Tag Archives: Reel Views

Vice

Christian Bale once again undergoes an astonishing transformation for the new Dick Cheney biopic Vice, the latest from The Big Short director Adam McKay that almost entirely misses the mark. The politically charged film is knowingly divisive and meant to be controversial in its depiction of the former Vice President but for all of its empty provocation, it fails to capture its subject on the most fundamental level. After its 132-minute runtime, I learned barely anything about Dick Cheney that I didn’t already know and aside from some solid performances and a few effective bits of humor, there’s little else to recommend in this superficial satire.

We’re introduced to Cheney in his early years working as a power lineman in Wyoming, where his drunken antics impel his wife Lynne (Amy Adams) to steer him in the right direction. We then cut to his time as an intern in the Nixon White House, where Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell) soon becomes his mentor and guides him to a Chief of Staff position under President Ford following the Nixon resignation. After his time in the private sector as CEO of Halliburton, Cheney re-enters the political landscape when presidential hopeful George W. Bush (Sam Rockwell) implores him to be his running mate in the 2000 election.

The biggest thing keeping Vice from being at least a passable biopic is the scattershot direction from McKay, which is not only lacking in narrative clarity but is also loaded with an undeniable sense of condescension. Working again with The Big Short editor Hank Corwin, McKay packs in as many talking points as possible, even if they don’t thematically cohere with what’s happening in the narrative at any given point. Just as he delighted in breaking down the 2008 financial collapse for us in his previous film, McKay frequently freeze-frames the action to glibly lecture us on political strategy via a mystery narrator voiced by Jesse Plemons.

It’s this patronizing tone that constantly undermines any sense of comedic or dramatic momentum that is built up during the film. There are individual moments, like a fake epilogue at the movie’s midway point or an Alfred Molina cameo that depicts him as a waiter offering political euphemisms as menu items, that are clever on their own but feel at odds with the film’s more dramatic inflections. It’s obvious that McKay isn’t interested in applying any sort of nuance or insight in his depiction of Cheney’s personal journey and frankly, I’m not sure why he was so committed to writing and directing a movie about a public figure for which he seems to have so much disdain.

A greater sense of drive and purpose can be found more from the ensemble cast than McKay’s direction and that starts with Bale as the central character. Adding another committed performance to his stellar resume, Bale builds upon the prominent physical aspects of the role by also applying a pitch-perfect pragmatic diction that suits the character brilliantly. Elsewhere, Adams makes the most of her limited screen time with a believable sense of determination and Carell continues to hone his dramatic chops while implementing his undeniable charisma. Sadly, their work gets lost in the shuffle as Vice provides a toothless take on Cheney’s legacy.

Score – 2/5

Coming to theaters this weekend:
A Dog’s Way Home, starring Ashley Judd and Bryce Dallas Howard, is a canine-centric tearjerker about a lost dog who makes a 400 mile journey home while making friends along the way.
Replicas, starring Keanu Reeves and Alice Eve, tells the tale of desperate neuroscientist who will stop at nothing to bring his family back to life after their untimely demise in a car accident.
The Upside, starring Kevin Hart and Bryan Cranston, follows the relationship between a paralyzed billionaire and a recently paroled convict who is hired to look after him.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

The Favourite

Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos turns the costume drama genre on its head with The Favourite, a wickedly hilarious and delightfully idiosyncratic vision of royal life in early 18th century England. With lavish costume design and exquisite set design, the film excels in areas typical of period pieces but it goes beyond that by pairing those aspects with a thoroughly engaging and entertaining story. Lanthimos has channeled his mordant perspective on human behavior into a bracingly original tragicomedy which proves that not every movie with corsets has to be restrained by the trappings of its respective genre.

Olivia Colman gives a brilliant performance as the depressed and erratic Queen Anne, who has effectively relinquished most of her governing ability to her advisor and confidant Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz). Though the relationship between the two is strong, Sarah’s efforts to control the Queen are periodically disrupted by haughty Parliament member Robert Harley (Nicholas Hoult). Upon the arrival of her cousin Abigail Hill (Emma Stone), Sarah’s political influence is undermined further as Abigail insinuates herself into the Queen’s daily life. Soon enough, a war of attrition develops between the two cousins as they vie for permanent power.

This marks the first time Lanthimos has worked with a script which he didn’t have a hand in writing himself but fortunately, his darkly comic sensibilities seem to be in lock-step with those of screenwriters Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara. Loaded with biting wit and profane exchanges that will keep audience’s ears perked up, the screenplay also does a superb job at developing these three female characters in such a way that we can sympathize with them one minute and loathe them the next. Perhaps the film’s defining line is a self-aware and droll observation from Abigail: “as it turns out, I’m capable of much unpleasantness.”

Another audacious aspect of The Favourite is how many stylistic chances are taken from a visual standpoint. The camerawork by Robbie Ryan is boldly unconventional in its frequent use of low (extremely low, in some cases) angles and fish-eye lenses to throw the audience’s equilibrium off balance. He also adapts to the challenges of shooting in low light settings brilliantly — comparisons to Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon are both inevitable and deserved. The costume work from Oscar-winning designer Sandy Powell embraces all of the film’s eccentricities while also staying true to the film’s sense of time and place.

Bringing the entire production together are three outstanding performances calibrated perfectly with one another. Colman modulates layers of sadness for both comedic and dramatic effect while Weisz brings a calculating brilliance to Sarah as she weighs cruelty against compassion in nearly every conversation she has. Stone utilizes her deadpan and self-effacing abilities to masterful effect and also carries through a believable transformation in her character. The Favourite is a bold and distinctive work from a director at the pinnacle of his powers and perhaps it’s not a surprise that it’s my favorite film of the year.

Score – 5/5

Coming to theaters this weekend:
Escape Room, starring Taylor Russell and Deborah Ann Woll, pits six teenagers against a trendy new escape room that they soon discover has deadly traps at every turn.
If Beale Street Could Talk, starring Stephan James and KiKi Layne, is the latest from Moonlight director Barry Jenkins about a young African-American woman looking to clear her husband’s name after he’s falsely convicted of a crime.
On the Basis of Sex, starring Felicity Jones and Armie Hammer, tells the life story of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg starting with a gender discrimination case that would pave the way for the rest of her career.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Mary Poppins Returns

Disney’s recent trend of rehashing existing properties continues with Mary Poppins Returns, a much belated sequel that doesn’t diminish the legacy of its classic predecessor but does little to add to it either. Director Rob Marshall has the unenviable task of filling a 54 year gap between his new film and Mary Poppins, which was nominated for 13 Academy Awards and is widely considered Disney’s finest achievement in live-action filmmaking. The sequel strains hard at every turn to draw parallels to and recapture the magic of the original but nearly everything about this retread feels forced and overly calculated.

Taking place 25 years after the events of the first film, we’re re-introduced to the Banks children Jane (Emily Mortimer) and Michael (Ben Whishaw), the latter of whom has fallen on hard times since the passing of his wife. After falling months behind with their house payments, Michael and his three children are at risk of having their home taken away from them unless they can produce valuable stock certificates left by Michael’s late father. Sensing that the Banks family needs her help once again, the mystical nanny Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) descends from the sky to fill the young ones with joy and wonder amid their dire circumstances.

From an opening number that features Lin-Manuel Miranda sporting a Cockney accent not too dissimilar from Dick Van Dyke’s in the original, this film feels like it’s trying too hard in almost every aspect. There are some numbers, like “A Cover Is Not A Book”, that do find their own spark of creativity but many of these routines feel like they’re intentionally pulling too much from the past. Aside from its inclusion of BMX bike tricks, “Trip A Little Light Fantastic” is obviously meant to recreate the rooftop whimsy of “Step In Time” from the 1964 original but it fails to recapture the spirit and imagination of that rousing number.

At a stout 130 minutes, Mary Poppins Returns outstays its welcome with sequences of song and dance that are intermittently charming and dazzling but feel like distractions from a story that’s quite paper-thin in the first place. It’s not an exaggeration to say that half of this film’s plot revolves around repairing a china bowl and while I understand musicals don’t always have the most dense storylines when compared to dramas, there still needs to be enough at stake to get involved in what’s happening. There’s also a major lapse of logic that occurs in the film’s climax that involves Poppins’ neglect to utilize her magical powers at a critical moment.

Being a Disney production, the film is, of course, very competently made and there’s no shortage of talent on and off the screen. The costumes and set design are both first-rate, while the acting (at least from the adults) is strong all around. Blunt does a great job of embodying the classic character, building off of Julie Andrews’ performance while also adding grace notes of her own. Whishaw makes the most of his limited role and Mortimer does a fine job as well, even though her character is severely underwritten. Mary Poppins Returns may enchant those with close ties to the original but as a whole, this belated sequel simply feels too little and too late.

Score – 2/5

Coming to theaters this weekend:
The Favourite, starring Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz, depicts the power struggle between two cousins jockeying to be court favorites during Queen Anne’s reign in the early 18th century.
Vice, starring Christian Bale and Amy Adams, is another tongue-in-cheek biopic from The Big Short director Adam McKay which covers the influential vice presidency of Dick Cheney.
Second Act, starring Jennifer Lopez and Leah Remini, follows a working class mother who gets a second chance at a corporate career after a falsified resume lands her a high-profile position at a finance firm.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup


Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Two major questions loom large over the latest from Sony Pictures Animation: does the world really need another superhero movie and more importantly, does it really need another Spider-Man movie? Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse answers both of these questions early and often with an emphatic “yes”; this is not only the most electrifying superhero film of the year but it’s also the best on-screen version of the web-slinger that I’ve ever seen. Packed to the brim with vivid and vibrant animated flourishes that call back to the rich comic book heritage of this series, this is a film that honors the mythology of its central character while expanding on it beautifully.

At the center of this Spider-Man story is Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), a bright teenager who develops unusual abilities after being bitten by a genetically modified spider. While this part of the story is certainly familiar, the new twist this time around is the introduction of a particle accelerator that allows for access of parallel universes. This leaves the gateway open for other inter-dimensional iterations of Spider-Man, including Peter Parker (Jake Johnson) and Spider-Woman (Hailee Steinfeld), among others. Together, they all have to come together to stop Kingpin (Liev Schreiber), along with two other major foes, as they try to destroy New York City.

The design of this film is unlike any other that I’ve seen from another animated picture before, weaving together the aesthetics of various genres from anime to Looney Tunes-era cartoons in a spectacularly clever manner. It also incorporates the use of purposefully misaligned colors to out-of-focus objects in the background, which replicates the look and feel of comic books from the 1960s where Spider-Man was born. On top of these homages to other mediums, the film is also astonishing in its implementation of cutting-edge computer animation, especially during the climactic showdown that shuffles objects from one dimension to another.

It would be enough if this was simply the best-looking Spider-Man movie but thanks to co-writer Phil Lord (also behind last year’s similarly hilarious The LEGO Batman Movie), it’s also the funniest. The movie respectfully pokes fun at the different interpretations of Spider-Man that have appeared in comics through the years, from 1930s detective styled Spider-Noir (voiced by Nicolas Cage) to Spider-Ham (voiced by John Mulaney), who has the power to “float in the air at the smell of a delicious pie”. It also has some fun with superhero tropes like the down-to-the-wire heroics; at one point, Parker quips “there’s always a little time before people die and that’s where I do my best work.”

What I appreciated most is that these jokes and the accompanying kinetic animation style don’t detract from the fact that this has an excellent origin story at its core that, spider-bite aside, is very different from what we’ve seen in a film up to this point. The self-referential humor can be cheeky but not in a way that tries to tear down the myth behind the superhero; the trio of directors behind this movie clearly have a great reverence for the character and his lineage. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is the most invigorating superhero film I’ve seen since The Avengers in 2012 and proves that even in an over-saturated market, fresh ideas can still be found.

Score – 4.5/5

Coming to theaters this weekend:
Mary Poppins Returns, starring Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda, is a direct sequel to the classic 1964 musical which finds the merry and mystical nanny reuniting with two of the children from the original.
Aquaman, starring Jason Momoa and Amber Heard, is the latest installment in the DC Extended Universe which follows the titular superhero as he leads the people of Atlantis against the evil sea creature Orm.
Bumblebee, starring Hailee Steinfeld and John Cena, is a spin-off of the Transformers franchise (technically a prequel to the first film in the series) that focuses on the origin of the titular yellow robot.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

A Star Is Born

Bradley Cooper makes an auspicious directorial debut with A Star Is Born, an often dazzling and occasionally overwrought crowd-pleaser that soars with rousing music and plenty of pathos. There have been four remakes since the original 1937 film and while the story does hit many of the expected beats that line up with the previous iterations, Cooper and crew are able to find just the right notes to deftly bring this timeless tale up to date. Anchored by strong chemistry between the leads and some admirable technical aspects behind the camera, this awards season contender may have what it takes to score some serious Oscar gold next February.

Cooper stars as Jackson Maine, a hard-drinking country singer whose best days are seemingly behind him until he meets a singer named Ally (Lady Gaga) in a burlesque bar one evening. Blown away by her raw talent, Maine invites her on tour and after a guest performance that brings down the house, Ally begins to pursue her own music career first as a singer-songwriter and then later transitioning into pop superstardom. As a romance blossoms between the two, their relationship is constantly tested by the rigorous pressures of the music industry and by the personal demons that continually drive Maine to the bottle.

Given how much Lady Gaga’s real-life career mirrors the trajectory of Ally’s character in the film, she was a smart choice for the lead role and proves that she has more to bring to the table on top of her stunning vocals. Her performance, both in scenes on and off the stage, feels natural and unrestrained in a way that most big-screen debuts typically do not. She and Cooper form a bond that’s not only believable for their characters but also makes it easy to root for them as a couple too. A scene of confrontation between the two, during which ugly remarks are exchanged by one another, is hard to watch but played perfectly by the two performers.

While Cooper and Gaga play the rock stars in front of the camera, there’s also rock star talent behind the camera in the form of Oscar-nominated cinematographer Matthew Libatique, known for his work with director Darren Aronofsky. He captures the on-stage sequences with an immediacy that makes them jump off the screen and feel like we have a backstage pass to an exhilarating rock concert. There are plenty of other eye-catching moments off-stage as well, including an especially a captivating close-up of Ally sharing a first glance with Jackson in a bar; the flawless composition of that shot in particular makes it especially memorable.

Of course, a film like this that’s so entrenched in the music industry lives and dies by the quality of its original music and A Star Is Born certainly does not disappoint in that area. The obvious stand-out is the slow-burn duet “Shallow”, whose name is probably being etched into the Best Original Song trophy as we speak, but other cuts like “Maybe It’s Time” and “Always Remember Us This Way” seem to have tremendous staying power as well. The combination of music and melodrama makes for a predictable but ultimately enjoyable movie that marks a promising start to Cooper’s career as a director and to Gaga’s career as an actress.

Note: this film was originally released the first weekend in October; it now returns to theaters for a limited IMAX engagement.

Score – 3.5/5

Coming to theaters this weekend:
Mortal Engines, starring Hera Hilmar and Hugo Weaving, is a post-apocalyptic tale set in a world where entire cities compete with one another for limited resources while mounted atop gigantic vehicles.
The Mule, starring Clint Eastwood and Bradley Cooper, tells the true story of a World War II veteran in his 80s who became a drug courier for a dangerous Mexican cartel.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, starring Shameik Moore and Hailee Steinfeld, brings everyone’s favorite webslinger back to the animated world as he teams up with other iterations of Spider-Man from alternate universes.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Creed II

Michael B. Jordan steps into the ring once again as heavyweight boxer Adonis Creed in Creed II, a sequel to the 2015 film that was itself a reboot of a franchise that seemed to be down for the count but still had some fight left in it. While there are few fresh concepts or challenging ideas in this new entry, it willingly serves up the familiar pleasures and tropes that we commonly associate with boxing movies and specifically with the Rocky films of the past. Taking over for Ryan Coogler after his success with Marvel’s Black Panther, director Steven Caple Jr. isn’t able to match the rich emotional depths found in Creed although the fight scenes are often just as thrilling.

We’re re-introduced to Creed as he’s in the middle of hot streak, on the precipice of becoming the world heavyweight champion with his mentor Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) and his fiancé Bianca (Tessa Thompson) in his corner. We soon learn there’s trouble brewing in Ukraine as Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), the boxer who killed Creed’s father Apollo in the ring during the events of Rocky IV, has been relentlessly training his son Viktor (Florian Munteanu) to overtake Creed on the world boxing stage. With the legacies of their fathers inextricably linking the two boxers together, Creed and Drago take to the ring in an all-or-nothing brawl.

As is to be expected, there are plenty of callbacks to past Rocky films and particularly to Rocky IV, although the tone of Creed II is thankfully much more grounded in reality than most of its predecessors. The chief issue this time around is that the overall narrative arc is painfully predictable from the first frame and save for a few notable character moments, Caple Jr. does little to stray from the formula that has worked quite well in the past. Still, he hits most of the familiar story beats with gusto and by the time we’re in the ring for the big fight, the groundwork that has been laid out is sufficient enough to root for our protagonist.

The script, co-written by Stallone along with Juel Taylor, spends plenty of time fleshing out the relationship between Creed and Bianca, which is a smart move given how much chemistry Jordan and Thompson have on-screen. However, I wish there had been more time dedicated to the Drago family and the tragic backstory that contributes to their presence in this film. A pivotal scene in Russia between Ivan and Viktor is a poignant reminder of just how separated they feel not only from one another but also from their own country as well. I wish Caple Jr. had taken more opportunities like this to balance the struggles of the hero with the villain.

Still, fans of boxing movies will find plenty to enjoy in the both the training montages (including a sequence in the desert with some memorable imagery) and the pair of electrifying fight scenes between the two heavyweights. Caple Jr. shoots these scenes with an appropriate level of visual verve and stages the action in a way that nicely juxtaposes Creed’s quickness against Drago’s seemingly insurmountable strength. Creed II is a serviceable entry in the Rocky franchise that doesn’t do as much as it could have done to distinguish itself from the pack but also isn’t the total letdown that it could have been either.

Score – 3/5

Coming to theaters this weekend:
Ben Is Back, starring Julia Roberts and Lucas Hedges, is an addiction drama about a young man who returns home on Christmas Eve in an effort to re-connect with his estranged family.
Mary Queen of Scots, starring Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie, retells the true story of Mary Stuart’s attempt to overthrow her cousin Queen Elizabeth I in 16th century England.
Vox Lux, starring Natalie Portman and Jude Law, centers around an international pop singer who struggles to hold onto her success amid mounting scandals that threaten her career.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Ralph Breaks the Internet

Coming 6 years after the surprise breakout hit Wreck-It Ralph, Ralph Breaks the Internet reunites us with the titular video game character (John C. Reilly) and his best friend Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman). When the steering wheel for Vanellope’s Sugar Rush game breaks, the two must go online and traverse the World Wide Web in order to track down the hard-to-find replacement part. During their journeys, they run into various citizens of the digital world, including the head of a popular video site called BuzzzTube (Taraji P. Henson) and the head racer of a video game called Slaughter Race (Gal Gadot).

Walt Disney Animation Studios isn’t typically known for their sequels (this is their first since Fantasia 2000) and given how strong their track record has been since Wreck-It Ralph‘s release, it’s difficult not to feel a bit disappointed by this film. Compared to recent releases like Frozen, Zootopia, and Moana, Ralph Breaks the Internet isn’t up to par in terms of narrative quality and seems like it’s destined to have less staying power in the long run. Sure, kids may be excited to see the overall-wearing oaf once again but if you ask them 5 years from now whether they’d like to watch Wreck-It Ralph 1 or 2, I doubt anyone would be adamant about this particular entry.

Naturally, the most memorable aspect of this movie is the digital depiction of the Internet as a physical world in which avatars of human web surfers zip around from one website to another. This setting is filled with personifications of online scenarios we encounter everyday; for example, a character named KnowsMore (voiced by Alan Tudyk) exemplifies a search engine whose autofill function is humorously over-aggressive. The film’s funniest sequence finds Vanellope in Oh My Disney, a place for all things Disney in which she meets all of the famous Disney Princesses and they cleverly dissect the tropes associated with their characters.

Besides this stand-out setpiece, which was already spoiled thoroughly in the film’s trailer, there aren’t nearly enough subversive touches or tongue-in-cheek laughs to keep the comedic side of the story afloat. The script, penned by co-director Phil Johnston and Pamela Ribon, is packed with contrivances that pull our lead characters from one location to the next but the narrative begins to feel laborious by the third act. This is a screenplay that desperately could have used either some trimming or some “punch-up” (dialogue re-written for comedic emphasis) to make the plot-heavy elements a bit more palatable.

Despite the lack of humor, this movie has a worthwhile message for kids about friendship and allowing best friends to find their own path while still maintaining a relationship with them. Compared to last year’s abysmal The Emoji Movie, another animated film filled with product placement that attempts to create a digital version of the World Wide Web, Ralph Breaks the Internet clearly has the moral high ground. Unfortunately, it seems the creators couldn’t quite re-capture the spark and spontaneity of its predecessor and the result is a passable but relatively forgettable entry in the animated Disney canon.

Score – 2.5/5

Coming to theaters this weekend:
The Possession of Hannah Grace, starring Kirby Johnson and Shay Mitchell, is a supernatural horror film that follows a policewoman who encounters unexplainable events while working a graveyard shift in the city morgue.
Bodied, starring Calum Worthy and Jackie Long, follows a graduate student who becomes immersed in the fiercely competitive world of battle rapping while working on his graduate thesis.
Screening at Cinema Center is Wildlife, starring Carey Mulligan and Jake Gyllenhaal, which is the directorial debut from actor Paul Dano that centers around a struggling family in 1960s Montana.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Widows

Most modern heist films, like Ocean’s 8 from earlier this year or last year’s Logan Lucky, seem to aim for a certain kind of escapism as we get an inside peek into all the details that go into pulling off a big score. Widows, the latest from 12 Years A Slave director Steve McQueen, is comparatively much more grounded in reality but the results are no less electrifying than some of the best in the genre. Based on a British series from the 1980s, the film uses its setting of modern-day Chicago to examine a bevy of issues that plague our society but it does so without letting its weighty themes bog down the thrilling narrative.

Viola Davis leads a stellar ensemble cast as Veronica Rawlings, whose husband Harry (Liam Neeson) is killed in the opening minutes of the film as he and his crew of four find themselves in the middle of a heist gone wrong. Still reeling from the loss of her husband, she is confronted by local crime boss Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry) who demands that she settle the debt left unresolved by Harry’s botched robbery. After she discovers her late husband’s notebook full of plans for a potential job, Veronica teams up with the widows of the other thieves to pull off a $5 million robbery that will make her even with Manning, who is also running against incumbent Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell) as alderman of a South Side precinct.

The cast, which also includes talented performers like Elizabeth Debicki and Daniel Kaluuya, is loaded with powerhouse talent and each actor puts everything they have into the pockets of time that they’re on-screen. Davis reaffirms her status as one of the most compelling actresses working today, channeling layers of grief and anger into a performance that works beautifully as an emotional backbone for the entire film. Debicki, who was also excellent in The Tale earlier this year, brings so much strength and resiliency to her portrayal of a wounded soul and Kaluuya brings pitch-perfect menace to his role as a mob enforcer.

While there is no shortage of brilliance in front of the camera, there is also an abundance of skill behind the camera, which starts with McQueen in the director’s chair. His previous films like Hunger and Shame have typically been character studies that focus more on mood than plot but his transition here into a densely packed narrative with many moving parts feels seamless. He has also re-teamed with cinematographer Sean Bobbitt and editor Joe Walker to craft a movie that is visually engaging from the very first frame. Additionally, Hans Zimmer contributes a kinetic musical score that’s not nearly as showy as some of his work in the past.

Among all this excellent work, it’s the first-rate script, penned by McQueen along with Gone Girl writer Gillian Flynn, that stands out as possibly the most impressive aspect of a film that does so much right. The screenplay features all the clever plotting necessary for a film like this to work effectively but is also packed with hard-hitting dialogue that feels true to every character who speaks it. Widows feels like a blend of the crime caper thrills of Heat mixed with the sociological incisiveness of The Wire and is a perfect example of how just how exhilarating genre fare executed to the highest level can be.

Score – 4.5/5

Coming to theaters this weekend:
Creed II, starring Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone, pits the son of boxer Apollo Creed against the son of Ivan Drago, the Russian heavyweight who was responsible for killing Apollo in the ring.
Green Book, starring Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali, tells the true story of Jamaican-American classical pianist Don Shirley and his driver Tony Lip as they find friendship amid racism in the 1960s Deep South.
Ralph Breaks the Internet, starring John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman, is the belated follow-up to 2012’s Wreck-It Ralph that follows the titular video game character as he breaks out of his arcade machine and finds himself online.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

The Grinch

Illumination’s new take on Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch is the cinematic equivalent of sitting down next to a roasting fireplace in the dead of winter, armed with a piping cup of hot chocolate in one hand with a beloved pet resting under the other. Or perhaps it’s more apt to say that it’s like a plate of comfort food, piled high with freshly-carved Roast Beast. It’s a familiar pleasure and a welcome one, especially around the holidays, even if it’s one that won’t linger long in one’s memory after the experience. Riding high off the success of The Secret Life of Pets and the Despicable Me series, Illumination has crafted another family-friendly hit that kids (and possibly their parents) will likely enjoy.

Voicing the dyspeptic and diabolical titular character in this iteration is Benedict Cumberbatch, channeling an American accent not dissimilar from his work as Doctor Strange in the Marvel films. His Grinch has the same plan in mind as previous Grinches: dress up as a fake Santa Claus and attempt to crush the indomitable spirit of the Whoville citizens by stealing all of their decorations and presents on Christmas Eve. Whilst The Grinch devises his plan, Cindy Lou Who (Cameron Seely) also plots to catch Santa while he leaves presents so that she can ask a favor for her overworked mother Donna (Rashida Jones).

The Grinch is the third telling of Dr. Seuss’ children’s book and it lands right in the middle in terms of quality; it’s not as memorable as the 1966 TV special but also not nearly as off-putting as Ron Howard’s nightmare-inducing live-action version. The most remarkable thing about this entry is that it’s generally unremarkable, which isn’t exactly a bad thing while not being especially high praise either. It’s gratifying to see a film this uncynical in 2018 but it’s so good-natured that there are basically no stakes through the entire story and I wouldn’t be surprised if some kids are bored by the hour-mark.

The movie is so light on incident that it probably could have been half its runtime (the animated classic is only 26 minutes) and the conflict that does exist within the film doesn’t have much impact since the main character’s progression is so minimal. Except for an early montage in which he mildly inconveniences a few Whos during a trip to Whoville, The Grinch hardly exhibits any behavior that is particularly cruel or even mean-spirited. This Grinch, in comparison to the past film Grinches, seems generally more lonely than loathsome and the kindness that he shows to his adorable pet dog Max is present even before his heart grows three times larger.

Still, I give The Grinch credit for hitting the notes that it needed to hit and the animation is appropriately cheery and bright as we get plenty of shots swooping over the impeccably decorated Whoville. There are also some clever visual machinations during the Grinch’s Christmas raid as he deploys Wile E. Coyote-esque contraptions like throwing stars that wrap up a Christmas tree in seconds. There’s good reason why this tale of a curmudgeon who learns the value of empathy and kindness has been re-told several times and with hope, we’ll be telling it again and again in the future.

Score – 3/5

Coming to theaters this weekend:
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, starring Eddie Redmayne and Johnny Depp, is another entry in the Wizarding World franchise in which Newt Scamander and a young Albus Dumbledore square off against the titular dark wizard.
Instant Family, starring Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne, is a family comedy about a married couple who gets in over their heads when they adopt three children at the same time.
Widows, starring Viola Davis and Elizabeth Debicki, is a heist film from 12 Years a Slave director Steve McQueen about four women who enter a life of crime after their husbands are killed during a robbery gone wrong.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Bohemian Rhapsody

Freddie Mercury and his Queen bandmates get the biopic treatment in Bohemian Rhapsody, an occasionally inspiring but generally middling overview of the arena rock group and its larger-than-life lead singer. Creative differences between the real-life band’s surviving members and Sacha Baron Cohen, who was originally slated to play Mercury, have loomed over the production since 2010 and it’s no big surprise that the band ultimately favored a more play-it-safe approach with the material. With a rousing soundtrack and a litany of on-the-road montages, die-hard Queen fans will have plenty to enjoy in this film but those looking for a deeper dive will likely be disappointed.

We’re introduced to Mercury (Rami Malek) as he meets guitarist Brian May (Gwilym Lee) and drummer Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy) the night that they serendipitously find themselves in need of a new lead singer. With the addition of bassist John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello), the group re-forms under the name Queen and begins selling out shows around the world after the success of their debut album. The film skims through the highs and lows of the band’s career but tends to focus on the struggles of its elusive lead singer, including his atypical relationship with girlfriend Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton) and his hard partying lifestyle that would eventually drive a wedge between himself and the group.

The cast, aside from the distracting presence of Mike Myers, is well-realized and each performer does solid work in their respective roles but it’s Malek who shines brightest in the spotlight. He gives an appropriately commanding performance that’s worthy of the towering persona that Mercury exuded in real life and by the time we get to the iconic Live Aid performance, Malek is practically indistinguishable from the real Freddie as he struts around the stage. In addition to mastering Mercury’s slinky physicality and stunning vocal range, Malek also digs past the singer’s haughty exterior to reveal a wounded soul with more insecurity than he’s willing to let on.

The biggest issues with Bohemian Rhapsody tend to come from behind the camera and generally center around the thoroughly unimaginative storytelling from director Bryan Singer, who was fired about one month before filming ended. From the introduction of Freddie’s disapproving parents to the pleas from Mary Austin that Freddie’s “burning the candle at both ends”, Singer leaves no rock-biopic cliché unturned; he follows a well-worn formula that even those unfamiliar with the genre will be able to pick up on early in the film. It’s also apparent that Singer has little to say about the band’s legacy and it seems the influence of May and Taylor as executive producers has steered the film towards hagiography.

It’s unfortunate that the life of a musical firebrand like Freddie Mercury has been sanitized to this degree but this is clearly the kind of innocuous product that 20th Century thought would play best to general audiences. Even though the script is full of moments that range from unlikely to downright false, screenwriter Anthony McCarten does land some quality zingers as Mercury and crew snipe with higher-ups in the record industry. Bohemian Rhapsody is at its best when it focuses on the hard work of four musicians who crafted 15 studio albums in their relatively limited time together but as an examination of a rock icon, it’s regrettably tame and toothless.

Score – 2.5/5

Coming to theaters this weekend:
The Grinch, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Rashida Jones, is the latest update on the 1957 Dr. Seuss book about a grumpy creature who’s out to ruin Christmas for the nearby people of Whoville.
The Girl in the Spider’s Web: A New Dragon Tattoo Story, starring Claire Foy and LaKeith Stanfield, follows hacker Lisbeth Salander as she squares off against a foe who has ties to her past.
Overlord, starring Jovan Adepo and Wyatt Russell, is a World War II horror film that pits American paratroopers against violent creatures bred from a secret Nazi experiment.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup