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Does tension and what-would-you-do-nature keep 47 Meters Down from sinking? Our movie critic has all the details.

 

“Now remember, we hate Blake Lively’s movie and refuse to acknowledge it in public once I strap you in!” Captain Taylor (Matthew Modine) helps Lisa (Mandy Moore) get her oxygen tank strapped in while her sister Kate (Claire Holt) looks on in a scene from co-writer/director Johannes Roberts ocean thriller 47 METERS DOWN. Credit: © 2017 Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures. All rights reserved.
 
 

WATCH THE TRAILER(S) HERE: 


KEY CAST MEMBERS: Mandy Moore, Claire Holt, Chris Johnson, Yani Gellman, Santiago Segura and Matthew Modine

WRITER(S): Ernest Riera; Johannes Roberts 

DIRECTOR(S): Johannes Roberts

WEB SITE: http://47metersdownmovie.com/HERE’S THE STORY: Kate (Mandy Moore) has just suffered a bad breakup with her boyfriend. Thus, she’s trying to make the most of her Mexican vacation with her younger sister, the life-of-the-party Lisa (Claire Holt). Always a bit more inhibited than her younger half, it’s understandable that Kate is having a little trouble fully hanging out with Benjamin (Santiago Segura). Lisa is having no such trouble with Louis (Yani Gellman), however. 

So, when Louis and Benjamin suggest they go shark cage scuba diving on the boat of Captain Taylor (Matthew Modine) the next day, Kate, as you might expect is a bit apprehensive. But, trying to shake her old ways, Lisa and the fellas are able to get her to take the plunge. And at first, everything is great.

Then the hook holding the cage in which she and Kate are in snaps off the boat, plunging them from a relatively safe depth of 5 meters to – wanna guess? – 47. And with a limited amount of oxygen to breath in their tanks, Kate and Lisa are going to have to figure out something and quick.

Because, as the movie will go on to show, this is a truly a case of sink of swim unlike any the sisters have ever faced. 

WHO WILL LIKE THIS FILM THE MOST? People who enjoy simply concept horror/thrillers; those who enjoy “now this is a messed-up situation right here” movies; anyone who likes movies that tap into basic human fears/forces its characters to go into survival mode 

WHO WON’T (OR SHOULDN’T) LIKE THIS MOVIE? People who’s water movie terror ends and begins with Jaws; people who are afraid of sharks or isolation; people who won’t be able to handle the sometimes shrill nature of Mandy Moore and Claire Holt’s voices 

SO, IS IT GOOD, BAD OR ABSOLUTELY AWFUL? 47 Meters Down is the type of movie that is easy to dismiss at first glance. After all, we’ve already got plenty of shark attack movies. There’s the Jaws series, of course, as well as Deep Blue Sea, Shark Attack 1, 2 & 3, Open Water 1 & 2, Shark Night 3D, last year’s The Shallows and the epic disaster that are the Sharknado movies among others. Likewise, this isn’t exactly the type of film that’s going to win awards for its acting or technical prowess and – given the situation – it’s one that has led itself to stand-up comedy fodder for decades. Here’s one from then-married comedian Ralphie May discussing black people in movie theaters with Open Water being the film of note (language NSFW and subject matter, depending on how you feel in light of the recent Bill Maher situation, may or may not be offensive to some) … For a safer take, here’s a classic by the late Richard Jeni that offers a take that applies more to you watching the film rather than the logic of the people in it …

I say all that to say this: 47 Meters Down is not a classic film, but it does what it does well  enough to keep you interested in the film through its finish – and that in and of itself is a pretty major achievement. 

Moore and Holt do what they are tasked with doing and they do it well enough that – while you may or may not care about their characters as individuals – you are vested enough to want to see what happens to them. They play well together as siblings, their actions almost always make sense (or at least more sense than the average characters who permeate these type of movies) and co-writer/director Johannes Roberts does a great job at creating tension with his camera angles, lighting and pacing. You get two actresses committed to a showcasing the pure desperate nature of the situation at hand and that, combined with Roberts’ handiwork at showing just how small the two characters are in compared to both the ocean and the creatures surrounding them is compelling.

Other than that, there’s not much more one needs to know about 47 Meters Down as it is pretty much what you would expect: A movie where you find two characters overwhelmed by a situation that should not have gone the way it did, but that they ultimately should never (at least, in most people’s view) put themselves into in the first place because too much could – and does – go wrong. 

Fortunately, 47 Meters Down does enough right to make you feel like you didn’t make the wrong decision in watching it.

OVERALL RATING (OUT OF FOUR POSSIBLE BUCKETS OF POPCORN):

 
 
 
 

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Johnny Depp returns to franchise (albeit very familiar) form with latest Pirates of the Caribbean film. See if our film critic is on board.

 

“C’mon boys – they’ve got parts for us at the theme park if we hurry! Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem) leads his group of cursed sailors in an attack against Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp, not pictured) in a scene from PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES. Credit: © Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved. 

WATCH THE TRAILER(S) HERE:
 


 




KEY CAST MEMBERS: Johnny Depp, Brenton Thwaites, Kaya ScodelarioJavier Bardem, Geoffrey Rush, Kevin R. McNally, David Wenham, Stephen Graham and Golshifteh Farahani

WRITER(S): Jeff Natahanson 

DIRECTOR(S): Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg 

WEB SITE: http://pirates.disney.com/pirates-of-the-caribbean-dead-men-tell-no-talesHERE’S THE STORY: Hey, you remember Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), right? He’s the charismatic swashbuckling pirate who always seems to find a way to weasel his way out of trouble, no matter how much trouble he gets in. What he doesn’t know, however, is why Henry (Brenton Thwaites) is looking for him. Well, Henry is the son of Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), Sparrow’s former associate who is now cursed to life trapped aboard The Flying Dutchman. Looking to break his father’s curse, Henry learns that there is one man who might be able to help him? And who do you think that man is?

Meanwhile, there Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario) is getting ready to be tried for witchcraft – being an astronomer is apparently enough to be called a witch at this point in history – trying to find “the map that no man can read” in order to find the most mythical treasure in all the ocean: the trident of Poseidon. You see, Carina is also missing her father and thinks that the trident can help her. 

Unfortunately for all three of them, there is someone else looking for the trident: Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem), the cursed anti-pirate ship crusader that Sparrow doomed to a life as a ghost years ago. Killing ships left and right, Captain Barbosa (Geoffrey Rush) knows he is next, unless he can make a deal …

And this is where our story begins …

WHO WILL LIKE THIS FILM THE MOST? Johnny Depp fans; people who enjoyed the first two Pirates of the Caribbean movies; people who like summer popcorn action fairy tales

WHO WON’T (OR SHOULDN’T) LIKE THIS MOVIE? People who have never cared about a Pirates of the Caribbean movie; those seeking something other than standard Disney-branded adventure fare

SO, IS IT GOOD, BAD OR ABSOLUTELY AWFUL? Here are two very simple questions you should ask yourself before deciding whether or not to see Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales: [1] Did you like the first two movies and [2] Do you like Johnny Depp? If the answer to those questions is yes, you’ll enjoy this fifth – yes, FIFTH – installment of the franchise.

If you are on the fence otherwise, it might be best to stay on the docks – because while the film offers a return-to-form of sorts for the franchise, there is nothing essentially new going on that you haven’t seen before.

Don’t get me wrong – Dead Men Tell No Tales features some great visuals, a strong villainous performance from Bardem and a more-or-less not too convoluted story that ties up most of its loose ends well … But then again, knowing that MORE sequels are coming, you’ll need a Fast & Furious-level enthusiasm to get excited about Dead Men Tell No Tales because while the franchise shows it still has life in it, it rarely strays from its more-of-the-same nature. Thwaites and Scodelario are essentially Bloom and Kiera Knightley’s characters all over again, there’s still a “I have daddy issues” character (we get two for the price of one ticket here!) … And there are still far too many predictable moments (guess who falls in love???). On a positive note, the film is becoming a more self aware in at least addressing these things … But not enough).

Thus, as Hollywood continues its trend of sequel upon sequel or movies that have connections to other franchises, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales puts enough repair to fix what got very broken in its third and fourth installments … But doesn’t go very far to add anything new like the aforementioned Fast & Furious franchise to make it appeal to a wider/newer audience. In other words, it’s solid, but it’s very familiar. 

At least this time it doesn’t have that “cast overboard” feeling, though, so that’s a victory in and of itself. 

OVERALL RATING (OUT OF FOUR POSSIBLE BUCKETS OF POPCORN):

 
 

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See why our movie critic says this Zach Braff-helmed remake of 1979 senior citizen bank robbery comedy proves fresh for 2017.

 

“C’mon fellas – if we’re gonna go on tour, you all gotta be able to twerk! Now bend those hips!” Annie (Anne-Margret) helps adjust Albert Garner (Alan Arkin) as Joe Harding (Michael Caine, far left) and Willie Davis (Morgan Freeman) attempt to stretch in a scene from Zach Braff’s take on GOING IN STYLE. Credit: Atsushi Nishijima © 2017 Warner Bros. Entertainment and Ratpac-Dune Entertainment, LLC. 

WATCH THE TRAILER(S) HERE:



KEY VOICE CAST MEMBERS: Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Alan Arkin, Anne-Margret, John Ortiz, Keenan Thompson, Christopher Lloyd, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, Joey King, Josh Pais, Peter Serafinowicz and Matt Dillon

WRITER(S): Theodore Melfi (screenplay); Edward Cannon (1979 original story on which the film is based)

DIRECTOR(S): Zack Braff

WEB SITE: http://goinginstylemovie.com/HERE’S THE STORY: Joe Harding (Michael Caine) is by all accounts a good man. He let his daughter (Maria Dizzia) and her young precocious 14 year-old Brooklyn (Joey King) move in with him, he’s been a loyal employee at the steel factory he’s worked at for 30 some years and he’s always gotten along with his two best friends there, Willie (Morgan Freeman) and Albert (Alan Arkin). Thus, once he gets a letter from his bank saying his house payment has tripled and has a meeting with the equally uncaring manager at his local branch, he’s understandable upset. Knowing that, it should likewise come at no surprise that he’s especially ticked once he discovers that his employer has been bought in a corporate merger, is moving all manufacturing operations to Vietnam and won’t be paying out his, Wilile’s or Alan’s pensions.

Then, he gets caught in the middle of a robbery at his bank and gets an idea: To get revenge on the people robbing them, why now rob the bank with his two best friends in tow for the ride? 

While it takes some convincing at first, Joe is eventually able to convince Willie and Alan to come along for the ride after getting some intel from his ex son-in-law (Peter Serafinowicz), who hooks him up with Jesus (John Ortiz), their bank robbing 101 master. So, what happens when three senior citizens – one of whom is making Annie (Anne-Margret) very hot to trot – get together and decide to pull off a million dollar robbery?
The answer awaits you at the local cineplex. 

WHO WILL LIKE THIS FILM THE MOST? Fans of the lead cast members; people who enjoy self-aware comedies; anyone who’s never seen the 1979 original and thus won’t be comparing the two films nonstop; anyone who likes a film that has a bit of bounce and energy in playing to its strengths

WHO WON’T (OR SHOULDN’T) LIKE THIS MOVIE? People who wear weary of Alzheimer’s-related jokes; those who have senior family members they don’t communicate with; those who feel the film is restricted by its PG-13 rating

SO, IS IT GOOD, BAD OR ABSOLUTELY AWFUL? A film that one could essentially describe as Grumpy Old Men meets Ocean’s 11 (minus about 7 key players in the mix), Going in Style is a solid comedy that delivers what you expect in effective and entertaining fashion.

Whereas Caine is great is the solid straight man who is trying to do the wrong thing for all the right reasons, Freeman and Arkin shine by taking all the best comedic lines throughout the film. Save for Keenan Thompson throwing out some admirable zingers as a grocery store manager, Arkin and Freeman land all their comedic punches with self-effacing humor that not only is fitting, but genuinely funny. 

In many circumstances, the octogenarian-fueled humor could wear extremely thin in the wrong hands (Christopher Lloyd’s character has both humorous highs and lows in terms of enjoyment), but Caine and co. excel quite well under the direction of Zach Braff, who likely did the best thing a director can do with them: Stay out of their capable hands, offer a few notes where necessary and waste no on-screen time with needless exposition of a fairly simple story. He lets things unfold with a snappy yet smart efficiency and the end result proves itself to be a success. 

A testament to the idea of there being no small parts in a film, the supporting players like Siobhan Fallon Hogan as an amorous waitress, Matt Dillon as a not-so-astute FBI agent and the aforementioned Thompson add comedic style to Going in Style. There’s something to be said, however, for the great rapport the three lead actors share, which makes their on-screen friendship and roles and the way everything fits together in terms of making the cast’s actions make plausible sense. You you understand these characters, you know these characters and most importantly, you like these characters. Those three factors help Going in Style enjoyable no matter how old you are.

OVERALL RATING (OUT OF FOUR POSSIBLE BUCKETS OF POPCORN):

 

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See why our movie critic says Kong: Skull Island is an entertaining take on the primate king … with a few flaws.

 

“I HATE the album Monkey Business by The Black Eyed Peas – quit asking me about it!” The titular character lets his rage flag fly in a scene from KONG: Skull Island. Credit: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures © 2017 Warner Bros. Pictures, Legendary Pictures’ and Ratpac-Dune Entertainment LLC. All rights reserved.

 

WATCH THE TRAILER(S) HERE:


 


KEY CAST MEMBERS: Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, Toby Kebbell, Jason Mitchell, John Ortiz, Shea Whigham, Terry Notary, Tian Jang, Eugene Cordero, Thomas Mann and John C. Reilly

WRITER(S): Dan Gilroy and Max Borenstein and Derek Connolly; story by John Gatins

DIRECTOR(S): Jordan Vogt-Roberts 

WEB SITE: http://kongskullislandmovie.com/HERE’S THE STORY: Set in 1973 near the height of the Vietnam conflict, Kong: Skull Island begins by introducing us to Bill Randa (John Goodman). Randa works for an agency known as Monarch and he believes there is something worth exploring on a recently discovered, uncharted island in the South Pacific. Fueled by a report from the Harvard education Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) and fellow biologist Sam Lin (Tian Jang), Randa and Brooks convinces a senator to let him piggyback on a mission by Landsat (the agency who’s satellite work discovered the remote terrain) to explore the island. And wouldn’t you know it – Randa is able to get the military escort he requests to accompany them there led by Col Preston Parker (Samuel L. Jackson), several of his best soldiers (Hawkins’ Straight Outta Compton co-star Jason Mitchell, Toby Kebbell and Shea Whigham among others) as well as the tracker (Tom Hiddleston) he hired … And an anti-war photographer in Mason Weaver (Brie Larson).

But once they arrive in the realm of the mysterious island, they are greeted by something no one (or maybe at least one of them) expected: A giant, monstrous ape (portrayed for the screen by Terry Notary) who does NOT take kindly to intrusive visitors. But despite Randa’s and Parker’s mutual desire to prove man is king, they soon learn that Kong – and the other species on the island – have a thing or two to shout about that …

WHO WILL LIKE THIS FILM THE MOST? People who enjoyed Godzilla (the Warner Bros. version, not the Matthew Broderick version as NO ONE should enjoy that); John C. Reilly fans; Jason Mitchell fans; people who enjoy well done B-movies; those who thought the Warner Bros. version of Godzilla should have had more teeth (no pun intended) to it; people who enjoy summer popcorn movies that arrive a few months early

WHO WON’T (OR SHOULDN’T) LIKE THIS MOVIE? People who hated Godzilla (both the Matthew Broderick and Warner Bros. versions) and/or The Legend of Tarzan; those who don’t enjoy monster movies; people who hate b-movie fare

SO, IS IT GOOD, BAD OR ABSOLUTELY AWFUL? A film with an awful 20 minute opening followed by an hour and 40 minutes of salvageable to actually quirky yet entertaining fare, Kong: Skull Island is a summer popcorn movie come a few months early … Because there are a couple of stale kernels mixed in with an otherwise decent bucket of fun.

There are two things that really make Kong: Skull Island fun – and those are the performance of John C. Reilly as an adopted Skull Island “native” and the presence of Kong (who is utilized properly in each instance) as portrayed by Terry Notary. Reilly’s performance is the perfect mix of fun and whimsical, giving the audience a character worth actually rooting for in a film otherwise devoid of one (save for the giant ape). Indeed, while Goodman and Jackson play their respective roles well – you KNOW what you’re getting from both within 30 seconds of seeing them – and Mitchell and Whigham add a nice bit of realistic-based humor, Reilly provides one that truly supplements the film with a sweet one while Kong is shown to only be a monster in stature, not in practice. 

That’s all you pretty much you need to know about the movie … Save for the monstrous inhabitants of the island (Peter Jackson’s take on the king in his 2005 telling of the giant gorilla’s tale is pretty much replicated here, but with a more ominous, Lone Survivor tone) and the tribal natives, Skull Island covers familiar territory. And at times, some of that territory is a bit too familiar for its own good. Save for a more-important-than-you-realize-opening-sequence, the first 20 minutes of the film is bland but necessary exposition, the cast is forced to deliver some overtly-ominous dialogue and despite receiving top billing, Hiddleston and Larson don’t do anything remarkable in their roles as much as just play them efficiently. Throw in director Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ early homages to Michael Bay action movies (there are some sequences in here that seem straight out of Transformers) and you get an entertaining – but at times, mixed – bag. 

In short, Kong: Skull Island is a lot like visiting your local zoo: There’s a lot to like … But when you pass through the monkey house, you’re gonna smell some things you wish you hadn’t before you get to the end. 


OVERALL RATING (OUT OF FOUR POSSIBLE BUCKETS OF POPCORN):

 
 

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Is this sequel to “Fifty Shades of Grey” Red Room ready or is it a new form of torture? Read on for our movie critic’s steamy new review.

 
“If all else fails, I can get a jump on the sequel to Eyes Wide Shut: Eyes Wider!” Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) prepares to attend a ball with her paramour in a scene from FIFTY SHADES DARKER. Credit: Doane Gregory. © 2016 Universal Pictures. All rights reserved. 

 

WATCH THE TRAILER(S) HERE: 

 


KEY CAST MEMBERS: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Eric Johnson, Luke Grimes, Eloise Mumford, Bella Heathcote, Max Martini, Victor Rasuk, Rita Ora, Marcia Gay Harden and Kim Basinger 

WRITER(S): Niall Leonard (screenplay); E.L. James (novel on which the film is based)

DIRECTOR(S): James Foley

WEB SITE: http://www.fiftyshadesmovie.com/

HERE’S THE STORY: The second installment of the trilogy based on novelist E.L. James Fifty Shades books, Fifty Shades Darker again stars Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey. Now broken up, Anastasia has moved on, enjoying her dream job at a Seattle-based publishing company learning the ropes under the tutelage of Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson). But Christian hasn’t. He wants her back and will do whatever it takes, even “re-negotiating terms.” 

But as soon as Anastasia and Christian seemingly begin to work things out, shadowy figures from the past and present star to interfere in their lives in a way that threaten to break them up forever.

WHO WILL LIKE THIS FILM THE MOST? Women who love cheesy romance novels, abs and exposed male buttocks; women who want a safe entry point to explore their BDSM fantasies; men who want to have sex with their lady but don’t think they have to put in much work if she liked the first movie

WHO WON’T (OR SHOULDN’T) LIKE THIS MOVIE? Anyone not named in the previous section.

SO, IS IT GOOD, BAD OR ABSOLUTELY AWFUL? I could write a term-paper length dissertation on everything that makes Fifty Shades Darker an awful movie … But given how little effort apparently went into making the film, that would be more work than it’s worth. So, while I hate to say a movie is “awful,” but Fifty Shades Darker is damn close to as awful of a romantic film as you can release through a major Hollywood studio.

Look, since the target audience for this film is women, single women, married women, kinky women, young kinky single women, young kinky married women, older single kinky women and older married kinky women, let me save you a ton of time: Do not, I repeat, NOT drag your man along with you to Fifty Shades Darker. Simply go with your girlfriends out for the night, get some wine before or after the movie and enjoy the cheese that the film offers to compliment it for 2 hours. 

Johnson delivers the most, um, compelling performance of anyone in the film, which is best described as one part bad daytime soap opera (there’s a helicopter crash!) plus late-night Showtime/Cinemax soft core porn. (There’s a drink thrown in someone’s face, for goodness sake!) Dornan is fairly wooden in his emotions (and they are better than they were in the first movie, which is saying something), the s were in the first movie, which is saying something), the story is absolutely ridiculous (and, based on my limited exposure to people who consider themselves part of the BDSM community, not an accurate representation of the lifestyle) and the less said about Gay Harden and Basinger in this, the better. Johnson and Dornan’s “chemistry” is pitiful, the “villains” are comic book bad (don’t think modern Marvel; think ’80s Saturday morning cartoons), the dialogue is junior high first boyfriend/girlfriend insipid and James Foley (Glengarry Glenn Ross, House of Cards) should be ashamed for how terrible his overuse of foreshadowing and heavy-handed direction (here comes a dramatic moment) is. Then again, Niall Leonard didn’t give him much to work with script-wise; then again, he was working with original E.L. James novel, so …

If you really like the books or think that Pretty Woman or any of the Twilight films are good movies, you’ll like Fifty Shades Darker. If you just want to imagine the world has plenty of 27 year-old billionaires that are dark and mysterious because they have been abused but really have a heart of gold and need an – you know, I’m not going to talk about Johnson’s looks as there’s nothing wrong with them, but let’s just say I can’t think of a distinct quality about her or her character that stands out – a good woman to save him (oh yeah, AND he’s a freak in the bedroom, too!), go ahead!

If you don’t fall into the groups mentioned above, seeing Fifty Shades Darker is the equivalent of dragging a 25 year-old female who enjoys Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and Migos music, ends all her texts with “lol” and clubbing to a Star Wars marathon. I’m not saying you can’t find a woman that fits that category who would enjoy Star Wars; I AM saying the effort to find that woman is not worth it just to prove a point.

And the only point one needs to prove about Fifty Shades Darker is that Fifty Shades Freed has nowhere to go but up from here – because this romance can’t get much worse. 

 

OVERALL RATING (OUT OF FOUR POSSIBLE BUCKETS OF POPCORN):

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The minds behind Despicable Me bring the musical to the forefront of animation with highly entertaining Sing. See if this flick has our movie critic singing its praises.

 
“OK people – we’ve got to take down Star Wars … Time to be cute as ever!” Ambitious – and desperate for a hit – producer Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey) and his elderly lizard assistant Miss Crawly (writer/director Garth Jennings) size up the competition in a scene from Illumination Entertainment’s and Universal Pictures’ animated musical SING. Credit: © 2016 Illumination Entertainment and Universal Pictures. All rights reserved. 
 

WATCH THE TRAILER(S) HERE:


KEY CAST MEMBERS: Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Seth MacFarlane, Scarlett Johansson, John C. Reilly, Taron Egerton, Tori Kelly, Nick Kroll, Beck Bennett, Nick Offerman, Jennifer Saunders, Garth Jennings, Peter Serafinowicz, Leslie Jones and Jay Pharoah 

WRITER(S): Garth Jennings

DIRECTOR(S): Garth Jennings

WEB SITE: http://www.passengersmovie.com/HERE’S THE STORY: Set in a world with no humans but animals that live and act as we do, Sing introduces us to Buster Moon (voiced by Matthew McConaughey), an ambitious koala who is desperate for a hit to save his theater. Backed by his elderly lizard assistant, the aptly named Ms. Crawly (Sing writer-director Garth Jennings), Buster comes up with a plan he sure is ingenious as it is well, cheap: Host a singing competition with a promise of thousands of dollars to the winner (even if he technically doesn’t have the money yet). Then again, since Buster’s best friend, a laid back sheep named Eddie (John C. Reilly) comes from a rich family, why would he worry about the money. 

Following his city-wide talent search, a few standout contestants emerge: Mike (voiced by Seth MacFarlane), a Frank Sinatra-like mouse who croons as much as he cons; Johnny (voiced by Taron Egerton), a sensitive gorilla who would rather sing than take part in his father’s criminal activities; Rosita (voiced by Reese Witherspoon) an overworked pig housewife who finds her niche once paired up with the outlandish Gunther (voiced by Nick Kroll) and Ash (voiced by Scarlett Johannson), a punk-rock porcupine who is having trouble deciding whether to pursue her dreams once she is picked but her egocentric boyfriend (voiced by Beck Bennett) is not. Timid elephant Meena (voiced by Tori Kelly) could be the biggest star in the show, however … If only she could get over her severe case of stage fright.

But despite all their individual problems, they all have one thing in common: The stage is where they plan to shine, because that’s where they all will go to sing.

WHO WILL LIKE THIS FILM THE MOST? Fans of Despicable Me, American Idol, The Voice and any of other countless singing competitions that have taken over TV in recent memory; pop music fans; aspiring young singers; those who appreciate kid films with an adult orientation

WHO WON’T (OR SHOULDN’T) LIKE THIS MOVIE? Those that will find the film a bit “easy” given its reliance on popular music; people who don’t like watching personified animals; those who find the premise silly

SO, IS IT GOOD, BAD OR ABSOLUTELY AWFUL? One of the best animated films of recent memory and certainly 2016, Sing delivers original entertainment – with a healthy blend of familiar musical fun – suitable for audiences of all ages. 

While it is easy to dismiss the film as a collection of familiar songs being sung by animals, it would also be an incorrect analysis. Taking inspiration in a way from The Muppets Save Manhattan, Sing finds itself with just enough original twists and turns to stand out, thanks largely in part to the excellent animation by Illumination Entertainment that brings the stellar voice cast’s humor, happiness and emotions to life. 

The characters in Sing are well-developed entities, all of whom contribute to the story to make it more than just a simple “animals in a singing competition” film. McConaughey offers up a great performance as the Kermit the Frog like Buster, always dreaming of a big show, having a hit and doing his dad proud. Likewise, many of the contestants – Egerton as Johnny and Kelly as Meena in particular – have stories which are not only relatable but easy and enjoyable to watch progress. Fortunately, there are several characters present to balance out the heavier parts of the film as Kroll’s performance as Gunther could merit it’s own Minions-like spinoff (or at least, Blu-Ray bonus feature) to go along with the hilarious audition footage. 

What really stands out is that in working towards its rather simple climax, the film builds momentum steadily and without ever being predictable, lazy or boring in doing so. Instead, you get lively characters interacting in unique ways while creating an immersive world for both themselves and you as an audience member. Of course, this wouldn’t work were the music not on point as well as it is – and is it ever on point in Sing. While the trailer may tease songs that have long become pop culture staples such as one hit wonder Crazy Town’s “Butterfly,” the actual full-length musical numbers are nothing short of all-out concerts … That just so happen to be performed by animated gorillas, elephants, pigs, porcupines and rodents among others that have to be seen to be appreciated.

Anyone who sees Sing, however, will surely come to appreciate that fact. 

OVERALL RATING (OUT OF FOUR POSSIBLE BUCKETS OF POPCORN):

 

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Will Smith plays a grieving father whose business associates plot to break through his pain. But is it painful to watch? Read on for our film critic’s review.

 

“What – what do you mean your favorite song is ‘Parents Just Don’t Understand?!'” Howard (Will Smith, right) talks over things with the woman is being led to believe is the embodiment of Death, a.k.a. aspiring play actress Brigitte (Helen Mirren) in a scene from Warner Bros. drama COLLATERAL BEAUTY. Credit: Barry Wetcher © 2016 Warner Bros. Entertainment, Village Roadshow Films North America and Ratpac-Dune Entertainment, LLC.
 

WATCH THE TRAILER(S) HERE:


 


KEY CAST MEMBERS: Will Smith, Edward Norton, Kate Winslet, Michael Peña, Helen Mirren, Kiera Knightley, Jacob Latimore, Ann Dowd and Naomie Harris

WRITER(S): Allan Loeb

DIRECTOR(S): David Frankel

WEB SITE: http://collateralbeauty-movie.com/HERE’S THE STORY: Howard (Will Smith) was once a brilliant, vibrant man who, along with his best friend Whit (Edward Norton) ran one of the most successful, hip ad agencies in New York City. He was great at his job because he knew that – or at least believed – everyone can be influenced to buy a product because of how it relates to the impact of love, time or death in their life.

Then his 6 year-old daughter died from cancer. And Howard checked out of the world as everyone around him knew it.

Now, with Howard spending most of his days building complex domino displays and sitting for hours at a dog park, the company he built is on the verge of falling apart unless a big deal is completed. But given that Howard has the major sway to sign off on the deal, Whit, Howard’s one-time mentee Claire (Kate Winslet) and the upstart Simon (Michael Peña) need to come up with a plan to save the company … And their friend in the process. So when they hire a private investigator (Ann Dowd) to follow him, they find out just who – or make that what – Howard spends most of his time doing when he’s at his apartment alone. 

This leads to the idea to hire three actors to play the embodiment of the three emotions that used to rule Howard’s work life – Time (Jacob Latimore), Love (Kiera Knightley) and Death (Helen Mirren). But will their actions pay off? Or perhaps Howard will finally get the breakthrough he needs if he ever decides to go to the grief counseling meetings he sees Madeline (Naomie Harris) leading each week.

Whatever it is, perhaps he will one day learn to see the collateral beauty in his existence …

WHO WILL LIKE THIS FILM THE MOST? People who have experienced the loss of a child but been able to find a way to cope/overcome the pain; Will Smith fans; Helen Mirren fans; those in need of a film that will serve as the outlet for a good cry

WHO WON’T (OR SHOULDN’T) LIKE THIS MOVIE? People who have suffered the loss of a child but are not in a place where they can watch a film about the subject; those who hate films with a heavy-handed approach to delivering their messages; those who hate films with twist endings that feel unnatural/unnecessary; those will find the characters’ interconnections off-putting/hokey

SO, IS IT GOOD, BAD OR ABSOLUTELY AWFUL? A film that some will love and others will likely despise despite very good intentions, Collateral Beauty is a film where its actors do their best to make up for its story’s misgivings – and usually, it works.

As always, Smith is dynamic as the incredibly grief-stricken Howard. While we only get a brief glimpse of him at his best in happier times, it is enough for us to be able to appreciate just how much he is devastated by his daughter’s passing. Confession: I actually went to the screening of Collateral Beauty with a friend who has actually lost a child; watching the film, she was overcome with impressed emotion at Smith’s depiction of Howard’s agony, marveling at how things only someone who has lost a child would understand coming through in his performance. Smith’s performance – save for that of is also by far the most believable of nearly anyone else in the cast, as Norton, Winslet and company sometimes border on the edge of being overtly melodramatic as opposed to naturally concerned. Seriously, you take Smith (and to a lesser degree, Harris) out of the picture and the film loses half its appeal (and half of this rating). 


Why is the film so dependent on Smith to save it? Well, you could credit that to the somewhat over the top performances of the rest of the cast, the presentation under director David Frankel and the Hallmark card-like dialogue. (Seriously, it’s either comedically ironic how Howard’s friends hire aspiring, Shakespeare-spewing insightful dialogue or sadly ironic writer Allan Loeb didn’t realize his attempts at often being deep feel terribly trite more often than not.) Add in the twist at the end and if you are irritated by anything mentioned here previously, the tear-jerking moment might simply be met with indifference. 


Still, Collateral Beauty works out as it is a classic audience pleaser with its message coupled with Smith’s and Harris’ respective performances, especially older audiences or anyone in need of a positive-out-of-a-negative experience. The cast as a whole is unoffensive in their performances, Smith is dynamic in his and the “you’re going to cry and this scene is determined to make you with its deep connections to other moments in the film is strong enough to make most appreciate what Frankel and company were trying to do.


It’s just too bad there was a lot of collateral damage along the way to get there. 
OVERALL RATING (OUT OF FOUR POSSIBLE BUCKETS OF POPCORN):

 
 
 

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See why our movie critic says this film is a coming of age tale that’s a winner for adolescents and adults alike.

 

“I’m telling you – I was a MUCH better basketball player than Wesley Snipes on the set of White Men Can’t Jump!” Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) talks her latest mistake over with her teacher, Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson) in a scene from writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig’s debut feature THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN. Credit: Murray Close © 2015 STX Productions, LLC. All rights reserved. 

WATCH THE TRAILER(S) HERE:


KEY CAST MEMBERS: Hailee Steinfeld, Woody Harrelson, Kyra Sedgwick, Blake Jenner, Haley Lu Richardson, Hayden Szeto and Alexander Calvert

WRITER(S): Kelly Fremon CraigDIRECTOR(S): Kelly Fremon Craig

WEB SITE: http://stxmovies.com/theedgeofseventeen/

HERE’S THE STORY: Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) is a teenage girl living in modern Oregon. And, to have her tell it, everything about her life well, sucks. Sure, her overworked mom Mona (Kyra Sedgwick) loves her to death, she has a best friend in the form of Krista (Haley Lu Richardson) and her brother Darian (Blake Jenner) is, well, by all accounts, living a perfect teenage life. But a tragic event a few years ago has really left Nadine a bit shaken, which – coupled with her general awkwardness – has has left her a bit neurotic and a general mess of an emotional teenage girl. 

Sure, she has some typical teenage desires like hooking up with Nick Mossman (Alexander Calvert), but dealing with her brother’s success and the general demands of high school life is so overwhelming Nadine often runs off to bother Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson) on his lunch break. At least Erwin (Hayden Szeto) likes her right? That’s got to count for something one would think …

But, as Nadine’s life takes several unexpected twists and turns, she finds herself doing what most teenagers do: Freaking out about everything in life and not sure what to expect next. 

WHO WILL LIKE THIS FILM THE MOST? People who miss 80s teenage movies that were John Hughes’ specialty but would like them with modern problems, language and realism; anyone who’s ever gone through an awkward phase with discovering who they are and dating in regards to the opposite sex; Woody Harrelson fans; parents not sure how to deal with modern teenagers; those who enjoy a coming of age story complete with heart, humor and honesty

WHO WON’T (OR SHOULDN’T) LIKE THIS MOVIE? People not prepared to deal with modern teenagers in terms of the language or sexuality; teenagers who may forget there is a script to take care of moments that, if unscripted in the real world, might not turn out the same way they do in the film 

SO, IS IT GOOD, BAD OR ABSOLUTELY AWFUL? A film that won’t win any awards but likely will a lot of hearts across many generations, The Edge of Seventeen is just one of those solidly entertaining, heartfelt and humorous coming of age tale.

Steinfeld pretty much nails everything you would expect in regards to playing an angst-filled (sometimes justifiably, sometimes as a result of her own avoidable neuroses) teenage girl, making Nadine equals parts wise beyond her years (or at least thinking she is) and at the same time completely naive to reality. A bundle of misplaced energy and raw emotions, Steinfeld makes Nadine at times the girl you completely understand in how she feels like the oddball at the party … And then moments later can break your heart as you watch a misguided girl do things that you know are not going to work out the way she hopes they will. Through it all, however, Steinfeld’s performance feels real from start to finish with no false, convoluted emotions or actions, even when they run the gamut from normal to manic. 

Likewise, Steinfeld’s surrounding cast each plays their roles exceptionally well, with Harrelson taking top honors as a cool, calm and collected teacher willing to call Steinfeld on her BS to alert her to when she is being melodramatic in an entertaining fashion she understands. At the same time, he knows what to say and when to say it, never coming off in a corny fashion. This plays well against Sedgwick’s performance as a very overworked mother trying to make sense of her own life as well as being a mother to her children, going back and forth between the two roles with an effort that will likely feel all too familiar to many stressed adults. It’s a performance that really shows the difficulty of being a single parent today, the resolution coming with a simple revelation that should resonate hard.

The same can be said for Richardson’s and Jenner’s respective performances, being realistic teenagers that are focused on more than their smart phones without ever coming off in a manner that doesn’t fit their characters. Szeto – despite the fact he obviously looks like he graduated high school at least 10 years ago – rounds out the affair as the proverbial nice guy with a heart of gold, doing things that in one instance make you root for him to get the girl of his dreams (even when she is treating him like a nightmare) … And cringe when he does things that are obvious to EVERYONE watching (except him) that they are not going to go the way he expects.

A coming of age film that comes of age on its own quite nicely thanks to writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig’s attention to detail, understanding of both teens and adults and mix of humor and self-revelation, The Edge of Seventeen is a fantastically fun movie for people of all ages. To miss it would be to deny yourself one of the great films of 2016 … And one that showcases the art of finding your place in the world in honest and entertaining fashion.

 
OVERALL RATING (OUT OF FOUR POSSIBLE BUCKETS OF POPCORN):

 

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Disney sticks to its formula for animated success with its newest film, Moana. Read on to see what our movie critic has to say about it.

 

“So … Tell me again about how this is not Frozen set to a Pacific Island twist?” The titular character (Auli’i Cravalho) gets up close and personal with the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) in a scene from Disney’s MOANA. Credit: © 2016 Disney. All rights reserved.

WATCH THE TRAILER(S) HERE:

KEY CAST MEMBERS: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Auli’i Cravalho, Rachel House and Jermaine Clement

WRITER(S): Jared Bush (screenplay); Ron Clements, John Musker, Chris Williams, Don Hall, Pamela Ribon, Aaron and Jordan Kandell (story)

DIRECTOR(S): Ron Clements and John Musker

WEB SITE: http://movies.disney.com/moanaHERE’S THE STORY: The latest installment in Disney’s princesses of all flavors collection, Moana stars Auli’i Cravalho as the titular character, a princess from an island in the Pacific Ocean. And for Moana, her grandmother (voiced by Rachel House) and the rest of her people, life is good. Then the fisherman notice a complete depletion of their main food resource – leaving them all in a desperate need for help from a higher power.

Enter Maui (voiced by Dwayne Johnson), the shape-shifting demigod of island legend that Moana is desperate to track down and have save her people. 

While he is a fun-loving would-be hero, Maui is also not exactly the easiest guy to track down, which is why Moana and her pet chicken Heihei (voiced by Alan Tudyk) set sail out across the ocean (and against the wishes of her tribal chief father) to find Maui. But once Moana finds Maui, she learns that he is also an egotistical, self-serving demigod who is also missing his magical hook and needs to go on a quest of his own to retrieve it. And thus, the island princess and the demigod come to an agreement: Maui will agree to come to her island and help if she will help him retrieve his magical hook.

So what happens when you put a princess on a boat with a seemingly suicidal chicken and a demigod who is a bit conceited on a quest to travel the ocean? The answer is straight out of Disney’s patented formula for family-friendly entertainment.  

WHO WILL LIKE THIS FILM THE MOST? People who love everything Disney, Dwayne Johnson fans; those who enjoy films with strong female lead characters; those who enjoy family-friendly films that don’t feel as formulaic as they actual are.

WHO WON’T (OR SHOULDN’T) LIKE THIS MOVIE? People who don’t enjoy Disney movies and/or have grown a bit tired of the Disney formula; those who won’t like the mythical elements of the film for either historical accuracy or religious reasons; those who would prefer a film with more depth/message than just one with a basic entertainment aspect 

SO, IS IT GOOD, BAD OR ABSOLUTELY AWFUL? The latest animated accomplishment in the company’s longstanding history, Moana delivers enough expected – and a few unexpected – moments to be worthy of your attention at the theater. 

As one might expect, Moana looks beautiful and – thanks to a soundtrack curated largely in part by Hamilton impresario Lin-Manuel Miranda – sounds upbeat and energetic as one might expect. There is plenty of sing-along material for youths to enjoy and recite and there are enough jokes to keep you chuckling along with the story. The thing that works best in Moana, is the telling of the story itself and commitment of Alui’i Cravalho to her character. 

Cravalho shows no signs of Moana being her first major role, let alone first role ever, throughout the film. Instead, she interjects her character full of trepidation and nervousness when appropriate to the situation and then conveys Moana’s growth with her vocal talents with skill and aplomb. While Johnson is obviously the biggest name in the cast and definitely nails down his part as Maui with skill, Cravalho’s performance prevents her character from becoming either a one-note, over-the-top “isn’t she great?” hero or an undeveloped character. Whereas the secondary characters drop in plenty of jokes, Cravalho’s individual performance plus chemistry with Johnson is the current that keeps Moana flowing like the ocean on which they travel.  You get a strong female character, a male character that is deferential without losing any of his masculinity or purpose and a story that has enough twists and turns that it creates a world with magic that is engaging at best and simply interesting at its worst.

Co-directors Ron Clements and John Musker create a symphony of sounds and sights with Moana, their actors hitting their beats at just the right times to deliver the story that – while it doesn’t do anything spectacular in terms of new animated storytelling ground – is solid from start to finish.

OVERALL RATING (OUT OF FOUR POSSIBLE BUCKETS OF POPCORN):

 

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See what our movie critic has to say about DreamWorks’ new animated musical comedy, Trolls, starring Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake.

 

“Oh snap – my Axe body spray must have worn off!” Poppy (Anna Kendrick) tries to get under the rather prickly skin of Branch (Justin Timberlake) in a scene from TROLLS. Credit: © 2016 DreamWorks Animation LLC. All rights reserved. 
 

WATCH THE TRAILER(S) HERE:


 



KEY CAST MEMBERS: Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, John Cleese, Jeffrey Tambor, Christine Baranski, Ron Funches, James Corden, Zooey Deschanel, Russell Brand and Gwen Stefani

WRITER(S): Jonathan Aibel, Glenn Berger (screenplay); Erica Rivinoja (story by) and Thomas Dam (creator of the book The Good Luck Trolls on which the film is inspired by)DIRECTOR(S): Walt Dorn and Mike Mitchell

WEB SITE: https://www.dreamworks.com/trolls/HERE’S THE STORY: An animated musical based on Thomas Dam’s The Good Luck Trolls, Trolls tells the tale of Poppy (Anna Kendrick), a happy-go-lucky individual who lives with her father (Jeffrey Tambor) and the rest of her fellow trolls. Singing and dancing at will, the trolls have a great life … Save for the constant threat of the Bergens, a miserable group of ogre-like creatures who can only find happiness by eating the trolls. And after the head Bergen chef (Christine Baranski) makes an error that denies young Prince Gristle (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) his first troll ever, the Bergens will stop at nothing to find them.

But while every other troll is dancing and reveling in their newfound paradise, Branch (voiced by Justin Timberlake) is the one holdout who not only fears a Bergen return, but is convinced it will happen. That’s why he doesn’t dance, abhors signing and generally keeps to himself. So when the Bergen chef returns to wreak havoc and take revenge, he is the only one smiling.

Well, at least he was smiling, until Poppy finds a way to force him into helping her go on what looks to be a suicide mission to save their fellow trolls before they all become a Bergen buffet … 

WHO WILL LIKE THIS FILM THE MOST? Anna Kendrick fans; people who love movies where the animated characters are irrepressibly cute; those who enjoy family-friendly entertainment that doesn’t fall into the typical unfunny, overdone trappings of films billed as such; those who enjoy films where the characters are more self aware than not 

WHO WON’T (OR SHOULDN’T) LIKE THIS MOVIE? People who find musicals less than enjoyable; people who don’t like animation; people looking for a film with a harder edge

SO, IS IT GOOD, BAD OR ABSOLUTELY AWFUL? A film that is as entertaining as it is undeniably cute and fun, Trolls is a throwback to the days of 1980s Saturday morning cartoons with a few good laughs but but plenty of heart and positivity to help it go a long way to making you smile. 

Perfectly opposed characters at the start, Kendrick’s Poppy and Timberlake’s Branch – much like the leads in this year’s also excellent animated adventure Zootopia – share a nice, enjoyable chemistry that plays well together. Likewise, Zooey Deschanel does some of her best work ever as Bridget, a Bergen in love with young Prince Gristle that proves critical in the trolls epic struggle. While you can see many of the plot points coming, they are done in such an enjoyable fashion that you not only don’t mind, but in some instances you actually look forward to them. Happy without being sappy, fun without being redundant, Trolls follows the formula of having side characters that are funny little creatures to enhance the tale being told with a climax that is earnest in its nature. In short, what you get is a nice, feel good story that you can actually feel good about watching. 

That makes singing the praises of Trolls fairly easy to do. 

OVERALL RATING (OUT OF FOUR POSSIBLE BUCKETS OF POPCORN):

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