Instant Gratification: “Room 237” and four other good movies available now on Netflix Instant


Pick of the week: “Room 237“: My full review is here.  Rodney Ascher’s playful and engrossing documentary is a love letter and a warning to film obsessives, as we watch “The Shining” through the eyes of five cinephiles with increasingly bizarre theories on the film’s “true” meaning. (Unfortunately, “The Shining” is not on Netflix.)

Crime film of the week: “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels“: Ah, I miss the days when Guy “Sherlock Holmes” Ritchie used to make movies like this, profane, twisty, fun crime films, in this case following several roughneck parties who collide over a pair of antique shotguns.

Action film of the week: “The Italian Job”: Not the Michael Caine original, but the American remake starring Mark Wahlberg, which is a pretty good heist film in its own right that makes good use of those Mini Coopers.

Comedy of the week: “The Last Days of Disco”: Whit Stillman’s 1998 film is a sly comedy of manners in the age of the Bee Gees, starring Kate Beckinsale and Chloe Sevigny.

Foreign film of the week: “Starbuck”: My full review is here. This French-Canadian film (which will be remade as “The Delivery Man” with Vince Vaughn in November) follows a middle-aged screw-up who finds that his sperm donations have resulted in him fathering over 500 children.


“The Lesser Blessed”: Trudging along familiar terrain in the Northwest Territories

Lesser Blessed

“The Lesser Blessed” screens Monday through Thursday at Point and Eastgate Cinemas. R, 1:30, two stars out of four.

Larry’s back and chest are covered in a network of ugly burn scars, his skin surface resembling the bleak landscapes of the Northwest Territories village where the First Nations teenager lives. And it also resembles the scars on his psychic landscape as well.

Writer-director Anita Doron’s well-acted but derivative coming-of-age drama, based on Richard van Camp’s young adult novel, makes the most of its unfamiliar setting, but is very familiar when it comes to its characters and plot points.

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What’s playing in Madison theaters, Oct. 4-9



All week

Gravity” (Point, Eastgate, Star Cinema, Sundance) – My full review is here. I’ve been looking forward to Alfonso Cuaron’s outer-space thriller for months,  and it did not disappoint.

Runner Runner” (Point, Eastgate, Star Cinema) – The screenwriters of “Rounders” return with another tale of poker, this time the world of offshore online gambling. Looks like they’re hand is a lot weaker this time.

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“Parkland”: Viewing Nov. 22, 1963 from the sidelines


“Parkland” opens Friday at Star Cinema and Sundance. PG-13, 1:33, three stars out of four.

You can tell “Parkland” was made by a journalist. Good journalists hunt for telling moments in a story, details that even the subjects might not think are important, but that illuminate matters from an unexpected angle.

“Parkland” is full of such moments. Written and directed by journalist Peter Landesman, based closely on Vincent Bugliosi’s massive work of nonfiction “Four Days in November,” the film dramatizes the events of Nov. 22, 1963 in Dallas, when John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

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“Gravity”: Still want to be an astronaut when you grow up, Susie?


“Gravity” opens Friday at Point, Eastgate, Star Cinema and Sundance. PG-13, 1:31, four stars out of four.

Below, the Earth slowly turns, lovely and unreachable. Above, an inky void of nothingness beckons. For 90 minutes Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity” suspends its characters between the two, building unbearable tension in a tale of survival at 366,000 feet.

There are quibbles to  be made about some of the more pedestrian aspects of “Gravity” — the characters are a little simply drawn, the dialogue sometimes too on the nose. But as an experience of pure cinema, an appreciation of its ability to show terrible and wonderful things, I can’t think of its equal in 2013.

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“Short Term 12”: Working with at-risk teens, and taking your work home with you


“Short Term 12” opens Friday at Sundance Cinemas. R, 1:36, three and a half stars out of four.

“Short Term 12” opens and closes with scenes that could be mirror images of each other, of a troubled teen attempting to escape his group home while his minders chase after him. The first time it’s played as tense drama, the second as almost uplifting comedy.

Same scenario, same characters. But writer-director Destin Daniel Cretton changes enough details to make the two scenes feel utterly different. And, more significantly, by the last scene we’ve spent so much time with these counselors and their charges, grown to love and worry for them, that our perspective is really what’s changed.

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“Drinking Buddies”: Hold me, thrill me, kiss me, beer me


“Drinking Buddies” plays Thursday, Oct. 3 at 7 p.m. and Saturday, OCt. 5 at 9:30 p.m. at the Marquee Theater in Union South, 1208 W. Dayton St. R, 1:30, three and a half stars out of four. FREE!

While I admire the UW-CInematheque for its mission to bring unusual and challenging films to the big screen, I fear it may have gone too far with “Drinking Buddies.” A romantic comedy set in the world of craft brewing? Who’s going to want to see that in Madison?

The truth is, of course, lots of people, especially since Joe Swanberg’s film is so good, simultaneously grounded in real emotional behavior and effervescent in its comedy. And it doesn’t hurt that the Cinematheque is screening it at the Marquee, where you can bring in a great craft beer purchased downstairs at the Sett.

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Instant Gratification: “Brighton Rock” and four other good movies to watch on Netflix Instant


A new month, a new crop of movies available to stream on Netflix Instant, including a bundle of great ’90s movies.

Pick of the week: “Brighton Rock” — This adaptation of an early Graham Greene novel updates the action to the “mods” vs. “rockers” gang wars of the 1960s, as a ruthless young gangster (Sam Riley) woos an innocent waitress (Andrea Riseborough). The film makes good contrast of its cheery seaside locations against its gritty underworld plot, and Helen Mirren and John Hurt make strong supporting roles.

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