Now Playing

Here's a look at the new movies I saw this week.

Free State of Jones
Starring: Matthew McCounaghey, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Mahershala Ali, and Keri Russell
Synopsis: Based on the book from Sally Jenkins, the film follows the story of Newton Knight (McCounaghey), a poor Mississippi farmer who turned his back on the Confederacy and led a revolution of his own. Knight, fellow disgruntled farmers, and free slaves fought the Confederacy successfully during the war, then struggled to fight racism and injustice in the post-war South. It is a compelling book and a fascinating, though somewhat depressing story. The film only covers a part of the story — which includes the rebellion during the Civil War and some of the struggles in the years just after the war. It also touches on a legal case many years later that led people to look into this strange but true story of a man who ran counter to his time and place in history. McCounaghey does a nice job in the lead role, and the ensemble cast for the film is strong, too. Director Gary Ross ("Seabiscuit," "The Hunger Games") has a nice feel for the blend of action and drama in this film. It's a hard story to watch at times, though it doesn't look as intensely at the issue of slavery as some recent films and TV mini series. Instead, this is a story of a man who spent his whole life fighting for what he believed in, and all it cost him. It's a good film, but not the typical kind of film released during the heart of summer. And it doesn't leave you with a warm and fuzzy feeling at the end.
Rating: R for brutal battle scenes and disturbing graphic images. Enter with caution.
Verdict: Three stars out of four.

The Legend of Tarzan
Starring: Christoph Waltz,  Alexander Skarsgård, Samuel L. Jackson, and Margot Robbie
Synopsis: By now we're all familiar with Tarzan the character. The man who was raised in the jungle, fell in love with Jane and is dashing hero. "The Legend of Tarzan" takes up the story with those facts all firmly established. It doesn't want to tell and origin story, it wants to skip ahead to the action. And that works. It tells the story of Tarzan (Skarsgård) living as Lord John Clayton back in England, married to his Jane (Robbie), and living a quiet life away from the legend. When a tyrant (Waltz) back in the Congo threatens the people, John and Jane travel back with an American (Jackson) to see what's going on for themselves. Soon, John finds himself donning the mantle of Tarzan again, swinging into action to save his friends. It's a dashing and exciting story that's well paced and well crafted. Director David Yates — who directed the final four films in the Harry Potter franchise — does a good job of telling the story. All the actors are strong, with Jackson often stealing scenes with his one-liners. I didn't go in expecting much, but "Tarzan" is one of the most fun action movies of the summer. It fits perfectly with the season and, by eschewing an origin story, it tells a tight and engaging story that jumps right to the point.
Rating: PG-13 for sequences of action and violence, some sensuality and brief rude dialogue.
Verdict: Three stars out of four.

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates
Starring: Adam Devine, Zac Efron, Anna Kendrick, and Aubrey Plaza
Synopsis: There’s a proud tradition of over-the-top wedding-themed comedies making a splash during summer. In 2005, that movie was “Wedding Crashers,” which featured Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson making waves and generating laughs at weddings. Later came “The Hangover” in 2009, which featured a bachelor party gone off the rails. In the summer of 2016, we have “Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates.” It’s a long title, but it develops into a pretty funny movie about a pair of over-the-top brothers that try to reign it in for their sister’s destination wedding in Hawaii. Of course, that doesn’t work out as planned, and the result is a funny, R-rated comedy that fills a couple long summer hours with laughter. It won’t win any awards, but it’s the perfect kind of entertainment for fans of the genre during this summer season. No one that goes into the film is going to be surprised by the general arc of the story. There’s a certain formula to these comedies, even the ones that are about wild and crazy adventures, and you can usually set your watch to how the film is going to hit each plot point on that standard arc. But the best of these movies endure because of the iconic characters, lines, performances and moments. That’s what sets “Wedding Crashers” and “The Hangover” apart. And that works well in the favor of “Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates.” They nailed the casting a performance, and that helps sell this wild ride of this film in an enjoyable and engrossing way. It starts with Devine and Efron, who have a great rapport and comedic timing. The same goes for Kendrick and Plaza. Then when those four are thrown together, even more magic happens on screen. The film also gets some good supporting performances. Root is strong as the exasperated father, and Beard works as the often-frustrated bride-to-be. The film also has a couple choice scene-stealers in Alice Wetterlund, who plays hipster Cousin Terry, and Sam Richardson, who plays the put upon groom, Eric. Fans of “VEEP” will recognize Richardson, who plays a similar character here and nails it. Director Jake Szymanski takes advantage of the locations and his actors’ talents. A gag reel over the closing credits shows that a lot of on-set improvisation took place, and it’s clear that helped punch up the jokes and sequences. While I’m not sure how close it stays to the true story it’s based upon, “Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates” is a fun summer ride. It promises plenty of laughs and it delivers.
Rating: R for crude sexual content, language throughout, drug use and some graphic nudity. Enter with caution.
Verdict: Three stars out of four.

Upcoming Releases:
Friday, July 15 — "Ghostbusters"
Friday, July 22 — "Star Trek: Beyond," "Ice Age: Collision Course," "Lights Out," "Absolutely Fabulous The Movie"
Wednesday, July 27 —"Nerve"
Friday, July 29 —  "Jason Bourne," "Bad Moms," "Cafe Society"


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