Tuesday, February 28, 2017


A postman and avid fan of a renowned soprano, who has never set foot in a recording studio, records her performance and finds himself chased not only by the black market thugs who witnessed the act but also by invidious mafioso types after he inadvertently has another tape, this one exposing a police captain for his role in a sex trade ring, planted on him. Kinetic, stylish, and intelligent, with a moped/subway chase sequence that ranks with the best of 'em, and brilliant, offbeat casting (including real life opera singer Wilhelmenia Fernandez), Jean-Jacques Beineix's Diva is a brilliant debut from a director who never again seemed to find his footing.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Monday, February 27, 2017

Toni Erdmann

A retired teacher with a penchant for disguises and practical jokes (Peter Simonischek) decides to travel to Bucharest and disrupt the life of his workaholic daughter (Sandra Huller), an oil consultant in the middle of sealing a major merger. Great central performances and a superb ending dominate this funny picture which makes half-assed attempts at social commentary and where the jokes wear thin due to its unnecessarily extreme length.
*** out of ****

Shadows and Fog

In an unnamed Eastern European village at the turn of the century, a meek accountant (Woody Allen) is roused from his bed by a dubious committee he has just been named to in order to patrol the streets in search of a serial killer. Meanwhile, a circus performer (Mia Farrow) leaves her unfaithful husband (John Malkovich) and has an eye opening experience in a whorehouse before joining the neurotic hero on his search efforts which quickly turn into persecutions. Allen's underappreciated Shadows and Fog, though unfocused and murky, is still funny with fine performances from Woody and Mia, brilliant black and white photography, and murky Kafkaesque 19th Century settings blended with Allen's millieu come off surprisingly well.
*** out of ****

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Florence Foster Jenkins

A delusional New York socialite (Meryl Streep), a great patron of the musical arts with one of the most horrendous, glass shattering voices on the face of the planet, is able to secure singing gigs all the way up to Carnegie Hall thanks both to her status and charity but also to the doting of her loving, philandering husband (Hugh Grant). Florence Foster Jenkins is the kind of substanceless mush that lately seems to always secure Streep a nomination (even when she's nothing to write home about) and, maybe even the bigger headscratcher is director Stephen Frear's involvement, working way below his talent level. That being said, Grant is quite good in a touching, pointed performance and is the film's only saving grace.
** out of ****

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Life, Animated

The profile of a young autistic man who learned to cope with life's turmoils and ever changing emotions through Disney movies, which he obsessively consumes and knows verbatim. Life, Animated, one of this year's Academy Award nominees, is a poor excuse for a documentary: soppy, forced, borderline exploitative and, perhaps at its basest, a shameful Disney Ad.
* 1/2 out of ****

Friday, February 24, 2017

Enemies: A Love Story

At the close of the 1940s, an unnerved Jewish immigrant (Ron Silver) lives in Brooklyn with the simple-minded Polish girl (Margaret Sophie Stein) who hid him from the Germans during the war and carries on with a sensual fellow survivor (Lena Olin) across town when, out of the blue his thought dead wife (Anjelica Huston) resurfaces in his life. From a novel by Isaac Bashevis Singer, Paul Mazursky's Enemies: A Love Story is a cruel spirited and even unimaginative film with an inadequate Silver in the lead, although the women are exceptional.
** 1/2 out of ****

Thursday, February 23, 2017


After being massacred by Zulu warriors at the Battle of Isandlwana, greatly undermanned British soldiers at Rorke's Drift in what is now South Africa prepare for another onslaught under a mixed feeling of emotions. Zulu is needlessly overlong with a muddled narrative but still contains some spectacular visuals and set pieces. Michael Caine and Nigel Green are standouts.
** 1/2 out of ****

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Best Years of Our Lives

An elder Army sergeant (Frederic March), a bombardier (Dana Andrews), and a sailor (Harold Russell, a real life veteran and Oscar winner for the role), who lost his hands in a bombing and now is fairly functional with metal hooks, return from their tour at war's end and find their families, jobs, and themselves almost unrecognizable as they struggle to cope with their return. William Wyler's The Best Years of Our Lives is overlong and at times mannered, but extremely touching and well realized with tremendous acting by all involved, also including Myrna Loy and Teresa Wright playing March's wife and daughter, respectively.
*** 1/2 out of ****.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

War Dogs

A young, struggling soon to be father (Miles Teller) reconnects with an arrogant, successful long lost childhood friend, learns he has been dealing weapons, and takes up the racket and become so successful they secure a multimillion deal with the U.S. government in the early days of the Afghan War. Todd Phillips's War Dogs is a lame Goodfellas knockoff and you'd be better off seeing Andrew Niccol's overlooked Lord of War, which this weak attempt at serious filmmaking also knocks off. Hill is amusing in bits and Teller further adds to the puzzlement as to why and how he is a movie star.
** out ****

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

The plot description bears nothing more than boy meets girl, boy gets drafted, boy loses girl forever. After seeing it cited so many times as an inspiration to the lacking, overpraised La La Land, I watched Jacques Demy's simplistic, entirely sung The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and wound up with the same insipid, uninspired, and totally forgettable feelings I had for its recent progeny and if not for Catherine Deneuve's timeless beauty and the film's radiant use of technicolor, Umbrellas would be a total wash.
** out of ****


Lerner and Loewe's musical rendering of the Arthurian Legend features winning performances from Richard Harris (Arthur) and Vanessa Redgrave (Guenevere) amidst tacky production design with a pace that dies in the second act of a long affair.
*** out of ****

Sunday, February 19, 2017


With the Korean War casting a pall, the astute son (Logan Lerman) of a Brooklyn kosher butcher begins his freshman term at an Ohio Christian college, struggles with his obnoxious roommates and the chapel requirement, dates a beautiful, forward, and troubled WASP girl (Sarah Gadon), and locks horns with the dean (Tracy Letts). James Schamus's Indignation is a literate and cinema worthy adaptation of Philip Roth's novel, with Lerman and Letts contributing fine performances especially in an extended, heated back and forth.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Mishima: A Life In Four Chapters

As celebrated Japanese author Yukio Mishima (Ken Ogata) summons his own private army to meet one of the Emperor's Generals, take him hostage, and address the crowds before committing suppuku, we are shown flashbacks of his early life with the aid of three dramatizations of his own stories for insight. Paul Schrader's Mishima, which he wrote with his brother Leonard and his wife Chieko, is a bizarre, completely unique biopic with an unforgettable central performance by Ogata.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Unsinkable Molly Brown

A spunky hayseed (Debbie Reynolds) leaves her adopted backwoods home (from which she was rescued after found floating down the Colorado River as a toddler after a flood) with the determination of marrying rich and does so when she stumbles across a soon to strike it rich gold prospector (Harve Presnell). Rejected by Denver high society, she finds acceptance in Europe before famously playing the part of heroine while commanding her lifeboat to retreat in search of survivors after the sinking of the Titanic. Based on a popular stage musical, The Unsinkable Molly Brown is an irritating piece of hokum and inferior to similar musicals of the period. Reynolds has her moments although the dance sequences along with Presnell (who seems otherwise ill-suited to the big screen) are worth the price of admission.
** out of ****

Friday, February 17, 2017


Two young Aussie runners (Mark Lee and Mel Gibson) befriend each other at a race, enlist in Her Majesty's Army as the Great War rages, and carouse in Cairo before being sent to the deadly eponymous Turkish battle where so many of their countrymen needlessly lost their lives due to arrogance and shortsightedness. It is surprising how little of Peter Weir's Gallipoli is dedicated to battle and just how non urgent it feels for a war movie and is closer to a slice of life picture with wonderful period detail and made with the director's sure hand and his usual muted color palette. The final shot is enduring and an excellent touch.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Sansho the Bailiff

Journeying to reunite with their noble patriarch, a lord exiled for many years for an unpopular decision that would have benefited his subjects, a mother is duped, captured, separated from her son and daughter, sold as a slave to a brothel while her children are beholden to the sadistic warden of the title while they dream of rejoining. Kenji Mizoguchi Sansho the Bailiff, from a short story by Mori Ogai, is a mournful dirge shot in stark, spectacular cinematography.
*** 1/2 out of ****


Just when Anthony Weiner appears to have weathered the storm of his 2011 "twitter bulge" scandal and looks promising in the NYC Democratic Mayoral Primaries, more salacious online allegations surface in the middle of his campaign as another media circus begins to foment. Made with incredible access and footage, Weiner is an often very funny political profile that curiously has a lot more to say about our judgmental culture and hypocritical media than its impulsive, foolhardy focus.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Innocents

In the immediate aftermath of WW2 in a decimated rural Polish area, a young French female doctor working for the Red Cross is surreptitiously summoned to a local convent to treat several impregnated Benedictine nuns, victims of rape at the hands of conquering Russian troops. Anne Fontaine's solemn and dirge-like The Innocents is pristinely filmed but, especially for its material, is surprisingly almost entirely dramatically inert.
** 1/2 out of ****

Louder Than Bombs

When an impending New York Times piece threatens to expose the truth about a renowned photographer's (Isabelle Huppert) death, her widower (Gabriel Byrne) wrestles with how to relate it to their introverted, sullen son while not realizing how his outwardly composed older child (Jesse Eisenberg) may be hurting. Joachim Trier's Louder Than Bombs is dull and talky with a muddled screenplay more pretentious than profound, the latter which it so strainingly strives for.
** out of ****

El Topo

A man in black (Alejandro Jodorowsky) travels on horseback with his unclothed son across a decadent, psychadelic Western desert landscape encountering all sorts of variant, distorted people and places. Jodorowsky's El Topo is wildly bizarre, pointless, and surprisingly not all that fun for what is one of the original midnight movie phenomenons.
** out of ****

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

American Honey

Attracted to the outward leader (Shia LeBeouf) of a travelling Midwest magazine selling crew, a young Oklahoman (Sasha Lane) opts to ditch her life of poverty (and hinted at probable abuse) and join the wild band of tattooed, carefree, merrymaking outcasts aboard the sales bus. Though way longer than it needs to be, Andrea Arnold's American Honey is unorthodox and freewheeling, with memorable sequences, an amusing soundtrack, and fine performances from Lane and LaBeouf.
*** 1/2 out of ****


A bored Manhattan socialite (Mia Farrow), married to a disinterested philanderer (William Hurt), finds herself considering an affair with the attract parent (Joe Mantegna) of one of child's schoolmates, and does so with the assistance of an Eastern healer who also acts as a life guide of sorts. Woody Allen's Alice is imaginative, funny, scrutinizing and brought to life by a sound cast with farrow leading the way while demonstrating her versatility.
*** 1/2 out of ****

The Missouri Breaks

The leader of a gang of horse thieves (Jack Nicholson) and a mercenary (Marlon Brando) contracted by a Montana rancher are destined for a showdown following the calculated murder of one of the rustlers. Arthur Penn's much maligned Western is awkward and offbeat with lively, unsung performances from Brando and especially Nicholson.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017


After almost being inadvertently sent to an early grave by his wide-eyed juvenile owner, an insensible daschund passes through the hands of a lonely, sweet natured vet tech (Greta Gerwig), a hack screenwriter and film school professor (Danny DeVito), and a caustic elderly woman (Ellen Burstyn). Wiener-Dog features a typical Todd Solondz screenplay, residing somewhere between blackly humorous and just wrong, telling another distinct and accurately feeling suburban story that is found nowhere else in cinema I can think of. Much of the film's merit can be found in each individual story but not necessarily as a cohesive whole and it is odd that Solondz seems to be following the Au Hasard Balthazar blueprint, but generates almost no empathy for his star. Burstyn is wonderful in the final segment.
*** out of ****

'Breaker' Morant

Three Aussie soldiers fighting the Boer War for the Queen's Army are expected to be offered as a peace sacrifice during a rigged military tribunal for their role the massacre of an enemy unit, that is until they are given an impassioned defense by their tenacious attorney. Bruce Beresford's powerful and intelligent 'Breaker' Morant, named after one of the eloquent laureate defendants, soars due in large part to its brilliant editing and, when considering the material, is right on par with Paths of Glory. Jack Thompson is excellent as the defense attorney.
**** out of ****

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Executioner's Song

The Gary Gilmore story: a recently released ex-con (Tommy Lee Jones), who has spent more than half his life in prison mostly on robbery charges, is driven to murder when his significantly younger girlfriend (Rosanna Arquette) leaves him. Looking at an interminable stay on death row at a time when the country hadn't seen an execution in over a decade, he decides to fight for his right to die. Directed for television by Larry Schiller, who also figures prominently into and provided most of the material for Norman Mailer's expansive book on which the film is based, The Executioner's Song is hurt by its low budget, with key pieces missing, but the core is intact and young couldn't ask for a better performance from TLJ.
*** out ****

Werckmeister Harmonies

A philosophizing postman (Janos Valuska) is stirred, along with the rest of the members of his Eastern European village, by the arrival of the circus (with an extended panel truck hauling a whale as its centerpiece) and a nihilistic prophet. Bela Tarr's challenging but rewarding Werckmeister Harmonies generates scenes of wonder with great camerawork and a sparing using of Mihaly Vig's profound score (the opening is worth the price of admission alone) and is interspersed with other protracted, dull sequences.  Valuska is expressive and just right for the role.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Mission

After the martyrdom of one of their own, a Jesuit priest (Jeremy Irons) is sent to the Amazon jungle to bring Christ to the indigenous people and, after converting a stern mercenary (Robert De Niro), finds himself engaging against the Portuguese who have come to exploit the land and cast its people into servitude. Roland Joffe's The Mission contains beautiful cinematography, breathtaking even with great performances from Irons and De Niro and a literate screenplay that doesn't know where to take its story and winds up being muddled and confused.
** 1/2 out of ****

WR -- Mysteries of the Organism

A documentary on controversial, radical analyst Wilhelm Reich is intercut with a Russian communist romantic drama on sexual repression  along with more docu-like interludes. Provocateur Dusan Makavejev's often banned WR -- Mysteries of the Organism is occasionally amusing but pointless and mostly exists as being bizarre and lurid for those sakes alone.
** out of ****

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Dog Eat Dog

Three recently released ex-cons, a keyed up murderous psychopath (Willem Dafoe), a muscle bound enforcer (Christopher Matthew Cook), and their ostensible leader (Nicolas Cage), imitate Cleveland cops and rob low level crack dealers before being contracted by the mob to perform a kidnapping. Paul Schrader's Dog Eat Dog, filmed locally with many recognizable east side locations, is a violent, jarring, and intentionally ugly looking film which takes a humorous, metaphysical left turn at the end.
** 1/2 out of ****


When a group of young girls in a West African village escape from a circumcision ritual, a woman who had the procedure forced on herself offers them safe haven while rallying the local women against the male dominated tribal council. Moolaade, which Ousmane Sembene made in his eighties, tells a tricky, controversial cinema resistant story intelligently rather that opting for more graphic means which seems would be the natural roadway, and does so by serving up beautiful music, a radiant color palette, and memorable characters.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Friday, February 10, 2017

Frank & Lola

A brooding Las Vegas gourmet chef (Michael Shannon) eyeing a prestigious Parisian gig begins a turbulent relationship with a damaged, woman (Imogen Poots) and finds himself confronting her dark and checkered past. Frank and Lola is inconsistent and erratic, dabbling in over half a dozen genres and changing gears every chance it gets, and never really letting its stars settle into their roles and the unnecessarily uncomfortable material.
** out of **** 


The eruption of Mt. Etna leaves a rich girl separated from her family, kidnapped, sold into servitude and nearly offered as a sacrifice to the gods before being rescued by two slaves, just as Hannibal and his troops make their way towards Rome. Giovanni Pastrone's influential early silent epic has been given a pristine restoration, looks as if it came out forty years after it was made, and is noted by some spectacular, head scratching sequences.
*** out of ****

Thursday, February 9, 2017


An irreverent, fast talking superhero (Ryan Reynolds) with lightning speed reflexes and powers of regeneration goes on a bloodlust to track down the forces that not only granted him these superhuman abilities but transformed his striking face into mincemeat in the process. Gratuitous, vulgar, obnoxious and overlong, Deadpool still almost feels like a breath of fresh air in the face of the onslaught of insipid, lifeless comic book movies of recent years.
** 1/2 out of ****

Killer of Sheep

The amblings of an impoverished, disaffected slaughterhouse worker, his affectionate wife, and high-spirited children, and the mostly harmless dealings that come his way in his Watts neighborhood. Charles Burnett's heralded and long unseen independent realist film is formless but knowingly and competently staged with a few funny and memorable vignettes.
** 1/2 out of ****

Wednesday, February 8, 2017


After paired together and succeeding in deadly assassination attempt in 1942 Morocco, an officer (Brad Pitt) is informed by his superiors that his Resistance member and now wife (Marion Cotillard) is a turncoat and he himself has been charged with her execution. Despite its dumbed down trailer which drew comparisons to Mr. and Mrs Smith, Robert Zemeckis' Allied is a quiet spy thriller drawn from a substantial Steven Knight script. Pitt however is way too old for the role and appears creepy made to play a character ostensibly 30 or so years younger.
*** out of ****


Max Perkins (Colin Firth), the Scribner editor who actually gained famed through his partnership with Hemingway and Fitzgerald, decides to take on Thomas Wolfe (Jude Law) and his manic, romantic personality and endless manuscripts at a time when no one else will. Soon, they published Look Homeward, Angel, Of Time and the River, and other acclaimed and sprawling works while carrying out a great and bittersweet friendship. It must have been a tall order for director Michael Grandage and screenwriter John Logan to craft a cinematically presentable version of A. Scott Berg's book, which I imagine would seem unfilmable, but offers a human, literate take and does its darndest to illustrate the writing process. Guy Pearce is affecting as F. Scott Fitzgerald.
*** out of ****

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Ace in the Hole

Having been fired from every major news outlet for a variety of reasons, a caustic, hard bitten, alcoholic reporter (Kirk Douglas) talks his way on to the staff of the Albuquerque Sun-Bulletin, serendipitously stumbles upon a man trapped in a cave, and milks it for every penny its worth by generating a media sideshow and even putting the once secured man's life in jeopardy in the process. Billy Wilder's dark and witty Ace in the Hole is relentlessly cynical, eerily prescient, and contains a great Douglas performances and one of those unforgettable Wilder endings.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Monday, February 6, 2017

Blazing Saddles

Corrupt Attorney General Hedley Lamarr (Harvey Korman, hysterical) needs to clear out the Old West town of Rock Ridge in order for the railroad to pass through and schemes the best way to achieve this is to name a black prisoner (Cleavon Little), currently awaiting hanging for uppityness, as sheriff. Facing the expected hostility, Sheriff Bart teams up with a drunken sharpshooter (Gene Wilder) and uses his wit to win over the townspeople and battle the evil Lamarr and his treacherous forces.  Blazing Saddles is one of the funniest (and most disorganized) of Mel Brooks' great, early comedies, with a colorful script (which Richard Pryor contributed to) that probably only Brooks could get approved, and the fortunate presence of Little and Wilder whose roles went through a rocky casting history.
*** 1/2 out of ****

A Hologram for the King

Attempting to recover from a mid-life crisis, which consisted of divorce and poor work performance, a salesman (Tom Hanks) travels to Saudi Arabia aiming to pitch state of the art communications equipment to a sovereign and finds himself unexpectedly drawn to a beautiful doctor whose services he had to seek. Tom Tykwer's adaptation of David Eggers novel is well-paced and amiable but ultimately inconsequential, starting out down an interesting and unconventional road but detouring along the way onto the expected pc path before coming to an abrupt halt. Also, the film contains another effective, unchallenging Hanks performance. 
** 1/2 out of **** 

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Family Plot

A psychic (Barbara Harris) employs her out of work actor boyfriend and part time cab driver/private investigator (Bruce Dern) to locate the long lost son of a client given up years ago for adoption as their schemes intersect those of a pair of highly skilled high profile kidnappers (William Devane and Karen Black). Alfred Hitchcock kept his touch right until this final film, on which he reunited with North by Northwest screenwriter Ernest Lehman. Family Plot is excitingly edited, with a thrilling finale (plus another amusing out of control car sequence) with dialogue that is a little too tongue in cheek and welcomed performances from Harris, Dern, and Devane.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Friday, February 3, 2017

Blood Simple.

The owner of an old-fashioned Texas honky-tonk saloon (Dan Hedaya) hires an unsavory private investigator (M. Emmet Walsh) to murder his employee (John Getz) whose sleeping with his unsatisfied and much younger wife (Frances McDormand), a seemingly straightforward proposition that grows more and more serpentine as it coils back and back on itself with bloody repercussions for all. This Coen Brothers debut is stylish, sometimes overly so, and instantly identifiable as they own with a screenplay with many brilliant touches that probably gets a little too convoluted for its own good. The principal players are excellently cast and all fine in their respective roles.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Thursday, February 2, 2017


6/4/10 Babel represents the final entry in Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's so called trilogy. All three films are hyperlink films, meaning that they contain multiple characters who are linked with a plot that is weaved back and forth through time. Babel is his most successful and most ambitious work to date and it tells the story of how four seemingly unconnected groups of people are connected through one event and how each group struggles with a language barrier: a man trying to find aid for his injured wife in a foreign country, a Mexican woman trying to explain an awkward situation to border control, and a deaf Japanese girl struggling with a tragedy. The film is beautifully shot and well acted with Brad Pitt standing out in a talented cast. However, it is unsuccessful at pulling these four threads together and maintaining its theme. I felt I was watching four different albeit well-made stories, which were not at all related by plot nor theme. Also, and again the hyperlink movie has become tiresome and I think that although Inarritu has established himself with this genre, that he has done all he can with it. He recently debuted his new film at Cannes with great success and I look forward to that film with great interest.
*** out of ****

2/2/17 While rewatching Babel, it is intriguing for awhile but goes on way too long with too many needless, protracted sequences and phony, pretentious dramatics and political correctness ultimately ruling the day while the audience is supposed to ooh and ahh about the quasi interconnectedness of the screenplay.
** out of ****

Groundhog Day

An arrogant, egocentric Pittsburgh weatherman (Bill Murray) begrudgingly embarks on his annual trip to cover Groundhog Day festivities in Punxsutawney along with his doltish cameraman (Chris Elliot) and a beautiful, high spirited producer (Andie MacDowell). Following a miserable day of small-town inanity, an unforeseen blizzard traps him for one more night and soon he finds himself living the same day over and over and over again. Harold Ramis' enduring modern classic is a clever and insightful morality play featuring Murray in top form though the ending favors cheesed out sentimentality and excessive pontification over laughs.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

A foster home tyrant and officially the worst boy in the system (Julian Dennison) is taken by a warmhearted woman (Rima Te Wiata) and her misanthropic husband (Sam Neill) on their isolated, mountain property. After she suddenly passes away and with social services en route to retrieve him, the boy and his foster father take to the hills and lead the officials on a chase that gains national media attention. Sweet-natured and funny, Taika Waititi's Hunt for the Wilderpeople changes gears too often and works much better on a smaller scale than as a loud action comedy.
*** out of ****

Berlin Alexanderplatz

Franz Biberkopf (Gunter Lamprecht) is released from prison in Weimar Germany after serving four years for brutally murdering his girlfriend in a blind and drunken rage. After securing desirable parole terms and acceptable living arrangements, he is lured into the criminal underworld and embarks on a tragic relationship with an adoring prostitute (Barbara Sukowa). Unusual, glum, and extremely long, Rainer Werner Fassbinder's miniseries Berlin Alexanderplatz, from a novel by Alfred Doblin, is brilliantly directed, harshly lit, and hard to watch at times with the noted final episode being a surreal and occasionally transcendent trip. Lamprechecht, Sukowa, Hanna Schygulla playing Franz old acquaintance, and Gottfried John as an imbalanced manipulative pimp are all excellent.
*** 1/2 out of ****