Saturday, December 31, 2016

La La Land

Two aspiring artists, a would be actress and current coffee shop worker(Emma Stone) and a semi-delusional jazz pianist (Ryan Gosling), meet cute, sing, dance and romance across the City of Broken Dreams with the weight of reality bearing down, not only on their hopes and wishes but also on their relationship. Damien Chazelle's La La Land, a sophomore effort following his sleeper hit Whiplash, plays like the latest installment of That's Entertainment! or rather it is a well made emulation of the great Golden Age musicals which has absolutely no story or nothing at all to add to the genre. What starts out as energetic and stylish quickly settles down for a routine treatment and how can it be that for such a touted musical the most memorable thing about it is not the music, lyrics, or dancing (all of which is standard at best) but rather the camerawork and art direction? As for the performers, Gosling and Stone are no Rogers and Astaire nor Bogart and Bergman nor Kelly and Charisse nor whomever they happen to be imitating at any given time during the picture, and at no point did I believe these two leads ever truly held their sacred passions and ambitions. Despite some sporadic, determined directing from Chazelle, La La Land is a safe film, a movie made to win Oscars (which it no doubt will), and geared towards a demographic who take comfort in watching the same inane romantic comedies over and over again on cable TV who also will undoubtedly love this movie.
** out of ****

Friday, December 30, 2016

When We Were Kings

Leon Gast's behind the scenes look at "The Rumble in the Jungle," the storied 1974 Ali/Foreman Zaire based title fight which features supreme footage, some funny, some just strange, with great fight clips and fantastic editing. Norman Mailer and George Plimpton's subjective commentary is a plus.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Nocturnal Animals

A morose art gallery curator (Amy Adams), with her second marriage to a suave, disloyal decorator (Armie Hammer) on the outs, receives by mail the latest novel from her ex-husband (Jake Gyllenhaal) which tells the story of a family being terrorized on a Texas highway by a band of marauders, and severely shakes her up and impacts her sense of guilt. Tom Ford's Nocturnal Animals is an attempt to blend his own sleek, lifeless vision with some sort of feeble attempt at modern noir resulting in a phony, pretentious, clearly Oscar luring, unintentionally funny muddle that brings down the fine cast assembled around it which also includes an amusing Michael Shannon and an insufferable Aaron Taylor-Ross.
1/2 * out of ****

Tuesday, December 27, 2016


A grandiloquent, resentful ex-Negro leagues ballplayer (Denzel Washington), deemed too old for the big leagues following integration, works his Pittsburgh garbage route while thwarting his son's chances to play college football and causing extreme grief to his patient and loving wife (Viola Davis). In bringing August Wilson's Pulitzer Prize winning play to the screen, a work that Davis and himself helped revive on Broadway, the smartest choice Washington makes is apparently remaining faithful to Wilson's words and not opening up the material too much for the screen. While his own performance often grows laborious and redundant, it is impressively polished and Davis contributes another powerful turn among a solid supporting cast.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Friday, December 23, 2016

Shallow Grave

After putting interview subjects through the ringer, three crass roomates (Ewan McGregor, Christorpher Eccleston, Kerry Fox) finally find a candidate to inhabit the fourth room of their Edinburgh flat who summarily winds up dead from an overdose, leaving behind a small fortune of the mob's money. Danny Boyle's feature film debut is an unfunny, cruel minded psychological thriller which drew comparisons to Hitchcock due to voyeuristic situations and body disposal but totally lacks the tension and wit. With characters so unlikable, lacking any human qualities until the screenplay wishes to humanize McGregor on a dime, and for all its so called originality, at its core the plot and themes could not be more hackneyed.
* 1/2 out of ****


An Irishman (Gabriel Byrne) finds the body of a missing Aborigine girl on a fishing trip and decides to carry on with his mates and not report their discovery to the authorities until the excursion is completed, a decision that places undue stress on his already strained marriage to his Aussie wife (Laura Linney). This overlong and unnecessarily expanded adaptation of Raymond Carver's short story "So Much Water So Close to Home" totally misses the point and is intensified by awkward scene transition and a tone deaf performance from Linney.
* 1/2 out of ****

Thursday, December 22, 2016


Barely a week after the assassination of her husband, Jackie Kennedy (Natalie Portman) grants an authoritative interview to a smug reporter (Billy Crudup) at the Hyannis Port family home focused mainly on the aftermath of the tragedy.  Pablo Larrain's Jackie is stylish but vapid, a film where it appears that most of its budget was designated for design with very little thought going into its half-cooked screenplay which decides in its last twenty minutes that it wishes to be profound. Portman is strong but dances between that line of performance and impersonation. Many of the other casting choices are questionable, especially the adept Peter Saarsgaard who brings very little to table as Bobby Kennedy.
** out of ****

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Match Point

A tennis pro (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) is welcomed into the wealthy family of one of his tutees (Matthew Goode) and is soon given a prominent position within their company and engaged to their needy daughter (Emily Mortimer), all of which is threatened to come crashing down in the aftermath of a heated love affair with his brother-in-law's sultry ex-girlfriend (Scarlett Johansson). Match Point is unlike anything Woody Allen has ever done before (even Crimes and Misdemeanors which explored similar themes and some of his straight dramas which draw a homologous tone) and was probably imbued with new life due to his decision to film abroad and leave NYC for I believe the first time in his career. The result is a haunting, brilliantly thought out, pristinely filmed, philosophically Dostoevskian treatise with Rhys-Meyers excellent, even amusing at points as a sociopath with an answer to every question and Johannson at her most alluring though grating during heightened dramatic scenes.
**** out of ****

Top Hat

A socialite (Ginger Rogers) vacationing abroad mistakes an actor (Fred Astaire) for her friend's husband who is actually married to the performer's business manager, all the while her insanely jealous fiance keeps a watchful eye. Classic and silly Rogers and Astaire mistaken identity farce doesn't feature as many song and dance routines as you would expect though they are extraordinary, not only the much cited "Cheek to Cheek" (which really is sublime), but also "No Strings" and "Isnt This a Lovely Day?" standing out on an impeccable Irving Berlin soundtrack.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Monday, December 19, 2016

Hacksaw Ridge

The story of Delmer Doss (Andrew Garfield), a God fearing Virginia apple knocker who enlists in the Army Ranger corp as a medic while refusing to carry a weapon and went on to become the first conscientious objector to win the Medal of Honor for his actions on the incendiary, blood strewn battle fields of Okinawa. Hackneyed to the point of old fashioned "Aww, shucks" mawkishness and upended by unrelenting, almost celebratory combat violence, Mel Gibson's Hacksaw Ridge plays like a demented Sergeant York with Andrew Garfield's overly aloof performance failing to carry the picture. Hugo Weaving is quizzically miscast as Garfield's drunken WWI battle haunted father and Vince Vaughn brings welcomed relief as his disapproving drill sergeant.
** out of ****

Selected Shorts by Werner Herzog

Just as he has been drawn to epic, quixotic projects, in his extended career Werner Herzog has also favored short form storytelling, the results of which have been no less outlandishly idiosyncratic. Here is a random sampling of these films, all of which can be found readily online or as part of DVD extras:

Precautions Against Fanatics, 1969
One of Herzog's first film attempts is a very short (and very unfunny) look at people involved in horse training.

The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner, 1974
Presents the story of a ski jumper who was so veritable that he began to flagrantly and dangerously overshoot the course. Plays like an episode Wide World of Sports, but not without great footage and central Herzogian themes.
Ballad of the Little Soldier, 1984
Intriguing footage of child soldiers from an impoverished Nicuraguan village preparing for combat against the Sandinistas.
*** 1/2

The Dark Glow of the Mountains, 1985
The director and his German speaking subjects are disappointingly dubbed over by an American narrator in this no less compelling documentary of a pair of mountain climbers who discuss their trade and the perils involved.

Sunday, December 18, 2016


As a series of anomalous spacecrafts land in unusual locations around the globe without making their intentions clear, a melancholic linguist (Amy Adams) is drafted by a high ranking military official (Forrest Whitaker) to work alongside a scientist (Jeremy Renner) to determine the visitors' purpose before the world leaders commence an interplanetary war. Made with clear craftsmanship and transparent political undertones, Arrival quickly goes from involving to dull and redundant before arriving at a half-baked resolution that seems like it was taken out of the playbook of every popular sci-fi flick of the last twenty years. Denis Vileneuve, the film's talented and distinctive director, proves that his slow-burn style is not suited to every project and Adams' moody and detached performance has been met with glaring overpraise.
** out of ****

My Best Fiend

Werner Herzog looks back on his temptestuous friendship and professional relationship with Klaus Kinski, the maniacal actor with whom the director shared a boarding house as a youth and went on to star in some of his best work (Aguirre the Wrath of God, Nosferatu, Fitzcarraldo), while recounting having to weather (and often encouraging) Kinski's fierce tirades and abuses before his premature death in 1991. My Best Fiend is the kind of documentary that probably sounded better in its initial conception rather than its end result. Though containing some hysterical and outrageous stories and footage, where Herzog's megalomania is just as much on display as Kinski's, this is the kind of work that plays better as part of movie lore than as a documented record.
** 1/2 out of ****

Saturday, December 17, 2016


Told in three passages, Moonlight conveys the story of an alienated black youth from childhood (Alex Hibbert) to adolescense (Ashton Sanders) through young adulthood (Trevante Rhodes) as he grapples with a crack addicted mother (Naomie Harris) finds comfort and shelter in the home of a noble dealer (Mahershala Ali) in his impoverished Miami neighborhood while concurrently coming to terms with his own sexuality. Drawn from Tarell Alvin McCraney's play, Barry Jenkinks semi-autobiographic, starkly filmed, and well-acted poetic rumination sadly unravels in the forced and illconceived third act which feels more like a film school thesis rather than a continuation of the well-formed, moving meditation that preceded it. Ali and Sanders are particular standouts.
*** out of ****

The Wind That Shakes the Barley

In 1919 Ireland, a medical novice (Cillian Murphy) leaves a promising career to fight in a guerrilla unit alongside his brother and fellow countrymen against the encroaching British soldiers seeking to disrupt their bid for independence. Ken Loach's The Wind That Shakes the Barley is a two hour socialist sermon from a brilliant and empathetic director, here employing his craft to the finest degree in drafting a powerful, involving, no punches pulled account, and all beautifully shot against a verdant background.
*** out of ****

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Manchester by the Sea

A grieving and detached maintenance man (Casey Affleck), living in near isolation in a Boston area one-room apartment of the complex he tends, returns to the fishing community of his youth when he is notified of his brother's (Kyle Chandler) passing. As old devastating wounds are torn open, he learns he has been appointed custodianship of his teenaged nephew (Lucas Hedges), a responsibility that would likely force him to return home for good and confront his past. Kenneth Lonergan's Manchester by the Sea is a complex, intricately woven drama, taking on tones both operatic and tragic, while presenting on the surface a humanistic, often humorous, keen-eyed seemingly simplistic small town story. Affleck has never been better, always in tune to his sympathetic, emotionally stunted character and Michelle Williams, playing his ex-wife, shows what an exceptional talent she is, most memorably in a trumpted, cathartic scene played by the duo towards the end of the picture. Chandler also brings his usual stoic resolve to the picture, to great effect. 
**** out of ****

Monday, December 5, 2016


In 1996, a overcautious mountain guide (Jason Clarke), while in competition with a rival climbing outfit, led an expedition to the summit of Mount Everest when a vicious snowstorm hit on the final leg of their journey. Everest is a surprisingly intelligent, apparently knowledgeable, and well crafted mountain climbing movie, a genre that seems difficult to scale, even though things turn expectedly cliche towards the end and the filmmakers have difficulty keeping track of characters and their fates. The casting is excellent.
*** out of ****

Sunday, December 4, 2016


A Spanish born music student (Laia Costa) enrolled in the conservatory in Berlin and barely familiar with the language spends her Saturday night hitting the local clubs, carousing with a group of strangers, and somehow finding herself at the center of a bank robbery when an underworld figure comes calling in a marker on one of her newly made friends. Once getting passed the impressive feat that Sebastian Schipper's Victoria was filmed in one continuous, unbroken take, I started thinking how much is lost when you tell an entire movie (here a long movie) without editing, severely limiting what you can and cannot show in the process while pushing plot to the back burner. And in the end, when boiled down, is it really anything more than a filmed play on a large stage? While watching, my mind also retreated to Russian Ark, maybe the prime example of this kind of approach, and even with that movie's cast of 100s and magnificent stagings, it likewise became plotless and tiresome. These unobstructed shots seem to work best in smaller doses, see Touch of Evil, Goodfellas, The Player, or virtually anything by Alfonso Cuaron for a more effective employment. In the film's defense, however, there are some exciting moments and Costa's amiability aid the proceedings and keep the picture from being a total unceasing bore.
** out of ****

Sunday, November 27, 2016


A white bricklayer and amateur drag racer (Joel Edgerton) builds a home in segregated rural Virginia and travels to Washington, D.C. to wed his black wife (Ruth Negga). Soon they find themselves dragged from their home, jailed, and charged under an anti-miscegenation law, a case that would eventually get picked up by the ACLU and lead to a landmark 1967 Supreme Court decision. In telling the story of Richard and Mildred Loving, Jeff Nichols curiously opts for a leisurely approach, forgoing drama, characterization, and narrative drive resulting in a bland, disappointing outing. Edgerton and Negga give it an admirable go but simply are just not given enough to work with.
** out of ****

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Short Cuts

A man and his fishing buddies refuse to let a dead body ruin their weekend expedition, the revelation leaving his wife not knowing how to respond; a baker harasses a couple remiss in picking up a cake for their son, not knowing that the boy was just involved in a serious car accident; a phone sex operator's line of work secretly frustrates her husband; a philandering cop's extracurricular activities only amuse his knowing wife while he attempts to rid himself of the yelping family dog and carries on with a miserable single mother being targeted by her jealous ex. These are just of few of the stories that comprise Robert Altman's ambitious intersecting LA set anthology drawn from a sampling of Raymond Carver's short stories. While not all the threads are woven into a satisfying patchwork, the ending feels somewhat cheap, and the changes to the Carver stories aren't always an improvement, it is such an impressive, observant assemblage featuring a sprawling, talented cast and the kind of picture that puts today's "interconnected/hyperlinked" movies to shame.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Friday, November 25, 2016

The Purple Rose of Cairo

A bored waitress, trapped in a loveless marriage to a no good drunken lout (Danny Aiello) in Depression era Brooklyn, seeks daily escape at her local cinema when one day the star (Jeff Daniels) of the latest trivial adventure romance walks right off the screen to sweep her off her feet while throwing the studios, the media, and her personal life into complete chaos. Woody Allen's The Purple Rose of Cairo is charming, whimsical, creative, and modestly funny. Farrow is lovely, Daniels excellent in dual role (also playing the actor trying to track down his rogue character), and Aiello is strong in support.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Address

A year in the life of severely learning disabled students at the specialized Greenwood School in Putney, Vermont who are required to recite The Gettysburg Address verbatim at the end of the term. I feel like a heel digging into this documentary, and yes the students and staff seem genuine, but this resembles the kind of amateurish pap meant to "inspire" first year college students in a teaching program. As for Ken Burns, while sneaking in Civil War photos and giving a haphazard summation of that campaign, this kind of project seems beneath him. To be fair, the final speeches and a field trip to the battleground were impressive.
** 1/2 out of ****

Sunday, November 6, 2016


Jean-Claude Lauzon's imaginative film grows on you, is even moving in segments, but is told in a pretentious, philosophical tone with a depraved, scatological, international sense of humor that feels like a mashup of Salo and a Roberto Benigni movie. Leolo raises a question in how far brownie points should go in terms of originality and creativity for receiving a movie and I imagine that some will find it more endearing than others.
** 1/2 out of ****

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Nanook of the North

In 1914, explorer Robert J Flaherty decided to document an Inuit family he had befriended along the Hudson Bay area in Canada and, in doing so, essentially pioneered a brand new form of nonfiction filmmaking. His silent documentary features memorable scene after memorable scene and remarkable footage of an enchanting sept. Impressive for its time or any time for that matter and its influence is incalculable.
**** out of ****

Monday, October 31, 2016

What We Do in the Shadows

A centuries old clan of vampires deal with the day to day rigors of urban life in modern New Zealand while preparing to attend the annual monster's society ball, always a smash social event. Matters are however complicated when an intended, uncouth victim is unintentionally turned into one of their own and an archenemy is unexpectedly chosen as master of ceremonies for the masquerade. Written and directed by Taika Waititi and Flight of the Conchords's Jemaine Clement, What We Do in the Shadows is a brilliantly conceived and, from costumes to staging to approach, supremely executed mockumentary that ranges from amusing to often hilarious.
**** out of ****

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Tales of Terror/The Raven

Tales of Terror and The Raven were two in a succession of early 60s Edgar Allan Poe adaptations by Roger Corman, both of which featured Vincent Price (which was par for the course for most of these other collaborations). Tales of Terror is a well-crafted, generally excellent, and often very funny presentation of three short stories (Morella, The Black Cat, The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar) as concocted by Richard Matheson. Peter Lorre is hilarious, Basil Rathbone is very effective, and Price is great in all three shorts. The Raven is a goofy fabrication presented as straightforward comedy and using the famed poem only really as a springboard. The picture runs out of steam, but still is rather riotous with Boris Karloff and again Lorre and Price all a hoot.

Tales of Terror: *** 1/2 out of ****
The Raven: *** out of ****

Saturday, October 29, 2016


A shaken and disturbed man (Matthew McConnaughey) relays a harrow tale to a fascinated FBI agent (Powers Boothe) of how, during his childhood, his working class father (Bill Paxton) became possessed with religious fervor and set off on a series of divinely inspired pick-axe executions, including both him and his kid brother in the grisly affair. Frailty is bother well-crafted and excellently acted by director Paxton, with an alternately harrowing and ludicrous take on zealotry and mental illness that goes exactly where you expect it to go before taking several wild and confusing turns. A tasteful approach to the onscreen violence is appreciated.

** ½ out of ****

Friday, October 28, 2016

The Man Who Laughs

A rival of King Edward II is executed, his son permanently disfigured with his faced surgically reworked to always bear a smile. As an adult (played by Conrad Veidt), employed by a travelling circus, he finds a nonjudgmental partner in a blind girl (Mary Philbin) and finds his destiny again intertwined with the royals who butchered him and his family. Paul Leni's silent American treatment of the Victor Hugo novel offers Veidt (who served as an inspiration for The Joker) and along with a sea of many other memorable faces not to mention outstanding sets, cinematography, and editing.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Babadook

A widowed mother (Essie Davis) is coping with her unreasonable and impracticable son (Noah Wiseman) whose latest spooky bedtime book has begun to take on a life of its own. The Babadook is minimalist horror fare with virtually no scares that works as a family drama until it descends into the usual stupid genre cliches Davis is effective but the young Wiseman is so insufferable, which is intended but still doesn't make the movie any easier to take.
** out of ****

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The Last House on the Left

Two teenage girls leave their rural home for a night in the city. After attending a concert, they try to score drugs but wind up in the hands of a couple of sadistic fugitives who take them on a joy ride, torturing, raping, and murdering them before winding up as guests at one of the victim's home, setting the table for an appropriately savage revenge. Wes Craven's The Last House on the Left, a remake of Ingmar Bergman's The Virgin Spring of all movies, is exploitative trash that has begotten landfills of similar muck. However with its dippy psychedelic aura, an incongruous comedic subplot, and farcical ending, the movie achieves a camp value you wouldn't expect, even if it doesn't ultimately resemble a horror flick.
** 1/2 out of ****

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Witch

Following expulsion from their Puritan community and left to fend for themselves on a forested fallow farm, demoniac and tragic occurrences plague a proud and pious family after their infant son disappears as part of an apparent ritualistic sacrifice. Robert Eggers, drawing his debut film from first person colonial accounts of the occult, presents a parable on zealotry told entirely in an Olde English tongue that, inherent as it may be, sounds forced and unnatural. Worse, the production design and acting resemble little more than a History Channel production in what is ultimately a dressed up dumb old run of the mill horror flick.
** out of ****

Monday, October 24, 2016

Cat People/The Curse of the Cat People

In the hands of director Val Lewton, Cat People is an extremely well made, atmospheric, and even scary RKO B-Picture with a plot detailing a Serbian immigrant who morphs into a cat whenever overcome with envy. The film feels dated, containing unintentionally amusing plot elements and virtually no story to speak of but still worth seeing for its tense shock sequences. It was followed up a few years later by Curse of the Cat People, a pointless, forced, and barely related sequel that still manages to maintain a strong visual sense.

Cat People: *** out of ****
Curse of the Cat People: ** out of ****

Sunday, October 23, 2016

It Follows

After making it with her new boyfriend in the parking lot of an abandoned Detroit warehouse, a young woman finds herself drugged, tied and bound to a chair inside the structure, and informed about the STD (sexually transmitted demon) that will continue to stalk her until her demise or until she passes it along to another unsuspecting victim. David Robert Mitchell's throwback to teenager slasher flicks is well-made, eerie, and intense while doing so without a lot of gore and stretching its idiotic premise about as far as it will go.

*** 1/2 out of ****

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Nosferatu the Vampyre

This remake of Murnau's 1922 silent Bram Stoker adaptation tells the familiar, traditional Dracula story, while getting off to a surprisingly conventional start for a Werner Herzog flick before inevitably arriving at the jarring, unforgettable imagery. The film is stark, eerie, though not without a sense of humor and features a perfectly emotive, extraordinarily creepy (and surprisingly subdued) Klaus Kinski in the title role. Bruno Ganz is strong as the anemic Harker and Isabelle Adjani makes for a strong heroine, portraying Ganz's wife and Kinski's would be prey.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Friday, October 21, 2016

The Black Cat

While on a Hungarian honeymoon, a young couple encounters a peculiar doctor (Bela Lugosi) who invites them to stay the night at the ominous castle of a Satan worshiping war criminal (Boris Karloff) who had confined the physician during the Great War and married his now deceased daughter. Edward G. Ulmer's The Black Cat, an in name only adaptation of the Edgar Allan Poe short story, is a low budget, exceedingly bizarre and amusing horror movie with expertly framed and stylistically drawn set pieces that feature Lugosi and Karloff in top form in the first motion picture that paired them together.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Thursday, October 20, 2016

What Lies Beneath

A woman (Michelle Pfeiffer) believing her strained marriage to a workaholic scientist (Harrison Ford) has been repaired begins seeing  spectral visions in their seaside cottage. Except for a finale that turns into a cliched slasher picture and doesn't know when to quit, Robert Zemeckis' What Lies Beneath is a well paced, astutely crafted psychological thriller made in the best Hitchcockian traditions.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Wednesday, October 19, 2016


After forging a bet with the devil that he can corrupt an innocent man, Mephisto seeks out an elderly scientist and tempts him with restoring his youth, beautiful women, and divine healing powers. F.W. Murnau's retelling of the famous folk tale and embodiment of German Expressionism is a dark, involving melodrama told with the use of incredible sets and lighting and a masterful command of camera tricks/techniques.
**** out of ****

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Green Room

After siphoning gas to make to it to their latest college radio interview and barely paying gig, a punk rock band is hooked up to play at an unbeknownst white supremacist compound bar where they accidentally walk in on a drug fueled murder, barricade themselves in a back room, and devise a plan to fight for dear life against the gathering of homicidal skinheads, led by their ruthless gang leader (Patrick Stewart) just outside the door. Like his forgoing Blue Ruin, Jeremy Saulnier's Green Room is intense, violent, rurally set pulse pounding pulp with a singular screenplay that still manages to work in some nice touches. Anton Yelchin is strong in one of his final screen roles, the against type casting of Stewart is passable, and Macon Blair, who starred in Blue Ruin, is quite good again, here in a supporting role as one of Stewart's lieutenants.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Look of Silence

An ophthalmologist who lost his brother during the Indonesian genocide of the mid-60s interviews surviving members of the regime while occasionally fitting them with glasses. Due to its personal approach and impact, Joshua Oppenheimer's The Look of Silence surpasses The Act of Killinganother acclaimed documentary take on the same subject, while again focusing depraved, pathetic men while creating a discourse on human nature.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Broadway Danny Rose

Old comedians gathered in a deli to shoot the bull and relay old times begin to reminisce on Danny Rose (Woody Allen), a tireless manager of hapless acts who becomes mixed up with the mob when he becomes involved with his lounge singing client's mistress (Mia Farrow). Woody Allen's Broadway Danny Rose is light, amusing, and occasionally very funny with Woody in excellent form in front of the camera and aided by crisp Gordon Willis black and white cinematography.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

The Night Manager

An ex-special forces operative (Tom Hiddleston), now working as a concierge at a Cairo hotel, fails to protect a female guest from a billionaire arms dealer (Hugh Laurie) and is later recruited by an intelligence officer (Olivia Colman) to infiltrate his camp. Susanne Biers TV miniseries is presumably dumbed down from John Le Carre's novel and filmed with a delicacy and sensibility that must be completely antithetical to the source material. The usually amusing Tom Holliander is obnoxious in a supporting role, Colman and Elizabeth Debicki are atrocioius in key ones, and Hiddleston's only acting approach is to flash a smile or a chuckle while inhabiting a character with inexplicable motives. The screen really only lights up when graced by Laurie, who is fun to watch playing a charming, complicated baddie.
** out of ****

Saturday, October 8, 2016

The Terrorist

A teen-aged girl, the top member of her guerrilla combat squad, is selected to be a suicide bomber and target a top ranking government official. Santosh Sivan's modestly budgeted Indian export is incredibly well directed, making great use of closeups, symbols, derived from an insightful, poetic screenplay, and thankfully employs a restrained use of violence.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Monday, October 3, 2016


The Kray brothers, suave, ill-tempered Reggie and the mentally deranged Ron (Tom Hardy pulling double duty), rule over London's criminal underworld in the 1960s until their operation grows too large and tempers, passion, greed, and ego go unchecked. From a novice screenplay and told with unnecessary, irritating voiceover, Brian Helgeland's Legend is just one more Goodfellas knockoff to add to the pile.  It is almost worth watching for hardy's strong dual performances, though he still often seems like he is playing for laughs.
** out of ****

Saturday, October 1, 2016

She's Gotta Have It

An individualistic female feebly attempts to balance her love life consisting of three disparate, possessive suitors. Spike Lee's black and white debut feature feels free and breezy for awhile, but grows tiresome and ultimately resembles little more than an early Jarmusch knockoff. It's occasionally funny, with dialogue that leaves a lot to be desired spoken by inept though appealing performers (aside from Lee himself who would have been better off casting someone else). The film is interjected with too many stupid interludes, including a jarring color dance sequence, which indicates there wasn't enough material for a feature, and the material probably would have worked better as a short anyhow.
** 1/2 out of *****

Friday, September 30, 2016

Dazed and Confused

Following Texas High schoolers on their last day of classes in 1976, Richard Linklater's Dazed and Confused is a spaced-out bittersweet piece of nostalgia, an American Graffiti for Generation X, The film is smartly conveived and extremely well filmed, although it grows tiresome quickly and is stocked with mostly unlikable characters, but is not without its moments.
** 1/2 out of ****

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

After an undercover Czech mission goes terribly wrong and a longstanding operative is tortured and killed, bureau chief George Smiley (Alec Guinness) is summoned from retirement to investigate a theory that a mole is present in the highest reaches of MI6. This John le Carre BBC miniseries is extremely measured, stagnant even, but worth watching for Guinness' impeccable performance.
** 1/2 out of ****

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Jackie Robinson

The story of Jack Roosevelt Robinson, the sharecropper's son from Cairo, Georgia who became a standout athlete at UCLA and a Negro League star before being chosen to integrate the Major Leagues as a second baseman for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. Ken Burns covered Robinson's story at length in his sweeping 1994 Baseball docuseries and thus revisits many of his same tracks in this recent four hour update while still bringing much to the table in the film's second half, which depicts the ballplayer's politically minded lesser known life after retirement. Again Burns provides a wealth of great footage and Keith David serves nicely doing narration duties, but a flood of lackluster commentators and a storytelling approach that resembles a civics lesson are major strikes on this count.
** 1/2 out of ****

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy

Near the turn of the 20th Century, a crackpot inventor (Woody Allen), his timid wife (Mary Steenburgen), her distinguished older cousin (Jose Ferrer), his much younger girlfriend (Mia Farrow), a hedonist doctor (Tony Roberts), and his forward thinking date (Julie Hagerty)gather for a weekend at an isolated countryside cabin where new romances bloom. Woody's riff on Smiles of a Summer Night is clunky (especially its conclusion) but still light, funny, and occasionally insightful. Roberts and Haggerty stand out in the ensemble.
*** out of ****

Monday, September 26, 2016

Rebel Without a Cause

After his latest outburst and having been uprooted and replanted by his parents in the latest suburban neighborhood, an angst ridden teen aged delinquent (James Dean) continues to drink, loiter, vandalize, and make enemies while falling in with a small clique (Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo) who experience the same feelings of alienation, the result of either aloof, over-affectionate, misunderstanding, or absent parents. It's difficult to watch Nicholas Ray's relic of a bygone era and understand the mass appeal of its time, now coming off as pretentious, phony (especially Dean), and even bizarre. Aided by some iconic sequences and its great photography.
*** out of ****

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Baby Doll

A middle aged failed cotton farmer (Karl Malden) lives in his dilapidated plantation house with his flirtatious, childlike 19-year old wife (Carroll Baker), with whom the marriage has never been consummated. When an immigrant rival (Eli Wallach) shows off his latest acquistion, a state of the art cotton gin, the wash-out sees fit to sabotage his operation leaving Baby Doll as an instrument for revenge. Eli Kazan's racy, scandalized, and very funny realization of Tennessee Williams' only original screenplay was strikingly filmed on flavorful Mississippi locations and features an atypically outlandish performance from Malden.