Review: 12 Strong

Review: Midnight Sun

Midnight Sun is like a Nicholas Sparks movie in training. It doesn’t pack the emotional wallop of a traditional Sparks tearjerker, but it does try hard to follow the formula. The movie opens with bright sunlight reflecting off the water as a teenage girl describes in voiceover how what we’re seeing is all just a dream. She can’t really be out in the sun. It might kill her. Thus begins a romantic drama about 17-year-old Katie Price (Bella Thorne) and her nighttime meet-cute with her longtime crush Charlie (Patrick Schwarzenegger) – a guy she’s secretly been watching from the tinted windows of her house on the hill for about a decade.

Review: Beauty and the Dogs

Beauty and the Dogs is a very timely and very taut Tunisian #MeToo movie. The entire film is just nine shots, each a slice of the harrowing story of a young woman raped by policemen and trying to bring charges against them for it. There is a very Kafka-esque feeling to the whole ordeal. She can’t get medical attention without her ID, but she lost it during the rape, and she has to go to the police station to report it before she can go to the doctor, and everyone along the way just wants her to let it go for any number of reasons. It is horrifying, but she’s a fighter and so it is ultimately a #GirlPower flick!

Review: Oh, Lucy!

Without doubt one of the quirkiest movies I’ve seen in a long time, Oh, Lucy! is by turns hilarious and sad and brutally honest. The central character is Setsuko, a 40-something Japanese woman, who’s bored beyond belief with her life when her niece Mika (Shioli Kutsuna) talks her into taking a “free trial” English lesson. And what a class that is! The first clue that this will not be a normal school is that it’s set in a massage parlor. Then there’s the cute teacher John (Josh Hartnett, Penny Dreadful) who employs some “innovative” pedagogical techniques including decking his students out in wigs and doling out copious hugs. He christens Setsuke “Lucy” for the class, and though she was only going to check it out, she has so much fun that she decides to do the classes for real. But when John suddenly heads home to the States, along with her niece Mika, Lucy decides to follow them, and her stuck-up sister Ayako (Kaho Minami) tags along. What follows is Lucy’s Southern Californian odyssey of self-discovery.

Review: Love, Simon

There’s plenty to love about Love, Simon. It’s a charming romantic dramedy about a cool high school senior who has an awesome family, a great circle of friends, and one big secret: he’s gay. This isn’t some small indie drama that weighs heavy on the soul. It’s a sweet, lighthearted, relatable coming-of-age and coming-out story that plays a lot like a typical John Hughes teen ensemble movie updated for the times, where snapchat, texting and online forums are a primary means of communication. It’s backed by a major studio (20th Century Fox) so it actually has a fighting chance to reach a wide, mainstream audience – as it should.

Review: A Wrinkle in Time

I sooo wanted to like this movie. Really, I did. But despite its star power both in front of the camera (Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine, etc.) and behind it (director Ava DuVernay), A Wrinkle in Time is a bit of a hot mess. It’s colorful, visually stunning in parts, and spreads a heartfelt message about familial bonds, embracing your faults, finding strength in your individuality and all that good stuff. But in the end, the narrative gets lost in the spectacle – and Oprah’s larger-than-life, eye-glittered presence is more of a distraction than a serviceable plot device. The story just doesn’t add up. I don’t recall that being the case with Madeline L’Engle’s classic novel, first published in 1962. I read it in the 1970s (when I actually devoured more books than movies – probably because I couldn’t drive) and have fond recollections of protagonist Meg Murry’s travels through time and space in search of her scientist father who went missing while studying the universe.

Review: Leaning Into the Wind: Andy Goldsworthy

If you don’t know about British artist Andy Goldsworthy, this documentary is a great way to get your feet wet. He’s hard to classify artistically, since there are not a lot of others doing what he has been doing so beautifully for decades, collaborating with the natural world in sculpture, temporal pieces, and photographed performances, using found materials, stone, even his own body. I’ve loved his work for ages, and this film takes you on a 3 year walkabout with him as he creates his magical experiences. There was actually a moment during the film when I was in awe. This is a must see for art lovers!

Quickie Review: Death Wish

Talk about bad timing. I’m not sure I would have liked this movie on any particular day in any particular year, but this week especially, it feels so… wrong. It’s a brutal remake of the 1974 brutal action crime drama Death Wish, with Bruce Willis taking on the role made famous by Charles Bronson. Heaven forbid there was hope to reignite the franchise. That would be a disaster. Please, Bruce, just stick to Die Hard(s) – or how about a Moonlighting reboot? I’m sure the NRA and vigilante groups will love this movie. That’s exactly why I hate it.

Review: They Remain

This psychological horror flick relies heavily on sound effects and music to take a walk in the woods to a very scare place. Adapted from Laird Barron’s short story “30”, the main plot revolves around two biologists hired by an unnamed corporation to investigate some strange animal behavior on a remote tract of land they bought. The land also just happens to be the site where a Manson-like cult ended up in a bloodbath years earlier. Keith (William Jackson Harper, Paterson and The Good Place) and Jessica (Rebecca Henderson, Manhunt: Unabomber) spend their days setting up motion controlled cameras and taking soil samples to try and find out if there is anything particularly supernatural about the place, though you never know exactly what the corporate overlords are looking for. And of course strange things do start happening. And the question becomes, what’s real and can this possibly end well?

Review: Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story

She was considered the most beautiful woman in the world when she came to Hollywood in the 1930s from her native Austria. She forced Louis B. Mayer to sign her to a high-dollar contract simply by walking through a room. No one could take their eyes off her. And she became a huge star during Hollywood’s Golden Age, but what Hedy Lamarr loved most was inventing. From childhood, she lived to take things apart and figure things out. She had a brilliant mind, but her beauty was all anyone cared about. And as this eye-opening and frustrating documentary shows, her ideas changed the world, even as she got no credit for them. That is, until now.

Quickie Reviews: Annihilation; Game Night; The Party

Annihilation is interesting and weird, slow and methodical, and dare I say, bordering on boring. Hyper-sensitive fans of the film may ream me for not fully grasping or appreciating the deeper meaning, the metaphors, the beauty in the bizarre, yadda yadda yadda. But that’s okay. I didn’t love Arrival either. Annihilation is a cerebral sci-fi horror flick from Alex Garland (Ex Machina) based on the “Southern Reach Trilogy” by Jeff VanderMeer. If you’ve read the books, you’re probably ahead of the game and more likely than most to love this movie. Here’s the gist: Natalie Portman plays Lena, an Army veteran and cellular biologist whose husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) was believed killed in action during a secret military mission. He reappears a year later, extremely ill, with no memory of what happened. Government agents nab the newly-reunited couple and take them to “Area X”, an unspecified locale that borders a mysterious “Shimmer” that’s been expanding along the U.S. coastline.