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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: “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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FREEZE FRAME: “I, Daniel Blake, “My Cousin Rachel,” “Megan Leavey”
June 9, 2017 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"

Acclaimed British filmmaker Ken Loach is known for his realistic kitchen sink dramas that focus on disparities and injustices in contemporary British society. His latest, “I, Daniel Blake” is no exception. It won the Palme d’Or at Cannes Film Festival. Dave Johns plays Daniel, a 59-year-old carpenter who has been sidelined by the death of his wife and his own heart disease. He has to fight the system when the medical pros refuse to allow him to work but the government bureaucrats won’t give him benefits unless he proves he’s seeking employment. It’s powerfully acted, believable and heartbreaking.

Oscar winner Rachel Weiss carries the day with her sly performance in a new adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s classic gothic novel, "My Cousin Rachel." Is she an innocent widow or a manipulating murderer? Sam Claflin, a naïve but wealthy young heir, can't tell because he's fallen in love with her. Although handsomely mounted and respectably done, this intriguing mystery isn't quite as riveting as it should have been.

Kate Mara stars in "Megan Leavey," the true story of a Marine corporal, her combat dog and their heroic exploits serving in Iraq. While it covers familiar territory, this likable drama should appeal to both dog lovers and fans of military films.

Also opening this week, Tom Cruise stars in the “The Mummy,” which Universal Studios hopes to be the first in a series called The Dark Universe that revives their classic horror titles. “It Comes at Night” is a horror drama starring Joel Edgerton about two families that come into conflict in a post-apocalyptic world. “The Hunter’s Prayer” is about an assassin, played by Sam Worthington, who decides to work alongside one of his intended targets. “I Love You Both” is a comic drama about twins, a young man and his sister, who begin dating the same guy.

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Freeze Frame: “Wonder Woman,” “The Wedding Plan”
June 2, 2017 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"

Lawrence, Kansas native Patty Jenkins, the director who steered Charlize Theron to her Oscar-winning performance in “Monster,” takes on her biggest Hollywood project to date with the highly anticipated “Wonder Woman.” Gal Gadot stars as the Amazonian princess who is among the luminaries of the DC Comic Universe. This crackling origin story shows how her rescue of an American spy, played by Chris Pine, led Wonder Woman away from her idyllic island life and into the battlefields of WWI and, ultimately, a confrontation with Aries, the God of War. The production values are terrific and Jenkins breathes enough humor and life into the characters that the nearly non-stop action never becomes too exhausting. “Wonder Woman” may provide just the spark necessary to revive the DC Universe.

On the other side of the cinematic spectrum comes “The Wedding Plan,” an Israeli comedy about an Orthodox woman in her early thirties who decides to plan an elaborate wedding in 30 days, even though she hasn’t landed a groom. While the setup sounds like a standard Hollywood farce, writer/director Rama Burshtein adds some original elements, thoughtful and clever dialogue and elicits a winning performance from her leading lady, Noa Koler. “The Wedding Plan” also provides a unique glimpse into the world of Orthodox Judaism in contemporary Jerusalem.

Also opening this week, Eddie Izzard stars in the British comedy “Whisky Galore,” the story of a cargo ship loaded with tons of booze that ran aground in 1941. “Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie” is an animated farce about kids who hypnotize their principal and convince him he’s a superhero. Kevin Hart, Ed Helms and Jordan Peele are among the voice cast members. Brian Cox stars as the legendary British Prime Minister in “Churchill,” a biopic that takes place during the days prior to the Allied D-Day landings during WWII.

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FREEZE FRAME: “Baywatch, “Pirates of the Caribbean 5,” “The Lovers,” “Chuck”
May 26, 2017 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"

It may seem early to start a “Worst Movies of the Year” list, but surely “Baywatch” will qualify. A raunchy parody of the old TV series, “Baywatch” struggles to mine a few meager laughs from gross-out jokes, but it drowns in its own off-color excesses. Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron have charisma and the female cast members provide plenty of cheesecake, but they’re efforts can’t resuscitate this victim.

And speaking of shipwrecks, Johnny Depp’s latest appearance as Capt. Jack Sparrow isn’t enough to save the bloated adventure, “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales,” the fifth entry in the popular series. The production values are stupendous and it has some dazzling action sequences, but the plot is so perplexing that it seems like they were making it up as they went along. An Easter Egg after the credits hints that there may be one more episode in the works.

Reclusive actress Debra Winger and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tracy Letts star in “The Lovers,” a comic drama about an aging married couple who are both involved in extramarital affairs. Things get complicated when they start cheating on their lovers…with each other. It’s beautifully acted and more than just a little twisted.

Liev Schreiber’s affable performance is the driving force behind “Chuck,” the true story of ups and downs in the life of Chuck Wepner, the boxer who inspired the story of “Rocky” and gained fame by going 15 rounds with Muhammad Ali. The strong supporting cast includes Jim Gafigan, Elizabeth Moss and Naomi Watts. While it’s no knockout, “Chuck” is one likable palooka.

Also opening this week, “The Survivalist” is a post-apocalyptic drama about a man protecting his small harvest from starving strangers. “Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent” is a documentary about the famous and influential chef.

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Freeze Frame: “Alien: Covenant,” “Everything, Everything,” “Norman,” “Citizen Jane”
May 19, 2017 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"

While Ridley Scott’s newest “Alien” prequel “Alien: Covenant” doesn’t add much that’s new, it does fill in the blanks. We now know where the creatures came from. Fans of the franchise should enjoy the action and mayhem that this origin story provides, even though it all seems a bit too familiar. Still, it’s a spectacular production that manages to make you jump even though you know what’s around the corner.

In the high-concept teen romance “Everything, Everything,” a homebound girl suffering from immunodeficiency problems falls in love with the boy next door through her bedroom window. Will she step outside to be with him even though it could kill her? What do you think? This sweet but very predictable film based on the YA novel has likable stars in Amandla Stenberg and Nick Robinson, so it should appeal to its teen target audience. Others, beware.

Richard Gere gives one of the top performances of his career in “Norman,” the story of an aging Jewish con man who befriends a high-ranking Israeli government official and uses the connection to wheel and deal among the Jewish business elites of New York City. Smart filmmaking and a top-notch supporting cast help turn this very low-key character study into a social commentary.

“Citizen Jane: Battle for the City” is a documentary about journalist-turned-activist Jane Jacobs, who fought intractable powers in New York to stop ravages taking place under the guise of Urban Renewal. It’s a thoughtful and informative primer on the subject.

Also opening this week, Cynthia Nixon stars as poet Emily Dickinson in the biopic, “A Quiet Passion.” “Folk Hero & Funny Guy” is a comedy about a musician and his standup comic opening act. “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul” is the fourth entry in the comedy franchise. “Champion” is a faith based flick set in the world of dirt track racing.

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FREEZE FRAME: “Snatched,” “Hounds of Love”
May 12, 2017 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"

Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn are two comic stars that bring a lot of personal appeal to their roles. Audience goodwill may be tested, however, with their broad and raunchy comedy, “Snatched.” Schumer plays a colossally irresponsible twentysomething dumped by her boyfriend on the eve of a romantic trip to Equador. She decides to take her reluctant mom on the vacation instead. As you’d expect, things go painfully awry. There are some shamelessly funny moments along the way, but “Snatched” is essentially an R-rated sitcom that glosses over some borderline racist elements on the way to its predictable finale. It’s likeable cast escapes unscathed.

The low budget Australian horror flick “The Hounds of Love” is one of the most disturbing, off-putting dramas you’re likely to see. A pair of serial killers abducts a teenaged girl for a torturous sexual threesome. Her only hope of survival is to drive a wedge between them. Yes, the subject matter is brutal, but the film debut of writer-director Ben Young is beautifully shot and thoughtfully acted.

Also opening this week, director Guy Ritchie brings his over-the-top action sensibilities to the tale of Excalibur with “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.” “The Wall” is an Iraqi war film about two American soldiers pinned down by an enemy sniper. Aaron Taylor-Johnson and John Cena star. “3 Generations” is a comic drama about a dysfunctional family that includes a lesbian grandmother, a single mom and a girl transitioning to a boy all living under one roof. Elle Fanning, Naomi Watts and Susan Sarandon star. “Risk” is a documentary about Wikileaks founder, Julian Asange. “A Dark Song” is an Irish horror thriller. “Animation Show of Shows” is a compilation of cartoon shorts. “Chasing Trane” is a documentary about sax master John Coltrane. “Buster’s Mal Heart” is an offbeat character study with Rami Malek.

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FREEZE FRAME: “Graduation”
April 28, 2017 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"

Ten years ago, the harrowing Romanian abortion drama “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” marked the arrival of a major new talent, filmmaker Christian Mungiu (Chris-tee-ann Mon-JEEW). His latest effort, “Graduation,” won him the Best Director Award at the most recent Cannes Film Festival. Starkly realistic and involving, “Graduation” examines what occurs when good people compromise their principles when faced with a moral dilemma.

Adrian Titieni plays Romeo, a middle-aged doctor who wants only the best for his bright and ambitious daughter, hoping he can get her out of repressed Romania and into a prestigious British university. She can get a scholarship if she aces her high school exit exams. Just before exams day, however, she’s sexually assaulted and the emotionally drained girl underperforms on her tests. Her frustrated dad decides to pull some strings that could help her cheat on her follow-up tests.

Mungiu’s naturalistic story is complex and compelling as it fills us in on the details of Romeo’s life. The tension mounts as we come to understand his motives and put ourselves in his shoes. Would we act differently? What are the compromises we might make to ensure the success and safety of our children? “Graduation” is an intelligent drama that will stick with you.

Also opening this week, “The Circle” is a thriller starring Emma Watson and Tom Hanks about shady goings on at a powerful social media company. Surprisingly, critics were not allowed to see it in advance…usually a bad sign. “How to Be a Latin Lover” is a broad comedy that features Salma Hayek and Raquel Welch. “After the Storm” is an art house Japanese entry about an author turned private detective who tries to reconnect with his estranged family. “The Transfiguration” is a low budget thriller about a troubled teen with a fixation on vampires.

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FFREEZE FRAME: “The Promise,” “The Lost City of Z”
April 21, 2017 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"

It’s no accident that “The Promise” is the second war drama to open in the last few weeks that’s set in Turkey during the run up to WWI. The earlier film, “The Ottoman Lieutenant,” gives the Turkish point of view, minimizing the cost of the conflict to the Armenian people. “The Promise” supports the view of an Armenian genocide. “The Promise” is a romantic triangle about an Armenian medical student, played by Oscar Isaac, who falls for an Armenian nanny, played by Charlotte Le Bon. Problem is, the nanny’s boyfriend is an American journalist, played by Christian Bale, and the Turks are about to wipe them all out. Beautifully acted and produced, this respectable historical epic is far better than “The Ottoman Lieutenant,” but still never quite catches fire, romantically or politically.

“The Lost City of Z” is based on the true story of a British explorer who may have been the inspiration for Indiana Jones. Charlie Hunnam plays Percy Fawcett, the man who risked life and limb to repeatedly explore the Amazon rainforest in the early 1900s in order to prove his theory that an advanced civilization once thrived there. A slowly paced epic that clocks in at two hours and twenty minutes, “The Lost City of Z” focuses on intellect and mystery instead of thrills and adventure.

Also opening this week, “Free Fire” is a violent throwback action flick set in the 1970s. “Unforgettable” is a drama about a wacko ex-wife who goes after her ex-husband’s fiancee. Disney returns with another nature documentary about wildlife in the Far East. It’s called “Born in China.” “Phoenix Forgotten” is a sci-fi flick involving UFOs in 1997. “Their Finest” is a WWII drama about the production of British war movies. “Cezanne et Moi” involves the impressionist Paul Cezanne and his pal Emile Zola. “David Lynch, The Art Life” is a behind the scenes documentary about the cult classic, “Eraserhead.”

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FREEZE FRAME: “The Fate of the Furious,” “Gifted,” “Colossal”
April 14, 2017 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"

When “The Fast and the Furious” debuted in 2001, it was inspired by a true story about LA street racers. Now that we’re on the eighth entry, the series has morphed into an over-the-top sci-fi action extravaganza that makes James Bond adventures seem like realistic documentaries by comparison. In “The Fate of the Furious,” Vin Diesel’s Dom Torretto has gone rouge, joining forces with villain Charlize Theron in an attempt to steal nuclear codes and take over the world. It’s all an excuse for well staged cinematic mayhem, most of it computer generated. While it’s rousing and goofy fun, it all can be summed up in the name of one of its stars: Ludacris.

Young McKenna Grace gives one of the best child performances you’re likely to see in “Gifted,” the story of a seven-year-old math genius whose guardian uncle, played by Chris Evans, tries to help her fit in while fending off her meddling, manipulative grandmother. Octavia Spencer, Jenny Slate and Lindsay Duncan round out a fine cast. The performances elevate this touching tale that, in lesser hands, could have been as corny as a Lifetime TV movie.

“Colossal” is a well-acted cinematic experiment that doesn’t always work. Still, you have to give it credit for originality. Oscar-winner Anne Hathaway and KC’s Jason Sudeikis star in this sci-fi drama about an alcoholic woman who discovers that her movements manipulate a giant monster that’s destroying Seoul, Korea. It’s an allegory as overwhelming as its destructive creature, but it’s thoughtful even in its weaknesses.

Also opening this week, “Bokeh” is a sci-fi drama about a couple on a romantic vacation in Iceland who suddenly find that they’re the only people left on Earth. “My Life as a Zucchini” is a stop-motion film from Sweden about an orphan boy struggling to find his way. It was an Oscar nominee for Best Animated Feature.

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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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