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Movie Reviews


‘La La Land’ named best film by New York film critics

Fri, 2 Dec 2016 18:07:21 UT

The top award came as something of a twist after the critics’ early choices leaned toward Barry Jenkins’ coming-of-age portrait “Moonlight” and Kenneth Lonergan’s grief-filled drama “Manchester by the Sea.” “Manchester by the Sea” took best actor for Casey Affleck, best screenplay for Lonergan and best supporting actress for Michelle Williams. Chazelle’s film, starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, also led the Critics’ Choice Awards nominations on Thursday with 12 nods. Best first film was a tie between Kelly Fremon Craig’s teen comedy “The Edge of Seventeen” and Trey Edward Shults’ micro-budget family drama “Krisha.”

Disney’s ‘Moana’ No. 1 at box office

Sun, 27 Nov 2016 22:38:01 UT

NEW YORK — Disney’s South Pacific animated tale “Moana” fell short of a “Frozen”-size debut but nevertheless dominated the Thanksgiving box office with an estimated $81.1 million over the five-day weekend. Boosted by the star power of Dwayne Johnson and the appeal of original songs from Lin-Manuel Miranda of “Hamilton,” “Moana” landed Disney another big hit in a year full of them. Civil War, “Zootopia,” “The Jungle Book” and still has Star Wars: “If you look at the track record of this year, there’s definitely a correlation to the films that have broken out and become hits,” said Dave Hollis, head of domestic distribution at Disney.

Warren Beatty makes ‘Rules’ worth watching

Tue, 22 Nov 2016 18:58:08 UT

Written and directed by and starring Warren Beatty, the movie benefits from Beatty’s memory of the era depicted, the late 1950s and early ’60s, as well as his fidelity to it. The clothing, the hairstyles, the color stock, the eyebrows on lead actress Lily Collins, the baggy sports jacket and tie on Alden Ehrenreich — all scream “circa 1960.” Collins does not look like a modern movie star, but she looks a lot like Jean Simmons. “Rules Don’t Apply” tells the story of Marla, a religious young woman from Virginia who is brought out to Hollywood in 1959 to become part of Howard Hughes’ stock company. The idea is that she has been hired to appear in a film and also to write songs, but weeks go by without a meeting with Hughes. Even when the movie starts to drag, he is always interesting to watch. Beatty, as screenwriter, sets up what seems to be a story of young love, set against a background that’s bizarre and yet meticulously detailed. Fortunately, Beatty is so good at playing mental illness — he’s even better here than he was in “Bugsy” — that he saves the movie. Beatty is probably whom people will be talking about after seeing “Rules Don’t Apply,” but I suspect they’ll be thinking about Collins, who is memorable as a young woman bruised by the Hollywood machine. Collins has the movie’s best moments, which are quiet moments: a skillfully accomplished drunk scene, not to mention two renditions of the title song, which is better the second time you hear it.

‘Moana’ succeeds once it hits the open sea

Tue, 22 Nov 2016 18:39:07 UT

Disney’s decades-long struggle with its princess addiction finally reaches the acceptance stage in “Moana,” the latest satisfying musical from the animation giant. “If you wear a dress and have an animal sidekick, you’re a princess,” the demigod Maui, voiced by Dwayne Johnson, tells the reluctant heroine midway through the movie — stopping just short of turning to the audience with an animated wink. A slow start keeps “Moana” from reaching “Frozen” or “Beauty and the Beast” levels of excellence. [...] the comic self-awareness, engaging songs and a fulfilling finish are enough to merit a strong recommendation. With her island suffering from a curse and the crops barren, Waialiki goes on a mythic voyage with Maui, whose powers are matched by his ego and insecurity. “Moana” is guided by “The Little Mermaid” and “Princess and the Frog” directors Ron Clements and John Musker, whose Disney pedigree goes back to “Pete’s Dragon” in 1977. The action gets much, much better when the three best characters — Moana, Maui and an unintelligent-beyond-description rooster named Hai-Hai (“voiced” by Alan Tudyk) — leave everyone else behind. The story finds its sea legs, and the voyage starts to feel like a worthy update of an old Ray Harryhausen “Sinbad” movie. [...] the lively Johnson-sung “You’re Welcome” and Bowie-esque “Shiny” — voiced by “Flight of the Conchords” co-star Jemaine Clement as a disco crab monster — are top-shelf Disney soundtrack material, contributing to the story as much as to album sales. Maui’s animated tattoos are nature-focused movies-within-the-movie, giving Musker and Clements a throwback 2-D palette to work with.

‘Santa 2’ is bad, and not in a good way

Tue, 22 Nov 2016 18:29:50 UT

Billy Bob Thornton as the drunken, ne’er-do-well Willie Soke, a department-store Santa; Tony Cox as hot-tempered, elfin Marcus; and Brett Kelly as the adult version of chubby, bullied Thurman Merman. The main addition to the cast provides the movie’s only spark, and that is Kathy Bates as Willie’s down-and-dirty mom. For the record, the plot involves a Christmastime plan by the Sokes, abetted by Marcus, to rob a dubious charity, headed by wealthy sexpot Diane (Christina Hendricks), who, remarkably, develops the hots for stumblebum Willie. What “Bad Santa 2” is really about, though, is an attempt to tickle your devilish side, and in a day when outrageous comedy is omnipresent, that’s tough to pull off. After a while, the avalanche of crude sex jokes, alcohol humor, trash-talk insults and slapstick starts to work on your nerves. The original writers (Glenn Ficarra, John Requa) are credited in this sequel only for “characters”; Johnny Rosenthal and Shauna Cross get the “written by” credit. Zwigoff’s humor is razor-sharp and incisive, qualities missing from “Bad Santa 2.”

‘Billy Lynn’ a sophisticated movie about a war’s home front

Thu, 17 Nov 2016 20:00:08 UT

Everything that happens in a war is greeted by people as supporting whatever point of view they already have. [...] pro-war or antiwar, people always think they “support the troops.” Yet in truth, the only ones who really know what a war is like are the people who actually fight it. Ang Lee’s new film, “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” — based on Ben Fountain’s novel of the same name — explores the alienation of a young man who returns from the Iraq War to a hero’s reception, but can’t reconcile his own real war experience with how he’s perceived by others. Taking place mostly over the course of a single day, it’s a smart and languorous film that finds time to luxuriate in conversations and to create a feeling for small-town American life. Bravo Company is brought home for a publicity tour, culminating in a Thanksgiving Day appearance at halftime of the Dallas Cowboys game. Hovering inside the scope of the film’s thought is the suggestion that all this love and brotherhood is itself a form of trap, something that outside power counts on to make these young men easy to manipulate. The movie reminds us that Billy knows things that other people don’t, what it’s like to be tested under fire, what it’s like to kill an enemy in hand-to-hand combat. The sister — there’s always one in every family — is kind of great, an independent thinker desperate to get her brother out of the military for good. Everyone sees the soldiers’ sacrifice as a personal justification, as a reason to take a victory lap. “Billy Lynn” is saying something more sophisticated and more challenging, that war itself creates the lies, that war functions on illusions and manipulations that are systemic, oppressive and, alas, sometimes even necessary.

‘Loving’ a strong drama about a landmark case

Thu, 10 Nov 2016 22:12:39 UT

The Lovings were simple people who never expected to do anything flashy enough to be dramatized on a movie screen. [...] their case eventually made it all the way to the Supreme Court and to an important 1967 decision that prohibited states from denying the right of interracial couples to marry. In recounting the history, writer-director Jeff Nichols takes an approach that makes “Loving” a little more interesting than you might expect, but also slightly less satisfying. At the start of the film, Mildred (Ruth Negga) is a very young black woman, who knows nothing outside her family and her small rural community, and Richard (Joel Edgerton) is monosyllabic, white and wary. Five weeks later, back home in Virginia, the door to their bedroom is kicked open in the middle of the night, and the police shine their flashlights at them. The atmosphere of “Loving,” the feeling it evokes, is the film’s most distinct quality. The mood is somber and restrained, and the characters — not just the principals, but the people they know — seem beaten down. Negga, who is of Irish and Ethiopian descent, finds warmth and a sense of purpose in Mildred, two qualities that are radiantly apparent in the real-life Mildred, as seen in news footage from the time. For the most part, though, these are unlikely heroes, hardly heroes at all, but rather good and nice people whose fortunes become hostage to the times in which they live — the still-racist 1950s South and later, the emerging modern era of the 1960s. [...] characters are not the usual stuff of drama, and we end up partly missing the familiar dramatic elements, of people working consciously and diligently toward a specific, worthy goal.

‘Doctor Strange’ is lucky 13 hit for Marvel

Sun, 6 Nov 2016 21:44:44 UT

“Doctor Strange,” starring Benedict Cumberbatch as one of Marvel’s lesser comic book heroes, collected an estimated $85 million at theaters in the United States and Canada, according to comScore, which compiles box office data. With ticket sales of about $45.6 million, “Trolls” took second place at the domestic box office; it was produced by DreamWorks Animation at a cost of $125 million and distributed by 20th Century Fox. [...] place went to Mel Gibson’s “Hacksaw Ridge” (Lionsgate), which arrived to about $14.8 million in ticket sales, a solid total for a period-war movie from a director with a lot of personal baggage that relied heavily on grassroots marketing.

‘Trolls’ and Timberlake make beautiful music together

Thu, 3 Nov 2016 21:42:49 UT

The comedy from DreamWorks Animation blends music with visual splendor, creating a relentlessly upbeat cinematic kaleidoscope. The movie features self-consciously cute protagonists who already have a presence on toy shelves (just like the Smurfs), trying to escape an ogre-like presence who wants to eat them (also the Smurfs), while trying to help a seemingly hopeless humanoid figure show her true greatness (“Ratatouille,” “Shrek,” “Alvin and the Chipmunks” etc). When the Bergens actually do attack — score one for paranoid conspiracy theorists, kids — Poppy and Branch team up to rescue a group of captured trolls. (Their three favorite things — hugging, singing and scrapbooking.) Lesser animated movies include slapstick for the kids, plus jokes for adults that are designed to go over young heads. The writing pairs nicely with the over-the-top production design, blending colorful 3-D and 2-D animation with bright landscapes and a relentless kinetic energy on screen. Musical interludes are frequent and mostly welcome, with Zooey Deschanel, Russell Brand and Gwen Stefani lending their voices to several pop standards. “Trolls” is at its worst in the ogre village, when the drab colors, poor dental work and atrocious eating habits cast a depressing spell on the movie. Given the horrible introduction of the species and its attempted genocide of our heroes, it’s hard to care much about two Bergens falling in love, except how it relates to the troll survival.

Terrific ‘Tower’ examines 1966 Texas shootings with animation

Thu, 3 Nov 2016 18:57:38 UT

On Aug. 1, 1966, the nation was stunned when Charles Whitman, an architectural engineering student who was a Marine-trained sniper, began randomly shooting people from the observation deck of the 27-story clock tower on the University of Texas campus in Austin. Keith Maitland’s powerful and emotional documentary “Tower” — easily one of the best films of the year — takes a novel approach for a nonfiction film:aAnimation. Specifically, he mixes rotoscope animation with archival footage and news reports to re-create the chilling 90 minutes of terror from the perspective of victims, witnesses and first responders. Whitman is never shown in the documentary — indeed, I’m not even sure his name was mentioned — because this film is a tribute to the people he terrorized. Among them were a young paperboy, a local radio reporter, students, a businessman who jumped in to help, and the policeman who eventually killed the shooter. [...] all of the survivors — even the ones who weren’t shot — carry the emotional wounds of that terrible day 50 years ago.

No danger of disappointment with Iggy Pop film

Thu, 3 Nov 2016 18:24:16 UT

[...] I want to address the non-Iggy Pop fans, either people unfamiliar with him or people who don’t like his music. By the time I was a teenager, his band, the Stooges, had already broken up, and though I sometimes saw his face in rock magazines, I don’t think I’ve ever heard an Iggy Pop song until this documentary. [...] his voice is a lot like that of Buster Keaton, another Midwesterner who didn’t sound anything like the way he looked. Through a series of smart moves — all driven by some innate understanding of his own singular calling — he eventually found himself creating and fronting the Stooges. [...] two fingers (one for each hand). The concerts were a vision of chaos, and increasingly, they were fueled by drugs. What’s odd and interesting about this, though, is that for Pop this was a sincere expression, not a gimmick, but a genuine bearing of the soul. “Gimme Danger” probably will be a lot more enjoyable for people who actually find value in Pop’s music and performances. [...] he may be an artist whose work you don’t like, but the movie makes clear that he is, in fact, an artist.

Amid much gore, Mel Gibson achieves an antiwar triumph

Thu, 3 Nov 2016 18:04:16 UT

The first is that it’s a brilliant return for Mel Gibson, which confirms his position as a director with a singular talent for spectacle and a sure way with actors. Critics should stick to reviewing movies and not armchair psychology — that’s true. Yet no complete description of “Hacksaw Ridge” can omit the fact that it’s like watching neurosis in 24 frames per second; that it’s a bloody, gory, twisted immersion into a cinematic consciousness almost unique in its body obsession and grotesquery. The movie’s first image is an overhead shot of severed limbs and hacked-up corpses piled into the back of a cart, and that’s Gibson just getting warmed up. “Hacksaw Ridge” is a war movie with battle scenes that, in their violence and chaos, make the first 30 minutes of “Saving Private Ryan” look like a folk music concert. There’s no logic to what happens — heads snap back, blood sprays, arms and legs fly into the air, and explosions come from in front and behind. “Hacksaw Ridge” is the real-life story of Desmond Doss, a Seventh-day Adventist from a small Virginia town, who enlisted in World War II as a medic but refused ever to touch a gun. Seeming a lot like Anthony Perkins, Andrew Garfield plays Doss, a gangly country boy whose slightly goofy demeanor conceals an odd cast of mind and a profound physical and moral courage. [...] the cart full of dead bodies at the start of the film depicts a World War I scene from the father’s military service. From Dad’s experience, Doss becomes a pacifist, but his own patriotism and the culture of his small town make it impossible for him to become a conscientious objector. Though the violence lingers in memory, being so intense, it must be said that “Hacksaw Ridge” isn’t only battle scenes.

Correction, Oct. 24

Sun, 23 Oct 2016 04:50:05 UT

Just like real life, and sometimes just as boring, Oct. 21, Datebook, E4 The photo caption accompanying the review of the movie “Certain Women” misidentified the actress. She is Michelle Williams, who plays a woman who wants to build a sandstone wall at her home.

‘Jack Reacher: Never Go Back’ is a superior sequel

Thu, 20 Oct 2016 18:18:40 UT

The 2012 film “Jack Reacher” didn’t seem like the beginning of anything, but more like a mediocre one-off, something that Tom Cruise was trying out that didn’t quite succeed. The movie is based on “Never Go Back,” Lee Child’s 18th novel featuring Reacher, a huge and relentless ex-military officer, now living the life of a drifter. Edward Zwick (“Glory”) directed, and he also co-wrote the script, in collaboration with Richard Wenk (“The Equalizer”) and Marshall Herskovitz (“Love and Other Drugs,” “The Last Samurai”). The film tops this flashy opening with an assured and speedy plunge into story. Reacher heads back to his old military headquarters to meet a major (Cobie Smulders, “How I Met Your Mother”) whom he has become interested in. [...] he soon finds that everyone is against him — local law enforcement, teams of paid assassins and, of course, the entire United States government. Thrown into the mix, and bordering on overkill, Reacher also has to protect a teenage girl who might very well be his own daughter. Samantha (Danika Yarosh) is loud and feral, seemingly raised by wolves, and she definitely wins the prize for Most Annoying Action Movie Daughter Since Maggie Grace in “Taken.” [...] that’s both satisfying and compelling, they seem evenly matched. [...] are the advantages of getting a quality director to work in the action genre. If characters are running from bad guys, it really does help to know who those characters are, to have a sense of their interaction, and to worry about their safety. Reacher never smiles, so right off that’s one weapon in the Cruise arsenal taken off the table.

‘The Accountant’ has a good first hour

Thu, 13 Oct 2016 19:27:15 UT

Much of it is enjoyable and has the aura of a superior action film, but it collapses into a laughable wreck and ultimately reveals itself as a mild waste of two hours. If “The Accountant” is to be remembered for anything, it’s for placing a high-functioning autistic person at the center of an action movie. He’s also a killing machine, a master of martial arts and an expert in a variety of weapons. [...] for reasons never quite explained, he chooses to make his money as an accountant for a variety of criminal organizations. Either the accountant will emerge as fascinating and complex, or he will be revealed as a ludicrous construct, a jumble of various screenwriting impulses rolled into one incongruous pile of pointlessness. The good news is that the bad news is delayed, so that if you see the movie, you may spend an hour wondering why the reviews were so lousy. Arnold Schwarzenegger, for example, spent most of his career playing guys like this, who wreaked destruction and exuded emotional disconnection; and the same could sometimes be said for Bruce Willis, Steven Seagal, Jason Statham, Mel Gibson and even Clint Eastwood. In one, the accountant is hired by a prosthetic manufacturer (John Lithgow) to look into the company’s books. The casting of the tiny Kendrick opposite the tall and broad-shouldered Affleck is a nice touch that emphasizes the unusualness of their connection. Viewers may end up confused as to whether “The Accountant” is a comedy or a drama, but it’s really neither.