Betsy Sharkey, Film Critic
3:10 PM PDT, May 16, 2013
"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.
3:00 PM PDT, May 16, 2013
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.
12:10 PM PDT, May 15, 2013
"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.
4:27 PM PDT, May 9, 2013
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.
5:10 PM PDT, May 2, 2013
There is fire everywhere in Olivier Assayas' scorching new coming-of-age drama "Something in the Air." It is in the passions, in the politics and in the sex roiling through the filmmaker's vision of 1970s-era Paris. For this is a memoir of sorts of Assayas' youth — the forces that pulled at him and the choices that shaped who he would become.
7:00 PM PDT, April 25, 2013
Don't be fooled into thinking that "The Big Wedding" is about the fetching young bride and groom. This is gross-out humor for the senior set.
4:58 PM PDT, May 2, 2013
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."
9:00 AM PDT, May 5, 2013
"There are things you can get away with in this world, and things you can't."
5:00 PM PDT, May 2, 2013
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.
6:10 PM PDT, April 25, 2013
When Michael Bay goes small, "Pain & Gain" happens.
3:48 PM PDT, April 25, 2013
Melancholy and middle America aren't usually seen in the rom-com world. In "Arthur Newman," a romantic comedy that unfolds during a road trip to Terra Haute, Ind., they are refreshingly unexpected elements that soften us up for the rough patches the film hits along the way.
6:42 PM PDT, April 25, 2013
"Do you love her?"
4:19 PM PDT, April 18, 2013
French director François Ozon can usually be counted on for dark irony of the juiciest sort — his 2003 "Swimming Pool" of sexual provocations comes to mind. But the filmmaker has an especially deft touch when a dash of comedy is mixed in. He uses this to delicious effect in his latest, "In the House."
4:27 PM PDT, April 18, 2013
One of the most intriguing things about the new crime drama "Pawn" is Michael Chiklis' British accent. It's not that it's particularly bad or good, but every time he speaks — which is a lot — it does make you wonder why?
4:38 PM PDT, April 11, 2013
A barrel of whisky would usually spell doom for the working-class blokes who always find their way into Ken Loach films. But it is redemption the director and his longtime creative collaborator, writer Paul Laverty, have in mind in the unexpectedly warm, hopeful and humorous brew of "The Angels' Share."
5:40 PM PDT, April 18, 2013
"Home Run" is the heartfelt and deeply religious story of a baseball star's struggle with alcoholism and the Christian faith-based recovery group that gets him through.
5:22 PM PDT, April 11, 2013
Terrence Malick, as unconventional, esoteric and spiritual as ever, has created an ocean of love in "To the Wonder," filling it with calm seas, treacherous storms, incredible beauty and a god who watches over it all.
1:26 PM PDT, April 11, 2013
"Simon Killer" is an amoral tale, and a cautionary one, that reminded me my mama was right when she said "Never talk to strangers" and "Looks can be deceiving."
6:00 PM PDT, April 4, 2013
"Babe's and Ricky's Inn," Ramin Niami's new documentary on the legendary L.A. blues club, is a bit like the music that founder Mama Laura gathered up in her big, open-hearted embrace — an improvisational riff filled with weeping guitars, wailing harmonicas, pounding keyboards and sweat-soaked players rather than rigorous storytelling.
5:15 PM PDT, March 27, 2013
Who, oh who, will save the Joes while they're out saving the world?
6:10 PM PDT, April 4, 2013
The past is a puzzle that resurfaces in bits and pieces for Robert Redford in "The Company You Keep."
5:13 PM PST, March 7, 2013
Colin Farrell and Noomi Rapace star as two damaged souls in "Dead Man Down," a moody twist of hyper-violent vengeance and heartache where death is hand-delivered, mercy is hard to come by and love is never easy.
March 8, 2013
It is a rare thing to witness the creative process. But in the excellent new documentary "Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters," filmmaker Ben Shapiro gives us fly-on-the-wall access over a 10-year period to an acclaimed artist as he envisions, designs and executes his surreal commentary on small-town American life in the form of an epic photo installation, "Beneath the Roses."
5:12 PM PST, March 7, 2013
The scene is a devastated Japan, August 1945, as "Emperor," the new historical drama starring Matthew Fox and Tommy Lee Jones, begins. Hiroshima and Nagasaki are little more than smoking rubble and stone-faced survivors. Emperor Hirohito has officially surrendered but remains protected behind palace walls.
6:00 AM PST, February 24, 2013
There is no cabin in the woods or scary house at the end of the street in "Amour." There is no ax-wielding Jack Nicholson running around. Yet filmmaker Michael Haneke's examination of the final days of a long life — and a long love — may be the quintessential horror film for our times. It has a remarkable ability to scare the living daylights out of audiences of any age.
5:59 PM PST, February 13, 2013
Maybe there really are supernatural forces at work in this world. How else to explain "Beautiful Creatures"? The movie is an intriguing, intelligent enigma — three words not typically associated with teen romances.
9:30 AM PST, February 25, 2013
Of course Mr. Lincoln, um, I mean Daniel Day-Lewis, deserved the Oscar. Finally, after countless iterations of the 16th U.S. president on television, film and stage, it feels as if we know the man himself.
3:54 PM PDT, March 28, 2013
"Twilight's" creator Stephenie Meyer clearly has a few obsessions she can't quite shake: interspecies romance, love triangles and color-coded eyes — red-rimmed if vampires are involved, silver for the sci-fi aliens of "The Host."
8:00 AM PST, February 15, 2013
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.
5:25 PM PST, February 7, 2013
"Identity Thief" is a larcenous bit of funny business. It probably should be locked up for its crimes and misdemeanors against moviemaking.
3:51 PM PDT, March 21, 2013
It's not a good omen for "The Croods," about a likable family of Paleolithic cave dwellers, when a joke about "the first joke" falls flat.
11:15 AM PST, February 25, 2013
This one gives me pause. Anne Hathaway is a fine young actress. The dignity and humility with which she comports herself off-screen is admirable and has made her an academy favorite.
2:13 PM PST, January 24, 2013
"Tabu," the third film from rising Portuguese director Miguel Gomes, feels like a relic of the past and not merely because of its aesthetic nod to silent film great F.W. Murnau's final project.
7:30 AM PST, February 1, 2013
The experience of watching five short animation or live-action films in one sitting — each a finalist for an Oscar in two of this year's shorts categories — can be a bit like walking into a museum to find the Rothko's been hung next to the Monet. It's not unpleasant, just unexpected.
5:12 PM PST, February 13, 2013
"Safe Haven," the latest weepie from a Nicholas Sparks novel, takes close to two hours to get where it's going — the intersection of Lovers Lane and nowhere. Starring Julianne Hough and Josh Duhamel, this sloppy sentimental journey is long on beauty shots, short on depth and seriously intent on tugging your heartstrings. Indeed, it demands you reach for those tissues. Sob.
3:32 PM PST, January 17, 2013
Brian Tucker's "Broken City" screenplay is packed with plot twists, complex sentences and the kind of innuendo that make it seem as if the movie will be a smarter-than-most thriller from the first exchanges. All the talking is no doubt why "Broken City" landed on the coveted Black List of the best unproduced scripts a few years ago.
7:00 AM PST, January 14, 2013
I will take Jodie Foster's 6 minutes and 40 seconds of unfiltered passion, confusion, confession and love, so much love, over anything else anyone in Hollywood has said in a very, very long time.
1:41 PM PST, January 10, 2013
The new crime thriller "Gangster Squad," with its swell cast led by Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn and Emma Stone, tries to capture mob-infested Los Angeles circa 1949, when Hollywood glam ruled the Strip, wiseguys took aim with tommy guns and fedoras were all the rage.
12:22 PM PST, December 20, 2012
In "Jack Reacher," the new thriller starring Tom Cruise, the crime that draws the film's reclusive ex-Army investigator out of the shadows — a sniper gunning down people on a city street — couldn't have been a worse one to land in theaters just days after the horror of the Connecticut elementary school massacre (the studio delayed the film's release in the area).
December 14, 2012
I've gotten so used to seeing Alan Cumming as high-end attorney Eli Gold, fighting cerebral battles for a compromised politician on CBS' "The Good Wife," that he's almost unrecognizable as the vamping drag queen in "Any Day Now."
December 14, 2012
Al Pacino, Christopher Walken and Alan Arkin star in "Stand Up Guys," a buddy comedy about a trio of wise guys coming out of retirement for one last roll of the dice.
11:00 AM PST, December 14, 2012
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.
6:26 PM PST, December 6, 2012
What has happened to director Stephen Frears?
4:30 PM PST, December 6, 2012
The idea underlying "Playing for Keeps," the new romantic comedy starring Gerard Butler, is basic: A well-toned guy who is good with kids is the ultimate aphrodisiac for sex-starved soccer moms. Three very good actresses are squandered to prove the point.
6:34 PM PST, December 6, 2012
Like the deer in the headlights that opens the thriller "Deadfall," this is a film about the tragic consequences of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Bad roads, bad weather, bad family dynamics are equally problematic. And when Olivia Wilde's lost girl Liza says, "You don't want to take me home," well, that should not be taken lightly.
3:15 PM PST, November 29, 2012
News reports of economic woes and misbegotten corporate schemes play like a soundtrack in "Killing Them Softly," a moody crime noir starring Brad Pitt as a New Orleans hit man dealing with a down market, bad bets and loose change.
3:59 PM PST, November 20, 2012
Ang Lee's "Life of Pi" asks that we take a leap of faith along with a boy named Pi Patel and a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker as an angry ocean and the ironies of fate set them adrift. Their struggle for survival is as elegant as it is epic with the director creating a grand adventure so cinematically bold, and a spiritual voyage so quietly profound, that if not for the risk to the castaways, you might wish their passage from India would never end. There are always moral crosscurrents in Lee's most provocative work, but so magical and mystical is this parable, it's as if the filmmaker has found the philosopher's stone.
4:00 AM PST, November 15, 2012
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.
February 28, 2011
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.
September 30, 2011
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.
June 17, 2011
"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.
September 9, 2011
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.
November 8, 2010
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.
2:20 PM PST, November 7, 2012
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).
November 11, 2011
"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.
March 20, 2009
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.
May 6, 2011
"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.
April 3, 2009
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.
September 9, 2011
"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.
February 28, 2011
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."
March 4, 2011
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.
February 6, 2009
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.
February 11, 2011
"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.
March 7, 2011
Above all else, Martin Scorsese is a character.
April 10, 2009
"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.
July 31, 2009
"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.
July 15, 2011
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.
December 22, 2010
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.
February 28, 2011
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.
February 25, 2011
Think of "Vanishing on 7th Street," starring Hayden Christensen, John Leguizamo and Thandie Newton, as the apocalypse sneaking in on the down-low.
July 1, 2011
"Terri," starring newcomer Jacob Wysocki and John C. Reilly, is a lovely lyrical ode to high school misfits and the adults they grow into.
March 6, 2009
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.
March 26, 2010
Who doesn't have fun in a hot tub? Or hasn't tested, at least once, the more-bodies-more-fun principle?
April 29, 2011
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."
November 16, 2010
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.
April 3, 2009
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."
February 15, 2009
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.
January 16, 2009
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.
February 13, 2009
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.
February 27, 2011
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.
March 13, 2009
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.
November 26, 2010
Everything is personal in the haunting solitude of "Nothing Personal," starring Stephen Rea and Lotte Verbeek in this most unlikely of love stories.
January 16, 2009
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.
Copyright © 2013, Los Angeles Times