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Stuber (review)

Stuber (review)

Kumail Nanjiani plays an Uber driver who ends up as the hapless partner in a police officer’s (Dave Bautista) extended pursuit of a drug dealer. Of course, the contrast between the gruff cop and the mild-mannered driver provides most of the mild humor. Watching Nanjiani’s befuddled reactions and constant comments provides the conflict and the comedy…such as it is. The gun fights and car chases are adequately staged and the pace never drags. While the mismatched duo have some chemistry and the situations have promise, what’s missing is a truly funny script. It’s mildly entertaining, but will be quickly forgotten. Can’t give it the coveted 5-Star Uber rating.

 

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

 

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Crawl (review)

Crawl (review)

Chomp. Chomp. Chomp. This is my kind of thriller! A college swimmer (Kaya Scodelario) and her dad (Barry Pepper) are trapped in their Florida home during a major hurricane. Also in the crawl space with them are several alligators. Needless to say, people are eaten alive in the rising water. However, it’s not with excessive gory detail, but just enough brutality to make it distressing. Although the duo’s multiple injuries strain credulity, their fight for survival is tense and exciting. This doesn’t break any new ground for the genre, but it sure does entertain with several good jump scares and plenty of bloody reptilian thrills. Interestingly, shot entirely in Serbia.

 

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

 

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4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

 

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Wild Rose (review)

Wild Rose (review)

Jessie Buckley plays a Glasgow native who dreams of being a country singer in Nashville. However, her recent prison record plus her 2 young kids are getting in the way of her plans. This struggle plays out with plenty of drama and a few well-sung songs by Buckley. Although there are several predictable setbacks and some moments that stretch credibility, this is less a music movie and more a character study about a mildly interesting character. NOTE: Sometimes the Scottish accents are a bit ‘o a challenge.

 

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

 

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Spider-Man: Far from Home (review)

Spider-Man: Far from Home (review)

Tom Holland returns as the high school version of the superhero, complete with the awkward charms that make him so appealing. This time, he travels with classmates to Europe, but the emergence of new creatures attacking various cities adds danger. There’s also a new character, Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) and the romantic subplot to add sweetness. The fight scenes often feature action that’s too cluttered to follow, but still full of dazzling effects. It’s not as good as the last one (my review), but still friendly, enjoyable and well-paced. NOTE: Stay thru the credits for 2 scenes…both containing shockers!

 

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

 

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Midsommar (review)

Midsommar (review)

A group of young Americans takes a trip to a remote commune in Sweden to observe an unusual midsummer festival. What they discover is a creepy series of events that become more and more destructive, but never bloody or horrifying. Anyone expecting a typical thriller will be disappointed that the frights don’t exist. The storytelling is somewhat compelling…leading to hopes of a shocking payoff that never comes.  The ultimate “events” are more like a weird paranoid folk trip than a movie that’s shocking or scary.

 

2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5)

 

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Echo in the Canyon (review)

Echo in the Canyon (review)

The California Sound came out of Laurel Canyon in the mid-60s, when folk went electric. Jakob Dylan interviews prominent band members from the period (David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Michelle Phillips, Ringo Starr, John Sebastian, Brian Wilson), as well as musicians who were influenced by them (Tom Petty, Jackson Browne, Beck). He also recorded an album of seminal songs and produced a concert honoring them, but the most fun is hearing these legends talk about the creative explosion and cross-pollination that occurred. For those of us who lived thru this period, this proves a fascinating, informative look at an important era in American pop culture. For those younger, it’s essential in appreciating the time and the music. (Criterion Cinemas only)

 

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

 

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Yesterday (review)

Yesterday (review)

After a short worldwide blackout, a lone singer/songwriter (Himesh Patel) realizes that the world doesn’t remember the Beatles. As a result, he starts recording and performing their songs, resulting in universal acclaim. To add a romantic twist, his relationship with his manager (Lily James) is tested. There are amusing moments throughout, but Kate McKinnon, as his ruthlessly frank agent, manages most of the funny moments. Fans of the Fab Four will enjoy the hit parade of classics, reinterpreted thru new eyes…or voices (Patel’s singing is excellent). The late twist provides a wistful encounter, but I couldn’t fathom the logic behind it. There are plenty of sweet moments and sufficient humor to wrap up a package of nostalgia, romance and great music.

 

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

 

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Shaft  (review)

Shaft  (review)

Richard Rountree created the role in the titular 1971 blaxploitation classic (directed by Gordon Parks). Samuel L. Jackson revisited the role in 2000 (with the late John Singleton at the helm). In this version, Jessie T. Usher plays the 3rd generation badass private detective. Actually, he starts as a whitebread FBI analyst who’s had no contact with his dad until the extremely predictable plot gets underway. That’s when the fun begins. Although there are a few shootouts, this is more a relationship comedy than an action film. It allows Jackson to showcase his comic chops with sassy street talk and dead-on timing. Anyone expecting the hard-edged approach of the original may be disappointed, but audiences who want to enjoy Jackson at the top of his game will have a good time (the other 2 have a few moments too).

 

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

 

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Toy Story 4 (review)

Toy Story 4 (review)

Although the Toy Story films are full of adventure and comedy, the series always includes a focus on serious, emotional moments. This one includes more drama with a continuous message about the importance of friendship and loyalty. The usual gang is back, although most of the funny supporting characters get scant attention. This one revolves around Woody, Bo and a new toy (a spork voiced by Tony Hale) as they go on an adventure to comfort their new kid/owner. The animation is gorgeous, as expected, and there are some new characters that add some fun. Overall, it’s lively, well-paced and enjoyable. Not as unique or special as the first 3, but still higher entertainment value than many animated family films.

 

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

 

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Men In Black International (review)

Men In Black International (review)

The popular franchise has expanded to traverse the globe with 2 new agents (Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson). The plot is insignificant, especially since it has them trying to save the universe (yawn). There’s plenty of action, but most of it is unexciting. Almost every scene is populated with a variety of wacky aliens, which keeps the visuals fun. It’s slick and cool looking, but otherwise, relatively bland. Kumail Nanjiani voices the animated sidekick character and adds a few glimpses of humor, otherwise, there’s little comedy that works. The new duo does OK with their roles. It’s not a bad movie, just not living up to the comic or action standards of its predecessors.

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

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Late Night (review)

Late Night (review)

Emma Thompson stars as a legendary talk show host whose popularity and ratings are in decline. It an attempt to become more relevant, she hires Mindy Kaling to expand her all-male writing staff. The result is an entertaining comedy that also takes a stand on the current themes of diversity and female empowerment. It’s delightful to watch Thompson’s steely, (mostly) heartless tyrant rule the office and the screen. Kaling (who also wrote the screenplay) creates a sweet, yet determined character with fewer laffs. While this film is completely formulaic and more amusing than funny, its spunky attitude and frank statements provide plenty to enjoy.

 

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

 

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Aladdin (review)

Aladdin (review)

Disney’s animated classic about the titular street thief, his genie and Princess Jasmine gets the live-action treatment. The cast is amiable with Will Smith taking on the role of the fast-talking street-wise blue genie. He does a lively job (helped by lots of special effects), but the inevitable comparisons to the original Robin Williams will find him falling short. Director Guy Ritchie has included some of his signature chases, but without much clever action. The visuals are colorful, there are plenty of special effects and the songs are tuneful, but the finished product lacks magic. Despite some early slow going, young audiences should be entertained.

 

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

 

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