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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: “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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Freeze Frame: “Destroyer” (R), “They Shall Not Grow Old” (R)
February 1, 2019 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"

The ‘down-on-his-luck cop trying for redemption’ genre gets a gender change in “Destroyer.” Nicole Kidman goes grimy and gritty in this dark character study about an LAPD detective with a lot of personal baggage whose past comes back to haunt her as she tries to unravel a murder mystery. Kidman goes all out in a performance that you’ll either find haunting or overblown. Count me somewhere in the middle. “Destroyer” tries a bit too hard to be grubby.

It’s been 100 years since WWII, but the new documentary “They Shall Not Grow Old” gives the events of the war an immediacy we haven’t seen before. Filmmaker Peter Jackson of “Lord of the Rings” fame has taken old, shaky black-and-white war footage stored at the Imperial War Museum in Great Britain and given it a high-tech update. This restored film has been speed-rectified, colorized and given impressive sound enhancement. Jackson also employs skillful editing to tell the story of British ground troops who served in the hellish trenches on the Western Front, narrated by the actual survivors whose stories were recorded by the BBC in the 1960s. The resulting film is an emotionally involving experience that will probably be used by history classes for years to come. War is Hell, and “They Shall Not Grow Old” provides vivid proof.

Also opening this week, “Miss Bala” is an action thriller from Catherine Hardwick, best known for “Twilight.” Gina Rodriguez plays a makeup artist who tries to turn the tables on a drug cartel after they kidnap her best friend in Tijuana. “The World Before Your Feet” is a documentary about a man who, over a 6-year period, walked all 8,000 miles of roads in New York City. “Everybody Knows” is a kidnapping drama from Spain starring Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem.

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Freeze Frame: “Cold War” (R), “Stan and Ollie” (PG), “In Like Flynn” (R)
January 25, 2019 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"

“Cold War” is one of the best European films of the year and is, rightfully, a contender for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. This bittersweet tale is about the on-and-off romance between a young singer and her choir director that begins in 1950s Communist Poland and makes memorable pit stops in other parts of Europe over a period of years. It’s artfully directed by Pawel Pawlikowski, features stunning black-and-white cinematography and showcases a star-making performance from Joanna Kulig. “Cold War” is involving and packs an emotional wallop.

Melancholy may be the best term to describe “Stan & Ollie,” a very sweet, low-key tale about famed comedy duo Laurel and Hardy and their attempt to revive their sputtering film and theater careers in the 1950s. John C. Reilly and Steve Coogan are terrific in this beautifully produced comic drama. While the stars have the requisite chemistry, Laurel and Hardy’s gentle humor may not translate well for modern audiences.

If his autobiographies are to be believed, 1940s Hollywood actor Errol Flynn had amazing adventures on the high seas before becoming a swashbuckling hero in classic movies like “The Adventures of Robin Hood.” The film “In Like Flynn” stars Thomas Cocquerel as the young Flynn who voyages up the east coast of Australia in an attempt to find gold in Papua New Guinea. Along the way he has risky encounters with pirates, Chinese opium smugglers and Australian mobsters. It’s a rousing story undone by phony, routine direction and uninspired performances.

Also opening this week, “Serenity” is a film noir thriller starring Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway. “The Kid Who Would be King” is a contemporary spin on the King Arthur legend about a kid who discovers Excalibur. “Ghostbox Cowboy” is a dark comedy about a Texan who runs into trouble attempting a con in China.

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Freeze Frame: “Glass” (PG-13), “Burning” (R)
January 18, 2019 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"

The films from writer/director M. Knight Shyamalan are always a crap shoot. When he finds his stride, as he did with “The Sixth Sense” and “Signs,” his movies create an effective and otherworldly atmosphere. When he loses his grasp, as with “The Last Airbender” and “The Happening,” it’s hard to believe that it’s the same filmmaker. His latest thriller is “Glass,” a dark comic book movie that provides the conclusion to a trilogy that also includes “Unbreakable” from 2000 and 2017’s “Split.” As you might expect, the results are a mixed bag.

Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson return from “Unbreakable” and James McAvoy reprises his brilliant role as a man with multiple personalities in “Split.” Shyamalan’s complicated plot amounts to a thesis on comic book superhero origins. It requires an inordinate amount of time and dialogue to explain, turning the actors into narrators instead of characters. Even though the movie is overlong, there’s little real character interaction.

While “Glass” isn’t bad, it just a disappointing conclusion to an ambitious premise that became too convoluted for its own good.

For patient viewers, the Korean film “Burning” offers many rewards. A sure thing for an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film, “Burning” is both a thriller and an effective character study involving a young man whose girlfriend returns from an African trip with a rich, enigmatic stranger who disrupts their lives. The wealthy stranger is played by Steven Yeun, best known for his role as Glenn Rhee on “The Walking Dead.” There’s a lot going on in this low-key drama that effectively builds tension as our protagonist attempts to solve the mystery of his girlfriend and the secretive stranger who admits to a love of burning down abandoned greenhouses. In “Burning,” filmmaker Chang-dong Lee offers an effective slow burn.

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Freeze Frame: Russ’ “Best and Worst Films of 2018” list!
January 4, 2019 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"

It’s time to take a look back at the movie year. Here is my list of the ten best movies of 2018. (Scroll down to see my list of the WORST films of the year!)

2) ROMA (R)

Russ’ WORST films of 20198, the ones to avoid adding to your streaming list:


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Freeze Frame: “Vice” (R), “Holmes and Watson” (PG-13)
December 28, 2018 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"

Looking for a cheery comedy for the holiday season? How about a movie featuring the warm and loveable former Defense Secretary and George W. Bush Vice President Dick Cheney? “Vice” is an offbeat political black comedy from the mind of writer/director Adam McKay, the guy behind the 2015 satiric civics lesson “The Big Short.” As you might guess, “Vice” is a scathing take down of the Republican operative who was, arguably, the most powerful Vice President of all time.

Oscar-winning actor Christian Bale does an uncanny impression as the enigmatic Chaney, Amy Adams is his pushy and ambitious wife, Lynne, Sam Rockwell plays a clueless George W. Bush, Steve Carell is the conniving Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Tyler Perry is repressed Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Like “The Big Short, “Vice” is smart, episodic and often darkly funny. But “Vice” isn’t as successful, partly because Cheney is a very guarded, somber and emotionally cool individual, not a magnetic lead. “Vice” delivers its point of view with a sledgehammer, so it’s unlikely to win any hearts and minds. If you already dislike Cheney, “Vice” will reinforce your point of view. If you like Cheney, “Vice” will strike you as a sneering hatchet job.

Still, “Vice” is Shakespearian compared to “Holmes and Watson.” This broad comedy reunites Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly who had success together with “Step Brothers” and “Talladega Nights.” This time out, they play the famed detective duo attempting to unravel the mystery of an attempt on the life of Queen Victoria in the early 1900s.

Ferrell and Reilly try hard, maybe too hard, to breathe some life into director Etan Cohen’s juvenile script. While there are a couple of funny moments, the effort seems pretty desperate. “Holmes and Watson” is a bona fide contender for worst movie of the year.

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Freeze Frame: “Mary Poppins Returns” (PG), “Aquaman” (PG-13), “Ben is Back” (R), “Vox Lux” (R), “Mary Queen of Scots” (R), “Shoplifters” (R), “Welcome to Marwen” (PG-13)
December 21, 2018 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"

The 1964 classic “Mary Poppins” was practically perfect in every way. Although Disney’s cheery sequel, “Mary Poppins Returns” I nearly a slavish remake, Emily Blunt is delightful. “Mary Poppins Returns” goes down nicely with or without a spoonful of sugar.

Jason Momoa is a likably lunky lead in “Aquaman.” Sadly, he has to battle a leaden script and enough CGI overkill to fill an ocean. He may be in the Justice League, yet his movie isn’t quite in the same league as “Wonder Woman.”

“Ben is Back” is half of a great movie. Julia Roberts and Lucas Hedges are excellent in the story of a teen in drug rehab who shows up on his mom’s doorstep on Christmas Eve. The first half examines some intriguing family dynamics. The second half loses its way as it morphs into an improbable thriller.

“Vox Lux” is an interesting idea in search of a movie. Natalie Portman stars as a self-indulgent pop star who rose to fame as the result of a tragedy. It’s ambitious, but a bit dull and off-putting.

Saorise Ronan and Margot Robbie give “Mary Queen of Scots” the royal treatment, but their performances can’t make up for the movie’s inconsistent tone.

“Shoplifters” is a Japanese entry about a likable family of petty thieves. This sweet-natured and sad film is also a heartfelt and touching social commentary.

Steve Carell stars in the quirky drama, “Welcome to Marwen” which incorporates animated dolls to tell the tragic story of real-life photographer Mark Hogancamp. It’s an interesting experiment but a movie misfire.

Also opening this week, “American Renegades” is an action flick about Navy Seals and sunken treasure. “Second Act” is a romantic comedy starring Jennifer Lopez. “Bumblebee” is the latest in the Transformers franchise. “Anna and the Apocalypse” is a zombie Christmas musical!

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Freeze Frame: “Roma” (R), “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” (PG), “The Favourite” (R), “Mortal Engines” (PG-13)
December 14, 2018 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"

Filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón can go ahead and make space on his mantle for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar he’ll receive for “Roma,” a fond recollection of his childhood in Mexico City. Newcomer Yalitza Aparicio leads the film as Cuarón’s beloved nanny, Cleo, an indigenous woman with more than her share of problems. There isn’t much of a plot to speak of, but it’s a heartfelt and beautifully photographed black-and-white cinematic memoir.

“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” is a wildly imaginative, energetic animated Marvel epic that finally captures Spider-Man's cheeky humor. This is as close to a comic book come to life as you're likely to ever see on the big screen. Involving and fun, “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” is the best animated film of 2018.

Olivia Coleman's splendid performance as Queen Anne is the best thing about “The Favourite,” an over-directed period piece that plays like an 18th century version of "All About Eve." Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz are also fine as two ladies of the court who employ Machiavellian means as they vie for the queen’s favor. It’s a nasty battle of wits and wills.

“Mortal Engines” is an oddball cinematic spectacular based on Philp Reeve’s sci-fi novel. In a steampunk post-apocalyptic future, a movie gets swallowed whole by its own gargantuan production design. There isn’t a moment in this spectacle that is the least bit interesting. “Mortal Engines” is the first novel of a quartet. Let’s hope they leave this overwrought opus a solo.

Also opening this week, “The Mule” is the latest drama from filmmaker Clint Eastwood. He stars in the true story of a 90-year-old man who becomes an unwitting drug runner. “Once Upon a Deadpool” is a PG-13 re-edited version of this year’s earlier R-rated Marvel hit, “Deadpool 2.”

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Freeze Frame: “At Eternity’s Gate” (R), “Maria by Callas” (PG), “Asher” (R)
December 7, 2018 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"

A strong performance by Wilem Defoe is the main attraction of the eccentric biopic "At Eternity's Gate," the story of the last days in the life of Vincent Van Gogh. Filmmaker Julian Schnabel is also a renowned artist, so this ambitious arthouse entry may have special appeal to aesthetes.

While lofty pretentions aren’t a bad thing, Schnabel’s instance on herky-jerky camera work and glacial pace gets a little tiring. Individual scenes work beautifully, particularly a conversation Van Gogh has with a priest, played by Mads Mikkelsen, who must decide whether or not to release the troubled artist from an asylum.

But “At Eternity’s Gate” may be a bit too affected for its own good.

The most acclaimed operatic diva of her time is the subject of the documentary "Maria By Callas." Footage from TV interviews and home movies allows Callas to tell her own story. Callas' letters are read by famed soprano and KC native Joyce DiDonato. The film covers her insulated youth, her rise to fame, the heat of the spotlight and her on-and-off romance with Aristotle Onassis. “Maria by Callas” is intriguing even for non-opera fans.

Ron Perlman plays an aging hit man in "Asher," a violent thriller that also stars Famke Janssen as a woman he falls for. While it's competent, there are more than a few moments that stretch credibility and the whole affair seems a bit too familiar. "Asher" just misses the target.

Also opening this week, “Never-ending Man: Hayao Miyazaki” is a documentary about Japan’s most famous and acclaimed anime director. “The Mercy” is a drama that tells the true story of an amateur sailor’s disastrous attempt to win a solo around-the-world yacht race in 1968 in a desperate attempt to save his failing business with the cash prize. Oscar winners Colin Firth and Rachel Weisz star.

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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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