personal shopper

‘Personal Shopper’ makes viewers voyeurs, perhaps stalkers, of leading lady

Kristin Stewart and her cell phone co-star in “Personal Shopper,” a ghost story for the cyber age. Since Stewart always looks slightly haunted, you could almost say it’s typecasting.

However, the typecasting here is of a different sort. As she did in “The Clouds of Sils Maria,” Stewart is again playing the personal assistant to a powerful woman. But while the core of “Sils Maria” was the give-and-take between her and Juliette Binoche (the self-absorbed actor who employs her), the boss in “Personal Shopper” is more a plot device than anything else. This movie is all about Stewart; thankfully, she’s such an intriguing actor, she can handle it.


Half of ‘Lion’ would have been better than the whole show

Recently, there was a full-page ad for “Lion” in the Sunday New York Times. Given that the film has been nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress, this isn’t especially surprising.

What is surprising is, instead of the usual critics’ quotes, the ad features ringing endorsements from former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and UNICEF.

hidden figures

‘Hidden Figures’ shows women tapping on racial, gender ceilings in John Glenn’s orbit

Despite all the bad stuff we experienced (reel and real), 2016 deserves respect for bringing so many important – and often little-known – true stories to the screen. Among them, “Free State of Jones,” “Jackie,” “Loving,” “Hacksaw Ridge,” “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot,” “Sully,” “Snowden,” “Masterminds,” and “The Birth of a Nation.”

Now add to that list the very affecting (and effective) “Hidden Figures,” about some African-American math whizzes who were crucial to NASA in the early ‘60s. Given that NASA was still stationed in Langley, Va., and Virginia still had strictly enforced segregation laws, this was not business as usual.


‘Fences’ not cinematic, but film version of August Wilson’s play a sure-footed shot at truth-telling

As both director and star of “Fences,” Denzel Washington, well, swings for the fences. And while he doesn’t quite hit a home run, he does manage a solid triple. And, almost as importantly, he brilliantly eases himself through the transition from leading man to character actor/star.

“Fences” is based on August Wilson’s masterful 1983 play which starred a galvanizing bigger-than-life James Earl Jones as Troy Maxson, a garbage worker in late 1950s Pittsburgh. Jones won a Tony for his portrayal, as did Washington for the 2010 revival.


‘Jackie’ captures quintessence of the widow in the days after Camelot ended

Here’s how you know the new film “Jackie” is working: You move from trying to decide just how credible Natalie Portman’s impersonation is to thinking about anything and everything except that.

Portman, who won a much-deserved Oscar for 2010’s “Black Swan,” doesn’t look in the least like Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy (the Onassis connection is still in the future). Portman’s face is more oval, her nose is stronger.

Miss Sloane

Jessica Chastain dazzles in ‘Miss Sloane,’ a woman who burns through glass ceiling

Elizabeth Sloane (Jessica Chastain), the protagonist of the lively political thriller, “Miss Sloane,” is one tough cookie. Some might even say of her, “Such a nasty woman.”

No, Sloane isn’t running for president. She’s a high-powered Washington lobbyist, whip-smart and utterly ruthless. And her tactics are as amoral as they are inventive.

manchester by the sea

‘Manchester By the Sea’ a heartbreaking exploration of grief

“Manchester By the Sea” is the reason people keep going to the movies. Because, despite all the crummy ones, there’s always the chance you’ll stumble across one like this – a movie so powerful, so beautifully done on just about every level, that it’s instantly etched in your memory. And your heart.

Few movies can handle that delicate juggling act in which profound grief alternates with wickedly well-observed humor. Don’t get me wrong. “Manchester” is, ultimately, a picture riddled with sorrow and unspeakable tragedy. Yet it is also oddly optimistic. A newborn cries at a funeral service – a birth astride a grave, as Beckett would’ve said.

loving, ruth nigga

‘Loving’ a perceptive, if somewhat plodding, view of Jim Crow South

Not even Hollywood could have trumped up a better double-entendre title than “Loving.” The word is both the name of the movie and the name of the couple at its center.

“Loving” is based on the true story of Mildred and Richard Loving. In 1958, they married – and in doing so, broke the law. You see, she (Ruth Negga) was African-American and he (Joel Edgerton) was white. And though they exchanged vows in Washington, D.C., they wanted to live in their home state of Virginia. Which, at that time, forbid interracial marriages.

Hacksaw Ridge

‘Hacksaw Ridge’ satisfying, perhaps Gibson’s remorseful apology

“Hacksaw Ridge” lets us know what we’re in for with its opening shot: a montage of soldiers in flames, caught in a slo-mo inferno.

Then it’s back stateside – rural Virginia where Desmond Doss lives with his brother, his beaten-down mom (Rachel Griffiths) and his dad (Hugo Weaving), a raging alcoholic who does the beating. His constant fury is an unwelcome residual of his service in World War I.