Edward Snowden

Edward Snowden

“CITIZENFOUR” My rating: A- (Opens Nov. 7 at the Tivoli)

114 minutes | MPAA rating: R

By now we have absorbed the knowledge that our government is — through mass data collection programs — spying on each and every one of us. We’ve numbed the shock with grim jokes.

“Citizenfour,” though, reignites the outrage. Laura Poitras’ spellbinding documentary takes us back a year to the beginning of the Edward Snowden controversy and places us at the heart of the situation.

In January 2013 Poitras — maker of “My Country, My Country” (about the 2005 elections in Iraq) and the 2010  war-on-terror doc “The Oath” — began receiving emails from a mysterious individual identified only as “Citizenfour.”  After establishing a variety of cryptographic and security protocols, Citizenfour announced he had a treasure trove of top secret government information depicting “the greatest system for oppression in the history of man.”

Citizenfour was, of course, NSA computer expert Edward Snowden, who told Poitras that “my personal desire is that you paint the target on my back.”

By June the 29-year-old was holed up in a Hong Kong hotel.  Joining him was Poitras and Guardian reporters Glenn Greenwald and Ewan MacAskill, well known for their stories piercing the veil of government secrecy.

As the journalists interviewed Snowden over several days, Poitras (who goes unseen) kept her cameras running.  The resulting film is like eavesdropping on secret history.

Like just about everyone else, I wondered about Snowden’s motives in amassing and then releasing all this secret information.

Is he a megalomaniac? A head case? An America-hating traitor?

After watching “Citizenfour” I’m calling him a hero.

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A church filled with homeless men in "Overnighters"

A North Dakota church becomes a haven for homeless men drawn by the fracking boom.

“THE OVERNIGHTERS”  My rating: B+ (Opens Nov. 7 at the Alamo Drafthouse)

90 minutes | PG-13

A documentary that plays almost like a scripted drama, “The Overnighters” is both a deeply personal story of a spiritually-driven but flawed individual and a damning commentary on the American economy in the new millennium.

Jesse Moss’ film is set in Williston, N.D., a small town in the midst of the fracking boom. There are lots of well-paying jobs in the petroleum industry, and that has attracted thousands of desperate men who arrive daily by car, camper and bus to find work.

Problem is, many if not most of them won’t get a job.  They are more or less stranded in Williston with no income, no housing, no hope.

That’s where Pastor Jay Reinke of the Concordia Lutheran Church comes in.  Reinke has turned his church into a crash pad for these newcomers, allowing many to sleep in their vehicles in the parking lot while others camp out in the church’s offices and classrooms.

Reinke’s motivations seem altruistic — “Who is my neighbor? How do I serve him?” — but there’s a price to pay.

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awake 2“AWAKE: THE LIFE OF YOGANANDA” My rating: B (Opens Nov. 7 at the Tivoli)

87 minutes | MPAA rating: PG

Few religious figures of the 20th century are more compelling or intriguing than Paramahansa Yogananda (1893-1952), the yogi who at the age of 26 received a divine calling to bring the spiritual lessons of his native India to America.

“Awake: The Life of Yogananda” — directed by Paola di Florio and Lisa Leeman — is a well-made overview of Yogananda’s life and beliefs, filled with fascinating photos and film clips that seem always to capture the guru with a mysterious Mona Lisa half-smile.

Arriving in Boston in 1920, Yogananda immediately began collecting devotees. But it was not until he moved to Los Angeles five years later that his ministry really took off, attracting celebrities like opera star Amelita Galli0-Curci and millionaire industrialists like oil tycoon James Lynn.

Yogananda’s genius was to dump the baggage of “religion” and promote his system of self-realization as a science.  Not relying on a particular creed or dogma, his approach allowed individuals of all religious backgrounds to integrate their beliefs with yogic practice that would, ultimately, rewire their brains.

He lectured incessantly. He pioneered a mail order program of study. And he founded the Self-Realization Fellowship, a center for yogic learning that still flourishes today on a Eden-like hilltop overlooking the Pacific. His Autobiography of a Yogi has been hugely influential and has sold steadily for decades.

Yogananda’s emphasis was on yoga and meditation as a pathway to godliness, not as some sort of physical workout.  As one of the many talking heads in the film explains, “It’s not set up to give you flat abs…although that’s a nice byproduct.”

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Keira Knightley, Chloe Grace Moretz

Keira Knightley, Chloe Grace Moretz

“LAGGIES”  My rating: D+ (Opens Nov. 7 at the **)

99 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Every filmmaker is allowed a few career missteps.

Lynn Shelton seems to have spent all hers on just one movie.

“Laggies” is…what? An unfunny comedy?  An uninvolving drama?

Whatever it is, it wastes what looks like a dream cast on a script so wretched you’ve got to wonder what all these talented people possibly saw in it.

Shelton is the indie phenom who seemed on the verge of greatness with her 2011 release “Your Sister’s Sister,” a comedy about two sisters’ relationships with the same man marked by long, real-time conversations.

Perhaps we should have taken heed when her last effort, 2013’s “Touchy Feely,” vanished without so much as a whimper.

TO READ THE REST OF THIS REVIEW VISIT THE KANSAS CITY STAR WEB SITE AT http://www.kansascity.com/entertainment/movies-news-reviews/article3561006.html
Michael Keaton and Edward Norton...exploring artistic differences

Michael Keaton and Edward Norton…exploring artistic differences

“BIRDMAN”  My rating: B+ (Opens Oct. 31 at  the Glenwood Arts, Cinemark Palace and Studio 30)

119 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“Birdman” is a tour de force, a heady mix of dark comedy and psychic meltdown with energy vibrating from every frame.

Writer/director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (“Babel”), star Michael Keaton (in a bravura performance) and a terrific supporting cast deliver a movie unlike anything we’ve seen before.

If the film, full name: “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance),” isn’t as deep as it thinks it is, there’s no arguing with the jaw-dropping creativity on display — technical, dramatic and thespian.

The setup: One-time movie box office champ Riggan Thomson (Keaton) — who earned worldwide fame portraying a feathered superhero called Birdman — has come to Broadway to write, direct and star in a stage adaptation of Raymond Carver’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.”

Riggan has personally financed the production in hopes of restarting his moribund career (“I’m the answer to a Trivial Pursuit question”) and affirming his artistic credentials.

Turns out his sanity is on the line as well.

TO READ THE REST OF THIS REVIEW VISIT THE KANSAS CITY STAR WEB SITE AT http://www.kansascity.com/entertainment/movies-news-reviews/article3449803.html

Jake Gyllenhaal...on the prowl

Jake Gyllenhaal…on the prowl

“NIGHTCRAWLER” My rating: B (Opens wide on Oct. 31)

117 minutes | MPAA rating: R

There are no fanged vampires, voracious aliens or whispy ghosts populating “Nightcrawler,” but this is a horror movie nevertheless.

In this skin-crawling drama from first-time director Dan Gilroy (whose screenwriting credits include “The Fall” and “The Bourne Legacy”), the ever-changeable Jake Gyllenhaal gives what may be the year’s most disturbing performance as Louis Bloom, a dead-eyed loner/loser who discovers his calling capturing news footage of big-city mayhem.

You may want to bring your own hand sanitizer.

When we first see Louis he’s driving a crappy old Toyota and stealing copper tubing, chain link fences and manhole covers to sell to a metal recycler.  It’s apparent from the beginning that he’s a b.s. artist who employs empty loquaciousness and a disarming smile to get out of tough spots.  Then he stumbles across a late-night car accident and a pack of freelance cameramen recording the gruesome goings-on, and decides on a career change.

Soon Louis is the proud owner of a police scanner and a cheap video cam. A quick learner, he spends his nights bouncing from crime scene to highway carnage to house fire. Fearlessly barging in on horrible situations,  he grabs if-it-bleeds-it-leads footage that impresses even seen-it-all Nina Romino (Rene Russo), news director of a struggling local TV station.

Nina has her own ideas about ideal news footage: “A screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut.”

In short order Louis has a flashy new car and a low-paid assistant, the homeless/hapless Rick (Rick Garcia), who serves as his navigator and second cameraman as the pair zap around Los Angeles, trying to beat the other news crews — and even the cops — to the crime scenes.

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Viggo Mortensen, Oscar Isaac, Kristen Dunst

Viggo Mortensen, Oscar Isaac, Kristen Dunst

“THE TWO FACES OF JANUARY”  My rating: B- (Opens Oct. 31 at the Tivoli)

96 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

In a cinema world filled with Bourne-ish violence and spectacular chases, there’s something quietly satisfying to be found in the work of Patricia Highsmith.  Her novels — especially those centering on the vaguely sinister Tom Ripley — were about character and motivation, not overt violence.

“The Two Faces of January” — the directing debut of acclaimed screenwriter Hossein Amini (“The Wings of the Dove,” “Drive,” “47 Ronin”) — is a minor work but a solid one, a tale of corruption and escape set against the spectacular Greek countryside.

It’s 1962 and the American couple, Chester and Collette (Viggo Mortensen, Kristen Dunst) are enjoying the pleasures of Athens.  He’s a money manager, the much younger Collette is rather obviously a trophy wife.

They hook up with another American, the young Rydal (Oscar Isaac, late of the Coen’s “Inside Llewyn Davis”), an American “poet” who sells his services as a tour guide. And because he speaks fluent Greek and can conspire with local merchants and vendors, Rydal is usually able to double-charge his clients for a bit of extra profit.


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