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Freeze Frame is a weekly show reviewing the latest movies from Hollywood’s best films to independent and arthouse movies.
FREEZE FRAME: “Get Out,” “A United Kingdom,” “I Am Not Your Negro,” “The Girl With All the Gifts,” “Bitter Harvest” February 24, 2017 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"
Comic Jordan Peele of Key & Peele fame makes his directorial debut with a surprisingly effective, full-blooded horror film, “Get Out.” Daniel Kaluuya plays a young black photographer who goes to meet his white girlfriend’s parents in rural suburbia, where things go horribly wrong. An effective social commentary as well as a potent creepfest, “Get Out” is this generation’s answer to “The Stepford Wives.”
David Oyelowo from "Selma" and Rosamund Pike from "Gone Girl" star in the true historical romance "A United Kingdom." Oyelowo plays the heir to the throne of Botswana who creates international chaos in 1947 when he takes a white, British wife, played by Pike. It’s a handsomely produced, beautifully acted and involving drama.
“I Am Not Your Negro” is a compelling and penetrating documentary about the late author James Baldwin and his perspective on three men he knew well: Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, who were all assassinated. It’s a sobering, resonant and timely work.
“The Girl with All the Gifts” is yet another zombie apocalypse flick, but this one is particularly smart and effective. Glenn Close and Gemma Arterton lead the strong acting ensemble, but newcomer Sennia Nanua steals the show as a child zombie who retains her emotions and an extremely high level of intelligence. It’s an interesting twist on the genre.
“Bitter Harvest” is a bitter disappointment. This romantic historical drama is set against the backdrop of Stalin’s suppression of Ukraine that led millions to starvation in the 1930s. It’s a ham-fisted and artificial entry that squanders its chance to bring this shocking story to a wide audience.
Also opening this week, “Rock Dog” is an animated offering about a music-loving pooch and “Collide” is an action thriller starring Felicity Jones that’s been sitting on the shelf for a few years.
FREEZE FRAME: “Fist Fight,” “A Cure for Wellness,” “Toni Erdmann,” “Neruda,” “The Great Wall” February 17, 2017 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"
Yet again, Hollywood mistakes vulgarity for wit. Charlie Day and Ice Cube star in “Fist Fight,” an R-rated comedy about a wimpy teacher challenged to an afterschool brawl by a testy fellow educator. This mean-spirited vehicle manages to pummel a few crass laughs from the audience, but it may make you want to punch the screenwriters.
Style over substance isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But in the case of the gothic horror flick “A Cure for Wellness,” the style chokes out any substance. Filmmaker Gore Verbinski, best known for the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies, allows the visual razzle-dazzle to overwhelm an interesting premise and a strong cast. Dane DeHann is a business executive who travels to a creepy health resort in the Swiss Alps to bring back his vacationing boss, but winds up a patient instead. Overlong and overblown, “A Cure for Wellness” is too dark to be campy fun.
“Toni Erdmann” is an Oscar-nominated black comedy from Germany about a man who creates a fake persona to worm his way back into the life of his estranged daughter, an ambitious corporate type. It’s brilliant in a number of ways, but its deliberate pace, considerable length and frank sexuality may be off-putting to many viewers.
“Neruda” is a Chilean film about a policeman, played by Gael Garcia Bernal, who pursues the titular Communist poet who went into hiding in the 1940s to escape persecution by Chile’s right wing government. Beautifully shot and produced, Pablo Larrain’s film isn’t so much about the title character as it is a poetic view of obsession.
The great Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou tries his hand at an English-language, Hollywood-style spectacle, complete with hoards of monsters and an American star, Matt Damon. The visuals are spectacular, but this fantasy action movie lacks the depth of most of Zhang Yimou's work.
FREEZE FRAME: “The Lego Batman Movie,”John Wick: Chapter 2,” “Fifty Shades Darker” February 10, 2017 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"
It’s sequel mania at theaters this week, and at least two of them live up to the originals.
Who would have thought that an animated movie about toy building blocks would have been a hit, let alone a brash, cheeky and fast moving…wait for it…blockbuster? But 2014’s “The Lego Movie” was just that.
In the sequel, “The Lego Batman Movie,” Will Arnett reprises his role as a narcissistic and self-centered caped crusader whose lonely life of crime fighting is upended when Robin and Batgirl help him face his greatest challenge from The Joker and a wide assortment of other bad guys. This goofy and colorful romp is sure a lot more fun than Ben Affleck’s version.
Keanu Reeves is back for more R-rated bloody mayhem in “John Wick: Chapter 2,” about a super assassin reluctantly drawn back into the business. The ultra violent action thriller exists for one reason, and that’s to allow some of the best stunt people in the world to expertly ply their trade. Inspired by Hong Kong action cinema, this zippy flick has it all, including car chases, hand-to-hand combat, gunplay and a slew of bad guys being dispatched by all manner of weapons, including pencils. Yes, pencils. It’s a decadent guilty pleasure.
“Fifty Shades Darker” is the second title in the erotic romantic drama series based upon the bestsellers by E. L. James. The story of a kinky S&M relationship isn’t bad enough to be campy fun and is about as erotic as a cold shower. Dakota Johnson’s beguiling performance as the naive Anastasia Steele is the only thing this movie has going for it. Jamie Dornan as the handsome but twisted billionaire, however, is as drab as his name, Christian Grey. “Fifty Shades Darker” could have been called “Fifty Shades Duller.”
Also opening this week, “Don’t Knock Twice” is yet another low-budget horror entry about a wicked witch
FREEZE FRAME: “Split,” “The Founder,” “20th Century Women,” “Trespass Against Us,” “xXx: Return of Xander Cage” January 20, 2017 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"
Since hitting the big time...
FREEZE FRAME: “Hidden Figures,” “A Monster Calls” January 6, 2017 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"
Kansas City native Janelle Monáe has proven herself to be a terrific musician. She can now add the title ‘acclaimed actress’ to her resume. She’s part of a strong acting ensemble in “Hidden Figures,” potent follow-up to her role in the current drama, “Moonight.” Monáe, Taraji P. Henson and Octavia Spencer star in the true story of mathematicians whose calculations helped propel NASA’s manned space program the 1960s, in spite of blatant sexism and racism. Kevin Costner is the NASA bigwig who relies on these female computers before IBM introduced mechanical ones. While the storytelling is standard, the cast of “Hidden Figures” is appealing, the production values are spot on and it is an inspiring tale that needed to be told.
FREEZE FRAME: “La La Land,” “Collateral Beauty,” “Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened.” December 16, 2016 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"
Are American audiences ready for a full-blown movie musical about struggling performing artists in Los Angeles? I hope so, because “La La Land” is easily one of the best movies of the year. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are splendid in this magical romantic comic drama that was written and directed by Damien Chazelle, the man behind last year’s terrific jazz movie, “Whiplash.” “La La Land” is smart, poignant, tune-filled and funny. Those who love old-time musicals will be in heaven and those that don’t…will probably like it anyway. “La La Land” is a real gem.
FREEZE FRAME: “Manchester by the Sea,” “Nocturnal Animals,” “Miss Sloane,” “Office Christmas Party” December 9, 2016 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"
Don’t be surprised if you hear the title “Manchester by the Sea” being bandied about a lot at awards time. Filmmaker Kenneth Lonergan’s heartbreaking drama about loss and grief is a skillfully written and impeccably acted ensemble piece. Casey Affleck plays a working class man who struggles with a past tragedy when he returns to his Massachusetts hometown for his brother’s funeral. I’ll warn you, it’s extremely bleak, but it’s also poignant and affecting.
FREEZE FRAME: “Man Down,” “The Eagle Huntress” December 2, 2016 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"
Earnest performances and good intentions don’t always lead to good movies. “Man Down” is a case in point. Shia LaBeouf gives a solid turn as a U.S. Marine who, upon his return home from serving in Afghanistan, discovers that his wife and child have fallen into the hands of some chaotic force. Is this a mystery, a sci-fi story or an apocalyptic drama? The answer isn’t clear until the movie’s final moments. Sadly, this well-meaning film never gets a grip on its subject and comes off as forced and pretentious instead of heartfelt and impassioned.
Russ Simmons is an award-winning film critic whose work has been featured on television and in print for nearly two decades.