NOW IN THEATERS
It's almost Christmas and multiplexes are packed with new releases and moviegoers watching them. All week long we've been dropping movie reviews like sugar plums. Here are thumbnail peeks at what I thought about them, with links to full reviews at tampabay.com/movies.
The lowdown: Quasi-biopic inspired by the career of Joy Mangano, whose home shopping brand began with the Miracle Mop. Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro.
The upshot: “Joy could and should be another of (writer-director David O. Russell's) scrappy self-rehab stories, inspired by the career of Joy Mangano. … Instead, Joy is one of Russell's more puzzling efforts, and this is the man who made I Heart Huckabees. It is neither Silver Linings Playbook redux as ads and casting suggest, nor an energetic American Hustle-style farce. " Grade: C+
The Big Short (R)
The lowdown: Fact-based tale starring Steve Carell, Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling and Brad Pitt as stock market players detecting fatal flaws in the housing market.
The upshot: “The Big Short's financial whizzes aren't wolves of Wall Street; more like mutts scrounging for scraps. … Based on author Michael Lewis' autopsy of the 2008 financial markets collapse, The Big Short is now a fitful satire of a deregulated American greed-dream that anyone unfamiliar with CNBC may find tough to follow. I did, and I watch CNBC." Grade: C
The Hateful Eight (R)
The lowdown: Writer-director Quentin Tarantino steers Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell and Jennifer Jason Leigh through a vulgar, violent post-Civil War yarn.
The upshot: “The Hateful Eight is sub-grindhouse material blown way out of proportion by its creator's ego. For the first time as a Tarantino fan the complaints of others are clearer: the excesses, the nasty streak, the hate. The time you realize a previously essential filmmaker won't always be that." Grade: D
The Danish Girl (R)
The lowdown: Academy Award winner Eddie Redmayne is contending again, playing artist Einar Wegener, who underwent one of the first gender reassignment surgeries.
The upshot: "Redmayne in uncanny in his dual role, especially in those moments between his gender extremes, when Einar is curious about women, what they wear, how they move. The erotic liberation of a peep show when Einar mimics the model, or when he first slips on stockings is made palpable by Redmayne, his gentle, freckled features practically glowing." Grade: B
The lowdown: True story of Dr. Bennet Omalu (Will Smith), who exposed the effects of continued head collisions in the NFL.
The upshot: “Concussion is essentially Erin Brockovich with shoulder pads, a crowd pleaser built upon an issue long ignored. On any given Sunday … football players are getting seriously hurt, their futures dying a little, one helmet blow at a time. Anyone believing otherwise after seeing (director Peter) Landesman's movie needs their head examined." Grade: B
Daddy's Home (PG-13)
The lowdown: Well-meaning stepfather (Will Ferrell) competes with biological dad (Mark Wahlberg) for their children's affection.
The upshot: "Paramount Pictures bucks the Christmas rush of intelligent award contenders with Daddy's Home, the dumbest movie out there that isn't starring chipmunks. Instead, (the movie) stars Wahlberg, who has grown dependably funny, and Ferrell, who used to be." Grade: C
The lowdown: Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel co-star as aging artists fitfully lounging at a posh spa resort.
The upshot: review coming soon "… a movie of dreamscapes and insinuated feelings, gorgeous and puzzling at once. … Even the grotesque is somehow sexy. Not to mention the old, which is what Youth is about." Grade: B
Point Break (PG-13) has the distinction of being the movie most likely to finish a distant second to Star Wars: The Force Awakens at holiday box offices. This extreme remake of the 1991 surf caper starring Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze looks like a summer blockbuster that overslept. Luke Bracey (who?) plays FBI agent Johnny Utah, investigating a robbery ring led by Bodhi (Edgar Ramirez, whom you'll recognize from Joy, or not). The cribbed plot is just an excuse to show daredevils snowboarding, flying with wingsuits, rock climbing, riding motocross and surfing 70-foot waves. In 3-D, of course.
As Keanu might say: "Whoa." As I suggest: "No."
in theaters: our Top 5
Current movies recommended by the Tampa Bay Times:
1 .Star Wars: The Force Awakens: The Skywalker saga returns full Force.
2 Room: A unique experience, with terrific performances by Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay.
3 Spotlight: The finest movie about newspaper reporters doing their jobs since All the President's Men.
4 Creed: Worthy successor to Rocky Balboa's underdog boxing title, and maybe an Oscar nod for Sylvester Stallone.
5 The Danish Girl: Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander are deserving Golden Globes nominees.
(dates subject to change)
Jan. 8: The Revenant
Jan. 15: Ride Along 2; 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi; Where to Invade Next
Jan. 22: Dirty Grandpa
Jan. 29: Kung Fu Panda 3; The 5th Wave