Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Grey Zone

For unheard of privileges and a months long stay of execution, the Sonderkammando unit at Auschwitz calms the new arrivals before the gassings, cleans the death chambers, and loads the bodies into the furnaces. As a revolt is planned in several of the facilities, female inmates are tortured and killed while many of the men question their role and what they would do to stay alive. Tim Blake Nelson's grim, unrelenting, and oppressive The Grey Zone is a potent, talky drama which boasts excellent performances (including Harvey Keitel, Allan Corduner, and Steve Buscemi) and was unsurprisingly based on the director's own play which in turn was based on an account from survivor Dr. Miklos Nyiszli.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

A hopelessly depressed office drone (Jim Carrey) opts for a revolutionary new procedure to have his flighty ex-girlfriend (Kate Winslet) purged from his memory after discovering she had the operation done in reference to him. While put under, he finds his subconscious clinging tight to the memories while intuiting that his own identity is being siphoned by one of the technicians. Impressive Charlie Kaufman screenplay (and amazingly one of his least cerebral) is given an overly fanciful treatment by director Michel Gondry and probably not as deep as it purports itself to be. I found Winslet hard to take, despite the glowing press she received at the time, and Carrey truly owns the movie.
*** out of ****

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Alien: Covenant

On an years long interspace journey carrying somnolent passengers to colonize an unspoiled planet and just after a conflagration claims the life of their captain, a crew receives a signal from a nearby planet which they detour towards. There they find an android (Michael Fassbender), MIA from another crashed vessel, who has been manipulating the weaponized DNA of a deadly parasite. Alien: Covenant is an adequate if unspectacular follow up to Prometheus with routine action sequences though the scenes with Fassbender, and notions surrounding artificial intelligence are still intriguing.
*** out of ****

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Barry Lyndon

The rise and fall of Redmond Barry (Ryan O'Neal), an Irishman born to modest means in the late 18th Century who finds himself exiled from his village following a duel over a flame, robbed blind of all possessions, serving and deserting in two armies, before acquainting with a disreputable cardsharp and weasling his way into high society but finding himself unable to keep his footing there. Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon, from a Thackeray novel, is among the coldest, most calculated, and painstaking of all his features which also bears some of the most striking and pristine cinematography ever put to film, courtesy of John Alcott. O'Neal's performance is underplayed and excellent while given great support by a company of virtual unknowns. The film is long and slow-burning, but extremely involving and endlessly fascinating.
**** out of ****

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

25th Hour

In the wake of 9/11 New York City, a thoughtful and personable coke dealer (Edward Norton) sits along the river with his recently rescued pup and ponders his last day of freedom and the limited choices they present as he must report to prison the following day. In the meantime, he ties up loose ends with his alcoholic father (Brian Cox) and loving but suspicious girlfriend (Rosario Dawson) and catches up with loyal but troubled childhood pals (Barry Pepper, Philip Seymour Hoffman). From a novel and screenplay by David Benioff, Spike Lee’s 25th Hour is an operatic, involving, and powerfully acted work with Norton giving one of his finest performances and a noted, central “mirror” sequence a particular highlight. As for the detractions, Dawson seems out of her league amongst the other players and Cox’s narrative fantasy finale is way too much.

*** ½ out ****

Monday, September 11, 2017

Sons of the Desert

When their fraternity announces a beer-soaked convention in Chicago, Stan and Ollie know they must be in attendance which means spinning a tale about needing a medical sabbatical in Honolulu. The duo realize the jig is up when the front pages report of the Hawaii ocean liner overturning and they now must hide from their exceedingly angry and heavily armed wives and concoct an even greater whopper. Hal Roach produced Sons of the Desert is laugh out loud funny made with incessant pratfalls, muggings, misunderstandings, idiocy, and stretching of a gag as far as it will go.

*** ½ out of ****

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Celebrity

A bored travel journalist (Kenneth Branagh) leaves his wife (Judy Davis) and his line of work to pursue celebrity interviews and a life of hedonism while stepping all over the beautiful new women in his life. Meanwhile, she meets a too good to be ture TV executive (Joe Mantegna), producer of daytime schlock, and finds herself reborn, also as an assessor of the rich and famous. With sleek black and white cinematography by Sven Nykvist and a pretentious story on the vapidness of stardom, Woody Allen again enters Fellini territory which doesn't really mesh with his standard fare, though there are many fine moments and the movie is perfectly watchable. Branagh does his best Woody impersonation and Davis, an Allen regular, finds her best role in one of his pictures. Many stars appear with Leonardo DiCaprio, Charlize Theron, and Donald Trump being the most memorable.
** 1/2 out of ****

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Things to Come

The next century is forecast as Earth is plunged into seemingly perpetual world war which leads to a crushing pestilence and ultimately a reconstruction which is highlighted by aggressive space exploration. Simplistic, harsh, prognostic Alexander Korda produced cautionary tale by HG Wells, which was made with his direct involvement including writing the screenplay, makes memorable use of miniature and montage but grows somewhat redundant in segments. Raymond Massey and Ralph Richardson are standouts among the cast.
*** out of ****

Friday, September 8, 2017

Leon Morin, Priest

During the German Occupation, a repressed, recently widowed atheist (Emmanuelle Riva) strikes up a friendship with her attractive, impassioned local priest (Jean-Paul Belmondo) and finds herself being drawn both to the popular cleric but also unremittingly to the faith. Jean-Pierre Melville’s Leon Morin, Priest is offbeat, intellectual fare, expertly filmed in beautiful black and white, and always moving and involving with ardent performances from Riva and Belmondo.

**** out of ****

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

For Your Eyes Only

A weapons system aboard a British Naval sub is attacked and sunken which James Bond (Roger Moore) is called in to retrieve before the perpetrators or the Russians can reach it, as he is joined by the beautiful, revenge bent daughter (Carole Bouquet) of an allied Greek scientist who was also targeted. For Your Eyes Only is a tepid, low-tech 007 entry with lazy storytelling and the dialogue at its lamest, with Topol making a welcomed supporting character, Carole Bouquet a beautiful Bond girl, and Julian Glover a flimsy villain.
** ½ out of ****

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Richard III

In an England resembling Nazi Germany, when the Lancaster king and his heir are killed during battle by the Yorks, hunchbacked Richard (Ian McKellen) plots a bloody and heartless play for the throne, taking the lives of his brother and nephews as he quickly spirals into madness. Richard Loncraine’s filming of Richard Eyre’s Shakespeare stage reworking is a cruel and violent vision, with a fierce and towering McKellen performance and a strong supporting cast.
*** out of ****

Friday, September 1, 2017

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

Members of the Starship Enterprise sit marooned light years away from home with their vessel destroyed, in possession of an alien Klingon craft, and facing a laundry list of Federation charges. When an alien probe inadvertently begins to destroy Earth due to their inability to contact now extinct whales, the crew travels back in time to the twentieth century to retrieve a pair of cetaceans and end the planetary meltdown. The Voyage Home is a well-filmed, satisfying entry with a ridiculous premise and corny, sometimes amusing screenplay which still ultimately feels like a prolonged episode.
*** out of *****