martianMV5BMTUxODUzMDY0NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMDE0MDE5NTE@._V1__SX1377_SY911_“THE MARTIAN” My rating: A (Opens wide on Sept. 25)

141 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

With “The Martian” director Ridley Scott and star Matt Damon deliver an almost perfect piece of popular filmmaking, an intimate sci-fi epic that is smart, spectacular and stirring.

This big screen adaptation (by screenwriter Drew Goddard) of Andy Weir’s best-seller about an astronaut stranded on Mars has just about everything — laughs, thrills, visual splendor and a rousing endorsement of the brotherhood of man.

It’s the least pretentious and most wholly enjoyable film of Scott’s extensive career (which includes  “Alien,” “Blade Runner,” “Thelma & Louise” and “Gladiator”) and pushes Damon’s acting talents to the max.

The premise melds elements of 1964’s “Robinson Crusoe on Mars” and “Apollo 13” (earthbound scientists and engineers invent ways to help their desperate colleague).

Matt Damon

Matt Damon

And nestled inside this riveting adventure is a sly commentary on bureaucracy.

Set in a near future in which the American space program is thriving (the film’s most patently fantastic assertion), “The Martian” opens on Mars, where a team led by Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain) is wrapping up a month-long scientific mission. A fierce sandstorm catches the astronauts out in the open, and they barely make it to the Martian lander that will return them to the orbiting mother ship.

But one of them, botanist Mark Watney (Damon), is literally blown away by the raging wind. Believing him dead, Lewis has no choice but to take off without him before the storm makes liftoff impossible.

But Mark isn’t dead. He awakens to a beeping alarm in his helmet telling him he’s almost out of air, struggles out of the sand in which he is half buried and discovers that he’s been skewered by a shard of wind-blown metal.

He barely makes it into the now unoccupied housing module where he performs a bit of surgery on himself and takes stock of his situation.

TO READ THE REST OF THIS REVIEW VISIT THE KANSAS CITY STAR WEBSITE AT http://www.kansascity.com/entertainment/movies-news-reviews/article37127142.html

Jason Sudeikis, Alison Brie

Jason Sudeikis, Alison Brie

“SLEEPING WITH OTHER PEOPLE” My rating: B (Opens Oct. 2 at the Tivoli and Liberty Hall)

101 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Writer/director Leslye Headland describes her new movie as ” ‘When Harry Met Sally’ with assholes.”

That’s accurate as far as it goes.  But I have to admit…I fell in love with these assholes.

The sorta familiar plot is about a guy and a girl — both of whose love lives are, well, challenged — who make a pact to remain platonic best friends.  They will be able to confide to each other the stuff they can tell no one else. But they will not get physical. That would screw up the chemistry.

Jake is a serial  womanizer.  No sooner does he establish a physical intimacy with a new woman than he starts looking for ways to cheat on her. Thing is, he’s so funny and charming that many of Jake’s wronged ladies let the infidelity slide.

Lainey, on the other hand, has been engaged in a long affair with a OB-GYN who uses her for quick, unsentimental sex before returning to his wife. Normally a pretty tough cookie, she’s hopelessly infatuated with this creep. Though she swears she’ll break it off, she keeps drifting back into his orbit.

Jake and Lainey are seriously flawed.  Thank heavens they are portrayed by Jason Sudeikis and Alison Brie, who somehow manage to make their characters amusing, entertaining, vulnerable and, ultimately, very romantic.

In a prologue we see Jake and Lainey — college students — losing their virginity to one another. It’s a one night stand, no big deal, and both go their separate ways.

Twelve years later they run into each other at a meeting of sex addicts. (How’s that for a deliciously perverse twist on the old rom-com meet-cute scenario?)

He’s curious about his inability to maintain a monogamous relationship — though hardly committed to changing his ways. She’s dealing with her perennial sexual obsession with the good doctor (Adam Scott, who seems to be everywhere these days).

They agree to be each other’s emotional backboard, someone against whom they can bounce their innermost thoughts about sex and love. When they’re together, Jake and Lainey don’t have to pretend to be anything other than what they are.

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John Wood

John Wood

“FINDERS KEEPERS” My rating: B (Opens Oct. 2 at the Glenwood Arts)

82 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“Finders Keepers” is a sort of hillbilly epic about an amputated human leg.

For starters.

In 2004 John Wood of Maiden NC lost his left leg — and his father, Tom — in the crash of their private plane.  Wood asked the hospital where he was treated to let him have his severed limb.  He hoped someday to be buried with it.

He expected to receive bones.  Instead Wood was given the whole leg, decaying flesh and all.

Initially Wood stored it in the freezer of the local Hardee’s (a friend worked there). After the manager threw a snit fit Wood soaked the limb in formaldehyde and hung it from a tree to dry.

But John had a drinking and drug problem. Before relocating to another state he moved his possessions into a storage facility. When he failed to pay the rent his belongings were sold at auction.

Enter Shannon Whisnant, a bombastic, barrel-bodied, bullfrog-voiced good ol’ boy who made a living buying junk cheap and selling it dear. Whisnant purchased and took home Wood’s small barbecue smoker. When he looked inside he discovered not the residue of old ribs but a human leg.

And there Whisnant saw a glorious future. This boondock Barnum would charge folks $3 ($1 for children) to view the limb. He printed up T shirts declaring him The Foot Man.

Meanwhile, between benders John Wood  argued that this was his flesh and bone, after all. He wanted nothing to do with what one observer of the feud describes as “fuckery and shenanigans.”

Shannon Wisnant

Shannon Wisnant

Their battle for possession of the leg would eventually be settled in the reality TV courtroom of Judge Greg Mathis.

At first glance Bryan Cranberry and Clay Tweel’s documentary appears to be a savage sendup of redneck ethos. But “Finders Keepers” takes individuals who at first glimpse seem stupid and silly and recognizes the tragedy in their lives.

For the more you dig into Wood and Whisnant’s back stories, the more complex things become.

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Emily Blunt

Emily Blunt

“SICARIO” My rating: B+ (Opens wide on Oct. 2)

121 minutes | MPAA rating: R

The war on drugs is lost.

No character in “Sicario” says as much, but the overwhelming thrust of Dennis Villeneuve’s gripping film makes that conclusion unavoidable.

Taylor Sheridan‘s first produced screenplay couches its sobering observations within the familiar tropes of an anti-crime drama. “Sicario” (Mexican slang for “hit man”) begins with FBI agent Kate Mercer (Emily Blunt) leading a raid on what appears to be an unremarkable home in the Arizona desert.

Except that the house is filled with heavily armed men and contains dozens of dead bodies entombed behind dry wall — it’s like some sort of bizarre tract home catacomb.

Kate and her partner Reggie (Daniel Kaluuya) are by-the-book types who make a point of observing all the legal niceties. So Kate is puzzled when she is reassigned to an interagency task force where the rules are bent or broken with disturbing regularity.

Benecio Del Toro

Benecio Del Toro

She’s suspicious of Graver (Josh Brolin), the garrulous but vaguely sinister task force leader. She thinks he may be CIA — but that can’t be, since the CIA cannot legally get involved in domestic operations.

And her red flags really begin twitching in the presence of Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), who claims to be a former Mexican prosecutor  but radiates lethal possibilities, not to mention an encyclopedic knowledge of the Mexican drug cartels they’re trying to bring down.

“Sicario’s” knotted plot is hard to explain — it involves a massive plan to force one drug kingpin to reveal the identity of his heavily-protected boss. There are blatantly illegal incursions South of the Border, a kidnapping and torture — but the mood of desperation, corruption and betrayal that it establishes (abetted by a throbbing musical score that seems to embody doom) is carried with the viewers as we leave the theater.

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Ben Mendelson, Ryan Reynolds

Ben Mendelsohn, Ryan Reynolds

“MISSISSIPPI GRIND” My rating: B (Opens Oct. 2 at Cinetopia)

108 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Ben Mendelsohn is such a terrific actor that some day he’ll be cast as an upright citizen.

For now, though, he is Hollywood’s go-to guy for grungy losers (“Animal Kingdom,” HBO’s “Bloodline,” “Killing Them Softly”). In Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden’s “Mississippi Grind” Mendelsohn practically sweats desperation and existential angst.

You’d figure that he’d be just right as Gerry, a degenerate gambler from Dubuque, Iowa. What one might not expect is that Ryan Reynolds would match him in the demanding and fuzzy-around-the-edges role of Curtis, Gerry’s alter ego and spiritual inspiration.

Gerry is deep in in debt to…well, just about everyone he knows.  (Alfre Woodward has a brief but tasty scene as a suburban housewife whose real career is that of leg-breaking loan shark.) At a local poker night he meets Curtis (Ryan), an out of towner who tries to disrupt the game with jokes and nonstop patter. Looking at his hand, Curtis innocently asks the other players: “Aces…those are good, right?”

Somehow Gerry gets the notion that Curtis is his good luck charm.

The two men could hardly be different.  Gerry is intense, woebegone, hapless. He goes through hell with every showdown.

Curtis is cool, funny, and entertaining, a raconteur with dozens of shaggy dog stories about the gamblers and lowlifes he’s had the pleasure to know  (including the guy who reversed a losing streak in Kansas City and left the table with “enough to pay back everything he owes and still get a slab at Oklahoma Joe’s”). Curtis doesn’t seem to care if he wins or not. “It’s the journey, not the destination,” he says.

They agree to take a trip down the Mississippi River to New Orleans, hitting the casinos, horse and dog tracks and back room poker games along the way. Curtis will provide the betting money; Gerry the skill.

What could go wrong?
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Elias and Lukas Schwarz

Elias and Lukas Schwarz

“GOODNIGHT MOMMY” My rating: B- (Opens Oct. 2 at the Screenland Crossroads)

99 minutes | MPAA rating: R

In horror movies, twins mean trouble.

There’s something about the intimate relations between these womb sharers that freaks out the folk who make and attend horror films, something creepy and secret that the rest of us can barely perceive and certainly cannot understand.

In Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz’s “Goodnight Mommy” (the women co-wrote and co-directed) little Lukas and Elias (Lukas and Elias Schwarz) are first seen playing in a field of towering corn. Then they move on to a mystical looking woods. They make crude creepy masks out of cardboard, paint and assorted objects.

The boys seem fairly normal — they wrestle, taunt each other, exchange slaps. And then Mom comes home.

Mother (Susanne Wuest) is first seen in a prologue. Apparently she’s an actress, for we see her in a film clip playing a mother surrounded by a large brood of children in traditional German dress (the Von Trapps, maybe?). She sings to them as the scene ends.


Susanne Wuest

Now, however, she appears at the family’s country home with her head wrapped in bandages, looking disturbingly like the skull-headed Jack Skellington from “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”  Apparently she’s had some plastic surgery (or maybe she had a medical issue…it’s not very clear), but the boys are clearly freaked and a bit dubious about this wraithlike presence who demands total silence.

In fact, little Lukas suggests that this isn’t their mother at all, but some replacement.

Dad is a no-show — the marriage is on the rocks — and the boys seek assistant and comfort from a local priest. But who’s going to believe their paranoid fantasy?

With no help forthcoming from the adult world, the grim little guys take things into their own hands, and this is where the film becomes astonishingly disturbing and violent.

What is it about German filmmakers? “Goodnight Mother” seems inspired by  Michael Haneke’s “Funny Games,” in which a pair of creeps imprison and torment a suburban family vacationing at their lake home. That the nastiness here is being dished out by two angelic-looking but demonically unforgiving little boys makes things even more unsettling.

“Goodnight Mother” pulls a switcheroo by first having us side with Elias and Lukas and then, as things turn ugly, shifting our sympathies to Mother. Ultimately the film delivers a “Sixth Sense-ish” twist that explains all, but not before establishing a nerve-gnawing atmosphere of quiet desperation and paranoia.

| Robert W. Butler

Joseph Gordon Levitt as Philippe Petit

Joseph Gordon Levitt as Philippe Petit

“THE WALK”  My rating: A- (Opens Sept. 30 on IMAX screens)

123 minutes | MPAA rating: PG

Even if it didn’t feature the best 3-D of any film since “Avatar,” Robert Zemeckis’ “The Walk” would be a winner for its heady blend of gritty reality and light-hearted whimsey, not to mention yet another terrific performance from Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

The actor stars as Philippe Petit, the French tightrope walker who in 1974 stunned the world by slipping into the still-unfinished World Trade Center, stringing a cable between the two towers and giving the island of Manhattan the second most memorable event to ever occur at that location.
Petit’s accomplishment was already chronicled in 2008’s Oscar-winning documentary “Man on Wire.” But most Americans won’t bother with documentaries, and the story behind the daring walk is so rich, engrossing and suspenseful that it easily adapts to a fictional film.
Still, in most regards “The Walk” admirably adheres to the historical facts.
Director Zemeckis (“Back to the Future,” “Forrest Gump,” “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”) and screenwriter Christopher Browne (adapting Petit’s memoir “To Reach the Clouds”) grab our attention immediately by introducing Petit, not just as our narrator, but a narrator who delivers his lines from the Statue of Liberty’s torch. Filling the panoramic background is the Manhattan skyline as it looked in ’74. It’s a clever fantastic touch.
Addressing us directly, Petit is like an elf with a big ego, a small man with major charm. He tells us that he never thinks about death, that for him a dangerous stunt is all about living.
The film then flashes back to his boyhood fascination with circus tightrope walkers, his training under the Czech tightrope master “Papa” Rudy Omankowski (Ben Kingsley), his early career as a street performer (where he meets his girlfriend Annie, played by the big-eyed Charlotte Le Bon) and his dream — inspired by a magazine article — of pulling off the greatest aerial walk of all time in the ozone over New York City.
Petit relocates to the Big Apple so as to study the monstrous towers up close, to learn the schedules kept by the construction crews, to take photos and measurements so that he can build a scale model and come to grips with the immense distances and physical forces that will come into play 110 stories up.
He recruits a team of French and American scofflaws (including a bored lawyer with offices in one of the towers) willing to abet him in his daring plan to execute “the most glorious high wire act in history.”
Gordon-Levitt makes Petit more inspired visionary than ego-driven showoff. Throughout the laborious preparations we’re rooting for Petit to do the seemingly impossible.
TO VIEW THE REST OF THIS REVIEW VISIT THE KANSAS CITY STAR WEBSITE AT http://www.kansascity.com/entertainment/movies-news-reviews/article36835716.html
Jeremy Irvine (at right in white T-shirt)

Jeremy Irvine (at right in white T-shirt)…there’s a riot goin’ on

“STONEWALL” My rating: C 

121 minutes | MPAA raitng: R

“Stonewall” wants to be the epic Gay Pride origin movie.

Hey, I want to be a big-league outfielder.

Scripted by playwright Jon Robin Baitz and directed by Roland Emmerich (who’s more at home with big-budget spectacles like “Stargate,” “Independence Day,” “The Patriot” and “Godzilla”), the film dramatizes the conditions that led to the Stonewall riots of 1969, regarded by many as the official beginning of the Gay Pride movement.

We meet apple-cheeked, corn-fed and very cute Danny (Jeremy Irvine) getting off the bus in the Big Apple in the spring of ’69. He heads straight for Christopher Street, where Danny is taken aback to see two men openly holding hands. He’s uncomfortable when he draws the attention of  the salacious Ray (Jonny Beauchamp), the long-haired, sashaying, very feminine leader of a group of young street hustlers.

But a young man needs friends in the big bad city, and Ray and  his fellow homeless sex workers (they sleep a dozen to a hotel room) are weirdly nurturing.  Plus, they introduce Danny to the Stonewall Inn, a Greenwich Village dive run by the mob (Ron Perlman plays the manager) and catering exclusively to gays.

Make that gays and cops. A night at the Stonewall is likely to get you arrested and beaten up, given that police raids (not only was homosexuality illegal in 1969, but selling alcohol to gays was illegal, too) are a frequent occurrence.

But it’s at the Stonewall that Danny meets Trevor (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), a somewhat older guy who between sexy slow dances tries to raise the newcomer’s political conscience about gay rights.

Periodically we get flashback’s to Danny’s life in small-town Indiana, where he is the son of a bullet-headed high school football coach.  When his affair with a fellow player is discovered, Danny is disowned by his family — except for his little sister (Joey King), who is as compassionate and open minded as everyone else is stupid and rigid — and heads off for the greener, more tolerant pastures of Manhattan.

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Lily Tomlin, **

Lily Tomlin, Julia Garner

“GRANDMA” My rating: A-

78 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Fuelled by an Oscar-worthy performance from Lily Tomlin, “Grandma” is a comedy with something on its mind.

It’s often bitterly funny, with Tomlin (age 76) totally nailing her character, a grumpy granny with a foul-mouthed sarcastic streak.

But in this look at three generations of women from one family, writer/director Paul Weitz mines some serious material.

Love (lost and realized), regret, familial ties, aging and death all find voice here. But shining  through it all is a fierce passion for life.

When we first view Elle Reid (Tomlin) she’s dumping Olivia (Judy Geer), her girlfriend of just four months. When Olivia protests that they mean something to each other, Elle sneers: “You’re a footnote.”

Besides, Elle says, Olivia is a young woman while she is “rapidly approaching 50.”

Caustic and self-deprecating, Elle — who prides herself on being an early feminist — appears to be one tough cookie. But once Olivia has grabbed her stuff and fled, this failed poet retreats to her shower and sobs.

She won’t have much time for self pity. She’s soon interrupted by her teenage granddaughter, Sage (Julia Garner), who needs $600 right away. Sage is 10 weeks pregnant and has an appointment for an abortion that very afternoon.

She explains that her boyfriend promised her the money but has failed to deliver.  Sage cannot possible go to her lawyer mother for help.

Elle is broke. In an antiestablishment snit she has even shredded her credit cards. But she packs Sage into her ominously knocking 70-year-old sedan and sets out to raise the cash.

This day-long quest leads the pair to first confront Sage’s oafish and bad-tempered boyfriend (Nat Wolff), who learns not to swear at an old lady if you value your testicles.

Lily Tomlin, Sam Elliott

Lily Tomlin, Sam Elliott

Then it’s off to a local tattoo parlor, but Elle’s trans friend Deathy (Laverne Cox) is tapped out.  Elle has a scheme to sell some of her signed first-edition Germaine Greer and Betty Friedan books to another friend, the coffee shop owner Carla (the late Elizabeth Pena in her last role) — but she has wildly overestimated the volumes’ value.

In desperation she turns to Karl (an excellent Sam Elliott), with whom she had an affair more than 40 years earlier. That doesn’t work out, either.

“So you used to like men?” Sage asks.

“Oh, I always liked women.  I just didn’t like myself.”


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everestmaxresdefault“EVEREST” My rating: B 

121 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Very few of us have the skill, the will or the financial wherewithal to tackle Earth’s tallest peak.

After watching “Everest,” though, don’t be surprised if you feel as if you’ve been to the top of the world, where the human form is ill-prepared to survive at the cruising altitude of a 747.

Based on the disastrous day in 1996 when Mount Everest claimed the lives of eight climbers — the same tragedy described in Jon Krakauer’s best-selling book “Into Thin Air” and a 1998 IMAX documentary — the film eschews Hollywood hokum for a [hugely] realistic depiction of what happened.

The first hour focuses on New Zealander Rob Hall (Jason Clarke), operator of a commercial guide service,  as over a month he prepares a party of clients for an expedition up the mountain.

Most of the customers are like Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin), a Texas businessman with pockets deep enough to handle the $65,000 Hall charges for a climb. They’re middle-aged, wealthy men of commerce determined to push themselves to the limit before age interferes.

An exception is Doug Hansen (John Hawkes), a working-class guy who failed to reach the summit on an earlier attempt. This will be his last chance … and Hall has given him a discount so that he can afford this climb.

The film’s second hour is the ascent itself, which found most of the party going all the way up, only to be ravaged by a fierce storm on the way down.

Written by William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy and directed by Baltasar Kormakur, “Everest” features a star-heavy cast.

Among the familiar faces  behind bushy beards are Jake Gyllenhaal as Scott Fischer, aka “Mr. Mountain Madness,” a rival guide who joins forces with Hall because the mountain is so crowded with 20 expeditions. Michael Kelly plays Krakauer, the well-known outdoor writer who was a member of the team. Sam Worthington is a fellow climber helpless to effect a rescue.

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phoenix-thumb-630xauto-53973“PHOENIX”  My rating: B 

98 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

“Phoenix” relies on outrageous coincidence to a degree that would prove fatal to a lesser film.

But Christian Petzold’s claustrophobic German drama somehow absorbs and defuses our objections,  thanks to some fine acting and an atmosphere of post-war loss and desperation that sinks into the bones.

When we first see Nelly (Nina Hoss), she’s fresh from a recently liberated Nazi concentration camp. Her head is wrapped in bloody bandages, the result of a German bullet that tore up her features.  Now she’s facing months of plastic surgery to restore her face to something resembling its original form.

Nelly is obsessed with finding Johnny, her husband, with whom she had a vocalist/pianist act.  Lene (Nina Kunzendorf), the Jewish relief worker who is handling Nelly’s case, says that most likely it was Johnnie who turned his Jewish wife in to the Gestapo to save his own skin.

But Nelly won’t be swayed. Once the bandages come off  she walks the streets of Berlin at night. One evening, in a nightclub called Phoenix, she sees Johnny (Ronald Zehrfeld). He’s not playing the piano. He’s bussing tables and mopping floors.

But he notices this quiet woman who bears a vague resemblance to his former wife and he proposes that they team up to work a scam on the authorities.

As the last surviving member of her large family Nelly has a small fortune waiting for her in Switzerland.  Johnny has been rebuffed in his efforts to claim the money as Nellie’s widower.

Now he proposes that this woman pose as his wife. After all, she looks a bit like Nelly. He’ll teach her all she needs to know about Nelly, even provide her with items of Nelly’s clothing.  Together they will stage a heartbreaking reunion and later split all that money.

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Henry Cavill as Napoleon Solo

Henry Cavill as Napoleon Solo

“THE MAN FROM UNCLE” My rating: C+

116 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Having dragged down the great Sherlock Holmes to our world of short-attention-span cinema, Guy Ritchie now turns his camera on a fondly remembered TV series from the 1960s.

And, to give credit where it’s due, he has had the good sense to go easy on his usual hyperkinesis. “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” isn’t particularly memorable, but it introduces some interesting ideas and avoids the most headache-inducing elements of this director’s style.

The original was television’s answer to the James Bond craze. Unlike the overtly satiric “Get Smart,” “U.N.C.L.E.” (United Network Command for Law and Enforcement) took a dry, tongue-in-cheek approach to international spying.

And in Napoleon Solo (portrayed back in the day by Robert Vaughn) the series gave us an impossibly unruffled, cooler-than-cool protagonist, who could view his own imminent demise with sardonic indifference.  The series was so huge it spawned action figures, toy guns and much more — one of the lunchboxes even has a home at the Smithsonian now.

Ritchie and a small army of writers give us an origin story that is less impressive for its dramatic elements than for its painstaking re-creation of swinging Europe in the ’60s.

Things get off to a busy start when the nattily dressed Solo (Henry Cavill, the current Superman) enters squalid East Berlin to spirit Gaby (“Ex Machina’s” Alicia Vikander), a tomboyish auto mechanic, over the Berlin Wall to freedom.

Their escape is almost foiled by a Soviet agent (Armie Hammer), who with his slow-burn,  hulking presence and almost superhuman strength seems a close relation to Robert Shaw’s assassin in “From Russia With Love.”

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The Farmer and his "workers"

The Farmer and his “workers”


85 minutes | MPAA rating: PG

Sorry, “Inside Out.” Move over, “Minions.”

Because the best animated feature of the year — perhaps the best in several years — has arrived in a flurry of flying wool and good-natured weirdness.

“Shaun the Sheep Movie” may not plumb intellectual or emotional depths, but it does something no animated feature has accomplished in ages.

It is non-stop hilarious.  Not a minute of this movie goes by without a big, gut convulsing laugh.

Like the series of shorts that inspired it, the film is dialogue-free.  It’s a sublime 85-minute pantomime, and the closest thing to silent film genius since the heyday of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin.

The Aardman Animation production (they’re the folks who gave us Wallace & Gromit) is a dazzling display of both animation brilliance (seamlessly melding traditional stop-action Claymation with computer-generated images) and  comic inventiveness.

Shaun is one of several ovine residents of a bucolic spread operated by The Farmer.  The faithful sheepdog Bitzer maintains a sometimes tense foreman/worker relationship with the herd.

But when The Farmer is swept up in a misadventure to the big city — having lost his memory in a freak accident — Shaun and Bitzer must join forces to rescue their beloved master (who, in his confused state, has gotten a job at a hair salon cutting wealthy heads in the same style he developed shearing sheep).

A herd of farm animals sneaking about the metropolis sends up red flags for an animal control officer, who becomes the film’s villain.

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Tom Cruise...just another day at work

Tom Cruise…just another day at work


 131 minutes  | MPAA rating:  PG-13.

The latest “Mission: Impossible” film doesn’t offer much for the brain. The rest of your nervous system, though, will get a thorough workout.

Writer/director Christopher McQuarrie — helming only his third feature after a long career as a screenwriter (“The Usual Suspects,” “Valkyrie,” “Edge of Tomorrow” and the lamentable “The Tourist”) — builds on the spectacular/visceral approach Brad Bird employed to such solid effect four years ago in “M:I — Ghost Protocol.”

There’s not much talk in “Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation,” and what there is is confusing and forgettable.

The big action set pieces, though, just keep on comin’.

McQuarrie announces his intentions with the opening sequence — already heavily publicized through the film’s marketing campaign — that finds Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt hanging on for dear life to the exterior of a huge military-type transport plane as it takes off. (There’s something important inside that Ethan doesn’t want the bad guys to have, dontcha know.)

Unable to stop the takeoff by hacking into the plane’s electronics, Ethan has no choice but to ride the big bird like that gremlin in the old “Twilight Zone” episode.  Much has been made of the fact that Cruise actually did that stunt…he was strapped to the fuselage of an airplane.

Well, that’s only the beginning. Ethan must foil an elaborate political assassination attempt during opening night at the Vienna Opera House (clearly inspired by a similar setup in Hitchcock’s “The Man Who Knew Too Much”). I especially like the firearms disguised as woodwind instruments.

He must hold his breath underwater for, like, four minutes to break into a computer data storage facility deep below the Moroccan desert. (Not to be a killjoy, but where did all that water come from? It’s a DESERT.)

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