Thursday, November 30, 2017

Last Flag Flying

A morose man (Steve Carell) looks up two of his old Vietnam buddies (Bryan Cranston, Laurence Fishburne) and asks their assistance to help in making funeral preparations for his only son who has just been killed in the early days of the 2nd Iraq War. Richard Linklater's Last Flag Flying, who worked with writer Darryl Ponicsan, is a thoughtful, meditative, and even novelistic discourse that is made in the same vein, and almost functions as a quasi sequel of sorts, as Ponicsan's The Last Detail. Though their performances are not without their qualities, Carrel and Fishburne devolve into their usual personas but Cranston's turn, though heavily influence by Nicholson's, actually grows and takes on life as the film progresses.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Wednesday, November 29, 2017


A successful banker with a boring wife living a monotonous suburban existence is recruited into a mandatory program where he will be reconfigured as an attractive, artistic type (Rock Hudson) and placed in a California coastal community with like people. John Frankenheimer's Seconds plays like an extended version of a Twilight Zone episode, never dull but still sterilized, shocking and hard to watch. It drives home its theme well though with a solid performance by Hudson who is himself surrounded by strong supporters, and is intriguingly filmed with great camerawork and use of closeup by James Wong Howe.
*** out of ****

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

A.I. Artificial Intelligence

After proving a danger to the son he was supposed to replace, a cyborg (Haley Joel Osment), is cast out in the wilderness by the mother he was programmed to love and desperately seeks The Blue Fairy he learned of in Pinocchio lore in order to transform him into a real boy. Steven Spielberg's working of material developed by Stanley Kubrick is light sci-fi with an incomplete feel, often fascinating and always watchable while still arriving in an unsatisfying place. Some of this material seams ideally suited to the director and other, more darker parts of the story just don't. Osment is rightly cast and William Hurt is excellent as the Geppetto cipher.
** 1/2 out of ****

Monday, November 27, 2017


After spending most of his young life in home schooling, a boy (Jacob Tremblay) with severe facial deformities adjusts to life in middle school while his overprotective parents (Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson) cope with his traumatizing trials, and his overlooked sister (Izabela Vidovic) undergoes her own rites of initiation at her private city school. Stephen Chbosky's adaptation of R.J. Palacio's bestselling novel is appealing, well-conceived, and likely to please but (expectedly) overly and cheaply sentimental.
** 1/2 out of ****

Friday, November 24, 2017

Lady Bird

A headstrong Sacramento high school student (Saoirse Ronan) butts heads with her forthright mother (Laurie Metcalf) while dreaming of being accepted at an out of state school while going through the highs and lows of senior year at her Catholic school. Greta Gerwig's ostensibly autobiographical Lady Bird is a run of the mill coming of age story that knows its territory and contains a few lovely moments. Ronan again brings her special presence (even if this performance is somewhat unexceptional) and Metcalf is noteworthy in support.
** 1/2 out of ****

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

On a mostly unused road just outside of a small Missouri town, an angry, grieving mother (Frances McDormand) erects three billboards chastising the local police department for not apprehending the rapist who murdered her daughter a year prior, which leads to backlash from the town, its terminally ill police chief (Woody Harrelson) and an overzealous, half witted deputy (Sam Rockwell). Martin McDonagh's Three Billboards is an unsubtle black comedy journey into misery imperfectly but profoundly meshed with dramatic elements, with resolutions that buck Hollywood cliches and are uneasily arrived. McDormand is superb in one of those roles she has mastered: imbuing grief, anger, humor, and humanity, and Harrelson and Rockwell are excellent in support, both creating three dimensional characters while providing comic relief.
**** out of ****

Monday, November 20, 2017

Personal Shopper

An American personal secretary (Kristen Stewart) to a demanding Parisian debutante attempts to channel the spirit of her recently deceased twin brother while being digitally stalked by what may or may not be an otherworldly presence. Olivier Assayas' Personal Shopper is both an eerie ghost story and sincere character study featuring a commanding performance from Stewart, which is able to succeed in being ambiguous while also carrying meaning.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Murder on the Orient Express

Called to London for a major case and desperately seeking rest, exacting and world famous detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) becomes involved in a murder mystery when the Orient Express becomes snowbound and derailed, a world class heel (Johnny Depp) is murdered in his cabin in the middle of the night, and all twelve of the car's passengers turn suspect. Director Branagh's sleepy, mostly unnecessary Agatha Christie remake with a star studded cast (also including Judi Dench, Penelope Cruz, Michelle Pfeiffer, Willem Dafoe, and Daisy Ridley) bringing little to the table resembles something that belongs moreso to Masterpiece Theatre than the big screen. Branagh's Poirot is strong and emotive and stands alongside Peter Ustinov and Albert Finney.
** 1/2 out of ****

An Autumn Afternoon

After a series of often drunken encounters with old friends, mentors, and subordinates, a middle-aged businessman (Chishu Ryu) decides he should marry off his daughter (Shima Iwashita) rather than selfishly letting her take care of him and become an old maid in the process. Ozu's final film, made with the same delicate touch and mise-en-scene that predominated the rest of his body of work, is both moving and bittersweet while at the same time lighthearted and humorous. Longtime Ozu collaborator Ryu is wonderful in the lead.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Tomorrow Never Dies

007 (Pierce Brosnan), with the aid of a Chinese agent (Michelle Yeoh), is summoned to thwart a media mogul (Jonathan Pryce) who generates the news in order to corner the market, currently plotting to instigate war between China and Britain. Tomorrow Never Dies is another solid Bond entry, with Brosnan effectively settled into the role, that is marred once more by overlength and redundant action sequences (although one involving a remote control automobile is outstanding). Pryce is a solid, somewhat offbeat villain and, as for the women, Teri Hatcher makes a too brief appearance and Yeoh is strong as an action star.
*** out of ****

Friday, November 17, 2017

Superman: The Movie

The story of Kal-El, exiled by his father (Marlon Brando) and sent to Earth as an infant in the face of his planet's mass destruction. Adopted and raised in rural Iowa, he grows up to be mild manner reporter Clark Kent (Christopher Reeve) by day, who is continually thwarted by flighty Daily Planet colleague Lois Lane (Margot Kidder), and Superman by night, a near invincible being who fights for truth, justice, and the American way and is currently combating megalomaniacal criminal mastermind Lex Luther (Gene Hackman) who plans to hatch a nuclear attack to affect a major real estate scheme. Richard Donner's Superman is the kind of movie that Hollywood isn't even capable of attempting anymore, just great, well rounded entertainment. Reeve and Kidder bring great presence and chemistry to the picture and the entire cast pulls off great comic performances from a tongue-in-cheek script which was surprisingly co-authored by Godfather scribe Mario Puzo. Hackman delivers one of the great villainous turns (some of his interactions with Ned Beatty are priceless) and the cheesy f/x (which were heralded at the time) actually enhance the likability of the picture.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: Runnin' Down a Dream

The story of how, after meeting Elvis at a young age and later seeing The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show, Tom Petty became singularly focused on rock 'n' roll, and formed the band Mudcrutch who played throughout the Gainesville, Florida circuit. Driving 3,000 miles to Hollywood, they shopped their demo, scored a record contract, changed their name to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and became a staple headliner for over 30 years of ups and downs. Peter Bogdanovich's Runnin' Down a Dream is an excessively long and rife for parody documentary, almost cheaply and lazily made by mostly editing in concert and music video footage with current interviews. It is still watchable and never boring, while continuously featuring great music and background to an inimitable singer/songwriter.
*** out of ****

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Le Deuxieme Souffle

A principled criminal (Lino Ventura) escapes from prison, returns to Paris, and reacquaints with old friends before being roped back into the life, taking part in an execution and a deadly heist while being pursued by a wily detective (Paul Meurisse). Harsh and violent, Jean-Pierre Melville's undemonstrative Le Deuxieme Souffle (Second Wind) is another of the director's takes on gangster ethics and boasting a strong performance from Ventura.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Tuesday, November 14, 2017


An inscrutable, disaffected James Dean modeled young man (Martin Sheen) takes up with a naive fifteen year old girl (Sissy Spacek) and murders her father (Warren Oates) before taking several more lives on a killing spree across the American West. Based on the exploits of spree killer Charles Starkweather and his teenage girlfriend Caril Ann Fugate, Terrence Malik's Badlands is beautifully shot and disconcerting with its juxtaposition of natural imagery and ostensible innocence with the horrific deeds it depicts. A laconic Sheen and an aloof Spacek provide an excellent presence in early performances, and the film is perhaps a little too distant with not enough going on or being said.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Monday, November 13, 2017

Hollywood Ending

A Hollywood executive (Tea Leoni) fights for her once lauded ex-husband (Woody Allen), whose career has hit a wall due to various neuroticisms, to direct a new mid-level project only to find him going inexplicably sightless, a fact that must be kept from cast, crew, and her powerful producer husband (Treat Williams). Allen's Hollywood Ending is inconsistent though sometimes very funny, but still a one-joke movie that wears thin and plays for too long. Allen writes himself a strong lead role with a lot of good zingers and Leoni brings empathy to her character. Once more for Allen's pictures, the cinematography excellent, showing great depth.
*** out of ****

Sunday, November 12, 2017


During the last rain-drenched week before his a retirement, a weary city detective (Morgan Freeman) takes a new unseasoned, hotheaded transfer (Brad Pitt) as an astute and diabolically convoluted serial killer begins targeting victims according to the Seven Deadly Sins. David Fincher's grisly and literate police procedural is a great puzzle movie, superbly directed with impeccable, forbidding cinematography even if the ending seems overly morbid and not as clever as the events leading up to it. Freeman is effective (if a bit typecast when looking back) but Pitt is too inconsistent especially during the infamous, crucial, and ultimately laughable finale.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Saturday, November 11, 2017


The wife (Genevieve Bujold) and daughter of a New Orleans real estate developer (Cliff Robertson) are kidnapped the night of their 10 year anniversary and killed in the botched recovery. Sixteen years later in Florence, where the couple initially met, he discovers his wife's dead ringer (Bujold again) and delves into a state of fixation and compulsion. Well-crafted Brian De Palma film, with a melodramatic script by Paul Schrader, is still an egregious Alfred Hitchcock appropriation (Bernard Herrmann score to boot), here a Vertigo reworking with a climactic scene that laughably mimics Dial M for Murder (It would be interesting to do a shot by shot analysis of De Palma and The Master's work just to see how much is actually borrowed). Robertson is excellent as the brooding lead as is John Lithgow as his snaky partner.
*** out of ****

Friday, November 10, 2017


At the forbidding castle of Elsinore, The Prince of Denmark (Mel Gibson) plots revenge and ponders existential matters when his uncle (Alan Bates) murders his father the King (Paul Scofield) and marries his mother (Glenn Close). Franco Zeffirelli's Hamlet is a somewhat monotone telling boasting of great production design. It's fun to watch Gibson in this sort of against type role, and he proves to be more than capable in an animated performance. Bates and Scofield (in a limited role) stand out among the cast.
*** out of ****

Thursday, November 9, 2017


A former, thought to be dead MI-6 agent (Sean Bean) plots with an onerous Russian General (Gottfried John) and a viperous, thigh crushing female operative (Famke Janssen) to steal the title weapon, a nuclear space device with mass destruction implications setting 007 (Pierce Brosnan) on the case with a beautiful computer analyst (Izabella Scorupco) in tow. Brosnan in his Bond debut is in the same mould as predecessor Timothy Dalton: nononsense, humorless, but really showing aptitude in the action sequences. The movie has one of the better (though still typical) Bond storylines, strong villains in Bean, Janseen, and John, a fine Bond girl in Scorupco, and great stuntwork, but like many of the other entries it just goes on way longer than it should.
*** out of ****

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Pale Flower

Just released from prison for murder, a Yakuza hitman escorts a beautiful, thrill seeking femme fatale through underground gambling parlors before tragically falling back into the life. Masahiro Shinoda's noirish Pale Flower seems directly inspired by the French New Wave with its quick cutting and cool, jazzy aura. Either way, with severe under-plotting, this is an unmistakable exercise in style over substance, although the ending is impactful.
** 1/2 out of ****

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

War for the Planet of the Apes

During his ongoing war with the humans, Cesar finds members of his clan loyal to the rogue Koba aligning with the enemy. When his wife and son are slain, he seeks out the barbaric colonel (Woody Harrelson) responsible yet finds himself captive in a prison camp where hundreds of apes are being treated as slaves under pitiable conditions. Ponderous, minimally plotted, overlong and dull prequel sequel, with more than few nods to Apocalypse Now. Harrelson, the only principal human character in the movie, isn't believable as a sadistic, bloodthirsty officer while the CGI and work of Andy Serkis continues to be remarkable.
** out of ****

Monday, November 6, 2017

The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman's Portrait Photography

A photographer retreats from the hustle and bustle of 1960s New York to Boston where she discovers her calling: taking natural photographs in her home studio on a rented, oversized 20x24 Polaroid camera. Uninspired Errol Morris documentary, one of his worse, where he curiously opts to forgo the use of his Interrotron, a device which has helped maintain the fascination level in his movies. As for the subject, though Dorfman seems wise and affable, this is essentially a profile of a family portrait photographer who just happened to be friends with Allen Ginsberg and snap a couple pictures of Bob Dylan.
** out of ****

Sunday, November 5, 2017


A torrid, tragic love affair develops between a vain, independent minded Italian countess (Alida Valli) and an arrogant and cowardly Austrian officer (Farley Granger) during a war between the two countries in 1860s occupied Venice. Overwrought Visconti melodrama with underwhelming romance and acting features drab Technicolor and production design (although it is touted for its opulent sets). The ending, however, is potent.
** 1/2 out of ****

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Red Beard

A doctor (Yuzo Kayama), having just graduated medical school in Tokyo, honing the latest in 19th Century medicine, and hoping for a prestigious post, is mortified when he receives an assignment in an impoverished Tokyo district's public clinic run by a gruff but compassionate doctor (Toshiro Mifune) known as Red Beard. Humanist, measured, and episodic Kurosawa work features characteristically beautiful and shadowy cinematography and the last collaboration between Mifune and the director, the actor portraying a very different sort of role but still embodying a powerful presence. Kayama is excellent as the young doctor and Terumi Niki is heartrending as one of his troubled young patients.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Friday, November 3, 2017

The Curse of the Jade Scorpion

A successful, nebbish insurance investigator (Woody Allen) can't stand the new secretary (Helen Hunt) hired to rearrange the office, and the feeling is mutual. When the two are hypnotized at a nightclub as part of a work outing, they fall hopelessly in love when under the spell, and are soon being called upon by the hypnotist to clean out their clients. Dismissed, Double Indemnity inspired Allen film has great, evocative period flavor, sumptuous cinematography,  many funny one-liners and great back and forth, even if the premise starts to wear a little thin and the film goes on a little too long. Woody is in fine form, Hunt is a good foil, and David Ogden Stiers is an effective presence as The Great Zoltan.
*** out of ****

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Beauty and the Beast

A bookish knockout (Emma Watson), an outcast in her picaresque French countryside village, finds herself the unwanted object of affection from a boorish lunkhead (Luke Evans) then prisoner to a cursed, crude beast (Dan Evans), whose enchanted castle reeks with personality and whose charms she gradually succumbs to. While this and the other CGI'd remakes to Disney's cherished 1991 animated feature are largely unnecessary, the endearing, magical elements are retained while new story directions, lyrics, and songs are added, mostly beneficial and without doing damage. The cast is particularly strong, especially Evans, Kevin Kline as Belle's absent-minded father, and most notably Watson who I was surprised to learn did her own singing.
*** out of ****

The Last Metro

During the German occupation of France, a stage actress and co-proprietor (Catherine Deneuve) of a Paris theater hides her Jewish husband/co-owner/director in the cellar during the course of their latest production while she balances the precarious books and feels a romantic attraction to her new leading man (Gerard Depardieu), himself an active member of the Resistance. Francois Truffaut's The Last Metro is presented on a beautiful color palette with superb cinematography by Nestor Almendros but the lack of a palpable, immediate Nazi presence/threat makes the film less thrilling and complete than it should be. Deneuve is lovely and as beautiful as ever while Depardieu, though charismatic as always, is barely believable as a Resistance agent nor is their romance particularly nspired. The ending is clever but slight.
*** out of ****

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Death of Louis XIV

After basking in his gardens at Versailles, the Sun King (Jean-Pierre Leaud of Truffuat/Antoine Doinel fame) develops a misdiagnosed case of gangrene. and is attended to by servants. advisers, clergy, weeping women, and a team of doctors as he bids farewell to his young heir and settles in to join the ranks of the dead. Albert Serra's The Death of Louis XIV makes use of sustained shots and employs an extremely measured pace yielding a sometimes compelling but mostly dull and surprisingly drab looking (especially for a period piece) result.
** 1/2 out of ****