The Family (2013) **
Neither comedy nor nail-biting action flick, this story of a mobster and his family relocated to France under the Witness Protection Program catches stars Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer in the crossfire. Director Luc Besson seems to be going for something new: cruel whimsy. As the French would say, c’est tres terrible (FULL REVIEW)
The Family Fang (2016) ****
Nicole Kidman and Jason Bateman (who also directs) are deeply affecting as a brother and sister scarred by their self-absorbed parents (Christopher Walken and Maryanne Plunkett) (FULL REVIEW)
A Fantastic Woman (2017) ***
In this closely observed tale of a Chilean transgender woman, Daniela Vega plays Marina, a waitress who finds herself on the outside looking in when her live-in lover (Franisco Reyes), dies suddenly. Director/co-writer Sebastian Lelio seems a bit too quick to demonize those who find themselves confused by Marina.
It all adds up to a d distressingly dark vision of a world that may simply need to take a deep breath of two before extending a wholehearted embrace.
Fences (2016) ****
With costar Viola Davis, director Denzel Washington paints a painful family portrait. Based on August Wilson's Pulitzer-winning play (FULL REVIEW)
Film Stars Don't Die In Liverpool (2017) ****
Annette Bening is poignant and profound as 1950s movie sexpot Gloria Grahame, years removed from her glory days and scraping out a living in small-city stage plays. She flies into an irresponsible romance with a young man (Jamie Bell), but the match turns out to be just what each of them needs. Greene, an Oscar winner who is all but forgotten today, could get no higher compliment than to be played with such tender reflection by one of the screen's most versatile artists.
Final Portrait (2018) ***
Stanley Tucci, who wrote the script, directs Geoffrey Rush as the painter Alberto Giacometti and Armie Hammer as the art critic James Lord. Giacometti convinces Lord to sit for a portrait in his Paris studio, but an afternoon posing stretches into weeks, and it seems the artist will never finish. Final Portrait is at times an intriguing glimpse at the mind of a genius, and Tucci’s cast is perfect. But the story rambles, no one seems to learn anything, and at the end we’re left with a movie much like one of Giacometti’s portraits: The semblance of life set surrounded by hollow darkness. (FULL REVIEW)
The Finest Hours (2016)
Chris Pine and Casey Affleck save everybody in this true tale of a high seas rescue off Cape Cod (FULL REVIEW)
First Reformed *****
The power of restrained filmmaking is in full force in writer/director Paul Schrader’s quietly compelling story of the minister at a small Upstate New York church (Ethan Hawke) facing a Job-like series of crises involving his faith, his health, and his relationships. He’s approached by a sad-eyed, pregnant parishioner (Amanda Seyfried) whose husband (Philip Ettenger) wants her to have an abortion rather than raise their child in an ecologically doomed world. The pastor makes a house call, and for a full 10 minutes the two men engage in a discussion that brilliantly links the ethereal with the earthly, the divine with the decrepit. It’s just one wondrous scene in a film that offers thoughtful surprises — some shocking, others sublime — from the first frame to the last. The superb supporting cast includes Cedric Kyles (better known to you as Cedric the Entertainer) as a megachurch pastor trying to figure the angles between serving God and mammon. The characters struggle not so much with the existence of God, but with their understanding of God’s nature, and His relationship with his creation. Schrader — whose Hall of Fame writing credits include Taxi Driver and Raging Bull — has a keen ear for the hard questions believers ask when chirpy reassurances of God’s love and compassion start to ring a little hollow.
Florence Foster Jenkins (2016) ****
Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant make sweet music in the true story of a talentless New York songstress (FULL REVIEW)
The Florida Project (2017) *
Like his breakthrough film, Tangerine, Sean Baker's story of a precocious preteen girl (Brooklynn Prince) roaming the streets of Orlando with her fellow street urchins is an ordeal in self-absorbed dysfunction. Baker seems to expect us to embrace this borderline delinquent and empathize with her essentially sociopathic mom because, well, they're poor. Sorry, but Jean Valjean Mom is not (and while I wouldn't wish the fate of Eponine upon the film's young heroine, she could perhaps benefit from a night or two on the barricades).
For Love of Ivy (1968) ** Not Sidney Poitier's finest moment, but this light romantic comedy about a bachelor gambler (Poitier) who is coerced into romancing a sweet housekeeper (Jazz great Abby Lincoln) offers a glimpse of Hollywood as it struggled to find ways to feature Black stars in mainstream films. Costarring a young Beau Bridges and a pre-All In The Family Carroll O'Connor.
The Foreigner (2017) ***
Jackie Chan brings surprising empathy (and his usual kickass acrobatics) to the role of a businessman seeking revenge for the death of his daughter in a terrorist attack.
The Founder (2017) **** Michael Keaton’s version of McDonald’s burger king comes with a side of greed (FULL REVIEW)
Foxtrot (2018) ****
From Israel comes the quirky, funny and tragic story of a couple (Lior Askenazi and Sarah Adler) who get the worst possible news about their soldier son Jonathan (Yonaton Shiray) — but then find out it was all a horrible mixup. It turns out Jonathan is alive but not necessarily well as he toughs it out at a remote and decrepit border checkpoint. (FULL REVIEW)
Free Solo (2018) ****
Even after spending an hour and a half with daredevil cliff climber Alex Honnold, you won’t understand him. And perhaps that’s the whole point of this spellbinding documentary, which follows Honnold as he tries to become first-ever person to scale Yosemite’s 3000-foot-plus El Capitan without ropes. We get some clues: A perfectionist mother, an emotionally distant dad — even the results of an EKG which show his brain doesn’t register nervous excitement the way most people’s do. But then we see him dangling by chalked fingertips a half-mile up a wall of sheer rock, and it all becomes quite simple: Man versus the law of gravity isn’t really a fair fight. As we nervously search our memory banks to recall whether or not we heard about this guy dying in this attempt, and as the National Geographic Films cameras tip forward to reveal the abyss below, we’re tempted to follow the example of Honnold’s sweet and impossibly understanding girlfriend: Close our eyes and hope for the best.
Free State of Jones (2016) ***
Matthew McConaughey rages against the Confederate machine, leading slaves in a bloody revolt (FULL REVIEW)
Game Night (2018) ****
Clever, playfully convoluted and featuring an endlessly appealing cast, it’s hard to imagine a movie being more fun. Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams play a married couple who get together with friends every week for game night. Then then one week his jet-setting brother comes to town and sponsors an epic game night that may or may not involve an actual murder mystery. Writer Mark Perez mines the best elements of films like Date Night, After Hours, and David Fincher’s little-seen 1997 thriller The Game, starring Michael Douglas. But mostly, co-directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein let their stars roll the dice, scampering from scene to scene with frantic enthusiasm.
Geostorm (2017) **
Killer satellites are wreaking havoc on our weather! Thousand-foot-high tsunamis! Airliners freezing solid! Tornadoes by the dozen! Only Gerard Butler can save us! So many exclamation marks!
Get On Up (2015) *****
Chadwick Boseman explodes across the screen as James Brown (FULL REVIEW)
Get Out (2017) *****
A black photographer (Daniel Kaluuya) and his white girlfriend (Allison Williams) visit the remote home of her creepy parents Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener) in this whip-smart horror film that’s also an unsettling meditation on race.
Getaway (2013) ***
Not to be confused with Sam Peckinpah’s 1972 shoot-em-up starring Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw, this action flick has Ethan Hawke as a retired race car driver who steals a sweet Shelby Cobra Mustang (along with its owner, played by Selena Gomez) in the course of trying to save his wife from a cruel criminal, played by the always-interesting Jon Voight.
A Ghost Story (2017) ***
Casey Affleck spends much of the movie under a white sheet, playing a silent specter watching his widow (Rooney Mara) slowly get over her loss. Frustratingly slow, but nevertheless haunting in memory (FULL REVIEW)
Going in Style (2017) ****
Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Alan Arkin and Ann-Margret are all the reason you need to see this caper flick about three old guys who decide to rob the bank that liquidated their pensions.(FULL REVIEW)
Gold (2017) **
Matthew McConaughey fattens up to play a portly gold prospector in this true story of greed and boardroom intrigue, but the film doesn't pan out (FULL REVIEW)
The Good, The Bad And The Ugly (1966) ****
The Blu-ray edition of this, the apex of the Sergio Leone/Clint Eastwood Old West cycle, etches Leone's searing vision on your TV screen. Turn up the volume for Ennio Morricone's throbbing theme music.
Good Time (2017) ****
DIrectors Benny and Josh Safdie are accomplished documentary makers, and it shows in this gritty, head-spinning fictional film. Robert Pattinson inhabits the role of a small-time crook desperately trying to break his mentally disabled brother (played by co-director Benny) from police custody after a bank robbery goes wrong. The frantic story unfolds over a single night—and by the time it's all over, we share the characters' anguish and exhaustion. Spoiler alert: The title is ironic.
Goodbye Christopher Robin (2017) ***
I'm pretty sure the Kleenex company is a secret investor in this gauzily sentimental account of how struggling young writer A.A. Milne came to write his beloved Winnie the Pooh books for his young son, Christopher Robin. Domhnall Gleeson is affecting as the mild-mannered author, haunted by the horrors of World War I yet determined to connect with his boy. When fame comes, father and son must deal with the darker elements of fame.
Grandma (2015) ***
A convoluted tale benefits from Lily Tomlin's crowning performance as a tough-love grandma and Sam Elliott as her still-loving ex (FULL REVIEW)
Gravity (2013) ***
Stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney are fine and the film’s visual re-creation of a space voyage is breathtaking (especially in 3-D), but cowriter/director Alfonso Cuaron should have launched with a decent script.
Grease (1978) ****
Olivia Newton John and John Travolta are way too old to be playing high schoolers, but this high-flying big screen version of the Broadway musical became an all-time box office champ on the strength of its energetic cast, breezy score, and boundless sense of goodwill.
The Great Wall (2017)**
Get a taste of Matt Damon's tale of a European mercenary helping defend China's Great Wall and an hour later you'll still be hungry for a better movie
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) ***
The Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) is back with another classic music mix tape. Things blow up; wisecracks ensue.
Hacksaw Ridge (2016) ****
The brutal truth about heroism haunts Mel Gibson’s war drama, based on the true story of World War II Army medic Desmond Doss (FULL REVIEW)
Hail Caesar (2016) ****
In this love letter to old Hollywood, George Clooney and the Coen brothers explore the stories we tell ourselves (FULL REVIEW)
Hands of Stone (2016) ***
Robert De Niro nearly saves the day as compassionate boxing trainer Ray Arcel (FULL REVIEW)
Heaven is for Real (2014) ****
Greg Kinnear lifts the story of a Dad facing a spiritual crisis (FULL REVIEW)
Hello, My Name is Doris (2016) ****
Sally Field proves her adorable quotient has diminished not one whit in this thoughtful comedy about a spinster with an impossible office crush (FULL REVIEW)
Her (2013) ****
What happens if you love your technology just a tad too much? Joaquin Phoenix finds out when he falls hard for the seductive female voice (Scarlett Johansson) in his computer operating system. Writer/director Spike Jonze creates a compelling portrait of a near future when people would rather interact with their machines than each other.
The Hero (2017) ***
Sam Elliott is the best thing—and a very good thing indeed—in the story of a one-time Western movie star who must come to terms with a lifetime of bad decisions.
The Hitman's Bodyguard (2017) ***
For this action/buddy flick about a security expert (Ryan Reynolds) escorting a notorious hitman (Samuel L. Jackson) across Europe while dodging assassins at every turn, director Patrick Hughes seems to have stood his stars in front of the camera and simply said, "Guys, just be yourselves!" Freed of the requirement to actually act, the pair engage in foul-mouthed banter and trigger-happy mayhem, all leading up to a supernova climax.
Hostiles (2017) ***
Writer/director Scott Cooper's sweeping Western saga is more of a meditation than an action movie. A battle-scarred cavalry officer (Christian Bale) is ordered to escort his sworn enemy, a defeated and dying Indian chief (Wes Studi) on a treacherous trip from New Mexico to the chief's Montana homeland. Between occasional attacks by Indians and White Men, the soldiers and their charges spend lots of time reflecting on the horrors they've visited upon each other. Adding to the pensive mood is the presence of a frontier woman (Rosamund Pike) who has lost everything to the brutal realities of the West. Cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi's breathtaking landscape provides stark contrast to the dark souls trudging across its face.(FULL REVIEW)
The House of Tomorrow (2018) ****
Ellen Burstyn stars as a former acolyte of architect/philosopher Buckminster Fuller — raising her grandson (Asa Buttrtfield) in a dome home while desperately trying to shield him from the corrupting outside world. But she doesn't figure on his unlikely friendship with a teen punk rocker (Alex Wolf). (FULL REVIEW)
How To Talk to Girls At Parties ****
Director and co-writer John Cameron Mitchell’s supremely imaginative tale of three teenaged punk rock pals encountering a colony of space aliens in 1977 Croydon, England, surprises and delights at every turn. His appealing cast is headed by Alex Sharp (evoking a young Hugh Grant) and Elle Fanning, whose doe-eyed luminescence draws even the most skeptical viewer into the film’s improbable yet engrossing story.
Humor Me *** (2017)
Elliot Gould and Jermaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords) star in this appealing comedy about a struggling younng playwright who moves in with his dad at a retirement home.
I Called Him Morgan (2017) ****
In this music-infused documentary about Jazz legend Lee Morgan, Kasper Collin pieces together archival footage and a rare 1996 interview with his widow Helen. Spoiler alert: Helen shot her husband dead during a 1972 NYC nightclub gig.
I Think We're Alone Now *2018) ****
Peter Dinklage continues to prove himself an actor who elevates the level of everything he touches in this sci-fi drama that casts him as the apparent last man on earth. A loner at heart, he settles into a contented solitary existence — which is shattered by the arrival of a woman (Elle Fanning). Complications and revelations ensue, and while director Reed Morano (The Skeleton Twins) never lets things get out of hand, the script by Mike Makowsky stumbles into a third act that seems like it's out of another movie.
I, Tonya (2017) ****
Margot Robbie brings complex layers to the Olympic skater we thought we knew, and Allison Janney is uncannily creepy as her domineering mom. The 1994 Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan Olympic spectacle is a fading memory for most of us, but director Craig Gillespie (Lars And the Real Girl) makes their rivalry — and its violent climax — seethe with urgency. Tonya emerges as a rough-edged but sympathetic figure, relentlessly pushed by her mother; cruelly rejected by a sport that bitterly resents her humble roots.
Ideal Home (2018) ***
He's cashing bigtime pay checks playing Ant Man, but thank goodness Paul Rudd still knows how to apply his easy charms in lovely small films like this one, an Odd Couple for our time. Rudd and Coogan play Paul and Erasmus, a sadly mismatched, constantly bickering, but hopelessly in love couple, living a self-indulgent lifestyle in Santa Fe New Mexico. Erasmus is a basic cable TV star, something of a gay Martha Stewart, and Rudd is his ever-exasperated producer. Into their glittery universe drops Coogan’s grandson, whose ne'er do well dad has just landed in prison. Ideal Home has all the expected Hollywood messages regarding the true meaning of family, but the two stars bring so much goodwill to their characters it's easy to forgive the film's predictable trajectory.
In The Heart of the Sea (2015) *** Ron Howard's version of the true story behind Moby Dick starts out splendidly, then takes on water (FULL REVIEW)
An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power (2017) **
Sounding the alarm over global warming In his Oscar-winning 2006 documentary, Al Gore almost came off as one of us. This time, though, he steps off his private jet in tongue-lashing mode, a god descending from on high to browbeat us into doing the right thing. Please. We've got enough people yelling at us.
The Incredible Shrinking Woman (1981) **
Lily Tomlin would probably prefer to be remembered for classics like 9 to 5or late-career triumphs like Grandma. But as far as we know, this sci-fi comedy marks the only big-screen appearance of her characters Edith Ann and Ernestine.
Inferno (2016) ***
Tom Hanks in the best of the three (so far) Dan Brown book adaptations (FULL REVIEW)
The Infiltrator (2016) **** Bryan Cranston stars as a family man going undercover with a Colombian drug lord (FULL REVIEW)
Ingrid Goes West (2017) ***
Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Recreation) salvages this offbeat comedy about a young woman who thinks social media "friends" are actually friends and "likes" represent real sentiments. An outlook like that will inevitably lead to a nervous breakdown, and so it does for Ingrid. But the film asks a legitimate question: How far off are most social media junkies from similarly unraveling?
Inherit The Wind (1962) ****
Spencer Tracy, Frederic March and Gene Kelly bring megastar wattage to a drama based on the famed Scopes Monkey Trial. Stanley Kramer's version of the play by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee seems stubbornly stage-bound, and the script definitely stacks the deck in Spence's favor, but the performances are uniformly gripping.
Inside Llewyn Davis (2013) ****
Writer/directors Joel and Ethan Coen’s most balanced movie ever is a fond look at the early 1960s Greenwich Villlage folk music scene-a moment or two before Bob Dylan turned up and changed everything with his blend of folk and rock. Oscar Isaac is irresistibly mopey as the title character, a struggling folkie for whom suffering is an end to itself. But the real treat comes about halfway through, when Llewlyn hitches a ride to Chicago with a blustery, bloated blues musician played with great aplomb by John Goodman.
The Insult (2017) ****
This powerful Lebanese film about an escalating conflict between a Christian (Adel Karam) and a Palestinian immigrant (Kamel El Basha) explores the dark eccentricities of human prejudice — and the ever-so-slight hope that we can overcome them.
Isle of Dogs (2018) ****
Wes Anderson's second foray into stop-action animation lacks the bite of his first (Fantastic Mr. Fox), but he fills his screen with meticulously designed sets and set pieces. It's the kind of film you'll want to see a second time, just to make sure you didn't miss anything first time around (and believe me, you did!).
It *** (2017)
Those who suffer from coulrophobia would best avoid this big-screen adaptation of Stephen King's horror novel, about a group of young friends decide to track down a supernatural killer clown.
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (2016) *** Tom Cruise is in top form as Lee Child’s two-fisted hero (FULL REVIEW)
Jackie (2016) ****
Natalie Portman embodies the shock and sadness of November 22, 1963 (FULL REVIEW)
Jayne Mansfield’s Car (2012) ***
Billy Bob Thornton wrote, directed, and costars in this quiet, shambling story about two families – one from London, another from Alabama – colliding in the South of 1969. Thornton gives himself a meaty role as a disturbed World War II vet, and the rest of the cast, including Robert Duvall, Kevin Bacon, John Hurt, and Tippi Hedren add extra ingredients to create a tasty family stew.
Jobs (2013) ***
Ashton Kutcher has some genuine moments as Steve Jobs, but this biopic never seems to get the core of Apple’s founder.
The Journey (2017) **** Timothy Spall and Colm Meaney are commanding as two Northern Ireland politicians trying to broker a peace pact—but who must first come to terms with each other (FULL REVIEW)
Joy (2015) ***
The Silver Linings Playbook cast reunited in a quirky family drama (FULL REVIEW)
Juiliet, Naked (2018) ****
A just-about-perfect romantic comedy, based on a Nick Hornby novel, explores not just the foibles of love, but the pitfalls of infatuation, as well. Adorable Rose Byrne plays a frustrated small-town museum curator whose once-hot romance with a college professor (Chris O'Dowd) has cooled to near-absolute zero as he becomes increasingly obsessed with the body of work of a faded 1980s rock icon (Ethan Hawke). After a clever series of events brings the rocker and the lady together, sparks fly — much to the obsessive boyfriend's dismay. The performances are all endearing and director Jesse Peretz pulls off the neatest of tricks: We end up caring about everyone here, even the misguided antagonist.
Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle (2017) ***
Those of us with fond memories of the 1995 original with Robin Williams and Kirstin Dunst will not be disappointed by this variation on the theme starring an appealing cast including Dwayne Johnson, Karen Gillan and Kevin Hart.