Recently by Adam Blair

Robert Klein Still Can't Stop His Leg Movie Review: He's Got His Mojo Working

The comedians’ favorite comedian gets an affectionate if overlong portrait that is loaded with laughs.
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I should actually recuse myself from reviewing Robert Klein Still Can’t Stop His Leg, the Starz documentary debuting March 31, 10:00pm ET/PT, because I’m in it, though I don’t have a speaking part. Let me explain: I saw Robert (I feel I’ve known him long enough to call him by his first name) a few years ago in Dix Hills, N.Y. at one of the many performance clips featured in this documentary. There I am with three of my oldest friends, laughing and laughing and laughing and laughing. I haven’t laughed that loud, for that long, since. So the other

Rules Don't Apply DVD Review: Warren Beatty's Overlong Ego Trip

Dull movie about that fascinating monster Howard Hughes; a charming performance by Alden Ehrenreich is wasted.
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Warren Beatty is both the perfect person and the worst person possible to have made Rules Don’t Apply, his concoction about reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes, now out on DVD and Blu-Ray. He’s perfect because at some molecular level, Beatty knows what it’s like to be the center of a universe, the focus of everyone’s attention and adoration — and the craziness that such a position can all too easily breed. The DVD and Blu-Ray includes a “making of” featurette which reveals that Beatty has been working on the movie since at least 2009. Maybe you can see how Beatty identifies

Joy Movie Review: When Real Life is Like a Fairy Tale

Enjoyable if somewhat slow-moving comedy-drama makes selling mops fun and sexy.
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David O. Russell’s Joy has gotten somewhat lost in the awards season shuffle, and that’s a shame. It nabbed only one nomination, for its always-wonderful star Jennifer Lawrence, in the title role as real-life Miracle Mop inventor Joy Mangano. In a less competitive year it probably would have earned nods for its clever screenplay by the director and its story by Bridesmaids co-writer Annie Mumolo, as well as best supporting actor nods for either Bradley Cooper or Robert DeNiro and a scene-stealing Isabella Rossellini. Joy is a feature-length rebuke to the old chestnut that “If you build a better mousetrap,

Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words Movie Review: Here's Looking at You, Kid

Sharp insights and touching reminiscence about a Hollywood icon struggle to shine through a mountain of repetitive filler.
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One of the best moments in Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words is one of the quietest. It’s just a makeup test for the young actress - maybe 45 seconds of her ravishing yet approachable face. She doesn’t speak, doesn’t really do anything, but she runs through an entire gamut of emotional states, from happiness to fear, pride, anger, infatuation, coy flirtiness and sadness. Like her fellow Swede Greta Garbo, and even this early in her career, she had that camera-ready communicative power that seems to be equal parts magic and mental telepathy. The documentary also includes personal insights into

The Intern Movie Review: Candy-Coated Faux Feminism at Its Worst

It seems to be a harmless, charming little trifle, but this Nancy Meyers movie's antiquated attitudes got my blood boiling.
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I realize that criticizing a Nancy Meyers movie for being unrealistic is rather like criticizing maple syrup for being sticky. But The Intern goes far beyond the pleasant fantasies propagated in the Jack Nicholson-Diane Keaton romance Something’s Gotta Give and the Meryl Streep/Alec Baldwin/Steve Martin love triangle It’s Complicated. The new movie, starring Robert DeNiro and Anne Hathaway, is selling a version of “feminist” “empowerment” that would be laughable if it weren’t such a toxically attractive fantasy. First let me get out of the way the counter-argument: that I am being a politically correct curmudgeon, using a sledgehammer to whack

Experimenter Movie Review: We're All Just Lab Rats in this Maze

The Milgram obedience experiments haunt this strange movie, overstuffed with interesting ideas and a compelling but cold performance by Peter Sarsgaard.
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The Inquisition. The Terror of the French Revolution. The Soviet gulags. The Nazi death camps. Murdered civil rights workers. Abu Ghraib. Guantanamo. ISIS. Cruelty, and the ability of presumably moral human beings to inflict pain and death on others, acknowledges no boundaries nor respects any pretensions to the advancement of “civilization.” And yet each time we hear about the latest outrage we are shocked, shocked, to find that torture is going on here. People’s ability to reject the possibility that any of us actually could, and would, inflict pain on another person were called into serious question by the (in)famous

Book Review: The Shining: Studies in the Horror Film, Edited by Danel Olson

A deep dive into every aspect of The Shining combines academic analysis, technical explanations and fun facts for fanboys.
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For a director whose output totaled only about a baker’s dozen of feature films, Stanley Kubrick embraced a remarkably wide range of genres during his nearly half-century career. There was a heist movie (The Killing); war movies (Paths of Glory and Full Metal Jacket); a big-budget swords-and-sandals epic (Spartacus); highbrow literary adaptations (Lolita and Barry Lyndon); the blackest of black comedies/satires (Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb); foundational sci-fi (2001: A Space Odyssey); and Eyes Wide Shut, a YGIAGAM (Your Guess Is As Good As Mine). Then there’s his scary/funny take on the

Every Secret Thing DVD Review: Chilling Crimes and Very Bad Parenting

Twisty tale of monstrous mother love wastes talents of Diane Lane, Elizabeth Banks, and Dakota Fanning in downbeat police procedural.
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Straining for psychological depth and taut suspense but reaching only a few notches higher than a Lifetime TV movie, Every Secret Thing squanders the talents of several excellent actresses - Diane Lane, Elizabeth Banks, Dakota Fanning, and a relative newcomer, Danielle Macdonald. This downbeat police procedural involves the kidnapping of a three-year-old girl in the economically depressed upstate New York town of Orangeburg. The crime eerily echoes a horrific baby-snatching and murder that took place there seven years before, committed by two 11-year-old girls who, tried as juveniles, were sent up the river. Anyone who has watched more than one

Magic Mike XXL Movie Review: Flesh and Fantasy

The relaxed, sexy vibe of this ode to the male body beautiful almost makes up for its lack of narrative momentum.
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Well, I know why I wanted to see Magic Mike XXL: hunky guys taking their clothes off at regular intervals is a de facto winning formula for this middle-aged gay guy. Also, I’d liked the first Magic Mike movie, from 2012, as more than just a Playgirl calendar come to life: that film’s director Steven Soderbergh has the knack of making entertaining genre pictures seem deep, and making deep, arty pictures entertaining. (Soderbergh executive-produced this sequel and, under pseudonyms, did the cinematography and editing; Gregory Jacobs directed.) But sequels are often a tough balancing act, as filmmakers seek to create

Book Review: Madeline Kahn: Being the Music, A Life by William V. Madison

The unique comedic chameleon gets a bio that contextualizes her career but comes up short on the person behind the performer.
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There are a handful of uniquely talented performers for whom, once or twice or maybe three times in a career, the stars align into a magical combination of the absolutely right role in the absolutely right play, film or TV show. Everyone will have their own favorites: mine include Carroll O’Connor as Archie Bunker; Zero Mostel in The Producers; Angela Lansbury’s Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd; and maybe a dozen or so more. Madeline Kahn had the fortunate misfortune to hit this kind of bulls-eye an amazing four times within a span of just three years in the early 1970s,

The D Train Movie Review: Star-Struck Straight Guy Goes Off the Rails

Confusing, cringe-inducing Jack Black comedy offers moments of poignance and insight along with a few laughs.
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As sociologists, psychologists, and watchers of Buffy the Vampire Slayer well know, high school is a time of acute status anxiety. Your clique or cliques (jock, nerd, stoner, music/drama geek, brain, goth, emo, etc.) can almost totally define your standing within an invisible but powerful hierarchy. It can be horrible to be bullied and picked on, but it can be an even worse fate to simply be ignored. There are no flashbacks to high school days in the new Jack Black comedy The D Train, but its plot is powered by an impending 20th reunion, and for some people high

Tribeca Film Festival 2015: Dirty Weekend: What Happens in Albuquerque Stays in Albuquerque

Matthew Broderick timidly takes a walk on the wild side in Neil LaBute's funny but ultimately flaccid satirical fable.
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Since his 1997 filmmaking debut with In the Company of Men, the rap on writer/director Neil LaBute is that he’s misogynistic - or to be less judgmental, that he’s rather too comfortable portraying misogyny and other forms of “bad” behavior in his various films and plays. These have come to include the frequently nasty but often compelling Your Friends & Neighbors, Nurse Betty, The Shape of Things, the remake of The Wicker Man, and most recently Dirty Weekend, which LaBute both wrote and directed. Certainly LaBute’s view of human nature is far from rosy, but judging by Dirty Weekend I’d

Tribeca Film Festival 2015: Grandma: Lily Tomlin's Tour de Force

Tomlin inhabits a tailor-made role in this funny, touching gem; strong cast saves the film from sentimentality and plot's too-convenient construction.
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It’s easy to forget just how great a film actress/screen presence Lily Tomlin can be. In part, she’s a victim of her own versatility and staying power as a multi-platform performer. She’s been making us both laugh and think on TV, stage and screen since the 1960s; she first impinged on my baby boomer consciousness on Laugh-In, iconic as Ernestine the telephone operator and six-year-old Edith Ann, blowing raspberries at the audience from her oversize rocking chair. She’s in almost every frame of Paul Weitz’s film Grandma in the tailor-made role of Elle, a minor poet still mourning the loss

Tribeca Film Festival 2015: The Overnight: Quasi-Porn Without the Money Shot

Innocents Taylor Schilling and Adam Scott are seduced, sort of, in this weird, funny but ultimately skin-deep comedy/drama.
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It’s been two days since I saw The Overnight and I’m still not quite sure what to make of it. I can’t deny that it has its funny moments, mocking L.A.’s current state of hipster-speak and also effectively pressing the squirm-inducing buttons of sexual/social embarrassment comedy. Yet the film also seems to be trying for something a little deeper - but only trying. It has a titillating, almost soft-core porn vibe that distracts from, and in some cases negates, the relationship-testing drama that seems to be lurking at its core. The plot is simple enough. Adam Scott (Parks and Recreation)

Tribeca Film Festival 2015: A Courtship: Christian Mingle to the Max

Disappointed by dating? Documentary shows what happens when a young woman decides to let God play matchmaker.
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Is there an optimal, sure-fire way to find one’s absolutely perfect mate? The owners of dating websites imply that their combination of sophisticated algorithms and multiple choices provide a path to happily-ever-after. Tinder, Grindr, and their ilk aim lower (literally), promising not Mr. (or Ms.) Right but Mr. Right Now. If Star Trek’s “Amok Time” is to be believed, the Vulcans have pon farr, but even that’s not guaranteed to get Mr. Spock laid. For those who want to go really old school, there’s Christian courtship, as explored in Amy Kohn’s documentary A Courtship. She follows Kelly Boggus, an attractive

Tribeca Film Festival 2015: Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: Slice of Sacred Cow, Anyone?

1970s comedy nexus National Lampoon fondly remembered in a documentary with humor and humanity.
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For the purposes of this review, let’s accept two axioms. 1.) Nostalgia is both seductive and inevitable, and 2.) Explaining what was once funny is a sad, sad chore. So by all rights Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon should be a bummer of the first order (as should this review, but hopefully you’ll keep reading anyway). Yet this talking-heads-plus-dirty-cartoons documentary, about the glory days and subsequent disintegration of the anarchic humor magazine, is better than it has any right to be. It often transcends its “Behind the Music” limitations to reveal the sources and inspirations

Maps to the Stars Movie Review: Monsters Incorporated

Julianne Moore, John Cusack, and Mia Wasikowska in David Cronenberg's dark Hollywood satire/ghost story that's both unsettling and compelling.
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Unsettling and often unpleasant, Maps to the Stars teeters between dark (albeit funny) satire of Hollywood and luridly over-baked melodrama. Director David Cronenberg presents Bruce Wagner’s screenplay, full of greed, ambition, and multiple flavors of bad behavior, simultaneously as a ghost story, a modern-day Greek tragedy, and a peek behind the curtain at the lives of the rich, famous, and ridiculously over-privileged. (Confused yet? Don’t think seeing the movie will straighten things out for you; it’s only likely to raise more questions.) Maps’ multiple intersecting plots follow Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore, incredible as always), a famous but fortysomething movie star

Adam Blair's 2014 Roundup

My 10 most overlooked and eight most overpraised.
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I saw about 30 movies in theaters in 2014. Some are getting tons of attention during awards season, and rightfully so. Others have disappeared seemingly without a sound, not rightfully so. Following are my 10 Most Overlooked and Eight Most Overpraised for 2014, in no particular order. 10 Most Overlooked The One I Love: Trippy and intriguing relationship dramedy with Elisabeth Moss and Mark Duplass Rosewater: Serious, scary but ultimately uplifting directing debut by Jon Stewart Top Five: Super-timely comedy from truth-teller extraordinaire Chris Rock Life of Crime: Dumb criminals are always funny, plus a fine Jennifer Aniston performance Venus

Still Alice Movie Review: Going, Going, Gone, Girl

A luminous Julianne Moore takes us inside the horror of Alzheimer’s by disappearing while in plain sight.
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There are a lot of poignant moments in Still Alice, the new movie about the slow but inexorable disappearance of the title character played by Julianne Moore. Stricken with early onset Alzheimer’s disease that robs her of memory, language, her sense of herself, her place in the world and within her family, the luminous, emotionally transparent Moore says, in a voice that combines matter-of-fact acceptance with desperation, “I don’t know what I’m going to lose next.” In essence, Still Alice is a horror movie, but instead of Jason or Freddy Kreuger the villain is a terrifying, incurable disease. This sensitive

Top Five Movie Review: Genuine Laughs with the Sting of Truth

Need a break from oh-so-serious Oscar bait? Chris Rock's raucous, original comedy is funny, touching, and unexpectedly relevant.
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Perceptive moviegoers know that they can pick up clues about the movie they’re about to see by the trailers selected to show before it. Catching a prestige piece of Oscar-bait starring a crew of distinguished British thespians? You’ll see trailers for costume dramas, highbrow literary adaptations, and films with many shots of beautiful but desolate landscapes. About to see an action-adventure or sci-fi flick, e.g. Guardians of the Galaxy? You’ll see lots of explosions, CGI, and comic book superheroes swinging/flying to the rescue. When you’re attending a movie like Top Five, written, directed, and starring Chris Rock and featuring a

Life Itself Movie Review: A Fascinating Person Attached to That Thumb

Film critic extraordinaire Roger Ebert gets the compelling documentary he deserves, celebratory but unafraid to show his flaws and weaknesses.
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Do you think you know Roger Ebert? Believe me, whatever you know, you know only part of the story. Just a few of the late critic’s achievements: ● Winning a Pulitzer for film reviewing in 1975, the first critic to do so (take that, Pauline Kael!) ● With Gene Siskel, turning film critics into TV stars courted by Hollywood power players seeking the elusive Two Thumbs Up!™ ● Writing the screenplays to Beyond the Valley of the Dolls and Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens ● Diving headlong into online and social media venues when illness robbed him of his

Horns Movie Review: Daniel Radcliffe Can't Handle the Truth

Harry Potter trades his magic wand for a devil's pitchfork in a horror movie providing scares and chuckles before turning loony-cartoony
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Daniel Radcliffe just can’t seem to get away from the supernatural. Harry, er, Daniel’s latest dabble into the occult is the horror/mystery/comedy Horns. He’s quite good in it, and there’s a fair amount of suspense and dark, disturbing humor on display. Unfortunately, near its wind-up the movie takes a wrong turn into an effects-heavy, symbol-laden, comic-book-style battle between Good and Eeeeeeevil. Radcliffe plays Ig Perrish, a young man accused of brutally murdering his wonderful, beautiful, pure-hearted girlfriend Merrin. Everyone in town believes he killed her, particularly since it happened the same night that she very publicly dumped him. (The seemingly

Begin Again DVD Review: Sorry, Once Was Enough

Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightley trapped in a sappy, predictable music industry backstager from the maker of Once.
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When a movie is as cliché-ridden and predictable as Begin Again, it’s often difficult to identify which is more to blame, the screenplay or the direction. In this case, John Carney, who also performed similar chores for the 2006 movie musical Once, has made it easy; he’s again responsible for both. This 2013 tale of middle-aged redemption, artistic striving and music industry backstage story stars two talented, likeable actors, Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightley. He’s Dan, a down-and-out former record label exec, nearly broke, divorced and estranged from his teenage daughter Violet (Hailee Steinfeld). She’s Gretta, a talented but unheralded

The Two Faces of January Movie Review: Sex and Suspense from Three Strong Actors

Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst, and Oscar Isaac in an entertaining tangle of greed, lust, and guilt from Patricia Highsmith.
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Patricia Highsmith’s novels have been the basis for one of Hitchcock’s greatest movies, the 1951 Strangers on a Train, as well as the endearingly nasty thriller The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999, directed by Anthony Minghella). While The Two Faces of January is nowhere near as compelling as those films, it’s still worth a look for anyone who values the pleasures of suspense and the vicarious lure of lust and larceny. It’s also an opportunity to see three somewhat underrated actors take on the kind of tough, nuanced roles that don’t win awards but that stick in your mind well after

My Old Lady Movie Review: Paris When it Fizzles

Maggie Smith and Kevin Kline fans beware: this self-indulgent, manipulative movie is a cold, soggy French fry.
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Maggie Smith and Kevin Kline have, collectively, given me hundreds of hours of viewing pleasure on stages and screens large and small. So I figured, how bad could a movie with both of them be, particularly one set in as photogenic a city as Paris? You’ve probably guessed the answer: pretty effing bad. The setup is promising: Kevin Kline’s Mathias Gold has inherited a Paris apartment (really more like a townhouse, complete with garden) from his father, and we soon discover that the apartment is not only the bulk of the son’s inheritance but, financially, practically his only asset. Too

The One I Love Movie Review: Do I Know You?

Sharp, perceptive, subtly mind-blowing movie that explores reality and relationships with a light touch, helped by stars Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss.
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If you haven’t yet seen The One I Love, please consider this article a giant SPOILER ALERT! and read no further. The reviews I read before seeing the film, which has been shown at numerous film festivals and began a limited U.S. release in August, did a good job of providing just enough information to preserve the surprises in this tricky, subtly mind-blowing movie, and I’ll try to do the same. However, if you’re one of those people whose enjoyment is ruined by even the slightest bit of foreknowledge, move right along. (Note re: Titanic: the ship sinks). With a

To Be Takei Movie Review: To Somewhat Boldly Go

Charming portrait of courageous, good-humored George Takei that nevertheless lacks the urgency and conflict that the best documentaries can provide.
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If you drew a Venn diagram of target audiences for the documentary To Be Takei, I would be right smack in the middle of multiple intersecting circles: gay male, Trekkie since tweendom, politically liberal, history buff, musical-theater aficionado. Given this incredible over-determination, I’m wondering why I liked, but didn’t love, this charming movie about charming, courageous George Takei. Perhaps it’s because the best documentaries are invested with a sense of urgency and conflict that To Be Takei fatally lacks. The movie’s dynamism deficit is all the more perplexing because Takei’s real-life story is packed with drama. As a child, he

To Be Takei Director Jennifer Kroot: The Past and Present of a Cheerful Bulldozer

"I just couldn't figure out how the U.S. government could have imprisoned Mr. Sulu as a five-year-old."
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The new documentary To Be Takei looks at the fascinating past and exciting present of the one and only Mr. Sulu, George Takei. Cinema Sentries’ Adam Blair caught up with the documentary’s director Jennifer M. Kroot, who revealed the intricacies involved in getting an interview with Takei nemesis William Shatner, and how Takei’s relationship with husband Brad Altman unexpectedly became an important element in the finished film, which is being released in select cities, VOD platforms and on iTunes August 22. How did you get involved with this project? I was always a Star Trek fan, but I didn’t really

Chad Hanna DVD Review: Henry Fonda Joins the Circus

Harmless, mildly enjoyable corn featuring strong performances by Fonda, Dorothy Lamour, Linda Darnell, a lion, a horse, and an elephant.
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There are two 1940 movies starring Henry Fonda, both featuring Jane Darwell and the basso-voiced character actor John Carradine, that involve the Fonda character hitting the road to escape trouble at home. Movie buffs will quickly be able to identify one as The Grapes of Wrath, with Fonda as ex-con Tom Joad, joining his family of dispossessed Okies on their trek to the promised land of California from the drought-ravaged Midwest. This stark black-and-white document of the Depression is justly famous, featuring direction by John Ford and masterful deep-focus cinematography by Gregg Toland (Wuthering Heights, Citizen Kane, The Best Years

Book Review: Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War by Mark Harris

Fascinating, lively group bio chronicling the WWII service of Hollywood legends Frank Capra, George Stevens, John Ford, William Wyler, and John Huston.
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Five seems to be a lucky number for author Mark Harris. His previous book, Pictures at a Revolution, artfully captured a key inflection point in movie and American history by examining the five Best Picture nominees from 1967 (a group that included Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?, The Graduate, Bonnie and Clyde and the eventual winner, In the Heat of the Night, as well as the joker in the pack, the dreadful Rex Harrison musical version of Dr. Dolittle). Now he has successfully tackled a tough genre, the group biography, with Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the

Boyhood's 12 Years in the Making: Jumping into the Void

Director Richard Linklater and stars Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, and Ellar Coltrane on creating an "epic of minutia."
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That Boyhood, Richard Linklater’s “epic of minutia,” had an unconventional production schedule is something of an understatement. For an even dozen years, the cast and crew met once a year to chronicle both the aging and maturing (two distinct and separate processes) of Mason (Ellar Coltrane), his sister Samantha (played by the director’s daughter Lorelei Linklater), and their parents Olivia and Mason Sr. (Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke). What for some less fearless actors and filmmakers would have been a quixotically crazy commitment has produced a unique film, not without its flaws, that effectively plays with audience expectations about plot,

Boyhood Movie Review: As Time Goes By

Literally 12 years in the making, Richard Linklater creates a naturalistic slice of life that's equal parts interesting and maddeningly anti-dramatic.
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Boyhood is a paradox of a film, equal parts interesting and maddeningly mundane. It was made over the span of a dozen years by fearless writer/director Richard Linklater, who gathered the same key cast members at regular intervals to chronicle the childhood and teen years of Mason and his sister Samantha (Ellar Coltrane and Lorelei Linklater), along with the aging, gracefully and un-, of their parents, played by Ethan Hawke and an exceptionally good Patricia Arquette. Unlike movies that are forced to use makeup (or CGI) to age-appropriate their actors, or that use younger look-alikes to show “Mason at 12”

Chef Movie Review: A Truly Touching Father-son Love Story

Slight satirical comedy becomes something better as it goes along.
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How nice is it to watch a movie that gets better as it goes along? That was my happy experience with Jon Favreau’s Chef, which morphed at its halfway point from a sort-of-funny satire about a successful but unhappy superstar chef having a professional crisis into a truly touching story about a father and son bonding over a shared passion. This is the movie to take your dad (or your kid) to on Father’s Day: like the delicious cubano sandwiches made by the dozens in the film, it hits the sweet spot between fairy-tale wish fulfillment and an appreciation for

Cold in July Movie Review: Suspense Thriller Degenerates into Gratuitous Violence

Michael C. Hall and other good actors wasted in a pseudo-profound drama culminating in a pointless blood bath.
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I never thought I’d be typing these words, and please believe me when I write that this is not a backhanded compliment: Don Johnson is the best thing in Cold in July. Playing a large-living private investigator who drives a fire-engine-red Cadillac with longhorns attached to the grille (the film takes place in 1978 Texas, ‘nuff said), Johnson struts into the story about 30 minutes in and provides some much-needed vigor and comic relief. Unfortunately, Johnson’s entrance is also where the film itself takes the first of several seriously warped turns. The plot is kicked off when suburban family man

Bullets Over Broadway Panel Discussion: How Woody Allen Burst into Song

Director/choreographer Susan Stroman reveals the trajectory from 1994 film comedy to hit Broadway musical
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If your memories of the 1994 Woody Allen film Bullets Over Broadway are a bit hazy, there’s a reason: a complicated rights dispute has largely kept the film out of the home-viewing market. If it is remembered today, it’s probably for Dianne Wiest’s Oscar-winning turn as boozy Broadway diva Helen Sinclair, turning on a dime from purple-prosed odes to the magic of the thea-tah to snarled put-downs of her fellow actors, along with her amazing ability to turn the two words “Don’t speak!” into a side-splitting catch phrase. My memory was refreshed at a May 5 screening of the film,

Tribeca Film Festival 2014: Black Coal, Thin Ice Film Review: Uneven Film Noir Spiced with Humor and Horror

Stylish noir thriller with touches of humor gives a glimpse into the run-down, everyday China most Westerners don't see.
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Black Coal, Thin Ice (Bai Ri Yan Huo), a very noir detective story with hints of both humor and nihilism, also provides a glimpse into the run-down, everyday world of a provincial northern Chinese city. Ordinary streets, cramped apartments, bare-bones noodle shops, and slow, creaky trams provide the backdrop to an often confusing murder investigation, leading to a purposely frustrating Sopranos finale-style wrap-up. But if you can go with the flow of the film’s shifting moods and paces, it offers an interesting experience as it riffs on detective stories we’ve all seen before. The movie starts quickly and stylishly: the

Tribeca Film Festival 2014: 5 to 7 Review: Witty Comedy Wilts into Soggy Love Story

A graceful, witty culture-clash comedy that overcooks into a ridiculously sappy doomed romance.
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Watching 5 to 7 is like eating an entire box of creamy, sugary, overstuffed bonbons. The first few are delicious, but at some point you’d pay cash money to never eat, or even see, another dessert for as long as you live. The syrupy sweetness that strangles the film is doubly depressing because 5 to 7 starts so well. Set in a fairy-tale Manhattan where unpublished short-story writers can afford nice one-bedroom apartments, the film starts as a culture-clash romance between 24-year-old Brian Bloom (Anton Yelchin) and 33-year-old Arielle (Bérénice Marlohe), a beautiful, sophisticated French woman who just happens to

Tribeca Film Festival 2014: Stories by Numbers Panel: Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Data?

High-powered panel discusses whether data can contribute to creative storytelling and why binge-watching is really nothing new.
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Today, there’s granular, detailed data on what people watch, when they watch it, on what device and at what time of day, how often they pause and rewind, etc., etc. But all that data is more interesting to movie studio marketing departments and TV executives than to the creative people behind binge-watchable, buzz-worthy shows like The Wire and House of Cards. This was an overriding theme of the “Stories by Numbers” panel at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival, featuring statistics geek and FiveThirtyEight site creator Nate Silver, film journalist Anne Thompson, Wire and Treme creator David Simon, and House of

Tribeca Film Festival 2014: Revealing the Secrets Behind Raging Bull

Scorsese collaborator Thelma Schoonmaker reveals the influences, artistry and happy accidents that go into a great film.
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A film editor’s film editor, Martin Scorsese collaborator Thelma Schoonmaker focused just on Raging Bull for her master class at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival. Fortunately, the film is so rich and fascinating that she probably could have done a whole semester on it and still not exhausted the topic. The 1980 Raging Bull wasn’t Schoonmaker’s first collaboration with Scorsese, but it was her first major Hollywood narrative picture (she had cut Scorsese’s 1967 Who’s That Knocking at My Door, but since then had worked on documentaries). “Raging Bull is like a textbook on filmmaking,” said Schoonmaker. There was plenty

God's Pocket Movie Review: One Last Chance to See Philip Seymour Hoffman

Downbeat drama with too few flashes of crazy black humor, but strong performances from Hoffman, John Turturro and Christina Hendricks
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What would Roger Sterling, the character John Slattery plays on Mad Men, think of God’s Pocket? (The film is actor Slattery’s directorial debut.) For those who don’t watch Mad Men, Roger is a salesman extraordinaire; a smooth-tongued, silver-maned cynic; a boozehound philanderer who has also experimented with LSD as the show has made its way through the 1960s. For all his bad behavior, Roger is a respectable square at heart, but he’d rather die than let anyone know that. About this film, a downbeat drama with too few flashes of crazy black humor, Roger would say “Who wants to see

Joan Crawford Stars in Montana Moon, I Live My Life, and The Bride Wore Red from Warner Archive

Three little-known films from Joan's MGM years show how the studio placed, and kept, this star in the spotlight for over a decade.
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What images come to mind when one hears the name “Joan Crawford”? Faye Dunaway in a close-up so close she goes a bit cross-eyed, screaming “No. Wire. Hangers. Ever!” Joan as Mildred Pierce, glamorous but heartbroken in furs because she’s cursed with a monstrously selfish daughter in a movie that seems designed to be parodied by Carol Burnett? Joan as the slightly less ghoulish of the two sisters in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane, victim of an over-the-top Bette Davis as both scene-stealing actress and crazy character? For me, it was “all of the above,” despite the fact that

Boardwalk DVD Review: Death Vish

A time capsule from the bad old days of crime-ridden 1970s New York, almost saved by a touching love story enacted by octogenarian pros Lee Strasberg and Ruth Gordon.
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New York City used to be a dangerous place. No, really. This will not be news to anyone who lived in or near the Big Apple in the 1970s, but for those who have only seen the sanitized, Disneyfied Times Square of today, it might be hard to believe. Of course, there are still parts of New York that are less than savory, if not downright menacing. But they look like high-security gated communities with manicured lawns compared to the nightmarish, decaying city depicted in the 1979 film Boardwalk, now available on DVD. With its graffiti-emblazoned subway cars and violent

Legit: The Complete First Season DVD Review: Tasteless, Rude, Offensive and Very Funny

If you think the first season of Legit is funny, you should feel ashamed of yourself. I know I do.
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If you think the first season of Legit is funny, you should feel ashamed of yourself. I know I do. Legit was co-created, written, and stars Australian stand-up comedian Jim Jefferies. “Foul-mouthed” doesn’t even begin to do justice to Jefferies’ brand of vicious and hysterical truth-telling, which I first encountered in an HBO special that left me breathless with laughter. He’s the funniest thing to come out of Australia since Mel Gibson, IMHO. In his stand-up act, Jefferies does a bit on why he wouldn’t want to go to heaven (even if he believed in it), since it involves not

Charlie Countryman DVD Review: Confused Romance / Neo-Noir Mashup

Shia LaBeouf hurtles through a few days of danger, drugs, and debauchery; his almost-believable romance with Evan Rachel Wood doesn't redeem this mess of a movie.
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If you can’t get enough of Shia LaBeouf, this is the movie for you; he’s in practically every scene. Actually, Charlie Countryman is good both for those who like LaBeouf and for those who hate him. Through the course of this confusing neo-noir romance, his character is beaten up more than once, gets hit by a car, is tasered, has a broken wineglass held too close to his neck, and must spend half of a trans-Atlantic flight with a dead guy in the seat next to him. A working title for the film was The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman,

TV Review: The Good Wife: "The Decision Tree" & "Goliath and David"

Still one of TV's best shows, but midway through season five there are ominous signs of future shark-jumping.
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I think The Good Wife is consistently one of the best shows on TV. But now that we’re midway through the fifth season - a troublesome time for many a series - I see some reasons for concern. [Note: Spoiler alerts for those who haven’t yet seen Episode 10, “The Decision Tree,” and Episode 11, “Goliath and David,” which aired January 5th.] Two words: Peter Bogdanovich. Really? He’s the “Peter” that made Eli Gold freak out when Marilyn Garbanza told him the name of her unborn baby (by the way, nice spit-take from Alan Cumming). I have nothing against Peter

Tim's Vermeer Movie Review: Art Isn't Easy

Documentary about the quest to re-create a Vermeer masterpiece is alternately fascinating and like watching paint dry.
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We’re well into the age of instant images; anyone with a smartphone is, or can be, a photographer and/or videographer. Perhaps because these handy photo-realistic images are so plentiful, they’re also ephemeral. One social media sharing site, Snapchat, turns this liability into a virtue, making the images its members send each other disappear soon after they’re viewed. Tim’s Vermeer, a documentary about a guy who took the better part of a decade to re-create a famous work from the 17th-century golden age of Dutch painting, represents a drastic alternative to the ease and speed of image-making today. The film’s underlying

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