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Articles by Diana beechener

The sequel to Pixar’s Finding Nemo is a less nuanced tale but no less enjoyable

A year after blue tang Dory (Ellen DeGeneres: Ellen) helped clownfish Marlin (Albert Brooks: Concussion) find his son Nemo (Hayden Rolence), Dory remains forgetful. She never remembers where she is or what she’s doing. Marlin finds her short-term memory loss annoying.
    When a trip to the migrating grounds of the Pacific triggers a memory, Dory becomes obsessed with finding her family. Now a vague idea of her parents’ whereabouts sets her off. Because Dory’s too forgetful to go alone, Nemo and an increasingly fed-up Marlin accompany her to a marine rehabilitation center in California.
    Of course the trio gets separated. Thus Dory must find both her parents and Marlin and Nemo. Helping is Hank (Ed O’Neill: Modern Family), a seven-tentacled rehabilitated octopus who is terrified of release.
    The sequel to Pixar’s Finding Nemo, Finding Dory is a less nuanced tale of aquatic families, but it is no less enjoyable. Directors Andrew Stanton (John Carter) and Angus MacLane (Toy Story of Terror) give us a story with no one too villainous. Marlin is a bit of a jerk, but then again Dory’s disability can be extremely frustrating and dangerous. It’s an interesting lesson about understanding and accepting differences.
    The film adds news characters in the ocean park excursion. Hank is a loveable curmudgeon of an octopus. His dream is to live in an aquarium in Cleveland, where little kids won’t poke him. With his camouflages, he keeps park staff on the constant hunt.
    Kaitlin Olson (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) stands out as a sweet but nearsighted whale shark who has trouble swimming. Wire fans will be delighted by daffy sea lions Fluke and Rudder, voiced by Idris Elba and Dominic West.
    Finding Dory sacrifices some of the emotional depth of Finding Nemo to make itself funny. Instead of delving into the hurt of cruel comments or the terror of Dory’s forgetfulness, the film focuses on jokes. It’s not a bad strategy for a kids’ movie, and the little ones with me in the theater were enraptured with Dory and her friends.
    Finding Dory is a great movie with a lot of heart. Adults and kids will find characters to root for, jokes to laugh at and understanding of how tolerance and patience help the world.

Great Animation • PG • 103 mins.

A girl learns that money and a sick boyfriend have advantages in this gross romance

Lou (Emilia Clarke: Game of Thrones) needs a job. So when the Traynor family advertises for a companion, she signs on — despite her lack of experience or training in healthcare. Her charge is Will (Sam Claflin: The Huntsman: Winter’s War), a former financial wiz and extreme sports enthusiast who’s now quadriplegic. Will is angry, depressed and in no mood to deal with bumbling Lou.
    Eventually, he warms to her — because what men want is a girl who smiles while taking a litany of abuse. Soon they fall in love, but there’s a hitch in Lou’s happily-ever-after: Will wants to die.
    Can Lou convince him to give life with her a chance? Or is this romance doomed?
    Me Before You isn’t a movie; it’s a manipulation. Director Thea Sharrock (Call the Midwife) makes do with close-ups of pretty people shedding tears. There’s no hint of the demanding work of caring for a quadriplegic, no mention of managing bodily functions, no inkling that Lou understands what she’s getting into. Her job is to make tea, wear outfits seemingly assembled by a demented toddler and smile relentlessly while looking vaguely confused. She’s shown helping in Will’s physical care only twice, lifting his head (don’t strain yourself, Lou).
    There is no substance to their relationship.
    Would the story be so sweepingly romantic if Lou worked at a government-run facility instead of a stately manor. Would she have fallen in love with Will if his family’s money couldn’t afford a private plane to Tahiti (complete with nursing care so Lou can continue to smile and work on her tan)?
    The only actor unscathed by performing in this film is Stephan Peacocke (Wanted), Will’s nurse.
    In the interest of disclosure, I will admit that my seatmate vehemently disagrees with my assessment. And people cried, but not me. I’m saving my tears for where this film is leading the romance genre.

Poor Romantic Drama • PG-13 • 110 mins.

Mutants rise up to face an ancient foe in this meandering superhero tale

In ancient Egypt, godlike pharaoh En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac: Star Wars The Force Awakens) enters his elaborate pyramid not for death but for resurrection in a new, eternal body. Lest his tyranny prove eternal, conspirators knock down the pyramid. En Sabah Nur is entombed.
    In the 1980s, his tomb is opened, and En Sabah Nur rises, taking the name Apocalypse, which should give you a hint as to his plans. To cleanse Earth of the vile humans who make society weak, he recruits four strong mutants.
    One is Magneto (Michael Fassbender: Steve Jobs), long-lost friend of Charles Xavier (James McAvoy: Victor Frankenstein). Magneto has good cause to hate humans; they’ve killed everyone he loved and have hunted him for decades.
    This time Charles is on the other side, and with Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence: Joy) gathers a warrior band.
    Who will win the battle of the mutants?
    X-Men Apocalypse could have been a great film. The cast is powerful, the director (Bryan Singer: X-Men: Days of Future Past) has done well with the franchise and the story introduces all the popular X-Men.
    Instead, it is overlong, smug and frustrating.
    Singer stalls the plot with long scenes of destruction. If all the slow-motion shots were excised, the film would run about 90 minutes instead of two and a half hours.
    Roles lack character and motivation. Apocalypse is a nebulous bad guy who soliloquizes on doom and death and can’t seem to make friends. Only Magneto seems to have a clear purpose for his actions. But the ever-expanding cast makes his scenes few and far between.
    The only spark of life comes from the younger generation. As heroes in training, Scott (Tye Sheridan: Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse), Jean (Sophie Turner: Game of Thrones) and Kurt (Kodi Smit-McPhee: Galipoli) are funny and offer interesting examples of what happens when mutations appear during puberty.
    If you’re a diehard fan of the X-Men comics, X-Men Apocalypse is worth the ticket.

Fair Fantasy • PG-13 • 144 mins.

A decent idea may lurk in the depths of this murky disaster

As host of the wildly popular television investment show Money Monster, Lee Gates (George Clooney: Hail, Caesar!) enjoys a celebrity lifestyle. Rather than sound investment advice, he touts stocks recommended by his rich friends. Viewers trust him, but his producer Patty (Julia Roberts: Mother’s Day) is fed up.
    When a favorite recommendation, trading company IBIS, takes a dive, his audience loses lots of money. Outraged victim Kyle (Jack O’Connell: Unbroken) decides to make Lee and his fat-cat friends answer for their corruption. Kyle enters the studio, pulls a gun and straps a bomb on Lee, threatening to blow him and the studio sky-high if answers aren’t immediately forthcoming.
    Suddenly, Lee cares about the little guy. As he placates his captor and investigates the IBIS stock incident, he sees that Kyle might be right. The system might be rigged.
    Can Kyle prove that finance companies steal for profit? Will Lee finally understand that his actions have consequences? Can Patty keep it all on the air?
    Long, tone-deaf and utterly misguided, Money Monster is awe-inspiring in its poor choices. Director Jodie Foster (Elysium) seems to have released a terrible first draft that, might, with time, have been elevated. Performances are perfunctory, dialog uninspiring and camera angles rote.
    Foster prefers close-ups and medium shots that frame single actors. As a result, the dialogue sounds like a string of soliloquies edited together. The characters don’t seem to be reacting to each other, which in turn distances the audience.
    Clooney, a natural ham, seems annoyed with all of it, even when he’s dancing with money-honeys. It may be his reaction to O’Connell — who offered one of 2015’s best performances in ’71 — but here is relegated to screaming and flailing. O’Connell’s Kyle shrieks that he’s intelligent, yet he’s pathologically terrible at making decisions and expressing himself. He’s a frustrating character because he’s so poorly written. Roberts spends most of the film locked in a box.
    With Foster’s ham-fisted directing, this movie ranges from loud to louder to loudest. Do not pay to see this film — in the theater or on Netflix.

Dismal Thriller • R • 98 mins.

A comedy of calamity and carnage set off by a kitten

Rell (Jordan Peele: Bob’s Burgers) is spiraling down: no girlfriend left, no job, lots of marijuana.
    Cousin Clarence (Keegan-Michael Key: Bob’s Burgers) isn’t faring much better. His wife walks all over him. His daughter disrespects him. Everyone makes fun of his obsession with George Michael.
    Their luck seemingly changes when a kitten arrives at Rell’s door. Adorable, playful and heartbreakingly affectionate, Keanu gives Rell reason for living. Until burglars strike. Thus Rell enlists Clarence to bring Keanu home.
    As Keanu has won the favor of a local gangland boss (Method Man: Trainwreck), Clarence and Rell go undercover as gang members. It’s a terrible plan.
    Funny, absurd and wholly entertaining, this madcap comedy comes from the creators of the brilliant sketch comedy show Key & Peele. Like the show, the movie isn’t afraid to go big with rapid-fire jokes and physical humor to ensnare you. Beneath the humor, co-writer Peele puts some light social commentary on race, morality and sex.
    To capture their easy-going dynamic and lickety-split delivery, Key and Peele chose Peter Atencio, the long-time director of their sketch show. He allows the performances to guide the film, giving the movie a sense of fun and improvisation.
    The genius animating Keanu is the familiar camaraderie between Key and Peele. Each excels: Peele as a bewildered stoner with flashes of courage, Key as the uptight straight man who goes wild once unleashed.
    The film has its faults. Plot is secondary to reactions and lines. Character is developed only on the silly side. But laziness is not among them. Key and Peele work hard to deliver their smart concepts and outlandish humor, including an inspired George Michael send-up.
    Send Key and Peele chasing a kitten, and you’ve got comedy gold.

Good Comedy • R • 100 mins.

Who watches the watchmen?

The Avengers have united twice to save the world. Collateral damage has been considerable. Cities have been razed, which makes the team controversial.
    Some still think of the Avengers as heroes. But fear of the omnipotents is growing. After another mission goes wrong, killing civilians, the governments of the world decide that the time of freelance superheroes has come to an end. The Avengers must submit to a multi-government regulatory committee or be classified as hostile mercenaries.
    Wracked with guilt over the deaths he’s caused both as a weapons manufacturer and as Ironman, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.: Avengers: Age of Ultron) supports the regulatory commission. Ant Man Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) believes the team should be trusted to do what’s right. Sides are chosen.
    When a bombing kills the king of Wakanda, implicating one of the Avengers, they are soon at war with each other.
    Who will win when the greatest powers on earth collide? Worse, who will lose?
    Fast, loud and extremely entertaining, Captain America: Civil War demonstrates yet again that Marvel (and parent company Disney) are leagues ahead of rival DC at the movies. The film masterfully incorporates a complex plot, introduces two new franchises and offers enough charm to forgive the plot holes.
    You get ample time with beloved characters, including Cap, Ironman and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson: The Jungle Book). And you get new members of the expanding Marvel Universe: ­Spider-Man (Tom Holland: In the Heart of the Sea) and Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman: Gods of Egypt). As Spider-Man, Holland accomplishes the heretofore impossible task of making Peter Parker both charming and a believable teenager. His interactions with Tony, who recruits him to the new Avengers, are some of the film’s brightest, lightest spots.
    As the vengeful prince of Wakanda, Boseman succeeds in his slightly heavier role with Black Panther, balancing anger with cocky charm. A slick costume, interesting motivation and the promise of a new country to explore help make him a likeable new ally for the Avengers.
    Tone is the film’s weak spot. It can be jarring to see these character quip and laugh one minute, then brutally beat each other. Because the film is a blockbuster-friendly PG-13, none of this violence has real consequences, and there’s barely any blood.
    Captain America: Civil War is the perfect popcorn movie, filled with action, funny lines and charismatic characters who will win over audiences and sell merchandise.

Great Action • PG-13 • 146 mins.

An absurdist retelling of a surreal moment in American history

A man shows up at the White House and asks to see the president. The request gives pause to the secret service, as the man is Elvis Presley (Michael Shannon: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice).
    The whole situation is bizarre. One day in 1970, Elvis flew to Washington, D. C., to meet President Nixon and ask him for a badge making him an undercover federal officer at large. The King, apparently, had decided he was the best way to combat the threat of communism. His plan was to go to communist meetings and parties where drugs were sold, collect information on the key players and convince kids to forswear drugs while embracing patriotism.
    It sounds crazy, but friends are used to The King’s whims.
    The president, on the other hand, thinks this plan sounds as screwy as Elvis himself. Staunch conservative Richard Nixon (Kevin Spacey: House of Cards) sneers at popular culture. He has no interest in Elvis, despite his staff’s pleas that a meeting might win the youth vote. Only when his daughter demands an autograph does Nixon agree to the meeting.
    When The King meets The President, what happens?
    A funny fictionalization of the infamous meeting, Elvis & Nixon offers insight into both characters. Director Liza Johnson (Hateship Loveship) wisely chose to let the actors carry the movie. There’s little fancy camera work. Except for a few inspired montages of period-accurate footage, it’s all about Shannon and Spacey. Rather than mimic their famous counterparts with silly impressions, the actors offer genuine performances.
    As Richard Nixon, Spacey shines. He creates a grumbling president more interested in taking a nap than winning over American youth. Blustering through hackneyed dialog and ensemble scenes, Spacey continues his run of magnificent jerks.
    Shannon has the harder task of capturing the essence of Elvis. He succeeds by imbuing the King with the childlike simplicity of a man who can’t comprehend a world that does not bow to his whims.
    The two finally meet in a classic comedy of errors. Both believe they’re in charge, and both have a reason to assume so. Spacey and Shannon dance around each other in a delightful ballet of ticks and quirks as they goad each other to new and greater heights.
    It’s worth the ticket price to see this entertaining riff on an odd footnote in history on the big screen as two acting greats battle it out.

Good Comedy • R • 86 mins.

This comedy is a love letter and a plea to Chicago

Calvin (Ice Cube: Ride Along 2) is a second-generation barber on the south side of Chicago. The shop is now co-ed with a new business partner (Regina Hall: Black-ish).
    Calvin is proud of his neighborhood, but it’s changing. He barely recognizes the street where he’s spent his whole life. Robberies and shootings make the barbers fearful of working after dark. As son Jaylen (Michael Rainey Jr.: Power) considers joining a gang, Calvin makes the barbershop a safe space in hopes of encouraging his community to embrace non-violence.
    If the gambit fails, Calvin plans to move his family and business to Chicago’s safer north side.
    Barbershop: The Next Cut strikes a surprising balance between commentary and comedy. Past installments have been far broader comedies, featuring slapstick humor, silly jokes and good music.
    This film, the third in the series, seeks to provoke change as well as laughter.
    Director Malcolm D. Lee (The Best Man Holiday) balances humor with drama so that neither overwhelms. Best of all are the performances. Ice Cube is a charismatic performer skilled as both a dramatic actor and straight man to the shenanigans in the shop. Cedric the Entertainer (The Soul Man) remains the perfect clown, spouting ridiculous one-liners and riling up the rest of the cast.
    As for a solution to stop the violence in Chicago, you’ll find opinions on what shouldn’t be done but few realistic solutions beyond don’t give up.

Good Dramedy • PG-13 • 112 mins.

A man cub learns the laws of the jungle in this winning family film

Fierce tiger Shere Khan (voiced by Idris Elba: Zootopia), slaughters a man who sought shelter in a jungle cave. But escaping Khan’s deadly eye, a toddler survives. The panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley: The Walk) takes pity on the pathetic man cub.
    Seven years later, Mowgli (Neel Sethi in his feature debut) lives among a wolf pack while training with Bagheera in the ways of the jungle. He loves his family, but he is a failure as a wolf. He can’t run as fast or bite as hard. He can compete only when he uses “tricks,” such as fashioning crude tools. The pack insists he abandon his tricks for life as a wolf.
    Mowgli may need all the tricks in his bag when Shere Khan finds a man cub on his return to the wolf grounds. Shere Khan is determined to kill the boy and anyone who stands in his way.
    Hunted by the most powerful beast in the jungle, Mowgli returns to the human world. Can people protect him? Will he reintegrate into human society?
    The Jungle Book is a colorful, beautiful retelling of the classic tale for all ages. This adaptation owes less to Rudyard Kipling than to the 1967 Disney cartoon, for it features all the Disney songs, characters and plot. But director Jon Favreau (Chef) adds fresh visual styling.
    Best of all is the exemplary work by the all-star voice cast. As the film’s villain, Elba growls his way through a menacing performance. Scarlett Johansson (Hail, Caesar!) fills out the baddie side with her creepy characterization of a humongous boa constrictor that may or may not want to swallow Mowgli.
    To balance the menacing animals, Favreau has stacked the deck with some outstanding comedic voice acting. Kingsley plays straight man (make that panther) to the characters, while offering deadpan zingers that should keep parents entertained. As lazy bear Baloo, Bill Murray (Rock the Kasbah) is beguiling and cuddly. Murray’s voice does a lot to bring warmth and charm to this laid-back take on a favorite Disney character.
    The standout in this talented field is Christopher Walken (Eddie the Eagle), who uses his unique voice and cadence to make King Louie both silly and intimidating.
    The only weak link is Sethi, who can sound a bit forced. It’s not a big problem, as no one in the audience pays much attention to Mowgli with all the talking animals abounding.
    A bigger problem may be the more realistic nature of its animals and sets. Favreau has created a painstakingly accurate environment, so tiger attacks, lunging snakes and rampaging apes are a little more frightening than their cartoon counterparts. My young seatmate was terrified of Shere Khan, and having the tiger leap at the audience in glorious 3D did nothing to quell her fears. If you have a child under the age of seven, consider whether this film will ruin future trips to the zoo.
    All in all, The Jungle Book is family entertainment that should please several generations of viewers.

Good Family Film • PG • 105 mins.

What is the acceptable human cost for our security?

If you could kill a terrorist by drone strike, would you? If a child was in the kill zone, could you still launch the missile?
    Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren: Woman in Gold) has been obsessively tracking a terrorist. With his location finally pinpointed, she plans an elaborate capture, coordinating her British action with Kenyan and American forces.
    Complications force the capture mission to be abandoned. Powell wants to go for the kill with a drone strike. But it’s not her call.
    First, she must check with her general (Alan Rickman: A Little Chaos). He, in turn, must check with British ministers. They must check with the Americans. No one wants to be responsible for the strike, especially when a small girl enters the target area.
    As Powell argues for the strike, the British ministers, American drone pilots and Kenyan forces debate its morality.
    Is the possibility of saving many lives worth taking the life of an innocent? Can this group come to a consensus before the terrorists escape?
    An interesting morality puzzle holds together this suspenseful but hackneyed thriller. Director Gavin Hood (X-Men Origins: Wolverine) builds tension as politicians bandy about responsibility for the strike. You feel how infuriating the authorizing process can be. Every time an answer is seemingly arrived upon, someone else brings up another issue — and the debate resumes.
    For Powell and her cohorts, the frustration is agonizing. For the politicians, escaping responsibility is agonizing.
    Hood makes a powerful statement on the priorities of government, seemingly more concerned with appearance than reality. It is not a unique statement. Weathered military officers are cold, American politicians are cavalier and young officers are emotional. None of these types breaks a mold, though they work fairly well here to move the story along.
    With a plot offering nothing new, the acting raises the movie above hackneyed territory. Mirren is masterful as Powell, a dogged soldier who’s bitterly frustrated. In one of the last roles before his death, Rickman is entertaining as a world-weary general who must hold the hands of dithering politicians.
    Credit for the most suspenseful performance belongs to Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips), who plays a Kenyan operative sneaking into the terrorist compound. Far behind enemy lines, he’s operating a tiny drone in the midst of men with machine guns who would cut him down if they knew. Abdi’s struggle to survive an assignment tantamount to suicide is nerve-wracking.
    A fairly predictable film with some well-constructed tension, Eye in the Sky poses some interesting questions to viewers. What is the acceptable loss of life for a drone strike? Who has the right to choose who lives and who dies? If you’re looking for a film that challenges you to think and discuss, this movie is well worth the ticket.

Good Suspense • R • 102 mins.