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Fist Fight (review)

Fist Fight (review)

When a nebbish English teacher (Charlie Day) crosses the angriest member of the high school faculty (Ice Cube), the titular event is on. Day spends the rest of the movie frantically trying to avoid the throw down. He can be very funny and does have moments, but more often his frenzied energy just comes off desperate. There are a few supporting characters who add most of the humor, but even so, the script isn’t especially funny. The best scene is when Ice Cube gets to utter the most famous line from his NWA days. NOTE: Stay thru the early credits for outtakes and thru all of them for an extended improv by Tracy Morgan.

 

2 Stars (2 / 5)

 

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A Cure for Wellness (review)

A Cure for Wellness (review)

This mish-mash mess of a story takes a young New York exec (Dane DeHaan) to a wellness center in the Alps (a stunning location). He immediately senses something’s not right and spends the rest of this almost 2 1/2 hour movie sneaking around the property trying to uncover the truth behind the mysterious experiments. Inexplicably, he seems to have access to the property’s most secretive recesses. There’s lots of creepy settings and ominous music, but no suspense. The plot, which is riddled with holes, borrows elements from dozens of previous films, including hints of “Frankenstein” and “Phantom of the Opera.” It’s sometimes visually interesting and even occasionally unnerving, but not nearly enuff to support the tedium of the pace. The finale doesn’t live up to the promise of a shocking revelation.

 

2 Stars (2 / 5)

 

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John Wick: Chapter 2 (review)

John Wick: Chapter 2 (review)

Keanu Reeves returns as a severe hit man. As with the first movie, this one is more about style (cool locations and blasting music) than story (minimal, hackneyed dialogue). The body count is absurdly high, as Wick dispatches men with direct gunshots and ruthless blows. But that’s what makes it fun: watching what new ways they’ll come up with to inflict pain and death. Even though it’s mindless violence and Reeves’ delivery is as flat as ever, this is a rare sequel that actually seems more inventive and enjoyable than the original.

 

4 Stars (4 / 5)

 

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I Am Not Your Negro (review)

I Am Not Your Negro (review)

James Baldwin was a distinguished black writer and an outspoken critic of race relations in America. There are elements of a traditional doc in this film, but it’s more an artistic treatise using Baldwin’s eloquent words (quietly voiced by Samuel L. Jackson) and charismatic on-screen appearances to delineate his musings on the subject. It’s supported with disturbing historical photos and excerpts from Hollywood films. There is a focus on 3 great leaders of the civil rights movement (Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King), but the extended analysis sometimes becomes repetitive or seems to ramble. Even so, this is a forceful examination that sadly still rings true more than 50 years later.

 

4 Stars (4 / 5)

 

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The Great Wall (review)

The Great Wall (review)

Matt Damon and Pedro Pascal play 2 mercenaries looking for gun powder in historical China. When they’re caught and imprisoned in the titular structure, they end up in assault by a horde of vicious mythical beasts. This film was directed by noted Chinese director Yimou Zhang and he’s put his eccentric style all over the film. The battles are over the top (pun intended) with dizzying action and video game visuals. The plot is somewhat silly, while the human interaction is mundane. If you appreciate fantastic imagery, hyped up fights and spectacular scenery, this somewhat stylized adventure will not disappoint.

 

3 Stars (3 / 5)

 

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Fifty Shades Darker (review)

Fifty Shades Darker (review)

This sequel lacks any of the original’s assets (I really liked it). The narrative ended with her (Dakota Johnson) walking out on her billionaire beau (Jamie Dornan). Before long, they’re back together, which leads to endless intimate discussions about commitment, boundaries and other boring drivel. The dialogue is embarrassingly pedestrian (I was predicting a number of lines before they were uttered). The sex scenes lacked any eroticism (but plenty of nudity) and the S&M component was PG-rated kink. The sprinkling of suspense and disaster feels contrived and adds nothing. It doesn’t help that the obnoxious soundtrack pounds home the character’s emotional state with often ridiculously literal lyrics. Even the scenes of opulence lack visual snap. You’d have to be a true masochist to endure this painful experience. NOTE: If you must go, stay thru the early credits to see a preview of the next one.

 

1 Stars (1 / 5)

 

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The Lego Batman Movie (review)

The Lego Batman Movie (review)

Batman proved so popular in the previous Lego movie, that he returns with his own…on his own…all alone. Can he learn to work with others to save Gotham from the Joker? Other than a different plot, this is pretty much like the original. The visual style is cluttered, none of the characters are particularly memorable, the jokes are often bad and the many chases are lively but unfocused.  The energetic approach should please young viewers, but I didn’t care much for the original and found this one even less amusing or inventive.

 

2 Stars (2 / 5)

 

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A Dog’s Purpose (review)

A Dog’s Purpose (review)

Ironically, the film that launched the international career of accomplished Swedish director Lasse Hallström was “My Life as a Dog.” His latest is told from the POV of another earnest canine (voiced by Josh Gad), who goes thru several incarnations with several human companions. It’s a sweet story with the inevitable hankie moments. The performances are genuine and the script appeals with drama and humor. Hallström has made a variety of heartfelt, charming movies and this one is a fitting addition to his filmography. (Bonus: When was the last time you saw a Nash Rambler in a movie!)

 

4 Stars (4 / 5)

 

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Split (review)

Split (review)

Three teenage girls (of course) are kidnapped by a man who is possessed by 23 personalities (James McAvoy). This is a women in distress thriller with a heavy layer of psychological conversation (featuring a wonderful Betty Buckley as his doc). The film promises horrible consequences and has a mild amount of stress in the process. The ominous feeling of dread and mild touches of suspense are typical tropes from writer/director M. Night Shyamalan. Still, the final scenes don’t pay off in tension or shockers. McAvoy does demonstrate his exceptional talent, as he brilliantly inhabits a variety of peculiar characters. The “surprise” at the end isn’t really a twist in the traditional Shyamalan style, but a silly in-joke.

 

3 Stars (3 / 5)

 

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Hidden Figures (review)

Hidden Figures (review)

In the early days of NASA, black women were employed as “computers” to help calculate the complicated math involved in space flight. This film tells the amazing story of 3 of these exceptional women (played by Octavia Spencer, Taraji P. Henson, Janelle Monáe). The spunky script peppers the continuous indignities and inequities that are heaped upon them with humor that adds warmth and humanity. Their performances are all winning. This film is fascinating in exploring the early history of our space program, but it also delves into the discrimination against these women in an easy to swallow, entertaining package. A few snappy songs by Pharrell Williams adds even more verve.

 

4 Stars (4 / 5)

 

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Fences (review)

Fences (review)

This is a screen adaptation of August Wilson’s play about a strict and restricted black father (played by Denzel Washington, who also directed). He verbally bullies his wife (Viola Davis) and son (Jovan Adepo), while ranting about his authority and significance. While Wilson’s language borders on poetic, the father’s unsympathetic character makes the situations hard to handle. Of course, the performances are superb with Davis’ sensitive portray illuminating the screen. Director Washington has kept every moment of this long encounter compelling (it runs 2:19) with crackling energy and dynamic force. Still, it feels like a cinematic staging of a theatrical presentation with the attendant embellished dialogue, hyper-focused encounters and larger than life emotions.

 

3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

 

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Lion (review)

Lion (review)

The first hour of this movie takes place in India, where a 5-year-old boy gets lost, thousands of miles from home. The 2nd hour casts Dav Patel in the role as the grownup version, who’s adopted by an Australian couple and ultimately decides to seek his missing family. Both segments have moments of compelling drama and beautiful cinematography. They also both go on too long: the hopeless despair in India and the mental torment in Australia. Despite engrossing performances and a remarkable story (yes, it’s true), this film is in desperate need of major trimming to minimize the anguish and maximize the emotional impact.

 

3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

 

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