Film
'Tis the season for screenings of It's a Wonderful Life. This week at the Hamburg Palace and the Screening Room.
'Tis the season for screenings of It's a Wonderful Life. This week at the Hamburg Palace and the Screening Room.

At the Movies

by / Dec. 12, 2017 12pm EST

 OPENING THIS WEEK

FERDINAND—Animated adaptation of the children’s book about a peaceable bull. With the voices of John Cena, Kate McKinnon, Anthony Anderson, Bobby Cannavale, Peyton Manning, and Gina Rodriguez. Directed by Carlos Saldanha (Rio). AMC Maple Ridge, Dipson Flix, Regal Elmwood, Regal Niagara Falls, Regal Quaker, Regal Transit

STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI—Like there will ever be a last anything in the Star Wars bubbleverse. AMC Maple Ridge, Aurora, Dipson Flix, Hamburg Palace, North Park, Regal Elmwood, Regal Niagara Falls, Regal Quaker, Regal Transit, Regal Walden Galleria

WONDER WHEEL—Woody Allen revisits the Coney Island of his youth in his 48th film. Starring Jim Belushi, Juno Temple, Justin Timberlake, and Kate Winslet. Dipson Amherst

 

 ALTERNATIVE CINEMA

A CHRISTMAS CAROL (a.k.a. Scrooge, England, 1951)—Generally considered the best film version of the classic Charles Dickens story, with Alistair Sim as Ebenezer Scrooge. Look for Patrick Macnee, The Avengers’ John Steed, as the young Jacob Marley. Also starring Kathleen Harrison, Mervyn Johns, Hermione Baddeley, Ernest Thesiger, and Hattie Jacques. Sat noon, Tue 5:30pm Screening Room

IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946)—Jimmy Stewart gets to see what life for his friends and community would have been like had he never lived in Frank Capra’s holiday classic. Co-starring Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Thomas Mitchell, Henry Travers, Beulah Bondi, Frank Faylen, Ward Bond, Gloria Grahame, H.B. Warner, Frank Albertson, Sheldon Leonard, and Charles Lane. Sun 11am Hamburg Palace; Fri 7:30pm, Sat 2pm, Sun 6pm, Tue 6pm Screening Room

THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (1955)—Robert Mitchum as the murderous preacher with “LOVE” and “HATE” tattooed on the knuckles of his hands in this rural noir that was sadly the only film ever directed by actor Charles Laughton: It’s such singular work that you can’t help but wish he had done more of it. Screenplay by James Agee. Co-starring Shelley Winters, Lillian Gish, James Gleason, Peter Graves. Part of the Noir Essentials series. Wed Dec 20 7:30pm. Dipson Eastern Hills

THE NUTCRACKER—Live from the New York City Ballet. Because it wouldn’t be Christmas without it. Thu 7:30pm. Screening Room

WET WOMAN IN THE WIND (Japan, 2016)—Part of a five-film series reviving the Japanese “Roman Porno” films of the 1970s, a genre that doesn’t really have a Western equivalent. This comedy concerns a playwright who has retired to the country to embrace a celibate lifestyle, only to have his peace invaded by a young woman with quite opposite intentions. Directed by Akihiko Shiota. Wed Dec 13 9:30pm. North Park

 CONTINUING

AMERICAN MADE—“Is all this legal?” asks drug smuggler Barry Seal as his CIA handler explains he role he is being offered in a scheme to smuggle guns to the Nicaraguan Contras in the early 1980s. It is, he’s told, “If you’re doing it for the good guys.” Doug Liman’s movie about the American pilot who found himself in the middle of the Reagan White House’s plan to circumvent Congress to support a war against a legitimately elected government is reminiscent of GoodFellas in story but not in style, generally employing a faux documentary style in the service of realism. Liman and scripter Gary Spinelli take liberties with Seal’s life and timeline, so the film isn’t worth much as biography, but it serves to counter a lot of the whitewashing of Reagan that has gone over the past few decades. And it provides a chance for Tom Cruise to show that he can actually act, a talent that too few of his films call on. Co-starring Domhnall Gleeson, Sarah Wright, and Jesse Plemons. M. Faust Dipson McKinley

A BAD MOM’S CHRISTMAS—If the sound of a 10-year-old girl exclaiming “OMFG” (but not abbreviated) strikes you as funny, you’re the audience for this sequel in which the three suburban moms (Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, Kathryn Hahn) have to deal with holiday visits from their own mothers (Christine Baranski, Cheryl Hines, Susan Sarandon). As in the previous entry the moms aren’t bad, merely stressed, which removes any bite that could have justified this string of bad-taste gags with a predictable feel-good ending. Directed, if you want to call it that, by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore. —MF Four Seasons, Regal Elmwood, Regal Niagara Falls, Regal Quaker, Regal Transit, Regal Walden Galleria

COCO—An aspiring young musician visits the Land of the Dead for guidance in this new Pixar animated movie. Voices of Anthony Gonzalez, Gael García Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, and Alanna Ubach. Directed by Lee Unkrich (Toy Story 3) and Adrian Molina. AMC Maple Ridge, Dipson Flix, Hamburg Palace (ENDS THURSDAY), Regal Elmwood, Regal Niagara Falls, Regal Quaker, Regal Transit, Regal Walden Galleria

DADDY’S HOME 2 is the XY equivalent of A Bad Mom’s Christmas, as the once-feuding co-fathers (Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg) and their family are infested for the holidays by their dads (John Lithgow, Mel Gibson). The script has more laughs than the original (not that that’s saying much) and it’s family-friendly compared to Bad Moms, but the feel-good ending involving a recreation of “Do They Know It’s Christmas” is in terrible taste. And if Gibson ever knew how to be funny, he’s forgotten it. With Linda Cardellini and John Cena. Directed by Sean Anders (Sex Drive). —MF AMC Maple Ridge, Dipson Flix, Regal Elmwood, Regal Niagara Falls, Regal Quaker, Regal Transit, Regal Walden Galleria

THE DISASTER ARTIST certainly doesn’t provide everything you’ve always wanted to know about Tommy Wiseau, but it’s everything he’s willing to let you know. The auteur behind The Room, the Plan 9 From Outer Space of the new millennium, has kept his background a secret, and this good-natured movie directed by James Franco (who also plays Wiseau) has no revelations to offer. Like Tim Burton’s Ed Wood, the film is less interested in getting cheap laughs than in paying tribute to characters who fought against substantial odds, not least of all their utter lack of talent, to get a movie made. With Dave Franco, Seth Rogen, Ari Graynor, Alison Brie, Jacki Weaver, Zac Efron, and Megan Mullally. —MF AMC Maple Ridge, Regal Elmwood, Regal Quaker, Regal Transit, Regal Walden Galleria

THE FOREIGNER—Jackie Chan goes serious as a London restaurant owner out for revenge after his daughter is killed in a terrorist bombing. The bombers are a rogue cel of the IRA, looking to re-open old wounds, so to get at them he targets Liam Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan), a government minister whose had made a career out of his past ties to the IRA. As directed by veteran Martin Campbell (Casino Royale), the story takes a while to buildup a head of steam, but it’s worth the wait as Chan’s character fades into the background in favor of a twisty, and surprisingly nasty, examination of terrorist politics. —MF Four Seasons

GEOSTORM—Dean Devlin, formerly the producing partner of apocalyptic disaster specialist Roland Emmerich (2012, Godzilla) moves into the director’s chair for his own apocalyptic disaster movie that was filmed in 2014 but unreleased until now. In the near future, the weather is being controlled by a network of satellites. But when they are hijacked by political terrorists, it’s up to the discredited engineer who designed the system (Gerard Butler) and his politician brother (Jim Sturgess) to save the world. The special effects crews demolish major cities with panache, but the dopey plot doesn’t give their work enough meaning: It’s not worth all the death and destruction. With Abbie Cornish, Ed Harris, and, playing the president in the voice of Burt Lancaster, Andy Garcia. MF Four Seasons, Dipson McKinley

HAPPY DEATH DAY—A self-centered sorority girl (Jessica Rothe) relives the day of her murder over and over until she can find a way to prevent it. Yes, it’s the premise of Groundhog Day, but it’s a sturdy premise that can easily be reused (and horror is hardly a genre that demands originality). It could have used a little more humor, but it’s an efficient genre exercise likely to satisfy most audiences. With Israel Broussard and Ruby Modine. Directed by Christopher Landon (Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse). —MF Dipson McKinley

IT—It isn’t often that a major studio takes a chance on a big budget, R-rated horror film with such successful results as this adaptation of the Stephen King novel about kids stalked by a shape-changing creature that most often takes the form of a murderous clown. The characters are vintage King, believable and recognizable from daily life. The filmmakers have learned from what worked in the best King film adaptations, and the rapid-fire dialogue is smart and funny. Overall, it’s among the best adaptations of the King’s work. Starring Jaeden Lieberherm, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, and Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise. Directed by Andy Muschietti (Mama). —Greg Lamberson Dipson McKinley

JANE—Philip Glass scored this documentary about the personal and professional life of chimpanzee researcher Jane Goodall, which features previously unseen footage from the National Geographic. Directed by Brett Morgen (Cobain: Montage of Heck). Dipson Eastern Hills ENDS THURSDAY

JUST GETTING STARTED—Codger comedy starring Tommy Lee Jones and Morgan Freeman as retirees, once on opposite sides of the law, who join forced to battle a mob threat. With Rene Russo, Glenne Headly, Joe Pantoliano, and Elizabeth Ashley. Directed by Ron Shelton (Bull Durham). Dipson Flix, Regal Elmwood, Regal Niagara Falls, Regal Quaker, Regal Transit, Regal Walden Galleria

JIGSAW—The return of the Saw horror franchise, undeterred by the fact that the title character was killed at the end of Saw III. (After all, Jason Voohees was killed at the end of every Friday the 13th movie.) Starring Matt Passmore, Tobin Bell, Callum Keith Rennie, and Hannah Emily Anderson. Directed by Michael and Peter Spierig (Predestination). Dipson McKinley

JUSTICE LEAGUEThe success of Wonder Woman earlier this year no doubt played a role in Warner Brothers’ decision to reshoot as much as 20% of Zack Snyder’s Justice League, the culmination of the trilogy he started with Man of Steel and made ugly with Batman v. Superman. Joss Whedon scripted the new material, and ended up directing it as well following a tragedy in Snyder’s family. The result is schizophrenic: pictorially as bleak as its predecessors, with the humorous interplay among the characters—Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg—that Whedon brought to competing Marvel Studio’s Avengers films. The plot is as senseless as they come, with the worst villain yet. Horrible CGI video game action sequences are salvaged whenever the actors are allowed to interject some humanity into the proceedings. Gal Gadot shines as Wonder Woman, while Ben Affleck is actually allowed to portray Bruce Wayne/Batman, not the psychotic fetishist he played last time around. Jason Momoa, Ezra Miller, and Ray Fisher generate laughter as the other heroes. —GL AMC Maple Ridge, Dipson Flix (ENDS THURS), Regal Elmwood, Regal Niagara Falls, Regal Quaker, Regal Transit, Regal Walden Galleria

LADY BIRD—Greta Gerwig makes her debut as a writer-director in this winning comedy-drama inspired by her own youth as a teenager desperate to get away from a bland suburb of Sacramento. Saoirse Ronan stars as a senior at a Catholic high school, an ordinary girl desperate to be extraordinary, though it’s hard to be special when the exact nature of your specialness isn’t quite clear to you. This generous and perceptive movie covers a year in her life in short, concise scenes. Laurie Metcalf is excellent in a tailor-made role as Lady Bird’s mother, a psychiatric nurse who can’t recognize the nature of her passive-aggressive reactions to her frustrations with family and financial problems. Also starring Tracey Letts. —MF Dipson Amherst, Dipson Eastern Hills

LAST FLAG FLYING—In the early days of the Iraq War, a Vietnam veteran (Steve Carell) seeks out two friends he hasn’t seen since leaving the service (Bryan Cranston, Laurence Fishburne) for help in the difficult task of arranging the funeral of his only child, a Marine who died in Iraq. Sort of a sequel to Hal Ashby’s classic The Last Detail (1973), also written by Darryl Ponicsán, the film’s plotting is lax but is otherwise first-rate as an actors’ showcase, with three characters disparate enough to give the players plenty to work with. With Cicely Tyson. Directed by Richard Linklater (Boyhood). —MF Dipson Amherst ENDS THURSDAY

LOVING VINCENT—The biographical elements of this story of a young postman investigating the life of Vincent van Gogh as he tries to deliver a letter written before the painter’s suicide aren’t very satisfying, but that doesn’t detract from the film’s real appeal, the use of van Gogh’s paintings to produce an animated backdrop for the actors. One hundred artists hand painted the backgrounds, settings, and the costume details and hairdos of the characters, all in van Gogh’s unmistakably characteristic Expressionist style. The result is startling and compelling, a small marvel of effectiveness. Starring Douglas Booth, Josh Burdett, Holly Earl, and Chris O’Dowd. Directed by Dorota Kobiel and Hugh Welchman. —George Sax North Park ENDS THURSDAY Dipson Eastern Hills STARTS FRIDAY

THE MAN WHO INVENTED CHRISTMAS—Of course Christmas was around before Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol 174 years ago, but his perennially popular tale arguably led to our modern conception of it as a secular holiday for family celebration, charitable given and saying the words “Merry Christmas” (which he did indeed invent). Dan Stevens plays the young Dickens at a period just after his first success led him to overextend his finances, with Christopher Plummer as Scrooge heading the cast of characters who dictate their story in the author’s imagination. Filmed in Ireland on suitably Victorian locations, it’s unlikely to become a classic that families will revisit every December, but serves its purpose as a pleasant adjunct for those years when you need to take a break from Alastair Sim (or Albert Finney or George C. Scott or Bill Murray or, god help you, Jim Carrey). With Simon Callow, Miriam Margolyes, and Bill Paterson. Directed by Bharat Nalluri (Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day). —MF Regal Elmwood, Regal Quaker

MARSHALL—Buffalo’s City Hall, Central Terminal and other locations look fine substituting for Bridgeport, Connecticut circa 1941 in Reginald Hudlin’s historical drama, filmed here last year. The story centers on an early case tried for the NAACP by Thurgood Marshall (Chadwick Boseman) 25 years before he became the first African-American justice on the US Supreme Court. Hudlin handles the melodramatic but skillful script in a boldface, punchy style. Boseman plays the 33 year old Marshall with a breezy, almost wiseacre charm, a little like a P.I. in a 40s hard-boiled detective story. But the most effective portrayal comes from Josh Gad, as Sam Friedman, the inexperienced local attorney Marshall has to work with. The film isn’t much more than a footnote to a famous man’s life. It really says more about America and its deplorable historical legacies than about Marshall, though its story is unfortunately as relevant as ever. Co-starring Kate Hudson, Sterling K. Brown, and James Cromwell. —GS Dipson McKinley

THE MOUNTAIN BETWEEN USIdris Elba and Kate Winslet as plane crash survivors who have to depend on each other to escape from a desolate wilderness. With Beau Bridges and Dermot Mulroney. Directed by Hany Abu-Assad (Paradise Now). Dipson McKinley, Four Seasons

MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS—Having spent much of the last decade playing the Swedish police inspector Kurt Wallander on British TV, Kenneth Branagh turns to Belgium’s most famous detective, Hercule Poirot, in a performance that will remind no one of David Suchet. Even if you’ve never seen Sidney Lumet’s 1974 Oscar-winning adaptation of the Agatha Christie novel, you’re likely already to know how it ends, but that’s not necessarily a drawback: it more even be more interesting watching the plot unfold if you know where it’s going. Branagh (who also directed) puts an all-star cast through their paces with the finest sets and costumes that money can buy, with camerawork as flamboyant as Poirot’s moustache (which in this incarnation is saying a lot). On board are Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Derek Jacobi, and Michelle Pfeiffer. —MF AMC Maple Ridge, Dipson Flix (ENDS THURS), Regal Elmwood, Regal Niagara Falls, Regal Quaker, Regal Transit, Regal Walden Galleria

THE POLAR EXPRESS—As a holiday movie, this is more appropriate for Halloween than Christmas—it’s more likely to scare kids than charm them. Director Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump) spent an estimated $150 million for a computerized animation technique resulting in characters that look less realistic than the marionettes in Team America. There are moments of great visual beauty, but they’re so cold and intimidating that they wouldn’t be out of place in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. Tom Hanks provided most of the voices, a stunt that only adds another level of discomfiture. Dipson McKinley

ROMAN J. ISRAEL, ESQ.—Denzel Washington as a lawyer with minimal social skills who finds himself in a place he prefers to avoid: a courtroom. With Colin Farrell, Carmen Ejogo, and Lynda Gravátt. Directed by Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler). AMC Maple Ridge, Regal Elmwood, Regal Niagara Falls, Regal Quaker, Regal Transit, Regal Walden Galleria

THOR: RAGNAROK—Sequel. Starring Thor, the Hulk, Doctor Strange, and Loki. Directed by someone, probably. Four Seasons, Regal Elmwood, Regal Niagara Falls, Regal Quaker, Regal Transit, Regal Walden Galleria

THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI—Frances McDormand stars as a mother whose grief at the rape and murder of her teenaged daughter turns to rage as a year goes by and the police have failed to turn up a culprit. So she hires the titular signs to accuse the local sheriff (Woody Harrelson) of dragging his feet. McDormand manages a remarkable portrayal even as the movie drives her character beyond the borders of implausibility. Writer-director Martin McDonagh (In Bruges), whose working motto is “Guns. Explosions. Blood,” directs in a careful, conservative style and his cast performs impressively, but the behavioral extremes he imposes on his characters work against the redemptive theme he seems to desire. He’s tried too hard to juxtapose divergent moods, ranging from an adolescent-like mischievousness to domestic melodrama. With Kerry Condon, Sam Rockwell, Peter Dinklage, and Abbie Cornish. —GS Dipson Amherst, Dipson Eastern Hills, Dipson Flix, Regal Niagara Falls, Regal Quaker, Regal Walden Galleria

VICTORIA AND ABDULVeteran director Stephen Frears (The Queen) gets to indulge in that favorite British pastime of making fun of themselves with this historical drama (“Based on real events…mostly,” as an opening title puts it). Judi Dench stars as Queen Victoria in her late years, bored with life until she takes a fancy to an Indian servant, Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal, very charming). The overwrought ceremonies held for the Queen’s jubilee are quite funny, and the screenplay by Lee Hall (Billy Elliot) delights in showing her household, led by future Edward VII (Eddie Izzard), at each other’s throats. —MF  Dipson McKinley, Four Seasons

WONDERIn what sounds like a remake of the 1980s movie Mask, a 10-year-old boy born with a facial deformity hopes to fit in when he goes to public school for the first time. Starring Jacob Tremblay, Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson, and Mandy Patinkin. Directed by Stephen Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflower). AMC Maple Ridge, Dipson Flix, Regal Elmwood, Regal Niagara Falls, Regal Quaker, Regal Transit, Regal Walden Galleria

 Links to theater websites for current showtimes: 

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