Freeze Frame is a weekly show reviewing the latest movies from Hollywood's best films to independent and arthouse movies.
April 3, 2020 Arts & Culture, Podcast, Short Segment
Freeze Frame, Home Streaming Movies: “Coffee & Kareem” (Not rated), “Uncorked” (Not rated), “Disneynature: Elephant” (Not rated), “Disneynature: Dolphin Reef” (Not rated)
As our local cinemas are still temporarily closed, this week’s Freeze Frame will concentrate on new movies that can be streamed at home.
The raunchy Netflix original comedy “Coffee & Kareem” is shamefully wrong-headed and beneath the talent and dignity of its able cast. Ed Helms plays Officer James Coffee, a bungling Detroit cop who’s dating a nurse, played by Taraji P. Henson. The merry mix-ups occur when Officer Coffee tries to impress her son Kareem, played by the precociously foul-mouthed 12-year-old Terrence Little Gardenhigh. When on a spin in the patrol car, the duo witnesses a gangland murder. Young Gardenhigh shows promise, but the obscene dialogue he’s asked to do deliver is contemptable. Here’s hoping that “Coffee & Kareem” is the worst film of the year.
The touching Netflix original “Uncorked” is an uplifting and involving comic drama. Mamoudou Athie plays Elijah, a young man who is introduced to the world of wine when he takes a job at a local liquor store. Things get complicated when decides to leave his family’s barbecue restaurant to become a sommelier. Courtney B. Vance plays his disapproving dad and Niecy Nash is his supportive mom. “Uncorked” is heartfelt, realistic and offers characters you can actually care about.
“Disneynature: Elephant” is a visually dynamic new documentary on Disney+. It follows a small herd of African pachyderms as they travel on their annual trek across the Kalahari Desert in search of precious water. It’s family-friendly and features diverting narration by Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex.
“Disneynature: Dolphin Reef” is yet another visually engaging family-friendly Disney+ documentary. The focus is on a juvenile bottle-nosed dolphin named Echo and his clan that live near a coral reef somewhere in the Pacific. Natalie Portman’s narration is geared to the kiddies, but it manages to stay afloat for adults.Listen
March 27, 2020 Arts & Culture, Podcast, Short Segment
Feeze Frame: Feel-good streaming movies-“The Big Sick” (R), “Fighting With My Family” (PG-13), “Hearts Beat Loud” (PG-13)
Since most of our local cinemas are temporarily closed, this week’s Freeze Frame will focus on three “feel good” films currently available to stream at home, ones that can provide some uplift in trying times.
Available on Amazon Prime, “The Big Sick” might, at first blush, sound like something from the Lifetime Network, but it’s so much better. Pakistani-American standup comic Kumail Nanjiani plays himself in the true story of his romance with a white, non-Muslim girl, played by Zoe Kazan. The initial cultural conflicts take a back seat when she suffers a serious health crisis. Yes, it earns its R-rating thanks to adult themes, but "The Big Sick" is smart, hilarious, touching and has a terrific supporting cast. If it doesn't move you, maybe YOU need to check into the hospital. “The Big Sick” was my pick as the best film of 2017.
“Fighting With My Family” is a pleasant PG-13 surprise that’s currently streaming on Hulu. This funny and heartfelt comedy tells the true story of Raya Knight, a British teenage girl who became WWE Superstar, Paige. Florence Pugh plays Paige, the young girl mentored by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and trained by Vince Vaughn.
You don’t have to know a piledriver from a cactus clothesline to enjoy it. It’s strange that a movie about scripted matches has such genuine emotion. “Fighting With My Family” is a real crowd-pleaser.
Low-key charm is not a quality that’s valued much in an age of special effects-heavy blockbusters. But it’s the very thing that propels the comic father-daughter drama “Hearts Beat Loud” now on Hulu. Nick Offerman plays an irresponsible man who wants his daughter to be in a pop band with him. She wants to go off to medical school. “Hearts Beat Loud” is sweet-natured and has a very appealing pop score.Listen
March 20, 2020 Arts & Culture, Podcast, Short Segment
Freeze Frame: “Self-Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker (not rated), “Blow the Man Down” (R), “Big Time Adolescence” (R)
Due to the fact that most of our local cinemas are temporarily closing in reaction to the coronavirus outbreak, this week’s Freeze Frame will focus on brand new movies that are available to stream on home streaming services.
“Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker” is a 3-hour Netflix miniseries about America’s first self-made female millionaire. Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer takes the title role of the woman who used her tenacity and sales skills to build a business empire of hair care products for African American women. Based on a book by Walker’s granddaughter, the story focuses on the formidable personal and societal obstacles Ms. Walker had to overcome in the early part of the 20th Century.
Spencer is ideally cast in the title role. This enlightening, well-produced drama falters only when it indulges in some fantasy scenes that seem artificial and unnecessary.
“Blow the Man Down” is a wicked and pitch-black mystery new on Amazon. It’s a thriller that exposes the unseemly underbelly of a small, sleepy fishing village in coastal Maine. Sophie Lowe and Morgan Saylor plays sisters who unwittingly uncover their town’s dark secrets when one of them kills a man in self-defense and then they attempt to cover up the incident. The style and tone are very similar to the work of the Coen Brothers, so if their comically dark vision appeals to you, then “Blow the Man Down” is right up your alley.
Pete Davidson from “Saturday Night Live” stars in the Hulu comedy, “Big Time Adolescence,” the story of a charismatic but irresponsible man in his twenties who has the emotional maturity of a juvenile. Appropriately, his best friend is an impressionable 16-year-old, well played by Griffin Gluck. The duo gets into trouble through casual drug dealing. “Big Time Adolescence” is a slight but often amusing cautionary tale.Listen
March 13, 2020 Arts & Culture, Podcast, Short Segment
“The Hunt” is an ultra-violent, pitch black satire that’s trying to tap into the zeitgeist. In a contemporary reworking of “The Most Dangerous Game,” a group of wealthy liberal elites entrap citizens with hard right political beliefs and then hunt them down like game. Betty Gilpin from “GLOW” leads the cast as an Afghan War vet who gives her captors more than they bargained for. “The Hunt” is decadent and utterly shameless but is a skillfully made, well-paced thriller that many will consider a guilty pleasure.
“Wendy” is an arthouse reworking of the “Peter Pan” story. Writer/director Benh Zeitlin’s arty style will be immediately recognizable for anyone who saw his first feature, “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” Unfortunately, the tone of “Wendy” is so dour that it overwhelms and suffocates its occasionally magical moments.
The tragic true story of Christian music star Jeremy Camp’s first marriage provides the basis for the romantic drama “I Still Believe.” KJ Apa and Britt Robertson star in this sweet-natured tearjerker that goes through very familiar paces but manages to push viewers’ emotional buttons.
“And Then We Danced” is a film from Georgia about the sexual awakening of a young dancer in Tblisi. He struggles with poverty as well as his society’s repressive traditional mores as he tries to make it in the masculine arena of the National Georgian Ensemble. It’s a realistic and well-made glimpse into stereotyping and self-expression.
Also opening this week, “Bloodshot” is a Vin Diesel action thriller based on the bestselling comic book. “Swallow” is a drama about a woman who compulsively swallows foreign objects. “Big Time Adolescence” is a comic drama starring SNL’s Pete Davidson. “Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears” is a period mystery derived from the Australian TV series. “Ride Like a Girl” is a horse racing drama from Australia.Listen
March 6, 2020 Arts & Culture, Podcast, Short Segment
Second-rate Pixar movies are still better than most of their animated rivals. “Onward” is a likable comic fantasy aimed at boys in the same way that “Frozen” was aimed at girls. Chris Pratt and Tom Holland provide the voices for brother elves from an otherworldly suburbia who embark on a magical quest. It’s funny and sweet-natured, but the movie magic in “Onward” is limited.
Anthony Mackie and Samuel L. Jackson star in “The Banker,” a well-meaning true story about two African American men who get into trouble when they use a white front man to help them open a bank in Texas in the 1960s. This movie should have been riveting, but its impact is limited by a meandering pace.
Counting “Clueless,” “Emma” marks at least the sixth adaptation of Jane Austin’s classic 1815 novel. Anya Taylor-Joy is fine in the title role of the bright but naïve young woman whose social manipulations sometimes backfire. This stylish version takes a while to establish emotional momentum, but “Emma” ultimately hits the right notes.
Ben Affleck stars in “The Way Back,” a sports drama about an alcoholic who attempts redemption by becoming the coach of the flailing high school basketball team he once played for. Although it tosses up a lot of clichés, Affleck’s empathetic performance gets nothing but net.
Also opening this week, “Ordinary Love” is a cancer drama starring Liam Neeson and Leslie Manville. “Extra Ordinary” is a wacky supernatural comedy starring Will Forte. “The Jesus Trolls” is a comedy starring John Turturro featuring the bowling character he played 22 years ago in “The Big Lebowski.” “Beneath Us” is a horror thriller about undocumented workers held captive by wealthy Americans. “Greed” is a Steve Coogan comedy about a fashion billionaire’s 60th birthday party. “Foxtrot Six” is a sci-fi action flick from Indonesia.Listen
February 28, 2020 Arts & Culture, Podcast, Short Segment
A riveting, Oscar-caliber performance from Elizabeth Moss anchors an effective and scary reimagining of the horror chestnut, “The Invisible Man.” Flipping the script to make the victim the focus instead of the title character, this update works as a full-blooded horror film as well as an effective commentary on social issues like bullying and the “Me Too” movement. Yes, “The Invisible Man” is worth seeing.
Oscar nominee “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” is a beautifully filmed and sensitively acted period drama, set in 1760s France. A female artist is commissioned to paint a portrait of a young woman who is about to be married against her will. Things get complicated when unexpected romantic sparks develop between them. This edgy drama avoids exploitation and sensationalism. “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” is warm even if it never quite catches fire.
Kristen Stewart stars in “Seberg,” the tragic true story of the all-too brief life of actress Jean Seberg, a social activist who made enemies when she supported the Civil Rights movement in the 60s. This should have been a fascinating and troubling movie but sputters due to lackluster execution.
Also opening this week, “Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band” is a documentary about the seminal roots rock group. “Varda by Agnès” is an autobiographical documentary from the acclaimed French filmmaker. “Homeward” is a sneaky animated “mockbuster” that aims to get ticket-buying parents to confuse it with the upcoming Disney/Pixar fantasy, “Onward.” “Guns Akimbo” is a video-game style action flick starring Daniel Radcliffe. A woman returns to her hometown years after witnessing a kidnapping in the mystery, “Disappearance of Clifton Hill.” “My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising” is an anime fantasy based on the TV series. “Premature” is a romantic drama set in contemporary Harlem.Listen
February 21, 2020 Arts & Culture, Podcast, Short Segment
“The Call of the Wild” is at least the ninth adaptation of the classic Jack London novel about the adventures of a dog named Buck, set during the Yukon Gold Rush iof the 1890s. Harrison Ford plays John Thornton, the gruff prospector who becomes one of Buck’s multiple masters. It’s a rousing story and Ford’s presence is a big help, but the filmmakers use unconvincing computer-generated imagery to create all the animals and most of the environment. This approach undermines London’s story, giving “The Call of the Wild” has a sheen of artificiality when it should be a celebration of the natural world. The under 10 set may enjoy it, but for the rest of us, this dog has no bite.
If you think your boss is bad, check out “The Assistant.” Julia Garner, best known from her role as the hillbilly gangster Ruth Langmore from Netflix’s “Ozark,” shows her range in an excellent performance as Julia, an exploited gofer for a nasty, unseen film executive. Any resemblance to Harvey Weinstein may or may not be coincidental. This slice-of-life character study takes place over one grueling day as Julia, a recent college grad pining to break into the film production business, endures the system’s inherent sexism and autocracy. “The Assistant” is slow-moving and not for everyone, but it’s an effective cautionary tale for the “Me Too” era.
Also opening this week, “Marcel Duchamp: The Art of the Possible” is a documentary about the acclaimed artist. “Premature” is a romantic drama set in contemporary Harlem. “The Lodge” is a horror thriller set in an isolated cabin during a blizzard. Riley Keough stars. Katie Holmes stars in “Brahms: The Boy 2,” a horror sequel about a haunted doll. “Impractical Jokers: The Movie” is a comedy inspired by the hidden camera prank TV series.Listen
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