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Brendan Gleeson, Kelly Reilly

Brendan Gleeson, Kelly Reilly

“CALVARY” My rating: C+ (Opening  Aug. 15 at the Glenwood at Red Bridge, the AMC Studio 30, and the Cinemark Plaza)

100 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Not even a great-ish performance from Brendan Gleeson can disguise the confusion at the heart of “Calvary,” the new Irish movie from writer/director John Michael McDonagh.

As the film begins it seems to be setting up a Hitchcockian dilemma.  In the confessional, Father James (Gleeson) is threatened by a parishioner who as a child was repeatedly raped by his parish priest.

The perpetrator is long dead, but the victim still wants revenge. He announces (we hear his voice, but don’t see him) that in just a week he will kill Father James. The fact that James is a good priest and in no way connected to the long-ago outrage will only make for a more devastating “statement.”

James thinks he knows who this individual is.  And his superior informs him that when a priest’s life is threatened, the sanctity of the confessional is no longer an issue. James is free to go to the police.

But he doesn’t…which is only one of many improbabilities McDonagh pile atop one another.

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Jon W***

Jon Wojtowicz, the real “Sonny” from “Dog Day Afternoon”

 

“THE DOG”  My rating: B (Opening Aug. 15 at the Alamo Drafthouse Mainstreet)

100 minutes |No MPAA rating

One of the iconic images of the 1970s comes from the film “Dog Day Afternoon.” Al Pacino plays a bank robber who paces in the doorway of the building where he’s holding hostages, berating the surrounding cops, demanding pizza, a getaway plane and a sex change operation for his boyfriend.

Pacino played a character named Sonny. The real life Sonny was John Wojtowicz, and “The Dog” is his story.

Filmmakers Allison Berg and Frank Keraudren followed the elderly Wojtowicz over several years (he died in 2006) and their documentary leaves us with as many questions as answers. This was probably inescapable, for Wojtowicz was a raging egoist, a bombastic storyteller, a mixture of admirable traits (when he fell in love, he fell in LOVE), hilarious self-aggrandizement (until it gets wearisome), profane poetry and a sexual appetite that was off the charts.

“I’ve had four wives, 23 girlfriends,” the white haired Wojtowicz boasts.  “They all know each other. I’m like Prudential. I’m the rock.”

The film follows his remarkable life from Brooklyn boyhood to service in Vietnam, his discovery (in basic training) of gay sex, his return home and his marriage to a neighborhood girl.

But before long he was part of the Manhattan homosexual scene in the wake of the Stonewall riots. Wojtowicz became a gay activist — though he admits it was as much to get laid as for his sense of social justice. He met and “married” Ernest Aaron, a transexual, and it was Ernie’s desperate quest for a sex change operation (he had attempted suicide several times) that drove Wojtowicz in August of 1972 to devise a bumbling plan to rob a Chase Manhattan Bank outlet in Brooklyn.

The crime turned into a long standoff that drew huge crowds and unfolded on live television. Wojtowicz put on a show, strutting for the news cameras, hurling insults and handfuls of cash at the cops, playing the big man.

Watching the vintage TV footage, one realizes how accurately Pacino and director Sidney Lumet captured the event.

Wojtowicz  spent seven years in federal prison being beaten and gang raped…though eventually he “married” another inmate.

While in prison, “Dog Day Afternoon” was released. Wojtowicz was pleased by the attention paid his outlandish story: “Nobody would rob a bank to get the money to cut off a guy’s dick in a sex change operation. That’s why they made a movie about it.”

 

 

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alive-inside“ALIVE INSIDE” My rating: A (Opening Aug. 15 at the Tivoli)

78 minutes | No MPAA rating 

Movies don’t change lives.

Religion can change lives. Falling in love can, and so can becoming a parent. Tragedy, alas, is hugely effective at creating change, albeit painfully.

But movies? Not really.

Except nobody seems to have told this to the makers of “Alive Inside,” a devastating, incredibly inspiring documentary about the power of music.

Michael Rossato-Bennett‘s documentary follows the efforts of Dan Cohen, a volunteer whose personal mission in life is to bring music to Alzheimer’s patients.

He does it with an iPod, a pair of headphones and playlists specially built to reflect the music these individuals enjoyed in their primes.

“Music connects people with who they have been, who they are and their lives,” Cohen says. “Because what happens when you get old is all the things you’re familiar with, your identity, are all just being peeled away.”

Early in the film Cohen works his magic on a 94-year-old man who has been more or less vegetative for years. With the music playing, the man comes alive. He sings along, he claps his hands and waves. And, astoundingly, he begins holding a conversation with Cohen. It’s the first time he’s really talked to another human being in ages.

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Audrey Tatou and Romain Duris in "Mood Indigo"

Audrey Tautou and Romain Duris in “Mood Indigo”

“MOOD INDIGO” My rating: C  (Opens May 8 at the Alamo Drafthouse Mainstreet)

94 minutes | No MPAA rating

“Mood Indigo” is so aggressively French — not just French, but avant garde, let’s-blow- Gauloise-smoke-up-our-asses French — that I’m not sure that citizens of any other country should subject themselves to it.

The latest from the ever-eccentric Michel Gondry (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”) starts out like an episode of “PeeWee’s Playhouse” and ends up like one of Ingmar Bergman’s uber-dark meditations on mortality.

The first half — the “fun” half — unfolds in the Paris world of Colin (Romain Duris), a child/man who lives in what appears to be a subway car slung between two tall buildings.  Colin is a Duke Ellington-obsessed inventor (thus the film’s title). Among his Rube Goldberg-ish creations is an upright piano which mixes cocktails, the ingredients and proportions determined by which jazz classic is being played.

Colin’s household is a wonder.  Live eels squirm out of the kitchen tap, his meals (thanks to stop-action animation) come to life on the table, and a mouse (an actor in an animal suit) grows fresh veggies in a greenhouse fashioned from an old microwave oven.

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Om Puri and Helen Mirren

Om Puri and Helen Mirren

“THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY” My rating: B  (Opening wide on Aug. 8)

122 minutes | MPAA rating: PG

Moviegoers are forgiven for approaching “The Hundred-Foot Journey” with foreboding. From the ads one might reasonably conclude that this is yet another middlebrow movie tailor-made to soothe (but never challenge) the sensibilities of the art house blue-hair brigade.

Well, Lasse Hallstrom’s film is definitely middlebrow, and it is certainly soothing — but it’s also very well acted and emotionally potent. It  introduces two newcomers (quite possibly the handsomest couple I’ve seen on screen in ages) who will, if there is any justice, become overnight stars. And they are perfectly complemented by two cinema veterans at the top of their game.

Plus, “The Hundred-Foot Journey” is, God help me, life-affirming, albeit without feeling manipulative. (I don’t mind when a movie makes me cry…only when it twists my arm to achieve that effect.)

The widower  Kadam (Om Puri) has fled political upheaval in his native India and with his five children has opened a restaurant outside London. But the weather sucks and now they are driving around Europe, trying to find a place to settle down. (Granted, this doesn’t sound like a terribly smart business plan, but since Kadam still converses regularly with his dead wife, you’ve got to assume cosmic forces are in play.)

The family’s van breaks down in a postcard-perfect French burg (it’s got a river, rolling hills and a view of the mountains) and Kadam gloms onto an abandoned building that he believes could become the home for his new Indian restaurant.

Problem is, it sits just across the road (100 feet away, to be precise) from a Michelin-starred French restaurant operated for decades by the widow Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren). Mallory is a shrewish lady who lives and breathes haute cuisine, and she is appalled by the Kadam family’s blaring Bollywood music, the garish colors of their restaurant’s decor, and the heavily-spiced odors that drift across the road and into her stuffy establishment. (“If your food is anything like your music, I suggest you tone it down.”)

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Andrew

Andrew

“RICH HILL” My rating: A- (Opening Aug. 8 at the Screenland Crown Center)

91 minutes | No MPAA rating

Get out your hanky.  After watching “Rich Hill” you’ll need it.

This Sundance Grand Jury Prize-winning documentary from cousins Tracy Droz Tragos and Andrew Droz Palermo — centering on three adolescent boys coming of age in Rich Hill, MO (southeast of Kanas City in Bates County) — is a heartfelt and sobering study of poverty in America.

It’s about the sort of people the rest of the world looks upon with amusement and disdain, something that is acknowledged in the opening minute by 14-year-old Andrew, who declares “We’re not trash. We’re good people.”

And Andrew really is good people, a young man overflowing with hope and benign intentions despite a family situation — a mother this close to being institutionalized and a handyman father whose endless (and apparently hopeless) quest for employment means moving his clan several times every year — that would leave a lesser individual angry and impotent.

Instead Andrew is smart, well-spoken, and maintains a charitable disposition that is little short of miraculous. You feel that he might have a real chance at making something of himself.

The same cannot be said of the film’s other two subjects.

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Chadwick Boseman as James Brown

Chadwick Boseman as James Brown

“GET ON UP”  My rating: C+ (Opening wide on August 1)

138 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Actor Chadwick Boseman doesn’t look much like James Brown.

They’re both African Americans, yeah, but that’s about as far as the resemblance goes.

But Boseman, who a couple of years back wowed us with his performance as baseball great Jackie Robinson in “42,” pulls off an impressive transformation in “Get On Up.”

He gets some help from a closet full of wigs and funky period clothing, but mostly he acts his way into Brown’s shoes, capturing the movements, the physical attitude, the facial expressions of the late great Godfather of Soul. Viewed from the right angle, illuminated with dramatic stage lighting, Boseman convinces us that he’s the real deal.

Too bad the film of which he is the centerpiece can’t decide what deal it’s talking about.

James Brown was a musical genius, an exacting boss, a wandering and frequently violent husband. He was a bundle of contradictions — compelling and caustic, inspiring and irritating — and the makers of “Get On Up” clearly don’t know what to make of him.

Should they idolize him? Should they knock him off his pedestal?

Perhaps screenwriters Jez and John-Henry Butterworth were limited by the dictates of Brown’s estate and heirs.  Or perhaps they simply were unable to find a coherent take on a guy whose rags-to-riches life is the stuff of American legend and whose personal failings were damn near Sophoclean.

They try to mask their wishywashy approach by employing a time-bending narrative that is forever zigging and zagging between Brown’s impoverished (emotionally and financially) childhood and his adult triumphs and misadventures. But without a clear point of view running throughout the picture, “Get On Up” runs out of dramatic steam long before the final credits.

Thank heavens for that superb James Brown songbook, which allows Boseman to perform such killer hits as “It’s a Man’s World,” “Please Please Please,” “Cold Sweat” and “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag.”  I can’t tell if Boseman is doing his own singing here or lip-syncing to original Brown tracks, but the results are mesmerizing. At the very least you’ll come away from the film marveling at Brown’s musical contributions and continuing influence.

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