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 :

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 the first NAACP lawyer and 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 chauffer 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.

Marshall’s relatively unfamiliar 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

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 usually refer 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. Unfortunately, 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 sadly 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 looting and rioting 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 are there to help), find out how terribly 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

Get Out (R) ★★★½

Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener star in “Get Out.”

Get Out and See this Film

You cannot always judge a book by its cover. Similarly, you shouldn’t judge a movie by its trailer. These words of wisdom are especially true for the film Get Out, a film that’s trailers mislead viewers on the type of movie and the quality of it. Get Out may look like a horror film with racism as its driving force, but a closer look will reveal an intelligent satire with horror themes that examine issues about race in America. 

The film opens with a mysterious sequence involving a young African-American man walking down a quiet suburban sidewalk at night. He is on the phone talking to his girlfriend when he is suddenly abducted. A few months later, we are introduced to the film’s protagonist, Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya, Sicario, 2014), a photographer in New York City who is packing up for a trip with his white girlfriend, Rose Armitage (played by Allison Williams in her feature film debut). The couple is going to visit Rose’s parents in the suburbs for the first time, which makes Chris nervous. Chas resumes smoking due to his anxiety, but Rose reassures him not to worry as her parents are progressive. She does admit that she has never introduced a black boyfriend to her parents before, but said Chris has nothing to worry about. In fact, she jokes that her dad will probably tell Chris he would have voted for Barack Obama three times if he had the opportunity. 

When they arrive at the house later that day, Rose’s parents, welcome Chris with open arms. Her father, Dean (Bradley Whitford, Other People, 2016), is an accomplished neurosurgeon and her mother, Missy (Catherine Keener, Accidental Love, 2015) is a psychiatrist with training in hypnotic therapy. Both are almost overly welcoming – awkward to a point – and strive to make Chris feel comfortable with them. Despite the warm reception, Chris becomes alarmed by the odd behavior of the black groundskeeper and housekeeper who act robotic and cold towards Chris. Read more…

Posted in Movies 2017, Reviews

Silence (R) ★★★★

“Silence” stars Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver and Liam Neeson. Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures.

Have Faith in Silence

For living legend Martin Scorsese, who spent nearly 30 years trying to get this film made and even contemplated joining the priesthood, it would be an understatement to call Silence a passion project. A film about religious missionaries in 1630s Japan doesn’t exactly spell huge box office hit and likely required all of Scorsese’s industry clout to even be created. Although this movie may not be for everyone, audiences will witness an utterly unique and thought-provoking look at faith, and how much one is willing to sacrifice for it.

This historic drama opens with the voice of Fr. Ferreira (Liam Neeson, A Monster Calls, 2016) narrating his own letter describing the brutal conditions for Japanese Christians. It is 1635, and Christianity has been outlawed across the country. An already difficult situation has only worsened as Christians and priests are now being tortured and executed if they do not apostatize (“deny their faith”). The story then cuts to seven years later at a Jesuit College in Macau, a Portuguese colony in Asia, where two young priests, Fr. Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge, 2016) and Fr. Garupe (Adam Driver, Paterson, 2016) meet with an older colleague, Fr. Valignano (Ciarán Hinds, Bleed For This, 2016). The group gathers to discuss the letter from Fr. Ferreira, who was a mentor to the young priests and a leading figure amongst the Catholic community in Japan. After finishing the letter, Valignano says he heard more news from Dutch traders that said Fr. Ferreira has given up the faith, leaving no more priests in Japan. Upon hearing the update, Fr. Rodrigues and Garupe are in utter disbelief, and despite death threats for priests, they decide it is their mission to uncover the truth.

Silence is a very thought-provoking film that digs deep into the issues of faith and conviction like no other film of its kind. From a visual standpoint, Scorsese brilliantly balances the beauty of Japan with the struggles that the Christians must endure. Although the few torture scenes are difficult to watch, they are not gratuitously violent or excessive, but rather convey to the audience the conviction and strength of the characters that bear it. Read more…

Posted in Movies 2017, Reviews

Julieta (R) ★★★½

Emma Suárez and Adriana Ugarte star in Julieta. Photo Credit: Sony Pictures.

A Mother and Child Reunion?

With the slew of super hero mega films, book to film adaptations and unoriginal American pictures that hope the star power will singlehandedly carry the film, foreign films are often refreshing, no matter the theme. This is very much the case with the Spanish drama, Julieta.

Portrayed (as an adult) by Emma Suárez (What’s a Bear For?, 2011), Julieta is a middle-aged former teacher who is preparing to move from Madrid to Portugal in the next few days with her boyfriend, an older sculptor, named Lorenzo (Darío Grandinetti, Francis: Pray for Me, 2015). The reasons are unbeknownst. However, the next day on the street, Julieta randomly runs into a childhood friend of Antía, her estranged daughter. This brief conversation with Beatrix (Michelle Jenner, We Need to Talk, 2016) quickly changes everything for Julieta. Beatrix tells Julieta she recently saw Antía in Switzerland and went on about how crazy it was to find out she had three kids. Julieta, who has not seen or heard from her daughter in well over a decade, is completely stunned by the news. Without hesitation or explanation, she tells Lorenzo she’s changed her mind about moving with him. Completely overcome with the desire to reestablish communication with Antía, she abruptly decides to rent the last apartment (although under construction) that she and Antía shared in the hopes that her daughter will write to that address as neither know the other’s whereabouts. While Julieta achingly awaits for word from her Antía, she begins writing a journal for her daughter that tells the true story about her father in an effort to mend their relationship.

Although this film’s plot may sound depressing, it is truly a very poignant story about the bonds between a mother and child and how it affects the surrounding relationships. Julieta is written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar, who is best known to American audiences for Volver (2005), an incredible generational love story starring Penelope Cruz that shares similar themes with Julieta. Although this film may not have the same star power as Volver (which earned Cruz an Oscar nod), it does have incredible acting from its cast, particularly the two women sharing the title role. Read more…

Posted in Movies 2017, Reviews

Nocturnal Animals (R) ★★★½

Amy Adams stars in “Nocturnal Animals.” Photo Credit: Focus Features.

Tom Ford Designs Another Work of Art

In the build-up to Oscar season, Hollywood studios release their “best films” from Thanksgiving to Christmas to such an extent that it can be overwhelming to the public. A number of excellent films get lost in the shuffle every year, especially those that lack proper marketing. Nocturnal Animals, written and directed by the multi-talented Tom Ford, is one of those films. 

The psychological thriller-mystery-drama is essentially divided into two plots, the real-life story about a woman and her ex-husband and the book that is inspired by their relationship. The film cuts back and forth between the real-life story, and the story told in the book. Over time, the plot of the book begins to make sense to the audience in the context of the real life story. Although this may seem confusing, the shift from one story to the other is very clear on screen.

The film opens with a strange art show at an L.A. art gallery in the “real life” story. The gallery is owned by Susan Morrow played by Amy Adams (Arrival, 2016) who is married to businessman, Hutton Morrow (Armie Hammer, The Birth of a Nation, 2016). Despite what appears to be a glamorous lifestyle, Susan’s marriage is faltering as she and Hutton argue about money and she suspects him of cheating. As her husband heads out for a ‘business trip,’ Susan is surprised by a novel she receives in the mail from her ex-husband, Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal, South Paw, 2015). Edward wrote the book and dedicated it to her. In his personal note, he mentions he is coming to town soon and invites her to dinner. Susan, looking for an escape from her unhappy life, immerses herself into the book and audiences come along for the ride. Read more…

Posted in Movies 2016

Hidden Figures (PG) ★★★★

Taraji Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe and Kevin Costner star in “Hidden Figures.” Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox.

Appropriately Titled Feel-Good Feature

In the early 1960s, tensions between the U.S and Russia were so strong that it even spilled over into the space programs. After the Russians jumped ahead in the Space Race when they launched the first man into space, the U.S. refused to be outdone and eventually managed the unthinkable when they landed on the moon.

Although audiences are familiar with the famous astronauts in this era – Buzz Aldrin, John Glenn and Neil Armstrong – there were hundreds of overlooked men and women tirelessly working behind the scenes at NASA to launch these brave astronauts into space and bring them back safely. Within the ranks of NASA were a number of African-American women and these women are at the heart of the untold story, Hidden Figures.

This crowd pleasing drama focuses on three African-American women who work for NASA at Langley Research Center in the early 60s. These women face cringe worthy discrimination and unfair work conditions, yet still end up providing indispensable contributions to the space program. Read more…

Posted in Movies 2017, Reviews

Jackie (R) ★★★½

Natalie Portman stars in “Jackie.” Photo Credit: Fox Searchlight.

Portman Brings Jackie to Life

The Kennedy family was nicknamed “America’s First Family” and there has been no shortage of interest in them over the years. America’s obsession with the Kennedy’s has inspired countless books, movies and TV specials depicting the family’s triumphs, tragedies, and scandals, but few have solely focused on Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis or as most refer to her, “Jackie O.” One of the most beloved first ladies was often overshadowed by her husband and his brothers, however, in the new drama, Jackie, the famous first lady takes center stage, and we see the rise and tragic ending of the Kennedy White House through her eyes and words.

The primary setting of the film takes place just over a week after the assassination of former President John F. Kennedy (‘JFK’). While still mourning the loss of her husband, Jackie (Natalie Portman, Jane Got a Gun, 2016) surprisingly requested to do an interview with Theodore ‘Ted’ White (Billy Crudup, Spotlight, 2015), a reporter from Life magazine at the Kennedy’s compound in Hyannis Port, MA. Through the narrative framework of Ted and Jackie’s Q&A, the audience is taken back to her time at the White House through extended flashbacks as Jackie discusses her fondest memories. Director Pablo Larrain truly brings this tragic, intriguing and long overdue perspective to life with Portman at the forefront.

The first flashback captures Jackie’s famous TV special, in which she gave millions of American viewers a behind-the-scenes look at the White House and discussed her plans to renovate yet maintain its abundant history. While still in her early 30’s and seemingly nervous to be on camera, it’s clear that Jackie was keenly aware of the influential role she could play in defining her husband’s legacy in the White House. Jackie brings up happy memories of raising their young family at the White House and the social events as head of state, including an in-person concert of Camelot. Tragically, these idyllic memories are shattered by the events in Dallas just a few days prior. Read more…

Posted in Movies 2017, Reviews

Miss Sloane (R) ★★★

Jessica Chastain stars in “Miss Sloane.” Photo Credit EuropaCorp Films.

“Miss Sloane” Is Ambitious, Fierce 

If this past election has taught us anything, it’s that politics is an ugly business. Even more troubling than the viciousness of elections is that even with all of the time and money spent on campaigns, many argue that lobbyists, Super PACs, pollsters and strategists actually control D.C., not our elected officials. While it may seem like a cynical view, it’s at the heart of the of Miss Sloane, a drama that dives into the world of the lobbying. This often unflattering look at Washington lobbyists portrays them as unethical powerbrokers who will do anything to help their clients get what they want. It’s no wonder that the protagonist in this film confesses when it comes to morality, “I don’t even know where the line is.” 

Elizabeth Sloane, (Jessica Chastain, The Martian, 2015), the eponymous “hero” in Miss Sloane as the star lobbyist at one the most powerful firms in D.C. Elizabeth will seemingly use anything at her disposal to fight against regulation or taxation that threaten her clients, whether they be Fortune 500 companies or foreign countries.

Sloane’s win-at-all-costs tactics and impressive record attracts a potentially huge new client, the gun rights campaign, to her firm’s office for a meeting. The head of the gun rights’ lobby is looking for her services in converting women, who have not been gun allies traditionally, to their cause and thwart a new gun regulation bill that is an impending vote in the Senate. Sloane laughs at the proposed strategy to woo women and flippantly promises to look at the numbers, which later results in a lecturing from her irate boss (Sam Watterson, Newsroom, 2014). Read more…

Posted in Movies 2016, Reviews

Bleed for This (R) ★★★

Miles Teller stars in “Bleed for This.” Photo Credit: Open Road Films.

“Bleed for This” – Call It a Comeback

Boxing is nicknamed the “sweet science,” which is a strange name given that it is arguably the most violent and physically punishing sport. Anyone who steps into the ring needs to be fearless and be incredibly tough to withstand the toll one takes from receiving repeated shots to the head. Now, imagine the toughness you would need to step into the ring and take punches to the head after recently breaking your neck in a car accident.

In writer and director Ben Younger’s latest drama, Bleed for This, boxer Vinny Pazienza’s real life story comes to the big screen. The film covers his quick rise to boxing glory, the tragic accident that nearly cost him everything and his astonishing path to recovery.

The film opens with Vinny “Paz” Pazienza, played by Miles Teller (War Dogs, 2016), his family and his trainer helping him recover after losing a fight with the champion Roger Mayweather (Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s uncle). Paz and his trainer, Kevin Rooney (Aaron Eckhart, London Has Fallen, 2016) think he should fight at a more natural weight class given his struggles to cut weight and in the ring. Paz’s father (Ciarán Hinds, Frozen, 2013) who manages the gym, is worried that Vinny is not ready for the change, but eventually agrees with Rooney’s plans and is able to arrange a title fight for his unrelenting son in his first match as a junior middleweight against Frenchman Gilbert Dele. Despite very low odds to win the title bout, Paz is able to rally from a rough start to dominate the fight and become the world champion.

Read more…

Posted in Movies 2016, Reviews

GHOSTBUSTERS (PG-13) ★★★½

“Ghostbusters” stars Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones. Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures.

Undeniable Ghoul Power In The Latest Installment of “Ghostbusters”

When the cast was announced for the long-awaited next film in the Ghostbusters franchise, some short-sighted fans were upset that the Ghostbuster team would not star the original cast but would be played by female actors in what seemed like a gimmick. All of these criticisms were entirely speculative however, as director Paul Feig and the hilarious female cast deliver a comical and unique spin on a beloved franchise, yet still manage to pay the appropriate respect to the original films without it feeling like a copy.

Ghostbusters opens in an old Manhattan mansion, where a guide (Zach Woods, Silicon Valley, 2016) is leading a tour through the house and describing the history including how the owner’s daughter had murdered a number of people in their sleep. After the tour concludes, he is startled by strange sounds and movements in the basement. When he goes to investigate, he is ultimately attacked by the girl’s ghost.

The house’s owner pays a visit to Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig, Martian, 2015) a physics professor at Columbia University, who had written a book earlier in her career stating her belief in ghosts and her scientific theories regarding paranormal activity. Erin, who is trying to hide her interest in paranormal activity from the faculty as she is up for tenure, first denies that she wrote the book, but ultimately cannot hide that her face is on the dust jacket. She discovers that the book is now appearing online again despite her attempts to remove any trace of it. Erin heads over to the run-down laboratory of her old friend and the book’s co-author Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy, The Boss, 2016) who she believes is responsible for the book remerging.

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Posted in Movies 2016, Reviews

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates (R) ★★½

“Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates” stars Zac Efron, Adam Devine, Anna Kendrick and Aubrey Plaza. Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox.

No Need to RSVP to the Theater

Two girls tricking two brothers into taking them to a Hawaiian wedding sounds like an attempt to create a female version of Wedding Crashers. Oddly enough, however, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, is inspired by a true story where two brothers went on Craigslist and TV to look for dates for their younger sister’s wedding. Of course, finding dates in this manner is not without its risks, and in this light-hearted summer comedy, the brothers definitely get more than what they bargained for.

Directed by Jake Szymanski (7 Days in Hell, 2015), Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates tells the story of two immature and co-dependent brothers, Dave and Mike Stangle, played by Zac Efron (Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, 2016) and Adam Devine (Pitch Perfect 2, 2015). With a history of misbehaving at family functions, their sister, who is getting married in Hawaii, along with their father have mandated that they need to find dates with the hopes that having arm candy will curb their mischievousness.

Although Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates will have the audience laughing particularly at certain scenes, the movie falls a few laughs short of being a must-see comedy. Nearly all of the truly humorous scenes are a result of Adam Devine’s comedic chops. He excels at playing the over-the-top immature moron, which he has played in both Pitch Perfect movies as well as his Workaholics persona, a TV show in which he co-created and stars. Zac Efron does a solid effort of keeping up with Adam Devine’s hilarity as he builds his comedic resume. Unfortunately, their roles are marred by the performance of Anna Kendrick and Aubrey Plaza. While both actors have shined in other comedic roles, their attempts to act crassly alongside Adam Devine and Zac Efron seemed forced and unnatural, and these roles do not suit their talents.  Read more…

Posted in Movies 2016, Reviews

The Secret Life of Pets (PG) ★★★½

“The Secret Life of Pets” is a Pet Lovers Delight

Jameson the French Bully, searches for puppy videos while his parents are working. Photo Credit: Erica Nolda

The Secret Life of Pets is an amusing, animated tale that centers on the curiosity of what pets do and think about all day while their owners are not around. The answer can be quite a lot as the same creative team behind Despicable Me (2010) unveils a delightful summer movie that should appeal to the whole family and boasts a fun cast of actors voicing a large crew of lovable animals.

Still from ‘The Secret Life of Pets’ Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

*Update! *Important note to our viewers on “The Secret Life of Pets.” We are now strongly suggesting and will be adding to our review that children be at least 10-years-old. Read more at the end of this review.

The story begins with an adorable Jack Russell Terrier named Max, voiced by comedian, Louis C.K. (Trumbo, 2015) who lives a happy, comfortable life with his owner Katie (Ellie Kemper, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, 2016), in a New York apartment building.  Every day when Katie heads to work, Max will spend hours staring at the door until she returns but also kills time by visiting with other pet friends in the building, including a Dachshund named Buddy (Hannibal Buress, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, 2016), a Pug named Mel (Bobby Moynihan, Sisters, 2015), a lazy, fat cat named Chloe (Lake Bell, Million Dollar Arm, 2014) and a Pomeranian named Gidget (Jenny Slate, The Obvious Child, 2015) who harbors a secret crush on Max.

Jameson The French Bull Dog practices his poses  for National Pet Day. Photo Credit: Erica Nolda.

While Max enjoys visiting his friends, the best part of his day is still undoubtedly when Katie comes home from work. One day, when she returns, Max is horrified to find out that Katie is not alone and introduces Max to his new “brother,” a massive Newfoundland named Duke (Eric Stonestreet, Modern Family, 2016). Max, who is very possessive of Katie, does not take kindly to the change in the living situation and lets Katie know his feelings (although she only hears him barking). Duke, who initially tried to befriend Max, overhears this attempt to get rid of him and responds by throwing his weight around literally – pushing Max from his bed and eating all his food. The two continue to quarrel at the dog park the next day and their feuding causes both dogs to lose their collars and become separated from their aloof dog walker. To make matters worse, they have a run-in with an army of stray alley cats, then two workers from Animal Control and finally a band of wild animals calling themselves the “Flushed Pets.” The gang is led by a violent white bunny, Snowball (Kevin Hart, Ride Along 2, 2016) who is plotting against the humans that rejected them as pets. Meanwhile back at the apartment building, Gidget, who has a crush on Max, notices that Max and Duke did not come back from the walk and convinces the rest of the pets at the apartment building to go looking for their friend. The rest of the story is based on whether Max and Duke can work together to return to their home and friends while avoiding Animal Control and the army of “Flushed Pets.”

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Posted in Movies 2016, Reviews

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (R) ★★★

Andy Samberg co-writes and stars in “Popstar: Never Stop Stopping.” Photo Credit: Universal Pictures.

Popstar Successfully Skewers Modern Pop Music

The movie This Is Spinal Tap (1984) was a groundbreaking comedy that introduced many to the mockumentary style of filmmaking and focused on the ridiculousness of 70s heavy metal bands. Andy Samberg and his comedy team Lonely Island, continues this tradition with a funny send-up of today’s current pop stars in their new film, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping.

This comedy is amusing and does a respectable job of parodying today’s pop music world. The antics and behavior of the characters don’t actually seem far off what pop stars like Justin Bieber, Mariah Cyrus, and young rappers would do to steal headlines. Today’s pop music scenes is ripe for satire, especially for a writing team that mastered their craft after years as writers and performers at Saturday Night Life (SNL) including creating many famous digital shorts. The movie is far from perfect though as the story’s overall plot is fairly predictable, some of the jokes are too childish and it has a fairly short running time of less than 90 minutes.

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Posted in Movies 2016, Reviews

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