MOVIES OPENING FRIDAY
7 Days In Entebbe
Israeli soldiers embark on a mission to rescue more than 240 hostages from an airport in Entebbe, Uganda, in the summer of 1976.
PG-13: Violence, thematic material, drug use, smoking and language — Premiere Cinemas.
A Fantastic Woman
Sebastian Lelio’s “A Fantastic Woman” made history twice when it won the Academy Award on March 4 for Best Foreign Language Film. It was the first Oscar win for a film from Chile, and the first Oscar win for a movie with a transgender character in the leadThe movie focuses on waitress and singer Marina, portrayed by transgender actress Daniela Vega, fighting for her dignity while grieving after her boyfriend Orlando (Francisco Reyes) dies, apparently from a brain aneurysm. Marina is viewed with suspicion by a detective, doctors and even Orlando’s family, the latter forbidding her from attending the wake or funeral.
R: Language, sexual content, nudity and disturbing assault — Alamo Drafthouse.
I Can Only Imagine
Based on the incredible true-life story that inspired the beloved, chart-topping song, “I Can Only Imagine” is a song that brings ultimate hope to so many. Amazingly, the song was written in mere minutes by MercyMe lead singer Bart Millard. In reality, those lyrics took a lifetime to craft.
PG: Thematic elements including violence — Tinseltown 17, Movies 16 and Stars & Stripes Drive-In.
Everyone deserves a great love story, but for 17-year-old Simon Spier, it’s a little more complicated. He hasn’t told his family or friends that he’s gay, and he doesn’t know the identity of the anonymous classmate that he’s fallen for online. Resolving both issues proves hilarious, terrifying and life-changing.
PG-13: Thematic elements, sexual references, language and teen partying — Premiere Cinemas, Alamo Drafthouse, Tinseltown 17 and Movies 16.
Tomb Raider (3-D/2-D)
Still based on the 2013 video game of the same name. Alicia Vikander now stars as Lara Croft, the fiercely independent daughter of an eccentric adventurer who vanished years earlier. Hoping to solve the mystery of her father’s disappearance, Croft embarks on a perilous journey to his last-known destination: a fabled tomb on a mythical island off the coast of Japan. The stakes couldn’t be higher as Lara must rely on her sharp mind, blind faith and stubborn spirit to venture into the unknown.
PG-13: Thematic elements and violent images — Premiere Cinemas (includes IMAX), Alamo Drafthouse, Tinseltown 17 (includes XD) and Stars & Stripes Drive-In.
Kerns rating: Three and one-half stars
Danish director Nicolai Guglsig’s movie is an entertaining tale about little-known horse soldiers, the first American military allowed to take the fight to the Taliban and al-Qaida allies in Afghanistan weeks after the 9/11/2001 attack. The story captures Americans’ reaction. Based on declassified accounts and Doug Stanton’s 2009 book “The Horse Soldiers,” the film focuses on the Fifth Special Forces Group and Captain Nelson (Chris Hemsworth) who, though inexperienced in war, pledged to bring everyone home alive. Guglsig focuses on Hemsworth, his initial lack of “killer eyes” and uneasy relationship with the Northern Alliance general (Abdul Rashid Dostum) whom he must befriend. Matters are helped by Nelson having been raised on a ranch and thus comfortable on horseback — because many battles must be waged while riding into battle, automatic weapons blazing.
R: War violence and language — Movies 16.
Kerns rating: Four stars
Alex Garland’s sci-fi drama “Annihilation” — admittedly not for everyone, and inspired by Jeff VanderMeer’s “Southern Reach Trilogy” — is helped mightily by an eerie original score and wildly innovative visual effects. Phrased in nostalgic terms, this film will blow a lot of minds. Audiences learn the military tried repeatedly to cross a colorful barrier within the United States, aptly called the Shimmer, in an attempt to discover how Area X beyond has been affected. Only one soldier, Kane, returned alive, if not mentally whole, from a possible environmental disaster zone. The military has five female scientists try next. Biologist and former soldier Lena, (Natalie Portman) wisely tells no one that Kane is her husband. Joining her: an anthropologist, psychologist, surveyor and linguist (Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez and Tuva Novotny). Not all will return. What they discover defies laws of nature. Don’t give too much away, although the film at times seems like one big spoiler. Can there be an alien, not necessarily extraterrestrial, wielding molecular change — and intruders possibly internally consumed? Time is an unspoken factor; the Shimmer is approaching cities as Area X expands daily. Good luck grasping it all. Garland’s “Ex Machina” may be the better film, but I can’t wait to see what he does next.
R: Violence, bloody images, language and sexuality — Premiere Cinemas and Tinseltown 17.
Black Panther (3-D/2-D)
Kerns rating: Four and one-half stars
The intelligent script conjures thought and questions. Directing only his third film, Ryan Coogler makes stunning decisions. Viewers will be awed when introduced to the apparent Third World African country of Wakanda, which resisted being colonized by all who might discover its source of Vibranium, which has been used used to secretly transform Wakanda into the world’s most advanced culture and civilization. Art direction, costumes and music are perfectly realized, as is the manner in which the nation’s women play vital roles. As Chadwick Boseman returns home for his own inauguration, he reunites with Lupita Nyong’o, one of Wakanda’s many spies, and soon is advised by Danai Gurira, who leads the country’s security forces. Stealing scenes is charismatic and funny newcomer Letitia Wright as T’Challa’s half sister. She also is Wakanda’s James Bond-ish Q,CQ a courageous technical genius providing equal numbers of gadgets and one-liners.
PG-13: Action violence, and rude gesture — Premiere Cinemas, Alamo Drafthouse, Tinseltown 17 and the Stars & Stripes Drive-In.
Kerns rating: Two stars
The first “Death Wish” iturned around Charles Bronson’s career, to the point that he was still making “Death Wish” sequels in his 70s. There was no call for a remake, even with a better performance from Bruce Willis as pacifist turned modern day vigilante Paul Kersey. His wife and college-age daughter (Camila Morrone) are attacked in their home in a robbery gone bad. His wife is killed; his daughter survives, and Kersey happens upon an unregistered gun and walks the streets, looking for hoodlums to shoot.
R: Vloody violence, and language — Premiere Cinemas, Alamo Drafthouse, Tinseltown 17 and Movies 16.
Angourie Rice stars as a shy, 16-year-old girl named Rhiannon, who falls in love with a traveling soul named “A,” who wakes up every morning in a different body, living a different life each day.
PG-13: Thematic content, language, teem drinking and suggestive material — Premiere Cinemas.
Kerns rating: Three stars
Hardly Pixar-level storytelling. Director Carlos Saldanha could not resist placing a bull in a china shop, with predictable results. Yet it remains an amusing tale, a loyal adaptation of 1936 children’s book “The Story of Ferdinand,” written by Munro Leaf and illustrated by Robert Lawson, a story not seen on screen since the Disney cartoon in 1938. Ferdinand — ironically voiced by wrestler-turned-actor John Cena — is bullied as a youngster for preferring to smell flowers. He finds true happiness when he escapes and is rescued by the owner of a flower plantation and his daughter. Naturally, Ferdinand grows (and grows) and is mistaken for a prime opponent by an undefeated matador.
PG: Rude humor, action and thematic elements — Tinseltown 17.
Fifty Shades Freed
The final installment of a film trilogy adapted from novels by British author E.L. James. Billionaire entrepreneur Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) and Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) are a couple finding happiness with a BDSM sexual relationship.
R: Erotic sexual content, graphic nudity and language — Premiere Cinemas.
Forever My Girl
Liam Page (played by Alex Roe) left sweetheart Josie Preston (Jessica Rothe) at the altar. He ran away for a shot at fame. Josie tries her best to keep Liam at a distance, but life has one more surprise awaiting him.
PG: Thematic elements including drinking, and language — Tinseltown 17.
Kerns rating: Two and one-half stars
Comedy is still, as they say, hard. Happily, co-stars Rachel McAdams and Jason Bateman shine as married and mutually competitive game nerds who share legitimate charisma and inspire smiles. They play Annie and Max, whose couples game night is one-upped when Max’s richer, more popular brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) calls on a local company called Murder We Wrote to host a party in which guests try to win by solving a realistic murder mystery. Naturally, for the few who missed the trailer, fake thugs and federal agents are replaced by dangerously real crooks.
R: Language, sexual references and violence — Alamo Drafthouse, Tinseltown 17 and Movies 16.
The Greatest Showman
Kerns rating: Three stars
Hugh Jackman impresses in his dream role of P.T. Barnum, but the storytelling is shallow. A few songs are memorable (such as “This Is Me”), yet there is precious little story exposition between them. Deserving applause is choreography by Ashley Wallen, revealing fantastic rapport with director Michael Gracey. Jackman and Efron are musical veterans, and it shows. Michelle Williams is tragically underused as Charity Barnum, who is aware when her husband is captivated by Swedish performer Jenny Lind. Social statements blend into entertainment and, by the end, good gosh, even elephants seem to appear out of nowhere.
PG: Thematic elements, including brawl — Premiere Cinemas and Movies 16.
Harold Soyinka (David Oyelowo) is an average businessman who works for a company that has developed a “Weed Pill,” medical marijuana that has been simplified to pill form. His bosses, Elaine (Charlize Theron) and Richard (Joel Edgerton), send him to Mexico to handle the marketing of the product. However, while out partying, he is kidnapped by a cartel — specifically one that holds a grudge against Harold’s bosses and their company. Richard hires a professional named Mitch (Sharlto Copley) to safely remove Harold from harm’s way, but Mitch and Harold end up having to survive one outrageous situation after another.
R: Language, violence and sexual content — Premiere Cinemas and Tinseltown 17.
Kerns rating: Five stars
This 2017 drama from writer-director Scott Cooper, like Clint Eastwood’s “Unforgiven” in 1990, proves the western is not dead — while taking a darker approach examining characters on the edge, affected by lives of brutal violence. The main characters, U.S. Cavalry Capt. Joseph Blocker (Christian Bale) and Northern Cheyenne war chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi), developed bitter hatred for one another over years of bloody battles, until the latter was captured and incarcerated. The story opens in 1892. Blocker, nearing retirement, has finished a campaign against the Apache; yet Comanches continue to murder homesteaders for horses, recently a father and three children in merciless fashion. The mother (Rosamund Pike) survived by hiding, and emerges emotionally broken. Blocker is ordered to escort Yellow Hawk, who contracted cancer during seven years of confinement, and his family from a New Mexico fort to ancestral grasslands in Montana, by order of President Benjamin Harrison. Crossing paths with marauding Comanche, dangerous fur trappers and racist whites, their survival odds are slim. “Hostiles” is special, however, because of character arc and change; this western also deals openly with post traumatic stress. Bale is incredible as he questions his own humanity; he is heartbreaking during his “I had a friend” monologue, and dodges a racist tag when he calls black Buffalo Soldier Henry the best soldier he’s ever known … and may also mean best friend. Bale learned to speak Northern Cheyenne, which grants enhanced authenticity to conversations with the brilliantly subtle Studi. Pike is outstanding, as is Jonathan Majors as Henry and so many others in a drama working on varied levels.
R: Violence and language — Movies 16.
The Hurricane Heist
A rural Alabama town faces two problems. There’s a hurricane bearing down on the Gulf coastline, and there’s a team of 30 well-armed mercenaries intent on looting the local treasury facility.
PG-13: Gun violence, action, destruction, language and suggestive material — Premiere Cinemas, Tinseltown 17, Movies 16 and Stars & Stripes Drive-In.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (3-D/2-D)
Kerns rating: Three and one-half stars
Kudos to the writing, casting and performances — even considering CGI improvements since Robin Williams introduced “Jumanji” in 1995. The story opens a la “The Breakfast Club,” with high school detention again populated by types: skinny nerd Spencer (Alex Wolf); football jock Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain), pretty-turned-vain selfie-taker Bethany (Madison Iseman), and shy bookworm Martha (Morgan Turner). They find a game console (Jumanji), and barely hear African drums before being sucked into the game and transformed into adult avatars. The nerd becomes a smoldering, muscular adventurer (Dwayne Johnson), the jock is now a small whiner (Kevin Hart), a shy bookworm gives way to a Lara Croft-type (Karen Gillan), and sexy Bethany trades her body for that of middle-aged cartographer Jack Black. Adult avatars, however, maintain teenage personalities and fears. Kudos to director Jake Kasdan, who introduces CGI hippos, snakes and jaguars, but also one message about overcoming insecurities and another involving the four opposites working together if they are to survive. The ensemble work shines, despite Black stealing several scenes as he channels his much-too-believable inner Bethany. Still, one wishes the game’s villains were something more African than greedy explorer Bobby Cannavale and dozens of goons on motorcycles. Motorcycles? In the jungle? Really?
PG-13: Adventure action, suggestive content and language — Tinseltown 17, Movies 16 (through Monday) and Stars & Stripes Drive-In.
Maze Runner: The Death Cure
The final chapter of a trilogy. In director Wes Ball’s finale, Thomas (played by Dylan O’Brien) again leads his group of escaped Gladers. To save their friends, they break into the last city, a WCKD-controlled labyrinth that may turn out to be the deadliest maze of all. They must makes it out alive to find answers to questions they have been asking since they first arrived in the maze.
PG-13: Sci-fi violence and action, language, and some thematic elements — Movies 16.
Peter Rabbit (3-D/2-D)
Peter Rabbit, the mischievous and adventurous hero who captivated generations of readers, now stars in his own irreverent film comedy with attitude. Peter’s feud with farmer Thomas McGregor (Domhnall Gleeson) escalates to greater heights as they rival for the affection of Bea (Rose Byrne), a sweet animal lover living next door. James Corden provides the voice of Peter. Margot Robbie, Elizabeth Debicki and Daisy Ridley provide the voices of Peter’s triplet sisters: Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontail. Inspired by author Beatrix Potter’s stories about the same characters.
PG: Rude humor and action — Premiere Cinemas and Tinseltown 17.
Francis Lawrence, who directed the last three “Hunger Games” films, reunites with Jennifer Lawrence, introduced as Bolshoi prima ballerina Dominika Egorova, who faces a bleak future after suffering a career-ending injury. She has no choice but to become a Russian spy and train at Sparrow School, a secret intelligence service training candidates to use their minds and bodies as weapons. Egorova emerges a dangerous Sparrow after completing sadistic training. Matthew Schoenaerts portrays her uncle Ivan, who knows the former dancer will do anything to help her emotionally vital but infirm mother Nina (Joely Richardson). Charlotte Rampling is the icy headmistress running the training school, and Jeremy Irons is Russian General Vladimir Korchnoi, who knows just how far a Sparrow like Dominika can be trusted. It appears that Lawrence’s Sparrow is being convinced by CIA agent Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton) to become a double agent.
R: Violence, torture, sexual content, language, and graphic nudity — Premiere Cinemas, Alamo Drafthouse, Tinseltown 17 and Movies 16.
The Shape of Water
Kerns rating: Five stars
Academy Award winner: Best Picture. Sally Hawkins is incredible as mute, lonely Eliza Esposito, who forges a relationship with an amphibian male imprisoned in the government lab that she helps clean each night. Bookend narration by Giles, This fairy tale blooms into a tragic romance influenced by the director’s affection for 1954′s “Creature from the Black Lagoon.” A Cold War rages against the Russians, inspiring sadistic Col. Strickland (Michael Shannon) to drag the amphibian (Doug Jones) from a South American river. Upon attacking his captor, the amphibian is kept in chains and tortured. Yet this becomes a story about love and language, as Eliza secretly uses eggs, sign language and music to communicate. Del Toro reveals his affection for horror films, government conspiracies and, surprise, dreamy 1930s musicals — all within an original romance where everyone colors outside the lines. Cinematographer Dan Lausten creates amazing images in a flooded apartment, and composer Alexandre Desplat delivers a romantic score that also earned an Oscar. Wonderful support arrives from Jenkins; Octavia Spencer as Eliza’s friend and interpreter; and even Michael Stuhlbarg as a Russian spy.
R: Sexual content, graphic nudity, violence and language — Movies 16.
The Strangers, Prey at Night
Kerns rating: Two stars
In 2008, writer-director Bryan Bertino explored apathetic violence via “The Strangers.” A decade later, more near-mute, masked home invaders are in a sequel, this time written by Bertino and directed by Johannes Roberts. At times, the story is a super low budget salute to John Carpenter’s early work, at least “Halloween” and “Christine,” except now there are three Michael Myers pursuing a terrified family through a deserted trailer park. The other option is a bored generation for whom murder is just a Friday night option. Why kill? Why not? But moviegoers are too familiar with killers handling a knife, ice pick or axe. This time, three sociopaths — call them Dollface, Pin-Up and Man in a Mask — butcher two seniors and learn from an answering machine that relatives are on the way. Mom (Christina Hendricks) and Dad (Martin Henderson) arrive with son Luke (Lewis Pullman) while on their way to deliver troubled daughter Kinsey (Bailee Madison) to boarding school. Soon, all are separated, cell phones destroyed. Roberts juggles ’80s music and tense silence to enhance a few jump-scares. In an effort to avoid predictability, he ventures into silly boogie-man territory. Gore levels are inconsistent but, to the filmmaker’s credit, his stars at least seem to enjoy the chase as much as the kills.
R: Horror violence and terror , and language — Premiere Cinemas, Tinseltown 17 and Movies 16.
Two upper-class teenage girls in suburban Connecticut rekindle an unlikely friendship after years of growing apart. Together, they hatch a plan to solve both of their problems by killing the stepfather of one.
R: Disturbing behavior, bloody images, language, sexual references, and some drug content — Alamo Drafthouse.
A Wrinkle in Time (3-D/2-D)
Kerns rating: Two stars
This is just a bump in director Ava DuVernay’s career. She already proved her chops. “Selma” was Oscar-nominated for Best Picture, and DuVernay’s amazing documentary “13th” (on Netflix) emerged educational, challenging and important. The next step for anyone in her place was to say yes when Disney came calling with a bucket of cash and a challenging story, dominated by a visual effects budget and bad dialogue. Major filmmakers had shied away from popular book “A Wrinkle in Time” since the 1960s. Now we know why. The script finds young girl Meg (Storm Reid) and little brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) grieving for their dad (Chris Pine, scientist), who disappeared four years ago. The children are encouraged to save their dad and the world by Reese Witherspoon as Mrs. Whatsit, Mindy Kaling as Mrs. Who and Oprah Winfrey as Mrs. Which. Skipping ahead (spoilers), Meg finds self-confidence and we were bound to be reminded about the power of love. Special effects and pop songs both border on lame. Adventures never becomes fun. I look forward to DuVernay being given another great script, or maybe an opportunity to write one. I guarantee, she will survive this wrinkle.
PG: Thematic elements and peril — Alamo Drafthouse, Tinseltown 17, Movies 16 (includes XD) and Stars & Stripes Drive-In.
Ratings, from one to five stars, and reviews are by A-J Media film critic William Kerns.