(USA 2015)

A day in the life of a cranky, emotionally blocked lesbian (Lily Tomlin) whose teenaged granddaughter (Julia Garner) appears on her doorstep to inform her that she’s pregnant and needs money for an abortion—scheduled for 5:30 p.m. that day. Part “road movie”—and I use that term loosely—the two embark on a mini Odyssey through Los Angeles that reveals who they are and where their limits lie.

Grandma has a lot to say about quite a bit: Sixties counterculture, feminism, sexuality, relationships, and yes women’s health issues. But it does so without getting overemotional or heavy-handed. I really wasn’t sure what I was walking into, and frankly my expectations were low. I left satisfied: Grandma is more complex than it lets on.

(AMC River East) B+

People Places Things

(USA 2015)

A gentle and engaging sorta-comedy about breaking up, starting over, and hanging onto what’s important. If that sounds sappy, it is—“sentimental,” “sensitive,” and “bittersweet” are words that describe this film.

People Places Things has a good share of nice, quiet moments and truths, although a few bitingly cynical and hilarious scenes succeed in balancing it out. Regina Hall and Jessica Williams steal the show in their secondary roles as a mother and daughter who get involved in the life of protagonist Will Henry (Jemaine Clement). While People Places Things no doubt tugs at the heartstrings, it manages to avoid falling headfirst into “schlock.” I doubt it’s something I’ll ever seek out to see a second time, though.

(Gene Siskel Film Center) B-

Ten Thousand Saints

(USA 2014)

Married team Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini’s banal coming-of-age story clearly aimed at Gen X. Going by the references, the story takes place in 1987 and 1988 when New York City still had post-punk cool credibility. Crunchy Jude (Asa Butterfield) and his best friend, Teddy (Avan Jogia), meet urbane Eliza (Hailee Steinfeld), the daughter of the girlfriend of Jude’s dad (Ethan Hawke) who is slumming from Manhattan, at a New Year’s Eve party in Vermont. Events from that night lead Jude to New York, where he moves in with his father and reunites with Eliza, who it turns out is in trouble deep and has been losing sleep: she’s pregnant, and she’s keeping her baby, mmm. An unconventional family unit starts to gel with Teddy’s “straight-edge” brother, Johnny (Emile Hirsch), the singer of a punk band.

Too nostalgic for my taste and not exactly deep, Ten Thousand Saints is neither awful nor anything to write home about. I’m not sure what Ethan Hawke saw in the script– not that he picks the most interesting vehicles, anyway. Adapted from Eleanor Henderson’s novel of the same name. Meh.

(Gene Siskel Film Center) C-


3-1/2 Minutes, Ten Bullets

(USA 2015)

Another heartbreaking story of another racially fueled shooting of an unarmed black teen, Jordan Davis, in Florida the day after Thanksgiving (“Black Friday”) in 2012. No one wins here: Jordan, his friends who were with him, his parents, Michael Dunn (the man who shot him), Dunn’s fiancé, and society at large. Marc Silver’s 3-1/2 Minutes, Ten Bullets succeeds in reaching beyond race to illustrate why “stand your ground” laws are fatally flawed.

(Gene Siskel Film Center) B


(USA 2015)

I wanted to love this film. Sadly, I did not. Jake Gyllenhaal knows how to get to the core of a character, and Southpaw is no exception despite the annoying ghetto tough guy mumble he used for his character, Billy Hope, a fictitious boxer. The plot, however, is tedious and rife with clichés that aren’t even worth noting here—boxing and others. I also picked up a not-so-subtle racism that turned me off: the black or brown characters are one-dimensional and serve as either bad guys or helpers to Hope’s comeback. This struck me as particularly odd considering that the director (Antoine Fuqua) is black. A mildly interesting potential spark between Hope and his daughter’s social worker, Angela (Naomie Harris), was left undeveloped, dangling there through the movie like a wet snot. Yawn.

(AMC River East) D

Best of Enemies

(USA 2015)

This is the true story of the ten-night debates between William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal before the 1968 Presidential election. Culled mostly of footage from then-struggling third-place network ABC news archives, the best parts of the film are the debates themselves: Buckley and Vidal go after each other with biting, brutal wit. Best of Enemies highlights issues of class and ideology that we still see today—and amusingly shows things no one gets away with saying on broadcast television anymore.

I thought Best of Enemies would be more fun than it was. I also left the theater liking Buckley a lot more than Vidal, even though my personal politics are far more aligned with the latter. Buckley was charming; Vidal was not.

(Landmark Century) B-

A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence

(Sweden 2014)

It’s sad when the previews show the best part of a film. More a series of sketches strung together like clunky Christmas lights, Pigeon makes the not-so-grand point that life is long and dull and full of drudgery, and everyone goes through the same bullshit. The sentiment is promising, and I love the brand of dark, offbeat humor that pervades this film. The overall look works well: drab, empty long shots emphasize the mood.

It had its moments, but Pigeon never got off the ground for me: it was, well, long and dull and full of drudgery, repeating the same jokes ad infinitum. What a disappointment. Maybe I just don’t get Swedish humor—if such a thing exists.

(Gene Siskel Film Center) D-