“Love Is Strange”: After “I do” comes the hard part


“Love is Strange” is now playing at Sundance Cinemas. R, 1:38, three and a half stars out of four.

Ira Sachs’ “Love is Strange” begins with a shot of hairy legs, intertwined in a bed. They belong to a longtime gay couple, Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina), who sleep together in a bed that’s much too small for them. It’s a shot of casual, taken-for-granted domestic bliss. In public, the couple are more discreet, walking a few feet apart on the street. The world may be changing, with gay marriage now legal in their native New York City, but they’ve lived long enough to know it doesn’t change that fast.

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See “Walking the Camino” director Lydia Smith at Sundance this weekend


I favorably reviewed “Walking the Camino” here on the blog, and over at 77 Square I did an interview with its director, Lydia B. Smith. The film is a  lovely documentary following six people walking the 500-mile Camino el Santiago in the north of Spain.

Smith was an interesting interview — while the film is very internal and spiritual minded, the road to make it was a labored and physical one. She spent three frustrating years with 300 hours of good footage she had shot in Spain, and no funds to turn it into a film, let alone distribute it. Eventually, she reached out to enough people who could donate, including high school friends she hadn’t seen in years, to finish the film. It’s become one of the top grossing documentaries of 2014, despite the fact that it doesn’t have a distributor like Sony Pictures Classics or Sundance Selects backing it up.

Smith is in Madison all weekend, and will host post-show Q&As after the 6:55 p.m. screening Saturday night and 1:50 p.m., 4:20 p.m., and 6:55 p.m. screenings on Sunday. With its gorgeous scenery, it’s a film well worth seeing on the big screen.

Read the interview here.


The five movies you have to see in Madison: Sept. 19-25, 2014


Pick of the week: “A Walk Among The Tombstones” (all week, Point, Eastgate, Star Cinema) — I’ve been a fan of Lawrence Block’s novels since I was a teenager, especially the Matthew Scudder novels, about an unlicensed, alcoholic private investigator with a lot of baggage and a tarnished moral code. Hollywood didn’t do very well by Scudder the last time (“Eight Million Ways to Die”), but this one looks like it’s nailed it. Neeson looks every bit the part, and writer-director Scott Frank was responsible for writing two of the best Elmore Leonard adaptations, “Get Shorty” and “Out of Sight.” I’ve got high hopes.

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“Tusk”: My, what big teeth you have now!


“Tusk” opens Friday at Point, Eastgate and Star Cinemas. R, 1:42, two and a half stars.

“Tusk” is basically a horror movie Kevin Smith made on a dare. He came up with the idea on his podcast with his partner Scott Mosier kind of as a joke, and when his legions of fans pushed him, he went ahead and made the movie.

It sounds like the worst sort of fan service — Movies Made To Order! — but there are moments in “Tusk” that represent some of the most assured filmmaking the “Clerks” and “Chasing Amy” writer-director has ever done. And when it sticks to that “do it on a dare” spirit, especially in its absolutely bonzo third act, “Tusk” can be a lot of fun.

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“Walking the Camino”: And I would walk five hundred miles


Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago” opens Friday at Sundance Cinemas. Director Lydia B. Smith will host post-show chats after the 6:55 p.m. Saturday show and the 1:50 p.m, 4:20 p.m. and 6:55 p.m. screenings on Sunday. Not rated, 1:17, three stars out of four.

“Walking the Camino” is, as the title suggests, a film about walking. No running, no driving, no thrills of any time. About the only drama that comes along is a painful blister on the bottom of a foot.

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“Only Lovers Left Alive”: One last drop of the good stuff

"only lovers left alive"

“Only Lovers Left Alive” has its Madison premiere on Wednesday, Sept. 17 at 7 p.m. at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, 227 State St. FREE for museum members, $7 for all others. R, 2:02, three and a half stars out of four.

They’re a middle-aged married couple who enjoy reading a great book, listening to rock on vinyl, and the occasional glass of a full-bodied red.

You can keep your buff, brooding bloodsuckers of “Twilight” and “True Blood.” The vampires in Jim Jarmusch’s “Only Lovers Left Alive” are Madison’s kind of vampires.

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Instant Gratification: “Silver Linings Playbook” and four other good movies to stream on Netflix


Pick of the week: “Silver Linings Playbook: My full review is here.  Writer-director David O. Russell messes with the traditional rom-com formula in this ragged and funny film about two not just eccentric but possibly damaged souls (Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence) who somehow figure out they’re good for each other. Where it’s going is easy to predict — how it gets there isn’t.

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“The Drop”: One last round with James Gandolfini


“The Drop” is now playing at Sundance and Eastgate Cinemas. R, 1:46, three stars out of four.

I had thought “Enough Said” was the late James Gandolfini’s final role, so it was a welcome if poignant surprise to see his graceful bulk move through one more movie, Michael Roskam’s crime drama “The Drop.” He plays Cousin Marv, a small-time Brooklyn hood who got pushed aside when the much nastier Chechen terrorists moved into the neighborhood.

Now, Cousin Marv sits in the bar he used to own, drinking and reading the paper, but Gandolfini puts the glint of what-might-have-been frustration in his eyes. Like Gandolfini, Cousin Marv bears watching.

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The five movies you have to see in Madison: Sept. 12-18, 2014


1. “The French Connection” (7 p.m. Friday, UW-Cinematheque, 4070 Vilas Hall) — The car chase, sure. That iconic car chase, in which Popeye Doyle (Gene Hackman) is barrelling underneath a New York City subway train containing his prey, is one for the ages. But the rest of William Friedkin’s 1971 film (kicking off a Friedkin retrospective at the Cinematheque) is a stone-cold classic, from the driven, unlikable Doyle’s pursuit to that bravura cat-and-mouse game between Fernando Rey and the cops in midtown Manhattan. But, yes, also the car chase. FREE!

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