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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: “The Disaster Artist,” “The Room”
December 8, 2017 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"

From "8 1/2" to "Day for Night" to "Ed Wood," some very entertaining movies are movies about making movies. You can add "The Disaster Artist" to that distinguished list. James Franco directs and stars in "The Disaster Artist," a behind-the-scenes film about the making of one of the worst movies of all time, the 2003 drama, "The Room."

Franco gives perhaps the best performance of the year as Tommy Wiseau, a bizarre, enigmatic character who wrote, produced, directed and starred in "The Room," which is an incoherent dramatic mess.

Franco gonzo performance is sure to garner an Oscar nomination, but he’s abetted by a terrific supporting cast that includes his brother Dave Franco, Seth Rogan, Zac Efron, Josh Hutcherson, Alison Brie and a number of stars who play themselves.

While "The Disaster Artist" is a very funny look at "The Room" and its oddball cast, it is also a loving, empathetic portrait of a person who pursued his dream in spite of having no talent.

And that brings us to "The Room," which has become a cult favorite at local theaters. Tommy Wiseau's movie is supposed to be a drama about a banker with an unfaithful girlfriend, but is unintentionally funny. Like "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," people dress up as the characters, hoot at the screen and quote the awful dialogue along with characters in the movie.

So, don't watch "The Room" at home alone. If you do, it's just bad. I'd suggest seeing it at one of the local screenings so that you can get the full effect of audience participation

Also opening this week, “Just Getting Started” is a senior citizen comedy starring Morgan Freeman, Tommy Lee Jones and Rene Russo. It was written and directed by Ron Shelton of “Bull Durham” and “White Men Can’t Jump” fame. “Tom of Finland” is a drama about a gay artist plying his trade post WWII. “Another Wolfcop” is a horror comedy about a werewolf policeman.

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Freeze Frame: “Coco” (PG), “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri” (R), “Last Flag Flying” (R), “The Man Who Invented Christmas” (PG), “Novitate” (R)
November 24, 2017 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"

Although filmed in North Carolina, Martin McDonaugh’s bitterly funny comic drama “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri” has a very dark “show me” attitude. Frances McDormand is an instant Oscar front-runner playing a woman who posts billboards to prod Sheriff Woody Harrelson into investigating the rape and murder of her daughter. Sam Rockwell may also be an awards contender for his portrait of a racist cop. Smart, extremely disturbing and vividly told, “Three Billboards” is one of the year’s best films.

“Last Flag Flying” is a respectable and well-acted drama from filmmaker Richard Linklater about three Vietnam Vets played by Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston and Laurence Fishburne, who go on a road trip to bury Carell’s son, a soldier killed in the Iraq War. While it’s meandering and quirky, the cast hoists this flag with aplomb.

“The Man Who Invented Christmas” tells the story of how Charles Dickens came to write “A Christmas Carol.” Dan Stevens gives a stagy performance as Dickens, but Christopher Plummer is just right as his imaginary Scrooge. It’s a sweet, low-key movie bonbon that never quite rings true.

“Novitiate” chronicles a young woman’s spiritual struggles to be come a nun in 1964. Melissa Leo’s scary turn as the stern Mother Superior is the main attraction in this earnest but sometimes melodramatic effort.

Also opening this week, Denzel Washington stars in “Roman J. Esquire,” a thriller about an activist defense attorney. “Sweet Virginia” is a suspense drama set in a remote area of Alaska. Jon Bernthal stars. “The Square” is a comic drama set in the art world that won the top prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

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Freeze Frame: “Justice League” (PG-13), “Lady Bird” (R), “Wonder” (PG)
November 17, 2017 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s “The Avengers!” Er, no, it’s “Justice League.” The DC cinematic universe plays catch up with Marvel by finally getting its superhero coalition to the big screen. Thankfully, it’s a competent offering, written and partially directed by Joss Whedon, the man who gave us the big screen version of The Avengers. While offering little that's original, "Justice League" is a reliably familiar franchise entry, a marked improvement from “Batman v Superman” and Ezra Miller adds a welcome spark as The Flash.

Greta Gerwig has been making an impression for the last few years for her acting work in low-budget art house indie flicks. With “Lady Bird,” she proves her greatest talent lies behind the camera. Saorise Ronan stars as Christine, a Sacramento girl loosely based on Gerwig during her teenage years. Christine faces adolescent challenges in the early 2000s and acts out against her mother, brilliantly played by Laurie Metcalf. The cast is terrific and the dialogue is sharp and realistic. “Lady Bird” is a funny, insightful and fresh take on the coming-of-age genre.

If you decide to see “Wonder,” the big screen adaptation of the bestselling children’s novel, be sure to take along the Kleenex. Young Jacob Tremblay is solid as Augie, a boy born with a serious facial deformity. His parents, played by Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson, home school him to protect him from the cold, cruel world. Augie has some tough challenges when his folks finally decide to send him to public school, While the movie is emotionally manipulative, it’s so well made and acted that you probably won’t mind. It gently promotes its message of kindness and is a welcome relief from Hollywood cynicism.

Also opening this week, “I Remember You” is an Icelandic supernatural thriller based on the novel, “Queen of Icelandic Crime.”

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Freeze Frame: “Murder on the Orient Express,” “The Florida Project”
November 10, 2017 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"

Kenneth Branagh’s take on the classic Agatha Christie whodunit “Murder on the Orient Express” is like its namesake: Luxurious, workmanlike…and just a bit stodgy. Branagh plays Belgian detective Hercule Poirot who is pressed into service when a gangster, played by Johnny Depp, is murdered on a train traveling from Istanbul to London. The long list of suspects includes Judi Dench, Penélope Cruz, Daisy Ridley, Michelle Pfeiffer and Willem Dafoe. While the termination isn’t particularly memorable, the journey on this Orient Express is pleasant enough.

The poor who live on the fringes of society are the focus of “The Florida Project,” a realistic slice of life drama set in the seedy shadow of Disney World. Willem Dafoe plays the manager of a low rent motel catering to families with mischievous, potentially delinquent kids who lack supervision. Most of the focus is on Moonee, played by young Brooklyn Prince, and her prostitute mom, played by newcomer Bria Vinaite (Vin-EYE-tay). The cast is spot-on, particularly Prince, who gives one of the best juvenile performances you’re likely to see. Writer/director Sean Baker offers little in the way of plot, opting to fill the gritty R-rated film with a slowly unfolding series of vignettes. It builds, however, to an emotionally gripping finale. “The Florida Project” is definitely not for everyone, but it’s an observant examination of modern American poverty.

Also opening this week, “Mayhem” in an R-rated action/adventure/horror film starring Steven Yeun. In a film with the title of a female dog, Marianna Palka plays a poorly treated housewife who goes psychotic and assumes the identity of a dog. “My Friend Dahmer” is a drama about one of America’s most infamous serial killers. “Daddy’s Home 2” is a sequel to the 2015 comedy starring Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg. “Wonderstruck” is a drama based on Brian Selznick’s acclaimed novel involving two stories about runaway kids, spaced 50 years apart.

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Freeze Frame: “Thor: Ragnarock,” “A Bad Moms Christmas,” “Jane”
November 3, 2017 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"

Is the third time the charm for “Thor?” The latest installment in the Marvel Universe to have the God of Thunder front and center is indeed the best of the three. A goofy, tongue-in-cheek action adventure that relies a lot on quirky comedy, “Thor: Ragnarok” is an eye-popping extravaganza that should please most fans, even though it’s a notch below many other Marvel entries.

Chris Hemsworth returns as the Asgardian price who finds himself exiled on the other side of the universe without his hammer. Meanwhile, his evil sister Hela, played with wicked relish by Cate Blanchett, is intent on destroying Asgard.

While it’s predictable and offers nothing new, “Thor: Ragnarok” has all of the elements in place for a lightening strike at the box office.

So, how do you follow up the raunchy 2016 comedy hit "Bad Moms?" With "A Bad Mom's Christmas" of course. Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell and Kathryn Hahn reunite for another look at contemporary parental challenges, this time with meddling grandmothers to contend with. The stars are fine, but they deserve better material than the simple, foul-mouthed script provided by the writing/directing team behind “The Hangover.” The cast seems to be having a ball, and they give this silly opus a big boost.

Although she had no formal training, young Jane Goodall went into the African jungle in the 1960s, lived with the chimpanzees and became one of the foremost experts on simian behavior. The documentary “Jane” chronicles her life’s work mostly through the lens of her former husband, famed nature cinematographer Hugo van Lawick. If you can get past the intrusive score by Phillip Glass, “Jane” is an agreeable look at a fascinating individual.

Also opening this week, “Blade of the Immortal” is a violent Japanese martial arts action adventure, about a man cursed with immortality until he kills a sufficient number of bad guys.

The 17th annual Kansas International Film Festival takes place Nov. 3rd through the 9th at the Glenwood Arts Theater in Overland Park. More information is available at

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Freeze Frame: “Suburbicon,” “Goodbye Christopher Robin,” “All I See is You”
October 27, 2017 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"

“Suburbicon,” a twisted collaboration between director George Clooney and the Coen Brothers, is a satiric poke in the eye to the idea of an idyllic 50s American suburbia. This pitch black comedy stars Matt Damon and Julianne Moore in a violent tale of murder and racism. In spite of its interesting sociological subtext, it never quite works.

The troubled relationship between Winnie the Pooh author A.A. Milne and his son is at the heart of the low-key drama, “Goodbye Christopher Robin.” Domhnall Gleeson, Margot Robbie and young Will Tilston star in this well meaning but slow and manipulative weeper. It’s competent, but bittersweet.

“All I See is You” is a pretentious drama starring Blake Lively as a blind woman who, after a sight-restoring operation, discovers her married life isn’t what she perceived it to be. It’s a gimmicky example of visual overkill from director Marc Forster.

Also opening this week, “Thank You For Your Service” is about the struggles that U.S. soldiers’ encounter upon returning from Iraq. Miles Teller stars. “Walking Out” is a father-son drama set during a hunting trip in the wilderness. Matt Bomer and Bill Pullman star. “A Silent Voice” is a Japanese anime offering about teen bullying. “Human Flow” is a documentary about refugees from famed Chinese artist Ai Weiwei. “Breathe” stars Andrew Garfield in the true story of a man suffering from crippling polio who traveled the world with his wife to help others like him. “Jigsaw” is the latest entry in the grisly “Saw” horror franchise. “Tragedy Girls” is a horror comedy about teens who pursue a serial killer.

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Freeze Frame: “The Snowman,” “Only the Brave,” “Mark Felt”
October 20, 2017 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"

With a great cast, bestselling source material and acclaimed filmmakers in command, “The Snowman” should have been a solid thriller. Sadly, it’s an icy misfire. Michael Fassbender plays a detective on the trail of a cunning serial killer who leaves creepy snowmen at his crime scenes. The pace drags and the story is filled with multiple dangling plot threads. “The Snowman” is a frosty fizzle.

The tragedy that befell the Granite Mountain Hotshots gets the big screen treatment in “Only the Brave.” Josh Brolin is rock solid as the supervisor of a crack team of Arizona firefighters who work hard and sacrifice much to protect lives and property. Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly and Jeff Bridges are among the supporting players who help this otherwise melodramatic story catch fire. It’s a fitting tribute to those who heroically put themselves in harm’s way.

“Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House” is a bleak and lackluster biopic about the man who was instrumental in the Washington Post’s investigation of the Watergate Scandal. Liam Neeson plays Felt, a high-ranking FBI official who, as Deep Throat, secretly walked an ethical tightrope to bring White House criminals to justice. Skip this one and watch the 1976 flick “All the President’s Men” instead.

Also opening this week, Tyler Perry returns yet again as Madea in “Boo 2: A Madea Halloween.” The weather goes wacky in the sci-fi adventure, “Geostorm.” “Loving Vincent” is the world’s first fully oil painted animated feature film inspired by the masterpieces of Vincent Van Gogh. “78/52: Hitchcock’s Shower Scene” is a documentary about the infamous scene from “Psycho.” “Bonehill Road” is a werewolf movie from KC based filmmaker Todd Sheets. “Hunters: The Art of the Scare” is a documentary about commercial haunted houses.

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Freeze Frame: “Marshall,” “The Foreigner,” “Ex Libris: The New York Public Library”
October 13, 2017 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"

“Marshall” is not a biopic about America’s first black Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall. It’s a courtroom drama about one Connecticut rape case that the famed jurist worked on in his early days as a lawyer for the NAACP. Chadwick Boseman plays the brash young Marshall who manipulates a local Jewish lawyer, played by Josh Gad, into defending the accused, played by Sterling K. Brown. The production is handsome, the actors are fine and its heart is in the right place. But in its execution, “Marshall” is standard courtroom fare.

Jackie Chan and Pierce Brosnan star in the dark revenge thriller, “The Foreigner.” Chan plays a humble London businessman whose life is upended by a terrorist act. Brosnan is a somewhat shady former member of the IRA, now working for the Brits. “Casino Royale” director Martin Campbell infuses the story with plenty of cat-and-mouse action. This one is for action fans who can look past the movie’s plot deficiencies.

“Ex Libris: The New York Public Library” is the latest documentary from the famed filmmaker Fredrick Wiseman, known for his ‘fly-on-the-wall’ approach. Early in the film, one library official says, “The access to information is the fundamental solution, over time, to inequality.” That pretty much sums of the theme of this sincere, if excessively long documentary.

Also opening this week, “Happy Death Day” is a horror/time travel thriller about a woman who keeps repeating the day of her murder. “Lucky” is a comic drama that features the lfinal performance of the late actor Harry Dean Stanton. “The Pathological Optimist” is a documentary about the anti-vaccine doctor Andrew Wakefield. “Brawl in Cell Block 99” is a violent prison movie starring Vince Vaughn. “Professor Marston & the Wonder Women” tells the true story of the Harvard psychologist who created Wonder Woman. “M.F.A.” is a rape drama starring Francesca Eastwood, daughter of Clint.

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Freeze Frame: “Blade Runner 2049,” “The Mountain Between Us,” “Victoria & Abdul,” “13 Minutes”
October 6, 2017 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"

Is the highly anticipated sequel to the 1982 sci-fi classic “Blade Runner” merely a replicant? Nope. Happily, “Blade Runner 2049” is a compelling film noir follow-up that stands on its own. Ryan Gosling plays a LAPD officer who hunts down replicants, renegade bioengineered humans. Ultimately, he is led to unravel the mystery of his own life and confront a former Blade Runner, played by Harrison Ford. It’s a stylish, smart and visually arresting philosophical thriller.

Throw a disaster movie and a romantic soap opera into a blender and you get “The Mountain Between Us,” a story about two strangers who are forced to work together to survive after their plane crashes on a snowy mountaintop. Idris Elba and Kate Winslet have the charisma and acting chops to elevate what would otherwise be a drab romantic drama.

All you really need to say about “Victoria & Abdul” is that Oscar-winner Judy Dench is in it. She plays Queen Victoria, who befriends an Indian footman, played by Bollywood star Ali Fazal. Against the wishes of her staff, he becomes her teacher and confidant. This low key drama may not be accurate history, but it’s entertaining speculation.

Just when you thought there weren’t any more stories to tell about WWII, we get “13 Minutes.” It’s the story of German citizen Georg Elser, a carpenter who, completely on his own, created a time bomb that just missed killing Hitler by 13 minutes. It may not be as compelling as it should have been, but it’s a solidly made, interesting thriller.

Also opening this week, “Manolo: The Boy Who Made Shoes for Lizards” is a documentary about the legendary fashion designer. Hugh Bonneville and Gillian Anderson star in “Viceroy’s House,” a historical drama about the India’s transition from British rule to independence in 1947. “Literally, Right Before Aaron” is a romantic comedy starring Justin Long and Cobie Smulders.

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Freeze Frame: “Battle of the Sexes,” “American Made,” “Different Flowers”
September 29, 2017 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"

One the most watched sporting events of all time is celebrated in the crowd-pleasing comic drama, “The Battle of the Sexes.” Emma Stone and Steve Carell star as Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, who, in 1973, faced off on the tennis court in a battle with significant social implications. The stars are appealing even if the movie is a little unfocused. “The Battle of the Sexes” doesn’t ace the story, but it’s a match worth approaching.

“American Made” tells an astonishing true story in a sly, decadent way. Tom Cruise is solid as a former TWA pilot who, in the 1980s, was recruited by the CIA to do aerial surveillance in Central America, only to become involved in drug smuggling, gun running and government corruption. The movie revels in its moral ambiguity, forcing us to root for Tom even though we know he’s an utter reprobate.

“Different Flowers” is a likeable, low-key comic drama shot largely in the KC area, written and directed by KC native Morgan Dameron. Emma Bell and Hope Lauren are very engaging as sisters who take off on a wild road trip after one of them gets cold feet on her wedding day. It’s a breezy, warm-hearted lark.

Also opening this week, “A Question of Faith” is a faith-based drama starring Richard T. Jones. “Flatliners” is a sequel to the 1990 sci-fi drama about induced near death experiences. “The Unknown Girl” is a French drama about a doctor who becomes obsessed with finding out what happened to a woman who died shortly after ringing her doorbell. “Polina” is yet another French drama involving the world of international dance. “The Fencer” is a Russian drama set in the 50s revolving around a teacher in Leningrad and his fencing students. “Welcome to Willits” is a sci-fi horror comedy. “Red Christmas” is yet another horror thriller starring KC’s own Dee Wallace.

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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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