Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Atlantic City

An aged mob underling (Burt Lancaster), who makes his living waiting hand and foot on his old boss's widow, is sprung back to life when he attempts to unload some stolen cocaine and serve as protector to the recently bumped off thief's card-dealing wife (Susan Sarandon). Louis Malle's Atlantic City is a brilliantly realized, European-minded character study with Lancaster perfectly suited to play the sweet, vain loser and Sarandon is just as great as one of many of the city's itinerants trying to buy a ticket out but beset on every side.
**** out of ****

Monday, January 16, 2017

Crumb

As he prepares for a move to France, misanthropic cartoonist R. Crumb, best known for Fritz the Cat or the Keep on Truckin' caricatures, meets with fans and publishers, listens to records and sketches, and introduces us to his strange, intelligent, and disturbed family. Terry Zwigoff's documentary profile is a revealing, fascinating, in-depth portrait on the talented, creepy artist and his troubled family that looks inward and outward at its subject and makes wonderful use of Crumb's work.
**** out of ****

Embrace of the Serpent

In two separate expeditions with spanning the course of several decades, an Amazon jungle native leads Westerners on a search for a rare plant with healing powers, while witnessing the effects of colonization around them. Ciro Guerra's Embrace of the Serpent is probably too straightforward for the enigmatic film it purports to be, but is still powerful, often striking, with great cinematography.
*** out of ****

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Prizzi's Honor

A slow-minded hitman (Jack Nicholson), adopted into the powerful Prizzi New York crime family, catches a glimpse of a beautiful WASP (Catherine Turner) at a wedding and goes to extreme lengths to acquaint himself and start an affair, at the expense of his ill-reputed, longtime girlfriend (Anjelica Huston). The truth about the occupation and intentions of the mystery woman will, however, jeopardize the long-held standing of the family and put the hitman's life in imminent danger. Watching John Huston's Prizzi's Honor a second time through, it didn't seem to play as well in this post-Sopranos era and felt more like timeworn ganster comedy material. Still Robert Loggia and John Randolph  are really good in support and Jack is excellent playing a man who is completely sharp and capable when his brain finally catches up.
*** ou of ****

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Silence

In the Mid-17th Century,  two Portuguese Jesuit priests (Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver) embark to the incredibly perilous island of Japan where Catholicism has been banned where they perform the sacraments on the furtively practicing peasants and to learn the fate of their stalwartly devout mentor (Liam Neeson) who they learned has left the priesthood and is living as a layman with a wife. From a novel by Shusaku Endo, Silence is an impassioned work of devotion, doubt, and faith by Martin Scorsese, who wrote the screenplay with longtime friend and collaborator Jay Cocks, which will serve as a challenge for modern movie-going audiences. Grueling, measured, and thoughtful with the preeminent direction, production values, and performances (especially Garfield's tortured turn) you would expect.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Friday, January 13, 2017

The Dresser

The delusional star (Anthony Hopkins) of a travelling Shakespeare company begins to show signs of dementia while preparing for his latest King Lear performance as the other members of the troupe, most notably his loyal dresser (Ian McKellen), assist and tiptoe around him while coming to terms with the news. It's hard not to compare this made for TV adaptation of Ronald Harwood's play to Peter Yates excellent 1983 film version (and also the leads to the superlative performances of Albert Finney and Tom Courtenay), yet Richard Eyre's treatment is damned good and the material just as moving and sad, even tragic in its own way. Emily Watson is unsurprisingly extraordinary and Edward Fox is lovely in a smallish role.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Heaven's Gate

A privileged, gritty Harvard man (Kris Kristofferson) heads West in the late 1800s to serve as a lawman in Johnson County, Wyoming and instill decency in the still lawless territory. There, he finds himself as lead defender of the migrant workers who are being violently targeted by the cattle barons and in a personal rivalry with friend and hired gun of the organization (Christopher Walken) who is also romancing his girlfriend/bordello house madam (Isabelle Huppert). Heaven's Gate is one of the most notorious debacles in Hollywood history, one that crippled United Artists and independent movie making while, in effect, ending director Michael Cimino's career. However, the biggest tragedy may be that there was probably a decent, salvageable picture here. The performances almost work, Kristofferson is strong, Sam Waterston ok in parts playing a ludicrously evil villain, and a badly miscast Walken has his moments. Also present is some grand, intricate staging and great camerawork capturing majestic Western vistas. However, the movie is poorly edited, overlong by over a half, and contains just about the worst color hue and sound I've ever seen in an epic movie. Judging from the imprudent, ill-advised final product left on screen, Heaven's Gate infelicitous reputation (which some are now trying to lift) seems all but justified.
** out of ****

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Lion

While persistently accompanying his older brother to his night job, a young Indian boy loses steam and falls asleep at a train station, where he is left until the end of the shift. Awakened in the middle of the night, he boards an abandoned train which carries him thousands of miles away to Calcutta where he is swept up into an orphanage and, after a cursory search for his family, sent to live with an Australian couple (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham). Twenty years later (now played by Dev Patel), living happily as a student and at the urging of his girlfriend (Rooney Mara) and with the aid of newfound online GPS technology, he desperately attempts to jog his memory and locate his birth family. Lion is extremely well-filmed and effective Oscar bait (in what is really a can't miss story), which is actually fairly involving until the introduction of the principal cast about halfway through, though Patel and Kidman's performance are in earnest.
*** out of ****

September

At a weekend home in Vermont, a love square develops between a despondent woman (Mia Farrow), her older, lonesome neighbor (Denholm Elliot), her lover (Sam Waterston), and her married best friend (Dianne Wiest) while the presence of her over-the-top mother (Elaine Strich) drums up those old familiar familiar feelings. Woody Allen's September tends towards soapy melodrama, some of which really doesn't come off but is very funny in bits (Strich in particular) and, at its center, it is a pleasure to watch a talented casts convey Woody's usual ideas and themes.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Fat City

An aging, drunk boxer (Stacey Keach) living in a Southern Californian slum and romancing a taken, volatile lush (Susan Tyrrell) becomes inspired to get back into fighting condition after sparing with a young, green pugilist (Jeff Bridges) headed down his same path. With great performances leading the way, John Huston's Fat City begins with boxing movie cliches and takes a deeper look while also sensibly commenting on poverty, race, and exploitation in sports.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Mustang

Five female Turkish teen aged siblings are caught playing on the beach with a group of boys by meddling neighbors who report it to their parents. Restricted to the home, the process of finding suitable suitors is stepped up and as the younger girls witness their older sisters married off to unworthy admirers, they decide to rebel instead of being forced to face the same fate. Mustang handles a tough subject lightly but with regard and is in turns funny, moving, and sad.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Monday, January 9, 2017

Elle

A successful video game company executive (Isabelle Huppert) is assaulted and raped by a masked intruder at her suburban Paris home which she responds to in a shockingly casual fashion as she goes about her daily life dealing with her hack writer ex-husband dating a younger woman, her debutante mother shacked up with a gigolo, a nincompoop son fathering a child that isn't his, the launch of her latest game, continual harassment from her attacker, and the potential parole of her serial killer father, whose crimes she potentially played a significant role as an adolescent. Paul Verherhoeven's Elle is a dark, twisted, nihilistic thriller which surprisingly manages to ultimately humanize its main character thanks in large part to a superb, underplayed performance from the peerless Huppert.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Tribe

At a school for the deaf, a new student is initiated into a gang and begins to try his hand at thuggery, petty theft, and pimping. A version of Kids featuring deaf/mute youths, The Tribe is an overlong, sloggish piece of nastiness made with technique and craft. With a disclaimer proudly boasting "made entirely with no subtitles...," the film is so simple and drags on and on that it would have almost benefited from taking this obvious route rather than going by its daring narrative decision.
** 1/2 out of ****

The Lobster

In a dystopian present where single people unable to procure mates are turned into the animal of their choosing, an awkward and perpetually single man (Colin Farrell) competitively vies for a partner with other residents (John C. Reilly, Ben Whishaw) of their last stop resort while a female-centric guerrilla unit plots in opposition and serves as prey in the woods nearby. Yorgos Lanthimos' The Lobster is dark, deadpan satire, offbeat, very strange, but often right on the money which boasts a challenging excellent performance from Farrell, funny supporting turns from Reilly and Whishaw, and fine work from Rachel Weisz and Lea Seydoux as members of the rebellion.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Dark City

In a futuristic world resembling the past where foreign beings of a higher intelligence control human thought, a man (Rufus Sewell) wakes up in a dingy hotel bathtub with no memory of his previous life with a dead body alongside him on the bathroom floor. A fugitive from justice, he begins to piece together the fragments of his memory while coming to the realization that he now possesses powers rivaling that of his controller. Alex Proyas' Dark City is a visionary work both inspired by the great science-fictions (and also noirs) of the past and carving out its own place as a great genre entry with mind bending sets, a serpentine, well-plotted narrative, and fine performances from Sewell and William Hurt as a dogged veteran detective.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Friday, January 6, 2017

The Dead

At his aunts' annual Feast of the Epiphany Party, lecturer Gabriel Conroy (Donal McCann) toasts and addresses the revelers while being confronted with uneasy realities, including the unsettling revelation stirred by his wife Greta's (Angelica Huston) sudden memory of a deceased lover. In his last film of a lengthy, robust career, John Huston's The Dead is reflective and evocative, made with an acute eye for detail, and (in a screenplay by his son Tony) faithful to James Joyce's short story to a tee, especially the beautiful and starkly captured final passage. Angelica (also kin to the director) and McCann are superb.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Thunderbolt and Lightfoot

On the lam and masquerading as a preacher in a desolate Far West town, a bank robber's (Clint Eastwood) past finally catches up with him in the form of assassins at which point he hitches a ride with a cocky young car thief (Jeff Bridges) and decides to get the old gang back together to pull one last score. Michael Cimino's directing debut (and audition for The Deer Hunter) which he also penned is a broad comedy with a pretty dumb ending that seems ripped off from Midnight Cowboy. However, the buddy movie aspects work surprisingly well with the two game stars (particularly a lively Bridges) and the picture features tremendous Western filming locations and cinematography.
*** out of ****

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Theeb

In the midst of World War I in a barren Jordan desert, orphaned nomad boys are approached by a British officer carrying a mysterious container and tasked to lead him to an ancient Roman well. With parallels to Lawrence of Arabia in more ways the one, resplendent scenery doubles as character and carries Naji Abu Nowar's mostly involving story during lags or segments of disbelief.
*** 1/2 out of ****

The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!

After breaking up an international terror conference comprised of America's greatest foes, bumbling, incompetent Police Squad Lieutenant Frank Drebin (Leslie Nielsen) attempts to foil an assassination plot against Queen Elizabeth II to take place at the Angels game. From the short lived though very funny Police Squad! series that still wore thin during 25 minute episodes, the first movie installment of The Naked Gun series is done about as well as can be expected for slapstick so stupid, with Nielsen and a supporting cast perfect suited to their roles.
*** out of ****

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

A War

A Danish soldier's participation in the Afghan War places immense strain on his family back home, a strain that is compounded up his return when he is put on trial for war crimes. Tobias Lindholm's A War is typical of the kind of Dutch film making their way to America lately and the kind of film they submit every year for awards consideration, namely moralizing, topical, and stagnant, while this particular one doesn't even have a point and adds nothing to any of the genres it dabbles in. The only interesting element is actress Tuva Novotny who plays the role of the wife differently than one might expect.
* 1/2 out of ****

Monday, January 2, 2017

Everybody Wants Some!!

A freshman learns the hierarchy of his Texas college baseball team's house while partying and bonding with his new teammates during the first weekend before the start of school. Richard Linklater's Everybody Wants Some!! is too much of a Dazed and Confused rehash, this time with too many obnoxious, unlikable characters. However, there are some good observations on competition and comradery, the sole baseball sequence is worthwhile, and a romantic subplot, which in and of itself leaves something to be desired, leads an excellent penultimate scene.
** 1/2 out of ****

Hot Rod

Rod Kimble (Andy Samberg) has only two purposes in life: To find success as a stuntman and to use his abilities to stage a benefit show to procure a heart transplant for his jack-ass father-in-law (Ian McShane) in order to finally whoop his ass. Hot Rod is silly fun, although the laughs roll out fast and quickly dissipate. Sandberg's charm wears thin and the goofiness of the first half lends itself to something strange and not quite as funny.
** 1/2 out of ****

Sunday, January 1, 2017

American Gangster

Learning from his predecessor and mentor, Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) expands Bumpy Johnson's Harlem drug empire through a Vietnam connection while an alcoholic, womanizing detective (Russell Crowe) concentrates the effort to see to his fall. I dismissed Ridley Scott's American Gangster upon its initial release for being too familiar (ie good cop in corrupt system vs. an intelligent, scrupulous drug dealer) but a repeat viewing revealed layers of depth and, when put up against popular drug lord sagas, Steve Zaillian's screenplay demonstrates an uncommon intelligence and patience. It also features two top actors at the top of their game leading a gifted cast.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Saturday, December 31, 2016

La La Land

Two aspiring artists, a would be actress and current coffee shop worker(Emma Stone) and a semi-delusional jazz pianist (Ryan Gosling), meet cute, sing, dance and romance across the City of Broken Dreams with the weight of reality bearing down, not only on their hopes and wishes but also on their relationship. Damien Chazelle's La La Land, a sophomore effort following his sleeper hit Whiplash, plays like the latest installment of That's Entertainment! or rather it is a well made emulation of the great Golden Age musicals which has absolutely no story or nothing at all to add to the genre. What starts out as energetic and stylish quickly settles down for a routine treatment and how can it be that for such a touted musical the most memorable thing about it is not the music, lyrics, or dancing (all of which is standard at best) but rather the camerawork and art direction? As for the performers, Gosling and Stone are no Rogers and Astaire nor Bogart and Bergman nor Kelly and Charisse nor whomever they happen to be imitating at any given time during the picture, and at no point did I believe these two leads ever truly held their sacred passions and ambitions. Despite some sporadic, determined directing from Chazelle, La La Land is a safe film, a movie made to win Oscars (which it no doubt will), and geared towards a demographic who take comfort in watching the same inane romantic comedies over and over again on cable TV who also will undoubtedly love this movie.
** out of ****

Friday, December 30, 2016

When We Were Kings

Leon Gast's behind the scenes look at "The Rumble in the Jungle," the storied 1974 Ali/Foreman Zaire based title fight which features supreme footage, some funny, some just strange, with great fight clips and fantastic editing. Norman Mailer and George Plimpton's subjective commentary is a plus.
*** 1/2 out of ****