Thursday, December 14, 2017

Weekend Movie Guide

Timothée Chalamet stars in Call Me by Your Name

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.

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

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.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi - 2½ Stars. Echoes the best elements of the earlier Star Wars films. Runs long and loud. Fans will love.

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.

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.

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.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Review - 2½ Stars


"Star Wars: The Last Jedi" roars into theaters, full of the elements fans love and demand. The John Williams score produces goosebumps. The earnest actors include Oscar Issac as a hotshot resistance pilot, fighting alongside John Boyega and Kelly Marie Tran in an army directed by Carrie Fisher & Laura Dern. They fight an empire of delicious villains, including Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson and Adam Driver, whom we learned in the previous chapter is the son of Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford, gone to the Dark Side. While all this battling takes place, Daisy Ridley finds Mark Hamill somewhere in the galaxy and pleads for Jedi training. There's a scene in a casino that reminds us of the original Cantina (several of the sets look like copies of "The Empire Strikes Back.") There's also a visit from Yoda! and Benicio Del Toro turns up as a rogue space thief in the mold of Harrison Ford's original Hans Solo. The new film aims to satisfy fans, and succeeds. The "Star Wars" series continues in a loop leading to the next and final chapter. "The Last Jedi" gets us closer to conclusion, without delivering anything new or shocking. "Star Wars: The Last Jedi," 2½ stars, rated PG-13. Does it deliver what it promises? Does what it needs. Is it entertaining? For fans. Is it worth the price of admission? Get in line now.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Call Me by Your Name Review - 3½ Stars


"Call Me by Your Name" captures the rush of young love during a languid Italian summer in the early 1980s.  Timothée Chalamet plays a 17-year-old piano prodigy, attracted to his father's 24-year-old research assistant (played by Armie Hammer.) "Call Me by Your Name" benefits from the touch of Italian director Luca Guadagnino. He gives the film a slow, steady pace. The result reminds me of 'A Room with a View," another beautiful tale of Italian romance. James Ivory, whose Merchant-Ivory films of the 1980s and 90s defined gorgeous cinema, wrote the script and certainly influenced the art. Romance between a boy and a 24-year-old intern may not resonate, given the current issues of power inequality in America. However, for many, the beauty of "Call Me by Your Name" and a curtain speech by Michael Stuhlbarg will satisfy. "Call Me by Your Name," 3 stars, rated "R." Does it deliver what it promises? Sophisticated European love story. Is it entertaining? Breathtaking images. Is it worth the price of admission? For those who love cinema art.

Friday, December 8, 2017

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.