Movie Review – “Alien: Covenant”

With the unexpected but widely applauded 2015 sci-fi thriller “Ex Machina”, filmgoers saw how intriguing and tricky the evolution of artificial intelligence (AI) can be for humanity. These synthetic lifeforms, built to accomplish tasks faster and more efficiently than us, quickly turned the lab tables on their human creators in an epic battle for survival. Computers and android’s have always malfunctioned in movies to create pandemonium for space crews—but rarely with such malice as we find in this latest prequel to Ridley Scott’s 1979 “Alien”.

In director Scott’s third “Alien” installment, “Covenant” marks the sequel to “Prometheus” (2012), taking place a decade after that spaceship’s demise. We find the “Covenant” and her small crew carrying 2,000 sleeping pods filled with colonists and 1,000 frozen embryos to a far-away planet named Origae-6. Along for the ride is Walter, an artificial intelligence crew member who helms the “Covenant” for the crew while they remain in deep sleep and until danger looms.

Give Ridley Scott credit for infusing desperately needed thrills and chills back into the “Alien” legacy. The boring mythology timestamp from “Prometheus” is nowhere to be found in this faster-paced and shocking death match. Within the film’s first thirty-minutes the “Covenant” colony mission is thoroughly explained to viewers and the space crew is left fighting for their lives on a planet’s surface.

“Alien: Covenant” presents terrific tie-ins to “Prometheus” and her crew, especially archaeologist Elizabeth Shaw and her AI crew member David, earning this chapter serious style points. This movie, however, smartly moves away from the doldrums of God-like creators of mankind and instead focuses on the creation of robotic life by man. At the core of this philosophical question resides trust issues between the synthetic lifeforms and humans.

It’s good to see the “Alien” trademark return in a novel and successful sci-fi story. The gruesome on-ship medical station attacks are back! A crew we hardly get to know is chased down and eliminated one at a time in thrilling fashion. A simplistic plot allows the time and energy of “Covenant” to emerge as a worthy precursor to Sigourney Weaver’s terrifying 1979 ordeal. Fans of deadly space creature encounters will squirm in their theater seats. And those viewers who enjoy contemplating the role of artificial intelligence in our lives will embrace Ridley Scott’s keen AI proposition. Who would have thought that we’d have the late John Denver–crooner of “Take Me Home, Country Roads” –to thank for all this? Not me.

Grade: B

“Alien: Covenant” is rated R for sci-fi violence, bloody images, language, and some sexuality/nudity.  Its running time is 2 hours.

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Movie Review – “The Wall”

“Grab some lip balm, a water bottle, and a rifle…this pair needs you.”

Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

Few modern war films give a voice to the enemy. Speaking parts are usually reserved for the battlefield’s victor, with only short glimpses of the losing opponent scrambling through a thick jungle or getting shot down in the sky from behind. In this latest movie from “Jason Bourne” series director Doug Liman, we find ourselves watching a deadly game of “Cat & Mouse” take place between a pair of over-matched U.S. soldiers and a single Iraqi sharpshooter in a post-Saddam Hussein timeline.

Given the mission to find out who is repeatedly taking out an American contractor supply route, last year’s Golden Globe winner Aaron Taylor-Johnson (“Nocturnal Animals”) teams up with professional wrestler John Cena to scope out the source of the convoy trouble. As spotter and sniper both make costly mistakes that jeopardize their position and lives.

“The Wall” refers to the dilapidated and war-torn rock remains of an Iraqi school that serves as a source of cover from an enemy well-hidden and versed in American military tactics.

Despite a couple of camouflaged political statements, “The Wall” asserts itself as psychological thriller with several suspenseful moments. Highlighting the film’s success is the established communications between opposing sides of this duel. The isolation of counter-sniper operations and both stars morphing, from being the hunter to the hunted, jumps out at shocked viewers.

With less than a handful of characters in the entire 81-minute movie, this quagmire instills a deep sense of survival on the battlefield. Most interesting is the notion that misery loves company. Having a battle-buddy elevates one’s spirits and helps push them through intense adversity. Suffering alone, though, has the opposite coping effect upon a soldier’s mindset.

Director Liman deserves credit for this gritty, sandstorm production. Every plot change never goes a minute further than necessary, keeping the film fresh and story-line evolving just before boredom sets in for the audience. Likewise, his ballsy ending gives moviegoers their FUBAR military moment to leave with.

Making the film industry’s 2014 Black List for “most-liked” motion picture screenplay not yet produced, “The Wall” has finally made it to the big-screen. It gives us a unique perspective that starts a conversation between friend and foe. It makes us feel like we’re in the foxhole aside Cena and Taylor-Johnson. Your lips will almost begin to chap with dehydration soon following. Grab some lip balm, a water bottle, and a rifle…this pair needs you.

Grade: B

“The Wall” is rated R for language throughout and some war violence. Its running time is 1 hour and 21 minutes.

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Movie Review – “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”

“The film’s superstar is the smart-aleck raccoon Rocket (Bradley Cooper). His wise-cracking personality and penchant to steal carries this storyline and movie.”

Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

As one of my most anticipated films of 2017, I was anxious to see how this next volume of “Guardians of the Galaxy” stacked up to its first mixtape. I unapologetically gave that first edition a well-deserved Top 5 ranking on my Best Films of 2014 list.  In fact, this charming group–led by space scavenger Peter Quill—replaced Tony Stark’s initial “Iron Man” as my favorite comic book-to-movie release of all-time.  Well, until last year’s unbelievably edgy adventure “Deadpool” (my 4th ranked film of 2016) elevated Marvel Comics’ game to new heights.

So now comes “Guardians” v2.0 and I am left feeling very disappointed.  Disappointed not because this sequel tried too hard to match the flamboyance of its predecessor.  Disappointed because Vol. 2 did not try at all.  The camaraderie, non-stop humor, and sexual tension on the big-screen from three years ago is all diluted down to a younger audience and visions of the saga’s future third installment.

Chris Pratt’s Quill character has lost of the confidence and moxie worthy of a Star-Lord. The journey that the lackluster Quill takes to find the identity of his father is both predictable and painfully slow to discount David Hasselhoff & Co. as DNA possibilities. The film’s mercilessly slow start extends well beyond halftime and before three subplots begin to get cleaned up in good ol’ “Guardians” fashion. I am Groot.

We’re told the space heroes’ camaraderie established in 2014 has now grown into a loving “family” of characters.  The smoldering sexual tension between Quill and green-chick Gamora (Zoe Saldana) has dramatically cooled off to an “unspoken” love interest–resembling the innocence of a first-grade crush.  With several subplots juggled throughout the Galaxy, few scenes have the Guardians all together to exude their collective mojo and eye-poke each other.

Another missed opportunity is the fine performance by Kurt Russell as an “Ego”-maniac with worldly powers.  Russell’s complicated existence is summarily presented to finally bring closure to film’s 137-minute ordeal. No one buys Russell’s sales pitch as the god-like Ego except for the meek Star-Lord.

The film’s superstar is the smart-aleck raccoon Rocket (Bradley Cooper). His wise-cracking personality and penchant to steal carries this storyline and movie.  With perfect comedic timing perhaps only rivalled in the Marvel Cinematic Universe by Robert Downey Jr., Cooper’s Rocket physically and verbally destroys all standing before him. In a distant second place for humor comes Dave Bautista’s laughable Drax the Destroyer. His awkward laughs out loud is both contagious and funny to viewers.

Five short scenes (all specific to this “Guardians” tale) take place within 7 minutes of the film’s final cut as the credits roll.  All are underwhelming and indicative of this movie’s overall punch-less endeavor with flashes of humor indiscriminately thrown in.

Grade: C-

“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2” is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language, and brief suggestive content. Its running time is 2 hours and 17 minutes, along with 5 bonus scenes during the credits.

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Movie Review – “Tommy’s Honour”

“One of the best golf films ever produced.” – Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

It’s always fascinating to be caught off-guard by incredible true stories that educate and entertain us on the big-screen. Take for instance last year’s best picture nominated “Hidden Figures”, about three brilliant African-American women who played enormous roles in our nation’s space program back in the 1960s. Did I miss that day in school or did the textbooks on segregation and women’s rights egregiously omit it?  Thankfully, we have enlightened screenplay writers that meticulously research and push these historic accounts upon a director willing to make it all come to life again on film.

“Tommy’s Honour” is directed by Jason Connery (the son of Hollywood legend Sean Connery) and depicts the early days of golf found in Scotland.  Set in the late 1860s at the “Home of Golf”, we’re introduced to St. Andrews’ greenkeeper Tom Morris, the father of Tommy Morris.  This offspring, the “Young Tom” Morris, goes on to become one of the greatest golfers of all-time and is still the youngest major champion in golf history (at 17 years of age).

In one of the best golf films ever produced, “Tommy’s Honour” flourishes with a tip of the hat to the archaic, challenging European golf courses while taking us along the young man’s constantly changing personal relationships.  Never willing to accept a mulligan in life, the brazen swing master confidently confronts his old man, clubhouse royalty with their payout shenanigans, and those standing between he and his romantic love interest. Treating the problems like deep sand traps and knee-high rough on a golf course, Tommy sidesteps these hazards to go on to win The Open Championship, turn heads, and change minds.

Well-above average acting throughout tees up this historic sports drama.  Newcomer Jack Lowden shines as the charismatic Tommy, while his fellow Scottish actor, Peter Mullan, masterfully portrays the boy’s father and golf pro catalyst. Together a heart-warming father-son narrative about forgiveness and support tops the leaderboard by the film’s end.

Golf enthusiasts will enjoy the dismal course conditions, feverish fandom, and amazing scenery found in the sport’s infancy.  Special attention to the golf equipment and wardrobe from the 1800s delivers an authentic look and feel for moviegoers. Likewise, the movie’s budding romance between Tommy and his older woman, Meg (Ophelia Lovibond), shows a different, more peaceful, side to the golf phenom.

This film cleverly places all of the emotions found in golf upon the shoulders of us, the viewers.  We witness a Hall of Fame golfer stay true to himself and his convictions on the personal and professional playing field—as his popularity and winnings increase. Although sports history books may not cover the Tom Morris Jr. years, this very worthy golf film does—and admirably so.  A par for the course, “Tommy’s Honour” tells an extraordinary and powerful story of one’s determination!

Grade: B+

“Tommy’s Honour” is rated PG for thematic elements, some suggestive material, language, and smoking. Its running time is 1 hour and 52 minutes.

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Movie Review – “The Promise”

Fans of the galactic X-wing fighter pilot Poe Dameron in “Star Wars” will find the Guatemalan-American actor and musician Isaac in his best role since 2014’s crime-fest “A Most Violent Year”.

Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

“The Promise” premiered at last year’s Toronto Film Festival billed as a dual-threat romance and war story.  After an enthusiastic reception from festival goers, this early 1900’s true holocaust account was quickly picked up by a distribution studio and given last weekend as its release date…exactly 102 years after Ottoman Empire authorities rounded up and either deported or killed 1.5 million ethnic Armenians.

With an impressive cast led by Oscar Isaac (“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”) and Christian Bale (“The Dark Knight”), “The Promise” takes us back to the later years of Ottoman Empire (1453-1923) and the succeeding Turkish government’s eradication of a people long before the evil Adolph Hitler and Germany came onto the world’s atrocities stage. Isaac portrays a young Armenian from a small village who travels to the capital city of Constantinople seeking to attend medical school before his life, and the entire region, gets turned upside down.

Although the film bites off a bit more than it can chew in 2 hours and 14 minutes, “The Promise” nicely builds up the romantic love triangle between Isaac’s charming Mikael character, a young socialite named Ana (convincingly played by Charlotte Le Bon), and an American journalist (Bale).  A strong case can be made that an entire movie, minus the savageness of war, could’ve focused solely on this trio of personal relationships.  That, however, would have skipped the film’s most important features and history lesson.

“The Promise” is a historic achievement that spotlights a lesser known genocide committed during and after a lesser known war (World War I).  The sudden destabilization of a region and the ethnic cleansing that soon follows is both dramatic and heart-wrenching to watch unfold.  Despite not being able to invest in any of the main characters fully due to the film’s vast war narrative to tell, “The Promise” keenly bounces between the three love interests and the horrors surrounding each interwoven life..

An exceptional cast abounds in “The Promise”, perhaps no performance better than Le Bon’s as the lusted for Ana. The budding relationships all feel authentic and raise the stakes in this survival story.  Fans of the galactic X-wing fighter pilot Poe Dameron in “Star Wars” will find the Guatemalan-American actor and musician Isaac in his best role since 2014’s crime-fest “A Most Violent Year”.

Don’t expect this film to garner much notice, though, getting left behind in the dust of “The Fate of the Furious” and about to get overshadowed by Star-Lord Peter Quill & Co.  But for those interested in a history lesson that doesn’t get nearly the attention in schoolbooks as it deserves, “The Promise” offers the grim details with a romantic angle.

Grade: B+

“The Promise” is rated PG-13 for thematic material, including war atrocities, violence, and disturbing images, along with some sexuality. Its running time is 2 hours and 43 minutes.

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Movie Review – “Gifted”

Get out and see one of 2017’s best acting performances from a girl who could wipe the chalkboard with Damon’s persona in “Good Will Hunting”.

Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

We’ve been awed by brilliant movie minds before, each attempting to cope with the deep personal pain their special brain powers often creates. Russell Crowe shocked us in “A Beautiful Mind” as a Nobel Laureate in Economics.  A young Stephen Hawking at Cambridge was superbly personified by Oscar-winner Eddie Redmayne in 2014’s “The Theory of Everything”.  And nobody can forget Matt Damon’s 20-year-old character with the skyrocket IQ, sparring in verbal jujitsu opposite Robin Williams in 1997’s “Good Will Hunting”. But lacking from the annals of cinema history is the female child genius whose mind-blowing talents jolt theater audiences.  Until now.

“Gifted” introduces us to fast-thinking second-grader Mary Adler, a mathematics prodigy with a sharp mind and tongue. Being raised by a single guy named Frank (portrayed admirably by Marvel’s own Captain America Chris Evans), young Mary is quickly pulled in many directions by people espousing to know what’s best for her education and future.

In this year’s best young performance to date, Mckenna Grace as Mary completely sells this inspiring story.  The actress’ authentic mathematical vibe and convincing childish wit carries this movie from beginning to end.  Equally impressive is the subdued, down-to-Earth marine boat mechanic role of Frank–which Evans pulls off with ease.  The common denominator tying the film’s other characters all together, Evans effortlessly interchanges between guardian, neighbor, son, lover, greasy nailed mechanic, and owner of a scene-stealing, one-eyed cat named Fred.

Some might incorrectly characterize “Gifted” as a child-custody story, where Frank must defend his decisions regarding Mary’s education in Court to ward off the girl’s opportunistic grandmother.  But this plotline is much deeper than that when one looks for a common thread throughout.  “Gifted” is really about Mary’s mother and her childhood upbringing as she earned comparisons to physicists Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking.

“Gifted” is an electrifying journey that ponders how a remarkable, one-in-a-billion young mind should be raised.  Does each child deserve to be a kid?  Or does one’s potential to change the world demand that she leapfrogs age-appropriate education, or participation in kids’ sports, Girl Scouts, and other childhood experiences?

Sensational casting and a script that keeps the dialogue believable easily overcomes shaky camera work at times during the film.  Director Marc Webb (“500 Days of Summer”) masterfully incorporates the slow reveal, concealing several scenes’ importance until the final shots surprise viewers. Get out and see one of 2017’s best acting performances from a girl who could wipe the chalkboard with Damon’s persona in “Good Will Hunting”.

Grade: A-

“Gifted” is rated PG-13 for thematic elements, language, and some suggestive material.  Its running time is 1 hour and 41 minutes.

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Movie Review – “The Case for Christ”

Attending my second faith-based film in as many weeks, the Christian sermons espoused in last week’s “The Shack” and now “The Case for Christ” are both profound and interesting, yet take starkly different paths towards one’s belief in Jesus Christ.  Whereas “The Shack” invoked an exuberating out-of-body experience that sparked a father’s mind and soul to change, “The Case for Christ” is a leaner, more methodical, and circumstantial investigation by a naysayer that culminates in his ability to believe, receive, and be with Christ.

Following the true-life story of investigative reporter Lee Strobel and his 1998 book by the same name, “The Case for Christ” examines the historical hard evidence left behind Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.  A self-proclaimed and proud atheist working as a beat reporter at the Chicago Tribune, Strobel merrily assigns himself the task of disproving and debunking Christianity—all in the hopes of eye-poking his wife’s renewed faith and shutting down a coworker’s religion.

(Mike Vogal portrays Lee Strobel in THE CASE FOR CHRIST. Photo courtesy of Pure Flix Entertainment)

The film’s most intriguing parts are also the scenes which were skimmed over way too quickly.  Strobel’s interviews with experts on the manuscripts illustrating Jesus’ last few days is fascinating and compelling.  Likewise, the physical evidence presented on the medical front—which uses today’s medicine to help explain what witnesses described as Jesus was staked to the cross—marks the movie’s hardest-hitting moment.

Despite leaving viewers wanting a deeper dive into the physical and written evidence, or perhaps more testimony from those in authority, the film instead unleashes on Strobel’s other struggles; his marriage, a botched newspaper story, and his strained relationship with his father.  On each of these issues, Strobel comes up on the wrong end of the truth and compassion.  His 0-3 mean streak leaves him (and us) wondering if he’s also wrong about Christ?

“The Case for Christ” is a dialogue-heavy film that many will find a slow and arduous undertaking. More about the atheist than the Son of God. Believers will enjoy the medical research and written facts proclaiming Jesus’ surrender and resurrection.  The notion of people being in the right spot at the right time due to coincidence or something Higher is thought-provoking and something we can all relate to.

Skeptics will embrace Strobel’s initial edginess and disdain for Biblical explanations and readings.  Too many holes in Christianity’s historic timeline coupled with conflicting testimony by 500 witnesses leave swaths of wiggle-room for Strobel and moviegoers to hedge their bets on Jesus.  But to cover our eyes to the possibility is to shroud the facts from view.

In the end, all that’s left for us is faith.  Faith in something that allows us to replace coincidence with the idea of help from God. To believe enough to receive Him into our lives.  Lee Strobel’s story was meant for a larger audience than his newspaper.  He had a time and place to be elsewhere.  He had other things to do.  And people to reach.

Grade: B

“The Case for Christ” is rated PG for thematic elements, including medical descriptions of the crucifixion and incidental smoking.  Its running time is 1 hour and 52 minutes.

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Movie Review – “The Shack”

“Viewers willing to accept the possibility of a higher God will feel this movie both emotionally and spiritually. The Shack unapologetically takes on anger, depression, and a pain that no parent should endure.  It moves the film’s characters and us in a direction of hope and peace. For that alone, go see this film.”

– Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

I’m not quite sure why faith-based films draw such skepticism and low marks from movie critics in general.  These reviewers can’t all be atheists or non-believers.  Perhaps many have difficulty wading into religious waters on company time.  Others might find it personally safer to judge a spiritual storyline harshly than to have one’s readers attack that newspaper columnist’s faith in a Holy Spirit.  I don’t know the true answer, but “The Shack” is getting crucified by critics while receiving an overwhelmingly positive response from theater-goers after two weeks in limited venues.  But having enjoyed 2015’s religious offerings of “Do You Believe?” and “Noble”, I was prepared and open-minded to let “The Shack” touch my soul. And indeed, it did.

Grounding this courageous and thought-provoking film is none other than Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer (from 2011’s “The Help” and last year’s Best Picture nominated “Hidden Figures”).  Spencer’s plain-speaking and soothing character invokes peace, love and forgiveness upon a family tormented by the loss of their daughter/sister.

Based upon the New York Times’ best-selling 2007 novel by William P. Young, “The Shack” takes us on a journey of pain and grief through the feelings of Mack Phillips (Sam Worthington), the father and husband who bears the blame and guilt for his family’s loss.  Set in the wilderness of Oregon, the movie follows the loneliness and despair that Worthington’s strong-willed character must face head-on.  Along the way, coping mechanisms are brilliantly illustrated without conceding the tragedy or covering up the deep wounds to a father’s heart.  No miraculous healing overnight takes place in “The Shack”, just forgiveness and an understanding that none of us are ever truly alone in life.

Viewers willing to accept the possibility of a higher God will feel this movie both emotionally and spiritually.  Anyone who has experienced the sudden and violent loss of a loved one and wondered how God to could allow bad people to do such evil things, will find answers in “The Shack”.   Painful relationships clouded by blame or guilt can find peace over time through forgiveness.  It’s these powerful messages, along with a few surprising characters, that makes “The Shack” enjoyable and real.

Most movie reviews of “The Shack” will play down its emotional connection to moviegoers and surmise audiences won’t be impressed by the trifecta of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Despite a couple of slow scenes, this movie unapologetically takes on anger, depression, and a pain that no parent should endure.  It moves the film’s characters and us in a direction of hope and peace.  For that alone, go see this film.  You won’t be alone.

Grade: B+

“The Shack” is rated PG-13 for thematic material, including some violence.  Its running time is 2 hours and 12 minutes.

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Movie Review – “Life”

“Life” gives us the pulse-racing space terror of 1979’s “Alien” and the suspense-filled isolation found in John Carpenter’s Antarctic in “The Thing” (1982). Make no mistake, the real star is the alien creature whom we learn as much about as any other character in the film.  And that’s the way it should be.

– Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

No Oscars are awarded to movies released in the calendar months of March and April.  These two months are reserved for only fodder films–appetizers if you will–for huge blockbuster summer action adventures kicking off on Memorial Day weekend and lasting until “Back to School” commercials swarm us around Labor Day.  Right now, most audiences are hitting theaters to check out the Academy Award winners announced last month. So, to find an entertaining and very watchable (and scary) new release just as Spring is upon us, is as refreshing as landing your feet on a shady spot of sand on a hot Florida beach.

“Life” quickly takes us aboard the International Space Station (ISS) and introduces viewers to a six-person crew of astronauts and one menacing lifeform gathered up from the soil of Mars.  In a deadly orbital game of Hide and Seek, the alien creature dubbed “Calvin” emerges hell-bent on using humans as its new food source.

A shocking and gruesome horror flick taking place just outside the Earth’s atmosphere, “Life” masterfully accomplishes the two tasks all successful cult-alien space stories must achieve: Create a formidable, smart creature and, secondly, provide us viewers with constant, unrelenting tense, scary moments.  It sells this instant alien classic with the genuine feeling of isolation and loneliness in space, using mostly incommunicado with Earth and an orchestrated weightlessness of bodies and liquids throughout the ISS.

Wisely the film’s energy on character development is expended mostly on the elusive alien monster.  Yes, the bromance witnessed during December’s Golden Globe awards show between Jake Gyllenhaal (“Nightcrawler”) and Ryan Reynolds (“Deadpool”) continues in “Life”.  It’s interesting to see these two Hollywood heavyweights costar in roles that so underutilized their overall acting chops. Obviously headlining “Life” for box office appeal, the duo capably bookend the film as a record-setting space junkie and the space station’s Mr. Fix It engineer, respectively.

Beside the familiar Gyllenhaal and Reynolds, is a quartet of faces more remembered by their country’s flag displayed on the spacesuit sleeves than any character names.  All six crew members and a stereotypical lab rat pose as alien bait for an extraterrestrial species that adapts and changes to its surroundings at the same rate it multiplies in size.

“Life” gives us the pulse-racing space terror of 1979’s “Alien” and the suspense-filled isolation found in John Carpenter’s Antarctic in “The Thing” (1982). Make no mistake, the real star is the alien creature whom we learn as much about as any other character in the film.  And that’s the way it should be.  After all, better movies are coming from Gyllenhaal and Reynolds later this year in “Stronger” and “The Hitman’s Bodyguard”. For now, just enjoy “Life”.

Grade: B

“Life” is rated R for language throughout, some sci-fi violence and terror.  Its running time is 1 hour and 43 minutes.

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Movie Review – “Beauty and the Beast”

Using the most impressive animation features I’ve ever seen on film, “Beauty and the Beast” lavishly ties the Disney spirit with the eye-raising brilliance of a Broadway production.

Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

In the best opening weekend for the month of March ever, Disney’s live-action movie “Beauty and the Beast” hauled in a record-breaking $170 million in the U.S. alone.  The wholesome love story also flexed its animation muscle globally, taking in a record $350 million worldwide—making it the biggest PG-rated film opening in North American history and the 7th best grossing weekend of all-time.

Using the most impressive animation features I’ve ever seen on film, “Beauty and the Beast” seamlessly blends its charismatic Disney characters amongst some of Hollywood’s biggest names.  Academy Award-winner Bill Condon (“Gods and Monsters”) directs a talent-rich cast that includes Emma Watson, Kevin Kline, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen and Emma Thompson.

Although easily predictable, the lone letdown in the film is the performance by leading lady Watson.  The “Harry Potter” veteran is the movie’s weakest link–both in her acting and singing.  Watson’s tentative and lackluster showing as Belle gets magnified opposite a stellar job from Dan Stevens as the cursed prince and Beast. Likewise, a superb supporting castle crew invokes charm and laughter amidst a handful of dangerous, uncertain moments.

“Beauty and the Beast” sells its heartwarming romance tale through sheer compassion and straightforward storytelling.  Nicely sidestepping too graphic altercation scenes, the movie promotes goodness from within its varied animated souls.  Racing against time, Belle and Co. are challenged to save others…beginning with her father.

This invigorating love story gets stronger in its pointed message and comedic delivery as the film gallops forward.  It lavishly ties the Disney spirit with the eye-raising brilliance of a Broadway production. Even Watson’s underwhelming song and act routines can’t dull a likable Beast and magical cast. In the second strongest, non-summer opening weekend ever, “Beauty and the Beast” shines bright.  Very bright.  Take the entire family and enjoy!

Grade: A

“Beauty and the Beast” is rated PG for some action, violence, peril and frightening images.  Its running time is 2 hours and 9 minutes.

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