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Girls Trip (review)

Girls Trip (review)

The latest film in the women-gone-wild trend features 4 college friends (Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith, Tiffany Haddish) who travel to New Orleans for a weekend full of raunchy fun. There’s lots of crude language and coarse insults with Haddish riotously leading the charge. As expected, they push the limits of outrageousness with exposed body parts and bodily functions. Meanwhile, the inevitable emotional moments (which drag down the final 30 minutes) revolve around female empowerment, friendship and loyalty. While there’s nothing especially original here, director Malcolm D. Lee is skilled at the high-energy pace and raucous attitude that appeals to his audiences.

 

3 Stars (3 / 5)

 

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Dunkirk (review)

Dunkirk (review)

This film revolves around a single event: the evacuation of British and Allied troops from the beach at Dunkirk during WWII. It happens in a mashup of 3 time spans: a week on the beach, a day on the English Channel and an hour in the sky. This unique approach usually makes sense, but is rendered slightly confusing by the dialogue, which is often hard to decipher (the accents and the music mix). Still, director Christopher Nolan has crafted a masterpiece of epic cinema with a continually tense undertone. Several POVs provide the human angle, but it’s less about personal endurance and more about desperate survival. The action scenes are less explicitly violent than “Saving Private Ryan” or “Hacksaw Ridge,” but still manage to create cringeworthy moments. An enthralling approach to telling a war story.

 

4 Stars (4 / 5)

 

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Maudie (review)

Maudie (review)

Maude Lewis was a primitive painter in ’50s Nova Scotia. Sally Hawkins beautifully captures her character, who was “born funny” (her words for rheumatoid arthritis), while Ethan Hawke is quietly grim as the reclusive man who hires her as a housekeeper. Both of their performances are warm and award-worthy. Aisling Walsh’s direction quietly captures the challenges and frustrations that this duo faces with touching, sometimes frustrating sensitivity. The cinematography makes the engaging story even more beautiful. I’m not usually a fan of primitive art, but Maudie’s work appealed to me, as did this sweetly told biography. (Criterion Cinemas only)

 

4.5 Stars (4.5 / 5)

 

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War for the Planet of the Apes (review)

War for the Planet of the Apes (review)

You may recall that the last movie in this series was less an action film and more a political conflict. (Here’s my review) This one puts even more emphasis on the drama, almost to the exclusion of any big battles. Caesar fights back against a human army (led by Woody Harrelson), but there’s more heart-felt conversation and sneaking around than full out fighting. That being said, the animation of the apes is even more impressively effective in conveying emotions (led by another remarkable performance from Andy Serkis). While much of the interactions are compelling, almost every scene plays out too long.  Once again, Michael Seresin’s cinematography turns some stunning locations into beautiful images and the simian characterizations are enthralling. While Matt Reeves’ distinctive directorial vision is engrossing and at times unique, it’s more about emotion than action. (This much ape interaction means lots of subtitles to translate their hairy gestures.)

 

3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

 

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The Big Sick (review)

The Big Sick (review)

Comic Kumail Nanjiani and his real-life wife Emily V. Gordon wrote this story from their life experience. He’s a Pakistani Muslim who’s expected to marry one of his own kind, but his relationship with a white girl (Zoe Kazan) causes concern. When she becomes extremely ill, this complicates matters with his family and hers. Considering that Nanjaini & Gordon both write comedy for a living, this film isn’t very funny. Sure, it’s lighthearted and charming, but lacking in laffs. Once the drama kicks in, the pace drags. Sure, it’s a sweet story and well-told, but it lacks that extra spark that would have made it a disarming romantic comedy.

 

3 Stars (3 / 5)

 

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Despicable Me 3 (review)

Despicable Me 3 (review)

The gang of wacky, lovable villains-turned-heroes is back with a new villain (voiced by Trey Parker) and Gru’s new bro Dru. Plot isn’t really important…what we’re looking for is the zany character comedy that’s expected from this franchise. Although the pace never lags and there’s plenty of energy, the humor is more conceptual than laff-based. As a result, it’s fun without being especially funny. The visuals are still a colorful delight.

 

3 Stars (3 / 5)

 

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New seats at the Byrd

New seats at the Byrd

The Byrd Theatre has announced a date for new seats to be completed, in addition to some special events to celebrate.

 

Replacement of the center section is underway. Their seat fabrication specialists have removed the decorative row endcaps for restoration and refitting to the new seats. On July 21, the balcony opens and the remaining downstairs center seats will be removed to prepare the floor. To increase legroom by spacing rows further apart, they have to move the floor vents. This means filling and drilling about 80 holes in the concrete slab. (Click here to watch the SIFTER video about the vents, the new seats and more.)

 

The back rows of seats are being removed to make way for the wheelchair accessible platform. The renovations will also include the theatre’s first accessible restroom (adjacent to the ground level men’s room).

 

Seat replacement is happening in phases and many of the best seats will be used to replace other areas. The foundation has posted a signup form for anyone interested in acquiring one of these unique souvenirs.

 

While the floor seats are removed, the Byrd will host a once-in-a-lifetime event. On 7/25, pop-up event planners Underground Kitchen and an acclaimed local chef will host a special benefit dinner under the Grand Chandelier. Click for more on The Roaring Twenties Gala.

 

All of this should be done by September 8. During construction, the theatre will continue to screen movies with the balcony being open during peak performances. After the renovation of the concession area in 2018, they may be adding beer and wine.

 

New this quarter, the Byrd is adding several month-long marathons featuring films themed around Harry Potter (all 8 installments), Quentin Tarantino (5 films on consecutive Tuesdays) and anime director Hayao Miyazaki (on Mondays). The July-October Schedule is currently posted online or available in the theatre lobby.

 

Spider-Man: Homecoming (review)

Spider-Man: Homecoming (review)

The big question for this newest reboot of the franchise is: how is it different from all the others? Primarily, it’s Tom Holland, who brings a fresh-faced charm to the character. He’s still in high school, while working to get accepted as a superhero by the Avengers. Since he’s also adolescent, he’s awkward and impetuous, which gets him in several scrapes. The action sequences seem more lighthearted and the villain (Michael Keaton) is less threatening. Still, Holland’s awkward spunk and endearing appeal, combined with a lighthearted script and energetic approach make this iteration enjoyable. BTW, the plot picks up after the last Captain America movie (which featured a fun cameo from Spidey), so if you didn’t see it, some of the references may be lost, but the movie still works. NOTE: As usual with Marvel flix, stay thru the credits for one last gag.

 

4 Stars (4 / 5)

 

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The Beguiled (review)

The Beguiled (review)

This film takes place at a girls’ boarding school in Virginia during the Civil War. When they give refuge to a wounded Union soldier (handsome, seductive Colin Farrell), his presence has a provocative effect on the women (including Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst & Elle Fanning). Although the performances are captivating and the interactions enthralling, it’s director Sofia Coppola’s delicate direction and cinematographer Phillipe Le Sourd gorgeous images that stand out. The pacing may be too genteel for people without patience and the drama never realizes it’s emotional fervor. Still, it’s restrained world and the drama that develops is quietly compelling. (There was a lot of moss on those Central Virginia trees, something I’ve never seen.)

 

4 Stars (4 / 5)

 

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The House (review)

The House (review)

Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler play parents who open an in-house casino to raise money for their daughter’s college. While the premise is interesting and the cast is populated with comic pros, the script is slim on truly funny situations or even good punchlines. Ferrell and Poehler work hard (and obviously improv a lot), but little of it lands. Director Andrew Jay Cohen has written some semi-successful comedies (most notably “Neighbors”) and this first big-screen directorial effort has plenty of energy. Just little of it generates laffs. The millennials in the theatre seemed to enjoy it, but I found it silly and stupid.

 

1.5 Stars (1.5 / 5)

 

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Baby Driver (review)

Baby Driver (review)

In his first major film role (“The Fault in Our Stars”), I described Ansel Elgort as “cute, charismatic and charming.” Now, you can add cool action star to that list. He plays a getaway driver extraordinaire, who listens to music while he performs amazing getaways and impressive stunts. The crooks he works with (including Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx & Jon Hamm) add all sorts of conflicts. Then there’s his love at first site (a lovely and charming Lily James). While the crooks gets to chew on the scenery, it’s Elgort’s sweet style that holds it all together. What really makes the movie such a winner is Edgar White, who’s written a sharp, engrossing vehicle (pun intended) and infused it with outstanding stunts, clever directorial touches and a killer soundtrack. It’s popcorn fun from the impressive opening chase to appropriate ending. The most fun of the summer, so far.

 

 

5 Stars (5 / 5)

 

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47 Meters Down (review)

47 Meters Down (review)

Two sisters (Mandy Moore & Claire Holt) decide to have an underwater adventure on their Mexican vacation. In the safety of a cage, they’re submerged to marvel at sharks swimming around them. Of course, everything goes wrong and they spend the rest of the movie trying to stay alive. The plight is presented with workmanlike skill, maintaining interest and quiet apprehension without much real tension. There is one good jump scare, but the attack sequences are often a confusing blur and the twist ending is disappointingly dumb.

 

3 Stars (3 / 5)

 

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