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Blake Robbins

Blake Robbins

“THE SUBLIME AND BEAUTIFUL” My rating: B (Opening Oct. 24 at the Screenland Crown Center)

91 minutes | No MPAA rating

The Lawrence-lensed “The Sublime and Beautiful” is a home-grown art film, funded through Kickstarter and exuding the sort of downbeat but classy aura that wows ‘em on the festival circuit (where the film has picked up several awards) if not at the multiplex.

This first writing/directing effort from veteran actor Blake Robbins (TV’s “The Office”), who also stars, is what you might call a transcendent tragedy.

The film’s first 20 minutes depict an average day in the lives of Dave (Robbins) and Kelly  (Laura Kirk) and their three kids, who range in age from toddler to tweener.

In a scene of lively chaos the kids are bundled off to school. There’s talk of Christmas wish lists.

At the university where he teaches, Dave — burly, balding, bearded — grades semester finals and gently rejects the offer of a pretty student willing to trade sex for a passing grade.

It’s pretty much a study in normalcy with Dave as our smart, likable, decent protagonist.

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**** (left foreground)

Tessa Thompson (left foreground)…campus troublemaker

“DEAR WHITE PEOPLE” My rating: C+ (Opens wide on Oct. 24)

100 minutes | MPAA rating: R

A post-racial America?

Not according to “Dear White People,” writer/director Justin Simien’s savage satire in which all the swirling crosscurrents of black/white interaction reach critical mass on a posh Ivy League campus.

The film begins with news reports about the furor created by a party at Winchester University. Revelers were invited to “free your inner Negro” by costuming themselves as black stereotypes and dining on friend chicken.

The story proper begins some months earlier and divides its time among several characters, most (but not all) of them African American.

Sam (Tessa Thompson) has a show called “Dear White People” on the campus radio station where she dishes humorous observations on race relations. One wag describes her as “like Spike Lee and Oprah had a pissed-off baby.”

Though she’s more performance artist than true activist, Sam finds herself running for president of one of Winchester’s “houses,” as the various dormitories are known.

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Brad Pitt (foreground) and tank crew (left to right): Shia LeBouf, ** , Michael Pena, I*.

Brad Pitt (foreground) and tank crew (left to right): Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman, Michael Pena, Jon Bernthal.

“FURY”  My rating: B (Opens wide on Oct. 17)

134 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“Fury” is on one level one of the great war/action films, a face-first plunge into the blood, guts and terror of combat.
But writer/director David Ayer (“Training Day,” “End of Watch”) is aiming for more than just a stomach-churning visit to war’s visceral horrors. He wants to show how combat dehumanizes the individuals who must do the dirty work.
It’s impossible to watch the trailers for “Fury” — with a grimy Brad Pitt in charge of a World War II tank crew — and not be reminded of the Nazi-killing good ol’ boy Pitt portrayed in “Inglourious Basterds.”
That 2009 Quentin Tarantino film was an exaggerated, almost hallucinogenic comic fantasy of warfare. Ayer, though, plays it straight, eschewing overtly comic elements and pushing for an unflinching earnestness.
Only trouble is, he may have pushed too hard.
We are introduced to the five-man crew of Fury, a Sherman tank, on a German battlefield in the spring of 1945, during the last gasps of the war. The tank commander, Sgt. Don “Wardaddy” Collier (Pitt), makes short, silent work of a passing German officer (a knife in the eyeball does the trick nicely). He then climbs back into the tank occupied by three living crewmen and the headless corpse of a fourth.
We’re all accustomed to war movies stocked with various American “types”: a Jew, a Hispanic, a black, a college boy, a redneck. We’re meant to identify with them.
Just try identifying with the creeps who live in Fury. The mechanic Grady  Travis (“Walking Dead’s” Jon  Bernthal) seems more mumbling Neanderthal than modern man. The gunner, Boyd “Bible” Swan (a nearly unrecognizable mustachioed Shia LaBeouf), is intensely religious — he abstains from drink and women but seems to find sexual release in blowing Germans all to hell. The driver, Trini “Gordo” Garcia (Michael Pena), is a bit closer to normal — until you realize that he and Travis are most likely brothers-in-rape.
After years of fighting, whatever civilized veneer these guys had has been stripped away. No longer all-American boys, they are more of a renegade biker gang, killing prisoners and then retreating to their Sherman tank like wolves to their lair.
TO READ THE REST OF THIS REVIEW VISIT THE KANSAS CITY STAR WEB SITE AT   http://www.kansascity.com/entertainment/movies-news-reviews/article2811409.html
Rosemarie DeWitt, Adam Sandler...always on line

Rosemarie DeWitt, Adam Sandler…always on line

“MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN” My rating: C+ (Opens Oct. 17 at the Tivoli, Glenwood Arts and the Cinetopia)

119 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“Men, Women & Children” is a how-we-live-now movie, an attempt to capture the contemporary zeitgeist through multiple characters and several interlocking plot threads.

The late Robert Altman made how-we-live-now movies quite naturally (“Nashville,” “Short Cuts,” “A Wedding”). One of the best examples of the genre is Todd Solondz’s dark and bitterly funny “Happiness” (1998). Nicole Holofcener (“Friends with Money,” “Please Give”) is our current master of the form.

In “Men, Women & Children” writer/director Jason Reitman (“Juno,” “Up in the Air,” “Young Adult”) tackles the contemporary family.  The usual suspects are on hand: a suburban couple whose sex lives have hit a dead end, children trying to keep secrets from their parents, the young virgin misused by an older boy, first love, adults with toxic ambitions for their offspring.

Reitman attempts to tie all these loose ends together by stressing how instant internet access, smart phones, video games and other elements of our immersive electronic world have — far from bringing us together– isolated us, each in his own cocoon of “connectivity.”

He is only partly successful.

The film features a flabbergastingly deep cast.  Adam Sandler (in non-comic mode) and Rosemarie DeWitt are Don and Helen, marrieds who have become bored with each other.  He cruises internet porn and escort sites; she joins an online service for wives in search of sexual release.

Their son Chris (Travis Trope) is addicted to online sado-masochism and can’t quite function even when his school’s prettiest cheerleader, Hannah (Olivia Crocicchia), expresses an interest in a hook-up.

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*** aka "The Green Prince"

Mosab Hassan Yousef aka “The Green Prince”

“THE GREEN PRINCE”  My rating: B (Opens Oct. 17 at the Glenwood Arts)

95 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Good guys and bad guys are the bread and butter of movie entertainment.  But in the real world the difference between the two can be as fine as a hair — or impossible to discern at all.

Nadav Schirman’s documentary “The Green Prince” is an in-depth dive into a real-world case of espionage. Deciding which side to cheer for could give you a migraine.

For 10 years Mosab Hassan Yousef, eldest son of one of Hamas’ most respected spokesmen, was a secret agent for the Shin Bet, Israel’s shadowy anti-terrorist agency. He wrote of his experiences in a 2011 memoir; now a perpetual target for assassination, he lives alone somewhere in the U.S.A.

This film is both a visualization of his book and an intriguing expansion.  For the film not only allows Yousef to talk about his past, but it also provides a forum for Gonen Ben Yitzhak, the Israeli handler whose growing friendship with and concern for Yousef led to his own career downfall within Shin Bet.

What’s tricky about “The Green Prince” (that was the nickname Shin Bet officials gave to their valuable informer — green being the color of Hamas) is that Schirman doesn’t play favorites. The documentary is 100 percent non-judgmental.  Each man is allowed to explain himself in head-on “interrogations” (these scenes look and feel a lot like Errol Morris’ intense style). It’s up to us to sort through facts, rationalizations, and personalities to reach our own conclusions.

For many of us, that conclusion will be an acknowledgement that it’s impossible to really understand why people do what they do.

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Jeremy Renner as journalist Gary Webb

Jeremy Renner as journalist Gary Webb

“KILL THE MESSENGER” My rating: B+ (Opens wide on Oct. 10)

112 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Apart from featuring Jeremy Renner’s best screen performance since “The Hurt Locker,” the new film “Kill the Messenger” is noteworthy as a throwback to the good old days before around-the-clock cable news.

We’re talking about a time when the ink-stained wretches of the newspapers were widely viewed as, well, as kind of heroic.

Badly paid, sure, and probably morally reprehensible in matters of alcohol and other forms of hedonism. But these journalists happily clung to the idealistic notion that their job was to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, and in films like “All the Presidents Men” newspaper reporters shined a light on corruption and criminality.

“Kill the Messenger” is based on the  career of Gary Webb, a reporter for the San Jose Mercury News who in the mid-1990′s, while covering the crack cocaine epidemic, stumbled upon a seemingly incredible story: To fund a rebel army battling the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua, the Contras had been smuggling countless tons of cocaine into the US.  The ensuing scandal became known as “drugs for guns.”

Webb never alleged that the CIA was behind the program, only that the CIA must have known about the drugs and tolerated it.

In other words, during the same years that Nancy Reagan was telling America’s kids to “just say no,” our government was allowing a flood of dangerous drugs to inundate the country’s inner cities. Most of the victims of this scourge were black.

Written by Peter Landesman and directed by Michael Cuesta (a veteran of Showtime’s “Homeland”), “Kill the Messenger” starts out as a sort of journalistic procedural.  Renner’s Webb stumbles across a secret government document that suggests a partnership between the government and a major drug trafficker.  Then, through dogged research, interviews, and travel to Central America and Washington D.C., Webb puts together a story that will rock the country and win him major journalism awards.

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Robert Downey Jr., Robert Duvall

Robert Downey Jr., Robert Duvall

“THE JUDGE”  My rating: C+ (Opens wide on Oct. 10)

141 minutes | MPAA rating: R

The Judge” has a few good things going for it, particularly the promise of a high-octane acting duel between Robert Duvall and Robert Downey Jr.
What the film doesn’t have is faith that the audience can appreciate solid dramatic acting for more than, oh, three minutes at a stretch.
In this story of an estranged father and son thrown together by a big trial, every  scene that carries a bit of weight immediately goes for a comic coda — often a cheap comic coda. The effect is weirdly mechanical. But we can’t leave the paying customers thinking serious thoughts, right?
The result is an overlong, overstuffed movie at war with itself.

TO READ THE REST OF THIS REVIEW, VISIT THE KANSAS CITY STAR WEBSITE AT http://www.kansascity.com/entertainment/movies-news-reviews/article2585988.html

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