Sunday, February 18, 2018

Weekend Movie Guide

Chadwick Boseman stars in Black Panther

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.

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 Insult - 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.

Fifty Shades Freed - 2 Stars. Concludes the series, thank Heavens!

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.

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.

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

Friday, February 16, 2018

Black Panther Review - 3½ Stars

A son ascends to his father's throne in "Black Panther."   He will rule the hidden nation of Waconda, beginning with a stirring African ceremony that echoes of "The Lion King." Across the globe, another son vows revenge for an act that will pit brother against brother, son against son, and cousin against cousin. "Black Panther" rises above the usual comic book plot with elements worthy of Shakespeare. This great script receives the acting it deserves. Chadwick Boseman projects power and charisma as King T'Challa, while Michael B. Jordan makes a memorable villain as Erik Killmonger. They fight for the future of Wakanda and its precious resource vibranium, which has the power to change the world. At issue: Should it be shared or kept from the larger world and forces of evil? Boseman begins his reign on a quest to find and defeat arms merchant Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) who has stolen some of the precious metal. Operative Lupita Nyong'o joins the fight, along with elite warrior Ayo (Florence Kasumba.) The King's sister, played by Letitia Wright, serves as a tech genius, designing his black panther suit with the power to double the blows it takes. The search for the arms merchant sets the stage for the real (and deeper) fight. "Black Panther" has the added gravitas of an older generation: Angela Bassett as Wakanda's one-time queen, and Forest Whitaker as a trusted advisor. Photography and sound & set design come together for Director Ryan Coogler. He's already impressed with earlier films including "Fruitvale Station" - far above the usual independent film - and "Creed," which went well beyond the idea of another "Rocky" story. "Black Panther" has a thrilling origin story, in which Shakespeare meets "Star Wars." Coogler dips into African culture in an eye opening way.  "Black Panther" comes down to the usual finale, a good versus evil fight to the finish where the hero almost loses, but ultimately prevails. The ending feels familiar, but the journey to get there is brilliant. "Black Panther," 3½ stars, rated PG-13. Does it deliver what it promises? Superhero origin, told with style. Is it entertaining? A grand plot, and deeply cultural. Is it worth the price of admission? One of the year's must-sees.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Fifty Shades Freed Review - 2 Stars

"Fifty Shades Freed" concludes the "Fifty Shades" trilogy, which begins with young Anastasia Steele (played by Dakota Johnson) meeting wealthy Christian Grey (played by Jamie Dornan) and discovering his S&M needs and desires. In episode three, the couple marry, continue to enjoy erotic sex, and conclude the series at the next natural step, that of pregnancy and children. Meanwhile, storm clouds form on the horizon. A former boss has designs on Anastasia, chasing her in his car, breaking into her apartment, and ultimately kidnapping her. The danger subplot is just a way to try to make this feel like a real movie, instead of a beautifully photographed fantasy. The filmmakers know their audience and how to satisfy them. "Fifty Shades Freed," rated "R," 2 stars. Does it deliver what it promises? More of what made the other two successful. Is it entertaining? Poorly written but pretty. Is it worth the price of admission? For fans.

A Fantastic Woman Review - 3 Stars

Nominated for Best Foreign Film, "A Fantastic Woman" tells the story of a young transgender woman who loses her older male lover to sudden illness. His family pushes her away from the normal grieving process. Daniela Vega looks fascinating in this role. She's also a singer, and performs during the film. The look and the music and various fantasy images give "A Fantastic Woman" a dream-like quality. I got a little irritated at the director's reveals of her body, raising the issue of how fully transgendered Daniela is without answering the question. Nevertheless, "A Fantastic Woman" is fascinating and beautiful to watch. "A Fantastic Woman," 3 stars, rated "R." Does it deliver what it promises? Surprisingly good story. Is it entertaining? Beautiful and fascinating. Is it worth the price of admission? A good bet to win Best Foreign Film.

Happy End Review - 1 Star

Three generations of a wealthy French family obsess over death in 'Happy End." Don't look for a 'happy end," as the family patriarch entices his 13-year-old granddaughter to assist ending his long life. Much unhappiness goes on display in this clan headed by Isabelle Huppert. The production is interesting, mixing cell footage with widescreen effects and a powerful far from away look at an industrial cave-in. In French, with subtitles. I can't imagine recommending to anyone I know. Does it deliver what it promises? Dark and very French. Is it entertaining? Sometimes shocking and interesting, but made me feel like I had wasted my time. Is it worth the price of admission? No thanks.

Friday, February 2, 2018

The Insult Review - 3 Stars

"The Insult" - set in modern day Beirut - begins with a group of construction workers, who get doused by runoff from an apartment owner's balcony. The foreman offers to fix the problem; but the apartment owner belongs to the Christian party, and identifies the foreman as Palestinian. He slams the door, refusing help and things escalate. Soon the apartment owner demands an apology. The foreman arrives to deliver it, but overhears anti-Palestinian rhetoric playing in the background. Words turn to fists, and the men go to court where their case turns into a national issue, revealing a deeper nature of the argument. "The Insult" has received a well-deserved Academy Award Best Foreign Film nomination. "The Insult," 3 stars, no rating (with subtitles.) Does it deliver what it promises? A small act turns into a national issue. Is it entertaining? Well told and acted. Is it worth the price of admission? One of the year's best foreign films.