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Bill Murray

Bill Murray

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

102 minutes   | MPAA rating: PG-13

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

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

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

Except that it works.

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

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

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Anton Yelchin, Billy Crudup

Anton Yelchin, Billy Crudup

“RUDDERLESS” My rating: C (Opens Oct. 24 at the Tivoli)

105 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“Rudderless,” actor William H. Macy’s feature writing/directing debut, is a pretty good movie — until suddenly it isn’t.

I will not spoil the experience  (the movie does that all by itself) by giving away the late-second-act revelation that turns the picture inside out , making you indignantly realize that the filmmakers (Macy wrote the script with Jeff Robinson and Casey Twenter) have been less than forthright.

It’ll leave you feeling you’ve been had…and not in a enjoyable “Sixth Sense”/gotcha way.

It’s a grief movie.  Early on advertising exec Sam Manning discovers that his son Josh (we see the kid early on…he’s played by “Parenthood’s” Miles Heizer) was one of seven fatalities in a college campus shooting rampage.

Sam hits the skids: heavy drinking, beard growing, dropping out, moving permanently onto his sailboat (he’s already divorced from Josh’s mother, played by Felicity Huffman, aka Mrs. William H. Macy), and in general behaving like a seedy boor.

Then he gets a box of his late son’s belongings, among which are demo CDs and handwritten lyrics of Josh’s songs. The father is deeply moved and begins performing them on his acoustic guitar at a local bar’s open-mic night (Macy portrays the saloon owner).

 

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Blake Robbins

Blake Robbins

“THE SUBLIME AND BEAUTIFUL” My rating: B (Opening Oct. 24 at the Screenland Crown Center)

91 minutes | No MPAA rating

The Lawrence-lensed “The Sublime and Beautiful” is a home-grown art film, funded through Kickstarter and exuding the sort of downbeat but classy aura that wows ‘em on the festival circuit (where the film has picked up several awards) if not at the multiplex.

This first writing/directing effort from veteran actor Blake Robbins (TV’s “The Office”), who also stars, is what you might call a transcendent tragedy.

The film’s first 20 minutes depict an average day in the lives of Dave (Robbins) and Kelly  (Laura Kirk) and their three kids, who range in age from toddler to tweener.

In a scene of lively chaos the kids are bundled off to school. There’s talk of Christmas wish lists.

At the university where he teaches, Dave — burly, balding, bearded — grades semester finals and gently rejects the offer of a pretty student willing to trade sex for a passing grade.

It’s pretty much a study in normalcy with Dave as our smart, likable, decent protagonist.

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**** (left foreground)

Tessa Thompson (left foreground)…campus troublemaker

“DEAR WHITE PEOPLE” My rating: C+ (Opens wide on Oct. 24)

100 minutes | MPAA rating: R

A post-racial America?

Not according to “Dear White People,” writer/director Justin Simien’s savage satire in which all the swirling crosscurrents of black/white interaction reach critical mass on a posh Ivy League campus.

The film begins with news reports about the furor created by a party at Winchester University. Revelers were invited to “free your inner Negro” by costuming themselves as black stereotypes and dining on friend chicken.

The story proper begins some months earlier and divides its time among several characters, most (but not all) of them African American.

Sam (Tessa Thompson) has a show called “Dear White People” on the campus radio station where she dishes humorous observations on race relations. One wag describes her as “like Spike Lee and Oprah had a pissed-off baby.”

Though she’s more performance artist than true activist, Sam finds herself running for president of one of Winchester’s “houses,” as the various dormitories are known.

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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

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Rosemarie DeWitt, Adam Sandler...always on line

Rosemarie DeWitt, Adam Sandler…always on line

“MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN” My rating: C+ (Opens Oct. 17 at the Tivoli, Glenwood Arts and the Cinetopia)

119 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“Men, Women & Children” is a how-we-live-now movie, an attempt to capture the contemporary zeitgeist through multiple characters and several interlocking plot threads.

The late Robert Altman made how-we-live-now movies quite naturally (“Nashville,” “Short Cuts,” “A Wedding”). One of the best examples of the genre is Todd Solondz’s dark and bitterly funny “Happiness” (1998). Nicole Holofcener (“Friends with Money,” “Please Give”) is our current master of the form.

In “Men, Women & Children” writer/director Jason Reitman (“Juno,” “Up in the Air,” “Young Adult”) tackles the contemporary family.  The usual suspects are on hand: a suburban couple whose sex lives have hit a dead end, children trying to keep secrets from their parents, the young virgin misused by an older boy, first love, adults with toxic ambitions for their offspring.

Reitman attempts to tie all these loose ends together by stressing how instant internet access, smart phones, video games and other elements of our immersive electronic world have — far from bringing us together– isolated us, each in his own cocoon of “connectivity.”

He is only partly successful.

The film features a flabbergastingly deep cast.  Adam Sandler (in non-comic mode) and Rosemarie DeWitt are Don and Helen, marrieds who have become bored with each other.  He cruises internet porn and escort sites; she joins an online service for wives in search of sexual release.

Their son Chris (Travis Trope) is addicted to online sado-masochism and can’t quite function even when his school’s prettiest cheerleader, Hannah (Olivia Crocicchia), expresses an interest in a hook-up.

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*** aka "The Green Prince"

Mosab Hassan Yousef aka “The Green Prince”

“THE GREEN PRINCE”  My rating: B (Opens Oct. 17 at the Glenwood Arts)

95 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Good guys and bad guys are the bread and butter of movie entertainment.  But in the real world the difference between the two can be as fine as a hair — or impossible to discern at all.

Nadav Schirman’s documentary “The Green Prince” is an in-depth dive into a real-world case of espionage. Deciding which side to cheer for could give you a migraine.

For 10 years Mosab Hassan Yousef, eldest son of one of Hamas’ most respected spokesmen, was a secret agent for the Shin Bet, Israel’s shadowy anti-terrorist agency. He wrote of his experiences in a 2011 memoir; now a perpetual target for assassination, he lives alone somewhere in the U.S.A.

This film is both a visualization of his book and an intriguing expansion.  For the film not only allows Yousef to talk about his past, but it also provides a forum for Gonen Ben Yitzhak, the Israeli handler whose growing friendship with and concern for Yousef led to his own career downfall within Shin Bet.

What’s tricky about “The Green Prince” (that was the nickname Shin Bet officials gave to their valuable informer — green being the color of Hamas) is that Schirman doesn’t play favorites. The documentary is 100 percent non-judgmental.  Each man is allowed to explain himself in head-on “interrogations” (these scenes look and feel a lot like Errol Morris’ intense style). It’s up to us to sort through facts, rationalizations, and personalities to reach our own conclusions.

For many of us, that conclusion will be an acknowledgement that it’s impossible to really understand why people do what they do.

(more…)

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