Movie Reviews

Starring: Kevin James, Raini Rodriguez, Eduardo Verástegui, Neal McDonough, David Henrie

Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2

The Story: Mall cop Paul Blart returns, clumsily fighting crime in Las Vegas during a convention. The Lowdown: A tired and embarrassing comedy that’s based on a grotesque view of everyday people and a penchant for the cheapest of jokes.
Starring: Jonah Hill, James Franco, Felicity Jones, Ethan Suplee, Robert John Burke

True Story

The Story: A disgraced journalist has the story of a lifetime fall into his lap when a fugitive accused of murdering his family turns up in Mexico pretending to be him. The Lowdown: A self-serious crime drama that’s impossible to actually take seriously, one that’s too straight-faced and thematically droll.
Starring: Shelley Hennig, Moses Jacob Storm, Renee Olstead, Will Peltz, Jacob Wysocki


The Story: Some overage teenagers run afoul of a vengeful spirit online. The Lowdown: A strong contender for Worst Movie of 2015. This isn't even bargain-basement horror of the so-bad-it's-funny school. This is so-bad-it's-awful. That said, some have called it brilliant.
Starring: Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, Gary Oldman, Joel Kinnaman, Paddy Considine, Jason Clarke, Vincent Cassel

Child 44

The Story: A Russian secret police agent becomes increasingly disillusioned with Stalin's Russia, especially concerning a series of child murders. The Lowdown: As a mystery, there's not much here. Also, it's too long and on the slow side. But as an examination of the grim final days of Stalinism, it's often fascinating.
Starring: Edward Fox, Terence Alexander, Michel Auclair, Alan Badel, Tony Britton

The Day of the Jackal

In Brief: It's big. It's glossy. It's competently professional. It rarely thrills, and it goes on for an unconscionable 143 minutes. In other words, it's a Fred Zinnemann film. Zinnemann is probably the last person I'd approach to make a thriller — and this movie illustrates why. What this shaggy yarn about an assassination attempt…
Starring: Stanton Glantz, Jamy Ian Swiss, Bob Inglis, Frederick Singer, Tim Phillips, Marc Morano, Naomi Oreskes

Merchants of Doubt

The Story: Documentary about "experts" whose job is to cast doubt on scientific findings at the behest of their employers. The Lowdown: It probably won't change many minds — do these things ever? — and it may not tell you much you don't know, but this is a solid and surprisingly effective activist documentary.
Starring: William Powell, Kay Francis, Scott Kolk, William B. Davidson, Thomas E. Jackson, Harry Walker

For the Defense

In Brief: For the Defense (1930) is a rare (I think TCM has played it once) early sound film starring William Powell and Kay Francis made while both were still under contract to Paramount, and while it's not up to their more famous Warner Bros. duo — One Way Passage and Jewel Robbery (both 1932) — it's a surprisingly…
Starring: Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, Oscar Isaac, Sonoya Mizuno

Ex Machina

The Story: A young employee of a computer company is brought to the isolated home of his boss to help determine whether or not his employer has really created artificial intelligence. The Lowdown: A coolly brilliant film from writer-turned-director Alex Garland that explores the nature of what it means to be human. Effective as both…
Starring: David Alpay, Charles Aznavour, Eric Bogosian, Brent Carver, Christopher Plummer


In Brief: To commemorate Armenian Genocide Day, World Cinema is showing Atom Egoyan's much misunderstood Ararat (2002), which deals with the Turkish government's 1915 genocide of its Armenian population. This is heady stuff. It's also heavily layered and told in an unusual manner, presenting the story from the perspective of an Armenian filmmaker and linking past…
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Starring: Robert Powell, Georgina Hale, Lee Montague, Rosalie Crutchley, Antonia Ellis


In Brief: The Asheville Film Society's Budget Big Screen series returns with Asheville's own Lisi Russell introducing Ken Russell's Mahler — her late husband's brilliant biographical film on composer Gustav Mahler, a film conductor Klaus Tennstedt said was "the best film ever made about music." I'm not about to argue with him. Mahler is from the richest period…
Starring: Fredric March, Evelyn Venable, Sir Guy Standing, Katharine Alexander, Gail Patrick, Kent Taylor, Helen Westley

Death Takes a Holiday

In Brief: More a dark fantasy than an outright horror movie (though it has been claimed by the horror community), Death Takes a Holiday (1934) is the kind of film that could only have been made by Paramount Pictures and could only have been made at the time it was. Mitchell Leisen’s surprisingly complex (especially with its…
black magic
Starring: Orson Welles, Nancy Guild, Akim Tamiroff, Frank Latimore, Valentina Cortese, Margot Grahame

Black Magic

In Brief: Orson Welles has a scene-stealing field day in this rather free adaptation of Alexandre Dumas' Joseph Balsamo, Mémoires d'un Médecin — the story of Cagliostro (née Joseph Balsamo) rechristened Black Magic (1949) and starring Welles as, of course, Cagliostro. And based on the on-screen evidence, Welles stole more than scenes. Venerable Russian character…
Starring: Britt Robertson, Scott Eastwood, Alan Alda, Jack Huston, Oona Chaplin

The Longest Ride

The Story: The past of an old, dying man and two young lovers intertwine as he looks back at his past love. The Lowdown: An incredibly goopy, way too long and overwhelmingly chintzy saccharine romance with dull leads and zero points of interest.
Starring: Soran Ebrahim, Avaz Latif, Saddam Hossein Feysal, Hiresh Feysal Rahman

Turtles Can Fly

In Brief: When Turtles Can Fly (2004) first showed here, I wrote: The first thing you notice about Iranian filmmaker Bahman Ghobadi’s Turtles Can Fly is how much more technically accomplished it is than most films we see from this part of the world. The colors are bright and vivid, the images are sharp and detailed, the compositions…
Starring: Jennifer Jones, Joseph Cotten, Ann Richards, Cecil Kellaway, Gladys Cooper, Anita Louise

Love Letters

In Brief: Yes, this is the movie that produced the song of the title — though it only appears as a song in the film in orchestral form. (This was common at this period. The song versions of the famous themes from The Uninvited ("Stella by Starlight") and Laura ("Laura") — both made the previous year — do…
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Starring: Morgana O'Reilly, Rima Te Wiata, Glen-Paul Waru, Ross Harper, Cameron Rhodes


In Brief: The idea that we are in the midst of a kind of horror film renaissance these days is given ample support by this horror comedy from New Zealand by first-time feature writer-director Gerard Johnstone. Housebound (which, typically, is being remade for American consumption by New Line) got almost no release in the U.S. but managed to blow away…
Starring: Al Pacino, Annette Bening, Jennifer Garner, Bobby Cannavale, Christopher Plummer

Danny Collins

The Story: An aging rock star receives a letter sent to him by John Lennon in 1971 and decides to turn his life around to become the man he wanted to be. The Lowdown: Bright dialogue and great chemistry between Al Pacino and the rest of the cast raise this fairly predictable comedy-drama to very…
Starring: Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Daniel Brühl, Natascha McElhone, Miriam Margolyes, David Warner

Ladies in Lavender

In Brief: Ladies in Lavender (2004) marked the first — and so far only — film to be written and directed by character actor Charles Dance. Why he stopped after this perfectly credible first film is a mystery. It's not like Ladies in Lavender was some huge hit, but for a little film playing in…
Starring: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jason Statham, Michelle Rodriguez, Kurt Russell

Furious 7

The Story: The brother of an old nemesis starts to hunt the bad boys and girls of the Fast & Furious franchise. The Lowdown: A worthy entrant into the long-running series, assuming you’re a fan, of course. Otherwise, it’s a bit too long and a bit too repetitive to work, despite flashes of top notch…
Starring: Richard Bohringer, Helen Mirren, Michael Gambon, Alan Howard, Tim Roth, Ciarán Hinds

The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover

In Brief: Peter Greenaway’s The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover was the art film of 1990, which is to say that if you saw only one art film that year, this was probably the one you saw. It was daring. It had a hint of scandal attached to its excesses. It was full of nudity, sex,…
Starring: Nigel Terry, Nicol Williamson, Helen Mirren, Nicholas Clay, Cherie Lunghi, Paul Geoffrey


In Brief: I remember seeing John Boorman’s Excalibur when it first came out in 1981. I remember being completely blown away by its visual splendor and Boorman’s fascinating attempt to present the Arthurian legend in terms of Wagner opera (which pervades the soundtrack). I also remember the scorn with which the film was received by a number…