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Quick Flick Reviews

Hidden Figures – A historical drama about three under-recognized African American women who worked for NASA and were significant in America’s space race. Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae star as the three mathematicians and bring an oozing positivity to the film. The film succeeds as a fine crowd pleaser with a diverse cast and a nice message, but cinematically it’s as daring as a Disney channel film, and the content is presented with black and white morality that aims wide for a “feel good” tone with the suggestion that racism can be solved through white people magically learning empathy. Its heart is in the right place but this simplicity has The Blind Side syndrome. Despite the filmmaking and storytelling’s ordinary methods, I can’t deny it’s made with warmth. The three leads and supporting actors — Kevin Costner, Mahershala Ali, Glen Powell (future star), Kirsten Dunst — carry the film and make it worth a watch at the theater or home sometime. Of the films that have been nominated for Oscars, this is the least essential on a formal level, but I hope more mid budget sized films like this are made. Also, go NASA! It’s the safest film in theaters, but also the one that all families will enjoy on some level. I suppose there’s something to be said for a film that has clean and clear morals and simply wants to please; I just wish the message and its actresses were in a film that was as brave and smart as its heroes. Grade: C+

Split – M. Night Shyamalan’s return part deux is similar to the The Visit (2016) in that it’s a genre exercise in a limited space, but it has slightly bigger ambitions and sees Night crawl back to his roots in the final third, which tiptoes into the arthouse realm. This thriller is about three girls who are kidnapped by a man who has 23 personalities. The lead teen is Anya Taylor-Joy who also starred in the incredible horror film, The Witch, last February. For Night this appears to be a back to basics simple thriller in which the girls must figure out how to escape. It lacks the tension and an exploitation grime to elicit a genuinely uncomfortable mood and it doesn’t nail the laughs like The Visit did. But to my surprise the third act mutates into something tonally strange and lands in a place that feels oddly empathetic. The final 60 seconds of Split are vintage Shyamalan and something I haven’t seen done in the modern era of studio franchises. The lead up to the finale is solid thriller stuff you’ve seen before but the final 15 minutes are where it briefly becomes special. Whatever Night does next has the potential to remind us why he was once Hollywood’s #1 man. Grade: B

The Founder – A biopic about Ray Kroc, the man who turned the McDonalds bros. fast food idea into a goliath food chain. The title mockingly suggests that it’s about the man who founded McDonalds, but it’s really about the man who stole McDonalds. It’s a biopic about fast food that plays like film fast food, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It stars the always great to watch Michael Keaton and has the typical business wheeling and dealing that one expects in a corruption tale, and there’s occasionally some unsettling ingredients in its concoction that are courtesy of Michael Keaton’s insatiable portrayal of greed. But too often it’s like the food that Mickey D’s sells—too undercooked without enough nutrition to explore its subject and make an impact beyond the moment you’re eating it. This is entertaining subject matter presented entertainingly enough, but by the time you get home you crave something else. Grade: C

Gold – A 2 hour unfunny and uninsightful story about men who love gold and power and ruin people’s lives. Well, this feels a little tooooo real right now and doesn’t offer anything beyond it’s surface. In short, The Founder does all of this better with a more interesting subject. A fat and balding but still charismatic McConaughey stars and does the best he can with the material, but it ends up more akin to one of the Hangover films than a corruption tale. Gold is doomed to be a film you watch two or three scenes of on TNT. Grade: D

Paterson – Arthouse god, Jim Jarmusch, offers a quiet poem about everyday life. The film follows Paterson (Adam Driver), a bus driver in the city of Paterson who writes poems and simply observes his surroundings. Through the Groundhog-esque 7 days in Paterson, we see oddities and meet a neighborhood of colorful characters. There seems to be two films happening here. The excellent one is when Jarmusch’s characters just shoot the shit and listen to each other. The other film here is one where the camera gazes upon the city and Paterson writes poetry that appears on screen in a handwritten font. This minimalist approach doesn’t quite evoke the everyday magic it seems to evoke for the character, but I suppose that’s the point! I should mention that minimalism isn’t totally my jam and I’m no Jarmusch expert. Paterson is a thoughtful, meaningful film about everyone’s personal art; the connections of things that are seemingly minuscule, and the comfort of familiarity in a small town. Both a remarkably simple and complex film about everything around us. Grade: B


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