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Movie Reviews





 



‘Maze Runner: The Death Cure’ is 142 minutes that you can never get back

Thu, 25 Jan 2018 21:44:40 UT

So things really aren’t going well, not one bit. The apocalypse has more or less happened — or worse, it’s in the process of happening. There’s a virus going around, and three-quarters of the people on Earth are infected. Most cities are destroyed. Oh, yes, and about that virus? It turns people into zombies — not literally, in a textbook definition sense, but zombie-like: A lust for flesh, poor dental hygiene, a tendency to attack in packs, and to walk funny, have jerky movements and to show a certain exuberance in destruction. This is the world of “Maze Runner: The Death Cure,” the third installment in the “Maze Runner” trilogy, a kind of destitute man’s impoverished cousin’s answer to the “Divergent” series.



‘The Commuter’ a gripping thriller in that winning Liam Neeson formula

Thu, 11 Jan 2018 21:09:32 UT

Liam Neeson’s action movies have a built-in appeal, whether good (“Taken,” “Run All Night”) or only so-so (“Taken 3”), but “The Commuter” is securely in the good category. It weds all the winning aspects of the Neeson formula to a ticking-clock plot, full of tense moments and gripping sequences. The big innovation of the Neeson formula — the eureka discovery of “Taken” — is that action can work in a big way when presented as a traditional rags to riches story: Guy starts off down, mistreated, misunderstood. Then there’s a horrible crisis, and he rises to it. He finds complete redemption. Everyone understands that this is one heck of a man.




‘Happy End’ is almost boring enough to make this review boring — almost

Thu, 11 Jan 2018 18:49:59 UT

“Happy End” is the latest from Michael Haneke, an uncompromising filmmaker whose work is sometimes brilliant and sometimes hard to watch — and sometimes both, but not this time. “Happy End” is just hard to watch. It’s a movie that seems to have been made with little regard for the fact that other human beings will have to sit through it. True, to his credit, Haneke does point his camera in the direction of the actors, but that’s his last concession to convention. Haneke, who also wrote the screenplay, takes material that might have been dramatic, and deliberately renders it stultifying, filming irrelevant scenes while skipping over any moment that might possibly interest somebody.



Jessica Chastain is great, Aaron Sorkin’s ‘Molly’s Game’ not so much

Thu, 21 Dec 2017 08:01:00 UT

This is not the review that will tell you not to see a Jessica Chastain movie. Chastain’s take-no-prisoners, full-throttle performances are a pleasure in themselves, and she is at a stage of her career — enjoy it; it never lasts — where she can do no wrong. Somewhere in the next world, Joan Crawford and Bette Davis are actually agreeing on something, and it’s that they really, really like Jessica Chastain. So thinking of it this way, as a Chastain vehicle, “Molly’s Game” is not bad at all. It allows her to be strong and forthright, to play surface amorality and inner moral fortitude, while doing as many flattering costume changes as Kay Francis on a steamship to Mandalay. But “Molly’s Game” aspires to be more than that.



It’s an embarrassment of pitches: ‘Perfect’ sequel disappoints

Thu, 21 Dec 2017 04:35:24 UT

Nothing squanders built-up goodwill quicker than a third film in a series that’s still making money, but is out of ideas. It’s the “Home Alone 3” effect: audience optimism turns to disappointment, before realizing there are no more stories to tell on this thin construct. “Pitch Perfect 3” isn’t quite that bad, but it’s only a matter of degree. The second sequel to the a cappella choir comedy feels less like a movie than a bunch of deleted scenes strung together in the guise of a plot. The leads belabor the same tired conflicts repeatedly with zero progress. Secondary characters have nothing to do for so long, it’s disarming when they finally speak.



Funny nod to ’80s in ‘Jumanji,’ starring The Rock, Kevin Hart and Jack Black

Tue, 19 Dec 2017 20:46:00 UT

Nostalgia for the 1980s has been too narrow in scope lately, focusing on genre pieces featuring kid characters in the horror remake “It” and Netflix sci-fi series “Stranger Things.” Other important ’80s touchstones, like John Hughes teen comedies and all those films in which a person wakes up in the wrong body — “Big” and “All of Me” were the best of them — have been overlooked as inspirations. The winning “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” smartly exploits these two strains of neglected ’80s comedy. It combines them into a story in which a video game sucks a “Breakfast Club”-style foursome into a jungle world where they become avatars drastically different from themselves.




John Cena the voice of Ferdinand, the heavy and full of brotherly love bull

Thu, 14 Dec 2017 03:57:26 UT

One would think it would grow wearisome to see a 2,000-pound bull repeatedly placed in situations in which his size overwhelms his surroundings. It’s essentially the same gag, whether the title character of the new animated film “Ferdinand” squeezes into the window of a house, turns a sofa into a seesaw or navigates the proverbial china shop. Yet the gag never gets old. This is because the bull, lent a gentle resolve by voice actor John Cena and a wide-eyed wonder by the artists and animators at Blue Sky Studios (“Ice Age”), is such a sweetheart.



Capsule movie reviews, Dec. 10

Thu, 7 Dec 2017 17:12:43 UT

A Bad Moms Christmas This rushed sequel to “Bad Moms” (2016) feels more like a financial decision than an artistic mandate. And yet, through all its plot and editing problems, the comedy does deliver a lot of laughs — with a trio of bad grandmothers joining bad moms Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis and Kathryn Hahn. Icy and disapproving Christine Baranski stands out among the newcomers. Rated R. 117 minutes.—P.



Light-hearted ‘Six Degrees of Freedom’ a piece to take seriously

Fri, 1 Dec 2017 23:41:31 UT

Artificial intelligence, programmed behaviors, privacy and other digital-age dilemmas are at issue in “Six Degrees of Freedom,” a beguiling world premiere dance theater work by Smith/Wymore Disappearing Acts. In 75 minutes that blended the playfully droll and gracefully haunting, the natteringly absurd and downright funny, this lighthearted troupe of five made a distinctive first impression at ODC Theater on Thursday, Nov. 30. Lighthearted is not to say lightweight. In both its critique and appropriation of technology, “Six Degrees” imparted an insinuating wit and satirical insight.



Movie review capsules, Dec. 3

Thu, 30 Nov 2017 18:30:26 UT

A Bad Moms Christmas This rushed sequel to “Bad Moms” (2016) feels more like a financial decision than an artistic mandate. And yet, through all its plot and editing problems, the comedy does deliver a lot of laughs — with a trio of bad grandmothers joining bad moms Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis and Kathryn Hahn. Icy and disapproving Christine Baranski stands out among the newcomers. Rated R. 117 minutes.—P.



‘Divine Order’ a by-the-numbers story of Swiss women’s suffrage

Thu, 23 Nov 2017 21:45:43 UT

Maybe it was something in the mountain air, but on the question of women’s suffrage, Switzerland lagged well behind the United States and Europe — Swiss women didn’t get the vote until 1971. Writer-director Petra Volpe has dramatized this worthwhile subject in “The Divine Order,” but the project has a simplistic, by-the-numbers feeling, and makes little attempt to understand the suffragists’ opponents, seen as thoroughly hidebound and fit only for disdain. The cultural upheaval affecting the rest of the Western world seems to arrive late in the small mountain village of the film’s heroine, Nora (Marie Leuenberger), a housewife and mother.



Capsule movie reviews, Nov. 26

Wed, 22 Nov 2017 21:52:13 UT

A Bad Moms Christmas This rushed sequel to “Bad Moms” (2016) feels more like a financial decision than an artistic mandate. And yet, through all its plot and editing problems, the comedy does deliver a lot of laughs — with a trio of bad grandmothers joining bad moms Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis and Kathryn Hahn. Icy and disapproving Christine Baranski stands out among the newcomers. Rated R. 117 minutes.—P.Hartlaub Bill Nye: Science Guy Bill Nye has transformed himself from zany kids show host to a passionate defender of science who makes his case with a sense of urgency.



Enjoy Thanksgiving dinner and a movie in St. Helena

Wed, 22 Nov 2017 01:04:05 UT

Going to a movie after Thanksgiving dinner is almost as much of a tradition as pumpkin pie. But if you live in the North Bay, Cameo Cinema in St. Helena will help you combine the two. As part of its Movies to Dine For series, the theater is screening “Victoria & Abdul,” a recent release about Queen Victoria’s late-in-life friendship with Abdul Karim, a young clerk from India, paired with dinner by Himalayan Sherpa Kitchen and wines from the Napa Valley. The movie stars Judi Dench and Ali Fazal, and tells a story historians only somewhat excavated in the 1960s. It wasn’t an easy task, as much of the correspondence between the two friends was burned after Queen Victoria’s death.



‘Man’ lets us experience ‘A Christmas Carol’ anew

Tue, 21 Nov 2017 21:28:35 UT

Christmas movies thrive on the sense that we’re all in this together, “fellow passengers to the grave” as Charles Dickens put it. That sense was common in the 1940s and ’50s, an era that produced some of our best Christmas movies. That’s in stark contrast to today, an era so steeped in self-glorification that the most popular genre is the superhero movie, which is all about expressing the self at all costs, even if it means the routine destruction of entire city blocks. So, coming when it does, “The Man Who Invented Christmas” is not just a good movie but a welcome relief. If you’re waiting for that nice Christmas feeling, this movie brings it on.



Filmmaking artistry on first-rate display in ‘Three Billboards’

Thu, 16 Nov 2017 04:07:24 UT

“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” begins where most stories should begin, already in progress. The pivotal event, the tragedy from which the central character can never recover, has already happened, and what we see is the aftermath, the crazy things that take place after the world has already tipped its hand and revealed its madness. The movie represents a leap forward for writer-director Martin McDonagh. “Three Billboards” is as clever and imaginative as McDonagh’s “In Bruges” in terms of how it makes characters collide in delightful and unexpected ways.