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Timothy Spall in "Mr. Turner"

Timothy Spall in “Mr. Turner”

“MR. TURNER”  My rating: B+

150 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Though Mike Leigh’s “Mr. Turner” centers on the great English painter J.M.W. Turner, it isn’t really a conventional biography of an artist.

Nor does it offer much insight into the process of painting. Only rarely do we see Turner — brilliantly portrayed by Timothy Spall — with a brush in his hand.

And there’s no plot to speak of…not all that unusual when you consider that Leigh makes his movies after months of collaborative improvisation with his players.

Best to think of “Mr. Turner” as a time machine, a vehicle for transporting us to another era and so completely capturing the feel of the place that you’d swear you can smell the oil paint and the sea air.

The film concentrates on the last years in Turner’s life.  By this time (from the late 1840s to his death in 1851), Turner has been widely recognized as one of the great artists of the day. He specializes in seascapes, but his style is so radically impressionistic as to border on the abstract. His work alienates many (there’s a scene of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert viewing a Turner canvas and concluding that the artist must be going blind or mad), yet among his fellow artists he is regarded as a genius.

Genius he may be.  As a human being, this Turner leaves something to be desired.

mr turner-count_2911094c Continue Reading »

Colin Firth...the calm eye of the storm

Colin Firth…the calm eye of the storm

“THE KINGSMAN”  My rating: B- 

129 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE”

Tone is the secret sauce of cinema.

A film can have an interesting plot, good acting, great production values…but if the tone is off the whole thing sits queasily on the stomach like a cheap Mexican dinner.

Matthew Vaughn’s “Kingsman” has a lot going for it.  It’s a wicked spoof of Bondish spy films with tons of over-the-top action.  At its center it has a nifty mentor-student relationship.  And in Colin Firth and newcomer Taron Egerton it has a couple of hugely charismatic leading men.

And yet the tone is, well, iffy.

Borrowing the arched-eyebrow approach of Patrick Macnee’s John Steed from the old “Avengers” TV show, Firth plays Harry Hart, aka Galahad, a member of a super secret agency known as the Kingsmen.

Operating out of a men’s clothing shop in London (which explains why its agents are so nattily dressed with pinstriped suits, tortoise-shell glasses and deadly umbrellas), the Kingsmen were formed decades ago by a cabal of obscenely rich men who thought international security too important to be left in the hands of governments and politicians.

The story — adapted by Vaughn and Jane Goldman from the comic Secret Service by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons — has two main components.

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Marion Cotillard...facing her coworkers

Marion Cotillard…facing her coworkers

“TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT”  My rating: A 

95 minutes  | MPAA rating: PG-13

Belgium’s Dardenne Brothers –Jean-Pierre and Luc — make small, sometimes mournful films about average individuals caught in the gears of larger institutions.

They’ve never done anything as powerful as “Two Days, One Night,” featuring Oscar-nominated Marion Cotillard in what some day may be recalled as her greatest performance (and she already has a best actress statuette for “La Vie en Rose”).

The setup is simple.

After several months of sick leave, blue-collar worker Sandra (Cotillard) is ready to get back to her job. She, her husband Manu (Fabrizio Rongione) and their two kids can’t last much longer on one income.

Then, on the Friday before she is to resume her duties, she learns that her co-workers have voted not to bring her back. The plant’s managers have proposed dividing up Sandra’s work load — and her paycheck — among the remaining employees. It is, say the bosses, the only way the staff will get a bonus this year.

A desperate Sandra pleads for and is given a second vote so that she can make her case. She has the weekend — two days and one night — to visit all 16 of her co-workers to change minds.

The bulk of “Two Days, One Night” consists of these conversations, which are as tense, angry and sad as you’d expect.

TO READ THE REST OF THIS REVIEW VISIT THE KANSAS CITY STAR WEB SITE AT http://www.kansascity.com/entertainment/movies-news-reviews/article9287789.html

Mila Kunis...saving Earth

Mila Kunis…saving Earth

 

“JUPITER ASCENDING” My rating: D+

127 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Fate does no favors for filmmakers by giving them early artistic or commercial success.

Two words:  Orson Welles.

Two more words: The Wachowskis.

Their latest, “Jupiter Ascending,” is borderline unwatchable.

Siblings Andy and  Larry (now Lana) Wachowski hit the big time in a big way in 1999 with “The Matrix,” which was hailed as both terrifically popular entertainment and hugely savvy moviemaking.

It’s pretty much been downhill since then: Two “Matrix” sequels of rapidly deteriorating quality, the flawed “V  for Vendetta,” the awful “Speed Racer,” the ambitious but muddled “Cloud Atlas.”

Eddie Redmayne

Eddie Redmayne

“Jupiter Ascending” throws together a bunch of ideas cobbled together from pop culture and science fiction sources, revs them up with an assault of noise and visuals, and makes some pretty good actors look like amateurs.

It begins way out in space where the three immortal Abrasax siblings — the imperiously evil Balem (Eddie Redmayne), the scheming-but-charming Titus (Douglas Booth) and the seemingly empathetic Kalique (Tuppence Middleton) — are arguing over the inheritance left by their late mother.

Among her holdings is a planet called Earth, whose residents are unaware that they soon will be harvested for the essential juice that allows the Abrasax to retain their youths indefinately.

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Short subjects have all but disappeared from regular movie theaters, yet there remains a substantial audience for these concise and sometimes overwhelming films.

This year’s Oscar-nominated animated and live-action shorts are less about conventional storytelling than about establishing a mood that sticks with us after the lights come on.

This year’s offerings mostly ignore the funny and frivolous in favor of brooding, insightful tales. That’s especially true of the animated program, where laughs are in short supply while very real human emotions dominate.

But if there is little Bugs Bunny zaniness here, the display of serious themes and visual beauty is capable of moving us in unexpected ways.

ANIMATED

 “Me and My Moulton”  My rating: B+     (Canada; 14 minutes)

A grown woman recalls her childhood in Norway with two sisters and parents whose artsy eccentricities (for example, unstable three-legged dining room chairs) are a never-ending source of humiliation to their daughters.

Me and my MoultonThe girls envy the utterly unremarkable family living below their apartment, especially the bicycles ridden by that family’s children. Mama and Papa finally agree to buy a bicycle, but not just any bike. It’s an English-made Moulton, a high-end contraption that guarantees the girls will never quite fit in.

Torill Kove’s film is filled with such specific detail you just know it’s based on fact, and the overall feel — childhood grievances viewed from the perspective of adulthood, seasoned with wry humor — makes it seem very real, despite deliberately crude animation that is just a few steps up from stick figures.

“Feast” My rating: A- (U.S.; 6 minutes)

"Feast"

“Feast”

Disney does it again. Patrick Osborne’s “Feast” is the story of a dog’s life.

He begins as a dumpster-diving puppy (think a younger version of “Lady and the Tramp’s” Tramp), and is rescued by a young man (whom we see mostly from the knees down) who shares with the doggie the man’s favorite foods — pizza, popcorn, meatballs, waffles … whatever.

But when the man falls for a woman, the dog’s eating habits change. The delicious junk food is replaced by … Brussels sprouts?

Initially our doggy hero is thrilled when the lady friend stomps out and his master empties the fridge for a massive binge. But it doesn’t take the canny canine long to realize just how miserable his owner is. It’s up to him to get these humans back together.

Remember the celebrated photo album sequence early in Disney’s “Up”? This short does pretty much the same thing, condensing an entire life into potent, emotion-filled images. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself reaching for a hankie.

BiggerPicture“The Bigger Picture” My rating: B+ (U.K.; 7 minutes)

Daisy Jacobs and Christopher Hees’ film employs an unusual visual style — flat, hand-painted characters interacting with real 3-D environments — to tell a sobering yarn about parenthood, responsibility, and death.

Nick is a middle-aged man who serves as caregiver to his senile mother. While he gets the dirty job of spoon-feeding Mama and changing soiled bedclothes, his more outgoing brother Richard shows up only infrequently, preferring to concentrate on his gallivanting lifestyle.

Orchestrated to a twangy ’50s rock ’n’ roll guitar, “The Bigger Picture” paints (literally) a moving portrait of a situation most of us will inevitably experience. It could easily have been done as a live-action piece, but animation somehow allows the filmmakers to telescope the depicted events into a concise seven minutes.

“A Single Life” My rating: B (The Netherlands; 2 minutes)

single-life-animation-filmA whole life crammed into a two-minute movie? Well, yes, in a way.

In “A Single Life” a young woman receives in the mail a 45-rpm record called “A Single Life.” Once it’s on the turntable and playing, she realizes that it has the power to alter time.

If she puts the stylus down at the beginning of the record, she finds herself a little girl. At other stages she’s a young pregnant woman, a mother, or an old lady in a wheelchair.

Dutch filmmakers Marieke Blaauw, Joris Oprins and Job Roggeveen offer a playful story (the computer animation mimics Claymation) with a “Twilight Zone” twist. Whether it’s a comedy or a tragedy is up to the individual viewer.

DAM_KEEPER_031“The Dam Keeper”  My rating: B (U.S.; 18 minutes)

Upon the death of his father, a child (a pig, actually) inherits the family duty of maintaining a huge dam that protects a town from being inundated by … water? smoke? black clouds?

Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi’s film follows our young dam keeper as he attends school, where because he’s a “dirty” pig he is ridiculed by the other children (who are sheep, bunnies, alligators, etc.)

At long last he strikes up a friendship with a new girl, a fox, and together they find escape drawing pictures that make fun of the other kids.

“The Dam Keeper” is sad and filled with unhappiness. But it is elevated by some spectacular visual effects — it looks like pastel drawings come to life, and contains some sublimely beautiful passages marked with astonishing lighting effects.

 

LIVE ACTION

Parvaneh-by-Talkhon-Hamzavi-2-HR“Parvaneh” My rating B+ (Switzerland; 25 minutes)

Parvaneh (Nissa Kashani) is a young refugee living in a group home in Switzerland. Stymied in her attempts to wire money to her parents in Afghanistan (she lacks the proper government-approved ID), she asks for help from a teenage girl she encounters in the street.

With her deliberately torn hose, leather jacket and punky makeup, this Swiss miss (Cheryl Graf) is in full teen rebellion. At first she attempts to take advantage of the naive newcomer, then thinks the better of it and invites Parvaneh to spend the night at her family’s home. In the morning they’ll wire the money.

But first they have a party to go to. The sweet, clueless Parvaneh drinks from the spiked punch bowl and loses the money. The girls spring into action to recover the lost funds.

Despite a few tense moments, Talkhon Hamzavi’s film is sweet and hopeful in its depiction of the friendship growing between two radically different young women. And it has just the right dash of leavening irony to make all the disparate elements go down easier. Continue Reading »

everly“EVERLY” My rating: B- (Now available on Pay-Per-View)

92 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Few things speak more directly to a man’s reptilian brain than a beautiful woman firing  a big honking gun.

By that reckoning, “Everly”  is the exploitation equivalent of “Citizen Kane.”

The latest from writer/director Joe Lynch (who specializes in high-end “bad” films…see his “Wrong Turn 2: Dead End”) finds the ever-luscious Salma Hayek portraying Everly, a woman who for several years has been kept in sexual slavery by the leader of a Japanese crime gang.

The film starts in darkness with the brutal sounds of Everly being raped by several men. Then she stumbles naked into a bathroom, lifts the lid off the back of the toilet and retrieves an automatic pistol in a waterproof bag.

The first rapist who comes pounding on the door for more action gets perforated for his trouble. Then our girl mows down a half dozen more of the creeps who’ve been lounging around the apartment which has been her prison.

“Everly” takes place in 90 real-time minutes as the titular character desperately tries to contact her estranged mother (Laura Cepeda), who has been caring for Everly’s young daughter (Aisha Ayamah).

Meanwhile she must defend herself not only from wave after wave of assassins, but from the prostitutes in adjacent apartments who hope to claim the bounty on her head.

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Jessica Chastain, Oscar Issacs...courting the money

Jessica Chastain, Oscar Issacs…courting the money

“A MOST VIOLENT YEAR: My rating: B-

125 minutes | MPAA rating: R

As he demonstrated in his breakout debut film, 2011’s “Margin Call” (about the meltdown of a big Wall Street firm under the weight of billions in useless mortgages), writer/director J.C. Chandor is obsessed with capitalism — especially with the odds against being both a successful capitalist and an honest human being.

In “A Most Violent Year” he’s at it again, giving us the story of a business owner struggling to maintain his integrity in a business that seems to have little use for it.

The setting is New York City in 1981, a year that apparently was remarkable for the Big Apple’s high body county. Curiously, the film isn’t all that violent — at least not physically.

Oscar Isaac (who made such a strong first impression in the Coen’s “Inside Llewyn Davis”) plays Abel Morales, the immigrant operator of a heating oil distributorship.

As the film begins, Abel is going all in on a major purchase. He’s snapping up a riverside oil storage facility, and to do it he has to put up everything he owns and promise to deliver another huge payment in 30 days. If he can’t raise the cash, he loses everything.

That’s just one of  Abel’s headaches. His trucks are being regularly hijacked, his drivers roughed up and the fuel oil resold to his competitors.  The union boss wants him to start arming his crews.

On the home front, he and his young family have just moved into a sprawling, uber-modern home out on Long Island. Not only are the payments killer, but shorty after taking up residence Abel chases away a prowler and finds a loaded pistol abandoned in the bushes outside the front door.

Even more threatening, a government prosecutor (David Oyelowo, currently seen as Martin Luther King Jr. in “Selma”) has set his sights on Abel, hoping to make an example of him for the legal fudging that is part and parcel of the heating oil business. Abel is particularly incensed because he scrupulously follows “standard industry practices”…which is to say he cheats, but not nearly as much as his competition.

“I’ve spent my whole life trying not to be a gangster,” he protests.

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