July 27, 2016

movie rev 7-27-16Pablo Escobar (1949-1993) was an infamous mobster who ran Colombia’s Medellin drug cartel with an iron fist. During his reign, Escobar controlled about 80 percent of the global cocaine market, and took in about $70 million/day.

To maintain his power, the ruthless kingpin had his henchmen assassinate thousands of adversaries, including policemen, politicians, witnesses, judges, and journalists. Therefore, to infiltrate the ranks of such a vicious operation at its height in the 80s was certainly a very difficult and dangerous undertaking.

However, the risks didn’t deter U.S. Customs Agent Robert Mazur (Bryan Cranston), even though he had a wife (Juliet Aubrey) and two children (Lara Decaro and Niall Hayes). Robert assured his spouse that this would be his last assignment before retirement. He adopted the alias Bob Musella and pretended to be a shady Tampa businessman who was willing to turn the drug cartel’s drug money into Florida real estate.

He recruited two agents to help him bring off this daring sting. One was Kathy Ertz (Diane Kruger), a novice who posed as his fiancée on her first undercover case. The other was Emir Abreu (John Leguizamo), a new partner who has street smarts. Soon the trio is swept into a seedy underworld where they have a close brush with death at every turn. However, by proving themselves to be capable and trustworthy money launderers, they gradually work their way up the Medellin cartel food chain to the point where they gain the confidence of Roberto Alcaino (Benjamin Bratt), Escobar’s Miami-based right-hand man.

Consequently, Bob and Kathy become friends with Roberto and his wife, Gloria (Elena Anaya). They are regularly invited over for dinner to the Alcainos’ sprawling mansion, however, the host always reminds Bob and Kathy about the gruesome fate that awaits snitches and traitors.

Thus unfolds The Infiltrator, a riveting, cat-and-mouse thriller directed by Brad Furman (The Lincoln Lawyer). The screenplay was adapted by Furman’s mother Ellen from Mazur’s memoir of the same name. The film stars Bryan Cranston, who ratchets up the tension by portraying his conflicted character with a convincing combination of arrogance and existential dread.

Excellent (****). Rated R for pervasive profanity, graphic violence, drug use, and some sexuality. In English and Spanish with subtitles. Running time: 127 minutes. Distributor: Broad Green Pictures.

July 20, 2016

movie rev 7-20-16First released in 1984, Ghostbusters grossed almost a quarter-billion dollars at the box office, making it the most successful comedy of the 80s. In the 2016 remake, director Paul Feig (Bridesmaids) has tweaked the story by changing the gender of the leads from male to female.

Wisely, Feig chose four excellent comediennes: Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones. The director developed a script that plays to each of their respective strengths. The result is a hilarious remake that pays homage to the first film while remaining refreshingly unique in its own right. Plus, the movie features amusing appearances by original cast members Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Sigourney Weaver, Ernie Hudson, and Annie Potts.

The point of departure is stately Aldridge mansion in Manhattan, where a tour guide (Zach Woods) inadvertently releases the disembodied spirit of Gertrude Aldridge (Bess Rous), a serial killer who had been locked in a dungeon and fed through a slot in the door after killing all of her family servants in 1894. The attack by the evil apparition causes the slimed victim to enlist the assistance of Abby Yates (McCarthy) and Jillian Holtzmann (McKinnon), professors of the paranormal at the mythical Higgins Institute of Science to exorcise the evil spirit.

The two academics are anxious to explore the haunted house. On their way to the mansion they are joined by Abby’s friend Columbia Professor Erin Gilbert (Wiig), and Patty Tolan (Jones), a token booth clerk who was scared by a spook she saw in a subway tunnel. Unfortunately for the foursome, they are unable to find any evidence of a ghost in the building.

As a result, all three professors lose their jobs. Undeterred, they turn a loft above a Chinese restaurant into a research lab, hire a secretary (Chris Hemsworth), and convert a hearse, borrowed from Patty’s mortician uncle (Ernie Hudson), into a Ghostbuster-mobile.

The self-proclaimed “Conductors of the Metaphysical” develop an arsenal of high-tech weapons including ray guns, a ghost shredder, and a motion-activated proton glove. And just in time, because New York City is being invaded by an army of menacing apparitions.

Excellent (****). Rated PG-13 for action and crude humor. Running time: 116 minutes. Distributor: Sony Pictures.

July 13, 2016

movie rev 7-13-16Tarzan quickly became a sensation soon after the stories about him appeared in pulp magazines in 1912. Created by Edgar Rice Burroughs, the character soon became a cultural icon and was featured in a series of bestselling novels, more than 200 movies, and a myriad of consumer products.

According to the stories by Burroughs, Tarzan, aka John Clayton, was the son of a married pair of British aristocrats who died in Africa when their boy was an infant. The baby was found and raised in the wild by apes and he learned to speak the language of all the beasts in the jungle.

Moreover, as the “Lord of the Jungle,” he had dominion over the animal kingdom and also over cannibalistic tribes that were eager to rape white women and boil missionaries in a big pot. That insensitive portrayal of Africans as evil and uncivilized eventually became controversial in more enlightened times and Tarzan subsequently declined in popularity.

Now however, he’s been brought back to the big screen. Directed by David Yates (Harry Potter 5, 6, 7 and 8) The Legend of Tarzan portrays a more politically correct version of the Lord of the Jungle.

Set in 1884, the film stars Alexander Skarsgard in the title role and Samuel L. Jackson as his sophisticated sidekick, Dr. George Washington Williams. The American doctor was shoehorned into the story in order to offset the images of the indigenous black tribes.

At the point of departure, we find Tarzan and wife Jane (Margot Robbie) living in London as Lord and Lady Greystoke, and it has apparently been a long time since Tarzan lived in Africa.

When invited by Parliament to serve as a trade emissary, Lord Greystoke leaps at the chance to return to the Congo. What Tarzan doesn’t know is that he is a pawn in a plot masterminded by Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz), a diabolical villain who is dealing in blood diamonds.

Upon arriving, it doesn’t take long for Tarzan to revert from a proper English gentleman to the feral vine swinger who can summon a thundering herd of elephants with his signature call.

Very Good (***). Rated PG-13 for action, violence, sensuality, and crude dialogue. Running time: 109 minutes. Distributor: Warner Brothers Pictures.

July 6, 2016
movie rev

STAY BEHIND ME AND I’LL TRY AND PROTECT YOU: Newton Knight (Matthew McConnaughey, right) tries in vain to protect Daniel (Jacob Lofland) a new recruit from Newton’s home county in Mississippi. In spite of his best efforts, Daniel is killed in battle and, as a result, Newton begins to have doubts about what he was fighting for.

The slave raids led by Nat Turner and John Brown are well documented in the annals of American history. However, the story of another abolitionist and insurrectionist has somehow slipped through the cracks. At least until now.

Newton Knight (Matthew McConaughey), the grandson of a slave owner, was born and raised in Jones County, Mississippi. That alone should make him an unlikely person to mount a revolt against the status quo in the South. He served as a medic in the Confederate army during the Civil War, and was disheartened when he learned that the sons of large plantation owners had been exempted from the military draft. He was further demoralized when a fresh young recruit (Jacob Lofland) from Knight’s hometown, who had just joined his unit, died in a battle.

Since he couldn’t see any sense in a war where poor people were fighting to preserve the privileges of the very rich, Newt went AWOL, taking the dead boy’s body with him. He returned to Jones County where he was quickly identified as a deserter. After his wife (Keri Russell) abandoned him and his farm was confiscated by the Confederacy, he fled for his life, and found sanctuary in a swamp deep in the woods that was inhabited by a handful of escaped slaves.

There, he befriended Moses (Mahershala Ali), a runaway slave with an iron collar that had been soldered around his neck by a sadistic slave master. Newt, a blacksmith by trade, gained the group’s trust by removing the collar from Moses’s neck.

A naturally charismatic person, Newt quickly became the group’s leader, and founded the Free State of Jones that had four core principles that promoted racial equality. Gradually, their ranks swelled to over 250, with ex-slaves and disaffected Rebels joining them.

Thus unfolds Free State of Jones, a biopic written and directed by four-time Oscar-nominee Gary Ross.

Matthew McConaughey shines from beginning to end in the film. The drama is compelling, primarily because nobody knew that this revolt had occurred in Mississippi. a state known for its segregation and intolerance.

Very Good (***). Rated R for brutal battle scenes, an ethnic slur, and disturbing images. Running time: 139 minutes. Distributor: STX Entertainment.

 

June 29, 2016
movie rev

HOW DID I LET MYSELF GET INTO THIS MESS?: Nancy Adams (Blake Lively) clings to a buoy as she tries to figure out how to get to shore, that is only 200 yards away, without becoming a tasty meal for a hungry shark that is circling around her.

Nancy Adams (Blake Lively) was so shaken by her mother’s (Janelle Bailey) untimely death that she dropped out of med school. In an attempt to feel closer to her late mother, she decided to go to the same Mexican retreat where her mother told her she had been conceived. An avid surfer, Nancy plans to search for her mother’s favorite stretch of beach.

When she arrives, Nancy is so impatient to find that idyllic spot that she impulsively heads for the ocean with her surfboard, handbag, and smartphone, leaving her tired companion at the hotel. She gets a ride to the shore from Carlos (Oscar Jaenada), who is happy to serve as Nancy’s chauffeur and navigator. After depositing her at the secluded cove, he drives away. Nancy is not worried about being left alone, since she does have cell phone service. So she blissfully paddles out to deep water on her surfboard where she’s surrounded by a pod of playful dolphins as she starts riding the waves.

Things change when she spots the carcass of a humpback whale. What Nancy doesn’t realize, until it’s too late, is that she’s in the feeding ground of a shark.

She receives a nasty gash from the initial attack of the shark but is able to swim to a tiny nearby island. Her medical training comes in handy as she quickly fashions a tourniquet from part of her outfit.

However, with high tide coming in a matter of hours, she knows that she’s got to get to the beach before her temporary sanctuary is overrun by the rising sea level. The shore is 200 yards away, which is too far to swim with a determined predator steadily circling as her blood drips into the water.

Two potential rescuers (Jose Manuel Trujillo Salas and Angelo Josue Lozano Corzo) show up, but hope fades when they start swimming without noticing that Nancy is in trouble. The next beach goer (Diego Espejel) does see that Nancy needs help, and takes advantage of her predicament to steal her phone and other personal effects that were left on the sand.

So Nancy must survive by her wits, a daunting challenge given her situation. Thus unfolds The Shallows, an engaging thriller expertly directed by Jaume Collett-Serra (Non-Stop).

The movie borrows elements from Jaws, Castaway, Blue Crush, and MacGyver. The good news is that it all has been sewn together quite seamlessly into a movie that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Excellent (****). Rated PG-13 for bloody images, intense scenes of peril, and brief profanity. Running time: 87 minutes. Distributor: Columbia Pictures.

 

June 22, 2016

movie rev 6-22-16In high school, Calvin (Kevin Hart) was voted “Most Likely to Succeed” while his chubby pal Bob (Dwayne Johnson) was bullied by classmates because of his weight. However, that was 20 years ago, and a lot has changed since then.

Today, Calvin is thinking that he might have peaked during his glory days at Central High when he and his childhood sweetheart Maggie (Danielle Nicolet) were voted Homecoming King and Queen. The pair did get married, but their relationship’s been so rocky that she’s insisting that they enter therapy. Things are even worse for Calvin at his accounting firm, where he’s just been passed over for a promotion to partner.

In comparison, Bob’s fortunes have improved considerably during the 20 years. He lost weight, and with the help of weight-lifting, he has become quite handsome. Furthermore, he is having a successful career as a CIA agent involved in international espionage.

The pair meet again for the first time at their 20th high school reunion where Calvin is impressed both by Bob’s new physique and his daring line of work. Taking advantage of the situation, Bob enlists Calvin’s technical expertise as an accountant to help him in his latest assignment.

That’s the point of departure of Central Intelligence, a comedy directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber (We’re the Millers). Kevin Hart has proven himself quite the master of the genre, given the success of such box-office hits as The Wedding Ringer, Get Hard and Ride Along 1 and 2. Unfortunately, Kevin and co-star Dwayne Johnson fail to generate any chemistry, even though they appear in scene after scene of silly slapstick.

The movie attempts to be humorous by contrasting Bob’s bravery with Calvin’s cowardice. But sadly, the laughs are few and far between during this underwhelming action-adventure.

Fair (*). Rated PG-13 for violence, sexuality, nudity, crude humor, and brief profanity. Running time: 107 minutes. Distributor: Warner Brothers Pictures.

June 15, 2016

movie rev 6-15-16It’s been three years since we saw the world’s greatest illusionists — known as the Four Horsemen — playing a game of cat-and-mouse with the FBI. Now, the master magicians have resurfaced for a mesmerizing adventure that ups the ante in terms of both audacity and visual effects.

This sequel wows the audience with a combination of spectacular stunts and an array of exotic locales. However, if you don’t expect a coherent plot, then this globe-trotting fantasy will not disappoint you.

Directed by Jon M. Chu (Jem and the Holograms), the movie co-stars Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, and Dave Franco who reprise their lead roles as Merritt, Daniel, and Jack respectively. Lizzy Caplan rounds out the principal cast as Lula, replacing Isla Fisher as a member of the Four Horsemen. The ensemble cast also includes Academy Award-winners Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine, as well as Daniel (Harry Potter) Radcliffe and Sanaa Lathan.

After filling in a bit of backstory from 1984, the movie fast-forwards to the present where we find our heroes being blackmailed by Walter Mabry (Radcliffe), a billionaire bad boy who is bent on world domination. He has designs on “The Stick,” a special computer chip that will give him unfettered access to the back door of every computer on the planet.

Of course, the quartet proves adept at staying a step ahead of the megalomaniacal misanthrope. Instead of accommodating Mabry, they proceed to use their seemingly supernatural powers in displays of hocus-pocus.

Although the group is worried about restoring its tarnished reputation, that concern takes a back seat to staging a series of implausible magical acts.

There’s also a competition among the four with each one endeavoring to outdo the other. The ensuing feats make for an eye-popping blockbuster, even if what’s on the screen is computer generated special effects.

Excellent (***½ stars). Rated PG-13 for violence and some profanity. Running time: 115 minutes. Distributor: Lionsgate Films.

June 8, 2016

movie revX-Men: Apocalypse is the ninth movie in the Marvel Comics series that was launched in 2000. This episode is the fourth directed by the series’ originator, Bryan Singer, whose sophisticated touch gives the audience a relatively cerebral experience.

The movie not only includes action sequences that feature exhibitions of spectacular superpowers, but it also has an absorbing plotline. The result is a film for all age groups that’s memorable for more than its special effects.

The story begins in Cairo in 1983, where we we see the ancient mutant Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) rising from the dead. Disenchanted with the world’s current state of affairs, he decides to destroy civilization and start over.

Although Apocalypse is the most powerful mutant, he recruits four allies to assist him in his mission. Dubbed the Four Horsemen, the group is comprised of Magneto (Michael Fassbender), Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Psylocke (Olivia Munn), and Archangel (Ben Hardy), who represent War, Famine, Pestilence, and Death, respectively.

By the time the forces of good understand the extent of Apocalypse’s diabolical scheme, it is almost too late because cities from New York to Sydney are under attack. Fortunately, after the X-Men leader Professor Xavier (James McAvoy) falls under Apocalypse’s spell, Professor Xavier’s protege — shape-shifting Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) — rises to the occasion and rallies the next generation of mutants in the battle to save the besieged planet.

She is helped by telekinetic Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), teleporting Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), supersonic Quicksilver (Evan Peters), brawny and brilliant Beast (Nicholas Hoult), laser-eyed Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), and CIA agent Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne). Initially, they prove no match for Apocalypse, who has been harnessing an assortment of powers over a period of several millennia.

However, by pooling their skills and resources very effectively, the protagonists prove themselves able to conquer evil, save the world, and thereby survive for another sequel.

Excellent (***½). Rated PG-13 for violence, action, destruction, suggestive images, and brief profanity. In English, German, Polish, Arabic, and Ancient Egyptian. Running time: 144 minutes. Distributor: 20th Century Fox.

June 1, 2016

movie rev 6-1-16With over three billion downloads, Angry Birds is arguably the most popular app of all time. Nevertheless, you don’t need to be familiar with the video game in order to enjoy this delightful animated adventure.

The cartoon was co-directed by Fergal Reilly and Clay Kaytis who are making their debut with this silly comedy that features enough sophisticated asides to keep adults thoroughly entertained. The production is laced with witty one-liners (like “Something isn’t Kosher about these pigs.”) as well as lots of cute sight gags (such as a billboard for “Calvin Swine” underwear).

The story is set on idyllic Bird Island, a tropical paradise that is inhabited by a variety of very happy flightless birds. As the film unfolds, we’re introduced to four birdse who actually have trouble controlling their tempers. We find that Red (Jason Sudeikis), Chuck (Josh Gad), Bomb (Danny McBride), and Terence (Sean Penn), are attending an anger management class being taught by Matilda (Maya Rudolph), a former angry bird who has become a therapist.

The plot thickens with the arrival of a big boat containing two green pigs (Bill Hader and Tony Hale) who claim to be alone and are explorers coming in peace. Of course, the pair have a hidden agenda that is about to be executed by their army of pigs hidden in the boat.

After persuading the gentle gullible birds into letting down their guard, the invaders steal every egg on the island and then set sail for home. When the birds realize that they’ve been duped, the angry quartet, led by Red, springs into action.

Because they can’t fly, they realize their best chance of retrieving the eggs depends upon enlisting the assistance of Mighty Eagle (Peter Dinklage), the only bird on the island who can still fly. Unfortunately, he’s lazy and hasn’t flown in ages. Of course, Red and company coax him into joining forces with them to help save the day. The movie is a kooky comedy with lots of laughs for kids of all ages.

Very Good (***). Rated PG for action and rude humor. Running time: 95 minutes. Distributor: Sony Pictures.

May 25, 2016

movie rev 5-25-16Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell) was a working class guy from Queens who never had enough money to play the stock market until his mother died and left him $60,000. The truck driver put every penny of that inheritance into IBIS Clear Capital, a stock that was promoted by TV money guru Lee Gates (George Clooney) as being “safer than a savings account.”

Gates is the glib host of Money Monster, an investment advice show on the mythical FNN Network. The clownish character played by George Clooney was obviously inspired by Jim Cramer of CNBC’s Mad Money.

Unfortunately, in less than a month, Gates’s “stock pick of the millennium” goes bust, leaving Kyle frustrated, broke, and at the end of his rope. So, he crashes the set of Money Monster while it is being broadcast, and forces Lee Gates to put on a vest filled with explosives, while Kyle holds the detonator switch for the vest in one hand, and a gun in the other. Producer and director Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts) has no choice but to give in to Kyle’s demand that the show continue to broadcast.

With his finger on the trigger, he demands answers from Lee about why the stock collapsed while ranting and raving about how “The system is rigged!” Kyle is sure that Gates knew that the stock was going to tank, and demands that all of the IBIS shareholders be reimbursed for their $800 million in losses.

Meanwhile, the police descend on the set, led by Captain Powell (Giancarlo Esposito) who summons a hostage negotiator. During the ensuing standoff, the truth about IBIS emerges in front of millions of viewers, and the company’s CEO, Walt Camby (Dominic West) is shown to be involved in a shady manipulation of his company’s stock.

So unfolds Money Monster, a thriller directed by Jodie Foster. The movie is also a modern morality play that levels some serious accusations at Wall Street. Credit goes to George Clooney and Julia Roberts for committing fully to a production that rests on a farfetched premise that could’ve very easily proved unconvincing in less talented hands.

Excellent (****). Rated R for profanity, brief violence, and some sexuality. Running time: 98 minutes. Studio: Smokehouse Pictures. Distributor: Sony Pictures.

May 11, 2016

movie rev 5-11-16After an Avengers mission that went horribly wrong in Lagos, Nigeria results in a terrible toll in collateral damage, the U.S. Secretary of State (William Hurt) calls the team of superheroes on the carpet. He proceeds to chew them out for behaving like vigilantes with unchecked power, and then makes them agree to be supervised in the future by a United Nations panel.

While Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) is willing to submit to the Anti-Hero Registration Act, Captain America (Chris Evans) is much more suspicious of these Sokovia Accords that were ratified by 117 nations. As a result, the Avengers have split into factions that takes sides as to whether or not they should abide by the regulations in the Sokovia Accords.

What ensues is a visually captivating battle in which the former allies fight each other instead of resolving their differences civilly.

Among those siding with Iron Man are Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Vision (Paul Bettany), and Spider-Man (Tom Holland). Captain America’s freedom lovers include Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), and Ant-Man (Paul Rudd),

Fans of the series are delighted to see so many of their favorite superheroes together in the same episode. Regrettably, that is both the primary strength and weakness of this 13th movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe series. Co-directors Anthony and Joe Russo (Captain America: Winter Soldier) have cluttered the screen by introducing and then failing to develop over a score of prominent characters.

It’s too bad that they couldn’t come up with anything more interesting for the Agents of the S.H.I.E.L.D. confederacy to do besides battling each other. After 2½ hours the eye-popping special effects tend to get a little tedious once the wow factor wears off.

Fair (*). Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of violence, action, and mayhem. In English, German, Russian, Romanian, and Hausa with subtitles. Running time: 146 minutes. Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures.

May 5, 2016

movie revMost of the pre-release controversy surrounding this movie is the debate about the way Zoe Saldana darkens her skin, dons an afro wig, and wears a prosthetic nose to portray Nina Simone (1933-2003). Apparently, some consider the casting of Saldana as the dark-skinned title character to be not quite politically correct, since she is of Dominican and Puerto Rican extraction and thus, by implication, not black enough to play an African-American.

The beleaguered actress was criticized so much by the press that she’s even publicly admitted that “I didn’t think I was right for the part.” However, I suspect anyone who sees the film would find Zoe’s Africanized features to be less of a distraction than her singing.

Although she certainly manages to hold her own, Nina’s fans will undoubtedly be disappointed by the absence of the haunting strains of her distinctive voice rather than by Zoe performing in blackface. It’s frustrating to have to settle for second rate renditions of such Simone classics as “My Baby Just Cares for Me,” “Feeling Good,” “Black Is the Colour,” “To Be Young, Gifted and Black,” “I Put a Spell on You,” and “Why? (The King of Love Is Dead).”

Fortunately, Zoe does a better job in the acting part of the role, convincingly capturing Nina’s mercurial personality, from her imperious air, the violent mood swings, the substance abuse, and the bouts of depression and self-doubt. The movie is the writing and directing debut of Cynthia Mort who reportedly distanced herself from her own production, and at one point even sued over the final cut because she had lost creative control over the editing.

The story unfolds in North Carolina in 1946 with an adolescent Nina showing promise as a classical pianist. From there she moves to New York in 1965 where we learn that the once-promising prodigy is now playing jazz in nightclubs after dropping out of Juilliard.

The narrative then shifts to Los Angeles in 1995, where we find her on the downside of her career. She’s just been committed to a mental hospital after being diagnosed as an alcoholic, paranoid, and bipolar.

Fortunately, Nina was assigned an empathetic nurse, Clifton Henderson (David Oyelowo), who took a special interest in her welfare. Not only did he help her leave the facility but he quit his job and accompanied her to France to become her personal assistant.

Their relationship, which would last until the end of Nina’s life, is the focus of this warts-and-all biopic. Clifton spends time cleaning up the verbally abusive, chain-smoking, substance-abusing, star’s act, and he tries to find her gigs.

Aside from the singing, Zoe Saldana delivers a decent Nina Simone impersonation.

Very Good (***). Unrated. Running time: 90 minutes. Distributor: RLJ Entertainment.

April 27, 2016

movie rev 4-27-16Don Cheadle has wanted to make a movie about Miles Davis (1926-1991) for over a decade. The result is a warts-and-all biopic chronicling some of the highs and lows of the legendary trumpeter’s career.

Cheadle not only produces, directs, and co-writes the movie, but he also plays the title character in a haunting performance that convincingly portrays the spirit of Miles — from his gravelly voice to his mercurial temperament.

Even though the impersonation is spot on, the surreal screenplay leaves a lot to be desired. The script eschews a conventional chronological approach to storytelling in favor of a free form structure that shows a series of vignettes that focus on his messy private life more than the man’s music.

The picture’s point of departure is 1975, when we find Miles in the midst of a self-imposed five year break from the music business. He spends his days barricaded in his New York apartment consuming drugs in order to mask the pain from a chronic hip condition.

Things change when Dave Braden, a pushy Rolling Stone reporter (Ewan McGregor), forces his way into Davis’s solitude in search of a scoop about a rumored comeback. Braden circumvents Davis’s dislike of journalists by serving as his chauffeur and procuring cocaine on his behalf. Of course, Braden has a hidden agenda, namely, gaining possession of the master tape of Miles’ next album — if it exists.

As this is going on, Davis reminisces about his past, which leads to intermittent flashbacks — mostly about his tempestuous relationship with his first wife, Frances (Emayatzy Corinealdi). Unfortunately, Miles’s impressive body of work is given short shrift. except for the handful of classics on the soundtrack.

Very Good (***). Rated R for drug use, nudity, sexuality, brief violence, and profanity. Running time: 100 minutes. Studio: Crescendo Productions. Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics.

April 20, 2016

movie rev 4-20-16CIA Agent Bill Pope (Ryan Reynolds) was in London on assignment to deliver a ransom to a computer hacker called the “The Dutchman” (Michael Pitt) when he was assassinated by a terrorist (Jordi Molla) and his vicious gun moll (Antje Traue). This should have been a big loss for the CIA because the veteran spy’s talents and abilities were a valuable asset for the agency.

Luckily, government scientist Dr. Franks (Tommy Lee Jones) has been working on transferring memories from one brain to another. Although he’s been successful in several attempts with animals, he thinks it will be at least five years until the procedure will be ready for trials in humans.

However, because of the emergency created by Pope’s death, Franks is ordered to immediately implant Pope’s mind into that of Jericho (Kevin Costner), a death-row inmate who is a perfect candidate to be used as a guinea pig. Lo and behold, the psychopathic murderer awakens from the experimental surgery eager to track down The Dutchman as well as the criminals who killed Pope.

That is the point of departure of Criminal, a science fiction splatterfest directed by Ariel Vromen (The Iceman). As an interesting aside, the movie is Ryan Reynolds’s third movie that involves a brain swap, his latest one being last fall’s Self/less. There, however, he played the recipient rather than the donor.

There isn’t much point in reciting the storyline, since it makes even less sense than the picture’s farfetched premise. Still, this high body count action thriller may appeal to people who enjoy watching folks being blown away in a spectacular fashion.

The film fritters away the talents of an impressive cast which includes Reynolds, Tommy Lee Jones, Gary Oldman, and Kevin Costner. There are also a fair amount of beautiful women, such as Antje Traue, Alice Eve, Natalie Burn, and Gal Gadot (who plays Pope’s widow, Jill). As you might expect, Jill and her daughter, Emma (Lara Decaro), are in for the surprise of their lives when their husband and father returns reincarnated as a redeemed convict who needs a loving family.

Good (**). Rated R for pervasive profanity and graphic violence. Running time: 113 minutes. Distributor: Summit Entertainment.

April 13, 2016

movie rev 4-13-16There’s been a big change at Calvin’s Barbershop since the last movie was made over 10 years ago. The male sanctuary has been converted to a unisex salon, and some feisty female employees — including manager Angie (Regina Hall), flamboyant Draya (Nicki Minaj), and cynical Bree (Margot Bingham) — have brought a new flava to the former man cave.

In addition to Ice Cube as Calvin, among the regulars reprising their roles are Jazmin Lewis as his wife Jennifer, Eve as Terri, Cedric the Entertainer as Eddie, Anthony Anderson as J.D., Sean Patrick Harris as Jimmy, and Troy Garrity as Isaac. The cast has several newcomers; most notably scene-stealing J.B. Smoove as One-Stop; Deon Cole as Dante; and Common, whose character, Rashad, is married to Eve.

As the film unfolds, we’re shown a montage of file footage featuring Reverend Al Sharpton and Father Pfleger, as well as news stories about the increase in drive-by shootings on the South Side of Chicago. The situation has Calvin thinking that it might be better to relocate the establishment to a safer section of the city.

More importantly, he’s worried about the safety of his adolescent son, Jalen (Michael Rainey, Jr.), who is attending the Holy Cross Catholic School. It seems that on his way home, Jalen has to negotiate his way through a gauntlet of gangstas who are pressuring him to join their gangs.

Street violence appears to be claiming a young person’s life on a daily basis, with some of it hitting a little too close to home. This inspires Calvin to call a peace summit in a desperate attempt to negotiate a ceasefire between the bitter rivals, the Vice Lords and the G.D.s.

In addition to addressing the escalating murder rate, the picture has plenty of its trademark levity. One moment, we’re treated to an old-fashioned battle-of-the-sexes. Next, there’s a debate over President Obama’s commitment to the black community. And the best comic relief comes from trash-talking One-Stop, who has an endless supply of market items for sale: nickel bags of weed, baby pit bulls, and watermelon-flavored fried chicken.

Directed by Malcolm Lee (The Best Man), Barbershop: The Next Cut is a pleasant surprise because it combines the campy comedy with a serious social agenda. Easily the best film in the series, the movie entertains and also delivers a sobering message that’s long overdue.

Excellent (****). Rated PG-13 for profanity, ethnic slurs, and sexuality. Running time: 112 minutes. Distributor: New Line Cinema/Warner Brothers.

April 6, 2016

movie rev 4-6-16Annabel Beam (Kylie Rogers) was born in Burleson, Texas where she was raised by her parents on a farm surrounded by cats, dogs, goats, cows, and a donkey. She enjoyed an idyllic childhood there with her sisters, Abbie (Brighton Sharbino) and Adelynn (Courtney Fansler). However, at the age of 10 she began to experience severe stomach pains.

Christy Beam (Jennifer Garner) rushed her daughter to an emergency room doctor who diagnosed the malady as a combination of lactose intolerance and acid reflux. But when his course of treatment for those conditions failed, the frightened mother next took Anna to a a gastroenterologist (Bruce Altman) who determined that she was suffering from an obstruction of the small bowel which called for immediate surgery.

He referred them to a highly-regarded physician in Boston who specialized in intestinal disorders. However, Dr. Nurko (Eugene Derbez) had a nine month waiting list which meant the little girl was likely to pass away before her appointment.

Frustrated by her inability to help her daughter, Christy began to question her faith when Anna asked, “Why do you think God hasn’t healed me?” It didn’t help when some fellow parishioners suggested that the affliction might be punishment for sin. In response, Christy told her husband (Martin Henderson) she was through with church, at least until Anna was healed.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. So, Christy decided to go to Dr. Nurko’s office unannounced and convince him to see Anna. However, after the doctor examined Anna an MRI, endoscopy, and a battery of other tests confirmed that Anna did not have long to live.

Before they returned home, they were befriended by a waitress with a heart of gold (Queen Latifah) who took them on a whirlwind tour of Boston. The prospects weren’t good for Anna when she got back to Burleson until the fateful day when she fell into a hollowed tree trunk, hit her head, and blacks out.

When she comes out of the coma, lo and behold, her bowels have been miraculously healed. Furthermore, she tells her parents that she had just visited Heaven and met with her Creator.

Miracles from Heaven is a dramatic documentary adapted from Christy Beam’s bestselling memoir of the same name. Directed by Patricia Riggen (The 33), the movie describes a touching description of a miraculous event.

Very Good (***).

Rated PG for mature themes. Running time: 109 minutes. Studio: Affirm Films. Distributor: Sony Pictures.

March 30, 2016

movie rev 3-30-16Unfortunately Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a disappointment. The picture was directed by Zack Snyder, who also directed the 2013 remake of Superman, called Man of Steel.

The first problem with this second movie in the DC Extended Universe series is its interminable 2½ hour running time that could have easily been trimmed to less than 90 minutes. For example, why bother revisiting the backstory about what inspired Bruce Wayne to become Batman, when the murder of his parents had previously been addressed in numerous other episodes?

The second issue with the production has to do with Batman (Ben Affleck) and Superman (Henry Cavill) being cast as adversaries for the bulk of the film. True, the source of the tension between them is adequately explained, but the audience nevertheless grows impatient because we’d much rather see our heroes resolve their differences and join forces to fight the real villain. After all, the detestable adversary, Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), needs to be dealt with. Unfortunately this slow moving blockbuster takes forever to arrive at that epic showdown. Instead, we’re forced to watch the meaningless machinations of a convoluted adventure that is filled with atmospherics, action, and special effects.

Aside from this, director Snyder features support characters who have nothing much to do with furthering the plot, such as Clark Kent’s colleague Jimmy Olsen (Michael Cassidy), Perry White (Laurence Fishburne), and Bruce Wayne’s butler Alfred (Jeremy Irons). The film also features many cameo appearances by celebrities Neil deGrasse Tyson, Anderson Cooper, Brooke Baldwin, Soledad O’Brien, Nancy Grace, and Dana Bash who distract from, rather than advance, the plot.

More enjoyable are the roles played by Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot). But by the time the battle with Luthor and his henchman Doomsday (Robin Atkin Downes) finally comes to a head, you’re so tired of peeking at your watch that you just want it over and done with as fast as possible. Make it stop!

A patience-testing blockbuster that adds up to much less than the sum of its parts.

Fair (*). Rated PG-13 for intense violence, pervasive action, and some sensuality. Running time: 151 minutes. Distributor: Warner Brothers Pictures.

March 23, 2016

movie revIt is Colonial New England in 1630, and William (Ralph Ineson) and his family have just been banished from the Puritan plantation because of religious differences with the settlement’s elders. The proud patriarch stoically prepares to move from the safe confines of the fort to an unprotected and undeveloped plot of land located on the edge of the forest.

Naturally, William expects to face some serious challenges in trying to overcome the harsh elements, especially since he and his wife, Katherine (Kate Dickie), have five children to raise. But as devout Christians, they trust in the Lord to help them. Still, they didn’t anticipate the host of supernatural horrors that were about to unfold that would test their faith.

Their troubles begin when their newborn son Samuel vanishes into thin air while being watched by his oldest sister Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy). William tries to explain the disappearance as an abduction by a wild animal, even though his teenage daughter has confessed to the sinful self-indulgence of pangs of sexual arousal. The twins, Mercy (Ellie Grainger) and Jonas (Lucas Dawson), hint at Satanism, while Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw) refuses to ascribe any evil to his big sister.

Their plight continues to deteriorate as crops fail, livestock produce blood instead of milk, and Caleb falls ill and slips into a catatonic state. At this juncture, inconsolable Katherine starts yearning to return home to England and even questions whether God exists.

Since this is Massachusetts in the 17th century, suspicions of sorcery soon swirl around Thomasin, in spite of her vehement protestations of innocence. However, this was a time when a rumors of witchcraft could have serious consequences for a young woman.

Winner of the Best Director Award at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, The Witch is the directorial and script writing debut of Robert Eggers. Thanks to the period costumes and palpable atmospherics, the movie generates an eerie air of authenticity. Also, the members of the talented cast are totally convincing as Puritans

Excellent (****). Rated R for disturbing violence and nudity. Running time: 92 minutes. Distributor: A24 Films.

March 16, 2016

movie rev 3-16-16

(Photo by Philippe Antonello – © 2104 Focus Features, LLC)

2015 was a banner year for Christian-oriented movies, as over 30 faith-based films were released in theaters. 2016 appears to be following suit, with Risen, The Lady in the Van, and The Witch among the movies with religious overtones.

Directed by Cyrus Nowrasteh (The Stoning of Soraya M.), The Young Messiah is a Biblical story about critical events that transpired during a momentous year in the life of the Christ child (Adam Greaves-Neal). The intriguing historical drama was adapted from Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt, a bestseller by Anne Rice. The foray into Christian-themed literature is a big change for Rice who earned Beliefnet’s 2005 Book of the Year for her work based on the Gospels.

The New Testament provides very little information about Jesus’s formative years, and this film convincingly fleshes them out. As the movie unfolds, we find Him living in Alexandria and behaving like your typical 7-year-old while His parents, Mary (Sara Lazzaro) and Joseph (Vincent Walsh), struggle with how to go about explaining the concept of God to His own Son.

We also learn that they have been living in exile because of King Herod’s (Jonathan Bailey) order to his army to execute all the young boys born in Bethlehem. The despot was determined to prevent the rumored Messiah from seizing the throne. Herod’s death allows the family to return home, although the obsessed centurion Severus (Sean Bean) is still searching for Jesus and sees Him lurking behind every rock.

Meanwhile, Jesus goes about healing His sick uncle, curing a blind rabbi, and bringing both a bully and a bird back from the dead. And He also performs many random acts of kindness.

However, He desperately searches for an explanation of these powers until Mary finally tells him about the Immaculate Conception, the Virgin Birth, and His divine destiny.

Excellent (****). Rated PG-13 for violence and mature themes. Running time: 111 minutes. Distributor: Focus Features.

March 9, 2016

movie rev 3-9-16The conventional wisdom for shooting a sequel to a successful action movie is that “bigger is better.” In the case of this follow up to Olympus Has Fallen, that means bigger guns, more elaborate chase scenes, a higher body-count, and more pyrotechnics, including exploding cars careening off cliffs in flames.

Directed by Babak Najafi, London Has Fallen stars Gerard Butler in his role as Mike Banning, the Secret Service Agent who is in charge of protecting the president of the United States. Also reprising their roles are Radha Mitchell as his wife, Leah; Aaron Eckhart as President Asher; Morgan Freeman as Vice President Trumbull; Angela Basset as Secret Service Director Lynne Jacobs; Melissa Leo as Secretary of Defense Ruth McMillan; and Robert Forster as General Clegg.

At the point of departure, the Bannings are examining paint samples for their first baby’s nursery. Leah is due in a couple weeks, and the prospect of fatherhood has Mike seriously contemplating retirement. But before he can tender a letter of resignation, word arrives that the British Prime Minister has unexpectedly passed away.

Over his worried wife’s objections, Mike grudgingly agrees to join the detail that is accompanying the president to the funeral. Despite very heavy security in London, chaos ensues when radical Muslims — disguised as Bobbies and Beefeaters — open fire, assassinating several of the 28 leaders of the world leaders who are attending the funeral.

Mike instinctively springs into action to escort the president from Westminster Abbey back to Air Force One. Of course, this is easier said than done, since it’s almost impossible to tell the good guys from the bad, and terrorists armed with automatic weapons and RPGs are lying in wait at every turn.

With the help of cartoon physics and a bulletproof physique, Mike manages to prevail against the army of bloodthirsty jihadists who are working for the diabolical mastermind, Aamir Barkawi (Alon Aboutboul).

Very Good (***). Rated R for graphic violence and pervasive profanity. Running time: 100 minutes. Distributor: Gramercy Pictures.

March 2, 2016

movie revGrowing up in Cheltenham, Michael Eddie Edwards (Taron Egerton) told anybody who would listen that he would be an Olympic athlete one day. Although mercilessly teased by playmates and barely tolerated by his skeptical father (Keith Allen), the boy clinged to the unwavering encouragement of his supportive mother (Jo Hartley), who encouraged him to fulfill his seemingly unreachable dream.

Despite being farsighted, born with an unimpressive physique, and bad knees, Eddie pursued a variety of track-and-field events as he was growing up. When none of those panned out, he eventually tried downhill skiing, hoping to represent England in the winter games.

However, after failing to qualify for the Olympics as a racer, he turned his attention to ski jumping where he would have no rivals, because England hadn’t competed in that sport since the 20s. So, he went to Germany — one of the few countries that had the requisite training facilities — to begin his training.

There, Eddie began his quest under the tutelage of Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman). First, in order to meet the Olympic’s minimum entry requirements, he had to complete a series of jumps greater than 60 meters.

Of course, that was easier said than done, for it takes not only skill, but a lot of courage to ski headlong down a long ramp and launch yourself into the air. Furthermore, the key to success requires mastering what Bronsan referred to as the “Jumper’s Paradox,” the counter-intuitive instinct to lean forward while in the air, which is the opposite of the natural tendency to straighten up.

Directed by Dexter Fletcher (Wild Bill), Eddie the Eagle is a heartwarming adventure describing the actual exploits of the underdog who became a crowd favorite during the 1988 Olympics in Calgary. Though initially content just to participate in the games, Eddie became more ambitious as his skills improved.

The movie also makes a passing reference to the Jamaican bobsled team, another group that developed a following in Calgary. Their feats were recounted in Cool Runnings (1993), a picture very similar to this one.

Excellent (****). Rated PG-13 for smoking, partial nudity, and suggestive material. In English, German, and Norwegian with subtitles. Running time: 105 minutes. Distributor: 20th Century Fox.

February 24, 2016

movie rev 2-24-16Jesse Owens (Stephan James) is famous for winning four gold medals at the 1936 Olympics that took place in Berlin. The track and field events in which he competed included the 100 meter dash, the 200 meter dash, the long jump, and the 4×100 meter relay race.

What makes Owens’ feat so remarkable is that he had to overcome not only racism at home but the prejudice that he encountered in Germany’s Nazi notions about Aryan whites being a master race. So, not only did he have to deal with discrimination in the States but the prejudices of Adolf Hitler (Adrian Zwicker) and the Nazis.

Directed by Stephen Hopkins (Lost in Space), Race is a biopic that has much more to offer than an account of Jesse’s historic achievements. In addition to recreating the tension surrounding each of the contests, the picture devotes considerable time to developing the protagonist’s personality.

As the film unfolds, we learn about Jesse’s roots in Cleveland, and that he was the first of his family’s ten children to attend college. When he left for Ohio State, he already had a baby (Yvanna-Rose Leblanc) with Ruth Solomon (Shanice Banton), the childhood sweetheart he would eventually wed and remain with until his death in 1980.

At the university, Jesse forged a close relationship with his track coach, Larry Snyder (Jason Sudeikis), who also served as a surrogate father. And when Snyder’s competence was being undermined by bigoted officials on the U.S. Olympic Committee, he decided to pay his own way in order to accompany his promising protege to the games in Berlin.

In Germany, Jesse was shaken to be greeted with the N-word. He was equally shocked to see signs in stores declaring “No Jews or dogs allowed.” Nevertheless, he managed to block out the madness all around him and concentrated on performing in the Olympic stadium to the best of his ability.

When Jesse, instead of the Aryan athletes, won medals, Hitler was so infuriated that he refused to shake Jesse’s hand, even though that was the proper protocol for gold medal-winners. Despite pressure from the Führer and Joseph Goebbels (Barnaby Metschurat) to follow suit, German long jumper Carl “Luz” Long (David Cross) went out of his way to embrace the champion who had been ostracized on account of his skin color. The two remained friends although Carl perished while fighting on the front lines in World War II.

Regrettably, Jesse’s reception back home wasn’t much better. Unfortunately, the White House never publicly acknowledged his remarkable achievements. The movie is an inspiring and long overdue tribute to a great patriot and African American icon.

Excellent (****). Rated PG-13 for profanity, mature themes, and ethnic slurs. In English and German with subtitles. Running time: 134 minutes. Distributor: Focus Features.

February 17, 2016

movie rev 2-17-16Oscar-winner Michael Moore (Bowling for Columbine) has been challenging the power structure ever since releasing Roger & Me in 1989. That ground-breaking exposé indicted General Motors for the outsourcing of jobs which led to the devastation of his hometown of Flint, Michigan. Over the intervening years, Moore has tackled a variety of controversial topics including the Iraq War (Fahrenheit 9/11), the healthcare industry (Sicko), and the global financial crisis (Capitalism: A Love Story), to name a few.

With Where to Invade Next, he sets his sights on the subject of American imperialism. You may remember that the Bush Doctrine, announced by President George W. Bush in 2002, asserted the United States’ right to wage preemptive war whenever it was deemed in the national interest. Relying on that doctrine, Moore circumnavigates the globe visiting countries with cultural and social features that are worth emulating.

However, instead of conquest with intent to plunder, the object is to borrow ideas from the ‘invaded’ countries that might improve our quality of life. For example in France, he asks public school cafeteria chefs how they manage to serve their students such fine cuisine as compared to the fare American children are forced to settle for. And his mission in Finland is to discern why its educational system is far superior to ours, while in Italy he describes the generous employment benefits, not only for maternity leave, but for honeymoons as well.

This faux invasion mockumentary features Moore in virtually every tableau. Fortunately, his tongue-in-cheek brand of humor is frequently sublime, and his earnest arguments are often persuasive, even if the format feels a little stale.

Very Good (***). Rated R for profanity, drug use, violent images, and brief nudity. In English, Italian, French, German, Finnish, Norwegian, Portuguese, and Arabic with subtitles. Running time: 110 minutes. Distributor: Dog Eat Dog Films.

February 10, 2016

movie revIn 2015, Eddie Redmayne won the Best Actor Oscar for his poignant portrayal of Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything. In The Danish Girl, Redmayne plays another icon who is virtually upstaged onscreen by an intriguing spouse. Here, he plays Einar Wegener aka Lili Elbe (1882-1931), a Danish artist best remembered as a pioneer in the transgender movement.

Directed by Oscar winner Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech), the film was adapted from David Ebershoff’s novel of the same name. The book is based on a fictionalized account of Lili’s life, although her sexual reassignment surgery is factual.

Redmayne’s androgynous appearance helps the movie immeasurably, as he is very convincing as a female. The picture is very timely in light of Bruce Jenner’s transformation into Caitlyn Jenner.

The picture’s point of departure is Copenhagen in the Roaring Twenties, which is where we find Einar and his wife Gerda (Alicia Vikander) both working as aspiring artists. Her preference is portraiture, while he’s only been inspired to paint the same desolate landscape marked by a clump of spindly, barren trees.

Things change when Gerda suggests that he serve as a stand-in for the model (Amber Heard) whom she was supposed to paint that day. Einar dons female attire and finds himself enjoying the experience more than he expected.

Next thing you know, he’s secretly slipping out into public in drag and even attends a soiree where he attracts an ardent admirer (Ben Whishaw) who is probably unaware of Lili’s true gender. The pair’s ensuing courtship eventually mushrooms into passion, and the scandalous infidelity puts a strain on Einar and Gerda’s marriage.

Nevertheless, the movie’s main feature is the historic decision for Einar to undergo the world’s first sex change operation. Redmayne would be the favorite to win another Academy Award for Einar’s seamless metamorphosis into Lili, if he hadn’t just received one a year ago.

Excellent (****). Rated R for sexuality and nudity. Running time: 120 minutes. Distributor: Focus Features.

February 3, 2016

movie revThe Catholic Church has a checkered past in the way it has handled the molestation of children by the clergy. Unfortunately, Pope Francis recently issued a plenary pardon to pedophile priests who were willing to confess their sins.

This means that the Church is likely to remain a safe haven for these perpetrators. Meanwhile, their victims continue to be frustrated in their quests for justice.

Directed by Oscar-nominee Tom McCarthy (Up), Spotlight focuses on one of those rare occasions where the truth came to light. Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber), the editor of the Boston Globe, was willing to look into the widespread rumors of a Catholic cover-up of molestation that had been occurring for decades. As a Jew who was new to town, he wasn’t as awed as the locals by the powerful Boston Archdiocese that was being run with an iron fist by Cardinal Bernard Francis Law (Len Cariou).

The editor gave his approval to the reporters who were responsible for writing the Spotlight section of the paper. The crack team, comprised of Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Robby Robinson (Michael Keaton), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), and Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James) researched the story for several years.

On January 6, 2002, they began publishing their findings in a series of damning articles that exposed Cardinal Law as an enabler offering protection for priests he knew to be guilty of molesting children. The inquiry unearthed evidence that the archdiocese was aware of about 100 children who’d been assaulted by many different men of the cloth.

However, Church attorneys had repeatedly run interference for the perpetrators by settling claims out of court while requiring the plaintiffs to sign non-disclosure agreements. Consequently, the repeat offenders were free to move around from parish-to-parish, destroying additional youngsters’ lives in the process.

Spotlight is a scathing indictment of the Catholic Church. Though not exactly a feel-good movie, the film nevertheless comes highly recommended for several reasons.

First, it is an important reminder about the importance of investigative reporting. Second, the compelling screenplay unfolds in a gripping fashion that doesn’t resort to describing salacious details. And third, the cast members turn in dynamic performances, especially Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, John Slattery, and Stanley Tucci.

Excellent (****). Rated R for profanity, sexual references, and mature themes. Running time: 128 minutes. Distributor: Open Road Films.