MOVIE SNEAKS

Winter-Spring Preview

For 'X-Men: Apocalypse,' think Old Testament, wrath-of-God-like stuff

One night a few years ago, director Bryan Singer was at the Saddle Ranch Chop House in Los Angeles, half-drunk, having a good time when a dark cinematic vision popped into his head. "I was with a bunch of friends, buzzed, eating chicken wings," Singer recalled on a recent afternoon as he sat in...

Movie Reviews

  • What exactly does the sound and fury of Bryan Singer's ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’ signify?

    What exactly does the sound and fury of Bryan Singer's ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’ signify?

    The new “X-Men: Apocalypse” throws a lot of stuff at you, both literally and metaphorically. Not only are new X-characters introduced and old ones revisited, but an attempt is made to blow up the entire world, which, unsurprisingly, leads to a lot of chaos. When everything is added up, this seventh...

  • 'Alice Through the Looking Glass' is more blunder than wonder

    'Alice Through the Looking Glass' is more blunder than wonder

    “Alice Through the Looking Glass” is a movie for anyone who ever skimmed a passage of Lewis Carroll and thought, “This is great, but it could use a bit more ‘Terminator.’” In Disney’s crass, pointless sequel to its similarly crass, pointless “Alice in Wonderland” (2010), our heroine doesn’t just...

  • An overlooked classic, ‘The Fallen Idol’ gets a triumphant rerelease

    An overlooked classic, ‘The Fallen Idol’ gets a triumphant rerelease

    For a brief but dazzling period, from 1947 through 1949, Carol Reed was the director of the moment in the English-speaking world. Two of the films of that era, “Odd Man Out” and “The Third Man,” have been widely admired, but the third, 1948’s “The Fallen Idol,” has been more difficult to experience....

  • The Gaza Strip-set 'The Idol' is uneven but charmingly earnest

    The Gaza Strip-set 'The Idol' is uneven but charmingly earnest

    There’s an irresistible pull to the story of Mohammed Assaf, the Palestinian wedding singer who made his way from a refugee camp in the Gaza Strip to the TV screens of tens of millions of fans. The same can be said of “The Idol,” an uneven but charmingly earnest fictionalized account of Assaf’s...

  • 'Princess Shaw' picks up good vibrations via YouTube

    'Princess Shaw' picks up good vibrations via YouTube

    “Presenting Princess Shaw” is often like watching a reality TV show sprinkled with fairy dust.  But with a unique narrative conceit and a highly root-worthy underdog at its center, the movie stands apart as a kind of feel-good, audio-visual experiment. Israeli filmmaker Ido Haar started out to...

  • Even Penélope Cruz can't light up uninspiring ‘ma ma’

    Even Penélope Cruz can't light up uninspiring ‘ma ma’

    In the Spanish weepie “ma ma,” one woman’s biological bad news is the curtain-raiser on a head-scratching floor show of forced transcendence. Though it stars the versatile, always watchable Penélope Cruz, who shows an expected flair for charismatic saintliness, even she can’t rescue this impossibly...

  • Dreamy 'Princess' reveals young girl's nightmare

    Dreamy 'Princess' reveals young girl's nightmare

    The moody, hallucinatory and darkly intimate drama “Princess” by Israeli writer-director Tali Shalom-Ezer explores the psychological coping mechanisms of children who are subjected to abuse within their families. The precocious and intelligent Adar (Shira Haas) is mature mentally but physically...

  • Suspenseful doc 'Holy Hell' mesmerizes

    Suspenseful doc 'Holy Hell' mesmerizes

    Part expose, part catharsis and all disturbing, “Holy Hell” is filmmaker Will Allen’s suspenseful documentary about his and others’ experiences in the Buddhafield, a spiritual cult that dominated more than 20 years of his life. Young, gay and searching, Allen happened upon a group in West Hollywood...

  • Thriller 'The Ones Below' ably echoes early Polanski

    Thriller 'The Ones Below' ably echoes early Polanski

    Capably delivering on its ominous title, “The Ones Below” is a masterfully calibrated psychological thriller that deviously plays off of anxieties surrounding contemporary notions of domesticity and identity. When the long-vacated lower apartment in their English home is finally occupied, newly...

  • Finding 'Australia's Lost Gold' proves elusive

    Finding 'Australia's Lost Gold' proves elusive

    The intriguing documentary “Australia’s Lost Gold” sets out to get to the bottom of the legend of Harold Lasseter, a prospector who died of starvation in the harsh Central Australian desert in 1931 shortly after purportedly discovering the mother lode in a quartz reef that has never been located....

  • Post-Holocaust drama 'To Life' lacks emotional connection

    Post-Holocaust drama 'To Life' lacks emotional connection

    More resonant in theory than in execution, the post-Holocaust drama “To Life” never truly embraces the promise of its title or the roiling emotion beneath its surface.   Director Jean-Jacques Zilbermann, who co-wrote with Danièle D'Antoni, was inspired here by the experiences of his late Auschwitz-survivor...

  • Plodding ‘Stressed to Kill’ is off the mark

    Plodding ‘Stressed to Kill’ is off the mark

    In craftier hands, the semi-comic revenge thriller “Stressed to Kill” might have been a minor treat: a riff on ‘70s vigilante classics like “Death Wish” that redefines unacceptable outrage for the thin-skinned 21st century. But if writer-director Mark Savage and co-writer Tom Parnell have anything...

  • Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling enliven Shane Black's retro-noir comedy 'The Nice Guys'

    Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling enliven Shane Black's retro-noir comedy 'The Nice Guys'

    In “The Nice Guys,” a cheerfully aimless plunge into the scuzzy noir soul of 1970s Los Angeles, Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling play mismatched private eyes searching — as private eyes in 1970s Los Angeles are wont to do — for a young woman in trouble. The girl is Amelia Kuttner (Margaret Qualley),...

  • In 'Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising,' Seth Rogen and Zac Efron face their femme fears

    In 'Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising,' Seth Rogen and Zac Efron face their femme fears

    When a concerned dad visits his college-age daughter in “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising” and finds a female party den to rival any beer-soaked lair in “National Lampoon’s Animal House,” he asks the logical question: “So you get to be as dumb as the boys now?” Yep, pretty much. Title IX has finally...

  • 'Angry Birds' movie reveals the story behind the wacky rage

    'Angry Birds' movie reveals the story behind the wacky rage

    If you've ever played the mobile video game "Angry Birds," you might have found yourself wondering — why am I sling-shotting cartoon birds at grinning green pigs? Why are these birds so angry? What have the pigs done to deserve this destruction? "Angry Birds," the movie, is here to fill in that...

  • 'O.J.: Made in America' is so compelling you want it never to end ... even at 7-plus hours

    'O.J.: Made in America' is so compelling you want it never to end ... even at 7-plus hours

    He was, perhaps, the most famous American ever charged with murder. His story saw the incendiary intertwining of numerous contemporary obsessions: sports, race, celebrity, crime, even sex. His trial lasted more than eight months and involved more than 100 witnesses, producing 45,000-plus pages...

  • 'Maggie's Plan,' a sericomic take on messing with fate

    'Maggie's Plan,' a sericomic take on messing with fate

    Rebecca Miller, the writer and director of "Maggie’s Plan” seems to have a sixth sense for knowing just what her audience might like. If you’re interested in a dramedy starring Greta Gerwig about a young, single woman looking to become a mother, chances are the cameo from riot grrl Kathleen Hanna...

  • Politics and cellphones make strange bedfellows in documentary 'Weiner'

    Politics and cellphones make strange bedfellows in documentary 'Weiner'

    Once again, truth proves stranger than fiction in the raucous and provocative documentary “Weiner.”  This absorbing, entertaining film takes a decidedly warts-and-all look at disgraced, seven-term Democratic congressman Anthony Weiner and his propulsive if ill-fated 2013 run for mayor of New York...

  • 'Measure of a Man' boldly tracks tragedy of the working class

    'Measure of a Man' boldly tracks tragedy of the working class

    Sobering and political, Stéphane Brizé’s quietly tragic social drama “The Measure of a Man” puts an unemployed, middle-aged husband and father (Vincent Lindon) into the kind of economic and moral quagmire reminiscent of the wrenching working-life stories told by Belgium’s Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne...

  • Documentary captures two sides of 'Almost Holy' crusader

    Documentary captures two sides of 'Almost Holy' crusader

    Though colorful fantasies of lone-wolf vigilantism dominate movie screens in the form of super-powered comic book heroes, Steve Hoover’s documentary “Almost Holy” paints a picture of everyday avenging in the grim here-and-now. Its subject is Ukrainian pastor Gennadiy Mokhnenko, for nearly 15 years...

  • 'Back in the Day' is a punch-drunk retread of much better boxing dramas

    'Back in the Day' is a punch-drunk retread of much better boxing dramas

    It’s understandable why “Back in the Day” was not made available to critics for advance screening. We’ve already seen it — many, many times before. A stagy “Raging Bull” meets “Rocky” hybrid that tosses every boxing movie cliché into the ring yet fails to land a single convincing punch, the two-hour...

  • Pakistani jazz group beats odds

    Pakistani jazz group beats odds

    The unifying power of music is rewardingly demonstrated in "Song of Lahore," a classy portrait of Pakistan's Sachal Jazz Ensemble, which despite considerable odds gained worldwide recognition with a little Internet assist. Once the musical hub of its country's thriving film-scoring industry, the...

  • Healthcare is a 'Monster' we can all relate to and fear

    Healthcare is a 'Monster' we can all relate to and fear

    Although the title might suggest cheesy sensationalism, “A Monster With a Thousand Heads” serves as a sobering, all-too-relatable indictment of the bureaucratic Hydra that is the medical insurance industry. When their healthcare provider won’t approve a drug treatment for her cancer-stricken husband...

  • 'Manhattan Night' is a classy, if confusing, neo-noir

    'Manhattan Night' is a classy, if confusing, neo-noir

    “Manhattan Night” is a modestly budgeted urban neo-noir and a throwback to the days when moody detective stories were B-picture staples. It’s not a great movie but a welcome one, if only for how it attempts to revive a whole genre. Writer-director Brian DeCubellis adapts a Colin Harrison novel about...

  • Strong performances stir ‘Margarita’ romance

    Strong performances stir ‘Margarita’ romance

    There’s a lot to appreciate about the inspiring coming-of-age drama “Margarita With a Straw” despite several seemingly avoidable flaws.  Most compelling: a wonderful lead turn by Kalki Koechlin as Laila, a spirited Indian college student with cerebral palsy. Laila’s physical and emotional journey...

  • 'Welcome to Happiness' fails to amuse amid all its sadness

    'Welcome to Happiness' fails to amuse amid all its sadness

    Writer/director Oliver Thompson’s feature debut, “Welcome to Happiness,” a magical story of grief, fate and emotional healing, could be described as an earnest yet whimsical take on Spike Jonze’s “Being John Malkovich,” with an aesthetic heavily inspired by the stylized, fantastical oeuvre of Jean-Pierre...

  • 'Hard Sell' plays the high school hits but finds its own groove

    'Hard Sell' plays the high school hits but finds its own groove

    It’s hard to keep track of all the old high school comedies that writer-director-producer Sean Nalaboff nods to in his feature film debut, “Hard Sell.” Eventually, though, the movie finds its own voice and groove, and avoids being a mere retro exercise. Skyler Gisondo stars as Hardy Buchanan, a...

  • Indie icon Whit Stillman takes on Jane Austen with the droll, deviously charming 'Love & Friendship'

    Indie icon Whit Stillman takes on Jane Austen with the droll, deviously charming 'Love & Friendship'

    Filmmaker Whit Stillman has been dropping Jane Austen’s name since his first movie, “Metropolitan,” the 1990 film that tracked the social mores of a group of Park Avenue preppies (the children of the UHB -- the "urban haute bourgeoisie”) in much the same way Austen slyly cataloged the sensibility...

  • George Clooney and Julia Roberts get mauled by 'Money Monster'

    George Clooney and Julia Roberts get mauled by 'Money Monster'

    The names are big — George Clooney, Julia Roberts, director Jodie Foster — but the results are meager in “Money Monster,” a film that is both less entertaining and less significant than it imagines. An attempt at combining a real-time thriller with a shot across the bow to a deceptive financial...

  • 'The Lobster' offers a rich, surreal take on modern love

    'The Lobster' offers a rich, surreal take on modern love

    When the end credits roll in “The Lobster,” Yorgos Lanthimos' hypnotically strange and suggestive new movie, you may find yourself scanning a bit more intently for the usual reassurance that no animals were harmed during production. There is, for starters, an arresting early scene in which a woman...

  • 'High-Rise' is a towering display of destruction

    'High-Rise' is a towering display of destruction

    The final scene of “High-Rise,” Ben Wheatley’s exuberantly nasty screen adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s 1975 novel, plays over an excerpt of one of Margaret Thatcher’s recorded speeches extolling the capitalist values she would later implement as prime minister of Britain. Coming as an abrupt punchline...

  • Palme d'Or-winning 'Dheepan' spins a gritty immigrant saga

    Palme d'Or-winning 'Dheepan' spins a gritty immigrant saga

    The films of the French director Jacques Audiard roil with tension of every kind: political, ethnic, dramatic, aesthetic. He is a master of screen violence, someone who knows how to orchestrate action and mayhem for maximum stylistic flair and visceral impact. He is also a sharp and sensitive observer...

  • Hello 'Darkness,' my old friend, the same old horror once again

    Hello 'Darkness,' my old friend, the same old horror once again

    Blumhouse Productions stays in “Paranormal Activity”/“Insidious” mode with “The Darkness,” its latest slick-looking, modestly budgeted ghost-fest. From the troubled child who communes with the beyond to the featureless suburban home that hosts malicious spirits, this movie ticks all the boxes for...

  • 'Gutsiness right from the get-go': Documentary shines light on artist Eva Hesse

    'Gutsiness right from the get-go': Documentary shines light on artist Eva Hesse

    As if she knew that her time on Earth would be brief, Eva Hesse worked diligently and prolifically. In 1972, two years after her death at age of 34, New York’s Guggenheim mounted a memorial exhibition to the artist that filled the entire museum. Her career was in full, ascendant swing when she...

  • The Katie Couric-fronted 'Under the Gun' explores America's reticence toward gun control

    The Katie Couric-fronted 'Under the Gun' explores America's reticence toward gun control

    Eager to convince and assured of its purpose, the advocacy documentary “Under the Gun” tackles America’s persistent gun violence crisis with -- word choice intended -- an arsenal of information about why even modest fixes have been slow in coming. And, in visits with victims’ families from Newtown,...

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