All posts by Stephen Michael Brown

I've reviewed films for more than 30 years. Current movie reviews of new theatrical releases and streaming films are added weekly to the Silver Screen Capture movie news site. Many capsule critiques originally appeared in expanded form in my syndicated Lights Camera Reaction column.

“Secrets and Lies” a Dry, Droll British Drama

secrets_and_lies-poster Mike Leigh’s Secrets and Lies (B+) pairs Brenda Blethyn and Marianne Jean-Baptiste as long-lost mother and daughter reuniting. Because Leigh uses an impromptu screenwriting technique with his actors, the focus is on the character revelations, especially since mom is white and daughter is black, but the story suffers a bit with not too much to do once we’ve established this central conceit. Still, the actresses are so charming that their story washes over you, and you feel like you’re visiting with folks you’ve known all your life.

“Sling Blade” is Surprisingly Sentimental

Slicing into the heart of the American Gothic with razor-sharp perception, writer/director/actor Billy Bob Thornton carves out a startling yarn with the genre-slashing masterpiece Sling Blade (A). Thornton crafts a singular portrait of the South and of a man faced with a moral dilemma that may cause him to resort to violence. Alternately sweet in sequences with child actor Lucas Black and menacing when facing an alcoholic character played by Dwight Yoakam, the film sustains a delicate tone and a spellbinding sense of time and place as it builds to its finale.

David Cronenberg’s 1996 “Crash” Kinky, Bizarre

Director David Cronenberg uses car crashes as a stand-in for unusual fetishes, but his focus on this type of auto-erotica seems like more a delirious dissertation than an actual real thing in the erotic thriller Crash (C-). Nonetheless, James Spader, Holly Hunter and a game ensemble sell the heck out of the high-concept. But there’s only so long the hang-up on bang-ups can sustain.

“Space Jam” Scores with Families

Basketball superstar Michael Jordan proves to be the ultimate good sport in his film debut opposite Bugs Bunny in Joe Pytka’s family adventure Space Jam (B-). This blend of live action and animation surrounding an intergalactic hoops game to solve a rivalry is mostly throwaway, but the charms of favorite Looney Tunes characters will keep kids and adults entertained throughout the cheery, self-effacing glee.

“That Thing You Do!” A Fun, Frothy Confection

Tom Hanks’ directorial debut, That Thing You Do! (B+) is a light, fizzy film about the meteoric rise of a one-hit wonder band to the height of fame and fortune. Hanks as manager and the bright young cast he has assembled are a delight to watch as their characters sort out relationships once the band gets big. Filled with great music and period detail, this is a rich sleeper comedy.

Rush Performance Buoys “Shine”

Great music, superior performances and an engaging true life story of a pianist who suffers a mental breakdown culminate in a touching experience in Scott Hicks’ Shine (B+). Most of the film’s moments are genuinely mobbing, and Geoffrey Rush is a revelation.

“Mother” (1996) is Comedy Bliss

The auteur of anxiety Albert Brooks stars in and directs Mother (A-), a film about a twice-divorced writer who must move back in with his mom. She is magnificently played by the legendary Debbie Reynolds. This generation gap comedy presents an odd couple worth watching.

“People vs. Larry Flynt” is Fascinating Free Speech Movie

Milos Forman’s The People vs. Larry Flynt (A+) challenges viewers to re-think views on free speech as its antihero protagonist played by Woody Harrelson is a notorious peddler of pornography. His stripped bride played by Courtney Love helps him mount an unexpected defense in an unorthodox look at the limits of decency and how people in America can express themselves. Harrelson and Love are magnificent in their roles. Forman makes films very infrequently, but when he does, he generally contributes mightily to America’s film canon.

“Evita” is a Respectable Movie Musical Revolution

Pop goes the nation as Madonna assumes the role of Eva Peron in director Alan Parker’s faithful adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s rock opera Evita (A-). This sung-through political biography tells the rags-to-riches tale of Argentina’s most celebrated first lady with lush period detail, smashing musical numbers and surprisingly good sing-acting. Madonna was born for the role and acquits herself nicely with a pop-rock take on the typically Broadway belter role. Antonio Banderas is charismatic as Che, the omnipresent narrator. A meditation on stardom and how close we get to our political leaders before we realize they too are human, it’s a powerful musical epic.

“From Dusk Till Dawn” Gets Grisly

Robert Rodriguez’s From Dusk Till Dawn (D+) pairs George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino in a poorly-conceived vampire slasher film. Although some suspense and stunts are funny and sustained, most of it is unsavory and unsatisfying.

“The Birdcage” is Hilarious Comedy of Manners

Robin Williams and Nathan Lane are birds of a feather in Mike Nichols’ lightweight comedy The Birdcage (B), based on the French classic La Cage Aux Folles. Their tale of an alternative American family is filled with larger-than-life gags. But for all the preening queens run amuck, there are actually some nice domestic moments between the central couple and the son they reared together that blaze some trails on acceptance. It’s super-funny and proof that it takes all types to make a family.

“Fargo” a Comic Noir Triumph

They say that God is in the details. If this is the case, filmmaking brothers Joel and Ethan Coen find a multitude of moviemaking miracles in the strange terrain of Fargo (A-), a curious murder mystery full of sardonic humor, offbeat characters and unconventional wisdom. This is a great case of bleak chic, from the super-serious pregnant protagonist superbly played by Frances McDormand to ransoms, outlaws, a triple homicide and a wood chipper. In both their verbal and film language, the Coen Brothers’ Dakota pop is sure to take you where you’ve never been before.