Thanks to a wide variety of foreign, independent, and studio options, choosing a film in March is a lot of fun. Award-winning movies enjoy expanded release and word-of-mouth gems earn a slow building, well-deserved audience. An occasional stinker will sneak into the market with a flashy trailer that outperforms the finished product, but those movies don’t last long. The competition is too strong.
I rate films with a 5-finger (“High Five”) rating system. A 5 is outstanding, a 4 well worth seeing, 3 is “just a movie,” with those earning a 2-rating not worth paying to see. Since decency prevents a one-finger opinion, a truly bad film is rated a zero — the Dreaded Fist of Badness. This month two of 16 narrowly escape the Fist. Three others, however, are terrific High-Five films that deserve a planned night out to enjoy.
Feel free to share you thoughts. One the joys of film is the singular journey we each experience every time we disappear inside one, so I always enjoy hearing your opinions.
Here are my 16 one-sentence reviews for March:
McFarland USA – 4 fingers. This typical Disney formulaic feel-good underdog film about Mexican high school cross country runners honors the genre and ticks all the boxes for fine family entertainment thanks to a fine leading performance by veteran sportsman Kevin Costner.
The DUFF – 2 fingers. This predictable high school angst movie about life on the periphery of cool suffers from an uneven, preachy script and weak acting, not to mention that the male lead—ostensibly a high school senior—is 26 years old and looks it.
Focus – 3 fingers. Will Smith and Margot Robbie dazzle but fizzle in this disappointing con man-meets-con girl film that is long on scenery but short on chemistry and breaks no new ground what so ever.
Maps to the Stars – 3 fingers. This grim story of a dysfunctional—and I mean dysfunctional—family is crass, coarse, and at times disgusting yet features another courageous performance by the utterly fearless Julianne Moore.
The Salvation – 4 fingers. Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen is perfectly cast and pitch-perfect as a revenge-seeking immigrant struggling to hang on during the wild, lawless west’s 1870 oil discovery infancy.
The Second Best Marigold Hotel – 3 fingers. Sometimes more of the same adds up to far less, as this uninspired second go-round of the popular elder statesmen fun run in Jaipur, India disappointingly proves.
The Magician – 3 fingers. This unfolding documentary about legendary Hollywood contrarian Orson Welles is a noble but criss-crossing attempt to honor a very complex life that will best be appreciated by students of cinema and theater.
Wild Tales – 5 fingers. This fantastic movie is a collection of six clever shorts—the common thread being that all involved are having really bad days—and is fresh, creative, wildly entertaining, and beautifully woven together.
What We Do in the Shadows – 5 fingers. This clever, creative, and hilarious send-up spoof on vampires trying to fit into modern day life—filmed on a million-dollar budget in Wellington, New Zealand—is a terrifically entertaining motion picture.
Red Army – 5 fingers. This outstanding documentary details the behind-the-scenes demands and realities surrounding Russia’s fabled ice hockey program up to and through the fall of Soviet Union.
Cinderella – 4 fingers. This Disney classic retells the famous fairly tale love story with respect and care, and benefits from a great performance by Cate Blanchett as the wicked stepmother, opulent and colorful sets, and a near-perfect score.
’71 – 4 fingers. This gritty and grim drama about a British soldier separated from his unit and struggling to survive the night while pursued by zealots of the Irish Republican Army in their stronghold sector of Belfast is hard-hitting is a powerful and well made film.
Sarah Prefers to Run – 2 fingers. This uninspired Canadian coming-of-age story about a confused young woman who leaves home to run middle distance races at McGill University in Montreal—and whose only certainty in life is that she loves to run—played at Cannes but suffers from its low budget, erratic camera work, choppy editing, and tepidly slow pace.
The Wrecking Crew – 3 fingers. This low-budget passion project documentary about the famed 1960s Los Angeles house band comprised of a tight group of brilliant studio musicians honors their remarkable body of work that turned the Beach Boys into legends, as well as bringing fame to a hundreds of other projects that shaped the sound of the legendary decade.
The Face of An Angel – 2 fingers. Only a noble effort by Kate Beckinsale keeps this irritating mess of a “drama” (based on the Amanda Knox murder case with the names changed) from the Dreaded Fist of (Zero Finger) Badness.
It Follows – 3 fingers. A good horror film is always a treat and this one, set in Detroit and built around a sex-driven premise, benefits from its strong concept and deft execution.
Thanks for reading. April promises more of the same — some super little movies — so hopefully I will see you at the theater.
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