Nine reasons to get excited about the UW-Cinematheque Fall 2015 calendar


I don’t know how it got to be mid-August already, but the long lines of college students at the Hilldale Target confirm it; fall is just around the corner.

By all means, savor those last humid drops of summer while you can. But don’t get too bummed out about autumn. First of all, you look great in that sweater from last year! And, secondly, it means a lot more good movies coming to Madison thanks to the just-announced UW-Cinematheque Fall 2015 calendar. Add in Spotlight Cinema at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, the programming at Union South’s Marquee Theatre, the Tales from Planet Earth Film Festival, the return of the Screening Room Calendar at Sundance Cinemas and all the Oscar contenders coming to theaters, and the fall harvest should be a bountiful one.

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“The Man From U.N.C.L.E.”: Espionage isn’t his strong suit


“The Man From U.N.C.L.E” opens Friday at Point, Palace and Star Cinemas. PG-13, 1:56, two and a half stars out of four.

You don’t want to watch “The Man From U.N.C.L.E,” you want to pore over it like it was a glossy catalog. Instead of updating the spy TV show to a modern era, Guy Ritchie (“Sherlock Holmes”) positively wallows in ’60s European style — the cars, the dresses, the music and especially the suits. There’s a rather witty scene with the two heroes arguing over which purse their female accomplice should wear with each outfit, and you think yeah, this could be the entire movie: “The Spy Who Loved To Tell Me What Not To Wear.”

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Post-show Sundance chats set for “Phoenix” and “Testament of Youth”

August .2013 Dreharbeiten zum CHRISTIAN PETOLD Film PHÖNIX mit Nina Hoss , Ronald Zehrfeld und Nina Kunzendorf Verwendung der Fotos nur in Zusammenhang mit dem Film PHÖNIX von Christian Petzold ( Model release No ) © Christian Schulz Mobil 01723917694

August .2013
mit Nina Hoss , Ronald Zehrfeld und Nina Kunzendorf
Verwendung der Fotos nur in Zusammenhang mit dem Film PHÖNIX von Christian Petzold
( Model release No ) © Christian Schulz
Mobil 01723917694

Just a quick update that I’ve scheduled the post-show chats for the next Sundance Cinemas Screening Room Calendar for September and October. The full Screening Room calendar is here. The chats have been really fun this year, and I’m looking forward to talking about these movies after the lights go up.

On Tuesday, Sept. 1, I’ll be doing a post-show chat after the evening performance of “Phoenix,” Christian Petzold’s Hitchcockian World War II drama starring Nina Hoss. And then on Tuesday, Oct. 5, we’ll be talking after “Testament of Youth,” a World War I drama starring Alicia Vikander of “Ex Machina” and Kit Harington of “Game of Thrones.”

The talks are free — just hang around in the theater after the lights go up. I think they’re both movies that will give us a lot to talk about. Hope to see you there!

“I Am Chris Farley”: A family portrait of a fearless, troubled comic genius


Here comes Chris Farley, entering his own documentary “I Am Chris Farley” doing cartwheels. It’s his first appearance on “The Late Show with David Letterman,” and it’s utterly delightful to see how Farley charms the pants off the normally reserved, arch host (Letterman is every bit Farley’s opposite) with his physical explosions of comedy and puppy-dog excitement at just being there.

In many ways, Farley never stopped doing cartwheels, right up until his tragic death of a drug overdose in December 1997. Eager to please, almost desperate for a laugh, and fearless about how to go about getting one, the through-line in “I Am Chris Farley” is of a kid who was driven to entertain. His brother John tells the story of a fourth-grade Chris leading the school bus in a rendition of “Joy to the World” on the way to school. With his shirt off, of course.

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Instant Gratification: “A Most Violent Year” and four other good movies to watch on Amazon Prime and Netflix


Pick of the Week: “A Most Violent Year” (Amazon Prime) — J.C. Chandor’s thriller about an ambitious heating oil salesman (Oscar Isaac) who tries to keep his hands clean (or clean enough) in a world of crime and corruption owes an obvious debt to great ’70s films by Sidney Lumet, Francis Ford Coppola and William Friedkin. But its exploration of the intersection between capitalism and morality seems utterly relevant in an age of “Corporations are people too, my friends.”

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“Dark Places”: Charlize Theron is a goner girl in ludicrous mystery


“Dark Places” opens Friday at Star Cinema. R, 1;54, two stars out of four.

A man sits in prison. He may not have committed the crime he’s convicted of. So why doesn’t he fight? Is he afraid? Is he protecting someone?

Or, as in the case of “Dark Places,” is the real solution to the mystery so silly and convoluted that he’s embarrassed to even say it out loud in a courtroom.

Adapted from the novel by Gillian Flynn, famous for “Gone Girl,” “Dark Places” starts off in a promising place and devolves quickly from there. Writer-director Gilles Paquet-Brenner (“Sarah’s Key”) completely loses the emotional thread of the story in a tangle of red herrings, false scares and wasted performances.

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Sundance Screening Room returns with “Infinitely Polar Bear,” “Phoenix” and “Uncle John”


After the usual summer break to make room for all those superheroes, Sundance Cinemas will launch its next Screening Room Calendar next week.

The series, for the uninitiated, sets aside Cinema 2 at the theater for a scheduled list of independent, foreign and documentary films. One of the nice things about the calendar is that it locks in some of these smaller films that have less publicity behind them, so you can see them coming and plan accordingly. And, unlike other Sundance offerings, the Screening Room movies are exempt from Sundance’s amenities fees.

Here’s a rundown of what’s coming, starting next week. I’m looking forward to doing post-show chats with a couple of these films — I’ll get back to you soon when I know which one, and when.

Aug. 14 — “Infinitely Polar Bear” — Writer-director Maya Forbes’ warm and personal film is based on her own experiences growing up in a biracial family in 1970s Boston with a bipolar father (wonderfully played here by Mark Ruffalo). Here’s my review from the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.

Aug. 21 — “Lambert and Stamp” and “Saint Laurent” — A real-life two-fer, one a documentary and the other a biopic. Rockists will enjoy learning how aspiring filmmakers Chris Stamp and Kit Lambert ended up managing The Who, while fashionistas will want to see how the famous designer Yves St. Laurent transformed style in the 1960s and 1970s. In addition, Sundance says they’ll be showing the Jennifer Connelly drama “Aloft” during the week, and have down on their online calendar that James Ponsoldt’s David Foster Wallace biopic “The End of the Tour” also opens this week. Busy!

August .2013  Dreharbeiten zum CHRISTIAN PETOLD Film PHÖNIX mit Nina Hoss , Ronald Zehrfeld und Nina Kunzendorf Verwendung der Fotos nur in Zusammenhang mit dem Film PHÖNIX von Christian Petzold ( Model release No ) © Christian Schulz Mobil 01723917694

August .2013
mit Nina Hoss , Ronald Zehrfeld und Nina Kunzendorf
Verwendung der Fotos nur in Zusammenhang mit dem Film PHÖNIX von Christian Petzold
( Model release No ) © Christian Schulz
Mobil 01723917694

Aug. 28 — “Phoenix” — Director Christian Petzold reteams with “Barbara” star Nina Hoss in this tense World War II drama about a Jewish-German nightclub singer who tries to uncover whether her husband betrayed her to the Nazis.

Sept. 4 — “Steve Jobs: Man in the Machine” — Michael Fassbender is nowhere to be found in documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney’s look at the world of Apple’s Steve Jobs.

Sept. 11 — “Queen of Earth” — Writer-director Alex Ross Perry reteams with Elisabeth Moss from “Listen Up Philip” in this tale of a grieving woman who falls into delusion and madness.

Sept. 18 — “Uncle John” — I’m really excited that this Wisconsin-made film, about a farmer (Josh Ashton) trying to cover up a deadly crime, is getting a theatrical run in Madison. Here’s an interview with the filmmakers from this year’s Wisconsin Film Festival.

Sept. 25 — “Listen to Me Marlon” — A documentary about Marlon Brando would be interesting enough, but this film draws from a wealth of private audio and video recordings Brando made that have never been shown before.

Oct. 2 — “Testament of Youth” — Alicia Vikander (“Ex Machina”) and Kit Harington (Jon Snow on “Game of Thrones”) star in this luminous World War I drama.


“Shaun the Sheep Movie”: Aardman’s latest is a shear pleasure


“Shaun the Sheep” opens Wednesday at Point, Palace and Star Cinema. PG, 1:24, three stars out of four.

My foolproof way to tell if my kids really liked a movie or not is whether they quote lines from the movie afterwards. I didn’t hear a peep out of them about “Minions,” while I’ll heard “That’s one messed-up looking dog” on repeat for days after “Ant-Man.”

But my theory grinds to a halt with the British studio Aardman Animation’s “Shaun the Sheep Movie,” as there are no lines to quote. There is not a line of dialogue in this 84-minute film, just bleats, grunts, growls, sighs, and the occasionally wordless singing. Which means the folks at Aardman have to be as clever at telling their story as they are at showing it via their trademark stop-motion animation.

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“My Beautiful Laundrette,” Daniel Day-Lewis, and the lick heard around the world


Before he was inspirational Abraham Lincoln, before he was ruthless Daniel Plainview, before he was terrifying Bill the Butcher, Daniel Day-Lewis licked a guy’s neck.

And not just a quick and gentle flick, but a slurp, a sexy and transgressive slurp so iconic that it’s the image that appears on the cover of the new Criterion Collection edition of Stephen Frears’ “My Beautiful Laundrette.”

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Instant Gratification: “The Hurt Locker” and four other good movies to watch on Netflix Instant


Pick of the week: “The Hurt Locker”My full review is here. Kathryn Bigelow’s unrelenting tense 2009 Oscar winner follows a three-man bomb squad in Iraq, trying to stay ahead of insurgents who have made every patch of ground a potential deathtrap. Bigelow rivals Michael Mann in her staging of spectacular, nerve-shredding action sequences that illuminate the character of the people involved.

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