Movies, Movie ratings, Capsule Reviews
2 Guns (2013) ***
No lessons here. Mark Wahlberg and Denzel Washington only want us to enjoy the gunplay and buddy banter. What's wrong with that? (FULL REVIEW)
20th Century Women (2016) ****
Annette Bening gives her finest performance as a single mom trying to raise a son in 1970s Santa Barbara. (FULL REVIEW)
Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie (2016) ***
The long-running sitcom's fans will find lots to love in this big-screen version as Edina and Patsy (Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley) go on the lam after "killing" Kate Moss (FULL REVIEW)
The Accountant (2016) ****
Ben Affleck and J.K. Simmons anchor a brainy thriller (FULL REVIEW)
Alien: Covenant (2017) ***
Part two of Ridley Scott's seven-part Alien series, dating back to 1979. The last four have already been out for decades, so don't worry about spoilers. With Michael Fassbender, Noomi Rapace and Billy Crudup
All Saints (2017) ***
John Corbett (My Big Fat Greek Wedding) stars as a salesman-turned-pastor who's assigned a struggling rural church with instructions to shut it down. But as local immigrant workers start to attend services, he hatches a plan to save it. Along the way he faces a dilemma all too familiar to the faithful: How do you know when you're being driven by faith, and not simply by ego? Fun to see old pro Barry Corbin (Northern Exposure) as a crusty local.
American Pastoral (2016) ***
Ewan McGregor directs and stars in this uneven, dark story of a 1960s family unraveling (FULL REVIEW)
The Assignment (2017) ***
Sigourney Weaver triumphs as a bat quano-crazy scientist who performs a sex-change operation on an unwitting criminal (Michelle Rodriguez).
Atomic Blonde (2017) **
Charlize Theron becomes the latest Oscar-winning star to go the action hero route; too bad she's kicking up her heels in this hyper-caffeinated spy yarn. She plays an agent seeking a top-secret spy list in Cold War Berlin. There's ice everywhere — in the river, in the drinks, even in Theron's bath tub — all of which help explain why this film has no beating heart (FULL REVIEW)
Baby Driver (2017) ***
You've seen it all before, but writer/director Edgar Wright's high-octane story of a getaway driver (Ansel Egord) trying to break with his crime boss (Kevin Spacey) while wooing a comely waitress (Lily James) wheels into the fast lane and never hits the brakes (FULL REVIEW)
Battle of the Sexes (2017) ***
Steve Carell is Bobby Riggs and Emma Stone is Billie Jean King in this based-on-fact telling of the pair's epic, carnival-like 1973 tennis match. The stars embody their characters; Carell captures Riggs' P.T. Barnum-like delirium and Stone evokes King's smoldering ambition. But while those who were around then will recall the spirit of fun that surrounded the event at Houston's Astrodome, the film takes it all a bit too seriously, resulting in the feeling of a Saturday Night Live Sketch that seldom lightens up. (FULL REVIEW)
Baywatch (2017) **
Despite its good intentions to be a pure dose of summer escapism, this reboot of the old David Hasselhoff beach series, with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson assuming the central role, is actually less fun than a ripped Speedo.
The Beguiled (2017) ***
Nicole Kidman and Colin Farrell star in Sophia Coppola's oddly lifeless tale of a Union soldier taking refuge in a Virginia school for girls.
The Big Sick (2017) *****
The year's smartest comedy also comes with the biggest heart: Kumail Nanjiani co-writes and stars in the story of a young Pakistan-born comedian who falls in love with a white girl (Zoe Kazan), breaks up with her fearing his parents' inevitable objections, but then rushes to her hospital bed when she's struck with a life-threatening condition. That forces him face-to-face with her parents (a wonderful Ray Romano and Holly Hunter) who can't forgive him for dumping their daughter, but slowly come around to seeing his endearing qualities.
Big Sonia (2017) ****
Leah Warshawski's heartfelt documentary about her grandmother, a 91-year-old Holocaust survivor, triumphs as a testament to human endurance...and a warning of human depravity. The camera follows Sonia from her homey tailor shop in Kansas City, MO (the only remaining store in an almost-extinct shopping mall) to local high schools and even an area prison telling her story and offering wisdom earned in the most harrowing of manners. As the movies insist on force-feeding us fake heroes, this real one provides one of the year's most stirring film experiences.
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (2016) ***
In his drama about a returning U.S. war hero (Joe Alwyn), Ang Lee breaks all the rules of conventional filmmaking in search of something new. But his technical fireworks all but numb us to some fine performances (FULL REVIEW)
The Birth of a Nation (2016) ****
Nate Parker's beautiful, brutal take on Nat Turner's rebellion (FULL REVIEW)
Blade Runner 2049 (2017) ***
Producer Ridley Scott's sequel to the 1982 cult classic Blade Runner is visually dazzling, moodily engaging — and about an hour too long. Ryan Gosling, whose eyes convey more in 10 seconds than most of his contemporaries can in their entire careers, is perfect as a conflicted futuristic LA cop chasing down renegade humanoids. When he comes face-to-face with Harrison Ford, returning as the hero of the original film, the screen nearly supernovas with star power. But director Denis Villeneuve seems contractually bound to use every inch of special effects footage created to portray the series' signature dystopian, smog-choked, and ultimately sense-numbing Los Angeles.
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 (FULL REVIEW)
The Boss (2016) ***
Melissa McCarthy stars as a blowhard with a heart of gold (FULL REVIEW)
Ethan Hawke gives a fierce performance as trumpet legend Chet Baker (FULL REVIEW)
Brad's Status ****
Something of a companion piece to Ben Stiller's underrated 2013 film The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, this meditation on middle-age angst finds Stiller playing a dad taking his son (Austin Abrams) on a college interview trip to Harvard. Along the way, Stiller's hero ruminates on the soundtrack, despairing over how his life as a failed newspaperman and the founder of a modest non-profit measures up to the successes of his old college buddies: a TV news talking head (Michael Sheen), a jet-setting businessman (Luke Wilson), a dot-com billionaire (Jemaine Clement) and an LA style setter (played by writer-director White). Of course by the fade-out Brad has learned the tried-and-true lesson, and as Dorothy learned in the Wizard of Oz "If I ever want to go looking for my heart's desire again, i won't look any further than my own back yard." Still, it's a moral worth renewing every once in awhile, this time in the company of a truly enchanting cast including, as Brad's wife, the ever-underused Jenna Fischer, who could be her generation's comic answer to Beverly D'Angelo, if Hollywood would only let her.
Brave New Jersey (2017) ***
A small New Jersey town goes into panic mode as Orson Welles' 1938 War of the Worlds broadcast realistically depicts a Martian invasion just a few miles from them. Tony Hale (Arrested Development) leads a very good cast in a movie that should be a lot better than it is.
The Breadwinner (2017) ****
An animated film that will entertain your family...and warm your heart with an authentic glow. Secret of Kells co-director Nora Twomey has crafted the truly enchanting tale of a young girl in Afghanistan who, after her father is wrongfully arrested, disguises herself as a boy to provide for her family — and find justice for her father.
Breathe (2017) ****
Andrew Garfield stars in the inspiring true story of Robin Cavendish, a British man who overcame crippling polio through sheer grit — and his invention, with the help of an engineer friend, of a portable ventilator. Garfield's stiff-upper-lip optimism is endlessly endearing and Hugh Bonneville is fun as the ingenious pal, but the film belongs to Claire Foy as the ever-encouraging, always loving Wife Worth Living For. (FULL REVIEW)
The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) *****
The crowning achievement of Universal's '30s horror cycle is James Whale's pulse-pounding, heartbreaking tale of the Monster, resurrected from his seeming demise in the 1931 original. Through pounds of makeup, Boris Karloff radiates loneliness, confusion, and ultimately a longing for companionship. The Monster's encounter with a blind hermit, lampooned decades later by Mel Brooks in one of the funniest scenes ever filmed, remains a moment of pure cinematic melancholy. If you've only seen Karloff and his bride (Elsa Lanchester) go at it in retrospective clips, you're in for a revelation.
Café Society (2016) ****
Jesse Eisenberg channels Woody Allen in the director’s bittersweet comedy about longing and regret (FULL REVIEW)
Captain Fantastic (2016) ***
Oscar-nominated Viggo Mortensen saves this gimmicky tale of a quirky family trying to assimilate in society (FULL REVIEW)
Cars 3 (2017) **
Sorry, Disney/Pixar, but you don't get away with simply offering up dazzling animation. This is your second sequel in a row (Finding Dory was the first) that recycles the original's plot. Lazy.
Chuck (2017) ****
Liev Schreiber (pictured above) is punchy fun as Chuck Wepner, "The Bayonne Bleeder," who astonished boxing fans by going nearly 15 rounds with Muhammad Ali in 1975—and inspired Sylvester Stallone to write Rocky. The excellent supporting cast includes Elisabeth Moss as his long-suffering wife, Naomi Watts as the ultimate girl of his dreams, Ron Perlman as his scruffy trainer, and Jimm Gaffigan as his all-too-enabling best buddy.
Churchill (2017) ****
In the days before D-Day, Winston Churchill (brilliantly played by Brian Cox) tries to convince the generals it's a terrible idea (FULL REVIEW)
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.
The Circle (2017) ***
A young woman (Emma Watson) is thrilled to be going to work for a Silicon Valley guru (Tom Hanks). But when she agrees to be the subject of a 24-hour digital surveillance experiment, she soon sees “error” notifications everywhere.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind **** (1977)
The spectacle of Steven Spielberg's sci-fi classic still dazzles, Richard Dreyfuss' performance as a UFO-obsessed Indiana working stiff still resonates...but the film's central weakness also persists: We are asked to root for a guy who doesn't think twice about abandoning his wife and children to take the ultimate joy ride. (FULL REVIEW)
The Comedian (2017) **
Robert De Niro has the chops to play a standup comic, but the humorless script should get the hook. (FULL REVIEW)
Creed (2015) ****
Sylvester Stallone's Rocky sequel finds him training a young fighter (Michael B. Jordan) for the bout of his life, and offers a poignant changing of the guard (FULL REVIEW)
The Dark Tower (2017) ***
A generally satisfying adaptation of Stephen King's sci-fi Western about a galactic gunslinger (Idris Elba) battling to protect the tower that holds the Universe together from an evil hombre (Matthew Mcconaughey).
Darkest Hour (2017) ****
Gary Oldman triumphs as Winston Churchill in the story of Winnie's first dramatic days as Britain's wartime Prime Minister. They don't make leaders like Churchill anymore, and come to think of it, there aren't that many actors the calibre of Oldman, either. (FULL REVIEW)
Dean (2017) ***
Demetri Martin and Kevin Kline shine in this comedy/drama about a son trying to reconnect with his dad—and the world in general—following the death of his mother. (FULL REVIEW)
Detroit (2017) ****
Kathryn Bigelow's powerful drama about police atrocities during the 1967 Detroit riots is an exercise in unfiltered brutality. But in portraying the event so graphically, she may scare off the viewers who most need to see it.
The Dinner (2017) ****
Richard Gere, Steve Coogan, Laura Linney and Rebecca Hall make nerve-jangling table mates as they share a meal—and a terrible secret (FULL REVIEW)
Divorce American Style (1967) **** Norman Lear got an Oscar nomination for his comedy about a 15-year marriage on the rocks. America's sweethearts, Dick Van Dyke and Debbie Reynolds, are the couple in question (and Jason Robards and Jean Simmons play their best friends). There are verbal fireworks aplenty, but also some poignant observations about the frailties of human affection.
Downsizing (2017) ****
Writer/director Alexander Payne (Nebraska, The Descendants) has big ideas for his social sci-fi comedy about a near future when people have the option to have themselves shrunken down to Thumbelena scale. For the first two-thirds of the film, his vision is sharp as our hero Paul (Matt Damon) discovers the wonders of being knee high to a grasshopper: For one thing, you can live in a mansion that costs no more than a swanky doll house. We're as dumbstruck as Paul at the outset — but later on, as Payne starts getting a little preachy about the social implications of his utterly fanciful premise, things start to drag. No one likes to be talked down to, especially when you're just five inches tall.
Dunkirk (2017) *****
In his excruciatingly intimate telling of one of World War II's most soul-stirring episodes, writer/director Christopher Nolan follows three separate narratives — those of a young solder running for his life (Fionn Whitehead), an RAF pilot running low on fuel (Tom Hardy), and a civilian pleasure boat skipper (Mark Rylance) sailing across the English Channel to help rescue 400,000 Allied soldiers from the German Army. Defiantly unsentimental yet staggeringly inspiring, Dunkirk is destined to be counted among the greatest war films.
**** Earth: One Amazing Day (2017)
Robert Redford narrates this splendid nature documentary, following the daily cycle of life on Earth from one sunrise to the next. Along the way we get unimaginably intimate footage of creatures from the exotic to the mundane. Warning: You may need a shot of oxygen after the year's most breathtaking chase scene: baby iguanas trying to outrun a fleet of hungry racer snakes.
Election **** (1999)
In Alexander Payne's early classic, Reese Witherspoon is a high school overachiever with an enhanced sense of entitlement — especially when it come to the position of Senior Class President. Matthew Broderick, enlisting his genius for befuddled outrage, is the Social Studies teacher who is determined to put this prima donna in her place, even if it means rigging the election. National elections have come and go since this whip-smart satire was made, and its prescience has only grown over the years.
The Exception (2017) ****
Christopher Plummer continues his string of exceptional late-career triumphs as Kaiser Wilhelm, desperately hoping from exile in Holland that Hitler will restore his throne (FULL REVIEW)
Eye in The Sky (2016) ***
Helen Mirren stars as a military officer in charge of a controversial drone attack; in his final performance, Alan Rickman is outstanding as a conflicted officer (FULL REVIEW)