Monday, October 16, 2017

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)

The selfish, domineering, and egocentric ways of a Manhattan sculptor (Dustin Hoffman), whose career never quite took flight, continues to affect the lives of his grown children who include a successful financier (Ben Stiller), a spinster (Elizabeth Marvel) whom he failed to protect from an abuser, and a musician (Adam Sandler) who abandoned the discipline and has come to live with him following a divorce. Noah Baumbach returns with another film about family dysfunction, and although he elicits excellent performances from Sandler and Stiller, the movie never soars and feels too familiar yet incomplete and uninspired, just like you'd expect from a feature film released straight to an online platform.
** 1/2 out of ****

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Mystery Train

Three stories involving foreigners, their stay on the same night at a rundown, fleabag Memphis hotel, and the presence of Elvis Presley who seems to hover over the proceedings. Jim Jarmusch's Mystery Train is a little to sparse in its storytelling but is passively engaging with are strange and amiable characters.
*** out of ****

Saturday, October 14, 2017

The Living Daylights

As Double-0 agents are being targeted for assassination, Bond (Timothy Dalton) exists in the extrication of a duplicitous KGB agent (Jeroen Krabbe) claiming to have damning information on a highly respected Russian General, leaving 007 and the agent's victimized girlfriend (Maryam d'Abo) on a hazardous tour of Prague, Tangiers, and Afghanistan. The Living Daylights introduced Timothy Dalton in his short run as a more serious minded, humorless Bond, these attributes being mostly in his favor. The plotting is more realistic (at least comparatively) and the stuntwork is exciting, especially the opening (incidentally, the film bears my favorite title in the series. The only thing lacking is strong villain (or any centralized villain at all really).
*** out of ****

Friday, October 13, 2017

The Hills Have Eyes

On a trip to California, an Ohio family's car breaks down in the desolate Nevada desert where they must wait out the night as prey to the cannibalistic savages who inhabit the surrounding mountains. Wes Craven's The Hills Have Eyes starts out as suspenseful and atmospheric before quickly sacrificing tension for camp. Still, it is entertaining nonetheless. alternating between callous and amusing. bears many similarities to The Last House on the Left, and is probably the superior horror movie.
*** out of ****

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Only Son

A widowed woman in a rural town works in a textile mill and sacrifices so her son can attend school. Years later, she visits him in Tokyo and learns that he is married with an infant child although he is embarrassed he hasn't gone anywhere with his education and is only a lowly night school teacher. The Only Son, Ozu's first talking picture, is poignant with the sensitive craftsman-like director's piercing and perfectly placed camera perfectly evoking the somber mood of the film. Choko Iida amd Shinichi Himori are both wonderful playing mother and son.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Awful Truth

After suspicion infects the marriage, a couple (Cary Grant, Irene Dunne) divorces and begins to sabotage their ex's newfound relationships. Leo McCarey won a Best Director Oscar for directing this hilarious screwball comedy, an accolade which is almost never bestowed today on the genre, with Grant in light, playful form and Dunne absolutely delightful. Asta the dog, best known for the Thin Man series, is a memorable standout here.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Lost in Translation

Two lonely and depressed people, an aging movie star (Bill Murray) and the young wife (Scarlett Johansson) of a busy photographer (Giovanni Ribisi), meet and connect in Tokyo, finding themselves platonic companions in the strange city for a few fleeting days. Light, observed, and well-made, Sofia Coppola's Lost in Translation is. in turns, amusing, melancholic and poignant (though I'm not sure its as transcendent as its reputation) with Murray ideal for the role and Johansson tremendous and just as affecting.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Monday, October 9, 2017

Viridiana

Before making her vows, a would be nun (Silvia Pinal) visits her rich, old uncle (Fernando Rey) who takes his own life after she refuses his advances. Leaving the convent entirely after inheriting her estate, she transforms it into a commune for vagrants for eventually run amok. Luis Bunuel's return home to his native land is confounding, challenging, cynical, and shocking like most of the director's work, while made with vivid imagery and memorable performances from Pinal and Rey.
*** out of ****

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Blade Runner 2049

A newer, legal model cyborg (Ryan Gosling), working as a Blade Runner for the LAPD, continues hunting and "retiring" older models and, after dispatching his latest target, discovers the remains of a female replicant with signs she gave birth some thirty years prior. Charged with eradicating the child, his quest leads him on an existential journey and into the path of an old, retired member of his profession (Harrison Ford) who had some connection to the case. While it is difficult for a sequel to tell a compelling story in its own right. Blade Runner 2049 not only does that, but resonates emotionally even more so than the original and made with the kinds of stunning visuals (courtesy of Roger Deakins) and incredible sound that have come to typify director Denis Villeneuve's work, even if the story remains somewhat baffling and impenetrable. Gosling is well cast in his role, Ford feels right at home, and Jared Leto has a great bit part as the megalomaniacal chairman of the new replicant production company.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Small Time Crooks

A bunch of bungling crooks led by a career criminal (Woody Allen) devise the perfect crime by leasing a storefront and tunneling into the bank vault next door. However, when their cookie business front becomes a massive success and the bank job falls through, they become rich beyond their wildest dreams and Allen's uncultured wife (Tracey Ullman) hires a suave but disingenuous cad (Hugh Grant) as a Henry Higgins-like instructor. Made at a time when Woody was beginning to go out of fashion and entering a so called slump, Small Time Crooks is as funny and diverting as any of his light comedies and contains a hysterical Ullman performance who is given some of the movie's funniest lines.
*** out of ****

Friday, October 6, 2017

Le Silence de la Mer

During the German Occupation of France in a quiet village, a German officer (Howard Vernon) boards with an elderly man (Jean-Marie Robain) and his niece (Nicole Stephane) whose only form of resistance is utter silence in the face of their unwanted houseguest who responds with unrelenting courtesy, tales from back home and of love for his assumed country, and horror in response to Nazi atrocities. From Vercors inspirational Resistance short story, Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Silence de la Mer is unique and almost daring/high concept (which must have seemed extremely tedious on paper) with great cinematography and moments of tension and insight. Vernon's performance is delicate and wonderful.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Certain Women

The story of three barely connected women inhabiting small-town Livingston, Montana: a lawyer (Laura Dern) and her relationship with an unhinging client (Jared Harris); a sullen woman (Michelle Woman) on an errand in the country which reveals her troubled marriage; a young lawyer (Kristen Stewart) making a slight friendship with a farmhand (Lily Gladstone) at a night class she's teaching. Kelly Reichardt's Certain Women, based on the writings of Maile Meloy, is essentially three self-contained shorts, touching, melancholic, and minutely observed and made with great actresses and beautiful Western landscape photography.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Pink Floyd: The Wall

Set to music from Roger Waters' hugely popular classic rock album and featuring grotesque and unforgettable animation by Gerald Scarfe, The Wall tells the story of a rockstar in the midst of an overdose who looks back over his troubled life, including losing his father in the World War II, being browbeaten by his mother and an oppressive school system, and the fascistic sway he holds over his fans. Alan Parker's depressing and sensory overloading rendition of the material amounts to a powerful feature length music video.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

A View to a Kill

007 (Roger Moore) is sent on the trail of psychotic billionaire and horse race cheat (Christopher Walken) who seeks to corner the microchip market by causing massive earthquakes to destroy Silicon Valley. Moore's last appearance, although he settled into the role over time, is one of the weakest entries in the series in spite of some good action sequences some good action sequences. Walken is a surprisingly bland villain, Tanya Roberts a feeble bond girl, and Grace Jones is just bizarre as the femme fatale.
** out of ****

Monday, October 2, 2017

Mon oncle d'Amérique

The lives of three disparate people, an uppercrust raised public news director (Roger Pierre), a middle class socialist actress (Nicole Garcia), and a farmboy turned factory manager (Gerard Depardieu) lives intertwine at moments of crisis, and all to demonstrate the social theories of scientist Henri Laborit (who also appears as himself. Alain Resnais My American Uncle is supremely directed, acted, and edited. very unique and sometimes fascinating while employing clips from nature, laboratory mice, and old French movies featuring Jean Marais, Jean Gabin, Danielle Darrieux.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Sunday, October 1, 2017

The Hairdresser's Husband

A young boy is enraptured by the carnality of his local hairdresser and vows to marry one when he grows up, and does just that, engaging in a torrid, fairy-tale but doomed love affair with another hair stylist. Made with a particular Euro sense of humor and sensibility, though heralded by some, Patrice Leconte's film is so slight as to barely fill a short film but made with wonderful set design, camerawork, and the amiable set of actors.
** 1/2 out of ****

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Make Way for Tomorrow

An elderly couple lose their home to foreclosure and are forced to live separately with their grown children who are either too busy, selfish, or put upon to deal with the inconvenience. Leo McCarey, a versatile director who crafted films ranging from romantic tragedies to Marx Brothers movies, devised this poignant, near devastating, and hard hitting tear jerker that, while somewhat dated and measured, has many fine moments.

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

Friday, September 29, 2017

Never Say Never Again

After the "Double-0" program is suspended, James (Sean Connery) is recalled from a health spa when two nuclear missiles are hijacked by charismatic oil tycoon Maximilian Largo (Klaus Maria Brandauer), whose unwitting mistress (Kim Basinger) is sister to the pawn used to retrieve the weapons of mass destruction. Connery's final appearance as Bond, after a 12 year hiatus, is a welcomed return and the film, an unofficial, non-Eon Studios production remake of Thunderball is a nice change of pace from the formulaic series if it is a little overlong and just as tacky. Brandauer is a great, colorful and humanized villain, Barbara Carrera a sizzling femme fatale, and Basinger ideal as a Bond girl.
*** out of ****

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Caché

A TV talk show host (Daniel Auteuil) and his wife (Juliette Bincoche) are terrorized by a stalker who sends the couple disturbing drawings and protracted videotaped recordings of both their Paris residence and the man’s childhood home, eventually causing a rift in their marriage and reawakening haunting memories of early childhood shame. Michael Haneke’s Cache (Hidden) is a methodically composed and exceptionally patient and profound work that hypnotically draws the viewer in (like many great films do) and makes its larger points not through preaching but by craft and expose.
**** out of ****

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Sweet and Lowdown

The story of Emmet Ray (Sean Penn), the best jazz guitarist in the world, second only to Django Reinhardt (whose name's very mention throws him into fits), who was completely inept in every other facet of his life, including his relationship with his life's love, an adoring mute girl (Samantha Morton) who worshiped the ground he walked on. Woody Allen again enters nostalgic 1930s territory with this fictionalized and somewhat slight account while once more employing a mockumentary format and saluting his love of jazz. Penn creates a great, almost tragic comic performance and Morton's lovely show is as emotive and tender as any silent screen performance.
*** out of ****

Monday, September 25, 2017

Things to Come

A Parisian philosophy professor (Isabelle Huppert) living a comfortable middle class existence only comes partially unraveled when a succession of curveballs are thrown her way, including her husband moving in with a younger woman, her needy mother’s health gradually deteriorating, and her publisher deciding her book will not be renewed. Things to Come is pompous intellectual French filmmaking made salient by Huppert’s profound presence.
** ½ out of ****

Sunday, September 24, 2017

The Big Lebowski

A case of mistaken identity hurls an unemployed burnout (Jeff Bridges) along with his blowhard, hair-triggered bowling partner (John Goodman) into a serpentine kidnapping plot and a series of vignettes featuring a crippled millionaire (David Huddleston), his haughty artistic daughter (Julianne Moore), a Hollywood porn producer (Ben Gazzara), and many other Hollywood weirdo types. Episodic and championed cult Coen brothers film features a great Raymond Chandler inspired screenplay with dialogue that just keeps turning back onto itself, a starring role for Bridges he was born to play, and Goodman stealing the show in virtually all of his scenes. This isn't a criticism of the movie, but some of the humor has worn off after so many viewings.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Les Enfants Terribles

A fragile teen (Edouard Dermithe) is hit with a snow shrouded stone at school and nursed back to health by his sister (Nicole Stephane), with whom he has an unhealthy relationship, which turns tragic when a female who stokes his desire is introduced into their inner circle and jealousies are inflamed. From Jean Cocteau's popular novel, who worked closely with director Jean-Pierre Melville during the production, Les Enfants Terribles is a smarmy, obnoxious, and vapid translation though incredibly directed and with a fine performance from Stephane.
** 1/2 out of ****

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Octopussy

When Agent 009, undercover as a clown in a Russian circus, is assassinated by a pair of knife throwing twins, the trail leads Bond (Roger Moore) to a Faberge egg smuggling ring led by a beautiful maven (Maud Adams) whose cohorts have greater plans of mass murder and global subversion. Dubious, confusing, and preposterously plotted Bond outing features an awfully aged Moore, decent villains in Louis Jordan, Kabir Bedi, and Steven Berkoff and an excellent female lead in Adams. The set pieces are impressive though the finale is unending and ridiculous while bordering on laughably absurd.
** 1/2 out of ****

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Grey Zone

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

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

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

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Alien: Covenant

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

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Barry Lyndon

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

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

25th Hour

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

*** ½ out ****

Monday, September 11, 2017

Sons of the Desert

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

*** ½ out of ****

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Celebrity

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

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Things to Come

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

Friday, September 8, 2017

Leon Morin, Priest

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

**** out of ****

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

For Your Eyes Only

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

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Richard III

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

Friday, September 1, 2017

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

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

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Game of Thrones

It is difficult to review television without giving away something of the plot. Tread lightly if you haven't seen the series in its entirety.

Season 7 (2017)
As the threat from the White Walkers grows ever more imminent, Jon and Daenerys finally acquaint as they quarrel over patronage before coming to terms with an alliance and a potential love affair and Cersei and Jaime prepare for war at King’s Landing while the surviving stark siblings have a bitter reunion at Winterfell as Littlefinger’s presence ominously looms. As the end nears in this first half of the final season, the pace is quickened, the storylines converge, and the number of battle sequences increase, the series is still bogged down by unnecessary asides, woeful plotting and characters, absolutely insipid dialogue.
** 1/2 out of ****

Season 6 (2016)
Cersei plots revenge while sitting back helpless in humiliation as her son is taken in by the High Sparrow and the gods, Arya learns some harsh lessons in life and death, and Sansa, after being rescued by an unlikely source, reunites with an unsurprisingly resurrected and differently composed Jon as they gear up to retake Winterfell from the odious Ramsay Bolton. In this first season without George R.R. Martin as a writer and as the series eyes the finish line and moves all of its pawns into place, it is nice to see the pace finally pick up with so much finally happening in this multi-storied universe, with also some incredible set pieces to boot in the latter episodes. Still the quality of the dialogue seems the worst its ever been, some stories still seem stuck in limbo (i.e. Daenerys and Tyrion), while Arya's would be powerful tale comes off as insipid and disappointing.
*** out of ****

Season 4 (2014) and Season 5 (2015)
An act of treachery at the Royal Wedding sends Tyrion toward a new destiny and Sansa into greater peril. Daenerys learns how to rule over the recently liberated Meereen and Stannis provides relieve to the Night's Watch only to find more obstacles on his quest to the Iron Throne. The fourth season of Game of Thrones is a marked improvement over the previous one, with the intrigue at King's Landing exciting enough to cover for the dull wheel spinning that continues to go on elsewhere (i.e. The Wall, Meereen), only to return for a dreadful, monotonous fifth season that brings nothing closer to resolution except in killing off several major characters in the end, which surely will thrill many fans but seems a giant waste of their protracted storylines. Without having read the books, it almost seems as if George R.R. Martin crafted an excellent first entry, which was then adapted into a great first season, and then had absolutely no idea what he signed on for or where it was going after that. While watching the "previously on" segment for Sunday's finale I realized that I had never seen a show with so much going on where so little actually happens.
Season 4: *** out of ****
Season 5 ** out of ****

Season 3 (2013)
As the inhabitants of King’s Landing recover from the their costly victory at the Battle of Blackwater and Stannis and his few remaining followers lick their wounds on a remote island, war parties led by Rob Stark and Daenerys Targaryen continue their arduous march on the capital. I wanted to keep this short and sweet after feeling the ire from panning another highly popular show, but season three represents an even steeper decline for this beloved series and, even in the “Golden Age of Television” as many have dubbed it, provides further evidence of the difficulties of sustaining an extended serial, even one based on extensive source material. You can almost picture George R.R. Martin and the HBO execs sitting at their round table brainstorming their smoke and mirrors tactics saying, “You know, we could just go through with a long, boring, protracted season where things wind up basically where they started, so long as we kill off a few major players in the end, we’ll still have ‘em hooked.”
** out of ****

Season 2 (2012)
As three challengers to the throne march upon King's Landing, an unexpected foe lays siege on Winterfell, causing more turmoil and heartache to the already beset Stark family. Tyrion has his hands full as Hand of the King in dealing with his treacherous sister and malevolent nephew. Daenerys, her dragons, and dwindling tribesman remain stranded across the Narrow Sea and Jon Snow begins his tour beyond the Wall as the dreaded Winter finally arrives. Following the spectacular first season of Game of Thrones, the followup series, while still maintaining a high level of interest, meanders and goes in circles for many of its story lines, and ones which were the top draw in season one (ie Daenerys, Jon Snow and the Wall, Rob Stark and his army) now seem to have lost their way and are stuck in standstill for virtually this entire round. Also, following the exit of Sean Bean, the show does not have a lead actor to anchor itself around and while Peter Dinklage (who went from Best Supporting Actor Emmy Winner to first billed in the credits) is excellent, he is not a leading man. I was still engaged with this season. The court intrigue and Arya's storyline worked best for me but the show seemed only interested in its primary story, which was made evident in the climactic Battle of Blackwater episode. "Game of Thrones" is a vast drama, and about as in depth as anything you can expect from television that still nonetheless needs to iron out its storytelling kinks.
*** out of ****

Season 1 (2011)
A long and brutal winter is approaching the kingdom of Westeros and treachery is afoul as the Hand of the King has been murdered. Surrounded by the cunning and powerful family of his duplicitous wife, King Robert Baratheon sends for his old friend and battle mate Eddard Stark to take up the position of the deceased and be unwillingly hurled into the deadly title scheme. The HBO adaptation of the George R.R. Martin novels is an excellent entry in the fantasy genre, simultaneously telling an involving, intelligent, violent, but grounded other worldly tale. Filmed throughout Northern Ireland and Scotland, as well as in parts of Morocco, the series features the most stunning visuals to be found in any television series. Its epic cast of mostly British players is uniformly excellent and if forced to select a handful as my favorite I would chose Iain Glen as a courageous exiled knight, Emilia Clarke as his queen and charge, samely exiled, Peter Dinklage as a witty and underestimated dwarf, and Sean Bean as the noble, sullen Eddard Stark. "Game of Thrones" is wonderfully engaging entertainment that isn't afraid to break the "rules" of television and has characterization and intelligence to match its harsh tone and violence.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Four Feathers

A young man groomed to be an officer in the Queen’s Army fears himself to be a coward and, believing himself to be in the right, resigns just as his unit is being shipped off to fight the Khalifah in Sudan. Shamed by his friends, he must use his own means and backchannels to prove his mettle to them, his new bride, and himself.  Zoltan Korda’s The Four Feathers displays a radiant Technicolor decades ahead of its time, a fine cast of characters (including Ralph Richardson and C. Aubrey Smith), and a rousing telling of A.E.W. Mason’s story though some of it is diluted by many protracted sequences.

*** ½ out of ****

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Tales of Hoffman

While carousing in a basement barroom during intermission, a sworn enemy intercepts a rendez-vous note from the show’s star as the poet tells the tragic stories of three long-lost loves. Done in Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s grand style, The Tales of Hoffman is an uncompromising vision of Jacques Offenbach’s opera featuring stunning singing and dancing (including Moira Shearer fresh off of her appearance in the filmmakers’ The Red Shoes) and outlandish and unforgettable set design.
*** ½ out of ****

Saturday, August 26, 2017

The Indian Runner

A Nebraskan deputy sheriff (David Morse) tries to understand and welcome his troubled brotlher (Viggo Mortensen) into his home after his return from Vietnam, but his wayward nature puts him on a course of self-destruction and in contention with everyone who crosses his path. Much of Sean Penn's directorial debut resonates, with a story inspired by Bruce Springsteen's Highway Patrolman, but the movie is pretentious and immaturely conceived, lethargic and overlong. Morse is a strong, stoic presence and Mortensen has his moments if the overall performance is inconsistent.
** out of ****

Friday, August 25, 2017

Lifeboat

Eight passengers man a lifeboat after their ship is torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat, which is also simultaneously struck. When the sub's captain is pulled aboard, he is greeted with hostility and paranoia although his knowledge of the sea may be the only thing guiding the vessel to safety or peril. Confined entirely to the small craft, Lifeboat may be Alfred Hitchcock's most atypical work though it is creaky and plays almost like social theater of the era. An excellent cast buoys the production with standouts including Tellulah Bankhead as a spoiled and worldly journalist, William Bendix as a wounded traveler, Hume Cronyn as a novice sailor, and Walter Slezak as the shifty German.
*** out of ****

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Deconstructing Harry

A writer (Woody Allen) is being honored by his college (which incidentally expelled him) but can’t find anyone to attend with due to his alienation of friends and family through his work, which is brought to life in heightened, mirrored vignettes. Allen’s reworking of Wild Strawberries is a self-revealing and at times jarring and atypically profane black comedy that employs an irritating jump-cut technique but is still mostly very funny.
*** out of ****

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Moonraker

After a shuttle is spacejacked, 007 travels to a billionaire's (Michael Lonsdale) Californian compound and then the far reaches of space while, with a the help of a sensual CIA agent (Lois Chiles) posing as a research scientist, uncovering a genocidal plot to wipe out the world's population and start anew with only the most beautiful members of each of race. After a series peak with The Spy Who Loved Me, the Bond series returned with this curious piece of cheese and obvious Star Wars ripoff that approaches so bad its good territory. Lonsdale makes an adequate villain and Richard Kiel's return as Jaws is much welcomed.
** out of ****

Monday, August 21, 2017

Fight Club

A disaffected auto recall adjuster (Edward Norton), suffering from insomnia and addicted to 12-step groups, finds his life radically changed by a nihilistic, narcissistic soap procuring stranger (Brad Pitt) with their initial creation of underground boxing clubs growing into something more radical, coordinated, and dangerous. From Chuck Palahniuk’s novel, David Fincher’s cutting edge and kinetically crafted Fight Club is often cruel, unpleasant, and ultimately senseless though it strikes a resounding chord while sending out mixed messages. Norton, Pitt, and a crucial Helena Bonham Carter are all at the top of their craft.
*** ½ out of ****

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Wind River

While searching for a predatory mountain lion on a Wyoming Indian reservation, a hunter/tracker (Jeremy Renner) for the Fish and Wildlife Service instead locates the raped and murdered body of a young Native woman who died in the same fashion as his own daughter several years earlier. Still grieving himself, he teams up with an FBI agent (Elizabeth Olsen) and local law enforcement in an effort to track the killer. Led by a commanding and stoic Renner performance and featuring beautiful location scenery, Taylor Sheridan's Wind River is an often profound mystery thriller that favors character and emotion over action, while purveying all exceedingly well.
*** 1/2 out of ****