June 14, 2019 Arts & Culture, Podcast, Short Segment
Freeze Frame: “Men in Black International” (PG-13), “Shaft” (R), “Late Night” (PG-13), “The Dead Don’t Die” (R)
Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson last co-starred in the hit “Thor: Ragnarok,” They re-team to reboot the “Men in Black” franchise with “Men in Black International.” While this wacky sci-fi action comedy lacks the freshness of the previous entries, it retains the goofy spirit of the series. That may not be enough to satisfy fan boys.
After a 19-year hiatus, Samuel L. Jackson returns as the bad ‘you-know-what’ in “Shaft.” The original Shaft, Richard Roundtree returns with newcomer Jessie T. Usher as three generations of tough guys battle a nasty drug lord. “Shaft” is rude and crude and almost plays like a cheap self-parody. I can’t dig it.
The comedy “Late Night” plays like a reworking of “The Devil Wears Prada” but set in the world of late-night TV. Emma Thompson plays an aging talk show host facing forced retirement. Mindy Kaling, who also wrote the screenplay, plays a wannabe comedy writer who invades the largely white, male bastion of the writers’ room, battling sexism, ageism and racism with her comic barbs. It’s a bit too conventional for its own good, but the stars make it work.
Art film icon Jim Jarmusch takes a low-key comic approach to zombie genre with “The Dead Don’t Die.” Bill Murray and Adam Driver lead the cast in the tale of a small town suffering from a living dead apocalypse. The cast and crew probably had a much better time making this self-referential movie than the audience will watching. It’s for indie insiders only.
Also opening this week, Gina Carano and Richard Dreyfuss star in “Daughter of the Wolf,” a thriller about a military vet who tracks down her kidnapped son. Sienna Miller stars in “American Woman” the story of a woman whose teen daughter goes missing. “Perfect” is a sci-fi thriller about troubles at a genetic engineering clinic.Listen
June 7, 2019 Arts & Culture, Podcast, Short Segment
Ever wonder if it’s possible for excellent actors to save stilted dialogue? A game cast gives it their all but there’s only so much they can do with the latest X-Men prequel, “Dark Phoenix.” Jennifer Lawrence, Sophie Turner, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender and Jessica Chastain nearly work miracles with the script, but it’s still a big disappointment. It takes real filmmaking skill to create tension in a story when the audience already knows the fate of the characters. “Dark Phoenix” isn’t quite able to rise from the ashes.
The loveable critters from the 2016 animated hit are back in “The Secret Life of Pets 2.” Patton Oswalt takes over the voice role of Max vacated by Louis C.K. Max and his pal Duke, voiced by Eric Stonestreet, go on a memorable trip to a farm with their family. This beautifully animated movie is sweet and clever but doesn’t quite capture the magic of the first entry and loses steam in the final act. Still, “The Secret Life of Pets 2” will no doubt please the kids.
The sad final days in the life of William Shakespeare are the focus of the melancholy drama, “All is True.” Kenneth Branagh stars as the Bard of Avon as well as serving as director. Judi Dench plays his longsuffering wife Anne and Ian McKellen portrays his wealthy benefactor, the Earl of Southampton. It probably goes without saying that “All is True” is beautifully acted and produced. Trouble is, it’s quite mournful and slow moving. It’s for Shakespeare aficionados only.
Also opening this week, Olivia Cooke stars in “Katie Says Goodbye” a drama about a naïve young woman who becomes a prostitute. “The Child Remains” is a horror film about a haunted inn. John Lithgow and Blythe Danner star in an eccentric senior love story, “Tomorrow Man.”Listen
May 31, 2019 Arts & Culture, Podcast, Short Segment
Freeze Frame: New on Netflix Edition-“When They See Us” (R), “The Perfection” (R), “I Am Mother” (NR)
With the rise of Netflix, I’ve been asked to occasionally depart from our usual Freeze Frame format of reviewing movies in local theaters to cover some of the newest releases available for streaming viewing. So, here goes.
Harrowing and skillfully acted, the Netflix miniseries "When They See Us" is a powerful indictment of one of America’s most notorious miscarriages of justice.
In 1989, a group of teenagers known as the Central Park Five were falsely convicted of rape in a case of police overreach and sensationalization by the press. Written and directed by Ava Duvernay, best known for the Martin Luther King film “Selma,” “When They See Us" may be disturbing…but it’s still enlightening and important viewing.
Allison Williams and Logan Browning give it their all, but their efforts can't save the ugly and exploitive horror thriller, "The Perfection." The talented actresses play cello prodigies whose lives are upended by a violent incident. I suppose that the filmmakers were trying to be campy, but they are never able to hit the right notes. “The Perfection” could have been titled "The Flawed" as gets progressively sillier and absurd with each passing moment.
"I Am Mother" is a well-produced and involving sci-fi effort starring Hillary Swank and Clara Ruggard. In a post-apocalyptic world, artificial intelligence attempts to save humanity...from itself. Naturally, not everything is what it seems. While the premise is very intriguing and the actors are fine, "I Am Mother" never quite gels dramatically.
Opening in theaters this week, “Rocketman” is a musical extravaganza with Taron Egerton starring as Elton John. “Ma” is a horror thriller starring Octavia Spencer as a woman obsessed with some small-town teens. “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” is a big-budget Hollywood special effects spectacle that also features Rodan, Mothra and King Ghidorah.Listen
May 24, 2019 Arts & Culture, Podcast, Short Segment
Disney's ongoing effort to create live-action versions of its animated classics continues with "Aladdin." Will Smith steps into Robin Williams' genie shoes for this eye-popping musical extravaganza.
Director Guy Ritchie is best known for his frenetic action movies and he brings that sensibility to this busy enterprise. It doesn't capture the magic of the original, but this "Aladdin" is a likable family flick.
The teen comedy "Booksmart" is shamelessly raunchy but lives up to its lofty title. In this sharply written farce, Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein play two well-behaved high school seniors who are at the top of their class. On the night before graduation, however, they decide to cut loose just once and enjoy a night of outrageous debauchery.
"Booksmart" plays like a female version of "Superbad." The dialogue is clever, the performances are fresh and Olivia Wild shows real finesse in her directorial debut. You may feel guilty for laughing at this brazen entry, but laugh you will.
Also opening this week, “Brightburn” is a something of a bizarro upending of the Superman myth. Elizabeth Banks and David Denman star in the story of a boy from outer space whose ship lands on a Kansas farm. Instead of being altruistic, this superboy is evil. “The White Crow” is a drama inspired by the life of famed Russian ballet dancer Rudolph Nureyev who defected to the West in 1961. Olkeg Ivenko plays Nureyev. Ralph Fiennes directs and plays a supporting role as well. “Photograph” is a story set in India about a photographer who asks a stranger to pose as his fiancée in order to placate his relatives. “Non-Fiction” is a comedy romance from France about a writer who blurs the line between truth and fiction. Juliette Binoche stars. “Biggest Little Farm” is a documentary about the ups and downs of people who attempt to live off the land.Listen
May 17, 2019 Arts & Culture, Podcast, Short Segment
Freeze Frame: “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum” (R), “The Sun is Also a Star” (PG-13), “All Creatures Here Below” (R), “Trial by Fire” (R)
If great stunt sequences were are all a movie needed, then “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum” would definitely fill the bill. Uber-talented professional hit man Keanu Reeves returns in yet another decadent explosion of violent mayhem. The script and plot are ludicrous, and the action sometimes becomes mind-numbing. But the fight choreography is first rate, making it an R-rated guilty pleasure.
Likable leads are the main attraction of the teen romance, “The Sun is Also a Star,” based on a popular YA novel. Yara Shahidi and Charles Melton play young New Yorkers who are thrown together, not by coincidence, but by the unshakable power of fate. It’s sweet and innocuous but tends to unravel toward the end.
KC native David Dastmalchian stars in and wrote the very dark and harrowing drama “Are Creatures Here Below,” shot mostly in the Kansas City area. Dastmalchian and Karen Gillan play young lovers who flee their hard, poverty-stricken lives in LA and head back to KC. They return home but can’t escape the ghosts of their past. It’s hard to watch but beautifully acted.
The acting also carries the day in “Trial By Fire,” the true story of Texas man wrongly convicted of murdering his own children. Jack O’Connell and Laura Dern give it their all in this provocative indictment of the Texas judicial system. While its heart is squarely in the right place, “Trial By Fire” is very uneven, drawn out and lacks a successful dramatic arc.
Also opening this week, “A Dog’s Journey” is the cinematic sequel to Prairie Village native novelist Bruce Cameron’s hit, “A Dog’s Purpose.” “Wild Nights With Emily” is drama about Emily Dickinson. Molly Shannon stars. “Fast Color” is a sci-fi mystery starring Gugu Mbatha Raw. “Dogman” is an Italian drama about a man who stands up to a bully.Listen
May 10, 2019 Arts & Culture, Podcast, Short Segment
Freeze Frame: “Tolkien” (PG-13), “Pokémon: Detective Pikachu” (PG), “The Hustle” (PG-13), “Red Joan” (R)
The early years of author J.R.R. Tolkien are the focus of the lethargic biopic, “Tolkien.” Nicholas Hoult plays the “Lord of the Rings” scribe who suffered multiple losses in his youth. Lily Collins portrays his lover and muse, Edith Bratt. Although it’s sincere, “Tolkien” never provides much insight into the novelist’s imagination.
The vocal wisecracks of Ryan Reynolds provide most of the entertainment value in “Pokémon: Detective Pikachu,” a beautifully produced comic mystery featuring the popular video game characters. The visuals are impressive and the cast is likable, but the storyline gets overly complex for young kids who are, ostensively, the movie’s main audience. “Detective Pikachu” is amiable enough, but no “Zootopia,” which may have been its inspiration.
Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson star in “The Hustle,” a gender flip remake of “Dirty
Rotten Scoundrels,” which was, in turn, also a remake. Hathaway plays a sophisticated con-woman whose territory is invaded by a brash, uncouth Australian upstart, played by Wilson. While it certainly has its funny moments, this broad and goofy comedy is merely the third-best big screen version of this story.
Dame Judi Dench has a supporting role in the drama, “Red Joan,” loosely based on a true story. Dench plays the older version of a British woman who spied for the KGB from the 30s through the 90s, supplying the Russians with British nuclear secrets. In flashback, young Joan is played by Sophie Cookson. Although well-acted, “Red Joan” is oddly sluggish and dispassionate.
Also opening this week, “Charlie Says” is a drama about the women who fell under the spell of Charles Manson. “Faith, Hope and Love” is a faith-based rom-com about a couple who enter a dance contest. “Poms” is a comedy about a woman who stars a cheerleading squad at her retirement home. Diane Keaton and Pam Grier star.Listen
May 3, 2019 Arts & Culture, Podcast, Short Segment
Dennis Quaid may be best-known for his good-guy roles in movies like “The Rookie” and “The Right Stuff.” But he takes a successful turn to the dark side in the new thriller, “The Intruder.” Meagan Goode and Michael Ealy play a nice couple who buy Quaid’s lovely Napa Valley home. Problem is, the strange senior citizen refuses to leave. At first, he just pesters them. As time goes on, he becomes a terrifying menace.
“The Intruder” is a throwback to the horror movies of the 80s, replete with growing tension and collective jump scares. Writer/director Deon Taylor pulls out all of the stops with moments that serve as homage to other classic creepfests. It doesn’t plow any new ground, but “The Intruder” a modestly effective suspense flick.
Charlize Theron and Seth Rogan star in “The Long Shot,” a raunchy R-rated comedy about the unlikely romance between a stoner journalist and the Secretary of State of the United States. The premise stretches credibility to the limit, but Theron is always watchable and Rogen handles the bawdy material with his usual free-and-easy timing. It’s predictably silly, but “The Long Shot” is good for a few off-color laughs.
“UglyDolls” is the latest computer animated musical comedy inspired by the popular brand of plush toys. Kelly Clarkson, Janelle Monáe and Nick Jonas are among the cast members who provide both the acting and singing voices. While passable, its themes have been handled better in countless other movies.
Also opening this week, “Sunset” is a Hungarian historical drama set in Budapest just prior to WW I. “The Brink” is a documentary about right-wing firebrand Steve Bannon. “Ask Dr. Ruth” is a documentary about tiny 90-year-old sex therapist, Dr. Ruth Westheimer. “I Trapped the Devil” is a horror film about a man who locked someone in his basement who he believes to be Satan.Listen
April 12, 2019 Arts & Culture, Podcast, Short Segment
Yes, the laborious stop-motion animation technique still has a place in a world dominated by CGI cinema. “Missing Link” is a visual treat from the folks at Laika Studios. Hugh Jackman, Zoe Saldana and Zach Galifianakis provide the voices in this comic tale about a big-headed Victorian explorer who discovers and befriends a big-footed sasquatch. The mildly amusing storyline is very slight and will soon evaporate from your memory, but the plush textures of the images help make up for the movie’s narrative weaknesses. A strong script is the only thing missing in “Missing Link.”Listen
April 5, 2019 Arts & Culture, Podcast, Short Segment
With the exception of the exceptional “Wonder Woman,” most of the recent superhero movies from the DC universe have been dark and dour or dumb and dull. Thankfully, “Shazam!” has come to the rescue! Zachary Levi leads the cast in this witty, heartfelt work of escapism that that brings the fun back to the DC universe. Smart, funny and well-cast, “Shazam!” is fresh and refreshing.
“The Best of Enemies” is based on an unlikely true story. Taraji P. Henson plays a civil rights activist who forms an unlikely bond with KKK leader Sam Rockwell over the issue of school desegregation in the early 1970s South. The cast is fine and the movie has a good-natured vibe. But “The Best of Enemies” is overlong and awkwardly paced.
“Storm Boy” is an adaptation of a 1964 Australian children’s book. This gentle tale is about a young boy who saves and befriends a pelican that winds up having a major impact on the boy’s life. Geoffrey Rush plays the boy as an adult who tells the story to his granddaughter. While underwhelming as a drama, it’s a sweet-natured and sentimental ode to environmentalism.
“The Wind” might have been titled “Little Horror on the Prairie.” Told from the female point of view, “The Wind” is about an evil entity that drives some homesteaders nutty on the American frontier in the 1800s. Not everything works in this austere thriller, but it marks an impressive debut for director Emma Tammi.
Also opening this week, “Pet Sematary” is a remake of the Steven King horror classic. “The Public” is a story about a library that get into trouble for opening to the homeless during an Arctic blast. Alec Baldwin and Emilio Esteves lead an impressive cast. “Starfish” is a post-apocalyptic sci-fi thriller about a mixtape that just might save the world.Listen
March 29, 2019 Arts & Culture, Podcast, Short Segment
Freeze Frame: “Dumbo” (PG), “The Aftermath” (R), “The Mustang” (R), “Hotel Mumbai” (R), “The Hummingbird Project” (R)
The 1941 Disney animated classic “Dumbo” soared because of its charm. That’s the crucial element that’s sorely missing in Tim Burton’s live action remake. The superb art direction provides an immersive atmosphere, but Burton’s quirky style is ill-suited to the gentle story. It’s passable, but this overlong “Dumbo” never quite takes off.
Keira Knightley, Alexander Skarsgard and Jason Clarke from a post WWII love triangle in the soapy drama, “The Aftermath.” The story serves as an allegory about conflict, grief and rebuilding. It competently made but doesn’t catch fire.
In the drama “The Mustang,” Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts plays a Nevada prison inmate who trains wild horses as part of a rehab program. It’s a very low-key but humane and uplifting drama about the healing powers of working with animals.
Dev Patel and Armie Hammer lead the cast of “Hotel Mumbai,” a harrowing reenactment of the bloody terrorist attack at the Taj Palace Hotel in 2008. It’s a competently made and involving film, but viewers will have to decide if this violent dramatization is a salute to heroism or a work of exploitation. It’s probably both.
“The Hummingbird Project” may be the most misleading title of the year. Jesse Eisenberg and Alexander Skarsgard star in this tale of cousins who attempt to build a fiber optic line from Kansas to New York to win the high-frequency stock trading game by milliseconds…but are constantly thwarted by a scheming rival. It’s an intriguing near-miss.
Also opening this week, Matthew McConaughey take the lead in “The Beach Bum,” a subversive R-rated comedy about an aging dope head. “Unplanned” is a faith-based anti-abortion drama. “Clownnado” is a flick from local horror maven Todd Sheets. Olivia Wilde stars in “A Vigilante,” the tale of a woman who wreaks vengeance on domestic abusers. “Field Guide to Evil” is a horror anthology.Listen