Review: 'Turn It Around'

New documentary chronicles the heyday of the East Bay punk scene Read More

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Review: 'Turn It Around'

It's narrated in a skeptical sort of voice by Iggy Pop. If there are no stars, there are recurring figures. One was Tim Yohannan, publisher of the zine Maximum Rock and Roll. Yohannan was a Berkeley Maoist who felt that punk heralded the revolution to come. This indefatigable organizer was hard-nosed enough to debate Bill Graham on the state of rock music on KPFA radio. Larry Livermore, a writer and a founder of Lookout! Records, captured the sounds of the times. Throughout this film are the still photos of Murray Bowles, who caught hundreds of images of this fleeting underground scene. » Read More

Review: 'The Dark Tower'

There's been much head-scratching lately in the wake of David Weigel's book on the age of prog-rock: is that era better described as a catastrophe, or a calamity? The Dark Tower is a prog-rock movie, with its citations of King Crimson, long gun solos, portentous words and po-mo borrowings from kid's books. As scripted, it looks like something from M.Night Shyamalan-the man who would be [Stephen] King. In fact, it's a condensation of eight King novels, squished into 90 minutes of chalky, metaphysical space Western. In the navel of the universe is an immense tower shooting out good vibes to the denizens therein. Outside the spell it casts are a menagerie of Lovecraft-ian beasts, lurking and waiting. Also keeping them back are the bullets of » Read More

Review: 'Detroit'

Both commemorative and zeitgeist-filled, Detroit is the angriest movie Kathryn Bigelow has ever made. While deserving the praise The Hurt Locker got, it reverses Zero Dark Thirty's coziness with "enhanced interrogation." An animated sequence describes the black diaspora to the north that made Detroit what it was by 1967-a company town with strictly-delineated African-American ghettos, patrolled by a 90-percent-white police force. By the opening, before the rebellion begins, we're completely on the side of the rebels. The cops raid an illegal after-hours club, but they can't get in through the chained-up back door, and have to roust the suspects out on the street. There are a lot more celebrants inside than they expected, and the cops lose » Read More

Review: 'Atomic Blonde'

Watch everyone celebrate Atomic Blonde's Lorraine Broughton (star and co-producer Charlize Theron) as the new Bond, and despair at how little attention people really pay to the Bond films. It's not just all about assassinations and the beat-downs, yes? This vicious, contorted spy film is without the smoother qualities of a Bond flick, movies made for an audience that accepts the old movie euphemisms for sex and violence. Stuntman turned director David Leith (John Wick) begins on a realistic note. Lorraine is one big hematoma, soaking in a tub full of ice cubes like a football player. It's as much of a display of Theron's bruised nude body, as the establishment of a motif of crystal, ice and clear booze coursing into rock glasses, over the » Read More

Review: 'Lady Macbeth'

The film is called Lady Macbeth, but it's less like Shakespeare than The Postman Always Rings Twice. It's based on Nikolai Leskov's The Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, first published in 1865 in a magazine edited by Dostoyevsky. The story of tyranny and murder was the source for Dmitri Shostakovich's last opera. Transferred from the Russian hinterlands to a backward northeast corner of England, Lady Macbeth asks a familiar question from decades of melodrama: are murderesses made or born? Debuting feature director William Oldroyd leaves that question open. The much abused, then much abusing, protagonist, Katherine (Florence Pugh, impressive), is transformed from a piece of living property to a chortling killer. » Read More

Review: 'Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets'

To paraphase the immortal Lou Reed, some hash would have helped that Valerian. In Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, writer and director Luc (The Fifth Element) Besson adapts an early 1970s French comic book series. He seems particularly faithful to the grotty sexual politics of the time: Major Valerian (Dane DeHaan, a jaded, grimmer Mark Hamill, with Keanu's voice) always hits on his sergeant Laureline (model turned actress Cara Delevigne). He proposes marriage during the middle of the action and complains about her navigating the spaceship (women drivers, amiright?). Midway through, a new female character emerges, a shape-shifter named Bubble who morphs into every tart in history in a low-down cabaret, from Halle Berry's » Read More

Review: 'Dunkirk'

Think of the different battlefronts in World War II. Now choose the one you are the gladdest that you missed. The Golden Staircase in New Guinea? Saipan? The Ruhr cities under the RAF night bombing missions, or the London blitz? That great engineer of cage-rattling cinema, Christopher Nolan convinces you that Dunkirk ought to be way up on the list. On the cusp of May and June 1940, some 400,00 troops of the British Expeditionary Front were pushed to the sea at the resort town of Dunkirk, France, by the sudden collapse of the French army. A character here describes the soldiers, lined up and waiting to be ferried back home, as "fish in a barrel." It's more like the machine-gunning of a sardine can. Strafing planes and dive bombers decimated » Read More

San Francisco Jewish Film Festival

The Jewish faith has its share of patriarchs. But even though latter-day thunderers such as Karl Marx and Fritz Lang have biopics in the South Bay division of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, there are plenty of matriarchs during the five-day, 28-film stand.Big Sonia by Leah Warshawski and Todd Soliday concerns a Kansas City tailor, still working into her nineties, who uses her spare time to testify to students about her own time as an alumnus of three different Nazi death camps.A Classy Broad is about the film producer Marcia Nasatir, a Texan who went to Hollywood, where she rose as a talented script-reader. » Read More

Review: 'War for the Planet of the Apes'

Rather than looking like a dog-eared swipe-file, this terrific ape-opera honors the originals. It has the freshness of a story you're hearing for the first time. Director Reeves' smooth flow of images is as lucid as George Miller was in the Mad Max opuses. Some of the dialogue is in subtitles through sign language. There's an uncommon amount of face-reading to be done in this movie, which demonstrates why silent film is considered the purest form of cinema. Miller's pantomime is superb, a reminder of not just how beautiful a child can be, but how unearthly. The apes here have dignity and innocence. The moon-face of the orangutan Maurice (played by Karin Konoval) fills the screen, as he offers Nova a rag doll to play with; it's more of a » Read More

Review: 'The Big Sick'

Boy meets girl, girl meets ICU: the Judd Apatow-produced The Big Sick tells the story of a cross-cultural romance between Chicago standup comedian Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani of HBO's Silicon Valley) and psych student Emily (Zoe Kazan). They have their meet-cute after their first hookup. Emily, trying to keep the evening no-strings, calls for an Uber ride to go home, and Kumail's cellphone goes off in the bed next to them, since he's the closest driver. The trysts continue, despite Emily's insistence that she's not looking for love. Kumail finds out this young girl has already been divorced. Emily finds out Kumail is expected to marry a Pakistani girl in an arranged marriage. At every family dinner he attends, various lovely and marriageable » Read More

Review: 'Spider-Man: Homecoming'

B.Kliban did a cartoon captioned "What did the city of New York do with King Kong?" over a drawing of a skeevy-looking burger stand. Spider-Man: Homecoming starts off similar: Toomes (Michael Keaton) is the head of a team cleaning up after the cataclysm in The Avengers (2012) after a Chitauri armada emerged from a wormhole over Manhattan. While he toils in a bomb crater full of alien junk, in comes the damn government, with the new "Department of Damage Control" taking him off the job. Toomes is a sympathetic portrait of the Trump voter type, driven nuts by regulations. He becomes a flying supervillain with the aid of the technology he kept. A winged terror of turbo fans and razor sharp wings, it looks like an industrial accident waiting » Read More

Review: 'Baby Driver'

A musical more than a rubber-burner, Baby Driver is the La La Land of caper films, derivative and occasionally fun-take that as praise if you loved La La Land. Writer and director Edgar Wright, of the "Pub Trilogy" (Shawn of the Dead, Hot Fuzz!, End of the World) is clearly angling for the American market, with its views of '50s diners, big old Cadillacs, open roads and nostalgia tunes. Compared to his earlier work, Baby Driver is twice the tropes and half the jokes. Kevin Spacey is Doc, a criminal mastermind in Atlanta. His lucky charm is an eccentric wheelman who calls himself Baby (Ansel Elgort, made up with small but interesting Miles Teller-style scars on his kissable baby face). When Baby speaks-he doesn't often-the voice is buttery » Read More

Review: 'Maudie'

She lived in a 10-by-12-foot shack with her fish-peddling husband, Everett (Ethan Hawke), selling her paintings by the roadside as souvenirs. Because of her immobility Maud couldn't paint very big canvases. Much of her work has disappeared. Maudie shows how her life changed when she left her domineering aunt and took a job with Everett-a scowling, almost vicious grown-up orphan with a bad temper. Hawke has to stretch; he's a tenor trying to sing bass. It's clear why Hawke was cast; because he's a warm, handsome actor, you forgive Everett for his meanness. Hawke recalls the line in La Strada excusing Zampano's similarly bad temper: "A dog looks at you, wants to talk and only barks." » Read More

Review: 'The Beguiled'

In 1864, a wounded Union deserter becomes a fox in a henhouse. In both versions of The Beguiled (1971/2017) Corporal McBurney manipulates the Confederate ladies of a small finishing school. Is it Christian love or devilish lust that makes the half-dozen ladies conceal the enemy soldier from the patrolling Confederate troops? It's unclear who the title refers to, unless everyone here is beguiled, and a self-beguiler. In the thin, pretty-pretty Sofia Coppola re-do, McBurney (Colin Farrell) tries to flirt the ladies into submission ... for a time, the Irish accent, the melting glances and the outrageous compliments work. He's always watching, seeing how his hostesses are taking his show of gentlemanly behavior. The easiest pickings would seem » Read More

Review: 'Monterey Pop'

Though years before Woodstock, the Monterey Pop Festival was just as important-it's just that the importance of a cultural event mathematically increases with its proximity to New York. Staged 50 years ago, this last weekend at the Monterey County Fairgrounds, the fest was preserved by the innovative documentary maker D.A. Pennebaker (Don't Look Back) and a team including Richard Leacock and Albert Maysles (Gimme Shelter.) Back in a 4k restoration, the film now has a preamble. Pennebaker (now age 92) describes how John Phillips of The Mamas and the Papas and Phillips' manager Lou Adler created a charitable nonprofit to get everyone working for scale. This, in Pennebaker's view, made Monterey a show among equals. The sound system was » Read More

Review: 'Transformers: The Last Knight'

Like a wealthy scrap merchant seeking a coat of arms, director Michael Bay hired Anthony Hopkins' integrity to fluff up the class of Transformers: The Last Knight. As Sir Edmund Burton, an earl with historical connections to the medieval roots of this Transformers business, Hopkins keeps a level voice with lines like: "Without sacrifice, there can be no victory... without leaders, chaos reigns." The speediest way down the path to madness is to try to synopsize a Michael Bay movie. It begins in King Arthur's day with a drunken Merlin-muttering dialogue that could be improved by any Renaissance Faire busker-unleashing a three-headed mega-Ghidrah to save Arthur's skin. The Arthurian scenes look more lavish and exciting than the recent King » Read More

Review: 'The Mummy'

Pupula duplex! The double-pupiled syndrome supposedly afflicting a Song dynasty Mandarin named Liu Chung is at last on screen. It's a syndrome never seen in real life, unless the Ripley's Believe it Or Not Wax Museum is counted as real life... as it should be, shouldn't it? Sporting four golden pupils, Sofia Boutella's revivified Princess Ahmanet gives Tom Cruise the "submit to me, big boy" stare in her title role as The Mummy. If only they'd called this movie Zombie Princess Double-Eyeball, expectations would have been nicely lowered. » Read More

Review: 'Cars 3'

Lightning seems to be facing his residual years selling endorsements for mudflaps. At his new office, the trainer Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo) pushes Lightning to overcome his post-crash nerves. Her buried ambitions to be a race car emerge during their time together. Lightning and Cruz drive out to explore the Southern dirt-tracks where Doc Hudson (Paul Newman) once raced; it gives the background animators the chance to concoct a handsome new landscape out of the Smoky Mountains. Flashbacks to the first Cars show how much more sophisticated the animators have become in rendering, design and color in just ten years. » Read More

Review: 'Wonder Woman'

There is nothing an audience likes better than the sight of a woman with a sword. A long, long overdue movie, given our taste for superheroics, Wonder Woman deserves to be a hit. All the things that go right here overwhelm the few that don't. The sexually bohemian psychologist William Moulton Marston's comic book character emerged in 1941, rising in popularity as women took over previously male-held roles during World War II. His modern-day Amazon was derived from numerous legends of women warriors talked about throughout the ancient world. Female Spartans must have been a fearful idea to the ancients, given how women were kept behind closed doors in Greece and elsewhere. But the inspired script, credited to Allan Heinberg, has the » Read More

Review: 'My Cousin Rachel'

Made scaly by the filigree of the lace of her long black veil, Rachel Weisz stars in a role so right for her that it's seemingly named in her honor: the Daphne du Maurier adaptation, My Cousin Rachel. She's no letdown to the actresses who previously assayed the role, Olivia de Havilland (1952) and Geraldine Chaplin (1983). At 47, Weisz shows almost no discernable signs of aging, unless it's a subtle ripening into lushness. Her Rachel is a seductive older woman, who perhaps learned the old craft of poisoning from her time in Florence. In the middle of the 19th century, handsome Philip (Sam Claflin, Finnick in the Hunger Games) was raised by his cousin Ambrose on their sheep ranch on the Cornish coast. » Read More

Review: 'I, Daniel Blake'

Ken Loach's bruising neo-realist I, Daniel Blake ponders the way poor-shaming is built into the system. Fifty-nine-year-old widower Daniel (Dave Johns, who looks like an older, sadder Bill Burr) was a carpenter before he had a heart attack that knocked him right off his scaffold. Over the titles, he's interrogated by phone by the British equivalent of workers' comp, being asked personal questions about his health, his continence and his ability to type. Ultimately, he only has 12 out of the 15 points necessary to get disability. On to Job Seeker's Allowance-unemployment insurance. The money is contingent on his seeking a desk job in one of England's worst job markets, the former shipbuilding town of Newcastle upon Tyne. Daniel is digitally » Read More

Review: 'Heartland'

Distributed by the locally based Wolfe Video, Maura Anderson's sharp, touching Heartland is everything an indie movie ought to be-except for the Reagan-era title, which can't be helped. Everything has turned out badly for young Lauren (Velinda Godfrey), a young lesbian artist working out of Oklahoma City's one-street hipsterville. Her lover died of cancer, she lost her job and she's been evicted from the house where the two of them lived. She has one good option, to move back into the house where she grew up, in Guthrie, Oklahoma, not too far from the city. Lauren's brother Justin (Aaron Leddick), a wine-business executive from Napa, arrives with his petite red-headed girlfriend, Carrie (Laura Spencer), the odd-girl-out among all these » Read More

Review: 'Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales'

One doubts even Disney's own Thumper the Rabbit could find a good word for Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, where the ideas have run dry and even the zombie sharks have been jumped. God bless Geoffrey Rush for what he brings to this dullsville sequel. Titular star Johnny Depp wakes up from his persistent vegetative state whenever Rush is around, and the upstaging is so thorough that it would have meant war if anyone but the genial Rush had done it. In the last Pirates, Rush's Hector Barbossa had gone uptown, and become a privateer for King George (the late Richard Griffiths). Adorned in new gold braid and velvet, he was curled up and dyed like the Cowardly Lion after his makeover in Oz. » Read More

Review: 'Paris Can Wait'

Last seen about to be burned alive by Lex Luthor in Batman vs. Superman, Diane Lane couldn't do much with the material except cry for help. A hard fate for one of the coolest actresses around, to be used for kindling. Long memoried fans could roster her parts, from one of cinema's great stripteases in The Big Town to the authentic feral kids she played in two S. E. Hinton adaptations. Lane's banner role is in the 2002 Adrian Lyne movie Unfaithful. Cheating wives are a risky role to play here in the Land of the Faithful, because you can end up with both sexes hating you. Lane's clarity acquitted her—an audience will follow an actor who knows what they want. » Read More

Review: 'A Quiet Passion'

The title of A Quiet Passion is kind of lethal. "Quiet" is a risky word in the movie biz. The film's pace is very deliberate-the first impression is of a game that went into extra innings. There's a line here any critic could take to heart: "All the best compliments are dubious." Praising the deliberateness of this movie's pace may make it sound boring. When it's over, it's clear that the eminent director Terence Davies, a master of moody, immersive cinema, needed time to contrast the body and soul of his subject. Davies (Distant Voices, Still Lives) focuses on Emily Dickinson (Cynthia Nixon), a lady of solitude and physical sufferings: "The Queen of Cavalry" as she called herself, tortured to an early grave at 55 by Bright's disease. » Read More

Review: 'Alien Covenant'

Witness the flight of the Covenant, a colonizing space ship of 2104 headed for Origae 6. It is a ship free of anyone who can make an intelligent decision, except for the onboard android. The first mistake is changing course for a seemingly unexplored planet, on grounds of proximity. More wrongheaded choices follow. Alien: Covenant has sterling production design, and an almost regally solemn Jed Curzal score. It mulls the idea that humans and the hellspawn Xenomorphs have a linked destiny. Animated now, as opposed to being acted out by a 7-foot-tall stuntman as in the original, the critters come in all sizes and shapes. They're as lithe as monkeys, chittering, making creaking noises like sprung floorboards. » Read More

Review: 'Winchester'

The renowned Helen Mirren is playing one of the strangest denizens in the history of this valley, Sarah Winchester. Slated for a 2018 opening, Winchester stars Mirren and will feature scenes shot on the premises of San Jose's Winchester Mystery House. Mirren, along with identical twin directors Michael and Peter Spierig (Predestination) were recently in town to do location photography-shooting in the actual rooms of the strange, 160-room Victorian home, flying drones to get sky views and meeting with the press. Soon, the ensemble returns to the Spierigs' native Australia to complete the film in Melbourne. There, they've built a replica version of the house. Nearby open fields will mimic the valley as it was in 1906. » Read More

Review: 'King Arthur: Legend of the Sword'

The fabled Round Table is unveiled. One of the knights of Camelot guesses what this odd piece of furniture is: "Is it a wheel of cheese?" Verily, forsooth, my lord, and ripe 'tis. Director and co-writer Guy Ritchie, long-time auteur of head-butting cinema, loses the thees and thous in favor of a present-day vernacular-"Hands on the hilt, stupid!" the then no-name Arthur is ordered, as he prepares to grasp Excalibur. The rewriters added Moses to the story. After his father Uther (Eric Bana) is slain, baby Arthur drifts into ancient Londinium on an open boat on the Thames. In adulthood, played by Charlie Hunnam of Sons of Anarchy, Arthur is mistaken for just another whoreson bordello-protector. » Read More

Review: 'My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea'

The wittiest protest sign Instagrammed during the recent Science March: "Every disaster movie begins with a scientist being ignored." Dash (voiced by Jason Schwartzman), the hero of Dash Shaw's animated film My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea, is cast by fate to be the person in the disaster movie whose warning goes unheeded. The hard-hitting reporter from the Tides High Gazette, the Xeroxed student newspaper, is commencing his sophomore year. The Gazette's editor Verti (Maya Rudolph) is trying to split up the friendship between Dash and his best pal, Assaf (Reggie Watts)-even though Dash had been predicting great things for his writing partner in that interior monologue every adolescent has going inside their heads: "This is going » Read More

Review: 'Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2'

Slobs vs. slobs in space: our heroes in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, are pursued by the Sovereign. They're a gilded, genetically engineered race of stuck-ups with a lot of money for bounty hunters. Thanks to the light fingers of the thieving yet endearing Rocket Racoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) the gang is chased by a sky full of drones. The golden aristos operate them with arcade-like video game controls and vintage sound effects. Rescue comes from an omnipotent old hippie called "Ego" (Kurt Russell), a self-declared "small-g god." This omnipotent beardo is the real father of "Star Lord" Peter Quill (Chris Pratt). Ego owns a planet that looks like million-dollar van-art, with orderly little creeks and fountains. Some '70s stoners had » Read More

Review: 'The Promise'

The TV reporters attending last Friday's opening of The Promise were claiming that this was the first movie made about the Armenian genocide; the statement was later corrected as the first Hollywood movie about it. It's neither the first good movie nor the first bad movie about it, as one notes below. Watching The Promise-it played at Cinequest-a person who knew nothing about the Armenian holocaust could learn about the murder of anywhere from 1-2 million people under the cover of World War I. These civilians were wiped out by the Turkish soldiers of the Ottoman Empire, in ways which anticipated the grander-scale liquidations to come in Nazi Germany and Stalin's USSR. » Read More

Review: 'Better Call Saul'

In the background, Nancy Sinatra chirps "Sugartown." Seen in black and white, disguised by a fake-looking brown mustache, is Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk), once known as Albuquerque's most dubious lawyer. He's the oldest guy working at a Cinnabon in an Omaha mall. Some sugartown! In flashback, we see the rise of Jimmy, and the chicanery that undid him. A main plotline in Better Call Saul's source show, Breaking Bad, had Walter White (Bryan Cranston) almost outwitting his police detective brother in law, Hank (Dean Norris). Saul isn't brother vs. brother-in-law, but brother vs. brother. Chuck (Michael McKean), Jimmy's older sibling, is a respectable lawyer, immobilized in his house with a case of electromagnetic sensitivity. The game » Read More

Review: 'The Fate of the Furious'

Are you serious, Fate of the Furious? Elitists underestimated the appeal of movies with bald musclemen yelling at each other, interspersed with CG-wrought scenes of half-million-dollar cars dancing like the Royal Lipizzaners. It commences in Havana, as drone shots of roofs merge surreally with slo-mo close-ups of one of those pop-up open-air strip clubs the city is so famous for. Dom (Vin Diesel) is on an improbable honeymoon with Letty (Michelle Rodriguez). If Diesel's mind seems elsewhere-a polite way to describe watching Vin Diesel act-he's distracted by problems. His cuz is about to lose his car over a gambling debt. So Dom stocks his cousin's rusty wreck with NOX and drives it until it becomes a flaming wreck on the Malecon, » Read More

Review: 'Cezanne et Moi'

The motto of Cezanne et Moi could be taken from Jay Parini's biography of Gore Vidal: Every Time a Friend Succeeds, Something Inside of Me Dies. Writer Emile Zola (the William Hurt-like Guillaume Canet) and the post-impressionist Paul Cezanne (the Jonathan Pryce-like Guillaume Gallienne) were schoolboy pals in Aix en Provence. Zola was the poor half-Jewish son of an Italian laborer. Cezanne was the son of a snobbish banker. The way it's told here, Cezanne protected Zola from bullies in the schoolyard, and thus began a long, sometimes lopsided friendship. Cezanne had no fear of women. Zola was tended by his mom and plagued with impotence. Cross-pollination and mutual fandom began their friendship. They gave each other mutual support, in the » Read More

Review: 'Tommy's Honour'

This biopic, which played at Cinequest this year, is directed by Jason Connery. He's the son of Sean, one of Earth's most dedicated golfers. Connery was also the star of one of the movies' most deathless golfing scenes in Goldfinger (1965) in which the fat, ruthless and orange-hued villain (Gert Froebe) reveals his bad character at the course in Stoke Park, Buckinghamshire. Best to avoid the armchair psychologizing about Jason's own feelings toward his father Tommy Sr., even if the movie concerns the relationship between a strict Scottish elder and his son. In the middle of Victoria's reign, Tommy Morris (Peter Mullen) was the greens keeper at St. Andrews, a ball maker and club-designer. He's a tradesman surrounded by snide gentleman. He's » Read More

Review: 'Curse of the Cat People'

Despite the snazzy title, 1944's Curse of the Cat People has as much pity and tears in it as chills. Young Amy (the excellent Ann Carter) lives in Tarrytown's Sleepy Hollow. She's too strange a 6-year-old to make friends. Her elderly neighbor Mrs. Farren (Julia Dean) who is an old actress and perhaps demented, gifts Amy with a ring. After being joshed by the family's servant (the noted calypso singer Sir Lancelot) about the magic wishing rings they had back in Jamaica, Amy wishes up a companion. She's a lovely lady dressed like Queen Guinevere: "I come from a place of great darkness and deep peace," says this apparition, who is called Irena (Simone Simon). Those who saw Curse of the Cat People remember Irena, destroyed by her belief that » Read More

Review: 'Ghost In the Shell'

In the horrifying, dystopic future year of 2017, Scarlett Johansson has her face sawed off-"scanned" is the parlance. Her kissable visage is used as a model for a digital avatar, roaming around Neo-Sorta-Kinda-Tokyo killing her fellow avatars with a blaster. She's a federal cop called Major (Johannsen)-with human brain in a synthetic body-on the trail of terrorists assassinating execs from the robot-making Hanka corporation. The investigation involves some cyber eavesdropping, rousting yakuza nightclubs, and penetrating a "lawless zone" where the rebels live, scrawling their Unabomber-like manifestos. Studying the live-action version of the distinguished 1995 anime film Ghost in the Shell, one broods over psychological questions. How much » Read More

Review: 'Boss Baby'

Strangely, having human characters in a full-length animated 3D cartoon makes the ambience more cartoonish. Zootopia turned the animals human, whereas The Boss Baby takes place in cartoonland. It's vibrantly colorful, delightfully odd and seriously under the influence of Looney Tunes: Chuck Jones' Walter Mitty pastiche "From A to ZZZ" (1954) and Bob Clampett's "Baby Bottleneck" (1946) ought to open for this. The daydreaming 7 1\2 year old Timothy is an only child in a suburban paradise. Timothy's happiness is shattered by the arrival of a new baby brother who is a sort of goblin: an executive from Baby Corp., a suit-clad, attache case-holding hard-charger. Voiced by Alec Baldwin, this adult in baby disguise is there to keep an eye on a » Read More

Review: 'After the Storm'

There are still Westerners who have never seen a Japanese movie that didn't have swordsmen in it. Director Hirokazu Kore-eda's new dramedy After the Storm shows what they're missing. It's his funniest and funkiest film yet. That said, the cheaper, smudged side of Japan shows up in all his movies-like in the not-so-sweet hereafter of After Life, the grubby kids left to fend for themselves in Nobody Knows, or the beach-city fix-it shop with its tattooed proprietor in Like Father, Like Son. Even Kore-eda's lesser movies show a Japan that doesn't appear much in the movies, and After the Storm is one of his best. It's late summer. The 23rd typhoon of the season is lurking offshore, raising the temperature to sweltering. Ryota (Hiroshi Abe) has » Read More

Review: 'Life'

In space, no one can hear you scream: "For God's sake, don't coddle that damned face-hugging alien!" Daniel Espinosa's Life throws the science-fanciers a few (human) bones. Take xenobiologist Ariyon Bakare's Hugh Derry, crooning over a little bugger brought to the International Space Station by the Pilgrim 7 Martian probe. Talking to it, petting it in its glove box, and then goosing it with an electrical prod when the critter is trying to take a siesta, Derry is the most foolhardy scientist since the doomed physicist Louis Slotin. One gets a sense that Espinosa (Child 44) doesn't have a real point of view about his lurking, pouncing Martian critter: a tapeworm-sized beast that ends up quite big after helping himself to the crew. » Read More

Interview: Daniel Clowes

In the first seven panels of his graphic novel Wilson, Daniel Clowes succinctly establishes the eponymous hero's character. Wilson first exclaims to no one in particular, "I love people!" When a woman walks by, he engages her in conversation. As she begins to complain about her life, he interrupts her: "For the love of Christ, don't you ever shut up?" WIlson's weak-kneed optimism doesn't last an entire page. His misanthropy is barely tempered by the pale yellow and blue backgrounds that highlight his pot belly and receding hairline. Words like "insufferable" and "crank" come to mind after an initial reading. As the drawn landscape changes from cheerful pastels to cheerless monotones, you continue turning the pages to find out what Wilson's » Read More

Review: 'Personal Shopper'

Very sexy and very scary, Personal Shopper is Oliver Assayas' follow-up to Clouds of Sils Maria, the film that proved a sharp and sensitive director could find a virtue in Kristen Stewart's air of neutrality. Assayas makes a display of this actress's humid eyes, firmly set mouth and smooth physique, but the ghost story isn't all about her vulnerability-it follows a few sidebars about the parapsychological activities of Victor Hugo, for instance, to get us ready for the point when Assayas starts playing the xylophone on the viewer's spinal cord. Maureen Cartwright (Stewart) is a personal shopper for a very mean and extremely wealthy Parisienne. She carries on a frayed relationship via Skype with her boyfriend, who is working a long-term » Read More

Review: 'My Scientology Film'

Here is a rollicking movie about the fate of all the planets in the universe. Former Metro writer Louis Theroux's comic yet frightening My Scientology Film-co-written by Theroux, directed by John Dower and released by the BBC-shows a similar approach to the work of Michael Moore, whom Theroux worked with for a while. Theroux is slightly rumpled, his shirt tails usually out, his hair a little untidy. The British accent sometimes disarms the wrathful Yankee. Trying to get an interview with the secretive leaders of the Church of Scientology, Theroux starts out in L.A. The church's strength in Hollywood isn't happenstance. Under "Project Celebrity," founder L. Ron Hubbard sought famous disciples such as Greta Garbo and James Stewart. Actors, » Read More

A Fragmented Cinequest

Cinequest closed Sunday with the audience awards, and even the Cinequest OD'd have to feel a bit sad to see the crowds go. The well-deserved winner of the best narrative feature award was Roland Vranik's Ken Loach-like The Citizen, starring Dr. Cake-Bali Marcelo as Wilson, an African refugee in Budapest. The amateur actor played a security guard pinioned between the requirements of his new government and his duty to a helpless and homeless Iranian mom (Arghavan Shekari). It's a warm drama, with Agnes Mahr outstanding as Wilson's native-born Hungarian lover. The parties were certainly lively, but the 27th annual Cinequest suffered from decentralization. » Read More

Review: 'Beauty and the Beast'

During the reign of Louis XVI or thereabouts, pilfering a rose from a cursed castle's garden is punishable by life imprisonment. The castle's owner is an ornery, hairy and horned monster (Dan Stevens). But he'll accept a substitute prisoner, like loyal daughter Belle (Emma Watson), who arrives to ransom her father (Kevin Kline) and take his place. One of the blandest, most nervous and most cluttered fairy tale movies that Disney has ever released-Bill Condon's redo is a rococo La La Fantasyland, complete with sort-of dancing and autotuned singing. It's stagebound, with the 3D providing depth of field at a cost of blurry color; on the bright side it recreates the format's original appeal by aiming a lot of projectiles at the audience's eyes. » Read More

Review: 'Kong: Skull Island'

In IMAX 3D, Kong: Skull Island is a battle of gigantic scowls between Samuel L. Jackson and a 10-story gorilla. It's an epic stare-down, rivalling the squint-offs of Lee Van Cleef and Clint Eastwood. Jackson shows maximum indomitability as a Vietnam era officer called Packard, bitter over the course of the war. In 1973, Packard escorts a scientific expedition helmed by Bill Randa (John Goodman) seeking to explore Skull Island and bomb it a little in the name of scientific tests. This cursed isle, ringed by storms, is shunned by all sane mariners. Helicoptering in, Jackson roars out the legend of Icarus over the thunder; his attack force of fresh-out-of-the-'Nam soldiers bring ammo, napalm and high caliber weapons. In their party is a » Read More

Review: 'Logan'

Let's assume that adamantium gives you heavy-metal poisoning, that it's as bad for your system as depleted uranium. Even the uncanny healing powers of Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) are breaking down from the things the government did to his skeleton. It's not lupus. It might as well be. Here we find Logan-a.k.a. Wolverine, one of the most iconic of the X-Men-moonlighting as a limo driver, taking high school kids to their proms. The passengers act like swine, sticking their heads through the sunroof, screaming "USA! USA!" at the Mexican migrants camped under a freeway offramp. » Read More

Review: 'Kedi'

Filming cats is likely tougher than herding cats, but Ceyda Torun's positively enchanting Kedi ("Cat") is an intimate portrait of a tribe of Istanbul cats-scads of calicos, gingers, even a few coon-cats escaped from Norse freighters. Kedi is also a look at what's left of an old city of twisty pedestrian streets, surrounded by an ever-narrowing ring of office towers and skyscrapers. From cat's eye camera to drone-view, Torun studies the city at all its levels. It's as if Istanbul were knitted together by the presence of unusually well-fed and well-tolerated municipal cats. They wander in and out at will, pilfering sardines from the waterfront fishmongers, or tangling with the rodents who have been a city problem since the reign of » Read More

Review: 'I Am Not Your Negro'

Raoul Peck's tremendous documentary I Am Not Your Negro shows great intelligence and relevance. Rather than a rehash of the 1960s struggle, it's a demonstration that the struggle never ended. The subject is James Baldwin, and an unfinished manuscript. Baldwin never got farther than 30 pages into his study of three lives in the civil rights movement. All three of the leaders were under the age of 40 when they were martyred: Martin Luther King Jr., Medgar Evers and Malcolm X. What's more, all three were Baldwin's friends. Which didn't mean that he agreed with their methods, any more than the three agreed with each other. » Read More

Review: 'Lego Batman Movie'

There's bound to be someone-mom?-who prefers a Batman movie in which our hero learns the importance of family life and sharing. How can such a sharing, caring Dark Knight resonate with the adolescent, who prefers brooding, hiding in solitude and watching everyone from a point of concealment? Fortunately, the makers of The Lego Batman Movie realize they are dealing with a figure who is a kaleidoscope of personas-a Batman for all seasons. This version of the Caped Crusader has had his head turned by success. He does victory laps in the Batmobile, and fires a T-shirt cannon of souvenir Batshirts at the orphanage. During a quick visit there, he acquires an adopted son, Dick Grayson (Michael Cera), in an absence of mind. » Read More

Keeping Up With Tradition

Abbas Kiarostami's piercing, observational eye helped revolutionize cinema. His 1998 A Taste of Cherry was a surprise winner at Cannes. His international masterpiece Certified Copy was both an Italian travelogue and an exploration of a mysterious relationship. And there's so much more. Kiarostami died July 4 in Paris. The loss wasn't just to his homeland Iran, but to the entire world. Iran is this week's enemy. It's been reported that Steve Bannon's computer password was "Sparta." One wonders if the man gets his news of Persia from the movie 300. Misinformation and prejudice makes "A Life in Film: Remembering Global Filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami" particularly important. » Read More

Review: '1984'

For some reason, George Orwell's 1984 is a current best-seller on Amazon. Something to do with the new administration and its forward-thinking views on the mutability of facts? I wouldn't want to speculate. Orwell's satire was based on the author's time working for the good guys-at the BBC, where he was a wartime propagandist. He even named his protagonist "Winston" as if to honor Churchill. The book is a hammer against those who looked the other way at the crimes of England's then-ally, the USSR. Details of the show trials, the paranoia, and the use of raw alcohol to cope are straight from the Communist regime. Supposedly, in Moscow once, there was a neon sign celebrating the year-early completion of a Five-Year Plan. » Read More

Review: 'The Salesman'

In The Salesman, we have a look at how Iranian artists are standing on crumbling ground. It was a winner at Cannes, for best actor and script, and now it's national news because of the Trump administration's ban on Iranians entering our nation. Academy Award winning director Asghar Farhadi (A Separation) has said he's not attending the Oscars this year, even if the ban is lifted. On the bright side, there's no publicity man for your film like the president of the United States. It's an indication of the way Iranian films are made-immersive, circumspect, slippery-that they start with circumstances so familiar to their core audience that they don't need much explanation. » Read More

Review: 'The Founder'

Director John Lee Hancock (The Alamo) has gone from Davy Crockett to Ray Kroc-arguably a lesser kind of American hero. Kroc was the burger baron who franchised McDonald's from the original owners, a pair of idealistic restaurateurs from San Bernardino. The McDonalds' "Spee-dee" assembly line method revolutionized the way Americans and a lot of the world eat. Making the Golden Arches an interstate phenomenon, Kroc created the fast food nation we live in today. Exuding gall and desperation, Michael Keaton plays Kroc with a Midwestern honk to his voice and a never-ending line of patter. Watching him get a series of doors slammed in his face, and seeing him taking solace with a hip flask, it's like Beetlejuice died and went to hell. » Read More