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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

After being banished from her Orthodox Jewish community due to a small scandal with a local girl, Ronit (Rachel Weisz) returns to her London home years later upon hearing her father, a prestigious rabbi, has passed away.

With that, the stage is set for Disobedience, a stunner from Sebastián Lelio (A Fantastic Woman) and a showcase for Weisz and Rachel McAdams as Esti, the woman with whom Ronit had the affair. Esti is now married to Dovid (Alessandro Nivola), and has been repressing her true sexuality for years in Ronit’s absence. When Ronit returns … well, things happen.

Lelio explores not just repressed sexuality, but the influence (both good and bad) of religion in the small community. Weisz and McAdams are mighty convincing as lovers, while Nivola offers up a few big surprises as the husband who shouldn’t really be Esti’s husband. The three have moments together that count as some of the best performed scenes of the year.

Disobedience is available on DVD and Blu-Ray, and via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Give co-directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein a lot of credit for making a movie about friends gathering for a game night—a premise that sounds kind of stupid—and turning Game Night into one of the funnier dark comedies in recent memory.

Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams play Max and Annie, a married couple with a love of board games and arcades. They host weekly game nights with their friends, but the latest one could be a bit annoying for Max, because it involves his highly successful brother, Brooks (Kyle Chandler). Brooks asks to take over game night; Max concedes; and what follows is a great and funny series of surprising, twisted and often super-bloody events. I don’t want to give away the big twists; I’ll just say the film managed to trick me on numerous occasions—while making me laugh hard.

Bateman and McAdams turn in some of the funniest work in their careers, while Billy Magnussen is a scream as the group dunderhead; Lamorne Morris does a very good Denzel Washington; and Jesse Plemons steals scenes with a dog as Max and Annie’s weird cop neighbor. And by weird, I mean super, mega weird.

The movie actually plays out like a great round of Clue, in which you guess the contents of the envelope and get it totally wrong, because the filmmakers are constantly fooling you in hilarious ways.

Daley and Goldstein constantly prove that there is nothing they wouldn’t do for a good laugh. They take a lot of risks—and they pay off.

Game Night is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

After sitting on the shelf for quite some time, Mark Osborne’s unorthodox animated adaptation of Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s classic The Little Prince has finally gotten a release—a release streaming on Netflix, that is.

It’s a good-enough movie, but it is by no means a straight retelling of The Little Prince. There’s a modern story about a young girl (the voice of Mackenzie Foy) who befriends an old aviator (Jeff Bridges)—the one we know from The Little Prince. He recounts part of that story to the little girl, which we see in stop-motion animation. (The modern portion of the story is mostly told via CGI.)

There’s an interesting mix of animation techniques to go with some twists in the story. While things feel a little uneven and perhaps slow at times, it’s an enjoyable film.

Other voice performers include Rachel McAdams, Paul Rudd, Marion Cotillard, James Franco, Benicio Del Toro and Albert Brooks. It’s great fun hearing all of their voices in one place.

Again, if you are looking for a traditional retelling of The Little Prince, this is not it. If you are looking for decent-enough animated fare that will entertain kids and adults alike, you could do much worse.

The Little Prince is currently streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Spotlight stands as one of the all-time-great films about newspaper reporting; the story at its center is remarkable.

In 2001, Spotlight, an investigative division of The Boston Globe, gets tasked with investigating child-molesting priests. What starts as a few cases grows to cases involving almost 90 priests in the Boston area alone—none of them criminally prosecuted.

Special kudos go to Mark Ruffalo as Mike Rezendes, the real reporter who helped bring the story to the public. Ruffalo captures the spirit of a hungry reporter without resorting to any clichés. His Rezendes feels like the real thing; a moment when he loses his temper is one of the better screen moments 2015 has to offer.

He’s not alone in the brilliant category. Michael Keaton is terrific as Walter “Robby” Robinson, the Spotlight editor who suddenly finds himself and his staff up against a powerful Catholic Church. Rachel McAdams is totally convincing as reporter Sacha Pfeiffer, while Liev Schreiber gets his best role in years as head editor Marty Baron.

The film also co-stars Stanley Tucci, John Slattery and Billy Crudup. They, and everything about this film, are first rate.

Spotlight is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Southpaw is one of the better boxing movies I’ve seen in recent years. Jake Gyllenhaal transforms himself as Billy Hope, a boxer at the top of the world with a beautiful wife (Rachel McAdams) and daughter (Oona Laurence). He loses everything, Rocky V-style, and must fight for redemption and the custody of his child.

Forest Whitaker plays Billy’s unorthodox trainer; it’s reminiscent of the role Burgess Meredith played in the Rocky films. Yes, I’m comparing this movie to Rocky in many ways, because it is clear director Antoine Fuqua drew much of his inspiration from that series.

Gyllenhaal put himself through a rigorous training process to become a convincing fighter, and he certainly looks the part in the ring. Outside of the ring, Billy mumbles a lot, which makes sense considering the number of blows he’s taken to the head. It’s a typically great performance from Gyllenhaal, who rises above the moments where the script becomes a little too conventional.

Laurence, who reminds of a young Natalie Wood, does strong work as the daughter who has to put up with a dad who can’t seem to get his act together.

Southpaw is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Philip Seymour Hoffman, in what turned out to be his last leading role, is typically brilliant in A Most Wanted Man, a thriller based on the novel by John le Carré.

Directed by Anton Corbijn, the movie’s mystery remains intact until the final minutes of the film—or so was the case with me. I didn’t see the end coming.

Hoffman plays Günther Bachmann, an anti-terrorism agent based in Germany who has had a spotty recent record. When a mysterious Chechen Muslim (Grigoriy Dobrygin) comes to Germany, a scenario plays out that involves a well-meaning lawyer (Rachel McAdams), a confused banker (Willem Dafoe) and a mysterious businessman (Homayoun Ershadi).

It’s hard to discern good and evil in this film, and Corbijn keeps things tense until the very end. Hoffman is so good it hurts—especially because we know we won’t see this sort of thing from him ever again. McAdams delivers what may be the best performance of her career as somebody caught in the middle of a major mess. All of the actors sport credible German accents.

By the film’s conclusion, it is clear that nobody can really be trusted in the spy game. Hoffman captures the essence of a once-powerful man getting the shaft, big-time.

Special Features: There are a couple of short behind-the-scenes docs. Get the disc for the movie.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

I missed About Time in theaters last year. (Hey, I can’t see them all!)

That’s a shame, because this film is deserving of high praise. Writer-director Richard Curtis (Love Actually) has made his best film yet, and finds a way to use time-travel that requires no special-effects budget.

Tim (Domhnall Gleeson), a slightly nebbish but somewhat cute and alluring Brit, finds out from his super-laid-back dad (a wonderful Bill Nighy) that the men in his family have the gift of time travel: They just need to go to a dark place (preferably a wardrobe cabinet), clench their fists, and think of where they want to be in their own past. Then, boom—they are there, able to live that piece of life again, and make adjustments where necessary.

However, this power comes with rules—and hazards. They can’t travel back beyond their own life, so there’s no killing Hitler. They can’t go into the future. And they have to be mindful of birth dates, because screwing around with history before a child’s birth can change the identity of the child.

Tim uses his power to woo numerous women, mostly Mary (Rachel McAdams, queen of time-travel love stories with this, The Time Traveler’s Wife and Midnight in Paris on her résumé). He eventually marries Mary, after traveling back in time to redo their first meetings and sexual encounters. He cheats a bit, for sure, but it’s abundantly clear that the two are meant for each other—even without the time travel tomfoolery.

It’s a fun premise, employed quite entertainingly by Curtis and his cast. Gleeson is charming; McAdams is enchanting; and Nighy steals scenes. This is a good one to watch if you’re planning a romantic movie night at home.

Special Features: The disc is fairly stacked, with director and actor commentaries, behind-the-scenes featurettes, a blooper reel, deleted scenes and more. 

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

If you hated Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, you will hate To the Wonder, and if you loved Tree … well, you might be OK watching this.

Ben Affleck stars (sort of) as an American who falls in love while in Paris, and brings the woman (Olga Kurylenko) and her daughter home to Texas. Malick reduces Affleck to sulking, for the most part; it’s a role that never allows him to cut loose. Pitt had a similar assignment in The Tree of Life, but he did a much better job. Affleck looks a little confused, as does Rachel McAdams as an old flame. She’s required to look forlorn, sad and beautiful. She does little else.

The reason to see the film, besides its excellent visuals, is Kurylenko, who shines in the central role. I admire this film in that it tells a complete story in a very different way—but I don’t love it in the way that I’ve loved past Malick films. It’s a mild disappointment.

To the Wonder opens Friday, April 26, at the Cinemas Palme d’Or, 72480 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-779-0430.

Published in Reviews