Movie Reviews: Charlie's Angels, Ford v. Ferrari, The Report, The Good Liar | Buzz Blog

Friday, November 15, 2019

Movie Reviews: Charlie's Angels, Ford v. Ferrari, The Report, The Good Liar

The Warrior Queen of Jhansi, Radioflash, Fantastic Fungi, No Safe Spaces

Posted By on November 15, 2019, 9:30 AM

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click to enlarge SONY PICTURES
  • Sony Pictures
The Cave ****
Pediatrician Dr. Amani Ballour is a hero(ine) for our times, one whom most of us in the West cannot even fathom the sacrifice, bravery and audacity of, though this harrowing documentary does an excellent job of trying to convey it. Syrian filmmaker Feras Fayyad (last year’s Oscar-nominated Last Men in Aleppo—is a fly-on-the-bombstruck-wall in besieged Al-Ghouta, outside Damascus, as Ballour and her coworkers try to keep their ramshackle hospital running. In “The Cave,” partly underground for protection from Russian warplanes, they treat the wounded and traumatized as best they can under intolerable conditions and worse material deprivation. Food and medications are scarce, music is the only anesthetic available and the work is never-ending. This is a remarkable tribute to human perseverance, to the humor and spirit Ballour and her friends keep high, glimpsed via remarkable humane moments captured by Fayyad. But this difficult film is also a striking rebuke to the rest of the world for allowing the atrocities in Syria to happen, and to happen right before our eyes. This is the shame of the whole world. Opens Nov. 15 at Broadway Centre Cinemas. (NR)—MaryAnn Johanson

Charlie’s Angels ***1/2
Actress Elizabeth Banks has only recently dipped a toe in the directing pool (underrated Pitch Perfect 2), but she’s added screenwriting to her arsenal with the latest reboot of Charlie’s Angels—and with it she proves that women are far too often underestimated in both the real world and fictional. Setting itself within an Angels-verse that ties into the television show and both McG movies from the early 2000s, this new reiteration starts a little heavy-handed. Yes, women are belittled and underestimated and yes, girls really can do anything, but leading with the #timesup foot forward causes the movie to stumble in its opening act. Afterward, however, Charlie’s Angels finds its groove while weaving in several cameos, plot twists and surprising performances. Kristen Stewart, most often seen brooding in an indie flick, lets loose and has fun for once; Patrick Stewart as Bosley No. 1 is sincere with a sharp edge. Even a new Creepy Thin Man is there! Throw in a soundtrack executive produced by Ariana Grande, and you’ll leave the movie wanting to find your own training outpost with unlimited wardrobe changes. Opens Nov. 15 at theaters valleywide. (PG-13)—Rebecca Frost

Fantastic Fungi ***
As nature documentaries go, this one straddles the line between advocacy and the hippy-dippy psychedelia of What the [Bleep] Do We Know?, while dropping plenty of intriguing knowledge along the way. This celebration of mushrooms, spores and all things mycological provides an efficient one-stop primer on all of the things this amazing organism does—and can do—to improve human life, from cleaning up oil spills, to pest control, to pharmacology. With occasional narration by Brie Larson—basically providing the voice of the fungi—the film focuses largely on mycologist Paul Stamets and his advocacy for the many uses of fungi. That includes its psychotropic properties for both expanding consciousness and potentially treating anxiety and PTSD, which is where director Louie Schwartzberg occasionally gets a little out there; kaleidoscopic images give way to CGI recreations of what it might have looked like for primitive hominids to be tripping balls. Nevertheless, it’s genuinely effective as an eye-opening thesis statement asking us to consider how uniquely suited this humble part of our planet is for treating so much of what ails us as a species. Opens Nov. 15 at Tower Theatre. (NR)—Scott Renshaw

Ford v. Ferrari ***
See feature review. Opens Nov. 15 at theaters valleywide. (R)

click to enlarge WARNER BROS. PICTURES
  • Warner Bros. Pictures
The Good Liar **
And it appears the 2019 A Simple Favor Award for Movie That Doesn’t Know What the Hell It Wants to Be goes to this long-ass con of a film. Directed with blood-drained chilliness by Bill Condon (you keep expecting the cast to exhale condensation in every scene), we get a wily Sir Ian McKellen as a sharp-dressed flim-flam man who sets his sights on a wealthy, naïve widow (Helen Mirren, who—even at age 74—can still get it). Adapting a 2016 novel by Nicholas Searle, Condon and screenwriter Jeffrey Hatcher seesaw between black comedy and weighty drama, turning what could’ve been a nifty, naughty ball of suspense into an unwieldy, obvious slog. (Believe it or not, it does have some things in common with Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman; both movies are about dangerous men who realize how little they really have until it’s too late.) Thankfully, McKellen and Mirren—two grade-A, literal white knights—keep things entertaining with their sophisticated chemistry. Am I the only one who thinks they would kill it if they starred in an actual rom-com together? Opens Nov. 15 at theaters valleywide. (R)—Craig D. Lindsey

No Safe Spaces *1/2
Let’s assume, for a moment, the best of intentions: That conservative radio personality Dennis Prager and comedian Adam Carolla sincerely want an America where all ideas, even unpopular and potentially inflammatory ones, can be shared openly. If so, don’t you begin by addressing what those ideas actually are? Director Justin Folk presents a documentary full of dramatic music underscoring stories of instances—mostly on university campuses—where conservative voices are supposedly being silenced, and the First Amendment itself hangs by a thread. Yet despite initial pro forma acknowledgements that yes, you can’t yell “fire” in a crowded theater, this entire undertaking is resolutely unwilling to talk specifics about why Prager, or Ben Shapiro, or Jordan Peterson might be unwelcome in some places. And there’s a fundamental intellectual dishonestly about a movie built on the thesis that we need to hear everyone out all the time, while hiding the subjects’ actual beliefs in the one forum where they completely control the microphone. You can agree that some case studies here demonstrate a gross extremism, and still think, “If nothing you have to say is dangerous, then just tell me what it is you're saying.” Opens Nov. 15 at Century 16 South Salt Lake and Cinemark Jordan Landing. (NR)—SR

Radioflash **
Co-writer/director Benjamin McPherson opens with an intriguing concept—What if Millennials, rather than being soft and pampered, are peculiarly suited to surviving the end of civilization?—that he then proceeds to ignore almost entirely. Teen virtual reality gamer Reese (Brighton Sharbino) finds the world that she knows radically changed when an electromagnetic pulse kills power everywhere, and she and her father (Dominic Monaghan) are forced to flee their Seattle home for the nearby woods, hoping to connect with Reese’s prepper grandfather (Will Patton). A prologue hints at the impressive problem-solving skills Reese develops through gaming, suggesting a story that will be built on her resourcefulness in the face of crisis. Instead, the plot mostly finds her running and hiding from whatever danger is at hand, or waiting for the appearance of a mysterious bearded man to tell her death is nearby. Instead of a disturbingly plausible apocalyptic scenario, we’re stuck with the threat of broadly caricatured mountain folk, and a plot that seems to indicate that when the shit goes down, the kids these days better hope someone older and more practical is around to save them. Opens Nov. 15 at theaters valleywide. (NR)—SR

The Report **1/2

An elegantly-made information dump is still an information dump, and that’s what writer/director/longtime Steven Soderbergh collaborator Scott Z. Burns offers in his paper-chase political thriller surrounding the investigation into the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” techniques. Adam Driver plays Dan Jones, a staffer for the Senate Intelligence Committee leading a task force investigating why the CIA tortured prisoners, and what if anything was gained. Naturally, he runs into obstacles, and Burns effectively lays out the politics that drag the process out for years, ultimately turning Jones into a target himself. Driver makes for an effectively righteous hero, even if Burns isn’t much interested in what makes Jones such a dogged fighter. It all serves a narrative constructed to inspire outrage at both the torture program and the cover-up under the guise of national security, with multiple variations on “you need me on that wall” speeches. It’s simply a shame that Burns can rarely find a way to inject either everyday humanity or genuine tension into the story. No matter how infuriating these events might be, there are only so many times you can watch someone sit down and explain something that happened. Opens Nov. 15 at theaters valleywide. (R)—SR

The Warrior Queen of Jhansi *1/2
The desire to tell stories of cultural heroes is profound and understandable, but that doesn’t mean movies about those heroes are made interesting solely by virtue of that heroism. Writer/director Swati Bhise tells the tale of Rani Lakshmibai (Devika Bhise, the filmmaker’s daughter), the widowed queen of an Indian kingdom circa 1858 who becomes a leader of an insurrection against the occupying power of the British East India Company. A few familiar white faces pop up around the margins—Rupert Everett as the British military commander, Derek Jacobi as Prime Minister Palmerston—but the focus remains squarely on the underdog Indian rebels and the Rani’s attempts to rally them. But while this is clearly an attempt to honor a William Wallace-esque figure challenging colonizing villainy, there’s too little in the way of real characterization humanizing the Rani, or honing in on her unique challenges as a woman attempting to lead an army. The actual battles are awkwardly staged, with only occasional striking shots like the Rani training women all clad in boldly-colored saris; nearly everything else amounts to well-intentioned tedium. Opens Nov. 15 at Megaplex Gateway and Megaplex Jordan Commons. (R)—SR

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