Movies Opening Friday
Michael McCauley (Liam Neeson) is an insurance salesman whose daily commute home becomes anything but routine. Mysterious stranger Joanna (Oscar nominee Vera Farmiga) contacts him with an offer of $100,000 if he can identify a hidden passenger aboard the train before its last stop. As he works against the clock to solve the puzzle, he gradually realizes a deadly plan is unfolding and he has been unwittingly caught up in a criminal conspiracy that carries life and death stakes for everyone aboard.
PG-13: Action/violence, and language — Premiere Cinemas, Alamo Drafthouse, Tinseltown 17 and Movies 16.
When a woman and her son vanish mysteriously, FBI agent Daria Francis (Amanda Schull) is dispatched to Devil’s Gate, N.D., to investigate religious fanatic Jackson Pritchard (Milo Ventimiglia), husband and father of the missing persons. When Francis and local deputy Colt (Shawn Ashmore) arrive at Pritchard’s foreboding property, they realize something is lurking in the basement.
Not rated — Alamo Drafthouse.
The film is presented as a dark comedy, and anchored by Margot Robbie as figure skater Tonya Harding, and Allison Janey as acid-tongued mother LaVona Fay Golden. Harding was the first American woman to complete a triple axel in competition, yet her legacy was defined by scandal. Sebastian Stan plays Harding’s impetuous ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly. Director Craig Gillespie provides “interviews” with characters in a present day, mockumentary style, often breaking the fourth wall. Tonya becomes one of the best U.S. figure skaters . She marries Gillooly and is met by bias within the figure skating community for being deemed white trash. One disappointing Olympic performance leaves her waiting tables, but she has an opportunity for a ‘94 comeback. That’s when Gillooly’s friend, Shawn Eckhardt (Paul Walter Hauser), arranges an attack on Harding’s rival, Nancy Kerrigan (Caitlin Carver).
R: Pervasive language, violence and sexual content/nudity — Alamo Drafthouse.
Ben Whishaw again is the voice of Paddington in the CGI animated comedy. Settled in with the Brown family, Paddington Bear is a popular member of the community who spreads joy and marmalade wherever he goes. One fine day, he spots a pop-up book in an antique shop. Feeling it would be the perfect present for his aunt’s 100th birthday, Paddington embarks on a series of odd jobs to earn enough money to buy it. When a thief steals the prized book, Paddington is blamed and imprisoned. He embarks on an epic quest to unmask the real culprit.
PG: Some action and mild rude humor — Premiere Cinemas, Tinseltown 17 and Stars &Stripes Drive-In.
Set in 1971, Washington Post publisher Katherine Graham (Meryl Streep), the first female publisher of a major American newspaper, with help from driven Post editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), race to catch up with The New York Times, which began publishing the Pentagon Papers. Graham must decide whether the Post will defy the US government and publish classified reports that reveal American involvement in Southeast Asia between World War II and the war in Vietnam. Steven Spielberg turns the film into a tense, dramatic question regarding the importance of such constitutional rights as freedom of the press. Post executives risk their careers, their freedom and the fate of the newspaper by bringing long-buried truths into the light.
PG-13: Language and war violence — Premiere Cinemas, Alamo Drafthouse, Tinseltown 17, and Movies 16.
Taraji P. Henson stars as Mary, a successful hitwoman working for an organized crime family in Boston. But her life is completely turned around when she meets a boy named Danny (Jahi Di’Allo Winston). A professional hit goes wrong, and the assassin feels obligated to look after Danny when he orphaned.
R: Violence — Premiere Cinemas and Tinseltown 17.
Movies Continuing This Week
All the Money in the World
Kerns rating: HHHH
Christopher Plummer, 88 and in no need of prosthetics, anchors this truth-driven film with an incredible performance as billionaire skinflint J. Paul Getty. Behind-the-scenes: Director Ridley Scott, 80, completed the entire movie with Kevin Spacey as J. Paul Getty. When Spacey was disgraced by sexual harassment and assault charges in October, Scott hired Plummer to replace Spacey, and defied odds by spending $10 million on nine days of re-shoots. Scott re-edited and again finished his film. The gripping story deals with the real-life 1973 kidnapping of 16-year-old Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer, no relation) in Rome; kidnappers — including Romain Davis as Cinquantra, who begins to care for his hostage — demand a $17 million ransom. The teenager’s grandfather, considered the world’s richest man, refuses to pay. He refuses to even become involved until the boy is sold to tougher criminals, who follow through with their threat to slice off body parts.
R: Language, violence, disturbing images and drug content — Premiere Cinemas and Tinseltown 17.
Kerns rating: HHHHH
The best animated film and, thanks to directors Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina, one of 2017’s best features … period. A rare pairing of gorgeous, breathtaking animation with a terrific, fun and unpredictable script. A tale and visuals that keep adults involved, and characters — yes, even those skeletons — that enchant younger viewers. The story is set around Mexican holiday Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), calling for non-white characters. he film’s working so well on an educational level, in terms of traditions — from family ofrendas to alebrijes, or animal spirit guides — is a bonus to its entertainment value. Songs might not sell soundtracks, but they blend within the story of young Miguel (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez), banned from playing guitar even as he dreams of becoming a musician like his idol, Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt). Miguel is desperate to prove himself, yet in need of a guitar after family matriarch Imelda (Renee Victor) pulls a Pete Townshend with his. The coolest character is charming trickster Hector.
PG: Thematic elements — Tinseltown 17 and Movies 16.
Daddy’s Home 2
In the sequel, Will Ferrell’s Brad and Mark Wahlberg’s Dusty are co-parenting — but now must deal with two more dads: their own jealous, competitive fathers.
PG-13: Suggestive material and some language — Premiere Cinemas.
Kerns rating: HHH
Directed by Joe Wright, this film is conceived, written and formed as a showpiece for whomever is cast as British prime minister Winston Churchill — and Gary Oldman once again commands the screen. “Darkest Hour” lends Oldman Churchill’s greatest speeches, and Oscar voters may agree that it is about time he won. There is history in an island nation only gradually warming up to a prime minister who favors war with Nazi Germany over any pretense of a negotiated peace with Adolf Hitler. Parliament feared the annihilation of the English Army at Dunkirk, never dreaming that Churchill’s wild plan to rescue stranded forces with civilian boats could actually work. Oldman delivers a beautifully layered performance; only devoted wife Clementine (Kristin Scott-Thomas) senses his fear or chips in his self-confidence.
PG-13: Thematic material — Movies 16.
The Disaster Artist
Kerns rating: HHH
Tommy Wiseau wrote, directed, starred in — and financed — an independent film in 2003 titled “The Room.” Wiseau’s film is considered one of the all-time worst movies ever made. Audiences laughed at it at every opportunity, until word-of-mouth transformed a cinematic bust into a comedic hit, a cult success on the midnight circuit. When James Franco decided to direct “The Disaster Artist,” and star as Wiseau in a movie about how “The Room” was conceived and made, one assumed he would make fun of the film and filmmaker.But what makes Franco’s film work is his seeing Wiseau as a dreamer believing in his vision, at least until the premiere. Seth Rogen gives an inspired performance as script supervisor Sandy Schklair, often representing the mean-spirited business that can be Hollywood.
R: Partial male nudity and language — Alamo Drafthouse and Movies 16.
Fraternal twin brothers Kyle (Owen Wilson) and Peter (Ed Helms) learn their real father did not die when they were young, as they had been told by eccentric mother Helen (Glenn Close). The brothers embark on a road trip to discover the identity of their father. Potential father figures are portrayed by J.K. Simmons, Christopher Walken and even Terry Bradshaw, playing himself.
R: Language and sexual references — Tinseltown 17 and Movies 16.
The first animated version since Disney released “Ferdinand the Bull” in 1938. John Cena provides the voice of the title character, a young bull who escapes from a training camp in rural Spain after his father never returns from a showdown with a matador. Adopted by a girl (Lily Day as the voice of Nina) who lives on a farm, Ferdinand’s peaceful existence comes crashing down when authorities return him to his former captors.
PG: Rude humor, action and thematic elements — Premiere Cinemas, Tinseltown 17 and Movies 16.
The Greatest Showman
Kerns rating: HHH
While Hugh Jackman does not fail to impress, one wishes the script were just as memorable. There is precious little story exposition between tunes. Still, the film deserves to be seen for Ashley Wallen’s choreography. His creative rapport with director Michael Gracey is fantastic; his choreography makes tunes memorable, more special. Choreographies range from gorgeous and near-poetic to percussive and physical. The story introduces risk-taking P.T. Barnum and his steps toward becoming a visionary, whether with a wax museum or an in-the-spotlight family of outcasts: Tom Thumb, a Bearded Lady (charismatic Keala Settle), Dog Boy, Tattoo Man and conjoined twins. He fights one half of conservative society while entertaining the other with a show which lays the groundwork for a future Barnum &Bailey Circus.
PG: Thematic elements, including a brawl — Premiere Cinemas, Alamo Drafthouse, Tinseltown 17, Movies 16 and Stars &Stripes Drive-In.
The Greatest Showman — Sing-along version
Kerns rating: HHH
PG: Thematic elements, including a brawl — Movies 16.
Insidious: The Last Key
Brilliant parapsychologist Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) receives a disturbing phone call from a man who claims that his house at 413 Apple Tree Lane in Five Keys, N.M. is haunted. It is the home in which Elise grew up as a child. Accompanied by her two investigative partners, Rainier travels to Five Keys to confront and destroy her greatest fear — a demon she accidentally set free years earlier, one that has since targeted her own family. This drives her deeper into what she calls The Further. The first two films were directed by James Wan, while the third film was a prequel directed by Leigh Whannell, who also served as screenwriter for all four films and plays the character called Specs. The fourth supernatural chapter — a sequel to the prequel to the first two films —places the focus squarely on Elise.
PG-13: Disturbing thematic content, violence and terror, and strong language — Premiere Cinemas, Alamo Drafthouse, Tinseltown 17, Movies 16 and Stars &Stripes Drive-In.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
Kerns rating: HHH 1/2
This funny and entertaining stand-alone sequel works primarily thanks to writing, casting and performances — despite improvements in computer-generated effects since Robin Williams introduced “Jumanji” in 1995. That is the most pleasant surprise. The story has a “Breakfast Club” take-off, with high school detention again populated by types: skinny nerd Spencer (Alex Wolf); football jock Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain), vain selfie-taker Bethany (Madison Iseman) and shy bookworm Martha (Morgan Turner). These four find a mysterious console (Jumanji), and barely hear the drums before being sucked into the game and transformed into their choice of adult avatars. The nerd becomes a smoldering, muscular adventurer (Dwayne Johnson), the jock is now a small whiner (Kevin Hart), a shy bookworm gives way to a Lara Croft-type (Karen Gillan) and sexy Bethany has traded her body for that of a chubby, middle-aged cartographer (Jack Black). Adult avatars, however, maintain teenage personalities and fears. Rules state that all have limited time, and limited lives, to lose, before they must find and return a stolen jewel. Otherwise, “game over.” Kudos to director Jake Kasdan, who introduces CGI hippos, snakes and jaguars, but also one message about overcoming insecurities and another involving the four opposites pooling strengths and working together if they are to survive. Pay attention or risk missing Kasdan’s salute to Williams’ Alan Parrish from the original “Jumanji.”
PG-13: Adventure action, suggestive content and language — Alamo Drafthouse, Tinseltown 17 (includes XD), Movies 16 (includes XD) and Stars &Stripes Drive-In.
Justice League (3-D/2-D)
Kerns rating: HHH
Director Zack Snyder’s origin film is entertaining primarily because writers Joss Whedon and Chris Terrio respect each character, and supply a turnaround sorely needed after 2015’s abysmal “Batman v. Superman.” Earth’s population lost its collective heart, confidence and loving spark without Superman, so no one should consider references to Superman as spoilers. Problems with “Justice League” include a disappointing villain, who relies on less than stellar CG, and use of mysterious “boxes” never properly hidden by victors in the first place.
PG-13: Intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence — Premiere Cinemas.
Kerns rating: HHHH
Set in northern California during the 2002-2003 school year, writer-director Greta Gerwig’s story focuses on high school senior Christine McPherson (who prefers the nickname Lady Bird), and her turbulent relationship with an overbearing mother. Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf shine as Lady Bird and her mom. The latter is a nurse working tirelessly to keep family afloat after Lady Bird’s father (Tracy Letts) loses his job. Meanwhile, Lady Bird hopes to leave Sacramento and her family, and applies to East Coast colleges behind her mom’s back. She consistently fights with her mother, refusing to recognize opinionated, strong-willed qualities they share.
R: Language, sexual content, graphic nudity and teen partying — Movies 16.
This animated biography of the life of painter Vincent Van Gogh — including mysterious circumstances of his death — reportedly is the first fully-painted animated feature film, with 125 classically-trained oil painters (chosen from 5,000 applicants) instead of traditional animators. Each of the film’s 65,000 frames is an oil painting on canvas.
PG-13: Mature thematic elements, violence, sexual material and smoking — Alamo Drafthouse.
Pitch Perfect 3
Kerns rating: H 1/2
Far from perfect. Any chemistry previously shared by collegiate a cappella group The Bellas is nonexistent in this dreadful sequel. Anna Kendrick returns as Beca, and Hailee Steinfeld as Emily. Neither impress between songs, and Rebel Wilson’s attempts at comedy and profane one-liners are not funny. Viewers are forgiven consistent peeks at their their watches.
PG-13: Crude and sexual content, language and action — Premiere Cinemas, Tinseltown 17, Movies 16 and Stars &Stripes Drive-In.
Star Wars: Episode VIII — The Last Jedi (3-D/2-D)
Kerns rating: HHHH 1/2
Sacrifice becomes near-thematic in director Rian Johnson’s Episode VIII. He carefully maintains the “spark” of hope needed for the Resistance to exist. A second viewing convinced me “The Last Jedi” is no five-star classic. It does not rank as high as “The Empire Strikes Back” and stand-alone “Rogue One” as important sagas, but Johnson does not forget iconic heroes, earlier films or filmmakers that inspired creator George Lucas. (There’s even a “Rashomon” comparison.) Johnson keeps the “Star Wars” universe alive not only by bringing back Daisy Ridley’s Rey and John Boyega’s Finn, but also by luring far better work from Adam Driver as former crybaby killer Kylo Ren. Fighter pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) is not forgotten, and a new hero is found in Asian actress Kelly Marie Tran’s grease monkey, Rose. When Abrams released “The Force Awakens,” some complained about similarities to “A New Hope.” Johnson avoids obvious copycatting. Mark Hamill is not the Luke we expected but, sans lightsaber, delivers one of his best performances. The film has moments most will question, or should, but risks are taken to keep the saga alive. Battles are compelling, in outer space and tight quarters. The overall story is visually stunning, with no shortage of action and surprises.
PG-13: Sci-fi action and violence — Premiere Cinemas (includes IMAX and D-Box) and Tinseltown 17.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Kerns rating: HHHHH
The film opens with conflict already in progress. Frances McDorman delivers a personal and powerful performances as Mildred, a divorced mother whose daughter was raped and incinerated seven months earlier. Furious that this heinous crime never was solved, McDorman provides cruel reminders on three billboards near town, meant to embarrass the local police chief. The signs: “Raped while dying,” “And still no arrests” and “How come, Chief Willoughby?” In the hands of writer-director Martin McDonagh, the film gains intensity through an intentional failure to introduce easily recognized villains. The screenplay is a mixture of wrenching drama and dark comic moments constructed with jaw-dropping surprises and twists. Also standing out is Sam Rockwell as Officer Dixon, whose immaturity and anger issues lead to even more violence even in defense of a friend.
R: Violence, language and sexual references — Movies 16.
Kerns rating: HHH
Young “Room” co-star Jacob Tremblay portrays August “Auggie” Pullman, home-schooled through age 10 and self-conscious to the point of wearing a toy space helmet in public. Auggie has a facial disorder called mandibulofacial dystosis, aka Treacher Collins syndrome. After 27 plastic surgeries, he fears being embarrassed and bullied when parents Owen Wilson and Julia Roberts insist that he man up and attend fifth grade in public school. .
PG: Thematic elements including bullying, and mild language — Premiere Cinemas, Movies 16 and Stars &Stripes Drive-In.
Star ratings, reviews are by A-J Media film critic William Kerns.