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Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer (review)

Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer (review)

That title saves me from writing a plot summary. Richard Gere is the titular character, who scurries around NYC on his cell trying to make deals and establish connections. Gere is enjoyable in this uncharacteristically nebbish role, which is good, since he’s in almost every scene. The machinations are interesting and the supporting cast strong. There are some cinematic flourishes that take the movie out of reality, but it still works. While the film isn’t especially memorable, it places an intriguing character in an atypical story.

 

3 Stars (3 / 5)

 

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A Quiet Passion (review)

A Quiet Passion (review)

Let me start by stating that I’m not a poetry fan (unless it’s a naughty limerick), but even if I were a fierce devotee, this dreary biopic would have faded my fervor forever. It follows poet Emily Dickinson (Cynthia Nixon) from her early years to her final reclusive, pain-racked days. This film is over 2 hours, but without the interminable pauses between EVERY line, it would run less than an hour. The pacing is dreadful, the stilted language borders on pretentious and the endless misery isn’t mitigated by the occasional readings of her poems. There are some attractive costumes and the stark gentility of the period is interesting, but the incredible tedium that pervades the pacing drains any hope of redemption. The best thing about the movie is the clever way they morphed the family members from their teen versions to the adult actors.

 

1.5 Stars (1.5 / 5)

 

Alien: Covenant (review)

Alien: Covenant (review)

Director Ridley Scott has cranked out another one that pretty much follows the formula. A group of space explorers land on a remote planet where lives “guess who?” There are some electric encounters that seem more intense and extended that in the past, but there are also plenty of concentrated dialogue passages (and more emotion). Since the scenario’s a given, it’s up to the filmmakers to offer something new. They didn’t. But this film still plays out with grand visuals and a sprinkling of violent, tense alien encounters.

 

3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

 

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Snatched (review)

Snatched (review)

Amy Schumer plays herself and adds Goldie Hawn in the mix as her mother. Their vacation to South America gets ruined when they’re kidnapped. Even though the situation and the pairing is ripe for laffs, the script isn’t often funny. There’s plenty of comic energy and Schumer’s brand of delivery still lands (when there’s a good line). Hawn forsakes her classic ditzy style for an uptight, unfunny character. Some of the supporting roles get the most mileage out of the material (Ike Barinholtz, Wanda Sykes, Joan Cusack). The whole endeavor is intermittently enjoyable, but still falls short. NOTE: The starring duo introduces the movie by thanking the audience for coming to see it in an actual cinema.

 

2.5 Stars (2.5 / 5)

 

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King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (review)

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (review)

Director Guy Ritchie has taken a very dark approach to the classic tale and turned the king into a superhero. Charlie Hunnam holds the title role as an orphan raised by prostitutes who pulls the famous sword. After initial protests, he leads the fight against his uncle (Jude Law) in one of the numerous battles that’s a blur of action, quick cuts and aggressive music. There are some grand visuals, excess all around and a frantic pace (much of the time), but it still feels noisy and empty. (Yes, that’s David Beckham in a small role at the stone.)

 

3 Stars (3 / 5)

 

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The Wall (review)

The Wall (review)

Movies like “127 Hours” and “Buried” trap a man in a situation where his death seems definite, then create drama thru his attempts to get free. This version of that scenario puts 2 American soldiers (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, John Cena) in the Iraqi desert, where they’re pinned down by a sniper. When one of them is rendered useless, it’s up to the other to stay alive, which includes communicating with his enemy. Johnson does a good job of struggling with his dwindling fate. Even though the drama doesn’t often manage to build much tension or emotional wallop, it still presents a compelling predicament and interesting solutions.

 

3 Stars (3 / 5)

 

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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (review)

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (review)

Here’s my review of the first one. Nothing has changed, so why waste my time being original when the filmmakers didn’t.

 

The latest Marvel mashup brings a ragtag gang of unusual characters together to save the universe. This opens things up for irreverent humor, which isn’t always is seldom that funny. Action is inevitable, but most of it is fast & noisy without standing out. There’s also lots to look at, including dozens of fun creatures and some cool design. (New this time: the middle bogs way down with too much dull drama and little Groot is just precious.) The playful tone and unusual individuals make it entertaining, but the underlying lack of originality keeps it from soaring.

 

I gave the original 3 stars, but I’m only doing 1.5 for this one (half as many stars for a half-assed movie). NOTE: To make sure you watch all the credits, they’ve spread out the teaser jokes throughout them.

 

1.5 Stars (1.5 / 5)

 

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The Fate of the Furious (review)

The Fate of the Furious (review)

Why not start by reading my review of “Furious 7?” It basically sums up this sequel, except that “7” was better. There’s another world domination villain (Charlize Theron) and the gang races around the world to save the day (with the exception of one character twist) . The action starts in Cuba (a great old-school mano a mano contest), moves to New York City (an incredible assault of autonomous vehicles) and finishes in the frozen plains of Russia (under the ice and over the top). Meanwhile, the baby on a plane adds some moments of “awwww.” There’s still plenty of fun, so fans of the series won’t be disappointed. Still, this one is more talky, more about the mission and less about fast cars (and the stunts aren’t as cool).

I bet you didn’t go back and read that review, so here’s one last chance.

 

3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

 

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Going In Style (review)

Going In Style (review)

3 retirees (Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Alan Arkin) discover their pension fund is being discontinued, so they decide to rob a bank. Surprisingly, the heist itself isn’t the finish line, there’s a whole post-robbery investigation they have to elude. The ageist jokes (even out of their own mouths) are in abundance, but the laffs are minimal. This cast is talented, but only Arkin has any humor in his portrayal (Christoper Lloyd’s clueless character is an insult and an embarrassment). Considering that director Zach Braff has a history in comedy, he didn’t impart any of his skills to this movie. It doesn’t help that the script is flat and predictable.

 

2 Stars (2 / 5)

 

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The Boss Baby (review)

The Boss Baby (review)

This whimsical concept starts with a baby (voiced by Alec Baldwin), who’s been assigned to a family with a secret mission. His adversary is the imaginative 7-year, whose happy days are disrupted by this domineering infant brother (voiced by Miles Christopher Bakshi, son of director Ralph). Although it’s not especially funny, there are amusing moments and some enjoyable supporting characters. There is a romping pace and a colorful, creative design. It’s a bit more inventive than some current animated films, but not fresh enough to become a classic.

 

3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

 

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Beauty and the Beast (review)

Beauty and the Beast (review)

This live action version of the Disney classic stars Emma Watson as the plucky Belle and Dan Stevens as the Beast. It’s big and lavish, with sweeping (sometimes almost dizzying) camerawork and extravagant visuals (although more artificial and less sumptuous). Even though it runs a bit too long, there’s plenty of energy. The love story has moments of warmth, but the living props provide the fun, along with Josh Gad’s comic relief (the studio’s first obviously gay character). The songs, the costumes, the sets: all lovely. Still, the film lacks that that extra dazzle quality that made the original so successful.

 

3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

 

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Kong: Skull Island (review)

Kong: Skull Island (review)

This is a complete revision of the King Kong tale. A group of scientists (and their military escorts) goes on an expedition to a mysterious island, where they discover quite a few large, dangerous creatures. It’s less about a raging monster and more about an action-packed adventure. The creatures create a formidable presence and the encounters are full of creative ways to kill. Toss in John C. Reilly for some sweet humor, stunning locations and beautiful cinematography. Combine them with assured filmmaking from 2nd time director Jordan Vogt-Roberts (“The Kings of Summer”) and the result is pure popcorn fun! NOTE: Stay thru the credits for a promising preview.

 

4.5 Stars (4.5 / 5)

 

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