Jake Gyllenhaal in "Southpaw"

Jake Gyllenhaal in “Southpaw”

“SOUTHPAW”  My rating: B- (Opening wide on July 22)

123 minutes  | MPAA rating: R

Terrific acting and fight film cliches battle to a split decision in Antoine Fuqua’s “Southpaw,” yet further proof both of Jake Gyllenhaal’s awesome range and of the odds against making a truly original boxing picture.

Gyllenhaal is mesmerizing as Billy Hope, who turned a tormented childhood on the streets into a lucrative career as the light heavyweight champion of the world.

Billy is not a subtle fighter. Fueled by anger, he absorbs punch after punch until his opponent is worn out, then murders the bum. This strategy usually leaves him with a championship belt and a face like a raw Big Mac.

In contrast to his rage in the ring, Billy’s home life is actually kind of normal.  Yeah, he lives in a gated multimilliion-dollar compound outside NYC, but his relations with his wife Maureen (Rachel McAdams), whom he has

been with since his days in juvie, and their daughter Leila (Oona Laurence) are practically blissful.

Jake Gyllenhaal, Rachel McAdams

Jake Gyllenhaal, Rachel McAdams

But happy homes don’t make for dramatic movies. The screenplay by Kurt Sutter (creator of cable’s “Sons of Anarchy”) relies on over-the-top melodrama to remove McAdam’s Maureen from the scene, setting Billy on a downward spiral that will see him lose his boxing license, his title, his wealth and his mind.

Worse of all, he loses Leila to the child welfare folks.

Mostly “Southpaw” is about how — having been reduced to a lowly and primitive state –Billy slowly comes back. His Yoda in all this is Tick (Forest Whitaker), who used to train big-time boxers but now operates a rundown gym catering to at-risk kids.

Under Tick’s tutelage Billy learns to control his anger, employ defensive tactics (apparently for the first time), and develop the patience necessary both to win in the ring and earn the trust of a dubious family court judge.

TO READ THE REST OF THIS REVIEW VISIT THE KANSAS CITY STAR WEBSITE AT http://www.kansascity.com/entertainment/movies-news-reviews/article28433089.html

tribe-from-the-alpha-violet-catalog“THE TRIBE” My rating: B (Opens July 24 at the Alamo Drafthouse)

132 minutes | No MPAA rating

“The Tribe” is a foreign language film, but not in the way we’re accustomed to.

Set in a rundown school for the deaf in Kiev, Ukraine, this feature from writer/director Miraslov Slaboshpitsky offers not a word of spoken dialogue. The cast members — all deaf — converse in sign language. There are no subtitles.

Which means that viewers had best pay close attention to what happens on the screen. You can’t let your eye wander and expect the soundtrack to fill in the blanks.

“The Tribe” blends the boarding school movie — in which a new kid struggles to fit in — with a crime drama. Perhaps more important, it gives us entry to an insular environment in which young people band together to deal with a hostile outside world that they view with anger and contempt.

We witness all this through the eyes of the new kid (Gregory Fisenko). We don’t know his back story, where he came from or why at this relatively late stage of his education he finds himself in this particular institution. Perhaps he grew up in a rural area and now requires intensive study and immersion in deaf culture before entering adult life.

What he gets mostly is an immersion in crime.

Apparently lacking adult supervision except in the classroom, the students  run their own dormitories and have built a small criminal empire.  Attractive girls are driven out to a truck stop to earn cash from prostitution. Groups of deaf kids mug and beat pedestrians — especially if the victims have just paid a visit to a liquor store. There’s a suitcase filled with plump plastic bags — evidently drugs of some sort.

The new kid observes these goings on, endures a couple of beatings as a sort of initiation, and is gradually admitted to the criminal ranks. He seems to have no moral compass — indeed, none of the students do — and quickly adapts.

But he makes the mistake of falling for one of the coed hookers (Yana Novikova). For the cynical girl he’s just another trick, but for the new kid — delirious after his first sexual encounter — it’s much more. Now he’s willing to betray his confederates to ensure that he and his dream girl have a future together.

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** as the transsexual Sin-Dee

Kitana Kiki Rodriguez as the transgender Sin-Dee


“TANGERINE” My rating: B+(Opens July 17 at the Tivoli)

88 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Caitlyn Jenner may have opened up a nationwide dialogue about the transgender experience, but it’s still business as usual for the shemales peddling their wares on L.A.’s mean streets.

Sin-Dee (a screen-dominating Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) has spent most of December in county lockup. Freed on Christmas Eve, the transgender prostitute immediately hits her old haunts looking for Hector, her boyfriend/pimp/drug pusher.

But word on the street is that Hector has spent the last month carousing with the new blonde in his life. To add insult to injury, this interloper is alleged to be a natural-born woman. “Like, vagina and all…”

This will not stand with Sin-Dee, who possesses the armor-plated ego of a Sherman tank.  Practically shooting off sparks and a trail of smoke, she sets off on an all-day quest to find and reclaim her man.

“Tangerine” could have been played as tragedy.  But instead of pithy social commentary, writer/director Sean Baker dishes laughs.

The result is a rollicking comedy about chicks with dicks. The characters who inhabit this underworld are totally unapologetic about who they are and how they earn a meager living. Spending 88 minutes with them is more eye-opening and informative than a score of earnest documentaries.

Sin-Dee’s companion on this  sexually-charged hunt is Alexandra (Maya Taylor), who was never a big Hector fan but sticks by her friend out of loyalty.  Also, hitting every dive on the strip gives Alexandra an opportunity to pass out invites for her big stage debut that night at a local club. She sees herself as an up-and-coming chanteuse.


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Ian McKellen as Sherlock Holmes

Ian McKellen as Sherlock Holmes

“MR. HOLMES” My raing: B- (Opens July 17)

  104 minutes | MPAA rating: PG


Sherlock Holmes is one of fiction’s most enduring characters because of his fascinating idiosyncracies.  But smooth down those oddball edges and what’s left?

A bit of a bore, actually.

Less mystery than meditation, “Mr. Holmes” gives us Conan Doyle’s great detective in his dotage, retired for 35 years and living in solitude in a farmhouse on the Dover coast.

As envisioned by director Bill Condon, screenwriter Mitch Cullin (adapting his novel A Slight Trick of the Mind) and the great actor Ian McKellen, this is not the Holmes of the popular stories penned by his colleague Dr. Watson.

Indeed, Holmes has little regard for Watson’s fictions, which he dismisses as “absolute rubbish… penny dreadfuls with elevated prose.” This Holmes — aged 83 — maintains that he never wore a deerstalker hat — “an embellishment of the illustrator” — and was a cigar man, not a pipe puffer.

The fictional Holmes and the real man do have a couple of things in common. Both are deductive geniuses. And neither has any use for emotion, which only clouds the rational mind.  Facts may be strike us as pleasant or not, but at least they are neutral; cruelty and betrayal, on the other hand, are exclusively the result of human interaction.

But now Holmes’ life of the mind is failing him.  His memory is going. He may spend minutes staring aimlessly into space.

He’s tended to by his housekeeper (Laura Linney), a war widow — the year is 1947 — and her young son Roger (Milo Parker). As the film begins Holmes views these two as irritants.  Slowly, though, he and the boy hit it off, mostly over their shared enthusiasm for beekeeping.

The mother’s frustration that now she’s losing her boy to the old man isn’t eased by Holmes’ thoughtless observation that “Exceptional children are often the result of unremarkable parents.”

“Mr. Holmes” is about a case, but not a new one. Rather the film is filled with flashbacks to 1910 when Holmes was hired by a husband worried that his wife (Hattie Morahan) — distraught after repeated miscarriages — was maintaining a secret life. The erudite Holmes sleuthed out the facts of the matter but shrugged off the wife’s emotional advances, leading to consequences so disastrous he ended his career.

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Amy Schumer, Bill Hader...terrified by romance

Amy Schumer, Bill Hader…terrified by romance

“TRAINWRECK”  My rating: B- (Opening wide on July 17)

125 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Amy Schumer, the hottest thing in comedy right now, makes a largely effortless transition to the big screen in “Trainwreck,” a dirty-minded laughfest with a warm fuzzy heart.

In addition to starring with Bill Hader, Schumer also wrote the screenplay.  Judd Apatow directs, and is usually the case with his efforts (“This Is 40”, “Funny People”), the results often are scattered and overlong.

But the mere presence of Schumer onscreen and the pervasiveness of her uniquely biting-bitter-bawdy comic sensibility makes “Trainwreck” a keeper.  It’s more like a collection of sketches than a narrative whole, but when you’re laughing this hard it’s hard to complain.

Things get off to a wonderfully sarcastic start with an opening scene from the childhood of Schumer’s character, Amy.  Amy and her little sister Kim are being told by their philandering father that the family is breaking up.  Dad (Colin Quinn) is a glorious sleazebag who asks his little girls how they’d feel if they were told they could only play with one doll for the rest of their lives.

“They’re making new dolls every year,” reasons their reprobate father.

The moral of this father-daughter meeting: Monogamy is unnatural.

And that’s a philosophy the grown-up Amy embraces. She chugs drinks and puffs pot. She’s a bit of a slut.  She sends her boy toys home after sex — no all-night cuddles.

She works for a scuzzy/hip men’s magazine.  Amy’s editor (a nearly unrecognizable Tilda Swinton) is a vampirish Brit beauty whose indifference to everyone save herself is breathtaking — and that attitude is reflected on the publication’s pages: “You’re Not Gay — She’s Boring.”  “A Guide to Masturbating at Work.”

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Amy Winehouse...in better times

Amy Winehouse…in better times

“AMY” My rating: B+ 

128 minutes | MPAA rating: R

The documentary “Amy” spends its first hour making the case that the late Amy Winehouse was one of the great singer-songwriters of the new millennium, a British Jewish girl who channeled the smoky/slurred vocals of Sarah Vaughan and Billie Holiday and wrote searingly revelatory yet weirdly beautiful tunes.

Then Asif Kapadia’s film spends a second hour chronicling Winehouse’s rapid unraveling, her battles with substance abuse, and her 2011 death at age 27 0f alcohol poisoning.

The effect is heartbreaking.

Kapadia’s documentary is constructed exclusively of archival footage.  There are the usual TV broadcasts, concert footage, photos and news video (once she became famous and her shenanigans newsworthy, Winehouse was ruthlessly stalked by the paparazzi).

But what makes “Amy” so intimate and ultimately revelatory is the huge quantity of private videos — most shot on smart phones in private circumstances — that chronicle her transition from fresh-faced 15-year-old to up-and-coming musician to hunted, haunted cultural icon.

Dozens of Winehouse’s friends, co-workers and family members contribute their memories and thoughts, but there are no talking-head interviews.  Rather, these comments play under the compelling visuals. Continue Reading »

Stuart, Scarlet Overkill, Kevin and Bob

Stuart, Scarlett Overkill, Kevin and Bob

“MINIONS”  My rating: C+  

91 minutes | MPAA rating: PG

It is the perennial dream of second bananas to become the star of the show.

Sometimes they’re better off as second bananas.

That’s the case with “Minions,” the new spinoff from the wildly successful “Despicable Me” animated franchise.

In the “Despicable” features the Minions are the banana-yellow, fireplug-shaped workforce of the evil mastermind Gru voiced by Steve Carell.  Outfitted with huge safety goggles and tiny overalls, they cheerfully  do their master’s bidding while babbling in a hilarious helium-voiced language.

Though loyal to their evil boss, the Minions are morally neutral.  More important, they’re inept, which means their efforts hinder as much as help the big guy’s agenda.

“Minions” follows the template set last fall by “Penguins of Madagascar,” elevating one movie’s sidekicks to leading men in their own stand-alone story. But where “Penguins” gave us chatty waddling birds with very specific personalities, the various “Minions” are pretty much interchangeable.

Equally frustrating, by eliminating the Carell role, co-directors Kyle Balda and Pierre Coffin and writer Brian Lynch give their sawed-off protagonists no worthy character to play off of.

“Minions” begins in prehistory, showing how the creatures evolved over the eons. According to Geoffrey Rush’s narration, the Minions always sought an evil boss to work for, be it a tyrannosaurus rex or an Egyptian pharaoh. Invariably they bring their leader to ruin and must seek out a new benefactor.

After living for centuries in a polar ice cave, three minions — Kevin, Stuart and Bob — strike out on a quest to find a new boss. They wind up in NYC circa 1968, an era of protest, long hair and bell bottoms (not to mention the sounds of The Who, The Doors, The Kinks, The Stones and other classic rock acts that pepper the soundtrack).

TO READ THE REST OF THIS REVIEW VISIT THE KANSAS CITY STAR WEBSITE AT http://www.kansascity.com/entertainment/movies-news-reviews/article26763832.html

wolfpack-1024“THE WOLFPACK” My rating: B-

 80 minutes  | MPAA rating: R

“The Wolfpack” looks at six brothers who grew up as virtual prisoners of their father in NYC high-rise public housing. They learned about the outside world mostly from voraciously consuming movies on VHS and DVD.

Theirs is a once-in-a-lifetime story that deserves — demands — a brilliant documentary filmmaker to do it justice.

Well, director Crystal Moselle isn’t brilliant. Given all the gaping holes in her film, one hesitates to rate her higher than just competent.

Moselle discovered the six Angulo brothers — all of them tall, thin, with waist-length hair and dressed in black suits and ties like characters from “Reservoir Dogs” (one of their favorite films) — on the streets of the Lower East Side near their home.

Only a few weeks before the oldest son, Bhagavan, had defied his father by leaving the apartment on his own to experience life at ground level.  Now Bhagavan was leading his five awestruck brothers on a tour of their neighborhood.

Moselle, an aspiring filmmaker, was absorbed by this spectacle, got to know the boys, and was the first outsider invited into their home.  Over years she filmed their activities in and out of the cramped apartment.

One problem with “The Wolfpack” is that this backstory isn’t even mentioned in the film.  You’ll have to learn about it from other sources (the ABC show “20/20” recently did a major story on the Angulos that plugs lots of narrative holes).

The sticking point here is the strict cinema verite style Moselle employs.  No narration. No formal interviews. No graphics.  Not even onscreen titles that would identify the boys by name (they look so alike it’s hard to tell them apart).

In dribs and drabs we learn that the boys’ father, Oscar — a Peruvian who at one time gave tours of Inca landmarks — decided years ago to shield his brood from the sins of the world. Believing himself a mystic, Oscar gave his children Sanskrit names (Makunda, Govinda, Jagadosa) and kept their apartment door locked. He held the only key.

His American wife, the former hippie Suzanne, went along with this despite misgivings. She got a teaching license so as to home school the children (there’s a seventh child, a girl, who appears to have developmental issues).

And so — with the exception of perhaps a handful of excursions each year — the boys grew up in isolation.

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Blythe Danner

Blythe Danner


92 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

There’s no other way to put this…at age 72 Blythe Danner seems more beautiful, more luminous, and more talented than at any time in her life.

And “I’ll See You in My Dreams” is an ideal vehicle both for this terrific actress and for exploring issues of age.

Death is never far off in director Brett Haley’s dramedy (co-written with Marc Basch).  In the first scene septugenarian Carol Peterson (Danner) must put down her canine companion of 12 years. While the pooch was around she could always rely on its undivided devotion, but now this widow of 20 years is starting to feet mortality’s tug.

Oh, Carol has what looks like a fairly full life.  Money’s not a problem. She’s got a group of gal pals (Rhea Perlman, June Squibb, Mary Kay Place) with whom she shares bridge, golf and gossip (one of the film’s strong suits is its dialogue, which sounds like real people jabbing rather than the usual moviespeak).  Her friends would like Carol to move into the retirement community where they all live, but she relishes the independence — and perhaps the solitude — of the home she shared with her husband.

“I don’t likely life all complicated,” she says. Funny how complications seem to find her.

Despite her misgivings, Carol senses that she’s in a retirement rut. That may be why she reluctantly allows herself to be talked into a round of geriatric speed dating, a hilarious/appalling experience that only convinces her that solitude is preferable to the the male pickings after 65.


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Olivia Cook,  and

Olivia Cooke, Thomas Mann and R.J. Cyler


105 minutes  | MPAA rating: PG-13

The dying teen film — last year’s “The Fault in Our Stars” being a prime example — typically wrings romance from the weepy nexus of young love and early death.

The Sundance hit “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” takes a different approach, eschewing tearful swooning and emphasizing a snarky (almost too snarky) humor.

Oh, it’ll still have you groping for a tissue in the last reel, but it’s much more devious than its filmic brethren about getting us there.

The protagonist and narrator of director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s debut feature is Greg (Thomas Mann), a high school senior who like many a smart dweeb before him employs post-modern irony to shield himself from adolescence’s slings and arrows.

Greg oozes weary contempt for the inanities of both teen and adult society (the latter represented by his touchy/feely parents played by Connie Britton and Nick Offerman). He has navigated the shark-infested waters of a big-city school by becoming a human chameleon, ingratiating himself with various youthful castes. Everyone thinks he’s part of their club, but nobody really knows him.

Perhaps not even Earl (R.J. Cyler), Greg’s best friend since elementary school. They’re an odd couple — the nerdy white guy and an ultra cool black kid.

Greg and Earl are fans of art house movies — we can’t be sure if they really like highbrow films or are just determined to set themselves apart from their mass-consuming peers — and devote their spare time to making short movies parodying cinema classics.

These goofy amateur remakes have clever names (“Grumpy Cul-De-Sacs” is the boys’ take on “Mean Streets”: “MonoRash” spoofs Kurosawa’s “Rashomon”; “Senior Citizen Kane” and “My Dinner With Andre the Giant” speak for themselves) and they’re fun in a so-bad-they’re-good way. (Jesse Andrews’ screenplay, adapted from his novel, references Wes Anderson’s “Rushmore,” whose high school hero stages theatrical adaptations of his favorite films. )

Greg’s too-hip-to-be-bothered facade gets shaken up though, when his mother insists he pay a visit to Rachel (Olivia Cooke), a classmate recently diagnosed with leukemia.

Neither Greg nor Rachel have any illusions about why he shows up at her door. It’s mom-mandated community service, and since Rachel shares some of Greg’s suspicions about conventional sentimentality and socially appropriate behavior, she makes  no demands on her new friend (although Rachel’s needy single mom — Molly Shannon with endlessly replenished glass of white wine — is pathetically grateful for her daughter’s gentleman caller).

One reason Greg keeps coming back — though he’d never admit it — is that Rachel has his number.  She knows the teenage fear of putting oneself on the emotional line and drawing back a stump; she recognizes in Greg and Earl fellow committment phobes.

TO READ THE REST OF THIS REVIEW VISIT THE KANSAS CITY STAR WEBSITE AT http://www.kansascity.com/entertainment/movies-news-reviews/article25437721.html



jur ydln1orxqd4neeasuboo“JURASSIC WORLD”  My rating: C+ 

 124 minutes  | MPAA rating: PG-13

Bigger. Faster. More teeth.

That’s the corporate mantra at Jurassic World, the island theme park built on the ruins of the original Jurassic Park. This business stays on top by every few years introducing a spectacular new genetically modified attraction to keep the crowds coming.

Because with the short attention span of the average tourist, plain old dinosaurs aren’t enough.

“Bigger, faster, more teeth” is also at the heart of the movie “Jurassic World,” the fourth entry in the groundbreaking special effects series.

Back in ’93, when Steven Spielberg unveiled the original “Jurassic Park,” just 10 minutes of CG-animated dinos was enough to guarantee a blockbuster. But in tech-savvy 2015, lifelike dinosaurs are a dime a dozen.

So we all know going in that the dinosaurs are going to be convincingly great. But can the series’ stewards surround the big brutes with a story and characters that matter?

Uh … no.

Director Colin Trevorrow (maker of the low-budget time-travel film “Safety Not Guaranteed”) works with three fellow screenwriters to distract us with a surplus of dinosaurs and action. But mostly “Jurassic World” is content to rehash ideas that were worn out when “Jurassic Park III” came out in 2001.

Not even uber-likable Chris Pratt can dispel the pall of been-there-done-that.

Pratt plays Owen, a Navy veteran working with a quartet of velociraptors (those man-sized mini-tyrannosaurs) he has raised like ducklings. Owen has trained these carnivores to treat him as their alpha male. They don’t take orders, exactly, but at least they don’t have him for breakfast.

What Owen doesn’t realize is that in the massive park geneticists have been mixing DNA to create the baddest dinosaur ever, the Indominus rex. Except that their new creation is way smarter than a lizard should be and has curious skills, like the ability to conceal itself by changing color and body temperature.
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Paul Dano as the young Brian Wilson

Paul Dano as the young Brian Wilson

“LOVE & MERCY” My rating: B+ (Opening wide on June 5)

120 ninutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Several pages in The Book of Great American Lives should be reserved for the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson, whose 72 years have been packed with genius, celebrity, madness and redemption.

There’s more to the Wilson saga than could ever be wedged into just one movie, but Bill Pohlad’s “Love & Mercy” spectacularly chronicles one man’s rise-fall-rise in riveting human (and musical) terms.

Pohlad, a first-time feature director with an impressive list of producing credits (“12 Years a Slave,” “Into the Wild,” “Brokeback Mountain”) and screenwriters Oren Moverman and Michael A. Lerner have come up with a brilliant way of presenting Wilson’s story.

They’ve made two movies: one set in the 1960s starring Paul Dano as the young Brian, the other in the mid-’80s with John Cusack taking on the role. They so cannily entwine the two that just as the first, earlier story is spiraling into tragedy, the second tale, of the middle-aged Brian, is struggling toward recovery.

Let’s acknowledge up front that neither Dano nor Cusack looks much like the real Brian Wilson. Nor do they really resemble each other.

Doesn’t matter. Through some sort of cinematic alchemy, each actor nails the essence of Wilson at different stages of life. And far from triggering a disconnect, the casting of two performers in the same role enhances the story’s richness.

“Love & Mercy” opens with a montage of newsreel-like re-creations of the early Beach Boys in action — on the concert stage, posing for publicity photos on the beach (most of them were not actually surfers), playing for a “Shindig”-like TV show (go-go girls as a backdrop).

These are the heady days of innocence, fame and hit singles. We sense almost immediately, though, that the songwriter and arranger, Brian, stands apart from the group. He’s an odd duck, unnerved by live performances, crippled by panic attacks and driven to create music that he can hear in his head but must struggle to capture on tape.

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mad max fury road“MAD MAX: FURY ROAD” My rating: B

120 minutes | MPAA rating: R

There is dialogue in the new Mad Max film — mostly delivered in a nearly indecipherable variety of Aussie English — but it really isn’t necessary.

You could eliminate all the words or replace them with made-up gibberish and this still would be the same movie, still a symphony of speed and violence, still a textbook example of visual storytelling.

It’s been 30 years since director George Miller wrapped up his Mad Max trilogy and moved on to projects like the family-friendly “Babe” and “Happy Feet.”  But he remains fascinated with Max’s post-armageddon comic-book world, a world filled with great deserts, rusty cars and trucks cannibalized into bizarro war machines, and traversed by that lonely warrior, Mad Max.

This “Max” is bigger, badder and noisier than previous entries. There’s never been much room in the series for human concerns, and this time around there’s even less.

Even the character of Max (Tom Hardy replacing Mel Gibson) is little more than a physical presence.

But as a mind-boggling exercise in pure action “Mad Max: Fury Road” is overwhelming, achieving the sort of visual poetry typically ascribed to “Ben-Hur’s” chariot race or one of Sam Peckinpah’s blood ballets.

Max, a prisoner of the despotic desert king Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, who played the villain Toecutter in the first “Mad Max” back in ’79), finds himself swept along on a mission of vengeance and recovery.

Immortan Joe’s five wives — gorgeous young women apparently free of the diseases afflicting most of surviving mankind — have escaped with the help of Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron, with shaved head and a missing arm), a sort of over-the-road trucker.

Now they’re being pursued across a dusty wasteland (filmed in the sands of Namibia) by the angry husband/king and hundreds of souped up vehicles outfitted with flamethrowers, monstrous crossbows and other jerry-rigged implements of mayhem.

Furiosa’s goal is to find “the green place,” an oasis of water and peace remembered from her childhood. Good luck with that. Continue Reading »


Taika Waititi…misbehaving


86 minutes | No MPAA rating 

After several lifetime’s worth of experiences, you’d think vampires would get it right.

But, no, the bloodsuckers starring in the faux documentary “What We Do in the Shadows” are a singularly inept bunch whose existence argues against the notion that with age comes wisdom.

Written and directed by Jemaine Clement (half of the comedy/musical duo Flight of the Conchords) and Taika Waititi, “What We Do…” purports to be footage shot by a New Zealand  documentary crew that’s been granted permission to film the nightly activities of a group of vampires living together in a creaky old house.

Usually front and center is Viago (Waititi), an affable and childlike fellow in the Andy Kauffman mold who still wears the Byronic fashions of his human life and looks upon the film crew as an opportunity to dispel many of the misconceptions about  his vampire brethren.  (“We get a really bad rap.”)

Vladislav (Clement) has a taste for torture that reflects his flesh-and-blood life in the late Middle Ages. Think Vlad the Impaler.

Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) is basically a frat boy.  A former Nazi, he now is a dedicated slacker and is often criticized by his housemates for not pulling his weight: “You have not done the dishes for five years.”

Finally there’s Petyr (Ben Fransham), who lives in the cellar and is a dead ringer for the bald, rat-clawed vampire in the classic silent film “Nosferatu.”  Petyr is the “father” of the others, but at age 8,000 he doesn’t exert any more energy than is absolutely necessary.

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132 minutes | MPAA rating: R

In more than 40 years of directing, Clint Eastwood has become a master storyteller.

That is overwhelming evident in the first half-hour of “American Sniper,” Eastwood and screenwriter Jason Hall’s adaptation of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle’s memoir about his experiences as the most deadly sniper (160 confirmed kills) in U.S. military history.

They waste no time in plunging us into the action: A street in Iraq. American soldiers searching door-to-door.  Watching from above is Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper), new to the war and positioned on a rooftop.

Suddenly Chris spots movement — an Iraqi mother and her young son are approaching. The mother produces a rocket-propelled grenade from her clothing and gives it to her son, who rushes toward the Americans.

In seconds Chris must decide if his first kill will be a child.

From that hair-raising intro, the film sends jerks us back to Chris’ childhood: reared as a hunter (and possible proto-survivalist) by his father, a misspent youth as a rodeo rider, the decision to enlist in the best military unit in the world, the SEALs.

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Viola Davis, Jennifer Lopez

Viola Davis, Jennifer Lopez

“LILA & EVE”  My rating: C+ (Opens July 17 at the Cinetopia)

94 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“Lila & Eve” starts strong by depicting the downward spiral of Lila (Viola Davis), the divorced mother of two boys whose college-bound son is gunned down in a random act of street violence.

It becomes a revenge yarn when Lila meets up with another bereaved mom, Eve (Jennifer Lopez), who goads her to take violent action against the thugs who put her through all this misery.

It’s like a feminist “Death Wish.”

Before it’s over, “Lila & Eve” has morphed into something right out of M. Night Shyamalan territory (not that the film’s big reveal will surprise anyone — I saw it coming practically from square one).

Given that Davis is one of our best actresses — and that Lopez isn’t bad in the right role — “Lila and Eve” does have some strong moments.

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Alice Braga, Gael Garcia Bernal...fighting land grabbers in "Ardor"

Alice Braga, Gael Garcia Bernal…fighting land grabbers in “Ardor”

“ARDOR” My rating: C+* (Opens July 17 at the Tivoli)

101 minutes | MPAA rating: R

A fermented mashup of spaghetti Western imagery and art house pretensions, “Ardor” gives us Mexican star Gael Garcia Bernal as…well, as Charles Bronson.

We first seen Bernal rising from a jungle river deep in the Argentine interior…he looks like some sort of primordial spirit.  Actually, he’s a farmer named Kai who has survived the burning of his homestead and the murder of his family by gun-toting goons.

Kai stumbles barefoot and shirtless to the farm of Jao (Chico Diaz) an old man scratching out a living with his daughter Vania (Alice Braga). But trouble follows in the form of three murderous brothers who force Jao to sign over his property and then kill him.  They take Vania as their prisoner.

Her new duties include cooking for and washing the clothing of her owners — and that’s just during daylight hours.

Happily Kai comes to the rescue, leading to a bout of jungle love (doesn’t look very comfortable) and a vendetta against the three killers and other mercenaries who have been making life miserable for the poor, hard-working farmers.

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