movie reviews

  • Screen Savor: Movie Reviews

    Keep up with the latest movie releases with SFGN's Gregg Shapiro:


     

    “Murder on the Orient Express”

    The Kenneth Branagh-directed remake of “Murder on the Orient Express” (20th Century Fox), in which Branagh also stars as Agatha Christie’s Belgian master detective Hercule Poirot, inspires its own set of mysteries. For example, why would anyone remake a perfectly good movie? The 1974 version, directed by Sidney Lumet, was considered to be one of the best movies of that year. Ingrid Bergman won her third career Oscar for her portrayal of missionary Greta.

     

    "BPM (Beats Per Minute)"

    One thing you can say about the French, they know how to make a movie about AIDS. Whereas Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau’s 2016 film “Paris 05:59: Théo & Hugo”presented a current look at French gay men dealing with the AIDS epidemic, the informative and devastating “BPM (Beats Per Minute)” (The Orchard), directed and co-written by Robin Campillo (Eastern Boys), takes us back to the early 1990s, and the rise of AIDS activism in Paris.

     

    “Chavela”

    Anyone who has ever heard the late Spanish-language singer Chavela Vargas, who died at 93 in 2012, knows there’s more going on than meets the eye, or the ear, for that matter. With their respectful and revealing doc “Chavela” (Music Box Films), co-directors Catherine Gund and Dayesha Kyi give the true story of the ranchera diva a long overdue telling.

     

    "Breathe"

    It’s probably not fair to compare actor Andy Serkis’ directorial debut “Breathe” (Bleecker Street) with the Oscar-winning “The Theory of Everything,” but people will. Both films are based on true stories. Both films deal with young British men who develop significant disabilities in the prime of life. Both films are about the power of love and the strength of the human spirit to overcome the odds. Unfortunately, when comparing both films, it’s “Breathe” that will come up short (of breath).

     

    "Marshall"

    You have to give Reginald Hudlin, director of "Marshall" (Open Road), credit. The man responsible for such non-classics as House Party (starring Kid’n Play), Boomerang (starring Eddie Murphy) and The Ladies Man (starring Tim Meadows, based on his SNL character), wanted to make a different kind of movie than people were used to seeing from him.

     

    "Battle of the Sexes"

    “Battle of the Sexes” (Fox Searchlight), about the famed 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, is that rare movie that successfully combines biography, sports and queer subject matter for a thoroughly entertaining and educating experience. First and foremost, credit goes to co-directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (Oscar-winner Little Miss Sunshine). Even though we know the outcome (King walloped unrepentant male chauvinist pig Riggs), they managed to make it feel fresh and exhilarating.

     

    "Brad's Status"

    It looks like 2017 could be the year that queer screenwriter and director Mike White (“Year of the Dog”) might just get his first Academy Award nomination and may even take home an Oscar. White, who also has the smudge of “The Emoji Movie” on his screenplay resume, along with outstanding films such as “School of Rock” and “The Good Girl,” wrote director Miguel Arteta’s 2017 film “Beatriz at Dinner,” which has received raves from critics and audiences alike.

     

    "Stronger"

    Stronger (Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions) is the second big-screen Hollywood dramatization of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, following 2016’s Patriots Day. Like that film, Stronger doesn’t shy away from the gruesome details, while also providing a relatable portrait of what it means to be Boston Strong.

     

    "Beatriz at Dinner"

    Salma Hayek is having quite a year. Her scene-stealing performance in “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” confirms her skills as comedian. But it’s in the black comedy “Beatriz at Dinner” (Lionsgate), now available on DVD, that she shines brightest, potentially leading to an Oscar nomination. Written by queer writer/filmmaker Mike White and directed by Miguel Arteta (the man behind gay-oriented films “Chuck and Buck and Star Maps”), “Beatriz at Dinner” perfectly captures the dark mood in the age of Trump.

     

    "Whitney Houston: Can I Be Me"

    Anyone who is old enough to remember the sensation of shock and sadness caused by the deaths of music icons Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison in the early 1970s is well-aware of the history of substance abuse and its connection to rock and roll. Still, that didn’t make the passing of Michael Jackson, Amy Winehouse or Prince, years later, any less difficult to bear.

     

    The Only Living Boy in New York

    Director Marc Webb is nothing if not versatile. After all, he’s responsible for the giddy romantic romp “500 Days of Summer” starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, both of Andrew Garfield’s “Spider-Man” movies, and the 2017 dramatic comedy “Gifted”. He’s also busy, with “The Only Living Boy in New York” (Amazon Studios/Roadside Attractions) being his second film released this year.

      

    "The Dark Tower"

    Even the most devoted Stephen King fans will admit that the theatrical movie versions of his novels fall into two distinct categories – fantastic and failure. Adaptations in the former category include “Carrie” (the 1976 version directed by Brian DePalma and the first of King’s novels to be made into a movie), “The Shining”, “Stand By Me”, “Misery”, “The Shawshank Redemption”, “Dolores Claiborne”, and “The Green Mile”. Unfortunately, the many failures far outweigh the successes and include “Cujo”, “Christine”, “Firestarter”, “Maximum Overdrive” (directed by King himself), “Pet Sematary”, “The Dark Half”, “Needful Things” and “Dreamcatcher” (and that’s not even including TV movies and unnecessary remakes).

     

    "Atomic Blonde"

     Just in case you didn’t get your fill of ass-kicking female superheroes with the June release of “Wonder Woman” the fast and furious Charlize Theron vehicle “Atomic Blonde” (Focus) is blasting into theaters. Based on the graphic novel series by Antony Johnston and Sam Hunt, “Atomic Blonde” also earns points for having an unapologetically queer main character.

     

    "A Ghost Story"

    Easily the most divisive movie of the summer (at least four people walked out of the press screening), David Lowery’s “A Ghost Story” (A24) is neither as amusing as “Beetlejuice” nor as emotionally compelling as “Ghost,” two of the most popular modern specter stories. Aside from notably reuniting Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara, who appeared together in Lowery’s 2013 “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints,” the film takes a multitude of risks, most of which simply don’t pay off for the audience (or the characters, for that matter).

     

    "Landline

    If you loved Gillian Robespierre’s 2014 feature film debut, the brilliant and poignant pro-choice comedy “Obvious Child,” then you are probably going to be more than a little disappointed by her second movie “Landline” (Magnolia). This viewer was. 

     

    "The Little Hours

    Writer/director Jeff Baena’s irreverent reimagining of parts of Bocaccio’s 14th century fictional work “The Decameron,” complete with 21st century vernacular, is so bawdy it would make Monty Python blush. The humor, much of which is derived from the use of modern language in a 1347 setting, is almost non-stop and is sure to leave audience members leaving with huge, if slightly off-kilter, smiles on their faces.

     

    "Spider-Man: Homecoming"

    If you’re counting, there are now six 21st century live-action Spider-Man movies, including the latest, “Spider-Man: Homecoming” (Marvel/Columbia). The first three starred Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker, a nerdy high school student with the secret superhero identity of Spider-Man. In 2012 and 2014, Spider-Man became “amazing” as Andrew Garfield slipped into the Spidey suit. Baby-faced Tom Holland is the newest actor to take on the swinging role. To give Marvel’s DC competition credit, at least the Batman and Superman DC franchises spread out the revolving lead actors over the course of several years (and decades).

      

    "The Beguiled

    “The Beguiled” (Focus), Sofia Coppola’s beguiling and award-winning remake of the 1971 Clint Eastwood vehicle, is set in 1864 Virginia, three years into the Civil War. Miss Martha Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman) runs a no-nonsense boarding school for girls. Due to the instability of the period, the student population has been reduced to five pupils – Alicia (Elle Fanning), Amy (Oona Laurence), Jane (Angourie Rice), Marie (Addison Riecke) and Emily (Emma Howard). Martha is assisted in her instruction duties by Edwina (Kirsten Dunst).

      

    " Baby Driver

    “Baby Driver” (TriStar) is a loud, fast-paced, cleverly choreographed and funny action movie; as delirious as it is derivative. “Baby Driver” borrows liberally from a handful of its predecessors, beginning with 2011’s “Drive,” in which a pretty getaway driver played by Ryan Gosling is under the thumb of an ugly cruel boss played by Albert Brooks. In the case of “Baby Driver,” Ansel Elgort’s Baby (not his real name) is beholden to Doc (an especially smarmy Kevin Spacey) until he pays back a large financial debt.

     

    "3 Generations"

    Originally titled “About Ray,” now known as “3 Generations” (TWC), Gaby Dellal’s unsatisfactory trans family drama is finally being released domestically after being shelved for quite a while. It’s a pity, too, because the combination of the cast and the storyline should have resulted in a better movie than what’s onscreen.

     

    "Uncle Howard

    The Howard Brookner renaissance that began in 2015 with Brad Gooch’s stunning memoir “Smash Cut”, about his relationship with the late filmmaker, continues with Howard’s nephew Aaron Brookner’s lovingly rendered doc “Uncle Howard” (Pinball London). As the doc begins we see Aaron in the process of searching for archival footage from Howard’s first film, “Burroughs: The Movie,” the acclaimed 1983 documentary about gay writer William S. Burroughs.

     

     

    "Wonder Woman" 

    Presented in 3D (and IMAX, if you please), “Wonder Woman” (WB/DC), the long-awaited debut of the comic book world’s most celebrated female superhero has arrived just in time for Pride Month. That’s significant because the titular character, aka Princess Diana of Themyscira aka Diana Prince (Gal Gadot), is an Amazonian. Formed from clay and brought to life by Zeus, she was raised amongst women by her mother Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) and aunt General Antiope (Robin Wright), without the presence or influence of men. In other words, our lesbian separatist sisters are going to love this movie!

     

     

    "Alien Covenant" 

    After almost 40 years, if the Alien movie franchise has taught us anything, it’s that androids aren’t necessarily trustworthy. Beginning with Ash (Ian Holm) in the first “Alien” flick and continuing through David (Michael Fassbender reprising his role from Prometheus) in the latest installment “Alien: Covenant” (20th Century Fox), the droids’ loyalty to its creator is unwavering.

     

     

    "Snatched" 

    Here’s a short list of recent mother/adult child comedies: “The Guilt Trip” starring Barbra Streisand and Seth Rogen, “The Meddler” starring Susan Sarandon and Rose Byrne, Ricki and the Flash starring Meryl Streep and Mamie Gummer, “Peace, Love & Misunderstanding” starring Jane Fonda and Catherine Keener, and “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2” starring Nia Vardalos and Elena Kampouris. Know what they all have in common? They are unwatchable.               

     

     

    "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" 

    Almost everything about “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” (Marvel Studios), the sequel to the insanely popular 2014 Guardians of the Galaxy, is a joke. In other words, there are practically as many laughs as there are 3D special effects. The second film in the series attempts to answer questions raised in the earlier movie while also advancing the story of the Guardians – muscly Peter (Chris Pratt), green Gamora (Zoe Saldana), randy raccoon Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), spry sprout Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) and tattooed and bald Drax (Dave Bautista).

     

     

    "A Very Sordid Wedding" 

    Written and directed by Del Shores, “A Very Sordid Wedding” (The Film Collaborative), the sequel to 2000’s hit gay comedy “Sordid Lives,” picks up 17 years after the comedically catastrophic events of the first film. How comedically catastrophic, you ask? An elderly woman having an affair with a married double amputee, trips over his prosthetic legs and dies from hitting her head on the sink in the bathroom of a sleazy motel. How’s that?

     

     

    "Free Fire" 

    Sam Peckinpah meets Quentin Tarantino with a splash of Martin Scorsese in Ben Wheatley’s bullet-riddled and chaotic (and thankfully brief) shoot `em up “Free Fire” (A24). Set in an abandoned Boston factory in the late 1970s, Free Fire is what happens when a black-market arms deal goes awry.

     

     

    "Colossal" 

    “Colossal” (Neon) is a monster movie that has as much to do with inner demons as it does with the physical manifestations of those with the power and determination to level a city the size of Seoul, South Korea. A very adult take on “A Monster Calls,” writer/director Nacho Vigalondo’s “Colossal” has a lot to say about women, men and alcohol abuse.

     

     

    "The Zookeeper's Wife" 

    In the pantheon of holocaust cinema, “The Zookeeper’s Wife” (Focus) isn’t as powerful or epic as “Schindler’s List,” but neither is it as dreadful as “The Boy In The Striped Pajamas.” Landing somewhere in between, the film, based on the book by Diane Ackerman, tells the true story of the titular Antonina Żabińska (played by Jessica Chastain), and her husband Jan (Johan Heldenbergh), and their roles in the Polish underground resistance during World War II.

     

     

    "T2: Trainspotting" 

    It’s been 20 years since the last time we saw unrepentant junkie and thief Mark (Ewan McGregor) in the original Edinburgh-set “Trainspotting.” At that time, he was waffling between addiction and sobriety. Even in that condition he had enough clarity to screw his best friends Simon aka Sick (Jonny Lee Miller), gentle Spud (Ewen Bremner) and violent-tempered Franco (Robert Carlyle) out of a massive sum of money in a drug deal scam.

     

     

    "The Last Word"

    Harriet Lauler (Shirley MacLaine), the main character in “The Last Word” (Bleecker Street), likes to have, well, the last word. A successful and wealthy retired businesswoman in her early 80s, Harriet made a name for herself, running her own ad agency at a time when it wasn’t as common as it is now.

     

     

    "Sense of an Ending" 

    Based on the novel by Julian Barnes, Ritesh Bartra’s “The Sense of an Ending” (CBS Films) will probably remind some audience members of gay filmmaker Andrew Haigh’s marvelous “45 Years,” and that’s not only because both films starred Charlotte Rampling. The common thread is that the main male characters in both films receive letters that stir up the dust of their pasts.

     

     

    "Moonlight" 

    Based on gay playwright Tarell McCraney’s play “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue,” screenwriter/director Barry Jenkins’ Oscar-winning “Moonlight” (A24), which took home Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay awards, is nothing less than a breathtaking cinematic achievement. Presented in three separate chapters, “Moonlight” tells the heartrending story of Chiron – as a child, a teen, and an adult —growing up gay in Miami’s Liberty City neighborhood. 

     

    "Table 19"

    If you’ve ever wondered what became of the early 21st century cinematic genre known as mumblecore (and who among us hasn’t?), a hokey style that launched the career of Greta Gerwig (gee, thanks!), you need look no further than Table 19 (Fox Searchlight). Co-written by mumblecore progenitors and brothers Jay Duplass and Mark Duplass, "Table 19" is one of the most unappealing rom-coms in recent memory.

     

    "Before I Fall"

    Poor February. As if it isn’t bad enough that it’s a cold and dreary month throughout much of the United States, it’s also the month rewarded with the dubious honor of being the shortest, as well as the one to which a day is added during leap years. To add insult to injury, there are also the complications that come with Groundhog Day (Feb. 2) and Valentine’s Day (Feb. 14).

      

     "Get Out"

    Don’t be put off by the “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner” meets “The Stepford Wives/Rosemary’s Baby” vibe of “Get Out” (Universal), because Jordan Peele’s mind-blowing debut as writer AND director, is so much more. It’s a smart comedy, a reverent and referential horror flick, and it’s a meaningful statement about race in the age of Trump. It’s also the first step to forgiving Peele for 2016’s abysmal “Keanu.”

     

    "Dirty Dancing" & "The Watermelon Woman" Turn 30 and 20

    As unexpected hit movies go, few can compare to “Dirty Dancing”(Lionsgate), newly reissued in a 30th (!) anniversary Blu-ray+DVD+Digital HD edition. The film’s novel subject matter, cast of relative newcomers, vintage soundtrack, uplifting theme song and groundbreaking choreography, Patrick Swayze’s body and Jennifer Grey’s original nose, all combined to make it a success.

     

    "The Comedian"

    Remember that movie “Danny Collins”  where Al Pacino played the washed-up rock star trying to make amends for his bad behavior? Don’t worry, neither does anyone else. Similarly, “The Comedian”  (Sony Pictures Classics) may meet the same fate. In the tradition of unfunny movies about comedians (see the Tom Hanks/Sally Field flop “Punchline” and Adam Sandler’s “Funny People”), “The Comedian”  is short on laughs and long on scenery chewing.

     

    "I'm Not Your Negro"

    It’s been said that timing is everything. Raoul Peck’s James Baldwin doc “I Am Not Your Negro,” opening in theaters in the wake of Representative and civil rights icon John Lewis’ public feud with President Trump, is proof positive of that. Owing as much to recent film such as“Selma” and “Birth of a Nation” as it does to “Hidden Figures” and “13th,” “I Am Not Your Negro” is required viewing.

     

    “Paris 05:59”

    “Paris 05:59: Théo & Hugo” (Europa/Epicentre), co-written and co-directed by Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau is a timely and sensitive reminder of the current state of things in the world of gay sex. The lengthy, erotically-charged and sexually graphic opening sequence takes place in a sex club where the red-lit lower level is swarming with writhing naked men engaging in various sex acts.

     

    “20th Century Women”

    “20th Century Women”  (A24) is such a major disappointment; it’s almost difficult to put it into words. In fact, it’s hard to believe that this chaotic mess is the work of writer/director Mike Mills, the man behind the Oscar-winning 2010 gay movie “Beginners.” Where that movie was effortlessly balanced and emotionally on the level, “20th Century Women”  is sloppy, forced and unpleasant. It’s a complete waste of the talents of Annette Bening, on par with Ryan Murphy’s abysmal “Running With Scissors.”

     

    "Patriots Day"

    In recent years, with films such as “Deepwater Horizon” and “Lone Survivor,” actor/director Peter Berg has turned his attention to dramatizing real-life events. In “Patriots Day” (CBS Films), starring Mark Wahlberg (who also starred in both previously mentioned movies), Berg may have made the best, if somewhat uneven, film of his career.

    "Closet Monster"

    When Oscar (Connor Jessup) was a little boy, instead of telling him a bedtime story, his father Peter (Aaron Abrams) would give him a “dream.” As he made up the dream for Oscar’s sleep, Peter would also blow up a balloon, hold the opening to Oscar’s forehead and let the air escape. This is a wonderful image and not the most surreal one in “Closet Monster” (Strand Releasing) by a long shot...

    “Jackie”

    Pablo Larraín’s stunning “Jackie” (Fox Searchlight), begins in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts in the days following her husband President John F. Kennedy’s 1963 assassination and funeral, when widow Jackie (Natalie Portman in an Oscar-worthy performance) met with journalist Theodore H. White (Billy Crudup on the comeback trail) to offer her own “version of what happened.” Portman’s portrayal is graceful and nuanced, recreating, but never imitating, Jackie’s speech pattern, distinctive voice, facial expressions and other mannerisms, including smoking cigarettes...

    “Hidden Figures”

    Based on true events, “Hidden Figures” (Fox 2000), co-written/directed by Thomas Melfi (“St. Vincent”) is the kind of uplifting movie we so desperately need during this particular holiday season. Despite its unfortunate title (based on Margot Lee Shetterly’s book of the same name), most of “Hidden Figures” may take place more than 50 years ago, but it remains as timely as ever. The film’s hot-button issues, including discrimination based on race and gender as well as strained relations with Russia, are sadly just as relevant today...

    “La La Land”

    Presented in Cinemascope, “La La Land” (Lionsgate) is writer/director Damien Chazelle’s singing and dancing love letter to Hollywood movie musicals and Los Angeles. For fans of Chazelle’s “Whiplash,” jazz gets a big, fat, wet kiss, too...

    “Sing”

    There is nothing new about the 3D animated feature “Sing” (Illumination Entertainment).

    It’s a familiar and formulaic story lifted from any number of Hollywood or Broadway musicals. There’s a crumbling theater. There’s the theater’s owner, Buster Moon (voiced by Matthew McConaughey), whose lifelong love of the stage and a mission to do well by a deceased parent is the driving force behind his drive to save said crumbling theater...

    “Manchester by the Sea”

    Writer/director (and occasional actor) Kenneth Lonergan has an ear for dialogue and the proven ability to transfer the way in which people speak and interact with each other from the page to the screen. It was vividly on display in his 2000 film You Can Count On Me, for which he received an Oscar nomination...

    “Nocturnal Animals”

     For his second, full-length feature film, Nocturnal Animals (Focus/Cinedigm), gay fashion designer turned screenwriter/filmmaker Tom Ford has once again chosen to adapt a novel (Tony and Susan by Austin Wright) for the big screen. His first film, the Oscar-nominated 2009 adaptation of Christopher Isherwood’s A Single Man, was, in a word, breathtaking. Ford’s eye for detail made the film stunning to view...

    “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”

    "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" (WB), the latest film adaptation in J.K. Rowling’s popular and profitable film franchise that spawned eight Harry Potter movies, emphasizes comedy and terror in equal measure. Set in New York just a few years after the end of World War I and just before the stock market crash, it’s a prescient Potter prequel that couldn’t be timelier...

    “Arrival”

    As modern, non-traditional sci-fi flicks go, "Arrival" (Paramount), directed by Denis Villeneuve ("Sicario" and "Enemy") and starring Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forrest Whitaker, touches down somewhere between "Under the Skin" and "The Martian." Playing with the perception of time and memory, "Arrival" introduces the concept of quid pro quo as a means of negotiating with alien visitors in what is destined to become a zero sum game...

    “Loving”

    Those familiar with the fight for marriage equality know that it is not a new one. Almost 50 years before the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage, a mixed-race couple living in rural Virginia made history when their case, Loving v. Virginia, challenged the Commonwealth’s Racial Integrity Act and, with the aid of the American Civil Liberties Union, they triumphed...

    Gregg Shapiro is the author of “Fifty Degrees” (Seven Kitchens, 2016), co-winner of the Robin Becker Chapbook Prize. Other books by Shapiro include the short story collections “How to Whistle” (Lethe Press, 2016) and “Lincoln Avenue” (Squares and Rebels Press, 2014), the chapbook “GREGG SHAPIRO: 77” (Souvenir Spoon Press, 2012), and the poetry collection “Protection” (Gival Press, 2008). An entertainment journalist, whose interviews and reviews run in a variety of regional LGBT and mainstream publications and websites, Shapiro lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida with his husband Rick and their dog k.d.