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Twin Film Festivals Come to Silicon Valley

The UNAFF and SVJFF bring movies from around the world to the South Bay Read More

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Twin Film Festivals Come to Silicon Valley

This mess is China's problem, not ours, yes? Indeed, it is the problem of China, where a fifth of the arable land has been tainted by the production and demolition of electronics. Sadly, the lead particulates fly into the clouds and come down on our side of the Pacific, like a ghost of that machine you threw away. There is some hope. In one interview, Paul Maher of Ireland's iameco, touts his company's repairable, wooden-framed, and good-looking computer built without carcinogenic PVCs or heavy metals. It is designed to last at least twice as long as the current lifespan of the average computer--which is only three or four years. » Read More

Review: 'Only the Brave'

Locals are well primed to admire the heroism of firefighters. Their jobs only get more difficult each year, and no praise is worthy enough for them. Sadly, along comes Only the Brave, with its unimaginative title--a true story of loss, easily predictable from seeing the name Jennifer Connelly in the credits. As the actress Sylvia Sidney once said about the weepy parts she had, Connelly should have been paid by the tear. It's the story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, a team dropped in to dig firebreaks and set off controlled burns in the Arizona hills near Prescott. » Read More

Review: 'The Florida Project'

The Florida Project is bursting with fun, squalor and tragedy, and it justifies its end-title dedication to Hal Roach and the couple of hundred Our Gang shorts he produced. It's shaggy, with what looks like rough-cut editing at times, and it's seemingly been released under its working title. Director Sean Baker's subject is the adventures of a passel of kids in Kissimmee, not so far from the expensive gates of Disney World, a minimum wage, subtropical holiday land. Baker positively blasts the screen with color and Florida sunsets flamboyant enough to dement a parrot. Consultants from Technicolor worked on this, and it shows. Baker's most recent previous full-length film, Tangerine, was shot on a cellphone; the visuals here are more than » Read More

Review: 'Blade Runner 2049'

August Andquiet, occasionally full of pity and violence, Blade Runner 2049 overwhelms: it's a technical juggernaut, orchestrated to the bone-rattling sonics of Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch, the sound of some giant rubbing a pair of ocean liners together. Director Denis Villeneuve blends the solemnness of Tarkovsky and the studied blandness of Kubrick, with the same lack of dynamism he demonstrated in Arrival. This movie called Blade Runner has very little running in it. The soundscapes will keep people from drowsing, as Ryan Gosling-playing K, a synthetic cop-doubles-down on the minimalism he displayed in Drive. Reprising his role as Deckard, a welcome Harrison Ford brings his own humanity to a movie peopled with grim synthetics. » Read More

Review: 'Lucky'

Harry Dean Stanton, who died in September, was something better than a movie star, a character actor with some 60 years of credits. Lucky isn't the last of Stanton, but it's likely the last best view we'll get of the actor, who, at the end looked like an outsider artist statue of Abe Lincoln carved out of cypress wood. Director John Carroll Lynch follows a week in the life of the 90-ish Lucky-he got the name back in the Navy, since he had the cushy job of a ship's cook. The old man has a place out in the desert, not far from the saguaro cactuses, and he follows an undemanding schedule: exercising in his skivvies, making some coffee from a machine that keeps blinking "12:00" in fiery red letters, and tottering on downtown to get some cigs » Read More

Review: 'Polina'

A sensitive friend I have is unable to look at bonsai trees. The thought of the wires binding the roots, to make the plants dwarves, causes him pain. How much worse is ballet, though, the molding and posing of young girls to bind them for the dance. Watching this training, seeing young girls grabbed by the chin to push their heads up, their backs forced roughly into perfect position, gives the lovely and meandering Franco-Russian production Polina some weight. Based on a French graphic novel, it follows a ballet dancer from a grim youth submitting to a rigid tradition, to avant-garde freedom. At best, co-directors Valerie Muller and Angelin Preljocaj visualize this journey well. (And it sure beats Black Swan.) » Read More

Review: 'The Unknown Girl'

Strange how a movie will show up, as timely as it can be, right during a crisis. As the Senate prepares for some drastic surgery on the Affordable Care Act, there's special relevance to The Unknown Girl--an intriguing study of a selfless, heroic female physician atoning for a life she failed to save. On one level, the Dardenne Brothers' new film gives an American audience a look at how the medical system functions in the shabbier part of Belgium. It's the neighborhood of Seraing in the city of Liege, the terrain Jean-Paul and Luc Dardenne have carved out for decades. It's sheer rust-belt, an area of cracked brick walls, canal-like industrial riverbanks and illegal aliens. The directors have compared Seraing to Detroit, but it looks more » Read More

Review: 'Battle of the Sexes'

It's a director's duty to make sure we know that the past was a place where people really feared to step out of line. Director Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris fulfilled that duty. The quite enjoyable Battle of the Sexes suggests that a sensational stunt tennis match in 1973 was a great disturbance in the force, as if millions of men suddenly cried out in terror of losing their privilege and were silenced. It sure didn't go the way Garson Kanin would have scripted it--even kids who got their news from the Weekly Reader sensed the creepiness of the bout between ace Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and 55 year old has-been Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell). » Read More

Review: 'Mother!'

OH, MOTHER! Can this really be the end? To be stuck in J-Law's earhole with the Messiah blues again? Scene after scene, in tight closeup on Jennifer Lawrence's face, we peer into her eyeballs as if we were ophthalmologists. Watching Mother! you'd suspect that Lawrence was wearing a mechanical camera rig to follow her as closely as possible, some sort of selfie-stick cum halo-cast. She's been accused of overacting, but with the camera this close, it's Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan) who imprisons her. Every bad thing that happens-rather, every thing that's probably going to turn out bad-follows with a cut to Lawrence so she can react to it. We know exactly how she feels at every moment. Some ambiguity would have spiced up this Kafka fable » Read More

Review: 'Rebel in the Rye'

There are two ways to look at J.D. Salinger. The insufferably titled biopic Rebel in the Rye looks at only one of them. One is to consider Salinger as a veteran who triumphed over his PTSD to write the beloved Catcher in the Rye--whose desire to renounce all distraction, all "phoniness" made him turn his back on the world and forbid a film version of Catcher. And it's not that Salinger hated cinema--there are affectionate passages in Catcher about Sir Laurence Olivier's Hamlet (1948) and Hitchcock's The 39 Steps (1935). The other way to look at Salinger is as a snob-prince whose magnum opus created the scourge known as young adult literature: at its worst, so easy to read, so cravenly flattering to the adolescent perspective. » Read More

Review: 'Dolores'

It's an amazing story. A two-time divorcee from Stockton with 11 children battled the machismo of the UFW, as well as the growers who ran their fiefdoms with a squalor equaled only in the American South. The historical footage shows it all: filthy shacks, harvesters dipping water out of a barrel still stenciled with a pesticide label, and farmworkers in fields so freshly sprayed with poison that some San Joaquin Valley farm towns became host for birth defects and cancer clusters. Huerta was a shrewd, handsome woman and a commanding speaker. She brought in followers, many of them female: hard to resist the appeal of an activist job that offers $5 a week and all you can eat. San Jose's Luis Valdez, on camera here, joined the workers to » Read More

Review: 'American Assassin'

In Skyfall, Daniel Craig's aging James Bond missed the center of the paper target he was shooting at. Frustrated, he strode toward it, still shooting. This showed our hero's spirit as his body failed him-the sword outwearing the sheath, in Byron's phrase. In American Assassin, when Mitch Rapp (Dylan O'Brien) leaps into the no-go zone in a live shooting range to keep blasting at the paper target he's already shredded, it's not indomitability, it's idiocy. The assassin trainer Stan Hurley (a squandered Michael Keaton, pursing his lips until you think they're going to burst) explains the plot for those who came in late: "Some bad people are planning some bad things, and it's your job to stop them." » Read More

Review: 'The Limehouse Golem'

Was Karl Marx actually Jack the Ripper? Director Juan Carlos Medina's The Limehouse Golem doesn't actually ask that question, but it asks a similar one. During a hunt for a murderer in 1880s London, the whiskery Marx is a suspect; one reenactment of the crime has him caped, glowering, talking straight to the camera in the slowed-down devil's voice, before wielding a straight razor. Loads of right-wingers consider Marx to be history's worst monster, but no one ever accused him of being a serial killer before. It's adapted from Peter Ackroyd's tricky and literate 1994 novel, Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem. Scriptwriter Jane Goldman reversed the plot, like someone inverting a pocket to sew it, and shorted out the numerous literary » Read More

Review: 'Star Trek II'

What is an appropriate 35th anniversary present? (Googled, it's coral). It's the Coral Anniversary of 1982's Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. It's long been recognized as the best film in the franchise, with particularly incisive views of the psychology of Admiral Kirk (William Shatner) and his crew. In the film, director Nicholas Meyer's inspiration was to delve into the ways of the old Royal Navy to color his characters. The movie disputes the question of whether a suicide mission is ever necessary, as per Kirk's opinion of how you win the unwinnable Kobayashi Maru scenario. Kirk's first officer, Spock (Leonard Nimoy), is a figure with a far more stoic sensibility: he knows there are times where there's no such thing as a neat escape. » Read More

Review: 'Patti Cake$'

The loveable Sundance hit comedy Patti Cake$ proves John Waters' law that "hating fat people is the last acceptable prejudice." It's a relatively wise feel-gooder. The more extravagant claims made for this comedy include "authenticity." Diverting as it is, it's shaped in the familiar Sundance-ian fashion for uplift and happy ending. Let's put it plainly: as was once said of the homogenized, tons o' fun rap group The Fat Boys, at times, Patti Cake$ has the street authority of a "Don't Walk" sign. It's about unlikely stardom, sought by an obese 23-year-old, Patti Dombrowski (Danielle Macdonald). She gets her multigenerational extended family together into the oddest group since the Bremen Town Musicians. » Read More

Review: 'I Do ... Until I Don't'

Lake Bell is the funniest lady in the Sarah Silverman vein who isn't actually Sarah Silverman. The lanky woman's face is good for comedy, given her wide mouth and her big clouded brow; anxiety radiates off of her like waves from a radio tower. Memories of Bell's performance in the 2013 indie comedy In A World might be enough to cause you to risk a title like I Do... Until I Don't. Happily, I Do... Until I Don't is better than it sounds. The ensemble here, a good one, is held together by a mean, horsey British anthropologist, Vivian Prudeck (Dolly Wells), doing a BBC documentary on the failure rate of American marriage and how contractual seven-year liaisons might make more sense, given longer life spans. » Read More

Review: 'The Hitman's Bodyguard'

There's no other word for The Hitman's Bodyguard than garbage. But it's not a failure; it does what it was intended to do, which is to give a showcase to Samuel L. Jackson. The best-paid actor in the movies today turns 70 next year. Here he is called Kincaid, a sure-shot assassin of some 250 kills; he must beat a preposterous ticking clock to get to the World Court in The Hague so he can testify against a Slavic tyrant named Vladislav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman). Kincaid calls him "Dookie." » Read More

Review: 'The Track of the Cat'

Robert Mitchum, whose birth centennial was this month, was the coolest of them all. He gets quite het up in two fevered movies revived at the Stanford Theatre. Track of the Cat (1954) a late period William Wellman picture in fine CinemaScope, exemplifies the 1950s Westerns that were trying to muscle in on Eugene O'Neill's turf. Wellman focuses on a turn-of-the century Sierra Nevada family of ranchers. The dysfunctional family is socked in by the snows on a mountaintop. Pa (Philip Tonge, absolutely dreadful) hits the bourbon, profanely quoting Song of Solomon as he leers at his potential daughter-in-law (Diana Lynn). If Tonge is preposterously theatrical, Wellman is a lot less sentimental about the frontier drunk than John Ford. » Read More

Review: 'Logan Lucky'

The luckless Logan family of West Virginia has endured its share of misfortunes: melancholy brother Clyde (Adam Driver) lost a hand when he was a soldier in Iran. Now he's the depressed bartender at the Duck Tape Bar and Grill. Brother Jimmy (Channing Tatum) was an NFL prospect who had a career ending injury. He had a job driving heavy machinery, up until the day the boss asks him to come into his office and to shut the door after him. Jimmy's ex-wife (an attractively tragic-faced Katie Holmes) married a car-dealing imbecile with a mini-mansion, while Jimmy abides in a single-wide. » Read More

Review: 'Whose Streets?'

This is essential viewing. Director Sabaah Folayan's Whose Streets? is a non-narrated documentary, woven from interviews, smartphone and small camera footage of the civil disturbances in Ferguson, Missouri, in summer 2014, as well as the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement afterward. The St. Louis exurb of Ferguson (population 24,000) is in one of the five poorest ZIP codes in the state. The protests began after a police officer shot and killed a local named Michael Brown, 18. They left his body on the street for four and a half hours while they photographed the scene. National and local TV news were stunned by the uprising that followed. "Stores being looted!" was the lead on one night of NBC's coverage; we hear an unidentified » Read More

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