Reviews: 'Pacific Rim: Uprising,' 'Midnight Sun,' 'The Death of Stalin,' 'The Leisure Seeker,' 'Flower'
Can "Black Panther" really hang on to the top of the box office charts for a sixth consecutive weekend? Last week it became the first movie to stay at number one for five-straight weekends, since 2009's "Avatar." It has already topped 600 million domestically, and it will continue to shatter records as we head towards April. A major sequel this week looks to take on Marvel's movie titan, and a bevy of other smaller films look to eat away at the box office market share. Yes quite literally, there are at least nine new movies opening this weekend, so Black Panther's reign is definitely not a sure thing.
Here are reviews of some of the new films hitting theaters this weekend, Friday, March 23rd, 2018:
"Pacific Rim: Uprising"
It's big, loud and clunky - just like one of its Yaeger robots - but "Pacific Rim: Uprising" contains none of the wonderment that made the original "Pacific Rim" movie an international blockbuster.
Sequel-itis is strong with this one. Taking place 10 years after the events of the first film, we pick up with the rebellious Jake Pentecost (Daniel Boyega), son of the now legendary Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) from the previous chapter. He's a hot-headed ex-Yaeger pilot who meets the tough and gritty Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny)...oh let's be real, the plot is inconsequential. Giant monsters from the depths of the ocean threaten humanity and humans rise up to battle them in their giant robot killing machines. Both Charlie Day and Burn Gorman reprise their roles as the two nerdy scientists caught up in the action, but even though they provided comic-relief the first time around, their presence this time is neither comedic nor a relief.
The now "Oscar-winning director" Guillermo del Toro directed the first film, which was dazzling to look at, and while far from a perfect film, it captured a lot of the magic and nostalgia of monster movies from the past, re-imagining them with the technical tools of the present. If you're ever wondering what a director brings to a film, look no further than "Pacific Rim: Uprising," because del Toro turns over the reins to first-time director Steven S. DeKnight, and the lack of experience is palpable in every frame. Yes this sequel is much closer in tone to soulless Michael Bay blockbusters like "Transformers" than it is even the original "Pacific Rim," a film franchise that once showed life but now deserves to be sealed up and buried far beneath the sea.
Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi. Run Time: 1 hour and 51 minutes.
Starring: John Boyega, Cailee Spaeny, Scott Eastwood, Burn Gorman, Charlie Day, Tian Jing, Jin Zhang.
Co-Written and Directed by Steven S. DeKnight (feature-film directorial debut).
Perhaps this critic has been exposed to too much light, but the young adult, weepy romance "Midnight Sun", surprisingly works despite its many clichés.
Yes, this movie deals with a terminally ill girl (Bella Thorne) and is a bit too saturated and "neat" to be taken all that seriously, but if audiences can suspend their belief enough to accept that a man in a Panther suit can save the planet, they surely can get on board with this well-intentioned teenage date movie. For one, the cast shines and sparkles, led by Thorne but helped out immensely by the first leading role for Patrick Schwarzenegger - son of Arnold and Maria Shriver - who plays her too-good-to-be-true love interest. A surprising dramatic turn by Ron Riggle as the girl's father and a break-out supporting performance by Quinn Shephard as her best friend lend to the overall likability of this romantic fantasy.
A movie about a girl who cannot be in the sunlight or she'll die is more than a contrived plot, but this movie is about life, not death, and somehow it makes you feel for these characters. The tone is light and comedic, making it much more a romantic comedy than a tear-jerker...although there will be plenty of those as well (some women in the theater it was screened in were actively weeping and sobbing throughout). Is there supposed to be something wrong with optimism? Whatever happened to "feel-good" movies? "Midnight Sun" basks in the light, even when it spends most of its time in the shadows.
Genre: Drama, Romance. Run Time: 1 hour and 31 minutes.
Starring: Bella Thorne, Patrick Schwarzenegger, Rob Riggle, Quinn Shephard, Ken Tremblett, Nicholas Coombe.
Directed by Scott Speer ("Step Up Revolution").
"The Death of Stalin"
Anybody who has seen the sleek and clever "In the Loop" or watches HBO's "Veep," will instantly recognize the tone and style of "The Death of Stalin". It's the latest effort from writer/director Armando Iannucci, perhaps Hollywood's most cunning and sharp political satirist. He manages to create one of the most outrageous and uproariously funny films in recent years.
The movie looks and feels like "Veep," with somewhat shaky cameras seemingly catching the action documentary-style, a la "The Office." And much like those shows, it's the characters that are assembled that truly steal the show. The movie follows the political in-fighting in Moscow following the death of Joseph Stalin (Adrian McLoughlin), as those underneath him jockeyed for power. There is the clueless successor, Georgy Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor), the ambitious Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi) and the wily Lavrenti Beria (Simon Russell Beale) - none of whom, by the way, even bother to adopt a Russian accent. That's part of the comedy and the satire - the fact that Stalin talks with an almost Irish accent - and the brilliance of this movie that only loosely portrays an historical event (never let the truth get in the way of a good story, right?). These politicians bumble around as if they were in a Marx Brothers movie, and can't even competently call for help when a dying Stalin is left in a pool of his own piss at the Kremlin (call a doctor? All of the good doctors have been executed!).
Other great supporting performances help things out immensely (Olga Kurylenko, Rupert Friend and Jason Isaacs most notably), but this is Buscemi's film, given a great assist by the great stage actor Simon Russell Beale, whom American audiences don't quite know yet but hopefully will now. And as great as the ensemble is, the script is even better, easily making "The Death of Stalin" the best and funniest film of 2018 thus far, and one that oddly enough feels timely considering our current "so-absurd-its-dangerous" political climate.
Genre: Comedy. Run Time: 1 hour and 47 minutes.
Starring: Steve Buscemi, Jeffrey Tambor, Simon Russell Beale, Paddy Considine, Olga Kurylenko, Michael Palin, Adrian McLoughlin, Tom Brooke.
Co-Writtend and Directed by Armando Iannucci ("In the Loop").
"The Leisure Seeker"
Despite taking a while to actually hit theaters, "The Leisure Seeker" was actually considered a 2017 film, and it landed star Helen Mirren a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress (Comedy or Musical). Now that it's available to wider audiences, it's clear that Mirren was definitely deserving of the honor, as was her co-star, Donald Sutherland. The two star in this senior-road-trip-comedy-drama that is well-worth riding along with.
Ella (Mirren) and her long-time husband John (Sutherland) decide to take out their RV "The Leisure Seeker" and hit the road on one last adventure, much to the shock and chagrin of their adult children. John is suffering from onset-Alzheimer's and his memory is increasingly getting worse, while Ella is battling cancer. It's not the most poignant film ever made, but it's great time spent with both Mirren and Sutherland, who are great together and whom give the film much more heft than it would otherwise possess.
This road trip might travel down some familiar paths, but we grow to really care about John but especially Ella, who somehow is managing to take care of her husband and herself all at once. This is the sort of film that will play well with a senior audience because of how relatable the two characters are - bickering and nit-picking one moment and then holding hands the next...we rarely get to see elderly characters such as John and Ella. To a younger crowd, this movie may not resonate, but "The Leisure Seeker" - while surely hitting a few bumps along the way - is an endearing trek.
Genre: Adventure, Comedy, Drama. Run Time: 1 hour and 52 minutes.
Starring: Donald Sutherland, Helen Mirren, Janel Moloney, Christian McKay, Dana Ivey.
Directed by Paolo Virzi ("Like Crazy," "Human Capital," "Every Blessed Day").
There is a lot to like in the shocking, indy-teen comedy "Flower", if only it had a point to make.
Part of the problem is that the crazy, remorseless teenager Erica (Zoey Deutch) is not even close to being likable. Yet, we're asked to have empathy for her situation. When her mom (played by Kathryn Hahn) takes on a new boyfriend (Tim Heidecker), he brings along his son Luke (Joey Morgan) another troubled teen who is fresh out of heroin rehab. The two form the unlikeliest of bonds, and that's meant literally: They team up to shame and get back at a former teacher (Adam Scott) whom Luke claims molested him as a child. If this sounds a bit whacky, that's because it is...or put another way: It's highly unbelievable.
There was a "Kids" vibe (remember that Harmony Korine-written 1995 indy gem?), where we're shown teenagers probably as some of them really are...and the result is more than horrifying. And while Zoey Deutch gives a star-turning performance, "Flower" doesn't really seem to have a purpose for existing. Erica is a mean-spirited rebel who sort of sweeps through her world like a growing hurricane, destroying all in her path. There is some electric, astute dialogue exchanges and some laugh-out-loud moments scattered around, but not nearly enough to save the picture collectively.
The seeds of something beautiful are present, but "Flower" never seems to blossom into anything worthwhile.
Genre: Comedy, Drama. Run Time: 1 hour and 30 minutes.
Starring: Zoey Deutch, Kathryn Hahn, Adam Scott, Joey Morgan, Tim Heidecker.
Directed by Max Winkler ("Ceremony").
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