FILM NEWS: FEB. 20-26 | Cinema Clips | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

FILM NEWS: FEB. 20-26 

New This Week, Special Screenings, and Current Releases

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The Assistant 3.5
See review on p. TK. Opens Feb. 21 at Broadway Centre Cinemas. (R)—Craig D. Lindsey

Brahms: The Boy II
[not yet reviewed]
A family moves into a creepy house, where their son befriends a creepy doll. Opens Feb. 21 at theaters valleywide. (PG-13)

The Call of the Wild 2.5 stars
I'm not sure what to do with a story that's about a dog ultimately reverting to its more primal animal nature, but pointedly attempts to make that dog as human as possible through CGI trickery. Veteran animation director Chris Sanders (Lilo & Stitch, How to Train Your Dragon) makes his first live-action feature this adaptation of Jack London's story about Buck, a house dog who's kidnapped from his California home and sold to be a work dog in Alaska during the years of the Klondike Gold Rush. Along the way Buck serves various masters—a mail deliveryman (Omar Sy), a foppish fortune hunter (Dan Stevens) and an emotionally wounded loner (Harrison Ford)—and there are plenty of alternately charming and PG-rating-appropriate-harrowing adventures along the way. But while Sanders understands creating a bond between an isolated protagonist and a non-human friend, it's constantly distracting watching Buck—along with various other dogs, wolves, bears, etc.—directed to behave with computer-generated anthropomorphic specificity. It's not bad, exactly, certainly not when Ford ultimately becomes the central human character. But because Buck never for a moment seems like a real dog, it's just ... weird. Opens Feb. 21 at theaters valleywide. (PG)—Scott Renshaw

The Lodge 1.5 stars
There are a hundred different ways that a movie can irritate the hell out of me, and congratulations to Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala (Goodnight Mommy) for checking nearly every box. The setup finds a pair of siblings, Aidan (Jaeden Martell) and Mia (Lia McHugh), reluctantly on a holiday getaway with their father's fiancée, Grace (Riley Keough), then stuck together when they're snowed in while dad (Richard Armitage) is away. Some offenses are mundane but avoidable, like foolishly including footage of a much better movie about people stuck together in a snowy isolated locale (in this case, Carpenter's The Thing). Some are personal, like my disdain for using children in peril as a narrative crutch. Some indicate lazy writing, like setting up eventual payoffs in ways that either make no sense, or lack sufficient backstory to pack an emotional punch. And others are icky and irresponsible, like using childhood trauma, the legacy of conservative religion and mental illness as plot points without any real desire to take them seriously. The atmosphere is effectively moody some of the time but rarely genuinely scary, leaving little more than that ignominious checklist. Opens Feb. 21 at Broadway Centre Cinemas. (R)—SR

Olympic Dreams 3 stars
Guerilla filmmaking is at its most charming in this sweet 'n' salty melancholy romance that's a little bit Lost in Translation, a little bit first installment of a new Before Sunrise series. Shot on the fly by Jeremy Teicher—director, cinematographer, sound engineer, etc.—in the Olympic Village during the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games, this is a delicately observed portrait of a star-crossed relationship between a cross-country skier (Alexi Pappas) and a volunteer dentist (Nick Kroll) as they connect, roughly and accidentally, over the shared vulnerabilities that come with realizing your dream and not knowing what comes next. If nothing else, this is a fascinating insider-y look at life in an Olympic village the likes of which we haven't seen before—one that Pappas, as an actual recent Olympian herself, has a unique perspective on. The documentary sensibility boosts authenticity, as does the acknowledgement of the age gap between Ezra and Penelope: She's 22, he's 37. The different stages they are at in their lives provides a genuine barrier to any relationship they might forge, and yet they find common ground anyway. Opens Feb. 21 at Broadway Centre Cinemas. (PG-13)—MaryAnn Johanson


One Child Nation
At Rose Wagner Center, Feb. 26, 7 p.m. (NR)

Just Mercy
At Park City Film Series, Feb. 21-22, 8 p.m. & Feb. 23, 6 p.m. (PG-13)

True Justice: Bryan Stevenson's Fight for Equality
At Main Library, Feb. 25, 7 p.m. (NR)


Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn 2.5 stars
A movie can have interesting ideas, and still be a sloppy delivery system for those ideas. This sequel/spinoff of Suicide Squad finds Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) broken up with Joker, threatened with death by a crime boss and forced to track down a valuable diamond, all while crossing paths with several dangerous women, including the assassin Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Dinah Lance/Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell). Christina Hodson's script explores the notion of women who are taken seriously only when linked to powerful men, and the power of women pulling together rather than pitted against one another. But as much fun as Robbie has with the live-wire Harley, Cathy Yan's direction mostly gives us multiple variations on slow-motion fight sequences. Maybe you can make a zany, violent comic-book movie that's also rich with subtext, but this ain't it. (R)—SR

Citizen K 3 stars
Muckraking documentarian Alex Gibney uses the tale of Mikhail Khodorkovsky—former oligarch of the early post-Soviet years turned political dissident—to explain Vladimir Putin's rise to power. Khodorkovsky may be downplaying his own crimes, but his insider knowledge is far more important: He understands how Russia worked then, and continues to work today. Khodorkovsky was complicit in the "gangster-capitalist" takeover of media in 1990s Russia, a stranglehold that continues to this day, which helps perpetuate the profoundly undemocratic status quo. (Hence the film's title reference to Citizen Kane.) Sound familiar? There is vital context here for the apparently ongoing Russian interference in U.S. politics, but even more vitally, this is a warning that the outright monstrosity of the current Russia mess is not far off for us as well, if we don't turn away from the path we're on. (NR)—MAJ

Downhill 2.5 stars
Nat Faxon and Jim Rash take a different tonal approach when adapting Ruben Östlund's 2014 Swedish drama Force Majeure—one that sucks a lot of what was compelling about the original from its bones. On a family ski vacation, Billie (Julia Louis-Dreyfuss) and Pete (Will Ferrell) face a frightening moment—but the primary threat turns out not to be to their lives, but to the family's perception of Pete, as his reaction changes everyone's sense of who he is. Faxon and Rash fashion this story into primarily a dark comedy of manners, leaning into Louis-Dreyfus's mastery of incredulous reaction takes. But this approach blunts the idea of how a single moment can break a relationship. The stakes are lowered to make it easier to swallow; instead of something as caustic as acid, Downhill only offers a tart splash of vinegar. (R)—SR

Incitement 2 stars
Director Yaron Zilberman dramatizes events leading up to the assassination of Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, through the eyes of his assassin, Yigal Amir (Yehuda Nahari Halevi), a right-wing opponent to the proposed Oslo Peace Accords with the Palestinian Authority. There's not much character arc to Yigal, who is violently opposed to Rabin's actions from the jump; Zilberman focuses on how Yigal is further radicalized by the teachings of conservative rabbis. While it's interesting to be reminded that no one religion has a monopoly on extremists using holy writ to justify violence, the film feels like a slow slog toward a tragic historical inevitability without a dynamic central character. It's an act of morality that Zilberman doesn't attempt to make Yigal sympathetic or rationalize his actions; it also leaves little to latch onto from a storytelling standpoint. (NR)—SR

The Photograph 3 stars
Since it seems Tyler Perry will never make decent movies for and about black people, let's look to promising talents like Canadian writer-director Stella Meghie, who's been quietly making sophisticated, soulful, black-and-proud films like this romantic drama. Issa Rae plays a career gal learning about the past of her late photographer mother (Chante Adams), with the help of a journalist (hella-dashing Lakeith Stanfield) who's writing a story on her mom—and who also becomes smitten with her. Thanks to Meghie and cinematographer Mark Schwartzbard making sure melanin skin tones stay glowing, Rae and Stanfield are officially the sexiest on-screen pair at the movies right now. Some naysayers may complain that it's too bougie for its own good, but considering how it's so rare for a movie to characterize African-Americans as regular-ass people, I'll take bougie over bullshit any day. (PG-13)—Craig D. Lindsey

Sonic the Hedgehog 3 stars
The Sega video-game character (voiced by Ben Schwartz) here becomes a super-fast alien exiled on earth, trying to hide himself from humans in rural Montana—until both kindly local sheriff Tom Wachowski (James Marsden) and the sinister Doctor Robotnik (Jim Carrey) become aware of his existence. The plot becomes a buddy-comedy road trip to retrieve Sonic's lost dimension-hopping gold rings, and there's a nice chemistry in what becomes a simple "there's no place like home" narrative. Carrey is in vintage form as the narcissistic villain, having as much fun with his plastic physicality than we've seen in years. Sure, you're gonna get your obligatory fart joke, and the action is a little rote at times. But there's a lot more to like here than we ever could have expected after last year's nightmare-fuel first trailer. (PG)—SR

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