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Film Listings, 1/3/19 – 1/10/19 

AQUAMAN

What's it rated? PG-13

What's it worth? Full price

Where's it showing? Sunset Drive-In, Downtown Centre, Galaxy, Park, Stadium 10

See Split Screen.

BUMBLEBEE

What's it rated? PG-13

What's it worth? Matinee

Where's it showing? Downtown Centre, Galaxy, Park, Stadium 10

Pick

click to enlarge DYNAMIC DUO Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld) befriends Bumblebee, an Autobot disguised as a VW Beetle in a junkyard, in the Transformers prequel Bumblebee. - PHOTO COURTESY OF ALLSPARK PICTURES
  • Photo Courtesy Of Allspark Pictures
  • DYNAMIC DUO Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld) befriends Bumblebee, an Autobot disguised as a VW Beetle in a junkyard, in the Transformers prequel Bumblebee.

Director Travis Knight (Kubo and the Two Strings) helms this Transformers prequel that follows Bumblebee on the run from Decepticons in 1987. After a deadly brawl, the damaged Autobot becomes dormant in a junkyard in a California beach town, disguised as a VW Beetle. He's soon discovered by Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld, The Edge of Seventeen, True Grit), an 18-year-old outsider determined to fix him up and help defend against further attacks. Meanwhile, two Decepticon assassins are already on their way to Earth to destroy the planet and Bumblebee once and for all.

The best thing about Bumblebee, compared to other entries in the Transformers series, is how small scale the story is. Sure, the fate of the world is at stake as always, but the narrative itself still feels extremely intimate. That's largely due to Steinfeld's character, who I wish was the audience's only perspective. The film should have been completely from her point of view in my opinion, it would have been much more intriguing to see the events unfold through her eyes rather than jump back and forth from her to the military. I don't mind a little expositional dialogue here and there, but must the discussion take place in an indiscriminate military control room like every other alien invasion movie?

John Cena's character, Agent Burns, is engaging and delivers some of the funniest lines in the movie. But at the end of the day, his side of the story is pretty unnecessary. We already have the Decepticons hunting Bumblebee down, we don't need to see earthling helicopters and tanks following suit. Were the filmmakers afraid there wouldn't be enough action scenes without military intervention? Well it certainly isn't the case here, and I doubt it would have been had the Decepticons been our only antagonists. Call me old-fashioned, but giant robots duking it out and destroying public property in the process is all the action I need.

It's really Charlie's world and the characters she interacts with that give Bumblebee a boost over previous Transformers movies. Steinfeld is just as candid, vulnerable, and likeable as she was in The Edge of Seventeen. Her relationship with Bumblebee, which starts out as a great homage to Stephen King's Christine with her fixing him up, is reminiscent of Elliott and E.T. And that's just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to '80s callbacks laced throughout the film. The soundtrack, sprawling with Tears For Fears, A-ha, and the Smiths, is especially well integrated, and that's extremely important when your titular character communicates solely through song lyrics. (114 min.)

—Caleb Wiseblood

ESCAPE ROOM

What's it rated? PG-13

When's it showing? Downtown Centre, Galaxy, Park, Stadium 10

New

click to enlarge GRAVE EXPECTATIONS Deborah Ann Woll and Logan Miller play complete strangers who must work together in order to survive, in Escape Room. - PHOTO COURTESY OF COLUMBIA PICTURES
  • Photo Courtesy Of Columbia Pictures
  • GRAVE EXPECTATIONS Deborah Ann Woll and Logan Miller play complete strangers who must work together in order to survive, in Escape Room.

Director Adam Robitel (Insidious: The Last Key, The Taking of Deborah Logan) helms this thriller about six strangers who find themselves in circumstances beyond their control after entering a mysterious escape room. The group must use their wits and work together if they're to survive. (109 min.)

—Caleb

THE FAVOURITE

What's it rated? R

Where's it showing? Galaxy, The Palm

Yorgos Lanthimos directs this early 18th century period piece about two warring women seeking favor from ailing, prickly Queen Anne (Olivia Colman). Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) is the queen's longtime companion who essentially runs the country during a time of war. Newcomer Abigail (Emma Stone), a new servant to the queen, uses her charms to gain power of her own as she attempts to return to her aristocratic roots. (119 min.)

—Glen Starkey

GREEN BOOK

What's it rated? PG-13

What's it worth? Full price

Where's it showing? Downtown Centre, Fair Oaks

Pick

Co-writer Peter Farrelly (Dumb and Dumber, There's Something About Mary) directs this biopic about African-American pianist Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali), who hires working-class Italian-American bouncer Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen) as his driver on a music tour of the 1960s American South. Though they're very different people, they develop a warm and enduring friendship. This is one of those classic feel-good movies only a true cynic could reject. Both lead characters come out of the other side of the story improved. (130 min.)

—Glen

HOLMES & WATSON

What's it rated? R

Where's it showing? Park, Galaxy, Stadium 10

Writer-director Etan Cohen (Get Hard) helms this comedic crime adventure about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's classic detective character, Sherlock Holmes (Will Ferrell), and his sidekick, Doctor Watson (John C. Reilly). (132 min.)

—Glen

MARY POPPINS RETURNS

What's it rated? PG

What's it worth? Full price

Where's it showing? Bay, Downtown Centre, Galaxy, Park, Stadium 10

Pick

Rob Marshall (Chicago, Memoirs of a Geisha, Pirates of the Caribbean: One Stranger Tides, Into the Woods) directs this sequel to the 1964 classic about a magical nanny who helps two neglected children reconnect with their father. This time around, Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) returns to the Banks family children who are now adults. Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw) lives with his three children—Anabel (Pixie Davies), John (Nathanael Saleh), Georgie (Joel Dawson)—and their housekeeper, Ellen (Julie Walters), in the same house on Cherry Tree Lane. With encouragement from Michael's sister, Jane (Emily Mortimer), and the help of lamplighter, Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda), Mary helps the new set of Banks children find the joy in life.

I'm happy to report that this sequel—54 years after the original!—is just as wonderful and magical as the first one. Rob Marshall and company have truly done the original justice. The story, the music, the acting, the cinematography, the special effects, and the direction are all superb!

This film is a nostalgia-fest for parents and an introduction to a new world of wonder for kids. If I had some little ones, I'd take them straight to the theater to see this film and then straight to the record store to buy the soundtrack. Mary Poppins Returns is an instant classic! (130 min.)

—Glen

MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS

What's it rated? R

Where's it showing? The Palm, Galaxy

click to enlarge LONG LIVE THE QUEEN Queen Elizabeth I (Margot Robbie) must stave off treachery from both her male advisors and her cousin, Mary Stuart, in Mary Queen of Scots. - PHOTO COURTESY OF FOCUS FEATURES
  • Photo Courtesy Of Focus Features
  • LONG LIVE THE QUEEN Queen Elizabeth I (Margot Robbie) must stave off treachery from both her male advisors and her cousin, Mary Stuart, in Mary Queen of Scots.

Josie Rourke directs this biopic about Scottish Queen Mary Stuart's (Saoirse Ronan) attempt to overthrow her cousin, English Queen Elizabeth I (Margot Robbie). (124 min.)

—Glen

THE MULE

What's it rated? R

What's it worth? Matinee

Where's it showing? Downtown Centre, Galaxy, Park, Stadium 10

Pick

Clint Eastwood (Unforgiven, Million Dollar Baby, Gran Torino) directs this crime thriller screenplay by Sam Dolnick, based on the New York Times Magazine article "The Sinaloa Cartel's 90-Year-Old Drug Mule" by Nick Schenk. Eastwood takes on the role of Earl Stone, a horticulturist and World War II vet who's caught in Michigan running $3 million worth of Mexican cartel cocaine.

After a quick read of the New York Times Magazine article upon which this film is based, it's pretty clear that instead of focusing—as the article does—on whether or not the Earl Stone was a crafty insider or a doddering old man taken advantage of by the cartel, this film is more interested in inventing Stone's estrangement from his family. Earl wants to be the center of attention, and he's seen as a star of the daylily growers association and well liked at the local VFW hall, rather than feeling like a failure as a husband and father at home. He misses anniversaries, birthdays, weddings—you name it—and his ex-wife Mary (Dianne Wiest) and daughter Iris (real life daughter Alison Eastwood) hate him for it.

About the only family member who's not yet fed up with his selfishness is soon-to-be-married granddaughter Ginny (Taissa Farmiga). His horticulture operation, having fallen on hard times thanks to the Internet, is out of business, so when he's recruited to drive a route for the cartel, he accepts, thinking it'll be a one-time easy money scheme that will help him pay for his granddaughter's wedding. It is easy money ... too easy, and the one-time trip turns into another and another, with increasingly larger loads and fatter paydays.

Earl's a charming, selfish prick, and the film explores—maybe a little too easily and conveniently—how he comes to realize what's really important in life. It's not nearly as good as Gran Torino (2008), a similarly themed film, but it certainly washes the bad taste of his last failure—The 15:17 to Paris (2018)—out of my mouth.

So, yes, Eastwood has pulled it off again, but it's a little repetitive of his past work. Like Gran Torino's cranky, racist, veteran Walt Kowalski, Earl Stone is mostly blind to his own shortcomings. Hispanics are "beaners," blacks are "negroes," and women are gleefully objectified. Stone gets away with it all because he's old, but also because he's not malignant or malicious about it. He just doesn't seem to know any better.

His law enforcement counterpart is new Chicago bureau DEA Special Agent Colin Bates (Bradley Cooper), who with his DEA partner (Michael Peña) is zeroing in on the cartel operation because they flipped low-level cartel worker Luis Rocha (Eugene Cordero), who tells them all about this successful new mule, Tata, who's now driving a new black pickup truck. Yet, even when Tata—aka Earl Stone—is right under the DEA's noses, his age and amiable nature rules him out as a suspect.

Overall, this is an ambling film that occasionally delivers moments of emotional resonance. Eastwood is 88 years old, and the former hunky lead is comfortable in his skin, gifted behind and in front of the camera, and still capable of crafting an entertaining story.

The Mule will be remembered as an effective late-career effort from a masterful filmmaker who's given us classics such as The Outlaw Josey Wales, Pale Rider, Mystic River, Flags of Our Fathers, Letters from Iwo Jima, and American Sniper. For me, his amazing oeuvre is enough to erase his 2012 RNC speech to an empty chair. (117 min.)

—Glen

THE NINTH ANNUAL SLO JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL

What's it rated? Ratings vary

Where's it showing? Jan. 3, 5 and 6 at the Palm

click to enlarge FILM NOIR The ninth annual SLO Jewish Film Festival presents Budapest Noir on Jan. 6 at 1:30 p.m. at the Palm. A discussion with director Ava Gadros follows the screening. - PHOTO COURTESY OF PIONEER PICTURES
  • Photo Courtesy Of Pioneer Pictures
  • FILM NOIR The ninth annual SLO Jewish Film Festival presents Budapest Noir on Jan. 6 at 1:30 p.m. at the Palm. A discussion with director Ava Gadros follows the screening.

The festival includes feature and short films and the opportunity to meet the filmmakers behind them during discussions held after each screening. Feature-length narratives include On The Basis of Sex, Full-Court Miracle, School Ties, and Budapest Noir. Documentaries include Who Will Write Our History, Life is Rich, Wendy's Shabbat, and Heading Home: The Tale of Team Israel.

—Caleb

RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET: WRECK-IT RALPH 2

What's it rated? PG

What's it worth? Full price

Where's it showing? Park, Stadium 10

Pick

Co-directors Phil Johnson and Rich Moore (Wreck-It Ralph, Zootopia) helm this animated sequel in which Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) and Vanellope von Schweetz (voiced by Sarah Silverman) follow a Wi-Fi router in their home arcade, Litwak's Family Fun Center, to explore a strange new world: the internet.

Six years have passed since the events of Wreck-It Ralph, and Ralph and Vanellope are still best friends—close as "peanut butter and bacon," Ralph says at one point. When Vanellope's game, Sugar Rush, is in danger of being unplugged and scrapped for parts after its steering wheel breaks, the pair seek help in the world of the internet, a realm completely unknown to the duo and the other pixelated inhabitants of Litwak's arcade. Ralph and Vanellope start at eBay (or "eBoy" as Ralph continuously calls it), where a Sugar Rush steering wheel is up for auction. The wheel would save Vanellope's candy kingdom home from destruction, but will the pair be able to raise enough money to bid for the item in time? (112 min.)

—Caleb

SECOND ACT

What's it rated? PG-13

Where's it showing? Park, Stadium 10

Peter Segal (Tommy Boy, Anger Management, 50 First Dates, Get Smart) directs Jennifer Lopez as big box store worker Maya, who keeps getting passed over for promotion. With the help of a computer-smart kid, she reinvents herself online and parlays her new identity into a posh new job on Madison Avenue, proving that street smarts can outsmart book smarts. (103 min.)

—Glen

SHOPLIFTERS

What's it rated? R

When's it showing? The Palm

New

click to enlarge DOMESTIC DRAMA A poverty-stricken family takes a child into their home after finding her outside in the cold and noticing signs of abuse, in Shoplifters. - PHOTO COURTESY OF GAGA PICTURES
  • Photo Courtesy Of Gaga Pictures
  • DOMESTIC DRAMA A poverty-stricken family takes a child into their home after finding her outside in the cold and noticing signs of abuse, in Shoplifters.

Hirokazu Kore-eda (Like Father, Like Son, After The Storm) directs this drama about a destitute family relying on shoplifting to cope with a life of poverty. One very cold night, the family comes across a child left alone, locked outside of her home. They take her into their home for dinner, but decide not to return her after noticing symptoms of abuse. (121 min.)

—Caleb

SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE

What's it rated? PG

What's it worth? Full price

Where's it showing? Sunset Drive-In, Downtown Centre, Galaxy, Park, Stadium 10

Pick

Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman co-direct this animated action adventure co-written by Phil Lord and co-produced by Christopher Miller (the duo best known for directing The Lego Movie and 21 Jump Street). Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore) becomes the Spider-Man of his version of reality, then crosses into a parallel universe where he teams with other realities' Spider-Men and a Spider-Woman to stop a an evil that threatens all realities.

Superhero team-ups are most satisfying when the juggling of characters is completely undetectable. The audience shouldn't be thinking about which character's turn it is in the spotlight, rather why the characters work so well together. For example, what is it that makes Nicolas Cage's Spider-Noir (a gritty, 1940s private investigator version of Spider-Man) and John Mulaney's Spider-Ham (an anthropomorphic pig whose secret identity is Peter Porker) such a perfect pair?

Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse pulls this off but also picks the right point-of-view to watch the story unfold through: Miles Morales, a teenager who gets spidey powers after being bit by a genetically altered spider while tagging an abandoned subway station. Morales returns to the station later to investigate, only to uncover a plot concocted by crime lord Wilson Fisk—aka Kingpin (voiced by Liev Schreiber)—to collide dimensions in order to access parallel universes, but at a deadly cost.

What a time it is to be alive for superhero fans. Live action comic book adaptations have been inarguably dominating the box office for the last decade, so where can we go from there? Animated adaptations of costumed crime fighters aren't new, in home video and television at least. But the big screen treatment for these "cartoons" (a term that Peter Porker considers derogatory) was a rarity ... until this year, if the trend catches on.

Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse does for Marvel what Teen Titans Go! To The Movies did for DC earlier this year: It takes these characters places that live action couldn't possibly allow (I could be eating these words in a year or so). Despite the comparison to a quite sillier film, Spider-Verse is surprisingly just as earnest as it is humorous. No matter how many one-liners, knee-slappers, and instances of breaking the fourth wall there are, the stakes feel real. Morales is a full-fledged character we root for and sympathize with all the way through. I'm starting to understand why Spider-Ham found the term "cartoon" so demeaning. (117 min.)

—Caleb

VICE

What's it rated? R

Where's it showing? Downtown Centre, Galaxy, Park, Stadium 10

click to enlarge COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF Adam McKay (The Big Short) directs Sam Rockwell as President George W. Bush, in the Dick Cheney biopic Vice. - PHOTO COURTESY OF ANNAPURNA PICTURES
  • Photo Courtesy Of Annapurna Pictures
  • COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF Adam McKay (The Big Short) directs Sam Rockwell as President George W. Bush, in the Dick Cheney biopic Vice.

Writer-director Adam McKay (Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Step Brothers) helms this biopic dramedy about Washington, D.C., bureaucratic insider Dick Cheney (Christian Bale), who became George W. Bush's (Sam Rockwell) vice president, using his power to reshape the U.S. and its foreign policy. (132 min.) Δ

—Glen

New Times movie reviews were compiled by Calendar Editor Caleb Wiseblood this week. Contact him at cwiseblood@newtimesslo.com.

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