Move Reviews

Posted August 12, 2020 at 1:41 pm

The Rental

IFC

Actor Dave Franco’s directorial debut (which he also co-wrote) is a horror movie long on tension but short on logic or resolution. Two brothers, one (Dan Stevens) traveling with his wife (Alison Brie), the other (Jeremy Allen White) accompanied by his live-in girlfriend (Sheila Vand), rent a luxurious house in the Pacific Northwest for a weekend. But they find their getaway blighted by the presence of the property’s manager (Toby Huss), who turns out to be both bigoted and creepy. A cautionary tale about the kind of vacation enabled by websites like Airbnb and about hi-tech surveillance, the film features unsympathetic characters in initially hostile and ultimately horrifying circumstances. Though it shows how moral transgressions can entrap those who perpetrate them, it ultimately fails to make much of an impression. Some gory violence, semi-graphic adulterous activity, drug use, brief partial nudity, a few

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    Movie Reviews

    Palm Springs

    Neon/Hulu

    Two guests (Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti) at a wedding in the resort of the title become caught up in a time loop that forces them to relive the day of the nuptials endlessly. In doing so, they gradually fall for each other. Along with presenting a degraded view of sexuality, director Max Barbakow’s romantic comedy proposes erotic love as the sole source of relief in a universe that, writer Andy Siara’s screenplay implies, is as meaningless outside the trap into which its protagonists have fallen as within it. Skewed values, graphic sexual

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    Movie Reviews

    Wasp Network

    Netflix

    The furtive world of Miami-based activists working either on behalf of or against the Castro regime in Cuba in the 1990s is lazily recreated in this undisciplined drama. In telling his fact-based tale, adapted from Fernando Morais’ 2015 book “The Last Soldiers of the Cold War,” writer-director Olivier Assayas would have done well to focus more determinately on the personal toll exacted when a Havana pilot (Edgar Ramirez) defects to the United States, leaving his loyal wife (Penelope Cruz) and young daughter (Osdeymi Pastrana Miranda) to face life as the relatives of a

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    Movie Reviews

    The High Note

    Focus

    An aspiring music producer (Dakota Johnson) finds herself caught between the demands of her day job working as a personal assistant to a famous rock star (Tracee Ellis Ross) and her desire to nurture the career of the promising singer-songwriter (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) with whom she also becomes involved romantically. Glossy and generally upbeat, director Nisha Ganatra’s blend of comedy and drama, penned by Flora Greeson, supplies an ensemble of appealing characters around its perky heroine and, though it follows a well-traveled arc, does so smoothly and with satisfying results. The fact

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    Movie Reviews

    Corpus Christi

    Film Movement

    Polish production in which director Jan Komasa and screenwriter Mateusz Pacewicz, who reworked his fact-based book, tell the grim story of a young man (Bartosz Bielenia), just paroled from a violent juvenile detention facility, who, having found his faith there as an altar server, aspires to become a priest. But his past makes this impossible and he’s assigned instead to work in a sawmill in a remote community. There, he almost accidentally begins to impersonate a clergyman and turns out to be compassionate and courageous in the role, providing pastoral care

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    Movie Reviews

    Brahms: The Boy II

    STX

    After being traumatized by a violent home invasion, a British businessman (Owain Yeoman), his American wife (Katie Holmes) and their young son (Christopher Convery) temporarily relocate from London to a house in the English countryside where the lad unearths an antique doll that turns out to be more terrorist than toy. Returning director William Brent Bell’s follow-up to his 2016 film alternates between the occasional good jolt and long periods of tedium, with the silliness of the premise never out of the frame. While there’s little to object to in a

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    Movie Reviews

    The Call of the Wild

    Twentieth Century

    Jack London’s beloved 1903 novel returns to the big screen for the seventh time in this computer-generated special effects extravaganza, directed by Chris Sanders. A pet St. Bernard-Scotch Collie mix dog is kidnapped from his California owner (Bradley Whitford) and shipped to the Yukon, where gold fever is raging, and large dogs are in demand to pull sleds. He joins a team run by two benevolent mail carriers (Omar Sy and Cara Gee), before being sold to a wicked gold prospector (Dan Stevens). Eventually he’s rescued by a kindly

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    Movie Reviews

    Downhill

    Fox Searchlight

    Awkward moments abound in this comedy about a husband and father (Will Ferrell) whose momentary act of cowardice suddenly alters how his spouse (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and two sons (Julian Grey and Ammon Ford) view him. In adapting Ruben Ostlund’s 2014 film “Force Majeure,” directors and co-writers (with Jesse Armstrong) Nat Faxon and Jim Rash quietly uphold marital fidelity, though a minor dalliance on the part of the wife and its aftermath are among the elements that restrict the appropriate audience for their largely unsatisfying remake. Considerable sexual content, including a brief scene of

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    Movie Reviews

    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

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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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