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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: “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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FREEZE FRAME: “The Lego Ninjago Movie,” “Kingsman: The Golden Circle”
September 22, 2017 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"

Is the third time the charm for Lego's animated franchise? Well, even though the novelty is wearing a bit thin, "The Lego Ninjago Movie" is, for the most part, cheeky, colorful fun.

Jackie Chan leads the voice cast as Master Wu, who serves as mentor and inspiration for a group of wisecracking ninjas who protect their city from a none-too-bright evil warlord. Dave Franco, Fred Armisen, Olivia Munn and Justin Theroux lend voice support.

It plays a bit like a video game hyped up on caffeine. Adults may find the whole enterprise too noisy and familiar, but the kids who know the toys and the video games should revel in the zippy action.

The decadent comic book spy movie "Kingsman: The Secret Service" was an over-the-top surprise hit in 2015. The word "over" can apply a lot to, "Kingsman: The Golden Circle," as well. It's overlong, overly silly and an exercise in overkill.

Four Oscar winning actors get mired in a plot so absurd that it makes James Bond look austere by comparison.

Also opening this week, Jake Gyllenhaal stars in “Stronger,” a true story about a survivor of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. “Rebel in the Rye” is a drama about author J. D. Salinger and his relationship with socialite Oona O’Neill. Nicholas Hoult and Zoey Deutch star. “Friend Request” is a teen horror flick involving social media. “Dayveon” is a drama about an orphaned boy who falls in with gang members in rural Arkansas. “Zoology” is a Russian drama about a woman who suddenly sprouts a tail. “Trophy” is a documentary about big game hunting. “Lost in Paris” is a whimsical French comedy about a librarian and a bum. Ben Stiller stars in “Brad’s Status,” a comic drama about a man who compares his life to that of his ultra successful friends.

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Freeze Frame: “American Assassin,” “13 Minutes”
September 15, 2017 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"

Filmmakers have been trying for years to adapt the political thrillers by the late author Vince Flynn. His CIA super agent Mitch Rapp finally makes his big screen appearance in “American Assassin,” a noisy thriller that introduces us to Rapp in hopes of creating a new franchise.

Actor Dylan O’Brian, best known for the “Maze Runners” movies, plays Rapp, a young man who seeks revenge on terrorists who gunned down his girlfriend. He becomes a black ops recruit and goes into training with no-nonsense agent Stan Hurley, played by Michael Keaton. The training is cut short when a former CIA agent called “Ghost,” played by Taylor Kitsch, helps some rogue Iranians steal a nuclear weapon.

The movie has plenty of action and manages to rev up the audience with its violent revenge tale, but there are leaps of logic in the script that was written by committee, eroding the story’s credibility and dulling its impact. Still, “American Assassin” is lively enough to please most action fans.

Just when you thought every story about Nazi Germany had been told, along comes “13 Minutes.” Christian Friedel stars as Georg Elser, a German carpenter who, in November of 1939, created a time bomb all on his own that missed killing Hitler by a mere thirteen minutes. While the movie may not quite achieve the emotional resonance it was working for, it’s a fascinating account of a little-known piece of WWII history.

Also potentially opening this week, “All I See is You” is a Marc Forster drama about a blind woman, played by Blake Lively, who suddenly regains her sight and discovers things that put a strain on her marriage. And “mother!” is a hallucinatory psychological thriller from filmmaker Darren Aronofsky starring Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem and Michelle Pfeiffer. Lawrence plays a woman whose marriage is disrupted when unwanted strangers arrive on the scene.

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Freeze Frame: “Patti Cake$,” “I Do…Until I Don’t”
September 1, 2017 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"

A white, plus-sized female rapper from a depressed New Jersey suburb may be the most unlikely movie lead of the year. In “Patti Cake$,” Australian actress Danielle Macdonald plays a young woman derisively called ‘Dumbo’ who tries to make her mark by entering a rap contest. Macdonald is very good and the movie initially strikes a realistically gritty, R-rated tone. But “Patti Cake$” succumbs to some “Rocky”-type movie clichés that prevent it from being a complete success.

And speaking of clichés, the romantic comedy “I Do…Until I Don’t” has its share as well. A terrific cast that includes Ed Helms, Mary Steenburgen, Paul Reiser, Wyatt Cenac and Amber Heard lends able support to the talented Lake Bell who wrote, produced, directed and stars in this raunchy but sentimental sitcom. Dolly Wells plays a British documentarian who recruits some married couples to prove her theory that marriage is an outdated institution. Although its heart is in the right place, “I Do…Until I Don’t” is a movie about contemporary marriage that seems divorced from reality.

Also opening this week, Oscar-winners Alicia Vikander and Christoph Waltz star in “Tulip Fever,” a romantic costume drama written by Tom Stoppard set in 17th Century Amsterdam. “Columbus” is a romantic drama starring John Cho as a Korean book translator who is stranded in a small American town. James Franco stars in a horror/bank heist movie, “The Vault.” “Lemon” is an absurdist comic drama about a struggling actor and his dysfunctional relationships. “Menashe” is a drama set amidst the New York’s Hasidic Jewish community. The Irish-American film festival takes place during KC Irish Fest Sept. 1-3rd at Crown Center. More info is available at The 26th annual Latin American Film Festival begins Sept. 2nd at the Rio Theatre in Overland Park. Information is available at

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Freeze Frame: “Good Time,” “Ingrid Goes West,” “Leap!”
August 25, 2017 | Noon on "Arts Magazine"

Robert Pattinson works hard to shake his “Twilight” image in “Good Time,” a gritty crime drama that takes place in one night. He plays a none-too-bright bank robber who tries to get his mentally challenged brother released from jail. While the movie has an energetically sordid spirit, the incessant use of ultra close ups gets old very fast.

Aubrey Plaza and Elizabeth Olsen are terrific in the unnerving and very disturbing comedy, “Ingrid Goes West.” Plaza plays a wacko who becomes obsessed with and stalks a social media star, played by Olsen. The movie is schizophrenic in tone and the finale is dubious, but it serves as a wry commentary about life in the Instagram age.

In spite of its title, the animated dance movie “Leap!” doesn’t take any chances. In 1800s France, a young girl escapes from an orphanage and heads to Paris with dreams of becoming a ballerina. Everything about “Leap!” is strictly by the numbers. It’s a colorful but uninspired tale of female empowerment that will appeal only to very undemanding youngsters.

Also opening this week, “The Trip to Spain” is the third movie in a comic series starring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon about two pals and their gastronomical journeys. “Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story” is a documentary about Harold and Lillian Michelson, a storyboard artist and film researcher who worked on a number of classic movies. “Women Who Kill” is a comedy about former lesbian lovers who think they’ve met a serial killer. “Birth of the Dragon” is a biopic about marital arts star Bruce Lee. “All Saints” is a faith-based film starring John Corbett as the pastor of a struggling church. The Arts & Crafts Craft Beer and Indie Film Festival runs through August 31st at the Screenland Armour. More information is available at

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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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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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