Movie Reviews

Posted February 14, 2020 at 12:00 am

The Grudge

Screen Gems

Drab second English-language remake of a hit 2003 Japanese horror tale about a haunted house whose malign influence infects and follows all who enter it. This time out, the most prominent of its ensemble of victims is a recently-widowed police detective (Andrea Riseborough). As she and her troubled partner (Demian Bichir) investigate the death of a specialist in assisted suicide (Jacki Weaver), the stories of others accursed by the dwelling are traced, including a young realtor (John Cho), his pregnant wife (Betty Gilpin), the elderly couple (Lin Shaye and Frankie Faison) who sought the euthanasia practitioner’s services and an ex-cop (William Sadler) confined to an insane asylum. Failing skillfully to interweave his various narratives, writer-director Nicolas Pesce bids for audience attention with ever bloodier deaths and ever more hideous sights. Excessive gory violence, gruesome images, mature themes, including the implicit possibility of

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    Movie Reviews

    1917

    Universal

    Gripping historical drama, set in the midst of World War I, in which two British soldiers (George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman) are dispatched across enemy territory to call off an attack by an officer (Benedict Cumberbatch) whose men are about to fall into a German trap, a mission made more urgent by the fact that the brother (Richard Madden) of Chapman’s character is among those facing slaughter if they fail. By turns harrowing and lyrically beautiful, and deeply humane throughout, director and co-writer Sam Mendes’ film displays both the horrors of trench combat and

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    Movie Reviews

     The Irishman

    Netflix

    The disappearance of union boss Jimmy Hoffa, who vanished without a trace in 1975, has never been solved. But that doesn’t deter director Martin Scorsese from solving the mystery in this epic historical drama, based on the life of union official and erstwhile gangster Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro). Crime boss Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci) initiates Sheeran into the seedy mob underworld, and introduces him to the charismatic Hoffa (Al Pacino). More of a detailed character study than a relentless shoot-’em-up (the body count is still high, but the camera does not linger

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    Movie Reviews

    Dark Waters

    Focus

    Fact-based drama about poisoned water, similar to 2000’s “Erin Brockovich,” has a single crusading lawyer (Mark Ruffalo) taking on a powerful company – in this case, DuPont – that’s been dumping industrial waste from the manufacture of Teflon around Parkersburg, West Virginia, the loyal company town where the coating is made. The ambitious attorney, who used to represent chemical companies, becomes involved in the situation at the urging of a stubborn local farmer (Bill Camp) who knows his grandmother (Marcia Dangerfield). Director Todd Haynes and screenwriters Mario Correa and Matthew Michael Carnahan limn a rural landscape

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    Movie Reviews

    The Good Liar

    Warner Bros.

    Elegant but ultimately dark suspense yarn in which a ruthless con man (Ian McKellen) sets his sights on the fortune of a vulnerable, naive widow (Helen Mirren), skillfully ingratiating himself with her after initially making contact through a dating website. Despite the objections of her worried grandson (Russell Tovey), she gradually falls into his trap. But savvy viewers will sense from the start that things are more complicated than they initially appear. Director Bill Condon’s sophisticated adaptation of Nicholas Searle’s novel, which also features Jim Carter as the trickster’s partner, offers intelligent entertainment powered by excellent performances.

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    Movies Reviews

    The Good Liar

    Warner Bros.

    Elegant but ultimately dark suspense yarn in which a ruthless con man (Ian McKellen) sets his sights on the fortune of a vulnerable, naive widow (Helen Mirren), skillfully ingratiating himself with her after initially making contact through a dating website. Despite the objections of her worried grandson (Russell Tovey), she gradually falls into his trap. But savvy viewers will sense from the start that things are more complicated than they initially appear. Director Bill Condon’s sophisticated adaptation of Nicholas Searle’s novel, which also features Jim Carter as the trickster’s partner, offers intelligent entertainment powered by excellent performances.

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    Movie Reviews

    Playing With Fire

    Paramount

    Generally harmless but painfully unfunny comedy in which the superintendent (John Cena) of a group of smokejumpers (Keegan-Michael Key, John Leguizamo and Tyler Mane) gives temporary shelter at their rural headquarters to a teen girl (Brianna Hildebrand) and her two younger siblings (Christian Convery and Finley Rose Slater) after their family’s cabin, in which they’d been staying on their own, burns down. As he awaits pickup by their parents, applies to replace his retiring superior (Dennis Haysbert) and pursues a halting romance with an animal expert (Judy Greer), the kids get up

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    Movie Reviews

    Motherless Brooklyn

    Warner Bros.

    Edward Norton wrote, directed and stars in this adaptation of Jonathan Lethem’s 1999 novel and the result is a top-notch crime drama. Norton plays a private detective in 1950s New York whose Tourette’s syndrome is offset by a phenomenal memory for detail. After his friend, mentor and senior partner (Bruce Willis) is murdered while investigating shady real estate deals, he pursues the case and crosses paths with a Robert Moses-like civil servant (Alec Baldwin), a community activist (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) opposed to the bureaucrat’s latest project, a down-on-his-luck architect (Willem Dafoe) and a

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    Movie Reviews

    Black and Blue

    Screen Gems

    Director Deon Taylor’s action thriller succeeds better in maintaining suspense about the fate of its protagonist than in commenting on current social issues, as Peter A. Dowling’s script clearly aspires to do. An African American rookie in the New Orleans Police Department (Naomie Harris) accidentally witnesses the murder of a drug dealer, a crime that implicates some of her fellow officers (including James Moses Black and Frank Grillo) in an already unfolding scandal. She also captures the killing on her bodycam. As she becomes a fugitive, with the bad cops in pursuit,

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    Movie Reviews

     Gemini Man

    Paramount

    Tedious sci-fi action-thriller in which a highly gifted secret-ops sharpshooter (Will Smith) is betrayed by his superiors (most prominently Clive Owen), goes on the lam together with a fellow agent (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) who was originally dispatched to surveil him and, after defeating a number of outclassed pursuers, winds up being chased by a younger, equally talented clone of himself (also Smith, digitally de-aged). Although director Ang Lee marshals cutting-edge special effects, the clunky script, penned by David Benioff, Billy Ray and Darren Lemke, makes the story seem thoroughly familiar. Nor can pleasant visuals, especially scenic

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    Movie Reviews

    Ad Astra

    Fox

    Compelling sci-fi drama, set in the near future, in which an astronaut (Brad Pitt) goes on a quest to communicate with his father (Tommy Lee Jones), a pioneer space traveler who long ago disappeared during a mission to search for extraterrestrial life from the outer boundaries of the solar system. As he endures a variety of challenges, he broods on his emotional isolation and inability to maintain relationships while also pondering the conflicting evidence suggesting that his dad, long portrayed as a deceased hero, may not only be alive but may, in fact,

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    Movie Reviews

    Don’t Let Go

    OTL Releasing

    After his niece (Storm Reid), with whom he shared a close relationship, is murdered, a police detective (David Oyelowo) is startled to receive a series of phone calls from her. Eventually piecing together the fact that she is communicating with him from a different time period  two weeks before her death, he works with her to prevent the fatal crime from ever taking place. Initially intriguing but ultimately illogical, director and co-writer Jacob Estes’ thriller becomes unmanageably complex, confusing and implausible. While underlying values are sound, bloody images and vulgar

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    Movie Reviews

    Angel Has Fallen

    Lionsgate

    Third installment in the series focusing on a dedicated and highly skilled Secret Service agent (Gerard Butler) who, this time out, is elaborately framed for a devastating assassination attempt against the president (Morgan Freeman) that left a slew of the operative’s comrades dead and the chief executive in a coma. As the vice president (Tim Blake Nelson) takes over and uses evidence of Russian involvement to push for a war that would benefit an old buddy (Danny Huston) of the protagonist’s who’s become a private military contractor, and an FBI official (Jada

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    Movie Reviews

    The Farewell

    A24

    Cultural difference lead to family tension as a young Chinese American aspiring writer (rapper Awkwafina) learns that her much-loved grandmother (Zhao Shuzhen) has been diagnosed with terminal cancer and that her parents (Tzi Ma and Diana Lin), along with her other relatives, intend to keep the dying woman in the dark about her condition, a decision with which she vehemently disagrees. As the clan gathers in the city of Changchun, ostensibly for the hastily arranged wedding of the protagonist’s cousin (Chen Han), but in reality to have a last visit with the matriarch, writer-director Lulu Wang,

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    Movie Review

    Fast &Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw

    Universal

    Two longtime antagonists, a retired American law-enforcement official (Dwayne Johnson) and a British military veteran (Jason Statham), are forced to work together after the latter’s estranged sister (Vanessa Kirby), an intelligence operative, is wrongly accused of stealing a bioweapon with the potential to wipe out a whole swath of the world’s population. The virus was developed by a secretive organization intent on killing off the weak and enhancing survivors  as they have already done with the seemingly unstoppable cyber-soldier (Idris Elba) they dispatch to retrieve the toxin. Barbs

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    lion king photo.tif

    A scene from “The Lion King.” CNS photo/Disney

    The Lion King  

    Disney  

    Director Jon Favreau’s remake of the 1994 animated musical uses a blend of live-action techniques and computer-generated imagery to tell the story of a lovable young lion (voice of Donald Glover) with a royal destiny. While his birth is greeted with joy by most of the animals over whom his parents (voices of James Earl Jones and Alfre Woodard) benevolently rule, the evil uncle (voice of Chiwetel Ejiofor) the young prince replaces

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    Movie Reviews

    Anna

    Summit

    This stylish, seat-of-your-pants thriller, written and directed by Luc Besson, reinvigorates the spy drama with more twists and turns than a roller coaster. In 1985 Russia, a young woman (Sacha Luss) is recruited by a KGB. agent (Luke Evans) to join the ranks under the tutelage of a crusty former spy (Helen Mirren). Working undercover as a fashion model in Paris, she meets a CIA operative (Cillian Murphy) who convinces her to turn double agent to win her freedom. Though clever and highly entertaining, the film is strictly for discerning adult viewers, given its

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    Movie Reviews

    Emanuel

    Arbella

    Chronicling the events of June 17, 2015, when a gunman opened fire during a Bible study being conducted at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, this moving documentary celebrates the lives of the victims as well as the love and forgiveness demonstrated by the survivors and family members toward the perpetrator. Filmmaker Brian Ivie focuses not on the racial hatred that motivated the shootings, but on the faith-filled response of the people most affected by the tragedy. The movie gives hope that acts of love and forgiveness can pave the

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    Movie Reviews

    Booksmart

    Annapurna

    The high school romance film gets a radical makeover by director Olivia Wilde who upends the traditional boy-meets-girl love story, emptying a veritable Pandora’s box of teenage unmentionables onto the big screen. On the night before their high school graduation, two best friends (Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever) decide to discover what they have missed out by being serious overachieving students. They go on an all-night bender, taking in three wild parties where, literally, anything goes: lesbian sex, masturbation, drug use, drinking, and filthy language, to name a few. The film is totally out-of-bounds

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    Movie Reviews

    Aladdin

    Disney

    Spirited live-action remake of the 1992 animated feature in which the street lad of the title (Mena Massoud) is aided by a genie (Will Smith) both in his seemingly hopeless pursuit of the princess (Naomi Scott) for whom he’s fallen and in thwarting the evil schemes of her father the sultan’s (Navid Negahban) chief adviser (Marwan Kenzari). Exuberant and lavish, director and co-writer Guy Ritchie’s musical fantasy will have viewers rooting for its underdog hero, savoring the gentle romance in which he engages and appreciating messages about humility, honesty, self-sacrificing friendship and the equal

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    Movie Review

    The Intruder

    Screen Gems

    A routine thriller for most of its running time, director Deon Taylor’s film becomes increasingly trashy before ending with the justification of a profoundly immoral act in which viewers are meant to revel. A prosperous San Francisco couple (Michael Ealy and Meagan Good) plan to move to the Napa Valley and start a family. But the creepy owner (Dennis Quaid) of the charming, ivy-covered home they buy has not reconciled himself to relinquishing it and keeps turning up uninvited. In a performance that ranges from intense to over-the-top, Quaid grimaces and smolders

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    Movie Reviews

    Avengers: Endgame

    Disney

    Primarily set five years after a cosmic villain (Josh Brolin) used a set of energy-endowed gems to wipe out half of all the living creatures in the universe, this sweeping Marvel Comics-based epic charts the efforts of the titular ensemble to harness time travel via Ant Man’s (Paul Rudd) quantum realm to undo the catastrophe. To achieve this, they need to win over tech whiz Tony Stark aka Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), the only person who can safely engineer such a cutting-edge feat. But he’s reluctant to endanger his happy home life

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    Movie Reviews

    The Beach Bum

    Neon

    Relentlessly immoral and annoying comedy follows the exploits of a boorish hedonist (Matthew McConaughey) who is also, supposedly, a gifted writer as he pursues a Bohemian lifestyle in the Florida Keys. His rich wife (Isla Fisher) supports his antics even as she carries on an affair with one of his closest friends (Snoop Dogg), a high-profile rapper. His literary agent (Jonah Hill), exasperated by his failure to produce any new work, is less tolerant of his foibles as, too, is his somewhat straitlaced daughter (Stefania LaVie Owen). Drunk, stoned and on the

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    Movie Reviews

    Captive State

    Focus

    Drab sci-fi drama in which, nine years after humanity surrendered the earth to invading aliens, a young Chicago man (Ashton Sanders) gets caught up in a conspiracy to rebel against them. He and the other plotters are tracked by a local police official (John Goodman) whose ultimate allegiance in the struggle is unclear. Director and co-writer Rupert Wyatt sets out to tell a thoughtful, complex story, and his film, which also features Jonathan Majors, Vera Farmiga and Colson Baker, aka rapper Machine Gun Kelly, does engage more interest as the interlocking elements

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    Movie Reviews

    Captain Marvel

    Disney

    Lavish origin story finds the superhero of the title (Brie Larson) faithfully serving the alien civilization that trained her as a warrior in its struggle against the encroachments of a race of shape-shifting enemies (led by Ben Mendelsohn). But when she joins her military mentor (Jude Law) on a mission to 1995 Earth, persistent flashbacks to a previous life become ever more troubling and confusing for her, especially after she joins forces with a SHIELD officer (Samuel L. Jackson) and the two go in search of the scientist (Annette Bening) who seems

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    Movie Reviews

    Fighting With My Family

    MGM

    The fact-based story of a tightknit British family obsessed with the sport of wrestling makes for an entertaining comedy-drama, written and directed by Stephen Merchant. Saraya-Jade Bevis (Florence Pugh) is inspired by her parents (Lena Headey and Nick Frost), both former wrestlers, and her brother and erstwhile sparring partner (Jack Lowden), to pursue her talent in the ring. Facing seemingly insurmountable challenges, she is invited by the World Wrestling Entertainment empire to compete under the name “Paige.” Although the film’s rough edges, including streetwise cursing and sexual banter, place it out

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    Movie Reviews

    Cold Pursuit

    Summit

    A grieving father (Liam Neeson) embarks on a murderous rampage to avenge the death of his son (Micheal Richardson) in this bloodthirsty crime thriller, directed by Hans Petter Moland. As the father wades into the seedy underbelly of the town and disposes of accomplices, he inches closer to the drug kingpin (Tom Bateman) and sparks a turf war with a rival crime boss (Tom Jackson). Local police officers (Emmy Rossum, John Doman) take an awfully long time to notice that something is amiss. As sympathetic as Christian viewers may be of the father’s

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    Movie Reviews

    Roma

    Netflix 

    Meditative autobiographical drama chronicling the life of a middle-class family (led by Marina de Tavira) in the titular neighborhood of Mexico City in the early 1970s focuses primarily on the breakup of the parents’ marriage and on the out-of-wedlock pregnancy of their devoted maid (Yalitza Aparicio). Grown viewers with long attention spans will find Catholicism subtly interwoven into the clan’s experience as writer-director Alfonso Cuaron muses on his childhood. But graphic content restricts the appropriate audience for his journey down memory lane.

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    Movie Reviews

    Escape Room

    Columbia

    Routine thriller in which, lured by a $10,000 reward, a seemingly random group of people (most prominently troubled slacker Logan Miller and shy college student Taylor Russell) participate in what purports to be an immersive game but turns out to be a deadly struggle for survival. Though the victims of the deception generally bond and Bragi Schut and Maria Melnik’s script attempts, halfheartedly, to weigh the consequences of selfishness against the fruits of altruism, director Adam Robitel’s film is ultimately little more than a less disturbing take on the “Saw” franchise. Since the

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    Movie Reviews

    The Mule

    Warner Bros.

    This ambling, fact-based story of an octogenarian drug runner who becomes a success at it because no one, evidently, believes he’s capable of such a dangerous task is more than a little morally tone deaf. Clint Eastwood, who directed from a script by Nick Schenk, plays an easygoing Illinois horticulturist who has neglected his estranged family for years while puttering around the country hawking prize-winning daylilies. He gets a second chance at life and sudden wealth when a young Latino man makes him an offer to be a drug mule, hauling cocaine

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