Sorry everyone, I've been pretty busy lately and haven't focused as much on the site. I'm going to try to catch up quickly with a few rapid-fire short paragraph reviews of the last eight movies I've seen in the theater (in reverse order of viewing). Thankfully we're starting to ramp up into Oscar season and STILL the best film on my list is Hell or High Water (now available on On Demand!).
Mila Kunis and company decide to let loose a bit and fight against Christina Applegate and the perfect PTA Moms. This movie was hysterical. The funniest film of the year so far and the perfect showcase for the uber-talented Kathryn Hahn. 4.5 JRs
The Birth of a Nation
Nate Parker's tour-de-force performance as slave uprising leader Nat Turner carries this quality film. Not as deep or as moving as 12 Years a Slave, this film still resonates and is worth a viewing, even if you don't agree with Parker's questionable past. I still think Parker has given the best performance of 2016 so-far but his off-screen issues will hurt him come Oscar time. 4.5 JRs
The Girl on the Train
In the vain of Gone Girl, this is a relationship drama / whodunnit that runs off the rails near the end. Still, Emily Blunt is really good as usual in the lead role as an alcoholic. Solid supporting turns including the beautiful Haley Bennett help keep the plot together and the end result is still an entertaining experience. 3.5 JRs
Benedict Cumberbatch is perfectly cast as the sinister/creepy/smart Dr. Strange in Marvel's latest comic adaptation. I personally knew very little about the character when I went to see this but was quite entertained with a combination of good acting and great special effects. Marvel should probably give some credit to Dark City / Inception for some of the building-shifting effects. Rachel McAdams is kind of wasted here in a throw-away role but I can see myself getting into this franchise going forward. Bonus points for a hilarious stinger post-credits scene with Thor. 4 JRs
Director Dennis Villeneuve had hit it out of the park with his last two films in Prisoners and Sicario, so I was expecting another masterpiece with this sci-fi drama. Instead I found this tale of communication between humans and an alien race to be a bit disappointing. Amy Adams is strong in the role of a linguistics expert and mother dealing with a key loss in the family but her performance alone couldn't carry the slow plot and questionable ending. I wanted to love this film, but I merely liked it. It's still worth a viewing and parts of it are filmed beautifully. I still have faith in Villeneuve but this just wasn't his best effort. 3 JRs
Bad Santa 2
Billy Bob is back at it again playing the grumpy Santa role, spewing vile lines of dialogue and getting chummy with his evil Mom played gleefully by Kathy Bates.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Eddie Redmayne helms this JK Rowling addition to the Harry Potter cinematic universe. We get plenty of CGI wizardry through a slew of new characters and beasts including a magical briefcase that is home to a virtual zoo of creatures. This is a solid entry into what should be an entertaining (5 film!?!?) franchise. A bit cookie-cutter, but entertaining nonetheless. 3.5 JRs
Manchester by the Sea
I just saw this on Saturday and was very impressed with the ensemble acting in this movie. Kenneth Lonergan's tale of dealing with extreme grief in New England focuses on Casey Affleck and his relationship with key family members including his ex-wife Michelle Williams, brother Kyle Chandler and his teenage nephew Lucas Hedges. The bond between Affleck and Hedges is so believable and authentic that it powers the entire film. My biggest complaint is that the movie STILL feels way too short even at over 2 hours of run time. The movie ends abruptly and I felt that there was still more to be explored in the narrative. That being said, the performances across the board are so good. Affleck will be a contender for Best Actor in a reserved role that emotes withdrawl and isolation due to a key event in the middle of the film. Even with such a short on-screen performance, Williams will get a serious look at Supporting Actress simply because of one key scene (a win for Michelle would be similar to Anne Hathaway's win for Les Miserables). I REALLY hope that Hughes gets some real consideration for Supporting Actor as I thought he was so believable as a genuine teenager in today's world. Go see this film. I was going to give it 4 JRs initially (backlash for the ending) but I keep thinking about it after the fact and I feel I have to bump up my rating. 4.5 JRs
PS: I also saw Sausage Party on On Demand recently and I was a bit underwhelmed by it. It had some good laughs and was plenty raunchy but it seemed to be trying too hard and I just didn't find it all that funny overall. A rather forgettable 2.5 out of 5 JRs.