Movies, Movie Reviews, Capsule Reviews
2 Guns (2013) *** Mark Wahlberg and Denzel Washington only want us to enjoy the gunplay and buddy banter. What's wrong with that?
12 Years a Slave (2013 )*****
Chiwetel Ejiofor as a free black man kidnapped and sold into slavery leads a powerful cast. Movies from Roots to Django Unchained have shown us the evils of slavery: 12 Years a Slave makes us feel the lash.
The 15:17 to Paris (2017) **
Clint Eastwood is legendary for drawing compelling performances from his actors. But his choice to cast in this thriller the actual men who thwarted a terrorist attack on a Paris-bound train is misguided from the start. It's amateur night at its worst.
20 Feet From Stardom (2013) ****
A stand-up-and-cheer documentary about the backup singers who make music’s biggest stars sound their best
20th Century Women (2016) **** Annette Bening gives her finest performance as a single mom in 1970s Santa Barbara
About Time (2013) ****
We’d watch the delightfully quirky Bill Nighy (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) if he were handing out food samples at Costco. Here he has to tell his son (Domhnall Gleeson)that the men in the family can travel through time. With Nighy on board, what starts out as a silly rom-com blossoms into a tall tale with some very grownup lessons.
Absolutely Fabulous (2016) *** The long-running sitcom’s fans will find lots to love in this big-screen version
The Accountant (2016) **** Ben Affleck and J.K. Simmons anchor a brainy thriller
All The Money in the World *** (2017)
Christopher Plummer stepped in at the last minute to replace Kevin Spacey — and he's the best thing in Ridley Scotta's taut drama about the1970s kidnapping of John Paul Getty's grandson.
American Pastoral (2016) *** Ewan McGregor directs and stars in this uneven, dark story of a 1960s family unraveling
A.C.O.D. (2013) ***
It stands for “Adult Children of Divorce,” and in this comedy Adam Scott (Parks and Recreation) is at peace with the long-ago bust-up of his parents (Richard Jenkins and Catherine O’Hara)-until he reunites them for his brother’s wedding. Jane Lynch nearly steals the show as an opportunistic social researcher .
Ain’t Them Bodies Saints *** (2013)
Lovers don’t get a lot more star-crossed than those played here by doomed small-time crooks Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo). But director David Lowery has created a visually poetic yarn that recalls 1970s movie visionaries like Terrence Malick and Arthur Penn.
All Is Lost (2013) ****
Robert Redford has been a movie star for so long it’s easy to forget he’s also a great screen actor. Here it’s all Redford, all the time, wordlessly battling the elements as a lone sailor on an endless sea. He may well win his first acting Oscar for this one.
American Hustle (2013) ****
You won’t have more fun at the movies than you’ll find here with Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Louis C.K. and Jennifer Lawrence as assorted con artists and Feds conspiring to bring down crooked politicians in the 1980s Abscam scandal. “Some of this actually happened,” the title card reads, but we have a feeling writer/director David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook) made up all the more hilarious stuff.
Anchorman II (2013) ***
Director Adam McCay and star Will Ferrell swore that the sequel to their 2004 comedy wouldn’t recycle any old gags; the only problem with that is the two films’ premise IS the gag. Pompous idiot/news anchor Ron Burgundy is the same old blowhard, and his sidekicks are the same old lovable-as-they-are-clueless posse. Go, have fun, but understand this is just a very welcome addendum to the original.
Austenland (2013) ***
One of the great truisms about grownup movie lovers, at least of the female persuasion, is that they’re nuts for all things Jane Austen. Here, Keri Russell plays a modern woman who, in search of her own personal Mr. Darcy, visits a Jane Austen theme park.
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (2016) ***
Ang Lee’s war drama breaks all the rules in search of something new
The Birth of a Nation (2016) ****
Nate Parker's beautiful, brutal take on Nat Turner's rebellion
Birth of the Living Dead (2013) ***
In 1968 George A. Romero made Night of the Living Dead, and changed the way movies scare us. This entertaining documentary retraces Romero’s shuffling footsteps to midnight movie immortality.
**** Black Panther (2018) ****
Chadwick Boseman is rewarded for years of fine film performances (42, Get On Up) with the lead in this groundbreaking superhero flick that creates an elegant mythology and offers characters who really breathe. It's unlike any other Marvel flick — until the third act, when the bad-vs-evil battle becomes a strictly-by-the-numbers affair.
Blue Jasmine (2013) ****
If you’re an actress, get yourself directed by Woody Allen: Here he casts Cate Blanchett as a latter-day Blanche DuBois, depending on the kindness of strangers in San Francisco. Smart, tragic, and funny, it’s Woody and Cate at their best.
Book Club (2018) ***
The main reason to see this unwieldy buddy comedy is the presence of its legendary stars: Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, Diane Keaton and Mary Steenburgen. Granted, they’re not given much of substance to do in the story of four old friends whose monthly book club meetings have been going on since college — and who are scandalized (in a supposedly good way) by their latest selection, Fifty Shades of Gray. The script and direction by Bill Holderman clunk along at an awkward pace as the four giggle and snort at Gray’s spicier passages and then attempt to apply its anything-goes worldview to their own lives. One can only imagine what other literary monuments this easily influenced foursome have digested over the past decades, and shudder at how they may have bent themselves to conformity with them. Still, no one spits out a punchline with more acid than Bergen, or evokes easy charm more glowingly than Keaton. On the other hand, Steenburgen is given a thankless role as a sex-starved housewife and Fonda, her body as hard as her glare, ends up being arm candy for a remarkably well-preserved Don Johnson.
The Book Thief (2013) ***
Geoffrey Rush (The King’s Speech) and Emilly Watson (War Horse) play the foster parents of a spunky young girl (Sophie Nelisse) who develops a passionate love for books during the dark days of Nazi Germany. The era’s oppressive atmosphere fills the screen like smoke. But it is Rush, in perhaps the most tender performance of his career as the kind-hearted housepainter, who gives this movie its soul.
Borg vs. McEnroe *** (2018)
Swedish star Sverir Gudnason brings haunted intensity to the role of tennis ace Bjorn Borg, facing his personal demons while squaring off against 1980s bad boy John McEnroe (Shia LaBeouf). Despite their personality differences, the film implies, the two were very much the same. Stellan Skarsgard is outstanding as Borg's father figure coach.
Born in China (2017) **** Cute pandas, playful monkeys, majestic snow leopards: Master Chinese filmmaker Lu Chuan captures them all in this surprisingly edgy Disneynature documentary
Born to be Blue (2016) ****
Ethan Hawke has his ups and downs as trumpet legend Chet Baker
The Boss (2016) *** Melissa McCarthy stars as a blowhard with a heart of gold
Café Society (2016) ****
Jesse Eisenberg channels Woody Allen in the director’s bittersweet comedy about longing and regret
Call Me By Your Name (2017) ****
Screenwriter James Ivory became the oldest Oscar-winner ever for this lushly told tale of a teenager finding first love in 1980s Italy. The actors are beautiful to look at, but the real star here is Lombardy, Italy, vividly photographed by the Thai cameraman Sayombhu Mukdeeprom.
Captain Fantastic (2016) ***
Oscar-nominated Viggo Mortensen saves this gimmicky tale of a quirky family trying to assimilate in society
Captain Phillips (2013) ****
Tom Hanks gives his best performance in years as the captain of a cargo ship overrun by Somali pirates-but the real revelation is Somali actor Barkhad Abdi. He stands toe-to-toe with Oscar-winner Hanks, who generously allows his unknown costar to unfold a complex, surprisingly vulnerable character.
Chappaquiddick (2018) ****
Director John Curran's account of the night Ted Kennedy (Jason Clark) left Mary Jo Kopechne (Kate Mara) for dead in a submerged car depicts the tragedy as something of a character-building experience. By the final fade-out, we're left wondering just what kind of character gets built on a foundation of entitlement and rationalization.
Chef (2014) **** John Favreau stars in the tasty tale of a cook who takes his act on the road
Chuck (2017) ****
Liev Schreiber is a knockout as Chuck Wepner, the New Jersey nobody who nearly went the distance against Muhammad Ali in 1975—and inspired a kid named Sylvester Stalllone to write Rocky. Philippe Falardeau's film pulls no punches when it comes to the heavyweight case of hubris that led to Wepner's downfall. The fine supporting cast includes Elisabeth Moss, Naomi Watts, Ron Perlman and Jim Gaffigan.
Closed Circuit (2013) ***
Briskly paced and smartly directed by John Crowley (Boy A), this political thriller is propelled by its ripped-from-the-headlines premise – terrorism and over-the-top government surveillance – and undeniable chemistry between stars Eric Bana and Rebecca Hall.
The Comedian (2017) ** A humorless script foils Robert De Niro’s best efforts as an over-the-hill standup comid.
Creed (2015) **** Stallone's Rocky sequel offers a poignant changing of the guard.
Dallas Buyers Club (2013) ****
At the height of the 1980s AIDS epidemic, a tough heterosexual Texas electrician (Matthew McConaughey) gets the dread diagnosis – then sets up a lucrative business smuggling alternative anti-AIDS drugs into the state. McConaughey, who has been rising from beefcake idol to accomplished actor, may nab his first Oscar nomination for his compelling performance.
The Death of Stalin (2018) *****
As dark as a comedy gets, and possibly as profound, this account of the frantic repositioning that accompanied the death of Russia's brutal dictator is mercilessly co-written and directed by Armando Iannucci (Veep). His superb cast, including Jeffrey Tambor, Steve Buscemi and Michael Palin, bring performances that drip with deadpan doom. (FULL REVIEW)
Death Wish (2018) **
This update of Charles Bronson's 1974 revenge drama isn't really inferior to the original, but it's a victim of its time: As Bruce Willis takes to the streets to avenge the murder of his wife, we just can't bring ourselves to share his fury against street thugs. These days, we're most likely to fear that one guy with a gun in his hand and a chip on his shoulder. And in this movie, the guy who resembles him the most is Bruce Willis.(FULL REVIEW)
Die Hard (1988) ****
Most of us just knew Bruce Willis as Cybill Shepherd's sidekick on TV's Moonlighting — until he took us all by surprise in this over-the-top action thriller set in a Los Angeles skyscraper on Christmas Eve. As New York cop John McClane, Willis wedded his wise-guy TV persona with a touch of John Wayne and a pinch of Jackie Chan. It appears he'll be making Die Hardsequels until he actually dies, but Willis earned that right with this indelible original.
The Dinner (2017) **** Richard Gere, Steve Coogan, Laura Linney and Rebecca Hall shine as they share a meal—and a terrible secret.
The Disaster Artist (2017) ****
Director/star James Franco gives himself a great big meaty bone to chew on, playing the larger-than life film director Tommy Wiseau, creator of what many consider the worst film ever made, 2003's The Room. Dave Franco is endearingly enabling as a young actor who gets himself mixed up in both Tommy's film and hodgepodge personal life. The film is propelled by the contagious urgency of its star, and the improbable fact that this outrageous Hollywood story is absolutely true.
Don Jon (2013) ***
Writer/director Joseph Gordon-Levitt also stars in the story of Jon, a guy whose addiction to online porn is ruining his real-life relationships. The superb supporting cast, includes Julianne Moore, Tony Danza, and Glenne Headly. Unfortunately, the film seems a tad too comfortable wallowing in the sexual excesses of the Web.
Duck Butter (2018) **
It's hard to imagine that a film about two young women (Laia Costa and Arrested Development's Alia Shawkat) who vow to have sex with each other every hour for 24 hours would at least be interesting. But director/co-writer Miguel Arteta has managed the seemingly impossible: After a half-hour with this self-absorbed pair, we'd prefer twin vows of celibacy — and silence.
Enough Said (2013) ****
We’ll never forget the late James Gandolfini as the conflicted mobster of The Sopranos, but in this romantic comedy he’s positively cuddly. Julia Louis-Dreyfus plays a woman who discovers that the man of her dreams (Gandolfini) is the ex-hubby of her new close friend.
Eye in The Sky (2016) *** Helen Mirren stars as a military officer in charge of a controversial drone attack