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Crazy Rich Asians
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Crazy Rich Asians

Genre: Romantic Comedy
Starring: Constance Wu, Henry Golding
Rating: PG-13
for some suggestive content and language.
Grade: B
Reviewer: Lynn Venhaus
The PLOT:
Rachel Chu (Constance Wu), an NYU economics professor, accompanies her boyfriend Nick Young (Henry Golding) to his best friend’s wedding in Singapore. He’s super-rich but she is unaware until she sees the opulent displays of wealth. Resentful family and catty friends target her as a gold-digger, making her visit uncomfortable.

Lynn’s Take:
A fairy tale can transcend cultures as “Crazy Rich Asians” refreshingly points out.
This Far East twist to the enduring Cinderella story flaunts extravagant glitz and glamour while presenting familiar struggles with heritage and different worlds. The compatibility of the flashy parties are eye-popping spectacles, but this relatable romcom finds its sweet spot in the small moments.
Based on Kevin Kwan’s 2013 bestseller, you root for handsome Prince Charming and his beautiful, smart girlfriend from humble beginnings because of winsome Wu and Golding’s visible chemistry.
Nick’s unsympathetic Tiger Mom Eleanor (a steely Michelle Yeoh) is cold and controlling, thus complicating the American’s relationship with her golden-boy son. Rachel is blind-sided by the vipers in this elite world.
She leans on spunky college roommate Peik Lin Goh (hilarious Awkwafina), Nick’s gay cousin Oliver (fun Nico Santos) and Nick’s sister Astrid (elegant Gemma Chan), who is having marriage troubles.
The characters may be drawn in bold, broad strokes, but the performers are appealing and sincere.
As the first major Hollywood studio film since “The Joy Luck Club” in 1993 to feature an all-Asian cast, this delightful summer trifle shows how soap opera fantasy can be engaging on any continent.
Alpha
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Alpha

Genre: Adventure/Drama/Fantasy
Starring: Kodi Smit-McPhee
Rating: PG-13
for some intense peril
Grade: C+
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert
The PLOT:
Europe 200,000 years ago finds young Keda (Kodi Smit-McPhee) on his first hunt with his father and other warriors of his tribe.
When Keda is attacked by a wild Bison, he is left for dead. Awakening injured, he befriends an injured wolf.
Together, they embark upon an adventure where one will earn the name Alpha while the other gains the skills of an Alpha.

Kent’s Take:
“Alpha” is a family adventure of survival, trust and love.
Keda struggles to live up to his father’s expectations, yet, as he is forced to cross an unforgiving land with only a wolf in tow, he naturally begins to learn some difficult life lessons. Lessons that help transform him into the man for which his father would be proud.
Marketed as a heart-felt adventure between a boy and his companion, this film has a few hurdles to overcome to succeed with families. This film is subtitled throughout and although the dialogue is direct and sparse, many viewers, especially teens aren’t thrilled with reading dialogue. In addition, there are some brutal and frightening moments that deftly use this danger to propel the story and help define the stakes. Parents who are considering bringing children younger than 13 should be aware of this.
That being said, this story unfolds more like a parable than a fully fleshed-out story. Told in broad strokes, Keda and his wolf work to build trust while struggling to survive for months.
“Alpha” is a beautiful film. The establishing shots reveal a wide open, pristine land, untouched by large human populations. Color palettes of soft browns, lush, vibrant greens and deep frigid blues pull viewers into this prehistoric landscape.
This story and film as a whole, come together nicely albeit, in a predictable way. However, there is an emotional disconnect between Keda and audiences due to the subtitles and a story short on detail. The result is a film that audiences will enjoy, but will soon forget. “Alpha” will struggle to find its place in the pack as this gorgeous survival adventure fails to take the lead.
BlackkKlansman
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BlackkKlansman

Genre: Adventure/Drama/Fantasy
Starring: John David Washington, Adam Driver
Rating: R
for language throughout, including racial epithets, and for disturbing/violent material and some sexual references.
Grade: A+
Reviewer: Lynn Venhaus
The PLOT:
In 1972, Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), the first African-American police officer on the Colorado Springs PD, goes undercover infiltrating the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan by using Flip (Adam Driver), a white undercover detective, as the decoy.

Lynn’s Take:
More powerful and chilling because it really happened, “BlackkKlansman” is one of the best and most important films of the year.
Spike Lee is back in the groove – his direction is vibrant, the cast first-rate, and the soundtrack/score noteworthy. As an edge-of-the-seat crime thriller, he balances the graphic hate with an effective lighter tone. He lets the horrific and infuriating material speak for itself, thus it hits hard without having to belabor any points.
In his breakthrough role, John David Washington is a natural. The eldest son of Oscar winner Denzel Washington is mesmerizing, maneuvering through dangerous situations. His phone conversations with a stunning Topher Grace as David Duke, the KKK Imperial Wizard, are riveting. (Fun fact: John David was signed by the St. Louis Rams in 2007).
He works well with the remarkable Adam Driver, who immerses himself in a complicated, physically demanding and emotionally intense role as a non-practicing Jewish policeman who is thrust into the belly of the beast.
Unsettling and tough to watch, this movie is necessary for our time. Only Lee could have made this heart-pounding movie, the winner of the Palm D’Or (Grand Prize) at the Cannes Film Festival and will be a factor in the year-end awards.
Puzzle
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Puzzle

Genre: Drama
Starring: Kelly MacDonald, David Denman, Irrfan Kahn, Bubba Weiler
Rating: R
for language.
Grade: B
Reviewer: Lynn Venhaus
The PLOT:
Suburban mother Agnes is taken for granted. When she quickly puts together a jigsaw puzzle birthday gift, a new passion is born. She is drawn into a new world, which takes her humdrum life in a different direction.

Lynn’s Take:
This stay-at-home mom’s midlife crisis is a departure from most stories of this ilk, and therefore “Puzzle” surprises in several ways.
Kelly MacDonald nails this dissatisfied woman who finds that she needs more than the daily drudgery of thankless family demands, and in fact, her needs are important. She discovers something she’s good at, and her confidence grows.
You feel her burdens melt away when she’s unleashed and sneaks off to the city to practice competitive puzzle-solving. It’s not that her husband is a bad guy, he’s just a clueless Neanderthal with a mindset from a different era. (I had to wonder, though, what period this movie was in, shocked to find it contemporary). David Denman perfectly embodies Louie, the set-in-his-ways family provider role.
Irrfan Khan is interesting as Robert, the mysterious puzzle champion whose haughtiness is at times off-putting, but he’s a fascinating personality and just like Agnes, we want to know more.
Bubba Weiler stands out as her conflicted son Ziggy, who is miserable and at crossroads.
Along with Polly Mann, compelling screenwriter Oren Moverman is listed among the writing credits, and he excels at drawing us into different cultural worlds with meticulous details. This engaging, modest film is based on Natalia Smirnoff’s Argentinian film, “Rompecabezas.”
With a distinctive American spin, “Puzzle” exemplifies how life can alter in baby steps.
Mile 22
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Mile 22

Genre: Action/Thriller
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Iko Uwais, Lauren Cohan, Rhonda Rousey
Rating: R
for strong violence and language throughout.
Grade: D
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert
The PLOT:
Six vials of radioactive Cesium 137 have disappeared. CIA operative James Silva (Mark Wahlberg) and his squad of deadly operatives are called in. They believe their informant, Li Noor (Iko Uwais) has given them faulty information.
When Li Noor arrives at the American Embassy with an encrypted disc with the locations of the cesium, it launches a deadly cat and mouse game of deceit that reveals a grim twist of fate.

Kent’s Take:
“Mile 22” is an international action thriller but has disappointing action and few thrills.
Silva is a hard-nosed director aware that their mission is of the upmost importance. Cesium 137 can destroy an entire city, if released into the air. Silva conveys the gravity of the situation by yelling at anyone and everyone he can. His team apparently mirrors their director by giving each other a hard time, like offering baked goods with profanity that is supposed to be funny to audiences and allude to their camaraderie.
This choppy plot uses quick cuts for both its action and dialogue that results resulting in confusion all around. Director Peter Berg and writers Lea Carpenter and Graham Roland seem more concerned with presenting a macho plot driven by anger and testosterone rather than presenting a dark, unrepentant and tense action film. Unfortunately, this falls flat for the simple fact there is absolutely no subtlety to this story. Pushing the plot through disjointed dialogue to set up a rather confusing plot while providing little to no character development derails any emotional investment an audience could develop.
A smart choice in this disappointing film is killing off Rhonda Rousey’s Sam Snow. Rousey does a good job with her small role, but keeping her for the climax would have been a bad idea. The other notable in the film is Iko Uwais’ Li Noor.
Li Noor is the reason anyone should see this film, his action sequences are outstanding and actually pumps up this pedestrian thriller. As Silva snarks at foreign diplomats, Li Noor is beating the stuffing out of two assassins down the hallway. Later, Li Noor fights four baddies as Silva pops off shots while monologuing with the main bad guy.
Wahlberg’s James Silva is not heroic. It takes him leaving two of his squad members to die to finally gain a conscience and decide to go back for Alice Kerr (Lauren Cohan). I’m a fan of Mark Wahlberg, he can act, but here his performance is shaky – actually everyone’s performances are shaky due to the contrived dialogue. And Silva’s incessant wristband-snapping is so annoying that I started rooting for him to lose that hand.
“Mile 22” is a regrettable action film low on intensity and drama, but high in confusion and ridiculousness. If you’re looking for a worthy action film this weekend, spend your money on “Mission: Impossible - Fallout.”
Far From The Tree
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Far From The Tree

Genre: Documentary
Rating: This film is not rated.
Grade: B (Kent)
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert
The PLOT:
Based upon the best selling book of the same name, by Andrew Solomon, “Far From The Tree” follows families whose children differ from their parents and societal standards. These families struggle with moral, ethical, societal and emotional issues as they slowly follow a path that is hidden to all but a few who have similar experiences. However, the enduring spirit of family always surfaces to offer hope for darker times.

Kent’s Take:
“Far From The Tree” follows several families as they experience difficult struggles with parenting.
Andrew Solomon himself struggled with his own demons as his parents couldn’t accept his homosexuality. As Solomon began writing his book, it quickly became evident that he was writing a book about non-standard families as he asked, “How do we decide what to cure and what to celebrate?”
Jason, 41-years-old, has Down syndrome. Jason’s mother and late father were determined to help Jason achieve success by learning to read and do math. Jason sees himself as normal, but is also disappointed that he can’t drive or get married someday.
Jack was a happy infant, but around two years old he started to withdraw. He was soon diagnosed with autism. Unable to communicate with anyone, Jack acted out his frustrations on his parents. Once they discovered a therapist who taught the family how to communicate with him, a whole new world opened up for them. His mother simply wanted to know what was inside his head. One of the first few sentences Jack spelled was, “I’m trying. I’m really smart.”
Leah and Joe are two little people. Joe is wheelchair-bound, but nothing holds him back. They live in a society that sees them as abnormal and “disabled.” Yet, they lead a normal life with successful careers. Leah hopes to have a baby who is a little person, for she sees herself as simply having a unique perspective of our world.
The most difficult story to watch is Trevor’s story. His story is seen through his family’s eyes since Trevor is in jail. They realize they must simply live with the guilt of Trevor’s crime.
As each family endures their struggle, we learn of the trials and tribulations that they experienced, adversity that helped them come to the understanding that “normal” is average and no one wants to be average.
The common experience that all of these families have, forges the strong message of this documentary. Families endure tragedy, sorrow, trauma and affliction to move toward happiness as though pulled by the gravity of love.
Whether from the vast variation in subjects or the degree in variation of struggles, this documentary lacks a certain rhythm of storytelling that helps viewers invest in the story. Andrew Solomon’s story, though a worthy one, seems forced into the film. Andrew’s story is the catalyst for his book, yet his story almost seems like a vanity piece compared to the other stories.
“Far From The Tree” follows distinctive families in their search for peace and understanding as their unusual children define themselves and their parents as courageous, worthy survivors.
The Meg
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The Meg

Genre: Action/Horror/Sci-fi/Thriller
Starring: Jason Statham
Rating: PG-13
for action/peril, bloody images and some language.
Grade: C+
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert
The PLOT:
When a team of Oceanographers become trapped over 11,000 meters below the ocean’s surface, Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham) is persuaded to join the rescue team. As Taylor reaches the stranded scientists, he encounters a creature thought to be extinct. The threat – a Megaladon.
Over 60 feet long and able to bite a whale in half, Taylor and the science team find themselves fighting to survive an ancient ocean terror.

Kent’s Take:
Some may describe “The Meg” as “Jaws” on steroids – it’s not, it’s a shark on steroids. “Jaws” is a classic nuanced thriller about a community’s struggle to rid itself of a Great White shark. “The Meg” is a simple action film, a summer popcorn movie with a predictable plot and clichéd characters (the tough hero, the love interest, the Jerk, the spoiled rich guy and most unfortunately, the scared, animated black guy who can’t swim).
A heavy-handed environmentalist theme runs throughout the story but is incorporated nicely into the plot and actually helps fuel the film.
Statham is fine as the rough-and-tumble hero, but struggles during the emotional, tender moments, revealing that he is no Dwayne Johnson – the new Arnold Schwarzenegger of action films.
“The Meg” shines in its effects, thrills and tension. Director Jon Turtletaub does an excellent job of building that tension. Viewers feel the momentum growing as the setups unfold and the guilty pleasure of jump-scares never get old. The action is also well done and offers a few surprises. The science crew’s technology is fascinating, bringing audiences fully into the ocean depths keeping us awash in uncertainty.
“The Meg” may not be the summer predator that the studio hopes it to be, but this tense, action-packed film will certainly take a sizable box office bite.
McQueen
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McQueen

Genre: Documentary/Biography
Rating: R
for language and nudity
Grade: A- (Lynn)
Reviewer: Lynn Venhaus
The PLOT:
The late fashion designer Alexander McQueen’s rags-to-riches story is told in five intriguing chapters.

LYNN’s Take:
Co-directors Ian Bonhote and Peter Ettedgui, who also wrote “McQueen,” take an interesting approach to capturing a unique force in fashion.
Intimate in detail, the documentary shows how Lee McQueen, a chubby gay dropout from London’s East End, possessed the skills and desire to get his talent noticed. After an apprenticeship at a Saville Row tailor, he moved to Milan without any money and worked for Gigli. What followed was his own line, the House of Givenchy invite, and a place in history as one of the most influential avante-garde artists of his generation.
They look at his maverick work through archived footage, and his sad, tortured life through interviews. McQueen took his own life in 2010, at age 40.
Whether you find his radical runway shows weird or bold, McQueen made an undeniable impact. He turned the trauma of childhood sexual abuse (by a sister’s husband) into inspiration. Fame couldn’t control his demons, and neither could illegal drugs.
The filmmakers look at the creative process in a fascinating way. And make us appreciate a poor misfit and his singular genius.
Christopher Robin
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Christopher Robin

Genre: Animation/Adventure/Family
Starring: Orton O'Brien, Ewan McGregor, Hayley Atwell, Bronte Carmichael, Mark Gatiss, Oliver Ford Davies, Ronke Adekoluejo, Adrian Scarborough, Roger Ashton-Griffiths, Ken Nwosu, John Dagleish, Katy Carmichael, Jasmine Simone Charles
Rating: PG
for some action
Grade: A
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert
The PLOT:
Christopher Robin (Orton O’Brien) must leave his imaginary friends in the Hundred Acre Wood. Winnie the Pooh, Piglet, Kanga, Roo, Rabbit, Owl and, of course, Tigger say their goodbyes. Pooh is affected the most, and wonders if Christopher Robin will remember them.
The years pass as Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor) attends boarding school, goes to war, marries and has a family. He has left Pooh and the Hundred Acre Wood far behind and, even worse, his wife and daughter are secondary to the pressures of his work.
It’s up to a little bear, short on brains and big in heart, to find Christopher Robin and help him find his family and missing smiles.

Kent’s Take:
“Christopher Robin” is the Disney live-action version of A.A. Milne’s beloved children’s stories. Winnie the Pooh books have always been simple stories of innocence, imagination and gentle tales of childhood.
This wholesome film is no different, quickly capturing viewer’s hearts with loveable characters in a beautiful story. Pooh and his Poohisms feel like putting on a favorite pair of shoes. Children in the audience giggled and laughed throughout, inviting the adults to join in their fun.
Pooh and friends are obviously stuffed animals. Their matted fur and dirty patches are not from living in Christopher Robin’s imaginary forest, but from being a child’s constant companion – these creatures have been well-loved and it shows.
Christopher Robin is stripped of his childhood innocence through life experiences, yet, the Hundred Acre Wood still remains unaffected, a touchstone of happier times for Christopher and us.
In addition to the welcoming story, this is a gorgeous film. The vintage period is portrayed with panache from the starkly contrasted interiors of the Winslow Company and bustling streets of mid 20th century London to Christopher Robin’s relaxing English country cottage, this film draws you in with every frame.
“Christopher Robin” is a memorable adventure marinated in innocence and flavored with a generous helping of heartfelt emotion.
Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far On Foot
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Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far On Foot

Genre: Drama
Starring: Joequin Phoenix, Jonah Hill, Rooney, Jack Black, Tony Greenhand, Mara,
Rating: R
for language throughout, sexual content, some nudity and alcohol abuse.
Grade: B
Reviewer: Lynn Venhaus
The PLOT:
Based on the memoir “Will the Real John Callahan Please Stand Up?”, this unusual biopic is about a quadriplegic cartoonist in Portland, Oregon.
Callahan, paralyzed in a drunk-driving accident at 21, joined Alcoholics Anonymous and worked the program. From rock-bottom to redemption, he found new life as a politically incorrect newspaper cartoonist.

Lynn’s Take:
Writer-director Gus Van Sant presents a brutally honest depiction of life’s tough challenges in “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot.” An alcoholic’s recovery, a young man’s life post-trauma, and a creative outlet found is compelling, but Van Sant’s unconventional time-shifting isn’t an advantage.
The best focus is community and the nurturing effect it can have, as in the AA program and the city of Portland itself.
Where this movie finds its heart is in the performances. In a sobering performance, Joaquin Phoenix is remarkable in his ability to completely deep-dive into a character. He plumbs the depths of the despair, clings to the good, deals with the bad, and comes to terms with the ugly.
Standing out in quite a departure is Jonah Hill, emphasizing again that he is not a one-trick-pony as the AA group leader Donnie.
Jack Black, who is so much better in supporting roles, is drinking-buddy Dexter and Rooney Mara offers fine support as John’s girlfriend.
This is tough material, and Van Sant films it in a documentary-style, not glossing over the rough parts.
Mission: Impossible - Fallout
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Mission: Impossible - Fallout

Genre: Action/Adventure/Thriller
Starring: Tom Cruise, Henry Cavill, Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson
Rating: PG-13
for violence and intense sequences of action, and for brief strong language.
Grade: A (Kent)/A (Lynn)
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert & Lynn Venhaus
THE PLOT:
IMF Agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is blamed for letting three plutonium cores slip through his hands. A massive nuclear terrorist attack on the worlds religious centers soon follows.
With three more plutonium cores up for grabs, Hunt and his IMF team are tasked with their recovery.
Yet, three other organizations are willing to cross any line to get their hands on this destructive material – creating a mission for Hunt that seems virtually impossible.

KENT’s TAKE:
“Mission: Impossible - Fallout” is the sixth film in this wavering franchise – but has found its sweet spot in its newest installment.
“Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation” offered a strong film with plenty of action, but it ultimately had too much comedy to see this film as a full-blown thriller.
“M:I - Fallout” is dark enough and is balanced with a perfect pinch of humor. This blockbuster also touts something that is becoming rare in action films – a strong story.
The genius behind this easy-to-follow, yet, layered story is writer/ director Christopher McQuarrie (“Edge of Tomorrow,” “The Usual Suspects”). McQuarrie captures viewers with characters they can care about, giving insight into their decisions and psyches. He then pummels us with outstanding action to finally finish us off with momentus twists that set this story afire.
Give good actors a meaty story and they will take it to the next level. Cruise gives of his best performances in years. Henry Cavil (as August Walker) is a great dichotomy for Hunt – using force as a first resort. Rebecca Ferguson’s Ilsa Faust continues her strong role as Hunt’s Mi6 equal and love interest.
In addition to the story balance, the action sequences are deftly woven into the plot. Using gorgeous and exotic locales, this international thriller then tears up these beautiful places as Hunt and company use every measure to stop another thermonuclear detonation.
“Mission: Impossible - Fallout” finds all the pieces falling into place as the fallout of Hunt’s initial mission launches an unforgettable summer adventure.

LYNN’s TAKE:
Fasten your seat belts because “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” is one nail-biting ride – the sixth and best one yet.
Writer/director Christopher McQuarrie builds non-stop suspense in a smartly constructed story and pulls off an incredibly daring spectacle with hairpin turns.
The visual effects are jaw-dropping, going farther than ever, and the globe-trotting camera work is dazzling, all tied together with Lorne Balfa’s bracing score.
This latest sequel builds on what happened in “Rogue Nation,” bringing back British agent Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) and villain Solomon Lane (Sean Harris).
At 56, Tom Cruise remains a heroic Ethan Hunt, hell-bent on saving the world. And whoa, can he run.
New is a less wooden Henry Cavill, playing a hot-shot thorn in Hunt’s side. Ever-sharp Alec Baldwin is a top official.
The tight IMF team conveys its customary caring and chemistry, and that genuine heart and humor sets this franchise apart.
Layer by layer, this is so far the best action-suspense non-superhero blockbuster of the year.
Eighth Grade
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Eighth Grade

Genre: Comedy
Rating: R
for language and some sexual material.
Grade: A (Lynn)
Reviewer: Lynn Venhaus
The PLOT:
Introverted teenage girl Kayla is trying to make it through her last days of “Eighth Grade” and advance to high school, where she hopes someone finally recognizes that she is the coolest girl in the world.

Lynn’s Take:
Just as the title implies, “Eighth Grade” is a “Whack a Mole!” minefield through a most awkward year.
Writer-director Bo Burnham, a 27-year-old stand-up comedian who had a modest resume of TV and movie credits before this stunning breakout turn, strikes a universal chord with this raw and real coming-of-age comedy.
Firmly rooted in modern culture, the movie depicts a typical young suburban teen life. The screen-staring, earbud-wearing Kayla isolates herself from her well-meaning, exasperated single dad Mark, with reliable character actor Josh Hamilton giving a genuinely affecting performance.
Desperately trying to fit in, the gawky Kayla has painful social interactions at school, a birthday party, with boys, and at the mall. In a remarkably authentic portrayal, Elsie Fisher conveys every range of feeling that hormone-ranging age-bracket undergoes.
Burnham takes the familiar and examines it with a keen eye. He accurately captures the horror of going into the lion’s den of the affluent mean girl’s birthday pool party.
With its quiet moments and resonating truths, “Eighth Grade” heads to the top of the teen movie class.
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again
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Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

Genre: Romantic comedy, musical
Starring: Lily James, Amanda Seyfried, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard, Christine Baranski, Julie Walters, Dominic Cooper, Meryl Streep and Cher
Rating: PG-13
for suggestive material
Grade: B
Reviewer: Lynn Venhaus
THE PLOT:
Sophie Sheridan (Amanda Seyfried) has spent the year after her mother’s death renovating their Greek island hotel, inviting her loved ones to a grand re-opening. In flashback, we find out how her mom Donna met Sophia’s possible three dads, Bill, Harry and Sam, in 1979.

LYNN'S TAKE:
Focusing on heart and humor, “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” is frothy fun for ardent fans.
The prequel-sequel, now 10 years after the musical phenomenon was adapted for the screen, features familiar ABBA hits turned into joyous dance numbers that are pure fantasy. A few lesser-known ballads are tender, wistful insertions into the plot, especially a non-album single, “The Day Before You Came.”
Credit director Ol Parker for the light-hearted touch that drew out the personalities and the sentiment. Parker helmed “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” and wrote the screenplay from a story co-crafted by Richard Curtis, famous for “Love Actually” and “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” and musical creator Catherine Johnson.
The appealing cast conveys genuine affection for each other. Everybody’s back from the original, and the golden oldies are in fine form – I think I heard swooning when Colin Firth showed up. Maybe that was me.
New characters are introduced, namely Cher, looking like a plastic animatronic doll, as Sophie’s grandma. Andy Garcia is the hotel manager Fernando. Omid Djalili is a scene-stealing customs officer (stay for the credits).
A radiant Lily James, who was Cinderella in Disney’s live-action remake, is young Donna, embracing adventures with gusto. Her plausible hook-ups with Harry (Hugh Skinner), Bill (Josh Dylan) and Sam (Jeremy Irvine) are sweet PG-13 affairs.
The back story nicely fills in holes, and Peter Lambert’s seamless editing integrates the then-and-now tale. However, we don’t know how Donna died, and Meryl Streep’s involvement is misleading, for she only appears in the finale.
With its gorgeous Greek island setting and its joie de vivre, how can we resist this romantic comedy?
Three Identical Strangers
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Three Identical Strangers

Genre: Documentary
Rating: PG-13
for thematic material
Grade: A+
Reviewer: Lynn Venhaus
THE PLOT:Three brothers were separated at birth and adopted in 1961. Through remarkable twists of fate, they found each other at age 19, and became media darlings. However, there was more. Further investigation revealed disturbing facts about the adoption agency.

LYNN'S TAKE:
Even if the story was only about the brothers being lost, then found, it would be compelling. But what makes “Three Identical Strangers” so incredible is the way director Tim Wardle reveals the details. When the account takes a shocking left turn, your jaw drops. What happens after further disclosures makes this one of the most stunning true-life tales you’ll ever see.
The individual lives of Eddy Galland, Robert Shafran and David Kellman would have been rather ordinary had they not discovered they were triplets. What happens from 1980 on is extraordinary – a rollercoaster where you hang on every development. To tell you more would be a disservice.
Wardle is meticulous in his research. Because of the boys’ widespread media exposure, there was an abundance of material to use – in print as well as TV clips.
The film, shown at the Sundance Film Festival in January, won a U.S. Documentary Special Jury Prize for Storytelling.
This documentary is unforgettable, one of the best of the year, and will figure into year-end discussions (along with Mr. Rogers’ “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”).
Skyscraper
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Skyscraper

Genre: Action/Crime/Drama/Thriller
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Chin Han, Neve Campbell, Roland Moller
Rating: PG-13
for sequences of gun violence and action, and for brief strong language.
Grade: B-
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert
The PLOT:
Security expert Will Sawyer (Dwayne Johnson) is in Hong Kong with his wife and children to help building magnate Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han) finalize the last steps in opening “The Pearl,” the tallest building in the world.
Sawyer and his family are unaware of the dangerous plot to punish Zhao Long Ji for double-crossing the Asian mafia.
With his family’s lives on the line, Sawyer has no choice but to risk his own life to save his family.

KENT’s Take:
“Skyscraper” is “Towering Inferno” meets “Die Hard” with modern technology.
Disabled security expert Will Sawyer fights his inner demons as he struggles to save his family. This pure action film is predictable, follows a formulaic plot and requires suspension of reality.
Yet, “Skyscraper” never pretends to be more than a tension-filled thriller – and that’s okay.
Audiences will find themselves on the edge of their seats throughout as Sawyer refuses to quit while the fire engulfing floor after floor refuses to die.
Johnson is perfect for his role as hero, unfortunately, his disability is not used enough in the story for audiences to understand that the filmmakers are trying to convey that those with disabilities are also hero material.
The villains are suitably villainous (Rolland Møller as the dastardly Kores Botha is solid in his role). The plot twists, though predictable, help push this narrative toward its climax. The incredible high rise setting coupled with superb special effects are staggering, setting this story ablaze with suspense.
“Skyscraper may be well-worn in its setup, plot and characterization, but the tension, action and special effects will carry viewers to the pinnacle of excitement.
Sorry To Bother You
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Sorry To Bother You

Genre: Comedy/Fantasy/Sci-fi
Starring: Lakeith Stanfield
Rating: R
for pervasive language, some strong sexual content, graphic nudity, and drug use.
Grade: A-
Reviewer: Lynn Venhaus
The PLOT:
In an alternative Oakland, Calif., Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield) is flat broke when he desperately takes a questionable telemarketer job. He learns a way for his income to skyrocket while his co-workers get the shaft. Rising labor unrest and the lure of success are pressures he faces, as he discovers a more insidious plot is under foot.

Lynn’s Take:
Bold and brilliant, “Sorry to Bother You” is a timely, unflinching look at corporate greed, media manipulation and marginalized Americans just trying to get by.
Writer-director Boots Riley is a fresh voice, combining activism and art in an in-your-face absurdist dark comedy. In his outrageous surreal reality, the moral compass swings both ways on an unpredictable prickly path.
He veers into macabre horror sci-fi territory too. The film has some reference points to “Get Out,” “Idiocracy,” “Wag the Dog” and “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” but is original in surprising and shocking ways.
Lakeith Stanfield, who was an integral part of ‘Get Out” and noteworthy in “Short Term 12,” finally gets his breakout role as Cassius. Stanfield shows an intriguing vulnerability as he wrestles with his choices for a better life.
The cast is impassioned and interesting – Tessa Thompson as his girlfriend Detroit, Jermaine Fowler as his best pal Sal, Danny Glover as his co-worker mentor and Terry Crews as his uncle/landlord.
But the biggest surprise is Armie Hammer, animated – animated! – as a mega-rich, arrogant CEO who uses people for ill-gotten gains.
Featuring a pulsating music score and a relatable lived-in look, “Sorry to Bother You” demands attention. Stay for another scene after the initial fade to black.
Ant-Man and the Wasp
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Ant-Man and the Wasp

Genre: Action/Adventure/Sci-fi
Starring: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, Michael Peña
Rating: PG-13
for some sci-fi action violence.
Grade: B- (Kent) A- (Lynn)
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert & Lynn Venhaus
The PLOT:
Counting down his final three days of house arrest, Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) experiences a strange vision from his time in the Quantum Realm.
Reluctantly contacting Hope Van Dyne/Wasp (Evangeline Lilly) and her father Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), forces these estranged friends to team up to rescue Pym’s lost wife.

KENT’s Take:
“Ant-Man and the Wasp” has suddenly become a more important event to Marvel fans. One of Marvel’s less popular heroes finds himself filling the “Infinity War” void. As fans wonder where this adventure fits within the “Infinity War” timeline, others will appreciate the savvy timing of this films release.
This feature starts as slowly as a sleepy turtle on race day. Punctuated with clunky “Dad Jokes” and a predictable story path, viewers are reintroduced to Lang, his sidekick Luis (a funny Michael Peña) and an angry Pym and daughter/ Lang love interest, Hope.
However, once the introductions are finished, this story grows into a worthy adventure. Quickly gaining momentum, Lang becomes a balanced character – both a hero and silly sidekick to Pym/Hope.
The Quantum Physics in the film are complex, but never need to be explained. This Quantum Technology allows our heroes to enlarge or shrink anything at a whim – no further explanation necessary. This tech is the heart and saving grace of this film. As the plot kicks into overdrive the tech takes over to fuel the third act saving this faltering family fiasco.
The various villains in this dramady are weak in their own way. One is a cookie-cutter heavy. One is a bad guy with heart, while the last is driven by blind desperation – each is disappointing and ineffective in adding tension to the story.
The heroes are stronger with better motivations, yet audiences will be more concerned with Lang violating his house arrest than accomplishing the real goal of rescue.
Marvel has distinguished itself for creativity with superpowers and technology, wowing viewers with “outside-the-box” action sequences. “Ant-Man and the Wasp” continues that impressive streak as both our heroes and phasing villain Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) use quantum physics/technology in brutally fun ways.
“Ant-Man and the Wasp” will certainly entertain Marvel fans and those simply looking for the rollercoaster ride. Yet, the discerning fan will find a pedestrian setup, weak emotional bonds and plenty of shrinkage.

Lynn’s Take:
Bro-comedy veteran Paul Rudd is surprising as a Marvel superhero. Development of the inspired Ant-Man franchise is also surprising.
With its jaunty elements and characters’ chemistry complementing its science-heavy storyline, “Ant-Man and The Wasp” is as charming and delightful as its unlikely stars.
Evangeline Lilly is impressive as The Wasp, the first female Marvel superhero to be named in movie titles.
An ace supporting cast elevates the comic book aspect, especially terrific work from multi-faceted Michael Pena – he has quite a flair for comedy. This might be feature creator Stan Lee’s funniest cameo, too.
The movie’s visual effects are exceptionally well-done and fast-paced. With remarkable skill, the transitions between normal-sized to tiny or giant are seamless, as Lang grows to various sizes while staying one step ahead of the FBI or villains.
The screenplay is credited to five writers, including star Rudd. Director Peyton Reed is back for this zippy sequel to the 2015 original, and his background in comedy helps Ant-Man stand out in the Marvel Universe, even if it’s not epic in scale.
But Ant-Man is very much a part of The Avengers’ storyline. Despite missing “The Avengers: Infinity War,” he was part of “Captain America: Civil War” in 2016, and one must stay for the credits to connect the plots.
Leave No Trace
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Leave No Trace

Genre: Drama
Starring: Ben Foster, Thomasin McKenzie
Rating: PG
for thematic material throughout
Grade: A
Reviewer: Lynn Venhaus

The PLOT:
A traumatized father and his isolated teenage daughter live off the grid in the woods, but they are forced to go through social services. Dad Will (Ben Foster), a war veteran, suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. While he and Tom (Thomasin McKenzie) have a tight bond, she gets a taste of what all she has missed: school, friends, community. Those discoveries will impact their future.

Lynn’s Take:
Stay with this subtle and sparsely scripted dialogue for one of the most absorbing films of the year.
“Leave No Trace” is the third narrative film from writer-director Debra Granik, whose 2010 Oscar-nominated “Winter’s Bone” introduced Jennifer Lawrence to the movie-going public. This simple yet powerful character study of poverty and parenting was co-written by Anne Rosselini and adapted from the novel, “My Abandonment” by Peter Rock, which was based on a true story.
A small supporting cast helps create a natural look and tone, which demonstrates the good in people, a nice angle.
The two leads are mesmerizing as a pair of lost souls, presenting a matter-of-fact look at society’s fringes. Through their humane portrayals, they shed light on how veterans are treated, and what happens to people who slip through the cracks.
Thomasin McKenzie easily conveys a wide range of emotions, playing the 13-year-old as an old soul and curious mind. She adapts but her father can’t, and Ben Foster gives another remarkably layered performance as a man who can’t overcome his inner demons.
This haunting film unfolds methodically, but your heart breaks and some light shines through the bleakness.
Sicario: Day of the Soldado
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Sicario: Day of the Soldado

Genre: Action/Crime/Drama/Thriller
Starring: Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro
Rating: R
for strong violence, bloody images and language.
Grade: B+ (Kent) B+ (Lynn)
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert & Lynn Venhaus
The PLOT:
Overseas terrorists entering the U.S. through the Mexican border bomb a Kansas City grocery store and specialist Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) is called in. Graver is asked to start a war among the Cartels to both weaken and distract them, he pulls no punches with his superiors explaining that he will have to get “dirty.”
Once again enlisting the dangerous and brutal Alejandro Gillick (Benicio Del Toro), Graver and his crew head into Mexico to begin their war. Yet, the best laid plans are too often unwound by chance. In this particular world of lies and deceit, fortuity may be the difference between success and a bitter ending.

KENT’s Take:
“Sicario: Day of the Soldado” is the next chapter in the Sicario (meaning “hitman”) series. The first film masterfully tossed audiences into the escalating war between the U.S. and the Mexican drug cartels. In this next chapter, Graver and Alejandro find themselves without parameters. The U.S. government unleashes its pit bull – with sobering effects.
The strength of this film comes in its presentation of the story. There is no political orientation, just brutal confrontations between various players in this cat and mouse game. Some may view this film as no one ever wins in a proxy war. Others will interpret the film as one of the best arguments for building a border wall – both arguments have merit.
There are no good guys in this film. This simple fact creates a perspective that weakens the emotional connection through which viewers experience the story. Where the first film gave us a window through greenhorn Macer, here, we witness this mission through both Alejandro’s and Graver’s seasoned eyes. The disregard for human life that is displayed by the cartels has crossed to Graver as well – or so it seems.
Director Stefano Sollima has some big boots to fill in following the skillful Denis Villeneuve in directing this next installment in the Sicario series. Sollima brings adventure, beauty and blood to this unrelenting story. The escalation of the stakes, the thorough corruption, the deceit and lies frame the narrative, yet the one component that binds a harrowing story is the human element.
Brolin is perfect in this role and his acting skills are aging like a fine wine – becoming more refined as the years progress. His Graver is angry, frustrated and welcomes the lack of oversight, until he realizes that his superiors are also working under the same conditions. Del Toro’s Alejandro is the Sicario, yet he is also the heart of this story as he was in the last. And he seeks absolute revenge, playing by the brutal cartels rules. Del Toro conveys abundant nuance in just one glance, just one smirk, and just a slight head turn.
“Sicario: Day of the Soldado” is a mercilessly honest tale of decay and degradation of our society. It portrays the desperation to get a leg up in a losing battle and the repercussions of making hard choices and wrong ones. This strong film will entertain and move viewers and will force them to discuss its content and maybe, just maybe, impact some hearts and minds.

Lynn’s Take:
Taut and tense, “Sicario: Day of the Soldado” is a worthy sequel to the sharp, tough 2015 film.
Benefitting from its two key stars – Benicio del Toro as mysterious hitman Alejandro Gillick, and Josh Brolin as rule-bending government operative Matt Graver, the loss of the first “Sicario” director (Denis Villeneuve) and star (Emily Blunt) isn’t as acute as with a typical sequel.
Because of their considerable chemistry and Alejandro’s fascinating backstory of exacting revenge over his family’s murder, this story is a never predictable, always riveting moral tightrope.
Original screenwriter Taylor Sheridan emphasizes what lines Alejandro will cross or not, and that provides del Toro the opportunity to convey gritty conflicts on that world-weary face. He has seen incredible pain, and the struggles get murkier.
Also first-rate is Isabel Moner as the pampered princess forced to be a pawn in this complex mission.
Director Stefano Sollimo keeps the action fast-paced and furious, and with del Toro on the front lines and mastermind Brolin, you feel their dilemmas, questioning what they are actually fighting for, and for what end.
The first “Sicario” is one of those movies you wouldn’t expect a sequel to, but this works well. I look forward to a third one – as long as the leads are back, and Sheridan writes it.
Hearts Beat Loud
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Hearts Beat Loud

Genre: Drama
Starring: Nick Offerman, Kiersey Clemons
Rating: PG-13
for some drug references and brief language
Grade: B+
Reviewer: Lynn Venhaus
The PLOT:
Widowed dad Frank Fisher (Nick Offerman) decides to sell his independent record store in Red Hook, Brooklyn, now that his brainy daughter Sam (Kiersey Clemons) is headed to UCLA. They form an unlikely duo after writing a catchy song that summer, born during one of their jam sessions.

Lynn’s Take:
What a charmer! “Hearts Beat Loud” is a sweet, sentimental take on fathers and daughters, set to an appealing rock beat.
In Nick Offerman’s best-ever performance, he resonates as a single father coping with a child growing up and moving out. He and winsome Kiersey Clemons easily convey their bond. Frank’s passion for music shines through, even as a jaded, failing small business owner.
A pensive Sam, a lesbian, has fallen in love with artist Rose, played rather low-key by the dreadlocked “American Honey” discovery Sasha Lane.
That tentative relationship, as well as Frank’s friendships with goofy bar owner Dave, a zesty Ted Danson, and his indecisive landlady Leslie, a natural Toni Collette, provide insight into motives.
Following his “The Hero” and “I’ll See You in My Dreams,” writer-director Brett Haley proves again that he can tell relatable slice-of-life stories with interesting characters, set in an authentic place.
Any music lover will find it fun to identify the legendary album covers placed on the display racks, too.
“Hearts Beat Loud” is a delightful summer song of a movie.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
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Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Genre: Action/Adventure/Sci-fi
Starring: Bryce Dallas Howard, Chris Pratt, James Cromwell
Rating: PG-13
for intense sequences of science fiction violence and peril.
Grade: B-
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert




THE PLOT:
It has been three years since the collapse of the “Jurassic World” theme park. The amusement park is currently overrun with live dinosaurs, but they are threatened by the island’s active volcano.
Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) is hired by billionaire Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell) to rescue as many dinosaurs as possible before the island’s destruction.
Recruiting dino-trainer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), they begin gathering various species of endangered dinosaurs. Dearing and Grady have returned to Jurassic World for the right reasons – but with the wrong people.

Kent’s Take:
“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” is the fifth film in the Jurassic “Gold Mine Franchise.” Although this film is rough around the edges, it delivers enough substance for audience appreciation.
Opening with the franchise core theme of cloning ethics, it also touches on the gray area of ethics vs. survival of species. Should we have brought these extinct creatures back to life? And now that they are alive, do we allow them to perish, or do they have the right to live? The questions are dealt with at the film’s climax in interesting ways.
Attempting to recapture the child-like wonder of living dinosaurs fails with audiences as Dearing and company arrive at the destroyed and dilapidated “Fallen Kingdom.” Too many Jurassic Park films have shown the peril of these creatures, and this video game generation looks less for wonder and more for adrenaline rushes. As this slow story setup finally concludes, tension is quickly built and the taut rollercoaster ride finally begins.
This story is much stronger than “Jurassic World’s” retread narrative, offering a cautionary tale of faltering or non-existent ethics and their far-reaching repercussions.
Pratt gives a genuine, even performance while Howard struggles to find her footing in her role. This popcorn movie actually gives little opportunity for either actor to shine, for this is an actioner built on outstanding digital effects.
As empathy builds for the dinosaurs, humans are exposed as the real predators – showing a smart dichotomy in this interesting narrative flip.
“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” delivers the action, tension and reptiles that fans crave, but disappointing characterization and a predictable story path create moments that seem . . . prehistoric.
American Animals
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American Animals

Genre: Crime/Drama
Rating: R
for language throughout, some drug use and brief crude sexual material
Grade: Kent's Grade: A; Lynn's Grade: A-
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert & Lynn Venhaus
THE PLOT:
Artist Spencer Reinhard (Barry Keoghan) and maverick Warren Lipka (Evans Peters) hatch a plan to spice up their dreary lives. They decide to steal extremely rare books from the Transylvania University rare books collection.

Soon they realize they need a third, then fourth member for their heist, and bring in planner Eric Borsuk (Jared Abrahamson) and driver Chas Allen (Blake Jenner).

As their planning nears completion, Reinhard and Borsuk relate their trepidation, but Lipka convinces them to continue. The real story begins when this heist unfolds as a true life debacle.

KENT'S TAKE:
“American Animals” is a riveting drama and the true story of four college students who attempt to steal over $12 million in rare books. None of these men were criminals, and all were rudderless kids looking for a spark.

From the outset, writer/director Bart Layton cues viewers that this story is an unusual one and will be told this way as well. His storytelling is masterful. Bouncing from documentary style interviews with the real criminals to the dramatization of how this story began and unfolds initially offers a playful view of the characters and their crazy idea. However, as the story builds toward the heist, the tone becomes deadly serious as the reality of what they are about to embark upon hits home.

“Ocean’s 8,” another heist film currently in theaters, gives audiences little character development and keys on the trickery of the heist. The results are disappointing.

In “American Animals,” viewers discover Reinhard’s artistic talent, his angst and the struggles he has with his heart and mind. They see that Lipka has nothing to lose and that he looks for distraction in drugs and risk-taking. Because we know these men, we root for them – not to succeed in their robbery, but to not go through with it.

This simple story is less about the heist and more about the men and their reasons for attempting such an ill-conceived undertaking. These college students are full of motivation and drive to score millions, but are short on execution and common sense. This creates a situation similar to watching a train wreck – you just can’t look away.

Audiences can surmise from the start that these thieves get caught; it’s the journey that captivates, as their inevitable failure helps build tension in its unusual way.

“American Animal” follows four college students with hopeful futures as they throw away their opportunities for normal, productive lives with a perceived shortcut to riches. Rarely has poor planning and execution been so fascinating and tense.

For a distinctive look inside the minds of four 20-somethings, flag down “American Animals” for an unforgettable slice of top-notch storytelling.

LYNN'S TAKE:
“American Animals” is an absorbing look at an audacious true-crime story, well executed by writer/director Bart Layton, with gritty performances by a quartet of rising young actors as the thrill-seekers.

Those unfamiliar with the “American Animals” story will be stunned by this mind-boggling turn into criminal activity by four young men from “good homes.” I was. How this ill-conceived plan is carried out, and the remorseful consequences, is stunning and Layton deftly combines the real-people accounts with the re-enacted narrative.

Evan Peters, a St. Louis native who broke through as Quicksilver in the “X-Men” prequels, proves his dramatic chops as the hot-headed ringleader Warren Lipka.

Barry Keoghan, so compelling as the creepy antagonist in the bizarre “The Killing of a Sacred Deer,” is sympathetic as conflicted artist Spencer Reinhard.

Jared Abrahamson is noteworthy as brainy Eric Borsuk, as is versatile Blake Jenner, of “Glee” and “Everybody Wants Some!,” as golden boy Chas Allen II.

The wondrous Ann Dowd, the current go-to supporting actress, is again engaging as the roughed-up special collections librarian Betty Jean Gooch.
With the meticulous, detailed approach of a documentarian, Layton shows what a captivating storyteller he is.

The explanation of the title is the first step in upending expectations, and then the real-life-is-stranger-than-fiction account grabs hold for nearly two hours.
"The Incredibles 2"
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"The Incredibles 2"

Genre: Animation, Action-Adventure
Starring: Craig T. Nelson & Holly Hunter
Rating: PG
for action sequences and some brief mild language
Grade: A
Reviewer: Lynn Venhaus
The Plot:
Mr. Incredible, aka Bob Parr, and his family emerge as superheroes again despite being outlawed. Elastigirl, aka Parr, is gaining acclaim as she’s tasked with saving the world, while a dejected dad must be home caring for rambunctious baby Jack-Jack.

LYNN'S TAKE:
Fourteen years after the original Pixar superhero family debut, “The Incredibles 2” returns when the cinematic superhero world is overloaded and ever-present. However, this slick, colorful, fast-paced crime adventure is fresh and fun, providing a comical look at how an all-American family copes with their superpowers and their overwhelming urge to save the day with raising kids.

Writer/director Brad Bird cleverly creates a believable world inhabited by our favorite first family of animated action superheroes. His brisk pace keeps the story zippy and engaging, and the animation has an interesting film noir and futuristic, a la “The Jetsons,” look.

The voice cast is first-rate, and the addition of Bob Odenkirk as billionaire Winston Deavor and Catherine Keener as his inventor sister Evelyn is a good move. Sarah Vowell adds teenage angst as daughter Violet and Jonathan Banks, Emmy-nominated as Mike in “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul,” is terrific as detective Rick Dicker.

Even in the crowded super-hero film world, “The Incredibles 2” stands out as a super-duper thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining film.
Hereditary
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Hereditary

Genre: Horror
Starring: Toni Colette, Alex Wolff, Ann Dowd, Gabriel Byrne and Milly Shapiro
Rating: R
for horror violence, disturbing images, language, drug use and brief graphic nudity.
Grade: B-
Reviewer: Lynn Venhaus




The PLot:
When grandma dies, the Graham family starts to unravel as strange occurrences take place, secrets are revealed and genuine dysfunction cripples every person in the house. Sinister forces may be at work.

Lynn’s Take:
Writer-director Ari Aster shows some real promise in a genuinely creepy film that has an overwhelming sense of dread in both broad daylight and dark shadows. The eerie tension is so thick you always feel it in ‘Hereditary.’
A shocking incident early on sets in motion very bizarre and bad things, but whatever black magic/supernatural elements that are hinted at aren’t fully developed enough – even with a big box of clues.
The acting is quite strong. Toni Collette is convincing as a woman whose already deeply troubled family history is cause for alarm, then events push her closer to the edge. As stoner son Peter, Alex Wolff conveys whiplash emotions and teenage boy confusion while weird, lonely daughter Milly Shapiro insinuates darker, disturbing forces are present.
At best, the film gives the ordinary an ominous sheen. A contemporary home turns menacing, and Collette’s occupation as a miniatures artist becomes unsettling.
The overly complicated ending is a letdown, because for the most part, the film had frayed nerves effectively, providing gruesome twists. Touches of “Rosemary’s Baby” and “The Omen” are intriguing, yet there’s no payoff.
The mysterious matriarch’s backstory is such an integral component that we needed more of it. The meandering becomes annoying after two hours, too.
Despite the unsatisfactory wrap-up, this film will still haunt for days. For maximum bang, it just needed to be leaner and tighter.
Hotel Artemis
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Hotel Artemis

Genre: Action/Thriller
Starring: Jodie Foster, Sterling K. Brown, Sofia Boutella, Dave Bautista, Charlie Day, Brian Tyree Henry, Jenny Slate, Zachary Quinto and Jeff Goldblum.
Rating: R
for violence and language throughout, some sexual references, and brief drug use.
Grade: B
Reviewer: Lynn Venhaus
The PLot:
In a ravaged 2028 Los Angeles, riots intensify because water is now privatized. Along with a few shady tenants, injured criminals show up at a seedy Hotel Artemis, a secret members-only hospital run by a Nurse (Jodie Foster), who must follow very specific rules.

Lynn’s Take:
A tightly constructed action-thriller, “Hotel Artemis” features a strong all-star cast led by a terrific Jodie Foster.
With its tidy 97-minute run time, writer-director Drew Pearce cuts to the chase. Ringleader Sterling K. Brown aborts a bank robbery plan midway, and his hothead brother (Brian Tyree Henry) is critically injured. But he’s saved at the hotel with high-tech medical treatment.
It’s there that Brown, with unknown secrets, interacts with a familiar assassin (exotic lethal beauty Sofia Boutella) and an insufferably arrogant arms dealer (a surprising Charlie Day).
Foster shrewdly plays a world-weary yet efficient nurse whose personal tragedy becomes an integral subplot linking other characters.
Her loyal right-hand man, with the fitting name Everest, is lovable Dave Bautista, another bright spot.
The violence escalates, and key players are deftly woven into the story, some in showy but brief roles. Jeff Goldblum is a powerful crime kingpin, with Zachary Quinto as his self-important tough-guy son.
Pearce, responsible for writing such blockbusters as “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation” and “Iron Man 3,” keeps up a zippy pace without much exposition. The questions raised don’t all get answered, but it’s an engaging yarn with very entertaining performers.
Oceans 8
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Oceans 8

Genre: Action/Comedy/Crime
Starring: Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson, Awkwafina, Rihanna, Helena Bonham Carter
Rating: PG-13
for language, drug use, and some suggestive comments.
Grade: C
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert



The PLot:
Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) is finally paroled after five years in prison. Exiting on the promise to follow the straight-and-narrow, she immediately begins planning the biggest jewel heist in history.
Recruiting an all woman team, Ocean’s eight plans to steal Cartier’s most valuable necklace. A piece that has been kept in their vault for the last 50 years. Yet, rarely do heists go off without a hitch.

Kent’s Take:
“Ocean’s 8” is the next installment in the “Oceans” franchise. Using all women is genius except for one problem. They took seven women and simply dropped them into men’s roles. The hacker, the pickpocket, acquisitions, the planner, etc. (Okay, there is no demolitions expert). Ocean’s eight are caricatures of thieves with weak personalities. We never get lost in their roles since we see each woman as the actor, not the character.
These filchers undertake an uninspired heist. One with little creativity, a well-worn story path and an obvious twist. Other good heist films rely on the characters to supply the tension, the drama and laughs while planning and executing their heist. Even the previous “Ocean’s” films did this better.
In addition, only men are duped in this film. If this is supposed to be inspiring to women, own it! Create stronger, more unique characters. “Wonder Woman” is a perfect example for they created a smart, powerful and iconic character who is as smart and strong as she is beautiful.
“Oceans 8” is going to satisfy “ocean” fans. For those expecting a tight, taut, heist, they will have to wait for the next “ocean’s” tide to roll in.
Adrift
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Adrift

Genre: Action/Adventure/Romance
Starring: Shailene Woodley, Sam Claflin
Rating: PG-13
for injury images, peril, language, brief drug use, partial nudity and thematic elements.
Grade: B/B
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert & Lynn Venhaus
The PLot:
When 24-year-old free spirit Tami Oldham (Shailene Woodley)meets English sailor Richard Sharp (Sam Claflin), they feel a mutual connection. His reserved nature perfectly complements her wild essence.
Heading to sea in Richard’s boat, they sail the open waters as they grow closer together. Yet, when they run into one of the strongest hurricanes on record, their mettle and love will be tested to their limits.

Kent’s Take:
“Adrift” is based upon a true story and is adapted from Tami Oldham Ashcraft’s book, “Red Sky In Mourning: The True Story of Love, Loss, and Survival at Sea.”
Opening in catastrophe, this story balances its tense moments with Richard and Tami’s love story. As these two contrasting stories unfold we move toward two climaxes, each with its own emotions and tension.
Tami is drifting across the world following the winds of whims that blow someone trying to escape a troubled life. It takes Richard’s quiet charm to tame Tami’s wild heart. His poetic nature captures her imagination as Richard warns her that sailing is difficult but the rewards are worth it.
This unusual film is as much about appreciating the fleeting treasures of life’s important moments as much as it is a story of survival. The tension, emotion, beauty and tragedy all combine to frame this unique story.
Woodley gives a raw performance. Her grit and intensity go a long way in defining Tami’s strength of character and the power of her love. As her Tami finally makes a life-saving decision, audiences will become fully indoctrinated into her ordeal at sea.
This film finds two lovers adrift on an unforgiving ocean, adrift from society and help, adrift from hope, but the currents of love keep these two souls afloat.

LYNN’s Take:
Shailene Woodley becomes a fierce hero in the riveting “Adrift,” playing hurricane survivor Tami Oldham.
Director Baltasar Kormakur expertly tells both the love story and world-class adventure that goes horribly awry in Hurricane Raymond, using quick cuts and flashbacks that eventually collide in this harrowing tale.
Both Woodley and Claflin are convincing as the young lovers who meet their match, but can’t conquer a cruel Mother Nature.
The storm and aftermath are intensely and realistically presented, and the sheer time spent on the boat may give viewers’ motion sickness. The graphic nature of the injuries are displayed, too, if you’re squeamish.
One can’t help but compare it to “Life of Pi” and “All is Lost,” two significant films about boating mishaps.
The you-are-there format may be more inspiring and realistic in presentation, for it showcases the enduring spirit of the mind. The enormous bravery of ordinary people when the odds are not in their favor is always interesting, and Woodley vigorously embodies this message in a stunning performance.
The Seagull
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The Seagull

Genre: Drama
Starring: Annette Bening, Corey Stoll, Saoirse Ronan, Billy Howle, Elisabeth Moss, Brian Dennehy, Jon Tenney, Mare Winningham
Rating: PG-13
for some mature thematic elements, a scene of violence, drug use and partial nudity.
Grade: B-
Reviewer: Lynn Venhaus
The PLot:
Adapted from Anton Chekhov’s play, “The Seagull” takes place one summer in the Russian countryside. The time is 1896. An aging actress, Irina Arkadina (Annette Bening), visits her ailing brother Pjotr (Brian Dennehy) and her aspiring writer son Konstantin (Billy Howle). She is accompanied by a successful novelist, Boris Trigorin (Corey Stoll), who becomes infatuated with Nina (Saoirse Ronan). People’s lives are casually and cruelly crushed by the self-absorbed interlopers.

Lynn’s Take:
This Cliff Notes’ version of Chekhov keeps the morose tone while leaving out key details, so it’s a tad choppy, not to mention they mess with the ending. Maybe you can’t condense Chekhov into 98 minutes without losing something.
The tony cast is the best thing about the film, doing a herculean job creating characters with some substance. Ultimately, the sheer breadth of characters means not everyone gets their due.
Nevertheless, Bening shrewdly conveys the vain, petty actress who won’t be named Mother of the Year any time soon, and Elisabeth Moss is terrific as a dour lovelorn woman who states “I’m in mourning for my life.” She’s in love with immature Konstantin, an impressive Howle, who is in love with Nina, an incandescent Ronan, who is smitten with Boris, a fascinating Stoll, whose arrogance in obvious.
At its lightest, it’s reminiscent of Ingmar Bergman’s “Smiles of a Summer Night.” But Chekhov is not light, and the inconsistent tone sinks this ambitious outing. It’s mired in a pace as languid as the summer it depicts.
Playwright Stephen Karam injects humor, and the look of the film is lush and beautiful, as are the finely detailed outfits. Yet, director Michael Mayer never quite connects on an emotional level.

Beast

Genre: Thriller/Romance
Starring: Jessie Buckley, Johnny Flynn
This film is not rated.
Grade: B+
Reviewer: Lynn Venhaus
The Plot: Moll (Jessie Buckley), 27, still lives at home, and is stifled by the small British island community around her. She falls madly in love with a free-spirited stranger Pascal (Johnny Flynn), and despite warnings from friends and family, moves in with him. He is arrested as a suspect in a series of brutal murders, but she continues to stand by him, even though everyone is convinced of his guilt. She finds herself increasingly isolated, as her choices have impacted her life forever.

Lynn’s Take: An unsettling and hypnotic psychological thriller, “Beast” offers surprising twists in a story that flips expectations. Just when you think you figure out a character, well – not so fast.

On the surface, we have an irresistible brooding bad boy with bedroom eyes and a mousy good girl whose appetite for the wild side emerges as she flirts with danger. Their romance has real heat – but also a cautionary tale vibe.

But who should be worried about who? Maybe he’s misunderstood and her stability is fragile? Or maybe love changes everything. And they are both strong and feed off each other as a united couple.

First-time director Michael Pearce has crafted an absorbing tango that teeters on the brink. Very bad things might be ahead – is it just a matter of time or is it all in our imagination?

The subtle turns and whiplash moments eventually collide. It feels like a runaway train hurtling towards the conclusion, which does take a very long time to resolve, but it’s another unexpected jolt as we second-guess every possibility.

Mainstream movies that seemed stitched together by focus groups seem so bland by comparison to this fascinating, unusual descent into a dark place.

The best thing about this movie is that several new talents have emerged -- not just the writer-director, but breakthrough performances from Flynn, whose mysterious ways mesmerize, and Buckley, who carries the whole film on her shoulders with sheer will and a chilling scream.

It’s how Buckley endures a fresh hell daily that is most intriguing, and that she makes us believers.
Let the Sunshine In
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Let the Sunshine In

Genre: Comedy/Drama/Romance
Starring: Juliette Binoche, Xavier Beauvois, Nicolas Duvauchelle, Paul Blain
Rating: This film is unrated, but has language, sexual situations and nudity.
Grade: C+
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert
The PLot:
Isabelle (Juliette Binoche) is a Parisian painter who is struggling with her relationships. Moving from married banker, Vincent (Xavier Beauvois), to a hard-drinking actor (Nicolas Duvauchelle), to continue with the working class Sylvain (Paul Blain). While Isabelle visits shows, art openings and has evening dinner meetings, she meets potential lovers, seeking more from her lovers than they are willing to give all the while not knowing that what she seeks is found within.

Kent’s Take:
“Let The Sunshine In” is a quiet, meandering story of a lonely woman who follows her libido rather than her heart.
Isabelle is divorced and wrestling with her self-confidence. She is a talented professional painter, but is an amateur in love.
She finds herself attracted to married men who always seem to eventually choose their wives rather than commit to the woman they see as their lover.
Directed by Claire Denis, this engaging story is peopled with unhappy characters. Each laments their life in some sad way even though each has found success.
French films both fascinate me and keep me off balance. They rarely come at a story directly, slowly working their way into the crux of the yarn. What throws me off (and this is a cultural thing) is the philisophical dialogue that often dresses these stories. For example, a stranger at a bar asks Isabelle, “Are you in love right now?” She answers “No.” He responds, “Then what do you do when you aren’t in love?” The exchange sets up the notion that she is looking for love and propels her toward her next lover, but the question, having come from a stranger, struck me as odd and brought me out of my flow with the film. Add to this a lack of character arc for Isabelle. She is supposed to change or be changed over the course of the film – but she ultimately remains the same.
Each encounter that Isabelle has, is supposed to be bringing her closer to a realization either through process of elimination or a direct realization of where she is failing. Isabelle sees sex as intimacy and doesn’t know the difference.
Juliette Binoche is wonderful in the film. She is beautiful and sexy. She is vulnerable and sad as she struggles with her emotional connections. This film fails only because of the narrative, not because of the performances.
As this story builds her frustration and tension, it seems that maybe, just maybe, she’ll have a break through, an “Aha moment.”
Unfortunately, she, instead, meets medium, Denis, le voyant (Gérard Depardieu) a clairvoyant who offers a monologue that is so long they must run credits over it, a homily that does nothing but scramble Isabelle’s mind and that of the audience as well. We are left with a conclusion that is as disappointing for Isabelle as it is for audiences.
“Let the Sunshine In” had its opportunity to shine, but unfortunately, ended behind a dark cloud.
Solo: A Star Wars Story
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Solo: A Star Wars Story

Genre: Action/Adventure/Sci-fi
Starring: Emilia Clarke, Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Joonas Soutamo, Donald Glover
Rating: PG-13
for sequences of sci-fi action/violence
Grade: B (Kent) C (Lynn)
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert & Lynn Venhaus
The PLot:
Separated from his love Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) vows to return for her. Years pass as Han is kicked out of flight school to find himself in battle where he chances upon smuggler Beckett (Woody Harrelson) and fellow captive Chewbacca (Joonas Soutamo).
Together, this trio stumbles from frying pan into the fire, all the while angling for survival, a big payoff and the love of a woman.

Kent’s Take:
I have a theory why the “one-off” Star Wars films connect with me. These side stories are simply good yarns set in the Star Wars universe and hold just enough Star Wars lore to captivate viewers. The main episodes are heavy stories weighted down by the required Star Wars elements such as light saber fights and original characters, required phrases, etc.
One-offs don’t have this framework or pressure. They can go anywhere. In “Solo: A Star Wars Story” we get the Han Solo origin story. We discover how Han meets Chewie. How he meets Lando Calrissian (played by a perfect Donald Glover). We also learn how he obtains the Millennium Falcon. There is also another interesting “origin” story here as well.
Without the interesting and beloved characters, this story would have been a good action sci-fi film. However, add cock-sure smugglers we know and love, make them memorable, in their prime and human in their decisions, and you have something to which audiences will respond
The cast is talented, the writing is tight and director Ron Howard holds a traditional tone that is comforting to fans and fun for everyone. This story is about trust – gaining it, losing it, earning it, recognizing when to give it, the power it affords and the dangers of deceit.
“Solo: A Star Wars Story” hits its mark, bringing audiences an enjoyable, memorable and worthy origin story. Balancing adventure, laughs and danger, Han Solo finds that trust and betrayal often go hand and hand.

Lynn’s Take:
A ho-hum heap of derring-do, the origin prequel “Solo: A Star Wars Story” never takes flight.
Hampered by a distractingly dreary, muddled natural-light look, the dark fifty shades of gray visuals are as hard to follow as the too-dense and uninvolving criminal underworld plot. The set-up takes too long, and the heist doesn’t really click until two-thirds’ in.
For the original space cowboy to be centerpiece of such a forced, lackluster adventure is disappointing, for Harrison Ford’s portrayal is so iconic – and his presence so integral to the recent sequels.
Thankfully, a charming Alden Ehrenreich doesn’t copy the swagger, but actually serves the character in a way that you see the rebel outlaw emerge.
Han forging his lifelong bond with shaggy, towering Wookie Chewy is the best part. While Donald Glover is fine as a young rogue, later personified by Billy Dee Williams, and Paul Bettany is a smooth, unctuous villain as Dryden Vos, other characters are unconvincing. Woody Harrelson’s compromised Tobias Beckett isn’t a worthy foil. And Emilia Clarke doesn’t feel right as the one who got away, the unexplained mysterious Qi’ra.
Unfortunately, this curiously detached fill-in-the-blank movie does not add anything to the “Star Wars” universe other than more ubiquitous novelty creatures.
It’s never a good sign when the soundtrack is the most memorable element.
Book Club
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Book Club

Genre: Comedy
Starring: Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen, Mary Steenbergen, Craig T. Nelson, Andy Garcia, Don Johnson, Ed Begley Jr., Richard Dreyfuss, Alicia Silverstone.
Rating: PG-13
for sensuality/nudity and some language.
Grade: B-
Reviewer: Lynn Venhaus
The PLot:
Four lifelong friends gather for a monthly book club, reading “Fifty Shades of Grey,” which changes their love lives.

Lynn’s Take:
A pleasant but predictable comedy aimed for the underserved 60-something female audience, “Book Club” tackles love, friendship and the inevitability of growing old.
The drawing power is the quartet of accomplished actresses – three Oscar winners among them. Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen, Mary Steenburgen and Jane Fonda are relatable as friends in this romance fantasy. They put some oomph into their archetype characters, showing that seniors can be vibrant past retirement age.
Keaton is a widow whose grown daughters are projecting their own aging worries onto their mom. She sparks with pilot Andy Garcia.
Bergen is a judge who hasn’t dated since her divorce 18 years ago, and dealing with both her ex-husband’s engagement and son’s wedding, dips into the dating website world with comical results. Richard Dreyfuss has a brief but funny role.
Fonda is a hard-driven career woman who runs into an old flame (Don Johnson), but doesn’t know if she can commit again.
Steenburgen is happily married to (Craig T. Nelson) but they have some bumps in the road they need to smooth over.
The couples all mesh, aided by beautiful settings and a genial soundtrack. Screenwriters Bill Holderman and Erin Simms know their audience, which is a big plus.
And those of us of a certain age can respond knowingly.
RBG
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RBG

Genre: Documentary
Rating: PG
for some thematic elements and language.
Grade: A
Reviewer: Lynn Venhaus
The PLot:
At the age of 84, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has developed a stunning legal legacy while becoming an unexpected pop culture icon. This fascinating documentary reveals Ginsburg’s personal journey and remarkable rise to the nation’s highest court.

Lynn’s Take:
Women stand on the shoulders of such giants as Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and “RBG” shows how this diminutive, well-mannered, whip-smart girl became a fierce advocate for women and minorities.
One of nine women in a class of 500 men at Harvard Law School in 1956, she would face discrimination, but blazed a trail for equal rights.
A wife and mother by the time she earned a law degree, her enduring marriage to Marty Ginsburg is chronicled with admiration and affection – what a supportive spouse for 53 years, until his death in 2010.
Filmmakers Betsy West and Julie Cohen deftly blend photos, news coverage, interviews and facts into a complete package.
After President Clinton appointed her as the second woman justice in 1993, we watched this quiet warrior make an impact.
Her unlikely friendship with the late conservative Supreme Court Justice Anthony Scalia is explored too, and the film doesn’t shy away from tough decisions or criticisms.
Twenty-five years later, college students and plugged-in citizens celebrate her calm and steady influence. In a smart, grounded way, the film shows why all Americans should cheer that we have the “Notorious RBG” looking out for us.
Life of the Party
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Life of the Party

Genre: Comedy
Starring: Melissa McCarthy
Rating: PG-13
for sexual material, drug content and partying.
Grade: F (Kent), F (Lynn)
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert & Lynn Venhaus
The PLot:
After her marriage comes to an unceremonious end, middle-aged mother Deanna (Melissa McCarthy) decides to return to college and finish her final year of studies with her daughter -with mixed results.

Kent’s Take:
“Life of the Party” is the latest Melissa McCarthy comedy. Unlike her critically acclaimed “Spy,” this film suffers from poor writing and a non-existent narrative.
There have been a slew of films over the last 30 years about adults returning to college. This latest offering has set the sub-genre back at least 30 years. As the wholesome Deanna embarrasses her way across the Decatur University campus using tired “old person” clichés – referencing old television, music and style, her daughter and their friends reveal themselves to be uninspired wallflowers.
The predictably of this story is so thorough, the writing so myopic, the comedy so stale, viewers will think they are watching a 1980’s film reject.
Themes are difficult to find here and the weak narrative offers few opportunities. The attempt to “empower women” within the story fails miserably. McCarthy and Director Ben Falcone should be ashamed to have their names on this unamusing and inept film.
We care nothing for any character as Deanna’s unrealistic relationship with her daughter and sorority sisters puts us to sleep. While Deanna’s relationship with the young, nubile Jake is more creepy than sexy.
To truly define how bad this film really is, one must list the ridiculous elements that pervade this film. There are the required “bad girls” who have no redeeming qualities, Deanna, her daughter and sorority sisters all get high on “pot chocolate,” and of course one can’t forget the girl fight with the requisite “boob punch.”
“Life of the Party” is 105 minutes too long (the running time of the film) and is exactly the opposite of its title as the only laughter heard in the theater was a single elderly gentleman who laughed entirely too often and with too much vigor – I’m guessing this was his first comedy since the Eisenhower Administration.

Lynn’s Take:
Melissa McCarthy the actress is getting shafted by Melissa McCarthy the writer.
After an Oscar nomination for ‘Bridesmaids,” and a perception that she was one hilarious go-for-broke comic actress, McCarthy shot to the top. She even won a well-deserved Emmy last year playing Sean Spicer on SNL.
However, in her over-the-top movie roles, she does not know when to rein it in. With these cartoonish characters, she is turning into a one-trick pony.
She especially suffers when collaborating with her husband Ben Falcone, who co-wrote and directed the excruciatingly unfunny ‘Tammy” and shameful “The Boss,” and now ‘Life of the Party.”
It does have a few intermittent laughs and a couple of decent supporting turns, but little to recommend. Two former SNL cast members fare well – a funny turn from Maya Rudolph as Dee Rock’s best friend and Chris Parnell as an archeology professor, and current SNL featured player Heidi Gardner as her scary roommate.
There is not a single genuine moment in this film. Every plot device is contrived. The characters are poorly drawn stereotypes – the mean girls are just too mean, and the ex-husband’s new woman is a shrewish caricature that even Julie Bowen can’t pull off.
McCarthy’s middle-age mom character mimics a senior citizen rather than someone in their mid-40s at best, with her penchant for bedazzled sweatshirts and dialogue about aches and pains, and covered dishes.
The young stud romance is just icky.
And is Christina Aguilera that big of a draw for the college kids these days?
Misguided and a mess, this movie is a waste of your time.
Tully
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Tully

Genre: Comedy/Drama
Starring: Charlize Theron, Ron Livingston, Mackenzie Davis
Rating: R
for language and some sexuality/nudity.
Grade: B+ (Kent), A (Lynn)
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert & Lynn Venhaus
The PLot:
Marlo (Charlize Theron) and Drew (Ron Livingston) have three children, of which one child struggles with his “eccentricities,” while another is a newborn.
Struggling with the usual hurdles of parenting, Marlo’s brother gifts them with a night nanny – Tully (Mackenzie Davis).
Almost immediately, Tully brings relief to Marlo’s life with her quick smile, obvious experience and attentiveness.
Soon, Marlo is rested and her personality and confidence return. In parenting and in life, sometimes surprises come in many forms.

Kent’s Take:
“Tully” is a film for parents and especially women. It is an unusual story full of wry humor, stress and sadness – but eventually polishes itself to a fitting luster.
Marlo is struggling after having her third child. Her body has been stretched beyond repair, she sags in all the wrong places, breast pumps hang from her day and night, there are endless diaper changes, limitless exhaustion and, of course, never any sleep. Shining a spotlight on the struggles of parenting, this dramedy by writer Diablo Cody hits close to the bone. The mixture of Marlo’s dark humor with her obvious struggles creates a poignant picture of parenting.
This film is an ode to motherhood, a parable of life and an homage to the strength of love and family.
Theron is perfect in her imperfection. She is forlorn and vulnerable. Her Marlo is the foundation of our society – she is a mother. Mackenzie Davis’ Tully is likeable, perky and odd. She is both a soothsayer and ghost – she is Marlo’s muse.
“Tully” is a tale of struggle, understanding and devotion. It shows a rocky path through darkness, fears and plenty of tears, and, like this film, the light at the end of the tunnel is worth the effort.

Lynn’s Take:
Just in time for Mother’s Day, “Tully” is a surprising and challenging movie about motherhood from three of the most perceptive artists working today.
This dream team of director Jason Reitman, screenwriter Diablo Cody and actress Charlize Theron – who teamed up for the under-appreciated “Young Adult,” presents a complex portrait of an ordinary woman trying to cope with raising young children.
As Marlo, Theron fully disappears into the role, expertly conveying the rigors of infant care. One of the world’s most beautiful women is entirely believable as she schleps around in a frumpy bathrobe.
Cody’s sharp script is full of wry reflections, zeroing in on adulthood just as “Juno” did about youth.
When the energetic and thoughtful Tully arrives, Marlo discovers a kindred spirit. They both are always trying to live up to the impossible expectations women put on themselves.
Davis insightfully represents a woman about to be a grown-up, while Marlo’s aspirations have been replaced by family demands. Not that she doesn’t love Drew and the kids, but she has given every ounce of herself, and nothing’s left.
Reitman, a compassionate storyteller, shrewdly reveals small but integral touches that make this film an uncommon rumination.
And thanks to the performers’ smart choices, we can relate, whether laughing or crying – or both.
Avengers: Infinity War
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Avengers: Infinity War

Genre: Action/Adventure/Fantasy/Sci-fi
Starring: Josh Brolin, Karen Gillan, Elizabeth Olsen, Tom Holland, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Pratt, Linda Cardellini, Chris Evans, Pom Klementieff, Chris Hemsworth, Sebastian Stan, Robert Downey, Jr., Zoe Saldana, Tom Hidelston, Chadwick Boseman,
Rating: PG-13
for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action throughout, language and some crude references.
Grade: A (Kent), A (Lynn)
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert & Lynn Venhaus
The PLot:
Thanos (Josh Brolin) begins the final leg of his universe-dominating plan. His first goal is to collect the six infinity stones formed at the birth of the universe. Each stone holds incredible power and together whomever wields them is all powerful.
The Avengers and their allies begin to resist Thanos, but are late to the game and are not united. As Earth’s heroes align, Thanos and his Black Order begin their reign of utter destruction.

Kent’s Take:
“Avengers: Infinity War” has finally arrived. It has taken 19 films to set-up this two-parter – and it has been a worthy journey. Setting up a story arc over this length of time through so many films is extraordinary and takes both skill and commitment.
The Avengers are separated as Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) warns his fellow heroes of the coming storm. Their arrogance, self-centeredness, mistrust and philosophical differences all work against them – divide and conquer.
This ensemble piece is the ultimate ensemble with 23-plus hero characters vying for screen/ story time. However, this ensemble is used perfectly, grouping heroes with tasks that keep the story moving. This film is so well-balanced that even Thanos would be proud. Themes of family, love and sacrifice drive this story to its inevitable conclusion.
Thanos is an excellent villain, offering a sound explanation for his motivation – being a “glass half full” kind of guy. His words ring true, “ . . . the hardest choices require the strongest will . . .”
The special effects are outstanding and the performances are skilled and measured, allowing audiences to take in the unfolding nightmare.
“Avengers: Infinity War” gives fans exactly what they want – the beginning of the end. It’s the start of a glorious finish and the culmination of 10 years worth of planning and near flawless execution.

Lynn’s Take:
Everything about this penultimate film in the four “Avengers” series is bigger: super-deluxe all-star cast, super-sized gargantuan villain (Josh Brolin), intergalactic setting that expands beyond Earth, and storyline’s high stakes.
In the best one yet, it’s the small intimate moments that crystallize why these comic characters matter in blockbuster movies.
The indispensable ensemble cast makes us care for them as individuals and as a team. It’s not just their way with quips, but that their bonds are convincing, and we connect.
Since 2008’s “Iron Man,” we have become attached to them as their stories intertwine in 19 movies during the past decade.
Those relationships are key, and that’s why the strength here is the sum of its parts, not just in might. Everyone is an important cog in the wheel.
The savvy team responsible for the last two “Captain America” films – deft directors Anthony and Joe Russo, and the crackling screenwriting duo Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely – smoothly integrates the robust characters, urgent situations and mega-conflicts.
The familiar banter gets a jolt when new encounters are introduced, such as Iron Man with Dr. Strange, Thor with Peter Quill (Star-Lord). The “Guardians of the Galaxy” crew brings a fresh wave of comedy to the action.
The film’s 2 hours, 45 minutes running time has a few saggy moments, but overall, it’s riveting entertainment, providing a strong range of emotions. Laughs and cheers abound, but sadness enters as never before.
No spoilers, but expect surprises. The final part will be released a year from now. The wait is on.
You Were Never Really Here
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You Were Never Really Here

Genre: Mystery/Thriller
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix
Rating: R
for strong violence, disturbing and grisly images, language and brief nudity.
Grade: B+
Reviewer: Lynn Venhaus
The PLot:
A traumatized Gulf War veteran (Joaquin Phoenix) finds missing girls, lost in sex trafficking. He’s unafraid of violence, and known for his brutal tactics. One job spins out of control. Joe seems to be on the brink – will he go mad or will everything fall into place?

Lynn’s Take:
Winner of two awards at last year’s Cannes Film Festival for Best Actor (Joaquin Phoenix) and Screenplay (Lynne Ramsay), “You Were Never Really Here” is a disturbing thriller that takes no prisoners.
With a distinct vibe like “Taxi Driver” and last year’s surprise indie thriller “Good Time,” the impressionistic film has an urgency and energy that draws you in, even if you’re never sure of what’s going on or where it’s going.
That sounds improbable, but visionary director Lynne Ramsay tells a story in a hypnotic way. After all, she was responsible for the unsettling, haunting 2011 film “We Need to Talk About Kevin,” which remains unforgettable.
Short on linear plot developments, Ramsay immediately sets an eerie mood. The cacophony of the city contrasts with the inner demons of a killing machine, as the explosive Joe keeps everyone, including the audience, on the edge. Does he have a death wish? Flashes of a dark past mix in with a hallucinatory present.
With a Charles Manson appearance and a steely, dead gaze, Phoenix plays someone we assume is unhinged but is a master of control. It’s a sly, smart performance, delivering as much through his eyes as his muscles.
Real life eventually jars him into a heightened reality. The film’s jagged speed, combined with unusual cinematography and jarring editing, creates an urban nightmare. Jonny Greenwood’s music score accents the disquieting atmosphere.
No doubt, this is a strange film, and the violence is grisly. Nevertheless, there’s something about the morality straight line, and the avant-garde filming that’s mesmerizing.
Rampage
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Rampage

Genre: Action/Adventure/Sci-fi
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Naomie Harris
Rating: PG-13
for sequences of violence, action and destruction, brief language, and crude gestures
Grade: B+ (Kent)/B (Lynn)
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert & Lynn Venhaus
The PLot:
A genetic experiment gone wrong exposes three creatures to a nightmarish transformation.
One of the victims is Davis Okoye’s (Dwayne Johnson) friend and charge, George, an albino gorilla. When George begins growing to enormous proportions and the government steps in.
With the help of geneticist Dr. Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris), Okoye embarks upon a journey to help George and stop the animal rampage heading toward a vulnerable Chicago.

Kent’s Take:
“Rampage” is based upon the classic video game of the same name. A game where players are tasked with destroying city blocks. In this movie version, as in Japanese monster movies from the 50s, things get a bit out of hand as city blocks are destroyed.
Fullfilling exactly what it promises, this action flick has the tough, buff, soft-hearted hero, a straight-forward plot and predictable story and character archetypes. The villain is bad to the bone and has an idiotic, sniveling sidekick, while it also offers incredible special effects and plenty of destructive action. All this adds up to a wild and enjoyable ride.
This is no “Jurrassic Park,” but it doesn’t have to be. The creatures are the stars of this film. They are both heroes and villains as they rampage across the country. The creatures are fantastic and at the center of it all is George and Okoye’s relationship. If not for this fun caring relationship, the film would have quickly degenerated into a mindless chase film. Instead, it becomes a story about trust, genetic safety and our responsibility for animal safety.
Dwayne Johnson has cornered the market on tough guys who can laugh at themselves. His Davis Okoye is ex-military and is serious about his animal’s safety, but he uses his perfect comic timing for sarcasm and snarkiness – a perfect combination to balance a character and film.
“Rampage” will crush it at the box office drawing viewers from lots of places – Dwayne Johnson fans, action film fans, Rampage fans or those who just long to see Chicago reduced to dust. Dwayne Johnson makes this film worth seeing while the creatures and special effects make this film memorable.

Lynn’s Take:
A rip-roaring good old-fashioned monster movie in the vein of 1950s B-movie sci-fi creature features, only gussied up with a glossy high-tech sheen, “Rampage” is ridiculous, but also ridiculously entertaining.
With massive mutated marauders George, Lizzie and Ralph (videogame gorilla, crocodile and wolf characters) on the loose, director Brad Peyton’s penchant for fast-paced action and non-stop danger works for this super-sized smash-fest.
He has teamed up with his “San Andreas” star Dwayne Johnson in his sweet spot – saving the world with charm and super-human derring-do.
“The Rock” (I’m sorry, it’s a habit) warms up to geneticist Dr. Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris) who helps him rein in his beloved George, now a frightening weapon of mass destruction.
They make a good team, but the villains do not. Malin Ackerman is unconvincing as corporate dragon lady Claire Wyden, hell-bent on world domination. Jake Lacy, mostly known for rom-coms, is miscast as her partner, brother Brett.
But stealing the movie is Jeffrey Dean Morgan as government fixer Harvey Russell, a smooth operator with a cowboy complex and a honey-drenched drawl. He’s a welcome surprise.
The script by a gang of four, including story creator Ryan Engle, Carlton Cuse of “Lost” fame, Ryan J. Condal and Adam Sztykiel, uses humor well.
And how about this – Scott Air Force Base in Belleville, Ill., is one of the military operation sites.
“Rampage” knows its lane and stays in it, delivering a crowd-pleaser.

Beirut

Genre: Drama/Thriller
Starring: Jon Hamm, Rosamund Pike, Mark Pellegrino, Dean Norris
Rating: R
for language, some violence and a brief nude image
Grade: B
Reviewer: Lynn Venhaus
The Plot: Summary: A U.S. diplomat (Jon Hamm) flees Lebanon in 1972 after a tragic incident at his home. Ten years later, he is called back to war-torn Beirut by CIA operatives (Rosamund Pike, Dean Norris) to negotiate for the life of a friend he left behind.

Lynn’s Take: Jon Hamm is ready for his close-up as a movie star. He’s back on the big screen in a leading-man role – suave yet conflicted -- that fits him superbly.

Our versatile Emmy-winning hometown ambassador has spent the post “Mad Men” years as a TV ad pitchman, in guest turns on comedy shows, headlining a couple innocuous films, and then turning heads last year as a dangerous criminal in “Baby Driver.”

In flashbacks as Mason Skiles, a hotshot U.S. diplomat specializing in Mid-East affairs, he glides through a room, working it – and clearly is the smartest guy there. But tragedy strikes at his home. Cut to 10 years later, and he’s a bitter, boozy, detached guy who earns a living as a labor negotiator but would rather be sitting on a barstool. OK, shades of Don Draper, but he does gives Skiles his own identity.

Duty calls, and while he’s loathe to return to the place where his life turned upside down, the CIA and State Department guys won’t take no for an answer. Thus begins a dangerous mission where duplicity lurks around every corner, but he gets back in the groove, and look out.

While Hamm is always an interesting actor to watch, these parts as a golden boy whose personal setbacks are at odds with his promise are perfect for him, like early Robert Redford.

In “Beirut,” it’s no coincidence that he resembles George Clooney, because screenwriter Tony Gilroy wrote and directed “Michael Clayton.”

Gilroy, who also penned the first four “Bourne” movies, is in his wheelhouse, too – he knows how to write a political thriller.

He wrote “Beirut” 25 years ago, dusted it off, and it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January. Funny how the more things change, the more things stay the same. The Middle East remains a war zone, and far greater minds than me can better explain 2,000 years of conflict.

This story has a narrower focus, some of it contrived, some of it cliched – but compelling as a smart espionage drama that benefits from strong performances. Rosamund Pike impresses as a CIA operative whose integrity and loyalty are revealed when necessary. She and Hamm play well off each other.

After Skiles left Lebanon a decade earlier, a hellish civil war reduced the “Paris of the Middle East” to a mere shell. Fighting continues in 1982, and a fringe Palestinian group has kidnapped Skiles’ former best friend, CIA agent Cal (Mark Pellegrino), in hopes of exchanging him for a notorious terrorist linked to a trail of evil, including the 1972 Munich Summer Olympics.

The plot thickens, no spoilers here. The atmosphere helps set the tone, and the burnished cinematography is effective. While the music score is authentic, it becomes intrusive at times.

How welcome it is to see Hamm emerge in total command of the silver screen.
1945
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1945

Genre: Drama/Foreign
Starring: Peter Rudolf, Eszter Nagy-Kalozy, Dora Sztarenki, Bence Tasnadi, Tamas Szabo Kimmel
Rating: This film is not rated.
Grade: B (Kent), B+ (Lynn)
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert & Lynn Venhaus
THE PLOT:
It is August of 1945 in a small Hungarian town. Town Clerk Szentes Istvan (Peter Rudolf) is frustrated with his laudanum-addicted wife, Anna (Eszter Nagy-Kalozy) while he prepares for his son’s wedding later that day, Szentes Arpad (Bence Tasnadi).
Arpad’s fianceé Kisrozsi (Dora Sztarenki) truly loves Russian Jancsi (Tamas Szabo Kimmel), but will not reveal her true feelings.
When two mysterious Jewish men arrive on the train travelling with two boxes of perfumes, facial creams and soaps, the townspeople start talking.
Istvan becomes nervous as residents come to him with questions, comments and stares.
As the two mysterious Jews approach town, the secrets of betrayal surface and lies compound as justice arrives on their heals.

Kent’s Take:
“1945” is a Hungarian drama meant to send a message to viewers, and the message is loud and clear.
Istvan loves his power, he rides about town in the local constable’s motorcycle sidecar greeting, shaking hands, barking orders.
The war is over and hope has not yet arrived to this little village.
When the Station Master brings the news of two Jewish men heading toward town, locals begin talking, questioning and reacting.
This sleepy town has a dark secret and these two Jewish travelers awaken this town’s conscience.
Filmed in black and white, this beautiful film is, initially, difficult to follow as characters are called by both their last and first names and the relaxed pacing of the story takes its time setting up.
Director Ferenc Torok initially brings us into daily 1940s Hungarian life, the excitement of a wedding and its dinner celebration, the white table cloths, the clinking of glasses as the outdoor tables are set. The salutations of townsfolk, delicious foods, and the uncorked bottles of brandy help define a pleasant life, but the problems we all face slowly creep into the forefront to grab our attention, then darken to turn this welcoming setting into a fitting puzzle.
The mysteries gather speed as the Jewish visitors walk through town. The question of what Istvan spearheaded and the answer as to why the Jews have come to this sleepy hamlet fuel the narrative and define its citizens.
“1945” is both a well written mystery and a fascinating story regarding the deafening silence of conscience and the repercussions of our actions. While the story develops slowly the emotional impact and subtext are strong and true.

Lynn’s Take:
In an Hungarian village, people who profited from other’s misfortunes during World War II may feel like a day of reckoning is near when an Orthodox Jew, Herman Samuel (Ivan Angelusz) and his grown son show up in town, bearing a trunk.
“The Jews have arrived” becomes an ominous phrase uttered throughout town. Why is their presence so unsettling?
Based on an acclaimed short story, “Homecoming,” by Gabor T. Szanto, this period drama feels like a western, with thriller overtones, because of the dread and suspicions their presence has stirred.
Writer-director Ferenc Torok simply provides details, while Elemer Ragaly’s lustrous black and white cinematography enhances the film’s compelling nature. Dorka Kiss’s art direction and Tiber Szemzo’s gripping score also add to this morality tale of justice and evil.
Peter Rudolf (Istvan Szentes) is strong as the town notable and a pharmacist whose troubles are many, including his addict wife Anna (Ezter Nagy-Kalozy). Russian soldiers remain in town too.
You may think you’ve seen every war angle, but “1945” provides a new perspective into its aftermath of a very dark time. Hungary, Oscar winner for “Son of Saul,” tells another haunting and disturbing tale.
Pandas
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Pandas

Genre: Documentary
Rating: G
for general audiences
Grade: B
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert
THE PLOT/TAKE:
Pandas are the oldest and one of the most endangered species on the planet. There are fewer than 2,000 Pandas left in the wild. Although they are one of the most recognizable creatures worldwide, little is really known about Pandas in their natural habitats. One factor limiting the Panda population is their lack of genetic diversity.
These playful, beautiful bears are quick to roll, flop, and climb, but never forget, these are still wild animals built to survive in the wild. Their jaws are extremely strong, enabling them to chew through bamboo (an adult must eat at least 50 pounds per day).
China’s Dr. Rong Hou has developed a method to breed Pandas in captivity with great success, but her goal to reintroduce Pandas to the wild has been difficult. It has been a struggle to teach animals to use their instincts.
With the help of bear expert Ben Kilham and biologist Jacob Owens, Rong Hou attempts to send Chen Chen, a Panda raised in captivity, into the wilds to begin a new chapter of reintroduction into the wild Panda population.
“Pandas” is the latest Omnimax film documentary following Chen Chen and her team of scientists who work tirelessly to help save the Panda population.
Of course, at the center of this film is a group of cute, cuddly, fun-loving Pandas. As they grow to maturity, Chen Chen is chosen to become the first Panda reintroduced into the wilds using Dr. Rong Hou’s and Ben Kilham’s new method. As Chen Chen matures, they begin a slow process to shift her reliance on humans to a reliance on her instincts. Knowing that this could mean a difference between life or death for this loving creature, both increases the tension and emotions of this documentary.
Everything looks better as an Omnimax film. The immersion screen and filming method helps draw audiences fully into the story. One can almost smell the forest leaves and the humidity of the dense forest glades. Even the urban areas were more vibrant on screen as we visited a bustling Chinese city, however, the stunning outdoor vistas were made to be filmed in Omnimax.
Pandas takes viewers on an emotional journey, one over-flowing with audience smiles and giggles, but it is also flavored with healthy pinches of facts, science and sadness. Created for families, this wonderful documentary comes in at a lean one hour, a perfect length for adventure and learning.
A Quiet Place
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A Quiet Place

Genre: Drama/Horror/Thriller
Starring: John Krasinski, Emily Blunt, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe
Rating: PG-13
for terror and some bloody images.
Grade: A-
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert
THE PLOT:
The world as we know it is gone. Most are dead. Survivors Lee (John Krasinski), wife Evelyn (Emily Blunt), Regan Abbott (Millicent Simmonds) and Marcus Abbott (Noah Jupe) must not make any noise. The creatures hunt by sound and move like lightning.
Struggling with guilt, struggling to remain quiet and struggling to simply want to live in this world is a tough task. This family will soon be tested in ways they never knew they could be.

KENT’s Take:
“A Quiet Place” is a horror/thriller with both heart and brains. Taking place over 473 days, this tight, simple film holds viewers fast from the opening scene.
Lee’s family has quickly built a world of silence. They talk in sign language, walk on paths of sand, steam food in a covered oven, play games with knitted pieces – all to remain almost totally silent.
Adding to their woes, Regan is deaf and the family lost their youngest, Beau (Cade Woodward) – everyone blames themselves.
This smart film uses silence as a weapon slapping audiences into an unsettled stillness. We learn early on that noise equals death, thus, I glared at the man loudly carrying his snacks to his seat and I began to panic when a an audience member coughed – the creatures will hear you!
As audiences are indoctrinated into this new world, we are also brought into every parent’s nightmare – How do I protect my children?
Try to be totally silent for an hour – now try to live in silence. Writers Brian Wood and Scott Beck thoroughly immerse viewers in this smart premise, then begin adding disturbing elements, a deaf character, a pregnant wife – and a terrifying creature.
Although the cast gives strong performances, Emily Blunt is fantastic in her role as pregnant wife Evelyn. Her expressive features beautifully define her strong emotional palette, giving viewers a fervent anchor on which to hold.
“A Quiet Place” truly makes silence golden within the story and the theater. This apocalyptic thriller will certainly take a bite out of the box office in coming weeks.
Ready Player One
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Ready Player One

Genre: Action/Adventure/Sci-fi
Starring: Mark Rylance, Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Lena Waithe
Rating: PG-13
for sequences of sci-fi action violence, bloody images, some suggestive material, partial nudity and language.
Grade: A (Kent) C+ (Lynn)
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert
THE PLOT:
It is 2045 and the world is an unhappy place. Poverty and famine are rampant as everyone escapes to a virtual world called Oasis. Designed by the eccentric James Donovan Halliday (Mark Rylance), Oasis is a place where anyone can go anywhere and be anyone.
Upon his death, Halliday released a message to those in Oasis. Hidden somewhere in the vast reaches of his world are three keys. Whomever finds these keys and the Easter Egg, will gain full control of Oasis and Halliday’s vast fortune.
Parzival (Tye Sheridan) undertakes this quest with his friends, including Art3mis (Olivia Cooke) and Aech (Lena Waithe), as do millions of others. Yet, Parzival has an advantage, he has studied Halliday’s life and has gleaned meaning while others guess.
As Parzival finds the first key, Innovative Online Industries (IOI) begins monitoring Parzival and his hunt for the keys in order to gain the Easter Egg and monetize Oasis. A race for real freedom has now begun in virtual reality.

Kent’s Take:
“Ready Player One” is the latest film by Steven Spielberg and is based upon the best-selling novel of the same name.
This incredible film pulls viewers in and out of reality as Parzival struggles to unravel the clues left by Halliday.
The genius of this gem is in its universal appeal. Rife with fun pop culture references as well as nods to video game classics and current fare, this fascinating story will thrill millennials with its technology and a wild virtual ride. The pop culture and themes will grab anyone who remembers the ‘70s and ‘80s.
This film is essentially “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” with the world trying to gain access to an eccentric’s fortune, but only the worthy really have a chance. A nefarious corporation also uses its vast resources to gain an upper hand in this quest. IOI, represents the idea that corporations see employees and customers as only numbers, alludes to the 1s and 0s of binary as right or wrong and, of course, good vs. evil.
Themes of “love conquering all,” the virtues of slowing life down to “smell the roses,” and the concept of Net Neutrality are subtly woven into the neon fabric of this story. It is also notable that the anonymity of virtual space is shown as being both dangerous and uplifting.
The adventure setup, the means by which the story arc is presented, and the characterization all scream classic Spielberg. The dampening of language, sexuality and gore are a welcome characteristic of his films. In addition, although there is plenty of violence, when a player is killed in the Oasis, they simply burst into coins.
Spielberg gives a new generation a taste of innocent romance and top notch storytelling wrapped in an action/adventure shell, reminding us that a film can be heartfelt, heart-pounding and eye-popping all at once.
“Ready Player One” fires on all cylinders as audiences are brought into a dark future of escapism, but the real treasure here is Oasis. This virtual world holds excitement, tense drama, belly laughs and the crux of the story as well as an unlimited potential.
My teenage son and I excitedly discussed the pop references, the video game references, the graphics, the sheer undertaking and flawless execution. We bridged our vast technological and cultural divide, if only for one evening, and it was glorious.
“Ready Player One” is a film that will appeal to ages 13-70 and will give everyone something with which to connect. A connection that will take us all into virtual reality and ultimately back to one another.

Lynn's Take:
With super-duper bells and whistles, “Ready Player One” immerses us into a video game. If you are a gamer, it’s nirvana. For non-gamers, they appeal to nostalgia for 1980s music and movies.
However, the disjointed live-action story underwhelms and disappoints because the focus is more on the pop-culture patchwork pastiche. Screenwriter Zak Penn, of many comic-book blockbusters, adapts Ernest Cline’s debut young adult science fiction novel, and that’s the audience aim.
Tye Sheridan, a standout as Brad Pitt’s son in “Tree of Life” and in “Mudd,” is likable as earnest Wade. His avatar is Parzival, which is the real star. He crushes on Olivia Cooke’s Samantha (Art3mis).
Slick eye-popping computer graphics swirl and dazzle, as the pair is plunged into the intricate game. As in nearly all tentpole action-adventure fantasies these days, lots of things blow up and the sound is loud, clearly past 11.
Easter eggs, those inside jokes or special nods that can be spotted in video games, movies, TV and computer games, are emphasized, but does this make a compelling story? No. Sure, recreating key scenes and characters in “The Shining” and replicating “Saturday Night Fever” disco floor is clever.
But the movie feels hollow, needs a meatier live-action tale. They waste the talents of three terrific character actors – under-used Oscar winner Mark Rylance, Emmy winner Ben Mendelsohn as the cardboard cutout villain and Simon Pegg as super-nerd Ogden Morrow.
Rylance and Mendelsohn play partners who have a falling out, derivative of Apple founders Steve Jobs – Steve Wosniak’s real-life situation.
For all its state-of-the-art tech, the movie spins into this sprawling mess that never catches fire. Nowhere is Spielberg’s magic touch evident.
Stepping into a video game is one thing, watching someone play a video game is about as dull as watching paint dry. Even if kids dress as Buckaroo Banzai and mention Bill and Ted.
Isle of Dogs
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Isle of Dogs

Genre: Animated/Adventure/Comedy
Starring: (voices of) Bryan Cranston, Live Shrieber, Jeff Goldblum
Rating: PG-13
for thematic elelemts and some violent images.
Grade: A
Reviewer: Lynn Venhaus
THE PLOT:
In Megasaki City, dogs are banished by the evil authoritarian Mayor Kobayashi to Trash Island. A 12-year-old aviator who is​ the mayor’s ward, Atari, crashes onto the Japanese island, looking for his pet Spot. With the help of a pack of wild dogs, ​quite an odyssey is ahead​.

LYNN’s Take:
Goofy as all get out, “Isle of Dogs” is another weird and wonderful stop-animation movie from the eccentric filmmaker Wes Anderson, whose “Fantastic Mr. Fox” was an endlessly fascinating curio.
With his trademark meticulous detail and jaw-dropping symmetry, Anderson has fashioned a unique fantasy brimming with stunning visuals that create a Far East culture down to a floating cherry blossom landing on a mutt’s nose.
Alexandre Desplat’s memorable score pulses with taiko drums and other native sounds.​
Laced with deadpan wit and the impressive measured delivery of Bryan Cranston, Liev Schr​ei​ber, Jeff Goldblum and Scarlett Johansson, along with Anderson’s ​top-shelf repertory of Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Harvey Keitel​, Tilda Swinton​ and Frances McDormand, the film’s charms are vast.
In an interesting twist, Akira Takayami (Major-Domo), Kunichi Nomura (Mayor), Koyu ​Rankin (Atari) and other Japanese performers speak in their native tongue.​ And Assistant-Scientist Yoko Ono is really Yoko Ono!​
Anderson is obviously a dog person, and his affection for man’s best friend is sweet​. Despite a complex plot, the film’s oddball imaginative tapestry ​is a visual feast. Second viewing will be a must to discover more of its inventive delights.
The Death of Stalin
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The Death of Stalin

Genre: Comedy
Starring: Adrian McLoughlin, Simon Russell Beale, Jeffrey Tambor, Steve Buscemi, Michael Palin
Rating: R
for language throughout, violence and some sexual references.
Grade: C/B
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert & Lynn Venhaus
THE PLOT:
1953 Moscow finds Josef Stalin (Adrian McLoughlin) continuing the relentless oppression and killing of his people. His Council of Ministers fall over one another to hold their positions with Stalin – walking on egg shells around the dictator.
When Stalin dies of a stroke, his Council of Ministers begin a wild game of political maneuvering that will eventually result in a new “Comrade” leader to bring Russia into a new era of cruelty and death.

Kent’s Take:
“The Death of Stalin” is the latest satire from writer/director Armando Iannucci (“Veep,” “In The Loop”), but unlike his previous films, this comedy offers sporadic laughs and consistent violence.
Lavrenti Beria (Simon Russell Beale), is the head of the Russian NKVD – Stalin’s brutal elite security force and Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi) is the Ministry’s First Secretary. The two men begin a cat and mouse game of manipulation, provocation and deceit as both men attempt to solidify allies and their positions in order to step into Stalin’s role as Leader.
Initially, the laughs come as Stalin’s decrees force Russians to extreme measures to fulfill those demands. This creates hilarious ridiculousness that show both the brutality of a totalitarian regime while also poking fun at it. However, the story quickly dons a more serious mantle as we delve into the politics of communism.
Where Iannucci stumbles is in the narrative. The pacing is perfect, the cast is talented and gives strong performances, the direction is spot-on and the sets and costumes are memorable, but the story itself becomes less funny as this tale of political intrigue unfolds.
There are funny moments, like when Khrushchev calls the funeral director “skinny Hitler,” or when Michael Palin’s Vyachaslav Molotov lectures the Ministry on why they should continue Stalin’s barbarous programs . . . or maybe not. And the always funny, Jeffrey Tambor gives his usual top-notch riotous performance as the oafish Georgy Malenkov.
Yet, funny lines do not a narrative make.
Iannucci attempts to satirize the absolute disregard for human life that stains Stalin’s cold-blooded regime. Such as when they can’t find a decent doctor to help Stalin because he killed or imprisoned all of them – that’s funny. Unfortunately, the comedy takes a back seat to the history, so much so, in the final act, audiences forget this is supposed to be a farce.
“The Death of Stalin” is a well-acted, well-directed film, but this satire suffers a comedy of errors as the subject matter is too sobering and the satire too light for such a brutal time in history. While the beloved cast is worth a visit, many will be surprised and disappointed at the sobering conclusion to this dark drama.

Lynn’s Take:
As in all savvy political satires, the dialogue crackles and the characters are ripe for skewering in “The Death of Stalin.” But of course, writer-director Armando Iannucci has more than laughs in mind when he tackles one of the world’s most notorious tyrants and his oppressive regime.
You don’t have to be a government scholar to see the parallels in modern politics. In post-Cold War Russia, where elections are fixed and spies are poisoned, the handprints of Stalin’s autocratic reign of terror are evident.
The movie takes off when Stalin’s yes men deal with his loss and worry about where they’ll wind up in the shakeup. The slapstick-y jockeying for position is funny.
Steve Buscemi, as eventual successor Nikita Khrushchev, and Simon Russell Beale, as chief of the secret police and state security administrator Lavrentiy Beria, are nimble character actors who don’t miss a beat in conveying the crafty, cunning figures of the Politburo.
Co-writers David Schneider and Ian Martin, who along with Iannucci, used Fabien Nury and Thierry Robin’s graphic novel as source material, establish the same buffoonish style here as they did on ‘Veep.” The actors showcase how awful these people really were.
As impressive as the writing and directing is, the story just simply runs out of gas. It becomes repetitive, the same one-note jokes. But when this film is clicking, this marvel of bulls-eye machinations hits its targets well.
Pacific Rim: Uprising
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Pacific Rim: Uprising

Genre: Action/Adventure/Sci-fi
Starring: John Boyega, Cailee Spaeny
Rating: PG-13
for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and some language.
Grade: C
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert
THE PLOT:
It’s been 10 years since the deadly alien Kaiju attacked Earth. Mankind has mostly recovered, but all know we must be prepared for other possible attacks.
When Jake Pentecost (John Boyega) the son of a legendary Jaeger Ranger and Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny) are arrested, they find themselves recruited as Ranger pilots.
These two mavericks soon find themselves mixed up in a Kaiju plot to destroy humanity.
Will they be able to step up and ignore their pasts to triumph for our world’s future?

Kent’s Take:
“Pacific Rim: Uprising” is the next chapter in the Pacific Rim franchise. Continuing the saga, we find familiar faces alongside some new ones.
Jake has struggled to walk outside of his father’s greatness. Amara is unable to look beyond the loss of her family at the hands of a Kaiju – together they form an unlikely and predictable duo.
Although Earth has rebuilt from its destruction, the physical and mental scars are still felt.
In this “Transformers meets Johnny Sokko” action flick, suspension of reality is essential. Plot holes as big as Kaiju breaches appear throughout as Jake struggles to accept his calling. Clunky dialogue and unneeded exposition remind viewers of what has come before.
Director Steven S. DeKnight valiantly attempts to set up a story to enhance the action. Unfortunately, the pedestrian narrative, clichéd characters and predictable story path slows the pacing to make the film climax seem like it’s a long time coming.
As the action arrives, this film shines. The Yaeger robot warriors live up to our expectations as do the Kaiju.
Even the plot twist, launching us toward the climax, is well setup giving audiences a reason to finally cheer.
Although “Pacific Rim: Uprising” truly tries, but fails to give audiences a real story setup, the special effects and action are certainly worth a discounted viewing.

Love, Simon

Genre: Romantic Comedy
Starring: Nick Robinson, Jennifer Garner, Josh Duhamel
Rating: PG-13
for thematic elements, sexual references, language and teen partying
Grade: B
Reviewer: Lynn Venhaus
The Plot: Based on Becky Albertalli’s young adult book, “Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda,” Simon Spier is a high school senior harboring a big secret. He feels comfortable pouring out his feelings to an anonymous gay pen pal, and a bratty kid finds out, threatening to expose him. Will Simon find peace, love and understanding?

Lynn’s Take: This slick, sincere movie knows its audience. Aimed squarely at a new generation, “Love, Simon” hits all the right notes as a breakthrough mainstream gay teen coming-of-age and coming-out film.

It’s also a breakout role for charming Nick Robinson, a young actor most known as the older brother in “Jurassic World” and as Ryder in the Disney series “Melissa and Joey.”

With his natural ease and earnestness, he’s terrific leading the appropriately diverse cast. The big names are Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel as his well-meaning parents, and Tony Hale as the goofy vice principal.

At first glance, this slick, sincere teen comedy is not unlike the dozens of pleasant crowd-pleasing formulas filling multiplexes on weekends: Attractive youngsters, a school that you’d want to go to, a town you’d want to live in, and a home where you would be quite comfortable.

And while it has those appealing elements, what separates it from the pack is not its gay plotline, but how normal it is.

The film is genuine and heartfelt, with snappy dialogue. It’s also not as predictable as you think, taking a few unexpected plot turns.

Director Greg Berlanti, who wrote “Dawson’s Creek,” “Everwood” and “The Vampire Diaries,” stays in his lane, assuredly presenting a teen discovering his sexual orientation in modern times.

And Nick Robinson is going to be much in demand after this.
7 Days in Entebbe
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7 Days in Entebbe

Genre: Crime/Drama/Thriller
Starring: Daniel Bruhl, Rosamund Pike
Rating: PG
for violence, some thematic material, drug use, smoking and brief strong language.
Grade: C
Reviewer: Lynn Venhaus
THE PLOT:
Summary: Wanting to free dozens of Palestinians jailed in Israel, four hijackers take passengers hostage on an Air France airplane out of Tel Aviv, and force it to land in Entebbe, Uganda, in 1976. Israel’s daring rescue mission could save 102 hostages

Lynn’s Take:
With its choppy style and generic script, “7 Days in Entebbe” filmmakers declaw a harrowing real-life drama. However, a few moving performances and savvy power plays inside the Jerusalem war room give some perspective to the Palestinian-Israel conflict.
Once upon a time, networks made TV movies ripped-from-the-headlines with all-star casts and much fanfare. In 1976, Burt Lancaster, Richard Dreyfuss, Elizabeth Taylor and Anthony Hopkins starred in “Victory at Entebbe” while Peter Finch, Charles Bronson, Jack Warden and Sylvia Sidney headlined “Raid on Entebbe.”
That was then, this is now. Forty years later, director Jose Padilha of Netflix’s “Narcos” fritters away his cast’s talents by odd editing choices and unnecessary subplots.
By the time Operation: Thunderbolt kicks off, this edge-of-your-seat action is interrupted by the powerful dance performance.
Say what?
Yes, dancers. Now this dance piece by Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin is nifty, but it doesn’t add to the plot because its use is repetitive and distracting. The Batsheva Dance Company are shown in rehearsals and performance, and one of the lithe dancers is the girlfriend of a special-ops soldier, so their romance is fodder for his conflict between love and duty.
That does the movie no favors. Neither does the friction between radicals Bose (Daniel Bruhl) and more heartless Brigitte (Rosamund Pike), cold as ice. We don’t know much about them, except they are on the wrong side of history.
Faring the best are Israeli officials determining the plans and tough choices – Lior Ashkenazi is Prime Minister Itzak Rhabin and versatile character actor Eddie Marsan is the cagey Defense Minister Shimon Peres.
Denis Menochet stands out as flight engineer Jacques Lemoine, whose strength provides a human face to the incident.
Tomb Raider
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Tomb Raider

Genre: Action/Adventure
Starring: Alicia Vikander, Dominic West, Walton Goggins
Rating: PG
for sequences of violence and action, and for some language.
Grade: B-
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert
THE PLOT:
Independent-minded Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander) shrugs off the fortune her lost father, Lord Richard Croft (Dominic West), has left behind for her – choosing to blaze her own path.
When her father’s legacy and her adventurous spirit collide, Lara finds herself fighting for survival and that of the world itself.

Kent’s Take:
“Tomb Raider” is the cinematic reboot based on the top selling video game of the same name. The two previous Angelina Jolie visions fell flat with critics. This version helps restore some of the lost luster to this beloved franchise.
Lara struggles with the disappearance of her loving father while growing into a strong, smart and athletic woman.
Following her father’s sketchy clues, she stumbles upon his life’s work – locating the tomb of Queen Himiko, the Death Queen. Realizing no one must ever open her tomb, Richard Croft left seven years prior, never to return.
This action film is slow to start, introducing Lara, her family legacy and her motivations. Yet, this origin story gains momentum to culminate in the traditional over-the-top climax that is fun to watch, but which audiences have seen before.
Using puzzles, secrets, hidden clues and adventure, this story may follow a predictable path, similar to the “Indiana Jones” films, but is still enjoyable.
Offering top-shelf effects, nice stunts and gorgeous cinematography, audiences are easily and quickly brought into Lara’s quest. This adventure falls short on viewer’s high expectations, but deftly sets the table for future thrills.
Vikander is excellent as the capable Croft, balancing brains with determination to carry her through. As Lord Richard Croft fights to protect his daughter, Lara struggles to reconcile with a ghost, a man she thought was dead.
Opening too slowly, following a predictable path and falling prey to some action/adventure pitfalls may lower this film’s credibility. However, the adventure is present, the acting is strong, and there is certainly something alluring about dark, dank, scary tombs and the treasures and traps within.
A Wrinkle In Time
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A Wrinkle In Time

Genre: Adventure/Family/Fantasy/Sci-fi
Starring: Storm Reid, Deric McCabe, Levi Miller, Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling
Rating: PG
for thematic elements and some peril
Grade: Adult Grade: D Youth Grade: B Lynn: C
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert & Lynn Venhaus
THE PLOT:
Middle schooler Meg (Storm Reid) misses her father who disappeared four years ago . Her parents, both scientists, were researching teseracts – a bending of space-time for infinite travel.
When Meg, her brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) and friend Calvin (Levi Miller) are contacted by three celestial beings, Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey), Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Whitherspoon) and Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling), they embark upon a journey to find Meg’s and Charles Wallace’s father and heal the wounds of loss.

Kent’s Take:
“A Wrinkle In Time” is based upon the beloved adolescent novel of the same name by Madeleine L’Engle. Unfortunately, this adaptation has a few wrinkles of its own.
Meg is a typical adolescent, she wants to fit in but feels like she can’t, she thinks she is the only kid going through problems. Add a missing father with whom she was very close and Meg struggles with a lost identity.
Unfortunately, this film lacks subtlety, offering audiences a predictable, straight-forward tale. The dialogue is clunky and lacks authenticity, weakening the acting performances. The narrative is simply an anemic wisp alluded to periodically.
The costuming and makeup are ridiculous – Zack Galifianakis and Reese Witherspoon received the brunt of the embarrassing costumes.
For all its major shortcomings, this family film has worthy elements, too. The special effects are wonderful and of quality. As Meg and company search far off worlds, they discover unusual beauty while discovering themselves. This film also has a rousing soundtrack with new recordings from Sade (which is unusual), DJ Khaled/Demi Lovato, Sia, Kehlani and Chloe X Halle.
The cast makes lemonade out of lemons giving good performances that shore up this faltering story. Winfrey, for her small part, manages to give a memorable performance with range and heart – impressive.
However, for 9-12 year-olds, this film will be an entertaining distraction. A fellow critic brought some adolescents of both sexes and they enjoyed the film.
“A Wrinkle In Time” certainly has its problems and most adults will find them glaring and egregious. However, this film, like the book, is made for youngsters who fall perfectly within the magical realm of this film’s positive themes and colorful sights.

Lynn's Take:
After 56 years, an unfilmable novel has been turned into an unwatchable movie. This green-screen extravaganza is pretty to look at, in a 1970s progressive rock album cover way, but an empty vessel for storytelling.

The ambitious but disjointed script, adapted by Jeff Stockwell and Disney stalwart Jennifer Lee (“Frozen”), is basically New-Agey gibberish, mixed in with scientific over-explanations. As preachy as a motivational speaker, the movie crashes from the weight of its earnestness.

Maybe the book’s magic is what’s left to your imagination, and that can't be effectively translated to the screen.

Storm Reid shows promise as the lonely and brainy Meg, bullied by the mean girls at school, and grieving her genius dad that she idolizes (Chris Pine, who fares the best, with a grounded performance in a brief role).

Three fairy godmothers show up to help with the search – chatty Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon, acting like Glinda the Good Witch), quotation-spouting Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling), and the glittery, tall Mrs. Which (the all-powerful Oprah Winfrey).

By following a time-and-space opening, the kids track their dad, but are met by evil energy and are in peril. It’s a trip down a rabbit hole -- a journey that’s slow and hard to follow. They waste much time looking at computer-generated images of wonder and danger that don’t advance the story.

Applause for the well-intentioned focus on diversity casting, but the filmmakers failed to emphasize compelling characters and a lucid story, which were as necessary and important.

We’re given cardboard cut-outs instead of relatable characters, and generic real-people problems that don’t add anything to the fantasy narrative. The erratic skipping between worlds had me dazed and confused, and as I saw kids squirm and parents snore, I realized I wasn’t the only head-scratching viewer.

Zach Galifianakis shows up as a “weirdo in a cave” but we don’t know why. Oprah’s 12 feet tall when we first see her, and then normal size later. Kooky character traits for the sake of being quirky were annoying.

The random insertion of musical montages were just pretty time-wasters, substituting for emotions.

I think what the movie is trying to say is that nonconformity is good, love is the answer, and the lightness will win over the darkness only if love triumphs.

But the points are either vague or hammered over the head, and whatever good intentions the project touted are lost.

Nevertheless, yes to STEM girls. Way to go, females interested in science, technology, engineering and math. (But how about STEAM – put the arts in there too.)

“A Wrinkle in Time” is an unfortunate disconnect at a time when we are desperate for inspiration.
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