Freeze Frame is a weekly show reviewing the latest movies from Hollywood's best films to independent and arthouse movies.
February 14, 2020 Arts & Culture, Podcast, Short Segment
“Downhill” is an American remake of “Force Majeure,” a critically acclaimed Swedish film from 2014. Will Farrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus star in the story of a family on a ski vacation in the Alps. Their marriage is strained to the breaking point when Ferrell’s character engages in an act of cowardice during an avalanche. There are few laughs in this version that seems a bit watered down from the original. Louis-Dreyfus gives a strong, believable performance, though. However, her efforts can’t keep this 85-minute movie from seeming longer than it is. “Downhill” is not a bad film by any means but just doesn’t live up to its potential. It’s a bunny slope version of “Force Majeure.”
Just in time for Valentine’s Day, we’re offered the romantic drama, “The Photograph.” Issa Rae and LaKeith Stanfield star in the story of a romance sparked by a photo that sends a woman on a quest of discovery. Rae plays a museum curator whose path crosses with journalist Stanfield when she seeks answers about her mother’s life. Do these actors have chemistry? You bet. This romance is grounded in reality and manages to avoid many of the pitfalls that commonly haunt romantic dramas. The only drawback is the movie’s extremely slow pace. But the cast is appealing and Robert Glasper’s effective jazz score fits like a glove.
Also opening this week, “Fantasy Island” is a reboot of the old Ricardo Montalban TV series where people’s dreams come true, only this time, it’s a horror movie. Jim Carrey and James Marsden star in “Sonic the Hedgehog,” an action comedy based on the infamous Sega video game. Zooey Deutch stars in “Buffaloed,” an unrated indie comedy about a debt collector. “Come as You Are” is about three young men who travel to a brothel for people with special needs.Listen
February 7, 2020 Arts & Culture, Podcast, Short Segment
Margot Robbie’s bat-swinging performance as the Joker’s girlfriend Harley Quinn was probably the best thing about 2016’s comic book movie, “Suicide Squad.” Her character takes center stage in the latest entry in the extended DC Universe, “Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn).” Essentially an R-rated girl gang movie, “Birds of Prey” is about the efforts of Harley and a group of female vigilantes to save a girl who swallowed a diamond from evil Gotham City crime lord, Black Mask, played by Ewan McGregor.
“Deadpool” seems to be the obvious inspiration for this broad action comedy, so “Birds of Prey” is irreverent, rude and, tongue-in-cheek with plenty of violence played for laughs. A little of this cheeky attitude goes a long way, but Robbie has created a memorable character. Her bat-swinging doesn’t hit a homer but produces a solid double.
The French film “Les Miserables” that won the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival is not based on Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel, but it shares some that’s classic’s social themes. This harrowing contemporary film is a semi-autobiographical story based on incidents in the life of filmmaker Ladj Ly (LAHGE Lee), demonstrating that some things in France haven’t changed much in 150 years. It focuses on the ongoing tension between the police, the poor populace and the criminal underworld that often erupts into violence. Ly’s unflinching approach gives “Les Miserables” an unsettling but compelling drive.
Also opening this week, Elijah Wood stars in the bloody comic thriller, “Come to Daddy.” He plays a man who attempts to reconnect with his estranged father after 30 years…but things don’t go so well. “The Song of Names” is a drama about a Polish-Jewish violin prodigy who is a refugee in WWII London. Tim Roth and Clive Owen star.Listen
January 31, 2020 Arts & Culture, Podcast, Short Segment
Actress Sophia Lillis from the recent “It” films, moves from dealing with a scary clown to encountering a scary witch in the horror fantasy, “Gretel & Hansel,” based on the classic Brothers Grimm story. Gretel leads her little brother into the dark forest in search of sustenance only to meet up with a wretched enchantress, played by Alice Krige, best known as the diabolical Borg queen from the Star Trek franchise. Are you suffering from insomnia? Try ”Gretel & Hansel.” It’s the cinematic equivalent of Ambien but requires no prescription.
For something a bit more lively, try Blake Lively. She, Jude Law and Sterling K. Brown lead an impressive cast in the action drama, “The Rhythm Section,” based on Mark Burnell’s novel. Lively plays a woman who tries to uncover the dark truth behind an airplane crash that resulted in the death of her family members. When it becomes clear that the crash was intentional, she sets out on a dangerous mission to find the culprits. Oh, and Law trains her to be an assassin. All of the shaky camera work in the world can’t make this story seem realistic.
Also opening this week, “Taylor Swift: Miss Americana” is a documentary about of the rise of the pop star and her evolution as a socially conscious artist. “The Wonderland” is a fantasy anime offering about a suffering netherworld behind a basement door. I’m often asked, why should I care about the Oscar nominated short films if I can’t see them for myself. Well, you can. The 2020 “Oscar Nominated Short Films” will be screened at the Alamo, Tivoli and Screenland Armour in three separate compilation packages: Live Action, Animation and Documentary Shorts. As always, these shorts are interesting and well made, but this year’s lineup is, for the most part, also deadly serious.Listen
January 24, 2020 Arts & Culture, Podcast, Short Segment
“The Turning” is the latest in a long string of movies based on Henry James’ classic ghost story, “The Turn of the Screw.” Mackenzie Davis plays a nanny who attempts to protect two children from evil spirits. Ambiguity isn’t necessarily a fault, but “The Turning” is so vague and disjointed that it plays like a reel of film was accidentally edited out. Check out the classic 1961 Deborah Kerr version, “The Innocents” instead.
Filmmaker Guy Ritchie returns to familiar territory with the violent gangster epic, “The Gentlemen.” Matthew McConaughey plays an expat American in London who gets into trouble when he tries to extract himself from his lucrative marijuana business. “The Gentlemen” is cheeky and gimmicky, but should be a decadent guilty pleasure for many.
Alfre Woodard gives a riveting performance in the earnest social drama, “Clemency,” the winner of the top prize at Sundance in 2019. Woodard plays a warden whose job of carrying out executions is taking a massive emotional toll. Aldis Hodge is equally good as an anxiety-ridden death row inmate awaiting his inevitable fate. “Clemency” is extremely well made but excruciating to sit through.
Terry Crews stars in the bloody revenge thriller, “John Henry,” an ugly, disjointed throwback to movies like “Walking Tall.” It’s appropriate that Chris Bridges plays the bad guy because this movie is “Ludacris.”
Also opening this week, “The Rescue” is a Chinese action thriller about emergency responders. “The Song of Names” is a drama about a Polish-Jewish violin prodigy who is a refugee in WWII London. “Run” is a mystery thriller about a woman who raises her daughter in isolation. “The Last Full Measure” tells the true story of a Viet Nam war hero. The Panic Fest Horror Film Festival runs January 24 through the 30th at the Screenland Armour. Info is available at PanicFilmFest.com.Listen
January 18, 2020 Arts & Culture, Podcast, Short Segment
After a 17-year hiatus, Will Smith and Martin Lawrence are reunited in the comic action thriller, “Bad Boys for Life,” the third entry in the franchise that began in 1995. These Miami based detectives are getting long in the tooth and it shows as they’re targeted for assassination by a Mexican drug cartel. Everything about this absurd and violent R-rated movie is over the top and beat-by-beat predictable, but Smith and Lawrence manage to save the day and the movie with their goofy humor and personal appeal. Watcha gonna do?
Oscar winners Viola Davis and Allison Janney star alongside young McKenna Grace in the self-consciously whimsical comedy, “Troop Zero.” McKenna plays a pre-teen social outcast in a small Georgia town in the 1970s who recruits a group of misfits to form a Birdie Scout troop. This is the sort of wacky movie that aims to charm us with its eccentricity. This sentimental, sweet natured movie benefits greatly from it’s solid and likable cast.
Actor Guy Pearce goes slumming for a paycheck in the ridiculous action thriller, “Disturbing the Peace.” Pearce plays a marshal and former Texas Ranger who goes to battle with a gang of biker bank robbers in a small southern town. The plot, dialogue and direction are laughably bad, but not quite bad enough to make “Disturbing the Peace” a campy pleasure.
Also opening this week, Robert Downey, Jr. stars in “Dolittle,” a family film about the famed doctor and veterinarian who could talk to animals. “The Corrupted” is a violent British crime thriller starring Sam Claflin. “The Murder of Nicole Brown Simpson” is a thriller that claims to offer a new angle on the O.J. Simpson murders. Mena Suvari stars. “Weathering With You” is Japanese anime offering about a girl with power over the weather.Listen
January 11, 2020 Arts & Culture, Podcast, Short Segment
"1917" is a stunning WWI drama that unfolds in a single shot. Two young British soldiers played by George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman are sent on a desperate mission with little hope of success. They’re to cross the dangerous terrain of no man’s land to warn a British regiment not to attack German forces because the enemy has set them up for a trap. Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes based his screenplay on stories his grandfather told him about the war. The single shot approach is a gimmick, but one that works on every level making “1917” one of the most immersive war films of all time. With “1917”, Mendes and cinematographer Roger Deakins have delivered the best film officially released in 2019.
Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx lead a strong cast in the earnest and heartfelt true-life drama, “Just Mercy,” based on Bryan Stevenson’s bestselling memoir. Jordan plays Stevenson, a naive but driven Harvard-educated lawyer who travels to Alabama to aid people thought to be wrongly convicted. He takes on the case of Walter McMillian, played by Foxx, a death row inmate awaiting execution for a murder he didn’t commit. While the filmmakers wear their convictions on their sleeve, they manage to imbue the proceedings with passion. “Just Mercy” is involving and makes a strong case that our justice system is still severely unbalanced.
Also opening this week, “Like a Boss” is a comedy starring Tiffany Haddish and Salma Hayek about backstabbing behavior in the beauty industry. Kristen Stewart stars in the sci-fi opus “Underwater,” a drama about the crew of an underwater research lab whose struggles only begin after an earthquake. Richard Gere stars in “The Three Christs” the story of a psychiatrist who tries to help three patients, each of whom believes that he is Jesus.Listen
January 4, 2020 Arts & Culture, Podcast, Short Segment
As we begin a new year, it’s time to look back at the best movies of 2019. Here’s the cream of the year’s cinematic crop.
10) The Farewell
Awkwafina stars in a sweetly sentimental comic drama about an American woman who travels to China to visit her terminally ill grandmother.
9) The Two Popes
Jonathan Pryce and Anthony Hopkins give splendid performances as Pope Francis and Pope Benedict who confront one another with their opposing philosophies.
8) The Irishman
Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci deliver the goods in Martin Scorsese's epic, violent gangster flick. The length is excessive, but it’s an impressive, blood-soaked morality tale and savvy character study.
Lupita Nyong’o gives a stunning dual performance in Jordan Peele’s original horror thriller. Prepare to be creeped out and intrigued at the same time.
6) Apollo 11
This impressive documentary about the 1969 moon mission consists entirely of footage never before seen by the public.
Korean filmmaker Bong Joon Ho’s comic drama works as a full-blooded thriller and a potent social commentary.
4) Toy Story 4
It’s a brilliantly conceived and executed animated story that works as a comedy, as an action adventure and as an emotionally satisfying conclusion to the series.
3) Little Women
The old chestnut is given a modern feminist sensibility while maintaining the appealingly traditional feel of Louisa May Alcott’s beloved writings.
2) Marriage Story
Noah Baumbach’s involving and sensitive look at a divorce boasts fine performances from Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver.
A stunning WWI drama that unfolds in a single shot, “1917” is the year’s best film and officially opens in KC on January 10th.
December 28, 2019 Arts & Culture, Podcast, Short Segment
Writer/director Greta Gerwig has pulled off a minor miracle. She's given a modern feminist sensibility to Louisa May Alcott’s” old chestnut “Little Women,” while maintaining the appealingly traditional feel of her beloved writings. Saoirse Ronan is fine in the pivotal role of Jo March and Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Timothée Chalamet, Laura Dern and Meryl Streep round out a stellar cast. “Little Women” also boasts a beautiful, evocative score by Alexandre Desplat. “Little Women” is a sensitively rendered film and one of the best of the year.
Will Smith's charisma comes through even when he's an animated character. "Spies in Disguise" is a modest but entertaining family flick from Blue Sky, the folks responsible for the “Ice Age” franchise. This colorful comedy is aimed mainly at young boys. Smith is a superspy who is unwillingly transformed into a pigeon by a clumsy scientist colleague, voiced by Tom Holland. While it’s a few notches below the work of the folks at Pixar, the action and humor of “Spies in Disguise” should prove diverting for the kids.
"Uncut Gems" is a skillfully made thriller set in New York’s jewelry district. It’s been embraced by many critics, but not this one. It’s an aggressively ugly character study with a grating, one-note performance by Adam Sandler as a jeweler with a gambling problem. “Uncut Gems” has flashes of real creativity but is about as appealing as nails on a chalkboard.
The horror flick "Apparition" offers little that's new, but this creepy little thriller demonstrates that creativity can overcome the limits of a low budget. Kevin Pollack and Mena Suvari star in the story of a haunted smartphone app that links the living and the dead. Things get downright grisly in an abandoned reform school. Hardcore horror fans could do worse…and often do.Listen
December 21, 2019 Arts & Culture, Podcast, Short Segment
Freeze Frame: “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” (PG-13), “Cats” (PG), “Bombshell” (R), “A Hidden Life” (PG-13)
“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” is not the final movie in the franchise. It’s supposedly the end of the line for the Skywalker clan, though. We’ll see. Daisy Ridley is back as Rey, who uses the force to battle evil Emperor Palpatine and the murderous son of Leia and Han Solo, Kylo Ren. It’s visually spectacular and fan boys should be satisfied by the action. But “The Rise of Skywalker” just warms over the familiar franchise themes. The Force is with them, but it’s a bit dim.
The big screen adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Broadway musical hit “Cats” is quite a spectacle, too. The all-star cast, the music, dancing and art direction are quite impressive. But “Cats” attempts to add gravitas to the clever but featherweight poems that T.S. Eliot wrote for children. Fans of the play will take to it like catnip. Others, skat.
News junkies will want to catch “Bombshell,” the true story of Fox News anchors Megyn Kelly and Gretchen Carlson and their bid to dethrone sexist network honcho, Roger Ailes. Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie and John Lithgow to fine work, but the filmmakers approach the material with surprising timidity. “Bombshell” could have been a riveting exposé in the vein of “The Big Short,” but is merely an interesting overview.
Some say filmmaker Terrance Malick is a genius. Other claim he’s a pretentious hack. His latest film, “A Hidden Life” should get the same polarizing reaction. It tells the harrowing true story of Austrian farmer Franz Jägerstätter who suffered greatly when he refused to swear an oath to Hitler during WWII and was eventually beatified. The cinematography is stunning, but the length and slow pace of “A Hidden Life” requires saint-like patience.
Also opening this week, “Lost Holiday” is a comic drama about a couple of stoners who try to solve a kidnapping case. “She’s Missing” is a suspense mystery drama about a woman who searches for a missing rodeo queen.Listen
December 13, 2019 Arts & Culture, Podcast, Short Segment
The bombing incident at Atlanta’s Centennial Park during the 1996 Olympics marked the beginning of a dark time in American society. The FBI and the press were convinced that the security guard who first noticed the pipe bomb and saved many lives had actually planted the device himself in a concerted effort to be hailed as a hero.
Director Clint Eastwood’s film “Richard Jewell” takes a look at the sad sack hero whose life was forever damaged as a result of the media frenzy. Paul Walter Hauser, probably best known for playing one of Nancy Kerrigan’s assailants in “I, Tonya,” is ideally cast in the title role. Kathy Bates plays his long-suffering mom, Sam Rockwell is his resolute lawyer, Jon Hamm is an overly zealous FBI agent and Olivia Wilde plays the overly ambitious Atlanta newspaper reporter who saw this story as the way to ignite her stagnant career.
The film is a cautionary tale that points an accusing finger at a society all-too eager to build up heroes and all-too eager to bring them down. As with all Eastwood movies, “Richard Jewell” is competent, workmanlike and well-acted. But “Richard Jewell” never quite captures the compelling dynamic of its fascinating subject.
Also opening this week, “Jumanji: The Next Level” is a sequel to the 2017 hit “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” which was, in turn, a sequel to the Robin Williams’ original from 1995. Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, Karen Gillan and Nick Jonas are all back, along with Awkwafina, in an adventure tale that takes our players back into the world’s most dangerous game. ”Black Christmas” the third version of the slasher flick that first appeared in 1974. This time out, Imogen Poots leads the cast in the grisly story of sorority sisters stalked by a mysterious assailant.Listen