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wolfpack-1024“THE WOLFPACK” My rating: B- (Opening July 3 at the Tivoli)

 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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Adam Scott, Taylor Schilling, Jason Schwarzman

Adam Scott, Taylor Schilling, Jason Schwarzman

“THE OVERNIGHT” My rating: B- (Opening July 3 at the Glenwood Arts)

80 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Nearly 50 years ago, in “Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice,” two seemingly hip couples dabbled  in wife swapping, only to find that despite the love beads and bell bottoms they remained hopelessly old school in sexual matters.

Things haven’t changed all that much.

In “The Overnight” married transplants to Los Angeles meet an intriguing couple and spend a night drinking, hot tubbing and flirting with disaster.

Writer/director Patrick Brice delivers an uncomfortable comedy that suggests that old-time morality still has us in its clutches and isn’t letting go any time soon.

Alex and Emily (Adam Scott and Taylor Schilling), only recently arrived from Seattle, are wondering if they will ever make new friends in the City of Angels.  They get their answer in a park playground where their young son hits it off with another little boy.

This kid’s dad is Kurt (Jason Schwartzman), a funny, suave and deeply eccentric fellow who invites the newcomers over to the house. The kids can play, the grownups can get to know one another.

Think of it as a long night’s journey into monogamy.  But not without some major temptations and digressions.

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Blythe Danner

Blythe Danner

“I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS” My rating: B (Opening June 26 at the Tivoli)

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

“ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL”  My rating: B (Opens June 26 at the Glenwood Arts and Tivoli)

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

 

 

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Jean Dejardin

Jean Dejardin

“THE CONNECTION” My rating: B-

135 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Most of us are familiar with “The French Connection,” William Friedkin’s 1971 film about the NYPD’s efforts to stamp out a drug smuggling empire flooding American streets with top-grade heroin.

The French “The Connection” approaches that same situation from the shared POV of the cops and criminals who throughout the ’70s played a long game of cat and mouse in Marseilles, where Neapolitan and Corsican mobsters had set up labs to process opium smuggled in from the Middle East.

Whereas Friedkin’s film was fictionalized (among other things, the names were changed), this offering from writer/director Cedric Jimenez purports to more or less tell the true story of how the police finally broke the back of at least one particular drug operation.

Jean Dujardin, an Oscar winner for his turn as a silent film star in “The Artist,” portrays Pierre Michel, a juvenile magistrate who finds himself bumped upstairs to the organized crime unit. Michel hasn’t a background in criminal law but he has plenty of motivation — while hearing the cases of teenage delinquents he learned much about drug addiction and saw its grim results.

“The Connection” follows Michel as he learns on the run, figuring out how the complicated drug smuggling operation works and winning the confidence of the cops who must implement the anti-crime campaign he will create.

Michel’s story is intercut with that of Gaëtan ‘Tany’ Zampas (Gilles Lellouche), a powerful drug lord who also runs a lucrative protection racket and operates popular nightclubs along the Riviera. Zampas is a attractive/scary blend of sophisticate and thug.

Over nearly 2 1/2 hours “The Connection” follows these two men who, though on different sides of the law, are in many ways very much alike.  Both are devoted family men, both nurse an explosive temper beneath a cool exterior, both are willing to act ruthlessly to achieve their aims.

Over time Michel will bend the legal rules and act less like an administrator than an overzealous cop. Zampas may actually regret having to have his enemies killed — though it doesn’t stop him from seeing the job through.

In fact, actors Dejardin and Lellouche physically resemble one another…that can’t be a coincidence.

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as Yves Saint Laurent

Gaspard Ulliel as Yves Saint Laurent

“SAINT LAURENT” My rating: C+

150 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Even this  fashion backwards film reviewer recognizes the late Yves Saint Laurent, the French couturier who pioneered classy ready-to-wear clothing and founded a wildly successful company that bears his name.

But if you want to understand exactly who Yves Saint Laurent was — well, you’re not going to get much help from “Saint Laurent,” writer/director Bertrand Bonello’s fragmented, impressionistic epic (like, 2 1/2 hours).

The film is great looking and at moments offers a near-documentary feel for the ’60s and ’70s when Saint Laurent was at his creative peak.

But it tells us surprisingly little about the man, his design ethos, or even the fashions he created.

Like a plate of spaghetti thrown against a wall, the film is scattered and splattered, frequently colorful but impossibly messy. Individual moments stick in the mind, but the overall impression is one of angst and hedonistic excess.

As the young Saint Laurent (who is portrayed in his dotage by Helmut Berger), Gaspard Ulliel is eerily believable — thin, high cheekbones, a shy smile, oversized glasses and a mop of Beatle-ish hair. But the film won’t let the actor explore the character’s inner life. This fellow may be a design genius (you’ll have to take that as a given, since the film makes no effort to actually make the case), but mostly he comes off as an idiot savant living a hermetically sealed life.

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** as ***

Golshifteh Farahani as Sepideh

“ABOUT ELLY” My rating: B

119 minutes | No MPAA rating

Three families share a long weekend in a rented (and rundown) villa along Iran’s Caspian coast. There’s much good-natured joking, dancing, smoking, cooking out, eating.

These individuals — old law school acquaintances who’ve done well (at least if the BMWs they drive are any indication) — are joined on their mini-vacation by two visitors.  The first is their old friend Ahmad (the charismatic Shahab Hosseini), who lives in Germany and was recently divorced. The second is Elly (Taraneh Alidoosti), who teaches the young daughter of Sepideh, one of the wives.

Without consulting anyone else Sepideh (Golshifteh Farahani) has  invited the single Elly along for the weekend. Ostensibly Elly is there to watch the kids, but it doesn’t take the group long to figure out that Sepideh is playing matchmaker. Especially when she tells the manager of their rental property that Ahmad and Elly are honeymooners. (Iran’s morality police surely would frown on this arrangement, no matter how innocent it seems by Western standards.)

The first 40 or so minutes of “About Elly” — from writer/director Asghar Farhadi, who had a huge art house hit with “A Separation” — are devoted to the settling-in process. Gas and electricity must be turned on, bags unpacked, months of dust and cobwebs swept out. Ahmad and Elly take a brief drive — neither wants to talk about why they’re both there. Several times during the first afternoon, in fact, Elly tries to leave to catch a bus back to Teheran. She’s talked out of it by Sepideh.

And then one of the children nearly drowns. After the confusion and panic of his rescue and resuscitation die down, someone notices that Elly is missing.

Did she make good on her plan to return home? Was she snatched (apparently the beach has a high crime rate)? Did she try to rescue the drowning boy and herself succumb to the waves?

The police are called, a search and rescue boat dispatched.  Nothing. If Elly did indeed drown, her body will wash up within a day or two.

Talk about putting a damper on the weekend!
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