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Review: 'Better Caul Saul'

Season four of the AMC prequel to 'Breaking Bad' puts a modern spin on noir Read More

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Review: 'Better Caul Saul'

Born Jimmy McGill, he was a short-con artist and petty criminal who got a quick degree at a South Pacific law school. As "Saul Goodman" ("It's all good, man!") he became the kind of lawyer that makes other lawyers shudder, recruiting clients with billboards, TV commercials and an inflatable Statue of Liberty on the roof of his office. Now, McGill is cowering in black and white angst under the name Gene Tacovic, managing a Cinnabon at an Omaha mall. Under any name, he's a person of interest to the feds and the Aryan Brotherhood. As the fourth season of Better Call Saul begins, Jimmy keels over from the anxiety induced by the kind of film noir state of panic described by Kirk Douglas in Out of the Past (1947): "You won't be able to answer a » Read More

Review: 'The Predator'

Army Ranger sniper Quinn McKenna (the Mel Gibson-esque Boyd Holbrook) is on duty in Mexico. While trying to take a shot at a drug cartel chief, Quinn sees something his government doesn't want him to see. To ensure that he's not dismissed as a nut, Quinn steals the helmet and one of the greaves of the murderous alien giant and mails them home. Unfortunately, the artifacts are intercepted by Quinn's bullied son Rory (Jacob Tremblay, of Room), a chess-thlete genius on the Autism spectrum. Soon the government, under the direction of a smirking bureaucrat (Sterling K. Brown) is raiding the place. Xenobiologist Casey (Olivia Munn, game enough and good with a gun) is called in to look at a captured creature, which is how she encounters Quinn. By » Read More

Review: 'Juliet, Naked'

Rose Byrne proves that having a bit of a sad face really becomes a comedienne. In Juliet, Naked she seems like one of the best comic actresses around. The title makes this prime comedy sound more erotic than it is--even an underwear scene is staged in such a way that Byrne isn't exploited by the camera. Knitting her eyebrows in exasperation, Byrne gives elements of ditziness, of slowness in reaction, that's a credit to one of the best funny women of her day, Diane Keaton. Byrne is very pretty indeed, but she also projects the right kind of ordinariness for a romantic comedy heroine; she is a figure for the women in the audience to project themself into. » Read More

Review: 'Searching'

It's neither the first nor the best movie about living (and dying) online, but San Jose-raised filmmaker Aneesh Chaganty's thriller Searching is an absorbing picture constructed of Windows and iPhone shots, of Google searches and live-streaming of TV news websites. We see the Santa Clara Valley girl Margot grow up via home movie footage--she's played by several actresses, finally in adolescence by Michelle La. When she's 15 going on 16, she vanishes one weekend, even as her clueless dad is hounding her with snapshots of the trash she forgot to take out before she left. Her widowed Korean-American father David Kim (a harsh, dogged John Cho) is a high tech executive who may have been too distracted to notice her pain. Now he has to hunt for » Read More

Review: 'The Wife'

The fantasy sold in The Wife is one of winning the Nobel Prize for literature, and at first, that's fun. The old literary lion Joe Castleman (Jonathan Pryce) and his wife Joan (Glenn Close) are sleepless when waiting for the early morning phone call. Soon comes the comically Scandinavian-accented news, and both are jumping on the bed in happiness. It's 1992, so they take the Concorde to Stockholm in winter. But Joan starts to display passive resistance to the ceremony, the hobbing and the nobbing, the bowing and drinking. Thus, into a nest of flashbacks about the way she choked her dreams and subsumed everything to the man she married, bearing his terrible secret. » Read More

Looking Back at 'The Dark Knight'

This time, the shark jumps you! So one would think, seeing the prehistoric megashark on the poster, large enough to scarf down an entire sharknado and its whirling angry denizens. The Meg baits and switches. The shark is only a measly 70 feet long, Certainly, this Meg has its moments. When it circles a crippled boat, its dorsal fin looks like the tail of a 727. But in closeups, the hellfish looks like the vegan shark in Finding Nemo. Only smaller. Much of this movie takes place in a futuristic sea-base Mana One, which looks like surplus from a Gerry Anderson puppet show. A mixed group of scientists, hanging around exclaiming at what they're seeing on screens include, but are not limited to: the spiky Angelina Jolie-esque one (Ruby Rose) » Read More

Review: 'Crazy Rich Asians'

This time, the shark jumps you! So one would think, seeing the prehistoric megashark on the poster, large enough to scarf down an entire sharknado and its whirling angry denizens. The Meg baits and switches. The shark is only a measly 70 feet long, Certainly, this Meg has its moments. When it circles a crippled boat, its dorsal fin looks like the tail of a 727. But in closeups, the hellfish looks like the vegan shark in Finding Nemo. Only smaller. Much of this movie takes place in a futuristic sea-base Mana One, which looks like surplus from a Gerry Anderson puppet show. A mixed group of scientists, hanging around exclaiming at what they're seeing on screens include, but are not limited to: the spiky Angelina Jolie-esque one (Ruby Rose) » Read More

Review: 'The Meg'

This time, the shark jumps you! So one would think, seeing the prehistoric megashark on the poster, large enough to scarf down an entire sharknado and its whirling angry denizens. The Meg baits and switches. The shark is only a measly 70 feet long, Certainly, this Meg has its moments. When it circles a crippled boat, its dorsal fin looks like the tail of a 727. But in closeups, the hellfish looks like the vegan shark in Finding Nemo. Only smaller. Much of this movie takes place in a futuristic sea-base Mana One, which looks like surplus from a Gerry Anderson puppet show. A mixed group of scientists, hanging around exclaiming at what they're seeing on screens include, but are not limited to: the spiky Angelina Jolie-esque one (Ruby Rose) » Read More

Review: 'Puzzle'

It's easy to imagine people leaving Puzzle saying, "That's what my mother's life was like." That's why it's resistible. It takes place now, but it's like the realm our mothers lived in, as if nothing had changed in decades. Here's a story of a married woman's affair, and the dynamics between her, her husband Louie (David Denman) and her sons--the way the family circle is observed is absolutely pre-sitcom. Puzzle's put-upon Connecticut homemaker Mata, called Agnes, tells us she has no sense of humor, none, never had it, never will, but that doesn't mean that the world around her will have gone humorless. Agnes is played by the Scottish actress Kelly Macdonald with an unplaceable accent (she's revealed to be Hungarian). She practically lives » Read More

Review: 'Rock Rubber 45s'

There is, or used to be, a profession called "coolhunting." It described people who went out to the field to try to corral the next upcoming trend. For the multi-multi hyphenate Robert "Bobbito" Garcia, the coolness seems to have found him. Garcia's autobiographical documentary Rock Rubber 45s is a delight--this 50-something man of many talents is a born ambassador. Despite the numerous testimonials here--including one from Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, who tells Bobito "You encapsulate NY as a part of who you are"--Rock Rubber 45s never seems like a mere commercial for the director. By following his personal obsessions, which include hip-hop, hoops, customized sneakers, journalism and filmmaking, Garcia both chronicled and spread » Read More

Review: 'BlackkKlansman'

You don't need a white critic to tell you that 2018 has been a phenomenal year for black-themed film. BlackkKlansman, released on the anniversary of the shame of Charlottesville, continues the streak. Spike Lee's Cannes winner is oddly merry, quite nostalgic, and an ultimately hopeful account of a black police detective's investigation in Colorado during the late 1970s. Few who saw Lee's X (1992) would forget the horror of the scene of the Klan riding out against a billboard-big full moon. His treatment of the KKK here is different: It reminds one of a caption R. Crumb affixed to a cartoon of evil cigar-smoking CEOs--"I just love drawing these guys." It's a thrill to have a skulking enemy out in the open. There they are, the real thing, no » Read More

'The Last Movie' & 'Along for the Ride'

Hopper's directorial debut Easy Rider (1969) was a worldwide hit, and the film and its director were heralded as a voice of a generation. As a result, he was given the opportunity to do anything he wanted. What he wanted was to give a big bite to the Hollywood hand that fed him in a film he called The Last Movie. In The Last Movie, Hopper plays a decadent director on Peruvian location, whoring and drinking, while conversely being a figure of Christlike self-sacrifice. (The stance works, in the same way that Michelangelo's Goliath-sized statue of David doesn't seem like a mixed metaphor.) It suggests the idea of the arrival of cinema at a rural village at 14,000 feet as something like a massive toxic waste spill. Godardian breaks and » Read More

Review: 'The Spy Who Dumped Me'

Director and co-scriptwriter Susanna Fogel uses unusually harsh violence, with a crudeness that seems to be reaching out to the male audience who might balk at sitting for a female buddy movie. It's like the diarrhea sequence in The Bridesmaids--material that was insisted upon by the male producers, as something the guys couldn't resist. Audrey (Mila Kunis) was ditched, via text, by her boyfriend Drew right before her birthday. Her BFF, the would-be actress Morgan (Kate McKinnon) coaxes Audrey into having a bonfire of possessions Drew left behind--everything from his skid-marked underwear to his fantasy football league trophy, second place: The latter is this film's maguffin. » Read More

Blondes & Bond

An ungodly amount of kitsch surrounds the suffering and decline of Marilyn Monroe, obscuring how much fun she was to watch. A double bill of 1953's Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (July 31-Aug. 12) and How to Marry a Millionaire (July 31-Aug. 5) explains the appeal. Marry isn't as magic--it's a reprise of a frequently filmed script with three Manhattan ladies (Lauren Bacall, a myopic Marilyn, and Betty Grable) trying their luck with various menfolk. But for some reason Monroe excelled in 1920s settings, as in Some Like it Hot. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is based on Anita Loos' superb comedic novel about Jazz Age siren and showgirl Lorelei Lee (Monroe) boating to Paris with her traveling companion Dorothy (Jane Russell, dark, shrewd and macha, where » Read More

Review: 'Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot'

The mark of a good movie about Alcoholics Anonymous is that it doesn't make you want to run for the nearest bar as soon as it's over. Happily, such is the case with Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot, concerning the late, disabled Portland cartoonist John Callahan. Gus Van Sant's long-delayed biopic was in the works for a more than a decade. Robin Williams was slated to be in one version of it. Van Sant, bouncing back from some recent, flawed films, has a less winsome and more subtle star than Williams in the form of Joaquin Phoenix. » Read More

Review: 'Mission: Impossible--Fallout'

The IMF's quarry is a mysterious anarchist calling himself "John Lark," a nuclear terrorist who has wrought a long, tedious manifesto about the importance of purging the Earth through suffering. By contrast Mission: Impossible--Fallout gives one nothing to suffer over except for the winching of nerves during one of its expert fight sequences, it's rousing soundtrack by Lorne Balfe and it's soaring mountain and cityscapes. This time Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) must retrieve three plutonium spheres from what's left of the Syndicate of Solomon Lane (the Eli Wallach-like Sean Harris). Hunt is forcibly saddled with Walker (Henry Cavill) a hard-on from the CIA. Betrayal is in the wings as both Langley and MI-6 interfere with the game. » Read More

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