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FROZEN 2
"a.k.a. Disney Creativity On Ice"
2 stars
Peter Sobczynski says... "Although Disney has generally avoided making theatrical sequels to their animated films—the ones that they have produced over the years have generally been produced for the straight-to-video market—the existence of “Frozen II” is not exactly a surprise. After all, when you make a film that sells over a billion dollars worth of tickets around the world, becomes hat biggest-grossing animated film of all time and inspires tons of merchandise and a popular stage version, both of which will presumably centime to spin millions of dollars for the studio for the foreseeable future, few could possibly resist the temptation to try to make lightning strike a second time. No, the real question is not so much whether or not to make “Frozen II” as it is what to make of it. Do you take advantage of the fact that any film bearing that title is the closest one could possibly come to a sure thing at the box-office these days and come up with something new and innovative and trust that the audience will follow or do you elect to placate those viewers by giving them more or less the same thing that they loved so much six years ago? Not surprisingly, the filmmakers have elected to go down that second path and while the end results may indeed satisfy fans of the original who are clamoring to see anything with their favorite characters but my guess is that the only people who are going to embrace this cookie-cutter sequel are the studio accountants." (more)
BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD, A
"Rogers And Heart"
4 stars
Peter Sobczynski says... "Right off the top, it cannot be stressed enough that “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” is not a biopic of the late and increasingly beloved children’s television pioneer Fred Rogers by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, when all is said and done, he is not even the central character in the film by a long shot. Instead, it tells the sort-of true story of a troubled journalist who found himself at long last begin to grapple with his own deep-seated troubles and traumas after striking up a friendship with Fred while on assignment to write a short piece on him for an issue of Esquire themed around the idea of heroes. Considering how closely this film comes on the heels of “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” last year’s popular documentary look at the life and legacy of Fred Rogers, it is probably a good idea for this film to go down a decidedly different path instead of merely offering up recreations of things seen in that documentary, even with the almost insanely spot-on casting of America’s current Designated Nice Guy, Tom Hanks, in the part. However, while it is certainly a different moviegoing experience than many may be expecting, it is not always a satisfying one and indeed, it is in the moments where it goes off into unexpected area where it stumbles the most and it is in the scenes involving Fred himself that are ultimately the most effective." (more)
WAVES (2019)
"Sines Of The Times"
3 stars
Peter Sobczynski says... "Over the course of his first three films, “Krishna,” “It Comes at Night” and his latest effort, “Waves,” wrier-director Trey Edward Shults has proven himself to be a filmmaker of immense and undeniable talent—his narratives are ambitious in both dramatic and stylistic terms, he knows how to get impressive performances from his actors and each of them have contained a few moments of pure astonishment. The only drawback is that for all of his undeniable formal gifts, he has yet to make a movie that is even remotely close to being as great as his ambitions. “Waves,” a sprawling family drama, probably comes the closest that he has ever gotten to making a good film—at 135 overstuffed minutes, it is certainly the most movie that he has ever served up—but for every element that rings strong and true, there are several that don’t and both are served up with such concussive force that the only thing that most viewers will take away from it is a pounding headache. Like the character that drives its first half, it starts off with all the promise in the world for success and almost immediately begins to fall apart before our eyes to the point of no return and beyond." (more)
KINGMAKER, THE
"Nothing really goes away."
4 stars
Jay Seaver says... "Americans often hear bits and pieces of news from other countries, when something particularly noteworthy happens or when it's connected to something closer to home. The ouster of Ferdinand Marcos was a big deal, in part because it included astonishing details like his First Lady Imelda's impossibly large collection of shoes, and the current president's glee at murdering drug dealers is alarming enough to get notice, especially since he has a fan in Donald Trump. Both of those things are part of a bigger narrative, and Lauren Greenfield does an impressive job of getting at it in "The Kingmaker"." (more)
DOCTOR SLEEP
"A carefully-crafted continuation."
3 stars
Jay Seaver says... "Coming to "Doctor Sleep" as more of a fan of screenwriter/director Mike Flanagan than either Stephen King or "The Shining" makes for an odd experience, as he clearly is a fan making what sometimes feels like the biggest fan film he can. It's a good one, and a fairly decent fantasy in general, but when it's finished, the audience will likely remember its respectful recreation the most out of everything else that's done well here." (more)
FORD V FERRARI
"Le Mens"
4 stars
Peter Sobczynski says... "“Ford v. Ferrari” tells the story of a couple of iconoclasts who have been employed by a monolithic company to pull off a seemingly impossible task and follows them as they struggle to accomplish this in the face of a unyielding corporate structure that seems to be designed solely to stymie them from accomplishing the very job that they were hired to do. This is a narrative structure that will always be timely but in this case, it is especially resonant because this is a film that was made by 20th Century Fox, a studio which was recently purchased by Disney, the superhero/animation/remake factory that would have never dreamed of investing a single cent in an expensive adult-oriented drama if they had been offered the chance to finance it. Although obviously inadvertent, this odd behind-the-scenes parallel adds an unexpected level of resonance to an otherwise familiar, if undeniably well-made, film, the kind that Hollywood used to make on a regular basis but which has now become an increasingly rare occurrence in the industry’s unfortunate shift to an all-tentpole business model." (more)
MARRIAGE STORY
"Kicking And Screaming"
4 stars
Peter Sobczynski says... "if I were to sit down and make a list of the directors whose name on the credits of a new film is enough to fill me with the kind of scorn and dread usually reserved for trips to the dentist or the musical recitals of other people’s children, I must confess that Noah Baumbach would most likely be very near the top of it even if it wasn’t in alphabetical order. He has been making movies for 25 years now and, to be fair, some of his films have received plenty of critical acclaim, even from observers whose opinions I respect. However, whatever qualities they have found to celebrate in works like “The Squid and the Whale,” “Margot at the Wedding” and his Greta Gerwig-led trilogy of “Greenberg,” “Frances Ha” and “Mistress America” have managed to elude me completely. To these eyes, he specializes in films centered around wildly unpleasant and deeply solipsistic narcissists who spend their time making themselves and anyone who happens into their rarefied orbit as miserable as possible. Mind you, I don’t object to films based around obnoxious or unlikable people—my objection is that seems incapable of also presenting them in a manner interesting enough to make me want to sit through their narratives for any other reason outside of professional obligation. To be fair, I did like “De Palma,” the fascinating documentary on the life and work of a slightly more interesting filmmaker that he co-directed with Jake Paltrow, and he did co-write the screenplays to the Wes Anderson films “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” and “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” I dunno—maybe, in direct opposition of what has been suggested in the majority of his oeuvre, he simply plays well with others." (more)
BETTER DAYS
"Tests close to the top of its class."
4 stars
Jay Seaver says... "You can tell when a film and filmmaker are just better than their peers, as was the case with Derek Tsang's previous film "SoulMate", the best in a wave of seemingly dozens of Chinese movies about people looking back on their high school years. That's a description that could technically apply to "Better Days", especially with the bookends made to satisfy the censors, although it's a far harsher film than those, but effectively so: Tsang brings something visceral to his story of bullying and revenge where all too many might be satisfied to make it easier for the squeamish to grapple with." (more)
SCANDALOUS: THE TRUE STORY OF THE NATIONAL ENQUIRER
"Not just about a tabloid."
4 stars
Rob Gonsalves says... "A gore-soaked tabloid, whose publisher had mob connections, was ultimately involved in helping install the President of the United States. This story, worthy of James Ellroy, is at the heart of the documentary 'Scandalous: The True Story of the National Enquirer.'" (more)
PARADISE HILLS
"Another talent to watch."
4 stars
Rob Gonsalves says... "Every shot of 'Paradise Hills' is otherworldly in its beauty. I’m not sure how it “reads” as a narrative, but as a visual work of art, a tone poem, and a riff on some familiar but evergreen themes it makes one stand and applaud." (more)

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