Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine is one of his best, while Blackfish and The Attack are thought-provoking

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Mark Wahlberg  and Denzel Washington have an uneasy alliance as a couple of guys trying to scam a Mexican druglord (Edward James Olmos). They deliver forged passports but don’t get the cocaine they expect. So, they rob a bank where he stashes some of his money, find $40 million more than they expect and soon find Bill Paxton, as a CIA agent, on their tail. And what’s more, each finds the other is not a small-time crook at all. They’re both federal agents, Denzel with drug enforcement and Mark with the Navy.  The story, from a graphic novel, gets pretty convoluted as more and more twists show up. They make sense as they come but near the end you’re left wondering, how did we get here? Don’t dwell on it.  As Denzel  says a couple of times: “It takes whatever it takes.” The two stars have an amiable chemistry and director Baltasar Kormákur (from Iceland, known for the hit film Contraband, also with Wahlberg) keeps things light, fast and violent. (Scotiabank and suburban theatres (3 out of 5) 

THE ATTACK: While we watch John Kerry nudging forward those Israeli-Palestinian talks, here’s a useful drama. It’s partly a backgrounder on what’s at stake, partly a look at the impact on people and also a compelling mystery. The director, Ziad Doueiri, worked on several Quentin Tarantino films and knows how to move a story along with a deliberate pace and a firm hold on our attention.


In the story, from an international best seller by Yasmina Khadra, a Palestinian doctor working in Tel Aviv, gets a major award one day and has to treat casualties of a suicide bombing the next. Then he’s told his wife was the bomber and, after identifying her body in the morgue, is subject to a harsh interrogation. He sets out to find out what made her do it, and by extension why women are often sent to do such acts. His search takes him to Nablus, in the occupied territories, and to a radical imam’s mosque. The film is an austere but intelligent exploration of the divide and lets us feel the emotions on both sides. Ali Suliman gives a subtle performance, turning fearful and paranoid amid the growing tension and suspicion but clinging to his philosophy that “Every Jew is a bit Arab and every Arab a bit Jewish.” (5th Avenue Cinemas) 4 out of 5                 

FRUITVALE STATION:  Robert Dziekański  at the airport, now that TTC incident in Toronto, and here’s a similar story from San Francisco. It happened five years ago, when a transit cop shot and killed a young man in a BART station. (That’s the bay area rapid transit system).  People caught the incident on cell phone cameras and protests and riots followed.  Ryan Coogler won awards at both Sundance and Cannes for this gripping film, which he wrote and directed.


Michael B Jordan (known for TV’s The Wire and Friday Night Lights) plays 22-year-old Oscar Grant. He’s no angel; he’s been in jail and dealt drugs but what happened to him was an outrage. The film starts with cell phone video of the actual incident and then shows his last day develop with the stark feel of inevitability. We get a portrait of a young trying to turn his life around, staying optimistic even as he loses his job, setting out for a New Year’s celebration with friends, going there, not by car, but by transit, on the suggestion of his mother  (Octavia Spencer, Oscar winner for The Help). Then we get an altercation on the transit car and a chaotic scene as the police try to get control but only make things worse. This is an exceptionally moving film, disturbing at the end but as we know from other actual events, a valuable exposition.  (5th Avenue Cinemas) 4  out of 5 

THE SMURFS 2: Only the people liked the first film, two years ago. They made it a huge hit and so we have this sequel, better in a few ways, bigger in all ways and pretty much the same overall. The gentle whimsy of the Smurfs cartoons again gives way to action and noise. Kids love it.


The Smurfs (led by Jonathan Winters, in his last performance) again have to team up with Neil Patrick Harris to fight the evil wizard Gargamel. He’s a big star in Paris, entertaining huge crowds at the opera house and (with scenery chewing relish by Hanz Azaria) plotting a Smurf takeover by converting some characters he controls called “naughties.”  Smurfette (Katy Perry) knows the spell he needs, so he kidnaps her and that brings Papa’s rescue party. Like many movies this summer, the film gets carried away with excess.  There are big chase scenes and a threat at one point of a “total Smurfageddon”. On the technical side, the animation is more detailed than last time and the interaction between toons and humans is better. There are also great flying sequences around familiar Paris landmarks, Notre Dame Cathedral for instance.  The film is energetic, frantic at times, and safe for parents.  (International Village, The Dolphin and many suburban theatres) 2½ out of 5

RAY HARRYHAUSEN TRIBUTE:  He was an artist of special effects, specifically stop-motion animation. He won an Academy Award in 1949 and then perfected a process he called Dynamation through which he put some remarkable scenes on the movie screen.


He died early in May of this year and to honor him the Cinemathque is showing two of his best films, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958), his first color film; and Jason and the Argonauts (1963). That’s the one with perhaps his most famous sequence, the skeleton sword fight that still looks good today. Here’s a chance to see it on a big screen. Both films  play Sunday through Wednesday. Check the website: 

NOTE: All images are movie stills provided by the studios. They are the exclusive property of their copyright owners.


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