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The Florida Project (review)

The Florida Project (review)

Sean Baker’s previous film, Tangerine, followed a group of trans prostitutes on the streets of LA and featured non-actors in most roles (shot on an iPhone, no less). This film takes place in a very different world, but has the same gritty, guerilla feel and vibrant cast. Brooklynn Prince is the movie’s central character. Her spunky personality drives the lively exploits of her small group of friends, as they pass the days inside and outside a cheap, seedy Orlando motel. Bria Vinaite is another off-the-street casting who is interesting as her messed-up mother. There is known actor: Willem Dafoe, who plays the befuddled manager, balancing his business responsibilities with his heartfelt concern for the residents. There’s not really a plot, just a series of moments that mostly involve the kids running around and getting into minor trouble. Still, there’s a heart and warmth to the characters and Prince is one of the most delightfully compelling new personalities in recent screen memory.

 

4 Stars (4 / 5)

 

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The Killing of a Sacred Deer (review)

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (review)

Colin Farrell plays a cardiovascular surgeon who takes a fatherless teenage boy under his wing (the appropriately creepy Barry Keoghan). Things get bizarre when the conflict between their relationship and his own family (including wife Nicole Kidman) goes in unfortunate and unexpected directions. The characters maintain the stilted stiffness and minimal emotions that director Giorgos Lanthimos adapted for his first equally unusual film (The Lobster). He also embraces an uncomfortable style, a deliberate pace and an eye for eccentric vantage points. There’s an unnatural discomfort that pervades the film and it only accelerates as the unfortunate circumstances progress. The abrupt and intrusive music exacerbates the movie’s determination to make the experience uncomfortable. Some watching this prolonged, painful, somewhat pretentious process will appreciate the appropriately weird approach.

 

3 Stars (3 / 5)

 

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Thor: Ragnarok (review)

Thor: Ragnarok (review)

There’s some sort of civilization-saving plot that also results in Thor cutting his hair , while losing his hammer and an eye. The story isn’t important, but several things help this latest Marvel flick stand out: the irreverent sense of humor (thanks to director Taika Waititi) and the performances of Cate Blanchett (deliciously sexy and wickedly evil) and Jeff Goldblum (playfully off-kilter). There also seem to be fewer big action scenes (none of them especially memorable) and more dialogue (sometimes amusing, sometimes serious). It may be more fun, but it’s still got lots of the genre trappings. NOTE: Stay thru the credits to see what happened to one character.

 

3 Stars (3 / 5)

 

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Wonderstruck (review)

Wonderstruck (review)

Two children living in eras 50 years apart set out to New York City on separate quests. Their parallel journeys lead them on an intriguing and sometimes spellbinding trip. Since both of the protagonists have lost their hearing, much of the film takes place with only music and sometimes rather creative imagery. Some of the sequences require patience to endure the imaginative approach, but the payoff is worth it.The performances are compelling and director Todd Haynes has gone all out…or all art!

 

3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

 

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A Bad Moms Christmas (review)

A Bad Moms Christmas (review)

My review of the first one pretty much sums up this one (read it here). To add heft to the sequel, each of the original trio has their own moms show up for the holidays. Christine Baranski creates the kind of upscale bitchy character she does so well. Cheryl Hines is sweet and wacky. Susan Sarandon plays to maverick type. The abilities of this capable trio adds some comic heft. The gags are about the same level of mild humor as the first one..possibly less intentionally outrageous. Nothing especially new or particularly funny here. Typical sequel stuff with more maudlin moments. Best appreciated by moms looking for a few minutes’ escape.

 

2.5 Stars (2.5 / 5)

 

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Only the Brave (review)

Only the Brave (review)

This is not an action film about firefighting, but a drama about fire fighters. Josh Brolin plays the supervisor of a team of Hotshots and Miles Teller is the troubled loser whose commitment to the squad turns his life around. The actors bring these characters to life, while the good-natured ribbing and comaradarie helps us care for them. There’s some incredible images of the majesty and uncontrollable horror of wild fire, but their actual encounters aren’t all that riveting. Once you accept that this is more about the people, then you can appreciate their story. Even so, it’s not especially compelling (although the final scenes are powerful).

 

3 Stars (3 / 5)

 

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Geostorm (review)

Geostorm (review)

People don’t go see a movie like this for plot or character and that’s a good thing, because this film is extremely weak on both counts. Most of the big disaster sequences are fully on view in the trailer. So what does that leave? Lots of intrigue on the space station and conspiracy back on earth. The plot is set in the near future, when our planet has been saved from repeated weather catastrophes by a massive satellite structure. When things start to go wrong, the scrappy engineer (Gerard Butler) and his brother (Jim Sturgess) struggle to save the day. With trite situations and terrible dialogue nothing about the story is original or interesting. To make matters worse, the devastation scenes are a lackluster showoff of CGI effects.

 

1 Stars (1 / 5)

 

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Happy Death Day (review)

Happy Death Day (review)

This has been promoted as a combo of Groundhog Day and Scream, but I only saw one of those reflected in this average thriller. A college coed wakes up on her birthday only to be murdered by a baby-faced stalker. Each time she dies, she wakes up back in the same dorm room and the only way to stop the cycle is to identify the killer. It’s adequately made, but the suspense sequences aren’t especially original or even mildly frightening. The satirical self-aware comic insights (a la Scream) never materialize. It’s slightly fun to watch her solve the puzzle, but there’s little about this film that makes it special.

 

2 Stars (2 / 5)

 

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The Mountain Between Us (review)

The Mountain Between Us (review)

Kate Winslet and Idris Elba play strangers who are stranded in the middle of the snow-covered wilderness after their small plane crashes. The first half features some gripping moments of danger and bleak desperation, but that tension dissipates when their relationship starts to dominate the plot. With lesser actors in the roles, it might have been a sappy disaster, but these 2 have the chops to bring courage and conflict. Even with some predictable twists, this starts promisingly as a riveting survival story. However, the second half can’t sustain the tension and loses some of the emotional impact.

 

3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

 

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The Foreigner (review)

The Foreigner (review)

Don’t expect Jackie Chan’s impish smile and affable personality because this is a dramatic departure for the action star (he even cries…twice). He plays an immigrant to London, whose daughter is killed in a terrorist bombing. He sets out to find and punish the people responsible. Pierce Brosnan is on hand to complicate the plot. He plays an Irish liaison to the British government whose own interests provide most of the complications (and a bit of confusion). Meanwhile, Chan uses his martial arts skills to exact revenge. It’s fun to watch these occasional scenes, but there’s much more personal interaction (meaning talk) than action.

 

3 Stars (3 / 5)

 

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Marshall (review)

Marshall (review)

This title refers to Thurgood Marshall, the first black US Supreme Court justice. But this isn’t really a biopic because it focuses on one case taken on by the young attorney (Chadwick Boseman). While working for the NAACP, he was sent to defend a black chauffeur (Sterling K. Brown) accused of raping a white woman (Kate Hudson). Also in this roots story is the first criminal case of his reluctant partner Sam Friedman (Josh Gad). This is a courtroom procedural that’s colored by 1940’s racism, but director Reginald Hudlin has crafted a solid drama with moments of humor and a sense of determination instead of outrage. The top-notch performances are uniformly compelling. There’s nothing original in the approach, but it’s a well-made and entertaining history lesson.

 

3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

 

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Victoria and Abdul (review)

Victoria and Abdul (review)

Judi Dench turns in another fine performance as Queen Victoria in her later years. The regent has become rather bored with life until she meets a young man from India (Ali Fazal). Their close relationship brightens her outlook, stimulates new learning opportunities and opens her mind, while enraging the rest of her traditional household. The film features the expected visual splendor and stiff British traditions that we expect from these period dramas, but it’s lacking a real emotional bond (between the duo or between the audience and the filmmaker). It’s light and entertaining, but lacks any originality in the writing or much depth in the relationships. An interesting historical footnote.

 

 

3 Stars (3 / 5)

 

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