Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Weekend Movie Guide

Frances McDormand stars in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

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.

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.

It - 3 Stars. Stephen King thriller delivers.

American Made - 3 Stars. Tom Cruise is winning, in the memoir of a bored pilot who goes to work for the CIA.

LBJ - 3 Stars. Woody Harrelson creates a sympathetic portrait of the formidable politician, assuming power after the Kennedy assassination, and passing the 1964 Civil Rights Bill. Rob Reiner directs.

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

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.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri Review - 4 Stars

"Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" pushes the limits of comedy. It deserves billing as an award contender, even though I imagine some in the audience will take offense and leave the theater.  Frances McDormand rents the billboards to embarrass the local sheriff, played by Woody Harrelson. Several months earlier, her daughter was raped and beaten & burned alive; and no arrest has been made. Harrelson dials back his personality to create a most likable character, a family man doing the best he can and dealing with an even bigger personal issue. His deputy (Sam Rockwell) struts around in uniform, a little too proud of himself, while displaying an alarming lack of intelligence. "Three Billboards" flings casual racism, violence, meanness, and the reaction of a town full of hurting humans at us just for laughs. It's Mayberry on acid and that's funny... or alarming. "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri," 4 stars, Rated "R." Does it deliver what it promises? Comedy about a town full of hurting people. Is it entertaining? Shockingly funny. Is it worth the price of admission? An award contender and well worth it, if you're up to the challenge.

Mudbound Review - 3½ Stars

"Mudbound" tells an epic story in a manner that feels like the kind of movie they don't make anymore. Set in the American South, before and after World War II, Carey Mulligan, Jason Clarke, and Garrett Hedlund play poor, white Mississippi farmers, whose lives intertwine with poor. black sharecroppers, played by Mary J. Blige, Jason Mitchell, and Rob Morgan. "Mudbound" rises above the usual Southern Gothic, subtly hinting at the dependency between the two families, despite the racism of the era. It captures the hard work and frustration of farming, and the tired resignation of blacks in the days before civil rights. The friendship between a returning white veteran and black veteran sparks a crisis, while offering a glimpse of the future. Fans of "Better Call Saul" and "Breaking Bad" will note Jonathan Banks as a hostile patriarch. Mary J. Blige has earned awards buzz as the sharecropper family matriarch. "Mudbound" tells its story with assurance and a steady hand. "Mudbound" 3½ stars. Does it deliver what it promises? Epic story of the 1940s South. It is entertaining? Good storytelling. Is it worth the price of admission? One of the year's award contenders.

Justice League Review - 2 Stars

DC Comics puts its biggest names into one gigantic movie in an effort to build on the success of the well-received "Wonder Woman." Gal Gadot remains incredibly charismatic in "Justice League." It's hard to take your eyes off her. Unfortunately, she has to share the stage with Ben Affleck as Batman, Ezra Miller as the Flash, Jason Momoa as Aquaman and Ray Fisher as Cyborg, not to mention a dash of Henry Cavill as Superman. All these characters make for a complicated and often hard-to-follow story. "Justice League" sticks to the usual, somewhat tired formula. The characters must save the world from a really bad guy... in this story, named "Steppenwolf," who's accompanied by swarms of bat-like insects who thrive on fear. There's not much beyond the usual mix of heroes, villains, special effects and loud noises for two hours or more. "Justice League" will replace "Thor: Ragnarok" in many theaters, and some will find them hard to distinguish. 2 stars, rated PG-13. Does it deliver what it promises? The usual. Is it entertaining? For fans. It is worth the price of admission? For fans, but not really for adults.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Murder on the Orient Express Review - 2½ Stars

Kenneth Branagh remakes the beloved 1974 film of Agatha Christie's classic mystery with love and more than a few hammy touches. Branagh plasters a widescreen mustache across his face, a humorous clue to the character Hercule Poirot, the world famous Belgian detective with the amazing ability to determine "Who done it?" On board the luxury Orient Express, he's called into service when the shady character played by Johnny Depp dies of multiple stab wounds in his compartment bed. The suspects comprise an all star cast: Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Penelope Cruz, Michelle Pfeiffer among them. Most adult viewers will already know who done it, and newcomers can likely figure it out. The actors, their clothing, and especially the luxury train look beautiful. Branagh fills his remake with old school touches: suspects gathering in the dining car, an avalanche stopping the train in its tracks, a flashback to another murder and the hint of revenge. "Murder on the Orient Express" takes its time, just as you might expect of a project that favors style over substance. "Murder on the Orient Express," rated PG-13, 2½ Stars. Does it deliver what it promises? Old school murder mystery. Is it entertaining? Looks great, and showcases an all-star cast. Is it worth the price of admission? Not a must-see, but good enough.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Lady Bird Review - 4 Stars

Greta Gerwig makes her directing debut in this powerful, funny, coming-of-age mother/daughter struggle. Gerwig casts Saoirse Ronan as a 17-year-old high school senior, and Laurie Metcalf as her mother. Lady Bird, a self-imposed nickname the character insists the family call her, longs for a bigger life in a larger setting than her home town of Sacramento. Her mother comes from a place of realistic expectations. Metcalf must deal with her husband's job loss, holding the family anxiety, and trying to make ends meet. The idea of a bigger life makes her snort. The crisis arrives when Lady Bird insists on applying to an East Coast college, and with the support of her father (Tracy Letts) gets accepted. "Lady Bird" concludes with two scenes, solo turns for both women, that speak volumes. "Lady Bird," 4 stars, rated "R." Does it deliver what it promises? Powerful, truthful coming-of-age story. Is it entertaining? Fascinating. Is it worth the price of admission? A must-see award contender.