Former Los Angeles Times film critic Betsy Sharkey is an award-winning entertainment journalist and bestselling author. She left the ...

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Betsy Sharkey

Betsy Sharkey

 'Dreams' lulls young and old through life with grace and truth

'Dreams' lulls young and old through life with grace and truth

May 14, 2015

There is something about Blythe Danner's on-screen essence that is perfect for the gently aged widow she plays in "I'll See You in My Dreams," her first leading role in years.

  • 'I Am Big Bird' a gentle peek at the guy behind the yellow feathers

    May 14, 2015

    The idea of getting to know the puppeteer responsible for the yellow-feathered sweetness of "Sesame Street's" Big Bird is a bit scary. After all, as we learned in "The Wizard of Oz," looking behind the curtain can be very disappointing.

  • 'Pitch Perfect 2' brings more lowbrow fun

    May 14, 2015

    The comedy choir wars are more intense, more absurd and more lowbrow fun than ever in "Pitch Perfect 2." It is almost impossible not to be amused by the cutthroat world of competitive a cappella.

  • 'Stop Making Sense' still one of the best band documentaries ever

    May 13, 2015

    In 1984, director Jonathan Demme took a detour from the quirky comedies and intense dramas that were beginning to define him so that he could indulge his fascination with rock 'n' rollers. The result, "Stop Making Sense," remains one of the best band documentaries ever. The Talking Heads film was arguably the genesis point for Demme's coming cut at the music scene, this summer's much-anticipated "Ricki and the Flash," starring Meryl Streep as an aging rock star. Talking Heads made for great material, with its revolutionary mash-up of punk, funk, art, avant-garde and other sounds. But what sets "Stop" apart is the intimate look at that brilliant talking head, lead singer David Byrne. The way Demme zeroed in on Byrne, his creativity and his neuroses, made the movie a seminal one. Clearly the mind as much as the music is what has always captivated the director, most clearly visible in Demme's stream of documentaries following the remarkable Neil Young. The director's empathy for, and understanding of, the ethos of the music world and the people in it has been masterful from the beginning. So check out his first one on Friday night at the Egyptian. Then put "Ricki and the Flash" on your summer to-do list. It will all make sense.

  • 'Maggie' has the zombie look but a deadly slow pace

    May 8, 2015

    There is a provocative idea worth chewing on tucked inside the melodramatic zombie-horror of "Maggie" starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Abigail Breslin.

  • Left cold by 'Hot Pursuit'

    May 7, 2015

    How bad is it?

  • Explosive comedy '100-Year-Old Man' tosses rules out a window

    May 7, 2015

    Echoes of the hilarious ineptitude of Woody Allen's "Take the Money and Run" and the historic kookiness of "Forrest Gump" turn up throughout "The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared," starring Sweden's beloved comic actor Robert Gustafsson. It's a hoot and a half.

  • Kristen Wiig is fearless in reality TV-jabbing 'Welcome to Me'

    April 30, 2015

    "Welcome to Me," starring Kristen Wiig, is weirdly off center yet strangely in sync with the times.

  • 'Far from the Madding Crowd' a bare-bones stab at love, desire

    April 30, 2015

    Why is the allure of the bad boy so powerful that even some of the most secure of females can't seem to resist?

  • '24 Days' a harrowing, fact-based kidnap drama

    April 29, 2015

    With the growing focus on hate crimes, consider checking out the reality-based drama "24 Days," which details a French family's agony when their son is kidnapped, days pass and hope dies. French director Alexandre Arcady brings a gritty, bare-bones approach to the story of Ilan Halimi, a 23-year-old Parisian taken and tortured in 2006 by a group that would come to be known as the Gang of Barbarians. It is chilling hearing the group's mastermind, an unbalanced Fofana (Tony Harrisson), scream irrational demands and anti-Semitic tirades in some 700 phone calls the family received over the 24 days. What carries the film, which is now moving to a few more theaters, is the interplay between the victim's divorced parents Ruth (Zabou Breitman) and Didier (Pascal Elbé) — estranged for so long, now trying to set aside differences to ensure their son's survival. The filmmaker has said he made the film to remind people of the victims, not the headline-grabbing murderers. "24 Days" makes Ilan Halimi impossible to forget.

  • 'Avengers: Age of Ultron' looks tasty, but summer's movie buffet is overflowing

    April 24, 2015

    The movie site Fandango recently checked in with its massive audience base to see what the summer's most anticipated film might be. It probably won't be a surprise that the winner was "Avengers: Age of Ultron," coming to thousands of theaters in just a few days.

  • 'Adult Beginners' comically eases into family life's darker side

    April 23, 2015

    "Adult Beginners," starring Rose Byrne, Nick Kroll and Bobby Cannavale, is the kind of comedy that goes down easy even as it looks at the hard stuff.

  • 'The Age of Adaline' a stylish affair of the heart and chance

    April 23, 2015

    "The Age of Adaline," starring a grown-up "Gossip Girl" Blake Lively and Michiel Huisman, one of "Game of Thrones'" resident heartthrobs, is a sweeping romance beautifully wrapped in classy couture and slightly suspect in the way it uses metaphysics to manipulate matters of the heart.

  • '24 Days' a gripping, anguished account of a kidnapping

    April 23, 2015

    Knowing the outcome behind the true-life tragedy "24 Days" doesn't diffuse the horror, the tension or the sadness of watching one family's drama unfold day after agonizing day when a son is kidnapped and hope dies.

  • Riding the circle of life in absorbing 'Clouds of Sils Maria'

    April 9, 2015

    It is best to just let yourself get lost in the "Clouds of Sils Maria" for a little while. Beautiful as they build then snake through the Engadin Valley in the Swiss Alps, they become maddening as they cloak the emotions and ambitions of a middle-aged actress and a rising young star.

  • 'The Longest Ride' looks pretty, but looks aren't everything

    April 9, 2015

    Even with all “The Longest Ride’s” shots of the eye candy that is Scott Eastwood, Nicholas Sparks’ latest romance to make its tissue-sodden way to the big screen is a wash. A long one.

  • A promising romance blooms in '5 to 7'

    April 2, 2015

    "5 to 7" stars Anton Yelchin and Bérénice Marlohe in a falling-in-love fantasy defined by clashing cultures, complex problems and lots of amused expressions.

  • 'Ned Rifle' a high mark in Hal Hartley's bizarre world

    April 2, 2015

    If you're familiar at all with indie filmmaker Hal Hartley's work, you know there's a surreal quality to it. Slightly mannered performances, with a skewed theological and sexual didactic underpin his morality plays. Good and evil, God and the devil in a sense costar.

  • 'While We're Young' illuminates in delightfully grown-up ways

    April 1, 2015

    In Noah Baumbach's tartly incisive "While We're Young," aging past 40 becomes a grand exercise in denial for Josh (Ben Stiller) and Cornelia (Naomi Watts), who are determined that marriage and middle age will not slow them down. They hadn't realized they had been growing more settled in their ways, something neither wanted to admit, until they encountered the vibrantly young Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried). The younger couple lay claim to the inventive, emancipated experience that Josh and Cornelia now crave. Like a feast for the starving, Josh, a documentary filmmaker who's lost his edge, and his wife, Cornelia, lap up the experience of being young again, no matter how exhausting or vacuous it turns out to be. Between all their wishing and hoping to reclaim what they were, Baumbach weaves a mighty story of self-realization, the kind that comes with not merely accepting maturity but also embracing it. This remarkable film is poignant, charming and illuminating in delightfully grown-up ways.

  • 'Furious 7' fires fuel-injected fun on all cylinders

    April 1, 2015

    "Furious 7" is the fuel-injected fusion of all that is and ever has been good in "The Fast and the Furious" saga that began in 2001 with souped-up cars and a stripped-down story about a tightknit East L.A. street racing crew.

  • Quirky 'Home,' with Jim Parsons and Rihanna, keeps it too light

    March 26, 2015

    As a certain Boov, buoyantly voiced by that alien life force Jim Parsons, might say: Best silly ever is to be having in "Home."

  • Will Ferrell, Kevin Hart buddy up in the cliched 'Get Hard'

    March 26, 2015

    Kevin Hart is Hollywood's current favorite comic it guy. He's been playing the best black friend in one film after another: "Think Like a Man" 1 and "Too" opposite Michael Ealy, Jerry Ferrara, Terrence Jenkins and Romany Malco; "Ride Along," 1 and soon to be 2 opposite Ice Cube; "The Wedding Ringer" opposite Josh Gad.

  • 'Sound of Music,' 'Pretty Woman' heroines so similar, yet so different

    March 26, 2015

    There is a very specific portrait of a lady that has long enthralled Hollywood. A young woman of modest means falls for an older man of wealth. Both the woman and the man are transformed by love, and though it might seem indelicate to mention, the money factors in. A significant improvement in social station for the woman comes with the commitment.

  • 'Seymour' is Ethan Hawke's moving look at pianist Bernstein

    March 19, 2015

    Ethan Hawke's documentary on pianist Seymour Bernstein is very much like the sonatas Bernstein plays so beautifully, teaches so insightfully — quietly moving, infinitely deep.

  • 'The Gunman' with Sean Penn a misfire that wastes strong cast

    March 19, 2015

    At one point in "The Gunman," a pack of well-armed assassins is in hot pursuit of Sean Penn's sniper and his beautiful distressed damsel when suddenly she stops, refusing to go one step farther until he explains what the heck is going on.

  • 'Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter' chases her 'Fargo' dream

    March 19, 2015

    "Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter" is a moody comic allegory about desperation, disconnection and dreams that uses "Fargo," the Coen brothers classic, as a touchstone to examine modern life.

  • Critic's pick: Oscar-nominated 'Wild Tales' conjures revenge fantasies

    March 18, 2015

    Indulging in a vicarious experience is one of the central pleasures of movies, and "Wild Tales" provides more than its share. Writer-director Damian Szifron conjures up six revenge fantasies in the tragicomical extravaganza from Argentina that earned a foreign-language Oscar nomination this year. The winner was "Ida," a somber nun's tale from Poland and very different from Szifron's light touch with dark forces. He's picked out varying degrees of betrayal to anchor each of the vignettes, starting with a road rage scenario that somehow manages to be hysterical, horrific and highly relatable. After a brief Oscar-qualifying run last year, it is back in town for a short stay. So should you feel the need to settle old scores, consider the zany contemplation of revenge in "Wild Tales" instead.

  • 'Cymbeline' in the Instagram age; an intriguing idea that misses

    March 12, 2015

    Surreal and au courant to a fault, "Cymbeline," starring Ethan Hawke, Ed Harris, Milla Jovovich, Dakota Johnson and Penn Badgley, is a mash-up of social media shortcomings and Shakespearean tragedy that becomes as much a tale of cinematic ambition gone awry as anything the Bard intended.

  • In 'Cinderella,' no sly asides. Goodness and romance rule

    March 12, 2015

    As pure of heart as its heroine, "Cinderella" floats across the screen like a gossamer confection, full of elegant beauty and quiet grace.

  • 'The Salvation' a western that gets lost in the genre

    February 26, 2015

    The simplicity of an old-school western with one good loner facing down a relentless outlaw can fool you into thinking these films are easy to make. From classics such as "High Noon" and "Shane" to Sergio Leone's bloody spaghetti westerns, they tend to be short on dialogue and long on mood, with death coming at the end of the day.

  • Will Smith and Margot Robbie sizzle in the irresistible 'Focus'

    February 26, 2015

    "Focus," the new rom-com-con — as in romantic comedy-con artist caper — is an irresistible reminder of all the reasons we first fell for the Fresh Prince so many years ago.

  • Oscars 2015: Julianne Moore and the art of effortlessness

    February 23, 2015

    As beautiful as Julianne Moore is, that cascading red hair, those flashing green eyes, that killer smile, there is an earthiness and an edginess about the actress and her performances that define the woman she is and the women she becomes on-screen. Hard work forges her way, with an emotional openness ever apparent.

  • Oscars 2015: Powerful foreign-language film nominees incite with insight

    February 22, 2015

    A simple cattle herder in the sand dunes of Mali finds his fate in the hands of edgy, insolent Islamic extremists. An Estonian tangerine farmer is caught in the crossfire between Georgian and Chechen ground forces in the disputed region of Abkhazia. An orphaned Polish Jewish Catholic novice has a crisis of conscience at a religious crossroads.

  • Strong acting can't right topsy-turvy priorities in 'The DUFF'

    February 19, 2015

    "The DUFF," starring Mae Whitman, Bella Thorne and Robbie Amell, is the latest teenage comedy to explore the ever-expanding list of ways kids torture one another in high school.

  • Struggling teen faces a rocky road in 'All the Wilderness'

    February 19, 2015

    When we meet James Charm in "All the Wilderness," the sullen, isolated, insolent teen played so eloquently by Kodi Smit-McPhee is in an open field, focused on his journal, making notes and sketching a dead bird.

  • 'Paddington' is stuffed with family fun

    February 18, 2015

    If you've resisted the cheery enjoyment of "Paddington," thinking it merely a movie for kids, reconsider. Artful in its look and clever with its tale, it's been carefully constructed by writer-director-conjurer Paul King into an absolute delight. A big screen and dark theater only amp up the magical effect. The bear, brilliantly voiced by Ben Whishaw, is an animatronic marvel, making it easy to believe he has, indeed, made his way from darkest Peru to London's Paddington Station. There he's found, and taken home, by the Browns — uptight dad Henry (Hugh Bonneville), soft-hearted mom Mary (Sally Hawkins) and their kids, Judy (Madeleine Harris) and Jonathan (Samuel Joslin). There are perils to navigate for bear and Browns alike, from an nefarious taxidermist, played by an arch Nicole Kidman, obsessed with this particular furry "specimen" to plain old growing pains that the kids are going through. But everywhere there is comfort and fun to be found, thanks to a director who has, as the name tag around Paddington's neck requested, looked after this bear.

  • Oscars 2015: the best movies not up for best picture

    February 18, 2015

    When it comes to the Oscar endgame — winning, losing or just being in the running — it's all about the numbers: the votes cast, promotion dollars spent, red carpets walked, interviews granted, pounds lost. ...

  • In 'Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem,' unhappy and unequal

    February 12, 2015

    Disturbing and shocking, "Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem" is a fiction about an unimaginable fact of life in present-day Israel. The divorce-centered drama is so provocative it's become a lightning rod for debate inside the country. Even watching from a distance is unnerving.

  • 'The Last Five Years' feels a bit stage-bound

    February 12, 2015

    "The Last Five Years," starring Anna Kendrick, Jeremy Jordan and their powerful pipes, plays like a Broadway musical, because basically it is a musical. A very distinctive Jason Robert Brown musical, albeit the run was off-Broadway. With clever lyrics, contemporary music, and a playful relationship at its center, drama is ever present in this look at romance, ambition and fame.

  • Suave yet with comic book energy, 'Kingsman' goes spying

    February 12, 2015

    "Kingsman: The Secret Service," starring a natty Colin Firth, a newbie Taron Egerton and a naughty Samuel L. Jackson, is a dry, wry sendup of the 007 world, which is itself a sly, dry sendup of the spy game.

  • 'SpongeBob' ventures ashore with mixed results

    February 5, 2015

    All of the strangely charming cartoony undersea nonsense of SpongeBob that's delighted kids and stoners for year comes to the surface in "The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water." Prepare to giggle.

  • 'Seventh Son's' medieval fantasy falls flat on every level

    February 5, 2015

    I know it's early, but "Seventh Son" may actually be the worst movie of the year. It will most certainly be a contender. The medieval/fantasy/action/drama/romance hits pretty close to a perfect 10 on the egregious scale.

  • 'Timbuktu' takes a stand against Islamic extremism

    February 4, 2015

    Islamic extremists are the butt of the bone-dry joke in the new drama "Timbuktu," with director Abderrahmane Sissako taking a satiric swipe at the armed fundamentalists who've overtaken the northwestern African desert outpost. The film, one of five vying for a foreign-language Oscar, will be at the Laemmle Royal Theatre for another week, and I would encourage you to make time for this smartly courageous film. It uses the common sense and honor of a local cattle herder to plead the case for rational thought in a world gone mad. In contrast, the armed intruders are idiotic, implementing rules that make no sense — a day spent hunting for the source of a song when music's been banned, a fishmonger facing arrest if she refuses to wear cloth gloves. But the enforcers ignore the dictates that inconvenience them — the ban on smoking, for one. For all of "Timbuktu's" the-emperor-has-no-clothes attitude, the undercurrent remains serious. Sissako never discounts the cost of a repressive regime, but he also exposes it for what it is — absurd.

  • Vegas-set 'Wild Card' draws an, oh, so predictable hand

    January 29, 2015

    Do you know what happens when you push a bone-breaking jujitsu expert to the, well, breaking point? Action, baby, action, and the bodies they do pile up like presents under the tree in the new action movie "Wild Card."

  • 'Timbuktu' a compelling exploration of extremism's absurdities

    January 29, 2015

    The intriguingly unorthodox "Timbuktu," one of five films vying for a foreign-language Oscar, is a provocative, sometimes satiric drama about the sort of Islamic extremists who make life, especially in the outer reaches, so treacherous these days.

  • We view movies through the lens of our times; case in point, 'Selma'

    January 28, 2015

    It is impossible to see "Selma," Ava DuVernay's Oscar-nominated drama tracing the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s historic 1965 march to demand voting rights be accorded all citizens of this land, and not feel the weight of Ferguson, Mo., in 2014, and the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, felled by a policeman's bullets.

  • Biopics find new life at the Oscars and beyond

    January 24, 2015

    Looking across the Oscar nominations you'll see a landscape populated by pictures about real people. Look beyond the Oscars and you'll see even more. The last 12 months has produced an abundance of biographies. It's as if film's current artistic collective decided to figure out what subject matter works for contemporary audiences — whether it spans the years or zeros in on a particular critical event.

  • 'Winter Sleep' haunting portrait of one man's crumbling world

    January 22, 2015

    "Winter Sleep," the drama from acclaimed Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan, requires, like the snowfall that blankets a village in Cappadocia, where this story unfolds, that you settle in for a while. Three hours, 16 minutes to be precise.

  • 'Strange Magic' casts a musical spell, but as a movie it misses

    January 22, 2015

    "Strange Magic," the new animated musical fairy tale from the mind and the mixtape of George Lucas, is indeed strange. What's missing is the magic.

  • 'The Grand Budapest Hotel' is most magical on the big screen

    January 21, 2015

    Watching Wes Anderson's magical mystery tour of "The Grand Budapest Hotel" again recently, this time on my home TV, I was reminded that it is even more magical on the big screen. That darkened theater just puts you in the proper place to absorb its imagery, its secrets and especially, to be entertained by "The Grand Budapest's" very accommodating staff. Headed by concierge M. Gustave, played with great panache by Ralph Fiennes, with the excellent assistance of lobby boy Zero Moustafa, a scene-stealing Tony Revolori, the movie is in theaters for a brief return engagement. So catch "Budapest" as it catches Europe in between wars, and its well-heeled patrons and delightful staff in various upstairs-downstairs intrigues. Anderson is so precise in his choices that it's a temptation to keep freezing the frame so you won't miss a bit of what he's so cleverly embedded. But to truly savor the "Grand" experience, it is best to be in the dark, the remote control nowhere in reach.

  • Oscars 2015: Indie outside shot 'Whiplash' keeps hitting the mark

    January 16, 2015

    From the very first, "Whiplash" has survived and thrived by being the different drummer — philosophically, metaphorically, literally. It's a $3.3-million indie outside shot that somehow keeps hitting the mark. Now it's got five Oscar nominations in its pocket.

  • 'Little Accidents' mines small-town tragedy with Gothic grit

    January 15, 2015

    In "Little Accidents," a drama set in a West Virginia coal-mining town, a boy, a woman and a man become inextricably and painfully linked in the aftermath of a mine explosion that left nine men dead.

  • 'Paddington' brings irresistible bear to life

    January 15, 2015

    Where to start with the wondrous whimsy of "Paddington"?

  • Kevin Hart-Josh Gad chemistry highlights 'The Wedding Ringer'

    January 15, 2015

    It's not quite a match made in heaven, but there is considerable comic chemistry between the high-octane Kevin Hart and the energy-conserving Josh Gad. A good thing since theirs is the only relationship worth watching in "The Wedding Ringer."

  • Golden Globes 2015: Sweet wins for audacious filmaking

    January 12, 2015


  • 'Taken 3's' Liam Neeson fires up action, and unintended laughs

    January 9, 2015

    "Taken 3" is so unintentionally hilarious I couldn't help but wonder — do movie contracts carry a humiliation bonus clause these days?

  • 'Two Days, One Night' has Marion Cotillard at her best

    January 8, 2015

    It is strange to think of "Two Days, One Night" as a thriller. The new drama from Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, the accomplished Belgium filmmaking brothers, stars French actress Marion Cotillard as a factory worker trying to win her job back.

  • 'Still Alice' achingly shows mental resilience and decline

    January 7, 2015

    "Still Alice," anchored by Julianne Moore's remarkable disappearing act as a linguistics professor suffering from the early onset of dementia, is moving into more theaters as its star's performance continues to pile up accolades.

  • Catch up with 'Mockingjay,' 'Interstellar,' 'Birdman'

    December 24, 2014

    While it's always tempting to rush out to see all the new, fresh-cut movies landing in theaters this week, consider skipping the crush to play a little catch-up. There are so many excellent films still hanging around the multiplexes, something for nearly everyone's taste.

  • The trip 'Into the Woods' is spooky, thoughtful, delightful

    December 24, 2014

    "Into the Woods," the deliciously arch, deceptively deep, fractured fairy tale with its soaring Sondheim showstoppers, has made it to the big screen virtually untouched by Hollywood's big, tall, terrible giants, whose meddling can so often make a mess of things.

  • Tim Burton's 'Big Eyes' feels too paint-by-numbers

    December 24, 2014

    Whether leaving his mark with the bizarre yet sweet sentimentality of "Edward Scissorhands" and "Beetlejuice," the brilliant Oscar-nominated stop-motion animation of "Frankenweenie" and "Corpse Bride," or the brashness of his "Batman" reboots, Tim Burton has always been one of film's boldest visionaries. Except when it comes to women.

  • 'The Interview' in theaters: A cause or just a movie?

    December 23, 2014

    It is doubtful that moviegoers who make their way to theaters showing “The Interview”  on Christmas Day — in Southern California at select Regency Theaters and the Los Feliz 3 as of this writing — are going to check out the comedy. The cause celebre of the R-rated slapstick starring James Franco and Seth Rogen is now the movie’s calling card.

  • Absurd, this fuss over Three Stooges-like 'The Interview'

    December 19, 2014

    We live in a time when even frivolous pop-culture touchstones are blown out of proportion, from Grumpy Cat’s pout to Kim Kardashian's booty. But not in a million years did I imagine the R-rated lunacy of “The Interview” would become the flashpoint for a viral war on free speech, democracy and America itself.

  • Betsy Sharkey's best films of 2014

    December 19, 2014

    The imprint of the auteur not only shaped the year, it very much influences each of my top 10 (or so) choices.

  • Daring films lifted the artform in 2014

    December 19, 2014

    Like voices crying in the wilderness — rising above that vast wasteland of movie mediocrity — came the roar of the auteurs in 2014. A rangy group with varying aesthetics, they've left an indelible imprint on cinema despite the 400 or so of the marginal that clogged our theaters and muddled our brains.

  • An 'Annie' without the expected sunshine, spirit or energy

    December 18, 2014

    Hard to believe the sun will come out tomorrow for the new "Annie."

  • 'Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies' too often overwhelms

    December 16, 2014

    There are three big Middle-earth lessons in "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies," Peter Jackson's final film tribute to J.R.R. Tolkien's literary fable.

  • 'Monk With a Camera,' though devoted, is blurry at its center

    December 11, 2014

    As a documentary, "Monk With a Camera: The Life and Journey of Nicholas Vreeland" is as unassuming as its subject. It seems to demand nothing as it goes about sketching out Vreeland's unusual religious and creative quest.

  • Chris Rock a rough, raw, rare diamond in 'Top Five'

    December 11, 2014

    Movie critics irritate Chris Rock. So do obsessed fans, reality TV, celebrity culture and Hollywood in general. Frankly, I'm thrilled that all these things push Rock's buttons.

  • Golden Globes 2015: 'Boyhood,' 'Grand Budapest' directors walk alone

    December 11, 2014

    The Golden Globe Awards' five nominations for "Boyhood" and four for "The Grand Budapest Hotel" will be analyzed many ways in a season that has seen little clarity beyond the emerging dominance of "Birdman." I call it the Texas Effect. Or to put it in modern terms, #TheTexasEffect.

  • 'Inherent Vice' a trippy beach noir set in '70s L.A.

    December 11, 2014

    "Inherent Vice," Paul Thomas Anderson's trippy, trenchant satire, is very much a creature of Thomas Pynchon's biting deconstruction of the final daze of peace, love and understanding that gives the film its inspiration and its name.

  • 'Wild' shows Witherspoon's vulnerable side

    December 10, 2014

    To put it bluntly, it took Cheryl Strayed wandering in the woods to get Reese Witherspoon back on track. In "Wild," based on Strayed's bestselling memoir of her punishing 1,100-mile solo hike on the Pacific Crest Trail, the actress discovers her deeper self much like the character she played. Witherspoon, worn down and unwashed, lets herself go, taking on the weight of a backpack dubbed "the monster," along with all the pain and the troubles of Cheryl's life, from indiscriminate sex to a heroin habit.

  • SAG Awards 2015: 'Birdman' yes, but 'Theory'? Cast nominations a puzzle

    December 10, 2014

    These scenes began flashing through my mind just as the Screen Actors Guild Awards began announcing nominations for performance by a cast in a motion picture:

  • In 'Miss Julie,' Liv Ullmann is too faithful to Strindberg play

    December 4, 2014

    The comely mistress of the manor is hot and bothered, the homely cook is cool and collected, and the dashing valet is desired by both. In "Miss Julie," an Irish period piece of class divides, sexual politics and power games, things will end badly, one suspects, though the denouement still shocks.

  • 'Wild' takes Reese Witherspoon into raw, bracing new territory

    December 2, 2014

    "Wild" opens high atop the Pacific Crest Trail, where at first all the eye can see is the sweeping beauty of a rugged land, unmarred and untamed. The scene is breathtaking, serene, until it is broken by pain and pierced by a scream.

  • Ben Affleck gets the manipulated man's every twist and turn right

    November 28, 2014

    Ben Affleck has played virtually every style of loser lug on-screen, each lug better than the last.

  • 'The Babadook,' smart and dark, delivers grown-up horrors

    November 26, 2014

    "The Babadook" is a smart, darkly drawn modern-day horror movie of monsters, memories and mothers.

  • 'Penguins of Madagascar' hit by a blizzard of puns

    November 25, 2014

    It's hard to go wrong with penguins.

  • 'Horrible Bosses 2' has horribly funny moments, but too few

    November 25, 2014

    In the sexually inappropriate and politically incorrect "Horrible Bosses 2," the bumbling workplace underdogs played by Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day are about to try their hand at being in charge. And at times, they are horribly funny.

  • 'A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night' has a definite bite

    November 20, 2014

    A vampire is such a handy creature for filmmakers in search of a metaphor or two. Mortality is usually the first bite, and Ana Lily Amirpour's stunning first feature, "A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night," definitely takes a stab at that.

  • 'National Gallery' a portrait of humanity on canvas and on-screen

    November 20, 2014

    It is such a gift that Frederick Wiseman, who is edging toward 85, continues to let his curiosity and his craft fill his days and our theaters.

  • 'Invisible Front' reveals same fight for freedom 70 years ago

    November 20, 2014

    It's impossible not to think of the current conflict in Ukraine watching "The Invisible Front," an absorbing new documentary that delves into the Lithuanian resistance against Soviet aggression and occupation circa 1944.

  • Mike Nichols' incisive, touching films got personal

    November 20, 2014

    When I watch the films of Mike Nichols, I see my children, my parents, family, friends, foes, life in all of its complexity. I see me.

  • Harsh land and raw, maddening emotion test 'The Homesman'

    November 13, 2014

    There is a prescient shot that opens "The Homesman," the spare frontier drama starring Hilary Swank and Tommy Lee Jones. A flat stretch of Nebraska plain, a blanket of blue-gray sky, as if God himself had drawn a straight line between Heaven and Earth.

  • 'Dumb and Dumber To' just a chip off the older blockheads

    November 13, 2014

    Two hours is a whole lot of dumb. So in that respect "Dumb and Dumber To," starring the off-the-chain, goofballing Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels, delivers on its promise.

  • Aero Theatre presenting film tribute to Ralph Fiennes' acting

    November 12, 2014

    If you haven't made it yet to American Cinematheque's fine Fiennes film retrospective, consider Thursday's concluding double feature at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica. Starting at 7:30 will be "The English Patient" followed by "Quiz Show," two films that showcase Ralph Fiennes substantial range. Writer-director Anthony Minghella's adaptation of "The English Patient," and its indelible story of love and war, brought the actor an Oscar nomination in 1997. More significantly it cemented Fiennes ability as romantic lead, not merely smartest guy in the room. But the smart stuff made "Quiz Show," with Robert Redford directing the gripping tale of a 1950s game show scandal. With Fiennes' Charlie Van Doren as the one at fault, the dissection of the fix became an unexpected thriller. Fiennes' penetrating gaze, so electrifying, was the perfect conduit for the actor's intellectualism to have its day in court.

  • In 'Big Hero 6' a huggable robo-hero pops up in the future

    November 6, 2014

    The new animated action-adventure "Big Hero 6" might sound like more of the same Marvel-inspired superhero stuff already saturating movie theaters with its flashy 3-D animation and futuristic nerd kids doing their world saving in bright plastic-plated armor and spiffy Spanx.

  • Rehabilitating birds soar in 'Pelican Dreams'

    November 6, 2014

    Whatever you think you know about pelicans, "Pelican Dreams" will surprise you.

  • Romance proves ageless in 'Elsa & Fred'

    November 6, 2014

    Sometimes the freshest face on the big screen is 80 and counting. Certainly that's true of "Elsa & Fred's" brightest star, Shirley MacLaine.

  • 'Stonehearst Asylum' has gothic air, can't lock in the terror

    October 23, 2014

    "Stonehearst Asylum," starring Jim Sturgess, Kate Beckinsale and Ben Kingsley, is a Victoria-era psychological thriller with some good twisty turns thanks to the inspiration of an Edgar Allan Poe story.

  • 'Laggies' a lively break from the pressures of adulthood

    October 23, 2014

    "Laggies," starring Keira Knightley, Chloë Grace Moretz and Sam Rockwell, is a lovely lark that provides a lively consideration of the benefits of taking a break from the pressure of keeping up with the twentysomething Joneses.

  • 'Listen Up Philip' is a toxic triumph

    October 23, 2014

    Jason Schwartzman in "Listen Up Philip" plays a frosty, frothy, Faustian Philip Roth-ian narcissist novelist with such an acid tongue you'll wonder if someone has spirited away the usually sweet, self-deprecating actor and stashed him in a trunk somewhere.

  • Flawed 'Camp X-Ray' still exposes truths in war on terror

    October 23, 2014

    One thing director Peter Sattler gets right in the new film "Camp X-Ray" is the way life can entrap even without prison walls. Pvt. Cole, a young soldier played by Kristen Stewart, joins the Army to escape small-town Florida and ends up guarding Ali, a Guantanamo Bay prisoner played by "A Separation" star Payman Maadi. From scraps of conversation, you gather Cole was as eager to leave her home's mentality as much as the reality, only to find a different brand of small-mindedness and repression in this man's army.

  • 'Birdman' soars feathered and unfettered

    October 16, 2014

    In "Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)," Michael Keaton is something of a cross between an aging Icarus and the emperor with no clothes — metaphorical until the tighty-whitey Times Square streak.

  • 'Whiplash' scorches the screen with its passion and fury

    October 15, 2014

    And the beat goes on …. If you haven't experienced "Whiplash" yet, it is easier than ever to catch its unsparing examination of the mind games used to push young talents to greatness. The film is expanding its run in Los Angeles and around the country, and a theater is truly the best place to feel the unfiltered intensity of the power plays. It begins with a single drum beat and builds to an unforgettable frenzied face-off between Fletcher, a college conservatory professor-conductor played by J.K. Simmons, and his acolyte, a terribly impressive Miles Teller as Andrew, on drums. Damien Chazelle's indie drama began the year by grabbing top awards at Sundance. It is likely to end it as an awards contender in many contests for the excellent way the filmmaker and its stars scorch the screen with their passion and their fury. Questions of ambition, fear of failure and the price of excelling flicker around the edges. But drums are at the story's heart. The way Teller plays them (no stunt doubles here) and the way Simmons drives him, make for excruciating, exhilarating watching.

  • 'Whiplash,' exquisite and painful, hits all the right notes

    October 9, 2014

    Fear. Passion. Blood. Sweat. Tears. Pounding through the beat of a drum. Screaming in the crash of the cymbals. Fast, furious, raging perfection in bleeding hands, broken sticks, broken relationships, broken lives. Debris surrounding transcendent greatness. Ecstasy within the agony.

  • Hallelujah, 'St. Vincent' lets Bill Murray run amok

    October 9, 2014

    Soaked in whiskey, dipped in brine, Bill Murray delivers a salty, acerbic, inebriated comic blast as the unlikeliest saint imaginable in "St. Vincent."

  • 'Alexander's' day isn't so terrible, film isn't so great

    October 9, 2014

    Like so many family movies of the past, "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day" rests on the idea of the innocent and the unsuspecting caught in embarrassing, but amusing, situations. I believe it's technically referred to as the shock-and-scream effect.

  • 'Lilting' a lyrical, emotional play on language

    October 2, 2014

    "Lilting," starring Cheng Pei-pei and Ben Whishaw, is a lyrical little chamber piece on language, playing with what words mean, what the body says, what is understood and what is not.

  • A heartwarming soul is the truth behind 'The Good Lie'

    October 2, 2014

    Small deceptions for the greater good are at the heart of "The Good Lie" about a handful of Sudanese "lost boys" who were resettled in the U.S. The most obvious deception is the notion that Reese Witherspoon is the star.

  • Cecil B. DeMille's 'Cleopatra' still alluring at 80

    October 1, 2014

    What better place to celebrate the 80th anniversary of "Cleopatra" than the Egyptian Theatre. Making a rare appearance on screen Sunday is Cecil B. DeMille's wonderfully kitschy spectacle. Before the 1963 Elizabeth Taylor-Richard Burton version, there was DeMille's 1934 epic starring Claudette Colbert as an impossible-to-resist vixen and some of the finest slinky, shimmery costumes ever, though they arguably were more inspired by the Roaring '20s than the ancient Nile. A huge production with nary an inch of the big screen left un-splashed, it's a fine example of DeMille's brashness and bravado. Perhaps taking a page from the Bangles, the American Cinematheque also offers fans a chance to walk like ... that at a party in the courtyard after with costume contests for those inclined to get their Cleo on. It may all put you in the mood to contemplate what's next for the queen. Director Ang Lee has "Cleopatra" on his docket with Angelina Jolie set to make the power plays.

  • 'Men, Women & Children' is artificial look at Internet world

    September 30, 2014

    "Men, Women & Children," Jason Reitman's new anti-Internet screed, plays like one of those email rants you're better off not sending. Reitman's world is not just wired; it's a war zone. And the wreckage of broken connections that the Internet facilitates lies everywhere.

  • 'Two Night Stand' a one-act sex comedy that grows cold too soon

    September 25, 2014

    All rom-coms are contrivances. "Two Night Stand," however, is more modern than most. Starring Miles Teller and Analeigh Tipton, it ties the requisite "meet-cute" to the current state of sexual affairs in a wired world, where casual encounters with complete strangers are easy to arrange. Think Tinder.

  • 'Two Faces of January' a twisted tale driven by talented trio

    September 25, 2014

    Ambiguity is the intrigue in "The Two Faces of January," the new thriller starring Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst and Oscar Isaac.

  • Any way you slice it, 'Boxtrolls' is an unwieldy visual feast

    September 25, 2014

    Many intriguing unlovelies are found in "The Boxtrolls," a new 3-D animated fable that lifts liberally from the sketches and dark sensibility of Alan Snow's creepy-good children's novel "Here Be Monsters."

  • Paul Dano finds sunnier side of Brian Wilson in 'Love & Mercy'

    September 20, 2014

     Paul Dano is having a light moment.

  • 'Tracks' vividly captures true story of woman's desert trek

    September 18, 2014

    The desert trek in "Tracks" is as brutal as it is beautiful; the performance by Mia Wasikowska as raw as the reality. And the camels? If they don't steal your heart it must be stone-hinged.

  • 'This Is Where I Leave You' is a fractious family affair

    September 18, 2014

    I can't think of a family I'd rather sit shiva with than the Altmans of "This Is Where I Leave You." They bury their father, Mort, pun no doubt intended, with the right mix of tears and unearthed resentments, and they take the blows life hands them seriously enough but in stride. As if they are nothing special.

  • Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader a welcome surprise in 'The Skeleton Twins'

    September 17, 2014

    Though you might not think it, "Saturday Night Live" alums Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader prove to be the perfect team to handle the dark themes of suicide and loneliness in the excellent new indie drama "The Skeleton Twins." As adult siblings still damaged by their father's suicide years ago, the twins spend much of the movie sorting out their feelings and their own broken relationship, falling in and out of love with life along the way. The filmmakers — director Craig Johnson co-wrote the screenplay with Mark Heyman — don't shy away from the dark side of ending your life. Since Dad did, it sometimes seems the right solution in the wrong moment. But there is humor too, lightly playing off Hader's and Wiig's ease with comedy, familiar territory for actors who brought such wonderful nonsense to "SNL" for so many years. But it is the way they move through dramatic moments that comes as such a welcome surprise. Smart, sensitive and unexpectedly poignant, Hader and Wiig make the suicidal "Skeleton Twins" come alive.

  • Toronto Film Festival closes with a whimper

    September 15, 2014

    Say, did you catch Cumberbatch? What about Downey and Duvall? Or Dano? Don't forget Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones. Or Reese unwashed — that was wild. Could Winslet get any earthier? Who knew Wiig would find another level of crazy? Can Bill Murray get more saintly? Chris Rock more raucous or raw?

  • In 'The Skeleton Twins,' untangling the past to move forward

    September 11, 2014

    One song kept playing through my mind as I watched "The Skeleton Twins," an introspective indie drama starring the very exciting post-"Saturday Night Live" Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader as siblings damaged by their father's death.

  • Octavia Spencer can weather 'Black and White' clouds, shine elsewhere

    September 11, 2014

    It's a warm day, not yet 24 hours after "Black and White's" afternoon premiere at the city's annual film festival, and one of its stars, Octavia Spencer, emerges from the doorway — a study in black and white, warm and cool.

  • TIFF 2014: Jennifer Aniston's layered 'Cake'

    September 9, 2014

    I’ll give Jennifer Aniston’s “Cake” one thing — it definitely has layers.

  • TIFF 2014: Bill Murray shines, but saints all around in 'St. Vincent's'

    September 7, 2014

    Most of the buzz at the Toronto International Film Festival about the intriguing tear-jerk of “St. Vincent” has centered on the performance of the much beloved Bill Murray.

  • TIFF 2014: Noah Baumbach tackles marriage and moviemaking on screen

    September 7, 2014

    As Noah Baumbach made his way to the microphone Saturday night at the Princess of Wales Theatre, I was more curious to see the movie than to hear what he would say. He's one of those self-deprecating filmmakers who speak softly in real life but come to life on screen.

  • TIFF 2014: Kristen Wiig, Ansel Egort and Adam Sandler get webby

    September 7, 2014

    Studies in social media seemed to be an early theme at the Toronto International Film Festival -- at least for me.

  • 'Last Weekend' is too placid on surface and below it

    September 4, 2014

    Polite society is so often impolite it's a wonder it still retains rights to the description. Vacation retreats are not so much for relaxing as for allowing wealthy clans to catch up on old grudges, open old wounds. That is very much the case during the less-than-warm "Last Weekend," which catches the Green family at its Lake Tahoe retreat and at its worst.

  • Harsh realities of immigration issue drive overly earnest 'Frontera'

    September 4, 2014

    Whether riding horseback on land you own or trying to cross it on foot undetected, there is a harsh reality that grounds "Frontera." Starring Ed Harris, Michael Peña and Eva Longoria, the film is set on a lonely stretch of the Arizona-Mexico border where the desert is as unforgiving as the immigration issues at this drama's overly earnest core.

  • 'Frank' strangely softens an icy Michael Fassbender

    September 3, 2014

    "Frank's" strangely engaging fun is in great measure due to the agility of Michael Fassbender's physicality, rather than the intensity of his face. Not that the Fassbender face is anything less than fascinating, but whimsical it is not. Rock hard, its chiseled planes making those icy blue eyes even chillier, so effective in so many films like "Shame," "Inglorious Basterds" and his fierce Oscar-nominated portrayal of a sadistic slaver in "12 Years a Slave." But in director Lenny Abrahamson's indie, Fassbender is cast as an experimental alt-rocker whose face is forever hidden under a big round head that never fails to remind me of Jack in the Box ads. You might think acting inside that giant paper-mache head, with its perpetually expressionless state, would bring a kind of self-consciousness. But at least in "Frank," it brings the actor freedom, his body becomes softer, vulnerable, sweeter, more emotional because of it. So touching is the performance, in fact, I can't wait to see a softer, vulnerable, sweeter Fassbender with his etched face and icy blue eyes completely exposed.

  • Late-in-life Errol Flynn leers in 'The Last of Robin Hood'

    August 28, 2014

    Aging star with sagging ego, pliable young beauty eager to please, obsessive stage mother willing to facilitate — the tale in "The Last of Robin Hood" is as old as Hollywood itself.

  • 'Cantinflas' is buoyed by Oscar Jaenada, hampered by Hollywood

    August 28, 2014

    In the Hollywood hierarchy of stardom, Cantinflas, the beloved Mexican comic actor, was like a streaking comet — white-hot and short-lived. Though well established in his homeland, he was a relative unknown to most in this country when he burst on the scene, costarring with David Niven in 1956's "Around the World in 80 Days."

  • Chris Pratt enters a new galaxy with his winning brand of acting

    August 23, 2014

    You may not remember it, but there is actually a light moment in Kathryn Bigelow's political thriller "Zero Dark Thirty." It comes as a Navy SEAL team heads for the Pakistani compound where Osama bin Laden is thought to be hiding.

  • With 'The One I Love,' a relationship gets trippy

    August 21, 2014

    There is something slightly subversive and satisfyingly spot on when a movie about love and marriage turns on a solitary detail.

  • 'Love Is Strange' and profound with Lithgow, Molina paired

    August 21, 2014

    The strangest thing about "Love Is Strange," with its perfect pairing of John Lithgow and Alfred Molina as a long-committed couple finally able to legalize their relationship in a lovely New York City garden wedding, is how little it is about gay marriage.

  • 'Sin City: A Dame to Kill For' is a sinful waste of a sequel

    August 21, 2014

    The greatest sin of "Frank Miller's Sin City: A Dame to Kill For" is the way its high style is brought low — visually stunning but emotionally vapid, unrelentingly violent, its splendiferous comic book cast mostly squandered.

  • 'The Trip to Italy' is delicious summer fun

    August 20, 2014

    Instead of packing up its bags and leaving L.A. as so many of this summer's indies have had to do, "The Trip to Italy" is settling into a few more theaters. It seems as if Michael Winterbottom's latest culinary road trip intends to linger for a bit. As the filmmaker captures actors Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon playing slightly more comic and slightly more absurd versions of their real selves, the two old friends dine on exquisite dishes along the picturesque Amalfi Coast and dissect middle age, the acting craft and more. As Winterbottom did first for "The Trip" and now for "Italy," he takes a season of the popular British TV show and pares it down to its funniest bone for the big screen. The slicing and dicing still leaves a bounty of the sort of wry wit both comic actors are known for, and the Italian countryside is a feast for the eyes. There are side trips, at least metaphorically. Coogan is wrestling with a recalcitrant teenage son. Brydon is worrying his way into a self-destructive midlife affair. But the main course is their clever conversation across the table; the eavesdropping is delicious summer fun.

  • 'The Trip to Italy' a movable feast with Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon

    August 14, 2014

    One fascination of director Michael Winterbottom's breezy culinary road trip with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon is the way the male ego gets skewered in the pair's exchanges. The film is essentially a running gag on the competitive urge as Coogan and Brydon try to outdo each other's Michael Caine impression, struggle to appear happy at one man's success or suppress a certain satisfaction at another's failure.

  • A Robin Williams retrospective for your weekend DVD consideration

    August 13, 2014

    This weekend consider staying in for a Robin Williams retrospective, spending some time savoring just a few of the delights the actor left behind. His death from an apparent suicide this week was tragic. His legacy of laughter is not.

  • Lauren Bacall's voice resonated with women

    August 13, 2014

    The voice. If you heard it once, you never forgot. So distinctive was its smoky, sexual growl, you could pick it out of a lineup.

  • Robin Williams seized the day in every role

    August 12, 2014

    Shock came first on hearing the news Monday that the master comic mind we knew as Robin Williams was dead at 63, apparently overwhelmed by the kind of despair that he lightened for so many of the rest of us.

  • 'Happy Christmas' piles insecurities, angsty comedy under tree

    July 24, 2014

    For all the things Anna Kendrick plays in "Happy Christmas," truly happy is not one of them.

  • 'Magic in the Moonlight' is an amusing trifle of a film

    July 24, 2014

    In "Magic in the Moonlight," an amusing trifle and sugary truffle of a film, Woody Allen dallies with some of his favorite themes — true romance, magicians and spirituality — and favorite tropes — beautiful women and scenery.

  • 'Begin Again' mends any broken heart in sight

    July 23, 2014

    There are many reasons why "Begin Again" continues to have such great staying power against the big guns this summer. Expanding its run in L.A. this weekend, the story is a catchy one, the music is great, and it is flavored by real musicians, including Mos Def, CeeLo Green and a star turn by Maroon 5's Adam Levine. Irish filmmaker John Carney, the writer-director whose indie sensation about a Dublin street busker, "Once," became a Tony-winning show (now playing at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood), is a lover of musicians and their flaws. Those passions seep into his work in mysterious and mesmerizing ways. "Begin Again" is New York street through and through, with a link to London via its undiscovered singer-songwriter Gretta (Keira Knightley), who's come to the city with her soon-to-be-rock-star boyfriend, played by Levine. Perhaps because we've meet Knightley's Gretta at a fragile moment in her life, love lost, all that, the actress shows a lovely softness we rarely see. Mark Ruffalo is perfectly bruised as the broken-down record producer in the midst of a bender when he discovers Gretta. The secret to the film's success is the way it lets the music — and the making of it — mend any broken heart in sight.

  • Director Aaron Fernandez makes 'The Empty Hours' worth the time

    July 17, 2014

    "The Empty Hours," Aaron Fernandez's balmy, blissful new film, is about an impressionable 17-year-old Sebastian, a mid-30s Miranda and an aging rent-by-the-hour beach motel nestled on a spare stretch of Veracruz, Mexico, coastline where their paths briefly cross.

  • 'I Origins' looks polished, but story is out of focus

    July 17, 2014

    In Mike Cahill movies, bad things happen to good people, and other good people are guilt-ridden as a result. But the human connections and the spare sci-fi logic that characterized "Another Earth," Cahill's ethereal romantic dramatic debut, are muddied in his second feature, "I Origins."

  • 'The Purge: Anarchy' ups the ante and the gore

    July 17, 2014

    "The Purge: Anarchy" is a good deal bloodier, but also — gulp — a good deal better than its predecessor. Make no mistake, a good "Purge" does not equal a good movie, but the post-apocalyptic thriller is slightly more interesting because it takes itself, and its menace, more seriously.

  • 'Sex Tape' lacks appeal, even with Jason Segel, Cameron Diaz

    July 17, 2014

    Let's start with the bare facts. A big-screen shot of a naked handstand is an overshare any way you look at it of parts and places better left unexposed — even from the back, even in a raunchy sex comedy titled "Sex Tape," even when executed by Jason Segel, like costar Cameron Diaz, a very appealing actor dressed or not.

  • 30 actors under 30 who matter

    July 11, 2014

    There are always those actors who rise above early on. Even when a movie implodes around them, like "Another Happy Day" did around Ezra Miller, there is something in the performance that makes them stand out, that lingers long after. The way Miller handled the nervous energy of a teen on a precipitous emotional edge, or the sadness in Garrett Hedlund's angsty singer in "Country Strong." They not only make an imprint in the role but they also tantalize about what they might do next.

  • 'Land Ho!' embarks on two men's adventures in Iceland

    July 10, 2014

    Calling something a feel-good film always feels like a pejorative, so let's just say that after seeing "Land Ho!" you are very likely to feel a good deal better.

  • 'Boyhood' a startling, intimate portrait of a child growing up

    July 10, 2014

    There is a telling scene deep inside "Boyhood" that gets at the essential core of the emotional appeal of Richard Linklater's startling new film. It takes place in a rural church with a pastor sermonizing about doubting Thomas and faith and those who believe without seeing.

  • 'Whitey' documentary indicts more than just James J. Bulger

    July 10, 2014

    The bad guy in "Whitey: The United States of America v. James J. Bulger" is ostensibly Bulger. But Joe Berlinger's densely detailed new documentary about the legendary Boston mobster is disturbing on so many levels it's hard not to wonder why Bulger was the only one on trial.

  • 'Fear and Loathing,' 'Buffalo' a double dose of Hunter Thompson

    July 9, 2014

    Movies about gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson tend to be much like their subject — rough around the edges and more than a little out of control. But if you're in a renegade mood, the Egyptian Theatre has a Friday night Thompson-inspired double feature that is definitely worth the retro trip. It starts with Terry Gilliam's wild ride: "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" stars Johnny Depp, Benicio Del Toro and Tobey Maguire in search of the ultimate acid trip. But my favorite is next on the bill, 1980's "Where the Buffalo Roam." A wonderfully wry Bill Murray is let loose in a different way as Thompson. What "Buffalo" provided was a glimpse of the actor Murray would become, the one who would shock us with his dissolution and depression in 2003's "Lost in Translation," more than two decades later. The actor was pitch-perfect as Thompson — cigarette holder gripped in his teeth, a drink gripped in his hand, his grip on reality never much of a question.

  • 'Gabrielle' tale of first love is hard to resist

    July 3, 2014

    There is an infectious reality that is not accidental in "Gabrielle," Canadian filmmaker Louise Archambault's story of first love for an engaging young couple, who happen to have intellectual disabilities.

  • Roman Polanski knows the ropes in 'Venus in Fur'

    July 3, 2014

    "Venus in Fur," a whip-smart dissection of gender politics via some teasing S&M, is arch. So arch in fact that it is surprising it's a Roman Polanski film.

  • Paul Mazursky made incisive, edgy comedies without a mean streak

    July 1, 2014

    It's hard not to take the death of Paul Mazursky personally.

  • 'Tammy' not much fun, and talented Melissa McCarthy needs to wise up

    July 1, 2014

    Oh, "Tammy." Can I call you Tammy? I hate to break it to you, but the thrill is gone.

  • In 'Transformers: Age of Extinction,' things get Bayed — big time

    June 26, 2014

    After nearly three hours in the crucible that is "Transformers: Age of Extinction," a sort of shorthand might be helpful to discuss the fourth edition of the ginormous action franchise ruled by the iron fist of director Michael Bay.

  • Hurtling along in Bong Joon-ho's train movie 'Snowpiercer'

    June 26, 2014

    Survival, when the odds are desperate, breeds a certain mania, a kill or be killed ethos that we've seen played out in countless post-apocalyptic movies. By their very nature, these are dark, depressing, violent affairs beset by plagues, pestilence and all manner of unnatural and otherworldly forces. Even the names echo of doomsday and despair: "Mad Max," "Dredd," "Waterworld," "The Road," "Battlefield Earth," "The Hunger Games," "Oblivion," "Terminator."

  • Don't put off 'Tomorrow' and Tom Cruise

    June 25, 2014

    Watching the very entertaining sci-fi thriller "Edge of Tomorrow," with its "Groundhog Day" rewind-replay conceit applied to a space alien invasion rather than romance, I was reminded of how good Tom Cruise can be in the right role. For an A-list actor with steady work in big-budget projects, Cruise hasn't fallen on hard times exactly. But breakout hits have been hard to come by as the 52-year-old has gotten deeper into middle age. The last truly good Cruise movie was 2011's "Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol," and the off years have clearly taken a toll. Though critics embraced "Edge"— and indeed its smart, wry, tightly coiled action makes for a great ride — audiences aren't flocking to see it. If you've been resisting, reconsider. Cruise's Lt. Col. Cage is right in the actor's wheelhouse: an ideal blend of arrogant bravado and self-deprecating wit as a military marketing specialist trying to avoid the frontlines. Co-star Emily Blunt's headstrong warrior is a good counterpoint, willing to kill him day after day until he gets it right. Cruise has gotten it right in "Edge." Hopefully, like Cage, he'll remember why.

  • 'Third Person' at the mercy of a mix of emotions, stories

    June 19, 2014

    "Third Person," the latest interlocking puzzle from Paul Haggis, is about love. But it's not a soft and fuzzy sort of love. As Leona Lewis put it in the pop hit a few years ago, it's the "you cut me open and I keep bleeding, keep keep bleeding" sort. Haggis uses a double-edged sword — and a relatively blunt one at that — to hack away at it.

  • 'Think Like a Man Too' is way too much of a good thing

    June 19, 2014

    Comic Kevin Hart is always amped up. It's his style, and in the last few years, that style has earned him shooting-star status. In "Think Like a Man Too," Hart hits such adrenaline-fueled extremes it's exhausting.

  • A badly jumbled 'Moment' gets lost in a woman's mind

    June 19, 2014

    "The Moment" is a psychological thriller more muddled than the mind and the maze it is caught up in.

  • 'Lullaby' is in desperate need of a respirator. Stat.

    June 12, 2014

    If you're going to watch a terminally ill man argue his right to be pulled off the machines and medications that have kept him alive for a decade while his family feuds around him, Oscar nominee Richard Jenkins in the hospital gown gasping for air is not a bad way to go. Jenkins is never not good, even when the material isn't as strong as his acting.

  • '22 Jump Street' pokes its R-rated finger at everything — hilariously

    June 12, 2014

    "22 Jump Street" is a monument to mocking, a master class in dissing, a parody of pastiche, poking its R-rated finger at social conventions, sequels, stereotypes, football, frats, friends, drugs, sex — even its stars.

  • 'How to Train Your Dragon 2' packs emotional firepower in a rip-roaring ride

    June 12, 2014

    From the fashionable day-old scruff on Hiccup's 20-year-old Viking chin to the amped-up fire power of Toothless, "How to Train Your Dragon 2" has made good use of the years since the villagers of Berk and the boy who'd rather not be chief first charmed us.

  • Ruby Dee made her graceful mark on artistic, activist stages

    June 12, 2014

    Ruby Dee packed a lot of power in a tiny package. Barely topping 5 feet, 2 inches, she nevertheless loomed large.

  • From 'Maleficent' to 'Game of Thrones,' a magical time for adults

    June 7, 2014

    At the moment, "Maleficent" and its evil queen are burning up the big screen, and over on HBO, "Game of Thrones" and its Mother of Dragons are on fire too. Sequels to 2012's "Snow White and the Huntsman" and 2010's "Alice in Wonderland" are due in theaters in 2016, along with the fifth iteration of "Pirates of the Caribbean."

  • 'Obvious Child' teases the comedy out of the human condition

    June 5, 2014

    I think we need a new movie genre dubbed "Girls" for films echoing the vision articulated so well by Lena Dunham in her tart HBO comedy about single, young females in the city trying to figure themselves out. Life is awkward, emotions are unfiltered, it all unfolds with a raw, R-rated edge.

  • 'The Fault in Our Stars' elevates sad story by cutting the sap

    June 5, 2014

    Despite the way death and cancer gnaw at "The Fault in Our Stars," the new teenage love story starring Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort is really about living. Or as Tim McGraw put it in the classic country song, live like you were dying — good advice, since we all are.

  • 'Night Moves' explores line between activism, terrorism

    May 29, 2014

    Genre-busting Kelly Reichardt takes on psychological thrillers in her provocative new drama "Night Moves" starring Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning, Peter Sarsgaard and the breathtaking beauty of rural Oregon.

  • Angelina Jolie is wickedly good in the not-quite-classic 'Maleficent'

    May 29, 2014

    In re-imagining the infamous evil queen who curses an innocent girl, "Maleficent" is very much a cautionary tale for modern times. It essentially begs the question — are you sure it was the shrew that needed taming?

  • 'A Million Ways to Die in the West' shoots self in foot

    May 29, 2014

    If Seth MacFarlane's "A Million Ways to Die in the West" accomplishes nothing else, it proves beyond doubt the adage that dying is easy — as promised in the title — it's comedy that's hard.

  • Two films, two sides to James McAvoy

    May 29, 2014

    There's an interesting James McAvoy double-feature option in theaters this weekend, a real-time study in contrasts, of big versus small, if you will. One of the Scottish actor's movies you may have heard of — "X-Men: Days of Future Past." The other, "Filth," might not be on your radar yet, but the indie begins its run in L.A. on Friday.

  • A battle of 'Words and Pictures' at Maine prep school

    May 22, 2014

    "Words and Pictures," starring Clive Owen and Juliette Binoche, is a middle-aged romantic comedy masquerading as a war between literature and art.

  • 'Cold in July' turns up the pulp fiction heat with Texas tale

    May 22, 2014

    Only in Texas could the neo-noir of "Cold in July" be so believable.

  • 'X-Men: Days of Future Past' revives mutants' fighting spirit

    May 22, 2014

    Time travel, Peter Dinklage and 1970s kitsch top a very long list of what makes "X-Men: Days of Future Past" such a blast.

  • An appreciation: Cinematographer Gordon Willis

    May 19, 2014

    When I think of cinematographer Gordon Willis, I think of “Manhattan," one of his signature efforts. Working with director Woody Allen, as he would do so many times, they drenched the city in such exquisite light and shadows that you can stop the film on almost any frame and be stunned by the artistry in the composition of that moving picture made still.

  • A new era of secrets and spies in Hollywood

    May 16, 2014

    There is a scene that bookends "No Way Out," the 1987 espionage thriller starring Kevin Costner. He's a naval officer, a hero, being interrogated about the murder of the secretary of Defense's mistress. There are hints that he might be a double agent. You don't know who is behind the glass watching the grilling. As the film unfolds, he seduces the mistress and is hired by her lover, an icy Gene Hackman. The "is he or isn't he?" question keeps the tension high. Finally, a door opens, we see the face behind the glass and all the puzzle pieces snap into place.

  • Intensely moving 'Immigrant' leaves viewers unsettled

    May 15, 2014

    "The Immigrant," starring Marion Cotillard, Joaquin Phoenix and Jeremy Renner, is one of those prickly period pieces about hard times that gets under your skin and leaves you unsettled long after.

  • 'Retrieval' a trek through dilemmas of slavery, manhood

    May 15, 2014

    "The Retrieval" comes at you like a haunting slip of a memory, one that writer-director Chris Eska retrieves from a mostly forgotten era in unforgettable ways.

  • For a monster, 'Godzilla' plays it a little too cool

    May 15, 2014

    It's the big lizard, stupid.

  • Egyptian Theatre salutes Orwell with film series

    May 14, 2014

    If you're in an Orwellian mood, you're in luck — the Egyptian Theatre is too. A terrific weekend of films influenced by George Orwell's prescient novel "Nineteen Eighty-Four" begins Friday with a triple feature led, as it should be, by the big-screen adaptation "Nineteen Eighty-Four." The film, released in 1984 and directed by Michael Radford, stars John Hurt as the rewriter of history who dares to fall in love in this grimly imagined totalitarian society. Hurt, as always, is great as a tortured soul. Next up is 1976's "Logan's Run," one of my favorites, with Michael York as an enforcer of a world where you live well and prosper until you're 30, then die by rule of law. Fascinating to watch the policy questioning begin. Saturday offers an earlier masterwork by "Gravity's" Alfonso Cuarón. "Children of Men" (2006) stars Clive Owen as the man trying to keep Earth's last pregnant woman alive. It's a grittier world view than Cuarón's "Gravity," but in its own way, as hopeful. The futuristic "V for Vendetta" (2005) and Natalie Portman's shaved pate follows. Finally, you can trip the light fantastic Sunday night starting with Terry Gilliam's 1985 sci-fi satire, "Brazil." It remains one of the best send-ups of the computer-driven life ever, and definitely worth a look by those living in a modern wired world. George Lucas' first film, 1971's "THX 1138," closes things out with Robert Duvall living in an over-medicated world. Calm and reassuring it is not.

  • 'God's Pocket' is empty of the Philip Seymour Hoffman you want

    May 8, 2014

    If, like me, you were hoping that "God's Pocket," starring the late Philip Seymour Hoffman in one of his final films, would feature yet another of the actor's distinctive turns, you are fresh out of luck.

  • Richard Ayoade's 'The Double' is tense and charming

    May 8, 2014

    With Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky as inspiration, "The Double," starring Jesse Eisenberg and Mia Wasikowska, is a darkly ironic and skillfully surreal examination of an unrealized life.

  • Naughty 'Neighbors' a good mix of the silly and sweet

    May 8, 2014

    The outrageous new movie "Neighbors" is filled with the perverse pleasure of watching the R-rated growing pains of Generation Next — including the young and restless comedy players in Hollywood responsible for it. Reality bites everyone eventually, so welcome to the neighborhood.

  • 'Desert Riders' explores camel racing's toll on humans

    May 8, 2014

    Vic Sarin's "Desert Riders" is haunting for its beauty -- and its ugliness. The veteran cinematographer and documentary filmmaker takes us into the vast deserts of the Middle East to expose the human trafficking attached to camel racing, the so-called "sport of kings."

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