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 ****

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Tender Mercies

A broken down country singer (Robert Duvall), estranged from his work partner wife (Betty Buckley) and their 18 year old daughter (Ellen Barkin) and lost in the bottle, is shown sympathy by an angelic single mother (Tess Harper) who runs a gas station/motel in the desolate part of Texas. As the two connect and marry, the singer attempts to repair his soul while fixing old wounds and moving on with the next act of his life. From a screenplay by Horton Foote, Bruce Beresford's Tender Mercies is a rare kind of film in that it embodies quiet and good-naturedness and resolves to be always emotionally honest. Duvall, in his sole Oscar winning role, is reserved, moving, and shows an aptitude for singing, some of the songs which he wrote himself. Harper is lovely as the young widow, Buckley is strong, and Wilford Brimley is great in support playing the latter's manager in a manner only he can. Beautifully photographed by Russell Boyd.
**** out of ****

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Souls for Sale

After getting bad vibes from her murderous fugitive husband (Lew Cody) en route to their honeyman, a young beauty (Eleanor Boardman) hops off her train in the middle of the barren California desert and is rescued by an actor (Frank Mayo) riding a camel filming latest adventure story. Now she struggles to gain fame in the cutthroat industry, falls into a love triangle between the dashing male lead and a stern director (Richard Dix), while her husband, having noted her stardom, returns to reclaim her. Solid silent studio film contains great insider vantage points and cameos, including fascinating appearances by Charlie Chaplin at work and Erich von Stroheim on the set of Greed, and a fantastic, apocalyptic finale.
*** ½ out of ****

Monday, August 14, 2017

Everyone Says I Love You

A depressed neurotic expatriate (Woody Allen) romances a beautiful fellow American (Julia Roberts) in Venice with inside information through his daughter from her psychoanalyst while his ex-wife (Goldie Hawn) and current husband (Alan Alda) and the rest of their sprawling family frolic in New York City while falling in and out of love. The usual Allen fare musicalized to old standards, Everyone Says I Love You is too unfocused, light, and scattered but often very funny. Highlights include specters singing during a wake, Goldie and Woody’s elegant number along the Seine, and the closing Marx Brothers masquerade.

*** out of ****

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Spy Who Loved Me

After British and Russian nuclear subs are hijacked by a maniacal billionaire (Curt Jurgens), with a gargantuan metal mouth henchman (Richard Kiel), a penchant for sharks, and hellbent on submerging the planet and creating an underwater civilization, Bond (Roger Moore) is called into action and paired with a slinky Moscow agent (Barbara Bach) with a deadly vendetta against the British spy. The Spy Who Loved Me is a surprisingly strong, well made, and often spoofed entry with Bach a game Bond girl and Moore finally settling into the role nicely. Jurgens makes a less than formidable villain but Kiel's entry into the series is both fun and menacing.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Detroit

An aspiring Motown singer (Algee Smith) and a friend, along with a security guard (John Boyega), a returning Army vet (Anthony Mackie), and others regrettably assemble at the Algiers Motel near the epicenter of the 1967 Detroit riots and find themselves victims of the crazed and tortuous police force searching for a sniper alleged to have fired from the establishment. Made with screenwriter Mark Boal, collaborator on her recent high profile projects (The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty), Kathryn Bigelow's Detroit is made with the sole and express intention to incite plus is scattershot and overlong, with too many unnecessary, drawn out scenes and underdeveloped characters, and a misguided inclination to treat the dreadful incident like a horror movie.
** out ****

Saturday, August 5, 2017

The Beguiled

A critically wounded Union soldier is discovered and taken into a Southern all-girls boarding school where he is reluctantly nursed back to health while he stokes the ire, passions, and curiosities of its residents. Don Siegel's The Beguiled is more diabolical and carnal than Sophia Coppola's recent respectable remake, made with a very 70s, hallucinatory aura, and a surprisingly talkative role for Eastwood who is quite, especially later on when his character becomes possessed with uncontrollable rage.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Friday, August 4, 2017

Exotica

A grieving bank auditor (Bruce Greenwood) seeks emotional comfort from a dancer (Mia Kirsher) at a specialized Toronto gentleman’s club which stirs the ire of her ex-boyfriend and house DJ (Elias Koteas) while an animal smuggling pet shop owner (Don McKellar) is brought into the damaged circle. Atom Egoyan’s Exotica is pretentiously and obliquely drawn but extremely involving and even spellbinding in parts, with a big assist to the Leonard Cohen soundtrack. Greenwood and especially Koteas standout in the cast.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Night Moves

A cuckolded L.A. private eye (Gene Hackman), who finds his current line of work a far cry from his glory days on the gridiron, takes on the case of a missing teenager (Melanie Griffith) which leads him to the Florida Keys and ultimately has greater ramifications of plundering, sleaze, and murder. Made on the heels of Chinatown and perhaps mirroring that classic a little too closely in terms of plot, Arthur Penn’s Night Moves works marvelously both as a detective story and on an existential, psychological plane while incorporating a snappy, insightful screenplay into an involving story. Hackman shows his unique ability to play a sensitive tough guy and I can't imagine anyone else delivering these lines with such conviction and believability, although Penn doesn't direct the actresses well.
**** out of ****

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

La belle noiseuse

A great master (Michel Piccoli) lives in his picturesque manor in the south of France having not painted in over ten years since he halted work on his masterpiece after the storm it created with his then muse and current wife (Jane Birkin). Now, he is visited by an art dealear, a photographer, and his beautiful, independent minded girlfriend (Emmanuelle Beart) who is seen as a new source of inspiration for the artist as the storms begin to brew once more as he believes he will now be able to finish his magnum opus. Though tough going at times and with an extreme running time, Jacques Rivette's La belle noiseuse is a painstaking, incredibly in-depth look at the creative process and how during which the human factor takes its hand. Piccoli and Birkin are excellent and the gorgeous Beart offers a fearless and nuanced performanced.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Monday, July 31, 2017

Dunkirk

Beat back by German troops to the French port city of Dunkirk, hundreds of thousands of Allied troops wait in desperation for an unlikely deliverance. Over the course of this harrowing week, we witness a French soldier trying to smuggle his way onto a fleeting British carrier, a dogfight between RAF and Luftwaffe pilots, and a civilian and his sons answering their country’s call to aid in the evacuation. Christopher Nolan’s most solemn and serious movie to date is a visually arresting, fluid, even balletic experience told with minimal dialogue and the aid of fine performances including Kenneth Branagh, Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy, and Tom Hardy. The movie does reach a problem area however when the panoply of the filmmaking itself starts to take precedence over the actual events it is depicting.
*** ½ out of ****

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Founder

Persistent, energetic, and struggling milkshake mixer salesman Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) is dumbfounded when a San Bernardino restaurant places an order for eight machines when he can barely sell one himself and drives halfway across the country to check out the operation. There he meets the McDonald brothers (Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch) and discovers their “fast food” concept in what amounts to a revelation from God, and places all his energies into franchising the restaurant and expanding his burger empire at all costs. The Founder amounts to little more than an unabashed, unashamed two hour McDonald’s commercial that decides it wants to be Citizen Kane in the last ten minutes and helped little by Keaton’s frenetic, tic-conscious performance.
* 1/2 out of ****

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

A Streetcar Named Desire

After losing the family farm and being run out of town, a fragile, delusional, aging ex-schoolteacher (Vivien Leigh) moves in her pregnant sister’s (Kim Hunter) noisy and humid French Quarter flat and finds herself being bullied, abused, and driven to madness by her crude and brutish brother-in-law (Marlon Brando). Elia Kazan’s screen treatment of Tennessee Williams’ monumental play is stagy and claustrophobic, while showing its age a bit, but still daring and potent with Brando’s revolutionizing and sometimes hammed up performance standing atop a phenomenal cast which also includes the noble and dopey Maldin.

*** ½ out of ****

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Lost City of Z

The story of Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam), a British colonel whose disgraced family name prevented his Army advancement and who, in several perilous trips up the Amazon river, saw a way to redeem it, seek insight into the misunderstood indigenous people, and find a mythic lost jungle city that would prove their advancement. Filmed on a beautiful canvas, James Gray’s somber Amazonian adventure piece is captivating in segments, but languidly paced and probably should have been drawn tauter while ultimately lacking resonance and paling somewhat to the great jungle river works of Coppola, Herzog, or Huston. Though Hunnam gives it an earnest go, I can’t help but think the project would have fared better on another, stronger actor’s shoulders. As for the rest of the cast, Robert Pattinson provides a quieting, stoic presence as Fawcett’s assistant, Miller seems lacking as the worried, progressive minded wife, and Angus Macfayden is memorable as a cowardly national hero who joins one of Fawcett’s expeditions.
*** out of ****

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Baby Driver

Mostly mute and traumatized from a childhood accident with a preternatural ability for getaway driving and earbuds constantly playing an array of popular music, an idiot savant (Ansel Elgort) is compelled to work off an exaggerated debt for a crime lord (Kevin Spacey) and, when attempting to emancipate himself, he is targeted along with his waitress girlfriend (Lily James) by psychotic fellow bank job members (Jaime Foxx and Jon Hamm). Another cute and ostensibly hip entry from Edgar Wright is the latest Goodfellas knockoff and adds nothing to the heist movie except bad music. Elgort boasts zero charisma and the rest of cast, with the exception of an amusing Spacey, appear in write-off roles.
** out of ****

Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Crucible

Vendettas, paranoia, personal interests, and mass hysteria rule the day in colonial Salem when rumors of witchcraft start circulating the village with a young, calculating girl (Winona Ryder) and her brood of posturing "victims" leading the mass accusations against residents, her aim to remove the wife (Joan Allen) of her former employer (Daniel Day-Lewis), a noble farmer who once fell prey to her advances and must summon the courage to stop this grave injustice. With Arthur Miller writing the script to his own seminal play (which again has relevance regarding today's media) some 40 years on, The Crucible is well-set and properly cast but nonetheless a tone-deaf treatment, even largely so in the Day-Lewis performance, but is truly worth the price of admission just to witness Paul Scofield's supporting turn as the cold and esteemed inquisitor.
** 1/2 out of ****

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Thief of Bagdad (1924 and 1940)


In the first of these two diverging tellings of the Arabian Nights tales, Douglas Fairbanks stars as a beggar and master pickpocket in the Bagdad bazar who becomes completely awestruck at the sight of the princess (Julanne Johnston) and seeks to break into the castle at the same time she is visited by an evil Mongolian sultan and two other loutish princes all trying to win her hand. An Alexander Korda produced (and partially directed by Michael Powell) barely related follow-up sees a feckless King (John Justin) overthrown by his iniquitous right-hand Jafar (Conrad Viedt), finding his purpose in the princess (played by June Duprez also targeted by Jafar), and sharing the fate of an industrious street urchin (Sabu) who happens upon an insolent, all-powerful genie. Raoul Walsh’s 1924 treatment of The Thief of Bagdad is a rousing silent entertainment, boasting an exciting story, remarkable sets, and an engaging Fairbanks performance. The 1940 British update, released to a besieged wartime audience, is a fantastic family entertainment featuring state of the art Technicolor special effects that make you lament the current state of the magic-lacking movies. Sabu, Justin, Viegt and Ingram all leave an imprint.
1924 version: *** ½ out of ****

1940 version: *** ½ out of ****

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Withnail & I

Two unemployed, drug addled, alcoholic actors (Richard E. Grant and Paul McGann), living in complete filth and squalor in a London flat in the late 60s retreat to an uncle's countryside manor where they are dogged by the weather, the locals, and an unexpected visit from their forward, flamboyant provider (Richard Griffiths). Bruce Robinson's drawn from real life black comedy is hilarious and humanized with great performances all around, especially Griffiths as Withnail's ostentatious Uncle Monty.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Thursday, July 6, 2017

The Double Life of Veronique

Two identical, unrelated women in Paris and Warsaw (both played by Irene Jacob) are nonetheless metaphysically bonded and, when one dies suddenly from a heart condition during a music recital, the other, a music teacher, feels acute grief and sorrow while simultaneously being stalked by an aware puppeteer as part of a social experiment. Unique though specific to the director's canon, Krzysztof Kieslowski's The Double Life of Veronique is marked by its stunning cinematography, resplendent music, and a luminous, nuanced performance from the enchanting Jacob although the opaque subject is not expanded upon and left rather abstract.
*** out of ****

Monday, July 3, 2017

The Quiet American (1958 and 2002)


A jaded British journalist (Michael Redgrave in the original, Michael Caine in the update) covers the French colonialists' war with the communists in 1950s Vietnam and finds his much younger local mistress being swept away by an unassuming, idealistic, and also much younger American aid worker (Audie Murphy and Brendan Fraser) who proves to be something totally different than he initially appears. Graham Greene's cynical story was first adapted by Joseph L. Mankiewicz into a great, depoliticized screenplay that ultimately leaves much less of an impact whereas Philip Noyce's remake keeps much of the contentious politics intact, though this version seems to detract from the main love triangle where our sympathies mostly reside. In both films, it is the wary and consummate lead performances from Redgrave and Caine which make the film worth seeing and Fraser is quite good as well, crafting a humanized, three-dimensional character out of a vapid blueprint that is far beyond Murphy's empty portrayal in the earlier picture.
1958: *** out of ****
2002: *** out of ****

Sunday, July 2, 2017

The Man with the Golden Gun

On his own private island buried deep in the seas of Red China, Francisco Scaramanga, the world's most deadly assassin with a just a rare birth mark, hunts the top men of his trade before setting his sights on MI6's top agent who, upon receiving word, treks to Macau, Hong Kong, and Thailand in search of a solar device while bedding his stalker's mistress and a beautiful and jealous fellow agent all before the final showdown. The Man with the Golden Gun is a vapid and cruder than usual 007 entry with Moore still an effete, ineffectual Bond in his second outing. Stupid throwbacks to previous movies don't help and a Lady from Shanghai inspired ending is anticlimactic. The villains and the women continue to be the reasons for these movies with Christopher Lee making a formidable baddie and Britt Eckland and Maud Adams lovely Bond girls.
** 1/2 out of ****

Saturday, July 1, 2017

The Beguiled

Well past the turning point of the Civil War, a gravely wounded Dublin born Union conscriptee (Colin Farrell) is discovered on the grounds of a largely deserted Virginia plantation now being utilized as a low enrollment all-girls boarding school. Reluctantly taken in and given aid and shelter by the headmistress (Nicole Kidman), a repressed teacher (Kirsten Dunst), and the curious pupils whom he uses his wiles to charm and create jealousy and dissension before it all pivots back onto him. Sofia Coppola's remake of a 1971 Don Siegel/Clint Eastwood film (unseen by me) is, if a little underwritten, slowly involving and richly atmospheric thanks in large part to the beautiful, foggy and muted cinematography in addition to the wonderful period details. Farrell, Kidman, and Dunst all inhabit their roles superbly.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Split

Three teen-aged girls are kidnapped from the parking lot of a restaurant and held captive by a man (James McAvoy) with dissociative identity disorder, 23 distinct personalities to be exact, who converses with his psychiatrist (Betty Buckley) while trying both to cultivate and ward off the monstrous, superhuman 24th temperament that is quickly emerging. After years of poor reviews, misguided genre exercises, and big budget flops, Split is a mostly welcomed return to form for M. Night Shyamalan thanks largely to an amusing, winning performance from McAvoy, in a turn that could have easily been laughable, Anya Taylor-Joy's presence as the focal victim, and the subplot involving Buckley. The finale is unsatisfying and too simply arrived at, as is a post credits cameo which is supposedly leading to a tie-in feature involving one of the director's previous films.
*** out of ****

Sunday, June 18, 2017

It Comes at Night

In a desolate modern world ravaged by plague and just following being forced to dispatch their infected patriarch, a family (Joel Edgerton, Carmen Ejogo, and Kelvin Harrison, Jr.) living in their forested compound is visited by a desperate intruder (Christopher Abbott) who could spell either boon or doom to their dire condition. Following a similar pattern to many recently acclaimed horror films, It Comes at Night starts out promising, crafting a claustrophobic and atmospheric setting but has absolutely no idea where it wants to go, ultimately leading to unremarkable places that would feel right at home on an episode of The Walking Dead.
** 1/2 out of ****