Review: 'Blindspotting'

Another film continues summer trend of highlighting inequality in Oakland Read More

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Review: 'Blindspotting'

After Boots Riley's phantasmagoric film Sorry to Bother You opened earlier this month, the spotlight shines on Oakland for a second time. Oakland natives Rafael Casal (as Miles) and Daveed Diggs (as Collin) co-star in Blindspotting, Carlos Lopez Estrada's feature film debut. Casal and Diggs also co-wrote the script, a buddy movie that fictionalizes the details of their lifelong friendship and pays homage to their real-life hometown. But the city that Miles and Collin grew up in is changing. From their perspective, Oakland's gentrifying into an unrecognizable playground for gangs of mostly white, twentysomething techies with seemingly unlimited disposable income. They're buying up and refurbishing formerly black-owned properties while » Read More

Review: 'Eighth Grade'

Kate and Anna McGarrigle's song, "I'm Losing You," contains a great lament. They sing, "But I never told you anything/How to keep or make a friend." The lyric speaks to that moment when a child starts to establish his or her independence from their parents. Mothers, in the McGarrigle sisters' case, wonder what skills they've equipped their children with to contend with the world at large. The song acknowledges what little control they have over whether people will accept or reject their sons and daughters. In Bo Burnham's film Eighth Grade, that larger world is junior high school, and it's an alienating place for Kayla (Elsie Fisher). » Read More

Review: 'The King'

Nancy Rooks was the housekeeper at Graceland when Elvis Presley died in 1977. Toward the end of Eugene Jarecki's documentary The King, she demonstrates the way to make one of his favorite meals, a fried peanut butter and banana sandwich on white bread. "You put the butter in the skillet and do it like you do a grilled cheese sandwich," Rooks explains. This method is slightly different from the one his cook, the late Mary Jenkins, demonstrates in "The Burger and The King," a 1995 BBC program--she toasted the bread first before putting it in the buttered frying pan--but the message is still the same. Elvis gratified every one of his unhealthy habits until the cumulative effects killed him at 42. » Read More

Review: 'Damsel'

According to Hollywood Westerns, women find salvation in the arms of the men who rescue them. Wearing heavy wool prairie skirts and floral print blouses, they stand helpless before Indians, snakes and black-hatted ne'er-do-wells. The classic example features John Wayne retrieving Natalie Wood from the Comanches in The Searchers (1956). But the trope persists even in a beautifully crafted movie like Hostiles, released earlier this year, in which Christian Bale escorts the towering screen goddess Rosamund Pike out of Comanche territory (Those Comanches again! You'd think that white folks would have figured out by now why they're trying to protect their own land). » Read More

Review: 'Sorry to Bother You'

Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield) can't get a break. He lives in Sergio's (Terry Crews) downstairs garage but hasn't paid the rent in months because he can't find a job. When Cassius and his girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson) start making out in the morning, the garage door accidentally opens. The Oakland neighborhood they live in is suddenly visible and alive with street traffic and passersby. Someone says to the couple, "Get a room!" Cassius replies, mumbling under his breath, "I've already got one," before shutting the door. In his debut feature film Sorry to Bother You, writer and director Boots Riley builds the story inside the everyday reality of Cassius's money problems. Stanfield, who plays Darius on the FX show Atlanta, persuades » Read More

Review: 'Leave No Trace'

Ben Foster is making a career out of playing men who either can't or won't adhere to society's rules. He was a bank robber in Hell or High Water (2016)--exhilarated, and doomed, by the crimes he commits. In Hostiles (2017), his Sergeant Wills is an unrepentant soldier who's about to be hanged for murder. What you remember about his performances are the characters' meanness and their ornery unwillingness to seek redemption. They're not good or likable men. And you can see something in Foster's eyes that refuses to be tamed. But as Will in Debra Granik's Leave No Trace, he reinvigorates these baleful character traits by suppressing rather than expressing them. Will is an army veteran and single dad who's living in an Oregon forest, off the » Read More

Review: 'Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom'

Jeff Goldblum has the best job in the world. One of the better facets of the new Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is his bracketing performance, kvetching at a congressional panel that we've let the genie out of the bottle, awakened a sleeping giant, played God, etc. Just as a soldier's life is lots of boredom seasoned with moments of panic, Dr. Ian Malcolm's job is being a professional worrywart occasionally fleeing satansauruses. His PhD was apparently in Naysayology. He's an odd figure in a blockbuster. Since Spielberg hired Francois Truffaut for Close Encounters of the Third Kind, is Malcolm is supposed to be a surrogate for Jean-Luc Godard, laying criticism with a heavy hand on all this commercial business? His most deathless line is in » Read More

Review: 'Ant-Man and the Wasp'

It's a terrible thing to lose your mother, particularly when she shrinks down to a nano-particle. Hope (Evangeline Lilly) is the daughter of the original superhero Wasp (Michelle Pfeiffer), who vanished, shrinking suit and all, into the inner-space labyrinth decades ago. Her father, the original Ant-Man, crusty Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) raised Hope alone. During Scott Lang's sojourn in the infinitesimal, he picked up a signal from the lost Wasp. Unfortunately, Scott (Paul Rudd) is in no legal position to help Hank and Hope, being under house arrest for violating the Sokovia Accords, as seen in Captain America: Civil Wars. (His probation is enforced by Randall Park, a soft-witted FBI agent whose vocation--"youth pastor"--says it all.) » Read More

Review: 'A Kid Like Jake'

Almost all parents--even Homer and Marge Simpson--have dealt with the sight of their young child trying on cross-gender clothes. So the attenuated Brooklyn-set drama A Kid Like Jake has some meat to it, and a point. And the casting of Jim Parsons as the father, Greg, and Claire Danes as the mother, Alex, makes for an interesting dynamic. She has a temper, and he apparently was born without one. She's a stay-at-home mom who leaned out of her career as a lawyer; he's a maddeningly correct psychiatrist. She can't even yell out her anger at him because he just says, "I understand." The Wheelers have a well-off life in Williamsburg--lots of space and a stained-glass window in their flat. They're affluent enough to make the underearning viewers' » Read More

Review: 'Incredibles 2'

In a beginning as splashy as most finales, director-writer Brad Bird's The Incredibles 2 picks up right where its predecessor ended. The mole-man Underminer escapes with Mr. Incredible clinging to the side of his burrowing hell machine, churning scree right in the hero's extra-large face. During the conflict, the superpowered family accidentally trash the city, even as their government liaison, Rick Dicker (voiced by Jonathan Banks), is donning an aloha shirt in preparation for retirement. The Incredibles--dad Bob (voiced by Craig T. Nelson), mom Helen (Holly Hunter) and their three kids--go on the lam to a cheap motel. Their friend, the super-cool Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson), brings news of private sector help from the Deavers, a brother » Read More

Review: 'Won't You Be My Neighbor'

Before he became the host of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, Fred Rogers was the last face many an enemy of America saw. His expertise in hand to hand combat sent scores of Nazis to Valhalla. Behind the calm facade, there was a battle-scarred commando wracked by flashbacks. Once, Rogers attacked Henrietta Pussycat while roaring, "Why won't you die, Kraut?" As Morgan Neville's Won't You Be My Neighbor? demonstrates, the above paragraph is a gratuitous lie, justifiable only because it is something people want to believe. Proof: five million hits on Google for the search string "Mr. Rogers Navy SEAL." Years after his death in 2003, we still can't believe Rogers was really that big a marshmallow. If Rogers never saw combat, he demonstrated a » Read More

Review: 'The Valley'

High-tech CEO Neal Kumar (Alyy Khan) is unveiling a new program called Augur, that augurs (predicts) the future behavior of people based on their past. Forearmed with such technology, he can't foresee the ruin of his family, a disaster than will leave him where the film begins: alone on a seaside cliff with a pistol. The Valley, by local director Saila Kariat, shares the concerns of Atom Egoyan's great The Sweet Hereafter: Its center is the case of a methodical man who, despite his plans, is unable to heal the irreparable breach in his family. Neal's daughter Maya (Agneeta Thacker) plunged to her death from a dorm window, and this tragedy forced the exec to distract his blinkered gaze from the company that made him wealthy. This » Read More

Review: 'First Reformed'

Ernst Toller (Ethan Hawke) is a solitary pastor, a devotee of Kierkegaard and Thomas Merton in a working class upstate New York wowed by charismatic churches. Toller leads the white-painted and steepled 250-year-old First Reformed church in Albany. It's a bone thrown at him by Jeffers, the well-fed pastor of the Abundant Life megachurch (Cedric Kyles aka Cedric the Entertainer). Plans are underway with an anniversary reconsecration, but the place is attended by few, except for bored tourists exiting through the gift shop. » Read More

'Wages of Fear,' 'Les Diaboliques' at Stanford Theatre

Over swamps, crumbling bridges and cliffside roads, the drivers haul their nightmare cargo to their destination. This business was fresh enough to be filched for Solo: A Star Wars Story, but the essential pessimism of this tale is even fresher. Clouzot's follow-up to his hit Les Diaboliques is straight-up terrifying melodrama. At a horrid French boarding school, a headmaster is carrying on with both wife (Vera Clouzot, the director's wife, dead before 45 from a bad heart) and his fleshy mistress (Simone Signoret). Together the diabolical women hatch a plan to get the man out of their life. Even after being sunk in the school's repulsively mossy swimming pool, he refuses to stay dead. » Read More

Review: 'Solo: A Star Wars Story'

You can't exactly blurb a film: "Lacks zeitgeist!" But as Ron Howard directs the back story of noble rogue Han Solo in the stand-alone Solo: A Star Wars Story, it has two principle disappointments. It's neither as full of revolutionary ardor as Rogue One, nor as touching as the last two installments, where seemingly immortal childhood heroes bit the dust. Co-scripted by Lawrence Kasdan, who co-wrote The Empire Strikes Back, this is certainly one of the most romantic of the 10 films so far. But it's also spotted with doughy patches, heavy info dumps and battle scenes that aren't quite coherent... even though the different sides helpfully use different colored lasers so you can always tell who is shooting whom. » Read More

Review: 'Deadpool 2'

As if it were Honest Movie Trailers: The Movie, the second installment in the Deadpool franchise leavens the hit-making Marvel mix of fight scenes, flashbacks and explosions with dick jokes. Our protagonist, Wade (the ultra-bro, Ryan Reynolds), was a mercenary. He was left with a complexion like a Costco cheese pizza after a forcible gene-scrambling experiment intended to cure his stage 4 cancer. Now he's the killer Deadpool: hooded, cross-sworded, armed and ludicrous. His superpower is bouncing back after extreme dismemberment and preposterous mayhem--Deadpool is the most cartoony of cartoon heroes, the one who owes the most to Chuck Jones and Tex Avery. He clowns before a long-gone fourth wall. At one point he describes a clue as "a huge » Read More

Preview: 'An American Story: Norm Mineta and his Legacy'

She told the 86-year-old Mineta: "There are a lot of producers out there who are going to want to do your story, and they might be better and more powerful than me." Forewarned, Mineta sat in a series of interviews at his home in Silver Springs, Maryland. Mineta was born and raised in San Jose, the son of immigrants. World War II hysteria about Japanese espionage led to the rounding up of Japanese-Americans and the seizing of their property. Mineta and his family were put behind barbed wire at Heart Mountain in Wyoming, as were some 14,000 other internees. » Read More

Review: 'California Typewriter'

Doug Nichol's friendly and ruminative documentary California Typewriter concerns a piece of analog tech that still has an alchemical power. A black and white re-enactment of a true-crime grabber starts it: artist Ed Ruscha and his buddy, the musician Mason Williams, autopsied a junked typewriter they threw from a car window at 90mph on a deserted road, per Ruscha's conceptual piece, Royal Road Test. From this lonesome "execution," Nichol heads for the big money. We see the auction of the very typewriter that Cormac McCarthy used to wreak some of his run-on prose. It appears to be the most beautiful typewriter ever made, an Olivetti Lettera 22, sold to some wealthy culture vulture for $210,000. » Read More

Review: 'Tully'

They called Juno whip-smart, and some of us still have the lash scars. Tully, by writer Diablo Cody and director Jason Reitman, has everything left out of their first film together that made it the crowd-pleaser it was. Cody tends to write characters that are what the science-fiction fans call "a Mary Sue"--meaning an awesomely idealized version of the writer, so brilliant that the other characters sort of gaze in amazement at her.Tully has some of the narcissism seen in Juno and their follow-up, Young Adult, but there's also some unusually raw material, acted by Charlize Theron with barely smothered fury. » Read More

Review: 'I Feel Pretty'

A minor comedic fable about the power of body image, I Feel Pretty by first time directors and long-time rom-com writers Marc Silverstein and Abby Kohn has a couple of worthy assets. One is Michelle Williams, robustly funny as Avery LeClaire, a painfully shy heir to a cosmetics firm who has been cursed with a baby voice. The other is Amy Schumer as Renee, a singleton of Manhattan enthralled to the beauty myth. Renee thinks she's a gross fat pudding, surrounded as she is by haute-couture gazelles on the streets and in the gym. She prays hopelessly for glamor. Knocked cold in a spin class accident, she wakes to believe that she's been gifted her heart's desire to be drop-dead gorgeous. The artificial confidence lands her both promotion and a » Read More

Preview: 'Doucheaholics'

The idea began during a play-fight, the sort a couple has, say, when quarrelling over whether "ridonculous" is legal in Scrabble. "Stop being a doucheaholic," Elizabeth Mitchell told her live-in partner, Sean McCarthy. He counter-accused: "I'm not a doucheaholic. You're a doucheaholic." Inspired by the idea of a 12-step support group for douchebags, co-creators Mitchell and McCarthy spun out a series of seriously funny short films. McCarthy co-starred as the unfazed ringleader of the meeting, and Mitchell played a seething gothette. Doucheaholics will be released on iTunes April 24 and Amazon on May 1. The South Bay-based filmmakers doing business as as Guerilla Wanderers, with Mitchell and McCarthy's collaborators Dustin Strocchia and » Read More

Review: 'Avengers: Infinity War'

Preposterously large, purple, and full of wrath, the villain in Avengers: Infinity Wars--the destroyer of worlds, Thanos (Josh Brolin)--reveals his philosophical reasons for wanting to prune the universe. Hearing him out, the magus Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is unimpressed: "Congratulations, you're a prophet." This is but one of dozens of styles of grace under pressure here. It's all about courage in various modes: headstrong idiots like Chris Pratt's Peter Quill; the Vision (Paul Bettany) resigned to his potential fate; the unsuperpowered Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) pitching herself into a fight with a monster; Peter Parker (Tom Holland), still an eager, fearless kid who ends up clinging to a spaceship before he's had a » Read More

Review: 'Lost in Space'

The beginning of the end of the world arrived on Christmas, just as we all knew it would. The giant meteorite dubbed Christmas Star hit the Earth and turned our planet's atmosphere into Beijing-level smog. Netflix's Lost in Space begins as one chosen family, part of a convoy of settlers, lands on a wintry planet. Passengers include young Will Robinson (Maxwell Jenkins, as tearfully vulnerable as the original Billy Mumy was modestly cocky), the seemingly adopted prodigy Judy (Taylor Russell), and her miffed sister, Penny (Mina Sundall). On an unknown planet, the space travelers deal with family tensions, a pair of fire and ice ordeals, an emergency fasciotomy and the arrival of a suspicious castaway (Parker Posey) calling herself "Dr. » Read More

Pruneyard Cinemas Replaces Former Camera 7

The Pruneyard Shopping Center in Campbell is approaching the half-century mark. Many of its contemporaries have been bulldozed for new development, but this tree-lined, open-air plaza is getting renovated. It has a new anchor. The shuttered Camera 7 reopens as the Pruneyard Cinemas, with half the seats and twice the appeal. It possesses that satisfying new-car smell, and features electric reclining seats and an adjoining restaurant--one menu for snacking or dining as you watch, a larger one for the lounge. The Pruneyard will be the first Silicon Valley representative of a nationwide trend of cocktails at the movies, offering up an alternative to binge watching on the couch. While some local theaters serve beer and wine, this is the first » Read More

Review: 'Rampage'

There's wit in the giant-monster movie Rampage, but it's certainly scarce. In it, King Kong and Godzilla have a frank exchange of opinions. Not the actual Kong and Godzy, but knockoffs. King Klong and Gorezilla. It took four credited writers to explain why the critters got real big. Aboard a space station, a nefarious corporation was testing its gene-splicing program, CRISPR. Kaboom, says the space station. Chunks of flaming DNA canisters fall from the sky and to Earth, where they squirt out their contents right into the faces of three animals. At the San Diego Zoo, George the Albino Ape gets it first. At Devil's Tower in Wyoming, a wolf is the next victim. Next one down is Lizzy, the alligator that grows to the size of a cruise ship, » Read More

Review: 'A Quiet Place'

A farmhouse in Little Falls, somewhere in New England--some 400 days after they arrived. In the beautifully-built A Quiet Place, Lee (director/co-writer John Krasinski, of the US version of The Office), Evelyn, his pregnant wife (Emily Blunt) their hearing-impaired daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds) and their young son Marcus (Noah Jupe), have made their home a fort against murderous extraterrestrials. These invaders are eyeless and fanged, bipedal, but propelled along with crustacean limbs sharp enough to shred steel. Since you don't see them for long and live, they're more often heard than seen. It's a whickering, chittering sound, punctuated with hollow metallic sighs. These creatures have seemingly depopulated the rest of the world. » Read More

Stanford Theatre Celebrates Hitchcock

Publicists called him "the master of suspense," but Alfred Hitchcock certainly had competition. The Stanford Theatre's spring retrospective, "Hitchcock and Other Masters of Suspense," demonstrates the iconic director's range: from civilized movies of intrigue, to films that are absolutely blunt instruments. From 1935's The 39 Steps (April 27-29) to 1954's North By Northwest (June 1-3) we see the sort of debonair thriller Hitchcock pioneered: all the ones where the villain has a polite exchange of views with the hero, before preparing to toss him out of an airplane. But this retrospective also offers J. Lee Thompson's harrowing Cape Fear (1962), the home-invasion movie that should have ended them all. There's nothing civilized about Cape » Read More

Review: 'Ready Player One'

As the official bard to the court of King Reagan, Steven Spielberg may well look back at the 1980s as happy times. The 1980s-filia of Ready Player One is unsettling to those who don't consider that decade a paradise lost. From the numerous references in Ready Player One to Back to the Future, released in 1985--it's clear Spielberg considers this a particularly evocative film, a nostalgia trip that ends in the rewriting of history to make for a stronger, richer suburbia. Others would consider the definitive piece of 1980s zeitgeist as the 1989 Batman, summing up the grief, squalor and expressionistic horror of the cities. Ready Player One is a semi-live-action version of The Lego Movie, and thus Batman turns up in glimpses--climbing the » Read More

Review: 'The Death of Stalin'

The year 2018 has made us all connoisseurs of misrule. Thus Armando Iannucci's speedy farce, The Death of Stalin, has relevance. Still, at a recent San Francisco appearance, Iannucci stressed that he shot the film in the summer of 2016, lest viewers suspect it was some sort of allusion to the court of Trump. (Putin didn't like it—it was banned in Russia.) The movie finds comedy in the plight of shivering people, fearing the knock on the door in the middle of the night. And it lampoons that infuriating boredom that comes from serving a man who always, always must be right.One evening in 1953, the highest executives of the USSR are socializing with Stalin. » Read More

Review: 'Isle of Dogs'

In Moonrise Kingdom, the runaways Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Karen Hayward) stumble across the corpse of a dog with an arrow in it. Suzy asks, "Was he a good dog?" Sam replies, philosophically, "Who can say?" This New Yorker cartoon caption joke was a highlight of that movie--heartlessly debonair and tonic among the swoonier parts. And yet it was a tonal mistake to overlay this coolness upon the crafty yet off-putting Isle of Dogs. "Dog flu" is a malady of the year 2038 in Japan. Kobayashi, the ominous mayor-for-life of Megashima, takes action before the disease jumps to humans. All dogs are sent to a quarantined island. Kobayashi's ward and "distant nephew" Atari (Koyu Rankin), as intrepid as any 12-year-old boy in any Japanese cartoon » Read More

Review: 'A Wrinkle in Time'

Four years ago, Dr. Alex Murry (Chris Pine) vanished in a bizarre physics accident--as the mighty blue Tick noted, "Science is not an exact science." Heroine of A Wrinkle in Time Meg (Storm Reid, decked out with a pair of glasses and a flannel shirt meant to make her look plain) is consoled in her fatherlessness by her indifferently drawn mother (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and her brilliant little brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe). Director Ava DuVernay shoots the early scenes in L.A.'s West Adams, a picturesque old neighborhood architecturally similar to Highland Park. The movie is getting on its feet when the supernatural emerges: first, a home invasion by Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon) to announce that news of Meg's plight has been » Read More

Cinequest Closes with 'Brothers in Arms'

Writer and director Paul Sanchez's documentary Brothers in Arms collects interviews with the cast of Stone's semi-autobiographical Vietnam movie, which includes instantly recognizable character actor John C. McGinley; the ever-mellifluous Keith David, Willem Dafoe, Johnny Depp, Tom Berenger and the executive producer and narrator Charlie Sheen. Sheen played Chris, Stone's surrogate in the film. He narrated the original Platoon in the form of letters to his grandmother. Chris has a first tour of duty that spans the commencement of the Tet Offensive in 1968, and the turning of the war in favor of the Viet Cong. Sanchez, who resembles Ernest Borgnine, played Platoon's medic, Doc; he'd studied acting on a scholarship with the renowned Stella » Read More

Review: 'Red Sparrow'

Some praise ex-CIA agent Jason Matthews' novel Red Sparrow, calling it it a return to the days of John LeCarre and Ian Fleming. Does appropriating the plot of From Russia With Love, while adding an enhanced layer of violence, give evidence of a new LeCarre among us? Director Frank Lawrence, of the Hunger Games franchise, makes his adaptation of Red Sparrow heavier in gore than it is in fun. Bolshoi ballerina Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence) got her leg ruined during a spoiled pas de deux, and--in consideration of what comes next--it's surprising they don't just shoot her like an injured racehorse. Now that the State has no more use for her, she faces poverty. Her wicked uncle Vanya (Mads Mikkelsen cosplayer Matthias Schoenaerts) » Read More

Review: 'Burden of Genius'

And as for the transplanting of this homely thing, that's an unappetizing story in itself, fascinatingly told by Tjardus Greidanus in the documentary Burden of Genius. Under those conditions, as described by journalist Andrew Corsello: the liver is "a blood bomb" suffused with blood under pressure; the act of having a liver ripped and replaced is "a violent, violating thing." One witness recalls the time 300 units of blood were used in one surgery, leaving the floors looking like the aftermath of combat medicine. » Read More

Review: 'Annihilation'

The raving-mad Ophelia: "Lord, we know what we are, but know not what we may be"--what we may become, that is. That fearful potential for metamorphosis is at the center of Annihilation, directed and adapted by Alex Garland, following up on his brilliant Ex Machina. The film is based on novelist Jeff VanderMeer's Southern Reach trilogy. While it's better to crunch three volumes into one movie than to divide a book into three movies, a la The Hobbit, some material gets brushed upon--particularly elements about the marriage of the grieving heroine, a cellular biology professor named Lena (Natalie Portman). We first see Lena in quarantine, the only survivor of a doomed squad of all-female first responders. » Read More

Review: 'The 15:17 to Paris'

The miracle of cinema is that very aged directors can be youthful, and young directors can be querulous old fogies. Too bad the 87-year-old Clint Eastwood doesn't prove that equation in The 15:17 to Paris. The gimmick is that Alek Skarlatos, Spencer Stone and Anthony Sadler star as themselves in the reenactment of their thwarting of a terrorist attack by Ayoub El-Khazzani aboard the high speed Amsterdam-Paris express in 2015. We're already aboard the train, with the bare-chested maniac popping out of the men's bathroom, pistol at the ready...and that's when we flash back to Sacramento. » Read More

Review: 'Black Panther'

We have previously met King T'Challa (the startlingly handsome Chadwick Boseman), whose father was assassinated by a vengeful terrorist in Captain America: Civil Wars. Costumed here in a super-suit made of the amazing material vibranium--the very substance of which Captain America's shield is constructed--T'Challa is not just king, but the hereditary guardian of the African Shangri-La known as Wakanda, a fantastically advanced civilization disguised as one more poor and remote landlocked African nation. He was sucked into the civil war between Earth's mightiest heroes, the Avengers. But this sequel by Oakland-bred Ryan Coogler leaves the matter there and tells of T'Challa's war to retain his crown; he's threatened first by Afrikaner » Read More

Review: 2018 Oscar Shorts

The lesser-name awards on the upcoming Oscar lists always provide some of the most interesting topics and, sometimes, the trickiest handicapping on ballots. Among the best of the best live-action shorts is DeKalb Elementary, featured at last year's Windrider Film Festival. Director Reed Van Dyk's stunner concerns a mentally impaired shooter (Bo Mitchell from Eastbound and Down) and the elementary school receptionist (Tarra Riggs, of The Help) who talks him out of his rampage. The acting is excellent—Mitchell has the true vacant gaze of those mass shooters who haunt our nightmares, and Riggs underplays the reactions of a brave woman whose good Christian qualities help her in this lethal situation. It's based on a real-life 911 call taken » Read More

Review: 'Winchester'

Like the house itself, Winchester is two-thirds scary, one-third unfinished. As anticipated as it was around here, the Helen Mirren-starring horror flick unfortunately turns out to be a ramshackle and incomplete edifice. This despite a solid, hardworking cast and a starring role by the Winchester House itself--seen in lingering drone shots from the air and from location footage.Spring 1906: In San Francisco, the decadent, laudanum-fancying Dr. Eric Price (Jason Clarke) is recruited to assess the sanity of the reclusive heiress Sarah Winchester (Mirren), the 51-percent owner of the Winchester rifle company. » Read More

Preview: Cinequest 2018

Opening night is Macy's new directorial effort, Krystal; Macy, who won the fest's 2003 Maverick Spirit Award, directs another MSA winner: Rosario Dawson. In the title role, the sultry yet nerdy Dawson plays a hard-luck stripper sought by a naive young man (Nick Robinson of Jurassic World). Closing night is Paul Sanchez's Brothers in Arms, a documentary about the making of Platoon, the much Oscar-lauded 1986 Vietnam film directed by a veteran of that conflict, Oliver Stone. » Read More

Review: 'Black Mirror' vs 'Electric Dreams'

Plemons is a solipsistic game designer who worships old-school TV space adventure; he entraps a woman who turns out to be smart enough to find a way out of his game. Frightening, yes, but it's often as hilarious a take on old-school Star Trek as Galaxy Quest. Nothing funny at all about the Jodie Foster-directed "Arkangel," evocatively shot in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, on the verge of yet another long winter. The remarkably fierce actress Rosemarie DeWitt is a single mother overcome with fears for her child's safety. Thus, she hooks up a nanny camera ... from inside her daughter's skull. In director David Slade's "Metalhead," rogue robots clean up the last bits of humanity on earth. Done in a crystalline black-and-white and with a bare » Read More

Review: 'The Phantom Thread'

The antagonist, Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis), is a real stick insect, the kind of arrogant, solitary man they used to call "a confirmed bachelor." He's a celebrated designer who lives with his formidable sister Cyril (Lesley Manville); her main attribute is a pair of half-glasses that she stares through at her social inferiors. In Shakespeare's phrase, the springe [trap] to catch this Woodcock is a waitress of mysterious Germanic heritage, whom he encounters one morning at a seaside cafe. Charmingly clumsy and with an uncontrollable blush, Alma (the Luxembourger actress Vicky Krieps) notes down Reynolds' immense breakfast order. Then she gives up her requested phone number, dedicating the note "to my hungry boy." » Read More

Review: 'Molly's Game'

Recalling the dude's habit of lying on the floor and listening to recordings of bowling tournaments, one wonders if Jeff Lebowski would be a fan of Aaron Sorkin scripts. Debuting as director in Molly's Game, the eminent screenwriter (Moneyball, etc.) uses Oliver Stone-and Martin Scorsese-style visual overload to accompany all the endless proactive talk, talk and more talk. It's reminiscent of the bowling ball's long rumbling prelude and inevitable crash into a pyramid of meticulously arranged pins. Jessica Chastain plays Molly Bloom. It sounds awfully like a pseudonym (who names their daughter after the most famous masturbator in English lit?), yet the movie assures us it's on the level. » Read More

Former Camera 3 Reborn as 3Below

A once-lively downtown theater is back from the dead. Camera 3 has a new name and a new game plan. Rechristened "3Below," in honor of the Manhattan cabaret 54 Below, the 1980s-built three-screen downtown movie theater is being painted, refloored, and walled with acoustic tiles. 3Below will host a variety of entertainment, with revived movies of many kinds--sing-alongs, quote-alongs (in the Rocky Horror Picture Show sense), classics, cartoons and slapstick silent films on weekends. Also promised are family game nights, live theater, chamber opera, a little Broadway karaoke and a large dose of Cinequest every winter. » Read More

Review: 'The Post'

Attempting to start with a grabber, Steven Spielberg's The Post opens on Vietnam in 1966. A typewriter-bearing Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys) has come to observe the troops. Ellsberg was a Marine vet himself, though this isn't mentioned. Spielberg being Spielberg, there are some inspired visual touches right away: the reflection of tracers from rifle fire on the black camo war paint streaking Ellsberg's face. The trip to 'Nam shows us the cost of the war, bringing context to the centerpiece of The Post--the New York Times and the Washington Post's publication in 1971 of the leaked Pentagon Papers. Ellsberg risked jail to unleash a decades-long secret history of deception, ass-covering and refusal to read the writing on the wall. » Read More

Review: 'I, Tonya'

A much ado about nothing movie, I, Tonya retells the true-life tale of the assault on skater Nancy Kerrigan in the winter of 1994. A hired thug wielding a baton tried to get the Olympic athlete out of the way of her rival, Tonya Harding. More than 20 years later, the circumstances of the assault are still murky, surrounded with the he-said, she-said details. Here, the story is heightened by frame-breaking. Its star and co-producer Margot Robbie strangely excels at direct address to the camera--as in The Big Short, when Robbie took a bubble-bath to better concentrate the minds of viewers while she explained the concept of the subprime mortgages. » Read More

A Year in Film

In the comedy The Square, a pair of whip-smart idiots from the marketing department are pitching a viral campaign for an exhibition at a huge Stockholm art museum. They're sketching in the details, but their idea is that the ad will feature a crying homeless child blown up by a time bomb. Art museums don't compete with other art for the eyes of the viewers, the two hucksters argue--it competes with the spectacles of the time, the disasters, the wars. To sell art, you've got to use violence. They may be right--as a friend says, violence is the universal language. There were few movies so eye-popping and action-packed in 2017 that audiences weren't watching them with one eye over their shoulders. » Read More

Review: 'Call Me by Your Name'

Erotic or sclerotic, it focuses on two American men in a highly unequal relationship in Italy's Lombardy region in the summer of 1983. Young Elio (Timothee Chalamet) becomes fascinated with a handsome 24-year old American student named Oliver (Armie Hammer, old for the part). Oliver has come to stay in the family's villa for six weeks to assist Elio's archeologist father (Michael Stuhlbarg). Throughout this summer's yearning, Elio also has a thing going on with a friend of the family Marzia (Esther Garrel), a lovely Parisian girl. » Read More

Review: 'All the Money in the World'

The 1973 J. Paul Getty III kidnapping is a chilling story that left its imprint on late-20th century cinema: the single grisliest detail was borrowed for everything from Blue Velvet to Reservoir Dogs. It's been said that a filmmaker always needs to think of something to put on the poster, and one bit of ad art for All the Money in the World had a severed ear on it--the catalyzing detail in this story of lawless Italy. In Reservoir Dogs QT swerved the camera away from the ear-trimming scene; here in All the Money Ridley Scott spares us nothing. John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer) was the grandson of the world's richest man, tripping through what's left of the La Dolce Vita scene in shapeless hippie clothes. » Read More

Review: 'The Last Jedi'

It's like WWII, only fun! In Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the alt-right First Order has the rebels bottled up--"the RESISTANCE," the title crawl says in capital letters, a stealth howdy to anti-Trumpers. On the throne is Supreme Leader Snoke, a granddaddy version of Baby Eraserhead played by Andy Serkis. This moldy dictator faces the same problems Lord Vader had back in the day--sass from a supercilious general (Domhnall Gleeson) and disappointing results from a prize pupil, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), who returned empty-handed from his mission to find Luke Skywalker. » Read More

Review: 'Wonder Wheel'

On the bright side, the new Woody Allen film Wonder Wheel has the finest cinematography, in the form of Vittorio Storaro's gorgeously lurid display of Kate Winslet as a woman on fire. Hair dyed to the scarlet side of strawberry blonde, Winslet's Ginny basks in the mercury-colored neon glow of the Coney Island attractions. She lives there in a wooden shack, spitting distance from the Ferris wheel. In the mid-1950s, the 40-ish Ginny is stuck in a marriage of convenience with her dullard husband Humpty (James Belushi). It's all about seafood around those parts. Ginny waitresses in a clam parlor, and, when Humpty isn't tending the merry-go-round, he's more interested in fishing than spending time with his wife. » Read More

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