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Reviews

02 Feb 2017
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Robert De Niro delivers a good performance in The Comedian, a film from director Taylor Hackford that doesn’t match the great actor’s prowess. De Niro plays Jackie Burke, an aging standup comedian dealing with a TV-sitcom past he isn’t too proud of. De Niro does a nice job playing a Don Rickles-type old-school comedian. He’s not entirely hilarious, but he’s convincing in his standup sequences. He’s also good when Jackie is off stage being an ornery bastard. The film lets him down in its handling of modern-day things like viral videos and reality TV. Hackford’s take on modern media is woefully out of touch, and De Niro finds himself stranded in some rather ridiculous, tone-deaf scenes. Leslie Mann is her usual great self as a younger woman Jackie winds up trying to romance; the two actually make a convincing almost-but-not-quite couple. Harvey Keitel is a little overbearing as Mann’s dad,…
02 Feb 2017
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You have to give Matthew McConaughey an “A” for effort for Gold, which is “loosely based on a true story.” McConaughey not only stars as wannabe gold magnate Kenny Wells; he also co-produced the movie, thinned his hair, put in some weird teeth and gained weight for the role. Sadly, maximum effort doesn’t result in an optimized return for Gold. The movie is an uneven, confused endeavor, and McConaughey winds up looking like a guy, normally in really good shape, who messed himself up for a few months to shoot a movie. He doesn’t look real, like Robert De Niro did when he destroyed his physicality for Raging Bull. He just looks slightly out of shape and made up. Even if McConaughey looked truly messed up, Gold would still be a mess—albeit a sometimes entertaining mess. Wells is a fictional character, and the film is based loosely upon the Bre-X…
26 Jan 2017
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Annette Bening, Elle Fanning, Greta Gerwig and Billy Crudup shine in 20th Century Women, Mike Mills’ ode to his unusual mother, who raised him in the late 1970s and tried to like punk music as much as she could. Bening is terrific as Dorothea. She represents the prototypical late-1970s woman—still cool, but perhaps slowing down a bit due to too many cigarettes and a general disillusionment with the changing culture. Mills uses Dorothea as a sort of narrator from the future who talks about the events of the film while observing from a perch in years ahead. It’s an interesting technique, and Bening’s performance is a career milestone. Gerwig and Fanning are great as two different women who hang around Dorothea’s apartment, both with their own highly interesting subplots. Cruddup chimes in capably as a local handyman who will sleep with you if you ask him to. I love the…
26 Jan 2017
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Michael Keaton is fantastic in The Founder as Ray Kroc, the sorta-kinda founder of McDonald’s. Director John Lee Hancock’s film tells his story, from Kroc selling milkshake mixers door-to-door, through his wife-stealing days as the head of the McDonald’s corporation. Hancock’s movie desperately wants us to like Kroc … but maybe we shouldn’t? After all, he swept in and took the name of McDonald’s from the McDonald brothers (played by Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch), effectively cutting them out of most profits and leaving them in his dust. The film is at its best when it is in old-time, Americana mode. It’s a beautiful-looking movie that captures the essence of those old-timey fast-food joints that replaced the traditional drive-in diners. It slows down and gets a little muddled when it tries to depict Kroc as some sort of commerce hero. Hmm … I suppose if they went into details…
26 Jan 2017
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The key to M. Night Shyamalan’s recent success seems to be a limit on the amount of money he’s allowed to throw around. After working with sizable budgets on big projects like The Last Airbender, After Earth, The Happening, Lady in the Water and The Village—all of which sucked major ass—Shyamalan almost made a good movie for $5 million with The Visit. Now he’s finally made his first good movie since Signs back in 2002 with Split, a down-to-the-basics, creepy thriller propelled by excellent performances from James McAvoy and Anya Taylor-Joy. The film—with a $10 million budget, according to IMDb—reminds us that Shyamalan can be quite the capable director (and writer) when he isn’t getting too carried away. Taylor-Joy, so good in recent horror masterpiece The Witch, plays Casey, an introverted, outcast high school student attending a birthday party for Claire (Haley Lu Richardson) simply because she got a “mercy…
25 Jan 2017
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While the film Christine has its inconsistencies, Rebecca Hall delivers an electrifyingly good performance as the title character. No, this isn’t a remake of the John Carpenter film with a killer car. This is about Christine Chubbuck, the infamous news reporter who shot herself on live television in the 1970s. Hall depicts Chubbuck as bright but, obviously, troubled. Doing small feature stories on a Florida TV station and looking to move ahead, her ideas are a little too out there for her station manager, Michael (the incomparable Tracy Letts). On top of that, she’s trying to date station anchor George (Michael C. Hall) with little success. While director Antonio Campos’ film feels a little flat, the two Halls and Letts usually breathe life back into it. Rebecca Hall would probably have gotten serious Oscar buzz if the film felt fully realized rather than moderately good. It’s worth seeing for Hall,…
19 Jan 2017
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Director Ben Affleck’s Live by Night is a period piece/costume drama that looks like a lot of work went into it, although it never feels like a cohesive picture. Affleck stars as Joe Coughlin, one of those gangsters you just gotta love, fighting the gangster fight during Prohibition in sunny Florida. Joe rises to the top of the gangster field, despite being the son of a cop (Brendan Gleeson), and despite basically being an all-around good guy. The problem is that Affleck fails to give his central character a true identity and emotional toolbox. The character feels stilted, and the movie around him feels like a costume party. It’s as if Affleck was afraid to make Joe the truly bad guy he should be. The fedoras and sweet suits all look good, but it’s in the service of a story that has been told before—in far more powerful ways. Sienna…
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…