Jack English/Courtesy Lions Gate
The test of a star is attracting viewers to a bomb, like Tom Cruise in Cocktail (though not, ominously, The Mummy). The test of an actor is making a script fly, even if it’s like a glider made of lead. The Hitman’s Bodyguard is crashworthy in some respects — zero surprises, 100 percent buddy-film cliche, Gary Oldman in a role he could play in his sleep (a Belarus dictator whom hitman Samuel L. Jackson must stop by testifying against him in court), and does.
Yet it’s a fun, diverting flick despite its witless derivativeness. Even gag lines that have no right to live do so, thanks to the infinite charisma of Jackson and the charm of Ryan Reynolds as his bodyguard and former nemesis. “There’s a plethora of mother------s!” is a line that could only sing in Jackson’s mighty mouth. So is “I am harm’s way.” A lot of lines are a little funny, and the fun is seeing genius actors make them overachieve. Reynolds ably plays a repressed neat freak who needs the influence of Jackson’s big, swinging id. Their chemistry makes you wish their arguments — and the script — were equally clever.
The chases through London, Amsterdam and elsewhere are OK. The violence is startling — Oldman blows a little girl’s head off in front of her dad, brains splash picturesquely against shattered windshields, corpses amass faster than a Doom game champ could kill them. Salma Hayek is a little funny as Jackson’s potty-mouthed girlfriend in jail, though her sadism to a fat, farting cellmate isn’t.
But Hayek has the best scenes of all, with Jackson in flashbacks to their courtship in a homicidal bar where everyone riots and lights each other on fire. “When she severed that dude’s carotid artery with a beer bottle, I knew right then,” says Jackson, sentimentally remembering when Cupid’s arrow severed his own carotid. You won’t fall in love with this film, but you might smile.
Also New in Theaters
Lois Smith’s career is white-hot at 86, and she steals Marjorie Prime, the smartest film ever about Alzheimer’s. Smith plays Marjorie, a dementia patient who’s often sharp and ingenious even when her memory plays tricks, who gets help in her final days sifting through reminiscences and sorting out feelings by a “Prime”— an eerily empathic, computer hologram of her late husband, Walter (played by Jon Hamm). Providing the complex family history for virtual reality Walter is Marjorie’s bitter intellectual daughter, Tess (Geena Davis) and jaded son-in-law (Tim Robbins). The real news is Davis, criminally underutilized for 25 years (since Thelma & Louise and A League of Their Own). Davis' Tess is softly articulate, sharp like her mom, alienated from her (offscreen) daughter, angry, and quite scholarly about the neurology of memory and the mystery of human identity. This is a deep dive into the human heart and mind, and the action is all in the acting. FULL REVIEW
Still in Theaters
Jessica Miglio/Columbia Pictures/Everett Collection
The Dark Tower, PG-13
Don’t despair, fans of Stephen King. The long-awaited $60 million film of his Dark Tower series is a critic's piñata and a commercial flop. But there are signs of hope in it nonetheless. Idris Elba, 44, is worth the price of admission as the Sergio Leone-inspired Gunslinger, who hunts the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey, playing a cheerfully homicidal variation on his car-commercial Zen master). The scenes set on the parallel universe Mid-World look cool and packed with references to other Stephen King stories (It, The Shining, etc.).
And significantly, despite an 18 percent Rotten Tomatoes rating, 83 percent of people leaving the movie have said they want to see the Dark Tower TV series, which The Walking Dead showrunner Glen Mazzara tentatively plans to shoot in 2018. The 10- to 13-episode show has a far better chance of adequately accommodating King’s complex, world-hopping, 4,200-plus-page story, with its allusions to T.S. Eliot, Tolkien, Westerns, horror, and scads of other King stories. Sounds impossible. But so did Game of Thrones.
Jake Giles Netter/Lions Gate
The Glass Castle, PG-13
The film and its star Brie Larson do a decent job of capturing the inspiring true story of Jeannette Walls’ rise from a childhood marked by lurid poverty and bizarre parenting to Park Avenue and writerly success (a saga chronicled in her superb mega-bestselling memoir). It could have used less sentimentality, however: Her parents’ stunning selfishness and nomadic madness should have been more heart-chilling, and the ending should have felt more haunted by the aftershock of the film noir horrors that went before. The best part is Woody Harrelson, 56, who plays Walls’ charismatically dazzling, dead-drunk deadbeat dad and makes this astounding tale come alive. FULL REVIEW
Director Kathryn Bigelow’s movie about Detroit’s 1967 race riot is mercilessly gripping, told with artfully crafted documentary-style realism. It’s a masterpiece but a lesser one than her six-Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker (2008) and Zero Dark Thirty (2012). Based on an incident in which cops killed innocent black people trapped by the riot in Detroit’s Algiers Motel, the film is hobbled in part by the fact that the victim characters are based on real people (Algee Smith is terrific as a member of the Motown group the Dramatics) and the cops are fictionalized into caricatures. It’s still worth seeing for wonderful acting and the 65-year-old Bigelow’s icy genius. FULL REVIEW
An Inconvenient Sequel is no An Inconvenient Truth. While, like its predecessor, the documentary begins with the horrors of climate change — Al Gore speaking in front of a slideshow to a rapt audience — it quickly devolves into a ham-handed narrative of Gore as hero. We see him flying from nation to nation to meet with important people in preparation for the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris. The film’s presentation of him as the savior behind the agreement is at best contrived and at worst quite offensive to the thousands of other attendees from 196 countries who worked to forge the deal. The film only briefly touches upon, but neglects to reckon with, an inconvenient possibility: These efforts might all be undone by the next president of the United States. We’re left with a laughably forced ending: The Earth is getting hotter, but you can make a difference, as long as you attend Al Gore’s Climate Reality Leadership Corps training and make sure to #BeInconvenient.
Atomic Blonde is a wild, sordid, violent ride. It’s also a lot of fun – provided you’re a fan of fight scenes and their resultant blood and bruises, which the titular blonde (a top-of-her-game Charlize Theron) both gives and takes with a tenacious swagger. Set in the 10 days before the fall of the Berlin Wall, the film stars Theron as Lorraine, a British special agent sent to Berlin to retrieve a list — code-named “the list” — of every undercover MI6 operative in the city. Adapted from the graphic novel The Coldest City, Atomic Blonde knows it’s ventured into the ridiculous, awash with neon like a bad 1980s music video and full of more crazy plot twists than you can count. But that’s all part of the fun.
Watching Landline is like time traveling back to 1995: wine-toned lipstick, “Must-See TV,” Lorena Bobbitt jokes and, of course, landlines — no cell phones. But the period-perfect details take a back seat to the travails of the family at the center of the film: a mouthy teenager; her big sister, whose relationship with her nerdy fiance is listless and lustless; and a Manhattan adman dad (John Turturro) and his wife (Edie Falco), whose marriage is marked by bitter regret. It’s a familiar dysfunctional-family setup, but the dialogue is smart, and it’s worth the price of admission to watch Falco and Turturro, both masters at their craft. FULL REVIEW
Girls Trip, R
A posse of four college friends (played by Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith and Tiffany Haddish) is headed to the Essence Festival in New Orleans for a rekindling of friendship and some serious partying. Yet one more comedy featuring women behaving badly — the F-bombs fly in the first minutes — the comedy is disappointing despite an all-star cast and a standout performance by Haddish. FULL REVIEW
Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk may be the best World War II epic in years. Based on the May 1940 evacuation of almost 400,000 Allied soldiers trapped by the enemy on France’s Dunkirk beach, the film manages to make the soldiers’ sitting-duck tension palpable without the typical Hollywood heartstring-fiddling. Mark Rylance plays a civilian boat captain with appropriate stiff-upper-lipped resolve, and Cillian Murphy is convincing as the shell-shocked shipwreck survivor he picks up. FULL REVIEW
Okja is a chaotic but dazzling mash-up of genres, styles and moods from the electrifying director Bong Joon-ho. On a South Korean mountain, a 13-year-old orphan girl (Ahn Seo-hyun) is raising her beloved 13-foot-long superpig, Okja. But Okja was designed to be delicious by her genetic engineer creators, wicked twins (both played by Tilda Swinton, having great fun with the roles). They kidnap the animal and set off a brilliant zigzag chase that turns dark as the girl and her supporters rush to save the pet from a U.S. slaughterhouse. (Note: Okja is available on Netflix, but it’s worth seeing on a big screen if you can.)
Baby Driver, R
Baby Driver delivers one of the best opening scenes in recent memory, throwing the audience into the rush of a car chase and keeping the pedal to the metal until the credits roll. As the titular Baby (yes, that’s his name), Ansel Elgort offers a perfect mix of sensitivity and bravado, while Kevin Spacey, Jon Hamm and Jamie Foxx are outrageously entertaining in support roles. Edgar Wright’s direction is masterful, with much of the action synced to the beats of a stellar soundtrack. Even if you’re not usually into movies featuring high-speed car chases and gratuitous violence — and Baby Driver has plenty of both — you’ll want to give this one a shot.
Spider-Man: Homecoming, PG-13
This is the best Spidey movie since 2004’s Spider-Man 2. That’s in part thanks to new star Tom Holland, who — despite having been 20 during filming — makes a far more believable 15-year-old webslinger than his predecessors. This Spidey knows he’s overeager and under-experienced, and respects his elders, including Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and his nemesis the Vulture (Michael Keaton). Not jaded or cynical, it’s simply a fresh and fun summer film. FULL REVIEW
The Big Sick, R
The Big Sick is so funny and so heartfelt it leaves the audience delighted, while expertly examining romance, relationships and the importance of family from a prescient, timely angle. Based on the true love story of screenwriter and star Kumail Nanjiani and his wife, Emily V. Gordon (who cowrote the script), it features top-notch performances from Ray Romano and Holly Hunter, and is packed with hilarious jokes even in its tensest moments. Watching this film is a downright joyous experience — provided you don’t mind a few F-words.
The Beguiled, R
Sofia Coppola’s female-centric Civil War tale The Beguiled, about a Union soldier forced to take refuge in a Southern women’s boarding school, made her the second woman in history to win Best Director at Cannes. It could earn her a second Oscar and star Nicole Kidman, 50, her second win and fifth Oscar nomination. It’s the most beguiling art film of the summer — fraught with lust, rage and fear — and Coppola’s second-best movie, after Lost in Translation. FULL REVIEW
“We’re like an odd pair of socks,” Ethan Hawke’s Everett says to his wife, Sally Hawkins’ Maud, who’s based on the real-life Canadian folk artist Maud Lewis. And odd they are, living a humble life in a two-room house in Nova Scotia, as the crabby Everett peddles fish and Maud sells her colorful paintings from her front stoop. There’s not much in the way of plot, but the film’s simple beauty, gorgeous scenery, and marvelous acting by Hawkins and Hawke make this one to see — and one to watch for during awards season.
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