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Gemma Arterton and Fabrice Luchini

Gemma Arterton and Fabrice Luchini

“GEMMA BOVARY” My rating: C+  (Opening June 12 at the Tivoli)

99 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Going in, the logical assumption is that Anne Fontaine’s “Gemma Bovary” is a present-day updating of Flaubert’s classic Madame Bovary (a straight cinematic adaptation opens today at the Cinetopia).

Actually, it’s more complicated and ambitious than that.  Perhaps too ambitious for its own good.

The story is told through the narration of Martin (Fabrice Luchini), the sixty-ish baker in a rural Normandy burg. He tells us that he used to be a literary editor in Paris, but gave it up for an uncomplicated life in the sticks.

Now he’s bored silly.

So he takes special interest when he discovers that his new neighbors, a young English couple, are named Charles and Gemma  Bovary (Jason Flemyng, Gemma Arterton). Quelle coincidence…the newcomers have almost exactly the same names as Flaubert’s characters.

Fascinated and not a little turned on by his pretty new neighbor, Martin befriends the Bovarys (Charles restores antiques, Gemma is an interior decorator specializing in trompe l’oeil) and begins actively studying (or spying on) them.

When he realizes that Gemma — going a bit stir crazy with rural life — has turned to a young law student (Niels Schneider) for a torrid affair, Martin smells a looming disaster. He moves surreptitiously to nip the illicit romance in the bud.

But good deeds can have unforeseen and disastrous consequences. Continue Reading »

jur ydln1orxqd4neeasuboo“JURASSIC WORLD”  My rating: C+ 

 124 minutes  | MPAA rating: PG-13

Bigger. Faster. More teeth.

That’s the corporate mantra at Jurassic World, the island theme park built on the ruins of the original Jurassic Park. This business stays on top by every few years introducing a spectacular new genetically modified attraction to keep the crowds coming.

Because with the short attention span of the average tourist, plain old dinosaurs aren’t enough.

“Bigger, faster, more teeth” is also at the heart of the movie “Jurassic World,” the fourth entry in the groundbreaking special effects series.

Back in ’93, when Steven Spielberg unveiled the original “Jurassic Park,” just 10 minutes of CG-animated dinos was enough to guarantee a blockbuster. But in tech-savvy 2015, lifelike dinosaurs are a dime a dozen.

So we all know going in that the dinosaurs are going to be convincingly great. But can the series’ stewards surround the big brutes with a story and characters that matter?

Uh … no.

Director Colin Trevorrow (maker of the low-budget time-travel film “Safety Not Guaranteed”) works with three fellow screenwriters to distract us with a surplus of dinosaurs and action. But mostly “Jurassic World” is content to rehash ideas that were worn out when “Jurassic Park III” came out in 2001.

Not even uber-likable Chris Pratt can dispel the pall of been-there-done-that.

Pratt plays Owen, a Navy veteran working with a quartet of velociraptors (those man-sized mini-tyrannosaurs) he has raised like ducklings. Owen has trained these carnivores to treat him as their alpha male. They don’t take orders, exactly, but at least they don’t have him for breakfast.

What Owen doesn’t realize is that in the massive park geneticists have been mixing DNA to create the baddest dinosaur ever, the Indominus rex. Except that their new creation is way smarter than a lizard should be and has curious skills, like the ability to conceal itself by changing color and body temperature.
Continue Reading »

Mia Wasikowska as Emma Bovary

Mia Wasikowska as Emma Bovary

“MADAME BOVARY” My rating: B 

118 minutes | MPAA rating: R

It is wise to approach a new screen version of Flaubert’s “Madame Bovary” with caution. (And today in KC we see the openings of two cinematic interpretations…see my review of “Emma Bovary.”)

In even the best of productions Flaubert’s tale of a foolish young wife — so convinced that she deserves a life of romance and luxury that she drives herself and her poor sap of a husband to ruin — is a downer.

The movies’ track record with Emma Bovary is spotty.  Americans are most familiar with the 1949 version starring Jennifer Jones, a spectacular beauty who oozed sexuality. It was easy enough to view her Emma as born to wickedness, and the character’s ultimate downfall must have proven particularly satisfying to misogynists who could argue that this is just the way these silly women are.

Now director Sophie Barthes emphasizes the tragedy in Flaubert’s tale by casting as Emma the wan Mia Wasikowska, who at age 25 could pass for a teenager. No voluptuary, Wasikowska — we first noticed her as the title character in Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” — has the physical presence of  a gawky adolescent.

In fact, Barthes and Felipe Marino’s screenplay opens with young Emma being educated by nuns. She’s a free spirit, though, who won’t follow instructions, and the next thing you know she’s being married off to country doctor Charles Bovary (Henry Lloyd-Hughes) and planted in his drab house in a drab village filled with drab people.

Continue Reading »

Paul Dano as the young Brian Wilson

Paul Dano as the young Brian Wilson

“LOVE & MERCY” My rating: B+ (Opening wide on June 5)

120 ninutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Several pages in The Book of Great American Lives should be reserved for the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson, whose 72 years have been packed with genius, celebrity, madness and redemption.

There’s more to the Wilson saga than could ever be wedged into just one movie, but Bill Pohlad’s “Love & Mercy” spectacularly chronicles one man’s rise-fall-rise in riveting human (and musical) terms.

Pohlad, a first-time feature director with an impressive list of producing credits (“12 Years a Slave,” “Into the Wild,” “Brokeback Mountain”) and screenwriters Oren Moverman and Michael A. Lerner have come up with a brilliant way of presenting Wilson’s story.

They’ve made two movies: one set in the 1960s starring Paul Dano as the young Brian, the other in the mid-’80s with John Cusack taking on the role. They so cannily entwine the two that just as the first, earlier story is spiraling into tragedy, the second tale, of the middle-aged Brian, is struggling toward recovery.

Let’s acknowledge up front that neither Dano nor Cusack looks much like the real Brian Wilson. Nor do they really resemble each other.

Doesn’t matter. Through some sort of cinematic alchemy, each actor nails the essence of Wilson at different stages of life. And far from triggering a disconnect, the casting of two performers in the same role enhances the story’s richness.

“Love & Mercy” opens with a montage of newsreel-like re-creations of the early Beach Boys in action — on the concert stage, posing for publicity photos on the beach (most of them were not actually surfers), playing for a “Shindig”-like TV show (go-go girls as a backdrop).

These are the heady days of innocence, fame and hit singles. We sense almost immediately, though, that the songwriter and arranger, Brian, stands apart from the group. He’s an odd duck, unnerved by live performances, crippled by panic attacks and driven to create music that he can hear in his head but must struggle to capture on tape.

Continue Reading »

and Carl Boneish....one huge leap for thrillseekers

Jean and Carl Boenish….one huge leap for thrill seekers

“SUNSHINE SUPERMAN”  My rating: B (Opens June 5 at the Tivoli)

100 minutes | MPAA rating: PG

Perhaps Carl Boenish had a premonition that he would die young.

Not that he was a gloomy sort. A legendary thrill-seeker and pioneer of the sport of BASE jumping — in which parachutists launch themselves off cliffs, bridges, skyscrapers and even towering antennas — Boenish was almost childlike in his enthusiasm for risk-taking.

But in addition to planning and executing daredevil stunts (which frequently ran afoul of the law and required elaborate secret agent-ish preparations), Boenish scrupulously documented his daring activities on celluloid, devising helmet-mounted cameras that allowed him to record sky dives and hair-raising plummets off rooftops.  It’s safe to say that without Boenish’s pulse-quickening footage,  “Sunshine Superman” would never have been made.

Director Marah Strauch makes extensive use of Boenish’s films (they’re way too slick to be called “home movies”), and these astounding images are the main selling point of this documentary about the fraternity of jumpers and the man whose devotion turned a dangerous hobby into a worldwide phenomenon.

Boenish was trained as an engineer but found in the early 1970s that he could parlay his love of sky diving into a gig as an aerial cinematographer, contributing action footage to Hollywood productions like “The Gypsy Moths.” He began creating his own spectacular short films, sometimes devoting two years to making a 15-minute production.

Continue Reading »

James Stewart in Hitchcock's "Rear Window"

James Stewart in Hitchcock’s “Rear Window”

Readers and Friends:

I’ve got a new part time gig screening movies for the Mid-Continent Public Library. This month (June) we’re displaying the versatility of long, tall James Stewart.

Screenings are at 2 p.m. Sundays at the North Independence Branch on US. 24 (it’s virtually across the street from the Truman Library). I’ll do a short introductory talk, show the movie, and then follow up with more palaver and questions from the audience.

It’s all free of course. Here’s the schedule:

June 7: “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” (1939): After all the passing years and our current political quagmire, it says something that Frank Capra’s tribute to honest lawmakers and basic American values can still put a lump in our cynical throats.  Stewart plays a new member of Congress who finds that corruption runs rampant in Washington…and he’s just naive enough to think he can do something about it. With Jean Arthur, Claude Raines, Thomas Mitchell.

June 14:  “Call Northside 777” (1948): Stewart’s innate decency made him a natural as one of society’s “good guys” (cops, newsmen, attorneys). Here he plays a tough Chicago crime reporter who reluctantly reopens a murder case and comes to believe that a man serving a life sentence is innocent. He battles a stubborn system to get to the truth. Shot in docudrama style on location in the Windy City, “Call Northside 777” also serves as a nifty time capsule of post-war Chi-town.

June 21:  “Broken Arrow” (1950): Stewart reinvented himself in the early ‘50s with a series of Westerns (“Winchester 73,” “Bend of the River,” “The Naked Spur”) in which he played flawed, even borderline psycho cowboy anti-heroes. “Broken Arrow” — based on the real-life friendship of government agent Tom Jeffords and the Apache war chief Cochise — is one of his less-disturbing titles from this period, and notable for being one of the earliest studio films to treat Native Americans with respect. Jeff Chandler plays Cochise — and he transcends the white-guy-in-dark-makeup problem to give his best film performance.

June 28: “Rear Window” (1954):  In the 1950s Stewart also became one of the Alfred Hitchcock’s go-to guys. Here he plays L.B. “Jeff” Jeffries, a globe-trotting photojournalist stuck in his Greenwich Village apartment with a broken leg. The bored Jeff uses his telephoto lens to spy on his neighbors and uncovers what may be a murder. Grace Kelly adds class and beauty as Jeff’s girlfriend; Thelma Ritter is a hoot as a home-care nurse with quite the mouth. “Vertigo” may be the most ambitious Hitchcock-Stewart film, but for pure pleasure it’s hard to beat “Rear Window,” a thriller overflowing with subtext about how that new-fangled thing television is making us a nation of voyeurs.


| Robert W. Butler

Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone

Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone

“ALOHA” My rating: C (Opens wide on June 5)

105 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

“Aloha” can mean either hello or goodbye. Thus it’s an appropriate title for a movie that doesn’t know if it’s coming or going.

That the latest from writer/director Cameron Crowe isn’t a total disaster can be credited to players whose charisma helps paper over the screaming holes and loopy notions marring the doddering screenplay.

These performers are just good enough to wrest a few memorable moments from the general chaos of an eccentric romantic comedy that isn’t particularly romantic or funny.

Brian Gilcrest (Bradley Cooper) is a near-legendary former Air Force officer who was deeply involved in the U.S. space program.  But after a long career decline and injuries incurred while a contractor in Afghanistan, he’s now a mere shadow of his former self.

He’s returned to his old stomping grounds in Hawaii as an employee of multi-billionaire Carson Welch (Bill Murray), who has invested heavily in a private rocket program and needs the blessing of native Hawaiian leaders to pave over some public relations potholes.

Brian’s assignment is too look up his old friend, the king of the nativist Nation of Hawaii (Dennis Bumpy Kanahele, playing himself), and secure said blessing.

Meanwhile Brian is torn between two women.  First there’s Tracy (Rachel McAdams), the love he unceremoniously dumped 13 years earlier. She’s now married to an Air Force Officer (John Krasinski) and the mother of two.

The arrival of her old flame — even in his semi-decrepit condition — exacerbates Tracy’s doubts about her marriage and a husband whose verbal communications are painfully  limited.

The other woman is Allison Ng (Emma Stone), a hotshot fighter pilot and one-quarter Hawaiian who is assigned as Brian’s military escort.  Allison starts out all spit and polish with a salute so sharp it snaps air molecules — but after a few days as Brian’s wingman  her military bearing turns all gee-whiz girly.

Continue Reading »

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