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Thumbnails Oct 12

by Tony Medley

2016: Obama's America (10/10): Ignoring the controversies over Obama's birthplace and well-hidden school transcripts, writer/director Dinesh D'Souza partially pulls back the curtain surrounding the most inscrutable, secretive President in U.S. history in this examination of who Obama really is and, more important, why. D'Souza gives a new, revealing look at the mysterious man through his own words and interviews with family and others.

Lawless (9/10): What's brilliant about this movie is not only the Oscar®-quality acting by Tom Hardy and Guy Pearce , but the spellbinding evocative recreation of life in Franklin County, Virginia during Prohibition. The violence could cause some to find it troubling. But this was a tough time in America and that's what the movie is about, so you know what you're getting when you buy your ticket.

The Oranges (9/10): With a premise that is immoral and upsetting at its heart, this is laugh-out-loud funny. Hugh Laurie returns to the comic genre that gave him his start ("Blackadder") and he hasn't lost a step. While Leighton Meester sparkles in a difficult role, the tongue in cheek narration by Laurie's daughter, Alia Shawkat, had me in serious belly laughs.

Liberal Arts (8/10): Reminiscent of a young Albert Brooks movie (like 1985's Lost in America), although not as funny as Brooks at his best, this is deep and complex. Like Albert, this is an auteur performance by Josh Radnor, who wrote, directed, and stars. He has an appealing presence, with an easy smile and projects an immense likeability. He's aided by wonderful performances by Elizabeth Olsen, Zac Efron, Allison Janney, and Richard Jenkins. Adding charm to the movie is the shooting location at Radnor's alma mater, Kenyon College, an impossibly picturesque Ohio location with tree-lined walkways, comfy dormitories, and delightful white brick buildings.

Trouble With the Curve (8/10): People still watch and read Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz even though they stray far from reality. So who cares if this syrupy film is closer to a fairytale than real life? Superstar Clint Eastwood is a cantakerous baseball scout/father playing off Oscar®-nominated Amy Adams as his lawyer/daughter who feels ignored. With both at the top of their games, who could ask for more? If you want more, though, there is a terrific performance by Matthew Lillard as a Machiavellian bad guy.

Arbitrage (8/10): Richard Gere returns after a four year absence to give a scintillating performance in this complex Bernie Madoff-inspired tale of wrongdoings on Wall Street.

Premium Rush (5/10): I got tired of all the cinéma-vérité bicycle-riding shots of Joseph Gordon-Levitt cutting in and out of traffic, going the wrong way on one way streets and running red lights early on and started looking at my watch less than 30 minutes into the film. Alas, there's little story, and the film continues with 61 more minutes of bicycle riding and chases.

End of Watch (4/10): Director/writer Bill Ayer shows the typical LAPD cop as being an over-the-top vulgarian who can't utter three words in a row without two of them being the F word. One of the most foul-mouthed movies I have ever had the misfortune to sit through, this presents an LAPD comprised of immature people straight out of Animal House. That's a shame because the action is intense, the cops (Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña) are shown to have good hearts, and the incidents that they have to deal with are shocking.

Pitch Perfect (1/10): Obviously aimed at 13 year-old girls, this is a film that is mostly annoying. Starring Anna Kendrick and Brittany Snow, it's the story of a bunch of college kids who devote every waking moment to an a cappella singing contest. The setup scenes are ludicrous but not as silly as the various characters.