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Movie Reviews
Baywatch
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Baywatch

Genre: Action/Comedy/Drama
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, Priyanka Chopra
Rating: R
for language throughout, crude sexual content, and graphic nudity.
Grade: C- (Kent)/D (Lynn)
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert & Lynn Venhaus
The Plot:
Lifeguard Lieutenant Mitch Buchannon (Dwayne Johnson) is a stud. Almost everyone on the beach has a “Mitch” story – saving a life, rescuing, catching beach thieves, etc. When Olympic swimmer Matt “Vomit Comet” Brody (Zac Efron) arrives to finish up his probation with community service hours, he resists Mitch’s guidance.
When Mitch discovers a drug ring operating out of a local night club, he enlists his crack team of lifeguards to help him investigate. But nightclub owner Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra) is on to their meddling and answers with a swift and certain response.

Kent’s Take:
“Baywatch” is based upon the hit television show of the same name about a team of elite lifeguards who protect Los Angeles beaches from illegal activity of all kinds, running from 1989-1999. The sun-drenched beaches, the crystal clear water, loads of suncreen, slow-motion beach jogging, the cleavage, the abs, the perfect teeth, define this film and the television show.
Mitch is a confident, straight-shooter. He doesn’t take the easy path, he takes the path of truth. When reckless, insubordinate Brody struts up and announces his arrival, Mitch is determined to teach Brody to be a team player.
This cheesy and predictable film is supposed to imitate the 1990s original, it’s the journey, not the destination that defines this story. This comedy smartly chooses to parody itself rather than trying to bring an outdated vision to the big screen. Johnson’s Mitch balances both playfulness and serious moments – a good combination.
Where this film gets swamped is in the inconsistent and base humor. After the opening 15 minutes the comedy deteriorates to out-dated “dick” and humiliation jokes with the comedy taking a back seat in the last act – not good for a comedy.
Lacking complexity, twists or even a strong message, this pedestrian story wastes its sexy cast. Characters are simply archetypes – the dork, the leader, the love interest, the bad boy and the brainiac. In fact, I forgot most of the character’s names since they were simply used to set up plot points.
“Baywatch” has the cheese, the jiggles a few worthy giggles, but this film will be more satisfying with a 1990s ticket price.

LYNN’s Take:
A clunky buddy comedy-drama mixed in with a tired crime procedural, “Baywatch” is no day at the beach.
I was hoping for a jaunty re-do like “21 Jump Street,” but this effort sinks like a stone with the weight of its self-importance.
Let’s face it. The cheesy show was known for its ‘jiggle,’ a la “Charlie’s Angels.” Here, they joke about the slo-mo running, which is funny. But, regretfully, they rely too much on male body parts humor, and it’s not funny.
Seven male writers are credited with this belly-flop, and that’s the best they can do?
You know a movie has no fizz when the best running joke is about aquarium figurines.
The worst aspect is a lame thugs-drugs-city politics plot straight from “CSI: Miami.” Nefarious nightclub owner Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra) has officials in her pocket and a rising crime empire. Yawn – and groan.
The Rock is the best part as Mitch, but he can’t carry the whole movie on his muscular shoulders. However, he sure can quip, and his pretty-boy insults to Efron snap. The beefed-up heartthrob is saddled with a tired, weak role as the reckless bad boy who needs a work family to redeem him.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
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Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

Genre: Action/Adventure/Fantasy
Starring: Brenton Thwaites, Kaya Scoelario, Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom
Rating: PG-13
for sequences of adventure violence, and some suggestive content.
Grade: B
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert
The Plot:
Young Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites) is determined to free his father, Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) from his curse on the Flying Dutchman – by finding Poseidon’s Trident.
Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario) uses her father’s journal to seek Poseidon’s Trident for scientific study.
As their paths cross, they form a tentative alliance but soon realize their path to the trident leads through none other than Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp).
However, few of these adventurers can fathom the depths to which they will sink in order to secure their ancient prize.

Kent’s Take:
“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” does the opposite of the title, telling a tale of enduring love, of high adventure and limitless greed.
Henry Turner is dead-set on freeing his father, Carina is determined to find the mythical trident to fulfill her father’s destiny, while Jack Sparrow is determined to get drunk, rich and save his skin – preferably in the opposite order.
Disney’s fifth installment in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” series may seem to be grasping at air with a quest to find Poseidon’s Trident. Previous installments sought cursed Inca gold, Davey Jones’ locker and the Fountain of Youth.
Fortunately, this film keys on all of the right elements to create a well-paced, action-packed adventure. This is not a “Johnny Depp film,” it’s a “Pirates of the Caribbean” film with Johnny Depp at the helm. This distinction places the story at the fore allowing viewers to experience an adventure on the high seas with memorable, lovable characters.
From the first creaking of timbers to the final embrace, this swashbuckling film brings back the energy, the playfulness and magic that this franchise originally offered. Add top notch special effects that fuel the action and this film surfaces as a sure summer blockbuster.
The cast is excellent with Depp’s Sparrow reviving the memorable Jack Sparrow rather than the over-wrought Sparrow of later adventures. Javier Bardem as Captain Salazar is perfect and coupled with fascinating special effects darkens this story menacingly. Geoffrey Rush as Captain Barbossa distinguishes his limited screen time and Thwaites and Scodelario hold their own against the seasoned pros.
“Dead Men Tell No Tales” may be a fifth film in a 14-year voyage, but this dead man’s tale cruises into open water gathering a strong tail wind.
Alien: Covenant
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Alien: Covenant

Genre: Horror/Sci-fi/Thriller
Starring: Billy Crudup, Michael Fassbender
Rating: R
for sci-fi violence, bloody images, language and some sexuality/nudity
Grade: B/D
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert & Lynn Venhaus
The Plot:
When the USCSS Covenant colony ship intercepts a weak signal from a nearby habitable planet, Captain Oram (Billy Crudup) is obligated to find the source of the signal.
The Covenant’s crew is already on edge after losing two crew members during their emergency wake-up from stasis.
The planet seems very earth-like with plenty of water, and lush flora – but there doesn’t seem to be any fauna.
As the crew soon discovers, there is a reason for this lack of fauna as they begin to unravel a story answering the question, who made man and who did man make?

Kent’s Take:
“Alien: Covenant” is the sequel to “Prometheus,” both being prequels to “Alien” and “Aliens.”
This tale of deceit touts themes of man’s origins and subsequent corruption, while “Prometheus” tells a story about man’s search for the “Engineers” who they posit, created us. “Alien Covenant” begins 10 years later as the Covenant crew inadvertently lands on the planet of the “Engineers.”
This tale of revenge and misguided altruism spurs this story into the horror genre and is built around the arc of humanity’s creation as sentient creatures often ask the question, “Where did I come from?” Yet, this story is not nearly that simple and adds the creation story of the alien. To further deepen this smart film, the androids in this film, David and Walter (both expertly played by the talented Michael Fassbender) introduce deeper questions of man’s responsibility in creating life. All this forms an interesting Darwinian loop of man inadvertently fabricating a creature that creates mankind’s threat.
“Prometheus” dropped the ball with a lack of character common sense, “Alien: Covenant” attempts to shrug off this problem by deftly using emotion to hasten decision-making. As malfunctions and alien interlopers begin killing off crew, their partners become desperate to find and/or rescue their mates and friends creating both strong emotional responses by characters and tension for audiences.
There are still moments in this film that are head-scratchers. Even though his is not a science crew that lands on this new planet, they take NO PRECAUTIONS when exploring a new planet – really? This ridiculousness is what polarized audiences for “Prometheus” and although it is minimized here, it is still present.
“Alien: Covenant” is a well-written and directed addition to the “Alien” franchise and although there are a few holes, each prequel is getting better. This creepy and tension-filled film furthers the tale of mankind’s creation and how thoroughly we have sown the seeds of our own destruction.

Lynn's Take:
For all its technical prowess, “Alien: Covenant” falters in the same ways its prequel predecessor “Prometheus” did – ludicrous situations.
Would you go on a mysterious planetoid without helmets or some protection? C’mon! That’s how the insidious alien life forms find an “in” with several astronauts on a colony ship.
Soon, it’s a slimy, bloody gut-busting jubilee as those evil beings grow faster than your grass after rain.
Fans of the original 1979 sci-fi horror stunner – a certifiable classic – will recall the sheer terror of watching John Hurt’s death from the alien growing inside.
Naturally, fans now expect grisly deaths and increased mayhem caused by the trademark face-huggers and grotesque extra-terrestrials in each subsequent chapter. But in this series’ sixth film, Scott goes for bigger and bolder shocks without investing us in the characters or ramping up the suspense that made the first two so chilling.
“Covenant” takes up 10 years after the doomed Prometheus spaceship discovered an ancient civilization during their voyage – and 20 years before the vessel “Sulaco” of “Alien.” “Prometheus,” the 2012 prequel, was incoherent and dark, with characters making illogical moves. This installment is nearly as confusing – and it’s just gross, too.
This new crew, including married couples, is awakened early by a malfunction, and calamities ensue quickly. First casualty is the ship’s captain Branson – James Franco, in a cameo, seen in flashback. The devout Oram (Billy Crudup) takes over while Branson’s grieving widow Daniels (Katherine Waterston) is comforted by the synthetic Walter (Michael Fassbender). They must go on, as danger lurks on and off their ark.In a screenplay template similar to Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None,” these scientists that we barely know are brutally killed by the horrible creatures. If we could tell them apart, perhaps we would care more.
In its favor, the film features state-of-the-art visual effects, a few harrowing action scenes, and crisp cinematography. Its saving grace is the acting, however, primarily Fassbender, who is again the ensemble’s MVP, just as he was in “Prometheus.”
Here, he plays the dual role of the newer, sharper synthetic Walter and the more cunning older model David. Except for a ridiculous scene where the master teaches the pupil how to play a recorder, the guy is truly masterful at conveying dialogue – both innocent and menacing. He only can do so much with what he is given to work with, and always makes a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.
Also faring well is Waterston (“Fantastic Beasts”) as the feisty Daniels. She is not as ground-breaking as Sigourney Weaver’s fierce Ripley, one of cinema’s all-time great female roles, but holds her own battling the nasty critters. The movie’s best stunt work involves her character being tossed around like an amusement park ride.
Most surprising is Danny McBride – yes, the comic actor primarily known for playing doofus parts such as “Eastbound and Down” – in a dramatic turn as the good ol’ boy pilot Tennessee. His quips are smart and his actions impressive.
The rest of the characters are honestly indistinguishable, except for a few confrontations Crudup has with David and his shipmates.
Much of the dialogue is snappy, thanks to co-screenwriters John Logan, the renowned Tony-winning playwright, and novice Dante Harper, producer-turned-writer. But the story by Jack Paglen and Michael Green, who wrote the duds “Transcendence” and “Green Lantern” respectively, isn’t up to the standards one expects to advance such a legendary series.
Plans are for a prequel trilogy, but if the next one limps along, maybe it’s time to ground the explorations after 38 years.
Chuck
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Chuck

Genre: Drama/Sport
Starring: Liev Shreiber, Naomi Watts, Elisabeth Moss
Rating: R
for language throughout, drug use,sexuality/nudity and some bloody images.
Grade: B/B
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert & Lynn Venhaus
The Plot:
Heavyweight boxer Chuck Wepner (Liev Shreiber), aka The Bayonne Bleeder, inspired the movie “Rocky.” In 1975, the New Jersey liquor salesman, ranked eighth in the world, gets an offer to fight Muhammad Ali, goes nearly 15 rounds, and rides his 15 minutes of fame. But the highs plummet to the lows of drugs, then redemption.

Kent’s Take:
“Chuck” is the true story of Chuck Wepner a working class guy with aspirations of fame and fortune.
Knowen as the “Bayonne Bleeder,” Chuck would wear down opponents by getting beaten to a bloody pulp, then finish his tired, punched-out rival.
Schreiber, Moss (as Chuck’s first wife Phyliss) and Watts (as Chuck’s second wife Linda) give strong believable performances that absolutely sell this stoty of success, failure and understanding.
This film is not as much about boxing as it is about success and family. Chuck has many lessons beaten into him, but the most important lesson is taught through trial and many errors.
“Chuck” is a cautionary tale of squandered opportunities with a gentle appreciation for the important things in life.

LYNN’s Take:
An amiable sports biopic, “Chuck” has a pleasant lived-in feel and a first-rate cast.
Liev Schreiber is magnetic as the big lug who desires to be a contender. Elisabeth Moss is his tough first wife Phyllis while Naomi Watts is sassy bartender Linda, his second spouse. The trio flawlessly nail the accents and the personalities.
Director Philippe Falardeau captures the scruffy, colorful denizens and the blue-collar atmosphere in an engaging way, employing a nostalgic Top 40 soundtrack, kitschy ‘70s fashions and epic mustaches.
The colorful Chuck proves his mettle. In a lively scene where he enters a local disco, they play the “Rocky” theme song, and the local crowd goes crazy. Chuck is a flawed but likable and lucky guy.
No saint, he gets through his rough patch with the same resilience he made it through the ring.
Sometimes, real life is a movie – and a movie is real life.
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword
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King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

Genre: Action/Drama/Fantasy
Starring: Eric Bana, Jude Law, Charlie Hunnam, Astrid Berges-Frisbey
Rating: PG-13
for sequences of violence and action, some suggestive content and brief strong language.
Grade: B (Kent)/C (Lynn)
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert & Lynn Venhaus
The Plot:
When Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana) is betrayed by his brother Vortigern (Jude Law), Pendragon sets in motion the legend of the sword in the stone.
Years pass as Vortigern establishes himself as a ruthless ruler. Meanwhile, Pendragon’s son, Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) is secretly raised in a brothel and surfaces as a reluctant hero as he draws forth the magical sword Excalibur. Guided by Merlin’s assistant (Astrid Bergés-Frisbey) Arthur confronts the demons of his past and those of his present.

Kent’s Take:
“King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword” is a retelling of the Arthurian legend as envisioned by writer/director Guy Ritchie and fellow writer Joby Harold.
For those who aren’t familiar with Guy Ritchie (“Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels,” “Snatch”), you either love his stylized portrayals or you hate them. “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” is no different. Mixing ancient grit and flashing swords with blood and vengeance, captures the adventure of this legend and its time. Intermingling magic and dark sorcery ramps up the excitement and magnifies the fabled qualities of this narrative. Using magic as a dramatic lever, special effects as fuel and a top notch cast to forge belief, elevates this story into an unforgettable tale of struggle and revenge.
The first and third acts sing with Ritchie’s unique sensibilities, but the second act’s pacing slows as it sets up its memorable finish. “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” finds the magic in the moment as a once and future king refuses to settle for death as his fate.

LYNN’s Take:
The Arthurian Legend is scrambled into a hyper-stylized action-fantasy that’s mostly noise and confusion.
Writer-director Guy Ritchie’s trademark gritty action, sped-up cinematography, Matrix-like fight sequences, quick-cut editing and contemporary tough-guy dialogue is at full throttle.
Ritchie has a distinct swaggering style that forcefully takes over, at the expense of story, which could have made better sense of the medieval Machiavellian times.
In its favor, a montage of Arthur’s youth spent in the back alleys is nifty, and eye-popping visuals are mixed with some light humor.
Another plus is that a ripped Charlie Hunnam proves he can be a hunky he-man as the reluctant royal, and can confidently wield a mighty sword. Unfortunately, the plot is merely a vehicle for more slice-and-dice.
Law, a Ritchie favorite, grandstands as the paranoid dictator-like ruler. Other unsavory characters seem interchangeable because of the muddled narrative, and the good guys aren’t developed enough, all taking a back seat to massive destruction.
It’s like watching a video game. Oh, is that pounding score extremely loud.
Camelot, it’s not. Where is Merlin?
Snatched
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Snatched

Genre: Action/Comedy
Starring: Amy Schumer, Goldie Hawn
Rating: R
for crude sexual content, brief nudity, and language throughout.
Grade: C- (Kent)/B (Lynn)
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert & Lynn Venhaus
The Plot:
Emily (Amy Schumer) has just lost her job, been dumped by her successful boyfriend and now has no one to accompany her on her non-refundable trip to Ecuador. Enlisting her mom, Linda (Goldie Hawn) to help her put the “fun” back in non-reFUNdable, they set off to party in South America.
While there, these two bickering women are kidnapped. As they attempt to escape their captors, they discover the importance of family and good running shoes.

Kent’s Take:
“Snatched” is the latest “Amy Schumer comedy” instead of the latest comedy with Amy Schumer. Setting up funny situations with payoff laughs works well when placed within a good story. Unfortunately, Schumer’s perfect comic timing and fearlessness in getting a laugh are wasted.
This predictable chase film uses its themes well, setting up the usual angst between mothers and daughters to then test their resolve by putting them in peril – making them realize their pettiness.
There are also some solid laughs with Schumer at the helm. The generational differences between Linda, who vacations by reading and relaxing, and Emily, who parties non-stop, are fun and on the nose. Unfortunately, we never really get to know the characters, so viewers have little for which to root as Emily and Linda find themselves in hot water. The story is simply a series of progressive setups for Schumer to pull laughs from us. Instead of weaving the laughs into a progressively funnier story which would build the laughs and their intensity, we are left with hollow humor in an empty story.
Schumer makes the most of her vapid Emily. Ike Barinholtz (as Emily’s brother Jeffrey), Wanda Sykes (as cautious Ruth) and Joan Cusack (as ex-operative Barb) steal the film with their energy and great comedic skills.
“Snatched” is a lot like Emily – lacking depth. For Schumer fans and those looking for diversionary laughs, this film will suffice, but those expecting Schumer’s wit, snark and self-deprecating humor will be sadly disappointed.

Lynn's Take:
In playing polar opposites, Goldie Hawn and Amy Schumer strike a harmonious balance to brighten "Snatched," a zippy laugh-out-loud comedy not just for women.

​To merely label it a chick flick is unfair, for the male characters are just as funny and interesting as the women. One of the movie's strengths is how well it uses supporting players to advance the story.

But the story is obviously written by a female, and what a refreshing perspective. Screenwriter Katie Dippold ("The Heat," "Ghostbusters") is a keen observer of human behavior, mining life's absurdities for laughs as well as character-based humor.

Emily (Schumer) is a self-absorbed millennial who needs a travel companion. Her boyfriend (Randall Park) dumps her before their nonrefundable exotic trip to Ecuador, so she asks her super-cautious mother Linda (Hawn) to sub.

Emily is as reckless as her mother is careful, and that leads to danger. They are abducted and taken to Colombia by a nefarious crime lord, but escape. While they are on the run, wild adventures occur.

During their fretful journey, they meet an assortment of colorful people -- some friends, some foes, but all hilarious.

Performances: Hawn, in her first movie in 15 years, gets her groove back as the devoted, loving mom. The Oscar-winning actress, 72, displays such an ease in another comical, but more mature, role.

Schumer, in her second headlining film, proves she's not a one-trick pony, and isn't afraid to be unlikable as a selfish, whiny 20-something. She deftly delivers lines like an old pro.

The fearless blondes convey an effortless chemistry. They are genuinely believable as a mother and adult daughter who care about each other, but approach life from two different directions.

With a flock of familiar faces, the ensemble adds much oomph. Ike Barinholtz ("Neighbors") stands out as Emily's nerdy annoying sibling trying to save his beloved Mama.

Christopher Meloni ("Law and Order: SVU") is a hoot as a swaggering Indiana Jones-type explorer who helps the damsels in distress.

Also memorable are Tom Bateman as a handsome con man and Oscar Jaenada as the dastardly Morgado. As a state department staffer, Bashir Salahuddin participates in a comical running gag.

Wanda Sykes and Joan Cusack are amusing as fellow vacationers who befriend the duo.

What Works: The comedy earns it laughs, which naturally arise from zany situations.

Dippold's cleverness, combined with the nimble performances, result in an entertaining breezy romp that's never predicable and doesn't sag.

What Doesn't Work: The comedy's not cheap, although there are a few raunchy moments. However, they are not excessive, and indeed elicit big guffaws.

A nice touch is the unmistakable element of sweetness emphasizing the unbreakable bond between parents and children.

This is a surprising, sincere and sentimental tribute just in time for Mother's Day -- a good feeling that will endure.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Genre: Action/Adventure/Sci-fi
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Chris Pratt, Kurt Russell, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel
Rating: PG-13
for sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language and brief suggestive content
Grade: B+
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert
The Plot:
The Guardians of the Galaxy’s latest adventure goes awry thanks to Rocket’s (Bradley Cooper) sticky fingers.
As their pursuers corner them, Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) and his friends are rescued by Ego (Kurt Russell) a Demi-God who also happens to be Peter’s father.
While learning about his true lineage, Peter also discovers his real family.

Kent’s Take:
“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” pops in mix tape vol. 2 and continues the antics of Star-Lord, Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket, and Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) as they both help and fleece the galaxy.
The tone in this latest adventure has changed. This sequel is more family-friendly and touts less graft, less language and more adventure. With a memorable opening scene, this thoughtful, well-written film offers nonstop laughs, action or thoughtful moments.
Marvel knows what has made the “Guardians” first film so successful, the misfit characters, the sarcasm, the hilarious peril and honesty. “Vol. 2” has all of these elements and a notable addition. The lovable characters are back, followed closely by the sarcasm and laughs. Add some honesty as the theme of “family value” fuels this story, thrusting audiences into their emotional handbags to draw forth some tears alongside their giggles. In addition, Baby Groot steals every scene he is in. He is almost too cute for the film – merchandisers, be ready!
As Quill finds the father he sought his entire life, his Pop ultimately slips through his hands. Writer/director James Gunn has brought us a worthy sequel that will not only gather new fans, but will also capture your heart.
Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a NY Fixer
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Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a NY Fixer

Genre: Drama
Starring: Richard Gere, Steve Buscemi, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Dan Stevens, Michael Sheen
Rating: R
for language
Grade: B
Reviewer: Lynn Venhaus
The Plot:
Pushy schemer Norman Oppenheimer is desperate for success. Through relentless pestering, he befriends a hotshot Israeli politician, who later becomes prime minister, and remarkably achieves influence and stature. That lofty perch isn’t sustainable, however, as complications arise.

LYNN’s Take:
“Norman” is a quirky, sometimes humorous, look at a mover who wants to be a shaker too. When good fortune occurs, he has a front row seat in a fascinating and fast-paced global arena.
The trouble is, Norman is annoying. Richard Gere’s keen abilities make this fast-talking, rather pathetic gasbag interesting. His unlikely friendship with the superb Lior Ashkenazi, Israel’s popular leading man, is genuinely conveyed.
Performances are the movie’s strength, as first-rate character actors appear in grandstander Norman’s wacky orbit, including Steve Buscemi as a beleaguered rabbi, Charlotte Gainsbourg as a government operative, Dan Stevens as a young financial titan and Michael Sheen as a go-between relative.
Writer-director Joseph Cedar shrewdly depicts the art of high-stakes deals, although the resolutions are choppy.
Sharp cinematography and clever editing capture the distinct pulses of Manhattan and Jerusalem, hallmarks of producer Oren Moverman.
But if you prefer a more likable title character, it doesn’t happen here.
Graduation
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Graduation

Genre: Crime/Drama
Starring: Maria-Victoria Dragus, Adrian Titieni
Rating: R
for some language, nudity and smoking
Grade: C
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert
The Plot:
Eliza (Maria-Victoria Dragus) has accepted a scholarship to school in the United Kingdom. She must simply pass her state exams in Romania in order to finalize the scholarship.
The day before exams begin, Eliza is assaulted and almost raped near her school. Struggling from the incident, her father Romeo (Adrian Titieni) tries to get his daughter’s exams postponed, but cannot. Worried that Eliza could lose her opportunity for a scholarship, Romeo begins a journey beyond legal limits in order to secure his daughter’s scholarship.

Kent’s Take:
“Graduation” in a way, delves into the concept of modern parenting as well as the idea that prudence is a matter of perspective.
Eliza is an excellent student, averaging 9.5 out of 10 in her studies. Yet, her scholarship is in jeopardy after the attack when her emotional struggles distrupt her focus on exams.
Writer/director Christian Mungiu offers different perspectives to this narrative. Mother Magda feels that Eliza’s scholarship is wonderful, but not essential to her future, she is unsure whether she wants her daughter to leave Romania. Romeo knows opportunities visit infrequently and he wants Eliza’s hard work through school to pay off. Lastly, Eliza’s hopes, feelings, dreams and ideas are that of a youth. She is unsure about leaving home, especially to another country and has a boyfriend she is reluctant to leave.
These differing viewpoints drive the film as Romeo leaps into a slippery slope of favors that lead him deeper into an illegal world in order to alter his daughter’s test scores. Meanwhile, Romeo’s life is crumbling before him. His marriage is in shambles, his mistress is pressuring him to commit and his daughter’s struggles become the cherry atop a bitter dessert that he has prepared for himself.
Where this film falls short is in its style. American audiences will find the pacing constrained. Many scenes are simply one character on the left facing another on the right spitting dialogue back and forth in a tennis match of stilted words. The story premise is great – to what lengths would you go to secure a brighter future for your child? Unfortunately, the execution is simply a style to which American audiences will not respond.
Truman
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Truman

Genre: Comedy/Drama
Starring: Ricardo Darin, Javier Camara
Rating: This film is not rated. Spanish with english subtitles.
Grade: A
Reviewer: Lynn Venhaus
The Plot:
A stage actor in Madrid, Julian (Ricardo Darin) decides against treatment for his terminal cancer, and is visited by his childhood pal Tomas (Javier Camara), now in Canada. Together, they tie up loose ends, finalize arrangements and attempt to find another home for Julian’s pet boxer Truman.

LYNN’s Take:
Straddling that fine line between maudlin and earnest sentiment, “Truman” assertively handles awkward situations that arise when death is imminent.
A well-told and well-acted story that resonates in any language, the film explores life, love and loss in a realistic way. The script by director Cesc Gay and Tomas Aragay is laced with warm humor and sincere emotion.
The film won five awards out of its six nominations at last year’s Goya Awards presented by the Spanish Film Academy: Best Film, Director, Actor (Darin), Supporting Actor (Camara) and Original Screenplay.
Darin and Camara easily convey the male bonds of friendship and find the nuances reflecting on regrets, pain, and the impending deadline.
Of course, the lovable dog could easily steal the movie, but doesn’t overtake it, unlike something more manipulative and schmaltzy would.
“Truman” earns its laughs and tears with a heartfelt exploration of mortality.
The Lost City of Z
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The Lost City of Z

Genre: Biopic/Adventure
Starring: Charles Hunnam
Rating: PG-13
for violence, disturbing images, brief strong language and some nudity.
Grade: C
Reviewer: Lynn Venhaus
The Plot:
True story of British explorer Percival Fawcett (Charles Hunnam), who discovers an unknown civilization in the Amazonian jungle while on a Bolivian expedition in 1906. After another dangerous quest, his obsession to uncover the region’s secrets results in his disappearance during a third journey in 1925.

LYNN’s Take:
Take: Comparisons to the manic “Apocalypse Now” are inevitable, but a slow, sprawling “The Lost City of Z” needed more Indiana Jones derring-do and less stiff-upper-lip British empire debates.
Based on David Grann’s book, the film is directed by James Gray as a rather stiff academic exercise, with action only a fraction of its too-long 2:21 runtime.
Gray’s restrained storytelling, akin to Merchant-Ivory prestige epics, keeps engagement at arm’s length. Its intermittent dullness is stupefying because Percy was a visionary who should be admired. His triumph over skeptics and stuffed shirts is told in a term paper-ready style.
Nevertheless, the film is handsomely shot. The cast is solid – Hunnam as the high-minded seeker, Sienna Miller as his independent wife Nina, an unrecognizable Robert Pattinson as his sidekick Henry Costin, and Tom Holland as his eldest son Jack.
This remarkable journey should have leapt off the screen instead of being presented like a seminar lecture.
The Promise
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The Promise

Genre: Drama/History
Starring: Oscar Isaac, Christian Bale, Charlotte Le Bon
Rating: PG-13
for thematic material including war atrocities, violence and disturbing images, and for some sexuality.
Grade: B
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert
The Plot:
It is the eve of WWI, early 1914. The Turkish and Armenian people coexist, accepting their differences and moving forward. Mikael Boghosian (Oscar Isaac) longs to leave his small Turkish village to study medicine in Constantinople. In order to do that he agrees to an arranged betrothal to a local girl in order to use her dowry for medical school.
While studying in Constantinople, Mikael meets Ana (Charlotte Le Bon) an Armenian woman who catches his eye. Ana however is seeing American journalist Chris Myers (Christian Bale) who is reporting on the growing unrest in Turkey.
As WWI breaks out, Turkey sides with Germany and the Turkish people begin a “relocation” of the Armenian “tumors” who are destroying their society. As the genocide spreads throughout the country, Mikael, Ana and Chris become entangled in a romantic triangle that rarely has a happy ending.

Kent’s Take:
“The Promise” is a historical epic recounting the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Armenian genocide that Turkey still denies. In the early 20th century, Turkey is a forward-thinking country, touting wealth, prosperity, decadence and an integrated society that quickly becomes a powder keg that WWI ignites.
At first, the opulent life in Constantinople continues, but the stitching that holds society together quickly unravels. As the Turks begin “cleansing” their society, the scars of war appear. Bombed out villages, roaming gangs of Turks killing or enslaving Armenians.
Writer/ Director Terry George captures the period in painstaking authenticity. The welcoming society shows audiences a cultured people with drive and passion – but the seeds of hate are always present and simply need watering. Showing human tragedy, suffering and the destruction of hope.
The title “The Promise” is also perplexing. The promise is simply Mikael’s oath to his betrothed. This commitment plays no role in the film except that it becomes the catalyst for Mikael to leave his village to witness the genocide on an epic scale.
There is a fine line between fully fleshing out a story and over-developing a narrative – it all comes to fruition in the pacing. With a running time of 137 minutes, this film drags just a little bit. However, tension is well developed and helps pace the second half of the film as the genocide hits its stride and Mikael realizes that they can force him from his home, enslave him and kill his loved ones, but they cannot rob him of his spirit. This forgotten story is told with obvious care.
LeBon and Isaac are wonderful, imbuing their characters with the durability of a strong people, but Bale struggles with an uninspired character who never really seems to fit into this story.
This tale of human and cultural survival is both tragic and moving. Its epic nature coupled with its true history builds a memorable film that lives up to its promise.
Tommy's Honour
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Tommy's Honour

Genre: Drama/Sport
Starring: Peter Mullan, Jack Lowden
Rating: PG-13
for thematic elements, some suggestive material, language and smoking.
Grade: C+
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert
The Plot:
Scotland 1868 finds Old Tom Morris (Peter Mullan) working quietly in his golf shop creating clubs and balls for the new sport of golf. Yet, his son Young Tommy Morris (Jack Lowden), at 15, is even better at golf than his father.
As Tommy gains notoriety with his three consecutive wins at the 1868-1870 Open Championships, his relationship with his traditional father begins to fray.
Golf began as a betting sport with wealthy gentlemen betting on their golfers in match play matches. The golfers would win whatever their sponsor deemed fair. Tommy used his leverage as a top golfer to change both golf and Scottish society.
When Old Tom makes a decision that affects Tommy’s life, Old Tom dedicates his life to honor his son, “which many consider to be the greatest golfer of the 19th century.”

Kent’s Take:
“Tommy’s Honour” is a sports biography that pars the characterization, but bogeys the sports moments.
Old Tom Morris is the grounds keeper at The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, making clubs and balls for the wealthy club members while playing at the members’ whims. But his son Tommy doesn’t want to toil his whole life while others gain opportunity.
Although this is a sports film, it is as much about class and social taboos as it is about the greatest golfer of the 19th century.
Tommy not only changed the fledgling game of golf, but he changed the business of golf and the related class delineation. Golf has always been known as a “gentleman’s game,” but originally, that is because gentlemen bet on it using players as pawns. Tommy helped bring the sport to the masses by using his increasing influence to break the barrier between classes, allowing players to gain wealth from golf, giving lower-class individuals an opportunity to make a living and greater wealth.
Where this film falters is in its narrative. The golfing is uninspired as we learn little about the early sport of golf, other than it is played in virtual pastures and on horse racing tracks. The storied courses are present with Miurfield, Black Heath, Carnoustie and St. Andrews to name a few. The Swilken Bridge at St. Andrews makes an appearance, but what doesn’t surface is anything memorable about the game of golf.
The acting performances are strong, but the characters do not connect emotionally with audiences. Tommy can be a firebrand and Old Tom is trying to support his son in his own way. The one thing that distinguishes these men from the common milkman is that they are destined to be golfing legends. Unfortunately, that legend is poorly defined, weakening the characters and our interest in them.
In another golf film, “The Greatest Game Ever Played” Francis Ouimet faced adversity while playing a sport requiring intense concentration. Tension is built deftly through external and internal means creating a force that moves much quicker than a “golfing pace.” “Tommy’s Honour” fails to build adequate tension so when tragedy strikes, the impact is minimal.
“Tommy’s Honour” recounts the early days of one of today’s most popular sports. While the Morris’ legend is outlined, its impact on the sport is lost as this film’s shifting focus on social norms and class takes precedent over the story of an early sporting legend.
The Fate of the Furious
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The Fate of the Furious

Genre: Action/Crime/Thriller
Starring: Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriquez, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Dwayne Johnson, Charlize Theron
Rating: PG-13
for prolonged sequences of violence and destruction, suggestive content and language.
Grade: B (Kent)
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert
The Plot:
When Dom (Vin Diesel) is forced to work against his own crew, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Ludacris) and Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) must rely on each other and a few unusual allies to neutralize their friend.
However, at the center of this maelstrom is the digital terrorist, Cipher (Charlize Theron), and her master plan has no place for Dom’s crew.

Kent’s Take:
“The Fate of the Furious” ticks in at number eight for this lively franchise.
As I’ve stated before, check reality at the door, get comfy, strap in and get ready for a crazy ride.
The theme throughout this franchise has always been “Family First” and here it’s no different, but attaching to this theme like a parasite is a secondary theme. The idea that one determines their own fate with the choices they make, drives Cipher in her measured, brutal plan.
This pure action film finds our favorite characters back together. The strong story layers surprising relationships, past stories and future threads into an action-packed global chase fueled by emotions, laughs and pyrotechnics. The special effects are ever-present, but don’t overshadow the narrative.
As in all of the “Furious” films, machismo rules the roost, yet women actually drive and dominate the film. From Cipher’s evil plot, through Ramsey’s intelligent computer hacking, to Letty’s quiet strength, women carry this film and are essential to its success.
The action and heart of this film may be fueled by testosterone, but the estrogen is the nitrous oxide that kicks this race into high gear, making “The Fate of the Furious” a good spring movie choice.
Gifted
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Gifted

Genre: Drama
Starring: McKenna Grace, Chris Evans, Lindsay Duncan
Rating: PG-13
for thematic elements, language and some suggestive material.
Grade: B (Lynn)
Reviewer: Lynn Venhaus
The Plot:
Whether to allow Mary (McKenna Grace), a seven-year-old math prodigy, to stay with her Uncle Frank (Chris Evans) and be a regular kid, or attend a school for the gifted, preferred by icy grandmother Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan), becomes a custody battle royale.

LYNN’s Take:
Sappy yet heart-tugging, “Gifted” blends such crowd-pleasing elements as a cute kid, hunky bachelor, cuddly kitty, sun-kissed ocean shots and a Cat Stevens song.
The twist is that the child is a genius. Let’s hear it for another movie about smart girls.
In its favor, screenwriter Tom Flynn’s dialogue has some real zing and director Marc Webb extracts genuine warmth from the cast.
The relationship between Evans, proving he’s more than Captain America, and adorable Grace, who gives new meaning to precocious, is affecting.
The supporting characters, though, are classic stereotypes. Evelyn is a controlling, snooty rich witch. Teacher Bonnie is sweet. Neighbor Roberta is sassy. But Lindsay Duncan, Jenny Slate and Oscar winner Octavia Spencer respectively give their roles some verve.
It resembles other conflicted family fare – “Kramer vs. Kramer,” “Black or White,” and “Little Man Tate.”
This conventional glossy Hollywood movie attempts to uplift in unsettling times.
Going In Style
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Going In Style

Genre: Comedy/Crime
Starring: Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Alan Arkin
Rating: PG-13
for drug content, language and some suggestive material.
Grade: C+
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert
The Plot:
Willie (Morgan Freeman), Joe (Michael Caine) and Albert (Alan Arkin) are retired steel workers who have just lost their pensions.
When Joe witnesses a bank robbery, the kernel of an idea begins to take root – why not rob a bank? He has nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Now the tough part, enlisting his friends and actually succeeding with the heist.

Kent’s Take:
“Going In Style” is a remake of the 1979 film starring George Burns. This updated version is more light-hearted and has a less sobering conclusion.
Teaming three of Hollywood’s beloved aging stars, director Zach Braff tackles the serious reality of our struggling senior population in a smart, entertaining way.
The theme of society’s obligation to care for its elderly is admirable. Unfortunately, no one really helps these men – they help themselves.
Balancing its humor with grim reality, paces this story well and propels it forward.
“Going In Style” is a light-hearted film destined for success with the senior set. Yet, those seeking less slapstick and more substance will see this film as more of a “senior moment.”
Queen of the Desert
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Queen of the Desert

Genre: Biography/Drama
Starring: Nicole Kidman, James Franco, Damien Lewis
Rating: PG-13
for nudity and some thematic elements.
Grade: C- (Lynn)
Reviewer: Lynn Venhaus
The Plot:
Gertrude Bell, an Oxford-educated British aristocrat, becomes a legendary explorer, writer, archeologist and political leader at the dawn of the 20th century after she moves to Persia. Bedouins trusted her, Winston Churchill employed her and T.E. Lawrence befriended her.

Lynn’s Take:
Feminist icon Gertrude Bell (Nicole Kidman) deserved better. Attempting to turn her fascinating journey into a sweeping epic adventure, writer-director Werner Herzog aims for poetry but sucks the life out of it.
Blending exotic and elegant, the movie, shot in 2015, winds up a too reverent and stilted museum piece. Yet, the locales are often breathtaking while the lush string-heavy score intensifies the stranger-in-a-strange-land drama.
The prolonged focus on her romances with Henry Cadogan (James Franco) and Charles Doughty-Wylie (Damian Lewis) makes the age differences between Kidman, framed in soft light, and the men obvious, and for that matter, Robert Pattinson as the man known as “Lawrence of Arabia.”
Kidman, in a hush-voiced British accent, does bring out Bell’s keen intellect, curiosity and zest for travel. Bell must have really been something, but this movie lacks the sizzle to make us care.
The Zookeeper's Wife
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The Zookeeper's Wife

Genre: Biography/Drama/History/War
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Johan Heldbergh, Daniel Brühl
Rating: PG-13
for thematic elements, disturbing images, violence, brief sexuality, nudity and smoking.
Grade: B/B-
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert & Lynn Venhaus
The Plot:
This harrowing Holocaust film is the true story of selfless heroes Antonina Zabinski (Jessica Chastain) and her husband, Dr. Jan Zabinski (Johan Heldenbergh), who hid 300 Jews at their Warsaw Zoo during World War II.

Kent’s Take:
Based upon the true story of the Zabinskis, a Polish husband and wife who use their zoo as sanctuary during the Nazi occupation of Warsaw.
As Antonina and Jan convert their zoo to raising pigs, Jan secrets Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto, harboring them in the basement of their home.
Director Niki Caro recounts a memorable story of desperation, compassion and sacrifice. In this period piece, animals are used to cleverly endear audiences to the Zabinskis and to define one of the main themes of the story – the imprisonment of both body and soul. Caro indeed builds tension well, but there is a certain predictability to this story that dampens that tension.
Caro elevates this film with beautiful scenes of irony. From the melancholy scene of wild animals running loose in a broken city, to a later tableau of Warsaw bathed in the ashes of Nazi sin, these scenes speak louder than any words.
Although Chastain is too beautiful to blend into the Warsaw population, she and Heldenbergh, bolster this story with class and skill.
“The Zookeeper’s Wife” reveals another tense facet of WWII as one family risks all to save innocent lives – both animal and human.

Lynn’s Take:
The very noble “The Zookeeper’s Wife” tugs at your heartstrings. While there is no way to soften Hitler’s horrible atrocities – this movie manipulates emotions in a sanitized version of the Third Reich’s inhumanity.
The sentimental setting is a sun-dappled Warsaw Zoo, where adorable animals roam as the virtuous Zabinskis take good care of their charges until bombs and the cruel Nazis kill the cute critters. We observe Antonina nuzzle lion cubs, help an elephant save her offspring, and help a rape victim with a cuddly rabbit.
Daniel Bruhl is saddled with an odious cardboard villain, German zoologist Lutz Heck, who wants to use their prize animals for selective breeding and has the hots for Antonina. His character is part of a jaw-dropping egregious fake-out.
Chastain, who immerses herself in every role, is strong as the compassionate, courageous woman who turns her attention to the “human zoo” after the site becomes a temporary pig farm.
Agonizing moments are derivative of “Schindler’s List,” and that might be why, after seeing the devastating and unforgettable “Son of Saul” last year, this movie seems assembled with only broad strokes and little subtlety.
Ghost in the Shell
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Ghost in the Shell

Genre: Action/Crime/Drama/Mystery
Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Michael Pitt
Rating: PG-13
for intense sequences of sci-fi violence, suggestive content and some disturbing images.
Grade: C+
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert
The Plot:
A distant 21st century future finds Major (Scarlet Johansson) awakening from surgery to discover she has survived a terrorist attack but her brain had to be transferred into a cybernetic body.
She is quickly trained as a virtually indestructible anti-terrorist weapon, but her cloudy memory gives her concern.
When mysterious hacker, Kuze (Michael Pitt) begins killing Hanka Robotic developers (the same people who created Major), Major begins a dangerous cat and mouse game that can only result in one thing: truth.

Kent’s Take:
“Ghost in the Shell” is based upon a popular 1989 Manga of the same name. A Manga is simply a Japanese comic or cartoon.
“Ghost in the Shell” follows a cybernetic anti-terrorist group with Major as a major player.
This future could be very overwhelming for audiences. With a style based in Japanese culture, this city seems as if someone borrowed the “Blade Runner” set and enhanced it one iteration. Burning neon creates deep contrasts in darkened dingy alleys and streets. Multi-story holograms advertise Japanese products and tech has advanced where humans are enhanced with plenty of electronics.
Unfortunately, since this Manga originated in 1989, we also find dated technology that needs some updates. The automobiles are driven seemingly straight from Dr. Emmet Brown’s “Back To The Future” garage – complete with a steering wheel intact. Clothing styles and haircuts also ring true from the 1980s, adding to the dated feel for parts of the film.
Screenwriter Jamie Moss and comic writer Masamune Shirow dress this story in worthy themes. Major has lost her memories and thus her connection to her humanity. As she struggles to find answers in a world that is also losing its humanity, her friends and boss remind her that although she is mostly artificial, her “Ghost,” or soul, is still intact and defines her.
One of my favorite quotes states, “When we see our uniqueness, we find peace.” The theme of Technology vs. Humanity rings true, even more now than it did 25 years ago. While Major fights to locate the elusive Kuze, Kuze seeks Major as well, but on his own terms, for he holds a secret that Major needs to find her answers.
This hard sci-fi film is both brutal and lacking humanity – on purpose. This is “Blade Runner” meets “Snow Crash,” and begs the question, “Is this film made for fans of the dated Manga or modern Millennials?” The answer lies in the style problems. The filmmakers chose to keep the dated material intact – bad choice. Updating this story for modern audiences could still hold original fans enthralled with its core story of revenge, but updating style and content would bring Millennials in to check out a not-so-distant future.
Major’s squad often goes in “guns-a-blazin” with military style tactics and garb, yet, Major only wears a skin tight outfit that leaves absolutely nothing to the imagination. Back in 1989 this was called marketing; today it is called sexism.
Although the dialogue is uninspired and the dated elements are a problem, this film does have some bright spots. The sci-fi effects are top-notch and help draw audiences into an uncomfortable future and the action is well choreographed. The cast is strong as well giving performances that bring the Manga to life – a cybernetic life.
“Ghost in the Shell” certainly succeeds on several levels as fans of this comic will thrill to see a future fully realized. However, for non-fans, the dated elements and lackluster story force back an excitement that could have lit the internet.
Personal Shopper

Personal Shopper

Genre: Drama/Mystery/Thriller
Starring: Kristen Stewart
Rating: R
for some language, sexuality, nudity and a bloody violent image.
Grade: B-/B
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert & Lynn Venhaus
The Plot:
Maureen Cartwright (Kristen Stewart) is an American in Paris. By day she is a personal shopper for a wealthy business woman in the fashion world. By night, she waits. Sleeping in the house in which her twin brother died, she awaits a sign showing there is life after death. Both Maureen and her brother are/were amateur mediums and as both have a hereditary heart condition that dampens long-term outlooks, it also brings them closer to the other side.
As Maureen works and waits, she discovers that life can be more frightening than death and that death is merely a doorway into more mystery.

Kent’s Take:
“Personal Shopper” is the second teaming of director Olivier Assayas and actress Kristen Stewart. Their first project “Clouds of Sils Maria” won critical acclaim and Stewart the French equivalent of the Oscar.
This film finds Maureen spending evenings in the empty house her brother owned, waiting for her sign, some message, proof. Maureen is searching for meaning in her life as well as the afterlife and is struggling with both. She is experiencing ominous creaks, faucets turning on, doors opening, etc. but nothing unequivocal – she pleads to the air, to Lewis to give her more. Her job gives her more frustration than satisfaction, keeping Maureen separated from high society and at arms length from her employer’s luxurious life.
Assayas is very particular in making sure this film does not fall squarely into any genre. Opening as a quiet ghost story with Maureen creeping through a darkened, empty house calling out for her dead brother, unnerves and sets a strong tone. Soon, we experience her day job flitting through high end designer studios barking orders, gathering looks and styles for her employer, yet she struggles with her feelings.
The sparse story focuses on Maureen only, as others dart in and out of her life, each keeping their distance, each moving on to continue their life – everyone but her.
Her heart problem is also a perfect setup. Why look at a future that may never come, why not enjoy life while you have it? Yet, Maureen is not happy, she searches for meaning to the loss of her brother and to her condition, but as in life, questions are easy to find, answers are elusive.
This tense, imbalanced film is indeed memorable. Its European sensibilities find Maureen in a “holding pattern” – frustrating for her, and for viewers, too. As tension slowly builds for viewers – an anonymous texter begins drawing out answers for questions she refuses to ask herself. Weaving this tense section into the story vaults us into another genre, the thriller, but it also interrupts both the rhythm of the story and the momentum.
Kristen Stewart is wonderful as a woman skating a razor’s edge between life and death, love and hate and this world and the next. Her Maureen struggles to find answers to questions she won’t ask and as she begins to answer them, she becomes a stronger person and medium.
“Personal Shopper” is a duck-billed platypus of sorts. This genre-less story will elicit various emotional reactions to a winding narrative of loss, style, wealth and death, but the various facets of this story never get proper resolution, leaving audiences with more questions than resolution.

Lynn’s Take:
A fascinating and ultimately frustrating ghost story, the psychological terror is what hooks viewers initially.
As sly, subtle director Olivier Assayas reveals more plot layers, other sinister elements are present. His use of shadows and sound to frighten are impressive.
This is the second Assayas film starring Kristen Stewart, after she won the Cesar, the French equivalent of an Oscar, for “The Clouds of Sils Maria,” and they clearly spark creatively.
In her smart arthouse choices, she has shown better skills than indicated in any “Twilight” film. She is mesmerizing as a grieving woman on a mission.
The supernatural aspect is unsettling, and the tension is palpable. But the inconsistent tone and pacing is nerve-wracking, too, because the movie suffers from being too laid-back.
One must read more into it, connect the dots, and then figure out what really happened. If you don’t mind doing the heavy-lifting, then “Personal Shopper” is intriguing. But if that is too demanding, then it won’t satisfy.
But Stewart’s complex, riveting performance is the highlight. She commands attention in every scene, whether breaking the rules, trying on her boss’s designer dresses, or in danger from a creepy unknown force.
Land of Mine
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Land of Mine

Genre: Drama/Military
Starring: Louis Hofmann, Emil Belton, Oskar Belton
Rating: R
for violence, some grisly images and languages. In German with English subtitles.
Grade: A
Reviewer: Lynn Venhaus
The Plot:
After World War II, young German POWs were forced to sweep land mines on the Denmark shore.
These soldiers were drafted into the Volkssturm national militia because of the shortage of older guys. During the five-year occupation, Nazis planted up to two million mines, preparing for an Allied Invasion there.
This Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Film depicts a unit of teenage boys dismantling them, as fear of death and dismemberment looms.
The lads endure cruel treatment, but their innocence softens the unsympathetic supervisor, who eventually sees them as scared little boys that just want to go home.

LYNN’s Take:
Powerful but grim, “Land of Mine” emphasizes that casualties of war don’t end after surrender.
Writer-director Martin Zandvliet’s unsentimental portrait stresses the humanity, spotlighting certain characters and turning up the tension.
At first, it’s hard to tell these blonde boys apart, but we learn more about dutiful Sebastian (impressive Louis Hofmann), wholesome twins Ernst and Werner (memorable Emil and Oskar Belton), hot-headed Helmut (solid Joel Basman) and the others. A steely Roland Moller stands out as the tough sarge Carl.
Riveting and haunting, based on horrific historical events, this movie lingers long after the credits roll.

Beauty and the Beast
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Beauty and the Beast

Genre: Fantasy/Musical/Romance
Starring: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gad
Rating: PG
for some action violence, peril and frightening images.
Grade: B+
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert
The Plot:
Beautiful Belle (Emma Watson) is a catch in her small village. When her father goes missing after a nasty storm, Belle searches the nearby forest finding him imprisoned at a dark castle by a mysterious “Beast”(Dan Stevens).
To rescue him, Belle agrees to take his place as a prisoner of the Beast, but soon finds allies in the castle’s adorable animated items. As Belle discovers the curse that has befallen the Beast and his staff, she begins to warm toward him.
But love itself is an elusive beast. Time is running out for this duo as the Beauty and the Beast find that their love may have limits.

Kent’s Take:
“Beauty and the Beast” is the next live action feature from Walt Disney studios.
Belle is the catch of her small village, but all of the eligible bachelors are self-absorbed – especially the aggressive Gaston.
Walt Disney has done a masterful job of realizing their animated features as live-action adventures. “Beauty and the Beast” is no different. Opening as a playful musical, this beautiful film slowly takes a darker turn as the menacing Beast bares his teeth.
Most audiences know the story of Beauty and the Beast, but this live-action version is enhanced by two performances. Luke Evans’ Gaston is funny in his self-absorbtion, vapid in his wooing of Belle and perfectly menacing as the villain. And Dan Stevens as Prince/Beast uses his furry facial expressions to deftly transition from Belle’s captor to a captive of her love.
Viewers will also enjoy the lovable animated items while Josh Gad’s Le Fou steals the film as Gaston’s unrequited sidekick.
The music is rousing and will have audiences humming along as our favorite characters belt-out memorable stanzas of our favorite tunes.
For a romance, there is much to keep children captivated as well, including the humor, goofiness, music and dancing. The story and sets still ring true as a fantasy, delivering a slightly cartoony feel to soften the edge of a darkening plot.
“Beauty and the Beast” offers an emotional retelling of one of Disney’s most beloved romances. With laughter, fear and affection mixing to create an intoxicating draught, this tale of love, loss and lyrics will spellbind audiences.
Kong: Skull Island
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Kong: Skull Island

Genre: Action/Adventure/Fantasy
Starring: John Goodman, Samuel L. Jackson, Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, John C. Reilly
Rating: PG-13
for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for brief strong language.
Grade: C+
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert
The Plot:
The Vietnam war has finally ended and the U.S. is shipping out of Southeast Asia. However, adventurer Bill Randa (John Goodman) enlists military and civilian personnel to visit the uncharted Skull Island – a land mass surrounded in constant storms – and mystery.
Lead by Colonel Packer (Samuel L. Jackson) and guided by British operative James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), these two men enter the storms and exit to find a breathtaking landscape that time has forgotten.
What they also find is danger, death and the king of Skull Island – Kong.

Kent’s Take:
“Kong: Skull Island” is the eighth feature-length film starring King Kong. Averaging one new King Kong film a decade isn’t so bad. In the latest version, viewers never leave Skull Island, humans never return to civilization with the beast and are simply satisfied with escape and survival.
Set in 1973, this transnational period finds the Civil Rights movement in full swing, the hippie era is faltering and the fire storm that is Vietnam has officially ended, but not in the hearts and minds of most Americans.
Once stranded on Skull Island, each character is polarized into one of two camps. The peace-loving, thoughtful civilians/scientists or the diabolical, uncaring military. Unfortunately, these predictable, heavy-handed themes become the 800-ton ape in the room as themes of academia vs. government, man vs. man, man vs. nature and good vs. evil ricochet throughout this narrative.
Looking at this film as pure action/adventure finds plenty for less discerning audiences in which to cheer. The action is plentiful and well choreographed. Kong is nicely rendered and exhibits enough instinct to create fear, but is balanced with human traits, allowing audiences to root for him. The cinematography is memorable and the creatures are interesting.
However, the dialogue is stilted and the roles are simply caricatures (the comic smart-alec, the seasoned vet, the hunk with a heart of gold, etc.) that we have seen in countless other films.
As the evil military leader, hell-bent in revenge endangers the party, one must wonder if audiences are going to ask for more subtlety than an overly preachy story of “military revenge-seekers, the bad guys; peace-loving anti-war, anti-establishment, the good guys?” Better marrying those concepts into the Vietnam era would have softened the rough edges, making this a story of social vs. political endeavors. It would also create a memorable story better reflecting the times, the aspirations, and hope (or lack thereof), offering us a Kong-sized adventure set in one of our most interesting eras. Instead, “Kong: Skull Island” transforms from a tense “Heart of Darkness” into a disappointing viewmaster folio.
Logan
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Logan

Genre: Action/Drama/Sci-fi
Starring: Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Dafne Keen, Daniel BernHardt
Rating: R
for disturbing violent content and images, sexual content including an assault, graphic nudity, and language.
Grade: C-
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert
The Plot:
It is 2029, there have been no mutants born in 25 years. Charles Xavier/Professor X’s (Patrick Stewart) dream of mutants and humans coexisting to form a stronger society has failed.
Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) quietly works as a limo driver, buying alcohol for himself and anti-seizure medication for Xavier.
When a desperate woman and an adolescent girl approach Logan asking him to help protect them from Transigen Reavers who are hunting them – he refuses. But he is soon dragged into the fray when he discovers the little girl Laura (Dafne Keen) has his mutation.
As Reaver Bone Breaker (Daniel Bernhardt) relentlessly pursues Wolverine and his charges, they move toward a final showdown that will both define the X-Men and determine the future of the remaining mutants.

Kent’s Take:
“Logan” is the final Wolverine movie with Hugh Jackman as the iconic mutant. The once heroic X-Men are aging or dead. Professor X is feeble and suffers from seizures that paralyze anyone within its growing parameters, and Wolverine is dying from within. He limps, he is an alcoholic and his humanity has almost fully left him. His antagonistic relationship with Professor X is not endearing, but disturbing and sad.
This is not your fun-filled action-adventure that the Avengers have made so popular in recent years. This is a truly dark, depressing narrative about “race” and “nature vs. nurture.”
Humanity refused to embrace mutants, shunning them, while mutants looked to dominate humanity instead of coexisting with us. These decisions placed the two species on a collision course through nine X-Men films – we finally witness those repercussions in this film.
Director James Mangold has tried to make this gritty tale a cautionary one. The brutality and violence in this film are eye-opening as both Laura and Wolverine present no-holds-barred savagery when attacked. Everything has been taken from Logan, while Laura has been deprived of everything.
The themes of lost humanity and the decline of a species are reminiscent of the sci-fi classic “Children of Men.” However, in “Logan” the story doesn’t act as a springboard for these themes, it swallows them up in the violence and hate.
The main cast gives strong performances, notably Jackman and Stewart who bring perfection to their closing acts. However, villains, Dr. Zander Rice (Richard E. Grant) and his head of security Reaver Bone Breaker are uninspired characters weakening a potentially strong narrative. All this violence could have been used to set up a poignant conclusion with undertones of racial inequality and hope, as Wolverine finally regains a momentary shred of humanity.
Unfortunately, Mangold misses his mark due to Logan’s relationship with his daughter. By the time he stops shunning her, yelling obscenities at and around her, viewers have already lost their love for this feral beast-of-a-man. The climax leaves Laura (and us) with negative memories of her father, no adult or parent and no guidance with her brutal mutant ability and its associated anger. She is built to kill, but she is never taught that she can be much more than just a killer – a missed opportunity to build in hope for a wanton audience.
“Logan” is a fascinating perspective of missed opportunities, within the film – by its characters and outside the film – by its writers and director, leaving audiences with both a taste of blood and regret.
Get Out
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Get Out

Genre: Horror
Starring: Allison Williams, Daniel Kaluuya, Bradley White, Catherine Keener, Lil Rel Howery
Rating: R
for violence, bloody images, and language including sexual references.
Grade: A
Reviewer: Lynn Venhaus
The Plot:
Rose (Allison Williams) takes her African-American boyfriend Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) home to meet her parents. Dad (Bradley Whitford) is a neurosurgeon and mom (Catherine Keener) is a psychiatrist – and she insists they are not racist.
But once at their remote estate, Chris begins to suspect something is not quite right. The weekend starts out awkward and fear escalates as he meets more family and friends.
His best friend Rod (Lil Rel Howery) urges him to “Get out!,” which is easier said than done.

LYNN’s Take:
A refreshingly smart and well-constructed horror film from first-time director Jordan Peele, “Get Out” blends classic elements with modern situations.
Think “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” meets “The Stepford Wives,” with a touch of “Rosemary’s Baby.” Creating unease by using aspects of longstanding racial issues makes it relatable and contemporary.
While performers are believable, Lil Rel Howery steals the show as Chris’ pal who takes his TSA job very seriously.
Peele, who is half of the popular comedy duo Key & Peele, displays a real knack for storytelling. He injects humor deftly while smoothly building suspense. Developments are a natural progression and not far-fetched, keeping us riveted.


Table 19
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Table 19

Genre: Comedy
Starring: Anna Kenrick, Wyatt Russell, Thomas Cocquerel
Rating: PG-13
for thematic elements, sexual content, drug use, language and some brief nudity.
Grade: C
Reviewer: Lynn Venhaus
The Plot:
Ex-Maid of Honor Eloise (Anna Kendrick) is exiled to a random guest table at her best friend’s reception because she broke up with the bride’s brother Teddy (Wyatt Russell). The guests bond by getting involved in her shaky emotional state.

LYNN’s Take:
With a cast of deft comic actors and the pedigree of screenwriters Mark and Jay Duplass behind this innocuous romantic comedy, “Table 19” underachieves. It’s a bland story that lacks bite. Laughs are sparse and tone is wildly uneven, as we veer from sweet to sour and sad to silly.
Oh, it has its moments and catchy ‘80s tunes. Anna Kendrick is likable enough as the sympathetic jilted girlfriend, but her chemistry with a random encounter (Thomas Cocquerel as Huck) is superior to scruffy ex-beau Teddy, a miscast Wyatt Russell (Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell’s son).
Misused guests include Lisa Kudrow and Craig Robinson as bickering diner owners, Tony Revolori as a hormones-raging teenager, June Squibb as the bride’s nanny, and Stephen Merchant as a socially awkward relative.
Wedding experiences are usually a comedic gold mine, as other movies have proved. This turned out like a squished piece of leftover cake.
A Cure For Wellness
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A Cure For Wellness

Genre: Animation/Action/Comedy
Starring: Dane DeHaan, Jason Isaacs
Rating: R
for disturbing violent content and images, sexual content including an assault, graphic nudity, and language.
Grade: C-
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert
The Plot:
Corporate slave Lockhart (Dane DeHaan) is sent by his crass superiors to retrieve their company C.E.O. from a remote wellness center in Switzerland.
Initially, this relaxing spa seems wonderful and inviting, but soon Lockhart begins suspecting that something nefarious is going on.
The More he tries to gather his charge and flee, the deeper he falls into submission.
As Lockhart unravels the mystery behind his “wellness” the clock starts ticking to his demise.

Kent’s Take:
“A Cure For Wellness” will be compared to “Shutter Island” simply for its narrative of subtle imprisonment, but also for its well-travelled story path.
Lockhart is an unlikeable corporate wonk willing to use any means to reach the top. When his equally dishonest bosses cajole him into retrieving their C.E.O. in order to use him as a scapegoat for an upcoming merger, Lockhart sees a promotion in his near future. As he arrives at the spa, a mystery begins to unfold for Lockhart. Unfortunately, this mystery is shaky and poorly defined.
The clues that are set-up are not fully used, nor are they defined enough to propel the mystery. Eels are used as a creepy threat, a therapy device and symbolism for the elusive “cure” that all spa guests seek, however, they really serve little purpose as this disjointed, confusing story unfolds. The devices that director Gore Verbinski uses to create twists in the film are either predictable or add to the plot confusion.
That said, there are some bright moments in this film. The acting is very good with Dane DeHaan and Jason Isaacs (as Dr. Volmer) elevating this stinker making it more palatable. In addition, the production design is really nice with an inviting spa grounds, old fort-like exteriors and memorable interiors that absolutely offer us a spa setting but with a very creepy undertone.
Where this film really stumbles is in making every character unlikeable. Viewers don’t care about the two sympathetic characters – Lockhart and the odd adolescent Hannah (Mia Goth), so their struggles to survive fall on indifferent eyes and ears.
Add uncomfortable and unnecessary sexual situations and gratuitous nudity and this creepy film becomes the wrong kind of creepy during the climax (no pun intended).
“A Cure For Wellness” certainly won’t cure viewers’ longing for a good film as Gore Verbinski fails to administer a proper therapy for entertainment.
Toni Erdmann
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Toni Erdmann

Genre: Comedy
Starring: Peter Simonischek, Sandra Huller
Rating: R
for srong sexual content, graphic nudity, language and brief drug use.
Grade: C
Reviewer: Lynn Venhaus
The Plot:
An estranged dad tries to connect to his workaholic daughter in a bizarre way – through practical jokes, strange disguises and fake personas. The bumpy relationship goes through a few peaks and valleys in a very long movie (2 hrs. 42 min.).

LYNN’s Take:
Frontrunner for Best Foreign Film Oscar, “Toni Erdmann” is an oddball character study that takes awhile to set up and even longer to say something and reach a conclusion.
Peter Simonischek is quirky as a retired music teacher who disrupts his daughter’s corporate ladder climb. Ines (Sandra Huller) is a tightly wound, stressed-out young woman trying to manage an unfulfilling job and personal life. Why so serious?
Enter dad, in deformed teeth and bad wig, creating identities like “Toni Erdmann,” a life coach in Bucharest to attend a funeral for a friend’s turtle.
Dad pulls pranks, Ines is frustrated, and their friction escalates. Will she ever lighten up? Will her father only show up at inopportune times?
What happens to tenuous personal relationships when spontaneity interrupts responsibility is a theme. This film, directed and written by Maren Ade, is certainly original. And has some genuine heartfelt moments.
But its meandering plot veers into jaw-dropping, peculiar territory. You are warned.
The Lego Batman Movie
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The Lego Batman Movie

Genre: Animation/Action/Comedy
Starring: Will Arnett, Zack Galifianakis, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Cera
Rating: PG
for rude humor and some action.
Grade: A-
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert
The Plot:
Gotham vigilante Batman (Will Arnett), continues to fight crime in his own unique way – kicking butt, waving to the adoring citizens, then returning to his lonely, empty batcave.
When the Joker (Zack Galifianakis) begins another villainous plot against Gotham, he discovers that Batman doesn’t see him as his arch-enemy – crushing him emotionally and setting in motion an even more devious plot.
As Batman’s butler Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) tries to get the capped crusader to begin opening his heart to trust those around him, Batman’s adopted son Dick Grayson (Michael Cera) begins to open his “Padre’s” eyes with his innocence and acrobatic skills.
When the Joker’s nefarious plan tears the city apart, Batman must choose to trust his friends or watch his city crumble.

Kent’s Take:
“The Lego Batman Movie” follows the same formula as its predecessor – lovable characters thrown into a ridiculously entertaining and visually pleasing plot – plenty of laughs ensue.
Batman (and his raspy voice) keep Gotham safe from the likes of The Joker, Harley Quinn (Jenny Slate) and Poison Ivy. But Batman has a bigger problem – himself.
When Police Commissioner Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) tries to work with Batman, he shuns her help and sets off with his light-hearted sidekick, Robin on an ill-conceived plan.
This jaded film critic doesn’t often get the chance to simply enjoy a cinematic ride – “The Lego Batman Movie” is one of these films. Is it the perfect film? Of course not, but boy, is this an enjoyable lark.
Both poking fun at the previous Batman films and television series, while also giving homage to them, the witty writing keeps the plot moving at a fast clip while driving home strong themes of love and family. The strength is in the details. From inside Batman jokes, hilarious villain and hero personality quirks to some giggle-inducing goofiness such as Robin’s costume and his method of changing into it – are all innocent and innovative (just like Legos).
This film also has plenty for kids as well. The children in the theater were quiet and attentive showing a story with offerings for both youngsters and adults.
The “Lego” animation is bright, playful and alludes to the stop-motion animation of old. As the climax looms, villains from all over the fantasy world surface to add to the peril, making the ridiculousness even funnier.
“The Lego Batman Movie” has struck gold with a fast-paced, thoughtful comedy of heroic proportions.
John Wick: Chapter 2
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John Wick: Chapter 2

Genre: Action/Crime/Thriller
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Riccardo Scarmarcio, Claudia Gerini
Rating: R
for strong violence throughout, some language and brief nudity.
Grade: B+
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert
The Plot:
Continuing where his last story ended, assassin John Wick (Keanu Reeves) completes the retribution for his wife’s death. That evening, Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) calls in Wick’s marker – forcing him out of retirement.
Tasked with killing Santino’s sister Gianna (Claudia Gerini), an old friend of Wicks, not only ignites a deadly game of cat and mouse with Gianna’s bodyguard Cassian (Common), but turns the international assassin community on its head.

Kent’s Take:
“John Wick: Chapter 2” is a typical action film setup. Bad-ass hero is wronged . . . he makes things oh so right. But this journey is certainly not a run-of-the-mill execution.
Wick’s legend forces those around him to mind their “Ps & Qs.” As he is reluctantly brought back into the “craft,” viewers are also brought into the secret world of assassins. A world of elegance, precision, specific rules, wealth and most definitely, death.
This film does require the proper mind set. A suspension of reality is required as audiences learn that assassins lurk around every corner, many, of which, prefer hand-to-hand combat over weapons and no one, I mean, no one takes head shots at our hero (yet he can).
Now that we are in the proper state for this death match, this non-stop action-fest gouts as much entertainment as blood, pulsing from one wicked kill to the next.
As Reeve’s Wick continues to be shot in his Kevlar-lined suit, stabbed, punched, kicked, thrown down stairs and hit multiple times by speeding vehicles, he manages to meticulously and relentlessly set matters straight – vengeance has no depth.
Themes of “David vs. Goliath” and the “Good guy always wins” ricochet throughout this story, finally embedding in our laps as a fully realized action adventure. We care about the stoic, measured Wick as self-serving powers move to use him as a pawn and target. Violence is often frowned upon as the violence in our society grows, but this film adds just enough over-the-top posturing to separate this story from reality.
“John Wick: Chapter 2” is a stylish, unapologetic draw-down shoot-’em-up with more head-shots than a high school yearbook.
The Salesman
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The Salesman

Genre: Drama/Thriller
Starring: Shahab Hosseini, Taraneh Alidoosti
Rating: Not Rated
In Persian with English subtitles.
Grade: A
Reviewer: Lynn Venhaus
The Plot:
A young married Iranian couple must abruptly move. In their new place in Tehran, some of the previous tenant’s stuff remains, and an incident causes friction. Feelings of guilt, anger and fear surface, unsettling both husband and wife.
Also, they are acting together in an amateur production of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman.” The references are no accident.

Lynn’s Take:
A psychological drama with a doozy of a suspenseful climax, “The Salesman” is an example of director Asghar Farhadi’s sharp observational skills.
Oscar winner for “A Separation,” he is nominated in the Foreign Language Film category for this effort.
The acting is first-rate, with Shahab Hosseini strong as the husband Emad. He struggles with his protector role as his wife grows distant. Taraneh Alidoosti is superb grappling with conflicting emotions, which frustrates her husband.
The universal complexities of a relationship veering into trouble are deftly handled in a natural way. Farhadi prefers realism over dramatic hissy fits.
In a standout breakthrough performance, Babak Karimi gives one the willies as an unassuming and uninvited presence.
What happens when your ordinary life takes a turn into the twilight zone?
Fifty Shades Darker
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Fifty Shades Darker

Genre: Drama/Romance
Starring: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan
Rating: R
for strong erotic sexual content, some graphic nudity, and language.
Grade: C+
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert
The Plot:
Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) and Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) are no longer an item. Steele begins working for a small publishing house while Grey continues his acquisitions.
However, it’s not long until Christian approaches Anna asking to “renegotiate” the terms of their relationship. Anna is wary of Christian’s needs since she saw a side of him with which she was uncomfortable.
Promising that she is more important than any of his peculiarities, she agrees to start seeing him again, but they must take it slowly and be honest with one another.
As Anna pushes Christian to open up about his troubled childhood, his past continues to throw hurdles in front of their relationship – but Anna’s love and Christian’s growing commitment always seem to overcome.
When tragedy strikes Anna and Christian, both lovers realize what the other means to them, but can Christian’s past ever truly release him?

Kent’s Take:
“Fifty Shades Darker” is the next adaptation of the E.L. James bestselling novel of the same name.
Anna and Christian have gone their separate ways, or rather Anna has. As he tries to “renegotiate “ their arrangement, Anna throws out the formality, replacing their contract with ”no rules, no strings.” He agrees.
Where “Fifty Shades of Grey” used a playful nature and Anna’s innocence to balance the narrative, “Fifty Shades Darker” has a distinctly darker tone. Delving into Grey’s abusive childhood, viewers are given an explanation as to how this intelligent, well groomed man could have such different needs in the bedroom.
The sex (and there’s quite a bit) is more intense. Unfortunately, although titillating, the sex is over done. They could have either begun by alluding to the sexual encounter and slowly build the intensity and graphic nature to show a building of their trust in one another (my thoughts) or they could have started intensely and slowly backed off with the graphic images as their relationship transitioned from lust to love (my wife’s thought). Either option could have worked better than a periodic string of intense sexual encounters that really add little to the plot.
That said, one must commend Niall Leonard (and E.L. James) for making the distinction between love and lust. Using everyday struggles (career) and some nice fantasy (boating on a multi-million dollar yacht) builds a connection with the characters and their blossoming relationship.
In addition, when they finally commit to one another, Christian commits to Anna first, an important distinction to the story and their relationship.
It’s difficult to evaluate the chemistry between Johnson and Dornan since their characters are supposed to be struggling with one another. Johnson plays a nice “girl next door” and Dornan a passable playboy with passions, but together they become more than their individual characters.
“Fifty Shades Darker” will thrill fans of the book series. For those who are looking for a spicy “soft-core” romance on the big screen, this hits its target dead center. But for those looking for a memorable, meaningful story, this light, sexy romance will not satisfy.
I Am Not Your Negro
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I Am Not Your Negro

Genre: Documentary
Rating: PG-13
for disturbing violent images, thematic material, language and brief nudity.
Grade: B+ (Kent)/A (Lynn)
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert & Lynn Venhaus
The Plot:
Essayist, novelist, poet and social critic James Baldwin sent a 30-page treatment to his publicist for his next novel “Remember This House.” It was to be about his friends Medger Evers, Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but Baldwin died before he started the book. Director Raoul Peck recreates what he thinks that book would have outlined in the documentary “I Am Not Your Negro.”

Kent’s Take:
James Baldwin was an intelligent, reasoning man – prone to introspection rather than aggression. Educated and influenced by his teacher at a young age, Baldwin gained his initial impression of his place in society from Hollywood films through their portrayal of blacks. As he matured so did his understanding of his situation – his country, our country, had no place for him.
Baldwin’s essays quickly brought him notoriety and soon he was moving in circles with Malcolm X, being asked to write articles on his experiences with the Civil Rights Movement. The insightful perspective of his writings allowed him to engage in racial discussions with whites, making him a perfect representative for the Civil Rights Movement.
Using archival footage, director Raoul Peck tries to use Baldwin’s own words to describe, the problems and the perspective that Baldwin experienced during one of the most tumultuous times in our nation’s history.
This is a thoughtful and intellectual film. Baldwin and his fellow black academics (such as Lorraine Hansberry) looked deeply into the race problem, the various perspectives, and they analyzed various solutions, violent and non-violent. Baldwin’s thoughts on Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. and Medgar Evers are an insider’s view and help flesh out a more full picture of these civil rights icons.
Is this a documentary of James Baldwin or the Civil Rights Movement? Obviously, it is both, for Baldwin is forever linked to the movement through his insider essays and lectures.
Where this documentary loses its footing is in its organization and commitment to its author. While Peck worked hard to flesh out this film using Baldwin’s own words, there just wasn’t enough cohesion to keep the story consistent. Viewers may become a bit complacent watching this, simply because the theme of inequality is not driven home succinctly and clearly. When comparing this to “13th,” another fascinating documentary on race in America, we find “I Am Not Your Negro” to be less clear, concise and defined. Where “I Am Not Your Negro” is as much an essay on Baldwin as it is on race, “13th” ignites a compassion for the inequality that African Americans have continued to experience.
“I Am Not Your Negro” is a worthy documentary/biography about an academic during a time of action who helped define the Civil Rights Movement. And in so doing, defined the sad state of race in America.

LYNN’s Take:
Winner of the St. Louis Film Critics Association’s best documentary and Oscar-nominated for best documentary feature this year, “I Am Not Your Negro” is an insightful look at race in America through historical footage and pop culture.
What separates this film from countless documentaries addressing racial division is director Raoul Peck’s usage of acclaimed novelist James Baldwin’s words.
​Passages from his ​unfinished book, “Remember This House,” ​are​ narrated by Samuel L. Jackson in a thoughtful tone. Baldwin’s perspective in 1979 remains a powerful reflection of the 1960s civil rights era and prejudice.
Baldwin knew assassinated civil rights leaders Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Medgar Evers, and his personal knowledge adds poignancy to their efforts and reminds us how devastating their loss was.
Sometimes harsh and angry, the storytelling is hard-hitting. Baldwin’s dynamic way with words, his sharp observations, and his ability to intelligently address bigotry helps this film make its crucial points.
This documentary is one that should spark much needed discussion and possibly be a bridge to further understanding.
Peck took six years to put this film together, and his research is meticulous. You get a sense of urgency in his message.
This is one film that we won’t or can’t forget.
Gold
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Gold

Genre: Adventure/Drama
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Edgar Ramirez
Rating: R
for language throughout and some sexuality/ nudity
Grade: C+
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert
The Plot:
After the death of his father, Kenny Wells (Matthew McConaughey) takes over the Washoe Mining Company – and slowly watches it decline into a shadow of what it once was. With nothing but hope holding his company together, he gambles his final few bucks on flying to Indonesia to meet and form a partnership with Michael Acosta (Edgar Ramirez) a prospector with a theory on where the Indonesian gold is located.
Together they prospect deep in the Indonesian jungle, where, after weeks and weeks of no gold, they finally strike gold – and strike it big. Finding one of the largest gold deposits ever found, Kenny and Mike go from zeros to heroes as everyone from Kenny’s lawncare guy up to Wall Street investment firms scramble to get a piece of Washoe Mining stock. Yet, Kenny is reluctant to sell what he and Mike have built with pure sweat and blood as investors try to replace the Washoe name with their own.
As Kenny and Mike begin to lose control of the situation, they must remember that what is as important to a prospector as the gold, is the hunt for this elusive element.

Kent’s Take:
“Gold” is based upon the true story of Kenny Wells and Mike Acosta as they prospect for gold and investors.
Kenny is loud and brash coming across as a used car salesman. Mike is reserved and holds hidden knowledge in his even stare. Yet both are fueled by dreams of gold, dreams of success.
This uneven film struggles with consistency. The introduction and set-up of the story takes almost the entire first act of the film, leading to a jumbled second act as poorly defined investors lead us to the turning point of the film.
As the final act builds momentum, viewers are subjected to several false endings. Moments that cause us to stumble on the continuing story as we are thrown off balance.
Although the story meanders, it at least wanders in the right direction while the themes are strong enough and defined well enough that the narrative becomes more focused at the film’s conclusion.
The performances are adequate, giving us distinct characters, yet, not good enough to propel this story at a stronger pace.
“Gold” is a sauntering tale of two prospectors who dream like professionals, but prospect like gamblers. As their fortunes are gained and lost, they discover the two things that shine brighter than gold – love and friendship.
Julieta
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Julieta

Genre: Drama/Romance
Starring: Emma Suarez, Priscilla Delgado, Blanca Pares, Daniel Grao
Rating: R
for some sexuality/nudity. In Spanish with subtitles.
Grade: B
Reviewer: Lynn Venhaus
The Plot:
Grief drove a wedge between Julieta (Emma Suarez) and her daughter, Antia (Priscilla Delgado/Blanca Pares), as they dealt with the loss of Xoan (Daniel Grao), Julieta’s husband and Antia’s father. When Antia is 18, she abandons her mother, without a word of explanation. As Julieta searches for her, 25 years later, she finds out how little she knows about her daughter.

Lynn’s Take:
Acclaimed Spanish Director Pedro Almodovar, Oscar winner for the “Talk to Her” screenplay, has a way with women. His movies have focused on interesting, complex, strong women, and “Julieta” is no exception.
Only this time, it’s more film noir than comedic romp, and it’s a mysterious, fascinating tale. And completely humorless, which is quite a departure for Almodovar. But his signature touches remain – the film looks gorgeous and the musical score underlines the sorrow.
Emma Suarez is compelling as the adult Julieta, her pain deeply felt. As she writes a long letter to her lost daughter, really a memoir, the film flashes back to her life with fisherman Xoan.
Adrian Ugarde and Daniel Grao are equally engaging as the vibrant young lovers, whose journey has a number of melodramatic twists.
This mother and daughter story resonates, no matter in what language.
Split
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Split

Genre: Horror/Thriller
Starring: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy
Rating: PG-13
for disturbing thematic content and behavior, violence and some language.
Grade: B+
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert
The Plot:
When Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) and two schoolmates are abducted, they find that their captor, Kevin (James McAvoy) exhibits multiple personalities – now diagnosed as DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder).
As the girls attempt escape, Dennis, Patricia, Hedwig, Crumb, Barry and other personalities surface to help, console, frighten and torment the girls.
When some of Kevin’s personalities contact Psychiatrist Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley) asking for emergency appointments, Dr. Fletcher begins to suspect that a shunned personality may have surfaced to control Kevin – and then there are the personalities’ warnings of the arrival of the beast.

Kent’s Take:
Writer/ director M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, The Visit, The Village) has offered us a taut thriller that will keep audiences fascinated and at the same time, horrified.
Beginning fast and joylessly, Shyamalan spares no time ushering us into this dark cold mystery.
Always expect the unexpected with Shyamalan. Using violence as a covert ally, its sparse use is meted out in small meaningful packets. Instead of centering Kevin as the linchpin of the mystery, he shares the “spotlight” with Casey whom we soon discover is as much an enigma as Kevin.
Flashbacks (for Casey) and visits to the good doctor (for Kevin) reveal insights into their concurrent stories as one moves toward salvation, the other toward utter destruction.
What also sets Shyamalan apart from other thriller and horror writers is his component of thoughtful themes. In “Split” we learn that some who exhibit DID have shown remarkable differences among their personalities. Instances include a patient writing with each hand simultaneously, using different handwriting, and writing notes on two different topics. Dr. Fletcher poses the questions inquiring whether these patients have unlocked our brain’s potential, and whether these patients are actually a more advanced human than we are.
As this thriller spirals in on itself it creates a tight coil of tension and suspense, allowing one to become more entranced by James McAvoy’s performance. His multiple personalities are each distinct – disturbing in their frailty, unnerving in their violence and thoroughly unforgettable. The doe-eyed Anya Taylor-Joy splendidly keeps us guessing as to her motivations and fate.
This nail-biter shows that M. Night Shyamalan continues to hone his storytelling craft, offering us a beautifully disturbing thriller – including a striking cameo that can’t be missed.
20th Century Women
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20th Century Women

Genre: Comedy/Drama
Starring: Annette Bening, Greta Gerwig, Lucas Jade Zumann, Billy Crudup
Rating: R
for sexual material, language, some nudity and brief drug use.
Grade: A-
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert
The Plot:
It is the late 1970s and single parent Dorthea (Annette Bening) cobbles together a household of questioning and thoughtfulness. Son Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) struggles with his transition from adolescence to manhood as his mother’s frankness is both comforting and frustrating. Punk/New Waver Abbie (Greta Gerwig) struggles with her health and self image. Oddly intellectual William (Billy Crudup) is helping rehab Dorthea’s home in exchange for free room and board, while Jamie’s best friend Julie (Elle Fanning) tries to be “cutting edge” and mature as she sneaks into Jamie’s room each night.
As each struggle with hurdles in their lives, Dorthea uses every trick in her dated book to keep those around her motivated and united – to mixed effect.

Kent’s Take:
One of my sleeper hits of the award season, “20th Century Women,” is a thoughtful, funny, emotional coming-of-age gem. Director Mike Mills (“Beginners”) balances humor and drama using each to magnify the other to form not a perpetual motion machine, but a perpetual emotion machine.
Dorthea is the heart and soul of this collective, always shoring up her charges with words of wisdom or encouragement, yet her self-awareness tinges her character with a pinch of sadness knowing that the times they are a-changin’. Jamie struggles to find his way in an environment of mostly women. As his mother gives him an expanded freedom, he takes advantage of it. Abbie is the most interesting character in this film. Her struggles with cancer separate her from the others as she fights to stay positive as a young adult unable to look too far ahead. William is an enigma. His intelligence is obvious, but with the period, takes the form of a slightly off-center character whose heart is in the right place and fits perfectly with this mod group. And Julie is the most “traditional” character. Her reactions, attitudes and persona are dead-on with the character and helps to reinforce the period for viewers.
Mill’s story reminds me of one of my favorite films of all time “American Graffiti.” As viewers see the New Wave era on the horizon, the computer age set to explode and the table about to be set for the 21st century, the struggles of three generations surface to preface further struggles ahead. “American Graffiti” masterfully captures a dying era. Curt traverses his town as viewers witness a bygone time that seems to end (for Curt) as the dawn breaks. “20th Century Women” has a similar vibe with an underlying vein of sadness and nostalgia that is strengthened by the excellent acting performances.
“20th Century Women” will capture viewers with its excellent performances, memorable characters set in a bygone time of freedom, openness and innocence that is sorely missing today.
Silence
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Silence

Genre: Drama/History
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver
Rating: R
for some disturbing violent content
Grade: B
Reviewer: Lynn Venhaus
The Plot:
In 17th Century Japan, the feudal military government has banned Christianity and rids all Western influence.
Jesuit missionaries administer to hidden Christians. Two Portuguese priests, Father Sebastian Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Father Francisco Garupe (Adam Driver) travel to find their mentor, Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson), who is believed to have forsaken Christianity.

Lynn’s Take:
This difficult and challenging movie is a dense meditation on faith. Doubt, God’s silence in suffering, and the unbearable choice of apostasy vs. martyrdom are themes explored in a sometimes profound but often tedious work.
Directed by Martin Scorsese, also co-writer with Jay Cocks, this Jesuits’ attempt to convert Buddhists is adapted from Shusaku Endo’s 1966 novel, “Silence.”
Well-acted, standouts are Issei Ogata as the Inquisitor, Tadanobu Asano as Rodrigues’ interpreter, and Yosuke Kobozuka as the guide Kichijiro.
Driver and Garfield, who lost 50 and 40 lbs. respectively for these roles, are best in scenes together.
Visually stunning, with exceptional cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto and remarkable sets by Dante Ferretti, the film is flawed. Nearly three hours’ length includes intense torture – gruesome agony and extensive periods of repetitive hardships.
Paterson
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Paterson

Genre: Comedy/Drama
Starring: Adam Driver, Golshifteh Farahani
Rating: R
for some language
Grade: C
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert
The Plot:
Paterson (Adam Driver) is a Transit Authority Bus Driver in Paterson, New Jersey. He quietly rolls through life listening and observing. His loving wife, Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) seems to begin a new chapter or career each day, bubbling over with enthusiasm as their Bulldog, Marvin looks on with indifference. Paterson fills most of his waking moments writing poetry about the minutiae in his life. As life passes by, Paterson absorbs bits and pieces, giving back prose that someday may make others stop and enjoy the simplicity of life’s moments.

Kent’s Take:
“Paterson” is the latest film by director Jim Jarmusch, and follows the reserved path of everyday bus driver Paterson, whose routine brings him into contact with regular people and a simple life.
Jarmusch brings us an ode to poetry and life. As our world speeds up in almost every way, Paterson ignores the grind to follow a measured path – walking to work, stopping to enjoy a scenic view, listening to his wife’s new goals and ideas following the synchronicity of expression. Jarmusch uses speaking, singing, rapping, painting and writing as forms of expression in the film, but poetry is the star in this relaxed walk.
However, this film fails in bringing a balance to the narrative. To use a Trumpism, “Low-energy” Paterson seems impervious to life, living one that lacks drama, verve or spirit. Wife Laura is meant to inject that spirit, but instead magnifies his subdued nature.
This creates a film that moves too slowly (seemingly not at all), and lacks a cinematic fuel to propel it.
Using his poems as visual text on screen, we witness Paterson’s inspirations, yet those inspirations often take on the form of average things, such as his opening poem about the blue-tipped matches in his kitchen. Does this open up poetry to anyone? Of course. Would I want to read a poem about an athlete’s stinky sneakers? No.
This film will be loved by those who appreciate poetry. The extent of this critic’s poetry expertise begins and ends with, “There once was a man from Nantucket . . .” thus, the lyrical nature of this urban poetry loses its impact with me.
However,
My attempt at poetry appreciation
Has failed
For now
Have I given up? Will I try again?
Yes, maybe, I believe so
I will try again, if you will.
A Monster Calls
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A Monster Calls

Genre: Drama/Fantasy
Starring: Lewis MacDougall, Sigourney Weaver, Liam Neeson
Rating: PG-13
for thematic content and some scary images.
Grade: B (Kent), B+ (Lynn)
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert & Lynn Venhaus
The Plot:
Conor (Lewis MacDougall) is in a bad place, his mother is battling cancer, his father lives across the pond in the United States and he is being bullied everyday after school.
Escaping his prison of sadness through drawing, Conor summons a monster (voiced by Liam Neeson). Actually, it’s the lone yew tree in a nearby church graveyard. The monster tells Conor that he will relate three stories to the boy and, in return, he will tell the monster a fourth story that is the truth.
As his mother slowly declines, as the bullying continues unabated, his demanding grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) arrives, forcing Conor to live with her while his mother tries a final treatment.
As the monster’s stories progress, so does his mother’s condition, culminating in a truthful story from a hurting adolescent.

Kent’s Take:
“A Monster Calls” is a unique film that knows its identity but that identity falls between audiences. Seeming to be a children’s story of fantasy and monsters, this moving film is not for children. The adult themes create a stirring film of a boy’s struggle with stress and grief.
Conor is lonely and frightened. His mother is struggling in her battle with cancer, but won’t speak frankly with her son. His estranged father arrives to tell Conor not to count on him and his grandmother’s anxiety surfaces in aggressive ways.
As Conor begins hearing the stories from Monster, audiences are treated to multiple styles of gorgeous animation bringing his stories to vivid life. Stories of fallen kings, invisible men, dead sons, giants, dragons and an apothecary, each attempting to teach Conor a lesson.
This creative film certainly sets the table for an emotional finish and it definitely delivers. However, this simple story is a bit too straightforward. The characters tell us what they are doing instead of showing us, stripping subtlety out of the narrative.
The cast is excellent with MacDougall giving a memorable performance.
“A Monster Calls” may confuse potential viewers as to what demographic should be viewing this, but make no mistake, this fantasy is both an emotional whirlwind and a worthwhile trip to the cinemaplex.

Lynn’s Take:
This well-done film is a heart-tugging, emotional tempest.
Director J.A. Bayona, who drew a remarkable performance from young Tom Holland in the harrowing tsunami drama, “The Impossible,” sensitively handles the material.
He captures a warm and loving relationship between Conor and his mother, with a stunning, breakthrough performance from Lewis MacDougall and an always strong Felicity Jones.
Their tight bond is in stark contrast to the rigid grandma, played by Sigourney Weaver, who is fine, but uneven in British accent.
Liam Neeson capably voices the monster, and is in photos as the deceased grandfather.
Bayona smoothly blends animation and animatronics with the live-action to tell this compelling tale.
Novelist Ness wrote the screenplay, and has achieved a smart balance between the sweetness and the sadness.
Bring your tissues.
Lion
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Lion

Genre: True story, drama
Starring: Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman, Rooney Mara, Sunny Pawar, David Wenham
Rating: PG-13
for thematic material and some sensuality
Grade: B
Reviewer: Lynn Venhaus
The Plot: Based on a remarkable true story, Saroo is 5 years old when he and his revered older brother, Guddo, are separated. He winds up on a locomotive, which drops him off 1,000 miles away from his small village in India.

Saroo endures hardship in Kolkata (Calcutta) until adopted by a kind Australian couple, John and Sue Brierley.
Twenty-five years later, he searches for the family he lost, locating his hometown through Google Earth.

Lynn’s Take: Marked by strong performances, “Lion” is a gripping account of a life interrupted.

Dev Patel has never been better, capturing the anguish of Saroo, wanting answers to his past. As his adopted mother, Nicole Kidman is touching – although saddled with a horrible wig.

The real star, however, is young Sunny Pawar, a natural newcomer depicting the harrowing journey of a lost child. Unfamiliar with the language when he mistakenly arrives in a teeming metropolis, the boy’s sheer gumption, which turns into street smarts, is stunning.

Pawar is so compelling in the first chapter that the second half isn’t as riveting. Rooney Mara is wasted as Saroo’s supportive girlfriend. But get out your tissues for a doozy of a grand finale.
TOP 10 MOVIES OF 2016
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TOP 10 MOVIES OF 2016

Reviewer: Kent Tentschert & Lynn Venhaus
KENT’s Top 10 (Alphabetical)
“13th” – This documentary about the 13th Amendment may lack a solution to the presented problem, however the information, organization and passion shown for this important subject is riveting.

“20th Century Women” – This small movie creeps up on you. It hasn’t received much attention, but the story is heartwarming, the performances are memorable and it embraces viewers like a comfy chair.

“Arrival” – Sci-fi at its best. Fear mixed with a sense of discovery makes this film an emotional roller coaster and an unforgettable treat.

“Hell or High Water” – A modern western that introduces our heroes as villains and slowly turns the tables until audiences find themselves rooting for these new heroes. Some great performances make this a watcher.

“Jackie” – Beautiful, tragic, historical and emotionally packed. Portman is wonderful in her role as Jackie, but the cinematography and set designs are gorgeous and also worth the view.

“Kubo and the Two Strings” – Using stop-motion animation, this story of a young boy’s search for his family will bring smiles, laughs and tears as Kubo shows us courage and heart. A must see for the entire family.

“La La Land” – My favorite film of the year. I’m not a musical lover, but this gem wowed me with its simple story, honest grace and stunning direction. The top musical score will have you seat dancing and toe tapping throughout as this film gives us an old fashioned ending to an old fashioned romance.

“Manchester By The Sea” – If you suffer from depression, think twice before screening this downer. However, oft-times tragedy can be very compelling and here, it certainly is. Casey Affleck should win “Best Actor” Oscar for his strong nuanced performance.

“Moonlight” – Poetic, tragic and beautiful describes this story about a gay African-American boy growing up in the inner city. Great performances with a distinct sense of style.

“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” – Finally, a new Star Wars film that will re-ignite “The Force” in all of us. Great story, outstanding effects and offering traditional Star Wars battles and characters – hold on tightly!

Honorable Mentions: “Anthropoid,” “Captain America: Civil War,” “The Conjuring,” “Deadpool,” “Denial,” “Doctor Strange,” “The Girl On The Train,” “Gleason,” “Hacksaw Ridge” “Hail Cesar,” “The Handmaiden,” “Hidden Figures,” “Loving,” “Moana,” “Sing Street,” “The Witch,” “ Weiner.”

Lynn’s Top Ten: (Alphabetical)
“Hell or High Water” – With rich characters and crackling dialogue, a briskly told modern American tale blurs the scales of justice amidst a desolate dusty background. Masterful work from director David Mackenzie, screenwriter Taylor Sheridan and a dream cast including Jeff Bridges, Ben Foster, Chris Pine and Gil Birmingham.

“Hidden Figures” – A sentimental crowd-pleasing salute to three trailblazing women at NASA in the early 1960s will warm your heart and make you cheer. Math nerds and smart girls rule!

“Hunt for the Wilderpeople” – As a street kid and cantankerous old codger on the run in the New Zealand bush, Julian Dennison and Sam Neill are an interesting odd couple. This quirky comedy is fresh and laugh-out-loud funny.

“La La Land” – An innovative musical that transports you to a magical Hollywood, emphasizing the timeless appeal of hope, dreams and romance. Writer-director Damien Chazelle’s visionary precision is fully realized in Emma Stone’s and Ryan Gosling’s charismatic couple.

“Loving” – Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton are deeply moving as the Virginia couple who fought to live together in an interracial marriage, shooting down the last segregation law in the U.S. Writer-director Jeff Nichols shows their quiet courage in a thoughtful way.

“Manchester by the Sea” – Heartbreaking and gut-wrenching, writer-director Kenneth Lonergan’s masterfully constructed story of family tragedy and redemption features the most emotionally devastating performances of the year. So good, so sad – and unforgettable.

“Moonlight” – A haunting and lyrical work of profound power, the story of young gay black man Chiron is interestingly presented. Mahershala Ali gives one of the year’s best performances as father-figure Juan.

“Sing Street” – A charming ode to the transformative power of music. Writer-director John Carney freeze-frames an era’s joyous sounds in Dublin 1985 for a warm, witty coming-of-age tale.

“Sully” – Director Clint Eastwood cuts to the chase in this riveting account of the 2009 Miracle on the Hudson, spotlighting a true American hero.

“Zootopia” – Disney’s colorful kaleidoscope about a melting-pot metropolis has dynamic animation, clever characters and cheeky wit that works on both adult and child levels.

Honorable Mentions: “Doctor Strange,” “Elvis and Nixon,” “Everybody Wants Some!!,” “Eye in the Sky,” “The Girl on the Train,” “Finding Dory,” “The Hollars,” “Jackie,” “Midnight Special” and “Weiner.”
Jackie
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Jackie

Genre: Biography/Drama
Starring: Matalie Portman, Caspar Phillipson, Peter Sarsgaard
Rating: R
for brief strong violence and some language.
Grade: A- (Kent)/A- Lynn
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert & Lynn Venhaus
The Plot:
The inimitable Jackie Kennedy (Natalie Portman) struggles with her fears, trust and image after the assassination of her husband President Jack Kennedy (Caspar Phillipson). Following Jackie in good times and in bad, we discover that hopes and dreams for this country were alive and thriving in Kennedy’s “Camelot.” After the crumbling of the Kennedy administration, Jackie distinguishes herself with dignity and strength to uphold the Kennedy image.

Kent’s Take:
“Jackie” is an outstanding biography that reveals a balanced and personal story of the youngest First Lady and her struggles first to overcome her image as a flighty debutante and later as the widow weakened by grief.
Jackie broke the mold for First Ladies in the White House. As the most powerful family in the country at the time, entered the White House, the Kennedys were seen as American royalty by some and arrogant aristocrats by others – both were correct.
Jackie felt the pressures of those mantles as television audiences were drawn to her beauty, poise and presence. Even Jack and Bobby didn’t endure the same scrutiny as Jackie, as television was just blossoming into a media force. Jackie recognized its power and influence, but was also very fearful and controlling of the family image as seen through the camera lens and the written word.
This narrative uses the assassination as a pivot point for Jackie’s story. Prior to the tragedy, she is shown as a fearful, unsure First Lady as she learns the ropes with the press. Afterwards, she struggles with seemingly uncaring officials more concerned with establishing a quick transition to quell the ensuing national unrest. Jackie struggles with maintaining the Kennedy image. It was all they had left.
Portman is outstanding as Jackie. Her cadence, her accent and speech patterns are dead-on and consistent. As her Jackie begins to question her faith, her marriage and her self-worth – she transforms into the icon.
The moments right after the assassination are both gruesome and telling.
Peter Sarsgaard is excellent as a measured Bobby and broken brother to a fallen President. The sets, costumes editing and cinematography are stunning and will be discussed at the Oscars this year. The dialogue opens a doorway for audiences to step back in time to grasp a memory. The time, the era and societal parallels still echo today.
Finding a personal depth to Jackie’s struggles makes this film both a treat for the eyes and punch to the gut. Jackie’s trials become our trials in this memorable and emotional biography.

LYNN’s Take:
Natalie Portman’s searing portrait of an iconic figure is unforgettable in a powerful film that goes deeper than mere historical recreation.
This inside account of Jackie Kennedy’s White House years and the traumatic, defining tragedy is frank and unsentimental, adding a fresh perspective to an event that’s been revisited many times in film.
Director Pablo Larrain has a matter-of-fact style devoid of any frills, but has elevated production values with velvety cinematography, crisp editing, a haunting music score, and an elegant production design. The costumes, of course, are as stylish as one would expect.
Because of Portman’s ability to capture Jackie’s contrasts – vulnerable yet strong, smart yet dealing with crushing mental anguish – she humanizes a very private person.
She depicts the icon’s charm and grace organically, not just getting the voice, demeanor and physical carriage exactly right.
The supporting performers all give finely etched portrayals, but they mainly serve the leading lady.
“Jackie” isn’t the fairy tale version, but rather a vivid work on the scale of grand opera.
Elle
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Elle

Genre: Drama/Thriller
Starring: Isabelle Huppert
Rating: R
for violence involving sexual assault, disturbing sexual content, some grisly images, brief graphic nudity, and language. Subtitled, in French with english subtitles.
Grade: B (Kent), C (Lynn)
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert & Lynn Venhaus
The Plot:
A quiet afternoon in her flat, for Michéle Leblanc (Isabelle Huppert), turns violent when an intruder sexually assaults her, leaving her stunned and bleeding. Running a successful video game development company, Michéle is used to taking charge and controlling her life, but when the intruder begins sending cryptic texts to her, Michéle embarks upon a dark journey of discovery that will change her forever.

Kent’s Take:
“Elle” is a strange and utterly disturbing film of assault, control and sexuality.
Leave it up to the French to take a disturbing element (rape) and figure out a way to twist it into an unusual film of desire and control.
This is certainly not “50 Shades of Grey,” being more “50 seconds of terror.” Yet, as Michéle decides to attempt to take control of the situation as her attacker begins contacting her, she begins an unusual game of cat and mouse with her attacker.
Director Paul Verhoeven masterfully builds tension with a swift spike of anxiety as we first hear, then witness the assault. He then continues to build upon those fears by having the assailant continue to stalk the victim.
Where the film derails is in its assumption that the “twist” in the film adds a unique take to Michéle’s predicament – it doesn’t, in fact, if not for the odd ending, it would almost seem to offer an excuse for the assault – as a deviant sexual situation. Michéle’s attempts to control the situation and finally her “letting go” is indeed surprising, but for this critic, is not a good surprise.
Beautifully acted, Huppert’s Leblanc manages to create an intense and vulnerable experience for viewers all-the-while creating a remarkably strong lead character.
As this strange and unforgettable story concludes, audiences will find themselves with plenty to talk about as “Elle” leaves us with a lasting impression of questions and questionable answers.

LYNN’s Take:
Fancy trash from the director of “Showgirls” and “Basic Instinct,” “Elle” is an unsettling erotic thriller that perpetuates modern rape culture.
Apparently, I’m in the minority about this disturbing depiction of sexual assault and revenge fantasies by a strong woman character that could have only been written and directed by men.
Dutch provocateur Paul Verhoeven has directed a slick, suspenseful film that’s filled with clichés and letdowns. The attacker is revealed earlier than expected, and the narrative veers off into bizarre territory.
However, for all its off-putting content, the film is anchored by a fearless, mesmerizing performance from 63-year-old Isabelle Huppert.
Huppert’s chilling portrayal of a smart, stylish and selfish woman whose frosty and cruel demeanor never softens is virtuoso acting.
But the fact that Michelle founded a video game company that panders to angry young men who enjoy objectifying women doesn’t soothe the fury about what is the point here.
So, a woman earning money from sex and violence brings it all on herself? Not feeling better about the irony.
Adapting a 2012 book by Philippe Djian called “Oh…,” screenwriter David Birke has crammed much melodrama into Michelle’s complicated circle of unlikable people.
She has a worthless son, weak ex-husband, shallow lover who is her best friend’s husband (!?), needy neighbor with a super-religious wife, hedonistic mother and a despicable father incarcerated for mass murders. (Oh, is that all?)
Michelle is a cool customer on the outside but a damaged psyche on the inside. Her indifference is annoying as she tries to control her carefully manicured life. Yes, I know that’s the point.
But it doesn’t mean we have to buy into this strange, unsatisfying, unresolved, overly long and wildly over-praised exercise. (You think?).
Besides, the gratuitous and salacious sexual content is just icky.
Fences
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Fences

Genre: Drama
Starring: Denzell Washington, Viola Davis
Rating: R
for language throughout.
Grade: B
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert
The Plot:
Troy (Denzel Washington) is a garbage collector in the 1950s. His loving wife Rose (Viola Davis) is hardworking, loving and tolerates her husband’s playful ribbing.
Troy enjoys talking about his past as he drains a pint of gin on his back patio, while trying to teach his sons that earning your place in society is better than having it given to you.
As Troy’s decisions begin to have repercussions on everyone around him, his life begins to crumble.

Kent’s Take:
“Fences” is an adaptation from the critically acclaimed August Wilson stage play of the same name.
Witnessing both the struggles of an African American family in the 1950s as well as simply family drama, this electrified film crackles with energy.
Troy is a hardworking garbage collector who seeks to distinguish himself by aspiring to become the first black garbage truck driver in his company. Reminiscing about his past as a star baseball player, he mostly relives his glory days, projecting his bad experiences on more modern times as he tries to cling to a past that is no longer relevant to him.
The cast of this emotional film is excellent from the stars down to each supporting cast member. However, Washington and Davis elevate this film to an Oscar contender with their amazing turns. Washington’s Troy is a drunk, a bully and broken from a life with no luck and no breaks. His hard-nosed nature turns his entire family against him. Davis is the lynchpin of the story. She is the quiet, reasonable, loving wife who becomes the witness to her husband’s poor decisions.
Where this film falters is in its narrative. Adapting a stage play to the screen finds this story too talkative. Although the dialogue is outstanding and builds tension, the scenes are too static for film . One of the first rules of filmmaking is “Don’t say it, show it.” This also makes the film feel too long. The entire film takes place in front, in back or inside Troy and Rose’s house. The repetitive sets give the film a stage feel and mires the narrative.
“Fences” builds a universal American experience through good writing and great acting as Troy reveals his weaknesses to a family on the brink. As Troy would put it, “You’ve gotta take the crookeds with the straight.”
Sing
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Sing

Genre: Animation/Comedy/Family
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Garth Jennings
Rating: PG
for some rude humor and mild peril.
Grade: D+
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert
The Plot:
Koala bear Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey) is a struggling theater owner, avoiding creditors as he tries to save his sinking business. When his secretary Miss Crawly (Garth Jennings) makes a clerical error on his flyer advertising a singing competition, the community jumps at the chance, but as his finalists practice their performances, each of their struggles come back to effect Moon’s final shot at saving his theater.

Kent’s Take:
“Sing” is an animated feature from the creators of “Despicable Me” and “The Secret Life of Pets.” Buster Moon is a struggling businessman, his once booming theater has fallen into disrepair and his patrons have slowly stopped coming to his shows.
In an attempt to revive his waning business, Moon advertises a singing contest with a $1,000 prize, however, a clerical error pushes that prize to undeniable proportions.
This musical animated feature follows an ensemble cast of characters as each struggles to overcome some hurdle to become the performer they are meant to be.
Unfortunately, the story we are subjected to is both pedestrian and predictable. If you have watched “American Idol” you have seen a better version of this film. With characters so uninspired, they aren’t even clichéd, we are forced to follow a stay-at-home pig and a dancer pig, an arrogant mouse, an adolescent gorilla and a shy elephant. Since audiences know where this story is heading, it becomes difficult to root for animals who you know will ultimately succeed.
This would be a different review if the journey these creatures take was hilarious and/or unusual. It’s not, in fact, it is so inadequate that we don’t give a rat’s . . . well, you know where I’m going with this.
The one shining element in this forgettable film is the soundtrack. With upbeat, fun songs, performed by talented artists and actors, one can’t help but get caught up in the rhythms.
“Sing” is certainly a disappointing film, especially when compared to such great animated features like “Kubo and the Two Strings” and “Moana.” Although there are a few good laughs in this mediocre film, it is not enough to sustain a worthwhile film.
Passengers
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Passengers

Genre: Drama/Romance/Sci-fi
Starring: Chris Pratt, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Sheen, Laurence Fishburne
Rating: PG-13
for sexuality, nudity and action/ peril
Grade: C+
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert
The Plot:
Roused disoriented and dehydrated from deep stasis, passenger Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) discovers he has awakened early from his 120 year journey from Earth to a distant solar system – 90 years early.
All attempts to re-start his stasis pod fail, leaving Jim to a solitary fate – one of loneliness and boredom.
When he chances upon Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) deep in stasis, he begins to read her bio and view her video interviews.
Driven by his loneliness, he hatches a dastardly plan to revive Aurora, sentencing her to his same fate.
However, as their relationship transforms, so does the state of their floundering ship – forcing these two star voyagers to risk everything.

Kent’s Take:
“Passengers” is a story about life. A story about appreciating what is right in front of you, not what’s ahead. The metaphor of a ship travelling to a distant planet of beauty and opportunity works nicely as a setup for this romance.
Although this chameleon story changes its colors throughout – moving from light-hearted sci-fi to romance to action-adventure, the one consistency is the character-driven story.
Pratt and Lawrence breathe life into this “prudent” story. Lawrence’s writer Aurora is beautiful, innocent and fiery. She follows her famous father’s edict that to write exciting stories, one must live an exciting life. Pratt’s Preston is a simple man who loves working with his hands and looks for tangible results. Together, they help bring audiences into their heartbreak, their successes and failures.
Where this tale of “Whoa!” wavers is in it’s “safe” story. The science fiction in this film is simply a setting and setup. We never really learn anything about a future science that would have helped bring us into their world. The romance is predictable and lacks true passion (although Pratt and Lawrence elevate this), while the story itself lacks a “wow” moment that could have accelerated the plot.
When we discover the reason for Preston being pre-maturely awakened, it turns out to be something that doesn’t really play into these two star-crossed lovers’ story, it’s simply a device to launch into the climax – disappointing.
“Passengers” had the potential to be an outstanding sci-fi romantic adventure, but ended up relegating viewers to steerage with a faulty story trajectory.
Collateral Beauty
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Collateral Beauty

Genre: Drama
Starring: Will Smith, Kiera Knightly
Rating: PG-13
for thematic elements and brief strong language.
Grade: C
Reviewer: Lynn Venhaus
The Plot:
Ad executive, grieving over his 6-year-old daughter’s death, shuts down and can’t regain his mojo.
His partners intervene when his inability to work compromises their company. In a bizarre scheme, they hire actors to embody life’s three abstracts: Death, Time and Love.
Will this move shake Howard back to reality or prove his incompetence?

LYNN’s Take:
Only a person with a heart of stone would not be moved by a child’s tragic death, so in that regard, “Collateral Beauty” tugs at the heartstrings and tear ducts.
But this slick glossy version of Hollywood holiday inspiration is so blatantly manipulative and sappy that it fails to emotionally connect in any meaningful way.
What sells it at all is the quality of the cast, including two Oscar winners. Will Smith is the weakest link, even as a zombie-like recluse, but when your business partners are Kate Winslet, Edward Norton and Michael Pena, that’s a given.
Their characters, however – no surprise at this contrivance – have their own issues with Time, Love and Death. The actors – Helen Mirren, Keira Knightley and Jacob Latimore – raise more questions too.
The movie wraps up far too neatly, but with one twist too many, overshoots the landing.
La La Land
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La La Land

Genre: Comedy/Drama/Musical
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone
Rating: PG-13
for some language.
Grade: A
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert
The Plot:
Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is a struggling Jazz musician, determined to save his dying art. Mia (Emma Stone) is a struggling actress bouncing from audition to audition looking for her big break. As these two dreamers cross paths, they discover the wonders of achieving dreams together, but sometimes life gets in the way of a perfect romance.

Kent’s Take:
“La La Land” is an old fashioned musical with modern sensibilities. This gentle, rhythmic romance follows two passionate people full of determination, but short on luck – that is, until they start stumbling across one another.
Every once in a while a film comes along that is an instant classic. This is one of those films.
Director Damien Chazelle uses an artful eye to frame his film of love and loss. Each scene becomes a delicious morsel of filmmaking from the creative use of lighting to focus the scene, to the amazing use of color to define moods, emotions and foreshadow.
This euphonic film uses its music deftly. Sometimes it’s used to define Mia’s and Sebastian’s feelings, but it is also used to set up the environment in which these characters live, breath and love. As Mia and Sebastian trip the light fantastic through their story, we sashay alongside as dance partners in this ballad of life.
Where emotion is usually the result of a story’s moments, here, emotion becomes a willing sidekick to each scene – playing a larger role than normal. This emotional magnification is achieved by all the other elements of this film working in perfect unison.
The writing and dialogue are playful, funny and charming as Sebasian’s constant startles, stubbornness and charisma quickly charm audiences. Mia also carries an allure of both vulnerability and honesty that surfaces as we gaze into her knowing eyes.
This gem of a film will garner a lot of attention during the Oscars as audiences toe tap, smile and cry along with Mia and Sebastian as these two romantics move in unison to the music of life, love and “Oo La La – Land.”
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Genre: Action/Adventure/Sci-fi
Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Felicity Jones, Forest Whitaker, Diego Luna
Rating: PG-13
for extended sequences of sic-fi violence and action.
Grade: A-
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert
The Plot:
The seed of the destruction of the Death Star many years later, is planted firmly on a lonely planet. When Imperial forces give gifted scientist Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) no choice but to help them design and build the Death Star, his daughter Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) narrowly escapes captivity. Raised by extremist Saw Gererra (Forest Whitaker), Jyn learns to survive and protect herself as she grows to maturity.
When the Rebel Alliance learns of Jyn’s identity and whereabouts, they enlist her to get them an audience with Gerrera, but as Jyn and Rebel fighter Cessian Andor (Diego Luna) soon discover, a simple plan can become complex with the push of a button.

Kent’s Take:
“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” is upon us. Where some found last year’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” to be a suitable re-emergence of the Star Wars franchise, others found it to be simply tripe. We now find ourselves at a crossroads with a secondary story taking place between Star Wars Episodes 3 and 4.
“Rogue One” opens with a tragedy, builds tension with escalating action and concludes with a fitting ending. This fantastic film revives the original excitement I felt when watching “Star Wars Episode IV” as a middle schooler.
Director Gareth Edwards captures the spirit of this franchise with its sweeping landscapes and alien worlds in opposition with the very personal story that Jyn Erso undertakes. The Rebels and their bases sport earthy tones, grit, grime and wear and lends itself to a more working class, peasant notion, where the Empire’s antiseptic, clean, tech-heavy environments lend itself to a less emotional, more powerful and privileged status.
The Star Wars universe is expanded as well. Jumping between several planets and moons, audiences are treated to a worthy deepening of the Star Wars universe.
Furthering the fun, screenwriters Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy beautifully balance drama with lighter moments. The dialogue is snappy and meaningful. Many of the laughs come from droid K-2SO, a converted Imperial droid whose directness is perfect for flagging concepts for younger viewers, yet comes off as hilariously crass for adults.
As the story leads us throughout the galaxy, the tension and danger build, and soon becomes obvious that the traditional Star Wars battle is nigh. And that battle is like slipping on your favorite shirt, or the comfort of sipping hot chocolate after playing in the snow. It is both welcomed and updated with modern digital effects, heightening the experience.
The cast is driven by the strong story, giving excellent performances down throughout the secondary characters. I particularly loved Whitaker’s Gerrera who imbues a feeling of age and sadness in his small role. Jones also gives a strong performance that is nuanced and stronger than Daisy Ridley in “The Force Awakens.” Viewers are also treated to the usual aliens who don’t have or need speaking parts, they are just part of this world, a world we are fully brought into.
As we are stand at the crossroad of the Star Wars future, a new dawn is rising on this franchise, a series that has not only reached the stratosphere, but is now poised to scream well beyond it with “Rogue One” as a strong launching pad.
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