Post Date Dec 11 — Boy and the World

Boy and the World Movie ReviewThe animated Brazilian film “Boy and the World” may look simple, but as it unfurls and takes hold, it’s dazzling in its colors and aesthetics. As a parable about the perils of industrialization, it’s not the most subtle, but it’s always a wonder to watch. My review.

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Post Date Dec 4 — Macbeth

Macbeth Movie ReviewPlenty of toil and trouble (and sound and fury) in Justin Kurzel’s viscerally violent and devastatingly gorgeous adaptation of “Macbeth,” starring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard. My review.

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Post Date Nov 27 — The Danish Girl

The Danish Girl Movie ReviewLike most of Tom Hooper’s movies — “The King’s Speech,” “Les Miserables” — “The Danish Girl” is tasteful and restrained to a fault. The story of transgender pioneer Lili Elbe is impeccably made and strongly acted, but easier to admire than love. My extremely mixed review.

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Post Date Nov 20 — The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 Movie ReviewIt’s the final film in the “Hunger Games” saga — no, really it is this time! With the exception of a couple of truly dazzling action set pieces, “Mockingjay – Part 2” provides more of what we saw in “Mockingjay — Part 1”: a lot of wheel-spinning and repetitive imagery. But the stakes are higher this time, and Jennifer Lawrence once again gives it her all as the plucky Katniss Everdeen, even though she outgrew the role a long time ago. My review.

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Post Date Nov 20 — Mustang

Mustang Movie Review“Mustang” may sound like a Turkish version of “The Virgin Suicides,” but it’s got a melancholy all its own, as well as a rebellious spirit. The debut from director Deniz Gamze Erguven is both intimate and urgent. Take your daughters to see this one — it’s excellent. My review.

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Post Date Nov 14


Spotlight Movie ReviewOpen Road Films
Rated R for some language including sexual references.
Running time: 127 minutes.
Four stars out of four.

Journalists love to bitch about things, especially when it comes to movies about journalism. They never seem to get what we do right, from the newsroom vibe to the way we go about our work. Something is always off: the dialogue, the reporting process, even how we look. We’re never shlubby or disgruntled enough.

“Spotlight” gets all that right and so much more, from its big-picture drama to its smallest details to its casting in even the briefest of supporting roles. It vividly depicts what being a reporter is really like, from the doggedness to the drudgery, but it also offers a strong sense of place — not just in the newsroom but also in the city where the film is set: Boston. One of writer-director Tom McCarthy’s many great achievements here is the way he truly “gets” Boston: its insularity, its provincialism and the almost primal way in which its natives rush to protect their traditions and identity in the face of change.

The Boston Globe’s Pulitzer Prize-winning uncovering of the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal in 2002 was a defining moment for the city, and for the newspaper. It was tumultuous; it forced people to take a closer look at themselves, their personal faith and the faith so many of them had placed for generations in such a towering institution. McCarthy gets his arms around those big, emotionally complex notions with a narrative that’s lean and efficient. (He co-wrote the script with Josh Singer.)  He knows he doesn’t need to beat you over the head with the importance of this story. The drama is real, and it’s bracing, and it emerges organically.

Like the inferior “Truth” from earlier this year, which was noisier in its chest thumping about the virtues of journalism, “Spotlight” is, at its core, a movie about chasing documents. It’s about waiting for court filings and digging through basement archives. This might not sound inherently cinematic, but McCarthy brings this story to life with a rich array of characters played by a uniformly excellent ensemble cast. Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams and Brian d’Arcy James make up the Globe’s Spotlight investigative team. They all spent time in the Globe newsroom with their real-life counterparts — Walter “Robby” Robinson, Mike Rezendes, Sacha Pfeiffer and Matt Carroll, respectively — and they all feel like fully fleshed-out people with back stories and perspectives that matter as they dig deeper into this troubling story and endure pressure to keep it under wraps.

The ever-reliable Liev Schreiber also stands out — albeit in a totally low-key way — as Marty Baron, the new Globe editor who lit a fire under the Spotlight team to investigate reports of child molestation within the Catholic Church, a story the paper had touched on only here and there by the time the film begins in 2001. Schreiber’s work here is beautifully understated, and he provides consistent humor in playing a man with zero sense of humor, but he’s also a forceful voice of reason with a critical outsider’s perspective. On the other end of the spectrum providing his own essential guidance, Stanley Tucci enjoys a deliciously showy role as the eccentric attorney who’d been quietly building a case against these pedophile priests for years.

“Spotlight” follows these reporters as they practice old-school, shoe-leather journalism tactics, pure and simple. They knock on doors, meet sources in coffee shops and furiously scribble in their notepads. This is one reason we in the media are loving this movie so unabashedly: It provides a poignant time capsule, a proud and nostalgic look back at a time before clickbait dictated journalistic decision-making. The montage of printing presses rolling, delivery trucks making the rounds and thick Sunday editions landing with a thud on front doorsteps may sound like a newspaper-movie cliche, but in “Spotlight” it truly is cause for celebration. This is the way it worked once, way back when, and it was a privilege to be a part of it.

But nostalgia alone isn’t enough — although costume designer Wendy Chuck completely nails the utilitarian and unflattering newsroom uniform of khakis and button-downs, which is always good for a chuckle. “Spotlight” works because it has a propulsive forward momentum. Every conversation matters — every revelation matters — and we feel as if we’re right alongside these reporters and editors with each new discovery they make. Individual scenes quietly buzz with anticipation as the team members meet with victims who had been reluctant to speak for years and piece together names, dates and parishes. And here’s where the supporting casting really gives the film a feeling of authenticity and substance; the filmmakers obviously took great care with even the tiniest of roles, because each voice is crucial in building a thoroughly illuminating and damning case.

Like the story being reported within the film, “Spotlight” is simultaneously emotional and clear-eyed. It’s an explosive yet necessary piece of journalism in and of itself. And it’s easily one of the year’s best.

Post Date Nov 13 — Man Up

Man Up Movie Review“Man Up” is a pretty standard romantic comedy on paper, featuring all the tropes of the genre: the meet-cute, the wacky friends, the spontaneous dance routine, etc. But the charismatic Lake Bell and Simon Pegg have such sparkling chemistry, they make this predictable trip worthwhile. Bell, in Bridget Jones mode as a lonely London singleton, also does a solid British accent. My review.

Read the review here

Post Date Nov 11

Revisiting Shia LaBeouf


You may have heard that Shia LaBeouf has been doing this nutty thing — er, art project — in which he’s going back and rewatching all his movies, in reverse order, for three days straight at the Angelika Film Center in New York. The project even has a hashtag: #allmymovies. That makes it legit.

As I pulled up the live feed of Shia watching Shia this morning — and cramming popcorn in his mouth, and laughing, and occasionally dozing — my husband commented: “You knew him way back when.” And it’s true — I’d totally forgotten that I’d interviewed LaBeouf at the South by Southwest film festival in March 2007, just as he was on the verge of superstardom. We had lunch on the patio behind the Four Seasons Hotel, surrounded by actors like Joseph Gordon-Levitt (a fellow former child star on the precipice of his own grown-up fame) and Bill Paxton, on a gorgeous spring day.

It seems quaint now in retrospect, long before his high-profile efforts to deconstruct and dismiss his celebrity, but he was proud of the fact that he’d created some mystery for himself — that at 20, he wasn’t providing tabloid fodder. And it may sound contradictory given his volatile reputation, but he was a sweet, polite young man. Anyway, I went back and found the article I wrote when I was still with the AP so you can read it for yourself and enjoy — then go back to watching Shia watching Shia.

Shia LaBeouf talks childhood, future and Indiana Jones rumors


AP Movie Writer

Shia LaBeouf is in the position so many former child actors have found themselves in: that murky area between boyhood and manhood, between cute and commanding.

And he’s impatient for it to be over.

“I want to get bigger. I’m sick of being a boy,” the lanky actor says of his recent regimen of running and working out. “I know that there’s this innocence that I have but I feel like I’ve played that guy. The whole goal for me has been diversity and diversifying your portfolio and making sure you do a whole bunch of different things and you don’t get typecast. If I become a type, my career is over.

“I want to be an intimidating presence. I want to be a … killer.”

Strong words from the former star of the Disney Channel series “Even Stevens,” which earned him a Daytime Emmy in 2003. Since then, though, LaBeouf has put together an eclectic filmography for a 20-year-old.

He’s appeared opposite Will Smith (“I, Robot”) and Keanu Reeves (“Constantine”). He’s played a wrongly accused juvenile prisoner (“Holes”), a drugged-out campaign worker (“Bobby”) and a would-be thug (“A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints”).

This year alone he stars in the thriller “Disturbia,” a high-tech teen update of “Rear Window”; the big-screen version of “Transformers”; and the animated “Surf’s Up” in which he provides the voice of a surfing penguin.

And then there are those persistent Internet rumors that he’s signed on to play Indiana Jones Jr. in the fourth installment of Steven Spielberg’s franchise. Even Bill Paxton, who directed LaBeouf in the 2005 golf movie “The Greatest Game Ever Played,” approaches him during a lunch interview with The Associated Press with a boisterous hug and congratulations on landing the role _ which LaBeouf is quick to say he hasn’t.

“The way that thing started, it’s just wild how it snowballed,” he says between bites of a cheeseburger and fries at the South by Southwest film festival, where “Disturbia” screened before its April 13 theatrical release.

“I don’t have a deal on the table, it’s just a rumor. Would I do it? In a second. It’d be working for a legend and working with legends. Who wouldn’t? But is it something I’m doing right now? No. I’m an out-of-work actor.”

But LaBeouf hasn’t been out of work much since he flipped through the Yellow Pages looking for an agent as a 10-year-old; he was cast as the precocious Lewis Stevens that year. Growing up as one of the few white kids in Los Angeles’ heavily Hispanic Echo Park section (the setting of “Mi Vida Loca” and “Quinceanera”), LaBeouf started doing standup comedy. He’s quick to admit he was drawn to this profession for both creative and financial reasons.

“I grew up on that show and it was the best thing that had ever happened to me. Took me out of my house, it was real dramatic at that time. My dad was on drugs _ heroin and all kinds of wild (stuff) and he was in a rehab facility. My mom was trying to hold down the fort and that wasn’t working. So when the show came along it was a savior. It saved my life, my family’s life.”

LaBeouf’s parents eventually divorced; as an only child, he remains close to both. His father, he says, was a mime and a clown who used to grow pot in the brush along the sides of L.A.’s freeways; his mother was a dancer.

“I feel like my childhood was kind of lost. It was adulthood right away,” he says, turning over his right arm to reveal a tattoo on the inside of his wrist that reads “1986-2004” _ the period from his birth until he turned 18. “I feel like you forget a lot of your childhood so I put the timeline on my wrist. I just don’t want to forget the childhood I did have.”

When asked about working with LaBeouf on “The Greatest Game Ever Played,” Paxton jokes that he had to “break him like a mustang.”

“I feel very proud to have directed him and to have kind of helped him at a crucial time in his life and in his development as a craftsman, as an artist. You know, it’s hard to make that transition, to go from being a child actor and then, you know, you grow up and they don’t love you anymore. `You’re not cute anymore, you’re not funny-looking anymore, you grew up.’ But he’s someone who’s making the transition.”

Paxton is one of many people LaBeouf says he’s looked to as a mentor and father figure; Jon Voight, Jeff Bridges and John Turturro are others.

“It’s nuts because in my lexicon, those guys are all in my tops. So when you get to work with them and be on that level with them it’s just, it’s jarring. It’s jarring when they consider you equals and you’re sitting there going, ` … This is impossible. How did this happen to me?'” he says. “These are my heroes. These are my Captain Americas and my Spider-Mans. To be sitting around with them is very surreal, and it never gets normal.”

Despite having worked steadily for the past decade, LaBeouf insists he isn’t famous yet. And unlike some other actors his age, he doesn’t provide juicy fodder for the tabloids.

LaBeouf wants to fly even farther below the radar by going off to college (he’s been accepted at Yale) and experiencing life outside of acting for a while.

“How do you create danger when they’ve grown up with you? How do you create mystery when they know everything about you?” he asked. “You’ve gotta go away. You’ve gotta give them time to not know you. And I plan on doing that, it’s just right now, the opportunities I’m being given are just out of control and I can’t turn them down.”

Post Date Nov 5 — The Peanuts Movie

The Peanuts Movie Movie ReviewI am the target audience for “The Peanuts Movie.” I was all in. So it brings me no joy to report to you that it’s a rather safe repackaging of material you’ve seen before. Bring on the angry hordes. My review.

Read the review here

Post Date Oct 24


A24 Films
Rated R for language.
Running time: 118 minutes.
Four stars out of four.

This is one of those situations in which mere words seem insufficient in describing a film’s profoundly moving power.

I can tell you this much, plainly and without shame: I sobbed throughout “Room,” about a mother and her 5-year-old son trapped inside a sparsely furnished, 10-by-10-foot space, and I started doing so long before the story turned truly harrowing. And afterward, I walked home from the screening room — 2.87 miles to be exact, I mapped it — to process my feelings. Did director Lenny Abrahamson’s film wreck me because it’s truly great, or because I also have a 5-year-old boy and motherhood has, as I’d long feared, turned me irreparably soft?

“Room” is indeed that great — but I might also be a ninny. In its poetry and power, its intimate details and ambitious ideas, it’s simultaneously devastating and mesmerizing. The truth at its core, which Abrahamson achieves through pure and subtle observations, is what astonishes again and again. Within this nightmare scenario, a mother and child have crafted for themselves a tangible fairy-tale world. They refer to the small area they share as Room. The window above their heads is Skylight. Ma’s bad tooth is — appropriately and affectionately — Bad Tooth. The boy, Jack, regards them all as treasured friends. But an enemy also lurks: Old Nick (Sean Bridgers), the volatile, middle-aged man who put them there and makes frightening, nightly visits.

But despite the extreme events that led to their cramped captivity, there’s a realism to the relationship between Ma and Jack. They stick to a relatable routine — every minute matters, every day matters. They have a comfortable shorthand, the result of spending every single moment together. They make the most with what they have. They take care of each other.

Every parent will recognize himself or herself in Brie Larson’s Ma: She’s proud of her boy when he figures something out and frustrated with herself when she snaps at him too quickly. She answers his increasingly probing questions with patience and tries to protect him as long as she can. She’s a great mother, even though she didn’t choose to be one. It’s all there on the page in Emma Donaghue’s elegantly efficient screenplay, which she adapted from her best-selling novel. But the abidingly authentic performances from Larson and young Jacob Tremblay are what bring these words vividly to life.

If you saw Larson in her first, real starring role in the criminally under-seen “Short Term 12,” or in standout supporting parts in films like “The Spectacular Now” or “Trainwreck” or the Showtime series “United States of Tara,” you knew what she could do — you knew of her naturalism and her presence. Here, she conveys so much with just her posture, with the slightest glance. There’s nothing showy about her performance and yet you can’t take your eyes off her. She just never hits a false note (and rarely does the film as a whole). And she has a deeply believable chemistry with Tremblay, who’s excellent in a complicated, demanding role. There’s nothing cutesy about him — there’s not the timiest whiff of child-star precociousness. He is just totally in the moment all the time. He’s a tremendous find.

You may have noticed that I haven’t written much about plot yet, and that’s intentional. Yes, the trailers and even the signature image on the posters reveal that eventually, Ma (who’s only 24 and whose real name is Joy) and Jack escape their prison in a scene of meticulous timing and breathtaking suspense. They return to the outside world, something Jack only knew of from images on a beat-up television set and glimmers from the skylight, but for a while it’s more of a place of obstacles than opportunities.

The second half might seem more ordinary than the first, perhaps because it’s a world we actually know and one that seems safe. But it’s fraught with its own perils, both externally and internally, and how Joy and Jack navigate them together gives this section of “Room” an even larger kind of heart and even a sense of hope. They get help from a superb supporting cast, led by Joan Allen as Joy’s relieved mother and Tom McCamus as her stepdad, who forges his own lovely, unexpected connection with Jack. (William H. Macy, as her detached father, might have gotten more to do but that’s a minor quibble.)

And that’s all I want to say about “Room,” for now, at least. Please go experience it for yourself and let the emotions and revelations wash over you — and then come back and let me know that I’m not alone in being reduced to a puddle.