Thursday, July 18, 2019

New in Theaters July 19, 2019 "The Lion King" and "The Fighting Preacher"

The Fighting Preacher
Starring: David McConnell and Cassidy Hubert
Rated PG    

Based on the true story of Willard Bean who, in the early 1900's, gives up his career as a prize fighter to become a preacher.

Every so often a small budget film breaks through and really goes way above its pay grade, and provides a theater experience you'd expect from a larger budget film.

“The Fighting Preacher” is one of those movies. It offers up the right amount of action, character development and humor to keep an audience watching and even laughing.

Both David McConnell and Cassidy Hubert deliver spot-on performances as the young married couple who travel from Utah to New York and endure hatred and distrust when they arrive to settle in their new home.

“The Fighting Preacher” is a wonderful surprise and deserves to be seen as a human adventure, not just another faith-based movie.

It gets an A and is rated PG.

The Lion King
Starring the vocal talents of: Donald Glover and Chiwetel Ejiofor
Rated PG    

Disney revisits it's 1994 Oscar-winning animated feature with an upgraded animated retelling of “The Lion King” story.

What the 2019 version of “The Lion King” will leave audiences with is that it's an amazing technical achievement in animation and will be hailed as such. But once the eye gets used to the updated computer graphics, there is something missing.

Warmth and heart.

In retelling the story the producers forgot about the subtle nuances the human animators added to the soul of the film. The raising of an eyebrow, the smirk on Scar's face, the powerful presence of Mufasa all are missing and replaced with a cold and detached computer version, using this new “photo-scope” process.

And certainly the process is real-looking but in giving this particular animated film a photo-real look, the producers have also taken something away.

It is that intangible quality that put the original “Lion King” into a brand new level of animation, voice work and soundtrack. This version, although a wonder technically, left me a bit cold and hungry for the original.

Balancing all the pluses and minuses, “The Lion King 2019” gets a C and is rated PG.

Monday, July 15, 2019

New on Blu-ray & DVD July 16, 2019 "Breakthrough" and "Shazam"

Starring: Chrissy Metz and Topher Grace
Rated PG   

Based on a true story of a 14-year old who drowns and his mother's heartfelt prayers to God to save his life.

Chrissy Metz puts in a very strong performance as Joyce, the mother, a deeply religious woman who turns to God in her most desperate hour of need.

“Breakthrough” is very much a faith-based film with a keen sense of what it means to be a faith-based movie. The film offers a better-than-expected well-paced script combined with humor to counterbalance the film's dramatic moments.

All in all “Breakthrough” is a family film worth looking into.

It gets a B and is rated PG.

Starring: Zahary Levi and Asher Angel
Rated PG-13    

14 year-old Billy Batson (Asher Angel) has been in foster homes most of his life. One day, out of the blue, he's gifted the ability to turn into an adult superhero (Zachary Levi), which he controls by saying the word “SHAZAM.”

“SHAZAM!” is a wonderfully written and acted fantasy film.

The film is intentionally schmaltzy and deliberately childish as Billy, accompanied by his new foster brother Freddy begin to learn how to control his new-found powers. But, like all superheroes, SHAZAM must find his real strength to fight a new super villain gunning for him.

“SHAZAM” works because of Zachary Levi's wide-eyed innocence and his perpetual wonder, which endears him to the audience. Levi is supported by a terrific cast, who also know how to be silly enough, maniacal enough and even endearing enough to add to the film's flow.

The movie is a statement on friendship, family, trust and virtually all the values a superhero embodies. And the audience is witness to Billy / SHAZAM learning about these values as he grows into his role.

SHAZAM” may not be the best of the DC Comic films, but it will be one of your favorites.

It gets an A and is rated PG-13.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

New in Theaters July 12, 2019 "Stuber" and "Crawl"

Starring: Barry Pepper and Kaya Scodelario
Rated R   

A young woman is trapped inside a flooding house during a hurricane when she's besieged upon by hungry alligators.

Although I wasn't expecting much based on the few previews I saw, “Crawl” surprised me. The film's director, Alexandre Aja, takes his time building the fear and pacing in this claustrophobic thriller.

Aja knows exactly where to place his camera and what he needs from his cast, which includes better than anticipated performances by Berry Pepper and Kaya Scodelario, who take a very average low budget script and boost it up to another level.

If you have an aversion to blood and open wound moments, this film may not be for you.

For everyone else, “Crawl” is a great summer diversion film with a lot of edge of your seat moments.

It gets a B and is rated R.

Starring: Dave Bautista and Kumail Nanjani
Rated R   

An Uber driver picks up a gruff cop and is off on the adventure of a lifetime.

“Stuber' is a fish-out-of-water buddy pic that just can't seem to get into drive. I think the producers got tipsy one night and watched a double feature of Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx in “Collateral,” and Jimmy Fallon and Queen Latifah' in “Taxi” (it's odd that both films were released in 2004) and decided they could combine the two into a comedy / action / cop movie.

It was a fool's notion.

The film just is a sorry mess from the beginning. I was wondering if the theater screen would collapse under the weight of all the cliches being piled on it. But unfortunately no.

“Stuber” is a triple threat combination of bad acting, bad writing and bad stunts.

It gets an F and is rated R.

Monday, July 1, 2019

New on Blu-ray & DVD and New in Theaters July 2, 2019 "Dumbo (DVD) and "Midsommar" and "Spider-Man: Far from Home" (Theaters)

Starring: Danny DeVito, Colin Farrell and Michael Keaton
Rated G 

A baby elephant who can fly propels the little circus he's part of into a new venture. But this new venture has a very dark side.

Dumbo” is Disney's live-action reimagining of its classic 1941 animated feature.

This reboot concentrates more on special effects than story. As beautifully executed as the movie's CGI is, the film lacks deepness in its core characters. Little is done with the principal cast, other than hitting their marks and saying a few lines.

The film meanders through the story hitting a high note once in a while, but always keeping the audience at arm's length. The viewer is left with mostly forced emotional moments that the audiences can feel are artificial and gratuitous.

“Dumbo,” is like a candy bar, full of sweetness and buried in a great wrapper, but once sampled is nothing but empty calories.

Because it is so sweet and offered great special effects which countered its lackluster and maudlin script, “Dumbo” gets a C and is rated G.

Starring: Flornece Pugh and Jack Reynor
Rated R   

A couple travels to Sweden to visit a rural hometown's fabled mid-summer festival. What begins as an idyllic retreat quickly devolves into an increasingly violent and bizarre competition at the hands of a pagan cult.

“Midsommar” is a wonderfully blended horror film which presents its terror in broad daylight instead the dark. Using lingering shots, pagan symbolism and creepy chants we discover a society frozen in time.

The film uses every opportunity to build and build and pace itself to the audience's ever-increasing heartbeat. “Midsommar” is a perfect thriller.

It gets an A and is rated R

Spider-Man: Far from Home
Starring: Tom Holland and Jake Gyllenhaal
Rated PG-13    

Following the events in “Avengers: Endgame,” it's up to Spider-Man to save the day against a new planetary threat.

“Spider-Man: Far from Home” has a job to perform. It's a 'follow up film,' designed to tie up some of the loose ends left by “Avengers: Endgame.” The film is replete with cameos and flashbacks to help the audience into the next level of Marvel stories.

“Spider-Man: Far from Home” works well as an intermediary story which moves the character of Spider-Man up a notch.

Overall the film entertains and gives the audience a better-than-average ride for their money.

Spider-Man: Far from Home” gets a B and is rated PG-13.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

New in Theaters June 28, 2019 "Yesterday," "Annabelle Comes Home" and "The Other Side of Heaven 2: Fire of Faith"

Annabelle Comes Home
Starring: Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson
Rated R   

While babysitting the daughter of paranormal investigators, Ed and Lorraine Warren, unknowingly awaken an evil spirit trapped inside a doll.

This is the 6th film in the “Conjuring” universe (not counting 'Conjuring 2: The Remake') and the 3rd in the “Annabelle” series.

One of the issues with doing several sequels is the writers tend to repeat themselves over and over without really upping the game. And “Annabelle Comes Home” is no exception. The action and the scares have a deja' vu quality and the tried and true trick of putting young children in harm's way just doesn't work in this prefab film.

“Annabelle Comes Home” is loaded with 'jump scare' moments, but it's like visiting a neighborhood haunted house for the 3rd time. It may be OK... But it lacks real surprise.

The film gets a very average C and is rated R.

The Other Side of Heaven 2: Fire of Faith
Starring: Christopher Gorham and Natalie Medlock
Rated PG-13    

In the sequel to 2001's “The Other Side of Heaven,” John Groberg and his family are recalled to Tonga to continue the missionary work. 

“The Other Side of Heaven 2” is a faith-based film focusing on dedication, family and finding common ground between cultures.

The film has a tendency to overstate itself, but it is understandable when dealing with films of a religious nature. And, although “The Other Side of Heaven 2” does offer up some solid acting and deeply emotional moments which will resonate with it's audience.

Christopher Gorham portrays John Groberg as a very human and flawed man. Dealing with his commitment to his family and his responsibility to his church, Groberg walks a very fine and balanced line. But when that balance is interrupted and his faith is tested, we see him at his human best and worst.

If you are looking for a film that will inspire you, “The Other Side of Heaven 2” may be just the ticket.

It gets a B and is rated PG-13

Starring: Himesh Patel and Lily James
Rated PG-13    

When a musician suffers and accident, he awakens in a world that has never heard of “The Beatles” or their music.

“Yesterday” is a lovely tribute film. Although we 'Baby Boomers' don't need to be reminded how amazing The Beatles were, I think its a good thing that maybe a few younger people might open up their ears and have a listen.

But also “Yesterday” is a love story and a good one at that. Both Himesh Patel and Lily James at first seem a very unlikely paring, by the end of the film audiences will love them.

And, like the song says, “Love is All You Need.”

“Yesterday gets a solid B and is rated PG-13.

Friday, June 21, 2019

New in Theaters June 21, 2019 "Anna," Child's Play" and "Toy Story 4"

Starring: Sasha Luce and Helen Mirren
Rated R   
A beautiful Russian woman becomes her government's deadliest assassin.

“Anna” is a well crafted espionage film about the cat and mouse game the CIA and KGB played.

Both Sasha Luce and Helen Mirren give good, solid performances and the story has enough twists and turns to keep the audience interested, but the film gives the impression it was shot for the small screen.

Overall “Anna” is a spy-romp with some hard edges. It gets a B and is rated R.

Child's Play
Starring: Audrey Plaza and Mark Hamill
Rated R.    

In the reboot of the franchise, a young mother gives her son a toy doll unaware of its sinister nature.

Rebooting a franchise isn't an easy task, but the producers of “Child's Play” did a remarkable job in keeping the terror and creepiness from the original film and amping up the action and thrills for a whole new audience.

“Child's Play” makes great use of it's slow pacing and builds up into a well-orchestrated scream fest. Special mention goes to the animatronic team of puppeteers who controlled 'Chucky.' And although, a lot of the film was digitized and CGI, the creepiest moments came from the way the SPFX team maneuvered the doll.

“Child's Play” was an unexpected treat and deserves a B.

It's rated R.

Toy Story 4
Starring the voices of: Tom Hanks and Tim Allen
Rated G    

Woody, Buzz and friends take to the road to discover new and old friends on their journey.

It's been 9 years since the last “Toy Story” film and although I am not a huge fan of sequels, the 'Toy Story' franchise has always been an exception.

This film does not disappoint. It's is a beautifully animated, acted and directed film with so many moments that both kids and adults will enjoy together.

A true family film with a huge heart underscored by a terrific story.

“Toy Story 4” gets an A and is rated G.

Monday, June 17, 2019

New on Blu-ray & DVD June 18, 2019 "Us" and "Wonder Park"

Starring: Lupita Nyong'o and Winston Duke
Rated R   

A family's vacation is interrupted when a group of look-a-likes terrorize them.

“Us” is director Jordan Peele's second foray into the horror genre. His previous film, “Get Out,” was a bonafide masterpiece and obviously there was a lot of pressure, either self imposed or fan based, to repeat that success.

Unfortunately lightning doesn't always strike twice in the same place, and the result is the film “Us” simply is not on a par with his first film.

That being said, “Us” is a thriller and a creepy movie audiences will ultimately enjoy, but it lacks an empathetic connection with the audience as the film unfolds. “Us” tries to create a foreboding atmosphere with a lot of night scenes and dark places, but comes off desperate, gratuitous and pandering.

Lupita Nyong'o's performance is the best thing about the film. But even as devoted as she is to her character, she cannot save the film from a confusing and over-produced script. 

In the end, “Us” suffers from its own excesses and leaves us with a run of the mill 'slasher' film instead of the white knuckle ride we expected.

It gets a C and is rated R.

Wonder Park
Starring the Voices of: Sofia Mali and Jennifer Garner
Rated PG   

A young girl uses her imagination to fuel her dreams and hopes.

"Wonder Park" is a kid's film with a fairly good message about the importance of imagination, creativity and self worth. That lesson is told through colorful and exuberant animation, a terrific script and score and characters children can identify with.

Over all, "Wonder Park" is a great way to introduce a young child to the movies and have a terrific time there yourself.

It gets a B and is rated PG.