Movie Reviews

Latest Movie Reviews

  • Feng Xiaogang's stirring 'Youth' follows a Chinese military arts troupe through history

    Feng Xiaogang's stirring 'Youth' follows a Chinese military arts troupe through history

    An early sequence in Feng Xiaogang’s elegiac epic “Youth” shows a dance number being rehearsed by a People’s Liberation Army arts troupe in southwestern China. As 1970s propaganda floods the soundtrack (“We are armed with Mao Tse-tung thought!”), the performers run through their precisely synchronized...

  • 'The Ballad of Lefty Brown' is a dark, brooding Old West tale with a smart modern touch

    'The Ballad of Lefty Brown' is a dark, brooding Old West tale with a smart modern touch

    As the man himself would be the first to tell you, Lefty Brown is not the kind of guy ballads are written about. Folksy and eccentric, prone to talking to himself, this self-abnegating old-timer is the eternal sidekick, the hero's reliable right hand and nothing more. But, as its title indicates,...

  • 'Wormwood' on Netflix finds Errol Morris blurring the lines again

    'Wormwood' on Netflix finds Errol Morris blurring the lines again

    Army scientist Frank Olson plunged to his death from a Manhattan hotel window in 1953. The authorities deemed it a suicide. His son contends he was murdered by the CIA. Director Errol Morris examines both possibilities in painstaking detail — exploring Eric Olson’s lifelong obsession with discovering...

  • The gentle message of 'Ferdinand' survives the added mayhem

    The gentle message of 'Ferdinand' survives the added mayhem

    The beloved children's book “The Story of Ferdinand” by Munro Leaf, with illustrations by Robert Lawson, was published in 1936. But the simple, pacifist story about a bull who would rather smell flowers than fight has resonated across generations. It's natural that this favorite character would...

  • Not so cuddly 'Birdboy: The Forgotten Children' offers dark, satiric peek into life's grim corners

    Not so cuddly 'Birdboy: The Forgotten Children' offers dark, satiric peek into life's grim corners

    It’s still difficult to think of going to an animated film as a trip to bummersville, even when “Bambi” makes us cry, Ralph Bakshi skeevs us out, or Don Hertzfeldt turns stick figures into avatars of bittersweet existential tragedy. (They’re so funny, though!) But the hand-drawn Spanish-language...

  • 'The Leisure Seeker' sticks to the trite and true

    'The Leisure Seeker' sticks to the trite and true

    Better screen representation for older actors starts with not making movies like “The Leisure Seeker,” a soggy East Coast road trip saga in which Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland valiantly pretend that rogue treatment of debilitating illnesses has its funny/endearing side. They play the Spencers...

  • Documentary 'Quest' radiates north Philadelphia family's strength

    Documentary 'Quest' radiates north Philadelphia family's strength

    Devastating events befall the Raineys, the family at the center of photographer Jonathan Olshefski’s low-key but radiant filmmaking debut. And yet the lasting impression that “Quest” makes is not one of despair or ruin. Through eight years of filming — years that stretch from Barack Obama’s first...

  • 'Killing for Love' documents twists and turns of 1985 Virginia murders

    'Killing for Love' documents twists and turns of 1985 Virginia murders

    True-crime aficionados will probably get the most out of “Killing for Love,” a documentary from Marcus Vetter and Karin Steinberger re-examining the 1985 murders of wealthy Virginians Derek and Nancy Haysom, and the separate prosecutions that put their daughter Elizabeth and her German boyfriend,...

  • Merchant-Ivory-Jhabvala team finds its groove with 1965's 'Shakespeare Wallah'

    Merchant-Ivory-Jhabvala team finds its groove with 1965's 'Shakespeare Wallah'

    Note: A version of this review previously appeared in the Calendar section on March 2, 1998. For more than 50 years, producer Ismail Merchant and director James Ivory, most often in collaboration with writer Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, made films renowned for their civility and sophistication. Many were...

  • Even the movie itself is having a bad hair day in 'Permanent'

    Even the movie itself is having a bad hair day in 'Permanent'

    The bad perm, an unfortunate rite of passage for a generation of girls, is the mildly diverting starting point for “Permanent,” which teases, sprays and irons the concept to painfully diminishing returns. Written and directed by Colette Burson, co-creator of the HBO series “Hung,” the wan comedy...

  • Eclectic guitarist gets his due in 'Bill Frisell: A Portrait'

    Eclectic guitarist gets his due in 'Bill Frisell: A Portrait'

    Many musicians claim their work is “unclassifiable,” but the term applies especially to Bill Frisell, who over the years has been filed under “jazz,” “rock,” “Americana” and even “classical.” The genteel guitarist will bring his mellifluous style and gentle atmospherics to anyone who needs it —...

  • Working-class Brits keep calm and carry on in animated 'Ethel & Ernest'

    Working-class Brits keep calm and carry on in animated 'Ethel & Ernest'

    The similarly titled labor of love that was Raymond Briggs’ 1999 graphic novel about the warmly rendered lives of his parents, takes on a beautifully animated life of its own in “Ethel & Ernest.” Peppered with knowing insights surrounding the British working class, the film creates a richly etched...

  • Less would have been more in over-the-top 'The Thousand Faces of Dunjia'

    Less would have been more in over-the-top 'The Thousand Faces of Dunjia'

    H.P. Lovecraft meets the Three Stooges (by way of “Men in Black”) courtesy of “The Thousand Faces of Dunjia,” an insanely over-the-top live-action cartoon of a sci-fi-fantasy martial arts adventure. The Chinese import, set in a non-specific place in time, concerns the efforts of the supernaturally...

  • Arty approach to woodland horror bogs down 'Desolation'

    Arty approach to woodland horror bogs down 'Desolation'

    Director Sam Patton’s debut feature “Desolation” takes a quietly existential approach to the “killer in the woods” story — an idea that’s honorable in intent, but dreary in execution. At times Patton and screenwriters Matt Anderson and Michael Larson-Kangas seem to be using arty reserve as a cover...

  • A boldly bonkers 'Beyond Skyline' takes on alien invaders

    A boldly bonkers 'Beyond Skyline' takes on alien invaders

    “Beyond Skyline,” written and directed by Liam O’Donnell, is ostensibly a sequel to the 2010 alien invasion thriller “Skyline,” though the motivation behind this film seems purely a desire to watch Frank Grillo and the guys from “The Raid” beat up some aliens. Fair enough. The only connection to...

  • Animated 'Hedgehogs' fails the cute test

    Animated 'Hedgehogs' fails the cute test

    Animating the most adorable creatures — puppies, kittens, bunnies, etc. — usually results in an even cuter cartoon creation. However, “Hedgehogs’” first sin of many is the disservice it does to its titular animals. In this animated movie, the normally Instagram-worthy darlings are reduced to bland...

  • 'The Soul of Success: The Jack Canfield Story' plays like a promo for 'Chicken Soup' author's brand

    'The Soul of Success: The Jack Canfield Story' plays like a promo for 'Chicken Soup' author's brand

    Even beyond its brief running time, “The Soul of Success: The Jack Canfield Story” feels less like a feature documentary and more like a well-produced video that plays at a seminar when the lights go down. There isn’t a lot of insight or depth regarding the bestselling author’s life and experience...

  • Neo-noir 'Spent' quickly exhausts audience's patience

    Neo-noir 'Spent' quickly exhausts audience's patience

    Writer-director Lisa Mikitarian goes for a stylized neo-noir aesthetic in the family melodrama “Spent,” but with amateurish acting, an overwrought script, and low-budget production design, this feature never has enough in the tank to get going in the first place. Connie Lamothe and Darren Barzegar...

  • Guillermo del Toro's 'The Shape of Water' is the true wonder of awards season

    Guillermo del Toro's 'The Shape of Water' is the true wonder of awards season

    "The Shape of Water" is a wonder to behold. Magical, thrilling and romantic to the core, a sensual and fantastical fairy tale with moral overtones, it’s a film that plays by all the rules and none of them, going its own way with fierce abandon. More than that, "Shape of Water" is both grounded...

  • Irish language and songs burn bright in moody 'Song of Granite'

    Irish language and songs burn bright in moody 'Song of Granite'

    Shot in luminous black-and-white, director Pat Collins’ portrait of the celebrated folk singer Joe Heaney is an immersion in gorgeous gloom. It’s also a chance to hear the Irish language, mainly in poetry and song. There’s little dialogue, with Collins and his co-writers, Eoghan Mac Giolla Bhríde...

  • Mariska Hargitay advocates for sexual assault victims in documentary 'I Am Evidence'

    Mariska Hargitay advocates for sexual assault victims in documentary 'I Am Evidence'

    When Mariska Hargitay took on the role of Det. Olivia Benson on the NBC series “Law & Order: SVU,” she didn’t expect the letters from sexual assault survivors that started pouring in. It became Hargitay’s mission, through her Joyful Heart Foundation, to advocate for survivors, including tackling...

  • In 'Arthur Miller: Writer,' Rebecca Miller draws a tender portrait of her father

    In 'Arthur Miller: Writer,' Rebecca Miller draws a tender portrait of her father

    There’s an eloquent handmade quality to “Arthur Miller: Writer,” filmmaker Rebecca Miller’s engagingly intimate portrait of her famous father. It’s a sense of pieces being fitted together, not unlike the furniture parts that the late playwright is seen shaping and finessing in his workshop — clearly...

  • 'Hollow in the Land' has a winning similarity to 'Winter's Bone'

    'Hollow in the Land' has a winning similarity to 'Winter's Bone'

    Writer-director Scooter Corkle’s feature debut “Hollow in the Land” is an earthy Canadian small-town thriller that recalls Debra Granik’s “Winter’s Bone” — a movie more filmmakers should emulate. Corkle’s film isn’t as assured, but it’s a well-told story, with a strong sense of place. “Glee” favorite...

  • Adrien Brody and company power well-crafted 'Bullet Head'

    Adrien Brody and company power well-crafted 'Bullet Head'

    A meh title belies a gripping and resourceful crime-thriller in writer-director Paul Solet’s impressive “Bullet Head.” It’s the kind of edgy, offbeat, well-executed B-movie that in the past may have found its niche in action houses, drive-ins and the occasional gutsy art venue, but these days could...

  • Qatari sheiks pursue passion for falconry in documentary 'The Challenge'

    Qatari sheiks pursue passion for falconry in documentary 'The Challenge'

    It’s hard to single out just one image from Yuri Ancarani’s beautifully photographed experimental documentary “The Challenge” that stands out above the others, but one of the film’s first shots is especially memorable. On a journey to the desert for a falconry competition, one of the avian athletes...

  • 'The Dancer' portrays creativity and passion of Loïe Fuller

    'The Dancer' portrays creativity and passion of Loïe Fuller

    French filmmaker Stéphanie di Giusto makes her directorial debut with “The Dancer,” a compelling biopic of the visionary modern dancer Loïe Fuller, the mentor of Isadora Duncan. “The Dancer” is such a bold and assured film, wildly creative and sensual, that it feels far more sophisticated than...

  • 'Company Town' takes aim at factory owners in Arkansas

    'Company Town' takes aim at factory owners in Arkansas

    Paper products titan Georgia-Pacific and its owners, Koch Industries, are taken to the proverbial woodshed in the trenchant, disturbing documentary “Company Town.” This powerful film, directed by Natalie Kottke-Masocco, who co-wrote with co-director Erica Sardarian, contends that an unusually high...

  • Nonagenarian Holocaust survivor 'Big Sonia' delivers powerful life lesson

    Nonagenarian Holocaust survivor 'Big Sonia' delivers powerful life lesson

    Seattle-based filmmaker Leah Warshawski, whose previous effort, “Finding Hillywood,” dealt with Rwanda’s fledgling movie industry, didn’t have to venture as far afield for her next project — she found plenty of inspiration in her grandmother, a Polish Holocaust survivor who, now 91, still works...

  • Coastal fog smothers domestic drama 'The Tribes of Palos Verdes'

    Coastal fog smothers domestic drama 'The Tribes of Palos Verdes'

    The waves are elusive in “The Tribes of Palos Verdes,” a moody, disjointed tale of Southern California family dysfunction based on Joy Nicholson’s bestselling novel. The Masons are Midwestern transplants to the high-toned, ultra-regulated suburban cliquishness of the sun-kissed coastal city. But...

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