Thursday, July 20, 2017

Weekend Movie Guide

Tom Hardy stars in Dunkirk

The Big Sick - 4 Stars. Pakistani comic Kumail Nanjiani hits the sweet spot of tension between culture, generations, and romance in a serious rom-com about his relationship with his wife. Charming!

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 - 3½ Stars. Delightful follow-up  to the original summer blockbuster action movie starring Chris Pratt. Funny, ironic, and a lot of fun.

Dunkirk - 3 Stars. Christopher Nolan recreates the stirring British retreat, aided by civilian boats at the beginning of World War II.

Baby Driver - 3 Stars. "La La Land" as a crime story. Ansel Elgort drives a getaway car, listening to nonstop music (the film is shot to fit the music, rather than the other way around.) Violent, but exhilarating.

Wonder Woman - 3 Stars. Gal Gadot makes a thrilling debut as the iconic superhero. A super script combines origin story, humor, and superhero action.

Spider-Man: Homecoming - 3 Stars. Easy-to-like reboot of the comic book character, thanks to Tom Holland's delightful take on the superhero as a high school geek, and Michael Keaton's delicious villain.

War for the Planet of the Apes - 3 Stars. This series continues to turn out surprisingly good (and even thoughtful) stories based on intelligent apes taking over the world from humans.

Beatriz at Dinner - 3 Stars. Healer/therapist Salma Hayek winds up at a dinner party for the one percent, and exposes the ugly side of wealth & privilege, in unexpected and even otherworldly ways.

Cars 3 - 2 Stars. Great animation and voice work in a totally unnecessary sequel.

The Exception - 2 Stars - Christopher Plummer as Kaiser Wilhelm exiled during World War 2, with Lily James as a servant/spy. Interesting historic sidebar, but stretches things just a tad too much.

A Ghost Story - 1 Star - Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara in a slow as molasses shaggy dog story.  I'm not buying it.

The Little Hours - 1 Star - Alison Brie, and Aubrey Plaza as nuns gone wild when Dave Franco joins the convent as a handyman.  Plays like an extended Saturday Night Live sketch.

The Beguiled - 1 Star. Sophia Coppola remake of an early 70s Clint Eastwood thriller, about a Union soldier taken in by a Confederate girl's school during the Civil War. Slow and unbelievable.

Dunkirk Review - 3 Stars

"Dunkirk" will likely join the ranks of great war movies, thanks to the expertise of director Christopher Nolan, best known for high-octane, summer fare including "The Dark Knight" and "Interstellar." Nolan turns history into a countdown action thriller. The time is May 1940. The Germans have outflanked French and British troops, pushing them to Dunkirk beach, just across the channel from England. In the opening scene, leaflets shower the doomed soldiers. "You are here," they read, showing the sea on one side and the Germans on the other three. History buffs know the British government called on civilians to pilot their boats across the channel and bring home as many soldiers as possible. In all, the civilian and military retreat saved over 300,000. "Dunkirk" recreates the rescue in three parallel stories... land, air, and sea. Tom Hardy fights the Germans in the sky, while Fionn Whitehead shows us the story from the ground; and Mark Rylance represents boat owners answering their nation's call. Sometimes the three stories are hard to follow. The soldier on the ground feels like a composite of several experiences into one. The aerial dogfights certainly amp up the action. Mark Rylance represents man's better nature, stating that middle-aged men caused the fighting and therefore must do their part. Nolan avoids the usual word salad explaining the war and the aftereffect of this event. I went home and read about Dunkirk. How many movies prompt you do to that? "Dunkirk," rated PG-13 and 3 star. Does it deliver what it promises? War movie from three angles. Is it entertaining? Epic. Is it worth the price of admission? History buffs will love.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

War for the Planet of Apes Review - 3 Stars

The reboot of the "Planet of the Apes" series continues to surprise. The series turns out enjoyable, thought-provoking stories, told with impressive computer animation and acting. The story began with medical experiments on an ape named Caesar, who develops intelligence, the ability to talk, and the kind of leadership qualities that gave his creators second thoughts. This "Dawn" led to a "Rise" and now a "War," pitting Caesar against Woody Harrelson, who leads a renegade army, determined to wipe out the species. Harrelson's troops kill some of Caesar's family. The once peace-loving primate wants revenge. With the help of loyal friends, including a wise orangutan, a mute human girl, and a new character voiced by Steve Zahn, they track Harrelson to his lair, but their plan goes awry. Caesar is captured and enslaved, along with hundreds of his species. I have a little trouble seeing past Woody Harrelson to his character, a latter day Marlon Brando from "Apocalypse Now." Still, Woody has moments that almost gave me goosebumps. The reference is certainly made on purpose. In one scene, some of the ape prisoners find an escape tunnel where a former inmate has conveniently written "Ape-pocalypse Now." Much of the acting is silent, approaching the grand days of silent cinema. The addition of a mute human girl adds a plot twist. Many humans suffer from an ape-based disease that causes loss of voice and regression, the opposite of the continually evolving apes. "War for the Planet of the Apes" delivers more than a favorite series reboot: It makes you think. After all, who do you think wins this war? "War for the Planet of the Apes," 3 stars, rated PG-13. Does it deliver what it promises? Fascinating story, told well. Is it entertaining? Better than expected. Is it worth the price of admission? Yes.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Spider-Man: Homecoming Review - 3 Stars

Just when you think the superhero movie has had enough remakes, reboots and rehashes... along comes a story with just enough freshness to win you over. "Spider-Man: Homecoming" made me smile, thanks to Tom Holland's take on the superhero, a geeky 15-year-old high school kid who had a taste of glory in "Captain America: Civil War." Spider-Man joining the Marvel producing team feels like a baseball player joining the Yankees. This switch allows Spider-Man to interact with Robert Downey Jr.'s "Iron Man," and adds a nice adult-to-kid touch. As Spider-Man, Tom Holland finds his inner goofball, as he tries desperately to improve the world, but not quite succeeding. In addition, he must deal with high school, and a crush on a girl named Liz, a brainy member of the school IQ team. Michael Keaton has an equally witty turn as the bad guy. I like that the writers show us Keaton in the alien reclamation business: He recycles the mess made in those many third act finales that destroy large sections of downtown buildings. Keaton has a modern day business cleaning up the mess and recycling any junk he can sell.  As an even funnier twist, Homeland Security shuts him down. Naturally, Keaton keeps just enough alien gear to fashion a giant bird machine; and yes, I get the reference to "Birdman." This latest "Spider-Man" won me over with an unexpected third act twist. Most superhero movies lead into the same finale. At least this time, the filmmakers found a different way to go. "Spider-Man: Homecoming," rated PG-13 with 3 stars. Does it deliver what it promises? Likable superhero. Is it entertaining? Good energy and smile quotient. Is it worth the price of admission? For fans.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Big Sick Review - 4 Stars

Stand-up comic Kumail Nanjiani breathes new life into the motion picture romantic comedy in "The Big Sick." Embellishing on the story of his romance with his now wife, Nanjiani threads the culture clash needle between a North Carolina-bred psychology student (and her parents) and a first-generation Pakistani, whose parents demand he agree to an arranged marriage with a Pakistani woman. The couple meet, after she heckles him during a performance. They resist getting serious. The more they resist, the more serious they get. The crisis comes when he confesses he can't marry a white woman. Boy gets girl, boy loses girl. But then, she develops a mystery illness, which escalates to a hospital stay, followed by medically-induced coma. Nanjiani bonds with her parents (beautifully portrayed by Holly Hunter and Ray Romano.) Meanwhile, Nanjiani's parents continue to subject him to a parade of possible mates, who somehow manage to "drop in," whenever he visits. "The Big Sick" hits its stride when he confesses his love for a white girl to his parents' horror & displeasure. This leads to the line, "Why did you bring me to America, if you won't let me live an American life?" It's a good question, and a show stopper. If you only see one movie this summer, make it "The Big Sick." 4 stars, rated R. Does it deliver what it promises? One of the most thoughtful romantic comedies in years. Is it entertaining? Never a dull moment. Is it worth the price of admission? See it.

The Beguiled Review - 1 Star

When Sofia Coppola makes a movie, it arrives with high and possibly unfair expectations. Her latest, "The Beguiled" has her signature visual beauty, enhanced by long periods of silence. Some may remember the original from the early 1970s, starring Clint Eastwood. Colin Farrell takes that role in this Civil War melodrama. He's a Union soldier, wounded & bleeding in the woods of Virginia. A young girl from a nearby finishing school, finds him and brings him back to the all-female establishment, headed by an icy Nicole Kidman. Farrell's arrival changes the all-female dynamic, sparking sexual tension for all, including Kidman, as well as a teacher played by Kirsten Dunst, and a budding teen played by Elle Fanning. As you might expect, the new arrangement does not go well. That's a problem. "The Beguiled" goes exactly where movies have made us expect it go. The slow pace provides time to consider the implausibility of it all. Where do they get their food, and fine clothes, living on the edge of battle? Why would they take in a Yankee, when they've arranged a signal to Confederate troops (in case of trouble.) I suspect the original Eastwood piece was a shock in the 1970s. But too many movies have told this kind of story since. "The Beguiled," rated R with 1 star. Does it deliver what it promises? Beautiful, but empty. Is it entertaining? Slow and implausible. Is it worth the price of admission? Disappointing (and no.)