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force-majeure-cannes-21“FORCE MAJEURE”  My rating: B (Opens Nov. 21 at the Tivoli)

118 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Most of us would like to believe that if faced with a life-threatening crisis we would behave decently, nobly…even heroically.

Uh, probably not.  Most of us would be like Tomas, the husband and father whose act of cowardice becomes the topic of Ruben Ostlund’s terse, psychologically ravaging “Force Majeure.”

The Swedish Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke) has brought his wife Ebba (Lisa Kongsli) and two young children to posh ski resort in the French Alps.  They appear to be an utterly unremarkable young family.

But while eating lunch at an outdoor cafe, they witness a controlled avalanche set off by explosive detonations.  The churning wall of white speeds down a mountainside, hits the bottom of a valley, then begins rapidly climbing toward the terrace on which the diners are sitting.

“Doesn’t look controlled to me,” Ebba says.

Result: chaos.  People scream, run, freak out.  Ebba grabs her two children and hunkers down behind a table.  Tomas cuts and runs, returning to his loved ones only when it becomes clear that the snow never came close to the restaurant, that a cloud of white fog only made it appear that everyone was about to be buried alive.

 

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Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons

Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons

“WHIPLASH”  My rating: B+ (Now showing at the Cinemark Palace, Glenwood Arts)

106 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) conducts the elite studio jazz band at New York City’s most prestigious conservatory of music.  He’s a musician and educator, though you might be forgiven for mistaking him for a Marine drill instructor…or perhaps a serial killer.

Fletcher enters the rehearsal room with the swagger of a gunslinger flinging open swinging saloon doors. His students don’t make eye contact.  They gaze at the floor or at their charts.  Nobody wants to draw the alpha wolf’s reptilian stare.

But that won’t save them. Fletcher is routinely profane, insulting, and capable of reducing a young musician to sobs. He seems to take great pleasure in finding a victim at every rehearsal.

“Either  you’re out of tune and deliberately sabotaging my band, or you don’t know you’re out of tune — and that’s worse.”

He’s smug, cruel and probably sexist, given his treatment of a woman player in a freshman ensemble: “You’re in first chair. Let’s see if it’s just because you’re cute.”

He punishes those who disappoint him not with pushups but with rehearsals that go on into the wee hours: “We will stay here as long as it taikes for one of you faggots to play in time.”

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Kim Bodnia, Gael Garcia Bernal

Kim Bodnia, Gael Garcia Bernal

“ROSEWATER”  My rating: B (Opens wide on Nov. 14)

103 minutes  | No MPAA rating

Ideologues usually occupy an irony-free zone.
How ironic, then, that “Rosewater,” the true tale of a Western journalist caught in the Kafkaesque world of Iranian justice, was made by one of America’s funniest men — “The Daily Show’s” Jon Stewart.
In 2009 Newsweek sent London-based Maziar Bahari  to his native Iran to cover that country’s presidential election. The stories he filed provided a sympathetic look at young activists opposing the repressive religious regime. Then he upped the ante by daring to suggest that the election was rigged in favor of hard-liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Soon thereafter Bahari was pulled from his bed by police, charged with espionage and forced to endure four months of interrogation that ranged from the rigorous to the ridiculous.
A key piece of the prosecution’s evidence was an interview Bahari gave to an American television show. Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” to be precise. The “interview” was a typical example of that program’s satiric skewering — only the Iranian authorities failed to recognize it as comedy.
At least part of Stewart’s motivation in taking a summer off from his TV career and making his feature writing/directing debut was his regret that “The Daily Show” contributed to Bahari’s ordeal.
But this subject matter also dovetails nicely with Stewart’s longstanding disdain for absolutism and dogmatism, both of which are in plentiful supply in Iran. At “Rosewater’s” core is the conflict between rigid authority and nose-tweaking resistance.
TO READ THE REST OF THIS REVIEW VISIT THE KANSAS CITY STAR WEB SITE AT http://www.kansascity.com/entertainment/movies-news-reviews/article3880306.html
Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels

Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels

“DUMB AND DUMBER TO”  My rating: D+ (Opens wide on Nov. 14)

110 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Dumb comedy?  Smart comedy?
It doesn’t matter what label you stick on it…as long as a movie makes you laugh its IQ is irrelevant.
1994‘s “Dumb and Dumber” made me laugh. Still does.
Now the Farrelly Brothers (Bobby and Peter) have given us a sequel with Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels reprising their roles as chip-toothed Lloyd Christmas and disheveled dog groomer Harry Dunne.
I hardly laughed at all.
Oh, there are moments that are so appallingly crude that it wrings a shocked guffaw out of you.
We’re talking fart jokes. Masturbation jokes. Menstruation jokes. Sex-with-old-ladies jokes. Catheter jokes.
But the yuks are relatively few and very far between.
TO READ THE REST OF THIS REVIEW VISIT THE KANSAS CITY STAR WEB SITE AT http://www.kansascity.com/entertainment/movies-news-reviews/article3880189.html
Matthew McConaughey (center) and colleagues explore a water planet

Matthew McConaughey (center) and colleagues explore a water planet

“INTERSTELLAR”  My rating: B- (Now playing wide)

169 minutes | Audience rating: PG-13

Did I miss something?

Because while I don’t regret having spent three hours watching Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar,” I can’t quite shake the feeling that there’s less here than meets the eye.

That maybe the Emperor has no clothes.

The film has an epic scope, great visuals, good performances and a payload of scientific/metaphysical ideas percolating throughout.

And unlike many of Nolan’s efforts (among them the most recent incarnation of Batman, “The Prestige” and “Inception”), it has a backbone of genuine emotion.

But why, when the lights came up, was my reaction more “meh” than “wow”?

The film begins in a not-too-distant future. Earth is rapidly dying.  Corn is about the only crop not devastated by blight and massive dust storms.

Former astronaut Cooper (Matthew McConauhey) works a farm in what might be eastern Colorado. A widower, Coop lives with his father-in-law (John Lithgow) and his two kids.  He’s got a special relationship with Murph (Mackenzie Foy), a fiercely intelligent girl who reports ghostly goings-on in her room, with books being pulled from the selves by invisible hands.

Jessica Chastain...back home on a ravage Earth

Jessica Chastain…back home on a ravaged Earth

This activity and other clues lead Coop and Murph to a secret base in the mountains where what’s left of NASA (as far as the public knows  the program has been shut down) is working on a project to save humanity.

Coop’s old mentor Professor Brand (Michael Caine…always the voice of reason in Nolan movies) explains that a decade earlier a human crew was sent into space, through a wormhole near Saturn, and into another galaxy to look for Earth-like planets to which humanity might migrate.

That earlier mission is presumed lost. Now a second is being mounted.  Coop’s arrival is serendipitous — he was NASA’s best pilot — and he is recruited to head the new effort.

But that means saying goodbye to Murph, who is angry and devastated by what she sees as a betrayal by her beloved father.

This takes up “Interstellar’s” first hour. The rest of the film alternates between the mission in space and the lives of Coop’s family back on Earth.

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Edward Snowden

Edward Snowden

“CITIZENFOUR” My rating: A- (Opens Nov. 7 at the Tivoli)

114 minutes | MPAA rating: R

By now we have absorbed the knowledge that our government is — through mass data collection programs — spying on each and every one of us. We’ve numbed the shock with grim jokes.

“Citizenfour,” though, reignites the outrage. Laura Poitras’ spellbinding documentary takes us back a year to the beginning of the Edward Snowden controversy and places us at the heart of the situation.

In January 2013 Poitras – maker of “My Country, My Country” (about the 2005 elections in Iraq) and the 2010  war-on-terror doc “The Oath” — began receiving emails from a mysterious individual identified only as “Citizenfour.”  After establishing a variety of cryptographic and security protocols, Citizenfour announced he had a treasure trove of top secret government information depicting “the greatest system for oppression in the history of man.”

Citizenfour was, of course, NSA computer expert Edward Snowden, who told Poitras that “my personal desire is that you paint the target on my back.”

By June the 29-year-old was holed up in a Hong Kong hotel.  Joining him was Poitras and Guardian reporters Glenn Greenwald and Ewan MacAskill, well known for their stories piercing the veil of government secrecy.

As the journalists interviewed Snowden over several days, Poitras (who goes unseen) kept her cameras running.  The resulting film is like eavesdropping on secret history.

Like just about everyone else, I wondered about Snowden’s motives in amassing and then releasing all this secret information.

Is he a megalomaniac? A head case? An America-hating traitor?

After watching “Citizenfour” I’m calling him a hero.

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A church filled with homeless men in "Overnighters"

A North Dakota church becomes a haven for homeless men drawn by the fracking boom.

“THE OVERNIGHTERS”  My rating: B+ (Opens Nov. 7 at the Alamo Drafthouse)

90 minutes | PG-13

A documentary that plays almost like a scripted drama, “The Overnighters” is both a deeply personal story of a spiritually-driven but flawed individual and a damning commentary on the American economy in the new millennium.

Jesse Moss’ film is set in Williston, N.D., a small town in the midst of the fracking boom. There are lots of well-paying jobs in the petroleum industry, and that has attracted thousands of desperate men who arrive daily by car, camper and bus to find work.

Problem is, many if not most of them won’t get a job.  They are more or less stranded in Williston with no income, no housing, no hope.

That’s where Pastor Jay Reinke of the Concordia Lutheran Church comes in.  Reinke has turned his church into a crash pad for these newcomers, allowing many to sleep in their vehicles in the parking lot while others camp out in the church’s offices and classrooms.

Reinke’s motivations seem altruistic — “Who is my neighbor? How do I serve him?” — but there’s a price to pay.

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awake 2“AWAKE: THE LIFE OF YOGANANDA” My rating: B (Opens Nov. 7 at the Tivoli)

87 minutes | MPAA rating: PG

Few religious figures of the 20th century are more compelling or intriguing than Paramahansa Yogananda (1893-1952), the yogi who at the age of 26 received a divine calling to bring the spiritual lessons of his native India to America.

“Awake: The Life of Yogananda” — directed by Paola di Florio and Lisa Leeman — is a well-made overview of Yogananda’s life and beliefs, filled with fascinating photos and film clips that seem always to capture the guru with a mysterious Mona Lisa half-smile.

Arriving in Boston in 1920, Yogananda immediately began collecting devotees. But it was not until he moved to Los Angeles five years later that his ministry really took off, attracting celebrities like opera star Amelita Galli0-Curci and millionaire industrialists like oil tycoon James Lynn.

Yogananda’s genius was to dump the baggage of “religion” and promote his system of self-realization as a science.  Not relying on a particular creed or dogma, his approach allowed individuals of all religious backgrounds to integrate their beliefs with yogic practice that would, ultimately, rewire their brains.

He lectured incessantly. He pioneered a mail order program of study. And he founded the Self-Realization Fellowship, a center for yogic learning that still flourishes today on a Eden-like hilltop overlooking the Pacific. His Autobiography of a Yogi has been hugely influential and has sold steadily for decades.

Yogananda’s emphasis was on yoga and meditation as a pathway to godliness, not as some sort of physical workout.  As one of the many talking heads in the film explains, “It’s not set up to give you flat abs…although that’s a nice byproduct.”

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Keira Knightley, Chloe Grace Moretz

Keira Knightley, Chloe Grace Moretz

“LAGGIES”  My rating: D+ (Opens Nov. 7 at the **)

99 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Every filmmaker is allowed a few career missteps.

Lynn Shelton seems to have spent all hers on just one movie.

“Laggies” is…what? An unfunny comedy?  An uninvolving drama?

Whatever it is, it wastes what looks like a dream cast on a script so wretched you’ve got to wonder what all these talented people possibly saw in it.

Shelton is the indie phenom who seemed on the verge of greatness with her 2011 release “Your Sister’s Sister,” a comedy about two sisters’ relationships with the same man marked by long, real-time conversations.

Perhaps we should have taken heed when her last effort, 2013’s “Touchy Feely,” vanished without so much as a whimper.

TO READ THE REST OF THIS REVIEW VISIT THE KANSAS CITY STAR WEB SITE AT http://www.kansascity.com/entertainment/movies-news-reviews/article3561006.html
Michael Keaton and Edward Norton...exploring artistic differences

Michael Keaton and Edward Norton…exploring artistic differences

“BIRDMAN”  My rating: B+ (Opens Oct. 31 at  the Glenwood Arts, Cinemark Palace and Studio 30)

119 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“Birdman” is a tour de force, a heady mix of dark comedy and psychic meltdown with energy vibrating from every frame.

Writer/director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (“Babel”), star Michael Keaton (in a bravura performance) and a terrific supporting cast deliver a movie unlike anything we’ve seen before.

If the film, full name: “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance),” isn’t as deep as it thinks it is, there’s no arguing with the jaw-dropping creativity on display — technical, dramatic and thespian.

The setup: One-time movie box office champ Riggan Thomson (Keaton) — who earned worldwide fame portraying a feathered superhero called Birdman — has come to Broadway to write, direct and star in a stage adaptation of Raymond Carver’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.”

Riggan has personally financed the production in hopes of restarting his moribund career (“I’m the answer to a Trivial Pursuit question”) and affirming his artistic credentials.

Turns out his sanity is on the line as well.

TO READ THE REST OF THIS REVIEW VISIT THE KANSAS CITY STAR WEB SITE AT http://www.kansascity.com/entertainment/movies-news-reviews/article3449803.html

Jake Gyllenhaal...on the prowl

Jake Gyllenhaal…on the prowl

“NIGHTCRAWLER” My rating: B (Opens wide on Oct. 31)

117 minutes | MPAA rating: R

There are no fanged vampires, voracious aliens or whispy ghosts populating “Nightcrawler,” but this is a horror movie nevertheless.

In this skin-crawling drama from first-time director Dan Gilroy (whose screenwriting credits include “The Fall” and “The Bourne Legacy”), the ever-changeable Jake Gyllenhaal gives what may be the year’s most disturbing performance as Louis Bloom, a dead-eyed loner/loser who discovers his calling capturing news footage of big-city mayhem.

You may want to bring your own hand sanitizer.

When we first see Louis he’s driving a crappy old Toyota and stealing copper tubing, chain link fences and manhole covers to sell to a metal recycler.  It’s apparent from the beginning that he’s a b.s. artist who employs empty loquaciousness and a disarming smile to get out of tough spots.  Then he stumbles across a late-night car accident and a pack of freelance cameramen recording the gruesome goings-on, and decides on a career change.

Soon Louis is the proud owner of a police scanner and a cheap video cam. A quick learner, he spends his nights bouncing from crime scene to highway carnage to house fire. Fearlessly barging in on horrible situations,  he grabs if-it-bleeds-it-leads footage that impresses even seen-it-all Nina Romino (Rene Russo), news director of a struggling local TV station.

Nina has her own ideas about ideal news footage: “A screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut.”

In short order Louis has a flashy new car and a low-paid assistant, the homeless/hapless Rick (Rick Garcia), who serves as his navigator and second cameraman as the pair zap around Los Angeles, trying to beat the other news crews — and even the cops — to the crime scenes.

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Viggo Mortensen, Oscar Isaac, Kristen Dunst

Viggo Mortensen, Oscar Isaac, Kristen Dunst

“THE TWO FACES OF JANUARY”  My rating: B- (Opens Oct. 31 at the Tivoli)

96 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

In a cinema world filled with Bourne-ish violence and spectacular chases, there’s something quietly satisfying to be found in the work of Patricia Highsmith.  Her novels — especially those centering on the vaguely sinister Tom Ripley — were about character and motivation, not overt violence.

“The Two Faces of January” — the directing debut of acclaimed screenwriter Hossein Amini (“The Wings of the Dove,” “Drive,” “47 Ronin”) — is a minor work but a solid one, a tale of corruption and escape set against the spectacular Greek countryside.

It’s 1962 and the American couple, Chester and Collette (Viggo Mortensen, Kristen Dunst) are enjoying the pleasures of Athens.  He’s a money manager, the much younger Collette is rather obviously a trophy wife.

They hook up with another American, the young Rydal (Oscar Isaac, late of the Coen’s “Inside Llewyn Davis”), an American “poet” who sells his services as a tour guide. And because he speaks fluent Greek and can conspire with local merchants and vendors, Rydal is usually able to double-charge his clients for a bit of extra profit.

 

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Bill Murray

Bill Murray

“ST. VINCENT”   My rating: B (Opens wide on Oct. 24)    

102 minutes   | MPAA rating: PG-13

Moviegoers may be forgiven for approaching “St. Vincent” with caution.

After all, it features Bill Murray in full-curmudgeon mode as a coot who becomes the reluctant caregiver to the son of a single mother (Melissa McCarthy).

Sounds like a gig Murray could do in his sleep, and plenty of us already have maxed out on McCarthy’s brand of overkill comedy. Moreover, the whole thing reeks of “About A Boy: Geezer Division.”

Except that it works.

With his feature debut, writer/director Theodore Melfi can be accused of dishing Hollywood cliches, but his cast’s sheer good humor and professionalism lift this yarn. And the pile of improbabilities is offset by real heart and solid laughs.

TO READ THE REST OF THIS REVIEW VISIT THE KANSAS CITY STAR WEB SITE AT   http://www.kansascity.com/entertainment/movies-news-reviews/article3257681.html

Brad Pitt (foreground) and tank crew (left to right): Shia LeBouf, ** , Michael Pena, I*.

Brad Pitt (foreground) and tank crew (left to right): Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman, Michael Pena, Jon Bernthal.

“FURY”  My rating: B (Opens wide on Oct. 17)

134 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“Fury” is on one level one of the great war/action films, a face-first plunge into the blood, guts and terror of combat.
But writer/director David Ayer (“Training Day,” “End of Watch”) is aiming for more than just a stomach-churning visit to war’s visceral horrors. He wants to show how combat dehumanizes the individuals who must do the dirty work.
It’s impossible to watch the trailers for “Fury” — with a grimy Brad Pitt in charge of a World War II tank crew — and not be reminded of the Nazi-killing good ol’ boy Pitt portrayed in “Inglourious Basterds.”
That 2009 Quentin Tarantino film was an exaggerated, almost hallucinogenic comic fantasy of warfare. Ayer, though, plays it straight, eschewing overtly comic elements and pushing for an unflinching earnestness.
Only trouble is, he may have pushed too hard.
We are introduced to the five-man crew of Fury, a Sherman tank, on a German battlefield in the spring of 1945, during the last gasps of the war. The tank commander, Sgt. Don “Wardaddy” Collier (Pitt), makes short, silent work of a passing German officer (a knife in the eyeball does the trick nicely). He then climbs back into the tank occupied by three living crewmen and the headless corpse of a fourth.
We’re all accustomed to war movies stocked with various American “types”: a Jew, a Hispanic, a black, a college boy, a redneck. We’re meant to identify with them.
Just try identifying with the creeps who live in Fury. The mechanic Grady  Travis (“Walking Dead’s” Jon  Bernthal) seems more mumbling Neanderthal than modern man. The gunner, Boyd “Bible” Swan (a nearly unrecognizable mustachioed Shia LaBeouf), is intensely religious — he abstains from drink and women but seems to find sexual release in blowing Germans all to hell. The driver, Trini “Gordo” Garcia (Michael Pena), is a bit closer to normal — until you realize that he and Travis are most likely brothers-in-rape.
After years of fighting, whatever civilized veneer these guys had has been stripped away. No longer all-American boys, they are more of a renegade biker gang, killing prisoners and then retreating to their Sherman tank like wolves to their lair.
TO READ THE REST OF THIS REVIEW VISIT THE KANSAS CITY STAR WEB SITE AT   http://www.kansascity.com/entertainment/movies-news-reviews/article2811409.html
Jeremy Renner as journalist Gary Webb

Jeremy Renner as journalist Gary Webb

“KILL THE MESSENGER” My rating: B+ (Opens wide on Oct. 10)

112 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Apart from featuring Jeremy Renner’s best screen performance since “The Hurt Locker,” the new film “Kill the Messenger” is noteworthy as a throwback to the good old days before around-the-clock cable news.

We’re talking about a time when the ink-stained wretches of the newspapers were widely viewed as, well, as kind of heroic.

Badly paid, sure, and probably morally reprehensible in matters of alcohol and other forms of hedonism. But these journalists happily clung to the idealistic notion that their job was to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, and in films like “All the Presidents Men” newspaper reporters shined a light on corruption and criminality.

“Kill the Messenger” is based on the  career of Gary Webb, a reporter for the San Jose Mercury News who in the mid-1990′s, while covering the crack cocaine epidemic, stumbled upon a seemingly incredible story: To fund a rebel army battling the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua, the Contras had been smuggling countless tons of cocaine into the US.  The ensuing scandal became known as “drugs for guns.”

Webb never alleged that the CIA was behind the program, only that the CIA must have known about the drugs and tolerated it.

In other words, during the same years that Nancy Reagan was telling America’s kids to “just say no,” our government was allowing a flood of dangerous drugs to inundate the country’s inner cities. Most of the victims of this scourge were black.

Written by Peter Landesman and directed by Michael Cuesta (a veteran of Showtime’s “Homeland”), “Kill the Messenger” starts out as a sort of journalistic procedural.  Renner’s Webb stumbles across a secret government document that suggests a partnership between the government and a major drug trafficker.  Then, through dogged research, interviews, and travel to Central America and Washington D.C., Webb puts together a story that will rock the country and win him major journalism awards.

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Robert Downey Jr., Robert Duvall

Robert Downey Jr., Robert Duvall

“THE JUDGE”  My rating: C+ (Opens wide on Oct. 10)

141 minutes | MPAA rating: R

The Judge” has a few good things going for it, particularly the promise of a high-octane acting duel between Robert Duvall and Robert Downey Jr.
What the film doesn’t have is faith that the audience can appreciate solid dramatic acting for more than, oh, three minutes at a stretch.
In this story of an estranged father and son thrown together by a big trial, every  scene that carries a bit of weight immediately goes for a comic coda — often a cheap comic coda. The effect is weirdly mechanical. But we can’t leave the paying customers thinking serious thoughts, right?
The result is an overlong, overstuffed movie at war with itself.

TO READ THE REST OF THIS REVIEW, VISIT THE KANSAS CITY STAR WEBSITE AT http://www.kansascity.com/entertainment/movies-news-reviews/article2585988.html

Rosamund Pike, Benn Affleck...in happier times

Rosamund Pike, Benn Affleck…in happier times

“GONE GIRL” My rating: A- (Opening wide on Oct. 3)

minutes | MPAA rating: R

The Affleck smirk — the way Ben Affleck, without even trying, looks like a high school halfback who has just initiated one of the new cheerleaders beneath the bleachers — is put to spectacular use in “Gone Girl.”

In David Fincher’s first-rate adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s dark suspense novel, Affleck plays a  handsome husband suspected of killing his beautiful wife, who has inexplicably gone missing. Here’s a poor jerk who — despite his best efforts to appear sympathetic in front of the cops, the cameras and the court of public opinion — can’t help coming off as insincere and smug.

Damn that Affleck smirk!

TO READ THE REST OF THIS REVIEW, VISIT THE KANSAS CITY STAR WEBSITE AT http://bit.ly/1uEWHj4

Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon...eating their way through Italy

Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon…eating their way through Italy

“THE TRIP TO ITALY”  My rating: B (Opening on Aug. 29 at the Glenwood Arts and Tivoli)

108 minutes | No MPAA rating

Fans of the 2010 buddy  film “The Trip” will feel right at home with the sequel. There are no surprises here.

Once again we have Brit comic actors Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan portraying slightly fictionalized versions of themselves on a cross-country trek, this time through glorious Italy.

Once again they spend much of their time eating scrumptious food and engaging in chatter that looks suspiciously like the conversational version of hand-to-hand combat. When these two egomaniacs square off, it’s a virtual comedy competition.

Early on, Coogan warns Brydon that he will tolerate no celebrity imitations this time around. This pronouncement may momentarily dampen our enthusiasm (watching the two trying to upstage each other by mimicking Michael Caine was one of the first film’s great wonders), but it soon becomes apparent that Coogan’s dictate has no teeth.

Because for the next 90 minutes we see the two of them (mostly Brydon this time) comically conversing in the voices of Caine, Clint Eastwood, Sean Connery, Richard Burton, Christian Bale, Anthony Hopkins, Al Pacino, Woody Allen, Hugh Grant, Dustin Hoffman, Truman Capote, Gore Vidal and Humphrey Bogart.

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** and Jon Favreau in  "Chef"

Emjay Anthony and Jon Favreau in “Chef”

“CHEF” My rating: B (Opening wide on May 22)

115 minutes | MPAA rating: R

The title character of “Chef” works in a hugely lucrative but artistically stifling high-end L.A. restaurant. He has a meltdown and goes off looking to regain his muse of cooking.

Interestingly enough, “Chef “ was written, directed by, and stars Jon Favreau, who first burst onto the scene as an indie auteur (“Swingers,” “Made”) before finding mucho money and Tinseltown clout cranking out superhero movies for the Marvel folk (“Iron Man”).

“Chef” can be seen as Favreau’s return to down-home cooking/filmmaking. Despite its impressively deep cast, it’s a relatively simple, modestly budgeted affair, less a banquet than a delicate palate cleanser.

Nothing earthshaking happens here. No deep emotions are plumbed or existential dilemmas explored.

But if  the film is superficial, it is often slyly funny, has a real handle on the restaurant biz and its denizens, genuinely likes its characters, and tries to look on the sunny side. In short,  a pleasant couple of hours at the movies.

Carl Casper (Favreau) is top chef at one of Hollywood’s most in-demand eateries. But he’s hit a creative dead end. The joint’s owner (Dustin Hoffman) doesn’t want to tinker with success and consistently nixes Carl’s attempts at an edgier menu.

When a powerful food blogger (Oliver Platt) pans the place as old hat and unimaginative, Carl has a very public meltdown that is recorded by dozens of customers, making him an Internet sensation.  But while being the raving chef raises Carl’s profile, it gets him fired and makes him unemployable.

He’s got no choice but to start over. Continue Reading »

Ralph Fiennes in Wes Anderson's "The Grand Budapest Hotel"

Ralph Fiennes in Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

“THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL”  My rating: B (Opens wide on March 21)

100 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is a whopper of a shaggy dog story – or more accurately, it’s a series of shaggy dog stories that fit neatly inside one another like one of those painted Russian dolls.

The film’s yarn-within-a-yarn structure and a delightfully nutty perf from leading man Ralph Fiennes are the main attractions here. I had hoped that “Grand Budapest…” would scale the same emotional heights as Anderson’s last effort, the captivating “Moonrise Kingdom.”

It doesn’t. But there’s still plenty to relish here.

Describing the film requires a flow chart. But here goes:

In the present in a former Eastern Bloc country, a young woman visits the grave of a dead author and begins reading his book The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Suddenly we’re face to face with the writer (Tom Wilkinson), who is sitting at the desk in his study. After a few introductory comments and a brusque cuffing of a small boy who is proving a distraction, the author begins telling us the plot of his novel.

Now we’re in the 1990s in the formerly sumptuous but now dog-eared Grand Budapest hotel in the Eastern European alps. Staying there is a Young Writer (Jude Law) who befriends the mysterious Mr. Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham). An aged empresario who owns several of Europe’s most luxurious hotels, Moustafa keeps the Grand Budapest running for nostalgic reasons.

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