Joshua Astrachan

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Short Term 12 Review


Excellent

Documentary-style authenticity gives this understated drama a real kick as it explores the fallout of child abuse from an angle we'd never expect. But this isn't the usual devastatingly gloomy approach, as filmmaker Cretton creates people and situations that are so honest that we have no trouble identifying with them. And he remains realistic and hopeful about the future.

The story centres on Grace (Larson), a counsellor at a short-term group home for at-risk teens. She's secretly in a relationship with her colleague Mason (Gallagher), and has a shock when she learns that she's pregnant. The real surprise is how this news dredges up memories of her own troubled childhood. But she doesn't have much time to take care of herself, because she, Mason and their coworkers (Malek and Beatriz) have a variety of kids who need their help. These include Marcus (Stanfield), who's about to turn 18 and move out on his own, and new arrival Jayden (Dever), who keeps trying to run away to see her abusive father.

Writer-director Cretton reveals Grace's personal history only as she's willing to face it herself. This allows Larson to deliver a remarkably transparent performance, as we see her confronting things she won't admit to herself. Her scenes with Gallagher are packed with jagged emotion as all of these issues swell up around them. And we can see that Mason's past in much more stable foster homes has given him more tools to handle these things.

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Friends With Kids Review


Excellent
With a hilariously smart script and a terrific cast, this romantic comedy rises far above the pack, engaging us emotionally and intellectually while offering some telling observations on the state of modern relationships.

Jason (Scott) and his best friend Julie (Westfeldt) are a bit horrified when their coupled pals Leslie and Alex (Rudolph and O'Dowd) and Ben and Missy (Hamm and Wiig) have children. So they decide to have a child without the baggage of a relationship, freeing them to find the right person once they're already single parents. Their baby son is adorable, and raising him brings them closer as friends while allowing them to pursue romances with the hot Mary Jane (Fox) and the sexy Kurt (Burns). But no one else is buying it.

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A Prairie Home Companion Review


Very Good
Even among NPR fans - already a rather specific group - there is somewhat of a rift when it comes to the weekly program, A Prairie Home Companion. It's the sort of corny jokes and quaint folk singing that went out of fashion a half-century ago, and to listeners it can be a soothing throwback -- unbearably, cloyingly sweet -- or, to folks who drink Tab cola and wear Reading Rainbow screen-print tees, so uncool it's hip.The film of the same name is really just a barely fictionalized version of the radio show - the content is the same, the gentle, homey sensibility certainly is the same; the only real difference is the parts are played by superstar talent. So it has precisely the same appeal and built-in fans of the program. Fans of director Robert Altman will be most pleased. If you aren't a follower already, well, there is precisely nothing here to win you over. It's A Mighty Wind without the irony.Despite decades of popularity, it's the end of the road for A Prairie Home Companion, because the radio station was sold to a Texas corporation (undoubtedly one in the oil business) that sent someone north to fire the cast and raze the theatre. Flitting between onstage and off are the cast and crew, now abuzz at the thought of a looming axe: a pair of floopy, scattered singing sisters; two ribald cowpokes; a stage manager harried by the performers' eccentricities; a tritely rebellious teenager; a weepy sandwich lady and her lover; a blonde in a white trench coat acting as a ham-fisted filmic device; and a house detective so trapped in the dames-and-private dick era that he's named Guy Noir. At the center of it all is Garrison Keillor, playing himself as the unflappable, vaguely bewildered host of the program.The manic energy, overlapping scenes, and meandering (and often unresolved) storylines are all Altman trademarks, to be sure, but as scripted by Keillor, they all fit in nicely with this cozy brand of Americana. Also, the setting falls in with Altman's affinity for setting films amid the controlled chaos that goes into creating art, which has led him to making some masterpieces (The Player) and some majestic flops (Ready to Wear). Companion, it must be said, is neither.It does hop with rapid-fire wit, and the cast is enviable, if occasionally baffling. The standouts are hardly surprising - Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin are charming as the flighty Johnson sisters; Kevin Kline embraces anachronism as the hapless Noir; and though it seems unfair to commend him for playing himself, Keillor is a delightful center to the storm. And though she may appear incongruous on the list of heavy-hitters and accomplished character players, Lindsay Lohan, playing Streep's sulky daughter, is either quite sweet or not intolerable, depending on how tired you are of her tabloid persona.The missteps are unmistakable, though, glaring despite the frantic pace and mishmash of characters and stories. Plot points are picked up and promptly dropped, which is simply ambiance when it is a running joke about how Keillor got into radio, but feels inappropriate when it is the death of one of the show's regulars. Including a luminescent angel of death worked well in All That Jazz, but here, poor Virginia Madsen is saddled with a clunky, useless, monotone role that is utterly pointless. And the unevenness of the Noir character is aggressively irritating - fart humor and slapstick who's-on-first routines? Really? That's beneath this film, or it should be.Perhaps the stylings of Keillor and Altman are oddly too well-suited. For rabid Companion fans - and perhaps avid Altman followers as well - the film is like watching something you have seen and loved a hundred times already, but in some new way. If you are outside the built-in audience, however, the entire film is an inside joke: someone can explain it to you, but it will never be as fun as if you just... got it.Can I get an Amen?

The Company Review


Extraordinary
Thank you, Robert Altman. Coming fast on the heels of one of the worst moviegoing years of recent memory, The Company appears like a wondrous beacon of light. (It even trumps Altman protégé Alan Rudolph's clear-eyed ode to middle class challenges, The Secret Lives of Dentists.) Altman casts his gaze upon the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago: their days and nights, their strict regime and straight-ahead pursuit of artistic expression, and the grueling physical toll of stretching their bodies to the limit. Opening with a modern dance number with performers in skin-tight costumes racing across the stage with multi-colored banners, The Company is like a direct appeal to the heart and mind, to which I can only exclaim, "Wonderful!" and "Beautiful!" It's a reminder of what cinema can do, and the poetry of the dancer's movements is corresponded to with Altman's visual panache, his use of vivid colors, his vividly imaginative framing.

It shames flashy movies like The Matrix sequels, which adopt surface style and frenetic movement but lack sheer, sumptuous vision. Altman's movie isn't just a pretty sheen ("I hate pretty!" snaps Malcolm McDowell as the head of the ballet company), it's a full audio-visual experience. For all the limbs blown apart in Matrix Revolutions it's got nothing on the Company dancers bandaging their bruised heels and toes, or the horrifying moment when a tendon snaps during a rehearsal. It's something we can respond to, relate to. It's emotion pictures, corresponding to the vibrant, emotive images of the dance.

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Joshua Astrachan Movies

Short Term 12 Movie Review

Short Term 12 Movie Review

Documentary-style authenticity gives this understated drama a real kick as it explores the fallout of...

Friends With Kids Movie Review

Friends With Kids Movie Review

With a hilariously smart script and a terrific cast, this romantic comedy rises far above...

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A Prairie Home Companion Movie Review

A Prairie Home Companion Movie Review

Even among NPR fans - already a rather specific group - there is somewhat of...

The Company Movie Review

The Company Movie Review

Thank you, Robert Altman. Coming fast on the heels of one of the worst moviegoing...

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