From its opening number through much of the film, I have to say that I liked La La Land very much, but I could not love it. Writer/director Damien Chazelle caused such a stir with his incendiary first feature Whiplash that, when I heard he was following it up with an old-fashioned musical about Los Angeles, I couldn't wait. And who can resist the pairing… read more!
Movie Titles: L
I've been bad about seeing foreign films lately. Seems like almost everything I've been seeing this year has been American-made. Of this I am much ashamed, as often the best films I see each year come from other countries. But the truth is, those that are released in the US have such misleading marketing strategies nowadays that I am rarely… read more!
In 1998, Yelena Danova (who starred in my first film Foreign Correspondents) and another Russian actress named Olga Vodin hired me to write a script for them. The assignment: to adapt Anton Chekhov's The Seagull for the screen, updating the setting from a summer idyll in Czarist Russia to the Malibu of today. It was enjoyable but challenging work, requiring dozens… read more!
Another Saturday Night Live skit has been adapted for the big screen. If that sentence makes you suspect that The Ladies Man is uninspired and stupid, then you're right on the money. Lesser SNL alumnus Tim Meadows plays lisping, oversexed, '70s-clad radio talk show host Leon Phelps. He's received a letter from a wealthy woman fan and tries to find… read more!
The most revelatory thing about Lady Bird is how much it resembles, tonally if not visually, Frances Ha. That film, directed by Noah Baumbach, starred and was cowritten by Greta Gerwig. It's a lovely film that bears little resemblance to Baumbach's usual caustic, enervating output – including his subsequent collaboration with Gerwig, Mistress America. That Lady Bird feels like the… read more!
The atmospheric Lamb opens on a snowy Christmas Eve on a sheep farm in Iceland. We sense that the camera, slowly lurching towards a wooden sheep pen, is someone's POV. We hear sinister grunting off camera. There's something evil trodding across the frozen Icelandic terrain... and it apparently knocks up one of the sheep. Five months later, the childless couple… read more!
From the get-go, it's clear that this film was really made by a studio marketing department, not by people who wanted to make a great movie. Take a high concept (a female Indiana Jones), throw a hot star at it (Angelina Jolie), make sure it's a safe sell (the video game it's based on is a big hit), and advertise… read more!
Armed with an irresistible title, some striking visuals, and fresh takes on gentrification, black identity, and the titular city, The Last Black Man in San Francisco succeeds on many fronts, but it wears out its welcome and ultimately comes up short. Part tone poem, part hangout movie, The Last Black Man is an unstructured drama about a man named Jimmie… read more!
Gus Van Sant's fictionalized account of Kurt Cobain's final hours is the third in his series of achingly slow, youth-oriented tragedies, following Gerry and Elephant. As in those previous films, Van Sant once again eschews story in favor of atmosphere. But Last Days lacks the beauty and sadness that made Gerry and especially Elephant so effective. Which is ironic, since… read more!
Kenji (Japanese superstar Tadanobu Asano), a neat freak from Osaka, has relocated to Bangkok, where he works in a Japanese-language library. One night, while once again contemplating suicide from a bridge, Kenji meets a local girl named Noi (Sinitta Boonyasak) – after her sister Nid gets killed crossing traffic to save his life. Shortly after this already horrific happenstance, Kenji's… read more!
Although it's perfectly serviceable entertainment, this by-the-numbers thriller is a little beneath the talents of its director/cowriter Edgar Wright. Those expecting Wright's trademark snappy editing and droll humor might be disappointed at how straight he plays it here. Nevertheless, there's some interesting stuff. Read on. Thomasin McKenzie stars as Eloise, a mousy girl from Cornwall who is accepted into a… read more!
A dream cast of England's finest (Michael Caine, Bob Hoskins, Helen Mirren, Tom Courtenay, David Hemmings, and Ray Winstone) is assembled for this very British merchant class drama about a tight-knit group of old farts who gather together after one of their own (Caine) dies, and embark on a road trip to deliver his ashes to the seaside town of… read more!
Emma Thompson plays Katherine Newbury, apparently the only female late night talk show host in a fictional universe concocted by writer/producer/costar Mindy Kaling. (In our actual universe, no traditional late night talk shows are currently hosted by women.) Newbury's program has been chugging along according to formula since 1991, and everything about it – its format, its sluggish, all-white, all-male… read more!
One great thing about living in Los Angeles is being able to watch a movie called Laurel Canyon and then, walking out of the theatre, realize that you are just across the street from Laurel Canyon Blvd. Anyway, writer/director Cholodenko made a name for herself with the acclaimed indie High Art back in 1998. This, her second feature, could be… read more!
Granik's first feature since 2010's Winter's Bone – excluding a 2014 documentary called Stray Dog – once again tells a tale of poor white people living on society's fringes. Yet for Leave No Trace Granik swaps out the scary meth dealers of Appalachian Missouri for an array of decent folks in the Pacific Northwest. The forest scenery here is lusher and… read more!
I'm not sure whether to describe this film as "The Matrix by way of Toy Story" or as "Toy Story by way of The Matrix". Either comparison is apt. The Lego Movie opens on a "minifig" named Emmet (voiced by Chris Pratt), a friendly dimwit who, like everybody else in his happy little Lego-burg, follows the rules, does what he's… read more!
Previously, my only exposure to Victor Hugo's 19th century novel Les Misérables was Claude Lelouch's terrific 1995 film adaptation, which was in French and had no singing and updated the drama to the era between World Wars I and II. Lelouch took many other liberties with Hugo's story, as it turns out, so going in to see Tom Hooper's Les… read more!
Completely original horror-drama, set in a snowbound Stockholm suburb in early 1982, about a shy 12-year-old boy who is mercilessly bullied at school until he strikes up an odd friendship with the new girl next door... who happens to be a vampire. Sure to attain cult status, especially among goth teens, Let the Right One In is a canny blend… read more!
So here's the story, as I know it: Originally, Letters from Iwo Jima – Eastwood's follow-up to Flags of Our Fathers and the second of his two films dealing with World War II's critical Battle of Iwo Jima – was meant to be released in the spring of 2007. I suspect the hope was that Flags of Our Fathers, released… read more!
As average as a movie can get. I saw Levity when it opened the 2003 Sundance Film Festival, and there was something so appropriate about that, as it has all the elements of a stereotypical Sundance film: death, loss, drug addiction, crime, religion, gritty urban decay. And redemption, of course. Can't forget the redemption. In Levity (written and directed by… read more!