Review: 'I Am Not Your Negro'

New documentary uses words of James Baldwin to confront hard truths about race Read More

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Review: 'I Am Not Your Negro'

Raoul Peck's tremendous documentary I Am Not Your Negro shows great intelligence and relevance. Rather than a rehash of the 1960s struggle, it's a demonstration that the struggle never ended. The subject is James Baldwin, and an unfinished manuscript. Baldwin never got farther than 30 pages into his study of three lives in the civil rights movement. All three of the leaders were under the age of 40 when they were martyred: Martin Luther King Jr., Medgar Evers and Malcolm X. What's more, all three were Baldwin's friends. Which didn't mean that he agreed with their methods, any more than the three agreed with each other. » Read More

Review: 'Lego Batman Movie'

There's bound to be someone-mom?-who prefers a Batman movie in which our hero learns the importance of family life and sharing. How can such a sharing, caring Dark Knight resonate with the adolescent, who prefers brooding, hiding in solitude and watching everyone from a point of concealment? Fortunately, the makers of The Lego Batman Movie realize they are dealing with a figure who is a kaleidoscope of personas-a Batman for all seasons. This version of the Caped Crusader has had his head turned by success. He does victory laps in the Batmobile, and fires a T-shirt cannon of souvenir Batshirts at the orphanage. During a quick visit there, he acquires an adopted son, Dick Grayson (Michael Cera), in an absence of mind. » Read More

Keeping Up With Tradition

Abbas Kiarostami's piercing, observational eye helped revolutionize cinema. His 1998 A Taste of Cherry was a surprise winner at Cannes. His international masterpiece Certified Copy was both an Italian travelogue and an exploration of a mysterious relationship. And there's so much more. Kiarostami died July 4 in Paris. The loss wasn't just to his homeland Iran, but to the entire world. Iran is this week's enemy. It's been reported that Steve Bannon's computer password was "Sparta." One wonders if the man gets his news of Persia from the movie 300. Misinformation and prejudice makes "A Life in Film: Remembering Global Filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami" particularly important. » Read More

Review: '1984'

For some reason, George Orwell's 1984 is a current best-seller on Amazon. Something to do with the new administration and its forward-thinking views on the mutability of facts? I wouldn't want to speculate. Orwell's satire was based on the author's time working for the good guys-at the BBC, where he was a wartime propagandist. He even named his protagonist "Winston" as if to honor Churchill. The book is a hammer against those who looked the other way at the crimes of England's then-ally, the USSR. Details of the show trials, the paranoia, and the use of raw alcohol to cope are straight from the Communist regime. Supposedly, in Moscow once, there was a neon sign celebrating the year-early completion of a Five-Year Plan. » Read More

Review: 'The Salesman'

In The Salesman, we have a look at how Iranian artists are standing on crumbling ground. It was a winner at Cannes, for best actor and script, and now it's national news because of the Trump administration's ban on Iranians entering our nation. Academy Award winning director Asghar Farhadi (A Separation) has said he's not attending the Oscars this year, even if the ban is lifted. On the bright side, there's no publicity man for your film like the president of the United States. It's an indication of the way Iranian films are made-immersive, circumspect, slippery-that they start with circumstances so familiar to their core audience that they don't need much explanation. » Read More

Review: 'The Founder'

Director John Lee Hancock (The Alamo) has gone from Davy Crockett to Ray Kroc-arguably a lesser kind of American hero. Kroc was the burger baron who franchised McDonald's from the original owners, a pair of idealistic restaurateurs from San Bernardino. The McDonalds' "Spee-dee" assembly line method revolutionized the way Americans and a lot of the world eat. Making the Golden Arches an interstate phenomenon, Kroc created the fast food nation we live in today. Exuding gall and desperation, Michael Keaton plays Kroc with a Midwestern honk to his voice and a never-ending line of patter. Watching him get a series of doors slammed in his face, and seeing him taking solace with a hip flask, it's like Beetlejuice died and went to hell. » Read More

Review: 'Toni Erdmann'

Loveable if not ordinarily hilarious, Toni Erdmann explores both sides of a situation familiar to many. Winfried (Peter Simonischek) is "Dude" Lebowski's German cousin, a shaggy joker retired from something or other. After his elderly dog dies, he's at loose ends. So he decides to surprise his daughter Ines (Sandra Huller) at her job in Bucharest. She works as a consultant-which is to say, she's a hatchet-wielder looking for potential layoffs. Ines in the middle of some delicate business and has little time to haul her father around the capitol's sites. The two spat, and he heads home...or so it seems. When Ines is having dinner with some female colleagues, her zany father reappears, fright-wigged and posing as an important businessman » Read More

Review: '20th Century Women'

There is weight in the charming 20th Century Women-seriousness that keeps it from blowing away like a load of Styrofoam peanuts in the wind. That weight comes from the realization of how remote the seemingly near past actually is. Mike Mills' third and best film (after Beginners and Thumbsucker) is also the closest to his models in the French New Wave. This fictionalized memoir recalls Louis Malle, the least radical of that assemblage of 1960s French filmmakers, and the one who turned out to have the warmest and longest view of all of them. Mills' Beginners was a memorial to a father who came out of the closet in his 70s. 20th Century Women honors Mills' mother as a woman whose life was bounded by the last century. The title isn't too » Read More

Review: 'Julieta'

Living a long life means dwelling on a stage with numerous trapdoors. Players vanish or reappear, as part of some grand design that becomes all the more baffling as time passes. Three stories by the Nobel laureate Alice Munro, from her 2004 collection Runaway, were the source for Pedro Almodovar's latest film, the serious but never somber Julieta. Here the Spanish master presents a "tearless melodrama," in which a woman copes with the inexplicable vanishing of her daughter, Antia. Having no explanation for the rift, Julieta corrodes inside, living with the guilt of whatever it was that she did to cause her daughter to leave her. The loss essentially changes her into two separate people. The "before" picture is Julieta as a perky, » Read More

Review: 'Silence'

Martin Scorese's dream project, Silence, is done at last, and it's one large, dry hunk of crisis of faith. It's a less bloody but still torture-wracked remake of The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), complete with the temptation to a peaceful life. It's seemingly the longest and most pulse-free of Scorsese's primarily religious movies, including Kundun (1997) and Last Temptation (1988); in it we're taken on a tour of Scorsese's recollections of the classic studio era, when religious movie kitsch used to draw so heavily from the contents of European art museums. A pair of suitably dogged Jesuits (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) are sent from Portugal to find out what became of a long-lost priest (Liam Neeson) sent on a mission years before. » Read More

Review: 'Things to Come'

An acute portrait of a woman of a certain age, Things To Come towers over Isabelle Huppert's much-vaunted performance in Elle. Huppert plays Nathalie, an aging philosophy teacher who needs all the consolation her discipline can provide. Her neurotic mother (Edith Scob, of the horror classic Yeux Sans Visage) is prone to suicide threats and anxiety attacks. Nathalie's husband, Heinz (Andre Marcon), is a stout and humorless old pedant, who is secretly seeing someone on the side. And Nathalie's reputation as a scholar isn't enough to save her from the bottom-line obsessed executives at her publishing house. Though she's renowned in her field, her textbooks aren't selling. » Read More

Review: 'Hidden Figures'

It's clear that Hidden Figures is a story that demands to be told, and it's a pity it wasn't told better. It honors the essential work that three African-American number-crunchers did at Langley, Virginia, in 1961-62, shortly before NASA moved to Texas. Room-sized IBM 7090s were being used to figure out how to bring home Col. John Glenn (Glen Powell) after his orbit around the earth. In this version, it's unsung human calculators that save the mission. Taraji P. Henson is Kathryn Johnson, a mathlete with oversized spectacles that keep sliding down her nose. Janelle Monae is her colleague Mary Jackson; and Octavia Spencer plays Dorothy Vaughan, the supervisor in everything but job title in the Colored Computing Section. Director Theodore » Read More

Best & Worst Films of 2016

The problem of looking backwards at the year in film is that it involves looking backward at the year 2016, and who wants to do that? All the switches failed, all the canaries are gasping, all the sirens are sounding, and it's hard to keep one's eye on the screen in times of emergency. We've been through times like these before. As soon as someone can explain why we have to go through them again, it'll be easier to function. Times of fervor often spawn great films-which is why the end of year list includes a film that could be dismissible as a dumbass blockbuster, instead of, say, some glacial tidbits from the avant-garde freezer, such as Elle, Neon Demon, The Lobster or, shudder, Nocturnal Animals. » Read More

Review: 'Fences'

Troy Maxon is a 53-year-old Pittsburgh garbageman. In his earlier years, he was a Negro League player on the Homestead Grays. He'd hit seven homers off Satchel Paige himself. Roberto Clemente is starting to make a name for himself on the Bucks. But the desegregation of Major League Baseball is no consolation to the protagonist of August Wilson's Fences-directed with surpassing power and precision by the man playing Troy, Denzel Washington. This particularly acute study of a man whose life slips out of his hands isn't a one-thing-after-another melodrama. Wilson's script shows Maxson on a series of Friday nights, when the man is exulting, full of payday bluster and a little gin. » Read More

Review: 'La La Land'

Wide-eyed Emma Stone is the draw in La La Land, an emulation of 1950s widescreen era musicals. Stone plays Mia, a barista/actress from Boulder City riding the wheel of auditions in Hollywood. She's starting to lose hope when she has a meet-cute on a crowded freeway flyover with the similarly frustrated Sebastian (Ryan Gosling). He orders her car out of his way, she flips him the Driver's Salute, and they're off to the races. Sebastian is an aspiring jazz pianist, paying the rent while wearing parachute pants and playing A-ha covers in an '80s band. (La La Land, which has the spirit of a cover band, shouldn't have joked about this profession.) The two go to the movies at South Pasadena's moribund Rialto Theater for Rebel Without a Cause. » Read More

Review: 'Rogue One'

The stand-alone Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a battle movie, heavy on the war, light on the stars. Many have heard that George Lucas once cut footage from WWII dogfights into the work-print of the first Star Wars film, to give previewers an idea of what the film would look like once the effects were done. Rogue One, then, comes full circle. It's a World War II movie in space. The finale is on the planet Scarif, a world of surf and tropical reefs; the attack wings shooting, bombing and crashing are like a futuristic version of the Pacific theater. It's set during the rise of Lord Vader and Grand Moff Tarkin. More about Vader momentarily, but the latter is yet Governor Tarkin, and played by Peter Cushing's digitized ghost. » Read More

Review: 'Jackie'

In some 2050s university class on "The Celebrity Interview as Literature," the film Jackie might get taught as an example of the push and pull between lofty subject and noodging journalist. Nothing as vulgar as spin goes on-just gentle, forceful pressure from above. The freshly widowed Jacqueline Kennedy (Natalie Portman) is hiding out in Hyannis Port, Mass., during the cold November of 1963. A fictional reporter (Billy Crudup) who seems to be a lot of T. H. White and a little bit of William Manchester, is inquiring after her, teasing her out to talk. Ms. Kennedy tries to keep her privacy while being available to the public, as she has during the short course of her term as First Lady. She checks the protocol for the state funeral to come. » Read More

Pixar Story: Steve Jobs' Animated Ambition

Palo Alto-based lawyer Lawrence Levy was in the room when his client Steve Jobs learned that he had just become a billionaire. It was Nov. 29, 1995, the day of Pixar's successful IPO. Only a few days previously, the box office reports had come in proving that Toy Story, the first feature length computer-animated film, had been a smash hit. In his new memoir, To Pixar and Beyond: My Unlikely Journey with Steve Jobs to Make Entertainment History, Levy describes how he helped Pixar find a focus, in the days when the fledgling studio was holed up in a relatively small building across from the Chevron refinery in Point Richmond. Back then, Pixar was a few desks, a screening room full of salvaged couches, and a workroom containing the world's » Read More

Review: 'Nocturnal Animals'

Watching Nocturnal Animals is essentially like watching a Charles Bronson retrospective in a plush, red velvet-wrapped salon during some minor European city's film festival. The trappings give aesthetic importance to what's going on up front, culturally validating something that isn't all that different from a Golan and Globus rape-revenge shocker. Celebrities turn up (including Michael Sheen and Laura Linney) to validate the significance of what we're watching. We're presumed to find the framing by photographer-turned-director-turned-back-to-photographer Tom Ford positively Lynchian; we're meant to be captives on rides on lost highways. But there's only one David Lynch, and imitating him is a sucker's game. » Read More

Review: 'Manchester By The Sea'

Affleck's Lee has sentenced himself to a cell-like basement apartment in Quincy, Massachusetts. He's the handyman at a homely complex of brick apartments. Even a menial job can be lightened by human contact, but Lee resists conversations. A cute tenant (Quincy Tyler Bernstine) confesses her crush on Lee to a friend on the phone, not realizing Lee is in earshot. He doesn't respond. Ultimately this handyman is forced by an unexpected death to return to the small coastal town that he left in disgrace years before. Due to a surprise in his brother's will, Lee has been saddled with the guardianship of the 16-year-old nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges) whom Lee hasn't really seen in a decade or so. » Read More

Review: 'Loving'

After the election, the internet was full of evidence of the contempt liberal city dwellers had for the country. The charges included Southern stereotypes in the popular media: Joe Dirt, Hee Haw, Deliverance, and so forth. A longtime moviegoer might counter with a much longer roster of films about green fields, fat chickens and honest, plain-spoken people... the cherished heartland as we see it in the movies. The remarkable Loving by Arkansas-born, North Carolina-educated Jeff Nichols (Mud, Take Shelter, Midnight Special) is an example of the highest and the best stix-flix, as Variety once put it. It's about the Loving v. Virginia, the case that overruled the last state law against interracial marriage. » Read More

Review: 'Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk'

Private Billy Lynn (Joe Alwyn) was caught on camera trying to rescue a man in his platoon from Iraqi rebels. The snippet went big on CNN, and Lynn was awarded the Silver Star. He and about a half-dozen of his fellow soldiers are escorted by the sardonic Sergeant Dime (Garrett Hedlund of Sons of Anarchy, never better). They're making a dog and pony tour to rally people around the war, during the election year 2004. One last stop, before the return to Iraq, is an appearance with Destiny's Child, at the halftime show at a Thanksgiving Dallas Cowboys game. Beyonce and company's hit about ghetto warriors, "Soldier," is going to be repurposed for patriotic ends. As they mentally prepare for the coming bombardment of PTSD-aggravating fireworks » Read More

Review: 'Moonlight'

Remarkable is the only word for Moonlight. It's a love story and a story of childhood; it's also a movie about being, in jazzman Charles Mingus' phrase, "beneath the underdog." Across several episodes, Barry Jenkins (of Medicine for Melancholy) directs the story of some 12 years in the life of Chiron, an undersized boy from the Liberty City neighborhood in Miami. Chiron is played by three actors: Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes. Young Chiron has been badly bullied, hiding his homosexuality from everyone, ever since his mother (Naomie Harris, in her best-ever performance) called him a "faggot." Chiron has a kind of surrogate father figure for a while-a passerby named Juan (Mahershala Ali), who rescues the boy from a pack of » Read More

Review: 'Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them'

J.K. Rowling's ingenuity, now free of old Hogwarts, gets a real workout in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Credited as scriptwriter and co-producer, Rowling has a fresh backdrop, the New York of 1926. She and director Peter Yates, a longtime vet of the Harry Potter film series, charm us with the critters, but really hook us with the characters. This warmly cast comedy has a switched-suitcase plot, mixing a British amateur crypto-zoologist, a busted-down former police officer for the world of magic, the portly baker Kowalski (Dan Fogler, excellent in a dapper stout-man part, neither slobby nor mawkish), and a ravishing if ditzy mind-reader. The battered leather suitcase belongs to Hogwarts dropout Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) » Read More

Review: 'Gimme Danger'

In a day and age when the first name Iggy is too often paired with "Azalea," a study of the original is more than justified. It says a lot about Iggy Pop's career that you can cut about 20 years out of it, as Jim Jarmusch did for his exuberant Gimme Danger, and still have enough material for a prime rock documentary. Interviewed by Jarmusch, Iggy is seated in a gilded Louis XVI-ish chair, with a pair of ceramic (one hopes) skulls on nearby pedestals. He's wiry, fit, displaying blazingly white teeth for a leathery, walnut-tanned senior. Instead of his usual deadpan long takes, Jarmusch (Only Lovers Left Alive) models this study on Julien Temple's The Filth and the Fury, using found-footage: '50s civics class films, excerpts of scratchy » Read More

Review: 'Doctor Strange'

Will Rogers, who was sort of the Garrison Keillor of his day, once was asked to pronounce on the future of the movies: "Run 'em backwards, it can't hurt 'em and it's worth a trial." The most unusual material in the highly likable Doctor Strange comes during a battle scene in Hong Kong. Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), a magus of great power, arrives at a typical scene of Marvel comics civic destruction. He casts a time reversing spell. Even as Strange fights off a small pack of evil sorcerers, the buildings reassemble in the air, burst water-mains slow to a trickle and reconnect themselves, and neon signs unshatter into glittering clouds of glass and return to blazing life. It's like the kind of housekeeping Mary Poppins once did, but » Read More

Review: 'Inferno'

It's weird seeing Tom Hanks trying to emote so seriously in Inferno after witnessing one of his finest performances ever, as David S. Pumpkins, on the SNL sketch "The Haunted Elevator." In the hilarious skit, Hanks' grimacing loon of a song and dance man, is clad in a squash-themed wardrobe, flanked by fluff-topped b-boy skeletons. Pumpkins is fatuously confident-a celebrity in his own mind. There is no dancing, unfortunately, in Hanks and Ron Howard's follow-up to The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons. Inferno is more interesting than its predecessors, though it's just as preposterous. Our two-fisted symbologist Robert Langdon (Hanks) is struck with amnesia after taking a bullet to the head. He wakes up in Florence, tended by a British » Read More

Review: 'Aquarius'

In the 1980s, Sonia Braga was an idol of Brazilian film. Her coolness, her mahogany-colored body and her magnificent black tresses still stir the memory of longtime filmgoers. Now 65, she still has the hair, as Aquarius demonstrates; Braga winds it, unfurls it, tosses it for the camera. Aquarius is a tribute to Braga. It's a Brazilian vacation with a civics lesson on the side. Braga plays the widowed Clara. Once a noted rock critic, she is now an idler, puttering around her art deco oceanside apartment in the city of Recife and swimming in the South Atlantic. But her apartment is up for bulldozing. Over the significant length of Aquarius, Clara puts up a struggle, turning down the payoffs (the developers offer her $635,000). She endures » Read More

Review: 'Raising Cain' Collectors Edition

We live in in an age allergic to magnificence in acting-we call it camp, we call it ham, when we ought to show similar skepticism to thespians who prefer a dull, "natural" demeanor. True, Samuel L. Jackson is one of the hardest working men in showbiz, and he loves flamboyance. John Lithgow, currently in the hit The Accountant, is capable of reticent performances; then again he went rich and strange in the multiple-personality role of Dr. Carter Nix in Raising Cain (1992), probably the best movie ever made in Palo Alto. Shout Factory's Raising Cain: The Collector's Edition includes both the released version and the recut version by the Dutch archivist and critic Peet Gelderblom. » Read More

Review: 'Certain Women'

Montana at its most impassive: Certain Women sums up emotional conflict during the cold months, in the newest by Kelly Reichardt (Meek's Cutoff). It's based loosely on short stories by Maile Meloy, looped lightly into a trilogy. The third tale tops it all, thanks to a sweet, tough performance by Lily Gladstone as Jamie, a stocky Native American stablehand. Lit up with love, Gladstone is as instantly likable as Brendan Fraser. Laura Dern plays Laura Wells, a Livingston, Montana lawyer with a stubborn and disabled client (Jared Harris), who is unclear on the concept of settlements. It's a part in which Dern never needs to raise her voice, even when held at gunpoint; the moral is that Dern doesn't have to be in a cohesive movie to be » Read More

San Jose International Short Film Festival

Before he rallied Groot, Gamora, Rocket Racoon and Peter Quill, Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn was an independent filmmaker working at the bare-bones level-as per the streety, funny Super. Gunn, attending this year's San Jose International Short Film Festival, is having an award named after him. Raised in St. Louis, Gunn had his first breakthrough working with the famed low-budget auteur, New Jersey's Lloyd Kaufman. Gunn said he learned about every aspect of filmmaking, from scripting, to choreographing sex scenes, to designing the poster, when working on Tromeo and Juliet (1996) which recently screened at MoMA. » Read More

UNAFF Brings News of the World

Travelling from location to location in the South Bay, this 10-day fest is proudly feminist. Sara Nesson's Poster Girl tells of Robynn Murray, a volunteer who joined the Army and ended up on the cover of the Army Times. Eventual PTSD from her service prompts her to return to Iraq in the hopes of seeking closure. Apache 8 is the story of the Apache fire women who fight the blazes in the Arizona hills. Janine di Giovanni is a war correspondent—profiled in Robert Rippberger's 7 Days in Syria; she practices a dangerous profession that killed a colleague of hers. Feminism Inshallah: A History of Arab Feminism is Feriel Ben Mahmoud's look at the traditions that fundamentalists are trying to suppress. Nefertiti's Daughter by Racha Najdi and » Read More

Review: 'Denial'

Who doesn't wish that Auschwitz was just a bad dream? The middling yet entertaining movie Denial concerns David Irving, one of the world's most unappealing contrarians, and the Emory University professor Deborah Lipstadt, whom Irving sued for libel in the British high courts. Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) is a renowned expert on the Holocaust at Emory University. In one of her books, the professor dismissed the work of the self-taught British historian and Holocaust denier David Irving (Timothy Spall). In the 1990s, Irving got a sympathetic audience for his Holocaust theories because of his embrace of Fred Leuchter's faulty research-see Errol Morris' excellent documentary Mr. Death about that deluded engineer, and how Leuchter vandalized » Read More

Review: 'The Accountant'

Flashbacks show how this super-accountant acquired his skills, from being beaten up by a bulky Asian martial arts instructor to training to become a world-class sniper in the military. In the present tense, he's hunted by Treasury agents, both old dog J.K. Simmons, and his new recruit (Cynthia Addai-Robinson). Meanwhile a mysterious bulky enforcer (Jon Bernthal of The Punisher) is hunting down friends of Wolf's clients. It's all connected to some sketchy accounting going on at a robotics firm run by a grandfatherly CEO (John Lithgow). While auditing the books, Christian meets a friendly young pixie named Dana (Anna Kendrick) who is one of the firm's accountants. Kendrick gives a lot of her usual nervous displays of ivory teeth, while » Read More

Review: 'Birth Of A Nation'

Filmmakers who serve as director, writer and actor are usually more talented in one aspect of their hyphenate than the others. The Birth of a Nation, by the much-hyped hyphenate Nate Parker, is best in one aspect: Parker has an actorly presence that makes this film immediate and powerful. It's the story of Nat Turner's slave rebellion in the early 1830s, which terrified the South. When Turner and his band were broken up, about 60 white civilians were dead. Turner grows from a houseboy on the estate that gave him his name. When there's a reversal of fortune on the plantation, Nat (played in adulthood by Parker) is sent into the fields to have his hands torn by the sharp cotton thorns. » Read More

Review: 'Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children'

Discovering this little time bubble, Abe is accepted as one of the children. Almost immediately he falls for the lighter-than-air, 16-year-old Emma (Ella Purnell). From Emma and Miss Peregrine, Jake learns of villains called "wights," led by a man named Barron (Samuel L. Jackson). Barron and his "hollowgasts"-eyeless spidery monsters, invisible to all but the likes of Jake-consume the eyes of children. We see the devils gathered around their feast, fresh eyeballs stacked on a fancy cake platter as if they were petits fours. The grossness is satisfying; it's like a wild tale heard on a school playground. One of Miss Peregrine's children has an interesting talent: with the help of a special monocle, he can beam a visual representation of his » Read More

Review: 'Deepwater Horizon'

Before declining into standard uplifting moments of waving flags, prayer and action movie super-feats, Deepwater Horizon is a thrilling procedural about the worst oil rig disaster in history. Director Peter Berg (Lone Survivor) approaches these roughnecks from the opposite angle that Michael Bay would have taken: they're more soft spoken and less profane than you'd expect. The exploratory well that the floating Deepwater Horizon was trying to tap was nicknamed "the well from hell"-the drilling project was 43 days and $50 million over budget, and British Petroleum is accused here of cutting corners on safety and maintenance. Berg stresses the human price of the disaster; the ecological disaster to come is signaled only by one startling » Read More

Review: 'Snowden'

Oliver Stone's over-emphatic style can be alienating, particularly when he's over-explaining things that don't need explaining, while glossing over the more interesting details. Whether it was fair or not, W. had juice. Snowden is more of a generic hero's struggle that ends upbeat, with the title whistleblower (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) receiving hugs and applause. Edward Snowden was an employee of the CIA and the NSA (one good anti-joke here: it stands for "No Such Agency"). At these organizations, and later as a private contractor serving them, Snowden discovered that the government's data collection program was far more universal than the Obama administration claimed. Snowden finally went public with documents explaining how the massive » Read More

Review: 'Magnificent Seven'

Oversized without being big-hearted, The Magnificent Seven has an acceptably interesting gun battle finale. But it removes the element of desperation from the story of the hired defenders of a small Western frontier town. In the latest iteration of this story, they're reduced to a band of fun-loving, wise-cracking mercenaries, just here to have a good time. The hamlet of Rose Creek is ravaged by the Sacramento land baron Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard, thwarted, glum and just plain weird). Chisholm (Denzel Washington) a warrant officer-read: bounty hunter-is recruited by a frontier lady Emma (Haley Bennett) to round up a gang of gunmen. The warriors include Byung-Hun Lee in the James Coburn part as a knife-man, and the First Nation actor Martin » Read More

Review: 'Sully'

Giving the audience what they want-a fantastic aerial disaster in which no one gets hurt-Clint Eastwood's often-pretty-good Sully is highlighted by the self-effacing underacting of Tom Hanks as Chesley Sullenberger. This time, Eastwood is certainly lionizing a higher grade of person than American Sniper's Chris Kyle. Appropriately, Hanks plays the Diablo Valley-based pilot as a dream movie hero-soft-spoken, reluctant to accept praise. Nerveless, in the cockpit, the fear only strikes him later when he's alone, in the bath, or outrunning the anxiety in jogging sessions late at night. Winging to Charlotte from LaGuardia, US Airways Flight 1549 encountered a flock of Canada geese. The birds exploded both engines on the Airbus A320. Eastwood's » Read More

Review: 'Max Rose'

Decades after his heyday, Jerry Lewis is still a dreadful and awesome figure overshadowing comedy. Lewis has a vast wavelength: sometimes he's great, and when he's bad, he's even greater. Daniel Noah's 2013 indie movie Max Rose-was it released or did it escape?-gives Lewis a well-deserved part. If the movie is tripe, Lewis fills a lot of ruminative closeups. It gives him a chance to dwell in a favorite realm, the world of hurt, betrayal and rancor. As his son, San Jose-raised actor Kevin Pollak stands up to verbal abuse by standing up to Lewis's obscene wrath. I don't know if I've ever seen him better. The elderly Max Rose (Lewis) just buried his wife of 65 years-the funeral is shot from a POV of about 100 yards back, deliberately robbing » Read More

Review: 'Indignation'

What's a nice Jewish boy doing in a movie like this? The answer is that the often squirm-inducing Indignation is adapted from a novel by Philip Roth, in whose work nice Jewish boys are often cast far out of their comfort zones and into the wide, treacherous world. Roth published the book in 2008, but the story looks back in anguish at the bad old days of social repression and paranoia in 1951. The movie was written and directed by James Schamus, a veteran screenwriter and producer making his feature directing debut. Schamus is absolutely meticulous in recreating the stifling miasma of conformity closing in on the young protagonist, who leaves his hometown of Newark, New Jersey, for a fearsomely staid and homogenous Midwestern college. » Read More

Review: 'Intolerance'

Nate Parker's Birth of a Nation, opening in October but already a cinch for the Oscars, will draw attendees who certainly won't decode the title's reference. Parker's story of the American avenger Nat Turner appropriates the title of D.W. Griffith's 1915 Civil War epic. Birth of a Nation was cinema's first blockbuster. Even in 1915, there were those who objected to Griffith's vile racism, his use of a rape threat in a scene between an actor wearing blackface and a white Southern belle. If crowds mobbed this epic, there were sizable public protests, and cities that banned it outright. Birth of a Nation celebrated the Ku Klux Klan. The film's success legitimized those Christian conservative terrorists, who came to political ascendency in the » Read More

Review: 'Morgan'

In essence, Morgan is a heinously overproduced student film, complete with a scad of actors who are too good for it, and a twist ending you'd guess even if director Luke Scott weren't the offspring of Blade Runner's Ridley Scott. A generous person could call Morgan as a prequel to that vaunted, cult sci-fi film from 1982. It's about the creation of genetically altered replicants by the Evil Corporation. The praiseworthy underactress Kate Mara gives her first boring performance as a "risk management" specialist from EvilCo. Power-coiffed and business-suited, Mara imitates Lindsay Crouse's own numbness as she drives up to a remote forest lab in her Mercedes. While driving, she takes an info-dumping call from her boss (Brian Cox): "We don't » Read More

Review: 'Kubo And The Two Strings'

Fans are startings to look forward to a new Laika film the same way we used to look forward to a new Pixar. Kubo and the Two Strings is the newest 3-D stop-motion animation from the Portland-based studio responsible for Coraline, Paranorman and The Boxtrolls. One scene has a backdrop of what looks like the famed Rashomon gate next to sequoia-sized trees; this ravishing, delicate story nods back to Kurosawa's Rashomon, a film about the untrustworthiness of tale-tellers and what they conceal. Kubo is a story of interlocked fictions, sometimes very sad, sometimes cryptic-not bad qualities in a cartoon. The act of storytelling is the titular character's literal weapon against death, of preservation of lives otherwise forgotten. During a fight » Read More

Review: 'Lo and Behold'

Technologies shape us before we even halfway sense their presence. Werner Herzog examines the internet itself in Lo and Behold: Reveries of a Connected World, a documentary in 10 chapters, with commentary by local engineers such as Elon Musk and Stanford's Sebastian Thrun. The foreboding words, "What hath God wrought?" were the first ever transmitted via telegraph; the first message delivered over the nascent internet was a single word: "Lo." It sounds Biblical. But this message, sent between labs at UCLA and Stanford, was little more than a glitch. The message supposed to read, "Log In." But the system crashed just two characters in. » Read More

Review: 'Hell or High Water'

Toby (Chris Pine) is just a good, desperate man, but his ex-con brother Tanner (Ben Foster) enjoys the thrill, and is growing more vicious with every heist. Meanwhile, aging Texas ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges), in his last month before retirement, picks up the case. In the same way that soundtrack artist Nick Cave strains to be Johnny Cash, scripter Taylor Sheridan (Sicario) strains to get the good ol' boy voice. The characters tend to mythologize themselves, as in a scene where Tanner gets into a stare-down and argument with a massive Native American gambler at an Oklahoma casino. Everyone keeps going on about the banks and the land grabs they've made, so that the movie will stay on message. The racist gibes exchanged between » Read More

Review: 'Florence Foster Jenkins'

Something that's really perfectly awkward is, in essence, perfect. Florence Foster Jenkins is Stephen Frears' biopic of a show-business legend who deserves her place next to The Shaggs and Ed Wood. Meryl Streep certainly sentimentalizes this deluded woman's life, but she also honors it. Frears is crafty, not letting the cat out of the bag until the right time. It was fun to watch FFJ in a theater full of people not acquainted with the legend of Jenkins, an opera singer whose reach truly exceeded her grasp. And as per the Browning verse, Frears sends this provocative singer to heaven. We open at the Verdi Club in Manhattan in 1944, where the well-off Ms. Jenkins is entertaining the big city culture vultures. Her husband, St. Clair Bayfield » Read More

Review: 'Sausage Party'

Wrong on so many levels, the R-rated Sausage Party is a parody of Toy Story; one abject bath salts-abuser drives around with a "Pixar" bumper sticker on the back of his beater car. In a supermarket, the joyous pack of hotdogs can't wait to get between the vertical lips of the waiting buns who are saving themselves for when they're purchased. That day will come soon, since the store has bunting hung for "Red White and Blue" day when weiners get snatched up and bought. What these happy, pious products don't know is what actually happens to food when it arrives in a kitchen-that there will be peeling, roasting, wailing and an apocalypse of gnashing teeth. Tipped off by a jar of mustard that's been returned to the store, these food items learn » Read More

Review: 'Jason Bourne'

Bereft of humor or sex, the Bourne series gives audiences a choice of brands. If James Bond is Fodor's, Bourne (Matt Damon) is Lonely Planet. But is it really fair to call this series grittier or more mature than 007? The last Bourne introduced super-soldier pills: "chems," they were called. This fifth movie based on the adventures of Robert Ludlum's assassin, gives us a morose Damon in front of barely seen cities, identified with captions, such as "London, United Kingdom." It's clipped into snippets of graffitied walls, trains, trams, stomped gearshift pedals and startled crowds. As a former documentarian, director Paul Greengrass is a great believer in the swiftness with which violence occurs. He might agree with Mao's principle: "The » Read More

Review: 'Suicide Squad'

In Suicide Squad, a group of super-villains is harnessed by a covert government organization to fight superhuman threats-to begin with, a pair of brother and sister Elder Gods trying to kick-start the apocalypse. David Ayer, the talented director of the WWII film Fury, has to mix styles and flavors. In an atmosphere-free cocktail lounge, loud music is used to set the mood. Needle drops plague the beginning: "House of the Rising Sun" by The Animals for rainy exteriors of a super-ultra-supermax prison in the Louisiana swamps. Then comes "You Don't Own Me" for our first view of the caged and dangerous Harley Quinn (the overexposed model Margot Robbie). Killer Croc-Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, playing the man-reptile as Mike Tyson with » Read More

Review: 'Star Trek: Beyond'

Seeing such a reassuring message about plurality seems fitting and timely, especially after last week's atrocity in Cleveland. Among other things, the starship Enterprise is our own leaky American ship as we love to envision her, stuffed with benign, theatrically accented foreigners all pulling together. "My wee Scottish gran said, 'You can't break a stick in a bundle,'" says Scotty (co-scriptwriter Simon Pegg) in Star Trek: Beyond. Mr. Spock (Zachary Quinto) is feeling the pull toward traditionalism, which is causing a rift with Uhura (Zoe Saldana). He's wondering if he hadn't better get back to New Vulcan and help raise some logical kids. Spock is counselled, sort of, by the peremptory Dr. McCoy, aka "Bones" (Karl Urban). » Read More

Review: 'Cafe Society'

Narratively speaking, Cafe Society is the film version of a Grandpa Abe Simpson anecdote. Famous names are dropped, pointlessly. Trivial matters about the past are flaunted without much context. Director, writer and producer Woody Allen narrates, announcing the qualities of his characters, even as we're trying to watch them and figure them out. There's no comedic understatement, or irony-what we see is what we get. During the Depression, a kid from New York named Bobby (Jesse Eisenberg) is trying to make it in Hollywood when he falls for his married uncle's mistress, Vonnie (Kristen Stewart). Neither uncle Phil (Steve Carell), a brittle, high-powered agent, nor Vonnie, who is his Phil's secretary, clues the young man. Heartbroken, Bobby » Read More

Review: 'Ghostbusters'

Wielding an electronic ghost detector that resembles a little rotating neon vulva, a triumphant Melissa McCarthy leads this female-powered Ghostbusters reboot. The remake clearly has a chip on its shoulder over fanboi venom. It acknowledges the "raped childhood" posts all splattered over the internet. Learning that the Ghostbusters would feature an all-women cast, thousands of male fans whimpered about PC Hollywood. At the risk of validating the online declarations of fools, director Paul Feig includes scenes of the heroines having their ghost-hunting business dragged through the comments sections of popular websites. One troll's unimaginative jab reads: "ain't no bitch gonna hunt no ghosts". » Read More

Review: 'Captain Fantastic'

Berkeley-raised director Matt Ross stays true to his roots with Captain Fantastic-which will surely seem a deep movie in that city, thanks to its spirit of political grievance, its mottos, and its fantasy of chucking it all to head for the redwoods. (It's firs and pines, actually; set in Washington state, the film is shot in Canada.) In the film's opening scene we see a many-pronged buck peeking through a thicket-so peaceful and serene that you know it's all over for the deer. Hiding, face painted with camouflage, young Bo (short for Bodevan, and played by George MacKay) pops out and stabs it in the throat. Butchering the out of season deer, Bo's father Ben (Viggo Mortensen) solemnly anoints his eldest son's forehead with the blood, giving » Read More

Albert Brooks: A Netflix Retrospective

Known as the neurotic fish in the Finding Nemo movies, or as the soothing knife-wielder in Drive, Albert Brooks has been a talented supporting actor ever since Taxi Driver. His seven directorial efforts-now available as a kind of cloud-based film festival on Netflix, from 1979's Real Life to 2006's Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World-demonstrates Brooks as something else: a uniquely uncompromising and unpredictable director. Often playing a lovelorn whiner with a clenched forehead, Brooks has been eclipsed by the thematically similar Woody Allen. But if Allen's 1979 Manhattan ends with the upbeat thought, "Sometimes, you have to have a little faith in people," Modern Romance (1981) ends with the kind of ordeal the Geneva Convention was » Read More

Review: 'Hunt For The Wilderpeople'

A joke that you can tell anyone-that's rare. So is a movie that can be recommended with pleasure to anyone, of any age. In Hunt for the Wilderpeople by Taika Waititi, lush landscapes of the rainforest of New Zealand counter a sense of humor so toast-dry that it makes the British Ealing comedies of the 1950s seem overripe. Co-star Sam Neill is both touching and funny—Oscar-worthy, if you like-as an old, illiterate tramp-turned-farmer. He's called Hec Faulkner. It's short for Hector, and the Faulkner part fits as well, particularly per William Faulkner's The Reivers. This noble, never-vainglorious actor conveys the irresistible movie appeal of a solitary elder forced into the role of uncle against his will. » Read More

Review: 'Legend of Tarzan'

The trademark symbol is proudly displayed on the title card of the latest high-flying action epic from Warner Bros.-The Legend of Tarzan—. Let's be sure include that mark whenever mentioning the film, lest our hero fall into the public domain ... like he should have 50 years ago. In the mid-1880s, Lord Greystoke (Alexander Skarsgard) is in a snit, sulking about unwanted fame and all the dime-novel pulp fiction about his deeds in the jungle. He's asked by a Yankee diplomat (Samuel L. Jackson, in an unfortunate toupee) and Prime Minister Gladstone (the ever-witty Jim Broadbent) to return to Africa to investigate King Leopold's colony in the Congo. » Read More

Review: 'Eat That Question'

ike most cranks, Frank Zappa was pissed off by a rainbow of things. The passivity of his fellow American citizens upset him just as much as the invention of expensive designer jeans. Thorsten Schutte's documentary, Eat That Question: Frank Zappa in His Own Words, is a collage of Zappa (1940-92) enduring his least-favorite activity-being interviewed. Zappa called interviews "the most abnormal thing you can do to a person." He's prickly, occasionally seething, as yet another journalist butters Zappa up for the camera with comments about how loved and hated he is. Ostensibly trying to charm the musician responsible for some 60 albums, one newsman reads a description from Time magazine calling Zappa "bearded and gross and filthy." » Read More

Review: 'Our Kind of Traitor'

After the Brexit vote-the single stupidest British political decision since the reign of King Lear-a fantasy of English intrepidness is welcome. It arrives in Our Kind of Traitor, Susanna White's adaptation of John Le Carre. We begin with betrayal. "The Prince" (Grigoriy Dobrygin), the new head of the vor, the Russian mafia, is going legit; part of the public effort to get respectable involves signing over his murky accounts into a bank being considered for the London exchanges. The ink isn't dry when the Prince's former associate is ambushed in the snow by machine gunners. Cut, Bond-movie style, from the snows to the sands. In Marrakech, a bored lit professor named Perry Makepeace (Ewan McGregor) is trying to patch things up on a vacation » Read More

Review: 'Diary of a Chambermaid'

Insolence versus injustice is the theme of Octave Mirbeau's novel, Diary of a Chambermaid. As adapted by director and co-writer Benoit Jacquot, it's a bracingly nasty piece of work, contrasting brutishness at the bottom and condescension from the top. Jacquot previously directed star Lea Seydoux in somewhat similar material, Farewell My Queen. She's the movie's real raison d'etre. Seydoux has impressed in films as different as Spectre and Blue is the Warmest Color, but Jacquot was one of the first to understand Seydoux's fascinating sullenness, and to appreciate those gunfighter eyes: when Seydoux glares at someone, you think of Lee Van Cleef in a spaghetti western. And Jacquot has the budget to make this version authentic to the 1890s, » Read More

Review: 'Gurukulam'

If a documentary is worth anything, it will display mixed feelings about its subject. That being the case, I'm not completely sure how totally beguiled the directors of Gurukulam might be by their tour of an ashram in the mountains of Tamil Nadu, in rural southern India. The presiding guru Dayananda Saraswati is elderly, requiring the support of a pair of acolytes when he gets around. Co-producers and directors Neil Dalal and Jillian Elizabeth had fine access; Saraswati pays no attention to the camera, or anything but his reading, as he's having his saffron-colored socks changed by a helper. On a trip to purify a temple, the guru meets with farmers whose fields are being invaded by elephants, beasts they've been trying to pray away. » Read More

Review: 'The Fits'

Anna Rose Holmer's directorial debut, The Fits, feels a lot like Creed-a.k.a. Rocky VII-with all the nonsensical commercial movie parts stripped out. This avant garde, long-take, wide-screen view of a young girl training to be part of a dance team avoids the well-trodden path; it's not "empowering" in the athletic shoe-commercial sense. Toni is an undersized, 11-year-old girl who wants to join the "Lincoln Lionesses," a local dance team. She's played by the remarkable, young and richly named Royalty Hightower, while the Lionesses are portrayed by the Q-Kidz, a step group from Cincinnati's West End. Little and silent, Hightower doesn't weigh 90 pounds, and yet she has tremendous gravity. Almost all synopses of The Fits refer to Toni as a » Read More

Review: 'Finding Dory'

As its opening act, this Finding Nemo sequel features a Pixar short called "Piper." The film is about a baby sandpiper coping with incoming tide. It's so small and perfect that it makes what follows look sprawling. Otherwise, Finding Dory is a better film than its predecessor, with more narrative sophistication. It's an aquatic Memento, as the memory-challenged blue tang Dory (Ellen Degeneres does the addled fish's voice) retrieves forgotten images of her childhood. She seeks her long-lost parents off the coast of Morro Bay with an ever-worried Nemo and Marlon (voiced by Albert Brooks) in pursuit. Brooks' job is to give the movie some salt, and maybe his best line comes with his frustration at the dithering Dory in a tank full of identical » Read More

Review: 'Now You See Me 2'

Jon M. Chu, the son of the restaurateur who runs Chef Chu's in Los Altos, sped to the top of his profession as a director. Following the auditorium-filling Step Up series and a Justin Bieber concert movie, Chu's new film Now You See Me 2 has the moviemaker in cahoots with a couple of other Valley-bred talents. The film's scriptwriter is Saratoga's own Ed Solomon (Levity, Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure); and Now You See Me 2's co-star is Palo Alto's Dave Franco. "I didn't know him back then, but I had mutual friends with his brother," Chu says from Los Angeles by phone. Magic on film may seem a weird sell in an age when you can vanish anything with digital technology; it's as bemusing as the days when a ventriloquist named Edgar Bergen » Read More

Review: 'Sunset Song'

Terence Davies is a clear-eyed nostalgia artist specializing in the retrieval of the mood and the color of the past. Sunset Song, an adaptation of the Lewis Grassic Gibbon novel set a century ago in Scotland's Kincardineshire, seems like the culmination of his work. It functions both as a dreamy eclogue about farm living and as a war memorial. The lean, tall Agyness Deyn stars as Chris, the daughter of a viciously dour father (Peter Mullan, excellent). Though the ardors of childbearing send Chris's mother to her grave at an early age, the place is a kind of paradise. There is dialogue about the struggle with the soil, but the soil doesn't look like it's putting up much of a fight. It's almost always golden harvest time, and the weather » Read More

Review: 'Alice Through the Looking Glass'

Glibsters say a book can never be ruined by a movie-"There it is, still up on the shelf." This rule doesn't apply to James Bobin's Alice Through the Looking Glass. It's so misbegotten that it must-somehow-poison its source. Kids who somehow have a good time at this soulless film are never going to get the same pleasure out of the Lewis Carroll original, expecting it to have the same relentlessness, Bad-television-Christmas-special plotting, and Transformers-like robots. It is a special book. Here is an introduction to linguistics, to talking insects decades before Kafka, and to other bizarre fauna-sometimes, 'very unpleasant characters' as Alice describes The Walrus and The Carpenter. » Read More

Review: 'The Lobster'

As a morbid satire of how individuals are pressured to become couples, Yorgos Lanthimos' fable, The Lobster, has merit. The Greek director, previously of Dogtooth, certainly has made an answer film to My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Anyone who comes from a traditional family, who endured ceaseless nagging to get married and produce some kids, would find this savory... for a while. But to use an old word, The Lobster is crabbed. The dialogue is executed in a toneless existential style, like a David Mamet adaptation-complete with foreign language training tape stilted narration. We can utter some hollow laughter watching the slow crushing of the forlorn main character, David (Colin Farrell). » Read More

Review: 'X-Men: Apocalypse'

When the undertone about the struggle for gay rights is taken out of the X-Men franchise, nothing seems to be left but the fight scenes, the makeup and the costumes. With its emphasis on boarding school life, it seems X-Men: Apocalypse is trying to assume the vacuum left by the end of the Harry Potter movies. The nth-excuse me, ninth-film in the series tells of the world's first mutant, the immortal Apocalypse, known as En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac), a hulking blue entity who's been sleeping the eons away in an art-deco, black-and-gold pyramid buried deep below Cairo. Reborn in 1983, Apocalypse seeks four heralds to help him with his mission to purge the world. They will include the embittered Magneto (Michael Fassbender) who has been hiding » Read More

Review: 'Margarita With A Straw'

Let's hear it for Wolfe Video's new release, Shonali Bose's Margarita with a Straw, finally getting a theatrical run in San Jose. The New Almaden-based indie film distributor has been around since 1985, before the beginning of the indie film wave. But this may be the best movie they've released in 31 years. Margarita with a Straw is a bright, ingratiating film with an unlikely star: Laila (Kalki Koechlin) a college girl with cerebral palsy. Though navigating life in a wheelchair and with severely affected speech, she doesn't let her troubles keep her from looking for romance in all directions. Living in a financially untroubled household near Delhi, Laila is accepted well enough at school, stealing a first kiss and then dropping the boy » Read More

Review: 'Captain America: Civil War'

Playing the noblest American of them all, Chris Evans is easy to underrate. As in previous installments, Captain America: Civil War shows the World War II hero, frozen and revived for our complex times, as a touching and skeptical immortal. Our Captain could also be seen as a symbol of the U.S. government's unilateral actions in foreign affairs. But the Russo brothers' terrific action opus addresses directly what Batman v. Superman hinted at. It's the most expensive, entertaining movie anyone's made about blowback. A squad of The Avengers are in Lagos, Nigeria, preventing the theft of a vial of ebola-like serum. During the ensuing, epic shootout, the powerful telepath Wanda (a hypnotically pretty Elizabeth Olsen) saves Captain America's » Read More

Review: 'High Rise'

What turned a fussy London docto-slim, white-clad, and, as they used to say, uptight-into a filthy barbarian, whom we meet spit-roasting a haunch of dead cat over an open fire? We find out in Ben Wheatley's adaptation of J. G. Ballard's 1975 novel High-Rise-immaculately visualized with Kubrick-like attention to detail and art direction, and accompanied by a thundering score. Wheatley keeps the book's 1970s setting, lampooning England's descent into humiliation during a decade of strikes, shortages and power-outages. On the edge of London is a 45-story residential complex made of brutal concrete. Brand new, it's already showing signs of rot. The new tenant is the reticent Dr. Laing (Tom Hiddleston). He's a brain specialist, much of whose » Read More

Review: 'Keanu'

In Quentin Tarantino's version of That Darn Cat, Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele make a sublime comedy team in their new film, Keanu. The poster doesn't lie: it's centered around a little mewling kitten, a 'gangsta pet' sought by horrible and dangerous men. The two comedians play cousins. Key is Clarence, an anxious suburban family man in a madras shirt. At first glance, he's like Dwayne Johnson's frailer little brother. Upon further examination, he's a beige Chevy Chase. The word protean describes Key; he's facially bland enough that he can pose as hundreds of characters, as he has over the five seasons of the duo's hit Comedy Central show, Key and Peele. » Read More

Preview: 'Olivia de Havilland Festival'

Olivia de Havilland, who will be 100 years old July 1, is being honored at the Stanford Theatre with a 15-film retrospective, celebrating her long acting career. Raised in Saratoga, she showed an unstoppable streak at an early age, moving out of her home even before she graduated from Los Gatos High. Her stepfather-the manager of a since-defunct San Jose department store-had threatened to kick her out if she didn't stop performing. De Havilland was discovered by an agent of the impresario Max Reinhardt while she was playing Shakespeare in a local theater. She was signed to a Warner Brothers contract, and starred as Hermia in the 1935 film of A Midsummer Night's Dream. At 5-foot-3, she embodied the Shakespeare-ism: 'Though she be but » Read More

Review: 'Green Room'

Writer-director Jeremy Saulnier's indie thriller Green Room is about one of those scenes that never changes even as the years go by, like prison, the military or academia. Still, the new film by the director of the expert noir Blue Ruin seems as if it should have been set 1987 or so. There is still enough of a punk music scene in 2016 to permit a trad punk rock band to drive an Econoline van from gig to gig. And likely, there's still a quantum of racist skinheads still fouling what's left of that scene. There are excuses in Green Room's script made for why the musician protagonists don't have an online social media presence. There is also a lot of extraneous business about cell phones that get broken or don't work and don't figure into the » Read More

Review: 'Purple Rain'

A week ago, Purple Rain was just another bad '80s movie. Prince's untimely death at age 57 changed that, bringing downloads and revival bookings at everywhere from the AMC Theaters nationwide to San Francisco's Castro Theater. Time hasn't been kind to this vehicle for its star, which was a monster hit when it was released-earning back it's cost eightfold at the box office in 1984. It's infrequent that a rock movie shows off talent at their best advantage, but it was Prince's own idea to make himself into a James Dean-like rebel, zipping around on an underpowered motorcycle, suffering through his parents' violent fights at home. (They're tearing him apart, just like in Rebel Without a Cause.) » Read More

Review: 'A Hologram for the King'

The slightly off-kilter quality of A Hologram for the King is explained in the credits; it's international filmmaking that doesn't have a definite style or a center. Having avoided the candied nostalgia and thumpingly nationalistic conclusions of Dave Eggers' source bestseller, director Tom Tykwer transforms this story into a slightly abstract study of a middle-aged man's inexorable slide into obsolescence. Stories like these-of American businessmen getting blindsided by new and unsympathetic markets-used to be all the rage. Second-hand bookstores were packed with knockoffs of The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit and Death of a Salesman. These tales, as tired as they may be, are greatly aided by the warmth and trustworthiness of Tom Hanks. » Read More

Review: 'The Jungle Book'

Some critics complained that Rudyard Kipling wouldn't have recognized Disney's 1968 animated Jungle Book, the story of a feral boy's adventures with animals. Jon Favreau's remarkable computer-animated and live-action version has at least a sprig of Kipling's verse in it. Raised by wolves, under the supervision of the black panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley), Mowgli (newcomer Neel Sethi) is taught the wolf's code: 'The strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack.' Like the original, this version waits on the arrival of the bear Baloo (Bill Murray) and his corny but earworm-hatching song about the bare necessities of life. Baloo has a different take on the code: 'That's not a song. That's propaganda.' This » Read More

Review: 'Miles Ahead'

Unleashed from directors reigning them in, actors often go nuts when making their directorial debut. With Miles Ahead, Don Cheadle uses his first turn in the director's chair to craft an indie film full of whiplash flashbacks and playful, expressionistic storytelling. Cheadle's approach might have been called Miles Davis, Private Eye. In the fictional storyline, Cheadle plays Davis playing the part of defective detective. On various powders and in various alleys, Davis seeks a stolen reel of tape containing his first recording in five years. The artist's quarry is a thuggish record exec named Harper Hamilton (Michael Stuhlbarg); accompanying Davis during this quest through the night is the scruffy, self-described Rolling Stone reporter » Read More

Review: 'Windrider Film Forum'

The Windrider Film Forum returns to Atherton this weekend. The seventh annual gathering of filmmakers and fans will include feature length and short films covering a variety of subjects, as well as Q&A panels with directors, actors and others involved in the process of producing movies. The ultimate aim of the forum is to address troubles in the world and encourage meaningful dialog. Here are some of the gathering's highlights. Frogman, a short documentary by Stanford's Tyler Trumbo, tells the family history of a Navy SEAL turned spy. This unnamed sailor was stationed behind the lines after the Iranian Hostage Crisis ended. Irradiated in an accident, wracked with PTSD and dead at 47, the serviceman remains a mystery to his family. His son, » Read More

Review: 'Demolition'

Thought you'd escape the wanton devastation in Batman v. Superman by going to the allegedly mature drama Demolition? The joke's on you. Jean-Marc Vallee's follow-up to his excellent Wild and his middling Dallas Buyer's Club concerns a man who seeks catharsis through smashing things. Like Bruce Wayne, Davis (Jake Gyllenhaal) is an affluent, muscular executive, driving around in an expensive car, traumatized by the death of a loved one. The real Batman never had to describe the worst day of his life as Davis does at the dinner table, when he displays a stiff upper lip over the death of his wife Julia (Heather Lind): 'Massive head trauma in a car accident. Can you pass the salt?'
Davis has been cracking up ever since his wife was killed, and » Read More

Review: 'City of Gold'

Clearly a person needs to eat before they see City of Gold, the lovingly-made documentary about LA Weekly and LA Times food critic Jonathan Gold—the scenes of the simmering black Oaxacan sauces, flaming Thai curries and gourmet taco trucks are food porn of the rarest order. But even indifferent foodies can enjoy this profile of an erudite yet funky writer. With large brow, larger girth and a Ben Franklin haircut, Gold could be a model for Dutch master Frans Hals, or anyone's picture of Falstaff. But during ride-alongs in the Dodge truck of this eminent critic, we get more than just profiles of restaurants high and low, and supporting commentary by the likes of Calvin Trillin. » Read More

Review: 'Batman vs Superman'

It's 18 months since a Kryptonean war party all but demolished Metropolis and killed thousands-"Man is introduced to the Superman" says a Nietzschean title in Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Our blue-clad hero (Henry Cavill) is beleaguered by a senate investigation led by a firm yet sympathetic southern senator (Holly Hunter). Behind the scenes, the wealthy Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) is pestering the government to get his hands on a Kryptonian weapon that will protect the Earth from further attack. He has no faith in Superman's goodness: "We don't have to depend on the kindness of monsters," Luthor says. When Batman (Ben Affleck) interferes with Luthor's schemes, the plutocrat uses kidnapping and extortion to send Superman after » Read More

Review: 'Take Me to the River'

Rural Nebraska is the setting of Matt Sobel's semi-autobiographical, mostly imagined feature film debut Take Me to the River. That's 1,500 miles from the Willow Glen suburb he grew up in. It's notable that a drive from Milan to Madrid is shorter by 500 miles. In Sobel's film, that kind of geographical distance informs the cultural differences between his hometown in California and the Nebraskan farmland where his annual family reunions used to take place. Take Me to the River, which premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, captures an adolescent's sense of estrangement as he attempts to navigate two very different worlds: one that is safe and familiar, and another that is disorienting. » Read More

Reeling in the Years

Considering 30 years of cinema history in the Valley, it's clear now that we acted more than we were acted upon. Though there aren't as many films set here as there are in New York or San Francisco, Silicon Valley changed the face of the movies in every field—from digital imagery to online distribution. One of my first cover stories for Metro back in 1986 involved the rise of the VHS tape, and its potential threat to the movie theaters. Now VHS is dead, and the problems of waning ticket sales and monotonous blockbusters are still affecting the industry. Cinema as cinema is just one small part of the bandwidth, pressed by more interactive mediums, by serial dramas, and, eventually by VR technology being developed by Oculus, Jaunt and » Read More

Review: 'Eye in the Sky'

South African director Gavin Hood's military thriller Eye in the Sky is frequently exciting, sporadically dull and ultimately invaluable. The big names, Helen Mirren and the late Alan Rickman, deliver their goods-unselfconscious power on her side, and bilious melancholy on his. It's a wider film than the similarly themed Good Kill. Hood shows us the war on terror as a literal world war, being strategized everywhere from the dust to the heavens. Yet Eye in the Sky truly belongs to Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips). Abdi is the anti-terrorist coalition's point man, Jama, who keeps surveillance on a heavily guarded compound on the outskirts of Nairobi. » Read More

Review: 'Doris'

Mortality shades director Michael Showalter's comedy Hello, My Name is Doris. The slight but endearing plot has an armature-a significant mention of The Glass Menagerie sets the stage. Like poor Laura, Doris (Sally Fields) has been walled-up tending her aged mother, and is gradually turning a trash-picker and a cat-pamperer. Her brother is even named Tom (Stephen Root), as per the Tennessee Williams' play. Doris still works a 9-5, rocking her batty personal style at a chic clothing manufacturer in Manhattan; she's bedecked with bows and found objects, and a double pair of glasses. Doris has these excellent vintage mother of pearl-encrusted cat's spectacles that she can't give up, even if she can't read with them on. Still, her eyesight is » Read More

Review: 'Creative Control'

Once people lived lives of quiet desperation, as per the Thoreau quote. Now they're noisy and desperate-trapped in a gabble of voices, advertising and text messages, working 90 hours a week and masturbating to electronic phantoms for the other 10 hours. Director, star and co-writer (with Micah Bloomberg) Benjamin Dickinson's Creative Control, a hilarious black and white, widescreen comic fable of a marketer's crack up, hits its mark every time. » Read More

Review: 'Trapped'

In June, the Supreme Court may consider the legality of Texas HB2, the model of restrictive abortion laws being implemented all over the South and elsewhere. One is reminded of the anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon's famous quote-because if ever there was a case of laws being chains for the poor and cobwebs for the rich, here it is. The well-off can pick a facility in a large city. The less affluent have to bus in from hundreds of miles away and stay for a couple of days, while enduring politically mandated waiting periods engineered to make securing a safe and legal abortion all but impossible. » Read More

Review: 'Zootopia'

Prejudice is the theme of Disney's marvelous animated comedy, Zootopia. The higher the concept, the more writers end up credited, but this much rewritten Zootopia doesn't play that way. The sting and spice is visible in a clue in the title-it's indeed a utopian fantasy of the lion laying down with the lamb, at least for political reasons. Far out in the sticks, the appealing bunny, Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin), wants to grow up to be a police officer, instead of a carrot farmer like her hundreds of brothers and sisters. After a bruising stint in the police academy, she joins Zootopia's police force. But thanks to the scorn of Chief Bogo (a Cape Buffalo voiced by Idris Elba), Judy is busted down to meter maid duty-relegated to roaming the » Read More

Review: 'The Daughter'

Cinequest closes with The Daughter, director and writer Simon Stone's variation on the themes in Ibsen's The Wild Duck. The title is deceptive. Even if Stone includes Ibsen's wounded duck, the movie is not about ducks, it's about chickens-the kind that come home to roost. To his credit, Simon isn't merely reiterating the plot of the play. In a New South Wales company town, in the blue-misted mountains, a century-old family lumber mill is closing. The patriarch of the place is Henry (Geoffrey Rush), about to marry his much younger fiancee, who used to be his housekeeper. Henry's dissolute and angry son, Christian (Paul Schneider), has just returned from many years in America: he's been two months on the wagon and is hoping to change his » Read More

Review: 'Embrace the Serpent'

The Oscar-nominated Embrace of the Serpent is the biggest European guilt-whip since Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man, during which Johnny Depp got called "Stupid white man" half a dozen times. The Colombian film contrasts two incidents in the life of the Amazonian shaman Karamakate, the last of his nation. He encounters two explorers, some 40 years apart, in the first half of the 20th century. Karamakate (played in youth by Nilbio Torres) is a noble, scornful warrior-physically splendid, with a look of James Woods-worthy disdain on his face. Braced against his seven-foot blowgun, he wears his thong like Superman's trunks. » Read More