Here's a look at the new movies I saw this week.
Starring: Mahershala Ali, Naomi Harris, and Ashton Sanders
Synopsis: This is one of the most decorated films of the year, a coming-of-age tale of a young African American man in Miami. It has been nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and has a decent shot at winning. It was adapted from a story by director Barry Jenkins, who makes a slow, deliberate and intimate portrait of a young man finding his way in a hostile world. I loved the work of Ali, particularly in his final scene. He's a decent bet to win Best Supporting Actor, and he's my favorite in that category. Aside from that, I think "Moonlight" is a decent, well-made film. I didn't love it, but the story and perspective didn't resonate with me as strongly as it might with others. It is certainly a film with some powerful performances that makes the most of the talent in front of and behind the camera.
Rated: R for some sexuality, drug use, brief violence, and language throughout.
Verdict: Three stars out of four.
Resident Evil: The Final Chapter
Starring: Milla Jovovich, Iain Glen, Shawn Roberts, and Ali Larter
Synopsis: This is the sixth and (possibly) final installment in the "Resident Evil" franchise. Love them or hate them, you have to respect the longevity and success of these films, based on the popular video game franchise. This final installment isn't the worst, but is far from the best. There were moments I enjoyed, and I like Jovovich in this role. Director Paul W.S. Anderson, who wrote all six films and directed most of them, has given this franchise a certain style and tone. By the sixth film it's always repetitive, and this one certainly is that. But for fans of these films, this one delivers plenty of action and a somewhat interesting twist on the story.
Rating: R for sequences of violence throughout.
Verdict: Two stars out of four.
Starring: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, and Betty Buckley
Synopsis: Over the year, seeing the words “A Film by M. Night Shyamalan” at the movies has meant something different. He sort of burst onto the scene in 1999 with “The Sixth Sense,” a film that captured people’s imagination and earned a Best Picture nomination. He followed that with a string of different films that had a similar story. They were stories of redemption. And stories that had a twist at the end. By the time “The Happening” rolled out in 2008, audiences had soured on the formula. In the years since, Shyamalan has done different things to stretch his brand. But in 2015, with “The Visit,” he seemed to find a niche in a certain kind of horror story. With “Split,” he continues that path, delivering a film that was well received at festivals and has been a hit with audiences in its first two weeks in wide release. “Split” is a different kind of film. I am a Shyamalan fan. In the span of films from “The Sixth Sense” to “The Happening,” he moved to different genres and subjects, but there was something universal about the themes of redemption and rebirth. While “Split” taps into the idea of rebirth and purpose, it does so from a darker perspective. But one thing that hasn’t changed is Shyamalan’s penchant for twists at the end. In fact, you could argue that “Split” has a couple. The ending is a bit different and surprising than one might expect, so, too, is how it is connected to the director’s cannon. I won’t spoil the ending here, but it is something that gives you plenty of food for thought. Aside from that, I was excited to be at a Shyamalan movie that was so riveting and well-made. It signals a return for a director that, at one point, was compared to the great Alfred Hitchcock. And you can see that potential again in “Split.” It’s also a movie that thrives thanks to its performances. Buckley is strong as Fletcher, and I was fascinated by the work of Taylor-Joy — who first made a splash with the indie horror film “The Witch.” But this movie lives or dies based on the work of the actor playing Kevin and his myriad personalities. At one point Joaquin Phoenix was in talks to take this role. Luckily, it instead went to McAvoy, who does an incredible job. He plays a half dozen distinct characters, sometimes switching between them during a scene. And he does so with extreme skill, often creating chilling moments. That really works, and it helps the rest of the film to work. January is a time when we often get horror movies released. They’re cheaply made and a reliable Box Office draw. And sometimes they’re also good films. “Split” falls into that latter category, which is welcome news for fans of the genre and fans of Shyamalan’s work.
Rating: PG-13 for disturbing thematic content and behavior, violence and some language.
Verdict: Four stars out of four.
Friday, February 3 — "The Space Between Us," "Rings"
Friday, February 10 — "Fifty Shades Darker," "The Lego Batman Movie," "John Wick 2"
Friday, February 17 — "The Great Wall," "A Cure for Wellness," "Fist Fight"
Friday, February 24 — "Get Out," Collide," "Rock Dog"