Category Archives: Movies

Gold Rush

Hollywood sprinkles magic dust on real-life gem of a tale in ‘Gold’

GOLD

Matthew McConaughey and Edgar Ramirez star in ‘Gold.’

Gold
Starring Matthew McConaughey, Edgar Ramìrez & Bryce Dallas Howard
Directed by Stephen Gaghan
R
Wide release Jan. 27, 2017

For his latest starring role, Matthew McConaughey is 12 years, a big belly and a world away from his 2005 title as People magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive.”

He on packed 40 pounds, shaved his head to wear a balding hairpiece, and popped in a mouthful of bad teeth to play Kenny Wells, a plucky, cigarette-huffing, third-generation Reno mineral prospector trying to hold onto the company his grandfather “scratched out of the side of a Nevada mountain.” But the late-’80s recession hits his company—built on the ups and downs of the commodities market—especially hard.

One night, at rock bottom after a bottle of tequila, Kenny has a dream—about gold on the Pacific island of Borneo, and Michael Acosta (Edgar Ramìrez, who played Dr. Abdic in The Girl on the Train), a maverick geologist he once met. Acosta has a wild theory about the fabulous riches to be found beneath the Earth’s “ring of fire.”

So Kenny, chasing his dream, hops a plane to the other side of the globe and partners up with Michael to go for the gold they both think is waiting for them through a rainforest, up a river, beneath a mountain, in a nation controlled by an unfriendly dictator and populated by headhunters.

GOLDThere’s more to Gold than just a treasure hunt, however. The story’s really only just beginning when Kenny and Michael strike it rich…

The movie is based on the 20th century’s most infamous gold mining scandal, which actually happened in the 1990s and centered on a Filipino prospector and a Canadian company, Bre-X Minerals. You probably never heard about it, unless you happened to see it on an episode of the History Channel’s Masterminds documentary TV series back in the early 2000s.

Bryce Dallas Howard plays Kenny’s wife, who doesn’t really have much to do, except in one terrific scene in a lavish event. Corey Stoll, from TV’s The Strain, plays a smooth-operator investor trying to get a significant cut of Kenny and Michael’s fortune for his brokerage firm. Model-turned-actress Rachael Taylor, Stacey Keach, Craig T. Nelson and Bruce Greenwood round out the strong cast.

Bryce Dallas Howard plays Kenny's wife.

Bryce Dallas Howard plays Kenny’s wife.

Director Stephen Gaghan, whose Syriana (2005) helped George Clooney win an acting Oscar, builds a stylish house of cards, with shades of Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street) and David O. Russell (American Hustle), a dash of Boiler Room and even a distant echo of The Sting. As the story zooms along, you get a sense of the mad rush of “gold fever” that sweeps up everyone and everything, especially Kenny.

And what a rags-to-riches rush it is: One day you’re rolling in the jungle muck of mud and malaria, the next you’re having sex in a helicopter, ringing the bell on Wall Street or taming a Bengal tiger. Throw in the FBI, a former American president, Michael McConaughey in his birthday suit, a soundtrack of obscure ’80s tunes by the Pixies, Joy Division, New Order and Richard Thompson, and you’ve got a quite an intoxicating swirl of Hollywood gold dust sprinkled atop a little-known gem from the real-world archives.

“The last card you turn over is the only one that matters,” Kenny tells a magazine interviewer. And his last card, in the final scene of Gold, is a doozy.

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Hot to Trot

Tom Hanks runs down another cryptic puzzle in ‘Inferno’

Tom Hanks;Felicity Jones

Inferno
Starring Tom Hanks & Felicity Jones
Directed by Ron Howard
PG-13
In theaters Oct. 28, 2016

“Dante—Dante again,” says Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) as he gazes into the “face” of the late, great Italian poet of the Middle Ages. “Why always Dante?”

Well, it’s not always Dante—but it is this time. And it’s always something involving cloaks, daggers, art, religion and old, cold Mediterranean white guys, as fans of Dan Brown know. Brown is the author who wrote the books Inferno and its two predecessors, The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons, both of which were also turned into movies with Hanks in the starring role. Brown created the lead character, Langdon, as sort of his own fictional alter ego, a globetrotting, puzzle-solving “symbologist” and professor of religious iconography who repeatedly uncovers conspiracies, solves murders and peels back the layers of other murky mysteries.

In Inferno, Langdon wakes up in hospital room in Florence, Italy, with amnesia and a bloody head wound. Soon he and his nurse, Sienna (Felicity Jones), are running for their lives from a Terminator-like policewoman (Ana Ularu) and connecting the dots from Renaissance-era painter Sandro Botticelli’s painting of hell, inspired by Dante’s Divine Comedy, to a plot by billionaire scientist Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster), who just committed suicide. Zobrist’s radical idea of overpopulation control was “cleansing” the planet by wiping out most of the people on it with a viral-pathogen bomb, which he has timed to go off—tomorrow!

Langdon must find the bomb before it’s detonated, and before it’s located by anyone who might try to turn it into a weapon of war, ransom or terrorism.

Langdon (Tom Hanks) and Sienna (Felicity Miller) study 'The Map of Hell'

Langdon (Tom Hanks) and Sienna (Felicity Miller) study Botticelli’s painting of ‘The Map of Hell’

Director Ron Howard, who was also behind the camera for Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons, keeps things moving, literally. As they put together the clues that will lead them to the bomb, Langdon and Sienna are constantly on the go—dashing through crowded streets, ducking in and out of cars, taxicabs, trains and planes, and across a gigantic attic, through a garden, over a wall, into side doors, back doors and hidden passageways.

Who can Langdon trust? What’s the deal with that dude from Slumdog Millionaire, Jurassic World and The Life of Pi (Irrfan Khan) and his drawer full of knives, and that mystery woman (Danish actress Sidse Babett Knudsen, currently starring in HBO’s Westworld) in Langdon’s unsettling flashbacks? Who knew there were so many unlocked doors in Italy?

 And the movie never stays put, either. It’s filled with beauty shots of recognizable tourist highlights from all the places Langdon’s search takes him. In Florence, he visits the Baptistry of Saint John and the palatial Palazzo Vecchio; he runs through Boboli Gardens and the Vascri Corridor. A side trip to Venice lets our characters linger on the steps of St. Mark’s Basilica, pontificating about the history of the four bronze horses standing guard there. In Istanbul, we’re treated to a lovely shot of the walls of Constantinople and the movie’s soggy, splashy climax, which takes place in the subterranean 6th century Basilica Cistern.

It all feels like a ridiculously expensive, high-stakes reality-show scavenger hunt, with a preposterously contrived plot twist. And like all of Robert Langdon’s adventures, it takes place in one tidy, 24-hour period.

Kids, if you want to grow up and see the world, by all means, see the world. If you want to solve puzzles, there are plenty of books of Sudoku and there’s always a daily crossword. I’m just afraid I can’t recommend becoming a symbologist—there’s far too much running involved, it’s very dangerous, and Robert Langdon seems to have the market cornered.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Odd Squad

‘Suicide Squad’ is a crazy, colorful, over-stuffed mess

SUICIDE SQUAD

Suicide Squad
Starring Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Viola Davis & Jared Leto
Directed by David Ayer
PG-13

The superhero summer gets a jolt of anarchy as a group of “metahuman” oddballs and outlaws commandeer the screen.

Based on obscure characters created by DC Comics, the Suicide Squad is a motley crew of death-row supervillains corralled by the government to combat threats too dangerous or deadly for ordinary defenses—like the “next” Superman, who might not be so people-friendly, or the slinky sorceress (Cara Delevingne) now building a doomsday machine to annihilate humanity—in exchange for lightened sentences.

Think The Dirty Dozen meets Guardians of the Galaxy, with a twist of Ghostbusters.

Will Smith

Will Smith

Will Smith is Deadshot, the world’s most lethal assassin. Margot Robbie is Harley Quinn, a psychiatrist turned psycho by her bonkers boyfriend, the Joker (Jared Leto). There’s also Aussie kleptomaniac Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), hulking human reptile Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, buried beneath a ton of rubbery prosthetics) and pyrotechnic homeboy El Diablo (a heavily tattooed Jay Hernandez).

Viola Davis is the iron-fisted black-ops recruiter in charge of the squad. Karen Fukuhara plays Katana, a samurai whose sword contains the souls of everyone its ever slain. Joel Kinnaman is elite soldier Col. Rick Flag, who has a special—though convoluted—tie to the Enchantress, the ancient, newly resurrected witch trying to destroy the world. Even Batman (Ben Affleck) and the Flash (Ezra Miller) drop in for cameos, as if they’ve casually wandered over from another movie.

Margot Robbie

Margot Robbie

Everyone has a backstory and a rockin’ theme song. Harley gets a reworked version of the old Leslie Gore hit “You Don’t Own Me,” Creedence Clearwater Revival’s swampy “Fortunate Son” plays for Killer Croc, and as Diablo’s flames flicker in the night sky, we hear War’s “Slippin’ Into Darkness.”

Writer-director David Ayer—who also directed the Brad Pitt WWII tank flick Fury and wrote Training Day, for which Denzel Washington won an Oscar—has a lot on his plate. Ultimately, the huge cast, unwieldy story and muddled, sometimes downright cheesy special effects become just too much—for him, and us—and everything crashes, smashes, mashes and finally collapses into a big, boom-y blob.

Jared Leto

Jared Leto

There are some things, however, to like about Suicide Squad. Leto’s cackling Joker is an unhinged kick; you never know what he’s going to do, how far he’ll go or where. It’s good to see Smith in a semi-supporting role where he can lay back in an ensemble but still unload some great quips. Davis is deliciously ambiguous as a high-ranking agent who’ll do whatever it takes to do a dirty job. Robbie seems to be having fun as the wacko Harley, but her hyper-sexy shorty shorts, fishnet stockings, stiletto boots and smeared baby-doll makeup look like they came from a stripper’s closet—or a fanboy’s heated ComicCon dream—instead of a wacko supervillain’s lair.

In the end, the movie is a hot mess—but a loud, star-packed, proudly trashy one. At one point, Harley and the Joker jump into an industrial vat of paint, then make out, rolling around and laughing like the nut jobs they are in the swirls of blue, red, yellow and green. That’s pretty good snapshot of Suicide Squad as a whole: Stuffed full of everything, including itself, it’s mad, mucky and yucky and doesn’t make a lot of sense—but hey, look at all those crazy colors!

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Go! Sit! Stay!

Manhattan menagerie has wild adventure in fetching family flick

2426_FPF_00412R

The Secret Life of Pets
Starring the voices of Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, Lake Bell, Kevin Hart & Jenny Slate
Directed by Chris Renauld & Yarrow Cheney
PG

Like Toy Story did with playthings, this wildly imaginative animated family flick—from the makers of Despicable Me and Minions—starts with a very simple premise: What do our domesticated animals do when we’re away?

Quite a lot, it turns out!

In a Manhattan high-rise, we’re quickly introduced to Max, a well-groomed Jack Russell terrier (voiced by Louis C.K.); Chloe, the tubby tabby cat next door (Lake Bell); and Gidget (Jenny Slate), a prissy puffball of a Pomeranian down the street who has a crush on Max.

Max’s walking buddies include Buddy, a slinky dachshund (Hannibal Burress), and Mel, a squirrel-obsessed pug (Bobby Moynihan).

Things are sailing along fine for Max until his owner brings home a second pet, a big, slobbery, rescue-dog mongrel named Duke (Eric Stonestreet). Max and Duke don’t get along, and soon they’re in a real doggie dilemma, rounded up by Animal Rescue without their collars or tags—and about to begin an even bigger, wilder adventure.

2426_SMX_DS_S1230P0220_L_COMPO_RENDER_0127RThis involves even more colorful characters, including a Snowball, a gonzo white rabbit (Kevin Hart), leader of an underground activist group called the Flushed Pets—animals who’ve been “thrown away by our owners; now we’re out for revenge!” There’s Tiberius, a rooftop hawk (Albert Brooks) comically torn between his longing for companionship and hard-wired predatory instincts. Pops (Dana Carvey), an elderly basset hound, may be paralyzed in his back legs—but he sure knows how to get around town!

Director Chris Renauld, whose resume includes the Despicable Me franchise and The Lorax, and co-director Yarrow Cheney, a former production designer and animator, keep the jokes flying fast and funny and the plot moving at a brisk, lively trot as Max and Duke try to make their way home. Things get especially hairy when Snowball’s subterranean army—a motley crew of critters, from alligators, turtles and snakes to cats, a tattooed pig and “Sea Monkeys”—turns against them when they find out they’re really “domesticated” and not truly “liberated.”

2426_TP4_00079ARThere’s a chaotic traffic-jam cliffhanger on a New York City bridge, with a bus driven by a Max and Snowball (“You drive like an animal!”). In one dream sequence, hot dogs dance to “We Go Together,” the “rama lama lama ding dong” song from Grease. A poodle rocks out to heavy metal the second his owner is out the door. One tiny pooch, with a camera atop his head, films funny cat videos and uploads then to a Times Square jumbotron.

It’s all great, clever, whimsical fun, with a heartwarming, cuddly overlay of friendship and “family.” You may not (or may!) have a dog or cat as adventurous as Max, Duke, Gidget, Chloe, Buddy and Mel, but just about anyone can relate to the montage at the end of the movie—when all the pets exuberantly welcome their owners home to the tune of Al Green’s “Lovely Day.”

Any pet owner knows, and it’s no secret: That display of loyalty, love and affection from a pet—no matter where they’ve been or what they’ve done—makes it a positively lovely day, indeed.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Naughty & ‘Nice’

Crowe and Gosling mix action and laughs in ‘The Nice Guys’

Ryan Gosling, Maddie Compton, Angourie Rice and Russell Crowe in 'The Nice Guys'

Ryan Gosling, Maddie Compton, Angourie Rice and Russell Crowe in ‘The Nice Guys’

The Nice Guys

Starring Russell Crowe & Ryan Gosling

Directed by Shane Black

R

The opening shot of The Nice Guys pans across the back of the iconic Hollywood sign, grimy and tagged with graffiti, as the lights of the city below glitter in the night like a gigantic box of jewels.

After the Temptations set a ’70s groove to “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone,” we’re off and rolling ourselves on a raucous, retro-rollicking comedy-adventure romp as a pair of mismatched investigators-for-hire (Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling) team up to look for a missing girl (Margaret Qualley of TV’s The Leftovers). But soon they find themselves in a much deeper drama involving porn stars, pinkie promises, menacing thugs, Kim Basinger in full L.A. Confidential mode, and a shocking conspiracy of catalytic converters and high-ranking collusion.

Writer-director Shane Black made his mark back in the late 1980s with the screenplay for Lethal Weapon, starring Mel Gibson and Danny Glover. He went on to refine his format—a high-octane mix of cheeky quips and pulpy, explosive action—behind the camera with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005) and Iron Man 3 (2013).

TNG_Day#48_02022015-325.dngThe movie takes place in 1977, and it revels in the details of its smoggy, sometimes smutty setting. The background hums with tunes from Kiss, America, Rupert Holmes, the Band, Herb Alpert and Earth, Wind and Fire. Chevy Camaros, Caprice Classics and Dodge Coronets line up for 69-cent-a-gallon gas. Billboards trumpet the hottest movies: Jaws 2, Airport 77. Newspaper headlines spread the dread about killer bees from Brazil.

TNG_Day_#31_12092014-126.dng

Matt Bomer

You’ll recognize versatile character actor Keith David as a villain. Matt Bomer from TV’s American Horror Story plays John Boy, an assassin sharing a certain facial feature with the Waltons TV character of the same name. And young Angourie Rice, 14 at the time of filming, almost steals the show as Holly, the daughter of Gosling’s character. She’s the soft heart of this rough-and-tumble story, the tender conscience in the midst of its outbursts of casual violence.

But the real treat throughout is the pair-up of two actors not known for baring their funny bones. Crowe’s Jackson Healey is a rumpled, jaded tough guy who leads with his fists—often sporting brass knuckles. Gosling plays Holland March as a mopey, bottom-feeding P.I. with a drinking problem and a tattoo that reminds him, “You will never be happy.” Their oil-and-water styles initially clash, of course, but eventually smooth into some major movie mojo. (Pay attention and you’ll even catch their nod to classic Abbott and Costello.)

It all builds into a spectacular shoot-out showdown at a gleaming auto expo, where everyone is scrambling to get their hands on a canister containing a reel of film as it rolls, bounces and spins across the floor, out a window, down a street and into the flames of a burning car. That’s one hot movie, as it turns out, in more ways than one.

And so is The Nice Guys, a juicy, slam-bang action-comedy cocktail punched up, pimped out and powered down with rowdy, new-fangled film-noir fun. Hot stuff—catch it.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Oh Mama

All-star cast sinks in overly sweetened, sentimental sap

Mother’s Day

Starring Jennifer Aniston, Julia Roberts, Kate Hudson, Timothy Olyphant, Jason Sudeikis, Britt Robertson & Shay Mitchell

Directed by Garry Marshall

PG-13

 

Mother’s Day the holiday is all about moms, and so is Mother’s Day the movie, which has them of every shape, style, size, temperament and hue.

And life sure looks beautiful, bountiful, wacky and whimsical when it’s played out against a picture-perfect backdrop of suburban affluence by Jennifer Aniston, Julia Roberts, Kate Hudson, Timothy Olyphant, Jason Sudeikis, Shay Mitchell (from TV’s Pretty Little Liars), Britt Robertson, Jennifer Garner, Jon Lovitz and comedian Loni Love.

This is the third holiday-themed ensemble comedy from Garry Marshall, the veteran TV writer/producer (Happy Days, The Odd Couple, Mork and Mindy) and movie director (Pretty Woman, Runaway Bride) who also previously brought us Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve. In both of those films, as in this one, an all-star cast of unrelated characters manages to somehow intersect with each other, as improbable as it might seem.

MOTHER'S DAY, l-r: Sarah Chalke, Jon Lovitz, Kate Hudson, Margo Martindale, Aasif Mandvi, 2016.Marshall is a maestro of this kind of comedic mixology, plied and played over the decades. But it seems to have run out of a lot of its steam, at least for contemporary times. Most of his movie gags feel like they’re waiting for a sitcom’s laugh track to back them up, and his bawdy, brusque, broad brushstrokes of humor aren’t what anyone would exactly call enlightened.

“I don’t get that joke, but I think it sounds racist,” says one character when another makes a crack about her ethnicity.

Young boys shock their mom (Aniston) by talking about their genitals; a teenage girl embarrasses her widower dad (Sudeikis) by asking him to buy tampons; a lesbian couple (Sarah Chalke and Cameron Esposito) makes a pink “womb” float for a Mother’s Day event—which another character refers to as a “parade of vaginas.”

Are you laughing yet?

Then maybe you’ll titter when a good-ol’-boy grandpa (Robert Pine) addresses his Indian son-in-law (Aasif Mandvi) as a “towelhead,” or when grandma (Margo Martindale) sizes up a situation by asking herself, “I put on a bra for this?”

MD-01174.CR2The large, talented cast is largely wasted with little do but go with the flow of the overly sweetened, sentimental twists and turns, the not-so-surprising surprises and the eventual resolutions and wrap-ups. But the sap eventually sucks all of them under.

Coincidence is one thing, but here, worlds collide like particles in some kind of bizarre cinematic quantum theory, where strands not only cross and overlap, they magically weave into a crazy Mother’s Day movie smock of American flags, a careening RV, a Tao-dispensing clown, soccer, Skype, llamas, teenagers, toddlers, babies, a cute guy in a comedy club, Aniston with her arm stuck in a vending machine and Sudeikis singing “The Humpty Dance.”

And Hector Elizondo, an actor you should recognize if only because he’s been in every movie Garry Marshall has ever made, all the way back to 1982.

I’d love to see what Garry and Hector—and who knows who else—could do with Election Day. Now that could really be fun.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Punk Rock Shocker

Backwoods gig becomes bloody living nightmare

Green Room

Starring Patrick Stewart, Anton Yelchin and Imogen Poots

Directed by Jeremy Saulnier

R

In show business, a “green room” is the spot backstage where performers go to relax, hang out and kick back before or after a show. It’s usually a secluded place of high spirits and hospitality.

But not in this wickedly sharp thriller-chiller horror show about a band of young punk rockers whose gig turns into a ghastly fight for their lives. Barricaded in the club’s grungy green room, they square off against the owner and his army of neo-Nazis when a shocking episode of violence becomes a raging nightmare.

GREEN ROOMAnton Yelchin (Chekov in the Star Trek movies), Alia Shawkat (from TV’s Arrested Development), Callum Turner and Joe Cole play the members of the Ain’t Rights, whose unlikely booking at a backwoods roadhouse full of white supremacists turns into a bloody standoff when they stumble onto the aftermath of a “crime of passion” and can’t get away before the owner (Patrick Stewart) tries to frame them for it—and eliminate them along with all the evidence.

British actress Imogen Poots has a key role as a club patron who inadvertently becomes part of the mayhem as the young rockers—who play music steeped in destruction, doom and death—find out how they fare when suddenly faced with the real thing.

In his debut mainstream theatrical feature, director Jeremy Saulnier, 36, shows an incredible amount of promise. He takes his time setting up the story and establishing the characters, patiently drawing the audience into the subculture of their musical world and their low-rent camaraderie—a slog of constant touring to crappy gigs in their old van, living on food scraps, siphoning stolen gas and playing loud, anarchic songs to indifferent or sometimes hostile listeners.

Saulnier gets the details just right: life on the road, the band’s dedication to their music, their banter and their interactions—and how actual people might react, think and speak when they find themselves in the middle of a situation that suddenly, unexpectedly becomes gruesome and deadly. As another band rumbles through their songs onstage, the dark, ominous tones reverberate through the walls of the club, into the bowels of the green room, like the howls of a great, angry beast.

GREEN ROOMThe movie has the gritty, grubby feel of a film-festival, midnight-madness indie, especially when it gets down to the bloody business of slashing, hacking, shooting, stabbing, ripping and tearing. Who will escape, who will survive? It’s not for the queasy or the faint of heart, but Saulier makes inventive use of his set and props, including the squeal of PA feedback as a weapon, a fire extinguisher and a permanent marker first seen in a band prank.

But the real treat is watching the classically trained Stewart, best known as Star Trek’s wise Capt. Picard and as Professor Xavier, the benevolent leader of the X-Men, in a role that stretches him so far in the other direction. In Green Room, he’s one seriously scary dude mixing evil and eloquence, refinement and malevolence, and hell-bent on maintaining order anywhere things get messy. His harrowing performance gives this raw, edgy, awesomely impressive, little hard-hitting punk-rock movie even more of a visceral kick.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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S’no Go

Muddled ‘Snow White’ prequel-sequel mash-up can’t find its way

The Huntsman: Winter’s War

Starring Chris Hemsworth, Jessica Chastain, Emily Blunt and Charlize Theron

Directed by Cedric Nicolas-Troyan

PG-13

Hey Snow, where’d you go?

In 2012, Snow White and the Huntsman gave the age-old fairy tale a sassy new action-y feminist twist, with Kristin Stewart as the feisty, fair-skinned maiden—foretold by the Magic Mirror to be the loveliest in the land—and Chris Hemsworth as the evil queen’s “huntsman” ordered to take her into the woods and kill her.

Of course, things didn’t quite work out that way—and now we have The Huntsman: Winter’s War, a sequel. Actually it’s a prequel. Well, I think it’s a little of both, and a mash-up of several other things, too, and quite a bit of an all-around muddled mess.

Jessica Chastain

And Snow White seems to have wisely decided to steer clear from it all. So there’s no Snow in this Huntsman, unless you count the times she’s mentioned by name. But the movie certainly isn’t hurting for other talent. Hemsworth is back, and so is Charlize Theron as the wicked monarch Ravenna. Emily Blunt is newly aboard as Ravenna’s sister Freya, turned into a cruel “ice queen” by an act of heartless treachery. Jessica Chastain is Sara, who like Hemsworth’s rebellious Huntsman, grew up as an abducted child soldier forced to serve in Freya’s army of marauders.

British comedic actors Nick Frost and Rob Brydon, shrunk to wee size by the modern magic of digital effects, play a pair of dwarf brothers who provide most of the chuckles in this otherwise dull and dreary trek through a disjointed plot that feels like someone threw bits of Game of Thrones, Disney’s Frozen, Lord of the Rings and The Wizard of Oz into a blender with some crushed ice, black goo and gold flecks, then set it to puree.

Emily Blunt and Charlize Theron

If you’re into ornate costumes, you might dig the over-the-top duds in which Blunt and Theron get to vamp. In the couple of scenes they’re together, I kept wishing Cher would suddenly appear—maybe descending from the ceiling—for a full-on Las Vegas revue.

The storybook decor is lush and quite lovely, especially when the Huntsman, Sara, the two dwarves and their special-effect dwarf dates (Alexandra Roach and Sheridan Smith) take a day trip to Goblin Land, or something like that, to retrieve the purloined Magic Mirror, which looks like a huge polished cymbal from a music store. Some of the location filming was done in England’s Windsor Great Park, although I’m pretty sure you won’t find any big, blue ape-men, giant moss-covered snakes or tiny florescent flying fairies there.

Not campy and gonzo enough to be real fun, nor dark and dangerous enough to qualify as truly grim, this is instead a drab, disjointed stab by a first-time feature director who, bless his heart, can’t seem to find his target in all the icy, FX-laden glop. The best—and most amazing—thing about it by far is its all-star, A-list cast, all of whom who gamely give it their best in the service of something clearly less than “the fairest of them all.”

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Monster Mash

There’s big trouble above and below in ’10 Cloverfield Lane’

10 Cloverfield Lane

Starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman & John Gallagher Jr.

Directed by Dan Trachtenberg

PG-13

Waking to consciousness after a car crash on dark highway, a young woman, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), finds herself on a pallet in a leg brace, hooked up to an IV drip—and chained to the wall of a subterranean concrete bunker.

“Please let me go,” she fearfully, tearfully begs when she meets the man who brought her there as he delivers a tray of food. “There’s nowhere to go,” Howard (John Goodman) calmly tells her. “Everyone outside of here is dead.”

There’s been an attack, he explains, a big one—maybe chemical, maybe nuclear, maybe Russians, maybe Martians. “Luckily,” he reassures her, “I’m prepared.”

So begins 10 Cloverfield Lane, the “little” movie—with a small ensemble cast of three, filmed almost entirely in a tight, enclosed set—that comes with such big expectations. Beginning as a script called The Cellar, it later enlisted the writer-director of the critically lauded Whiplash, Damian Chazelle, to “whip” the screenplay into something with a bit more bite. When Midas-touch superstar producer J.J. Abrams came onboard, fresh off the blockbuster buzz of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and changed the title, fans went crazy with frenzied speculation: How would this movie connect to Cloverfield, the 2008 surprise-hit monster-movie smash about an extraterrestrial attack, that he also produced?

Questions abound in (and about) 10 Cloverfield Lane, and if you want them answered, well—you’re just like the characters. And also like them, you’ll have to stick around to the end of the film, a terrifically tense, tightly wound underground psychological thriller that eventually explodes wildly, violently upward and outward.

10 CLOVERFIELD LANE

John Gallagher Jr., Mary Elizabeth Winstead & John Goodman share close quarters in ’10 Cloverfield Lane.’

Is Howard an overzealous doomsday prepper, a conspiracy-theorist nut-job, a grieving father, a U.S. Navy vet who went off the deep end, all of those, none of those, or something else entirely? Why was Michelle in such a hurry to leave town that night? And what about Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), the other guy in the bunker? What are those noises? Cars? Helicopters? Spaceships? Is the air outside really as contaminated as Howard says?

The mysteries mount, the clues pile up, the screws turn tighter and tighter, the distrust deepens, and claustrophobia and paranoia permeate every frame. Debut feature director Dan Trachtenberg, working with cinematographer Joe Cutter and production designer Ramsey Avery, creates an underground mini-labyrinth that teems with the details of Howard’s scarily obsessive mind—like a show home stocked from the Armageddon bargain bin of Bed Bath & Beyond.

Howard, Emmett and Michelle eat meals, play old board games, work jigsaw puzzles and listen to classic rock on an old jukebox in an artificial, increasingly edgy loop of normal domestic life. Frankie Valli’s “Venus” and Tommy James’ “I Think We’re Alone Now” never sounded so ominous and foreboding.

When things really break loose, in the movie’s final sequence, fans of the original Cloverfield will finally be able see just how this movie connects to the previous one. And as the address in the title suggests, monsters can come in all shapes and sizes, in all kinds of places, above us, below us and even right beside us.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Fly Like an Eagle

‘Eddie the Eagle’ soars with inspiring tale of unlikely Olympic star

 

Eddie the Eagle

Starring Taron Egerton & Hugh Jackman

Directed by Dexter Fletcher

PG-13

Ever since he was a tot, Great Britain’s Michael “Eddie” Edwards dreamed of becoming an Olympic athlete. But the odds were always stacked against him.

Weight lifter, pole vaulter, discus thrower, hurdle jumper—he didn’t care. But no amount of backyard “training” made any difference. With congenitally wobbly knees bolstered by leg braces and thick eyeglasses to correct his terrible vision, young Eddie was no one’s idea of the Olympic ideal.

Though it takes a few—or more—liberties, Eddie the Eagle is based on the rousing real-life story of Edwards, who proved all the naysayers wrong to become an Olympic competitor, representing Great Britain in the 1988 Winter Olympics as a ski jumper. The movie traces his improbable journey, against the wishes of his working-class father, who urges him to settle into a proper trade, and England’s stuffy Olympic committee, which thwarts his every attempt to qualify for their team.

“Frankly,” one official dismissively tells teenage Eddie (Taron Edgerton), “you will never be Olympic material—goodbye.”

Eddie counters that curt farewell with his usual optimism, tenacity and pluck. Nothing is going to deter him. He sets off on his own to a Winter Olympics training facility, where he meets former ski champ Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman), who reluctantly, eventually agrees to take Eddie under his wing.

As the stocky, bumbling, socially awkward Eddie, Edgerton is miles—or kilometers—away from his best-known former role as a stylish, slick super-spy in Kingsman. Jackman provides American-cowboy grit (all the way down to his boots) as a washed-up one-time “whiz kid” of the slopes and former Olympic star himself, who finds his own path to redemption through Eddie’s relentless ambition.

You probably haven’t heard of British actor-director Dexter Fletcher, whose films haven’t made much of a splash here in America. But he gives Eddie the Eagle a look, texture and sound perfect for its time and place, from Prince Charles and Lady Diana salt and pepper shakers on a kitchen table to the music, which combines pop and rock tunes of the era with instrumental synthesizer swooshes and swirls that would have been right at home driving the grooves of most any 1980s flick.

The movie shares its uplifting underdog spirit with Rocky, Rudy, Seabiscuit, Hoosiers and any number of other film sagas about individuals or teams that come from behind, power through roadblocks or are told they can’t, shouldn’t or won’t ever.

Hugh Jackman, left, poses with Eddie Edwards on the set of EDDIE THE EAGLE.

Hugh Jackman with the real-life Eddie Edwards on the set of ‘Eddie the Eagle’

When Eddie finally makes it to the Olympics, the crowd and the media love the naïve, effusively enthusiastic oddity who barely qualified for his team and who causes the announcers to declare, “The eagle has landed!” when he makes his climactic breathtaking, daredevil descent intact—and alive.

“The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part,” we’re told, a quote from one of the games’ founders. And no one embodied that spirit like Eddie, whose inspiring, soaring tale of determination and personal triumph in the heartwarming Eddie the Eagle is a joy to behold as it takes flight.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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