Friday, December 8, 2017

Weekend Movie Guide

Gary Oldman stars in Darkest Hour

Lady Bird - 4 Stars. Greta Gerwig directs a spot-on mother/daughter battle, during a young woman's high school senior year. Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf deliver award-worthy performances.

Darkest Hour - 4 Stars. Set in May 1940 as Winston Churchill becomes Prime Minister and ignores the advice to negotiate with Hitler.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri - 4 stars. Caustic, often shock comedy, starring Frances McDormand as a woman at war with the town police over the unsolved murder of her daughter.

Mudbound - 3½ Stars. Epic drama of poor, white farmers and poor, black sharecroppers in the post-WWII South.

Blade Runner 2049 - 3 Stars. Sequel to the classic runs long, but packs in the special effects around a thick & juicy plot.

Wonder - 3 Stars. Family-friendly story of a 5th grader, born with facial deformities, trading home schooling for private school. Jacob Tremblay makes this story winning, with Julia Robert and Owen Wilson as his parents. Told from different points of view, it avoids sentimentality, remaining both funny and real.

Coco - 3 Stars. Pixar takes a deep dive into Mexican culture, in this eye-popping story of a little boy searching for his roots.

The Shape of Water - 3 Stars. Sally Hawkins as a mute cleaning woman, who comes to the aid of a sea creature captured during the Cold War.

Murder on the Orient Express - 2½ Stars. Hammy but loving remake of the 1974 Agatha Christie classic.

Roman J. Israel Esq. - 2½ Stars. Denzel Washington as a socially conscious lawyer savant, who joins a big firm and loses his principals. Great story comes to a weak ending.

Last Flag Flying - 2½ Stars. Bryan Cranston, Laurence Fishburne and Steve Carell as Vietnam vets, who help Carell bury his son killed on duty in Iraq. 

Justice League - 2 Stars. Charismatic Gal Gadot returns as Wonder Woman, and joins Batman and several others in another of the usual formula plots to save the world.

Thor: Ragnarok - 2 Stars. The latest chapter in Marvel's Thor franchise mixes comedy and action in an overlong, sometimes confusing package.

A Bad Moms Christmas - 2 Stars. Mila Kunis and friends vow to prevent holiday hassle. Follows the formula set by 'The Hangover" and "Bridesmaids."

Loving Vincent - 2 Stars. Beautifully animates Van Gogh's masterpieces, but uses them to tell a hokey story.

Victoria & Abdul - 2 Stars. Judi Dench (as Queen Victoria) grows fond of an Indian commoner, shocking her royal household. Lightweight stuff.

Wonder Wheel - 1 Star. Woody Allen on yet another nostalgia trip. A love triangle plus gangsters in 1950 Coney Island. Tired, long, and lifeless.

The Disaster Artist - 1 Star. Irritating story behind the making of the poorly made, privately financed film "The Room," now celebrated at midnight showings. With James Franco at his most icky.

Darkest Hour Review - 4 Stars

Gary Oldman gives an award-worthy performance as Winston Churchill in "Darkest Hour.' The film focuses on May of 1940. The Nazis have invaded France: England appears next. Churchill becomes Prime Minister as a compromise candidate. Many in power talk of negotiating or appeasing Hitler. All appears lost, when the Nazis surround the British army in France and push them to the sea in Dunkirk. Churchill proposes a civilian fleet to rescue England's soldiers. The evacuation of "Dunkirk" mobilizes the British population for the coming war. "Darkest Hour" looks beautiful, filmed with the tint of history. Oldman mutters Churchill's great quotes, winning laughs from his peers on screen and us in the audience. "Darkest Hour" creates a thrilling great man story, an old-school treat for modern audiences. "Darkest Hour," 4 stars, rated PG-13. Does it deliver what it promises? Great war biography. Is it entertaining? Beautiful and quotable. Is it worth the price of admission? Yes.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

The Shape of Water Review - 3 Stars

Director Guillermo del Toro beautifully updates "The Creature from the Black Lagoon" in "The Shape of Water." Sally Hawkins plays a mute cleaning woman at a top secret government lab, where scientists have captured a half-human sea creature. They might send him into space, or perform an experiment on their unusual captive. Sally befriends and bonds with the creature, giving him sympathy following regular abuse from security chief Michael Shannon. With help from neighbor Richard Jenkins and co-worker Octavia Spencer, Sally plots the "asset's" rescue and freedom. "The Shape of Water" includes visually outstanding  fantasy sequences. It becomes a lyrical mixture of "Beauty and the Beast" and "The Creature from the Black Lagoon." "The Shape of Water," 3 stars, rated "R." Does it deliver what it promises? Strange, but beautiful. Is it entertaining? Unusual.  Is it worth the price of admission? For the adventuresome.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Wonder Wheel Review - 1 Star

Woody Allen begins "Wonder Wheel" with a gorgeous recreation of 1950 Coney Island... Justin Timberlake breaks the fourth wall to narrate. He begins an affair with slightly older Kate Winslet, an unhappy housewife. Jim Belushi plays Kate's husband, a boisterous blue-collar amusement park worker. His attention is on his daughter (from his first marriage.) Juno Temple has left her gangster husband and needs a place to hide out. Soon Justine notices Juno, and a triangle develops. "Wonder Wheel" suffers from overacting and a tired plot. It never lives up to the opening images. This looks like one of Allen's in-between films, the ones he makes between the dogs and the greats. Maybe a great one comes next? "Wonder Wheel," 1 star, rated PG-13. Does it deliver what it promises? Cliched drama. Is it entertaining? Long and slow. Is it worth the price of admission? Skip it.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Coco Review - 3 Stars

Pixar is enjoying great success with its Thanksgiving movie "Coco," a deep, respectful dive into Mexican culture and family ties. The plot involves a little boy, who longs to sing growing up in a house where music is forbidden. This family has a long memory. A great-great-grandfather left for the life of a troubadour, never to return. Courtesy a Pixar miracle, the kid falls into the twilight between present and past on "Dia de los Muertos," the Day of the Dead. "Coco" combines great music and beautiful visuals. It delivers a message about timeless love. "Coco," 3 stars, rated PG. Does it deliver what it promises? Family friend story, with appeal to adults and children. Is it entertaining? What more do you want? Is it worth the price of admission? Yes.

Friday, December 1, 2017

The Disaster Artist Review - 1 Star

James Franco creates one of his strangest turns (and that's saying something) in "The Disaster Artist." Franco impersonates Tommy Wiseau, an odd actor with unlimited money who, in 2003 financed and starred in a spectacularly bad film called "The Room." Since the movie's laughable opening night, midnight audiences have discovered and praised it as "so bad, it's good." This is one way to sell a not very good product. Franco makes Wiseau irritating and unsympathetic. His little brother Dave plays Tommy's best friend and the narrator of the story. The Disaster Artist, 1 star, rated "R." Does it deliver what it promises? Irritating movie about rich, immature filmmaker. Is it entertaining? Irritating. Is it worth the price of admission? One star for the effort, but really NO.