One week after “Green Book,” “Creed II,” another American fable of racial healing, arrives, and while not nearly as powerful (or novel) as “Creed” (2015), it’s a decent, if totally predictable, “Rocky”-based boxing picture about fathers and sons. Robert “Rocky” Balboa, the character Sylvester Stallone created and played in the Academy Award-winning 1976 film, is back as the trainer and coach of surrogate son Adonis Johnson Creed (Michael B. Jordan, “Black Panther.” Adonis “Donny” is the son of Rocky’s most memorable opponent, Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers). Back in Ukraine, a defeated and aged Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) has trained his 6-foot-4, 245-lb. son Viktor Drago (charismatic Romanian boxer Florian “Big Nasty” Munteanu) to be devastating in the ring, where he is undefeated. With the encouragement and help of American promoter Buddy Marcelle (Russell Hornsby), Drago issues a challenge to Creed and Rocky. Meet us in the ring for a Creed-Drago revenge match.
“FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD”
The “magi-zoologist” and wizard Newt Scamander (Academy Award winner Eddie Redmayne) is back to bore us yet again in “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.” Once again directed by David Yates of those dreary, incoherent “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” films and once again scripted by Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling, this installment begins in 1927 New York City, where the transport of the dangerous super-villain prisoner Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) goes horribly wrong in ways that are hard to see because of the editing, dubious and extensive CGI, and the almost constant murky visuals with dark backgrounds. Get ready to squint at lot at things you don’t really care about.
How pale Jason Reitman’s “The Frontrunner,” the saga of Colorado senator and presidential hopeful Gary Hart’s rise and fall, seems in light of the daily reality TV show in Washington. Reitman’s film tells the supposedly cautionary tale of Hart (a miscast Hugh Jackman), a Kennedy-esque politician with a youthful look and following, who does well in the 1984 primaries, but loses to former Vice President Walter Mondale, who would himself lose in a landslide to Ronald Reagan. Four years later, Hart is poised to try again and looks like he will be the nominee, until a scandal rocks his race. Hart is said to be “witty and smart.” But this Hart we see on the screen seems pretty dim to me. The fluffy wig on Jackman, who is arguably too weathered after like eight go-rounds as Wolverine, looks a bit silly.
Based on a true story, “Green Book” is, first of all a “Driving Miss Daisy”-like tale of racial reconciliation released at a time of renewed (if it ever went away) racial divisiveness in the United States fueled by ghastly political forces seeking to benefit from it. The film is the story of two very different men: happy-go-lucky Copacabana bouncer Frank “Tony Lip” Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen, who put on Robert De Niro-like poundage for the role) and concert pianist Dr. Donald Shirley (Academy Award winner Mahershala Ali), who dresses impeccably and lives in an ornately decorated apartment above Carnegie Hall. Temporarily out of work and with a loving wife, Dolores (a great Linda Cardellini), and young family to support, Frank reluctantly takes a job driving and serving as unofficial problem-solver for Shirley, who has a concert tour taking him and his trio through the Deep South. The culture police will call “Green Book” a whitewash and a fairy tale. Bigots will bigot. But it was one of the most enjoyable films I have seen all year.
Can the people who bring us the “Despicable Me” films (i.e. Illumination Entertainment) do justice to “The Grinch,” the animated character with a heart “two sizes too small,” who is even more despicable because he steals Christmas? As this new disappointing Grinch film opens, we are reminded that Whoville, the town that is home to the Whos, is just like your town “if your town was a dream.” On an even higher peak of Mt. Crumpit next door dwells the lonely, furry and very green Grinch (Benedict Cumberbatch in a role previously voiced by the legendary Boris Karloff and more recently played live-action by Jim Carrey). Cumberbatch, who more successfully voices Smaug in “The Hobbit” series, makes the Grinch sound like a country yokel who somehow got to be a school principal.
This disastrous new “Robin Hood” from director Otto Bathurst (“Peaky Blinders”) was apparently conceived as a graphic novel or a big screen computer game. It’s the only explanation I have for the film’s complete and utter ridiculousness in almost every department. The 13th/14th century action begins when Robin “Rob” of Locksley (a charmless Taron Egerton) falls madly in love with Marian (Eve Hewson in heavy makeup), whom he catches trying to steal a horse. Following a ludicrous make-out montage, Rob is drafted into the Third Crusade, where he barely survives a battle with Moors using a crossbow version of a machine-gun and meets and bonds with a fierce Muslim fighter, whose name “translates” as John (Jamie Foxx) and who stows away on an English ship for three months shortly after losing a hand in battle. Foxx is tiresome. Egerton tries for a balance of humor, athleticism and charisma and fails.
“THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER’S WEB: A NEW DRAGON TATTOO STORY”
After three Swedish “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” films based on the wildly popular novels of the late Swedish journalist Stieg Larsson with the one and only Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander, and one American remake directed by the esteemed David Fincher starring a quite good Rooney Mara, do we need another of these? No is the short answer. Based on a 2015 sequel not entirely written by the Larsson, “The Girl in the Spider’s Web” — directed by Fede Alvarez (“Don’t Breathe”) and featuring Englishwoman Claire Foy (“The Crown”) as bisexual Goth avenging angel Salander — faithfully recycles the high beats of the prophetic “Dragon Tattoo” series. In a back story in opening scenes, we learn that Lisbeth also had a fair-haired twin sister named Camilla (Sylvia Hoeks). Foy of the Gollum-like blue eyes is very good, if also miscast. But her Lisbeth has mighty big black combat boots to fill, and too much of “The Girl in the Spider’s Web” feels familiar instead of exciting, weird and as freakalicious as Swedish meatballs.
“Ocean’s 8” becomes “Viola’s 4” in “Widows,” a heist movie from Academy Award-winning art house master Steve McQueen (“12 Years a Slave”). Unfortunately, this heist movie is like the opposite of a well-oiled machine, but has its pleasures and some extremely violent outbursts to boot. Viola Davis of TV’s “How to Get Away with Murder” and Liam Neeson of the “Taken” films are the happily, sort of, married couple Veronica and Harry Rawlings, who we see in a posh condo in opening scenes. Harry is a violent thief with a band of fellow thieves, whose wives do not know one another until Veronica rounds them all up after her husband and his partners are killed in a blazing and explosive shootout with the police to pull off a multimillion dollar theft. What could go wrong? Linda Perelli (Michelle Rodriguez) loses her store after her husband’s death and must feed her children. Alice Gunner (Elizabeth Debicki, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”) is less unhappy about losing her abusive spouse (Jon Bernthal) and, at the suggestion of her wicked witch mother (the delightfully scary Jacki Weaver), becomes an escort, whose first “date” David (Lukas Haas) falls love with her. This is to say the the watch-ability quotient in “Widows” is high, even if the plot is crime-movie hokum.