Thursday, March 8, 2018

Weekend Movie Guide

Anya Taylor-Joy & Olivia Cooke (r) star in Thoroughbreds

Thoroughbreds - 4 Stars. Olivia Cooke and Anya Taylor-Joy as two rich girls looking for thrills. The best horror film since "Get Out."

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.

I, Tonya - 4 Stars. Margot Robbie dazzles as hard scrabble Olympic skater and tabloid queen Tonya Harding.

Phantom Thread - 4 Stars. 1950s fashion artist Daniel Day-Lewis finds his match in waitress Vicky Krieps. Hitchcock would have loved this power struggle romance.

The Post - 3½ Stars. The Washington Post defies the government, and publishes the Pentagon Papers in 1971. Stirring newspaper drama, as well as inspiring rise of Katherine Graham as publisher/leader.

Call Me by Your Name - 3½ Stars. Beautifully filmed, languid Italian summer romance.

Black Panther - 3½ Stars. Chadwick Boseman breathes life into a new and exciting super hero. As king of a little known African nation, he can bring peace and power to the world; but first, he must settle a family score.

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

Game Night - 3 Stars. Jason Bateman and Rachael McAdams get more than they bargain for, on a murder mystery night hosted by Kyle Chandler.

The Insult - 3 Stars. A construction worker and a mechanic get into an argument over a drainpipe. Set in Lebanon, it pits a Christian party member against a Palestinian. Deft storytelling, subtitled.

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.

A Fantastic Woman - 3 Stars. A transgender woman cannot grieve the sudden death of her partner, because of his family and a repressive South American society. Dreamlike and beautifully made, but a little too coy at times.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi - 2½ Stars. Echoes the best elements of the earlier Star Wars films. Runs long and loud. Fans won't mind.

Molly's Game - 2½ Stars. Jessica Chastain spins a pretty good story about an Olympic hopeful, turned gambling queen. Aaron Sorkin's script starts interesting, but turns exhausting.

A Wrinkle in Time - 2 Stars. Disappointing all-star Disney version of beloved book. A father disappears and three unusual beings bring his children to space to search for him. Say What?

Death Wish - 2 Stars. Bruce Willis sleepwalks through remake of 1974 urban western. Tight editing, and short runtime help.

12 Strong - 2 Stars. Patriotic based-on-fact story of the special forces team that joined an Afghanistan warlord to fight the Taliban in the weeks following 9/11. Long and hard to follow.

Hostiles - 2 Stars. Christian Bale is ordered to escort Indian Chief Wes Studi back to his homeland to die. Slow and predictable.

Red Sparrow - 1 Star. Jennifer Lawrence missteps as a Russian ballet star-turned-spy. Her accent fades in and out over the course of an unbelievable plot.

Annihilation - 1 Star. Natalie Portman sci-fi mystery starts with a bang, but ends with a whimper.

Maze Runner: The Death Cure - 1 Star. Same old, same old young adult dystopian flesh-eating zombies conclusion.

A Wrinkle in Time Review - 2 Stars

Disney's adaptation of the beloved children's book "A Wrinkle in Time" got my attention. Rated PG with a starry cast including Oprah, "A Wrinkle in Time" looked like the kind of family movie that would dominate box office for weeks to come. I'm afraid I suffer from unmet expectations. Chris Pine plays a scientist father who disappears into the universe. His children search for him four years after his disappearance with the help of three otherworldly beings led by Oprah. Their journey is colorful, psychedelic, and sometimes frightening but rarely understandable. In spite of good intentions, sometimes a book just doesn't translate to film. Some may like "A Wrinkle in Time," but most will scratch their heads. I pity mothers and fathers who take their youngsters and expect them to sit through this. "A Wrinkle in Time," rated PG, 2 stars. Does it deliver what it promises? Not quite. Is it entertaining? Slow and hard to follow. Is it worth the price of admission? Only for lovers of the book, and from what I saw at the preview screening, even some of them will be disappointed.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Thoroughbreds Review - 4 Stars

Director Corey Finley deposits his audacious thriller "Thoroughbreds" into your neighborhood theater just for the shocking fun of it. Wow, what a movie! Anya Taylor-Joy begins the story as a good little rich teen, encouraged to tutor her troubled former friend played by Olivia Cooke. One girl appears scarred by the death of a beloved horse, the other by the death of her father and replacement by a stern stepfather. The girls decide murder might heal their spirit. Finley paces this story with Hitchcock precision. Long, silent stretches increase the tension. "Thoroughbreds" looks great, taking place in a one percent of the one percent Connecticut neighborhood. Music, sound and the sight of those two seemingly innocents put me on the edge of my seat. "Thoroughbreds" will stay with you long after you leave the theater. Note that "Thoroughbreds" marks the last performance of the late Anton Yelchin, who died accidentally last year. This unfortunate fact makes "Thoroughbreds" even creepier. "Thoroughbreds," rated "R," 4 stars. Does it deliver what it promises? Tension-filled, sure-handed thriller. Is it entertaining? Slow & sweet, and packs a wallop. Is it worth the price of admission? The best horror thriller since "Get Out."

Friday, March 2, 2018

Death Wish Review - 2 Stars

Bruce Willis sleepwalks through this remake of the 1974 vigilante urban western "Death Wish." The new version moves the action from New York City to Chicago, where Willis works as a trauma surgeon. One night at a restaurant with his family, a valet overhears Willis' plans for a future outing. The valet downloads their address and sells the info to a gang of thieves. Of course, Willis' wife and daughter stay home on the night in question. The plan goes wrong and both women are shot. Now seeking justice, Willis takes matters into his own hands, gunning down bad guys. Social media dubs him "The Grim Reaper" or the NRA's "good guy with a gun." "Death Wish" arrives with low expectations. In fairness, this remake gets a helping hand from tight editing and an economical running time. It sets up several quiet but tough guy scenes, that play to Bruce Willis' strength. Dean Norris (best known as Walter White's clueless DEA brother in law in "Breaking Bad") adds a familiar vibe as a clueless Chicago detective. Vincent D'Onofrio doesn't get much as Willis' down-on-his-luck brother, but makes a good suspect. Elisabeth Shue disappears too soon as Willis' crime victim wife. The bad guys of "Death Wish" are really bad, and the movie requires little from viewers. "Death Wish," 2 stars, rated "R." Does it deliver what it promises? Vigilante story. Is it entertaining? Short. Is it worth the price of admission? Up to you.

Red Sparrow Review - 1 Star

Jennifer Lawrence begins "Red Sparrow" as a Bolshoi ballet star, whose career ends with a terrible onstage accident. She must work to support her invalid mother, and succumbs to a creepy offer from her uncle to work as a spy. Soon, Jennifer trains in the art of seduction in a setting she calls "Whore School." Assigned to seduce American spy Joel Edgerton, the couple begin a game of cat and mouse, spy and counterspy. "Red Sparrow" runs long and feels slow. Jennifer Lawrence never masters her Russian accent. I felt no sparks between Lawrence and Edgerton. "Red Sparrow" casts a parade of respected actors including Charlotte Rampling, Joely Richardson and Jeremy Irons. It feels dated, like a thriller from 1975. "Red Sparrow," 1 star, rated "R." Does it deliver what it promises?  Limp thriller. Is it entertaining?  Slow and unbelievable. Is it worth the price of admission? A Jennifer Lawrence misstep.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Game Night Review - 3 Stars

Jason Bateman has morphed into a comedy everyman. He's to comedy, what Tom Hanks is to drama. He brings just the right mix of sarcasm and humor to the variety of middle-aged guys he plays. In "Game Night," he meets Rachel McAdams, as they both shout the answer at a trivia night quiz. Their "meet cute" leads to a delightful montage of courtship and marriage and the setup of their weekly game nights with two other couples. The wrinkle comes as Jason's big brother, played with delightful menace by Kyle Chandler, arrives and invites all to a state-of-the-art murder mystery night that (of course) goes wrong. Chandler, it seems, is not the business whiz he claims to be, but rather a shady criminal with bad guys on his tail. His kidnapping, which the others think is part of the game night, turns out to be all too real. "Game Night" rises above most comedies thanks to writing, sparkling jokes, and character development. The script throws a triple twist, adding to the fun. Jesse Plemons stands out as a creepy next door neighbor with an agenda of his own. Bateman and McAdams make this comedy easy. "Game Night," 3 stars, rated R. Does it deliver what it promises? Winning comedy. Is it entertaining? Actually funny. Is it worth the price of admission? The real thing.