*** White Boy Rick (Pictured Above)
Matthew McConaughey stars as the father of Ricky Wersche Jr. a kid who in the 1980s was enlisted by Detroit drug enforcement cops to become an undercover informant. As played by teen newcomer Richie Merritt, Ricky is a sullen little punk looking for trouble — and aided by the fact that his dad, a licensed firearms dealer, doesn’t seem to mind his son selling AK-47s on the street for fun and profit. Director Yann Demange doesn’t ask us to sympathize with the kid until he gets sentenced to life in prison, and by then it’s too late.
**** Unbroken: Path to Redemption
Angelina Jolie, who directed 2014's Unbroken, is not at the helm of this sequel, nor is the script written by the Coen Brothers. But the life story of World War II hero Louis Zamperini is compelling in anyone's hands, and as a human drama evoking faith and forgiveness the film still has transcendent moments, often punching well above its weight as a faith-based film. (FULL REVIEW)
*** Ideal Home (Pictured Above)
He's cashing bigtime pay checks playing Ant Man, but thank goodness Paul Rudd still knows how to apply his easy charms in lovely small films like this one, an Odd Couple for our time. Rudd and Coogan play Paul and Erasmus, a sadly mismatched, constantly bickering, but hopelessly in love couple, living a self-indulgent lifestyle in Santa Fe New Mexico. Erasmus is a basic cable TV star, something of a gay Martha Stewart, and Rudd is his ever-exasperated producer. Into their glittery universe drops Coogan’s grandson, whose ne'er do well dad has just landed in prison. Ideal Home has all the expected Hollywood messages regarding the true meaning of family, but the two stars bring so much goodwill to their characters it's easy to forgive the film's predictable trajectory.
**** 40 Years in the Making: The Magic Music Movie
As a college student in Boulder in Colorado in 1970, young Lee Aronsohn became enthralled with a local folk rock group called Magic Music. But despite their obvious talent, they never made it big – never even cut a record. Aronsohn went on to become one of TV’s most successful writers — he co-created Two and Half Men and writes The Big Bang Theory. But he never forgot that band. In his fascinating, tuneful documentary, Aronsohn not only seeks out each band member to find out what happened to them — he also brings them back to Boulder for their first concert in 40 years. (FULL REVIEW)
Spike Lee's thrilling, somber, and funny meditation on race and racism tells the true story of a black Colorado Springs cop (John David Washington) who stumbles into an unlikely membership in the Ku Klux Clan. Leading the Klan members on by using his "white voice" on the phone, he enlists his partner (Adam Driver) to stand in for him at meetings as they try to determine if these hapless racists might be dangerous. As Grand Dragon DAvid Duke Topher Grace is Evil in a three-piece suit; former Blacklist star Ryan Eggold stands out as a Klansman who kids himself into thinking hatred can be kept in a non-violent bottle. (FULL REVIEW)
*** Blue Iguana
Sam Rockwell brings his unique brand of smirky genius to this slight and amusing caper flick, about two hapless ex-cons (Rockwell and Ben Schwartz) who find themselves enlisted to pull off a high-stakes heist in England. The fun is in watching the appealing cast (including Phoebe Fox as a lawyer with terrible table manners and Peter Ferdinando as a mullet-wearing though guy) barrel through the paper-thin plot, oblivious to its obvious holes and unlikely twists.
There seems to be no stopping Christopher Plummer these days — even at 88, he just keeps finding one engaging new role after another. This time he stars as Vera Farmiga’s rascally old dad in a charming new road comedy written and directed by Shana Feste. Plummer plays a guy whose nose for a good scam made him an absentee father to his daughter – but now he’s asking her and her son to drive him all the way down the Pacific coast from Washington State to Los Angeles. Ostensibly it’s to move in with his other daughter, played by the always delightful Kristen Schaal. But as always dad’s got ulterior motives, one of which is to drop in on an old pal — played by the reliably quirky Christopher Lloyd. Boundaries may be a shaggy dog story about a shady old dog, but the lively cast makes it one fun ride. (FULL REVIEW)
***** Christopher Robin
You don't have to be a longtime lover of the A.A. Milne's overstuffed "bear of very little brain" to find yourself bawling like a baby as director Marc Forster guides you through this gentle, reflective, visually enthralling Winnie the Pooh update. As a grown-up version of Pooh's human pal Christopher, Ewan McGregor brings a tired resignation that can only be lightened by a visit from his childhood friends. In many ways, Christopher Robin more faithfully evokes the languid spirit of Milne's books than Disney's sometimes slapsticky 1960s cartoons ever did. But Forster wisely involves voice actors who faithfully recreate the originals, especially Jim Cummings, doing double duty as Pooh and Tigger — wonderfully evoking the spirits of the immortal Sterling Holloway and Paul Winchell. (FULL REVIEW)
*** Crazy Rich Asians
Once you get past the novelty of seeing an all-Asian cast run through the motions of a standard rom-com plot, all that's left is disdain for the obscenely excessive lifestyle the film seems to worship. Constance Wu (Fresh Off the Boat) plays an NYU professor who discovers, improbably, that her handsome boyfriend (Henry Golding) is one of he world's richest bachelors. He schleps her off to visit Singapore, where his truly awful friends and family reject her for not being a) rich enough and b) Chinese enough. You'd hope the script would help these horrible people somehow develop a set of true values, but by the end it's clear if their bank accounts were suddenly cleaned out, each and every one of them would, lemming-like, drown themselves in the Singapore Strait. The filmmakers want us to hope the heroine will find acceptance from this despicable crew — we just want her to catch the next jet home. Two sequels are coming; after that, let's hope the extremely appealing stars will find something better to do.
*** Dog Days This episodic rom-com, built around people who find love thanks to their four-legged buddies, has nothing to recommend it except a consistently appealing young cast and some truly adorable pooches, all immersed in a spirit of goodwill. So, what's wrong with that?
*** The Equalizer II
There's never a good reason NOT to go see Denzel Washington on the big screen, even when he's in this frenetic yet somehow tired action movie sequel. As before (and as in the vastly superior Edward Woodward TV series on which the films are loosely based), Washington plays a loose-cannon former government operative who, while living under the radar, goes about defending the innocent and powerless against the evil and powerful. The gunplay and explosions proliferate alarmingly, but Denzel, cool as ever, saves both the day and the film.
*** Gauguin: Voyage to Tahiti French star Vincent Cassel does a nice job inhabiting the hedonistic hulk of the artist Paul Gauguin, who spent most of his final years painting, sculpting, and cavorting in French Polynesia. As a director, Edouard Deluc has a fine eye for beauty in both details and broad swaths. As a screenwriter, though, he seems to have a gaping blind spot, glossing over the sad facts that Gauguin abandoned his family to pursue a life without boundaries in the tropics — and that he took a 13-year-old girl as a lover. Omitting those essential (and frankly interesting) facets of the main character's life renders the film a pretty picture in need of a frame.
**** Juiliet, Naked (Pictured Above)
A just-about-perfect romantic comedy, based on a Nick Hornby novel, explores not just the foibles of love, but the pitfalls of infatuation, as well. Adorable Rose Byrne plays a frustrated small-town museum curator whose once-hot romance with a college professor (Chris O'Dowd) has cooled to near-absolute zero as he becomes increasingly obsessed with the body of work of a faded 1980s rock icon (Ethan Hawke). After a clever series of events brings the rocker and the lady together, sparks fly — much to the obsessive boyfriend's dismay. The performances are all endearing and director Jesse Peretz pulls off the neatest of tricks: We end up caring about everyone here, even the misguided antagonist.
*** Mama Mia! Here We Go Again I don't recall seeing any petitions begging for a sequel to the 2008 big-screen ABBA musical, and yet here it is. Those who care to will recall the original dealt with a young bride (Amanda Seyfried) trying to figure out which of the three long-ago suitors who romanced her free-spirited mother (Meryl Streep) was her biological father. Now, 10 years later, she wants to know the story of how Mom met the Three Lustketeers (played again by Piece Brosnan, Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgard). The convoluted prequel/sequel setup doesn't help, and neither does that fact that most of the songs are decidedly B-side ABBA. And while the addition of Cher as Meryl's mom is a campy coup, it's hard to shake the nagging mathematical reality that she must have given birth to Meryl at age 3.
*** The Meg
Name your classic shark movie trope and you’ll find it in this by-the-numbers shark thriller. Panic on the beach? Check. Helpless diver in a shark cage? Check. Need a bigger boat? Check! But when you consider this movie was co-produced by a Chinese company ( nearly half the cast is Chinese) , you have to remember that there are probably a few billion people in China who’ve never seen Jaws, so it's all new to them. In any case, the Chinese cast is easier to understand than British star Jason Statham, who often sounds like he’s got a mouth full of fish and chips.
*** Mission: Impossible Fallout
Take a James Bond highlight reel and superimpose Tom Cruise's head on it and you've pretty much got the latest in the star's 22-years-and-counting action series. By the time he's done clinging to helicopters, dangling from cliffs, racing Doomsday countdown clocks or battling bad guys to the death in a bathroom, we half-expect Cruise's Ethan Hunt to order a martini shaken, not stirred. Then again, that would require the use of dialogue, which here is even less evident than the laws of physics. (FULL REVIEW)
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, The U.S. Supreme Court's second woman justice and a quietly dynamic champion of liberal causes, gets the rock star treatment in this engrossing documentary from Julie Cohen and Betsy West. Fiercely ambitious, the young Ginsburg finds herself fighting for women's rights in the workplace and at home, riding a crest of her own making all the way to the Supreme Court. Right-leaning folks who think they'll take pass on this film should follow the lead of Ginsburg's closest friend, the eminently conservative Justice Scalia, and open their hearts to one of the most inspiring public lives of the past 50 years.
It doesn't help matters that the best skyscraper thriller of all time, Die Hard, is celebrating its 30th anniversary this month. Dwayne Johnson has much of the same hero-with-a-soft-heart quality that Bruce Willis did, but smirking, balding Bruce was a decided underdog in his battle to save his wife from the clutches of a high-rise hijacker. On the other
hand, when bad guys, buildings, and even the laws of physics go up against Rock-hard Johnson, it hardly seems like a fair fight.
***** Sorry to Bother You (Pictured Above)
Nothing will prepare you for the off-the-wall — yet utterly engaging — brilliance of first-time director Boots Riley's dystopian comic masterpiece. Lakeith Stanfield plays a sad sack telemarketing guy who finds himself elevated to "Super Seller" — but what he's selling is no set of kitchen knives. The endlessly appealing cast ushers you willingly through the yarn's hairpin plot turns in a film that somehow blends the best elements of Office Space, Get Out, Being John Malkovich...and even Pinocchio. (FULL REVIEW)
**** The Wife
Fans of great screen acting can’t ask for more than Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce as a long-married literary couple whose lifetime of shared secrets catches up with them. Based on Meg Wolitzer’s novel, the film explores how even mutually agreed-upon marital ground rules can mess up life’s later chapters. Close' performance is one of those rare gems that pay dividends for watching them a second time. Annie Stark, Close's daughter, plays the younger version of her mom’s character.
**** Won't You Be My Neighbor?
Director Morgan Neville, who won an Oscar for his documentary 50 Feet From Stardom, says he was a little worried when he embarked on making a film about children’s television legend Fred Rodgers. His greatest fear: That Rodgers, who died in 2003 after a lifetime of showing children the virtue of kindness, would turn out to have been something less than what he appeared to be. He didn’t need to worry: Won’t You Be My Neighbor confirms that Fred Rodgers was, in fact, virtuous in ways that transcended his kid-friendly TV character. In an culture that worships anti-heroes both on screen and in real life, Won’t You Be My Neighbor celebrates the fact that it is, indeed, possible to be both nice…and interesting.