Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, The Wave, London Has Fallen, Zootopia, Trapped, Colliding Dreams

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
The Wave

London Has Fallen

Colliding Dreams

Capsules on a mixed March week of movies:

For the first time in her big screen career, Tina Fey comes across as an actress playing a part, rather than as a television personality, in the uneven but frequently funny "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot," from "Focus" directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa. She's Kim Baker, a TV news writer who, bored with life, accepts a reporting assignment in Afghanistan that will include on-camera work. "WTF" has little more structure than a series of vignettes involving a friendly competitor (Margot Robbie), the rumpled freelancer she beds and only later takes a liking to (Martin Freeman), her native guide (Christopher Abbott), a lecherous Afghan government minister (Alfred Molina), and the gruff Marine with whose unit she is, to his consternation, embedded (Billy Bob Thornton at his taciturn best). Because its material necessitates major tone shifts, "WTF" rarely zings, but Fey and company deliver enough laughs for a marginal rec… Roar Uthaug's Norwegian import "The Wave" separates the critical wheat from the chaff. Too many would-be cineastes try to boost their critical cred by throwing in with foreign flicks like this that, if they had been made in Hollywood, would be laughed out of the multiplex. "The Wave" features the kind of bad acting, bad writing, and bad special effects you would associate with a TV movie of the week. It's "San Andreas" without the budget or any of the humor. We've had three tsunami movies in recent years: Clint Eastwood's "Hereafter," the Naomi Watts-Ewan McGregor vehicle "The Impossible," and now this, the least convincing. It's also poorly structured: forty-five minutes of lead-up and forty-five minutes of plodding, cliché-ridden aftermath on either side of ten minutes of action… I hated every minute of the assembly-line actioner "London Has Fallen," with another starchy turn by Gerard Butler as Secret Service agent Mike Banning and Aaron Eckhart as U.S. President Benjamin Asher, whom Banning must rescue after Yemeni terrorists take over London and kill multiple world leaders gathered for the funeral of the Prime Minister. Among the talented and distinctive actresses completely wasted in this depressing, dehumanized video game of a movie are Angela Bassett, Melissa Leo and Radha Mitchell. The computer-program dialogue is a travesty throughout, but Morgan Freeman gets more than his share of unintentional howlers… Finally, a big thumbs down for Disney Animation's "Zootopia," yet another frenetic E-ticket ride that just makes you want to stop and get off. This one, though, incurs special animadversion for the insidious way in which it incorporates gag-worthy, hyper-P.C. multi-culti mores into an ostensible children's entertainment. Every so often, the movie grinds to a halt while queasy and strained analogies are drawn between the movie world's predators and prey and American racial groups. "Zootopia" has a few laughs - I'll long remember the way the DMV sloth's eyes widen as he gets a joke - but it makes you cheer against it with its didactic, pedantic and exploitive storytelling.

Finally, mild recs for a pair of docs: Dawn Porter's empathetic "Trapped," about overburdened abortion clinics in Texas and Alabama attempting to comply with ever-changing and ever-increasing restrictions; and Joseph Dorman and Oren Rudavsky's "Colliding Dreams," a comprehensive historical primer on national and religious Zionism. "Trapped" would have benefited from a bit more specificity as to the regulations themselves, but scores big points for timeliness: the Supreme Court, in a case involving one of the featured clinics, this week issued a stay preventing enforcement of a targeted regulation in Texas that appears to serve no purpose other than to frustrate access to abortion services. "Colliding Dreams" weaves interviews with articulate experts and a sprinkling of civilians on both sides to paint a thorough if slightly overlong picture of a movement that changed fundamentally after achieving its founding purpose.

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