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  • Mommy fearest - ‘Run’
    Mommy fearest - ‘Run’

    Most of us have a pretty good understanding of the power of a mother’s love. Heaven knows we’ve seen it portrayed enough times on page, stage and screen. The majority of the time, we’re given a sense of not just the power, but the purity of that power. A mother’s love is meaningful and unconditional.

    But when that love turns toxic, when it becomes all-consuming? That’s when we bear witness to the darkness, for there can be no light without shadow.

    “Run,” the new movie from Hulu, offers us a look at that toxic darkness. Directed and co-written by Aneesh Chaganty, the talented filmmaker behind 2018’s excellent “Searching,” this is a chilling and emotionally charged dive into the circumstances of one mother’s love and how fear and delusion can twist that relationship into something dark and hurtful.

    We’ve seen variations on the “mother from hell” formula before, but few have achieved this level of genuine scares. Sure, there are a couple of moments that threaten to teeter over the edge into camp – always a concern with these kinds of movies – but Chaganty’s steady hand and a pair of dynamite performances keep things on the rails. That barely-restrained sense of impending lunacy contributes greatly to what is ultimately a top-notch viewing experience.

  • ‘Vanguard’ falls behind
    ‘Vanguard’ falls behind

    I’ve been a fan of Jackie Chan for a quarter-century. Ever since his “Rumble in the Bronx” hit U.S. theaters back in 1995, I’ve been enamored of his brand of self-deprecating action cinema, combining martial arts master with outlandish stunts and over-the-top physical comedy. He and frequent collaborator Stanley Tong didn’t invent the slapstick kung fu sensibility, but I’d argue that they perfected it.

    The latest collaboration between the two is “Vanguard,” and while it doesn’t ascend to the heights of their most successful team-ups, it has enough of the stuff you expect to make it an entertaining experience. It has the outlandish action you expect, whether you’re looking for gunfights, car chases or hand-to-hand combat. In terms of the story being told, well … the action’s pretty good.

    That’s the thing, though – you’re not turning up for a Tong-Chan joint to experience the story. You want to see some hot kung fu action and wildly dangerous stunts, and in that respect, “Vanguard” delivers.

  • The Bro-lympiad – ‘Buddy Games’
    The Bro-lympiad – ‘Buddy Games’

    We all want different things from movies at different times. Sometimes, we want works of cinematic sophistication, beautifully shot and exquisitely performed. At these times, we want to see masterpieces and magnum opuses.

    Other times, however, we want something different. We want lighthearted idiocy and dick jokes. We want dudes and bros being dudes and bros. We want coarse language and coarser behavior, movies that appeal to the teenage boy in us.

    I’ll give you one guess as to which category applies to the new movie “Buddy Games.”

    The film – the directorial debut of actor Josh Duhamel, who is also co-wrote the script and stars – is a goofy and implausible ode to arrested development, an unapologetically raunchy look at male friendship and the ties that bind men to one another, as well as the devotion of a certain masculine mindset to maintaining a connection to the glory days.

    While the film does have some things going for it – especially a strong cast that is happily along for the increasingly outlandish ride – those things can’t overcome the myriad obstacles presented by what it lacks.

  • ‘Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey’ well worth taking
    ‘Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey’ well worth taking

    Making a holiday movie is easy. Studios large and small alike churn new ones out every year with metronomic regularity. Throw some snow and lights into your basic romance and you’re basically there.

    Making a GOOD holiday movie? Well, now we’re talking about something different. Different, and decidedly more difficult. To create something beyond the bland vanilla sameness of the usual Christmas movie claptrap takes vision, effort and a willingness to move beyond the tired tropes of the genre.

    Netflix’s “Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey” – written and directed by David E. Talbert – brings a welcome new energy to the holiday movie landscape. With an engaging story, great music and performances and some dynamite production numbers, it’s a celebratory romp of a film, one that might well find its way into many people’s regular rotation of seasonal offerings. It is energetic and original and an absolute blast, packed with the sort of excitement and fun that one expects from the best Christmas movies.

  • ‘Chick Fight’ can’t go the distance
    ‘Chick Fight’ can’t go the distance

    There’s a long tradition of mining the struggles of women to self-actualize for comedic purposes. Functioning in a world whose rules are stacked against you in many ways is difficult, and there’s often humor to be found in difficulty. Sometimes, this humor is subtle, but most of the time, it’s pretty overt.

    “Chick Fight” definitely falls into that latter category. The comedy – directed by Paul Leyden from a script by Joseph Downey – is ostensibly about a woman’s efforts to get her life on track couched in her inadvertent membership in a fight club for women looking for ways to functionally express their more robust emotions. But while there’s potential here for a deeper dive, the filmmakers seem content to pay lip service to the fundamental concerns while focusing on the broader comic aspects of the concept.

    That’s not a condemnation of the movie, per se – “Chick Fight” actually has some pretty funny moments. It’s an entertaining enough watch in its way. Unfortunately, it’s tough to ignore the whiff of squandered potential; this is a movie that could have been funny AND had something of note to say. Alas, it seems far more concerned with the former than the latter.

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