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American Animals
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American Animals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beirut

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love, Simon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2017 Oscar Picks

Reviewer: Kent Tentschert & Lynn Venhaus
BEST PICTURE
• “Call Me By Your Name”
• “Darkest Hour”
• “Dunkirk”
• “Get Out”
• “Lady Bird”
• “Phantom Thread”
• “The Post”
• “The Shape of Water”
• “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

KENT’S PICK: Nine worthy films. It’s difficult to compare apples to oranges. “Dunkirk”– Unforgettable, “Darkest Hour”– Compelling, “Lady Bird”– Eccentric, “The Shape of Water”– stylish, “Three Billboards...”– Winner.

Lynn’S PICK: I am sticking with “The Shape of Water,” for it’s fantasy, romance, visual effects, music, top-shelf cast and atmosphere. However, if “Lady Bird” won, I’d be OK with that.

BEST ACTOR
• Timothee Chalamet, “Call Me By Your Name”
• Daniel Day-Lewis, “Phantom Thread”
• Daniel Kaluuya, “Get Out”
• Gary Oldman, “Darkest Hour”
• Denzel Washington, “Roman J. Israel”

KENT’S PICK: Interesting list this year. Day-Lewis is a regular, like Streep in her category, but Oldman fully becomes Winston Churchill in this riveting film to fully win the Oscar.

Lynn’S PICK: Hands down, Gary Oldman in “Darkest Hour.” Not just because he looked like Churchill, and acted like the august British Prime Minister, but because he got the nuances right – he showed us the vulnerabilities.

BEST Actress
• Sally Hawkins, “The Shape of Water”
• Frances McDormand, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
• Margot Robbie, “I, Tonya”
• Saairse Ronan, “Lady Bird”
• Meryl Streep, “The Post”

KENT’S PICK: Miraculously, Streep is the weakest link in this list, not for her performance, but because her material wasn’t as strong. McDormand should win, but don’t count out Hawkins.

Lynn’S PICK: Sally Hawkins should win, but Frances McDormand will win for “Three Billboards,” and it’s a worthy performance to be recognized.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
• Willem Dafoe, “The Florida Project”
• Woody Harrelson, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
• Richard Jenkins, “The Shape of Water”
• Christopher Plummer, “All the Money in the World”
• Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

KENT’S PICK: Strongest list of the Oscars. Each actor deserves the prize. Harrelson and Rockwell may dilute one another’s votes, so Dafoe or Jenkins could sneak in for the win. I want Rockwell to win.

Lynn’S PICK: Sam Rockwell has been one of my favorite character actors for a long time, but in “Three Billboards” we see a truly layered performance, and his story arc as the racist cop who does the right thing is a good one. About time he gets recognized.

BEST SUPPORTING Actress
• Mary J. Blige, “Mudbound”
• Allison Janney, “I, Tonya”
• Lesley Manville, “Phantom Thread”
• Laurie Metcalf, “Lady Bird”
• Octavia Spencer, “The Shape of Water”

KENT’S PICK: Talented, diverse group of ladies. This Oscar could go several ways. I loved Janney in “I, Tonya,” and think she will “skate” through with the honors.

lynn’S PICK: I want Laurie Metcalf to win badly – the look on her face when Lucas Hedges talks about them living across the tracks – for her terrific work as the mom in “Lady Bird,” but it’s Allison Janney’s gold-medal performance as the horrible mom in “I, Tonya” that gets the gold statue here.

BEST Directing
• Christopher Nolan, “Dunkirk”
• Jordan Peele, “Get Out”
• Greta Gerwig, “Lady Bird”
• Paul Thomas Anderson, “Phantom Thread”
• Guillermo del Toro, “The Shape of Water”

KENT’S PICK: Although the list forgot my favorite director (Denis Villenueve), this list is a strong offering of diverse films and genres. del Toro will win for “The Shape of Water.”

lynn’S PICK: Guillermo del Toro, for bringing such a visionary film as “The Shape of Water” to life. Although, if Greta Gerwig or Jordan Peele would win, I’d be very happy.

BEST Adapted Screenplay
• “Call Me By Your Name”
• “The Disaster Artist”
• “Logan”
• “Molly’s Game”
• “Mudbound”

KENT’S PICK: Notice only one of these films is up for Best Picture. “Call Me By Your Name,” and “The Disaster Artist” are my frontrunners with “The Disaster Artist” winning by a nose.

lynn’S PICK: “The Disaster Artist” turned an only-in-America story into one of the best comedies about movie-making ever, and should be acknowledged.

BEST Original Screenplay
• “The Big Sick”
• “Get Out”
• “Lady Bird”
• “The Shape of Water”
• “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

KENT’S PICK: Stacked! Stacked! Stacked! Each one should win something. Regardless of who wins, please watch all of these films. “I want my top film of the year to win, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”

Lynn’S PICK: “Lady Bird” or “Get Out” should win, but it might be “The Shape of Water.”

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
• “The Boss Baby”
• “The Breadwinner”
• “Coco”
• “Ferdinand”
• “Loving Vincent”

KENT’S PICK: This is a “no brainer,” “Coco” will win and deservedly so, however, “Loving Vincent” is so unique, this film is also a “must see” feature.

Lynn’S PICK: Oh, the wonders of ‘Coco.” What a beautiful film from Pixar – stunning visuals and a story with great heart. I cried a bunch. “Remember Me” is an unforgettable song, and my pick in that category too.

Visual Effects
• “Blade Runner 2049”
• “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”
• “Kong: Skull Island”
• “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”
• “War for the Planet of the Apes”

KENT’S PICK: I enjoyed almost every film in this list. But “War for the Planet of the Apes” and “Blade Runner 2049” lead the pack. “Blade Runner 2049” is a stunning film – and better win.

Lynn’S PICK: Nothing soars above “Blade Runner 2049” and this one is not only state-of-the-art but jaw-dropping.
Game Night
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Game Night

Genre: Action/Comedy/Crime/Mystery
Starring: Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Kyle Chandler
Rating: R
for language, sexual references and some violence.
Grade: B
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert
THE PLOT:
Annie (Rachel McAdams) and Max (Jason Bateman) are husband and wife, highly competitive and love game nights with their friends.
When Max’s brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) arrives back in town, he hijacks their game night and Max’s self-esteem.
Yet, game night will soon take on a life of its own when Max and Annie and their game night pals find themselves mixed up in a real game of danger and intrigue.

Kent’s Take:
“Game Night” is the latest offering from the people who brought us “Horrible Bosses.” “Horrible Bosses” yanked audiences into a hilariously raunchy, crude story of three bumbling men. “Game Night” invites viewers into an innocuous group of fun-loving couples to reveal their problems and solve them as the night unfolds. Although that may sound tame, it’s anything but. Filled with funny people, this story is well written and is paced perfectly.
Writer Mark Perez balances innocence with corruption, love with deceit and betrayal, and danger with family values. As the narrative reveals the ridiculousness of this escapade, it quickly pulls back on the reins to temper the story with a punch of reality.
In this laugh-out-loud comedy the game pieces are more important than the win. We quickly fall in step with these lovable characters as their night vaults out of control in the most entertaining ways.
Although the supporting cast energizes this film with their enthusiastic performances, McAdams and Bateman skillfully carry this film. McAdam’s supportive Annie uses her determination to buoy their relationship, while Bateman’s Max plays the straight-man, the everyman, the hilarious victim.
As “Game Night” reveals its twists, the adventure spins to a dizzying climax to finally settle into a predictable and welcomed conclusion.
Annihilation
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Annihilation

Genre: Sci-fi/Fantasy/Thriller
Starring: Natalie Portman, Oscar Isaac, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez and Tuva Novotny
Rating: R
for violence, bloody images, language and some sexuality
Grade: A (Kent)/A-(Lynn)
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert & Lynn Venhaus
THE PLOT:
The Earth was hit by a small meteor, that meteor has formed an area we call The Shimmer and centers around a lighthouse.
Teams have been sent in – none have returned. That is, until Kane (Oscar Isaac) returns disoriented, clouded, changed.
The next team sent in is all female and has a soldier (Tuva Novotny), paramedic (Gina Rodriguez), a physicist (Tessa Thompson), a doctor (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and biologist Lena (Natalie Portman), who is Kane’s wife.
What Lena and her team experience in The Shimmer will change them and us forever.

KENT’s Take:
“Annihilation” is the next sci-fi offering from writer/director Alex Garland who brought us the critically acclaimed “Ex Machina” (2014).
We know immediately that Lena lives to the end of this story for she is being interviewed by government scientists in HAZMAT suits – she exhibits memory loss, time gaps, disorientation. Immediately, audiences are thrown off balance by the alien presence and kept reeling with our inner questions.
The stark nature of this story strips it down to basics. Characters mostly exhibit negative emotions, sadness, guilt, fright or anxiety. The only moments of happiness are in flashback.
The settings are barren and somber with a monochrome modern design, yet The Shimmer is colorful, naturalistic and beautiful in an alien way – opposite to what one would imagine. Garland also foreshadows this story with the soundtrack. The music certainly reflects and helps create a mood as it transitions from a relaxed folk-rock to a tense alien digital score.
This masterful film is disturbing and riveting. One cannot help but watch as this all-woman team unravels. Each member has either a reason to join this dangerous/ suicide mission or no reason not to.
Their sadness, desperation, guilt or scientific sense of exploration fuels the dynamic of the mission and how it plays out.
The cast is excellent with Jennifer Jason Leigh giving a perfectly subdued performance, but Portman’s driven, guilt-ridden Lena strikes a nerve – charging audiences with her determination.
This story balances action with its psychological tension, driving viewers deeper into their seats as these scientists and soldiers delve deeper into The Shimmer.
“Annihilation” is hard sci-fi at its best as this unusual story gives us enough answers to satisfy, but leaves us with enough questions to ponder.
Lynn’s Take: Writer-director Alex Garland is a visionary, as we first took big notice in “Ex Machina” in 2015. Yes, his work is strange – but breathtaking in its boldness. He had me at the “28 Days” movies, which he wrote. Shivers.

He is masterful at spinning a weird but convincing and fascinating tale, teasing with an unexplained phenomenon, adding human conflict and danger, throwing us a curve or two – or six, and seamlessly integrating eye-popping visual effects that express wonder.

And horror. Frazzled nerves are omni-present in “Annihilation,” the same feeling of dread evoked in “Alien” and “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (original and 1978 remake).

Garland has adapted the first of Jeff VanderMeer’s three books, “The Southern Reach Trilogy,” and it does feel like we’re just getting started, that more chilling developments await.

With nods to “Predator” and the futuristic elements of “The Fifth Element” in the mix, he keeps us on edge about what we think we know. The eco-chamber of horrors inside the Shimmer erupts in icky creature attacks that leave the crew shaken, doubting their sanity and terrified about what is happening inside their bodies. The 'found footage' additions help advance the ambitious plot.

The women are a smart unit, with Jennifer Jason Leigh playing it straight for a change, as a psychologist, and Gina Rodriguez in her usual tough-chick role, adding more bombast. Tessa Thompson and Tuva Novotny are the other half of the sympathetic quartet.

The lynchpin is Natalie Portman, now 36, whose maturation in grown-up roles is becoming more impressive with each film. As Lena, she’s strong yet vulnerable, and yes, complicated. But she seizes the screen with palpable fear, fright, resilience and devotion in every scene.

Her mesmerizing character’s drive depends on Oscar Isaac’s brief flashbacks as a loving husband whose call of duty intercedes in their relationship. The depth he achieves in fleshing out the imperiled special ops soldier Kane is remarkable, affecting our viewpoint in only a few scenes.

While some moviegoers will see this challenging film as a head-scratcher, others will delight in its refusal to spoon-feed the audience, giving us tidbits to chew on and savor throughout, and long after the credits roll.

And if you think Crosby Stills Nash and Young’s “Helplessly Hoping” was an innocuous choice to create a happy home atmosphere, think again. Oh, that cagey Garland. I can’t wait to see what he has next for us behind the curtain.
Black Panther
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Black Panther

Genre: Action/Adventure/Sci-fi
Starring: John Kani, Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Daniel Kaliyah, Sterling K. Brown, Forest Whitaker
Rating: PG-13
for prolonged sequences of action violence, and a brief rude gesture.
Grade: A (Kent) A (Lynn)
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert & Lynn Venhaus
THE PLOT:
Following the unexpected and tragic death of his father King T’Chaka (John Kani), T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) overcomes his challengers to become King of Wakanda and Black Panther.
To the outside world, Wakanda is a third world country, but in reality, it is a more advanced civilization than our own. What sets Wakanda apart from everyone else is Vibranium, a unique substance only found in Wakanda.
Some close to King T’Challa want Wakanda to share its technology and Vibranium to help others around the world. However, T’Challa already knows what misuse of Vibranium can do.
When tradition and technology meet bloodlines, T’Challa will discover the true meaning of being a leader.

Kent’s Take:
“Black Panther” will surprise many people. The Black Panther in “Captain America: Civil War” was an interesting addition to the Avengers, but had such a small role he became somewhat forgettable. This film will change everything.
Opening the film as a confident Playboy-Prince, T’Challa exits as a respected and wise king – an impressive feat for an action film.
Themes of inequality, spirituality, family and hope fuel this action-packed film.
Writer/Director Ryan Coogler captures the spirit of African culture and heritage and uses its beauty and strength to create a Marvel film as unique as The Guardians of the Galaxy.
Coogler takes the themes of racism and oppression and flips them to create an inclusive story of hope for everyone. Black Panther himself is not a wondrous superhero, but the culture and the man behind the mask is – an important distinction.
The all-star cast is perfect in each role, using the beauty of African cultures and meshing them into a proud future. Michael B. Jordan as Erik Killmonger is a strong villain (with the help of a buff Andy Serkis), mean and motivated, but his perspective is understandable and garners viewers’ sympathy as truth reveals all.
Danai Gurira (Michonne from “The Walking Dead”) gives a strong performance as warrior Okoye, while Chadwick Boseman sets the tone and depth as T’Challa. Boseman’s performance is the balancing element throughout the film offering a superhero with heart, strength and intelligence.
The special effects are fantastic, adding an additional layer of wonder to this meaningful story as Wakanda comes to life technologically, emotionally and culturally.
“Black Panther” is both a memorable Marvel film and a Marvel-ous set up for the upcoming “Avenger’s: Infinity War.” This strong story uses its elements efficiently, creating a new legend that is a modern Marvel.

LYNN’s Take:
Much will be made of how groundbreaking this event film is, and yes, it is, but “Black Panther” is more than its hype as the first black superhero movie.
First and foremost, it is a meticulously crafted origin story, and fans of the Marvel Comics will enjoy the Easter eggs, but even if you do not know any background, you can follow this tale.
The natural, majestic beauty of Africa shimmers, as Rachel Morrison, the first woman cinematographer nominated for an Academy Award (“Mudbound”), focused on visual splendor.
The visual effects are seamless, and the film’s swift and culturally-infused rhythm is noteworthy.
Savvy director Ryan Coogler brings a fresh perspective, steeping the film in customs and heritage.
Family is a major emphasis, and Coogler presents the rich-in-resources Wakanda as a very special place, one that instills pride and is worth saving. The panoramic vistas are breathtaking.
The cast is deep with talent, and the actors are currently heavy-hitters — mesmerizing Chadwick Boseman is noble as T’Challa/Black Panther; Michael B. Jordan, in his third film with Coogler, is all muscle and attitude as outsider prince Killmonger; Daniel Kaluuya, Oscar nominee for “Get Out,” is conflicted ally W’Kabi; and St. Louis native and two-time Emmy winner Sterling K. Brown is Wayward son N’Jobu. Oscar winner Forest Whitaker is the Wise Zuri.
However, the women are a force to be reckoned with, and that is exhilarating.
From the fierce committed warriors Ayo (Florence Kasumba) and Okoye (Danai Gurira), to T’Challa’s wingmen Oscar winner Lupita N’yongo as Nakia and Letitia Wright as brilliant scientist Shuri, to regal Angela Bassett as Queen Ramonda, the women demonstrate strength and resilience.
In other notable roles, Martin Freeman plays against type as CIA agent Everett K. Ross, while versatile Andy Serkis is imposing villain Ulysses Klaue.
Of course, it’s a set up for the next film, and a tease for “The Avengers: Infinity War,” But you must stay for the additional scene after the first batch of credits, and don’t leave until you see the second scene that provides an interesting epilogue.
The Ballad of Lefty Brown
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The Ballad of Lefty Brown

Genre: Western
Starring: Bill Pullman, Peter Fonda, Kathy Baker, Diego Josef, Tommy Flanagan, Jim Caviezel
Rating: R
for violence and some language.
Grade: B (Kent)
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert
THE PLOT:
When cowboy Lefty Brown (Bill Pullman) witnesses the murder of his longtime friend and newly elected Senator Edward Johnson (Peter Fonda), he is determined to find his killer and see justice meted out.
Returning to Johnson’s farm, his widow Laura (Kathy Baker) accuses him of being a hanger-on as Lefty is uneducated and a bit slow.
With no help, no confidence and little hope of success, Lefty sets out on the trail of a killer.
As his journey progresses, Lefty finds a tenderfoot named Jeremiah (Diego Josef) and U.S. Marshall Tom Harrah (Tommy Flanagan). Together, this unlikely trio discovers a hard truth about the open range.

Kent’s Take:
“The Ballad of Lefty Brown” is an old fashioned western, with cowpokes, dastardly villains and an unlikely hero.
Lefty Brown is slow on the uptake, but for 40 years Senator Johnson (then sheriff Johnson) had been riding with Lefty, upholding the laws of the Montana Territory. The Senator’s death sends Lefty into a focused determination driven by his friend’s dedication to him. When Tom Harrah and Jimmy Bierce (Jim Caviezel), Lefty’s and Senator Johnson’s old riding partners, show up the story kicks into overdrive as this plot begins taking on a life of its own.
With open vistas and gritty detail, this film reminds me of “Unforgiven.” The hard life on the range is deftly shown while the razor’s edge between life and death becomes very evident as bullets begin flying. Add to this strong themes of revenge and justice and you have a traditional and welcome western yarn.
While almost every character in the film pokes fun at Lefty for his cowardice, his slow nature, or his quiet dedication, he has the last laugh. Lefty’s friends, Tom, Edward and Jimmy are frontier legends, as their exploits are detailed in Dime Novels of the time. While Jeremiah fawns over Tom, he teases Lefty for having no part in the legend. Later, Jeremiah realizes that those Dime Novels leave out the truth, that most of the time, his heroes were scrambling for their lives, hightailing a retreat or skulking away for survival. Later, when Jeremiah is in need, only Lefty comes to his aid.
This entertaining tale gives Bill Pullman a meaty role. His aging range man is sincere, and has something that few in this film display – heart. The supporting cast gives excellent performances, with Flanagan and Caviezel distinguishing themselves in their roles.
“The Ballad of Lefty Brown” hits a true note as four former lawmen are changed by the times to meet a lawless end.
Film Stars Don't Die In Liverpool
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Film Stars Don't Die In Liverpool

Genre: Biography/Romance/Drama
Starring: Annette Bening, Jamie Bell, Julie Walters
Rating: R
for language, some sexual content and brief nudity.
Grade: B (Lynn)
Reviewer: Lynn Venhaus
THE PLOT:
Known for sultry femme fatale roles, Gloria Grahame (Annette Bening) was a va-va-voom actress who peaked in the 1950s, winning a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for “The Bad and the Beautiful.”
By the time she met young struggling actor Peter Turner (Jamie Bell) in a British flat in 1978, she had four ex-husbands, four children, few movie roles and worked mostly on stage. They fell head-over-heels for each other, but did not last.
The film, based on Turner’s memoir, chronicles their complicated relationship and makes a point that happiness seemed elusive for Grahame, who was desperate for love and attention, insecure and fearful of aging.
Dying of cancer at age 57, she turned to Peter’s working-class family, wanting his mother Bella (Julie Walters) to care for her.

Lynn’s Take:
The film has only a smidgeon of glamour, presenting more of the harsh reality of an actress no longer valued by Hollywood. The clichés would sink such a film in the hands of less capable performers, but Bening and Bell are a formidable pair.
Bening, of course, is tailor-made for this role. Affecting a breathy, sexy voice, Bening projects a vulnerability but also a strong-willed demeanor.
Bell, who endeared in his first movie “Billy Elliot” and was last seen on the AMC series “Turn,” delivers one of his best performances – mature and emotionally charged.
Julie Walters, sublime in “Billy Elliot” as the dance teacher, plays Bell’s earthy straight-talking mother here.
Director Paul McGuigan, who helmed both the clever “Lucky Number Slevin” and the hot-mess “Victor Frankenstein,” opted not to flesh out the characters more, which is unfortunate, because we needed more than merely scratching the surface.
But he does provide enough poignant details for us to sympathize with the believable lovers.
Of note is the gritty feel of Liverpool contrasted with the sunny but shallow California lifestyle. Elvis Costello’s music score has a bittersweet edge.
The story is sad, but the performances are bright spots.
Fifty Shades Freed
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Fifty Shades Freed

Genre: Drama/Romance/Thriller
Starring: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Eric Johnson
Rating: R
for strong sexual content, nudity and language.
Grade: C-
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert
THE PLOT:
Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) and Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) are married in a whirlwind ceremony and whisk off to Europe for an “active” honeymoon.
When Anastasia’s former boss Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson) begins threatening and attacking the Greys, Christian attempts to control the situation by trying to convince Anastasia to stay at home. But Anastasia refuses, forcing the newlyweds to confront their differing opinions and strong personalities while establishing open communication. Yet, their rocky relationship will be tested as Hyde has much more up his sleeve for the Grey family.

Kent’s Take:
“Fifty Shades Freed” is the third installment in the “Fifty Shades” series. As Anastasia’s and Christian’s relationship has been defined in the first film, deepened in the second and matured in the third, it is assumed that the viewer’s tastes and sophistication has followed along.
Unfortunately, the quality of the stories has deteriorated through this process. Where the first film dealt with a blooming relationship (especially the sex), the next film shifts toward the rest of their relationship (especially the commitment part). The third film makes an attempt at a thriller, assuming danger will drive these two lovers together.
Playing like a soap opera with great sets, this predictable, uninspired and disappointing narrative never builds tension and more importantly doesn’t make us care for the characters. Christian is a spoiled, immature man-child who has always gotten his way. When Anastasia begins bucking (literally and figuratively) his edicts, he throws temper tantrums and “punishes” her.
Since the tension is never really built into the story, the moments when these two newlyweds explore their sexual desires disrupts the pacing of the film – interrupting the narrative flow.
What a more involved plot also reveals is the limitations of these two actors. Whether it be from poor writing, lack of chemistry between Johnson and Dornan or simply bad performances, these two actors struggle with their characters’ emotions.
The tagline for this film states “Don’t miss the climax.” As audiences search for their “happy ending,” Anastasia is the only one who doesn’t miss hers, as she and Christian struggle to sell a relationship based on control. Wrapping up this trilogy may be bittersweet for fans, but is a welcome arrival for the rest of us.
I, Tonya
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I, Tonya

Genre: Biography/Comedy/Drama
Starring: Margot Robbie, Allison Janney, Sebastian Stan
Rating: R
for pervasive language, violence and some sexual content/nudity.
Grade: B+/B+
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert & Lynn Venhaus
THE PLOT:
Olympic figure-skater Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) could have been known as the first woman to land a triple axel in competition. Instead, the one-time national champion and world medalist lives in infamy because of a 1994 bizarre assault on her teammate Nancy Kerrigan.
“I, Tonya” chronicles Harding’s rough upbringing in Portland, Ore., troubled marriage to Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan) and difficult relationship with her prickly mother LaVona Golden (Allison Janney).

Kent’s Take:
“I, Tonya” is the wildly entertaining story based on the real trials and tribulations of Tonya Harding and her band of misfit idiots.
Harding grew up under the alcohol-soaked tutelage of her unrelenting mother LaVona Golden (Allison Janney) who took pleasure in berating her daughter in spite of her successes. Despite the poor upbringing, Tonya excelled at figure skating and was the first woman to land a triple axel.
Meeting Jeff Gillooly, she escaped one abuser to land in a relationship with another.
Filmed in a documentary style, this fictional retelling captures the innocence, vulnerability and abuse that Harding endured throughout her life. The attack on Nancy Kerrigan (Caitlin Carver) had little to do with Harding. Yet, she bore the brunt of the blame as her husband, his delusional friend, and those who actually perpetrated the attack, were barely punished.
Breaking the fourth wall, this film shrugs off convention to create a funny and tragic biography. Its tongue and cheek nature belies the sad truth of Harding’s relentless abuse and the media’s misdirected blame on Harding as the ring leader of the Kerrigan attack.
Harding was always athletic, but struggled to fit into both worlds. Her mother never allowed her to feel comfortable, and due to her unending practice schedule, never had any friends. Within the skating community, she was seen as poor white trash by her fellow skaters and their parents. Judges were looking for “proper” representatives for the U.S. at International events – Harding and her coarse mother were certainly not those people.
The performances are outstanding. Although Robbie is too comely to represent Harding, her performance transforms her into the 1990s pariah. Allison Janney is remarkable as LaVona Golden. Her vulgar turn as Harding’s uncaring mother has already earned her a Golden Globe and she has been nominated for an Oscar, too.
The tone of the writing is wonderful, flavoring the narrative with tragedy and spicy language. If Kerrigan is a diamond in the rough, Harding is the rough in the diamond. No matter how tailored her outfits, how stylish her hair, no matter how many triples she lands, she will always be Tonya Harding – the poor girl from the wrong side of the tracks.
This is certainly a cautionary tale. As those around Harding suck her dry of dignity and self-respect. She believed that fame would solve her problems – offering love, power and understanding, but most know that celebrity is rarely fulfilling.
“I, Tonya” is a microcosm of this country. Building the belief that anyone can succeed with hard work and a little luck, but we are also a country that loves to watch our heroes crash and burn. Harding’s fall was one of those first sensational fireballs. As Harding so appropriately puts it, “Everyone has their own truth and life does whatever the f _ _ k it wants.” This hilarious tragedy will draw viewers into its web and spit you out a changed person – one who may have greater sympathy for a woman abused, scorned and railroaded throughout her moment in the spotlight.

LYNN’s Take:
Brassy and bold, “I, Tonya” is an outrageous take-no-prisoners look at a notorious chapter in American sports scandals.
Anchored by Oscar nominees Robbie and Janney’s gutsy performances, the film breaks the fourth wall with plenty of attitude. Adding farce to the storytelling ensures that this is not a typical biopic. But then Tonya Harding wasn’t a conventional ice princess.
Uneducated, foul-mouthed and feisty, Tonya’s natural ability and relentless drive turned her into a world-class skater, but her fight for honor was for naught, as not-too-bright associates carried out a botched plan to harm a competitor. Kerrigan wound up America’s princess while Harding’s career was ruined.
Screenwriter Steven Rogers digs into class, professional sports biases and complicated relationships as this unusual tale unfolds, and director Craig Gillespie emphasizes the absurdities.
This entertaining only-in-America snapshot captures a young girl’s rocky ascent into the rarified air of elite ice skaters and her spectacular downfall that we saw played out in a media frenzy.
After this up close and personal account, can we ever watch the Olympics the same again?
Hostiles
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Hostiles

Genre: Adventure/Drama/Western
Starring: Christian Bale, Wes Studi, Rosamund Pike
Rating: R
for strong violence and language.
Grade: A- (Kent) B+ (Lynn)
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert & Lynn Venhaus
THE PLOT:
In 1892, legendary army Captain Joseph J. Blocker (Christian Bale), is assigned his final mission before retirement. Blocker is ordered to escort Cheyenne Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) and his family across the Midwest to tribal lands in Wyoming. The chief has killed several of Blocker’s friends, so Blocker wears his anger as a badge of honor especially while around his former enemy.
When Blocker’s party chances upon a settler’s farm burned by Sioux Indians, they find survivor Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike). As they journey on, the Sioux pursue Blocker’s party, forcing Blocker to choose between fighting an elusive enemy undermanned, or fighting alongside a former enemy whom he despises.

Kent’s Take:
The title for this smart film would lead one to believe that it is a “rock-em-sock-em” western with plenty of conflicts – arrows and bullets zipping through the air. Although there are fights, this is also a quiet introspective film.
Writer/director Scott Cooper brings a skillful eye to the story, using the wide open vistas of the prairies to create a sense of natural beauty as well as alluding to the smallness of humans in the grand scheme of nature, and the life and death struggles in the empty spaces of 19th century America.
Captain Blocker is a military legend, he has survived one of the most brutal eras in American history – the Indian Wars on the frontier. His 20 years of service has transformed him into a brooding, broken man feeding upon a hatred that burns within him like a white hot ember.
Blocker seethes with emotion as he travels with his enemy. Yet, as he comes to rely on Yellow Hawk and his family as tentative allies, he begins to understand his Indian charges, their motives and eventually their perspective.
Accented with breathtaking cinematography, this gritty, tension-laced story balances beauty and violence with rugged survival and discipline as Blocker leads Yellow Hawk to his tribe’s sacred ground.
Bale, Studi and Pike give strong performances as each distinguish their personas as real people with hostiles as allies, persuers and inner demons.
“Hostiles” offers a graphic look at frontier life, filled with danger, struggle and eventually – forgiveness.

LYNN’s Take:
“Hostiles” is a breathtakingly beautiful-looking film that contrasts with the graphic violence of the period western, which makes its harsh revisionist look at our past even more poignant.
The frontier was a brutal place in 1892, but it still fueled dreams of a better life as Americans sought a stake in the West. Now that history has taught us the real stories about Native American territory, we think differently about that time. But in the 19th century, it was a bloody war, and even the survivors were scarred.
Writer-director Scott Cooper (“Crazy Heart”) delves into the very meaning of humanity, and frames it in the context of this violent era. It’s superbly crafted storytelling, with Cooper very specific in defining time and place.
An intense Christian Bale anchors the film in a haunting performance, conveying this Army officer’s conflicts about duty, faith, leadership and compassion in a moving way.
The entire cast is first-rate, with Wes Studi exceptional as the very spiritual and proud Chief Yellow Hawk. (Do not know why he didn’t make the supporting actor cut). The beautiful Rosamund Pike is affecting as a woman devastated by tragedy, but keeps going. The always riveting Ben Foster is in his element in a brief role as a disgraced officer. Jesse Plemons, Peter Mullan and Timothee Chalamet offer solid support as young soldiers just doing their job.
Through panoramic vistas and the awe-inspiring views of big-sky country, cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi has created a stunning palette that enhances this unforgettable drama.
12 Strong
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12 Strong

Genre: Action/Drama/History/War
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Navid Negahban, Michael Pena
Rating: R
for war violence and language throughout.
Grade: C
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert
THE PLOT:
Just weeks after 9/11/2001, the U.S. military sends a 12 man unit of Green Berets into Afghanistan.
Led by Captain Mitch Nelson (Chris Hemsworth), his unit is tasked with gaining the trust of Afghani Warlord General Dostum (Navid Negahban). Dostum is a critical ally against the Taliban as well as the lynchpin holding the Northern Afghan Alliance together.
Nelson’s mission is both insurmountable, and most likely, a suicide mission – making his promise of bringing each man home safely virtually impossible.

Kent’s Take:
“12 Strong” is based upon the true story of the first soldiers to respond to the 9/11 attacks.
There is no doubt that these brave soldiers deserve to have their story told. Unfortunately, it should have been told with more clarity and less predictable action.
Setting up this story: The anger and loss of 9/11 surfaces as the Twin Towers burn on televisions across the country. We then witness these brave men leaving their families – offering viewers a reason for their sacrifice. Yet the clichés and predictable goodbyes flag this film immediately as an action film first and reverent story of heroics second.
The cinematography in this film captures the beautiful and rugged land General Dostum describes as, “the graveyard of many empires.”
The cast is skilled and helps to shore up a faulty story execution. Hemsworth gives a good performance, Michael Peña (as Sgt. Sam Diller) is the comic relief, and Negahban is a believable tribal chief, while the skilled Michael Shannon is totally wasted as Chief Warrant Officer Hal Spencer.
As the mission unfolds, viewers get lost in the confusing narrative. As the 12 soldiers split into two groups, then three, audiences become unsure of each group’s whereabouts. This creates a problem when various attacks ensue because we have no idea where anyone is in relation to the other – good guys and bad.
Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, this film is more concerned with action and explosions than telling a compelling emotional story.
“12 Strong” does not give Nelson and his men an adequate story that outlines their vital mission – but when do soldiers ever get their rightful dues?
The Final Year
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The Final Year

Genre: Documentary
Rating: This film is not rated.
Grade: B+
Reviewer: Lynn Venhaus
THE PLOT:
An insiders’ account of President Barack Obama’s last year in office, ‘The Final Year” presents the administration’s preparations to leave the White House after eight years. Secretary of State John Kerry, National Security Council’s Samantha Power, Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes and other staffers are highlighted.

Lynn’s Take:
A compelling look at the inner workings of government, and how the Obama administration navigated the demands of the U.S. Presidency in 2016, “The Final Year” excels in its mission.
Because of today’s polarizing political climate, this thoughtful documentary will likely be shunned by those of opposite political views. No matter what a citizen thinks, this film presents what those in power must do regarding diplomacy.
The filmmakers points out the responsibilities of the U.S. as a major force in the world, which transcends politics. We visit different countries, they present the tasks at hand, and really smart people explain what’s happening.
Now that another administration has been in office for a year, it’s a bittersweet look back. The filmmaker uses portions of Obama’s speeches, and no one can deny his eloquence as a public speaker.
So there is that. The power of words, what is heard and read, and in the history books for posterity, is evident in this film.
Whether or not we chose to listen, and understand this president’s place in history, is on us.
But “The Final Year” makes a strong case for an enduring legacy. After his historic victory, Obama came into office during two wars and the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression..
It’s a remarkable portrait, no matter what “side” you’re on, and unfortunately, we live in a very divisive time.
The Post
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The Post

Genre: Biography/Drama/History
Starring: Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks
Rating: PG-13
for language and brief war violence.
Grade: B+ (Kent) A+ (Lynn)
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert & Lynn Venhaus
THE PLOT:
December 1971 finds the Vietnam War as unpopular as ever. New York’s Washington Post is seen as a smaller community paper as opposed to The New York Times, a rival that continues to scoop them.
When the Times writers get their hands on classified documents that show five presidential administrations have lied to Congress and the American people regarding our activities in Vietnam – they begin publishing related stories.
Dubbed the “Pentagon Papers,” the explosive information enrages the current Nixon Administration and the American people for opposite reasons.
The New York Times is served an injunction from the State Department to cease publishing classified documents. While The Post pushes forward to get its hands on the classified documents in order to finally “one-up” The New York Times. When The Post is threatened by the government as well, its management must decide whether to follow their rivals and allow the government to decide what they can print or take up the mantle to preserve the First Amendment and possibly lose their newspaper and serve prison time.

Kent’s Take:
“The Post” is based upon the true story of Publisher Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep) and Managing Editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), of The Washington Post.
Katharine Graham inherited the paper after her husband’s suicide. She had never held a job prior and suddenly found herself fighting to find her voice in a male-dominated industry. Add to this a presidential administration trying to stomp on the free press and this powerful woman has no choice but to take the lead.
As The Times secretly sifted through the Pentagon Papers, locating the nuggets of lies and deceit, Graham was coordinating the public offering of stock in order to make The Post solvent.
This solid homage to free speech and the risks that the newspaper industry took to ensure our freedom, makes this film both relevant and a must-see!
Director Steven Spielberg deftly captures the stakes, the risks and the environment in which this story takes place. Kay Graham must learn to listen to her inner voice rather than the loud ones on her board of directors. Ben Bradlee knows a newspaper man or woman must be able to distinguish between being friends with power brokers and being a public source of news – a check on their power.
Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks give top-notch performances, imbuing their characters with verve and stamina for doing what’s right. The supporting cast is also outstanding, creating a depth throughout that deepens the emotion and realism of this tense time in America.
If there is any complaint about this film, it would be the setup. The tumultuous times during the Vietnam War are not well outlined, and viewers don’t feel the anger toward the government about the war or the disillusionment of the soldiers and the struggles of the middle class due to a faltering economy. Setting this up would have injected this story with an emotional boost creating tension from the start which is exactly where this film is weak – true tension.
“The Post” should appeal to a wide demographic. Younger viewers could connect the parallels between the political atmospheres now and then. Fans of Spielberg, Streep and Hanks would not be disappointed. Older viewers would find the behind-the-scenes maneuvering an added bonus to their memory of this important event. Yet, these factors don’t always result in box office success.
“The Post” is a thoughtful film showing the risks that an unlikely heroine takes in order to ensure that her family maintains ownership of their newspaper as well as ensuring that we have a press free of the bindings that limit our freedoms of speech. This first collaboration of Spielberg, Streep and Hanks is indeed a potent one.

Lynn’s Take:
Meticulous in every way, “The Post” is a love letter to old-fashioned print journalism. But it also is the most important film of the year, with its obvious message about keeping the First Amendment sacrosanct.
When Daniel Ellsberg leaked The Pentagon Papers in 1971, which detailed a cover-up about why we should not have been in Vietnam, it created a firestorm about newspaper rights. Director Steven Spielberg deftly blends footage of the war and recreated protests to put the historical dilemma into context.
But the film’s truth to power advocacy is best exemplified in The Washington Post’s newsroom. Its accurate depiction of the way things were underlines the dedication of reporters and editors.
Spielberg’s sharply drawn portraits contrast how the first-female newspaper publisher Katharine Graham endured the boys’ club boardroom and dismissive attitudes. Meryl Streep expertly captures what Graham faced daily, compounded by the pressures involved in printing the leaked government document.
The incomparable Streep leads a top-shelf cast through this tense time, with Tom Hanks superb as the grizzled veteran editor Ben Bradlee.
Stand-outs in supporting roles include Carrie Coon as reporter Meg Greenfield, Bob Odenkirk as Ben Bagdikian and Bruce Greenwood as Robert McNamara, Nixon’s Secretary of Defense.
With its parallels to today, “The Post” hits home about why attention must be paid to what our Founding Fathers laid forth in the Bill of Rights.
The Commuter
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The Commuter

Genre: Action/Drama/Mystery/Thriller
Starring: Liam Neeson, Vera Farmiga
Rating: PG-13
for some intense action/violence and language
Grade: D+
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert
THE PLOT:
Ex-cop Mike MacCauley (Liam Neeson) is now a mild-mannered insurance salesman who is having a bad day. His son’s large tuition bill just arrived, his wife reminds him that their second mortgage payment is due and he was just let go from his job of 10 years.
Riding his regular commuter train home, he is approached by the alluring Joanna (Vera Farmiga) who offers him a “hypothetical” situation that turns out to be very real. Mike has seven stops to find a passenger before they exit the train and in return for his service, his wife and son will not die.

Kent’s Take:
“The Commuter” is the latest Liam Neeson thriller wrapped in an uninspired mystery.
Throughout this story Mike fails to build audience confidence by displaying his “intuitive” policing skills he will use throughout the film, nor does he use sound decision making. He initially tries a few smart things, but then degrades to a frantic, undisciplined hunt. There are no twists or memorable scenes and the only surprise is the fact that this thoroughly mediocre film was made.
Mike’s captors can coordinate an unplanned “accident” on a busy city street in broad daylight when he throws them a curve, yet they resort to an elaborate plan to use a former cop to find the person?
Director Juam Collet-Serra opens the film with a montage that is meant to allude to Mike’s 10 years of commuting and introduce his fellow “regulars.” Unfortunately, the result is a choppy and confusing mess that throws viewers off balance.
Liam Neeson manages to wring out a good performance from unremarkable writing, but is showing his age, appearing gaunt and almost sickly. His suit hangs on him like a zombie in a horror film, while the supporting cast attempts to help Neeson salvage this disappointing presentation with their skilled performances.
The more this narrative unfolds, the more it unravels. We are kept in the dark throughout the first two thirds of the film, using this time to establish Mike’s situation at home and on the train, leaving the final act to reveal and resolve the mystery. Yet, it isn’t riveting, the entire situation is muddy and a bit confusing and by the time we discover all of this – we haven’t cared for over an hour. “The Commuter” jumps the track early, offering viewers a rough ride through sheer nonsense.
Phantom Thread
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Phantom Thread

Genre: Drama
Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis
Rating: R
for language
Grade: A
Reviewer: Lynn Venhaus
THE PLOT:
Set in 1950s London, “Phantom Thread” is about renowned fashion designer Reynolds Woodcock’s carefully controlled world. With his sister, he runs a successful fashion empire. When he falls in love, his world becomes topsy-turvy.

Lynn’s Take:
Watching Paul Thomas Anderson direct “Phantom Thread” is like being served a multi-course meal by a Michelin starred chef. The textures and flavors are deftly mixed to create bold statements and subtle undercurrents, and this carefully crafted exercise is one of his best yet.
His virtuoso star, Daniel Day-Lewis, is like watching Gershwin conduct “Rhapsody in Blue” and Picasso paint. He is just on another level as an actor – we never catch him ‘acting.’ And his portrait of this conflicted control freak, a demanding and cultured designer, is masterful.
Because he works so seldom, and reportedly this film is his final – say it ain’t so! – we must cherish every moment, every nuance. It is a work to be savored.
With a few nods to Daphne du Maurier’s classic mystery novel, “Rebecca,” Anderson weaves an engrossing tale, and the production design, cinematography and costume design are exquisite. Jonny Greenwood’s lush score perfectly captures this world and the various moods.
Of special note is newcomer Vicky Krieps as the young waitress Alma who becomes Reynolds’ muse and lover, and Leslie Manville as the cunning sister Cyril.
This is true art. And it’s delicious.
Molly's Game
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Molly's Game

Genre: Biography/Drama
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba
Rating: R
for language, drug content and some violence
Grade: B- (Kent) B (Lynn)
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert & Lynn Venhaus
THE PLOT:
Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain) was a driven athlete performing at the top of her sport (Free-style skiing) when she suffered a fluke accident that ended her Olympic hopes and her career.
Looking for a means to both escape her father’s (Kevin Costner) relentless pursuit of perfection and to prove to him and herself that she can make it on her own, Molly moves to L.A. with $1,700 to her name.
Hired by jerk Dean (Jeremy Strong) as his assistant, he puts her in charge of his weekly high stakes poker games. The $10,000 buy-in stuns her. Yet, even more stunning are the tips she receives that first night – totaling $3,000.
Going “all in,” Molly begins enhancing the game with her smarts, honesty and added amenities – all legal.
But as her game grows, so do the stakes – and so grows the notice of the FBI.

Kent’s Take:
“Molly’s Game” is a true story about top athlete, Molly Bloom, an intelligent and strong woman who parlays her brains, and social skills into one of the world’s highest stakes poker games.
As professional poker is less about gambling and more about skill, this film is less about poker and more about a girl and her father. Molly’s father is an ass, his pompous academic attitude, coupled with his relentless drive, teaches his sons and daughter that quitting results in total failure – forcing his children to excel at his chosen sport, which is skiing.
Driven to show her father her worth, Molly becomes focused and industrious, turning nothing into $4.7 million dollars in a single year, all legally. But the men she invites to her games are not “upstanding” citizens and it becomes a matter of time before things begin to unravel. As she battles sexism, greed, lust and ultimately misunderstanding, Molly continues to overcome each hurdle with dignity and grace.
Director Aaron Sorkin brings us a tale of one woman’s collision course with her identity – one of irrelevance and humiliation – using strong performances, and a compelling tale of danger and greed to frame his heroine’s redemption.
This film is an unusual beast, set within the high stakes poker world. This fractured, driven woman carves out a place among rich, powerful, arrogant men, establishing herself as the “Princess of Poker.” Yet, as she gets deeper and deeper into her games, with rising stakes, viewers never really connect with Molly. She keeps us at arm’s length emotionally, forcing us to look for other hooks to grab onto – that hook is Idris Elba’s Charlie Jaffey.
Elba’s Jaffey is a lawyer’s lawyer, having a reputation of absolute honesty. That rep is what attracts Molly for she needs someone with similar conviction and honesty. Elba’s performance is strong and fuels this story with his charisma.
“Molly’s Game” is a high stakes true adventure of one woman’s journey through hell for a simple realization that a father’s love should not be earned – but given freely.

Lynn’s Take:
Award-winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s first directorial effort immerses us in unfamiliar territory – big-time poker players – with impressive clarity, illuminating complex characters in a fascinating way.
Sorkin’s trademark smarty-pants dialogue suits this material, and he keeps it moving fluidly. He deftly highlights strong women getting in their own way, father-daughter relationships, and how one can cross over into dangerous territory.
The story, which hits a few questionable patches in its final act, gives opportunities for meaty performances. Chastain, all cool and confident on the outside, but a hot mess inside, is again flawless.
Elba continues to be a commanding screen presence as her defense, while Costner delivers one of his best later-years performances as an intense, demanding father.
Michael Cera is cagey playing a jerk, a ‘green-screen’ actor, supposedly based on Tobey Maguire (named in her book).
“Molly’s Game” is an engrossing account of a made-for-cinema life story, and Sorkin, thankfully, stayed out of his own way.
TOP 10 MOVIES of 2017
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TOP 10 MOVIES of 2017

Reviewer: Kent Tentschert & Lynn Venhaus
KENT’s Top 10 (Alphabetical)

“The Big Sick” – The lightest, funniest, most endearing film in my top 10. This story is a cinematic hug, with a distinct seriousness that balances the love story. The strong cast and performances make this an easy recommendation.

“Blade Runner 2049” – Although moviegoers showed tepid interest in this sequel to a 30-year-old classic, the style, story, cinematography and direction of this emotional sci-fi tale is unmatched. Please give this film a chance!

“Coco” – Drenched in vivid colors and a wonderful story about the power of family memories, this gem is easily the top animated feature of the year. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll love this film!

“Darkest Hour” – Gary Oldman gives a performance that should win him an Oscar. His Winston Churchill is spot-on, engaging audiences in his dire political struggles as he stares utter ruin for his country squarely in the face.

“Dunkirk” – This is not a war film, it is a retreat film. Offering sparse dialogue, this story is told in harrowing moments. We experience war, duty and heroism from different soldier’s perspectives, in unforgettable facets.

“Lady Bird” – This memorable comedy written and directed by Greta Gerwig shows her maturing in both areas. One wants to follow her characters to see what they will do next. Her stories always offer an off-center warmth. This is Gerwig’s best offering to date.

“Personal Shopper” – This story ignores any genre label. Is it horror, an indie gem, a supernatural thriller, a simple story about a woman struggling with grief … yes, it’s all of these. Kristen Stewart is vulnerable and beautiful in her skilled performance.

“The Shape of Water” – Director Guillermo Del Toro hastens us into a dark fairy tale of Cold War discovery. Playful sets, lovable and hate-filled characters, and a creature who is at the center of it all makes this memorable film a must see!

“Split” – James McAvoy gives an unforgettable performance in this tension-filled story by writer/director M. Night Shyamalan. This story morphs throughout, gaining speed, tension and gravity to finish with an interesting revelation for M. Night Shyamalan fans.

“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” – Born of frustration, this dark comedy follows a riveting story meandering in and out of Ebbing citizens’ lives as a heartbroken mother searches for answers. Raw and honest, this film is in my top three of the year.

Honorable Mentions: “Alive and Kicking,” “Atomic Blond,” “Baby Driver,” “Battle of the Sexes,” “The Disaster Artist,” “The Florida Project,” “Get Out,” “The Glass Castle,” “Hostiles,” “It,” “Loving Vincent,” “Murder on the Orient Express,” “Thank You For Your Service,” “Victoria & Abdul,” “War for the Planet of the Apes.”

Lynn’s Top Ten: (Alphabetical)

“Baby Driver” - The elements are simple, really: cars, tunes and a sweet girl with the same wanderlust as our endearing hero. But its best quality is its sheer audacity. Writer-director Edgar Wright embellishes this fast-paced, high-energy caper with confidence, charm and memorable music. Whiplash editing, fresh dialogue and an offbeat story make for a wild ride.

“The Big Sick” - One of the best romantic comedies in years, “The Big Sick” brims with heart and humor. The true story of Kumail Nanjiani’s relationship with his wife Emily (Zoe Kazan) connects in a relatable way, striking the right balance in tone between the silly and the serious. Director Michael Showalter deftly guided the cast through a culture clash that did not trivialize the issues.

“Blade Runner 2049” - Delving into a bleak nihilistic future world with daring and depth, director Denis Villeneuve has infused the mystery with an impressive exactness. Every technically dazzling element is integrated superbly into this much-anticipated sequel to the 1982 original.

“Coco” - “Family is all that matters,” young Miguel learns in another Pixar masterpiece. This ambitious, sprawling tale, vividly steeped in Mexican folklore, is set on Day of the Dead (Nov. 2, All Souls Day). With its emotional heart-tugging moments, vibrant colors, energy and stunning visuals, “Coco” weaves a magical spell.

“The Disaster Artist” - Laugh-out-loud funny, “The Disaster Artist” chronicles how “The Room” became a cult sensation as the greatest bad movie. This entertaining and hilarious truth-is-stranger-than-fiction tale is zestfully embraced by an appealing cast. James Franco uncannily captures the peculiar self-promoter Tommy Wiseau.

“Get Out” - No movie captured the cultural zeitgeist like “Get Out.” Jordan Peele’s refreshingly smart and well-constructed horror film blended classic elements with modern situations. Creating unease by using aspects of longstanding racial issues made it relatable and contemporary. Peele injected humor deftly while smoothly building suspense, and kept us riveted.

“Lady Bird” - A perfect effort from writer-director Greta Gerwig, “Lady Bird” conveys the joys and sorrows of senior year. Its truths resonated with an uncommon understanding. The ensemble doesn’t hit a false note. How it touches on family, the relationships that define our lives, how we find ourselves, and what home means to us makes it a special experience.

“Phantom Thread” - Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson mixes textures and flavors to create bold statements and subtle undercurrents in this work, set in a fashion designer’s carefully controlled world. Daniel Day-Lewis is on another level, and this performance is to be savored.

“The Post” - Meticulous in every way, “The Post” is a love letter to print journalism, depicting the tense battle over press rights regarding the release of the Pentagon Papers in 1971. Its message about keeping the First Amendment sacrosanct makes it the year’s most important film.

“The Shape of Water” - Oh, what a special world of wonder we have in visionary writer-director Guillermo del Toro’s extraordinary film. This rare gem is an enchanting romantic fantasy, a tribute to lush Hollywood escapist movies and music, a tense workplace drama, and a beautiful depiction of friendship.

Honorable Mention (12):
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” “A Ghost Story,” “Darkest Hour,” “Land of Mine,” “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast,” “The LEGO Batman Movie,” “Atomic Blonde,” “I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore,” “Wonder,” “Wonderstruck,” “Good Time.”
Call Me By Your Name
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Call Me By Your Name

Genre: Drama/Romance
Starring: Timothee Chalmet, Armie Hammer, Michael Stuhlbarg
Rating: R
for sexual content, nudity and some language.
Grade: C
Reviewer: Lynn Venhaus
THE PLOT:
During the summer of 1983, 17-year-old Elio’s (Timothee Chalamet) passions are awakened by a 24-year-old American scholar Oliver (Armie Hammer), who is working for his archeology professor father (Michael Stuhlbarg).

lynn’s Take:
This year’s critically acclaimed “Call Me by Your Name” is much ado about nothing, a sun-drenched travelogue with an erotic scene involving a peach.
Long, slow and boring, this coming-of-age tale has two things in its favor: the lush northern Italy setting and superb character actor Michael Stuhlbarg.
Indeed, Professor Perlman’s monologue, while he consoles his son, is the best scene in the entire film, and a highlight of the year.
Timothee Chalamet is a 19-year-old with much promise. As the innocent and curious Elio, he has an easy screen presence. However, this privileged, intellectual 17-year-old is pretty much a blank slate. He’s an accomplished classical pianist, and wiles an idyllic summer away swimming, biking, reading and goofing off at his parents’ 17th century villa.
He is swept away by desire, very subtly, but this summer affair story was a tad creepy because of the age difference – grad student Oliver is 24, but Armie Hammer is 31. Hammer, who came to prominence as one of the Winkelvoss twins in “The Social Network,” is tall and handsome, but redefines wooden. Here, he plays the Jewish-American “scholar” Oliver with little depth of feeling.
Based on Andre Aciman’s novel, screenwriter James Ivory captures the blooming passion of first love as his other films about sophisticated society types repressing emotions. There is a whiff of tension, anxiety and sensual, but it’s mannered and guarded.
Every year, there is a critically acclaimed film at awards season that I just can’t see the appeal in, and this is it in 2017.
But oh, does that countryside and al fresco dining look appealing.
Downsizing
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Downsizing

Genre: Sci-fi/comedy/Drama
Starring: Matt Damon, Kristen Wiig
Rating: R
for language including sexual references, some graphic nudity and drug use.
Grade: C
Reviewer: Lynn Venhaus
THE PLOT:
After scientists discover they can shrink humans to 5 inches to help the world’s environmental problems and over-population, Omaha couple Paul and Audrey Safranek (Matt Damon, Kristen Wiig) take the plunge. They get small and move to a downsized community. But problems amplify, not lessen.

Lynn’s Take:
An ambitious but muddled mess, “Downsizing” fritters away our goodwill because we want to root for its likable cast – but loses us during its way-too-long meandering journey.
Matt Damon’s everyman Paul, a dutiful son and husband, represents the hell that can happen when you expect heaven.
He’s a good guy, caught up in expectations and frustrations, and wants to live the good life. But the utopia turns into a nightmare, and it’s too much for Damon to carry this central character’s very heavy load.
Because the plot gets more intricate as it unravels, Damon’s only treading water, his performance becomes as tedious as the script.
As a social satire, “Downsizing” is spot-on for the first half, but then spirals into a head-scratcher as it takes a few turns off course. Or what we thought was the course.
Writer-director Alexander Payne’s latest is sharp when it tackles the pitfalls of the American Dream and bigotry (normal-size vs. little people), but isn’t effective as an environmental cautionary tale, it’s primary focus. Or I think it is supposed to be.
This goldmine of a cast – two-time Oscar winner Christoph Waltz! – and a plethora of pleasant cameos thrown in for good measure, suffer because of the wasted opportunities.
The standout is Hong Chau, a Vietnamese actress playing a dissident whose hard times make her stronger and wise.
The visual effects are jaw-dropping and funny – especially the detailed medical process.
This film starts out with so much promise, especially for Payne fans (“Nebraska,” “The Descendants,” “Election”). But he has added too many elements and does not know how to wrap up. At 2 hours and 15 minutes, it became an exercise in endurance.
Wonder Wheel
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Wonder Wheel

Genre: Comedy/Drama
Starring: Kate Winslet, Jim Belushi, Justin Timberlake, Juno Temple
Rating: PG-13
for thematic content including some sexuality, language and smoking.
Grade: C-
Reviewer: Lynn Venhaus
THE PLOT:
While working at Coney Island one summer in the 1950s, miserable waitress Ginny (Kate Winslet), unhappily married to a gruff carousel operator Humpty (Jim Belushi), has an affair with lifeguard (Justin Timberlake). Humpty’s daughter Carolina (Juno Temple), on the run from her mobster husband, hides out with them.

Lynn’s Take:
Woody Allen’s film feels unfinished. Although he’s mining familiar territory, this clunky look at unfulfilled lives sputters in uncharacteristic ways.
Awkward transitions, unlikable characters and uninspired writing deflate a film that looks fabulous. The period recreation is splendid, and Oscar-winning cinematographer Vittorio Storaro has designed exterior shots of exquisite beauty.
Yet, this is the highlight, and shouldn’t be, because a film isn’t merely a pretty picture postcard. Despite the lush look – oh, that burnished view, it’s staged more like a play.
These stock melodramatic characters seem straight out of a dime novel, a Mickey Spillane potboiler. And while Temple is impressive in her small role, the rest do nothing new.
Winslet ventures from exasperated and stressed-out to flighty and jittery, resorting to a cheap Blanche DuBois imitation. And would her character really use the word “supercilious”? I think not.
Belushi channels Jackie Gleason as Ralph Kramden in “The Honeymooners,” and this portrait of a loutish, domineering husband is stale.
Yet another discourse on unhappy male-female relationships, “Wonder Wheel” never gains momentum. What a disappointment.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
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Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Genre: Action/Adventure/Sci-fi
Starring: Carrie Fisher, Daisey Ridley, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Domhnall Gleeson, Andy Serkis, Joseph Gordon -Levitt
Rating: PG-13
for sequences of sci-fi action and violence.
Grade: C (Kent)/B- (Lynn)
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert & Lynn Venhaus
THE PLOT:
The First Order has scattered the Rebel forces. They are in retreat. Rebel leader Leia (Carrie Fisher) scrambles her people to flee their base as the First Order Battle Cruisers arrive to destroy it. The only thing between the Rebel’s utter destruction and their survival is the hot-shot pilot, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac).
At the same time, Rey (Daisy Ridley) has been dispatched to find Jedi Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) in order to enlist his help. While Kylo Ren struggles with his emotions, as the evil Supreme Leader Snope continues to keep Ren under his thumb.
As the forces of good and evil collide, the fate of the galaxy falls upon the actions of those willing to fight and sacrifice.

Kent’s Take:
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” is the much anticipated Episode VIII of the storied Star Wars franchise. Unfortunately, this episode struggles to connect with its audience.
Written and directed by Rian Johnson, this film is defined by uninspired action, familiar characters, and themes of hope and sacrifice. It is also defined by a distinct lack of emotional connection with audiences, poor use of humor, and mediocre writing.
We met Rey, Finn (John Boyega), and BB-8 in episode VII, yet, we learn little more about any of these characters in this next installment. Rey begins to discover her Jedi power, but we never actually witness any training. Finn is sent on a useless mission and BB-8 is relegated to a utility bot.
The strong cast gives good performances in this film and the special effects are excellent from top to bottom, but these strong elements can’t help audiences connect because of a weak story. Add to this, humor that is misdirected and misused – diluting the villainy and weakening an already faltering story.
We already know the big problem in this feature – the writing. Snope (who looks like E.T’s grandfather), is a weak villain, acting more like a bully rather than a “Supreme Leader.” The plot has holes big enough through which one could drive a dreadnaught, in addition there are small details that make you scratch your head asking why they would waste time on such things.
One of the most disappointing aspects of this film is the use of Luke Skywalker. This legendary Jedi was relegated to simple posturing and a few wise moments. His prowess as a Jedi was not displayed. His years of development, training, experiences and seclusion was supposed to bring him into the mythical realm of Yoda, yet, we never see any of it.
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” had the potential to launch this franchise into a galaxy far far away, but instead sucked it deeply into the dark side.

LYNN’s Take:
How many times can the Rebellion be reborn? Apparently, endlessly, as indicated in the eighth chapter of the “Star Wars” saga. The same fight is being fought over and over in the lumbering and dense “The Last Jedi.”
This bloated blockbuster – 2 and a half hours! – has epic moments, but not enough to soar.
Oh, it’s a super-deluxe buffet of all the 40-year “Star Wars” mythology, and that’s a lot to keep track of for casual fans. However, ultra-passionate fans will delight in all the references to its storied past.
But, the film takes a very long time to get going and is too repetitive to gain momentum. It coasts on its reputation, its penchant for unusual creatures, and those legendary cherished characters.
Unfortunately, Luke Skywalker is now a sad hermit, a tortured soul. He won’t be swayed by the new Jedi Rey, a spunky girl who’s fearless with a light saber and capably pilots the Millennium Falcon.
The effects are dazzling, worthy of wonder, and the pleasant injection of humor is noteworthy. The cast is first-rate, although some get short shrift because of so many multiple storylines.
Han Solo’s loss is deeply felt, in several ways. His son, Ben, with Leia, has become the Dark Side’s poster boy, Kylo Ren. Adam Driver is such a good actor that he is able to show his conflicts and pain – we just needed more of his story.
“Star Wars” remains a grand adventure, but writer-director Rian Johnson has squandered opportunities to make us care deeply about what’s happening now, and what’s to come in the next installment.
The Shape of Water
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The Shape of Water

Genre: Adventure/Drama/Fantasy
Starring: Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer, Michael Shannon
Rating: R
for sexual content, graphic nudity, violence and language.
Grade: A- (Kent)/A+(Lynn)
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert & Lynn Venhaus
THE PLOT:
Janitor Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins) is a lonely and mute. Working diligently at a government facility in the early 1960s, Elisa and her co-worker Zelda Fuller (Octavia Spencer) discover that the newest “asset” to the facility is a living creature.
The aquatic creature is defined as “dangerous” by military director Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon), but Elisa has a different view, creating a conflict that only love or hate can resolve.

Kent’s Take:
The synopsis above may sound a bit odd and that is a welcomed expectation with writer/director Guillermo Del Toro. His previous films have steadily built a cult following with stories that capture audiences and bring us into wondrous worlds.
Elisa lives above an old theater house and watches over her elderly neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins) as she wiles away her days listening to the feisty Zelda, but after creating a connection with the creature in the lab, she finds purpose in her life.
Del Toro, along with Vanessa Taylor, bring us a sci-fi fable grounded in loneliness and love. This world of Cold War posturing and paranoia is a perfect fuel to ignite this tale. Add wonderful sets and set design, fleshing out this facility with 1950’s nuts and bolts, rich woods and wallpaper, dramatic lighting and Michael Shannon’s classic antagonist Richard Strickland – this film becomes a vivid story of tension and danger.
Villain Strickland certainly is a “Richard” as he follows a mission outline that is inflexible, unforgiving and ruthless. Shannon is a talanted actor bringing distinction to every role and he continues that here.
Del Toro also uses special effects wisely. He rarely uses over-the-top effects as his stories are often defined by emotional subtlety. Del Toro anchors viewers with memorable touchstones throughout the unfolding story.
Balancing a dark story with positive emotion offers a high wire act of tension and comfort that works well.
In “The Shape of Water” the “wondrous” comes in the form of a fantastical aquatic creature who is just humanoid enough for audience acceptance, and whose heart is as big as Elise’s.
“The Shape of Water” not only defines a hidden world with gritty detail, it gives audiences a window into an alternate world that both piqued our interest and warms our heart.

lynn’s Take:
Oh, what a special world of wonder we have in visionary writer-director Guillermo del Toro’s extraordinary “The Shape of Water.”
The film engages us in several ways – first and foremost, it’s an enchanting romantic fantasy that has aspects of “Creature from the Black Lagoon” and “Beauty and the Beast.” Doug Jones’ work as the creature is superb.
It also captures the lush escapism that movies and music provide, a world that mute Elisa takes great comfort and pleasure in indulging. Alexander Desplat’s score exquisitely expresses that joy.
It’s a workplace drama, too, frought with heroes and villains. This is where some of our finest character actors working today shine – especially Michael Shannon as a supremely horrible boss and Michael Stuhlbarg, who has secrets and a conscience.
And it’s a beautiful depiction of friendship – embodied by neighbor Richard Jenkins, who is a loyal bright spot in beleaguered Elisa’s lonely life.
Sally Hawkins, such a fine actress distinctive in every role, is radiant as the woman whose life changes through risks. And she does so without ever uttering a word!
The movie is expertly crafted, with a compelling Cold War storyline. Its period details are meticulous, set around the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. The vintage movie house is a sublime reminder of how grand that experience once was.
This rare gem’s ability to move us can’t be overstated – and is a genuine grand experience.
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