Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Big Short, Sisters, Son of Saul, Dream/Killer, Sound of Redemption: The Frank Morgan Story, The Messenger, (T)error

The Big Short


Son of Saul


Sound of Redemption: The Frank Morgan Story

The Messenger


Quick capsules on the last of the pre-holiday releases:

Solid performances by Ryan Gosling and Brad Pitt – and better than that by Christian Bale (and much better than that Steve Carell, who’s had a heck of a year) – mark Adam McKay’s inordinately enjoyable and out-of-the-box “The Big Short,” which misses a spot on my top ten list only by turning a tad preachy and redundant toward the end… “Sisters,” directed by Jason Moore from a screenplay by Paula Pell, puts a cherry atop a great year for American movie comedy and female comedy stars in particular. 2015 is when the seeds planted by the brilliant “Bridesmaids” bore such fruit as Melissa McCarthy’s “Spy,” Amy Schumer’s “Trainwreck,” and this gem from Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. The audience is putty in their hands for the entire two hours, and rewarded with a bevy of instant-classic lines and scenes. This will be a “girls’ night in” movie for years to come, but it’s also perfect for guys: score brownie points with your lady and laugh your butt off in the bargain… The first 20 minutes of László Nemes’ “Son of Saul,” inside the undressing rooms from which Jews walked into the gas chambers at Auschwitz, are among the most mesmerizing of the year. When it goes outside, the movie falls off a cliff, and I fell asleep for at least an hour. Never a good sign when you walk out of a concentration-camp movie feeling refreshed.

From the documentary aisle: A solid recommendation for Andrew Jenks’ “Dream/Killer,” imperfectly titled and marketed as a movie about a man convicted on the basis of another man’s dream. In point of fact, it’s a standard wrongful conviction story, with a duplicitous prosecutor, a lying eyewitness, and a painfully in-over-his-head defense attorney. Still, these stories always get to me, and at least there’s a happy ending… A mild rec for the breezy jazz biodoc “Sound of Redemption: The Frank Morgan Story,” about a brilliant alto saxophonist whose addiction to heroin landed him several times in San Quentin, where he led a prison band that toured other facilities and was the warden’s pride… Another rec for Su Rynard’s somewhat diffuse “The Messenger,” about the decline in the population of songbirds that’s best when it focuses on simple things (turning off office lights at night) that can save birds’ lives… Finally, a mild thumbs down for David Felix Sutcliffe’s and Lyric R. Cabral’s “(T)error,” about “Shariff,” a former Black Panther turned FBI counterterrorism informant. He’s a braggart and a small-timer and, while no Nobelist, makes the filmmakers look naïve to the point of obtuse by comparison. Their sympathies are also misplaced. Granted, the FBI may be heavy-handed and may chase some wild geese, but the world’s a better place with people such as Tarik Shah and Khalifa al-Akili behind bars.

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