Movie Reviews

Humor, pain mix in 'Chicken With Plums'

Golshifteh Farahani as Irane and Mathieu Amalric as Nasser Ali in the movie "Chi

Ah, Tehran -- such a charming, sophisticated city in 1958, when the late, not-so-great shah was in charge. You could concentrate on your artistic and romantic angst, instead of your fear and loathing of the ayatollahs, back then.

Once upon that time and place, there lived a great musician named Nasser-Ali Khan, whose unbeloved wife smashed his much-beloved violin during an argument. He could replace it, right? Wrong. He tries, but finds no instrument equal to it. With a broken fiddle and broken heart, he takes to his bed and resolves to die.


Spike Lee's colorful 'Red Hook Summer' falls a bit short

Colorful Red Hook Summer falls a bit short

Back in the 1950s, when a million dollars still seemed like a lot of money, producer Sam Spiegel was asked why nobody could make a movie for $1 million any more. His reply: "Because you can't steal $1 million on a $1 million budget!"

The fact that Spike Lee made "Red Hook Summer" for under a mill, in 2012 -- his independent methods cutting out most of the studio system's built-in graft -- is thus amazing in itself. The movie, while perhaps less than amazing, is another unique entry in the canon of America's most important African-American director.


'Arbitrage' offers intriguing tale of financial corruption and moral bankruptcy

Richard Gere stars in Arbitrage.

After Hal 9000 -- the human-like computer in Stanley Kubrick's "2001" -- murders all but one of the spaceship's crew, he reassuringly tells the lone survivor, "Dave, I can see you're really upset about this. I honestly think you ought to sit down, take a stress pill and think things over. I know I've made some very poor decisions recently, but I can give you my complete assurance that my work will be back to normal."

Hal and his chutzpah are not unlike Robert Miller -- the computer-like human in "Arbitrage." He's a supremely confident hedge-fund tycoon on the verge of completing a last big deal -- the sale of his whole trading empire -- before comfortable retirement. He is played by Richard Gere, looking much like Marcello Mastroianni these days in his silver-fox older age, with a teenager's libido and sex appeal to older and younger ladies alike.


'Sleepwalk With Me' a snoozer of an unfunny film

Sleepwalk With Me a snoozer of an unfunny film

Stand-up comic Mike Birbiglia explains that he's from an Italian family -- "but not real Italian, more Olive Garden Italian."

It's true, and it's mildly amusing. So is Mr. Birbiglia: a sort of kinder, gentler Seinfeld on white bread, not Jewish wry. He's the co-writer, co-director and star of "Sleepwalk With Me," based on his off-Broadway show. That show and this film incarnation of it concern his autobiographical challenges as a bartender-cum-comedian and boyfriend-cum-husband.

As Matt, he has long been in a relationship with adorable, adoring Abby (Lauren Ambrose), but he's still not ready to commit. We learn this, and other intimate details, as he speaks directly to us and the camera while driving: Abby had to persuade him to have sex for the first time.


'Cosmopolis': a claustrophobic stretch-limo ride into the future

Robert Pattinson rarely leaves the car in "Cosmopolis"

"Prophetic," when applied to novels and films, is no longer just an adjective. It's a whole genre. There's no better, or worse, example of that than David Cronenberg's movie version of the Don DeLillo book "Cosmopolis" -- a futuristic thriller with plenty to ponder, but precious few thrills.


'Robot & Frank' surprises with its humanity---and Frank Langella's performance

Ex-burglar Frank Langella comes to rely on his Robot for more than caretaking in

In the ambiguous "near future" of a clever caper called "Robot & Frank," old codgers such as Frank are not scared -- just annoyed -- by the latest technological gadgets, which are only slightly higher-tech than today's. More annoying than the technology are the young technocrats, who are phasing out all obsolete "printed matter" at his local library.

"What's the point of a library if you can't check out books?" asks Frank (Frank Langella).


'Well-Digger's Daughter': lovely French remake of a lovely Pagnol original

Daniel Auteuil is a widowed father of six daughters in "The Well-Digger's Daught

At its emotional and visual best, film can sweep us away, on the wings of a strong story and characters, to a time and place wondrously different from our own.

No stories and characters are stronger than those of Marcel Pagnol, whose novels were turned into the gorgeous diptych of "Jean de Florette" and "Manon of the Spring" (1986). Those films co-starred Daniel Auteuil, who has turned himself into a deft actor-director with "The Well-Digger's Daughter," a lovely remake of Pagnol's 1941 original.


'Take This Waltz' steps deftly through a marriage losing steam

Margot and Lou have been happily married for five years, yet there are some issues. There are always marital issues. But they're not always rendered as skillfully and provocatively as in Canadian director Sarah Polley's "Take This Waltz."

She sets the stage with an opening party -- and post-party-partum discussion -- in her characters' idyllic Toronto home.

"Say something," says Margot (Michelle Williams) after they've cleaned up.

"Why?" asks Lou (Seth Rogen).

"So we can have a conversation -- why don't you ask me how I'm doing?"


`Chinese Take Away': Mutually unintelligible odd couple forms a bond

The chances of being struck by lightning or getting hit by a meteor---or of a cow falling out of an airplane and landing on top of you---are small. But not quite zero.

That's the kind of thing curmudgeonly Roberto ponders, and the kind of stories he clips out of the newspaper, to confirm his pessimistic worldview in "Chinese Take-Away," a bittersweet dramedy of cross-cultural incomprehension from Argentine director Sebastian Borensztein.


Film noir 'Elena': a grim Russian tale of post-crime, pre-punishment

Intramural class warfare is the name of the game in "Elena," a provocative film-noir tale of post-Putin Russia, set in a palatial glass-and-chrome exurban manse that is so post-modern, it's pre-Apocalyptic.

Are you keeping track of all the pre-and-post modifiers? You'll need to:

Sixty-somethings Vladimir and Elena come from diametrically different backgrounds. He's a wealthy retired technocrat, cold and detached. She's his former nurse, a product of the working class -- now his dowdy, docile, dutiful wife.



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