Thursday, April 19, 2018

The Player

A narcissistic studio executive (Tim Robbins) who green-lights movie scripts finds his job jeopardized by a rival shark and his life threatened by one of the many writers he has turned down over the years, leading him to commit a dubious murder and cast into a paranoid, Kafkaesque nightmare. From Michael Tolkin's novel, Robert Altman's skewering of Hollywood is both a hilarious black comedy and effective noir showcasing the maverick director at the top of his form. With the spectacular opening tracking shot, to a perfectly cast Robbins, the endless celebrity cameos, and the insider's script, The Player is a masterful Hollywood satire on par with Sunset Blvd. and The Bad and the Beautiful

Monday, April 9, 2018

The Asphalt Jungle

Fringe types including a ruffian career criminal (Sterling Hayden), a seedy attorney (Louis Calhern), a diner cook (James Whitmore), a numbers runner (Marc Lawrence), and an ingenious safe cracker (Sam Jaffe) just released from prison converge to execute an extremely lucrative but ultimately doomed jewelry heist. John Huston's tough, gritty, and influential noir (informing both classics and cheap imitations alike) is starkly shot, exciting and lifelike with a great cast of characters, Hayden, Calhern, Lawrence, and Jean Hagen as Hayden's doting and naive girlfriend standing out among the lot. Marilyn Monroe is unforgettable too as Calhern's mistress in her breakthrough role.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Cleo from 5 to 7

A self-involved pop singer (Corrine Marchand) walks the streets of Paris in an all-consuming anticipation of her biopsy results during the afternoon hours of the title. Agnes Varda's New Wave near real-time work is smooth, free flowing, and crisply and beautifully shot, while a little light in plot though not substance. Marchand is a unique and glamorous presence.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

The Fountain

A doctor (Hugh Jackman) ignores his dying wife (Rachel Weisz) in an obsessive attempt to find a cure for the cancer ravaging her body by way of a life sustaining substance. Meanwhile, she is struggling to finish her novel about a conquistador (Jackman) on a quest to find the Tree of Life for his queen (Weisz) during the Inquisition while, 500 years in the future from the present day, a spaceman (Jackman) is bringing his wife's remains to a far off nebula in the hopes of renewed life. The Fountain is ill-conceived, overornate, and self-serious with artificial looking special effects. Though containing potential, writer/director Darren Aronofsky doesn't know how to culminate its lackluster stories. Jackman is strong but strained and the soundtrack is excellent.
** out of ****

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The Life of Oharu

A woman in waiting (Kinuyo Tanaka) of modest respectability falls to woeful and pitiable levels after partaking in a relationship with a commoner (Toshiro Mifune). Cast out from her village, she soon finds herself bearing a son to powerful lord she is forbidden to see, widowed on another occasion, and sold into a life of prostitution by her father. Kenji Mizoguchi's The Life of Oharu is bleak and sorrowful, somewhat labored, shot in beautiful black and white, and made with precise craft. Tanaka is heartbreaking as the doomed and innocent Oharu.
*** out of ****

Monday, March 19, 2018

Charade

Three war buddies (James Coburn, George Kennedy, and Ned Glass) stalk and terrorize the widow (Audrey Hepburn) of their recently murdered comrade believing she knows the location of the pilfered loot taken during their tour of duty. After involving the local Paris prefect (Walter Matthau), she now becomes unsure whether or not to trust the dashing and suspicious acquaintance (Cary Grant) just made at a Swiss ski resort. Stanley Donen's Charade is a light and breezy romantic/comedy suspenser with a fun and silly plot, second rate dialogue, and great chemistry between its stars.
*** out of ****

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Roman J. Israel, Esq.

A  L.A. defense attorney (Denzel Washington) on the spectrum finds himself in dire straights when his prominent partner dies and begrudgingly accepts a job offer with a top firm and soon finds himself taking drastic, uncharacteristic measures to ensure his security. Dan Gilroy's Nightcrawler follow up is a sometimes engaging but underwritten and ultimately lackluster film that is redeemed somewhat by a strong, surprisingly quirky Denzel performance.
** 1/2 out of ****

Monday, March 12, 2018

Assault on Precinct 13

At a dilapidated Detroit police station scheduled to close at midnight, a burned out sergeant (Ethan Hawke) keeps watch with a few other functionaries. When a busload of prisoners is diverted during a snowstorm and forced to unload the inmates at the precinct, they find themselves under siege by crooked cops seeking to eliminate one of their new prominent guests (Laurence Fishburne). Assualt on Precinct 13 is a satisfying if overly violent and dopey B-thriller, successfully paying tribute to John Carpenter's original while providing worthy updates. Hawk is engaging but the overall cast's acting and dialogue often feels forced.
*** out of ****

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Born Yesterday


A loutish junk tycoon (Broderick Crawford) travels to Washington D.C. to buy a Senator and hires a journalist (William Holden) to cultivate his ditsy, equally unrefined girlfriend (Judy Holliday). As the pair inevitably hit it off, she is also informed of the nature of her boyfriend’s business and his bullying personality. From Garson Kanin’s hit stage play which also starred Holliday, Born Yesterday contains often dumb, cornball humor and is occasionally amusing while much of it is an uninspired civics lesson. Holliday is the quintessential ditsy blonde (in an Oscar winning role), Holden is stiff as a foil to Crawford, the latter being entertaining as the brute.
*** out of ****

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The Three Faces of Eve


A downtrodden southern housewife (Joanne Woodward) begins to exhibit strange behavior at home before a second, reckless personality manifests itself followed by a third, more normalized one. With the help of a psychiatrist (Lee J. Cobb), she seeks treatment and gradually begins to eradicate the more flawed. The Three Faces of Eve, straightforward and plainly directed, seems like a phony, shallow representation of the rare psychological condition despite the ‘true story’ touting of the opening monologue and the screenplay participation of two of the real life shrinks involved in the case. That being said, Woodward is the whole show here, impressively versatile as the three distinct personalities. Cobb is strong but hardly credible as the sensitive psych doctor.
*** out of ****

Saturday, March 3, 2018

The Florida Project

A preschooler (Brooklyn Prince) and her friends are free to play and cause mischief in the low-rent motels just outside of Disneyworld while her derelict mother (Bria Vinaite) runs scams, prostitutes herself, and lays around and all are watched over by the curt but benevolent property manager (Willem Dafoe). Sean Baker's The Florida Project feels like it could have worked better as a short, with too much filler and not quite enough to sustain a two hour feature, and it also treats the issue of neglectful parenting a little too lightly but I liked the way the film gradually reveals itself and the tracking shots and colorful cinematography bring it a sort of dreamlike quality. Dafoe is in excellent, empathetic form and Prince gives an amazingly well-rounded, funny performance.
*** out of ****

Thursday, March 1, 2018

The Ballad of Narayama

In a famine ravaged village, the elderly upon their 70th birthday are sent to trek up a mountain where they are to wither and die, a woman (Kinuyo Tanaka) nearing the age graciously prepares for her godforsaken journey while the rest of her family, save a grieving son, behave selfishly. Shohei Imamura's The Ballad of Narayama is a disconsolate take on self-centeredness, selflessness, and the throwaway culture regarding the elderly with the sung narration and beautiful alternately radiant, verdant, and grim artificial looking sets creating a distinctive atmosphere. Tanaka is magnificent.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The Pledge

On the night of his retirement party, a Nevada detective (Jack Nicholson) tags along to the crime scene of a child murder. When a mentally handicapped suspect is swiftly arrested, coerced into confessing, and commits suicide the would be retiree is less than satisfied. Skipping his fishing trip to Florida, he conducts his own investigation while using the daughter of a new lover (Robin Wright) as bait and putting his own sanity into jeopardy. From a novel by Friedrich Durrenmatt, The Pledge is haunting, poetic, and truly tragic, offbeat and uniquely directed by Sean Penn, with a commanding and sensitive performance by Jack.
**** out of ****

Saturday, February 24, 2018

The Big Sick

A Pakistani Chicagoan (Kumail Nanjiani) pursues a stand-up comedy career against the wishes of his traditionalist family. This bond is strained even further when he begins dating an American grad student (Zoe Kazan) who undergoes a sudden, life threatening illness. Written by Nanjiani and his wife Emily Gordon (whose relationship is loosely represented), The Big Sick is amiable enough if unspectacular and overlong. Nanjiani's deadpan approach is both likable and amusing, and Holly Hunter and Ray Romano add flavor as Kazan's parents.
** 1/2 out of ****


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 ****