Review: Isle of Dogs

What a fun movie! I don’t think Wes Anderson has made a film I didn’t like, so that’s no surprise, but the creative choices he made in this one are even more entertaining than usual. The story takes place in a town in Japan and all the humans speak untranslated Japanese, except for some public occasions where there is a simultaneous translator. Only the dogs speak English, voiced by a veritable A-list cast. (Bryan Cranston, Harvey Keitel, Bill Murray, Ed Norton, Greta Gerwig, Scarlett Johansson, and many more) The only thing that’s clear is that Mayor Kobayashi hates dogs (cat lover!) and he’s determined to rid his town of every last one, exiling them to a garbage covered island. But human hero to the rescue! Kobayashi’s 12-year-old nephew/ward Atari goes in search of his beloved pooch and uncovers a conspiracy at the highest levels.

Review: Rampage

There’s just something about Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson that lets him get away with making disastrous disaster movies. Perhaps it’s the twinkle in his eye as his characters defy death for the gazillionth time, the gentle nod to the absurdity of the plot, the giant muscles in constant flex for the betterment of humanity… Whatever it is, it’s working for him. Rampage is ridiculous. But it’s not bad. Especially if you have a thing for monster movies, disaster movies, a high body count, cartoonish villains, stereotypical government ‘suits’, implausible stunts, self-deprecating humor and cheesy dialogue.

Quickie Review: Beirut

Beirut is a fairly standard spy thriller and political drama that takes place primarily in 1982 but still feels relevant and timely given the perpetual, seemingly futile efforts to secure peace in the Middle East. The film stars Jon Hamm (Baby Driver, “Mad Men”) as Mason Stiles, a US diplomat who flees Lebanon after a tragic incident at his Beirut home in 1972. Fast-forward ten years, and Stiles is called back to Beirut to help negotiate the release of a friend and CIA operative whose captors insist on talking only with Stiles, for reasons that relate back to his time in the war-torn country.

Review: Blockers

The premise certainly sounds horrifying and offensive: When three parents discover their daughters’ pact to lose their virginity at prom, they launch a covert one-night operation to stop the teens from sealing the deal. Sounds like a laugh riot, right? Well, as much as I hate to admit it, Blockers is quite funny. It’s also a hard ‘R’, so don’t be cueing this one up for Family Movie Night.

Review: The Miracle Season

The Miracle Season is one of those inspiring and bittersweet sports dramas about athletes overcoming adversity. In this case, the athletes are members of a high school girls’ volleyball team who struggled to regroup — and play on — after the tragic death of their team leader and star setter Caroline ‘Line’ Found. Here’s what the movie has going for it: The uplifting story is basically true; And, it stars two Oscar winners, Helen Hunt as tough-love coach Kathy Bresnahan and William Hurt as Caroline Found’s grieving father Ernie, who lost his wife to cancer just one week after his daughter died in a moped accident. Here’s the rub: Hunt and Hurt are all-stars. The rest of the cast is junior varsity. Not exactly a level playing field.

Review: The Death of Stalin

If you saw In the Loop, you know what you’re in for in Armando Iannucci’s latest political satire — dark, hilarious, and sometimes creepy. As the title announces, the film is about the death of the ruthless dictator in 1953, though that only takes up a few minutes at the beginning. What it’s really about is the political wrangling that begins before he’s even left this world. There are three men vying to be the new Soviet leader: Stalin’s second-in-command, the idiot Georgy Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor), the ambitious Party chief Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi), and the truly sick secret police chief Lavrenti Beria (Simon Russell Beale). Malenkov didn’t have a chance, but Khrushchev and Beria would stop at nothing. The film is adapted from a comic book telling of the story, and everything that happens has a darkly absurd quality. And even though it’s based in reality, I’m sure the actual men were never as hilarious as they appear in this telling.

Review: Back to Burgundy

Set in the beautiful wine region of Burgundy where so many of the great wines are born, Back to Burgundy is a thoughtful story of three adult siblings grappling with their family’s wine business after the death of their father. The French title, Ce qui nous lie, is really a more apt description, meaning “what links us.” There is a very large estate tax that has to be paid and how to pay it makes the family examine their relationships to one another and the meaning of their legacy. And the fact that the older brother has been gone for ten years and only returned temporarily to see their dying father complicates everything.

Review: Finding Your Feet

On the day of her husband’s retirement, Lady Sandra Abbott (Imelda Staunton, Harry Potter‘s Dolores Umbridge) discovers he’s having an affair with her best friend. So she runs away to London to stay with her estranged sister Bif (Celia Imrie, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) who’s everything Sandra isn’t — liberal, outspoken, and happy. And little by little Sandra gets her groove back with the help of Bif’s dance class buddies. Finding Your Feet feels kind of familiar — older lady finds herself after a breakup — but thanks to a great ensemble cast and some fun dance scenes, it’s a sweet and uplifting little entertainment.

Review: Ready Player One

Ready Player One is a futuristic homage to the past, circa 1980s, resembling somewhat of a cross between Avatar and Divergent with the added twist of being directed by the ever-popular and prolific Steven Spielberg (The Post). If all that appeals, then go to the top of the leaderboard and ready yourself for an appealing (though far from classic) adventure that explores the pros and cons of living in the real world with all its flaws versus disappearing into a virtual reality game that promises a real pot of gold at the end of the virtual rainbow. If you’re up on your pop culture references (it helps to have seen The Shining at least once), pine for those trips to Blockbuster for the latest on VHS, or still have an Atari in the storage room, then Ready Player One is worth seeing on the big screen. Plus, it’s got a pretty awesome soundtrack.

Review: Journey’s End

War is hell. Especially in this World War One drama, where almost the entire film is set in the trenches just yards away from the enemy Germans. It takes place over just four days and is adapted from a well-known play by WWI veteran R.C. Sherriff. What is different in this war movie though is that it isn’t about the derring-do, but is a portrayal of the time between the battles — the anticipation, the camaraderie and the boredom. Only a few of the officers know from very early in the story that they are vastly outnumbered and that there will be no reinforcements. They’re to be sacrificed to slow down the Germans. But stiff upper lip and all that rot, so they soldier on for the cause. And for their leader Captain Stanhope (Sam Claflin, Hunger Games), it’s tearing him apart.