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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: “BlacKkKlansman” (R), “The Meg” (PG-13), “Dog Days” (PG)
August 10, 2018 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"

If it weren’t true, you might not believe it. “BlacKkKlansman” tells the remarkable true story of a black Colorado police officer who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s. Director Spike Lee, who co-wrote the screenplay with KU professor Kevin Willmott, recharges his career with a film that is funny, incendiary, thought-provoking, unnerving and oh-so relevant in contemporary America. John David Washington plays detective Ron Stallworth and Adam Driver is the Jewish officer who provided his face when confronting the Klan in person. It doesn’t all work, but “BlacKkKlansman” is a powerful, dynamic and timely Spike Lee joint.

Couldn’t get enough of Shark Week? Well, Jason Statham is here for you. “The Meg” is a goofy thriller about a 75-foot prehistoric megalodon that terrorizes a scientific crew when it is inadvertently released from its deep-sea trench. This by-the-numbers aquatic adventure is no “Jaws,” but is B-movie Saturday matinee fare that may appeal to the 7-year-old in you.

Maybe the best thing you can say about the family-friendly canine comedy “Dog Days” is that it’s harmless. Vanessa Hudgens and Adam Pally lead a likable cast in the story of some LA folks whose paths cross due to their common love of dogs. This farce tries hard to tug at our heartstrings while tickling our funny bones and the formula sometimes works. Dog lovers may respond in a Pavlovian way, but this scruffy flick will still quickly evaporate from your memory.

Also opening this week, “Slender Man” is a horror film about the boogie man of internet lore. “The Cakemaker” is a German-Israeli film about two people who bond over the shared grief of a common deceased lover. “A Prayer Before Dawn” is a true story about a British boxer’s harrowing experiences in a Thai prison.

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Freeze Frame: “Christopher Robin” (PG), “The Darkest Minds” (PG-13), “Eighth Grade” (R)
August 3, 2018 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"

Disney continues its strategy of making so-called live-action films featuring characters from its animated classics. Ewan McGregor plays the troubled “Christopher Robin,” a grown-up who has lost touch with the magic of childhood. Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Piglet and his friends from the Hundred Acre Wood step into the real world to help him reconnect with his family and rediscover joy. Although beautifully produced and sweetly sentimental, “Christopher Robin” is extremely low-key and maybe too long and slowly paced for many kids.

“The Darkest Minds” is the latest in a parade of dystopian, sci-fi dramas aimed at teens. After an outbreak of childhood disease, the surviving kids develop extrasensory powers and must flee frightened authorities. A likable cast tries hard, but there’s not a moment in this movie that doesn’t seem derivative. Believe me, you’ve seen it all before.

A much more satisfying movie about teen life is “Eighth Grade,” a poignant and extremely realistic look at the angst of adolescence from writer/director Bo Burnham. Elsie Fisher plays Kayla, a painfully shy girl who makes internet videos full of helpful advice. If only she listened to her own counsel. Fisher is terrific as Kayla and Josh Hamilton is equally good as her loving but ineffective dad. Even if you grew up well before the age of social media, you’ll empathize. “Eighth Grade” will transport you back to a time when hormones and social pressures had you in an emotional knot.

Also opening this week, “Generation Wealth” is a documentary from Lauren Greenfield about America’s obsession with consumerism. Mila Kunis and Kate McKinnon star in The Spy Who Dumped Me,” a comedy about friends who accidentally get caught up in international intrigue. “Death of a Nation” is the latest radical right political screed from Dinesh D’Souza.

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Freeze Frame: “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” (PG-13), “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot” (R)
July 27, 2018 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"

At age 56, it may seem impossible for Tom Cruise to do his own stunts, pilot doomed helicopters, run his own cameras and lead high-speed motorcycle chases. But he and his co-stars do all this and more in the sixth entry in the breathless action franchise, “Mission: Impossible – Fallout.” Ethan Hunt and his IMF team must attain three nuclear warheads from powerful and skilled anarchists before the terrorist group kills millions. Henry “Superman” Cavill joins the team as an intrusive CIA operative who authorities force on the crew. Plot-wise, it’s goofy, convoluted and, yes, impossible. But there’s enough explosive action and spectacle in “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” to please demanding and undemanding fans alike.

Joaquin Phoenix gives a powerful performance as famed paraplegic cartoonist John Callahan in “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot.” This irreverent and sharply acted biopic concentrates not on Callahan’s work or the controversial subject matter of his cartoons, which often poked fun at people with disabilities. Instead, writer-director Gus Van Sant focuses on Callahan’s recovery from alcoholism and his struggle with a number of emotional demons. The rock-solid supporting cast includes Jonah Hill, Rooney Mara, Jack Black and Carrie Brownstein. The film’s structure, which bounces back-and-forth in time, sometimes works against it and the pace is a bit poky. But Phoenix is spot on in a role he seems born to play.

Also opening this week, “Blindspotting” is a buddy comedy and social commentary starring and written by Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal. “Teen Titans Go! To the Movies” is an animated adventure based on the DC Comics TV series. Mila Kunis and Kate McKinnon star in The Spy Who Dumped Me,” a comedy about friends who accidentally get caught up in international intrigue. “Hot Summer Nights” is a teen romantic drama starring Timothee Chalamet.

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Freeze Frame: “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again,” (PG-13), “The Equalizer 2” (R)
July 20, 2018 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"

Audiences say they want originality, but do they actually prefer familiarity? If the latter is true, then “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” should catch the fancy of audiences who made the original 2008 Abba musical a box office hit. All of the original cast members are back, joined by a cadre of actors who portray the characters in their earlier years. The flimsy-dual timeline plot doesn’t make sense if you think too hard about it but thinking hard isn’t what this movie is about. Meryl Streep’s role, the best thing about the original, has sadly been reduced to a cameo. But her appearance is still the best thing about this movie. It’s a breezy, cheerful lark with plenty of earworm pop tunes that will invade your brain for days after viewing. “Mama Mia! Here We Go Again” is the cinematic equivalent of a mirror ball; a cheesy, sparkly distraction.

Familiarity also abounds in “The Equalizer 2,” Denzel Washington’s first sequel, the follow-up to his 2014 action thriller that was based on the old TV series. Washington plays a former CIA black ops agent who uses his impressive kills to wreak violent revenge on the people who murdered his friend, played by Melissa Leo. Director Antoine Fuqua punctuates the plot with some well-staged and tense action scenes, but the movie is also burdened with some long dull stretches. Still, it’s got Denzel, one of the few actors who can elevate this kind of sadistic and brutal material.

Also opening this week, “Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms” is a Japanese anime fantasy about a peaceful clan whose idyllic life is upended when an army invades in order to obtain their secret to immortality. “Unfriended: Dark Web” is a sequel to the 2015 horror hit about the deadly pitfalls of the internet.

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Freeze Frame: “Skyscraper” (PG-13), “Sorry to Bother You” (R), “Leave No Trace” (PG), “Three Identical Strangers” (PG-13)
July 13, 2018 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"

“Die Hard” meets “The Towering Inferno” in “Skyscraper,” Duane “The Rock” Johnson’s third action/adventure special effects extravaganza in the past seven months. Johnson plays a security expert whose family is trapped above the fire line when the world’s tallest building in Hong Kong is torched by a crime syndicate. Can he save his loved ones while battling the elements, the bad guys and the cops? Need you ask? This by-the-numbers thriller delivers just what you’d expect, and that’s probably enough for Johnson’s legion of fans.

You’ve got to give writer/director Boots Riley a lot of credit. His film debut “Sorry to Bother You” is an original, audacious work. This comic sci-fi social commentary stars LaKeith Stanfield as an uber-talented telemarketer in the near future who unwittingly uncovers an evil corporation’s massive plot to enslave people. One could argue that this R-rated farce often goes way too far, but “Sorry to Bother You” is smart, funny and observant about the state of racial affairs.

Homelessness, PTSD and family dynamics are at the heart of Debra Granik’s low-key drama, “Leave No Trace.” Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie are excellent as a father and daughter who live off the grid. Things get complicated when authorities force them into state run shelter. This slow-moving feature is realistic, heartfelt and sincere.

The documentary “Three Identical Strangers” presents the remarkable story of triplets, separated at birth and adopted by different families, who accidentally discover one another at the age of nineteen. They become instant celebrities and the film documents their extreme highs and devastating lows while raising intriguing questions about the very nature of identity. “Three Identical Strangers” kickstarts the longtime “nature vs. nurture” debate.

Also opening this week, “Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation” is another animated monster comedy featuring the voice and juvenile humor of Adam Sandler. "Nancy" is a drama starring Andrea Riseborough, about a disturbed woman who takes on false identities on the internet.

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Freeze Frame: “Ant-Man and the Wasp” (PG-13), “Boundaries” (R)
July 6, 2018 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"

In the Marvel Universe, we’ve recently been hit with the dark tragedy of “Avengers: Infinity War” and the comic superhero parody, “Deadpool 2.” In tone, the latest Marvel entry, “Ant-Man and the Wasp” falls somewhere in between. Paul Rudd is back in a light-hearted thriller that has Ant-Man joining forces with The Wasp, played by Evangeline Lilly, in an attempt to save her mother from entrapment in the Quantum realm. It’s brilliantly produced, action-packed and benefits greatly from Rudd’s likeable persona and an easy-going, summer popcorn movie vibe.

In contrast, “Boundaries” is an oddball road trip movie that doesn’t quite live up to its promise. Vera Farmiga plays an eccentric woman who reluctantly agrees to drive her estranged, irascible father, played Christopher Plummer, from Seattle to LA. Turns out, he’s a pot dealer who’s using her as an unwitting mule to haul a load of goods to a Southern Callifornia client. Both of these actors are terrific, but the film is self-consciously quirky and never quite credible.

Also opening this week, “The First Purge” is a prequel to the horror series about the near future where murder is legal one night per year. “A Kid Like Jake” is a story about a child’s struggle with gender identity and the rift it causes between his parents. Claire Danes, Jim Parsons, Octavia Spencer and Ann Dowd star. “Eating Animals” is a documentary about what’s in your food, based on Jonathan Safran Foer’s bestseller. Natalie Portman narrates. “Damsel” is a western that gives the genre a few twists. Robert Pattinson, Mia Wasikowska and Robert Forster star. “Whitney” is a documentary about the late, great singer, Whitney Houston. And finally, “No Postage Necessary”
is a romantic dramedy that’s most notable as the first film screened on a blockchain platform available for purchase with cryptocurrency.

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Freeze Frame: “Sicario: Day of the Soldado” (R), “Uncle Drew” (PG-13), “Mountain” (PG)
June 29, 2018 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"

“Sicario: Day of the Soldado” is a sequel to the acclaimed drug war drama from 2015. The follow up is equally grim and cynical, this time adding the element of human trafficking along the southern border to the mix. James Brolin’s amoral federal agent recruits the reluctant Benicio Del Toro to stage a Mexican kidnapping aimed at starting a war between cartels. The screenplay crackles with sharp dialogue, but the violent story takes some turns that stretch credibility to the limit. Still, it’s provocative and edgy.

One of the rarest cinematic genres is movies adapted from TV commercials. In the goofy comedy “Uncle Drew” NBA star Kyrie Irving dons old age makeup and takes on some young bloods in a basketball tourney. He’s joined by Shaquille O’Neal, Reggie Miller, Nate Robinson, Chris Webber and Lisa Leslie, all under a ton of latex. It’s all very gimmicky and predictable, but more entertaining than it has any business being.

“Mountain” is an involving documentary that combines stunning visuals, poetic narration and an elegant orchestral score to explore man’s fasciation and obsession with conquering rugged peaks. Filmmaker Jennifer Peedom uses drones and body cameras to capture climbers, bikers, hang gliders, skiers and all manner of extreme sportsmen risking life and limb on mountains all around the world. Willem Dafoe provides the narration culled from explorer Robert Macfarlane’s renowned memoir, “Mountains of the Mind.” For those disinclined to put their lives on the line, “Mountain” provides a vicarious thrill from the comfort of your theater seat.

Also opening this week, “The Catcher Was a Spy” is a true-life drama about a major league baseball player who was drafted to help stop the Nazis from developing an atomic bomb during WWII. Paul Rudd stars. “The Domestics” is yet another post-apocalyptic drama. Kate Bosworth stars.

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Freeze Frame: “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” (PG-13), “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” (PG-13), “American Animals” (R)
June 22, 2018 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"

If you haven’t witnessed the marketing blitz for “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” I hope you get your TV, radio and internet service back soon. The fifth film in the popular series should take in a monstrous haul at the box office but doesn’t quite live up to the quality of the last outing. Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard and the special effects magicians all return to save the resurrected dinosaurs from a volcanic eruption that threatens to wipe out their island. While certainly watchable and visually spectacular, the Jurassic plot elements may be getting a bit long in the tooth.

Was the real Fred Rogers the kindly, affable, empathetic fellow he appeared to be on his long-running PBS kids’ show “Mr. Rogers Neighborhood?” Oscar-winning filmmaker Morgan Neville’s documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” shows that indeed he was. The movie focuses on the Presbyterian minister’s back story, his motives and his passion for kind-hearted, morally instructive children’s programming. Even those who weren’t fans of his show may be surprised by just how moving this loving portrait actually is. For those who watched as kids, it’s nostalgia heaven.

“American Animals” is an intriguing hybrid movie, part documentary, part dramatic re-enactment. This skillfully made film intricately interweaves the two in its depiction of the true story of a boneheaded heist. Barry Keoghan and Evan Peters play a couple of college kids who finds out how badly things can go when you rob a library of some valuable books. While it’s a comic crime thriller, “American Animals” is also a thought-provoking examination of memory, morality and the consequences of choice.

Also opening this week, “Izzy Gets the F*ck Across Town” is a comedy about a young woman who traverses LA to crash the engagement party of her ex-boyfriend and her ex-best friend. Mackenzie Davis stars.

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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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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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