Life Itself

      One tragic moment forever changes the lives of multiple people. Will (Oscar Isaac: Operation Finale) can’t cope after the tragedy ends his marriage to the love of his life, Abby (Olivia Wilde: A Vigilante). The event sets Rodrigo’s (Àlex Monner: Heavies Tendres) family on a crash course to disaster. And Dylan (Olivia Cooke: Ready Player One) grows up fueled by rage and self-loathing as a result of the incident. As these three stories converge we learn truths about the beauty of life, the brilliance of Bob Dylan and the power of the unreliable narrator.

       Does this sound a little convoluted? 

       I’ll make it simple: This movie stinks. 

       Full of clichés, longwinded speeches and musings about Bob Dylan, it’s a pretentious, cloying mess. Director/writer Dan Fogelman came to fame writing the popular TV melodrama This Is Us. His style of large dramatic moments, plot twists and time jumping does not compress well into a two-hour movie.

Fogelman employs every trick in the book (including Samuel L. Jackson screaming profanities in the opening) to bloviate on the unreliable narrator, a concept he thinks very clever. 

         Distracted by being clever, Fogelman fails to make his characters seem like real people. They’re all contrivances, so when they die — and boy do they ever die — we couldn’t care less. Think of it as Love, Actually, refocused from dozens of little love stories to dozens of tortuous tragedies.

       Fogelman has wasted a brilliant cast on his freshman English meaning-of-life essay. Isaac and Wilde are joined by Annette Benning, Jean Smart, Mandy Patinkin and Cooke. Women, in particular, are little more than plot props to inspire men. To their credit, the whole cast, led by Isaac, do their best to sell woefully underwritten material. The only genuine moment in the movie belongs to Antonio Banderas (Genius), who delivers a monologue that makes you long to see him in a better film.

Dismal drama • R • 118 mins. 


~~~ New this Week ~~~

Assassination Nation

        When a data hack exposes the dirty little secrets of every person in a small American town, chaos breaks loose. People are chased, beaten and murdered. In the center of the swirling storm are four popular high school girls, who now find themselves targets. 

       Is this what people are really like when stripped of their social decorum?

       An ultra-violent satire of social media and corruption, Assassination Nation isn’t a flick for the faint of heart. Director Sam Levinson (son of Baltimore native Barry) has compiled a stylish, slick thriller with lots of fancy camera work and graphic thrills. The problem is that his one-note satire stretches thin. 

Prospects: Flickering • R • 108 mins. 


Hell Fest

      Natalie (Amy Forsyth) expects to be frightened at the traveling horror-themed amusement park she and her friends visit. When the kills at Hell Fest seem oddly real, she chalks it up to convincing acting and good makeup. Then people around her start dying … 

      It turns out a local serial killer is visiting Hell Fest for an evening of carnage. Can Natalie escape?

     A grind-house horror movie with screaming coeds, low-budget thrills and plenty of violence, Hell Fest is the type of movie watched at home with a bunch of heckling friends. 

Prospects: Flickering • R • N/A


Night School

        After dropping out of high school, Teddy Walker (Kevin Hart) finds himself working in a chicken suit. 

      Trying for his GED, he finds himself with a collection of misfits and troublemakers and a teacher, (Tiffany Haddish), determined to see her class of rejects through to their diplomas.

      A comedy with Haddish and Hart should be hilarious. Both are noted scene-stealers and standup comics. If they can avoid one-upmanship, this could be hilarious. 

Prospects: Flickering • PG-13 • 111 mins. 


The Old Man and the Gun

      Forrest Tucker (Robert Redford) is no ordinary criminal. At 70, he escapes from San Quentin and embarks on a cross-country robbery spree. His story of a polite and charming hold-up man wins the hearts of the American public. 

        As Forrest robs, he woos Jewel (Sissy Spacek). But the law is never far behind.

       Based on a true story, The Old Man and the Gun has been announced as screen-legend Robert Redford’s final film before retirement. This means two things: The studio is pushing for an Oscar win for Redford, and this may be your last chance to watch one of the best living actors of several generations. Redford is an easy match for the charming antihero in this piece, and it should be a blast to watch him perform with Spacek. 

Prospects: Bright • PG-13 • 93 mins.



       In a yeti village high atop the Himalayas, the legend of Smallfoot has it that small hairless creatures with tiny feet roam the world. But they’re hard to spot and even harder to catch. Every yeti child dreams of seeing a Smallfoot in the wild.

       When young Migo (voiced by Channing Tatum) spots a Smallfoot, no one believes him. Determined to prove that Smallfoot exists, Migo ventures down the mountain, where he finds a Smallfoot and kidnaps it to bring back to the village.

      An inverse of the usual Bigfoot story, Smallfoot is a movie about misunderstandings and making your own way. Its silly humor, pop-culture references and sight gags should thrill little ones. If you’re old enough to make your own dinner, don’t expect too much — unless you’re a fan of light animation.

Prospects: Flickering • PG • 96 mins.