“The Dark Tower”



For a lifelong Stephen King fan like me, watching “The Dark Tower” is both fun and frustrating. The movie’s storyline does not closely follow the one set in King’s epic eight-book series; as close as I could tell, the movie takes elements of books one, three, four, and six and somehow reduces them to a 90-minute story with more of a beginning, middle and end than one would think possible.

Truth be told, it’s more like an alternate version of the story I’ve been reading since I was in middle school. That doesn’t mean it’s bad, necessarily; in some respects, director Nikolaj Arcel and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman have captured the essence of the story: the man in black (Matthew McConaughey) fled across the desert, and the gunslinger (Idris Elba) followed. But watching it is akin to listening to only a few bars of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”: you get the idea of the thing, but you are missing so very much.

That said, the movie is decent enough. McConaughey chews scenery as Walter, the man in black, and Elba turns in another reliably good performance. The story moves along briskly enough, and there’s a memorable sequence at the Dixie Pig that alone is worth the price of admission. King fans will delight in some of the Easter eggs and well-placed references to other books he has written. And seeing these characters brought to life on the screen is satisfying in its own right.

It’s clear that The Dark Tower books deserve a much more comprehensive treatment, which the planned television series could deliver. This movie is better than nothing, but not as good as you want it to be.


“Logan Lucky”



I can’t really recommend “Logan Lucky” to anybody I know because I can’t think of one person who would actually find the movie enjoyable. Steven Soderbergh‘s redneck heist romp isn’t a terrible movie, but it isn’t a whole lot of fun either.

The story centers around the blue collar Logan brothers Jimmy (Channing Tatum) and Clyde (Adam Driver) who plan to execute an elaborate heist during the big Memorial Day NASCAR race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. The comparisons to 2001’s “Ocean’s Eleven” are inevitable, but instead of the suave, suit-clad sophisticate played by George Clooney, we have a ragtag band of rednecks with Charlie Daniels t-shirts and really, really bad Southern accents. It mirrors far better stories that are grounded in the same type of absurdity, plodding along like a poor man’s Coen brothers movie while borrowing heavily from the greatness of similar films. All of this adds up to more than a shade of mediocrity.

As is to be expected, the actual heist (get ready for those requisite twists and “gotchas”) is the best part of the film. What a pity that you’re forced to sit through a lengthy, excruciating, off-key performance of John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” by an untalented child in a beauty pageant.

Luckily the talented cast of actors are more than enough to keep audiences engaged. Daniel Craig hams it up as incarcerated career criminal Joe Bang, a scene stealer like you’ve not seen in a long while. Tatum brings yet another charismatic riff to his charming doofus persona, Driver is given little to do as a one-armed bartender, and Riley Keough is wasted in a lame supporting role as their sister Mellie. With a cast like this, the film should’ve been way more fun that it actually is. There are some funny moments, but nothing comes close to classifying this one as a bonafide comedy.

The clunky story feels slow, and the oddly uncomfortable supporting performances from Hilary Swank as an FBI agent on the trail and Seth MacFarlane in a completely pointless and distracting role as a British energy drink purveyor don’t help matters at all. The movie has an air of an undeserved pedigree that hovers throughout as if it’s straight up daring audiences to say they don’t like it.  Perhaps this will be one of those movies that failed to resonate with me upon first viewing but will later become a classic. I suspect not, but it’s hard to say.

“Logan Lucky” is made by talented people but it is never successful in finding the right tone, causing a strong feeling that something really important is missing.





Biopics can sometimes be an unusual animal, but films like “Maudie” are especially interesting because the subject is a little known person with a smaller scale story. The film tells the abbreviated life story of Canadian folk artist Maud Lewis, a disabled woman with an emotionally abusive husband who found her calling by painting cheerful scenes of rural life in Nova Scotia.

Sally Hawkins, as with most everything she does, is good in the role as the titular character. While her performance is being lauded, it does feel at times that she’s overplaying the artist. Her exaggerated eccentricities are so over the top that I thought the actual subject was mentally handicapped (she wasn’t). The real stellar performance here is from Ethan Hawke as Everett, Maud’s curmudgeonly and abusive husband. Hawke gives this man, who has a serious mean streak as well as a devastating bitterness, a tiny glimpse of likeability — even when he slaps Maud around for speaking out of turn. That takes skill.

The film is technically a romance but it’s certainly not of the fairy tale variety. The dysfunctional, emotionally and sometimes physically abusive relationship between the couple makes the movie hard to enjoy. The pair lived like near recluses in a plain, decrepit house on the outskirts of town, living a simple life that feels trapped in the past.

In fact, there are periods of time where audiences must guess the actual year when the story is taking place. The film cleverly shows the passage of time in the most subtle of ways, where the only clues are the cars on the street when the pair head into town, the dogs that are no longer barking in the yard, or the crummy looking aging makeup with fake wrinkles and greying hair (“Maudie” isn’t going to win any awards for its makeup).

While Maud’s story is interesting enough, the film suffers from distracting, sluggish pacing. The narrative becomes burdened with too much melodrama and a late hour “twist” that feels hollow. While this isn’t a bad movie and the acting is on point, the story just isn’t compelling enough to overcome the problems with the filmmaking.

“An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power”



If you want to feel like you’ve been sitting in one of Al Gore‘s slideshow-heavy environmental lectures for two hours, then by all means go buy a ticket to “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power.” This boring follow-up to David Guggenheim’s controversial 2006 documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” has all the charm and engagement of watching paint dry (in this case, it’s watching slide presentations, graphs, and former Vice President Gore repeatedly change his boots).

Climate change is an important issue for all humans and saving our planet should be near the top of our to-do list, but bland movies like this one are not the best way to spread the message to the masses.

Parts of the film are persuasive enough, yet there’s no big bombshell and more often than not, directors Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk unsuccessfully try to tie climate change to some of the most ridiculous events ever (sorry, but repeated massive rainfalls, the 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris, and his presidential loss to George W. Bush all being attributed to global warming? This is why conservatives hate those of us on the Left). Most with a brain, no matter on which side of political spectrum you fall, will heartily call bullshit on some of the statistics or far-reaching scare tactics presented here.

If the idea behind this film is to mobilize and inspire the younger generation to care about climate change, then sorry Al, you ain’t gonna do it with a snoozefest like this. It’s a thoroughly mediocre movie that’s nothing more than a talking head documentary with charts and stale photography — there’s no flair whatsoever. The film feels like Cohen and Shenk either never had or have lost all passion for the material.

The most compelling story line here is Gore’s visit to Paris for the climate accord but even that gets confusing when we are shown phone call after phone call after phone call between him, a solar company executive, and what I think were government policy wonks (it’s unclear). Everything is so choppily presented that while you can follow along, there’s zero engagement in anything and the international climate policy he’s attempting to change isn’t presented in a clear manner.

The bulk of the doc seems hell bent on scolding climate deniers and responding to skeptics than presenting clear, sound science on the issue. (For the record: just in case anyone thinks I’m one of these skeptics, I am not. I fully support all efforts to combat this serious issue).

As much as I respect Gore and as important environmental causes are to me personally, I must call a dud when I see it.



“The Nut Job 2: Nutty By Nature”



“The Nut Job 2: Nutty By Nature” may be a throwaway animated film but it isn’t as awful as you’d think. It’s another sequel nobody wanted, but surprisingly it’s not half bad.

Surly Squirrel (Will Arnett), Andie (Katherine Heigl) and various rodent friends, shallow characters whom nobody really liked in the first place, are back for round two. This time the evil mayor of Oakton (an amusing turn from funnyman Bobby Moynihan) and his obnoxious animal-hating daughter Heather (Isabela Moner) decide to terrorize the park’s furry residents and bulldoze the lush space to build a rickety amusement park, causing the animals to band together to save their home.

The plot is concise, the film is short, and everybody buckles down to quickly get to the point. There are plenty of lame kid jokes and some modern day sass lingo thrown into the mix (with nary a fart joke in sight for once!), but overall the energetic yet formulaic story is mostly entertaining throughout and at times, genuinely touching. This isn’t high art by any means but the wild antics, slapstick visual gags, and flashy action scenes should please most young ones and even some adults. Although one could argue that this sequel is half baked, it’s certainly superior to the original.

The low rent animation is ugly and the voice talent is mostly terrible (with Heigl and Jackie Chan sinking to the very bottom of the barrel), but for some reason the movie is better than simply ‘good enough.’ I enjoyed it in spite of myself.

“Annabelle: Creation”



“Annabelle: Creation” is a relentlessly scary movie. The film creates a sustained sense of dread that, once it starts, does not let up for almost all of its 109 minutes of running time. It’s a near-perfect horror film and the best one I’ve seen in years.

In this prequel to both “Annabelle” and “The Conjuring,” Esther (Miranda Otto) and Samuel (Anthony LaPaglia) Mullins are a middle-aged couple grieving the loss of their young daughter, Annabelle. In order to fill their empty house, the Mullinses invite Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman) and her charges, six teen and pre-teen orphan girls, to live with them. But the presence of the girls has awakened an evil presence in the house, something that lives in a doll once owned by Annabelle.

In “Annabelle: Creation”, director David F. Sandberg (“Lights Out”) and producers James Wan (“Saw,” “The Conjuring”) and Peter Safran (“Annabelle,” “The Belko Experiment”) display a keen understanding of horror that most strive for but few achieve. The pacing is deliberate but never slow. The set design is incredibly well-conceived; the Mullinses house has the sort of architectural features that are perfectly integrated into the plot. Set pieces are created and props are placed that you just know will figure into the story later, and they do. The sound design integrates creaks, scrapes, and distant tinkling of bells, framed against the deafening silence of a big, isolated country house to ramp up the dread. And director Sandberg once again (as he did in “Lights Out”) makes expert use of light and dark — and more particularly, the terrifying dark that is just outside of that ring of light.

I didn’t care much for the first “Annabelle” and I was underwhelmed by “The Conjuring 2.” Unlike those two films, “Annabelle: Creation” is not a shameless cash-grab in an attempt to wring every possible cent from the new horror franchise. It is a movie that displays the sort of deft talent and fluency in the language of horror that make this movie perfect both for casual thrill-seekers and true fans of the genre.







The evocative and unnerving “Detroit” tells the true story of a trio of young African American men who were murdered at the Algiers Motel during the chaos and civil unrest of the 1967 Detroit race riots. Seven other black men and two white women were harassed and beaten by prejudiced police officers in that motel and if you take away the retro setting, it’s a thought provoking look at racial tension that’s sadly still relevant 50 years later.

This movie will make you angry, but it’ll make you angry for all the right reasons.

Those critical of the subject matter in this film are going to be the loudest dissenters, throwing around words like “irresponsible” and “anti-cop.” They’re going to accuse the studio of encouraging riots or inciting violence against police. Step back for a second and think: what does that say about the state of race relations in our country? If the portrayal of the police force is what disturbs you about this film, then you are the problem. No matter if you think the filmmaking is good or bad, this movie should empower everyone who sees it to stand up whenever they spot injustice, police brutality, or gross violations of a person’s civil rights.

Director Kathryn Bigelow has crafted a film that’s large in size and scope (with a nearly two and a half hour runtime). She puts her trademark shaky cam to good use, but it never becomes too distracting because here it works in the most unsettling way, making the audience feel like they have been thrust right in the middle of these riots. The riot scenes are incredibly accurate and meticulously detailed, framed by design to make you uncomfortable. I’m still not convinced that Bigelow deserves the accolades she’s always earned as a director, but her straightforward style (paired with an equally sincere script from her long time collaborator Mark Boal) is a good fit for the material.

It isn’t only the cultural relevance that makes this movie a success. The performances, no doubt difficult roles for everyone involved, are effective and disturbing on multiple levels. To spew racial epitaphs as police officers (Will Poulter, Jack Reynor, and Ben O’Toole) would be just as emotionally trying for an actor as taking that abuse as a black man (Anthony Mackie, Jacob Latimore, John Boyega, and Algee Smith). It would’ve been easy for a handful to fall into the overacting trap, yet not one performance rings false.

The accuracy of this retelling of events is up in the air, as the film seems to go to great lengths to create a sort of cinematic CYA letter over the end credits. There are many things portrayed that don’t make any sense (why wouldn’t teens confess that someone in the building had a starter pistol and instead choose to subject themselves to police brutality?) But even if it turns out only half the historical truths are correctly dramatized, it’s still chilling. Bigelow inserts plenty of historical footage to lend a disturbing credibility, from actual video interviews and news broadcasts to archival photographs of newspaper headlines.

The movie’s bookends are a bit of a puzzler because they do the film no favors. It opens with a strangely out of place story told in an animated folk art style and ends with a heavily religious theme that feels contrived and tacked on.

Even if the film isn’t perfect, “Detroit” is a powerfully disturbing thing to experience, a story that many in the younger generation don’t know about. It’s a cautionary tale of racial injustice that sadly feels more relevant than ever in our current political climate. It’s a story that deserves to be told and remembered. It’s a tragic history lesson from the past that everyone should wish Americans didn’t need in 2017.

“The Emoji Movie”



“The Emoji Movie” isn’t quite as god-awful as you’d think and it’s not as dumb as you’d expect, but that doesn’t mean it’s any good. This ninety minute long commercial exists only for the sole purpose of trying to cash in on the big business of tween and teen dollars by endlessly referencing their popular smartphone culture. There’s not much of a plot and what’s there is so mundane that it’s not even classifiable as mildly creative. Watch as the thinly developed characters wander into name brand app after app, from YouTube and Facebook to DropBox and Spotify. Did Apple finance this project?

It’s not funny and all of the attempted jokes fall flat. Every. Single. One. I’m not even sure what could’ve fixed this problem, because the voice talent (while not very good) is better than it should be (considering the junk dialogue that T.J. Miller, James Corden and Anna Faris have to work with), the friendships between the characters is at least believable, and there’s a positive message about celebrating individuality and always being yourself. The computer language aspects of the movie aren’t even lazy, it’s just the uninspired animation and the tiresome ideas are so indifferent that this project feels like a feature length commercial for Facebook, Candy Crush, and Spotify that’s been stripped of all fun and laughs.

“The Emoji Movie” doesn’t really cater to kids and it doesn’t really cater to adults, meaning that nobody will enjoy this moviegoing experience. The very idea of emojis living in the colorful world of Textopolis might be lame, but this surefire kid-borer does get the tech nerd aspects right and is — gasp! — unexpectedly clever at times. If your kid’s into coding and hacking, I suppose they might relate to this movie.

What’s so amusing about this movie is that, like the “meh” emoji, it’s kinda boring, sorta funny, and totally pointless.




Halle Berry, realizing that’s she’s no longer the huge acting draw she once was, has at least found (and embraced) her niche: “Taken” style movies. “Kidnap” is so similar to her 2013 film “The Call” that it’s easy to confuse the two. Berry is great at playing an unhinged woman out for vengeance after a child abduction, and she’s believable and good enough in this one.

When Karla’s (Berry) six year old son Frankie (Sage Correa) is nabbed at the park, the determined mother chases the kidnappers through New Orleans in her red minivan. This mama bear is relentless and won’t stop until she rescues her little boy. The majority of the film’s budget had to be spent on car crashes because there are dozens within the film’s first 15 minutes.

There’s plenty of nail-biting action and even more truly ridiculous situations (I refuse to believe the absent police presence in the movie), but the weak story has enough creative “what would you do in this situation?” moments that it remains interesting. Karla makes some clever decisions that are balanced out with just as many really, really stupid ones. The sometimes violent twists and turns keep the momentum going and once the kid is taken, the film never slows down and speeds along at 80 miles per hour until the satisfying ending.

This isn’t to say “Kidnap” is a great movie because it’s not, but it 100% delivers what it promises and is a strong entry in its genre. Its brief run time (around 90 minutes) does the story many favors because it oddly never becomes tiring. Plenty of surprises are thankfully thrown into the mix of fruitless dialogue that states the obvious (“I dropped my shotgun shells!” and “My boy’s been taken!“) and campy, laugh-out-loud overacting (watch for Berry’s unintentionally hilarious bit in the police station).

Yeah, it’s loud and dumb, so don’t go to the theater expecting high art. But Berry gives it her all, screaming and wailing and swerving her way through the oddly compelling material (especially when she becomes a one-woman killing machine). Switch off your brain because this is trashy, mindless entertainment at its best.


“Girls Trip”



It’s always a pleasure when a film portrays its female characters with a warmth and realism that makes you long to hang out with them if they existed in the real world, and “Girls Trip” is a genuine celebration of sisterhood and solidarity among women. It’s a chick flick in the greatest sense, a reminder that no matter how much life beats you down, your crew will always have your back. While the premise is almost exactly the same as the dreadful “Rough Night” and the concept is similar to the unfunny “Bad Moms,” this film does a complete 180 and gets all the things right that movies like that got wrong.

Yes, the film pushes its R-rated boundaries with a few gross-out gags and outrageous sexual humor, but it also is surprisingly touching. This would make a great night out at the movies for your group of girlfriends.

Women in particular will find plenty to relate to within this dynamic group of truly devoted pals, as each lady has her own quirk that they bring to the party. Regardless of how they sound on paper, the characters never come across as offensive or stereotypical. Ryan (Regina Hall) is a famous personality who claims to “have it all,” with her athlete husband (Mike Colter). Sasha (Queen Latifah) is a former journalist who now runs a TMZ style celebrity gossip site. Lisa (Jada Pinkett Smith) is recently divorced with two little ones at home, and Dina (Tiffany Haddish, who swiftly and gleefully steals every single scene) is the sexually liberated, foul mouthed, life of the party. These are ladies with varying degrees of success in their personal and professional lives, but they can always count on each other for honesty, advice, and support.

When the group heads down to New Orleans on a first class trip to the Essence Festival, it turns into a women behaving badly weekend filled with lots of dancing, booze, sex, and fighting. There are some really funny misadventures that occur (and anyone who has ever seen a movie like this can probably guess a few of them), but there are more than a handful that were quite original and had me laughing out loud. While some of the jokes rely on crass bathroom humor (an unfortunate incident involving a zip line combined with an urgent need to pee) and lewd sexual humor (you may never look at a grapefruit the same way ever again), the film never feels too raunchy or crude just for the sake of being raunchy or crude. That’s not to say that there is a ton of originality, but the film still manages to feel fresh and lively.

The story begins to drag about halfway through (the too-long run time clocks in at just over two hours) when the plot suddenly takes a more dramatic turn. You start out laughing along with a carefree attitude, but then marriages and friendships begin to fall apart and things get really serious really fast. The dramedy aspect is one thing I really liked about the movie, although the humor-to-drama ratio at times seems a bit unbalanced. One thing the screenwriters nail is that all of the spats ring true, the conflicts are authentic, and the dialogue between women who were friends in college and haven’t been together in years is spot on. The characters act and talk like real ride-or-die friends would in these situations, and nothing feels overly exaggerated.

Ladies, go see this movie. Better yet, go see this movie with a group of galpals. Not only will it make you laugh, but I guarantee it’ll make you want to hug your best friend (if she’s nearby) or call your best friend (if she lives far away).

%d bloggers like this: