Review: 'The 15:17 to Paris'

Clint Eastwood turns in another installment of patriot porn in his latest film Read More

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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