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Christian Bale is terrific in this gritty but overlong western. 

Is it worth $10? Yes 

A great actor can say a lot without saying anything at all. After "Hostiles," let there be no doubt Christian Bale is a great actor.

Bale's Capt. Joe Blocker is a study in repressed emotion and searing internal pain. It's 1892 in New Mexico, and this former Union soldier is ready to retire. He's spent his post-Civil War career in the untamed American West, tracking, arresting and killing Native Americans who harmed White people. He speaks softly because mere words cannot describe the horrors he has seen. What's interesting about writer/director Scott Cooper's ("Black Mass") film is that we learn through dialog what Joe has done, and why he did it, but we learn the effect it's had on him only by watching Bale, whose facial expressions and mannerisms say more than Joe could ever express verbally.

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“Happy Death Day” is also new to Blu-Ray this week.

Boobs! Boobs everywhere.

Normally that would just be an attention grabber, but in the case of “Blade Runner 2049,” it’s straight reportage. There’s a good amount of boobage throughout this movie, seen on everyone and everything from statues in the desert, to giant neon advertisements for a holographic A.I. companion named Joi (Ana de Armas), to a newly created replicant (Sallie Harmsen), to a “real girl” named Mariette (Mackenzie Davis) who is used by the movie’s protagonist K (Ryan Gosling) as a way to have sex with his own personalized holographic version of Joi. No sex is shown, but the build up to it has to be one of the most fascinating seduction scenes I’ve ever seen. Joi can provide K with all of the emotional companionship and intellectual stimulation that he needs, but being a hologram, she can’t stimulate him in the way he enjoys the most—until she finds a pretty clever work around.

But, as “Showgirls” taught us oh so many years ago, boobs aren’t everything. A movie’s characters, plot, and story have to be good as well. At that, “Blade Runner 2049” also delivers.

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If you’re looking for a great thriller, this isn’t it. If you’re looking for a good thriller, this isn’t it. If you’re looking for an okay thriller that’s not as bad as it could have been…ding, ding, ding! 

Is it worth $10? Yes 

“The Commuter” is the fourth pairing of Liam Neeson and director Jaume Collet-Serra. The two have worked together so many times, I half expected Neeson to turn up in Serra’s last film, the shark-based thriller “The Shallows”…as the shark. Their previous team ups were all mid-budget thrillers, each with a decent gimmick. The most memorable, preposterous but fun, was “Non-Stop,” with Neeson starring as an alcoholic air marshal trying to solve a murder on an airplane. The duo’s gimmicky traditions continue with “The Commuter,” which is basically “Non-Stop” on a train. But is it worth boarding this return to the claustrophobic, one location thriller? I guess.

Neeson stars as Michael MacCauley, an insurance salesman who, for ten years, has taken the train from the suburbs into New York City for work. On his way home from a dramatic day, Michael is approached on his usual train by an unusual woman (Vera Farmiga). She, after a bit of flirty banter, offers him $100,000 for doing a simple task: before the last stop, identify a person on the train, a non-regular going by the name of Prim. That’s it. If he finds this person and doesn’t ask questions like who, why, or what (’s going to happen to them), he gets the money. Of course, there’s more to it and soon, Michael is embroiled in a massive conspiracy. With more questions than answers and bodies beginning to pile up, he must find a way to save himself and the rest of the passengers on the train.

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Timely awards contender from Hollywood heavyweights is a good drama, but don’t expect it to be an Oscar winner. 

Is it worth $10? Yes 

Spielberg, Streep, Hanks. A prime awards season release date. Subject matter taken from history that feels notably current. There’s no doubt 20th Century Fox hopes “The Post” leads to one thing: Oscars.

Although nominations are a possibility given the names involved, accolades will stop there. The film is a solid drama that tells a good story and is by no means a disappointment. It starts a bit sluggish, and then picks up before finishing strong. It’s just not going to make you say “wow.”

They can’t all be Oscar winners, right?

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“It” is also new to Blu-Ray this week.  

Mention the name “Jackie Chan” to me and I’ll immediately conjure up images of his movies from the 1990s in which the ever-daring Chan would perform his own extremely dangerous—and at times death-defying—stunts, all for the entertainment of his audience. To this day, those movies have some of the most exciting, entertaining, and just plain fun fight choreography I’ve ever seen.

Jackie Chan is still ever-daring as ever in “The Foreigner,” but in a different way. Rather than risking his body and limbs to perform all manner of crazy spins, flips, and tricks, Chan takes a more nuanced approach here. He plays Quan Ngoc Minh, a Vietnamese immigrant living in London. Early on a member of a rogue faction of the IRA (that’s Irish Republican Army for you youngsters lucky enough to not recall when bombings by this political organization were far too common) sets off a bomb on a busy London street and kills Quan’s daughter Fan (Katie Leung). She was his only surviving family member, a fact we find out later in flashbacks about Quan’s past.

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Margot Robbie hits her marks as maligned Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding, but this bruising docu-comedy careens erratically between broad satire and unearned pathos while never quite finding its footing outside the rink. 

Is it worth 10? No 

Tonya Harding stands still, her steely gaze cutting through all the sneers and putdowns she's had to endure since grade school. Skates ready to glide through the ice, the only drama here is whether she can land that triple axel. Okay, so she feels her domineering mother's eyes on her, but here on the ice, she's not the poor Oregonian unsuccessfully attempting to earn her more moneyed peers' respect. She's a contender, performing to a cheesy rock song.

The skating sequences in “I, Tonya” adroitly place the viewers in Harding's headspace. This isn't a graceful athlete giving the judges the highbrow routines they want to see, but an in-your-face maverick bucking the classical-music trend. When she shines before the cameras, her joy and sense of fulfillment are infectious.

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“Battle of the Sexes” is also new to Blu-Ray this week.  

There’s something about the character of Barry Seal (Tom Cruise) that threw me off in the opening moments of “American Made.” Early on, while at an airport bar, he meets a CIA agent who identifies himself as Monty “Schafer” (Domhnall Gleeson). Monty needs a pilot who can fly reconnaissance missions over jungle countries like Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, to take photographs. Seal is very enthusiastic about the opportunity, to the point where he can’t believe he’s working for the CIA—it’s like a boyhood dream come true.

Then it hit me: The age dynamic was throwing me off. Gleeson is in his early- to mid-thirties and Cruise is in his mid-fifties. To have Cruise act childlike, naïve, and innocent is one thing in and of itself that is bit of a stretch, but to have him to do it with someone who is twenty years his junior is strikingly unrealistic—to the point where it took me out of the movie. I actually mean this in a complimentary way. I enjoy Cruise’s movies immensely (even taking the dissenting opinion on “The Mummy” by recommending it), and I want him to keep going for as long as he can. That doesn’t change the fact that the lines and creases in his still handsome face betray a certain level of experience and world-weariness that do not fit the behavior of that character. I can see someone the same age as Gleeson, or someone more baby-faced, pulling it off, but it’s too much to ask with Cruise. Again, I mean this in the most sincerely positive way. Through the decades that he’s been on the big screen, the man has aged like a very fine wine. Those opening scenes are intended for an actor who is still a grape.

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So…did anything interesting happen in the film industry this year? 

Sheesh, what a mess the sexual misconduct allegations against Hollywood heavyweights have become, casting a long overdue shadow on a business that has always been corrupt and nasty.

The allegations should not, however, over shadow the great films of 2017. Like any year we had our share of disappointments (“Downsizing”), but we were also riveted with many pleasant surprises (“Get Out”). What follows are the ten best movies of 2017:

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Here, from beneath the bottom of the barrel, are the worst films of 2017.  

You may remember them for their cloying, ill-advised messages or the emotions that felt oh-so forced. A small piece of my movie-loving self died while watching these, so here’s hoping you avoided all of the below.

“A Dog’s Purpose” is a pandering, manipulative mess of a movie. The controversy regarding the mistreatment of a German Shepherd that “conveniently” came out a week before the film’s release certainly did it harm (even though it was later proved untrue), but this hollow melodrama didn’t deserve an audience anyway.

Robert De Niro, what’re you doing in “The Comedian?” We’re past the point at which the two-time Oscar winner can do anything. He cannot. This includes stand-up comedy, as the delivery of his character’s jokes rarely connects. He also shouldn’t be singing “Making Poopy” in the style of “Making Whoopee” to senior citizens at a nursing home – the sequence is so bad it’s easily his new career low.

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“Flatliners” is also new to Blu-Ray this week. 

“The Mountain Between Us” has finally cemented a notion I’ve pondered: Would it be better to be stranded on a deserted island or on the top of a snowy mountain? Neither one is a picnic, but I think that the island, assuming it is tropical, offers the best chance for survival. At the very least, there are trees to build shelter, wild plants to eat (as long as you pick the right ones), wild fish and game    (if you can catch it), and a reasonably hospitable climate. There are downsides, such as insects, a potential lack of clean fresh water, and the resulting much higher risk of disease, but I’ll take the odds of survival in that environment over that of a barren, snow covered mountain. Up there is nothing.

This is a fact that Ben (Idris Elba) and Alex (Kate Winslet) find out very soon. They meet at an airport in Idaho, and each one needs desperately to get back east. He is a neurosurgeon who is operating on a ten-year-old patient the next day, and tomorrow is her wedding day. Commercial flights are all grounded due to a storm, so the two pool their resources to charter a small two engine plane to fly them from Idaho to Denver, home of the world’s creepiest airport (really--google “blucifer” and take it from there), so they can then book flights back east.

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Recent Articles

Hostiles ***
Christian Bale is terrific in this gritty ...
Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Blade Runner 2049
“Happy Death Day” is also new to Blu-Ray ...
The Commuter **1/2
If you’re looking for a great thriller, ...
The Post ***
Timely awards contender from Hollywood ...
Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: The Foreigner
“It” is also new to Blu-Ray this week. ...
I, Tonya **
Margot Robbie hits her marks as maligned ...
Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: American Made
“Battle of the Sexes” is also new to ...

Best Movie In Theaters Now: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Great story, writing and acting make this one of the year’s best. 

Is it worth $10? Yes 

In many ways “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” defies description, and that’s a good thing. Part dark comedy, part drama, it challenges expectations and convention and is richly better because of it. It’s Oscar season, and if you’re looking for a title likely to be on people’s lips over the next few months, look no further.

Frances McDormand stars as Mildred, a bitter woman with little hope for improvement. She has a right to be angry: Her ex-husband Charlie (John Hawkes) used to beat her and now has a 19 year-old girlfriend (Samara Weaving). More importantly, Mildred’s daughter (Kathryn Newton) was burned, raped and murdered seven months ago and the assailant is still free. Frustrated, and no longer capable of holding in her searing emotional pain, Mildred has an idea: Utilize the three unused, dilapidated billboards in her town to send a stern message to Police Chief William Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), whose made little progress on the murder investigation.

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