A Quiet Place

Don’t think about it too much—the particulars don’t bear scrutiny—but for a unique thrill ride that’s fraught with tension from the first frames, go to A QUIET PLACE. The Office‘s John Krasinski directs and stars (with Emily Blunt) as a dad trying to keep his family safe in a world suddenly ravaged by otherworldly creatures that hunt only by sound. Watching them careen from one everyday-activity-turned-certain-death crisis to the next may well leave you as speechless as they are. —YSM

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Love, Simon

Well-meaning and well-cast, LOVE, SIMON offers the high school coming-out tale the world needed a decade or two ago. Today it could settle comfortably into the safe space of movies made for TV (where its openly gay director, Greg Berlanti, shepherds the stable of DC superhero series); but on the big screen—a canvas crying out for more craft and complexity—it plays as a cute diversion. The too-present score of synthesizer sentiment doesn’t boost its credibility…but the likability of the cast (a winning bunch of youngsters, especially Nick Robinson in the title role, plus mom Jennifer Garner and smokin’ daddy Josh Duhamel) makes this rite of gay passage painless, even if its time has passed and we as an LGBTQ community, as even the film itself somewhat acknowledges, are kind of past this. —YSM

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Black Panther

What could a Marvel Comics character rolled out in the ’60s in so obvious a grab at racial relevance as the BLACK PANTHER (I mean, come on; the name alone!) possibly have to offer a post-Obama, Black Lives Matter world? Only what fiction has always made possible: a way to imagine what might have been. In this case, in the story of the hidden, technologically advanced African nation of Wakanda and its king, T’Challa a.k.a. the Black Panther (a regal Chadwick Boseman), we can envision what might have come of a continent if it hadn’t been stripped of its riches, both human and mineral. We see a tale where the brown-skinned are front and center, as heroes (Lupita Nyong’o, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, a kickass Danai Gurira, and winning Letitia Wright) and villain (the mouth-watering Michael B. Jordan), rather than relegated to background color or sidekick; a story that doesn’t shy away from its complicated issues of race. And yet, for all that, this is a typical Marvel superhero movie, full of action and fun, and completely accessible regardless of ethnicity. Afrofuturism lends BLACK PANTHER its distinctive swagger; but its vision of a people who are anything but anybody’s “shithole” makes for pure joy. Two modest postscripts. –YSM

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Den of Thieves

If getting drenched in cartoonishly contrived levels of testostoposturing matches your lifelong goals, take a shower in the DEN OF THIEVES; otherwise, give this cliche cops (Gerard Butler et al.) vs. robbers (Pablo Schreiber et al.) heist movie a pass. –YSM

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Downsizing

It’s hard to know what to make of movie that takes a clever, crazy premise that ought to be a springboard for a parable, and instead seems to treat it seriously. DOWNSIZING shrinks Matt Damon down to Lilliputian proportions as part of a worldwide trend to minimize ecological footprint and maximize the luxe lifestyle. But if you’re expecting a mind-bending funfest along the lines of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, forget it; DOWNSIZING lumbers along as aimlessly as its protagonist, wasting the talents of Kristen Wiig and Christoph Waltz while giving us only one reasonably interesting character (Hong Chau). The enjoyment that results is the smallest thing you’ll find here. —YSM

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The Post

The principled stand of the press in the face of political power—in this case, that of the Washington Post against the Nixon administration trying to bury the truth about the Vietnam War—makes a rousing tale. Thanks to the strength of that story, THE POST survives the Spielberg treatment, whose direction is always competent but too often heavy-handed, laden with swelling John Williams chords and other parlor tricks. Tom Hanks being Tom Hanks (instead of veteran Post executive editor Ben Bradlee) doesn’t help, but Meryl Streep captures publisher Katharine Graham’s transformation from gender-expectation-burdened uncertainty to rock of the First Amendment beautifully. If nothing else, THE POST is a desperately needed antidote to the free-press-maligning, “fake news!”-screeching liars in high places who threaten to undermine one of the pillars of our society. —YSM

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Darkest Hour

Gary Oldman utterly disappears into the role of Winston Churchill as Britain’s soldiers face their DARKEST HOUR. While offscreen the army is hemmed in at Dunkirk with the Nazi war machine closing in to finish them off, this film focuses on Churchill—old and crusty but newly minted as prime minister—and his own crisis over those several days in the houses of Parliament at home. Hobbled by that contrast, no amount of striking visuals (there are plenty) or powerhouse acting (besides Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas ably stands by him as Churchill’s wife) can make the speechifying and political wrangling compelling, unfortunately; only Spielberg’s Lincoln managed to pull off that legislative trick. Stick with the boys trapped on the beach in Christopher Nolan’s riveting Dunkirk instead. —YSM

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The Greatest Showman

Picking up the original movie musical mantle that La La Land dusted off a year ago, THE GREATEST SHOWMAN has some flashy moments and rousing numbers; what this life and times of circus impresario P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman) lacks is a soul. Its embrace-diversity be-true-to-yourself heart is in the right place, but it feels rote: messaging that tested well wrappped in packaging that’s trying too hard. If you connect with any of these characters, from Barnum’s wife (Michelle Williams) to his muse (Rebecca Ferguson) to the bearded woman (Keala Settle), you’re seeing more than this viewer, who only had eyes for Barnum’s partner—played by Zac Efron, who now boasts a little more handsome maturity and a lot more jacked physique, capturing something of the young Robert Conrad. —YSM

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Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Is it so difficult for a Star Wars movie to do something new? Apparently, because after the refreshing Rogue One, the series retrenches with THE LAST JEDI, in which the Rebellion–oops, I mean the Resistance (even the movie itself can’t keep the terminology straight)–is hunted down to its secret base by the evil Empire, I mean the First Order, whose minions wield the same massive military and wear the same uniforms as their predecessors (you’d never know that the good guys won at the end of Return of the Jedi) and are led by a creepy gray dude who’s crazy strong with the Force, the Emperor–I mean lame-named and never-explained-where-this-one-came-from Supreme Leader Snoke. Happily this movie isn’t the complete shameless rehash The Force Awakens turned out to be, so the further adventures of old friends Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Princess Leia (the late, lamented Carrie Fisher), and Chewbacca, and newbies Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega), and Poe (Oscar Isaac) include some cool scenes, nifty developments, and even some melancholy moments as our heroes face off against Darth Vader Lite, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). No one will ever say THE LAST JEDI boldly goes where no Star Wars flick has gone before, but at least you’ll have some fun getting there. –YSM

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I, Tonya

I, TONYA does not spare the rod; in this often funny, just as often grim, multifarious recounting of the life and times of Tonya Harding–she of figure-skating/knee-bashing notoriety–everyone is indicted, from the principal players to the media to the audience in the theater itself. Among those players, star and co-producer Margot Robbie dirties down nicely in the lead, although she hardly looks the part; Sebastian Stan breaks out as feckless husband Jeff Gillooly; but it’s Allison Janney who takes Tonya’s cartoonishly bitter tiger mom and communicates a twisted complexity behind the trailer-trash savagery. The film (slightly burdened by the soundtrack’s pileup of on-the-nose pop tunes) finds something to admire in Tonya’s ability to take hard knocks, and it leaves it to you whether she’s the villain or victim of the world at large. Robbie is too beautiful for the role, but the mirror I, TONYA holds up to America isn’t at all pretty. –YSM

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About Your Sacrificial Moviegoer

We love to sit in the dark with a big tub of popcorn amid a roomful of strangers. Reports on what we witness there come in two varieties: Bullet Reviews quickly and concisely convey our take on a film, always in spoiler-free fashion; Trailer Trash reveals Your Sacrificial Moviegoer's best prediction on whether an upcoming movie is worth seeing, based solely on the trailer (the short "previews" before the feature presentation).

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