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**** and ****

Michael Barbieri and Theo Taplitz

“LITTLE MEN”  My rating: B (Opens Sept. 30 at the Tivoli)

85 minutes | MPAA rating: PG

Suffused with somber wisdom and and delicate emotions, Ira Sachs’  “Little Men” is a terrific movie about boyhood friendship.

It’s also about conflicts in the adult world that can destroy that innocent and easygoing intimacy.

Thirteen-year-old Jake (Theo Taplitz) is initially dismayed when his parents move from glamorous Manhattan to pedestrian Brooklyn and the building long owned by his recently deceased grandfather. Yeah, there’s more room in the rent-free second-floor apartment where Grandpa lived…but it’s Brooklyn.

He undergoes an attitude adjustment after meeting Tony (Michael Barbieri), whose mother Leonor (Paulina Garcia) operates a dress shop on the ground floor.

The kids complement each other nicely.  Jake is quiet and thoughtful; Tony is brash and confidant (and very, very bright).  Moreover, they share a love not only of video games but of the arts.  Jake is a promising painter and Tony has set his goal on becoming an actor.

Over time they set in motion plans to get into an arts-themed high school.

The boys are so tuned in to each other’s emotions and intellects (there’s just the slightest suggestion that Jake might be gay, but the matter is left hanging) that they’re late in realizing the conflicts developing in the adult world around them.

Jake’s parents — his psychoanalyst mother Kathy (Jennifer Ehle) and struggling actor father Brian (Greg Kenner) — discover that Leonor has been paying Grandpa a fraction of what should be the going rent on her storefront shop in this rapidly gentrifying neighborhood.

Leonor maintains that she and the old man were very close (just how close is a matter for speculation) and that he wanted her to have the space more or less in perpetuity.  Furthermore, she maintains she was more of a family to him than his flesh and blood across the East River.

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Kate Winslet

Kate Winslet

“THE DRESSMAKER” My rating: B- (Opens Sept. 30 at the Glenwood Arts)

119 minutes | MPAA rating: R

So many stories, moods and contradictory elements are swirling around in Jocelyn Moorhouse’s “The Dressmaker” that it’s no wonder it never settles down into a coherent whole.

Parts of this Down Under oddity, though, are delightfully memorable.

Adapting Rosalie Hamm’s novel with her husband, filmmaker P.J. Hogan (“Peter Pan,” “Muriel’s Wedding”), Moorhouse has given this period piece a distinct visual look and no shortage of eccentric characters.

And almost everywhere you look, “The Dressmaker” is paying homage to other films and literary works.

There is, for starters, the film’s basic setup: A woman returns to the provincial town of her childhood, not so much to be reacquainted with old friends as to explore her tormented past and perhaps take revenge on those who made her youth a living hell.  That, combined with its blend of absurdist humor and angry drama, makes “The Dressmaker” a sort of modern-day clone of Friedrich Durrenmatt’s often-revived 1956 tragicomedy “The Visit.”

At the same time “Dressmaker” borrows freely from the spaghetti Western tradition. Though it’s in Australia, the town to which our heroine returns looks like nothing so much as a barren Wild West burg, complete with dirt main street, weird rock formations, ramshackle buildings and  a few leafless dead trees.

David Hirschfelder’s musical score is heavy on ersatz Ennio Morricone, right down to the electric guitars, pounding tympani and clanging chimes.

It’s 1951 and after an absence of nearly 20 years Tilly Dunnage (Kate Winslet) has returned to dusty Dungatar (emphasis on the “dung”). She moves back in with her half-cracked mother Molly (Judy Davis), who lives in bag-lady squalor in a crumbling hovel overlooking the town.

Tilly reintroduces herself by attending a local football match in a flaming red evening gown that must be the brightest object within 100 square miles.

In the years she was away Tilly worked in the fashion industry in London, Paris and Milan and she relishes the opportunity to rub the townspeoples’ faces in her sophistication.

Some locals aren’t buying this vision in their midst.  As a child Tilly was suspected of murdering a classmate and was shipped off to a boarding school in Melbourne for her own safety. She’s not exactly everyone’s favorite person.

But others, mostly long-put-upon women, see her arrival as a godsend.  Especially after Tilly uses her dressmaking and makeup skills to transform a drudge of a shopgirl (Sarah Snook) into a glamorous fashion plate capable of luring and hooking the wealthiest young man in town.

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Eva Hesse

Eva Hesse

“EVA HESSE”  My rating: B- (Opens Sept. 23 at the Tivoli)

108 minutes | No MPAA rating

“Eva Hesse” is a pedestrian documentary about a major artistic figure.

Go for the information, not for the telling.

A child of refugees from Naziism, Eva Hesse in her brief life more or less created the post minimal art movement by incorporating into her pieces mass-produced objects in plastic, latex, fiberglass and other nontraditional (for art, anyway) materials.

Her goal, according to one admirer, was “to make art on the borderline of uncontrollability.”

Eva’s private life was a mess (“There’s not been one normal thing in my life.  Not one.”) and she died of cancer in 1970, when she was only 33. Yet she opened up untold possibilities for her fellow artists.

Ironically, the unconventional materials she employed now pose big headaches for museums that display her work. Many of her pieces are literally decaying before our eyes — a conservatorial nightmare that she seems to have foreseen and approved of.

“She didn’t just manipulate materials, she was the material,” an admirer says. That philosophy extends to the temporary nature of her art. Here today, gone tomorrow. (more…)

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Caspar Christensen, Frank Hval

Caspar Christensen, Frank Hvam

“KLOWN FOREVER” My rating: C+ (Opens Sept. 23 a the Alamo Drafthouse)

99 minutes | MPAA rating: R

At about the 37-minute mark the wooly and borderline  reprehensible Danish comedy “Klown Forever” delivers the biggest laugh of any film of 2016.

I’m talking gasping-roaring-fall-out-of-your-chair-even-if-you’re-watching-it-alone-at-home funny.

It involves a naked man and a curious Great Dane.

‘Nuff said.

The rest of “Klown Forever,” a sequel to the 2010 “Klown,” is a bit of a hit-or-miss affair. Those who loved the first movie (or the original Danish TV series, which has been called a Scandinavian “Curb Your Enthusiasm”) will undoubtedly be primed for more rude, absurdist, man-centric humor.

Once again our heroes are Casper (Casper Christensen) and Frank (Frank Hvam), whose show-biz partnership reminds a bit of that of Rob Bryden and Steve Coogan in “The Trip” films. Apparently the two are partners in some sort of comedy undertaking, although we never see them at work.

Mostly they’re getting into trouble.

Casper  is a bachelor horn dog who cannot think past his pecker. Frank is a husband and father who is always being led astray by his priapic best bud.

The plot centers on Casper’s decision to go it alone, looking for new career opportunities in Los Angeles. Left behind, Frank is bereft…and of course ends up following his pal to LaLa Land where new opportunities for misbehavior are always presenting themselves.

They rub elbows with some celebrities (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Isla Fisher and Adam Levine, playing themselves), get picked up by some ladies of questionable repute, and have a falling out over Casper’s sexually active daughter (Simone Colling).  Meanwhile Frank’s long-suffering wife (Mia Lyhne), must decide whether to forgive her hubby’s trespasses or leave his stupid ass.

The moral of the “Klown” universe is that boys will be boys and men will be even worse. If you can get behind that world view, then this might be right up your alley.

| Robert W. Butler

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John Krasinski, Margo Martindale

John Krasinski, Margo Martindale

“THE HOLLARS” My rating: C+ (Opens Sept. 23 at the Cinemark Palace, Glenwood Arts and AMC Town Center)

98 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

John Krasicki’s strengths as an actor — a sly sense of humor, emotional openess, a charitable view toward his own and other actors’ characters — are also on display in his feature film directing debut.

But despite a cast to die for and some heartfelt sentiment, “The Hollars” is a near miss, a movie in which everything seems just a degree or two out of whack.

Jim Strauss’s screenplay is yet another dysfunctional family dramedy.

Illness in the family brings NYC office drone John Hollar (Krasinksi) back to his middle American hometown. He leaves behind his pregnant girlfriend Rebecca (Anna Kendrick) and a dead-end job — what he really wants to do is write and illustrate graphic novels.

Ma Hollar (Margo Martindale) has been diagnosed with a brain tumor.  Even with that against her she shows more common sense than the menfolk of her clan, who are more or less eccentric idiots.

Dad Hollar (Richard Jenkins) lives in an emotional bubble of denial. Whenever he steps out of that bubble he collapses in tears. And he’s run the family’s plumbing business into the ground, forcing him to fire his oldest son Ron (Shallot Copley), who now lives in the basement.

Ron is a near-moron who is stalking the ex-wife with whom he has two little girls. And he harbors some absurd notions about minorities (he assumes that his mother’s surgeon, an Asian American, must be a master of at least one martial art).

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snowden-750x490“SNOWDEN”  My rating: B

134 minutes | MPAA rating: R

The story of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden was practically made for Oliver Stone.

Government overreach, conspiracy and corruption, plus a hero who acts alone in defiance of hopeless odds — they’re all the elements of a typical Stone film (“Wall Street,” “Platoon,” “Salvador,” “JFK,” “Born on the Fourth of July”).

And with age has come a certain mellowing of the Stone approach. It’s not like he’s any less radically left — it’s just that now he can make his case without the hysteria and hyperbole that often marred his earlier work.

And in Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Stone has a leading man seemingly at the peak of his powers.

Those whose minds are not already made up when it comes to l’affaire Snowden will find Stone’s new film “Snowden” largely convincing. Even if you’re inclined to brand Snowden as a traitor worthy of death, the film will remain troubling.

(OK, time out. Let me say up front that while “Snowden” is a good film, it pales in comparison with “Citizenfour,” the Oscar-winning documentary from 2015 in which the real Snowden, a newly-minted international fugitive hiding in a Hong Kong hotel room, is interrogated by the journalists who would leak his most inflammatory revelations to the awaiting world. Everyone should see “Citizenfour.” But most people dislike documentaries, and so the fictional Stone version will be the one most people will see and remember. Fact of life.)

Most of ”Snowden” is one long flashback. In the present we’re in that hotel room with filmmaker Laura Poitras (Melissa Leo) and reporters Glenn Greenwald (Zachary Quinto) and Ewen MacAskill (Tom Wilkinson).

Tell us about yourself, one of the journalists says, and the next thing we know we’re at an Army training camp where young Edward Snowden is preparing to take on the terrorists who leveled the World Trade Center. (more…)

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bosch-temptationstanthony“HIERONYMOUS BOSCH, TOUCHED BY THE DEVIL” My rating: B-

86 minutes | No MPAA rating

Under most circumstances the Tivoli Theater would play an art-themed documentary like “Heironymous Bosch, Touched by the Devil” for one night only. Maybe two at most.

But Pieter van Haste’s film has a Kansas City connection that makes it of more than routine interest to folks hereabouts. Which is why today it begins a week-long run at the Westport art house.

The movie follows a team of art historians and museum types as they prepare for a special exhibition of the paintings of the Dutch master Heironymous Bosch — famous for his hallucinogenic depictions of heaven and hell — in his hometown of Den Bosch in the Netherlands.

The show (it ran earlier this year) celebrated the 500th anniversary of the artist’s death, and featured as many of his paintings as the curators could lay hands on (only about two dozen authenticated Bosch works are recognized).

What makes this of local interest is that in researching Bosch’s output the experts determined that a painting held by the Nelson-Atkins Gallery of Art for the last 70 years (most of that time in storage), was indeed done by the hand of Bosch and not one of his imitators or pupils.

The “discovery” of the Nelson-Atkins’ “The Temptation of St. Anthony” occurs in the last 20 minutes of the documentary.

Up to that time the film focuses on preparations for the big show. We see how art historians use infrared technology to peer beneath the surface of works to reveal earlier images that subsequently were painted over.

An expert in wood — Bosch painted on wood panels — can count the tree rings in a particular piece and identify years of drought. Comparing those rings to the records of rainfall and drought 500 years ago, he can approximate the year the tree was cut down.  A wood panel that was harvested after Bosch’s death cannot have been painted by the master himself.

The film also devotes much time to the cautious dance of courtship and rejection as the Dutch scholars attempt to convince the staff at Madrid’s Prado Museum — the single largest repository of Bosch paintings — that they should lend their masterwork, the triptych “The Garden of Delights,” for the show.

In a quiet but emphatic display of curatorial territoriality, the Spaniards turn down the request.

All this is mildly interesting but a bit dry.  The film fares better when it zeroes in on the paintings themselves, lingering on Bosch’s scary/fascinating menagerie of demonic creatures, on the twisted naked forms of tortured souls, and on his eerie depictions of nighttime landscapes illuminated by mysterious fires (no doubt inspired by a devastating conflagration that destroyed Bosch’s hometown when he was a boy). (more…)

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