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Review: 'Roma'

Worlds collide in Alfonso Cuaron's masterful new drama Read More

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Review: 'Roma'

Cuaron's screen is jam-packed and yet everything within its borders matters. The narrow driveway Cleo swabs is the site for a keen running joke about the too-big status symbol gringo car, with only millimeters of clearance on either side. We glimpse a mystic muscleman on TV, dressed something like Kaliman, El Hombre Increible; the yogi returns in a less benign setting, training a paramilitary gang. Needing a change of scenery, the family heads off to a hacienda in the hills, for scenes that can be compared for merry decadence to Renoir's Rules of the Game. In this fantastic tableau, the partiers go too far with their guns, torches and booze and end up setting the woods on fire. » Read More

Review: 'Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse'

How it succeeds is as something for everyone. For the old fans, that something will be Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson). He's the same kind of teenage mess Peter Parker always is, no matter who wears the mask, only now he's hitting 40, with a crap apartment, a pizza-nourished belly and sweatpants. Yet of all the spectacle here, one of the most gallant moments was Peter B. doing some quick back-cracking and leg stretches before getting out there into the field. In the movie's most lyrical passage, he teaches young Milo how to swing by webs through a brilliantly orange fall forest, all while the pair are pursued by one of the series' most nightmarish villains. » Read More

Review: 'The Favourite'

Caked with mud, Emma Stone's Abigail arrives at Queen Anne's palace. Abigail notices that she's not just filthy, but she smells. A servant says, "They shit in the streets around here. Political commentary, they call it." For similar reasons, what Yorgos Lanthimos does in The Favourite could be called historical fictionalizing. One understands the desire of Lanthimos (Dogtooth, The Lobster) to toss some mud at a wide-eyed cinema sweetheart like Emma Stone; it's like Bunuel slapping mire on Deneuve in Belle du Jour. And the era invites mockery; the first decade of the 1700s were something like peak foppery, with mile-high wigs and white makeup to conceal syphilis sores. » Read More

Review: 'Green Book'

Viggo Mortensen is Tony "Lip" Vallelonga, a hustler of 1962 with the customary racist tendencies of an Italian neighborhood wiseguy. He (record needle-scratch) ends up as a driver, valet and personal assistant for a hoity-toity African American pianist, Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) headed to tour the deep south. It's true, or truish; Shirley was a multi-talented artist, friends with Duke Ellington, a performer at the White House and the Boston Pops alike. Green Book is named after a periodical that used to let black travelers know where it was safe for them to eat and stay: a bit of history that deserves acknowledgement. » Read More

Review: 'The Earth Dies Streaming'

The closure of the streaming service FilmStruck on Thursday is evidence of the broken promise in streaming, as movies, some available nowhere else, vanish from the internet. AT&T-Warner Brothers have the excuse that unpopularity led to their decision to kill FilmStruck, which offered both the fluffiest of classic Hollywood and the weightiest of foreign cinema. It's a brazenly cynical move, thundered against by big-name movie directors and dogged film critics alike. And it suggests that content providers care less about programming good films than letting algorithms do the work. Parodying the suggestions the bots make, a friend says, "If you liked A Bug's Life, you may like The Human Centipede." » Read More

Review: 'Beautiful Boy'

Shot in West Marin and based on a pair of father and son memoirs, Beautiful Boy concerns the tragedy of addiction from two angles. Young Nic Sheff (Timothee Chalamet of Call Me By Your Name) is readying for college when he tailspins into hard partying. His concerned father David (Steve Carell) gets Nic into rehab fast, but itÕs already too late; the first 40 minutes is a loop commencing with David asking a doctor for info on crystal meth and what it does to the brain. By that point, Nic has graduated to needles. The youth tries the good old geographical cure, going down to L.A. to live with his mother (Amy Ryan). No luck. He returns, vanishes into the Haight and later, the Tenderloin. » Read More

Review: 'Ralph Breaks the Internet'

In this follow up 2012's Wreck-it Ralph, the 8-bit ape-like video game crusher Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) is now BFFs with Vanellope (Sarah Silverman), but she's restless, bored with driving around the same sugar-coated racetrack in a candy car. Ralph's attempt to bring novelty into her game accidentally breaks the machine. As a result, the machine will be carted off from the arcade to the scrapyard on Friday, to give what's to come a ticking clock. As denizens of an out-of-order machine, Vanellope and her other girl drivers are homeless, or rather "gameless." But the management has just added a Wifi portal to the internet. Naturally, the pair sneaks inside. » Read More

Review: 'The Ballad of Buster Scruggs'

The Coen brothers' new anthology film, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, portrays the frontier as a place of death so sudden and terrible that the word "ironic" is too fancy for it. Here are demises as swift as a dropped anvil in a Road Runner cartoon. As filmmakers, the Coens often create equal and opposite reaction to film classics, spinning off of ideas they're trying to top, honor or besmirch. (This tribute to Westerns starts with a common prestige-movie beginning of the old days: a hand opening a leather bound volume and turning the pages.) But the half-dozen tales found therein are closer to Ambrose Bierce than Louis L'Amour. One of the briefest, "Near Algodones" with James Franco as an unlucky bandit, seems to be a riff on "An » Read More

Review: 'Prospect'

It's a rough ride to the frontier planet, a wetland of ferns and shining flies and deadly aerial spores. (The Seattle-based filmmakers shot this in the Hoh rainforest on the Olympic peninsula.) Blown off course, the craft is shipwrecked a long foot journey away from the target. They were headed to a hidden motherload of valuable gems, growing in the living membranes of a polyp-like creature called an Aurelac. The stones are tricky to pick out from the meat, since they're protected with an acid strong enough to melt flesh. » Read More

Review: 'The Other Side of the Wind'

Likely the most famous unfinished film ever, The Other Side of the Wind is now available in what its studio Netflix deems "An attempt to honor and complete his vision." The 'he' in that sentence is Orson Welles. Welles, the creator of Citizen Kane (1941), left Hollywood some years after RKO Picture's vandalism of The Magnificent Ambersons (1942). He continued with brilliant work throughout Europe, including innovative, low-budget Shakespeare adaptations. Back in the States, he devised the crown of film noir, Touch of Evil (1958). And yet, as biographer Joseph McBride notes, at the time of Welles' American Film Institute award, director Henry Hathaway complained, "What are we honoring him for? He only made one movie." » Read More

Review: 'The Girl in the Spider's Web'

It's the same rejected 007 script plotting, with tunnel-sized holes in the logic; the same stretched coincidences (one involves a wanderer in the woods emerging at precisely the right moment on an empty country road). Still, The Girl in the Spider's Web, the new Lisbeth Salander adventure, tops the three-part, one-English-remake series. It has the sharpest, deepest actress in the title role, Claire Foy of First Man. It also has a particularly avid director, Fede Alvarez (of Don't Breathe, that ingenious reversal of Wait Until Dark). » Read More

Review: 'The Romanoffs'

The series' debut episode, "The Violet Hour," features a remarkably hellacious old lapdog-fondling Parisienne, Anushka (Marthe Keller). She's a Romanoff, a Russian exile who'd been living in her flat since ever since there were rapacious Nazis commanding it during the Occupation. Anushka dangles her very nice piece of Right Bank real estate over her heir--her American nephew Greg (Aaron Eckhart, at his most lynx-eyed). She has him on speed dial every time she feels faint. As as a buffer, Greg hires Hajar (Ines Malab), a hijab-wearing French citizen, to nurse the old dragon. This gives Anushka a chance to spill out a torrent of venom about the Muslims. And yet, to teach Greg a lesson on the importance of returning phone calls, Anushka plans » Read More

Gene Kelly Festival

It all ends Nov. 18 with Jacques Demy's Young Girls of Rochefort, a French new wave reflection of 1950s MGM musical years, co-starring the sisters Catherine Deneuve and Francoise Dorleac. It's been revived frequently lately, probably because La La Land sourced it so hard. Also on the bill is the movie that inspired this French tribute, An American in Paris, with Kelly wrapping himself up in the panoply of post-impressionist painting and a handsome Gershwin score. Like the nation he represented, this performer smoothed off rough edges with a touch of ballet and imported swank. » Read More

Review: 'Halloween'

John Carpenter's Halloween (1978) flaunted the same old Knifey McKniferson that all later sequels and ripoffs came to use. But it was better looking than it needed to be, and keyed up with an unsettling synth score. It's blase star, Jamie Lee Curtis, had a haunting air of trauma, getting viewers into the proper frame of mind even before the bodies started falling. This 2018 version ignores the many sequels, suggesting that killer Michael Myers has been in a dormant state since he was arrested at the end of the first Halloween. We see him in a mental hospital courtyard, where maniacs are chained to cement chunks the size of car engine blocks. The beast is awakened by a pair of dunderheaded British podcasters calling themselves investigative » Read More

Review: 'Can You Ever Forgive Me?'

God bless all the actors who aren't there because of their looks. The literally catty tragicomedy Can You Ever Forgive Me? commences nicely with Melissa McCarthy playing Lee Israel, surly, shabby and frumpy at a publisher's office--meeting a deadline at 3 a.m. with the help of a big glass of something on the rocks. She's fired for drinking on the job, even at that hour. As she leaves, a younger employee mutters "If I ever get like that, kill me." Lee snaps back: "If you ask me nicely, I'll kill you now." This true life tale of a drinker with a writing problem is set in 1991. Print hasn't keeled over and died yet, but Lee, who'd previously published a number of celebrity bios, is having trouble landing an advance. » Read More

United Nations Association Film Festival

Unpreviewed is the opening-night film, Poisoning Paradise by Keely Shaye Brosnan, on the subject of the dosing of Kauai with pesticides. The executive producer and director's husband is an actor and organic gardener named Pierce. He's saved the world a few times himself, and he may or may not also be on hand for the festivities. Opening for Poisoning Paradise is Irina Patkanian's short, Little Fiel. The documentary recalls a UN motto taken from Isaiah 2: 3-4, and illustrated by Yevgeny Vuchetich's statue of a man beating a sword into a plowshare. (Note that Vuchetich, having made this famous statue viewed by all who visit the UN headquarters in NYC, also created a monument to the battle of Stalingrad, with Mother Russia wielding the » Read More

Review: 'Mandy'

In the new action-horror flick Mandy, we face the question of how much you can gussy up the kind of movie most people have been watching since they were 10 years old. In 1983, the wary lumberjack Red Miller (Nicolas Cage) returns to the safety of the cabin he shares with his zonked, facially scarred wife, Mandy (Andrea Riseborough, who as in Battle of the Sexes, looks more like a hippie than most of the actual hippies of the hippie years). Here comes a Mansonoid cult run by Brother Jeremiah (Linus Roache) who, like Charlie Manson, severely overestimates his skills as a musician, and has to kill people to make them pay attention to his LP. » Read More

Review: 'First Man'

It's tremendously exciting filmmaking. Here Chazelle is more of a disciple of Steven Soderbergh than Ron Howard. Rather than taking in the vastness of space, Chazelle's focus narrows to the view through a space capsule window. He makes it all frightening: the glow of hot metal, the rows of toggle switches, the seams of the capsule that look thin enough to split. Chazelle re-creates the excitement of breaching the atmosphere after a bone-shaking ride and finally emerging into stillness. It's all caught with little gestures: the snatching of a floating pencil in zero gravity, or the slap of a bare hand against the window, as a terrific spin almost whirls the Gemini capsule into oblivion. » Read More

SJ International Short Film Fest

Every filmmaker has to start somewhere, and the 10th annual San Jose International Short Film Festival gives us a chance to spot and celebrate rising talents. Among the 150 films on view: Andrew Chesworth and Bobby Pontilla's animated "One Small Step" would make a good opener for First Man. Without dialogue, this charmingly animated fantasy tells of the coming of age of Luna Chu, a young San Franciscan who dreams of travel to the moon. Typical sexism that there hasn't been a woman on the lunar surface yet (Wally Funk, a female astronaut, lost her chance when the cost of the Vietnam War curtailed the Apollo program). This is a dream one would love to see come true. » Read More

Review: 'A Star is Born'

How over the moon you are about A Star is Born depends on how gaga you are about Lady Gaga. The likely winner of the next Best Actress Oscar isn't at all bad. She acquits herself. We can believe Gaga as a nobody: "My nose is too big," Gaga's character Ally says, parroting the music executives who stalemated her career. Despite her interesting, complicated mouth and the large hazel eyes, it's easy enough to suspect she's been dismissed as sings-10, looks-3. And star, singer, co-writer and novice director Bradley Cooper takes a low-key attack on this thrice-filmed melodrama's material. As the self-destructive roots rocker Jackson Maine, Cooper is generous with his own closeups. He gets decadent fast, crunching pills with his bootheel and » Read More

Review: 'Hell Fest'

Co-produced by Palo Alto's own Gale Anne Hurd, Hell Fest is haunted by an Embodiment of Motiveless Evil called "The Other." We never see his face, but he's a knife-wielder in a hoodie, wearing a mask resembling the face of an Etruscan statue mottled with bronze disease. He hunts a pair of girls who are supposedly BFFs, though they rarely connect like they've spent any time together. Natalie (Amy Forsyth) and Brooke (Reign Edwards) remeet after a long time. Brooke's roommate, the purple-haired punkette Taylor (the Ellen Page-like Bex Taylor-Klaus of TV's Arrow) invites the two to an amusement park scarefest with VIP passes. There are boyfriends. Why bother describing them? We know they're just there to be more shredded meat for the » Read More

A Feast of Film Festivals

After this fest comes the ninth annual Silicon Valley African Film Festival. Held Oct. 5-7, this three-day, 74-film event is at the Hoover Theater in San Jose. It opens with Pile ou Face (Heads or Tails) by Morocco's Hamid Zaine. Events include receptions and a visit by Susan L. Taylor, former editor of Essence magazine. Offerings include Iya Tunde, about Germaine Acogny, a French-Senegalese professor of dance crossing into her 70th year. Patrick Kabeya's Congo: A Political Tragedy, chronicles that infamously misruled nation. Marie-Madeleine: A Female Chief observes the rare enthroning of a woman as the chief of a Cameroonian village. Nigerian documentarian Toyin Ibrahim Adekeye's Bigger Than Africa investigates an interesting » Read More

Review: 'The Venture Bros.'

Two pillars of competence here: the hulking mulleted OSI bodyguard, Brock Samson (voiced in a John Wayne drawl by Patrick Warburton), and the attractive yet gravel-voiced Dr. Mrs.The Monarch, simultaneously a rising Guild power and loyal wife to that butterfly of peril. The Monarch, with his itty-bitty crown and fail-prone schemes, is having tough times. He has a low Guild rating and an empty bank account. This season, the Monarch plumbs new depths of ineptitude, a level matched only by his constant foe, Dr. Rusty Venture. » Read More

Review: 'Fahrenheit 11/9'

Moore got cred as an oracle by correctly guessing that his fellow citizens from Michigan were going to vote for Trump, and Hillary Clinton avoided campaigning in Wisconsin and Michigan because of her weaknesses as a candidate. So the implication is that weak Democratic response in Flint leads directly to Hillary losing Michigan and thus the Electoral College. That, of course, and the way the Democratic establishment shoved aside the radical possibilities offered by Bernie Sanders. The last part, then, is the same gloomy argument you hear from Bernie-bros on Facebook. These last two years have been as politically frightening as any in our history, but the paranoia here is sometimes out of control. An example is when Moore dubs Trump » Read More

Review: 'Bad Reputation'

Oddly, it seems Joan Jett has quite a good reputation. The inspiring Bad Reputation, named after her early 1980s hit, is a paean to the veteran rocker. She gets praise from Iggy Pop and Blondie's Deborah Harry; we learn of her good influence on artists as different as Miley Cyrus, Darby Crash, Laura Jane Grace and actor Michael J. Fox. We note her days as a hard-charging musician, as a stand-up person who travelled to Iraq and Bosnia to entertain the troops, and her work for animal rights. Jett's excessive drinking in the rough times after her first band, The Runaways, broke up are about the only character deficits admitted to here. » Read More

Review: 'Better Caul Saul'

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

Review: 'The Predator'

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

Review: 'Juliet, Naked'

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

Review: 'Searching'

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

Review: 'The Wife'

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

Looking Back at 'The Dark Knight'

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

Review: 'Crazy Rich Asians'

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

Review: 'The Meg'

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

Review: 'Puzzle'

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

Review: 'Rock Rubber 45s'

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

Review: 'BlackkKlansman'

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

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

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

Review: 'The Spy Who Dumped Me'

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

Blondes & Bond

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

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

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

Review: 'Mission: Impossible--Fallout'

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

Review: 'Blindspotting'

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

Review: 'Eighth Grade'

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

Review: 'The King'

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

Review: 'Damsel'

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

Review: 'Sorry to Bother You'

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

Review: 'Leave No Trace'

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

Review: 'Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom'

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

Review: 'Ant-Man and the Wasp'

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

Review: 'A Kid Like Jake'

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

Review: 'Incredibles 2'

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

Review: 'Won't You Be My Neighbor'

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

Review: 'The Valley'

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