“The Circle” places fresh-faced “Harry Potter” alum Emma Watson in the middle of a high-tech nightmare when she takes what she thinks is her dream job working for a company secretly planning to track our every move. Watson begins the story worried about her parents played by Glenn Headley and the late Bill Paxton His final role cast him as an older man suffering with MS and adds a certain sadness. Watson gets her job thanks to Scottish actress Karen Gillian who soon grows jealous as Emma rises in the company. Tom Hanks appears as a the kindly owner supported by henchman Patton Oswalt. Hanks smiles a lot while Oswalt mugs for the camera. Soon Watson agrees to “go transparent”–that is wear a camera and record every minute of her day with the exception of bathroom breaks. Millions follow her with unexpected consequences. Emma Watson does a lot of speechifying and appears in every scene. She’s a talented young actress but she’s not up to this. “The Circle” suffers from a bad script with clichéd dialog. The story feels stale and out of date. The acting isn’t very good. It doesn’t even look especially futuristic. “The Circle” is a major misfire, one you want to avoid. “The Circle” Zero Stars. Rated PG-13. Does it deliver what it promises? No thrill in this “thriller.” Is it entertaining? Talky, predictable, and boring. Is it worth the price of admission? One of the year’s worst.
“The Lost City of Z” reboots the classic cinema adventure story with grand results. Based on the life of British explorer/soldier Percy Fawcett, this tale often seems too good to be true as it makes your jaw drop. The story begins in turn of the century Ireland as Fawcett competes on horseback in a race to kill a galloping stag. Fawcett, played by Charlie Hunnam, wins the race, kills the stag, and almost wins acceptance from the military upper class except for his undistinguished career and unfortunate family background, thanks to a father who drank, gambled, and sullied the family name. Our hero gets his chance to make good when the British Geographical Society calls him to Bolivia to map the border with Brazil. Once in the Amazon, Fawcett finds his calling, and returns to the jungle multiple times convinced of the existence of a lost superior civilization somewhere deep in the forest. Hunnam gets assistance from his loyal aide Henry Costin in a surprisingly fine performance by an almost unrecognizable Robert Pattinson of the “Twilight” series. The story bounces back and forth between civilizations. Sienna Miller as Fawcett’s wife adds an earthy sexy note as his supporter and equal. Tom Holland grows up the son of the great man. Together father and son return to the jungle and add to the mystery that makes this adventure so thrilling, leading to a final scene that after two and a half hours leaves you wanting more. Director James Gray hooks us early on. The cast is superb. I loved the story. The film looks beautiful. 4 Stars PG-13. Does it deliver what it promises? A winning mystery adventure. Is it entertaining? Holds you and doesn’t let go. Is it worth the price of admission? One of the year’s best.
The usually excellent actor Oscar Issac begins “The Promise” with a voice over featuring a perfectly awful accent desperately trying to sound like an Armenian speaking English. Things go rapidly downhill. Issac plays a small town Armenian apothecary who longs to study medicine. Accepting a dowry to marry a woman he hardly knows, he leaves for Constantinople and the home of a wealthy uncle. The plot thickens when he meets the vivacious tutor and nanny played by French Actress Charlotte Le Bon, but hey he made a promise to the girl back home thus the title of the movie. Le Bon already has a boyfriend played by Christian Bale who reports for the Associated Press. Bale gets to do a lot of speechifying and witnessing the beginning of the Armenian genocide in Turkey during World War One. The Turks join the Germans and simultaneously begin a program to wipe out the Armenians. “The Promise” could have been improved with more explanation of why the Turks started killing the Armenians. Instead the story concentrates on executions, oppression, and the love triangle between Issac, Bale and Le Bon, not to mention the problem of the wife back home. “The Promise” has many heart wrenching scenes and hopes to make a new generation aware of The Armenian plight in Turkey. The story suffers from poor script, bad dialog, location shooting that looks artificial, and even bad make up. The effect borders on parody. Armenians deserved better. Does it deliver what it promises? Clunky would be epic. Is it entertaining? Hard to take seriously. Is it worth the price of admission? Skip it.
There’s not a lot to describe in “Free Fire.” A group of IRA gun runners set up a deal to buy a bunch of guns. Oscar winner Brie Larson plays the go between with Armie Hammer as the broker for the other guys. A dozen or more characters converge on an abandoned warehouse and talk and tension and sets off a gun battle. “Free Fire” feels like “Reservoir Dogs” minus the bother of a plot and dialog. It is interesting to see Brie Larson play a wise cracking bad girl, and the surprise ending helps “Free Fire” rise above the usual. 2 stars Rated “R”. Does it deliver what it promises? Quentin Tarantino style shoot out. Is it entertaining? Keeps your attention but really isn’t much. Is it worth the price of admission? Not exactly a must see, but of interest to those following the career of director Ben Wheatley.
A young woman comes of age during the London Blitz in the charming movie “Their Finest.” Gemma Arterton lands a job writing morale boosting dialog for British government propaganda films in 1940. The war is real for London residents as the Nazi’s bomb the city nightly, and residents crowd into subway stations and cellars emerging in the morning to views of destruction and news of deaths. The government film bureau attracts an oddball group, wannabe writers and actors and notably over the hill actor Bill Nighy, who has perfected the art of playing grumpy but lovable older characters. Higher ups determine that Britain can help rally America to join their fight with a Hollywood style movie based on the evacuation of troops at Dunkirk. This development turns the story into a movie about making a movie. The little group bonds as they work. Gemma feels sparks for her wiseacre fellow writer played by Sam Claflin, even though she’s in a relationship with Jack Huston, a difficult artist and wounded Spanish Civil War volunteer. Romance and movie making combine with daily reminders of the real thing. The combination is charming, made even more so in a wrap party in which two actresses sing the WW2 ditty “You Can’t Black Out the Moon.” I stayed for the credits when they played it again. The story is compelling, the movie looks great, the actors come through, “Their Finest” is hard to resist. 3 1/2 stars Rated R. Does it deliver what it promises? Charming WW2 romance. Is it entertaining? Surprisingly so. Is it worth the price of admission? See it.
“Gifted” presents a slightly better than average child custody battle pitting a good guy versus a grandmother with less clear intentions. Chris Evans of superhero fame plays an ex professor whose brilliant sister begs him to raise her child, played by Mckenna Grace. Soon the young girl’s grandmother shows up demanding custody. The kid possesses the amazing math powers of her mother. But those who love the kid want her to grow up normal, not as a prodigy. Lindsay Duncan plays the custody seeking grandmother with the usual Cruella DeVille bile. Octavia Spencer has a few scenes as a kindly next door neighbor. Jenny Slate plays an elementary teacher who has eyes for Chris. The conflict goes to court and leads to the usual tear-stained separation scene. The drama gets resolved, but I’m not sure I buy it. “Gifted” is a nice way to spend an afternoon. It’s “Kramer versus Kramer” only not as good. Does it deliver what it promises? Tear jerking custody drama. Is it entertaining? The kid is cute. Is it worth the price of admission? Not as good as expected.
Anne Hathaway goes indie in this story of a party girl who over does it, gets tossed out by her boyfriend, and returns to her home town to try to straighten out. She reconnects with childhood friend Jason Sudeikis, who gives her a job at his bar, lends her furniture for her empty house, and in general invades her space. Is this romance or stalking? Suddenly, Godzilla shows up in Seoul as does a giant robot and the two begin battle, destroying most everything in their wake. I won’t reveal the connection between the friends and the monsters. Some have found the connection brilliant. I found it such a stretch that I let out a groan as I gratefully exited the theater. “Colossal” 2 Stars Rated “R”. Does it deliver what it promises? Indie millennial self-absorption. Is it entertaining? Interesting at times. Is it worth the price of admission? Mixed.
I smiled and laughed at “Going in Style,” the remake of the 1979 George Burns comedy starring Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Alan Arkin as three fed up senior citizens who decide to do something about it. The plot sounds like the comedy version of “Hell or High Water.” The three friends worked for the same steel company and find themselves broke when the company moves overseas and dissolves retiree pensions. Caine gets foreclosure notices from his bank. So he talks his friends into a revenge plot. They will robbing the bank that holds his mortgage and participated in their company’s pension dissolving. “Going in Style” features a run of great character actors and actresses plus golden oldie appearances by Christopher Lloyd and Ann-Margaret. It’s nice to see Matt Dillon as a doubting detective and Saturday Night Live’s Keenon Thompson in a comic cameo as a supermarket manager. Zack Braff directed with a light touch preventing this from turning into a groan-worthy senior citizen comedy. Caine, Freeman and Arkin work well together. Don’t expect anything great in “Going in Style.” But do expect to get a few smiles and some laughs and to leave the theater happier than when you entered. Does it deliver what it promises? Comedy that actually makes you laugh. Is it entertaining? Fun to watch. Is it worth the price of admission? Just for the fun of it.
So many outstanding films have been made from stories of the Holocaust. In spite of very good intentions “The Zookeeper’s Wife” is not one of them. Based on the novel about a Polish couple who owned and operated the Warsaw zoo at the beginning of World War 2. Their idyllic world completely changes September 1, 1939 when the Nazi invade Poland, bomb Warsaw, and take over. The bombs disrupt the zoo and turn many of the animals loose to roam the city streets. Soon the army begins killing them and the head of the Berlin zoo arrives to take the best animals to the Berlin zoo. Daniel Bruhl gets the role of the Nazi villain. He’s a little too interested in the Zookeeper’s wife, played by Jessica Chastain. This enrages her husband played by Johan Heldenbergh, but since the Nazis hold the upper hand they have to get along as best they can. Soon the Nazis use the property for storage as well as for a breeding program hoping to produce rare oxen. Chastain’s husband sees a way to use their facility to hide Jews in the park’s underground tunnels as a first stop on the way to safety. It feels like the filmmakers pull their punches polishing up the truth to make it more palatable for movie goers. Most of the cast comes from Europe with the exception of Jessica Chastain. She chooses to speak with a Polish accent so bad it actually detracts from the story. The script feels long and labored. The acting comes off melodramatic. The result is uneven. Does it deliver what it promises? World War Two Holocaust story. Is it entertaining? Not among the best of this genre. Is it worth the price of admission? Sadly no.
“Get Out” combines comedy, satire, and scream out loud horror in a completely new exciting way. The opening scene in which a Black kid hunts for an address in a white suburb sets up a wild story of white privilege, interracial dating, racial tension, and society assumptions that left me thinking of break through films such as “Rosemary’s Baby” “The Stepford Wives” and “Fatal Attraction.” Daniel Kaluuya plays Chris, a talented Black big city photographer dating beautiful white Allison Williams who plays Rose. After a few months together she wants Chris to meet her parents. She says they don’t know he’s black but it won’t matter. At their secluded mansion in the woods, Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener appear welcoming, but something seems off. Rose’s hyper brother played by Caleb Landry Jones spends a lot of time discussing Chris’s athletic ability, and Steven Root (one of the great character actors whom I still remember from “Office Space”) makes things even more weird as the blind owner of an art gallery who admires Chris’s photography. The family also employs a grounds keeper played by Marcus Henderson and a maid played by Betty Gabriel–two black servants in an all white household explained just a little too readily by a very creepy Bradley Whitford. Catherine Keener taps into her inner creep as a psychiatrist/hypnotist whose ability to ping a china cup will make the hair on your neck rise. The horror is quite horrible and the screams come naturally. As in any great horror film, “Get Out” builds and releases with hearty laughs, many of them provided by Lil Rel Howery as Chris’ pal who works for the much maligned TSA. So far Jordan Peele is best known for his work with the comic team Key and Peele. In “Get Out” he demonstrates a director’s sure hand. We know he’s taking us someplace only he knows and we’re gonna love it. The production looks great. The acting’s lovely (I especially liked Allison Williams). The directing’s brilliant. The body count’s high and bloody and completely new. 3 1/2 Stars “R”. Does it deliver what it promises? Sure handed horror/comedy/satire. Is it entertaining? Never let’s up. Is it worth the price of admission? Might be one of the year’s best.