Friday, September 15, 2017

Weekend Movie Guide

Jennifer Lawrence & Javier Bardem (r) stars in mother!

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!

Wind River - 3½ Stars. Modern Western/thriller from Taylor Sheridan, screenwriter of "Hell or High Water." Tracker Jeremy Renner helps FBI agent Elizabeth Olsen solve the rape/murder of a young American Indian girl. Tense and explosive.

Detroit - 3½ Stars. Director Kathryn Bigelow revisits police brutality during the Detroit riots of 1967. A blend of documentary and feature filmmaking, as brilliant as it is brutal to watch.

Columbus - 3½ Stars. Contemplative romance with Haley Lu Richardson and John Cho, who quietly share their love of architecture with their family problems in a manner that becomes both beautiful and powerful.

It - 3 Stars. Stephen King thriller delivers.

Brad's Status - 3 Stars.  Ben Stiller brings his son to Harvard for an admission interview reviewing his life  choices.  Hits some realistic thoughtful notes.  With a break out performance for actress Shazi Raja.

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.

STEP - 3 Stars. Moving documentary follows a group of Baltimore inner city girls, members of a step dance team, completing their senior year and hoping to find a way to enter college.

Battle of the Sexes - 2 1/2 Stars.  Emma Stone and Steve Carroll recreate the Billy Jean King/Bobby Riggs male versus female tennis match of the early 70's.

Kingsman:  The Golden Circle - 2 1/2 Stars.  Not as good as the original, but full of cameo shocks and over the top comedy.  The action doesn't hit the highs of the comedy.  Long and uneven but still fun.    

Logan Lucky - 2½ Stars. Steven Soderbergh directed redneck caper comedy with great cast, including Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Daniel Craig and Riley Keough. Oceans 7-Eleven.

Menashe - 2½ Stars. Rare window on Orthodox Jewish life. Widowed father longs for his son, who for religious reasons cannot live with him until he remarries. Poignant.

Girls Trip - 2½ Stars. Laugh-out-loud raunchy comedy with Queen Latifah, Regina Hall, Jada Pinkett Smith and Tiffany Haddish has a message about the power of friendship. Much better than expected.

Rebel in the Rye - 2½ Stars. Biography of "Catcher in the Rye" author J. D. Salinger almost captures his creative process. Stars Nicholas Hoult, Kevin Spacey and Sarah Paulson.

The Trip to Spain - 2 Stars. Best buds Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon travel to Spain and do more of what they did when they toured England, and again when they took in Italy. More of the same.

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

The Hitman's Bodyguard - 2 Stars. Ryan Reynolds and Samuel Jackson have great chemistry in this uneven, overlong criminal chase comedy.

Atomic Blonde - 2 Stars. Charlize Theron kicks ass for two brutal hours.

Home Again - 1 Star. Reese Witherspoon sitcom rom-com.

Ingrid Goes West - 1 Star. Aubrey Plaza as a a young woman obsessed with Instagram maven Elizabeth Olsen. This uncomfortable comedy takes a disturbing turn I can't recommend.

American Assassin - 1 Star. Based on the thriller series by Vince Flynn, the movie doesn't come close.

mother! - Zero Stars - Jennifer Lawrence goes mad in Darren Aronofsky's thriller. It starts well enough, but leads to a pointless end. With Javier Bardem, Michelle Pfeiffer and Ed Harris.

mother! Review - Zero Stars

Director Darren Aronofsky appears to use film as a sledgehammer. I remember leaving the screening of "Requiem for a Dream" feeling beat up. "Black Swan" put a knot in my stomach. Now comes "mother!," starring Jennifer Lawrence as the young bride of older, creatively-blocked poet Javier Bardem. The couple move into his Victorian mansion. Lawrence lovingly restores the place, which has been damaged by fire. One night, a strange man (played by Ed Harris) shows up. Bardem invites him to stay the night. Soon, Michelle Pfeiffer arrives. Inappropriateness turns into madness, leading to death and new life. And then things get really weird. Aronofsky has a gift for visuals, the creepier the better. I can only imagine what one might find in a frame-by-frame analysis of "mother!." Weirdness builds on weirdness, and for me, ultimately turns disgusting. I found the first third of "mother!" intriguing, then in the middle, I got a little annoyed; but by the conclusion, I'd had enough. I left "mother!" thinking "get me out of here now." "mother!," rated "R," zero stars. Does it deliver what it promises? Weird. Is it entertaining? Punishing. Is it worth the price of admission? In a word, no.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

American Assassin Review - 1 Star

"American Assassin" brings the character created by author Vince Flynn to the big screen, in what filmmakers hope will be the first of a series. Series hero Mitch Rapp vows to fight terrorism when the woman he loves dies during a vicious attack. Actor Dylan O'Brien may not fulfill the vision readers have of the character. He's a small, wiry guy, who darts around scowling and not saying much. Brutally trained by grizzled vet Michael Keaton, O'Brien joins the team hunting down a mad bomber. The grand finale goes for the usual countdown clock, ticking off the seconds before disaster. "American Assassin" isn't exactly a disaster, but it lacks the spark to stand out from other, better movies. The film looks muddy. The dialog isn't very good, and the action sequences feel like the same old thing. Vince Flynn fans will best stay home and re-read his books. "American Assassin," 1 star, rated "R." Does it deliver what it promises? Uninspired action movie. Is it entertaining? Nothing new here. Is it worth the price of admission? Not really.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Rebel in the Rye Review - 2½ Stars

Movies about writers rarely succeed. They try to visualize the creative process, but wind up with a lot of shots of furrowed brows and banging typewriters. "Rebel in the Rye," based on a recent biography of J. D. Salinger, comes closer than most to explaining creative genius. Nicholas Hoult plays the author as a young man, searching for his voice and place, wanting to write but only getting discouragement from his father. Salinger ultimately writes  "The Catcher in the Rye." He bases his character Holden Caulfield on his own troubled youth, including a difficult relationship with socialite Oona O'Neill, who married the much older Charles Chaplin not long after they part. "Rebel in the Rye" gets interesting as it portrays Salinger's war experience, including the D-Day landing and months of PT SD. Salinger finds comfort in eastern meditation, which unlocks his talent. The success of "The Catcher in the Rye" comes with a price. Salinger becomes a recluse. Set in the years before and after World War II, "Rebel" goes overboard on period touches. A good cast includes Kevin Spacey as Salinger's teacher/mentor. Spacey gained 50-60 pounds for the role. This might have helped Spacey, but I found it distracting. Sarah Paulson plays Salinger's literary agent, wearing lipstick so thick I wondered how she possibly stacked that much on her lips. Even with these distractions, actor Nicholas Hoult comes close to showing a writer's struggle. "Rebel in the Rye,' 2½ stars, rated" PG-13. Does it deliver what it promises? Biography of American writer J. D. Salinger. Is it entertaining? Interesting, and sometimes fascinating. Is it worth the price of admission? Watchable.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Home Again Review - 1 Star

Not even Reese Witherspoon can save "Home Again," a new romantic comedy about a 40-year-old mother of two, recently separated from her husband. Witherspoon leaves New York for Los Angeles, where she lives in the fabulous home that once belonged to her late father, a famous filmmaker. On a night out with the girls, she meets three 20-somethings, brings them home, and winds up in bed with 27-year-old Pico Alexander, who happens to be a filmmaker. Comedy ensues (the filmmakers hope) except the acting, dialog, and script make this feel like a 1980s sitcom. The plot thickens, when her husband returns and discovers three's company. "Home Again" is directed by Hallie Meyers-Shyer, daughter of writer/director Nancy Myers, whose scripts include "Father of the Bride" and "Something's Gotta Give." "Home Again" doesn't offer anything new, feeling more like "This Again." "Home Again," rated PG-13, 1 star. Does it deliver what it promises? Stale, romantic comedy. Is it entertaining? Feels like a sitcom. Is it worth the price of admission? Rent "When Harry Met Sally" instead.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

It Movie Review - 3 Stars

The audience screamed, jumped and laughed during the screening of Stephen King's deeply frightening "It." ABC did "It" as a miniseries in the 90's. The opening begins as an adorable little boy makes a toy paper boat with help from his big brother Bill (played by Jaden Lieberher.) The kid runs into a driving rain, and watches his plaything float down the street until it falls down the drain. But then, a glimmer of hope. A clown lives in the sewer, and offers to return the boat. I won't tell you what comes next; but I will tell you, it sets up the kind of jump-out-of-your-seat shared experience Hollywood hasn't seen in years. The story, which takes place in 1989, follows a group of misfit pre-teens known as the loser's club, led by Lieberher, a shy stutterer. The group finds a new member in Beverly, played by Sophia Lillis, rumored as the town's "fast" girl and a Molly Ringwald lookalike. Soon, the gang discovers they see things others don't, including the frightening clown played by Bill SkarsgÄrd. "It" speaks in a creepy voice, changes identities and moods with the flick of a switch, and aims to add to his collection of missing people. The movie has a 1980s Spielberg vibe, courtesy of director Andy Muschietti. Kids talk like kids, race on bicycles, and band together against the town terror (as well as abusive adults and bullies.) "It" taps into the thing, that for generations, has made going to the movies so pleasurable... a shared experience. I laughed. I screamed. I breathed easy, when the credits rolled. "It," rated "R," 3 stars. Does it deliver what it promises? Thriller chiller. Is it entertaining? Well-told story. Is it worth the price of admission? Loved "It."