Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Jai Courtney, Lily James

“THE EXCEPTION” My rating: B-  (Opens June 23 at the Glenwood Arts)

107 minutes | MPAA rating: R

At 88 years of age, Christopher Plummer just keeps getting better.

In “The Exception” he portrays an historic figure — Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany — and pretty much mops up the floor with actors half his age.

The premise of David Leveaux’s directing debut finds a young German officer — Capt. Stefan Brandt (Jai Courtney) — assigned to the thankless task of heading the household guard for Wilhelm II (Plummer), who has lived in exile in the Netherlands since abdicating the German throne two decades earlier after losing World War I.

Though the Nazi hierarchy has little use for the old man, Wilhelm still is regarded by some members of the German public as a beloved figurehead.  It would be a p.r. black eye should he be lost to an assassin or kidnapped by the Allies and spirited off to England. Brandt’s presence is meant to prevent that.

For the young officer — who was wounded in the invasion of Poland — the assignment is a bit of an insult. Wilhelm and his wife, Princess Hermine (Janet McTeer), live as high as they can on the cash Hitler’s henchmen provide, all the while dreaming of restoring the monarchy and once again wearing the crown.  Brandt is expected to tolerate their pretensions without encouraging them.

There’s one bright spot in this assignment. The Kaiser has a new housemaid, Mieke (Lily James), who catches the Captain’s eye.  Before long they are having a grand old time despite Hermine’s rule against copulation among members of the staff.


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Connie Britton, Salma Hayek

“BEATRIZ AT DINNER” My rating: C+ (Opens June 24 at the Tivoli and Glenwood Arts)

83 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“Beatriz at Dinner” might be called a comedy of discomfort.

Actually, there’s a lot more discomfort than comedy.

Scripted by Mike White (“The Good Girl”) and directed by Miguel Arteta (a veteran of numerous TV seres), “Beatriz” offers a fish-out-of-water scenario brimming over with class, race and political implications.

Beatriz (Salma Hayek, sans makeup and sporting a mildly horrifying set of bangs) is a New Age-y therapist whose skills run from your standard massage to aura readings.  On this particularly day she has schlepped out from her headquarters in Pasadena to see to the needs of one of her richest (and, it seems, most demanding) clients.

Cathy (Connie Britton) lives in a gated community with an ocean view, along with her high-rolling husband Grant (David Warshofsky). She’s preparing to host a dinner that night and feels a desperate need for some hands-on work from the talented Beatriz.  (It says volumes that Cathy is stressed when all she really had to do was decide on a menu. Household servants and a caterer do all the real work.)

With the massage session over, Beatriz prepares to drive home, only to find that her car won’t start.  Cathy — who credits Beatriz’s therapies with getting her daughter through a bout with cancer — graciously suggests that the masseuse join the other guests for the evening.


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Jaeden Lieberher

“THE BOOK OF HENRY” My rating: C (Cinemark Palace, Barrywoods 24 and Town Center 20)

105 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

All movies are manipulative, but “The Book of Henry” is an emotional mugging.

Colin Trevorrow’s drama  (with comic moments) is an audacious blend of cute and creepy featuring a precocious child, early death, sexual abuse and attempted murder.

Oh, did I mention it’s supposed to be heart-tugging?

The film stars the terrific Jaeden Lieberher (“St. Vincent,” “Midnight Special”) as Henry Carpenter, an 11-year-old with the mind of a middle-aged man.

Henry is, to put it mildly, a genius. He makes amazing Rube Goldberg-ish kinetic constructions in the spectacular forest treehouse he’s fashioned from found parts. He’s a day trader who has managed to wrack up $1 million in cash and securities (how an 11-year-old can get away with this is never explained).  Wherever he goes Henry is the smartest guy in the room.

Which is good for his single mom Susan (Naomi Watts) and  his tremulous little brother Peter (Jacob Tremblay of “Room”). Susan is a bit of  a flake, addicted to violent video games and boozy binges with her bestie (Sarah Silverman). She works as a waitress and drives a beat-up car even though Henry (being the responsible grownup) keeps reminding her that there’s plenty of money.


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Dan Stevens, Berenice Marlohe

“KILL SWITCH” My rating: C (Opens June 16 at the Screenland Tapcade)

91 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Despite the presence of A-list actor (at least after “Beauty and the Beast”) Dan Stevens, there’s no disguising the origins of “Kill Switch.”

It’s basically a first-person shooter video game. The story may have been dreamt up by writers Charlie Kindinger and Omid Nooshin, but the execution is right out of your Xbox library.

In the near future a huge energy conglomerate called Alterplex has created technology to supply Earth with unlimited electricity. This involveves building a pair of huge towers that suck energy from an alternate universe that is an exact duplicate of ours (except, we discover, everything is in reverse…like looking into a mirror).

By the way, don’t try to comprehend the “science” behind all this.  It doesn’t make a damn bit of sense.

Anyway, former astronaut Will Porter (Stevens) has been recruited by Alterplex soley as a troubleshooter who, if things go wrong, will ride a capsule into the alternate universe, hopefully shutting down the towers on the other side and ending the crisis.

Anyway, we see Stevens in flashbacks of Will’s recruitment by the company and interactions with his sister and nephew, but in this alternate universe we only get his point of view.  We see what he sees, and while we hear Will’s voice we can’t look at him because, well, because we’re looking out through his eyes.

Anyway, in this alternative universe Will must contend with a army of eco-terrorists who have sabotaged Alterplex’s big machine and put the whole thing into meltdown. He must dodge airborne drones that shoot at anything that moves.

There’s lots of first-person running, jumping, shooting…you get the picture.

Will is accompanied on this adventure by Abigail (Berenice Marlohe), an Alterplex executive who in the “real” world recruited him but in this one may be trying to stop him from fulfilling his mission which will, after all, bring this alternate world to an end.

Director Tim Smit does an okay job of rendering this alternate universe, but the story is way too complicated and the human beings more or less disposable.

| Robert W. Butler

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“DEAN” My rating: C+ (Opens June 16 at the Tivoli)

94 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

You don’t have to look far to determine the pedigree of “Dean,” the new film written, directed by and starring standup comic/actor Dimitri Martin.

Think Zach Braff’s “Garden State” (bumbling millennial angst set to a folky alt-rock beat) and Woody Allen’s “Annie Hall” (bittersweet romance, plus a New Yorker’s exile to sunny/shallow California.)

It’s all quite whimsical, as are the child-like cartoons drawn by the title character (the cartoons, actually done by Martin, are the film’s single strongest element).

Dean (Martin) is bummed out. For one thing, he’s broken up with his fiancé. Worse, his beloved mother recently died and he’s having a hard time coping.

When his father (Kevin Kline) starts making noises about selling the family’s Brooklyn home, Dean freaks out.  It’s not just the loss of his childhood abode…it’s irrefutable proof that Mom’s really gone.

He tries to outrun his grief with a business trip to L.A., where some smarmy slackers at an ad agency want to use his cartoons in a  cologne campaign aimed at teenage boys. The job falls through, but something good comes of it : He meets Nicky (Gillian Jacobs), a young woman so simpatico and fun that he extends his visit just to be around her.


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Diane Lane

“PARIS CAN WAIT”  My rating: C+ (Opens wide on June 16)

92 minutes | MPAA rating: PG

“Paris Can Wait” is piffle. But it’s pleasant piffle.

Written and directed by Eleanor Coppola — yes, Francis’ wife and Sofia’s mom and the director of the killer doc “Hearts of Darkness” (about the making of “Apocalypse Now”) —  it stars Diane Lane as an American wife thrown together with a charming French fellow for a road trip from Cannes to Paris.

The film will appeal to women looking for a romance with a distinctly feminine perspective…and of course to guys who just like watching Diane Lane.

The film begins on the Riviera where Anne and her producer husband Michael (Alec Baldwin) have been attending the film festival. The plan is for the couple to fly to Budapest where Micheal has a movie in production, but an ear ache grounds Anne.

Michael’s business associate Jacques (Arnaud Viard) offers to drive Anne to Paris. He’s got a spiffy sporty convertible (which he drives like a teen on his first solo cruise); why doesn’t Anne take the scenic route as his co-pilot?

What was supposed to be a one-day drive turns into an extended trek.  The bachelor Jacques has a decidedly Gallic take on time management and cannot pass an attraction without showing it to Anne. And he has an encyclopedic knowledge of every good restaurant along the route.

“I can’t remember the last time I played hooky in the afternoon,” Anne marvels.

There are stopovers for an awesome ancient Roman acquaduct, and for museums dedicated to the Lumiere Brothers (the fathers of cinema) and textiles (one of Anne’s passions).


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Dave Johns

“I, DANIEL BLAKE”  My rating: B+ (Now showing at the Tivoli and Glenwood Arts)

100 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Is Ken Loach our greatest living filmmaker?

Granted, he’s hardly the flashiest. His films, while technically superb, never scream “Look what I can do with a camera!”

But over a career that spans five decades, the 80-year-old Loach has unwaveringly dedicated his movies to examining small lives…or at least the lives usually overlooked by Hollywood.

His vision is invariably humanistic and left leaning, and even when he tackles an historic subject (the Spanish Civil War in 1995’s “Land and Freedom,” the Irish rebellion in 2006’s “The Wind That Shakes the Barley,” the conflict between Church and individual freedoms in the fledgling Irish Republic in 2014’s “Jimmy’s Hall”) he never lets conventional movie storytelling or ideology trump the human beings who are his constant focus.

His latest, “I, Daniel Blake” is vintage Loach: wise, sad, angry, and deeply moving.

The title character (Dave Johns) is a 59-year-old Newcastle widower and carpenter who has suffered an on-the-job heart attack. Dave wants more than anything to go back to work, but his doctors tell him he needs months of recuperation.

To survive this period of unemployment Dave must go on the dole, but qualifying and keeping his benefits proves a Kafka-esque nightmare of “Catch 22” conundrums and contradictions.

Anyone who’s ever spent an hour listening to Muzak while waiting to talk to a “representative” will identify with Daniel’s plight. Actually, that’s a relatively easy day compared to what our protagonist is about to go through.

American viewers who object to “socialized” medicine may be tempted to use “I, Daniel Blake” as a exhibit in their arguments. But not so fast.  Daniel is getting excellent medical care — the problem is the conservative government’s view that anyone receiving unemployment benefits is, by definition, a slacker who deserves to suffer in a bureaucratic limbo.

From the beginning the deck is stacked against Daniel. Government agencies expect him to communicate with them over the Internet, but Daniel’s an analog kind of guy who’s never been within 10 feet of a computer (his music is all on LPs and cassettes). He’s expected to write  up a job resume, then berated when he produces a hand-written CV.

His caseworker orders him to attend a job-hunting workshop — it’s as excruciating to experience in the context of a film as it is in real world.


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