American Beauty is one of those annoying movies that purports to tell its audiences about All the Big Truths About Life, when actually there's not an honest bone in its body. Take, for starters, its setting. The story is about a so-called "ordinary suburban family", where the husband (Kevin Spacey) is an underpaid magazine writer who hates his cubicle job… read more!
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American Hustle opens with a long, silent scene showing Christian Bale, playing a medium-time conman named Irving Rosenfeld, gazing into a mirror as he carefully affixes his toupee to his weirdly bald head. The symbolism in the scene is obvious: Rosenfeld looks like an actor preparing to go on stage, and as we soon find out, he has in fact… read more!
Based on Bret Easton Ellis' notorious 1991 novel, American Psycho follows the life of rich, handsome and empty 27-year-old stockbroker Patrick Bateman (a perfectly cast Christian Bale) as he plays with his fellow Manhattan Yuppies during the greed-drenched late '80s (as opposed to the greed-drenched late '90s?) and then goes on endless murder and mutilation sprees when nobody's looking. Director Harron and… read more!
In the 1970s, Harvey Pekar was an ordinary middle-aged file clerk in Cleveland who, inspired by the success of his friend, underground comics artist Robert Crumb, decided to turn his own life into a comic book. Soon the tales of his humdrum existence, enlivened by his freaky colleagues and his own cranky, though highly intelligent, world-view, made Pekar a cult… read more!
I am slightly jealous of Amores Perros, because it has a story set-up very similar to one I have long thought of using: taking a tragic traffic accident, and then telling the stories of all the previously-unconnected lives affected by it. Here we have three victims: the first is a punky teenager who enters the world of dogfighting in order… read more!
Legendary actors Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva play Georges and Anne, a long-married Parisian couple who are also professional music teachers. Shortly after attending a concert by one of their former pupils, the elderly but still active couple suffer a tremendous blow when Anne suddenly has a stroke. The rest of Amour details her slow decline, and Georges' quiet patience,… read more!
Evocative adaptation of Frank McCourt's Pulitzer-prize winning memoir of growing up dirt-poor in 1930s Limerick, Ireland. Uniformly fine acting, a beautiful score by John Williams (his best since Schindler's List and a far cry better than his unforgivably mediocre score for Phantom Menace), and Alan Parker's typical attention to (obsession with?) gritty, grimy detail add to the film's distinctive atmosphere.… read more!
The idea behind The Anniversary Party sounds scary: two well-known character actors decide to write, direct and star in their own film, with an improvised script and many of their Hollywood friends co-starring. Yikes! Can you say "self-serving"? That was why I avoided it until it wound up at the local cheap theatre - but I'm glad I caught it.… read more!
In 2005, my wife and I went to an event at UCLA's Royce Hall called "Theater of the New Ear". Promised were two one-act "radio plays" – works specifically written to be performed as staged readings. The first was to be "Sawbones", written and directed by the Coen Brothers. The second, "Hope Leaves the Theater", by Charlie Kaufman. For reasons that… read more!
A quietly haunting character study about Tom and Gerri (Leigh stalwarts Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen), an aging hippie couple living in the suburbs of London, whose remarkably healthy marriage is contrasted with the seriously screwed-up friends they give their time to. The biggest trainwreck, whose visits to their house over the course of a year (the film is neatly… read more!
I often complain when a sci fi/action blockbuster has a story that could explode into a humongous finale, but instead settles for a low-stakes third act in which hero battles villain mano-a-mano in an isolated locale – see Men in Black or even Iron Man. But after the exhausting third acts of Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy and Avengers: Age of Ultron, with their jillions of CG spaceships and robots, it's actually a… read more!
Crowd-pleasing documentary about the obscure Canadian heavy metal band Anvil, who neared the brink of stardom in 1984 and then, due to bad management and a few wrongheaded decisions, never made it. Yet a quarter century later, the two dudes who started the band, Steve "Lips" Kudlow and Robb Reiner, are still at it, playing small clubs and hoping for… read more!
Smart, crowd-pleasing thriller that's based on the unbelievably true story of a CIA effort to smuggle six Americans out of Iran during the 1979-1980 hostage crisis, based on one operative's (director Affleck) so-crazy-it-just-might-work scheme: going to Tehran under the pretenses of location scouting for a Canadian movie that doesn't really exist, and sneaking the six out as members of the… read more!
Twelve gigantic black pods have suddenly appeared in the skies across earth. Clearly they are alien spacecraft, but what do they want? Are they invaders? Scientists? Tourists? Do they come in peace or do they pose a threat? The US military hires expert linguist Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) to find out. They've been allowed access into one of the… read more!
Dr. Albert Barnes was a misanthropic millionaire who lived in Merion, Pennsylvania, a tony suburb of Philadelphia. With his wealth, Barnes amassed a priceless collection of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, and early Modern art during the first two decades of the twentieth century. But journalists representing the Philadelphia art establishment dismissed his self-funded exhibition in 1922, and Barnes bore a deep grudge… read more!
In the late '80s, cartoonist Daniel Clowes included a short piece called "Art School Confidential" in an issue of his Eightball comics. I found this snarky expose to be extremely funny and right on the mark, especially as I myself was in art school. Two decades later, Clowes, as screenwriter and co-producer, reteams with Ghost World director Terry Zwigoff to concoct an adaptation so loose… read more!
This tragicomic look at the end of the silent movie era is noteworthy for actually being a silent movie, shot on black and white with the old aspect radio of late '20s/early '30s cinema, complete with title cards, old-fashioned transitions, and a sweet musical score that is (mostly) reminiscent of the era. France's Jean Dujardin plays George Valentin, a top… read more!
With a mouthful of a title that hints at the length of the film itself, this will, depending on your mood, hypnotize you or bore you to death. Writer/director Dominik, adapting Ron Hansen's historical novel, takes his cues from the work of Terrence Malick and creates a meditative look at the uncertain relationship between famed Western outlaw Jesse James and… read more!
Ultra-low-budget slice of life that takes place in an assisted living facility (read: old folks home) in Kentucky. Todd (Michael Bonsignore, quite good) is a slackerish orderly who doesn't seem to care one whit about the often-senile "clientele" he works with until one lonely woman (Maggie Riley) comes to depend on him to contact her long-lost son in Australia, who… read more!
It's hard to talk about this film without revealing its big "twist", ala the sudden change of direction that Hitchcock's Psycho was so famous for, but I'll try to be discreet. For its first third, Audition plays like a dry romantic comedy, as a lonely widower (Ryo Ishibashi), goaded by his teenage son to find a new woman seven years… read more!