focal victim, and the subplot involving Buckley. The finale is unsatisfying and too simply arrived at, as is a post credits cameo which is supposedly leading to a tie-in feature involving one of the director's previous films.
*** out of ****

Sunday, June 18, 2017

It Comes at Night

In a desolate modern world ravaged by plague and just following being forced to dispatch their infected patriarch, a family (Joel Edgerton, Carmen Ejogo, and Kelvin Harrison, Jr.) living in their forested compound is visited by a desperate intruder (Christopher Abbott) who could spell either boon or doom to their dire condition. Following a similar pattern to many recently acclaimed horror films, It Comes at Night starts out promising, crafting a claustrophobic and atmospheric setting but has absolutely no idea where it wants to go, ultimately leading to unremarkable places that would feel right at home on an episode of The Walking Dead.
** 1/2 out of ****

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

I, Daniel Blake

After suffering a heart attack on the job, a marginalized widowed carpenter (Dave Johns) attempts to maintain his dignity while being forced to jump through hoop after hoop to qualify for disability benefits while befriending a downtrodden single mother (Hayley Squires) up against the same bludgeoning system. With a rich, humanistic performance from Johns, Ken Loach's minimalist story, which resonates all the more in its few powerful moments, hits the nail on the head with its attacks on a steely, uncaring bureaucracy but is surprisingly artificial in the trite scenarios involving Squires. An especially Loachian finale is riotous, solemn, and embraceable.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Friday, June 9, 2017

Diary of a Country Priest

A young, unpracticed cleric (Claude Laydu), dogged by a stomach ailment which threatens his day-to-day duties, deals with indifference, contempt, and threats of scandal from parishioners at his new pastoral posting. From a novel by Georges Bernanos, Diary of a Country Priest is challenging, harsh, protracted, austere, and pristinely filmed, all the elements underlining Robert Bresson's masterful body of work.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Secrets & Lies

A broken London family, including a well-to-do, people pleasing middle class photographer (Timothy Spall), his barren, melancholic wife (Phyllis Logan), his emotionally unbalanced, project housed single parent sister (Brenda Blethyn) and her miserable daughter (Claire Rushbrook), reaches a catharsis when a black optometrist (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) enters their lives, claiming to be the abandoned daughter of the sister. Lengthy and deliberate Mike Leigh effort is emotional and involving with a tremendous cast (really every principle performance is top caliber) and punctuated by sublime moments of revelation and welcomed detours. Spall's culminating speech is both beautiful and transcendent.
**** out of ****

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Great Santini

A decorated Marine fighter pilot (Robert Duvall) commands his family and his oldest son (Michael O'Keefe) in particular with the same fierceness and determination he does his own troops as they adjust to life following their latest move to a Southern military town. Lewis John Carlino trims the fat of Pat Conroy's bloated and overwritten autobiographical novel and winds up with a too sanitized but nonetheless likable look at a dysfunctional father/son relationship. Duvall's ardent and comical role is up there with his best and O'Keefe contributes a surprisingly strong youth performance.
*** out of ****

Monday, June 5, 2017

Get Out

Against his better judgement and the jocular warnings of a friend, a black photographer (Daniel Kaluuya) leaves the city and travels with his white girlfriend (Allison Williams) to meet her moneyed parents (Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford) at their secluded estate and finds his worst fears realized when backslapping and phony attempts at bonding turn into something far more sinister. Jordan Peele's Get Out makes amusing and sardonic commentary on progressive attitudes towards race but as a horror movie—for which it was heavily billed—is dearly lacking, with way too much set-up, even well after the audience knows what's going on, and a spectacularly unimaginative and routine ending. Kaluuya makes a commiserable and personable lead.
** 1/2 out of ****

Monday, May 29, 2017

The Edge

While vacationing at an Alaskan lodge during a photo shoot, a pragmatic, solitary billionaire (Anthony Hopkins)--with a steel trap mind when it comes to survivalist tidbits--naturally finds himself lost in the wild with a sleek photographer (Alec Baldwin) who may or may not have eyes for his trophy wife (Elle Macpherson) and fortune and might prove a bigger threat than the 2,000 pound, flesh eating Kodiak bear stalking their every move.  Even with its rustic, prepossessing location shooting, exciting action sequences, and rugged subject, The Edge misses the point somewhat by deprioritizing the fact that at its heart this is essentially a two-man David Mamet battle of wills play which is evident in director Lee Tamahori's occasional misdirection of his actors (who are mostly great) and a lack of emphasis on the punchy dialogue.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Friday, May 26, 2017

Primary Colors

A idealistic, small-time staffer (Adrian Lester) is recruited to join the Presidential campaign of a magnetic Democratic Southern governor (John Travolta) and, after quickly believing he may be the real deal, signs on as campaign manager and even more rapidly finds himself covering up his new boss' sexual escapades. When their opponent unexpectedly (and fortuitously) exits the race, an old hand politico (Larry Hagman) steps in, galvanizes his position, and leads the campaign on a muck finding mission led by a deranged but brilliant former ally (Kathy Bates) which leads to dark, compromising places of the American political abyss. Based on a novel by Joe Klein (originally published under Anonymous) detailing Bill Clinton's 1992 run, Primary Colors is an exemplary political satire. With a funny, adept, and ultimately sorrowful script by Elaine May and sharp direction from Mike Nichols, the film knows its territory and contains deeply invested, humanized characters. Travolta's performance is one of his best, Emma Thompson is excellent as the Hillary cipher, Billy Bob Thronton hilarious in the James Carville role, and Bates and Hagman both heartrending in standout performances.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Gentleman's Agreement

A California journalist (Gregory Peck) heads to New York to write for a liberal digest and labors over how to approach his new assignment in exposing anti-Semitism in many variants in society until it hits him: attack it like every one of his acclaimed exposés, by getting down to the ground level, and feign being Jewish himself. Age shows on this Elia Kazan Best Picture Oscar winner and it grows tiresome and overly preachy with a bland Peck at his most rigid. The screenplay however is utterly thorough and explores its subject through many angles and lenses.
** 1/2 out of ****

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

The 39 Steps

Shots ring out in a London Vaudevillian theater, an attempt to create a distraction by a female agent who finds herself in the flat of one the show’s attendees (Robert Donat). Now, he is thrust into the serpentine plot that takes him to the Scottish Mores where he is both pursuing and pursued by the deadly, clandestine eponymous spy ring. Slyly conceived and brilliantly realized, The 39 Steps is a supreme entertainment that anticipated not just some of Alfred Hitchcock's future work but also inspired many successful, subsequent thrillers.
**** out of ****

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

20th Century Women

A product of the Depression Era, an older mother and single parent (Annette Bening) attempts to understand her punk influenced adolescent son (Lucas Jade Zumann) who seeks guidance from a sickly artistic tenant (Greta Gerwig), an aloof maintenance man (Billy Crudup), and an advanced peer (Elle Fanning) in 1979 Santa Barbara. Phony, magniloquent Mike Mills production, who took nearly the exact same approach with Beginners (ostensibly depicting his father, here his mother), is the kind of material with appeal solely for West Coast liberals and middle-aged Gen-Xers. Bening delivers a nice performance and helps buoy the film along with Gerwig and Zumann. Sean Porter's photography helps too.
** out of ****

Monday, April 24, 2017

Rules Don't Apply

One of the many starlets (Lily Collins) on Howard Hughes's payroll lives by the stringent rules accorded by the aging, shadowy, and eccentric billionaire (Warren Beatty), which includes not dating your assigned driver and personal spy, in her case a straight-edged, business driven Christian (Alden Ehrenreich). Beatty's self-aggrandizing, first directorial effort in almost twenty years is a strange, tonally shifting, and shamefully bad screwball comedy that only conjures up memories of Scorsese's The Aviator, a vastly superior Hughes picture. Only Ehrenreich keeps the picture afloat.
* out of ****

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Patriots Day

Fresh off suspension and nursing a bum knee, a police sergeant (Mark Wahlberg) somehow manages to be present at every turn of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and the ensuing five day highly coordinated search for the treacherous, radicalized suspects. Overcooked Boston elements, too many liberal platitudes and speeches, and an epilogue that just will not end mar Peter Berg's latest Wahlberg starring tragic recent news rehashing. Pretty much what you'd expect except the manhunt sequences are surprisingly thrilling and the saga is surgically recreated and aided by true life surveillance footage.
** 1/2 out ****

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Anne of the Thousand Days

With Katharine of Aragon past her child bearing years and failing to produce a male heir, Henry VIII (Richard Burton) sets his sights on the beautiful young Anne Boleyn who successfully manipulates him to seek divorce, thus breaking with the Catholic Church while warring with Spain. She proves no match, however, to his uncontrollable jealousy and madness and the wiles of his brilliant, unscrupulous adviser Thomas Cromwell (John Colicos) when the marriage proves just as fruitless as the first. Sometimes intriguing but mostly forgettable entry of the oft-filmed story which has had a resurgence lately (i'd recommend Wolf Hall for a better treatment) and pales in comparison to other castle intrigues of the era (Lion in Winter, A Man for All Seasons). Burton is strong but probably miscast and Bujold makes a lifeless Boleyn.
** 1/2 out of ****

Friday, April 21, 2017

A Man Called Ove

A recently widowed curmudgeonous engineer (Rolf Lassgard), made redundant by technology, finds himself lording over his condo association and continually failing at taking his own life until he is given purpose by the newly arrived kindly and forthright next door neighbors. Soupy Swedish export is easy, cliched, PC, tear jerking material, the cinematic equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel, though Lassgard is excellent and the movie is amusing in bits and admittedly hard to dislike.
** 1/2 out of ****

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Learning Tree

A principled black teen in 1920s rural Kansas looks forward to leaving his close-minded community, while savoring its life lessons and positives aspects, while witnessing a headstrong peer being driven towards a life of crime and poverty. In adapting his own autobiographical novel, Gordon Parks was involved in just about every aspect of the film's creation, including producing, writing, directing, and scoring the music while at the same time becoming the first black director of a major studio picture. That being said, The Learning Tree is an involving message movie with familiar elements that goes its own route, sometimes explicitly, which must have been eye-opening in its era. A genuine cast helps too.
*** out of ****

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Christine

A high-strung TV newswoman (Rebecca Hall) prone to depression finds herself butting heads with the station manager (Tracy Letts) over the lack of exploitative angles in her stories and rejected by the lead anchor (Michael C. Hall) before sending shockwaves across the country in a live, desperate act. Christine (not to be confused with the Stephen King killer car movie) manages to make intelligent observations about mental illness, sexism, and careerism on top of the more obvious point of news sensationalism while leading towards a shocking denouement that is actually enhanced by beforehand knowledge of the story. Rebecca Hall's performance seems awkward initially but eventually clicks, generating empathy, and she is given fine support by Letts, Michael C. Hall (no relation), J. Smith-Cameron playing her mom, and Maria Dizzia as a concerned coworker. An unemphasized 70s soundtrack also contributes nicely.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Defying the Nazis: The Sharps' War

Prominent Massachusetts Methodists Waitstill and Martha Sharp risk their lives and ultimately sacrifice their marriage and much of their own savings in order to personally assist the exodus of hundreds of refugees as Hitler increases his territorial holdings in Greater Europe. Directed by Ken Burns and Artemis Joukowsky, Defying the Nazis: The Sharps' War is a cheaply made, limited telling of an intense story of selfless heroism, which opts mostly for testimonials and almost entirely forgoes any opportunities the story offers for intrigue.
** out of ****

Monday, April 17, 2017

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock

Against orders, Kirk and his crew smuggle the Enterprise away from headquarters in order to retrieve Spock's corpse from Planet Genesis as the presumed dead doctor's consciousness seems to have taken over Bones. Meanwhile, with the Klingons closing in, Kirk's son leads a separate expedition exploring the rapidly evolving characteristics of the targeted planet. Leonard Nimoy directed this supremely uninspired installment, which has been credited by some for keeping with the spirit of the series and for its admittedly strong special effects, though the movie is awfully uneventful, cheesy, and sluggish.
** out of ****

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Prince of Egypt

All but forgotten recent Disney retelling of the Exodus story and the liberation of the Israelites from Egypt is a straightforward presentation with surprisingly strong animation and a fine cast of voice actors led by Val Kilmer as Moses and Ralph Fiennes as Rameses, though the picture is dogged by a lacking Stephen Schwartz soundtrack that heavily and humorously knocks off Les Mis.
*** out of ****

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Baraka

An erupting volcano, Manhattan traffic, Eastern temples, sites of war atrocities, an African tribal ritual and many more events ranging from mundane to the extraordinary make up Ron Fricke's free flowing, non narrative documentary. Consisting of the highest visual quality--you could even mistake it for an episode of Planet Earth, which is saying something considering it was shot over 25 years ago on 70mm--Baraka boasts wondrous and even breathtaking imagery but is awfully broad and incohesive.
*** out of ****

Friday, April 14, 2017

Waking Life

7/17/10 Waking Life is about a young man caught in a series of dreams who meets several people and listens to their philosophies on life while he formulates his own opinions. Director Richard Linklater, who may be the most innovative and experimental director working today, created this marvel of a movie by filming it with a digital camera and having dozens of writers animate the film while adding their own trippy spins. This is a thinking person's movie and is not for everyone. However, it is a movie that can be watch casually or intensely, and can be revisited many times. Waking Life is a little gem of a movie that each person should at least tempt to watch. Look for Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy who make a welcome reprise of their characters from Before Sunrise.
***1/2 out of ****

Magnolia

The lives of ten quasi related Los Angeleans, most with some connection to a long running children's quiz show, are put through the emotional ringer on a long, rainy day as they face personal and past revelations that reach a literal biblical proportion. Paul Thomas Anderson's brilliantly directed, captivating, and draining pastiche is remarkably only barely marred by its extreme length and aptitude for pretentiousness and self-indulgence. While some of the actors are hard to stomach (Juliane Moore, Melora Walters), most are tremendous including Philip Baker Hall, Melinda Dillon, William H. Macy, John C. Reilly, Jason Robards, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Tom Cruise in a fierce, highly charged, career-topping turn as a misogynistic self-help sex guru.
**** out of ****

Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Lady Vanishes

After being snowed in at a remote Eastern European inn, almost all the members of a passenger train have a motive for concealing their awareness of the existence of a sweet little old lady who seemingly vanished into thin air while a recent acquaintance (Margaret Lockwood) and a cynical musician (Michael Redgrave) suspect a conspiracy and attempt to rally a search party. Sharp and witty, early pre-Hollywood Hitchcock success is a crisply made mystery and veritable entertainment. Lockwood and Redgrave shine in the leads and Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne stand out as nitwit, cricket obsessed travelling companions.
**** out of ****