Monday, November 30, 2015

Creed

Constantly brawling his way through group homes and detention centers, the bastard son of Apollo Creed is taken in by the great fighter's widow where she, even after providing a good home, education, career, and sense of direction, can't remove the chip from his shoulder. Determined to make his own name, the untested pugilist travels from L.A. to Liberty City to look up his father's old nemesis in the hopes of having him mold him into the next great light heavyweight champion. Despite being the seventh entry in the Rocky series, what director Ryan Coogler, cowriter Aaron Covington, star Michael B. Jordan, and Sylvester Stallone all understand (which Southpaw, 2015's other boxing saga  failed to) is the investment in characterization, and with Jordan, Creed finds the same likable, good natured spirit that Sly (who himself reprises his role with a thoughtful performance) brought to some previous movies. The filmmaking itself is impressive, especially the surprisingly limited fight sequences which are given immediacy by in-ring shooting. At the end of the day, a good movie is a good movie, yes, but Rocky VII is still Rocky VII. Entertaining as it is, it still feels like an exercise for Coogler and co. who I hope in the future will lend their talents to something less recycled.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Listen to Me Marlon

While Marlon Brando remained an enigma for his entire life, constantly evasive of the press and public, he kept thousands of hours of self-revealing audio footage in which he engaged in meditation, reflection, autobiographical narrative, and self-hypnosis which, along with a digitization he had taken of his face and footage from his career, was cobbled together in order to tell illuminate his story. Listen to Me Marlon takes a unique, edifying, and even moving approach for a documentary profile which is even further enhanced by its unusual and brilliant soundtrack, even though the film meanders and focuses too closely on the actor's most familiar high and low points.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Brooklyn

A young lass (Saoirse Ronan) leaves the fishbowl that is her impoverished, low opportunity Irish village on a steamship for a new life in America where, after overcoming the initial heartache and homesickness, she gains her footing, working as a shopgirl while attending night classes and courting an obsequious, blue collared, Italian American boy (Emory Cohen). From a novel by Colm Toibin as adapted by Nick Hornby, John Crowley's Brooklyn is an observant, lovingly filmed, warmly old fashioned, and beautifully done piece of wistfulness with an extraordinary and lovely Ronan who leads an exemplary cast, with Julie Walters, another standout, as a boarding house matron.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Friday, November 27, 2015

Cries & Whispers

A woman lays dying of cancer in a remote country estate (Harriet Andersson) and receives no comfort from her emotionally cold, self-serving sisters (Liv Ullmann and Ingrid Thulin), and gains her only solace from a saintly and mistreated servant (Kari Sylwan). Ingmar Bergman's Cries and Whispers astonishingly and in a quietly moving manner finds hope and affirmation in a harsh, castigating, and utterly bleak story. The film is brilliantly shot in profuse reds and whites and expertly acted by a band of Bergman familiars.
*** 1/2 out of ****

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Planes, Trains & Automobiles

A cranky, closed off ad executive (Steve Martin) trying to make his way home for the Thanksgiving holiday encounters an oafish, chain smoking, chatterbox (John Candy), also Chicago bound, whom he is thoroughly unable to detach himself from during their disastrous and many detoured excursion. As far as road movies, buddy comedies, or holiday pictures go, it feels trite to gripe about John Hughes' Planes, Trains & Automobiles as it is probably one of the finer entries in any of those genres, and contains more than its of share of laughs and, yes, tender moments. However, the film does reach it's "Enough Already!" point both for scenarios and soppiness and is not done any favors by its wretched, unnecessarily cheesed out score. Martin doesn't always come off well either but Candy is ideal, whether for generating earned laughter or straight pathos.
*** out of ****

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Spectre

After operating without orders to thwart a terrorist plot in Mexico City, a lead from his most recently dispatched target leads 007 to the shadowy titular organization that has dogged his entire career, all without the cover of MI6, who are facing disbandment resulting from a global surveillance alternative to a secret agent outfit. With a hand to hand combat sequence on a moving train, a high speed chase through the hills of a chalet, and a major revelation on Bonds' #1 nemesis (among other elements) Spectre, Daniel Craig's purported final outing as the archetypical British agent and director Sam Mendes' second go round following the dazzling Skyfall, tries too hard to recapture specific Bond moments effectively setting the series back, all of which is further inflamed by overplotting, overlength, about four endings too many, and an incredibly stupid screenplay. That being said, the film is expectedly punctuated by moments of intensity, excitement, and dazzling set pieces. Christoph Waltz makes a terrific foil and the film contains surprisingly spectacular camerawork, particularly in an opening tracking sequence and in several magnificent vistas. When considered on a whole, it all results in the kind of entertaining mixed bag popcorn you'd thought the series had grown out or were possibly banking on.
** 1/2 out of ****

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Room

A young woman (Brie Larson) has spent seven years of her life held captive in a soundproof shed in her abductor's backyard, having been joined the previous five by her son whom she conceals knowledge of  outside life. Following a miraculous escape opportunity, mother and son must adjust to life in the real world while contending with the effects of dealing with lost time, a media onslaught, and still grieving parents (Joan Allen and William H. Macy), among other issues. From a novel by Emma Donoghue, which drew on an extreme case out of Germany (and holds relevancy following the recent occurrence in Cleveland), Lenny Abrahamson's Room is a thoughtful, well conceived take, which tactfully leaves certain questions unanswered and situations explored while focusing on its primary theme of finding hope in a hopeless situation, resulting in an intense and moving experience. Larson is an earnest, appealing actress who offers her best but struggles during the most most demanding scenes and Allen is tenderly powerful in support.
*** 1/2 out of **** 

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Mr. Turner

The last passage in the life of J.M.W. Turner, the gruff, eccentric, and masterful British landscape painter as he lives alone with his neglected housekeeper, battles members of the art establishment while preparing his latest gallery, moves to a seaside community, and grieves over his recently departed father while facing is own mortality. In Mr. Turner, Mike Leigh employs his unorthodox, understated approach with a result that is somewhat plodding but strives to create an honest portrait of an uncouth genius and entirely bypasses the usual biopic trappings. Timothy Spall turns in a bold and somewhat unsympathetic performance and Dick Pope's cinematography beautifully captures its subject's inspirations.
*** out of ****

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Blue Ruin

A mentally ill drifter receives the news that the man responsible for his parent's deaths is returning to their rural childhood town. After dispatching the killer in an unplanned, slipshod manner, he finds himself the target of a manhunt led by the recently deceased's redneck kin. Jeremy Saulnier's Blue Ruin is a competently made, carefully photographed, bloody and deeply intense thriller that throws in some some illogical plot detail and opts for an unnecessarily over the top shootout conclusion. Macon Blair contributes a fine leading performance.
*** out of ****