Two-fer review: Burnt and Our Brand Is Crisis

Burnt is a foodie flick. Brand is a political flick. Burnt stars the eminently watchable Bradley Cooper as a brilliant but temperamental chef struggling to make a comeback after battling addictions to women, drugs, and booze. Brand stars the eminently watchable Sandra Bullock as a brilliant political strategist struggling to make a comeback after some sort of mental breakdown and crisis of conscience. Neither movie is Oscar-worthy, despite having star-studded casts and interesting premises. But both are decent. If I had to pick one over the other, I’d go with Burnt. It’s definitely the more engaging and entertaining of the two… and watching Cooper speak French over a hot stove in London is just way cooler than watching Bullock attempting to speak Spanish to volunteers and voters in Bolivia.


I was ambivalent about entering Room, but I’m really glad I did. It’s a compelling drama with two stellar lead performances from Brie Larson and child actor Jacob Tremblay who should at least be considered for an Oscar nomination. The film opens with Tremblay’s character Jack celebrating his fifth birthday in “room”, a small enclosure that he and his Ma (Larson) have lived in his entire life. He knows nothing of the outside world beyond what he sees in a rectangular skylight way out of reach, and on a television that gets very poor reception. The sparse furnishings are his ‘friends’, and he and Ma keep themselves occupied during the day with books, games, and a hefty dose of imagination. It’s a solitary existence interrupted only by the nighttime visits by ‘Old Nick’ (Sean Bridgers) a creepy guy who apparently abducted Ma for use as his personal sex slave.

Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter

Looking for a strange but entertaining little flick? This is the ticket! It made the rounds at festivals last year to great acclaim, and it is currently streaming on all your favorite sites. And now the filmmakers are hoping for a bit of love during this year’s awards season. It is just odd enough to get some attention, too. There isn’t anything remotely like it. Based on an urban legend, it tells the story of a Japanese woman who believes the film Fargo is a documentary and sets out to find the briefcase full of money that Steve Buscemi’s character buried in the snow.

Steve Jobs

First, there was Jobs, a 2013 biopic about the Apple founder as portrayed (rather decently) by Jobs doppelgänger Ashton Kutcher. Then, there was Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine, a rather disappointing documentary from acclaimed director Alex Gibney. And now, there’s Steve Jobs, yet another take on the flawed genius who put iPads, iPhones and iMacs in the hands – and on the desktops – of the masses. This latest effort has three things going for it: a snappy script by Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network, The West Wing, etc.), the direction of Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire), and the magnetic appeal of Michael Fassbender (X-Men, Inglorious Basterds). Put all of the above movies together, and you come away with one clear message: Jobs was a brilliant a-hole. (ummm, A is for apple?)

Beasts of No Nation

The saddest aspect of many of today’s conflicts is the presence of child soldiers, conscripted into becoming killers at a time they should be learning to read and write and playing games with their friends. Beasts of No Nation is beautifully adapted from Uzodinma Iweala’s debut novel, the story of a 9-year-old boy named Agu in an unnamed West African country that’s in the throes of a civil war. He begins as a normal kid just goofing around with his friends. But when the army comes to his village and kills his dad and his brother, he flees into the jungle only to run into a rebel army headed by the charismatic Commandant played by the amazing Idris Elba (The Wire, Luther) who molds the petrified and confused boy into a murderous warrior, while seducing him with the idea that they are his new family taking care of each other. It is altogether tragically horrifying.

Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom

Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom is only available on Netflix right now, so if you don’t have a subscription, you’re missing a very powerful, well-made documentary. The bulk of the film was shot over 93 days in 2013 and 2014 in the central square of Kiev called the Maidan Nezalezhnosti. Thousands of students came to the square to protest Ukrainian President Yanukovych’s choice not to join the EU. But what began as a peaceful protest quickly became a violent revolution and ultimately led to the president sneaking away in the night. The film is very much like last year’s The Square, in that it puts you right in the center of the action with the people fighting and dying around you. Their courage to stand up for democracy is truly inspiring.

99 Homes

99 Homes is one of those indies that could easily slip through the cracks at the box office but deserves some word-of-mouth love – even from a ‘Mainstream Chick’. It’s a compelling, timely, and well-acted drama that will surely hit (too) close to home for anyone who lost their home – or came close– during the housing crisis. The film puts a human face on a national disaster that allowed certain individuals and institutions to profit off the misfortune of others who got in over their heads financially, largely due to the failure of banks and government agencies to provide proper guidance, intervention, or oversight.


I wouldn’t normally go out of my way to see this type of fantasy-adventure, “fun for the whole family” movie, but I was sort of roped into it, so here goes:

It’s a perfectly okay fantasy-adventure movie that is fine for the whole family and probably better than fine for kids aged 8-12. Any younger, and it’s rather dark, especially at the start. Any older, and it can’t compete with the likes of The Hunger Games.

For the adult tag-alongs, the real question is: Do we really need a prequel to Peter Pan??? Must we really know how an orphan named Peter came to be Peter Pan, or who exactly Hook was before he was ‘Captain’ Hook? No, we don’t. In fact, it all kind of muddles the classic nature of writer J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan mythology – a story that has stood the test of time and countless remakes on stage and screen.

For the kids, the questions raised above are probably moot. The movie has a flying pirate ship! It’s fantastical! It has kids running amuck! Evil nuns! Swordfights! Fairies! Hugh Jackman!! (okay, that last one was for me).


If you’ve ever wondered how violent and insidious the Mexican drug cartels and our persistent war against them are, this is the movie for you! From the first frame you’re plunged into a blood-soaked world where law enforcement is impotent, and successes come with collateral damage. Emily Blunt plays Kate Macer, an FBI agent who’s trying unsuccessfully to stem the tide of killings on the US side of the Arizona border. Following a bombing that kills several of her fellow agents, she is invited to join a multi-agency task force tracking down the perpetrator. It’s headed by Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) who keeps her (and the audience) in the dark about his strategies and motivations for much of the operation. Benicio Del Toro joins them as Alejandro, the titular sicario, Spanish for hitman, though he’s given “consultant” status. And before you know it, they’re all in Mexico where mutilated bodies hang from bridges as warnings from the cartels, blazing in with the help of the Mexican federal police to extract someone for Alejandro to torture some information out of back home. It is not a pretty picture.

Tower to the People-Tesla’s Dream at Wardenclyffe Continues

When people hear the name Tesla these days, most probably think of the car from Elon Musk. But Musk named that car after one of the great unsung inventors of the last century, Nikola Tesla. Tesla invented so many things we take for granted these days — alternating current, radio (before Marconi), even neon — but he died penniless and forgotten. This documentary attempts to bring his name and genius to a wider audience. I’ve known about him for years, as no doubt have most science geeks. And anyone who saw The Prestige might remember David Bowie’s turn as Tesla in that film. Mostly this earnest documentary concentrates on his attempts to build a tower in Long Island that he believed could transmit electrical power through the air around the world. Free power to the people!