Sarah Knight Adamson is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and a voting member for the Critics Choice Awards for Movies.

Sarah Knight Adamson and Jessica Aymond are both Members of the Chicago Film Critics Association

Film Rating Code:

★★★★ Outstanding Film- Run, don’t walk to the nearest movie theater.

★★★½ Excellent Film- Highly recommend seeing the film in a movie theater.

★★★ Very Good Film- Recommend seeing the film in a movie theater.

★★½ Good Film- Wait for the DVD, the film is still worth viewing.

★★ Wait for the DVD and proceed with caution.

★½ Wait for the DVD the film has major problems in most areas.

★ Can’t recommend the film.

Cars 3 (G) ★★★

Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) faces new challenges in Cars 3
Image credit: Disney•Pixar

The Cars franchise is back on track. KA-CHOW! 

I know exactly when I achieved the pinnacle of parenting. Yes, my son was only three at the time, but I’m confident that I will never top what I did for him that day: I took him to meet Lightning McQueen.

The proof is in this picture taken at Cars Land in Disney’s California Adventure in 2015—if you zoom in, you will see the definition of pure joy on my son’s face. Lightning is REAL!

Image credit: Erika Olson

I had seen Cars before I had kids and loved it, so it wasn’t solely my son’s obsession with the film that endeared me to the inhabitants of Radiator Springs. But now that I have watched the movie countless times and can recite every word by heart, it has earned a truly special place in my heart. It’s yet another Pixar creation that holds up well over multiple viewings and the passage of time.

But we shall not speak of Cars 2 . . . no, we shall not. Except to say that whoever thought it was appropriate to have these beloved characters shooting at each other and talking about killing each other (on top of Mater’s disastrous cultural insensitivity) should never work on a children’s animated film again.

Needless to say I was nervous about Cars 3. Thankfully there was no reason to be. This installment strongly harkens back to the original, even going so far as having the climactic finale revolve around an important lesson Lightning (Owen Wilson) learned from his mentor Doc Hudson (the late Paul Newman) about helping others. (Doc has a fairly significant presence in the film thanks to unused dialogue and outtakes from the original.)

The set-up this time is that Lightning McQueen finds himself blindsided by a rookie racecar—Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer)—and other high-tech “next generation” cars like him. These sleek racing machines train in state-of-the-art facilities and reach speeds over 200 mph, and Lightning just can’t compete.

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Wonder Woman (PG-13) ★★★★ Radio Review

Gal Gadot stars as “Wonder Woman.” Patty Jenkins directs. Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

My quick take🎬: So much to love about ⚔Wonder Woman!⚔

Director Patty Jenkins of Monster (2003), fame brings us another stellar film. Gal Gadot’s performance is fantastic to watch, she not only carries the entire film, but she also brings strength, intelligence, compassion and beauty to her role. Chris Pine is fun to watch as he takes a back seat, he brings humor and light-heartedness to the darkness of their wartime situation. If you ever thought you might want to see a superhero movie, then this is the one to go and see! I loved it! Radio Review coming soon! Stay Tuned!

Radio Reviews air on H360 Radio Network on Saturday nights, ✔️ out a station near you!  The podcast will post after the review airs. Stay tuned.

Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story ★★★★ Radio Podcast

Directed by Daniel Raim. Photo Credit: Adama Films

Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story is a documentary that’s based on a true story. Storyboard artist Harold Michelson and his wife, a film researcher, Lillian Michelson are two nameless heroes of Hollywood’s greatest films.

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Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (PG-13) ★★

Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
Image credit: Walt Disney

Only for diehard franchise fans.

A month ago, Disneyland guests on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride were treated to a cool surprise when Johnny Depp popped up on the attraction in place of the animatronic Captain Jack Sparrow. If you didn’t see clips of it already, I recommend looking them up online—it was pretty hilarious.

Unfortunately, that little stunt was more entertaining than the majority of the film Depp was at the park to promote: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (or POTC5 as I will call it from here on out).

So, yeah… any time we’re talking about the FIFTH film in a franchise, I feel like most people’s expectations are going to be pretty low, and mine certainly were. The bad news is that POTC5 failed to recapture the original film’s spark, and a lot of its story felt recycled. And clearly nothing is going to be able to recreate the weird mix of confusion and delight most felt when seeing Depp as Sparrow for the first time in 2003. But I will say that POTC5 is at least much better than the last two installments in the franchise.

It opens with a great flashback of Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann’s (Keira Knightley) young son Henry sneaking out in the middle of the night, reconnecting with his cursed father under the sea and promising him that he’ll find the trident of Poseidon in order to break the spell. At this point I thought that perhaps the totally new writing and directing team (Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg as co-directors and Jeff Nathanson in charge of the screenplay) was going to breathe new life into the franchise.

Then we move ahead nine years and see a grown Henry (Brenton Thwaites) trying to warn his shipmates against sailing into the dangerous Devil’s Triangle—but they of course don’t listen and incur the wrath of a zombie crew of pirates and their leader, Salazar (Javier Bardem). Henry learns that Salazar wants revenge on Sparrow for leading his ship into the Triangle decades ago, and Henry promises to deliver that warning to the perpetually drunk Captain. Eventually, Sparrow’s old nemesis Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) shows up and says he’ll help Salazar track down Captain Jack.

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Alien: Covenant (R) ★★½

Katherine Waterston stars in Alien: Covenant.
Image credit: 20th Century Fox

Alien: Covenant < Prometheus. Yeah, I said it.

I was thoroughly frustrated by Alien: Covenant and was actually mad when I left the theater. Aside from Michael Fassbender in dual roles and the cast itself, there was absolutely nothing new about this sixth installment (and second prequel) of the nearly forty-year-old Alien franchise. I am usually one of those people who never sees a film’s twists coming. With Alien: Covenant, I not only predicted every single thing that was going to happen, but I was also bored out of my mind.

A cool prologue involving trillionaire CEO Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) and the synthetic from Prometheus, David (Fassbender), gave me hope at the very beginning that Ridley Scott was going to pull off an Alien trifecta (Covenant is the third film he’s directed after the original two). But it was not to be.

We flash forward to ten years after the events of Prometheus and are aboard the Covenant, whose crewmembers are all deep-dozing in pods as they travel on a years-long mission to colonize a distant planet. But their on-board upgraded synthetic, Walter (also Fassbender), gives them a harsh wake-up call after the ship’s systems start going haywire. The captain is killed during this emergency, and the moment we find out who the captain was, I was immediately taken out of the film. All I’ll say is that it’s a well-known, goofy actor whose presence in flashbacks was as a huge distraction and served no purpose other than making the new captain Oram (Billy Crudup) have a weak reason to constantly seem unsure of himself.

Now that the entire crew is awake, they decide to investigate a human transmission coming from a nearby planet and see if that planet is a better bet for colonization than the one they were supposed to reach in seven more years. Spoiler alert: IT’S NOT.

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King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (PG-13) ★★½

Charlie Hunnam stars in King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword
Image credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

To take on the legend of Excalibur, Guy Ritchie sticks with his usual love-it-or-hate-it style.

The Knights of the Round Table. The Sword in the Stone. The Lady of the Lake. Merlin. Ah, I just love the King Arthur legend. But I usually do not love director Guy Ritchie’s signature filmmaking style—one infamous for quick cuts, stylized slo-mo scenes, and brutal, fast action sequences heavy on hand-to-hand combat.

So there’s good news and bad news about this latest spin on the Excalibur tale. For some, it will be very bad news that Ritchie (who co-wrote King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword with Joby Harold and Lionel Wigram) stays in his lane with this film; if you didn’t enjoy the look and pace and overall vibe of other Ritchie movies, such as Snatch or Sherlock Holmes, then you might feel that his often jarring and visually exhausting style could overpower the strong performances from a great cast.

The good news is that if—like me—you love everything having to do with Arthurian mythology, you’ll likely be able to tolerate Ritchie’s dramatic flair and will appreciate a fresh look at the epic story.

In fact, there are parts where the film actually benefits from the crackling pace—the first being near the beginning, where we’re treated to a montage that shows Arthur growing up on the streets of Londinium, after having been pushed down the river in a boat as a toddler by his soon-to-be-murdered father Uther (Eric Bana). We later see how the grown Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) accumulated his group of friends—including Bedivere (Djimon Hounsou) and Goosefat Bill (Game of Thrones fan favorite Aidan Gillen)—who will eventually back him in his fight against his power-hungry uncle, Vortigern (Jude Law, at his slimiest). Read more ›

Snatched (R) ★★★

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Happy Mother’s Day Weekend! Here’s my quick take on the film:

I laughed the entire 90 minutes of the film. Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn are both funny, but the supporting cast; Wanda Sykes, Joan Cusack and Ike Barinholtz (who plays the paranoid brother) are hysterical. The Mom and Daughter are held captive for like…2 minutes, and the rest of the film is slapstick comedy. It did remind me of the shenanigans in the “The Hangover Part 2” similar to the guys running around in Thailand except no fingers were cut off…in Ecuador, Amy has a disgusting tapeworm that is hand extracted, and a bad guy gets stabbed with a harpoon. I also loved seeing Goldie Hawn back on the big screen, even with a somewhat compromised performance…she took the back seat in this film.

Sarah Knight Adamson© May 12, 2017

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (PG-13) Radio Podcast ★★½

Charlie Hunnum, King Arthur and Jude Law star as rivals for the crown.

The Circle (PG-13) ★½

Emma Watson stars in ‘The Circle.’ Photo Credit: STX Entertainment, EuropaCorp

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The Lost City Of Z (PG-13) ★★★½

‘The Lost City of Z’ stars Charlie Hunnam as explorer Percy Fawett.

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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (PG-13) ★★★

Chris Pratt as Peter Quill/Star-Lord
Photo credit: Walt Disney Pictures

More of the same, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

It’s 44 degrees in Chicago as I write this, but make no mistake—summer is here. I know this because Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 hits theaters today and meets all of the “summer blockbuster” criteria: it has a huge budget, is part of a mega-franchise that has already announced another chapter, boasts an A-list cast and lots of CGI and action sequences, and has been dominating every marketing channel for quite some time. (I’m pretty sure Chris Pratt has cloned himself because he is everywhere.)

So the biggest question on everyone’s minds is not whether the film will earn a gajillion dollars, but rather whether it lives up to its joyful (but in a sarcastic way) 2014 predecessor, whose success was by no means a sure thing since it hinged upon the masses caring about comic book characters who don’t have ‘-man’ at the end of their names.

The answer is that Vol. 2 almost lives up to the hype, and the biggest fans of the franchise will likely love it just as much as the first film. Since the whole gang is back and once again led by Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Pratt), you can expect more of the original’s near-constant bickering and one-liners, literally colorful characters and can-you-top-this action. Gamora (Zoe Saldana) is still bright green, is still the smartest one of the group and is still in denial of the “unspoken thing” she has with Quill. Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) is still treating us to the inventive ways he can come up with to dispatch bad guys—and still has a chip on his shoulder. Drax (Dave Bautista) still has no filter and provides even more of the laughs this time around. And Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) is still as ridiculously cute as when we last saw him. His childlike naiveté is the source of some of the funniest scenes, from the opening battle sequence, where Groot grooves obliviously to ELO’s Mr. Blue Sky, to Rocket’s random search for tape near the end of the film (which is Groot-related, but I won’t spoil it), to the best of the five (yes, really) post-credit scenes.

Read more ›

The Fate of the Furious (PG-13) ★★★

‘The Fate of the Furious’ Photo Credit: Universal Studios

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The Zookeeper’s Wife (R) ★★★

Jessica Chastain stars in ‘The ZooKeeper’s Wife’ Photo Credit: Focus Features

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Colossal (R) ★★★ Radio Podcast

Anne Hathaway stars in Colossal
Image credit: NEON

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Colossal (R) ★★★½

Anne Hathaway stars in Colossal
Image credit: NEON

You’ve probably never seen a movie quite like this.

I adored Colossal. It’s my favorite film of 2017 so far. I want to campaign for it at every theater across the country. I want to shake people standing in line to buy tickets for [INSERT LATEST BIG-BUDGET SEQUEL HERE] and shout, “No! Don’t give those guys your hard-earned money! Go see this unbelievable, uncategorizable indie instead—you can thank me later!”

Coming to us from new studio NEON and Spanish writer/director Nacho Vigalondo is the story of Gloria (Anne Hathaway), an aimless alcoholic mess whose boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens) finally gets fed up with her hard-partying ways and lack of ambition and kicks her out of his Manhattan apartment. So Gloria heads home and reconnects with childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), who gives her a job at his bar.

As Gloria tries to get her life together and hold down her new waitressing gig, an otherworldly terror begins to wreak havoc halfway around the world in Seoul. A gigantic monster is trampling citizens and knocking over skyscrapers, and with each new attack, Gloria starts realizing she may somehow be connected to the beast’s actions.

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Gifted (PG-13) ★★★½

Mckenna Grace as “Mary Adler” and Chris Evans as “Frank Adler” in the film GIFTED. Photo by Wilson Webb. © 2016 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved.

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Life (R) ★★½

Ryan Reynolds as Rory Adams in Life
Photo credit: Columbia Pictures

A decent but forgettable thriller that adds nothing new to the Doomed Space Crew genre.

Are you a space scientist?

I’ll assume you’re not and proceed to ask you this: “Not being a space scientist, do you nevertheless have an opinion as to whether it would be a good idea to mess with a newly discovered life form from Mars that you’ve brought aboard your ship that’s growing at an unbelievable pace and, as one of your very smart crew members observes, is ‘all muscle, all brain, all eye?’” What’s that? You would NOT think that poking, prodding and otherwise annoying such a creature would be a good idea? OK. Then we’re on the same page.

One of the biggest flaws in Swedish director Daniel Espinosa’s (Safe House) Life, which follows what happens to the crew of the International Space Station after they discover the first evidence of extraterrestrial beings, is that lead biologist Hugh (Ariyon Bakare) seems to immediately throw all common sense out of the window and get emotionally attached to the thing they’ve brought on board, despite really REALLY glaring warning signs that the alien is highly intelligent. At least other people, such as Ryan Reynold’s wisecracking space mechanic Rory, attempt to talk some sense into Hugh. Olga Dihovichnaya’s Russian cosmonaut Katerina is another who stays level-headed when others lose it.

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Beauty and the Beast (PG) ★★★½

Emma Watson as Belle in Beauty and the Beast
Photo credit: Disney

This live-action remake may not be necessary, but it’s still a lot of fun.

I usually try to review remakes (or prequels or sequels, for that matter) on their own merit as standalone films, but it’s impossible for me to do so with Disney’s live-action remake of its 1991 animated take on Beauty and the Beast. I’ve had a 26-year love affair with that film: I’ve seen the stage version and the Disney Hollywood Studios version in Orlando, I have the DVD, I have Belle-themed dishes (that my 18-month-old daughter uses now, I swear) . . . and though I have no idea how many times I’ve actually watched the movie, it’s enough that I know every single word by heart.

You know the story, too, right? The Beast (Dan Stevens) was once a spoiled prince who was mean to an enchantress, and she got her revenge by turning him into a big hairy creature—and all of his staff into various objects. They’ll only be returned to their original forms if the Beast learns to love (and earn someone else’s love in return) before the final petal of an enchanted rose falls. Belle (Emma Watson) is from a nearby village and is eventually held prisoner in the Beast’s (Dan Stevens) castle after bargaining with him to let her father (Kevin Kline) go. The narcissistic Gaston (Luke Evans) is hell-bent on marrying Belle, and thinks if he can kill the Beast and rescue Belle, she won’t be able to refuse his proposal.

I’m happy to say that my knee-jerk reaction to this remake was positive. I loved seeing the story brought to life, I loved singing along again, and I was relieved that director Bill Condon (Dreamgirls, Chicago) didn’t ruin my memories of the “original” (I know the 1991 version isn’t really the original, but you get what I mean). But upon further reflection, I’m not sure how much of that reaction was due to the fact that I could still recite almost all of the film in my head (much of the dialogue is the same), that I will always love its songs (except for the new ones, which added nothing), and that Condon knows his way around a lavish musical. Beauty and the Beast looks spectacular—it’s gorgeous from beginning to end, whether Belle is belting out her desire for adventure in “the great wide somewhere” from atop a mountain, or being charmed by the many creatures in the Beast’s opulent castle.

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T2: Trainspotting (R) ★★★½

The Boys are Back!

Is revisiting the zaniness of Trainspotting (1996) 20 years later worth the trip? (Pun intended.) I guess if you’re wondering if Renton, Sick Boy, Spud, or Begbie made the decision to “choose life,” then yes− checking in with these wacky, cultish characters will totally be a rewarding experience. It’s especially worth the trip if all of the same players are back, including the esteemed British director, Danny Boyle, and in this case, yep–homerun−all are back in T2’s lively sequel. You can only imagine my elation when I discovered I’d be in London in February, a full eight weeks before the opening here in the USA. I viewed the film on my birthday, February 11, at the Empire Theater in Leicester Square, where the film opened on January 19. Yes, it was an excellent day.

Empire Theater, Leicester Square London, England

Empire Theater, Leicester Square London, England

Being a huge fan myself of the original film, I was extremely happy about the sequel. However, how does one follow a film that so creatively defined the essence of the Brit-Pop “20-somethings generation” or, in this case, the “Peter Pan 20-somethings”? Boyle’s unconventional sharp lens gave us a wild, frantic ride by using the music of the time, a script driven by rebellious ideology, and one with hardcore drug use as an underlying theme, no less. Seriously, if any film warrants a “stand alone” status, unquestionably, Trainspotting fits the bill.

The Empire Theater in London Leicester Square. Beautiful! Sarah Knight Adamson 2017

Edinburgh does remain the setting in T2 (as it should), and it should also be noted that in 2004, Trainspotting was voted the best Scottish film of all time in a public poll. The film is ranked 10th by the British Film Institute (BFI) in the Top 100 British Films of all time. An impressive legacy indeed; it even demoted the inspirational Chariots of Fire (1986), which is best known for its opening scene of Olympic hopefuls running on the Scottish coastline of St. Andrews; the conditions are arduous, with wet sand and bare feet as waves break. Vangelis’ famous Academy Award-winning score “Tides” plays in the background as the runners glide in slow motion. In contrast, Trainspotting’s opening scene includes frenzied running at hyper-speed down Princess Street in Edinburgh by Ewan McGregor (Renton) and Ewen Bremner (Spud) while being chased by security guards just after robbing John Menzies Bookstore while Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life” blares on.

T2’s opening scene views Renton running again, but this time on a treadmill in Amsterdam. Evidently, he’s surrendered to “life,” as he’s chosen to run artificially. Within minutes, in a hysterical scene, he clumsily falls off. There’s a re-visit to the original chase scene by Renton, and just like that, we are off to the races again. Read more ›

Kong: Skull Island (PG-13) ★★★

All is not what it seems on Skull Island.
Photo credit: Warner Bros.

Kong: Skull Island is a blast.

Almost exactly a year ago, my husband and I ran around the Islands of Adventure theme park in Orlando. We passed by a large barricaded area surrounded by high fences and halfway covered by tarp; signs informed us that it was the future site of the Skull Island: Reign of Kong attraction. I remember thinking, “Hmm, they’re making a huuuuuge bet on a movie that doesn’t even seem like it’ll be a sure-fire hit.”

I don’t know if Kong: Skull Island will do well enough at the box office to justify its $185-million-plus production budget on top of a dedicated park attraction, but what I do know is that I went into the film pretty skeptical . . . and came out feeling like the Summer 2017 film season had just kicked off three months early. It’s directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts, who is THE COOLEST (especially because he’s come to the Chicago Critics Film Festival twice, first for his wonderful 2013 indie The Kings of Summer and then for his hilarious 2014 documentary Nick Offerman: American Ham), but hadn’t ever worked on something of this scale, so I hoped against hope he could pull it off. Now we can count him as part of the growing trend of celebrated indie directors making the successful leap to tentpoles, along with others like Colin Trevorrow (Safety Not Guaranteed (one of my all-time favorites) to Jurassic World) and Gareth Edwards (Monsters, to Godzilla, to Rogue One). Kong is the definition of a great “popcorn movie”: an A-list cast, a familiar franchise, crazy action sequences, a huge budget that supports an exotic location and top-notch effects (which include tons of explosions, of course), a rockin’ soundtrack, nothing too deep to ponder over story-wise, and a couple of excellent one-liners thrown in for good measure.

I’m tempted to stop my review right there and be like, “Just go see it, you know the plot doesn’t even matter.” But I will carry on for those of you who remain as skeptical as I was.

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