Films, Family, and the Magic of the BOGO!

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) – Friday, June 2
The first of a new Star Wars series exploring stories beyond the Skywalkers, Rogue One is set immediately before the events of Episode IV: A New Hope. It’s a war picture that follows in the mold of The Dirty Dozen, bringing together outlaws and outcasts on a mission to steal the plans for the Death Star. In trying to juggle too many characters, the film resorts to shorthand, giving many of them a brief introduction and not much else. The exception is Jin Erso, who serves as the emotional core of the film as we follow her story from child to rebel leader. Rogue One benefits from casting Felicity Jones, who inhabits Jin with grave determination, but fans are likely to root more for two charismatic supporting players – blind warrior Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen) and reprogrammed Imperial droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk). And as the final act screen-wipes between battles on the ground and in space, you’ll be treated to some of the best fight scenes in the Star Wars canon, including a ferocious turn by the most recognizable face of the franchise.

La La Land (2016) – Friday, June 8
A force to be reckoned with at this year’s Oscars (with a record-tying 14 nominations), La La Land reinvents the movie musical with simplicity and sincerity. The idea of infusing classical break-into-song numbers with the latest digital trickery starts with the first scene, as dozens of people perform on an L.A. freeway while the camera swoops through a traffic jam in a single continuous shot. “Charming” is the operative word for La La Land, from the two lead performances (Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling) to the sweetly naive story of two dreamers trying to make it in Hollywood. You may find yourself entranced by the movie, or wishing for a stronger plot and “oomph” in the soundtrack. But there’s no denying the talent and passion of the film’s writer/director Damien Chazelle, who has shown with just two films (his first was Whiplash) a fascination with the artistic process, both in his narratives and his filmmaking.

The Secret Life of Pets (2016) – Friday, June 16
The best part of The Secret Life of Pets is the first five minutes, featuring a hilarious montage of dogs, cats, and other domesticated animals indulging in various goofy pursuits behind closed doors. The movie is essentially a clone of Toy Story, examining not only the “private lives” of human playthings but also the impact an outsider makes on a tightly knit community, in this case a collection of furry neighbors in a New York high rise. The presence of new mutt Buzz Lightyear (I mean Duke) upsets the idyllic life of favorite pet Max (voiced by Louis C.K.), leading to all sorts of shenanigans across the Big Apple. The animators give the animals a cheerful elasticity, with exaggerated features and rubbery bodies, and the film offers a dog’s eye view of New York City, full of towering vertical spaces and animal control vans around every corner. It’s a sure crowd pleaser, with a lot of action and cute critters, just don’t expect much going on below its bright, shiny surface.

The LEGO Batman Movie (2017) – Friday, June 23
Who would have thought movies featuring LEGOs would transcend the crass marketing of other toy-based films (Transformers, G.I. Joe, Battleship) to deliver so much goofy, good-hearted entertainment? Like 2014’s The LEGO Movie, LEGO Batman revels in self-conscious fun, this time deconstructing the cliches we’ve come to expect in the character – the brooding loner, the playboy/vigilante double life, and his symbiotic relationship to The Joker. It playfully marries the best moments of previous Batman incarnations, from the self-serious Christopher Nolan Dark Knight trilogy to the go-go 60s kitsch of the Adam West television series. The voice acting is superb, with props to WIll Arnett and Michael Cera for their hilarious interplay of Batman’s preening arrogance and Robin’s endless positivity. And this is a movie that rewards close attention – like The LEGO Movie, there are dozens of gags and Easter eggs flashing by in the background.

The Jungle Book (2016) – Thursday, June 29
Continuing Disney’s tradition of remaking their animated classics as live-action films, The Jungle Book enchanted audiences last year with its lush visuals and immersive 3-D. Even without the glasses, the film looks outstanding, and in a sense is an animated film itself: 100% of the movie was filmed on “green screen” sound stages and created digitally. Young actor Neel Sethi brings a great physicality to the part of Mowgli, the human wolf cub, and the film succeeds in delivering a palpable realism as he interacts with old (now digital) friends Bagheera and Baloo. The original story was more a series of loosely connected vignettes, and this version wisely follows that script while adding a few darker elements tied to man’s impact on nature. The result is high-def comfort food – a photo-realistic trek through a safari you’ve seen before.

Moana (2016) – Thursday, July 13
Is Moana the best of Disney’s fairy tales? If not, it’s certainly a high-water mark for the studio, contemporary in its ideas and faithful to those animated classics before it. First and foremost, Moana gives true purpose and agency to its princess protagonist, who must journey beyond her island home to save it. The film treats its south pacific folklore with respect, using it to build narrative rather than reinforce clichés. The film has a surprisingly small cast of characters, giving the story intimacy and focus, and features the best collection of songs since the Disney renaissance of the early 90s (Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King). And who knew Dwayne Johnson could sing? As demigod Maui, Johnson brings equal parts pathos and bravado as he follows his own parallel journey to Moana’s. The movie is a delight, an alchemy of songs, images, characters, and mythology that is to be treasured.

Sing (2016) – Friday, July 21
Illumination Studios may lack the artistry of Disney, Pixar, or DreamWorks, but it certainly has the commercial success of those animation studios. And for good reason – its films (Despicable Me, Minions, The Lorax) keep things simple, delivering plots and characters that are colorful, energetic, and, above all, silly. They are “cartoons” in the best possible way, recalling Saturday mornings watching mindless slapstick and mayhem mixed with easy life lessons. Sing is no different, showing us a world of talking animals united in their quest to “put on a show.” Covering 60 pop songs old and new, and featuring voice talents from Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, and Scarlett Johansson, Sing will appeal to anyone who enjoys an uncomplicated story told with lots of heart.

Finding Dory (2016) – Friday, August 4
Baby Dory may be the best reason to come see Finding Dory, a sequel to one of Pixar’s masterpieces. Whereas Finding Nemo sought to reunite father and son, Dory’s story introduces the idea that her family may be out looking for her as well. In flashback, we see young Dory with her parents, and the sight of her over-sized eyes and sing-songy voice is more potent than a week’s worth of YouTube kitten videos. As usual, the Pixar team creates moments that resonate with pure human emotion, in this case the lengths parents will go to care for an exceptional child. Finding fault with Pixar films is no easy task, as even the least of its output still towers over most films, animated or otherwise. Still, as adorable as its characters are, the film’s story lacks the freshness of the original, and brings the various plot threads together in ways that are more manic than organic.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016) – Thursday, August 10
Kicking off a new series in the Harry Potter universe is Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which transplants the wizardry from London and Hogwarts to New York City circa the 1920s. Comparing Beasts to any of the earlier Potter films is a fool’s errand – nothing in it approaches the memorable characters and dense plotting of J.K. Rowling’s novels. But taken on its own merits, Beasts is a treat, featuring some impressive world building and clever set pieces, mostly involving strange creatures on the loose from caretaker Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne). J.K. Rowling herself wrote the screenplay, and wisely brought back director David Yates (who helmed the last four Potter films) to capture the wonder and feeling of the original series. Beyond the magic and mystery, romance factors into Beasts as well, and the movie strikes gold with audience surrogate Jakob Kowalski (a winning Dan Fogler), a muggle baker-in-training smitten by a mind-reading witch.



Monthly Feature

Weekly E-Newsletter

Sign-Up For Our EVENT Updates

Stay current on theater events