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A Quiet Place (review)

A Quiet Place (review)

Vicious sci-fi “invaders” are blind and hunt their prey by sound, so that means this family must live their rural lives in fearful silence. Thanks to John Krasinski (who directed and costars with his wife Emily Blunt), this is an intelligent suspense film. There are no cheap jump scares or bloody violence, just a steady nerve-racking level of anxiety that keeps building. Much of this credit goes to Krasiniski, who not only knows how to masterfully create tension, but has coaxed exceptional performances from the cast. They’re not just good at being scared, but can truly convey true emotions. This is exceptional storytelling that’s quietly riveting.

 

5 Stars (5 / 5)

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Beirut (review)

Beirut (review)

Jon Hamm gets his first leading film role as a US diplomat who’s called back to the titular city to negotiate a prisoner exchange. He does a good job of staying on top of Tony Gilroy’s continuous dialogue. But unlike the “Bourne” films the writer is known for, this is much more about political conflict and intrigue than action (there are only very short, minor action scenes). For someone who’s not familiar with the historical importance of the events in the 80s Lebanon (like me), the complexity of the machinations and layers of leaders may sometimes be confusing. Still, the film moves briskly and makes sufficient sense to keep it involving. It helps that Hamm’s performance provides a strong central core.

 

3 Stars (3 / 5)

 

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Blockers (review)

Blockers (review)

This has been promoted as the first teens-get-laid flick with the female characters in control. That’s true, but it’s less about the girls and more about their parents (John Cena, Leslie Mann, Ike Barinholtz). When they discover that their daughters have made a pact to lose their virginity on prom nite, they chase around trying to block them. There are a few funny moments (mostly thanks to Cena), but the script is much more focused on an empowerment message (there’s even a blatant song to that effect). First time director (and writer of the Pitch Perfect trio) Kay Cannon has managed to squeeze some fun out of the film, but it never reaches the zaniness, hilarity or outrageousness that we’ve come to expect from this genre.

 

2.5 Stars (2.5 / 5)

 

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Isle of Dogs (review)

Isle of Dogs (review)

The latest from Wes Anderson (and his 2nd stop-motion animation after “The Fantastic Mr. Fox”) takes place in Japan, where a plague has caused all dogs to be transferred to Trash Island. When one boy comes to rescue his pet, it starts a journey that ends in the expected. As is usually the case with Anderson, the art direction is imaginative, inventive and delightful. The story starts with a quirky energy that’s fun, but about half way thru, things get a bit precious and the pace starts to lag. This is a filmmaker with a singular style, but it sometimes becomes too self-indulgent.  Still, Anderson showcases his unique approach to storytelling, character and visual style.

 

2.5 Stars (2.5 / 5)

 

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Chappaquiddick (review)

Chappaquiddick (review)

For anyone who doesn’t remember this historical event, this movie will fill you in…plus keep you thoroughly involved in the unfolding circumstances. Jason Clarke is fantastic as Senator Kennedy. He captures enough of the idiosyncratic look and accent, but more importantly, he beautifully creates a nuanced and flawed character. Watching as he and his team create the “coverup” maintains interest without ever letting the pace lag. The rest of the cast is also excellent. There are never any grand revelations or big moments, but director John Curran has crafted an intelligent, compelling investigation into political power.

 

4 Stars (4 / 5)

 

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The Death of Stalin (review)

The Death of Stalin (review)

The titular event takes place early in the story, which leaves the remaining government officials in a frantic struggle for power. While there are moments of the evil that pervaded the USSR at that time, most of the narrative gets its thrust from the mean-spirited dark humor that writer/director Armando Iannucci does so well (he created VEEP). The cast has a great time conniving and conspiring against each other, while fighting to secure their place in the new regime. The spirited satire provides intellectual laffs, even though the comic momentum slows before it’s over. Still, it’s witty and entertaining in an art house way.

 

4 Stars (4 / 5)

 

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Ready Player One (review)

Ready Player One (review)

Twenty-seven years in the future, people spend much of their time escaping into a virtual world. We spend half of this movie in that same animated experience (with lots of 80s cultural references). Part of the quest is fought by avatars, while the humans create conflict back in reality. The visuals are sometimes dazzling and they move by really fast (lots of opportunities for freeze frames to look for Easter eggs). The story isn’t unique: scrappy regular guys take on the powerful corp that wants to own the technology. The characters aren’t especially original and the performances are nothing special (Mark Rylance is the only standout). There aren’t lots of typical Spielberg touches (strong emotional connections, iconic moments), but he does keep it moving at a lively pace. BTW, this begs to be seen on the big screen because there’s so much to see.

 

3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

 

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Pacific Rim: Uprising (review)

Pacific Rim: Uprising (review)

Guillermo del Toro (who just won Oscars for “The Shape of Water”) created the original “Rim,” but abandoned this sequel…and it shows. There’s none of his visual inventiveness or compelling storytelling. The first half wastes time setting up relationships with uninteresting characters (headed by John Boyega). After suffering thru that, there’s an extended, noisy battle of giant robots vs. a creature from the deep and an evil machine. The destruction is so massive and repetitive that it quickly devolves into a dull roar. I didn’t love the first one (review here) and I absolutely hated this one.

 

1 Stars (1 / 5)

 

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Love, Simon (review)

Love, Simon (review)

Much has been made about the fact that this is like a regular teen romance, except with a gay protagonist. I have to disagree. It’s still a “coming out” movie, just with a softer touch. Nick Robinson (who’s been catching flack for being a straight actor) plays the basically well-adjusted teen with loving parents and supportive friends. His secret struggle involves an email correspondence with another closeted student. He spends much of the movie searching (and fantasizing) about who it might be. When he’s outed, things get predictably complicated. The approach is in line with most teen flicks, but lacks interesting dialogue, comic moments or fun characters (except the drama teacher). It’s ultimately positive and does have some heartwarming moments, but breaks no new ground for gay adolescents or teen flicks. And for a film that’s all about inclusion, there are no Asian or Hispanic characters.

 

3 Stars (3 / 5)

 

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A Wrinkle in Time (review)

A Wrinkle in Time (review)

Not being familiar with the book, I had no idea what to expect. Having seen the trailer (too many times), I assumed Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon and Mindy Kaling would be the guiding forces. However, the 3 stars bow out about half way thru and leave the quest to the young people. A girl, her brother and their friend set out across the universe to find her scientist father. There are expected otherwordly visuals. Although they’re sometimes pretty, none of them is especially dazzling or groundbreaking. More of a disappointment is the leaden pace, dreary earnestness and never-ending messages of self worth and empowerment.  A spectacular disappointment.

 

1.5 Stars (1.5 / 5)

 

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Black Panther (review)

Black Panther (review)

Sure, the highly-publicized aspects of this film are innovative: an almost all-black cast from a rich, technologically advanced African country, the fierce female warriors and the villain who has close ties to the good guys. But what was most impressive cinematically was the magnificent art direction: the imaginary locations are spectacular, the sci fi elements are cool and the Afro-influenced costumes are fantastic. The surprise was how much drama is involved. Sure, there are the requisite action scenes, but there’s a lot of talk about pride, moral responsibility and other lofty subjects. The cast is loaded with top notch actors, who turn in serious, dedicated performances. Ryan Coogler is one of the most promising directors today and he’s brought his socially conscious vision to bear, while still managing to entertain. (As usual, stay thru the credits for a coda, then a teaser.)

 

4 Stars (4 / 5)

 

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