Movie reviews: 'Justice League,' '3 Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,'Jim and Andy: The Great Beyond,' 'The Problem with Apu,' 'Mudbound'
One of the most highly-anticipated movies of the year is now in theaters, but even though the delayed Rotten Tomatoes score has finally been released, is it worth the wait? A score of other movies - big and small - are set to open as well, and a few documentaries and smaller gems will be released on streaming and On Demand services too. It's a big week for movies!
Here are reviews for all of the new films seeing release this week, Friday, November 17, 2017:
The DC Universe continues to search for relevancy with its most recent long-awaited effort, "Justice League". It's basically a sequel to "Man of Steel" and "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice," and a side adventure for Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), who is clearly the star of this budding comic book universe after her Summer movie was met with such critical and box office acclaim. But sorry nerds, the whole is less than the sum of its parts. This All-Star team is no "The Avengers," despite desperately wanting to be.
After Superman's death (spoiler alert!), Batman (Ben Affleck) finds himself picking up the pieces and trying to figure out his place in this new world. A new threat - yet another alien being intent on destroying the Earth for no particular reason - leads Batman to try to gather up all of the world's known heroes like Wonder Woman, Aquaman (Jason Momoa), The Flash (Ezra Miller) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher).
The movie takes a familiar trajectory, with a portion dedicated to showing Batman recruiting everyone, then showing how they all struggle to get along, and finally seeing them work together to battle evil. Yawn. While The Flash tries hard to inject a sense of fun and light-heartedness into this dark universe (and does a fairly good job at doing so), Aquaman and Cyborg are complete bores.
It's clear that director Zack Snyder was given notes from producers to lighten things up, but "Justice League" never congeals into anything remotely interesting. It is a paint-by-numbers comic book adventure, with way too much CG and not nearly enough reason to care about any of it. Some plot developments even render what little "Batman v Superman" had going for it by completely wiping away the sacrifices made by Superman (Henry Cavill) in that film. The DC Universe has been out-of-step since the beginning, and not even Wonder Woman can rise above this dreck.
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy. Run Time: 2 hours.
Starring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, Connie Nielsen, J.K. Simmons, Amber Heard.
Directed by Zack Snyder ("Batman v Superman," "Man of Steel," "Sucker Punch," "Watchmen," "300").
"Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri"
If you get past the title, you may just love what you see on "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri". Frances McDormand shines as a grieving mother who is fed up with the fact that her daughter's death has still gone unsolved by the local police department. So she rents out three unused billboards to get their attention, and these billboards set in motion a series of developments that are altogether heart-breaking, sad and darkly funny.
Woody Harrelson plays the local Sheriff who is directly called out, and Sam Rockwell gives an award-worthy supporting performance as a bumbling cop on the force who can't contain his frustrations, or his drinking. Written and directed by Martin McDonagh, the movie has a Fargo-esque vibe to it, but feels wholly original.
There were one too many contrivances down the stretch, but it's no surprise that "Three Billboards" has been talked about as one of the year's best films.
Genre: Comedy. Run Time: 1 hour 55 minutes.
Starring: Frances McDormand, Caleb Landry Jones, Lucas Hedges, Kerry Condon, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Abbie Cornish.
Written and Directed by Martin McDonagh ("Seven Psychopaths," "In Bruges").
"Jim and Andy: The Great Beyond"
There is getting into character for a film role, and then there is what Jim Carrey did on the set of the 1999 Andy Kaufman biopic, "Man on the Moon." The new Netflix documentary, whose full title is actually "Jim and Andy: The Great Beyond - Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton", is now available to stream and is definitely worth checking out.
The documentary is a fascinating glimpse into the mind of a genius (Carrey), who was trying to get into the mind of another genius (the late, great Andy Kaufman). Carrey was virtually possessed by the spirit of Andy and never broke character - or characters - throughout the filming of "Man on the Moon," much to the chagrin and irritation of director Milos Forman, cast and crew. The footage was never released, because - as the story goes - the studio feared that if it ever got out, that people would think Jim Carrey was a crazy-person. Well, they were right on that front, but he's of the "crazy-genius" variety.
Much of the archival footage is funny and shocking, like when Jim-as-Andy abuses real-life Jerry Lawler on set, or when Jim-as-Andy-as-Tony Clifton (Andy's rude and crude lounge singer persona) offends pretty much everyone around him. But the real fascinating stuff comes from the on-camera interview with modern-day Jim Carrey, who looks back and tries to give us some insight as to what the hell was going on. The filmmakers don't dig deep enough - which is my main critique - but this is a thoroughly enjoyable behind-the-scenes ride. And then again, who can blame them? Maybe the filmmakers were afraid to go any deeper...Carrey proves Aristotle right when he said: "There is no great genius without some touch of madness." Speaking of madness: Just how the heck did Carrey not even land a nomination for this role at the Oscars?
Genre: Documentary. Run Time: 1 hour 34 minutes.
Starring: Jim Carrey, Danny DeVito, Milos Forman, Judd Hirsch, Jerry Lawler, Andy Kaufman.
Directed by Chris Smith ("Collapse," "The Yes Men," "Home Movie," "American Movie").
"The Problem with Apu"
Another documentary worth watching this week centers on comedian Hari Kondabolu, called "The Problem with Apu". Kondabolu goes up against his arch-nemesis, the fictional convenience store clerk from "The Simpsons," Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, pointing out that the openly racist caricature's time may have finally come.
Yes, we live in a world of hyper-sensitivity and political correctness, but as Hari points out, it is shocking and absurd that such a character as Apu is still allowed to exist. Even if you try to overlook the fact that Apu is still voiced by a white actor, Hank Azaria, this doc tries to make it clear that Apu is akin to modern-day minstrelsy towards the Indian culture.
Kondabolu interviews other prominent Indian-Americans, like Aziz Ansari, Aasif Mandvi, Hasan Minhaj and Kal Penn, as we understand what this character, Apu, represents to the under-represented Indian population in this country, and how the character of Apu still stands as the modern day stereotype of Indians. He even sits down with former "The Simpsons" producer Dana Gould and tries to track down the voice of Apu himself, Hank Azaria.
What we're ultimately left with is a very funny and timely film that points out how racism has so permeated our culture to the point that many can't even see it. You may never look at "The Simpsons" the same way again.
Genre: Documentary. Run Time: 49 minutes.
Starring: Hari Kondabolu, Aziz Ansari, Aasif Mandvi, Hasan Minhaj, Kal Penn, Hank Azaria, Dana Gould, Utkarsh Ambudkar, W. Kamau Bell, Whoopi Goldberg.
Directed by Michael Melamedoff ("The Exhibitionists," "Weakness").
Director Dee Rees came on the scene with a bang with her 2011 indy gem, "Pariah," and was said to be on her way to stardom as "one to watch." Well, consider Dee Rees as having arrived. In another Netflix original, "Mudbound", Rees effortlessly has created one of the most sweeping and epic films of the year, as rooted and gritty as its subjects.
It tells the story of two families in the Jim Crow South - one black family and one white - who are connected via the land in which they live. When each family sends a son away to fight in WWII, they come back to find that not much has changed except for their outlook on life.
This is a star-studded cast, with Carey Mulligan, Garrett Hedlund, Jason Clarke, Jason Mitchell, Jonathan Banks and even Mary J. Blige, and it's truly an ensemble story. It is tough to watch at times, but Rees has a way of never letting your eyes veer from the screen. "Mudbound" is definitely one to catch on Netflix, which is odd because this is the sort of film you would think would be even more powerful on a big-screen.
Genre: Drama. Run Time: 2 hours 7 minutes.
Starring: Carey Mulligan, Garrett Hedlund, Jason Clarke, Jonathan Banks, Jason Mitchell, Mary J. Blige, Kerry Cahill.
Directed by Dee Rees ("Pariah").
All of these movies open locally on Friday, November 10, 2017.
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