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Reviews

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…
15 Dec 2016
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Be prepared to get your heart ripped out by Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams in Manchester by the Sea, one of the more emotionally powerful movie experiences of 2016. Affleck plays Lee, who must return to his hometown and raise his nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges), after his brother (Kyle Chandler) dies. Lee is a true mess, and we learn through flashbacks what got him to his messed-up state. He’s battling some major past tragedies on top of his brother’s death, and there’s no telling how things will work out for him and Patrick. The flashbacks are brutal, revealing things that go beyond terrible; it’s no wonder Lee is having coping issues. Affleck has turned in good work before, but nothing like what he does in this film. He’s incredible. Williams turns in a blistering performance as Lee’s ex-wife, and a scene Affleck and Williams share together is guaranteed to knock…
15 Dec 2016
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La La Land is an all-new, original musical from director Damien Chazelle (Whiplash) that is surprisingly low on melodrama while full of vibrancy, beautiful tunes, outstanding set pieces and a stunning sense of realism—that is, for a movie in which the characters bust out singing. This is the best “original” movie musical ever made. I’d put it up there with Les Miserables, the best adapted movie musical I’ve ever seen. In short: This baby is a masterpiece, and a complete joy to watch. The story follows wannabe actress Mia (Emma Stone) and jazz composer Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) as they try to make it in crazy Los Angeles. They meet and don’t like each other much at first, but then they fall in love, which provides Chazelle and his performers with ample opportunities for musical numbers that surprise at every turn. In what will go down as one of the year’s…
08 Dec 2016
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A jilted husband uses the power of the pen to mess with his ex-wife’s mind in Nocturnal Animals, an engaging and dark-hearted film from director Tom Ford. Amy Adams, on fire in 2016 even after you deduct points due to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, plays Susan Morrow, a bizarre art-gallery owner stuck in a rut. Her bland but gorgeous husband (Armie Hammer, also having a good year) is ambivalent toward her; she’s borderline broke, and generally unhappy. She gets a manuscript in the mail from ex-husband Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal). He was a struggling writer while the two were together, but now he just might have written the novel that could get his career going. Susan agrees to read the advance copy—and the story within, to say the least, freaks her out. The film’s screenplay, written by Ford and based on the novel by Austin Wright, takes a…
08 Dec 2016
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Director Otto Bell’s documentary The Eagle Huntress actually plays out like a cool, dramatic adventure film as a young girl aims to be the first eagle hunter in her family. Aisholpan, a 13-year-old Mongolian girl living with her tribe, has always been fascinated by eagles, and wants to become a champion eagle hunter like her father and grandfather. (They hunt using eagles to catch game, rather than actually hunting eagles.) The film follows her through her initial training, including the capturing of her own baby eagle on a treacherous cliff side. (This kid isn’t messing around; she really wants this.) It’s fascinating watching the eagle acclimate to its new home; you feel a little sorry for it, but its captors feed it well, and it certainly bonds with Aisholpan. It’s an amazing animal, and there’s a lot of joy in simply seeing food going into its mouth. It’s also amazing…
01 Dec 2016
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Director Jeff Nichols, who has already made two excellent movies in Mud and Take Shelter, released a very good movie earlier this year called Midnight Special. Here, in late 2016, he has released another excellent one. Loving, written and directed by Nichols, recounts the true story of Richard and Mildred Loving, a couple whose interracial marriage was ruled illegal by the state of Virginia in 1958, banning them from the state and sending their lives into constant turmoil. Put on probation with the threat of 25 years in prison if they were caught together in Virginia, they were forced to live a good portion of their married life in exile. The movie covers their lives from the time they decide to get married due to Mildred’s pregnancy, through the U.S. Supreme Court decision that ruled Virginia’s ban on interracial marriage unconstitutional in 1967. That’s nine years during which two people…