Review: 'The Lobster'

Too dark, dreary for its own good, 'The Lobster' lacks any real payoff. Read More

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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

Franco's World

The hyphenate of all hyphenates, James Franco, paid a visit to his hometown of Palo Alto this past weekend, to accept the lightning bolt-shaped Maverick Spirit Award from Cinequest co-founders Halfdan Hussey and Kathleen Powell. Franco bungeed into the Four Seasons Hotel on the Palo Alto-East Palo Alto border on Feb. 28 to speak in front of a selected audience of 100 or so before a quick return to Los Angeles. The actor, director, writer and producer recently added another title to his CV: high school film class teacher. In September of 2015, under the direction of his former teacher, Esther Wojcicki, Franco led a series of film writing and storytelling workshops at his alma mater, Palo Alto High School. » Read More

Review: 'The Witch'

It may not be doing Robert Eggers' The Witch a favor to describe it as a terrifying movie. It's a superior, elegantly moody horror film—more substantial than scary. It's executive-produced by the Bay Area's Chris Columbus and his daughter, Eleanor. It depicts 1630s family in colonial Massachusetts turning against itself, as reasonable explanations fade, and the supernatural becomes natural. It begins with a shunning; a family of six is exiled from the Plimoth Plantation for religious non-conformity. A horse-drawn wagon loads them out of the town and into new pastures. The refuge lasts a short blissful while, before the crops fail and the family is driven into the forbidding woods to hunt. Minding her baby sister, the young teen Tomasin » Read More

Review: 'Hail Caesar'

It's not a bad movie, Hail Caesar!, because it's not really a movie at all. Rather it's a tangle of subplots that never fully cohere. Still, the exuberance of the actors makes much of it worthwhile, as does the faithful recreation of the mania of a Hollywood movie studio in the last years before television mortally wounded the system. There really was an Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) at MGM. He was a former bouncer whose duties included covering up the scandalous behavior of movie stars in the 1940s and 1950s. The Coens present this fictional Mannix of circa 1951 as a tormented Catholic, requiring daily confessions to a priest. At Capitol Pictures, Mannix has other people's sins to worry about. The Esther Williams-like DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett » Read More

Review: 'Deadpool'

There isn't an aspect of superhero lore that isn't rubbished by the Apatow-meets-Spider-Man comedy Deadpool. By the lights of this decade's movie making, that's a lot of rubbishing: a defacing of the nocturnal sacrifice of Batman; a mocking of the touching shyness of The Thing when he's romancing his little blind girlfriend; a satire of Superman's crushing sense of responsibility. Here, all these noble qualities the movies usually ask us to honor are tossed aside in favor of mindless, speedy sadism. Deadpool is all about the importance of quipping when killing-and making the quip suit the killing. It's the kind of movie that comes along when a genre is running out of ideas and patience. Wade (Ryan 'The Arch-Bro' Reynolds) was once a » Read More

Review: 'Five Oscar-Nominated Shorts'

Four out of five of the Academy Award nominees for best short documentary have real stature. The fifth is the HBO Films-produced Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah by Adam Benzine. It's a middling account of the prickly director of Shoah-a nearly 10-hour documentary about the Holocaust-which would be better suited as a bonus feature in a Blu-Ray re-release. One always bets on the Holocaust when filling out an Oscar pool; if this wins, it will overshadow four far more worthy choices. Courtney Marsh's Chau: Beyond the Lines is the result of eight years spent with an inmate of a Vietnamese rural hospital full of grievous terata cases, many deformed beyond imagination. The birth defects were caused by America's "Operation Ranch Hand," the » Read More

Review: '50 Shades of Black'

It's a movie you wanted attacked, and with a good angle of attack, too—50 Shades of Grey was rather beige. 50 Shades of Black has a white element to its presentation; director Michael Tiddes' film includes a lot more on-screen speculation about what an African American audience might want to see, as opposed to just showing them. As the adventures of Daffy Duck prove, there's nothing like seeing a sitting mallard get blasted with both barrels. Marlon Wayans (ingratiatingly wimpy) and Kali Hawk (with bangs and clumsy sweater) act out the Beauty and the Beast rituals of "Christian Black" and "Hannah Steele." As her roommate is ill, dowdy Hannah has to go interview the Seattle plutocrat. (Sample question: "You have mad stacks of cash. How » Read More

Review: 'Lady in the Van'

A charming memoir of a smelly, prickly old lady, The Lady in the Van is based on material that was first performed on stage, then as a radio play. Surprisingly, as a movie it hasn't lost any keenness. Its writer and subject is Alan Bennett (played by Alex Jennings), a playwright whose breakthrough was being part of the Beyond the Fringe quartet that paved the way for Monty Python. In 1973, when Bennett moved to Gloucester Crescent in London's Camden Town, it was a changing district—awaiting the gentry who inhabit it today. Priding themselves on their liberality, the neighbors put up with one Miss Shepherd (Dame Maggie Smith) a transient old lady living in her van on the street. When the parking police tried to run her off, Bennett » Read More

Review: 'Cinequest 2016'

Palo Alto-bred auteur James Franco, incandescent performer Rita Moreno, and indie film guiding light Robert Hawk are this year's Maverick Spirit Award winners at the Cinequest Film Festival in San Jose, March 1-13. Opening night's film has one of the last appearances of the late Alan Rickman in director Gavin Hood's critique of the drone program, Eye in the Sky. And closing night features The Daughter, an Australian film starring Geoffrey Rush and Miranda Otto. Cinequest 2016 offers 26 Bay Area made films, including a work in progress by SJSU's Spartan Studios—a modern-day adaptation of Charlotte Perkins Gilman's 1892 work, The Yellow Wallpaper. Harold Lloyd's 1924 Girl Shy will also be shown, with Dennis James playing the California » Read More

Review: 'Son of Saul'

One of the 10 best films of last year-and one of the finest films ever made about the Holocaust-is Son of Saul, the 2015 Grand Prize winner at Cannes by the debuting Laszlo Nemes. It's impressive in many ways, but the film's successful blend of the closely focused with a leafy, transcendental finish is maybe the most startling. Shooting in 35mm film, Nemes takes a monochrome subject and gives it vivid, lurid color, as the expressionist green of stricken faces is sometimes encrimsoned by the constant fires. 'Bela Tarr was my school', Nemes has said. The great Tarr's seriousness, spaciousness and focus on the greatest calamity of the 20th century are reflected in this distillation of 36 hours at Auschwitz. » Read More

Review: 'Anomalisa'

A straight-up Kickstarter-funded anomaly, Anomalisa by Charlie Kaufman (with co-director Duke Johnson) is touching but transitory. It's a tragic stop-motion animated tale with resemblances to Lost In Translation. In Cincinnati in 2005, Michael (voiced by David Thewlis) comes to the Hotel Fregoli to address a convention. He's the author of the best-selling customer-service text How May You Help Them? This expert in the technology of smiling and self-effacement is, in a word, miserable—I think I have a psychological problem, he confesses to a woman whom he dropped hard 10 years previously for no reason. The lady in question is Bella Amoroso, and with a name like that, we can expect romance. It doesn't happen like that-Michael has been » Read More

Review: 'Lamb'

I'm going to describe the premise of a movie, and if your first reaction to that description is: "there is no way in hell that I will watch this," I understand. Every viewer has a deal breaker, a film about a subject they wouldn't watch; it might be cruelty to animals, home invasions or blood of any sort. Ross Partridge's risky film, Lamb, is about an 11-year-old girl who goes travelling with a 47-year-old male stranger into the countryside of Colorado. This subject would make a Jezebel essayist out of many a viewer. The actors play it as a desperate love-lovers on the lam(b), as in film noir. If Tommie (the remarkable Oona Laurence) is the lamb of the title, does this make 47-year-old male (writer, director and star, Ross Partridge) a » Read More

Review: 'Mustang'

Turkish cinema is unique in its capacity to recast American movies from a cultural vantage that is simultaneously Western and Eastern. Just consider Cetin Dnanc's 1982's film, The Man Who Saved The Earth; it is a picture so bogged-down with stolen footage and music from Lucasfilm that it was dubbed the 'Turkish Star Wars.' Similarly, Deniz Gamze Erguven's impressive Mustang, is a Turkish reflection of (and improvement upon) Sofia Coppola's debut, The Virgin Suicides. Like the Coppola's 1999 adaptation of Jeffrey Eugenides' novel, the script by Erguven and French director Alice Winocour (Augustine) focuses on a tale of five girls, ages 9-17. Sonay is the eldest (Ilayda Akdogan); Selma (Tugba Sunguroglu) and Ece (Elit Iscan) are in the » Read More

Review: 'The Revenant'

In brief, The Revenant is what The Hateful Eight promised to be: the toughest Western since True Grit, complete with awe-inducing snowscapes; it's dazzling to see such magnificent desolation prevail in a crowded world. Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu based The Revenant on the legend of Hugh Glass, previously told in 1971's Man in the Wilderness, with Richard Harris commencing his series of frontier-ordeal movies. Inarritu sets his violent epic in the midst of the fur trade on the upper Missouri River in the 1820s-the result of a bubble in the price of beaver hides. » Read More

Female Actors Took On Many Leading Roles In 2015

If there was a worse movie in 2015 than Fantastic Four, I didn't see it. And if there's anything we can learn from 2015 in film, it's that complaining vociferously and ceaselessly is always a good policy-especially when it comes to issues of equality. A few years ago, during the height of the Frat Pack, there were so many males on screen I wondered if they'd passed some Elizabethan-style law against women actors. But judging by the year we just had, it would seem that at least some in showbiz were listening to the despair of moviegoers. There was Daisy Ridley, who rejuvenated a male-dominated franchise with her portrayal of Rey in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which handsomely counters George Lucas's tendency to turn the few women in his » Read More

Review: 'Carol'

The title of Patricia Highsmith's 1952 novel, The Price of Salt, contains a dead idiom-the price of salt was something people supposedly chatted about when they weren't talking seriously. "Girl talk," as they would have said once. The film adaptation by Todd Haynes-his first feature film in 8 years-is titled Carol. This single-gender romance, which almost hypnotizes, emulates the 1950s Hollywood melodrama of throbbing hearts, stiff jaws and immaculate wardrobes. But it's missing something. Salt? Carol (Cate Blanchett) is a fur-coated, upper-class housewife from New Jersey, who meets the woman that will change her life across the counter at the toy shop at Frankenberg's department store. » Read More

Review: 'The Hateful Eight'

Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds was revenge against the Nazis, and his Django Unchained was revenge against the slavers. The Hateful Eight is his revenge against Western movies-a softer target. The snowscapes are mammoth, but not splendid enough to justify this specimen of grindhouse nihilism, blown up to roadshow size and in Ultra Panavision 70 photography. Samuel L. Jackson and Kurt Russell are a cold-blooded pair of bounty hunters, blizzard-bound in Wyoming territory. They're stuck in a general store with the new sheriff of Red Rock (Walton Goggins), the cagey son of an infamous Southern bushwacker. » Read More

Review: 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens'

Darth Vader's iron dream is being continued, more than 30 years later, by a new helmeted menace called Kylo Ren. The interesting angle of Star Wars: The Force Awakens is that there's a Napoleonic streak to this Ren. In quiet moments, he prays to the half-melted helmet of Lord Vader. It's a sacred relic, but he has doubts about his own power. This new galactic menace is skilled in harnessing the Dark Side of the Force. Ren knows how to pull secrets out of a person's brain by merely gesticulating at their head. A reveal shows Adam Driver under the bucket-head of chrome and plastic, puffy of lip and Frank Langella-ish in demeanor. People bowed when Vader walked by, but Ren's not as intimidating. » Read More

Review: 'The Danish Girl'

One of the first individuals-perhaps the very first-to undergo male-to-female sexual reassignment surgery, Denmark's Lili Elbe was, in a way, a martyr to the primitiveness of the procedure. The Danish Girl, a film based on David Ebershoff's novel about Elbe, roasted in development hell for years, likely because there was no way to reconcile the bloodiness of the surgeries with the chiffon and the satin. Doing without gore, director Tom Hooper (The King's Speech) makes this a story of doomed romance, as the transsexual artist, Einar Wegener (Eddie Redmayne), is transformed into Elbe by the care of a solicitous wife. » Read More

Review: 'Macbeth'

A king-pleaser as much as he was a crowd-pleaser, Shakespeare tailored his Scottish tragedy to the new King James: Macbeth was short, violent and full of witches, since His Majesty had a lively interest in sorcery. Director Justin Kurzel's new film version of Macbeth has, in the form of Michael Fassbender, a solemn, dogged soldier with a thousand-yard stare, who climbs his way to the top through murder. But this Australian director (Snowtown) doesn't have a new take on the tragedy-in this view, royalty means nothing except bigger halls to be miserable in and more children to be slaughtered. » Read More

Review: 'Legend'

I'm looking forward to the post-Scorsesean gangster movie. It's getting far too easy to predict the angles of the director's imitators, to coldly admire the fluidity of the tracking shots, and then try to convince myself that there's some truth to the endless justification of thugs. Legend is director Brian Helgeland's take on the career of the Kray Brothers. They're maybe best known in parody form through the Piranha Brothers sketch by Monty Python, though in the 1990 film, The Krays, actors Martin and Gary Kemp played the pair of gangsters who ruled London's Clubland. » Read More

Review: 'Creed'

Whether snorting with fury in the ring or shyly avoiding a lady's eyes, Michael B. Jordan is something to see in Creed. It's the seventh and latest Rocky movie. It's also the one with the best director of any of them, Ryan Coogler, previously of Fruitvale Station. Jordan plays Adonis-Donny-the illegitimate posthumous son of Apollo Creed, Rocky Balboa's challenger in the 1976 original. Back then, it was a million-to-one shot when Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) had his time in the ring with the mouthy Muhammed Ali surrogate Apollo Creed, played by the former Oakland Raider, Carl Weathers. » Read More

Review: 'Room'

Larson's impressively focused acting never lets you blink-she's bonded in a tight inner circle, with the superb, young Tremblay. Whenever director Lenny Abrahamson has the two together, he never goes wrong. He handles even the risky and macabre portions of the story-such as the scene of the monster, Nick, whining to his prisoner that he's been laid off and has suffered unemployment for the past six months. The truth is that Jack is relatively happy. He treats the the room like Pee Wee's Playhouse. Every piece of furniture has a name. He's satisfied at being the complete focus of a mommy's attention-what kid wouldn't be? » Read More

Review: 'Spotlight'

With tremendous cynicism, the Catholic archdiocese of Boston concealed the actions of dozens of priests who were known to be serial pedophiles-a story exposed by the Boston Globe in a Pulitzer-winning series in 2002. It's hard to imagine a film approaching this subject without fury, but Spotlight is one such movie-and one honors the film's lack of thundering about the horror of it all. This film lets its audience bring their own anger. » Read More

Review: 'Brooklyn'

One reason to herald Brooklyn as one of the best films of 2015 is that it makes such an eloquent argument in favor of the classic movie studio style, while not being a slavish pastiche of the way movies were once made. In Atonement (2007), Saoirse Ronan was Briony, the child with the piercing eyes, born to stealthily observe and to grow up to be a writer. Ronan is 21 now, in bloom and key to the beauty of director John Crowley's adaptation of Colm Toibin's novel. Her Eilis is a determined, intelligent Irish girl of 1951 who immigrates to New York with the help of a priest named Father Flood (Jim Broadbent). » Read More

Review: 'Heart of a Dog'

Laurie Anderson is a writer, filmmaker and musician. But above all, she is a performance artist. As such, in her new documentary, Heart of a Dog, Anderson approaches the subject of grief just as she approaches every subject she's ever tackled: by sidling up on what she has to say. "I want to tell you a story about a story," she says, describing what a tale-teller leaves out-when codifying memory, when choosing a detail, or when leaving the most painful matters out, either by design or amnesia. Here, she narrates her nested stories through clouds of on-screen images. » Read More

Review: 'All Things Must Pass'

Colin Hanks' fast, thoroughly pleasing documentary All Things Must Pass opens with two dates. In 1999, Tower Records was a billion dollar business. By 2005, it was bankrupt. Like Amazon, and like the other Internet companies that replaced these record and bookstores that once stood everywhere from Tokyo to New York, Tower Records prided itself on its eclecticism. But Tower's founder, the aged but still lively Russ Solomon, seemed to really mean it when it came to informality. One salesman recalls that his only training was being told by his manager: "Everything in the store is $3.88. I'm going to lunch." » Read More

Review: 'Our Brand Is Crisis'

Snit-raddled and recovering from a meltdown, Sandra Bullock's Jane is literally in the wilderness. Over the titles we hear a political campaign ad-style montage of news readers and unidentified voices, speaking about her epic failure. Jane has lost the election she was shepherding, and her consolation prize was a stint in Betty Ford. » Read More

Review: 'Chasing Shadows'

This fall, Warren Miller Entertainment releases Chasing Shadows, the 66th edition of its annual winter sports film. The ride returns with numerous Bay Area stops, including a screening of Chasing Shadows at Campbell Heritage Theater on Nov. 13. This year's installment of the winter sports film series celebrates why skiers and snowboarders commit themselves every winter to a passion that's guaranteed to melt away every spring. And, as always, Warren Miller's annual film tradition marks the beginning of colder weather, winter exploration and cinematography that reignites the excitement for winter sports. » Read More

Review: 'Rock The Kasbah'

Barry Levinson may be the first to do a comedy about Afghanistan, just as he was the first to do a mainstream comedy about Vietnam (in Good Morning, Vietnam). Rock the Kasbah has a line about Afghanistan looking "like Aspen, only during wartime." This movie looks like a comedy, only strangely dry. Levinson shot in Morocco. The desert backdrop suits Bill Murray, who uses the space and silence as a frame for his slow, quiet reaction to trouble. » Read More

Review: 'Steve Jobs'

It had the most interesting approach to the life and legend of Steve Jobs. Thus the eponymous Aaron Sorkin/Danny Boyle film turns out to be the most disappointing of the three Jobs films released in the last 14 months. Steve Jobs' structure is tantalizing. If Nixon had six crises, Jobs (Michael Fassbender) has three, in this dramatic triptych acted out in real-time, and in authentic-to-the-era cinematography. » Read More

Review: 'Bridge of Spies'

It's one of his his very best films, but the true story Bridge of Spies has the typical problem of Stephen Spielberg films. What would be a quick word to the wise in a more subtle director's scene has to be repeated, heightened in closeup, underscored with the strains of John Williams (or Thomas Newman, in this case). » Read More