Category Archives: Writing

Winchester

Winchester

Written and directed by: The Spierig Brothers Starring: Helen Mirren, Sarah Snook, Jason Clarke Rated: PG-13 for violence, disturbing images, drug content, some sexual material and thematic elements Anybody who’s been to the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California knows the story: after her husband and infant child died, heiress Sarah Winchester bought a small farmhouse and set about adding onto it. She kept construction going 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for decades. She believed the ghosts of people killed with Winchester rifles were angry, and constant building was the only way to pacify them. “Winchester” punches the story up a couple of notches and gives us Helen Mirren as old lady Winchester. It’s not a great film, but if you love ghost stories it’ll probably be right up your alley. The film follows one Dr. Eric Price (Jason Clarke), hired by the board of the Winchester Rifle Company to assess

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Den of Thieves

Den of Thieves

Written and Directed by: Christian Gudegast Starring: Gerard Butler, Pablo Schreiber, O’Shea Jackson Jr, 50 Cent, Jordan Bridges, Evan Jones,Dawn Olivieri, Cooper Andrews, Eric Braeden, Brian Van Holt, Maurice Compte. Rated: R for violence, language and some sexuality/nudity There’s something gratifying about a familiar dish made well. There generally aren’t any surprises, but that can be a good thing. “Den of Thieves” is a gritty crime drama featuring two gangs on opposite sides of the law: the LA County Sheriff’s Major Crimes unit and the best gang of bank robbers in California. Their conflict has deadly repercussions for everyone involved, of course, and while the film is a collection of familiar tropes and characters, it goes through its paces well. Our protagonist – you can’t really call him a hero – is Nick Flanagan (Gerard Butler), a hard-drinking officer of the law whose life is falling apart. The unit he heads has been trying to

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Proud Mary

Proud Mary

Directed by: Babak Najafi Starring: Taraji P. Henson, Jahi Di’Allo Winston, Billy Brown, Danny Glover, Margaret Avery Rated: R for violence “Proud Mary” is not for everyone. It’s violent. It includes cruelty toward children. Its protagonists are Mary (Taraji P. Henson) and Danny (Jahi Di’Allo Winston), a Black woman and a Black pre-teen. It draws on Blaxploitation films from the 70s and is very much a big action movie, but it takes itself a bit too seriously. This is a movie that is short on original thinking but that does okay in other departments. The story is pretty familiar: a ruthless organized-crime assassin carries out an execution but discovers the victim had a child. She can’t bring herself to kill the kid (who luckily hadn’t seen her), and she steals a photograph of him on her way out. When she tracks him down a year later, he’s been taken in by a Russian mobster who

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The Shape of Water

The Shape of Water

Ealasaid A. Haas Directed by: Guillermo del Toro Starring: Sally Hawkins, Doug Jones, Octavia Spencer, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Michael Stuhlbarg Rated: R for sexual content, graphic nudity, violence and language Guillermo del Toro’s newest film, “The Shape of Water,” is a cold war fairy-tale that is a mix of familiar and surprising. We know how fairy tales go, how romances work, but here the story is grounded in the flesh, in sex and blood and the electric rush of intimate connection. As with the vast majority of del Toro’s films, this is not a tale for the prudish. It is, however, stunningly beautiful and a fresh, watery take on its story of a strange orphan meeting her fate in an unexpected place. Our protagonist, Elisa (pronounced “Eliza” and played by Sally Hawkins), is mute and lives a simple and routine life. She’s on the cleaning staff at a large scientific lab, working the night

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Murder on the Orient Express

Murder on the Orient Express

Ealasaid A. Haas Directed by: Kenneth Branagh Starring: Lucy Boynton, Kenneth Branagh, Olivia Colman, Penelope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Johnny Depp, Judi Dench, Josh Gad, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Derek Jacobi, Marwan Kenzari, Leslie Odom Jr., Michelle Pfeiffer, Sergei Polunin, Daisy Ridley Rated: PG-13 for violence and thematic elements There’s something comforting about a classic murder mystery or detective novel, and Agatha Christie was one of the structure’s early adherents. Her novels and stories have been read around the world and turned into all manner of other media. Kenneth Branagh’s new adaptation of her novel “Murder on the Orient Express” joins numerous other adaptations bringing this classic to the screen. This version goes all-out: almost every plot-significant character is played by a well-known and gifted actor, and the visuals are stunning. If you like a classic detective story, you are in for a treat. The story revolves around celebrity detective Hercules Poirot (Kenneth Branagh, in a spectacular mustache),

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Thor: Ragnarok

Ealasaid A. Haas Directed by: Taika Waititi Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Tessa Thompson, Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum, Mark Ruffalo Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief suggestive material Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has always been a good-natured, funny guy with strong emotions and a fierce loyalty to his people (both his fellow Asgardians and the various characters who have battled at his side). He’s not always terribly bright, but he does his best. “Thor: Ragnarok” has taken all his best characteristics and dialed them to eleven. The only thing it’s missing is a wall-to-wall 70s/80s metal soundtrack. After the tepid response to “Thor: The Dark World,” Marvel brought in an indie director from New Zealand, Taika Waititi. Waititi takes the story, which mostly centers around Thor and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) trying to get back to Asgard to save it from his evil sister Hela (Cate Blanchett), and dips

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Blade Runner 2049

Blade Runner 2049

Directed by: Starring: Rated: R for violence, some sexuality, nudity and language The shortest possible review of “Blade Runner 2049” is this: everything you loved or hated about 1982’s “Blade Runner” you will probably also love or hate about its new sequel. Both are simultaneously ambiguous and heavy-handed, both are bleak and beautiful, both are meditations on what it means to be human. Neither are popcorn movies, meant to be watched and enjoyed the way you ride and enjoy a roller coaster. They are art, and they know it. In the world of “Blade Runner 2049” replicants are bio-engineered humans who are not considered actually human. Our protagonist, K (Ryan Gosling) is a replicant who works as a blade runner, a police officer who hunts down and “retires” rogue replicants (even if the only “wrong” thing they’re doing is trying to have the same life a regular human might have). Replicants have been upgraded significantly

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Flatliners

Flatliners

Directed by: Nils Arden Oplev Starring: Ellen Page, Diego Luna, Nina Dobrev, Kiersey Clemons, James Norton Rated: PG – 13 for violence and terror, sexual content, language, thematic material, and some drug references There’s a mushy dividing line between horror movies that are bad and horror movies that are so bad they’re good. “Flatliners,” Nils Arden Oplev’s remake of the 1990 Kiefer Sutherland vehicle, wobbles around soggily in that divide, never quite sliding into enjoyably-bad camp but definitely not being actually good. The plot is roughly the same as the original film’s: medical student Courtney (Ellen Page) asks a few comrades to perform an unusual experiment on her: put her in a scanner, stop her heart for two minutes, then start it up again. She wants to medically explore the afterlife. The first experiment is a success, and Courtney returns to life with some new talents – including a borderline-creepy ability to remember things, which

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Kingsman: The Golden Circle

Kingsman: The Golden Circle

Directed by: Matthew Vaughn Starring: Taron Edgerton, Julianne Moore, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Pedro Pascal, Hanna Alström, Halle Berry Rated: R for sequences of strong violence, drug content, language throughout and some sexual material “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” is the second installment in the Kingsman franchise, based on Mark Millar’s comic books. If you are familiar with Millar’s work, you know what you’re getting into before you head to the theater. The new film is a bit more lighthearted than the first, but it still includes people getting fed into meat grinders – and one of them ending up as a burger. Like the first film, it’s intended as a sendup of the spy-thriller genre, but it doesn’t really succeed. Our protagonist, Eggsy (Taron Edgerton), has done pretty well for himself since the events of the first film. He’s a full-fledged Kingsman agent, is living with the princess he hooked up with at the end

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American Assassin

American Assassin

  Directed by: Michael Cuesta Starring: Dylan O’Brien, Charlotte Vega, Michael Keaton, Sanaa Lathan Rated: R (strong violence throughout, some torture, language and brief nudity) There’s something uniquely disappointing about a movie that checks off all the tick-boxes for a decent action-thriller-type film but just doesn’t pull it all together. “American Assassin” is a film in this category. Worse, it doesn’t have enough self-awareness to make it campy and fun. This movie and its characters takes the whole thing very, very seriously. The sole exception is Michael Keaton, but he’s not enough to save this movie. Our protagonist, Mitch (Dylan O’Brien), loses his girlfriend in a terrorist attack and becomes obsessed with infiltrating and executing terrorist cells. The CIA saves him during a mission, then recruits him into a small program where people like him get trained to do that kind of thing professionally. The program is run by Stan Hurley (Keaton), who has seen

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