Movie Review: “Spotlight”


“Spotlight” is the best movie about journalism since “All the President’s Men.”

Director Tom McCarthy and a cast of master underplayers deliver the tale of the Watergate of our times. It’s a newspaper picture, a great one, about the shoe leather, the door knocking, the cold calls, the dogged days of research, the persuasion and the courage it took for four intrepid reporters at the Boston Globe to uncover the vast, worldwide pedophile priests scandal and the all-the-way-to-the-Vatican cover-up that kept this under wraps for decades.

And with every outdoor scene — church steeples in the background, children playing in the foreground — it’s a movie about a city, “a small town,” that grew used to living under a near theocracy, a city and a newspaper that accepted a good ol’ Catholic  boys’ dictum that they just look the other way as this monstrous crime grew and grew.

Michael Keaton is Robby Robinson, veteran editor of the “Spotlight” section of the Boston Globe, leading three reporters on the newspaper’s investigative team. It’s 2001, and a story crops up, not the first one, about adult victims of sexual abuse suing the Church. Robinson and members of his team — the manic workaholic Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo, in the best performance of his career), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) and Matt Carol (Brian d’Arcy James) are intrigued. But they’re already deep in another story.

It’s the outsider, the new Jewish managing editor, Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber at his most poker-faced) who suggests this is “an essential story.” He’s the one who shakes Robinson and other editors (John Slattery) out of their “hometown paper doesn’t fight the hometown church” lethargy. They sue to get the sealed court papers that the church doesn’t want anybody to see.

What follows is a two hour journalism procedural. This is how you pick at a story nobody wants you to tell. You get names, you make calls. You try to move lawyers, victims and priests from slamming the door in your face to opening up.

“You want to be on the right side of this,” Keaton’s Robinson tells an old golfing buddy (Jamey Sheridan).

Stanley Tucci is Mitchell Garabedian, the determined, shell-shocked attorney for a huge group of victims. A Church that has gotten the legislature to limit “non-profit” liability in cases like that has been trying to get him disbarred for even bringing it up. And he’s leery of the Globe, too. And of this city of insiders that mistrusts outsiders (he’s Armenian).

“If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one.”


Billy Crudup is a slick attorney who has worked for the Church on past payoffs to victims, and won’t admit it.

Neal Huff plays a traumatized victim who has organized other victims, who brings urgency to the reporting by damning the Globe for not acting on his blunt, documented tips to them years ago. He lays it out loudly and plainly, the Church played musical chairs, reassigning priests who “used their collar to rape kids.”

But Ruffalo’s Rezendes is the audience’s surrogate here, shocked at what he’s learning, committed — as the great reporters are — to not let a roadblock and long line of hostile, uncooperative sources, court employees and even a controlling, high-handed Cardinal Law (Len Cariou) beat him.

There’s a sad nostalgia to the details McCarthy (“The Visitor,” “Win Win”) zeroes in on — the tight-knit newsroom culture, the sense of duty, the all-hands-on-deck teamwork best viewed as the paper mobilizes its resources on 9/11. Newspapers are dying, a fact underlined by the 2001 AOL Everywhere billboard in front of the Globe’s headquarters. This sort of reporting is expensive and vital (TV and web-based ventures rarely uncover stories this huge) and virtually no papers have the money for such teams any more.

But if history’s tide runs against the Globe, at least those who worked there have the satisfaction of exposing a global wrong, and helping to end it. And they have McCarthy’s film, one of the best pictures of 2015, as a permanent record, a tribute in cinematic form, to their art and craft in its finest hour.
MPAA Rating:R for some language including sexual references

Cast: Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, Stanley Tucci
Credits: Directed by Tom McCarthy, script by Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer. An Open Road release.

Running time: 2:08

Posted in Reviews, previews, profiles and movie news | 1 Comment

“Zoolander 2” — a trailer to die for. If you’re the Biebs

Benedict Cumberbatch. Penelope Cruz, Wiig, Ferrell.An 80s Alfa Romeo Spider.

And Ben and Owen, together again.

Yeah, it had a hint of desperation when it was announced. But “Zoolander 2,” aka “2oolander,” looks self-absorbed and amusing, a comedy for the selfie generation. Perfect comedy for February. Low expectations.




Posted in Reviews, previews, profiles and movie news | 1 Comment

Movie Review: “Secret in Their Eyes”


JuliaOf all the emotions actors are called upon to deliver when the director calls “Action,” the first paroxysms of grief must be the hardest.

But Julia Roberts makes us feel that she has just this instant discovered that the body she and her fellow detectives are callously looking over in a dumpster is her daughter in “Secret in Their Eyes.”

Jess, her character, falls apart, plunges into that dumpster, tears off the crime-scene vinyl gloves and wails and rocks in unadulterated misery. There’s no movie star vanity, no sense that there’s a camera looking down on the worst moment in her character’s life. It is loss at its most immediate, so real it makes you want to turn away.

The movie this great and rare moment is in isn’t, on the whole, worthy of that scene. It’s an absurdly melodramatic and predictable Hollywood updating of an Oscar winning Argentinian film of 2009.

The conceit, preserved here, are clues lying in plain sight in a couple of photographs. A Federal agent (Chiwetel Ejiofor), on CT (counter-terrorism) duty in concert with the LAPD, sees a photo from the unit picnic, a creepy looking young guy (Joe Cole) ogling Jess’s daughter from across a picnic table. On that hint alone, he disobeys orders, ignores the jihadist mosque he’s supposed to be concentrating on and moves heaven and Earth to find the man who killed Jess’s daughter.

It’s not that he has the hots for her. There’s something deeper involved. Besides, it’s the new assistant DA (Nicole Kidman) he’s interested in, even though she’s engaged.

The initial investigation is covered in flashback, years later, after Ray has left the FBI. But he has never abandoned the case, doggedly poring over mugshot photos by the tens of thousands, spending 13 years trying to find this one guy.

“I’ve found him, Jess!”

Jess, an empty shell all these years later, barely registers this. Claire (Kidman), now DA, is unconvinced.

And then we see all that went wrong, way back when, when Ray was “not just crossing the line, but burying it,” trying to chase down the monster who killed his friend’s daughter. We see all the official efforts to keep this case from advancing, the competing agendas of his fellow detectives and the then-DA (Alfred Molina, terrific).

Writer-director Billy Ray moves this story from an Argentina trying to forget the awful crimes of officialdom of the recent past to post 9/11 counter terrorist hysteria. Great touch.

But everything else about this movie is so predictable as to be ridiculous. Their suspect is known to love the LA Dodgers (He’s a Muslim from Eastern Europe. Why, exactly, has he fallen for baseball?). They search Dodger Stadium, game after game, and think they spot him.

No! Wrong guy. But wait, five rows further up. It’s him!

Ray and Jess have just been told they don’t have a case, get in an elevator, who should get in on the next floor? The suspect. Free to go.

“Secret in Their Eyes” has so many coincidences like this in it to be risible. And whatever the virtues of this fine cast, the whole sexual tension/love interest between Ray and Claire never registers. Even though it’s a major engine of the plot.

Perhaps some of the same flaws lay beneath the surface of the original film, but the distraction of subtitles helped hide them. Here, they’re gaping holes knock “Secret” off the tracks long before it’s far-fetched twist ending.

Still, we have the pleasure of Roberts’ company, dialing down the glamour, playing her age and wearing it without vanity, a woman caught in the first throes of grief and revisited years later, after it has drained all the life from her eyes.





MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic material involving disturbing violent content, language and some sexual references

Cast: Chiwetel Ejifor, Julia Roberts, Nicole Kidman, Alfred Molina,
Credits: Written and directed by Billy Ray, based on the Argentinian film by Juan José Campanella. An STX release.

Running time: 1:51

Posted in Reviews, previews, profiles and movie news | Leave a comment

Movie Review: “The Danish Girl”


It’s not a mistake to call Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne’s appearance as “The Danish Girl” a stunt. Playing the first man ever to undergo a sex change operation was always going to have a “can he look like a real woman” or “Tootsie” cross-dressing feel to it.

But the thin and dainty Redmayne (“The Theory of Everything”) was perfect for the part. He makes the Danish painter Einar Wegener, born a man “but I feel like a woman, inside,” both very real and quite sympathetic.

As much as transgender is in the zeitgeist today, when Wegener came to this conclusion, in 1920s Copenhagen, the world didn’t have a name for what he felt, much less a sympathy for his “malady.”

So director Tom Hooper (“The King’s Speech”) makes “The Danish Girl” both a history lesson, and a grasping attempt to get inside Einar’s head, to explain this phenomenon — if that’s the right word for it — without the pall of a Kardashian or Kardashian trashing hanging over it. He’s more successful at the former than the latter.

Einar was “the greatest landscape artist in Denmark” according to his dealer, a painter fixated on one particular view — a stark line of trees sitting on the shore near where he grew up.

His adoring wife Gerda (Alicia Vikander from “Ex Machina”) is a portrait painter who cannot find her muse — until she dresses Einar up in her makeup and her clothes.

For all its good intentions, the movie is riddled with clumsy, unintentional laughs, the first of which might be that we know that Gerda can kiss her efforts to get pregnant goodbye even if she doesn’t.

Redmayne lets us see those first moments of rapturous confusion — the texture of a night gown, the feel of stockings on his legs. The screenplay doesn’t pass up the laugh-line in that situation.

“It’s pretty,” Einar says of a petticoat.

“I might let you borrow it.”

“I might LIKE it.”

“Is there something you would like to tell me?”

And so it begins, the fascination with undergarments, followed by full-on cross-dressing, going out as Einar’s “cousin” Lili, swooning when he comes under the flirtatious attentions of a man (Ben Whishaw).

Whatever else you say about “The Danish Girl,” kudos to all involved for having the good sense to cast Britain’s two most delicate and effeminate actors, Redmayne and Whishaw, as possible lovers. It works.

The first visits to doctors, who are either as confused as Einar, or quick to pronounce him mad, a “pervert” in need of drugs or a lobotomy, is handled in a montage.

As Gerda paints Einar as Lili — clothed, and in the nude — she grows famous, and more conflicted. Vikander lets us see the greed for fame, the guilt and the regret at the husband she is losing with every modeling session.

Amber Heard plays a friend of the family, a dancer who is sympathetic to Einar’s plight. Matthias Schoenaerts is hunky and brooding (as usual) as a childhood friend who may understand Einar’s situation more than he lets on, or be more interested in his increasingly neglected young wife.

It’s easy to see why this much-delayed project (Nicole Kidman had the project for years) took so long to make. Getting the tone just right is nigh on impossible. The laughs seem unintended, or worse. Is the cause-and-effect pathology of transgender accurately dissected here, or misinformed?

And as the tale — this is based on a historical novel about the real Wegener — reaches for a dramatic, possibly tragic, conclusion, it leaves us wanting.

But “The Danish Girl” never feels like a landmark project, another sexual boundary for the movies to cross. And that is to Hooper and Redmayne’s credit. They find the humanity, here, the confusion and repulsion built on ignorance and darkness. And with a winning performance and a sympathetic eye, they shine a light into that darkness so that the rest of us can see.

MPAA Rating:R for some sexuality and full nudity

Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Matthias Schoenaerts, Ben Whishaw, Amber Heard
Credits: Directed by Tom Hooper, script by based on the David Ebershoff novel. A Focus release.

Running time: 1:59




Posted in Reviews, previews, profiles and movie news | Leave a comment

Movie Review — “Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2”


Well, thank heavens that’s over with.

“The Hunger Games” go out with two hours and seventeen minutes in which every performance, every bored expression of sentiment, every limp action-beat suggests that phrase was the on-set mantra.

Over and done. Where’s my check?

“Mockingjay II” is a bare bones finale — a tedious two hours in which nothing at all happens, with the briefest of breaks for a zombie chase and attack and a half-hearted bit of sci-fi combat.

Yeah, I know they’re called “mutts” and not zombies in this world. A lot of gadgets, pills and what-not get their own semi-original names from author Suzanne Collins. But why remember them when these last two films all but ensure this series will be as forgotten as “Twilight” within a year or so?

The film that might have been titled “Kill Snow Part 2” is strictly for the fans. There’s no summation of the action, no recap of the last film or earlier installments.

We’re just hurled into…exposition. Lots and lots of flat-actors flatly delivering more mountains of exposition, at the very end of a very long YA film series. Not something you pile into the final act of your “epic.”

The huntress Katniss, phoned in by Jennifer Lawrence, has to recover from this or that potentially life-threatening injury, get out her bow and hunt down the evil President Snow (Donald Sutherland), who would rather slaughter the various proletarian “districts” that keep Panem running than give up power.

Very Syrian of him.

Katniss still has to decide which of two co-stars she has zero chemistry with she should fall for, the brainwashed Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) or the hunkier, more reliable Gale (Liam Hemsworth). What’s making out with Katniss like, Gale?

“It’s like kissing someone who’s drunk — it doesn’t count.”

Katniss is weary of the slaughter. First the games, then the endless and murderous civil war.

Killing someone? “It’s ALWAYS personal.”

She’s leery of the rebels’ “president” (Julianne Moore).

“You’re very…useful…to us.”

So to end all this, she must go on one last quest, break into the Capital and kill Snow, slip past the Loyalist Stormtroopers and the ingenious killing zones — “pods” — concocted by the ingenious designers of the Hunger Games themselves.

Only they aren’t. Ingenious. They’re perfunctory minefields, and for a city supposedly wholly embedded with them, there aren’t enough to stand in her way.

Characters die, and every so often enemy “propos” (TV propaganda) turn up on handy, omnipresent TVs. Those are the only times we see Stanley Tucci. Alas.

And don’t expect any fond farewell to the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, who almost certainly wouldn’t want this paycheck job in his obituary or remembered as his “final film.”

The best of these movies haven’t been all that, and in the hands of low-bidder director Francis Lawrence, three of them have been more forgettable than the rest.

It’s a pity this teenage girl empowerment series wasn’t better written, deep enough to warrant the casting of Lawrence, who has gone on to an Academy Award and the promise of winning others.

But whatever effort she made in the earlier “Hunger Games” films, she plainly checked out of this one. There isn’t a tender moment you believe, a wrenching loss that she makes you feel.

This will make a lot of money, and there’s talk of a Hunger Games theme park. But as fans and the rest of us have patiently–ever-so-patiently– waited for these movies to suddenly take flight, grow a heart and have meaning, the words used to describe the lowbrow success of showman P.T. Barnum hang over us all.

“There’s a sucker born every minute.”


MPAA Rating:PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and for some thematic material

Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland, Julianne Moore, Liam Hemsworth
Credits: Directed by Francis Lawrence , script by Peter Craig and Danny Strong . A Lionsgate release.

Running time: 2:17

Posted in Reviews, previews, profiles and movie news | 14 Comments

Movie Review: “The Night Before”


The raunchy, dopey holiday farce “The Night Before” hits you “like a wrecking a ball,” to steal a lyric from one of its better cameos.

A “Pineapple Express” flavored romp through substance abuse and the sacrireligous, it hoots off the screen, from its rhymed Tracy Morgan-narrated “Night Before Christmas” knockoff narration to its tour of New York city landmarks, bars, Catholic churches, karaoke clubs and one epic Christmas Eve party.

And if it runs out of gas and turns all sentimental-as-if-by-formula in the third act, that’s only because the screenwriting team of Levine, Goldberg, Shaffir and a goyim run completely out of Christmas cliches they can run up the Christmas tree and mock.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is Ethan, whose high school pals Isaac (Seth Rogen) and Chris (Anthony Mackie) have been true blue, keeping him company for each of the fourteen Christmases since his parents died in a car wreck.

But that’s coming to an end. Isaac’s become a lawyer, and is about to be a dad (Jillian Bell is Betsy, his pregnant wife). Chris is a late-blooming NFL star, marketing himself to death on social media, clinging to a career with steroids.

And Ethan is just a failed musician, the guy who let Ms. Right (Lizzy Kaplan) get away, in his 30s and still doing odd gigs like dressing as an elf waiter for holiday parties.

But that’s where he finds the magic tickets. It’s a super secret, super-hip and super-swank party called “The Nutcracker’s Ball.” And now, finally, on their last night together as a Christmas Eve trio, the boys can get in.

They start at Rockefeller Plaza, do the “Big” piano dance at F.A.O. Schwartz, hit the karaoke and…detour. Chris, squiring them around in a Red Bull promotional Hummer limo, needs to score some weed for this quarterback they’re trying to impress.

And that’s when we first meet Mr. Green. Michael Shannon could very well pull an Oscar nomination out of his ruthless mortgage broker turn in “99 Homes.” His stoned, smoke-shrouded philosopher-dealer Mr. Green could seal the deal.

He was their high school hook-up, and he’s nostalgic when he sees the lads again.

“You’re all my children.”

It’s a comic marvel of precision, wit, warmth and menace. Shannon just kills it, and he steals the movie, turning up time and again, each visit more hilarious than the last.

Swiping a picture with Rogen playing a dad-to-be on one last coke/pot/pills/’shrooms bender takes some doing. The cameos (Miley C., James Franco) are fall-on-the-floor riffs on their public personas.

Mindy Kaling turns up, and Randall Park (the dopey dictator of North Korea in “The Interview”).

The situations — a cell phone mix up, sexting included, hallucinations, a brawl with street Santas — are nothing special. And the story arc, how everybody needs to grow up, is tedious.

But the players are game and flat out bring it. Rogen has the Zach Galifianakis role in this “Hangover,” Gordon-Levitt gives his thinly-drawn character some heart and sings, with gusto. And Mackie, in his third film in two weeks (“Shelter,””Love the Coopers”), has never been funnier — riffing and ripping videos for Youtube uploads, posing for every selfie with every fan who comes along, dancing, singing a little Run-DMC.

It’s not “The Interview,” but there’s daring in sending a Jew into Christmas Mass, and having him throw up (in a Star of David sweater) and yell “We didn’t kill Jesus!” It’s not “Pineapple Express” or “This the the End,” because, well, hell, where’s Danny McBride?

But if the spirit of the season is making you sick to your stomach, “The Night Before”, scruffy and uneven as it is, might be the perfect purge.


MPAA Rating: R for drug use and language throughout, some strong sexual content and graphic nudity

Cast: Joseph Gordon Levitt, Lizzy Kaplan, Seth Rogen, Anthony Mackie, Jillian Bell, Mindy Kaling
Credits: Directed by Jonathan Levine, script by Jonathan Levine, Kyle Hunter, Ariel Shaffir, Evan Goldberg. A Sony release.

Running time: 1:41

Posted in Reviews, previews, profiles and movie news | 2 Comments

Movie Review: “By the Sea”

bythesea“What’s that sound?” Angelina Jolie Pitt’s character says to Brad Pitt’s character in “By the Sea.”

“The sea,” he says, leaving out the “duh.”

They unpack  his typewriter in their posh boutique hotel in the south of late 1960s France (Malta was the location).

“Are you off to find inspiration?” she wants to know.

“I HAVE my inspiration!”

“Then why are we here?”

Why indeed.

The Americans settle into the slow, sunny pace of life on the Cote d’azur. And bicker.

“You resist happiness.”

“Have I become that dull?”

You have, dear, you have.

“By the Sea” is a still-life of a movie, lovely French scenery, with people in front of the scenery who rarely move and never move us.

Roland is a writer with writer’s block, Vanessa his perfectly-put-together frostbitten wife.

He goes to drink in the village cafe every morning. Niels Arestrup, everybody’s idea of what an aged Frenchman should look like,  is the barkeep, who indulges Pitt’s French and his incessant smoking. Roland’s also a mean drunk.

Vanessa sunbathes and pouts, walks the rocky shore and pouts, and when she discovers a hole left by a pipe that led into the next room, she spies on the happy, sexy newlyweds, played by Melanie Laurent and Melvil Poupaud.

“By the Sea” plays like a vanity project, a veteran leading lady (post double-mastectomy, no less) showing she’s still the rail-thin beauty who can pull off the nude scenes with panache.

There’s nothing wrong with modern Hollywood’s version of Taylor and Burton dissecting a troubled marriage in what is essentially a dull, scenic and talky play peppered with long, meaningful (?) pauses.

But it’s a vacuous affair, dull performances trapped in duller writing, ironically funny only when you take the writer’s words to be the screenwriter’s admission of guilt.

“Any writer worth his salt could get a story here. It’s just me.”


MPAA Rating: R for strong sexuality, nudity, and language

Cast: Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Melanie Laurent, Niels Arestrup,  Melvil Poupaud
Credits: Written and directed by Angelina Jolie Pitt. A Universal release.

Running time: 2:12

Posted in Reviews, previews, profiles and movie news | Leave a comment

Movie Review: “My All American”

myallYou don’t have to be a Notre Dame football fan to fall for “Rudy,” and you didn’t have to have Indiana hoop dreams to get all sentimental over “Hoosiers.”

But Angelo Pizzo, the guy who scripted those films and who wrote-and-directed the deathly-dull football melodrama “My All American” makes it damn near impossible to like, geographically.

It’s a true story (like his earlier films) set in the the alternate reality of Texas and Texas football. This “Brian’s Song” among the Longhorns is a heaping helping of schmaltz that’s mighty hard to swallow.

Finn Wittrock stars as Freddie Steinmark, an undersized, lightly-recruited defensive back for the powerhouse University of Texas football team. He is “Mr. Outside” and his best friend (Rett Terrell) is “Mr. Inside” on that vaunted defense.

The Vietnam War as raging, Nixon was the incoming president, college football was a largely segregated affair, and legendary coach Darrell Royal (Aaron Eckhart at his stiffest) was keeping a stiff upper lip as he turned his young men into national champions.

“I might be wrong,” he grouses at one point, “but I’m not confused.”

Very Texas.

Freddie, his gutsiest player, was a key to that rise. Oddly, when Freddie is injured, the coach is confused about what to do.

“I promise, coach. I will not let you down.”

He keeps playing. His girlfriend, the paler-than-pale Linda (Sarah Bolger) may wonder, “Why are you limping so badly?”

“I’m not going to miss the season, Linda!”

And so he doesn’t.

The story bores you to tears until it takes its tragic turn. And the tragedy, infuriating and laughable to think of in the context of Texas medicine and Texas priorities (football uber alles), never adds up to anything more than a tearless weeper.

MPAA Rating: PG for thematic elements, language and brief partial nudity

Cast: Finn Wittrock, Aaron Eckhart, Robin Tunney, Sarah Bolger
Credits: Written and directed by Angelo Pizzo. A Clarius release.

Running time: 1:58

Posted in Reviews, previews, profiles and movie news | Leave a comment

Movie Review: “Miss You Already”

Miss-You-Already“Miss You Already” may be the funniest, sunniest weeper in history.

That, in spite of the fact that this runs counter to the goals of the genre, and in spite of the fact that it’s set in rarely-sunny Britain.

It’s a standard issue Drew Barrymore indie chick pic, with Barrymore cast against type as the stable one, the responsible one, the lovelorn lass playing catch-up to the flashier, more “out there” friend.

It’s also a movie that plays catch-up to a dreadful opening. If “Love  the Coopers” dies pretty much the moment Steve Martin narrates, “Ah, the holidays,” then “Miss You Already” barely escapes a coma when Drew’s character Jess, launches into “Ah, childbirth — the most beautiful experience in a woman’s life.”

In Screenwriting 101 terms, that’s what we call “drivel.”

But then we leave the maternity ward where Jess is about to give birth and flash back to her relationship with the best friend who is absent in that opening.

Jess was the American raised in the UK, Milly, played by the fabulous Toni Collette, was the friend, through thick and thin, who helped her fit in.

“Miss You Already” gives us suggestions of their wild and carefree pasts. But Milly got pregnant and married a would-be rocker (Dominic Cooper), had kids and built a PR career.

Jess fell in with oil worker Jago (Paddy Considine), tried to get pregnant and strained, just a bit, to get out of her friend’s larger than life shadow.

Their banter is knowing and affectionate, even when Milly is diagnosed with breast cancer.

“How could the tumor have gotten so big?”

“It’s aggressive. Like you.”

Everything swirls around Milly’s illness, with her actress-mom (Jacqueline Bisset) and husband and Jess forming a support system. The fertility treatments may go on. But Jess’s life, her beau tells her, is permanently on-hold. When will they “produce an heir to my extensive power tool collection?”

Collette lets us feel the gut-punched shock of the diagnosis, the rattled resolve to carry on as things grow dire. And the writing lets Milly give a power point presentation to her little kids explaining chemotherapy.


Milly makes her last lash-outs of impulse. They’re both Bronte fans, so a trip to the moors of “Wuthering Heights” is in order. Milly grasps for a final fling (Tyson Ritter of the band The All American Rejects).

The twist here is that she is robbing the magic of Jess’s most blessed event, a “cancer bully” who has her best excuse for making it all about her.

It’s funny, casting Barrymore as the stoic one and Collette as the hard-drinking, shirt-lifting tart. That’s barely enough to sustain a “Saturday Night Live” sketch, not a movie.

But with Catherine “Twilight” Hardwicke behind the camera, the players enrich this, create a relationship we can believe in and a medical prognosis that is both tragic, and something they can joke about.

“Miss You Already” may have its trite touches, the clunkiest narration this side of that Christmas movie narrated by the dog. It still fills a  gaping hole in the middle of our cinematic psyches, a movie that lets us cry, but laugh through the tears.


MPAA Rating:PG-13 for thematic content, sexual material and some language

Cast: Drew Barrymore, Toni Collette, Paddy Considine, Dominic Cooper, Jacqueline Bisset
Credits: Directed by Catherine Hardwicke, script by Morwenna Banks. A release.

Running time: 1:52

Posted in Reviews, previews, profiles and movie news | Leave a comment

Movie Review: “Criminal Activities”

travoltaIt should never come as a surprise that a former child actor who has managed a solid and long-lived career in the movies knows enough to step behind the camera with confidence.

Ron Howard did it. Why not Jackie Earle Haley?

“Criminal Activities” is a surehanded, tight and minimalist amateur-kidnapping thriller that benefits from a cast of some repute and a few nods to Tarantino within its 94 minutes. It kind of comes to pieces at the end, as too many movies do. But Haley, of “Breaking Away” and “The Watchman” and scores of films in between, acquits himself well in his directing debut.

Michael Pitt, Rob Brown, Christopher Abbott are four pals reunited by the tragic death of a former classmate. They’ve barely toted Matthew’s coffin to the grave before the griping about the current state of their lives begins. One’s just 22 days sober, another has a detective following his cheating fiance.

But Bryce (Brown) has a hot stock tip. And the wussy but well-connected Noah (Dan Stevens of “Downton Abbey”) says he has access to the money.

The deal turns out to be a bust, Noah’s cash turns out to be mob connected. And the sharp-dressed Eddie with a lot of vowels in his last name (John Travolta) wants that cash back. He has a proposal, an offer they cannot refuse. Kidnap this relative of the leader of a rival mob so that he can be exchanged for a relative of Eddie’s who is being held hostage.

Robert Lowell’s script skips over some of the standard issue “prepare for the heist” stuff. The  guys just show up where the menacing Marques (Edi Gathegi) is eating with pals, grab him in the toilet and stuff him into the trunk of a car.

That van that chases them? Those were the Feds, listening in on Marques. Turns out Eddie Lovato’s goons (Haley plays his ice-blooded right-hand man) and Marques’ gang aren’t the only people who want to know where he is, and what these four non-mob guys will do to him.

Aside from stupidly show him their faces. And accidentally give him their names. And listen to his endless tirade of threats, bribes and philosophy-of-life rambles.

Travolta essentially plays another version of Chili Palmer from “Get Shorty.” Overdressed, same time-defying hairline, more capable of violence than willing to demonstrate it, a jogger sucking down wheatgrass (or worse) milkshakes.

Of all the talkers in “Criminal Activities,” he’s the talkiest. He starts by explaining “the seven rules of economics” — “scarcity, inequality,” etc. He quotes “Macbeth.” He looks smart and sharp and scary.

Ever since “Reservoir Dogs,” thrillers of this ilk have been chatty affairs, with the various characters pausing to deliver monologues and pithy punch lines.

“We have Snoop Dogg’s cousin tied up in here!”

Noah can’t do the really dangerous stuff, because, you know, he’s a fraidy cat.

“I’ll be a liability!”

“Did I ever tell you guys how I got this scar on my ear?”

That last line, delivered by Haley’s character, connects “Criminal” to its Tarantino roots, delivering a flashback that plays like an outtake from “True Romance.”

jackBut as flattering as those echoes of earlier, tougher and tighter scripts are, as good as Haley and Pitt and Stevens and Gathegi and yes, Travolta are, “Criminal Activities” cannot help but unravel. Lowell cannot let the story follow a totally conventional path, and that leads to a third act with semi-surprises and way too much explaining away of those jolts.

That makes the crooked path “Criminal Activities” take so twisted that it trips itself up, no matter how good the players or how competent the director.


MPAA Rating: unrated, with violence, drug use, explicit sex, profanity

Cast: Michael Pitt, John Travolta, Edi Gathegi, Dan Stevens, Jackie Earle Haley, Rob Brown
Credits: Directed by Jackie Earle Haley, script by Robert Lowell. An RLJ release.

Running time: 1:34

Posted in Reviews, previews, profiles and movie news | Leave a comment