Movie Watch: Amarillo film options for Dec. 21 and beyond

Last Updated by Chip Chandler on
"Sing" opens Wednesday.
Courtesy Universal

By Chip Chandler — Digital Content Producer

New to Amarillo theaters over Christmas: Singing animals, space castaways, searing drama and more. Official opening dates are listed, but each film previews the day before (except Bleed for This).

 

Opening Wednesday

Assassin's Creed

Michael Fassbender stars in the film adaptation of the popular video game "Assassin's Creed."Michael Fassbender stars in the film adaptation of the popular video game "Assassin's Creed."Courtesy 20th Century Fox

This totally wonky-sounding film, an adaptation of the popular video game, stars Michael Fassbender as a death-row inmate who is executed in California and revived in Madrid, so that he can be strapped to a machine that allows his hosts (Jeremy Irons and Marion Cotillard) to see his past life as a 15th-century assassin during the Inquisition. Still with me? It seems Fassbender and his fellow assassins were charged with protecting the Apple of Eden, which can control mankind or something, and Irons and Cotillard have been snatching up the modern-day descendents of those protectors and looking into their ancestors' past to find the Apple. "The plot of Assassin’s Creed is very confusing. No, scratch that: It’s a mess," understates Time's Stephanie Zacharek. Echoes The Associated Press' Lindsey Bahr: "In the end, the real mystery has little to do with the Assassins, the Templars or the Apple of Eden and more to do with why so many talented thespians thought this was a good idea." But Indiewire's David Ehrlich found it "captivatingly bonkers": "It would be overstating the case to suggest that any of this coheres into anything particularly meaningful ... but the film’s weird rhythm and strange energy add a compelling new veneer to a story that boils down to the typical hero’s journey." (PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, thematic elements and brief strong language; United Artists Amarillo Star 14, 8275 W. Amarillo Blvd.; Cinemark Hollywood 16, 9100 Canyon Drive)

"Assassin's Creed" trailer

 

Passengers

Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence star in the sci-fi drama "Passengers."Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence star in the sci-fi drama "Passengers."Courtesy Sony Pictures

Reviews are particularly harsh for this sci-fi romance starring Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence as the titular passengers of a spaceship taking them to a galaxy far, far away to colonize a new planet. They're supposed to sleep for 120 years, but for some reason (we'll get to that) they've awoken from hibernation 90 years too early with no way to re-enter their pods, giving them the run of the well-appointed ship for the rest of their lives. Sounds sad but kind of fun, right? Well, as the trailer has implied and as reviewers have revealed (so spoiler-phobes, look away), Pratt's character was the one who woke up first and, lonely, decides to wake Lawrence's Aurora (really) because he thinks she's so beautiful. So the romance that the film's trailers promise suddenly starts to look a lot stickier, what with consent violations and all. That's an intriguing moral dilemma to investigate, but critics say the movie, directed by Morten Tyldum, falls down on the job. "It would be easy to call Passengers out for its troublesome sexual politics or its way-too-predictable genre contrivances, but really, that’d be giving it too much credit. The problem lies deeper, in the fact that it’s a clever setup in search of an execution. A guy wakes up in space and is facing an eternity of loneliness; what does he do? That remains a captivating idea, and one worth exploring. But in order for a premise to become a film, something more needs to happen," writes The Village Voice's Bilge EbiriNew York / Vulture's David Edelstein finds more to praise, especially Lawrence's performance, but was turned off by the ending: "The climax, with its cliffhanger after cliffhanger after cliffhanger, forces Lawrence to emote in a vacuum. ... (But) (w)hat pisses people off, I think, is the mixture of florid romanticism and voyeuristic creepiness — which is exactly what’s enjoyable about Passengers when the balance is right." (PG-13 for sexuality, nudity and action/peril; AS-14)

"Passengers" trailer

 

Sing

A menagerie of animals audition for a tuneful competition in "Sing."A menagerie of animals audition for a tuneful competition in "Sing."Courtesy Universal

A theater-owning koala (voiced by Matthew McConaughey) tries to revive his business by hosting an American Idol-like musical competition in this new animated film from director Garth Jennings (The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy). The contest brings out a overwhelmed and overlooked mama pig (Reese Witherspoon), a gorilla trying to escape the family criminal enterprises (Taron Egerton), a punk porcupine (Scarlett Johansson) and an elephant with stage fright (Idol's Tori Kelly), among others. Reviews are moderately good. "Don’t go into Sing expecting it to be some kind of cartoon answer to La La Land with animal wise-crackers stepping in for snappy human toe tappers, despite its similar heartfelt portrayal of the highs and lows of showbiz and sunny candy-hued cityscape. But, luckily, its makers know all too well how to fully exploit the power of a catchy pop song," writes RogerEbert.com's Susan Wloszczyna. (PG for some rude humor and mild peril; AS-14, H-16)

"Sing" trailer

 

Opening Friday

Bleed for This

Miles Teller, center, and Aaron Eckhardt star in "Bleed for This."Miles Teller, center, and Aaron Eckhardt star in "Bleed for This."Courtesy Open Road Films

Miles Teller (Whiplash) stars as real-life boxer Vinny "The Pazmanian Devil" Pazienza, who won two world title fights before a near-fatal car accident left him with a broken neck. Told he may never walk again, he works with trainer Kevin Rooney (Aaron Eckhart) to return to the ring just a year after the accident. "Bleed for This, directed with a fighter’s spirit and a keen eye for detail by Ben Younger (Boiler Room), deals in frank terms with the helplessness and loneliness of recovery and the blows it delivers to one’s pride. Teller is magnetic in the lead role," writes The Detroit News' Adam Graham. (R for language, sexuality/nudity and some accident images; WM-6)

"Bleed for This" trailer

 

Why Him?

A protective father (Bryan Cranston) meets his daughter's new boyfriend, a Silicon Valley billionaire played by James Franco, so you know he's totally inappropriate, in this new Meet the Parents-like comedy (director John Hamburg, incidentally, was one of the screenwriters for Parents). Critics say it's fitfully funny, but something of a waste of the talents of Cranston, Franco and Megan Mullally. "It’s bluntly cheeky, it goes on for too long, but the concept keeps on giving," writes Variety's Owen Gleiberman. The Wrap's Alonso Duralde is less charitable: "Why Him? takes its potentially hilarious premise and does precious little with it." (R for strong language and sexual material throughout; AS-14, H-16)

 

Opening Sunday

Fences

Denzel Washington and Viola Davis star in "Fences," a film adaptation of the August Wilson play.Denzel Washington and Viola Davis star in "Fences," a film adaptation of the August Wilson play.Courtesy Paramount Pictures

Denzel Washington stars in and directs this film adapation of the beloved August Wilson play, bringing with him nearly the full cast of the 2010 Tony Award-winning revival of the play. A garbage collector in 1950s Pittsburgh, Washington's Troy Maxson is embittered that baseball's color barrier was broken after his heyday in the colored leagues. Viola Davis co-stars as his long-suffering wife, a role that won her a Tony and have her as the odds-on favorite for Best Supporting Actress in this year's Oscar race. The film has been well received, particularly for its performances, though some critics think Washington hasn't opened it up beyond the stage quite far enough. "Washington and Davis’ performances ... invite us in to an intimate place that’s messy and painful and hard to shake. It’s as good as screen acting gets," writes Entertainment Weekly's Chris Nashawaty. (PG-13 for thematic elements, language and some suggestive references; AS-14, H-16)

"Fences" trailer

 

Chip's Capsule Reviews

Loving: Ruth Negga (Preacher) and Joel Edgerton (Black Mass) star as real-life couple Mildred and Richard Loving, whose 1958 wedding violated Virginia's laws against interracial marriage, in this understated and powerful drama by writer-director Jeff Nichols. After Mildred wrote to then-Attorney General Robert Kennedy, their case was taken up by the American Civil Liberties Union, eventually finding its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which struck down anti-miscegenation laws. (The case still echoes today, beyond even the racial animus that keeps cropping back up; Loving v. Virginia was cited in the court battles that won the right to gay marriage last year.) Nichols, a young but masterful filmmaker whose 2016 output also included the spectacular sci-fi drama Midnight Special, takes an unexpectedly restrained approach, keeping his story laser-focused on Mildred and Richard, avoiding both courtroom spectacle and encounters with spit-flecked racists. The story is both dramatic enough and tense enough on its own merits to do without such melodramatic touches, and Negga and Edgerton both are wonderfully real in their portrayals. Edgerton finds miles of depth in the stoic Richard, and Negga communicates volumes through her magnificently expressive eyes. The film hasn't caught fire as much as expected, possibly because of its more muted tone, but it's easily one of the year's best. I caught it in Lubbock, and there's no word yet if it will screen in Amarillo; keep your eyes open for it, though. (PG-13 for thematic elements; Premiere Cinemas + IMAX, 6002 Slide Road in Lubbock)

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story: Our latest journey to a galaxy far, far away isn't a sequel to last year's The Force Awakens. Instead, it's a standalone story that fits right before Star Wars: A New Hope, which casual fans know as the movie that kicked it all off. And when I say "right before," I mean exactly that. As we learned in A New Hope, a group of Rebel spies managed to steal the plans to the Death Star, which in turn gave Luke Skywalker the insight and opportunity to fire a missle into an out-of-the-way vent and destroying the mega-weapon. Turns out, that convenient weakness was put there on purpose by a designer (Mads Mikkelson) forced by the Empire to finalize the Death Star after he has been taken away from his young daughter. The girl grows up to be intergalactic outlaw Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), who joins up with that motley crew of spies (including Diego Luna's Cassian Andor; K-2SO, a deadpan robot voiced by Alan Tudyk; Donnie Yen, a blind adherent to the Force; and others). Director Gareth Edwards (Godzilla) really emphasizes the Wars part of the title, more so than almost any film in the series thus far; the consequences of battle and the sacrifices required for the mission are always at the forefront. Rousing yet serious, Rogue One immediately stands out as one of the top films in the franchise. (PG-13 for extended sequences of sci-fi violence and action; AS-14, H-16)

 

Special engagements

It's a Wonderful Life

"It's a Wonderful Life" trailer

George Bailey's best/worst day ever will get a big-screen revival at noon Saturday at United Artists Amarillo Star 14, 8275 W. Amarillo Blvd. (NR)

 

Still playing

The Accountant (WM-6 beginning Friday); Boo! A Madea Halloween (WM-6); Collateral Beauty (AS-14, H-16); Denial (WM-6 [through Thursday]); Hacksaw Ridge (AS-14); Inferno (WM-6 beginning Friday); Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (WM-6 [through Thursday]); A Man Called Ove (WM-6 [through Thursday]); Manchester by the Sea (AS-14); Moana (AS-14, H-16 [through Saturday at H-16])Nocturnal Animals (AS-14 [through Saturday]); Office Christmas Party (AS-14, H-16); Queen of Katwe (WM-6 beginning Friday); Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (AS-14, H-16); Rules Don't Apply (WM-6 [through Thursday])The Secret Lives of Pets (WM-6 through Thursday); Storks (WM-6); Shut In (WM-6); and Trolls (AS-14). (Click links for my reviews)

 

Chip Chandler is a digital content producer for Panhandle PBS. He can be contacted at Chip.Chandler@actx.edu, at @chipchandler1 on Twitter and at www.facebook.com/chipchandlerwriter on Facebook.

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