What should I see this weekend?, 12/23-12/25

ScreenerBlog

As always, Christmas weekend provides an abundance of great films for moviegoers to venture out into the cold to see. Merry Christmas to you and yours from the FJI family!

(SR)=Specialty Release

The Good

Hidden Figures: “Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe are irresistible (and unstoppable) in this engaging story of pioneering black female mathematicians at NASA.”

20th Century Women: “Annette Bening is nothing short of superb as the 20th-century woman, and mother, who keeps her head, and her sense of humor, while trying very hard to understand and cope with the strange new world her son will soon inherit.”

Sing: “A somewhat silly premise leads to a lot of hilariously quirky animated musical fun.”

Fences: “Denzel Washington is sensational as an angry father grappling with his family and his past in this beautifully realized adaptation of August Wilson's Pulitzer Prize-winning play.”

Patriots Day: “A harrowing but inspiring look at a deplorable act of terror that brought a number of brave individuals and a city together to find those responsible.”

A Monster Calls: “An audacious mix of genres, A Monster Calls brings a dark, fantastical twist to a tale of childhood grief.”

Live by Night: “After crossing a Boston gangster, a petty crook seeks revenge among Florida bootleggers. Polished, large-scale crime drama improves on the Dennis Lehane novel.”

Passengers: “A slow-moving, heady twist on the space travel sci-fi subgenre that benefits more from Chris Pratt’s dynamic range than Jennifer Lawrence’s performance.”

Paterson (SR): “Jim Jarmusch’s elegantly minimal and wryly comic study of Adam Driver’s bus driver-poet celebrates and exemplifies a sturdy American vision of art as labor.”

Toni Erdmann (SR): “An uproarious feminist comedy with tears and sneers, the continually surprising Toni Erdmann is a fascinating beast with a father-daughter story at its heart that is at once familiar and like nothing you've ever seen before.”

Julieta (SR): “Visually splendid and beautifully performed, stylish family drama about the impact of a mysterious mother-daughter estrangement is part Sirkian melodrama, part Hitchcock-lite that is a career high for Spanish maestro Pedro Almodóvar.”

I, Daniel Blake (SR): “A scalding, perfectly wrought film about a man’s struggle to assert his dignity in a bureaucratic system that’s rigged to destroy it.”

The Bad Kids (SR): “Students on the brink of disaster are the subject of this admirably heartfelt and uncondescending documentary.”

The Autopsy of Jane Doe (SR): “Morticians performing a rush autopsy at an isolated mortuary are terrorized by inexplicable phenomena in this polished shocker whose realistic special effects will limit its audience to hardcore horror fans.”

Neruda (SR): “Gael García Bernal plays a make-believe police inspector hunting fugitive poet and politician Pablo Neruda during Chile’s 1948 right-wing crackdown in Pablo Larraín’s handsome, thoughtful and wisecracking metafictional lark.”

Dangal (SR): “Fact-based Hindi drama recounts the story of small-time amateur wrestler Mahavir Singh Phogat and his quest to turn daughters Geeta and Babita into world-class competitors.”

The Blah

Why Him?: “Bryan Cranston and James Franco valiantly but fruitlessly give their all in this overprotective-dad comedy that is many times more conventional than it pretends to be.”

Silence: “A 17th-century priest trying to rescue persecuted Catholics in Japan is brought to a crisis of faith in Martin Scorsese's somber adaptation of a Shûsaku Endô novel.”

The Ugly

Assassin’s Creed: “Assassin’s Creed is something of a passion project for producer/star Michael Fassbender, who shepherded the film through the development process for the better part of five years. So why does Fassbender’s performance come across as so damn bored? That’s only one of the mysteries of this half-baked videogame adaptation, alongside “How can a movie have this little personality?” and “Who thought ‘cover the screen with so much dust and sand that you can barely see anything’ is an a-OK design choice?””

City of Dead Men (SR): “That portentously pretentious title is just a hint of how bad this ode to living on the youthful edge in Colombia really is.”

The Wasted Times (SR): “Written, directed and edited by Cheng Er, The Wasted Times is a poorly digested amalgam of work by art-house filmmakers like Zhang Yimou and Hou Hsiao-hsien. Despite two of Asia's most accomplished stars and a plot laced with sex and violence, the movie is too confusing and poorly paced to find much of an audience here.”