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Alice Braga, Gael Garcia Bernal...fighting land grabbers in "Ardor"

Alice Braga, Gael Garcia Bernal…fighting land grabbers in “Ardor”

“ARDOR” My rating: C+* (Opens July 17 at the Tivoli)

101 minutes | MPAA rating: R

A fermented mashup of spaghetti Western imagery and art house pretensions, “Ardor” gives us Mexican star Gael Garcia Bernal as…well, as Charles Bronson.

We first seen Bernal rising from a jungle river deep in the Argentine interior…he looks like some sort of primordial spirit.  Actually, he’s a farmer named Kai who has survived the burning of his homestead and the murder of his family by gun-toting goons.

Kai stumbles barefoot and shirtless to the farm of Jao (Chico Diaz) an old man scratching out a living with his daughter Vania (Alice Braga). But trouble follows in the form of three murderous brothers who force Jao to sign over his property and then kill him.  They take Vania as their prisoner.

Her new duties include cooking for and washing the clothing of her owners — and that’s just during daylight hours.

Happily Kai comes to the rescue, leading to a bout of jungle love (doesn’t look very comfortable) and a vendetta against the three killers and other mercenaries who have been making life miserable for the poor, hard-working farmers.

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Amy Schumer, Bill Hader...terrified by romance

Amy Schumer, Bill Hader…terrified by romance

“TRAINWRECK”  My rating: B- (Opening wide on July 17)

125 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Amy Schumer, the hottest thing in comedy right now, makes a largely effortless transition to the big screen in “Trainwreck,” a dirty-minded laughfest with a warm fuzzy heart.

In addition to starring with Bill Hader, Schumer also wrote the screenplay.  Judd Apatow directs, and is usually the case with his efforts (“This Is 40”, “Funny People”), the results often are scattered and overlong.

But the mere presence of Schumer onscreen and the pervasiveness of her uniquely biting-bitter-bawdy comic sensibility makes “Trainwreck” a keeper.  It’s more like a collection of sketches than a narrative whole, but when you’re laughing this hard it’s hard to complain.

Things get off to a wonderfully sarcastic start with an opening scene from the childhood of Schumer’s character, Amy.  Amy and her little sister Kim are being told by their philandering father that the family is breaking up.  Dad (Colin Quinn) is a glorious sleazebag who asks his little girls how they’d feel if they were told they could only play with one doll for the rest of their lives.

“They’re making new dolls every year,” reasons their reprobate father.

The moral of this father-daughter meeting: Monogamy is unnatural.

And that’s a philosophy the grown-up Amy embraces. She chugs drinks and puffs pot. She’s a bit of a slut.  She sends her boy toys home after sex — no all-night cuddles.

She works for a scuzzy/hip men’s magazine.  Amy’s editor (a nearly unrecognizable Tilda Swinton) is a vampirish Brit beauty whose indifference to everyone save herself is breathtaking — and that attitude is reflected on the publication’s pages: “You’re Not Gay — She’s Boring.”  “A Guide to Masturbating at Work.”

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Amy Winehouse...in better times

Amy Winehouse…in better times

“AMY” My rating: B+ 

128 minutes | MPAA rating: R

The documentary “Amy” spends its first hour making the case that the late Amy Winehouse was one of the great singer-songwriters of the new millennium, a British Jewish girl who channeled the smoky/slurred vocals of Sarah Vaughan and Billie Holiday and wrote searingly revelatory yet weirdly beautiful tunes.

Then Asif Kapadia’s film spends a second hour chronicling Winehouse’s rapid unraveling, her battles with substance abuse, and her 2011 death at age 27 0f alcohol poisoning.

The effect is heartbreaking.

Kapadia’s documentary is constructed exclusively of archival footage.  There are the usual TV broadcasts, concert footage, photos and news video (once she became famous and her shenanigans newsworthy, Winehouse was ruthlessly stalked by the paparazzi).

But what makes “Amy” so intimate and ultimately revelatory is the huge quantity of private videos — most shot on smart phones in private circumstances — that chronicle her transition from fresh-faced 15-year-old to up-and-coming musician to hunted, haunted cultural icon.

Dozens of Winehouse’s friends, co-workers and family members contribute their memories and thoughts, but there are no talking-head interviews.  Rather, these comments play under the compelling visuals. Continue Reading »

##and **

Linnea Saasen and Alex Holdridge

“MEET ME IN MONTENEGRO” My rating: C

90 minutes | No MPAA rating

You’d think that a movie that was so overwhelmingly autobiographical would be more interesting.

Alas, “Meet Me in Montenegro” is a bit of a shrug.

It was written by,  directed by, and stars real-life couple Alex Holdridge and Linnea Saasen and gives us — in  fictionalized form — the story of their romance.

Holdridge, whose “In Search of a Midnight Kiss” was an Independent Spirit Award winner back in 2007, has been trying for years to make another feature, and he’s incorporated that struggle as part of  his character’s back story.

Anderson(Holdridge) is a once-promising indie filmmaker now wasting away while trying to sell his new sci-fi script to a big studio.  Nobody’s biting.

Also, he’s moping over the collapse three years ago of a big affair with Lina (Saasen), a Norwegian dancer he met in Berlin and with whom he spent six glorious weeks in Montenegro.  It ended when she vanished without a fare-thee-well. Anderson returned to the States an emotionally bruised loser.

Now he’s back in Berlin. Actor Jason Ritter (playing himself) has expressed an interest in the script and at his own expense Anderson has flown to Germany to take a meeting. Wouldn’t you know it? He runs into Lina, and after some tentative maneuvering they pick up where they left off. Continue Reading »

Stuart, Scarlet Overkill, Kevin and Bob

Stuart, Scarlett Overkill, Kevin and Bob

“MINIONS”  My rating: C+  

91 minutes | MPAA rating: PG

It is the perennial dream of second bananas to become the star of the show.

Sometimes they’re better off as second bananas.

That’s the case with “Minions,” the new spinoff from the wildly successful “Despicable Me” animated franchise.

In the “Despicable” features the Minions are the banana-yellow, fireplug-shaped workforce of the evil mastermind Gru voiced by Steve Carell.  Outfitted with huge safety goggles and tiny overalls, they cheerfully  do their master’s bidding while babbling in a hilarious helium-voiced language.

Though loyal to their evil boss, the Minions are morally neutral.  More important, they’re inept, which means their efforts hinder as much as help the big guy’s agenda.

“Minions” follows the template set last fall by “Penguins of Madagascar,” elevating one movie’s sidekicks to leading men in their own stand-alone story. But where “Penguins” gave us chatty waddling birds with very specific personalities, the various “Minions” are pretty much interchangeable.

Equally frustrating, by eliminating the Carell role, co-directors Kyle Balda and Pierre Coffin and writer Brian Lynch give their sawed-off protagonists no worthy character to play off of.

“Minions” begins in prehistory, showing how the creatures evolved over the eons. According to Geoffrey Rush’s narration, the Minions always sought an evil boss to work for, be it a tyrannosaurus rex or an Egyptian pharaoh. Invariably they bring their leader to ruin and must seek out a new benefactor.

After living for centuries in a polar ice cave, three minions — Kevin, Stuart and Bob — strike out on a quest to find a new boss. They wind up in NYC circa 1968, an era of protest, long hair and bell bottoms (not to mention the sounds of The Who, The Doors, The Kinks, The Stones and other classic rock acts that pepper the soundtrack).

TO READ THE REST OF THIS REVIEW VISIT THE KANSAS CITY STAR WEBSITE AT http://www.kansascity.com/entertainment/movies-news-reviews/article26763832.html

wolfpack-1024“THE WOLFPACK” My rating: B-

 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- 

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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