“Finding Dory” follows the plot of the delightful “Finding Nemo” moving the spotlight to the blue tang fish with short term memory issues voiced by Ellen DeGeneres. As a child Dory is constantly watched by her parents who fear her memory issues may mean trouble. Their fears come true when Dory strays into an undertow and is whisked into the ocean. Pixar has this plot down to a science: loveable charcter lost in the larger world tries to return home. “Finding Dory’s ” undersea world looks wonderful, and features a visit to an aquatic park with an ongoing loop of the voice of Sigourney Weaver making sure we know this facility is about “rescue, rehabilitation and release.” A pair of sea lions and a wise cracking octopus voiced by “Modern Family’s” Ed O’Neill add just the right splash of humor. It also helps that Dory encounters Marlin – voiced by Albert Brooks – and Nemo himself – voiced this time by Hayden Rolence. “Finding Dory” also succeeds because of Ellen DeGeneres’ voice work. Ellen keeps Dory likeable even as Dory’s short-term memory loss occasionally loses its charm. Pixar has done it again and no one should be surprised. They add yet another film worthy of comparison to “Toy Story” “Up” and “Finding Nemo.” Does it deliver what it promises? A delightful and touching Pixar animated marvel. Is it entertaining? Fun to watch even if it runs a few minutes too long. Is it worth the price of admission? A definite yes.
Now You See Me 2 picks up for yet another adventure of the original characters – the Four Horsemen – a group of socially minded magicians who pull tricks on evil corporate titans in order to make the world a better place and even a few scores. Not all four of the Horsemen return. Isla Fisher has stepped aside make room for Lizzy Caplan, a change that adds fun and energy. Now You See Me 2 packs the screen with big names, including a return of Michael Caine as a corporate bad guy, Morgan Freeman as a bad guy who might not be so bad, and Mark Ruffalo as a magician’s son turned FBI agent who either is or isn’t on the side of our heroes. The main group beyond Caplan includes Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, and the very likeable Dave Franco, plus the now grown up Daniel Radcliffe as another villain in a very busy and confusing plot. If that’s not enough, Woody Harrelson has an evil twin. “Now You See Me 2” packs all of these people into a messy story filled out with magic tricks that don’t appear magic because they’re on film where anything is possible. This comedy adventure tries hard, too hard, a sure way to fail at humor or even fun. Here’s my review in capsule: “Now You See It 2”—Nah, you don’t. Does it deliver what it promises? Magicians comedy but not very funny. Is it entertaining? Tries too hard. Is it worth the price of admission? No.
“Genius” tells the story of the partnership between struggling writer Thomas Wolfe and editor/agent Max Perkins. Their connection in the 1920’s resulted in publication of Wolfe’s “Look Homeward Angel” and launched Wolfe as a literary genius. Perkins coaxed the work out of Wolfe which according to this portrait wasn’t easy. Wolfe drank and behaved badly and turned in wildly overwritten pages. This difficult story has the benefit of the excellent actors Colin Firth as the mature editor, and Jude Law as the difficult Wolfe. Nicole Kidman adds to the tortured nature of this story as Wolfe’s mistress, given to bouts of drama and suicide attempts. Laura Linney appears as Perkins’ wife, accepting neglect as Wolfe demands her husband’s attention. “Genius” faces a challenge. It has to tell the story of a man who writes visually. It boils down to a screen full of great actors talking about writing. Wolfe’s bad behavior — it seems he was a real jerk — makes “Genius” even harder to like. The design and use of 1920’s and 1930’s fashions and backgrounds helps set the mood. But not quite enough to make “Genius” the kind of movie you can’t quite like as much as you wanted. Does it deliver what it promises? Portrait of writer Thomas Wolfe. Is it entertaining? Hard to like the main character. Is it worth the price of admission? For select audiences — you know who you are.
“Popstar” follows in the footsteps of the great satire: “This is Spinal Tap.” “Popstar” succeeds updating its barbs to the current video and stadiums touring music scene and stringing together a series of jaw dropping moments including star Andy Samberg appearing naked in a most surprising display. With just a touch of “Behind the Music” Andy and Akiva Schaffer, and Jorma Taccone start out as a trio until Andy goes off on his own, leaving the other two guys nursing a grudge. Andy makes it to the top and then the fall begins and it’s pretty swift. “Popstar” piles one gag on top of another and stacks its quick story with numerous celebrity cameos and former Saturday Night Live players. It’s never easy to keep this kind of thing going but “Popstar” comes close, and zips along in a hurry Andy Samberg’s up for most anything and looks like a good sport as the movie turns him into a complete dope. Does it deliver what it promises? Contemporary music world spoof. Is it entertaining? Very funny especially at first although it runs out of steam toward the end Is it worth the price of admission? If you’re up for a few laughs.
“X-Men Apocalypse 3D” has a bad case of superhero bloat. This episode, set in the late 1970’s, begins in ancient Egypt where a ceremony appears to invent Magneto as Apocalypse, a character sort of like the Mummy, only a little more angry with a lot more power. Suddenly dozens of characters come out of the woodwork to fight on the good and bad sides. Olivia Munn runs around in tights and a bathing suit and gets about three lines but does a lot of jumping and running and posing. James McAvoy reminds the super power kids to be sure and use their powers for good. “X-Men Apocalypse” feels like another reboot of the Avengers, with so many characters it takes a genius to keep them straight. This is a fan’s movie. The rest of us would do best to stay away. Does it deliver what it promises? Superhero saga. Is it entertaining? Long and confusing. Is it worth the price of admission? Same old thing.
I’m a sucker for Greta Gerwig. She manages to combine 2016 manners with screwball comedy charm. She’s won my heart in her indie comedies. The Trailer for “Maggie’s Plan” gave me a case of “wanna see it.” The plot comes right out of the 1930’s. Gerwig as Maggie meets teacher/writer Ethan Hawke and falls for him. But Hawke has a difficult wife, played with a Danish accent by Julianne Moore. Love conquers all and Maggie and Ethan get together. Except Maggie figures out she made a mistake. So she goes to ex-wife Moore and offers to give him back. Despite the delightful plot, “Maggie’s Plan” feels long and talky and sometimes almost grinds to a halt. Maya Rudolph and Bill Hader as Maggie’s pals add a little fizz. Maggie’s riffs on motherhood and sperm banks are fun, and a plot twist involving the daughter of the new marriage will remind some of the delightful “Crossing Delancey.” Does it deliver what it promises? Independent comedy. Is it entertaining? A little long and talky. Is it worth the price of admission? Gerwig fans won’t mind.
“The Nice Guys” pays tribute to the kind of detective movies Hollywood made in the 1970’s—movies that quoted and updated the great film noir stories of the 1940’s. The movie gets a nice jolt from its pairing of Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling, two hapless private eyes working way above their pay grade. The plot turns on porn stars, big business, and the dirty smog that choked LA in the 70’s. One of the best elements of “The Nice Guys” is the use of still available locations to establish the time frame. The boys roar in their vintage cars past neon signs, coffee shops and hotels with elevators that look out on the skyline. “The Nice Guys” plays out through a haze of pot smoke, smog, and 70’s music. Be warned: “The Nice Guys” revealed the movie’s best gags in the trailer. The rest of the story involves the auto show, a court case and the search for the daughter of justice department official Kim Basinger. A couple of big scenes, including a porn star party, devolve into chaos and don’t add much. If “The Nice Guys” succeeds we might see a sequel or two in the future. With a little focusing and tightening that might be a good idea. Does it deliver what it promises? Old school private eye “R” rated comedy. Is it entertaining? Funny at times but most of the funniest bits are in the trailer. Is it worth the price of admission? You could do worse.
Kate Beckinsale has great fun as seductive manipulative Lady Susan in director Whit Stillman’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s novella “Love and Friendship. ” Beckinsale begins the story mourning the death of her wealthy husband while letting us know she could care less. The death requires a search for a new husband and income stream. While she’s at it, Beckinsale has a 16-year-old daughter in need of a husband. Her plan begins with a visit to Beckinsale’s brother-in-law where prospects abound, including Xavier Samuel who seems appropriate for either Beckinsale or her daughter. “Love and Friendship” celebrates words and conversation although some may find it talky. Beckinsale excels as a woman well aware of her assets and her reputation as the greatest flirt of her time. Many years ago Beckinsale and Chloe Sevigny starred in director Whit Stillman’s “The Last Days of Disco.” I liked that movie and wanted to see the two actresses again. Unfortunately Sevigny doesn’t get much to do as an American friend whose husband has forbidden her friendship with the controversial Beckinsale. The story wraps with a thoroughly modern conclusion and an abrupt but satisfying ending. Does it deliver what it promises? Drawing room comedy based on Jane Austen. Is it entertaining? Sometimes talky but often fun. Is it worth the price of admission? For Austen fans.
“Money Monster” has the advantage of wonderful casting. George Clooney plays a smug financial cable TV host who dances and shouts and wears funny hats as he plugs hot stock tips which sometimes work out and sometimes don’t. The voice of reason in his earpiece is not his conscience, but rather his director/producer Julia Roberts who often uses code words to encourage him to dial it back and get to the next topic. Jodi Foster directs this thriller with her usual competence. Things turn from lively to life threatening when struggling package delivery man Jack O’Connell bursts onto the set with a gun and vest bomb he demands Clooney wear. O’Connell has taken one of those stock tips and lost everything and now wants answers. The hostage situation on live TV certainly gives “Money Monster” a jolt and creates real tension. Finding the answer to O’Connell’s demands opens a mystery surrounding CEO Dominick West. As the drama plays out, the situation turns a little too contrived. For all of its star power and hostage situation tension, “Money Monster” speeds to a fizzle at the end. “Money Monster” has great scenes, funny moments, star power, and taps into the current rage against Wall Street and the wealthy elite. It raises good questions but doesn’t quite answer them. Does it deliver what it promises? Stars and a tension filled plot. Is it entertaining? Yes, although several plot points feel contrived. Is it worth the price of admission? Yes. Go for the entertainment and don’t expect anything beyond.
Tilda Swinton plays a rock star with edge and credibility in this jaw dropping comedy thriller. Vacationing in Italy with her lover Matthias Schoenaerts following throat surgery, they’re idle is interrupted by the arrival of Tilda’s ex and former manager Ralph Fiennes. Not only does his invade their privacy, he also brings along his seductive daughter played by Dakota Johnson, who helps ignite this tension filled story. Fiennes is the guest from Hell, jabbering controlling and annoying. Johnson lies low simmering seductively and telegraphing to us that the young woman has plans. Much is made of Swinton’s silences in her performance. As her character has endured throat surgery, she whispers hoarsely. Viewers can read more into her silence once this story ends. Swinton and Fiennes remain among the most interesting actors of our time. Schoenaerts hold his own. Dakota Johnson rises above her work in “Fifty Shades of Grey.” She shows talent and adds zest and mystery to this Hitchcock style comedy thriller. Does it deliver what it promises? Great performances and a sock-o ending. Is it entertaining? Holds your attention. Is it worth the price of admission? One of the season’s best.