By Chip Chandler — Digital Content Producer
In Amarillo theaters this week: A faith-based drama, a devilish horror flick and a poorly reviewed indie. Plus, I review Moana and a handful of other recent releases.
Actor Ewan McGregor's directorial debut — an adaptation of the acclaimed Philip Roth novel — bowed to scathing reviews and arrives as the latest film on the indie screen at Premiere Cinemas Westgate Mall 6 in an otherwise bleak week for new films. Set in the 1960s, a father, nicknamed "the Swede" (McGregor), learns his daughter (Dakota Fanning) has become a violent anti-war revolutionary and tries to track her down after she is accused of helping bomb a post office. "A more incisive film would burrow deep into the compounding despair, and the obsession, of this searching everyman. But that would require treating Swede as a character, rather than just an emblem of his generation, bewildered by the actions and values of the next one," writes The A.V. Club's A.A. Dowd. (R for some strong sexual material, language and brief violent images; Premiere Cinemas Westgate Mall 6, 7701 W. Interstate 40)
In this new faith-based drama, the owner of an auto company (Ryan O'Quinn) decides to forego funding the town Christmas pageant because his business is on the rocks. That leads to him getting beat up and nursed back to health by a single mom (Danielle Nicolet) and her son (Isaac Ryan Brown), who has his heart set on playing the Archangel Gabriel in the play. "Given the film’s sidelong swipes at corrupt union bosses and intrusive business regulations, and its none-too-subtle message that faith-based charitable assistance is preferable to government handouts, Believe seems driven as much by conservative politics as Christian teachings. But that hardly qualifies as a mortal sin. What’s really difficult to forgive is the glacial pacing, the heavy-handed storytelling, and the gee-whiz sermonizing," writes Variety's Joe Leydon. (PG for some violence, thematic elements and brief mild language; United Artists Amarillo Star 14, 8275 W. Amarillo Blvd.)
When a single mother (Carice Van Houten, Game of Thrones) believes her son (David Mazouz, Gotham) has been possessed, a Vatican representative (Catalina Sandino Moreno) asks a wheelchair-bound scientist (Aaron Eckhart) to enter the boy's unconscious mind and fight the demon. Yeah, I don't know either. Unsurprisingly, this hasn't been screened for critics, and it looks like it has been on the shelf for a while: Mazouz looks positively teensy in the trailer, and he's a strapping teen now on Gotham. (PG-13 for intense sequences of horror violence, terror, disturbing images, brief strong language, sensuality and thematic elements; AS-14)
Chip's Capsule Reviews
- Moana: Disney's latest broadens the studio's output in some marvelous ways. The setting among the Pacific islands and inspiration from Polynesian mythology are invigorating, both in the animation and in the storytelling. And the title character, a chieftan's daughter who bridles at her father's insistence that no one go beyond the reef surrounding the island, is an engaging, inventive, independent young woman who's nobody's princess. Called to the sea — in fact, chosen by it — Moana (voiced by the delightful Auli'i Cravalho) sets off to restore harmony to the natural surroundings, coopting the prankster demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson, also marvelous) into helping her. It's a witty, progressive and endlessly fun tale livened by eye-popping animation, great vocal work and catchy tunes by, among others, Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda. It's a must-see. (PG for peril, some scary images and brief thematic elements; AS-14, Cinemark Hollywood 16, 9100 Canyon Drive)
- Rules Don't Apply: Warren Beatty's first directorial effort in nearly 20 years (and his first acting gig in almost as long) is a period comedy about a starlet (Lily Collins) and her driver (Alden Ehrenreich) who are forbidden to pursue a relationship because she has signed on to work with eccentric billionaire filmmaker Howard Hughes (Beatty). She's actually one of a couple dozen wannabe actresses who have signed with Hughes to make a film that no one really thinks will ever be shot. It's one of several quixotic passions that Beatty's Hughes pursues in the film, which compresses most of his bizarre life into a span of a few years. The result is more fantasia than autobiographical, and Hughes isn't quite the central focus — though he should be, because the film comes alive when Beatty is on the screen. Otherwise, it's too meandering and focuses on less-interesting figures. Fans of old Hollywood, of which Beatty is one of our last active examples, should give it a shot, though, and soon: It's down to one screening per day. (PG-13 for sexual material including brief strong language, thematic elements, and drug references; AS-14)
- The Edge of Seventeen: Hailee Steinfeld shines as Nadine, a miserable teenager whose life gets even worse when her best friend (Haley Lu Richardson) starts dating her much-despised older brother (Blake Jenner). Steinfeld, who was Oscar-nominated at age 14 for True Grit but hasn't had many meaty film opportunities since, is outstanding, managing to keep the audience's sympathies even at her character's worst — and boy, does she try our patience at times. Credit writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig for a hilarious, perceptive script and understanding the prickly entitlement and fragile self-image of a teenage girl. The film only played in Amarillo briefly, but look for it on streaming services within a couple of months; it's a cult classic in the making. (R for sexual content, language and some drinking - all involving teens)
- Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk: An intriguing but utter misfire from director Ang Lee, this adaptation of a Ben Fountain novel tells of an Iraqi war vet (newcomer Joe Alwyn) and his squad's return home for a victory lap in 2004, when such propaganda tools were still being used to sell the war. All the action is compressed to a few hours — with generous use of flashbacks to the battleground — as the squad is compelled to take part in a halftime show of a Thanksgiving Day football game. There are some smart touches here, to be sure, particularly a sardonic dressing-down of a greedy oilman by Garrett Dillahunt's military officer and any scene with the under-used Kristen Stewart as Lynn's anti-war sister. But Lee chose to shoot the film at a super-high frame rate and by using lots of extreme close-ups, presumably to give the audience a better window into Lynn's alienation. Only a handful of theaters showed the film at 120 frames per second; I was told the film played at 48fps in Amarillo when it opened, but when I saw one of the last two screenings, it sure looked like it was shown at 24fps, the normal frame rate. I can't, obviously, judge how the film would have worked in 120fps and 3-D, but the close-ups were off-putting and inert in 24fps. The actual halftime sequence, which cut between pyrotechnics on the field and explosions on the battleground in Lynn's memory, were quite effective, though. In all, it was an experiment that felt underdone, but Alwyn made a strong debut and there were glimmers of promise throughout. (R for language throughout, some war violence, sexual content, and brief drug use)
Celebrate the 15th anniversary of this anime classic with a pair of screenings at the Amarillo Star 14 — at noon Sunday for the English-dubbed version and at 7 p.m. Monday for the English-subtitled version. You can't miss with either. The film, by acclaimed director Hiyao Miyazaki, follows a young girl's adventures in a mystical land after her parents have been mysteriously transformed into animals. It won the 2002 Oscar for best animated film. (PG for some scary moments; AS-14)
A failed actor and screenwriter (voiced respectively by Paul Rudd and Patton Oswalt) go on a series of high-risk adventures as publicity stunts to make them famous in this new animated film screening at 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Amarillo Star 14. The screening also will include a panel discussion with stars Oswalt, Brendon Small, Kate Miccuci and John Ennis. (NR, but not suitable for children; AS-14)
This documentary follows the Oklahoma Army National Guard's 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, or "Thunderbirds," tothe frontlines of the Afghan war in 2011. It'll screen at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Happy State Bank Virgil Patterson Auditorium, 801 S. Taylor St., with some of the featured soldiers, including Tyler Brown of Amarillo and Colt Floyd of Clarendon, in attendance. The screening is free, but donations will be accepted for Family Support Services' Veteran Resource Center. Seating is limited, and registration is recommended. (R for language)
Allied (AS-14); Almost Christmas (AS-14); Arrival (AS-14); Bad Santa 2 (AS-14, H-16); Doctor Strange (AS-14, H-16); Deepwater Horizon (WM-6); Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (AS-14, H-16); Hacksaw Ridge (AS-14); Keeping Up with the Joneses (WM-6); Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (WM-6); Moana (AS-14, H-16); Rules Don't Apply (AS-14); The Secret Lives of Pets (WM-6); Storks (WM-6) and Trolls (AS-14, H-16).