***** A classic. Should be a part of any serious film lover’s permanent library.
**** Excellent with only a few minor flaws.
*** Worthy of renting or streaming.
** Below average, but mght have limited appeal to some tastes.
* Should be avoided at all costs.
No stars All copies should be confiscated and destroyed for humanity’s sake.
Click on title to see the film’s trailer.
Anomalisa **** Directed by Charlie Kaufman, Duke Johnson. While on a speaking tour, motivational speaker Michael Stone (voice of David Thewlis), whose anxieties have robbed him of all joy, meets a woman (voice of Jennifer Jason Leigh) who may just revive his soul. There’s something strange and dreamlike and delicate and beautiful about this animated film for grown-ups that takes a long while to make its point, but does so with a dark brilliance. With spot-on vocal performances from Thewlis, Leigh and Tom Noonan, the film is nothing less than mesmerizing and must viewing for serious cinephiles.
A War **** Directed by Tobias Lindholm. With his family back at home in Denmark, Claus Pedersen (Pilou Asbaek) has another family to look after: the soldiers under his command in the Afghan province of Helmand. When his troops get caught in crossfire, he makes a decision with far-reaching consequences. The story unfolds not as contrived drama, but with all the surprise and inevitability of real life. That it delivers the results one might wish for and denies a sense of closure is not a failing but its chief virtue.
Zootopia ***½ Directed by Byron Howard, Jared Bush, Rich Moore. After an otter suddenly disappears in the animal metropolis of Zootopia, a by-the-book bunny police officer (voice of Ginnifer Goodwin) reluctantly joins forces with a fast-talking fox (voice of Jason Bateman) to unravel the mystery. Easily one of Disney’s more imaginative and detail-oriented CGI offerings in a while. It uses the classic tropes of anthropomorphized animals and comic references to pop-culture touchstones to slyly puzzle out what it means to be "civilized." The movie’s message about tolerance and not pre-judging others sings, and the many chases, interrogations (a weasel ably voiced by Alan Tudyk) and narrow escapes pay off.
No Home Movie ***½ Directed by Chantal Akerman. The director memorializes her mother Natalia, a Holocaust survivor, through conversations recorded during the last months of Natalia’s life. In its own highbrow way, this formally demanding and impossibly intimate video essay serves as an elegy to that sense of home that disappeared with the woman who, as far as the film is concerned, seems forever confined to her own bourgeois apartment.
Hail, Caesar! ***½ Directed by Ethan and Joel Coen. In 1950s Hollywood, Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) labors behind the scenes to "fix" the indiscretions committed by a major film studio’s marquee stars. The film is immensely entertaining, but it’s also frustratingly discursive, with so many incomplete sidelines and distractions that it suggests an overcrowded but exciting TV pilot more than a self-contained film. It isn’t the great film I was hoping for, but it’s very, very good fun.
The Confirmation *** Directed by Bob Nelson. Eight year old Anthony (Jaeden Lieberher) is forced to spend the weekend with his alcoholic, down-on-his-luck carpenter dad (Clive Owen) while his mom (Maria Bello) and her new husband (Matthew Modine) go to a Catholic retreat together. One of the selling points of this movie is how it steers clear of melodrama or tidy perfection in favor of a taste of life on the margins, where even living paycheck to paycheck would be a luxury. Another one is that there’s also the two mesmerizing performances by Owen and his astounding co-star, a remarkably adroit child actor, Lieberher, who is going places fast.
Touched With Fire *** Directed by Paul Dalio. Committed to a mental hospital after going off their medications, bipolar patients Carla (Katie Holmes) and Marco (Luke Kirby) — who share a passion for poetry — soon fall in love. This is by no means a perfect film. The production values and melodrama sometimes seem better suited for a small-screen movie. But the drama deserves points for its measured, realistic view of mental illness and Holmes delivers a beautifully understated and moving performance.
Mr. Right **½ Directed by Paco Cabezas. Just when Martha (Anna Kendrick) thinks she’s found the man of her dreams, she learns that the charismatic Francis (Sam Rockwell) is a hit man who offs his clients instead of the intended marks. Kendrick and Rockwell have often been the lone bright spot in otherwise dismal movies, and it takes their combined charm to redeem this one.
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi ** Directed by Michael Bay. Six members of an elite security team battle to save the lives of trapped U.S. consulate personnel under attack by armed terrorists in Benghazi, Libya. In terms of anything that has to do with characterization, the script is punishingly rote. But as bombastic, shoot’em-up spectacle, this is a visceral, well-paced and often beautiful action-thriller.
Kill Your Friends ** Directed by Owen Harris. An A&R man (Nicholas Hoult) working at the height of the Britpop music craze goes to extremes in order to find his next hit. The film has its razor-sharp grace notes and a seductive stylishness, neither of which can override its relentlessly adolescent worldview.
The Other Side of the Door ** Directed by Johannes Roberts. Unable to get past her son’s death, a mother (Sarah Wayne Callies) takes desperate measures, carrying out a ritual she hopes will allow her to say goodbye. Instead, she ends up opening a door to the spirit world, ushering in an entity that could destroy her family. Effective performances by the principals are unable to surmount the movie’s many cliches, although the actors render them more endurable. A more evocative title for this Hindu Gothic might be Mommies Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things.
The Abandoned *½ Directed by Eytan Rockaway. With no other options, a single mom (Louisa Krause) takes a job as a nighttime security guard assigned to patrol a vacant luxury-living complex where, as the night wears on, eerie things begin to transpire. Two second-act revelations alter its tired dynamic for the better, but those changes are undone by cheap scares and a climactic revelation that’s more ho-hum than horrifying.
The Offering ½* Directed by Kelvin Tong. After her sister’s alleged suicide in Singapore, a crime reporter (Elizabeth Rice) flies overseas to investigate the circumstances. What it adds up to is either laughably baffling or just plain laughable, depending on how much attention one has paid.