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Movie Reviews


Performances highlight challenging ‘Stronger’ biopic

Thu, 21 Sep 2017 20:23:28 UT

You could watch a dozen seasons of “Grey’s Anatomy” and never see a full tracheal intubation. Most movies and television shows that deal with a medical crisis don’t linger on the removal of breathing tubes, or the first shower after a traumatic injury, or the first bar fight that breaks out around a man in a wheelchair. But “Stronger” runs screaming in pain from the kind of simplistic inspirational storytelling that the subject matter usually yields. It’s about sacrifice, hurtful choices and what you can’t recover during your recovery.

Lawrence under siege in Aronofsky’s latest extravaganza

Thu, 14 Sep 2017 21:17:23 UT

Starting in 1998 with “Pi,” Darren Aronofsky has directed, with mixed results, a series of dazzling and confrontational movies that combine visual virtuosity with intense probings of dark psychological themes. His new film, “Mother!,” follows suit. It’s a horror story about the beleaguered wife of a narcissistic writer and includes some remarkable visions of hell on Earth. Aronofsky’s movies are not for everyone — provocations like “Requiem for a Dream” and “Black Swan” can feel assaultive, a deliberate test of audience endurance. Viewers willing to accept the challenge will be rewarded with passages embodying extraordinary moods and images.

They got ‘It’ right: Behind the horror and gore lurks real artistry

Thu, 7 Sep 2017 21:01:37 UT

The rebooted “It” earns the highest compliment for a horror movie: Even if it didn’t have the homicidal clown and sink spewing blood and missing children getting yanked into sewers, what remains would still be an engaging movie. It’s smart and funny and makes great effort to capture not just a time and place, but the specific feelings of being on the verge of adulthood and thinking the world is against you. There are questionable structural differences between this film and Stephen King’s literary source material, and those will be particularly noticeable to fans of the 1990 television miniseries.

Toronto Film Fest lineup will generate buzz, and debates

Thu, 7 Sep 2017 20:49:23 UT

NEW YORK — Few institutions in cinema can match the Toronto International Film Festival as a conversation-starting force. It simply has a lot of movies worth talking about. And this year, many of the films that will parade down Toronto red carpets will hope to shift the dialogue not just in terms of awards buzz, but in other directions, too: equality in Hollywood; politics in Washington; even the nature of the movies, themselves. At TIFF, expect debate. That’s what the filmmakers behind “Battle of the Sexes,” one of the anticipated films, are hoping for. The festival opened Thursday, Sept.

‘Alphaville,’ ‘Stalker’ are movies for these dystopian times

Wed, 6 Sep 2017 21:13:13 UT

Given recent events, dystopian films such as “1984” and “Planet of the Apes” are seeming more and more like documentaries than flights of fancy vision. But one thing hasn’t changed: They’re a lot of fun, even if now they might induce an extra heaping of increased panic. From the days of “Metropolis” through next month’s “Blade Runner 2049,” filmmakers have warned against totalitarian and fascist states, nuclear war, climate change disasters and loss of freedom, often with a bleak, eye-popping vision.

Asomugha powerful in challenging, rewarding ‘Crown Heights’

Thu, 31 Aug 2017 19:03:07 UT

“Crown Heights” begins with Grandmaster Flash’s “The Message,” a scene-setting snippet of music to establish Colin Warner as a struggling 18-year-old in the early 1980s. He’s close to the edge — stealing a car not long after we meet him — but he’s not guilty of murder. Warner is grabbed by police, thrown into jail, and the music stops. The young man’s life, and the movie it inspired, become hyper-focused on the byzantine legal nightmare waiting like a trap for inner-city youth. Matt Ruskin’s film is about atmosphere as much as the actual events.

A flying ‘Leap!’ into family film inconsistency

Mon, 28 Aug 2017 17:34:07 UT

“Leap!” is the kind of movie where if you see someone holding a stack of dishes, they will certainly break in the name of a lazy comedic moment. There seem to be two job classifications among the characters in this film: floor scrubber or being a full-time evil schemer. Historical accuracy? A character from the late 1800s wears jeans shorts, while witnessing the simultaneous construction of the Eiffel Tower and Statue of Liberty. The Canada-produced film has an appealing core — a sort of animated ballet version of “The Karate Kid,” with a student and teacher who are easy to like. But every other part of the movie seems to be working in concert to sabotage the effort.

‘Patti Cake$’ a tough, moving story about being on the outside

Thu, 24 Aug 2017 18:03:28 UT

Imagine living in a world in which everyone you know is an idiot, including every single person in authority, every boss, every cop, even your mother and grandmother. And then imagine that all those tragically, achingly stupid people are convinced that they know everything and they can’t wait to tell you just how stupid you are. Imagine, further, that within this world you’re brilliant. You have poetry in your soul. You have dreams, talent and spirit, but you have no power, and everything that you see — every street corner, every building, every landscape — is repulsive. And then imagine that no one takes you seriously, that everybody is saying that you’re fat or that you’re worthless, or both.

‘Dark Tower’ debuts at No. 1; Detroit disappoints at box office

Sun, 6 Aug 2017 22:28:13 UT

After a decade of development and several postponements, the long-awaited Stephen King adaptation “The Dark Tower” debuted with an estimated $19.5 million in North American ticket sales, narrowly edging out the two-week leader “Dunkirk.” J.J. Abrams and Ron Howard are among the directors who previously tried to tackle King’s magnum opus, a seven-book series that melds sci-fi with horror and other genres. The film, styled after the Liam Neeson “Taken” series, was released by the new distributor Aviron Pictures after it bought the North American rights from Relativity. The first film distributed by Megan Ellison’s Annapurna Pictures, “Detroit” debuted with a disappointing $7.3 million after a limited release last week. “Detroit,” the third collaboration between Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal (“The Hurt Locker,” “Zero Dark Thirty”), reimagines the terror-filled events around the Algiers Motel incident during the 1967 Detroit riots.

‘The Dark Tower’: What you see is what you get

Thu, 3 Aug 2017 19:31:38 UT

The tower creates light and order throughout the universe, but on the outside of this perimeter, there is chaos, darkness and really disgusting monsters. Walter has the power to kill people with the radiant force of his self-love combined with some truly lethal narcissistic acting — or perhaps it just seems that way. The thing Walter most wants to do as the story starts is to harness the brainpower of a child, because according to legend, only the energy of a child’s mind can truly wipe out the tower. Once young Jake transports himself to the world of the dark tower and once he meets the movie’s hero, Roland (Idris Elba) — known as the gunslinger — there is only one thing left to happen. [...] there is one other thing that’s unforgivable. Taylor, who plays Jake, is an appealing young actor, and Elba is a convincing hero, but McConaughey is just funny as Walter, if only because he seems to be enjoying the sorcerer’s power all too much. [...] “The Dark Tower” could have been a better movie — not good, but better — had McConaughey and Elba switched roles. Or — look, the movie is hopeless, so let’s just have fun thinking about casting — they could have kept Elba as the hero and hired Jude Law as the villain, because Law knows how to do that double thing the role required: complete self-love and utter self-loathing happening at the exact same time.

‘The Big Lebowski’ plays at Oakland’s New Parkway

Wed, 12 Jul 2017 19:07:55 UT

The Coen brothers have had a long and eclectic career — but even as talented as they are, sometimes it seems they’re throwing anything against the wall to see what sticks. The anthem for slackers and marijuana use has inside-Hollywood origins, with “the Dude” (Jeff Bridges) based on film producer and distributor Jeff Dowd, whom the Coens (Joel and Ethan) met while peddling their first feature, “Blood Simple.” Audiences and critics weren’t initially in on the joke; it got lousy reviews and failed at the box office.

Special screening of ‘The Last Dalai Lama?’ in San Rafael

Wed, 5 Jul 2017 17:51:30 UT

Special screening of ‘The Last Dalai Lama?’ in San Rafael The film opens at both the Smith Rafael Film Center in San Rafael and the Roxie Theater in San Francisco, but the Thursday screening in San Rafael is a party. Revisiting his subject after 25 years provides a depth other documentaries are missing. For a review of the film, see Peter Hartlaub’s take in Datebook on Friday, July 7.

Blanchett’s not bad, but ‘Manifesto’ is overkill

Thu, 22 Jun 2017 19:57:53 UT

Artistic and political manifestos are best consumed in small bites, a significant problem for Julian Rosefeldt’s new movie. If anyone could pull this off, surely it would be Blanchett, and it’s fun, at least initially, to watch her glorying in the revelations, contradictions and absurdities of the documents she quotes. Among her other roles are a homeless person, a TV news anchor (and the reporter with whom the anchor has an on-air chat), a puppeteer with a puppet who looks just like her, a hazmat-suited worker in what appears to be nuclear power plant and an autocratic Russian choreographer. There are quotes from early works such as Tristan Tzara’s Dadaist manifesto of 1918 and from the Futurist and Fluxus movements, and later words from the filmmakers behind Dogme 95 and from Werner Herzog’s 1999 Minnesota Declaration. There are some blunt ironies in the contrast between the quotations and the characters and contexts in which they are delivered: from a woman in widow’s weeds at a funeral or a CEO offering commands to her subordinates. The manifestos are dense with meaning, full of paradoxes, wild imagery, anger, contempt and impossible dreams, and eager to contradict themselves and each other. The cumulative effect is overkill, and all the sentiments begin to blend together into a free-floating rage at things as they are and a call for perpetual rebellion.

Correction for Sunday Datebook, June 11

Sun, 11 Jun 2017 07:01:00 UT

Movie review capsules, June 11, Datebook, Page 30 A capsule review of the movie “Megan Leavey” incorrectly states the first name of the film’s star. The correct full name is Kate Mara.

Animal magnetism saves otherwise so-so ‘Megan Leavey’

Thu, 8 Jun 2017 17:44:58 UT

“Megan Leavey” is one-half of an unremarkable war movie, followed by a touching story about the importance of animals in people’s lives. The war service of Megan Leavey, a real-life person, would be the remarkable and central experience in any individual’s life. [...] as war movies go, the Iraq portion of “Megan Leavey” pales in comparison to other Iraq war movies that we’ve seen and have by now internalized. Speaking as someone who gets stressed out simply inspecting a hotel room for bedbugs, I can’t even imagine this ultimate case of searching for what you hope not to find. Here, the consequences aren’t itching welts, a dry-cleaning bill and having to buy new luggage, but actual death, for you and others. Mara gives Megan a slight quality of disconnection, suggestive of either a lack of intelligence or of a weird, finely tuned sensibility. [...] she meets her dog, Rex, who looks like Rin Tin Tin but acts like Cujo, at least at first. Mara opens up, too. [...] suddenly, everything that previously made Megan Leavey an improbable subject for the cinematic treatment becomes a virtue. [...] the usual strategy with a review is to not talk about anything that happens past the first 25 minutes.