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Review: 'Diary of a Chambermaid'

Lea Seydoux smoulders in the latest film adaptation of this turn-of-the century examination of class warfare. Read More

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Review: 'Diary of a Chambermaid'

Insolence versus injustice is the theme of Octave Mirbeau's novel, Diary of a Chambermaid. As adapted by director and co-writer Benoit Jacquot, it's a bracingly nasty piece of work, contrasting brutishness at the bottom and condescension from the top. Jacquot previously directed star Lea Seydoux in somewhat similar material, Farewell My Queen. She's the movie's real raison d'etre. Seydoux has impressed in films as different as Spectre and Blue is the Warmest Color, but Jacquot was one of the first to understand Seydoux's fascinating sullenness, and to appreciate those gunfighter eyes: when Seydoux glares at someone, you think of Lee Van Cleef in a spaghetti western. And Jacquot has the budget to make this version authentic to the 1890s, » Read More

Review: 'Gurukulam'

If a documentary is worth anything, it will display mixed feelings about its subject. That being the case, I'm not completely sure how totally beguiled the directors of Gurukulam might be by their tour of an ashram in the mountains of Tamil Nadu, in rural southern India. The presiding guru Dayananda Saraswati is elderly, requiring the support of a pair of acolytes when he gets around. Co-producers and directors Neil Dalal and Jillian Elizabeth had fine access; Saraswati pays no attention to the camera, or anything but his reading, as he's having his saffron-colored socks changed by a helper. On a trip to purify a temple, the guru meets with farmers whose fields are being invaded by elephants, beasts they've been trying to pray away. » Read More

Review: 'The Fits'

Anna Rose Holmer's directorial debut, The Fits, feels a lot like Creed-a.k.a. Rocky VII-with all the nonsensical commercial movie parts stripped out. This avant garde, long-take, wide-screen view of a young girl training to be part of a dance team avoids the well-trodden path; it's not "empowering" in the athletic shoe-commercial sense. Toni is an undersized, 11-year-old girl who wants to join the "Lincoln Lionesses," a local dance team. She's played by the remarkable, young and richly named Royalty Hightower, while the Lionesses are portrayed by the Q-Kidz, a step group from Cincinnati's West End. Little and silent, Hightower doesn't weigh 90 pounds, and yet she has tremendous gravity. Almost all synopses of The Fits refer to Toni as a » Read More

Review: 'Finding Dory'

As its opening act, this Finding Nemo sequel features a Pixar short called "Piper." The film is about a baby sandpiper coping with incoming tide. It's so small and perfect that it makes what follows look sprawling. Otherwise, Finding Dory is a better film than its predecessor, with more narrative sophistication. It's an aquatic Memento, as the memory-challenged blue tang Dory (Ellen Degeneres does the addled fish's voice) retrieves forgotten images of her childhood. She seeks her long-lost parents off the coast of Morro Bay with an ever-worried Nemo and Marlon (voiced by Albert Brooks) in pursuit. Brooks' job is to give the movie some salt, and maybe his best line comes with his frustration at the dithering Dory in a tank full of identical » Read More

Review: 'Now You See Me 2'

Jon M. Chu, the son of the restaurateur who runs Chef Chu's in Los Altos, sped to the top of his profession as a director. Following the auditorium-filling Step Up series and a Justin Bieber concert movie, Chu's new film Now You See Me 2 has the moviemaker in cahoots with a couple of other Valley-bred talents. The film's scriptwriter is Saratoga's own Ed Solomon (Levity, Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure); and Now You See Me 2's co-star is Palo Alto's Dave Franco. "I didn't know him back then, but I had mutual friends with his brother," Chu says from Los Angeles by phone. Magic on film may seem a weird sell in an age when you can vanish anything with digital technology; it's as bemusing as the days when a ventriloquist named Edgar Bergen » Read More

Review: 'Sunset Song'

Terence Davies is a clear-eyed nostalgia artist specializing in the retrieval of the mood and the color of the past. Sunset Song, an adaptation of the Lewis Grassic Gibbon novel set a century ago in Scotland's Kincardineshire, seems like the culmination of his work. It functions both as a dreamy eclogue about farm living and as a war memorial. The lean, tall Agyness Deyn stars as Chris, the daughter of a viciously dour father (Peter Mullan, excellent). Though the ardors of childbearing send Chris's mother to her grave at an early age, the place is a kind of paradise. There is dialogue about the struggle with the soil, but the soil doesn't look like it's putting up much of a fight. It's almost always golden harvest time, and the weather » Read More

Review: 'Alice Through the Looking Glass'

Glibsters say a book can never be ruined by a movie-"There it is, still up on the shelf." This rule doesn't apply to James Bobin's Alice Through the Looking Glass. It's so misbegotten that it must-somehow-poison its source. Kids who somehow have a good time at this soulless film are never going to get the same pleasure out of the Lewis Carroll original, expecting it to have the same relentlessness, Bad-television-Christmas-special plotting, and Transformers-like robots. It is a special book. Here is an introduction to linguistics, to talking insects decades before Kafka, and to other bizarre fauna-sometimes, 'very unpleasant characters' as Alice describes The Walrus and The Carpenter. » Read More

Review: 'The Lobster'

As a morbid satire of how individuals are pressured to become couples, Yorgos Lanthimos' fable, The Lobster, has merit. The Greek director, previously of Dogtooth, certainly has made an answer film to My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Anyone who comes from a traditional family, who endured ceaseless nagging to get married and produce some kids, would find this savory... for a while. But to use an old word, The Lobster is crabbed. The dialogue is executed in a toneless existential style, like a David Mamet adaptation-complete with foreign language training tape stilted narration. We can utter some hollow laughter watching the slow crushing of the forlorn main character, David (Colin Farrell). » Read More

Review: 'X-Men: Apocalypse'

When the undertone about the struggle for gay rights is taken out of the X-Men franchise, nothing seems to be left but the fight scenes, the makeup and the costumes. With its emphasis on boarding school life, it seems X-Men: Apocalypse is trying to assume the vacuum left by the end of the Harry Potter movies. The nth-excuse me, ninth-film in the series tells of the world's first mutant, the immortal Apocalypse, known as En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac), a hulking blue entity who's been sleeping the eons away in an art-deco, black-and-gold pyramid buried deep below Cairo. Reborn in 1983, Apocalypse seeks four heralds to help him with his mission to purge the world. They will include the embittered Magneto (Michael Fassbender) who has been hiding » Read More

Review: 'Margarita With A Straw'

Let's hear it for Wolfe Video's new release, Shonali Bose's Margarita with a Straw, finally getting a theatrical run in San Jose. The New Almaden-based indie film distributor has been around since 1985, before the beginning of the indie film wave. But this may be the best movie they've released in 31 years. Margarita with a Straw is a bright, ingratiating film with an unlikely star: Laila (Kalki Koechlin) a college girl with cerebral palsy. Though navigating life in a wheelchair and with severely affected speech, she doesn't let her troubles keep her from looking for romance in all directions. Living in a financially untroubled household near Delhi, Laila is accepted well enough at school, stealing a first kiss and then dropping the boy » Read More

Review: 'Captain America: Civil War'

Playing the noblest American of them all, Chris Evans is easy to underrate. As in previous installments, Captain America: Civil War shows the World War II hero, frozen and revived for our complex times, as a touching and skeptical immortal. Our Captain could also be seen as a symbol of the U.S. government's unilateral actions in foreign affairs. But the Russo brothers' terrific action opus addresses directly what Batman v. Superman hinted at. It's the most expensive, entertaining movie anyone's made about blowback. A squad of The Avengers are in Lagos, Nigeria, preventing the theft of a vial of ebola-like serum. During the ensuing, epic shootout, the powerful telepath Wanda (a hypnotically pretty Elizabeth Olsen) saves Captain America's » Read More

Review: 'High Rise'

What turned a fussy London docto-slim, white-clad, and, as they used to say, uptight-into a filthy barbarian, whom we meet spit-roasting a haunch of dead cat over an open fire? We find out in Ben Wheatley's adaptation of J. G. Ballard's 1975 novel High-Rise-immaculately visualized with Kubrick-like attention to detail and art direction, and accompanied by a thundering score. Wheatley keeps the book's 1970s setting, lampooning England's descent into humiliation during a decade of strikes, shortages and power-outages. On the edge of London is a 45-story residential complex made of brutal concrete. Brand new, it's already showing signs of rot. The new tenant is the reticent Dr. Laing (Tom Hiddleston). He's a brain specialist, much of whose » Read More

Review: 'Keanu'

In Quentin Tarantino's version of That Darn Cat, Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele make a sublime comedy team in their new film, Keanu. The poster doesn't lie: it's centered around a little mewling kitten, a 'gangsta pet' sought by horrible and dangerous men. The two comedians play cousins. Key is Clarence, an anxious suburban family man in a madras shirt. At first glance, he's like Dwayne Johnson's frailer little brother. Upon further examination, he's a beige Chevy Chase. The word protean describes Key; he's facially bland enough that he can pose as hundreds of characters, as he has over the five seasons of the duo's hit Comedy Central show, Key and Peele. » Read More

Preview: 'Olivia de Havilland Festival'

Olivia de Havilland, who will be 100 years old July 1, is being honored at the Stanford Theatre with a 15-film retrospective, celebrating her long acting career. Raised in Saratoga, she showed an unstoppable streak at an early age, moving out of her home even before she graduated from Los Gatos High. Her stepfather-the manager of a since-defunct San Jose department store-had threatened to kick her out if she didn't stop performing. De Havilland was discovered by an agent of the impresario Max Reinhardt while she was playing Shakespeare in a local theater. She was signed to a Warner Brothers contract, and starred as Hermia in the 1935 film of A Midsummer Night's Dream. At 5-foot-3, she embodied the Shakespeare-ism: 'Though she be but » Read More

Review: 'Green Room'

Writer-director Jeremy Saulnier's indie thriller Green Room is about one of those scenes that never changes even as the years go by, like prison, the military or academia. Still, the new film by the director of the expert noir Blue Ruin seems as if it should have been set 1987 or so. There is still enough of a punk music scene in 2016 to permit a trad punk rock band to drive an Econoline van from gig to gig. And likely, there's still a quantum of racist skinheads still fouling what's left of that scene. There are excuses in Green Room's script made for why the musician protagonists don't have an online social media presence. There is also a lot of extraneous business about cell phones that get broken or don't work and don't figure into the » Read More

Review: 'Purple Rain'

A week ago, Purple Rain was just another bad '80s movie. Prince's untimely death at age 57 changed that, bringing downloads and revival bookings at everywhere from the AMC Theaters nationwide to San Francisco's Castro Theater. Time hasn't been kind to this vehicle for its star, which was a monster hit when it was released-earning back it's cost eightfold at the box office in 1984. It's infrequent that a rock movie shows off talent at their best advantage, but it was Prince's own idea to make himself into a James Dean-like rebel, zipping around on an underpowered motorcycle, suffering through his parents' violent fights at home. (They're tearing him apart, just like in Rebel Without a Cause.) » Read More

Review: 'A Hologram for the King'

The slightly off-kilter quality of A Hologram for the King is explained in the credits; it's international filmmaking that doesn't have a definite style or a center. Having avoided the candied nostalgia and thumpingly nationalistic conclusions of Dave Eggers' source bestseller, director Tom Tykwer transforms this story into a slightly abstract study of a middle-aged man's inexorable slide into obsolescence. Stories like these-of American businessmen getting blindsided by new and unsympathetic markets-used to be all the rage. Second-hand bookstores were packed with knockoffs of The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit and Death of a Salesman. These tales, as tired as they may be, are greatly aided by the warmth and trustworthiness of Tom Hanks. » Read More

Review: 'The Jungle Book'

Some critics complained that Rudyard Kipling wouldn't have recognized Disney's 1968 animated Jungle Book, the story of a feral boy's adventures with animals. Jon Favreau's remarkable computer-animated and live-action version has at least a sprig of Kipling's verse in it. Raised by wolves, under the supervision of the black panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley), Mowgli (newcomer Neel Sethi) is taught the wolf's code: 'The strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack.' Like the original, this version waits on the arrival of the bear Baloo (Bill Murray) and his corny but earworm-hatching song about the bare necessities of life. Baloo has a different take on the code: 'That's not a song. That's propaganda.' This » Read More

Review: 'Miles Ahead'

Unleashed from directors reigning them in, actors often go nuts when making their directorial debut. With Miles Ahead, Don Cheadle uses his first turn in the director's chair to craft an indie film full of whiplash flashbacks and playful, expressionistic storytelling. Cheadle's approach might have been called Miles Davis, Private Eye. In the fictional storyline, Cheadle plays Davis playing the part of defective detective. On various powders and in various alleys, Davis seeks a stolen reel of tape containing his first recording in five years. The artist's quarry is a thuggish record exec named Harper Hamilton (Michael Stuhlbarg); accompanying Davis during this quest through the night is the scruffy, self-described Rolling Stone reporter » Read More

Review: 'Windrider Film Forum'

The Windrider Film Forum returns to Atherton this weekend. The seventh annual gathering of filmmakers and fans will include feature length and short films covering a variety of subjects, as well as Q&A panels with directors, actors and others involved in the process of producing movies. The ultimate aim of the forum is to address troubles in the world and encourage meaningful dialog. Here are some of the gathering's highlights. Frogman, a short documentary by Stanford's Tyler Trumbo, tells the family history of a Navy SEAL turned spy. This unnamed sailor was stationed behind the lines after the Iranian Hostage Crisis ended. Irradiated in an accident, wracked with PTSD and dead at 47, the serviceman remains a mystery to his family. His son, » Read More

Review: 'Demolition'

Thought you'd escape the wanton devastation in Batman v. Superman by going to the allegedly mature drama Demolition? The joke's on you. Jean-Marc Vallee's follow-up to his excellent Wild and his middling Dallas Buyer's Club concerns a man who seeks catharsis through smashing things. Like Bruce Wayne, Davis (Jake Gyllenhaal) is an affluent, muscular executive, driving around in an expensive car, traumatized by the death of a loved one. The real Batman never had to describe the worst day of his life as Davis does at the dinner table, when he displays a stiff upper lip over the death of his wife Julia (Heather Lind): 'Massive head trauma in a car accident. Can you pass the salt?'
Davis has been cracking up ever since his wife was killed, and » Read More

Review: 'City of Gold'

Clearly a person needs to eat before they see City of Gold, the lovingly-made documentary about LA Weekly and LA Times food critic Jonathan Gold—the scenes of the simmering black Oaxacan sauces, flaming Thai curries and gourmet taco trucks are food porn of the rarest order. But even indifferent foodies can enjoy this profile of an erudite yet funky writer. With large brow, larger girth and a Ben Franklin haircut, Gold could be a model for Dutch master Frans Hals, or anyone's picture of Falstaff. But during ride-alongs in the Dodge truck of this eminent critic, we get more than just profiles of restaurants high and low, and supporting commentary by the likes of Calvin Trillin. » Read More

Review: 'Batman vs Superman'

It's 18 months since a Kryptonean war party all but demolished Metropolis and killed thousands-"Man is introduced to the Superman" says a Nietzschean title in Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Our blue-clad hero (Henry Cavill) is beleaguered by a senate investigation led by a firm yet sympathetic southern senator (Holly Hunter). Behind the scenes, the wealthy Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) is pestering the government to get his hands on a Kryptonian weapon that will protect the Earth from further attack. He has no faith in Superman's goodness: "We don't have to depend on the kindness of monsters," Luthor says. When Batman (Ben Affleck) interferes with Luthor's schemes, the plutocrat uses kidnapping and extortion to send Superman after » Read More

Review: 'Take Me to the River'

Rural Nebraska is the setting of Matt Sobel's semi-autobiographical, mostly imagined feature film debut Take Me to the River. That's 1,500 miles from the Willow Glen suburb he grew up in. It's notable that a drive from Milan to Madrid is shorter by 500 miles. In Sobel's film, that kind of geographical distance informs the cultural differences between his hometown in California and the Nebraskan farmland where his annual family reunions used to take place. Take Me to the River, which premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, captures an adolescent's sense of estrangement as he attempts to navigate two very different worlds: one that is safe and familiar, and another that is disorienting. » Read More

Reeling in the Years

Considering 30 years of cinema history in the Valley, it's clear now that we acted more than we were acted upon. Though there aren't as many films set here as there are in New York or San Francisco, Silicon Valley changed the face of the movies in every field—from digital imagery to online distribution. One of my first cover stories for Metro back in 1986 involved the rise of the VHS tape, and its potential threat to the movie theaters. Now VHS is dead, and the problems of waning ticket sales and monotonous blockbusters are still affecting the industry. Cinema as cinema is just one small part of the bandwidth, pressed by more interactive mediums, by serial dramas, and, eventually by VR technology being developed by Oculus, Jaunt and » Read More

Review: 'Eye in the Sky'

South African director Gavin Hood's military thriller Eye in the Sky is frequently exciting, sporadically dull and ultimately invaluable. The big names, Helen Mirren and the late Alan Rickman, deliver their goods-unselfconscious power on her side, and bilious melancholy on his. It's a wider film than the similarly themed Good Kill. Hood shows us the war on terror as a literal world war, being strategized everywhere from the dust to the heavens. Yet Eye in the Sky truly belongs to Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips). Abdi is the anti-terrorist coalition's point man, Jama, who keeps surveillance on a heavily guarded compound on the outskirts of Nairobi. » Read More

Review: 'Doris'

Mortality shades director Michael Showalter's comedy Hello, My Name is Doris. The slight but endearing plot has an armature-a significant mention of The Glass Menagerie sets the stage. Like poor Laura, Doris (Sally Fields) has been walled-up tending her aged mother, and is gradually turning a trash-picker and a cat-pamperer. Her brother is even named Tom (Stephen Root), as per the Tennessee Williams' play. Doris still works a 9-5, rocking her batty personal style at a chic clothing manufacturer in Manhattan; she's bedecked with bows and found objects, and a double pair of glasses. Doris has these excellent vintage mother of pearl-encrusted cat's spectacles that she can't give up, even if she can't read with them on. Still, her eyesight is » Read More

Review: 'Creative Control'

Once people lived lives of quiet desperation, as per the Thoreau quote. Now they're noisy and desperate-trapped in a gabble of voices, advertising and text messages, working 90 hours a week and masturbating to electronic phantoms for the other 10 hours. Director, star and co-writer (with Micah Bloomberg) Benjamin Dickinson's Creative Control, a hilarious black and white, widescreen comic fable of a marketer's crack up, hits its mark every time. » Read More

Review: 'Trapped'

In June, the Supreme Court may consider the legality of Texas HB2, the model of restrictive abortion laws being implemented all over the South and elsewhere. One is reminded of the anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon's famous quote-because if ever there was a case of laws being chains for the poor and cobwebs for the rich, here it is. The well-off can pick a facility in a large city. The less affluent have to bus in from hundreds of miles away and stay for a couple of days, while enduring politically mandated waiting periods engineered to make securing a safe and legal abortion all but impossible. » Read More

Review: 'Zootopia'

Prejudice is the theme of Disney's marvelous animated comedy, Zootopia. The higher the concept, the more writers end up credited, but this much rewritten Zootopia doesn't play that way. The sting and spice is visible in a clue in the title-it's indeed a utopian fantasy of the lion laying down with the lamb, at least for political reasons. Far out in the sticks, the appealing bunny, Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin), wants to grow up to be a police officer, instead of a carrot farmer like her hundreds of brothers and sisters. After a bruising stint in the police academy, she joins Zootopia's police force. But thanks to the scorn of Chief Bogo (a Cape Buffalo voiced by Idris Elba), Judy is busted down to meter maid duty-relegated to roaming the » Read More

Review: 'The Daughter'

Cinequest closes with The Daughter, director and writer Simon Stone's variation on the themes in Ibsen's The Wild Duck. The title is deceptive. Even if Stone includes Ibsen's wounded duck, the movie is not about ducks, it's about chickens-the kind that come home to roost. To his credit, Simon isn't merely reiterating the plot of the play. In a New South Wales company town, in the blue-misted mountains, a century-old family lumber mill is closing. The patriarch of the place is Henry (Geoffrey Rush), about to marry his much younger fiancee, who used to be his housekeeper. Henry's dissolute and angry son, Christian (Paul Schneider), has just returned from many years in America: he's been two months on the wagon and is hoping to change his » Read More

Review: 'Embrace the Serpent'

The Oscar-nominated Embrace of the Serpent is the biggest European guilt-whip since Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man, during which Johnny Depp got called "Stupid white man" half a dozen times. The Colombian film contrasts two incidents in the life of the Amazonian shaman Karamakate, the last of his nation. He encounters two explorers, some 40 years apart, in the first half of the 20th century. Karamakate (played in youth by Nilbio Torres) is a noble, scornful warrior-physically splendid, with a look of James Woods-worthy disdain on his face. Braced against his seven-foot blowgun, he wears his thong like Superman's trunks. » Read More