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Freeze Frame

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Freeze Frame is a weekly show reviewing the latest movies from Hollywood’s best films to independent and arthouse movies.




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Freeze Frame: “Missing Link” (PG), “Little” (PG-13)
April 12, 2019 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"

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.”

I was really rooting for “Little,” a movie that flips the script on the Tom Hanks classic, “Big.” Marsai (Mar-SAY) Martin from TV’s “Blackish” stars as the nasty, selfish founder of a high-tech firm who is magically transformed into the body of her 13-year-old self. She learns some valuable lessons, relying on her assistant Issa Rae (EE-sa Ray) and returning to the hard knocks of middle school. This comic fantasy has some strange lapses that play like some crucial scenes were left on the cutting room floor. And dividing the story between the two leads diminishes the story’s impact. Still, Rae is likable and Martin is a force of nature.

Also opening this week, “Hellboy!” is a reboot of Mike Mignola’s violent comic book film series. “Slut in a Good Way” is a French-Canadian teen comedy. “After” is a romantic drama based on a Wattpad bestseller. “Mia and the White Lion” is an English language French production of a children’s story, about a young woman’s attempt to save a rare white lion. Joaquin Phoenix plays Jesus and Rooney Mara is his ardent follower in the Biblical epic, “Mary Magdalene.” “Boo!” is a horror flick about a suburban family’s battle with a supernatural force.

The 23rd annual Kansas City Film Festival International takes place April 10th - 14th at the Cinemark Palace on the Plaza. Information on all of the movies and events is available at

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Freeze Frame: “Shazam!” (PG-13), “The Best of Enemies” (PG-13), “Storm Boy” (PG), “The Wind” (R)
April 5, 2019 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"

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.

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Freeze Frame: “Dumbo” (PG), “The Aftermath” (R), “The Mustang” (R), “Hotel Mumbai” (R), “The Hummingbird Project” (R)
March 29, 2019 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"

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.

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Freeze Frame: “Us” (R), “Gloria Bell” (R), “Dragged Across Concrete” (R), “Out of Blue” (R)
March 22, 2019 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"

Originality is a rare commodity in Hollywood, but Oscar-winning writer/director Jordan Peele demonstrates more than his fair share in his new horror film, “Us.” Multiple social allegories are explored in the story of a family of four that is terrorized by a murderous quartet that looks exactly like them. Lupita Nyong’o gives a stunning dual performance as the mom and her evil doppelganger. Prepare to be creeped out and intrigued at the same time.

Julianne Moore has given some top-notch performance and her turn in the comic drama “Gloria Bell” is no exception. A remake of an acclaimed Chilean film, “Gloria Bell” tells the story of a divorcée taking a second chance on romance. This very adult movie provides a realistic, almost melancholy look at the emotional struggles of women of a certain age. It doesn’t all work, but Moore creates a memorable portrait of quiet resilience.

I’m not sure what the title “Dragged Across Concrete” means, but I felt like I had been after watching this grueling and gritty three-hour crime drama. Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn play cops disciplined for employing rough tactics. While on suspension, the opportunity to steal gold from crooks becomes too tempting to resist. There are some disturbing social undertones in this violent movie that border on racism. You may be rooting for criminal Tory Kittles in the end, but mostly for the movie to end.

“Out of Blue” plays like it could have been an early David Lynch movie. Patricia Clarkson plays a New Orleans homicide detective whose life becomes metaphysically entangled with that of a murder victim, a young astrophysicist. It’s a smart and ambitious neo-noir thriller, but weird and unwieldly.

Also opening this week, “The Wedding Guest” is an action thriller about a kidnapping set in Pakistan and India. Dev Patel stars.

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Freeze Frame: “Climax” (R), “Ruben Brandt: Collector” (R), “Finding Steve McQueen” (R), “Birds of Passage” (R)
March 15, 2019 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"

Argentine/French filmmaker Gaspar Noé has a full and impressive command of the medium. But he has the darkest, ugliest world view of any working filmmaker. His latest descent into cinematic hell is “Climax.” A group of dancers enjoy a party until someone spikes the punch with acid and the affair degenerates into a hallucinatory orgy of violence. Although the dancing is excellent, Noé somehow renders these horrifying events boring.

“Ruben Brandt: Collector” is a visually impressive animated thriller for adults from Hungary. A psychiatrist and a group of his patients pull off a series of art heists in an attempt to put a halt to the doctor’s nightmares. Art students may enjoy the inside jokes in this wacky heist movie, but the whole thing is a bit too convoluted for its own good.

“Finding Steve McQueen” is a very laid-back 1970s crime tale, inspired by a true story. Travis Fimmel plays a McQueen fan who attempts to pull off a $30 million bank job from Richard Nixon’s secret campaign fund. The best thing about this modest little opus is the infectious soundtrack filled with 70s pop tunes.

“Birds of Passage” is yet another true story, this time set in Columbia in the 70s. Breaking their tradition of honor, a tribe of indigenous people get into the illegal drug trade and, as you might guess, things go badly. While it’s long and slowly paced, it’s an effectively artistic representation of the corrosive effect of greed.

Also opening this week, “Wonder Park” is an animated adventure about a magical amusement park. “Captive State” is a sci-fi thriller about an alien invasion.“Five Feet Apart” is a drama about two teen cystic fibrosis patients who fall in love. “Woman at War” is a comic drama from Iceland about an environmental activist who attempts to adopt a Ukrainian child.

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Freeze Frame: “Captain Marvel” (PG-13)
March 15, 2019 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"

The Marvel Universe offers yet another superhero origin story, this time set in the 1990s. “Captain Marvel” stars Bree Larson as Vers, a member of the alien Kree Starforce. But through a convoluted series of plot twists, she discovers that she’s actually Carol Danvers, a former U.S. Air Force pilot now imbued with high-energy powers absorbed during an experimental aircraft crash. Carol goes through a series of challenges with Avengers honcho Nick Fury, played by Samuel L. Jackson, and must ultimately decide where her allegiance lies.

Quality-wise, "Captain Marvel" undoubtedly lands somewhere in the middle of the pack among Marvel superhero movies, but it's still good, goofy fun and Larson displays acting chops that remind us why she's an Oscar winner.

Although the directors and editor lose focus during the early scenes, it all makes sense as the plot unfolds. I have to commend the filmmakers for shedding some of the misogynistic, sexist elements of the "Captain Marvel" comics and replacing them with aspects of female empowerment.

While I'll admit that superhero fatigue has hit many of us by now, the character of Captain Marvel emerges to fill a hole that the Avengers franchise sorely needed.
While it’s certainly flawed, the millions of Marvel fans out there should still find plenty to like in "Captain Marvel."

Also opening this week, “Level 16” is an unrated sci-fi suspense offering about a sixteen-year-old girl imprisoned in a boarding school in a dystopian near future. She and a former friend attempt to unearth the truth about their incarceration. “The Kid” is yet another western about Billy the Kid. Ethan Hawke plays Sheriff Pat Garrett and Dane DeHaan plays Billy. Chris Pratt takes an unusual villain role in this semi-biographical pic directed by actor Vincent D’Onofrio.

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Freeze Frame: “Greta” (R), “Never Look Away” (R)
March 1, 2019 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"

Acclaimed French actress Isabelle Huppert plays a troubled woman who stalks young Chloë Grace Moretz around New York City in the campy thriller, "Greta." Written and directed by Neil Jordan, the Oscar-winning filmmaker behind “The Crying Game,” “Greta” tells the story of a naïve girl who finds a woman’s purse on the subway. When she tracks her down to return it, the woman sticks to her like chewing gum. The potential for a great creepfest was there, but the plot elements are a bit too familiar. The talented actresses give this suspense flick a boost, though, making it a passable nail-biter.

The German film "Never Look Away" was one of the nominees for this year’s Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. A sweeping fictional overview of the life of an artist, “Never Look Away” is loosely based on the life of Gerhard Richter, based upon interviews the artist had with the film’s writer and director, Florian Henckel von Donnersmark, the man behind the 2006 Oscar winner, “The Lives of Others.” For his part, Richter has disavowed the movie saying that it is a gross distortion of his life.

While this three-hour epic is beautifully filmed by Oscar nominated cinematographer Caleb Deschanel and has some effective moments, it's overlong and never quite catches fire.

Also opening this week, “Apollo 11” is a new documentary about the 1969 moon mission consisting entirely of footage never before seen by the public. “Everybody Knows” is a Spanish kidnapping drama starring Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz and directed by the acclaimed Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi. “The Hole in the Ground” is a horror thriller from Ireland about a boy who falls into a sinkhole and is not quite the same when he reappears. “Tyler Perry’s A Madea Family Funeral” is the eleventh and supposedly final installment in the Madea film series.

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Freeze Frame: “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” (PG), “Fighting With My Family” (PG-13)
February 22, 2019 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"

“How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” brings the wildly popular animated adventure trilogy to a satisfying conclusion. Hiccup and his faithful dragon Toothless are forced to lead the Viking villagers to a new home when an evil dragon hunter brings an armada to enslave the flying reptiles. While the visuals and action are every bit as spectacular as you might expect, the real surprise is the story. It’s actually quite moving. John Powell’s lush score is a big plus, too, complimenting the impressive visuals with an evocative atmosphere. The filmmakers didn’t quit while they were ahead. They timed it just right.

“Fighting With My Family” is a very pleasant surprise. This funny and heartfelt comedy tells the true story of Raya Knight, a British teenage girl who, through grit and determination, became a WWE Superstar named Paige. Florence Pugh plays Paige, the young girl mentored by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and trained by Vince Vaughn. Writer/director Stephen Merchant and a spot-on cast give this Rocky-style underdog tale enough humanity to overcome some of the sports movie clichés that are inherent in the story. 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.

Also opening this week, “Run the Race” is a faith-based movie about the strains and bonds of athletic brothers. “Arctic” is a survival drama about a man stranded in the Arctic after an airplane crash. Mads Mikkelsen stars. “The Wandering Earth” is a Chinese sci-fi opus about the attempt to move Earth when the Sun is about to become a red giant. It’s one of the biggest hits in Chinese cinema history. “The Changeover” is a supernatural thriller from New Zealand.

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Freeze Frame: “Alita: Battle Angel” (PG-13), “Happy Death Day 2 U” (PG-13), “Isn’t it Romantic” (PG-13), “Capernaum” (R)
February 15, 2019 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"

Producer James Cameron and director Robert Rodriguez team up to adapt the Japanese manga comic “Alita: Battle Angel.” In a dystopian future, a cyborg with a human brain is brought back to life to become the hero in a game of super Rollerball. While it’s an impressive visual spectacle, the story plays like a smorgasbord of ideas culled from other, better works. Annoyingly, there’s no climax, so the filmmakers expect us to wait for the sequel with bated breath.

The surprise hit horror flick “Happy Death Day” was a mashup of “Groundhog Day” and “Scream,” about a teenager who repeats that day she was murdered over and over again. The sequel, “Happy Death Day 2 U” may not match up, but it’s better than It has any business being with Jessica Rothe demonstrating a real range of emotion as she’s caught in a time loop with moral conundrums.

“Isn’t it Romantic” is a passable fantasy. Rebel Wilson plays a woman who gets bonked on the head and wakes up in an alternate universe filled with romantic comedy clichés. It feels very strained at times, but good for a few laughs on your Valentine’s Day date.

The harrowing Lebanese film “Capernaum” (CAP-er-nom) is a nominee for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. It’s the brutal tale of a poor little boy living on the streets or Beirut who sues his parents for giving him birth. He befriends an Ethiopian woman and becomes her baby’s unintentional guardian when the woman is detained by immigration authorities. Yes, “Capernaum” is grim, but a beautifully rendered and heartbreaking social drama.

Also opening this week, “Donnybrook” is a drama about desperate people who engage in illicit bare knuckles cage matches. Jamie Bell stars. “The Lears” is a contemporary comic adaptation of “King Lear” and “Lords of Chaos” tells the true story of a murderous death metal band.

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Freeze Frame: “The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part” (PG), “Oscar Nominated Shorts” (Not rated)
February 8, 2019 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"

When “The LEGO Movie” debuted in 2014, it took audiences and critics by surprise…and the box office by storm! While the sequel “The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part” lacks the freshness of the original, there’s still plenty of creativity and animated razzle dazzle on display. The LEGO universe has descended into dystopia and must contend with invaders from the cute but deadly DUPLO world. There’s plenty of broad humor for the kids and cheeky cultural references for adults, but the movie is almost undone by frenetic, breakneck editing. Still, “The LEGO Movie 2” delivers all the entertainment one could expect from a 90-minute toy commercial.

Each year, I get the same question. Why should I care about the Oscar-nominated shorts if I can’t see them? Well, you can. The latest compilation has arrived and it’s easy to see why these films have been so honored. There’s no question as to the artistry of these efforts, so film buffs will have plenty to discuss in their post screening coffee talks. One note of caution: Most of these films are very dark and depressing. The best of the animated lot is probably “Bao,” the Pixar film about a dumpling come to life. “Madre,” a harrowing Spanish live short, is a model of taut direction and camerawork. There are three separate showcases at the Tivoli, with the animated and short program opening this week and the documentary short program starting on Feb. 15th.

Also opening this week, “Cold Pursuit” is a revenge thriller starring Liam Neeson. “What Men Want” is a gender flip on the 2001 Mel Gibson comedy. Taraji P. Henson stars as a woman who becomes able to hear men’s thoughts. “The Man Who Killed Hitler and them Big Foot” is an adventure drama starring Sam Elliot. “Tragedy Girls” is a twist on the slasher genre.

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Russ Simmons

Russ Simmons is an award-winning film critic whose work has been featured on television and in print for nearly two decades.

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