Movie Reviews

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Starring: Greta Gerwig, Ethan Hawke, Julianne Moore, Bill Hader, Maya Rudolph, Travis Fimmel, Wallace Shawn

Maggie’s Plan

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The Story: A young New York academic decides to have a baby by artificial insemination and finds love, though not with the donor. The Lowdown: A little film of considerable charm and some degree of depth, the real joy of Maggie's Plan lies in the role it affords Greta Gerwig.
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Starring: Ann Sheridan, Dennis O'Keefe, Robert Keith, Frank Jenks, John Qualen, Ross Elliott, J. Farrell MacDonald, Victor Sen Yung

Woman on the Run

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In Brief: Almost startlingly good — and just barely rescued from oblivion — film noir from generally overlooked director Norman Foster. Co-writing the independently produced Woman on the Run (1950) with Alan Campbell, Foster came up with an unusually intelligent (and suspenseful without being in the least graphic) noir that made excellent use of its…
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Starring: Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, Akiva Schaffer, Sarah Silverman Tim Meadows, Imogen Poots

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

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The Story: When his second solo album flops, an egotistical, idiot pop star tries to regain his following with disastrous results. The Lowdown: High on my list for worst movie of the year. Unfunny, charmless, noisy and tedious.
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Starring: Catherine Frot, André Marcon, Michel Fau, Christa Théret, Denis Mpunga, Sylvain Dieuaide, Aubrey Fenoy, Sophia Leboutte

Marguerite

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The Story: An almost completely fictionalized account of an historic character who insisted on singing opera, despite having a terrible voice. The Lowdown: A real-life story (which gets its own film later this year) is turned into a tragi-comic film of startling beauty and complexity. Unless you're utterly allergic to subtitles, this is a must-see.
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Starring: Hank Bones, Jon Corbin, Kevin Kehrberg, Lyndsay Pruett, Henry Westmoreland, Russ Wilson, Earl Sachais, Marvin Price, Cedric Mansell

Pearl’s Jam

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In Brief: Hank Bones' second film is a little more cinematically adventurous than The Quitters (2014), but the content is also a good deal less sophisticated. That's more of a comment than a complaint, because nothing about Pearl's Jam suggests it was ever intended to be anything other than a fun little movie made by…
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Starring: George Zucco, Johnny Downs, Anne Nagel, Glenn Strange

The Mad Monster

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In Brief: If Bela Lugosi was the king of 1940s B horror, then surely George Zucco was the king of the C’s. Zucco’s claim to stardom rests on the six-picture contract (only five were made) he had with Producers Releasing Corp., or PRC Pictures as it’s generally known. Zucco's first starring role was in the gloriously goofy…
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Starring: André Wilms, Kati Outinen, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Blondin Miguel, Quoc Dung Nguyen

Le Havre

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In Brief: A pitch-perfect little movie from Aki Kaurismäki, Le Havre (2001) feels much more simple and old-fashioned than it is upon examination. Sure, the story of a reasonably shiftless French shoeshine man who befriends an illegal immigrant black boy is aimed at playing on our sentimentality, but it does so with piercingly deadpan wit…
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Starring: Emilia Clarke, Sam Claflin, Janet McTeer, Charles Dance, Matthew Lewis

Me Before You

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The Story: A recently paralyzed man and his shy caretaker find themselves falling for one another. The Lowdown: A cliché-filled romance of the tear-jerking variety that goes on too long and does nothing new, but is barely sort of saved by a solid cast and a degree of complexity.
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Starring: Barry Fitzgerald, Walter Huston, Louis Hayward, June Duprez, Roland Young, Richard Haydn, Mischa Auer

And Then There Were None

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In Brief: It’s rare that Agatha Christie’s books have been given a break on the movie screen, but René Clair’s 1945 filming of And Then There Were None definitely did right by Dame Agatha. For that matter, it also did right by its splendid roster of great character actors, and it gave French filmmaker Clair one…
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Starring: Megan Fox, Will Arnett, Tyler Perry, Laura Linney, Stephen Amell, Stephen “Sheamus” Farrelly, Gary Anthony Williams, Tony Shaloub, Brad Garrett

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows

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The Story: The Turtles return to stop Shredder and his extradimensional ally Krang from taking over the Earth, or something to that effect — the script isn’t particularly clear on the details. The Lowdown: Yet another nostalgia-driven waste of time and money from Michael Bay’s cronies.
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Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Oscar Isaac, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Tye Sheridan, Sophie Turner

X-Men: Apocalypse

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The Story: The X-Men return to confront the world’s oldest mutant super-villain. The Lowdown: While the Biblical apocalypse was about the end of times, this Apocalypse feels as eternal (and interminable) as its title character.
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Starring: Kevin Kline, Ashley Judd, Jonathan Pryce, Kevin McNally, Allan Corduner, Sandra Nelson

De-Lovely

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In Brief: When De-Lovely came out in late summer 2004, I compared it to Peter Bogdanovich's At Long Last Love (1975) in the sense of it being another grand folly inspired by the music of Cole Porter. That remains true, though Bogdanovich fares better in that he wasn't making a biopic and has more style…
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Starring: Tilda Swinton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Ralph Fiennes, Dakota Johnson, Corrado Guzzanti, Aurore Clément

A Bigger Splash

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The Story: A recovering rock star and her lover find their blissful isolation disturbed by very unexpected guests. The Lowdown: Maybe not great, but this trashy, lurid look at the lives of the rich and famous — that turns into a kind of thriller — is compelling viewing with a top-notch cast and great stylist…
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Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller, Luke Evans, Elisabeth Moss, James Purefoy

High-Rise

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The Story: Life in a modern (circa 1975) luxury high-rise as a vision of a microcosm dystopia. The Lowdown: Brutal, darkly funny, nightmarish, disturbing. Maybe going in knowing that about High-Rise will fortify you for the experience — at least you've been warned. One of the most startlingly original films of the year.
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Starring: Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Léa Seydoux, Ben Whishaw, John C. Reilly, Olivia Colman. Jessica Barden

The Lobster

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The Story: People in the near future are forced to find a suitable partner or to be transformed into an animal. The Lowdown: With an unsettling, if fairly absurd, premise, this is one of the strangest films of the year. It defies easy classification. In fact, despite its dark comedy, nothing about the film is easy…
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Starring: Bela Lugosi, Suzanne Kaaren, Dave O'Brien, Guy Usher, Donald Kerr, Yolande Donlan

The Devil Bat

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In Brief: The Devil Bat (1940) marks the only time that Bela Lugosi worked for PRC Pictures. Whether once was enough (Lugosi had worked, and would work, at worse places) or whether his deal with Sam Katzman over at Monogram precluded further films is unknown. PRC was the lowest of the "real" studios, but it had…
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Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Sacha Baron Cohen

Alice Through the Looking Glass

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The Story: Alice returns to Underland to save the Mad Hatter. The Lowdown: Despite a similar cast and comparable visual style, this sequel to 2010’s Alice in Wonderland feels like an uninspired cash grab.
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Starring: Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell, Ralph Bellamy, Gene Lockhart, Ernest Truex, John Qualen

His Girl Friday

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In Brief:  If you’ve never seen His Girl Friday (1940), this is definitely one of the greats from the “golden age” of movies — and it’s a film that still holds the record for the fastest dialogue in the history of movies. That crackling, witty banter is delivered by people who know exactly how to do…
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Starring: Anton Walbrook, Simone Signoret, Simone Simon, Danielle Darrieux, Fernand Gravey, Isa Miranda

La Ronde

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In Brief: The films — the world — of Max Ophuls are certainly of a piece, in a similar tone of voice. All of them could be summed up with the same phrase used by the narrator (Anton Walbrook) of La Ronde (1950) when he explains that the story is set in 1900 Vienna: "I…
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Starring: Tod Slaughter, Marjorie Taylor, John Warwick, Leonard Henry, Robert Adair, Wallace Evennett

The Face at the Window

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In Brief: The classic barnstorming melodrama The Face at the Window (1939) makes for what is probably the best of Tod Slaughter's horror output. Who is Tod Slaughter? He was England's answer to both Karloff and Lugosi — an enjoyably shameless ham who positively reveled in both his transparent, mustache-twirling villainy and his unabashed lechery. There was…
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Starring: Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman, Brandon Walters, David Wenham, Bryan Brown, David Gulpilil

Australia

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In Brief: Baz Luhrmann's follow-up to Moulin Rouge! (2001), Australia (2008), was a hugely expensive flop — big enough that Luhrmann and his friend Nicole Kidman decided maybe it would better if they didn't work together again. The truth is that it's big, a bit dumb, utterly fantasticated and completely romanticized. It’s also kind of…