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Funny, fascinating look at young adults in contemporary America is writer/director Noah Baumbach’s best work.

Is it worth $10? Yes

“Mistress America” is about two people who dream of wild success but have no idea how to achieve it. Worse, they lack the stick-to-itiveness to dedicate themselves to figuring out how to achieve it, and as such writer/director Noah Baumbach’s (“While We’re Young”) film becomes a fascinating look at today’s young adults and why – due to personal, cultural and technological factors – many can’t seem to navigate their way to success.

We expect Tracy (Lola Kirke) to be a bit lost. She’s a college freshman who is lonely and an outcast. She wants to be a writer, but lacks the knowledge and inspiration to do quality work. When she gets a crush on Tony (Matthew Shear) she thinks the feeling is mutual until one day he shows up with a girlfriend (Jasmine Cephas Jones) whom he met after he started hanging out with Tracy. So yes, Tracy is that girl: The disaffected, lovelorn, dowdy, intelligent and deep-down nice person the world likes to either ignore or eat up and spit out.

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“Learning to Drive” wrestles with being generic and manages to come out on top, for the most part.

Is it worth $10? Yes

Currently, there are no better actors than Ben Kingsley and Patricia Clarkson. Yes, a special few might be on par with them, but one would be hard pressed to find better.  Since “Learning to Drive” stars both of them, it already has a lot going for it. But does the rest of the movie rise to the heights of its stars?

Ben Kingsley plays Darwan, an Indian born Sikh living in New York City. He works two jobs as a driving instructor and a taxi driver at night. With no love life to speak of, he considers an arranged marriage his family has set up for him. Eventually, he crosses paths with Wendy (Patricia Clarkson), a freshly divorced literary critic. During her 21-year marriage, Wendy had an over dependence on her ex for many things, including transportation. Wendy, consequently, hires Darwan to finally teach her how to drive, with the lessons becoming more about her independence and proving that she can get along without her husband and less about simply learning to drive. As Wendy and Darwan get to know each other, they develop a strong bond that heals their emotional wounds, but does that bond turn into something more?

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These great debates from the 1960’s scored big ratings, but what resonates in this doc is the pure hatred the participants shared.

Is it worth $10? Yes

It had all the makings of a heavyweight showdown: Two titans, proven in their fields and with huge followings, squaring off for ten rounds, fighting tooth and nail for superiority. But instead of being boxers, they were political pundits. Instead of gloves, they used words. And instead of shaking hands after a well-fought battle, their mutual hatred continued until their deaths more than 40 years later.

The combatants – William F. Buckley Jr. and Gore Vidal – represented opposing ways of life, which is why fledgling ABC News hired them to debate one another during the Republican and Democratic national conventions in the summer of 1968. While the ratings-leading CBS and NBC presented the conventions in full, ABC offered snippets of the conventions and the Buckley/Vidal debates. In doing so and finding great success, ABC created the “talking head” punditry that’s pervasive in television news programming today.

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Great action drives this thrill-a-minute reboot.

It’s been 30 years since he’s been on the big screen, and even though he’s played by a different actor, Max Rockatansky is still as mad as can be. I guess that if I had to survive in a post-apocalyptic world and went into a desert wasteland where water is scarce and dispensed at the will of a tyrant I’d be pretty ticked off too.

Tom Hardy plays the title character in “Mad Max: Fury Road,” taking over the role that Mel Gibson made famous in the 1980s. This time Max finds himself the captive of Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne—Toecutter in the original “Mad Max” from 1979). Joe runs an enclave in the desert where hundreds of thirsty people claw and fight for every drop of water they can get—that is, once Joe feels magnanimous enough to let them have water.

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This tribal song for the young, aimless and angsty will especially appeal to Efron and electronic music fans. 

Is it worth $10? Yes

Zac Efron is at a tenuous, potentially make-or-break point of his career. No longer a teen sensation but still a heartthrob at 27 years old, it’s imperative that he starts moving on to adult-oriented roles so he can gradually transition to the next phase of his career. If he doesn’t do this, there will not be a next phase of his career.

In “We Are Your Friends” Efron plays Cole, an aspiring DJ who never went to college, sleeps in his friend’s pool house and plays small-time gigs for little money. It’s a smart “transition to adulthood” character for Efron to take on. The almighty box office will ultimately determine his long-term viability, but he’s solid here as a lost soul trying to make his way in a world that isn’t accepting him with open arms.

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Val Kilmer’s performance as Jim Morrison is one of the best you’ll ever see.

The movie is called “The Doors,” but it should really be titled “Jim Morrison.” After all, as it’s pointed out to Jim (Val Kilmer) by more than one person, he is the one that people go to see. The other members of the band--Ray Manzarek (Kyle MacLachlan) on keyboards, Robby Krieger (Frank Whaley) on guitar, and John Densmore (Kevin Dillon) on percussion—are all there to back him up. Jim wrote most of the lyrics for Doors’ songs, and he had a strangely poetic way with words. He knew how to conjure up bizarre images in the listeners’ minds. He also was the front man for the band, and his captivating stage presence packed crowds into concert venues.

Director Oliver Stone makes it clear from the beginning that the focus is on Jim Morrison. He starts “The Doors” on a desert highway in New Mexico in 1949 as young Jim (Sean Stone) sits in the back seat of a car as his family drives past an accident that involves some Native Americans. Morrison is known for having an interest in shamans, mysticism, and mind-altering drugs. This incident in the life of young Jim is crucial, since it’s the catalyst that led him down the path of seeking out the stranger aspects of Midwestern Native American culture, which impacted his life and his art so deeply.

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Not funny, not exciting, not really all that interesting.

Is it worth $10? No

“American Ultra” lost me in its opening scene and never got me back. This is one of those movies in which the ending is immediately revealed and we work back to that dramatic moment teased early on, which is almost always a storytelling mistake. Doing this undermines any drama or tension the film may have, essentially forcing us to think “how did he get there?” as opposed to the much-preferred “where is he going?”, and all for no good reason.

But wait, it gets worse! Not only do we learn where the protagonist, Mike (Jesse Eisenberg), will end up, director Nima Nourizadeh (“Project X”) then gives us a reverse-chronological rapidly edited flashback that show moments from the film all the way back to three days earlier. The big question is why do this? There is no reason to structure the story this way, as it adds nothing to the narrative aside from inevitability. The filmmaker’s hope is that the opening tease will get us hooked and intrigued; seeing a battered and bruised Mike in handcuffs about to be interrogated in a well-lit room, followed by close-ups of random pictures, isn’t nearly enough to draw us in.

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Recent Articles

Mistress America ***
Funny, fascinating look at young adults in ...
Learning to Drive ***
“Learning to Drive” wrestles with being ...
Best of Enemies ***1/2
These great debates from the 1960’s scored big ...
Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Mad Max: Fury Road
Great action drives this thrill-a-minute ...
We Are Your Friends **1/2
This tribal song for the young, aimless and ...

Best Movie In Theaters Now: Best Of Enemies

These great debates from the 1960’s scored big ratings, but what resonates in this doc is the pure hatred the participants shared.

Is it worth $10? Yes

It had all the makings of a heavyweight showdown: Two titans, proven in their fields and with huge followings, squaring off for ten rounds, fighting tooth and nail for superiority. But instead of being boxers, they were political pundits. Instead of gloves, they used words. And instead of shaking hands after a well-fought battle, their mutual hatred continued until their deaths more than 40 years later.

The combatants – William F. Buckley Jr. and Gore Vidal – represented opposing ways of life, which is why fledgling ABC News hired them to debate one another during the Republican and Democratic national conventions in the summer of 1968. While the ratings-leading CBS and NBC presented the conventions in full, ABC offered snippets of the conventions and the Buckley/Vidal debates. In doing so and finding great success, ABC created the “talking head” punditry that’s pervasive in television news programming today.

Read more