Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

James McAvoy

James McAvoy

“VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN” My rating: C- (Opens wide on Nov. 25)

109 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

“It’s alive!” rejoices Dr. Frankenstein (James McAvoy) as an ungodly mess of dead chimpanzee parts begins to stir on his operating table.

Too bad the same cannot be said of “Victor Frankenstein,” an elaborate production design in search of a movie.

The Frankenstein legend has so often been explored and exploited by filmmakers that screenwriter Max Landis and director Paul McGuigan deserve credit for at least trying something different.

This time around the “hero” is the hunchbacked assistant Igor, who far from being a demented moron is played by Daniel Radcliffe as a natural genius, albeit one who for his entire life has been the virtual prisoner of a traveling circus in Victorian England.

During performances this wretched nameless creature dons white makeup and is abused by the other clowns. In his off hours the hunchback studies anatomy and is the circus’ unofficial physician.

He’s rescued by medical student Victor Frankenstein, a hyperactive visionary who cures his new friend’s twisted spine, gives him a new identity (that of Igor, Frankenstein’s drug-addicted roommate who has been missing for months), and makes him a partner in his bizarro experiments.

The transformed Igor not only begins to experience something like normalcy, he strikes up a love relationship with the beautiful aerialist (“Downton Abbey’s” Jessica Brown Findlay) whom previously he worshipped from afar.

But Igor’s bliss keeps getting in the way of Frankenstein’s monomaniacal quest to give life to dead tissue.


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Bryan Cranston as screenwriter Dalton Trumbo

Bryan Cranston as screenwriter Dalton Trumbo

“TRUMBO” My rating: B (Now showing at the Glenwood Arts and Tivoli)  

124 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Bryan Cranston is very good as Dalton Trumbo, the screenwriter/Communist/bon vivant/savage wit who won two Oscars under pseudonyms while blacklisted for his politics.

But who would have predicted that “Trumbo” would practically be stolen out from under the multiple Emmy winner by Helen Mirren and John Goodman?

It’s a surfeit of riches.

Dalton Trumbo was contradictory, infuriating, self-righteous, pompous, and wickedly funny. He was very well paid and lived on a sprawling California ranch (earning criticism for being a “swimming pool Soviet”) but appears to have been utterly sincere about making the United States a better place.

He joined the Communist Party of the U.S. largely out of his opposition to fascism in Europe (and, let’s be honest, at home as well). That came back to bite him in the ass after WWII when America went Commie crazy and the House Un-American Activities Committee subpoenaed Trumbo and other Hollywood leftists in a search for Red influence in popular entertainment.

Ten of these unfriendly witnesses refused to answer questions, standing on their Fifth Amendment rights and the fact that joining the Communist Party was perfectly legal.

They were convicted of contempt of Congress (Trumbo publicly acknowledged that he was indeed hugely contemptuous of the bullying Congress), spent a year in prison and emerged to find themselves unable to work in the film or television industry.

Most saw their careers ruined. Trumbo began cranking out screenplays under fake names. Much of his work of this period was pure exploitative schlock, but two of his scripts — for “Roman Holiday” and “The Brave One” — won Oscars, although of course Trumbo could not acknowledge they were his work.


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Saorise Ronan

Saorise Ronan

“BROOKLYN”  My rating: A- (Opening Nov. 24 at the Tivoli and Glenwood Arts)

111 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

“Brooklyn” is a wisp of a movie packing a boatload of feeling.

In this humanistic triumph from director John Crowley, little moments add up to an intimate epic.

Based on Colm Toibin‘s novel (the terrific adaptation is by Nick Hornby), this devastatingly lovely effort follows a young woman’s journey from Ireland to America, the gradual falling away of her old identity and the new one that replaces it in the land of promise.

As the film begins Eilis (a sensational Saorise Ronan…expect an Oscar nom) is a shopgirl in small-town post-war Ireland, a place of of narrow vistas, frustrated hopes and small-minded meanness.

Despite her fierce loyalty to her mother (Jane Brennan) and spinster older sister Rose (Fiona Glascott), Eilis feels smothered and concludes her future lies elsewhere.

With the sponsorship of Father Flood (Jim Broadbent), an Irish priest living in NYC, Eilis buys a cheap boat ticket and takes off for the New World.

Her first mentor is her shipboard bunkmate,  a much more sophisticated gal who introduces Eilis to rouge and mascara, the initial step in being taken seriously as an American woman.

Once settled in the Brooklyn boarding house run by the hilariously opinionated Mrs. Kehoe (Julie Walters), who presides over a dinner table of single girls like a tart-tongued mother hen, our heroine gets to work.


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Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams

Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams

“SPOTLIGHT” My rating: A- (Opens wide on Nov. 20)

128 minutes | MPAA rating: R

The devastating docudrama “Spotlight” is about the quest for truth when nobody seems to want to hear it.

The film describes how in the early 2000s four investigative reporters for The Boston Globe uncovered the Roman Catholic Church’s routine  reassignment of pedophile priests to new parishes where they could abuse even more children.

It’s a true-life horror story guaranteed to infuriate audiences, yet writer/director Tom McCarthy (“The Station Agent,” “The Visitor”) steers clear of cheap shots, hyperbole and sensationalism. “Spotlight” is a work of rigorous discipline; given the film’s focus on religion, perhaps “asceticism” is a better description.

Think of it as a journalistic procedural.

The film stars Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo and Brian D’arcy James as the members of the Globe‘s investigative Spotlight team.  They deliver understated, believable, utterly non-glamorous performances without a trace of showboating or pumped-up emoting. (They act the way the Royals play baseball — with their egos on hold.)

Despite the restraint with which it has been conceived and produced, “Spotlight” is hugely effective. The conventional dramatic bells and whistles are not only not missed, they’d be detrimental to the film’s success, getting in the way of a real story that demands to be told.

“Spotlight” begins with the arrival at the Globe of a new executive editor. Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) comes to Boston from Miami. He is, as one local wag describes him, “an unmarried man of the Jewish faith who hates baseball.” In other words, about as much an outsider as you can be in Beantown.

But it’s precisely because he hails from elsewhere that Baron gloms onto a small item in the back of the paper about a pedophile priest and asks Spotlight editor Walter “Robby” Robinson (Keaton) if it’s story worth looking into.

As played by Schreiber, Baron is the kind of stiff, laughless guy uncomfortable with smalltalk. Or, for that matter, with the suggestion of Cardinal Bernard Law (Len Cariou) that together the newspaper and the church can work for the betterment of all Bostonians.

Unlike “All the President’s Men,” the reporters digging into the case don’t fear for their own safety. They’re not about to be snatched by men in black.

But they must balance their own faith (most are Catholic) with their obligation to get at the truth, no matter how unpleasant it may be. They’ve got to be bulldogs when it comes to gathering facts, they’ve got to defy the Boston power structure without seeming to be in open rebellion.

The project will require them to call up the patience to wade through reams of material (at the time the internet was a mere shadow of its current form, meaning research had to be done the old-fashioned way, page by early page) and to balance sympathy and professional distance while interviewing the traumatized victims of sexual abuse.


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Simon Pegg, Lake Bell

Simon Pegg, Lake Bell

“MAN UP” My rating: C+ (Opens Nov. 20 at the Barrywoods)

88 minutes | MPAA rating: R

There should be a special place in paradise for beautiful women willing to make themselves look like utter dorks.

Lake Bell is by just about any reckoning a beautiful woman. But in “Man Up” the model-actress-director plays Nancy, a thirtysomething Londoner with low self esteem, bad hair (those bangs!!!) and a miserable track record with the opposite sex.

I kind of love this character, who despite her romantic hiccups is smart and funny with a marvelously cynical world view and no tolerance for other people’s b.s.

Just wish the rest of the film were as watchable as Bell is.

This comedy from director Ben Palmer and writer Tess Morris finds Nancy being mistaken for another woman by that woman’s blind date. I’ll spare you the details of this improbable plot twist.

The main thing is that Nancy’s so desperate for a bit of guy attention that she doesn’t tell the fellow — he’s named Jack and is played by Simon Pegg — that he’s got the wrong girl.

So the two have a night on the town — drinking, eating, drinking, bowling,  drinking, dancing, drinking — and actually start to fall for one another.

Along the way they encounter a creep (Rory Kinnear) who has been obsessed with Nancy since high school, and Jack’s ex-wife (Olivia Williams) who broke his heart by running off with a pretentious yuppie twit.

“Man Up” takes a long, long time to find its voice — it’s only in the final moments that all the pieces come together in screwball fashion — and it often seems the film is trying so hard to be hip and clever that irritation sets in.

Happily Pegg and Bell (an American who comes up with a more than acceptable Brit accent) provide a core of sympathy and humor that gets us through the slow spots.

| Robert W. Butler

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Julia Roberts

Julia Roberts

“SECRET IN THEIR EYES” My rating: C (Opening wide on Nov. 20)

111 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Some stories cannot be transplanted from one culture to another without losing much in the process.

Such is the case with “Secret in Their Eyes,” an American remake of an Argentine release which in 2010 won the Oscar for best foreign language film.

The story arcs of the two films are pretty much interchangeable. Both feature a chase through a packed sports stadium, and each ends with a head-spinning last-act revelation capable of inducing a tummy full of dread.

And yet the particulars are different enough that what worked magnificently in one version sputters and dies in the other.

This film from writer/director Billy Ray (“Shattered Glass,” “Breach”) is presented as two interlocking stories taking place in two decades.

In the present former FBI agent (now he handles security for the New York Mets) Ray (Chiwetel Ejiofor) returns to his old haunts in Los Angeles to complete some unfinished business.

For 13 years Ray has been haunted by the murder of young Caroline Cobb, whose mother Jess (Julia Roberts) was a colleague and investigator for the L.A. District Attorney’s Office.

Ray and Jess were part of a task force looking for terrorist activity originating in a local mosque. The most likely murder suspect was a oddball young man and a member of that congregation.

But the D.A. (Alfred Molina) kept throwing roadblocks in front of the murder investigation. Eventually it was revealed that the suspect was a confidential informant reporting on activities at the mosque. Killer or not, the powers that be are kept him out of the legal system. Given the rampant paranoia after 9/11, they decided that preventing another terrorist attack trumps solving a young woman’s murder.

Despite lacking legal authorization or jurisdiction, Ray and Jess (Roberts has dowdied herself into near-unrecognizability) went after the suspect on their own. They were cautiously abetted by Claire (Nicole Kidman), a new prosecutor for whom Ray had (and continues to have) a raging case of unrequited love/lust.

But the suspect vanishes and the trail went cold.


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the 33 20053“THE 33” My rating: B-  (Opening wide on Nov. 13)

120 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

The rescue in 2010 of 33 Chilean miners — buried alive for 69 days after the collapse of a gold and copper mine — is a story guaranteed to nurture hope and raise the spirits.

In fact, you’d have to be a stone not to be moved by a tale this dramatic.

And “The 33” does a pretty decent job of laying out a complicated yarn and seasoning it

with dramatic moments as it twists and turns toward an uplifting conclusion.

But it’s far from a great movie. The four-person screenwriting team and director Patricia Riggen (“Under the Same Moon”) struggle to get their arms around so many characters, so many plot threads. The film has no central character, and its dramatic impact is diffused.

Nevertheless, it does the job because we know that as unlikely as it seems, it’s a true tale.

We are introduced to the working stiffs at the San Jose Mine at a weekend party. One of the guys is an Elvis impersonator. Another is a graybeard preparing for retirement.

There’s a young husband whose wife is expecting their first baby. A lothario who openly juggles both a spouse and a mistress.

Of course our eyes are drawn to Mario (Antonio Banderas), a husband and father who oozes charisma and leadership.

The work gang foreman, Don Lucho (Lou Diamond Phillips), is charged with ensuring the safety of his crews but keeps getting the runaround from superiors who don’t want to sink any more money into a 100-year-old mine that’s almost played out.

There is, of course, a new kid (Tenoch Huerta), a Bolivian who gets teased by his Chilean co-workers. (After they’re buried alive, the men grimly joke that he’ll be the first consumed, since “Bolivians taste like chicken.”)

And we shouldn’t forget the hopeless alcoholic (Juan Pablo Raba), whose older sister (Juliette Binoche) will become a thorn in the side of the greedy mining corporation.

The problem facing director Riggen is obvious. There are too many personalities here to really develop any of them. Many of these fellows are “types” rather than real people.

And things get doubly complicated because while the miners are trapped 2,300 feet  down in 100-degree heat with dwindling resources (mostly a few cans of tuna), back on the surface there’s another conflict brewing. (more…)

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