Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Weekend Movie Guide

Harrison Ford stars in Blade Runner 2049

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.

Stronger - 3½ Stars. Powerful story of Jeff Bauman, who lost both legs in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, shows a realistic struggle of a flawed guy uncomfortable playing the hero. Oscar-worthy performance by Jake Gyllenhaal.

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.

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.

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 breakout performance for actress Shazi Raja.

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

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.

Battle of the Sexes - 3 Stars. Emma Stone and Steve Carell recreate the Billy Jean King/Bobby Riggs, male versus female tennis match of the early 70s.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle - 2½ 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.

Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House - 2 Stars. Dour story of the FBI agent who passed information on Watergate to Woodward & Bernstein.

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

The Trip to Spain - 2 Stars. Best buds Steve Coogan & 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.

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

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

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.

Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House Review - 2 Stars

"All the President's Men," Hollywood's version of Woodward and Bernstein's reporting on the Watergate scandal, has a place among the great movie thrillers. The young reporters follow clues, doled out by a dissatisfied government official named Mark Felt. The more they discover, the more powerful forces threaten them. "All the President's Men" has the excitement of a detective story, but 'Mark Felt," the story of the man who leaked the information, has only a dour character unhappy in marriage, family, and career. The fine actor Liam Neeson whispers his dialog, and spends most of his time in shadow. His meeting with Bob Woodward in the Arlington garage feels anticlimactic. Felt's motivation seems to boil down to anger over not getting the top FBI job when J. Edgar Hoover dies. Some stories deserve to remain a mystery. "Mark Felt: The Man who Brought Down the White House," rated PG-13, 2 stars. Does it deliver what it promises? Unexciting would-be thriller. Is it entertaining? Low energy. Is it worth the price of admission? A disappointment.

Stronger Review - 3½ Stars

Jake Gyllenhaal holds nothing back in his portrait of Boston Marathon bombing victim Jeff Bauman. The usual inspirational story of a man who loses his legs/learns to walk again receives grittier treatment in"Stronger." We see the agony Bauman's injuries and his difficult recovery made more difficult by family members unable to do the right thing at the right time. Bauman roasted chickens at Costco, rooted for the Red Sox, and drank too much. His girlfriend (played by the excellent Tatiana Maslany of "Orphan Black") breaks up with him multiple times. To win her back, Bauman shows up at the Marathon finish line just as the bombs explode. Events turn Bauman into a Boston hero, as he helps identify the bombers. But recognition by strangers and smothering by his family does little to help. "Stronger" doesn't flinch in the story of a flawed guy living a rough life, and that makes this story powerful and inspiring. "Stronger," 3½ stars, rated "R." Does it deliver what it promises? Surprising story of flawed hero. Is it entertaining? One of the year's great performances. Is it worth the price of admission? Might be an awards season contender.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

American Made Review - 3 Stars

I didn't expect much from "American Made." It spins another caper in the mold of "The Big Short," "Goodfellas" or "The Wolf of Wall Street," and stars perpetual pretty boy Tom Cruise. This is the mostly true story of bored TWA pilot Barry Seal, recruited by the CIA in the 1970s, and the first to take pictures of insurgents in Central America. The agency ups the ante, and soon Cruise is ferrying drugs for the Colombians, and bringing weapons to revolutionaries. Told in flashbacks recorded into a camcorder, it sounds familiar, but "American Made" tells it with great humor and energy. Cruise still has the charm that made him a star 30 years ago. I don't want to like him, but in "American Made" I can't help it. 3 stars, rated "R." Does it deliver what it promises? Crime caper, sanctioned by Uncle Sam. Is it entertaining? Fun, from start to finish. Is it worth the price of admission? Sure.

Victoria & Abdul Review - 2½ Stars

Judy Dench plays Queen Victoria for laughs in "Victoria & Abdul." She takes a shine to a young Indian clerk, sent to the royal household to participate in jubilee ceremonies. The visitor, played by Ali Fazal, delights the Queen with stories of his homeland, and gains enough favor to stay as her manservant. The more Victoria favors Abdul, the more household tongues wag. Don't look for much in "Victoria & Abdul" beyond a few tasteful laughs. Sometimes that's enough, even if this story could have made a statement or two on inequality and colonialism. "Victoria & Abdul," 2½ stars, rated PG-13. Does it deliver what it promises? Royal fun and games. Is it entertaining? Just for laughs. Is it worth the price of admission? An easy time.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Brad's Status Review - 3 Stars

Ben Stiller's having a mid life crisis. He's pushing fifty and not nearly as successful as his pals from college. They stayed in big, exciting cities and Stiller moved to Sacramento to start a non profit. Now his son has a chance to go to Harvard, if the kid can impress the admissions team. But the interview hits a snag, and Ben must call in favors from his far superior friends. "Brad's Status" rolls out in quiet, contemplative moments. Stiller threads the line between sympathetic and irritating. "Brad's Status" also features a star-making turn by Shazi Raja as a with-it student, who dazzles Stiller as she puts him in his place. As with Jimmy Stewart, Stiller's had a wonderful life: He just needs reminding. "Brad's Status," rated PG-13, 3 stars. Does it deliver what it promises? Angst made interesting. Is it entertaining? Funny and realistic. Is it worth the price of admission? A delight.