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I, Tonya (review)

I, Tonya (review)

Tonya Harding was the first American woman to complete a triple axel in a skating competition, but she’ll be forever known for her part in the attack on competitor Nancy Kerrigan. The events are recounted thru “interviews” from key players. Margo Robbie creates a plucky Harding with brauvura, sensitivity and skillful brilliance. Even though this is a serious subject, the film takes a light-hearted approach that’s helped by the viciously hilarious performance of Allison Janney as her mother and the comically bumbling “body guard” created by Paul Walter Hauser. Craig Gillespie has added spirited direction with creative approaches that make it even more enjoyable. Whether what’s presented is true or not, it doesn’t really matter. Treat this as a highly entertaining look at the event and the fascinating and highly entertaining. characters that surrounded it.

 

5 Stars (5 / 5)

 

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The Post (review)

The Post (review)

If you don’t remember or don’t know the story behind the Pentagon Papers, look it up. This movie outlines the debate by the Washington Post about printing those revelatory documents. Meryl Streep plays the paper’s publisher, who must make the decision that risks the future of her business. Tom Hanks gets to be a bit gruff as the editor who fights for freedom of the press. Streep plays a subdued character, but still subtlety broadcasts every moment of doubt, as well as her discomfort with her treatment as a woman. The story is compelling and director Steven Spielberg sometimes uses swirling camerawork to create tension. On the other hand, the political debate sometimes seem repetitious and the film takes too long to get to the conclusion. Overall, this film serves as a fascinating history lesson told in a compelling manner.

 

3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

 

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Paddington 2 (review)

Paddington 2 (review)

I’ve never read the books and didn’t see the first film. I decided to see this sequel because of the strong reviews. It follows the little bear who lives in London with his human family, as he takes on odd jobs to buy a special present. Unfortunately, a pompous actor (Hugh Grant relishing the opportunity to chew the scenery) becomes the villain and takes the story in a dark direction (see the accompanying photo for a hint). The film unfolds with a chipper attitude and a cast of top English talent. There are flights of fantasy and a sweet earnestness that makes it appealing. It’s not an exceptional movie (damn reviewers), but it’s likable charms will appeal to family audiences looking for a traditional, subdued approach to children’s stories.

 

3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

 

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Pitch Perfect 3 (review)

Pitch Perfect 3 (review)

Fans of the previous films will welcome the old gang, as they hit Europe for songs and thin plots. Every character gets a few quick story beats with Anna Kendrick as the leader. But Rebel Wilson’s comic style carries more of the weight (pun intended). The commentators (John Michael Higgins & Elizabeth Banks) are following them around to make a documentary, but their comments seem more mean that funny. The Bellas sing their lite pop tunes all over the place with a few numbers getting some staging, but none of it is very elaborate. Even though this sequel isn’t original in any way, there’s still full of youthful energy and spunky fun .

 

3 Stars (3 / 5)

 

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Molly’s Game (review)

Molly’s Game (review)

Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain) ran an exclusive high-stakes poker game in LA and New York. This biopic starts with her teen years as an Olympic hopeful, moves on to the genesis of her enterprise and finally wraps around her arrest and trial. Chastain completes an appropriately strong presence as the powerful and driven entrepreneur. The other notable star is writer Aaron Sorkin in his first directorial effort. Obviously, the script has his rat-a-tat-tat style that’s wonderful in character interactions. The massive amounts of voiceover are less effective. He’s managed to keep the story involving, even though the poker sections get a bit confusing. Just like his writing style, the movie is overblown and could have benefited from a shorter length. Still, it’s a fascinating story with a commanding actor in charge.

 

3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

 

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Killing for Love (review)

Killing for Love (review)

This is a compelling story about a double murder and the teen couple that was implicated, but it’s rendered clinical and dry in this documentary. In 1985, Jens Soering was convicted of brutally murdering the parents of his girlfriend Elizabeth Haysom in Bedford County, VA. Luckily, the filmmakers had plenty of footage from the trials, so there’s a lot of time spent in court. In addition, there are interviews with people involved in the case, mostly legal and law enforcement types. The potential for a fascinating account is there, but the lackluster pacing, uninventive direction/editing and absence of any emotional impact make it a ponderous and sometimes confusing legal exercise. Only the last 30 minutes (of a 2-hour-plus movie) develops any outrage in the apparent injustice against Soering and its indictment of Virginia’s legal system. (Running one week only at Movieland).

 

2 Stars (2 / 5)

 

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Downsizing (review)

Downsizing (review)

In order to extend our planet’s lifespan, a technique is invented that shrinks people down to 5″, so their energy usage and waste is greatly reduced. Matt Damon plays the man caught in this tiny world after his wife abandons him. Once the novelty of the small vs. large wears off, what’s left is a forceful ecological lesson. Luckily, it includes his relationship with a Vietnamese woman (Hong Chau in a delightful and sometimes touching breakout performance). This adds a level of human responsibility and expands the message to compassion for one’s fellow earthlings. There’s virtually no humor, so what looks like it could be fun turns into a mildly involving drama and a heavy-handed tract on the foilables of human nature and the dangers of disregarding our planet’s health.

 

3 Stars (3 / 5)

 

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All the Money in the World (review)

All the Money in the World (review)

Of course, the big story here isn’t the plot: Teenage grandson of John Paul Getty is kidnapped, while his mother (Michelle Williams) strives to save him. The real story is the re-casting of the patriarch role from Kevin Spacey to Christopher Plummer. He creates a billionaire that’s so mean and stingy, there’s no option for sympathy. Even Williams’ performance, while convincing, never generates any real emotion. Meanwhile, a bland Mark Wahlberg is thrown in the mix as the security advisor to help find the kid. While the story is compelling and Ridley Scott’s direction is stimulating, the whole thing is more an interesting history lesson than a moving emotional thriller or a forceful examination of wealth.

 

3 Stars (3 / 5)

 

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Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (review)

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (review)

Four high schoolers end up in the dangerous game, only this time it’s in a jungle . They must solve a mystery and defeat bad guys (and wild animals) to save the game and their own lives. What makes this movie fun: watching 3 stars play against type: Dwayne Johnson (a nerd in a hunk’s body), Jack Black (the hottest girl in school) and Kevin Hart (from a football hunk to a diminutive wise ass…almost everything he says is funny).  The action/adventure stuff is pretty standard with narrow escapes and noisy fights, but the overall energy and good-natured repartee make it sufficiently entertaining.

 

3 Stars (3 / 5)

 

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The Greatest Showman (review)

The Greatest Showman (review)

Hugh Jackman brings his considerable box office clout to this biopic musical about the legendary showman, P.T. Barnum. Even though his presence is the dominant force, his energetic performance never ignites inspiration. It doesn’t help that the story is written in broad strokes with rudimentary motivations and cursory emotions. There are a LOT of songs and most of them have catchy, yet generic pop melodies with interchangeable lyrics about love or empowerment. The choreography is sometimes clever and there are snazzy directorial touches, including a steady energy throughout. Still, the combined effect is rather lackluster.

 

3 Stars (3 / 5)

 

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Darkest Hour (review)

Darkest Hour (review)

A film that’s mostly people sitting in rooms talking relies on good writing and strong performances to make it effective. Luckily, this film has both. Sure, Gary Oldman nails the look and style of Winston Churchill, but he goes beyond that to create a character with complex presence and emotional depth. If you saw DUNKIRK, then you know about the massive effort to evacuate the British army from the coastal town in France, while the Nazis are threatening their destruction. This film takes place behind the scenes in London, when Churchill strives to save the troops, while planning to lead Britain into the war….all despite massive political opposition. Oldman is in almost every scene and his charisma (both as the Prime Minister and as an actor) carries the weight with award-worthy skill. He brings this challenging situation to life and makes the circumstances much more enthralling than you might expect. (Criterion Cinemas only)

 

4.5 Stars (4.5 / 5)

 

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The Shape of Water (review)

The Shape of Water (review)

Sally Hawkins brings her natural inner beauty and sensitive charms to this role as a mute cleaning lady. She and Octavia Spencer (who adds her brand of spunk) work at a high security government facility. When she discovers an amphibious man-like creature, her curiosity and longing for love disrupt the lab and set the narrative in motion. Obviously, this is science fiction, but more importantly, it’s a romantic fantasy. Even though it’s based in ’60s Baltimore, the slightly surreal style and bigger-than-life imagery lend it a wondrously eccentric edge. This makes sense, considering it comes from the highly creative mind of writer/director Guillermo del Toro. His masterful style and the elevated emotions make the film a slightly bizarre, sometimes melodramatic, yet still sweetly human encounter. (Criterion Cinemas only)

 

4 Stars (4 / 5)

 

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