Category Archives: Entertainment

New Coming Beatty and Howard Hughes

Warren Beatty has been dreaming of making “Rules Don’t Apply,” his Howard Hughes project, for decades. Because of both his status as a Hollywood icon and his involvement with one of the most expensive film flops ever, “Ishtar,” Beatty’s project had assumed the whispers of legend before a frame was shot.

The story follows aerospace billionaire Hughes and certain key members of his entourage during some of his later years when he became a reclusive and odd figure, an object to this day of speculation. What was going on with Howard Hughes? “Rules Don’t Apply” offers a potential answer.

That Beatty started working with his actors years ago shows onscreen in subtle ways: such as how Hughes driver Frank Forbes, played by Alden Ehrenreich, becomes comfortable in his relationship and proximity to Hughes, a feeling one can imagine a young actor reaching only after spending ample bonding time with Beatty.

Beatty and the billionaire do an almost quantum shift — turning the act of watching the film into a brain twister in which one tries to both watch Beatty playing Hughes and sink fully into the story. But then you think: that’s Beatty and he’s playing Hughes with such aplomb, he’s clearly enjoying this.

One wonders: does the Hughes of “Rules Don’t Apply” resemble the real Hughes? If so and even if not, Beatty’s choices as an actor, his adoption of a bunch of ticks to reveal his take on the recluse, are rather delightful. You get to know this guy, how he reacts to stuff, and what is likely going on inside his odd brain.

Sure, the proceedings are a bit bombastic at times. The conjuring of mid-century Los Angeles mirrors the surface content of what is either the main plot or a big subplot, watching the repression of sexuality as it plays out in two young adults. On the surface the city is sunny and pastel, as are the easy demeanors of the pair with their church-going and mealtime graces. But underneath it all, there is desire and desperate dreams and a clawing to have what the successful people have.

She’s a contract actress pushing for her big break; he’s hired by Hughe’s people — two of them played by Martin Sheen and Matthew Broderick — to drive her around. But he seeks an audience with Hughes to cajole him into a real estate deal. This being L.A. real estate, you have a pretty good idea that buying a whole bunch of acreage to build affordable houses in the 1950s is a pretty good idea, so you know Frank’s not unsharp and that helps you like him. Will the two young’uns fight through obstacles and end up together?

Talk About Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard

For years we’ve heard moans that video-game movies are jinxed. Unfortunately, “Assassin’s Creed” won’t lift that curse. Not even with stars like Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, and the game’s creator, Ubisoft, as a producer.

If you’re unfamiliar with the game, you may be confused by what’s going on and why anyone would even bother playing it. If you have played, you’ll wonder how the moviemakers could mess things up so badly and squander the game’s rich tapestry of stories.

Following an introduction to an ancient order of Templars, the film leaps to current day, where Callum Lynch is serving time in jail. In his youth Cal saw his mother being murdered by his father, leading him into his own life of crime. Cal is released from prison to Abstergo, a tech company that plans to use him and his family bloodline of assassins to find the elusive “Apple of Eden” that has priceless info at its core.

To do this, Cal employs a device called the Animus, which accesses ancestral memories that date to the 15th century. The gizmo is straight from the game, but it has morphed from a simple transportational pod into gigantic mechanical arm connected to Cal’s body. It’s unwieldy for him — and us.

Australian filmmaker Justin Kurzel’s direction is all about visuals, not coherence, just as it was in his adaptation of “Macbeth” with Fassbender and Cotillard. “Assassin’s Creed” works best during the action scenes set in the distant past. But the present — along with Cal and that massive appendage and too many windy conversations — keeps elbowing its way back in.

Patriots Day starring Mark Wahlberg rings false

Mark Wahlberg’s new vehicle purports to tell the story of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. While “Patriots Day” works in some ways, especially in its intriguing blow-by-blow of the events before and after the attack, the film is ham-fisted. It works so hard to evoke a sense of teary patriotism it leaves behind a grimy feeling.

The problems start with Wahlberg’s character, Sgt. Tommy Saunders. This cop manages to be at the bombing site, FBI investigator’s strategy meetings in a command center, and a Mobil station where he helps rescue the bombers’ hostage. He also pops up at the shootout with the suspects, and the final apprehension of the surviving suspect. He’s everywhere.

But there was no real Tommy Saunders. A composite character with a bum knee, he’s meant to be an homage to the many Boston cops who worked the case. This becomes confusing and annoying because most of the rest of the characters are based on real individuals —  people, including Boston Mayor Thomas Menino (Vincent Curatola), Police Commissioner Ed Davis (John Goodman) and lead FBI investigator Richard DesLauriers (Kevin Bacon). A composite character can work, but I felt manipulated and was distracted by Saunders’ Zelig-ness.

Another major distraction were the advertisements for Dunkin Donuts. MIT officer Sean Collier (Jake Picking) was handed a “Coolatta” — yes a, specifically spoken, trademarked Dunkin beverage — shortly before being killed by terrorists trying to steal his gun.

There is little sense in terrorism, and those of us who have lived through it, including anyone who was in New York in September 2001, are repulsed by most efforts to impose narrative sense on senseless slaughter. Director Peter Berg wants us to believe the bombing had positive effects in uniting the city, making it “Boston Strong.” I think everyone including maimed runners were better without terrorism.

Inspiring drama from director Ken Loach

If you’ve ever dealt with bureaucratic red tape — even if that merely means a simple trip to the DMV — then you’ll relate to the title character in the truly moving and special British drama “I, Daniel Blake.”

A carpenter by trade, middle-aged Daniel (Dave Johns) has been unable to work after suffering a heart attack on the job. He is relying on government benefits to survive, but he finds it’s far more difficult to get them than it should be.

As he’s evaluated by a social worker we get a sense of frustrations and his cynical wit and how angry he is about not being able to work.

Daniel is also one of those people who doesn’t own and has never used a computer, so when he learns how much he has to do online to get his benefits, it becomes even more frustrating for him.

Acclaimed filmmaker Ken Loach is a master at capturing the day-to-day of British life, and this film, which won the coveted Palm D’Or award at the Cannes Film Festival, is no exception. That said, it may be easier for some to decipher the heavy British accents than others.

It’s heartbreaking at times to watch Blake’s plight, but things get even more desperate for Katie, who is starving herself to make sure her kids eat. Guided by Loach, the actors have created two such likeable characters that you’re constantly invested in their attempts to deal with a convoluted system.

In a world that seems to be getting worse with every passing minute, “I, Daniel Blake,” is a sobering but inspiring pleasure — easily one of the best films of the year.

Drama Live By Night

“Live by Night” is barely breathing.

A slow, stubbornly serious period picture, it’s Ben Affleck’s attempt to bring back the old Warner Bros. gangster films, with him stepping in for Jimmy Cagney. It’s got Prohibition and speakeasies, flappers and Tommy guns.

It still shoots blanks.

Affleck, who also directed, plays the disgraced son of a Boston police chief. A strong-arm guy with a prison record, he takes it on the lam to Tampa, where he starts running rum for the Mafia.

And also takes up with a smuggler’s sister, while running afoul of a fire-and-brimstone lady preacher.

On paper, it sounds like there’s a lot going on here – “The Roaring Twenties” crossed with Al Pacino’s “Scarface” and a bit of “Elmer Gantry.”

On the screen, it’s a lot less.

Although Affleck’s been a decent director – capturing real local color in “Gone Baby Gone” and “The Town,” building tension nicely in “Argo” – his work here is dim and dull. “Live by Night” may be about rum, but the pacing is like molasses.

And as its glum leading man, the star never shines. He has none of the lethal charm – or dangerous unpredictability – that would make a character like this worth watching. Instead of a mobster clawing his way to the top he’s a district manager, trying to boost third-quarter profits.

The Tampa setting is a novel one at least, and although Zoe Saldana isn’t much more than decorative as a lady smuggler, Chris Cooper adds craggy authority as a mostly honest lawman. And Elle Fanning is excellent as that revival-tent preacher.

Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal

They only come out at night.

Dirtbags, lowlifes, predators — they’re just some of the dangerous beasts that “Nocturnal Animals” focuses on.

But there are other things that live in the dark, too: self-doubt, nagging regret, the sense that somehow, somewhere, things went wrong.

And those can be even scarier monsters.

“Nocturnal Animals” is directed by the fashion designer Tom Ford and it looks beautiful in a way that glossy ads are. Jake Gyllenhaal is hunky (and, as usual, briefly shirtless). Amy Adams is as pretty and perfect as a doll.

She’s just as cold, though. And so is the film.

Because this is a movie about all the ways we hurt each other. And although sometimes it’s through vicious violence, sometimes it’s in subtler, nastier, icier ways.

And now Edward has a novel coming out, which he wants Susan to read. It’s a gruesome thriller about a too-nice guy who gets caught up in a carjacking, and sees his wife and child brutally abducted.

But why, after almost 20 years, did Edward send Susan this book? And why is it really dedicated to her?

Those are Susan’s first questions and they’ll be answered, eventually — although not in the way she wants.

But first we have to make our way through three interwoven stories — flashbacks of Susan and Edward’s life together, snapshots of Susan’s life now as she’s reading, and Edward’s book, acted out as a sort of movie-inside-the-movie, with rangy Michael Shannon as a Texas lawman.

It sounds a little too clever, but it’s not. It’s just clever enough.

Partly because, simply, Edward’s novel is good — an abduction/revenge story that has the gruesome, rural-horror feel of a ’70s exploitation flick. But also because Gyllenhaal plays not only Edward, but the hero in his own novel. And it forces us to think about the reasons he has for telling this story now. What’s it really about?

What does it mean to Susan — sitting there reading it, alone in her Los Angeles mansion, surrounded by everything except people?

With its wild swings between grimy crime and upscale angst, “Nocturnal Animals” can sound like an artsy experiment. (It certainly starts off like that, with a credits sequence full of old, fat naked cheerleaders — something even David Lynch would shrink from).

And, there’s something decidedly misogynistic in its story. It’s not just the criminals in Edward’s story who hate women; Edward’s carrying around a lot of anger, too, a grudge he’s been nursing like a 12-year-old scotch. And the movie takes his side.

But ultimately “Nocturnal Animals” is about more than that. It’s about how we hurt each other. It’s about how we fail each other. And it’s about how we think about all of it, over and over, late in the dark of the night.

Adam Driver a small treasure on movie reviews

“Paterson” is poetic.

Pardon the alliteration, but Jim Jarmusch’s film starring Adam Driver is an ode to the simplicity of everyday life. It also conjures the same dreamy quality of the verses penned by its titular bus driver, who shares a name with the New Jersey town he calls home.

The movie follows Paterson for a week as he wakes up every day to his beautiful wife, Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), an unemployed artist, and his English bulldog, Marvin. He leaves his small house for work at the bus depot, where he jots down poems before he starts his route. In between, he hears pourings of woe from his miserable shift supervisor.

When Paterson writes, his words scrawl across the screen as Driver’s voiceover speaks the verses, lending them an ethereal quality. Ordinary conversations and chance encounters that fill Paterson’s days inform his poems — he finds beauty in the mundane.

Jarmusch invites viewers to do the same. Paterson’s routine, which includes nightly walks with Marvin to the neighborhood watering hole, borders on repetitive but remains captivating.

“Paterson” is filled with moments and interactions that seem like they’re headed toward drama but take a different route. And even though it’s set in the present day, Paterson’s quaint life evokes an earlier period, adding a thin layer of surrealism.

Laura and Paterson’s light conversations in this slow burner are bright spots, and it’s hard not to smile when goofy Marvin’s on the screen (this dog is a true supporting actor). But no matter how much Paterson’s life looks like sunshine and roses, Jarmusch is grounded in reality. An unexpected conflict interrupts the rhythm to keep things in focus, and how Paterson copes adds to the film’s lyricism.

Best movie about crooning animals

Talking animals in animated movies is nothing new, so as the title suggests, expect these critters to do some singing.

Opening just before Christmas Day, “Sing” could very well take place in the same world as Disney’s “Zootopia,” except that British writer/director Garth Jennings (“Son of Rambow”) gives the humor in this comedy a very different sensibility. It looks and feels different even from Illumination Entertainment’s other movies like “Despicable Me” and “The Secret Life of Pets.”

Matthew McConaughey voices Buster Moon, the koala bear owner of a failing theater who needs to find a way to save it. He gets the brainstorm to hold an “American Idol” style singing competition. Due to a clerical error, the supposed $1,000 prize turns into $100,000, which gets the Moon Theater swarmed with suitable (and far less suitable) candidates entering Buster’s contest.

Rosita is a pig, voiced by Reese Witherspoon, and a housewife who has to care for 25 piglets while her husband brings home the bacon. Meena (Tori Kelly), an elephant, has a beautiful voice, but is too shy to perform for others. Then there’s Johnny (Taron Egerton from “Kingsman: The Secret Service”), a gorilla with a soulful voice whose father wants him to take part in the family crime business, and porcupine punk rocker Ash (Scarlett Johansson), who ends up breaking up with her boyfriend and going solo in the competition. Seth MacFarlane (“Family Guy”) voices Mike the mouse, an old-fashioned crooner who just wants the money so he can live the high life.

It’s how these creatures from different walks of life interact while being “trained” by Buster that makes the film so strange and funny. Lots of visual humor coming from Buster’s one-eyed lizard assistant Miss Crawley (voiced by Jennings) and Rosita’s exploits with her eclectic dance partner Gunter (Nick Kroll).

Liam Neeson branch out as a tree

Liam Neeson gives voice to a giant walking tree monster in “A Monster Calls,” an emotional and dark fairy tale from Spanish filmmaker Juan Bayona (“The Impossible”).

Adapted by Patrick Ness from his book based on an idea by his late author friend Siobhan Dowd, it’s the story of a young boy named Conor O’Malley, who is having a tough time. Plagued by nightmares, he’s being bullied in school and his mother (Felicity Jones) is dying of cancer, which forces Conor to move in with his grandmother (Sigourney Weaver), who has very strict rules that just make things tougher for the lad. One night at exactly 12:07 AM, the giant tree that overlooks a distant church cemetery comes to life and offers Conor three stories in exchange for one of his own. Conor is not easily convinced, and understandably has other things on his mind.

If you were disappointed by Steven Spielberg’s “The BFG,” then “A Monster Calls” covers similar ground in a way far less targeted towards children. It has a similar storybook feel with each of the tree’s fairy tale stories illustrated by gorgeously vivid animation, as they’re told in Neeson’s gruff voice.

Despite the child protagonist and fantasy elements, “A Monster Calls” is a darker fairy tale clearly not meant for kids as much as it is meant to allow adults to experience trauma through a child’s point of view.

Lewis MacDougall is a decent young actor and another great find by Bayona, but if you’re one of those people who can’t sit through movies with a child protagonist front and center, it might be a tough watch. Conor makes for quite an underdog hero, and if you’ve ever had any sort of destructive tendencies, you’ll cheer for this angry young man as he trashes his compulsive grandmother’s prize drawing room. That bully gets what’s coming to him, too.

Even more impressive is Felicity Jones’ performance as Conor’s “Mum” with the make-up department doing a fantastic job making her appear as if she’s literally withering away.

The CG in creating the Neeson-voiced monster is equally impressive, as is the scale of Conor’s recurring nightmare, and each time the walking tree appears in Conor’s life, Bayona finds an interesting way to integrate the live action with CG. (Let’s just say that a certain “Jurassic” franchise is in good hands.)

Jennifer Lawrence and Chris on movie reviews

I don’t do spoilers. But “Passengers” spoils itself.

An expensive sci-fi romance, the movie stars Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt as civilian space travelers. Off to help colonize a new world, they wake up accidentally, 90 years early, with only each other for company.

That’s the way the trailers sell it, anyway.

The facts of their wake-up calls, though, are a little different. Actually, a lot different. And when they’re revealed, half an hour in or so, they change everything, especially how we feel about one of the characters.

“Passengers” has been made with a great deal of care. Its shiny spaceship has an interesting shape — all half-circles and tubes. Its interior design mimics a gigantic cruise-ship’s — small cabins, theme restaurants, a shopping mall.

With such a limited cast, charisma is important — and present. Pratt draws on all his regular-bro charm. Lawrence invests a thinly written character with a lot of her own passion and anger and pain.

“Passengers” is also part of a good trend — a sci-fi movie about being smart. Like “Arrival,” “The Martian” and “Interstellar, it’s a story that sets up a problem — and then gets its drama out of people solving it. There isn’t a murderous alien or raygun in the whole thing.

But then there’s the movie’s own problem — the ugliness of that early, ill-advised twist.