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Dolittle (review)

Dolittle (review)

This reiteration of the doctor who can talk to animals stars Robert Downey Jr., using a weirdly soft voice that sounds like he dubbed the dialogue in the studio. Considering his star power, he’s the least interesting thing in the movie. His character sets out on an adventure with a young apprentice and a menagerie of personable animals to acquire a special cure for the Queen of England. What children will enjoy most (and yes, this is a film for kids) is the animals. A stellar lineup of actors are voicing them, often with enjoyable personalities. It’s a bit sad that the writers felt necessary to cater to today’s style, by dropping modern cultural references and even contemporary slang. Still, the creature comments provide the only fun in this ungainly escapade.

 

2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5)

 

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Like a Boss (review)

Like a Boss (review)

Tiffany Haddish and Rose Byrne play best friends who have their own small cosmetics business. Salma Hayek is the glamourous villain who owns a giant company that wants to buy them out. In her broad comic style Haddish has a few funny moments, but this weak script shows how much of her charm lies in her innate ability. Byrne and Hayek aren’t even mildly amusing . Even Jennifer Coolidge (who can make anything hilarious) falls flat with the lousy jokes. The plot is painfully predictable and the direction (while energetic) never adds any fun or clever touches. Not a good way to start out the New Year.

 

1.5 out of 5 stars (1.5 / 5)

 

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A Hidden Life (review)

A Hidden Life (review)

This film is based on the true story of an Austrian farmer who refused to take the oath of loyalty to Hitler and the effect it has on him and his family in their small mountain village. It could have been a powerful drama, but in the hands of auteur Terrence Malick it becomes an artist musing about personal ethics and the human spirit. Because it’s Malick, you get lovely visuals (and a spectacular mountain locale), dialogue that’s more recited than spoken and a languid pace (3 hours). It’s also a bit confusing because most of the characters speak English (with an accent), but others speak in German (with no translation). There’s a moving story beneath the beauty and it has a more cohesive narrative than some of his recent work, but it’s still more art than drama. (Criterion Cinemas only)

 

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

 

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1917 (review)

1917 (review)

During World War I, two young British soldiers are assigned to cross enemy lines and deliver a message that will keep 1600 of their troops from being ambushed. While the mission seems virtually impossible, it’s rendered even more incredible by director Sam Mendes‘ decision to shoot the film as if it were one continuous shot. Not only does this lend an urgency to the journey, but it boggles the mind to consider how some of the scenes were even staged/captured. The trek itself is full of setbacks that make the mission even more challenging for the soldiers and the viewer (if not a bit strained on credibility). Even though there is a continuous level of stress, the drama never has the poignant power that the story demands. As a result, this is a masterful piece of filmmaking that’s impact is more technical than emotional.

 

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

 

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Jumanji: The Next Level (review)

Jumanji: The Next Level (review)

The 2017 film was enjoyable, primarily watching the 3 leads (Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart & Jack Black) play against type (my review). This one takes the same stars, tosses in a few new characters and plops them back in the imaginary world, where they must save the game and their lives. However…this time it isn’t very funny. Granted, Hart’s delivery can mine a laff out of almost any line, but the script doesn’t give any of them much to play off (director Jake Kasdan also wrote this time). The action and visuals are OK, but the film lacks suspense, excitement or even much fun.

 

2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5)

 

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Uncut Gems (review)

Uncut Gems (review)

The last film by the Safdie brothers was Good Time and a lot of that film’s milieu and style parallels this one (my review). Adam Sandler plays a frenzied, somewhat obnoxious jeweler in New York City. The big score that drives the narrative is complicated by his side trips into compulsive gambling, the resulting multiple debtors and marital infidelity. Sandler relishes the opportunity to play this oversize character. The Safdie’s have crafted the film with an adrenaline-fused style that propels the action with a convincing supporting cast, noisy situations and an energy continually verging on chaos and calamity. In an attempt to tweak the tension even more, they’ve added a rather incongruous soundtrack. Some will find this film (and Sandler’s performance) mesmerizing. Although I appreciated what the directors are doing, I never found Sandler’s character sympathetic or compelling.

 

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

 

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Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker (review)

Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker (review)

This is the final installment in the series that started with the original movie in 1977. Some of the old characters, plus a group of the new ones set out to save the universe …again. Nothing new here. As such, there are air battles and light saber battles, a few weird species, exotic locales and a smidgen of humor. Again, nothing new. This one does wrap up the saga without much emotion or true surprises. Anyone invested in the series will appreciate having a chance for closure, but as for innovation in storytelling or cool new stuff, this one breaks no new ground.

 

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

 

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Little Women (review)

Little Women (review)

Writer/director Greta Gerwig has reimagined the classic, skipping back and forth in a timeline that follows the 4 sisters from their teen years to adulthood. In addition to her spirited script, she’s created a wonderful world of independent-thinking women and family support. The 4 actors playing the “women” are all winning, effectively capturing the dynamic between a quartet of teens, while later exploring their own struggles for happiness and worth. The performance standout (as the rich boy next door) is Timothée Chalamet, who’s simply fetching, his most charming role to date. Even with the period setting, the film feels modern, fun and sweet.

 

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

 

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Bombshell (review)

Bombshell (review)

Pretty much everyone knows the story behind Fox News president Roger Ailes and his serial harrassment of potential reporters and anchors at the network. This film depicts the plight of 3 of those women (played by Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman and Margot Robbie), as they struggle with exposing their own stories. While the performances are compelling (including John Lithgow’s creepy Ailes), the drama is relentless in its sinister, fearful atmosphere. Director Jay Roach continually uses close-ups to probe the paranoia. While he details the story with noteworthy developments, the pace lags, the situations feel repetitive and the drama never builds to a gratifying climax. Like so many recent films about historical events (Dark Waters & Richard Jewell for example), this one is interesting without possessing the riveting impact the subject deserves.

 

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

 

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Frozen II (review)

Frozen II (review)

The original was a dazzling accomplishment in many ways (my review). The joy of discovering new characters and exciting sequences is always exciting. This sequel, while maintaining some of the beautiful visuals, falls short. The sisters (and the rest of their gang) embark on an adventure to save their kingdom. This time, there’s more dialogue and drama, which means the pace isn’t as brisk. The characters all have their moments and the songs are plentiful, but the comedy is scarce and the songs are striving too hard to be memorable. It’s always nice to see a story wrapped up so sweetly, but I just wish the movie experience had its own happy ending.  NOTE: Stay thru the credits for Olaf’s summary.

 

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

 

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Queen and Slim (review)

Queen and Slim (review)

Add this twosome to the classic outlaw duos like Thelma and Lousie and Bonnie and Clyde. When the movie starts, Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith play a black couple on a bad date. After he kills a cop in self-defense, they go on the run. During their plight, they garner the support of their community and even become a cause. Expectedly, they come to appreciate each other, as do we. There are flaws in the logic and the drama sometimes gets overwrought, but the script from Lena Waithe and the directorial debut from Melina Matsoukas combine to create a compelling new take on a classic narrative.

 

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

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A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (review)

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (review)

First off, I was never a fan of Mister Rogers (we were a Sesame Street household), but I don’t think that affected my opinion of this deadly dull film (I gave 4 stars to last year’s doc about him). Secondly, this is NOT a biopic, but a singular story about how a dour, cynical writer for Esquire learned to open his heart after his encounters with the famous TV star. Tom Hanks plays Rogers with a bland sweetness that rarely captures the warmth of Rogers. This whole affair feels like a Hallmark special with overcharged emotions and predictable dramatic developments. The pacing echoes the pacing on Rogers’ show… glacial. The “cute” framing of this true story as a Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood episode was an original approach, but it couldn’t elevate the plodding treacle of this tribute.

 

2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5)

 

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