December 28, 2016

Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) was having a hard time hanging on to his job as a janitor in Quincy, Massachusetts, when he received word from a family friend (C.J. Wilson) that his older brother, Joe (Kyle Chandler), had just suffered a heart attack after he fell on his fishing boat. Lee immediately rushed to the hospital to learn that his sibling had just passed away.

Joe had been raising his son Patrick (Lucas Hedges) by himself, because his wife (Gretchen Mol) had a serious substance abuse problem. Lee not only has to tell Patrick about the tragedy, but he has to tell him that, in accordance with his brother’s last wishes, he is now his guardian.

Reluctantly, Lee moves back to his hometown, Manchester by the Sea, a place where he’d already had more than his share of misfortune in the past. While trying to raise a headstrong 16-year-old, he is also forced to confront his personal problems, especially when he crosses paths with his ex-wife (Michelle Williams).

Thus unfolds Manchester by the Sea, a drama written and directed by two time Oscar nominee Kenneth Lonergan (You Can Count on Me and Gangs of New York). Another Academy Award nomination is likely for this heartrending portrait of a working-class hero.

Lee is not your typical protagonist. He’s an underachiever with a checkered past. Yet, by the same token, it is clear that he is determined to do his best for Lucas. Unfortunately, Lee is a man of few words who finds it difficult to communicate with his teenage nephew.

Nonetheless, Lonergan manages to explore Lee’s psyche in a novel way that not only makes him accessible, but likable. Credit must go to Casey Affleck, too, for his performance in a role where he was often forced to resort to non-verbal communication in situations where words escaped Lee.

Excellent (****). Rated R for sexuality and pervasive profanity. Running time: 137 minutes. Distributor: Amazon Studios/Roadside Attractions.

December 21, 2016

In 1987, Fences won both the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Play. The August Wilson classic, set in Pittsburgh in the 50s, described the day-to-day struggles of a blue-collar African-American family. The production was brought back to Broadway in 2010 and it received Tony awards for Best Revival — and for Denzel Washington and Viola Davis as the Best Actor and Best Actress.

Directed by Washington, the movie reunites Denzel with Viola and most of of the principal stage cast, including Mykelti Williamson, Stephen Henderson, and Russell Hornsby. The faithful adaptation of the Wilson masterpiece doesn’t attempt to amplify the original beyond a few tweaks that were made for the filmed version.

The story is about the trials and tribulations of Troy (Washington), a 53-year-old garbage man who aspires to being promoted to the position of truck driver. Unfortunately, he’s “colored,” and that position has, to date, been filled by whites. So, Troy and his co-worker Bono (Stephen Henderson) have to settle for grumbling about the racism that has kept them from advancing in their jobs.

Troy didn’t always have such modest dreams. In his youth, he’d exhibited promise as a baseball player. However, his hope of becoming a pro disappeared when he was convicted for committing a murder. He did try out for the major leagues when he was paroled at 40, but that proved to be an exercise in futility.

As a result, Troy takes to whiskey, that he drinks straight from the bottle. Rose (Davis), his long-suffering wife, is understandably worried that he will drink himself to death. The picture’s other pivotal characters include the couple’s teenage son (Jovan Adepo), Troy’s adult son (Hornsby) from his first marriage, and Troy’s mentally challenged brother, Gabe (Williamson), a wounded World War II veteran who has a metal plate in his head.

The plot thickens when Troy informs Rose that he has a mistress who is pregnant. Will this be the last straw that breaks the back of their shaky relationship?

Denzel and Viola deliver emotionally-provocative performances that will probably get them Academy Award nominations. The movie paints a plausible picture of black life in the inner city in the 50s.

Excellent (****). Rated PG-13 for profanity, ethnic slurs, mature themes, and sexual references. Running time: 138 minutes. Distributor: Paramount Pictures.

December 14, 2016

How did Jackie Kennedy feel after her husband’s assassination in Dallas on November 22, 1963? That is the question explored in Jackie, a movie that paints a portrait of Camelot’s First Lady by speculating about her mental state during the days immediately following the assassination of JFK (Caspar Phillipson).

Directed by Pablo Larrain (Neruda), Jackie stars Academy Award winner Natalie Portman (Black Swan) in the title role. Portman is likely to receive another Oscar nomination for her convincing impersonation of the legendary First Lady. She manages to replicate the Jackie Kennedy iconography, such as the whispery voice and the pillbox hats, and plumbs the depths of her soul.

As a result, we get a sense of her internal angst in a variety of situations, such as when she had to break the news of their father’s death to Caroline (Sunnie Pelant) and John-John (Aiden and Brody Weinberg). Or when she was rushed out of the White House by incoming Lady Bird Johnson (Beth Grant), who was already thinking about replacing the drapes before JFK had been buried.

Fortunately, Jackie did have someone to depend upon on in her hour of need. It was not her brother-in-law Bobby (Peter Sarsgaard) who thought of her as a “silly, little debutante,” but the Catholic priest (John Hurt) who was her confidant and confessor. He helped Jackie summon the strength and courage to accompany her husband’s casket on foot in the funeral procession down Pennsylvania Avenue, despite fears of a copycat assassin.

Her faith faltering, Jackie admitted that, “I think God is cruel.” She even wondered aloud whether she might have been better off marrying “an ordinary, lazy, ugly man.” And while Jackie desperately grasps at straws to make sense of her unspeakable nightmare, the only comforting words her supportive cleric can find are “There are no answers in man’s search for meaning.”

The movie is a bittersweet documentary drama that echoes the lyrics from the classic show tune Jackie identified as JFK’s favorite: “Don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment that was known as Camelot.”

Excellent (****). Rated R for profanity and brief graphic violence. Running time: 99 minutes. Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures.

December 7, 2016

If you only see one movie this year, La La Land is the picture to catch. This nostalgic homage to the Golden Age of Hollywood is a panoramic masterpiece that makes effective use of every inch of the big screen.

Written and directed by Oscar nominee Damien Chazelle (Whiplash), the picture was shot in CinemaScope, an obsolete technology that fell out of favor with filmmakers in the late 60s. Chazelle resurrects the wide-angled lens to produce an old-fashioned musical that unfolds against a breathtaking array of Los Angeles backdrops. La La Land also features an enchanting original score composed by Justin Hurwitz, who has also collaborated before with his college classmate Damien on the movies Whiplash and Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench.

This romantic film is about Sebastian Wilder and Mia Dolan, struggling artists who are played to perfection by Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone respectively. Their supporting cast includes J.K. Simmons, John Legend, and Rosemarie DeWitt.

After a show-stopping opening staged on a gridlocked freeway where stuck motorists suddenly break into song and dance, we’re introduced to the lead actors. We learn that jazz pianist Sebastian is a purist who plays for tips in dingy dives while trying to save enough cash to open his own nightclub. Mia is an aspiring actress who divides her time between auditions and a job as a barista at a coffee shop on the Warner Brothers lot.

Sebastian and Mia are strangers who initially annoy each other whenever their paths cross. Eventually, however, sparks do fly which inspires them to sing mellifluous and melancholy tunes. They also fall in love and encourage each other to pursue their dreams.

Since it would be unfair to spoil any of the ensuing plot developments, suffice it to say that Gosling and Stone are delightful, whether singing or generating screen chemistry. The movie is a charming pleaser that deserves all the superlatives it’s about to receive in the upcoming awards season.

Excellent (****). Rated PG-13 for profanity. Running time: 128 minutes. Distributor: Summit Entertainment/Lionsgate Films.

November 30, 2016

movie-revIt’s late November in Grundy, Virginia, a small town whose economy depends heavily on Peyton Automotive, a family business inherited by Matthew Peyton (Ryan O’Quinn) from his late grandfather. Unfortunately, the company has fallen on hard times and Matthew is considering cancelling the annual Christmas pageant that the company has sponsored since the 70s.

In addition, Matthew is being pressured by his financial advisor, Albert Bagley (Kevin Sizemore) to either lay off or lower the salaries of his 115 employees. Needless to say, the prospect of cutbacks doesn’t sit well with union rep Bob Alexander (James C. Burns) who decides to call for a strike.

Matthew testifies before Grundy’s City Council that he can no longer afford to stage the holiday festival because the funds in the trust set up for the event have been exhausted. However, his grandfather specifically stipulated in his will that Peyton Automotive must continue the tradition.

Nonetheless, Matthew asserts that the business has been losing money for several years and that, given the situation, he has no choice but to shut it down. However, the mayor (Lance E. Nichols) warns him that if, “You keep going in this direction, you will get crucified.”

Sure enough, Matthew becomes the victim of escalating violence. First his car is egged, has a tire slashed, and then is set on fire. Then, he’s beaten to within an inch of his life and left for dead by a gang of union goons.

Fortunately, a most unlikely hero comes to his rescue in the form of a precocious homeless child named CJ Joseph (Issac Ryan Brown). CJ and his mother Sharon (Danielle Nicolet) nurse Matthew back to health and also give him a lesson about what really matters most in life.

In spite of their homelessness and poverty, the Josephs fervently believe that better days are coming. “I wish I had that kind of faith,” Matthew admits. When he recovers, a grateful Matthew informs Sharon and CJ that “You took care of me, now I’ll take care of you.”

That is the point of departure of Believe, a morality play that is the directorial debut of Billy Dickson. Although the picture is aimed at the Christian demographic, it’s storyline — including a love triangle and intriguing plot twists — will appeal to the general public.

Very Good (***). Rated PG for violence, mature themes, and mild epithets. Running time: 118 minutes. Distributor: Power of 3.

November 23, 2016

movie-rev-11-23-16We are introduced to Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) as he disembarks from a steamship from England that has just arrived in the New York harbor in 1926. The young wizard has to resort to some sleight-of-hand illusions in order to slip through customs, because his suitcase is filled to bursting with a unique type of contraband.

It turns out that Newt is hiding a menagerie of mythical creatures with unusual names like obscurials, bowtruckles, and dougals. Thanks to the unreliable latch on his tattered leather satchel, it doesn’t take long for a mischievous niffler to escape. The odd-looking creature soon manages to break into a nearby bank vault where it proceeds to indulge its insatiable appetite for gold by stuffing coins into its pouch.

Newt, however, must get the money back to the vault before its disappearance arouses the suspicions of Mary Lou Barebone (Samantha Morton). She’s the leader of the New Salem Philanthropic Society, a group of no-majs, (aka muggles — meaning ordinary human beings), that is dedicated to the extermination of wizards and witches.

Unfortunately, Newt whips out his wand in order to recapture the naughty niffler in the presence of Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), an affable Everyman who is applying for a loan to open his own bakery. Unfortunately, since Jacob has just observed the use of magic, wizardry protocol requires that the Everyman’s memory must be wiped clean on the spot.

However, Jacob manages to flee before being “obliviated,” and he inadvertently takes Newt’s bag of creatures with him. As luck would have it, Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) — a comely witch who is a member of the Magical Congress of the United States of America — comes to Newt’s rescue.

Thus unfolds Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a visually captivating adaptation of the J.K. Rowling bestseller of the same name. Even though the book was alluded to in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, you don’t need to be familiar with the Harry Potter books or films in order to appreciate this delightful fantasy, that apparently will have five episodes.

Oscar-winner Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything) delivers a fresh and endearing vulnerability as the picture’s bashful protagonist. And he is ably assisted by a stellar supporting cast composed of A-list actors and an array of endearing computer-generated creatures.

Excellent (****). Rated PG-13 for fantasy action and violence. Running time: 132 minutes. Distributor: Warner Brothers.

November 16, 2016

MCDINFE EC060Dan Brown is the author of four bestselling mysteries that feature Harvard Professor Robert Langdon as the protagonist. The popular novels have sold over 100 million copies, and the fifth one is scheduled to be released in the fall of 2017.

Screen versions of the first two Robert Langdon books, The Da Vinci Code (2006) and Angels & Demons (2009), earned over a billion dollars at the box office. So, it’s no surprise that an adaptation of another novel has been made.

Inferno reunites director Ron Howard with Tom Hanks. Hanks reprises his lead role as the genius who has an uncanny knack for deciphering ancient symbols and religious iconography. Howard chose a stellar support cast that includes Ben Foster, Felicity Jones, Irrfan Khan, and Omar Sy.

Inferno is easily the most successful of the three movies, because it eliminates Langdon’s use of inscrutable jargon. In this film, the intellectual badinage has been minimized, thereby leaving room for a series of visually captivating action sequences.

Another plus is the easy to follow plotline. The point of departure is in a hospital in Florence, Italy where Langdon is suffering from amnesia. He is lucky to be alive because the bullet that brought on the amnesia only grazed his scalp.

However, an assassin (Ana Ularu) soon arrives to finish the job. Fortunately, Langdon’s doctor, Sienna Brooks (Jones), not only helps him escape the assassin, but she also abandons her medical practice in order to help her traumatized patient escape from his enemies.

Of course the hit woman was part of a much larger conspiracy. She was following the orders of Bertrand Zobrist (Foster), an evil billionaire who is about to unleash a diabolical solution to the world’s overpopulation problem. The madman plans to release a lethal virus that is designed to kill half the people on the planet in less than a week.

That sets off Langdon and Sienna’s dizzying race against time to foil the diabolical Zobrist’s scheme. That, in a nutshell is the essence of Inferno, except for a humdinger of a twist that is unfair to spoil.

This movie is easily the most accessible, engaging, and entertaining cinematic adaptation of a Dan Brown thriller to date.

Very Good (***). Rated PG-13 for action, violence, profanity, disturbing images, mature themes, and brief sensuality. In English, French, and Italian with subtitles. Running time: 126 minutes. Distributor: Sony Pictures.

November 9, 2016

movie-rev-11-9-16Mildred Jeter (Ruth Negga) and Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton) committed a crime when they were young and fell in love in 1958. That’s because she was black and he was white, and they were living in Virginia, one of many southern states that had anti-miscegnation laws that forbade cohabitation, marriage, procreation, and sexual relations across racial lines.

Nevertheless, Richard was in love and he asked Mildred to marry him. When Mildred said yes, he purchased a vacant plot of land where he promised to build their dream home. However, in order to become married, they had to go to Washington, D.C., where they could obtain a marriage license.

When they returned to their hometown of Central Point, they were promptly arrested in a nighttime raid by policemen who were tipped off about the couple’s recent wedding. They were charged with violating section 20-58 of Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act, a felony that was punishable with up to five years in prison.

The Lovings were convicted, but they fled to the District of Columbia in order to avoid going to jail, especially since Mildred was expecting their first child. It was a tragedy for them to be fugitives and forced to start their family in a strange city, since they already had a place to live, albeit in a state that sanctioned racial intolerance.

Five years later, their plight came to the attention of Bernie Cohen (Nick Kroll) and Phil Hirshkop (Jon Bass) who were attorneys working with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The lawyers persuaded Mildred and Richard to become plaintiffs in a suit that challenged the constitutionality of Virginia’s statute that prohibited interracial marriage.

The couple agreed to pursue the case, and the appellate process worked its way up to the U.S. Supreme Court. “Tell the judge I love my wife,” Richard implored the ACLU legal team as they were preparing their oral argument before the court.

On June 12, 1967, the Court announced its unanimous decision that was written by Chief Justice Earl Warren. It declared that the state of Virginia had violated the Loving family’s rights to equal protection and due process that were guaranteed in the 14th amendment to the constitution.

Directed by Jeff Nichols (Mud), Loving chronicles the life and times of an unassuming couple whose landmark legal case thrust them into the national limelight. The production features excellent performances by Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton, who generate a quietly convincing screen chemistry while portraying Mildred and Richard as a modest working-class family.

Excellent (****). Rated PG-13 for mature themes and ethnic slurs. Running time: 123 minutes. Studio: Big Beach Films. Distributor: Focus Features.

November 2, 2016

movie-rev-11-2-16Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) was born in the Blue Ridge Mountains where he was raised as a Seventh-day Adventist. Devoutly religious, he followed his faith’s literal interpretation of the Ten Commandments, including the Fifth one’s dictate that “Thou shalt not kill.” So, when he rushed to enlist in the Army right after the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, he did so as a conscientious objector.

However, because he was unwilling to touch, let alone carry a weapon, Desmond was teased mercilessly by other members of his platoon. In fact, he was not only beaten by a bully (Luke Bracey), but was also court-martialed for failing to complete the weapons part of basic training.

However, the military tribunal ruled in Desmond’s favor after his World War I veteran father (Hugo Weaving) testified on his behalf. Still, his fellow G.I.s were reluctant to accept a comrade whom they thought was a coward, since they had just been taught by their Sergeant Howell (Vince Vaughn) that a unit was no stronger than its weakest link.

Nevertheless, Desmond was commissioned as a medic with the 307th Infantry with whom he would more than prove his mettle on the island of Okinawa in the bloodiest battle of World War II. He exhibited extraordinary courage during a month spent dodging bullets and bombs in order to attend to the wounded during the siege of Hacksaw Ridge.

Desmond would save the lives of 75 soldiers and his selfless exploits were ultimately appreciated by both his fellow unit members and the Pentagon. The heroic medic eventually became the first conscientious objector to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

All of the above is recounted in riveting fashion in Hacksaw Ridge, a biopic directed by Mel Gibson. Fair warning: the film features graphic battlefield scenes similar to the gory D-Day reenactments seen in Saving Private Ryan (1998).

In addition to the gruesome war scenes, the film has flashbacks that describe Desmond’s formative years, including his romance with Dorothy Schutte (Teresa Palmer), the pretty nurse he fell in love with and married shortly before shipping out for the Pacific Theater.

The film closes with archival newsreels and stills of the real-life Desmond and Dorothy. The movie is a moving portrait of a war hero who made a significant contribution to the war effort without ever using a weapon.

Excellent (****). Rated R for graphic violence, gruesome images, and ethnic slurs. Running time: 131 minutes. Distributor: Summit Entertainment.

October 26, 2016

AMH_D5_04663.RAFNo one has ever accused Tyler Perry of being short on ideas. The prolific writer/director has been the brains behind plays, movies, and television shows. But he would be the first to admit that he was not the source of inspiration for Boo! A Madea Halloween, the ninth in the Madea series about the sassy sermonizing granny.

The idea originated with Chris Rock, who featured a fake poster for a film with the identical title in his 2014 comedy Top Five. Because the joke went viral, Tyler decided why not get back in drag and make a movie to meet the demand generated by the buzz.

However, Boo! definitely has a different feel from the previous Madea movies. It is not a typical Tyler Perry morality play but instead is a rudderless, kitchen sink comedy that seizes on any excuse for a laugh. Madea is no longer a Bible thumping role model who interferes on behalf of an underdog in distress. True, one minute, she’s promoting old-fashioned values. However, in the next scene she is exposing her breasts to frat boys.

The film does have a rudimentary plot about Madea’s 17-year-old grand-niece, Tiffany (Diamond White). However the idea is presented at the opening of the film and promptly abandoned. It’s Halloween, and the headstrong high schooler and her girlfriends hope to attend a party at the Upsilon Theta frat house.

Since her divorced father (also played by Perry) will be otherwise occupied, it falls to Madea to babysit Tiffany, to make sure the rebellious teen never leaves the house. Madea arrives with an entourage of amusing misfits, including Aunt Bam (Cassi Davis), Hattie (Patrice Lovely), and Uncle Joe (also played by Perry).

Soon, silly Halloween one-liners, non sequiturs, slapstick, and sight gags appear at a fast and furious rate. Unfortunately, many of the punchlines are likely to be lost on those unable to decipher the often inscrutable exchanges.

Good (**). Rated PG-13 for drug use, suggestive content, profanity, ethnic slurs, scary images, and mature themes. Running time: 103 minutes. Distributor: Lionsgate Films.

October 19, 2016

movie-rev-2-10-19-16Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck) looks like your average CPA. The self-employed accountant has his own office in a modest building located in a nondescript strip mall in suburban Plainfield, Illinois.

However, because he was born with Aspberger’s Syndrome, (a form of autism) he is a math savant, which makes him very well-suited to his profession. Nevertheless, looks can be very deceiving, because the mild-mannered loner also has a shadowy side that he keeps under wraps.

Consequently, no one has any idea that Christian’s clients are powerful mobsters whom he helps launder huge sums of cash without attracting the attention of the authorities. Over the years, he has become wealthy in his own right by cooking the books for crooks while resisting the temptation to live beyond his apparent means.

Eventually, Christian’s business does arouse the suspicions of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Crime Enforcement Division that is led by Director Raymond King (J.K. Simmons). Aware that the government agent Marybeth Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) and her cohorts are on his tail, Christian decides to represent Living Robotics, a respected, hi-tech firm, in order to provide a legitimate front for his business.

However, he and an employee (Dana Cummings) at Living Robotics find their lives threatened when they uncover millions of dollars worth of corruption in the company. But those crooks have no idea that when Christian was growing up, he had been trained to defend himself by his protective father (Robert C. Trevelier), who trained his autistic son to not be bullied. Even though it has been many years since he has had to protect himself, those skills now kick in and Christian becomes a cold, calculating assassin.

Thus unfolds The Accountant that is directed by Gavin O’Connor (Tumbleweeds). The film’s script has been artfully executed by an A-list cast of actors including Academy Award winners Ben Affleck and J.K. Simmons, as well as Oscar nominees Anna Kendrick and John Lithgow.

Excellent (****). Rated R for graphic violence and pervasive profanity. In English, French, and Indonesian with subtitles. Running time: 128 minutes. Distributor: Warner Brothers Pictures.

October 12, 2016
Photo by Jahi Chikwendiu. © 2016 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

Photo by Jahi Chikwendiu. © 2016 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

Nat Turner (Nate Parker) was born into slavery on October 2, 1800 on a sprawling plantation in Southampton County, Virginia. He was a precocious child and had a thirst for knowledge at an early age. He learned to read the Bible with the help of his masters, Samuel (Armie Hammer) and Elizabeth Turner (Penelope Ann Miller). The couple shielded him from the brutality of slavery by allowing him to live and work in the mansion instead of toiling in the cotton fields alongside his mother (Aunjanue Ellis) and grandmother (Esther Scott).

Nat grew up and became a deeply religious youth. He became a traveling preacher who was told to spread the word of God to his fellow slaves in the neighboring towns. In that capacity, his job was to keep the oppressed African Americans content with their miserable lot in life by reciting scriptural passages such as “Submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the cruel.” (1 Peter 2:18).

However, the more he witnessed the atrocities associated with slavery, the more outraged he became. And when he became an adult, he surreptitiously started including verses that proclaimed that slavery was evil — such as “Do not become slaves of men.” (1 Corinthians 7:23).

Nat had a miraculous vision in which he was directly ordered by God to set his people free. That transformative moment became the inspiration for him to mount a bloody insurrection that began with slaying his masters and ultimately claimed about 60 more white slave owner’s lives.

All of the above is graphically depicted in The Birth of a Nation, a biopic marking the directorial debut of Nate Parker (The Great Debaters). Parker also co-wrote the script and stars as Nat Turner in this revisionist movie that effectively recasts an infamous slave revolt leader — who has been denigrated by history because of his resort to violence — as a hero.

The compelling drama received both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, and had emerged as probably the Best Picture Academy Award favorite until stories about Parker’s having been accused of rape while in college went viral. Nevertheless, judging The Birth of a Nation strictly on the merits, it undeniably deserves its status as a prime Oscar contender.

The movie is an emotionally unsettling alternate version of a controversial chapter of America’s slave history.

Excellent (****). Rated R for brief nudity and disturbing violence. Running time: 120 minutes. Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures.

October 5, 2016

movie-revOn April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, located 41 miles off the coast of Louisiana, exploded when methane gas, under high pressure, blew out of the drill pipe and caught fire. Eleven members of the crew perished in the ensuing inferno that engulfed the platform.

The accident caused the worst oil spill in U.S. history, with over 200 million gallons of crude oil leaking into the Gulf of Mexico by the time the well was capped 86 days later. Next, authorities turned their attention to the question of who was to blame for the disaster.

There was no shortage of potential villains to sort through because the drilling unit had been built in South Korea — was owned by Transocean Limited, a Swiss company, operated under the flag of the Marshall Islands — was leased to British Petroleum (BP) but maintained by Halliburton, an American field service corporation — and serviced by Schlumberger, a Dutch company. Ultimately, the bulk of the blame would be attributed to BP, and the company was found guilty of gross negligence and ordered to pay billions of dollars in damages to thousands of aggrieved parties.

Directed by Peter Berg (Battleship), Deepwater Horizon revisits the infamous incident primarily from the perspective of the rig’s chief electronics technician, Mike Williams. The picture reunites Berg with Mark Wahlberg with whom he previously collaborated on Lone Survivor.

Wahlberg plays Williams, a working-class man of unquestioned integrity. As the film unfolds, we find him bidding adieu to his family as he was leaving for a 21-day tour on the oil platform. If Mike had heeded warning signs like his wife’s (Kate Hudson) premonitions and his daughter Sydney’s (Stella Allen) science project with a Coke can geyser, he might have decided to call in sick.

The same could be said of his colleague Andrea Fleytas (Gina Rodriguez), a mechanic who couldn’t get her car started that same morning. Even the helicopter ferrying them to work experienced an ominous bird strike en route to the platform. And upon landing, they were greeted by a friend who had a macabre skull-and-crossbones insignia on his hard hat.

Don Vidrine (John Malkovich) and Bob Kaluza (Brad Leland) are the BP bureaucrats who bullied their employees to increase production at all costs from the minute they arrived on the platform. These villains were willing to put profits before any safety concerns, so it’s not surprising when the platform’s unstable drill pipe failed disastrously.

During the pyrotechnic calamity that ensued, Mike’s actions were heroic and later his testimony in court identified the culprits who were responsible. The movie is a harrowing tale of survival that ends with justice being served.

Excellent (****). Rated PG-13 for intense action sequences, disturbing images. and brief profanity. Running time: 107 minutes. Distributor: Lionsgate Films.

September 28, 2016

movie-rev-9-28-16Directed by the legendary Akira Kurosawa in 1954, Seven Samurai was a groundbreaking film that had a profound influence on the evolution of cinema for many years. Superficially, that seminal work was merely a martial arts epic set in 16th century Japan. Yet, over the years, it has spawned a series of knockoffs that reprise the picture’s narrative about a team of selfless heroes who were recruited to achieve some lofty goal.

In 1960, Seven Samurai was remade as The Magnificent Seven, a Western that co-starred Steve McQueen, Yul Brynner, Charles Bronson, Eli Wallach, Robert Vaughn, and James Coburn. Today, that classic has been remade by Antoine Fuqua in a film that reunites the director with Denzel Washington after their successful collaborations on The Equalizer (2014) and Training Day (2001). The latter film won an Academy Award.

This version of The Magnificent Seven has a few variations on the original theme. For example, the picture’s bad guy is now an avaricious white man who is intent on seizing a mining town’s gold — instead of a Mexican bandito who has been staging a series of border raids. And the good guys enlisted to take care of the greedy villains are a politically correct rainbow coalition comprised of heroes who come from diverse ethnic backgrounds.

Otherwise, the essence of the original plot remains intact. As the film unfolds, we find that the people in the frontier settlement of Rose Creek are living in fear of Bartholomew Bogue and his gang of marauders. Bogue is your stereotypical, bloodthirsty villain, played to perfection by Peter Sarsgaard.

It is made clear just how low the diabolical Bogue will stoop to achieve his evil ends when he murders an innocent woman and burns the church to the ground. The frightened local people are at their wit’s end, and are glad to welcome the arrival in town of the bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Washington).

They have no idea that Chisolm isn’t being merely altruistic and that he has his own reasons to eliminate Bogue. After Chilsholm is deputized, he proceeds to assemble a crew composed of: a Civil War veteran suffering from shell shock (Ethan Hawke), a hard-drinking bombmaker (Chris Pratt), a gruff mountain man (Vincent D’Onofrio), a Chicano outlaw (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), a Comanche archer (Martin Sensmeier), and a knife-throwing assassin (Byung-hun Lee).

Don’t expect any deeply-developed characters. The movie is about the inexorable march to the big showdown when the heroes even the score — and then some.

Excellent (****). Rated PG-13 for intense violence, smoking, profanity, and suggestive material. Running time: 132 minutes. Distributor: Sony Pictures.

September 21, 2016

movie-rev-9-21-16Earlier this year, the film Citizenfour won the Academy Award in the Best Documentary category. But because the movie made less than $4 million worldwide, one might reasonably conclude that the details of Edward Snowden’s (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) release of National Security Agency documents is relatively unknown.

This is perhaps the reasoning of Oscar-winner Oliver Stone (Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July), who turns the story into a cloak-and-dagger drama about the NSA whistleblower’s leak of classified information who then went into hiding from the U.S. government. The movie unfolds in June of 2013 in a Hong Kong hotel room where Snowden met with journalists Glenn Greenwald (Zachary Quinto), Ewen Macaskill (Tom Wilkinson), and Laura Poitras (Melissa Leo), the director of Citizenfour.

After four days of interviews, Greenwald published his first story in the British daily newspaper, The Guardian. The Pulitzer Prize-winning series related in stunning detail the extent of the NSA’s surveillance of American citizens, in direct contradiction to a recent denial — given under oath — to Congress by James Clapper the nation’s Director of National Intelligence.

Because the articles identified Snowden as the source of the information, he immediately became the subject of an international manhunt. He somehow managed to evade the dragnet and boarded a commercial airliner bound for Moscow, even though his passport had been revoked and the U.S. had requested his extradition from Hong Kong.

Upon landing in Russia, Snowden was awarded temporary asylum and has remained there ever since. However, this movie has revived interest in his case, and he has recently make a public appeal for clemency.

A presidential pardon is unlikely to be forthcoming, even though President Obama considered the apprehension of the “29 year old-hacker” a very low priority in June 2013. So today, Snowden remains a fugitive from justice charged in absentia with theft, espionage, and conversion of government property.

Through a series of flashbacks, we are informed by the film that Snowden was a high school dropout who suffers from epilepsy. He also has a lasting relationship with Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley), his girlfriend who followed him from Virginia, to Hawaii, and then to Moscow. The movie portrays Snowden as a patriot who was willing to jeopardize his future in order to blow the whistle on the NSA’s violations of our constitutional rights.

Excellent (***½ stars). Rated R for profanity, sexuality, and nudity. In English and Russian with subtitles. Running time: 138 minutes.

Distributor: Open Road Films.

September 14, 2016

movie-rev-9-14-16US Airways Flight 1549 had just taken off from New York’s LaGuardia Airport on the afternoon of January, 15, 2009 when the pilots sighted a flock of Canada geese flying in their path at about 2,800 feet. The Airbus 320 was unable to avoid them and the ensuing collision with the birds disabled both of the planes engines.

At that point, Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger immediately took control of the plane from co-pilot Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) and told the air traffic controller about their predicament. After weighing his options in the next few seconds, Sully ignored air traffic controller Patrick Harten’s (Patch Darragh) suggestion to return to LaGuardia and instead decided to land the crippled jet in the Hudson River.

Thanks to a combination of calm water and the veteran Captain’s years of experience as a glider pilot and flight safety instructor, he managed to make a smooth landing in the river without triggering a fire or having the plane disintegrate upon impact. As a result, the 155 passengers and crew were floating downstream as the cabin slowly started to fill with water.

Sully ordered his passengers and crew to disembark into the inflatable life rafts and move onto the wings where they were quickly rescued by the commercial ferries and emergency vessels that were rushing to the scene. Amazingly, not a single life was lost in the crash that was dubbed the “Miracle on the Hudson.”

Directed by Clint Eastwood, Sully is not only a reenactment of the landing but is also about the subsequent investigation of the incident by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). We learn that while Captain Sullenberger was publicly being celebrated as a national hero by the press, the wisdom of his water landing was being questioned behind closed doors by the NTSB’s investigators.

The specialists who had been assigned to investigate the matter thought that the plane’s engines, at the bottom of the river, might have been operational, meaning that the plane could have been brought down at a nearby airport. If this were true, then Sully would have been reprimanded instead of praised. Ultimately, divers located the left engine, and the experts confirmed that the pilot did deserve his accolades.

Kudos to Clint Eastwood and Tom Hanks for successfully conveying the courage, wisdom, and stoicism that were exhibited by Captain Sullenberger in the face of the impending disaster. Stick around for the film’s closing credits that feature a reunion between the real Sully and many of the grateful people whose lives he saved.

Excellent (****). Rated PG-13 for peril and brief profanity. Running time: 96 minutes. Distributor: Warner Brothers Pictures.

September 7, 2016

movie rev 9-7-16Roberto Duran (Edgar Ramirez) is considered by most fight experts to be one of the greatest boxers of all time. He earned his nickname “Hands of Stone” because of his punching power.

Born in Panama in 1951, Roberto exhibited promise from the moment he first entered the ring at the age of 8. He turned pro at 16 and won the World Lightweight title at Madison Square Garden in 1972 after Ken Buchanan (John Duddy) failed to answer the bell for the 14th round. Roberto went on to knock out over 50 foes and compiled an impressive 62-1 record as a lightweight before moving up in weight class.

When he retired in 2002, Roberto held the world welterweight, light middleweight, and middleweight titles. But despite that incredible feat, he is remembered for crying “No mas!” before quitting midway through his Welterweight World Championship rematch with Sugar Ray Leonard (Usher Raymond). And although he would eventually return to the ring, that one display of cowardice effectively overshadowed his subsequent achievements.

Written and directed by Jonathan Jakubowicz (Secuestro Express), Hands of Stone is a biopic that humanizes Roberto and puts a positive spin on his indelible stain. This version of his career blames Duran’s failing on his manager, Carlos Eleta (Ruben Blades), and pressure from the fight’s promoter, Don King (Reg E. Cathey).

In the movie, we see the backstage image of a burnt-out Roberto bemoaning his being exploited. “I worked all my life. I didn’t have any fun, when I was a kid.” He not only began boxing young, he also married when he was 17 to Felicidad (Ana de Armas), who was only 14. However, the couple went on to have eight children and are still together after 47 years.

If the movie has a flaw, it’s in the fight scenes which leave a lot to be desired. Anyone expecting cinema verite as in Rocky or Raging Bull, will be disappointed.

Robert De Niro plays the legendary Ray Arcel who came out of retirement, in spite of death threats from the Mafia, to train a teenaged Duran. He whips the promising protege into fighting shape, and it’s just a matter of time before Roberto becomes successful.

Very Good (***). Rated R for sexuality, nudity, and profanity. In English and Spanish with subtitles. Running time: 105 minutes. Distributor: The Weinstein Company.

August 31, 2016

movie rev 3 8-31-16Who would ever think of making a movie about Barack (Parker Sawyers) and Michelle Obama’s (Tika Sumpter) first date? Richard Tanne would, and he makes an impressive directorial debut with this inspirational biopic that portrays a very eventful day in the lives of the future president and the future first lady.

The story unfolds in Chicago in the summer of 1989 when Michelle was employed as an attorney and living at home with her parents (Vanessa Bell Calloway and Phillip Edwad Van Lear). Barack had just finished his first year at Harvard law school and had landed an internship as her assistant at her prestigious firm.

Apparently, he was immediately smitten with Michelle. However, she had to politely remind him of the the office’s strict rule against fraternizing among associates. Nevertheless, when she refused to consider a date with him, he sold her on the idea of attending a business meeting with him.

After Michelle grudgingly agrees, Barack arrives late, and is not even embarrassed about either his tardiness or the gaping hole in the floor of his jalopy. He has also added a picnic, a museum visit, and a movie to their itinerary.

Initially, Michelle balks, but consents only after reminding Barack that “This is not a date.” Nevertheless, he presses on with his own agenda, with the Art Institute of Chicago being their first destination. And while enjoying paintings by the legendary Ernie Barnes, he begins broaching personal subjects.

The two continue to get to know each other over sandwiches in the park, with their conversations touching on everything from family, faith, blackness, and the meaning of life. So, Michelle had a pretty good measure of who he was by the time they arrived at the South Side rec center where Barack had worked as a community organizer.

The icing on the cake proves is be an inspirational, even presidential speech that he delivers to the people in the rec center. Michelle finally gives in, undoubtedly helped along by one woman’s (Deanna Reed Foster) approval of her as “the first sister” she’s ever seen Barack with. Next the pair heads to the theater to see Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, and they conclude the evening with a little canoodling while sharing an ice cream cone.

Southside with You is a syrupy soap opera recommended for Obama admirers. However, the predictable love story telegraphs its punches and its plotline is public knowledge. Overall, this plausible account of the blossoming of love between Barack and Michelle is a pleasant version of their romantic beginnings.

Very Good (***). PG-13 for smoking, a violent image, brief profanity, and a drug reference. Running time: 84 minutes. Distributor: Miramax/Roadside Attractions.

August 24, 2016

movie rev 8-24-16It takes a lot of self confidence to remake the Hollywood epic that won the most Academy Awards in history. But that’s just what we have in Ben Hur, a fairly faithful version of the 1959 classic that starred Charlton Heston.

The films are based on Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, a novel published in 1880, that quickly surpassed Uncle Tom’s Cabin as the best-selling American novel at the time. The book’s author, Lew Wallace, was a Civil War general who had led Union soldiers at the battle of Shiloh.

His inspirational tale of redemption’s timely themes of family, freedom, and patriotism helped unify a country torn asunder by years of war and the Reconstruction. Its compassionate tone particularly appealed to Southerners because of its sympathetic treatment of slave owners that encouraged resolution by reconciliation instead of revenge.

Directed by Timur Bekmambetov (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter), Ben Hur stars Jack Huston as the title character, although he is overshadowed by the film’s narrator, Morgan Freeman, who portrays Ilderiim, a wealthy Nubian sheik.

The story is set in Jerusalem in the time of Christ (Rodrigo Santoro). As the the film opens, we find Prince Judah Ben Hur living with his mother (Ayelet Zurer), sister Tirzah (Sofia Black D’Elia), and adopted brother Messala Severus (Toby Kebbell), an orphan taken in as a child by the family. Judah also has a love interest, Esther (Nazanin Boniadi), although her lowly slave status makes their marriage unlikely.

The plot thickens when the fully grown Messala, by then a Roman soldier, unfairly accuses the Ben Hur family of an act of treason that was perpetrated by Gestas (Moises Arias), one of the thieves crucified on Calvary alongside Jesus. As a result, the family is separated and sold into slavery, and Judah ends up in chains, rowing in the galley of a warship.

He eventually gains his freedom, and starts searching for his mother and his sister Esther. Concurrently, he finds religion and is afforded an opportunity to even the score with Massala in a chariot race at the Circus Maximus. Fortunately, Ben Hur has wily Ilderim in his corner, who is the best horse whisperer
/charioteer trainer.

In spite of the distracting mob scenes and religious sermonizing, Ben Hur 2016 is nevertheless an entertaining variation on the original that’s well worth seeing.

Excellent (****). Rated PG-13 for violence and disturbing images. Running time: 124 minutes. Distributor: Paramount Pictures.

August 17, 2016

movie revTanner (Ben Foster) and Toby Howard (Chris Pine) are brothers who are as different as night and day. The former is impulsive, reckless, and sociopathic, a combination that explains why he’s spent a long stretch in prison for a violent crime. In contrast, his younger brother is stable, sensitive, and chivalrous.

While Tanner was behind bars, Toby, who is divorced, divides his time between raising his two sons (John Paul Howard and Christopher W. Garcia) and caring for his terminally-ill mother. It’s no surprise that before she died, she cut Tanner out of her will and left a sizable estate to Toby.

Unfortunately, a shady loan officer (Richard Christie) had duped her into taking a reverse mortgage on her cattle ranch. As a result, the bank is holding a lien on her land which Toby has just learned is sitting atop a fortune in untapped oil reserves. However, unless the note is paid off by Friday, Texas Midlands bank will follow through on its threat to foreclose, “Come hell or high water.”

Of course, Toby wants keep the property and sign it over to his boys. Trouble is, he can’t raise the cash. As a result, he is considering breaking the law for the first time in his life.

Enlisting the assistance of his brother, who was just paroled, he hatches a plan to rob Texas Midlands’ branches until they’ve got enough cash to pay off the mortgage. The two proceed to embark on a spree aimed solely at branches of the bank that had taken advantage of their vulnerable mother.

However, the heists soon come to the attention of the Texas Rangers and the case is assigned to Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges), a wily veteran who is only weeks away from retirement. Soon Hamilton and his Comanche partner (Gil Birmingham) are on the pair’s trail.

Thus unfolds Hell or High Water, a captivating, cat-and-mouse crime thriller directed by Brit David Mackenzie (Starred Up). Between Taylor Sheridan’s (Sicario) engaging script and the powerful performances by Jeff Bridges and company, this sleeper would be generating Oscar buzz if it hadn’t been released in August.

Excellent (****). Rated R for graphic violence, pervasive profanity, and brief sexuality. Running time: 102 minutes. Studio: Film 44/Sidney Kimmel Entertainment/Lionsgate/OddLot Entertainment. Distributor: CBS Films.

August 10, 2016

movie revFrank (Seth Rogen) is frustrated sitting on a shelf in a Shopwells supermarket where he’s cooped up in a shrink-wrapped package with seven other sausages. They pass their time speculating about what awaits them in “The Great Beyond,” meaning the vast unknown that is past the cash register and on the other side of the door.

They’re all very eager to be bought because they believe in the rumor that the store’s customers transport their groceries to a heavenly utopia where they enjoy lives of never ending bliss. Also, Frank has another reason he wants to leave, because he has a crush on Brenda (Kristen Wiig), the curviest of the Glamour Buns girls.

However, when they’re all about to be purchased during the blowout 4th of July sale, Frank learns from a returned jar of honey mustard (Danny McBride) that the rumor is all wrong. In truth, the food gets taken home and is eaten by the humans.

So, Frank sounds the alarm and warns that “The Gods are evil and they will kill us!” Unfortunately, the news falls on deaf ears, since the majority of his friends are simply too brainwashed to believe him.

However, he and a few intrepid souls make a break for it. They include Brenda, Sammy Bagel, Jr. (Edward Norton), Teresa the Taco (Salma Hayek), Lavash the Pita bread (David Krumholtz), Grits (Craig Robinson), Twinkies (Scott Underwood), and fellow sausages Barry (Michael Cera), Carl (Jonah Hill), and Troy (Anders Holm). What ensues is a rollicking exploration of religion, sex, and political issues from the perspective of these anthropomorphized grocery items.

For example, Middle East concerns are reflected in the bitter discussion about aisle space between the bagel and the pita bread — a thinly-veiled reference to Jewish and Palestinian tensions. Race in America is touched upon when Grits complains about “Crackers” in a tirade during which he bellows “They call me Mr. Grits!”

Co-directed by Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon, Sausage Party is an adult oriented cartoon. It’s a coarse and crude movie that deserves its R-rating. Reminiscent of of other equally outrageous animated adventures — Team America (2004) and South Park (1997) — this comedy will resonate with fans of politically-incorrect shock-fare.

Very Good (***). Rated R for ethnic and off color humor, graphic sexuality, drug abuse, and pervasive profanity. Running time: 89 minutes. Distributor: Sony Pictures.

August 3, 2016

movie rev 8-3-16A Jason Bourne movie just isn’t the same without Jason Bourne, as the producers found out the hard way in 2012 when they made The Bourne Legacy without the title character. Fortunately, Matt Damon has returned to reprise the role of the renegade CIA agent that he originated in the series’ first three films.

The movie reunites Damon with Paul Greengrass, director of The Bourne Supremacy (2004) and The Bourne Ultimatum (2007), that were the series’ most successful episodes at the box office. While this film might not measure up to those earlier pictures in action, it nevertheless features riveting cloak and dagger intrigue.

The point of departure is Athens — ten years after the last time we last saw Jason. He’s now fully recovered from the amnesia that had plagued him. However, he has remained under the radar because he is still considered an outlaw by CIA Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones).

We soon learn that Jason’s ally inside the Agency, Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), has gone rogue. She’s off the grid in Iceland, working in concert with a whistleblower (Vinzenz Kiefer) who is attempting to hack into the CIA’s computer files.

Nicky eventually joins Jason in Greece where she provides him with some incriminating evidence about the Agency as well as answers about his own mysterious past. However, their rendezvous has been tracked by CIA analyst Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) who has been surreptitiously monitoring Nicky’s movements.

Next, Jason finds himself on the run from an assassin (Victor Cassel), who was dispatched by Director Dewey. Then Lee joins the chase, too, hoping to talk Jason into voluntarily coming in from the cold. The ensuing cat-and-mouse caper becomes a globe-trotting affair that unfolds all across Europe and ends in a captivating showdown on “The Strip” in Las Vegas.

The film’s only distracting flaw is the sotto voce performance delivered by Oscar-winner Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl) who seems to swallow every word. Otherwise, the principal cast acquits itself admirably: from Tommy Lee Jones in the familiar role of an orders-barking boss, to Vincent Cassel as a despicable villain, and Matt Damon as the two-fisted protagonist.

Very Good (***). Rated PG-13 for brief profanity, violence, and intense action. Running time: 123 minutes. Distributor: Universal Pictures.

July 27, 2016

movie rev 7-27-16Pablo Escobar (1949-1993) was an infamous mobster who ran Colombia’s Medellin drug cartel with an iron fist. During his reign, Escobar controlled about 80 percent of the global cocaine market, and took in about $70 million/day.

To maintain his power, the ruthless kingpin had his henchmen assassinate thousands of adversaries, including policemen, politicians, witnesses, judges, and journalists. Therefore, to infiltrate the ranks of such a vicious operation at its height in the 80s was certainly a very difficult and dangerous undertaking.

However, the risks didn’t deter U.S. Customs Agent Robert Mazur (Bryan Cranston), even though he had a wife (Juliet Aubrey) and two children (Lara Decaro and Niall Hayes). Robert assured his spouse that this would be his last assignment before retirement. He adopted the alias Bob Musella and pretended to be a shady Tampa businessman who was willing to turn the drug cartel’s drug money into Florida real estate.

He recruited two agents to help him bring off this daring sting. One was Kathy Ertz (Diane Kruger), a novice who posed as his fiancée on her first undercover case. The other was Emir Abreu (John Leguizamo), a new partner who has street smarts. Soon the trio is swept into a seedy underworld where they have a close brush with death at every turn. However, by proving themselves to be capable and trustworthy money launderers, they gradually work their way up the Medellin cartel food chain to the point where they gain the confidence of Roberto Alcaino (Benjamin Bratt), Escobar’s Miami-based right-hand man.

Consequently, Bob and Kathy become friends with Roberto and his wife, Gloria (Elena Anaya). They are regularly invited over for dinner to the Alcainos’ sprawling mansion, however, the host always reminds Bob and Kathy about the gruesome fate that awaits snitches and traitors.

Thus unfolds The Infiltrator, a riveting, cat-and-mouse thriller directed by Brad Furman (The Lincoln Lawyer). The screenplay was adapted by Furman’s mother Ellen from Mazur’s memoir of the same name. The film stars Bryan Cranston, who ratchets up the tension by portraying his conflicted character with a convincing combination of arrogance and existential dread.

Excellent (****). Rated R for pervasive profanity, graphic violence, drug use, and some sexuality. In English and Spanish with subtitles. Running time: 127 minutes. Distributor: Broad Green Pictures.

July 20, 2016

movie rev 7-20-16First released in 1984, Ghostbusters grossed almost a quarter-billion dollars at the box office, making it the most successful comedy of the 80s. In the 2016 remake, director Paul Feig (Bridesmaids) has tweaked the story by changing the gender of the leads from male to female.

Wisely, Feig chose four excellent comediennes: Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones. The director developed a script that plays to each of their respective strengths. The result is a hilarious remake that pays homage to the first film while remaining refreshingly unique in its own right. Plus, the movie features amusing appearances by original cast members Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Sigourney Weaver, Ernie Hudson, and Annie Potts.

The point of departure is stately Aldridge mansion in Manhattan, where a tour guide (Zach Woods) inadvertently releases the disembodied spirit of Gertrude Aldridge (Bess Rous), a serial killer who had been locked in a dungeon and fed through a slot in the door after killing all of her family servants in 1894. The attack by the evil apparition causes the slimed victim to enlist the assistance of Abby Yates (McCarthy) and Jillian Holtzmann (McKinnon), professors of the paranormal at the mythical Higgins Institute of Science to exorcise the evil spirit.

The two academics are anxious to explore the haunted house. On their way to the mansion they are joined by Abby’s friend Columbia Professor Erin Gilbert (Wiig), and Patty Tolan (Jones), a token booth clerk who was scared by a spook she saw in a subway tunnel. Unfortunately for the foursome, they are unable to find any evidence of a ghost in the building.

As a result, all three professors lose their jobs. Undeterred, they turn a loft above a Chinese restaurant into a research lab, hire a secretary (Chris Hemsworth), and convert a hearse, borrowed from Patty’s mortician uncle (Ernie Hudson), into a Ghostbuster-mobile.

The self-proclaimed “Conductors of the Metaphysical” develop an arsenal of high-tech weapons including ray guns, a ghost shredder, and a motion-activated proton glove. And just in time, because New York City is being invaded by an army of menacing apparitions.

Excellent (****). Rated PG-13 for action and crude humor. Running time: 116 minutes. Distributor: Sony Pictures.

July 13, 2016

movie rev 7-13-16Tarzan quickly became a sensation soon after the stories about him appeared in pulp magazines in 1912. Created by Edgar Rice Burroughs, the character soon became a cultural icon and was featured in a series of bestselling novels, more than 200 movies, and a myriad of consumer products.

According to the stories by Burroughs, Tarzan, aka John Clayton, was the son of a married pair of British aristocrats who died in Africa when their boy was an infant. The baby was found and raised in the wild by apes and he learned to speak the language of all the beasts in the jungle.

Moreover, as the “Lord of the Jungle,” he had dominion over the animal kingdom and also over cannibalistic tribes that were eager to rape white women and boil missionaries in a big pot. That insensitive portrayal of Africans as evil and uncivilized eventually became controversial in more enlightened times and Tarzan subsequently declined in popularity.

Now however, he’s been brought back to the big screen. Directed by David Yates (Harry Potter 5, 6, 7 and 8) The Legend of Tarzan portrays a more politically correct version of the Lord of the Jungle.

Set in 1884, the film stars Alexander Skarsgard in the title role and Samuel L. Jackson as his sophisticated sidekick, Dr. George Washington Williams. The American doctor was shoehorned into the story in order to offset the images of the indigenous black tribes.

At the point of departure, we find Tarzan and wife Jane (Margot Robbie) living in London as Lord and Lady Greystoke, and it has apparently been a long time since Tarzan lived in Africa.

When invited by Parliament to serve as a trade emissary, Lord Greystoke leaps at the chance to return to the Congo. What Tarzan doesn’t know is that he is a pawn in a plot masterminded by Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz), a diabolical villain who is dealing in blood diamonds.

Upon arriving, it doesn’t take long for Tarzan to revert from a proper English gentleman to the feral vine swinger who can summon a thundering herd of elephants with his signature call.

Very Good (***). Rated PG-13 for action, violence, sensuality, and crude dialogue. Running time: 109 minutes. Distributor: Warner Brothers Pictures.