Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The 25 Best Films Released on DVD in 2015

Click on title to see the film’s trailer

1. Boyhood Directed by Richard Linklater. Starring Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, Ellar Coltrane, Lorelei Linklater. The greatest movies, the ones that stick with us, are those that hold up a mirror to the human condition and reflect something back at us that we too often manage to overlook. Boyhood is one of those movies, and with it Linklater proves he is among the best practitioners of that art. A home movie of a fictional home life, an epic assembled from vignettes, Boyhood shimmers with unforced reality. It shows how an ordinary life can be reflected in an extraordinary movie.

2. Inside Out Directed by Pete Docter, Ronaldo Del Carmen. Starring Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, Phyllis Smith. I never saw a movie this year with a more brilliant combination of imagination, emotionally moving moments, witty writing, visually interesting details and psychologically accurate behavior than this one. It’s as audacious as it is silly, as funny as it is imaginative.

3. Mr. Turner Directed by Mike Leigh. Starring Timothy Spall. Through it all, Spall is equally enigmatic and transfixing: With his guttural croaks and barks, his J.M.W. Turner is often difficult to understand, but, thanks to Spall’s amazing physical performance and Leigh’s sensitive, information-laden direction, he’s never incomprehensible.

4. Leviathan Directed by Andrei Zvyagintsev. Magnificently acted, expertly crafted and unerringly sure of every treacherous step it takes, Leviathan is an indictment, but also an elegy, a film set among the monumental ruins of a culture, whether they’re the skeletal remains of boats, a whale’s bleached bones, a demolished building or a trail of lives that are either ruined or hopelessly resigned. It may be the one true masterpiece of global cinema to be released this year on DVD.

5. Timbuktu Directed by Abderrahmane Sissako. A transcendent political poem as intellectually rigorous as it is beautiful. Sissako’s point, while never heavy-handed, is hard to miss: Traditional Muslims are among the world’s biggest victims of Islamic militarism. A thoroughly remarkable and disquieting film, it is also a work of almost breathtaking visual beauty, but it manages to ravish the heart while dazzling the eye simultaneously, neither at the expense of the other. It’s a work of art that seems realized in an entirely organic way.

6. Mad Max: Fury Road Directed by George Miller. Starring Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron. Will leave you speechless, which couldn't be more appropriate. Words are not really the point when it comes to dealing with this barn-burner of a post-apocalyptic extravaganza in which sizzling, unsettling images are the order of the day. Even in the most chaotic fights and collisions, everything makes sense. This is not a matter of realism — come on, now — but of imaginative discipline. And Miller demonstrates that great action filmmaking is not only a matter of physics but of ethics as well. There is cause and effect; there are choices and consequences. It’s all perfectly, wonderfully, fantastically crazy. Amidst all those ingenious, power-packed road warrior sequences, Fury Road contains a surprising amount of depth and character development.

7. Selma Directed by Ava DuVernay. Starring David Oyelowo, Tom Wilkinson. A gripping, inspiring and sometimes terrifying historical drama, loaded with specific detail, that brings a turning point of the civil rights movement back from black-and-white obscurity to present-tense urgency. Even if you think you know what’s coming, Selma hums with suspense and surprise. Packed with incident and overflowing with fascinating characters, it is a triumph of efficient, emphatic cinematic storytelling. And much more than that, of course. Oyelowo takes full advantage of his close physical resemblance to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but he wisely avoids mere impersonation, delivering a performance that’s as sensitive as it is spellbinding.

8. Two Days, One Night Directed by Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne. Starring Marion Cotillard. This is a small, compassionate gem of a movie, one that’s rooted in details of people and place but that keeps opening up onto the universal. Her shoulders slumped, her eyes weary, her gait heavy, Cotillard moves past naturalism into something impossible to doubt and hard to describe. Her character is an ordinary person in mundane circumstances, but her story, plainly and deliberately told, is suspenseful, sobering and, in the original, fear-of-God sense of the word, tremendous.

9. Whiplash Directed by Damien Chazelle. Starring Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons. This is a muscular and accomplished work of kinetic cinema built around two tremendous acting performances, and it’s really about teaching and obsession and the complicated question of how to nurture excellence and where the nebulous boundary lies between mentorship and abuse. Chazelle proves an exceptional builder of scenes, crafting loaded, need-to-succeed moments that grab your attention and hold it tight.

10. Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) Directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. Starring Michael Keaton. The director has wisely assembled an ensemble of performers who know how to handle a long take; this will certainly rank among Keaton's career highlights — in a role that allows him to completely dump out his paintbox and show a vast range of emotion — but everyone shines.

11. Citizenfour Directed by Laura Poitras. Both an urgent tale torn from recent headlines and a compelling work of cinema, with all the paranoid density and abrupt changes of scenery of a John le Carré novel.

12. Life Itself Directed by Steve James. Gives measured and pragmatic reflection to many of the things that are most interesting about film critic Roger Ebert's personal and professional life. James has done a wonderful job of telling a colorful life story.

13. Force Majeure Directed by Ruben Ostlund. A movie about something not often explored in film: the consequences of male weakness in a world in which men are expected to be strong at all times. It's the rare kind of film-watching experience that will haunt you long after you turn off the TV and could lead to some very awkward conversations with your spouse. A brutally smart and original film.

14. The Babadook Directed by Jennifer Kent. Starring Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman. Believe it or not, the real horror of this superb Aussie monster movie has almost nothing to do with the title fiend and everything to do with the unspoken, unspeakable impulses he represents. Remove the Babadook from The Babadook, in other words, and something plenty terrifying remains.

15. Amy Directed by Asif Kapadia. Amy Winehouse’s story is a tragic one — as with Kurt Cobain, who also died at 27, her potential as a singer and songwriter was only just beginning to be realized. Yet the prevailing mood of this documentary is joy. Kapadia captures what was irreplaceable about this unique performer, and in the process gives her the opportunity to do what she was made to do, the only thing she ever really wanted: to sing.

16. Tangerine Directed by Sean Baker. Starring Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, James Ransone, Mya Taylor. Writer-director Baker’s sun-scorched, street-level snapshot is a work of rueful, matter-of-fact insight and unapologetically wild humor that draws a motley collection of funny, sad and desperate individuals into its protagonists’ orbit. It’s touching for its non-condescending stance toward working girls and the spirit of the sidewalk.

17. Love Is Strange Directed by Ira Sachs. Starring John Lithgow, Alfred Molina. Calling this a great gay love story is both precise and inaccurate; I didn’t see a more finely performed and beautifully crafted love story, with or without any mere modifiers, on DVD this year. In addition to the performances — truly, everyone is good — what stands out is Sachs' direction. It's measured, patient. The scenes play out as one imagines the characters' lives would.

18. It Follows Directed by David Robert Mitchell. Starring Maika Monroe. A smart, relentlessly chilling thriller that opts for originality over cheaply rejiggered jolts. Pretty much earns its buzz as the scariest and best-engineered American horror movie of recent years, and that’s all down to Mitchell’s sophisticated understanding of technique and the trust and freedom he accords his youthful cast.

19. ‘71 Directed by Yann Demange. Starring Jack O’Connell. This is more than just a performance showcase, delivering a gripping, at times almost unbearably tense, incredibly involving anti-war statement, made the stronger for being set against the less cinematically familiar backdrop of Belfast in the year 1971. Nothing is extraneous, no moment that doesn't enhance the tension of this nightmare scenario is allowed to survive, until the proceedings become, in the best possible sense, almost unbearable to watch.

20. Red Army Directed by Gabe Polsky. In this swift, smart, often very funny film, Polsky takes an unprecedented look at the legendary Soviet-era hockey program and its life after glasnost, exposing an athletic system that became a crucial symbol of Communist history and politics, but also discipline, grace and brooding, melancholy soul. Good sports movies are always about more than sports and this one touches on themes of friendship and perseverance. It also offers a compact and vivid summary of recent Russian history.

21. The End of the Tour Directed by James Ponsoldt. Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Jason Segel. Like Almost Famous, Ponsoldt’s film gets at something deep and true about the journalist/subject dynamic and the phony intimacy and tiny betrayals implicit in it. It’s a profoundly moving story about a towering talent who seemed to feel too much and judge himself too harshly to stick around for long. What a shame. There was a cry from fans of novelist David Foster Wallace fans when Segel was cast (some are still up in arms), but he’s terrific. So is Eisenberg, in an even more difficult role, as Rolling Stone reporter and novelist David Lipsky.

22. Foxcatcher Directed by Bennett Miller. Starring Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, Steve Carell. Another strange and compelling anthropological drama from Miller, a director with evident expertise at enabling Oscar-worthy star performances. Though anchored by an affecting and sullen turn by Tatum, the movie derives its primary discomfiting power from Carell in a revelatory performance as a monster of American wealth.

23. Inherent Vice Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. This isn't the towering masterpiece that those who admired There Will Be Blood and The Master were probably hoping for, and thank God for that. It's loose and free, like a sketchbook, though there's also something somber and wistful about it — it feels like less of a psychedelic scramble than the novel it's based on. It serves as a portrait of 1970 California that mixes absurdity with an air of looming cataclysm, a volatile formula that wouldn’t work without central performance from Joaquin Phoenix.

24. Shaun the Sheep Movie Directed by Mike Burton, Richard Starzak. In a bold move that pays off, the movie jettisons dialogue altogether and tells its whole story through barn-animal noises, goofy sound effects, and sight gags so silly they’d make Benny Hill spin in sped-up ecstasy. The effect is contagiously cute. A world-class winner.

25. Love & Mercy Directed by Bill Pohlad. In telling the story of one damaged suburban genius and his unlikely rebirth, Love & Mercy captures the vanished possibilities of 1960s pop music, the fecklessness of the California dream and its decay into tragedy and madness, and other things less easy to describe or define. It doesn’t claim to solve the mystery of Brian Wilson, but it succeeds beyond all expectation in making you hear where he was coming from.

Monday, December 28, 2015

This Week's DVD Releases

Click on title to see the film’s trailer

Bone Tomahawk *** Directed by S. Craig Zahler. Starring Kurt Russell. Russell’s performance is certainly one reason to see this unexpected low-budget treat, a witty fusion of western, horror and comedy that gallops to its own beat. That rhythm is dictated entirely by writer/director Zahler, a novelist and musician who flips genre conventions upside-down and cares more about character than body count.

The Intern ** Directed by Nancy Meyers. Starring Robert DeNiro, Anne Hathaway. Meyers seems content to make a nice movie about nice people doing their best to be nice to each other despite one or two not-nice things that happen along the way. That’s all very nice, but not particularly the stuff of potent or rousing entertainment.

A Walk in the Woods ** Directed by Ken Kwapis. Starring Robert Redford, Emma Thompson, Nick Nolte. It has its charming, lively moments, but also many that just feel tired and listless, as if the filmmakers were working off a checklist of all the things two well-past-middle-age travelers would say and do while trekking through the wilderness.

HeistDirected by Scott Mann. Starring Robert DeNiro, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Gina Carano, Morris Chestnut. Would the movie be as (barely) entertaining as it is without De Niro? He only has about 15 minutes’ worth of scenes in the film, but whenever he’s on-screen the film almost feels legitimate.

The Perfect GuyDirected by David M. Rosenthal. Starring Sanaa Lathan, Michael Ealy, Morris Chestnut. There’s certainly an audience for these thrillers, but imagine how big that audience might be for one that really works.

Jenny’s Wedding * Directed by Mary Agnes Donaghue. Starring Katherine Heigl. A movie so hopelessly late to the coming-out party that you want to haul everyone connected with it into the 21st century.

Hitman: Agent 47 * Directed by Aleksander Bach. Writers Skip Woods and Michael Finch have a few tricks up their sleeves as betrayals emerge and allegiances shift. But it’s not enough to make us care or to keep the third act from being a head-scratching mess.

Some Kind of Hate * Directed by Adam Egypt Mortimer. Like so much teen-targeting modern horror, it opts for dull angsty brooding over the very sort of grim-and-gruesome sleaziness that might have made its premise interesting.

Monday, December 21, 2015

This week's DVD releases

Click on title to see the film’s trailer

Queen of Earth ***½ Directed by Alex Ross Perry. Two women (Elizabeth Moss, Katherine Waterston) who grew up together discover they have drifted apart when they retreat to a lake house together. A lovingly rendered, feel-bad chamber piece chock-full of elliptical psychodrama.

Black Mass *** Directed by Scott Cooper. The true story of Whitey Bulger (Johnny Depp), the brother of a state senator and the most infamous violent criminal in the history of South Boston, who became an FBI informant to take down a Mafia family invading his turf. Despite Depp’s seemingly flawless efforts, less may have been more in conveying just how bloodthirsty Bulger was. Where the film excels is with a stellar cast whose spot on performances keep your interest as the film moves along.

Pawn Sacrifice **½ Directed by Edward Zwick. The tumultuous life of chess wunderkind Bobby Fischer (Tobey Maguire), from his formative years to his epic world championship match against Soviet archrival Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber) in Reykjavik, Iceland, during the height of the Cold War. This is a film in which, as the end credit documentary footage attests, the real story overwhelms its dramatization.

Nasty Baby **½ Directed by Sebastian Silva. Fixated on having a baby, bohemian artist Freddy (Silva) enlists his best friend, Polly (Kristen Wiig), to bear a child for him and his boyfriend. But the trio's happy lives are disrupted when a deranged neighbor begins to torment them. Subverting expected narratives may have been Silva’s aim all along; still, the turn isn’t just nasty, it’s confounding.

Dragon BladeDirected by Daniel Lee. When corrupt Roman leader Tiberius (Adrien Brody) arrives with a giant army to claim the Silk Road, Huo An (Jackie Chan) teams up his army with an elite Legion of defected Roman soldiers led by General Lucius (John Cusack) to protect his country and his new friends. The picture never finds its tone: It's neither go-for-broke outrageous enough to be consistently funny, nor energetic enough to be viscerally entertaining. It may not be as bad as you might fear, but it certainly isn’t as much fun as you might hope.

PanDirected by Joe Wright. With pirates roaming the landscape, a young lad (Levi Miller) is transported to the magical kingdom of Neverland, where he's destined to become the hero Peter Pan. The film doesn’t deliver on its own promise. The movie doesn’t so much enhance our understanding of the flying boy as it demonstrates how little thought went into crafting his back story.

War Room * Directed by Alex Kendrick. From the outside, the lives of Tony (T.C. Stallings) and Elizabeth (Priscilla Shirer) Jordan appear perfect, but their marriage is in shambles. After seeking counsel from a wise older woman (Karen Abercrombie), Elizabeth realizes it will take a deep commitment to prayer to keep her world from crumbling. It may not be as brazenly offensive as God’s Not Dead or as spectacularly inept as Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas, but it’s still awful, offering all the forced humor and superficial substance of a half-baked homily.

An idea for a dramatic film

There are those who will argue Traffic already undertook this subject 15 years ago (Wow! It doesn't seem that long ago), but it seems to me that in the right hands, Cartel Land, which is now a documentary (admittedly unseen by me at this point), could be made into a riveting dramatic motion picture. Take a look for yourself:

Monday, December 14, 2015

This week's DVD releases

Click on title to see the film’s trailer

Top Spin ***½ Directed by Sara Newens, Mina T. Son. Documentary that follows a trio of determined teen athletes as they undergo the rigors of training for a spot on the 2012 U.S. Olympic table tennis team. With sleek and informative onscreen graphics and thrilling slow-motion demonstrations of game technique, Top Spin packs a lot of information into its 80-minute running time, arguing that a great table tennis player is one part boxer, one part chess master.

Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation *** Directed by Christopher McQuarrie. Ethan (Tom Cruise) and team take on the mission of eradicating the Syndicate — an International rogue organization as highly skilled as they are that’s committed to destroying the IMF. Ultimately, as inconsequential as it all is, Rogue Nation is not pretending to be anything it isn’t. And as a sensory escapist experience with laughs, pleasures, and excitement, it will likely be a most satisfying mission viewers will choose to accept repeatedly.

Time Out of Mind *** Directed by Oren Moverman. Homeless and struggling to survive on the streets of New York City, George Hammond (Richard Gere) admits himself to Bellevue Hospital as a last resort. Before long, he finds a sympathetic soul named Dixon (Ben Vereen), who encourages George to try to repair his relationship with his estranged daughter (Jena Malone). The film’s not entirely effective as drama. The pacing and sparse plot keep it from being truly immersive, and it’s not exactly a film designed to spur social change, either. Instead, it’s worth watching for Gere’s most uncompromising three-dimensional performance in 20 years.

He Named Me Malala **½ Directed by Davis Guggenheim. A documentary that looks at the events leading up to the Taliban’s attack on Pakistani schoolgirl, Malala Yousafzai, for speaking out on girls’ education followed by the aftermath, including her speech to the United Nations. Guggenheim largely dodges lodging her story within a greater political context; a choice, but a shame, for when he does, the movie gains tension.

Wolf Totem **½ Directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud. During China’s Cultural Revolution, a young urban student (Shaofeng Feng) is sent to live with Mongolian herders, where he adopts a wolf cub. It sets out to take the viewer on a journey, but ends up giving them little more than a pleasantly diverting sight-seeing tour. There are worse ways to spend two hours. Better ones, too.

Slow Learners ** Directed by Don Argott, Sheena M. Joyce. When platonic pals and co-workers Jeff (Adam Pally) and Anne (Sarah Burns) fail to ignite sparks in their romantic lives, they make a pact to improve themselves, launching a makeover campaign they’re certain will leave them confident and lucky in love. Even if this movie isn’t fresh, it’s often amusing.

Ted 2 ** Directed by Seth McFarlane. Newlywed couple Ted, a stuffed bear, and Tami-Lynn want to have a baby, but in order to qualify to be a parent, Ted will have to prove he’s a person in a court of law. Feels like far too many other sequels: born of box office expectations more than a bona fide reason to return to the characters we loved the first time around.

Maze Runner: The Scorch TrialsDirected by Wes Ball. After having escaped the Maze, the Gladers now face a new set of challenges on the open roads of a desolate landscape filled with unimaginable obstacles. Ball’s film is a mad dash from one place to the next, with little time in between for rest, recuperation or plot development.

The Strongest ManDirected by Kenny Riches. Angst-ridden Beef (Robert Lorie), who fancies himself as the strongest man in the world, and his hapless best buddy, Conan (Paul Chamberlain) embark on a quest to reclaim Beef’s most cherished possession: a gold BMX bike that’s been stolen. Thinly amusing, The Strongest Man stretches a short’s worth of potentially funny ideas to feature length, where they slowly and surely lead nowhere in particular.

Fantastic Four * Directed by Josh Trank. A team of scientists who suddenly acquire superhuman abilities are soon obliged to put them to use when a powerful nemesis with malevolent plans threatens Earth. So bereft of all the things we expect from a superhero movie — humor, excitement, adventure, awe — that it plays like a drawn-out pilot episode for an upcoming TV series no one would ever watch again.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Handicapped Harley

Does anyone else in the wide, wide, wide, wide, wide world of sports think a handicapped license plate on a Harley seems a little strange?

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The brilliance of Donald Trump

The way to achieve electoral victory in any political contest, especially when there is an above-average number of contenders, is to set the agenda. It doesn’t matter if you’re right or wrong; if everyone is arguing about your topics, you win. No one knows this better and no one has capitalized on this strategy better than GOP presidential contender Donald Trump.

Today it doesn’t seem like anyone in politics is talking about anything else than Trump’s horrendous, stupid and unconstitutional idea to ban all Muslims from entering the United States. However, the illegitimacy of Trump’s idea is completely irrelevant; all that matters is everyone is talking about it and that means everyone is talking about Trump and no one else. And when that happens, Trump wins.

This is important because it boils the field down to a contest between Trump and all those other candidates who disagree with Trump. And this is important because as strong as Trump has appeared in all the polling we’ve seen, he still isn’t anywhere close to claiming the support of more than 50 percent of likely Republican voters. That means, obviously, more than half of those voters don’t plan to cast their ballots for Trump.

So Trump is playing the media like a video game he has mastered and the media is reacting exactly the way Trump wants them to. "Talk about me, me, me. What I say isn’t important. But as long as you’re talking about only me, you’re not talking about any of the other candidates, unless, in the off-chance, your quoting what they have to say about me, me, me."

There are plenty of more important stories the media should be concentrating on, including one that could have a far more profound effect on our democracy than whether Trump will ever get to establish a religious litmus test for immigrants to this country. The U.S. Supreme Court is hearing arguments today on a suit filed by a pair of Texans who claim voting districts should not be based on population, but on the number of voters in each district. This is simply another attempt by Republican Tea Party right-wingnuts to strip representation from minorities, since minorities tend to congregate in urban areas and this suit seeks to strip more diverse urban areas of representation in congress, state legislatures, etc., and allow more representation is less populated, less diverse rural areas.

The fallacy in this argument is that elected representatives must represent everyone, not just those who bother to vote. That’s the basis of our system of government. That doesn’t mean the Supreme Court will do the right thing (see Bush v Gore, see Citizens United).

It’s interesting to note exactly who is filing this suit. According to Mother Jones, "One is a Texas tea party activist who has promoted a conspiratorial film suggesting President Barack Obama’s real father was Frank Marshall Davis, a supposed propagandist for the Communist Party. The other is a security guard and religious fundamentalist who believes the Earth doesn’t revolve around the sun and that unicorns were real." I’m not making this up. You can learn a whole lot more about these crazies by reading this.

But no one is talking about this threat to our voting rights, because Trump has managed to divert all the attention to himself.

My Final Top 25 College Football Teams for 2015

Last week's rank in parenthesis
1.  Alabama 12-1 (1)
2.  Clemson 13-0 (3)
3.  Oklahoma 11-1 (2)
4.  Ohio State 11-1 (4)
5.  Michigan State 12-1 (5)
6.  Stanford 11-2 (6)
7.  Notre Dame 10-2 (8)
8.  Iowa 12-1 (7)
9.  Florida State 10-2 (11)
10. TCU 10-2 (10)
11. Mississippi 9-3 (13)
12. North Carolina 11-2 (12)
13. Houston 12-1 (16)
14. Michigan 9-3 (15)
15. Oklahoma State 10-2 (14)
16. LSU 8-3 (18)
17. Baylor 9-3 (9)
18. Oregon 9-3 (19)
19. Navy 9-2 (21)
20. Florida 10-3 (17)
21. Northwestern 10-2 (22)
22. Tennessee 8-4 (23)
23. USC 8-5 (20)
24. Utah 9-3 (24)
25. Wisconsin 9-3 (25)

Monday, December 7, 2015

This week's DVD releases

Click on title to see the film’s trailer

Blind ***½ Directed by Eskil Vogt. When she loses her sight, a woman (Ellen Dorrit Petersen) retreats to her apartment and senses that her husband may not always leave when he says he’s going to work. It’s all presented as a playful cinematic puzzle by Vogt’s confident direction and mischievous humour.

The Kindergarten Teacher *** Directed by Nadav Lapid. A kindergarten teacher discovers in a 5-year-old child a prodigious gift for poetry. Lapid confidently peppers the film with enough provocative beats, unsettling behaviors and bold camera moves to keep us intrigued — if not necessarily invested.

Ant-Man **½ Directed by Peyton Reed. Armed with a super-suit with the astonishing ability to shrink in scale but increase in strength, cat burglar Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) must embrace his inner hero and help his mentor, Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), plan and pull off a heist that will save the world. Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to make it through the entirety of Ant-Man’s two hours without thinking of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids as least once, and I’m not sure that’s an association the filmmakers were courting.

Xenia **½ Directed by Panos H. Koutras. When gay teen Danny (Kostas Nikouli) loses his mother, he travels from his home in Crete to Athens to meet up with his older brother (Nikos Gelia). Together, they set out on a surreal journey to find the Greek father they’ve never met. Brashly uneven and wildly overlong, this comedy of brotherly love and outsider acceptance nonetheless boasts a spirited, audience-pleasing core.

Jobriath A.D. **½ Directed by Kieran Turner. After enjoying a brief burst of fame in the mid-1970s, gay rocker Jobraith was quickly abandoned by his audience. He died of AIDS in 1983. This documentary surveys the details of his life and renewed interest in his music. Viewers will surely have their curiosity piqued, but may not finish watching this convinced of Jobriath’s place in the pop Pantheon.

Minions **½ Directed by Kyle Balda, Pierre Coffin. Minions Stuart , Kevin and Bob (all voiced by Coffin) are recruited by Scarlett Overkill (Sandra Bullock), a super-villain who, alongside her inventor husband Herb (Jon Hamm), hatches a plot to take over the world. The new team thinks that if mayhem is funny, five times the mayhem will be five times as hilarious. That’s not how movie math works, and too many scenes spin out of control.

Knock Knock ** Directed by Eli Roth. Alone for the weekend, Evan Webber (Keanu Reeves) offers two attractive young women (Lorenza Izzo, Ana de Armas) shelter from a stormy night but comes to regret his charity after they seduce him and then proceed to upend his idyllic life. A pretty flimsy erotic thriller, but thanks to Reeves’ oaken obliviousness it’s also got a few moments of deliciously trashy fun.

Partisan ** Directed by Ariel Kleiman. Alexander (Jeremy Chabriel), a boy who has been raised in a sequestered commune, finds that his increasing unwillingness to fall in line puts him on a collision course with Gregori (Vincent Cassel), the society’s charismatic and domineering leader. While the systematic corruption of innocents under an outwardly benevolent protector makes for a disturbing scenario, Australian newcomer Kleiman dulls the unease with his studiously enigmatic approach.

One &Two ** Directed by Andrew Droz Palermo. Two siblings (Kieman Shipka, Timothée Chalamat) discover a supernatural escape from a troubled home. Never feels as momentous or as angsty as a good story about moody teenagers should, and that’s mostly because the film lacks a menacing parental adversary.

Jellyfish EyesDirected by Takashi Murakami. Kids have mini-monster "friends" that they control via smart phones. May be blessedly unpretentious, but it’s also immediately unmoving and relentlessly boring.

The Transporter Refueled * Directed by Camille Delmarre. In the south of France, former special-ops mercenary Frank Martin (Ed Skrein) enters into a game of chess with a femme-fatale (Loan Chabanol) and her three sidekicks who are looking for revenge against a sinister Russian kingpin. Cheap silliness abounds, including car chases that are more about loud crashes and CGI than the thrill of speed.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

December Oscar Predictions

Listed in the order of their chances for a nomination:

The Revenant
The Martian
Bridge of Spies
Steve Jobs
Inside Out

Tom McCarthy, Spotlight
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, The Revenant
Ridley Scott, The Martian
David O. Russell, Joy
Todd Haynes, Carol

Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Michael Fassbinder, Steve Jobs
Matt Damon, The Martian
Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl
Jonny Depp, Black Mass

Brie Larson, Room
Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
Cate Blanchett, Carol
Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn
Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years

Michael Keaton, Spotlight
Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight
Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies
Idris Elba, Beasts of No Nation
Tom Hardy, The Revenant or Sylvester Stallone, Creed

Rooney Mara, Carol
Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl
Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs
Jane Fonda, Youth
Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight

Inside Out
The Hateful Eight
Bridge of Spies

Steve Jobs
The Revenant or The Martian

The Revenant
Mad Max: Fury Road
Bridge of Spies

The Danish Girl
Crimson Peak or Mad Max: Fury Road

Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant
The Martian
Bridge of Spies

The Danish Girl
Mad Max: Fury Road
Star Wars: The Force Awakens or Black Mass

Mad Max: Fury Road
Bridge of Spies, The Martian, or The Danish Girl

Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Inside Out
The Danish Girl
The Hateful Eight or Bridge of Spies

Mad Max: Fury Road
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
The Revenant
The Martian

Mad Max: Fury Road
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
The Martian
The Revenant
Straight Outta Compton

The Martian
Jurassic World
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Walk or Avengers: Age of Ultron

Inside Out
The Good Dinosaur
Shaun the Sheep Movie
The Peanuts Movie

My Top 25 College Football Teams

Last week's rank in parenthesis
1.  Alabama 11-1 (1)
2.  Oklahoma 11-1 (3)
3.  Clemson 12-0 (2)
4.  Ohio State 11-1 (4)
5.  Michigan State 11-1 (7)
6.  Stanford 10-2 (10)
7.  Notre Dame 10-2 (5)
8.  Iowa 12-0 (8)
9.  Baylor 9-2 (6)
10. TCU 10-2 (15)
11. Florida State 10-2 (17)
12. North Carolina 11-1 (14)
13. Mississippi 9-3 (16)
14. Oklahoma State 10-2 (9)
15. Michigan 9-3 (11)
16. LSU 8-3 (21)
17. Houston 11-1 (25)
18. Florida 10-2 (12)
19. Oregon 9-3 (18)
20. USC 8-4 (NR)
21. Navy 9-2 (13)
22. Northwestern 10-2 (22)
23. Tennessee 8-4 (NR)
24. Utah 9-3 (20)
25. Wisconsin 9-3 (NR)
Dropped out: Mississippi State, Toledo, UCLA