Pictured: The Circle.
> opening this week in Carbondale.
< leaving Carbondale this Friday.
Bryan Miller unless otherwise credited.
Fate of the Furious (PG-13, ****): Is Fate of the Furious a good movie by traditional standards? That’s the wrong question. The question is, “Does the Rock throw a torpedo at a truck?” That answer is yes. Eight movies into the series, a full four since it transitioned from ground-level drag-racing flick to gravity-defying superheroics, no franchise delivers exactly what its audience wants, for all the good and bad that entails. So the flimsy story here attempts to connect several installments via hacker-turned-puppet-master Cypher (Charlize Theron), who turns Dom (Vin Diesel) against his wife Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and the rest of the team (now including Dwayne Johnson, Kurt Russell, Tyrese Gibson, and Ludacris). In a gleeful bit of illogic, the gang decides to conscript Fast VII supervillain Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) to join their cause, which significantly ups the Statham factor, so fine, sure. The story is flimsier than ever, the stakes never more arbitrary, yet this eighth Fast and Furious movie still manages to thrill through the scale and audacity of the setpieces and a larger-than-life cast.
Free Fire (R, ***1/2): This crime comedy set entirely in a warehouse in 1978 during a cash-for-guns deal between two gangs definitely owes a certain debt to another more famous movie about a crew of miscast crooks squaring down in a warehouse. But British director Ben Wheatley has explored his pet theme of atavism from a variety of genres in movies like Kill List and High Rise, and here he easily escapes the vortex of the Tarantino influence. Free Fire is more grim bloody slapstick, and the fragile alliances that hold two gangs together almost immediately crumble under double-crosses and confusion. The resulting chaos lasts literally the entirety of the film. Wheatley keeps up the pace and has a good sense of just how consequential his stylized violence should seem to maintain some stakes without bumming the glib tone. An ace cast that includes Cillian Murphy, Armie Hammer, Sharlto Copley, and national treasure Brie Larson help Wheatley turn a potentially straight-to-Redbox premise into a hidden gem with some serious swagger.
Get Out (R, *****): Sketch comedian par excellence Jordan Peele takes a seeming left turn into the horror genre, and the result is a brilliant detour. Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) goes on a weekend trip with his white girlfriend (Allison Williams) to visit her wealthy parents (Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener). What starts as the cringe comedy of uncomfortable race relations— Whitford calling Chris “my man,” the implication dripping from his comments about Obama— gradually reveals itself to be something far more sinister. Writer/director Peele demonstrates an exceptional ability to shift tones as the movie veers into outright terror. The increasingly outlandish plot is allegorically rich and fully grounded by the movie’s heavy themes. This is uncompromising satire that doesn’t just exploit horror-movie tropes, it lives within them. The result is both a thrilling and upsetting movie. The tension is punctuated by some big laughs—often thanks to ace comic relief by Lil Rel Howery— but it’s the profound unease that lingers after the lights come up.
< Ghost in the Shell (PG-13, ***): Rupert Sanders’s live-action adaptation of the 1995 Japanese anime classic is an uncommonly beautiful blockbuster. Sanders, like Zack Snyder, is primarily concerned with stringing together a series of eye-popping images and stylistic boasts. But Sanders at least has a basic understanding of pacing and a passing interest in the story, which makes this visual extravaganza not too painful to watch with the sound on. Scarlett Johansson stars as Major, an entirely robotic being powered by the implanted brain of a dead refugee. It’s still her soul, her “ghost,” in the body. But when a murder case she’s working as a detective in a luridly futuristic Japan leads back to the robotics firm that made her, she’ll learn the secrets not only of her shell, but of her ghost. As sci-fi comic-book shoot ‘em ups go, it’s ambitious. If only these inventive minds could imagine themselves outside the constraints of gunplay and fistfights. Featuring Beat Takeshi Kitano, Juliette Binoche, and Michael Pitt.
Logan (R, ****): Hugh Jackman’s ninth and presumably final outing as Wolverine finds the fan-favorite X-Man in distinctly dire straits. It’s the year 2029, and the combination of a catastrophe and a cure has nearly rid the world of mutants. A haggard Logan drives a limo in a Texas-Mexico bordertown so he can buy meds for the elderly Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), whose superpowered mind has been transformed into an unstable weapon of mass destruction by dementia. When old man Logan and his older mentor run across the first new mutant (Dafne Keen), they take her on a cross-country roadtrip to safety while pursued by a paramilitary force. The movie’s R rating finally lets Wolverine use those claws to maximum bloody effect, but more importantly it lets director James Mangold step outside the increasingly familiar superhero-movie mold to create something far more distinctive. The result is frequently thrilling but also surprisingly emotional, dominated by a sense of regret that feels fully earned.
Also in or Coming to Local Theaters
> Baahubali II: The Conclusion (NR): Indian film (screening locally in three languages) that combines a modern story about a young man seeking answers about his heritage with an epic about the ancient Mahishmati Kingdom. (Wissmann)
Beauty and the Beast (PG): Emma Watson and Dan Stevens star in this live-action recreation of Disney’s animated modern-classic musical. Featuring Kevin Kline, Emma Thompson, Josh Gad, Stanley Tucci, Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, and more.
Born in China (G): Documentary about a panda and her cub, narrated by John Krasinski of The Office. (Wissmann)
The Boss Baby (PG): Animated family comedy about a toddler tycoon (voiced by Alec Baldwin) who teams up with his brother to save puppies from an evil CEO. Featuring the voices of Steve Buscemi, Jimmy Kimmel, and Lisa Kudrow.
The Case for Christ (PG): Adaptation of Lee Strobel’s persistent conversion tract about his own atheism giving way to Christian enlightenment. Starring Mike Vogel, Erika Christensen, Faye Dunaway, and Robert Forster.
> The Circle (PG-13): In this thriller for the social-media age based on Dave Eggers’s novel, a recent college grad (Emma Watson) finds elation turning to fear when she’s hired by a cultish Facebook/Google hybrid. Featuring Tom Hanks, John Boyega, Karen Gillan, Patton Oswalt, and the late Bill Paxton.
Gifted (PG-13): An uncle (Chris Evans) raising his brilliant niece must fight for custody with his mother. Directed by the hit (Five-hundred Days of Summer) or miss (The Amazing Spider-Man) Marc Webb. (Wissmann)
Going in Style (PG-13): Three old buddies— literally— decide to rob a bank that stole their savings and leave the money to their loved ones in this caper comedy co-starring Morgan Freeman, Alan Arkin, and Michael Caine. Also featuring Ann-Margret, Christopher Lloyd, and Matt Dillon
> The Lost City of Z (PG-13): James Gray directs this adaptation of David Grann’s bestseller based on the search for a missing British explorer who vanishes during a trek into the Amazon in the 1920s. Featuring Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattison, and Sienna Miller.
Phoenix Forgotten (PG-13): Yet another found-footage horror movie, this one with extraterrestrial implications. (Wissmann)
The Promise (PG-13): Christian Bale, Oscar Isaac, and Shohreh Aghdashloo are the three points in a love triangle set during the waning days of the Ottoman Empire. From Hotel Rwanda director Terry George.
The Smurfs: The Lost Village (G): This fully animated feature— not to be confused with the computer-animation/live-action hybrid series— finds the Smurfs wandering around a cartoon forest instead of a real cityscape set to greenscreen, so that’s something. Featuring the voices of Julia Roberts, Demi Lovato, Ariel Winter, Michelle Rodriguez, Ellie Kemper, Mandy Patinkin, and more.
Unforgettable (R): Longtime producer Denise Di Novi makes her directorial debut in this very forgettably titled thriller about a vindictive ex-wife (Rosario Dawson) making life miserable— and perhaps deadly— for her ex-husband’s new wife (Kathrine Heigl).
> The Zookeeper’s Wife (PG-13): During World War II, Antonina (Jessica Chastain) and Jan Zabinski (Johan Heldenbergh) helped shelter people and animals from the Nazis. From the excellent Niki Caro, director of Whale Rider and North Country. (Wissmann)