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Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (review)

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (review)

This film starts with the confusing escape sequence of the titular wizard (played by Johnny Depp). From there it descends into a tedious parade of dramatic character interactions that get more and more mystifying. Some of the fantasy creatures return (along with their keeper Eddie Redmayne), but unlike the first film, there’s not much visually dazzling in the effects, the environments or even the costumes. The audience members who had read the books (or at least the Harry Potter series) seemed to be more pleased with what was happening, but I found it a jumbled, puzzling, slow mess.

 

2 Stars (2 / 5)

 

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A Private War (review)

A Private War (review)

Rosamund Pike plays celebrated war correspondent Marie Colvin, who was dauntless in covering some of the most notorious conflicts in recent history. This film spends more time with her on assignment than it does revealing much about her personal life and what drives her. As such, this is a war movie that re-creates some dispiritingly tragic situations, but the emotional impact of such horrors never grabs hold. Combine that with the cursory personal insights and you have an informative, but not especially moving biopic. Still, Pike manages to bring a strong, stolid resolve to her courageous, yet venerable character.

 

3 Stars (3 / 5)

 

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Can You Ever Forgive Me? (review)

Can You Ever Forgive Me? (review)

Melissa McCarthy detours from her broad comedy films to a more somber role as author Lee Israel, a “blocked” writer who stumbles upon a way to survive by creating fake celebrity letters. Her character isn’t especially likable or pleasant, but McCarthy manages to make her appealing. Her friendship with an equally-acerbic man (a delightful Richard E. Grant), brings moments of levity to an otherwise unhappy life. Since it’s obvious where the plot will take us, it’s up to the actors and director Marielle Heller to make this film an enjoyable insight in this real person’s skilled mind and stunted heart. They all succeed.

 

4 Stars (4 / 5)

 

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Overlord (review)

Overlord (review)

During World War II, American paratroopers drop into a German-occupied village in France with a mission to help make way for the Allied invasion. While making their stealthy way to the assigned location, they discover dark Nazi science that takes this film to a level of sci-fi fear. From the harrowing opening parachute sequence, director Julius Avery grabs hold with intense action, which continues to pay off in brutal violence and bizarre encounters. Those who appreciate loud, aggressive movies will find this tense adventure wholly enjoyable.

 

4.5 Stars (4.5 / 5)

 

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The Girl in the Spider’s Web (review)

The Girl in the Spider’s Web (review)

This is the 3rd in the Lisbeth Salander series with a new actor as the heroine each time. For this outing, Claire Foy plays the advanced hacker and revenge stalker. Faced with a device that leads to nuclear destruction (yawn), she embarks on a complex mission to deter the culprits. While this is more like a spy thriller, it still has some cool sequences and inventive shots. On the other hand, much of the character’s distinctive qualities from the first outings has been replaced with her superhero status, while some of the exploits rely too much on coincidences that stretch credibility. Still, it was mostly entertaining and visually fun.

 

3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

 

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Wildlife (review)

Wildlife (review)

Paul Dano was 16 when he started his career as a film actor. This is his first directorial effort, which interestingly revolves around a 14 year old boy. Ed Oxenbould mostly maintains a poker face, while he watches his parents’ marriage disintegrate. As his father, Jake Gyllenhall handles the affection and anger well, but it’s Carey Mulligan’s mother who gets to go off the rails in seemingly unrealistic directions. This is more a character study than an involving drama. Watching it develop (or crumble) keeps it from being boring, but the slow-going script and the son’s subdued reactions never build to a fulfilling outcome. The restrained art direction nicely captures the early ’60s period.

 

3 Stars (3 / 5)

 

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The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (review)

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (review)

This film has numerous references to the classic ballet, including the title, many of the characters and bits of Tchaikovsky’s music. The plot revolves around Clara, who enters a fantasy world in search of a special key. Since the script is pretty insipid and the “action” is never exciting, the lovely art direction is the only real reason to see the film. Young girls may appreciate the sweetness and the preponderance of strong female characters, but the overall effect is rather bland.

 

2 Stars (2 / 5)

 

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Bohemian Rhapsody (review)

Bohemian Rhapsody (review)

I was never a fan of Queen’s music or Freddie Mercury, but this film fosters an appreciation of both. The story covers the band’s career with the focus on Mercury. As the lead singer, Rami Malek beautifully creates a character who’s headstrong, brilliant, charismatic and outrageous (for his day). The narrative follows a traditional arc, covering the band’s creative output and success (with all the hits), as well as Mercury’s personal struggles. Without ever being emotionally involving or especially original in approach or direction, it still manages to create an interesting biopic. NOTE: In an ironic (and somewhat disguised) role, Mike Myers gets to diss the title song, which was a reference to his performance of the song in “Wayne’s World.”

 

4 Stars (4 / 5)

 

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Beautiful Boy (review)

Beautiful Boy (review)

This film is actually based on 2 best-sellers: one by the father (played by Steve Carell) and the other by the son (Timothee Chalamet). They both examine the heartbreaking cycle of addiction, relapse and recovery from their POVs. Since the plot (which jumps freely in time) is steeped in frustration and misery, it’s up to the actors to make this powerful relationship come to life. While Carell mostly plays it low-key, Chalamet creates a devastating, ultimately heartbreaking character. With the harsh re-creations of this cycle’s repercussions, this experience is a relentless downer. It will be appreciated  by those affected by addiction or lovers of compelling performances. NOTE: Stay thru the credits to hear the full Bukowski poem that’s introduced earlier. (Criterion Cinemas only)

 

3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

 

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Halloween (review)

Halloween (review)

Even though there have been numerous sequels, this is considered a direct follow-up to the original.  Jamie Lee Curtis is back, 40 years later, when Michael Myers goes on another brutal rampage. This time, she’s locked and loaded and also has a daughter and granddaughter to protect. There’s nothing new this time around, another large body count and some minor tension. It’ll probably be successful because fans will want to check it out, but it’s purely average.

 

3 Stars (3 / 5)

 

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The Hate U Give (review)

The Hate U Give (review)

Amandla Stenberg gives an astonishing performance as a black teen who has to code switch to get thru her day: She blends in at her mostly-white prep school, while living in a crime-ridden, mostly-black neighborhood. After witnessing a tragic event, she begins to question her identity. What keeps this from becoming a simple adolescent melodrama is the intelligent writing that creates a solid family support system, while honestly examining the complexities of race relations. It almost borders on caricature and contrived situations. Sometimes intense, sometimes funny, this movie makes some powerful statements, while also being an affecting, absorbing and well-made film.

 

4.5 Stars (4.5 / 5)

 

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Free Solo (review)

Free Solo (review)

If you can look at the accompanying picture and not flinch, this movie may not be for you. That’s Alex Honnold, who’s one of the world’s most famous and daring solo climbers (using hands and feet only, no ropes). This documentary details his efforts to scale the face of a 3000 feet high El Capitan in Yosmite. It also offers insight into his unique personality. There’s lots of prep and even some mishaps, but his almost irrational determination drives him to the final climb, a harrowing, seemingly impossible feat. Luckily, this is only playing at Criterion Cinemas…not sure I could take it on a giant IMAX screen.

 

4 Stars (4 / 5)

 

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