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Articles by Diana Beechener

Disney puts all its heroes in one basket in this epic action movie

     The once mighty Avengers are in tatters. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.: Spider-Man: Homecoming) and Captain America (Chris Evans: Gifted) are feuding. Thor (Chris Hemsworth: 12 Strong) is drifting in space after destroying his home world to save his people. Hulk (Mark Ruffalo: Thor: Ragnarok) is still trying to find himself. 
      The divided heroes reunite to battle a baddie of galactic proportions.
      Thanos (Josh Brolin: Only the Brave) is a space invader obsessed with bringing balance to the universe. It’s his goal to eliminate half the lifeforms throughout the universe to counter overpopulation and dwindling resources. 
     Flashy, entertaining and shallow, Avengers: Infinity War is big-budget popcorn entertainment. Directors Anthony and Joe Russo (Captain America: Civil War) craft a bombastic confluence of seven superhero franchises. It’s a well-balanced film, given the size of characters and number of storylines. The Russo brothers also come up with a few unique character pairings that make the movie a blast to watch. 
       But as in any good Marvel movie, the real test is the quality of the villain. As power-mad galactic terrorist Thanos, Brolin turns in a surprisingly complex performance. His Thanos is committed to his task but not devoid of emotions. He loves his daughter Gamora (Zoe Saldana: My Little Pony: The Movie), but won’t allow her to stand in the way of his mission. For a man bent on destroying half the universe, he’s surprisingly likeable. 
        As in most Avengers movies, there’s not time for deep characters. But that doesn’t mean the film lacks heart. Hemsworth, Downey and Saldana all have great dramatic moments. With plenty of comedy to counteract the grim plotlines, the movie also never veers too far into darkness.
       On a more practical level, for a film with an astronomical budget, Avengers: Infinity War has some surprisingly shoddy effects. A few CGI shots are almost laughably bad, and the main battle is filled with disposable monsters that are neither scary nor interesting. It’s a little disappointing that a movie guaranteed to break box office records can’t take care in its craft. 
      Fans of Marvel’s Avengers series will find this easily the best of the three films. It’s breezy, entertaining fun.
Good Action Adventure • PG-13 • 149 mins.
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Bad Samaritan
       Sean Falco (Robert Sheehan) is a valet who drives the cars he’s supposed to park to their rich owners’ homes for burglaries.
       It’s a lucrative scam until it isn’t.
       In the middle of a break-in, Sean finds a woman who’s bound, gagged and pleading for help. Afraid he’ll be arrested for breaking into the house, he leaves her and calls the police. When the cops find nothing, he’s stricken with guilt.
Now, he has two problems: First, he’s horrified that he might have gotten a woman killed. Second, homeowner (David Tennant) knows who he is and intends revenge. 
        A thriller about the dangers of doing the right thing, Bad Samaritan promises a tense cat-and-mouse game of Hitchcockian thrills. 
Prospects: Flickering • R • 107 mins. 
       Leonardo (Eugenio Derbez) is a thoughtless wealthy man who treats his servants poorly. He fires harried single mother Kate (Anna Faris) over a trivial matter and refuses her pay. 
       When Leonardo is thrown off his yacht and wakes on the shore with amnesia, Kate sees opportunity. She shows up at the hospital as his wife and brings him home to her kids. Leonardo learns the meaning of work as Kate throws him into a blue-collar job and tasks him with raising “their” kids. 
       Leonardo adapts fairly well to life as Kate’s husband. Soon, the two are edging toward a connection. Will Kate’s lies torpedo their burgeoning relationship? 
       A remake of the 1980s romcom, Overboard is still a highly questionable concept for a film. The gender roles have been reversed from the original, but the movie is still trying to make kidnapping and gaslighting cute and quirky bases for romance. While the older film is perhaps a product of the times, this remake feels hopelessly out of touch. 
Prospects: Dim • PG-13 • 112 mins. 
      Marlo (Charlize Theron) is overwhelmed with caring for three young children. She and her husband aren’t connecting. She’s feeling desperate for some alone time. She worries she’s failing as a wife and mother.
      Though she’s against the idea, Marlo reluctantly accepts her brother’s offer to hire a night nanny for the family. Tully (Mackenzie Davis) turns out to be a godsend for both kids and mother.
       A movie about the problems women aren’t supposed to speak about, Tully will likely strike a chord with mothers everywhere.
Prospects: Bright • R • 94 mins. 

A dark and twisted take on the action genre 

      For unsavory jobs, Joe (Joaquin Phoenix: Irrational Man) is the guy to call. The veteran of war, brutality and PTSD is abnormally good at violence.
      The money is good, and his earnings support his elderly mother. Joe, however, is not so good. He suffers constant flashbacks to either his abusive childhood or wartime in the Gulf. 
      His world shifts when he’s hired to save the daughter of a New York state senator from a trafficking ring. Gruff awkward Joe bonds with the girl. When the job goes south, Joe tears through the underbelly of New York, hell-bent on recovering her. 
     Director Lynne Ramsay (We Need to Talk About Kevin) is known for making films that can be hard to access, and this one is no exception. Cryptic, brutal and beautiful, it is also challenging; some in the audience said “weird.” Think of it as an arthouse reboot of the Taken franchise. 
      Ramsay’s peculiar brand of storytelling is expressionistic. Don’t expect the plot to be fully explained. She offers vivid glimpses of Joe’s past and present, expecting us to fill in the rest of the story. If you can stick with it, you’ll be rewarded with a fascinating story about how violence molds our lives and our futures. 
       This isn’t a movie interested in making violence look cool; Ramsay shows its horror. Yet camera work is beautiful, with expert framing and action sequences that dance around violence. Sound design is artful, with highlighted bits of dialogue and noise ratcheting up the tension and explaining Joe’s tortured perception of the world. 
      Phoenix is fascinating, lumbering through scenes with a ballpeen hammer clenched in his fist. His Joe is terrifying yet endearing. He’s clearly lost, and basic human interaction is hard for him. But he follows his own strict moral code. 
       If you’re interested in a meditation on violence, trauma and obsession, You Were Never Really Here might be for you.
Great Action • R • 89 mins.
~~~ New this Week ~~~
Avengers: Infinity War
       Just arrived on Earth, intergalactic super villain Thanos (Josh Brolin) plans to kill half of humanity, enslave the rest and collect the infinity stones that offer him ultimate power. 
      To stop him, this nearly unprecedented melding of film franchises brings together every member of the Marvel extended universe.
       This also means all your favorite superheroes will be short-changed because there’s no way to develop 30 characters in one film. But like all the Avengers movies, this is about spectacle, not plot or character. 
       If you’re not a fan of Marvel films, you may want to stay away from the movie house this weekend. No one wants to compete against this juggernaut.
Prospects: Flickering • PG-13 • 149 mins.

Lack of communication is downfall and ­salvation in this tense flick

       Predatory aliens roam Earth, hunting humans by sound. Even whispers can lead to a brutal death. Evelyn (Emily Blunt: My Little Pony: The Movie) and Lee Abbott (John Krasinski: Detroit) are working hard to keep their family life quiet. 
Sand is spread on trails from the house to town. Wooden floors are painted so everyone knows where to step to avoid creaks. Shoes are banned from the house as are all items like plates or cutlery that could make telltale sounds. The family uses sign language and crafts light signals for emergencies.
       Despite their planning, tragedy strikes when their youngest picks up a noise-making toy and is killed before his parents can reach him.
        After his death, the family splinters. Oldest daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds: Wonderstruck) blames herself and fears her father does as well. Lee draws back, secluding himself in a basement bunker as he seeks a way to defeat the aliens. Pregnant Evelyn must think of a way to deliver her baby silently and keep it from crying. Son Marcus (Noah Jupe: Wonder) is terrified of his own shadow.
       When the Abbotts face another threat, can they pull together? 
      Tense, interesting and well acted, A Quiet Place is one of the rare horror movies that doesn’t need cheap parlor tricks to entertain. Krasinski, who also directs, focuses on a family in crisis, exploring relationships and coping.
        The movie’s silence heightens tension. By crafting a film where sound is deadly, Krasinski plays on audience reaction. Rows of viewers collectively gasp or hold their breath. 
       The cast is also phenomenal. Blunt offers a wonderful, nearly silent performance. Small tremors in her face and shifts of her eyes convey more than some actresses can with pages of dialogue. She also works well with Krasinski, establishing that deep connection among the Abbotts before the alien disaster.
         Simmonds, who is a deaf actress, makes a fierce Regan, who lashes out in hurt and guilt over her part in her brother’s death.
        See the movie, but forgo the popcorn and candy lest you be the loudest thing in the theater.
Great Horror • PG-13 • 90 mins.
~~~ New this Week ~~~
Final Portrait
        Portrait artist Alberto Giacometti (Geoffrey Rush) is legendary for capturing the essence of his subjects. 
        Writer James Lord (Armie Hammer) leaps at the invitation to sit for a Giacometti portrait. The artist promises to be quick. But in the studio, Lord discovers that an artist, and a portrait session, can’t be rushed.
        Director Stanley Tucci showcases actors and performances more than plot and nuance. A reflection on how torturous the artistic process can be, it’s a movie for anyone who’s ever struggled to complete a project. 
Prospects: Bright • R • 90 mins.
I Feel Pretty
        When deeply insecure Renee (Amy Schumer) hits her head, her world changes. She wakes up seeing herself as a physical ideal — and filled with a confidence she never dreamed of. 
        Will newly empowered Renee be able to conquer the world? Or will the patriarchy put her in her place? 
       This comedy about the difference self-assurance can make seems well meaning, the premise being that women allow themselves to be belittled by society and themselves, and when they shed those shackles, anything is possible. Is Schumer the one to execute it?
Prospects: Flickering • PG-13 • 110 mins.
Super Troopers 2
       When a Canadian border town turns out to be located on our side of the border, the United States government asks the Vermont State Troopers to help secure the town during the power transition, leading to a culture war in a tranquil town. 
       Super Troopers 2 rehashes the crass original, which felt fresh and had some funny moments. It’s a sequel no one really needed. 
Prospects: Dim • R • 100 mins.
       Brea (Paula Patton) and John (Omar Epps) are enjoying a romantic rural vacation when they run afoul of bikers. Trapped in the remote woods, they must rely on themselves to escape the violent, racist gang hunting them.
         Couple-in-peril plots are staples of the B-movie genre. Traffik has a chance to make a statement with its imperiled black couple hunted by a gang of violent whites.
Prospects: Flickering • R • 96 mins.
You Were Never Really Here
        Joe (Joaquin Phoenix) has a particular set of skills. A veteran with stress disorder problems, he works as hired muscle. On a mission to retrieve a senator’s missing daughter, he falls into a conspiracy that make him question the world and his own sanity. 
        Lynne Ramsay directs a dreamlike horror movie that will leave you questioning what you see. It played well at Cannes and has earned a few critical raves. But Ramsay likes to challenge her audiences. Expect ambiguous plots and unflinching depictions of depravity.
Prospects: Bright • R • 89 mins.

Dogs are always our best friends, even when we’re not theirs 

        When an epidemic of canine flu threatens the population of a Japanese town, the mayor (voiced by Kunichi Nomura: The Grand Budapest Hotel) decrees that all dogs be banished to the town’s offshore landfill, Trash Island. 
     People are upset. Scientists are ignored despite their claim to have cured the flu. Is there a conspiracy led by a cat-loving crime family? 
     The dogs, for their part, want to go home to their masters.
     The mayor’s ward (Koyu Rankin: Juken) hijacks a small plane and crash-lands on the island to look for his faithful bodyguard and best friend Spots (Liev Schreiber: Ray Donovan). Instead, the boy finds Chief (Bryan Cranston: Electric Dreams), a stray who hates the concept of masters, and his pack of former house pets. Chief wants nothing to do with the boy, but the pack out-votes him, deciding to help on his quest.
      Eventually, Chief wonders if there might not be some good in masters.
     Meticulously styled, emotionally resonate and utterly fetching, Isle of Dogs will have dog-lovers wagging. It is steeped in director Wes Anderson’s (The Grand Budapest Hotel) typical style. Each frame is filled with copious candy-colored details, with cuteness offset by a rather morbid sense of humor. This vaguely 1960s-mashed-with-fairy-tale style can take some getting used to. But in animated form, it’s easier to go with.
     Though Anderson has only done one other animated film, his aesthetic blends beautifully with the medium.
     Flaws are few and fall to humans. The storyline involving people is less interesting than anything the dogs do. A know-it-all exchange student (Greta Gerwig: 20th Century Women) adds irritation rather than heroism as an annoying foreigner.
      Anderson has not always treated pets well; their deaths are frequently the punchline in his films. But here he nails the emotional bond between human and dog. 
Good Animation • PG-13 • 101 mins.
~~~ New this Week ~~~
Finding Your Feet
      When Sandra (Imelda Staunton) leaves her cheating husband, she is forced to move in with her sister Bif (Celia Imrie). Sandra thinks Bif is the black sheep of the family, while Bif finds Sandra insufferably stuffy.
      The sisters find common ground when Sandra joins Bif at her community dance class. Sandra opens up as she meets members of the class and rediscovers the joys of embracing life.
     This film is no groundbreaker. It’s a group of insanely talented British theater and film stars having fun in a silly romantic comedy. If you enjoyed The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, buy a ticket. 
Prospects: Flickering • PG-13 • 111 mins.
The Miracle Season
     A volleyball team mourning its star player is inspired by a tough-talking coach (Helen Hunt) to dedicate their season to their lost teammate. Soon, the ladies are unstoppable, playing their way to championship.
      A feel-good sports movie based on a true story, The Miracle Season follows Hoosiers, Rudy and Miracle in winning audiences with underdog sports stories. This one adds an all-female team. 
Prospects: Flickering • PG • 101 mins. 
        Davis Okoye (Dwayne Johnson) is a primatologist known for raising a silverback gorilla from birth. The gorilla, George, communicates via sign language. Their bond is tested when an experimental chemical finds its way into George’s cage. The gorilla is mutated into a giant ape with a rage problem. 
       It’s a good thing the government uncovers some other mutated animals for George to fight. 
       Sound silly? Of course it is.
       Based on a popular video game featuring giant mutant animals fighting each other, Rampage isn’t so much a movie as a loud distraction. Fans of Johnson and his wry performances should enjoy this mindless popcorn flick. 
Prospects: Flickering • PG-13 • 107 mins. 
Truth or Dare
       Olivia (Lucy Hale) and her vacationing friends play a game of truth or dare with strangers. The game turns deadly.
        It could be fun for fans of mindless horror staged on stupid premises. I’m holding out for a horror version of Beer Pong. 
Prospects: Dare you to see it • PG-13 • 100 mins. 

Steven Spielberg should hit restart on this ­disaster gamer movie

     In 2045, the real world is in tatters. People find their only satisfaction in the OASIS, a virtual reality simulation enabling you to be or do anything you want.

         At his death, the OASIS creator leaves a challenge to the millions of users worldwide: Find three keys hidden somewhere in the program and inherit control of his estate. It’s a billion dollar golden ticket, just waiting to be found.

         Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan: All Summers End) is a nobody living in the stacks, a park of trailers stacked several stories high. He has one friend, Aech (Lena Waithe: Master of None), and no money, limiting his options even in the OASIS. Playing under the tag Parzival, Wade finds the first key, becoming a celebrity in the virtual world.

         Everyone wants a piece of Parzival. His avatar is famous. His crush wants to talk to him. Tech Company IOI recruits him to find the other keys. With fame and fortune, however, come problems. As the battle for control of the OASIS becomes more intense, Wade wonders who he can trust and if he’ll survive this virtual Easter egg hunt.

         Filled with gaming and 1980s’ pop culture allusions, Ready Player One is beautiful, bombastic and hollow. Think of it as Willy Wonka with the candy replaced with smug video game references.

         The problems begin, unfortunately, with veteran director Steven Spielberg (The Post). The plot, derived from a bestselling dystopian novel, is a jumble of scenes strung together with the thinnest of logic. References have no purpose but to make the audience feel clever for recognizing them. Performances are abominable. Sheridan is out of his league whether delivering the overly sincere monologues that infatuate Spielberg or looking tearily at the girl he loves. Ready Player One ill serves fans of both the book and good movies.

         There are, however, two bright points. As Aech, Lena Waithe is a delight, bringing levity and charm to her scenes. A brilliant 10-minute sequence in the Overlook Hotel combines humor, thrills and references to The Shining.

Terrible Adventure • PG-13 • 140 mins.



~~~ New this Week ~~~



         Realizing their daughters are planning to lose their virginity, three parents make a pact to keep them from having sex. As they chase the girls and their virtue through a barrage of parties and high school locales, they wonder whether their cause is worth the effort.

         You know what you’re in for from Seth Rogen: There will be gross jokes, probably about sex or going to the bathroom; there will be slapstick; and there will be a heartwarming message jammed in about 10 minutes before the end.

Prospects: Flickering • R • 102 mins.



         An infamous event in Kennedy family history is recreated and examined in this docudrama.

         The story follows young Ted Kennedy (Jason Clarke) as he meets and subsequently causes the death of Mary Jo Kopechne (Kate Mara).

         Kennedy fans may be uncomfortable with this fascinating story of how money and power can sort out almost any problem.

Prospects: Flickering • PG-13 • 101 mins.



         Personal assistant Jill LeBeau (Lola Kirke) is devoted to starlet Heather Anderson (Zoë Kravitz). That devotion is tested when a crime threatens Jill’s freedom.

         This twisting tale of fame and betrayal is a modern noir with plenty of style. If you’re a fan of plot twists, diabolical character studies and intriguing mysteries, this should be well worth the ticket.

Prospects: Bright • R • 93 mins.


Isle of Dogs

         When a canine flu threatens the people of a Japanese city, dogs are exiled to an island used as a dump.

         A young boy flees to the island to find his banished dog. Instead he meets a group of ragtag mutts, led by feral stray Chief (voiced by Bryan Cranston). As Chief and the boy grow closer, Chief reevaluates his opinions of masters.

         In Wes Anderson’s precise, gorgeous stop-motion animation film, a very particular sense of dark humor is masked in bright colors. If you’re looking for something family friendly, don’t be fooled by animated dogs — this is darker than Disney or Pixar.

Great Animation • PG-13 • 101 mins.


A Quiet Place

         A family of four lives in terror and silence, as even the slightest snap of a twig will bring invading monsters barreling down upon a target.

         But it’s hard to keep children quiet, and the monsters are getting closer to the family’s home.

         A tense tale, A Quiet Place is sure to be a crowd-pleaser. The cast is fantastic, the story seems solid and the concept is novel. As this film depends on near silence, don’t unwrap a candy covered in cellophane.

Prospects Bright • PG-13 • 90 mins.

Great popcorn cinema

      Humanity eventually defeated the interdimensional monsters known as kaiju with the help of giant robots called jaegers. Though the apocalypse was averted, the world was devastated. In the chaos of massive rebuilding, criminals raid scrap yards to get rich on the black market.
     One of the best scrap yard raiders is Jake Pentecost (John Boyega: Star Wars: The Last Jedi). Jake’s father Stacker Pentecost was a legendary jaeger pilot who gave his life in the kaiju. Expelled from jaeger school, Jake was an under-achiever until he took to the fringes.
       Eventually arrested, he’s offered an option: jail or jaeger training, in preparation for the return of a new and better version of the kaiju. 
      Jake arrives as a new threat rises from the ocean. 
      Dumb and fun, Pacific Rim Uprising is great popcorn cinema. It’s loud, lightly plotted and full of robots and monsters. 
       In director and co-writer Stephen S. DeKnight’s cacophonous blend of action and humor, not all the jokes land, but the action sequences are crisp and coherent. 
       Boyega’s magnetic screen presence helps him sell even the corniest of lines, and he is roguishly charming. 
        As the harried Dr. Newton Geiszler, Charlie Day (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) brings manic energy and comedy to the film that distract from gaping plot holes. 
       As movies like this always need a blandly handsome dude, Scott Eastwood (The Fate of the Furious) steps up. 
      I can’t in good conscience tell you that Pacific Rim Uprising is a good movie. I can, however, tell you that it’s the type of mindless fun that can be immensely satisfying. Think of it as high-quality junk food: fantastic as long as you don’t overindulge.
Enjoyably Mindless • PG-13 • 111 mins.
~~~ New this Week ~~~
God’s Not Dead: A Light in the Darkness
      When a fire destroys St. James Church, its congregation is about to be pushed off the college campus where it made its home. 
      So the parishioners must prove to the college and the world that places of worship are valuable to the community. 
Prospects: Flickering • PG • 120 mins. 
Tyler Perry’s Acrimony 
       Melinda (Taraji P. Henson) works hard to to be a good wife. She looks her best and remains devoted even when husband Robert (Lyriq Bent) does little to keep up his end of the marriage.
      But when she discovers his infidelity, she snaps. Now, she’ll show him just how terrifying a woman scorned can be.
      Henson is a charismatic leading lady, so this should give her a wonderful showcase — despite Perry’s tendency to overwrought dramatics.
Prospects: Flickering • R • 120 mins. 
Ready Player One
       Eccentric billionaire Halliday (Mark Rylance) has no heirs to his vast fortune and virtual reality company OASIS. So, Halliday conceives of a contest. He’s hidden Easter Eggs in the OASIS, and the user who finds them all will inherit the lot of his fortune and holdings. 
       Trailer-park kid Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) finds the first and races to find the rest against nefarious competition.
       A combination of Willy Wonka and a 1980s’ pop culture trivia night on nostalgia porn, Ready Player One looks to be a hit. Director Stephen Spielberg tends to lazy choices and over-obvious symbolism, but he’s filled it with big-budget cameos and references to make nerds and geeks cheer. 
If you loved Goonies or Back to the Future, you’re in for a treat.
Prospects: Flickering • PG-13 • 140 mins.

A boy finds the courage to be himself in this moving romcom 

      Simon Spear (Nick Robinson: Krystal) fears people will learn he’s gay. On the surface, he has little to worry about. His parents are loving and open, his friends are accepting and his school is fairly liberal. But thousands of little things cripple him with fear. 
      His father jokes about “fruity” men on TV. The school’s only openly gay kid is ridiculed by two bullies. Simon believes it’s in his best interest to stay closeted until college and has only one more year to get through.
     But he discovers he isn’t alone when he sees a Tumblr page message about his school. A boy who uses the pseudonym Blue posts that he’s gay and terrified. Simon creates a fake Gmail account to reach this kindred spirit.
     Using the alias Jacques, Simon tells Blue he is not alone. Soon, the boys begin an epistolary romance, encouraging each other to their first tentative steps out of the closet. Writing Blue becomes the best part of Simon’s day.
     Things hit a snag when a classmate discovers Simon’s emails. Simon is threatened with exposure if he doesn’t help his unscrupulous classmate get a girl. Under even more pressure, Simon begins lying to keep his secret.
Heartfelt, charming and utterly enjoyable Love, Simon is a great romantic comedy. Director Greg Berlanti (Political Animals) crafts a John Hughes movie for the Instagram generation from the popular young adult novel.
     As the center, Robinson’s Simon is a wonder. Filled with self-conscious ticks and nervous energy, he is relatable and sweet, even when he’s making terrible choices. Robinson makes a sympathetic figure, swept up in the clandestine romance that gives him the courage to be himself.
      As Simon’s newest pal, Abby, (Alexandra Shipp: X-Men: Apocalypse) is a standout. The perfect breezy young teen, she is Simon’s only confidant beyond Blue. Sweet, but no pushover, she demands respect for herself and her friends. 
Engaging as it is, Love, Simon is not perfect. Simon’s troubles wrap up a little too easily, and his relationships with pals are shortchanged in the interest of time. But Robinson’s winning performance holds the movie together even when the plot gets a bit thin.
     Often, movies about gay teenagers are fraught with despair. Love, Simon isn’t. It’s a great movie to start a conversation with teens and may be a jumping-off point for families to talk about uncomfortable issues.
     Berlanti does an excellent job of balancing teen pathos, dramatics and humor to create a moving movie.
Good RomCom • PG-13 • 110 mins.
~~~ New this Week ~~~
Midnight Sun
      Katie Price (Bella Thorne) is a beautiful senior in high school that loves music. She should be the most popular girl in school, but there’s a problem: Katie has a severe sensitivity to the sun. Instead of going to school, Katie must stay locked in her home during the day, behind special windows to keep her safe.
      At night, Katie can finally venture into the world. She spends the evenings wandering her small town, playing her guitar and dreaming of being like normal girls. 
       Things change for Katie when she finally meets her next-door neighbor Charlie (Patrick Schwarzenegger), who she’s had a crush on for years. Charlie falls hard for the mysterious girl with a guitar, wondering why he’s never seen her at school or in town during the day. 
     Can Katie come clean about her condition? Or will it push Charlie away?
      The latest in the weepy teen romance genre, Midnight Sun is a bit of a lackluster effort. It features pretty people, problems that are solvable and lots of weepy histrionics. 
Prospects: Flickering • PG-13 • 91 mins. 
Pacific Rim Uprising
      After the death of his father, Jake Pentecost (John Boyega) had turned to a life of crime. But when the Kaiju monsters his father helped banish return from the ocean depths, Jake must once again return to the military and take up the family legacy of saving the world. 
      Kaiju are so massive that only giant robots piloted by human teams can fight them. They battle in the streets for the survival of the planet. This new breed of Kaiju, however, seems impervious to the robot’s weapons. Can Jake and his team figure out a way to save humanity? 
     This is not a complicated movie. This movie is monsters battling robots in vast cityscapes. If you love old-school Godzilla movies, this should be a satisfying popcorn flick.
Prospects: Flickering • PG-13 • 111 mins. 
Paul, Apostle of Christ
       After being captured by the emperor Nero, Jesus’ apostle Paul (John Faulkner) waits for death. He is visited by Luke (Jim Caviezel), who hopes to tell Paul’s story and inspire the Christians being persecuted in Rome. While Luke spoils for an uprising, Paul is more concerned with saving the souls of those who would fight.
      The two men battle over what will help them spread the true word of the lord: Love or battle. 
      A lavish-looking take on the final days of Paul, this film suffers from a rather shoddy script. Messages are blared, dialog is forced and the beauty of the original Bible story is often lost in rather preachy overtones. 
Prospects: Flickering • PG-13 • 108 mins. 
Sherlock Gnomes
      Gnomeo (James McAvoy) and Juliet (Emily Blunt) move their extended family of garden accoutrements to London, where disaster strikes. When a garden gnome thief kidnaps their beloved family, the duo must turn to the greatest ceramic mind of their times — Sherlock Gnomes (Johnny Depp).
      The sleuth leads Gnomeo and Juliet on a wild adventure through the streets of London, trying to retrieve all the stolen gnomes. 
      Kids might enjoy the weak puns, silly plot and occasional glimpse of gnome bum, but for anyone with a driver’s license, this is going to be a slog. If you must see this movie, stock up on snacks, and perhaps bring a flask. 
Prospects: Grim • PG • 86 mins. 
     Sawyer Valentini (Claire Foy) seeks help dealing with the trauma of having a man stalk her. Though she thinks she’s getting therapy, she’s actually involuntarily committed into a mental institution. While she screams and demands to be released, she begins to see her stalker. 
      Has her commitment been an elaborate ruse by a man hoping to control her? Or is she actually slipping into delusion? 
      The latest twist-filled drama from Steven Soderbergh, Unsane is a movie about society ignoring women, even when they are screaming for help. This should be a gritty, terrifying look at how scary it can be to feel powerless and unheard in society.
Prospects: Bright • R • 97 mins. 

Two privileged teens get bloody bored in this twisted tale

     Amanda (Olivia Cooke: Vanity Fair) and Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy: Split) are used to the finer things. The children of wealthy parents, both girls run in the best circles, go to pricey schools and leave their messes for the maids in their mansions. 
       As the best friends grow up and apart, they become more specialized in their peculiarities. Amanda lacks feelings. She’s learned to fake them to fit in and make people comfortable, but she’s emotionally blank. When her show horse is injured, she chooses to put the horse down herself, using a knife. Now labeled a psycho, Amanda’s pretty sure she’s still a decent person, if a little off-putting.
       Lily has more successfully hidden her oddities from her social circles. On the outside, she is the perfect image of upper-class prep: Smart, impeccably styled, thin and well-mannered. She’s also wound so tightly that an unexpected touch will send her into a panic-induced flinch. She hates her stepfather, who finds her shallow and spoiled, and is convinced he’s ruining her life.
      Lily hesitates at resuming her friendship with Amanda, as she doesn’t want to be associated with the town nut job. But soon the two find a twisted kinship. Lily can tell Amanda anything, because Amanda won’t react emotionally. In turn, Lily finds ­Amanda oddly endearing.
      When Lily complains about her awful stepdad, Amanda suggests she kill him. At first dismissing the crazy notion from Amanda’s troubled brain, Lily begins to see its appeal. The two teens are soon plotting their perfect murder.
      Can they get away with it? Or should they stick to annoying the maids and borrowing their moms’ fancy cars?
      Much like the girls at the center of its story, Thoroughbreds is heavy on style but a bit light on substance. Think of it as Heathers for the Instagram generation.
      First-time writer-director Cory Finley has crafted a thriller with Hitchcockian tension. Each frame is crafted to ratchet up suspense. Score and sound design to make viewers feel tense and off balance. 
     On the other hand, the message is muddled. Finley wants to comment about how privileged environments make monsters of their inhabitants, but he never sinks his teeth into the satire.
     Cooke and Taylor-Joy are pitch perfect in contributing to this glossy confection. Cooke is up to the challenge of finding charm in Amanda’s emotionless void. She gives us a girl frank to a fault and hilariously unflappable.
     Taylor-Joy has the slightly showier role of the fragile Lily, who is so concerned with appearances that she can barely breathe without hyperventilating.
     Thoroughbreds is slick, darkly funny and immensely entertaining. 
Good Thriller • R • 92 mins.
~~~ New this Week ~~~
Love, Simon
      Simon Spier (Nick Robinson) has a typical teen’s problems topped by coming out to friends and family. His respite from turmoil is his connection to Blue, an anonymous boy from his high school who is also gay and afraid to come out. 
      As the pair grow close over email, Simon falls for his epistolary partner. Can he discover Blue’s identity? Will the reveal be disappointing? 
      Robinson, a likeable lead with ­plenty of charisma, helps make Love, Simon a heartfelt coming-of-age story plenty of teens can relate to.
Prospects: Bright • PG-13 • 109 mins. 
Tomb Raider
        After the mysterious disappearance of her adventurer-father, Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander) drifts. Rich but without direction, she takes menial jobs while barely attending college. 
     When she’s offered a clue to her father’s fate, she sets on a trans-global mission to find the truth. Along the way, she battles ancient boobytraps, evil treasure hunters and a global conspiracy. 
    The second adaptation of the wildly popular Tomb Raider video game series, this film sticks more closely to the game’s origin story. This means plenty of angst, lots of made-up ancient cultural trivia and plenty of shots of Vikander in tight clothes. A good actress, Vikander should be able to carry the film. But don’t expect much from the story. 
Prospects: Flickering • PG-13 • 122 mins.

A team of women investigates an anomaly in this fascinating sci-fi drama

       A team of women investigates an anomaly in this fascinating sci-fi drama
After going missing for a year, her soldier-husband returns to biologist Lena (Natalie Portman: Song to Song). But he is acting so strangely that she worries he has been traumatized. Soon he’s coughing up blood, and a SWAT team whisks the couple to a black site. 
       Imprisoned and seeking to help her dying husband, Lena learns where his last mission sent him — an anomaly in the swamplands. A dozen teams have been sent into The Shimmer. None has returned.
       Lena volunteers for the next mission. She joins cagey team leader Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh: Twin Peaks), physicist Josie Radek (Tessa Thompson: Thor: Ragnarok), EMT Anya Thorensen (Gina Rodriguez: Ferdinand) and Cass Sheppard (Tuva Novotny: Borg McEnroe). 
       At first, all seems idyllic, and they marvel at the odd flora and fauna. Soon, though, the women begin losing time. The flora and fauna are mutations in progress. They race to discover the secrets of The Shimmer before the anomaly changes them, too. 
      Smart, engaging and breathtakingly beautiful, Annihilation is the type of sci-fi movie that rewards viewers who pay attention. Writer/director Alex Garland (Ex-Machina) crafts a visually engrossing film. It is both striking and unsettling. Creatures and plants are familiar, yet altered, like objects seen through warped glass. Garland also plays with visuals, framing shots through water and experimenting with perceptions.
       The investigative team works well together. Each has a reason for taking a mission no one has returned from, and each has to question whether she should trust the others. Portman masterfully balances wonder with guilt as she seeks answers. Leigh excels as an odd psychologist with ulterior motives. 
       Annihilation is complex, intriguing and atmospheric. Its meticulously detailed frames offer lots of clues as to the bigger mystery. Go with a group so you can discuss the clues and the ending. 
Great Sci-Fi • R • 115 mins. 
~~~ New this Week ~~~
      Mild-mannered Harold Soyinka (David Oyelowo) is sent to Mexico to secure the formula for a medical marijuana pill. Though the job is supposed to be easy, he is kidnapped and chased by a mercenary and cartel lords while his indifferent colleagues haggle over the worth of his life.
       A zany comedy with an all-star cast, Gringo has potential. Oyelowo is joined by Charlize Theron, Sharlto Copley and Joel Edgerton. With a deft hand behind the camera, it can dance between farce and satire. If you’re a fan of comedies where increasingly ridiculous events compile, this should be a film for you. 
Prospects: Flickering • R • 110 mins. 
The Hurricane Heist
       A group of criminals plans the perfect heist. They’re going to rob a U.S. mint as a Category 5 hurricane bears down. But they’ll have to get past a plucky Treasury agent (Maggie Grace), a meteorologist (Toby Kebbell) and his gun-nut brother (Ryan Kwanten). 
Prospects: Bleak • PG-13 • 103 mins. 
The Strangers: Prey at Night
      A road-tripping family stays overnight in a deserted mobile home park. It’s not the ideal situation, and it gets worse when three masked strangers turn up. The trio of menacing toughs tortures the family with the promise of painful death. 
         The sequel to the sleeper hit The Strangers, this movie may lack the breathless tension of the first. Since the stakes, and the ending, are fairly clear, there isn’t much to worry about. 
Prospects: Flickering • R • 85 mins. 
A Wrinkle in Time
       Since her father’s disappearance, Meg Murry (Storm Reid) has struggled in school. She feels she doesn’t belong in her brilliant family of two physicist parents and a parcel of prodigy siblings. 
       Though Meg doesn’t know her worth, the universe does. Three celestial guides tell her she is the only hope to save the universe — and find her father. She learns how to wrinkle time to travel vast distances.
      Based on the beloved book, A Wrinkle in Time is a hotly anticipated family film. Brilliant director Ava DuVernay and a diverse female-driven cast give this film potential for greatness. 
Prospects: Bright • PG • 109 mins. 
A competitive couple tries to beat criminals in this hilarious comedy
      Annie (Rachel McAdams: Doctor Strange) and Max (Jason Bateman: Ozark) are avid competitors. They met as opposing team captains at a bar’s trivia night and have been dominating their couples’ game nights ever since. Each week they bring friends together to eat chips and suffer merciless beatings in party game play.
        The couple’s only problem is conceiving a child. The doctor informs them Max’s stress level is the culprit and advises avoiding unnecessary stress for the next few months.
       That’s just as Max’s brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler: Bloodline) has come back to town. Brooks is older, more successful, more charming and more than happy to undermine Max. Brooks moves in on Max and Annie’s beloved Game Night, promising a night of outrageous entertainment.
        At Brooks’ palatial home, he reveals the plan: Someone at the party will be kidnapped. The first person to find the victim wins Brooks’ Corvette Stingray.
Brooks has hired an acting troupe to help stage the kidnapping. But actual kidnappers beat the actors to the party, violently abducting Brooks as guests applaud the realism of the performance.
       Finally, Annie and Max realize the truth. Can the Game Night crew find Brooks and get him back unharmed? Or should they stick to charades?
       Funny, violent and completely off the wall, Game Night is a smart comedy for people with slightly sick senses of humor. The team who brought the world the Horrible Bosses series, John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, have refined their style and their comic timing. The film is set up like pieces on a board game, with lots of clever game references.
        The writing is also sharp and full of surprises. Writer Mark Perez (Back Nine) makes the comedy biting and the jokes non-stop. Many comedies fail because they lack the courage of their convictions; Game Night goes for broke. The jokes are relentless, outrageous, often violent — and extremely funny.
        The impressive cast makes sure the jokes land. McAdams and Bateman are excellent comedians with great timing. But the standout is Jesse Plemons (No Activity). Playing a humorless cop desperate to be included in game night, he steals every scene. Dead-eyed, holding tight to a perky little Westie named Bastian and generally terrifying, Plemons is a treat.
        Despite extreme funniness, Game Night is not the film for all moviegoers. Its humor goes for the throat, using murders as a joke and not worrying about making characters likeable. If you’re in the mood for a no-holds-barred R-rated comedy, Game Night is a winner. 
Good Comedy • R • 100 mins. 
~~~ New this Week ~~~
Death Wish
       As a surgeon, Dr. Paul Kersey (Bruce Willis) is used to broken bodies. He spends his work life with victims of city violence, but crime has never touched him personally. That changes when his wife and daughter are brutally attacked by robbers. With the cops overworked and underpaid, Kersey listens in horror to the news that the assailants will probably get away with their crime.
       He takes to the streets to bring his own brand of justice to the world. As he cuts a bloody swath through the urban landscape, police and citizens divide over whether he’s a hero or a criminal. 
       A remake of the Charles Bronson carnage classic, this reissue may be the wrong movie for our time. We may be seeing enough of enraged men with guns without paying to watch Bruce Willis mow down people in poor neighborhoods for daring to attack the rich. 
Prospects: Dim • R • 107 mins.
Red Sparrow
       Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence) is a sparrow, a Russian intelligence officer, trained in the arts of violence and seduction. Assigned to seduce the CIA’s Russia expert, she may not be fully committed to her task. Egorova was forced to join Russian intelligence as a child and wants out. 
       Can Egorova free herself? Or will she end up indentured to the American government?
       This is, in essence, the Marvel Black Widow movie Disney doesn’t want to make. Its hackneyed storyline, ridiculous spectrum of Russian accents and silly costuming make it a good target for sarcasm — but not at the price you’d pay for a ticket.
Prospects: Dim • R • 139 mins.