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Movie Reviews
Personal Shopper

Personal Shopper

Genre: Drama/Mystery/Thriller
Starring: Kristen Stewart
Rating: R
for some language, sexuality, nudity and a bloody violent image.
Grade: B-/B
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert & Lynn Venhaus
The Plot:
Maureen Cartwright (Kristen Stewart) is an American in Paris. By day she is a personal shopper for a wealthy business woman in the fashion world. By night, she waits. Sleeping in the house in which her twin brother died, she awaits a sign showing there is life after death. Both Maureen and her brother are/were amateur mediums and as both have a hereditary heart condition that dampens long-term outlooks, it also brings them closer to the other side.
As Maureen works and waits, she discovers that life can be more frightening than death and that death is merely a doorway into more mystery.

Kent’s Take:
“Personal Shopper” is the second teaming of director Olivier Assayas and actress Kristen Stewart. Their first project “Clouds of Sils Maria” won critical acclaim and Stewart the French equivalent of the Oscar.
This film finds Maureen spending evenings in the empty house her brother owned, waiting for her sign, some message, proof. Maureen is searching for meaning in her life as well as the afterlife and is struggling with both. She is experiencing ominous creaks, faucets turning on, doors opening, etc. but nothing unequivocal – she pleads to the air, to Lewis to give her more. Her job gives her more frustration than satisfaction, keeping Maureen separated from high society and at arms length from her employer’s luxurious life.
Assayas is very particular in making sure this film does not fall squarely into any genre. Opening as a quiet ghost story with Maureen creeping through a darkened, empty house calling out for her dead brother, unnerves and sets a strong tone. Soon, we experience her day job flitting through high end designer studios barking orders, gathering looks and styles for her employer, yet she struggles with her feelings.
The sparse story focuses on Maureen only, as others dart in and out of her life, each keeping their distance, each moving on to continue their life – everyone but her.
Her heart problem is also a perfect setup. Why look at a future that may never come, why not enjoy life while you have it? Yet, Maureen is not happy, she searches for meaning to the loss of her brother and to her condition, but as in life, questions are easy to find, answers are elusive.
This tense, imbalanced film is indeed memorable. Its European sensibilities find Maureen in a “holding pattern” – frustrating for her, and for viewers, too. As tension slowly builds for viewers – an anonymous texter begins drawing out answers for questions she refuses to ask herself. Weaving this tense section into the story vaults us into another genre, the thriller, but it also interrupts both the rhythm of the story and the momentum.
Kristen Stewart is wonderful as a woman skating a razor’s edge between life and death, love and hate and this world and the next. Her Maureen struggles to find answers to questions she won’t ask and as she begins to answer them, she becomes a stronger person and medium.
“Personal Shopper” is a duck-billed platypus of sorts. This genre-less story will elicit various emotional reactions to a winding narrative of loss, style, wealth and death, but the various facets of this story never get proper resolution, leaving audiences with more questions than resolution.

Lynn’s Take:
A fascinating and ultimately frustrating ghost story, the psychological terror is what hooks viewers initially.
As sly, subtle director Olivier Assayas reveals more plot layers, other sinister elements are present. His use of shadows and sound to frighten are impressive.
This is the second Assayas film starring Kristen Stewart, after she won the Cesar, the French equivalent of an Oscar, for “The Clouds of Sils Maria,” and they clearly spark creatively.
In her smart arthouse choices, she has shown better skills than indicated in any “Twilight” film. She is mesmerizing as a grieving woman on a mission.
The supernatural aspect is unsettling, and the tension is palpable. But the inconsistent tone and pacing is nerve-wracking, too, because the movie suffers from being too laid-back.
One must read more into it, connect the dots, and then figure out what really happened. If you don’t mind doing the heavy-lifting, then “Personal Shopper” is intriguing. But if that is too demanding, then it won’t satisfy.
But Stewart’s complex, riveting performance is the highlight. She commands attention in every scene, whether breaking the rules, trying on her boss’s designer dresses, or in danger from a creepy unknown force.
Land of Mine
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Land of Mine

Genre: Drama/Military
Starring: Louis Hofmann, Emil Belton, Oskar Belton
Rating: R
for violence, some grisly images and languages. In German with English subtitles.
Grade: A
Reviewer: Lynn Venhaus
The Plot:
After World War II, young German POWs were forced to sweep land mines on the Denmark shore.
These soldiers were drafted into the Volkssturm national militia because of the shortage of older guys. During the five-year occupation, Nazis planted up to two million mines, preparing for an Allied Invasion there.
This Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Film depicts a unit of teenage boys dismantling them, as fear of death and dismemberment looms.
The lads endure cruel treatment, but their innocence softens the unsympathetic supervisor, who eventually sees them as scared little boys that just want to go home.

LYNN’s Take:
Powerful but grim, “Land of Mine” emphasizes that casualties of war don’t end after surrender.
Writer-director Martin Zandvliet’s unsentimental portrait stresses the humanity, spotlighting certain characters and turning up the tension.
At first, it’s hard to tell these blonde boys apart, but we learn more about dutiful Sebastian (impressive Louis Hofmann), wholesome twins Ernst and Werner (memorable Emil and Oskar Belton), hot-headed Helmut (solid Joel Basman) and the others. A steely Roland Moller stands out as the tough sarge Carl.
Riveting and haunting, based on horrific historical events, this movie lingers long after the credits roll.

Beauty and the Beast
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Beauty and the Beast

Genre: Fantasy/Musical/Romance
Starring: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gad
Rating: PG
for some action violence, peril and frightening images.
Grade: B+
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert
The Plot:
Beautiful Belle (Emma Watson) is a catch in her small village. When her father goes missing after a nasty storm, Belle searches the nearby forest finding him imprisoned at a dark castle by a mysterious “Beast”(Dan Stevens).
To rescue him, Belle agrees to take his place as a prisoner of the Beast, but soon finds allies in the castle’s adorable animated items. As Belle discovers the curse that has befallen the Beast and his staff, she begins to warm toward him.
But love itself is an elusive beast. Time is running out for this duo as the Beauty and the Beast find that their love may have limits.

Kent’s Take:
“Beauty and the Beast” is the next live action feature from Walt Disney studios.
Belle is the catch of her small village, but all of the eligible bachelors are self-absorbed – especially the aggressive Gaston.
Walt Disney has done a masterful job of realizing their animated features as live-action adventures. “Beauty and the Beast” is no different. Opening as a playful musical, this beautiful film slowly takes a darker turn as the menacing Beast bares his teeth.
Most audiences know the story of Beauty and the Beast, but this live-action version is enhanced by two performances. Luke Evans’ Gaston is funny in his self-absorbtion, vapid in his wooing of Belle and perfectly menacing as the villain. And Dan Stevens as Prince/Beast uses his furry facial expressions to deftly transition from Belle’s captor to a captive of her love.
Viewers will also enjoy the lovable animated items while Josh Gad’s Le Fou steals the film as Gaston’s unrequited sidekick.
The music is rousing and will have audiences humming along as our favorite characters belt-out memorable stanzas of our favorite tunes.
For a romance, there is much to keep children captivated as well, including the humor, goofiness, music and dancing. The story and sets still ring true as a fantasy, delivering a slightly cartoony feel to soften the edge of a darkening plot.
“Beauty and the Beast” offers an emotional retelling of one of Disney’s most beloved romances. With laughter, fear and affection mixing to create an intoxicating draught, this tale of love, loss and lyrics will spellbind audiences.
Kong: Skull Island
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Kong: Skull Island

Genre: Action/Adventure/Fantasy
Starring: John Goodman, Samuel L. Jackson, Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, John C. Reilly
Rating: PG-13
for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for brief strong language.
Grade: C+
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert
The Plot:
The Vietnam war has finally ended and the U.S. is shipping out of Southeast Asia. However, adventurer Bill Randa (John Goodman) enlists military and civilian personnel to visit the uncharted Skull Island – a land mass surrounded in constant storms – and mystery.
Lead by Colonel Packer (Samuel L. Jackson) and guided by British operative James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), these two men enter the storms and exit to find a breathtaking landscape that time has forgotten.
What they also find is danger, death and the king of Skull Island – Kong.

Kent’s Take:
“Kong: Skull Island” is the eighth feature-length film starring King Kong. Averaging one new King Kong film a decade isn’t so bad. In the latest version, viewers never leave Skull Island, humans never return to civilization with the beast and are simply satisfied with escape and survival.
Set in 1973, this transnational period finds the Civil Rights movement in full swing, the hippie era is faltering and the fire storm that is Vietnam has officially ended, but not in the hearts and minds of most Americans.
Once stranded on Skull Island, each character is polarized into one of two camps. The peace-loving, thoughtful civilians/scientists or the diabolical, uncaring military. Unfortunately, these predictable, heavy-handed themes become the 800-ton ape in the room as themes of academia vs. government, man vs. man, man vs. nature and good vs. evil ricochet throughout this narrative.
Looking at this film as pure action/adventure finds plenty for less discerning audiences in which to cheer. The action is plentiful and well choreographed. Kong is nicely rendered and exhibits enough instinct to create fear, but is balanced with human traits, allowing audiences to root for him. The cinematography is memorable and the creatures are interesting.
However, the dialogue is stilted and the roles are simply caricatures (the comic smart-alec, the seasoned vet, the hunk with a heart of gold, etc.) that we have seen in countless other films.
As the evil military leader, hell-bent in revenge endangers the party, one must wonder if audiences are going to ask for more subtlety than an overly preachy story of “military revenge-seekers, the bad guys; peace-loving anti-war, anti-establishment, the good guys?” Better marrying those concepts into the Vietnam era would have softened the rough edges, making this a story of social vs. political endeavors. It would also create a memorable story better reflecting the times, the aspirations, and hope (or lack thereof), offering us a Kong-sized adventure set in one of our most interesting eras. Instead, “Kong: Skull Island” transforms from a tense “Heart of Darkness” into a disappointing viewmaster folio.
Logan
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Logan

Genre: Action/Drama/Sci-fi
Starring: Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Dafne Keen, Daniel BernHardt
Rating: R
for disturbing violent content and images, sexual content including an assault, graphic nudity, and language.
Grade: C-
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert
The Plot:
It is 2029, there have been no mutants born in 25 years. Charles Xavier/Professor X’s (Patrick Stewart) dream of mutants and humans coexisting to form a stronger society has failed.
Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) quietly works as a limo driver, buying alcohol for himself and anti-seizure medication for Xavier.
When a desperate woman and an adolescent girl approach Logan asking him to help protect them from Transigen Reavers who are hunting them – he refuses. But he is soon dragged into the fray when he discovers the little girl Laura (Dafne Keen) has his mutation.
As Reaver Bone Breaker (Daniel Bernhardt) relentlessly pursues Wolverine and his charges, they move toward a final showdown that will both define the X-Men and determine the future of the remaining mutants.

Kent’s Take:
“Logan” is the final Wolverine movie with Hugh Jackman as the iconic mutant. The once heroic X-Men are aging or dead. Professor X is feeble and suffers from seizures that paralyze anyone within its growing parameters, and Wolverine is dying from within. He limps, he is an alcoholic and his humanity has almost fully left him. His antagonistic relationship with Professor X is not endearing, but disturbing and sad.
This is not your fun-filled action-adventure that the Avengers have made so popular in recent years. This is a truly dark, depressing narrative about “race” and “nature vs. nurture.”
Humanity refused to embrace mutants, shunning them, while mutants looked to dominate humanity instead of coexisting with us. These decisions placed the two species on a collision course through nine X-Men films – we finally witness those repercussions in this film.
Director James Mangold has tried to make this gritty tale a cautionary one. The brutality and violence in this film are eye-opening as both Laura and Wolverine present no-holds-barred savagery when attacked. Everything has been taken from Logan, while Laura has been deprived of everything.
The themes of lost humanity and the decline of a species are reminiscent of the sci-fi classic “Children of Men.” However, in “Logan” the story doesn’t act as a springboard for these themes, it swallows them up in the violence and hate.
The main cast gives strong performances, notably Jackman and Stewart who bring perfection to their closing acts. However, villains, Dr. Zander Rice (Richard E. Grant) and his head of security Reaver Bone Breaker are uninspired characters weakening a potentially strong narrative. All this violence could have been used to set up a poignant conclusion with undertones of racial inequality and hope, as Wolverine finally regains a momentary shred of humanity.
Unfortunately, Mangold misses his mark due to Logan’s relationship with his daughter. By the time he stops shunning her, yelling obscenities at and around her, viewers have already lost their love for this feral beast-of-a-man. The climax leaves Laura (and us) with negative memories of her father, no adult or parent and no guidance with her brutal mutant ability and its associated anger. She is built to kill, but she is never taught that she can be much more than just a killer – a missed opportunity to build in hope for a wanton audience.
“Logan” is a fascinating perspective of missed opportunities, within the film – by its characters and outside the film – by its writers and director, leaving audiences with both a taste of blood and regret.
Get Out
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Get Out

Genre: Horror
Starring: Allison Williams, Daniel Kaluuya, Bradley White, Catherine Keener, Lil Rel Howery
Rating: R
for violence, bloody images, and language including sexual references.
Grade: A
Reviewer: Lynn Venhaus
The Plot:
Rose (Allison Williams) takes her African-American boyfriend Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) home to meet her parents. Dad (Bradley Whitford) is a neurosurgeon and mom (Catherine Keener) is a psychiatrist – and she insists they are not racist.
But once at their remote estate, Chris begins to suspect something is not quite right. The weekend starts out awkward and fear escalates as he meets more family and friends.
His best friend Rod (Lil Rel Howery) urges him to “Get out!,” which is easier said than done.

LYNN’s Take:
A refreshingly smart and well-constructed horror film from first-time director Jordan Peele, “Get Out” blends classic elements with modern situations.
Think “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” meets “The Stepford Wives,” with a touch of “Rosemary’s Baby.” Creating unease by using aspects of longstanding racial issues makes it relatable and contemporary.
While performers are believable, Lil Rel Howery steals the show as Chris’ pal who takes his TSA job very seriously.
Peele, who is half of the popular comedy duo Key & Peele, displays a real knack for storytelling. He injects humor deftly while smoothly building suspense. Developments are a natural progression and not far-fetched, keeping us riveted.


Table 19
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Table 19

Genre: Comedy
Starring: Anna Kenrick, Wyatt Russell, Thomas Cocquerel
Rating: PG-13
for thematic elements, sexual content, drug use, language and some brief nudity.
Grade: C
Reviewer: Lynn Venhaus
The Plot:
Ex-Maid of Honor Eloise (Anna Kendrick) is exiled to a random guest table at her best friend’s reception because she broke up with the bride’s brother Teddy (Wyatt Russell). The guests bond by getting involved in her shaky emotional state.

LYNN’s Take:
With a cast of deft comic actors and the pedigree of screenwriters Mark and Jay Duplass behind this innocuous romantic comedy, “Table 19” underachieves. It’s a bland story that lacks bite. Laughs are sparse and tone is wildly uneven, as we veer from sweet to sour and sad to silly.
Oh, it has its moments and catchy ‘80s tunes. Anna Kendrick is likable enough as the sympathetic jilted girlfriend, but her chemistry with a random encounter (Thomas Cocquerel as Huck) is superior to scruffy ex-beau Teddy, a miscast Wyatt Russell (Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell’s son).
Misused guests include Lisa Kudrow and Craig Robinson as bickering diner owners, Tony Revolori as a hormones-raging teenager, June Squibb as the bride’s nanny, and Stephen Merchant as a socially awkward relative.
Wedding experiences are usually a comedic gold mine, as other movies have proved. This turned out like a squished piece of leftover cake.
A Cure For Wellness
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A Cure For Wellness

Genre: Animation/Action/Comedy
Starring: Dane DeHaan, Jason Isaacs
Rating: R
for disturbing violent content and images, sexual content including an assault, graphic nudity, and language.
Grade: C-
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert
The Plot:
Corporate slave Lockhart (Dane DeHaan) is sent by his crass superiors to retrieve their company C.E.O. from a remote wellness center in Switzerland.
Initially, this relaxing spa seems wonderful and inviting, but soon Lockhart begins suspecting that something nefarious is going on.
The More he tries to gather his charge and flee, the deeper he falls into submission.
As Lockhart unravels the mystery behind his “wellness” the clock starts ticking to his demise.

Kent’s Take:
“A Cure For Wellness” will be compared to “Shutter Island” simply for its narrative of subtle imprisonment, but also for its well-travelled story path.
Lockhart is an unlikeable corporate wonk willing to use any means to reach the top. When his equally dishonest bosses cajole him into retrieving their C.E.O. in order to use him as a scapegoat for an upcoming merger, Lockhart sees a promotion in his near future. As he arrives at the spa, a mystery begins to unfold for Lockhart. Unfortunately, this mystery is shaky and poorly defined.
The clues that are set-up are not fully used, nor are they defined enough to propel the mystery. Eels are used as a creepy threat, a therapy device and symbolism for the elusive “cure” that all spa guests seek, however, they really serve little purpose as this disjointed, confusing story unfolds. The devices that director Gore Verbinski uses to create twists in the film are either predictable or add to the plot confusion.
That said, there are some bright moments in this film. The acting is very good with Dane DeHaan and Jason Isaacs (as Dr. Volmer) elevating this stinker making it more palatable. In addition, the production design is really nice with an inviting spa grounds, old fort-like exteriors and memorable interiors that absolutely offer us a spa setting but with a very creepy undertone.
Where this film really stumbles is in making every character unlikeable. Viewers don’t care about the two sympathetic characters – Lockhart and the odd adolescent Hannah (Mia Goth), so their struggles to survive fall on indifferent eyes and ears.
Add uncomfortable and unnecessary sexual situations and gratuitous nudity and this creepy film becomes the wrong kind of creepy during the climax (no pun intended).
“A Cure For Wellness” certainly won’t cure viewers’ longing for a good film as Gore Verbinski fails to administer a proper therapy for entertainment.
Toni Erdmann
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Toni Erdmann

Genre: Comedy
Starring: Peter Simonischek, Sandra Huller
Rating: R
for srong sexual content, graphic nudity, language and brief drug use.
Grade: C
Reviewer: Lynn Venhaus
The Plot:
An estranged dad tries to connect to his workaholic daughter in a bizarre way – through practical jokes, strange disguises and fake personas. The bumpy relationship goes through a few peaks and valleys in a very long movie (2 hrs. 42 min.).

LYNN’s Take:
Frontrunner for Best Foreign Film Oscar, “Toni Erdmann” is an oddball character study that takes awhile to set up and even longer to say something and reach a conclusion.
Peter Simonischek is quirky as a retired music teacher who disrupts his daughter’s corporate ladder climb. Ines (Sandra Huller) is a tightly wound, stressed-out young woman trying to manage an unfulfilling job and personal life. Why so serious?
Enter dad, in deformed teeth and bad wig, creating identities like “Toni Erdmann,” a life coach in Bucharest to attend a funeral for a friend’s turtle.
Dad pulls pranks, Ines is frustrated, and their friction escalates. Will she ever lighten up? Will her father only show up at inopportune times?
What happens to tenuous personal relationships when spontaneity interrupts responsibility is a theme. This film, directed and written by Maren Ade, is certainly original. And has some genuine heartfelt moments.
But its meandering plot veers into jaw-dropping, peculiar territory. You are warned.
The Lego Batman Movie
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The Lego Batman Movie

Genre: Animation/Action/Comedy
Starring: Will Arnett, Zack Galifianakis, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Cera
Rating: PG
for rude humor and some action.
Grade: A-
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert
The Plot:
Gotham vigilante Batman (Will Arnett), continues to fight crime in his own unique way – kicking butt, waving to the adoring citizens, then returning to his lonely, empty batcave.
When the Joker (Zack Galifianakis) begins another villainous plot against Gotham, he discovers that Batman doesn’t see him as his arch-enemy – crushing him emotionally and setting in motion an even more devious plot.
As Batman’s butler Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) tries to get the capped crusader to begin opening his heart to trust those around him, Batman’s adopted son Dick Grayson (Michael Cera) begins to open his “Padre’s” eyes with his innocence and acrobatic skills.
When the Joker’s nefarious plan tears the city apart, Batman must choose to trust his friends or watch his city crumble.

Kent’s Take:
“The Lego Batman Movie” follows the same formula as its predecessor – lovable characters thrown into a ridiculously entertaining and visually pleasing plot – plenty of laughs ensue.
Batman (and his raspy voice) keep Gotham safe from the likes of The Joker, Harley Quinn (Jenny Slate) and Poison Ivy. But Batman has a bigger problem – himself.
When Police Commissioner Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) tries to work with Batman, he shuns her help and sets off with his light-hearted sidekick, Robin on an ill-conceived plan.
This jaded film critic doesn’t often get the chance to simply enjoy a cinematic ride – “The Lego Batman Movie” is one of these films. Is it the perfect film? Of course not, but boy, is this an enjoyable lark.
Both poking fun at the previous Batman films and television series, while also giving homage to them, the witty writing keeps the plot moving at a fast clip while driving home strong themes of love and family. The strength is in the details. From inside Batman jokes, hilarious villain and hero personality quirks to some giggle-inducing goofiness such as Robin’s costume and his method of changing into it – are all innocent and innovative (just like Legos).
This film also has plenty for kids as well. The children in the theater were quiet and attentive showing a story with offerings for both youngsters and adults.
The “Lego” animation is bright, playful and alludes to the stop-motion animation of old. As the climax looms, villains from all over the fantasy world surface to add to the peril, making the ridiculousness even funnier.
“The Lego Batman Movie” has struck gold with a fast-paced, thoughtful comedy of heroic proportions.
John Wick: Chapter 2
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John Wick: Chapter 2

Genre: Action/Crime/Thriller
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Riccardo Scarmarcio, Claudia Gerini
Rating: R
for strong violence throughout, some language and brief nudity.
Grade: B+
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert
The Plot:
Continuing where his last story ended, assassin John Wick (Keanu Reeves) completes the retribution for his wife’s death. That evening, Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) calls in Wick’s marker – forcing him out of retirement.
Tasked with killing Santino’s sister Gianna (Claudia Gerini), an old friend of Wicks, not only ignites a deadly game of cat and mouse with Gianna’s bodyguard Cassian (Common), but turns the international assassin community on its head.

Kent’s Take:
“John Wick: Chapter 2” is a typical action film setup. Bad-ass hero is wronged . . . he makes things oh so right. But this journey is certainly not a run-of-the-mill execution.
Wick’s legend forces those around him to mind their “Ps & Qs.” As he is reluctantly brought back into the “craft,” viewers are also brought into the secret world of assassins. A world of elegance, precision, specific rules, wealth and most definitely, death.
This film does require the proper mind set. A suspension of reality is required as audiences learn that assassins lurk around every corner, many, of which, prefer hand-to-hand combat over weapons and no one, I mean, no one takes head shots at our hero (yet he can).
Now that we are in the proper state for this death match, this non-stop action-fest gouts as much entertainment as blood, pulsing from one wicked kill to the next.
As Reeve’s Wick continues to be shot in his Kevlar-lined suit, stabbed, punched, kicked, thrown down stairs and hit multiple times by speeding vehicles, he manages to meticulously and relentlessly set matters straight – vengeance has no depth.
Themes of “David vs. Goliath” and the “Good guy always wins” ricochet throughout this story, finally embedding in our laps as a fully realized action adventure. We care about the stoic, measured Wick as self-serving powers move to use him as a pawn and target. Violence is often frowned upon as the violence in our society grows, but this film adds just enough over-the-top posturing to separate this story from reality.
“John Wick: Chapter 2” is a stylish, unapologetic draw-down shoot-’em-up with more head-shots than a high school yearbook.
The Salesman
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The Salesman

Genre: Drama/Thriller
Starring: Shahab Hosseini, Taraneh Alidoosti
Rating: Not Rated
In Persian with English subtitles.
Grade: A
Reviewer: Lynn Venhaus
The Plot:
A young married Iranian couple must abruptly move. In their new place in Tehran, some of the previous tenant’s stuff remains, and an incident causes friction. Feelings of guilt, anger and fear surface, unsettling both husband and wife.
Also, they are acting together in an amateur production of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman.” The references are no accident.

Lynn’s Take:
A psychological drama with a doozy of a suspenseful climax, “The Salesman” is an example of director Asghar Farhadi’s sharp observational skills.
Oscar winner for “A Separation,” he is nominated in the Foreign Language Film category for this effort.
The acting is first-rate, with Shahab Hosseini strong as the husband Emad. He struggles with his protector role as his wife grows distant. Taraneh Alidoosti is superb grappling with conflicting emotions, which frustrates her husband.
The universal complexities of a relationship veering into trouble are deftly handled in a natural way. Farhadi prefers realism over dramatic hissy fits.
In a standout breakthrough performance, Babak Karimi gives one the willies as an unassuming and uninvited presence.
What happens when your ordinary life takes a turn into the twilight zone?
Fifty Shades Darker
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Fifty Shades Darker

Genre: Drama/Romance
Starring: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan
Rating: R
for strong erotic sexual content, some graphic nudity, and language.
Grade: C+
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert
The Plot:
Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) and Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) are no longer an item. Steele begins working for a small publishing house while Grey continues his acquisitions.
However, it’s not long until Christian approaches Anna asking to “renegotiate” the terms of their relationship. Anna is wary of Christian’s needs since she saw a side of him with which she was uncomfortable.
Promising that she is more important than any of his peculiarities, she agrees to start seeing him again, but they must take it slowly and be honest with one another.
As Anna pushes Christian to open up about his troubled childhood, his past continues to throw hurdles in front of their relationship – but Anna’s love and Christian’s growing commitment always seem to overcome.
When tragedy strikes Anna and Christian, both lovers realize what the other means to them, but can Christian’s past ever truly release him?

Kent’s Take:
“Fifty Shades Darker” is the next adaptation of the E.L. James bestselling novel of the same name.
Anna and Christian have gone their separate ways, or rather Anna has. As he tries to “renegotiate “ their arrangement, Anna throws out the formality, replacing their contract with ”no rules, no strings.” He agrees.
Where “Fifty Shades of Grey” used a playful nature and Anna’s innocence to balance the narrative, “Fifty Shades Darker” has a distinctly darker tone. Delving into Grey’s abusive childhood, viewers are given an explanation as to how this intelligent, well groomed man could have such different needs in the bedroom.
The sex (and there’s quite a bit) is more intense. Unfortunately, although titillating, the sex is over done. They could have either begun by alluding to the sexual encounter and slowly build the intensity and graphic nature to show a building of their trust in one another (my thoughts) or they could have started intensely and slowly backed off with the graphic images as their relationship transitioned from lust to love (my wife’s thought). Either option could have worked better than a periodic string of intense sexual encounters that really add little to the plot.
That said, one must commend Niall Leonard (and E.L. James) for making the distinction between love and lust. Using everyday struggles (career) and some nice fantasy (boating on a multi-million dollar yacht) builds a connection with the characters and their blossoming relationship.
In addition, when they finally commit to one another, Christian commits to Anna first, an important distinction to the story and their relationship.
It’s difficult to evaluate the chemistry between Johnson and Dornan since their characters are supposed to be struggling with one another. Johnson plays a nice “girl next door” and Dornan a passable playboy with passions, but together they become more than their individual characters.
“Fifty Shades Darker” will thrill fans of the book series. For those who are looking for a spicy “soft-core” romance on the big screen, this hits its target dead center. But for those looking for a memorable, meaningful story, this light, sexy romance will not satisfy.
I Am Not Your Negro
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I Am Not Your Negro

Genre: Documentary
Rating: PG-13
for disturbing violent images, thematic material, language and brief nudity.
Grade: B+ (Kent)/A (Lynn)
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert & Lynn Venhaus
The Plot:
Essayist, novelist, poet and social critic James Baldwin sent a 30-page treatment to his publicist for his next novel “Remember This House.” It was to be about his friends Medger Evers, Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but Baldwin died before he started the book. Director Raoul Peck recreates what he thinks that book would have outlined in the documentary “I Am Not Your Negro.”

Kent’s Take:
James Baldwin was an intelligent, reasoning man – prone to introspection rather than aggression. Educated and influenced by his teacher at a young age, Baldwin gained his initial impression of his place in society from Hollywood films through their portrayal of blacks. As he matured so did his understanding of his situation – his country, our country, had no place for him.
Baldwin’s essays quickly brought him notoriety and soon he was moving in circles with Malcolm X, being asked to write articles on his experiences with the Civil Rights Movement. The insightful perspective of his writings allowed him to engage in racial discussions with whites, making him a perfect representative for the Civil Rights Movement.
Using archival footage, director Raoul Peck tries to use Baldwin’s own words to describe, the problems and the perspective that Baldwin experienced during one of the most tumultuous times in our nation’s history.
This is a thoughtful and intellectual film. Baldwin and his fellow black academics (such as Lorraine Hansberry) looked deeply into the race problem, the various perspectives, and they analyzed various solutions, violent and non-violent. Baldwin’s thoughts on Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. and Medgar Evers are an insider’s view and help flesh out a more full picture of these civil rights icons.
Is this a documentary of James Baldwin or the Civil Rights Movement? Obviously, it is both, for Baldwin is forever linked to the movement through his insider essays and lectures.
Where this documentary loses its footing is in its organization and commitment to its author. While Peck worked hard to flesh out this film using Baldwin’s own words, there just wasn’t enough cohesion to keep the story consistent. Viewers may become a bit complacent watching this, simply because the theme of inequality is not driven home succinctly and clearly. When comparing this to “13th,” another fascinating documentary on race in America, we find “I Am Not Your Negro” to be less clear, concise and defined. Where “I Am Not Your Negro” is as much an essay on Baldwin as it is on race, “13th” ignites a compassion for the inequality that African Americans have continued to experience.
“I Am Not Your Negro” is a worthy documentary/biography about an academic during a time of action who helped define the Civil Rights Movement. And in so doing, defined the sad state of race in America.

LYNN’s Take:
Winner of the St. Louis Film Critics Association’s best documentary and Oscar-nominated for best documentary feature this year, “I Am Not Your Negro” is an insightful look at race in America through historical footage and pop culture.
What separates this film from countless documentaries addressing racial division is director Raoul Peck’s usage of acclaimed novelist James Baldwin’s words.
​Passages from his ​unfinished book, “Remember This House,” ​are​ narrated by Samuel L. Jackson in a thoughtful tone. Baldwin’s perspective in 1979 remains a powerful reflection of the 1960s civil rights era and prejudice.
Baldwin knew assassinated civil rights leaders Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Medgar Evers, and his personal knowledge adds poignancy to their efforts and reminds us how devastating their loss was.
Sometimes harsh and angry, the storytelling is hard-hitting. Baldwin’s dynamic way with words, his sharp observations, and his ability to intelligently address bigotry helps this film make its crucial points.
This documentary is one that should spark much needed discussion and possibly be a bridge to further understanding.
Peck took six years to put this film together, and his research is meticulous. You get a sense of urgency in his message.
This is one film that we won’t or can’t forget.
Gold
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Gold

Genre: Adventure/Drama
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Edgar Ramirez
Rating: R
for language throughout and some sexuality/ nudity
Grade: C+
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert
The Plot:
After the death of his father, Kenny Wells (Matthew McConaughey) takes over the Washoe Mining Company – and slowly watches it decline into a shadow of what it once was. With nothing but hope holding his company together, he gambles his final few bucks on flying to Indonesia to meet and form a partnership with Michael Acosta (Edgar Ramirez) a prospector with a theory on where the Indonesian gold is located.
Together they prospect deep in the Indonesian jungle, where, after weeks and weeks of no gold, they finally strike gold – and strike it big. Finding one of the largest gold deposits ever found, Kenny and Mike go from zeros to heroes as everyone from Kenny’s lawncare guy up to Wall Street investment firms scramble to get a piece of Washoe Mining stock. Yet, Kenny is reluctant to sell what he and Mike have built with pure sweat and blood as investors try to replace the Washoe name with their own.
As Kenny and Mike begin to lose control of the situation, they must remember that what is as important to a prospector as the gold, is the hunt for this elusive element.

Kent’s Take:
“Gold” is based upon the true story of Kenny Wells and Mike Acosta as they prospect for gold and investors.
Kenny is loud and brash coming across as a used car salesman. Mike is reserved and holds hidden knowledge in his even stare. Yet both are fueled by dreams of gold, dreams of success.
This uneven film struggles with consistency. The introduction and set-up of the story takes almost the entire first act of the film, leading to a jumbled second act as poorly defined investors lead us to the turning point of the film.
As the final act builds momentum, viewers are subjected to several false endings. Moments that cause us to stumble on the continuing story as we are thrown off balance.
Although the story meanders, it at least wanders in the right direction while the themes are strong enough and defined well enough that the narrative becomes more focused at the film’s conclusion.
The performances are adequate, giving us distinct characters, yet, not good enough to propel this story at a stronger pace.
“Gold” is a sauntering tale of two prospectors who dream like professionals, but prospect like gamblers. As their fortunes are gained and lost, they discover the two things that shine brighter than gold – love and friendship.
Julieta
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Julieta

Genre: Drama/Romance
Starring: Emma Suarez, Priscilla Delgado, Blanca Pares, Daniel Grao
Rating: R
for some sexuality/nudity. In Spanish with subtitles.
Grade: B
Reviewer: Lynn Venhaus
The Plot:
Grief drove a wedge between Julieta (Emma Suarez) and her daughter, Antia (Priscilla Delgado/Blanca Pares), as they dealt with the loss of Xoan (Daniel Grao), Julieta’s husband and Antia’s father. When Antia is 18, she abandons her mother, without a word of explanation. As Julieta searches for her, 25 years later, she finds out how little she knows about her daughter.

Lynn’s Take:
Acclaimed Spanish Director Pedro Almodovar, Oscar winner for the “Talk to Her” screenplay, has a way with women. His movies have focused on interesting, complex, strong women, and “Julieta” is no exception.
Only this time, it’s more film noir than comedic romp, and it’s a mysterious, fascinating tale. And completely humorless, which is quite a departure for Almodovar. But his signature touches remain – the film looks gorgeous and the musical score underlines the sorrow.
Emma Suarez is compelling as the adult Julieta, her pain deeply felt. As she writes a long letter to her lost daughter, really a memoir, the film flashes back to her life with fisherman Xoan.
Adrian Ugarde and Daniel Grao are equally engaging as the vibrant young lovers, whose journey has a number of melodramatic twists.
This mother and daughter story resonates, no matter in what language.
Split
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Split

Genre: Horror/Thriller
Starring: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy
Rating: PG-13
for disturbing thematic content and behavior, violence and some language.
Grade: B+
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert
The Plot:
When Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) and two schoolmates are abducted, they find that their captor, Kevin (James McAvoy) exhibits multiple personalities – now diagnosed as DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder).
As the girls attempt escape, Dennis, Patricia, Hedwig, Crumb, Barry and other personalities surface to help, console, frighten and torment the girls.
When some of Kevin’s personalities contact Psychiatrist Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley) asking for emergency appointments, Dr. Fletcher begins to suspect that a shunned personality may have surfaced to control Kevin – and then there are the personalities’ warnings of the arrival of the beast.

Kent’s Take:
Writer/ director M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, The Visit, The Village) has offered us a taut thriller that will keep audiences fascinated and at the same time, horrified.
Beginning fast and joylessly, Shyamalan spares no time ushering us into this dark cold mystery.
Always expect the unexpected with Shyamalan. Using violence as a covert ally, its sparse use is meted out in small meaningful packets. Instead of centering Kevin as the linchpin of the mystery, he shares the “spotlight” with Casey whom we soon discover is as much an enigma as Kevin.
Flashbacks (for Casey) and visits to the good doctor (for Kevin) reveal insights into their concurrent stories as one moves toward salvation, the other toward utter destruction.
What also sets Shyamalan apart from other thriller and horror writers is his component of thoughtful themes. In “Split” we learn that some who exhibit DID have shown remarkable differences among their personalities. Instances include a patient writing with each hand simultaneously, using different handwriting, and writing notes on two different topics. Dr. Fletcher poses the questions inquiring whether these patients have unlocked our brain’s potential, and whether these patients are actually a more advanced human than we are.
As this thriller spirals in on itself it creates a tight coil of tension and suspense, allowing one to become more entranced by James McAvoy’s performance. His multiple personalities are each distinct – disturbing in their frailty, unnerving in their violence and thoroughly unforgettable. The doe-eyed Anya Taylor-Joy splendidly keeps us guessing as to her motivations and fate.
This nail-biter shows that M. Night Shyamalan continues to hone his storytelling craft, offering us a beautifully disturbing thriller – including a striking cameo that can’t be missed.
20th Century Women
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20th Century Women

Genre: Comedy/Drama
Starring: Annette Bening, Greta Gerwig, Lucas Jade Zumann, Billy Crudup
Rating: R
for sexual material, language, some nudity and brief drug use.
Grade: A-
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert
The Plot:
It is the late 1970s and single parent Dorthea (Annette Bening) cobbles together a household of questioning and thoughtfulness. Son Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) struggles with his transition from adolescence to manhood as his mother’s frankness is both comforting and frustrating. Punk/New Waver Abbie (Greta Gerwig) struggles with her health and self image. Oddly intellectual William (Billy Crudup) is helping rehab Dorthea’s home in exchange for free room and board, while Jamie’s best friend Julie (Elle Fanning) tries to be “cutting edge” and mature as she sneaks into Jamie’s room each night.
As each struggle with hurdles in their lives, Dorthea uses every trick in her dated book to keep those around her motivated and united – to mixed effect.

Kent’s Take:
One of my sleeper hits of the award season, “20th Century Women,” is a thoughtful, funny, emotional coming-of-age gem. Director Mike Mills (“Beginners”) balances humor and drama using each to magnify the other to form not a perpetual motion machine, but a perpetual emotion machine.
Dorthea is the heart and soul of this collective, always shoring up her charges with words of wisdom or encouragement, yet her self-awareness tinges her character with a pinch of sadness knowing that the times they are a-changin’. Jamie struggles to find his way in an environment of mostly women. As his mother gives him an expanded freedom, he takes advantage of it. Abbie is the most interesting character in this film. Her struggles with cancer separate her from the others as she fights to stay positive as a young adult unable to look too far ahead. William is an enigma. His intelligence is obvious, but with the period, takes the form of a slightly off-center character whose heart is in the right place and fits perfectly with this mod group. And Julie is the most “traditional” character. Her reactions, attitudes and persona are dead-on with the character and helps to reinforce the period for viewers.
Mill’s story reminds me of one of my favorite films of all time “American Graffiti.” As viewers see the New Wave era on the horizon, the computer age set to explode and the table about to be set for the 21st century, the struggles of three generations surface to preface further struggles ahead. “American Graffiti” masterfully captures a dying era. Curt traverses his town as viewers witness a bygone time that seems to end (for Curt) as the dawn breaks. “20th Century Women” has a similar vibe with an underlying vein of sadness and nostalgia that is strengthened by the excellent acting performances.
“20th Century Women” will capture viewers with its excellent performances, memorable characters set in a bygone time of freedom, openness and innocence that is sorely missing today.
Silence
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Silence

Genre: Drama/History
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver
Rating: R
for some disturbing violent content
Grade: B
Reviewer: Lynn Venhaus
The Plot:
In 17th Century Japan, the feudal military government has banned Christianity and rids all Western influence.
Jesuit missionaries administer to hidden Christians. Two Portuguese priests, Father Sebastian Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Father Francisco Garupe (Adam Driver) travel to find their mentor, Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson), who is believed to have forsaken Christianity.

Lynn’s Take:
This difficult and challenging movie is a dense meditation on faith. Doubt, God’s silence in suffering, and the unbearable choice of apostasy vs. martyrdom are themes explored in a sometimes profound but often tedious work.
Directed by Martin Scorsese, also co-writer with Jay Cocks, this Jesuits’ attempt to convert Buddhists is adapted from Shusaku Endo’s 1966 novel, “Silence.”
Well-acted, standouts are Issei Ogata as the Inquisitor, Tadanobu Asano as Rodrigues’ interpreter, and Yosuke Kobozuka as the guide Kichijiro.
Driver and Garfield, who lost 50 and 40 lbs. respectively for these roles, are best in scenes together.
Visually stunning, with exceptional cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto and remarkable sets by Dante Ferretti, the film is flawed. Nearly three hours’ length includes intense torture – gruesome agony and extensive periods of repetitive hardships.
Paterson
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Paterson

Genre: Comedy/Drama
Starring: Adam Driver, Golshifteh Farahani
Rating: R
for some language
Grade: C
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert
The Plot:
Paterson (Adam Driver) is a Transit Authority Bus Driver in Paterson, New Jersey. He quietly rolls through life listening and observing. His loving wife, Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) seems to begin a new chapter or career each day, bubbling over with enthusiasm as their Bulldog, Marvin looks on with indifference. Paterson fills most of his waking moments writing poetry about the minutiae in his life. As life passes by, Paterson absorbs bits and pieces, giving back prose that someday may make others stop and enjoy the simplicity of life’s moments.

Kent’s Take:
“Paterson” is the latest film by director Jim Jarmusch, and follows the reserved path of everyday bus driver Paterson, whose routine brings him into contact with regular people and a simple life.
Jarmusch brings us an ode to poetry and life. As our world speeds up in almost every way, Paterson ignores the grind to follow a measured path – walking to work, stopping to enjoy a scenic view, listening to his wife’s new goals and ideas following the synchronicity of expression. Jarmusch uses speaking, singing, rapping, painting and writing as forms of expression in the film, but poetry is the star in this relaxed walk.
However, this film fails in bringing a balance to the narrative. To use a Trumpism, “Low-energy” Paterson seems impervious to life, living one that lacks drama, verve or spirit. Wife Laura is meant to inject that spirit, but instead magnifies his subdued nature.
This creates a film that moves too slowly (seemingly not at all), and lacks a cinematic fuel to propel it.
Using his poems as visual text on screen, we witness Paterson’s inspirations, yet those inspirations often take on the form of average things, such as his opening poem about the blue-tipped matches in his kitchen. Does this open up poetry to anyone? Of course. Would I want to read a poem about an athlete’s stinky sneakers? No.
This film will be loved by those who appreciate poetry. The extent of this critic’s poetry expertise begins and ends with, “There once was a man from Nantucket . . .” thus, the lyrical nature of this urban poetry loses its impact with me.
However,
My attempt at poetry appreciation
Has failed
For now
Have I given up? Will I try again?
Yes, maybe, I believe so
I will try again, if you will.
A Monster Calls
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A Monster Calls

Genre: Drama/Fantasy
Starring: Lewis MacDougall, Sigourney Weaver, Liam Neeson
Rating: PG-13
for thematic content and some scary images.
Grade: B (Kent), B+ (Lynn)
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert & Lynn Venhaus
The Plot:
Conor (Lewis MacDougall) is in a bad place, his mother is battling cancer, his father lives across the pond in the United States and he is being bullied everyday after school.
Escaping his prison of sadness through drawing, Conor summons a monster (voiced by Liam Neeson). Actually, it’s the lone yew tree in a nearby church graveyard. The monster tells Conor that he will relate three stories to the boy and, in return, he will tell the monster a fourth story that is the truth.
As his mother slowly declines, as the bullying continues unabated, his demanding grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) arrives, forcing Conor to live with her while his mother tries a final treatment.
As the monster’s stories progress, so does his mother’s condition, culminating in a truthful story from a hurting adolescent.

Kent’s Take:
“A Monster Calls” is a unique film that knows its identity but that identity falls between audiences. Seeming to be a children’s story of fantasy and monsters, this moving film is not for children. The adult themes create a stirring film of a boy’s struggle with stress and grief.
Conor is lonely and frightened. His mother is struggling in her battle with cancer, but won’t speak frankly with her son. His estranged father arrives to tell Conor not to count on him and his grandmother’s anxiety surfaces in aggressive ways.
As Conor begins hearing the stories from Monster, audiences are treated to multiple styles of gorgeous animation bringing his stories to vivid life. Stories of fallen kings, invisible men, dead sons, giants, dragons and an apothecary, each attempting to teach Conor a lesson.
This creative film certainly sets the table for an emotional finish and it definitely delivers. However, this simple story is a bit too straightforward. The characters tell us what they are doing instead of showing us, stripping subtlety out of the narrative.
The cast is excellent with MacDougall giving a memorable performance.
“A Monster Calls” may confuse potential viewers as to what demographic should be viewing this, but make no mistake, this fantasy is both an emotional whirlwind and a worthwhile trip to the cinemaplex.

Lynn’s Take:
This well-done film is a heart-tugging, emotional tempest.
Director J.A. Bayona, who drew a remarkable performance from young Tom Holland in the harrowing tsunami drama, “The Impossible,” sensitively handles the material.
He captures a warm and loving relationship between Conor and his mother, with a stunning, breakthrough performance from Lewis MacDougall and an always strong Felicity Jones.
Their tight bond is in stark contrast to the rigid grandma, played by Sigourney Weaver, who is fine, but uneven in British accent.
Liam Neeson capably voices the monster, and is in photos as the deceased grandfather.
Bayona smoothly blends animation and animatronics with the live-action to tell this compelling tale.
Novelist Ness wrote the screenplay, and has achieved a smart balance between the sweetness and the sadness.
Bring your tissues.
Lion
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Lion

Genre: True story, drama
Starring: Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman, Rooney Mara, Sunny Pawar, David Wenham
Rating: PG-13
for thematic material and some sensuality
Grade: B
Reviewer: Lynn Venhaus
The Plot: Based on a remarkable true story, Saroo is 5 years old when he and his revered older brother, Guddo, are separated. He winds up on a locomotive, which drops him off 1,000 miles away from his small village in India.

Saroo endures hardship in Kolkata (Calcutta) until adopted by a kind Australian couple, John and Sue Brierley.
Twenty-five years later, he searches for the family he lost, locating his hometown through Google Earth.

Lynn’s Take: Marked by strong performances, “Lion” is a gripping account of a life interrupted.

Dev Patel has never been better, capturing the anguish of Saroo, wanting answers to his past. As his adopted mother, Nicole Kidman is touching – although saddled with a horrible wig.

The real star, however, is young Sunny Pawar, a natural newcomer depicting the harrowing journey of a lost child. Unfamiliar with the language when he mistakenly arrives in a teeming metropolis, the boy’s sheer gumption, which turns into street smarts, is stunning.

Pawar is so compelling in the first chapter that the second half isn’t as riveting. Rooney Mara is wasted as Saroo’s supportive girlfriend. But get out your tissues for a doozy of a grand finale.
TOP 10 MOVIES OF 2016
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TOP 10 MOVIES OF 2016

Reviewer: Kent Tentschert & Lynn Venhaus
KENT’s Top 10 (Alphabetical)
“13th” – This documentary about the 13th Amendment may lack a solution to the presented problem, however the information, organization and passion shown for this important subject is riveting.

“20th Century Women” – This small movie creeps up on you. It hasn’t received much attention, but the story is heartwarming, the performances are memorable and it embraces viewers like a comfy chair.

“Arrival” – Sci-fi at its best. Fear mixed with a sense of discovery makes this film an emotional roller coaster and an unforgettable treat.

“Hell or High Water” – A modern western that introduces our heroes as villains and slowly turns the tables until audiences find themselves rooting for these new heroes. Some great performances make this a watcher.

“Jackie” – Beautiful, tragic, historical and emotionally packed. Portman is wonderful in her role as Jackie, but the cinematography and set designs are gorgeous and also worth the view.

“Kubo and the Two Strings” – Using stop-motion animation, this story of a young boy’s search for his family will bring smiles, laughs and tears as Kubo shows us courage and heart. A must see for the entire family.

“La La Land” – My favorite film of the year. I’m not a musical lover, but this gem wowed me with its simple story, honest grace and stunning direction. The top musical score will have you seat dancing and toe tapping throughout as this film gives us an old fashioned ending to an old fashioned romance.

“Manchester By The Sea” – If you suffer from depression, think twice before screening this downer. However, oft-times tragedy can be very compelling and here, it certainly is. Casey Affleck should win “Best Actor” Oscar for his strong nuanced performance.

“Moonlight” – Poetic, tragic and beautiful describes this story about a gay African-American boy growing up in the inner city. Great performances with a distinct sense of style.

“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” – Finally, a new Star Wars film that will re-ignite “The Force” in all of us. Great story, outstanding effects and offering traditional Star Wars battles and characters – hold on tightly!

Honorable Mentions: “Anthropoid,” “Captain America: Civil War,” “The Conjuring,” “Deadpool,” “Denial,” “Doctor Strange,” “The Girl On The Train,” “Gleason,” “Hacksaw Ridge” “Hail Cesar,” “The Handmaiden,” “Hidden Figures,” “Loving,” “Moana,” “Sing Street,” “The Witch,” “ Weiner.”

Lynn’s Top Ten: (Alphabetical)
“Hell or High Water” – With rich characters and crackling dialogue, a briskly told modern American tale blurs the scales of justice amidst a desolate dusty background. Masterful work from director David Mackenzie, screenwriter Taylor Sheridan and a dream cast including Jeff Bridges, Ben Foster, Chris Pine and Gil Birmingham.

“Hidden Figures” – A sentimental crowd-pleasing salute to three trailblazing women at NASA in the early 1960s will warm your heart and make you cheer. Math nerds and smart girls rule!

“Hunt for the Wilderpeople” – As a street kid and cantankerous old codger on the run in the New Zealand bush, Julian Dennison and Sam Neill are an interesting odd couple. This quirky comedy is fresh and laugh-out-loud funny.

“La La Land” – An innovative musical that transports you to a magical Hollywood, emphasizing the timeless appeal of hope, dreams and romance. Writer-director Damien Chazelle’s visionary precision is fully realized in Emma Stone’s and Ryan Gosling’s charismatic couple.

“Loving” – Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton are deeply moving as the Virginia couple who fought to live together in an interracial marriage, shooting down the last segregation law in the U.S. Writer-director Jeff Nichols shows their quiet courage in a thoughtful way.

“Manchester by the Sea” – Heartbreaking and gut-wrenching, writer-director Kenneth Lonergan’s masterfully constructed story of family tragedy and redemption features the most emotionally devastating performances of the year. So good, so sad – and unforgettable.

“Moonlight” – A haunting and lyrical work of profound power, the story of young gay black man Chiron is interestingly presented. Mahershala Ali gives one of the year’s best performances as father-figure Juan.

“Sing Street” – A charming ode to the transformative power of music. Writer-director John Carney freeze-frames an era’s joyous sounds in Dublin 1985 for a warm, witty coming-of-age tale.

“Sully” – Director Clint Eastwood cuts to the chase in this riveting account of the 2009 Miracle on the Hudson, spotlighting a true American hero.

“Zootopia” – Disney’s colorful kaleidoscope about a melting-pot metropolis has dynamic animation, clever characters and cheeky wit that works on both adult and child levels.

Honorable Mentions: “Doctor Strange,” “Elvis and Nixon,” “Everybody Wants Some!!,” “Eye in the Sky,” “The Girl on the Train,” “Finding Dory,” “The Hollars,” “Jackie,” “Midnight Special” and “Weiner.”
Jackie
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Jackie

Genre: Biography/Drama
Starring: Matalie Portman, Caspar Phillipson, Peter Sarsgaard
Rating: R
for brief strong violence and some language.
Grade: A- (Kent)/A- Lynn
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert & Lynn Venhaus
The Plot:
The inimitable Jackie Kennedy (Natalie Portman) struggles with her fears, trust and image after the assassination of her husband President Jack Kennedy (Caspar Phillipson). Following Jackie in good times and in bad, we discover that hopes and dreams for this country were alive and thriving in Kennedy’s “Camelot.” After the crumbling of the Kennedy administration, Jackie distinguishes herself with dignity and strength to uphold the Kennedy image.

Kent’s Take:
“Jackie” is an outstanding biography that reveals a balanced and personal story of the youngest First Lady and her struggles first to overcome her image as a flighty debutante and later as the widow weakened by grief.
Jackie broke the mold for First Ladies in the White House. As the most powerful family in the country at the time, entered the White House, the Kennedys were seen as American royalty by some and arrogant aristocrats by others – both were correct.
Jackie felt the pressures of those mantles as television audiences were drawn to her beauty, poise and presence. Even Jack and Bobby didn’t endure the same scrutiny as Jackie, as television was just blossoming into a media force. Jackie recognized its power and influence, but was also very fearful and controlling of the family image as seen through the camera lens and the written word.
This narrative uses the assassination as a pivot point for Jackie’s story. Prior to the tragedy, she is shown as a fearful, unsure First Lady as she learns the ropes with the press. Afterwards, she struggles with seemingly uncaring officials more concerned with establishing a quick transition to quell the ensuing national unrest. Jackie struggles with maintaining the Kennedy image. It was all they had left.
Portman is outstanding as Jackie. Her cadence, her accent and speech patterns are dead-on and consistent. As her Jackie begins to question her faith, her marriage and her self-worth – she transforms into the icon.
The moments right after the assassination are both gruesome and telling.
Peter Sarsgaard is excellent as a measured Bobby and broken brother to a fallen President. The sets, costumes editing and cinematography are stunning and will be discussed at the Oscars this year. The dialogue opens a doorway for audiences to step back in time to grasp a memory. The time, the era and societal parallels still echo today.
Finding a personal depth to Jackie’s struggles makes this film both a treat for the eyes and punch to the gut. Jackie’s trials become our trials in this memorable and emotional biography.

LYNN’s Take:
Natalie Portman’s searing portrait of an iconic figure is unforgettable in a powerful film that goes deeper than mere historical recreation.
This inside account of Jackie Kennedy’s White House years and the traumatic, defining tragedy is frank and unsentimental, adding a fresh perspective to an event that’s been revisited many times in film.
Director Pablo Larrain has a matter-of-fact style devoid of any frills, but has elevated production values with velvety cinematography, crisp editing, a haunting music score, and an elegant production design. The costumes, of course, are as stylish as one would expect.
Because of Portman’s ability to capture Jackie’s contrasts – vulnerable yet strong, smart yet dealing with crushing mental anguish – she humanizes a very private person.
She depicts the icon’s charm and grace organically, not just getting the voice, demeanor and physical carriage exactly right.
The supporting performers all give finely etched portrayals, but they mainly serve the leading lady.
“Jackie” isn’t the fairy tale version, but rather a vivid work on the scale of grand opera.
Elle
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Elle

Genre: Drama/Thriller
Starring: Isabelle Huppert
Rating: R
for violence involving sexual assault, disturbing sexual content, some grisly images, brief graphic nudity, and language. Subtitled, in French with english subtitles.
Grade: B (Kent), C (Lynn)
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert & Lynn Venhaus
The Plot:
A quiet afternoon in her flat, for Michéle Leblanc (Isabelle Huppert), turns violent when an intruder sexually assaults her, leaving her stunned and bleeding. Running a successful video game development company, Michéle is used to taking charge and controlling her life, but when the intruder begins sending cryptic texts to her, Michéle embarks upon a dark journey of discovery that will change her forever.

Kent’s Take:
“Elle” is a strange and utterly disturbing film of assault, control and sexuality.
Leave it up to the French to take a disturbing element (rape) and figure out a way to twist it into an unusual film of desire and control.
This is certainly not “50 Shades of Grey,” being more “50 seconds of terror.” Yet, as Michéle decides to attempt to take control of the situation as her attacker begins contacting her, she begins an unusual game of cat and mouse with her attacker.
Director Paul Verhoeven masterfully builds tension with a swift spike of anxiety as we first hear, then witness the assault. He then continues to build upon those fears by having the assailant continue to stalk the victim.
Where the film derails is in its assumption that the “twist” in the film adds a unique take to Michéle’s predicament – it doesn’t, in fact, if not for the odd ending, it would almost seem to offer an excuse for the assault – as a deviant sexual situation. Michéle’s attempts to control the situation and finally her “letting go” is indeed surprising, but for this critic, is not a good surprise.
Beautifully acted, Huppert’s Leblanc manages to create an intense and vulnerable experience for viewers all-the-while creating a remarkably strong lead character.
As this strange and unforgettable story concludes, audiences will find themselves with plenty to talk about as “Elle” leaves us with a lasting impression of questions and questionable answers.

LYNN’s Take:
Fancy trash from the director of “Showgirls” and “Basic Instinct,” “Elle” is an unsettling erotic thriller that perpetuates modern rape culture.
Apparently, I’m in the minority about this disturbing depiction of sexual assault and revenge fantasies by a strong woman character that could have only been written and directed by men.
Dutch provocateur Paul Verhoeven has directed a slick, suspenseful film that’s filled with clichés and letdowns. The attacker is revealed earlier than expected, and the narrative veers off into bizarre territory.
However, for all its off-putting content, the film is anchored by a fearless, mesmerizing performance from 63-year-old Isabelle Huppert.
Huppert’s chilling portrayal of a smart, stylish and selfish woman whose frosty and cruel demeanor never softens is virtuoso acting.
But the fact that Michelle founded a video game company that panders to angry young men who enjoy objectifying women doesn’t soothe the fury about what is the point here.
So, a woman earning money from sex and violence brings it all on herself? Not feeling better about the irony.
Adapting a 2012 book by Philippe Djian called “Oh…,” screenwriter David Birke has crammed much melodrama into Michelle’s complicated circle of unlikable people.
She has a worthless son, weak ex-husband, shallow lover who is her best friend’s husband (!?), needy neighbor with a super-religious wife, hedonistic mother and a despicable father incarcerated for mass murders. (Oh, is that all?)
Michelle is a cool customer on the outside but a damaged psyche on the inside. Her indifference is annoying as she tries to control her carefully manicured life. Yes, I know that’s the point.
But it doesn’t mean we have to buy into this strange, unsatisfying, unresolved, overly long and wildly over-praised exercise. (You think?).
Besides, the gratuitous and salacious sexual content is just icky.
Fences
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Fences

Genre: Drama
Starring: Denzell Washington, Viola Davis
Rating: R
for language throughout.
Grade: B
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert
The Plot:
Troy (Denzel Washington) is a garbage collector in the 1950s. His loving wife Rose (Viola Davis) is hardworking, loving and tolerates her husband’s playful ribbing.
Troy enjoys talking about his past as he drains a pint of gin on his back patio, while trying to teach his sons that earning your place in society is better than having it given to you.
As Troy’s decisions begin to have repercussions on everyone around him, his life begins to crumble.

Kent’s Take:
“Fences” is an adaptation from the critically acclaimed August Wilson stage play of the same name.
Witnessing both the struggles of an African American family in the 1950s as well as simply family drama, this electrified film crackles with energy.
Troy is a hardworking garbage collector who seeks to distinguish himself by aspiring to become the first black garbage truck driver in his company. Reminiscing about his past as a star baseball player, he mostly relives his glory days, projecting his bad experiences on more modern times as he tries to cling to a past that is no longer relevant to him.
The cast of this emotional film is excellent from the stars down to each supporting cast member. However, Washington and Davis elevate this film to an Oscar contender with their amazing turns. Washington’s Troy is a drunk, a bully and broken from a life with no luck and no breaks. His hard-nosed nature turns his entire family against him. Davis is the lynchpin of the story. She is the quiet, reasonable, loving wife who becomes the witness to her husband’s poor decisions.
Where this film falters is in its narrative. Adapting a stage play to the screen finds this story too talkative. Although the dialogue is outstanding and builds tension, the scenes are too static for film . One of the first rules of filmmaking is “Don’t say it, show it.” This also makes the film feel too long. The entire film takes place in front, in back or inside Troy and Rose’s house. The repetitive sets give the film a stage feel and mires the narrative.
“Fences” builds a universal American experience through good writing and great acting as Troy reveals his weaknesses to a family on the brink. As Troy would put it, “You’ve gotta take the crookeds with the straight.”
Sing
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Sing

Genre: Animation/Comedy/Family
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Garth Jennings
Rating: PG
for some rude humor and mild peril.
Grade: D+
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert
The Plot:
Koala bear Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey) is a struggling theater owner, avoiding creditors as he tries to save his sinking business. When his secretary Miss Crawly (Garth Jennings) makes a clerical error on his flyer advertising a singing competition, the community jumps at the chance, but as his finalists practice their performances, each of their struggles come back to effect Moon’s final shot at saving his theater.

Kent’s Take:
“Sing” is an animated feature from the creators of “Despicable Me” and “The Secret Life of Pets.” Buster Moon is a struggling businessman, his once booming theater has fallen into disrepair and his patrons have slowly stopped coming to his shows.
In an attempt to revive his waning business, Moon advertises a singing contest with a $1,000 prize, however, a clerical error pushes that prize to undeniable proportions.
This musical animated feature follows an ensemble cast of characters as each struggles to overcome some hurdle to become the performer they are meant to be.
Unfortunately, the story we are subjected to is both pedestrian and predictable. If you have watched “American Idol” you have seen a better version of this film. With characters so uninspired, they aren’t even clichéd, we are forced to follow a stay-at-home pig and a dancer pig, an arrogant mouse, an adolescent gorilla and a shy elephant. Since audiences know where this story is heading, it becomes difficult to root for animals who you know will ultimately succeed.
This would be a different review if the journey these creatures take was hilarious and/or unusual. It’s not, in fact, it is so inadequate that we don’t give a rat’s . . . well, you know where I’m going with this.
The one shining element in this forgettable film is the soundtrack. With upbeat, fun songs, performed by talented artists and actors, one can’t help but get caught up in the rhythms.
“Sing” is certainly a disappointing film, especially when compared to such great animated features like “Kubo and the Two Strings” and “Moana.” Although there are a few good laughs in this mediocre film, it is not enough to sustain a worthwhile film.
Passengers
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Passengers

Genre: Drama/Romance/Sci-fi
Starring: Chris Pratt, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Sheen, Laurence Fishburne
Rating: PG-13
for sexuality, nudity and action/ peril
Grade: C+
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert
The Plot:
Roused disoriented and dehydrated from deep stasis, passenger Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) discovers he has awakened early from his 120 year journey from Earth to a distant solar system – 90 years early.
All attempts to re-start his stasis pod fail, leaving Jim to a solitary fate – one of loneliness and boredom.
When he chances upon Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) deep in stasis, he begins to read her bio and view her video interviews.
Driven by his loneliness, he hatches a dastardly plan to revive Aurora, sentencing her to his same fate.
However, as their relationship transforms, so does the state of their floundering ship – forcing these two star voyagers to risk everything.

Kent’s Take:
“Passengers” is a story about life. A story about appreciating what is right in front of you, not what’s ahead. The metaphor of a ship travelling to a distant planet of beauty and opportunity works nicely as a setup for this romance.
Although this chameleon story changes its colors throughout – moving from light-hearted sci-fi to romance to action-adventure, the one consistency is the character-driven story.
Pratt and Lawrence breathe life into this “prudent” story. Lawrence’s writer Aurora is beautiful, innocent and fiery. She follows her famous father’s edict that to write exciting stories, one must live an exciting life. Pratt’s Preston is a simple man who loves working with his hands and looks for tangible results. Together, they help bring audiences into their heartbreak, their successes and failures.
Where this tale of “Whoa!” wavers is in it’s “safe” story. The science fiction in this film is simply a setting and setup. We never really learn anything about a future science that would have helped bring us into their world. The romance is predictable and lacks true passion (although Pratt and Lawrence elevate this), while the story itself lacks a “wow” moment that could have accelerated the plot.
When we discover the reason for Preston being pre-maturely awakened, it turns out to be something that doesn’t really play into these two star-crossed lovers’ story, it’s simply a device to launch into the climax – disappointing.
“Passengers” had the potential to be an outstanding sci-fi romantic adventure, but ended up relegating viewers to steerage with a faulty story trajectory.
Collateral Beauty
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Collateral Beauty

Genre: Drama
Starring: Will Smith, Kiera Knightly
Rating: PG-13
for thematic elements and brief strong language.
Grade: C
Reviewer: Lynn Venhaus
The Plot:
Ad executive, grieving over his 6-year-old daughter’s death, shuts down and can’t regain his mojo.
His partners intervene when his inability to work compromises their company. In a bizarre scheme, they hire actors to embody life’s three abstracts: Death, Time and Love.
Will this move shake Howard back to reality or prove his incompetence?

LYNN’s Take:
Only a person with a heart of stone would not be moved by a child’s tragic death, so in that regard, “Collateral Beauty” tugs at the heartstrings and tear ducts.
But this slick glossy version of Hollywood holiday inspiration is so blatantly manipulative and sappy that it fails to emotionally connect in any meaningful way.
What sells it at all is the quality of the cast, including two Oscar winners. Will Smith is the weakest link, even as a zombie-like recluse, but when your business partners are Kate Winslet, Edward Norton and Michael Pena, that’s a given.
Their characters, however – no surprise at this contrivance – have their own issues with Time, Love and Death. The actors – Helen Mirren, Keira Knightley and Jacob Latimore – raise more questions too.
The movie wraps up far too neatly, but with one twist too many, overshoots the landing.
La La Land
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La La Land

Genre: Comedy/Drama/Musical
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone
Rating: PG-13
for some language.
Grade: A
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert
The Plot:
Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is a struggling Jazz musician, determined to save his dying art. Mia (Emma Stone) is a struggling actress bouncing from audition to audition looking for her big break. As these two dreamers cross paths, they discover the wonders of achieving dreams together, but sometimes life gets in the way of a perfect romance.

Kent’s Take:
“La La Land” is an old fashioned musical with modern sensibilities. This gentle, rhythmic romance follows two passionate people full of determination, but short on luck – that is, until they start stumbling across one another.
Every once in a while a film comes along that is an instant classic. This is one of those films.
Director Damien Chazelle uses an artful eye to frame his film of love and loss. Each scene becomes a delicious morsel of filmmaking from the creative use of lighting to focus the scene, to the amazing use of color to define moods, emotions and foreshadow.
This euphonic film uses its music deftly. Sometimes it’s used to define Mia’s and Sebastian’s feelings, but it is also used to set up the environment in which these characters live, breath and love. As Mia and Sebastian trip the light fantastic through their story, we sashay alongside as dance partners in this ballad of life.
Where emotion is usually the result of a story’s moments, here, emotion becomes a willing sidekick to each scene – playing a larger role than normal. This emotional magnification is achieved by all the other elements of this film working in perfect unison.
The writing and dialogue are playful, funny and charming as Sebasian’s constant startles, stubbornness and charisma quickly charm audiences. Mia also carries an allure of both vulnerability and honesty that surfaces as we gaze into her knowing eyes.
This gem of a film will garner a lot of attention during the Oscars as audiences toe tap, smile and cry along with Mia and Sebastian as these two romantics move in unison to the music of life, love and “Oo La La – Land.”
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Genre: Action/Adventure/Sci-fi
Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Felicity Jones, Forest Whitaker, Diego Luna
Rating: PG-13
for extended sequences of sic-fi violence and action.
Grade: A-
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert
The Plot:
The seed of the destruction of the Death Star many years later, is planted firmly on a lonely planet. When Imperial forces give gifted scientist Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) no choice but to help them design and build the Death Star, his daughter Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) narrowly escapes captivity. Raised by extremist Saw Gererra (Forest Whitaker), Jyn learns to survive and protect herself as she grows to maturity.
When the Rebel Alliance learns of Jyn’s identity and whereabouts, they enlist her to get them an audience with Gerrera, but as Jyn and Rebel fighter Cessian Andor (Diego Luna) soon discover, a simple plan can become complex with the push of a button.

Kent’s Take:
“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” is upon us. Where some found last year’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” to be a suitable re-emergence of the Star Wars franchise, others found it to be simply tripe. We now find ourselves at a crossroads with a secondary story taking place between Star Wars Episodes 3 and 4.
“Rogue One” opens with a tragedy, builds tension with escalating action and concludes with a fitting ending. This fantastic film revives the original excitement I felt when watching “Star Wars Episode IV” as a middle schooler.
Director Gareth Edwards captures the spirit of this franchise with its sweeping landscapes and alien worlds in opposition with the very personal story that Jyn Erso undertakes. The Rebels and their bases sport earthy tones, grit, grime and wear and lends itself to a more working class, peasant notion, where the Empire’s antiseptic, clean, tech-heavy environments lend itself to a less emotional, more powerful and privileged status.
The Star Wars universe is expanded as well. Jumping between several planets and moons, audiences are treated to a worthy deepening of the Star Wars universe.
Furthering the fun, screenwriters Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy beautifully balance drama with lighter moments. The dialogue is snappy and meaningful. Many of the laughs come from droid K-2SO, a converted Imperial droid whose directness is perfect for flagging concepts for younger viewers, yet comes off as hilariously crass for adults.
As the story leads us throughout the galaxy, the tension and danger build, and soon becomes obvious that the traditional Star Wars battle is nigh. And that battle is like slipping on your favorite shirt, or the comfort of sipping hot chocolate after playing in the snow. It is both welcomed and updated with modern digital effects, heightening the experience.
The cast is driven by the strong story, giving excellent performances down throughout the secondary characters. I particularly loved Whitaker’s Gerrera who imbues a feeling of age and sadness in his small role. Jones also gives a strong performance that is nuanced and stronger than Daisy Ridley in “The Force Awakens.” Viewers are also treated to the usual aliens who don’t have or need speaking parts, they are just part of this world, a world we are fully brought into.
As we are stand at the crossroad of the Star Wars future, a new dawn is rising on this franchise, a series that has not only reached the stratosphere, but is now poised to scream well beyond it with “Rogue One” as a strong launching pad.
Miss Sloane
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Miss Sloane

Genre: Drama/Thriller
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, John Lithgow, Mark Strong
Rating: R
for language and some sexuality.
Grade: C+
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert
The Plot:
Top gun Washington lobbyist Elizabeth Sloane (Jessica Chastain) is approached by the gun lobby to help them reach women in their fight against the “Heaton Harris Bill” in Congress. Choosing, instead, to work to get the bill passed, Sloane ignites an epic battle of lobbying firms that will change the face of Capitol Hill.

Kent’s Take:
“Miss Sloane” is a political thriller with a strong message – several strong messages actually.
Sloane is a driven woman, ruthless, ethically challenged and willing to sacrifice anything to win. Her co-workers, associates and bosses soon learn that they are merely pawns in her far-reaching, grand plots – and she always wins.
As her former employer and current adversary begin losing their congressional votes, they realize that Sloane has the upper hand. Using a page out of her playbook against her, they play their trump card at the most opportune moment.
This film is meant to show the depth of our broken political system by portraying lobbyists as absolute sleaze bags and politicians as buffoons. It also uses the issue of gun violence to make a political statement rather than using it as a lever to truly drive home the message that the government no longer works for the people.
The gun lobby and its Republican allies are used as villains while opposing interets are seen as heroes. Cinematically, this would work if Sloane wasn’t such a perfect villain already. Chastain’s Sloane is so unlikable that audiences really have no one for which to root. Instead, this slanted portrayal of gun control does a disservice to those on both sides of this important issue – inciting smugness for one side, rage on the other, furthering the gap between the two sides.
As viewers are tossed headlong into Sloane’s political arena, we fight to keep up with the quick, aggressive banter. I enjoy politics, but found myself lost in spots.
Director John Madden frames this story well, using sumptuous, warm lighting in bedrooms and at parties, and cold, white, glass and metal office suites and boardrooms where the witty, altruistic millennials plot their next move.
Although “Miss Sloane” is wrapped up well with a suitable conclusion, the fact that they mis-focused the film on both the process and the issue only serves to weaken the impact that a nonpartisan film would have created.
Rules Don't Apply
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Rules Don't Apply

Genre: Biopic
Starring: Warren Beatty
Rating: PG-13
for sexual material, brief strong language, thematic elements and drug references.
Grade: D
Reviewer: Lynn Venhaus
The Plot:
Rich and eccentric Howard Hughes charges through life barking orders, changing his mind at whim, and using his power because he can. His reckless behavior, inceasing with dementia and reclusiveness shown from 1958 to 1964, isn’t flattering.

LYNN’s Take:
An over-stuffed holiday turkey, this meandering mess has its charming moments, but mostly it’s a self-indulgent jumble of tones, flat and unwieldy..
With his Hollywood clout, writer-director Warren Beatty, not on screen in 15 years, assembled an all-star cast that has little to do, many without any memorable screen time.
Using four editors and the Oscar-winning screenwriter Bo Goldman to see his vision through doesn’t help. Scenes ping-pong in strange fashion, and we whip around the globe in a rambling, unfocused way.
A main subplot features an appealing young couple. Alden Ehrenreich as Frank, one of Hughes’ drivers, falls in love with Marla, a small-town beauty queen. She is hired to be part of Hughes’ stable of starlets at his movie studio, played by Lily Collins. They are prevented from dating because Hughes forbid it.
Dashed hopes and dreams pile up in a movie that looks fabulous, luxuriating in old-timey Hollywood glamour, but is basically empty.
Nocturnal Animals
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Nocturnal Animals

Genre: Thriller/Drama
Starring: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Michael Shannon and Armie Hammer.
Rating: R
strong violence, graphic nudity, sexual content and language.
Grade: C
Reviewer: Lynn Venhaus
The Plot:
Glum art gallery owner Susan (Amy Adams) receives a copy of her ex-husband’s novel, “Nocturnal Animals,” which is dedicated to her.
That’s the first clue. As she reads it, the nightmare scenario comes to life, a horrible case of out-of-control road rage involving a professor and his family while traveling through dusty west Texas.
Jake Gyllenhaal plays both Edward Sheffield, the grad student she married 20 years earlier, and Tony, the fictional protagonist.
Their relationship is rehashed in flashbacks, as Susan is alarmed by the book’s dark content. Revenge is a dish best served cold.

LYNN’s Take:
“Nocturnal Animals” is two movies in one – the inner core, a suspenseful crime drama has substance, while its outer shell, a pretentious take on cruel intentions, has style.
This ultimately frosty and frustrating modern mash-up is accentuated by director Tom Ford’s fashion designer aesthetic. He also wrote the screenplay, adapting Austin Wright’s 1993 book, “Tony and Susan.”
The opening credits are very bizarre and disturbing – naked obese women gyrating for far too long. Turns out its Susan’s latest art installation, a jarring affectation that starts the movie off badly.
In the artsy-fartsy world, the characters act like they are posing for the Mannequin Challenge. Armie Hammer is Susan’s insufferable second husband, Hutton, and they are surrounded by plastic people. Amy Adams’ cold-hearted woman is lacquered in heavy cosmetics, which is distracting.
Poor Laura Linney seems to be in another film entirely, heavily made up to look like a well-heeled society matron of the 1950s.
The film’s saving grace is the page-turning vigilante murder story, displaying real verve in the acting. The always-interesting Michael Shannon delivers a fresh spin on a Texas lawman while Aaron Taylor-Johnson creates a truly menacing villain.
Isla Fisher and Ellie Bamber are good as Tony’s terrified wife and daughter. And Gyllenhaal, of course, shines as a softer guy who must toughen up real fast.
The individual work of cinematographer Seamus McGarvey and composer Abel Korzeniowski, whose score is reminiscent of Hitchcock movies, is also superb.
For all its melodrama and meticulously framed shots, the film lacks a satisfying conclusion.
Manchester By The Sea
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Manchester By The Sea

Genre: Drama
Starring: Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges
Rating: R
for language throughout and some sexual content.
Grade: A/A+
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert & Lynn Venhaus
The Plot:
Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is a quiet maintenance man at an apartment complex on the East Coast. When his brother suddenly dies, Lee finds that he has become his nephew Patrick’s (Lucas Hedges) guardian. Returning to his hometown of Manchester, Lee must confront the tragedy that chased him away while, at the same time, trying to do what’s right for Patrick.

Kent’s Take:
“Manchester By The Sea” is a film that may seem slow to some. It may be too heart-breaking to others or too quiet, but many will find this film to be an unforgettable emotional tragedy.
Lee lives a sparse life as a maintenance man, paid with a low wage and a small one bedroom apartment. His brother’s death totally changes Lee’s life. He must temporarily move back to Manchester and get his brother’s affairs in order and try to figure out what to do with a nephew for which he is totally unprepared.
Writer/Director Kenneth Lonergan brings us a subtle portrait of suffering, depression and understanding. As Lee’s story unfolds, we begin to realize what he is going through and his reaction to his circumstance. Lee’s inner struggles surface as Patrick (like every teenager) simply wants to stay near his family and friends, unaware of Lee’s emotional situation.
The cast wends its way through this sad journey giving strong, real performances. Hedges’ Patrick is scared and yet also carefree as he tries to keep normalcy in his life. With both touching and funny moments, his character gives us needed respite from Lee’s sobering struggles. Affleck’s Lee is so down-trodden, so broken, that he wears the weight of his struggles as a mantle of shame. His performance is certainly worth a look at Oscar time.
This film may dwell in your soul.Viewers may waffle as to how they feel about the film, but all will soon realize that they can’t stop thinking about it.
“Manchester By The Sea” is a memorable film showing the struggles and redemptions of life, as forgiveness and love begin to heal, yet sometimes healing is not enough to cleanse the soul.

LYNN’s Take:
Heart-breaking and gut-wrenching, this raw drama about loss and redemption is laced with humanity and humor.
An exceptionally layered film, written and directed by playwright Kenneth Lonergan, is one of the year’s best.
As a reclusive janitor, Casey Affleck is riveting in an emotionally devastating performance, and is deservedly the frontrunner for acting awards.
How Lee bonds with his nephew Patrick is heartwarming, and you might see a smile. Lucas Hedges, who must switch moods on a dime, is impressive in a break-through role as the 16-year-old.
When Michelle Williams appears, her nuanced work is moving – and then she’ll rip your heart out.
Lonergan’s masterfully constructed narrative slowly reveals the why behind the what – its subtlety deceptive.
He has genuinely captured how males act with each other, and how family ties and friendship bonds impact our lives.
Man Down
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Man Down

Genre: Drama/Thriller
Starring: Shia LeBeouf, Jai Courtney
Rating: R
for some disturbing violence, and language throughout.
Grade: C-
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert
The Plot:
Marine Gabriel Drummer (Shia LaBeouf) searches a post-apocalyptic America for his wife and son. Using flashbacks, we begin to unravel the events that brought this Marine to such a desolate landscape.

Kent’s Take:
“Man Down” recounts the arduous journey undertaken by marine Gabriel Drummer and his best friend Devin Roberts (Jai Courtney).
Drummer loves his wife and son more than anything. When his son is bullied in school for his mother saying, “I Love You,” when dropping him off, Gabriel and son Johnathan (Charlie Shotwell) create a code for the phrase – “Man Down.”
Writer Adam G. Simon uses gimmickery in an attempt to give audiences insight into the world of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Not only is the soldier and the family affected, but the whole community suffers.
This film just doesn’t have the impact or the emotional balance. The story jumps too much between pre-apocalypse basic training, wartime, post-apocalypse and beyond, creating a disjointed choppy story that never quite pulls you in. LeBeouf gives a strong turn as a loving father and husband, a soldier and survivor. Charlie Shotwell also gives a strong youth performance opposite two skilled actors.
“Man Down” has several meanings in this unique drama. This simple phrase signifies Gabriel’s love for his son, his injured spirit and his traumatic wartime experience. Regardless of the film’s admirable goals, “Man Down” just couldn’t save itself.
Allied
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Allied

Genre: War/Romance/Drama
Starring: Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard
Rating: R
for violence, some sexuality/nudity, language and brief drug use.
Grade: B+
Reviewer: Lynn Venhaus
The Plot:
Sparks fly when Canadian intelligence officer Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) works with French Resistance fighter Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard) in North Africa in 1942. After their mission, they reunite in London and marry.
World War II pressures affect their happy home life, and Max must investigate suspicions that Marianne might be a double agent. Either way, there will be consequences.

Lynn’s Take:
The occasional resemblance to the classic “Casablanca” is no accident, and the scenes set in Morocco are flattering reminders of time gone by.
Gorgeously shot, the film features a potent blend of elegance, intrigue, combustible romance and danger.
Oscar-winning director Robert Zemeckis deftly builds tension, weaving a taut tale that keeps us guessing – and on the edge of our seats.
Two dandy screen stars help sell Steven Knight’s suspenseful screenplay, and the strong pairing of Cotillard and Pitt sizzles. The Oscar-winning actress, stunning to look at in glamorous 1940s attire, plays a woman who is as smart as she is beautiful.
She meets her match in the dashing Pitt, who projects a fierce sense of duty and heroism.
The film is certain to appeal to adults craving a good, gripping movie that respects the audience’s intelligence.

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

Genre: War/Drama
Rating: R
for language throughout, some war violence, sexual content and brief drug use.
Grade: C-
Reviewer: Lynn Venhaus
The Plot:
Adapted from Ben Fountain’s 2012 best-selling novel, this story takes place in 2003, when the Iraq War was in its infancy and American patriotism needed to be stoked.
A 19-year-old small-town Texan becomes a national hero after he rescues his superior officer, which is caught on a cell-phone camera. Billy Lynn and his Bravo Squad are paraded on TV during Dallas’ big game on Thanksgiving Day.
After their victory tour media blitz, the soldiers will return to the battlefield, but they hope to capitalize on their fame with a movie deal while stateside.

LYNN’s Take:
A half-baked and pointless film suffers from perplexing clumsiness from two-time Oscar-winning director Ang Lee. He decided to shoot it in super-high definition, but only a few screens will be able to accommodate the new-fangled technology. I saw it in regular 2-D format.
I don’t think seeing the suped-up version will change the fact that the film feels generic and tired.

The film is as much about America’s obsession with fame as it is about the horrors of war.
The performances are fine, including Joe Alwyn’s no-longer-innocent Billy Lynn, Garrett Hedlund’s tough platoon leader Dime, Vin Diesel’s zen-like commander, and Chris Tucker’s slick Hollywood agent.
Kristen Stewart stands out as Billy Lynn’s anti-war sister Katherine, but Steve Martin doesn’t fare so well as the team owner.
After some really hard-hitting Iraq War movies, such as “The Hurt Locker,” “Zero Dark Thirty,” “Jarhead” and “The Green Zone,” this film’s lack of substance sticks out, for it fails to engage in a meaningful way and drags mercilessly.
The plot suffers from ridiculous holes, such as a big halftime show without a single rehearsal, an illusion that Destiny’s Child is performing, and the real fact that fireworks often give war veterans the heebie-jeebies.
What a sad and unexpected disappointment, especially since Ang Lee’s last film was the visually stunning “Life of Pi.”
The Eagle Huntress
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The Eagle Huntress

Genre: Documentary
Rating: G
for general audiences
Grade: A
Reviewer: Lynn Venhaus
The Plot:
13-year-old Aisholpan Nurgaiv is the first female in her family to become an eagle hunter, after 12 generations of only men.
For the nomadic herd in the Altai mountain region of Western Mongolia, the males as eagle hunters, has been a tradition for 2,000 years.
An eagle hunter trains an eagle to capture remote prey in order to provide food for the family.

LYNN’s Take:
A fascinating look at female empowerment through a sunny young girl’s dream.
Aisholpan, a humble peasant with a winning smile and fierce determination, has the skills and dedication to succeed.
Director Otto Bell has warmly captured this remarkable girl, her supportive family and their culture. The cinematography is sweeping and gorgeous.
Daisy Ridley narrates this story certain to resonate with women and girls of all ages and backgrounds.
An inspiring coming-of-age true story that you won’t soon forget.
Moana
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Moana

Genre: Animated/Adventure/Comedy
Starring: Auli'i Cravaiho, Dwayne Johnson
Rating: PG
for peril, some scary images and brief thematic elements.
Grade: A-/B
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert & Lynn Venhaus
The Plot:
Moana (Voiced by Auli'i Cravalho) is maturing into the village leader her father expects her to be, yet she longs for the ocean. When her grandmother (voiced by Rachel House) notices her restlessness, she directs Moana to her people's rich history of exploration.
When a black rot begins to limit their vegetable and fruit crops and the fish in their reef disappear, Moana decides to search out Maui (Dwayne Johnson) a demi-god who stole the heart of her people and loosed the blackness.
Finding Maui, Moana also begins to find her purpose.

Kent’s Take:
"Moana" is the next animated feature from directors John Musker and Ron Clements ("The Little Mermaid," "Aladdin," "Hercules," "Treasure Planet," "The Princess and the Frog"). Their seasoned skill and creativity, coupled with the Fiji, Samoa and Tahiti cultures, has produced a distinctive and gorgeous film.
Moana has always loved the ocean and the ocean has chosen her to resurrect her people's history of exploration, yet her father expects Moana to lead her people his way, not hers.
As she sets off to find Maui and adventure, the story, adventure and laughs truly begin.
In a strong year of animated features, "Moana" truly distinguishes itself as one of the front runners. The dazzling beauty of island life, coupled with eye-popping colors and outstanding digital textures alone is worth the ticket price.
Yet, add a playful story of a young woman coming of age as she struggles with a petulant demi-god (voiced perfectly by Dwayne Johnson), a dim-witted chicken and plenty of laughs and this strong feature becomes even better.
What is also impressive is the adroit weaving of Polynesian culture into such an enjoyable narrative, from the Samoan tattoos (that run around Maui's body) to the gorgeous environments that make up the tropical Pacific region.
The voice actors are well-cast and imbue the story with depth and obvious love for this subject.
"Moana" is an absolute treat for both the eyes and spirit as this toe-tapping, smile-inducing gem arrives in theaters just in time for a dose of good cheer.

Lynn's Take:
This Disney Princess has a feisty independence and spirited sense of adventure. "Moana" is a stunningly gorgeous film, dense with mythology and demi-gods.
The inquisitive teenage Moana, with a serious case of wanderlust, is a wonderful role model for girls to be brace and fight for things that matter. As voiced by Auli'i Cravalho, she is smart, spunky and sweet
She bickers with Maui, a rakish cursed demi-god who stole the heart of her people, and they develop an uneasy alliance.
This story finds its bearings when she learns to navigate the sea, some truths about the world, and her culture. She loves her family, but she must fight for the things that matter to her.
Cocky and short-tempered, Maui learns valuable lessons too.
In the capable hands of John Musker and Ron Clements ("Aladdin," "The Princess and the Frog"), they vividly bring Polynesian culture and exotic tropical landscapes to life.
The humor is fast-paced, and as usual, involves goofy sidekicks like a pet chicken and a scheming crab.
Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson becomes a different kind of new Disney hero -- a charmer but with a rascally side too. His character is muscular and strong, heavily tattoed, and very proud of his heritage.
The slick and colorful animation is some of Disney's most dazzling, a kaleidoscope of vibrant colors and the mysterious underworld of the sea.
The calypso-tinged musical score by Mark Mancina features seven original songs, and with some lyrics by creative genius and Broadway superstar Lin-Manuel Miranda, of course they are catchy: "You're Welcome," "We Know the Way," and "How Far I'll Go." Opetaia Tavita Foa’I co-wrote songs too.
Despite the delectable eye candy, the mystical mumbo-jumbo, with island legends and spirits, can be hard to follow for adults, so younger children might be lost with the story.
However, children will laugh at the characters' antics. And understanding a foreign culture is always a good thing.
The short that precedes the film isn't one of Disney's better efforts either.
You'll remember "Moana" for the characters, the music, and the sumptuous visual feast.
Loving
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Loving

Genre: Biography/Drama
Starring: Ruth Negga, Joel Edgerton
Rating: PG-13
for thematic elements
Grade: A+
Reviewer: Lynn Venhaus
The Plot:
Interracial couple Richard and Mildred Loving of Central Point, Va., were arrested, sentenced to prison, and banished from their hometown, just for marrying in 1958.
Inspired by the burgeoning civil rights movement, they fought to have those restrictions invalidated. The Racial Integrity Act of 1924 was struck down in a landmark 1967 Supreme Court case.

Lynn’s Take:
Writer-director Jeff Nichols allows the Lovings’ quiet courage and commitment to shine through in this tender and moving film.
He carefully unfolds this love story of simple country folks who just wanted to be together and raise a family, but were forced to live in fear.
Two riveting, heartfelt performances, striking for not being showy, depict the Lovings’ dignity. Certain Oscar nominee Ruth Negga projects a steely determination, but with a sweet softness – a soulful portrait of a caring wife and mother.
Joel Edgerton, notable in such wide-ranging roles as “The Great Gatsby,” “The Gift” and “Warrior,” delivers a solid and touching portrayal of a decent, hard-working laborer who put his family first.
“Loving” is Nichols’ best yet, career high notes for Negga and Edgerton, and one of the best films of the year.
Fantastic Beast and Where To Find Them
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Fantastic Beast and Where To Find Them

Genre: Adventure/Fantasy/Family
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Dan Fogler
Rating: PG-13
for some fantasy action violence.
Grade: B
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert
The Plot:
When Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) enters New York with a suitcase full of exotic magical beasts, he inadvertently switches suitcases with Muggle Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler).
It doesn’t take Kowalski long to accidentally loose a slew of magical beasts upon the Big Apple, but there are stranger, stronger threats afoot and while the wizarding authorities try to keep their existence secret, they soon find themselves openly in damage control. It seems that a wizarding zoologist is the only hope for a fearful community.

Kent’s Take:
“Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them” is written and produced by J.K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame.
This magical fantasy mixes nostalgia, menace and magic into an adventurous ride. Harkening viewers back to an early twentieth century New York, we discover the charm, simplicity and danger of a city moving forward with its industrialization. That industrialization becomes a balancing backdrop for all the fantastical magic and occult creatures running throughout the city, exposing the hidden arcane New York.
Rowling has created a free-standing tale of whimsy, danger and mystery that references elements from Harry Potter, but defines itself as a different beast. At its core is a rather eccentric and academically dedicated zoologist whose good intentions land him in the middle of a dangerous adventure. Redmayne’s performance is even but tempered, dampening the emotional connection we gather from the adventure. Fogler is a nice comic sidekick sharing the positives with the special effects.
As this adventure unfolds, as in the Harry Potter series, we are slowly brought into a larger mystery, a perfect launching point for another franchise – one with fewer guidelines and more opportunities to surprise.
Although these characters may not have the dedicated audience, yet, “Fantastic Beasts” is a wand-erful lark that captures viewers for a bright future of meddling, mystery and imagination.
The Edge of Seventeen
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The Edge of Seventeen

Genre: Comedy/Drama
Starring: Haley Steinfeld, Blake Jenner, Haley Lu Richardson
Rating: R
for sexual content, language and some drinking- all involving teens.
Grade: C+
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert
The Plot:
High school junior Nadine (Haley Steinfeld) is in the throes of teenage angst. She struggles with social interaction and her dim outlook on life affords her few friends. Her brother Darian (Blake Jenner) was born with a silver spoon and their widowed mother struggles with parenting.
When Nadine’s best and only friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson) begins dating Darian, Nadine’s life takes a distinct dive as she forces Krista to choose between her brother or their friendship. As those around her try to coach her along the path of maturity, Nadine must ultimately make that leap on her own.

Kent’s Take:
“The Edge of Seventeen” is a coming-of-age story with laughs and a healthy dose of reality.
This comedy follows a down-and-out teenager as she attempts to traverse the rocky roads of maturity while her life seemingly crumbles around her and is reminiscent of some classic films by John Hughes. In Hughes’ critically acclaimed “Sixteen Candles” Molly Ringwald’s Samantha experiences every humiliation a teen can have in the most hilarious ways only to discover that life eventually settles down and works out with the loving support of friends and family.
The secret to the success of Hughes’ films are two-fold. The unpredictable narrative takes you to hilarious situations that help fuel his stories and give insight to the characters’ motivations. Yet, throughout all of the madcapped adventures (and serious angst, too), themes of friendship, love and family always leave viewers with a strong feeling of hope.
“The Edge of Seventeen” finds Nadine creating laughs with dialogue and a few enjoyable awkward moments, but this more modern take on adolescence is more sober. Whether adolescence today is more serious, doesn’t mean a comedy about it should be.
Nadine is annoying. Yes, she is cute and a bit quirky, but this comedy has an imbalance of serious moments to laughs, creating a downward spiral of angst rather than one of laughs (it’s better to laugh at a situation than cry). Steinfeld doesn’t distinguish herself, nor does she falter, her Nadine is written too seriously, diluting the inconsistent laughs.
In addition, the story suffers from predictability. There is little imigination used in this narrative.
Two notable performances were Woody Harrelson’s educator Mr. Bruner. His wry humor beautifully balances Nadine’s manic moods while his support creates an anchor for the floundering Nadine. Hayden Szeto’s Erwin has a crush on Nadine, his awkwardness and compassion is both touching and very funny.
“The Edge of Seventeen” is a funny romp through a jungle of hormonal decisions and although this pubescent tale follows a predictable path, that path is a journey worth considering (at a discount).
Bleed For This
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Bleed For This

Genre: Biography/Drama/Sport
Starring: Miles Teller, Aaron Ekhart
Rating: R
for language, sexuality/ nudity and some accident images.
Grade: B+
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert
The Plot:
Vinny “Paz” Pazienza (Miles Teller) is a tough boxer fighting out of a working class neighborhood in Rhode Island. His brutal boxing style has him taking as many punches as he gives.
After winning the championship belt in his weight class, Pazienza is involved in a serious automobile accident, leaving him with a fractured spine.
Told he may never walk again, much less fight, Paz musters his determination and grit in an attempt to step into the ring once again.

Kent’s Take:
“Bleed For This” is based upon the true story of Vinny Pazienza’s attempt to overcome a turn of bad luck and stay in the ring. Paz knows only boxing with his ability to overcome pain, elevates his boxing performance.
Boxing stories always focus on a fighter’s struggles, these struggles fuel the fighter and motivate audiences to root for their triumph. “Bleed For This” is no different. Having reached the pinnacle of his sport, his tragic accident forces Vinny to switch from a risky sport, one where permanent injury is possible, to a gamble, a choice that could result in permanent paralysis.
This is a story about triumph and the enduring human spirit, this inspirational story doesn’t take place in an antiseptic rehab center, but in a dirty basement weight room, an aged, crumbling boxing center and a boxing ring spattered with opponent’s sweat and blood.
What elevates this somewhat predictable story are the outstanding performances. Miles Teller’s Pazienza is both lovable and fierce, each scar on his face tells a story of hard work and sacrifice. Aaron Ekhart’s Kevin Rooney, Vinny’s drunken trainer, goes all in, in a last ditch effort to salvage his career – transforming him from a brawler into a boxer.
Director Ben Younger uses great cinematography and memorable editing to create various moods, pacing us through Vinny’s rebuilding.
“Bleed For This” makes it a simple task to sweat with Vinny, as we not only cheer for the “Sweet Science” but are willing to “Bleed AND Pay For This.”
Arrival
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Arrival

Genre: Drama/Mystery/Sci-fi
Starring: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker
Rating: PG-13
for brief strong language.
Grade: A
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert
The Plot:
The day mysterious spacecrafts touch down on earth, governments move to control the panic and reassure their populations. Linguist Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is contacted a few days later and asked to head up a team with scientist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) to contact and attempt to communicate with the aliens.
The military simply wants Dr. Banks to ask, “Why are you here?” But in order to do that one must establish things such as how the aliens define “you,” is it as an individual you or a collective you, and do they even distinguish this.
As governments share data with each other, few are making any real progress, until Dr. Banks makes a risky move and has a breakthrough.
Yet, just as they begin to unravel the mystery behind these creatures, all connected countries cease communicating. As the world prepares for war against the aliens, Dr. Banks must figure out if she is interpreting the aliens messages correctly or if the Chinese have discovered an unsettling truth.

Kent’s Take:
“Arrival” is a sci-fi mystery that is as cerebral as it is emotional.
Balancing the beauty of this world with the ugliness of its war-like nature, this gem delivers on several levels.
Communication is the key word in this memorable film. As Dr. Banks begins tackling an entirely new communication method with alien creatures, she struggles to get Colonel Weber’s superiors to listen and understand what that actually means. The slow, arduous process of learning a language that doesn’t originate on earth, is electrified by the simple fact that we are desperate to know if the human race is at risk.
Director Denis Villeneuve masterfully captures fear through a lens of tension and misinterpretation. Previous scientists crumbled under the strain of alien contact, and Banks and Donnelly barely keep their sanity as they make their first foray into the alien ship. Villeneuve drapes this story with a weighty gravity, hanging an initial sense of dread upon viewers.
Writer Eric Heisserer creates tension from the beginning, slowly transitioning the story from balancing government paranoia to well-founded fear, to finish this unique tale with a flourish of understanding.
This is a non-linear film and is better for it. The style of storytelling sometimes confuses or keeps audiences off balance, but Heisserer uses this risky method to imbue emotion into a suspenseful and potentially antiseptic film.
Cinematographer Bradford Young captures the beauty of Earth with the strange alien environment, while composer Jóhann Jóhannsson magnifies the emotion with his perfect score.
Adams and Renner give subtle performances that enhance the feeling of danger, magnify the stakes and yet still offer humanity during this volatile situation.
“Arrival” has a hard sci-fi edge, but is softened for the average viewer by a skilled director’s vision, the pen of a deft writer, the eye of a cinematographer and the score of an artful composer. This outstanding film runs the gamut of the emotional palette in its proficient telling, leaving audiences with plenty to ponder and even more to discuss.
Moonlight
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Moonlight

Genre: Drama
Starring: Alex Hibbert, Jr., Ashton Sanders, Trevante Rhodes
Rating: R
for some sexuality, drug use, brief violence, and language throughout.
Grade: A-
Reviewer: Lynn Venhaus
The Plot:
Chiron is poor, black and gay. He grows up in public housing in Miami’s rough Liberty City neighborhood, the only son of a crack addict. He might live near the sea, but his life is not exactly smooth sailing.
Writer-director Barry Jenkins splits the coming-of-age story into three contemplative chapters – as a youth “Little,” as a teenager “Chiron,” and as an adult, now living in Atlanta, “Black.”
Struggling to find acceptance and his place in the world, the quiet, lonely Chiron will connect with a few people who make a difference in his life.

Lynn’s Take:
A haunting and lyrical work of profound power, “Moonlight” packs an emotional wallop with its raw and reflective storytelling.
Jenkins uses sparse dialogue and a minimalistic, deliberate style to carve a heartbreaking portrait of a sensitive boy’s growth into a hardened adult.
Chiron has survived the harsh realities of his disadvantaged life, shaped by key moments and indelible people.
The performers move us with their genuine compassion, bringing forth light into destiny’s darkness.
Three actors portray Chiron at different turning points of his life, and they each bring out an expressive reality that is fresh and deeply moving. Great performances always emanate from the eyes, and the melancholy is palpable here.
As the bullied young Little, Alex Hibbert Jr. projects aching loneliness and vulnerability. Ashton Sanders (“Straight Outta Compton”) depicts a desperate and yearning teenaged Chiron.
Trevante Rhodes (“Westworld”) has his guard up as the grown-up, nicknamed “Black,” imbuing him with a rough-edged wariness.
Supporting work is exceptional. Mahershala Ali (“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Parts I and 2” and “House of Cards”), increasingly impressive with each new work, is Juan, a father figure who rescues the boy several ways and remains a strong presence.
Singer Janelle Monae is Teresa, Juan’s girlfriend, whose kindness is also influential.
Naomie Harris (“Spectre”) is nearly unrecognizable as Chiron’s addict-mother Paula, displaying mercurial mood swings.
Just as Chiron is played by three different actors, the character’s lifelong friend Kevin is also portrayed by a solid trio – Jaden Piner at age 9, Jharrel Jerome at 16, and Andre Holland (“Selma”) as an adult.
Universal themes of family, friendship, love and identity are explored in “Moonlight” in a very personal, thoughtful way.
In adapting an autobiographical play by Tarell Alvin McCraney, “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue,” Jenkins’ singular vision is distinctive, enhanced by James Laxton’s vivid cinematography and interesting sound design.
Hacksaw Ridge
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Hacksaw Ridge

Genre: Biography/Drama/War
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Vince Vaughn, Teresa Palmer, Sam Worthington
Rating: R
for intense prolonged realistically graphic sequences of war violence including grisly bloody images.
Grade: B+ (Kent)/B (Lynn)
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert & Lynn Venhaus
The Plot:
Desmond T. Doss (Andrew Garfield) struggled with violence in his Blue Ridge Mountain home. His veteran father fought with PTSD and as a result, alcohol, too. Those battles often took the form of beatings and threats with firearms on his sons and wife.
When the U.S. enters WWII, Doss fulfills his duty by enlisting, but his abusive upbringing has transformed him into a Conscientious Objector – refusing to take up a firearm. Boot camp is difficult for both Doss and his commanding officers (CO) as they label him a coward in an attempt to drum him out of the service.
Yet, his family and his faith help him finish boot camp to become a medic. When his unit is sent to Okinawa, they find themselves at Hacksaw Ridge – a deadly plateau. What ensues on this stripped, burned, decimated place is nothing short of a miracle.

Kent’s Take:
“Hacksaw Ridge” is based upon the true story of the first Conscientious Objector to receive the Medal of Honor.
This is a simple story. A tale of life and death, love and hate, commitment and faith – what this film is NOT, is a story about cowardice.
Doss was nicknamed “cornstalk” by his CO due to his thin build, but his stature and gentle demeanor hid a fire within him that they would not see until he experienced combat.
Director Mel Gibson frames this story by defining Doss as a victim of his upbringing. Defining him as a soul who vows to shun violence by helping others, redirects the audience’s judgement from seeing him as a coward to rooting for an underdog. What also helps audiences get behind this hero is his courting/marriage of Dorothy Schutte (Teresa Palmer). Their innocent love is both prim and proper and helps define both as faithful and devoted.
The war violence is disturbing and realistic, magnifying the courage that Doss shows in his heroic act. However, this also drives home the idea that any man (or woman) can do great things when galvanized by conviction. Doss was driven by his concern for the soldiers on the battlefield, he just couldn’t leave soldiers unattended.
“Hacksaw Ridge” is a memorable war film. While most films in this genre show courage and sacrifice through taking lives, this film flips the heroics by saving them – a unique change that distinguishes this film and electrifies viewers.

Lynn’s Take:
When a movie bills itself as “the incredible true story,” then it better be something special. And yes, “Hacksaw Ridge” is a humdinger.
Why we have not known this heroic tale of Desmond Doss until now is mystifying, for it’s quite an emotional and inspiring journey.
Doss, a conscientious objector as a man of great faith and personal conviction, goes through hell and back after enlisting in the Army during World War II.
Ostracized and bullied, Doss fought for his principles and showed great courage under duress.
In his best performance yet, Andrew Garfield (“The Amazing Spider-Man”) embodies the brave and selfless soldier. You feel his turmoil and fortitude every step of the way.
The supporting cast stands out as well. Vince Vaughn demonstrates his versatility as a tough drill sergeant. Luke Bracey (“Point Break”) is a skeptical soldier while Sam Worthington (“Avatar”) is a no-nonsense superior officer. Teresa Palmer (“Triple 9”) is Doss’s loyal wife Dorothy.
Oscar-winning director Mel Gibson (“Braveheart”) is skilled at staging war scenes, and the blood-and-guts brutality is intense.
Gibson also focuses on Doss’ strength of character and humanity during wartime. The movie also stresses Doss’s Christianity, as faith is one of Gibson’s recurring themes.
The movie is a tad too long, but the subject is compelling and the story well-told.
Doctor Strange
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Doctor Strange

Genre: Action/Sci-fi/Fantasy
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Tilda Swinton, Mads Mikkelsen
Rating: PG-13
for sci-fi violence and action throughout and an intense crash sequence
Grade: B+
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert
The Plot:
Arrogant Neurosurgeon Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) loses the use of his hands in a violent auto accident.
Searching the world for progressively more radical healing processes, Strange finds himself in Nepal under the tutelage of The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) learning Eastern mysticism and martial arts.
Yet, when the evil Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) attempts to bring earth into the Dark Dimension, Doctor Strange must learn his most critical lesson – humility.

Kent’s Take:
Straying from its traditional superhero formula, Marvel Studios and Walt Disney Studios bring us one of the most unusual origin stories and heroes in the Marvel Universe.
Relying less on brute force and more on metaphysical, intangible concepts such as mental strength and magic, offers audiences an alternative to physical punches and kicks.
However, there is still a villain, still plenty of action and definitely some outstanding visual effects. These effects are the perfect bridge between the viewers conceptualization of mental training and the visual result of that training, creating glowing spells and supernatural weapons.
This story is less complex than previous Marvel fare. Gone are the subplots that deepen the meaning and stakes for the usual ensemble cast. “Doctor Strange” is a single player origin story, thus the plot is streamlined to reflect this. Writer/director Scott Derrickson still follows some tried and true touchstones. Balance rules this film. Offering drama, humor and action in equal parcels keeps viewers on their toes. Characters are flawed, yet still succeed by will, dedication and risk-taking. The talented cast rides this wave of good storytelling, finding the soul of this tale to keep us focused and fulfilled.
“Doctor Strange” extends the string of strong offerings by Marvel Studios with an arcane, mind-bending, esoteric action offering.
Inferno
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Inferno

Genre: Action/Adventure/Mystery
Starring: Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones
Rating: PG-13
for sequences of action and violence, disturbing images, some language, thematic elements and brief sensuality.
Grade: C (Kent)
Reviewer: Kent Tentschert
The Plot:
Professor Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) awakens in Florence, Italy with no recollection of the last 48 hours. When the Italian police arrive and begin shooting, Langdon and Dr. Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones) embark upon a veiled mystery.
As Langdon’s memory slowly returns in fits and starts, Langdon and Brooks realize their answers are somehow linked to an eccentric billionaire.
Following a historic path through Europe, this duo finds themselves ever closer to danger, death and something worse than death – Inferno.

Kent’s Take:
“Inferno” is the shaky adaptation of author Dan Brown’s third book in his literary trilogy.
Professor Langdon regains consciousness, unaware of his surroundings. He’s dizzy, confused and stitched up, but before he or Dr. Brooks can get answers, they are forced to flee – entering into a quest where the world hangs in the balance.
Director Ron Howard and Tom Hanks work very hard to salvage this action adventure.
Although the historic settings are gorgeous and inviting, the mystery surrounding this adventure is poorly presented. As Langdon and Brooks discover and follow clues, we eventually realize this is more a scavenger hunt rather than a historic hunt with the history barked at viewers due to the ticking clock.
The choppy writing keeps audiences from falling in step with the characters and the history. Add to this a distinct lack of chemistry between Hanks and Jones further disconnecting us (emotionally) from this story.
This film fails to create a tense thriller for the simple fact that every good film begins with a good story – and “Inferno” has a devil of a time doing just that.
Certain Women
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Certain Women

Genre: Drama
Starring: Laura Dern, Kristen Stewart, Michelle Williams
Rating: R
for some language.
Grade: B- (Lynn)
Reviewer: Lynn Venhaus
The Plot:
Ordinary women trying to cope with life’s curveballs headline three short stories from the “Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It” collection by Montana writer Maile Meloy. Writer-director Kelly Reichardt has adapted them into jagged vignettes.

Lynn’s Take:
Thrust into the middle of the trio’s messy lives, with minimal resolutions, we can exit dissatisfied.
That style, combined with an unhurried pace and symbolic silences, has made Reichardt an arthouse darling.
The strong actresses immerse themselves in fleshing out these complicated women.
Laura Dern is a hapless lawyer dealing with a pitiable yet demanding client.
Michelle Williams is a controlling wife and mother building her perfect home. This is her third film with Reichardt, after “Wendy and Lucy” and “Meek’s Cutoff.”
The best sequence involves Kristen Stewart as an angsty lawyer teaching a night class.
While each actress delivers, the movie belongs to Lily Gladstone as a shy, vulnerable and lonely ranch hand who steps out of her comfort zone.
The women’s lives connect in brief ways, too.
The lived-in plot might have hanging threads, but the beauty of Big Sky Country is undeniable. And the performances are a soulful window to the world.
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