Movie Reviews: The Kitchen, Brian Banks, The Art of Racing in the Rain | Buzz Blog
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Movie Reviews: The Kitchen, Brian Banks, The Art of Racing in the Rain

Dora and the Lost City of Gold, The Peanut Butter Falcon, ECCO, Them That Follow


The Art of Racing in the Rain - FOX 2000 PICTURES
  • Fox 2000 Pictures
  • The Art of Racing in the Rain
The Art of Racing in the Rain **1/2
Life is a lot like racing cars, as you know if you read Garth Stein’s dependably sappy novel on which this movie is based. The adaptation, directed by Simon Curtis (Goodbye Christopher Robin) from Mark Bomback’s faithfully-translated screenplay, shares all the same folksy, New Age-y life lessons (which range from profound to silly) while relating the story of a Seattle race car driver (Milo Ventimiglia), his wife (Amanda Seyfried), their little girl (Ryan Kiera Armstrong) and the melodramatic ups and downs of their lives—all told from the perspective of their golden retriever, Enzo, who’s voiced by Kevin Costner. Costner’s craggy, kind intonations suit an old, wise dog (an eager puppy less so), and the movie’s tone and subject matter should feel tear-jerkingly familiar to fans of Ventimiglia’s TV show This Is Us. The mixture of Enzo’s eternal wisdom with his dog-like understanding of the world sometimes results in comedy that’s more awkward than funny, but you can overlook that for such a Good Boy. Opens Aug. 9 at theaters valleywide.  (PG)—Eric D. Snider

Brian Banks **1/2
See feature review. Opens Aug. 9 at theaters valleywide. (PG-13)

Dora and the Lost City of Gold **
This live-action adaptation of the kiddie cartoon is ... fine. Unless you know that it’s from director James Bobin and screenwriter Nicholas Stoller, who gave us the marvelous Muppets movie reboots, in which case it’s a bit of a disappointment. Raiders of the Lost Ark lite, for kids? Nothing wrong with that. But it takes Lost City a solid 35 minutes to get there, first indulging in a pointless detour with the teenaged Dora (adorable Isabela Moner) forced to attend high school in Los Angeles, where she does not fit in at all. Then it’s back to her South American jungle home for the rescue of her explorer parents (the splendid pair of Michael Peña and Eva Longoria) from treasure-hunter kidnappers, all of them bent on finding a fabled lost Incan city. Even once Lost City settles into itself, it’s still poop and fart jokes and kiddie-style slapstick, stuff that drives a grownup viewer to distraction, though kids may not notice or care. This live-action Dora remains a great role model for girls and boys alike, but her movie should better than it is. Opens Aug. 9 at theaters valleywide.  (PG)—MaryAnn Johanson

ECCO *1/2
Imagine John Wick, but instead of the two-minute montage that establishes the connection between John and his wife, you get, say, half the movie. Lathrop Walker stars as Michael, a one-time assassin who has fled his life of killing to create a new life with his pregnant wife (Tabitha Bastien)—until he receives a phone call warning that “they know where you are.” Writer/director Ben Medina flashes back and forth between Michael’s current threat and a previous thwarted attempt at normalcy, while also drawing out the mystery of who once controlled Michael and why. But all of that stuff is part of a deeply ponderous package full of stilted performances and scenes that feel like they last at least three times longer than necessary. And that’s saying nothing of the parade of screenwriting clichés—like the old “two people meet at a bar and play-act at being strangers, but really they’re already a couple” routine—that allow it to unfold like a medley of a dozen other movies. A few stylish visual flourishes aren’t nearly enough to salvage a movie that mistakes “slow” for “consequential.” Opens Aug. 9 at Megaplex Valley Fair. (R)—Scott Renshaw

The Kitchen **
Some movies show all the seams of trying to adapt their source material—and this is one of them. The 2014-2015 graphic-novel series becomes writer/director Andrea Berloff’s story of three wives of late-1970s Irish mobsters in Hell’s Kitchen—Kathy (Melissa McCarthy), Ruby (Tiffany Haddish) and Claire (Elisabeth Moss)—who, rather than take the scraps of support offered by their husbands’ colleagues, decide to run the operation themselves. There’s certainly a kick of energy in watching the previously put-upon trio take charge, though the moments of you-go-girl sentiment are rarely subtle. But none of the three leads feel particularly like ideal casting choices, resulting in a narrative that often just barely escapes the most obvious gangster clichés (Domhnall Gleeson’s ruthless killer notwithstanding) and clunky period music cues. More frustrating still, there’s rarely a chance for the key character beats or narrative arcs to breathe in the rush from one key plot point to another. Instead of a stand-alone feature film, this feels more like a breathlessly-paced pilot for a cable series—one that might have had a chance to pack more of a wallop. Opens Aug. 9 at theaters valleywide. (R)—SR

Light of My Life
[not yet reviewed]
A father (Casey Affleck) and his daughter try to survive a world in which a pandemic has killed off most of the world’s female population. Opens Aug. 9 at theaters valleywide. (R)

The Peanut Butter Falcon ***
It’s hard not to get a touch of a Rain Man vibe from writer/director Tyler Nilson and Mike Schwartz’s picaresque drama, but that sense of familiarity is transcended by strong performances. Zak (Zack Gottsagen), a 20-year-old man with Down syndrome who is a ward of the state in North Carolina, flees his care facility to pursue his dream of being a pro wrestler. While one of his caregivers (Dakota Johnson) searches for him, Zak winds up tagging along with Tyler (Shia LaBeouf), a down-on-his-luck fisherman who has his own reasons for not being found. The tale is mostly episodic, and spends a lot of time on the hardened Tyler warming up to his role as reluctant guardian, which risks turning Zak entirely into one of those characters who exists exclusively to change someone’s heart. But Gottsagen does get some solid scenes, and LaBeouf is terrific at conveying the way Zak begins to fill a hole in Tyler’s life as they move through a landscape dripping with authentic Outer Banks atmosphere. Despite a bumpy climax, the emotion generally feels real, and honestly earned. Opens Aug. 9 at theaters valleywide. (PG-13)—SR

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
[not yet reviewed]
Teenagers face the horrors that come to life from a book’s pages. Opens Aug. 9 at theaters valleywide. (R)

Them That Follow ***
There’s a razor’s-edge margin for error in telling a story of Pentecostal snake-handlers in rural West Virginia that doesn’t play as “laugh at the yokels,” so credit to Britt Poulton and Dan Madison Savage for their restrained meditation on insular religious communities. Alice Englert plays Mara, daughter of this community’s pastor (Walton Goggins), whose furtive relationship with an apostate member of their church (Thomas Mann) results in a pregnancy she must hide, especially when another church member asks to marry her. While Poulton and Savage depict ceremonial snake-handling, the intent isn’t to single out this belief system as particularly weird. Instead, they look thoughtfully at how people within religious groups deal with feeling like they don’t belong, when admitting such feelings might lead to ostracism, while another subplot involves a convert (Olivia Colman) who truly believes the faith saved her life. The climax plays out with surprising excess relative to the tone of the rest of the film—practically a Requiem for a Dream horror montage—but using this exotic sect allows for a wider-ranging exploration of what happens when you can’t believe in the God of your fathers. Opens Aug. 9 at Broadway Centre Cinemas and Megaplex Jordan Commons. (R)—SR