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Reviews

19 Jan 2017
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Adam Driver plays the title character, a bus driver with a penchant for poetry, in Paterson, writer-director Jim Jarmusch’s latest. Not only is his name Paterson; he lives in Paterson, N.J., and he sets his folded clothes out every night so he’s good to go in the morning. His wife, Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), aspires to be a country music singer, and eagerly awaits a new guitar the couple can barely afford. (Sadly, she can’t play the guitar.) The film offers no substantial plot; it’s simply a snapshot of a normal, pleasant life being led by two people who aspire to create art in their spare time. Jarmusch always does well with these sort of observational stories, and this is no exception. Driver is terrific here, capping a great year that included Midnight Special and a great performance in the muddled Silence. It’s a funny, sweet performance without him really trying…
19 Jan 2017
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Martin Scorsese’s Silence, aka How to Torture a Jesuit Priest Until He Says “Ah, Screw It!” and Looks for Another Gig, is the auteur’s most inconsistent offering since his misguided and sloppy Casino. It’s clear that Scorsese poured his heart into this passion project, which makes it even more disappointing that it doesn’t live up to his usual standards. The movie is far too long (2 hours and 41 minutes!), and repetitive and boring to the point where it becomes laughable rather than having the desired effect of moving the viewer. Based on the Shusaku Endo book, Silence is a project Scorsese has been trying to mount since the ’80s—and it winds up being nothing but a waste of a great director’s time. Two Jesuit priests, Rodrigues and Garrpe (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver), head to Japan in search of their mentor priest, Ferreira (Liam Neeson). Ferreira went missing during…
12 Jan 2017
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The new collaboration between director Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg, Patriots Day, is not only a valuable tribute to the victims and heroes of the Boston Marathon bombings; it’s a solid, meaningful, gritty look at what it took to take down the terrorist Tsarnaev brothers. Wahlberg plays Sgt. Tommy Saunders, one of those fictional composite characters that often show up in historical dramas. You will forgive the two Bergs for this kind of artistic license, because the goal of Patriots Day is to take you through the entire drama, from the bombing itself, through the capture of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (Alex Wolff) inside a boat in somebody’s backyard. There wasn’t a single person who was at all of the events leading up to the ultimate capture of the final living suspect in the bombings, so it’s best to just view the Wahlberg character as a representation of the heroism and diligence…
12 Jan 2017
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This is a well-meaning movie with good heart—but it was better when it was called The Iron Giant. J.A. Bayona’s film based on the Patrick Ness book tells the tale of Conor (Lewis MacDougall), a young boy whose mother (Felicity Jones) is dying. Conor is, understandably, having issues—not just with the impending loss of his mother, but with bullies at school and a domineering grandma (Sigourney Weaver) he doesn’t quite understand. When things come to a boil, a tree monster (the voice of Liam Neeson) shows up to offer guidance and tough love. MacDougall gives a respectable performance, as do Jones and Weaver, but the film never really works. The relationship between the boy and the imaginative monster does not make much sense, so the human interactions wind up being far more interesting. Problem is, this movie is called A Monster Calls, and much of the film leans on the…
10 Jan 2017
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Paul Verhoeven, who never really recovered from the delicious calamity that was Showgirls (although Starship Troopers was pretty good), tries his hand again at a female-empowerment movie. (Yes, Showgirls was supposed to be a female empowerment movie.) Unfortunately, he fails miserably. Isabelle Huppert labors away as Michele, the owner of a company that makes terrible videogames. As the film begins, we see her victimized in a graphic assault scene that Verhoeven revisits again and again throughout the film. Michele takes an unconventional approach to the event—and as the mystery of the assailant’s identity plays out, the movie goes off the rails with weirdness. I guess Verhoeven is shooting for satire here, but what he winds up with is a ragged, less-glossy rehash of ’80s flicks like Jagged Edge. It’s a bad mystery movie that’s trying to be shocking and even funny, but it feels desperate and trashy. Huppert is a…
06 Jan 2017
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In the 1990s, the world was on the brink of massive changes in business and technology—especially in the camera/photo industry. Camera Store, a film directed by Scott Marshall Smith, is set on Christmas Eve in 1994, in a camera store located in a shopping mall. The film will be screened at the Palm Springs International Film Festival on Friday, Jan. 6; Saturday, Jan. 7; and Monday, Jan. 9. Camera Store features two well-known faces: John Larroquette (Night Court, Stripes), and John Rhys-Davies (The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Raiders of the Lost Ark). Larroquette plays Ray, a man has endured a great loss in his past—beyond the loss of ownership he once had in the camera store. Rhys-Davies plays Pinky, a man who spends the majority of his time at the bar in the mall and boasts that he has been married five times. Ray and Pinky have been sent…
05 Jan 2017
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Katherine Johnson, one of the most brilliant mathematicians of the last century (and still going at age 98), gets the movie she deserves with Hidden Figures, an entertaining, enlightening and educational look at the contributions she and her cohorts made to NASA and space flight in the late 1950s and beyond. Johnson was part of a segregated division at NASA in the 1950s, a wing of mathematicians who did the work that computers do today. The movie depicts the humiliation she and two other African-American women (Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson) went through while solving equations that helped put men safely into space—and got them back home to their families. The women had to put up with a lot of racist bullshit, and the film shows their hardships, albeit in PG fashion. There was a stretch when Johnson was making monumental calculations for the likes of Alan Shepard, yet she…
29 Dec 2016
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Two of Hollywood’s biggest and most lovable stars labor away in Passengers, a pretty but dumb movie that doesn’t have the guts to be as ugly as it should be. Chris Pratt plays Jim Preston, a mechanic dedicated to starting a life on a distant planet. He and 5,000 other passengers are in suspended animation aboard a ship taking a 125-year journey. That ship has an unfortunate encounter with a meteor shower, and Jim’s sleeping pod awakens him … with 90 years to go on the trip. What to do? Jim soon realizes his plight. He’s fortunate in that the ship is a cruise ship, so it has a nice gym, OK food and pretty suites. The novelty runs out after a year, and a lonely, Robinson Crusoe-looking Jim (with a terrible fake beard) gets it into his head to do a very bad thing. I’m delivering a spoiler of…
29 Dec 2016
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In Jackie, director Pablo Larrain addresses the terrible times following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy through the eyes of Jackie Kennedy (Natalie Portman), the closest witness to the gory death of her husband. The film addresses notions never really discussed in film before, such as Jackie’s decision to march in the open air at her husband’s funeral. Portman, after a little career lull, comes roaring back with an amazingly accurate portrayal. (She nails that beautifully strange accent.) Peter Sarsgaard is excellent as a justifiably angry Bobby Kennedy, as is Billy Crudup as a journalist doing an exclusive interview with Jackie soon after the shooting. The film accurately captures the look of the early 1960s, right down to Jackie’s pillbox hat. Of all the films made about the assassination of JFK, this one is the most personal, and it does an admirable job of showing what an influence Jackie…
29 Dec 2016
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A young Indian boy gets lost in a train station and loses his mother in Lion, an uplifting film based on a true story from director Garth Davis. After a long odyssey through orphanages and abuse, Saroo winds up in Australia, adopted by new parents (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham). After 25 years, Saroo (played as an adult by Dev Patel) decides it’s time to find his birth mother. How does he do it in the modern world? Google Earth! (The film is a nice commercial for that little platform.) Patel is outstanding as Saroo, especially when his personal conflict about heritage comes to the forefront. Rooney Mara is also good as his supportive girlfriend, one of the more down-to-earth characters she’s played in recent years. The performance most people will talk about in this film, however, is that of Kidman, who puts together some of the most powerful work…
22 Dec 2016
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Denzel Washington directs and stars in Fences as Troy Maxson, an ex-baseball player in the 1950s. It’s a role originated on Broadway in a 1987 Tony-winning performance by James Earl Jones. Washington starred in the 2010 Broadway revival (for which he also won a Tony), and now he’s taking another shot at this great character penned by August Wilson. Viola Davis, who co-starred with Washington on Broadway (yep, another Tony), plays Rose, Troy’s long-suffering wife. The two try to raise a son of their own (Jovan Adepo) while contending with Troy’s children from past relationships and present affairs. Some of 2016’s finest performances are contained in the movie, including that by Washington and, most notably, Davis, who should find herself in contention for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar. The movie, however, suffers from that feeling that it is a filmed play: The staging is lackluster and drab, and some of…
22 Dec 2016
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There is a quick moment in the very first Star Wars (now known as Star Wars: Episode IV—A New Hope) when a character mentions rebels possibly obtaining secrets regarding the Death Star’s vulnerability. Those rebels get their own movie in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, a spinoff that is technically another prequel. In fact, it tells a story that leads right up to the point where A New Hope begins. It’s a strong, rousing action-adventure movie that should please both Star Wars geeks and newcomers to the franchise. It’s also a little different than your typical Star Wars movie in that it doesn’t mainly deal with the Skywalker saga (although a couple of them make notable appearances) and doesn’t prominently feature the John Williams score (although that makes some appearances as well). Director Gareth Edwards (Godzilla) goes for something a little different here, making a tonal shift that reminds…