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Mother!

‘Mother!’ – strong female cast in a long, chaotic movie

Darren Aronofsky certainly needed to get something out of his system… and here it is.

What it is, exactly, I’m not sure.

“Mother!” (yes, the exclamation point is part of the title, like, say, “Oliver!”) takes place in a remote Victorian fixer-upper where Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) does most of the fixer-upping and her husband, Him (Javier Bardem), a world-famous poet, struggles with writer’s block.

Letters from Baghdad

‘Letters from Baghdad’ – how Gertrude Bell helped shape today’s Middle East

Gertrude Bell was the nasty woman of her era.

Her contemporaries  — among them, T.E. Lawrence and Winston Churchill — admired her. However, they also deemed her arrogant, rude and “not very likable.”

It’s likely you’ve never heard of Gertrude Bell  — something the absorbing documentary, “Letters From Baghdad” hopes to change. Born in England in 1868, she spent the last decade of the 19th century and the first quarter of the 20th criss-crossing the Middle East, getting to know the tribal factions and their power plays.

Ingrid Goes West

‘Ingrid Goes West’ – a trip to the selfie world via social media

“Ingrid Goes West” is “All About Eve” for the Instagram era.
 
That’s not exactly a compliment. Or necessarily a put-down.  It’s merely an observation, with a soupcon of social sting.
 
In the Oscar-winning “All About Eve,” a young actress named Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter) insinuates herself into the life of an established Broadway star, Margo Channing (Bette Davis). Eve’s intentions are not honorable.

atomic blond

‘Atomic Blond’ – a spy thriller featuring Charlize Theron as a M16 agent

How do you top playing Imperator Furiosa in 2015’s jaw-dropping “Mad Max: Fury Road?”
 
The answer is, you don’t.  But if you’re Charlize Theron, you give it one heckuva try.
 
In “Atomic Blonde,” Theron plays Lorraine Broughton, a MI6 agent (same level as James Bond).  The year is 1989 and the Berlin Wall is about to tumble. But before it does, she must retrieve a list of names that could compromise an entire network of agents, double agents, triple agents…you get the idea.

Dunkirk

‘Dunkirk’ – immerses viewers in epic World War II battle via ‘bravura filmmaking’

“Dunkirk” does World War II like nothing you’ve ever seen.

Sweeping yet intimate, heroic and horrific, the movie is a triumph of the sort of storytelling the movies do best. Yes, there is a plot (several, actually) and yes there is dialogue and yes, there are identifiable characters.

But what is so impressive about “Dunkirk” is how utterly immersive it is. We are on that besieged beach, our backs to the sea, the Nazis moving in.  We are on that brave little boat, one of several hundred civilian crafts, crossing the English Channel to help rescue the troops. We are in the cockpit with those RAF pilots, trying to shoot down the German planes that circle above like birds of prey.

Baby Driver

‘Baby Driver’ – a ‘sweet ride of a movie’ filmed in Atlanta

Oh, baby, baby, baby, baby.

“Baby Driver” is one sweet ride.

Part of the fun is purely visceral: “Baby Driver” spins fantastical wheelies all over Atlanta. And unlike, say, the CGI mayhem in the  “Fast and Furious” franchise, these chases, crashes and exhilarating loop-the-loop thrills combine technical wizardry with the hands-on genius of a small flotilla of stunt drivers.

‘Band Aid’ – movie intelligently captures couple’s friction and chemistry – and harmony

HE: Why did you call me a liar?
 
SHE: Because you lied.
 
Welcome to “Band Aid,” a kind of millennial spin on the sort of death-match marriage laid out with such venom and heartbreak and cutting-edge humor in Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”
 
Anna (Zoe Lister-Jones) and Ben (Adam Pally) are one of those couples who make their friends nervous. When they’re good, they’re pretty spectacular.

paris can wait

‘Paris Can Wait’ – Eleanor Coppola’s feature debut loses its way

A movie has to be pretty bad to make Diane Lane look bad.

Alas, “Paris Can Wait” is that movie.

Lane plays Anne, a chicly dressed accessory (read, wife) to power-player filmmaker, Michael (Alec Baldwin). He’s not a monster (well, not by Hollywood standards). Sure, he plays around and generally treats her more like a personal assistant than a wife (Where are my socks? Where are my pills?)). But at least he’s semi-conscious of the inequity and, in his way, values her.

Wonder Woman

‘Wonder Woman’ – femme-centric action flick ‘a bit dull’

“Wonder Woman” isn’t wonderful.

Okay, there, I said.

While the entire future of women in Hollywood is apparently riding on this femme-centric action flick (Variety-speak) and while the critics have raved and audiences have rallied, I just can’t join the celebration.

“Wonder Woman” is sturdy. It’s expensive. Its star, Gal Gadot (a former Miss Israel; who knew Wonder Woman was a nice Jewish girl?), is winning and hard-working.

The Lovers

‘The Lovers’ – Debra Winger’s return to silver screen leaves one wanting

Years ago, there was a documentary called “Searching for Debra Winger.”

Well, she’s been found. You just wish she’d been found in a better movie.

“The Lovers” is a comedy of eros. And errors. Mary (Winger) and Michael (Tracy Letts) have been together for eons. The spark hasn’t just gone out of their marriage; there’s not even any kindling left.

So both, on the sly, have taken lovers. He’s with a well-toned but unstable ballet teacher (Melora Walters); she’s with a charming but lightweight writer (Aidan Gillen from “Game of Thrones”). The joke, kinda, is that the two cheat-ees are similar, both being what you might call B minus/C plus level artistes (but pretty).

The Circle

‘The Circle’ – a social satire with a sinister subtext

Forget the old saying, “The Future is Now.” In “The Circle,” The Future is Yesterday.

A cautionary tale with a better set-up than pay-off, the movie makes merry fun of millennial Happy-Face careerism — but with a sinister subtext that becomes less of a laughing matter as the picture progresses. The problem is “The Circle” is never quite as ominous as it could be and the final scenes just sort of dribble away.

james demetro maria sharp

Thinking of my European heritage as we face U.S. elections

As I write this column, on the day before the presidential election, it is without knowing who will be leading our country for the next four years.

A comment I often heard during this election season, often with humor was: “If (fill in the blank) is elected president, I’m leaving the country.”

It just so happens that I’m trying to become a Spanish citizen – a move that speaks more to my heritage than my political beliefs.