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Freeze Frame is a weekly show reviewing the latest movies from Hollywood’s best films to independent and arthouse movies.
“Avengers: Infinity War” (PG-13), “The Endless” April 27, 2018 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"
If "more" equals "better," then "Avengers: Infinity War" is everything a Marvel fanboy could hope for. However, in spite of some impressive scenes and spirited individual performances, "Avengers: Infinity War" is just what you'd expect from a $300 million, 2 hour and 40 minute superhero extravaganza. No more, no less.
To call it busy and over-packed with characters would be an understatement. On the upside, Josh Brolin's motion-capture performance as the villainous Thanos provides a bit of gravitas and an appearance by Peter Dinklage is a memorable one…and we’ll just leave it at that. But the filmmakers' insistence on an ambiguous ending...one that won't be resolved for at least a year...will infuriate a lot of viewers, me included.
“Avengers: Infinity War” has a lot going for it. It just seems content to go on to infinity.
The sci-fi thriller “The Endless” is, in some ways the “Ying” to The Avengers “Yang. This low-budget entry is about a pair of brothers, escapees from a UFO cult, who return to the commune’s site after receiving a mysterious videotape. Naturally, they become entangled once again. Whereas “The Avengers” is all action, “The Endless” is a little too low key for its own good. Yet, this clever entry manages to build plenty of paranoid tension.
Also opening this week, “Foxtrot” is an Israeli drama about a soldier’s harrowing experience, his family’s reaction and the cover up of a war crime. It won the Grand Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival. “Kings” is a social drama starring Halle Berry and Daniel Craig about racial tensions that ran high just after the Rodney King incident in LA. “The Devil and Father Amorth” is a documentary about exorcism from director William Friedkin, the filmmaker behind the 1973 horror classic, “The Exorcist.”
Freeze Frame: “I Feel Pretty” (PG-13), “Super Troopers 2 (R),” “Lean on Pete” (R) April 20, 2018 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"
Amy Schumer takes on the issue of body image in the likable comic fantasy, “I Feel Pretty.” She plays an insecure woman who falls and bumps her head and comes to believe that she’s a raging beauty. Although the screenwriters’ template is pretty obvious, Schumer gives a shrewd performance proving she has real acting chops.
It’s no accident that the stoner comedy sequel “Super Troopers 2” is being released on 4/20. The original raunchy farce from the comedy group “Broken Lizard” was released in 2002 and was a modest hit. Fans of the original will know exactly what kind of lowbrow humor they’re in for.
Some inept Vermont Highway Patrol troopers are sent to work in Canada as part of a border dispute. They come across plenty of contraband, but can they keep from ingesting it before they catch the culprits? It’s a little unnerving to see these middle-aged guys displaying the same childish behavioral issues after all these years. While it has some shamelessly funny moments, much of “Super Troopers 2” feels like a bad flashback.
“Lean on Pete” is an austere but moving drama about a teenager from a troubled background who works at a stable and befriends and tries to save an aging race horse bound for the slaughterhouse. Charlie Plummer gives a believable and tender performance in this low-key story that also stars Steve Buscemi and Chloe Sevigny.
Also opening this week, an alien invades the body of an adult film star in the unrated sci-fi opus, “Imitation Girl.” “Wilding” is a horror entry about a disturbed young woman raised to believe that homicidal monster roams outside her home. “They Remain” is a suspense drama about scientists analyzing an area where a murderous cult once lived. Geoffrey Rush and Army Hammer star in “Final Portrait,” about the friendship of an American writer and artist Alberto Giacometti.
Freeze Frame: “Rampage” (PG-13), “Truth or Dare” (PG-13), “Beirut” (R) April 13, 2018 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has a knack for making a silk purse out of a cinematic sow’s ear. Can he do the same for the cursed video game genre? Maybe so. In “Rampage,” based on the Midway arcade game, Johnson plays a primatologist who has to figure out what to do when a genetic experiment goes wrong and his favorite albino gorilla grows to Kong size. The ape and a giant mutated wolf and alligator, head to downtown Chicago in a destructive rage.
It’s as goofy as it sounds, but the visuals are spectacular and Johnson’s outsized charisma helps, too. “Rampage” is better than it has any business being.
Blumhouse, the phenomenally successful production company responsible for a slew of hit horror films, might have finally jumped the shark. “Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare” is an annoying creepfest about a group of teens on spring break in Mexico who play a game of Truth or Dare that’s been overtaken by a demon. Naturally, things turn deadly and the participants desperately try to figure a way out. There are a few scares, but mostly it’s just irritating. The truth is, it’s bad and I wouldn’t watch it again on a dare.
Jon Hamm stars in “Beirut,” an involving thriller about a one-time US diplomat who is forced by CIA operatives Rosamund Pike and Dean Norris to help save a colleague from terrorists in Lebanon the 1980s. Hamm inherits his best role since “Mad Men,” but Pike is wasted in yet another part that doesn’t give her much to work with.
Also opening this week, “Finding Your Feet” is a comic drama from Britain about folks of a certain age who find romance at a community dance class. “Best F(r)iends” is black comedy that reunites the team behind the celebrated bad movie “The Room,” Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero.
FREEZE FRAME: “Ready Player One” (PG-13), “Loveless” (R) March 30, 2018 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"
There probably isn’t a director better suited to adapting Ernest Cline’s pop novel “Ready Player One” for the big screen than Steven Spielberg. It’s the sort of visual-heavy sci-fi extravaganza that a lesser filmmaker like Michael Bay would have made a complete mess of. Tye Sheridan stars as a kid who, in the dystopian future, plays a virtual reality game in an attempt to save mankind from an evil corporation. While it deviates from the source material, Spielberg keeps everything in sharp focus and finds the sentimental heart beating at the story’s core. The game is packed with 80s pop culture references, so anyone who lived through that era will probably get pangs of nostalgia. For everyone else, it’s a rousing, entertaining adventure.
“Loveless” is a Russian drama that won the Jury Prize at last year’s Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. This bleak and heartbreaking film from Andrey Zvyagintsev (Andres VAY-gin-siv) is about a crumbling marriage and its adverse affect on an unwanted 12-year-old boy. When he overhears his parents bitterly discuss divorce and their plans to send him off to boarding school, the lad disappears. The quarreling parents join forces with local officials and volunteers in a desperate attempt to find him. The film is as chilling as a Moscow winter and could be interpreted as a harsh examination of Russia under Putin.
Also opening this week, “Tyler Perry’s Acrimony” is a suspense drama about a woman scorned. Taraji P. Henson stars. “God’s Not dead: A Light in the Darkness” is a faith-based film about a church’s rebuilding efforts after a fire. John Corbett and Tatum O’Neal are among the cast members. “Leaning Into the Wind” is a documentary about environmental artist Andrew Goldsworthy.
FREEZE FRAME: “Tomb Raider” (PG-13), “Love, Simon” (PG-13), “7 Days in Entebbe” (PG-13) March 16, 2018 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"
One day, someone will make a truly good movie based on a video game. We’re still waiting. Oscar-winning actress Alicia Vikander is the latest to log in for a paycheck. “Tomb Raider” reboots the old Angelina Jolie franchise and the results are loud, busy and mind numbing. The so-so special effects are a distraction and it lacks the humor that makes its obvious inspiration, “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” a classic. Vikander is good, but the filmmakers work hard to set up a sequel, which, I suspect, will never happen. No 1-up for “Tomb Raider.”
“Love, Simon” isn’t perfect, either, but why nitpick? In this comic coming of age film based on a popular YA novel, Nick Robinson plays a closeted gay teen who makes some bad choices to prevent people from discovering his secret. The cast, which includes Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel as his supportive parents, is likable and the movie has a positive spirit. It plays a bit too much like a made for TV movie, however.
It’s amazing that one of the most daring rescue operations of all time has yet to be made into a fully satisfying film. “7 Days in Entebbe” is at least the fifth attempt. Rosamund Pike and Daniel Brühl play wannabe revolutionaires who skyjack an Air France jet in 1967 and hold the 94 Israeli passengers hostage at the airport in Entebbe, Uganda. Although competently made and well acted, the movie doesn’t build sufficent tension. “7 Days” just seems like that’s how long it takes to watch.
Also opening this week, “November” is a sci-fi fantasy film from Estonia based on an acclaimed novel. “Josie” is a dark film noir thriller starring Sophie Turner and Dylan McDermott. “The Young Karl Marx” is a biopic about the early days of the famed socialist thinker.
Freeze Frame: “A Wrinkle in Time,” “A Fantastic Woman,” “Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story” March 9, 2018 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"
“A Wrinkle in Time,” the classic, 1962 award-winning science fantasy novel has finally made it to the big screen. Director Ava DuVernay’s $103 million adaptation is colorful, well meaning and, ultimately, bland.
Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling play the astral travelers who help a troubled 13-year-old, played by Storm Reid, search for her astrophysicist father who’s being held by an evil force on a distant planet. The story’s moral themes are skimmed over and the film never makes a strong emotional connection. “A Wrinkle in Time” has heart but lacks much impact.
The Chilean film “A Fantastic Woman” is the winner of this year’s Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. Daniela Vega plays a trans woman who faces turmoil upon the sudden death of her boyfriend. This beautifully acted and moving film effectively generates empathy while tackling the thorny issues of tolerance and inclusion.
Hedy Lamarr was a glamorous Hollywood star of the 1930s and 40s, probably best known for the classic biblical epic, “Samson and Delilah.” Often cited as the world’s most beautiful woman, she kept a strange secret. She was also a brilliant scientist and inventor. The intriguing documentary “Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story” shows how she developed frequency-hopping technology during WWII, a method that makes GPS, wi-fi and cell phones possible today. If this story weren’t true, you’d never believe it.
Also opening this week, “Gringo” is a dark action comedy about drugs south of the border. David Oyelowo and Charlize Theron star. “The Strangers: Prey at Night” is a sequel to the slasher flick from 2008. “The Cured” is a horror flick about the tough reintegration into society by zombies who’ve been cured. “The Party” is a social satire from filmmaker Sally Potter about a gathering of friends where thing go badly. “Thoroughbreds” is a suspense drama about friends from differing social strata who plot a crime.
Freeze Frame: “Red Sparrow” (R) March 2, 2018 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"
Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Lawrence has proven that she’s got the acting chops and personal charisma to elevate so-so material. That ability is sorely needed in the new suspense thriller, “Red Sparrow,” based on the novel by Jason Matthews.
Lawrence plays Dominika, a Bolshoi Ballet artist who suffers a career-ending injury. Her uncle, a Russian Intelligence agent, recruits her to become a sparrow, a secret agent that specializes in seducing targets. She has to decide whether or not to join forces with a CIA agent she’s fallen for, played by Joel Edgerton.
All of the elements for success are there, including a great cast, sharp production values, exotic locales and a twisty, suspenseful plot. But “Red Sparrow” is undone by a languid and lurching pace and the lack of any on-screen spark between Lawrence and Edgerton.
Lawrence re-teams with Francis Lawrence, who directed her in three of the four “Hunger Games” movies, but the magic that propelled that franchise is missing here. Lawrence is always watchable in this violent, sadistic and overlong thriller. But it’s just never gripping. “Red Sparrow” flutters, but never soars.
Also opening this week, “Midnighters” is a low-budget thriller about a partying couple who accidentally run over a man on New Year’s Eve. Things get complicated when they discover the man had intended bad things for them and their family. “Nostalgia” is a drama involving interconnected stories about loss and grief. Jon Hamm, Catherine Keener, Bruce Dern and Ellen Burstyn are among the cast members. The old Charles Bronson “Death Wish” franchise from the 1970s gets a reboot from horror director Eli Roth. Bruce Willis plays a vengeful father out for some vigilante justice after his wife and daughter are brutally attacked.
FREEZE FRAME: “Game Night” (R) February 23, 2018 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"
Pulling off a screwball comedy is as difficult as pulling out the last block in Jenga. There’s always a good chance the whole thing will come toppling down. The goofy farce “Game Night” somehow remains standing even though it’s not the most stable of structures. Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams lead a gifted cast in the wacky story of a husband and wife who are very active gamers. They meet weekly with some of their friends for spirited evenings of intense competition.
One night, Jason’s hotshot businessman brother, played by Kyle Chandler, invites the group over to his mansion for a murder mystery party. Going all out, he hires actors to break in and kidnap him. The first couple to rescue him gets a shiny red Corvette Stingray. Problem is, real kidnappers pull of the dastardly deed before the fake thugs arrive. The gamers gleefully play along unaware of the real dangers afoot.
John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein, the writers of Bateman’s hit comedy “Horrible Bosses,” take the director’s chair this time out, and the results are chaotic. Thankfully, Bateman and especially McAdams show sharp comic timing and likability, keeping us engaged even as the proceedings grow more and more implausible.
While it never quite reaches the raucous heights it aims for, “Game Night” is a fitfully funny farce that scores enough points to win some R-rated laughs.
Also opening this week, “Annihilation” is a sci-fi opus based on the award-winning novel by Jeff VanderMeer, adapted for the screen and directed by Alex Garland of “Ex Machina” fame. Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez and Oscar Isaac star. “Are We Not Cats” is an oddball indie horror romance about a woman who compulsively eats her own hair. “The Lodgers” is a gothic horror flick set in 1920 rural Ireland. “Nostalgia” involves interconnecting stories about love and loss. Jon Hamm, Ellen Burstyn and Catherine Keener are among the cast members. "Every Day" is a romantic drama based on the young adult novel.
Freeze Frame: “Black Panther” (PG-13), “Early Man” (PG), “Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool” (R) February 16, 2018 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"
Marvel’s superhero “Black Panther” finally gets his proper feature-length movie introduction and it’s a rousing, involving adventure. The fact that most of the folks in front of and behind the camera are black makes it all the more compelling. Chawick Boseman plays the king of a mysterious, highly advanced African nation who must rise to the occasion and save his country, and the world, from a rival cousin, played by Michael B. Jordan. The cast is solid, the story has interesting social implications and Ryan Coogler displays a deft hand as director. While it runs a bit too long for its own good, “Black Panther” is a worthy addition that enriches the Marvel Universe.
“Early Man” is the latest stop-motion animated farce from Aardman, the folks behind Wallace and Gromit. It purports to relate the origins of soccer, pitting cavemen against the Bronze Agers. It’s all very silly, but good fun for the little league set.
The final days of Oscar-winning actress Gloria Graham provide the background for the low-key drama “Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool.” Annette Bening and Jamie Bell star in this story of a May-December romance between Graham and a young and struggling British actor. The story only scratches the surface of Graham’s fascinating life, but the actors it worth a look.
Also opening this week, "Samson" is a faith-based production about the Biblical strongman. “The Scent of Rain & Lightning” is a contemporary Western drama that was an award winner at last year’s Kansas City FilmFest. “The Female Brain” is a comedy about modern romance written and directed by standup comic Whitney Cummings. “Golden Exits” is a drama about a young Australian girl whose arrival upends the lives of folks from two Brooklyn families. Emily Browning and Jason Schwartzman star. “Poop Talk” is a documentary featuring a number of comics telling funny stories about poop.
FREEZE FRAME: “Fifty Shades Freed” (R), “Oscar Shorts” (not rated), “Happy End” (R) February 9, 2018 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"
The final chapter in the big screen adaptation of E.L. James’ kinky S&M bestseller “Fifty Shades of Grey” trilogy finally hits theaters this week. Like its predecessors, “Fifty Shades Freed” isn’t bad enough to be campy fun and is about as erotic as a cold shower. Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan are back in this absurd wish-fulfillment fantasy that’s just a gaudy soap opera dressed up with snappy production values. The best thing to say about “Fifty Shades Freed” is that this is actually the last installment.
The 90th annual Academy Awards take place the first weekend of March. “The 2018 Oscar Short Film Programs” celebrate this year’s nominees that represent best the genre has to offer. There are three separate showcases, “The Animated Program,” the “Live Action Program” and the “Documentaries Program.” As always these compilations are a mixed bag, but there’s plenty of creativity and artistry on display.
And speaking of Oscars, the latest film from Oscar-winning Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke is “Happy End.” In this French language offering, Isabelle Huppert and Jean-Louis Trintignant play members of a self-absorbed French bourgeois family. “Happy End” is a dark social critique about the indifference of the elite towards the masses. It’s smart, but also slow and gloomy and as self-absorbed as the classes it’s trying to skewer.
Also opening this week, “The 15:17 to Paris” is director Clint Eastwood’s drama about the three American tourists who took down a terrorist on a French train in 2015. The actual heroes play themselves. “Peter Rabbit” uses a mix of live action and computer animation to bring to life Beatrix Potter’s famous characters. James Cordon and Margot Robbie provide voices. “Still/Born” is a horror film about a supernatural entity trying to take the one surviving twin baby from its mother.
FREEZE FRAME: “Black History Month” movie suggestions February 2, 2018 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"
February is “Black History Month,” and people have asked me to put together a list of movie suggestions to commemorate the annual observance. So, here are some films that are, I believe, apt viewing choices.
“12 Years a Slave” won the Best Picture Oscar for 2013. Inspired by a true story, it tells the harrowing tale of a free man, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, who was captured and sent into slavery on a Louisiana plantation in the 1800s. It’s hard to watch, but packs an emotional wallop.
David Oyelowo gives a stirring performance as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the 2015 film, “Selma,” about the 1965 civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery that was met with a violent crackdown by local authorities. The event helped cement passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The 2013 film “The Butler” provides a historical overview of social change seen through the eyes of a butler named Cecil Gaines, played by Forest Whitaker, who served in the White House beginning with the Eisenhower administration and lasting through the Reagan years. It’s restrained but dignified.
Sidney Poitier’s Oscar-winning performance propels the sentimental1963 comic drama, “Lilies of the Field.” Poitier plays a laborer who helps out some immigrant German nuns who are trying to establish a small chapel for their rural Arizona community. In this story, the leading character’s race was irrelevant, making “Lilies of the Field” all the more unique for its time.
New in theaters this week, “Winchester” is a horror thriller starring Helen Mirren and Jason Clarke that was reportedly inspired by true events. “Vazante” is a Portuguese language period drama dealing with slavery in 1820s Brazil. “Victor Crowley” is the third entry in the “Hatchet” slasher film series. Kane Hodder returns as the titular, supernatural serial killer.
Russ Simmons is an award-winning film critic whose work has been featured on television and in print for nearly two decades.