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Skyscraper (review)

Skyscraper (review)

“San Andreas” was Dwayne Johnson’s most fun as an action hero. Then, came “Rampage,” which was not. This time, they’ve heaped the absurd situations and ridiculous odds high enuff to reach the top of the titular structure. His character is hired as a security consultant on this incredible new building (the highest in the world). When it’s sabotaged, he has to save the day and his family. Single-handedly, he overcomes outrageous obstacles and a fleet of armed baddies, but none of it is especially thrilling or even over the top in a fun way. It’s big, splashy and predictable…and it’s time for Johnson to find a new genre (or director).

 

2 Stars (2 / 5)

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Sorry to Bother You (review)

Sorry to Bother You (review)

When a black man (Lakeith Stanfield) starts his new job as a telemarketer, he’s encouraged to use his “white voice” to make more sales. His success leads him on a twisting adventure that (I guarantee) you will not see coming. Suffice it to say that there’s a sci-fi element that takes this movie into a surprising place. Writer/director (and rapper) Boots Riley has demonstrated an assured grip on storytelling with some creative directorial moments. Although the messaging is heavy handed and it spirals a bit out of control before the end, it’s still a dark, fascinating and unique look at the world…or at least Oakland. There’s also a great soundtrack from The Coup (Riley’s band).

 

3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

 

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Leave No Trace (review)

Leave No Trace (review)

Ben Foster plays a disturbed vet who lives with his daughter (newcomer Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie) in the forest park outside Portland, Oregon. Their relationship is tried when they’re pressed into living in a more traditional environment. Director Debra Granik (“Winter’s Bone”) has created an underplayed examination of their relationship with sensitive beauty. There are no big emotions or big calamities, just a compelling journey with a quiet intensity and memorable performances.

 

4 Stars (4 / 5)

 

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Ant-Man and the Wasp (review)

Ant-Man and the Wasp (review)

Paul Rudd is back in the title role teaming up with Evangeline Lilly in the other title role. Along with Michael Douglas, they set out to right some wrongs in the quantum world. Some of the features of the original still hold true for this sequel. To quote my previous review,

“…has a lighter touch and goes for a more human connection. That means some enjoyable laffs and more chat than is needed for action films. When there is action, the miniature effects are fun and the sequences clip along at a snappy pace. Without Rudd’s charm the movie would have “little” appeal.”

These are not the typical superhero saving-the-world exploits, but personal quests with more interactions and more humor. Still, it’s entertaining and fun. NOTE: There are 2 post-movie teasers: 1 after the end title credits (which requires a knowledge of “Avengers Infinity War”) and the other at the very end (which is just silly).

 

4 Stars (4 / 5)

 

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Sicario: Day of the Soldado (review)

Sicario: Day of the Soldado (review)

Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin are back as tough enforcers for the US government. When it appears that Mexican cartels are smuggling terrorists into the US, they’re sent to deal with it. As with the original, this film rejects typical border crime tropes for a more cerebral approach, developing the plot with periods of slow-burn concentration and bursts of violence. Although it’s not especially intense, it never lags in pace. Tough, cruel and bloody, this movie might appeal to those who prefer their criminal intrigue more analytical and less intense.

 

3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

 

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The First Purge (review)

The First Purge (review)

The original movie in this series featured gripping action and a compelling concept: all crimes (including murder) are permitted one nite a year. The 2 sequels are pretty bad and this 3rd continues the slide in quality. It’s set in the US, where a new super-conservative party has come into power and announces the “experiment” to deal with growing national problems. This paranoid political premise drains even more life from the series. What I wrote in my review of the last one still applies: “Once again, the situations are absurd and the action is mostly dull and uninventive. Some of the auxiliary scenes are artistically shot or visually inventive, but that doesn’t elevate the quality. It’s not exciting. It’s not scary. It’s a disappointment.” These films have just become an excuse for gratuitous violence.

 

1.5 Stars (1.5 / 5)

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Whitney (review)

Whitney (review)

Whitney Houston had a record-breaking career and a heart-breaking life. This documentary is the second one to be produced about her (the first was not authorized by the family). As a result, this one has interviews with her parents and brothers, as well as musicians and others in her sphere. It also shares a few secrets from her past. As a film, it’s pretty straightforward in approach: interviews interspersed with lots of photos, performance footage and home videos. The pace starts to drag as the story becomes more gloomy. Still, anyone who’s curious about Houston will appreciate it’s thorough approach to her story. (Criterion Cinemas only)

 

3 Stars (3 / 5)

 

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Jurassaic World: Fallen Kingdom (review)

Jurassaic World: Fallen Kingdom (review)

The plot (as predictable as it is) really isn’t important. When a massive volcano erupts, Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard set out to save the dinosaurs from extinction…again. Of course, nefarious forces are out to make a profit. This follows the typical formula: almost non-stop action with people in peril, rescues from unrealistic situations, a child in danger and Pratt’s comic charm. There’s plenty of outrunning trouble and plenty of PG-13 rated violence. Nothing new here, but the dizzying chases and ample dinos keep it from ever being boring (even though you may roll your eyes at some of the over the top moments).

 

3 Stars (3 / 5)

 

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Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (review)

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (review)

Even though I never watched “Mister Rogers Neighborhood” as a child and didn’t share it with my daughter, I was familiar with the character on the most superficial level. This doc fosters a greater appreciation of his significance as a TV personality and children’s advocate. It explores the dedicated, sweet man whose primary message was one of love and acceptance. There’s footage from the decades of his show that’s supplemented by interviews with him, his family and his co-workers. Just like the man, this film doesn’t avoid some controversial issues. Ultimately, it’s an appealing and illuminating portrait of a much-loved icon.

 

4 Stars (4 / 5)

 

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Incredibles 2 (review)

Incredibles 2 (review)

While Mom (Holly Hunter) goes out to help reinstate their rights to use their superpowers, Dad (Craig T. Nelson) stays at home with the kids, including Jack-Jack, the baby who’s burgeoning gifts provide much of the movie’s humor. There’s lots of energy and cool visuals to make the whole thing fun. Even though there’s nothing new, it’s completely enjoyable (especially for the younger members of the audience…and I mean the adolescents who were kids when the first one came out). There’s a charming short before the feature called “Bao,” which is the first one directed by a woman.

 

4 Stars (4 / 5)

 

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Tag (review)

Tag (review)

Since childhood, 5 long-time buddies (including Jon Hamm, Ed Helms & Hannibal Buress) play the titular game for one month every year. One of them (Jeremy Renner) is getting married, so they’re out to ruin his lifetime record of never being “it.” This is basically an excuse for lots of running around and broad physical gags. The characters all have distinct, but not especially wacky personalities (with Isla Fisher providing the most fun). Some of their comments are humorous, but nothing is especially hilarious. It’s energetic and amusing, but not a riot of laughter. NOTE: See the gang that inspired this film at the end and hear the current cast sing a song during the credits (with a minor punch line).

 

3 Stars (3 / 5)

 

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Ocean’s 8 (review)

Ocean’s 8 (review)

Sandra Bullock plays the mastermind behind an elaborate plot to snatch a diamond necklace right off the neck of its wearer at the Met Gala. She assembles a team that includes Cate Blanchett, Helena Bonham Carter, Rihanna, Mindy Kaling and Sara Paulson. While it’s an interesting group, there’s not a lot of amusing interactions or clever characterizations. This is more about the mechanizations of the heist than enjoying the personalities. The exception is Anne Hathaway, who seems to be relishing playing against type, as the self-absorbed movie-star who wears the jewels. There’s lots of glamour (several of the women look over made up), some beautiful locations and a few dozen cameos (many of whom I didn’t recognize). It’s adequately entertaining, but not as sharp or smart as the earlier versions.

 

3 Stars (3 / 5)

 

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