Movie Review Archive W-Z


Movie Reviews For People Who've Lived A Little

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Wait For Your Laugh (2018) ****
The late comic Rose Marie was a show biz powerhouse — and this documentary about her 90-plus years in show biz goes a long way to capturing her megawatt personality. The likes of Tim Conway, Carl Reiner and Dick Van Dyke all step up to the camera to sing her praises, but it's Rose Marie herself — in vintage clips and interviews shortly before her recent death —  who powers the film from beginning to end. 

Wakefield  (2017) ****
Bryan Cranston is masterful as a successful lawyer who, on a whim, decides to hide out in his family's garage...and stays there for a year. It's a movie for everyone who's ever wondered, "What would they do without me?" (FULL REVIEW)

War For the Planet of the Apes (2017) ****
The film series, created by Rod Serling in 1968, comes full-circle: The third episode of this 21st Century reboot brings us up to the point where the apes take over and begin the monkey-centric society Charlton Heston and his fellow astronauts discover in the original. It's a fully realized mythology fleshed out (so to speak) through fine computer-aided performances by Andy Serkis and Steve Zahn. Woody Harrelson is fun as a borderline psycho human military commander. 

The Way, Way Back (2013) ****
It’s a coming-of-age comedy starring Liam James as a confused 14-year-old kid, but he’s surrounded by one of the great grownup casts of the year: Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Allison Janney, and Sam Rockwell. 

The Way Back (2020) ****

Have you forgotten what a fine actor Ben Affleck is? Here's your wake-up call: He'll bring you to tears and cheers as a one-time high school basketball star who has since wasted his life on booze and brawling — but who gets one last chance at redemption when he's asked to coach his old team. You may think you've seen this movie before, but in the hands of writer Bill DuBuque and director Gavin O'Connor — who last teamed with him for his criminally under-appreciated The Accountant — Affleck reminds us why he's much more than a mere superstar.

We Are What We Are (2013) ****
Director Jim Mickle’s gothic tale of a family steeped in secret cannibalism begins in a dark, drenching downpour and never lightens up; not one bit. Go for the one bright spot, a neighbor played by the rarely seen Kelly McGillis, who brings a measure of pleasant humanity to the family’s otherwise impenetrable darkness. 

We Have Always Lived In The Castle  (2019)  ***  

Moody and mysterious, director Stacie Passon’s lovingly crafted thriller about two traumatized sisters and their wheelchair-bound uncle living in the wake of a torturous murder has moments of chilling beauty. Based on a novel by Shirley Jackson (The Lottery, The Haunting of Hill House), the film has a decidedly Victorian feel as the main characters move among the delicately furnished rooms of their gabled mansion. The girls’ parents were killed via arsenic, a murder that was initially pinned on the older daughter (luminous Alexandra Daddario), but which could just as easily have been committed by the younger (nerve-wracking Taissa Farmiga). No matter the culprit, the family has been shunned by the nearby townsfolk, who were already predisposed to hate the family because of their wealth. The movie seems to be saying something about class warfare and society’s blind fear of the Other, but mostly it’s a showcase for Passon, her cinematographer Piers McGrail, her two lead actresses — and especially Crispin Glover as the uncle, desperately trying to make sense of the murders before he slips permanently into dementia.

What Haunts Us (2018) ****
When director Paige Goldberg Tolmach learned that six of the 49 boys who graduated from her high school class have committed suicide over the past 35 years, she became determined to find out why. Her devastating and infuriating documentary, fueled by the filmmaker's personal anguish, gets to the awful truth that involves (inevitably, it seems), pedophilia and the willfull ignorance of those in charge. 

Where Hands Touch (2018) ***

It’s not hard to imagine a serious film about the plight of black people in Hitler’s Germany, but writer/director Amma Asante (Belle) has instead settled for a typical Third Reich-set potboiler about the teenage daughter of an Aryan woman and an African soldier (Hunger Games’ Amandla Stenberg) who falls in love with, natch, a gangly young brownshirt (Captain Fantastic’s George MacKay). Both stars are immediately appealing, and besides wishing their characters had an easier time of it, we also long to see them in a movie that doesn’t so blatantly slip into the conventions of young adult fiction. 

Where'd You Go, Bernadette?   (2019) ****  

Cate Blanchett stars in this life-affirming film version of Maria Semple's best-seller. It's billed as a comedy, but co-writer/director Richard Linklater (Boyhood, Before Sunrise) is less interested in laughs than in contemplating the countless ways the ways life is funny — the way our meticulously planned decisions go haywire, the way our oddest quirks become our most endearing qualities, the way wildly misfired trajectories can land us precisely where we need to be.  Blanchett stars as an ingenious architect named Bernadette who walked away from her skyrocketing career in a fit of pique and a wave of agoraphobia. Now she lives in a majestic — if  crumbling — former girl’s school with her adoring, if somewhat distracted, husband (Billy Crudup) and her best-pal daughter (newcomer Emma Nelson, whose voiceover provides the films narration). The significance of the title becomes clear well past the film's midpoint, when an exasperated Bernadette skips off to Antarctica — and re-asserts the film's premise that surprisingly often the things we need most are found in the places we'd look last.  (FULL REVIEW)

Where’s My Roy Cohn? (2019)

A power broker whose tendrils reach from Joseph McCarthy to Donald Trump, New York lawyer Roy Cohn liked to say everything important that happened in American politics was due to him. It was typical Cohn hyperbole — but in his infuriating, decade-spanning documentary, director Matt Tyrnauer (Studio 54, Valentino: The Last Emperor) contends that the flamboyant, throat-cutting opportunist was more than half-right. Piecing together his story through newsreel footage and interviews — including autobiographical recordings of Cohn himself — Tyrnauer explores how one man, tortured by his own sense of inadequacy, could inflict his own personal brand of poison on three generations and counting. 

The Whistlers (2020) ***

This brisk crime caper from Romania involves an undercover cop who, under the pretense that he wants to communicate surreptitiously with the gangsters he's infiltrated, travels to the Canary Islands to learn a secret whistling language. There's a plot to free a crime boss and a search for a pile of money, but the film's real fun is in learning snippets of the whistling language and, latter, giving it a try.

White Boy Rick  (2018) ***

Matthew McConaughey stars as the father of Ricky Wersche Jr. a kid who in the 1980s was enlisted by Detroit drug enforcement cops to become an undercover informant. As played by teen newcomer Richie Merritt, Ricky is a sullen little punk looking for trouble — and aided by the fact that his dad, a licensed firearms dealer, doesn’t seem to mind his son selling AK-47s on the street for fun and profit. Director Yann Demange doesn’t ask us to sympathize with the kid until he gets sentenced to life in prison, and by then it’s too late. 

Whose Streets? (2017) ****
Raw as the emotions it illuminates, this documentary about the aftermath of Ferguson never once considers exploring the motivations of police and court officials whose actions sparked days of violence. Nor does it attempt to frame Ferguson's riots within a larger cultural malaise. A direct descendant of Latin America's subversive Third Cinema of the 1960s, this guerrilla project is a portrait of visceral anguish; a community's cinematic scream.

Widows  (2018) ***

Heist movies generally work best if you have good reason to root for the crooks, and that usually involves infusing them with charm and humor (The Sting and Ocean’s 11and its progeny come to mind). For Widows, a big-budget, big-name caper flick, director Steve McQueen approaches the feather-light material with much the same sort of gravity he lavished upon 12 Years a Slave. Viola Davis stars as a Chicago socialite whose hubby (Liam Neeson) has been supporting their lavish lifestyle for decades through scores of high-profile burglaries. When one goes horribly wrong with lethal consequences, she and the widows of the heist team’s other members find the plans for the guys’ next heist — and decide to pull it off themselves.  Wouldn’t that be fun directed by James Cameron and starring, say, Whoopi Goldberg and Melissa McCarthy? Sorry; instead we get a needlessly complex, subtext-heavy slog that manages to waste even Michelle Rodriguez, Colin Farrell and Robert Duvall — plus leaves us with the uneasy moral that mean old racists deserve to be shot to death in their pajamas. 

The Wife (2018)  ****

Fans of great screen acting can’t ask for more than Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce as a long-married literary couple whose lifetime of shared secrets catches up with them. Based on Meg Wolitzer’s novel, the film explores how even mutually agreed-upon marital ground rules can mess up life’s later chapters. Close' performance is one of those rare gems that pay dividends for watching them a second time. Annie Stark, Close's daughter,  plays the younger version of her mom’s character. 

Wild Rose (2019) ***

American country music has its roots in the songs of Old World balladeers, and the folks across the Pond have never forgotten it — just get a load of Ringo Starr belting out Buck Owens’ ‘Act Naturally.’ Wild Rose, the tuneful, uplifting tale of a single British mom with dreams of making it big in Nashville, brings that relationship full circle. Jessie Buckley, with a winsome smile and megaton voice, brings star-is-born power to the role, and two-time Oscar nominee Julie Waters (Billy Elliot, Educating Rita) is transfixing as the Taylor Swift wannabe’s conflicted mom. The dance-inducing soundtrack features songs written by Country royalty including John Prine, Emmylou Harris Anna McGarricle and Hank Snow. 

Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory (1971) ****

Author Roald Dahl hated this version of his children’s book (even though he wrote the screenplay), but there is much to love in Gene Wilder’s quirky, subliminally threatening portrayal of the world’s most reclusive candy mogul. 

Wilson (2017) ****
As the desperately lonely, nakedly neurotic, delusionally condescending title character in this comedy based on Daniel Clowes graphic novel, Woody Harrelson pulls off the ultimate actor's trick: He annoys us to no end, leaving us breathlessly desperate for more. (FULL REVIEW)

The Wind  (2018) ***
Is it a supernatural thriller or a psychological drama? Director Emma Tammi and writer Teresa Sutherland try to have it both ways in this stark film, set on a remote Western homestead in the late 1800s. Frontier wife Lizzie (Caitlin Gerard) is convinced a dark, demonic presence is lurking on the prairie just outside the flimsy wooden cabin she shares with her husband Isaac Ashley Zuckerman. And the strange goings-on at the homestead of their nearest neighbors (Julia Goldani Telles and Dylan McTee) make her even more certain Something is Out There. Tammi creates a truly menacing atmosphere that seems positively claustrophobic despite the setting’s endless horizons. But the story punts when the true nature of the terror should come into focus.

Wind River (2017) ****
Screenwriter Taylor Sheridan (Hell or High Water) has fashioned a new genre: The Modern Western. Instead of rustling cattle, the bad guys get high and commit grotesque crimes until a determined lawman tracks them down. Here it's Jeremy Renner, usually a tracker of animal predators, on the trail of the human predator who killed a local girl. 

Winnie Mandela (2011) ***

Oscar-winner Jennifer Hudson plays the wife of Nelson Mandela (Terence Howard) in a biopic that traces the entire arc of her life – from a village child to social worker to sometimes brutal anti-apartheid activist. Hudson is impressive and Howard is handsomely stoic, but the real beauty here is South Africa itself, lushly photographed by Mario Janelle.

The Wizard of Oz  (1939) *****  

To truly appreciate the greatest fantasy film ever made, you must see it  on the big screen. The wonders unveiled by that 20-foot-high image are endless: Judy Garland's real tears as she sobs over that awful crystal ball; Billy Burke's pink fairy gown glittering with a thousand sparkling sequins; showbiz vets Bert Lahr, Frank Morgan and Ray Bolger throwing knowing glances at each other, as if they're starring in their own slightly subversive version of the film.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) ****
Teaming for the fifth time with Leonardo DiCaprio, director Martin Scorsese lets loose a cannonade of  sex, drugs, and no-holds-barred avarice in telling the mostly true story of a New York stockbroker who made an outrageous fortune by swindling investors in the 1980s and ’90s. Like his central character, Scorsese once again proves that nothing succeeds like excess.

Woman Walks Ahead  (2018) ***
A paint-by-numbers script labors mightily to sink this sprawling story of a New York portrait artist (Jessica Chastain) who braves the perils of the Wild West to paint Chief Sitting Bull (Michael Greyeyes) — but thanks to earnest performances by a splendid cast and some truly spectacular photography, the film becomes, if not a must-see, at least a wonder to behold. (FULL REVIEW)

Wonder (2017) ****
Bring the family — and a family-size box of tissues — to this endearing story of a young boy born with a deformed face (Jacob Tremblay) whose parents decide to send him to school rather than home school him. Tremblay is wonderful, as are Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson as his wise and loving parents. 

Wonder Wheel (2017) ***
Woody Allen vividly recreates 1950s Coney Island in this domestic drama about a carousel operator (Jim Belushi), his dissatisfied wife (Kate Winslet) and his wayward daughter (Juno Temple). 

Wonder Woman (2017) ****
Director Patty Jenkins' vision of the ultimate female superhero is an enthralling tale of timeless empowerment. Mixing Greek mythology with World War I history, the film packs surprises with its punches.

Wonderstruck (2017) ****
Heart-tugger extraordinaire Todd Haynes (Far From Heaven, Carol) directs this touching, ambitious tale of a 1920s deaf girl (Millient Simonds) and a 1970s runaway boy (Oakes Fegley) whose stories and lives intermingle in far-fetched, yet somehow inevitable, Although the narrative similarities of the two kids are evident from the start, Haynes does a masterful job of veiling their ultimate connection until the precise right moment—and by then we're helplessly in his thrall. 

Won't You Be My Neighbor?  (2018) ****

Director Morgan Neville, who won an Oscar for his documentary 50 Feet From Stardom, says he was a little worried when he embarked on making  a film about children’s television legend Fred Rodgers. His greatest fear: That Rodgers, who died in 2003 after a lifetime of showing children the virtue of kindness, would turn out to have been something less than what he appeared to be. He didn’t need to worry: Won’t You Be My Neighbor confirms that Fred Rodgers was, in fact, virtuous in ways that transcended his kid-friendly TV character. In an culture that worships anti-heroes both on screen and in real life, Won’t You Be My Neighborcelebrates the fact that it is, indeed, possible to be both nice…and interesting. 

Woodstock: Three Days That Defined a Generation (2019) ****  

If it’s a performance film about Woodstock you’re looking for, may I refer you to Michael Wadleigh’s Oscar-winning 1970 documentary. Barak Goodman’s new film is something quite different, aiming to get to the heart of that August 1969 weekend when Max Yasgur’s dairy farm became Ground Zero for the Boomers’ self-identification as the Love ‘em All, Do Your Own Thing Generation. Drawing from hours of home movies, vintage photos and interviews with folks who were there — whether standing on that rain-swept stage or cheering from Woodstock’s muddy trenches — this is a compelling portrait of what it was like to be there, and what it all meant. 

A Wrinkle In Time (2018) **
Once you get past the 60-foot-tall Oprah Winfrey, you'll still be flummoxed by this over-produced and impenetrable sci-fi fantasy based on a beloved young adult novel. The tale of a young girl (Storm Reid) trying to rescue her dad (Chris Pine) from the clutches of a disembodied  evil called The It fancies itself a profound meditation on universal truths, but in the end settles for a mundane "Love Conquers All" trope. Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling and that supersized Oprah appear as her very annoying spirit guides. (FULL REVIEW)


Young Mr. Lincoln (1939) ****

Henry Fonda brings boyish charm to the role of the future 14th President in John Ford’s Young Mr. Lincoln. The film came in the middle of the astonishing two-year span in which Fonda starred in Jesse James, Drums Along the Mohawk the Grapes of Wrath And The Lady Eve. His Abe Lincoln sometimes gets lost in the shuffle, but lanky, drawling, soft-spoken Fonda remains one of the most affecting Honest Abes ever.  


Yellow Submarine (1968) ****

Animation buffs weren't expecting much when The Beatles' tuneful feature Yellow Submarine opened 50 years ago. It was coming from the same studio that produced a decidedly pedestrian Saturday morning 'toon based on the Fab Four, and The Beatles themselves had virtually nothing to do with it, other than contributing some songs they had lying around. Besides, everyone knew Disney was the only studio capable of crafting an animated feature (director George Dunning had 11 months to make Submarine, Disney lavished four years of care on each of theirs). So imagine the surprise when Yellow Submarine  pulled into port bristling with ingenuity, aglow with psychedelic colors, snapping with knowing humor. (Even The Beatles were impressed: The Lads , who'd refused to provide voices for the movie, hastily agreed to film a live-action epilogue, which is actually a lot of fun).

Yesterday ****  

Nearly sixty years after they burst onto the scene in the early 1960s, the music of The Beatles is the stuff of elevator music and supermarket soundtracks. Director Danny Boyle's new musical fantasy takes advantage of that universal familiarity with the group's songs, but it also captures something that those of us who were around in those days have all but forgotten: The sheer exhilaration of discovering The Beatles. Himesh Patel plays Jack, a struggling British musician who wakes up one day to realize he's the only person in the world who remembers The Beatles, or any of their songs. As he strums out tunes like "Yesterday" and "I Want To Hold Your Hand" — first for his friends, then for an ever-growing audience — he is hailed as the greatest singer-songwriter of all time. Pulling off a conceit like that would be a high wire act for any filmmaker, but Boyle wisely doesn't dwell on any sort of explanation for this surreal case of global amnesia (a delightful running joke has Jack casually discovering a selection of other things missing from this alternate reality). Instead, he lets his appealing cast, and more than a dozen timeless songs, sweep us along with the whimsical narrative. Jack does need to deal with conflicting pangs of guilt over making his fortune on the shoulders of others — but some sly musical references note that pop music has been doing just that ever since John Lennon and Paul McCartney first started jamming together. A poignant episode near the end drives home the film's familiar but timeless message: There's a price to be paid for getting everything you ever wanted. 

Young Mr. Lincoln (1939) ****

Henry Fonda brings boyish charm to the role of the future 14th President in John Ford’s Young Mr. Lincoln. The film came in the middle of the astonishing two-year span in which Fonda starred in Jesse James, Drums Along the Mohawk the Grapes of Wrath And The Lady Eve. His Abe Lincoln sometimes gets lost in the shuffle, but lanky, drawling, soft-spoken Fonda remains one of the most affecting Honest Abes ever.  


Zombieland: Double Tap  (2019) ***

 It’s been so long since the original Zombieland (10 years!) you could be forgiven for thinking this sequel is actually a remake. Aside from some nods to the passing of time — some of the zombies have evolved to near-indestructibility — the characters have the same dynamic and the killing sprees seem distressingly familiar. Still, it’s fun to see Woody Harrelson, Jessie Eisenberg and Emma Stone together again after 10 eventful years in all their careers. 

The Zookeeper's Wife (2017) ****
Jessica Chastain stars with Johan Heldenberg — whose heroic character is shortchanged by the title — as the real-life couple who hid fugitive Jews from the Nazis in their zoo compound in Warsaw, Poland. As the couple make selfless choices that place them in increasing peril, director Niki Caro (Whale Rider) constantly ratchets up the suspense (FULL REVIEW)

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