Thursday, November 7, 2019

New in Theaters Friday November 8, 2019 "Playing with Fire," "Last Christmas," "Midway" and "Doctor Sleep"

Playing with Fire
Starring: John Cena and Keegan-Michael Kay
Rated PG    

A team of firefighters have to deal with 3 rambunctious kids they rescued.

“Playing with Fire” is just a bubblegum film whose flavor runs out way too soon. There's a few laughs for the young kids, but over all, less than enjoyable for anyone over 11.

This has all the feeling of a 3rd rate 'straight-to-video' movie and is just plain forgettable.

It gets a D and is rated PG

Last Christmas
Starring: Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding
Rated PG-13   

A woman, who has made some disastrous mistakes in her life, begins to put her broken pieces together when she meets a guy to good to be true.

“Last Christmas” is a surprisingly satisfying little Christmas movie about family, responsibility and redemption. Although a bit forced, the film manages to leave the audience with a good and positive ending.

Emilia Clarke is endearing as “Kate” who, during the course of the movie, begins to realize her true potential and finding joy.

“Last Christmas” is a nice little package to open during the holiday season.

It gets a B and is rated PG-13.

Starring: Woody Harrelson and Jason Patrick
Rated PG-13    

A look at the historic battle of Midway and the lives of the men you fought it.

“Midway” is a not to be missed film diving directly into the lives of the real men who responded to the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Although the events surrounding the Battle of Midway have made cinematic fodder over the years, this film tells the story in personal terms of loss and what these men faced.

“Midway” is great storytelling and visually stunning. It gets an A and is rated PG-13.

Doctor Sleep
Starring: Ewan McGregor and Rebecca Ferguson
Rated R    

In the sequel to “The Shining,” Danny Torrance is now an adult self-medicating and doing all he can to rid himself of the horror he encountered at The Overlook Hotel. When he meets a young girl with similar powers, it begins a battle for the child's soul.

“Doctor Sleep” is a well-balanced and meticulous sequel. With equal measures of acting, suspense and special effects, the film is not just an homage to the previous film, but an extension of it.

Director Mike Flanagan creates a world both familiar and yet different enough to avoid the pitfalls of repeating the first film. This is inspired filmmaking done by someone who knows and understands the story and its fans.

This is as good as a sequel gets.

“Doctor Sleep” gets an A and is rated R.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

New in Theaters November 1, 2019 "Harriet," "Motherless Brooklyn" and "Terminator: Dark Fate"

Starring: Cynthia Erivo and Leslie Odom Jr.
Rated PG-13   

The life and times of Harriet Tubman is explored as she flees from slavery and dedicates her life to helping escaped slaves find freedom.

“Harriet,” although well intentioned, is a bit of a rewrite of historical events. But in doing so the film loses credibility in its attempt to tell the story of Harriet Tubman. A story that really didn't need any punching up or dramatic rewrite, Tubman is a true American hero, whose journey from slave to freedom fighter should stand on its own.

Cynthia Erivo is an incredible actress who diligently delivers an honest and emotional performance is sabotaged by the script, which by the end of the film, plays out as an historical soap opera.

In the end we are left with an empty and unfulfilling experience about one of the most celebrated figures in American history.

Harriet gets a C and is rated PG-13.

Motherless Brooklyn
Starring: Edward Norton, Bruce Willis and Alec Baldwin
Rated R    

When his friend and mentor is murdered, it's up to a detective afflicted with Tourette's Syndrome to solve the case.

“Motherless Brooklyn” is a throwback to the film noir movies of the 40's and 50's. The film, under the direction of Edward Norton (who also stars), is an engaging, smart and satisfying detective story.

But, that being said, the film also feels lifeless and worn, giving the viewer an uneasy familiarity about the story and characters.

“Motherless Brooklyn” gets a C and is rated R.

Terminator: Dark Fate
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton
Rated R    

Sarah Connor comes out of retirement to fight more terminators while trying to protect a young woman marked for death.

“Terminator: Dark Fate” is a disappointing and poorly executed revamp of a film franchise that has over stayed its welcome. The film is so sloppily misdirected that the tagline should have been, “Wait … What?”

With its confusing plot, characters that go no where, bad pacing and phone-it-in acting, there's only 2 words that can describe this cinematic fiasco... “cash grab.
Everyone connected with this film should be ashamed of themselves.

“Terminator: Dark Fate” gets an F and is rated R.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

City of Salt

City of Salt
Starring: Lauren Catherine and Jake Ulasich
Not Rated    

“City of Salt” is an independent film revolving around the disappearance of a young woman, named Theo (Lauren Catherine), in the middle of her father's political campaign. The police, as they investigate, begin to uncover some dark and disturbing secrets.

The story focuses on two plots.

First, Theo, who has been hiding the fact she's gay, finds herself in love with another young woman and is on the verge of coming out to her parents. But fear is holding her back.

The second plot point is Theo's father's (Jake Ulasich) political campaign is forcing him further and further away from his family and from his values.

“City of Salt” takes a look at the bigotry and fear that still exists in our society just beneath the surface of a 'traditional' family and a 'traditional' community. The film examines how that fear and bigotry erodes relationships and communication and can create walls and barriers that are seemingly impossible to overcome.

The film also touches on bullying, sexual assault, depression, suicide and forgiveness and ultimately creates a kind of cautionary tale about what each of us really carries inside and what, if anything, are we willing to change about ourselves.

Shot on location throughout Utah, the story uses the backdrop of Utah's conservative views and religious values as plot points. But this story could have taken place in any small town in the USA as the themes of the movie are universal.

“City of Salt” is not a perfect film, there are some problems with pacing, imbalances in script and some of the acting is a bit stiff. But, that being said, it is an independent film done on a shoestring budget and much of those imperfections are to be expected and even add to the integrity of the film.

In the final reel, “City of Salt” is a morality play, leaving the audience with much to discuss and think about.

It gets a B and is not rated.

Monday, October 21, 2019

New on Blu-Ray & DVD October 22, 2019 "The Fighting Preacher" and "The Lion King"

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 an 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.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

New in Theaters October 18, 2019 "Zombieland: Double Tap" and "Maleficent: Mistress of Evil"

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil
Starring: Angelina Jolie, Michelle Pfeiffer and Elle Fanning
Rated PG    

In the sequel to the 2014 film, Maleficent and her goddaughter Aurora begin to be pulled apart as the young princess becomes engaged to be married. As Aurora is enticed by her new family, Maleficent discovers the secrets of her origin.

“Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” is an empty and emotionless film trying to disguise itself as a romantic fantasy but it lacks the connection to the audience the first film built.

Both Angelina Jolie and Elle Fanning play well off of each other, but those scenes are short lived as this confusing script introduces characters who are too stoic, humorless and completely underplayed by actors so wooden you can get splinters just by watching them.

Overall the film gives the feeling of being hastily written and assembled in time for Disney to sell a few Halloween costumes and some Christmas toys.

“Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” gets a D and is rated PG.

Zombieland: Double Tap
Starring: Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin
Rated R    

It's been 10 years since we left Zombieland. Still together, Tallahassee, Columbus, Wichita and Little Rock face a new threat as the zombies are becoming faster and smarter.

Although “Zombieland 2” steps up the action and comedic gore, the film lacks the energy and the risks the first film took. In this sequel we're dealing with too much focus on the connections between our heroes and not enough on the zombie threat.

Although the film offers up some laughter, action and new characters, which will please 'Zombieland' fans, it never surpasses the original.

It gets a C and is rated R.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

New in Theaters October 11, 2019 "Gemini Man" and "The Addams Family"

The Addams Family
Starring (voices): Oscar Issac and Charlize Theron
Rated PG    

Fed up with the constant attacks from the village's population, Morticia and Gomez Addams (Oscar Issac and Charlize Theron) decide to move somewhere more suitable. New Jersey.

“The Addams Family” is a new animated version of the popular 60's TV show which was based on the long running comic strip syndicated in newspapers all over the country.

In film, after the Addams' move into their new home, they discover a bustling, new town nearby and decide to reach out and become part of this community.

However the neighborhood, led by Margaux Needler (Allison Janney), is not welcoming them as the Addams family is so different from their cookie-cutter lives. Fueled by social media smears and fear, the family must pull together to be accepted.

“The Addams Family” is an entertaining and well written look at how society sometimes reacts to immigrants and the cultures they interpret as odd or weird.

Although the film is slow paced, I found it to be a funny, well written and well animated movie with some surprising references to many horror films which adults will enjoy.

“The Addams Family” gets a B and is rated PG.

Gemini Man
Starring: Will Smith and May Elizabeth Winstead
Rated PG-13    

A retiring hitman is marked for termination and comes face to face with his assassin, a clone of his younger self.

“Gemini Man” is all about the technology of building a digital person. This new process eliminates the blurring and other problems previously associated with action scenes involving digital characters.

However advanced this process is, the script has to be equally engaging and fresh. Unfortunately the script is lackluster and plays like any extended 'bad guy chasing the good guy' sequence in any action movie. Think about any James Bond film, Bourne film, Mission Impossible film and you'll' get the idea.

Although well directed by Ang Lee, once the audience gets used to the technology, “Gemini Mani” settles in to be just routine and predictable.

It gets a C and is rated PG-13.

Monday, October 7, 2019

New on Blu-ray and DVD October 8, 2019 "Crawl," Toy Story 4" and "Stuber"

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.

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 say, “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.

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.