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Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg

Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg

“DADDY’S HOME”  My rating : B-

96 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13.

Going in, “Daddy’s Home” looks like another case of been-there-done-that.

A needy, good-guy stepdad (Will Ferrell) is threatened by the arrival of the kids’ natural father, a hunky rover (Mark Wahlberg) who will stop at nothing to reclaim his family.

Pretty familiar stuff. Except that “Daddy’s Home” is often screamingly funny. It even has a bit of heart.

Brad (Ferrell) has been married for six months to Sarah (Linda Cardellini).  Over that time he has struggled to gain the acceptance of her two young children.  Being sterile, Brad knows that this is as close to fatherhood as he’s going to get.

And just when the kids are warming to him, word arrives that their real Daddy, Dusty (Wahlberg), is returning to town.  Dusty wasn’t much of a husband and father, but now he wants to start over. And he doesn’t much appreciate Brad being in the way.

Neither Ferrell nor Wahlberg are going out on a limb here. They’ve each been cast in roles that play to their strengths — good-natured klutz and cycle-riding bad boy.

But here familiarity doesn’t breed contempt. Director Sean Anders (“Horrible Bosses II”) and co-writers Brian Burns and John Morris develop very amusing situations that give the cast members room to have fun, and many of the laughs take us by surprise.

Cardellini does a nice job of playing a woman who knows her original husband was bad news but can’t help being swayed by his machismo, and Thomas Haden Church is a scream as Brad’s boss, a much-married Lothario with an absurd real-life story to illuminate (usually inappropriately) any situation.

| Robert W. Butler

Joy (Jennifer Lawrence) comforts her daughter, Christy, in JOY.

Joy (Jennifer Lawrence) comforts her daughter, Christy, in JOY.

“JOY”  My rating: B

124 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

The rags-to-riches story, a key element  of American mythology, usually concludes with  dreams realized and a bright future ahead.

Leave it to David O. Russell and his perennial muse Jennifer Lawrence (they collaborated on “The Silver Linings Playbook” and “American Hustle”) to poke around in the dark aftermath of dreams that come true.

“Joy” is inspired by the true story of Joy Mangano, a single mother who rose from poverty to multimillionaire after inventing the self-wringing Miracle Mop.

But Russell uses Mangano’s “inspirational” story as a launchpad for a mostly fictional comedy of dysfunction. Then he follows it up with a near-tragic look at how success brings its own set of difficulties.

Joy (Lawrence) has a spectacularly messed-up family. For starters this young woman is perennially flirting with financial and personal disaster. She works as a ticket clerk for a big airline, a gig that results in daily insults from the flying public. And she’s about to be laid off.

Bradley Cooper

Bradley Cooper

At home she must deal with two children and a slew of bizarre relations. Her ex husband Tony (Edgar Ramirez), who aspires to be the Latino Tom Jones, lives in the basement where he endlessly plans the big break that will never come.

Joy’s mother Terry (an almost unrecognizable Virginia Madsen) refuses to leave her bedroom and spends most waking hours watching the TV soap operas she has carefully videotaped. (A running gag finds real former soap stars like Susan Lucci and  Donna Mills appearing in the absurdly awful shows to which Terry is addicted.)

Joy’s father Rudy (Robert DeNiro), operator of an auto repair shop and an Archie Bunker-ish racist, is once again on the romance market, his latest marriage having gone belly up. He is reduced to taking up an uneasy residence in Joy’s cellar with his former son-in-law.

Joy’s stepsister Peggy (Elisabeth Rohm) has all sorts of sibling issues.

The only person in the house who seems halfway normal is Grandma Mimi (Diane Ladd), who has always predicted greatness for Joy and narrates the story — even from the grave.

TO READ THE REST OF THIS REVIEW VISIT THE KANSAS CITY STAR WEBSITE AT http://www.kansascity.com/entertainment/movies-news-reviews/article51075220.html 

Ryan Gosling...kicking Wall Street's Ass

Ryan Gosling…kicking Wall Street’s Ass

“THE BIG SHORT”  My rating: B+ 

130 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Everybody loves to see the little guy take on a giant.

But what if in rooting for the little guy we’re also advocating our own destruction?

In Adam McKay’s “The Big Short”  a handful of high-finance outsiders and weirdos smell something fishy in the pre-2008 sub prime housing market. They decide to beat the corrupt financial establishment at its own game.

Viewers of McKay’s ‘s grimly amusing comedy (he’s best known for lightweight Will Ferrell vehicles) will find themselves in a dilemma. For the story’s heroes to emerge triumphant the American and world economies will have to tank. Millions will lose their homes, their savings and their jobs.

But, hey, that’s capitalism. Somebody always wins. Somebody always loses. And making money off the other guy’s misery is the American way.

The screenplay by McKay and Charles Randolph (adapting Michael Lewis nonfiction best seller The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine) begins in 2005 with Michael Burry (Christian Bale), the oddball manager of a California-based hedge fund.  Possessor of a medical degree and virtually no people skills, Burry prefers to hold his conversations with numbers.

Christian Bale

Christian Bale

Burry pads around the office barefoot and in cutoffs and has one glass eye — but he sees enough to recognize that the sub-prime housing market is destined to collapse. Banks have been giving home loans to people who shouldn’t qualify and are destined to default; those bad loans are then bundled and resold, building “worth” where there is no value.

So Burry offers the big Wall Street firms a deal they can’t refuse.  He has them create for him a financial instrument — the credit default swap — that will pay off only if the market collapses. The heavy players are only too happy to oblige…they can’t imagine the bubble bursting.

Burry is considered a madman by most, but to a handful of fund managers he makes real sense.  One is Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling), who is as slick and gung ho as Burry is dweebish (think Matthew McConaughey in “The Wolf of Wall Street” ).  But numbers don’t lie and Vennett gets on board.
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Star WarsChristopher-Skinner_star_wars_force_awakens

“STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS”  My rating: B 

135 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

“The Force Awakens” washes away most of the bad taste left by George Lucas’ three “Star Wars” prequels.

It’s not perfect. It’s practically a remake of the original “Star Wars.” But it’ll do.

J.J. Abrams, the guy who reinvigorated the “Star Trek” franchise, here turns his imagination loose on iconic characters like Luke, Leia, Han and Chewie.

He and co-writers Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt affectionately mine our memories of past “Star Wars” films (or at least Episodes IV, V and VI) while laying the groundwork for an entirely new set of adventures in that galaxy far, far away.

Most importantly, they come as close as anyone will to recapturing the original “Star Wars’” blend of corn, comedy and cosmic adventure. If it doesn’t have the same impact this time around…well, we’re all older now.  You’re only a virgin once.

From the opening credits — that familiar written prologue scrolling into the distant stars —  to John Williams’ music to dozens of outright borrows and homages, “The Force Awakens” tips its hat to the things that made the original “Star Wars” such giddy fun.

As we learn up front, 30 years have passed since the destruction of the second Death Star. Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamil, now bearded and wrinkled) has been laying low; meanwhile the evil galactic Empire has mutated into the First Order.

Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.

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heart-of-the-sea-trailer-10162014-073506“IN THE HEART OF THE SEA”  My rating: C+  

121 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

“In the Heart of the Sea” is a romantic title for a most unromantic film.

The latest from director Ron Howard is based on the real-life tragedy of The Essex, an American whaler that in 1820 was rammed and sunk by a huge sperm whale. Surviving crew members were adrift in longboats for more than three months before being rescued.

By that time they’d begun eating their dead comrades.

Happy Holidays!!!!!

The story of the Essex inspired Herman Melville to write Moby Dick, and Charles Leavitt’s screenplay begins in 1850 with a visit by Melville (Ben Wishaw) to the whaling center of Nantucket MA to interview the last surviving member of the Essex’s crew.

Thomas Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson) was the Essex’s cabin boy and 30 years later is still reluctant to discuss his experiences. He’s a depressed drunk; only financial desperation forces him to accept  Melville’s offer of cash for a night’s conversation.

As the two men drink and talk, the doomed voyage unfolds in flashbacks.

It all plays out like a variation on Mutiny on the Bounty/Men Against the Sea. 

The Essex’s experienced first mate, Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth), is a farmer’s son who rose through the ranks. He was promised his own ship but the owners have reneged.

Instead the command goes to George Pollard (Benjamin Walker), who lacks Chase’s skill but has the social connections that come with being a member of one of Nantucket’s great mercantile families.

So there’s class conflict and professional resentments brewing.

Of course, personal issues are irrelevant when you’re battling a furious behemoth of the deep. Once the Essex has gone to the bottom the men in the longboats face weeks of thirst, hunger and madness. Simple survival is all that matters.

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black maxresdefault“THE BLACK PANTHERS: VANGUARD OF THE REVOLUTION” My rating: B 

115 minutes | No MPAA rating

History comes to incendiary life in “The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution,” a remarkably well-rounded portrait of the once-maligned African American organization that will leave viewers both inspired and perplexed.

Director Stanley Nelson (“Jonestown: The Life and Death of the Peoples Temple”) seems to have utilized every available photograph and newsreel of the Panthers from the late 1960s and early ’70s, and he gets some terrific comments and reminiscences from graying Panthers (not to mention former cops who maintain to this day that the Panthers were a terrorist organization).

His film effortlessly gets its arms around the knotty history of the group, its major players, and its continuing impact on American society.

Eldridge Cleaver

Eldridge Cleaver

The doc tells us right off the bat that the Panthers weren’t a homogenous group. Politically they ranged from hardcore Marxist to conventionally liberal. The violence and militancy embraced by some members dismayed others.

The Panthers got their start in Oakland CA in 1967 largely as a response to an overbearing police presence that singled out the black community for persecution and brutality.

The group coalesced around three charismatic but very individual leaders.

There was the matinee-idol handsome and quick-tempered Huey Newton, who in the early ’70s would descend into a world of crime and paranoia.

Bobby Seale was a more traditional social activist, more comfortable with community service.

And then there was  jailhouse author Eldridge Cleaver (Soul on Ice), whose literary reputation  legitimized the movement in the minds of many white intellectuals even as his rhetoric became ever more strident. Says one former Panther of Cleaver: “That boy was crazy. He got a lot of people hurt.”

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Teyonah Parris (second from left) as Lysistrata

“CHI-RAQ” My rating: B

118 minutes | MPAA rating: R

In recent years even Spike Lee’s biggest fans may have wondered if the creator of “Do the Right Thing” was circling the drain of irrelevancy.

Worry no more. Lee — with an assist from the University of Kansas’ Kevin Willmott and the long-dead playwright Aristophanes — has come roaring back with “Chi-Raq,” a passionate indictment of black-on-black urban violence.

It’s a swing-for-the-bleachers effort that is by turns furious, raunchy, sad, silly and savage.

This mashup of rap concert, poetry reading (the bulk of the dialogue is in rhyming verse) and burlesque sometimes slips into preachiness or heavy-handed satire, but even the shortcomings become part of the film’s overall strength.

“Chi-Raq” begins with titles informing us that in recent years there have been more gun deaths among the citizens of the Windy City than among our special forces fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Then Nick Cannon’s furious rap “Pray 4 My City” kicks in as a sort of profane overture: “Y’all mad cause I don’t call it Chicago / I don’t live in no *** Chicago / Boy, I live in Chi-Raq.”

The city’s South Side is torn between two gangs, led by the preening, cocksure Chi-Raq (Cannon) and the one-eyed, comically goofy Cyclops (Wesley Snipes).

When a little girl dies in a gang crossfire, Chi-Raq’s girlfriend, Lysistrata (Teyonah Parris of “Dear White People”), is so moved by the sorrow and anger of the girl’s mother (Jennifer Hudson) that she organizes the women of both gangs into a movement.

They will deny their men all sexual favors until the guns are put away and violence renounced. Pretty soon their message is taken up by women all over the world. Hookers stop hooking. Porn stars stop porning.

A man can’t get no relief. Continue Reading »

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