“DEAN” My rating: C+ 

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.

Continue Reading »

Diane Lane

“PARIS CAN WAIT”  My rating: C+

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).

Continue Reading »

Dave Johns

“I, DANIEL BLAKE”  My rating: B+

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.

Continue Reading »

Joel Egerton, Kelvin Harrison Jr.

“IT COMES AT NIGHT” My rating: B

97 minutes | MPAA rating: R

The “it” of “It Comes at Night” doesn’t creep about on four legs or slither on its belly.  No fangs or claws. No growls or shrieks.

The subject of Trey Edward Shults’ sophomore feature (after last year’s devastating family drama “Krisha”) is fear. Fear of both the unknown, of whatever may be lying in wait for us, and fear of our own human selves which, given the right circumstances, can devolve into monsters far scarier than those lurking in the imagination.

As the film opens an old man is dying.  His eyes are black. Festering pustules dot his  body. Blood seeps from his nose and mouth. He breathes in gasps.

Whatever is killing the old man has spooked the other members of his family, who say their muffled goodbyes through biohazard masks. Then they load him up in a wheelbarrow and push him out to a pit where he will be dispatched with one bullet and his remains burned.

This is the new normal for Paul (Joel Egerton), his wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo), and their teenage son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.).  They live in a house deep in the woods. The windows are boarded up so that from the outside the place looks abandoned. They don’t venture outside any more than is absolutely necessary.  They are on constant alert for unwanted visitors.

What catastrophe has befallen mankind that they must live this way?  Schults’ screenplay never provides an answer and, anyway, that’s not what “It Comes at Night” is about.

Late one night the three hear someone trying to break in.  They capture the intruder, a young man named Will (Christopher Abbott) who claims he thought the house was empty when he began scavenging for supplies. Will says his wife and young son are waiting for him in a cabin nearly 50 miles away.

Continue Reading »

Sam Claflin, Rachel Weisz

“MY COUSIN RACHEL”  My rating: B- 

106 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Ambiguity can be a wondrous thing on the printed page, as exemplified by Henry James’ “The Turn of the Screw.”

In the dramatic arts, though, ambiguity  can lead to frustration and dissatisfaction.

“My Cousin Rachel,” the second filmed version of Daphne du Maurier’s 1951 novel (the first, in 1952, starred Olivia DeHavilland and introduced Richard Burton to American audiences), is a well-made, well-acted yarn that is overwhelmingly faithful to the source material.

Problem is, the source material is one big guessing game — a game in which cut-and-dried answers are not forthcoming. It gives us a title character whose motivations and inner are  deliberately left obscured.

We can watch with intellectual fascination, but it’s hard to be moved when you don’t know who to root for.

Set in 19th century rural England, the tale centers on the orphaned Philip (Sam Claflin of “The Hunger Games,” “Me Before You” and “Their Finest”). Philip was reared by his wealthy cousin Ambrose on a remote Cornish estate where a bachelor ethos has always prevailed…i.e. no women.

As the film begins the ailing Ambrose (seen only fleetingly in flashbacks) has gone to Italy where the climate is more beneficial, leaving Philip in charge of the estate. Ambrose sends back letters describing meeting an English/Italian widow named Rachel, whom he marries.

But the tone of his letters soon turns dark. Ambrose accuses his new bride of slowly poisoning him and intercepting his outgoing epistles. Philip rushes to Italy but arrives too late — Ambrose has died (of a brain tumor, according to an inquest) and his new wife is nowhere to be found.

Philip returns to the vast English properties he now owns, only to find that Rachel (Rachel Weisz) has followed him to England. Initially Philip treats her with suspicion and contempt, but gradually warms to her courtesy, friendliness and seeming lack of interest in taking control of her late husband’s property. (As it turns out, Ambrose died before revising his will, so she has no claim.)

“Rachel” is a love story, but one studded with all sorts of caveats and concerns.  Philip finds himself falling for Rachel, but then he’s not exactly the most sophisticated guy when it comes to women.  Like his benefactor Ambrose, he knows zip about the fairer sex, which makes him an easy mark if Rachel is running some sort of scam.

Continue Reading »

Kristin Archibald, Lucas Neff, Doug Archibals

“I LOVE YOU BOTH” My rating: C+

90 minutes | No MPAA rating

It sounds pretty kinky,  like it should be playing at a gay film festival:  A brother and sister — twins, no less — both find themselves falling romantically for a charming hipster.

Except that the comedy “I Love You Both” isn’t actually about sex or romance.

No, this home-grown effort by real-life twins Doug and Kristin Archibald — they co-wrote the script, play siblings onscreen, and Doug directed (plus, they cast their own mother as their characters’ mom) — is about something trickier, something that maybe only twins would truly understand.

As they approach their 28th birthdays, Krystal and Donny are crazily co-dependent. They still live together in a tiny apartment. They share a dog. Both are a bit antisocial — or at least socially inept. Small wonder that they’ve always been each other’s best friend.

Oh, they make a stab at a life outside their little insular world. Krystal works for a software company and recently broke up with a co-worker.  Donny is a keyboardist dreaming of a concert career and marking time by teaching piano to tone-deaf kids.

But basically neither can imagine a life independent of the other.

Enter Andy (Lucas Neff), a laid-back, genuinely nice elementary school teacher who has a history with both men and women.

Initially Krystal and Donny accept Andy’s friendship at face value…except that both are nurturing  a flame for their new bud.

Eventually that tension will force them to begin carving out individual lives.

The film’s oddball sense of humor — filled with eye rolling at the relationship minefield — sometimes pushes too hard. But Kristin Archibald, making her acting debut, proves adept at selling an infectious blend of dweeb sexiness and sardonic glumness.  She might have an acting career ahead of her.

Brother Doug is less photogenic and not quite so compelling a screen presence, but his behind-the-scenes work is top notch.

| Robert W. Butler

Eddie Izzard

“WHISKEY GALORE”  My rating: C+

98 minutes | No MPAA rating

Fueled by whimsey, a genuine feel for Scottish village life and cast with a small army of familiar Brit character actors, “Whiskey Galore” wants to capture some of the droll charm of “Local Hero” or “The Englishman Who Went  Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain.”

But something’s missing.

This remake of 1949’s “Whiskey Galore” (regarded by many as a classic English comedy) looks good and, thanks to a soundtrack of Celtic folk music, sounds good.

But once the initial charm wears off — about 20 minutes in — the picture (Peter McDougall wrote it; Gilles McKinnon directed) bogs down in a sort of desultory sameness.

World War II has bypassed the tiny Scottish island of Todday, where life goes on pretty much as it has for the last century. But the war is about to hit Todday where it hurts.

“The island is dry,” solemnly announces the publican as he pours the last of his stock of whiskey.

“It’s been a terrible war,” laments one old barfly who exits the pub, lies down on the cobblestones and promptly expires from lack of drink. Before long every citizen wears a hangdog expression and is snapping at his fellows.

“It’s the whiskey drought,” someone explains. Continue Reading »