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Lew's Earlier Movie Reviews

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A Mighty Wind

****

Not as funny as Best in Show, but still very good.  Christopher Guest has carved out a unique niche - the documentary style parody.  The story line here is a reunion of folk groups popular in the 60's.  The movie is at its best when the characters stick to what the real life people they are portraying would do and say.  When they go over the top, the comedy loses some of its bite. (2003)

     

A Most Wanted Man

****

Philip Seymour Hoffman stars as the director of a top secret group in the German intelligence agency.  He is fighting wars on two fronts.  His primary role is to infiltrate and monitor Islamic militants in Germany, As difficult as this task is,  his other battlefield is even more challenging.  That is the senior bureaucrats  in the German and American intelligence organizations.  The gloomy weather in Hamburg and the knowledge that this was Hoffman's last performance, make this a somewhat sad movie.  However good acting and a fine adaptation of John Le Carrés 2008 novel make this compelling viewing.  (2014)

A Most Wanted Man

****

Philip Seymour Hoffman stars as the director of a top secret group in the German intelligence agency.  He is fighting wars on two fronts.  His primary role is to infiltrate and monitor Islamic militants in Germany, As difficult as this task is,  his other battlefield is even more challenging.  That is the senior bureaucrats  in the German and American intelligence organizations.  The gloomy weather in Hamburg and the knowledge that this was Hoffman's last performance, make this a somewhat sad movie.  However good acting and a fine adaptation of John Le Carrés 2008 novel make this compelling viewing.  (2014)

About a Boy

***½

Entertaining star turn for Hugh Grant.  Lots of good laughs and a new child star who won't make you retch.  Toni Collette does the best she can with a character difficult to play with a straight face. (2002)

     
About Schmidt ****

A tour de force for Jack Nicholson.  He portrays a mid-westerner who seems to have it all as he heads into retirement.  But when his world is upset, he takes off in his RV to seek redemption.  Kathy Bates as a gracelessly aging flower child is something to see (literally). (2002)

About Time

***

The premise is pretty silly - a family in Southwest England whose male members have the ability starting at age 21 of being able to travel back in time and correct mistakes they made the first time around.  When Tim (Dumhnall Gleeson) achieves maturity the family secret is revealed to him by his father (Bill Nighy).  He uses his new powers to travel back in time to the era of his courtship with Mary (Rachel McAdams).   He fixes his mistakes, wins Mary's hand and lives happily ever after.  The screenwriting and acting make this watchable despite the thinness   of the plot. (2013)

The Accidental Tourist

**½

I enjoyed Anne Tyler's novel better than its screen adaptation.  William Hurt plays a travel writer who has to choose between his ex-wife, Kathleen Turner, who wants a reconciliation, and his dog's trainer, played by Geena Davis, who wants a father for her son.  It would have been a no-brainer for me - Kathleen Turner - but Hurt's character is pretty indecisive.  (1988)

The Adventures of Tin Tin

***

Tin Tin, a boy reporter and adventurer, is famous every where in the developed world except the US.  With the release of this movie that will change.  The animation here is outstanding as is the background scenery.  Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis and the ubiquitous Daniel Craig provide the major voices and the do a fine job.  This is one of those films that can be enjoyed by adults and kids.  (2011)

The Agronomist

****½

Powerful documentary about Jean Dominique, a Haitian agronomist who purchased a radio station and became a national hero by exposing a series of corrupt governments.  Exiled twice to the U.S., he returned in 2000 only to be gunned down in front of the station by an unidentified assassin.  Unforgettable. (2003)

All Your Dead Ones

*½

When you go to an indie film festival, there are always a few gems and a few clinkers.  This one from Columbia is in the latter category.  A simple farmer heads into his fields to do some serious work with a weed-wacker.  Just after he starts, he discovers fifty dead bodies piled up and arranged in a circle.  He hurries home, tells his wife to stay in the house, and heads off to town on his bicycle to inform the authorities.  He discovers that the entrenched bureaucracy is not interested in reacting to the massacre.  Lots of symbolism, most of which escaped me. (2010)

Aloha

*½

Now here is a perfectly dreadful movie.  Bradley Cooper is OK as a military contractor working on a top secret mission is OK.  Emma Stone is not convincing as a part Chinese woman officer in the Air Force, but Rachel McAdams is quite good as Cooper old flame.  Bill Murray and Alec Baldwin sleepwalk through their roles as a madman intent on taking over the world, and a lame-brained Air Force general with a temper.  The scenery in Hawaii is good. (2015)

The Amazing Catfish

***

A Mexican hospital ward is the setting for this story of a young woman named Claudia  who meets and befriends A fortyish mother and her brood of children.     The woman, Martha, knows she is dying of AIDS and needs a way to keep her family together when she dies.  Claudia looks like a good candidate.  (2013)

Amelia

***

The critics panned this movie mercilessly, but it really wasn't that bad.  Hillary Swank gives another memorable performance as Amelia Earhart, the pioneering aviatrix.  Richard Gere as her overly tolerant husband is uninspired, but the history is good and the story moves along nicely, told by flashbacks during her final around-the-world (almost) final voyage.  Maybe I liked it because it exceeded my low expectations. (2009)

Amelie

The reviewer in the Houston Chronicle gave Amelie an A+ rating. Consequently, I give the reviewer a D- rating.  This import from France is long, boring, cutesy, and pretentious.   There are some mildly funny bits, but on the whole, pardon my French, the picture is "merde de cheval".  (2001)
     

The American

**

In Up in the Air George Clooney plays a corporate hired gun, someone companies bring in to fire people.  In this one he literally is an assassin, although for whom he is working in not clear.  Actually, nothing is very clear except that  Clooney has been ordered to lay low in Italy and wait for instructions.  There are long intervals while Clooney waits and the audience also waits.  To compensate, there are beautiful women entering and leaving his life and his libido proves to be his undoing.  The lushly filmed scenes of the Italian countryside make sitting through to the end tolerable however there are just too many deja vu moments as Clooney drives in and out of the woods in his  Fiat. (2010)

American Hustle

***½

The critics seem to love this one but I think they were just distracted by Amy Adams' cleavage.  Adams plays a woman who knows how to use her body to get what she wants.  In this tale based on the Abscam scandal of the late Seventies she hooks up with Christian Bale, a small time con man from the Bronx in a scheme to get desperate men to believe they are getting big loans for which they have to pay a nonrefundable up front commission.  Adams fakes a British accent and proclaims that she has London banking connections. Of course the loans never come through.   All goes well until they are caught in an FBI sting operation run by  an ambitious agent played by Bradley Cooper.  The agent isn't really interested in the small-time hustlers, so he offers them amnesty if they cooperate in a bigger scam in which they would entrap big-time politicians.  The acting is good, the story interesting, but it is a little too long,  (2013)

American Splendor

***½

The story of Harvey Pekar and Joyce Brabner, two of the oddest misfits ever seen on the screen.  The real Harvey and Joyce make frequent cameo appearances throughout, giving the whole film a surrealistic feel.  This one raises the bar on nerdism in film. (2003)

An Education

***

Carey Mulligan picked up a Best Actress Oscar nomination for her portrayal of Jenny, an English school girl who falls for an older man.  She was quite good, but had moments of serious over-acting.  Alfred Molina was highly praised for his work as Jenny's father, but frankly he was not at his best, seeming more like a cartoon character than anything else.  Peter Sarsgaard was never quite convincing as the romantic bon vivant who sweeps Jenny and her parents off their feet.  Despite the aforementioned shortcomings, the film is enjoyable and well worth watching. (2009)

An Inconvenient Truth

****

Like him or not, you have to respect Al Gore for devoting his life to what he believes is service to mankind instead of joining the corporate board / honorarium circuit.  He has devoted his energies to alerting an indifferent  world to the dangers of global warming.  He might just succeed.  This documentary is in essence a slide show explaining in lay terms the causes and effects of putting increasing quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.  It could have boring but it isn't.  The movie informs, bur also entertains.  Gore has given this presentation over a hundred times but hasn't lost his enthusiasm for it.  The data he presents are impressive, and Gore is a surprisingly effective presenter.  However he takes some gratuitous potshots at the current administration and the oil companies which some may find amusing, but unfortunately detract from his primary message.  Too bad. (2006)

     

Argo

*****

As the Iranian hostage crisis was unfolding, six State Department employees escaped to the Canadian embassy in Tehran. This is the story of how a CIA agent got them out and brought them home.  The way he did it was so preposterous that is seems impossible, but we know it happened.  Kudos to Ben Affleck who had the lead role and directed as well.  Alan Arkin and John Goodman shine as Hollywood types who got involved in the plot.  This one will keep you on the edge of your seat even though you know what is going to happen. (2012)  

The Aristocrats

*

Here's the premise:  Invite 100 comedians to tell their version of the same dirty joke.  The joke goes something like this - A guy goes to a talent agent and says he has a great act.  He then describes in great detail the most outrageous sexual and scatological acts imaginable involving the guy's family. When the agent asks the guy what he calls his act, he says The Aristocrats.  Ostensibly professional comedians find this joke hilarious.  I didn't even find it mildly amusing.

The Art of the Steal

****

In the early nineteenth century, Albert Barnes acquired the world's greatest collection of post-impressionist art and housed it a building he owned in Merion Pennsylvania.  The terms of his will stipulated that after his death the collection would never be sold, moved or loaned to another museum.  His intent was to preserve the art in its  Merion location for teaching purposes.  This film documents how the upper class elite in Philadelphia used the courts to overturn the will and dismantle the collection.  Gripping .  (2009)

The Artist

****½

This is a silent movie about the demise of silent movies and their stars.  This sounds like a bad idea, but it really works.  George Valentin (Rudolph Valentino ?) is the king of Hollywood.  Peppy Miller is a young starlet who attaches herself to George, but becomes a star of the talkies on her own steam.  She never forgets George even when he hits rock bottom.  Both however are upstaged by Uggie , a cute little dog who steals the show. (2011)

Australia

**

Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman soldier on in this sprawling tale of northern Australia in the years just prior to World War II.  They will not be proud of their performances but truth be told they must have had a hard time keeping a straight face reciting the trite and embarrassing lines they were given.  Here is a sample:  after discussing the fact that they had both been married and produced no children Kidman says to Jackman   - "Too bad you didn't have any children - you'd have been a great father".  After contemplating this for a while Jackman says to Kidman - "Too bad you didn't have any children.  You'd have made a great mother".  Even worse than the dialogue was the clumsy overuse of computer generated images.  In theory this is about the vast spaces in the Northern Territories, but it looks like the majority of the film was filmed with the actors standing in front of a giant computer monitor.  This runs to three hours but seems longer.  (2008)

Aviator

****

Leonardo Di Caprio does an excellent job in this story about the life of Howard Hughes.  Unfortunately, as the movie progresses, Hughes ages, but Leonardo doesn't.  He looks 30 at the beginning of the film which was Hughes' age in the mid 1930's, but as the film moves down the track 20 years or so, Leonardo still looks 30.  The supporting cast is solid.  Alan Alda does a fine job as an aging Senator from Maine.  The real strength of the movie is its balanced and accurate portrayal of one of America's great innovators. (2004)

     

Bad Education

***

Almodovar's latest effort is a tale about a gay love/lust triangle between a priest, and two of his 10 year old students, that continues, on and off, into adulthood.  Gael Garcia Bernal stars in this film that will not be shown at the Vatican film festival. (2004)

Basic Sanitation

**½

This Brazilian comedy now making the festival circuit is a bit disappointing.  The initial premise is good.  A small town in southern Brazil is in dire need of a sewage system.  There is no money in the municipality's budget for the project, but there is money from the federal government to the municipality for making a movie for a school audience.  The local citizenry figures that with a little creative accounting then can do both.  Unfortunately the movie goes downhill once the premise is established.  The action is silly and for the most part too stupid to be believed.  The low point of the film comes when one of the main characters decides to sell his motorcycle to raise money for the project. He heads towrds town and is filmed from the front, the rear and both sides for what seems an eternity while not even another car passes by.  My guess is that the scene took about five or six minutes. all but 10 seconds of which should have landed on the cutting room floor. (2006)

Basquiat

***½

An off-beat biopic about Jean-Michel Basquiat, who took the art world by storm in the eighties before dying of a drug overdose at the age of 28.  Another phenomenal performance by Jeffrey Wright who has yet to get the recognition he deserves.  The supporting cast is first class, and include David Bowie as Andy Warhol, Basquiat's friend and mentor. (1996)

Beasts of the Southern Wild

***½

Quvenzhane Wallis, a six year old girl from Houma Louisiana gives a truly remarkable performance as Hush Puppy, a motherless girl of the same age who lives in a shack with her alcoholic father, Dwight Henry, also a fist-time atoer.  According to Hush Puppy's teacher, the polar ice cap is melting and some unfamiliar beasts which have been frozen for many years are going to thaw out and appear in Louisiana.  When they do show up they look a lot like standard pigs with odd looking horns.  This is clearly Hush Puppy's imagination at work, but it raises the issue of how much of what we see is real and how much is extracted from Hush Puppy's  subconscious.  My major complaint is that there is too much hand-held camera work.  It made me a little dizzy. (2012)

Before Midnight

****

This is the third in a series of films by Richard Linklater about  Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) a french environmentalist who meet on a train and have a romantic encounter.  About ten years later they meet again in Paris and as the second film in the series ends, it appears that this romance is going to blossom into something serious.  As Before Midnight opens we find that Jesse and Celine live in Paris, have twin girls and they are vacationing in Greece at a writers retreat.  The movie is really one long conversation occasionally interrupted by one of the minor characters.  Action fans, this movie is not for you.  What we see is that romance and physical attraction are not enough to sustain a relationship.  This doesn't sound like a viable premise   for a movie, but the excellent writing and acting make it work, (2013)

Before Sunset

****½

This is an intelligent film about a man and woman who meet in Paris after a  a brief encounter nine years earlier.  At first they talk in abstractions, but as the movie unfolds they probe what has happened since their last one night stand.  There is a feeling throughout that these aren't actors, but real people letting you in on their most intimate moments.  The movie is actually a sequel to one called Before Sunrise, which is the story of their first encounter.  Blockbuster, here we come. (2004)

Beginners

***

Here's an idea for saving time and money - watch the trailer for Beginnings and skip the movie.  Everything is right there.  A cute talk that knows 150 and transmits his thoughts via subtitles, a dying father who has come out at the age of 75 (Christopher Plummer), a grieving son who has trouble with relationships (Ewan McGregor), and a cute French girl.  The movie expands a little of the themes established in the trailer but not too much.  Glacial is not slow enough to describe the pace of this film.  That, along with the dark and muted colors, and the sense of deja vu make this a challenge to remain awake. (2011)

Belle

***

The eponymous character is the offspring of a naval officer and a slave in the early 19th century.  The aristocratic family of the officer is not amused when he brings Belle to the estate and asks them to raise the girl while he goes off to be the master of a war vessel.  Tom Wilkinson is solid as the paterfamilias. (2014)

Behind the Candelabra

****

Michael Douglas and Matt Damon are excellent as Liberace and his young protégé Scott Thorsen  in this gutsy HBO movie.  "Behind" captures the final years of Liberace's life before he succumbs to the AIDS virus.  Director Stephen Soderbergh originally planned to release this to theaters, but he had trouble lining up support.  Fortunately HBO stepped, and in retrospect undoubtedly was seen by a wider audience via cable than it would have been at the movie houses.  This could have been over the top, but the excellent cast doesn't let this happen.  Debbie Reynolds makes an appearance as Liberace's mother.  Her make-up renders her unrecognizable.  This is a milestone in presenting a slice of gay life to a general audience.  (2013)

Being Julia

***

This is an adoption of a Somerset Maughm story about an aging actress who falls for a much younger man.  Annette Bening copped an Oscar nomination for her work in this beautifully filmed picture.  She does a better job with the British accent here then she did in Richard III.  Veteran actor Michael Gambon is a delight as Bening's mentor. (2004)

Bend it like Beckham

***½

Monsoon Wedding meets Personal Best.  Very enjoyable, albeit predictable coming-of-age generation-conflict movie.  (2002)

     

Benny and Joon

***

This is a truly odd movie.  Benny (Aidan Quinn) is an auto mechanic who works to support himself and his sister Joon (Mary Stuart Masterson), an artist who is mentally unstable.  Things get complicated when Benny is forced to assume care for Sam (Johnny Depp), the off-center nephew of one of Benny's poker partners.  Sam, a latter day Buster Keaton, and Joon fall for each other.  Benny's mishandling of this situation turns out badly, but all is well at the end.  Good performances especially by Depp make the movie enjoyable even though the plot line is a little thin. (1993)

Bernie

****½

It is hard to believe that a movie based on a real murder could be funny, but this one is. Jack Black plays an assistant funeral director in Carthage, Texas, who befriends the widow of a rich oil man.  He is Mr. Nice Guy and very popular among the local ladies.  The widow, played by Shirley McLaine, is at the other end of the popularity spectrum.  When she tries to take over Bernie's life he snaps and blows her away with an armadillo gun.  The story is told by a combination of professional actors and local folks.  They are all so authentic it is impossible to tell who is real and who isn't.  Bernie  is probably the best movie released so far this year. (2012)

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

****½

A unconnected collection of older Brits are enticed by a Photo-Shopped brochure to spend their final years in a converted hotel in Jaipur, India.  Their dreams of a luxurious retirement are shattered when they discover the hotel is in bad need of maintenance.  The cast is fabulous, especially Judi Dench and Tom Wilkinson, The ability to deal with the reality of the hotel shows the essence of each of the characters.  Most thrive, but at least one just cannot cope.  This movie is highly entertaining. (2012)  

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

***

Did you ever wonder whatever happened to Amber Tamblyn and Jesse Metcalf? Neither did I.  Although Michael Douglas gets top billing, he has a rather small role.  The real featured performers were the aforementioned duo.  The story line is that Metcalf is an ambitious journalist who is trying to bring down a corrupt DA (Douglas).  There are frequent plot changes which hold your attention.  Not a bad way to kill some time if you are stuck on a rainy day, (2009)

The Big Lebowski

****

Like The Rocky Horror Picture Shoe, Lebowski has become a cult classic still playing midnights at the art house theaters.  Jeff Bridges shines as Lebowski, a lazy doper stuck in the 60's, but  John Goodman steals the show as a foul-mouthed orthodox Jew who is on the Lebowski's bowling team.  The Coen brothers strike again. (1998)

The Big Short

****½

In the old days, investment banks existed to assist companies finance their operations. Collecting fees provided the banks with nice if not exciting returns. Not any more. Welcome to the world of Collateralized Debt Obligations and Credit Default Swaps.  Still with me? Want to learn more about the world of 21st century investment bankers who invented, used, and abused the aforementioned arcane instruments to separate investors from their hard earned cash.  Of all the movies and books that try to educate the public about what really precipitated  the economic crisis of 2008, The Big Short is the best.  Look for Christian Bale as an eccentric mutual fund manager, and Steve Carell as another money manager, who foresaw  the bursting of the real estate bubble before it happened, and took big short positions that managed to separate the bankers from their ill-gotten gains.  This is a must see. (2015)

Bill Cunningham New York

****½

Cunningham is a photographer whose work appears in the N.Y. Times Sunday Styles section.  He is a unique character who, despite being in his eighties, rides to work on a bicycle, lives in what could be considered  a large closet jammed with file cabinets containing his photos.  What he photographs is people making fashion statements, primarily on the sidewalks of New York.  He is a gentle soul, totally devoted to his art, fully captured in this documentary. (2000)

Birdman

**

Given that the Oscars have been awarded and this piece of guano was selected as Best Picture, it is clear that I must be living in an alternative universe.  I made it through the first hour, but I had seen enough.  Unless you enjoy overacting and gratuitous foul language, give this one a miss.  (2015) 

The Birds

***

Having just returned from Bodega Bay we thought it was time to revisit this Alfred Hitchcock classic.  Although the movie is dated it is still watchable.  Hitchcock was a real pioneer in special effects.  Some of the effects in The Birds may seem a little crude by today's standards, but most still look very good and they make the movie.  The dialogue  and the acting are.... well the special effects are very good. (1963)

Black Dahlia

*½

Hilary Swank is OK but just abut everyone else in this putative film noir is either miscast, misdirected or just plain bad.  My ** category (coming soon to HBO) had this kind of film in mind. I really liked Scarlett Johasson in Lost in Translation, but this one isn't going to look good on her resume. James Elroy is a pretty interesting writer but something got lost in the translation from book to screen in this one. (2006)

     

Black Swan

***

This is nominally a story about how difficult it is to succeed in the world of ballet. Natalie Portman stars as Nina, a young dancer on the cusp of a career breakthrough when she is selected for the leading role in a revival of Swan Lake.  She is however mentally unstable, and when she begins to hallucinate, the movie breaks down into a routine horror/slasher film with lots of stabbing and blood.  Increasingly Nina has difficulty distinguishing real life from fantasy and so does the audience.  I think the movie would have been better without all the blood and gore.  Barbara  Hersey was so scary as Nina's overbearing mother that no other terror would have been needed. (2010)

Blue is the Warmest Color

***½

Adele Exarchopoulos plays Adele, a 16 year old student in Lille, France who is undergoing a sexual awakening.  She has a sexual encounter with a boy from the same school, butt doesn't find it very satisfying.  One day while walking in the city, she makes eye contact with an attractive woman, Emma, who has dyed her hair blue (Lea Sedoux).  Adele is haunted by the image.  Visiting a gay bar with a male gay friend from school, she sees the woman with the blue hair.  They are drawn to each other in the bar.  The next day Adele finds Emma waiting for her after school, and they commence a lengthy lesbian affair.  Their sex scenes are as explicit as anything you will ever see without an X rating.  At the end of the day, the film explores the question of whether a strong sexual attraction is enough to sustain a relationship. (2013)

Blue Jasmine

*****

Woody Allen scores with this story of a wealthy middle-aged woman (Cate Blanchett) trying to face the reality that her husband (Alec Baldwin) has pulled a Madoff, putting up a big front while in reality he is a phony crook. She is relocating from New York to San Francisco where she plans to move in with her working class sister Ginger (Sallie Hawkins).  Tthe supporting cast is  excellent in this funny and sad work of movie art. (2013)

The Blind Side

***

A feel-good story that happens to be true has a head start in Hollywood.  The true story on which this movie was based was one of the best.  Unfortunately it was turned into a disappointing adaptation.  It has its moments but some of the acting, perhaps the fault of the director, left a lot to be desired.  Among those whose performances were less than stellar was that of Sandra Bullock.  How she won an Oscar is a mystery.  I think even she would have voted for Meryl Streep.  Tim McGraw, a singer, was the best actor in this film.  A nice touch was to use the real coaches of the SEC to go through their recruiting pitches to get Michael to attend their colleges.  A good but far from great movie. (2009)

Blue Diner

***½

You may have to go to a film festival to see this one.  It's a low-budget film about Latinos living in Boston.  Good performances all around, and a story that keeps your interest.  Could be on HBO or PBS next year, so look for it if you're off the festival circuit. (2001)

     

Bobby Fischer  Against the World

*****

Documentary making at its best.  Hats off to HBO for this insightful picture of the man who mastered chess but failed life.  Interspersing archive footage with cogent interviews, the film draws a clear picture without judging . Fischer was truly mentally ill.  As such, his anti-Semitic and anti-American rants somehow inspire pity instead of revulsion. (2011)

Bon Voyage

**½

The scene is France in 1942 as the Germans are sweeping across the country.  Isabel Adjani is a movie star who uses her looks to get what she needs from a number of men including Gerard Depardieu, a prominent cabinet minister.  Moderately funny, but something may have been lost in the subtitling.   (2003)

Born Into Brothels

****

A young photojournalist named Zana Briski moves into Calcutta's red light district to study the lives of the women who ply their trade there.  She is soon captivated by the sex workers' children, who are surprisingly bright and upbeat.  The children, aged 10 to 12 are given cameras and photography lessons.  Within a short time, they are turning out many noteworthy pictures.  Briski, fighting the Indian bureaucracy all the way, get some of the kids placed in top private schools, where they have a chance to escape the cycle of poverty and degradation into which they were born.  A recent article in the N.Y. Times reports that several of the children are still doing well.  This is an uplifting documentary. (2004)

     

Bourne Supremacy

*½

We sat through the first 45 minutes and then gave up.  This is so implausible that it is almost funny.  Maybe it got better as the show went on, but I doubt it. (2004)

 

   

Boxing Gym

***

Frederick Wiseman's documentaries featured no narration, no interviews, no superimposed text, no background music and soft focus. His latest effort is filmed in Austin in a run-down gym, and  is all about the rhythms of the sweet science.  The constant sound of bags being hit, and shoes in contact with a variety of surfaces, punctuate the film.  The effect, ninety minutes of constant drumming, is either hypnotic or monotonous depending on your point of view.   The owner when signing up a new client tells him the rules: no contract, no initiation fee, no plastic. Everything in the gym looks like it is in need of repair but no one seems to mind.  There is not a lot of talk, but what there is seems genuine.  The camera is very unobtrusive creating an eavesdropping sensation.   Surprisingly, there is a large number of women and children in the gym.  I guess this is a sign of the times.  (2010)

Boyhood

****½

Director Richard Linklater has produced a masterpiece.  Filmed over twelve years, this is the story of Mason (not his real name) as he grows up beginning when he was six years old and ending when he was eighteen.  Mason has an older sister who also matures over the long time span of filming, but not as dramatically as her brother.  His mother ( Patricia Arquette) struggles to get along, makes some bad choices in men resulting in expanding and contracting family units.  Beautiful at the start, she adds a few pounds at each transition.  By the end of the film, she looks like the middle aged mom that she has become.   (2014)

Bridge of Spies

****

The Gary Powers U2 incident was a major event in the Cold War.  Getting him back was beyond the scope of any government agency, so the CIA recruited a private sector lawyer James Donaldson (Tom Hanks in another great performance) to negotiate with the Russians by arranging a swap for convicted spy Rudolph Abel.  Donaldson was an under-appreciated American hero.  Mark Rylance is outstanding as Abel.  My only complaint about the movie was the portrayal of the CIA field agents as complete dolts. They could not have been as incompetent as they were on the screen, (2015)

Brideshead Revisited

****

The 1981 adaptation of Evelyn Waugh's novel lasted 11 hours.  This new production fits everything into a little over two hours, a real blessing.  Charles, an Oxford student is invited to the home fo fellow student Sebastion Flyte.  Charles, a budding artist, is taken with Brideshead, the family mansion, as well as Julia, Sebastian's sister.  Sebastion doesn't much like this idea, as he wants Charles for himself.  The siblings' mother, a staunch Catholic, finds out that Charles is an atheist and determines that the relationship with the sister does not develop.  Emma Thompson and Michael Gambon as the mother and father are worth the price of admission.  The main roles are played be relatively obscure actors OK but not great.  (2008)

Bridesmaids

****

Note that there is no chick-flick alert for this very funny film.  Kirsten Wiig, who also gets screenwriter credit, stars as Annie, a woman asked to be the maid-of-honor at her best friend (Maya Rudolph)'s wedding.  Enter Helen (Rose Byrne) a wealthy and overbearing mother-in-law-to-be who barges in and takes over all the planning and other activities usually performed by the maid-of-honor.  Add in a few wacko friends and you have the basis for a bad movie.  It turns out that the characters are so good that is not bad at all.  Don't look for intellectual stimulation - this is just a string of funny situations back-to-back.  An uncredited Jon Hamm clones his Don Draper persona from Mad Men in the opening sequence and returns a while later as Annie's sort-of boyfriend.  There is a sad note as a run-down looking Jill Clayburgh  portrays Annie's mother.  Clayburgh  passed away last November.  (2011)

Brief Encounter

****

This Noel Coward / David Lean classic has recently been converted to an opera by Andre Previn, creating a new demand for this post-War British film.  The story is a bit of a cliché but the execution is so good that it is well worth seeing.  Two respectable people have a chance meeting at a train station and are attracted to each other.  Both are happily married with families and know from the outset that a fairy tale ending is not going to happen, but that doesn't stop them from letting things get a little out of hand. The movie begins with the main characters going thier separate ways, and the story is told through a series of flashbacks.  Back in the day when trains were the preferred mode of travel, scenes at train stations had a lot of mysterious steam.  Air travel has nothing equivalent.  Too bad. (1945)

Bringing Down the House

***

Not a great movie, but plenty of laughs when Steve Martin and Eugene Levy are on screen.  (2003)

     

Broken Flowers

****

Make no mistake, this is an odd movie.  The premise is that Don Johnston (Bill Murray) receives an anonymous note from one of his old girlfriends telling him that he is the father of a nineteen year old son.  His best friend and next-door neighbor Winston, played to perfection by the fabulous Jeffrey Wright is an amateur sleuth.  He is fascinated by the note and arranges a road trip for Johnston to try to track down the mother. He finds four of the women, all of whom are baffled by his re-entry into their lives after a twenty year absence.  All are good, but Sharon Stone is the best.  There are long stretches of Bill Murray staring blankly off in space, giving the film a decidedly slow pace.  Awkward conversations exacerbate the deadly pace.  If you are into character development, you will like this one.  If action is your thing, give it a miss. (2005)

Brooklyn

***

Saoirse Ronan does a nice job as an  Irish immigrant to Brooklyn in the early fifties.  She lives in a boarding house with some other young girls, but they prove to be quite silly, so she makes her own life.  Things are going quite nicely when she's called back to Ireland for a family crisis.  Although deeply attached to a nice young Italian  man in Brooklyn, she becomes involved with a fine young Irish lad from her home in Ireland. who is looking for a wife.    She has to choose between two very different futures.  Credit the filmmakers for keeping her decision in doubt until the very end. (2015)

Burn After Reading

***

Expect the unexpected when the Coen brothers make a film.  This one features some big stars doing out of character roles and seeming to enjoy it.  Brad Pitt and and Frances McDormand play dim-witted gym instructors who find a computer file which looks like it is top secret.  They hunt down the agent whose file they found, a truculent John Malkovich, and try to blackmail him.  He doesn't bite.  Enter George Clooney who is sleeping with, among others, the agent's wife.  He is a fitness nut and serial philanderer who, through a series of unlucky happenings winds up in the middle of the shakedown.  This is not a great movie, but it is a very funny one.  (2008)

Bus 174

***

In this documentary, carried live on TV in Brazil, a young man holds several women hostage on a bus on a busy street in Rio de Janeiro.  The police manage to do everything wrong.  This film definitely does not have a Hollywood ending. (2002)

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance  Kid

***

This classic made Paul Newman and Robert Redford superstars.  After almost 40 years, it is still very watchable.  Loosely based on a true story, this one is the ultimate buddy movie.  Question – what ever happened to Katherine Ross? (1969)

The Butterfly's Dream

***

Part of a Turkish film festival, this slowly paced tearjerker was nominated for an Oscar.  The story is about two poets, and best of friends, who fall for the same woman.  The cast does a nice job with the screenplay.   The film is visually beautiful. (2013)

By the People

*****

This film about the campaign and subsequent election of Barack Obama in 2008should be used in future film schools as an illustration how to make a documentary .  Everything about it from the use of text on the screen to the editing to the music is just right.  Compressing the events of more than a year into two hours is a challenge, but the filmmakers pull it off.  There is a sequence in which a nine year old campaign worker is making calls urging people to vote for Obama that has to be seen to be believed.  This is definite DON'T MISS. (2009)

     

Calendar Girls

***

This could be called The Not Quite Full Monty.  A dozen Yorkshire ladies of a certain age decide they would pose discretely nude for the annual Women's Institute calendar in order to increase sales.  They succeed beyond their wildest dreams.  Entertaining film, but the second half gets bogged down by trying to be serious.  Based on a true story. (2003)

Calvary

****

John Michael McDonagh doesn't do happy endings. This is no exception. Brendon Gleeson portrays Father James, an Irish priest who is lost n the bureaucracy of the Catholic church.  Unfortunately one of his parishioners sees  him as the embodiment of the Church and seeks to exact revenge for his boyhood for his molestation by a priest.  He was six years old when the abuse started.  The movie is a downer, but well worth watching for the acting aand scenery.  (2014)

     

Capote

*****

An absolutely sensational movie featuring a near-certain Oscar-winning performance by Philip Seymour Hoffman in the title role.  As in Jamie Foxx's portrayal of Ray Charles, it appears that the title character has inhabited the body of the actor.  Catherine Keener and Clifton Collins are first rate in supporting roles, but this is Hoffman's show.  The story is about the writing of In Cold Blood, Capote's "non-fiction novel"  about the brutal murder of a Kansas family by two drifters.  In doing his research, Capote develops a complex relationship with Perry Smith, one of the killers.  Smith, highly intelligent and articulate, believes that Capote is his only hope to avoid the noose, but begins to wonder if Capote's apparent interest in him is disingenuous.  The story line is simple, but the execution is a work of art. (2005)

Captain Phillips

*****

I hope there is room for another Oscar on Tom Hanks' mantel because is surely going to get one for this magnificent performance.  In the title role, Hanks plays a merchant marine master of a cargo ship moving and other goods from a port in the Middle East to southern Africa.  The vessel is attacked by pirates from Somalia. The ship is equiped with hoses to ward off attackers, but one of the hoses doesn't work and that gives the pirates an opportunity to put a ladder on the side of the ship and one by one get on board.  The pirates are heavily armed but the ships crew is unarmed.  The captain offers up $30,000, all of the money on board, but the pirates are holding out for seven figures.  What follows is a seemingly ordinary man doing something extraordinary, putting himself in harms way and outsmarting the pirates.  Not to be missed. (2013)

     

Carandiru

****

Brilliant film-making by the director of Kiss of the Spider Woman, Hector Babenco.  Carandiru is the notorious prison in São Paulo where 7,000 men were incarcerated in a facility designed for 4,000.  This is a true story as seen through the eyes of the prison doctor.  Although fairly lengthy, there is not a dull moment from beginning to end.  When a fight breaks out, riot police are summoned with tragic results.  (2003)

Carol

*½

I have finally found a movie more boring than My Dinner With André.  The eponymous Carol (Cate Blanchett) is a well-to-do middle-aged, beautiful, stylish woman .  One day while shopping for a doll for her daughter in a New York department store, she is waited on by Therese (Rooney Mara) a young, plain-looking working class girl. They are quickly attracted to each other.  Carol we learn, has had lesbian affairs before, but it is all new and more exciting for Therese then anything to do with the nice guys she is dating.  SPOILER ALERT: Carol and Therese run away together but nothing much happens. The film is shot in what appears to be left over fuzzy fifties Technicolor. (2016)

Catch Me If You Can

*****

Highly intelligent, very entertaining picture.  Superb acting top to bottom.  Leo DiCaprio is surprisingly good as a con artist, and Tom Hanks does not disappoint as the FBI man on his trail.  His New England accent is a classic.  Christopher Walken is outstanding as Leo's father. (2002)

     

Capturing the Friedmans

****

Talk about your dysfunctional families!  Arnold Friedman with his wife Elaine and four sons appear to be reasonably normal, but beneath the surface something very weird is going on.  When the movie ends, you're not sure who is lying.  Most likely no one is telling the whole truth.  Amazingly, the family filmed everything as their lives disintegrated.  Strong stuff.  (2003)

Casanova

*½

I'm sure everyone associated with this disaster would like to see it expunged from their body of work.  Heath Ledger redeemed himself with Brokeback Mountain and to an extent  in Dark Knight.  For Sienna Miller and Lasse Hallstrom the clock is still ticking.  I didn't make it to the end so I gave the movie an extra half star on the presumption that it may have slightly improved.

Casino Jack

***

The rise and fall of Jack Abramoff by document  filmmaker Alec Gibney is a depressing tale of greed and abuse of power.  The power belonged to Tom "The Hammer" DeLay until his world collapsed when he couldn't untangle himself from Abramoff's schemes.  The religious right in this tale apparently believed that the commandment  Thou Shall Not Steal did not apply to them.  The film is a little repetitive but there are some very interesting videos of Abramoff, Ralph Reed, Grover Norquist, and Karl Rove in their undergraduate days as campus conservative activists.  Another interesting video is of DeLay as a contestant on Dancing with the Stars.  Not his finest hour. (2010)

Casino Royale

***½

The latest incarnation of James Bond is a complete change of direction for the character.  Daniel Craig is not the smooth operator that we've become used to seeing.  At one point he even says he doesn't care if his martini is shaken or stirred.  Craig has a hard edge, and never looks comfortable in a tuxedo.  The plot is somewhat obscure but never mind - there is lots of action and beautiful scenery from all over the globe.  Bond's women are, as always, gorgeous and dangerous.  (2006)

     

Cat's Meow

***

Easy to find flaws but worthwhile seeing anyway.  Kirsten Dunst is quite good as Marion Davies and Edward Hermann is believable as William Randolph Hearst.  Based on a controversial real event.  (2001)

Cause for Alarm

****

Nearing the end of her career as a Hollywood beauty, Loretta Young made this B movie that is only remembered by movie historians and serious film buffs.  She plays a kind of Stepford wife, caring for a seriously ill husband played by Barry Sullivan at his menacing best.  Sullivan is paranoid, believing that is wife is having an affair with his doctor, an old friend who introduced the couple to each other.  He further believes that the two are planning to kill him.  In the opening scene, Young is thinking out loud ( a forgotten technique) and warns us that even though everything looks serene trouble awaits.  Tension starts after about ten minutes and doesn't let up.  Well worth watching. (1951)

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

**

Tim Burton's redo of the Roald Dahl book about Willy Wonka completely misses the mark.  Johnny Depp plays Wonka as an androgynous weirdo with shiny white perfect teeth, makeup, and a woman's hairdo.  We learn that he is the way he is because he had a bad relationship with his father, a domineering dentist.  We never learn anything about his mother.  Just as well.  The main story line is that five children are selected for a day at the Wonka chocolate factory.  Four of them are spoiled, glutinous or worse and have bad things happen to them in the factory.  Charley on the other hand, is a well-behaved youngster from a poor but loving family.  When Willy decides to reward one of the children, guess who it is.  There is an abundance of technical wizardry but it doesn't come close to making up for a flawed concept. (2005)

Charlie Chan in Honolulu

***

This was Sidney Toler's first film as the fictitious Honolulu detective originally created by another non-Asian, Warner Oland.  The title is a little misleading as the only scene  of Honolulu is a still shot of Diamond Head behind the titles.  The action is all indoors or on the deck of a ship which could be anywhere, but probably was in Hollywood.  Some might suggest that the Chan character in politically incorrect, but the portrayal is clearly intended to be positive and laudatory.  When Oland left the series, so did No. 1 son Keye Luke.  He was replaced by Sen Yung who, as No.2 son, may have been the worst Hollywood actor of all time.  Never mind - it's fun to watch in spite of all of its flaws. (1939)

Charlie Chan in Reno

**½

Pretty much the same as Charlie Chan in Honolulu, except the dialogue was slipping into cliché.  At the time the film was made, Reno was more famous for its relatively lax divorce laws than its gambling.  In fact, the gambling was pretty much a way for wealthy divoce applicants to kill time waiting the several weeks it took to get a divorce decree.  Early in this movie, a woman waiting for a divorce is accused of murdering a socialite who has stolen her husband.  Fortunately she was from Honolulu and knew Charlie Chan who comes to her rescue.  No. 2 son Sen Yung's acting improves but not much. (1939)

Charlie Wilson's War

***½

If I were a movie star I would never agree to be in a movie with Philip Seymour Hoffman.  He has stolen every film I've seen him in including this one.  Here he plays a CIA agent who battles with equal vigor against communists and Agency bureaucrats.  His portrayal is remarkable.  Tom Hanks in the role is a Texas congressman whose character flaws make Bill Clinton look like Mother Theresa.  He is convinced by a wealthy benefactor in Houston to take up the cause of the Afghans  who are fighting the invading Russians.  Hanks is great from this point on, but he not quite convincing as a rogue in the first half.  Jack Nicholson would have been more convincing as Wilson's playboy side, but picturing him as a congressman would would have been too much of a stretch. (2007).

Che

***

Benicio Del Toro is excellent in the title role of this biopic about the Cuban revolution of the 1950's.  Che's intentions were lofty, but he had no time for anyone not committed to the revolution, and he had no qualms about putting to death anyone he considered insufficiently brave and/or loyal.  He was not as nice as he seemed in The Motorcycle DIaries which raced Guevara's early life.  Che has a sequel about Guevara' s life after leaving Cuba, but I thought two and a half hours was enough.   (2008)

Chéri

**½

Michelle Pfeiffer stars as Lea, a retired Parisian courtesan living luxuriously in the 1920's.  Charlotte, perfectly rendered by Kathy Bates, is a former rival of Lea, is also retired and living well.  She induces Lea to educate her 19 year old son Chéri in the ways of love.  The introductory course becomes a graduate degree program stretching out for more than six years.  Lea, about twenty-five or thirty years older than her student breaks the golden rule of her former profession by becoming emotionally involved.  Re-enter Charlotte who wants to marry off her son to the daughter of another wealthy ex-professional.  You can guess what happens next.  Pfeiffer is beautiful, the sets and costumes are lush, but the music is syrupy and the pace is S.....L.....O.....W. (2009) 

Chicago

****

Even if you're like me and don't usually enjoy musicals, you'll like Chicago.  Renee Zellweger is the star, but Catherine Zeta-Jones, Queen Latifah and Richard Gere are also in top form singing and dancing.  The film editing is outstanding - should win an Oscar.  (2002)

     

A Christmas Story

****

If you've never seen this put it on your to do list for next year.  Jean Shepherd wrote the screen play based on his semi-autobiographical novel.  I spent many a late night listening to Shepherd tell stories on the radio.  This one is the story of a boy from Indiana and his efforts to secure a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas.  This movie truly can be enjoyed by children and adults.  (1983)

Cinderella Man

***½

A human Seabiscuit.  Russell Crowe as James J. Braddock affects a truly remarkable New Jersey accent, while Renee Zelweger struggles with hers.  Paul Giamatti shines as Bradock's manager, a role which should bring him a Best Supporting Actor nomination at the Oscars.  Basically this is a good story well told. (2005)

Cinema Verité

***½

The 1973 PBS series documenting the day-to-day life of what was supposed to be a typical American family,  Pat and Bill Loud with their five children, was groundbreaking to say the least.  This docudrama tells the story behind the story.  About halfway through Pat gives Bill his walking papers, one of the most dramatic moments in TV history.  In this portrayal, the director intercedes pushing the Louds into a divorce (which he denies).  I don't think we will ever know for sure.  Diane Lane and Tim Robbins  look and act amazingly like Pat and Bill.  James Gandolfino is very effective as producer Craig Gilbert. (2011)

City by the Sea

****

This won't do much for tourism in Long Beach.  Robert De Niro takes a break for being a hood to portray a cop, albeit one with "issues".  When he finds out that his estranged son is the prime suspect in a murder he's investigating, it kind of ruins his day.  (2002)

     

City of God

****

Life in Rio's favelas (slums) is not pretty as this fact-based Brazilian film shows.  Not easy to watch, but there is a ray of hope as the narrator finds a way out of the cycle of poverty and violence. (2002)

Clear History

***½

Larry David's fans will love it, non-fans will hate it.  As in Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry plays an obnoxious self-centered jerk who tries to outsmart everyone, but always winds up as a loser.  I'm not sure what the appeal is, perhaps we want to see jerks like Larry get their just desserts.  Jon Hamm of Mad Men fame plays Larry's best friend/worst enemy.  He is president of an electric car company getting ready to launch their first production vehicle.  Hamm wants to name the car Howard, after his son. Larry , the Marketing director, says he can't ell a car named Howard and quits in a huff.  Not surprisingly Howard is a big success, while Larry changes his identity and moves to Martha's Vineyard to escape the ridicule he gets for walking away from a fortune. (2013)

The Clearing

**

Robert Redford plays a retired car rental magnate who is kidnapped in his driveway by a disgruntled former employee,  Willem Defoe (he  gets these rolls when Christopher Walken is busy).  Helen Mirren plays Redford's long-suffering wife.  She is ready to kill him when he doesn't show up at home for a dinner party.  When the guests leave she starts to get suspicious and calls in the FBI.  The movie then moves on two parallel paths - one is Redford and Defoe trudging through a forest and the other Mirren and her family following instructions from from the FBI whose agents are living in their house.  Day turns to night turns to day in the house, but Redford and Defoe keep marching in daylight.  Maybe they're hiking the Appalachian Trail. Or maybe M. Night Shyamalan wrote the script.  (2004)

Client 9

***

The rise and fall of Eliot Spitzer is chronicled in this slick documentary.  Alex Gibney and Peter Elkind (The  Smartest Guys in the Room) present Spitzer as a character in a Greek tragedy who achieves greatness but is felled by hubris.  In a lengthy interview Spitzer's major regret appears to be that he got caught.  Although the film-makers don't stoop to the Michael Moore level, the do imply that some rich and powerful men who hated Spitzer because of his slash and burn tactics in trying to reform Wall Street, had him trailed by private detectives.  They got their revenge by tipping off the authorities and the press when they found Spitzer using an escort service.  No documentation is provided. (2010)

Closer

**

If you want to see Julia Roberts, Jude Law, Clive Owen and Natalie Portman talk dirty this movie is for you.  There is no other reason to watch it.  Hard to believe that Owen and Portman garnered Oscar nominations for their roles in this contrived love quadrangle. (2004)

The Closet

***

M. Pignon is a boring accountant who works in a condom factory.  To save his job, he starts a rumor that he is a closet gay.  This subtitled French farce is very funny. (2001)

Clouds of Sils Maria

*½

Juliette Binoche at 51 still looks good, but not good enough to make this pretentious, terrible movie watchable.  Of its many flaws, the worst is the stilted dialogs.     There are a lot of characters on their cell phones.  Most of the dialog is in English, but the cell phone monologs are mostly in French.  The movie critics in the New York Times and the Houston Chronicle liked it but I can't figure out why. (2015) 

Coco Before Chanel

***½

Coco Chanel was a true revolutionary in the world of fashion.  She showed how fashion and comfort in women's clothes could be rationalized.  Abandoned to an orphanage by a philandering father when her mother died, Chanel learned the seamstress trade from the nuns.  This came in handy later, but after leaving the orphanage, she became a cabaret singer, thinking this was her route to fame and fortune.   Luckily, she caught the eye of some wealthy men in the cabaret, two of whom she managed to charm into helping her start her fashion career.  I didn't like Audrey Tautou in Amelie, but she is much better here.  Gentlemen - be prepared to get in touch with your feminine side. (2010)

Coffee and Cigarettes

**

For Jim Jarmusch fans only.  The film is comprised of eleven vignettes, related only by the fact that each features two or three actors sitting at a small table drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes.  Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett, and Alfred Molina, among others play themselves.  The humor is subtle and absurdist to say the least.  Filmed in black and white. (2003)

     

Collateral

**½

Pretty far-fetched action flick.  A great star turn by Jamie Foxx, but it leads me to wonder how the Academy decided that he was in a supporting role.  He is on screen more than Tom Cruise.  (2004)

The Color of Money

****

Paul Newman won a well-deserved Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Eddie Felsen, the pool shark he played in The Hustler fifteen years earlier.  Having decided he was too old to compete any more Felsen takes on a protégé, Vince,  who is talented but needs lessons on how to make money in the pool halls.  Vince is played by Tom Cruise who is completely over the top. Vince travels with a girlfriend, Carmen, masterfully played by Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio.  Two out three is good enough to make this a must-see. (1986)

The Conspirator

***½

You can expect a moral lesson in any movie produced by Robert Redford.  The lesson here is pretty clear - forgetting the nation's guiding legal principles in the name of of patriotism is diminishes the nation's strength.  Mary Surratt, owner of a Washington DC boarding house in which the plot to assassinate Abraham Lincoln and others was hatched.  She is tried before a military tribunal along with three of John Wilkes Booth's associates.  It is not clear from the film whether or not Suratt was part of the conspiracy, but what is clear is that she did not get a fair trial.  Some of the dialogue is a little stilted, but the acting is very good.  James McAvoy, Tom Wilkinson, Robin Penn, and Evan Rachel Wood all do well with their accents, and Kevin Kline does well in a serious role.  Worth seeing. (2011)

Constant Gardener

***½

The crumbling of the Berlin Wall has been good for most people, but not for John Le Carré.  His novels have not been the same since all the spies came in from the cold.  This is actually a very good adaptation of his novel, although as often happens the scope of the source material is so broad that many characters are undeveloped making their screen appearances so brief that confusion reigns.  The basic idea here is that the big pharmaceutical companies are paying off governments and police in order to profiteer at the expense of poor Africans.  There is probably a kernel of truth in this, but I doubt if in real life the bad guys are quite this bad or the good guys are so good.  This movie will not encourage many people to visit Africa. (2005)

     

Control Room

****

Life inside Arab TV network Al Jazeera is chronicled in this documentary.  Dramatic footage of the early days of the Iraq war is very graphic.  They make no bones about trying to show events from an Arab point of view, but it appears that they have gained prominence throughout the Middle East through accurate reporting rather than propaganda.  In the film, a young media relations officer explaining the U.S. position to an Al Jazeera manager is shown in a positive and sympathetic light. (2004)

The Cooler

***½

William H. Macy stars as a loser who spreads bad luck to everyone with whom he comes in contact.  Alec Baldwin is the manager of a Las Vegas casino who hires Macy to cool down any gambler who gets on a hot streak.  When Macy gets involved with a cocktail waitress his luck changes.  Not a good thing with his job description.  Very good acting, especially form Baldwin whose authority is challenged by a young corporate VP who recently got an MBA. (2003)

Country Strong

***

Gwyneth Paltrow plays a fading country music star named Kelly Canter.  She gives it a good shot, but I found it difficult to believe her in this role.  A for effort, but its not quite good enough.  Tim McGraw follows his strong performance in The Blind Side with a fine star turn as Kelly' husband and manager.  The seconday characters are pretty good as is the music.  Not terrible, but not great. (2011)

Crash

**½

With all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, this film informs us that racism exists in America.  There are blacks prejudiced against whites, whites against Arabs, blacks against Orientals, Orientals against Hispanics, whites against blacks, and Arabs against Hispanics.  Curiously, there are three Hispanic characters who, despite having abuse heaped upon them, take it all in stride, are perfect in every way,  and have nothing bad to say about anybody.  I suppose this movie is an allegory because the makers could not possibly believe that the audience would accept at face value all of the coincidences that occur in the span of one day.  If you like being preached to, go to your favorite house of worship and donate the money you would have paid for tickets.  If you go anyway, look for an actor sleepwalking through his leading role.  That would be Don Cheadle. (2005) 

 

 

 

Crumb

*****

Missed this the first time around, but it is available at Blockbuster.  One of the great documentaries of all time.  Gives new meaning to the phrase "dysfunctional family".  (1994)

     

Cry of the Snow Lion

**

What starts out as a documentary on human rights abuses in Tibet by the Chinese ends up as an anti-business, anti-globalization diatribe.  Too bad.  Had the producers tried to be a bit more balanced in their reporting the impact would have been stronger.  (2003)

Crazy Heart

****

A classic performance by Jeff Bridges earned him a well-deserved Oscar in this story of a down and out country and western singer/songwriter. His intensity is matched by Maggie Gyllenhaal who plays a free-lance journalist who is charmed by the musician.  The songs that were written for the movie were actually pretty good.  Well worth seeing. (2009)

Curse of the Were-Rabbit

**½

Wallace and Gromit are English stop-action Plasiticine animation characters.  Wallace is a bumbling inventor and Gromit his mute but clever dog.  Wallace constantly suffers from self-inflicted wounds and Gromit consistently bails him out.  Most of the critics loved this movie but I found it to be a bit boring. (2005)

 

Dark Knight

**

In the words of John McEnroe - you can't be serious!  How did this picture garner all that critical acclaim and an acting Oscar?  This is nothing more that a video game on steroids.  There is gratuitous violence, implausible dialog, going-through-the-motions acting from Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine, and a thin story line.  Here's my theory - Roger Ebert liked it and all the other critics were afraid to tell the truth (2008) 

Darwin's Nightmare

***½

This documentary has been nominated for an academy award, but starving African kids are not as cute as penguins so it probably  won't win.  About thirty years ago someone had the bright idea of introducing giant Nile Perch to Lake Victoria.  The good news is that the species flourished and an export fishing industry developed providing jobs for many people in Tanzania.  The bad news is that voracious perch have wiped out every other species of fish in the lake.  Now they are eating their own young because there is no other food available.  A little too Michael Moore-ish for my taste, but a real winner for fans of depression and guilt. (2005)

Dead Man

*½

Even Jim Jarmusch fans should be annoyed this one.   Johnny Depp stars as an accountant from Cleveland who heads west on a train pulled by a steam engine.  As the film begins, there are alternating shots of passengers and the wheels of the steam engine.  Fade in passengers, fade out.  Fade in train, fade out.  Fade in passengers, etc., etc., etc.  After about a half hour of this, Depp arrives in a town called Machine where a promised job has been given to someone else.  Depressed, he sits outside a saloon where he encounters a young woman who had been thrown in the mud by her boyfriend.  She invites him to bed, but the boyfriend walks in and shoots Depp and the woman.  Depp kills the man who turns out to be the son of Robert Mitchum who owns the business which had ostensibly hired Depp to work in his factory.  Mitchum hires three killers to get Depp.  The movie goes downhill from there with much gratuitous killing and an Indian who thinks Depp is a reincarnation of 18th century English poet William Blake.  By far the most annoying aspect of this film is the background music, essentially a short, out of tune guitar riff by Neil Young which is repeated over and over and over.............. (1995)

Death at a Funeral

**

When I heard that this movie is a funny British  comedy  I was expecting something in the Monty Python tradition.  Wrong.  It is British humor in the Benny Hill tradition, subtle as a brick.  Michael Macfadyen, seen here as Mr. Darcy in the most recent Pride and Prejudice remake, does his best but doesn't have much to work with.  The script and many of the supporting actors are pretty weak.  At the funeral of a reasonably well-to-do Englishman, a midget that none of the other guest had seen before, pulls aside one of the deceased's sons and informs him that he was his father's secret lover.  He has pictures to prove it and threatens to make them public unless he receives hush money.  Dealing with this crisis is the main event but there various other unfunny sideshows such as a crotchety old uncle having bowel issues and a shy boyfriend of the deceased's niece making a fool of himself after inadvertently ingesting a hallucinatory drug.  The funny bits are few and far between and are mostly included in the trailer. (2007)

The Debt

***½

This is a well-crafted espionage thriller with a good cast and an interesting story to tell.  The plot features three retired Mossad agents who captured and killed a former Nazi war criminal in East Berlin some forty years ago.  When the daughter of two of the ex-agents launchesw a book about the episode, things start to go south.  The middle third of this movie drags but the beginning and end are very good.  Helen Mirren and Tom Wilkinson struggle a bit with their Israeli accents.  (2011) 

The Deep End

***½

Our heroine tries to dispose of a body in the shallow end of Lake Tahoe.  The water is too clear for that plan to work.  Tilda Swinton is outstanding as an overprotective mother.  This tight little thriller will make you squirm.  (2001)

De-Lovely

***½

Very similar to All That Jazz, with Cole Porter in the spotlight instead of Bob Fosse.  Some of director Irwin WInkler's ideas work better than others, but his use of current music icons like Diana Krall, Alanis Morrisette, Natalie Cole, Sheryl Crow, and Elvis Costello doing Porter songs while dressed in period costumes is brilliant.  (2004)

     

The Descendants

***½

Not much action and kind of a weak story line, but high marks for an accurate portrayal of life in Hawaii away from the tourist zones.  Geroge Clooney plays Matt King, a Honolulu lawyer whose wife had been seriously injured in a boating accident.  A workaholic, in addition to his practice, he devotes a lot of time looking after a family trust, a huge parcel of prime real estate on Kauai.  With his wife in a coma, Matt is forced to deal with his two teen age daughters and a wiseass boyfriend of the elder.  The sound track contains many classic recordings by the giants of Hawaiian music., mostly in the Hawaiian language. (2011)

Despicable Me

***½

Very impressive graphics and a cute story make this suitable for adults and kids.  Steve Carrell is the voice of Gru, a villain with a soft spot.  He has a plan to steal the moon, also the objective of another villain, Vector, voiced by Jason Segel,  and the two battle throughout.  Gru is aided by three little girls whom he has inexplicably adopted.  Lots of flashy graphics and enough in jokes to keep the adults awake.

The Devil Wears Prada

***

Warning - Chick Flick Ahead.  Not as bad as I expected, but not as good as it could have been with a little effort in the last 15 minutes.  Meryl Streep does her thing and Stanley Tucci is as always - understated and excellent.  The rest of the cast is forgettable.  Lots of beautiful women in various states of dress and undress make this watchable for men, and women will love the clothes. (2006)

Diabolique

*****

Simone Signoret stars as the mistress of a sadistic boy's school headmaster.  She and the headmaster's wife conspire to murder the man and dump him in the school swimming pool.  Everything seems to be OK until the body disappears.   This is a true classic that should not be missed by anyone interested in the movies.  In French with excellent subtitles. (1955)

Die Another Day

***

Check credibility at the door, but the latest James Bond is very entertaining.  The tongue-in-cheek humor and amazing special effects make this worthwhile.  It also removes any doubt you may have had that North Korea is part of the Axis of Evil.  (2002)

Dirty Harry

***

It's still fun to watch Clint Eastwood in his breakthrough role.  The movie starts with a young women swimming in a rooftop pool, seen through the scope of a rifle.  Not much surprise when a bullet sends her to the bottom.  San Francisco police inspector Harry Callahan is on the case.  He finds a note on the roof of an adjacent building signed by "Scorpio" and demanding money.  Callahan is long on nerve and techniques but has little time for bureaucratic niceties like Miranda rights.  San Francisco is seen in full glory, even some artifacts like Kezar Stadium, long since demolished, and the tram system that was replaced by BART.  Eastwood is great but his supporting cast is pretty wooden. (1971)

Dodsworth

****½

Unfortunately they don't make films like this anymore.  Too bad.  Walter Huston stars as Dodsworth, an automobile baron who sells his company to which he has devoted all of his time and energy, and thinks he is ready to enjoy the good life.  He books passage on the Queen Mary for an extended trip to Europe.  His wife played by Ruth Chaterton, discovering that her husband is loyal but dull, begins a series of liaisons with younger men.  Meanwhile, Dodsworth meets an American expat, Mary Astor, who has all the qualities his wife lacks.  Resolving this conflict in an adult manner is what sets this film apart.  An American classic. (1936)

Dog Tooth

*

If this is the best that current Greek cinema can provide it's no wonder the country is in decline.  The plot revolves around the family of a Greek industrialist who does not let his wife or three teen-aged children, two girls and a boy, ever leave the family compound.  Recognizing that his son has an awakening libido, he pays a female security guard from his factory to provide sexual services to the boy.  Shortly afterward, the security guard entices one of the sisters to provide sexual favors to her.  From there things get out of hand.  Incest, cruelty to animals, and bloody violence are just a few of the stomach-turning themes that follow.  Advertised as bizarre, amateurish stupidity would be more descriptive.  (2010) 

Doubt

****

Philip Seymour Hoffman once again inhabits a character.  In this case he is a popular priest who may or may not have had an improper relationship with an eighth grade student.  His accuser is Sister Aloysius, a stern school principal played by Meryl Streep.  She and Hoffman are probably our two finest actors.  In this heavyweight championship Hoffman is the clear winner.  Although her role is really a cameo, watch for newcomer Viola Davis to cop a Best Supporting Actress nomination.. (2008)

Draft Day

****

Life imitates art.  The National Football League held their draft as this movie was released.  A highly publicized quarterback with questionable off-field issues is presumed by the experts to be the number one pick in the draft.  He drops at the last minute.  Sound familiar? Kevin Costner is at his best as the lone wolf General Manager of the Seattle Seahawks who makes a lot of last minute deals to get the players he wants.  There are a lot of cameo appearances by football people, including commissioner  Roger Goodell.  Also, there is a nice bit of acting by the Texans' Arian Foster as a running back waiting to hear his name called at the draft.  (2014)

Dreamgirls

****

Dreamgirls joins Evita and Chicago as Broadway hits that succeed in the movies.  This is a thinly-veiled history of Dina Ross and the Supremes rising from obscurity in Detroit during the 1960's to international fame and fortune.  There are fine performances from  Beyonce Knowles, Jamie Fox and Eddie Murphy, but American Idol reject Jennifer Hudson steals the show as an original singing group member who gets shoved aside by the ruthless manager because she is overweight.  In the theater where I saw the show the audience broke into applause when Hudson finished singing her big number.  (2006) 

Earth

***½

Released on Earth Day, I expected a lecture on how man was ruining the environment.  I was pleasantly surprised global warning was raised as an issue but there was no scolding.  This is a well-made documentary about animals that features some amazing photography.  The stars of the show are a family of polar bears whose adventures are tracked from the moment two cubs first see the light of day until they are full grown and ready to be independent.  The most incredible footage shows an immense Great White Shark rocketing out of the water to snare a seal.  This was Jaws on steroids.  (2009)

East of Eden

*****

One of only three movies made by James Dean, this was probably his best.  His strained relationship with his screen father, Raymond Massey feels real.  The interplay between him and his mother, Jo Van Fleet is even better.  Age has not dimmed the brilliance of this film one iota. (1955)

Eastern Promises

****

Except for a best Actor Oscar nomination for Viggo Mortensen, this picture slipped under the radar in 2007.  If you don't mind a little violence and blood put this in your Netflix queue or run down to Blockbuster and rent it.  The plot revolves around the activities of the Russian mafia in London.  These guys are pretty scary.  Mortensen plays Nikolai, a driver and bodyguard, the toughest and scariest of the lot.  Naomi Watts plays Anna, a daughter of Russian immigrants who as a midwife, delivers the baby of a Russian prostitute who dies in childbirth.  Her search for relatives of the newborn puts her in touch with the mafia chief, not a good thing.  You won't fall asleep watching this picture. (2007)

Easy Rider

***½

This classic has aged quite well.  Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper riding their Harleys across America appear to be stoned throughout the entire movie, and the documentary that came on the DVD confirms it.  Jack Nicholson as an alcoholic attorney who represents the downtrodden just about steals the show.  The scene in which he is seen on the back of Peter Fonda's motorcycle, grinning and wearing a football helmet, is worth the price of admission.

Elmer Gantry

**½

The story of a deeply flawed fire and brimstone preacher probably seemed pretty implausible when this film was released, but low and behold, here comes Jimmy Swaggert.  Life does imitate art.  I would have given this film a much higher rating, but Jean Simmons, a proper Brit, is woefully miscast as a revivalist from the US Midwest.  Burt Lancaster won a Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Gantry, and Shirley Jones got a Best Supporting Actress award as Gantry's ex- girlfriend.  They were very good, but couldn't make up for Simmons' inadequacies.  (1960)

Enough Said

****

Is is my imagination or has Hollywood decided that it is OK to make pictures that adults can enjoy? Julia Louis-Dreyfus and the late James Gandolfini star as a couple of middle-aged loners who find each other at a cocktail paqrty.  They appear to be a nice match but bad things happen, mostly revolving around Gandolfini's ex-wife played by the reliably great Catherine Keener.  There are some plot contrivances but they be overlooked because the dialog and the acting are so uniformly great. (2013)

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room ****

One of the best chronicles of the Enron debacle has been turned into a fascinating documentary.  If managerial incompetence were a crime, Ken Lay would get a life sentence.  (2005)

Evan Almighty

**½

Steve Carell plays Evan, a Buffalo, N.Y. newscaster who gets elected to Congress having promised to change the world.  He moves with his family to a D.C. suburb where he is visited by God, in the person of Morgan Freeman who instructs him to build an ark.  To get him started God delivers some wood and a copy of Ark-Building for Dummies.  What follows is predictable but kind of fun if you aren't in the mood for great film-making.  Wanda Sykes as the deadpan personal assistant to the Congressman has the best lines and delivers them well.  Too bad she didn't have a bigger role.  When all is said and done God explains to Evan that he can change the world by performing Acts of Random Kindness (ARK).  Subtlety is not this movie's long suit.  Don't leave when "The End" flashes on the screen, because the outtakes which are shown as the credits roll are very funny.  (2007)

Every Little Step

***½

Fans of A Chorus Line will enjoy this.  Documentaries are all about the editing and this one was well done.  A group of the original insiders from the 1972 Broadway production get together to launch a revival.  The central theme is in the winnowing down the 3,000 applicants to fit the 17 roles.  Dancers must be able to handle disappointment because the ods are bad and the talent level is very high.  This is American Idol with a much higher talent base. (2008)

Everything is Illuminated

****

Elijah Wood as Jonathon Safran Foer, a collector of family artifacts.  From her death bed, his grandmother gives Jonathon on old photograph of his grandfather with a young woman whom he surmises helped him escape the Nazis in the Ukraine.  Jonathan  sets off to Odessa where he meets a family whose travel agency specializes in helping American Jews find evidence of their forbears.  Beautifully filmed, well-acted with an intelligent script, this adaptation of Foer's novel is worth watching at least once.  It's a little confusing on first viewing, but everything will be illuminated the second time through.  (2005)

Exit Through the Gift Shop

**½

This starts out as a documentary about street art and artists.  About halfway through that the videographer, although having shot hundreds of hour of ape has no idea how to put together a documentary.  Banksy, a British street artist takes over and turns it into a documentary about the videographer.  In a complete role reversal, the videographer declares himself an artist, throws together some mutilated posters and sells his art for hundreds of thousands of dollars.  The L.A. art crowd won't be happy about their interviews.  Entertaining but not really deserving of its Oscar nomination. (2010)

Eye in the Sky

****

In the ongoing  battle against terrorists, the free world has some amazingly effective tools.  Many are on display in this genuine thriller.  The story line is about the decision and approval process required using drone strikes against identified targets in a non-combatant country, in this case Kenya. Helen stars as a British Colonel who coordinates the whole operation.   Tension builds quickly and doesn't let up. (2016)

 Fair Game

***½

When the Bush administration was looking for evidence that the Iraqi government was developing weapons of mass destruction in order to justify an invasion, Joe Wilson, a  former ambassador was sent by the CIA to Niger to corroborate a rumor that Iraq had purchased a large quantity of yellow cake uranium.  Wilson determined that it was next to impossible for the purchase to have been made and said so in a report.  This set off a chain of events that led to the administration leaking the fact that Wilson's wife was a covert agent for the FBI.  Naomi Watts and Sean Penn are excellent in their roles, but the actors portraying administration representatives and CIA co-workers overdo their evil or spineless personas.  Everyone except Watt and Penn is one dimensional to the extreme.  The filmmakers had a point of view, but they would have been better served if the bad guys were not quite so bad. (2010)

The Fall

***

There's never been a movie like this, and it is unlikely that anyone will try something like this again.  Filmed on location in 28 venues around the world it is a feast for the eyes.  The premise is simple - an injured stunt man in an L.A. hospital circa 1920 befriends a nine year old girl with her broken arm in an awkward cast.  He fascinates the girl with wild tails about a villain named Governor Odious and a team of virtuous pursuers like the Black Bandit, a freed African slave, Charles Darwin ,a European explosives expert and an Indian who's wife was kidnapped and killed by the nefarious Odious.  The story tends to bog down but the scenery never fails to impress.  The little girl, Cantinca Untaru, will steal your heart. (2006)

Far From Heaven

***½

Interesting story about hypocrisy and prejudice in the North during the 50's.  Dennis Quaid shines in a difficult role, and Julianne Moore is solid as always.  The couple's children are another matter. (2002)

Feast of Love

***

Morgan Freeman drops in from Evan Almighty to co-star with Greg Kinnear also reprising his character in Little Miss Sunshine.  Here Freeman plays Harry, a college professor on sabbatical who spends all his spare time drinking coffee and dispensing wisdom in a funky coffee shop owned by Kinnear's Bradley.  The movie's theme is love and its complications, mostly centered on Bradley who seems to invite people to dump on him.  He is blissfully unaware of the bad things swirling around him.  The only thing he seems to have in common with his wife is that they both like having sex with women.  This is not a great movie but the acting is strong and the story is entertaining.  There are also beautiful views of Portland, Oregon and Radha Mitchell. (2007)

 

 

 

Femme Fatale

***

This should do for Rebecca Romijn-Stamos what Basic Instinct did for Sharon Stone.  (note - I was wrong).  The movie is a stylish film noire about a jewelry heist and its aftermath.  The story is a little muddled, but the "scenery" is outstanding.  (2002)

The Fighter

*****

This is filmmaking at its  best.  A good story  well told featuring some amazing acting.  Melissa Leo and Christian Bale won Supporting Actor Oscars and Amy Adams snagged a nomination.  Mark Wahlberg plays Irish Micky Ward, a boxer who survives a crazy family to become a World Champ.  If you missed this when it first came out like I did, put it at the top of your Netflix queue. (2010)

Finding Nemo

****

Essentially a kids' movie, but you won't mind taking them.  The animation is spectacular, and the voices have real personality.  This one will be around for years. (2003)

     

Finding Neverland

****

Good performances all around bring this one to life, even though the pace is a tad slow.  Johnny Depp should get an Oscar nomination as James Barrie, the creator of Peter Pan.  Kate Winslett and Julie Christie are also very good.  (2004)

Fire in Babylon

***½

Although this documentary is about cricket, no knowledge of the game is necessary to appreciate this documentary.  By the middle of the 20th century black players had taken over as the representatives of their Caribbean countries in international cricket.  After being humiliated by Australia in 1975, the captain of the West Indies team figured out why they were losing.  They were intimidated by the Aussie fast bowlers (pitchers in baseball) who could deliver the ball at more than 90 mph and were not averse to bouncing the ball in to the head or body of the batsmen, inflicting great pain.  When the captain found four young bowlers who mastered the same techniques, the game was on.  Now the descendents of slaves were in charge.  The battle for cricket supremacy paralleled  the fight for independence in the Caribbean.  The passion of the islanders for the game is hard to overestimate.  The film is good but could have been better.  The interviews tend to repeat and some of the English need sub-titles. (2011)

First Position

****

Although not a ballet fan, I was totally hooked by this incredible documentary.  The American Youth Grand Prix is an annual international competition attracting 5,000 aspiring dancers.  All but 300 are eliminated before the finals in New York City.  The camera follows six gifted dancers aged eleven to seventeen as they prepare for their big moment.  The hard work and pain that all the young dancers endure, and the toll that dancing takes on the families is truly eye-opening.  The photography is great and the editing is seamless.  I could see it again. (2012)

Fog of War

****

Robert McNamara reflects on his tenure as Secretary of Defense in this well-made documentary.  There are some very interesting tape recordings of his conversations with Presidents Kennedy and Johnson.  The original score by Philip Glass is annoying.  (2003)

For Your Consideration

***

Christopher Guest reassembles repertory troupe for this  send-up of Hollywood.  Eugene Levy is an agent for Harry Shearer, a has-been actor who is starring in a really bad movie called Home for Purim.  Enter Ricky Gervais as a "suit" who in the name of toning down the Jewishness of the story changes the title to Home for Thanksgiving.  Catherine O'Hara, Parker Posey, Bob Balaban, and Fred Willard are excellent as always.  Not quite as funny as Best in Show, but  funny nonetheless.  (2006)

Forgetting Sarah Marshall

*½

This "romantic comedy" (it is neither) is apparently aimed at today's young adult audience.  This is a worry.  I don't think I'd care to meet anyone who thought this movie is funny.   Here is the basic story line.  A studio musician goes to pieces when his girlfriend (SM) tells him she is leaving him.  After failing to cope with his loss, the musician goes to Hawaii to get away.  He checks in at a remote North Shore hotel.  Guess who is also staying at the hotel.  Full disclosure: after about an hour I couldn't take it any more and turned it off.  THe half star is based on the remote possibility that there was a funny joke or sight gag in the part I missed. (2008)

42

****

This two year slice of the life of baseball star Jackie Robinson is very well done.  Newcomer Chadwick Boseman looks amazingly like Robinson does very well in the role.  But the star of the show is Harrison Ford as the irascible and visionary Branch Rickey, the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers.  He gives Robinson a pep talk before he signs him up tp play, making Robinson promise not to fight back in public when he is racially taunted.  A born fighter, Robinson keeps his promise, although it is against his instincts.  (2013)

The Forty Year Old Virgin

****

This reminds me a little of Sideways, which is a good thing. It may even be a little funnier.  Some of the scenes are juvenile and over the top, however it is easy to forgive this one's flaws because on the whole it is falling out of your chair funny.   The premise is that a likeable but nerdy guy who works in an electronics store has never had any experience with women.  His co-workers make it a project to rectify this situation.  Steve Carell and Kathleen Keener are very good, but the actors who play his co-workers steal the show.  I could see this again.  (2005)

     

The French Kissers

**½

This French import is a teenage coming-of-age saga that doesn't seem to add much to the genre.  Herve and his Tunisian friend Camel dream that they are on the verge of scoring with girls in their school, but they never get much beyond the kissing stage.  Herve's mother, a lusty overweight divorcee, encourages his sexual awakening, but Herve does not appreciate her efforts on his behalf.  Mildly entertaining. In French with hard to read sub-titles. (2009)

Frida

****

More like a visit to an art museum than a movie, this is beautifully filmed.  The stilted dialogue is a negative, but the cameos by some major stars are a big plus.  Seeing Ashley Judd dancing the tango with Salma Hayek is, well... you have to see it.  (2002)

     

Friday Night Lights

****

Outstanding sports movie, although some of the high school students looked like they were closing in on 30.  The portrait of life in a small Texas town is not pretty, reminiscent of The Last Picture Show.  Billy Bob Thornton should garner an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of a high school football coach under pressure. (2004)

Frost/Nixon

****

This is a tour de force for Frank Langella.  His portrayal of Richard Nixon is slightly overdone, but all things considered he captures the spirit of the man - smart, tough, but badly flawed.  Against the counsel of his advisors, he agrees to the interview because he thought Frost was a lightweight.  There were four two hour taping sessions.  The first three taping segments pretty much went Nixon's way, but the final segment dealt with Watergate and when Frost lifted his game, Nixon met his match. Worth watching.  (2008)

Frozen River

****

Melissa Leo earned a Best Actress nomination for her work in this story of a woman in upstate New York who discovers that helping a native American acquaintance smuggle illegal immigrants across the border from Canada through te Mohawk reservation is the means for her to realize her dream - the purchase of a double-wide trailer for her and her two sons.  She has a  missing husband who is a gambling addict, a boss at the Yankee Dollar store who only gives her part-time work, and a single-wide trailer which doesn't offer much protection against the cold.  She knows she is getting in over her head but her existence is so depressing that anything with a glimmer of hope for a better life appears to be worth a try.  There is a sense of impending doom throughout the picture, but the resolution is not as bad as it could be.  (2008)

Fruitvale Station

****½

I don''t usually like docu-dramas but this is an exception.  The film chronicles the last day in the life of Oscar Grant, a 22 year old resident of Oakland who was gunned down by the police in the Fruitvale  BART station on New Year's Eve 2009.  Michael B. Jordan does a fine job of portraying Oscar.  He isn't an angel, but he has clawed his way back after a stay in prison for dealing drugs and has evolved into a very likable young man.  Olivia Spencer (The Help) plays Oscar's mother and is nothing short of great.  Knowing how the movie is going to end doesn't doesn't matter.  Fruitvale Station sucks you in.  (2013)

 

 

Gangs of New York

**

This is a film version of a historical novel - a fictional tale with an authentic historical context.  The problem is that this is not much more than a sadistic blood bath.  Jim Broadbent shines as Boss Tweed, but the rest of the cast overacts, including the highly praised Daniel Day-Lewis who sports a somewhat over-ripe New York accent.  If you like the sight of spurting blood and impalements resulting from the use of a wide variety of blades, this is for you.  If not - fugget about it. (2002)

Garden State

**

Some people liked this movie.  I didn't.  Maybe I'm just not into post-teen angst.  Natalie Portman is good, but that's about it.  Peter Sarsgaard is too old for his character and the woman who plays his mother is only 11 years older than he is.  Give it a miss. (2004)

Ghosts of Flatbush

***½

This HBO Sports production is about the Brookly Dodgers, but you don't have to be a baseball fan to enjoy it.  It was clear in the mid fifties that the Dodgers needed a new stadium.  Ebbets Field was falling apart and only had room for 700 cars.  The centerpiece of the story is the battle between Walter O'Malley, the owner of the Dodgers and Robert Moses, a powerful New York politician who blocked efforts to build a new stadium in Brooklyn.  The result was the moving of the Dodgers and the Giants to California.  Fifty years on the people in Brooklyn haven't forgiven O'Malley. (2007)

     

Ghost World

***½

An off-beat coming-of-age story from the director of Crumb.  All of the acting is first rate, but Illeana Douglas as a touch-feely art instructor and Steve Buscemi as a nerd record collector are outstanding.  (2000)

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

**

The final book of the Millennium trilogy is very disappointing.  The tension of the first two episodes is missing and the characters mostly sleepwalk through their scenes.  There was a rumor going around that a fourth manuscript from Stieg Larsson was found after his death, but I hope it wasn't true. (2010)

The Girl Who  Played With Fire

***

Not as good as The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo but worth seeing nevertheless.  The acting is once again excellent with the characters carrying over.  I felt you could see the first film and get the main story, but in this sequel, I think it would much more difficult to understand what was going on.  The ending in the book made perfect sense but you would not know what happened to any of the main characters when the titles started to roll.  Cramming all the action into two hours was a big ask. (2010)

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

***½

Subtitles plus fast action give your eyeballs a workout in this adaptation of the wildly popular novel.  The book had many, many subplots, some of which had to be excluded, but on the whole the movie gets the essence of the main story right,  The movie has a James Bond feel, but a lot of the action is mental rather than physical.  Filmed in Sweden with Swedish actors, the faces are all new and real-looking.  Don't expect high art, just sit back and relax – the baddies get their comeuppance and the good guys land on their feet. (2010)

The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo

***

I liked the Swedish language version better, but the English adaptation is worth your while to see.  Rooney Mara as the "Girl" is believable, and Daniel Craig handles the subtlety of his role very well.  The special effects are better in this version, but the secondary characters are more effective in the Swedish version. (2011)

Ghost Writer

**

If you are a conspiracy theorist who believes that George Bush and Tony Blair were secretly working for the CIA this movie is right up your street.  Ewan McGregor is an out of work writer who gets picked to help a thinly-disguised Blair (Pierce Brosnan) write his memoirs.  He finds himself being sucked in to something bigger than the book.  He tracks down a Harvard professor played by Tom Wilkinson, who is secretly a CIA agent pulling the strings of the leaders of the Free World.  And who might you guess is facilitating all this secret agent stuff?  Why its none other than a corporation that looks a lot like Halliburton.  There is a lot of acting talent wasted on this preposterous pot-boiler (2010)

Gone, Baby, Gone

****

This police thriller has more twists and turns than the Hana Highway on Maui.  There is lots of action as some very fine actors strut their stuff.  Amy Ryan garnered an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of a drug-addicted mother whose daughter is kidnapped.  There are plenty of suspects but just when you think you've got it, the plot shifts.  Young Casey Affleck who is the main character  holds his own against some acting heavyweights such as Morgan Freeman and Ed Harris.  There are some non-swear words in the movie but not too many. (2007)

     

Gone Girl

***

Ben Affleck and Rosamond Pike appear to be the model couple but one day she disappears and he is under suspicion by the local police who suspect foul play.   A series of flashbacks reveals that the couple was not so ideal.  This is a good Who-dunnit for about two hours, but the ending is pretty contrived. (20114)

Goodbye, Lenin

***

Over-long, but interesting tale about the fall of the Berlin Wall.  A party stalwart falls into a coma and awakens eight months later.  To avoid giving her a shock, her family arranges a hoax to hide the facts of the reunification of Germany from her.  Interesting view of post-Wall Germany.  (2003)

     

Good Girl

***

Jennifer Aniston plays a good girl who feels trapped between a dead end job and a pothead husband.  Once she strays off the straight and narrow, she finds it difficult to sort things out.  Not a classic but quite entertaining. (2002)

     

The Good Thief

*½

Nick Nolte mumbles his way through this boring travesty.  It's hard to tell the good guys from the bad guys because they all look alike.  One of the more ludicrous good/bad guys is a body-builder who has a sex change operation.  Unfortunately his/her fear of spiders was not affected by surgery.  Ocean's Eleven has the same plot but is much more entertaining.  (2002)

     

Good Night and Good Luck

****

This story of Edward R. Murrow's battle with Senator Joseph McCarthy is filmed in black and white which gives the impression of actually being shot in the fifties.  It also allows actual news footage to be seamlessly integrated making the real Senator McCarthy part of the cast.  David Strathairn is very good as Murrow and Frank Langella is excellent as CBS president William Paley.  A sub-plot involving two CBS staffers who break the company rule against being married to each other seems like nothing more than pure filler.  This movie is good, but not as good as the hype would have you believe. (2005)

The Good Shepherd

***½

The last two spy books I've read contained the identical admonition - Don't trust anyone.  Good advice.  In this good, but somewhat confusing story about the creation of the CIA,  Matt Dillon stars as Edward Wilson, a bright Yale student who is recruited to join the OSS during WW II.  During his career he discovers that not even the members of his own family can be trusted with the secrets he is entrusted to keep.  The central plot theme is search for the mole who tipped off the Russians about the invasion at the Bay of Pigs.  Part of the confusion is that the story is told in a series of flashbacks spanning twenty years, but none of the characters look any different as they age.  There are too many top actors in minor roles to mention, but Michael Gambon as a Yale poetry professor quite taken with Wilson shines above the rest.  The movie is a bit long, but worth watching until the end.  (2006)

The Grand Budapest Hotel

**½

There is a fine line between quirky and stupid.  This one clearly falls into the latter category.  Ralph Fiennes stars as Gustave H., a concierge in a old-fashioned but plush hotel in a fictitious European country.  His specialty is providing special service to elderly female guests, the older the better.   The story line, such as it is, revolves around the death of an elderly widow who clearly enjoyed the services she received in the hotel. When her will is read, the family discovers that their matriarch has willed a valuable painting to Gustave. There is a lot of running and hiding and escaping but it is mostly superfluous. A large contingent of A-list actors make cameo appearances, some with fake Slavic accents, some sound jarringly American. Not very good. (2014)

Gosford Park

***

Ham-handed directing keep this movie from being really first-rate.  It doesn't take 10 zooms to poison labels on bottles to foreshadow to the audience that someone is going to swallow something bad for him.  There is also a police inspector role which is embarrassingly bad.  Helen Mirren shines as always.  (2001)

Grandma

***

Lily Tomlin at her comedic best.  She plays a hip grandmother who has a granddaughter with a problem.  She is pregnant, needs an abortion, and no money.  Her mother is a rich lawyer, Marcia Gay Harden, but she is estranged from both of them, hence not an option.  Very funny at times , and at lease amusing.  Sam Elliot has a star turn playing the exact character he played in I'ii See You in my Dreams. (2015)   

The Great Debaters

****

Denzel Washington directed and starred in this inspiring story about the debate team at tiny traditionally black Wiley College in Marshall, Texas.  Washington plays Melvin Tolson, a professor and coach of the debate team, the school's pride and joy.  The team consists of four members who must compete for a slot in a very competitive audition.  One of the members selected was a fourteen year old prodigy named James Farmer, Jr. who went on to found the Congress Of Racial Equality.  On his own time, the coach is a labor organizer which becomes a major factor for the team.  The story is based on events that took place in 1935.  Many of those events were related to race, a real issue in northeast Texas in the thirties.  Forest  Whitaker plays James Farmer, Sr., a theologian and teacher at the school, and as always is outstanding.  The movie has a lot of pain and suffering, but overall is a feel-good flick. (2007)

Grey Gardens

****

Had this been released in the movies instead of HBO Jessica Lange would be a lock for a Best Actress award.  In this true story about a reclusive mother and daughter, Lang plays Edith Beale and Drew Barrymore plays her daughter Edie.  Both live in a dream world, there only source of income a small and dwindling trust from Edith's ex-husband and only other asset the family home in East Hampton.  The action flashes between the 1930's and the 1970's.  A pair of filmmakers make a documentary about the pair in the 70's and when it is discovered that they are closely related to Jacqueline Kennedy they achieve a momentary degree of notoriety.  The story is a little depressing, but seeing Jessica Lange as a white-haired old lady has to be experienced to be believed. (2009) 

Grey Gardens (documentary)

****½

This is cinema verité movie-making at its best.  The Maysles brothers have captured two of the most eccentric women ever seen on screen in this documentary which was the basis for the recent HBO special.  This film must be seen to appreciate how completely Drew Barrymore captured the character of little Edie Beale in the remake.  Unforgettable. (1975)

The Guard

****

If you liked In Bruges, and you are not offended when every other word begins with F, this movie is for you.  Brendan Gleeson stars as Gerry Boyle, an Irish cop who plays by his own rules.  When an up tight FBI agent (Don Cheadle) arrives to assist in a big drug case, a culture clash is inevitable.  That Gleeson and Cheadle make a funny pairing is not surprising, but the supporting characters, all relatively unknown actors, make this movie more than a remake of Beverly Hills Cop.  Fionnula Flangan as Boyle's mother is worth the price of admission. (2011)

Guilt Trip

***

This is an entertaining romp featuring Barbra Streisand and Seth Rogen as mother and son on a cross-country road trip.  Streisand and Rogen are perfectly cast.  Some of the situations are predictable, but in general the plot moves along nicely and keeps you amused. (2012)

     

Hail, Caesar

***

The Coen brothers strike again.  Josh Brolin stars as a Hollywood fixer in the 50's.  His job is to see that movies meet their schedules and that the stars stay out of the gossip columns in the newspapers.  Brolin appears in almost every scene and holds his own against an array of big name stars like George Clooney, Ralph Fiennes, Scarlett Johansson, and Frances MacDormand.  Clooney is staring in a Sparticus film, and he never takes off his gladiator outfit. (2016)

Hairspray

***½

Who would ever believe that a John Waters film would be the basis for a successful Broadway musical.  Even though this 1989 film features Waters regulars Divine and Mink Stole, it is pretty mainstream.  The story revolves around an overweight high schooler, beautifully realized by Ricki Lake, and her rise in the 60's Baltimore teen scene through her appearance on a Dick Clark clone TV dance show.  Somehow Waters convinced Sonny Bono, Jerry Stiller, and Debbie Harry to take supporting roles.  They all shine. (1988)

Hair Spray

****

I'm not a big fan of musicals but I just suspended reality for a couple of hours and enjoyed this one.  It's a hoot watching a beefed-up John Travolta in drag recreating the role of Edna Turnblad first played by Divine in the John Water's 1988 classic original.  Waters incidentally makes an uncredited cameo as a flasher in the first five minutes of the show.  The rest of the cast is spot on with the possible exception of Michelle Pfeiffer who is a bit over the top and way too thin.  Christopher Walken never ceases to amaze. (2007)

Hangover

****

It's crude, it's rude, it shouldn't be funny - but it is.  Three buddies take a bridegroom to Las Vegas for a pre-wedding bachelor party.  When the buddies wake up with monumental hangovers they discover that the bridegroom has disappeared.  As they search for him in their Caesar's Palace suite they discover a live tiger locked in the bathroom.  Things go downhill from there.  The characters are fun, the sight gags are funny and everybody has a good time, including Mike Tyson, who, it turns out, is the owner of the tiger.  A guilty pleasure to watch. (2009)

The Hangover - Part 2

*½

The Hangover was sophomoric and stupid, but is was funny.  The Hangover - Part 2 was sophomoric and stupid, but it wasn't the least bit funny. (2012)

Happily Ever After

***

This French import is about marriage and infidelity.  Vince (Yves Attal) and Gabrielle (Charlotte Gainsbourg) are an apparently happily married couple living in Paris.  He is a luxury car salesman and she is a realtor.  They have a nice son, appear to be well off, and in love with each other.  However, Vince is carrying on an affair with a masseuse.  Gabrielle suspects this is happening but doesn't confront him.  Vince has no idea why he is doing this, but carries on anyway.  This movie has some flaws, but is worth seeing.  Cameos by Johnny Depp and Anouk Aimee are highlights. (2004)

Harmony and Me

****

Harmony (Justin Rice) is a young man in a serious funk.  He just lost his girlfriend,  has a dead end job, and he doesn't get along with his brothers.   Filmed in Austin, this indie comedy delivers plenty of laughs as we meet the characters in Harmony's life.  His mom (Margie Beegle) dead-pans her lines perfectly as she tries to patch things together for her three sons.  His neighbor Natasha (Alison Latta),  a woman in need of a breast reduction, seduces Harmony, but even that fails to alter his mood.  The director Bob Byington, who also plays Harmony's older brother, saves the funniest sequence for last.  Harmony signs on as a meter maid man, and his interactions with his new boss and a co-worker are hysterical.  Click Here for an extended review (2009)

The Heat

**

Do we really need another cop buddy movie?  I'll answer for you - no.  There are a few bright spots, but for the most part this is pretty dreary.  Melissa McCarthy has a couple of highlights, but her f-bomb density is too high to be effective.  Sandra Bullock is truly god awful from beginning to end.  If there is an award for worst performance in a leading role, Bullock would be a shoe-in.  Miss it if you can. (2013)

Heist

***

Gene Hackman and Danny DeVito always keep you entertained.  Plot outline is same as Sexy Beast , but movie is more enjoyable because it doesn't have loud music and arty camera work.  (2001)

The Help

***

This is about race relations in the Deep South during the early Sixties but I have it on good authority (Pat) that it probably is more representative of life there in the Forties.  Octavia Spencer  and Viola Davis are excellent as cooks and maids.  Veteran actresses Allison Janney, Mary Steenbergen, and Sissy Spacek are much more fun to watch than their younger counterparts.  Good,  but could have been a lot better. (2011) 

The Hoax

**½

With the dearth of good movies around it's too bad this one isn't better.  The story is about Clifford Irving's "authorized" autobiography of Howard Hughes.  Richard Gere portrays Irving as philandering, unscrupulous con man with no apparent redeeming qualities.  He is obsessed with power, money and recognition,  all of which he hopes to obtain with a plagiarized version of Philip Roth's  Portnoy's Complaint called Rudnick's Problem.  When Irving is caught out by a book company editor, he comes up with Plan B, the Hughes autobiography.  Two of my favorite actors, Alfred Molina and Hope Davis are badly miscast as Irving's reluctant co-conspirator and his contact at McGraw-Hill, respectively.  The portrayal of the executives at McGraw-Hill and Time-Life is a Hollywood cliché.  If businessmen were as stupid and venal in real life as they are in the movies, all corporations would be bankrupt.  There is a sub-plot in the film implying that Howard Hughes wanted Richard Nixon to be impeached and somehow used Irving to this end.  Huh? (2007)

Hobson's Choice

***

Charles Laughton is at his rotund best as Henry Hobson, proprietor of an English boot shop whose three unmarried daughters live and work with him.  He is unaware that his success is a result of the management skills of his eldest daughter Maggie and his top boot maker Will Mossop (John Mills).  At thirty, Maggie is deemed by Hobson to be well beyond the marrying age, but she has other ideas.  One of the fun things about watching this film is to see Prunella Scales (John Cleese's wife in Fawlty Towers) as a 22-year old.  David Lean directed this classic. (1954)

Hoop Dreams

***

This film documents the lives of two inner-city teenagers who dream of playing in the NBA one day.  We first meet them as super-talented 14-year olds, being recruited to play basketball for one on Chicago's basketball-mad private high schools, and follow their ups and downs until they are playing freshman ball in college.  There are more drowns than ups as family problems, injuries and academic weakness take their toll.  Judicious editing could have trimmed about a third of this three hour chronicle without losing much impact.  The sad thing about this movie is that all of these kids with an NBA dream probably have a better chance of winning the lottery.  (1994)

Hope Springs

****

You expect the best from Meryl Streep and she never disappoints.  But Tommy Lee Jones is the show in this story about a marriage gone flat.  Kay (Streep) drags Arnold (Jones) to a relationship therapist in an effort to spice up her life.  Arnold, an accountant, loves the status quo, and doesn't think there  is a problem.  Every day is the same starting off with eggs and bacon prepared by Kay for breakfast, and ending with Arnold falling asleep watching the Golf Channel.  There are quite a few laughs but this is a pretty serious story.  Steve Carell plays it straight as the therapist, much to his credit.  A good, thought-provoking flic for adults. (2012)

Hotel Rwanda

****

This is a tough movie to watch.  Almost a million people died in Rwanda in the early nineties as the Hutu's performed an ethnic cleansing while the world stood by an did nothing.  The movie is the true story of a Hutu manager who sheltered more than a thousand genocide targets in his four-star Belgian hotel and helped them escape.  Don Cheadle is very good as the hotel man, but Sophie Okonedo as his wife is even better. (2004)

     

The Hours

***

Wonderful acting, but this is a morbid tearjerker.  Suicide, AIDS, divorce, breakups, cancer, mental illness, and incest are just a few of the downer themes of this movie.  Save your money - if you want to get depressed, just watch the stock market reports on CNBC.  (2002)

Hud

****½

Possibly Paul Newman's greatest role.  His maturity as an actor in the title role compared to his performance in Somebody Up There Likes Me is quite clear.  Here he plays the son of a rancher in West Texas.  He was nominated for a best actor Oscar but he didn't win.  His co-stars Patricia Neal and Melvyn Douglas did win.  Douglas, as Hud's father is a throwback to the past who lives by a strict moral code.  Hud is the complete opposite of his father getting by on his good looks and toughness.  The father-son is the heart of this movie as the two men battle over how to deal with a crisis at the ranch.  The story, acting and cinematography make this a must see if you missed it the first time around. (1963)

Hugo

**½

This is a nice story about a bow who lives in the Paris train station.  He learned how to operate and maintain the station's clock system from his uncle, who was more interested in the bottle.  Ben Kinsley and Baron Sasha Cohen do well as Hugo's antagonists, but beyond that the movie is kind of ho hum.  The 3D format doesn't add much. (2011)

The Hundred-Foot Journey

****

Helen Mirren with a French accent?  Actually you get used to it pretty easily.  She owns and runs a fine dining restauant in the country. The restaurant is totally issolated until one day an Indian family starts an competitive  restaurant right across the road, hence the title. The movie is somewhat predictable, but it moves along nicely borrowing from the Marigold Hotel and Monsoon Wedding.  Mirren meets her match in Indian actor Om Puri, patriarch of the restaurant. owning family on the other side of the road. (2014).

The Hurt Locker

****

Shaky, hand-held cameras gives the audience a sense of participation that sustains tension from start to finish.  Jeremy Renner plays Sgt. Will James, an expert at defusing ordnance.  He is a modern warrior who lives for the adrenaline rush of imminent danger.  He likes the fact that there aren't many who can do what he does, but he realizes that he needs the thrill as much or more than the Army needs his skill.    The Oscars this garnered for Best Picture and Best Director were well deserved. (2009)

Hustle and Flow

***

Terrance Howard stars as D-Jay, a Memphis pimp who thinks his life would improve if he could be a successful rap artist.  This story is the American dream in extremis.   He turns his house into a sound studio and gets his friends to help him to produce a demo song called "It's Tough Out Here Being a Pimp".  In real life the song won an Oscar for best music so any success it garnered in the movie was believable.  Good performances all around, especially by Terrance Howard, but sub-titles would have been helpful.  I think I caught about half of the dialogue.  (2005)

     

If It's Tuesday It Must Be Belgium

**

The recently departed Suzanne Pleshette did her best to salvage this fluffy comedy but it was asking  a lot. There were a few bright spots, I kind of  liked Marty Ingels as a lecherous picture taker, but on the whole the best thing about this movie is the travel scenery. (1969)

I'll See You In My Dreams.

****

This is a tour de force for Blythe Danner, who at 72 looks great.  As Carol, she is in every scene.  The story is about how women of a certain age cope with having a life without a man in it.  Sam Eliot does a nice turn as a bachelor who enters Carol's life and turns it upside down.  Bring your hankies. (2015)

Il Postino

**½

The story revolves around the relationship between a postman from a fishing village on the Amalfi Coast, and an exiled Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda.  The postman believes that the poet can help him woo a young woman from the village to whom he has become attracted.  There is some indication that this is a true story as Neruda did spend some time exiled to the Italy, but no one seems to know for sure.  A lot of people loved this movie, but I found it a bit too slow-paced.  Part of the problem may be that transferring the film to DVD was not a success.  The picture is dark and fuzzy.  (1994)

The Illusionist

***½

Edward Norton, whose accent sounds like a half-hearted attempt to mimic Bela Lugosi, stars as Eisenheim, a Vienna-based 19th century magician secretly in love with Sophie (Jennifer Biel), a childhood sweetheart.  Sophie is on the verge of marrying the crown prince of Austria.   The prince, over-played by Rufus Sewell, is an evil guy who sports what appears to be a cheap paste-on moustache.  Jealous and suspicious of Eisenheim, he tasks Police Inspector Uhl (Paul Giammati) to shut the magician down.  As the film begins he is doing just that.  The story is then told as a flashback, bringing us back to Eisenheim's introduction to magic as a teenager.   Despite its flaws, this is a fine movie with interesting cinematography and music, an excellent performance by Giammatti, and lots of good magic tricks.  (2006)

The Imitation Game

**½

Very disappointing.  No subtlety whatsoever.   Benedict Cumberbatch does the best he can but even he has some dialogue that he must have had trouble reading with a straight face.  Keira Knightly is far to good looking for her role as a genius.  There are some flashes of World War II in which the black and white images appear to be real, but the color scenes were totally phony.  I could go on and on but you get the idea.  In the same genre as The Theory of Everything, but at the bottom end of the quality spectrum.  (2015)

The Importance of Being Earnest

**½

I confess that I've never seen Oscar Wilde's play so I can't comment on the accuracy of the adaptation, but on a stand alone basis this is pretty entertaining.  Colin Firth is the central character, alternatively Jack and Earnest Worthing, a foundling who has somehow accumulated a large fortune that features a sumptuous country estate.  Firth's performance is not inspired.  A strong supporting cast features the always great Judi Dench as the snobbish mother of a young woman Worthing intends to marry, and Reese Witherspoon who does well with her British accented interpretation of Worthing's 18 year old niece.  But the star of the show is clearly Rupert Everett, who plays Algernon, a well-born but financially disadvantaged friend of Worthing who has a plan to get out of debt.  Wilde's contempt for the British  upper class is not disguised. (2002)

In a Lonely Place

****

Here is Humphrey Bogart at his macho best.  He plays Dixon Steele, a screenwriter with a violent temper.  He meets Gloria Graham as aspiring actress Laurel Grey in his apartment complex and a relationship develops quickly.  Steele is falsely accused of murder and Laurel is his alibi.  Although the murder is an essential element of the plat, the real action is the interaction of the two main characters. (1950)

In America

****

Based on filmmaker Jim Sheridan's life, this is the story of an Irish would-be actor who sneaks into the US with his wife and two young girls.  The two girls, sisters in real life, steal the show.  The acting and writing is good, but the editing is a little choppy.  (2002)

In Good Company

**

If businesses were run the way they are portrayed in Hollywood, our national GNP would be zero.  No cliché is too inane to be left out of this one.  Dennis Quaid does his best, and Scarlett Johansson is terrific as always, but this story is just too weak and predictable.  (2004)

Inside Out

***

Touted as a breakthrough, I kept waiting but it never happened for me.  Pixar animation is as always brilliant.  (2015)

The Intern

**½

Don't look for any Oscar winners here, but if you are part of the Medicare generation you will  enjoy this adult fairy tail.  The basic story line is that a successful e-commerce entrepreneur with no social skills (Anne Hatheway) is talked into hiring a retired executive (Robert De Niro) as an intern.  He discretely teaches her some life lessons most of which are fun.  Rene Russo plays an in-house masseuse with a magic touch.  Looking great at 61. (2015)

The Intouchables

****

No this is not about Elliot Ness.  It is, a French buddy caper, but just when you thought we'd seen enough of those, along comes something entirely different from any you've seen before.  A very rich man has been paralyzed in a hang-gliding accident.  As the story unfolds in a flashback, the man is looking for a male caregiver to do heavy lifting as he cant move anything below his neck.  He picks a Senegalese applicant who has no qualifications and very little interest in the job, but needs to go through an interview to qualify for a government entitlement.  The interactions of the two men are what this movie is all about.  An unlikely pairing but it works.  Well worth seeing. (2012)

Invictus

****½

When Nelson Mandela was elected president of South Africa he knew that the Springboks, the national rugby squad, a symbol of the hated Apartheid regime, could be a key to unifying the country. This was not a popular concept to either the white or black community, but Mandela plowed ahead with the help of the team captain, a white Afrikaner named Francois Peinaar.  This is the story of the team's build-up to a World cup challenge.  Morgan Freeman was born to play Mandela at this stage of his life.  He looks and sounds like Mandela, and manages to portray the president's charisma and leadership.  A beefed-up Matt Damon also does very well as a rugby player caught between the personal pleadings of the president and the resistance of his white teammates.  Clint Eastwood's direction is as always unobtrusive. Some may criticize this as too Hollywood-y, but all the key facts appear to be accurate.  Americans will be mystified by the Rugby scenes, but that will not be a major problem as the gist is not too hard to follow.  An instant classic. (2009)

 

The Iron Lady

***

Make no mistake, Meryl Streep is magnificent in her role as Margaret Thatcher, and Jim Broadbent is almost as good playing her husband Dennis.  The problem is that we see more of Thatcher in decline then we do when she was the Iron Lady.  She was clearly a polarizing figure at the height of her powers, but we don't see enough of her at that stage to form an opinion. (2011)

It's Complicated

***½

Meryl Streep (Jane) and Alec Baldwin (Jake) play a divorced couple who after ten years find themselves alone together having dinner and drinks  three thousand miles from home.  Sparks fly.  Jane, still single,  is a successful upscale bakery owner, while Jake, a lawyer, has married a much younger woman with a holy terror of a five year old son.  Enter Adam (Steve Martin) an architect designing an extension of Jane's house, soon has designs on Jane as well.  Many funny situations arise when Jake and Jane start meeting clandestinely.  Streep and Baldwin strut their stuff throughout, but Martin is strangely subdued except for one brief scene where he does his wild and crazy dance routine.  This is a movie that adlts can enjoy. (2009)

Goodbye Solo

****

An interesting view of America through the eyes of an émigré from Senegal.  Solo has come to the US to find a better life.  He has decided that the profession that best fits his personality and language skills is flight attendant.  While he prepares for a training class he drives a taxi in Winston-Salem.  One night he picks up a glum older white passenger named William who just wants to be left alone.  Solo resolves to show William that life is good and to get him out of his funk.  Not a lot of action, but interesting just the same. (2008)

Is Anybody There?

***

Michael Caine appears as the Amazing Clarence, a 75 year old retired magician.  Down and out, he moves into a retirement  home populated by some very strange oldsters.  The husband and wife owners converted their  residence into a business about a year ago, displacing their 10 year old son from his bedroom.  He is not happy about this situation.  Predictably, the son and Clarence become buddies.  Actually, the whole movie is quite predicable, but Caine makes the movie more than just watchable.  (2008) 

Gran Torino

***½

Clint Eastwood plays Walt Kowalski, a veteran of the Korean War and fifty years on a Ford plant assembly line.  His once white neighborhood has been taken over by Hmong refugees.  He makes no secret of his dislike of Blacks, Orientals, his parish priest, and his sons and grandchildren.  His oldest son sells Japanese cars which Walt takes as the  ultimate show of disrespect. His pride and joy is his 1972 Ford Gran Torino, which plays a central role in the story.  Walt just wants to be left alone but he is eventually charmed by his next door neighbor's young daughter who invites him to a party where he feels out of place but loves the food and beer.  The neighbor's son is very shy and Walt takes on "manning him up" as a project, which turns out to involve him in a turf war with an unconventional outcome.  The movie has a few too many clichés, but Eastwood and his supporting cast are well worth watching. (2008) 

The Great Train Robbery

***

A good caper movie with Sean Connery and Donald Sutherland who appear to be having fun.  Michael Crichton adapted the screenplay from his novel of the same name.  The biggest problem with this film is that there is a discontinuity near the end when a banker calls for Connery to be arrested before he discovers that the train had been robbed.  Oh well, the film is a little overlong so I guess they had to cut something. (1979)

In Bruges

***½

Martin  McDonagh is the master of the macabre stage play and  here he moves his act to film.  Two Dublin hit men, Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken ( Brendan Gleeson) are sent to Bruges to lay  low by their boss Harry (Ralph Fiennes).    Violence starts to creep in about a third of the way in and by the end there are bodies all over the place.  If you don't let the blood get to you, there are some very funny and clever plot developments.  The star of the show is Bruges itself.  Put  it on your "to visit" list. (2008)

The Interpreter

**

This film has moments of mediocrity, but for the most part it is just plain bad.  Sean Penn and Nicole Kidman are wasted in this movie which bounces from absurdity to implausibility, touching all the cliché bases along the way.  I remember seeing the trailer for this one in the movies.  It was pretty good.  If you are thinking about renting this or watching it HBO I suggest you download the trailer from the internet and save yourself a couple of hours. (2005)

     

In The Bedroom

*****

Riveting.  A story with depth, hauntingly real characters, and Oscar-worthy performances from Marisa Tomei, Sissy Spacek, and especially Tom Wilkinson.  Not to be missed.  (2001)

The Incredibles

***

Technically dazzling, with some entertaining bits for adults as well as kids, but overall a little long and repetitive.  A fight on a tropical island is a good spoof of the James Bond movies, including the background music.  Holly Hunter, who supplies the voice for Elastigirl, stands out.  (2004)

The Italian Job

****

Although Mark Wahlberg, Donald Sutherland, and Charlize Theron get top billing, the real stars of this highly entertaining caper flick are three Mini Coopers - red, white and blue.  The red one looks just like ours except the one in the movie doesn't have cool mirrors.  The cars are as critical to the plot line as any of the human characters.  There is plenty of action, but it isn't non-stop so don't worry about getting a headache.  There are chase scenes in Venice and Los Angeles that are among the best ever filmed.  The DVD version has some very interesting demonstrations of how they did the stunts.  (2003)

Jane Eyre

**½

Slow, dark, and b-o-r-i-n-g.  Adaptations of Charlotte Bronte's classic tale have been done five times before, so it is difficult to understand why the producers did it again.  Not to say this version is bad - it isn't - but it doesn't seem to add anything new. If nothing else, the many indoor scenes engender a new appreciation for electric light bulbs. (2011)

Jesus Camp

***½

Documentary filmmakers should have a neutral view but it is hard to pull off.  Some like Michael Moore don't even make a pretence of trying, but the makers of this film try and almost succeed.  I'm pretty sure they didn't intend this to be a recruiting tool for the Evangelical movement.  The story is about an Evangelical Christian summer camp in North Dakota where families bring their kids to mix with others with the same point of view.  The result is a little scary, but I wonder if we are just seeing the most extreme examples of 9 and 10 year olds appearing to be under some kind of hypnotic spell.  We see the kids at there home churches in rural Missouri, at the camp, and later at an Evangelical mega-church in Colorado Springs being preached to by Ted Haggard.  Among the evils the kids are warned about is homosexuality.  Some time after the film was released Haggard was exposed as having procured the services of a male prostitute.  I'm sure the filmmakers found this to be a fitting epilogue.  (2006)

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work

***

This fine documentary explores the full spectrum of Rivers' public and private persona.  Reaching superstar status is not enough - she intends to get back to the top again and stay there.   She is totally driven and focused, and will allow no one to get in her way.  Her act now features a scatological vocabulary that would embarrass Richard Pryor or George Carlin.  This may be off-putting to some, but I found her to be quite funny.  In any event,  you can't help but to be impressed with the woman's work ethic.  (2010)

Jobs

**

This bio-pic about Steve Jobs in not very illuminating.  The highlight for me was the end scroll showing real photos of the characters next to the actors who portrayed them.  Kudos to the make-up crew.  Also, Mathew Moddine did a good job portraying the embattled John Scully.  Ashton Kutcher who played Steve Jobs was nominated for a Razzie in the category of Worst Actor in a Leading Role.  He may not have won, but I'm sure he was in the conversation. (2013)

Joy

**½

Jennifer Lawrence commands the screen as Joy Mangano, a New York housewife who has big dreams. Based on a true story, Mangano faces many obstacles in her quest to make millions by selling  mops on the TV shopping networks. She reduces Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro to whimpering puppy dogs. De Niro continues his decline into self parody. Even Isabella Rosellini, a veteran scene stealer herself, withers under Joy's attacks. Back to the story, Joy herself designed the mops, which contain an ingenuous self-wringer. Does this story line seem a little thin for a big budget film?  Yes. Dascha Polanco, one of the stars of Orange is the New Black, makes an impressive debut on the big screen as Joy's best friend. (2015)

Julia and Julie

***½

Meryl Streep returns returns to excellence after so-so outings in Mamma Mia and Doubt.  She captures the voice and spirit of Julia Child and somehow even looks like the famous French Chef.  The movie follows two parallel stories.  In one we see Julia mastering the art of French Cooking while living in Paris with her diplomat husband in the late forties and fifties.  The other story starts in 2002 and features a young woman, Amy Adams, who decides to make every recipe in Julia's book in one year, a real challenge as she was holding down a full time job.  As part of her project she posts a daily blog on the internet.  Nora Ephron wrote and directed this entertaining film but be forewarned - if you have zero interest in cooking you're in for a long evening. (2009)

The Jungle Book

***½

Amazing is an inadequate word to describe the graphics in this movie.  Although the target audience is very young, adults can enjoy the animation., which is well worth the price of admission.   Mowgli, (a man-cub), is the only human character and the only real actor,  although it appears that he has a computer generated image for use when he went flying in the trees or jumping off cliffs..  The animals look even more realistic than the man-cub.  The story, unfortunately, is pretty silly. A boy is abandoned  by his parents in the jungle.  He is adopted and raised by a family of wolves.  This is a very unusual jungle as it is home to a range of animals like bears, tigers, elephants, all of which can speak English.  The voices are very good, especially Bill Murray as a bear who cons Mowgli into recovering an active bee hive for him.  (2016)

Juno

****½

Juno is a 16 year-old high school student in Minnesota who finds herself pregnant.  Sounds like a premise for a teen-age angst movie, but this is far from it.  Juno knows that she is not ready to be a mom, so when a visit to an abortion clinic leaves goes badly, she and her best girlfriend decide to find a perfect couple to adopt the baby.  At first it appears that they have succeeded, but things are not as rosy as they seem.  Ellen Page is outstanding as Juno, and Allison Janney shines as an understanding stepmother.  This movie succeeds on many levels, but the most interesting is how we see the main characters develop depth that is not apparent as they are introduced. (2007)

Ju Dou

***

This is the best known film by Zhiang Yimou who achieved world-wide fame for producing and directing the Opening Ceremonies at the Beijing Summer Olympics.  This is the story of the wife of a Chinese dye factory owner who is tortured by her sadistic husband.  A young adopted nephew makes up the third leg of a love triangle which is doomed from the start. The Chinese government tried to suppress this movie when it came out in 1991 because it puts the country in a bad light.  They did not succeed and the film garnered an Oscar nomination for best foreign film that year.  The beautiful colors on the dye factory were a foretaste of the Olympic spectacular. (1991)

     

Kadosh

****

This Israeli movie is about two sisters that had the misfortune to be born into a Hasidic sect where the only approved function for women is to bear sons.  One sister Rivka is reasonably happy in her marriage but because she has not produced an heir in ten years her husband, the son of a rabbi is coming under pressure to divorce her and marry a younger woman.  THe other sister, Malka, is under pressure to marry a true zealot whose only interest in Malka is as a producer of little boys.  Malka is in love with a musician who has left the sect, but in the eyes of the family is forbidden fruit.  The film will not aid the Hasidim in their recruiting efforts. (1999)

Kandahar

***

Visually stunning, this picture is on Time magazine's list of the 100 best films of all time.  Made in Iran, it tells the story of an Canadian-Afghan woman journalist trying to get to Kandahar to rescue her sister who has written to say that she plans to commit suicide during an upcoming eclipse.  The movie is about her journey from Iran across the Afghan desert and the horrors of the Taliban regime.  During the trip she encounters a doctor who examines her through a hole in a screen.  In real life, the actor who plays the doctor is wanted for murder in Virginia for allegedly killing an Iranian diplomat.  (2001)

The Kids Are All Right

**

Annette Bening (Nic) and Julianne Moore (Jules) star as a lesbian couple with teen-age children.  Things are going along smoothly at the surface, but domestic tranquility is disrupted when the kids seek out their biological father.  Enter Paul (Mark Rufallo) a laid-back college drop-out who runs and organic food restaurant and garden.  Nick its it off with the kids and Jules, but Nic doesn't like the way things are going.  Too much gratuitous sex and sexual references, coupled with and endless string of clichés combine to sink this effort.  When asked by their thirteen year old son why they watch male porn, the moms respond that  they don't watch lesbian porn because lesbian porn usually involves straight actresses playing roles as lesbians.  On that basis, the moms wouldn't watch this movie either. (2010)

King Arthur

**

This is a pretty funny movie.  The only problem is that it is supposed to be serious.  If you believe that eight men with swords can hold off an army of 10,000 men, this may be the movie for you.  There is a thin plot that serves to justify a string of battle scene special effects.  Clive Owen, said to be in line to be the next James Bond, plays Arthur.  This effort may set him back.  (2004)

     

The King of Masks

****

An aging street performer is looking for someone to whom he can pass on the tradition of making masks.  He makes a living by putting on shows in which he changes masks at  speeds too fast for the eye to see.  He thinks his prayers have been answered when he adopts an 8 year old boy, but his troubles are only beginning.  The picture gets off to a bit of a slow start, but if you can make it past the first ten minutes you will be highly rewarded.  The story is interesting, the costumes are beautiful, and the acting is superb. In Chinese with English sub-titles. (1996)

The King's Speech

*****

An extraordinary performance from Colin Firth.  He plays King George VI, as he tries to overcome a life-long stammer. He has tried every possible cure but no progress was made until he came under the tutelage of one Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) a speech therapist discovered by his wife (Helena Bonham Carter in fine form). His paralyzing fear of public speaking becomes a real issue when his older brother abdicates leaving him no choice but to accede to the throne.  Expect a lot of Golden Globe and Oscar nominations for this film. (2010)

Kinsey

***

Liam Neeson and Laura Linney shine in this biopic about Dr. Alfred Kinsey, the sex researcher whose book sparked the sexual revolution of the twentieth century.  Watching Linney's performance as Kinsey's long-suffering wife is a treat - she clearly deserved her Oscar nomination.  Some viewers will be put off by the language and explicit depictions of human activity, but this is a case where it is not gratuitous.  Without it, it would be difficult to appreciate the controversy and outrage that followed Kinsey following the publication of his book.  (2004)

Knocked Up

***

The critics loved this one but I thought it was over-rated.  Maybe I'm just too out of touch with today's hip generation to appreciate stoner humor.  Anyway, Seth Rogen plays Ben Stone (get it?),  an unemployed doper who, along with his friends, take time away from their hash pipes to occasionally go to a bar and drink.  On one of their bar forays, Ben meets Alison (Katherine Heigl), a beautiful off-screen employee of the E! channel who is celebrating her promotion to on-camera interviewer.  The title gives away what happened during their improbable one night stand.  The story moves along without any major surprises, but has some funny sequences, especially a meeting of Ben and his father, nicely played by Harold Ramis.  The creative team for this movie was the same that brought us The 40 Year Old Virgin.  I found their previous effort to be funnier. (2007)

     

Ladies In Lavender

***

A romp for Judi Dench and Maggie Smith as two spinster sisters living together in the family house in Cornwell which overlooks the sea.  As the movie begins a young man is found barely alive washed up on the beach.  The sisters, but principally Ursula (Dench) find themselves attracted to the young man even though they are 50+ years his senior.  (2004)

The Lady Eve

****

Henry Fonda and Barbara Stanwyck star in this romantic comedy from Preston Sturgis.  Fonda is the nerdy son of a loutish brewery owner who has pretensions of class and Stanwyck is the daughter of a car hustler father played by Charles Coburn.  The stars meet on a cruise ship and fall in love, but when he finds out that she is also a hustler the couple breaks up.  Sometime later Stanwyck fakes it as a member of British aristocracy and wins over Fonda again.  There are plenty of comedic highlights the funniest of which is Coburn trying to hustle Fonda in a poker game.  Still funny after all these years. (1941)

The Ladykillers

*½

The subtlety one expects from the Coen brothers is totally absent in this casino heist caper.  Tom Hanks stars as a Colonel Sanders look-alike who assembles a team of oddballs to tunnel underground to the casino's vault.  The characters are weak, the story and premise are dumb, and the foul language is excessive.  The only saving grace is that there is a lot of really good gospel music.  Never mind that it has nothing to do with the story. (2004)

     

The Ladykillers

***

Alec Guiness stars as the mastermind of a great train robbery.  He is fitted with the worst set of teeth imaginable which I found very distracting.  None-the-less this movie is well worth watching, if for no other reason than to see Peter Sellers in his late twenties.  Lots of quality actors here, but little old lady Katie Johnson steals the showSHe lives right above the railroad tracks, and takes in Guiness as a renter of her upstairs apartment.  All of the mobsters are somewhat charmed by the LOL, and that proves to be their undoing. (1955)

The Last King of Scotland

****

Forest Whitaker gives the performance of a lifetime as Idi Amin, the brutal dictator of Uganda in the early years of his presidency.  The story revolves around a young Scottish doctor who ventures to central Africa in search of adventure.  He finds more than he bargains for when he agrees to be Amin's personal physician.  In the beginning Amin is charming, but as the story grinds on, it becomes clear to the doctor that he is assisting a madman.  The doctor is a fiction, but unfortunately Amin was real and was the cause of 300,00 deaths during his regime.  Warning - the last half hour of this film is hard to watch as Amin's atrocities are shown in graphic detail. (2006)

The Last Picture Show

****

An instant classic about life in a small Texas town in the early fifties. This movie is as fresh today as it was when it was released almost forty years ago.  Cybill Shepherd was the only weak link, but she was so good looking that nobody noticed.  Ben Johnson and Cloris Leachman won well-deserved Oscar for their supporting roles.  Director Peter Bogdanovich gives a very interesting interview on the DVD, (1971)

The Last Station

****

Christopher Plummer and Helen Mirren appeared to be having fun making this film about a one year slice of the life of Leo Tolstoy and his wife Sofia.  They loved each other but frequently spent their days hurling verbal abuse at each other.  Tolstoy's socialist leanings put him at the vanguard of the Russian revolution which happened seven years later.  The irony is that Tolstoy was a rich aristocrat who wanted to gift his assets to "the people" while Sofia had other ideas.  The supporting players are uniformly good helping to make this biopic one of the best of the genre. (2009)

Last Train Home

*****

There are well over a million Chinese migrant workers who come from the rural north to the industrial south where they work like slaves to produce goods for export.  They go back home once a year to visit their children and other family members by train bus and boat.  This excellent documentary homes in on one family from Sichuan province trying to keep their two teenagers in line via remote control.  It isn't easy.  Filming took three years and the result is a masterpiece in the style of Fredrick Wiseman.  Unforgettable. (2010)

Larry Crowne

***

Pure Hollywood but fun to watch.  Tom Hanks in the title role is a dedicated worker at a Wal-Mart kind of store who gets downsized.  Julia Roberts is an unhappy teacher at a community college with a bad marriage.  When Larry decides to return to school the predictable happens.  Never mind, put your brain in neutral and watch these stars do their thing. (2011)

L'Auberge Espagnole

***

A French grad student enrolls in an international study program in Barcelona.  He and six other students share an apartment in a somewhat seedy part of town.  Each student is from a different country, so finding a common language is a problem.  English, Spanish, and French are spoken, with a dash of Catalan thrown in by their professor for good measure.  The movie's plots and sub-plots are entertaining, and the film is an excellent travelogue of Barcelona.  Some MTV-like camera trickery is distracting, but overall, this is a good-spirited and fun picture.  (2002)

Lawrence of Arabia

****½

David Lean's desert classic has held up well.  An all-star cast is in top form as the story of T. E. Lawrence is told.  Lawrence organized warring Arabian tribes to unite and throw out their Turkish oppressors.  His original commanding officer gave him lukewarm support, but eventually he came under the command of Gen. Edmund Allenby, an enthusiastic believer in Lawrence's mission..  Lawrence loved the Arabs and their desert, and the feeling was mutual.  Peter O'Toole portrays Lawrence as a very strange man an apparently he was.  His sexual orientation was unknown and probably unknowable.  He claimed to be asexual and that seems highly likely.  This film definitely needs to be seen on a wide screen. This movie should get five stars but the decision to have Alec Guinness play Prince Faisel was semi-moronic. (1962)

Learning To Drive

***

Patricia Clarkson is a very interesting actress. There is something about her face that invites  you to be her friend. In this film she plays a professional woman who just lost her husband. A typical New Yorker, she does not know how to drive. By chance she meets a taxi driver, Ben Kingsley, who also gives driving lessons. Kingsley has his hands full as he is hiding an Indian nephew who is in the U.S. illegally,  while battling his parents who have arranged a marriage for him back in the old country.  Somewhat predictable, but still interesting and fun to watch. (2015)

Legends of the Fall

**

The most cliché-ridden Western since Dances With Wolves.  At least Kevin Costner was nowhere to be seen.  Anthony Hopkins stars as a retired army officer who did not approve of the way Indians were n has the hots for the third brother, Brad Pitt.  Pitt disappears in the middle of the movie to become a sailor of fortune, a strange calling for a boy from Montana.  He eventually returns with  long blond hair which he displays proudly for the rest of the movie. (1994)

The Lemon Tree

****

The same team that made The Syrian Bride continue their success with this small movie that explores life for Arabs in Israeli administered states, in this case the West Bank.  In this story, a Palestinian widow, the unforgettable Hiam Abass, tends a grove of lemon trees planted by her father fifty years ago.  When the Israeli Defense Minister moves in to a new house next store, the security forces determine that the trees represent a security threat and need to be chopped down. The woman hires a young Palestinian lawyer determined to fight the security order in the Israeli court system.  Meanwhile, the minister's wife becomes sympathetic to the neighbor's plight, and through a friend in the press embarrasses her husband.  It is fascinating to watch the cultural divides on both sides of the border push the story to its inevitable conclusion. (2008)

Les Miserables

**

After seeing the play twice and now the movie, I still don't understand why Les Miz is so popular.  I usually like Russell Crowe but casting him in a singing role was a big mistake.  He is a fine actor, but a singer he is not.  Ann Hathaway won an Oscar for what was in reality a cameo appearance.   I didn't find her to be very believable in the role anyway.  Other than that, and the crude CGI images, I thought it was OK. (2012)

Letters From Iwo Jima

****½

This is the story of the decisive World War II battle for the strategic island viewed from the Japanese perspective.  More than 20,000 Japanese soldiers were on the island when the American assault began, but only 1,000 survived.  We become familiar with several of the Japanese officers and enlisted men through flashbacks and letters to their wives.  As in every large group of soldiers there are good guys and bad guys, but with one major difference - the Japanese soldiers almost universally have a fatalistic view of dying with honor for the emperor.  An American telling of the story would no doubt end with the flag being raised on Mount Suribachi, but the Japanese version has a more sober finale.  This is movie-making at its best.  Any awards this film garners will be well deserved. (2006)

The Life of David Gale

***

Kevin Spacey plays the title role in this film about the death penalty.  Whatever your point of view about this issue, it is unlikely that this melodrama will change your point of view.  Spacey and his brilliant co-stars Laura Linney and Kate Winslet do their best but the story line lacks plausibility.  Shot on location in Austin and Huntsville Texas.  (2003)

The Life of Pi

***½

An Indian family owns a zoo.  The father, seeing that growth and profitability prospects are poor, decides to relocate the zoo in Canada.  They load the animals on a ship that isn't quite up to the task When the ship breaks up during a storm, the teenage son ends up in a lifeboat with a tiger, a zebra, and a hyena.  Soon there are just the tiger and the boy.  Hard to believe the premise, but it really does work. (2012)

Lincoln

****

Daniel Day Lewis excels as Honest Abe - he should snatch an Oscar for this performance.  Sally Field gives the [performance of a lifetime as Mary , the unhappy wife of the president.  I found it difficult to keep track of the characters and John Williams' score sounds like a musical cliché, but the movie is definitely worth seeing.  (2012) 

The Lincoln Lawyer

***

Matthew McConaughey stars as Mick Haller, a lawyer who represents clients from the lower quadrant of society in Los Angeles.  He specializes in winning acquittals for his mostly guilty clients.  His office is the back seat of an old Lincoln Continental (hence the movie's title) where he works while being driven around by his street-smart chauffer.  With his clientele, collecting fees is his biggest problem.  Out of the blue he is called by a rich young man who is accused of raping and beating a young hooker.  Haller prides himself on his ability to ascertain which of his clients are innocent, but in this case he isn't so sure.  At least he doesn't have to worry about getting paid.  Very good supporting cast, including William H. Macy as a private investigator with a past. (2011)

Live Flesh

***½

Pedro Almodovar made five films between Women on the Verge and All About My Mother, all of which had limited distribution in the U.S.  This one, based on a novel by Ruth Rendell, was the last.  The story revolves around a young man imprisoned for shooting a policeman, and his unusual plan for revenge after his release.  As in all of Almodovar's work, the actors and actresses are attractive, the photography is  interesting, and there are plenty of plot turns. (1997)

     

Little Miss Sunshine

****

Toni Collette is the the mother in a dysfunctional family that includes a cliché-spewing would-be management guru as her husband, a foul-mouthed father-in-law, a suicidal brother, a teen-aged son who has taken a vow of silence and an eight year old daughter who longs to compete in the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant.  The characters are fine, the script is funny, and the plot moves right along.  Collette, an Australian, has mastered an authentic American accent.  If you're in a funk and want to get out, see this movie.  (2006)

The Lives of Others

****½

The tension between security and freedom is one of the great issues of the day in America.  This German import arrives just in time to show what happens when the pendulum swings too far in the direction of security.   As the movie begins we meet Herr Weisler, a mid-level operative in STASI, the East German secret police.   The year appropriately is 1984, and STASI is Big Brother.  Weisler  is conducting a class on interrogation to a roomful of recruits.  He  is cold and tough, and a true believer in the system.  He is considered a rising star in STASI so he gets picked to spy on a playwright whose girlfriend has become an object of desire of a senior party official.  As Germany rolls toward re-unification Weisler begins to question his organizations objectives.  Excellent writing and acting propel the movie to an exciting climax.  Not to be missed. (2007)

Longford

****

Child murderers Ian Brady and Myra Hindley were reviled in England as monsters after their convictions in 1966.  An idealistic politician, Laborite Lord Frank Longford, and advocate of prison reform took up Myra's cause and tried for thirty years to get her paroled.  This quixotic pursuit costs Langford his cabinet post and made him extremely unpopular.  Jim Broadbent as Langford and Samantha Morton as the complex Myra make this HBO film a must-see. (2007)

     

Lord of the Rings

**

This one deserves an A rating - Adult not admitted unless accompanied by child under 10.  This over-hyped, overrated extravaganza is really a waste of time and money.  Over-acting abounds.  And the music! - Zamphir meets Carl Orff.  (2002)

The Lost City

***

Andy Garcia's nostalgia for the city of birth, Havana, is apparent in the well done but somewhat slow depiction of the end of the Batista regime and the beginning Fidel Castro's in Cuba.  Garcia plays Fico, owner of an upscale cabaret, whose two younger brothers abandon thte family, falsely believing tha life would be wonderful when Batista is deposed.    They join the rebels, their idealism trumping their family obligations.  Bill Murray is funny as a friend of Fico's, known only as The Writer.  Dustin Hoffman makes a couple of brief appearances as ganagster Meyer Lansky.  (2005)

Lost in Translation

****½

A stylish small movie that really works.  Bill Murray is better than you would have thought possible.  His character, Bob, says something under his breath to Scarlett Johansson's Charlotte near the end of the picture.  Listen carefully, then send me an email and tell me what he said.  (2003)

The Lover

***

This movie was shown on our riverboat cruise in Vietnam.  The movie was based on a true story of a 16 year-old French schoolgirl was falls in love (or lust) with an older Chinese man.  We visited the house where the affair took place.  Our tour director warned that the movie was a little spicy and she was right.  A pretty good flic if the "spice" doesn't get you. (1992)

     

Madagascar

**½

The latest animation effort from Dreamworks doesn't measure up to Shrek or Finding Nemo.  A big problem is that the two lead character voices are provided by Ben Stiller and Chris Rock.  Only Whoopie Goldberg rivals these two as Hollywood's most unfunny comedian.  Where is Eddie Murphy when we really need him.  The premise of the movie is that some animals from a zoo in New York wind up in Madagascar.  They feel out of place in the wild.  The pace is pretty sloggy until the animals encounter a tribe of lemurs, the leader of which sounds a lot like Robin Williams.  The animation is impressive. (2005)

Magdalene Sisters

****

Based on a 1999 documentary, this is the story of young Irish girls forced into virtual slavery in hell-on-earth laundries run by the Catholic church.  Incredibly, this practice was not abandoned until 1996.  Conditions in the movie are brutal, but women who have survived the laundries say reality was much worse.  (2002)

     

Mahaleu

**

In the 60's and 70's the French were tossed out of Madagascar.  Symbolic leaders of the quiet revolt were student-musicians who formed a group named Malaheu.  Thirty years on the group periodically reunites to give concerts, even though the members have had successful careers as doctors, politicians, etc.  This documentary follows the group members in their everyday lives, and builds up to a major concert in the capital.  An interesting slice of life in Madagascar, but about 45 minutes too long. (2006)

Mamma Mia!

***

The magic of the play Mamma Mia! was its connection to the audience.  Hand clapping and dancing in the aisles was the norm.  The movie Mamma Mia! is viewed at a remove.  The Greek isle scenery is beautiful but adds to the distance between the audience and the action.  Meryl Streep is great as always but she is such a natural actress that whenever she breaks into song it highlights the movie's clash between reality and fantasy.  That being said it is fun to watch the older actors steal the show from the youngsters.  I just wish Colin FIrth would get over playing Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice.  (2008)

     

The Man Who Wasn't There

****

Billy Bob Thornton is outstanding as a second chair barber who decides to spice up his life by getting into dry cleaning.  If you liked Fargo you'll enjoy this one.  Follows the Coen brothers theme of men marrying for money.  (2001)

     

March of the Penguins

****

This is an outstanding documentary about the life cycle of the emperor penguin.  I used to feel sorry for penguins in a zoo but no more.  Their life in the Antarctic is terrible.  As the movie progressed from summer to winter, I kept thinking about the camera men.  Those guys must have frozen their butts off. (2005)

Margin Call

***

In this cautionary tale about the fall of a thinly disguised Lehman Brothers,  Kevin Spacey plays a mid-level executive in a chain of command that has no idea of what is going on in the business.  What is going on is that some lower level employees have made some trades which are going to sink the firm.  The always excellent Stanley Tucci is two levels below Spacey has pretty much figured out what is happening but he is fired.  On the way out the door, he gives a thumb drive to a young quant in his department, who is able to put the pieces together.  What follows is a Greek tragedy in which is punished.  Jeremy Irons as CEO John Tuld (rhymes with Fuld) is suitably unctuous. (2011)

Maria Full of Grace

****

A young Columbian woman loses her job and signs up to be a drug mule, carrying swallowed drugs into the U.S.  This is a tough movie to watch.  The film maker says that wide distribution in Columbia is convincing young women there that being a drug mule is not a good idea.  Great performances by all the actors. (2004)

     

The Martian 

**½

Kind of a fun show if you are able to suspend reality. The plot is simple - four astronauts under the command of Jessica Chastain are visiting Mars. When they encounter a windstorm, the crew has to leave before the wind topples their rocket ship.  Matt Damon, an astro-botanist gets left behind.  There is no explanation of why they needed a botanist on this mission as there is no vegetation on Mars.  The resourceful Damon turns part of his space lab into a garden by using seeds he found in the lab and fertilizer which he produced (UGH!).  Considering this food and on-board air and water generator capacity he has about one year to live.  As the next mission to Mars is not scheduled in time to make a rescue, things are not looking too good for Matt. It was not too difficult to forecast how he gets rescued. The special effects are great, but the acting, dialog, and especially the direction are not. (2015)

Master and Commander

****

A tour de force for Russell Crowe.  This film has a lot of action, but the battle scenes are very confusing.  I guess that's what they mean by the fog of war.  (2003)

     

Mask of Zorro

***

Having recently returned from Zorro's home town in El Fuerte, Mexico, we looked forward to seeing a historical treatment of his life.  This film isn't it.  Enough action to keep things interesting, but their are some major credibility gaps.  (1998)

The Master

***

Fine acting by Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix are wasted in this pretentious "film". Pretty clearly this story is based on Scientology with Hoffman as L. Ron Hubbard.  Amy Adams plays the Master's wife and is the brains of the cult named "The Cause".  Hoffman is great as always, but Phoenix is unforgettable.  (2012)

Match Point

****

In the immortal words of John Candy, if you got something that works for you stick with it.  Crimes and Misdemeanors was Woody Allen's best serious movie, and this one builds on the theme.  Chris is a tennis pro who realizes that he is never going to make it to the top levels so takes on a teaching pro job at an exclusive London club.  There he meets Tom, a rich upper-class tennis client .  Tom has a sister Chloe who falls for Chris.  Chris is no dummy and realizes that Chloe, while kind of a Plain Jane is his key to a better life.  At a gathering at the family country estate, Chris meets Tom's fiancée Nola, an American actress who realizes that Tom is a twit, but he holds the other key to the family's cookie jar.  Animal magnetism strikes and Chris and Nola have to decide whether an affair is worth the risk.  Scarlett Johansson returns to Lost in Translation form and is very believable.  (2005)

Matchstick Men

***½

Despite some major league overacting by Nicolas Cage, this one is entertaining.  It would be easy to criticize this picture, for example there are some serious continuity problems, but the bottom line is that it keeps your interest from beginning to end, and the supporting cast is excellent.  (2003)

     

The Matador

***

Here's a novel idea for a movie - a naive businessman gets involved with someone involved with violent crime.  Okay, it's been done before (The In-Laws, The Man. etc., etc.) but this is worth seeing because Pierce Brosnan puts on a show as an aging hit man past his prime trying to complete one more assignment.  The story is predictable, but there are enough good laughs to keep it interesting.  Greg Kinnear is OK as the businessman and Hope Davis as his wife is her usually wonderful quirky self. (2006)

     

Meet the Parents

*½

The reviews called it a paint-by-numbers comedy which is a pretty good description.  Once the premise is set, you can pretty well predict what is going to happen.  That would be OK if the bits were really funny, and if the protagonists were likable young adults battling against an irascible, irrational father.  Meet the Parents comes up short on both.

The In-Laws is the model for the genre, in which Peter Falk is perfect as the father of the bride.   Robert De Niro almost pulls it off, but there are some inconsistencies in his character which are difficult to swallow.  The real problem is Ben Stiller's character.  He is a klutz that would drive a rational prospective father-in-law to extreme measures.  He lies, cheats, is lazy, smokes, is awkward in social situations, has nothing interesting to say.  He is abusive to flight attendants and fellow passengers, the guy you've seen trying to stuff an over-sized carry-on into your overhead bin.  The movie doesn't offer a single clue as to why a bright, attractive young women would want to tell this nerd what time it is, let alone think of marrying him.

Wait, there is one clue.  The girl's mother, played by Blythe Danner, a seemingly intelligent, attractive woman is married to De Niro, also a jerk.  Maybe it runs in the family. (2000)

Meet the Patels

**

The Patels who emigrate from India to the US have two objectives.  One is to arrange marriages for their sons and daughters.  The other is to buy a motel in the American Southeast.  This movie deals with the former.   Ravi Patel plays himself in this documentary about his parents' efforts to find him a suitable mate.  If you have seen Master of None on Netflix, Patel may look familiar as he had a role. Generally entertaining. (2014)

Megamind

*

Surely the people at Dreamworks can find better stories on which to demonstrate their animation techniques.  This 3-D disaster gets off to a bad start and then gets worse.  The grandkids who usually love this type of movie gave it two thumbs down.  Pure torture for adults. (2011)

Melinda and Melinda

*½

Woody Allen has lost his way.  The premise here is that two playwrights hear a story over dinner and disagree about whether the story is the raw material for a comedy or a tragedy.  They each write a play and the two plays are performed simultaneously.  Unfortunately, the tragedy is almost funnier than the comedy.  The acting is not good.  It almost looks like the actors are reading the script for the first time while the filming is in progress.  (2005)

Michael Clayton

***

According to Hollywood, multinational corporations are the root of all evil.  Michael Clayton is a prime example. U-North is a thinly disguised Archer Daniels Midland.  Not only do they pollute the earth but they are willing to kill anyone who threatens to expose them.  George Clooney to the rescue.  He rescues the earth but unfortunately not the movie.  Tilda Swinton won an Oscar for her performance as a corporate chief counsel, and Clooney and Tom Wilkinson were Oscar nominees, but I didn’t see anything extraordinary about any of their performances.  (2007)

     

The Middle of the World

***

We saw this Brazilian movie at a Latin America film festival.  It's the story of a man who travels from the northeast of Brazil to Rio de Janeiro with his wife and five children on bicycles.  He is an unemployed truck driver looking for a job.  The trip is more than 2,000 miles and takes six months.  The acting is good, but the picture is kind of a downer.  Once in a while they encounter kindness from strangers, but for the most part their lives are pretty miserable.  The Sound of Music it is not.  (2003)

Midnight in Paris

****

I swore I would never go to another Owen Wilson movie, but when he showed up in a Woody Allen flick I had to relax my rule.  Wilson plays a hack writer who is visiting Paris with his fiancé and her parents.  He is inspired by the city and contemplates dropping everything and staying in Paris to write a novel.  He takes a midnight walk and is magically transported into the 1920's where he meets Hemingway, Gertrude Stein and a host of other historical biggies who lived in the French capital.  Wilson is not too annoying and the rest of the cast is good, including Carla Bruni, wife of the president of France. (2011)

Mildred Pierce

****

The beautiful and talented Kate Winslet stars in this remake of the Joan Crawford classic.  I haven't  seen the original but I intend to do so.  The story is about a mother/daughter relationship gone very wrong.  It's difficult to tell much more about the plat without giving it away, but suffice to say that there are many twists and turns along the way.  Winslet is on the screen almost throughout the entire movie, but she carries it off.  The supporting cast, especially Guy Pearce, is first rate. (2011)

Milk

****½

This is an excellent docudrama about Harvey Milk, the first openly gay politician to be elected to a major office.  Sean Penn will be an odds on favorite to win a Best  Actor Oscar in the title role.  Josh Brolin is also outstanding as Dan White, Milk’s nemesis on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.  Don’t leave before the credits roll because there are photos of the real protagonists who looked very much like the actors who played them. (2008)

Million Dollar Baby

***

Good but not great.  Hillary Swank and Morgan Freeman deserved their Oscars and Clint Eastwood is OK, but the rest of the cast is pretty hopeless.  A lot of the dialogue is pretty stilted, and the plot turns are predictable.  (2004)

Moby Dick

****

This one has stood the test of time fairly well.  Gregory Peck as Captain Ahab may have been a little over the top but keep in mind that this movie os over fifty years old.  Orson Welles has a cameo role as a fire and brimstone New England preacher which sets the tone for the rest of the action.  The great white whale is very well done considering that the film makers didn't have computer generated images.  The portrayal of Queequeg as a noble savage is at best risible, but I suppose that's the way Melville wrote it. (1956)

Moneyball

****½

I never imagined that the book would be turned into a movie for general audiences, but here it is.  Billy Bean, once a promising outfielder, is the general manager of the Oakland A's, a low budget operation competing in a league against the Yankees and Red Sox who seem to have unlimited budgets.  He sees a ray of light when he encounters a recent Ivy League grad with a laptop who has an innovative way way of evaluating ballplayers.  Using new methods of evaluation, he is able to stock his roster with under-appreciated players who perform well together.  Brad Pitt, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Jonah Hill give memorable performances. (2011)

Monkey Business

***½

Everyone remembers Groucho and Harpo, most remember Chico, but recalling Zeppo wins the trivia contest.  The story line here is very simple – three wacky stowaways make fools of the captain and crew of an ocian liner.  No hidden messages here, just a lot of laughs.  Guaranteed to get you out of a funk. (1931)

Monsoon Wedding

*****

Mira Nair's story of an arranged marriage in modern-day India is film-making at its best. This movie has it all - a great script, first-rate acting, and beautiful cinematography.  All of the characters are multi-dimensional and believable.  Don't miss it. (2001)

Monuments Men *½ A great cast wasted.  George Clooney stars as the leader of a team of overage and over weight tasked with preventing Hitler and his Nazi troops from stealing western Europe's great art treasures.  An interesting conceppt for a movie, but for some reason it doesn't work.  The actors, many of my favorites, are stuck with hopeless dialogs.  They seemed to trying, for the most part, though Bill Marray was just going through the motions, (2014)

Moonrise Kingdom

****

Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward) are 12 year old misfits attracted to each other.  They live in a world where puppy love fantasies come true.  Although surrounded by quirky characters such as Bill Murray and Frances McDormand as Suzy's parents and Bruce Willis as a bumbling but good-hearted chief of police., the young actors are the show.   Edward Norton and Tilda Swinton, add to the fun, as do many other well-known actors in cameo roles.  (2012)

8: The Mormon Proposition

**½

The sad but true story of how the Mormon church orchestrated the approval of Prop. 8 in California, making same-sex marriage illegal in our most populous state.  The documentary would have been more effective if the filmmakers hadn't chosen all those in favor of the proposition to appear to be incarnations of evil and all apposed to merit sainthood.  The Michael Moore school of documentary making still leaves me cold. (2010)

Mostly Martha

***

The life of Martha, star chef at a restaurant in Germany, is turned upside down as the result of an auto accident.  Like Babette's Feast and The Big Night, this one is really about the food.  See it if you like to eat or cook.  (in German, with subtitles).  (2001)

Motorcycle Diaries

****

At the age of 23, Ernesto "Che" Guevara sets out with a friend to experience South America.  Gael Garcia Bernal is a little too sensitive as Che, but Rodrigo de la Cerna as his friend Alberto is excellent and steals the show.  Some may object to the leftward tilt of this movie, but something had to motivate Guevara is this direction as he grew up in a respectable Buenos Aires family.  His experiences on this trip no doubt were very influential.  (2004)

Mr. and Mrs. Bridge

***

Paul Newman plays Walter Bridge, and uptight Kansas City lawyer and Joanne Woodward plays India, his totally dominated and not too smart wife.  Mr. Bridge is so uptight that he never once smiles or frowns in the picture.  In fact the only times he displays any emotion at all is when he sneaks a peek at one of his two daughter sunbathing in the back yard (after which he snatches his wife in is arms and takes her to the bedroom) and when he finds out his other daughter wants to marry the son of a plumber.  Blythe Danner does a nice star turn as India's best friend, a woman married to a banker who may even more uptight than Mr. Bridge.  The movie builds to kind of a climax, but then they must have run out of film because it just ends.  A script on the screen and tells you what happens next in the crisis, and then subsequently what happened to the rest of the family.  Woodward was nominate for but did not win an Oscar for Best Actress.  However she did cop the prestigious  Kansas City Film Critics award(1990)

     

Mr. Holmes

***

The idea is that Sherlock Holmes (Ian McKellen) is a real person living in a farm house in rural England tending bees.  He is looked after by a frumpy housekeeper (Laura Linney).  She has a young son who finds that he and Holmes have a lot in common.  Most of the action takes place in the last half so if you can stay awake until then you have a good chance of making it all the way. (2015)

Mrs. Harris

**

Annette Bening stars in the title role of this so-so HBO docu-drama about the society private school headmistress who shot her famous boyfriend Dr. Herman Tarnower, author of the Scarsdale Diet best-seller.  According to Harris, Tarnower tried to prevent her from an attempted suicide and was accidentally killed in a scuffle for her gun.  The prosecutors and the jury didn't buy her story.  I have no problem with dramatizations of historical events, but this genre which features simulated after-the-fact interviews in the style of the History Channel seem to me to have an inherent phoniness.  (2006)

     

Mrs. Henderson Presents

***½

It's fun to watch Judi Dench and Bob Hoskins infuse their characters with life.  She is a wealthy widow who buys a decaying theater on a lark and he is the manager she hires to run it.  The premise is that while stage nudity is taboo in mid 20th century England, she is able to  convince the authorities that looking at naked women in immobile tableaux is akin to viewing nudes in an art museum.  An inspired bit of casting is to have Christopher Guest, last seen walking his hound dog in Best In Show, play Lord Cromer, a member of the British aristocracy.  He is an old flame of Mrs. Henderson, and is conveniently in charge of enforcing decency in London's theaters. (2005) 

Mud

*****

An instant classic.  Matthew McConaughey in the title role as a man living on an island in the Mississippi river, who  is found b a couple of adventurous teenagers from Arkansas.  He is a man on a mission to reclaim a lost love named Juniper.  As the boys get increasingly involved in Mud's project, more and more of his story is revealed.  This is a movie that can be enjoyed by viewers of any age.  Highly recommended.  (2013)

Mulholland Drive

*** or *

If this was intended as a parody of film noire, it is quite good.  It features every cliché ever seen in the genre, over-acting, laughable sound track, and an unintelligible plot (***).  If it was an attempt at a serious film, the same comments apply *).  (2001)

     

Murder on a Sunday Morning

*****

This HBO movie won the Oscar for best documentary this year.  If you don't feel emotionally involved, better check your pulse.  Your personal view of lawyers and policemen may change after seeing this one.  (2001)

Mutiny on the Bounty

****/**

The original version of this tale with Charles Laughton and Clark Gable still has plenty of pizzazz despite some amateurish special effects and weak portrayal of the natives.  In the second remake, Anthony Hopkins is strong as Captain Bligh, but Mel Gibson is lost as Fletcher Christian.  The star ratings are in chronological order. (1935/1984)

My Architect

**½

Louis Kahn was one of the most influential architects of the 20th century.  In this documentary, his illegitimate son tries to learn more about his father  25 years after his death.  Judicious editing would have made this more interesting.  (2003)

     

My Big Fat Greek Wedding

***

This one won't tax your brain, but it's very enjoyable.  Aidan from Sex and the City has morphed unchanged into a schoolteacher  named Ian, except he has longer hair.  Andrea Martin, as always, is worth the price of admission. (2002)

My House in Umbria

****

Maggie Smith shines in this adaptation of a William Trevor novel.  While on a train from her home town in Umbria to Milan, A transplanted English woman (Smith) and three others survive an explosion.  After being released from hospital, the survivors convalesce at the woman's country estate in Umbria.  They are joined by a scientist who is a relative of one of the survivors.   The movie turns on the relationships between the five, especially the woman and the scientist.  The pace may be a little slow for some, but the subtleties in Smith's performance make this a must-see.  (2003)

     

My Sister Eileen

***

This 50's musical stars Betty Garrett, Janet Leigh and a very young Jack Lemmon.  By today's standards this is a little corny, but when Bob Fosse is on screen it's pure magic.  I thought he would look more like Roy Scheider.  (1955)

     

Mystic River

***

Sean Penn soars, but logic gaps keep this from being as good as it could have been.  Tim Robbins and Marcia Gay Harden garnered undeserved Oscar nominations, but Laura Linney inexplicably got passed over.  I guess subtlety doesn't count for much these days.  (2003)

The Namesake

****

No one is better at describing the immigrant experience in America than Jhumpa Lahiri.  This adaptation of her acclaimed novel is faithful, although necessarily incomplete.  The story plays out over twenty five years in the life of an Indian couple who come to America to pursue a better life shortly after their arranged marriage in Calcutta.  They have a son and a daughter who grow up to be typical American teenagers, and later young adults.  The characters are realistically drawn, flaws and all.  Many scenes are filmed in India, and they fill the screen with color.  We've come to expect a lot from director Mira Nair, and as usual she delivers.  (2006)

   

Neighboring Sounds

***

Brazilian filmmaker Kleber Mendonça Filho brings us a movie about middle class people living in a high-rise complex in Recife.  The two main characters are Joao, scion of a wealthy land-owning family, and Bia, a wife and a mother of two teenagers.  Joao is unhappy with his real estate career and is a serial womanizer.  Bia spends her time driving her children to school and other lessons.  When every one is out of the house she gets stoned on marijuana and cozies up woth the spin cycle of her washing machine.  In Portuguese with English subtitles. (2013) 

No Country for Old Men

***½

Expect the unexpected from the Coen brothers.  In this modern Western, horses are replaced by pick-up trucks, six shooters by an assortment of automatic weapons, there is a drug deal instead of cattle rustling, the good guys do wear white hats but the bad guy remains hatless throughout.  Tommy Lee Jones is perfect as a sheriff with a serious case of burn-out while Javier Bardem, no black hat but black hair that resembles a helmet,  is the personification of evil whose weapon of choice is a tank of compressed air.  Although this is a well made and well acted film, two things bothered me.  First, the body count is just slightly lower than the Vietnam War.  The other thing that bothered me is that the ending .... (2007)

Nowhere in Africa

****

A family of German Jews goes to Kenya in 1938 to escape the Nazis.  The movie tells their story, mostly through the eyes of of the family's only child.  The mother and daughter grow to love the land, but the father dreams of returning to Germany to resume his career as a lawyer.  The characters are deep and complex.  Mostly sub-titled, with a smattering of English.  (2001)

     

Old Cats

***

In this Chilean movie, a bad mother/daughter relation reaches a point of no return.  The mother, in her early eighties (played by an actress in her nineties), fading as a result of dementia, is confronted by her drug-addled daughter.  The daughter wants her  mother to sign an affidavit which will allow her to sell her mother's apartment to finance a get rich quick scheme marketing medicinal  soap bars imported from Ecuador.  The woman's stepfather doesn't think this is such a hot idea.  Good acting by the small cast (the only other character is the woman's lesbian partner) and full marks to the writers for providing a satisfactory ending. (2010)

The Opposite of Sex

***

This is really a sit-com, albeit one that would not appear on one of the major networks.  Christina Ricci plays a "bad" girl of 16 who runs away form home in Louisiana to stay with her half-brother in Indiana.  In no time flat, she seduces her brother's gay live-in and becomes pregnant.  Some of the plot twists are a little contrived, but the snappy dialogue makes this one move right along. (1998)

OSS 117: Lost in Rio

*

There may have been worse movies made in the last couple of years but I haven't seen them.  This is supposed to be a spoof of the 007 films but it misses badly.  The "hero" is more inept than Peter Sellers in the Pink Panther but much less likable.  This was seen as part of a French comedy film festival.  Looking at the reviews of the ones I missed would lead me to conclude that the French have lost their sense of humor.  In French with English sub-titles.  (2009)

Out of Sight

****

Start with a story by Elmore Leonard, get George Clooney and J. Lo. to star, then sprinkle in Don Cheadle, Katherine Keener, Albert Brooks, Ving Rhames, Michael Keaton, Viola Davis, Samuel L. Jackson, and Steve Zahn, and how can you go wrong?  Cheadle is electric and Keener is a hoot as a hot Latina.  Well worth your time.  (1998)

Out To Sea

***½

The perfect movie to see while you are on a cruise.  Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau near the end of their careers play brothers-in-law who sign up to be dance hosts on a Caribbean cruise ship in hopes of finding rich widows to bail them out of their dire financial straits.  Much of the action is predictable, but who cares.  Watching these two pros is worth the price of admission. (1997)

The Overnighters

****½

Watching a cinema verité documentary runs the risk of making one feel like a voyeur.  Its hard not to become  attached to the subjects. Here is a true story about a Lutheran minister in Williston North Dakota who reaches out to homeless men who have left home to find work in the oil fields, giving them shelter when they can't find any place to sleep.  His other parishioners, then the entire city doesn't think this is a good idea, and do their best to have the operation ended.    Finding this film may be difficult, but is well worth the effort. (2015)

Owning Mahowney

***

Philip Seymor Hoffman stars as a loan officer who "borrows" money from his bank to feed a serious gambling habit.  John Hurt is fine as a casino manager who does everything to keep Mahowney happy.  Minnie Driver as Mahowney's girlfriend is not at her best.  (2003)

     

Osama

****

This movie offers a glimpse of life in Afghanistan under the Taliban.  The picture is not pretty.  If there was ever a case of the ends justifying the means, driving these creeps from power was it.  The story is about a 12 year old girl who cuts her hair and dresses like a boy in order to find work and feed her widowed mother and grandmother.  Women were not allowed to work under the Taliban.  Filmed in Kabul with no professional actors, this is one you will never forget.  (2003)

     

Performance

***

Made in Brazil in Portuguese with English sub-titles, this is the story of a woman with a burning desire to be an actress.  She makes a living as a performer in things like store openings, and retirement parties.  During an audition for a role in a play, the director asks her improvise something  of her choice.  She does an impression of Marilyn Monroe singing Happy Birthday and the director is blown away.  She gets the role, and things are going well.  One day she is approached by a movie producer who says he wants her to star in a film about her life.  She quits the play and starts the making of the film.  Suffice to say that something is not quite right with this picture.  A tour de force for actress Karin Telles, the director's wife in real life.  (2011)

Phoenix

***½

I need to see this one again.  I have to admit that I dozed through the first fifteen or so minutes.  By the time I woke up, the plot escaped me.  I could tell the acting was good but trying to catch up with the plot through the sub-titles was too steep a hill.  I am waiting for the movie to show up on Netflix or PPV so I can see the beginning. (2015)

Philomena

****

This is basically a one-woman show, but since the one is Judi Dench odds are it will be a good show.  Philomena does not disappoint.  Dench plays ai Irish woman who had a son out of wedlock in the 1950's.  She was taken in by the nuns and forced to give up her child which she had agreed to under duress.  All she knew about her son was that he had been adopted by an American couple and taken to live in the U.S.  Through her daughter she meets up with an Oxford educated journalist, played by  Steve Coogan ,who has recently been sacked.  He agrees to help her find her son.  After getting the backing of an editor, the two of them head off to America.  It would be hard to write anything else without spoiling the plot, but suffice to say that their adventures are entertaining. (2013)

Phone Booth

**

I heard this was a good movie.  It wasn't.  Bad acting and ham-handed direction are the primary sins.  (2002)

Pirate Radio

*½

Several top rank actors are wasted in this juvenile story based on someone's imagination of what life was like on board the ships anchored off the coast of England broadcasting rock and roll in the 60's. The BBC would not grant a license to anyone to send rock music over the airways, hence the pirate stations. It is mind-boggling that a movie with Philip Seymor Hoffman, Kenneth Branagh, and Emma Thompson could be this bad. (2009)

Por La Libre (Dust to Dust)

***½

Dysfunctional families aren't restricted to America.  This delightful comedy is about a retired doctor's family in Mexico City.  Two grandson, both adored by the grandfather hate each other, but they take off on an adventure to Acapulco which brings them together.  They are accompanied on the trip by their grandfathers ashes.  Lot's of good laughs.  Now showing at the Latin American Festival in Houston.  (2000)

Ponyo

***

Miyazaki's Spirited Away was the finest animated film I have seen.  He followed with some others that were almost as good.  This, the latest work produced by his studio, is good but not up to his high standards.  The striking colors of Miyazaki's earlier films have been replaced with pastels, muting the visual effect, and the story line contains elements of juvenile innocence (a five year old boy wants a humanoid fish as a best friend)  and adult malevolence (man polluting the oceans).  Our grandchildren gave the movie a so-so rating. (2008)

Prairie Home Companion

****

If you are a fan of Garrison Keillor and his radio program this is for you.  If not, save your money.  As in all of Altman's films everyone talks at once and a lot of big name stars appear in ensemble roles,  John C. Reilly and Woody Harrelson steal the show as a pair of foul-mouthed cowboys, Lefty and Dusty.  Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin, and Lindsay Lohan are a family singing act.  They do their own voices and are very good.  Virginia Marsden follows up her breakout role in Sideways with a nice turn here as a mysterious woman in a white trench coat.

Princess Mononoke

***

Miyazaki's masterpiece is Spirited Away, but this predecessor is also beautifully drawn.  There is a lot of gratuitous violence as limbs and heads are severed and blood flows freely.  The English dubbing is not nearly as good in this one as it is in Spirited away.  Billy Bob Thornton as a Samurai just doesn't work. (1997)

     

The Producers

**½

The challenge of transforming a Broadway musical into a movie is to expand field of action without wandering too far from the script.  The problem with this adaptation is that it feels like a filmed Broadway production with all the action restricted to the original sets.  The first hour is excruciatingly slow and and seems very contrived.  When the characters burst into song in a Broadway musical it seems OK, but in a movie it generally seems forced (Evita and Chicago being notable exceptions).  What I found particularly annoying was that when the characters were singing and dancing, the volume of sound never changed as their heads moved from side to side.   There is a lot of lip-synching here, and not all of it is well-synchronized.  Nathan Lane was OK as Bialystock, and Uma Thurman was outstanding as Ulla, but Mathew Broderick was weak as Bloom. The 1965 original with Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder said everything there was to say in 88 minutes.  This remake lasts a very long 134.  (2005)

Public Enemies

***

This is a good but not great biopic of America's Top Gangsters in the late 1930's.  The title would indicate plural but in fact this is a one man show - Johnny Depp as John Dillinger.  None of the other bad guys was on screen long enough to merit a mention.  Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale) who tracks Dillinger is a serious lawman, but all his associates are either incompetent or just evil.  The most evil is Purvis' boss J. Edgar Hoover who sees the Chicago crime wave as a stepping stone to power and glory.  Billy Crudup seems to be a little young to be playing Hoover. (2009)

Quantum of Solace

****

The James Bond franchise does not have artistic pretences.  What is promised and delivered is pure escapist action.  Quantum of Solace does not disappoint.  Daniel Craig, Bond’s latest incarnation is probably the toughest and most serious of the 007 portrayers, but I still haven’t found anyone I like better than Sean Connery.  He was the master of tongue-in-cheek humor, an element lacking in the most recent Bond films.  Quantum doesn’t have much of a plot but that doesn’t matter.  The real story is special effects and there are plenty from start to finish.  Judi Dench returns as M, Bond’s boss.  She is a great actress but she is a little over the top in this role.  The other women in the movie are more typical of the Bond films, tall and beautiful.  The other scenery, especially the Italian locations, is spectacular. (2008)

Quartet

***

Entertaining but not as good as The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.  The story outline is that a retirement home for retired British musicians is under threat of closing due to lack of funds. When a famous diva moves in there is hope that brisk ticket sales for an upcoming gala will allow the home to continue in operation.  Maggie Smith is the diva so you know it won't be easy to convince her to perform.  Also starring Tom Courtenay, Pauline Collins, Billy Connelly, and Michael Gambon. (2013)

The Queen

****

1997 was an eventful year in England.  Tony Blair became prime minister and Princess Di was killed in an auto accident.  These events intersect when Blair tries to convince the queen that her indifferent reaction to the tragedy was threatening the monarchy.  Helen Mirren gives a nuanced portrayal of Queen Elizabeth coming to grips with the need to put on an unhappy face vis-à-vis Diana's death when her instincts tell her otherwise.  While Elizabeth is represented as strong and complex, her family - Princes Philip and Charles, and the Queen Mum - appear to be dodo heads.  Mirren should get an Oscar nomination for this one, and has a good chance to win. (2006)

The Queen of Versailles

***½

At the beginning of this documentary David and Jackie Siegel are on top of the world, living in a 26,000 square foor house, preparing to move into "Versailles" the largest private house in America when it is completed.  When the economy tanks Siegel's time share world comes crashing down with it.  Big changes in the family relationships happen as the banks close in. (2012)

     

Rabbit-Proof Fence

****½

This is a truly remarkable and beautiful piece of film-making about Australia's Lost Generation.  Even if you've seen it in the movies rent the DVD.  It contains a documentary about how director Philip Noyce found, selected and trained three aborigine girls aged seven through thirteen with no acting experience to star in the film.  You've never seen anything like it.  (2002)

Raise the Red Lantern 

***

A visually stunning portrait of the  traditional Chinese concubine system.  The time is probably the latter part of the 19th century.  A nineteen year old educated girl becomes the fourth "wife" of a rich man.  The master of the house selects one of his wives each day for a nocturnal visit.  He communicates his selection by having one of his servants place a red lantern in front of the favored wife's apartment.  The selected wife gets special treatment all day.  All the wives' apartments surround a central courtyard which defines their world.  Outwardly friendly, the wives scheme to gain the masters favor.  Machiavelli would be proud. (1991)

Raising Victor Vargas

**½

This is a slice of life, coming of age, Latino pride movie.  The story revolves around Victor, who along with a younger brother and sister are being raised on the lower East side of New York by a grandmother whose roots are in the Dominican Republic.  The boys are pretty normal, but the girl is the ultimate couch potato.  The grandmother can't cope with the fact that the children are becoming adults.  The actors are young and very good and the characters are well-drawn, but the movie suffers from a lack of action. (2002)

Rango

***

This is a very strange animated Western.  Rango a lizard, reminiscent of the Geico gecko, becomes the sheriff of a western city that had its water supply dry up.  Battling his self-doubts, he is inspired by a character from the Old West who looks and sounds like Clint Eastwood, to take on the bad guys and save the city.  Not for everyone. (2011)

Ratpack Rat

***

Margie Beegle stars as a mother whose son is on death's door.  The son is a big fan of rhe Ratpack which gives the mother an inspiration.  She hires a Sammy Davis Junior imitator to put on a little show in the boy's bedroom where he is confined to bed with a plethora of tubes in his orifices.  When "Sammy" sings Candyman, the boy can't contain his excitement.    This film is eighteen minutes in duration, and contains some real weirdness.  (2013)

Rat Race

**

The opening titles are good, but what follows is not.  A gross waste of acting talent.  Whoopie Goldberg, who I usually don't like, is not too bad.  (2001)

Ratatouille

***½

This animated picture from Pixar is OK for kids but really can be enjoyed by adults.  The story takes a while to get going, but the second half moves along nicely.  The animation is nothing short of sensational, topping even the earlier impressive efforts from this studio.  Remy is a young rat who has a sensitive palate and a desire and talent to be a cook.  He gets his chance in a top restaurant in Paris and makes the most of it.  The voices of the main characters are unfamiliar which seems to be a good thing as opposed to say, Shrek, where it's hard not to think of the donkey as Eddie Murphy.  You'll probably be hungry after seeing this movie.  (2007)

     

Ray

****

Worth seeing because of an amazing performance by Jamie Foxx and some wonderful music.  On the down side, this movie is too long, choppily edited, and and seems to end in mid-sentence.  (2004)

The Reader

****

Kate Winslet gives an amazing performance as Hanna, a mid-thirties German woman who seduces a boy less than half her age.  He is Michael Berg, played by Ralph Fiennes as an adult, but primarily by young German actor David Kross.  The affair only lasts a few months but it shapes the remainder of both of their lives.  While in law school, Michael's class attends a war crimes trial where he discovers that Hanna had been  a Nazi prison guard and had participated in some heinous war crimes.  During the thirty year time span of the movie, Michael is played by two actors, but Winslet is expertly made up to age as the film progresses.  SHe has come a long way since the Titanic.  Swedish actress Lena Olin makes a brief appearance very near the end of the movie as a Holocaust survivor.   She plays one scene with Fiennes which is nothing short of spectacular. (2008)

Real Women Have Curves

***½

Ana is a high school senior who lives with her Mexican family in Los Angeles.  She, her mother, and her sister are fat.  Ana wins a scholarship to Columbia but her mother wants her to stay home and help out at the family dress factory.  This is a nice movie but unfortunately nothing ever happens.  The most amusing scene is one in which Ana strips to her underwear in the factory (small shop really) to avoid the heat, and her sister and three other fat co-workers follow suit.  Strange undergarments and cellulite  fill the screen. (2002)

Reality Bites

*½

Filmed in Houston, this salute to slackerism is a total waste of time.  Winona Ryder, Ethan Hawke, and Ben Stiller do the best they can but this movie is awful from the opening scene to at least half way through.  I can't comment on the second have because I splept through it. (1994)

RED

*

Quite possibly the worst movie of the year (I withhold final judgment because I haven't seen Jackass 3D).  This mess is a total waste of time, talent, and a lot of money.  I kept waiting for Helen Mirren to appear but after an hour I had had enough.  Here's a hint - when a movie's ads feature one line quotes from obscure sources you have been warned.

Remains of the Day

****

Outstanding performances by Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson as a butler and housekeeper  in an upper class English estate.  The lord of the manor turns out to be a Nazi sympathizer.  Typically beautiful Merchant Ivory film which moves along at the pace of a heavily drugged slug. (1994)

     
Riding Giants ***½

This is a very good documentary about surfing, especially big wave surfing.  A great portion of the film takes place in Hawaii, with some outstanding film of the old days.  Call it bravery or recklessness, the modern day big wave surfers appear to have no fear.  (2004)

Rio

***

Spectacular colors and amazing animation make this worthwhile viewing.  Jesse Eisenberg is the voice of Blu, a macaw living comfortably with a devoted owner, Ann Hathaway.  A Braziliam ornithologist conviced the owner to bribg Blu to RIo to mate with the last remaining female of the species.  A lot happens along the way, but all ends well.  The rendering of the slum areas and the Brazilian music are top notch.  (2012)

Road to Perdition

***

Tom Hanks as a saintly mob hit man, and Paul Newman as his godfather are pure magic, but the pace is too slow and the story too predictable to rate this any higher.  Stanley Tucci is very cool as Frank Nitty, Al Capone's Chief Operating Officer.  (2002)

Roman de Gare

***½

The title of this French import is an idiom for airport novel , the kind of book that is designed to take your mind off the fact that the guy in front of you has just reclined in your face.  The central character is a kind of French Danielle Steele who has surprised the literary world by producing a high quality novel.  Did she write it herself, or did she have a ghost?  I'm not telling.  Like the American film Crash, this one has about five plot lines which magically intersect at some point.  Although the movie is a little contrived it is fun to watch.  The women, Fanny Ardant and Audrey Dana, are nice to look at, but the main actor, Dominique Pinon, sets a new standard for unattractive males in a leading role. (2008)

A Room With a View

****

This is the quintessential Merchant Ivory film - beautifully filmed and languorous pacing.  This one has aged well.  Helena Bonham-Carter is perfect for the role of Lucy Honeychurch, a proper Victorian girl engaged to Mr. Vyse (Daniel-Day Lewis in one of his less memorable roles), a wealthy snob with no obvious redeeming traits.  Lucy has a brief encounter with a young man quite the opposite of her fiancé while on a trip to Venice.  By amazing coincidence the young man and his father lease a villa in Surrey practically next door to the Honeychurch estate.  This one starts and ends in Florence where the views are spectacular, as are the scenes of the English countryside. (1986)

Rounders

***

A must-see for those who want an entertaining tutorial on Texas hold'em, the form of poker seen  on TV.  Matt Damon and Edward Norton are card players (rounders), Damon supremely talented and Norton, a skillful cheater.  Norton is in prison as the movie starts.  He and Damon tried to fix a basketball game, and Norton got caught.  By refusing to reveal his co-conspirator, he earns Damon's allegiance, but there is a limit.  John Malkovich is brilliant as a Russian mafia-connected hood who runs the highest stakes poker game in New York.  There are plenty of plot twists, some predictable, and some quite surprising. (1998)

Rudo y Cursi

**

A soccer talent scout finds two talented brothers playing on a dirt field in rural Mexico.  They become stars for two different first division teams in Mexico City, but the fast life of urban Mexico takes its toll.  There are some very funny sequences, but not enough.  In Spanish with English sub-titles. Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna star. (2008)

Rushmore

**½

I found this movie to be quite mean-spirited.  Bill Murray's role is very similar to the one he had in Lost in Translation, but he is not nearly as good.  Jason Schwartzman doesn't generate much sympathy for his lead character because he acts like such a pompous jerk.  Not nearly as good as it could have been.  (1998)

     

Russian Ark

*

Zoomed past My Dinner with Andre and Reds to the top of my list of the most boring movies ever made.   (2002)

Ryan's Daughter

***½

Robert Mitchum joined an all British cast and crew in this Epic from director David Lean.  The background is the lead up to the Irish battle for independence from England in the early years of the 20th century.  The action all takes place in a fictitious village on Ireland's Dingle peninsula.  Sarah Miles is  Rosie Ryan, the restless young daughter of a local pub owner,  who marries a much older widower (Mitchum), the local schoolmaster.  Trouble begins when the British send over a handsome young Major to command the local garrison.  Rosie and the Major meet while Rosie is substituting for her father in the pub.  It is lust at first sight and neither is able to walk away from the relationship.  This is a very good movie, but it is far too long, it has an intermission, and too many scenes without dialogue.  Usage of the fast forward button on you DVD remote controller is recommended. (1970)

     

Salinger

**

J. D. Salinger was a very influential writer who created an aura of mystery around himself by becoming a recluse in New Hampshire.  This documentary aimed to expose the mystery, but in fact there wasn't much to reveal.  What emerges is a half hour report that stretches over two hours.  The resulting mess shows that Salanger was not nearly as good as he thought he was who did everyone a favor by hiding out.  The movie was as boring as Salinger. (2013)

Saturday Night Fever

**½

Hard to believe, but this one is almost thirty years old.  Seriously flawed, but the dancing is still great, especially John Travolta's.  He went on to be a big star, but all of the other actors in this film have dropped totally out of sight.  Many of them never made another movie.  (1977)

The Savages

****½

Wendy (Laura Linney) and John (Philip Seymour Hoffman) Savage are suddenly confronted with being responsible for their aging father Leonard.  He has been living with a girlfriend in her house in Sun City Arizona for the past twenty years.  When the girlfriend dies, her children put the house up for sale and Leonard, suffering from sever dementia, is not capable of taking care of himself.  Enter his estranged son and daughter to the world of assisted living and nursing homes.  To anyone that has seen this world in real life, the movie is a grim reminder of the way things really are.  Its not a pretty picture.  Other than that, the movie is a pleasure to watch.  Linney and Hoffman have become America's best actors. (2007)

Scatter My Ashes in Bergdorf's

***

Bergdorf Goodman is the Mecca of shopping for the world's rich and famous.  Located at Fifth Avenue and Fifty-seventh in Manhattan, the store's neighborhood contains one of the world's greatest concentration of wealth. BG's staff knows how to move some of that wealth into their cash registers.  This lively documentary  is a seeries of interviews with well-known clients, store executives, department heads, and designers.  Young designers compete to get space in the store because acceptance into BG is as close to a guaranty of success as you can get.  Rejection is the reverse.  Overall, the film offers a fascinating look  into the spending style of the super-rich. (2012)

Sceptre

***

The James Bond franchise is in a rut. All Bond movies begin with a harrowing chase  In which our hero is almost thrown off a tall building. Next we meet the leader of group of an international baddies who are trying to take over the world. Just when things look hopeless Bond saves a damsel in distress, finishes off innumerable uniformed baddies , culminating in a one on one battle with the leader of an evil organization. Sceptre follows the standard plot line except for the first scene which features a spectacularly filmed street celebration of The Day Of The Dead.  The scene lasts for about twenty minutes and is the highlight of the movie. (2015)

The Second Most Exotic Marigold Hotel

**½

Not as good as the original.  Bill Nighy, Judi Dench, and Maggie Smith are fun to watch, but Dev Patel is beginning to wear thin.  Richard Gere adds to the star power, but his role is little more than a cameo. (2015)

The Secret in Their Eyes

****

This thriller from Argentina won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language film in 2010.  A retired police inspector from Buenos Aires is haunted by a rape/murder case he handled twenty years ago.  For therapy as much as anything else he decides to write a biographical novel about the incident.  He visits his former boss., a fine looking judge who got her degree in the U.S.  who we find is more interested in the inspector than the case.  You have to overlook some far-fetched incidents along the way, but this fast-paced movie will get your attention. (2009)

The Secret Life of Bees

***

This adaptation of Sue Monk Kidd’s bestseller is about honey, and moves along at the speed of that sticky sweet substance moving down a wall.  In spite of its lack of pace, the picture is worth seeing.  Queen Latifah plays August, the matriarch of a South Carolina family that raises bees.  When Lily, a young white girl (Dakota Fanning) arrives at her doorstep with a cock and bull story and a black housekeeper ( Jennifer Hudson) in tow, August invites them to stay and work in the apiary despite the protest of her younger sister June (Alicia Keys).  The movie plays out over the background of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and its delayed application in the Deep South, and that issue dominates the movie’s sub-plots, although not the main theme.  The three leading ladies who all got their start in music continue to impress as actors. (2008) 

Selma

****

David Oleyowo deserved all the accolades that came his way.  He looked, and more importantly sounded exactly like dr. Martin Luther King.  The movie could have been a hagiography but instead showed King's character flaws unfiltered.  Tom Wilkinson portrayal of LBJ is problematic.  The man who probably did more for civil  rights of Blacks then any U.S. president before or after is portrayed as a buffoon with no principles.   Tim Roth  is miscast as Governor   George Wallace.  They should have gotten Oliver Platt who looks just like Wallace.  (2014)

Senso

****

This Visconti classic has recently been released on DVD and is well worth watching. Set in the middle of the 19th century during the Austrian occupation of Italy.  The story opens with a performance of Il Trovatore and the plot seems like an opera libretto.  An aging but still beautiful Venetian contessa  (Alida Valli) falls for a dashing Austrian army officer (Farley Granger).  The contessa's husband is quite a bit older whose only apparent interest in life is accumulating wealth, at which he appears to have been successful.  This formula for a tragic ending plays out against the beautifully filmed Italian countryside.  In Italian with English sub-titles. (1954)

The September Issue

*½

A documentary about putting together the September 2007 issue of Vougue should have let the public decide if editor Ann Wintour is as much of a bitch as she was portrayed by Meryl Streep in The Devil Wore Prada.  Unfortunately we don't learn a thing about Wintour but learn alot more than we care to know about the people in her entourage.  A very disappointing movie. (2009)

Serendipity

***

Standard boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-gets-girl fare.  Eugene Levy's department store clerk makes this worth a look.  (2001)

Sex and the City

*** 

Chick Flick Alert!  Women will love it  and sensitive new-age guys will too.  As for me, I liked it but didn't love it.  I would have liked it a lot better if they chopped about thirty minutes off the length.  The girls are back and they don't appear to have aged. Their men-folk are as goofy as ever.   If you were a fan of the HBO series you'll like this movie as it carries forward the themes from TV.  If you've never seen the show you won't understand a lot of the situations.  Jennifer Hudson does a nice star turn, but Candace Bergen's cameo as the editor of Vogue reminds us that nobody can look good forever.  This is pure entertainment - don't look for any Oscar nominees here.  (2008)

Seymour Schwartz - Home Movie

***

This is filmmaker Jon Schwartz' homage to his father.  He shot black and white filmed interviews of his father and his uncles as a school project thirty years ago.  He edited the old films and through in stills to make a watchable history of one of Houston's prominent Jewish families.  (2013)

Shanghai Ghetto

***½

Documentary about a footnote to history - the Jewish enclave in Shanghai during WW II.  Originally settled by Syrian and other middle east emigrants in the 19th century, and later by Russians fleeing the Bolsheviks in the early 20th, the city took in over 20,000  German refugees escaping the Nazis.  The film could have benefited from some judicious editing as some photographs are seen multiple times.  (2002)

     

Shattered Glass

***

A dramatized true story of Steven Glass, a young reporter at the New Republic who is an extremely talented writer.  Unfortunately, his reports are almost all fabricated.  The Glass character is a little too whiney for my taste, but the story of how he gets caught makes this one worthwhile.  (2003)

     

The Shipping News

**

Should be subtitled "People Waking from a Bad Dream in a Cold Sweat".  The point of the movie is that someone from New York can be dimmer than just about anyone in Newfoundland.  Nice pictures, but watch something on National Geographic instead.  (2001)

Side Effects

****½

An implausible but entertaining movie from Steven Sodebergh. Rooney Mara is convincing as the disturbed wife of a jailed Wall Street hot shot who got caught.  She ends up in a hospital ER where she encounters a young psychiatrist  - Jude Law.  He prescribes  some medications which have very bad side effects.  Very bad.  As the psychiatrist  gets sucked in to her case his own life starts to fall apart.  Be prepared for a surprise ending.  Catherine Zeta-Jones also stars. (2013)

Sideways

*****

One of the funniest movies of the past several years.  The four main characters are perfect in their roles.  Two former college roommates, now an actor and a teacher, have a weeklong fling before the actor's scheduled wedding.  Funny dialogue from start to finish.  Don't miss it.  (2004)

Silver Linings Playbook

****

After reading a negative review in The New Yorker, I was prepared for a bad movie experience.  Surprisingly, it turned out to be just the opposite.  It was no accident that the four main characters were all nominated for Oscars.  The cast seemed to have good chemistry.  Robert De Niro looked like he was having fun as Bradley Cooper's father, a small time gambler with an obsession for the Philadelphia Eagles.  Cooper plays a young man who is unable to cope with the facts of his marriage breaking up.  After spending eight months in a mental hospital, he is struggling.  When he meets Jennifer Lawrence, a young widow with problems of her own, his life starts to improve.  Doesn't sound like a premise for an uplifting movie but this truly is. (2012)

Skyfall

****

Daniel Craig is the best James Bond since Sean Connery, and this is one of the best Bond films ever.  The action takes place in Turkey, Macao, Scotland, and an abandoned island in Japan.  What sets Skyfall apart from its predecessors is the presence of Javier Bardem as a truly frightening villain and Ralph FIennes as a frightening MI6 bureaucrat. Judi Dench once again is impressive as "M", Bond's boss at Britain's spy organization.   As always there are lots of beautiful women all of whom find Bond to be irresistible.  (2012)

Slap Shot

***

Slap Shot has by now achieved cult status among hockey fans in Canada and the northern US.  Paul Newman plays Reg Dunlap, a career minor leaguer now a player coach for the hapless Charlestown Chiefs.  Enter the Hanson brothers, three clueless Canadians who report to the team with suitcases full of toys.  They look like twins with their long flowing hair and thick black-framed glasses.  The GM got the brothers as a cost-saving move, but after keeping on the bench for a few games, Reg puts them on the ice and they quickly turn around the team's fortunes.  There are lots of laughs, and it is fun to see Newman in this down and out role, but the second half of the movie could have done with a twenty minute cut.  (1977)

Slumdog Millionaire

****

This is like no other movie I have ever seen.  The framework is an Indian version of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" where an 18 year old who serves tea in a call center is answering every question correctly.  The police think he must be cheating so as the movie starts he is seen being roughly interrogated by two officers.  The youth tells the senior officer the story of his life and how each of the questions he has answered were directly related to his experience growing up.  WHen he was very young his Muslim family is attacked by a gang of Hindus.  The boy and his brother appear to be about eight or nine years old at the time, and in the aftermath of the attack are forced to survive alone in the world.  Their story is intense.  When the movie ends the credits roll there is a scene of singing and dancing right out of Momma Mia.  I'm sure the director had something in mind but it is not obvious what it is.  (2008)  

Smoke Signals

****

If you liked Dances with Wolves, this isn't for you.  A young native Americans named Victor hits the road to retrieve his father's ashes (see Dust to Dust).  He is accompanied by a nerdy guy from the reservation named Thomas, who was rescued from a fire by Victor's father when he was a baby.  According to Victor, Thomas got to be a nerd by watching Dances with Wolves more than 100 times.  The story is good, the acting fine and low key, and there is a sense that this is really what it's like to be an indian in America today.  Not a pretty picture.  (1998)

The Social Network

****

Now that everyone has a Facebook page this film shows us how the social networking site evolved.  Jesse Eisenberg gives a performance that, based having seen the real Mark Zuckerberg on Sixty Minutes, is quite good.  Justin Timberlake, never known as an actor, is a revelation as Sean Parker, the inventor of Napster and a major influence on Zuckerberg.  Armie Hammer (now there's a name) plays both of the Winklevoss twins, Harvard schoolmates who believe that Facebook was their idea.  This movie is interesting and entertaining. (2010)

The Soloist

***

Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey, Hr. sparkle in this adaptation of a true story that appeared recently on CBS' 60 Minutes.  The protagonists are Nathaniel Ayers (Foxx), a former promising cellist whose mental illness lands him on the street, and Steve Lopes (Downey), the reporter for the L.A. times who discovers him.  Catherine Keener is Lopez's editor, love interest and if the hints are to be believed, his ex-wife, is always a welcome edition to a cast.  The story doesn't really resolve into a happy ending, but that is probably reflective of real life.   (2009)

Somebody Up There Likes Me

**

This was one of Paul Newman's earliest and not wholly successful roles.  He plays Rocky Graziano, an Italian-American street hood who rises to cult status in the boxing ring due to his fearless brawling style and devastating punching power.  THe movie follows Rocky's life from his late teenage years to his title fight against Tony Zale in 1947.  After winning the fight he returns to a hero's welcome on the lower east side of New York and the movie ends happily.  THe night before the big fight in Chicago, Rocky takes his wife to the movie.  When they return to their hotel, they have a tiff and Rocky walks out.  He flies back to New York to visit a few friends.  He goes in to a candy store in his old neighborhood where he buys some ice cream for his wife.  He returns to Chicago where it is still dark when he returns to his hotel.  Seems a little far-fetched, but I guess that shows what you can do if you don't  have to mess with airport security.  The acting is pretty one-dimensional with the exception of Eileen Heckhart who give a credible portrayal of Rocky's long-suffering mother.  (1956)

Something's Gotta Give

**½

Predictable chick-flick but funny when Jack Nicholson is on camera.  Diane Keaton is not at her best.  Looks like they shot five endings, couldn't decide which to use, so used them all.  (2003)

     

Sometimes in April

****½

This HBO film covers much of the same ground as Hotel Rwanda, but is much more explicit about the atrocities perpetrated by the Hutus.  There are lots of villains in both movies, but heroes are in short supply in the HBO version.  At the end of the credits roll, there is a message - never forget.  No one who sees this will. (2005)

South Pacific

*½

Rossano Brazzi, complete with Italian-accented English, play a French plantation owner in Polynesia.  It may have worked on Broadway with Ezio Pinza in the role, but doesn't make sense in the movie.  This one has not aged well.  The acting is uniformly weak and the songs seem forced.

Spellbound

****½

Eight junior high school students participating in the National Spelling Bee are profiled as they prepare for the showdown in Washington.  The ethnic and family backgrounds of the contenders could not be more diverse.  One by one the spellers are eliminated to the palpable anguish of their parents.  Intriguing and highly entertaining. (2002)

     

Spiderman 2

**½

Outstanding special effects, but overall a pretty weak effort.  The plot is ludicrous, script weak, and the acting wooden.  Neither a kids movie nor an adult film (by my definition), this must be aime at a very narrow demographic.  Looks like 20 year old males dictate what we see at the cineplex these days. (2004)

Spotlight

*****

The eponymous staff did special projects for the Boston Globe.  They were accustomed to operating at glacial speed until a new editor in charge insists they complete all projects ASAP.  A ten year old case about Catholic priests molesting young children  was moved to the front burner. Excellent journalist work by the team results in an amazing conclusion.  Michael Keaton is remarkable as the leader of the investigating team.  This was the best movie I have seen in years.   (2015)

Stanley and Livingston

****

After a year of extreme hardship including attacks by African natives, Spencer Tracy as newspaper reporter Henry Stanley gets to utter the famous words "Dr. Livingston, I presume".  He does it with panache.  Sir Cedrick Hardewick as Livingston thanks Stanley for coming all this way to rescue him, but convinces him with some difficulty that he has no interest in being rescued.  This movie is a little bit dated but well worth the time to watch it.  A young Walter Brennan is entertaining as Stanley's sidekick. (1939)

State of Play

***

Russell Crowe stars as a Carl Bernstein-like maverick reporter for a Washington Post-like newspaper struggling to survive in the post-internet world.  His best friend, a congressman, Ben Affleck, is conducting hearings into the activities of a Blackwater-like government contractor when tragedy strikes the congressman's chief researcher on the issue.  This is the first of a series of apparently unrelated violent events, but guess what - they are all related.  Although flawed, the movie is fast-paced and entertaining.  A few too many clichés keep this from being better. (2009)

Station Agent

***½

Three characters with very little in common find a way to connect when one of them inherits a deserted train depot in rural New Jersey.  At once funny and poignant, this small film is very satisfying.  Patricia Clarkson must be America's best unknown actress.  (2003)

Steve Jobs

**

This is a tedious movie.  Jobs' constant haranguing of anyone and everyone who deviates from his world view rapidly wears thin.  Apple co-inventor Steve Wozniak, Jobs' daughter Lisa and her mother,  his technicians, his Board members, all suffer for their efforts to get Jobs to act like a human being.  Only his secretary Joanna Hoffman is able to influence him, but the movie never says why.  Oscar nominations for Michael Fassbender and Kate Winslet say a lot more about this year's lack of depth in the acting categories than anything else.  (2015)

Still Life

***

This is an aptly titled movie as the characters mostly sit around saying and doing nothing.  The background is the Three Gorges Dam project in China.  The 2,000 year old city of Fengjie is in the process of being flooded as the new dam is holding back the waters of the Yangtze  River .  More than a million people are being relocated to higher ground.  The Chinese government says the project is needed but the social cost is very high.  The plot revolves around two visitors from southern China looking for their respective spouses from whom they have been long separated.  For the most part the movie features grim realism, bur there are two scenes which seem out of place.  In one, what appears  to be a flying saucer flashes across the sky.  The other anomalous action  occurs when a half finished monument suddenly rockets off into the stratosphere.  Pretty good trick for a concrete structure..  this picture won the grand prize at the Venice film festival as the best picture of the year.  (2006)

Strangers on a Train

***½

A classic Hitchcock thriller worth revisiting.  Robert Walker's performance is a classic.  He shines particularly brightly because the rest of the cast is pretty amateurish.  The director makes his usual cameo appearance, this time as a man boarding a train carrying a bass violin.  (1951)

Steve Zissou: The Life Aquatic

*

This is the worst movie I have seen in a long time.  Making a movie this bad with Bill Murray, Anjelica Houston, Michael Gambon, and Cate Blanchett is a real achievement.  Murray plays Zissou, a thinly disguised Jacques Cousteau.  He is hunting a jaguar shark (all of the sea life in this movie is artificial, and frankly, stupid) who ate Esteban, a former colleague.  Enter Owen WIlson, pathetic as always, as a pilot for Air Kentucky who claims to be Steve's long lost son.  Also enter Cate Blanchett as a pregnant journalist, forming something like, but not exactly a love triangle.  The plot slithers down hill from there.  Because the whole idea of the movie is fatally flawed, it never gets any better. (2004)

A Summer in Genoa

***½

Colin Firth plays a college professor in Chicago whose wife has recently died in an auto accident.  He decides it would be good for him and his two teen-aged daughters to spend some months in Italy.  If you are looking for excitement this movie is not for you.  But if character development and interesting relationships are your thing, you will enjoy this film.  The always great Catherine Keener plays an expat American who sets her sights on the professor.  This one has been in the can for a few years, but the producers must have decided to release it when FIrth won his Oscar. (2008)

Sunshine Cleaning

***

I thought Alan Arkin died in Little Miss Sunshine, but here he is again in the same role.  He must have been faking it because he apparently sneaked out and married a younger woman.  His children are a lot younger here.  All in all this is an enjoyable movie.  Amy Adams is cute as a button as a former cheerleader (Rose) still infatuated with the high school quarterback (Mac).  Despite fathering Rose's child, Mac remains married to someone else and shows no signs of changing the status quo.  Mac, a cop, does help Rose start a new business – cleaning up after murders and suicides.  Rose is aided by her sister Norah (Emily Blunt) who has her own set of problems.  The business has some ups and downs but Dad. who displays a genius for creating money-losing schemes eventually saves the day by coming up with what appears to be a winner.  Clifton Collins who plays a one-armed mechanic is outstanding. (2008)

Sunshine State

****

This is the story of greedy developers trying to take over a small town in Florida, and the impact it has on two families, one white and the other black.  Fine performances all around makes the movie a delight.  Edie Falco has the best lines and she delivers them in a hilarious deadpan voice.  (2002)

Swimming Pool

***½

Charlotte Rampling stars as a 60-ish English mystery writer who takes up an offer from her publisher to stay at his house in the French countryside to cure her case of writer's block.  Enter the publishers twenty something daughter and sparks begin to fly as the two women take an immediate dislike for each other.  Little by little the older woman becomes fascinated with the younger who likes to spend her days at the pool minus her clothes.  Rampling's performance is nothing short of sensational.  (2003)

Syrian Bride

****

Hiam Abbass played the role of the mother in The Visitor and stole the show.  Here she does the same thing as the sister of the bride in the title of this Israeli produced movie.  The sisters are part of a complex Druze family living in the Golan Heights of Israel.  The plot line is that Mona, the youngest of four in her generation is to marry a Syrian TV star as arranged by their families.  Everything is going along nicely until bureaucracy, on the Israeli and Syrian sides, threatens to shut down the proceedings.  Although some of the movie is in English, the majority is in Hebrew and Arabic, but don't let this put you off as  the subtitles are good.  The acting is excellent from top to bottom, but Hiam Abbass is a cut above as an Arab woman emerging from centuries of second class citizenship. (2004)

     

Talk to Her

*****

This is the best movie I've seen this year (or last year for that matter).  Knowing that the central theme was two men talking to comatose women almost kept me away, but am I glad it didn't.  If there was ever a film that proves movie-making can be just as much an art as writing this is it.  Don't miss it.  (2002)

Tarnation

*½

The hype on this movie is that it had a budget of $218.  Frankly, it's hard to see where they spent it.  This is a self-indulgent, self-aggrandizing story by and about a gay filmmaker, and his mother's battle with mental illness.  The filmmakers theory is that his mother's mental illness came from electroshock therapy.  My theory is that it was caused by watching her son's home movies.  Unless you have a strong desire to get depressed, give this one a miss. (2003)

Taxi

*½

I kind of like Queen Latifah so I hope her career survives this bomb.  She can't be desperate for money, but there can be no other justification for her taking on this role.  Her co-star is a pathetic actor named Jimmy Fallon.  Did he come from SNL like David Spade?  I haven't seen it since the days of John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, but apparently I haven't missed much.  Avoid this one at all costs.  (2004)

Tea With Mussolini

**½

An eclectic mix of actresses make this go.  Ostensibly an autobiographical interlude in the life of director Franco Zefferelli, the male characters disappear in the face of superb star turns by Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Joan Plowright, Cher and Lily Tomlin.  Starting in 1935 with a comfortable group of British ex-pats in Florence who refused to believe that Mussolini would abandon them, and proceeding through the end of the war when when they are liberated by an advancing Allied army from their detention  in a small country town, the British ladies carry on with stiff upper lips.  The Americans, Cher and Lily, are looked down upon by Maggie, but in the end all is forgiven.  I think Zefferelli remembered  some stuff that never happened but never mind.  The end result is a film that is fun to watch.  (1999)

Terms of Endearment

****

Revived for a Houston film festival, the classic has held up well.  Shirley MacLaine won an Oscar for her performance as  River Oaks widow Aurora Greenway who wants her daughter Emma to call off her wedding at the last minute because she is marrying beneath her station.  Debra Winger gives a strong performance as Emma who is the polar opposite of her mother and actually lives the life her mother envisioned for her.  Jack Nicholson plays a drunken ex-astronaut who lives next door to Aurora.  Nicholson and MacLaine make a perfect on-screen pairing.  Bring a hankie (1983)

The Theory of Everything

****

An absolutely spectacular portrayal by Eddie Redmayne of Steven Hawkng, the English physicist afflicted with ALS, Lou Gehrig's  disease. Told in his twenties that he had at most two years to live, he has now made it to 70.  This is a truly inspiring story.  Don't be surprised to see Redmayne snag an Oscar nomination. (2014)

The Third Man

****

A classic black and white (mostly black) film set in post-war Vienna.  Joseph Cotton, Orson Welles, and Trevor Howard star in this dark mystery.  The climax is set in the sewer system which is even darker than the rest of the picture.  The screenplay was adapted by Graham Greene from one of his stories.  (1949)

Three Coins in the Fountain

***

More than anything else, this nicely restored classic is a wonderful travelogue of Rome.  Three American secretaries share an apartment and look for romance.  The apartment is actually an upscale villa.  This is a real fairy tale as there is no way these girls could have afforded the rent.  For the most part the acting is pretty bad, especially by Maggie McNamara who made one more movie then committed suicide in 1978. You may draw your own conclusions. (1954)

The Times of Harvey Milk

****½

In the first scene of this outstanding documentary, Diane Feinstein announces the assassinations of Harvey Milk and San Francisco mayor George Moscone and the arrest of prime suspect Dan White.  The effect is that the movie is not a Whodunnit, but rather a How Could This Have Happened?  The story is at once inspiring and depressing.  Most of the footage consists of interviews with people who knew Milk and White.  For me, the most interesting interview was with a San Francisco union member who , as a member of the organization's political action team, recommended supporting Harvey in his campaign for a seat on the Board of Supervisors.  He didn't find out Harvey was gay until after his recommendation to the membership.  He was afraid the his members would revolt when they found out about Harvey's orientation, but the more he got to know Harvey, the more he felt he had made the right choice.  White was cinvicted not of murder, but of manslaughter.  We learned about the outrage of Harvey's supporteres, but it would have been helpful to hear from a juror about why they did what they did. (1984)

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

***½

It was hard for me to imagine anyone other than Alec Guinness in the role of George Smiley, but Gary Oldman manages to pull it off.  Called out of retirement to find a spy in the upper echelons of MI6, the British CIA.  It took Guinness almost six hours to work it out in the 1979 TV mini-series, but Oldman pulls it off in just under two.  If you haven't read the book or seen the miniseries, you may want to sit through this twice, but it will be worth it. (2011)

Tip Top ** Two Paris policewomen are sent to a small coountry town to find out who killed a police informant.. Isabelle Huppert, still looking mighty good at 60, is the senior partner and Sandrinne Kiberlain, the junior, who is being punished for her off hours conduct.  She, it is revealed, is a serial peeping Tom.  Huppert's character turns out to be a masochist.  I got that but couldn't make heads or tails of any thing else that happened in the movie.  If you have the opportunity give this one a miss. (2013)

To Live and Die in L.A.

***

William Friedkin made his reputation with the chase scene in The French Connection.  Here he outdoes himself with a chase on the L.A. freeway system and on the concrete banks of the L.A. River.  Willem Dafoe as a master counterfeiter heads a no-name cast in this fast-paced thriller.  Good guys and bad guys bite the dust in rapid succession with one man standing at the end.  (1985)

Top of the Lake

*****

Originally shown on the Sundance Channel, this instant classic is now available on Netflix. Elizabeth Moss  , best known as Peggy Olson on Mad Men turns in a spectacular performance as a police officer who works on cases involving children.   She is a New Zealander who moved to Sydney several years before the story begins.  She returns to New Zealand to visit her ailing mother, and is drawn into a case in  which a teen-aged girl has disappeared.  Working with the local police, no easy task for a woman in this rural community, she finds herself being dragged into a complex web of intrigue.  Jane Campion wrote and directed this amazing film.  Holly Hunter co-stars. (2012)

Toy Story 3

****

The third in the series of Pixar's magical animated features is probably the best. With Andy about to head off to college, Woody, Buzz, and the gang are in crisis mode. They appear to be headed to the attic or the dump. Never fear, Andy develops a plan to get himself and his toy friends some love. Here is one of the rare films that can be enjoyed by children and adults. There are many fine sequences, but my favorites are the ones with Barbie and Ken, who are so, so stylish. The animation is so good you almost forget that you are watching cartoon characters. Credit the makers of this film for emphasizing the story line rather than the technology. (2010)

Treasure of Sierra Madre

*****

Truly one of the greatest films of all time.  Walter Houston clearly merited the Oscar he received for his role as an old prospector.  Humphrey Bogart overdoes it a little toward the end as greed gets the better of him, but this is a minor flaw.  Well worth watching.  (1948)

 Trouble the Waters

*** 

A young couple living in New Orleans'  lower ninth ward shot some remarkable video of Hurricane Katrina during the height of the storm in  August 2005.  These scenes, well worth seeing, are like the filling in a sandwich which has too much bread.  This overlong documentary  tells the story of the amateur video makers, but their life when not filming the hurricane isn't that interesting.  The Michael Moore - like  inclusion of stock TV scenes of President Bush and FEMA head Mike Brown are all too familiar.   I think the idea is to make the case that there is a vast conspiracy against New Orleans' black community.  The evidence is not very compelling.  (2008)

Trouble with the Curve

***

Clint Eastwood drifts seamlessly from speaking to an empty chair at the Republican convention to this role where he speaks to his late wife in a cemetery.   All of his recent roles are pretty similar - a crusty old guy on the down slope of his life, with a low tolerance for fools and a short temper.  Here is is an aging scout for the Atlanta Braves nearing the end of his contract.  Amy Adams, Justin Timberlake and John Goodman do the best they can but this story line is a little thin.  Entertaining but will not be long remembered. (2012) 

Tropic Thunder

***

Maybe it's me.  I just don't get Ben Stiller.  Had I known he not only starred in, but also produced, wrote and directed this movie I would have given it a miss.  Stiller is nothing short of annoying, but there are three performances worth noting.  Nick Nolte plays a grizzled Vietnam war vet whose has written a book that is being turned into a movie being filmed on location in southeast Asia.  He is perfect. Tom Cruise is unrecognizable as a bearded, bald, foul-mouthed producer who is funding the film.  Finally, the saving grace of the movie is Robert Downey, Jr. as a blond-haired Australian playing a black American GI.  He got a well-deserved Oscar nod for this role.  (2008)

True Grit

****

I confess that I don't remember much about the original except John Wayne parodied his earlier cowboy roles. In the remake, Jeff Bridges doesn't try to emulate John Wayne, but instead gives Rooster Cogburn an original interpretation. The supporting cast is excellent, especially 14 year-old Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie, the young girl who hires Cogburn to avenge her father's murder. For me, the most interesting aspect of this film is that the dialogue is spoken in a cadence that is reminiscent of Shakespeare.  The characters speak in complete sentences without a string of F-bombs. The Coen brothers strike again, (2010)

Trumbo

**

The Hollywood black list era is portrayed in this not very good docudrama.The only character who seems to be real is Louis CK.  Everyone else, including Oscar Best Actor nominee Bruce Cranston overacts. The usually reliable Helen Mirren is not convincing as gossip columnist. Hedda Hopper, and John Goodman looks like he has gained 100 pounds. (2015)

Tsotsi

****½

Unlike Crash, this film from South Africa deserved its Best Picture Oscar.  Set in the township of Soweto, outside of Johannesburg, this is the story of a young thug (tsotsi means thug in South Africa) who is observed perpetrating several brutal criminal acts alone and with a gang.  In a solo caper he steals a car and finds a surprise package in the back seat which profoundly changes his life.  One of the strong characters is a rich man who is a victim of a violent criminal attack.  He swears revenge, but in the end he is the first to recognizes a human strain in the man who caused him so much grief.  Wonderful acting throughout by South Africans.  Written by Athol Fugard who brought us Master Harold and the Boys. (2005)

     

Under the Tuscan Sun

***

Nice scenery.  Predictable plot.  Nice scenery. Weak dialogue.  Nice Scenery.  Unrealistic storyline.  Nice scenery.  (2003)

The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossoms

***½

This short HBO documentary begins with some heartbreaking footage of a Japanese city being swept away by the 2011 tsunami.  This is followed by interviews of some survivors punctuated by pictures of sakura - cherries in the ten stages of blossoming.  The Japanese see the sakura as a symbol of rebirth and inspires their will to survive.  This film was nominated for an Academy Award. (2012)

12 Years a Slave

***

Stories about slavery are always downers and this is no exception.  A fee, black businessman from Saratoga, New York is tricked into traveling to Washington D.C. from where he is kidnapped and sold into slavery.  He spends the next 12 years trying tostay alive while figuring out how to get out of his situation.  The white folks he encounters in the South are not very nice, except for a carpenter played by Brad Pitt who sounds like he is reading his script.  Pitt is usually very good but this was not his finest hour.  The movie needed some serious editing as it is about 45 minutes too long.  (2013)

The Unforeseen

**

Here is a documentary in the finest tradition of Michael Moore journalism - biased and misleading.  The "People" are warm and good and selfless. Corporations are evil and venal, spoilers of the environment, and interested in making (stop reading if you are easily offended), a profit.  The setting is Austin and in particular the pristine Barton Creek, which is threatened by two housing developments. The fact that one of the developments is nowhere near the creek is deemed irrelevant.  We meet Robert Redford who, in the course of a long and boring interview reveals that he learned to swim in Barton Creek.  On the way to the interview something happened to Redford's hair.  It looks like a cheap blond wig worn backward.  The most interesting interview is with lobbyist Dick Brown (Pat's brother) whose face is never shown.  All we ever see are Brown's hands making a model war plane as he is interviewed.  My theory is has face wasn't shown because he is clean shaven.  All of the other bad guys have moustaches.  Maybe the director didn't want to confuse the audience.  (2007)

Too Big To Fail

***½

One of the better made-for-TV biopics, this tells the story of the collapse of Lehman Brothers and how the event nearly sank the world's financial markets.  William Hurt is outstanding as Hank Paulson, the former head of Goldman, Sachs, who proved to be a real hero in his roe as George Bush's Treasurer Secretary.  Paul Giamatti portrayal of Ben Bernanke's face and voice are eerily accurate - worth the price of admission.  The rest of the supporting cast is very good. (2011)

Up

*½

They said this could be enjoyed by both adults and kids.  They were at most half-right.  You have to tip your hat to Pixar for their technical wizardry but this is not - repeat - not for adults.  It appears to be quite violent for young kids but maybe today's younger generation is inured to this sort of thing. (2009)

Up in the Air

****

Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) is a modern day road warrior.  He is a corporate hatchet main with priveleged status on all the airlines, car rental agencies and hotels in every major city in the U.S.  Last year he apent 43 days at home in Omaha and his objective is to reduce that number this year.  He is charming but aloof and likes the life that engenders.  Everything goes along smoothly until two women enter his life.  One is Alex, a fellow road warrior who is Ryan's mirror image, and Natalie, a young Recent MBA who wants to ground Ryan to save the company travel expenses.  Halfway through the movie the stage was set for a typical Hollywood ending, but to the filmmakers' credit it doesn't happen.  Vera Farmiga who plays Alex will be heard from again. (2009)

The Usual Suspects

****½

This is a little confusing at first, but clears up as it moves along.  The initial story line is outwardly familiar - five underworld acquaintances get together  for one final job that will let them retire in style.  As the plot develops, there are increasing references to a mysterious Hungarian hit man named Kaiser Soze who may or may not be involved in the caper.  Kevin Spacey's career took off after his portrayal of gimpy hit man Verbal Kint.  (1995)

     

Vanity Fair

***

I think this is a good movie but I'm not sure because I couldn't always figure out what was going on.  There are lots of characters and it's too bad they didn't wear nametags.  Evidently nineteenth century class relations in England were very nuanced but a lot of it went over my head.  The acting and directing was good, and the scenery is very nice.  Not a bad way to kill a couple of hours.  (2004)

Venus

****½

Peter O'Toole plays Maurice, a once-famous actor who is still recognized on the street and in restaurants.  He and his friends Ian and Donald meet every day ffor breakfast to look for obituaries of their actor  pals.  Into Maurice's  life enters Venus, an insolent, working class girl sent by a niece to care for Ian.  Ian hates the intrusion and asks Maurice for help as Morris has a reputation of being very knowledgeable  about women.  In fact his friends call him an alliterative  professor of.., well, you'll have to see the movie as the dialogue is too spicy to be quoted here.  Well-written and expertly acted, this is much more than an update of My Fair Lady, although the theme is similar.  Vanessa Redgrave lights up the screen with her short but truly amazing portrayal of Maurice's wife.  (2006)

Vicky  Cristina  Barcelona

****

Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) are two American girls who decide to spend their summer with Judy (Patricia Clarkson), a distant relative and her husband, ex-pats living the good life in Barcelona.  Not long after arriving they encounter a smooth talking artist Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem) who convinces free-spirit Cristina to spend the weekend with him in Oviedo.  Conformist Vicky reluctantly tags along.  Things progress somewhat as expected until the entrance of Maria Elena (Penelope Cruz), Juan Antonio's volatile ex-wife.  From that point on, the movie soars.  Good performances all around with Cruz a cut above the rest.  The other real star is Barcelona itself, with its buildings by Gaudi.  Writer/director Woody Allen continues the  exploration of the world outside Manhattan.   This movie features a mildly annoying narrator - maybe Woody thought we needed a tour guide.  (2008) 

The Visitor

****½

This low-budget film is simply terrific.  Richard Jenkins stars as Walter, a New England college professor who finds a young couple living in his infrequently used apartment in New York city. He is visiting the city to present a paper at a conference.  The young man is Syrian and his girlfriend is from Senegal.  After getting over the shock of finding his apartment occupied, Walter lets the couple stay with him for a few days until they can find other accommodations.  They apparently had been paying rent to a scammer who said he was a friend of the owner.  Being illegal immigrants the couple take every precaution to avoid contact with the police.  I won't give away more of the story, but when the young man gets in trouble his mother arrives from Michigan to try to help.  Walter's developing relationship with the mother is beautifully and subtly played.  The context of the story, the post-9/11 world, colors all of the relationships.  Don't miss this one. (2008) 

Volver

****

Pedro Almodover always has something shocking up his sleeve.  In Volver he has enough surprises to fill both sleeves.  What is not surprising is that Penelope Cruz is dazzling,  her performance garnering her a Best Actress Oscar nomination.  She has a role that is very complex.  She plays Raimunda, a woman from La Mancha who has unusual relationships with her daughter, her sister, and her late mother.  As in all of Almodovar's movies, men play incidental roles.  The women are the stars and they are all great in this film.  In Spanish with English sub-titles. (2006)

     

Waitress

***½

This  story of life in a small town diner is good but it could have been better.  Some of the scenes seem very contrived, and some of the "po' white trash" dialogue feels like it is forced.  Despite these problems the movie is quite entertaining. Jenna is a pie-making genius who is unhappily married to Earl, a controlling dolt with no apparent redeeming qualities.  How a beautiful girl like Jenna ever got involved with Earl is a mystery never explained.  Suspecting that she is pregnant, she visits a handsome new doctor in town and they are mutually smitten.  The plot progresses in mostly predictable ways from there.  The diner is owned by an old curmudgeon named Joe, well-portrayed by Andy Griffith.  He visits the diner every day and dispenses subtle advice to Jenna which moves things along nicely.  The real stars of the show are the pies.  Jenna gives them wonderful names and they look sensational.  (2007)

WALL-E

**

When I checked a lot of movie critics' best films of 2008 lists, WALL-E was on almost all of them.  Either they saw something that I didn't or they watched more than the first hour which was all I could take.  I'll concede that the animation was technically impressive, but the story is little more than a scolding about how we humans are defiling the earth.  Al Gore, with whom I don't necessarily agree, delivered the message more effectively than this movie's anthropomorphic robots.  Save your money and start a fund to buy a hybrid. (2008)

Walk the Line

****

I was a little skeptical about Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon playing Johnny  Cash and June Carter, but they are both excellent.  This is better than most biopics because the lead characters' flaws are not covered up.  What keeps Walk the Line  from being a great movie is that the singing, while creditable, lacks the Johnny Cash magic.  About twenty minutes of judicious editing would also have helped.  (2005)

Waltz with Bashir

***½

An Israeli veteran of the 1982 invasion of Lebanon can't remember the details of his involvement so he seeks out former colleagues to help him find the details.  Limited action animation technique is very effective in portraying what took place.  This is an artistic and technical triumph but frankly is one of the most depressing movies ever made.  (2008)

War of the Worlds

*½

Surely this must be the low point of Stephen Spielberg's career.  The cliché-ridden script is bad, the acting is bad, the plot line is weak and dated. The special effects are probably impressive with a big screen and surround sound, but this one is beyond saving.  Arf, arf.

Wasteland

****

A documentary about Brazilian artist Vik Moniz, who finds people who find material for recycling in the world's largets landfill in Rio de Janeiro.  He befriends about a half dozen of the workers, takes their photographs, projects their images on large canvasses, then glues material from the dump to enhance the pictures.  Sounds ridiculous but it works.  Moniz sells the pictures for $250,000 and donates all the money to the workers and their union.  The first half of the film is a little slow, but the rest is magic. (2010)

Wedding Crashers

*½

This movie is so annoying that a few short sentences are not sufficient to air my complaints.  Click Here for a detailed analysis. (2005)

West of Memphis

****

Twenty years ago three teenage boys in West Memphis Arkansas were arrested and charged with the murder of three eight year old boys.  They were convicted based on a coerced confession by one of the teenagers.  A campaign to re-try the case involved a large number of celebrities, notably director Peter Jackson who made massive donations to the cause.  The case has been the subject of three prior documentaries, but this one has access to new evidence not known in the earlier films.  A bit too one-sided but well worth seeing. (2012)

Whale Rider

*****

One of the best movies you will ever see.  This is a very spiritual look at the Maori culture and how a remarkable young girl challenges its traditions.  Twelve year old Keisha Castle-Hughes, who never acted before, is remarkable.  (2002)

What's Eating Gilbert Grape?

****

Gilbert (Johnny Depp) has lots of problems.  His 17 year old brother is retarded, his mother weighs over 500 pounds, he fights with his sisters, and the wife of a local insurance man is trying to get him into bed.  He's sure the insurance man is onto him.  Things take a turn for the better when a girl and her grandmother have a mechanical problem with their recreational vehicle and are forced to spend a few days near Gilbert's home.  An off-beat plot, with some fine acting by Mary Steenbergen and a very young Leonardo DiCaprio make this worth watching. (1993)

When the Levees Broke

****½

A truly remarkable documentary by Spike Lee about the aftermath of hurricane Katrina.  The story-telling is most effective when delivered by ordinary people who bore the brunt of the storms impact.  My only complaint is the attempt to lay blame for the tragedy on the Bush administration and the Army Corps of Engineers.  While clearly they could have done much better, the real villains were the storm itself and the decision to build part of a coastal city below sea level.  If you missed this the first time around, make every effort to see it if it is rerun.  It is a worthwhile investment of four hours. (2006)

Wild

***

Reece Witherspoon plays Cheryl, a woman with something to prove.  After her mother dies, Cheryl falls into a life of sex and drugs, heading nowhere.  In order to prove that had some value, she decides to hike the Pacific Coast Trail from the desert in Southern California to the forests of Oregon.  She encounters a number of people along the way who for the most part make her goal even more challenging than it should be.  Based on a true story. (2014)

The Willow Tree

***

Yusef is a blind poetry professor in this Iranian downer.  All seems well as Yusef has a loving wife and young daughter who adores him.  He lives in a little house in an idyllic setting near a forest and a stream.  His comfortable life in interrupted when his rich uncle Mahmood finances a trip to a Paris specialist who restores Yusef's sight using cornea transplants.  At first it seems that a miracle has occurred.  With his now functioning eyes, Yusef returns to Tehran to a hero's welcome.  He is met at the airport by his entire family where he notices that his wife is rather plain-looking while his wife's niece is a knockout.  Infatuation with the girl twenty years his junior starts Yusef on a downward spiral of depression and disillusion. The acting is good and the film is generally well-made, but the sub-titles are yellow, and when there is a light background, virtually unreadable.  Recommended for hard-core indie film fans only. (2005)

     

Winged Migration

****

Amazing documentary of birds flying north and south with the seasons.  Using a variety of devices like ultra-lights and gliders, the film's 450 photographers and assistants give you the sensation of actually flying with the birds.  The editors managed to get 90 minutes of movie out of 590 miles of film.  Watching this movie is a not to be forgotten experience.  (2001)

     

The Wolf of Wall Street

***

Excess at its most wretched.  This three hour F-Bomb-a-thon has its moments but they are few and far between.  Leonardo Di Caprio stars as Jordan Belfort , who made millions before he was 30 by sellng penny stocks to unsophisticated investors.  Lots of sex, lots of drugs, but no time for Rock n Roll. Jonah Hill steals the show. (2013) 

Woman in Gold

***

Helen Mirren is getting a lot of roles with foreign accents.  Here she is an Austrian woman with a German accent.  The story documents the efforts of Maria Altman (Mirren) to recover art  that was taken by the Nazis from her family and was on display in a museum in Vienna when the movie starts.  (2015)  

The Woman in the Window

****

In this classic Fritz Lang film, Edward G. Robinson plays a conservative law professor who has a minor flirtation with a woman whose portrait is in a window display next door to his club.  With his wife and children on holiday in Maine, he decides that little harm could come from buying the young lady (Joan Bennet) a quick drink at a neighborhood bar.  Wrong!  (1943)

Wordplay

****

Similar to 2002's Spellbound, this documentary is about the N.Y. Times crossword puzzle, the people who create it and the people who solve it.  The solvers who are interviewed include Bill Clinton, Ken Burns and Jon Stewart.  All are articulate about their passion for solving.  Also interviewed are the top solvers who compete annually in a championship sponsored by the Times.  The last third of the film shows the highlights of last years' contest.  Who knew puzzle solving could be a spectator sport?  (2006)

Word Wars

***

This documentary about serious Scrabble players borrows heavily from Stephan Fatsis' great book Word Freaks.  There is no doubt that people who play this game at the highest level are very strange.  (2004)

The World's Fastest Indian

****

Feel good movies usually make me feel bad.  This one is an exception.  Anthony Hopkins shines as Burt Munro, a Kiwi whose dream is to run his old motorcycle at the Bonneville Salt Flats and go for the speed record in his class.  The people he meets on his odyssey from New Zealand to California and then Utah include a female impersonator motel clerk, an Indian medicine man who helps him with a health problem, and a woman junk yard owner who gives him a tire and a bonus.  Fun and heartwarming from start to finish. (2005)

     

Y Tu Mama Tambien

***

At first  this appears to be a movie about a couple of horny Mexican teenagers on a road trip with an experienced older woman.  But just beneath the surface is the issue of upper vs. middle class distinction and its inevitable outcome.  Beautifully photographed.  (2001)

The Year My Parents Went on Vacation

****

This film takes place in 1970 when Brazil was living under a dictatorship.  A young couple from Belo Horizante suspects they are being hunted by the secret police.  They head off for São Paulo where they plan to leave their eleven year old son with his grandfather while they go into hiding.  They call the grandfather who OK's the plan.  The parents drop the boy off at his grandfather's apartment and take off.  Meanwhile, the grandfather, a barber, has a heart attack at work and dies.  After spending hours in front of the door to his grandfather's unit, the boy is taken in by a neighbor.  The boy's growing relationship with the neighbor and other people in the building is warmly drawn.  The dictatorship is always lurking in the background, but this was at the time when Brazil was on its way to its third World Cup title.  A World Cup run unites the people of Brazil like nothing else, temporarily putting the dictatorship out of people's minds.  The actors in this film are either amateurs or semi-professional but they are all excellent.  Well worth watching. (2006)

Yesterday

****

Yesterday is the name of a young African woman living in a remote village with her daughter Beauty.  The village appears to be inhabited only by women.  Yesterday's husband works in a Johannesburg mine and visits less frequently than once a month.  On one of his visits he has evidently infected her with AIDS.  The story revolves around Yesterday's struggle to ensure that  Beauty gets the education that she never had.  The cinematography in this movie is stunningly beautiful. (2004)

You and Me and Everyone We Know

**½

 Miranda July wrote, directed and stars as a taxi driver who is attracted to a scruffy-looking shoe salesman with a bandaged hand.  His hand injury is the result of a self-immolation episode stemming from a marital breakup.  The shoe salesman has two boys aged 6 and 14 who have a series of adventures with the neighborhood girls, as well as with a woman in an internet chat room.  The latter sequences are borderline disturbing.  This one has its moments, but on the whole it's pretty pretentious.  (2005)

Zero Dark Thirty

***½

Jessica Chastain shines as a mid-level CIA operative on the trail of Osama Bin Laden.  We know almost nothing about her life outside of work.  She is obsessed with avenging the 9/11 tragedy, but she is surrounded by bureaucrats focussed more on protecting their jobs that in finding Bin Laden.  This movie is intense from beginning to end.  There are several scenes of harsh interrogations, and there is a not too subtle message that without these interrogations and some high dollar sign bribes OBL would still be out there running Al Queda. (2112)

massive        Chick-flick alert

*           waste of time and money
**          coming soon to HBO
***        worth a trip to the neighborhood cinema
****      worth a trip across town
*****    don't miss