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Mandy (review)

Mandy (review)

Apparently, some consider Panos Cosmatos to be a hot new director (although this is only his 2nd film). Granted, he’s got an intense visual style and extreme stylized approach, but his skills as a dramatist need work. This is yet another revenge flick with Nick Cage going after 2 cults after they abduct his wife. The first hour is a slow-burn setup with lots of ominous music and dark atmosphere. Even when the violent acts crank up, they’re a bloody disappointment. Others have done this better and without the tedious histrionics that make this more pretentious than entertaining.

 

2 Stars (2 / 5)

 

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The Predator (review)

The Predator (review)

The long-running creature is back on Earth and a group of misfits (plus a kid) set out to defeat him. Of course, it’s really about the brutal deaths that the monster dispatches and there are plenty…some  of them cool. There are a few members of the gang that add personality and minor humor. Otherwise, it’s pretty much a noisy, action-filled generic sci-fi monster flick.

 

3 Stars (3 / 5)

 

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A Simple Favor (review)

A Simple Favor (review)

Anna Kendrick plays a sweet mom who gets embroiled in a murderous mystery, when her new friend (Blake Lively) disappears. Both women create fun characters (and wear some great looks), but the plot’s twists aren’t really that surprising, at least not the way director Paul Fieg stages them. He’s best known for his comedies featuring strong women (“Bridesmaids,” “Ghostbusters,” and “Spy”), but this foray into darker realms is more lighthearted than tense. Even though it’s seldom truly funny, it still manages to be entertaining in a fun, frothy style.

 

3 Stars (3 / 5)

 

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The Wife (review)

The Wife (review)

Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce play a long-married couple. When he’s awarded the Nobel Prize for his novels, they travel to Stockholm where years of quiet frustration come to a head. There aren’t any shocking revelations here, so it’s about the characters and the actors who play them. They (and Max Irons, who plays their son) all do commendable jobs, but it’s the constant close-ups of Close that allows us to enjoy her controlled, subtle, slow burn. This is one of those classy adult dramas that’s sure to appeal to its intended audience. Not especially brilliant, but certainly well-made and watchable.

 

4 Stars (4 / 5)

 

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White Boy Rick (review)

White Boy Rick (review)

This a sad, but true story of a teenager who went undercover for the FBI in 80s Detroit. His involvement led to even more complex, unfortunate situations. Matthew McConaughey plays his father, a hardscrabble hustler who’s devoted to his son, played with steely reserve by newcomer Richie Merritt. The most outstanding performance is from British actor Bel Powley as his screwed-up sis. This is a dark, gritty story about an unfortunate family and the effects of the War on Drugs. French director Yann Demange has created a grim, hopeless world, infused with authenticity and affection. It’s not often that we see such tragic work, but this one is weirdly compelling.

 

3 Stars (3 / 5)

 

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Peppermint (review)

Peppermint (review)

Jennifer Garner takes a break from her Capital One gig to make a bid for action star. She plays a mom who goes after a drug cartel after they kill her husband and daughter. It’s a typical vigilante revenge scenario that lets her dispatch numerous bad guys with violent blows and copious gunfire. There’s nothing original in the writing or direction. Most of the encounters are just noisy. while her resilience is over-the-top unbelievable. Garner’s pretty tough, but this film pales to other recent efforts to cast a woman as a badass (Johansson in LUCY and GHOST IN THE SHELL or Theron on ATOMIC BLONDE). Liable to be quickly forgotten.

 

2.5 Stars (2.5 / 5)

 

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Searching (review)

Searching (review)

This clever title is entirely appropriate, since the father (John Cho) spends this film looking for his lost teenage daughter on line. Also, because this is a screen-based film (everything takes place on some kind of screen: computers, cell phones, etc.). This could be considered a gimmick (like Unfriended in 2015), but this has several things going for it. First, it’s a well-written mystery that would work without the concept, but becomes even more interesting with it. The superb editing and innovative approaches to storytelling (plus Cho’s performance) elevate this film into a smart, creative thriller.

 

4 Stars (4 / 5)
Operation Finale (review)

Operation Finale (review)

In 1960, Mossad agents travelled to Argentina to capture notorious Nazi Adolf Eichmann and return him to Israel for trial. Although it seems like the thriller aspects of this espionage mission could dominate, it’s actually more of a drama about the efforts by one of the agents (Oscar Isaac) to come to terms with Eichmann (Ben Kingsley) and the horrors of the Holocaust. The performances are strong and the situations are compelling. There are a few moments of tension, but the overriding focus is on the procedures and personal conflicts. Still, it provides an absorbing and gratifying history lesson.

 

3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

 

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Juliet, Naked (review)

Juliet, Naked (review)

Chris O’Dowd and Rose Byrne play a couple in a long, but losing relationship. He’s obsessed with a semi-obscure rock singer (Ethan Hawke), but she’s the one who ends up making contact. The plot is predictable, but the characters that makes it charming. The slowly developing romance puts Byrne and Hawke in a warm glow, with O’Dowd providing gentle humor (and some cute charms from Azhy Robertson, as the son). This film won’t win any awards or break any records, but it’s a sweet little diversion with engaging performances. (Criterion Cinemas only)

 

4 Stars (4 / 5)

 

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Crazy Rich Asians (review)

Crazy Rich Asians (review)

Former Richmonder Constance Wu (see video of her local work below) stars as a New Yorker who travels with her boyfriend to a wedding in Singapore. Turns out, he’s one of the titular clan and she’s immersed in the massive wealth of his friends and family. Speaking of family, the steely matriarch (Michelle Yeoh) is the biggest obstacle to their relationship.  There are many predictable elements of a classic romance with the monied variations to make it fun, even though some of the extravagance is a bit disappointing (as are some of the designer clothes). Still, the characters are engaging (esp. comic breakout Awkwafina), so it’s enjoyable to get caught up in their affairs.

 

3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

 

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Watch Constance Wu in a local video from 1999
Alpha (review)

Alpha (review)

This is the original story of a boy and his dog. It’s set 20,000 years ago, when members of a tribe set off to hunt for food. Thru an unfortunate but spectacular accident, the chief’s son finds himself alone…until he helps a wounded wolf and they bond on the perilous trek thru the unrelenting wilds. While there are giant leaps in logic and time (such quick healing!), there’s an affecting charm to the story. It’s made more effective by Albert Hughes’ striking directorial touches and the impressive scenery. Unlike the event itself, this isn’t a breakthru movie, but it tells the origin story of dog/man companionship with affection and epic beauty.

 

3 Stars (3 / 5)

 

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Former Richmonder Constance Wu (video 1:15)

Former Richmonder Constance Wu (video 1:15)

In 1995, I wrote, produced and directed 2 videos for the Commonwealth of Virginia dealing with drugs and violence in schools. The middle school version featured Constance Wu, who plays the mother on ABC’s “Fresh Off the Boat” and is the current star of “Crazy Rich Asians.”

 

This video features excerpts with a young Constance Wu (in addition to Malaika Sarco and Seth Wilson).

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