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Iggy and the Stooges

Iggy and the Stooges

“GIMME DANGER” My rating: B (Opens Nov. 5 at the Tivoli)

108 minutes | MPAA rating: R

More people have heard of Iggy and the Stooges than have actually heard Iggy and the Stooges.

“Gimme Danger” isn’t going to change that.

Jim Jarmusch’s documentary about “the greatest rock’n’roll band ever” is basically a missive from one fan to other fans.

No scholarly analyses. No pontificating critics. Not much historic perspective.

It’s not encyclopedic, it’s not a primer. Jarmusch assumes that if you’re watching it’s because you’re already one of the converted.

Still, “Gimme Shelter” has lots of performance footage which, as much as 50 years after the fact, still has the power to amaze.

A lot of music fans (this writer among them) will tell you that on record the Stooges were…primal, anarchistic and sometimes unlistenable.

But in concert they were fueled by the hypnotizing antics of Iggy (aka Jim Osterberg), the wirey, muscled lead singer who pranced shirtless through every performance, undulating like a cobra, diving head-first into the audience. Think a naked Mick Jagger on speedballs.

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trumpland3-master768“MICHAEL MOORE IN TRUMPLAND” My rating: B+

67 minutes | MPAA rating:  R

Who’d have guessed that one of the sanest evaluations of this crazy political season would come from lefty satirist Michael Moore?

“Michael Moore in Trumpland” is a record of a one-man comedy show Moore recently gave in Trump-leaning Wilmington, Ohio. It has elements of his old TV show — a couple of faux news reports and pre-taped skits (the least effective part of the experience) — but for the most part it’s Moore pacing the stage of a grand old theater and talking to an audience of local voters.

Moore says he wanted to reach out to Trump supporters  (you can tell who they are in the audience…mostly men who sit with their arms folded while everyone else is laughing); to make conservatives more comfortable he has seated all Mexican and Muslim audience members in the balcony.  The Mexicans are surrounded by a large cardboard wall; the Muslims watch the show while being monitored by a hovering drone.

But mostly Moore delivers the most rational, low-keyed apologia for Hillary Clinton I’ve ever seen.

At one point he asks audience members to call out things they don’t like about Clinton…and then quietly demolishes all of them. He appears to genuinely admire Hillary…though he can hardly be accused of wearing rose-colored glasses.  She’s got baggage and he knows it.

Moore can often be snarky when dealing with the rich and powerful, but his analysis of Trump’s core supporters is insightful, incisive and weirdly sympathetic.

They are, he says, “people who are hurting, and it’s why every beaten down, nameless, forgotten working stiff who used to be part of what was called the middle-class loves Trump. He is the human Molotov cocktail that they’ve been waiting for.”

 “Trump’s election,” Moore says, “is going to be the biggest ‘fuck you’ ever recorded in human history—and it will feel good.  It will feel good…for a day. You know, maybe a week. Possibly a month.
“Because you used the ballot as an anger management tool and now you’re fucked.”
For all his talk about reaching out to Trumppies, Moore’s obvious target are the undecided (Christ, after all this how can anyone be undecided?!?!?!) and especially Millennials who might opt to (1) vote for a third party candidate or (2) not vote at all.
He makes a convincing case. Now let’s see if anyone’s listening.
| Robert W. Butler
Michelle Williams

Michelle Williams

“CERTAIN WOMEN” My rating: B-

107 minutes | MPAA rating: R

The cinematic minimalism practiced by writer/director Kelly Reichardt can be deceiving. Films like “Old Joy” and “Wendy and Lucy” creep up on you slowly…sometimes a bit of time has to pass before they set up shop inside a viewer’s head and a movie’s little moments coalesce into an overall feeling.

“Certain Women” is based on three Maile Meloy short stories, all set in a small burg in the Pacific Northwest and each concentrating on a woman struggling for a degree of independence and recognition. The stories  stand alone, but characters from one might pop up in a cameo role in another.

In the first a lawyer (Laura Dern) is called to help negotiate with a client (Jared Harris) whose workman’s compensation case is going nowhere. Now the poor schlub has taken extreme measures. He’s armed himself and invaded the offices of his former employer, taking a security guard hostage. The local sheriff wants the lawyer to get him to surrender.

In the second story a wife and mother (Michelle Williams) is pushing her foot-dragging husband (James Le Gros) to build a new family home on a few acres out in the woods. Much of the running time is devoted to her negotiations with a crusty old local (Rene Auberjonois) to acquire a pile of sandst0ne rocks that have been sitting in his rural front yard for at least 50 years.

In the third episode a loner stablehand (Lily Gladstone) becomes quietly obsessed with the new law school grad (Kristen Stewart) who weekly drives four hours each way to hold evening training sessions on education law for local public school teachers and administrators.

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Rachel Weisz as historian Deborah Lipstadt

Rachel Weisz as historian Deborah Lipstadt

“DENIAL”  My rating: B

110 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

The arrival of “Denial” could hardly be more timely, given the increased white nationalism encouraged — or at least not denounced — by Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

Based on historian’s Deborah Lipstadt’s 2005  memoir History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier, Mick Jackson’s film  is a legal drama with repercussions far beyond the courtroom.

In 1997 Holocaust-denying historian David Irving  sued Lipstadt (of Emory University) and her publisher, Penguin Books,  for defaming him  and his theories in  her book Denying the Holocaust.

Irving opted to sue in a British court, choosing that venue rather than one in America at least in part because under British law persons accused of libel must prove their innocence  (in theU.S. it’s the plaintiff who must prove wrongdoing).

Timothy Spall

Timothy Spall

The resulting film is well acted, informative, and emotional for the quiet contempt it heaps upon anti-Semitism with a scholarly face.

Rachel Weisz portrays Lipstadt with a tightly-wound, steely exterior that periodically bursts into fierce flame.

She first encounters Irving (Timothy Spall) face to face when he shows up at her college lecture and waves $1000 which he’ll give anyone who can prove that any Jew was ever killed in a Nazi gas chamber.

The bulk of the film centers on Lipstadt’s interactions with her British solicitor (the lawyer who will prepare her case) and her barrister (who will argue it in court).  These figures of probity and quiet dignity are portrayed, respectively, by Anthony Scott (best known as Moriarty on the PBS “Sherlock”) and the ever-wonderful Tom Wilkinson.

Part of the team’s preparations involves a trip to Auschwitz (on a eerily beautiful foggy winter’s day), where Lipstadt is moved by the echoes of dead souls but also somewhat perplexed…before the war ended the Germans blew up the gas chambers in an effort to destroy evidence of their crimes.

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Ethan Hawke and canine costar

Ethan Hawke and canine costar

“IN A VALLEY OF VIOLENCE” My rating: C

104 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Notwithstanding the participation of two major stars — Ethan Hawke and John Travolta — Ti West’s “In a Valley of Violence” is a toss off,  an indifferent diversion at best.

It’s a mashup of Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western elements — an animated credit sequence that mimics that of “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” and an ersatz Morricone soundtrack of tympani, Indian flutes and electric guitars — and oater cliches somewhat bent by eruptions of oddball humor.

Paul (Hawke) is a lone rider headed to Mexico in the company of his dog, an adorable mutt.  Everybody who sees the pooch wants to know if it does tricks. “She bites,”  is Paul’s sullen reply.

John Travolta, Ethan Hawke

John Travolta, Ethan Hawke

In an all-but-abandoned former mining town Paul slows down for a bath and a shopping spree in the general store.  But he runs afoul of Gilly (James Ransone), the pushy, trigger-happy deputy and son of the local marshal (Travolta).

After leaving the burg Paul is waylaid by Gilly and his fellow deputies, who do bad things to him and his dog.  Left for dead, Paul gets his shit together and heads back to town for revenge.

There are some small pleasures here.  Travolta’s Marshal is a loquacious sort out of a Tarantino film, and he at least has the decency to be embarrassed by his idiot offspring. Taiga Farming plays a teen-age hotel maid who becomes our hero’s confidant; Karen Gillan is her prettier spoiled sister.

The film looks good but, really, West’s “High Noon”-ish plot is way too familiar and the abrupt tonal changes — bloody sadism to goofy silliness — are less intriguing than irritating.

| Robert W. Butler

man-ove1452256400306_0570x0400_1452256432643“A MAN CALLED OVE” My rating: B

116 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Black comedy and heart-tugging sentiment are strange bedfellows. It’s the rare film (“Harold and Maude” and “Bad Santa” come to mind) that can stir them together without curdling the meal.

To that short list we can now add “A Man Called Ove,”  writer/director Hannes Holm’s amusing and surprisingly moving adaptation of Fredrik Backman’s international best-seller.

Basically it’s a droll character study of an old grump who, in the wake of his beloved wife’s death, is bent on suicide.

But every time crusty Ove (Rolf Lassgard) is about to do the deed — his proposed methods range from noose to shotgun — he is interrupted by one of his neighbors with some sort of emergency that must be seen to. (A man can’t even kill himself in peace, goddammit.)

For though he is a royal pain who patrols his housing estate every morning, anally obsessed with violations of the community ordinances, Ove possesses skills that his hapless fellow humans lack.

He’s a handyman with a garage full of tools,  a car mechanic  capable of bringing the automotively deceased back to life.  (A loyal Saab customer, he breaks with his oldest friend when the other fellow has the temerity to purchase a BMW.)

He’s a firm hand at the wheel, a big plus since he seems always to be taking someone to the hospital (though he does cover the car seats with newspapers, lest his riders befoul his precious upholstery).

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Ben Affleck

Ben Affleck

“THE ACCOUNTANT”  My rating: C+

128 minutes | MPAA rating: R

A killer with autism.

How has it taken Hollywood this long to glom onto such an awesome concept?

Consider: An efficient, ruthless assassin whose Asperger-ish condition guarantees that he won’t empathize with his targets no matter how much they beg. A stoic largely immune to crippling emotions like guilt, fear and panic. A wrecking machine who can pass for civil but at heart cannot create lasting attachments. An obsessive who, once he’s started a job, is driven to finish it.

I’d pay to see that movie.

Unfortunately, that movie isn’t “The Accountant.”

Oh, Ben Affleck’s latest makes noises like it’s heading that direction before deteriorating into silliness and mayhem. But the pieces never add up.

Affleck plays Christian Wolff, a CPA with an office in a south Chicago strip mall and a roster of mom-and-pop clients. But that’s only his cover.

In reality Christian is a mathematical savant and emotional cipher whose clients include drug cartels, mobsters, international arms dealers and other nasty folk. Whenever these crooks suspect that someone has been pilfering cash or cooking the books, they call in Christian to do a little forensic sleuthing.

With a mind like a mainframe computer, he always finds the culprit — who usually ends up in a landfill.

It’s dangerous work but pays well. In a rented storage facility Christian keeps an Airstream trailer packed with cash, weapons and authentic Renoir and Pollack canvases (which he has accepted from grateful clients in lieu of cash).

And as flashbacks reveal, he’s also deadly, having been trained by his military father in martial arts, ordnance, sniping and other skills that might be useful for a kid who is always being bullied.

The plot is set in motion when Christian is called in to audit a robotics firm where a lowly bean counter (Anna Kendrick) has stumbled across a bookkeeping anomaly. What our man finds puts both Christian and his gal pal in the crosshairs of an international criminal conspiracy. Continue Reading »