This page contains reviews of films seen during the months of January to March 2017


“Passengers” - Once again, I’m a sucker for sci-fi films, many of which fail to inspire, but this one is not that bad. At the very least, it covers a fairly original sci-fi situation, brings up some philosophical issues about space travel and loneliness (at least in my mind), and really has no evil characters (whether human or monster). The situation? A gigantic commercial spaceship is traveling towards another planet (Homestead II) for re-settlement. Aboard are 5,000 passengers and well over 200 crew. All are in suspended animation as the trip will take 120 years. After 30 years, one passenger’s suspension pod breaks down and wakes him up. Chris Pratt plays Jim Preston, an engineer who is faced with a lifetime alone on this spaceship as 90 years of travel loom ahead. While Preston does what he can to find out if he can return to suspended animation, he has one creature to talk to (an android bartender played by Michael Sheen who spends his time eternally wiping glasses). Preston can only hope for another passenger to awaken and soon he is joined by Aurora Lane, played by Jennifer Lawrence. Since the early days of space travel, I’ve always wondered what kind of person it would take to sit in a small capsule and travel alone (or almost alone) to the deep mysteries of space. While Jim and Aurora certainly have a lot more than a small capsule, the thought of spending the rest of their lives alone on this ship is rather daunting. Needless to say, we ultimately find out what caused Jim’s awakening and a variety of events ensue. Not great, but not bad either and Pratt and Lawrence are quite pleasant to watch in these roles. Michael Sheen is amusing as the android bartender. B (3/21/17)


“Sully” - Most people are probably familiar with the story of US Airways Flight 1549 which took off from LaGuardia Airport in New York City in January 2009, lost its engines when the plane was struck by birds, and wound up landing safely in the Hudson River thanks to the expertise and cool of its captain, Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger (Tom Hanks). But “Sully,” directed by Clint Eastwood, not only recreates that short flight but also reveals some little known facts about questions raised by the National Transportation Safety Board immediately following the “water landing” (as Captain Sullenberger called it) in the Hudson. Tom Hanks once again is transformed into the lead character, realistically playing a man who has saved 155 people, including himself, and been declared a hero while worrying about his reputation due to the NTSB investigation. He is well supported by Aaron Eckhart as Jeff Skiles, the co-pilot, and by Laura Linney as his wife, Lorraine Sullenberger. Linney has the tricky job of playing the wife, off in California, who can only express emotion while interacting with her husband on the telephone. Linney and Hanks are never actually physically together in any scene. One of the most memorable things about “Sully” and one of the things that makes movies like this incredible is the astounding re-creation of Flight 1549’s brief trip from LaGuardia into the river and the rescue of all aboard not long thereafter. B+ (3/9/17)


“A Man Called Ove” - Based on the popular book by Frederik Backman, “A Man Called Ove,” initially appears to involve solely a contemporary story/comedy centering on the activities of an ill-tempered overbearing retiree who walks around his community telling everyone he meets that they are not following the rules. But it isn’t long before Ove (Rolf Lassgård) is introduced to and yelling at new neighbors, including the Iranian wife, Parveneh (Bahar Pars), and we are learning, via flashbacks described by Ove, the story of his somewhat tragic past. “A Man Called Ove” is a warm, human story told with comedy and compassion. Lassgård as the senior Ove and Filip Berg as his younger counterpart perfectly portray a man who has little emotional reserve but whose life involves a combination of alternately bad, good, and bad luck. Bahar Pars is sensational as the neighbor woman who with tremendous personality and character brings Ove to tell the truth about the events in his life that have made him who he is. This is a wonderful movie. Highly recommended. (In Swedish-and some Persian-with English subtitles). A (3/6/17)


“Jack Reacher: Never Go Back” - Somewhere along the line Tom Cruise must have realized that whatever acting talent he had was perfect for the mystery thriller genre. Either that or he knew he’d make plenty of money doing such films. Because real acting talent is certainly not one of the requirements. What is required for such a film is a plot involving a mysterious conspiracy within or involving the government, and a panoply of clichés that go with such a film. “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back” is a standard mediocre thriller of this sort, but nevertheless mildly entertaining for people who like this genre. In a perfect opening scene to demonstrate what I can only call “superhero” characteristics, Reacher (Cruise, of course) is seen sitting in a diner after demolishing a group of men who lie outside in the parking lot. When the sheriff comes to arrest him and puts him in handcuffs, he tells the sheriff the phone will ring and shortly thereafter the sheriff will be the one in cuffs. Needless to say, that comes quickly to pass and we are on our way. Reacher, a former Army major, is headed to DC to meet Major Turner (Cobie Smulders) who now occupies Reacher’s former command. When he gets there, he discovers Major Turner has been arrested, and that he’s being accused of fathering a child he’s never heard of. And, soon thereafter, he is under arrest for a murder. From this point on, Cruise does a perfect imitation of himself as the all-knowing, all-perfect superhero who is one step ahead of every bad guy and incapable of being beaten in a fight. Cobie Smulders and Danika Yarosh are effective as the women who join Reacher in his battle for truth, justice and the American way. C+ (3/5/17)


“Moonlight” - Directed and written by Barry Jenkins, and based on Tarell Alvin McCraney’s story, “Moonlight” sensitively explores in three acts the coming of age of a young black man, Chiron, in a tough Miami neighborhood. “Moonlight” begins when Chiron (played initially by Alex R. Hibbert) is quite young and small, being put down as “Little” and harassed by his peers. Saved from bullies, and befriended by a drug dealer, Juan (Mahershala Ali) and his friend Teresa (Janella Monáe), Chiron is almost incapable of expressing himself. And it’s easy to understand when we also meet Chiron’s crack addicted mother Paula (Naomie Harris). But there are two acts to follow in this story in which we see Chiron as a teen (played by Ashton Sanders) and as an adult (played by Travante Rhodes). During the second act, it emerges that not only must Chiron deal with the difficulties of life as a young black man surrounded by abuse, drugs, and crime, but also with life as a gay man. What makes “Moonlight” special is that Jenkins and McCraney chose not to over-emphasize the negatives but to provide enlightenment on friendship, love and compassion from a variety of sources. Mahershala Ali (“House of Cards” and “Luke Cage”), one of my favorite actors, is delightful as the warm-spirited Juan, a man who at first protects the young Chiron from bullies and then decides, despite Chiron’s hesitations, to show him that there are people who care. Ali deservedly won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for this performance. The British actress, Naomie Harris (“Our Kind of Traitor” and “Spectre”), also nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, is notable as she here plays an American southern drug addicted mother as if she had been brought up in that culture. A memorable performance. Also of note in the cast is André Holland (seen recently as a black doctor struggling to be recognized in turn-of-the-century New York on “The Knick”) as the adult version of Chiron’s friend (and occasional foe), Kevin. It’s interesting to compare “Manchester by the Sea,” another serious slice-of-life film with “Moonlight.” What makes them different for me is that whereas “Manchester by the Sea” seemed to dwell for too long on the depressing aspects of its primary character’s life, “Moonlight” is far more sensitive and upbeat. “Moonlight” won the Best Picture Oscar. A- (2/25/17)


“Manchester by the Sea” - Most of the great serious movies have had a significant point to make or a unique central theme to explore. While “Manchester by the Sea” has wonderful cinematography, an excellent score, and outstanding performances (and is also nominated for an Oscar for Best Picture), I can’t say that I discerned any central point or theme other than an overly extended exploration of the effects of multiple tragedies on a single man. Casey Affleck is breathtaking in his portrayal of the depressed demeanor of Lee Chandler, a building superintendent in or near Boston, who is called back to his native Manchester By The Sea, after learning that his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) has died suddenly leaving behind a 16 year-old son, Patrick (Lucas Hedges). We see that Lee is functional in his daily life and activities, but he is barely able to function in social situations (in one scene a woman attracted to him has to tell her daughter that she can’t tolerate being with Lee because he simply doesn’t express himself, and in other scenes he attacks fellow bar patrons for little or no reason). But obviously there had to be more than his brother’s death, and the film eventually, through flashbacks, reaches a tragic event that has seared Lee’s life, seemingly permanently. In addition to Affleck’s performances, Michelle Williams (seen briefly) is touching in one particular scene as Lee’s ex-wife (now married to another man and a recent mother); and Lucas Hedges does a fine job as Patrick, a boy who is threatened with losing his current friends (especially girlfriends), his hockey team, and life in general in Manchester when he learns that Lee (who is now his legal guardian) plans to move him back to Boston. When the film, directed by Kenneth Lonergan (renowned for “You Can Count On Me”), began I was impressed with every aspect of it, but ultimately the depressing story begins to wear as the film extends over 137 minutes. B+ (2/23/17)


“Hitchcock/Truffaut” - Long before Hollywood decided to go primarily with mindless thrillers involving secret agents and comic book characters, there was a time when many filmmakers thought of themselves as artists who created their own original works. The French called them “auteurs.” There are still some around, such as Woody Allen, but most are long gone. In the 1960s, the great New Wave French filmmaker, Francois Truffaut (“Jules and Jim,” “The 400 Blows,” and “Shoot The Piano Player,” among others) recognized the artistry and greatness of one of those auteurs, Alfred Hitchcock, who at the time was thought in America to be producing mere entertainment. But Truffaut recognized that films like “The Man Who Knew Too Much” (two versions), “Vertigo,” “Strangers on a Train,” “The Lady Vanishes,” “Rear Window,” “North by Northwest,” “The Birds,” and “Psycho” were something very special. Truffaut asked Hitchcock if he could interview him and as a result they spent a week together with a French-English translator talking about movies at Universal Studios in Hollywood. This outstanding documentary, directed by Kent Jones, celebrates that conversation through sound and photos (by the great Philippe Halsman). But at the heart of the film are the commentaries of some of America’s leading contemporary directors, including David Fincher (“Gone Girl” and “The Social Network”), Wes Anderson (“The Grand Budapest Hotel”), Peter Bogdonovich, Martin Scorsese, and Richard Linklater (“Boyhood”). This is a film for movie lovers, especially those who are fascinated by what makes movies special and great. A (2/21/17)


“Arrival” - I’m a sucker for science fiction flicks, but I’m usually disappointed. Unfortunately, that was the case with “Arrival,” a tepid and rather preposterous film about the appearance on earth of a series of alien spaceships which hover over the ground and water at a variety of locations around the planet. “Arrival” begins with a series of scenes that appear to be unrelated to the sci-fi story at its heart, but ultimately we discover we’ve been slightly hoodwinked by the filmmakers (I won’t go any further on this point to avoid spoiling the film for those who choose to watch it). The film centers around Louise Banks (Amy Adams), a linguist called in by the military to try to decipher the language of the rather passive aliens (who appear behind a see-through border wall inside their ship and look like gigantic hands--referred to as heptapods) and determine why they have come to visit earth. This brings us to why the film is preposterous. Have you ever heard of Linear A and Linear B? They are languages of the ancient Minoan civilization. While Linear A led to Linear B which has been deciphered, Linear A, created by humans, remains undeciphered after decades of work by linguists. In “Arrival,” Louise Banks translates much of the alien circular language seemingly within days of her contact with the two heptapods she encounters (named “Abbott and Costello” by Louise’s cohort, Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner)). Not only is this unlikely, it is inconceivable. What makes things worse is the ultimate rather clichéd explanation given for the alien’s trip to earth. It would have been really different if it had been discovered that they were simply space tourists out for a good time. Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker (as Colonel Weber, a military official who hires Banks and Donnelly) all do a workmanlike job. Michael Stuhlbarg appears as a bellicose military official. C+ (2/2/17)


“Hell or High Water” - This Oscar-nominated film (for Best Picture) has pretensions of being a serious comment on the lives of rural folk adversely affected by the local banking system. But don’t take that too seriously, because in reality it’s a fairly humdrum film about two not terribly smart bank robbing brothers who are being chased by the authorities, including a couple of Texas Rangers. Chris Pine and Ben Foster are the Howard brothers, stealing from various branches of a West Texas bank which is about to foreclose on their late mother’s ranch. Unfortunately, Pine and Foster, attempting deep Texas accents, mumble their way through most of the film, making it a little tricky understanding their motivations. And then along comes Marcus Hamilton (played amusingly by Jeff Bridges), a tough, close-to-retirement Ranger, accompanied by Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham), an American Indian, something Hamilton never lets him forget. That’s pretty much it. The film ends with a curious conversation between Hamilton and one of the Howard brothers. Why this film has received an Oscar nomination is beyond me. It’s decent but hardly Best Picture material. Maybe it’s a sign of how few really good films there were in 2016. Filmed primarily in southern New Mexico. B- (1/25/17)


“The Accountant” - Ben Affleck plays Christian Wolff, who is autistic and a math savant but who was successfully trained in self-defense by his father, a tough military type. Despite working as an accountant out of a storefront in a small town, Wolff has some very significant unlawful clients. But one day, when he is hired to audit a seemingly normal and lawful robotics company which appears to be missing a few million dollars (as discovered by Dana Cummings, played by Anna Kendrick), Wolff finds himself in the middle of a battle. What’s interesting about “The Accountant” is that the math savant is portrayed as something of a “superhero,” who battles the bad guys with the help of Ms. Cummings. And, of course, there is the mysterious anti-hero, played by Jon Bernthal, who turns out to be something of a surprise at the end. But we must not forget that Wolff is also being hunted by Treasury agents, including Ray King (J.K. Simmons) (who has an important story to tell) and Marybeth Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson). The film is intriguing because of the unusual psychological makeup of the main character, but ultimately it feels an awful lot like the many typical thrillers we see almost daily coming from Hollywood. C+ (1/23/17)


“Remember” - Occasionally, a film comes along that it is relatively unknown and yet a pleasant surprise. This film, directed by Atom Egoyan (best known for “The Sweet Hereafter”), is one such film. Although the story is somewhat farfetched, the cast and the presentation make it an intriguing entertainment experience. Zev Guttman (Christopher Plummer) and wheelchair-bound Max Rosenbaum (Martin Landau) are elderly men living in a nursing home. Zev has just lost his wife, and is suffering from dementia. Somehow, despite this, Max encourages Zev to walk out of the nursing home and set out on a road trip (fully planned by Max) that will take Zev to Canada, Idaho, and Reno, Nevada, in search of a Nazi SS officer from Auschwitz, using the pseudonym of Rudy Kurlander, who killed both of their families. His intent, with Zev’s encouragement, is to murder the Nazi. Despite his dementia, Zev manages to travel, buy a gun, and find all four men who are using the name Rudy Kurlander. “Remember” is beautifully filmed, as well as superbly acted by the 87-year old Christopher Plummer who, at various times, appears alternately mentally dim and acutely aware. In one particularly effective scene, Zev finds himself confronting the virulent anti-semitic son (Dean Norris of “Breaking Bad”) of a deceased Nazi. But ultimately what makes “Remember” memorable is an unexpected surprise ending. B+ (1/19/17)


“The Girl On The Train” - If you have read the book, you will know that it is set in England along a railroad line that extends out from London. The filmmakers have transported the story to New York along the Metro-North Railroad line that extends from Grand Central Terminal up along the Hudson River to the towns of Hastings-on-Hudson and Ardsley in Westchester County. This transformation works well. And there is one other fairly obvious transformation. In the book, Rachel, the girl on the train, is physically changed from her alcohol abuse, appearing somewhat red-faced and overweight. In the film she is played by Emily Blunt, looking lovely as ever, but who manages to convey Rachel’s deterioration through facial expressions of depression and ennui and body language. If you haven’t read the book, you should know that Rachel is an unhappily divorced woman who rides the train daily to New York and on the way observes homes in her old neighborhood. In doing so, she sees a couple who appear to be madly in love and enjoying their lives in their leafy suburban environment. But then one day, from the train she observes something that doesn’t fit and finds herself in the middle of a missing person investigation. Emily Blunt does a fine effective job of conveying the determined and yet confused mind of a woman suffering the loss of a marriage and the jealousy of seeing another woman take her place. The rest of the cast does a good job, including Rebecca Ferguson as Anna, the woman who is now married to her ex; Luke Evans and Haley Bennett as Scott and Megan, the couple observed from the train; and Edgar Ramirez as a psychiatrist who finds himself in the middle of the mystery. I was less impressed with Justin Theroux as Rachel’s ex-husband, Tom, and with Allison Janney, somewhat miscast, as a police detective. B+ (1/18/17)


“Love & Friendship” - Based on a short story by Jane Austen this film, directed by Whit Stillman, is no “Pride and Prejudice.” In fact, it’s not even close to “Northanger Abbey.” Kate Beckinsale, a talented British actress, known in recent years more for her “Underworld” films than for anything serious, plays Lady Susan Vernon, a late 18th Century widow, bent on manipulating her relatives in order to improve her status in society. With the friendship and advice of an American, Alicia Johnson (Chloë Sevigny), Lady Susan moves in with the Vernon family after being evicted from the home of the Manwarings and suffering rumors of improper dalliances. Beckinsale portrays Lady Susan as a charming but extremely manipulative woman, who initially gives everyone the shocking idea that she will marry the much younger Reginald DeCourcy (Xavier Samuel), the brother of her sister-in-law, Catherine Vernon(Emma Greenwell). But Lady Susan also has a marriageable daughter, Frederica (Morfydd Clark), and her manipulations surround Frederica’s prospects as well. The most amusing performance in this film comes from Tom Bennett as Sir James Martin, a stumbling and bumbling but wealthy member of the upper class, who makes himself available for marriage despite his flaws. Ultimately, though “Love & Friendship” felt like a dud to me. The script did not have the bite one would expect from an Austen story, and ultimately, when finally over, the film felt like it would be more appropriately called “much ado about little or nothing.” Stephen Fry appears as Mr. Johnson, Alicia’s husband. C (1/11/17)


“The Hollars” - This is one of those family films that has amusing and warm touches but doesn’t add up to very much. Directed by and starring John Krasinski, “The Hollars” is about a midwestern family with a slightly daffy son, Ron (Sharlto Copley); an artist son, John (Krapinski), living in New York who considers himself a failure; a businessman father, Don (Richard Jenkins), consumed by his failing local business; and a mother, Sally (Margo Martindale), who seems almost eternally upbeat despite discovering that she has a serious brain tumor. John, whose girlfriend Rebecca (Anna Kendrick) is pregnant, arrives from New York when Sally is hospitalized following a seizure. At this point, the film is made up of sometimes irrelevant and unlikely vignettes, such as a scene in which John accepts an invitation to a dinner appointment at the home of his mother’s male nurse (Charlie Day), whom he dislikes, and who just happens to be married to John’s former girlfriend (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, seen briefly). The cast does a fine job with the material it has. Sharlto Copley is quite funny as the somewhat loopy brother. Richard Jenkins and Margo Martindale, always excellent, are touching, respectively, as a man who fears he may lose his wife and as a woman who is making every effort to cheer up her family in the face of possible tragedy. Josh Groban appears as Reverend Dan, the soft-spoken husband of Ron’s former wife. B (1/5/17)


“Anthropoid” - This film tells the true-life and relatively unheralded (at least recently) story of an ultimately successful, yet tragic mission in Prague in 1942. Jan Kubis (Jamie Dornan) and Josef Gabcik (Cillian Murphy), with five others, are parachuted into Czechoslavakia by the Czech government in exile (located in London) with the goal of assassinating Reinhard Heydrich, one of the top Nazi officials, leader of the Gestapo, and the apparent “architect” of the Holocaust. With the aid of local Resistance fighters, and despite some local opposition, Kubis and Gabcik plan to attack Heydrich on the streets of Prague, but come very close to failing. From what I’ve read of this film, it’s quite accurate in its portrayal of the events and the locations, including scenes filmed in the actual locations where events occurred, although I suspect some limited romantic aspects of the story may have been added to make the plot a little juicier. Dornan and Murphy do a fine job as the leaders of the assassination team, with some support from, among others, Toby Jones as one of the Prague locals. If you haven’t yet tired of World War II films about the Nazis, this is definitely one to see. B+ (1/2/17)

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