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Certain Women Review

Good

In films like Wendy and Lucy and Meek's Cutoff, writer-director Kelly Reichardt has told sharply pointed stories about women's lives. So this drama weaves together three narratives with distinct female perspectives. Based on short stories by Maile Meloy, these tales only barely intersect, but they echo similar themes in a striking rural Montana setting.

In the central story, Beth (Kristen Stewart) is a young lawyer who drives four hours twice a week to teach a night class, where she develops a fan in a young rancher (Lily Gladstone) who has a secret crush on her. Meanwhile, Laura (Laura Dern) is another lawyer representing an injured worker (Jared Harris) who took a small financial settlement before learning that he would never physically recover. And then there's Gina (Michelle Williams), who is building a home in a gorgeous location with her strained husband (James Le Gros) and surly teen daughter (Sara Rodier). They need a pile of old sandstone that has been sitting for some 50 years next to the home of a man (Rene Aberjonois) everyone's afraid to talk to.

All of this is set against Montana's big-sky landscapes, sumptuously captured on-screen by cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt. Everything is crisp and wintry, and Reichardt cleverly designs the film in a simplistic, insightful way that quietly focusses on unspoken interaction between the characters. Yes, much of this movie is completely silent, as these women consider the realities of their lives. This of course allows the actresses to make the most of their characters, adding weight and depth to each scene, often without saying a word.

Continue reading: Certain Women Review

The Last Winter Review


Very Good
"This is the last winter. Total collapse. Hope dies." So writes an environmental researcher in a previously untouched part of Alaskan wilderness now being opened up for oil exploration in Larry Fessenden's The Last Winter. Using the doomsaying of climate change prognosticators as an effectively menacing backdrop, more so even than the bleak chill of the Alaskan tundra, Fessenden's film drops a knot of oil workers into an isolated research station and watches what happens as everyone realizes that something inexplicable is happening all around them. It's a horror film that sneaks up on you with an effectively unsettling and brooding atmosphere before unleashing an apocalyptic fury.

Clearly drawing heavily on films like John Carpenter's The Thing as inspiration, Fessenden builds his characters from the ground up before hurling them to the wolves. He's helped by a cast that's sharp as a tack, particularly the roaring and bear-like Ron Perlman as Ed Pollack, an oil company operative gung-ho on getting machinery up to their station as quick as possible, by any means necessary, and screw the environment. Facing him are a couple of "green flags" -- one of whom is the gloomy notebook scribbler, scientist James Hoffman, played close to the vest by the always reliable James LeGros -- environmental do-gooders hired by the company as sort of eco-fig leaves whom they want to pressure to sign off on impact statements so the drilling can begin. In between are Abby Sellers (Connie Britton), a tough-as-nails type caught in a love triangle, the dazed and confused mechanic Motor (Kevin Corrigan, nailing it), and their Native American cook Dawn Russell (singer Joanne Shenandoah).

Continue reading: The Last Winter Review

Trust The Man Review


Extraordinary
Something has made Bart Freundlich step away from torrid family melodrama, and thank goodness for it. The writer-director's Trust the Man is a grown-up and intelligent version of a romantic comedy, and for all that it is fluffy and simple entertainment, it's also very good.

Julianne Moore, who has kept her talent for comedy a secret, plays Rebecca, a successful (if neurotic) actress who spends much of her time spurning advances from her bored, sex-addicted stay-at-home husband, Tom (David Duchovny). Tom's best friend is Rebecca's younger brother Tobey (Billy Crudup, ditto on the keen and heretofore hidden comedy prowess), a slacker freelance writer who is far more preoccupied with his therapist, his parking spot, and his own mortality than he is with the mounting frustration of longtime girlfriend Elaine (Maggie Gyllenhaal), an aspiring children's book author with a ticking biological clock.

Continue reading: Trust The Man Review

Mrs. Parker And The Vicious Circle Review


Very Good
Alan Rudolph's loving portrayal of Dorothy Parker (a spot-on yet frequently incomprehensible Jennifer Jason Leigh) is a film for historians and literary fans alike, with a cast featuring more art-house favorites than any other movie in recent memory (just look at the cast list!). The film drips into treacle with its treatment of the love triangle among Parker, her husband (Matthew Broderick), and Robert Benchley (Campbell Scott). It's the primary focus of the movie but also its weakest link. The film is at its heights when the ensemble is in full force as Parker plies her wit around the Algonquin Round Table and various social affairs (all during the age of Prohibition). Leigh was snubbed on an Oscar nomination here despite a strong performance in a very weak year (Jessica Lange won for the tepid Blue Sky).

Point Break Review


Excellent
It's hard to decide whether Point Break is a really bad good movie or a really good bad movie. On one hand, it boasts thrilling, original action sequences, a tightly woven caper plot, and a cast jam-packed with Hollywood middleweights acting -- and surfing -- their asses off. On the other hand, it also suffers from terrifying leaps of story logic, a vacuous emotional core, and some of the silliest dialogue ever spoken onscreen. It's a Hollywood formula movie at its best and worst. At the center of this conundrum is the greatest acting enigma of the age -- Keanu Reeves. Never has a man acted so poorly, spoken lines so blandly, for the cinematic enjoyment of so many. He churns out unintentionally comic performances in blockbuster after blockbuster, each time raising the question of how exactly he landed the role, and how much worse the movie would be without him. I suppose the answers to these riddles don't matter much, because, no matter how you come down on these weighty issues, when the dust settles, two indisputable points clearly emerge: Point Break is great fun to watch and Reeves was born to play the part of FBI agent Johnny Utah.

The story is your basic high-concept Hollywood action premise. Utah is a young, eager FBI agent assigned to the Los Angeles bank robbery task force. His crusty veteran partner, Angelo Pappas (Gary Busey), has been trying for years to bring down a highly professional crew of bank robbers called the Ex-Presidents (known as such because they disguise themselves with novelty masks of former presidents during their robberies). Despite the ridicule of his colleagues, Pappas has long held the belief that the Ex-Presidents are surfers who use the robbery money to fund their presumably lavish lifestyle. So, with nothing else to go on, Pappas and Utah come up with the plan that Utah will go undercover as a surfer in order to infiltrate the beach-loving subculture and bring down the Ex-Presidents.

Continue reading: Point Break Review

Trust The Man Review


Extraordinary
Something has made Bart Freundlich step away from torrid family melodrama, and thank goodness for it. The writer-director's Trust the Man is a grown-up and intelligent version of a romantic comedy, and for all that it is fluffy and simple entertainment, it's also very good.Julianne Moore, who has kept her talent for comedy a secret, plays Rebecca, a successful (if neurotic) actress who spends much of her time spurning advances from her bored, sex-addicted stay-at-home husband, Tom (David Duchovny). Tom's best friend is Rebecca's younger brother Tobey (Billy Crudup, ditto on the keen and heretofore hidden comedy prowess), a slacker freelance writer who is far more preoccupied with his therapist, his parking spot, and his own mortality than he is with the mounting frustration of longtime girlfriend Elaine (Maggie Gyllenhaal), an aspiring children's book author with a ticking biological clock.Each couple is in one of those familiar ruts always showing up in advice columns. Since Tom became a house husband, sex is pretty much his only hobby, and it makes Rebecca less and less interested. And Elaine wants to know when Tobey will snap out of his immature haze, marry her already - after seven years of dating - and give her babies.Their problems are not unique, certainly, and hardly groundbreaking, but they are relatable, as are their strategies for coping. Being savvy modern New Yorkers, they mostly rely on a steady dose of therapy, meeting for meals at an endless parade of Manhattan eateries, and talking. Lots and lots of talking, over coffee, at a hot dog stand, on the phone, Tom with Tobey, Elaine with Rebecca, Rebecca with Tobey. These people are nothing if not self-involved and self-aware.But surprisingly, they are not as annoying as hyper-verbal, problem-ridden New Yorkers of the movies can often be. Freundlich created characters who are whiny indeed, but are so darn affable and charming that they aren't aggravating about it. Though Rebecca and Elaine are clearly set up to be "right" in their relationship woes, they easily could have been uncommunicative nags. And the guys bumble around with clueless selfishness, dipping into infidelity and cloaking themselves in smart ass comments and defiant irresponsibility. But Freundlich dresses them both in such a charming mien that they are precisely the men that women fall for despite themselves. Plus, everyone clings to witty sarcasm as the defense mechanism of choice, making them entertaining and likable despite (or because of) their faults.It certainly helps that the entire cast is first rate and playing to their considerable strengths. Duchovny is charming and every inch a leading man, even within an ensemble, and Gyllenhaal can make even baby mania appealing. But both Crudup - always packaging himself as a "serious actor" despite his pin-up idol good looks - and Moore, who is arguably one of the best actresses working today, are winsome and goofy and veritable revelations of comedic acting. He's gawky and playful and she's self-deprecating and sharp, and both need to vow, right now, to do more grown-up comedies. We know how funny they can be; they can't hole up in serious drama forever.The leads are aided by a wonderful supporting cast that is really a parade of hilarious cameos - Bob Balaban and Garry Shandling as psychiatrists, Ellen Barkin as a book editor interested in a little more than Elaine's manuscript, Eva Mendes as a friend of Tobey's from college who still causes him to embarrass himself horribly.Trust the Man does have a few issues - for all that it is intelligent and mature, it's still a slight and breezy romantic comedy. And though Freundlich is a sharp writer, he goes a little adrift in the third act, not really able to wrap everything up without resorting to the handy clichés of the genre and an overly tidy little bow. But as far as quibbles go, these are rather small, when compared to the funny and entertaining whole.Trust the lady, too.

Catch That Kid Review


Good
There's an important lesson every male should learn, even at a young age: Women always get their way. You listening, fellas? Pack it up, party's over, that's the way of the world. The likable but unambitious Catch That Kid delivers this bubble-bursting curveball to ten-year-old boys everywhere, delivering a preteen heroine that knows the only way to make things happen. Be a playa.

She's a cute tomboy named Maddy (Kristen Stewart, Panic Room), a determined mountain climber-in-training who idolizes her dad (Sam Robards) and helps her overworked mom (Jennifer Beals). She's got two pint-sized buddies: Gus (Max Thieriot), a mini-Mr. Fix-It who loves go-karts and really digs Maddy, and Austin (Corbin Bleu), a crack technology whiz who also really digs Maddy.

Continue reading: Catch That Kid Review

If You Only Knew Review


Good
Where else in the world do crazy, wacked-out romantic comedies invariably involve nutty roommate situations? Well, New York City, and If You Only Knew is no exception to the rule, following on the heels of some of its more capable brethren like Addicted to Love and Ed's Next Move. This time out, writer Johnathon Schaech is hot in pursuit of painter Alison Eastwood in a Village romance... ah, if only she didn't think he was gay! Moderately entertaining and certainly better than a lot of attempts at the genre.

Sexual Life Review


Good
Deja vu. I've now seen this movie three times: Only the first two times it was called Chain of Desire and Love in the Time of Money. Fortunately, Sexual Life is the marginal best of these three remarkably similar films: Each of which uses the new cliche of "six degrees of (sexual) separation" to tell its story. We start with one couple: Then she goes off to another guy, then he hooks up with another girl, and so on and so on until the movie comes full circle, of course. See, we're all screwing each other! Deep? Hardly, but a number of engaging performances here, most notably Elizabeth Banks and a less-crazy Anne Heche, elevate this into reasonable watchability.

November Review


Good
I remember when Greg Harrison was going to be The Next Big Thing. It was 1999, and he was shooting Groove, a movie about this crazy "rave" scene that the kids were into, which was going to be the next Blair Witch Project.

Well, the lackluster Groove eventually made a little over a million dollars at theaters, despite a crush of marketing and hype. (Blair Witch earned $140 million in the U.S.) And Harrison slipped back into obscurity.

Continue reading: November Review

Mrs. Parker And The Vicious Circle Review


Very Good
Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle stars Jennifer Jason Leigh as the infamous Dorothy Parker, in what I feel to be the best performance by an actress in 1994. Leigh is surrounded by some great supporting players also, and their exploits in prohibition-era New York are both interesting and entertaining. Although the story occasionally wanders into irrelevance and obscurity, it is ultimately a solid piece of work.

Singles Review


Very Good
Crowe's guilty pleasure of a confection outlines the struggles of Gen-X singles in the 1990s, but doesn't portray a wholly realistic version of them. Instead, Singles survives on its charming humor and inadvertant status as the de facto chronicle of the Seattle grunge scene. Watch for endless cameos and stars who would later go on to much higher heights.

November Review


Good
Something akin to a dialed-down Darren Aronofsky thriller-- with a lot of David Lynch thrown in -- "November" dives headlonginto the unraveling, despondent psyche of a woman whose boyfriend has beenkilled in a convenience store robbery while she waited in a car outside.

Employing feverish flashes of iconic imagery to unsettlingeffect (as Aronofsky did in "Pi" and "Requiemfor a Dream"), director Greg Harrison buildsa non-linear storyline (like Lynch's "Lost Highway" and "MulhollandDrive") of seemingly conflicting memoriesthat keeps circling back to that fateful day, its events taking differentshapes each time.

Played with frazzled intensity by Courtney Cox-Arquette,the woman is an art-school photography teacher whose world turns disorientinglycold, foggy, gray, loud and claustrophobic (kudos to cinematographer NancySchreiber and composer Lew Baldwin) as she copes with grief and guilt thatseem to manifest in headaches, stomach pains and fainting spells.

But her reality -- or perhaps just her perception of it-- really begins to twist when a mysterious photo taken outside the storeon the night of the murder turns up in her slide carousel during a classlecture. Then her TV begins inexplicably broadcasting security-camera footagefrom the night of the shootings.

Continue reading: November Review

Lovely & Amazing Review


Weak

In the 1996 modest and little-seen relationship comedy delight "Walking and Talking," writer-director Nicole Holofcener demonstrated a preternatural knack for capturing the bonds between women with her candid and vicarious style of emotion honesty and funny, true-to-life dialogue. But her second independent film, "Lovely and Amazing," fails to find the same spark as it eavesdrops on a family of gratingly neurotic and insecure women.

Sad-eyed Brenda Blethyn, a specialist at screwed-up moms ("Little Voice," "Secrets and Lies"), is the emotionally messy matriarch, who spends most of the movie in the hospital due to complications from liposuction surgery. Doped up on painkillers and more depressed than usual (in part because her flirtations with her plastic surgeon aren't getting anywhere), she still has complaints about her daughters at the ready.

"One's really f**ked up," she tells the doctor, "and the other one isn't married."

Continue reading: Lovely & Amazing Review

Scotland, Pa Review


Good

It may be an adaptation of one of Shakespeare's most famous dramas, but "Scotland, PA" is anything but deadly serious. It's deliriously funny, fast and loose, accessible to the uninitiated, and full of surprises.

Who'd have thought murder and madness of "Macbeth" could become a black comedy set in a 1970s fast food diner? Who'd have imagined the three witches, who open the play with their ominous predictions, as pothead hippies with a Magic 8-Ball? Or Macduff, the general who swears revenge for his king's murder, as a police lieutenant played with deadpan delight by Christopher Walken? Who could have imagined TV sweetheart Maura Tierney ("Newsradio," "E.R.") would make such a deliciously conniving, yet sympathetically human, bitch-on-wheels Lady Macbeth?

Oh, pardon me. That would be Pat McBeth, wife of the most under-appreciated burger flipper at Duncan's Diner. Joe McBeth (James LeGros) -- "Mac" to his friends -- is a wage slave schmoe with what he thinks is a great lifetime ambition: To pitch his "revolutionary" vision of opening a drive-through window to his boss, who will be so impressed that he'll make Mac his new manager.

Continue reading: Scotland, Pa Review

James Legros

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James LeGros Movies

Certain Women Movie Review

Certain Women Movie Review

In films like Wendy and Lucy and Meek's Cutoff, writer-director Kelly Reichardt has told sharply...

Point Break - 2015 Trailer

Point Break - 2015 Trailer

Johnny Utah rarely lets his professional life as a promising new FBI recruit cross over...

Night Moves Movie Review

Night Moves Movie Review

This may be a slow-burning thriller about eco-terrorists, but it's also directed by Kelly Reichardt...

Night Moves Trailer

Night Moves Trailer

Josh (Jesse Eisenberg), a radical environmentalist teams up with high school drop-out, Dena (Dakota Fanning),...

Big Miracle Movie Review

Big Miracle Movie Review

A grounding in the real-life story makes this film much less sentimental than it looks....

Big Miracle Trailer

Big Miracle Trailer

News reporter Adam Carlson is based in a remote part of Alaska, in a town...

The Last Winter Movie Review

The Last Winter Movie Review

"This is the last winter. Total collapse. Hope dies." So writes an environmental researcher in...

Trust the Man Movie Review

Trust the Man Movie Review

Something has made Bart Freundlich step away from torrid family melodrama, and thank goodness for...

Trust the Man Movie Review

Trust the Man Movie Review

Something has made Bart Freundlich step away from torrid family melodrama, and thank goodness for...

Catch That Kid Movie Review

Catch That Kid Movie Review

There's an important lesson every male should learn, even at a young age: Women always...

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