Feeds:
Posts
Comments
Reese Witherspoon

Reese Witherspoon

“WILD” My rating: B+ (Opens wide on Dec. 19)

115 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Man-against-nature stories are fairly common. Women-against-nature…well, that’s a rarer breed.

In “Wild” a perfectly unglamorous Reese Witherspoon plays real-life writer Cheryl Strayed, who some years ago hiked more than 1000 miles along the Pacific Crest Trail, which begins at the Mexican border and ends in Canada.

Strayed‘s story, as recorded in her 2012 memoir Wild, was both an escape from a tormented past (a failed marriage and drug addiction, for starters) and a long trek toward self discovery.

That journey, and the agonizing personal history that got it all started, have been effectively realized by Witherspoon (another Oscar nomination seems inevitable) and director Jean-Marc Vallee, who guided Matthew McConaughey to a best actor Oscar in “The Dallas Buyers’ Club.”

That earlier film was a middling movie elevated by a terrific lead performance. “Wild” raises the bar considerably — not only is Witherspoon superb (for much of the movie it’s just her and the scenery), but the storytelling technique proffered by Valee and screenwriter Nick Hornby (“High Fidelity,” “About a Boy,” “An Education”) almost perfectly captures the key elements of Strayed‘s tale through visual and aural poetry rather than conventional narration.

The film begins with Strayed, a tenderfoot in both the literal and figurative sense, setting out on the trail maintained by the National Park Service.

She has crammed her backpack with so much equipment that she moves like Atlas straining to lift the entire Earth.  The damn thing is so heavy it constantly threatens to flip her onto her back and leave her clawing the air like a helpless turtle.

Her new hiking boots are too tight, resulting in blood and blisters. Initially she’s lucky to cover five miles a day. She has never pitched a tent before, or tried to cook on a propane camp stove. She’s not sure how to deal with the rattlesnake in her path or the coyotes that howl all night.

But she’ll learn, just as she’ll learn to deal with heat and snow and physical exhaustion.

Continue Reading »

Martin Freeman as Bilbo (left), and Richards Armitage as Thorin (right)

Martin Freeman as Bilbo (left), and Richards Armitage as Thorin (right)

“THE HOBBIT: BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES” My rating: C (Opens wide on Dec. 17)

144 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

I am so over Peter Jackson’s Tolkein obsession.

It’s not that “The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies” is incompetent filmmaking. Rather, it’s empty filmmaking.

It’s got plenty of spectacle — beginning with a dragon and ending with an hour of uninterrupted combat — but it seems not to be inhabited. The characters are paper thin, and even those with whom we’ve developed some an affinity aren’t on the screen enough for genuine emotions to emerge.

Maybe this is what comes of taking a simple children’s adventure and ballooning it into a 9-hour trilogy.

Perhaps Jackson long ago emptied his quiver of tricks and is now reduced to repeating himself.

And the stuff that once wowed us — the CG that made the original Ring Trilogy such a technological marvel — now seems rather old hat.  So many of the effects on display here look patently artificial rather than real.

For hardcore fans, of course, none of this matters.  Having invested at least 15 hours in the first five Tolkein-inspired films, they’re not about to bail on the big conclusion. They’d probably stick around to watch Bilbo read from the White Pages.

Basically “Battle of the Five Armies” can be broken down into three segments.

Continue Reading »

Noah Wiseman, Essie Davis

Noah Wiseman, Essie Davis

“THE BABADOOK”  My rating: B+ (Now showing at the Screenland Armour)

93 minutes | No MPAA rating

The Australian-made “The Babadook” so seamlessly merges the supernatural with the psychological that it’s impossible to say if what we see on the screen is really happening or if it’s unfolding in its tortured heroine’s head.

Either way, writer/director Jennifer Kent has given us an unnerving experience, marked by two superlative performances that grab us by the throat and won’t let go.

Amelia (Essie Davis) is a widow raising her seven-year-old son Sam (Noah Wiseman).  Like a lot of single moms, she’s struggling — financially, emotionally, sexually.

But Amelia has a special cross to bear, for Sam is, well, different. The kid is cute and bright and is working on a magic act.  But he’s also a handful, a tyke who so fears monsters under his bed that he has fashioned his own dart-shooting crossbow and a shoulder-mounted catapult to hold them at bay.

That’s only the beginning of Sam’s behavioral problems. He rarely sleeps through a night, usually waking Amelia to search his room for supernatural invaders (she is majorly sleep deprived). During waking hours Sam demands his mother’s undivided attention and he’ll throw a grand mal temper tantrum when he doesn’t get it.

Continue Reading »

Chris Rock in "Top Five"

Chris Rock in “Top Five”

“TOP FIVE” My rating: B  (Opening wide on Dec. 12)

101 minutes | MPAA rating:R

Chris Rock long ago conquered the comedy concert stage and then put his mark on the TV sitcom with his semi-autobiographical “Everybody Hates Chris.”
But he had little luck on the movie screen, his most artistically successful effort being the 2009 doc “Good Hair.”
“Top Five” changes everything. Written and directed by Rock, this meta-saturated comedy/drama may be the biggest surprise of this holiday film season.
Yes, it’s funny, packed with in-your-face dialogue and snarky observations about celebrity and show business. It is frequently off-the-charts rude. It has broad audience appeal.
But it’s also achingly romantic. It’s not an art film, but an art film fan will find plenty to chew on.
Andre Allen (Rock) has abandoned a huge standup career and a series of hit action/comedies — he played a cop in a bear costume — to pursue his vision as a serious artist. (This movie would make a great double feature with “Birdman,” in which an action star played by Michael Keaton is on the same quest.)
Andre is in New York to promote his new film, “Uprize,” an aggressively unfunny (or at least not intentionally funny) historical epic about the bloody Haitian slave revolt of the 1790s. He’s also scheduled to attend his bachelor party, an event being videotaped for the Bravo reality show starring his [ glamour-puss fiancee, Erica (Gabrielle Union).
Things aren’t going well. Nobody likes “Uprize,” and increasingly Andre feels like an unpaid extra in Erica’s Bridezilla-ish publicity stunt. (Think the first Kim Kardashian nuptials; “Top Five” even lists her current husband, rapper Kanye West, as one of its executive producers.)
And to put the frosting on this ugly cake, Andre’s handlers have set him up to spend the day with Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson), a New York Times reporter profiling  the floundering star. Given that one of the Times’ critics regularly savages his movies, it’s little wonder that Andre isn’t looking forward to submitting to a journalistic evisceration.

TO READ THE REST OF THIS REVIEW VISIT THE KANSAS CITY STAR WEB SITE AT  http://www.kansascity.com/entertainment/movies-news-reviews/article4407647.html

Joel Edgerton and Christian Bale as Rhamses and Moses

Joel Edgerton and Christian Bale as Ramses and Moses

“EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS” My rating: C (Opening wide on Dec. 12)

150 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Ridley Scott’s “Exodus: Gods and Kings” runs for almost 2 1/2 hours — and that still isn’t enough time for it to figure out why it’s here or what it wants to say.

It’s based, of course, on the Old Testament story of the exodus of the captive Hebrews from Egypt, but the filmmakers are obviously ambivalent over matters of faith. Heck, they explain away the story’s supernatural elements as the result of a bump to Moses’ noggin.

This is the second monster-budget biblical epic of the year (it follows Darren Aronofsky’s over-produced and over-thought “Noah”). If Hollywood doesn’t believe, why does it bother?

In a word: spectacle. Scott and his visual wizards pull out the stops to create the thriving Egyptian capital of Memphis, the parting and unparting of the Red Sea, a slam-bang  battle with an invading army.

But on a spiritual and dramatic level “Exodus” is a creaky affair.

Most of us are familiar with Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 “The Ten Commandments,” an alternately silly and awe-inspiring affair. DeMille may have had the dramatic instincts of a snake oil salesman, but he was a fierce believer in his own showmanship, and if you can ignore the absurd emoting, his epic remains ridiculously entertaining.

Scott, on the other hand, delivers a film that is, well, grumpy. For all the f/x wizardly, there’s not much joy or discovery to be had. “Exodus” feels like a paint-by-numbers job assembled by an indifferent committee.

TO READ THE REST OF THIS REVIEW VISIT THE KANSAS CITY STAR WEB SITE AT http://www.kansascity.com/entertainment/movies-news-reviews/article4407196.html

 

 

Matthew Vandyke and freedom fighting colleagues

Matthew Vandyke and freedom fighting colleagues

“POINT AND SHOOT” My rating: B (Opens Dec. 12 at the Leawood)

83 minutes | No MPAA rating

When we first see Matthew VanDyke, the subject of the riveting and perplexing documentary “Point and Shoot,” he’s dressed like a ninja and addressing his video camera as he describes where on his body he can hide knives.  The guy looks like a laid-back hippie, but he wants us to be aware that he knows his way around deadly weapons.

VanDyke is tall, thin, and good looking…but there’s a whiff of asshole-ism in the air.  What kind of dweeb makes videos of himself brandishing weapons?

Marshall Curry’s doc — a collaboration with VanDyke — immerses us in an impressive true-life story.  VanDyke grew up a loner in Baltimore, tormented by obsessive compulsive disorder (he’s always having to jump up to wash his hands and cannot abide being near sugar). He immersed himself in violent video games, make-your-own-adventure books and action movies. VanDyke  was one of those guys who took Schwarzenegger and Van Damme seriously.

A MENSA brainiac, he studied the Middle East at the University of Maryland, graduating summa cum laude, and went on to graduate work at Georgetown U.’s Walsh School of Foreign Service.

Continue Reading »


girl-walks-home-alone“A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT” My rating: B+
(Opens Dec. 12 at the Tivoli)

99 minutes | No MPAA rating

How the hell did this movie ever get made in Iran?

That’s what I found myself asking about 10 minutes into the evocative, eerie, totally mesmerizing “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night,” a vampire movie unlike any we’ve seen before.

As it turns out, “A Girl Walks Home…” wasn’t made in Iran. Oh, it’s in Farsi (the language of Iran) and the cars bear Iranian license plates and the principal players were born in Iran.  Plus, the lead character wears a chador, the long cape-like garment that is more or less required of women in female-phobic Iran.

But Ana Lily Amirpour’s Sundance-sponsored debut feature was actually shot near Bakersfield, CA. Which explains how it can dish nudity, drug abuse, lurid violence, and a huge shot of slow-simmering sexuality — topics the Iranian morality police would never countenance.

Their loss. This is a terrific film, not so much for its narrative (which deals mostly in suggestion) as for the haunting atmosphere it evokes.

Continue Reading »

U.S. naval crews jettison helicopters to make more room for evacuees

U.S. naval crews jettison helicopters to make more room for evacuees

“LAST DAYS IN VIETNAM” My rating: B (Opens Dec. 12 at the Tivoli)

98 minutes | No MPAA rating

Rory Kennedy’s “Last Days in Vietnam” is a riveting and rather depressing bit of history.

For the last 40 or so years Americans have avoided taking too close a look at Vietnam, the first military conflict in our history in which the U.S.A. did not emerge victorious.  Kennedy’s documentary brings to life the final closing chapter of that sad story, and even among the chaos and defeat finds moments of extreme heroism.

The 1973 Paris Accord was supposed to have ended the war in Vietnam, allowing American troops to withdraw as part of Richard Nixon’s “peace with honor” pledge to the nation. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger envisioned a situation not unlike that in Korea, with a Communist Vietnam in the north and a democratic government in the south, each staying to their side of a demilitarized zone.

The peace held, we learn, because the Communists were terrified that Nixon was looking for a provocation to go Medieval on the North — heavy bombing raids or perhaps even the nuclear option.

But when Nixon resigned in 1974, a victim of the Watergate affair, leaders in North Vietnam saw their chance.  They launched a new invasion of the South.

President Gerald Ford asked Congress to authorize millions to shore up the South Vietnamese military.  But after more than a decade of a hugely unpopular war, members of Congress weren’t about to throw more money into the maw.

As the Communist troops advanced southward,  Americans still in Vietnam had to face the likelihood that there would be mass executions of locals who had worked for or with the United States. It was, says one former CIA operative, a “terrible moral dilemma…Who goes? Who stays?”

The first priority was the nearly 7,000 Americans still in the country, many of them with Vietnamese wives and children.  Then there were the United States’ allies and collaborators — nearly a half million of them when you include their families.

Continue Reading »


Brown_Pelican_at_Ponce_Inlet_-_Flickr_-_Andrea_Westmoreland
“PELICAN DREAMS” My rating: C+
 (Opening Dec. 5 at the Tivoli)

80 minutes | No MPAA rating 

Filmmaker Judy Irving loves our feathered friends, as was evidenced by her excellent 2003 documentary “The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill,” about a flock of invasive birds who over decades have become a San Francisco tourist attraction.

Since childhood she has had a particular affection for pelicans, which she calls “flying dinosaurs.”

Her documentary “Pelican Dreams” starts with cell-phone footage of an injured/lost pelican that has stopped traffic on the bustling Golden Gate Bridge.  The animal is captured by a taxi driver who throws a blanket over it and drives it to an avian recovery facility.  Irving followed and was inspired enough by what she saw to devote an entire film to the California brown pelican.

It’s a somewhat ramshackle affair, a bit of loose, personal filmmaking that reminds me a bit of the gee-wiz enthusiasm of Bruce Brown’s surfing docs (“Endless Summer”).

Irving takes us to the Channel Islands 40 miles off the coast, where brown pelicans breed and nest. She’s captured some wonderful footage — while mating the birds’ throat sacs turn bright red and their eyes, usually brown, somehow become a haunting blue. She gets footage of the baby pelicans, who have an extremely high morality rate.  She captures their first flights, and the coaching by older birds that shows them how to dive bomb into the surf in search of fish.

Continue Reading »

Tommy Lee Jones, Hilary Swank

Tommy Lee Jones, Hilary Swank

“THE HOMESMAN” My rating: B+ (Opens Nov. 5 at the  **)

122 minutes | MPAA rating: R

At age 68, Tommy Lee Jones is not going gently.

His recent selection of film roles — “No Country for Old Men,” “The Company Men,” “In the Valley of Elah” — have found him facing the dark side of human nature (not to mention the darkness at the end of the line) with varying degrees of resistance and resignation.

His choices as an auteur are even bleaker.  He made his directing debut in 2005 with the angry, violent “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada,” playing an American rancher transporting his friend’s body to Mexico for burial.

With his sophomore effort, “The Homesman,” Jones gives us a revisionist Western that defies expectations at every turn.

It’s a genuine art film in the vein of Aussie productions like “The Proposition.” Moreover, “The Homesman” embraces a world view as bleak as anything in Cormack McCarthy.

Hilary Swank is Mary Bee Cuddy, a single woman operating her own small farm in the Nebraska Territory of the 1850s.  In the opening scene she proposes marriage to her closest neighbor, a fellow eight or nine years her junior. For her effort Mary Bee is rejected as “homely and bossy.”  Well, she is definitely both.  But she is also, as she says, “uncommonly alone.”

The plot of “The Homesman” is kicked into gear by three local women (Miranda Otto, Grace Gummer, Sonja Richter) who all have gone mad during a miserable Nebraska winter.

TO READ THE REST OF THIS REVIEW VISIT THE KANSAS CITY STAR WEB SITE AT  http://www.kansascity.com/entertainment/movies-news-reviews/article4263634.html

Penguins-of-Madagascar-Official-Trailer-2“PENGUINS OF MADAGASCAR” My rating: B (Opening wide on Nov. 27)

92 minutes | MPAA rating: PG

Some of the best moments in the three “Madagascar” films were delivered not by the stars — a lion and his zoo buddies — but by four peripheral figures.
We’re talking about the penguins, a bunch of madcap Marxists (of the Groucho variety) who have somehow gotten it into their fuzzy little heads that they are an elite military unit. Despite their overall incompetence, at a crucial moment these diminutive black-and-white commandos always come up with an outlandish plan to save the day.
The penguins have enjoyed their own animated TV series, and in DreamWorks’ “Penguins of Madagascar” they seize the big screen. If you’ve managed to overlook them so far, well, they’re kinda great.
Part of it is their distinct personalities, even though they look pretty much alike. The leader Skipper (voiced by Tom McGrath, who created the characters) is a distillation of every movie drill sergeant ever.  He spits out rapid-fire orders (Skipper’s mouth moves much faster than his brain) but has a soft spot for his “men.”
Kowalksi (Chris Miller) is the idea man, expected to come up with an appropriate plan for any contingency. Rico (Conrad Vernon) has a voracious appetite: He’ll gulp down just about anything, only to regurgitate those items days later when they are needed.
Finally there’s Private (Christopher Knights), the new kid, still finding his way and fawned over by the others.
TO READ THE REST OF THIS REVIEW VISIT THE KANSAS CITY STAR WEB SITE AT http://www.kansascity.com/entertainment/movies-news-reviews/article4124867.html
Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones as Stephen and Jane Hawking

Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones as Stephen and Jane Hawking

“THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING” My rating: B (Opens wide on Nov. 26)

123 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Even if you’re familiar with the life and work of Stephen Hawking, there’s something humbling about seeing it depicted in a film.

One of the world’s greatest minds trapped in a body that refuses to cooperate.  A woman who cares for his every physical and emotional need and bears his children…at least until she cannot any more.

Time. Space. Infinity.

The first thing that should be said about “The Theory of Everything” is that it isn’t actually about Hawking’s cosmological theories of black holes and other scientific conundrums — though they are of  course mentioned in passing.  It is based on Jane Hawking’s memoir (most recently updated in 2013) and is more a relationship film than anything else.

Fine. We’d rather watch a people story than an illustrated physics lecture. And “Theory” provides the platform for two terrific performances from Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, who must be considered on the short list for this year’s Oscar nominations.

Continue Reading »

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.

 

Continue Reading »

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 takes for one of you faggots to play in time.”

Continue Reading »

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.

Continue Reading »

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.

Continue Reading »

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
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.

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.

Continue Reading »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 809 other followers