Sunday, April 23, 2017

Patriots Day

Fresh off suspension and nursing a bum knee, a police sergeant (Mark Wahlberg) somehow manages to be present at every turn of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and the ensuing five day highly coordinated search for the treacherous, radicalized suspects. Overcooked Boston elements, too many liberal platitudes and speeches, and an epilogue that just will not end mar Peter Berg's latest Wahlberg starring tragic recent news rehashing. Pretty much what you'd expect except the manhunt sequences are surprisingly thrilling and the saga is surgically recreated and aided by true life surveillance footage.
** 1/2 out ****

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Anne of the Thousand Days

With Katharine of Aragon past her child bearing years and failing to produce a male heir, Henry VIII (Richard Burton) sets his sights on the beautiful young Anne Boleyn who successfully manipulates him to seek divorce, thus breaking with the Catholic Church while warring with Spain. She proves no match, however, to his uncontrollable jealousy and madness and the wiles of his brilliant, unscrupulous adviser Thomas Cromwell (John Colicos) when the marriage proves just as fruitless as the first. Sometimes intriguing but mostly forgettable entry of the oft-filmed story which has had a resurgence lately (i'd recommend Wolf Hall for a better treatment) and pales in comparison to other castle intrigues of the era (Lion in Winter, A Man for All Seasons). Burton is strong but probably miscast and Bujold makes a lifeless Boleyn.
** 1/2 out of ****

Friday, April 21, 2017

A Man Called Ove

A recently widowed curmudgeonous engineer (Rolf Lassgard), made redundant by technology, finds himself lording over his condo association and continually failing at taking his own life until he is given purpose by the newly arrived kindly and forthright next door neighbors. Soupy Swedish export is easy, cliched, PC, tear jerking material, the cinematic equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel, though Lassgard is excellent and the movie is amusing in bits and admittedly hard to dislike.
** 1/2 out of ****

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Learning Tree

A principled black teen in 1920s rural Kansas looks forward to leaving his close-minded community, while savoring its life lessons and positives aspects, while witnessing a headstrong peer being driven towards a life of crime and poverty. In adapting his own autobiographical novel, Gordon Parks was involved in just about every aspect of the film's creation, including producing, writing, directing, and scoring the music while at the same time becoming the first black director of a major studio picture. That being said, The Learning Tree is an involving message movie with familiar elements that goes its own route, sometimes explicitly, which must have been eye-opening in its era. A genuine cast helps too.
*** out of ****

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Christine

A high-strung TV newswoman (Rebecca Hall) prone to depression finds herself butting heads with the station manager (Tracy Letts) over the lack of exploitative angles in her stories and rejected by the lead anchor (Michael C. Hall) before sending shockwaves across the country in a live, desperate act. Christine (not to be confused with the Stephen King killer car movie) manages to make intelligent observations about mental illness, sexism, and careerism on top of the more obvious point of news sensationalism while leading towards a shocking denouement that is actually enhanced by beforehand knowledge of the story. Rebecca Hall's performance seems awkward initially but eventually clicks, generating empathy, and she is given fine support by Letts, Michael C. Hall (no relation), J. Smith-Cameron playing her mom, and Maria Dizzia as a concerned coworker. An unemphasized 70s soundtrack also contributes nicely.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Defying the Nazis: The Sharps' War

Prominent Massachusetts Methodists Waitstill and Martha Sharp risk their lives and ultimately sacrifice their marriage and much of their own savings in order to personally assist the exodus of hundreds of refugees as Hitler increases his territorial holdings in Greater Europe. Directed by Ken Burns and Artemis Joukowsky, Defying the Nazis: The Sharps' War is a cheaply made, limited telling of an intense story of selfless heroism, which opts mostly for testimonials and almost entirely forgoes any opportunities the story offers for intrigue.
** out of ****

Monday, April 17, 2017

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock

Against orders, Kirk and his crew smuggle the Enterprise away from headquarters in order to retrieve Spock's corpse from Planet Genesis as the presumed dead doctor's consciousness seems to have taken over Bones. Meanwhile, with the Klingons closing in, Kirk's son leads a separate expedition exploring the rapidly evolving characteristics of the targeted planet. Leonard Nimoy directed this supremely uninspired installment, which has been credited by some for keeping with the spirit of the series and for its admittedly strong special effects, though the movie is awfully uneventful, cheesy, and sluggish.
** out of ****

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Prince of Egypt

All but forgotten recent Disney retelling of the Exodus story and the liberation of the Israelites from Egypt is a straightforward presentation with surprisingly strong animation and a fine cast of voice actors led by Val Kilmer as Moses and Ralph Fiennes as Rameses, though the picture is dogged by a lacking Stephen Schwartz soundtrack that heavily and humorously knocks off Les Mis.
*** out of ****

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Baraka

An erupting volcano, Manhattan traffic, Eastern temples, sites of war atrocities, an African tribal ritual and many more events ranging from mundane to the extraordinary make up Ron Fricke's free flowing, non narrative documentary. Consisting of the highest visual quality--you could even mistake it for an episode of Planet Earth, which is saying something considering it was shot over 25 years ago on 70mm--Baraka boasts wondrous and even breathtaking imagery but is awfully broad and incohesive.
*** out of ****

Friday, April 14, 2017

Waking Life

7/17/10 Waking Life is about a young man caught in a series of dreams who meets several people and listens to their philosophies on life while he formulates his own opinions. Director Richard Linklater, who may be the most innovative and experimental director working today, created this marvel of a movie by filming it with a digital camera and having dozens of writers animate the film while adding their own trippy spins. This is a thinking person's movie and is not for everyone. However, it is a movie that can be watch casually or intensely, and can be revisited many times. Waking Life is a little gem of a movie that each person should at least tempt to watch. Look for Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy who make a welcome reprise of their characters from Before Sunrise.
***1/2 out of ****

Magnolia

The lives of ten quasi related Los Angeleans, most with some connection to a long running children's quiz show, are put through the emotional ringer on a long, rainy day as they face personal and past revelations that reach a literal biblical proportion. Paul Thomas Anderson's brilliantly directed, captivating, and draining pastiche is remarkably only barely marred by its extreme length and aptitude for pretentiousness and self-indulgence. While some of the actors are hard to stomach (Juliane Moore, Melora Walters), most are tremendous including Philip Baker Hall, Melinda Dillon, William H. Macy, John C. Reilly, Jason Robards, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Tom Cruise in a fierce, highly charged, career-topping turn as a misogynistic self-help sex guru.
**** out of ****

Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Lady Vanishes

After being snowed in at a remote Eastern European inn, almost all the members of a passenger train have a motive for concealing their awareness of the existence of a sweet little old lady who seemingly vanished into thin air while a recent acquaintance (Margaret Lockwood) and a cynical musician (Michael Redgrave) suspect a conspiracy and attempt to rally a search party. Sharp and witty, early pre-Hollywood Hitchcock success is a crisply made mystery and veritable entertainment. Lockwood and Redgrave shine in the leads and Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne stand out as nitwit, cricket obsessed travelling companions.
**** out of ****

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

A Double Life

An aged and renowned stage actor (Ronald Colman) inevitably adopts the personality traits of the roles he takes on. As he throws himself into the role of Othello, his jealousy towards his ex-wife and costar is inflamed. With a screenplay by Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin, George Cukor's A Double Life is a well directed piece, even if the story is more than a little transparent and the dialogue is stiff as this character study migrates from an elegant New York theater piece to a tragic noir. Colman delivers a memorable, Oscar winning performance.
*** out of ****

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Swept Away... by an Unusual Destiny in the Blue Sea of August

A malicious, selfish upper-class woman (Mariangela Melato) mistreats and verbally abuses the unrefined, lower born deckhand (Giancarlo Giannini)aboard her husband’s sailboat during a Mediterranean voyage and finds the tables being turned when the two are stranded on a deserted island and she must rely on, and is even drawn to, his self-reliance and macho dominance. Lina Wertmuller’s Swept Away is an obvious but nevertheless intriguing class warfare/battle of the sexes allegory which boasts great direction, beautiful locations, and excellent central performances.

*** ½ out of ****

Monday, April 10, 2017

Orphans of the Storm

During Louis XVI's tyrannical reign, a high-born woman is forced to give up her daughter, the result of a relationship with a commoner. Left to freeze on the steps of Notre Dame, she is rescued by a starving peasant who rethinks his decision to abandon his own child and raises the two as inseparable sisters (played by Dorothy and Lillian Gish) who are indeed separated during the turmoil of the Revolution. Despite its extreme length, D.W. Griffith once more advanced movie storytelling techniques with Orphans of the Storm. The Gish sisters are sublimely emotive and the rollicking finale and historical recreations are superb.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Mighty Aphrodite

A Greek chorus warns of danger and tragedy lying ahead when a sportswriter (Woody Allen), unhappily married to a prospective art curator (Helena Bonham Carter), goes looking for the mother (Mira Sorvino) of their gifted adopted son and receives a genuine shock when he discovers her chosen line of work. Allen's most vulgar (though very sincere) film incorporates the usual elements of his work, and features a genuine, shrill, coarse and ultimately poignant, Oscar winning performance from Sorvino. The chorus, as led by F. Murray Abraham, is hysterically funny.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Predator

A commando (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and his highly skilled Special Ops team coordinates with the CIA on a sketchy rescue mission in a Central American jungle and finds themselves targeted by an otherworldly, extrasensory killing machine. Predator is campy fun and generally well made by director John McTiernan but the storyline, which essentially amounts to Alien in the Jungle, is awfully scant, the effects are cheesy, and the final protracted showdown is unsatisfying.
** 1/2 out of ****

Friday, April 7, 2017

The Two of Us

During the German Occupation, the Jewish parents of an exuberant juvenile (Alain Cohen) determine it would be safer for all involved if he were to live in the country under an assumed name where a bond quickly develops with the kind and curmudgeonly, anti-semitic elderly shelterer (Michel Simon). Claude Berri's autobiographical ode to his wartime protectors is moving and humorous, with a great performance from Simon and a natural one from Cohen, and tells a story, the likes of which would never even be dreamt of being attempted in today's PC climate.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Belfast, Maine

An intimate, microscopic look at the members of the blue collar seaside community which includes (among many others) operations at the cannery, church services, court proceedings, a trapper, play rehearsals, an English literature class, lobster fisherman, social services and nursing home visits, and the premier of a Stephen King movie. Frederick Wiseman’s Belfast, Maine, a committed profile caught with an incredibly discerning eye capturing the minutiae of a depressed town, for myself a great introduction to an acclaimed documentarian and will make you wonder just how much more is going on in the shadows and corridors of your seemingly dull community.
*** ½ out of ****

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Gaslight

A fraught music student (Ingrid Bergman), still distraught at the murder by strangulation of her famed and beautiful concert hall singing aunt, takes up with her charming and unsavory conservatory instructor (Charles Boyer) as the couple moves back into the murder house where he deftly and gradually makes her believe she is going insane. George Cukor’s Gaslight is timeworn and rife for parody, though still retaining many superb qualities including splendid sets and crisp cinematography. Bergman is beautiful and confused as ever, Boyer is amusing as a manipulative worm, and Angela Lansbury stands out as a cockney maid in her first ever screen appearance.
*** out of ****

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Westworld

For $1,000 a day, the Delos Corporation's Disneyland modeled, adult geared theme park offers state of the art cyborgs, capable of passing the Turing Test, to satisfy your basest desires. Of the three parks, two city slickers (James Brolin and Richard Benjamin) elect to visit Westernworld (forgoing Romanworld and Medievalworld) when a glitch in the system causes the inhabitants to revolt and the men find themselves targeted by a relentless, advanced modeled gunslinger (Yul Brynner). Michael Chrichton's Westworld is shockingly simple, especially when compared to the overplotted, seemingly contradictory, and occasionally fascinating HBO series but benefits from its gritty, low budget look compared to the sleekness of its successor. Brynner is perfectly cast.
** 1/2 out of ****

Monday, April 3, 2017

No No: A Dockumentary

After dropping acid on a California road trip in June 1970 and forgetting he had to pitch the next day, Pittsburgh Pirates hurler Dock Ellis threw a no hitter against the San Diego Padres while under the influence of LSD. While this sports story that has achieved mythic proportions, what is even more interesting is Ellis' ubringing, his wild and erratic personality, the horrifying lows his post baseball career would take due to drug and alcohol addiction, and the redemption he would seek before his death in 2008. No No is an unexpectedly powerful story, made with great footage and guests, that at first treats its subject like a lark and absolutely blindsides you with its trajectory. My only complaint is that the documentary could have been more structured with its dating.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Fastball

A history of the pitch, including scientific breakdowns to determine who through the fastest and interviews with some of the greatest living hurlers of all time. Excellent baseball doc is sure to thrill fans while others may grow restless. Makes great use of footage and interviews, while Kevin Costner provides worthy narration. Only complaint is that it could have been more inclusive with some big names (Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson come foremost to mind) seem to be conspicuously absent.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Zero Days

When a self-sufficient, irreversible, impossibly advanced malware (dubbed Stuxnet from key pieces of its code) was determined as the cause of sabotage at an Iranian Nuclear Plant in 2010, it was traced back as the product of a joint partnership between the U.S. and the Israelis, the latter of whom's overeagerness to thwart their enemy would lead to a global unleashing of the deadly cyber virus. As told by tight lipped government officials and an unidentified source from within the NSA, Zero Days is yet another profound examination from Alex Gibney, here playing like a solid thriller, building slowly than terrifyingly, while delivering its concise message.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Friday, March 31, 2017

Adaptation.

During production of Being John Malkovich, overanxious screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Nicolas Cage) begins his latest undertaking, a big screen adaptation of Susan Orlean’s (Meryl Streep) decidedly small scale and narratively bereft The Orchid Thief ostensibly about a magnetic Florida flower poacher (Chris Cooper), which blocks his creative process and becomes a major source of consternation. Meanwhile, his twin brother Donald (also Cage), a novice writer, tries his hand at the trade and effortlessly produces a moronic and completely bankable thriller. Kaufman’s Spike Jonze directed Adaptation. is a brilliant self-conscious examination, self-referential a hundred times over, that manages to be warm, surrealistic, cynical, funny, and sad all at once. Cage gives the finest performance of his career in creating two distinct, humanized characters and Streep, especially Cooper, and Bryan Cox in a key walk on role are all tremendous.
**** out of ****