Betsy Sharkey, Film Critic

Review: 'Heaven Is for Real' soars best when grounded in earthly life

12:05 AM PDT, April 16, 2014

Review: 'Heaven Is for Real' soars best when grounded in earthly life

Conviction is the word that keeps coming to mind in watching "Heaven Is for Real," the latest faith-based film to debut this Passover-Easter season.

Review: 'Alan Partridge' is delightfully back in spotlight he covets

4:40 PM PDT, April 3, 2014

Review: 'Alan Partridge' is delightfully back in spotlight he covets

Alan Partridge, the British broadcast personality Steve Coogan first brought to life in 1991 on the BBC radio news spoof, "On the Hour," is back. Older, none the wiser, his bloated ego and vast array of insecurities are very much intact.

Review: Amid 'Rio 2's' cacophony, the musical numbers shine

4:50 PM PDT, April 10, 2014

Review: Amid 'Rio 2's' cacophony, the musical numbers shine

Wonderfully animated and well-voiced, "Rio 2" is nevertheless too much. Too much plot, too many issues, too many characters. But not too much music.

 Review: Nicolas Cage in fine, gritty form as a hard-living 'Joe'

3:43 PM PDT, April 10, 2014

Review: Nicolas Cage in fine, gritty form as a hard-living 'Joe'

For a while now, Nicolas Cage has seemed more punch line than artistic force. More memorable for stopping by "Saturday Night Live" in 2012 to join the "In the Cage" satire, a none too flattering impression perfected by the very funny Andy Samberg, than for dreadful films like "Ghost Rider" that inspired it.

 Are good vibrations in store as cinemas amp up film experience?

11:00 AM PDT, April 11, 2014

Are good vibrations in store as cinemas amp up film experience?

In front of me, the movie screen starts at the floor and rises so high it's like seeing "Divergent" on the side of a building. At the moment warrior princess Tris, played by a fierce Shailene Woodley, is about to jump onto a speeding train. I can feel the train coming. Seriously, I can feel it. The subwoofers embedded in the cushy comfort of the theater's reclining chairs let the sound vibrate through my body.

Review: 'The Raid 2' is a martial arts genre kick in the gut

4:55 PM PDT, March 27, 2014

Review: 'The Raid 2' is a martial arts genre kick in the gut

There is a scene midway through Gareth Evans' action-crime thriller "The Raid 2" that exemplifies the excruciating and exhilarating experience of this gripping paean to the ballet, brutality and blood that courses through martial arts films. The players are not the key ones, but the action is exquisite as two attractive 20-ish Indonesian assassins, a brother-sister team, identify their target in a subway car.

 Review: Scarlett Johansson mesmerizes while getting 'Under the Skin'

4:15 PM PDT, April 3, 2014

Review: Scarlett Johansson mesmerizes while getting 'Under the Skin'

To truly get "Under the Skin," it's helpful to come in with no preconceptions, no expectations, and just give yourself over to the primal ooze of the experience filmmaker Jonathan Glazer has created and Scarlett Johansson has made brilliantly, unnervingly real.

 Review: 'Dom Hemingway' makes a wreck of Jude Law and any enjoyment

5:00 AM PDT, April 2, 2014

Review: 'Dom Hemingway' makes a wreck of Jude Law and any enjoyment

No hint of the debonair playboy that earned Jude Law his first Oscar nomination for "The Talented Mr. Ripley" is found in the banged-up, bloated safecracker on the loose in "Dom Hemingway," a new black comedy that liberates the actor in strangely fascinating and weirdly repellent ways.

'Muppets Most Wanted' review: fun with the fuzz vs. the fuzzy

6:00 PM PDT, March 20, 2014

'Muppets Most Wanted' review: fun with the fuzz vs. the fuzzy

The only thing better than one Kermit is two. And the only thing better than two Kermits is one with a Russian accent. Throw Tina Fey into a gulag, force Ricky Gervais to play second fiddle to a nefarious frog, stick Ray Liotta in a chorus line and you have a sense of the zany extremes to be found in "Muppets Most Wanted."

 Review: Next to 'Fast & Furious,' 'Need for Speed' stalls out

4:28 PM PDT, March 13, 2014

Review: Next to 'Fast & Furious,' 'Need for Speed' stalls out

The first thing to know about "Need for Speed" is this: It's no "Fast & Furious."

Review: 'Cesar Chavez' captures only the shell of the complicated man

3:43 PM PDT, March 27, 2014

Review: 'Cesar Chavez' captures only the shell of the complicated man

Cesar Chavez, the man who became the face of disenfranchised California farmworkers, was many things: courageous, controversial, quietly charismatic, politically astute, singular in his focus.

 Review: 'Veronica Mars' welcomes the old gang back for familiar fun

4:45 PM PDT, March 13, 2014

Review: 'Veronica Mars' welcomes the old gang back for familiar fun

"Veronica Mars," the movie, is just so Veronica Mars.

Dark humor, sarcasm and biting comedy punctuate 'Bad Words'

3:57 PM PDT, March 13, 2014

Dark humor, sarcasm and biting comedy punctuate 'Bad Words'

Sarcastic, sanctimonious, salacious, sly, slight and surprisingly sweet, the black comedy of "Bad Words," starring and directed by Jason Bateman, is high-minded, foul-mouthed good nonsense.

  James Franco, in flux

11:00 AM PDT, March 15, 2014

James Franco, in flux

I fear for the future of James Franco's acting career.

 Review: '300: Rise of an Empire' looks great but is weak in plot

3:05 PM PST, March 6, 2014

Review: '300: Rise of an Empire' looks great but is weak in plot

As much performance art as movie, "300: Rise of an Empire" unfolds as beautiful, bloody, slow-motion machismo. Torsos bared, swords flashing, another 300 rock the leather skirts and loincloths with pounding, passionate music perfectly underscoring this latest round of the "beautiful death" the ancient Greeks were so poetic about.

Oscars 2014: Blanchett, Nyong'o wins show female resilience is victor

5:30 AM PST, March 3, 2014

Oscars 2014: Blanchett, Nyong'o wins show female resilience is victor

Cate Blanchett was grateful and defiant in picking up the lead actress Oscar for her devastating performance in "Blue Jasmine," suggesting those who dismiss a film with a female star as "niche" are the cliche. Lupita Nyong'o's gracious words on her supporting actress win for "12 Years a Slave," spoke of a love of the art, of its power to heal great divides.

Review: 'Ernest & Celestine' a magical bonbon with painterly touch

5:20 PM PST, February 27, 2014

Review: 'Ernest & Celestine' a magical bonbon with painterly touch

"Ernest & Celestine," the charming French-Belgium animated film and Oscar contender, is about a bear and a mouse whose artistic tendencies are forever getting them into trouble. Marked as outsiders by their respective societies, an unlikely friendship is forged, an ill-tempered uproar unleashed, and a delightful movie is the result.

Review: 'Mr. Peabody & Sherman' may be too smart for its own good

3:47 PM PST, March 6, 2014

Review: 'Mr. Peabody & Sherman' may be too smart for its own good

In that ever-expanding world of kid/grown-up movies, "Mr. Peabody & Sherman" reveals a case of conflicted allegiances.

Review: 'Bag Man' with John Cusack, Robert De Niro deserves the sack

5:10 PM PST, February 27, 2014

Review: 'Bag Man' with John Cusack, Robert De Niro deserves the sack

There are so many good reasons to bag "The Bag Man." Where to begin?

Review: 'Omar' is heartbreaking tale of love across isolation walls

4:35 PM PST, February 20, 2014

Review: 'Omar' is heartbreaking tale of love across isolation walls

There are two distinct images that open "Omar." One is a face; one is a wall.

Oscars 2014: Spotlighting the down-ballot Academy Award categories

6:00 AM PST, March 2, 2014

Oscars 2014

Oscars 2014: Spotlighting the down-ballot Academy Award categories

An Oscar, whether it is for lead actress or for makeup and hair, weighs exactly the same (8.5 pounds). A win in production design represents a level of achievement in a craft on par with best director. The night for all the winners is just as golden — same stars overhead.

Oscars 2014: For many, '12 Years a Slave' is too hard to watch

5:00 AM PST, February 27, 2014

Oscars 2014: For many, '12 Years a Slave' is too hard to watch

Come Sunday night, director Steve McQueen's critically praised rendering of the true story of Solomon Northup, a free black man kidnapped and sold into slavery in the Antebellum South, may win the Academy Award for best picture.

 Review: '3 Days to Kill' a spy thriller with faulty aim

4:00 PM PST, February 20, 2014

Review: '3 Days to Kill' a spy thriller with faulty aim

Is McG going soft on us? Has the director behind so much of the 21st century's over-the-top action — from the light froth of his "Charlie's Angels" reboot to the post-apocalyptic dark of "Terminator Salvation" — tapped into a more sentimental side?

Quentin Tarantino's 'Hateful Eight' deserves to get made

2:00 PM PST, February 21, 2014

Quentin Tarantino's 'Hateful Eight' deserves to get made

"The Hateful Eight" is bold work by an artist pushing himself to the creative edge as he devises a Rubik's Cube of contradictions for his audience.

Review: This 'RoboCop' model could use a recall

5:05 PM PST, February 11, 2014

Review: This 'RoboCop' model could use a recall

In the 27 years since "RoboCop" first rocked the movie world, much has happened and apparently the filmmakers behind this year's remake didn't get the memo. A straight-up old-school bot-man morph isn't quite so spectacular with "Transformers," "Terminators," "Avatar" and all-things Xbox over-populating the action landscape. (Not to mention superheroes galore.)

Review: 'Hank: 5 Years From the Brink' is an economic horror story

5:23 PM PST, February 13, 2014

Review: 'Hank: 5 Years From the Brink' is an economic horror story

There's a story former U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry "Hank" Paulson tells in Joe Berlinger's unsettling new documentary, "Hank: 5 Years From the Brink," about "Goodnight Moon."

 Review: As a Valentine's music video, 'Endless Love' delivers the hearts and flowers

3:16 PM PST, February 13, 2014

Review: As a Valentine's music video, 'Endless Love' delivers the hearts and flowers

In "Endless Love," the gauzy new romantic drama starring Alex Pettyfer and Gabriella Wilde as the meant-to-be-togethers, one thing is certain — sometimes beauty is only skin deep.

 'At Middleton' romantic comedy gets a middling grade

2:05 PM PST, January 30, 2014

'At Middleton' romantic comedy gets a middling grade

"At Middleton," the new romantic comedy starring Vera Farmiga and Andy Garcia as strangers who collide during a campus tour with their college-bound kids, is like a feckless flirtation.

 Sundance Film Festival's shorts lineup an inventive, diverse field

9:00 AM PST, January 25, 2014

Sundance Film Festival's shorts lineup an inventive, diverse field

Donkeys who stare, salesmen who pester, filmmakers who prod, killers who smile and kids who run wild are just a few of the weird, wacky and wonderful ideas that drive the indefinable 66 that fill this year's shorts program at the Sundance Film Festival.

Review: Nothing can rescue 'Welcome to the Jungle'

3:30 PM PST, February 6, 2014

Review: Nothing can rescue 'Welcome to the Jungle'

Jean-Claude Van Damme — don't! Don't go into the jungle!

 Review: 'In Bloom' follows fate of young girls in a changing country

3:18 PM PST, February 6, 2014

Review: 'In Bloom' follows fate of young girls in a changing country

The excellent new drama "In Bloom," Georgia's Oscar entry in the foreign-language category, has the heartbreak and hope of a country slipped inside a coming-of age-story of two 14-year-old girls.

 Review: 'Stranger by the Lake' an irresistible French thriller

4:45 PM PST, January 30, 2014

Review: 'Stranger by the Lake' an irresistible French thriller

Despite the sunshine, gentle breezes and placid waters, something wicked this way comes in "Stranger by the Lake," French filmmaker Alain Guiraudie's tantalizingly erotic fable of love, passion and death.

Review: 'Gimme Shelter' collapses, but Vanessa Hudgens still stands

3:10 PM PST, January 23, 2014

Review: 'Gimme Shelter' collapses, but Vanessa Hudgens still stands

"Gimme Shelter," a ripped-from-real-life story of a pregnant teen's journey toward hope, is filled with very good intentions, very bad dialogue and a surprisingly affecting turn by its star Vanessa Hudgens.

Today's film characters may be unlikable, but they're not unworthy

2:00 PM PST, January 23, 2014

Today's film characters may be unlikable, but they're not unworthy

These days, it seems as if the collective voice of moviegoers echoes the Taylor Swift lament "Why you gotta be so mean?"

This year's Oscar-nominated shorts delve into deep subjects

8:00 AM PST, February 1, 2014

Oscars 2014

This year's Oscar-nominated shorts delve into deep subjects

The 15 short films nominated for Oscars each year, five in each category — live action, animation and documentary — usually feel completely untethered to their longer siblings. But this year, the shorts, like the longs, are a serious, substantial bunch, with a great many international contenders among them.

Subtle shades of greatness frame cinematography nominations

5:00 AM PST, January 17, 2014

Oscars 2014

Subtle shades of greatness frame cinematography nominations

Gray is the new black. Night, the new day. Rain, the new sun. Clouds gather, shadows linger. The Oscar-nominated cinematographers' images fill the screen with a beauty only possible in worlds gone monochromatic, turning the most elemental of color palettes stunningly rich, subtly vibrant. Incredible combinations of charcoal, smoke, gunmetal and slate.

Review: 'Gloria's' portrait of older singles brims with authenticity

3:22 PM PST, January 23, 2014

Review: 'Gloria's' portrait of older singles brims with authenticity

There is a naturalistic charm to the truth-telling going on in "Gloria," Chilean director Sebastian Lelio's near-perfect film about the very imperfect world of a divorced woman of a certain age.

Review: 'The Lego Movie' is a tall stack of subversive fun

12:00 PM PST, February 6, 2014

Review: 'The Lego Movie' is a tall stack of subversive fun

"The Lego Movie" is a massive collision of subversive humor, hyper-kinetic energy, mind-jangling design, spinning colors and about 15 million Legos, no exaggeration.

 Sundance Film Festival: Lucy Walker in 'Lion's' den of fear, courage

6:00 AM PST, January 18, 2014

Sundance 2014

Sundance Film Festival: Lucy Walker in 'Lion's' den of fear, courage

Documentary filmmaker Lucy Walker envisioned "The Lion's Mouth Opens," which screens as part of the documentary shorts program at the Sundance Film Festival, as "an espresso shot to the heart."

Review: 'That Awkward Moment' is uncomfortable for many reasons

3:15 PM PST, January 30, 2014

Review: 'That Awkward Moment' is uncomfortable for many reasons

"That Awkward Moment," starring Zac Efron, Michael B. Jordan, Miles Teller and many beddable beauties, is technically about the moment when a woman wants the relationship to be something more and the guy walks away.

 Review: 'Ride Along' coasts on Kevin Hart's comedy

5:50 PM PST, January 16, 2014

Review: 'Ride Along' coasts on Kevin Hart's comedy

"Ride Along," the latest go at the action-comedy-buddy-cop genre, has the stone-hard cool of Ice Cube and the manic energy of stand-up comic Kevin Hart.

Review: Reitman's 'Labor Day' is lovely but weighed down by the past

4:40 PM PST, December 26, 2013

Review: Reitman's 'Labor Day' is lovely but weighed down by the past

Sometimes the past trips you up. It certainly does Frank, the escaped con played by Josh Brolin in Jason Reitman's new drama, "Labor Day." It definitely unravels Adele, the reclusive single mother Kate Winslet makes so fragile. It is already a defining factor for 13-year-old Henry, played by newcomer Gattlin Griffith, by the time Frank comes into their lives.

Golden Globes 2014: Tina, Amy, Leonardo let us in on the fun

6:00 AM PST, January 13, 2014

Golden Globes 2014

Golden Globes 2014: Tina, Amy, Leonardo let us in on the fun

Remember who won supporting actor Sunday night at the Golden Globes? Or screenplay? Or score? Best movie — well there are two of those, so it's confusing before they even get to the envelope.

Review: Scorsese, DiCaprio go hunting in 'Wolf of Wall Street'

10:54 AM PST, December 24, 2013

Review: Scorsese, DiCaprio go hunting in 'Wolf of Wall Street'

Think you already hate those Wall Street high rollers who took so many investors for a ride in the '90s?

Review: Peter Berg's fierce 'Lone Survivor' captures realities of war

11:35 AM PST, December 24, 2013

Review: Peter Berg's fierce 'Lone Survivor' captures realities of war

In "Lone Survivor," filmmaker Peter Berg has finally found the right war to fight and the right cast to fight it. Based on Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell's memoir of a failed military operation in Afghanistan, the action is led by Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster and Eric Bana.

 Review: 'Walking With Dinosaurs' stumbles in its new environment

3:25 PM PST, December 19, 2013

Review: 'Walking With Dinosaurs' stumbles in its new environment

The new 3-D nature tale "Walking With Dinosaurs" is nothing like its predecessors.

 Review: Hope survives desperation in 'These Birds Walk'

1:15 PM PST, November 27, 2013

Review: Hope survives desperation in 'These Birds Walk'

"These Birds Walk" opens in the darkness just before dawn with a young boy racing into the tide. Shirt and shorts are soon soaked, the sense of freedom absolute.

 Nelson Mandela's unforgettable face, spirit captivate film world

5:00 PM PST, December 5, 2013

Nelson Mandela's unforgettable face, spirit captivate film world

The year is 1992. Nelson Mandela, two years beyond his release from 27 years of political imprisonment and two years before he will be elected president of South Africa, stands before a classroom of Soweto children.

Girl power has caught fire at the box office

11:00 AM PST, December 6, 2013

Girl power has caught fire at the box office

On a Friday a few weeks ago, the "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire's" first full day in theaters, I made my way into the real world — or at least as real as Rick Caruso's Americana at Brand gets — to see what the pre-"Games" party looked like, then take in the show.

Best of 2013: Betsy Sharkey picks 'Gravity,' 'American Hustle'

2:24 PM PST, December 19, 2013

Best of 2013: Betsy Sharkey picks 'Gravity,' 'American Hustle'

In this time when news is disseminated ever more quickly, we asked our critics to list the best of culture in 2013 in tweet form:

 'Sunlight Jr.' portrays the bleak and bankrupt brilliantly

3:40 PM PST, November 14, 2013

'Sunlight Jr.' portrays the bleak and bankrupt brilliantly

Early on in the excellent new indie drama "Sunlight Jr.," a thunderstorm turns the Florida sky a low-hanging gray. A car runs out of gas. A couple on their last dime are stranded — on the roadside and in lives as empty of promise as that tank.

Review: 'Black Nativity' is stage-bound but musically gifted

3:05 PM PST, November 26, 2013

Review: 'Black Nativity' is stage-bound but musically gifted

"Black Nativity" — the movie — seems like such a good idea.

Review: Teller's 'Tim's Vermeer' paints fascinating picture

1:14 PM PST, December 12, 2013

Review: Teller's 'Tim's Vermeer' paints fascinating picture

"Tim's Vermeer" is a fascinating new documentary about art, obsessions, ideas and answers.

Review: 'Hours' clocks in as a modest memorial to Paul Walker

8:54 AM PST, December 13, 2013

Review: 'Hours' clocks in as a modest memorial to Paul Walker

"Hours," one of Paul Walker's last films and arriving in theaters just two weeks after his death in a fiery crash, comes as a modest memorial to the 40-year-old's career. But it is not the stirring emotional performance many hoped for, nor will it redefine the actor, best known for playing opposite Vin Diesel in "The Fast and Furious" franchise.

Review: 'Frozen' an icy blast of fun from the first snowflake

3:25 PM PST, November 21, 2013

Review: 'Frozen' an icy blast of fun from the first snowflake

Walt Disney Pictures has its animation mojo back. Finally.

Review: In 'Anchorman 2,' the classy-or-not gags continue

4:55 PM PST, December 17, 2013

Review: In 'Anchorman 2,' the classy-or-not gags continue

Every time I see Ron Burgundy, a.k.a. Will Ferrell, hawking Dodge Durangos on TV — which seems like a million times a day — what strikes me is how brilliant the "Anchorman" conceit is in small bits. The carefully manicured hair, the flashy suits, all just window dressing for that marvelously bloated ego, the absurd made irresistible in 60-second increments.

Does an actor need to be on screen to be recognized?

3:12 PM PST, December 19, 2013

Does an actor need to be on screen to be recognized?

As a film critic, I spend many hours thinking and writing about performances each year. Yet when the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. announced that it would not consider Scarlett Johansson's work in "Her" for a Golden Globes award, it stopped me.

Bullock, Streep, Dench: Golden time for actresses of a certain age

8:00 AM PST, December 19, 2013

Oscars 2014 Oscars 2014

Bullock, Streep, Dench: Golden time for actresses of a certain age

June Squibb, 84; Judi Dench, 79; Meryl Streep, 64; Oprah Winfrey, 59; Emma Thompson, 54; Sandra Bullock, 49; Julia Roberts, 46; Cate Blanchett, 44; Lupita Nyong'o, 30; Jennifer Lawrence, 23.

Review: Lively 'The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug' has welcome ring

1:00 PM PST, December 11, 2013

Review: Lively 'The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug' has welcome ring

The Hobbit lives …

 Review: 'Paradise: Hope' completes Ulrich Seidl trilogy with a touch of kindness

6:20 PM PST, December 5, 2013

Review: 'Paradise: Hope' completes Ulrich Seidl trilogy with a touch of kindness

"Paradise: Hope," the final chapter in Austrian director Ulrich Seidl's trilogy on the dissonance between the dreams and realities of women and girls, is the most hopeful — and the best — of this solid and unsettling series.

Review: Chomsky smartly animated in 'Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy?'

3:06 PM PST, November 21, 2013

Review: Chomsky smartly animated in 'Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy?'

Academic and author Noam Chomsky is a creative but very structural thinker, stringing ideas together like dominoes. One thought progresses to the next, carefully placed with a logic and precision born of years of linguistics analysis shoring up each one.

 Review: 'Out of the Furnace' beautifully captures bare-knuckle lives

4:45 PM PST, December 3, 2013

Review: 'Out of the Furnace' beautifully captures bare-knuckle lives

There is an unnerving moment deep inside the working-class drama "Out of the Furnace" when a primal scream cuts short an old argument between two brothers. Ripped from the emotional core of the younger, a burned-out Army soldier, Rodney Baze, played by Casey Affleck, it is frustration made manifest — a wordless rage against the death of the American dream.

Review: In 'Delivery Man,' Vince Vaughn grows up, with the help of 533 kids

4:40 PM PST, November 21, 2013

Review: In 'Delivery Man,' Vince Vaughn grows up, with the help of 533 kids

Vince Vaughn and his new movie, "Delivery Man," have me rethinking my vow to avoid using the description "feel-good" before the word "movie" at all costs.

Critic's Pick: Seven reasons to see '12 Years a Slave'

12:49 PM PDT, October 30, 2013

Critic's Pick: Seven reasons to see '12 Years a Slave'

The critical praise for "12 Years a Slave" has hit with all the fervor of a revival preacher, the film's significance so heavily underscored as to be almost intimidating. Now, I'm not suggesting this horrific piece of our history isn't challenging material, but director Steve McQueen and screenwriter John Ridley use the full measure of filmmaking's potential to gripping effect. The actors, fearless and fierce, do exceptional work to convert the abstract idea of slavery into concrete shape and form. For those still conflicted about seeing it, here are seven more reasons: Chiwetel Ejiofor, as the freeman kidnapped, shipped south and sold into slavery, reveals the very soul of bondage, from the weight of the chains to the unquenchable drive to shed them. Lupita Nyong'o as Patsey, raped by her master, despised by her mistress, beaten without mercy, makes despair defiant. Michael Fassbender and Sarah Paulson as sadistic slave owners expose the blackened heart of the inhumane. Benedict Cumberbatch as the patrician plantation owner lays bare the price of complacency. Brad Pitt as a carpenter shows the effect of a moral man's single decent act. And Solomon Northup, whose story this is, reminds of the power in truth and the importance of telling it.

 Review: Spike Lee reveals a new side in 'Oldboy'

1:27 PM PST, November 26, 2013

Review: Spike Lee reveals a new side in 'Oldboy'

Brace yourself. Spike Lee has gone all Quentin Tarantino on us.

Review: Love at its finest in 'Blue Is the Warmest Color'

3:10 PM PDT, October 24, 2013

Review: Love at its finest in 'Blue Is the Warmest Color'

The moral of "Blue Is the Warmest Color" is simple: Sex without love is nothing; life without love is even less.

Review: 'Best Man Holiday' a raucous yet thoughtful reunion

3:40 PM PST, November 14, 2013

Review: 'Best Man Holiday' a raucous yet thoughtful reunion

"The Best Man Holiday" is a reunion story, a reconciliation story, a get-down-on-your-knees-and-pray story, a circle-of-life story. But above all it is filmmaker Malcolm D. Lee's dissertation on the current state of the black experience as upscale, evolving, faith-based and agitated.

Review: 'The Ghosts in Our Machine' champions animal rights

3:40 PM PST, November 14, 2013

Review: 'The Ghosts in Our Machine' champions animal rights

Many documentaries steeped in social or political issues get very insistent and often very noisy in expressing a point of view. Michael Moore is of course the model for effective, engaging and defiantly in-your-face activism in this arena.

Review: 'Dallas Buyers Club' led well by McConaughey, Leto

12:55 PM PDT, October 31, 2013

Review: 'Dallas Buyers Club' led well by McConaughey, Leto

Few actors can play a grifter and a good ol' boy with the laid-back precision of Matthew McConaughey. Between the sidewinder glances, the sardonic grin and that slippery Texas drawl, he uses irony, edge and considerable charm to move us into taking his most questionable characters seriously, while we forgive their indiscretions.

Movie Review: Mischief and mayhem in 'The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete'

2:55 PM PDT, October 10, 2013

Movie Review: Mischief and mayhem in 'The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete'

"The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete" is a moving bit of mischief and mayhem that will break your heart, give you hope, make you laugh, possibly cry.

Review: 'Enzo Avitabile Music Life' sits in on extended jam session

2:59 PM PDT, October 24, 2013

Review: 'Enzo Avitabile Music Life' sits in on extended jam session

Over time, I've come to trust Jonathan Demme's taste in music. There is something both idiosyncratic and astute about the soundtracks of his narrative features, whether a breakout hit from Bruce Springsteen in "Philadelphia," which won an Oscar for original song, or the more subtle alt-rock shadings in "Rachel Getting Married."

Review: Johnny Knoxville's 'Bad Grandpa' is higher-brow lowbrow

4:00 PM PDT, October 24, 2013

Review: Johnny Knoxville's 'Bad Grandpa' is higher-brow lowbrow

Words I thought I'd never write: "Jackass" Johnny Knoxville has made an actual movie.

Review: Robert Redford shows why he's a star in 'All Is Lost'

3:50 PM PDT, October 17, 2013

Review: Robert Redford shows why he's a star in 'All Is Lost'

"All Is Lost" begins in darkness. There is a voice, though. Weary, almost apologetic, our man speaks of struggle, of trying and failing against an unforgiving sea. But soon the words stop and other languages — sight, sound, silence — pick up the story.

 Review: 'Runner Runner' runs hot, cold with Ben Affleck, Justin Timberlake

4:05 PM PDT, October 3, 2013

Review: 'Runner Runner' runs hot, cold with Ben Affleck, Justin Timberlake

Only one word describes the effect of watching Ben Affleck slowly dial down the temperature one degree at a time in "Runner Runner": Cool. Frank Sinatra cool.

Review: 'Carrie' hasn't evolved much since 1976

2:19 PM PDT, October 17, 2013

Review: 'Carrie' hasn't evolved much since 1976

"Carrie," the horror cult classic based on novelist Stephen King's great girl roar against bullies, body, religion and mom, is back on the big screen with more teen trauma than ever and a new party dress for the prom.

Review: Nothing to fear in 'Nothing Left to Fear'

3:56 PM PDT, October 3, 2013

Review: Nothing to fear in 'Nothing Left to Fear'

For cheap thrills, "Nothing Left to Fear" is true to its title. Director Anthony Leonardi III and writer Jonathan Mills have let not one scary moment on screen.

Review: 'Parkland' shaky in showing days after JFK's assassination

4:00 PM PDT, October 3, 2013

Review: 'Parkland' shaky in showing days after JFK's assassination

"Parkland" hangs on a split second on Nov. 22, 1963, when a president was shot, a country was wounded and a city was brought to its knees. This unsettling film zeros in on the initial impact — just four days — for those closest to the president, for the many ordinary people of Dallas who became involved, and for a city that would begin to wear the assassination of John F. Kennedy like a shroud.

TIFF 2013: A bounty of Benedict Cumberbatch performances

7:00 AM PDT, September 10, 2013

TIFF 2013: A bounty of Benedict Cumberbatch performances

TORONTO — Catching up with Benedict Cumberbatch at the Toronto International Film Festival is a bit of a sprint.

Review: Death and the Beats' birth drive 'Kill Your Darlings'

7:00 AM PDT, October 16, 2013

Review: Death and the Beats' birth drive 'Kill Your Darlings'

Early on in "Kill Your Darlings," 18-year-old Allen Ginsberg, played by Daniel Radcliffe, is on a freshman orientation tour of the Columbia University library when a fellow student jumps on a desk and begins quoting Henry Miller. Shouting provocative language from a banned book in a staid library is not just a singular act of rebellion, it's a glimpse of the literary anarchy to come and a look at Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan), Ginsberg's first love.

 Review: 'Shepard & Dark' — two sides of a curmudgeonly coin

3:10 PM PDT, October 10, 2013

Review: 'Shepard & Dark' — two sides of a curmudgeonly coin

There is a distinctive intimacy to a handwritten letter between friends. You can feel the emotion behind the stroke of the pen, layers of meaning in the choice of a word.

Review: 'Romeo & Juliet' treads carefully where it should blaze

1:25 PM PDT, October 10, 2013

Review: 'Romeo & Juliet' treads carefully where it should blaze

When it comes to the star-crossed love of Romeo and Juliet, whether you use the language of Shakespeare or the discourse of Twitter, the passion must be scorching, the angst and the irony feuding, the desire unquenchable, the deaths unending.

Review: 'We Are What We Are' cooks up a haunting tale of cannibalism

3:50 PM PDT, September 26, 2013

Review: 'We Are What We Are' cooks up a haunting tale of cannibalism

If American Gothic tales intrigue, if a taste for the macabre tempts, the Parkers in "We Are What We Are" are certain to haunt.

 Review: 'Thanks for Sharing' engages but leaves you asking for more

1:34 PM PDT, September 19, 2013

Review: 'Thanks for Sharing' engages but leaves you asking for more

"Thanks for Sharing" is a bit like the recovery scene it digs into — filled with intoxicating highs and dispiriting lows.

The war within, explored in 'Omar,' 'Canopy' and 'Break Loose'

7:30 AM PDT, September 7, 2013

The war within, explored in 'Omar,' 'Canopy' and 'Break Loose'

— The state of war is also a state of mind, terrifying even the bravest as it changes and challenges them.

Amid Obama presidency, films take major leap in facing race head-on

2:00 PM PDT, September 12, 2013

Amid Obama presidency, films take major leap in facing race head-on

TORONTO — Watching Steve McQueen's achingly brilliant "12 Years a Slave" at the Toronto International Film Festival, I was struck by many things. The film's artistry — script, performances, imagery — is significant. The movie is beautifully, painfully wrought at every turn.

Sandra Bullock pulls off career relaunch with 'Gravity'

7:00 AM PDT, September 13, 2013

Sandra Bullock pulls off career relaunch with 'Gravity'

TORONTO — It was after midnight, after the gala showing of director Alfonso Cuarón's "Gravity" at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sunday, after the wildly emotional standing ovation, after actress Sandra Bullock in a stunning black-and-white sheath waded into waves of raves for her performance at the film's after-party, that a sense of certainty about "Gravity's" pull settled in.

 Review: 'Computer Chess' a few moves away from great satire

3:21 PM PDT, August 1, 2013

Review: 'Computer Chess' a few moves away from great satire

You need no particular knowledge or affection for the game of kings to appreciate the whimsy of "Computer Chess."

 Review: 'We're the Millers' can't fake the laughs

5:00 AM PDT, August 6, 2013

Review: 'We're the Millers' can't fake the laughs

Let's start with the story behind "We're the Millers," the new comedy starring Jennifer Aniston and Jason Sudeikis.

Movie review: Artistry, marriage at heart of 'Cutie and the Boxer'

2:29 PM PDT, August 15, 2013

Movie review: Artistry, marriage at heart of 'Cutie and the Boxer'

There is a scene early in "Cutie and the Boxer" of 80-year-old Ushio Shinohara brushing his teeth, although attacking his teeth would come closer to the ferocity with which he goes at the job.

Review: Cop and kingpin duel for upper hand in 'Drug War'

3:15 PM PDT, August 1, 2013

Review: Cop and kingpin duel for upper hand in 'Drug War'

An explosion, a drug overdose, a car wreck, an undercover sting. All happen in such quick succession in the crime thriller "Drug War," the sensation is like being dropped into the middle of something much larger than random villainy.

 Review: Family ties bind and swaddle in 'Mother of George'

3:45 PM PDT, September 19, 2013

Review: Family ties bind and swaddle in 'Mother of George'

"Mother of George" is an unexpected gem about true love, infertility and a meddling mother-in-law. The couple under duress is part of Brooklyn's close-knit Nigerian immigrant community. Not a side of that borough we usually see.

Review: Leland Orser's 'Morning' is moving but uneven

3:54 PM PDT, September 26, 2013

Review: Leland Orser's 'Morning' is moving but uneven

"Morning" is about mourning. I'm sure the connection is one its author intended.

Review: In 'All Is Bright,' good actors decorate a scraggly Christmas tale

9:06 AM PDT, October 4, 2013

Review: In 'All Is Bright,' good actors decorate a scraggly Christmas tale

"All is Bright" — "All Is Bright" is a bit of holiday melancholy masquerading as black comedy. Paul Giamatti, Paul Rudd and Sally Hawkins star in this sweet, sad tale of thieves and other lost causes tangled up in a Brooklyn Christmas tree lot one very cold December. Love of the same good woman, Therese (Amy Landecker), has both trying to go almost straight, selling bootleg Christmas trees in the big city. The film is rather rough and seedy as holiday fables go, and quite often the ideas and characters are only half baked. But somehow, Giamatti and Hawkins, in particular, make the watching a little brighter, the bitter a little sweeter. It's the gift of good actors helping the scraggliest of Christmas tales. —Betsy Sharkey

Review: Joseph Gordon-Levitt's 'Don Jon' is a smart R-rated comedy

6:30 AM PDT, September 27, 2013

Review: Joseph Gordon-Levitt's 'Don Jon' is a smart R-rated comedy

Who would have thought one of the most amusing and oddly insightful romantic comedies would be built around the power and the potent pull of porn?

Movie review: 'Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2' cooks up crazy fun

3:45 PM PDT, September 26, 2013

Movie review: 'Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2' cooks up crazy fun

I have no idea what effect foodimals will have on the ecosystem, and I do worry. But the 3-D animated movie mash-up that creates such exotic species as taco-diles, shrim-panzees, banan-ostriches and, my favorite, fla-mangoes makes for some pretty delicious family fun in "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2."

 Review: 'In a World...' is a winning behind-the-mike drama

5:15 PM PDT, August 8, 2013

Review: 'In a World...' is a winning behind-the-mike drama

"In a World…" Sitting on a page staring at you, the words feel flat.

Review: This time, the girls get raunchy in 'The To Do List'

3:37 PM PDT, July 25, 2013

Review: This time, the girls get raunchy in 'The To Do List'

You can count on summer movies for one sure thing — a teenager will fumble through his or her first sexual experience. On-screen, I mean.

Movie review: 'Prisoners' is captivating and relentless

1:10 PM PDT, September 19, 2013

Movie review: 'Prisoners' is captivating and relentless

Like the kidnapping at the tortured heart of "Prisoners," once this chilling thriller about a parent's worst nightmare grabs you, it refuses to let go.

Review: 'Ain't Them Bodies Saints' is a romantic sinner

2:02 PM PDT, August 15, 2013

Review: 'Ain't Them Bodies Saints' is a romantic sinner

"Ain't Them Bodies Saints" is a wistful and wayward drama about an outlaw couple who will get under your skin and work on your heart if you're not careful.

Movie review: 'Paranoia' has bells and whistles but glitches too

2:52 PM PDT, August 15, 2013

Movie review: 'Paranoia' has bells and whistles but glitches too

There are roles worth shaving your head for … I'm thinking Anne Hathaway's severely shorn locks in "Les Misérables," Ben Kingsley's meditative pate in "Gandhi," and Oscars for both. Buzzed is an easy way to say tough with real conviction — Jake Gyllenhaal's seared soldier in "Jarhead," Natalie Portman's futuristic punk in "V for Vendetta" and Charlize Theron taking it down to the roots for next year's new edition of "Mad Max." And honestly, would "The Rock" have wrestled his way to movie stardom so memorably if Dwayne Johnson hadn't gone boldly bare?

Review: 'Prince Avalanche' is meditative without resolution

6:05 PM PDT, August 8, 2013

Review: 'Prince Avalanche' is meditative without resolution

Leave it to off-center auteur David Gordon Green to put a yellow dividing line right down the middle of his new movie, "Prince Avalanche." You need look no further for his central metaphor.

From 'Gravity' to '12 Years a Slave,' film fare gets serious in fall

9:00 AM PDT, August 30, 2013

Fall Movies 2013

From 'Gravity' to '12 Years a Slave,' film fare gets serious in fall

Lost at sea, lost in space, lost children, lost freedom, lost homeland, lost money, lost identity, lost jobs, lost hope, lost faith, lost lives: This fall, this is film. This is serious. I can't wait.

Review: 'Blue Jasmine' a bleak but moving gem

12:30 PM PDT, July 25, 2013

Review: 'Blue Jasmine' a bleak but moving gem

She's come undone. The title of one of my favorite Wally Lamb novels about a woman over the edge kept running through my mind as I watched Woody Allen's new film "Blue Jasmine."

Review: 'Planes' stays grounded while it might have soared

4:30 PM PDT, August 8, 2013

Review: 'Planes' stays grounded while it might have soared

"Planes," the new animated action adventure from Disney, is a jaunty excursion into the wild blue yonder where planes do the talking, as well as the flying, and a crop-dusting underdog dreams of making the Wings Around the Globe racing circuit.

Review: In 'Red 2,' aging spies return for more AARP-style havoc

2:25 PM PDT, July 18, 2013

Review: In 'Red 2,' aging spies return for more AARP-style havoc

The new action spy thriller "Red 2" starring Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Mary-Louise Parker and Helen Mirren opens at a Costco. The only action at the moment is a shopping cart with a bum wheel. A heated discussion about backyard grills and power sprays is underway. Until a box, a bomb and an old spy on Aisle 3 threaten to upset this banal scene.

Review: 'The Spectacular Now' is an intoxicating brew of teen angst

2:04 PM PDT, August 1, 2013

Review: 'The Spectacular Now' is an intoxicating brew of teen angst

In the opening moments of "The Spectacular Now," 17-year-old Sutter is trying to bluff his way through the infamous personal essay on a college application. He is fortified by drink as he tries out charm, wit, cynicism and insult — everything but honesty.

Movie review: 'Only God Forgives' needs to be saved from itself

11:15 AM PDT, July 18, 2013

Movie review: 'Only God Forgives' needs to be saved from itself

God only knows what Nicolas Winding Refn had in mind when he made "Only God Forgives."

Review: 'The Heat' lights up with new buddy-cop twist

4:26 PM PDT, June 27, 2013

Review: 'The Heat' lights up with new buddy-cop twist

"The Heat," starring Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy, is the latest entry in a long-running and much-loved movie joke: the buddy-cop comedy. In this case, a bosom-buddy cop comedy.

 Review: 'The Hunt' a searing study of a single lie's aftermath

6:55 PM PDT, July 11, 2013

Review: 'The Hunt' a searing study of a single lie's aftermath

"The Hunt" is a terrifying cautionary tale about the loss of innocence, sexual abuse and children. But in a chilling twist, the innocence lost is that of a single father, a respected member of the community, a beloved kindergarten teacher suddenly pegged as a pedophile by an angry child.

Movie review: 'The Way, Way Back' has a sweet side and a sting

11:50 AM PDT, July 4, 2013

Movie review: 'The Way, Way Back' has a sweet side and a sting

To begin talking about the new indie film "The Way, Way Back," I want to go way, way back.

Movie review: 'Far Out Isn't Far Enough' is a candid look at Tomi Ungerer's work

3:50 PM PDT, June 20, 2013

Movie review: 'Far Out Isn't Far Enough' is a candid look at Tomi Ungerer's work

"Far out isn't far enough" is the way the once-banned children's book illustrator/writer Tomi Ungerer describes his belief that creativity should have no limits, should face no boundaries.

Review: Pedro Almodovar pilots 'I'm So Excited!' to heights of lunacy

4:45 PM PDT, June 27, 2013

Review: Pedro Almodovar pilots 'I'm So Excited!' to heights of lunacy

I can't remember when, if ever, Pedro Almodóvar has had as much flamboyant fun as he does in the high-flying comedy "I'm So Excited!"

Review: 'In the Fog' makes the harshness of war felt sharply

3:36 PM PDT, July 11, 2013

Review: 'In the Fog' makes the harshness of war felt sharply

It is easy to get absorbed "In the Fog," Sergei Loznitsa's gritty treatise on the art of war.

Review: 'Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus' is a nice trip

4:25 PM PDT, July 11, 2013

Review: 'Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus' is a nice trip

"Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus" is an amusing booze-and-drug-fueled road trip, its travelers on a quest to experience the Holy Grail of highs.

Review: In 'Turbo,' super-charged snail goes on fun ride to Indy 500

6:00 AM PDT, July 17, 2013

Review: In 'Turbo,' super-charged snail goes on fun ride to Indy 500

There are underdogs. And there are underdogs. Then there is "Turbo," a garden snail who dreams of winning the Indy 500.

Review: 'Monsters University'? Go to the bottom of the class

4:10 PM PDT, June 20, 2013

Review: 'Monsters University'? Go to the bottom of the class

Remember the days when Pixar meant perfection? When you could count on its animation to amaze, its stories to sweep you up?

 Review: 'Despicable Me 2' takes refreshing risk with grown-up themes

5:00 AM PDT, July 3, 2013

Review: 'Despicable Me 2' takes refreshing risk with grown-up themes

The pressures of being a single father. The realization that despite everything, your kids still long for a mom. The difficulties of getting a teenage daughter's attention between texting and a boy. The boy. The treacherous emotional terrain of middle-age dating. The challenges of staying relevant in the workplace.

Movie review: 'Violet & Daisy' loses its nerve

June 7, 2013

Movie review: 'Violet & Daisy' loses its nerve

Of all the things I imagined Oscar-winner Geoffrey Fletcher might choose for his directing debut, "Violet & Daisy," the story of two teenage assassins on the loose in New York City, was not on the list.

 TMI: 'Man of Steel' needs less talk from Jor-El

7:00 AM PDT, June 24, 2013

TMI: 'Man of Steel' needs less talk from Jor-El

I have a theory for what is causing "Man of Steel's" faster-than-expected slide at the box office: Jor-El.

Review: Neil Jordan's 'Byzantium' conjures vampires with human touch

4:55 PM PDT, June 27, 2013

Review: Neil Jordan's 'Byzantium' conjures vampires with human touch

"Byzantium" is a very different sort of vampire drama for director Neil Jordan, whose undead were so fabulously rich and fashion-forward in "Interview With the Vampire" so many years ago.

Brad Pitt is a model for aging actors

9:00 AM PDT, June 22, 2013

Brad Pitt is a model for aging actors

In watching Marc Forster's new action drama "World War Z," it's hard not to be struck by how well Brad Pitt is aging.

Review: 'Epic' looks like its title but doesn't feel that way

6:33 PM PDT, May 23, 2013

Review: 'Epic' looks like its title but doesn't feel that way

"Epic," a fairy tale about a tiny universe of creatures who protect the forest, has many virtues.

'The English Teacher' has a class of underachievers

3:10 PM PDT, May 16, 2013

'The English Teacher' has a class of underachievers

"The English Teacher" is a tragedy masquerading as a comedy and doing a disservice to both. The same could be said for the film's normally fine cast. Julianne Moore, Greg Kinnear, Nathan Lane and Michael Angarano have all had better days.

Review: 'Fast & Furious 6' is one sweet ride

7:00 AM PDT, May 23, 2013

Review: 'Fast & Furious 6' is one sweet ride

As Socrates so sagely suggested when he stopped by the set of "Fast & Furious 6" — "Yo, know thyself..."

Hollywood missed its chance with James Gandolfini

2:55 PM PDT, June 20, 2013

Hollywood missed its chance with James Gandolfini

I fell in love with James Gandolfini the first time I heard Tony Soprano say "Ah, Carm…"

 Movie review: Google crashers join Internet age in 'The Internship'

4:30 PM PDT, June 5, 2013

Movie review: Google crashers join Internet age in 'The Internship'

When Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson crashed weddings with such crazy success in 2005, they wanted to get laid. Older and not particularly wiser in "The Internship," the guys now want to get jobs.

Review: Sofia Coppola's 'Bling Ring' a pretty, empty Hollywood tale

4:25 PM PDT, June 13, 2013

Review: Sofia Coppola's 'Bling Ring' a pretty, empty Hollywood tale

For a brief and blinding moment in 2009, the Bling Ring crime spree ruled the social networks, TV news cycles and front pages of newspapers around the globe, including this one. At the time, I was bothered by the way the stories about a gang of affluent teen fashionistas stealing from trend-setting local celebrities underscored our out-of-control obsession with fame.

 Review: 'The Kings of Summer' find safe haven under the sun

6:20 PM PDT, May 30, 2013

Review: 'The Kings of Summer' find safe haven under the sun

"The Kings of Summer" is a coming-of-age story that keeps its humor as dry as the sunbaked days of its particular teen rebellion.

Movie review: 'Plimpton!' an engaging life story told in his words

8:40 AM PDT, June 7, 2013

Movie review: 'Plimpton!' an engaging life story told in his words

George Plimpton spent a lifetime stepping into other people's shoes. It's only fitting that he's finally talking about what it was like to walk in his own.

Review: 'Before Midnight' finds its couple in a dark place

May 24, 2013

Review: 'Before Midnight' finds its couple in a dark place

It was a risk for director Richard Linklater to go so dark in "Before Midnight," the latest round of the romantic musings he began with his stars, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, nearly 20 years ago. The illusions of a more pristine love in "Before Sunrise" have been shelved so that the tipping point in a relationship can be laid bare. A devastating fight is the centerpiece now, the teasing flirtations a distant memory.

Review: 'This Is the End' a towering inferno of fun

2:45 PM PDT, June 11, 2013

Review: 'This Is the End' a towering inferno of fun

Judgment Day comes to Hollywood with a vengeance in "This Is the End." Jonah Hill is in bed with the devil — in James Franco's mansion. An inferno rages in the front yard, and movie star egos are filleted for fun. When the apocalyptic comedy gets deadly serious about roasting the ethos of celebrity, its satire grows white-hot.

Review: 'Star Trek Into Darkness' ramps up action, leaves room for heart

12:10 PM PDT, May 15, 2013

Review: 'Star Trek Into Darkness' ramps up action, leaves room for heart

"Star Trek Into Darkness," bursting at the seams with enemies, wears its politics, its mettle, its moxie and its heart on its ginormous 3-D sleeve. Director J.J. Abrams and the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise try to build a better sequel with action spectacles to get lost in, clever asides to amuse, emotional waves to ride and allusions to terrorism in general and 9/11 specifically.

 Review: 'Lesser Blessed' captures harsh realities with tender grace

June 7, 2013

Review: 'Lesser Blessed' captures harsh realities with tender grace

Set in a small rural town in Canada's Northwest Territories, where cold and decay are constant companions, "The Lesser Blessed" is a little indie gem that begins with a warm bath. Larry Sole (Joel Evans) is submerged, silent, an enigma with soulful eyes.

Review: 'Call Me Kuchu' an unnerving look at Ugandan LGBT struggle

5:54 PM PDT, June 20, 2013

Review: 'Call Me Kuchu' an unnerving look at Ugandan LGBT struggle

In a time when states are ratifying gay marriage at a record pace and the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy is old news, when the Boy Scouts of America reverse a controversial policy and now accept gay scouts, "Call Me Kuchu," a documentary on Uganda's gay rights debate, hits like a series of shock waves.

Review: Under the Italian sun, 'Love Is All You Need'

5:00 PM PDT, May 2, 2013

Review: Under the Italian sun, 'Love Is All You Need'

Danish filmmaker Susanne Bier's excellent tragedies tend to feature the sorts of characters and conflicts that turn up in her newest movie, "Love Is All You Need." We meet a heartbroken widower, a breast-cancer survivor, an unfaithful husband, an estranged son, another headed off to war, a bulimic teenager and witness a wedding that is threatening to implode.

Review: 'The Iceman' can't heat up, even with Michael Shannon

4:58 PM PDT, May 2, 2013

Review: 'The Iceman' can't heat up, even with Michael Shannon

Michael Shannon has basically rewritten the book on how to portray dark, volatile men in film with his unerring way of channeling rage and repression. It was never more chilling, or more fully realized, than his turn as a family man both paralyzed and driven by his apocalyptic fears in 2011's "Take Shelter."

Movie review: 'What Maisie Knew' gives a child's eye view of divorce

3:00 PM PDT, May 16, 2013

Movie review: 'What Maisie Knew' gives a child's eye view of divorce

It is night in an upscale Manhattan apartment. A child, tucked safely into bed, drifts toward sleep to the sounds of her parents tearing each other apart in the next room. Her eyes close, the fighting rumbles on, their words wielded with lethal precision at each other's most vulnerable spots.

Review: 'The East' a complex, provocative morality tale

6:20 PM PDT, May 30, 2013

Review: 'The East' a complex, provocative morality tale

"The East" is a provocative industrial espionage thriller that pits counterculture revolutionaries intent on exposing corporate villainy against the undercover intelligence specialists paid exceedingly well to keep their compromised clientele clean. By spicing up a complex morality tale marked by sophisticated themes with down and dirty back stabbing and betrayals, the movie turns corporate malfeasance into a spy game that is entertaining without being dumbed down.

Review: 'After Earth' crashes on take-off

5:45 PM PDT, May 30, 2013

Review: 'After Earth' crashes on take-off

I have so many questions after seeing "After Earth," the new sci-fi action-adventure starring Will Smith and his 14-year-old son, Jaden.

Oscars: Supporting actor Christian Bale

February 28, 2011

Oscars: Supporting actor Christian Bale

Is there anything Christian Bale can't, or won't, do in service of his art? I swear, if the role called for a 4-foot-tall woman, he'd schedule surgery. Don't even think about how his chilling serial killer in "American Psycho" was constructed.

 Review: 'Hangover Part III' is just one long headache

4:20 PM PDT, May 22, 2013

Review: 'Hangover Part III' is just one long headache

Who let the dogs out?

Review: 'Sightseers' is bloody good fun

4:27 PM PDT, May 9, 2013

Review: 'Sightseers' is bloody good fun

Murder is a funny thing that happens in Ben Wheatley movies, though it's never been droller, drier or deadlier than in "Sightseers," the British filmmaker's latest comic assault.

An appreciation: Jill Clayburgh

November 8, 2010

An appreciation: Jill Clayburgh

There is a classic Jill Clayburgh scene in Paul Mazursky's "An Unmarried Woman," the 1978 film the actress will be remembered for most in a career that kept her busy with work nearly until her death on Friday. She's walking down a crowded New York City sidewalk having just learned her husband is leaving her for someone half her age, the fresh wound visible only in those eyes, a soft cornflower blue gone stone cold.

 The lure of a Southern drawl at the movies

9:00 AM PDT, May 5, 2013

Critic's Notebook

The lure of a Southern drawl at the movies

"There are things you can get away with in this world, and things you can't."

'London Boulevard': Crime, fame, Colin Farrell not a good mix

November 11, 2011

'London Boulevard': Crime, fame, Colin Farrell not a good mix

"London Boulevard," starring Colin Farrell and Keira Knightley, is a pitch-black thriller with ruthless drug bosses and relentless paparazzi sharing bad guy billing. Would that the movie were pitch perfect as well.

Review: Bella is on a tear in 'Twilight' finale

4:00 AM PST, November 15, 2012

Review: Bella is on a tear in 'Twilight' finale

From the moment Bella Swan blinks those blood-red eyes of a newborn vampire, you just know that "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 2" is going to be vampirrific. Which is not quite the same as terrific, but for the swooning series that made heartthrobs of Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner, it just feels right.

Movie review: 'There Be Dragons'

May 6, 2011

Movie review: 'There Be Dragons'

"There Be Dragons," most of which is set during the Spanish Civil War of the late 1930s, is supposed to be about the intersecting lives of a saint and a sinner. But it is a third man, a revolutionary, who nearly steals the show. Which might have been all right if writer-director Roland Joffé hadn't been so conflicted about whose story he wants to tell. But indecision can be deadly, and it proves to be here.

Movie review: 'Tanner Hall'

September 9, 2011

Movie review: 'Tanner Hall'

Like detention, "Tanner Hall," the new coming-of-age-in-a-boarding-school drama, allows room for a lot of thinking about other things — its cast most notably, since watching their struggle to move beyond the mundane is painful.

Movie Review: 'Mr. Popper's Penguins'

June 17, 2011

Movie Review: 'Mr. Popper's Penguins'

"Mr. Popper's Penguins," a mildly amusing flight of fancy for the family crowd, is far better for its penguins than its Popper. Not that Jim Carrey's Mr. Popper is poorly done, per se. But the penguins are perfectly suited for stealing scenes and hearts as they waddle around and completely take over this farce.

Movie review: 'Margaret'

September 30, 2011

Movie review: 'Margaret'

If you know Gerard Hopkins' Victorian-era poem "Spring and Fall," a reflection on the loss of innocence addressed to a young child named Margaret, you have a clue about what writer-director Kenneth Lonergan is getting at in "Margaret." This contemporary lament, starring Anna Paquin, seems partly inspired by the poem, though Hopkins is but one of many literary references scattered about.

Review: 'Sin Nombre'

March 20, 2009

MOVIE REVIEW

Review: 'Sin Nombre'

There is much strange beauty in the poverty and desperation captured by "Sin Nombre," an evocative and impressive first feature from writer-director Cary Joji Fukunaga tracing both the journey north taken by so many from Mexico and Central America and the gang violence that stunts the lives of the many others who stay behind.

Critic's Notebook: Movie violence must not be stopped

8:00 AM PST, February 15, 2013

The culture of violence

Critic's Notebook: Movie violence must not be stopped

I abhor violence. As a rookie police reporter years ago I saw the damage guns, knives, broken bottles, metal pipes, hands — humans — can inflict. From the terrifyingly premeditated to the unfortunately accidental, those images still have the power to shake me to the core. They will never leave me.

Review: Bay's 'Pain & Gain' is bargain-budget, still excessive

6:10 PM PDT, April 25, 2013

Review: Bay's 'Pain & Gain' is bargain-budget, still excessive

When Michael Bay goes small, "Pain & Gain" happens.

Review: 'Alien Trespass'

April 3, 2009

MOVIE REVIEW

Review: 'Alien Trespass'

There is a sweet sincerity to "Alien Trespass," a sometimes too reverential homage to the sci-fi B-movies that landed in theaters during the 1950s, channeling our nuclear annihilation worries through an even greater prism of fear: the outer reaches of the universe and the frightening beings that might exist there.

Review: 'The Song of Sparrows'

April 10, 2009

MOVIE REVIEW

Review: 'The Song of Sparrows'

"The Song of Sparrows" is a fitting name for the new film from Iranian writer-director Majid Majidi. Sparrows are, after all, the most ordinary of birds: small, brown, common. The overlooked and the ordinary is exactly the terrain Majidi loves to walk, and we see again in this film his deep affection for his country's common folk -- with their meager resources, menial jobs and yet surprisingly fulfilled lives.

Movie review: 'Rango'

March 4, 2011

Movie review: 'Rango'

A marvelous mash-up of Old West and newfangled, "Rango" rewrites the animation playbook with its eye-popping critters and varmints, and its hero's tale (tail?) of a chameleon desperate for a SAG card and a town desperate for a sheriff. What fun.

Book Review: 'Conversations With Scorsese'

March 7, 2011

Book Review: 'Conversations With Scorsese'

Above all else, Martin Scorsese is a character.

Movie review: 'Country Strong'

December 22, 2010

Movie review: 'Country Strong'

There is a down-home comfort saturating "Country Strong," in that "somebody done somebody wrong song" way, that almost carries you through when its music-drenched melodrama gets predictable. Which is pretty much as soon as the fragile, still-in-rehab country superstar played by Gwyneth Paltrow starts talking about the baby bird she's found and is trying to save. So like, Scene 2.

Movie review: 'Cold Weather'

February 11, 2011

Movie review: 'Cold Weather'

"Cold Weather," the latest micro-budget movie from writer-director-editor Aaron Katz, is like an exquisite minimalist painting — its beauty will move you, its simplicity will fool you. For there are layers and complexities to be found in the film, like the many mysteries it slowly exposes.

Oscars: Melissa Leo

February 28, 2011

Oscars: Melissa Leo

What a mother. Hell-to-pay-if-you-cross-her fierce and with more fire in her belly than either of her sons, or certainly that is the way actress Melissa Leo brought Alice Ward to life in David O. Russell's gritty "The Fighter."

February 6, 2009

MOVIE REVIEW

Review: 'Crips and Bloods: Made in America'

The image of a glittering downtown Los Angeles skyline turned upside down, which opens Stacy Peralta's sobering "Crips and Bloods: Made in America," is both striking and unnerving. With that image, Peralta telegraphs a theme that will resonate in chilling ways throughout his new documentary -- that geography matters and that we are heading into a world that's been upended.

 Movie review: 'Skyfall' shows James Bond still sharp and fit at 50

2:20 PM PST, November 7, 2012

Movie review: 'Skyfall' shows James Bond still sharp and fit at 50

If "Skyfall" is the new 50, James Bond is handling it remarkably well. Five decades after the first cinematic incarnation of 007, novelist Ian Fleming's agent provocateur, the spy-craft in the new film is sharper, the intrigue deeper, the beauties brighter (more brain, less bare).

Review: 'Funny People'

July 31, 2009

MOVIE REVIEW

Review: 'Funny People'

"Funny People" was supposed to be Judd Apatow's coming out party. The movie in which "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" and "Knocked Up" writer-director, who has long made his bread and butter on the back of immature guys and their raunchy talk, shows his grown-up side.

Movie Review: 'Snow Flower and the Secret Fan'

July 15, 2011

Movie Review: 'Snow Flower and the Secret Fan'

In trying to give a modern twist to "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan's" bestselling story of women and friendship in 19th century China, director Wayne Wang has been tripped up by his chick-lit tendencies. He should have trusted that author Lisa See's moving portrait of two girls bound by fate, custom and circumstance (as tightly and at times as painfully as the cloth that wraps and warps their feet) would be enough. Instead, he's weighted down the big-screen version with a couple of 21st century Sex in Shanghai-styled BFFs who've had a nasty falling-out.

Review: 'Two Lovers'

February 13, 2009

MOVIE REVIEW

Review: 'Two Lovers'

Set during a gray Brighton Beach winter, "Two Lovers" begins with the solid shape of Joaquin Phoenix lumbering down a pier, a bag of dry cleaning slung over his shoulder. We don't know who he is or anything about him, really, but for the heavy resignation and hopelessness that saturate his every step. There is no hesitation as he makes his way up and over the railing, jumping into the frigid bay below. But submerged deep in the icy waters, he discovers that he is not yet ready to die.

Book review: 'The Elephant to Hollywood' by Michael Caine

November 16, 2010

Book review: 'The Elephant to Hollywood' by Michael Caine

Sequels, as anyone schooled in Hollywood knows, are difficult to pull off. The dilemma — how much of the first should find its way into the next? — has confounded many creative minds in this town, so it was probably too much to hope that Michael Caine could beat the odds, though he's made a career of doing just that. "The Elephant to Hollywood," a follow-up to the actor's popular 1992 autobiography, comes lumbering along as more addendum than memoir, more rehash than new dish, but served up with enough warmth and charm that you may be fine with leftovers.

Movie review: 'Shaolin'

September 9, 2011

Movie review: 'Shaolin'

"Shaolin," with its feuding warlords and fighting monks in '20s era China, is a sprawling popcorn blast of action kept spinning with crazy cool kung fu, tons of fake spurting blood (I think everyone had a packet clinched in their teeth) and slacker improvised, or inspired, U.S. subtitles.

Best movies of 2012: 'Pi,' 'Master,' 'Moonrise Kingdom' make cut

11:00 AM PST, December 14, 2012

Best movies of 2012: 'Pi,' 'Master,' 'Moonrise Kingdom' make cut

It's as if this year filmmakers remembered why God made movies. In a world of nonstop data where most of the static is gossip in 140 soul-destroying words or less, cinema has had a transcendent 12 months — a visual renaissance that has burned past convention.

Movie review: 'Terri'

July 1, 2011

Movie review: 'Terri'

"Terri," starring newcomer Jacob Wysocki and John C. Reilly, is a lovely lyrical ode to high school misfits and the adults they grow into.

Oscars: Colin Firth gets a well-deserved win for 'The King's Speech'

February 28, 2011

Oscars: Colin Firth gets a well-deserved win for 'The King's Speech'

Learn another language, live in a different body — that's fundamentally what "The King's Speech" required of Colin Firth if he was to give the stammering King George VI an authenticity that could be sensed in every tortured sentence he delivered.

Review: 'An American Affair'

March 6, 2009

MOVIE REVIEW

Review: 'An American Affair'

Love affairs with married men are always messy, entangling more people in the web of fictions than you'd ever imagine. When the man in question is President Kennedy, circa 1963, the Cuban missile crisis under his belt and reelection in his sights, well, things are just bound to get seriously complicated.

Movie review: 'Vanishing on 7th Street'

February 25, 2011

Movie review: 'Vanishing on 7th Street'

Think of "Vanishing on 7th Street," starring Hayden Christensen, John Leguizamo and Thandie Newton, as the apocalypse sneaking in on the down-low.

Movie Review: 'Fast Five'

April 29, 2011

Movie Review: 'Fast Five'

Who knew that the best place to put Vin Diesel would be between the Rock and a hard place? The spot has never been tighter, or righter, and the testosterone never higher than in the hot jacking action of "Fast Five."

Review: 'Bart Got a Room'

April 3, 2009

MOVIE REVIEW

Review: 'Bart Got a Room'

The mysterious Bart and the mythology of the senior prom as the defining moment in the life of a teenager are the unseen specters hovering over the slight comedy "Bart Got a Room."

Critic's Notebook: Annette Bening takes the ordinary to Oscar-worthy heights

February 27, 2011

Critic's Notebook: Annette Bening takes the ordinary to Oscar-worthy heights

There is a very particular art to playing the ordinary. Few actors do it well — Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney always come to mind. Of those, most fail to get their due come Oscar night — thoughts of Giamatti and Linney rise again.

Appreciating the supporting nominees

February 15, 2009

OSCARS

Appreciating the supporting nominees

In looking at the Oscar category of best supporting actor and actress, I'm reminded of the sort of delicious dinner party that lingers in your memory years later. Although presumably you accept the invitation because you have some affection for the host, it is the unexpected alchemy of possibilities created by those on the guest list that heighten anticipation of the event.

Review: 'Notorious'

January 16, 2009

MOVIE REVIEW

Review: 'Notorious'

There are many things that can be said about Biggie Smalls, the rapper officially known as the Notorious B.I.G., who was gunned down in a hail of bullets on Wilshire Boulevard in 1997 when he was just 24. But the one that fits best on his massive frame is a slight one: flow. Flow was there in his rhymes, a hypnotic seduction of words weaving and teasing around you like the perpetual haze trailing from his blunts. It was there in the deep rumble of his voice, in the slow, liquid roll of his body as he moved. And it is there in Jamal Woolard, the young rapper who plays him in "Notorious," a performance that goes a long way toward saving a movie that has fallen obsessively in love with its subject. Mad, blind love is always a hazard in films that fashion themselves as biographies. No detail of a life too small, no moment left behind. In "Notorious," director George Tillman Jr. and screenwriters Reggie Rock Bythewood and Cheo Hodari Coker have fallen right into the pit alongside so many who have come before them.

'Hot Tub Time Machine': A blast of laughs from the past

March 26, 2010

MOVIE REVIEW

'Hot Tub Time Machine': A blast of laughs from the past

Who doesn't have fun in a hot tub? Or hasn't tested, at least once, the more-bodies-more-fun principle?

Review: 'Hotel for Dogs'

January 16, 2009

MOVIE REVIEW

Review: 'Hotel for Dogs'

Think of "Hotel for Dogs" as a sort of "Mission: Impossible" with canines . . . without Tom Cruise, or the international intrigue, or those scary, slice-you-up-into-little-bits bad guys. What it is packed with is lots of sneaking around, very cool gadgets, excellent stunts and some clever kids, though not in the precocious, all-adults-are-stupid way.

Review: 'The Secrets'

March 13, 2009

MOVIE REVIEW

Review: 'The Secrets'

In "The Secrets," filmmaker Avi Nesher takes us into the emotional heart of young Israeli women struggling to mesh their emerging identities with an ultra-orthodox Jewish world where the glass ceiling tops out at marriage and children.

Movie review: 'Nothing Personal'

November 26, 2010

Movie review: 'Nothing Personal'

Everything is personal in the haunting solitude of "Nothing Personal," starring Stephen Rea and Lotte Verbeek in this most unlikely of love stories.

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