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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: “Superfly” (R), “Hearts Beat Loud” (PG-13), “Tag” (R)
June 15, 2018 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"

The remake of the classic 70s blaxploitation flick “Superfly” replaces gritty with glossy. Trevor Jackson plays an ultra-smooth Atlanta drug dealer who tries to arrange one last big score and get out of the game. This violent crime drama is slick and competently made but adds nothing new or notable and looks more like a music video than a movie. The score has a few snippets of Curtis Mayfield’s great songs from the original.

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.” Nick Offerman plays an irresponsible man who wants his daughter, played by Kiersey Clemons, to be in a pop band with him. She wants to go off to medical school. “Hears Beat Loud” is sweet-natured and has an appealing pop score.

Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner, Ed Helms, Hannibal Buress and a spunky cast seem to be enjoying a vacation with the goofy comedy “Tag.” They play lifelong pals who’ve carried on a game of tag once a month for 26 years. While it’s modestly fun, it never seems credible even though it was based on a true story. Footage of the actual tag players covers the end credits and give a hint that it could have been an inspired documentary.

Also opening this week, it’s taken 14 years, but Pixar finally offers “Incredibles 2,” a sequel to the 2004 animated hit. “Beast” is a psychological thriller from Britain about a woman who falls for a serial killer. “The Seagull” is a new adaptation of the famous Chekhov play. Saoirse Ronan and Annette Bening lead an impressive cast. John Travolta takes the titular role in “Gotti,” the story of the infamous crime boss. It was hidden from critics, almost always a bad sign.

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Freeze Frame: “Ocean’s 8” (PG-13), “Hotel Artemis” (R), “First Reformed” (R)
June 8, 2018 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"

Flip the script, make the con men con women, but keep the cheeky feel. That seems to be the thought process behind the comic heist spin-off, "Ocean's Eight." Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett and a bevy of talented actresses fill the roles but aren't really challenged by the material. Still, they seem to be having fun. Anne Hathaway, doing something of a self-parody as a vacuous actress, has the only meaty role.

Jodi Foster and Sterling K. Brown lead an impressive cast in the dark and violent sci-fi crime thriller, “Hotel Artemis.” In a riot-torn near future LA, gunshot victims visit a secret private hospital for criminals only. It’s well produced, but this grindhouse-style entry doesn’t quite nail the electric pace it sorely needs.

Filmmaker Paul Schrader examines the twin themes of faith and environmentalism in the thoughtful drama “First Reformed.” Ethan Hawke plays the parish pastor of a 250-year-old New England church who tries to balance his beliefs and his despair when one of his parishioners commits suicide. Hawke is very good, as is the supporting cast that includes Amanda Seyfried and Cedric the Entertainer, and newcomer Van Hansis. Schrader poses probing questions that aren’t easily answered, framed within an involving story. The only problem is an unconvincing climax that threatens to undermine some of the film’s intentions. Still, it’s a potent intellectual experiment.

Also opening this week, “Hereditary” is an acclaimed horror film. Toni Collette’s performance is being touted as an early Oscar fave. “On Chesil Beach” is a romantic period drama starring Saoirse Ronan. “Mary Shelley” is a drama about the romance between the author of “Frankenstein” and the poet Percy Shelley. Elle Fanning stars. “Haikara-San: Here Comes Miss Modern” is a Japanese anime offering based on a popular manga story. “211” is a true-life police drama starring Nicholas Cage

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Freeze Frame: “Adrift” (PG-13), “The Rider” (R)
June 1, 2018 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"

If you’re planning a boat trip any time soon, you may not want to see “Adrift,” a harrowing true story. Shailene Woodley plays Tami Oldham, a young woman whose sailboat was severely damaged by a storm when she and her boyfriend, played by Sam Claflin, were attempting a trans-Atlantic trip. With little hope of survival, she had to muster some nearly superhuman determination to save herself and her loved one. This traumatic story is well produced and acted, but it’s also agonizing to sit through. You have to admire the tenacity and courage Oldham demonstrated, but if you’re prone to seasickness, you may want to keep an extra popcorn bag handy.

“The Rider” was inspired by another harrowing true story. This ultra-realistic low-budget indie from writer-director Chloé Zhao has won a number of film festival awards. It features a non-professional cast in the tale of a contemporary cowboy. Brady Jandreau plays a slightly fictionalized version of himself, a young bronc rider from South Dakota who endures a near-fatal head injury. He has to do some serious self-examination to determine how to proceed with his life when he realizes he won’t be able to pursue his professional rodeo dreams.

Jandreau is joined in the film by his real-life father, sister and friends, including Lane Scott, his best friend and bronc-busting idol who suffered a rodeo accident that left him paralyzed.

While this low-key film is definitely not for everyone, it’s a beautifully made and poetic character study.

Also opening this week, “How to Talk to Girls at Parties” is a comic sci-fi fantasy based on a short story by Neil Gaiman. Elle Fanning, Nicole Kidman and Alex Sharp star in this story of a teenager in punk rock 70s London who falls for a beautiful alien visiting from another planet. "Action Point" is a comedy starring Johnny Knoxville about an amusement park filled with dangerous rides.

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Freeze Frame: “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” (PG-13) “Little Pink House” (Not rated)
May 25, 2018 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"

If there is a litmus test for the new Star Wars entry “Solo,” it lies in one’s perception of actor Alden Ehrenreich who takes on the role of the young Han Solo, once embodied by the one-and-only Harrison Ford. Can this young upstart capture the swagger, arrogance and sense of humor that Ford brought to the part? For my money, I say, “Yes.”

Directed -at least in part- by Oscar-winner Ron Howard, “Solo” is a worthy entry in the “Star Wars” canon, a handsomely produced spectacle and involving origin story that finally reveals how the Millennium Falcon made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs. We also discover how Han befriended Chewbacca, how he won his ship from Lando Calrissian, played by the charismatic Donald Glover. We’re introduced to his first love, played by Emilia Clarke from “Game of Thrones,” and the leader of a roguish band of thieves, played by Woody Harrelson.

While “Solo” isn’t in the class of the original classic “Star Wars” trilogy, it’s more involving and a lot more fun than the other prequels. As Han once said, “You like me because I’m a scoundrel. There aren’t enough scoundrels in your life.”

From the other end of the cinematic universe comes “Little Pink House,” a modestly budgeted social drama featuring a strong lead performance from Catherine Keener. She plays Susette Kelo, a woman who took on the government of New London, Connecticut in an eminent domain case. The city wanted to turn her property over to drug maker Pfizer to make way for a luxury office park. The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

While it plays a bit like “Erin Brokovich-lite,” “Little Pink House” is an agreeable and informative look at an important issue that probably deserves a good deal more attention.

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Freeze Frame: “Deadpool 2” (R), “Book Club” (PG-13), “Anything” (R), “Disobedience” (R), “Let the Sunshine In” (R)
May 18, 2018 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"

Shamelessly raunchy, unapologetically profane and completely irreverent, Marvel’s R-rated 2016 superhero parody “Deadpool” became a surprise box office smash. The equally obscene sequel doesn’t quite match it, but with a zippy pace, well-staged action and Ryan Reynolds’ cheeky performance, “Deadpool 2” comes close. Marvelites will relish the movie’s self-referential humor, cocky attitude and energy. For hardcore fans, “Deadpool 2” is dead on.

The sex lives of women of a certain age get the lighthearted sitcom treatment in “Book Club.” Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen and Mary Steenburgen play friends who are inspired to spice up their love lives when they read “Fifty Shades of Grey.” It’s all very cardboard and cliché, but a great cast makes it seem better than it is.

Strong performances from Rachel Weisz, Rachel McAdams and Alessandro Nivola propel the thoughtful drama, “Disobedience.” Weisz plays a worldly photographer who returns to her stifling Orthodox Jewish community upon the death of her father. She rekindles a lesbian romance with McAdams, the wife of a young rabbi. It’s slow moving but builds to an emotional payoff.

John Carroll Lynch and Matt Bomer star in “Anything,” a well-meaning but fitful drama about a widower and his relationship with the troubled transvestite next door. Lynch is fine but much of the story never quite rings true.

Julianne Binoche stars in the oh-so-French character study, “Let the Sunshine In.” Binoche can’t seem to make an emotional connection with her many lovers. This very talky drama from filmmaker Claire Denis depends on Binoche’s charisma to get past a lot of self-pity and navel gazing.

Also opening this week, “Show Dogs” is a family comedy about a human detective and his pooch pal who work a case undercover at a dog show. “Pope Francis – Man of His Word” is a documentary about the pontiff from renowned German director Wim Wenders.

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Freeze Frame: “Life of the Party” (PG-13), “Breaking In” (PG-13), “The House of Tomorrow” (NR), “RBG” (PG)
May 11, 2018 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"

Can Melissa McCarthy breathe life into a tired comedy formula? Well, she gives it the old college try in “Life of the Party.” When dumped by her husband, McCarthy decides to go back to college, the same school her daughter attends. McCarthy and her director husband Ben Falcone have no one to blame but themselves for the derivative script, but McCarthy nearly saves the soiree by the sheer force of her personality.

“Breaking In” is yet another movie with an overworked premise. Gabrielle Union stars in this tired thriller about a woman who fights back against home intruders who’ve taken her two kids hostage. The cast members display two emotions in this movie, anger and boredom. Viewers might feel both.

In “The House of Tomorrow,” Asa Butterfield plays a sheltered teen who lives with grandma Ellen Burstyn in a Buckminster Fuller geodesic dome. When he finally makes some friends, he discovers the joys of punk rock. While the coming-of-age drama never amounts to much, it has some low-watt charm.

Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg is the subject of the love letter documentary, “RBG,” an overview of the 84-year-old’s public life as an iron-willed liberal jurist and private life as an opera-loving grandma. While the film is never quite as fascinating as its subject, it’s effective as a primer on her life as well as an engaging Valentine to a feminist leader.

Also opening this week, “Godard Mon Amor” is a French comedy that dramatizes the events of 1967 when the famous filmmaker was shooting one of his New Wave classics. “Gemini” is a noir thriller involving a Hollywood starlet. Zoe Kravitz stars. Joaquin Phoenix plays a veteran who tracks down missing girls in the suspense drama “You Were Never Really Here.” Margot Robbie and Simon Pegg star in the hired killer drama, “Terminal.”

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Freeze Frame: “Tully” (R), “Itzhak” (Not rated)
May 4, 2018 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"

Oscar-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody is reunited with Oscar-winning actress Charlize Theron in "Tully," an offbeat comic drama about, of all things, postpartum depression. Theron plays a woman who delivers her third child. Because of exhaustion, she agrees to let her wealthy brother pay for a night nanny, played by Mackenzie Davis. The plot focuses on the relationship that develops between these two. Theron is excellent and the dialogue is often very sharp and funny, but the movie's main conceit and strange finale may be off-putting to many.

Renowned violinist, conductor and teacher Itzhak Perlman is the focus of the documentary "Itzhak." It chronicles his journey from his impoverished youth in Israel, to his battle with polio, his immigration to the US at the age of 13 in 1958 and his rise to become one of the most celebrated classical musicians of our time. Fortunately, there's plenty of concert footage and early video available to accompany the filmmakers' peek into his life behind the scenes. It's a fitting tribute to a uniquely gifted individual.

Also opening this week, "Overboard" is a remake of the classic 1987 Kurt Russell/Goldie Hawn comedy, but they've flipped the script this time by changing the gender of the characters. Anna Faris and Eugenio Derbez star. "The Cleanse" is a horror comedy starring Johnny Galecki from "The Big Bang Theory." "Ghost Stories" is a horror anthology starring Martin Freeman. "Back to Burgundy" is a comic drama from France about the reunion of three siblings in wine country.

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“Avengers: Infinity War” (PG-13), “The Endless”
April 27, 2018 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"

If "more" equals "better," then "Avengers: Infinity War" is everything a Marvel fanboy could hope for. However, in spite of some impressive scenes and spirited individual performances, "Avengers: Infinity War" is just what you'd expect from a $300 million, 2 hour and 40 minute superhero extravaganza. No more, no less.

To call it busy and over-packed with characters would be an understatement. On the upside, Josh Brolin's motion-capture performance as the villainous Thanos provides a bit of gravitas and an appearance by Peter Dinklage is a memorable one…and we’ll just leave it at that. But the filmmakers' insistence on an ambiguous that won't be resolved for at least a year...will infuriate a lot of viewers, me included.

“Avengers: Infinity War” has a lot going for it. It just seems content to go on to infinity.

The sci-fi thriller “The Endless” is, in some ways the “Ying” to The Avengers “Yang. This low-budget entry is about a pair of brothers, escapees from a UFO cult, who return to the commune’s site after receiving a mysterious videotape. Naturally, they become entangled once again. Whereas “The Avengers” is all action, “The Endless” is a little too low key for its own good. Yet, this clever entry manages to build plenty of paranoid tension.

Also opening this week, “Foxtrot” is an Israeli drama about a soldier’s harrowing experience, his family’s reaction and the cover up of a war crime. It won the Grand Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival. “Kings” is a social drama starring Halle Berry and Daniel Craig about racial tensions that ran high just after the Rodney King incident in LA. “The Devil and Father Amorth” is a documentary about exorcism from director William Friedkin, the filmmaker behind the 1973 horror classic, “The Exorcist.”

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Freeze Frame: “I Feel Pretty” (PG-13), “Super Troopers 2 (R),” “Lean on Pete” (R)
April 20, 2018 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"

Amy Schumer takes on the issue of body image in the likable comic fantasy, “I Feel Pretty.” She plays an insecure woman who falls and bumps her head and comes to believe that she’s a raging beauty. Although the screenwriters’ template is pretty obvious, Schumer gives a shrewd performance proving she has real acting chops.

It’s no accident that the stoner comedy sequel “Super Troopers 2” is being released on 4/20. The original raunchy farce from the comedy group “Broken Lizard” was released in 2002 and was a modest hit. Fans of the original will know exactly what kind of lowbrow humor they’re in for.

Some inept Vermont Highway Patrol troopers are sent to work in Canada as part of a border dispute. They come across plenty of contraband, but can they keep from ingesting it before they catch the culprits? It’s a little unnerving to see these middle-aged guys displaying the same childish behavioral issues after all these years. While it has some shamelessly funny moments, much of “Super Troopers 2” feels like a bad flashback.

“Lean on Pete” is an austere but moving drama about a teenager from a troubled background who works at a stable and befriends and tries to save an aging race horse bound for the slaughterhouse. Charlie Plummer gives a believable and tender performance in this low-key story that also stars Steve Buscemi and Chloe Sevigny.

Also opening this week, an alien invades the body of an adult film star in the unrated sci-fi opus, “Imitation Girl.” “Wilding” is a horror entry about a disturbed young woman raised to believe that homicidal monster roams outside her home. “They Remain” is a suspense drama about scientists analyzing an area where a murderous cult once lived. Geoffrey Rush and Army Hammer star in “Final Portrait,” about the friendship of an American writer and artist Alberto Giacometti.

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Freeze Frame: “Rampage” (PG-13), “Truth or Dare” (PG-13), “Beirut” (R)
April 13, 2018 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has a knack for making a silk purse out of a cinematic sow’s ear. Can he do the same for the cursed video game genre? Maybe so. In “Rampage,” based on the Midway arcade game, Johnson plays a primatologist who has to figure out what to do when a genetic experiment goes wrong and his favorite albino gorilla grows to Kong size. The ape and a giant mutated wolf and alligator, head to downtown Chicago in a destructive rage.

It’s as goofy as it sounds, but the visuals are spectacular and Johnson’s outsized charisma helps, too. “Rampage” is better than it has any business being.

Blumhouse, the phenomenally successful production company responsible for a slew of hit horror films, might have finally jumped the shark. “Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare” is an annoying creepfest about a group of teens on spring break in Mexico who play a game of Truth or Dare that’s been overtaken by a demon. Naturally, things turn deadly and the participants desperately try to figure a way out. There are a few scares, but mostly it’s just irritating. The truth is, it’s bad and I wouldn’t watch it again on a dare.

Jon Hamm stars in “Beirut,” an involving thriller about a one-time US diplomat who is forced by CIA operatives Rosamund Pike and Dean Norris to help save a colleague from terrorists in Lebanon the 1980s. Hamm inherits his best role since “Mad Men,” but Pike is wasted in yet another part that doesn’t give her much to work with.

Also opening this week, “Finding Your Feet” is a comic drama from Britain about folks of a certain age who find romance at a community dance class. “Best F(r)iends” is black comedy that reunites the team behind the celebrated bad movie “The Room,” Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero.

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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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