Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Lily James, Tessa Thompson

“LITTLE WOODS” My rating: B- (Opens April 26 at the Screenland Armour)

105 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“Little Woods,” writer/director Nia DaCosta’s feature debut, unfolds in the barren wastes of North Dakota, where the dull landscape feels like a reflection of its inhabitant’s desperate lives.

Ollie (Tessa Thompson) is living in the house where her mother recently died. On probation after being caught crossing the Canadian border with a backpack full of oxy, she now scratches out a living selling coffee and sandwiches to oil drilling crews.  She also takes in laundry.

Her empathetic probation officer (Lance Reddick) is encouraging (“You’re so close…please stay out of trouble”) but Ollie finds herself being pulled back into the drug trade.

The problem is her adopted sister Deb (Lillie James), a former exotic dancer who lives in an RV with her son Johnny (Charlie Ray Reid).  Deb excels at making dumb choices.

Johnny’s dad, Ian (James Badge Dale), is a well-meaning loser who lives in a sparse motel room.  He can’t support his wife and son; even worse, he’s gotten Deb pregnant again.

Now the bank has come calling to repossess their late mother’s house. Ollie has a week to come up with a $3,000 payment and the only way to do that is to dig up the cache of drugs she buried in the woods and start selling.

The downbeat tale, enhanced immeasurably by Thompson’s thoughtful/heartfelt performance, finds Ollie sucked into yet another mission into Canada planned by her former drug-running boss (Joe Stevens).  She’s to pick up a load of drugs from a Canuck pharmacy and walk them through the woods back to the U.S.

She also brings along Deb and Johnny so that her sister can buy a forged medical card and get an abortion.


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Bryn Vale, Taylor Schilling

“FAMILY” My rating: C (Opens April 26 at the AMC Town Center)

85 minutes | MPAA rating: R

A misanthropic adult gets saddled with a troubled kid. Against all odds they teach each other to love.

That stock plot has been resurrected to no particular payoff with Laura Steinel’s “Family,” a film neither funny enough or empathetic enough to leave a lasting impression.

Kate (“Orange is the New Black’s” Taylor Schilling) is, to put it bluntly, a miserable excuse for a human being. She’s blunt to the point of cruelty, indifferent to others’ feelings, and fiercely competitive.  She lives for her job at a hedge fund and hasn’t had a true relationship with another person for years.

And then the kid-hating workaholic finds herself babysitting her niece Maddie (Bryn Vale), a moody, unhappy kid trying to cope with her outsider status.  Maddie’s parents leave Kate with instructions to not only care for their daughter for a couple of days, but to buy her a prom dress and see that she goes to the big dance.


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Ethan Hawke, Noomi Rapace

“STOCKHOLM” My rating: B- (Opens April 26 at the Barrywoods 24, Glenwood Artrs and Town Center 20)

92 minutes | MPAA rating: R

On a sunny day in 1973 a man wearing a ridiculous disguise — black leather jacket with a Texas flag on the back, cowboy boots and hat, long-haired wig and sunglasses — walks into a Stockholm bank, pulls a machine gun from his bag, has everyone lie down and tunes a portable radio to a Bob Dylan song.

So begins Robert Budreau’s “Stockholm,” a riff on a real 1973 incident in which a couple of not-terribly-bright lowlifes held a handful of bank employees hostage for several days before finally being overwhelmed by the cops.  To survive their ordeal the hostages bonded with their captors…a situation now described by the term “Stockholm syndrome.”

The idiot in the cowboy getup is Kaj, and he’s portrayed by Ethan Hawke with a curious sort of dim-bulb charisma. Waffling between cockiness and panic, he demands that the authorities free his best bud Gunnar (Mark Strong) from prison and deliver him to the bank.

Kai also wants $1 million and a Ford Mustang getaway car…he specifies that it be just like the one Steve McQueen drove in ” Bullitt.”


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Jessie Ross, Robert Pattinson

“HIGH LIFE” My rating: C (Now showing at the Glenwood Arts)

113 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Claire Denis’ “High Life” takes place almost exclusively on a spaceship millions of miles from Earth and heading toward a black hole.

Those expecting a high-tech geek out should curb their expectations. This is outer space on a limited budget.

The interior of the ship resembles nothing so much as a suburban office park fallen on hard times; even the computers seem early 2000s.  We get only a couple of glimpses of the craft from the outside, and it looks like box.  Once in a very rare while a character pulls on a space suit, but mostly they wander around in red/orange prison-type jumpsuits.

Which is only fitting, since they are all condemned criminals — though we don’t learn that until later on (“High Life” is maddeningly reluctant to give up its secrets…most of the characters don’t even have names). Apparently these travelers were given a chance to leave prison and go on an intergalactic adventure.

As the film begins Monte (Robert Pattinson) is sharing the craft with a baby girl he calls Willow.  The rest of the crew are MIA (at one point he jettisons a few corpses) and Monte has his hands full feeding an infant (there’s a misty greenhouse on board that grows food) and fixing the ship’s systems as they fail. To the extent possible under the circumstances he’s a good father — cuddling and talking to the baby.

The film then flashes back to earlier in the voyage.  Monte and a half dozen other inmates take their orders from Dibs (Juliette Binoche), a lab-coated doctor who is, in a very real sense, a mad scientist.  We never do learn what the mission is about, but Dibs has highjacked it for her own science project.  She seems to have been driven mad by her inability to conceive, and she’s hatching a plot to breed her minions, who spend much of their time drugged into complacency.

Oh, yeah,  there’s also a pleasure room onboard where the residents can go for mechanically-stimulated sexual release. Romantic it isn’t.


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Joaquin Phoenix as Jesus, Rooney Mara as Mary Magdalene

“MARY MAGDALENE” My rating: B (Now on demand)

120 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Less iconoclastic than earnest, “Mary Magdalene” is an art-film Bible movie that more resembles Pasolini’s pared-down “The Gospel According to St. Matthew” than your typical Hollywood sword-and-sandal epic.

It is, in fact, far better than one would expect upon learning that the title character is played by Rooney Mara and that Jesus Christ is portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix.

The screenplay (by Helen Edmunson and Philippa Goslett)) and direction (by Garth Davis of “Lion” fame)  observes Jesus’ ministry through the experiences of Mary Magdalene, who is depicted not as a prostitute (that whole scenario was the invention of a sixth-century pope) but as an ahead-of-her-time woman  as important to the Christian faith as any of the male disciples.

Early on we find Mary serving as a midwife to the women of her village. She’s no shrinking violet; she rejects the attempts of her father (Tcheky Karyo) to find her a husband and outrages the menfolk by praying in the synagogue whenever she feels the need. At one point her family attempts an exorcism to rid her of proto-feminist demons.

So when Jesus and his disciples pass through, Mary is ready to drop everything and follow. Jesus so trusts Mary that  he sends her and Peter (Chiwetel Ejiofor) on a mission to spread the Gospel to Sumeria.

A lot of the usual trappings and incidents of a typical Jesus movie are ignored in this rendition.  There’s no Sermon on the Mount or miracle of the bread and fishes, no trial before Pontius Pilate or the Sanhedrin, no Herod. We experience only what Mary experiences.

This makes for a less flashy, more intimate retelling of the Gospels. “Mary Magdalene” is about relationships. One of the more interesting characters is Tahar Rahim’s Judas, played not as a skulking villain but as an baby-faced enthusiast who betrays Jesus not for money but to force him to show his true powers.


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“PETERLOO” My rating: (Opens April 19 at the Rio)

154 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Mike Leigh’s “Peterloo” is less a film drama than it is an illustrated history lesson.

That’s a problem.

Leigh, who always has had a thing for life’s underdogs, here turns his attention to a notorious bit of British history. The 1819 massacre at St. Peter’s Field in Manchester, England, found His Majesty’s sword-waving cavalry riding into a crowd of peaceful demonstrators protesting for political reform.

The violence doesn’t rear its ugly head until late in this 2-hour, 33-minute effort.  Most of Leigh’s screenplay is devoted to eavesdropping on  a dozen or so characters who represent various attitudes and political viewpoints in the months before the bloody incident.

Thus we follow a shellshocked trumpeter from the Battle of Waterloo (David Moorst) who returns home to Manchester to find jobs are scare and respect for a former soldier nonexistent. We sit in on long, talky meetings in which various agitators rail against miserable working conditions, low pay, and  a political/economic system designed to grind the country’s have-nots into the ground while enriching the altready-haves.

(Karl Marx was only a year old at the time, but he undoubtedly grew up aware of the the Manchester massacre.)

We witness a mother and wife haggling over the price of a few eggs with which to feed her family. We observe men slaving in a steam-driven textile factory where one misstep can mean a crushed limb. And  journalists debating how to convey to the common reader what the government’s suspension of habeas corpus means to the individual.


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Finn Little and friend

“STORM BOY” My rating : C+ (Now playing at the Town  Center 20)

98 minutes | MPAA ratingL

Some children’s films — “The Black Stallion,” say, or “Fly Away Home” — are too good for children.  They entertain the small fry, sure, but they appeal to adults on an even deeper, more resonant level.

And then there are films like “The Storm Boy,” an Australian effort that should keeps the youngsters diverted but which felt too contrived and deliberately constructed to keep this mature viewer enthralled.

This is the second film adaptation of Australian novelist Colin Thiele’s 1963 best seller about a boy and his pet pelican, and for modern audiences screenwriter/star Jai Courtney has provided a rather unwieldy framing story that finds the child hero of the original now an older man looking back on his past as he faces a big decision.

In the present retired businessman Mike Kingley (Geoffrey Rush) is called back for a family powwow about what to do with a strip of beach that was Mike’s boyhood home. The real estate is now hugely valuable and  Mike’s son-in-law, the current head of the business, has plans that, well, aren’t particularly environmentally friendly.

Mike must wrestle with his conscience over how he’ll vote in a board-of-directors showdown; part of that process is relating to his sullen granddaughter (Morgana Davies) — who doesn’t share the rest of her family’s rape-the-earth attitude — the story of how he grew up on that scenic bit of coastline.


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