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Showing posts from 2020

THE CROODS: A NEW AGE

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In prehistoric times, Grug Crood (the voice of Nicolas Cage) and his family go in search of a better place to live. Leaving their cave, they journey to a land beyond a great wall. This paradise is lush, has plentiful food and something unexpected: the evolved Bettermans. Grug feels threatened by the modern family and their tree house with advanced inventions. A reluctant friendship develops and grows stronger when a menacing force outside their safe habitat becomes a problem. The future is at stake. Fans of 2013's "The Croods" won't be disappointed with this fun journey. First-time feature film director Joel Crawford (TV short "Trolls Holiday") finds a comfortable mix of action and humor within visually stunning animation. Children will be amused, but a couple of scary moments may frighten smaller kids. There's not much for adults beyond a harmless tongue-in-cheek joke or two (one involving a toilet). A marvelous voice cast brings the characters to life.

FREAKY

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School bullies are the least of Millie's (Kathryn Newton) problems when she comes face-to-face with serial killer The Butcher (Vince Vaughn). During the confrontation, the pair magically swap bodies thanks to an ancient dagger in the maniac's possession. Now in the psychopath's body, Millie discovers she only has 24 hours before the switch becomes permanent. After convincing her friends Nyla (Celeste O’Connor), Joshua (Misha Osherovich) and object of her love Booker (Uriah Shelton) of the dire situation, they set out to stop The Butcher and get her female form back before he piles up new victims at Blissfield High. Chills and laughs collide in this fresh take on body-swapping. Although an uncomfortable mix at times, director/co-writer (along with Michael Kennedy) Christopher Landon largely succeeds at blending horror and humor. The son of actor Michael Landon, he honed his directorial skills most recently on "Happy Death Day" and "Happy Death Day 2U" and

LET HIM GO

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A few years after the tragic death of their son, retired sheriff George Blackledge (Kevin Costner) and his wife Margaret (Diane Lane) face another change in life. Daughter-in-law Lorna (Kayli Carter) remarries and takes their only grandson away from them. The Blackledges leave their Montana ranch and head for the Dakotas to find their grandchild, who now resides with controlling matriarch Blanche Weboy (Lesley Manville) and her vicious clan. After the Weboys refuse to let mother and child go, George and Margaret prepare for a deadly confrontation. Striking emotional drama and a powerful cast highlight this intense modern western. Based on Larry Watson's novel of the same name, director/screenwriter Thomas Bezucha ("The Family Stone") has created an imposing portrayal of family, loss and determination. It follows the structure of "High Noon": character-driven, with the bulk of action at the end. The deliberate slow-pacing allows the main characters to develop whi

THE WAR WITH GRANDPA

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Widowed Ed (Robert De Niro) moves in with daughter Sally (Uma Thurman) and son-in-law Arthur (Rob Riggle). While granddaughters Jennifer (Poppy Gagnon) and Mia (Laura Marano) are delighted, grandson Peter (Oakes Fegley) must give up his bedroom to grandpa. Relegated to the creepy attic for living quarters, he wants his room back. With neither side willing to budge, the battle for the bedroom begins. Humor, sight gags and Robert De Niro keep this family comedy moving along. Based on Robert Kimmel Smith's novel of the same name, the screenplay by Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember dives quickly into "Home Alone" territory. The pranks come fast and furious, with many being malicious. Director Tim Hill ("Hop") does manage to lighten things up around the mayhem while delivering a heartfelt message about relationships. As usual, Robert De Niro is the main attraction. But Oakes Fegley (2016's "Pete's Dragon") is an impressive match for the iconic star. Their

ON THE ROCKS

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Author Laura (Rashida Jones), struggling with writer's block on the next promised book, begins to suspect there's trouble in her marriage. While she stays home taking care of two young daughters, husband Dean (Marlon Wayans) is off on many trips with employee Fiona (Jessica Henwick) trying to make his business succeed. Little things, like late nights at the office, lead Laura to fear infidelity. She turns to her retired art dealer father, the debonair playboy Felix (Bill Murray), for advice and help. Together, they set out to find clues and end up bonding. Director/writer Sofia Coppola ("Lost in Translation") takes us on an enjoyable lightweight romp. Rashida Jones (TV's "Angie Tribeca") carries the lead well as a distraught woman, but it's Bill Murray who runs away with this film. At age 70, the iconic star is still charismatic in his own familiar way. The scenes he's not in are less satisfying. This is not the fault of the cast surrounding him.

KAJILLIONAIRE

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Old Dolio (Evan Rachel Wood) has spent her entire life learning to scam with her con artist parents Robert (Richard Jenkins) and Theresa (Debra Winger). Robbing post office boxes and other low-level illegal efforts highlight their meager existence. With past rent due on their dilapidated office building dwelling, the threesome hit upon a travel insurance scheme. During the trip, they meet the charming Melanie (Gina Rodriguez). Eager to change her lifestyle, she joins the grifters in thieving endeavors. The lives of all involved are affected. Director/writer Miranda July ("Me and You and Everyone We Know") paints a quirky portrait of human foibles and desires. While too slow going at times, the character-driven plot gets a huge boost from some fine performances. Richard Jenkins, Debra Winger and Gina Rodriguez (TV's "Jane the Virgin") are award-worthy indeed. But it's Evan Rachel Wood who is the main attraction. In a subtle turn, she draws focus to Old Dolio

MULAN (2020)

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When the Emperor of China (Jet Li) is threatened by Northern invaders, a decree is issued that one man per family must join the Imperial Army to defend the country. Courageous Mulan (Yifei Liu), eldest daughter of ailing honored warrior Zhou (Tzi Ma), disguises herself as a man and joins the army in his place. It will test her spirit and determination to help defeat the ruthless forces of Böri Khan (Jason Scott Lee), out to avenge his father's death, and his ally - the powerful witch Xianniang (Gong Li).  This entertaining epic adventure is visually stunning. Yet another Disney animated feature gets the live-action treatment and the result is one of their best efforts in recent years. Director Niki Caro ("Whale Rider") masterfully guides a huge international, primarily Asian, cast through this grand saga. Yifei Liu is magnificent as the beautiful and fearless heroine. Besides the supporting players mentioned above, Rosalind Chao and Xana Tang portray Mulan's mother an

THE PERSONAL HISTORY OF DAVID COPPERFIELD

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On stage, David Copperfield (Dev Patel) recounts his life from birth to aspirations of becoming a writer. His carefree countryside youth with his widowed mother Clara (Morfydd Clark) changes after she marries the cruel Mr. Murdstone (Darren Boyd). The new stepfather beats him and eventually sends the boy to work in his London bottle factory. Bad working conditions and news of his mother's death send the young Copperfield escaping back to the country. Living with his wealthy Aunt Betsey (Tilda Swinton) and eccentric distant relative Mr. Dick (Hugh Laurie), life improves. But there are many ups and downs before his dream can be realized. Charles Dickens' novel gets a refreshing cinematic revamp in this lively period piece. Director/writer Armando Iannucci ("The Death of Stalin" and TV documentary "Armando's Tale of Charles Dickens"), with screenplay help from Simon Blackwell, manages to satisfyingly condense the lengthy book. The essence of Copperfield rem

THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN

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Ivan (the voice of Sam Rockwell), a silverback gorilla, is the main attraction at the Big Top Mall. With a circus-like atmosphere, owner Mack (Bryan Cranston) and his small menagerie of animals entertain a shrinking audience. Looking to boost crowds and stay open, Mack buys baby elephant Ruby (voiced by Brooklynn Prince). Now out of the spotlight, Ivan ponders his past and future. Among those helping him through this new phase of life are aging elephant Stella (the voice of Angelina Jolie), Bob the dog (voiced by Danny DeVito) and Julia (Ariana Greenblatt), the young daughter of mall employee George (Ramon Rodriguez). CGI talking animals, a cute kid, and ringmaster Bryan Cranston keep things moving along in this entertaining diversion. Based on Katherine Applegate's novel of the same name, the story is a fantasy version of real-life gorilla Ivan - who gained fame for his paintings. Director Thea Sharrock ("Me Before You"), working from Mike White's (who also provides

THE SECRET: DARE TO DREAM

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Raising three children in Louisiana, widow Miranda Wells (Katie Holmes) struggles to make ends meet while dating her boss/boyfriend Tucker (Jerry O'Connell). A destructive storm brings new problems and helpful stranger Bray (Josh Lucas) into her life. Things begin to change for the better, but the new arrival with his positive attitude has a secret that could change everything. This inspirational family drama is engaging - even without action and violence. Based on, or more inspired by, Rhonda Byrne's 2006 bestselling self-help book "The Secret", the feel-good film is

GREYHOUND (2020)

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Navy veteran Ernest Krause (Tom Hanks) is assigned a mission as first-time captain of a destroyer, code-named Greyhound, to protect a convoy of 37 supply ships across the North Atlantic during the United States' early involvement in WWII. With only three escort ships and no air cover, the leader and his crew must navigate through a dangerous stretch of ocean known as "The Black Pit", where they encounter a group of Nazi U-boats. Survival depends on the outcome of the battle against the determined German submarines. Tense action and the formidable Tom Hanks steer this compact thriller. Inspired by events that took place during the Battle of the Atlantic, Mr. Hanks'

THE OUTPOST (2020)

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During the Afghan War in 2009, a small group of U.S. soldiers defended an outpost in a valley surrounded by three mountains in Afghanistan. As the Army neared closing the military post, a large force of Taliban fighters made a final attack. First Lt. Benjamin Keating (Orlando Bloom), Staff Sergeant Clint Romesha (Scott Eastwood) and the rest of Bravo Troop 3-61 CAV gallantly battled the enemy in the deadly confrontation - becoming one of the 19-year conflict's most decorated units. This powerful war film is an emotional and gripping experience. Based on the 2012 book "The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor" by CNN's Jake Tapper, the true story of the Battle of Kamdesh gets a

THE KING OF STATEN ISLAND

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In his mid-20s, Scott Carlin (Pete Davidson) is still having trouble coming to grips with the tragic death of his firefighter father when he was seven. He's living with his ER nurse mother Margie (Marisa Tomei) and younger sister Claire (Maude Apatow), who's about to leave home for college. Scott has aspirations of becoming a tattoo artist and opening the first tattoo restaurant, but is content with taking drugs with buddies Oscar (Ricky Velez), Igor (Moises Arias), Richie (Lou Wilson) and a relationship with childhood friend Kelsey (Bel Powley). When his mother gets a boyfriend, firefighter Ray (Bill Burr), trouble ensues. Scott can't stand mom's new love interest. Told to move out, he is forced to re-evaluate his life. SNL's Pete Davidson is a commanding presence in this appealing comedy/drama. He may be playing himself, but

ARTEMIS FOWL

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Antiques dealer Artemis Fowl I (Colin Farrell) and his family are reputed to be criminal masterminds. When his father is kidnapped, brilliant 12-year-old Artemis Fowl II (Ferdia Shaw) is determined to get him back. He must take on the underground world of fairies, who are suspected of the kidnapping. The ransom is the missing Aculos, a powerful and magical device that the fairies desperately want returned. The young Fowl sets a plan in motion that leads to a dangerous confrontation. Fast-paced action and striking effects fill this colorful fantasy adventure. Kenneth Branagh directs the

THE VAST OF NIGHT

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In the small town of Cayuga, New Mexico during one night in the late 1950s, radio DJ Everett (Jake Horowitz) and switchboard operator Fay (Sierra McCormick) hear a strange audio signal while both are at work. The two friends are compelled to solve the mystery of the weird sound. After Everett broadcasts the signal, calls from a couple of listeners shed some light that could lead to the solution. The sci-fi genre gets a boost from this fresh mystery. Director Andrew Patterson, with a script by producer James Montague and Craig W. Sanger, impresses in

THE HIGH NOTE

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Maggie (Dakota Johnson) is kept busy as personal assistant to superstar Grace Davis (Tracee Ellis Ross), but she desperately wants to become a music producer. After a chance meeting with talented musician David Cliff (Kelvin Harrison, Jr.), Maggie has hopes of fulfilling her dreams while finding romance. Obstacles get in the way, including her steady job and Grace's manager Jack Robertson (Ice Cube). Solid performances and great music give this appealing diversion a big lift. While the story may seem familiar, director Nisha Ganatra ("Late Night") and writer Flora Greeson have fashioned a

SELAH AND THE SPADES

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Several factions of students compete for dominance at the Haldwell boarding school. Senior Selah (Lovie Simone) is the head of The Spades, a club known for drug dealing. Her biggest rival is Bobby (Ana Mulvoy Ten), who commands the drama nerds. Staying on top isn't easy for Selah, with added pressure from her mother (Gina Torres) to keep grades up for college prospects. The school's Headmaster (Jesse Williams) is also on her case and there may be a snitch in the group. The pressured teen gets help from right-hand man Maxxie (Jharrel Jerome) and new girl Paloma (Celeste O'Connor), a budding photographer and possible future club leader. Things get interesting when Selah perceives a loss of control. Writer/director Tayarisha Poe makes an impressive feature film debut with this realistic portrayal of teen angst. While short on plot,

TROLLS WORLD TOUR

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Now queen of the Pop Trolls, Poppy (the voice of Anna Kendrick) learns of five other Troll tribes devoted to different types of music: Classical, Country, Funk, Rock and Techno. Determined to unite the groups, she sets out with best friend Branch (voiced by Justin Timberlake) and tag-along Biggie (the voice of James Corden) on a musical quest. Unknown to her, Queen Barb (voiced by Rachel Bloom) seeks to make Rock rule. Trippy and tuneful, this high-energy sequel is just as much fun as the 2016 original. Once again, it's mostly for kids. Aside from the music and

DOLPHIN REEF

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A coral reef is home to a variety of sea creatures, including a three-year-old Pacific bottlenose dolphin named Echo. With help from his mother Kumu, the coming-of-age youngster must learn survival skills. But Echo is more interested in exploring the reef and beyond. Now mother and son venture to the hunting grounds where the young dolphin's self-sufficiency and his value to the community will be determined. The latest entry in the Disneynature series is an eye-catching undersea exploration. While writer David Fowler's screenplay is simple and

BLOW THE MAN DOWN (2019)

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Death and dark secrets hang over the small fishing village of Easter Cove, Maine. The passing of Mary Margaret Connolly (Linda Shary) is difficult on her daughters Priscilla (Sophie Lowe) and Mary Beth (Morgan Saylor), who are left with financial and personal troubles. When an encounter at a local bar goes terribly wrong for Mary Beth, the more responsible Priscilla must help her younger sister out of the dilemma. As the siblings attempt to solve their problems, the town's mysteries are revealed. Directors/writers Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy successfully venture into Coen brothers' territory with this delicious feminist film noir. Sophie Lowe and Morgan Saylor deliver strong

ONWARD

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In a fantasy world where magic has been replaced by modern technology, teenage elves Ian (the voice of Tom Holland) and older brother Barley (voiced by Chris Pratt) are about to embark on a mystical quest. Their mother Laurel (the voice of Julia Louis-Dreyfus) gives the boys a wizard's staff from their late father, who died before Ian was born, on Ian's 16th birthday. The staff's gem has a spell that will bring their dad back for 24 hours. Discovering he has powers, Ian is only able to conjure up his dad's legs before the precious stone is destroyed. Now the brothers must take the legs and seek out another magical gem to restore their father before time runs out. Happily, Pixar abandons sequels in favor of an original concept. This wondrous CG animated feature is packed with heart and humor. Director Dan Scanlon ("Monsters University"), who wrote the screenplay with help from Jason Headley and Keith Bunin, was inspired by

DOWNHILL (2020)

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A family's ski vacation in the Alps splits them apart. When a controlled avalanche hits the lodge patio, husband Pete (Will Ferrell) bolts - leaving wife Billie (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and their two sons (Julian Grey & Ammon Jacob Ford) to fend for themselves. The remainder of the trip is spent coming to terms with what happened and taking a hard look at their lives. What could have been a powerful and emotional family drama quickly disintegrates. This American remake of director/writer Ruben Östlund's (listed as an executive producer on this misstep) 2014 Swedish drama "Force Majeure" gets

BIRDS OF PREY (AND THE FANTABULOUS EMANCIPATION OF ONE HARLEY QUINN)

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After the Joker breaks up with her, Harley Quinn's (Margot Robbie) life takes a turn for the worse. Everyone's out to get her, including nasty crime lord Roman Sionis/Black Mask (Ewan McGregor). Standing in his way of getting back a valuable diamond stolen by young pickpocket Cass (Ella Jay Basco) is Quinn. She gets some unexpected help from vigilantes Dinah Lance/Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), a metahuman with hypersonic screams, and revenge-seeking Helena Bertinelli/Huntress ( Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Joining the battle is Gotham police detective Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), who's building a case against Sionis. Defeating the villain and his main henchman Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina) proves to be dangerous. This spirited DC big screen venture is a mixed bag. Mesmerizing comic book visuals and a pop tune soundtrack, with artists like Halsey and Megan Thee Stallion, keep things

THE RHYTHM SECTION

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When depressed, drug-addicted prostitute Stephanie Patrick (Blake Lively) learns the plane crash that killed her family wasn't an accident, she sets out to avenge their deaths. With the help of a former British MI6 agent (Jude Law), Stephanie trains to become an assassin. Under various disguises, she takes on missions that will lead to vengeance. A strong performance by Blake Lively and sudden bursts of action can't save this mostly lackluster thriller. Based on the popular book by Mark Burnell, who also wrote the screenplay, director Reed Morano ("Meadowland") relies heavily on

BAD BOYS FOR LIFE

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Miami buddy cops Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) are contemplating changes in their lives. Marcus wants to retire and enjoy life - bringing an end to the successful team. When Mike is targeted by an unknown assassin, Marcus gathers the strength to help save his partner and police department from a deadly threat. Put your brain on hold and savor another wild joyride with Lowrey and Burnett. Will Smith and Martin Lawrence were an

1917

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During WWI, young British soldiers Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Schofield (George MacKay) are tasked with going behind enemy lines to deliver a message to advancing troops that a German trap awaits them. If the messengers don't arrive in time, there will be a massacre that includes Blake's brother (Richard Madden). This sensational war drama presents the familiar deadly mission scenario in a unique way. Director Sam Mendes ("Skyfall"), who co-wrote the script with Krysty Wilson-Cairns, draws