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The Upside (review)

The Upside (review)

This remake of a popular French import (The Intouchables) stars Ryan Cranston as a paralyzed billionaire, who hires a round-around-the-edges ex-con as his caretaker (played by Kevin Hart). The seemingly incompatible combo turns out to be perfect partnership of support, humor and friendship. Fortunately, director Neil Burger has managed to rein in Hart’s typical manic frenzy, while still taking full advantage of his comic skills. Every actor is engaging (including a delightful Nicole Kidman) and the film sparkles with a lively attitude and plenty of laughs (although some might fault the easy conflicts and resolutions). Expect to be charmed, touched and entertained. A bonus: this film features Aretha Franklin’s songs and is dedicated to her.

 

4 Stars (4 / 5)

 

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Aquaman (review)

Aquaman (review)

This latest origin story comes from the DC Comic hero who’s a hybrid of a human lighthouse keeper (Temuera Morrison) and royalty from an underwater kingdom (Nicole Kidman). Jason Momoa takes on the title role with his immense presence and the demeanor of a regular, rough-around-the-edges guy. There’s a plot that so feeble it doesn’t need to be addressed. The underwater kingdom is full of beautiful, imaginative visuals and slightly bizarre creatures. Director James Wan (primarily known for the “Saw” series) brings his skills with action to create some impressive fight sequences, although (like most of these superhero films) the last big battle is too long and too cluttered. Overall, it’s less serious and more fun than many comic book flix. NOTE: Stay thru the closing title sequences for a hint of the sequel.

 

4 Stars (4 / 5)

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Mary Poppins Returns (review)

Mary Poppins Returns (review)

After 54 years, her return to the screen pretty much follows the template of the original: sweet children, withholding father, tuneful songs, eye-popping fantasies, and of course, the sassy nanny (Emily Blunt). The situations are Disney sweet (even when times are down), the performers are all fine (Blunt was acceptable, but not outstanding), the flights of imagination are enjoyable and the pleasant tunes feel stylistically like the originals without being memorable. The film hits all of the right notes, just not as wonderfully as the first time. While it’s not without charm and the story never lags, this follow-up doesn’t possess that special magic that made the original a classic.

 

4 Stars (4 / 5)

 

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Vice (review)

Vice (review)

Writer/director Adam McKay uses the same approach to storytelling that he did for The Big Short. Here are excerpts from that review:

This feels like a Michael Moore documentary with reenactments by a great cast. Director Adam McKay has utilized several cinematic tools to tell a complex and confusing story: entertaining montages, snappy editing, quick scenes and clever comedy. The short-attention-span pacing and McKay’s wildly creative approach (with those absorbing performances) make the film entertaining and ultimately infuriating.

All of this applies to this film. as he takes on Dick Cheney (Christian Bale). He starts with his formative years and moves thru his career to the crucial powers that he wielded as Vice President during the Bush administration. Bale has made a remarkable visual transformation and on top of that, the performance is creepily compelling. The rest of the cast nails it too, often looking surprisingly like their real-life counterparts. This is a piece of masterful storytelling that will shed light on one of recent history’s most Machiavellian personalities. NOTE: Stay thru the early credits for a final scene that brings it all home.

 

4.5 Stars (4.5 / 5)

 

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Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (review)

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (review)

The latest variation on the popular Marvel hero is animated, but the differences don’t end there. A black/Hispanic teen gets bitten by the radioactive spider. While trying to figure out his powers, several other Spidey versions show up from alternate universes. What makes this fun is the lively energy, self-aware wisecracks and throwbacks to the comic roots (even Stan Lee shows up). While it’s mostly fun and the visuals are flashy, the final fights are cluttered and the ending takes too much time to close. Still, it’s an enjoyable and unexpected addition to the genre. NOTE: Stay thru the credits for the inevitable (wacky) surprise.

 

3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

 

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The Favourite (review)

The Favourite (review)

You can always expect unusual cinema with director Giorgos Lanthimos (“The Lobster,” “Killing of a Sacred Deer”). This time he’s applied his warped sensibilities to the cunning affairs of the heart played out thru the machinations of court. Olivia Colman plays an ailing Queen Anne in 18th century England. She’s attended by her devoted Lady and lover (Rachel Weisz). When a new servant arrives (Emma Stone), they begin a conflict for the Queen’s affection. There’s a beautiful location, lovely dresses and no small measure of absurd slants on royal life. The 3 women are all enjoyable, with Colman being especially enthralling. The film promises absurd satire and peculiar wit, which it delivers with compelling style, but the lagging pace and rambling narrative keep this film from fully realizing its absurd comic impact.

 

3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

 

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Ralph Breaks the Internet (review)

Ralph Breaks the Internet (review)

John C. Reilly is back in the title role and he’s joined by the spunky racer from last time (Sara Silverman). They venture outside of their safe video game world into the expanse of the internet, where numerous brands get their logos in animation. While the visuals are bright, colorful and dense, the extended one-on-one conversations between the 2 main characters drag down the fun. Some of the most enjoyable comic moments come from the bevy of Disney princesses as they play to and against stereotype. When there’s action, the movie’s entertaining, but there’s too much slow, relationship development trying to instill positive messages. Stay thru the credits for 2 bonus clips.

 

2 Stars (2 / 5)

 

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Green Book (review)

Green Book (review)

This charmer is based on the real relationship between a rough-edged, Italian-American bouncer (Viggo Mortensen) and the refined African-American jazz pianist Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali). Lip is hired to drive Shirley on a concert tour thru the Deep South in the 60s. As expected, they go from contrary attitudes to an endearing, mutually-beneficial friendship, so it’s up to the filmmaking to create something special. Both of the lead actors give deep and affecting performances. Director Peter Farrelly (best known for silly comedies) has maneuvered between racial discord and human interaction with skill, assurance and a few laffs. The script, while predictable, still manages to create an involving narrative.

 

4 Stars (4 / 5)

 

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