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2015 MOVIE COMMENTS
Matt's Rating System:

Green  Go!  I think anybody would like this movie.
Yellow  Caution.  I liked it, but you might not.  
Blue   I didn't like the movie very much, but there is some merit there.  I'll tell you what I think it is.
Red   I really can't recommend this movie to you at all.
JOY   Jennifer Lawrence may be an ungrateful you-know-what when she talks about being ashamed of Kentucky and the gun-toting
Christians who call it home, but she sure can carry a movie.  With anyone else in the lead role, this story--loosely based on the life of
Miracle-Mop inventor, Joy Mangano--would be laughed out of the theatres.  With Lawrence in the lead, you're willing to stick around and
see where it goes next.  Disappointingly, the answer to the question is usually, "Nowhere that makes a lot of sense."  I'd like to think that
Ms. Mangano's life in reality does not include the sit-com elements that are rife in this movie.  The Hispanic singer ex-husband who lives in
the basement.  The father who was "returned" to her by his ex-girlfriend when she got tired of him.  The mother who never leaves her
room in Joy's house and lives in a TV-soap opera fantasy world.  The Texas "businessman" she meets in a hotel room in an abandoned
town that looks more like Tombstone in the 1870's than Dallas in the 1970's.  Like the movie, I could go on.  JLaw carries J
oy.  It's not
much of a trip, but it could have been worse by putting anyone else in the lead.  (12/27/2015)

THE DANISH GIRL  My most vivid memory of The Danish Girl is of sitting in a theater and hearing snoring in the audience on three
sides of me.  I think that's the first time it's happened to me.  Rude, yes, but not entirely undeserved.  The movie is so earnest and reverent
toward its leading man/lady that you sense that you're not getting the full story from what's being presented to you, and you start to tune
out.  I know that Eddie Redmayne is a fine actor who plays Eimar/Lili, and I suspect the same of Alicia Vikander, who plays Eimar/Lili's
spouse Gerda, who is never anything but supportive of a husband who abandons her.  However, the scenes they're required to play to
move the story along are so flat and stilted that there's precious little insight into a truly human situation that's playing out in their lives.  
Critics will probably tell you that
The Danish Girl is an important movie--but that doesn't make it a good one.  (12/25/2015)

STAR WARS:  THE FORCE AWAKENS  Yes, it's practically a re-make of the 1977 original.  Lucky for me (and you), I loved the 1977
original.  And in
TFA's defense, there are differences--mainly, there are now women in the universe, and movies aren't afraid to kill off
cultural icons anymore.  (Of course, Harrison Ford's behavior in 2015 seemed to have been calibrated to off himself.)  I'm sure we're
setting up the next two movies to uphold the feminist manifesto, but that's okay with me.  And of course, the effects have advanced to an
almost unrecognizable degree over the past five decades.  (Don't forget that Yoda was a muppet.)  I'm sure that
TFA will be so successful
that no one will take it seriously as a movie, and that's too bad.  I suspect that five decades from now, the only movies on this page that
anyone will remember will be
The Force Awakens and Mad Max: Fury Road.  (12/17/2015)

CHI-RAQ   The latest Spike Lee Joint (does he still call them joints?) wants to be loved for its good intentions, despite the brutality it
inflicts on truth, common sense and the laws of economics.  Loosely--very, very loosely--based on the Greek tragedy of
Lysistrata (in
which Greek women withheld sex from their men until they stopped fighting) with occasional flashes of
Foxy Brown and Shaft, Chi-Raq
throws all sorts of things at the refrigerator with the hope that something will stick.  Not much does--except that maybe it's time for John
Cusack to hire somebody to start reading scripts for him so that he might some time have a chance of sticking out of his movies like a sore
thumb.  One thing that does stick with the moviegoer is
Chi-Raq's breathtaking hypocrisy.  For a movie that claims to serve "truth", it
presents both the Mayor of Chicago and the President of the United States as white Republicans with the implication that if only black
Democrats ever held those jobs, things would be so much better.  Despite the mess that it found itself knee-deep in, you can see that this
movie probably started as a good idea.  If Lee had followed Aristophanes's plot to its conclusion,
Chi-Raq would have been a much better
movie.  However, that would have robbed the director of the opportunity to hurl gratuitous insults at Condoleeza Rice and Dr. Ben Carson.
Sadly,
Chi-Raq is much too frail to support all of Mr. Lee's talking points.  (12/7/2015)

MOCKINGJAY: PART TWO  I've been flipping television channels lately and seen the original Hunger Games from time to time.  I
always stop to watch, at least for a few minutes.  Jennifer Lawrence was such a revelation at the time that you couldn't take her eyes off
of Katniss Everdeen, the girl on fire. I'm sure that if I saw them again, I'd remember what happened in the past two movies in the series,
but I do remember that Ms. Lawrence was the only reason to watch them.  And the same is true in this, the big finale.  There are other
people in the movie--mostly familiar, but two-dimensional.  While Lawrence makes the trip worth your while, you're left with an odd sense
of cynicism and betrayal when the movie and the saga finally come to an end.  For one thing, you realize there was absolutely no reason to
break up the last segment of the saga into two, except to generate commerce.  For another (SPOILER ALERT), the whole Hunger Games
shootin' match was set in motion when Katniss stepped forward to sacrifice herself for her sister, Primrose. In the books on which the
movies are based, Prim lives a long life.  In a somewhat shocking betrayal in this movie, she's sacrificed at the end of the movie for no
apparent reason.  What the hell were they thinking? (11/30/2015)

OUR BRAND IS CRISIS   is a mess.  Sandra Bullock famously took the role of a burnt out campaign consultant after George Clooney
turned it down.  So it could have been worse.  As Raj says on
The Big Bang Theory, "Sandy B always brings it."  But the "it" she's bringing
this time is a movie that can't decide whether it wants to be
Spy vs. Spy or Mother Jones.  In the end, it's really neither one, so you're left
leaving the movie as disillusioned as most of the characters in the movie.  (10/31/2015)

BURNT  is food porn.  There are endless shots of dishes being served at fine restaurants that I supposed are meant to make us go "ooh"
and "ahh", but in reality (for me anyway), they reinforce my irritation at having to pay $150 or more for a plate of food that looks like it
couldn't sustain a schnauzer for a couple of hours.  I think the reason for this is that Bradley Cooper, the burnt-out chef who rises from the
ashes of his personal life to create the "best restaurant in the world" in London, has a speech in which he says that he doesn't want people
to be happy eating his food, he wants them "longing for more."  (Like I said, of course they're longing for more.  You didn't give them
enough to eat the first time!  But I digress.)  One thing we're not longing for more of in the movie is Bradley Cooper.  He's a fine actor, but
this movie doesn't do him any favors.  His character takes advantage of a male friend whom he knows is in love with him (even though
he's still carrying around the extra weight he gained for
American Sniper) and is a jerk to practically everyone--even when there's no real
point to it.  If you like looking at food, there may be enough for you.  Me, I'm longing for more.  (10/30/2015)

GOOSEBUMPS  I'm sure you've seen the Geico ad that goes "If you're a teenager in a horror movie, you make bad decisions.  It's what
you do."  That could be an ad for
Goosebumps.  Jack Black isn't as annoying as usual, and Amy Ryan is charming as a single mom who
moves herself and her teenage son to the town of Madison, Delaware, a town that doesn't seem to notice that hundreds of fictional
characters from books of horror written by R. L. Stine (Black) are wreaking havoc in the streets.   Sine has made some sort of deal with
the devil that has allowed him to sell millions of copies of books (more than
Steve King!), and in return the monsters in those books have
taken corporeal form and are locked in the books.  When teenagers in horror movies start doing what teenagers in horror movies do, all hell
breaks loose and the town is terrorized.  I saw a 3-D version of the movie, and I have to say that it's the most ham-handed 3-D movie I've
seen in a long, long time.  Cheap effect follows cheap effect.  Save yourself.  (10/29/2015)

BRIDGE OF SPIES  Because it is a Steven Spielberg project starring Tom Hanks as a noble man trying to do the right thing, I'm sure that
people are going to be falling over themselves to praise this movie. They've said and will continue to say that this is their best work since
Saving Private Ryan--or something to that effect.  I don't agree, but that doesn't mean I didn't like the movie.  It just wasn't all that.  
Based loosely on events from the Cold War when downed American U2 pilot Francis Gary Powers was exchanged on a Berlin bridge for a
Russian spy that the Americans had captured, tried and locked up, Bridge of Spies just doesn't take you in the way Private Ryan and other
Spielberg-Hanks collaborations have done in the past.  The acting is there--Hanks, Amy Ryan and lots of unknown actors in support roles
do great work. I think my problem is that the movie just looks cheap.  I don't know how much research the movie folks did to get the look
of the early 60's in Berlin, but what they came up looks like computer-generated bad dreams from the Cold War.  The story that the Coen
brothers--which we're assured is kind of true--feels equally fabricated.  Despite all the exquisite huffing and puffing from Spielberg and
Hanks, Bridge of Spies will probably be remembered as the movie that all the others were so much better than.  (10/17/2015)

THE MARTIAN  So Matt Damon is lost, and Tom Hanks is sent out into Normandy to look for him. Oops, wrong movie.  Matt Damon is
lost, and Matthew McConaghey, Anne Hathaway have to travel through a wormhole in space to find him.  Nope, that's
Interstellar.  Let's
try this.  Matt Damon is lost and Joan Allen and Julia Stiles are...Has it ever occurred to you that the entire history of the movies is about
Matt Damon being lost somewhere?  Well, so it goes in
The Martian--which I assume is a nod to the Ray Bradbury about the family who's
stranded on Mars.  After they realize they're stuck there forever, the father takes them to a lake (I guess Mars had lakes in Ray Bradbury's
world.) and asks them if they want to see some real Martians.  When they say yes, he points to their reflection in the water.  But I digress.  
Matt Damon is stuck on Mars and has to figure out ways to generate: 1) air; 2) water; 3) food and 4) a way to get home.  How he does
each of those things is rather brilliant--as is the movie that Ridley Scott builds around him.  Considering that Damon is alone for most of the
movie, we never feel a sense of claustrophobia because in addition to thoughtfully explaining to us how he is staying alive, he's developing a
Matt Damon-based theology of Mars that comically makes himself the first and best at
everything on Mars.  Considering how dire the
circumstances are, a lot of the movie is fairly hilarious.  This could be the best movie of the year.  (10/16/2015)

SICARIO   Sicario means "hit man" in Spanish, so you can probably figure out where this movie is going. But if you're going to see only
one movie about the sorry state of America's border protection this year, make it
Sicario. It's violent, bloody, smart, depressing--and it's
got Emily Blunt.  She plays an FBI agent in Phoenix who volunteers for a federal task force to take down a Mexican drug cartel--unaware
that she's being played for a fool--or worse--by representatives of unnamed agencies.  Blunt is brilliant and will certainly be nominated for
an Oscar, although I don't think the movie's writing quite gives her character the oomph she needs to win the prize.  Don't even think about
taking a child to this movie.  (10/9/2015)

THE WALK   There's a lot more going on in this movie than you might imagine.  Clearly, Director Robert Zemekis identifies with Phillippe
Petit, the "underground" artist of the early 70's who shocked the world by tight-rope walking between the towers of the newly-built World
Trade Center in New York.  Petit, who'd recently pulled a similar stunt with the towers of Notre Dame de Paris, called his performances
"coups", and I suspect that Zemekis, who's been revolutionizing movies since Who Framed Roger Rabbit? feels similarly.  Joseph
Gordon-Levitt as Petit narrates the movie from the torch of the Statue of Liberty because--well, because it's there.  He speaks in a
ridiculous French accent because that's what a showman would do. Petit does ridiculous acts in this movie just because they look great in
IMAX 3D.  Last and certainly not least is that regardless of how great Gordon-Levitt is (and he is pretty great), the star of the movie are
the newly-minted gleaming stainless steel towers of the World Trade Center.  From Dino de Laurentis's
King Kong to Oliver Stone's World
Trade Center,
these have been towers where people (and apes) came to die. In The Walk, people come to the WTC to delight and
amaze--and they do.  (10/1/2015)  

GRANDMA   I pity the fool who goes to this movie thinking it's a comedy.  It's really anything but.  Lily Tomlin gives an excellent
performance as--Lily Tomlin.  Even the guy who wrote the movie said he wrote it thinking of Lily as the main character.  Even having said
that, I would think that the real Lily Tomlin makes people smile from time to time in her real life.  Her alter ego Elle is just a pill at every
level. I suppose we're supposed to admire her tenacity and loyalty, but those qualities don't always make for an enjoyable movie--and they
really don't in this case.  (9/20/2015)

MAZE RUNNER: THE SCORCH TRIALS This is the second of a three-part series that started with The Maze Runner. I didn't see The
Maze Runner (nor do I plan to see whatever the third part is going to be), so I didn't know who the characters were, nor what they went
through in the first movie, nor who WICKED (the bad guys) might be, or really, well, anything.  Having said that, it was watchable.  There
was lots to look at, and it held my interest--sort of.  There was applause at the end of the screening I saw, so I'll assume that some of the
people in the theater had seen the first one and thought this was a worthy successor.  (9/21/2015)

TRAINWRECK   My subscription to Entertainment Weekly expired recently, and I don't plan to renew it.  Not only not really care about
what they have to say about television, music and video games, I've become tired and a little resentful of their untiring efforts to thrust
people like Amy Schumer on us as definitive voices of their generation.  Is that where we are as a culture?  You turn up in a Judd Apatow
comedy, and you're the voice of the generation?  If so, this generation is in big, big trouble.  But having ranted about that,
Trainwreck isn't
a bad movie.  It has its moments. Amy Schumer's character is an idiot who makes everyone cringe when she shows up, but she's a
well-meaning idiot.  She's a tramp, but she knows she's a tramp and is ultimately redeemable when given the proper motivation.  
Trainwreck is a notch above the typical Apatow effort, but that's setting the bar very, very low.  (9/4/2015)

LEARNING TO DRIVE   Patricia Clarkson and Ben Kingsley are supremely accomplished and agreeable actors, but for all practical
purposes, they sleepwalk through
Learning to Drive. Much more compelling is Sarita Choudhury as Jasleen, Kingsley's wife who is new to
America and not sure she likes it that much.  She stays at home, seeing no one and making little effort to learn about her new home.  
Watching Jasleen's struggle and ultimately triumph is much more satisfying that watching Clarkson as a Upper West Side literary critic and
recent dumpee for whom learning to drive a car is a much too blunt metaphor for taking control of her life. Someone once described the
Hamptons as a zombie movie directed by Ralph Lauren.  By that standard, Clarkson's character's world could be described as the same
zombie movie directed by Woody Allen.  Do you really want that?  (9/2/2015)

AN IRRATIONAL MAN   Maybe he's just wearing down my patience, but I have to say that Woody Allen's latest movie might be his best
in years.  I can't even remember what the last one I liked was--it might have been
Manhattan Murder Mystery, just because it was so
damned goofy.  Here, neither Joachim Phoenix nor Emma Stone is remotely believable as a world-weary philosophy professor or his fresh,
young, impressionable student, but if you take them out of the roles assigned to them and think of them as a couple of self-obsessed
knuckleheads stumbling around Newport, Rhode Island, and thinking about murder, you kind of enjoy the ride.  Parker Posey is also
woefully cast as a bimbo-professor who wants Phoenix to take her away from it all.  Like Phoenix and Stone, she's too good for this, but
I'm sure she just wanted a chance to work with Woody.  As for Allen himself, I think he's getting his younger generations blurred as he
gets older.  It makes for disconcerting movies and actors who desperately try to fit the molds he's created for them.  (8/25/2015)

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE NATION   begs the question, "Do you think that Tom Cruise is so dedicated to being one of the
greatest movie stars of all time that he would actually kill himself to create a memorable movie scene?"  He appears to be attempting to do
just that in several scenes in the
MI movie.  Sure, hanging on to an Airbus as it takes off is one thing, but the diving and motorcycle scenes
that follow it would have taken me out.  I half-expected him to address the theater audience at the end of the movie and ask, "ARE YOU
NOT ENTERTAINED?"  Anybody who says no might as well give up on movies because this one is like a giant $200 million puppy that
only wants to be loved.  The settings in Vienna, Morocco and London are stunning, and the story has complexity and humor to keep you
interested, when something's not blowing up or getting shot.  With
Jurassic World still stalking the cineplexes, this summer has been
blessed to have two excellent blockbuster thrillers to take our minds off the heat.  (8/2/2015)

VACATION   As the promotional materials for this movie are anxious to assure you, this is not a remake of National Lampoon's Vacation,
directed by John Hughes in 1983.  The earlier movie was--well, funny.  This one is many things.  On rare occasions it is funny, but mostly
it's just crude.  You know what's coming when you see the Griswolds' trip laid out on a map on Rusty's tablet.  Why in the world would
anybody go through Tennessee, Arkansas and Texas to get from Chicago to California?  Because that's where the cheapest laughs are.  In
Tennessee, there's a pointless excursion to a sorority house, which even in the middle of summer, is brimming with drunk, half-dressed
college girls.  In Arkansas, there are troglodytes who direct the family to a toxic waste pit and then rob them of their belongings while
they're away from the car.  In Texas, there's Chris Hemsworth as a conservative weather man who's somehow accumulated enough assets
to purchase a large cattle ranch in--of all places--Plano.  The reputations of these states might have suffered more if the movie makers
hadn't been so inept.  As it is, unfortunate viewers lust look at the screen and wonder if we can go someplace next that's actually funny.
Such a place, alas, is not San Francisco, where the movie's biggest downers await.   I'm sure that Chevy Chase and Beverly D'Angelo were
well-compensated for whatever cache they brought to this movie, but seeing them on the screen is macabre.  Bloated Chase appears to
have been swallowed whole by Uncle Fester; D'Angelo, a stunningly beautiful woman--usually--looks as if she's been attacked by an entire
team of Botox-wielding plastic surgeons.  After everything that's gone before, you just think, "No, I don't want to see this part, either."  
When the family finally gets to Walley World, more grimness follows.  Sorry folks.  The movie stinks.  The moose out front should've told
ya.   (7/29/2015)

MR. HOLMES   On a long, long flight earlier this year, I watched eleven consecutive episodes of Elementary, the Sherlock Holmes-based
series with Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu.  I was so blown away by it that I binge-watched the first two seasons and am now eagerly
awaiting the release of Season 3 in August.  While most people would say that the BBC series with Benedict Cumberbatch is the definitive
Holmes of the moment, Mr. Miller and Ms Liu show us that "Sherlock Holmes" is an malleable entity that transcends time and space and
can be formed into almost any kind of shape you want.  Witness Sir Ian McKellan as the 93-year-old-Alzheimer's-patient Holmes in the
new movie with Laura Linney.  He's thirty years past retirement, living in a small house near the cliffs of Dover, tending to his bees and
trying desperately to remember the details of his last case.  The plot is labored (a side trip to Japan seems to be concocted solely for the
purpose of allowing Holmes to see the site of the atomic bomb attack on Hiroshima), but given the outstanding cast, you just kind of look
the other way and go with it.  (7/19/2015)

ANT-MAN   assaults the senses and insults the intelligence.  I can hear you saying, "Lighten up!  It's just a movie about an ant-man. What
do you expect?"  A fair question--and that's why I'm listing this movie in
BLUE instead of RED.  But I believe that everybody--even
Insect-Americans like the Ant-Man deserve to be treated with respect--something that doesn't happen in the
Ant-Man.  We're told that
there's just one thing the Ant-Man just
can't do, and that is make himself to small.  Bad stuff happened to Ant-Man inventor Michael
Douglas's wife when she tried it during early trials.  So naturally, at the climax of the movie, the only way the Ant-Man is going to be able
to stop the poorly-thought-out bad guy is by going sub-atomic.  So he does with a tearful good-bye, and then--nothing happens.  He's fine.  
Sorry, but this is a Code Red Violation of the Comic Book Universe Constitution that says you're allowed to create your own universe with
your own rules, but if you're going to violate those rules, there must be consequences.  There are only two saving graces in all of this:  One
is every-mensch Paul Rudd as the Ant-Man.  Chris Pratt and maybe a couple of other guys might be able to harness this level of audience
empathy, but the field is pretty slim.  The second is that the Ant-Man gets his powers from the suit he wears, which means that he can
take it off and be a relatively normal person.  Unlike the mutants and Batman and Superman, he doesn't feel compelled to brood about the
hoodlums who killed his parents or blew up his planet.  Small favor.  (7/18/2015)

SELF/LESS   If you love New Orleans, Self/Less will keep you awake by wondering what local landmark will show up next. Ben Kingsley
keels over in the middle of the Garden Room at Commander's Palace and is taken to Tulane Hospital; Ryan Reynolds has a very cool
apartment on Esplanade and blows up Mardi Gras World (yay!).  Beyond the local flavor, there's not much to appreciate.
Self/Less is yet
another take on Frankenstein, only in this case, the monster is Ryan Reynolds and he remembers his life from before he had Ben Kingsley's
memories implanted into him.  There's really nothing new here, and the real mystery is where Mr. Reynolds wants to go with his career.  
He seems to be one of those gifted comedians who won't feel fulfilled until he can find acceptance as an equally fine dramatic actor.  This
is a road that Bill Murray traveled successfully, but it took him thirty years to do it, and he didn't make the trip by appearing in crap like
Self/Less.  Stay tuned.  (7/17/2015)

AMY   I wasn't a fan of Amy Winehouse's music, and I certainly didn't much care for the lifestyle she projected to the world.  But after
watching this documentary--drawn to a great extent from video of her early life taken by family and friends--it's impossible to feel anything
but regret that such a person could be eaten alive by her own fame.  With the exception of a couple of childhood friends who seem to be
the heroes of the piece, EVERYBODY wanted something from her--and nobody more so than her own father.  It's was heartbreaking to
see how she craved his affection while he saw her as his ticket to the corner of Easy Street and Got It Made Avenue.  It's not coincidental
that he originally supported this documentary (probably because he thought he could get something out of it), but withdrew his support
after he saw an early version which made it quite clear that he wasn't going to be let off the hook for what happened to his daughter.  It
wasn't entirely his fault, but he did nothing to help.  
Amy will break your heart and make you listen to her music in a new way. Whether
you think that is a good thing or not is up to you.  (7/12/2015)

MAX   I'm always a sucker for a good dog movie, even this weird mash-up of American Sniper and Rin-Tin-Tin.  Max is an army dog,
trained to sniff out munitions.  When his handler is killed in the line of duty, Max goes to live with the soldier's family in a small town in
Texas where nothing much happens until the sergeant for whom Max's former handler used to work, comes back to town and starts
selling stolen arms to Mexicans.  Nobody knows what the sergeant is up to--except Max, and eventually the dead soldier's younger brother
who's become attached to Max.  Mayhem ensues.  Max is played by a dog named Carlos who can not only hit his marks and run and sit
and lie down on cue, he convincingly registers emotions like elation, sadness, fear, dread and love.  Think about it.  When's the last time
you saw George Clooney do all that in one movie?  
Max has plot holes big enough to drive trucks (filled with guns and rockets) through,
but you don't mind 'cause the dog is amazing.  (6/30/2015)

INSIDE OUT   Good Lord, I hated this thing.  I would say it felt about like two hours of dental surgery, but when I had dental surgery,
they gave me an anesthetic.  I realize that I'm not in the target audience for lots of the movies I see, but usually I accept that and try to take
a movie on its own terms.  Inside Out?  I don't know who it's made for, or who the audience is supposed to be.  I can't imagine anybody
over the age of four admiring it for its bright colors.  I'd think that it  would give really young children nightmares; slightly older children
would be bored; young adults would be embarrassed to watch it; and old people like me are lamenting that the science of neurology has
been set back twenty years.  The main characters in this mess are the anthropormorphized (look it up) feelings of an a
what-passes-for-normal 11-year-old girl named Riley who moves with her family from Minnesota to San Francisco. (And not just any part
of San Francisco.  It looks like a part of town that Charlie Chan might have been afraid to go into after dark back in the 30's.)  Riley's
emotions--Joy, Sadness, Fear, et al, try to guide her through the move, but some of them get lost trying to save core memories from being
lost.  Along the way, they fall into a number of traps that keep Joy from helping Riley to be happy.  (I'm not making this up.)  It's even
more painful than it sounds.  This movie is being advertised as
"the best Pixar movie since Up!"  Hmm.  They're comparing it to Cars 2,
Brave
and Monsters University.  Hmmm. That claim may actually be true, but it's no reason to watch the damn thing. (June 19,2015)

JURASSIC WORLD   Has it really been 22 years?  I saw the original Jurassic Park on tv last week, and it looks as fresh now as it did in
1993.  Watching the original spooked me about going to see what is essentially Number 4 in the series, regardless of how much the
promoters tell you about how
Jurassics Two and Three don't really count.  Much of my concern for the new movie had to do with Chris
Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard in the lead roles.  Pratt is as amiable a soul that has ever graced the large or small screen, but let's face it,
he's no Sam Neill.  I just didn't think he had the gravitas to pull off something like this.  Likewise, Ms. Howard was a fine Jackson,
Mississippi Junior League Bitch in
The Help, but that's a long way from being the center of attention in what will probably be the biggest
movie in the world. But to my surprise, both of them pulled it off.  They weren't asked to do as much as the leads in the earlier movies, so
we didn't feel as if we were stuck with them on the amusement park ride for two hours.  Elsewhere, there were a couple of young actors
who did fine as the awful teenagers, and Vincent D'Onofrio was suitably sinister as a baddy whose name in the credits might as well have
been "Dinosaur Snack."  I have to say that this is may be the best-looking movie I've ever seen.  (I saw it in 3D and IMAX.)  The 3D didn't
have that weird hollow effect you sometimes get when things (in this case, dinosaurs) are moving, and every shot looked spectacular.  A
lot of folks are carping about the product placement in the movie, but frankly, I think it works here.  If you were going to build the world's
most spectacular resort, wouldn't you expect to see Hilton, Margaritaville and Coca-Cola?  Of course.  Jurassic World is terrific--and
nobody's more surprised than I am.  (6/14/2015)

LOVE AND MERCY   There's a viral video going around these days from the BBC, launching something called BBC MUSIC.  Don't know
what it is, but the video is a who's who of artists from Brian Wilson and Elton John to Sam Smith and One Direction covering the Beach
Boys'
God Only Knows.  (It's lovely.  Check it out.)  Sir Paul McCartney has said that it's the greatest song of all time.  He's welcome to
his opinion, but I'm not even sure it's in my top five favorite songs of the Beach Boys.  (How can anything be better than
Wouldn't It Be
Nice
?)  Love and Mercy is a biopic of Wilson, based on his wife's authorized biography--which would have been swell were it not for the
fact that Wilson's life was a lot more interesting before he met her.  The movie-makers must have sensed this as well because the movie
itself is essentially two stories--the more interesting one set in the 60's when the Brian and his brothers and cousins were creating their
iconic sound; and the second in the 80's when Wilson was struggling back to life after a couple of decades of over-medication by both
himself and an evil psychologist played here by Paul Giamatti.  Paul Dano is wondrous as the young Brian Wilson who can't understand his
own talent and dreads losing it.  John Cusack does what he can as the older Wilson trying to make any kind of connection he can with the
world.  As you can probably guess, I would have liked to have seen more from the early days and less from the later days, but that's really
not what the movie is about.  Too bad.  
Good Vibrations, yes; but it's not all Fun, Fun, Fun.  (6/13/2015)

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD  The march to suck the fun out of the great movie franchises of the 80's continues.  First it was James Bond,
then
Batman--now Mad Max.  For all of its somber tone and sense of loss, Fury Road isn't a bad movie.  (Nor were the latest rounds of
Batman and the Daniel Craig era of James Bond, for that matter).  There's no Tina Turner as Auntie Entity and no Mel
"God-Only-Knows-What-He's-Going-To-Do-Next" Gibson to keep things lively.  Tom Hardy was never going to be a live wire in this
movie--he never is, but as it turns out, he's not even the movie's most compelling character.  That would be Charlize Theron as Imperator
Furiosa. ("Imperator" seems to be an apocalyptic term for "truck driver".)  She's trying to move five of the last fertile women out of the
hell-hole where they're pretty much enslaved to a place called "the east" where she grew up.  She's very good in a role that may entail all of
about a hundred words of dialog.  Max says even less and is basically just along for the ride. A whole lot of money has been invested in a
whole lot of wrecked cars, explosions, weird costumes and exotic sets, and it goes by fast.  But I still miss Tina and Mel.  (6/2/2015)

PITCH PERFECT 2   jumps the shark. It probably won't be challenging Buzzard for the title of the worst movie I've seen this year, but it's
down there. Everything that had been fresh and interesting about
Pitch Perfect is tossed into the trash compactor and baled into an
unsightly mess.  If I didn't know better, I'd say that whoever wrote this movie--to the extent that it can be said to have been
written--realized that all the good ideas had been used up in the first movie, and now they just had to fill ninety minutes of screen time to
cash a paycheck.  The plot is almost identical to the first one--and that's really the best thing I can say about it.  The music is worse--it's
not even a capella anymore; the jokes are contemptible; and the characters are flat as a pancake. In a move that will almost assure that we
won't have to deal with a
Pitch Perfect 3, the characters in the movie trash the fans that made them successful in the first place. It eats its
young. Aca-yuck.  (6/1/2015)   

FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD   I have to admit that I was pretty skeptical about this movie.   Don't people remember that Julie
Christie was PERFECT in the original?  I've never been a big Carey Mulligan fan, so I didn't know what she could bring to the role that had
been left wanting in the 1967 version.  As it happens, Ms. Mulligan finds the virtue in not being as beautiful as Julie Christie--if that makes
sense.  By being plainer--in almost every way--we get a sense that the men around her who want her don't just want her because she's
stunning.  Oak, the shepherd sees her as a kindred spirit; Boldwood the neighbor saw her as a young woman in peril; and Sergeant Troy
saw her as a financial asset.  I have to admit that I was very impressed with what Ms. Mulligan brought to the table in this movie.  
Similarly, the men in the 1967 movie were mostly wrong for the parts, I thought.  I've never been an Alan Bates fan, so frankly, it was
hard to root for him as Oak.  Likewise, Peter Finch as Boldwood.  On the other hand, Terence Stamp was perfect as the ne'er-do-well
soldier, but we weren't supposed to like him.  This time, the actors who play Boldwood and Troy (Michael Sheen and Tom Sturridge) are
fine actors who are much more believable, and Matthais Schoenaerts (I had to look it up) shines as Oak.  I've not seen him before, but I'm
sure we'll see him again often.  So at the end of the day, it pains me to be wrong, but I do think this version of Mr. Hardy's story might be
better than the first.  (5/31/2015)

ALOHA   Most of the time, I either like or dislike a movie--or I really don't think about it much at all.  This is the first time in as long as I
can remember that I actually
resent a movie.  I was looking forward to seeing this movie as much or more than any I'd see this summer.  
It's got Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams, Bradley Cooper, Bill Murray, etc. and it's set in Hawaii.  It's GOT to be good, right? Wrong.  Right
off the bat, you sense that the movie was shot underwater.  It's dark, fuzzy and seemingly out of focus most of the time.  Forget about
Stone, McAdams, Cooper et al, this movie can't even make Hawaii look good!  As you're still absorbing this disappointment, you begin to
notice that the plot is full of--let's say poi.  We're expected to believe that: a) Bill Murray is a billionaire who wants to put atomic weapons
in space; and 2) Emma Stone is an F-22 pilot.  And after setting us up with these two ridiculous premises, the movie wants to tug at our
heartstrings with stories of heartbreak, abandonment and discovery centered around Cooper, McAdams and Stone.  Sorry.  Not buying it.
There are a few things about
Aloha that are actually pretty terrific--chief among them a dance between Bill Murray and Emma Stone that is
reminiscent of John Travolta and Uma Thurman in
Pulp Fiction--and you can almost see them dancing through the movie's murk.  But
there's a lot of crap--mainly an inane subplot about the Hawaiian separatist movement that goes nowhere.  (QUESTION:  How come libs in
Hollywood (rightly) condemn separatists when they're hiding out with militias in Montana, but just
love them when they're sporting
"Hawaiian by Birth, American by Force" t-shirts.  Just wondering.)
Aloha is not only a mess; it should be your response to it.  (5/29/2015)

TOMORROWLAND   Well, there's one thing I'll say for Tomorrowland--it's definitely one of a kind.  It almost defies description.  And it's
two-and-a-half hours long, so if I did try to describe it to you, you'd get bored and quit reading long before I quit describing. One of the
reasons the movie is so long is that it has two narrators--an older man (George Clooney) and a young girl who've both been chosen to be
part of the eponymous mystical land by an ancient being named Athena who appears to be about fourteen years old. Dreamers, inventors,
artists and others deemed to be fit for inclusion are welcomed in Tomorrowland, and apparently if you ask too many questions, you can get
kicked out of it, like our two narrators.  Most of the movie deals with how they get back in and do stuff like SAVE THE EARTH.  My
friend Darryl calls
Tomorrowland  "Atlas Shrugged for Liberals."  I'm not sure I agree entirely, but he does have a point.  Near the end of
the movie, T-Land boss Hugh Laurie winds up a long speech about how humans were warned that the Earth was in trouble and did nothing
about it.  As a result, they pretty much deserve the coming extinction.  Nice concept for an amusement park ride, no?  It's a beautiful
movie.  (See it in IMAX, if you can.)  Clooney is Clooney, for better or worse; his young sidekick is obnoxious, but in a non-threatening
way; and the young actress who plays Athena is adorable. She reminded me of a
Parent Trap-era Lindsay Lohan. (5/28/2015)


FRANKENSTEIN  So now we have a Frankenstein for the 3-D imaging and artificial intelligence age.  It was inevitable, and the results
could have been a lot worse than the movie that had its American premier in Baton Rouge this weekend.  (Last weekend, it won the Grand
Prize at the Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival.  I suspect you'll probably see it in wide release around Halloween.)  In addition to
the points that Mary Shelley hoped to score in her story about man's inhumanity to man, this film--moved to Los Angeles, naturally--makes
additional points to what we might be doing to ourselves as a species by abusing pharmaceuticals, and it also is propitiously timed to say
something about police brutality as Los Angeles cops repeatedly beat the crap out of Adam, the Monster.  (In a Q and A after the movie,
the director said that was not his intention.  He said he was just updating Mary Shelley's work to provide a modern day equivalent of the
episodes in her book.)  But mostly it says a lot about the state of horror movies these days.  Whereas, the earlier versions of the work
induced horror and dread by making you thinking the worst is about to happen, whether it does or not, this version shows you the worst
that could happen in almost every instance.  Billy clubs, guns, electric saws and other hospital implements are used to their full capacity to
induce gallons of blood.  Although I would say that this is a rather thoughtful treatment of the material, I wouldn't even consider allowing a
young child to see it. (5/10/2015)

IN THE NAME OF MY DAUGHTER   At the age of 72, Catherine Deneuve still has it.  To use an old phrase, she lights up the screen that
puts younger actresses to shame. Regrettably though, what she doesn't have in this movie is a story that makes a lick of sense.  It's "based
on true events" surrounding a woman, Renee LeDoux, who runs a casino on the Riviera after the death of her husband.  After hitting a
financial bump, Renee's daughter--a member of the casino board--casts the deciding vote that ousts her mother from her position.  
Unfortunately, In the Name of My Daughter is Renee's story, and Renee is a sap who falls under the spell under an attorney who takes her
to bed, talks her into betraying her family, and ends up with her inheritance.  Everything I've written until now is difficult to sit through,
except when Deneuve is around, looking impossibly beautiful as a younger woman.  But as the movie nears its end, the daughter
disappears, and the attorney who's taken her money vamooses to Panama.  Is it murder?  Suicide?  Is the daughter still alive?  Who
knows?  It looks very much as if the film makers decided that this movie was getting too long and decided to drop key scenes that help the
unsuspecting audience figure out what's going on.  All of a sudden, it's thirty years later, and the case is being re-opened, and the lawyer is
on trial.  What was going on during those thirty years?  Renee says she's been trying to get the case reopened, but we don't see any of that,
nor do we see what prompted the eventual decision to do so.  The movie which dragged on forever for an hour and forty-five minutes
goes boom, boom, boom and ends.  Weird.  Worth seeing only to appreciate the continuing magnificence of its star.  (5/9/2015)

DIPLOMACY  Paris, August 1944.  The Germans are pulling out of the city after D-Day, and Hitler has given instructions to destroy the
city.  Key landmarks like the Louvre, the Opera, Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower will be blown up.  Blowing up the bridges across the
Seine will cause the river to flood the city.  The German general in charge of the operation is conflicted about his orders, but he knows that
if he doesn't obey them, the Nazis at home will kill his wife and children.  On the night the deed is to be done, he's visited in his office at
the Hotel Meurice by the Swedish consul who has been told of the orders by the underground and begs the general  not to carry them out.  
Diplomacy began life as a two-man play, and it's been broadened with varying degrees of success to include the occasional hotel servants
and Nazi henchmen. There's lots to quibble with about how poorly the movie treats the true story of the last days in Nazis in Paris (and
how little people really know about history), but it's an interesting--if a time-compressed one--about how one of the greatest tragedies of a
tragic war was avoided.  (5/8/2015)

HOT PURSUIT  comes with its own apology.  The blooper reel that accompanies the end credits practically screams, "We're not as stupid
and un-funny as the woeful movie you just saw would have you believe!"  And woeful it is.  You'd think that a comedy with Reese
Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara would be a slam dunk, right?  As Dorothy Parker might have said, if she'd been reviewing movies in 2015,
Witherspoon has "it", and Vergara has "those".  But no.  Every gag is beaten to death, and the actors repeatedly commit the worst sin of
comedy--looking like you're trying too hard.  Which is too bad.  If you're a regular reader of this page, you know I cut Reese Witherspoon
every kind of slack imaginable.  But not this time because for the first time since this very smart actress started choosing roles, she picked
one she's at least ten years too old to play.  (5/8/2015)

THE WATER DIVINER   Russell Crowe.  What to do with Russell Crowe.  I've liked him since L. A. Confidential, and he's the only thing
about
Gladiator and A Beautiful Mind that kept me from throwing things at the screen.  He can be amazing when he's given the right part.  
Here, he's given the part of the father of three ANZAC soldiers who died together at Gallipoli in 1915.  When his wife goes crazy and kills
herself four years later (it happens in the first ten minutes of the movie), he decides he needs to go to Turkey and find his sons' bodies and
return them to the consecrated ground of his local New South Wales churchyard.  Along the way to find out where his sons died--if they
did, he has a number of incredible adventures.  He outsmarts the toads who are running the local British military operation in Istanbul.  He
falls in with the revolutionary Young Turks.  He meets a beautiful young widow with a cute kid. And because we know he has psychic
powers that can find water in the giant dust bowl that is the Australian outback, we're now surprised when he lands on the beach at
Gallipoli--or whatever they're calling it these days--and immediately "divines" where his sons died.  Now.  If any actor could pull any of this
off believably, it's Russell Crowe.  Unfortunately, he has an idiot for a director on this film, whose name is also Russell Crowe.  Director
Russell Crowe believes his leading man can do anything--but he's wrong, and after a while it gets a little exasperating watching him try.  
The movie claims to be "based on true events," but as you watch it, the claim rings more and more hollow.  If Russell Crowe weren't the
star, you'd laugh at the pretension.  (5/1/2015)

AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON   Is it better than the first one?  Hell, it IS the first one.  The worst thing I can say about it is that there
seems to be a second generation of Avengers coming along  (just as well--Robert Downey, Jr. isn't getting any younger), and they're even
more boring than the first bunch.  The best thing I can say about it is that it kept me interested just enough to keep from walking out on it.  
(5/2/2015)

THE AGE OF ADALINE  is another thing that Harrison Ford has crashed this year.  Maybe this criticism is too harsh, but I couldn't
resist.  He is, however, the agent of the movie's downfall.  For the first hour or so, Adaline is sublime, and you come to believe that Blake
Lively really is someone who can carry a big-budget movie like this one.  She's utterly charming, and I look forward to seeing more of her
in the future.  (I just noticed that her current husband, Ryan Reynolds, is in the next movie on this list.  I think they'd be terrific together in
a movie.)  Anyway, Adaline is a woman who--for reasons best left unexplained (and the movie suffers because it goes out of its way to
explain them)--stopped aging at the age of 29 in 1935.  Every decade or so, she'd change her identity and move, until one New Years Eve
when she meets a young man whose father had fallen in love with her forty years earlier, before getting old and becoming Harrison Ford.  
When Junior introduces Adaline to Han Solo, Adaline's life--and the movie--starts falling apart.  As you watch the process unfold, you
begin to realize that there is no good way to end the movie, only ways that are less bad than others.  The movie would have you believe that
the very worst thing that could happen to Adaline is that she continues to live her life as she has.  I disagree.  Finally, it goes with an ending
that may actually please some and let others--like me--walk out of the theater thinking, "Well, it didn't entirely stink."  What did stink
entirely was the stupid way the movie used everything from meteors crashing into the moon to rare snowfalls in Sonoma County to
scientific theories that won't be proved until 2035 to explain what happened to Adaline.  Because, you know, you just can't have people
believing in
magic.  (4/26/2015)

WOMAN IN GOLD  So many critics have dumped on this movie that it's Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score of 54, which is
inexplicable to me.  So I went out and read a couple of the bad reviews, and the objections seem mostly to have to do with the presence of
Ryan Reynolds and Katie Holmes in key roles.  Is this reverse discrimination?  The Australians have a term for it called the "tall poppy
syndrome," whereby someone who excels at what they do needs to be whacked down to size.  My advice is to ignore any other review of
this movie that you see and listen to me.  Go see it.  Helen Mirren is wondrous.  Reynold, Holmes and Daniel Bruhl as an Austrian journalist
are equally fine in supporting roles.  Mirren plays Maria Altmann, an aging Austrian Jew in Los Angeles who abandoned her artistic
household in Vienna just ahead of the Nazis.  She left her family behind--including her Aunt Adela, who'd been immortalized in Gustave
Klimt's painting,
Woman in Gold, which this Nazis spirited off to the Belvedere Gallery shortly after the Anschluss.  When the Austrian
government began a program of restoring looted art to its rightful owners in the 1990's, Maria and her neophyte lawyer (Reynolds) went
after the family's prized possession.  The movie is wonderful.  Don't listen to the others.  They don't love you like I do.  (4/13/2015)

THE LONGEST RIDE  Another night, another movie about artistic Jews who escape Vienna just ahead of the Nazis.  You're probably
thinking, "But I thought this was the movie about the hot rodeo guy?"  Well, yeah.  In violation of several state and local regulations, I'm
not going to comment on how good-looking Clint Eastwood's son Scott is.  It should be fairly evident.  (However, I will say this: He has
the biggest Adam's Apple I've ever seen.  When he's shown in profile, it looks like he has a goiter.  But I digress.)  Nicolas Sparks is at it
again.  If you liked
The Notebook--or any other of the gazillions of movies he's written, you'll like this.  I didn't, so I was in agony as one
unlikely scenario after another unfolded on the screen before me.  Eastwood is half of a younger couple who fight to "find each other" as
the story of an older couple is told from letters the young woman reads to Alan Alda in his hospital bed after he's been pulled from an
automobile accident and later at home.  Think James Garner reading
The Notebook to Gena Rowland, and you've got it.  The recent movie
that this one most reminds me of is
Fifty Shades of Grey (not good) in which the only mystery is when are the stars going to drop their
pants. (4/14/2015)

DANNY COLLINS  is kind of a mess, but I'm not sorry I saw it.  Al Pacino (really?) is a Neil Diamond-esque pop star from the 70's who
at the age of 60-something decides that he needs to clean up the messy details of his rock-star life.  The most problematic of such details is
Bobby Cannavale as the son he never knew who lives in the very non-rock star-like community of Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey, with his
pregnant wife, Jennifer Garner, and an adorable, if ADHD-addled daughter.  Pacino moves into the local Hilton hotel, managed by Annette
Bening, and starts to "find himself" by losing the teenage girlfriend, writing his own songs for the first time in 30 years and trying to help
his son and his family.  Nothing happens that you don't expect--the movie's greatest flaw--and the story unfolds in an entirely predictable
way.  What charms there are to be had arise from watching great actors like Pacino, Bening and Garner trying their best to breathe some
life into the material.  (4/15/2015)

MERCHANTS OF DOUBT  is a documentary about spin doctors.  The most remarkable thing about the movie is that it hoists itself on its
own petard.  (I've been waiting to use that saying for fifteen years.)  It accuses spin doctors of using half-truths and innuendo to advance
points of view that are either, untrue, misrepresented or unpopular.  And it uses the same tactics to smear those who practice those
tactics.  I felt dirty just watching it.  (4/112015)

CINDERELLA  At the risk of sounding too un-something or another, I have to admit I'm not a big fan of Cinderella-type movies.  
However, I do like seeing how each new one wrestles with the question of ever-growing female-empowerment.  Face it, the original tale
where a gal needs magic AND a man to get ahead in the world just doesn't cut it for today's (and tomorrow's) women.  In this new
version, we get all the set pieces of the traditional story, but also we get Cate Blanchett, not so much an evil step-mother as--well, a
politician.  Every time life gives her lemons, she gets the old press out and starts making lemonade.  When she hears that the prince is
unavailable, she cuts a deal with the king's henchman.  When she finds out that the mysterious princess the prince is seeking is the girl
sleeping in the ashes of her hearth, she cuts a deal with the king's henchman.  Even when the jig is up, she's still looking for leverage.  I
admire that.  But in the end, it's Cinderella's story, and as far as it goes, it's fine.  I'm sure that between this and
Frozen, the demand for
Disney-themed blue ball gowns will go through the roof.  For the record, my top five Cinderella-themed movies, in order, are  
Ever After
with Drew Barrymore;
Ella Enchanted with Anne Hathaway, Enchanted with Amy Adams; this one and the version with Whitney Houston
and Brandy Norwood.  (C'mon, you know
Pretty Woman isn't really a Cinderella story.) (4/5/2015)

BUZZARD   is the kind of movie that makes old people like me think that young people are so stupid that I should be doing more to take
advantage of them.  Joel Potrykus (promoted as the "Buster Keaton for the 99%") has written, directed and acted in a movie ("
Office Space
on crack!") that claims to feature a "21st century version of Travis Bickle."  Joshua Burge plays a slacker/temp/idiot in Greater Detroit who
gets by scamming everybody from Office Depot to Hot Pockets to his unfortunate employer. His last scam evolves from an imperfect
understanding of banking regulations that leads him to believe that he can cash checks made out to other people without anybody noticing.  
He was a paranoid loner long before the movie started, but when he has to go off the grid to avoid his employer and the police, his bad
decisions multiply.  If your idea of a good time is watching a not-at-all clever young man (usually from behind) sitting on a couch and
playing video games, ordering room service and eating a plate of spaghetti that's more disturbing than comical, or breaking into hotel
rooms, this could be a movie for you.  Otherwise, move along.  (3/9/2015)

CHAPPIE   After a pretty good first movie (District 9) and a disappointing follow-up effort (Elysium), director Neill Blomkamp returns to
South Africa for a story of an alien intelligence struggling in the mean streets of Johannesburg.  Ideally, you'd hope for a rebound to
District 9's offbeat intelligence and odd charm, but you'd be horribly disappointed because the movie is disappointingly horrible.  Chappie is
a used police robot (yes, like
Robocop) who's been retrofitted by his maker, Dev Patel, with artificial intelligence. So now he's basically a
naive alien lost in the world (yes, like
E.T.)  The best thing I can say about the movie is that Hugh Jackman is one of the few adult men in
the world who can pull off wearing shorts to work in a professional environment.  You notice his legs because you're trying to keep your
eyes off his head, which sports one of the more unfortunate mullets you've ever seen.  Actually, all the hair-do's in the movie are
hair-don'ts.  Jackman, Sigourney Weaver, the South African rappers who play the small-time crooks become Chappie's
masters--everybody.  It kind of made me wanted to stick around to see if somebody actually claimed credit for the movie's hair designs.  If
I hadn't been in such a hurry to get as far away from the movie as possible, I might have done it.  (3/8/2015)

WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS   There's an article in today's Los Angeles Times about how this movie and Beyond the Lights have
the potential to become the movies that we ignored at the time, but will look back on and remember as two of the memorable movies of
2014.  (Think
The Shawshank Redemption.)  I don't know about that, but I can tell you that I did enjoy this tale of twenty-first century
vampires in the Greater Wellington, New Zealand area.  It's not something to aspire to.  As the movie opens, four vampires sharing a house
are having a house meeting to complain to one of their number about shirking with his household responsibilities.  Barry hasn't washed
dishes in the past five years.  His excuse: "I'm a vampire!  Vampires don't wash dishes."  And they're off. One of the housemates has
managed to enslave a human and has forced her to bring victims to dinner at the house.  Things go badly, and one of the guests gets turned
into a vampire--and promptly discovers that being a vampire kind of sucks.  (Pun not intended.) He still hangs around with his human
friend Stu, a clueless software engineer, who by virtue of being the least oblivious person around becomes the most compelling character
in the movie.  (Even though he seldom says more than, "My name is Stu," and "I'm a software engineer.")  "Who's going to kill and eat Stu
first?" becomes the movie's overriding question.  The movie's kind of a loopy mess, but not in a bad way.  If the prediction of the
Times is
correct, you'll have lots of opportunities to catch this movie on TBS in the decades ahead.  (3/8/2015)

MAPS TO THE STARS   So, Bunkie, you say you've had it up to here with movie awards season?  You say you wish somebody would
just take an Oscar and bludgeon Julianne Moore to death with it?  David Cronenberg feels your pain--as does Julianne Moore, come to
think of it.  In this all-star black comedy about Hollywood manners and mores (or what passes for them, anyway), Ms. Moore not only
gets clubbed to death with something resembling an Oscar, she has sex a threesome with a couple, celebrates the tragic drowning of a
nine-year-old boy and does things on the toilet that you certainly won't see Meryl doing anytime soon.  And she's not even the main
character.  Ms. Moore, John Cusack, Mia Wasikowska, Robert Pattinson, Olivia Williams, Carrie Fisher and others gleefully mock
Hollywood and everyone in it. This is certainly not a movie for the timid--I did say that David Cronenberg directed it, but if you up for a
whole lot of depravity that's disgusting and hilarious at the same time, check it out. (2/28/2015)

FOCUS  On the local news station the other day, the news readers were touting this as a great movie made in Louisiana. The "made in
Louisiana" part is true, but that irritates me because not only did I have to pay to see this stinker, my taxes paid for it.  Woof.  As you may
know,
Focus is about slick and suave con men--and women.  For movies like this to work, you need criminals that you like--despite the
fact that they'd rip you off in a heartbeat if they ever got the chance.  It also helps if the con men and women have some person chemistry
between them. Think
The Sting, Butch Cassidy, The Italian Job, etc.  All that is missing from Focus.  Will Smith is no longer the Fresh
Prince, and rooting for him in a movie is getting harder by the year.  Margot Robbie was an engaging distraction in
The Wolf of Wall Street,
but she's really thrown to the wolves to fend for herself here.  Not only do we not like them very much, they don't seem to be having
much fun either.  Nor will you. At best, you'll enjoy seeing how the movie makers converted the NFL's Super Bowl XLVII into "XVII" for
a football league of made up of fake teams because the NFL wasn't about to give its blessing to allow this mess to use its logo and images.  
It's not worth it.  (2/27/2015)

The DUFF  I'm going to go out on a limb and say that someday, we may look back on The DUFF as one of those iconic high school
movies like
The Breakfast Club or Mean Girls that capture the zeitgeist of being in high school at a specific point in time.  Like the two
movies I just mentioned,
The DUFF is all about the labels that high school students put on each other and how the students struggle to
overcome them.  The label, in this instance, is Designated Ugly Fat Friend. The movie goes to some pains to point out that DUFF's don't
necessarily have to be ugly or fat--they're just the least attractive person in any particular group of friends that other students in school find
to be approachable conduits to the more attractive friends. The plot is almost identical to Mean Girls--prom and all--and similar lessons are
learned.  The students are standard issue--insecure and slaves to their electronic devices. Two in particular deserve mentioning because
they might creep out older people in the audience.  Robbie Ammell (brother of TV's
Arrow, Stephen) is a dead ringer for Tom Cruise thirty
years ago, and Bella Thorne, who plays the "Mean Girl" could be Jessica Chastain from twenty years ago.  Watching them together, you
feel as if you're in even more of a time warp.  We'll see if my prediction about the staying power of the movie comes true. Meanwhile,
check it out.  (2/23/2015)

McFARLAND, USA   If Kevin Costner didn't exist, somebody would have to make him up. In his younger days, he was great at playing
the ex-jock.  Now that he's getting older, he's taking on the "ex-ex-jock", i. e. coach roles. Which is fine. Here, he's washed out of a
number of better coaching jobs, and the best gig he can find is at a high school in the Central Valley of California where the
Mexican-American students have better things to do than play football.  After school, they're off to pick cabbage, almonds or whatever
needs picking at any given time. Noticing that some of the kids run really fast (They have to. They don't have cars, and they've got places
to go.), he organizes a cross country track team. Over the next two hours, all of the clichés of the traditional underdog story are observed,
and Kevin and his family (including the wonderful Maria Bello) are slowly absorbed into the local culture. The movie carefully steps around
the issue of whether the students are actually citizens or not and goes to work on your softer side by showing that McFarland is where
Kevin and his family need to be and that he's made a difference in the lives of the students he coaches--and even restored pride to the
community. During the credits, we're shown current photos of the original seven runners and told that they all went to college and are
living productive lives--mostly around McFarland. Being a half-full kind of guy, I choose to ignore the blatant manipulation the
movie-makers are using on me, and I think it's pretty wonderful.  (2/22/2015)

JUPITER ASCENDING   If you're wondering where to park the kids while you're at Fifty Shades of Grey, go with Jupiter Ascending. It's
kind of a mess, but it's got three of the most likeable actors around (Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum, Eddie Redmayne) and they do their best
to put on a show. If you decide you want to along, you can counter the feeling that a week from now, you won't remember a thing about
this movie by remembering all the movies that this one reminds you of.  Here's the first dozen or so that came to my mind:
Superman (hot
date flying sequence);
The Towering Inferno (Mila Kunis has to be rescued after falls from about 70 skyscrapers); Soylent Green (Soylent
Green is people!);
The Wizard of Oz (lots of tin men and flying animals); Dune (Intergalactic family warfare); Tron (Channing Tatum
doesn't walk, he glides);
Signs (aliens in cornfields); Flash Gordon (the movie's fashion inspiration); the Star Wars and Star Trek movies
(practically everything); the
Harry Potter movies (the bureaucracy at the heart of the universe); and Alice in Wonderland, which asks you
to believe five impossible things before breakfast. See it on the biggest screen you can because there's a lot to see.  (2/16/2015)

FIFTY SHADES OF GREY   Congratulations to Bernardo Bertolucci.  Your Last Tango in Paris is still the worst movie about sex it's been
my fate to encounter.  The image of Maria Schneider and Marlon Brando in the tub still has the power to creep me out. I came this close to
giving
Grey a pass because based on the evidence, if you're a chick working in a hardware store who fantasizes about a handsome
billionaire stalking you
because you're just so special, this is definitely your thing. I've been told that the movie is much better written than
the book. All I know is that I laughed inappropriately in most of the wrong places. But at least I wasn't alone--the 98 percent of the
audience that was female got a hoot out of finding that Dakota Johnson apparently doesn't shave her legs.  (Not a big turn on for me.)  
Because Ms. Johnson--daughter of Melanie Griffith--reminds me so much of her mother (in a good way), I spent the first half of the movie
trying to think of some way to link this movie to
Working Girl. But other than the mother/daughter link and the female empowerment
theme, there wasn't a lot to work with. Ms. Johnson is the star here. I predict big things for her in the future. For Jamie Dornan, who
plays Grey, it should be enough that he's a Calvin Klein underwear model.  
Please don't let there be a sequel.  (2/14/2015)

BLACK OR WHITE  made me like it, despite itself.  Kevin Costner has been all over the map in the empathy department over the years.
Bull Durham and Field of Dreams--sure.  3 Days to Kill and Draft Day--not so much. Black or White doesn't start well, as Kev is
photographed with a drink in his hand in every scene. Literally. Every scene.  We get it. He has a problem. After a while, it gets funny, and
you wonder how he can possibly function, if he's such a lush.  But he does.  It doesn't hurt that he's helped along by the ever-wonderful
Octavia Spencer and a cute kid who plays his granddaughter. There's not much here that's fresh, but the movie is worth seeing because
there's some talk about race that might upset some folks. But at least, it's honest talk, and I for one, think that we can only use more of it.
So good for Black or White.  See it if you dare. (2/1/2015)

A MOST DANGEROUS YEAR  is much better than it sounds.   Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain play a New York couple, circa 1981,
who want to establish a consumer gas business the old-fashioned way--not mobbed up and just cheating on their taxes a little bit.  They are
challenged in this task by forces unknown who seem to want to put them out of business--and one force that is very well known, an
aspiring politician who thinks that hanging the gas industry out to dry will advance his own career.  Isaac is a little wooden, and Chastain
apparently doesn't get much direction for her character, but they keep huffing and puffing, and eventually we finds things to like about
them. That observation is also generally true for the movie itself.  You can tell it takes itself very seriously--which is fine, but it makes it
very hard to have much empathy for any of the people on the screen. But eventually, you realize that it is what it is and decide OK, I get it.
(1/31/2015)
 

AMERICAN SNIPER   (NOTE: This movie was not released in national distribution until the third week of January.  If I'd had a chance to
see it in December, I would have considered it one of my favorite movies of 2014.)  After a couple directorial outings like
J. Edgar and
Jersey Boys, one would be forgiven for thinking that Clint Eastwood's finally lost it at the age of 84.  But after a cinematic gut punch like
American Sniper, you'd quickly see the error of your ways. As everyone must know by now, it's the story of Chris "The Legend" Kyle, the
most deadly sniper in U. S. military history. Eastwood and star Bradley Cooper have been quoted extensively saying that they made the
movie primarily to honor Mr. Kyle and his family and secondarily to please movie-goers.  Part of me is a tad too cynical to fall for that, but
a big part of me is pleased that they bothered to say it.  If
Silver Linings Playbook hadn't sealed the deal, this movie cements Cooper's
status as one of our finest actors.  While he might be a little long in the tooth to play 30-year-old Kyle, he makes the character believable in
every way.  Sienna Miller and a bunch of up-and-coming younger actors playing soldiers are equally fine. Most critics have praised the
movie, but the few who haven't complain that the movie isn't critical enough of the war in Iraq, or that it takes liberty with some of the
episodes in Mr. Kyle's book that have been condensed for the movie.  (Curiously, those same critics don't seem to have a problem with the
director of
Selma saying that she wasn't going to let "facts" get in the way of her telling a good story.)  This movie is as taut and ripped as
a Navy Seal.  About half-way through, one of the soldiers in the movie compares war to hanging on to an electrified fence.  At the end of
the movie, I kind of felt that I'd been hanging on to that fence for a couple of hours myself.  (1/19/2015)

FOXCATCHER  As you may know by now, one of the rules on this page is that we don't criticize Steve Carell.  We do, however, like to
talk about him. How is it that he can give amazing performances in movies like
Dan in Real Life, Crazy, Stupid Love and The Way Way
Back
--and get no credit for them; yet when he plays a cypher like John E. du Pont in this movie, the critics fall all over themselves to
recognize him.  I don't get it.  I guess I'd have to call
Foxcatcher an interesting story badly told.  Right off the bat, they want you to believe
that Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum are brothers.  In reality, they're thirteen years apart, but on the screen the
made-up-to-appear-balding Ruffalo looks like he's Tatum's father.  It seems impossible that they both could have won gold medals in the
recently completed Los Angeles Olympics.  Tatum--who's already a three-time world wrestling champion as well as an Olympic
champion-- accepts a sponsorship from du Pont's Team Foxcatcher.  Du Pont promises coaching and mentorship, but delivers only on
cocaine and life lessons on how to be a rich man's plaything.  Some critics have suggested that du Pont's interest in the wrestlers was
sexual--but that doesn't really come across in movie--and frankly, Carell's du Pont is so delusional and self-absorbed, that I don't know that
he could sustain a sexual relationship.  There's a lot about Mr. du Pont we don't know--I suspect that the family's battalion of attorneys
went over the script with a fine-tooth comb and expunged any damaging information that hadn't already come out at his trial. Not knowing
what we don't know leaves us with what we do--which is that John E. du Pont had issues.  It would have nice if the talented actors in this
movie could have explored what they were.  (1/17/2015)

THE GAMBLER  As Mark Wahlberg seems to be one of the hardest working men in show business (He's Everywhere! He's
Everywhere!), I feel bad when I'm compelled to say that something he's done just doesn't do it for me.  Why anybody thought the old
James Caan movie from the 70's needed to be remade in the first place is a mystery to me, and the "modern spin" put on it to bring it into
the new millennium kind of falls flat as well.  One of the major drawbacks of the original was that approximately 0.03 percent of the
American population would look at James Caan and think "college professor." I think a similar dynamic is at work in the casting of Marky
Mark.  You just don't get the vibe that he's either a self-destructive literature professor by day and scumbag by night.  He does his best, but
God bless him, he just doesn't get it done.  Which is too bad.  There are great performances by Jessica Lange as his mother and John
Goodman as a mafia don/warlord poet.  (1/3/2015)

INHERENT VICE   presents an interesting dilemma.  In recent weeks, Angelina Jolie's Unbroken has been widely criticized for being too
conservative or too something in its unadulterated gushing over the life of Louis Campesi.  I don't know if I'd go as far as to say the critics
hated it, but they sure didn't love it.  Now we have
Inherent Vice, an incoherent adaptation of an incomprehensible Thomas Pynchon
novel.  You'd really have to search back to the days of Cheech and Chong to find some a movie this drug-addled and inane.  And yet, the
critics love it.  The best that can be said for it is that it has a certain druggie charm.  Paul Thomas Anderson (
Magnolia, There Will Be
Blood
) directed, so you know that the stoner vibe is right in his wheelhouse.  As we know from Walk the Line, Joachim Phoenix and
Reese Witherspoon have a weird chemistry that can make even the unlikeliest stories hum.  And while they're given absolutely nothing to
work with here, they almost pull it off.  (1/12/2015)