Maps to the Stars

True Story

True Story is based on, well, a true story. But I suspect the actual events were more gripping than this somewhat interesting, but often boring psychological crime drama starring James Franco as accused family killer Christian Longo and Jonah Hill as disgraced New York Times reporter Michael Finkel. For some reason, Longo took on Finkel’s identity while on the run for the gruesome murders of his wife and three young children. When he was caught, Finkel was the only one that Longo was willing to tell his story to.

Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck

Back in the 90s I liked Nirvana’s music, though I wasn’t what I would call a big fan. But when lead singer/songwriter Kurt Cobain killed himself, I was shocked and saddened. The story around his personal life and suicide was messy and there was a lot of finger pointing and demonizing of his wife, the infamous Courtney Love. What Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck does really well is paint a picture of Cobain that runs counter to the tabloids and gives you a real glimpse of the tragic artist that he was. So much of it is told through his diaries and his own private tapes that no one, not even Courtney Love, had bothered to look at. It’s a film that will make even those of us who just liked the music respect his artistry on a whole other level.

Furious 7

Furious 7 is totally absurd. The stunts defy all laws of physics and gravity. The acting and the dialogue are inconsistent. And yet, it’s still a fun ride. No wonder Dame Helen Mirren wants to play a villain in the next one! I didn’t see the first four installments of the Fast and Furious franchise, but I became a fan with 5 and 6. They are guilty-pleasure movies, pure and simple, delivering a consistent formula of action, special effects, scantily-clad bods (male and female), bonding, romance, bromance, and family dysfunction – all delivered with a wink and a nod.

While We’re Young

While We’re Young is a solid indie that many adults (even of the mainstream variety) should be able to relate to. It’s a comedy/drama about a middle-aged, childless couple named Josh and Cornelia Srebnick (Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts) whose best friends have just had a baby and seem to be drifting away. Then they meet Jamie and Darby (Adam Driver, Amanda Seyfried), a pair of twenty-something hipsters who become their new besties and inject new life into the Srebnicks’ otherwise stagnant personal and professional lives.

Mr. Turner

When I think of Mike Leigh, I think of great female characters — Vera Drake, Secrets and Lies, Happy Go Lucky. And with Mr. Turner he proves that he is just a adept with the other half of the population. The film looks at the Victorian era painter J.M.W. Turner’s final 25 years and I must say, he is not the man I would have imagined from seeing his work. Played by wonderful character actor Timothy Spall (Harry Potter, Secrets and Lies) the painter is both crude and caring, crazed and cunning. If you are unaware of his work, head to any of the great museums and take a look. He was ahead of his time. While the others were clinging to the rules of Romantic realism, his landscapes were somewhat abstract and full of passion. This film will give you an even greater appreciation for his work. It is a gorgeous step backwards in time to the early 19th century in British society. (Warning: Some of the authentic speaking was hard for this 21st century American to understand.)

Cinderella

“Have courage, and be kind” and you might (spoiler alert!) live happily ever after. That’s the gist of this perfectly pleasant, Disney-meets-Downton adaptation of the fairy-tale classic, directed by Kenneth Branagh. I suppose if Hollywood can keep re-making Spiderman, then Cinderella might as well pop into the picture every couple of decades as well. Even if it’s not exactly necessary. For fans of the musical versions, be advised that this one has little more than the occasional bibbidi-bobbidi-boo. But what it lacks in music and drama (most people are familiar with the key plot points), it makes up for in message. That would be the aforementioned “have courage, and be kind.”

Maps to the Stars

David Cronenberg has always brought us characters and situations that are unsettling. His early films were smart horror flicks like The Fly and Dead Ringers, and I thought he’d moved into his more mature years with serious dramas like A History of Violence and Eastern Promises. But Maps to the Stars feels like a step backwards or perhaps an attempt to blend his earlier and later genres into one. It is a semi-horror satire of the Hollywood film world run amok, complete with ghosts and murder and incest. Every single person in the film is only out for themselves. And if you’ve never been to LA, Maps to the Stars will make you never want to go near the place.

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel picks up slightly after the original ended, and if you did not see The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel you could be a bit confused as to the relationships. All the same old folks are living in the ramshackle hotel in Jaipur, India, having ditched their old ways of defining themselves and it is going pretty well. Where the first one was about finding themselves, this one is about finding love. As with the first, a pretty straight forward story is elevated by an amazing cast including Dames Judi Dench and Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, Dev Patel, and this time Richard Gere. It is a lot of fun!

Focus

Focus is a weak heist movie. But it benefits from sharing an opening weekend with the likes of The Lazarus Effect, because the latter makes the former look like Oscar-worthy material. Focus stars Will Smith as Nicky, a seasoned con artist who teaches a novice con artist named (Margot Robbie) the tricks of the trade. The two become entangled romantically, but then Nicky abruptly ditches her. Fast forward three years and they meet again when he is called upon to pull some master con at a high-stakes car race, and she is dating one of the drivers.

The Lazarus Effect

Oh, the horror… that this movie is. So bad, in fact, that I resent the time it’s taking me to write this “review” panning it. To be fair, I don’t like horror movies to begin with. So it’s quite possible that horror movie or B-movie fans will find some redeeming value in The Lazarus Effect. I just didn’t get it. At all. And I put too much faith in the casting. I generally like Olivia Wilde, so I held out hope that it would be entertaining on some level – like the apocalyptic zombie movie World War Z – but no, that was not the case. I’m thinking Wilde must be (really good) friends with somebody connected to the script. Here’s the gist: