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eqmaxresdefault“EQUALS” My rating: B- (Opens July 29 at the Screenland Tapcade)

101 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

The dystopian future depicted in Drake Doremus’ “Equals” is on one level pretty attractive.

The people are mostly young, well fed and moderately good looking. Everyone wears white clothing and works and lives in uber-modern buildings of glass, plastic and concrete. There appears to be no crime.

Also, no joy. This civilization — formed after a war that left most of the Earth a smoking ruin — views emotion as a sickness or perhaps a crime. Citizens are bombarded with public service announcements alerting them to the symptoms of SOS — “switched-on syndrome” — in which they will begin to be overcome by emotions.

It’s like a being told you have AIDS…as the disease progresses the sufferers will become ever more unstable. Eventually they will be institutionalized and destroyed. Many choose suicide.

Early in “Equals” Silas (Nicholas Hoult) is diagnosed with an early stage of the disease. His coworkers are understanding but cautious…he won’t be required to wear a face mask, but his work station will be set apart from theirs.

He senses that a co-worker, Nia (Kristen Stewart), may also have SOS. Slowly they are drawn to commit the ultimate sin: A love affair.

Continue Reading »

Viggo Mortensen

Viggo Mortensen

“CAPTAIN FANTASTIC” My rating: B- (Now showing at the Rio and Tivoli)

118 minutes |MPAA rating: R

There’s something phony…or at least serious muddled…at the heart of “Captain Fantastic.”

Which doesn’t keep it from being intermittently entertaining and even borderline charming.

Matt Ross’ dramedy stars Viggo Mortensen as Ben Cash, the hippie-dippie/drill instructor Dad to six kids he’s rearing deep in the woods of the Pacific Northwest.

A typical day for these youngsters — they range in age from 5 to 17 — consists of rigorous physical exercise, survival training, hand-to-hand combat and some serious hitting the books. (And I do mean books…there’s no Internet or electricity out in the bush.)

They bathe in streams, grow food in a greenhouse and hunt the local wildlife, and at night hold family jam sessions around the campfire (Ben plays a mean guitar, not to mention the bagpipes).

Ben is what you might call a left-wing survivalist. He’s convinced of the immorality and uselessness of most modern society, and has trained his kids to parrot his views. The family doesn’t celebrate Christmas; the big day on their calendar is Noam Chomsky’s birthday, which Ben marks by presenting each of his offspring with their own very wicked-looking hunting knife.

They’re like a military unit, moving in perfect harmony whether running down a deer or shoplifting groceries.

Just because they’re growing up in the boonies doesn’t mean the Cash kids are intellectually deprived.  The  youngest of them can recite the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence, and the 12-year old is reading Middlemarch. The oldest, Bodevan (George MacKay), has a handful of acceptance letters from Ivy League schools; he’s trying to decide when to inform his father of this latest triumph (since it will mean leaving the fold).

Where is Mom, you ask? We never see her — alive, anyway. We learn that she’s been gone for several months for hospital treatment. And the bulk of the film consists of the clan’s road trip to Albuquerque to attend her funeral.

The opening scenes of “Captain Fantastic” are kind of idyllic — if you can ignore the fact that Ben is raising a brood  largely unequipped to deal with contemporary society.

But once the family members find themselves dealing with the outside world — in the person of Matt’s sister-in-law (Kathryn Hahn) and her husband (Steve Zahn) and his wife’s very rich, very opinionated, and (one suspects) very Republican father (Frank Langella) — we realize just what fish out of water they are. Continue Reading »

Matt Damon as Jason Bourne

Matt Damon as Jason Bourne

“JASON BOURNE” My rating: C+ (Opens wide on July 29)

123 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

It’s good to see Matt Damon back in action.

“Jason Bourne” marks his return to the renegade spy franchise after sitting out 2012’s “The Bourne Legacy” (in which Jeremy Renner played a fellow super assassin).

But let’s get real: This installment is less a continuation of the saga than a recycling of stuff we’ve already seen.

To say it’s superficial is giving it too much credit.

Writer/director Paul Greengrass (who helmed Nos. 2 and 3 in the series, “The Bourne Supremacy” and “The Bourne Ultimatum”) doesn’t even make a token effort at original plotting or character development. Nobody in this film has an inner life.

What he concentrates on to the exclusion of all else is movement.

The film is one long chase around the globe (Greece, Iceland, D.C., Berlin, London, Las Vegas) captured in jittery handheld camerawork and rapid-fire cutting. Is there one shot here that runs for as much as five seconds? Don’t think so.

At first it’s exciting. The movie radiates energy like a pubescent boy on a three-day Red Bull binge.

After a while it becomes numbing.

We encounter our fugitive hero on the Greece/Turkey border, where he has a gig as a street fighter. Basically he beats up other pugilists for money. It’s ugly work, but it keeps Bourne off the grid.

Enter former CIA agent Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), who has turned on her former employers and has now discovered evidence of the origins of the Treadstone superspy program — including a revelation about the crucial role played by Bourne’s late father.

But back in Virginia, CIA director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones, looking ever more like a 3-D topographical map of Arizona) is on the hunt for our man. Dewey is putting the final touches on a sixth-generation version of Treadstone and doesn’t want a wild card like Jason Bourneout there to spill the beans.

He employs the talents of cyber analyst Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) to track down Bourne. Soon Heather comes to believe that maybe Bourne isn’t such a bad guy after all (although her long game is hard to pin down).

But Bourne still must contend with another assassin, known only as “The Asset” (Vincent Cassel), who carries his own grudge against our hero.

TO SEE THE REST OF THIS REVIEW VISIT THE KANSAS CITY STAR WEBSITE AT http://www.kansascity.com/entertainment/movies-news-reviews/article92138672.html

Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart

Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart

“CAFE SOCIETY” My rating: B- (Opens wide on July 29)

96 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

It’s tough getting a handle on Woody Allen’s “Cafe Society.”

It’s not a drama, certainly. Its approach is too tangential and distant for any sort of emotional intensity.

But it’s not exactly a comedy, either. Despite a few chuckles there’s a noted paucity of laugh lines, and those bits of dialogue that do register are noteworthy not for their hilarity but rather for their weary resignation. (“Life is a comedy written by a sadistic comedy writer.”)

And despite being set in 1930s Hollywood, it has none of the nostalgic warmth of “Radio Days,” Allen’s memorable reverie about growing up in NYC in the glory days of radio.

So what does “Cafe Society” have going for it?

Well, good performances from Kristen Stewart and Blake Lively, spectacularly good cinematography from Vittorio Storaro (“Apocalypse Now,” “The Last Emperor”) and detailed production design courtesy of Allen’s frequent collaborator Santo Loquasto.

As the picture begins young Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg) has fled his suffocating home in the Bronx (Jeannie Berlin and Ken Stott are his bickering parents) to tackle life in wide-open Los Angeles. He hopes to get a job from his uncle Phil (Steve Carell), a Hollywood agent who drops celebrity names with the frequency with which the rest of us use words like “a” and “the.”

Phil is so busy (or self centered) that he keeps Bobby cooling his heels for weeks. (It must be noted that unlike your usual Allen protagonist, someone who’s hugely clever and bent on a career in the arts, Bobby is pretty much an average guy.)

Finally Phil sees the kid and assigns his girl Friday, Vonnie (Stewart), to show his nephew around Tinsel Town.

Between gawking at the homes of the stars the two youngsters hit it off. But unbeknownst to Bobby, Vonnie is having an affair with a married man. This is no small roadblock to their relationship.

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Julian Dennison

“THE HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE”  My rating: B-

101 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Kiwi filmmaker Taika Waititi had a classic cult hit with 2014’s “Things We Do in the Shadows,” a hilarious faux documentary about a pack of inept bickering vampires living in a rickety urban home. With its talking-head technique and absurdist attitude it was a close cousin to the comedies of Christopher Guest (“Best in Show,” “Waiting for Huffman”).

For his followup, “The Hunter for the Wilderpeople,” Waititi is channelling Wes Anderson, especially Anderson’s sublime “Moonrise Kingdom.”  If you’re going to pattern yourself on a recent film, that’s a pretty good one to emulate.

Ricky (Julian Dennison) is a rotund, sullen 13-year-old juvenile delinquent. He’s been a ward of the state most of his life and now he’s out of options. Having run away from countless foster homes, he’ll be on his way to a prison if his latest placement doesn’t work out.

As the film begins he’s being deposited on the farm of Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and Hector (Sam Neill), a married couple living in glorious isolation deep in a fantastic landscape of jagged mountains, jungle and winding streams. Paula (Rachel House), the brusque social services lady who delivers him, doubts that Ricky can be turned around…but at least this far from civilization there’s a limit to how much harm he can do or how far he can go.

Bella, a talkative woman desperate for motherhood (and quite capable of killing a wild boar with a knife), does her best to make a home for this resentful wild child. Her husband Hector, a bearded survivalist type, is unimpressed by this surly interloper with a gangsta/rapper wardrobe.

Wapiti’s screenplay s boils down to an extensive chase. After an initial adjustment period, Ricky softens and starts to get comfortable with life in the sticks. Hector  still isn’t crazy about this wise-ass city kid, but they become partners in crime and soon are hiding in the woods and living off the land while an ever-growing army of cops, park rangers, bounty hunters and others try to bring them in.

Like an Anderson movie, “Wilderpeople” features titled chapters (“A Real Bad Egg,” “Another Door,” “Broken Foot Camp”) and daring tonal shifts, going from physical comedy to heartstring-tugging emotion, social satire to a celebration of innocence to a tactile emersion in a gorgeous natural world.

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Edwina and Patsy

Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley as Edina and Patsy

“ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS: THE MOVIE” My Rating: C-

90 minutes | MPAA rating:  R

Making “Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie” must have been a blast.

Think about it: A reunion of old coworkers and their beloved characters, awesome scenery in the south of France, and a never-ending stream of famous-face  cameos — Rebel Wilson, Jon Hamm, Joan Collins, Chris Colfer, Lily Cole, Jerry Hall, Lulu (yes, the “To Sir With Love” singer), Graham Norton, Gwendoline Christie, Perez Hilton, Stella McCarthy and more skinny supermodels than the brain can process — that turns the movie into a celebrity version of Where’s Waldo.

If only some of the fun had ended up on the screen.

Fans of the old “Ab-Fab” TV show will be bitterly disappointed. Newcomers will wonder why anybody bothered.

It’s enough to make you look back fondly on the “Sex and the City” movies.

The long-running ’90s Brit sitcom featured Jennifer Saunders (who scripted the series and this movie) as Edina Monsoon, a  hoplessly inept p.r. maven to London’s fashion industry, and and Joanna Lumley as her running buddy Patsy Stone, an aging former model who can rarely think past where her next alcohol/pharmaceutical fix is coming from.

It was a savage comedy about a couple of reprehensible people.

Eddie and Patsy are still reprehensible, but the charm has worn very, very thin.

Continue Reading »

Yo-Yo Ma

Yo-Yo Ma

“THE MUSIC OF STRANGERS” My rating: B-

96 movies | MPAA rating: PG-13

That music is the universal language is one of the hoariest of cliches…which doesn’t make it any less true.

Since 2000 the Silk Road Ensemble, a band of international musicians spearheaded by classical cellist Yo-Yo Ma, has been making music that defies easy description.

“The Music of Strangers,” a documentary by Morgan Neville (maker of “20 Feet from Stardom,” that lovely non-fiction film about rock’n’roll backup singers), follows this esoteric orchestra from its inception to the present and across continents (including footage shot at K.U.’s Lied Center), offering plenty of ear-catching music and along the way highlighting the lives of several of the group’s outstanding players.

The film is inspiring, sure — the personal stories of some of these musicians are painful and the music is uplifting — but “The Music of Strangers” sometimes feels a bit like an in-house promotional effort. The film doesn’t shy away from criticisms that by participating in the Silk Road project these players may be diluting the indigenous music they seek to champion, but overall a feel-good mood carries the day.

The film begins by concentration on Yo-Yo Ma, who admits that he never actually chose to go into classical music, that it just sort of happened to him and he went along. The Silk Road project gives him a chance to branch out and explore other musical idioms.

Other segments focus on four ensemble members whose lives have taken interesting turns.  Spain’s Cristina Pato, who plays bagpipes native to her region,  is known as “the  Jimi Hendrix of the gaita” (in fact we see her tearing up the stage as a member of a rock band). She’s a live wire both on and off the stage and a champion of the traditional music of her often-overlooked region.

Wu Man is the reigning champ of the pipa, a Chinese lute, who grew up in the aftermath of the Cultural Revolution and felt she had to flee her country if she was to expand her world by playing with foreign musicians. Now she frequently returns to her country to encourage young people to study traditional instruments.

 

 

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Bryan Cranston

Bryan Cranston

“THE INFILTRATOR” My rating: B 

125 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Bryan Cranston became a household name on cable’s “Breaking Bad” by playing a decent family man seduced by the the money, violence and power of the drug trade.

In “The Infiltrator” he works an interesting variation on that setup. Here he’s a real-life lawman who goes deep undercover to undermine Pablo Escobar’s Columbian cocaine syndicate.

Director Brad Furman’s film (the screenplay is by his mother, Ellen Brown Furman) is a sort of police procedural enriched by intriguing psychological conflicts.

Set in the mid-1980s in Florida, “The Infiltrator” centers on Robert Mazur, a federal agent who comes to believe that seizing cocaine shipments is a losing strategy since there’s always more coming through the pipeline. A far more promising approach, Mazur believes, is to follow the money. The heads of the cartel can afford to lose drugs; they deeply resent losing their cash.

With the approval of his bosses (among them Amy Ryan and Jason Isaacs), Mazur creates an alter ego, shady businessman Bob Musella, who dresses well, lives big and has created a plan for laundering millions in the cartel’s ill-gotten gains. He begins by befriending the hard-drinking, whore-running street-level drug chieftains and rung by rung works his way up to the biggest movers in the Escobar cartel.

This is all very tricky, and Bob eventually finds it a challenge to separate the venal but charming Musella from his real life with a astonishingly understanding wife (Juliet Aubrey) and two kids. It must mess with your mind going from a coke-fuelled party in a topless joint to a cozy nest in the ‘burbs.

So that he won’t have to betray his wife by sleeping with a hooker (a gift from one of his new drug buddies), Bob claims to be engaged. A fellow agent, Kathy (Diane Kruger), must then step up to portray his trophy fiance. She’s a knockout, and you’ve got to wonder if under the pressure of their shared deception the two agents might not slip into a relationship of a more than professional nature.

Continue Reading »

secret-life1“THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS”  My rating: C+

90 minutes | MPAA rating: PG

The good news: There are some very solid laughs in the animated “The Secret Life of Pets.”

The not-so-good news:  The funniest moments are in the trailer.

This film from co-directors Chris Renaud and Yarrow Cheney (“Despicable Me”) starts out with a terrific depiction of New Yorkers going to work and saying goodbye to their pets. It appears our animal buddies have figured out how to move freely from apartment to apartment (open windows, fire escapes and ventilation ducts come in handy) so as to while away the human-less hours.

The ads promise an animal version of “Toy Story,” the idea being that when humans aren’t watching our toys and our pets cavort with impunity. And the animators have done a terrific job of nailing the characteristics of various canine and feline breeds.

But the film soon slips into what I call “runaround” plotting. I.e…run over here. Now run over there. Now run over THERE.

Our hero is a dog named Max (Louis C.K.) who is absolute dedicated to his owner Katie (Elle Kemper).  At least until Katie brings home a new dog from the pound, the massive and massively ravenous Duke (Eric Stonestreet).  A doggy version of sibling rivalry erupts.

But before long Max and Duke find themselves on the street and navigating the danger of the big city (Just like Woody and Buzz Lightyear, right?), including a manic white bunnywabbit named Snowball (Kevin Hart) who is leading a sewer-dwelling army of lost pets on a crusade against their human oppressors.

The voice cast is deep (Albert Brooks, Jenny Slate, Lake Bell, Steve Coogan, Hannibal Burress, Dana Carvey, Bobby Moynihan) and the animation is great.

But the middle portion of “The Secret Life of Pets” never feels like it’s going anywhere.

| Robert W. Butler

Dr. John R. Brinkley...cartoon version

Dr. John R. Brinkley…cartoon version

“NUTS!” My rating: B+

79 minutes | No MPAA rating

John R. Brinkley has earned his own pedestal in the pantheon of flimflammery.

In the 1920s and ’30s Brinkley became a mega-millionaire thanks to his “cure” for impotence.  This involved transplanting goat testicles (goats being incredibly horny creatures) into the scrotums of human males. (I wonder…how many of the little boys born after their fathers underwent this unorthodox treatment were named “Billy”?)

All of this was done out of his privately financed clinic in Milford, Kansas. Not only was “Doc” Brinkley pioneering dubious medical therapies, he was also the proprietor of America’s most powerful radio station, from which he sent forth a steady diet of “hillbilly” music and editorials read by the Good Doc himself.

The Brinkley saga is a documentarian’s treasure trove, and with “Nuts!” filmmaker Penny Lane (that’s what her parents named her) delivers a hugely enjoyable yet deeply troubling look into a master manipulator.

The first thing you notice about “Nuts!” is its look.  While there are a couple of taking-head interviews and some old photos and home movies, “Nuts!” consists mostly of  a half-dozen  animated segments — each in a different style. These provide a sort of comic book spin on Brinkley’s biography…which as it turns out was pretty much a comic book from start to finish.

During  his lifetime Brinkley built a rags-to-riches history for himself. He was a masterful marketer and promoter of ideas and music.
Continue Reading »

Ewan McGregor, Naomie Harris

Ewan McGregor, Naomie Harris

“OUR KIND OF TRAITOR” My rating: B-

107 minutes | MPAA rating: R

With “Our Kind of Traitor” Hollywood may have gone to the John le Carré well one too many times.

It’s not that the feature from director Susanna White (“Nanny McPhee Returns” and a whole load of TV)  is bad.

It just feels overly familiar. PBS, cable channels, Amazon and Netflix seem awash in Brit espionage fare, particularly titles with the le Carré pedigree. “Our Kind of Hero” tends to get lost in the mix.

Stellan Skarsgaard

Stellan Skarsgaard

Brit couple Perry (Ewan McGregor), a university lecturer, and his girlfriend Gail (Naomie Harris), an attorney, are vacationing in Marrakesh. Alas, the exotic setting is doing little to alleviate their relationship issues.  Having sex seems like more of a chore than a pleasure.

Soloing at a local restaurant, Perry is befriended by Dima (Stellan Skarsgard), a garrulous Russian accompanied by a bunch of fellow Russkies whose sharp clothes do little to disguise their thuggish demeanors.

Dima drafts the reluctant Perry for a night of clubbing. The next day he schedules a tennis game with his new bud. And Dima introduces Perry and Gail to his family (wife, three or four kids).

Anyone who’s ever seen a spy thriller knows that the unsuspecting Englishman is going to get in way over his head.

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bfg“THE BFG” My rating: B-

117 minutes | MPAA rating: PG

Among the great gifts given by young Steven Spielberg to the movies was a  sense of wonder.

Films like “Close Encounters,” “E.T.” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark” are plenty smart, but they work because of the childlike awe with which Spielberg approaches his stories.

A 69-year-old Spielberg brings back the awe with “The BFG,” a fantasy designed to tickle the kid in each of us.

Based on Roald Dahl’s 1982 children’s book, “The BFG” (it stands for “Big Friendly Giant”) soars on a couple of terrific lead performances, astonishing special effects work and a droll sensibility.

The film also represents the last screenplay by the late Melissa Mathison, whose kid-friendly credits include “The Black Stallion,” “E.T.”  and “The Indian in the Cupboard.”

Ten-year-old Sophie (a terrific Ruby Barnhill) lives in a London orphanage and dreams of escape. One night she spies an immense dark figure moving furtively through the streets.

Confronting this vision she soon finds herself in Giant Land where she is a guest/captive of The BFG (Mark Rylance), whose job it is to collect and redistribute children’s dreams.

The BFG is a benign eccentric who converses in his own brand of Yoda-speak, tossing around tongue-twisting words like “frobscottle” and “snozzcumber.”

BFG is a vegetarian, but the same cannot be said for the other giant inhabitants of the place. These skyscraper-sized Neanderthals have a taste for human flesh (especially children) and bear appropriately gruesome names like Bloodbottler and Fleshlumpeater (their voices are provided by Bill Hader, Jemaine Clement and Rafe Spall, among others). Continue Reading »

tickled“TICKLED” My rating: B

91 minutes | MPAA rating:R

As if the Internet wasn’t creepy enough, along comes “Tickled,” a documentary so suffused with anxiousness and oozing such an intimidating pall that it turns even the childlike act of tickling into a perversion.

David Farrier is a New Zealand broadcast journalist who specializes in offbeat human interest stories.  When he found an Internet site devoted to “competitive endurance tickling” he figured it was worth looking into.

The videos showed young men being tied up and tickled by other young men with fingers, feathers, even electric toothbrushes. The videos are both playful and sadistic, seemingly innocent yet weirdly homoerotic.

But as soon as he began making inquiries, Farrier received cease and desist letters from Jane O’Brien Media, the company apparently behind the videos. The firm sent a trio of “negotiators” from the U.S. to Aukland to confront Farrier and threaten him with legal actions that would gobble up his time and resources.

Most of us would bail. Not Farrier: “I didn’t want to give in to a bunch of bullies.”

And so — with friend and co-director Dylan Reeve — he began sniffing around the world of competitive tickling. Continue Reading »

Matthew McConaghy

Matthew McConaughey

“THE FREE STATE OF JONES”  My rating: C+

139 minutes | MPAA rating: R

A little-known and thought-provoking slice of Civil War arcana gets the full Hollywood treatment in “The Free State of Jones.”

Too bad it rarely rises above the level of a well-staged history lesson.

Written and directed by Gary Ross and starring Matthew McConaughey, this long (2 hours 20 minutes) epic is a Southern-fried melding of “Robin Hood” and “Spartacus.”

McConaughey plays Newton Knight, a real-life Mississippian who comes to believe he and his fellow poor whites are dying in the war for a system that only enriches wealthy slave owners.

Going AWOL from the Confederate army, Newton returns to his native Jones County, joining other fugitives — escaped slaves and army deserters — in an impregnable swamp.

Infuriated by the depredations of Confederate quartermasters stripping struggling farmers of their grain and meat and leaving them to starve, these renegades launch raids on the raiding parties, distributing the foodstuffs back to the folks who planted them.

Eventually this rebellion against the rebellion leads to pitched battles pitting Confederate troops against free blacks and angry farmers waving the Union flag.

At war’s end Knight and his ragged rabble declare themselves a sovereign nation — the Free State of Jones — with its own constitution.

But Knight’s ahead-of-their-time political views are no match for the ugliness of Reconstruction, the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, and the ascendency of the same monied swells who got him so riled in the first place.

Periodically the film zaps 70 years into the future where Knight’s great-grandson is on trial for violating Mississippi’s anti-miscegenation laws, having married a white woman whiile having one-eighth or more African blood.

 

TO READ THE REST OF THIS REVIEW VISIT THE KANSAS CITY STAR WEB SITE AT http://www.kansascity.com/entertainment/movies-news-reviews/article85376147.html

Kate Beckinsale, Tom Bennett

Kate Beckinsale, Tom Bennett

“LOVE & FRIENDSHIP”  My rating: B

92 minutes | MPAA rating: PG

Cinematic evil has a new name…thanks to the unexpected alliance of Jane Austen and Whit Stillman.

Well, maybe not so unexpected. Stillman’s comedies of manners (“Metropolitan,” “Damsels in Distress”) have always shared Austen’s concerns with social status and  romantic self-fulfillment while casting a satirical eye on human foible.

It’s just that this time Stillman has gone to the source and, for my money, come up with the best film of his career.

“Love & Friendship” is based on Austen’s unfinished novel Lady Susan, which was not published until 100 years after her death. It is largely unknown even to fans of her masterpieces, Pride & Prejudice and Sense & Sensibility, largely because it is unbelieveably dark, with a “heroine” who would be repulsive if she didn’t so effectively couch her sociopathy in Georgian good manners.

One of Austen’s big topics — the necessity of single ladies finding suitable mates — is once again explored, but this time without a shred of romance. All is calculation, subterfuge and scheming.

The recently widowed Lady Susan Vernon (a sensational Kate Beckinsale) is cast adrift without a man or the money to continue her highfalutin’ lifestyle. About all she has going for her is reputation for desirability and borderline scandalous behavior — that and the ability to charm her way past weaker minds (which in her reckoning means the rest of mankind).

As “Love & Friendship” begins (and the title is supremely ironic), Lady Susan pays a visit to her sister-in-law, Catherine (Emma Greenwell) and her kindly, impossibly thick husband (Justin Edwards). There’s never a question of thanking her moneyed in-laws for putting her up. Lady Susan operates on the principle that as a special person this simply is her due.

Any discussion of her paying her way, she observes, “would be offensive to us both.”

Her agenda — shared only with her friend and co-conspirator, the American Alicia Johnson (Chloe Sevigny) — is to find suitable mates both for herself and for her mousey daughter Frederica (Morfydd Clark), who is about to be thrown out of her ritzy boarding school.

 

Continue Reading »

Fred Andrews

Fred Andrews

When 62-year-old Fred Andrews died on Feb. 24 after a five-year battle with cancer, he left behind more than the nationally recognized film festival he created from scratch.

He also passed on to those who knew him a lesson in perseverance. “Can’t” was not part of his vocabulary.

In 1997, Andrews founded the Kansas City Filmmakers Jubilee, which since has merged with the Kansas City International Film Festival.

You’d expect a guy who founded a film festival to be some sort of cineaste. A film professor, perhaps, or a filmmaker.

Andrews was neither (though in the weeks before his death he completed a documentary about Kansas City barbecue and music). He was a big, bearded guy in jeans and plaid shirt who did tech work for Sprint.

Andrews was a film lover, but not in an academic or intellectual sense. He knew next to nothing about film theory, film production or film criticism.

He was just a guy who got a thrill from going to the movies, which is why he volunteered to work with the Kansas City Film Society.

There Andrews met local filmmakers, an underground army of aspiring moviemakers toiling in obscurity, working day jobs and devoting their weekends to capturing their dreams on film. They relied on volunteer casts and crews and financed their low-budget efforts by hook or by crook, all in the hope that someone would see their work.

“They all told me that their biggest need, other than money, is an audience,” Andrews would say. “I thought that was something we could help them with.’’

So he got to work organizing the first Jubilee, which ran for one weekend and featured 23 entries from local film and video artists.

By the second year the number of films exhibited had tripled, and Andrews had enlisted partners like the Film Society, the Independent Filmmakers Coalition, UMKC Continuing Education Arts & Sciences and the Kansas City Art Institute

By the fourth year the fest had ballooned into a nine-day extravaganza. Not only did filmmakers from all over the globe fly into town to show their movies, but the Jubilee offered seminars on cinema technology and financing geared to the needs of struggling filmmakers.

TO READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE VISIT THE KANSAS CITY STAR WEB SITE AT http://www.kansascity.com/entertainment/article63802842.html

WIENER-DOG-01“WEINER-DOG” My rating: B+

90 minutes | MPAA rating: R

A new Todd Solondz movie should be approached with equal parts anticipation and trepidation.

Trepidation because Solondz’s take on the human condition is a grimly amusing collision of the tender and the terrifying. And because while other American filmmakers cannily hedge their bets, diluting the astringent bite of their messages (or avoiding messages altogether), Solondz appears incapable of delivering his shocking assessments at anything less than full strength.

Oh, he’s got a sense of humor. But it’s a comic vision so dark that many won’t find it comic at all.

His latest, “Wiener-Dog,” follows a format most famously established by the great French director Robert Bresson in 1966’s “Au Hasard Balthazar,” the story of a hard-laboring donkey who passes through the hands of various cruel or indifferent human beings.

But “Weiner-Dog” is also a sequel of sorts to Solondz’s debut feature, 1995’s “Welcome to the Doll House,” which followed the unhappy adolescence of outsider geek Dawn Wiener.

The canine of the title is a female dachshund bought from a pet store by a middle-aged man (the playwright/actor Tracy Letts) as a gift for his son, Remi, who has only recently beat a cancer diagnosis.  Mom (Julie Delpy) is furious — one look at her sterile, uber-modern home tells us she has enough issues with a messy little boy, much less a shedding, shitting animal.

Little Remi (Keaton Nigel Cooke, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Heather Matarrazo, the star of “Dollhouse…” back in the day) lives an isolated life and is thrilled with his new pet, whom he dubs “Wiener-Dog.” The pooch is the one touch of spontaneous joy in his chilly world and his love for Wiener-Dog only intensifies with his parents’ growing irritation with this latest member of the household.

For Wiener-Dog whines and barks all night from her cage, refuses to be house trained and cannot obey Dad’s frustrated commands (“Heel, motherfucker!”). And when Remi objects to his  pet being spayed, Mom delivers a ghastly story from her own childhood about how her pet dog  was “raped” by a neighborhood cur named Muhammud and died giving birth to stillborn puppies. (Like so many memorable moments from the Solondz canon, you don’t know whether to recoil in horror or collapse in bitter laughter.)

Following an epic case of canine diarrhea — recorded by Solondz in a long tracking shot that feels like a nod to the traffic jam in Godard’s “Weekend” — the dog is sent to the vet’s to be destroyed.  But a lonely veterinary aide (Greta Gerwig) adopts Weiner-Dog, aptly renaming her Doody.

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