The Great Buster: A Celebration

⋆⋆⋆½ out of four stars

Rated: Not rated. • Theater: Lagoon.

 

Silent comedies are stereotypically seen as vehicles for slapstick and pratfalls, but Buster Keaton’s films were capable of capturing much more. This documentary serves as a delightful reminder of that for those who recall his movies and a fine introduction for those who don’t know his work.

Director Peter Bogdanovich (“The Last Picture Show”) makes no pretense at objectivity — this is an out-and-out homage that, in addition to treating us to many digitally restored clips of Keaton’s work, offers testimony to his comic genius and importance as a director.

There’s archival footage and still photos from his first days as a performer (he appeared at age 3 in his parents’ vaudeville act) to his peak as a moviemaker in the late 1920s. The rest of the story is very sad. Unable to make the transition to the sound era, he became an alcoholic and suffered psychological troubles. In the following decades, he anonymously contributed gags to various movies, and took on bit parts in which his reduced condition was painfully clear.

But the film makes a compelling case that, at his best, he truly was “the Great Buster.” Any doubters are advised to see this movie, then treat themselves to a viewing of 1926’s “The General.” Case closed.

Walter Adiego, San Francisco Chronicle

 

A Private War ⋆⋆⋆½ out of four stars

Rated: R for disturbing images, profanity and brief nudity.

Theater: Lagoon.

 

War correspondent Marie Colvin fought not one but numerous personal battles in her violently abbreviated life, and director Matthew Heineman and star Rosamund Pike have joined forces to persuasively handle them all in this gripping, insightful biographical drama that is based on a 2012 Vanity Fair profile by Marie Brenner.

Colvin, a two-time winner of the British Foreign Journalist of the Year Award and something of a celebrity among her peers, was killed in Syria in 2012. She took the injustices of the world personally and made it her unwavering mission as a reporter to expose them as widely as possible. “I have to go to places where you could be killed, to make that suffering part of the record,” Pike as Colvin says in voice-over. “I see it so you don’t have to.”

More than that, Colvin fought to make people who were safe at home pay attention to those who were not. “I cared enough to go to these places to make someone else care,” she says. “We fail if we don’t face what war does.”

Perhaps inevitably, her work came at a steep personal price that included alcoholism and intense, disturbing bouts of post-traumatic stress disorder. The film pulls few punches in unflinchingly detailing on-screen — graphic nightmares included — the complexity of the effects war had on Colvin and the world surrounding her.

The filmmakers are fortunate in having Pike in the leading role. An actress who doesn’t always get the credit she should for potent work in unusual and challenging roles (“Gone Girl,” among others), Pike provides a fierce, lived-in performance, complete down to the drawn face and go-for-it personality that is so convincing that people who knew Colvin have been shaken at the resemblance.

Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times

 

Prospect ⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars

Rated: R for violence and bloody images. • Theater: Eagan.

 

It’s become a cliché to say that a fantasy adventure is “really a western.” But the comparison is unavoidable with this thoughtful science-fiction drama. Writer/directors Christopher Caldwell and Zeek Earl have made a movie about struggling pioneers seeking opportunities on a hostile frontier — which just happens to be another planet.

The movie features the usual gun-slinging outlaws and deadly standoffs. But it balances genre thrills with a detailed depiction of prospecting on an alien world, created via a mix of practical locations (shot in a damp forest) and some psychedelic digital backdrops.

Perhaps the best use of Caldwell and Earl’s limited budget is their cast. Sophie Thatcher plays Cee, a young woman weary of traveling across the heavens with her father, Damon (Jay Duplass), looking for resources to extract and sell. On one of their expeditions, she meets Ezra (Pedro Pascal), a grizzled rogue, who changes her perspective on survival in deep space.

The cast also includes Andre Royo and Anwan Glover as dangerous men. They help keep “Prospect” from becoming a gimmicky mash-up and make it more a study of real people just trying to get by far from civilization.

Noel Murray, Los Angeles Times