Movie Reviews: “7 Days in Entebbe,” “Set it Up,” “Truth or Dare,” “Peter Rabbit,” “Midnight Sun,” “Love, Simon,” “Pacific Rim 2,” “I Can Only Imagine,” “Extinction,” “Sherlock Gnomes”

By | September 15, 2018

Sometimes a movie (or 8) falls through the cracks, here now to pick it up…

7 Days in Entebbe…Home viewing is probably ideal for this smart hostage drama about Israel’s real-life attempt to rescue a plane that had been seized (by Palestinians and two German leftist-radicals who are a little too oblivious to their own anti-Semitism) and taken to Uganda. Sharp performances abound, especially by Eddie Marsan as the wily spymaster Shimon Peres and Nonso Anozie as Idi Amin (a craftier, more understated take on the character than “The Last King of Scotland”). Although the director makes a few curious choices (like intercutting the riveting hostage rescue with a dance performance), what most critics aren’t recognizing is that this film understands the grind of being taken hostage, where initial terror morphs into mundane logistics about where to use the bathroom, where to sleep, and perhaps even boredom. Grade: B

Sherlock Gnomes…We meet again, terrible franchise. “Gnomeo and Juliet” was one of the very first movies I reviewed waaaay back in 2011 when Alabama Liberal got started. Now, we’re back with a sequel that may technically be better, but what’s that really saying? New addition Johnny Depp’s full-career slump is complete as the title character, and the rest is a mystery plot that twists logic like a pretzel. Little kids will probably love this movie though, and I can’t fully diss it for that. And, to be honest, I did enjoy it more than the insufferable “Peter Rabbit.” Grade: C

Peter Rabbit…Between James Corden’s obnoxious title character and Russell Brand in “Hop,” I’m ready to see a film about a rabbit that’s not an advertisement for extermination. This film is so bad it talked me out of getting a pet rabbit. Also, the “updating” of these characters is so unnecessary, I’m still waiting to see a faithful adaptation of Beatrix Potter’s source material. Grade: D

Midnight Sun…Bella Thorne is a teenager that can’t be exposed to sunlight or she’ll die. Patrick Schwarzenegger is the popular hunk who falls for her. This movie may not be very good, but there’s something appealing about it in a “Hallmark Movie” kind-of way that is perfect for a sleepy weekend. What we’re left with is a movie that is unabashedly wholesome, cheesy, manipulative, and–sure–pretty effective at selling “the feels” to its target demographic. Grade: B-

Extinction…Another awful, low-rent, awfully low-rent sci-fi movie that Netflix acquired when everybody else would’ve said “no thanks” (“Tau,” “How it Ends,” “Cloverfield Paradox”). Netflix is making quite a name for itself as the last place you want your sci-fi film to wind up–perhaps because the truly good ones (“Annihilation,” “Blade Runner 2049,” “Gravity,” “Interstellar”) practically demand a big screen. Grade: D

Truth or Dare…PG-13 horror movies are tough to pull off, but you can find better examples than this film where an ancient demon forces a group of teens to play a horrific truth or dare game. Certain sequences (like trying to save a friend from falling off a roof) held my attention, but the ending–where two friends basically choose to end the world vs. dying–plays on a disturbingly selfish trend in millennial horror movies (like “Cabin in the Woods”). If the choices are between you dying and letting the world end (where you will also die, just not immediately), I’d like to think this isn’t a tough choice. Grade: C

“Love, Simon”…A somewhat-dated, John Hughes-ian throwback (does any high school principal alive still talk like Tony Hale’s character?) that I would’ve liked a lot except for its blatant hypocrisy towards interracial couples. This entire film is supposed to be about love having no one shape, yet it includes three separate negative portrayals of heterosexual interracial couples (which are portrayed as either pawns in a blackmail scheme or part of that very blackmail scheme). Needless to say, Simon’s hot black friend Abby (X-Men’s Alexandra Shipp) winds up with the only non-white guy who likes her, and even Simon’s eventual “Mr. Right” comes at the expensive of a hetereosexual interracial hook-up we’d witnessed earlier. It’s another reminder that even though Hollywood has grown leaps and bounds in its depictions of gay couples, it doesn’t take interracial romance seriously. Grade: C

Set It Up…As if to prove my point about heterosexual interracial couples not being taken seriously (usually seen as obstacles to same-race love), this Netflix film has two examples: the main white guy’s girlfriend is Joan Smalls and we’re told over and over again how he should dump her (naturally) so he can be with the cute white girl he meets. And when those two aren’t flirting, they’re trying to set up their horrible bosses (played by Taye Diggs and Lucy Liu). Even though the movie spends most of the time telling us how much happier everyone is now that Diggs and Liu are hooking up, a quick scan of how interracial couples are treated in movies will reveal their ultimate fate. Of course, this film has rave reviews–a near ecstatic 89% on Rotten Tomatoes for a generic romantic comedy with a smug central couple and not that many laughs–and not one review has even mentioned what I’m talking about. Is it because so many people in media come up through the world of NYC/LA assistants and can relate to having workaholic bosses that desperately need to get laid? Grade: C

I Can Only Imagine…Between this and “Midnight Sun” you may have guessed I was on a schmaltz kick, but “Imagine” practically drowns in do-gooder syrup. It’s about a drunken asshole (Dennis Quaid) who eventually finds Jesus 5 minutes before he dies, and his hapless musician son who wrote the titular song that became a mega-success. J. Michael Finley plays Mercy Me lead singer Bart Millard as a super-earnest version of Seth Rogen, and this isn’t the first time I’ve seen a Christian film where it feels like the lead character is essentially apologizing for being human (here, Bart committs the high crime of wanting to be famous and/or pushing away his college-bound high school girlfriend). You sometimes wonder why these films are so afraid of a real dark side—wouldn’t that make for an even more triumphant third act turn-around?—and nobody points out that Quaid’s character really only “turned around” because he had a death sentence, not because of a truly organic life change. Grade: C-

Pacific Rim 2: Uprising…Another franchise nobody was asking for, especially since one-of-a-kind director Guillermo Del Toro isn’t behind the helm. Instead, we’re treated to “sassy” performers like Charlie Day, lifeless Chinese actors (got to put them in so the film can play in China), and a plot where the real danger is falling asleep. Although the thrill of watching giant robots beat up on monsters will always be there somewhat, the original “Pacific Rim” is a better place to get it. Grade: C-


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