Tuesday, June 30, 2015


Two Yugoslav best friends profit off the black market in 1942 when the Germans invade and build their industry during the Cold War, with all coming to a head during the ethnic wars of the early nineties. Emir Kusturica's Underground is all at once unique, surrealistic, outlandish, sad, and hilarious, though all these elements occasionally work against each other and create confusion. The film is a clear passion project for the director, and presented at epic length, which is eased by the sheer brashness of the production and the strength of its cast. 
*** out of ****

Monday, June 29, 2015

Tim's Vermeer

A successful innovator in the computer graphics industry, Tim Jenison seeks to understand how Vermeer was able to craft such photographic mirroring paintings in the 17th Century by attempting to create a perfect reproduction of the Flemish master's The Music Lesson. Directed by Penn and Teller, Tim's Vermeer is a fascinating documentary that, though coming in at a short clip, goes through equal painstaking measures to document its subject's mammoth quest, even if it does begin to lose steam during the painting process.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Sunday, June 28, 2015

A Brief History of Time

A Brief History of Time documents the life and work of Stephen Hawking, featuring interviews from family, friends, and colleagues with discussions focused on topics and breakthroughs from his same named bestselling book. Surprisingly, Errol Morris' profile on the renowned physicist is more akin to the director's work done on earlier documentaries (The Thin Blue LineFast, Cheap & Out of Control) than later feature accounts (The Fog of War, The Unknown Known) and makes a good companion piece to the bland The Theory of Everything: where that film was almost exclusively focused on Hawking's personal life and featured little of his work, here we are shown his work in abundance in a highly impersonal presentation.
*** out of ****

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Nas: Time is Illmatic

Nas returns to the Queensbridge projects of his youth and takes the viewer through the circumstances leading up to the release of his groundbreaking hip-hop album Illmatic twenty years priorNas: Time is Illmatic is a well-made documentary with some good background and interesting participants but has absolutely nowhere to go, degenerating mostly into poor concert footage and concluding with its subject, for some reason, receiving a Harvard fellowship.
** 1/2 out of ****

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Edge of Heaven

A professor and Turkish immigrant living in Germany disapproves of the prostitute his widowed father has provided shelter for back home. When she is struck dead, a victim of the old man's violent temper, the professor sets out to find her daughter, another immigrant, though living illegally, who has struck up a passionate but precarious relationship with a university student. Fatih Akin's The Edge of Heaven is intelligent, understated, well acted, and powerful told through a series interconnected plot lines which make you realize how often similarly drafted films resort to gimmickry and easy resolutions.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Thursday, June 25, 2015


Alfred Kinsey has made his name by studying gall wasps during his tenure as professor at Indiana University when, due to a puritanical upbringing and difficulty consummating his marriage to a doting student (Laura Linney), he decides to embark on sex research project, soon publishing his groundbreaking and controversial Sexual Behavior in the Human Male in 1948. Bill Condon's Kinsey is somewhat unpleasant, grounded and features an overacting Neeson who struggles with his Midwestern accent. However, Linney and Peter Saarsgaard, playing one of the researchers, are quite good in support and the film offers several great scenes including the final one between Neeson and John Lithgow, portraying Kinsey's stern minister father.
*** out of ****

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Into the Woods

Rob Marshall's screen presentation of Stephen Sondheim's Broadway musical, a mishmash of fairytales which was purportedly aimed for adults on the stage but watered down for the big screen, is a dreary and lifeless excursion featuring forgettable songs, uninspired set pieces, and Meryl Streep in a throwaway role that inexplicably earned her an Oscar nod. Minor saving graces come from Emily Blunt and amusing supporting roles from Johnny Depp and Chris Pine.
** out of ****

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

A northern journalist (John Cusack) is enlisted to cover the annual party of a Savannah debutante (Kevin Spacey) when his errand boy and reputed lover (Jude Law) lashes out as the eccentric millionaire and later winds up dead. Quickly befriending his host, the reporter becomes central to the murder case and meets several unconventional types during his belated stay in the ghostly city. Clint Eastwood's filmization of John Berendt's novel is dull and overlong, with its murder mystery storyline and subsequent courtroom sequences playing second fiddle to atmosphere and Southern flavor (which are very well handled). Spacey's performance is colorful as are several supporting roles.
** 1/2 out of ****

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) struggles to balance his double life, keeping his grades up and girlfriend (Emma Stone) happy while protecting the residents of NYC with current threats emanating from Oscorp, which include some unexplained rhinocerus creature (Paul Giammati), another off-kilter scientist turned baddie via an experiment gone wrong (Jamie Foxx), and the son of the CEO and Peter's best bud Harry Osbourne (Dane DeHaan). Marc Webb's follow-up to his 2012 Spidey reboot is not so much bad as it is lame and uninspired, an extreme disappointment considering how enjoyable that first entry was. The stars bring nothing to the table this time around, Foxx, Giammati, and DeHaan add zero flavor whatsoever to villainous roles, and the production design and special effects harken back to the cheesy tepidness of the Sam Raimi films.
** out of ****

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Like Father, Like Son

An emotionally closed off businessman and his wife learn the young son they have been parenting is not their own, having been switched at birth, the result of improper maternity ward tagging. Having been put in contact with the family raising their biological son (and thus the true parents of his own son), arrangements are made for each couple to spend time with each child on weekly basis until it is decided which boy will reside in which household. From Japanese director Hirokazy Koreeda, Like Father, Like Son is heartfelt, resonating material which boasts excellent performances and is told at a measured, perhaps a little too measured, pace
*** 1/2 out of ****

Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada

An illegal immigrant (Julio Cedilio) is killed without cause by a border patrolman (Barry Pepper), who covers up his crime. The victim's employer and close friend (Tommy Lee Jones) quickly gets to the bottom of the matter and, when law enforcement fails to intervene, exhumes the body of his pal from a county grave, kidnaps the patrolman, and forces him at gunpoint to transport the corpse home south of the border for burial in his hometown. The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada is a poignant, meditative modern Western boasting excellent performances from Jones (making his directing debut) and Pepper.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Long Goodbye

While returning from the grocery store to purchase cat food, private investigator Philip Marlowe is visited by a friend asking to borrow money. Next thing the police are at his door, the friend implicated in a murder and Marlowe arrested for obstruction. Soon his friend is found murdered south of the border, he is released, and a new case involving a socialite and her alcoholic writer husband will lead him to the bottom of his friend's death and dealings. Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye, written by Leigh Brackett (who helped pen The Big Sleep, another Raymond Chandler potboiler, three decades earlier) is a unique and offbeat take on the detective story featuring many asides, most welcomed or amusing, but strays too often. Gould is an appealing Marlowe and Sterling Hayden has a memorable bit as the writer.
*** out of ****

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Jodorowsky's Dune

In 1965 Frank Herbert authored Dune, a groundbreaking, epic length science fiction novel which was adapted into a purportedly dreadful film by David Lynch in 1984. However, throughout the 1970s, surrealist Chilean filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky (Santa Sangre, El Topo) went to monumental lengths in an ultimately failed attempt to adapt Herbert's book. Jodorowsky's Dune follows the director as he takes us through the frustrating and often comical adaptation process. Frank Pavich's documentary is compellingly presented with its subject coming off as intriguing, silly, and vain, but perhaps may have only a passing interest for someone with little or no familiarity (such as myself) with the roundly praised book.
*** out of ****

Monday, June 15, 2015


As he drives to visit the woman about to give birth to his child in the hospital and figures out how to break the news to his wife and son, a foreman (Tom Hardy) loses his job on the evening of the biggest concrete pour of his career, but decides to see it through anyway counseling his replacement, all via bluetooth during the lengthy car ride to London. Locke is a high concept film from talented screenwriter Steven Knight (also directing here) that nearly works but grows wearisome, even in its short running time. Hardy makes some strange acting choices but is generally powerful in this one man show.
** 1/2 out of ****

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Cookie's Fortune

A elderly southern matron (Patricia Neal) finally decides to off herself, a long gestating plan to join her beloved departed husband in the afterlife. When her nieces, a domineering local staple (Glenn Close) and her buffoonish sister (Julianne Moore), stumble upon the scene and decides to disguise the shameful suicide as a home invasion, leaving her black caregiver (Charles Dutton) accused of the crime, though only mildly suspected by the close knit community. Robert Altman's Cookie's Fortune is a humorous small-town drama, at once a social commentary and slice of life, also ingeniously constructed and with a great cast.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Saturday, June 13, 2015


A sweeping look at Jazz, a true American art form, detailing a sequential history of the medium and focusing on, among many others talents, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Dizzie Gillespie, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Bennie Goodman, and Billie Holliday. With Ken Burn's Jazz, the composition is on par per usual but suffers again from the lack of engaging commentators, here pack of pompous snobs, and what's drawn out over the course of 19 redundant, pretentious hours could have been told more effectively in less than half.
** out of ****

Friday, June 12, 2015

Secret Honor

In his personal office post-presidency, a paranoid, acrid, resentful, and sullen Richard Nixon (Phillip Baker Hall) bitterly recalls his life and political career to a tape recorder, drink in hand and armed with a revolver. Robert Altman's filmization of Arnold Stone and Donald Freed's one man play (which they both adapted for the screen) is a departure from the director's usual work, though no less masterful, featuring a tour-de-force performance from Hall.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Act of Killing

Small time hoods turned mass murderers, enlisted by the Suharto regime when the Indonesian government fell in 1965, reunite to reminisce and reenact their atrocities in the style of their favorite movies. The Act of Killing is a deeply disturbing, stomach churning, and bizarre, even comically absurd (and somewhat redundant) documentary as pardoned butchers smile into the camera, almost giddy at their parts of forgotten barbarities.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Wednesday, June 10, 2015


Climate changes have led to the onset of a new Ice Age and wiped out most forms of life on earth. The few survivors travel the globe in a state of the art bullet train where a class system has emerged and the many are savagely ruled over by the few, inspiring a revolution led by a common, unassuming passenger (Chris Evans). Snowpiercer is predominated by tepid visuals, a vapid screenplay, and exhausting action sequences. Evans snoozes through another role and Tilda Swinton is both unrecognizable and insufferable. I can't really figure out why people ate this one up and can only speculate that when a movie is different, bizarre, and conveniently streaming on Netflix, then it therefore must be hailed as brilliant.
* 1/2 out of ****

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Hachi: A Dog's Tale

A college professor (Richard Gere) provides a home for the abandoned Akita he encountered at the train station, against the wishes of his wife (Joan Allen). As a bond develops between dog and master and tragedy suddenly strikes the family, a true act of devotion is displayed by the pup. Based on a supposedly true story which played out in Japan in early 20th century, Lasse Hallstrom's Hachi finds beauty in its simplicity without being overly cloying and gets an empathetic, frankly really strong performance from Gere.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Monday, June 8, 2015

The Invisible Woman

A married woman (Felicity Jones) reminisces back to her love affair with Charles Dickens (Ralph Fiennes) during his latter years of success until his death. The Invisible Woman is a sumptuously mounted production with Fiennes, who also directed, contributing his usually commanding performance but the film is highly turgid with an aimless, threadbare plot detailing a relationship that is never explored and a leading turn from Jones who brings very little and offers even less insight into her character.
** 1/2 out of ****

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Bad Boys

After a dismal showing in the 1970s, the Detroit Pistons luck began to change in 1981 when they acquired Isaiah Thomas in the draft and Bill Lambeer by trade (and eventually Dennis Rodman, John Salley, Rick Mahorn, and Adrian Dantley) and adopted a win at all cost, many would call dirty approach which resulted in two NBA championships at the end of the decade. As part of an ESPN documentary series that went south awhile back, Bad Boys is a pleasant surprise: riveting, impressively edited, featuring a sea of personalities in a well told story that could have been fleshed out even more.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Children of Paradise

Set in a Paris theater around mid-1800s, Children of Paradise details the relations of a beautiful young woman and the four men who love her. Marcel Carne's heralded exemplar is a small story told at epic length, a deftly written treatise on unrequited love featuring memorable actors and impressive set pieces.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Friday, June 5, 2015

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia

After a powerful Mexican land baron places a million dollar bounty on the head of the man who impregnated his teenage daughter, an alcoholic American expat (Warren Oates) catches wind of the proposition and sets off on a brutal odyssey with his prostitute companion (Isela Vega) in tow to collect the severed appendage. Sam Peckinpah's Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia is a cold and empty low budget B-picture that features stylish, unrelenting violence and a great performance from a tired and worn Oates.
*** out of ****

Thursday, June 4, 2015


Darren Aronofsky's reimagining of the biblical tale features a strong performance from Russell Crowe, astounding visuals (which is all the more impressive considering how much of the movie is CGI), and thankfully doesn't get too far away from its source, despite some ludicrous additions and dull passages in this 140 minute adaptation of a 2 page story.
** 1/2 out of ****

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Hunt

A kindergarten teacher's assistant (Mads Mikkelsen) leads a quiet life in a small Danish and finds it severely and unjustly disrupted when the confused accusation of one of his students leads him to be branded as a sexual predator. The Hunt contains a threadbare, one strand plot but is carried by Mikkelsen's nuanced, sympathetic performance, Thomas Vinterberg's adept direction, and superb photography from Charlotte Bruus Christensen.
*** out of ****

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The Apu Trilogy

In this series of films, which consist of Pather Panchali, Aparajito, and The World of Apu, life is viewed through the eyes of a young, penniless Bengalese boy who loses his sister and then moves to the big city before again suffering the loss of his father, mother, and, as an adult, his wife, all the while succeeding as a student and attempting to stake his own claim in the world. From the writings of Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay, Satyaji Ray's The Apu Trilogy is a succession of gracefully made films that capture a harsh, tragic, and impoverished life while also noting the joys of childhood and maturation, often through keen and beautifully poetic observation. The films positioned Ray on the international map and are made with a unique, fluid, and seemingly effortless hand.
**** out of *****

Monday, June 1, 2015

What's Love Got to Do with It

The story of Anna Mae Bullock and her inauspicious upbringing in rural Tennessee where she hones her musical ability beginning with the church before being discovered by Ike Turner, changing her name, and enduring years of domestic abuse while becoming one of the biggest musical headliners in the world. What's Love Got to Do with It is a fawning biopic of Tina Turner with not much to it besides the highly charged musical numbers and it odious scenes of spousal mistreatment and is recommended for the outstanding performances of Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne.
*** out of ****