Film Reviews

Calvary: An Irish priest threatened for another’s crimes

By Christine Schofelt, 4 October 2014

In the opening scene, Father James (Brendan Gleeson) takes confession from an unseen man who recounts being sexually abused by a priest as a child, and informs James he is going to kill him “Sunday week.”

Toronto International Film Festival 2014—Part 4

Iraqi Odyssey and other pictures of the modern world

By David Walsh, 2 October 2014

The film, directed by Iraqi-Swiss filmmaker Samir, attempts to interweave the complex saga of the director’s own family with the larger history of Iraq over the past half-century or more.

Toronto International Film Festival 2014—Part 3

Drone warfare in Good Kill

and a roundtable interview with writer-director Andrew Niccol and actor Ethan Hawke

By David Walsh, 26 September 2014

New Zealand-born writer-director Andrew Niccol has taken on the subject of drone warfare in Good Kill, featuring Ethan Hawke, Bruce Greenwood, Zoë Kravitz and January Jones.

Toronto International Film Festival 2014—Part 2

Phoenix and Labyrinth of Lies: German history and other complex questions

By Joanne Laurier, 24 September 2014

Christian Petzold’s Phoenix and Italian-born Giulio Ricciarelli’s Labyrinth of Lies are both skillfully made, intelligent films that delve, in quite different ways, into the legacy of German fascism.

Grave of the Fireflies: Two children fighting for survival in wartime Japan

By Elle Chapman, 22 September 2014

Produced over 25 years ago, the Japanese animation feature is a unique and emotionally intense story set in Kobe during the last months of World War II.

Woody Allen’s Magic in the Moonlight: Keeping life at a distance

By David Walsh, 22 August 2014

A famed illusionist (Colin Firth) is brought in to expose a young clairvoyant (Emma Stone), but instead begins to have doubts about his own rationalistic world-view.

Rich Hill: A story that “could be told in hundreds of towns”

By Joanne Laurier, 20 August 2014

The documentary, directed by cousins Tracy Droz Tragos and Andrew Droz Palermo, movingly chronicles the lives of three boys living in an impoverished, rural southwestern Missouri town.

Richard Linklater’s Boyhood: American lives over the course of a dozen years

By David Walsh, 19 August 2014

Using the same cast, the writer-director filmed sequences once a year for twelve years, centering on a boy, his family and their surroundings in east and central Texas.

Lucy: A little knowledge is apparently a dangerous thing

By Hiram Lee, 16 August 2014

In Lucy, Scarlett Johansson is a super-powered intellect fighting to take down a Taiwanese drug cartel.

Get On Up: The James Brown story

By Joanne Laurier, 14 August 2014

Tate Taylor’s film biography attempts with considerable success to penetrate the James Brown phenomenon. As the famed American singer-performer, Chadwick Boseman is mesmerizing.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, or Yawn of the Planet of the Apes

By Kevin Martinez, 4 August 2014

The original Planet of the Apes (1968), directed by Franklin J. Schaffner, with Charlton Heston and Roddy McDowall, was fairly silly, but it was not mean-spirited and had a certain humor to it.

Lost for Life: Children locked away in America

By Joanne Laurier, 28 July 2014

The film’s web site reports the staggering, and scandalous, fact that more than “2,000 people in the US are serving life-without-parole sentences for crimes they committed as juveniles.”

The Kill Team: The murderous reality of the US war in Afghanistan

By Joanne Laurier, 26 July 2014

The “Kill Team,” the nickname applied by the media to members of a US army unit that committed war crimes in Afghanistan, is also the title of the film by documentarian Dan Krauss.

Below the surface of Louis Theroux’s LA Stories: City of Dogs

By Charles Thorpe and Norisa Diaz, 23 July 2014

Theroux’s new three-part series provides glimpses of the social crisis in Los Angeles, but the documentarian’s approach prevents him from probing very deeply.

Prasanna Vithanage’s With You, Without You: The human impact of Sri Lanka’s communal war

By Wasantha Rupasinghe and Panini Wijesiriwardane, 14 July 2014

Vithanage’s film is a serious artistic effort and reveals how the decades-long communal war affected human relationships.

HBO’s Remembering the Artist: Robert De Niro Sr. and Ida

By Joanne Laurier, 10 July 2014

The 40-minute documentary on the postwar American painter Robert De Niro, Sr. is a delicate and moving homage, in which his son, the actor Robert De Niro, figures prominently.

A student’s perspective on the testing culture in America’s schools

Movie Review: LISTEN — the Film, by Ankur Singh

By Phyllis Scherrer, 4 July 2014

A review of Ankur Singh’s documentary on the impact of high-stakes testing on students.

Clint Eastwood’s Jersey Boys: The story of The Four Seasons on screen

By Joanne Laurier, 27 June 2014

Clint Eastwood’s latest directorial effort is a film version of the popular musical that premiered on Broadway in 2005 and revived interest in the music of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons.

Entre Nos (Between US) and Red Father: Aspects of US life and history

By Joanne Laurier, 23 June 2014

Entre Nos dramatizes the plight of a Colombian immigrant and her two children in New York City. Red Father, a documentary, recounts the life and career of Bernard Ades, a lawyer and longtime member of the Communist Party.

Netflix’s Orange is the New Black: Humanity inside a US women’s prison

By Ed Hightower, 20 June 2014

The television series, based on the experiences of a former inmate, takes a generally serious and realistic look—something terribly rare on American television—at the prison population in the US.

A great Soviet film about World War II

No more war! The anti-war message of The Cranes Are Flying (1957)

By Dorota Niemitz, 19 June 2014

The film is a story about two young people, Boris and Veronica, who are in love and plan to get married. Their plans are postponed when the German army invades the USSR in 1941.

A further comment on The Cranes Are Flying

By Wolfgang Weber, 19 June 2014

The Cranes Are Flying was a great success in East and West Germany, as it was in the Soviet Union.

So Bright is the View: A serious film from Romania

By David Walsh, 4 June 2014

Estera, a middle class Jewish girl in Bucharest, has to make a choice between pursuing a job in Atlanta, working for a nouveau riche thug, or joining her mother in Israel.

Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia

Film portrait of an American radical iconoclast

By Fred Mazelis, 2 June 2014

The newly released documentary on the life of writer and social critic Gore Vidal has much to recommend it.

Utopia: A confronting but politically flawed documentary

By Susan Allan, 31 May 2014

John Pilger presents a stark picture of Aboriginal disadvantage and oppression but blames racism, not capitalism.

Belle’s moving and enlightened story (and The Immigrant)

By Joanne Laurier, 30 May 2014

Amma Asante’s film recounts the remarkable 18th century story of Dido Belle, a mixed-race girl who ends up in the care of William Murray, England’s lord chief justice. James Gray’s The Immigrant is set in New York in 1921.

“Are they going to throw him away?”

Alien Boy: The Life and Death of James Chasse

By Christine Schofelt, 28 May 2014

Brian Lindstrom’s powerful documentary provides an unblinking look at police brutality in Portland, Oregon and deserves a wide audience.

San Francisco International Film Festival 2014

Part four: Manos Sucias, Freedom Summer and others: Bitter social conflict present and past

By Joanne Laurier, 26 May 2014

A film about Colombia, a short conversation with its director, and a documentary about the civil rights movement in the 1960s, among other things.

Orson Welles: An “unfinished artist” in an unfinished century

Event marks 80 years since theater festival in Woodstock, Illinois

By David Walsh and Joanne Laurier, 23 May 2014

Welles remains one of the most remarkable figures in the history of the cinema and theater in the 20th century.

Interviews with critics and film historians about Orson Welles

By David Walsh and Joanne Laurier, 23 May 2014

During the recent celebration in Woodstock, Illinois, commemorating 80 years since the Todd Theatre Festival organized by Orson Welles, we had the opportunity to speak to a number of the presenters and participants.

In Between Worlds: A conformist view of the German military

By Bernd Reinhardt, 15 May 2014

The orientation of Austrian-born director Feo Aladag’s film is very much in line with efforts by the German government and the defense ministry to weaken opposition to foreign military operations.

Diego Luna’s Cesar Chavez: An uninspired film on farm workers’ leader

By Kevin Martinez, 10 May 2014

The film concerns the efforts of Chavez (Michael Pena) to unionize farm workers in California’s Central Valley during the 1960s and early 1970s.

Captain America—The Winter Soldier: So much noise and action you almost fall asleep

By Joanne Laurier, 15 April 2014

This is the latest film installment featuring Marvel Comics’ character Captain America, one of the most prominent and patriotic superheroes introduced in American comic books in the World War II era.

Jason Bateman’s Bad Words: An inauspicious debut

By Joanne Laurier, 3 April 2014

Actor-director Jason Bateman plays Guy Trilby, a petulant, miserable 40-year-old who breaks into the spelling bee circuit by taking advantage of a loophole in the rules.

The Eternal Zero: Propaganda in the service of present day militarism

By John Watanabe, 2 April 2014

The film about Japanese kamikaze pilots during World War II is part of a concerted campaign to revive militarism and condition young people for new wars.

Divergent: A different sort of dystopia

By Christine Schofelt, 27 March 2014

Divergent, billed as the “next Hunger Games,” offers greater depth.

The Grand Budapest Hotel from Wes Anderson

By Joanne Laurier, 25 March 2014

The Grand Budapest Hotel is a stylish, fantastical film, sometimes comic and sometimes tragic in its re-imagining of the period between the two world wars and the emergence of fascistic forces in Europe.

Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush comes to Lexington, Kentucky

By Hiram Lee, 24 March 2014

On March 14, the Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra accompanied a showing of Charlie Chaplin’s classic film The Gold Rush in Kentucky.

Tim’s Vermeer: Art and technology

By Joanne Laurier, 8 March 2014

The intriguing documentary centers on the attempt by Texas inventor Tim Jenison to explore the possibility that painter Johannes Vermeer used optical devices to help achieve his intricate interweaving of light, color and proportion.

64th Berlin International Film Festival—Part 6

Art and commerce: Austrian documentary The Great Museum

By Bernd Reinhardt, 7 March 2014

Austrian director Johannes Holzhausen’s film is a fond, and at the same time scathing documentary about the Kunsthistorisches Museum (Museum of Fine Arts) in Vienna.

José Padilha’s new RoboCop: Largely missing the point

By Nick Barrickman, 7 March 2014

José Padilha’s RoboCop is based on the 1987 film of the same title.

The Past from Iran’s Asghar Farhadi: Something of a disappointment

By David Walsh, 5 March 2014

The Past takes place in Paris. Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) arrives from Tehran to finalize a divorce from his French wife, Marie (Bérénice Bejo, The Artist ), after a four-year separation.

2014 Academy Awards: Life versus the film industry

By David Walsh, 4 March 2014

Sunday’s awards ceremony in Hollywood was undistinguished for the most part by excitement, urgency or social insight.

64th Berlin International Film Festival—Part 1

Political agendas at this year’s Berlinale

By Stefan Steinberg, 20 February 2014

A notable feature of the 2014 Berlin International Film Festival was the manner in which certain leading figures in the film word openly promoted their retrograde political agendas.

The Monuments Men: An establishment film, in almost every way

By Joanne Laurier, 11 February 2014

George Clooney’s new film is the story of a squad of art experts serving in the US and Allied military who, toward the end of World War II, attempt to rescue art masterpieces stolen by the Nazis.

Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Kieślowski revisited: Camera Buff (1979)

By Dorota Niemitz, 3 February 2014

There are issues and problems associated with both periods—before and after Stalinism—of Kieślowski’s work. However, particularly in his earlier works one finds a sincere attempt to portray social reality.

The Invisible Woman: Moralizing about Charles Dickens

By Joanne Laurier, 31 January 2014

The Invisible Woman, directed by Ralph Fiennes, sets out to treat the relationship between 45-year-old novelist Charles Dickens, then at the height of his fame in the late 1850s, and his 18-year-old mistress Ellen Ternan.

August: Osage County and Lone Survivor: Sound and fury signifying not too much…and a celebration of the US military

By Joanne Laurier, 22 January 2014

John Wells’s film is a star-studded, “timeless” family drama set in rural Oklahoma; Peter Berg’s effort is a reprehensible tribute to American military death squads.

2014 Academy Award nominations: Very few bright spots

By David Walsh, 18 January 2014

The Academy Award nominations were announced January 16 at a press conference at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills, California.

Her: A lonely man falls in love with his computer

By David Walsh, 15 January 2014

The new film, Her, is writer-director Spike Jonze’s fourth feature film, following Being John Malkovich (1999), Adaptation (2002) and Where the Wild Things Are (2009).

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom: A film largely without history or even politics

By Isaac Finn, 10 January 2014

Director Justin Chadwick has taken a shallow, unserious approach in Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, focusing on Nelson Mandela’s personal life and using his public activities as a mere backdrop.

David O. Russell’s American Hustle: Nearly everybody gets a free pass

By Joanne Laurier, 6 January 2014

David O. Russell’s new movie is loosely based on the “Abscam” sting operation conducted by the FBI in the late 1970s and early 1980s, which led to the conviction of one US senator, six members of the House of Representatives and the mayor of Camden, New Jersey.

Fallout: Documentary about On the Beach

By Richard Phillips, 4 January 2014

A recent documentary on a best-selling 1950s novel and Hollywood movie about the nuclear destruction of humanity contains fascinating material but fails to explore current geo-political realities.

Best films of 2013

By David Walsh and Joanne Laurier, 31 December 2013

The commercial cinema still shows virtually no interest in the lives and conditions of some 95 percent of the world’s population. However, more interesting and compelling work also makes an appearance.

The Wolf of Wall Street: Why should we admire such figures?

By David Walsh, 30 December 2013

Martin Scorsese’s new film treats the career of convicted stock swindler and con artist Jordan Belfort, who benefited from the rise of financial gangsterism in the US to make a fortune in the late 1980s and 1990s.

Philomena: Crime and forgiveness

By Dorota Niemitz, 20 December 2013

Stephen Frears’ new film deals with the Magdalene asylums, which operated in Ireland and other countries where the Catholic Church had a strong influence from the 18th well into the 20th centuries.

Filmmaking and social life in postwar America

The Crime Films of Anthony Mann: A comment and a conversation with the author—Part 2

By David Walsh, 19 December 2013

The early film work of American director Anthony Mann, a major figure of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, is the subject of a new book. This is the second of two parts.

Filmmaking and social life in postwar America

The Crime Films of Anthony Mann: A comment and a conversation with the author—Part 1

By David Walsh, 18 December 2013

The early film work of American director Anthony Mann, a major figure of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, is the subject of a new book. In two parts.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug: The filmmakers waste considerable talent and skill

By Christine Schofelt, 17 December 2013

Peter Jackson directs, co-writes and co-produces the second installment of a three-part film series based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s children’s fantasy book, The Hobbit (1937).

The Book Thief: The Nazis and the assault, then and now, on culture

By Joanne Laurier, 16 December 2013

Brian Percival’s movie deals in part with the horrors of the Kristallnacht period and is an effective reminder of the impact of Nazi atrocities on everyday life.

Paganini or The Devil’s Violinist?

By Bernd Reinhardt, 14 December 2013

Bernard Rose’s Paganini biopic focuses too much on audience frenzy and not enough on the genuine artistic abilities of the great virtuoso.

The Coen brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis: The story of a struggling musician … but which one?

By Fred Mazelis, 12 December 2013

The memoir of the late singer and songwriter Dave Van Ronk helped inspire the latest film by Joel and Ethan Coen.

Tokyo Filmex 2013

Transit, Ilo Ilo and Youth: Three films that rise above the average

By John Watanabe, 4 December 2013

Tokyo Filmex, founded in 2000, is a film festival that features mostly new Asian releases. The 14th Filmex, held from November 23 to December 1, presented a number of interesting films.

Europa Report: Gripping drama of manned mission to Jupiter’s moon

By Patrick Martin, 28 November 2013

This spare, restrained science fiction film deserves a wider audience.

Oxyana highlights prescription drug epidemic in Appalachia

By Clement Daly, 26 November 2013

The film centers on the small coal mining town of Oceana in southern West Virginia.

Dallas Buyers Club: A “cowboy” style of fighting the authorities

By Joanne Laurier, 25 November 2013

Jean-Marc Vallée’s film is set in 1985 in Dallas, at a time when AIDS was ravaging the gay population. It concerns the fate of Ron Woodroof, who is told by doctors he is HIV-positive and has 30 days to live.

A new film version of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations: “Those wretched hankerings after money and gentility”

By David Walsh, 20 November 2013

British filmmaker Mike Newell has directed a valuable, moving adaptation of Dickens’s remarkable novel.

The Rocket: Modest but sympathetic tale about Laotian villagers

By Suphor Samurtharb and Richard Phillips, 16 November 2013

Set in Laos’ rural north, the film centres on a 10-year-old peasant boy and the impact of a major dam development on his family.

Detroit Unleaded: “This is the American Dream?”

Also, an interview with director Rola Nashef

By Joanne Laurier, 11 November 2013

While the film is not a head-on social critique, it is a warmhearted piece about the complicated interactions between the city’s Arab and African American populations.

Hayao Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises: Blocking out the rest of the world

By John Watanabe, 7 November 2013

The new animated film is a mixture of striking imagery and the wrongheaded views of a disillusioned and disheartened artist.

Costa Gavras’s Capital: A critique of “cowboy capitalism”

By David Walsh, 6 November 2013

The most recent film from Greek-born director Costa-Gavras, best known for Z (1969), State of Siege (1972), and Missing (1982), is Capital, a scathing assault on the world of financial speculation.

Robert Reich’s Inequality for All: A friendly warning to the powers that be

By Zac Corrigan, 30 October 2013

Democratic Party politician Robert Reich narrates the new documentary and attempts to convince viewers it is possible to oppose social inequality within the framework of a liberal reform agenda.

The Fifth Estate: A dishonest film about WikiLeaks and Julian Assange

By Robert Stevens, 22 October 2013

Despite claims by the director and others involved that the film was not conceived as an attack on Assange and WikiLeaks, it is a tendentious work promoting a definite agenda.

Captain Phillips: A hijacking drama unfolds

By Julien Kiemle, 19 October 2013

The film tells the story of US merchant marine captain Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks), whose vessel, the MV Maersk Alabama, is boarded and taken over by a small band of pirates off the coast of Somalia.

Salinger: Phony stuff

By Sandy English, 17 October 2013

Unhappily, Shane Salerno’s film is not a particularly objective, profound or sympathetic work.

Two films, and the limits of mere sympathy: The Girl and Dragon Girls

By Dylan Lubao, 16 October 2013

The Girl chronicles an American woman’s journey to reunite a Mexican girl with her grandmother. Dragon Girls provides a glimpse into the lives of three girls studying kung fu in China.

Born again: Gravity directed by Alfonso Cuarón

By Hiram Lee, 14 October 2013

Sandra Bullock stars as an astronaut stranded in space following a catastrophic accident in the new film from Mexican-born director Alfonso Cuarón.

7th Heaven (1927) and Street Angel (1928): two silent films by Frank Borzage

By Charles Bogle, 12 October 2013

The two works from the golden age of silent film feature Borzage’s mastery of visual style to convey his career-long theme of a couple in love struggling against rigid, often irrational societal laws and conventions.

Toronto International Film Festival 2013—Part 6

Disappointments, blind alleys and other problems

By David Walsh, 11 October 2013

This was the 20th year of covering the Toronto film festival, and the experience continues to be fascinating, illuminating and maddening in perhaps equal measure.

Kick-Ass 2: Frat boy ethics, and worse

By Dylan Lubao, 16 September 2013

Kick-Ass 2 follows the vigilante exploits of a bored teenager and his sidekick.

The Law in These Parts: Israeli military justice in the Occupied Territories

Available on PBS online until September 18

By Kevin Kearney, 12 September 2013

Ra’anan Alexandrowicz’s The Law in These Parts deals with the Israeli military legal system in the Occupied Territories on the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip over the last 45 years. It is available online at PBS’s POV until September 18.

Closed Circuit: The state and its dirty secrets

By David Walsh, 30 August 2013

Closed Circuit is a drama, directed by John Crowley, about the infiltration of a terrorist cell by the British intelligence services and how it goes wrong.

The Spectacular Now: The happiness of youth

By David Walsh, 28 August 2013

James Ponsoldt’s new film treats young people in an American town (it was shot in Athens, Georgia), based on a 2008 novel by Tim Tharp.

Lee Daniels’ The Butler: Identity politics at odds with history

By Joanne Laurier, 23 August 2013

Lee Daniels’ The Butler is a fiction film based on the life of Eugene Allen, an African American who worked in the White House for 34 years, from the administration of President Harry Truman to that of Ronald Reagan.

Again on Alex Gibney’s We Steal Secrets

By Richard Philips, 22 August 2013

The US documentary did poorly at the Australian box office following its release last month and was withdrawn from local cinemas after a few weeks.

Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine and The Way Way Back

By Joanne Laurier, 16 August 2013

Woody Allen has directed more than 40 films in the past 44 years, not to much purpose in recent years. The Way Way Back is a likable, but overly familiar take on growing up.

Neill Blomkamp’s Elysium: To have or have not

By David Walsh, 13 August 2013

The principal challenge in writing about a film like Elysium, a science fiction work that treats inequality in the year 2154, is to make neither too much nor too little of it.

5 Broken Cameras: “Forgotten wounds can’t be healed”

By Kevin Martinez, 2 August 2013

This Israeli-Palestinian-French co-production movingly depicts the struggle of the Palestinian people against Zionist occupation.

Copperhead: What are these people up to?

By Joanne Laurier, 24 July 2013

What is the significance of director Ron Maxwell, who made the generally laudable Gettysburg two decades ago, coming out with a favorable treatment of Lincoln’s Northern opponents in the year of the battle’s sesquicentennial?

The Act of Killing and The Attack: Mass murder in Indonesia, a suicide bombing in Israel

By Joanne Laurier, 22 July 2013

Two films that were screened at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2012 have now opened in North America.

20 Feet From Stardom: The “most incredible artists you’ve never heard of”

By James Brewer, 18 July 2013

Morgan Neville’s documentary explores the phenomenon of backup singers in popular music.

The Lone Ranger: Where is justice?

By Christine Schofelt, 16 July 2013

In a familiar tale with few surprises, the masked “Lone Ranger” rides again.

Dirty Wars: Revealing material, but missing the most important questions

By Joanne Laurier, 11 July 2013

The documentary film, directed by Richard Rowley, follows reporter Jeremy Scahill into the covert, murderous world of American Special Forces as the latter prosecute the US government’s so-called war on terror.

Much Ado About Nothing: The merry war resumed

By David Walsh, 10 July 2013

American film and television producer, director and writer Joss Whedon has adapted William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing for the screen.

Star Trek Into Darkness: Militarism in space

By Kevin Martinez and Clodomiro Puentes, 9 July 2013

The twelfth installment of the franchise, Star Trek Into Darkness has made over $438 million in ticket sales as of this writing and is the most profitable installment of the series yet.

The German mini-series Generation War: Five young people traumatized by World War II

By Bernd Reinhardt, 3 July 2013

The television mini-series, which set records for viewership in Germany, depicts the lives of several young people during and after World War II.

A cinematic disinformation job on Julian Assange

Alex Gibney’s We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks

By Richard Phillips, 2 July 2013

Peppered with factual errors and outright falsifications, Gibney’s documentary is an attempt to discredit WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and defend the US intelligence apparatus.

Max Brooks’ World War Z brought to the screen, or is it?

By Christine Schofelt, 27 June 2013

After much anticipation and several false starts, Max Brooks’ World War Z has finally hit the screen.

Man of Steel: Superman returns…again

By Hiram Lee, 22 June 2013

Summer blockbuster Man of Steel brings Superman back to theaters in the first of a planned trilogy.

Hannah Arendt: Margarethe von Trotta’s film revisits debate over Eichmann trial

By Fred Mazelis and Stefan Steinberg, 20 June 2013

The film focuses on a few critical years in the life of the German-American writer Hannah Arendt, best known for The Origins of Totalitarianism and her study of the trial of Nazi leader Adolf Eichmann.