Category Archives: Openings

What happens in Chicago….ends up here every Friday.

Opening in Las Vegas, January 6, 2017

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Two leftovers from 2016 and 2017’s first new release! And of course it’s shitty.

Sorry to say, but Hidden Figures (74) looks dreadful. It’s certainly a worthy story–African American women who were mathemiticians helping the space program, now getting their due, and it may pick up some Oscar nominations, but the trailer makes it seem like a pandering exercise in “see, black women are smart, too.” Anybody who doesn’t know that already doesn’t deserve to be able to go to the movies. I’d much rather see a documentary on the subject.

A bit more intriguing to me, though I probably won’t see it in a theater, is A Monster Calls (76). It looks like a variation on the very popular theme of the beleaguered kid having his own personal bodyguard to wreak havoc on his enemies. When I was a kid I longed to have a robot like the one in Lost in Space to avenge myself against bullies. “Danger, Will Robinson!” I have a feeling the monster in this film is just inside the kid’s head, but I don’t know for sure.

The fifth in the series, Underworld: Blood Wars (20) is a typically horrible film that gets released the first weekend of the year. I guess it’s counter-programming for all the good movies that are out there now. “Gee, Martha, there’s so many of these durn quality films out there, I want to see something really stupid.” Well, here you go. I actually saw one or two of these movies on DVD just to see Kate Beckinsale. I’m not dead, you know.

By the way, not all January releases used to be terrible. The Grapes of Wrath was actually released in the first week of January, 1940, when all types of movies were released at all times of the year. Topic for discussion: what’s the best movie you can rememeber that was released in January? (and I don’t mean an expansion of a movie released in December).

Opening in Las Vegas, Christmas Weekend, 2016

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I’m in Michigan visiting the family, but most of these films are opening nationwide Christmas weekend across the country.

I just reviewed Fences (78) below. Denzel Washington: great actor, Denzel Washington: director, not so great. Should get a few Oscar nominations for acting.

Passengers (41) is the big team up of two of today’s hottest stars: Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence, and it appears to be a dud. Probably will wait for home video for this one.

Favorite headline this week was the New York Times review of Why Him? (38). “Why Him? Why This Movie?” James Franco has fast become a warning to not see a film.

Jackie (81) is Oscar bait for Nataline Portman as Mrs. Kennedy, and is getting all-around good reviews. On my must-see list.

Lion (68) is the kind of movie I usually avoid–boy is adopted by Australian parents, tries to find his real family in India, but Nicole Kidman (not much of a fan of hers) and Dev Patel have Oscar buzz.

Sing (60) seems to be an aminated version of American Idol, which means I will probably never see it. Lots of big names in the voice talent, though: Reese Witherspoon, Scarlett Johansson, Matthew McConaughey, and Jennifer Hudson

Worst movie of the week seems to be Assassin’s Creed (36), as we still wait for a good movie to be based on a video game. Topic for discussion: what is the best film based on a video game, or have there been none?

 

Opening in Las Vegas, December 16, 2016

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Just a few openings this weekend, but among them are perhaps the highest-grossing film of the year and the Best Picture Oscar winner.

We’ll start with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (65), which was critic-proof anyway. Most of the brickbats are for the script, which apparently offers nothing new, but Star Wars geeks are turning out in droves.

The presumptive Oscar winner is La La Land (92), which I saw last night and will review tomorrow. It is grand, albeit escapist entertainment, with some charming lead performances. Since it is about Hollywood, it probably has a leg up on the competition (see Argo, The Artist).

Finally the bomb of the week is Collateral Beauty (23), getting ripped apart by critics, some who can hardly believe its existence. Topic for discussion: can Will Smith’s career be saved?

Opening in Las Vegas, December 9, 2016

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We missed last week, but it was only a second-rate horror film called Incarnate and another bomb, Man Down, which has this priceless quote by Richard Roeper: “Sometimes we talk about seeing a performance so real, so believable, so authentic, it takes our breath away. Then there’s Shia LaBeouf’s work in “Man Down.””

This week offers better choices. I saw Manchester by the Sea (96) today (review on Monday) and you can believe the hype. It’s a film about grief and family, and it’s not the feel-good film of the year, but it’s one of the best. I haven’t seen Denzel Washington in Fences yet, but Casey Affleck has got to be the Best Actor frontrunner.

Miss Sloane (64) is about a controversial subject: gun control. Jessica Chastain stars as a lobbyist taking on the N.R.A. Might not play well in Trump country. I’ve always been fascinated by lobbyists, especially those who work for repugnant issues. Who could live with themself as a lobbyist for the tobacco industry? Someone needs to make a film.

Lighter fare can surely be found in Office Christmas Party (42), which probably brings the raunch, but is strictly a rental (if that) for me. Starring T.J. Miller, whom I’ve never heard of before but gave the film a little extra publicity by getting arrested this week.

Tom Ford gives us his second film after A Single Man with Nocturnal Animals (67). I’ve read about the plot, in which a woman (Amy Adams) reads a novel by her ex (Jake Gyllenhaal), which becomes a story-within-a-story, but some critics are finding the film head-scratching.

On the 15-film shortlist for the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature is The Eagle Huntress (72), about a Kazakh girl who is trying to break into the male-dominated world of eagle hunting (which looks to be like falconry, but with a bigger bird).

Opening in Las Vegas, Thanksgiving Weekend, 2016

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A cornucopia of fims opening this weekend, some for almost every taste.

The likely box officer winner this weekend is Moana (81), an animated film from Walt Disney. A studio ever interesed in diversity, this time the story is about the people of Oceania. My interest in this is whether Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote songs for the film, will get an Oscar, thus completing his EGOT.

Some Oscar contenders for above the line nominations opening this weekend include Loving (79), directed by Jeff Nichols, about the couple whose Supreme Court case ended anti-miscegenation laws. As we enter the age of Trump, it’s always good to be reminded the battles we’ve already fought and don’t need to fight again.

Allied (60) is a World War II drama with Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard as French-resistance fighters that is being compared to Casablanca, at least in its plot. The trailer looks strong, I’ll probably catch it eventually. Directed by Robert Zemeckis.

Warren Beatty has wanted to make a film about Howard Hughes, and he finally did in Rules Don’t Apply (60) , but it seems to be something of a romantic comedy, which is odd, with Hughes not the central character. I had thought Beatty retired, so I’d be curious to see what he’s up to (of course, I never did get around to see his last film, Town and Country) but it may have to wait for home video.

Finally is Bad Santa 2 (40). I yield to no one in my appreciation of the first film, which was over a decade ago, and is as vulgarly funny as any film I’ve ever seen, but none of the creative team remain and this one is getting harsh reviews. I probably will yield to temptation and at least rent it some day.

 

 

Opening in Las Vegas, November 18, 2016

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Lots of high profile openings this week, including the launch of another J.K. Rowling empire.

That’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (65), which if I understand correctly Rowling published as mainly a picture book. Well, they’re turning that into five movies. It’s the same world as Harry Potter only in New York in the ’20s. Joe Webb, I hope we get a review from you, because you know this stuff best. Moira Macdonald: “So there’s room for improvement in the “Fantastic Beasts” universe; perhaps we’ll see it in the next installment or two. Meanwhile — even if you, like me, are a bit Pottered out and wish Rowling would devote herself instead to her marvelous Cormoran Strike detective-novel series (magic comes in many forms) — it’s still a pleasure to revisit the author’s world.”

A teen movie, with a title taken from a Stevie Nicks song? Could be dreadful (though I’m a Nicks fan, I admit it) but The Edge of Seventeen (77) is getting great reviews. Hailee Steinfeld is the teen. Barry Hertz: “If hell is other people, then high school is a four-year journey through all nine levels of Dante-ish misery. But while most teen-centric films skip over this harsh reality, The Edge of Seventeen embraces it with a refreshing zeal.”

Most of the conversation about Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (53) has been about Ang Lee’s use of 12o frames per second (the usual is 24). But unless you live in L.A. or New York or Hong Kong, you haven’t been able to see that. I read the book, which was fantastic, so I’ll probably end up seeing this despite it’s lackluster reviews. Rodrigo Perez: “Lee’s clearly going for a hyper-realness with these images, but it undermines the drama and the few beats of moving honesty about who we are, duty and sacrifice. Ang Lee is undoubtedly a visionary filmmaker, but the distracting unpleasantness of his movie’s highly attuned visual clarity, makes for an undiscerning and artificial experience the eye just won’t follow.”

We have another example of a boxing movie when boxing has waned to almost nothing as a popular sport in the U.S., which I find fascinating. Bleed for This (62) is a true story about a boxer who came back from a devastating injury. Matt Soller Zeitz: “Bleed for This” starts out like a traditional underdog-fighter-makes-good flick, based on a true story, pivots and becomes something else, then goes back to being traditional.”

 

Opening in Las Vegas, November 11, 2016

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I have a three-day weekend, so I may see two movies this weekend, as that is how many good movies (hopefully) are opening this week, which makes for a relative goldmine.

Arrival (82) is yet another “the aliens are here” movie, but reviews indicate it’s very thoughtful, with a good performance by Amy Adams, and the director, Denis Villenueve, is no Michael Bay.  Bilge Ebiri: “for most of its running time, Arrival is entrancing, intimate, and moving — a sci-fi movie that looks not up at the stars but rather deep within.”

The other movie that I want to see is getting almost impossible good reviews, and is a likely Best Picture Oscar nominee. That’s Moonlight (99), based on an unproduced play by Tarell Alvin McCraney (I saw a trilogy of his plays, usually set in backwater Louisiana, when I lived in Princeton) that covers the life of a gay black man through three stages in his life. Brian Tallerico: “Moonlight is a film that is both lyrical and deeply grounded in its character work, a balancing act that’s breathtaking to behold. It is one of those rare pieces of filmmaking that stays completely focused on its characters while also feeling like it’s dealing with universal themes about identity, sexuality, family, and, most of all, masculinity.”

I feel funny writing about films that have all black casts that are clearly geared toward the black community. I mean, are films that have all white casts geared toward whites only? I suppose not, but Almost Christmas (53) will probably be attended by overwhelmingly black audiences. It doesn’t help that it’s getting mediocre reviews. It is a step forward that these films are being made by other directors than Tyler Perry. David Lewis: “Almost Christmas would have been less clunky if it had focused more on the family’s loss of its matriarch, and allowed the comic elements to naturally arise as the characters struggle with the new family dynamic. Instead, we get too many slapstick set pieces and extraneous subplots that bog down the proceedings.”

Not screened for critics is the horror film Shut In (tbd), which inexplicably stars Naomi Watts. One critic has published a review, and I doubt it’s an outlier. Bill Zwecker: “This is a disappointing waste of good acting talent, coupled with a very pedantic and not very intriguing story from first-time screenwriter Christina Hodson.”

Opening in Las Vegas, November 4, 2016

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A little something for everyone this weekend. Kids, comic book fans, art house regulars, and people who like violence with their religion.

The likely box office winner this week will be Doctor Strange (72), getting good reviews f0r being off the usually beaten Marvel path. Doc Strange was always a minor character in Marvel books (I’m still waiting until they get to Moon Knight) but a funky one–he lived in the Sanctum Sanctorum in Greenwich Village and sported a porn ‘stache. He was created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, and expressed the psychedelic elements of the era. Stephanie Zacharek: “Doctor Strange has one significant quality that most Marvel adaptations lack: A sense of humor about itself, which it wears as lightly as the most gossamer Cloak of Levitation.” By the way, I disagree with the basic part of her argument–I think Marvel has always had a sense of humor about itself, which the D.C. films have not.

Another big release this weekend is Hacksaw Ridge (71), the first film from Mel Gibson in ten years, who may be an abhorrent human being but knows his way around action scenes. I saw the movie today, a review will be forthcoming. Suffice it to say that Gibson loves to mix religion and violence. He’s clearly an Old Testament guy. It’s the story of a boy who joins the army in World War II but will not touch a gun. Zacharek: “I don’t think you could tell this story properly or honestly without being forthright about the horrors of the Pacific Theater, and as Gibson dramatizes them, they put Doss’ actions in jaggedly sharp perspective.”

For the kids is Trolls (56), family fare. When I was a kid, trolls meant things that lived under bridges that ate children, but I guess these are the cute furry-headed things that were popular in the ’70s. Roger Moore: “Kids, say the five-and-unders seeing their first movie, may connect with this confection. But if you’re old enough to know what “puerile” means, there’s nothing to cling to here.”

For the art house folk, there’s The Handmaiden (84) a South Korean drama. The plot seems complex, involving a, well, handmaiden, but it’s getting great reviews so I’ll try to catch up with it, maybe on DVD. Eric Kohn: “No matter its overarching ridiculousness, The Handmaiden remains a hugely enjoyable dose of grotesque escapism from a master of the form.”

Also in art houses is Kelly Reichardt’s Certain Women (81). I’ve seen and enjoyed all of Reichardt’s films, but they are slow moving and better suited for DVD, when I can stop it and take breaks to look at my phone. Starring Michelle Williams. David Edelstein: “Certain Women turns out to be a study in women’s uncertainties, in the experience of pain that leads not to action but acceptance. It’s a slow go — but you get there.”

 

Opening in Las Vegas, October 28, 2016

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Another dismal weekend where I stayed home and read and watched TV.

The weekend’s box office winner, but otherwise a flop, is Inferno (44) the third in the Tom Hanks/Ron Howard adaptations of Dan Brown’s thrillers. Fortunately for all concerned Brown hasn’t written any more Robert Langdon books. If he does, I imagine it will go to TV with a whole new creative team. David Edelstein: “Tom Hanks takes his art down a peg with another paycheck performance as the dramatic cipher Robert Langdon in Inferno, Ron Howard’s mostly lame adaptation of Dan Brown’s wholly lame novel.”

For someone who has to go out to the movies, a few theaters are offering a double feature of The Godfather (100) and The Godfather, Part II (80), which is a long sit but at least you’ll know how to make tomato sauce for a lot of guys and to leave the gun and take the cannolis.

Films that opened in the USA Oct 21-23, 2016

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Boo! A Madea Halloween (IMDB rating 4.8) – I’ve never seen any of the Madea films but I wouldn’t be alone here in Australia as afaik none of them have ever had a cinematic release here in Australia. As it is, at what appears to the 10th Madea film in the series managed to top the US box office. The films never do well with critics (or IMDB ratings) but clearly a significant section of the population love seeing Perry and his creation.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (6.4) – This is getting amongst the weaker reviews for Tom Cruise in his lengthy career as – whatever you think of him – he’s maintained a pretty impressive standard in his film work for someone who’s been almost exclusively mainstream Hollywood for his career. It would be interesting to see him try some character roles instead of the endless action/Reacher/MI films he’s been in in recent years.

Ouija: Origins Of Evil (6.8) – This is a modern rarity: a horror film with an excellent RT score. Seems pretty interesting going by its trailer – certainly the scariest trailer that’s ever had a Herman’s Hermits Song.

Keeping Up With The Joneses (5.4) – This comedy seemed promising; a time-worn but potentially amusing plot, a promising cast (reckon Jon Hamm would be great in the right comedy vehicle) and a director who has had some acclaimed films. But all indicators are that this is a misfire as it’s had terrible reviews (including one in the local paper here in Oz), poor imdb rating and even worse box office. That it’s release was delayed by six months was probably a warning sign. Seems like the umpteenth modern Hollywood comedy that is a misfire.

I’m Not Ashamed (6.4) – Story of one of the students who died in the 1999 Columbine school massacre and her Christian beliefs and perspective. Amongst the cast is 1970s star Jennifer O’Neill who apparently has been married 9 times!
Moonlight (8.6) – Youth drama (with Brad Pitt as one of the producers) which has got excellent IMDB and RT ratings.

El Jeremias (7.8) – Mexican family film.

American Pastoral (6.3) – Based on an acclaimed Phillip Roth novel looking at 1960s/1970s US society, this potentially could’ve been one of the most notable films of the year. But it critical and public reaction suggests its a disappointing misfire; perhaps star Ewan McGregor in his debut directorial effort bit off more than he could chew.

ISM (7.8) – Indian drama

Luck-Key (2016) – South Korean drama about an assassin who gets amnesia (see, not only Ron Howard films use this plot device) and becomes an actor.
The Hand-Maiden (8.0) – South Korean period film which has had much critical acclaim and was nominated for the Palme D’Or this year.

Michael Moore In Trumpland (5.9) – Michael Moore on his Twitter account has been pumping up the ‘record-breaking’ box office figures for this hastily-assembled film of his one-man show about the upcoming election. But in truth box-office mentions just highlight how far he’s fallen from 2004 when Farenheit 9/11 was a major cultural event (and a huge box office hit) that even here in Australia had people writing film reviews of it in the news section of the newspaper. You could dislike Moore back then, but you couldn’t ignore him.
Now, his influence has dissipated significantly, and this documentary which is apparently a love letter to Hillary Clinton (almost as unpopular as Trump and widely seen as the epitome of the political establishment) probably won’t help much.

In a Valley of Violence (6.0) – This American Western starring Ethan Hawke & John Travolta has gotten strong critical reviews (76%). With this and his great turn in the OJ miniseries, Travolta may be making yet another successful comeback against the odds

Tampopo (7.9) – Acclaimed 1985 Japanese film has been restored and re-released

King Cobra (7.1) – Biopic about a gay porn star has an interesting cast starring James Franco and various notable 80s/90s stars appearing in rare film modern-day film appearances (Alicia Silverstone, Molly Ringwald, Christian Slater).

Wildflower (6.4) – American drama

We are X (8.7) – Documentary film about a Japanese rock band called… well the title gives it away

Spices Of Liberty (4.8) – Story of immigrants in America

It Had To Be You (7.5) – A neurotic jingle writer is offered marriage and has to weigh up whether to become married or pursue her fantasies. If this doesn’t sound like a cliché of modern American indy film it’s in there pitching.

Ugly, Dirty & Bad (7.9) – Re-release of a 1976 Italian black comedy

The Uncondemned (9.6) – US documentary

Opening in Las Vegas, October 14, 2016

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Not much of interest this week, other than an indie by a British director about American aimlessness. That’s American Honey (78), directed by Andrea Arnold (the director of the excellent Fish Tank, also about a teenage girl). Getting rave reviews for the star, Sasha Lane, but loses points for starring Shia LaBeouf and being 2 hours and 43 minutes long. Ty Burr: “Ironically, the film itself is as gentle and unexploitative as they come. Yes, it deserves the rating, and yes, it depicts teenagers doing things the grown-ups would rather not admit they actually do, but it does so with a poetic curiosity and a sense of what it’s like to be young, poor, and rootless — both future-less and free.”

The box-office winner this week is The Accountant (51), a generic-looking thriller that seesm to perfectly use Ben Affleck’s dead-eyed stare. Nick Shager: “Seemingly primed to deliver daffy thrills, The Accountant instead goes about its noble-killer business with all the excitement of an IRS audit.”

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Kevin Hart film, and I have seen enough of his stand-up to know I don’t like him, but the kids do. Therefore, we have Kevin Hart: What Now? (61), filmed in front of an audience of 50,000. Yes, 50,000! Tirdad Derakhshani: “Part of the problem lies with the venue. When it comes to standup, bigger is not better. One-man shows work better in smaller spaces. In his bid to proclaim his giant stature as an entertainer, Hart loses himself.”

This week’s bomb is Max Steel (23), which probably didn’t earn back the catering costs this weekend. Something about a kid who discovers he has powers–gee, that’s original. Frank Scheck: “As the stuntmen duke it out and we see close-ups of the two actors making silly faces, it’s hard not imagine a Mystery Science Theater 3000 feature in the making.”

Desierto (51) seems interesting–a Spanish-language look at the border mess, with Gael Garcia Bernal, but getting lukewarm reviews. Todd McCarthy: “If the story is meant to represent a microcosm of the immigration problem, it’s woefully reductive. If it’s meant to be first and foremost an action thriller, it does have a few nice moves to offer.”

Finally there’s Shin Godzilla (68) a Japanese reboot (and why not, they invented the character) that’s getting good notices and should thrill any monster-movie fans. The trailer is awesome. Joe Leydon: “The Original Gangsta Lizard gets a largely satisfying reboot in Shin Godzilla, a surprisingly clever monster mash best described as the “Batman Begins” of Zilla Thrillers.”

Films that opened in USA on Oct 7-9, 2016

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Know it’s late but always like to keep a record of the films that opened in the US since this blog started, especially because if we see one of these films we can post a comment in the related thread:

The Girl On The Train (IMDB rating 6.7) – A big hit in America last weekend, and an even bigger hit here in Australia (where it was heavily marketed for weeks). Not really of interest to me and after seeing the trailer, even less so. Interesting to note that in supporting roles are Alison Janney, Laura Prepon & Lisa Kudrow – all who had roles on highly-successful TV series in the late 90s/early 00s era.

The Birth Of A Nation (5.6) – This was such a ‘hot’ film coming out of Sundance that many were talking about it being a major Oscar contender for months. But controversy over events from star/director Nate Parker’s past appear to have ended that speculation, with the lacklustre opening box office not helping. The oddly low IMDB rating suggests something similar to the Ghostbusters remarke; people who haven’t seen it piling on it because of Parker’s past, or perhaps the film’s ideology in his heavily politically charged year in the US.

Middle School: The Worst Years Of My Life (5.8) – Has a low IMDB rating but the trailer for this school comedy actually makes it look pretty fun. Interesting trivia note: this is the first film for director Steve Carr to get a ‘fresh’ RT rating after 8 rottens.

Premam (8.4) – Indian romantic drama

The Greasy Strangler (5.8) – Saw a headline suggesting this offbeat black comedy may be the weirdest movie ever and after seeing a trailer, they may be right! Seems to be worth a look

Asura: The City Of Madness (7.0) – South Korean crime thriller
Under The Shadow (7.5) – Horror film set in 1980s Iran.

The Battle Of Algiers (8.1) – Appears to be a reissue of the great 1960s historical war film. Was lucky enough to see this on the big screen several years ago and highly recommend it – my abiding memory of it is a quieter scene where the Colonel in charge of the occupation (under fire from media over his conduct of the occupation) asks the media whether they support the occupation; when they say they do they’re exposed as not really being oppositional at all.

Being 17 (7.3) – French drama

Newtown (5.5) – Doco on how a town recovers from a mass shooting. The user comments on the IMDB site for this are rather disconcerting.

Blue Jay (7.4) – Romantic drama (filmed in a week) in seemingly mumblecore style written and starring one of the prominent members of that style, Mark Duplass. Also starring Sarah Paulson who was sensational in the great OJ mini-series. Looking at the trailer and it being filmed in B&W, reminded me a bit of the late 00s film In Search of A Midnight Kiss which I reviewed here many years ago

Theo Who Lived (7.2) – Doco on an American journalist captured by Al-Qaeda.

The Hollow (5.3) – US murder investigation thriller.

Homeland (N/A) – War-related film about a citizen of war-torn Syria living in Sweden.

Opening in Las Vegas, September 30, 2016

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I start with the latest Tim Burton film, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (59), with another spate of mixed reviews. This one seems more Burton-ish than ever, but I’m wondering if this guy has lost the knack of stepping outside of himself. I once read of him, “great art director, not so great director.” Ed Wood still remains his best film, I think. Feel free to suggest yours. Todd McCarthy: “For a time, an appealing gentleness prevails that’s rooted in this unique inter-generational romance, a feeling augmented in particular by Purnell’s slow-blooming flower of a performance, and if the film had remained focused more on the improbabilities of this love story, it might have emerged as something rather special.”

Movies like Deepwater Horizon (67) trouble me. Peter Berg specializes now in making films about catastrophes that focus on small, individual events that make us admire courage and humanity and all that good stuff. If he made a movie about the plague it would be about a plucky doctor who managed to save two or three people. Making a movie about the BP oil spill, one of the most dastardly corporate incidents ever, by focusing on the decent people who worked the oil rig, seems to me to turn a blind eye to what really mattered. But that’s just me. Peter Debruge: “For a movie in which you can’t follow what’s going on for 75% of the time, Deepwater Horizon proves remarkably thrilling.”

Masterminds (49) is a comic heist movie with Zack Galifinakis (in a Bruce Vilanch wig) and a host of SNL actors. It practically screams home video. If you want to see a good movie about an inside job at an armored car robbery, rent Criss Cross of 1949. Sara Stewart: “I cracked up here and there watching this broad heist comedy, but it wasn’t laughter I felt great about. Director Jared Hess (“Napoleon Dynamite”) has always gone for geeks and oddballs, but this film mostly punches down at characters for being poor, unfashionable and stupid.”

Putting my James hat on, I’m kind of surprised Queen of Katwe (73) is opening wide here, after a limited release last weekend. No matter how good, it doesn’t seem likely that a film about a Ugandan girl chess prodigy will pack them in. But it does seem worthwhile. Katie Rife: “In some ways, the more novel element is the film’s depiction of chess, which in Katwe is a popular sport on the level of football. And while that might seem unlikely, it’s accurate, at least in the wake of Mutesi’s success.”

In limited release this week, there’s Kate Winslet in The Dressmaker (47), also starring Judy Davis, set in the Australian outback. A. O. Scott: “Unfortunately, and despite its promising start, The Dressmaker doesn’t move much beyond the level of well-costumed playacting.”

 

Opening in Las Vegas, September 23, 2016

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Thisweek we have another unnecessary remake, The Magnificent Seven (54), which itself was a remake of Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. Word is that this will be a huge hit, breaking the September record for openings. I guess that’s due to Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt. I will likely pass. Matt Singer: “The group…make a fine crew. But the rest of the movie doesn’t find enough interesting wrinkles on the old formula to merit a reboot.”

The only other major release this week is for the kids, Storks (56). Do kids still think storks deliver babies? I think that was on its way out when I was a kid. But it’s apparently valid enough to make a movie. Interestingly, the stork myth goes back to ancient civilizations, and is present in the Greek, Egyptian, and Norse mythologies. Neil Genzlinger:”This film, directed by Nicholas Stoller and Doug Sweetland, is a harmless enough way to occupy a youngster for an hour and a half. It’s just not especially rich in extraordinary characters or moments.”

A couple of limited releases hit here today. The more fascinating may be Max Rose (37) Jerry Lewis’ first film in twenty years. He’s 90, and many fans of Borscht Belt shtick are still obsessed with him, but he kind of rubs me the wrong way. His best appearance, other than The Nutty Professor, was in Scorsese’s King of Comedy. Glenn Kenny: “As conventional and stiff as Max Rose itself is, Lewis’ performance in it is full of virtues: he’s committed, disciplined, and entirely credible.”

Finally is The Hollars (53), directed by actor John Krasinski about a gasp! dysfuctional family. The only reason to see it may be Margo Martindale, a long-overlooked character actress who is getting early Oscar buzz. Marjorie Baumgarten: “A standard-issue family reunion dramedy, The Hollars has several genuine moments of human interaction that are near-magical to observe because they feel so plucked from real life.”

 

Opening in Las Vegas, September 16, 2016

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A little something for everybody this week. Rom-com, horror, and some Oscar  bait.

The likely winner among new films at the box office is Blair Witch (45), described as a sequel  but perhaps more a remake of th 1999 hit, The Blair Witch Project. That earlier film divided audiences among those who said “nothing happens” and those that realize the directors were actually on to something new in the horror genre, which has since been done to death (the found footage genre). This film is not found footage, and it ignores the horrible Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 (which I somehow ended up seeing twice). I have an interest in this, but will probably wait for home media. Matt Singer: “Blair Witch does deliver the requisite shocks demanded of a horror movie for a multiplex audience, but maybe it’s time for filmmakers to stay out of these woods for a while — at least until there’s a new technology for the Blair Witch to mess with.”

As far as Bridget Jones’s Baby (60) goes, I saw the first one but not the second, despite how hard poor Renee Zellweger works to make this character interesting. I suppose some people will be interested to see her new face, or to see the old gag about not knowing who the father is, or see Colin Firth’s career somehow go from an Oscar to this, but I’ll skip it. Conor O’Donell: “In spite of its slightly excessive runtime and a handful of millennial-pandering beats, Bridget Jones’s Baby is brought to term by the buckets of undeniable charm and charisma present in its performances.”

Snowden (58) is Oliver Stone’s take on the whistleblower who is either a hero or a traitor, depending on your political stance. If you’ve seen Citizenfour it may not be necessary to see this, unless you want to know more about Snowden’s girlfriend or to see what tricks Stone has up his sleeve. Stone has had an erratic career, especially this century, but there’s usually something interesting going on. Gregory Ellwood: “As a piece of filmed entertainment Snowden is certainly a watchable endeavor, but Stone and screenwriter Kieran Fitzgerald’s script is often an odd mix of hero worship, conspiratorial thriller and cringe worthy dialogue.”

Complete Unknown (60) is a good name for this film, because it’s not often a movie that I’ve never heard of opens, especially one starring Rachel Weisz and Michael Shannon. I can’t quite figure out what it’s about from the summary, but it looks intriguing and the cast can’t miss. Lanre Bakare: “Unfortunately, with the big reveal having arrived in the first act, the film isn’t much more than an elongated debate that leaves you thinking: so what?”