Musical flop on movie reviews

Everybody gets the fact that after a dream comes true it can still fall apart. And then what? That’s the intriguing question answered in the affecting, but uneven documentary “Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened.”

Co-written and directed by Lonny Price, the film revisits Stephen Sondheim’s 1981 musical flop “Merrily We Roll Along.” Any theater nerd knows the cautionary tale that producers tell their children at bedtime. Price’s documentary covers the show’s creation, shocking failure and far- and long-reaching aftershocks.

Price knows his subject. He was one of the stars in the show and like other wide-eyed castmates 35 years ago, including a pre-“Seinfeld” Jason Alexander, felt like he’d hit the jackpot at the time. No wonder. The musical marked the latest new collaboration of composer-lyricist Sondheim and director Hal Prince, each riding high after a decade of hits. Among them, “Company.” D.A. Pennebaker’s fascinating 1970 doc covered the recording of that show’s cast album.

The musical “Merrily,” like the play it’s based on, is told in reverse. Disillusioned and corrupted middle-aged friends become their younger, optimistic selves with each scene. The show had big

Best movie review for this month

There’s little originality scared up by “The Monster,” but that doesn’t make director Bryan Bertino’s horror flick easier to watch through the gaps in your fingers.

What elevates the story of a mother and daughter stalked by the titular creature after their car breaks down is the acting of Zoe Kazan and her on-screen child, Ella Ballentine (“Anne of Green Gables”).

Much of the film’s 90 minutes of running time is padded out by flashbacks to explain the domestic breakdown that led them to break down on that particular stretch of road.

There’s little originality scared up by “The Monster,” but that doesn’t make director Bryan Bertino’s horror flick easier to watch through the gaps in your fingers.

What elevates the story of a mother and daughter stalked by the titular creature after their car breaks down is the acting of Zoe Kazan and her on-screen child, Ella Ballentine (“Anne of Green Gables”).

Much of the film’s 90 minutes of running time is padded out by flashbacks to explain the domestic breakdown that led them to break down on that particular stretch of road.

There’s never any explanation for where

What happen with the showcases Natalie Portman

“Jackie” is a profile in courage.

Its hero doesn’t carry a gun. She isn’t even in uniform — unless you count the pink suit and pillbox hat.

But she does wage a war, for her husband’s legacy, and to hasten her country’s healing in the aftermath of his death.

Natalie Portman stars as Jackie Kennedy in a film that looks at the worst four days in her life — from a Friday in Dallas that ends with her cradling her dying husband, to a Monday in Washington that begins with his funeral procession.

Portman’s been a committed, in-the-moment actress since she was a skinny kid running after “Leon: The Professional” but “Jackie” is an accomplishment on the Oscar-winning order of “Black Swan.” She gets the former First Lady’s breathy voice, her quiet style — and ever-present, barely-held-in-check nervousness.

And Pablo Larrain’s movie shows just what the real Jackie Kennedy had to deal with that November — a new President itchy to take over, powerful in-laws who had their own idea on how to grieve and a nation that didn’t know what would come next.

And so Jackie shows them —

An unnecessary sequel in the movie

Billy Bob Thornton’s grouchy Santa is finally back, but his sequel is pretty ho-ho-horrible.

It’s been thirteen years since the original “Bad Santa” found its fan base, and it feels like someone’s been trying to make a sequel ever since. Opening over Thanksgiving weekend, “Bad Santa 2” brings back Billy Bob Thornton’s cranky, bitter, alcoholic safecracker Willy, who is called back into action by his former partner, Marcus (Tony Cox).

This time, they’re off to Chicago to rob a charity of millions, but once there, Willy realizes his equally foul-mouthed and estranged mother (Kathy Bates) will also be involved in their heist. The robbery gets a little more complicated with the need to seduce an amorous security guard (Jenny Zigrino) to get her keys to reach the safe. Willy, meanwhile, has his eye on the comely Diane (Christina Hendricks), who runs the charity.

None of the original creative team, including creators Glenn Ficcara and John Requa, were involved with this sequel. They have since gone on to better things, while original director Terry Zwigoff is replaced by “Mean Girls” director Mark Waters, working on his raciest material to date.

It’s almost immediately obvious Waters is out of his depth, as most of the attempted

Doctor Strange on post election

NEW YORK — Moviegoers drained by the drama of the presidential election sought refuge at the movies over the weekend, where ticket sales were robust for just about everything.

Marvel’s “Doctor Strange” led the North American box office for the second week with $43 million, according to studio estimates Sunday. That was an especially strong hold for the Benedict Cumberbatch-led superhero blockbuster, which is now nearing $500 million globally. “Trolls,” the musical animated release from 20th Century Fox with Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake, also held well in its second week with $35.1 million, bringing its cumulative domestic total to $94 million.

Denis Villeneuve’s science-fiction thriller “Arrival,” starring Amy Adams, scored the weekend’s top debut with a better-than-expected $24 million for Paramount Pictures. Opening in fourth was Universal Pictures’ “Almost Christmas,” the first holiday-themed release to hit theaters. The family gathering comedy, starring Danny Glover and Gabrielle Union, debuted with $15.6 million.

The weekend box office was up about 47 percent from last year, according to comScore. The Friday holiday of Veteran’s Day also helped stoke business. Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for comScore, said the wide variety of releases gave moviegoers plenty of choice for escapism over the postelection weekend.

The good showing

Songs and a great role by Dwayne Johnson

“I am not a Princess!” protests the young heroine of “Moana,” right in the middle of her hero’s quest to fulfill her destiny.

Her spirit is exuberant and the setting is novel, but the trickster demigod Maui, voiced by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, has a clear, honest appraisal. “You’re wearing a dress and have an animal sidekick, you’re a Princess.”

It’s hardly a knock against “Moana” to suggest it has throwback elements. Its first half hour is old school Disney: a teen daughter on a Pacific island (voiced by newcomer Auli’i Cravalho) yearns to travel out to the sea, but her father, the village chief (“Star Wars”‘ Temuera Morrison) demands she stay on land to watch over her people.

Think of it as the inverse of “Little Mermaid,” which makes sense since “Moana” directors Ron Clements and John Musker made that film.

Moana is, of course, a “chosen one,” as the stars of all kid movies are these days. Her island’s food supplies are drying up because of a curse accidentally caused by the meddling Maui. If Moana can sail across the gorgeously rendered blue sea and convince the powerful Polynesian pest to return a gemstone to a lava monster – basically return the

All about film electrical workers

Director David Hackl’s “Life on the Line” is supposed to be a moving story about men working electrical lines. Viewers, however, might require a high-voltage shock just to endure it.

The action/drama film, which premiered at the Napa Valley Film Festival a year ago, has an impressive cast headlined by John Travolta, Kate Bosworth and Sharon Stone.

But the script, written by Primo Brown, Marvin Peart and Peter I. Horton, is a complete and utter melodramatic bore.

Shockingly predictable and formulaic, perhaps the only saving grace is Jeff Toyne’s appropriate music.

It starts off promising, at least conceptually, but resorts to well-trodden conventions of the genre and overly effusive scenes, with a rape premise horribly woven in.

While Travolta and Bosworth, playing the lead characters of Beau and Bailey, respectively, deliver admirable performances, the story they’re working under is just not up to snuff.

The production values are mediocre and the story surprisingly veers away from a lineman’s day-to-day routine, but director Hackl and the writing team did at least conceive a versatile character in Beau, though he too gets pulled into the melodrama on occasion.

“Life on the Line” is a film that probably won’t hold your attention throughout its 97-minute running time, but it is,

Not even close to holiday treat

All I want for Christmas is my two hours back.

Over the course of five long days, the large ensemble cast of David E. Talbert’s “Almost Christmas” fights, crashes a car, cooks, cheats, fights, runs for congress, fights and, of course, reconciles.

The overdrawn cliché circles around the Meyers family’s first Christmas without their mother and Walter’s (Danny Glover) wife- a decent if not somewhat overdone movie premise.

But, as far as this season’s comedies go, “Almost Christmas” is one audiences can skip.

Gabrielle Union, who also executive produced the film, is laughable in the sense that someone, including herself, thought her lines felt the least bit natural. Each overused phrase that falls out of her character, Rachel’s, vindictive, childish mouth takes viewers further out of the movie experience. She’s frustrating in her immaturity and unbelievable as a mother. Union is somehow old enough to have an adolescent daughter but she’s still in school, is still upset with her neighbor over a high school misunderstanding, but she’s also a divorcee.

Her pretentious sister, Cheryl, played by Kimberly Elise is a successful medical professional (it’s unclear in which field, exactly), and is implausibly married to raging buffoon, JB Smoove. Cheryl and Rachel hate each other, again

Best romantic drama

Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard play spies in love in a steamy World War II drama where there are more romantic fireworks than tanks and explosions.

Depending on what you believe, “Allied” is either a Robert Zemeckis-directed period spy thriller or “the movie that broke up Brad Pitt’s marriage,” but watching Pitt parachute down into Morocco as the film opens might make you expect more of a James Bond-inspired flick.

Instead, “Allied” turns out to be a slower wartime romance in which Pitt plays Max Vattan, a British assassin sent to Casablanca to kill a high-ranking Nazi officer. We see early on how deadly Max can be, but he’s been assigned to create the ruse of being married to Marion Cotillard’s Marianne Beauséjorge, an equally deadly French agent.

Pretending to be married eventually drives them closer together and Max and Marianne decide to get married for real, despite the warnings from Max’s commander (Jared Harris). Marianne soon becomes pregnant as they settle down in England to lead a more domestic life.

That tranquility is shattered when Max learns that Marianne may actually be an undercover Nazi spy.

There was a time when the romance displayed on the movie screen was so palpable, moviegoers believed the

Marks upcoming auteur to behold on movie reviews

Halloween may be behind us, but those still looking for jarringly disturbing filmmaking should appreciate Nicolas Pesce’s directorial debut.

Shot completely in black and white, “The Eyes of My Mother” follows Francisca, a young girl living in seclusion on a remote farm with her eye surgeon mother and farmer father. After her mother is murdered by an armed stranger, Francisca (Olivia Bond) is left alone with her father (Paul Nazak), who chains his wife’s murderer in the barn. After her father dies, Francisca keeps his corpse around for company, making it obvious that seeing her mother’s murder has left Francisca quite disturbed.

Told in three distinct sections, “The Eyes of My Mother” follows Francisca as she grows up and takes up her own hobbies — like doing unspeakable things to that stranger in the barn.

Kika Magalhaes, who plays the older version of Francisca, is quite an amazing find. The camera is captivated by her, whether she is doing mundane things or randomly murdering anyone who follows her home. The tone and delivery of her scarce dialogue is quite distinct.

Certainly, parallels can be drawn between Pesce’s film and horror classics from Hitchcock’s “Psycho” to “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.” The opening scene

New Coming Beatty and Howard Hughes

Warren Beatty has been dreaming of making “Rules Don’t Apply,” his Howard Hughes project, for decades. Because of both his status as a Hollywood icon and his involvement with one of the most expensive film flops ever, “Ishtar,” Beatty’s project had assumed the whispers of legend before a frame was shot.

The story follows aerospace billionaire Hughes and certain key members of his entourage during some of his later years when he became a reclusive and odd figure, an object to this day of speculation. What was going on with Howard Hughes? “Rules Don’t Apply” offers a potential answer.

That Beatty started working with his actors years ago shows onscreen in subtle ways: such as how Hughes driver Frank Forbes, played by Alden Ehrenreich, becomes comfortable in his relationship and proximity to Hughes, a feeling one can imagine a young actor reaching only after spending ample bonding time with Beatty.

Beatty and the billionaire do an almost quantum shift — turning the act of watching the film into a brain twister in which one tries to both watch Beatty playing Hughes and sink fully into the story. But then you think: that’s Beatty and he’s playing Hughes with such aplomb, he’s clearly enjoying

Talk About Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard

For years we’ve heard moans that video-game movies are jinxed. Unfortunately, “Assassin’s Creed” won’t lift that curse. Not even with stars like Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, and the game’s creator, Ubisoft, as a producer.

If you’re unfamiliar with the game, you may be confused by what’s going on and why anyone would even bother playing it. If you have played, you’ll wonder how the moviemakers could mess things up so badly and squander the game’s rich tapestry of stories.

Following an introduction to an ancient order of Templars, the film leaps to current day, where Callum Lynch is serving time in jail. In his youth Cal saw his mother being murdered by his father, leading him into his own life of crime. Cal is released from prison to Abstergo, a tech company that plans to use him and his family bloodline of assassins to find the elusive “Apple of Eden” that has priceless info at its core.

To do this, Cal employs a device called the Animus, which accesses ancestral memories that date to the 15th century. The gizmo is straight from the game, but it has morphed from a simple transportational pod into gigantic mechanical arm connected to Cal’s body. It’s

Patriots Day starring Mark Wahlberg rings false

Mark Wahlberg’s new vehicle purports to tell the story of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. While “Patriots Day” works in some ways, especially in its intriguing blow-by-blow of the events before and after the attack, the film is ham-fisted. It works so hard to evoke a sense of teary patriotism it leaves behind a grimy feeling.

The problems start with Wahlberg’s character, Sgt. Tommy Saunders. This cop manages to be at the bombing site, FBI investigator’s strategy meetings in a command center, and a Mobil station where he helps rescue the bombers’ hostage. He also pops up at the shootout with the suspects, and the final apprehension of the surviving suspect. He’s everywhere.

But there was no real Tommy Saunders. A composite character with a bum knee, he’s meant to be an homage to the many Boston cops who worked the case. This becomes confusing and annoying because most of the rest of the characters are based on real individuals —  people, including Boston Mayor Thomas Menino (Vincent Curatola), Police Commissioner Ed Davis (John Goodman) and lead FBI investigator Richard DesLauriers (Kevin Bacon). A composite character can work, but I felt manipulated and was distracted by Saunders’ Zelig-ness.

Another major distraction were the

Inspiring drama from director Ken Loach

If you’ve ever dealt with bureaucratic red tape — even if that merely means a simple trip to the DMV — then you’ll relate to the title character in the truly moving and special British drama “I, Daniel Blake.”

A carpenter by trade, middle-aged Daniel (Dave Johns) has been unable to work after suffering a heart attack on the job. He is relying on government benefits to survive, but he finds it’s far more difficult to get them than it should be.

As he’s evaluated by a social worker we get a sense of frustrations and his cynical wit and how angry he is about not being able to work.

Daniel is also one of those people who doesn’t own and has never used a computer, so when he learns how much he has to do online to get his benefits, it becomes even more frustrating for him.

Acclaimed filmmaker Ken Loach is a master at capturing the day-to-day of British life, and this film, which won the coveted Palm D’Or award at the Cannes Film Festival, is no exception. That said, it may be easier for some to decipher the heavy British accents than others.

It’s heartbreaking at times to watch Blake’s plight, but

Drama Live By Night

“Live by Night” is barely breathing.

A slow, stubbornly serious period picture, it’s Ben Affleck’s attempt to bring back the old Warner Bros. gangster films, with him stepping in for Jimmy Cagney. It’s got Prohibition and speakeasies, flappers and Tommy guns.

It still shoots blanks.

Affleck, who also directed, plays the disgraced son of a Boston police chief. A strong-arm guy with a prison record, he takes it on the lam to Tampa, where he starts running rum for the Mafia.

And also takes up with a smuggler’s sister, while running afoul of a fire-and-brimstone lady preacher.

On paper, it sounds like there’s a lot going on here – “The Roaring Twenties” crossed with Al Pacino’s “Scarface” and a bit of “Elmer Gantry.”

On the screen, it’s a lot less.

Although Affleck’s been a decent director – capturing real local color in “Gone Baby Gone” and “The Town,” building tension nicely in “Argo” – his work here is dim and dull. “Live by Night” may be about rum, but the pacing is like molasses.

And as its glum leading man, the star never shines. He has none of the lethal charm – or dangerous unpredictability – that would make a character like this worth watching. Instead of a

Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal

They only come out at night.

Dirtbags, lowlifes, predators — they’re just some of the dangerous beasts that “Nocturnal Animals” focuses on.

But there are other things that live in the dark, too: self-doubt, nagging regret, the sense that somehow, somewhere, things went wrong.

And those can be even scarier monsters.

“Nocturnal Animals” is directed by the fashion designer Tom Ford and it looks beautiful in a way that glossy ads are. Jake Gyllenhaal is hunky (and, as usual, briefly shirtless). Amy Adams is as pretty and perfect as a doll.

She’s just as cold, though. And so is the film.

Because this is a movie about all the ways we hurt each other. And although sometimes it’s through vicious violence, sometimes it’s in subtler, nastier, icier ways.

And now Edward has a novel coming out, which he wants Susan to read. It’s a gruesome thriller about a too-nice guy who gets caught up in a carjacking, and sees his wife and child brutally abducted.

But why, after almost 20 years, did Edward send Susan this book? And why is it really dedicated to her?

Those are Susan’s first questions and they’ll be answered, eventually — although not in the way she wants.

But first we have to make our

Adam Driver a small treasure on movie reviews

“Paterson” is poetic.

Pardon the alliteration, but Jim Jarmusch’s film starring Adam Driver is an ode to the simplicity of everyday life. It also conjures the same dreamy quality of the verses penned by its titular bus driver, who shares a name with the New Jersey town he calls home.

The movie follows Paterson for a week as he wakes up every day to his beautiful wife, Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), an unemployed artist, and his English bulldog, Marvin. He leaves his small house for work at the bus depot, where he jots down poems before he starts his route. In between, he hears pourings of woe from his miserable shift supervisor.

When Paterson writes, his words scrawl across the screen as Driver’s voiceover speaks the verses, lending them an ethereal quality. Ordinary conversations and chance encounters that fill Paterson’s days inform his poems — he finds beauty in the mundane.

Jarmusch invites viewers to do the same. Paterson’s routine, which includes nightly walks with Marvin to the neighborhood watering hole, borders on repetitive but remains captivating.

“Paterson” is filled with moments and interactions that seem like they’re headed toward drama but take a different route. And even though it’s set in the present day, Paterson’s

Best movie about crooning animals

Talking animals in animated movies is nothing new, so as the title suggests, expect these critters to do some singing.

Opening just before Christmas Day, “Sing” could very well take place in the same world as Disney’s “Zootopia,” except that British writer/director Garth Jennings (“Son of Rambow”) gives the humor in this comedy a very different sensibility. It looks and feels different even from Illumination Entertainment’s other movies like “Despicable Me” and “The Secret Life of Pets.”

Matthew McConaughey voices Buster Moon, the koala bear owner of a failing theater who needs to find a way to save it. He gets the brainstorm to hold an “American Idol” style singing competition. Due to a clerical error, the supposed $1,000 prize turns into $100,000, which gets the Moon Theater swarmed with suitable (and far less suitable) candidates entering Buster’s contest.

Rosita is a pig, voiced by Reese Witherspoon, and a housewife who has to care for 25 piglets while her husband brings home the bacon. Meena (Tori Kelly), an elephant, has a beautiful voice, but is too shy to perform for others. Then there’s Johnny (Taron Egerton from “Kingsman: The Secret Service”), a gorilla with a soulful voice whose father wants him to take

Liam Neeson branch out as a tree

Liam Neeson gives voice to a giant walking tree monster in “A Monster Calls,” an emotional and dark fairy tale from Spanish filmmaker Juan Bayona (“The Impossible”).

Adapted by Patrick Ness from his book based on an idea by his late author friend Siobhan Dowd, it’s the story of a young boy named Conor O’Malley, who is having a tough time. Plagued by nightmares, he’s being bullied in school and his mother (Felicity Jones) is dying of cancer, which forces Conor to move in with his grandmother (Sigourney Weaver), who has very strict rules that just make things tougher for the lad. One night at exactly 12:07 AM, the giant tree that overlooks a distant church cemetery comes to life and offers Conor three stories in exchange for one of his own. Conor is not easily convinced, and understandably has other things on his mind.

If you were disappointed by Steven Spielberg’s “The BFG,” then “A Monster Calls” covers similar ground in a way far less targeted towards children. It has a similar storybook feel with each of the tree’s fairy tale stories illustrated by gorgeously vivid animation, as they’re told in Neeson’s gruff voice.

Despite the child protagonist and fantasy elements, “A

Jennifer Lawrence and Chris on movie reviews

I don’t do spoilers. But “Passengers” spoils itself.

An expensive sci-fi romance, the movie stars Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt as civilian space travelers. Off to help colonize a new world, they wake up accidentally, 90 years early, with only each other for company.

That’s the way the trailers sell it, anyway.

The facts of their wake-up calls, though, are a little different. Actually, a lot different. And when they’re revealed, half an hour in or so, they change everything, especially how we feel about one of the characters.

“Passengers” has been made with a great deal of care. Its shiny spaceship has an interesting shape — all half-circles and tubes. Its interior design mimics a gigantic cruise-ship’s — small cabins, theme restaurants, a shopping mall.

With such a limited cast, charisma is important — and present. Pratt draws on all his regular-bro charm. Lawrence invests a thinly written character with a lot of her own passion and anger and pain.

“Passengers” is also part of a good trend — a sci-fi movie about being smart. Like “Arrival,” “The Martian” and “Interstellar, it’s a story that sets up a problem — and then gets its drama out of people solving it. There isn’t a murderous alien