Mickey Rourke, Nate Wolff

Mickey Rourke, Nate Wolffe

“ASHBY” My rating: C+

100 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“Ashby” is a stew of a movie — part coming-of-age story, part assassination thriller, part comedy, part romance, part drama.

Ed (Nat Wolffe) is the new kid in town, freshly arrived in a D.C. suburb with his romantically challenged mother (Sarah Silverman) and feeling very much the outsider.

Assigned by a teacher to interview and write a story about an older person, Nat approaches his well-worn next door neighbor, Ashby (Mickey Rourke).

Initially Ashby refuses to cooperate, maintaining that he doesn’t know any old people. But he changes his mind because he needs Nat to drive him on errands.  In an early scene Ashby was told by a doctor that he has only three months to live. He’s not supposed to get behind the wheel.

Tony McNamara’s film is really two stories. In the first, Nat overcomes his lack of confidence to try out for the high school football team. And he enjoys smart-kid banter with Eloise (Emma Roberts), the dweeby classmate who shares his disdain for the conventions of teen life.

In the second, Ashby goes on a killing spree to get revenge on his old CIA bosses, whom he discovers had him assassinate an environmental activist not for national security reasons but because the guy opposed a real estate development the suits were investing in.

Nat Wolffe, Emma Roberts

Nat Wolffe, Emma Roberts

Between gunplay Ashby and Ed (who finds himself driving the getaway car) share life lessons.  It’s like a particularly twisted remake of Bill Murray’s “St. Vincent.”

Individual moments work reasonably well (the best are featured in the film’s trailer), and the scenes between Wolffe and Roberts are particularly enjoyable — even innocently romantic.

An appreciation of “Ashby” depends upon one’s tolerance of Rourke, whose frozen features (too much plastic surgery? Botox?) limit his ability to express emotion. I was less than impressed.

| Robert W. Butler

Jeremy Irvine (at right in white T-shirt)

Jeremy Irvine (at right in white T-shirt)…there’s a riot goin’ on

“STONEWALL” My rating: C 

121 minutes | MPAA raitng: R

“Stonewall” wants to be the epic Gay Pride origin movie.

Hey, I want to be a big-league outfielder.

Scripted by playwright Jon Robin Baitz and directed by Roland Emmerich (who’s more at home with big-budget spectacles like “Stargate,” “Independence Day,” “The Patriot” and “Godzilla”), the film dramatizes the conditions that led to the Stonewall riots of 1969, regarded by many as the official beginning of the Gay Pride movement.

We meet apple-cheeked, corn-fed and very cute Danny (Jeremy Irvine) getting off the bus in the Big Apple in the spring of ’69. He heads straight for Christopher Street, where Danny is taken aback to see two men openly holding hands. He’s uncomfortable when he draws the attention of  the salacious Ray (Jonny Beauchamp), the long-haired, sashaying, very feminine leader of a group of young street hustlers.

But a young man needs friends in the big bad city, and Ray and  his fellow homeless sex workers (they sleep a dozen to a hotel room) are weirdly nurturing.  Plus, they introduce Danny to the Stonewall Inn, a Greenwich Village dive run by the mob (Ron Perlman plays the manager) and catering exclusively to gays.

Make that gays and cops. A night at the Stonewall is likely to get you arrested and beaten up, given that police raids (not only was homosexuality illegal in 1969, but selling alcohol to gays was illegal, too) are a frequent occurrence.

But it’s at the Stonewall that Danny meets Trevor (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), a somewhat older guy who between sexy slow dances tries to raise the newcomer’s political conscience about gay rights.

Periodically we get flashback’s to Danny’s life in small-town Indiana, where he is the son of a bullet-headed high school football coach.  When his affair with a fellow player is discovered, Danny is disowned by his family — except for his little sister (Joey King), who is as compassionate and open minded as everyone else is stupid and rigid — and heads off for the greener, more tolerant pastures of Manhattan.

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Lily Tomlin, **

Lily Tomlin, Julia Garner

“GRANDMA” My rating: A-

78 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Fuelled by an Oscar-worthy performance from Lily Tomlin, “Grandma” is a comedy with something on its mind.

It’s often bitterly funny, with Tomlin (age 76) totally nailing her character, a grumpy granny with a foul-mouthed sarcastic streak.

But in this look at three generations of women from one family, writer/director Paul Weitz mines some serious material.

Love (lost and realized), regret, familial ties, aging and death all find voice here. But shining  through it all is a fierce passion for life.

When we first view Elle Reid (Tomlin) she’s dumping Olivia (Judy Geer), her girlfriend of just four months. When Olivia protests that they mean something to each other, Elle sneers: “You’re a footnote.”

Besides, Elle says, Olivia is a young woman while she is “rapidly approaching 50.”

Caustic and self-deprecating, Elle — who prides herself on being an early feminist — appears to be one tough cookie. But once Olivia has grabbed her stuff and fled, this failed poet retreats to her shower and sobs.

She won’t have much time for self pity. She’s soon interrupted by her teenage granddaughter, Sage (Julia Garner), who needs $600 right away. Sage is 10 weeks pregnant and has an appointment for an abortion that very afternoon.

She explains that her boyfriend promised her the money but has failed to deliver.  Sage cannot possible go to her lawyer mother for help.

Elle is broke. In an antiestablishment snit she has even shredded her credit cards. But she packs Sage into her ominously knocking 70-year-old sedan and sets out to raise the cash.

This day-long quest leads the pair to first confront Sage’s oafish and bad-tempered boyfriend (Nat Wolff), who learns not to swear at an old lady if you value your testicles.

Lily Tomlin, Sam Elliott

Lily Tomlin, Sam Elliott

Then it’s off to a local tattoo parlor, but Elle’s trans friend Deathy (Laverne Cox) is tapped out.  Elle has a scheme to sell some of her signed first-edition Germaine Greer and Betty Friedan books to another friend, the coffee shop owner Carla (the late Elizabeth Pena in her last role) — but she has wildly overestimated the volumes’ value.

In desperation she turns to Karl (an excellent Sam Elliott), with whom she had an affair more than 40 years earlier. That doesn’t work out, either.

“So you used to like men?” Sage asks.

“Oh, I always liked women.  I just didn’t like myself.”


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everestmaxresdefault“EVEREST” My rating: B 

121 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Very few of us have the skill, the will or the financial wherewithal to tackle Earth’s tallest peak.

After watching “Everest,” though, don’t be surprised if you feel as if you’ve been to the top of the world, where the human form is ill-prepared to survive at the cruising altitude of a 747.

Based on the disastrous day in 1996 when Mount Everest claimed the lives of eight climbers — the same tragedy described in Jon Krakauer’s best-selling book “Into Thin Air” and a 1998 IMAX documentary — the film eschews Hollywood hokum for a [hugely] realistic depiction of what happened.

The first hour focuses on New Zealander Rob Hall (Jason Clarke), operator of a commercial guide service,  as over a month he prepares a party of clients for an expedition up the mountain.

Most of the customers are like Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin), a Texas businessman with pockets deep enough to handle the $65,000 Hall charges for a climb. They’re middle-aged, wealthy men of commerce determined to push themselves to the limit before age interferes.

An exception is Doug Hansen (John Hawkes), a working-class guy who failed to reach the summit on an earlier attempt. This will be his last chance … and Hall has given him a discount so that he can afford this climb.

The film’s second hour is the ascent itself, which found most of the party going all the way up, only to be ravaged by a fierce storm on the way down.

Written by William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy and directed by Baltasar Kormakur, “Everest” features a star-heavy cast.

Among the familiar faces  behind bushy beards are Jake Gyllenhaal as Scott Fischer, aka “Mr. Mountain Madness,” a rival guide who joins forces with Hall because the mountain is so crowded with 20 expeditions. Michael Kelly plays Krakauer, the well-known outdoor writer who was a member of the team. Sam Worthington is a fellow climber helpless to effect a rescue.

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Elisabeth Moss

Elisabeth Moss

“QUEEN OF EARTH” My rating: C+ (Opens Sept. 11 at the Screenland Crossroads)

90 minutes  | No MPAA rating

The first shot of the ironically titled “Queen of Earth” pretty much sums up what we’ll be getting for the next 90 minutes.

The face of actress Elisabeth Moss as Catherine fills the screen in massive closeup.  Her mascara is smeared, giving her a raccoon-ish look. Her nose is red from crying. Her hair is wet and stringy.

And she’s angry/wheedling/pathetic as she hurls insults and accusations at her offscreen lover, who is in the process of dumping her.

Moss may be best known for playing Peggy, the office girl-turned-account executive in cable’s “Mad Men” but — as shown by her work in the miniseries “Top of the Lake” and indie films like “The One I Love” — she’s a fiercely adventurous actress willing to go out on the edge.

In writer/director Alex Roth Perry’s “Queen of Earth” she starts on the edge and swings wildly into the “out there.”

Emotionally bruised and battered, Catherine turns to her oldest and best friend, Virginia (Katharine Waterston), whose parents own a ritzy vacation lake house. The two women will share the idyllic place while Catharine tries to get her head together.

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Patrick Wilson, ****

Patrick Wilson, Dianna Agron

“ZIPPER” My rating: B- 

103 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“Zipper” is an astonishingly dour thriller with a torn-from-the-headlines premise.

Patrick Wilson stars as Sam Ellis, a federal prosecutor with a squeaky-clean reputation who is contemplating a career in politics.

He’s a white knight in the courtroom and has what appears to be an ideal family life with his charity maven wife Jeannie (Lena Headey) and their young son.

When a comely office intern (Dianna Agron) makes a pass at him, Sam throws on the brakes after one kiss. Arriving home late at night, though, he cruises porn sites. When a case brings to his attention a high-end escort service,  he begins doing “research.”

Next thing you know he’s paying big bucks for a few hours with these smart, beautiful, sexually talented young women.

Sam apparently can’t control himself. Part of him hates what he’s doing; another part is coming up with all sorts of devious ploys to allow him to keep on doing it.

There comes a moment, of course, when the noose of revelation tightens around Sam’s neck (thanks to a sleazy journalist played by Ray Winstone). Are his marriage and career on the chopping block?

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phoenix-thumb-630xauto-53973“PHOENIX”  My rating: B 

98 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

“Phoenix” relies on outrageous coincidence to a degree that would prove fatal to a lesser film.

But Christian Petzold’s claustrophobic German drama somehow absorbs and defuses our objections,  thanks to some fine acting and an atmosphere of post-war loss and desperation that sinks into the bones.

When we first see Nelly (Nina Hoss), she’s fresh from a recently liberated Nazi concentration camp. Her head is wrapped in bloody bandages, the result of a German bullet that tore up her features.  Now she’s facing months of plastic surgery to restore her face to something resembling its original form.

Nelly is obsessed with finding Johnny, her husband, with whom she had a vocalist/pianist act.  Lene (Nina Kunzendorf), the Jewish relief worker who is handling Nelly’s case, says that most likely it was Johnnie who turned his Jewish wife in to the Gestapo to save his own skin.

But Nelly won’t be swayed. Once the bandages come off  she walks the streets of Berlin at night. One evening, in a nightclub called Phoenix, she sees Johnny (Ronald Zehrfeld). He’s not playing the piano. He’s bussing tables and mopping floors.

But he notices this quiet woman who bears a vague resemblance to his former wife and he proposes that they team up to work a scam on the authorities.

As the last surviving member of her large family Nelly has a small fortune waiting for her in Switzerland.  Johnny has been rebuffed in his efforts to claim the money as Nellie’s widower.

Now he proposes that this woman pose as his wife. After all, she looks a bit like Nelly. He’ll teach her all she needs to know about Nelly, even provide her with items of Nelly’s clothing.  Together they will stage a heartbreaking reunion and later split all that money.

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