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Reviews

28 Feb 2019
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The tale of Toothless the freaking adorable animated dragon comes to a close—maybe—with How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, the third chapter in what producers are calling a trilogy. Yeah, that’s the same thing they said about Toy Story 3 before greenlighting Toy Story 4. If the story continues beyond this chapter, you won’t get any complaints from me; I think the dragon beat could entertainingly go on with this franchise. Hiccup (the voice Jay Baruchel), now the chief of his Viking tribe, and his dragon buddy, Toothless, happen upon another Night Fury dragon—this one a female, and Toothless is justifiably smitten. After a first date that involves some hilarious show-off dancing, the two hit it off, and Hiccup finds himself possibly staring down a future without Toothless. Before Toothless and his new gal pal can head off for wedded bliss in the mystical Hidden World, where dragons…
25 Feb 2019
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Three actresses in excellent form—Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz and newly christened Oscar-winner Olivia Colman—bring the thunder in The Favourite, a funny, sinister look at Queen Anne and her confidantes in the early 18th century. Early talk had Stone or Weisz getting Oscars for their roles—they were both nominated for Best Supporting Actress—but as awards season played out, Colman got more accolades, culminating with her surprise Oscar win. Her performance in this movie is vulnerable, hilarious and even a little scary at times. As for Stone and Weisz, they were deserving of their nominations, and they are equally fantastic. It’s a period piece with a rapier wit, and one of 2018’s funniest, best-looking movies. Nicholas Hoult also contributes career-best work as Harley, a devious politician rocking a huge powder wig. It’s a period piece that is anything but stuffy, and while I was saddened to see Lady Gaga lose that Best…
21 Feb 2019
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Alita: Battle Angel is a project that’s been on James Cameron’s plate for almost two decades. Then the whole Avatar thing happened, and Cameron, the director, got lost in Pandora speaking Navi and doing strange things with horse-like creatures. He went from directing Alita to producing and screenplay contributions only. Directing chores went to Robert Rodriguez (Spy Kids, From Dusk Till Dawn)—and after substantial delays, the movie has finally arrived. The first time I saw the character of Alita in previews (played, in motion captures, by Rosa Salazar), I found her super-creepy, with her big eyes and ghostly smile. After seeing her in 3-D IMAX, I have to say: Something about adding that third dimension makes her more visually accessible. She really is an impressive special-effects feat, blending in just fine with the 100 percent humans and special-effects backdrops. The movie itself is rather absorbing for a while, telling a…
21 Feb 2019
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Christopher Landon follows up his somewhat creative original Happy Death Day with Happy Death Day 2U, an overly ambitious sequel that starts off great, but gets lost in its second half. Jessica Rothe returns as Tree, the college student who got stuck in the Groundhog Day murder loop in the original. The sequel starts with Ryan (Phi Vu), the character who walked in on Tree and Carter (Israel Broussard), stuck in a brand-new murder loop with a seemingly different baby-mask killer. Landon and friends establish a fascinating a reason for the whole murder-loop thing (a quantum-physics experiment) and set up some scenarios that openly acknowledge the plot of Back to the Future 2, featuring doppelgangers and everything. So far, so good. Then the plot begins to center on Tree—specifically about her fixing other elements of her life, leaning hard on emotional stuff rather than the clever gimmicks of the film’s…
19 Feb 2019
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Alex Honnold had a dream: to climb the face of Yosemite’s El Capitan without a rope. That’s a strange, crazy, psycho kind of dream, but he achieved it—and directors Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin captured it on film. The movie Free Solo spends much of its time on the pre-climbing ritual of training and Honnold studying El Capitan while climbing it with ropes. That stuff is harrowing enough, but when Honnold jettisons his safety harness for a climb using just his fingers and toes, things get all-out nuts. Peppered throughout the film are mentions of the deaths of other free-climbers around the world, some of whom die while Honnold is prepping for his big day. No matter—he just keeps on plugging, much to the amazement of the camera crew and Honnold’s girlfriend, Sanni McCandless, possibly the most patient and understanding woman in the world. The final climb is a…
14 Feb 2019
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Cold Pursuit stars Liam Neeson in yet another revenge film, this time set in the snowy Rocky Mountains. There’s some impressive scenery … and that’s about the best thing I can say about this one. It’s not good when the best parts of a murder-mystery are shots of a snow plow cutting through large quantities of white stuff. That, oddly enough, is a beautiful thing to watch, and had me wishing this were a documentary about a guy trying to keep a mountain pass clear in the winter rather than another Fargo rip-off. Neeson plays Nels Coxman, and, yes, the film contains plenty of jokes about that last name. Nels has just won a Citizen of the Year award for keeping the roads clear—just in time for his son, Kyle (Micheál Richardson), to be killed by a forced heroin overdose. Turns out Kyle interfered in some drug-dealings with a major…
07 Feb 2019
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Oh … Legos. My mom asked me for Legos this past Christmas, and I thought, sure, why not? That’s kind of cute, buying Legos for your mommy on Christmas. So I grabbed a Star Wars X-Wing Fighter Lego set at a well-known department store (OK, since we are already advertising Legos here, I’ll name it: JCPenney), and figured my Christmas shopping was off to a good start. No, I did not look at the price. After the lady at the cash register announced my total, I stood aghast and realized Mom had her big gift already. Damn … Legos are expensive! Incidentally, earlier today, Mom sent me a photo of the fully operational X-Wing built and ready for play. It’s pretty glorious. It might even be worth the money. Why did I tell you this story? First, to let you know how commercially out of touch I am when it…
31 Jan 2019
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A modern-day, bullied kid pulls a sword out of a stone and is tasked with saving the world in The Kid Who Would Be King, writer-director Joe Cornish’s attempt to capture the youthful, magical wonder of Harry Potter, mixed with the legend of King Arthur. While he doesn’t completely fail, this film misses being a true crowd-pleaser, due to a drab directorial style, messy action and moments that are far less clever than they think they are. This one will probably work better on a smaller screen, so wait until it’s streaming. Do that, and you’ll catch a pretty good performance from Louis Ashbourne Serkis (son of Andy) as British school-kid Alex, the fed-up boy who sticks his neck on the line to protect best-bud Bedders (Dean Chaumoo) from a bully, Lance (Tom Taylor). Serkis is a little overwrought in some of the film’s more emotionally demanding parts, but he…
24 Jan 2019
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Just when I hoped M. Night Shyamalan might be getting on a hot streak, here comes Glass, proving he’s still a stylish—yet sloppy—self-indulgent kook. After one bomb after another during a 15-year stretch, Shyamalan showed us he was still capable of good cinematic things with Split, a 2017 a showcase for multiple personalities by James McAvoy and a creepy little thriller thanks to Shyamalan’s surprisingly deft direction. An after-credits scene showed us Bruce Willis as David Dunn, his super-humanly strong Unbreakable character, and the possibilities became very intriguing. The director then announced his intention to make Glass, saying that Split was, in fact, the second part of what would be a trilogy. Glass would bring back the brittle-boned character of that name played by Samuel L. Jackson in Unbreakable, along with Willis and the newly introduced McAvoy character(s). OK, sounds good. Let’s go! Well … shit. The new year has…
24 Jan 2019
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Stan and Ollie got a late (and largely unsuccessful) awards-season push, coming seemingly out of nowhere with an incredible John C. Reilly (prosthetics-aided) performance as movie legend Oliver Hardy—and Steve Coogan is just as good as partner Stan Laurel. The film chronicles the final days in their careers as their stardom has dwindled, and they set out on a low-budget theater tour to do some of their classic bits. The tour is meant to drum up interest for a new movie, but when Hardy falls ill, they are forced to reconsider not just the tour, but their friendship. Reilly is incredible, as is the makeup, which will have you forgetting you are looking at the Step Brothers actor. He and Coogan have all of the duo’s mannerisms nailed. They re-create Laurel and Hardy moments that will bring tears to your eyes. While the story isn’t a giant or complicated one,…
17 Jan 2019
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If Beale Street Could Talk is one of the last year’s most beautiful, most well-rounded, and most enriching cinematic experiences—and it begs to be seen on a big movie screen. Based on the James Baldwin novel, and directed by Barry Jenkins (Moonlight), it’s a stirring family drama focusing on young black couple Alonzo, aka Fonny, and Tish (played by Stephan James and KiKi Layne), in the 1970s. Within the first few minutes, we learn that Tish is pregnant, and Alonzo is incarcerated. He’s jailed for a sexual assault against a woman—a crime he vehemently denies. While he awaits trail, Tish remains loyal, and must inform her family of her pregnancy. The extended scene during which Tish tells her parents and, subsequently, Fonny’s family that she is pregnant hits all kind of notes. It runs the gamut of emotions, setting up the rest of the movie. It’s also where Regina King…
02 Jan 2019
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Director Nick Frangione had a troubled upbringing in rural Pennsylvania—but he used those experiences to inspire Buck Run, a film that will premiere as part of the Palm Springs International Film Festival. The film follows 15-year-old Shaw (played by Nolan Lyons), who is reunited with his alcoholic father as he’s coping with his mother’s death. “It’s very, very similar to my childhood, but it’s not exact,” Frangione said during a recent interview. “I did grow up in rural Pennsylvania; my mother passed away when I was a teenager, and my father and I had to renegotiate our relationship. It’s very similar, but there are slight differences. My father wasn’t a hunter, for example, and we didn’t live in a hunting cabin. I also was out of place in my town, and I didn’t really fit very well.” In the film, the funeral for the mother provides a major plot point.…