Masterminds

Masterminds is another movie based on a true story. But unlike the intense new action drama Deepwater Horizon, Masterminds plays for laughs. It’s a bizarre comedy directed by Jared Hess (Napoleon Dynamite; Nacho Libre) that recounts one of the largest bank heists in U.S. history: the 1997 Loomis Fargo robbery in North Carolina. Zach Galifianakis plays David Ghantt, a gullible schlub whose ‘work crush’ Kelly (Kristin Wiig) convinces him to use his position as an armored-car driver to pull off the ultimate inside job. David steals 17 million dollars and turns most of it over to the yahoos who masterminded the heist and set him up to take the fall.

Deepwater Horizon

Deepwater Horizon is a well-cast but fairly standard disaster movie that attempts to put a human face on the worst oil disaster in U.S. history. On April 20, 2010, an explosion rocked the offshore oil rig Deepwater Horizon (owned by Transocean and operated by BP) during a drilling operation in the Gulf of Mexico, triggering an environmental disaster that sent an estimated 210 million gallons of oil sweeping and seeping its way to the shores of Louisiana and beyond. The movie, “inspired by the true story”, isn’t so much about the environmental impact or the blame game that ensued, but rather about the human toll. We are reminded that eleven people died that day (their remains never found), and that among the victims and survivors were untold stories of bravery and heroism.

A Man Called Ove (En man som heter Ove)

This adaptation of Fredrik Backman’s bestselling novel is one of my favorite films of the year. Written and directed by Hannes Holm it’s a Swedish curmudgeon finds his humanity story that could easily have been sappy and cliched, but balances the mean and the sweet just right for a totally enjoyable ride.

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years

Fun! Fun! Fun! Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! This documentary from Ron Howard looks at the touring years of the greatest musical group the world has ever known. Okay, that’s just my considered opinion, but if you’re a Beatles fan, this is a must see flick. The film combines archival footage and interviews that take you inside the Beatles’ world during their early years on the road, which only lasted from 1963-66. But during that time they performed 250 concerts and went from obscurity to legend!

The Magnificent Seven

A remake of a remake has a lot to live up to. The original was the Japanese film Seven Samurai, shot in 1954, considered one of director Akira Kurosawa’s masterpieces starring the legendary Toshiro Mifune. Fast forward six years and Hollywood makes a version substituting cowboys for Samurai, starring Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, and James Coburn. Now we have another one with Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio, Peter Sarsgaard. All three films follow the same essential plot. A village is being preyed upon by outsiders, so they hire Samurai/Cowboys to defend them and mayhem ensues. So is the new one magnificent?

Storks

Storks delivers. Okay, now that I’ve gotten that over-used pun out of the way, I’ll move on. The movie is a solid, entertaining animated flick that will keep kids engaged without boring adults to tears. It’s not as good as Zootopia, but it’s way better than the likes of The Wild Life, Ratchet and Clank, Norm of the North, and other animated misfires lobbed at us this year, and I personally liked it better than The Secret Life of Pets. Storks relies on a solid formula of good story, wacky adventure, quirky characters, and a sweet exploration of the true meaning of friends and family. Awwwwww.

Queen of Katwe

Queen of Katwe is a feel-good movie, typical of what we’ve come to expect from a Disney sports drama based on a true story. The “drama” is a bit limited considering the sport is chess. But the story itself is interesting and inspiring, and delivers a good message for girls and boys – and adults as well – about discipline, mental toughness, and overcoming adversity. The movie is based on an ESPN article and book about Phiona Mutesi (Madina Nalwanga), a young girl from the slums of Katwe, Uganda who beat the odds to become an international chess champion.

Bridget Jones’s Baby

Welcome back, Bridget. As sequels go, this movie is entertaining enough to satisfy most fans of the franchise that chronicles the life of an insecure single woman in London trying to find her place in the world, personally and professionally. As Bridget Jones’s Baby opens, we find Bridget (Renée Zellweger) celebrating her 43rd birthday in somewhat pathetic fashion, with a bottle of wine and a cupcake with a candle in it. She’s now at her ideal weight and is doing well career-wise, as a news producer. But in the romance department, she’s still (or again?) struggling. A free-spirited co-worker (Sarah Solemani) takes Bridget on a ‘glamping’ trip where Bridget literally falls for the first guy she meets, Jack (Patrick Dempsey, aka McDreamy), and they have a one-night stand. Fast-forward a few days and Bridget runs into her old flame Mark (Colin Firth). The two, um, reconnect. Next thing you know, Bridget discovers that she is pregnant. Who’s the Daddy? No spoilers here…

Snowden

Unless you never watch the news or have been hiding under a rock for several years, you’ve probably heard of Edward Snowden. A gripping documentary called Citizen Four was made about him in 2013 and won the 2015 Oscar. Here’s what I said about that film:

In January of 2013, filmmaker Laura Poitras began receiving emails from a mysterious person who only identified himself as “citizenfour” and who had information about US government surveillance on a scale unheard of in history. A few months later, after a number of encrypted email exchanges, Poitras headed to Hong Kong along with journalist Glenn Greenwald to meet the sender. The rest is history. Waiting for them in a hotel room was Edward Snowden who would hand them evidence of massive citizen surveillance and data mining by the NSA and other government agencies, and would expose our global cyber-spy program.

Oliver Stone’s new movie Snowden begins in that hotel with Poitras (Melissa Leo) and Greenwald (Zachary Quinto) and flashes back to Snowden’s (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) tortured path to this clandestine meeting. The film succeeds in telling its story without becoming a typical Oliver Stone polemic. Whether that is a good or bad thing is up to you.

Is That a Gun in Your Pocket?

Based on the Aristophanes comedy set in Athens circa 411 BC, and translated to small town Texas in the 21st century, Is That a Gun in Your Pocket? is essentially Lysistrata Lite. The women in the original withheld sex from their husbands to stop the Peloponnesian War. Here they do the same to rid their town of guns after a boy takes Dad’s cool pistol to school and accidentally shoots the crossing guard in the derriere. The film feels a lot like a TV movie, except for foul-mouth Granny (Cloris Leachman), and the cast is mostly television actors. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but sadly as comedies go the film never rises above the sitcom level.