Movie Reviews

Fine 'Quartet' sings of travails of aging

Kerry Brown, Billy Connolly, Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay and Pauline Collins fin

Seems there's a mini-glut of movie quartets these days. A "late" one of the Beethoven string type just opened here a fortnight ago. Now, on its heels, comes the vocal variety -- even later in the lives of its members.

"Quartet" is Dustin Hoffman's directorial debut, at the tender age of 75. It takes place at Beecham House, a home -- a very posh, stately home/former estate -- for retired musicians in idyllic rural England. There, septuagenarian opera singers Reggie (Tom Courtenay), Wilfrid (Billy Connolly) and Cecily (Pauline Collins) are busily engaged in rehearsals for the big annual fundraising concert on Giuseppe Verdi's birthday.

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'Late Quartet': Powerful performances fuel Beethoven's string theory

Christopher Walken and Catherine Keener are half of `A Late Quartet'

Breaking up is so very hard to do, says the song. The only thing harder is staying together, says "A Late Quartet," Yaron Zilberman's beautiful chamber film about the making of chamber music and its creators.

The foursome in focus is the Fugue, an internationally acclaimed string quartet preparing a triumphant 25th anniversary tour with its signature performance of Beethoven's Op. 131 string quartet.

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'Gangster Squad' plot full of bullet holes

From left, Ryan Gosling, Josh Brolin, Michael Pena, Robert Patrick and Anthony M

Some movies are inspired by real past events. "Gangster Squad" is uninspired by them, or anything else, but its level of ultra-violence has a certain dark, trashy fascination and curiosity value in light of real current events.

In this campy yarn of 1949, Los Angeles crime lord Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) is just a rival or two away from taking full control of the town's drug and vice operations. With most city cops on his payroll, the LAPD has largely given up trying to referee the Mob's bloody turf wars, but they're spilling over to the citizenry.

Looks like a job for Honest John O'Mara (Josh Brolin), the sullen sergeant summoned to recruit a secret squad of urban-guerrilla warriors who can be trusted to shut down mighty Mick's enterprise.

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Movie review: 'Loneliest Planet' a tedious trek through an emotional badlands

Loneliest Planet a tedious trek through an emotional badlands

How do you forgive someone who can't or won't ask to be forgiven?

That's the key issue in life and in "The Loneliest Planet," an exotic tale of accidental betrayal, set in the strange wilderness of Georgia's Caucasus Mountains.

It's not Jimmy Carter's Georgia. But it's constantly on the mind of Alex (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Nica (Hani Furstenberg), a wildly in love young American couple who go there for a backpacking adventure the summer before their wedding.

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Streisand gets lost on this 'Guilt Trip'

Seth Rogen, left, and Barbra Streisand in The Guilt Trip, opening in theaters to

People who love Barbra are not the luckiest people in the world, when it comes to her recent choice of film scripts.

In "The Guilt Trip," just her third movie of the millennium, La Streisand elects to play Joyce, the widowed mother of Andy, played by Seth Rogen. He is lumpy, grumpy and nerdy -- not quite seven but several emotional dwarfs rolled into one son.

Andy, a brilliant chemist and inventor, is embarking on a cross-country road trip to find distributors for his miraculous new organic-cleaning fluid. But first, he makes a quick dutiful stop to say 'bye to mom in New Jersey.

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'Holy Motors': A film buff's delirious delight

Denis Lavant chomps cemetery flowers in "Holy Motors"

Talk about an identity crisis. The cinematic store could be called ID's R Us in "Holy Motors," a mindblowing explosion of imagination and virtuosic technique from French auteur Leos Carax.

You never know where Mr. Carax will take you -- or exactly why -- but this is a dream of a movie, literally: It opens with its hero waking up and stepping surreally through a wall of his bedroom into a movie theater. That's just the first of many stops during a day in the life of Oscar (Denis Lavant).

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The latest 'Anna Karenina' bizarre yet beautiful

Jude Law as Count Alexei Karenin lives by the rules, but Keira Knightley as his

"All happy families are alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

It's the opening, and most quoted, line of "Anna Karenina." Families don't get much unhappier or more nervous, in general, than the Karenins.

Me, I get nervous when filmmakers announce the "reimagining" of a classic. (I can't help thinking of Woody Allen's "Mourning Becomes Electra on Ice!") But that's what director Joe Wright and dramatist Tom Stoppard audaciously set out to do here, for better or worse -- and it's for both.

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Movie review: Upbeat 'Smashed' presents sobering look at alcoholism

Movie review: Upbeat 'Smashed' presents sobering look at alcoholism

One drink is too many, a thousand is never enough for Kate -- but who's counting? Certainly not Charlie, her adoring husband and fellow boozer in "Smashed," a compelling cautionary tale of (and primarily for) thirtysomething drinkers.

Each generation needs one. Or two. From "Lost Weekend" (1945) to "Days of Wine and Roses" (1962) down through the present, the lower dypso-depths are wherever you find them, including comfy Highland Park in northeast Los Angeles, where Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is a first-grade teacher.

She's a good -- if hungover -- one, who swigs a beer in her morning shower and needs a couple hefty gulps of whiskey from a flask in the car before facing her kids. But the binging catches up with her at work, and one boozy haze leads to a worse one on the street, an ongoing lie, a humiliating theft and a realization of just how low she has sunk.

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Lincoln film humanizes the legendary president

Gloria Reuben as Elizabeth Keckley, Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln and Daniel

Fourscore and 17 years ago, our forefilmers brought forth upon this continent "The Birth of a Nation," conceived in racist liberties and dedicated to the proposition that all Abe Lincoln movies could play equally fast and loose with American history.

Now, Steven Spielberg is engaging us in a great Civil War film testing whether his and Tony Kushner's version of the Emancipator can endure the scrutiny of fact-checkers and whether audiences can endure 2 1/2-plus talky hours of what is essentially a courtroom drama about a piece of legislation.

There can be some quibbling but no commercial doubt about the result: No director is more "of, by and for" the people than Mr. Spielberg, in general. But the primary credit for "Lincoln's" impact goes to Daniel Day-Lewis in the title role and Tommy Lee Jones as his problematic ally, Thaddeus Stevens. You'll look hard and wait long to find another set of such beautifully calibrated performances from them and their distinguished chamber ensemble.

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'Detropia' paints haunting picture

Performance artists is gas masks use decaying Detroit as a backdrop in a scene f

There, but for the grace of geography and hi-tech options, goes Pittsburgh -- to a place called "Detropia."

That neologism, combining "Detroit" and "dystopia," is the title of a wrenching but mesmerizing documentary with a much softer touch than Michael Moore's about our fatally stalled Motor City.

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