Thursday, June 29, 2017
Movie Reviews
Movie Reviews

the mummy 1 The Mummy (2017) Movie Review
TOM CRUISE headlines a spectacular, all-new cinematic version of the legend that has fascinated cultures all over the world since the dawn of civilization: “The Mummy.” From the sweeping sands of the Middle East through hidden labyrinths under modern-day London, “The Mummy” brings a surprising intensity and balance of wonder and thrills in an imaginative new take that ushers in a new world of gods and monsters.

Universal tries to get back into the classic-monster biz with the help of Tom Cruise and Russell Crowe in this Alex Kurtzman-directed adventure.

Some have noted that Universal must hate to be opening Alex Kurtzman’s The Mummy in the second week of Wonder Woman‘s run, with that hit sure to suck millions out of its box-office haul. But Wonder Woman isn’t all bad for the newly launched “enterprise,” dubbed Dark Universe, with which the studio hopes to exploit characters it introduced way back in the 1920-’50s: After all, it proves that such a series of interrelated movies (like DC’s “extended universe”) can still succeed after the well has been poisoned by outings so terrible any executive with taste would have pulled the plug. Sure, it’s hard to muster anything like desire for another Dark Universe flick after seeing this limp, thrill-free debut. But who knows? Maybe shifting gears to a female protagonist in 2019’s Bride of Frankenstein will do the trick.

Then again, the fact that Uni’s recent D.U. hype mentions only the Bride’s groom, to be played by Javier Bardem, may show it’s more heavily invested in big-name dudes than in making heroes of women. Dudes like Russell Crowe, whose Dr. Jekyll apparently will be the glue holding these pictures together as a series. Or like Tom Cruise, who gave his all to one long-running franchise by reviving Mission: Impossible, and, judging from The Mummy, should perhaps not be asked to do so again.

Weirdly out of place here, Cruise brings little daring and less charm to the film, though to be fair to the actor, his character’s a stiff: Nick Morton, an Army sergeant who secretly loots antiquities from Iraqi war zones, might have been a charismatic antihero in Drafts One or Five of a script credited to David Koepp, Christopher McQuarrie and Dylan Kussman (with story by Jon Spaihts, Alex Kurtzman and Jenny Lumet). But what made it to the screen is a watered-down version of “irresistible rogue” with all the irresistibility trimmed away.

Accompanied by partner in crime Chris Vail (Jake Johnson), Morton is in Iraq pursuing treasures promised on a map he stole from archaeologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis of Peaky Blinders). Halsey catches up to Morton around the time his misadventures expose an ancient burial site, and she’s none too happy that he seduced her just to steal that map. After some low-stakes bickering, the two find themselves in the presence of a sarcophagus buried in, um, a giant pool of mercury. It’s an Egyptian coffin, interred far away in ancient Mesopotamia, so that’d be big news even before the gang grasps the supernatural nature of the desiccated corpse residing within.

To summarize: The body is that of Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), who was the sole heir to Egypt’s throne before her Pharaoh dad found a second wife and had a son. Furious that she wouldn’t be Queen, she vowed revenge, killing all three and making a pact with the bad-news Egyptian god Set. But before she could sacrifice a lover, who was to become the god’s human embodiment, she was captured and “mummified alive.” The ceremonial dagger with which she intended to make the sacrifice was split into two parts, putting its magic powers on hold until the about-to-wake-up Ahmanet can put the pieces together again.

Over in England, one piece of that dagger has just been found in a crypt dating back to the Second Crusade. It is taken by Crowe’s Jekyll, who seems to be the Dark Universe’s version of the Marvel movies’ Nick Fury: a behind-the-scenes player who has been fighting all kinds of evil for a long time, and who pops up when screenplays need exposition or a tease for the next film in the franchise. (Where Fury had secrets of a military-industrial-complex sort, Jekyll has a monstrous alter ego he must continually take drugs to subdue.)

Somewhere between the discovery of the sarcophagus and the moment its inhabitant crawls out to start devouring the living, Ahmanet’s immortal spirit develops a fixation on Morton, deciding he’s “my chosen.” She gets into the poor jerk’s mind, forcing him to help her reassemble that dagger. If he understood that she planned to kill him with it, Morton might put up a bit more resistance to the mind-control.

It’s no surprise that the action to come has vastly more in common with the CGI bombast of the Brendan Fraser-starring Mummy films than the quiet, slow-creeping horror of the version Karl Freund directed in 1932. What is surprising is that this film’s action makes one slightly nostalgic for the 1999 incarnation, or at least prompts one to ask if it wasn’t maybe more fun than we gave it credit for. So much of the action takes place in monotonous half-light; so little of it displays even the ambition to show audiences something new — unless we count the Mummy’s eyes, which have two irises each, for no apparent reason other than somebody thought that would look cool on a movie poster. The most involving scene by far shows Morton swimming through underwater crypts, trying to save Halsey from Ahmanet before he either drowns or is destroyed by the zombie warriors swimming behind him.

But that sequence lasts just a minute or two, and is immediately followed by a Morton/Mummy standoff in which Cruise fails, rather spectacularly, to wring a laugh out of a kiss-off line one hopes neither Koepp, nor McQuarrie, nor Kussman would admit to having written. It’s the kickoff of a climax that requires more heroic self-sacrifice from Morton than we have any reason to believe he’s capable of. Unless, that is, we have a financial interest in the sequel set up by Jekyll’s longer-than-necessary final voiceover.

the mummy The Mummy (2017) Movie Review

Production companies: Sean Daniel Company, Secret Hideout
Distributor: Universal
Cast: Tom Cruise, Russell Crowe, Annabelle Wallis, Sofia Boutella, Jake Johnson, Courtney B. Vance, Marwan Kenzari
Director: Alex Kurtzman
Screenwriters: David Koepp, Christopher McQuarrie, Dylan Kussman
Producers: Sarah Bradshaw, Sean Daniel, Alex Kurtzman, Chris Morgan
Executive producers: Jeb Brody, Roberto Orci
Director of photography: Ben Seresin
Production designers: Jon Hutman, Dominic Watkins
Costume designer: Penny Rose
Editors: Gina Hirsch, Paul Hirsch, Andrew Mondshein
Composer: Brian Tyler
Casting director: Lucinda Syson

Rated PG-13, 110 minutes

Megan Leavey Megan Leavey (2017) Movie ReviewMegan Leavey will pry those tears from you, dammit

Can a film be clunky, manipulative, and schmaltzy, and still manage to get you choked up? Sure, there are a ton of mediocre tearjerkers that basically pry the tears out of your eyes with a sap and a crowbar. Megan Leavey is one of those strong-arm soaps, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that it has a certain secret weapon in the forced-waterworks department—an adorable bomb-sniffing German shepherd. All together now: Awwwwww.

Based on a true story, Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s film stars Kate Mara as a young woman in a spiritual rut who comes from a small town and a broken home (Edie Falco and Bradley Whitford play her divorced parents). Mara’s Megan hasn’t been the same since her best friend died of a drug overdose. She’s wracked with survivor’s guilt, depression, and the kind of can’t-get-out-of-bed aimlessness that makes holding down a job difficult. Her people skills aren’t just lacking, they’re nonexistent. So, in the kind of fast-forward plotting that could only exist in a movie racing to get in and out of its furry, four-legged redemption story in under two hours, Megan enlists with the Marines where she will end up finding the canine that will give her life meaning.

Mara, an actress who’s probably best known for her early arc and oncoming-train demise in House of Cards, isn’t the most expressive actress. Frankly, she’s a bit flat. And everything that happens in Megan Leavey before the dog enters the picture is pretty flat, too. But after being caught publicly urinating after a night of drinking, she’s punished by being assigned to clean out cages in the K-9 unit. And that’s where she meets Rex—the meanest dog in the kennel. It’s love at first sight. Well, after he bites her in the ass.

First impressions aside, Rex turns out to be big, soulful-eyed pussycat beneath his ferocious bark. But really, only for her. These two have a special bond. And Megan becomes a model Marine trying to get assigned as his handler. In no time (literally, the film always seems like it’s rushing to catch a train), the two are shipped over to Iraq where they save lives sniffing out IEDs. Cowperthwaite (who directed the 2013 documentary Blackfish) does better in this middle stretch of the film with a handful of tense combat scenes that show the daily dangers they face and how every step could be your last one. But then these soul mates are separated and the film makes a u-turn right back to schmaltzville.

In the end, what sticks with you isn’t Mara or the superficial, one-woman’s-inspirational-journey narrative, but rather Rex and the crumpled wad of Kleenex at your feet. If you’re looking for a good cry, Megan Leavey gets the job done, I suppose. But it’s a bit like a wet kiss from a puppy. Heartwarming and sloppy.

megan leavey 1 Megan Leavey (2017) Movie Review

Megan Leavey

TYPE: Movie
GENRE: Biography, Drama
RELEASE DATE: 06/09/17
RUNTIME: 116 Minutes
PERFORMER: Kate Mara, Tom Felton, Bradley Whitford
DIRECTOR: Gabriela Cowperthwaite
MPAA: PG-13

It Comes at Nightt It Comes at Night (2017) Movie ReviewIt Comes at Night is a master class in dread, but with more mood than meaning

Trust me, Trey Edward Shults is a name you’re going to want to remember. Still in his 20s, the Houston-born writer-director served up a ferociously tense debut in 2016 with the low-budget psychological thriller Krisha. It was the kind of creepy, white-knuckle workout that manages to wring a lot out of a little. Now, with his follow-up, It Comes at Night, Shults has conjured another master class in anxiety, claustrophobia, and dread. He’s a natural-born filmmaker.

Set in the aftermath of some unexplained plague, the movie closes in tight on a family of survivors barricaded in a cabin deep in the woods. Joel Edgerton plays the bearded, paranoid father, Selma’s Carmen Ejogo is the resilient, resourceful mother, and The Birth of a Nation’s Kelvin Harrison Jr. is their 17-year-old son. Together they try to keep out what’s left of the infected world beyond their doors. Of course, that’s easier said than done, as someone shows up in the middle of the night determined to get in.

Who is he? Can he be trusted? Is he sick? If this all sounds familiar, that’s because It Comes at Night is essentially a zombie movie minus the zombies. But Shults is more interested in the nightmares of the living than the horrors of the living dead. Unfortunately, his goal is more focused on building mood than delivering meaning. I kept wanting Shults’ film to add up to a little more in the end. Still, his chops behind the camera are undeniable. I can’t wait to see what he does next.

Wonder Woman 1 Wonder Woman (2017) Movie Review

The first stand-alone feature for the ageless princess of the Amazons places her in the midst of WWI, with Gal Gadot in the title role and Chris Pine as American spy Steve Trevor.

As the world’s most well-adjusted superhero, Wonder Woman breaks the genre mold. She’s openhearted, not angsty — an anomaly within the DC Universe, “extended” or otherwise. So, too, is her long-awaited foray into the live-action big-screen spotlight: that openheartedness makes the movie something of an outlier. Its relative lightness would set it apart even if it didn’t arrive on the heels of the Sturm und Drang of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, the 2016 feature that introduced Gal Gadot as the demigoddess who believes it’s her sacred duty to rid the world of war.

Yet as with all comics-based extravaganzas, brevity is anathema to the Patty Jenkins-directed Wonder Woman, and it doesn’t quite transcend the traits of franchise product as it checks off the list of action-fantasy requisites. But this origin story, with its direct and relatively uncluttered trajectory, offers a welcome change of pace from a superhero realm that’s often overloaded with interconnections and cross-references. (A nod to Wayne Enterprises in the story’s framing device serves as a fuss-free tie-in to the upcoming Justice League.)

Had it really broken the mold and come in below the two-hour mark, Wonder Woman could have been a thoroughly transporting film. As it stands, it’s intermittently spot-on, particularly in the pops of humor and romance between the exotically kick-ass yet approachable Gadot and the supremely charismatic Chris Pine as an American working for British intelligence, the first man the Amazon princess has ever met. With eager fans unlikely to bemoan the film’s length or its lapses in narrative energy, Wonder Woman will conquer their hearts as it makes its way around the globe.

Sticking to the basic setup of the early-’40s DC comics written by William Moulton Marston (who, notably, was inspired by first-wave feminists), Jenkins and screenwriter Allan Heinberg have moved the story’s action from World War II to the First World War. It’s a change that taps straight into the idea of a female warrior for peace confronting the world of men at its most destructive. During the so-called War to End All Wars, the technology of killing is at a new, terrible level of sophistication. Chemicals are the weapon of choice for the movie’s baddies, a German general (Danny Huston) and a humanity-hating chemist, played by Elena Anaya (of Almodovar’s The Skin I Live In), wearing a prosthetic device over half her face — evil genius comes with a price.

These villains, along with friendlier supporting characters, are drawn with a broad brush, but at the center of the film there’s none of the cartoony kitsch of the Lynda Carter TV series. Gadot doesn’t spin like a top to transform from Diana to Wonder Woman — and her skimpy getup is a more modest and dignified affair than Carter’s cleavage-baring leotard and impractical high heels. One of the best sequences in the film involves Wonder Woman’s selection of street clothes after she’s left her island home and adopted the alias of Diana Prince. Shopping in London with the help of Steve’s secretary, Etta (a wonderful Lucy Davis), she can’t believe how constricting and impractical the froufrou frocks du jour are.

Throughout, Lindy Hemming’s superb costume designs are in sync with production designer Aline Bonetto’s vivid locales, contrasting the poetic, not-quite-real timelessness of Themyscira, the all-female isle where Diana was raised, with the prosaic reality of early-20th-century Europe, from cosmopolitan London to the provinces to the devastating chaos of the trenches. Matthew Jensen’s cinematography heightens every shift, while the score by Rupert Gregson-Williams alternates between obvious emotional chords and enriching counterpoint.

By the time Steve Trevor (Pine) and his plane crash into the paradise of Themyscira, Diana has been trained to her utmost strength by her aunt, the great warrior Antiope (Robin Wright). Although those training sequences suffer from too much slicing and dicing, Jenkins captures Diana’s progress from precocious 8-year-old (Lilly Aspell) to teen (Emily Carey) to young woman with admirable concision.

With their Greco-Esperanto accents, the women of the secret island might be refugees from a sword-and-sandal pic, except that they’re led by Connie Nielsen’s Queen Hippolyta and Wright as her sister: fierceness personified. The vision of them on horseback is perfectly right, and their clash of viewpoints over the need to prepare for the return of the war god Ares goes compellingly to the heart of the matter. The Germans who storm the beach soon after Steve’s arrival push that argument out of the theoretical zone with their guns and bullets. The women’s bow-and-arrow skills are formidable, but though they may be favored by Zeus, they’re not invincible.

Though there are terrific sequences once Diana and Steve hit England and then the Continent, things get choppy and bogged down in plot machinations as they embark on their mission to destroy the weapons facility of the chemist Isabel Maru, aka Doctor Poison (Anaya). Steve, having stolen a crucial item from another lab, believes he can stop the war; Diana, armed with her shield, sword and Lasso of Truth, believes she can stop war, period. They get funds and support from a high-powered British politician (David Thewlis, playing the opposite end of the spectrum from his uber-villain in the current season of Fargo) and enlist a ragtag trio of mercenaries, strangely reminiscent of The Wizard of Oz: a besotted marksman (Ewen Bremner), Moroccan undercover operative (Said Taghmaoui) and Native American black marketeer (Eugene Brave Rock).

In just a few words of dialogue for the latter two characters, screenwriter Heinberg, a TV vet making his feature debut, works eye-opening social commentary on race into the female-empowerment mix. None of it is preachy or heavy-handed, and the sexual politics throughout the film are as playful as they are well-observed, with nicely underplayed chemistry between the two leads.

Having demonstrated her action chops in the Fast & Furious franchise, Gadot brings a graceful athleticism to the role of a superhuman determined to take down Ares himself. At the same time, she lends a sweetly comic innocence to Diana’s amazed encounters with the civilized world. As a man dazzled by a fearless goddess, Pine delivers a less wide-eyed amazement. His performance is effortlessly roguish and wry, but he also ups the emotional ante, grounding the fight against evil as well as the fledgling romance with heart and soul.

Jenkins, who delved into very dark territory with 2003’s Monster and the series The Killing, brings the doomy DC vibe down to earth from some of its more operatic reaches. But she indulges in a saga-capping, one-on-one showdown that turns into an endless conflagration and grows less coherent as it proceeds. Such obligatory “big” scenes don’t completely undermine the winning mixture of drama, fantasy and comedy, but they aren’t what you remember after Wonder Woman is over.

If Diana of Themyscira is a much-needed hero for our times, it’s not because of her special-effects-laden fight moves. It’s because of such offhand moments as the way she infiltrates a bad guy’s soiree. Done up in one of those constricting frocks she doesn’t understand, she nonetheless strides into the room with the focus of a warrior and the gait of a free woman. She’s dressed for the part, but she’s no fool for fashion.wonder woman 2017png Wonder Woman (2017) Movie Review

Production companies: RatPac-Dune Entertainment, Tencent Pictures, Wanda Pictures, Atlas Entertainment, Cruel and Unusual
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Cast: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen, David Thewlis, Danny Huston, Elena Anaya, Ewen Bremner, Lucy Davis, Saïd Taghmaoui, Eugene Brave Rock, Lilly Aspell, Lisa Loven Kongsli, Ann J. Wolfe, Ann Ogbomo, Emily Carey
Director: Patty Jenkins
Screenwriter: Allan Heinberg; story by Zack Snyder, Allan Heinberg, Jason Fuchs based on characters from DC
Producers: Charles Roven, Deborah Snyder, Zack Snyder, Richard Suckle
Executive producers: Stephen Jones, Geoff Johns, Jon Berg, Wesley Coller, Rebecca Steel Roven, Steven Mnuchin
Director of photography: Matthew Jensen
Production designer: Aline Bonetto
Costume designer: Lindy Hemming
Editor: Martin Walsh
Composer: Rupert Gregson-Williams
Visual effects supervisor: Bill Westenhofer
Casting: Lora Kennedy, Kristy Carlson, Lucinda Syson

Rated PG-13, 141 minutes

captain underpants ver2 Captain Underpants (2017) Movie Review

Dav Pilkey’s best-selling kids’ books make a lively animated leap to the big screen, with Kevin Hart, Thomas Middleditch, Ed Helms and Jordan Peele among the voice cast.

In what amounts to the equivalent of a 90-minute sugar rush, Dav Pilkey’s wacky kids’ superhero book series makes the leap to the big screen with its trademark potty humor and offbeat zaniness very much intact in the computer-animated Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie. Unfortunately that’s about all it amounts to — in the absence of a sturdier storyline and more dimensional characters, the manic, rapid-fire delivery, while yielding some well-deserved laughs, proves more exhausting than inspired.

The end result is still admittedly less painful than a wedgie and should give Fox a payoff closer in line to The Boss Baby than its recent Wimpy Kid disappointment. It also marks the last DreamWorks Animation title to be released through Fox (the first was 2013’s The Croods) as a result of the division’s 2016 acquisition by Universal.

For those unfamiliar with the any of the 12 titles in Pilkey’s popular series, the saga concerns the misadventures of George (voiced by Kevin Hart) and Harold (Thomas Middleditch), a pair of trouble-making fourth-graders at Jerome Horwitz Elementary who prefer hanging out in their treehouse creating Captain Underpants comic books.

When their sour principal, Mr. Krupp (Ed Helms), finally catches the serial pranksters in the act and threatens to put the lifelong pals into two separate classes, George hypnotizes Krupp into believing he is the real-life incarnation of the tighty-whitey-wearing superhero. His dim but enthusiastic alter ego has his work cut out for him with the arrival of Professor Pee-Pee Diarrheastein Poopypants (Nick Kroll), the incoming school history teacher hailing from New Swissland, who actually happens to be a vengeful mad scientist with a secret evil agenda.

Cobbling together aspects from several books in the series, the screenplay by Nicholas Stoller (last year’s Storks) makes for a zippy origin story, while DreamWorks veteran David Soren, who previously directed the studio’s Turbo, propels the action into overdrive, gleefully breaking down the fourth wall by goosing the CGI with 2D animation, Flip-O-Rama flip-book sequences and even sock puppet renderings.

What’s missing is anything resembling heart and soul, the sort of stuff that makes the audience relate in some way to the characters and their predicament. Despite being the main attraction, George and Harold frequently get lost in all the commotion, leaving Hart and Middleditch with little around which to work their limber voices.

Faring better are Kroll and on-a-roll Jordan Peele, who plays the nerdy part of red-headed brainiac Melvin Sneedly. Keeping in the goofy groove is the soundtrack, which includes a suitably anthemic “Weird Al” Yankovic-performed theme song and energetic covers of Aretha Franklin’s “Think” and Yello’s “Oh Yeah,” by Adam Lambert and Lil Yachty, respectively.

While inspired choices, like the production as a whole, they ultimately leave one feeling effectively pooped.

Production company: DreamWorks Animation
Distributor: Fox
Cast: Kevin Hart, Ed Helms, Nick Kroll, Thomas Middleditch, Jordan Peele, Kristen Schaal
Director: David Soren
Screenwriter: Nicholas Stoller
Producers: Mireille Soria, Mark Swift
Executive producers: Dav Pilkey, Rob Letterman
Production designer: Nate Wragg
Editor: Matthew Landon
Music: Theodore Shapiro

Rated PG, 89 minutes

churchill ver5 Churchill (2017) Movie Review

Brian Cox, Miranda Richardson and John Slattery star in Jonathan Teplitzky’s historical drama about Winston Churchill’s objections to the risky D-Day invasion plan.

A robust star vehicle for Brian Cox, but otherwise underwhelming, Churchill dramatizes the agonizing private doubts that Britain’s wartime leader felt during the buildup to the D-Day landings in June 1944. As with his previous World War II-themed feature, The Railway Man, Australian director Jonathan Teplitzky has fashioned a small-scale chamber drama from huge historical events, with a functional script and modest budget that fails to match the grand sweep of its story.

That said, Cox fans will enjoy seeing the veteran Scottish bruiser give a powerhouse, mischief-laced performance that feels too big for the flimsy production around him. Historians and military scholars may also flock to see the film, if only to violently disagree with its distorted take on real events. Churchill debuts in French and U.S. theaters this week, just ahead of the June 6 D-Day anniversary, with further global openings to follow throughout June.

Sporting a shaved head and bulked-up body, Cox joins Albert Finney, Richard Burton, Michael Gambon, Timothy Spall and John Lithgow in the illustrious pantheon of actors who have played Churchill. The 70-year-old Scotsman is sometimes prone to scenery-chewing and wobbly accents, but he does a generally solid job here, nailing the late prime minister’s declamatory speech patterns, hulking gait and jaw-jutting scowl. Alive to the power of creating a strong public image, the real Churchill was quite the theatrical performer himself, but Cox shows us the private anguish, as well as the rambunctious political showmanship, squeezing nuance from oft-mimicked and easily caricatured mannerisms.

The film is bookended by lyrical scenes of a solitary Churchill wandering a deserted beach, haunted by ghostly visions of blood-soaked waves and young bodies piled on the sand. These are flashbacks to the catastrophic Gallipoli Campaign of World War I, when the Allies sacrificed more than 56,000 soldiers, the vast majority of them British. Such macabre horror-movie images may seem lurid, but they are lifted directly from Churchill’s warnings to General Dwight D. Eisenhower about the high price of getting the D-Day plans wrong.

New Zealand-born historian turned screenwriter Alex von Tunzelmann collapses several months of doubt and debate into a few dramatic days, thus upping the stakes and amplifying the personality clashes involved. In reality, Churchill was fully committed to the Operation Overlord invasion plan by the time D-Day loomed. In the film, he is still fiercely arguing for strategic delays and decoy tactics at the 11th hour, butting heads with an implacable Eisenhower (Mad Men alum John Slattery, underused here) and an exasperated General Bernard Montgomery (Julian Wadham). “We must fix this broken plan before it ends in tragedy,” warns Churchill.

Energized by qualified support from King George VI (James Purefoy) and starry-eyed fan worship from keen office junior Helen Garrett (Ella Purnell), Churchill throws himself into forging an alternative Allied invasion plan for D-Day. In the process, he becomes an irascible, insufferable, booze-soaked bully.

Only delicate ego-flattering by his long-suffering wife, Clementine (Miranda Richardson), can bring Churchill back around to common sense and patriotic duty. “He needs to feel part of it,” she explains to wary colleagues. Behind every great man is an infinitely patient woman, silently rolling her eyes. Kudos to Teplitzky and von Tunzelmann for showing Churchill not just in his familiar heroic light as a great statesman, but also as a needy, thin-skinned, tantrum-throwing baby. Certain world leaders could learn valuable lessons from this film.

By concentrating on Churchill’s private neuroses, marital power balance and stirring oratory skills, Teplitzky and von Tunzelmann seem to be aiming for an intimate backstage snapshot akin to The King’s Speech, but they never quite muster the same level of comic warmth. Cox aside, this pedestrian drama is hobbled by too many monodimensional characters and too much overly explanatory dialogue that feels like a dry high school history lesson: “Operation Overlord will require 200,000 vehicles, a fleet of 7,000 ships, swarms of planes …” etc., etc.

Cinematographer David Higgs gives Churchill a pleasingly painterly look, using silhouettes and reflections as recurring visual motifs. The Scottish-shot locations provide plenty of scenic backdrops, though keen-eyed viewers may wonder why wartime London looks uncannily like Edinburgh. Lorne Balfe’s twinkly musical score has a touching delicacy at first, but drags over the long haul.

Production company: Salon Pictures
Distributor: Cohen Media Group
Cast: Brian Cox, Miranda Richardson, John Slattery, James Purefoy, Ella Purnell, Richard Durden, Julian Wadham
Director: Jonathan Teplitzky
Screenwriter: Alex von Tunzelmann
Producers: Nick Taussig, Paul Van Carter
Cinematographer: David Higgs
Production designer: Chris Roope
Costume designer: Bart Cariss
Editor: Chris Gill
Music: Lorne Balfe
Casting Director: Daniel Hubbard

Rated PG, 98 minutes

megan leavey ver2 Megan Leavey (2017) Movie Review

Kate Mara plays a Marine whose devotion to her bomb-sniffing dog extends beyond the war zone in this drama based on true events.

Near the beginning of Megan Leavey, an affectingly unvarnished redemption story, the listless title character is fired from a dead-end job with the words, “You don’t really connect with people very well.” You could say the same of the obstinate German shepherd with whom she’ll eventually forge a deep bond, first in their Marine training and then on the frontlines in Iraq. Beyond the countless lives they save, Megan and Rex save each other.

Bringing their real-life story to the screen, director Gabriela Cowperthwaite has made a movie about soldiers that’s not, strictly speaking, a war film. She’s made a love story, one that’s all the more heartstring-tugging for its cogent restraint. Though it may hit a few predictable notes, its embrace of flawed and messy characters and refusal to repair every frayed emotional connection give it a dynamic, in-the-moment vigor. At the center of the superb cast, Kate Mara delivers her strongest screen work to date, revealing, beneath her signature steeliness, a young woman’s unraveling and resolve.

As Mara’s Megan explains in stage-setting voiceover, nothing is keeping her in her suburban New York hometown. Her alternately strained and explosive interactions with her mother (Edie Falco) and stepdad (Will Patton) demonstrate the point. Recognizing the downward slope she’s been on since the death of her best friend, she enlists in the Marines on an impulse, grasping at something that might give her life structure.

But it isn’t until she meets Rex, a four-legged member of the Military Police K9 unit, that she finds her true purpose, focusing her every waking moment on qualifying for the position of dog handler. Rex (played in most scenes by a large, soulful-eyed German shepherd named Varco) has been a problem trainee, but he responds to Megan and proves himself more than up to the job when they’re deployed to Iraq, where they make a formidable team — until they’re injured by an IED and separated by the Marines.

In her first stint at the helm of a narrative film, Cowperthwaite, whose Blackfish was a gripping exposé about captive killer whales, is as attuned to the power of the human-animal bond as she is to the binding force of trauma in the crucible of war. With fine contributions from production designer Ed Verreaux and cinematographer Lorenzo Senatore, she gives the Iraq sequences (shot in Spain) a compelling tension, whether in the oppressive openness of the desert or amid the rubble, traffic and checkpoints of Ramadi. As Rex sniffs out IEDs, Senatore occasionally places the camera at dog’s-eye level, a choice that heightens the dread while deepening the feeling of interdependence between corporal and canine.

Megan’s story ultimately turns into a public campaign to adopt her war-hero partner despite daunting red tape and the unhelpful ruling of an inflexible veterinarian (Geraldine James). The film celebrates the heroism of Leavey, Rex and others, yet it’s far more complex than a rah-rah paean. The appearance on a stateside TV screen showing Colin Powell’s testimony about WMDs provides all the commentary needed about the policies that send soldiers — human and nonhuman alike — into battle.

Megan Leavey is a portrait of military life as a working-class career. (Leavey herself, long retired from the service, cameos as a drill instructor.) In a tough but sympathetic turn that characterizes the film’s overall view of military camaraderie, Common plays Gunny Martin, the no-nonsense sergeant who mentors the directionless Megan. As another sergeant, Harry Potter alum Tom Felton is as kind as he is plainspoken about the horrors of the front.

A more bittersweet complexity infuses Megan’s friendship and budding romance with a dog handler and fellow New Yorker named Morales, played with terrific charm by Ramon Rodriguez. He and Mara give the couple’s flirtatious badinage the smart-ass snap of native New Yorkers’ speech. But beyond their Mets-vs.-Yankees rivalry, they eventually must face fundamental differences vis-a-vis their goals.

The screenplay, credited to Pamela Gray, Annie Mumolo and Tim Lovestedt, finds nuance in every exchange, whether the moment is comic, heartbreaking or a lived-in fusion of the two. That’s especially true on the home front, where the incisive writing and performances make whole lifetimes fully felt in even the briefest of scenes. As an often flailing mother offering excruciatingly tone-deaf gifts, Falco is typically excellent, and Patton fumbles with good-natured cluelessness as the second husband her daughter disdains.

Bradley Whitford’s understated turn as Megan’s father comes to the fore late in the film, when she’s fallen yet again into a deep depression, after her war injury. Mara exposes every raw nerve beneath the surly surface, and Whitford infuses his pep talk with the aching tenderness of a man trying to get his daughter back into the day-to-day business of living. He tells her to figure out what would make it worth it. In Cowperthwaite’s sharp, compassionate film, Megan’s unhesitating answer — “Rex,” she says — is not only powerfully evident, but it’s enough.kate Megan Leavey (2017) Movie Review

Distributor: Bleecker Street
Production company: LD Entertainment
Cast: Kate Mara, Ramon Rodriguez, Tom Felton, Bradley Whitford, Will Patton, Sam Keeley, Common, Edie Falco, Geraldine James, Jeremy Jones
Director: Gabriela Cowperthwaite
Screenwriters: Pamela Gray, Annie Mumolo, Tim Lovestedt
Producers: Mickey Liddell, Pete Shilaimon, Jennifer Monroe
Executive producers: Robert Huberman, Scott Holroyd, Nicole Stojkovich, Jose Luis Escolar
Director of photography: Lorenzo Senatore
Production designer: Ed Verreaux
Costume designer: David Tabbert
Editor: Peter McNulty
Music Mark Isham
Casting: Kerry Barden, Paul Schnee, Camilla-Valentine Isola

Rated PG-13, 116 minutes

my cousin rachel ver2 My Cousin Rachel (2017) Movie Review

Rachel Weisz plays the enigmatic title character in Roger Michell’s romantic thriller based on a 1951 novel by Daphne du Maurier, which also stars Sam Claflin.

A callow country lad falls for a worldly widow in the second big-screen version of My Cousin Rachel, Daphne du Maurier’s brilliantly ambiguous tale of attraction and suspicion in Victorian-era England. Handsome and richly atmospheric, writer-director Roger Michell’s adaptation is subdued grown-up fare that doesn’t quite sustain the “did she or didn’t she” mystery for its entire running time. But there’s enough dark sizzle between leads Rachel Weisz and Sam Claflin to keep the audience involved through the underpowered middle stretches before the film regains its footing, delivering a disquieting shiver of a conclusion.

The late-1830s action unfolds almost entirely on an estate near England’s southern coast, where Philip Ashley (Claflin) prepares for the arrival from Florence of Rachel (Weisz), the widow of his beloved cousin and guardian Ambrose and, he’s certain, Ambrose’s killer. As Michell establishes with tantalizing concision in the pre-title sequence, Ambrose’s letters home had taken a couple of drastic turns in recent months, from enchantment to mistrust to outright terror. The new wife he initially describes as “my kindest companion” soon becomes “my torment,” and before Philip can respond to the desperate plea his cousin has hidden in cramped scribble on the inner flap of an envelope, Ambrose is dead from a brain tumor.

Fired up for retaliation, Philip is instead instantly disarmed by the Italo-English beauty in widow’s garb. With her cosmopolitan elegance, she’s clearly the more self-possessed of the two. But even so, the younger man’s resemblance to her husband (played by Claflin in a brief, wordless scene) unnerves Rachel. Weisz’s exquisitely subtle performance suggests too that it excites her. Over civilized tea, she watches with alarm as butter drips from Philip’s sandwich. “You’d better lick your fingers,” she tells him. (Du Maurier used a stronger verb.)

In a household where the only females are of the canine persuasion, Rachel soon becomes de facto hostess, charming even the crotchety old servant Seecombe (a scene-stealing Tim Barlow), who had dreaded her arrival. Philip, in turn, morphs from sworn avenger to foolhardy protector, believing it his duty to right the matter of Ambrose’s unfinished will and ensure that Rachel will have a proper inheritance. As he gets busy with legal paperwork and heirloom jewels, over the quiet objections of his godfather (Iain Glen), the family lawyer (Simon Russell Beale) and his lifelong friend Louise (Holliday Grainger), who loves him unrequitedly, the movie’s sublime suspense gives way to a series of maneuvers and reversals that advance the plot in fits and starts.

In individual scenes, though, the questions that fuel the story continue to burn even when the narrative transitions are less than smooth. Those questions course beneath the Victorian etiquette like a fever: Is Rachel a scheming, murderous fortune hunter or a woman demonized for her modernity? (Not one but two male characters make pointed references to her limitless appetites.) Had Ambrose perceived her true intentions, or was he deranged from his illness?

As for Philip, the performance by Claflin, who has tended to play more polished romantic types, convincingly embodies a man of the land, one who rejects art and books and whose lack of sophistication leads to a misunderstanding of monumental proportions. Philip is so green that it isn’t until he declares himself to Rachel — or believes he has — that he recognizes his feelings for her or the reasons for his profound dislike of her Italian confidant, the maddeningly hard-to-read Rainaldi (Pierfrancesco Favino).

But no one is harder to read than Rachel, whose first grateful kiss to Philip is followed by a brusque shove. Though Michell at times seems to tip his hand as to her innocence or guilt, Weisz is never clearly one or the other, a spellbinding sphinx from first moment to last, by turns warm, forbidding, ebullient and calculating as she dispenses herbal teas that are either nurturing or toxic.

The first produced screenplay by Michell, whose directing credits include Notting Hill and Le Week-End, shows a sure grasp of the source material’s complexities. He brings a couple of effective modifications to his otherwise faithful adaptation, as well as cinematic flair, with DP Mike Eley moving nimbly between countryside and candlelight. If Michell’s direction doesn’t always maintain an optimum tautness, he draws strong performances from an ace cast, with Grainger lending standout support as Louise, longing for Philip’s affection but never crumbling under his neglect.

And he brings the world of the Ashley estate to dynamic life, particularly in a well-choreographed Christmas party that’s a crucial turning point in the action. Here and throughout, the contributions of designers Alice Normington and Dinah Collin enhance the setting’s specific mix of classes as well as the clash of personalities, just as Rael Jones’ judiciously used score balances romance and foreboding.

There’s a timeless psychological power to du Maurier’s story, which was first brought to the screen soon after its publication, in a 1952 adaptation starring Olivia de Havilland and Richard Burton. Though it specifically addresses 19th-century codes governing marriage and property, its concerns with morality, social expectations and female independence still resonate. But above all, My Cousin Rachel is a beautifully tangled web of good and evil, innocence and experience. In a scene that epitomizes the film’s discreet but charged sensuality, Michell, Eley and the two leads transform a lovely bluebell wood into a place charged with omen.

Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Production companies: Fox Searchlight, TSG Entertainment, Free Range Films
Cast: Rachel Weisz, Sam Claflin, Holliday Grainger, Iain Glen, Pierfrancesco Favino, Simon Russell Beale, Vicki Pepperdine, Poppy Lee Friar, Katherine Pearce, Tim Barlow
Director-screenwriter: Roger Michell, based on the novel by Daphne du Maurier
Producer: Kevin Loader
Executive producer: Roger Michell
Director of photography: Mike Eley
Production designer: Alice Normington
Costume designer: Dinah Collin
Editor: Kristina Hetherington
Music: Rael Jones
Casting: Fiona Weir

Rated PG-13; 106 minutes

pirates 5 carina Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017) Movie Review

A pickled Johnny Depp dons the eyeliner again, this time fleeing an immortal pirate-hunter played by Javier Bardem.

Looking quickly at the prospectus for Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, in which the son of the series’ Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley characters joins forces with a mysterious orphan to master the sea’s arcane mysteries and do what his forebearers could not, you might well label it Pirates: The Next Generation. But unlike the Star Trek franchise-extender, this one is nowhere near bold enough to think it can dispense with its aging protagonist: Johnny Depp’s cartoonishly louche Keith Richards-meets-Hunter Thompson pirate Jack Sparrow, the globally recognized caricature who by now feels (appropriately) more like a theme-park mascot than a Hollywood swashbuckler.

Depp remains wholeheartedly the focus of this fifth Pirates film, and saying the character’s loopy novelty has faded is like complaining that there are maggots in the below-decks gruel: You knew what you were getting when you came aboard. Despite its limp zingers and a phoned-in star performance, this episode — directed with little distinction by Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg, of 2012’s Kon-Tiki — hits enough familiar notes to continue its predecessors’ commercial success, keeping a small city’s worth of VFX artists employed until Depp decides he can’t be bothered anymore.

Like the series’ heroes, who are always coping with malicious spells cast by ancient Aztecs, Davy Jones or overeager corporate executives, these films are saddled with an exotic curse: The first Pirates was simply much more fun than any movie based on a tarted-up kiddie ride should be, and attempts to recapture that sense of surprise are doomed to look desperate or hacky. The closest the sequels ever get is in their state-of-the-art imagining of storybook wonder, where a very high bar was set the first go-round. Remember those accursed sailors in the first pic who, when seen in moonlight, were revealed to be skeletons? Tell No Tales gives us a crew, led by Javier Bardem’s Captain Salazar, who look like you attacked each one indiscriminately with a digital eraser — turning an elbow and forearm to thin air, for instance, while a sword-wielding hand still moves out there where it should be. Some of his men lack jaws or cheekbones or even entire heads, but Salazar has his full set of mandibles, which he enthusiastically uses to chomp down on any nearby scenery.

Salazar is this film’s central antagonist, who at the start descends on a Royal Navy vessel that has sailed too close to the Devil’s Triangle. “Who are you?” a terrified sailor asks. “Deeeaaath,” Salazar croaks. Salazar kills all the crew but one: Henry (Brenton Thwaites), the now-grown son of Bloom’s Will Turner and Knightley’s Elizabeth Swann. And when it emerges that Henry has been seeking Dad’s old mate Jack Sparrow, Salazar gives him a message to carry to the man whose magic compass is somehow the key to his eternal imprisonment: I’ll be whole again someday, and when I am, you’re dead.

Not long after, we watch Captain Sparrow barter that magic compass for a bottle of booze on the island of Saint Martin. He has just suffered through a fairly ridiculous bank robbery-gone-wrong, a bombastic farce that appears to have cost him the few mates who’d remained loyal to him and introduced him to some new ones: Henry, who wants to help Sparrow find Poseidon’s trident — which has the power to “break any curse at sea,” including the one that condemned Will Turner to eternal duty on the Flying Dutchman; and Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), a self-taught astronomer in possession of a magic book that might show the way.

Scodelario, of the Maze Runner films and Andrea Arnold’s Wuthering Heights, is just about the only member of the cast who seems to believe she’s expected to be more than a thin generic functionary or flamboyant scene-stealer. Which is unfortunate, given how Jeff Nathanson’s screenplay sometimes treats her. In her first scene, Carina is in prison awaiting execution (something about witchcraft, of course), and while she’s fully capable of picking the lock of her cell, she waits to do so until a priest comes to hear her last words. Why? Presumably because there’s no other way to show she’s a badass. When her escape thrusts her into the mayhem Sparrow’s creating outside, she insists to him that she’s not looking for trouble. “What a horrible way to live,” Depp quips soggily, and viewers will recall times at which the actor might have made that funny and charming.

Things proceed noisily from here, as the pursuit of the Trident attracts the attention of old Captain Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), who was practically choking on riches before Salazar escaped the Devil’s Triangle and started killing all the pirates he found. Whether he’s on Sparrow’s side or not is always in question. But Rush will wind up the focus of one of the picture’s more satisfying set-pieces, a fantastical escape evoking everything from The Ten Commandments to the endearingly cheesy blacklight decorations that turn cheap amusement-park attractions into spooky realms of mystery. However manipulative this climactic sequence may be, you can see how it might convince a better-than-this thespian to believe he can have some fun while earning that gigantic paycheck. As for what might draw Bloom and, briefly, Knightley back to the screen, doing nothing other than linking the first few movies to the ones Disney hopes will come? See the aforementioned paycheck.

 

Production companies: Walt Disney Pictures, Jerry Bruckheimer Films
Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures
Cast: Johnny Depp, Javier Bardem, Brenton Thwaites, Kaya Scodelario, Kevin R. McNally, Golshifteh Farahani, David Wenham, Stephen Graham, Orlando Bloom, Geoffrey Rush
Directors: Joachim Ronning, Espen Sandberg
Screenwriter: Jeff Nathanson
Producer: Jerry Bruckheimer
Executive producers: Mike Stenson, Chad Oman, Joe Caracciolo, Jr., Terry Rossio, Brigham Taylor
Director of photography: Paul Cameron
Production designer: Nigel Phelps
Costume designer: Penny Rose
Editors: Roger Barton, Leigh Folsom Boyd
Composer: Geoff Zanelli
Casting directors: Nikki Barrett, Susie Figgis, Ronna Kress

Rated PG-13, 129 minutes

baywatch Baywatch (2017) Movie Review

Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron star in this big-screen adaptation of the hit television series about lifeguards.

Andy Warhol got it wrong. It’s not that everybody will be world-famous for 15 minutes; it’s that all moderately successful, mediocre television shows are destined to be reborn as feature films. The latest example of the distressing trend attempts to wink knowingly at its inspiration. But a character acknowledging that the proceedings resemble an “entertaining but far-fetched TV show” isn’t enough to make Baywatch anything more than the cynical cash grab that it is.

That the film’s guiding creative ethos was apparently to push the envelope and go for an “R” rating becomes painfully clear. The endless profusion of F-bombs seems to indicate that the screenwriters must have thought they would be paid per use. The raunchy humor extends to gay-panic gags strangely similar to the ones found in the recent, similarly misbegotten CHIPSBaywatch strains for a vulgarity that never comes remotely close to being funny. Unless, that is, you find the idea of Zac Efron manipulating a dead man’s genitals hysterical.

Dwayne Johnson plays Mitch (David Hasselhoff in the original series), the no-nonsense leader of the Baywatch team, which also includes two newbies: Matt Brody (Efron), a two-time Olympic gold medal-winning swimmer whose irresponsible, hedonistic ways instantly rub Mitch the wrong way; and Ronnie (Jon Bass), the pudgy lifeguard-in-training whose helpless crush on a gorgeous colleague becomes improbably reciprocated.

The plot, such as it is, concerns the Baywatch team springing into action to counter a wave of drugs sweeping the area, masterminded by resort owner/villainess Victoria Leeds (Quantico‘s Priyanka Chopra). That the lifeguards are not actually responsible for law enforcement, as they’re periodically reminded by an aggravated local cop (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II of The Get Down) proves little deterrent to their enthusiasm for crime-solving.

The fact that one of the film’s extended comic set-pieces involves Ronnie becoming involved in a “stuck junk” emergency when his genitals get trapped in a beach chair should tell you all you need to know about its level of humor. The causal throwaway gags are actually far funnier, such as Mitch’s belittlingly addressing Matt with a series of nicknames including “Malibu Ken” and, most amusingly, “High School Musical.”

Johnson and Efron possess impressive muscles, but the performers have never done as much heavy lifting as they do here. And to their credit, they succeed to some degree. Johnson employs his big toothy grin, effortless charm and surprising comic gifts to make the film almost watchable. And Efron — who has come to rely on his obnoxious frat-boy shtick far too often — takes off his shirt … a lot.

Of course, you would expect nothing else from this movie based on a TV series that became famous for slow-motion shots of star Pamela Anderson jiggling down a beach in her bikini. That naturally inspires one of the film’s running gags, with swimsuit model Kelly Rohrbach, playing CJ Parker, effectively filling in Anderson’s shoes (or lack thereof). But while the female form is on ample display here — courtesy of not only the comely Rohrbach, but also Alexandra Daddario (San Andreas) and Ilfenesh Hadera (Billions) as CJ’s female colleagues at Emerald Bay — Johnson’s massive physique and Efron’s washboards abs receive equally generous exposure.

Similarly, the film, directed by Seth Gordon (Horrible Bosses, Identity Thief), shows off its big budget with large-scale action sequences — including the team rescuing several scantily clad women from a burning yacht, a Jet Ski chase and Efron causing havoc on a pier while riding a motorcycle — but none of them has much impact.

Naturally, there are brief appearances by original stars Hasselhoff (who seems to be making ironic cameos his late-career specialty) and Anderson, but those, too, are underwhelming. Anderson’s is so fleeting, in fact, that you wonder why it was even included.

A big-screen reboot so lifeless and mechanical that even its end-credits outtakes are not amusing, Baywatch proves much less than the sum of its undeniably attractive body parts.

Production companies: Paramount Pictures, Flynn Pictures Company, Fremantle Productions, The Montecito Picture Company, Seven Bucks Productions, Skydance Media, Uncharte
Distributor: Paramount
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, Priyanka Chopra, Alexandra Daddario, Kelly Rohrbach, Ilfenesh Hadera, Jon Bass, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Hannibal Buress, Rob Huebel, Oscar Nunez, David Hasselhoff, Pamela Anderson, Charlotte McKinney, Izabel Goulart
Director: Seth Gordon
Screenwriters: Damian Shannon, Mark Swift
Producers: Beau Flynn, Ivan Reitman, Michael Berk, Douglas Schwartz, Gregory J. Bonann
Executive producers: Michele Berk, Mary Rohlich, Louise Rosner-Meyer, Tom Pollock, Ali Bell, Dwayne Johnson, Dany Garcia, David Ellison, Dana Goldberg, Don Granger
Director of photography: Eric Steelberg
Production designer: Shepherd Frankel
Editor: Peter S. Elliot
Costume designer: Dayna Pink
Composer: Christopher Lennertz
Casting: John Papsidera

Rated R, 116 minutes

untitled lucy walker buena vista social club documentary Buena Vista Social Club: Adios (2017) Movie Review

Two decades after its unlikely revival, Lucy Walker’s doc bids goodbye to the Cuban all-star group.

Produced during the shocking success of 1997’s Buena Vista Social Club album — the phenomenally popular collection of newly recorded Cuban roots music — Wim Wenders’ documentary of the same name offered both fans and newcomers the joy of seeing brilliant elderly musicians rescued from obscurity. For most Americans, the record/film was both an introduction to a genre they hardly knew and a direct encounter with its progenitors — like discovering rockabilly just in time to see Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis give their last great concerts.

Two decades later, Lucy Walker’s Buena Vista Social Club: Adios offers a very different kind of experience: “a fond farewell,” supporters would say, “milking the last penny out of the brand,” cynics would snort. The truth is somewhere in the middle for this muddled outing. Though it offers new biographical tidbits about its charismatic stars, they are too few to justify returning to the well, with years of copycat docs — digging up everyone from Pakistani classical musicians to retired Motown session men for one last big concert — making this format much less of a sure thing than it once was. Familiarity will ensure some attention in limited theatrical bookings, but in the video marketplace, it shouldn’t compete much with the first film.

Walker joins recently shot interviews of the few core BVSC members who survive with copious footage shot during the first project, adding concert material and vintage clips as needed. She does tease out some enjoyable character-revealing stuff. During prep for the group’s first big concert — in 1998, when their megastardom wasn’t yet established — we catch a too-proud Compay Segundo arguing that no machine is going to tell him his guitar’s not in tune. (It isn’t.) In the present day, singer Omara Portuondo gets a stretch to talk about her long friendship with Ibrahim Ferrer, who was stuck singing backup for others while she made the leap to a solo career in the ’60s. We get to hear Barbarito Torres, “the Jimi Hendrix of laúd,” recall the 1996 recording sessions, when producer Ry Cooder gave him a cassette of an old song he loved and asked him to copy the solo on it; after listening, Torres explained that he didn’t have to copy it. The recording was of him.

Toward the end, though, the doc takes on a maudlin air. It shows us Segundo’s funeral, watches a very ill Ruben Gonzalez as he hobbles across a stage to receive some award, et cetera.

It may be true, as we’re told, that Ferrer insisted on singing what turned out to be his last show, despite suggestions that he cancel due to poor health. (He wound up needing to use an oxygen tank after every second song.) And those who saw that show may have felt an intimate connection with the faded star. But it’s a disservice to the memory of this graceful, seductive performer to offer footage of that sad concert here. After Adios, many longtime fans will want to chase the taste away with a stiff shot of the old stuff.buena vista social club adios 1 Buena Vista Social Club: Adios (2017) Movie Review

Production companies: Broad Green Pictures, Blink TV, Convergent Media
Distributor: Broad Green Pictures
Director: Lucy Walker
Producers: Julian Cautherley, Christine Cowin, Asher Goldstein, Zak Kilberg, Victor Moyers
Executive producers: Andrew Baker, Daniel Hammond, Gabriel Hammond, Bill Lord, Jason Lust, Russell Smith, Lucy Walker, Wim Wenders
Directors of photography: Enrique Chediak, Lucas Gath
Editors: Pablo Proenza, Tyler Temple Higgins

In Spanish and English

Rated PG, 110 minutes

it comes at night It Comes at Night (2017) Movie Review

Trey Edward Shults follows up his debut feature, ‘Krisha,’ with a minimalist deep dive into apocalyptic horror starring Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo and Riley Keough.

As he did in the stunner Krisha, Trey Edward Shults confines most of the action in his sophomore feature to the interiors of a private home. But in It Comes at Night, that house is not just a cauldron of domestic tensions, but a fortress against a dangerous world. Set in an unspecified very-near future, when a mysterious plague has apparently decimated the population, the story of a family defending itself against whatever’s out there grabs you by the throat from its first, wrenching moments and doesn’t let go.

The film confirms that Shults, working again with DP Drew Daniels, has a sure and fluent grasp of cinematic storytelling, his stripped-down narrative pulsing with dread and emotion. An outstanding ensemble gives life to every fraught word and anxious silence of the apocalyptic nightmare, with especially powerful performances from Joel Edgerton, as a family’s hyperalert patriarch, and Kelvin Harrison Jr., as the son who senses the limits of his family’s stand against disaster.

Seventeen and immersed in a struggle against death before he’s had a chance to live, the quietly watchful Travis (Harrison) is devastated by the killing that opens the film, an act of self-preservation as much as a mercy killing. After words of loving farewell from Travis’ mother, Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) — words muffled by the gas mask she’s wearing — his grandfather (David Pendleton), unable to speak, struggling to breathe and bearing the telltale lesions of the fatal sickness, is carted out to the woods by Paul (Edgerton), who shoots him and promptly incinerates his body.

Having plunged the viewer directly into the grip of crisis, Shults tightens the vise while expanding the number of characters. In a tense standoff that begins with the surreal edge of one of Travis’ chronic nightmares, the rural stronghold is invaded by Will (Christopher Abbott), who says he’s traveled 50 miles in search of water for his family. The ever-vigilant Paul’s effort to determine whether Will is lying briefly puts the two men on the road and demonstrates through a brutal, grippingly filmed encounter that there are other survivors in the vicinity. Compelled by self-interest more than compassion, Sarah convinces Paul that Will, Kim (Riley Keough) and their very young son, Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner) — not to mention their chickens and goats — should move in with them. Unless they join forces with the other family, she insists, they’ll be sitting ducks, targeted for their house and their water supply.

However carefully Paul articulates his and Sarah’s rules and expectations, the arrival of this younger, less-inhibited family upends the domestic order they’ve constructed to ward off madness and despair. For Travis, their arrival is a welcome vision of possibility. Since the death of the teen’s grandfather, his elderly dog, Stanley (played by Mikey), has been his only confidant in the household. The newcomers, Kim in particular, awaken and complicate his unexpressed adolescent longings. Eavesdropping on them, he finds a welcome spark of joy, but the things he sees and overhears eventually set off a decisive showdown — one that Shults and Daniels introduce with a remarkable pairing of close-ups across a tense kitchen table: on one side the sweet-faced, barely articulate Andrew, on the other, the skeptical Paul.

The mistrust that infects all the adults, as surely as the nameless sickness, grieves Travis, who’s at the center of it all, whether he’s rushing out into the woods after Stanley or silently watching from a corner of a dark room. With his riveting performance, Harrison wordlessly conveys how the boy is drawn to the instinctive, physical Will and repelled by his history-teacher father — a natural phase of his development that’s amplified by Paul’s edicts and mercy killings in their unspeakable circumstances.it comes at night ver2 It Comes at Night (2017) Movie Review

Working in upstate New York, Texas native Shults gives the rural setting a heart-pounding intensity. Daniels’ camera roves over a winding dirt road with the same foreboding that it conjures within the rustic house where most of the action unfolds. There’s a dreamlike, terrifying beauty to the cramped, lantern-lit nighttime interiors designed by Karen Murphy: the empty attic where Travis can listen unseen, the long nightmare of a corridor, the framed Brueghel (depicting a plague), the omen of a heavy red door. Brian McOmber’s tormented heartbeat of a score heightens the horror every step of the way.

With his fine cast and his gracefully restrained screenplay, Shults makes horror recognizable. The “It” of his title is no less a mystery at film’s end than when the story opens with the sound of an old man’s labored breath. But in the movie’s dark rooms, the director illuminates tough questions: What does it mean to be a “good person,” as Will calls Paul during their first, wary conversation? What does it mean to protect your family at all costs, and when does survival become meaningless?

Production company: Animal Kingdom
Distributor: A24
Cast: Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo, Riley Keough, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Griffin Robert Faulkner, David Pendleton
Director: Trey Edward Shults
Screenwriter: Trey Edward Shults
Producers: David Kaplan, Andrea Roa
Executive producer: Joel Edgerton
Director of photography: Drew Daniels
Production designer: Karen Murphy
Costume designer: Meghan Kasperlik
Editors: 
Trey Edward Shults, Matthew Hannam
Composer: Brian McOmber
Casting director: Avy Kaufman

Rated R, 97 minutes