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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: “Logan Lucky,” “The Hitman’s Bodyguard,” “Brigsby Bear”
August 18, 2017 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"

Actor Channing Tatum and director Steven Soderbergh go rogue with their independently produced and distributed comic heist movie, “Logan Lucky.” Tatum plays a fired miner who decides to rip off all the cash for a big race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. He recruits a ragtag posse of hayseed thieves for a complicated caper. The terrific cast includes Adam Driver, Seth MacFarlane, Daniel Craig and Hilary Swank. Soderbergh seems to be doing a self-parody of his best-known movie. So, you could call this goofy but entertaining popcorn flick, “Redneck Ocean’s 11.”

Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson, two extremely likable actors, give a big boost to “The Hitman’s Bodyguard,” an overlong and violent action comedy about a protection agent escorting a hired killer to testify at a trial at the International Court of Justice in The Hague. There’s not a moment of credibility in this over-the-top farce, but it has wild stunts, lengthy car chases and plenty of R-rated mayhem for fans of the genre.

“Saturday Night Live’s” Kyle Mooney stars in and co-wrote the offbeat comedy, “Brigsby Bear.” It’s a high-concept, low-key tale about a man, kidnapped at birth and raised in isolation. When he’s freed at age 25, he attempts to complete the story of a children’s TV show he was raised on. It’s odd, but surprisingly sweet.

Also opening this week, “Whose Streets?” is a documentary about the uprising in Ferguson, Missouri. “Wind River” is a suspense drama starring Jeremy Renner about mysterious deaths on a Native American reservation. “Paint it Black” is a drama about the difficult dynamic that evolves between a suicide victim’s mother and girlfriend. “Kuso” is a horror film set in the aftermath of an LA earthquake. “Dave Made a Maze” is a horror comedy about a man trapped in a cardboard maze of his own creation. “68 Kill” is described as a punk-rock romantic comedy about a young woman and her boyfriend who decide to rip off her older sugar daddy. Catherine Deneuve stars in the French drama “The Midwife” about the relationship that develops between a woman and her late father’s mistress.

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Freeze Frame: “Step,” “The Glass Castle”
August 11, 2017 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"

The term “uplifting” is often overused, but it’s apt when describing “Step,” a documentary about a step dancing team from an all-girls high school in inner city Baltimore. Don’t expect lots of dance footage, however. “Step” instead focuses on the personal struggles of several team members, all of whom face unique challenges. The film shows how the work and discipline of the dance team help the girls in their academic and personal lives.

It’s virtually impossible not to get caught up in these girls’ lives and enthusiastically root them on. That makes the climatic dance competition all the more compelling. “Step” is an involving documentary in step with the times.

Oscar-winner Brie Larson stars in the big screen adaptation of Jeannette Walls’s best-selling memoir about her difficult upbringing in a family run by two very eccentric parents. Larson is fine as the adult Jeannette, but young actresses Ella Anderson and Chandler Head are equally good as the childhood versions. How well this movie works for you may relay on your reaction to Woody Harrelson as the family’s iconoclastic, alcoholic patriarch and Naomi Watts as Jeannette’s spacey artist mom.

Director Destin Daniel Cretton takes a sincere approach, but the movie never achieves the authenticity he achieved with his earlier collaboration with Larson, the touching film about at-risk teens, “Short Term 12.” Chalk up “The Glass Castle” as a near miss.

Also opening this week, “The Only Living Boy in New York” is a drama starring Callum Turner about an aimless recent college grad who winds up having an affair with his father’s mistress. Kate Beckinsale, Pierce Brosnan and Jeff Bridges co-star. “Annabelle: Creation” is yet another horror film in the “Conjuring” franchise. “Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature” is a sequel to the 2014 animated tale featuring Surly Squirrel.

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Freeze Frame: “Detroit,” “Lady Macbeth”
August 4, 2017 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"

One way or another, you will be disturbed by Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow’s grim and troubling historical drama, “Detroit.” Either the police brutality and racism will rattle you or the movie’s sadistically violent depiction of it will do the trick. During the summer of ’67, civil unrest gripped much of Motor City. An incident at the Algiers Motel left three black men dead and three white police officers accused of homicide.

Bigelow places the audience in the midst of the mayhem, forcing us to be witnesses and providing no relief. Some viewers may resent the relentlessly brutal, sledgehammer approach to the material, but there is no denying its effectiveness. “Detroit” takes an unblinking look at a very dark incident in our history, one that, sadly, still resonates today.

The drama, “Lady Macbeth” isn’t about Shakespeare’s villainous Scottish queen, but was inspired by her ruthlessness. Although based on a Russian novel, the action of “Lady Macbeth” has been shifted rural Victorian England in 1865. Newcomer Florence Pugh plays Katherine, a young woman stuck in a loveless marriage to a nasty landowner. Things get complicated when she has a torrid affair with a virile workman, played by Cosmo Jarvis. When Katherine’s loutish husband gets wise, Katherine gets homicidal.

Pugh gives a riveting performance, initially gaining our sympathy as a victim and then losing it as she transforms into a malicious manipulator. Pugh gives “Lady Macbeth” its nasty edge.

Also opening this week, Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey star in an adaptation of Stephen King’s “The Dark Tower.” It was hidden from critics, always a bad sign. The same is true of the aptly titled thriller “Kidnap,” starring Halle Berry. “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power,” is the follow-up to Al Gore’s Oscar-winning environmental documentary. Michael Cera leads a diverse cast in a multi-plotted drama, “Person to Person.”

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Freeze Frame: “Atomic Blonde,” “The Emoji Movie,” “A Ghost Story”
July 28, 2017 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"

The provocative Charlize Theron and some smashing fight choreography provide a potent one-two punch for “Atomic Blonde,” an ultra-violent adaptation of a popular graphic novel. Theron plays a British secret agent with a particular set of skills who is sent on a dangerous mission to Germany in 1989, just prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall. This celebration of sex and violence works in spite of its herky-jerky pace and ludicrous storyline. Theron’s tough-as-nails performance and a nostalgia-inducing 80s score help make “Atomic Blonde” a decadent guilty pleasure.

The plot of the animated flick “The Emoji Movie” plays a bit like homage to “Inside Out,” but it lacks the same depth. So just what happens inside a kid’s cell phone? We discover that the emojis live in the city of Textopolis and anxiously await their chance to be called upon for a text message. Things get complicated with one emoji is too animated to maintain a single facial expression. Comic T.J. Miller, James Corden, Maya Rudolph and Sir Patrick Stewart provide the voice work for this silly but likable farce.

“A Ghost Story” is an extremely smart, thoughtful and arty entry in the genre. Oscar-winner Casey Affleck stars as a man killed in an auto accident whose spirit lingers aimlessly around his home and wife, played by Rooney Mara. In his ghostly state, he becomes untethered in time. The filmmakers pose some interesting philosophical questions, but the excessively long, lingering shots are more than a bit self-indulgent. Still, it’s an inventive and surprisingly melancholy work.

Also opening this week, “Killing Ground” is a grisly, unrated Australian horror film about killers who terrorize a couple on a camping trip. “The Reagan Show” is a documentary about the 40th U.S. President, Ronald Reagan. “City of Ghosts” is a documentary chronicling ISIS atrocities in Syria.

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FREEZE FRAME: “Maudie,” “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets,” “The Little Hours”
July 21, 2017 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"

British actress Sally Hawkins gives the kind of performance Oscar loves in “Maudie,” a biopic about Maude Lewis, the late Canadian folk artist who gained fame in the 1950s. The story covers her struggle with crippling rheumatoid arthritis, her dysfunctional family, stark poverty in rural Nova Scotia and her awkward marriage to her boorish and sometimes abusive husband, well played by Ethan Hawke.

While it never gives us any insight into what made her great, the film’s sincere approach and the terrific performances transform “Maudie” into a touching and very warm character study.

From the other end of the cinematic universe comes “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets,” French filmmaker Luc Besson’s wacky adaptation of a sci-fi comic book series. Dane DeHaan plays Valerian, an intergalactic agent who upholds the law in multiple dimensions, aided by his partner and lover, Laureline, played by Cara Delevigne. The plot and dialogue are derivative and goofy in the extreme, but the movie’s giddy playfulness and impressive visuals should be enough to please fan boys.

“The Little Hours” is an adaptation of a couple of bawdy comedic stories from Boccaccio’s 14th century work, “The Decameron.” Alison Brie, Dave Franco, Aubrey Plaza and John C. Reilly lead the cast in the story of foul-mouthed nuns who have a sexual awakening when a handsome and virile laborer comes to work at the convent. It doesn’t all work, but the talented cast wrings some raunchy laughs from the irreverent material.

Also opening this week, “Dunkirk” is the acclaimed WWII epic from filmmaker Christopher Nolan about the evacuation of Allied troops from France. “Girls Trip” is an R-rated, ‘girls gone wild’ comedy from the African-American perspective. Regina Hall, Queen Latifah and Jada Pinkett Smith star. “Score” is a documentary about some of the world’s great film composers.

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Freeze Frame: “War for the Planet of the Apes,” “Wish Upon”
July 14, 2017 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"

It may seem absurd, but I’m not monkeying around. The franchise update of “The Planet of the Apes” series that began in 2011 may be the best Hollywood franchise reboot ever. The third installment, “War for the Planet of the Apes,” is a visually spectacular and riveting drama that focuses on the ongoing confrontation between two species vying for world domination.

Director Matt Reeves uses special effects the way that they should be used, to help drive a compelling story. Andy Serkis, aided by the work of a crack team of computer animators, is terrific as Caesar, the intelligent chimpanzee who became the reluctant leader of the ape rebellion. When a human colonel, played by Woody Harrelson, kills his wife and young son, Caesar goes on quest for revenge.

Like all good sci-fi, there is depth to this story. It’s layered with sly social commentary and deals with themes that seem downright biblical. The only downside to this involving entry is its extensive length.

Apes may not really be intelligent, but the filmmakers behind “The War for the Planet of the Apes” know their audience is.

“Wish Upon” is the latest in a long line of horror movies to deal with the old trope, “Be careful what you wish for.” Joey King plays a teenager who gets an ancient Chinese wishing box and uses her wishes to gain riches and popularity. But, there is a dark price to pay. King is convincing and the film has a few shocks, but most ticket buyers will probably wish they had their money and 89 minutes back.

Also opening this week, “A Very Sordid Wedding” is the long-awaited sequel to the Southern-Fried comedy, “Sordid Lives.” “Band Aid” is a comedy about warring mates who try to save their marriage by forming a rock band. "The Tree" is a locally produced film about an elderly woman (Joicie Appell) who journeys from Wamego, Kansas to Terre Haute, Indiana to visit a childhood friend.

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Freeze Frame: “Spider-Man: Homecoming”
July 7, 2017 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"

Okay, so just who needs yet another reboot of the Spider-Man franchise? After all, this is the third time the story has been reworked since 2002. Well, I guess we do since “Spider-Man: Homecoming” is arguably the best Spider-Man movie, yet.

British actor Tom Holland from “The Impossible,” plays Peter Parker, the awkward high school nerd who wants nothing more than to become a member of The Avengers. The well-meaning teen aims to please, but Tony Stark, played by Robert Downey, Jr., realizes he just isn’t ready. Our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man attempts to prove him wrong when he’s confronted with a challenge from super villain, The Vulture, played by Michael Keaton.

Naturally, the screenwriters have provided plenty of challenges for our young superhero-in-training.

The movie is well over two hours long, but that time is filled to the brim with action, humor and spectacular production values that have improved significantly since 2002. Keaton is excellent as a man driven to the brink and he provides plenty of menace for our young hero.

But the movie belongs to Holland who hits all the right notes as the naive but gifted kid with a lot of growing up to do.

Even for those who may be getting a bit weary of the whole Marvel Universe thing, “Spider-Man: Homecoming” proves that the third time is the charm for Spidey.

Also opening this week, “The Big Sick” is an acclaimed comic drama. Pakistani-American Kumail Nanjiani stars as a standup comic who falls for an American student, played by Zoe Kazan, who suffers a health crisis. Nanjing and his real life wife, Emily Gordon, wrote the screenplay, based on their own romance. “The Journey” is a fictionalized account of a road trip between Northern Irish Unionist leader Ian Paisley and Sinn Fein politico Martin McGuinness. Timothy Spall and Colm Meany star. "Austin Found" is a comedy about a woman who has her daughter kidnapped for the publicity. "Darkness Rising" is a horror entry about a girl who visits her old home where a family massacre occurred.

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Freeze Frame: “Baby Driver,” “Despicable Me 3,” “The Beguiled,” “The Hero”
June 30, 2017 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"

Decadent, violent, profane…and wildly entertaining, “Baby Driver” is a zippy heist film fueled by a kinetic soundtrack that should appeal to both Baby Boomers and Millennials. Ansel Elgort plays a skilled getaway driver who uses music to help him concentrate and overcome tinnitus. Things get sticky when he crosses his fellow thieves, played by Kevin Spacey, Jon Hamm and Jamie Foxx. In the case of “Baby Driver,” style provides a high-octane boost over substance.

Fans of Gru and The Minions should enjoy “Despicable Me 3,” which is actually the fourth installment in the franchise. Gru meets his long lost twin brother Dru and they decide to commit one last dastardly crime. While not quite up to the level of the previous films, it’s still a clever and likable animated farce.

Director Sophia Coppola brings a very restrained tone to her remake of the old Clint Eastwood Civil War drama, “The Beguiled.” Coin Farrell plays a wounded Union deserter who is cared for by Nicole Kidman at her small Southern girls boarding school. Jealousy and sexual tension are the result. It’s modestly effective, but perhaps a bit too low key for its own good.

Veteran cowboy actor Sam Elliott plays a veteran cowboy actor in “The Hero,” a character study about a fading Hollywood star facing old age, disease and a May-December romance. Elliott is perfectly cast and his strong performance is the main attraction in this deliberately paced drama.

Also opening this week, Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler star in the comedy “The House” about a couple who open a gambling hall in their home. It was hidden from critics, which is generally a bad sign. “2:22” is a sci-fi thriller about a man who experiences a bizarre event every day at 2:22pm.

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Freeze Frame: “Transformers: The Last Knight”
June 23, 2017 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"

Just how does one transform $260 million into something pretty much worthless? Just ask director Michael Bay, who spent all that dough on the latest Hasbro Toys come to life extravaganza, “Transformers: The Last Knight.” It’s not that you can’t see where the money was spent. After all, the movie provides two hours and forty-eight minutes of special effects overkill that undoubtedly employed a lot of computer animators. But the end result is a mind-numbing mix of robot battles, insipid dialogue and borderline racist and misogynistic hokum that feels totally out of step with the times.

Mark Wahlberg is back as inventor Cade Yeager, who, as it turns out, is the chosen one in an epic battle between Earth’s protectors and the Transformers’ home pseudo-planet. By the time the final conflict comes around, you might be wishing for both to blow up.

The movie’s only saving grace is a slumming Sir Anthony Hopkins who mostly manages to retain his dignity as he collects his check.

The fifth “Transformers” installment isn’t the worst movie ever made, but it may be the biggest waste of money.

Also opening this week, “Ripped” is a stoner sci-fi comedy starring Faizon Love about two friends who smoke some super secret CIA weed in the 80s and wake up in the present day. “My Entire High School is Sinking Into the Sea” is an animated satire featuring voice work from Jason Schwartzman, Lena Dunham, Maya Rudolph and Susan Sarandon. “Beatriz at Dinner” is a comic drama set at a dinner party given by an immigrant health care worker where she clashes with a billionaire. Salma Hayek and John Lithgow star. “The Exception,” also known as “The Kaiser’s Last Kiss,” is a WWII thriller about a German solider investigating exiled Kaiser Wilhelm in The Netherlands. Christopher Plummer stars.

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Freeze Frame: “Rough Night,” “47 Meters Down,” “Cars 3,” “Kill Switch,” “Paris Can Wait”
June 16, 2017 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"

The raunchy ‘girls gone wild’ comedy “Rough Night” wastes a talented cast on an effort that tries to be the female equivalent of “The Hangover.” Scarlett Johansson’s friends plan a wild bachelorette party in Miami but, in a coke-induced haze, they accidentally kill a male stripper. Yes, there are some bawdy laughs, but not enough to sustain a feature-length film. It’s a rough night for the audience.

Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the theater, we have “47 Meters Down.” Mandy Moore and Claire Holt play sisters on vacation in Mexico who get trapped in a shark cage at the bottom of the ocean, surrounded by man-eaters. It all seems pretty familiar territory by now.

Pixar goes back to the gas pump for more animated racecar action in “Cars 3.” While it’s not Pixar at its best, “Cars 3” is still goes through the paces in a cheery and spectacularly animated way.

“Kill Switch” is an effects heavy sci-fi outing that owes a lot to video games. Dan Stevens plays a pilot who faces fire from military drones and soldiers upon his return from a parallel universe. Like a game, much of the action is shown from his point of view. The movie could have benefited from a point of view.

Diane Lane stars in the romantic road film “Paris Can Wait,” the first dramatic feature from 81-year-old writer/director Eleanor Coppola, wife of Francis Ford Coppola. It’s a bit like watching someone else’s French vacation slides.

Also opening this week, “The Book of Henry” is a drama about a small town 11-year-old lad who hatches a plan to save his neighbor from her abusive dad. “All Eyez on Me” is a dramatic film that claims to tell the “true and untold story” of rapper Tupac Shakur.

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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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