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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The Disaster Artist

If you thought the dancing-on-the-freeway effervescence of La La Land captured the totality of the Hollywood strivers’ experience, think again. Because now James Franco weighs in on the opposite end of the spectrum with THE DISASTER ARTIST: a film free of the razzle-dazzle, a movie that, like the unglamorous oddballs it exalts, has decidedly more limited ambitions–yet manages to enthrall with its off-kilter heart and insane humor. Chief among those oddballs is wannabe auteur Tommy, played to hilarious mystery-accented perfection by Franco, who also directs this canny re-enactment of the making of one of the worst movies since Plan 9 From Outer Space. Dave Franco serves as straight man as Tommy’s reluctant best friend, and Seth Rogen’s script doctor tries to inject some normalcy but ends up gaping in amazement…as will you, when you remember that this is a true story. Enjoy the cameos, and don’t you dare leave until the very last credit has rolled. –YSM

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The Shape of Water

There’s no finer fabulist filmmaker today than Guillermo del Toro, whose Pan’s Labyrinth qualifies as the most imaginative cinematic magical realism in recent memory. With THE SHAPE OF WATER, del Toro brings another fable to life, this one set in Cold War America. As in Pan’s Labyrinth, an innocent (mute Elisa, played with strength and vulnerability by Sally Hawkins) meets an otherworldly being (a creature from the Black Lagoon, physically interpreted by Star Trek: Discovery‘s talented Doug Jones) while a despot (a creepy Michael Shannon as a government security agent) menaces; and like del Toro’s earlier film, this one unfolds with outstanding visual panache. But where Pan’s Labyrinth delved into its political moment with subtlety and complexity, this movie is somewhat predictable and more heavy-handed–including black (Octavia Spencer) and gay (Richard Jenkins) sidekicks, in case the outsider theme wasn’t already obvious enough. That and the overbearing, ever-present score can’t completely undermine this fairy tale, but compared to del Toro’s masterpiece, it’s not in the same shape. –YSM

SPECIAL NOTE: An emerging trend, seen in this film, in Suburbicon, and to an extent in Three Billboards, makes me uncomfortable and resentful. All three ostentatiously reference incidents of racial discrimination but otherwise can’t. be bothered to develop the black characters experiencing that discrimination. We black folk enter the picture long enough to generate sympathy for our plight, but the focus remains firmly on the white protagonist(s). Racial injustice is reduced to an easy merit badge of moral correctness for Well-Meaning White People. Oh joy.

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Call Me by Your Name

CALL ME BY YOUR NAME wears its impeccable pedigree (literary, from the novel by Andre Aciman, and cinematic, with a screenplay by James Ivory of Merchant-Ivory Productions) on its picture-perfect sleeve. In the summer of ’83 in bucolic northern Italy, where erudites of the academic leisure class seamlessly switch languages between sips of grappa, their 17-year-old music prodigy son (Timothee Chalamet) finds himself under the same country villa roof as a brash, handsome American grad student (Armie Hammer). Chemistry soon overrides caution…. It would all be a bit too much—an intellectual’s ultimate gay coming-of-age fantasy—if not for the natural flow of the romance and the heartfelt performances. Love here is difficult, as sweet and sticky as a fruit well-used and ripened in the Tuscan sun. —YSM

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Based on the novel by Arthur Phillips, ANGELICA walks between a monster and madness: In flashbacks to Victorian London, the truth of what happened when trouble hit the marriage of mentally fragile Constance (Jena Malone) and her wealthy physician husband (Ed Stoppard) is a mystery left for you to decide, with some help from a not-so-slightly Sapphic medium (a colorful Janet McTeer). Writer-director Mitchell Lichtenstein’s departure from the structure of the book leaves the film with sometimes stiff pacing and a fairly foreseeable outcome, but along the way lie freaky visitations, sumptuous period production values, and a thoughtful exploration of what effects societal constraints may have had on women of the era. —YSM

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Justice League

Unlike so many of DC’s attempts to duplicate Marvel’s movie money-making magic, JUSTICE LEAGUE doesn’t suck; but neither does it soar. Batman (Ben Affleck), Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), Aquaman (a yummy Jason Momoa), the Flash (Ezra Miller), and Cyborg (played by Ray Fisher and plucked from the pages of the Teen Titans comics to keep the League from being lily white) assemble in cookie-cutter fashion to fight a big bad CGI menace. Except for one genuinely funny Aquaman moment, this fightfest will offer nothing to overcome your superhero fatigue and less in the way of surprises. The average moviegoer will leave after 2 hours (and 2 postscripts) caring little about any of these characters, but hey, DC fanboys will ovulate. –YSM

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Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

The words on the THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI are incendiary; their effects, as traced by writer-director Martin McDonagh over the course of several days and weeks, unfold in a juxtaposition of rage and humanity, related concisely with passion, humor, and grace. At the heart of it all smolders Mildred Hayes (a powder keg performance by Frances McDormand), whose take-no-prisoners brand of direct action up-ends the small-town life of the chief of police (Woody Harrelson at his best) and Ebbing’s other residents (the dream cast of Sam Rockwell, Lucas Hedges, Peter Dinklage, John Hawkes, Caleb Landry Jones, et al.). The consequences touch on so many thorny issues in America today, but in keeping the focus closely personal, THREE BILLBOARDS–like Mildred’s determination–never falters. –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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