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2017 MOVIE COMMENTS
                              We generally become interested in movies because we enjoy them
                        and what we enjoy them for has little to do with what we think of as art.
                                                                                  Pauline Kael, Going Steady

I never go to a movie theater expecting-or even hoping-to see "art." I just want to connect somehow with something that someone has
put on the screen. That's why you'll never see a "movie" referred to as "film" on this page. It's too much pressure. I don't spend a lot
of time telling you about how much "art" went into a movie because at the end of the day, I just don't care. I just want to be able to
connect with it. And with that in mind, here's the system I use to recommend movies to others.

Matt's Rating System:
Green  Go!  I think anybody would like this movie.
Yellow  Caution.  I liked it, but you might not.  
Blue   I didn't like the movie very much, but there is some merit there.  I'll tell you what I think it is.
Red   I really can't recommend this movie to you at all.
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THE SHAPE OF WATER  I really kind of hated this movie, but I'm giving it a pass because at least it wasn't a superhero movie
geared toward idiots. Clearly a fable, it is perhaps best described as a mash-up of
E.T., The Extra-Terrestrial and Hairspray as
imagined by David Lynch.
The best word to describe it is "ugly"--ugly people (figuratively) doing ugly things (literally) in an ugly
setting. Like Hairspray, the movie is set in Baltimore in 1962, but don't expect anyone to sing "Welcome to the 60's" here. This 1962
Baltimore looks more like East Berlin in the 50's. We suspend belief further when we visit some sort of secret government installation
where security is so bad that some sort of exotic creature (who may have been the inspiration for the Creature from the Black Lagoon)
is permitted to eat lunch with the custodial staff.  Such staff includes a criminally-misused Octavia Spencer, the only cast member
who's not so crazy that you wouldn't let them into your house, and a mute Sally Hawkins, who has the brilliant idea that the Blue
Amazon Creature should be free. An poorly-thought out escape is followed in quick succession by the movie's worst sequence in
which Idiot Sally decides she's in love. The movie is peppered with pointless racism, misogyny and homophobia that I'm sure are
meant to make us think that Sally's decision to run off with the Creature is a sensible life choice. As you can probably tell, I'm not a big
fan.  But, hey, maybe you like this mess. (12/28/2017)

MOLLY'S GAME  This movie is getting trashed by critics for reasons that I don't entirely undertand. It's no Citizen Kane, but it's a
competnently made story of an empowered woman who does quite well for herself by running a perfectly legal high-stakes poker
game, first in Los Angeles and later in New York. The FBI takes her down because (if we're to believe her) some of the players at her
game were members of the Russian Mafia, and she (according to them) was helping them to launder money. Jessica Chastain is
much
better in this movie than she is in last winter's
The Zookeeper's Wife, and Kevin Costner continues to confound his detractors by
turning in a very good turn as her father. The story is well-told, the writing and "technical stuff" are good, and overall, it's an enjoyable
way to pass two hours and fifteen minutes.  Heck, there's even a moral (or two) to the story. Molly's Game is as good as any new
movie you'll see this holiday season.  (12/26/2017)

DARKEST HOUR  Why is it that we often have two films that could be mirror images of one another coming out at the same time.
The trend was most noticeable a couple of years ago when we had two movies about Truman Capote out at almost the same time.
This year, Winston Churchill is getting the Capote treatment. Earlier this year, we were treated to the cleverly-titled
Churchill about the
eponymous character having second thoughts about the upcoming 1944 D-Day invasion, and in this story we get him coming to
power in 1940 at the dawn of WWII as hundreds of thousands of British soldiers are stranded on the beach at Dunkirk. Tobey
Maguire was excellent at Churchill and Miranda Richardson equally fine as his wife, Clementine. For Christmas, we get Gary Oldman
and Kristin Scott-Thomas in the roles.  If I had to judge, I'd give the edge to Maguire and call Clemmie a tie.  In both movies, Churchill
is presented as a much more befuddled and frankly pathetic character than he obviously was in real life. I don't think either of the
movies is particularly true to history, but they are both entertaining and modestly informative.  (12/25/2017)

DOWNSIZING  Alexander Payne is often nuts, but he's never boring. Election, The Descendants and Nebraska were three of my
favorite movies of recent years, and others seem to have liked
Sideways more than I did. Downsizing is nowhere near as good as any
of those four. In this movie, Mr. Payne puts all his eggs in the Matt Damon basket, but unfortunately, Mr. Damon seems to be in
something of a slump of late. He seems to have been taking a lot of roles that require him to play "everyman" when people want to see
Jason Bourne. The premise is clever--people can do the planet a favor by shrinking themselves to about five-inches high, allowing them
to live in the equivalent of doll houses and consume fewer of the Earth's precious resources. Damon and his wife, Kristen Wiig realize
that their meager net worth will allow them to live like kings in a McMansion for dolls, and Damon seems to think that he's doing
something special for mankind. In a way, this premise is not unlike the Broadway musical
Pippin, in which the title character-despite
having no particular talents or skills-wants to live an extraordinary life, and he remains a true believer right up until the
very-hard-to-swallow ending of the movie. In addition to its kind-to-the-planet, the movie raises all sorts of interesting ethical questions
that it doesn't waste time trying to explore, like, "Since five-inch-high people are contributing as much to the economy as full-size
people, should they have the same rights? Perhaps Mr. Payne has built so much implausibility into his script that it's hard take the
movie too seriously, but it raises questions that deserve to be raised.  (12/24/2017)

LOVING VINCENT  is definitely unlike anything you've ever seen. We're told at the beginning of the 94-minute movie that each frame
of the movie was hand-painted by a team of over 100 painters, painting in the style of Vincent Van Gogh. At 24 frames-per-second,
we're talking about 135,360 hand-painted frames. It's an astonishing achievement. It's fascinating to watch the movie unfold. One
character, a postman, has a beard that should be credited as a character of its own. It's like some sort of alien life form that has
become self-aware. The problem with the movie is--well, everything else. The story, such as it is, is contrived to allow a visitor to
Auverse-sur-Oise to interact with the locals-innkeepers, fishermen, doctors, others-who were his companions in his final days. The
story shares all of the mysteries surrounding why he might have killed himself, but provides no answers. And that, alas, is the problem
with Loving Vincent. The viewer is so dazzled by the artwork that he forgets that nothing much happened.  (12/10/2017)

THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE OF EBBING, MISSOURI   There's lots of buzz about the fine performances in this film by
Frances McDormand and Woody Harrelson, and while I don't want to take anything away from those performances that are indeed
excellent, they are but two of a fine cast of characters, all of whom are at the top of their game. I tend to like Sam Rockwell in almost
everything, so it's no surprise that I think he's terrific here. I've never liked Peter Dinklage in ANYTHING, but I thought he did a fine
job. Lucas Hedges is a young actor who seems to be having a moment, and he was great as McDormand's son who suddenly finds
himself thrust into the role of the grown-up in the family. In case you missed it, the thrust of the plot is that McDormand's daughter
was raped and murdered, and the police were unable to turn up a lead for seven months, leading a grieving and guilt-stricken
McDormand to rent three billboards near her house to castigate the local police for their ineffectiveness. The moral of the movie (and
how refreshing it is to find a movie that has one) is that anger escalates until people start behaving like grown-ups.
Three Billboards
Outside of Ebbing, Missouri
, is a treat (although not for children), and I think you'll thank me for recommending it to you. (12/4/2017)

THE MAN WHO INVENTED CHRISTMAS  I suppose I would be remiss in my duties as a Christian if I didn't take issue with the
movie's title. I'm pretty sure that Charles Dickens didn't invent Christmas, nor we he presume to take credit for it. Having said that, I
think it is fair to give him credit for much of the Victorian Era hoopla to which he gave voice that shapes how we observe the holiday
in our era. This movie suggests how
A Christmas Carol might have been written. Basically, it's the standard "artist-as-self-absorbed
jackass" scenario. His inspirations come from a plethora of sources including a young Irish maid who tells his children ghost stories, a
waiter named Marley and his brother's crippled son who walks with a crutch. There's some hoo-hah about Dickens' own childhood
and his relationship with his own father that adds far less to the movie than the writer and director would have you believe, but it's
more than made up for by a charming device that allows the characters Boz has created to materialize (in his mind, anyway), and sit
around the room while he's trying to write and even to follow him around London. Chief among them, of course, is Scrooge-a
marvelous Christopher Plummer acting just as obnoxiously as Captain Von Trapp. To make a movie like this work, you need someone
who can make a beast like Dickens lovable, someone like--Dan Stevens, whose ability to Make Emma Watson's Belle love the Beast in
Beauty and the Beast something much less treacly than might have been imagined. Maybe I was sitting too close to the screen, but I'd
almost swear that half the movie's running time was consumed in close-ups of Dickens' face. For a moment, I contemplated counting
Mr. Stevens' pores. As Mr. Stevens has a handsome face, this was a minor annoyance in what was overall a rather terrific movie. See
it if you can, but if you can, but if you can't, don't worry. It'll probably be on television forever. (12/3/2017)

LADY BIRD Saoirse Ronan was twelve when she appeared in Atonement ten years ago. Now, she's 23, and still playing high school
students. Not that it matters because she knocks her role out of the park in
Lady Bird, but it was kind of distracting for the first few
minutes as you sat and wondered how old she really is. (Could have been worse. Stockard Channing was 34 when she played high
school bad girl Rizzo in
Grease. But I digress.) I had also heard wonderful things about Laurie Metcalf's performance as her mother,
but I have to say that although I generally love Laurie Metcalf in almost anything, I really don't think this role was her best work. Lady
Bird tells the story of a high school senior in Sacramento in 2002 with a lot more humanity, humor, pathos and reason than almost
anything you'll see in a movie or on television.  You keep expecting something stupid to happen that will take these characters out of
themselves, but nothing ever does, and as result, we get a story of some fairly sane people going through times that are going through
a bad patch as their teenager daughter is dealing with going through her senior year of high school. Being a high school girl, we count
on Lady Bird to befriend the wrong people, belittle her true friends and remain generally unconscious of any traumatic life events her
family might be experiencing.
Lady Bird is an interesting slice of life about a particular family at a particular time (2002) in a particular
place (Sacramento).  It's terrific.  Check it out. (12/2/2017)

SCUMBAG  In one night, I watched two movies about millennials who thought that becoming a human guinea pig in a drug trial was a
valid career choice. Is that a thing now? The better of the two was
Scumbag, in which a struggling millennial in Los Angeles takes a
number of crummy jobs, chief among them being a telemarketer in an agency full of low-lifes and young people living on the edge. I
was told by somebody who actually appears in the movie that this could almost be a documentary of sorts because there was indeed a
telemarketing office in Los Angeles where people pretty much like these-well, scumbags-earned rent money when their writing,
performing and drug-dealing jobs dried up.
Scumbag says way too much about America in the Obama years that nobody wants to
hear, but to its credit, it makes its points with humor and some fairly good music. Unless you plan to attend a film festival in the next
few months, you'll never see this movie in a theater, but maybe you can catch it online sometime. (12/1/2017)

FIND ME is lovely. An Asian-American accountant in a Los Angeles office is slowly dying inside as he lives a miserable existence in
his office cubicle between visits to his domineering mother and abusive ex-wife. Unbeknownst to him, a co-worker at the office really
is dying-of cancer-and has decided that one of the items on her bucket list is to get her friend out the oozing miasma his life has
become. Knowing that he's worried about her, she leads him on a scavenger hunt along some of her favorite hiking trails in the
western United States. Each recorded clue his friend leaves for him ends with an exhortation to "find me." Our hero is no
outdoorsman, but as he follow her trail, he's given a new appreciation for the world around him and the people in it who are so much
nicer than the people he's been surrounding himself with all his adult life. The acting is first-rate, and the scenery in places like Zion
National Park and Yosemite is breathtaking. You know the movie is working because as it rolls along, you start to dread the
ending-whatever it may be-because you can't believe that it's not going to be disappointing. And then it comes-and it's exquisite.  This
may be one of my favorite movies of 2017. On behalf of the movie, I just want to encourage you to "Find Me." (11/30/2017)

ROMAN J. ISRAEL, ESQ. is like nothing you've seen before. That statement is neither an endorsement nor a criticism. The movie is
just-different. Roman (Denzel Washington) is a committed lefty from the 70's who attending a law school you've never heard of and
worked for another lawyer for the last forty years for a famous civil rights lawyer who absolutely ruined his life. For the past forty
years, Roman has been wanting to change the world, but he's been completely oblivious to the fact that the world has indeed changed
since
Shaft was released-just not in any way he would recognize. But then his boss dies and Roman is left to fend for himself,
believing that he is some sort of crusader whose work in support of what he believes will still change the world. To pay the bills,
Roman goes to work for slick LA attorney Colin Farrell, who gives him a mostly-unwanted crash course in how the 21st century
works. What makes this movie different is that Roman quickly and readily embraces the tactics of scumbags while still telling people
that he's fighting for The Cause. It's hard to believe that someone as intelligent as Roman pretends to be would act in such a way.
Needless to say, the 21st century does not return Roman's embrace, and all hell breaks loose.  I left the theater thinking that I liked
watching the movie, but that it made no sense.  Maybe you can tell me about it.  (11/28/2017)

BOO 2 and A BAD MOMS CHRISTMAS  Dear Friends, Something is wrong. I don't know if it's the movies, or it's me. If my
comments about six of the last nine movies didn't give it away, I've seen some really, really awful movies over the past four months. If
it weren't for
Atomic Blonde and Wind River, which I loved over that same period, I'd wonder if I were even capable of enjoying
movies anymore. But
Boo 2 and A Bad Mom's Christmas are so bad, they're actually offensive. In the past, I've given a pass to every
Madea movie ever made--until
Boo, which I hoped was an anomaly. And just last year, I thought I'd bust a gut at the tackiness of Bad
Moms.
I don't think I've changed, but these two crap sandwiches are inexplicable. Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, et al have been in funny
movies before.  They had to know that this wasn't going to be one.  Was there just too much money involved for someone (maybe
executive produce Kunis) to step back and say, "This really sucks. Let's take some time and get it right." Maybe that's it. Maybe Boo
and Bad Moms just made so much money that there was nothing to do about them but short the market.  In any event, they both stink.
Let's hope better days are ahead. (11/15/2017)

SAME KIND OF DIFFERENT AS ME  has been tagged as a "Christian" movie, so you may not hear much about it anywhere but
here. Which may be a good thing as there's not much to see here.  Greg Kinnear is an art dealer (OK) in Austin who resents his father
(Jon Voigt) and cheats on his wife (Renee Zellweger). She finds out, forgives him but insists that some changes must be made in the
marriage--chief among them, he has to come along with her to work in a downtown homeless shelter. At the shelter, he meets a very
angry street person (Dimon Honsou), who has his own abandonment issues with his father. The gruff Honsou helps Kinnear to see
that his own problems aren't that great and shows how he can work to resolve them.  The movie means well. Zellweger is almost
unrecognizable in an odd brown wig; Kinnear isn't remotely believable, and Honsou's character is basically a nut case. (As a poor black
child in Louisiana, he thought it would be fun to dress up in a Ku Klux Klan leader's robe.) The more I write about this movie, the less
I like it, so I suppose I should quit before I have to go back and change the color to
red.  (10/24/2017)

AMERICAN MADE  As a Baton Rougean old enough to remember the Barry Seal story from the 1980's, I was very excited to hear
that a movie would be made of the story and that Tom Cruise would appear in it. Sadly, hearing the announcement that movie was
being made was the height of my enjoyment of the project because in the weeks leading up to the roll-out, I started hearing things
about the movie that seemed inconsistent with my memories-mainly, that the movie would be a comedy. But I went. It's not a comedy.
It's really not much of anything unless we now live in age in which cynicism and comedy are synonyms-and maybe we do. I think the
movie-makers were going for some weird mash-up of
Catch Me If You Can and Scarface. Nothing about either of those movies
suggests that they are remotely "mashable", and
American Made certainly doesn't pull off the trick either. Tom Cruise is always
watchable, but even he looks lost in this mess. I actually went back to his filmography to find the last time he seemed so badly used in
a movie. Although I didn't see it, I'd think that
Rock of Ages might have been a contender in the category. (10/14/2017)

WIND RIVER  Considering the junk I've seen this summer and the Coming Attractions I've seen for the rest of the year, I'm going to
go out on a limb and say that this will be one of my three favorite movies of the year. Perhaps that's not a surprise since Taylor
Sheridan who directed this movie also directed Sicario, my favorite movie from a couple of years ago. (See inset left.) I have a friend
in Wyoming who says it's "important." Maybe, but I doubt it.
Wind River starts by telling you that it is "based on actual events," and
ends with a caption that "nobody knows" how many Native American women go missing each year because nobody keeps track of
missing women on Native American reservations. That's troubling, but frankly, I'm not sure that
Wind River is a movie that illustrates
that point particularly well. But like I said, it's a really good movie. I can barely stand to watch Jeremy Renner in
anything (except
Hansel and Gretl, Witch Hunters-
weird), but here, he's quite good as some sort of ranger whose job it is to keep animals safe on
federal lands. While tracking mountain lions one day, he finds the body of a girl who'd been raped before walking six miles over ice
and snow and eventually dying. Sent to investigate the potential murder is a novice FBI agent from Fort Lauderdale, who is literally out
of her element in a cruel Wyoming winter. Nobody else in the Wyoming law enforcement community is offering her much help, so she
teams with Renner and they go looking for whoever raped the girl and sent her into the storm to die. Elizabeth Olson from
Godzilla
and other movies, plays the agent with the right mix of confusion, irritation and determination.
Wind River is excellent, but not for
everybody.  Its violence isn't just physical, and it really leaves you thinking that some people are just lost. (9/17/2017)

(UPDATE:
Wind River, a production of The Weinstein Company, is almost certain to get skunked at the Academy Awards for reasons
that have nothing to do with the movie itself. Sad.)

LANDLINE   The blurbs that this movie uses to describe itself in its advertising include descriptions like "warm, family comedy,"
"deeply felt" and "hilarious". All I can say is that if
Landlines is any of those things, I must have wandered into the wrong theater.
Feckless husband and useless father John Turturro, Edie Falco as the Hillary clone who made him that way, and their two daughters
haunt the Upper West Side in the 1990's. I almost said that the couple had "adult" daughters, but one is either out of college or never
went, and the younger one doesn't let the fact that she's still in high school get in the way of going clubbing every night and otherwise
doing whatever the hell she wants to do knowing that her parents won't do a thing about it. At the risk of sounding like the old man
yelling at kids to get off his lawn, my intense dislike of all these people left me caring not one whit about how miserable they chose to
make themselves. I gave up the search for "warm" and "hilarious" early on, and by the end of the movie, I was kind of hoping they'd
all find some reason to be at the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11th.   (8/6/2017)

LADY MACBETH  A teen-age girl is married off to a loveless family of men on a shabby estate. To repay their cruelty, she kills off
first the abusive father-in-law, the feckless husband, the ten-year-old boy who would be the master of the estate in the future, a
remorseful lover, and an expendable servant. It's perhaps fair to say that her punishment will fit the crime because she will have to go
on living in the barren hell she's created for herself. Florence Pugh, who was herself only eighteen when the movie was shot, is
convincing, and while I think it's admirable that she plays the role without inducing an ounce of sympathy, I found myself resenting a
movie that gave me nothing but feeling sorry for the people who got in her way. You have to look pretty hard to find a critic who
didn't like this movie. I can only imagine that would be because they all have press packets that tell you that the setting for the movie is
"Northern England" in 1865. I won't quibble with the location. It looked like Scotland to me, but if they want to call it England, more
power to them. The date is important, though, because the director of the film has chosen to cast black actors in key roles as servants.
In those roles, the actors are beaten, killed and framed for murders--not necessarily in that order. It looks very much as if they are
chattel slaves, rather than mere "servants", and that casts the despicable goings-on in the plot-already reprehensible enough-in a
stranger, darker (no pun intended) light. Watching
Lady MacBeth was like watching a basket of snakes and wondering if one is more
interesting than another.  (8/5/2017)

ATOMIC BLONDE  has more plot twists than it needs to be credible, but that's a minor complaint about a pretty terrific movie. The
"good" Charlize Theron is in this one, and she plays a kick-ass spy in 1989, who's undertaking a master-spy mission in Berlin during
the week the Wall came down. But as the movie itself tells you, "this is not that story." It's stylish, smart and funny-and the soundtrack
includes 80's standards like "Der Kommissar" and "99 Luftballoons." It's not "mindless trash"--but it probably wouldn't mind if you call
it that. (7/31/2017)

A GHOST STORY  has an 89-minute run-time, but it feels like months and months. As you can see by looking to the left to see my
favorite movie from last year, I think Casey Affleck can do almost anything Here, he walks around with a sheet over his head for about
75 of the movie's 89 minutes. He gamely tries to project--something--but it's a futile effort. Rooney Mara as his wife/partner/friend
doesn't fare much better. To fill her screen time, she gets a big scene where she eats pie--for something line ten minutes. It's pretty
clear that the movie makers had a great idea that ran out of gas, and they had no idea how to finish the movie. At 89 minutes, it was
about 80 minutes too long.  (7/29/2017)

DUNKIRK  When I got home from this movie, I went to IMDb to see if any of the characters in this movie actually had names. I
remembered a boy named George who made it through about the first ten minutes of the movie, but other than him, I didn't remember
anybody in the movie who actually had a name. Which goes to the central flaw of Dunkirk, which is that it seems very much like the
highlight reel of a war movie instead of a war movie itself. There's action galore, and it's very well staged. Like every other movie, I'm
sure it has its share of CGI, but it's not evident in what's on the screen. What you don't get is a story, a connection with any of the
characters, or even a coherent telling of the amazing story of the evacuation from Dunkirk.  At the beginning, we're told that we're in
Week One of the action. How many weeks were there?  Who know? The action in the movie-glorious as it is-seems to be unstuck in
time. It seems to happen over the course of a day-and-a-half, because we never see soldiers doing anything on the beach other than
standing around waiting to be evacuated.  They don't eat, sleep or much of anything else. One sortie by an English fighter squadron
seemed to go on for hours. Dunkirk never bores you--but it doesn't tell you much, either. (7/27/2017)

THE BOOK OF HENRY   This movie is kind of a mess, but it's always watchable because of its star, Naomi Watts.  As a mother of
one brilliant (he prefers "precocious") pre-teen and a younger son who knows his brother is brilliant, she's a little-bit unpredictable-even
when she's doing predictable things.  
BIG SPOILER ALERT: Sorry, but I can't really address what the movie's ultimately about
without telling you that Henry dies in the first hour of the movie. Which is too bad, because the young actor who portrays him is quite
brilliant-and he looks like he could be the son of Dane de Haan. Henry, who in his eleven years on Earth, ran his mother's life to the
extent that he feels that he needs to give her something to do after he dies to ease her through however many stages of grief she
chooses. The task he gives her is audacious, and under the circumstances outrageous-and, of course, he's planned it meticulously. The
denouement of the movie is a disappointing deus ex machina that the writers should probably be ashamed of, but it does finally give
Watts an opportunity to shine as she realizes that what a mature adult would do isn't necessarily the same thing an eleven-year-old
would do. Some people won't like the movie because during its two-hour running time, it seems to be three or four different movies.  I
kind of liked that and recommend it to you.  (6/24/2017)
,
PARIS CAN WAIT  
After five decades of watching her husband Francis make movies, 80-year-old Eleanor Coppola went to France a
made this very modest, but mostly enjoyable truffle about a profoundly repressed American woman, Anne (Diane Lane) who drives
from Cannes to Paris with one of her movie-producer husband's (Alec Baldwin-who mercifully disappears after the first ten minutes)
business partners. Tightly-wound Anne starts to uncoil as she and her driver/tour guide/flirt (Arnaud Viard) roll through Provence and
Burgundy, stopping to take pictures of aqueducts, look at lavender, smell roses (Anne mentions that she likes the smell of French
roses, and Viard buys about ten dozen of them so that the back seat of the car will smell nice during the trip-it's that kind of movie),
stay at a lovely inn, eat a dinner that probably cost about a thousand bucks a plate, look at cathedrals and even tour the Lumiere
museum.  
Paris Can Wait is a ninety-minute infomercial for the French Tourism Board, and I thought about sticking around for the
credits to see if the government had put money into the project. (It didn't.) The movie is smooth--Diane Lane can do this kind of stuff
in her sleep-and when it's over, it's achieved it's purpose-purpose-you want to go to France.  (6/23/2017)

BEATRIZ AT DINNER  bills itself as "The First Great Movie of the Trump Era."  (I suspect that if Hillary had won, Wonder Woman
would have staked the claim.)  In it, Salma Hayek is a Mexican immigrant fantasizes about murdering a billionaire hotelier (John
Lithgow) with no discernible social conscience-and she's a "healer", no less.  At a time when the New York Free Theater is figuratively
murdering Donald Trump on stage every night in Central Park, and in a movie theater in a district represented in Congress by Steve
Scalise, who at the time of this writing is still in the hospital following an assassination attempt, this is not the time or place for this
movie. Having said that, I'm not sure what the time and place for this movie would be-be-unless it would be whenever people who
fantasize about murdering the President get together to talk about doing it.  In this movie's defense, I suppose that the director and
writer might have thought they were making a
Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? for the new millennium.  They do actually manage to
strike that vibe for a few minutes as rich, white folks behind the gates of their community in Newport Beach try to figure out what to
make of the poor, soulful Mexican who has landed in their midst.  But mostly, it's just hard to watch-and not in a good way.  
(6/22/2017)

CHURCHILL   Had you ever heard that in the week before D-Day in 1944, Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
(and acclaimed in this movie as "the Greatest Briton of All Time", had doubts about the invasion and did everything in his power to
have it called off?  Me neither, but apparently, there's a footnote to some reminiscence that compelled the makers of this movie to tell
this story. It's a beautiful movie, and most of it is composed of close-ups of the faces of actors who do a stellar job, chief among them
being Brian Cox, the baddie from the
Bourne movies, as Churchill, Miranda Richardson as his wife Clementine, John Slattery from
Mad Men as Eisenhower and James Purefoy as King George VI. (Colin Firth won an Oscar for acting the role of Queen Elizabeth's
dad in
The King's Speech, but as far as I'm concerned, Purefoy is much more compelling in the role.) The only reason that I don't give
this movie my highest recommendation is that I rather doubt that it any of it ever happened.  (6/10/2017)

WONDER WOMAN  Imagine my surprise to read all the glowing reviews of a superhero movie and find out that it was so boring that
I might have fallen asleep during part of it. If it's possible to set aside its feminist sensibilities (and I'm not sure it is), this movie isn't
any less ridiculous than whatever then next
Thor or Spiderman movie is going to be. Wonder Woman is of course an Diana, an
Amazon, whose mother the queen thinks she needs to go out into the world to fulfill her destiny. Yeah, whatever. The first assignment
she decides to undertake is to end World War I.  (Do you need a moment to allow that to soak in?) She's decided that the German
general Erich Ludendorff is really the Greek god of war Ares and goes after him with the help American spy Steve Trevor. The plot
ties itself into knots as WWI is already winding down and Armistice talks have already begun. In other words, WW seeks to end a war
that was about to end without her. But there is one big last-if improbable--task that could save thousands of lives, so she does that. Gal
Gadot is no less ridiculous than Lynda Carter was on television in the 70's, and she's back up by Chris Pine doing work as Steve
Trevor and the incomparable Robin Wright kicking butt as her early mentor. This may mean nothing to you, but I thought this was the
drabbest superhero movie I've ever seen. There are sunshine and bright colors in the scenes of Diana's youth, but when the movie
goes on to London and Belgium, it looks as if it's shot through a blue-grey mist that washes out everybody and everything. I give it a
meh+.  (6/9/2017)

MEGAN LEAVEY   If you want to see a great movie about war dogs who sniff out explosives on the battlefield, go see Max, which
came out in 2015.  It may or may not be more realistic than
Megan Leavey, but it was a more memorable movie, and the dog was a
better actor.  But as for
Megan Leavey, it's not bad, but it's not great. Most of the responsibility or blame, I think, goes into sharing
way too much information about Megan's not-terribly-interesting-and-certainly-not-inspiring personal life with us. Telling me that
Megan hates her stepfather and who she slept with while she was a Marine weren't things that enhanced the movie for me. Scenes of
Megan's training and her work with Rex, the troubled dog she was paired with and eventually grew to love, are great. I wish there had
been more of them. More importantly, I think the movie dropped a ball a couple of times when it tried to go for big awwwww
moments and fell flat. On two occasions, Rex and Megan are reunited after long absences, and we're meant to meant to melt at the
sight, but we see the two of them running toward each other and then we cut to a scene of Megan petting the dog while it's just
standing there doing nothing.  Is it fair to criticize a dog's acting ability? Probably not, but Rex is no
Max.  (6/8/2017)

MY COUSIN RACHEL   If you ever pay attention to my comments at all, you know that there are a handful of people who can do no
wrong, and that Rachel Weitz is one of them. In this telling of the Daphne du Maurier novel of the same name, she's brilliant in the title
role. Sam Claflin (Finnick from
The Hunger Games) is less so as Philip, the moonstruck English rube who can't wait to turn over to
her his mother's jewels, his estate and eventually, everything he has. If there's a flaw with the movie, it's the speed with which this
process occurs.  Before Rachel, the woman who married his deceased godfather in Italy in the 18th century, turns up on his doorstep,
Philip has determined that Rachel is somehow responsible for her husband's death and decides that she is to be shunned as a guest.
Before she's been there a week, he's given her an "allowance" to sustain her. The mystery of the movie is whether Rachel did indeed
kill Philip' godfather and whether she's trying to do the same to him now. Personally, I think the movie would have been better had
Philip been less of a moonstruck puppy who should have played a little harder to get. But that's just me. The movie is quite well done
as it is. (6/6/2017)

COLOSSAL   There's panic in the streets of Seoul as the giant reptile terrorizes the city, and it's...it's...wait for it...Anne Hathaway!  
Is this
Devil Wears Prada II: Miranda vs. Godzilla?  No, but it's close. Clearly some studio had zero faith in this movie. It's got stars
out the wazoo--Hathaway, Jason Sudekis, Dan Stevens (who knows something himself about portraying beasts in movies), but
apparently, it couldn't get released. Which is too bad. Hathaway is a millennial slacker in New York who finally gets dumped by
boyfriend Stevens when she shows up once too often well after the sun has risen in the morning. She runs away to her hometown
(which could be anywhere) and stumbles upon elementary school friend Jason Sudekis. Due to one of those
Freaky Friday-style
transfers that can only happen in the movies, Anne discovers that if she shows up the school playground at exactly 8:05 a.m., a
terrifying monster will stalk the streets of Seoul at the same time and mimic whatever she's doing in the sandbox-the difference being
that while she's merely stumbling through a sandpile, the monster is crushing people, cars and buildings in Korea.  And that's just the
first half-hour.  According to Rotten Tomatoes, it's an action-comedy-drama, and I suppose they're right.  Surprisingly, the critics and
fans like it a lot-which makes me wonder why more people aren't hearing about it.  But I'm sure it'll be on Netflix soon, so be on the
lookout for it.  (5/4/17)

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY: VOLUME 2    Now that I know that they're going to be around forever and there's no way to get
rid of them (they even seem to be reproducing), I'm starting to loathe the Marvel Universe and everyone in it.  The first
Guardian of
the Galaxy
was alright, but I knew that if I liked it too much, there'd be twenty lesser sequels that would strangle the multi-plexes for
years, keeping better films out of public consideration.  So far, I'm right. Volume 2 is a lesser movie-it's bigger, louder, crashier (that's
a word, right?) than it's predecessor, but it's also got lots of great tunes from the 70's and 80's and just enough heart to keep me from
disliking it. There's no point in dignifying the plot by recapping it here. Suffice to say that at some point, Rockit the Raccoon, mouths,
"So we're saving the world again?"  And in a nutshell, that's the plot. I give the movie credit for digging up the remains of Kurt Russell,
Sylvester Stallone and David Hasselhoff, and manages to make them almost entertaining.  But the movie is a big, loud thing, so be
prepared.  (5/3/17)

THE CIRCLE   This movie has been taking a hit online by critics and fans, and it's no wonder-the movie itself threw the first punch at
people who live their lives with their devices.  This movie reminded me a lot of
Network in a weird way.  In the 80's, Peter Finch was
yelling at people to stop watching television and tell everyone that they're mad as hell and aren't going to take it anymore. In this movie,
Emma Watson is a beautiful young millennial who has no idea how to dress for a job interview but still gets the gig in customer service
at The Circle, some sort of online thing that's like Facebook on steroids. At first, she's a gung-ho acolyte of allowing total strangers
into her life. Gradually, things start going horribly wrong, and she finally wises up.
The Circle isn't nearly as perceptive,  sharp and
well-written as
Network-network-or The Truman Show or EdTV, two other movies that this one might remind you of. But it does have
Emma Watson, who is becoming a star this year if she wasn't one already. Watching her in anything-anything-even the woeful first
hour of
Beauty and the Beast elevates the movie-watching experience.  The Circle isn't as bad as the internet says it is-is-nor is the
reverse true. Check it out. (5/3/17)

GIFTED  I always go into movies like this with at least a small sense of foreboding.  This story of an uncle who promises his sister
he'll raise her daughter as a "normal kid"--against the wishes of her mother, who sees the child (correctly) as a math prodigy who
should be raised as a MacBook Pro, had trouble written all over it. Happily, the material is lifted considerably by three great
performances from McKenna Grace as the little girl, Chris Evans as her uncle and Lindsay Duncan as the grandmother. Grace is
clearly the next member of the Fanning family to break out. Her performance (even if she's not actually seven-years-old) is
phenomenal. Duncan is always good, so the joker in the deck is Chris Evans. No actor in the Marvel Universe is as closely identified to
his Marvel role as Evans is to Captain America. But here, he shows that he can play an understated Florida boat repair guy who just
happened to be an associate professor of philosophy at Boston University before taking his niece under his wing seven years earlier and
moving to St. Petersburg. All three are excellent-as is the perpetually underestimated Octavia Spencer as the sympathetic next-door
neighbor. In a movie that could turn trite at any given point never does and is one of the best movies I've seen all year.  (4/23/2017)

ELLA BRENNAN: COMMANDING THE TABLE  Whenever I'm asked, I always say that the best meal I've ever eaten was a
salt-encrusted redfish served by Chef Jamie Shannon at the Chef's Table at Commander's Palace back in the 90's. When I tell people
about it, they look at me like it's something I've made up. At last, I have material to refute. This superb documentary about the life of
Ella Brennan has a thirty-second clip of Mr. Shannon preparing a redfish in this manner and serving at the Chef's Table-although not to
me, of course. Ostensibly an homage to the grande dame of New Orleans cuisine, this movie is really the story of New Orleans
cuisine-and for that matter, American cuisine over the past sixty years. When Ella and her siblings opened the original Brennan's Vieux
Carre restaurant in the 1950's, New Orleans was described by one food critic as "a city of 500 restaurants and five recipes." Making a
name for herself and her restaurant first with innovative egg dishes, Ella and her family eventually morphed into the juggernaut that is
Commander's Palace, which was in the vanguard of the Cajun and Creole revolution under chef Paul Prudhomme, the "nouvelle
cuisine" fad (which I loathed) when Emeril Lagasse ran the show and the whole farm-to-table movement under Jamie Shannon. It's a
remarkable story, and the film makers here tell it well. It's on Net flex starting in May, so I suggest you check it out.  (4/22/2017)

THE BOOK OF CLARENCE  Over the years, I know I've seen the Blind Boys of Alabama in the Gospel Tent at Jazzfest at least five
times. It never occurred to me that the members of the group in recent years weren't the same as the members of the original group
until I saw this doc at the Louisiana International Film Festival, which informed me that the group was originally formed at the
Alabama Institute for the Negro Blind in 1939. They performed as the "Happyland Jubilee Singers" until the 1950's, when they were
booked at a theater in New Jersey with a similar group from Mississippi called the Jackson Harmoneers. The show was billed as the
Blind Boys of Alabama vs. The Blind Boys of Mississippi-and the name stuck. The two groups toured together for twenty years
afterward. The Blind Boys labored in relative obscurity until they appeared in a Broadway show called
Gospel at Colonus in the 1970's
with a relatively unknown actor named Morgan Freeman.  The rest is, as they say, history. The star of this documentary of the
group's history is Clarence Fountain, as close as the Blind Boys had to a lead singer, who I'm sure has seen his share of the world's
foolishness, but has emerged in his 90's as a beam of pure love.  I can't recommend this movie highly enough-but having said that, it
was difficult for me to separate what I was watching on the screen from what was going on in the theater around me.  Four seats
down from me on Row D was Clarence Fountain himself and his wife. (He's been living in Baton Rouge for the past twenty years.
Who knew?) Scattered throughout the theater were Jimmy Carter, the only other member of the original group still with us; the
director and producer of
Gospel at Colonus; and many of Mr. Fountain's friends. As I said, Clarence is now in his 90's and living from
one dialysis session to the next. There was a palpable feeling in the room that this might be the last time that all these people might be in
the same room together, and it cast a spell over the evening.
The Book of Clarence is an inspiring work, and watching it was a magical
experience. (4/22/2017)

CEZANNE AND ME  If you didn't already know that the writer Emile Zola and the painter Paul Cezanne were childhood and life-long
friends, you'll pick up on it quickly enough in this attractive but bland telling of their story. Both men are firebrands as youth, suffer for
their arts, eventually find success and turn into cranky old men. Under this formula, the scenes of the men as young men are a lot
more interesting than those of their later years, which are chock full of remorse and jealousy. Do they remain friends after all they go
through? (What do you think?) The movie's biggest problem is that the answer isn't all that difficult to guess, and frankly, some of the
animosity between the two men feels trumped up to keep the plot moving forward. Both actors in the key roles are excellent as the
younger versions of their roles, perhaps because they're playing characters closer to their own ages. But as they age, they feel less
certain, less in command of their characters, which makes the second half of the movie something of a slog. I liked it, but I can easily
understand someone with less interest in the characters or the period moving on to more interesting fare.  (4/22/2017)

NOLA CIRCUS  desperately wants to be a cross between Do The Right Thing and Diva.  It wants to marry social relevance with a
sense of boho whimsy. But it's neither. It's just a mess. Imagine if you will: rival barbershops on either side of a street on Algiers Point
in New Orleans. Neither proprietor is someone who should not be entrusted with sharp tools. Both are surrounded by family and
friends who are bat-crap crazy. Among the crowd is Nola, sister to one of the barbers, who hasn't had a coherent thought in years.
Out on the periphery somewhere are some Italian-American stereotypes who make Sal in
Do the Right Thing look like King Lear. The
plot is nonsensical and the tone of the movie is offensive in all its particulars. Except for an exceptional score and music, it offends me
to think that the State of Louisiana provided the tax credits which got the thing made in the first place. (4/22/2017)

THE RYAN FRANCIS STORY   Ryan Francis was a North Baton Rouge kid who was good enough at basketball to get a scholarship
to the University of Southern California in 2005.  On a trip home for Mother's Day in 2006, he was hanging with some friends at a
club until about 2:30 on a Friday morning and-and-stop me if you know where this is going-got caught in the cross-fire of a gang fight
at the intersection of Acadian Thruway and Winbourne Street. The film spends the first hour on young Ryan's basketball exploits in
high school, the next thirty minutes on his death, and perhaps the last ten on the nature of urban crime in America. Despite it's good
intentions, the movie actually undermines its own logical examination of urban crime by having at least three of Ryan's friends or
family say that Ryan's death was "nobody's fault." I beg to differ. A 19-year-old kid stood in the street and pumped several rounds into
the vehicle where Ryan and his friends were waiting for a traffic light. That young man is now in Angola-likely for the rest of his life.
If Ryan's death isn't seen as "somebody's" fault, the larger situation is never going to get better.  Having said that, I realize that my
frustration with Ryan's death shouldn't impact my attitude toward the movie.  About the movie, my only criticism is that while we have
an hour and a half of people talking about Ryan, we learn precious little from Ryan-he talks for about thirty seconds in the whole
movie. Clearly he liked basketball and he loved his mother. If there's anything else to know about this young man, we don't learn it
here. Which is a shame. (4/22/2017)

WHEN THE RIVERS RISE   So we had a little rain in and around Baton Rouge on August 12, 2016. It was described as the greatest
natural disaster since Tropical Storm Sandy in 2012, and it devastated neighborhoods and town throughout South Louisiana. One of
those places was Springfield, Louisiana, where director Paul Catolanotto filmed the reaction of the Springfield Fire Department to the
unprecedented problems that thirty-six inches of rainfall can offer. The movie is told in an interview format with five or six members
of the fire department team who helped to rescue hundreds of local individuals and families who were unprepared for the storm. The
fire-fighters are engaging, their stories are interesting, Mr. Catolanotto tells the stories well, and the good people of Springfield should
be proud to have these fine men and women looking after them. For all of that, I felt that I was watching one of the better cable
network news shows, not a documentary film. There's nothing objectionable here and much to admire, but it just didn't feel like a
movie. (4/22/2017)

THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD (1996)   In case you're wondering what this twenty-one year-old movie is doing on this list, it was a
closing day selection at the Louisiana International Film Festival which honored Dan Ireland, the artistic director of the festival for its
first four years and the director of this movie. Mr. Ireland died in April, 2016, and among his accomplishments was directing this film,
which was Renee Zellweger's first movie after her break-out performance in
Jerry Maguire. (Note to my old-age self who might be
reading this twenty years from now: This was the day I had the opportunity to meet Ms. Zellweger in person. Lovely woman.)
The
Whole Wide World
is the story of writer Robert Howard, a lonely, mother-obsessed Texan who created Conan, the Barbarian. Vincent
D'Onofrio plays Howard, who may well have been as over-the-top a person as he's portrayed in the movie. Ms. Zellweger plays
Novalyn, a local sweetie-pie with whom Howard connects and has a Platonic relationship, but never really loves. While there's really
not a lot of romance to be found, Mr. Ireland certainly films it as if there was. While everything looks too pristine to convince the
viewer that we're in Texas in the mid-1930's, I can safely say that the Hill Country has never looked better. Everything about
The
Whole Wide World-its
look, its pace, its characters-are just a bit too stilted to convince you of its truth, but the whole wide world it
does evince isn't bad either.  (4/22/2017)

GOING IN STYLE  is a remake of an equally awful movie from 1979 starring Art Carney, George Burns and Lee Strasberg. But
having said that, doesn't it feel like this same movie has been made seven or eight times in the past few years with these same people?
You had the
RED movies, that misbegotten mess that was filmed in New Orleans with Arnold Scharzenegger and Sylvester Stallone,
Thick as Thieves--you get the idea. I'm happy that older actors are getting roles that require something of them other than being
somebody's grandfather, but the roles they're getting are getting kind of stale. Throughout this movie, I kept telling myself I'd stay
another five minutes unless it got too awful. While it never became awful enough to walk out of, it was never good enough to enjoy.
You get the idea, but before I wrap up these comments, I do want to give props to the movie for giving us a few glorious minutes with
the unsinkable Ann-Margret. The woman is a treasure. She looks great and she still have the effortless charm that made us all fall in
love with her sixty years ago. All I can say is that she deserves better. (4/8/2017)

THE ZOOKEEPER'S WIFE  One recent reviewer who didn't like this movie very much called it "Schindler's List with Bunnies." It's a
harsh assessment, but I get where they're coming from. I assume that the movie-makers were stuck with the title because: 1) it's
based on a book by the same name by Diane Ackerman; and 2) Jessica Chastain is a much bigger name than Johan Heldenbergh who
plays the nominal zookeeper and her husband in the movie. But in truth, as presented in the movie, the zookeeper is a much more
interesting character than his wife. He's the one who smuggled over 300 Jews out of the Warsaw Ghetto during WWII, and he's the
one who joined the partisans and went off to fight in the waning months of the war when the Russians were closing in on Warsaw-he
was the zookeeper. True, the wife did indeed help run the zoo before war, she helped to take care of the Jews who hid in her
basement, and she kept the family together while the husband was off fighting, but her work only got "cinematic" when the Nazis
found out the Jews were hiding in her house, and she had to herd them all off before the SS showed up. Other than this one big flaw
in the logic of the movie, my only other real complaint is really only minor, and that is the accent that Jessica Chastain's chose to use in
the movie. All around her, actors --some of whom
were Poles--were speaking English in accents that were barely perceptible. Ms.
Chastain, however, opted to go full-Meryl Streep
a la Sophie's Choice and speak in an accent that reminded me of nothing so much as
a ten-year-old girl. It wasn't offensive, but it was a distraction. With these minor complaints, I still recommend The Zookeeper's Wife
as one of the relatively few inspiring stories to come out of a dreadful war.  (4/7/2017)

LOST CITY OF Z(ed)  I don't remember the sequence, but Charlie Hunnam either did or did not sign up to play Sebastian Gray in 50
Shades of Gray
, and then he either backed out because he didn't think the part was right for him or was asked to back out because
fifty million readers of the book thought he was sexy enough for the role. He'd already made it big in a t.v. show I haven't seen called
Sons of Anarchy, and when his scheduled suddenly opened up, he signed on to this project. Having seen 50 Shades and now him in this
movie, I think I can say: 1) he was right to drop out of that project because it stunk; and 2) I think he would have brought more
gravitas to
50 Shades than poor ole Jamie Dornan. Instead we get Hunnam as Percy Fawcett, a British army officer recruited by the
Royal Geographical Society to map the Rio Verde along the borders of Brazil and Bolivia. It's an arduous trip, and when he gets the
source of Rio Verde, he finds evidence of a great lost city of the Indians. He got talked out of looking for it because the expedition was
running out of food. When he returned to London and presented his findings to the RGS, he found a rich patron who was willing to
finance a second trip to search for the lost city.  The second trip fell apart because the patron who insisted on going wasn't up to
making such a perilous journey. Then Percy went off to World War I and saw action on the Somme, where he survived a gas attack.
Recuperating in England a decade later, his young son talked him into making one last search for the lost city of Z. So off they went.
Did they find it? To find out, you'll have to see the movie for yourself. (It's not a simple question.)  This is the kind of movie that
usually reels me in rather easily, but I have to admit I really wasn't all that gripped by
Lost City. There's lots of action-action-jungles,
snakes, natives galore-to say nothing of world war-but I just didn't feel invested in the movie. It never did feel quite right. I can't quite
put my finger on it, but I suspect that I didn't buy into the movie because I didn't buy into Charlie Hunnam. Perhaps one way to say it
is that he didn't inhabit a role, he just played a part. In smaller parts, Sienna Miller and Robert Pattinson as his wife and aide-de-camp
are also not quite all there. Like the actors, I played along-but I didn't feel it. (4/6/2017)

WILSON and THE LAST WORD are the same movie with different casting choices.  Woody Harrelson and Shirley MacLaine both
play Geezer-Americans who are looking back on their lives with something approaching remorse. This is, of course, perfect territory
for 83-year-old MacLaine to be exploring, but 50-something Harrelson has no excuse to be expressing wonder at why so many people
have computers in their homes these days. But it's MacLaine's character who seems so much fresher in the two movies. Both are
trapped in improbable script situations, saying things that make you wonder sometimes how such unfiltered people have made it this
far in life without being murdered.
The Last Word, the story of a woman who wants to re-write the story of her life in her few
remaining days strains credulity the most. Would a "hip" radio station in California really turn its morning drive time spot over to an
83-year-old woman who thought The Kinks were under-rated? I doubt it. Would a social services agency turn over one of its
nine-year-old girls to the same woman for out-of-town road trips? Uh, no. But MacLaine has been making lemonade out of scripts like
this for decades, so she knows how to play it to let the audience know that she's aware of the situation and through nothing short of
her own personality, encourages us to stick around and see what happens. The ending of this movie can be seen coming for miles-long
before somebody in the cast says the inevitable, "Your doctor wants you to call him," but for no other reason than it's Shirley
MacLaine, you stay with it. With Woody Harrelson, not so much. The Wilson script is just a mess that nobody could handle. He sidles
up to another man at a urinal and says, "Nice c--k?" After not seeing a childhood friend for decades, he goes to see the guy who
apparently lives three blocks away? He tells his ex-wife that he's been "looking for her for years"--but never bothered to Google her?
He goes to prison for three years and one of his best friends doesn't tell him that his dog died? Even an actor as good as Woody
Harrelson can't stop you from scratching your head at this stuff-to say nothing of great actors like Margot Martindale and Judy Greer,
who are wasted in menial roles, and Laura Dern, who's just misused.  If I had to choose one of these for you, I'd go with
The Last
Word,
but don't take it as a ringing endorsement.  (3/24/2017)

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST   Late in the last century, I went to see Beauty and the Beast on Broadway, and our tickets were on the
second row, way over on stage right, where--unfortunately--we able to see how the Beast made his magical transformation, much to
the delight of the rest of the mystified audience. I had a similar feeling watching Disney's "live action" version of the story, which in
truth is just as much of a cartoon as the "original Disney" version of the film ever was, and where the animation in the first was fluid
and elegant, the CGI in this one is anything but. With two major exceptions, the so-called characters here are flatter than the 2-D
forebears. Happily, the exceptions are--well, Beauty and The Beast. Emma Watson carries the movie, and when she's not on screen,
you miss her. Surprisingly, Dan Stevens as the Beast does more with his thankless character than I would have thought possible. Like
Kong: Skull Island (below), I really didn't care for the first hour of this movie very much. (And I don't think I'm alone in thinking so.
Parents were ushering their bored kids out of the theater throughout the first half.) Everything up to and including the big "Be Our
Guest" number was kind of coarse and kind of charmless. The movie-makers beat the audience over the head with everything from a
Sound of Music-ripoff to CGI wolves that I thought I saw in Kong last week. But finally Belle put on her yellow dress to go dancing
and the movie was never started showing signs of the magic that we all hoped for it. Belle made us give a damn about the Beast, and
the audience and I were perfectly happy. When Angela Lansbury heard that Disney was making
Beauty and the Beast into a live-action
movie, her response was, "Why? The first one was perfect." While I'm sure that Ms. Lansbury, of all people, knows good and well
why the Walt Disney Company does anything, I thought she made a fair point. The first one was perfect. The animation was glorious
and the music was superb. But if for no other reason that I enjoyed spending a couple of hours with Emma Watson, I'm glad they
made this one, too.  (3/16/2017)

KONG: SKULL ISLAND    To be honest, the only reason I shelled out $12.93 for the 3-D IMAX version of this movie is that it had
been made by the same group that made the last Godzilla in 2014 (the Brian Cranston version), which I actually thought was one of
Gojira's better outings. I
hated the first hour of this movie. For one thing, it was populated by some of my least favorite actors-chief
among them Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman and John C. Reilly. (Seriously, when was the last time any of these
men
weren't playing the same role movie after movie? I may issue a pass to Hiddleston who at least isn't playing the villain for once.)
But after the first hour or so, some of these guy got eaten or impaled, and I had a chance to look around and see what else was in the
movie. Here, as in the Godzilla series, the monster has morphed into the good guy. He's actually protecting the not-too-bright residents
of Skull Island from some fairly serious pest problems. So as the movie goes along, we learn more about Kong, and Hiddleston (a
hard-nose Army tracker) and woefully miscast Bree Larson (who describes herself as an "anti-war photographer") grow on us, and we
start to get where the movie makers want to go. Curiously, the movie is set in 1973, the beginning of the end of the Vietnam era,
something that is remarked upon repeatedly in the movie. It's curious that this era should be chosen-it's three years before the 1976
setting of the Dino di Laurentis version of
King Kong that famously had Jessica Lange in the Great Ape's paw as he ascended the
World Trade Center. You might think that the setting was chosen for the music that's played on the soundtrack, but the tunes you hear
are all from the 60's, as if the director wanted to evoke
Apocalypse Now as helicopters went into battle blaring whatever. (Small Favor:
At least it wasn't
Ride of the Valkyries.)  The CGI is terrific, and more than once, you'll laugh at yourself as something on the screen
takes you by surprise-like a man being impaled by a 50-foot spider. But at the end of the day, Kong makes its viewers do some fairly
heaving lifting for not a lot of reward. Some of it is great-just not enough.  (3/12/2017)

THE CURE FOR WELLNESS   I can tell when I think a movie is too long by whether or not I look at my watch while it's running.
While several critics have complained that this movie is too long, I didn't find that to be the case as I never looked at my watch once
during the 126-minute running time. Gore Verbinski is certainly a talented director-despite the fact that I hated every one of his
Pirates
of the Caribbean
movies-and he certainly has an eye for detail. The New York scenes could have been pulled out of any number of
Greed clones, but when the action moves to Switzerland, it's something new and weird-sort of a cross between the Grand Budapest
Hotel
and the outer space scenes in Wall-E. Dane deHaan and Jason Isaacs both usually play villains, which is why deHaan is not
entirely convincing as a Wolf of Wall Street, but Isaacs is delicious as a modern-day Count Dracula. Everybody else in the movie is
furniture. The scenes in the village adjacent to the "spa" where bad things are going on are particularly tasty. They may look like a
bunch of meth-heads, but you can tell that they've got their pitchforks and torches ready for storming the castle.  (2/17/2017)

LION   If you're looking for actual lions or people who act like or remind you of lions, you're gong to be disappointed. The only thing
remotely leonine in this movie is Dev Patel's hair, and that's not a compliment. The not-particularly-interesting characters in
Lion start
slow in India, slow down, slow down some more, creeps to Australia where the pace picks up but the plot remains stuck in the mud,
and then finishes with a blizzard of shots of Dev poring over his laptop searching for his Indian roots on Google Earth.
Lion is perhaps
an indictment of the shortage of good roles for women in all that can be found for Rooney Mara to do is be the moody girlfriend, and
Nicole Kidman as the adoptive mother gets an academy award nomination for a part that asks practically nothing of her. Lion is based
on a true story, and all of the main characters still walk among us. The director and writers bent over backwards to tell this story in
such a way that all of the main characters are to be admired. That's nice, but not particularly honest--or interesting. One last thing: The
movie claims that over 80,000 go children in India go missing each year, and the movie has started a foundation to support the effort. I
encourage everyone to support the foundation's work-but it doesn't mean that you need to waste your time at the movie.  (2/5/2017)

A DOG'S PURPOSE   "What's the meaning of life?" is the ambitious question that opens A Dog's Purpose. At the end of the movie, an
unsatisfying answer is provided, and in between, there are several reincarnations of one particular dog's life that don't necessarily
support that conclusion. But this is a movie that doesn't really ask for a lot of introspection, so don't worry too much about the
philosophy. If
Old Yeller or My Dog Skip or The Incredible Journey is your favorite dog movie, don't expect A Dog's Purpose to
challenge for the title. While it does supply enough cute puppy scenes and stupid dog tricks to please almost anybody, the dog we
know as Bailey (voiced by Josh Gad) frankly talks too much. Director Lasse Hallstrom (
The Hundred Foot Journey, Something to Talk
About
) is great at this kind of movie, but I think he kind of overplays his hand here. Anybody who's the list bit mushy about cute
puppies and brave and faithful dogs will like
A Dog's Purpose. I just don't know if you'll love it.  (1/26/2017)

SPLIT  James McAvoy is the story in Split.  Much attention is being given to this movie being M. Night Shyamalan's big comeback,
and it a large extent it is, but this movie would not be getting compared to The Sixth Sense and Unbroken if not for the performance of
Mr. McAvoy in the lead role as a young Philadelphia man with twenty-four distinct personalities. What separates this movie from
movies with similar themes like
Sybil is that the writer (also Shyamalan) presents recent evidence from multi-character disorders that
suggests that not only do the various identities in a personality present themselves mentally and emotionally, they also could have
differing physical characteristics. For example, one personality could present symptoms of diabetes, while others do not.  This
phenomenon presents itself in Split as one personality being able to withstand two-point blank shotgun blasts without injury. The
famous "M. Night Twist" at the end of the movie really isn't as shocking as it has in his earlier movies-but that's good.  But back to
McAvoy, his ability to suggest different personalities by changing only his clothing is remarkable, and it's really too bad that Split isn't
the kind of movie where actors will receive the kind of acclaim they would receive for a more artistic (read "less commercial") movie.  
(1/22/2017)

SILENCE  is a three hour and seven minute meditation on the meaning of faith--which of course, means that nobody in Hollywood is
going to have much of a positive impression of it. It's a long, long movie in which themes are beaten nearly to death.  
Silence is about
the two "last" Christian priests in Japan in the 1640's who are rooted out by the country's Grand Inquisitor and either compelled to
apostatize or be put to death. The Inquisitor is nothing if not creative. Christians are crucified, burned alive, decapitated, buried alive,
drowned--you name it. (It probably makes me sound insensitive, but I as I was watching this movie that was set largely in Nagasaki
that in about three hundred years, the Christians would be back to Nagasaki and payback would be a bitch. But I digress.)  I had two
major reservations going into this movie. One was Andrew Garfield. He's not a bad actor, but he seemed-and seems-miscast here.
Then, as I started watching and began to accept Garfield in the role, my concern turned more broadly to the writing.  If Andrew
Garfield seemed miscast, it's also true that priests in this movie are not written in such a way that sounds realistic. More succinctly,
these Jesuits are wimps, and I can't imagine that their superiors would allow them to go on such a demanding mission. But having said
all that, there's a lot to be said about a movie that examines why God would appear to respond to prayer with silence.  This is a movie
that demands to be seen in a theater. I can't imagine that it would have the same impact on a screen in your home or on an airplane
where there would be too many distractions. While it's true that during its three hours-plus running time, you'll be distracted by little
things (like Andrew Garfield's hair), but sitting in the darkened theater, you'll also have an opportunity to ponder the theological
mysteries that also puzzle Martin Scorcese.  (1/21/2017)

LIVE BY NIGHT  So tonight I watched part of Gone Girl on television before heading out to Live by Night, and when I got home, I
wondered how I thought Ben Affleck could be so believable in one and so--well,
not-in the other.  You didn't have to spend
five-and-a-half bucks on a medium-sized Diet Coke to figure out that while
Live by Night was definitely a "Ben Affleck movie" and
Gone Girl was not. Mr. Affleck directed, produced, wrote and starred in Live by Night. I won't bother you with a tortured twist on
the saying that a man who acts as his own lawyer in court has a fool for a client, but that's the underlying theory of my complaints
about
Live by Night. The early scenes of the movie set in Boston are a lot like Mr. Affleck's Boston-inspired movies.  It's not inspired,
but it's not bad. But when the action moves to Tampa for the last two-thirds of the movie, he seems to get lost along the way. Ybor
City in the 1920's was a thriving-if lawless-community that derived most of its business from the port. When first seen in this movie,
it's a no-room train station in the middle of a cotton field. From there Affleck & Company find themselves fending off mobsters, the
Klan, a poorly-considered character of a minister played by Elle Fanning and ultimately-more Boston mobsters.  It's. Just. Too. Much.
I'll give the movie credit for looking great--it just doesn't look real.  (1/17/2016)

HIDDEN FIGURES  I suspect that the folks at 20th Century Fox are going to regret the way they "rolled this movie out" at the end of
the year.  It's an excellent, excellent movie, and if it had come out earlier, I suspect that it would have been included on lots of "ten
best" lists at the end of the year-including mine. Taraji P. Henderson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae or equally fine as brilliant
mathematicians, computer analysts (before there really was such a thing) and engineers in the early days of the NASA space program.  
The movie is their story, of course, but it would be unfair to overlook the work of Kevin Costner and Jim Parson in supporting roles.  
And if I were to have a complaint about the movie, it would be that the compelling story of the women and their struggles at NASA is
interspersed with vignettes of their home lives, which in general are kind of mundane and slow down the momentum of the movie.
Sure, it's a little heavy-handed with the stereotypes of the era (Was EVERY law enforcement officer in the Commonwealth of Virginia
obese in 1962?), but overall, it's a terrific movie, and I can't recommend it highly enough. I may even put it on
next year's top ten list.  
(1/6/2016)