adieu“GOODBYE TO LANGUAGE 3-D”  My rating: B-

70 minutes | No MPAA rating

If your average American moviegoer recognizes the name of Jean-Luc Godard, it’s probably for “Breathless,” the 1959 Jean-Paul Belmondo film that singledhandedly introduced the modern era in cinematic storytelling.

Godard hasn’t been much in evidence on U.S. screens since the Sixties — his work is too experimental and challenging even for most cinephiles.  But he’s made a movie almost every year for the last six decades, and finally one is playing in Kansas City.

“Goodbye to Language 3-D” already has gained some notoriety for having been anointed the best film of 2014 by the National Board of Review…a choice hotly debated within that august body (one might say the voters exhibited a perverse, cheeky humor worthy of Godard himself).

Now the film opens at Kansas City’s Screenland Crown Center, one of the few art houses around with projection equipment that can do justice to Godard’s use of 3-D photography.

This is not a conventional film…not even close. Like many of Godard’s works, it’s more of a collage on a central theme, an assault of dramatic (and antidramatic) moments, news footage, clips from old Hollywood flicks and political posturing.

The theme is summed up in the title — though since Godard relies so heavily on the spoken and written word one must assume he’s being ironic.

The picture opens at an outdoor used book stall where the patrons are roughed up by gun-toting men in black suits who attempt to intimidate readers. Periodically these thugs — who don’t seem particularly good at their job — will pop up to continue their harrassment.

A couple (Heloise Godet, Kamel Abdeli) sit around naked in an apartment holding post-coital debates.  Like everyone else in the movie, they are less characters exchanging dialogue than points of view spewing socio-political maxims.

“Those lacking imagination take refuge in reality.”

“The law that denies its own violence cheats.”

“Yes, I am here to say ‘no’.”

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Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin

Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin

“INHERENT VICE”  My rating: C

148 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson has been on such a long, productive run (“Boogie Nights,” “Magnolia,” “There Will Be Blood,” “The Master”) that it was inevitable he’d mess up one day.

While you can’t categorize “Inherent Vice” as an outright disaster, it spends an awful lot of time going nowhere in particular. Mostly it spreads around lots of  stoner whimsey while wasting the efforts of a terrific cast.

It’s overlong, underpopulated with anything like real characterizations and — perhaps most frustrating of all — it’s a mystery yarn so uninvolving that 10 minutes after seeing it I could no longer recall who dunnit…or what they done.

Critics describe Inherent Vice as the most reader friendly of Thomas Pynchon’s dense, hallucinogenic novels.

As compared to what?  A trigonometry textbook?

It’s a riff on the classic L.A. detective yarn, set in the late 1960s and offering as our private eye protagonist a ganja-addled, sandal-wearing doofus.

“Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix, sleepy-eyed and moving at half speed)  is a beach-dwelling sleuth with offices in a free health clinic. He’s visited one night by his former girlfriend, Shasta (Katherine Waterston), a one-time flower-power love bunny who is now the mistress of the ruthless Wolfmann (Eric Roberts), L.A.’s most celebrated real estate developer.

Shasta tearfully asks Doc’s help in stopping a conspiracy by Wolfmann’s wife and her lover to have him committed to a mental institution. Doc — who for all his pharmaceutical excesses works to maintain his integrity — assents for old time’s sake.

But then both Wolfmann and Shasta go missing, and Doc finds himself dealing with coke-snorting dentist Rudy Blatnoyd (Martin Short),  killer Adrian Prussia (Peter McRobbie), and a sax-playing junkie (Owen Wilson) who was declared dead but is now back among the living.  Not to mention the Golden Fang, a vast drug-smuggling cartel.

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selma-bridge“SELMA”  My rating: B+ 

127 minutes  | MPAA rating: PG-13

“Like writing history with lightning.”

That was President Woodrow Wilson’s reaction to a 1915 White House screening of the Civil War epic “Birth of a Nation,” a film whose artistic ambitions were matched only by its racism.

A century later, director Ava DuVernay has given us “Selma,” a docudrama about a pivotal campaign in the fight for civil rights for black Americans. You could say this film writes history not so much with lightning as with compassion.

“Selma” often gets the details wrong (shuffling chronologies and geography, for instance), but its emotional heft is undeniable. In re-creating the 1965 protest marches from Selma, Ala., led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the movie captures the epic sweep of social upheaval, but also the way it played out for the individuals — famous and anonymous — who made it happen.

David Oweyolo as the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

David Oweyolo as the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

It’s as close to being there as most of us will ever get.

The screenplay by Paul Webb (his first) cannily begins with three scenes that establish the film’s breadth of focus and what is at stake.

In Oslo, Norway, the Reverend King (David Oyelowo, who like most of the lead players is British) accepts the Nobel Peace Prize.

In Selma, black housewife Annie Lee Cooper (Oprah Winfrey, one of the movie’s producers) attempts to register to vote. A sneering clerk orders her to recite from memory the preamble to the U.S. Constitution. When she does so flawlessly, he tells her to come back when she has memorized the names of all the county judges in Alabama.

And in Montgomery, Ala., four black girls are killed when a bomb planted by racists goes off in their church during Sunday services.

King and other civil rights leaders focus their efforts to register black voters in Selma, a burg so racially backward and with such thuggish law enforcement that it perfectly meets their needs.  With the media focused on the situation — dignified protestors being abused by white cops and racist mobs — the federal government will be forced to get involved.



Jack O'Connell as Louie Zamporini

Jack O’Connell as Louie Zamporini


“UNBROKEN” My rating: B

137 minutes| MPAA rating: PG-13

Angelina Jolie’s “Unbroken” is a highly polished tribute to human resiliency.

So why isn’t it more moving?

Based on the best-seller by Laura Hillenbrand (Seabiscuit), this ambitious film tells a story that would be outlandish except for the fact that it’s true.

When Louis Zamperini died earlier this year at age 97, he could look back on a personal history that included juvenile delinquency, a stint as an Olympic athlete, and WWII adventures as an Army Air Corp bombardier. Zamperini survived seven weeks drifting on the Pacific in a life raft, and two years as a prisoner of war of the Japanese, enduring hellish punishments above and beyond those routinely suffered by his fellow POWs.

That’s a lot of life to cram into a feature film — and the screenplay by Joel and Ethan Coen, William Nicholson and Richard LaGravenese already has drawn fire for what it has left out. More on that later.

Though Zamperini is played as a youth by C.J. Valleroy, the movie is  owned by Brit actor Jack O’Connell, whose adult Louis quickly emerges as the one character with whom we identify.  Other players come and go, but “Unbroken” is virtually a one-man show and O’Connell sinks into the role with almost documentary understatement.

Sumptuously mounted with some terrific action sequences — two bomber crashes plus those long weeks bobbing on a shark-filled sea — the film establishes early and maintains throughout the idea that after a difficult start, Louis was a man determined to survive and succeed.

TO READ THE REST OF THIS REVIEW VISIT THE KANSAS CITY STAR WEB SITE AT www.kansascity.com/entertainment/movies-news-reviews/article4813680.html


Benedict Cumberbatch as early computer creator Alan Turing

Benedict Cumberbatch as early computer creator Alan Turing


114 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

With his monumental forehead and widely spaced eyes, Benedict Cumberbatch more resembles the Star Child from “2001” than a movie sex symbol.
Nevertheless, he has his own army of groupies (the self-proclaimed “Cumberbitches”) and his unconventional looks pay off handsomely in roles as brainy outsiders.
Having already put his stamp on Sherlock Holmes for the BBC and PBS, Cumberbatch now takes on Alan Turing, the mathematician and inventor whose genius — he was instrumental in defeating the Nazis and is considered the father of the computer — wasn’t enough to keep him from running afoul of Britain’s draconian laws about “deviant” sexuality.
This film from Norwegian director Morten Tyldum (maker of the nifty thriller “Headhunter”) resembles an extremely good installment of “Masterpiece Theatre,” right down to the familiar actors.
But Cumberbatch’s central performance is so overwhelming that it elevates this historical drama into the realm of Shakespearean tragedy.
In early World War II this Turing is recruited to help crack Enigma, the Nazis’ allegedly unbeatable system for sending coded messages throughout the Reich’s war machine.
Denniston (Charles Dance), the brittle naval officer in charge of the effort, is not impressed with Turing, who seems indifferent or, worse, smug. (“Mother says I can be off-putting…”)
In fact, Cumberbatch gives us not just a brilliant eccentric but an autistic individual.  He avoids eye contact. He’s incapable of reading other people’s emotions. He doesn’t “get” humor.

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Mark Wahlberg

Mark Wahlberg

“THE GAMBLER”  My rating: C

111 minutes | MPAA rating: R

The protagonist of “The Gambler” is an infuriatingly self-centered, stubbornly self-destructive mess. Except that he’s being sold to us as a romantic, devil-may-care rugged individualist.

Sorry, I’m not buying.

In the opening moments of director Rupert Wyatt’s film (a remake of the Karel Reisz melodrama from 1974), Jim Bennett (Mark Wahlberg) drops in on an illegal casino in the basement of a sprawling seaside LA mansion. He heads immediately for the blackjack table.

Jim doesn’t mess around with strategy. He bets everything he has — $10,000 — on a turn of the card. When he wins, he then bets all of that on the next hand.  This continues until he loses everything and walks away with empty pockets.

Actually, his pockets aren’t empty.  They contain  $250,000 in I.O.U.s from Mr. Lee (Alvin Ing), the Korean gangster who runs the establishment, and from Neville (Michael K. Williams), a well-heeled local banger who sagely observes: “I think you’re the kind of guy who likes to lose.”

Owing so much to such unpleasant characters would be enough to make most of us curtail our gambling activities. But not Jim. He wheedles and begs until he gets another loan, loses that money, and then shrugs when the heavies show up to demand payback.

Jim is what is known in the trade as a “degenerate gambler,” a guy who couldn’t stop if his life depended upon it — which in this case it does. Ironically, during daylight hours Jim is kinda respectable — a published novelist who teaches college-level English lit — although from what we hear of his lectures, his class should be called “Early 21st Century Pretentiousness.”

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James Cordern, Emily Blunt and Meryl Streep

James Corden, Emily Blunt and Meryl Streep


“INTO THE WOODS”  My rating: B-

124 minutes | MPAA rating: PG

“Into the Woods” is a terrific big-screen musical right up to the point when it suddenly stops being great and turns disheartening and annoying.

In this it is exactly like the stage version of this Stephen Sondheim/James Lapine collaboration, which I saw in previews in New York just before its 1987 debut.  I’m talking 90 minutes of wonderful followed by 30 minutes of meh. So meh, in fact, that it damn near ruins all the good stuff.

Director Rob Marshall, who more or less singlehandedly resurrected the movie musical with 2002’s “Chicago,” comes charging out of the gate here, delivering a movie that works musically and  cinematically and which strikes just the right tongue-in-cheek tone in revisiting the fairy tale cliches of our childhoods.

In a village just outside the woods the Baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) yearn for a child.  Their cronish neighbor (a gleefully scenery-chawing Meryl Streep), widely believed to be a witch, reveals that in his childhood she put a curse of infertility on the Baker.  Now she offers to lift the hex if the couple will obtain for her several items needed for an incantation that will restore her youth and beauty.

Among the things sought in this scavenger hunt: a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn, and a slipper as pure as gold.

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