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 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…


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.

Landfill Harmonic

The town of Cateura in Paraguay is built on a landfill. Most of the people there make their meager livings sorting trash into sellable recyclables. 40% of the kids don’t finish school because they need to work and the main work is in the dump. There are few opportunities to move up economically or widen their view of the world. But into this community 8 years ago came Favio Chavez, an environmental consultant who was hired to make the recycling program more efficient and help the people of the community. But what he did next was unexpected, even to him. He decided to teach the young people to play music. And where would they get the instruments in a town where one cheap violin would be worth more than a family’s house? From the trash itself!


This movie is like Tom Hanks himself – a celebration of the everyman, in this case, Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger (Hanks), the US Airways pilot who was thrust into the limelight by a confluence of gut instinct and really good luck that culminated in the so-called “Miracle on the Hudson” on January 15, 2009. Sully and first officer Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) were justifiably hailed as heroes in the aftermath of that incident for their ability to remain incredibly calm and composed as they “landed” their Airbus A320 in the middle of the Hudson River after a bird strike took out both engines shortly after take-off from New York’s LaGuardia Airport. Miraculously, all 155 souls on board the plane that day survived. We all saw it, either live or on constant televised replay… dramatic images of commuter boats and first-responders in helicopters plucking scores of passengers from the wings of the aircraft. And therein lies the problem with Sully. It’s hard to get overly-invested in the drama when you know everything works out in the end. So while director Clint Eastwood makes an admirable attempt to tell an interesting, lesser-known story about the subsequent investigation by FAA and NTSB desk jockeys and computer-simulated recreations devoid of the “human factor”, all that really matters is the 208 seconds that had passengers and crew heeding the Captain’s call to “brace for impact!” and flight controllers on the ground fearing the worst when the plane drops off their radar. It’s dramatic stuff for sure. But you can only replay 208 seconds so many times in a movie that stretches to hit a 95-minute running time.

The Light Between Oceans

Some people (particularly those who hate melodrama) may scoff at the manipulative nature of The Light Between Oceans, with its sweeping score and dramatic pans of crashing waves and remote landscape; but for fans of a solid romantic drama with a two-kleenex tearjerker quotient, The Light Between Oceans is worth the view.

Mainstream Chick’s Quick Takes on Two Indies: A Tale of Love and Darkness; Morris from America

A Tale of Love and Darkness is obviously a passion project for Oscar-winning actress Natalie Portman. She not only stars in the film, which is primarily in Hebrew with English subtitles, but she also wrote the screenplay, and directed. Unfortunately, she may have bitten off more than she could chew with her directorial debut. I can’t imagine anyone rushing out to see this film unless they are already familiar with Israeli writer and journalist Amos Oz and are curious to see how his memoirs have been translated to the big screen. Even they may be surprised and disappointed to discover the film focuses primarily on the mental illness and depression that plagued Amos’s mother Fania (Portman) as he was growing up in Jerusalem in the 1940s.