This page contains reviews of films seen during the months of January to March 2015


“The Lunchbox”- This is a quiet and charming story of a man and woman who make contact in Mumbai due to an error in the rather unusual and unique lunch box delivery system. The woman, Ila (Nimrat Kaur of “Homeland”), is married and has a child. Each day she prepares lunch for her husband and stores it in a metal container which is picked up and delivered by a system that involves the transportation of many lunchboxes throughout the city, whether from individuals or restaurants. My first reaction was to wonder how in the world the deliverers keep track of which lunchbox goes to which person. And, sure enough, Ila’s lunchbox is mistakenly delivered to Saajan Fernandes (Irrfan Khan), a somewhat dour government clerk who is also a widower. But Saajan loves the food he finds in Ila’s lunchbox and they begin to communicate by letter each day which seems to be drawing them closer and closer together, especially when Ila realizes that her husband, who barely acknowledges her, is having an affair. Namrat Kaur and Irrfan Khan provide outstanding performances which require a great deal of simple expression to reveal their feelings. B+ (3/29/15)


“The Two Faces of January”- Based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith (“The Talented Mr. Ripley”), this is a lukewarm “thriller” which takes place in Greece and Turkey. Although the basic outline of the plot and the filming techniques resemble some of the classic Hitchcock thrillers, “The Two Faces of January” simply never takes off. Oscar Isaac (“Inside Llewyn Davis”) plays Rydal, an American tour guide in Athens who scams his clients. Rydal makes the mistake of noticing and ultimately befriending a handsome American couple, Chester (Viggo Mortensen) and Collete (Kirsten Dunst) MacFarland, who give a distinct appearance of being successful and wealthy. Rydal’s involvement with them, however, turns bad when he witnesses Chester getting rid of a man’s body in a hotel hallway and ultimately helps him, thus becoming an accomplice. The three find themselves hiding from the police on Crete and things go from bad to worse as the truth behind the MacFarlands’ situation comes out and Chester’s mental state deteriorates. Even apart from their age differences, Mortensen and Durst seemed unlikely as a couple and Isaac provides little magnetism to spice things up. Unfortunately, the film also has a tepid, and rather unshocking ending. C (3/3/15)


“A Most Wanted Man”- In this film based on a book by John le Carré, a young bearded and disheveled Russian/Chechen man arrives in Hamburg via the sea, and is immediately the subject of interest by a variety of intelligence agencies. It seems that the young man, Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin) has come to Hamburg to claim money his father left at a bank run by Tommy Brue (Willem Dafoe), and is suspected of being a terrorist. A group of German operatives led by Gunther Bachmann (Philip Seymour Hoffman, in his last role), investigates and determines that they can put Karpov and his money to good use. But there are competing agencies with different ideas. “A Most Wanted Man” is an effective and in many ways typical le Carré thriller. Things proceed slowly and not always with great clarity. But the cast does a fine job, including Rachel McAdams as a lawyer who assists Karpov; Nina Hoss (“Barbara”) and Daniel Brühl (“Rush”) as two of Bachmann’s aides; and Robin Wright as Martha Sullivan, an American operative who seems just a little too nice. Philip Seymour Hoffman, as always, is a powerful presence, but unfortunately his German accent in his final role was not terribly effective. B+ (2/26/15)


“The Theory of Everything”- The story of Stephen Hawking is the story of an extraordinary and brilliant man who developed ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) in the early 1960s, married and had three children, and has survived to this day despite originally being told he had two years to live. We are introduced to Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) when he was a student in Cambridge in 1963. Although he is shown already having some symptoms of his disease, he meets and falls for Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones). And at the same time that he is impressing his professors at Cambridge with his brilliance in astrophysics, he is diagnosed with ALS or motor neuron disease, but Jane decides to marry him nevertheless. “The Theory of Everything” is a misleading title because it seems to indicate that the film concentrates on Hawking’s scientific accomplishments. In fact, although certainly present in the film (we hear briefly about his theories on the birth of the universe, we see him being granted a Ph.D., at Cambridge, and we learn of his authorship of “A Brief History of Time” by using a special computer to communicate), what we see mostly is Hawking’s marital life with Jane, their three children, and his nurse and ultimate second wife, Elaine (Maxine Peake). From what I have read of Hawking’s life, it’s apparent that the story of his domestic relationships has been watered down somewhat to make it more palatable to the viewing audience. Eddie Redmayne’s performance as Stephen Hawking is a breathtaking feat. Felicity Jones is appealing as Jane, a highly intelligent woman who dedicated herself to Hawking but ultimately (25 years or so later) began to crumble from the pressure of taking care of three children and a paralyzed man in a wheelchair. The supporting cast is also quite good, including Charlie Cox as Jonathan Hellyer Jones, a church choir leader, who provides support for Jane and Stephen; David Thewlis as Dennis Sciama, Hawking’s professor and mentor at Cambridge; and Simon McBurney as Hawking’s father. When the film begins, it informs the viewer of the date: 1963. But for the remainder of the film, there is hardly any indication of the actual time and date and although we see Hawking growing worse physically, the characters don’t seem to age much. Yet the film covers a little less than 30 years. This is a good film, but not a great one. Still, it is recommended for Eddie Redmayne’s performance if nothing else. B+ (2/20/15)


“Birdman”- Set effectively to a score of drumbeat crescendos and several pieces of classical music, “Birdman” is the rather unusually visualized story of Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) an actor who played Birdman, a comic book superhero, in successful films but whose career declined severely after that. Now we see him rather coldly but determinedly traversing the backstage corridors of a Broadway theater where he is about to star in his own creation, a play based on Raymond Carver’s story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.” With a weak producer (Zach Galifianakis), Riggan is pretty much in control (so much so that he seems to have developed psychic powers to mentally control objects) of the production. As he roams through the backstage corridors (in long extremely effective single-take shots), Riggan interacts with his co-stars Lesley (Naomi Watts), thrilled to be making her Broadway debut, and his lover Laura (Andrea Riseborough). And when one of the weak members of the cast is unable to continue due to a freak accident (or was it?), Lesley recommends her friend Mike (Edward Norton) who joins the cast and almost steals the show. “Birdman” is an intensive look at existential angst displayed mostly by Riggan but reflected in the views and comments of others in the film. “Birdman” contains some wonderful performances, including especially those of Emma Stone as Thomson’s rehabbing daughter Sam, and Edward Norton as the narcissistic and uninhibited co-star Mike, both nominated for Oscars. Michael Keaton is a revelation in this one-of-a-kind role (another Oscar nomination). Also present in the cast is Lindsay Duncan as a cynical New York Times theater critic. Directed and co-written by Alejandro González Iñárritu (“Amores Perros,” “Babel,” and “21 Grams”), “Birdman” is a truly original and intelligent piece, beautifully directed, filmed and performed and certainly worthy of an Oscar for which it has been nominated for best picture. A (2/19/15)


“Fury”-When I was a child it was quite common to see movies about World War II and Korea. In recent years, other than “Saving Private Ryan,” films about fighting in WW II have been rare. And so it was with some curiosity that I watched “Fury” starring Brad Pitt as Don “Wardaddy” Collier, the commander of a tank nicknamed “Fury” fighting in Germany in the waning days of the European war in April 1945. “Fury” and its crew have just survived a horrible battle and are sent, with three other tanks, on a mission to clear out German towns. Shia LeBeouf, Michael Peña, and Jon Bernthal are Wardaddy’s rag-tag and experienced crew, but they soon learn that they will be joined by a novice soldier, Norman, who describes himself as a clerk typist (Logan Lerman). Needless to say, the film concentrates on Norman’s “coming of age,” especially when Wardaddy and Norman find themselves enjoying the company of two young German women and later in a pitched battle with SS troops. Brad Pitt’s performance is fine although bordering on a cliché as it resembles the self-confident character he played in “Inglourious Basterds.” Is “Fury” an anti-war movie? Well, as General Sherman once said “War is hell.” And it certainly looks that way here. B+ (2/15/14)


“Finding Vivian Maier”- Imagine a woman working her entire life as a nanny, keeping her life extremely private (even to those with whom she lived), and venturing out into Chicago neighborhoods, taking literally thousands of astounding street photographs with her Rolleiflex camera. Then imagine that this woman never showed her photos to anyone and died leaving a trunk full of thousands of negatives and hundreds of unprocessed rolls of film. When Vivian Maier, the woman I describe, died alone in 2009 at the age of 83, a trunk full of her incredible creative energy was put on auction and purchased as a lark by young John Maloof who has now co-directed this outstanding and fascinating documentary about the life of this eccentric and mysterious woman. “Finding Vivian Maier” is a revelation because it shows how a creative genius could live in virtual poverty while those around her had almost no idea what she was capable of doing. John Maloof was able to learn a great deal about Vivian Maier but never why she was so secretive about her life and art. The film contains a series of interviews with those who knew her, including her employers and some of those she served as nanny, as well as with two of the leading photographers of our time, Joel Meyerowitz and Mary Ellen Mark, who seem to have been as stunned as everyone else that this woman could have made such brilliant and courageous photos and yet never displayed them to anyone. “Finding Vivian Maier” is deservedly nominated for the Best Documentary Oscar. See it by all means. But if you are curious now, you can see many of Vivian Maier’s brilliant photos at You will be amazed. A (2/13/15)


“Love is Strange”- Starring John Lithgow and Alfred Molina as an aging gay couple, “Love is Strange” tries very hard to provide insight into some of the trials and travails of gay marriage, but the plot could just as easily have been about a heterosexual marriage. Ben (Lithgow) and George (Molina) have been living together for many years and finally marry only to find that George is no longer welcome as a music teacher at a Catholic school. The loss of income creates a crisis in which Ben and George find themselves living apart in the homes of family members. Quickly, one becomes a burden on his loved ones and the other finds that his living situation is somewhat distasteful. “Love is Strange” has some fine performances, particularly from its stars, but becomes as uncomfortable to watch as the situation is uncomfortable to the characters. Marisa Tomei is appealing as Kate, Ben’s nephew’s wife, who works at home and has to deal with Ben’s presence. Ben’s nephew Eliot, on the other hand, is portrayed as somewhat oblivious and insensitive to everyone around him. A sour point. Also, there are indications in the film that Ben and George could have predicted and prevented their problems from occurring and this lessens the empathy one may have for what has happened to them. Finally, the title of the film seems irrelevant and inappropriate to this story. B- (1/29/15)


“Lucy”- Scarlett Johansson plays Lucy, a young woman living in the far east who finds herself accosted by an evil Asian gang which inserts a mysterious drug into her body. This drug almost immediately and incremently increases her brain capacity far beyond that of a normal human being. With increased brain capacity, Lucy also has increased ability to think and control her environment. The result: she turns into a super-being bent on revenge (but who also inexplicably takes out a few innocents). At virtually the same time, we meet Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman), an expert on human brain capacity who will ultimately meet up with Lucy later in the film. Although mildly entertaining, “Lucy,” much like the similarly themed “Transcendence,” takes an interesting premise but ultimately blows it on violence, silly situations, and predictable special effects. As for Scarlett Johansson, I hope she got plenty of money for this film since it’s not likely to enhance her stature as an actress. And as for Morgan Freeman who was also in “Transcendence,” it seems that no sci-fi film can ever be produced without his participation. C+ (1/20/15)


“Boyhood”-Try to imagine a film about a boy growing up from age 6 to 18 with a good mother who isn’t very successful in her relationships with men, although he has a loving father who sees him as often as possible. Doesn’t sound that exciting, does it? But when Richard Linklater decided to make this film, he had the brilliant idea to film it in short spurts over a period of 12 years so that the boy, Mason (Ellar Coltrane), grows up in front of our eyes along with his sister Samantha (the director’s daughter, Lorelei Linklater, who is outstanding). And of course we also see the natural aging and changes in the adult characters, Mason’s mother (Patricia Arquette in the best role of her career) and father (Ethan Hawke, always a pleasure to watch). The result is mesmerizing even if there isn’t exactly a plot (there are plenty of interesting life situations and excellent supporting cast members who come and go as the years pass). This is without a doubt the best portrayal of family life in an American film that I can remember because it has the stamp of real life on it. At the beginning I wondered how Linklater would manage to keep this going for 2 hours and 40 minutes. But that time passes quickly, believe me. Linklater is the closest thing America has to a European-style director. He cares about small details and human conversation. “Boyhood” is simply the next step after his “Before” trilogy which starred Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy (“Before Sunrise,” “Before Sunset,” and “Before Midnight”). And like the “Before” trilogy, you are likely, by the end of the film, to care deeply about these people and wonder what happens to them after it's over. A (1/15/15)


“Predestination”-A man walks into a bar and tells the bartender an amazing story which begins “When I was a little girl….” Based on a story called “All You Zombies” by the great sci-fi writer Robert Heinlein, “Predestination,” written and directed by Michael and Peter Spierig, and starring Ethan Hawke, Sarah Snook, and Noah Taylor, is one of the most fascinating and confounding sci-fi films I have seen in many a year. The heart of the story is time travel as Ethan Hawke’s character is a Temporal Agent whose job it is to travel back and forth in time in order to stop crimes from happening. But in this film nothing is that simple and it’s full of surprises. Ethan Hawke is outstanding in his unusual part, and Sarah Snook, a young actress from Adelaide, Australia, is memorable as a character known as The Unmarried Mother. I won’t say more. If you like sci-fi films with time travel, this is a challenge definitely worth taking. You’ll be shaking your head when you finally realize what’s going on. A- (1/10/15)


“Gloria”-This film from Chile is about a middle-aged divorced woman trying to have a life. Paulina Garcia is outstanding as the title character who, while lonely and somewhat depressed, tries to stir stir things up by singing along with the radio in her car, going to clubs, drinking, using drugs, and engaging in sex. Director Sebastian Lelio thus provides a portrait of a woman in her 50s unlike anything you are likely to see in a Hollywood film. Gloria has two grown children who have their own lives and she has to remind them to call. Her daughter is pregnant with a Swedish boyfriend and thinking of moving to his home country. At the heart of the film, though, is a very up-and-down and somewhat puzzling relationship that Gloria enters into with Rodolfo (Sergio Hernandez), a middle-aged former seaman, who although divorced is a little too involved in the lives of his daughters and his ex-wife. As is often the case with foreign films, this is not an action film. It’s about human beings and their relationships and emotions. And it should leave an impact on the viewer. B+ (1/5/15)


“Gone Girl”- Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck), a seemingly happily married man, comes home one day to find the front door open, his cat sitting on the sidewalk, signs of a struggle in the living room, and his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) gone. Dunne, who owns a local bar with his sister Margo (Carrie Coon), reports his wife’s disappearance to the police and an investigation is begun, led by Detective Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens). Little by little, Boney discovers clues that lead the police and the public to believe that Nick killed his wife. Although the book contained flashbacks by both husband and wife, the film, directed by David Fincher, concentrates on Amy’s point of view to enlighten us about the secrets that led this couple from marriage and jobs in New York City to joblessness in a small town in Missouri and eventually to Amy’s disappearance. Gillian Flynn had a great idea for her story but the film, just like the book, has what must be the most disappointing and rather pathetic ending I’ve ever seen in a film of this type. In fact, after over two hours of suspense, the film ends not with a bang but with a whimper of a completely unlikely conclusion. The end literally makes no sense as it requires Nick to act in a way that is utterly out of character from the way he was portrayed in the rest of the film. One thing “Gone Girl” does well, however, is vilify TV gossip media and rash public opinion as Nick and Amy’s story goes viral nationally. As for the cast, I was rather disappointed with some of the performances, particularly those of Rosamund Pike and Kim Dickens, who seemed uncomfortable in their roles. The cast also included Neil Patrick Harris as a former boyfriend of Amy, and Tyler Perry as Tanner Bolt, the top Chicago lawyer hired by Nick to defend him from murder charges. David Clennon and Lisa Banes were fine as Amy’s overbearing parents who publicized her entire childhood via books about “Amazing Amy.” “Gone Girl” is a complicated story and yet the film really drags when it runs well over two hours, ultimately leading to the dud ending. That’s a shame, because Gillian Flynn did have a great idea for a suspense tale. She just didn’t know how to end it satisfactorily. C+ (1/2/15)


“The Equalizer”- Denzel Washington is fairly decent at playing a familiar role: a cool man who seems to have almost Superman-like powers, to overcome evil. Based loosely on a 1980s TV series, “The Equalizer” presents Washington as Robert McCall, a seemingly ordinary man who often spends his nights in a diner reading and drinking tea. McCall, who seems to have a minor case of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, works in a Home Depot-type store and befriends a teenage prostitute, Teri (Chloë Grace Moretz), who also patronizes the diner and is curious about the books he reads. But when McCall witnesses Teri being abused and beaten by Russian thugs, he discards his Clark Kent-like demeanor and becomes “the equalizer,” to bring justice to the unjust. Unfortunately, although “The Equalizer” develops slowly and promisingly at the start, it quickly turns into a bloodfest so common to films like this. The script is also full of holes that are never answered (like just who is Robert McCall--we get a hint, but it’s not never made clear--and how does he manage to get away with all the mayhem that occurs). Marton Csokas, an actor from New Zealand, is effective as a cold Russian hit man, and the film also includes brief appearances by Bill Pullman and Melissa Leo. But in the long run, “The Equalizer” is simply too full of mindless and empty violence to be considered worthy of recommendation. C (1/1/15)

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