Creed II

Looking for entertainment? Unsurprisingly you’ll find it in CREED II, and therein lies the problem: unsurprisingly.  Because when you’re making ROCKY XXVII—oops, I mean the latest CREED (brooding Michael B. Jordan)—you need to give the audience a new twist, as the first Creed did so refreshingly. Instead, the formula proceeds predictably from boxing triumph to boxing challenge, aging trainer wisdom and remorse (Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky now relegated to that role, but reprising the same mumble-shtick), worried women (girlfriend Tessa Thompson and mom Phylicia Rashad), and most painfully (literally and figuratively) the training montage, full of slow-mo struggle and booming music. At no point is there any question where it’s all going, or what stations of the cross it will hit along the way. Even the story is resurrected (Dolph Lundgren gets dredged from the tomb as the Russian boxer who killed Creed’s dad in the ring, returning with Florian ‘Big Nasty’ Munteanu as his ass-whooping son); your adrenaline may flow as the zombie plot shuffles your way, but it’s never going to sprint to new heights. Enjoy it for what it is, particularly (in Jordan and Munteanu) the ample manflesh. —YSM

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Widows

Stylish crime dramas are hard to come by, so WIDOWS should be exalted on that score alone. Yes, director Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave) wallows in artsy setup for too long, then rushes the climactic big heist; and on rare occasion the high style undercuts the substance of the story, about 4 women abruptly bound together by bereavement when their professional thief husbands die on a job. But as the aftermath forces the women to take desperate measures, they are propelled by the power of Viola Davis in the lead, ably supported by Elizabeth Debicki, in navigating the twists and turns that await them in a duplicitous political/criminal landscape populated by Liam Neeson, reluctant golden boy Colin Farrell, bullying Robert Duvall, frightful mom Jacki Weaver, and a terrifying Daniel Kaluuya. Which makes WIDOWS’ shortcomings easier to overlook. —YSM

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Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

Rather than the charming Harry Potter films whose universe this shares, FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD most strongly resembles its title: bloated and uninspiring. The crimes of this second film in the new series could fill a vault at Gringotts—from the cloying diffidence of Eddie Redmayne (reprising his role as protagonist Newt Scamander) to the antics of cutesy-poo critters; from the relentless overscoring of music to tell you how to feel, to Johnny Depp playing yet another quirky character (villain Grindelwald). Only Jude Law’s middle-aged Dumbledore carries any heft, but therein lies FANTASTIC BEAST’s greatest crime: cowardice. Though heterosexual love and affection abound in multiple scenes, and though writer J.K. Rowling has outright stated that Dumbledore is gay, the past romance between Dumbledore and Grindelwald gets relegated to wink-wink nudge-nudge. Which is the furthest thing from fantastic. —YSM

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Bohemian Rhapsody

If you’re one of those who idolizes Freddie Mercury—and there are apparently many of you!—you’ll undoubtedly find much to love in BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY, the biopic of the lead singer of the rock band Queen, who died prematurely of AIDS in 1994. For the rest of us, this tribute to Mercury (Mr. Robot‘s Rami Malek, holding nothing back) from director Bryan Singer (the X-Men movies) passes muster but not much more: It’s a little too tidy in its rise to fame; fall to (gay) sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll; and abbreviated redemption. But at least it doesn’t shy away from Mercury’s gay nature. —YSM

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Boy Erased

Flawless, heartfelt performances delineate BOY ERASED in finely drawn lines, even if the picture emerges slowly and in unsurprising ways. In Arkansas, Jared (Lucas Hedges), the teenage son of a conservative Christian minister (Russell Crowe) and his dutiful wife (Nicole Kidman), finds himself stranded at a camp run by “conversion therapist” Victor Sykes (writer-director Joel Edgerton) when the teen admits to same-sex attractions. Based on a true story, Ederton’s indictment of so-called “ex-gay therapy” is moving in its close personal observations, if just short of compelling. —YSM

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Halloween (2018)

In an era of nonstop pop culture recycling (Mission: Impossible, Lost in Space, Will & Grace, Dynasty, Charmed, Murphy Brown, Roseanne…), John Carpenter’s classic 1978 flick that launched the entire slasher genre had rested in peace for years—after several mostly misbegotten sequels—until now. This new HALLOWEEN isn’t a remake, but rather a sequel that wipes away the others to reboot to factory settings: 40 years have passed for original survivor Laurie (a well-aged Jamie Lee Curtis) and for us, but although now a grandmother, she’s still not over the trauma of her encounter with “Bogeyman” Michael Meyers. Similarly, the film still mines the tropes of teen angst and merciless, mechanical murder, of bodies that won’t stay down and that music that won’t give up. And unlike most of today’s recycling, this HALLOWEEN works well enough on the same terms as its predecessor for a suspenseful, bloody result. —YSM

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The Hate U Give

Timely in its exploration of the issues behind the Black Lives Matter movement, THE HATE U GIVE suffers from being a bit contrived and all over the place. The narration, violating the most fundamental rule of good storytelling—”show, don’t tell”—might have proved fatal. But the winning performance of its young star (Amandla Stenberg) keeps the movie alive, portraying a girl caught between worlds as the pressures of a crisis drawn from the headlines bear down on her. Try it, especially if you’re of the younger generation. —YSM

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Venom

Another day, another superhero movie. An antihero, actually: VENOM (a CGI of slobbering black ooze) is a murderous alien symbiote fused with reporter Eddie Brock (the fine-looking Tom Hardy, whose twitchy performance is not at its finest). So Eddie has to rein him in while fighting for truth, justice, and the all-American girl (Michelle Williams, completely wasted in the role). In short, nothing new here, except for occasional amusement provided by the banter between Eddie and the thing he plays host to. This screen adaptation of the Marvel Comic, as part of the Spider-Man universe, by various Hollywood accords falls outside the main Marvel cinematic universe (Avengers et al.), for those keeping score, which may explain its competent mediocrity. Or maybe we’re just tired of it all. One postscript, and then a too-long excerpt from the upcoming Spider-Men animated feature at the very end. —YSM

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Mandy

With MANDY, Nicolas Cage’s disintegration to the desolate ranks of B-movie punchline reaches its completion. He rages, he weeps, he rampages in pure camp fashion through a throwback-to-the-’70s slasher romp that consists primarily of endless slo-mo followed by poorly lit hyperkinetic action sequences, boosted by a booming techno soundtrack and a seemingly inexhaustible red filter on the lens. Add deliberately cheesy dialogue and make-up effects. Watch a career hit a new low. —YSM

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First Man

At its most riveting in the several scenes that put you in the cockpit, FIRST MAN (from director Damien Chazelle, in a big departure from his earlier LaLa Land) chronicles the years-long U.S. effort to put the first man on the moon, through the eyes of Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling). The film’s other aspects, grounded mostly by a grim through-line in the domestic life of Armstrong and his wife (a solid Claire Foy), suffer a bit from Gosling’s Gosling Face (Ryan Gosling, happy:   Ryan Gosling, sad:    Ryan Gosling, angry:    ). The effect isn’t quite deadening—the documentary-style camerawork and effective, restrained score lend some dynamism—but it constrains FIRST MAN to a lower orbit. Also of note: The primacy here of the white male; nonwhites are barely glimpsed, and women are only wives. It’s an inevitability of telling this story, from an era when only white men were deemed worthy of the best efforts and highest honors. But it’s interesting how things have changed in just a few decades, to render it striking how much this is about, first, man. —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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