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.

Category :

Sicario: Day of the Soldado (R) ★★½ by J. DeLong

“Sicario: Day of the Soldado” stars Benicio Del Torro and Josh Brolin. Photo Credit: Lionsgate

Sicario: Day of the Soldado – Too Soon

When Sicario came out in the fall of 2015, it was a critical and commercial success with outstanding performances and a visual flair from the filmmakers. The film, which had numerous amoral characters fighting the long and violent war on drugs along the border, had a murky finale that left the audience without closure. Although the film left unanswered questions, that choice felt intentional and it came as a surprise when a sequel was announced. Sicario: Day of the Soldado, written again by Taylor Sheridan, returns to this violent world, but this time without the moral compass that Emily Blunt’s character represented. Perhaps even more notable, is the loss of director Denis Villeneuve and cinematographer, Roger Deakins, whose collaborations garner Oscar attention on a regular basis. Without the heart and soul of the first film, the sequel, which still has strong performances and action sequences, lacks the artistry and narrative that makes the violent material worth the investment.

Sicario: Day of the Soldado, begins with a familiar setting from the previous film –migrants at the U.S. / Mexico border, scrambling to cross into America in the middle of the night. As cars and helicopters from border patrol close in on the group, one person sprints from the pack only to detonate a bomb and kill himself instead of being captured. The action then cuts to a crowded department store in Kansas City, where four men, clad in all-black, walk in and each detonate bombs killing themselves and many innocent lives. In response to these vicious attacks, the U.S. Secretary of Defense (Matthew Modine, 47 Meters Down, 2017) declares that the U.S. Government is going to hunt these terrorists down with the full might of the U.S. armed forces.  Read more…

Posted in Movies 2018, Reviews

Annihilation (R) ★★★

Natalie Portman stars in Annihilation. Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures.

Although a box office disappointment, Annihilation is worth renting

If you missed Annihilation when it hit theaters in February, you are not alone. The sci-fi / horror flick came out at the same time that Black Panther was setting box-office records. It also suffered from a problematic release as the director and studio disagreed over the film’s finale, and even dumped the film on Netflix for the international release. Despite it’s weak box-office showing, the film is a beautifully shot and thought-provoking work from writer-director, Alex Garland, who directed the outstanding psychological thriller, Ex Machina and wrote the influential 28 Days Later and The Beach. So, if you are looking for a break from the summer slate of superheroes or juvenile comedies, Annihilation, which is now available to rent, may be the answer.

The story opens with the protagonist, Lena, (Natalie Portman, Song to Song, 2017) being questioned by a scientist named Lomax (Benedict Wong, Infinity War, 2017). As the camera pans out, we discover that Lena is quarantined at a military base and is surrounded by more scientists and military personnel. She had just returned from the Shimmer, a mysterious area surrounded by a rainbow-hued bubble that has unusual electromagnetic properties and has grown into the size of a large city. What makes Lena so fascinating to the scientists is that she (and her husband before her) are the only people out of hundreds to make it back out alive from the unexplainable area. The majority of the film is shown via extended flashbacks as Lena describes her journey to Lomax. Read more…

Posted in Movies 2018, Reviews

Avengers: Infinity War (PG-13) ★★★½ by J. DeLong

Robert Downey Jr. stars in “Avengers: Infinity War.” Photo Credit: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures / Marvel Studios

Avengers: Infinity Wars Sets New Bar for Superhero Spectacles

To call the film, Avengers: Infinity War a blockbuster movie is frankly an understatement at this point. The movie reportedly cost $300 million to make, which ranks it as the second-most expensive film ever. The cast is an embarrassment of riches as its loaded with Hollywood stars. The film itself is the 19th entry in the Marvel Universe franchise and is the culmination of all the preceding films, which include big movie franchises (Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Spiderman, The Hulk, Guardians of the Galaxy, and the recent smash, Black Panther). Clearly, with that budget, cast, and back story to build off, the expectations for this movie are sky high.   Fortunately, for the fans (and the studio), the Russo brothers, who directed this film, did not disappoint with this undertaking. Although the film has its weak spots, it’s a hugely entertaining movie and will undoubtedly be a massive hit film for the largest franchise in Hollywood.       

As described, Infinity War is the culmination of many previous Marvel films. While it’s too difficult to go into detail about all that has transpired in the previous 18 movies to get to this point, the audience just needs to know that the unifying thread is the rise of a powerful and evil figure named Thanos (Josh Brolin, Only the Brave, 2017). Thanos, who is a large, bluish-purple being from the planet Titan (Iron Man cleverly calls him “Grimace”), is seeking six mystical Infinity Stones that are scattered across the universe. The Infinity Stones grant unique abilities over mind, soul, space, power, time and reality. In the previous films, these stones have been protected or held by different heroes of the Marvel Universe and Thanos has been hunting the stones down in the background.

The action of this film takes place literally after the final scenes of Thor: Ragnorak, which came out last summer. Thor (Chris Hemsworth, 12 Strong, 2017) and his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston, Early Man, 2017), who are flying their people through space to find a new home, come under attack by Thanos, who now has the Power Stone. Thanos wants the Space Stone that Loki is hiding. The Guardians of the Galaxy led by Peter Quill (Chris Pratt, Passengers, 2016) hear Thor’s distress call and arrive on the scene to help, although it’s too late as Thanos has taken the Space Stone already. After some hilarious banter, Thor and the Guardians of the Galaxy eventually align to fight Thanos as he seeks two more stones in outer space. Meanwhile, Thanos sends his minions to Earth for the remaining two stones.

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Posted in Movies 2018, Reviews

Isle of Dogs (PG-13) ★★★

“Isle of Dogs” stars (the voices of) Bryan Cranston, Liev Schreiber, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Scarlett Johansson, Jeff Goldblum, Courtney B. Vance and Greta GerwigPhoto Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Isle of Dogs is a Treat for Audiences 

When people go to see a Wes Anderson film there are a few things they come to expect – clever dialogue, ornate sets, and scenes, and…at some point, Bill Murray. With his latest film, Isle of Dogs, his second stop-motion animation movie, Anderson checks all three boxes. The tale is set in a dystopian Japan and focuses on a group of dogs who are living on an island / garbage dump after the government banished them from the cities. The numerous dogs in the film are voiced by some Wes Anderson veterans (Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Jeff Goldblum) and some newcomers (Bryan Cranston, Liev Schreiber, Scarlett Johannsson), while the humans are mostly voiced by Japanese actors and are subtitled. The film is humorous and inventive, but the over-the-top depiction of Japanese culture and somewhat dark undertone may not appeal to everyone.

The movie opens with a narrator (Courtney B. Vance, The Mummy, 2016), describing (via flashbacks) a battle between dogs and humans that resulted in the domestication of all dogs. Eventually, the long-standing peace between pet and master crumbles after all of the dogs succumb to a new, mysterious dog flu and allegedly pose a threat to the humans.  Although scientists are working on a cure, a new authoritarian government, led by Mayor Kobayashi (whose ancestor was killed in the dog-human war), assumes control. Kobayashi sends all of the dogs to a landfill island where they are now forced to fend for themselves. To prove the seriousness of his law, Mayor Kobayashi sends a dog from his own house to the landfill first.

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Posted in Movies 2018, Reviews

Hostiles (R) ★★½

Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, Wes Studi, Ben Foster,  and Jesse Plemons star in “Hostiles.” Photo credit: Entertainment Studios

Western Film Goes South

During the settling of this country, American Indians were often described as “savages” based on their fearsome reputation. While this connotation certainly struck fear in many, in reality, atrocities were committed by both sides in the battle for control of the United States. Truth be told, the tactics used by the U.S. were arguably worse and more effective. In the end, U.S. forces were too strong, and the Indian way of life was changed forever.

Although there have been a multitude of movies covering the settling of the west, American films did not have a respectable historical track record with its depiction of Native Americans. It was not until the 1990s with films like Dances with Wolves (1990) and Last of the Mohicans (1992) that mainstream movies really depicted Indians as anything more than bloodthirsty villains. The new western-drama, Hostiles, attempts to come to terms with the violent history between U.S. forces and the Indians. Unfortunately, even with noteworthy cinematography and an excellent A-list cast, the story fails to deliver a memorable experience and plods along at too many points. 

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Posted in Movies 2018, Reviews

The Shape of Water (R) ★★★

Elisa Esposito, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Octavia Spencer and Michael Stuhlbarg star in “The Shape of Water.” Photo Credit: Fox Searchlight.

With 13 Nominations “The Shape of Water” Makes An Oscar Splash

Conventional wisdom tells us monsters are bad. They are strange, terrifying and are typically the villains of stories. This is not how Guillermo Del Toro, the director of The Shape of Water sees it. Since he broke through to American audiences with the gothic fantasy film, Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), Del Toro has depicted monsters as sympathetic, even heroic creatures. In fact, the director recently claimed: “monsters saved his life” and are “the patron saints of our blissful perfection” in a recent acceptance speech. This belief is at the heart of The Shape of Water, a fantasy tale about a mute woman and an amphibian-man hybrid creature who form quite the odd couple. Although the premise is clearly unusual and may not appeal to a broad audience, it is a well-made film with a unique script in an era where original storytelling is hard to find. 

The setting takes place in the 1950s during the heart of the Cold War. The main character Elisa (Sally Hawkins, Maudie, 2016) is a cleaning lady at a top-secret military facility in Baltimore and has lost the ability to speak due to a childhood injury. Elisa lives a quiet life and has only two friends – her neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins, (LBJ, 2016), a sweet and sensitive artist, and her chatty co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures, 2016), who does the talking for both of them at work. As the audience is introduced to Elisa’s world, the score and art direction, arguably the most impressive aspects of the film, are on full display. Despite her routine existence, it’s clear something unusual is coming into her life.  Read more…

Posted in Movies 2018, Reviews

Phantom Thread (R) ★★★

“Phantom Thread” stars Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps and Lesley Manville. Photo Credit: Focus Features.

Daniel Day-Lewis’s Final Curtain Call

Daniel Day-Lewis is generally considered the greatest actor of his generation and some consider Paul Thomas Anderson to be the greatest director of his generation. When these two collaborated ten years ago, it resulted in There Will Be Blood (2007), a brutal film about a vicious oil tycoon that earned a best actor Oscar and wide critical praise. Ten years later, the pair have reunited for Phantom Thread, a film about an English dressmaker at an elite fashion house in post-war London. Based on the premises alone, it would appear that their two collaborations seem completely unrelated, however, both focus on intense men who are obsessed with success and struggle outside of their professional lives. Phantom Thread probably won’t attract the same audiences as previous Daniel Day-Lewis films due to the subject matter and methodical pace of the story, but the film is visually stunning, masterfully acted and allegedly the last chance to see a legendary actor in action.

The story is set in 1950s London within the world of high fashion and centers on Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln, 2012), a master dressmaker for extremely wealthy clientele. Reynolds has just completed his latest dress, and after the final fitting with his delighted patron, he joins his older sister and business partner, Cyril, (Leslie Manville, (Rupture, 2016) for dinner. Cyril, who appears cold and emotionless much of the time, senses lingering anxiety in her brother and suggests he escape to the country to unwind from his latest project.  Reynolds agrees and zips out to the countryside in his sporty car that night. The next morning he stops at a local restaurant for breakfast and sees a young waitress Alma (Vicky Krieps) who transfixes him. After a hilariously elaborate breakfast order and some light banter, the two agree to a dinner date that night. While at dinner, Reynolds and Alma talk about their families and he explains what he does for his living. Afterwards, he invites her to his home where he shows her his craft and creates a beautiful dress for her. Although he warns Alma that he is a “confirmed bachelor,” Alma returns back to London with him to be his new model and ultimately his new muse. Read more…

Posted in Movies 2018, Reviews

Molly’s Game (R) ★★★

“Molly’s Game” stars Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner and Michael Cera. Photo Credit: STXFilms

Try Your Hand at Molly’s Game

Molly’s Game is the true story of the rise, fall and redemption of Molly Bloom, who by the age of 26 was dubbed the “Poker Princess” for organizing high-stakes poker games in L.A. and New York for movie stars, athletes, and rich business men. This entertaining film marks the directorial debut for Aaron Sorkin, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of a number of hit movies (Social Network, Moneyball) who wrote this screenplay as well.

The film begins describing how Molly (Jessica Chastain, Miss Sloane, 2016) ended up in her unique position in the underground gambling world. Oddly enough, her story begins on the mountain slopes training as a downhill skier in Colorado. Her father (Kevin Costner, Hidden Figures, 2016) always pushed her to excel and it paid off as she is ranked third in the U.S. in slalom skiing with plans to attend a top law school after the Olympics. Those plans are derailed during her time trial as she snags a branch while attempting a jump and significantly re-injures a childhood injury. Molly’s wipeout abruptly ends her skiing career. Instead of going to law school as expected, she puts it on hold and heads to L.A. to come up with a new plan, this time, against her father’s wishes. Read more…

Posted in Movies 2017, Reviews

The Post (PG-13) ★★★

Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, David Cross, Carrie Coon, Bruce Greenwood, Bob Odenkirk and Alison Brie star in “The Post.” Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox.

The Post Defends the Freedom of the Press

Although people rail against journalists and media for having bias, leaking stories, or disseminating fake news, it’s hard to imagine a democracy without the press working to obtain the truth. Although a free press is enshrined in the First Amendment, that hasn’t stopped the government from attempting to stifle it throughout U.S. history. One of the most famous attacks on the press is the heart of Steven Spielberg’s new film, The Post, is a faithful depiction of the Nixon White House’s attempt to stop the release of the so-called Pentagon Papers and the efforts by the newspapers to fight back.

The Post is a very well-crafted story with great performances from a stacked cast. The main draw for audiences will be the pairing of (arguably) the best working actors alive, Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep. Hanks has collaborated with Stephen Spielberg several times, but this marks a first-time with Streep. Although the pair are excellent in their performances, this film showcases strong turns from the entire cast. The casting effort resembles Spielberg’s Lincoln where even the smallest role went to someone who could be a lead in another project. Even though a large collection of famous actors can sometimes distract from a movie, each actor feels natural in their role in The Post.

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Posted in Movies 2017, Reviews, Uncategorized

I, Tonya (R) ★★★½

Margot Robbie, Allison Janney and Sebastian Stan star in “I, Tonya.” Photo Credit: NEON.

“I, Tonya” Ranks High on the Scale

Olympic figure skater, Tonya Harding, was one of the most hated people in America in the early 90s due to one of the most astonishing scandals in sports. The rivalry between Harding and America’s skating sweetheart, Nancy Kerrigan, led to an attack on Kerrigan as she was clubbed with a police baton several weeks before the 1994 Winter Olympics. Although Harding was an accomplished figure skater, in fact she was the first American woman to complete a triple axel in competition, her legacy was forever defined by her association with this infamous scandal.

Based on true events, this dark yet comedic drama receives high scores. I, Tonya is the portrayal of Harding’s life and career and the extent of Harding’s underprivileged upbringing in a broken household may not be known to most. Despite the harsh reality of Harding’s background, the script is able to soften the brutality by weaving humor into the storyline. Audiences may find themselves gasping and cheering in the same scene and some may even end up rooting for Harding in the end. Directed by Craig Gillespie (The Finest Hours), this film is insightful and self-aware – pulling audiences’ emotions in several different directions at the same time.

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Posted in Movies 2017, Reviews

Marshall (PG-13) ★★★

Chadwick Boseman, Josh Gad, Kate Hudson, Dan Stevens, Sterling K. Brown and James Cromwell star in “Marshall.” Photo Credit: Open Road Films.

Marshall: Educational & Entertaining

Fast-rising actor, Chadwick Boseman (Captain America: Civil War, 2017), sure has his historical portrayals down. After playing baseball great, Jackie Robinson in 42 (2013) and musician James Brown in Get on Up (2014), he takes on the role of an NAACP lawyer and the first African-American Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall. Not surprisingly, he is naturally convincing in this role as well.

In the historical drama, Marshall, directed by Reginal Hudlin and written by father-son team Michael and Jacob Koskoff, the plot centers on the true story of the 1941 courtroom drama that is not widely known, but proved to be incredibly influential in the legal world during such a segregated time in society. Marshall, the thirty-three-year-old lawyer, fights to defend Joseph Spell (Sterling K. Brown, This is Us, 2017), an African-American chauffeur who is accused of raping his employer’s wife, Eleanor Strubing (Kate Hudson, Deepwater Horizon, 2016). Given Strubing’s high social standing in a conservative Connecticut community, the case quickly grows into a tabloid sensation and eventually increases tensions towards the end of the Jim Crow era.

The unfamiliarity of Marshall’s story puts director Hudlin at an advantage as he can keep most viewers in suspense among the twists and turns of the trial itself, without having to do anything extraordinary. Hudlin’s directing style is less stylish and more straightforward, which could bore some audiences, but entertain those thirsty for a heavy historical drama. While Marshall is well-told, I kept waiting for the film to build up and eventually match its powerful historical significance, but it falls just short.

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Posted in Movies 2017, Reviews

Blade Runner 2049 (R) ★★½

“Blade Runner 2045” stars Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford. Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

Visually Stunning, but a Long Time Running 

The original Blade Runner, released in 1982, was a groundbreaking film that masterfully weaved elements from science fiction, detective stories, and even philosophy. It is considered a classic today and any attempts at a return to that material whether it be a sequel or reboot were undoubtedly going to have huge expectations to meet. So when Blade Runner 2049 was announced with Ryan Gosling as the lead, Harrison Ford reprising the role he made famous, and virtuoso filmmaker, Denis Villeneuve directing, any skepticism quickly turned to excitement.  Unfortunately, the movie-going experience of the film did not live up to its hype as the slow pacing and needlessly long running time undermine amazing the visuals, sounds, and performances.   

The Blade Runner franchise takes place in the near future where humans have developed the ability to artificially create synthetic humans called “replicants”. These replicants look and act like humans except that they have been physically enhanced to serve as slave labor and designed to obey human commands. Not every replicant remains obedient and those that escape or rebel are “retired” by a group that tracks them down. Members of this group are called “blade runners”, who are often replicants themselves. 

The main character in this film, K, (Ryan Gosling, La La Land, 2016), is a blade runner who we first encounter flying to a remote and huge farming facility. K is searching for a long-escaped replicant named Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista, Guardians of The Galaxy 2, 2017) who he finds at his home, living as a farmer. After a violent struggle, K is able to retire the much larger replicant, but as he prepares to fly home, he notices an unusual dirt patch under a tree with a flower on top. He calls his human supervisor to report that he found and “retired” the target and comments on the odd dirt patch, which is dug up. Read more…

Posted in Movies 2017, Reviews

Ingrid Goes West (R) ★★★

“Ingrid Goes West” stars Aubrey Plaza and Elizabeth Olsen. Photo Credit: Neon.

Narcissism at Its Finest

Social media outlets like Instagram and Facebook can be a great way to stay in touch with people and share experiences with friends and family (and strangers). Social media can also become an addiction as users obsess over “likes,” followers and comments. Recent studies have shown correlations with heavy social media usage and increased anxiety and depression. The pitfalls of living your life online are at the heart of Ingrid Goes West, where one woman’s obsession with social media and her quest for acceptance dominates every aspect of her life.

This dark-comedy drama focuses on Ingrid Thornburn (Aubrey Plaza, The Little Hours, 2016), a young woman with an unhealthy attachment to social media. In fact, the film opens with her crying while scrolling through the Instagram account of a young woman who is getting ready for her wedding. At the actual wedding reception, Ingrid crashes the event and attacks the bride with mace while screaming obscenities all due to her not being invited. While recovering at a mental hospital, Ingrid writes an apology letter to the bride, and we discover that Ingrid’s mother has recently died.

After being released from the hospital, Ingrid is spotted at the grocery store by a young woman on her phone, who was a wedding guest. She sees Ingrid at the register and describes to a friend over the phone that Ingrid cyber-stalked the bride after she liked one of Ingrid’s comments, but they never met in real life. A furious and embarrassed Ingrid keys that woman’s car on her way out. Once she gets home, Ingrid scrolls through Instagram where she finds the account of Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olson, Captain America: Civil War, 2016), a lifestyle influencer whose “welltaylored” Instagram account has a massive following. Ingrid is enamored with Taylor’s perfect life (as it appears on Instagram) and with her $62,000 inheritance from her mother’s death, she heads to L.A. to find Taylor.

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Posted in Movies 2017, Reviews

Detroit (R) ★★★

John Boyega, Anthony Mackie, Will Poulter and Algee Smith star in “Detroit.” Photo Credit: Annapurna Pictures.

Detroit: When 1967 Meets 2017

When most people talk about the civil rights movement, they are usually referring to the work of activists to counter racism in the South. But African-Americans didn’t face injustice solely in the South; many large cities in the North were rife with discriminatory social policies that resulted in poverty and marginalization.

Sadly, racial discrimination and urban decay are still hot button issues today and have recently sparked violence across the country. Inspired by the recent unrest in Ferguson, MO (among other places), the film Detroit examines the Detroit riots and the subsequent Algiers Motel Incident that occurred 50 years ago, which unfortunately shows times may not have changed much. Directed by Oscar-winner, Katherine Bigelow, this film is an eye opening and often cringe-worthy look at a dark moment in our nation’s history.

The film takes place in the summer of 1967 when Motown may have peaked musically, but racial tensions were reaching a boiling point. The city of Detroit had just experienced several days of riots, looting and even threats of sniper attacks. At one point, gunshots were allegedly fired near a National Guard outpost, which resulted in the Detroit police and other law enforcement agencies descending on the nearby Algiers Hotel. Not finding a clear suspect, the cops took matters into their own hands, and began terrorizing a group of African-Americans who just happened to be at the scene of the alleged crime. Refusing to believe their claims of innocence, the police were determined to find the culprit who allegedly fired shots at law enforcement and utilize brutal tactics. Making matters worse, the National Guardsmen outside (who arrive to help), find out how brutally local police are handling the situation and turn their backs to avoid being linked with the controversy. 

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Posted in Movies 2017, Reviews

Atomic Blonde (R) ★★★

Charlize Theron stars in “Atomic Blonde.” Photo credit: Universal Pictures.

Atomic Blonde Provides Explosive Action This Summer

Charlize Theron, may be an Oscar-winning actress, but she might be better known as an action star with her recent performances in The Fate of the Furious and Mad Max: Fury Road.  What makes this career path even more remarkable is that in 2005, while filming a sci-fi action film, Theron was nearly paralyzed after landing on her neck performing a stunt. After enduring excruciating pain for years, she eventually opted for a risky medical procedure to alleviate the pain and the rest was history. Clearly, Charlize Theron is one of the toughest actresses working today, which is on full display in her latest film, Atomic Blonde, where she takes her gifts to another level playing a Cold War spy around fall of the Berlin Wall.

The film opens with a man running through the alleys of Berlin while 80s songs play in the background. After seemingly getting away from whatever chases him, the man is hit by a car and then shot and killed by the driver who turns out to be a Russian spy. We soon cut to Theron’s character, Lorraine Broughton, immersing herself in a bathtub full of ice with bruises and cuts all over her body while drinking cold vodka to numb the pain. Lorraine is then summoned to her headquarters where she is interviewed by both British (Toby Jones, Anthropoid, 2016) and American (John Goodman, Kong: Skull Island, 2017) intelligence officers about what happened in Berlin. Lorraine, who is annoyed at the distrust in the room, begins her side of the story.  Read more…

Posted in Movies 2017, Reviews

Dunkirk (PG-13) ★★★★

Fionn Whitehead, Damien Bonnard, Aneurin Barnard, Jack Lowden, Harry Styles and Tom Glynn-Carney are among many who star in “Dunkirk.” Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

A Masterpiece on All Fronts

The Battle of Dunkirk is not as well known to average Americans compared to other WWII battles such as D-Day or the Battle of the Bulge. That is probably because no Americans fought in Dunkirk and it was not a great military victory, but a desperate evacuation. Still, without the heroism displayed by the Allied soldiers and many ordinary citizens, there wouldn’t have been a D-Day, and perhaps not even Europe as we know it. It’s about time this critical battle and those who bravely risked their lives to literally preserve the free world received their just due in the new movie, Dunkirk. Written and directed by Christopher Nolan, this historical war epic is undeniably a masterpiece and is unlike any war movie you have seen.

The film opens in a deserted French coastal town with leaflets raining down from the sky. British soldiers pick up the leaflets and read the messages from the German side. The Germans have surrounded the British and French against the ocean and will accept surrender. These soldiers come under fire, but only one named Tommy (Fionn Whitehead in his film debut) escapes to the beach. From his point of view, we see the hopeless situation – 400,000 soldiers stuck on the beach with few ships to carry them while German planes and U-boats are waiting. Making matters worse, the naval commander (Kenneth Branagh), who is leading the beach evacuation, learns that the Brits cannot spare more ships for the rescue as they are needed to defend against the invasion of England itself.

From here, Christopher Nolan presents the story from three different vantage points to illustrate the battle: the mole, the sea, and the air. The “mole” focuses on the men stranded on the beach trying to avoid German bombs and gunfire while hoping for safe passage on a ship. Plus, they must wait for the tides to rise enough to let the ships get close to shore. For the scenes in the mole, audiences follow teenage soldier Tommy and his friends who struggle to stay alive. Read more…

Posted in Movies 2017, Reviews

The Big Sick (R) ★★★★

Zoe Kazan, Kumail Nanjiani, Ray Romono and Holly Hunter star in ‘The Big Sick.’ Photo: Amazon Studios / Lions Gate

 “The Big Sick” Will Cure the Blockbuster Overload This Summer

Many romantic comedy films can be fairly sappy with the main crisis being some variant of “will they or won’t they.” In fact, it’s pretty rare when a romantic comedy breaks the mold and explores serious societal issues in anything but a silly way, which makes the achievement of the new romcom, The Big Sick so remarkable. Not only is there a heartfelt love story at its core, but the movie intelligently deals with issues surrounding race, religion, family and even illness. Based on the real-life experience of the film’s star, Kumali Nanjiani, and his wife Emily Gordon (who also co-wrote the movie), The Big Sick is a solid film that provides laughs and tears. 

The movie begins with a comedian Kumail, played by Kumail Nanjiani (Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, 2016) describing to audience what it was like growing up in Pakistan through a series of funny jokes. Kumail is still struggling to break through as a stand-up comedian and works as a part-time Uber driver in Chicago. As Kumail performs before his hometown crowd (with an important comedy booking agent in attendance) his set is thrown when a young woman in the crowd shouts something that interferes with his rhythm. After the show, Kumail approaches the woman and tells her that yelling during a comedy set, even if it’s a positive comment, is still considered “heckling.” The two playfully banter back and forth. Eventually, Kumail finds out her name is Emily (Zoe Kazan, Our Brand is Crisis, 2015) who is a grad student studying to become a therapist. They end up spending the night together, and the next morning they agree that they’re both too busy for a serious relationship and that they shouldn’t see each other again. Their connection was undeniable, however, and the pair continues to see each other, eventually becoming a serious couple.  Read more…

Posted in Movies 2017, Reviews

The Hero (R) ★★½

Sam Elliott, Laura Prepon, Krysten Ritter, Nick Offerman, and Katherine Ross star in “The Hero.” Photo Credit: The Orchard.

The Hero Cannot Save the Day  

The pursuit of professional success often comes with a cost. This is a lesson that many people only realize when they look back on their lives and realize too much time was spent pursuing “success” to the detriment of the most important relationships in their life. This experience can ring especially true in show business where fame is fleeting and public and personal lives often overlap. Brett Haley’s latest drama, The Hero, is much like The Wrestler and Crazy Heart, focusing on one man’s examination of his life and career after the fame diminishes along with his desire to leave behind a legacy. 

The story opens with Lee Hayden, an aging actor with a golden voice, (played by Sam Elliott, Grandma, 2015) in a recording studio, repeating the same line for a producer. Although Lee made a living by playing cowboys in Western firms, he is now reduced to performing voiceovers for a steak sauce commercial. Afterwards, Lee calls his agent to see if there are any meaningful roles for him. There are no open roles, but his agent does inform him that he has won a lifetime achievement award for his work in Western films, a ceremony Lee declines to attend. Lee later stops by the doctor’s office, where his doctor relays the upsetting news about a recent biopsy stating that he has prostate cancer. The action then cuts to a scene from Lee’s most famous movie, The Hero, which is the basis for this title. Throughout this film, there are cuts to scenes from his original film, but they don’t advance the story or provide context. More than anything, the cuts serve as a break in the action.

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Posted in Movies 2017, Reviews

The Promise (PG-13) ★★★

Oscar Issac and Charlotte Le Bon star in “The Promise.” Photo credit: Open Road Films.

The Promise Fails to Deliver

The Armenian Genocide is one of the most tragic stories of the 20th century as the Turks massacred an estimated 1 million Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire. The systematic killing which occurred over the course of WWI would even later inspire the Holocaust as Hitler would later write, “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”  What makes this tragedy even sadder is that the modern Turkish government and many other nations (for political reasons) refuse to acknowledge this tragedy even happened. The historical romance epic, The Promise, tackles this atrocity head on and was made in part to raise awareness of the incident and share the story of the Armenian people to a wider audience. Despite the best intentions of the production team behind the movie, the film itself is actually mediocre and unfortunately falls short as a tribute to the victims.

The Promise opens in a rural Armenian village in the Ottoman Empire just before the outset of WWI. In this village, the main character, Mikael (Oscar Isaac, 2017, X-Men: Apocalypse), works in an apothecary with a desire to be a real doctor. To finance medical school, he agrees to marry Maral, (Angela Sarafyan from HBO’s West World) a young woman in his village. He uses this dowry to enroll in medical school in Constantinople, where he lives with his uncle and his family. Although Mikael is dazzled by the capital, he also witnesses the Turk’s growing mistreatment of fellow Armenians. Although he may be considered a second class citizen on the streets, Mikael excels in school and befriends a Turkish med student, Emre Ogan (Marwan Kanzari, Ben-Hur, 2016). Emre comes from a prominent family and exposes Mikael to new social circles. While at a party, he crosses paths with the beautiful Ana, (Charlotte Le Bon, The Walk), an Armenian woman who spent years in Paris and is a friend of his uncle. Ana is dating an American journalist named Chris Meyers (Christian Bale, Ben-Hur, 2016), who is a vocal opponent of the Turkish government’s mistreatment of the Armenian people and is concerned about what will happen if war breaks out. Although Mikael is betrothed back home and Anna is with Chris, the two have an immediate connection and attraction. Read more…

Posted in Movies 2017, Reviews

Table 19 (PG-13) ★★

‘Table 19″ stars Anna Kendrick, Craig Robinson, June Squibb, Lisa Kudrow, Stephen Merchant and Renzo Eckberg. Photo Credit: Fox Searchlight.

Table This Film…For Good

Have you ever attended a wedding and ended up wanting to crawl into a hole because you were seated at a table with complete strangers? Despite the initial awkwardness, these situations can often result in hilarious stories. Table 19, the comedy-drama written and directed by Jeffrey Blitz, banks on this situation being funny enough to sustain a movie. Although Table 19 is plated with potential, can it deliver the goods?

The film opens with Eloise (Anna Kendrick, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, 2016) receiving a wedding invitation, which sparks a variety of emotions for her. One minute Eloise is vindictive and the next she’s sobbing. After much internal debate, Eloise draws an “x” on the RSVP card for yes, then crosses it out, then starts burning it and finally sends the half burnt piece of cardstock in the mail. 

Through an entertaining montage, we’re introduced to a number of other wedding guests including: Jerry and Bina (Craig Robinson, Sausage Party, 2016; Lisa Kudrow, The Girl on the Train, 2016) a married couple that seem to have lost their passion, Tony (Rezno Eckberg, Grand Budapest Hotel, 2014) a socially awkward teenager who is unlucky in the dating world, Walter (Stephen Merchant, Logan, 2017) a distant cousin who was recently released from prison and Jo Flanagan (June Squibb, Other People, 2016) the bride’s childhood babysitter. Although they all react differently to the invite, they are all surprised to be invited and respond ‘yes.’ You’re likely to correctly predict what’s to come… Read more…

Posted in Movies 2017, Reviews

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