Review: 'The Shape of Water'

Guillermo Del Toro' latest freaky fable is a rhapsody in green Read More

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Review: 'The Shape of Water'

Remember that folk tale about how you could put a book under your pillow and the learning would simply percolate up into your brain? Imagine what dreams would come if your apartment were directly above one of the old movie palaces. In the splendid The Shape of Water, the mute heroine--Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins), a Baltimore scrubwoman in 1963--has lodgings above the auditorium of a red-velvet lined theater. What's playing now is a biblical epic called The Story of Ruth (1960), perhaps there to remind us of the familiar wedding verse "whither thou goest, I will go." On TV, we see Shirley Temple dancing in The Little Colonel (1935) and Betty Grable sashaying with a costumed pantomime horse in Coney Island (1943). » Read More

Review: 'The Disaster Artist'

This one's clearly for the fans. In The Disaster Artist, we watch actor and man of mystery Tommy Wiseau (director and star James Franco) wreak his indie film The Room (2003) with a bottomless bank account and a beleaguered cast and crew. Bulked up and with dyed death-metal hair, Wiseau was a natural to play heavies--"Caliban," decides a director (Bob Odenkirk), seeing the man audition. But he sought to be a mainstream romantic star. Men like him seem to come from Transylvania, though Wiseau claimed he was from the bayou; Cajun-ness might explain the dropped indefinite articles in his speech. A clue to the Wiseau Enigma is the passing mention of an accident that almost killed him—the cause of something that would interest a speech » Read More

D-Movie Mania

There have been worse movies than The Room. 1989's Listen to Me, starring Kirk Cameron and Jami Gertz, deserves a bigger reputation for rankness, given its finale of a beachside university debate team beating a bunch of Yale Hitlerjugend in front of the Supreme Court. Gertz's weeping wins the day for abortion waiting periods, as far as the chief justice is concerned. Also unsung is the mind-roasting Can Heironymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness? (1969). This is available on YouTube, complete with Milton Berle conducting a Black Mass in surprisingly well-pronounced Latin, and seedy song-and-dance man Anthony Newley singing "Sweet Love Child" to an underage girl on a merry-go-round. » Read More

Review: 'Three Billboards'

A person can be composed of a set of perfectly good facial features--a strong chin, a proud nose, kind eyes, a generous mouth--and still be basically ugly, and that's the case with Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Short hair tied up with a bandanna, dressed in coveralls as if she worked at a Jiffy Lube instead of an Ozarks gift shop, Mildred (Frances McDormand) has a sudden inspiration to harass the police force in her town. Seven months previously, her daughter was raped and burned to death, and no one has been arrested yet. She decides to tell the police chief off through a set of billboards. This embarrasses the terminally ill Andy Griffith-like chief (Woody Harrelson), revered in the town because (or in spite of) the local » Read More

Review: 'Coco'

Mariachi trumpets play "When You Wish Upon a Star" over the Sleeping Beauty castle in the titles, and papel picado comes to life to tell Coco's back story. It's a Garcia-Marquez sort of tale: not a story of 100 years of solitude, but 75 years of quietude. The Rivera family of Santa Cecilia, Mexico, has banned music in their house ever since a guitarist married and abandoned great-grandma and her daughter back in 1942. The titular Coco is the hairy-chinned grandma, child of the wandering musician. She is now deep into senility. The family toils in the shoemaking business. The peg, awl and leather are waiting for young Miguel (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez) when he gets old enough. But the boy has a forbidden passion: a hidden homemade guitar » Read More

Review: 'Justice League'

He told reporters that the ever-changing top-down studio demands of Avengers 2 "broke" him. If Justice League's lightness is the result of Whedon's influence, the filmmaker is apparently fixed now. The sport and wit of Whedon at his best, as in the brightest moments in TV's Buffy the Vampire Slayer, is evidenced here. Justice League commences with a charming moment worthy of the Christopher Reeve 1970s Superman films: a couple of off-camera kids corner Superman (Henry Cavill), filming him with a cell phone and urging him to not zoom away long enough for an interview. The question that stops him speechless: "What's the best thing about Earth?" Blackout... » Read More

Review: 'Last Flag Flying'

It's the unauthorized sort-of sequel to cinema's first great f-bomb: Richard Linklater's serial-numbers-filed-off follow-up to 1973's The Last Detail takes the renamed, rejiggered characters up to the early Iraq War, in the winter of 2003. Robert Towne and Hal Ashby's adaptation of the Darryl Ponicsan novel had two swabbies (Jack Nicholson and Otis Young) escorting a naval prisoner through the crappier parts of the Eastern Seaboard to the stockade in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Their prisoner is a backward kid (Randy Quaid) who impulsively stole some loose money from a charity dish and learned the lesson that "military justice is to justice what military music is to music"—he got eight years for nicking $40. The two sailors felt for the » Read More

Review: 'Buddy Solitaire'

Maybe if the familiar brick wall standing behind comedians were riddled with bullet holes, they'd pick their material with more discernment: "Choose your next witticism may be your last!" San Jose director Kuang Lee's Buddy Solitaire starts with a masochistic L.A. comedian about to self-destruct. First, Buddy (Brandon J. Sornberger) moans about the pleasure of headlining on a Tuesday night to losers, then he detonates the very old and very bad joke about how they define a virgin girl out in the rural states. In shame the next morning, after pounding his head against the table--"ruining the ol' money-maker," as he tells his appalled, newly pregnant girlfriend--Buddy decides to get a real job. » Read More

Review: 'Lady Bird'

Native daughter Greta Gerwig's enchanting debut as director isn't just a fine comedy about a singular girl's senior year in 2002. It's also a good-looking movie about a city that deserves admiration, with the gilded Tower Bridge seen at dawn, green fields, grand houses, and a catalogue of the place's vintage neon signs displayed to Jon Brion's score. Catholic-school senior Christine (Saoirse Ronan, with two-toned hair and a little spray of acne) cooked up the name "Lady Bird" for herself. She's ashamed of her one-bathroom home and Sacto in general: "It's soul-killing. The Midwest of California." Like any 17-year-old, she can't figure out what's infuriating her embittered, overworked mother. Mom (Roseanne's Laurie Metcalf, excellent) is in » Read More

Review: 'Thor: Ragnarok'

A comedy of outsized figures bashing at one another, punching their frenemies into the next county. The idea in Thor: Ragnarok is that the God of Thunder (Chris Hemsworth) has been leaning too hard on his invincible hammer Mjolnir and his superb head of hair. In this chapter, the former is smashed and the latter cropped. Loki (Tom Hiddleston) spirited away Odin (Anthony Hopkins), king of Asgard, to an old-folks home on Midgard (Earth). A testy Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) intervenes. Odin's daughter, Hela, the god of death (Cate Blanchett) is unloosed. This sooty-eyed Maleficent clone, helmeted with antlers that look like they were designed by Erte plots to slay the universe. Meanwhile, she oppresses the peasantry of Asgard, which, » Read More

Review: 'Wonderstruck'

Anyone who has dug up an old book and wondered who it was that wrote his or her name in it 50 years ago... anyone who loves wandering the catacombs of a museum, standing and giving into the reveries of the people who once passed the same spot... such people might fall in love with Todd Haynes' Wonderstruck. This film version of Brian Selznick's novel is meeting some critical resistance. A reference to Dickens should ready an audience for a rich tale of coincidences and mysterious parentage. In 1977, young Ben (Oakes Fegley) is orphaned, and then deprived of his hearing by a freak accident. Finding a stash of money left behind by his mother, he decides to search for his father, because of a mysterious message left on a bookmark. His story » Read More

Review: 'Meyerowitz Stories'

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: 'Suburbicon'

Chase two rabbits, catch neither; Suburbicon's title, poster, and advertising is puzzling, but a shaky first third yields to some tangy 1959-set melodrama in a shiny-new suburb named "Suburbicon," for some reason. The scriptwriters are, among others, the Coen Brothers. Their completionists will want to see this, and wonder what went wrong. A sprucely uniformed postman delivers mail to the Meyers, the first black family in the neighborhood. He assumes that Mrs. Meyers, the lady answering the door (Karimah Westbrook) is a maid. We cut to the white denizens of Suburbicon gathering, mimicking integrationist rhetoric, as they foam about this crisis. ("We demand our civil rights... we shall overcome!"). » Read More

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