Wednesday, February 21, 2018

I, Tonya

Growing up indigent with a browbeating, abusive mother (Allison Janney) who pushed her relentlessly to succeed before entering into a pejorative relationship with another victimizer (Sebastian Stan), Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) rose in the figure skating (often against classist opposition) before the infamous Nancy Kerrigan incident at the hands of her husband's boneheaded, rotund, and delusional best friend (Paul Walter Hauser). Craig Gillespie's I, Tonya boasts an excellent all around cast surrounding Robbie, who branches out considerably. The filming is frenetic and exciting while evoking Goodfellas a little too closely, and pulls no punches in its unforeseen, darker subject matter.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Logan

In the not too distant future near the Texas border, a hardened and spent Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) spends his days providing a livery service in order to care for the aged and ailing Professor X (Patrick Stewart). Soon he has custody of a young mutant girl with like powers being hunted by daunting forces and must escort her to a safe haven in North Dakota. James Mangold's Logan, the umpteenth entry in the X-Men series was praised in its attempts to match the vulgar, violent, and ruthless excesses of Deadpool, adult alterations that seem totally counterintuitive to the material. The movie has its moments, especially in its fleeting quieter scenes, but at the core of this needlessly brutal work, it's really just another hokey comic book movie. Stewart and Stephen Merchant are effective in supporting roles.
** 1/2 out of ****

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Mulholland Drive

A chipper young woman (Naomi Watts) just arrived in L.A. finds an amnesiac (Laura Elena Harring) just involved in terrible car wreck living at her aunt's home. As unrelated plot developments start to cobble up (including the story of an arrogant director (Justin Theroux) being muscled by the mob), the two women's personas seem to merge or take on entirely different realities. David Lynch's Mulholland Drive is a film that has both baffled and frustrated me the first couple of times through it due to its resistance to reason and obstinance in the face of logic. Revisiting it again, and expecting those same exasperating feelings to return while not trying to find a coherent plotline, I surprisingly found it to be a fascinating, hypnotic, frightening, suspenseful, and still maddeningly frustrating exercise, with Lynch at the apex of both his form and strangeness. Watts is incredible in essentially a dual role.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Lola

During the German reconstruction period and the miraculous economic boom of the 1950s, officials, planners, and contractors in the city of Coburg are loading their pockets through graft, chief among them a fiendish developer (Mario Adorf) who schemes to curry favor with the new, straight arrow building commisioner (Armin Mueller-Stahl) by plying him through the affections of an ambitious prostitute (Barbara Sukowa). From the same Heinrich Mann novel used to draw Sternberg's The Blue Angel, R.W. Fassbinder's Lola (the last of his BRD trilogy, the second released chronologically) depicts corruption and immorality through a beautiful, ebuillent Technicolor lens with Sukowa mesmerizing as the seductive, calculating social climber.
*** out of ****

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Monsieur Hire

While being accused of the murder of a young woman outside of his apartment complex, a well-mannered, immaculately composed peeping Tom (Michel Blanc) observes the daily rituals of his neighbor (Sandrine Bonnaire) who discovers his voyeuristic behavior and seems to return his affections. Patrice Leconte's Monsieur Hire, from a novel by Georges Simenon, is elegantly made and exactingly directed, with a wonderful score from Michael Nyman, and a plot that takes a surprising trajectory for such a simple premise.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Mother!

A poet (Javier Bardem) and his considerably younger wife (Jennifer Lawrence) live in their recently renovated house which had burned to cinders. Now they receive uninvited guests (Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer) who can’t take a hint and refuse to leave, with the crowd soon growing to mass proportions with apocalyptic implications and consequences. With absurdism akin to a Bunuel movie plus a tinge of Rosemary’s Baby, Darren Aronofsky’s Mother! is an outrageous allegory on the creative process which is fascinating to see just how far the thin premise can be stretched. Lawrence delivers an overwrought, impressive performance.
 *** ½ out of ****

Monday, February 5, 2018

It

Evil personified in the form of a sinister clown and thriving on fear vanishes children of Derry, Maine every 27 years, its latest occurrence in 1989 when a group of misfit preadolescents are forced to confront the malevolent being. The latest update of Stephen King's novel works best when fitting in the Stand by Me mould, with the juvenile actors well cast and appealing, but loses its viability in the horror sequences which are dubious and exasperating, especially in the later stages of the film.
*** out of ****

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Veronika Voss

A once prominent movie star (Rosel Zech) who earned her start under Goebbels' Propaganda Ministry becomes romantically involved with a reporter (Hilmar Thate) who suspects her neurologist (Annemarie Durringer) of keeping the faded actress under her influence through the use of morphine. Rainer Werner Fassbinder's reimagining of the tragic demise of German actress Sybille Schmitz (his death mirroring her own not long after the release of the film) is shot in brilliant black and white in a melodramatic almost campy mood yet of course with the darker undertones evoking Wilder's Sunset Blvd or even What Ever Happpened to Baby Jane. Zech and Thate are both superb.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Friday, February 2, 2018

Stronger

While waiting for his girlfriend (Tatiana Maslany) to complete the 2013 Boston Marathon, Jeff Bauman (Jake Gyllenhaal) lost his legs in the terrorist bombing. Struggling to rehabilitate and adjust to his now onerous and often very painful life, he finds himself unwillingly thrust into the spotlight while his ordeal wears heavily on those around him. David Gordon Green's treatment of this true to life story is all about the two excellent lead performances which get thwarted by stupid supporting characters, dumb comic relief bits, and the expected inspirational mushy fodder in the second act, all elements that would have proved completely dispensable to the story.
** 1/2 out of ****

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Mudbound

As war rages in Europe and the Pacific, a college graduate and inexperienced farmer (Jason Clarke) moves his new bride (Carey Mulligan) to rural Mississippi to apply the trade where, in tough times, they lean on a poor sharecropping family (headed by Rob Morgan and Mary J. Blige). When both families see members return from oversees (Garrett Hedlund and Jason Mitchell), their friendship stokes the ire of prejudice and leads to tragic consequences. Dee Rees' Mudbound is a painterly period piece, leisurely, novelistic, somewhat elliptical and routine, with fine work from a talented cast.
*** out of ****

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Call Me by Your Name

At their summer home in Northern Italy, a precocious 17 year old musical prodigy (Timothee Chalamet) sees the arrival of his archaeologist father's (Michael Stuhlbarg) latest research assistant (Armie Hammer) and the two develop a bond that segues into a passionate physical relationship. Luca Guadagnino's realization of James Ivory's script (from a novel by Andre Aciman) is idyllically set and beautifully shot yet frustrating in an unambiguous way that never really lets you in as to what's going on and what the characters are feeling, leaving the central relationship seeming unworthy of the weight subscribed to it. Chalamet's touted performance is offbeat and unique but inconsistent and aloof.
** 1/2 out of ****

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Phantom Thread

A renowned, particular, and impatient London dress designer (Daniel Day-Lewis) in the 1950s grows annoyed with and dismisses his current lover before a strong willed, foreign born waitress (Vicky Krieps) catches his eye and takes her place, becoming muse and model while forging a toxic, codependent relationship and butting heads with his watchful, protective sister (Leslie Manville). P.T. Anderson's Phantom Thread, a beautifully shot, fascinating look into a sequestered world and life, is slow to start before becoming severely strange and ultimately deeply involving. It features another, (said to be his final) consummate performance from DDL and another acute, obsessive and slightly inhuman characterization. Krieps is magnetic, holding her own with her intimidating partner and Manville exhibits great control and subtle humor in an Oscar nominated performance.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Molly's Game

A skier (Jessica Chastain) with issues with her psychiatrist father (Kevin Costner), who came up just short of medalling in the Olympics due to a devastating injury, relocates to L.A. and soon finds herself assisting and then running her own high stakes poker games before becoming involved with the Russian mob, catching a RICO charge, and trying to convince a clean cut, high powered attorney (Idris Elba) to represent her in federal court. Aaron Sorkin's approach in his directorial debut never really elevates the screenplay which contains the expected witty Sorkinisms but is overly relentless and bloated, with an unfortuante climactic scene featuring Costner at a skating rink. Chastain's performance is commanding as is Elba in a supporting role, especially during a lenghthy, late arriving speech.
*** out of ****

Saturday, January 27, 2018

All the Money in the World

Oil magnate and world's richest man J. Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer) refuses to pay the $17 million ransom of his kidnapped grandson, after he was abducted while living in Italy, instead opting to put an ex-CIA agent (Mark Wahlberg) on the case who teams up with the boy's persistent and grief stricken mother (Michelle Williams). Ridley Scott's All the Money in the World is an intelligent and solidly crafted if a little overlong thriller, unnerving in doses, with a delicious performance from Christopher Plummer who famously joined the cast in the 11th hour after Kevin Spacey was scrubbed from the picture. Wahlberg is welcomely subdued and Williams contributes another excellent, overlooked turn.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Thursday, January 25, 2018

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir

Feeling trapped by her autocratic mother and sister, a young widow (Gene Tierney) longs to be on her own and jumps at the chance to rent a seaside cottage, even after being forewarned that it is haunted by the ghost of a surly sea captain (Rex Harrison) who met an untimely demise. Joseph L. Mankiewicz's The Ghost and Mrs. Muir strikes too light a tone before suddenly changing gears and turning somber. Tierney is consistent, Harrison's performance is grating at times and appealing at others, and George Sanders has a memorable supporting role. The black and white cinematography is exquisite.
** 1/2 out of ****

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Diary of a Lost Girl


The daughter (Louise Brooks) of a pharmacist is raped by her father's assistant and is sent away to a medieval reformatory and then a whorehouse before receiving her inheritance and achieving her belated redemption. Daring and still ribald, G.W. Pabst's Diary of a Lost Girl is consummately directed (the reformatory scenes are virtuosic) with impeccable black and white cinematography and a surprising lack of intertitles.A beautiful Brooks commands out sympathy.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The Post

When government contractor Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys) witnesses the perpetual standstill in Vietnam followed by a knowing Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood) still selling the war to the public, he decides to steal a lengthy top secret document, later to be known as the Pentagon Papers, which was a study of the war that revealed a decades long awareness and deceitfulness regarding the hopelessness of the conflict. When these papers were published by the New York Times, they were hit with a temporary injunction by the Nixon White House, leaving the door open for the then regional Washington Post and their tenacious editor-in-chief Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) and his team to find the source and publish the remaining documents, just at the same time their owner Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep) is taking the paper public. Steven Spielberg's The Post seems to be stretching its story farther than it wants to go with a deficient, hokey screenplay that doesn't have a whole lot to say beyond first amendment power of the press rhetoric and barely veiled references to the current administration. Its become well known how quick the movie was assembled, shot, and edited and that rushed feeling shows in the final, forgettable product. Also, Spielberg appears to be attempting an unnatural style of directing outside of his ouevre. Hanks is miscast as the hard-nosed Bradlee and only calls to memory a superior Jason Robards portrayal of the newsman in All the President's Men. Streep, however, is appealing as the softspoken, underestimated newspaper magnate. A well-recognizable cast fails to leave an impression.
** out of ****

Monday, January 22, 2018

Quantum of Solace

While trying to corner the members of the shadowy organization responsible for Vesper's death, James (Daniel Craig) crosses paths with a beautiful secret agent (Olga Kuryleko) acting as a mistress to a ruthless entrepreneur (Mathieu Amalric) seeking to corner the Bolivian water market. Dominated by overblown kinetic action sequences in vogue a decade ago a la Jason Bourne, Quantum of Solace is lazily written which lends itself to a hard to follow 007 entry that clumsily follows up on storylines from Casino Royale, its superior predecessor. However, it doesn't overstay its welcome like many films in the series and contains a malignant villain in Amalric and one of the most stunning Bond girls in Kurylenko.
** 1/2 out of ****

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Brawl in Cell Block 99

A tow truck driver (Vince Vaughn) with a vaguely explained violent past loses his job only to discover his wife (Jennifer Carpenter) is having an affair. They soon patch things up, and he begins drug running for a friend, a gig that quickly lands him a seven year stint in prison. When his now pregnant wife is kidnapped, he is extorted into fighting his way into the state maximum security unit and offing a prisoner wanted dead by her captors. Brawl in Cell Block 99 takes forever to get going and the dialogue is incredibly vacuous but the film becomes completely engrossing, in the same fashion as writer/director S. Craig Zahler's Bone Tomahawk did while sill relishing in the ever increasing, incessant violence. Vaughn delivers a commanding and empathetic performance and Don Johnson has a great walk-on role on a sadistic, no-nonsense prison warden.
** 1/2 out of ****

Saturday, January 20, 2018

La Cérémonie

A maid (Sandrine Bonnaire) concealing an illiteracy problem and a violent incident in her past goes to work for a benign, bourgeois family (headed by Jacqueline Bisset and Jean-Pierre Cassel) and befriends an unstable local postal clerk (Isabelle Huppert) also with skeletons in her closet, a relationship rooted in pseudo lesbianism and class jealousy that devolves into mayhem. Claude Chabrol's La Cérémonie is a cold-blooded class conflict movie, slow-paced, involving, and ultimately harrowing. The cast, especially Bisset, is exceptional.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Friday, January 19, 2018

10 Rillington Place

From a true crime story about an achingly terrifying miscarriage of justice, middle-aged serial killer John Christie (Richard Attenborough) lives an unassuming life with his wife in their quiet London flat when he decides to rent the adjoining property to an illiterate laborer (John Hurt), along with his wife and infant child, who will soon face the hangman’s noose for one of his landlord’s unspeakable crimes. Filmed just doors down from the site of the actual killings, Richard Fleisher’s 10 Rillington Place is bleak, muted, and understated with Attenborough creepily effective and Hurt totally credible in the tragic role.
*** out of ****

Thursday, January 18, 2018

French Cancan

An impressario (Jean Gabin) engages in romantic entanglements with his main drawing act (Maria Felix), a new discovery (Francois Arnoul) and two of her lovers while reintroducing the can-can, an outdated dance number, and opening what would come to be known as the Moulin Rouge. One of Jean Renoir's post American exile works, French Cancan is dominated by cheesy French humor and underdrawn characters, though Gabin's performance is winning and the dance numbers, the finale in particular, are spectacular.
*** out of ****

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Harakiri

A fallen ronin (Tatsuya Nakadai) who has lost everything, namely master, livelihood, and family, arrives at a lord's residence in order to commit seppuku, a ritual form of suicide. In an attempt to deter his actions, he is told of another recent samurai who made a similar request and was forced to carry out his demand, as he was suspected of attempting to fleece the manor by being turned away with riches. Instead, the noble ronin at the castle's doorstep has a more damning revelation about his relationship to the pitiable young man. Kobayashi's Harakiri is vivid, violent, and harsh, with an aim for calling out hypocrisy yet exists largely for generating empathy and is always utterly compelling, unfolding in a serpentine and novelistic fashion. Nakadai is excellent as the principled and vengeful warrior.
**** out of ****

Friday, January 5, 2018

Come and See

In Belarus in the heart of World War II and the German occupation, a teenager fights with the Russian Resistance, sees his family slaughtered, and bears witness to the unspeakable Nazi atrocities all around him. Harrowing,  nightmarish and occasionally consuming, Elem Klimov's Come and See is dense and murky, made with an impressively fluid camerawork though muddled photography, and contains the feel of an even more unrelentingly bleak Tarkovsky film with an ending that, depending how you interpret it, I'm not sure how useful it is.
*** out of ****

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Seven Days in May

Disarmament talks between Russia and an unpopular President (Fredric March) leads to rumors of a military coup led by a military demagogue (Burt Lancaster) and uncovered by his top aide (Kirk Douglas). John Frankenheimer’s Seven Days in May is a well-made, credible, and talky thriller that lacks suspense with the acting being the real attribute on display. Stars Douglas and Lancaster, though providing stalwart performances, are both relegated somewhat with supporters March and Edmund O’Brien stepping in with terrific turns.
*** out of ****