This film is based on August Wilson's 1984 play of the same title, and despite energetic camerawork and editing, it very much feels like filmed theatre – at times, anyway. Set in 1927 Chicago, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom unfolds, mostly in two rooms on one day, during a recording session for real life singer Gertrude "Ma" Rainey (Viola Davis under… read more!
Movie Titles: M
In 2007's Grindhouse, the commercially unsuccessful double feature experiment by Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino, the highlights were arguably the trailers for nonexistent exploitation films that played between the two features. Rodriguez's own phony trailer, "Machete", gave audiences a taste of what I wish Grindhouse had more of: sex and chaos. In 2010, Rodriguez has finally gotten to take his… read more!
Dark, unsettling film noir about young factory worker Trevor Reznik (sounding a bit like Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor, no?), who, horrifyingly emaciated and not having slept for a full year (nor eaten, one would assume), starts communicating with a dangerous-looking stranger whose actual existence is questionable. Unlike other "What's the secret?" movies, while The Machinist lets on that… read more!
Mad Hot Ballroom
Someone in the New York Public Schools system came up with the curious but laudable idea of forcing all the district's fifth graders to go through ballroom dance training, with the top schools competing annually for a coveted trophy. Because this is New York, you have literally thousands of kids from all ethnic and economic backgrounds trying to out-dance each… read more!
Mad Max: Fury Road
At 70, George Miller returns to the movie franchise he abandoned 30 years ago, and shows all these whippersnappers how action movies are properly done. With Mel Gibson now aged out of the Max Rockatansky role, a nearly mute Tom Hardy takes over, and the film picks up at an indiscriminate time after the events of previous Mad Max installments.… read more!
Actors Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn team up for the first time since the indie film Swingers (written by Favreau) turned them into stars. Both have gained an alarming amount of weight in the 5 years since Swingers, and now they play a couple of lunkheads who are hired by mob boss Peter Falk to participate in a marginally dangerous… read more!
Magnolia is about a bunch of messed-up LA residents whose unhappy lives interconnect, sort of. Sound like Robert Altman's Short Cuts? Sure, but Anderson is after some other idea – something about the sins of the fathers being visited on the sons, I guess, since nearly every character in the film is either a father who has treated his children… read more!
A terrific character study starring Catalina Saavedra as Raquel, the live-in domestic servant for a rich but likable family in Santiago, Chile. Recently turning 41, and having been in the employ of the family for twenty years, Raquel is becoming like an old cat: possessive, territorial, and very, very grumpy. She even picks and chooses which of the four kids… read more!
The Man Who Wasn’t There
The Coen Brothers play it (comparatively) straight this time around, with a somber black and white noir about a nondescript barber named Ed (Billy Bob Thornton) living in a small California town in 1949, who decides to take a chance in life by investing in a get-rich-quick scheme involving the burgeoning dry cleaning industry. In order to raise the capital… read more!
The Man Without a Past
Quirky, deadpan, seriocomic portrait of losers living on the edge, from a man who has forged a career out of making such portraits: Finland's Aki Kaurismäki. Though perhaps best compared to American filmmaker Jim Jarmusch in terms of his pacing and style, Kaurismäki is little-known outside of Europe; perhaps his films' dour wit rarely translates into dollar signs for US… read more!
Manchester by the Sea
This is the third feature film from not-especially-prolific writer/director Kenneth Lonergan, following the lovely You Can Count on Me and the overrated Margaret. Like its predecessors, Manchester by the Sea explores what happens to ordinary people after tragedy strikes. It does so with honesty and a scruffy, foul-mouthed grace, even if its story unfurls over familiar ground. Casey Affleck is Lee, a taciturn Boston janitor… read more!
The days of the cradle-to-grave biopic are mostly behind us, with films about historic figures now choosing to narrow in on key events in their lives in order to reveal their souls. It works well in movies like The Queen and Steve Jobs because we are already so familiar with their subjects. But here we have Mank, about Herman J.… read more!
The Many Saints of Newark
With so many movies now debuting simultaneously on streaming services and in cinemas, I try my best to catch the notable ones on the big screen. But since The Many Saints of Newark is a prequel to HBO's beloved crime series The Sopranos, it just seemed right to watch it on HBO Max. And in the end, despite its wider-than-wide… read more!
Marcel the Shell with Shoes On
Predictably twee feature-length adaptation of the popular stop-motion shorts in which the titular character (voiced by cowriter Jenny Slate) delights a human interviewer (director/cowriter Dean Fleischer-Camp) with adorable details of his minuscule, minimalistic life. (Sample: "Guess what I use to tie my skis to my car? A hair.") Expanding the runtime to a tolerable 89 minutes, Marcel the Shell with… read more!
March of the Penguins
Pretty much as you'd expect, this is a cute, informative, and often very beautiful documentary about the complicated breeding habits of the emperor penguin. The big mystery is why this became such a huge box office hit in the US during the otherwise dud-packed summer of 2005. Perhaps people were so desperate to see something of quality in cinemas that… read more!
Maria Full of Grace
Low-key, realistically-shot drama about a 17-year-old Colombian girl (Catalina Sandino Moreno) who agrees to work as a drug mule, ingesting capsules of heroin and smuggling them into the United States. Suffice to say, it's neither a fun nor glamorous trek for poor, headstrong Maria, but writer/director Marston refuses to let his story devolve into a routine violent crime thriller. I… read more!
I want to like Sofia Coppola's films. I really do. A female studio director is rare enough in the first place. But to have a female American auteur – well, at the moment, Coppola stands alone. I think it's important to have women helming big-budget films, and equally important to give them credit where it's due (despite the fact that… read more!
At first blush, Marriage Story isn't a film that should work: do we really need another talky melodrama about an upper middle class couple getting divorced and fighting over their child? Starring famous actors? And made for Netflix? Yet the finished project is immensely watchable and even enjoyable, thanks to its blunt take on the divorce industry, writer-director Baumbach's witty… read more!
Martha Marcy May Marlene
This year's Winter's Bone. A slow, quietly unsettling, Sundance-sanctioned drama about the titular multi-identitied character (Elizabeth Olsen), a young woman who escapes from a small cult in rural upstate New York. Retrieved by her generous though estranged sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson), Martha – rechristened "Marcy May" by the cult – seems all right at first, but she gradually starts to… read more!
It's becoming an annual tradition: A-list director and A-list movie star make movie about astronaut lost in space. And so after 2013's Gravity and 2014's Interstellar we have 2015's The Martian. It's less suspenseful than Gravity, less ambitious than Interstellar, but enjoyable stuff, balancing serious science with Hollywood hokum. Matt Damon is Mark Watney, an easygoing astronaut on a manned mission to Mars, presumably mankind's first.… read more!