This weekend at the movies, we’ve got a Disney remake (Dumbo, starring Michael Keaton and Colin Farrell), real-life terror (Hotel Mumbai, starring Dev Patel and Armie Hammer), a destructive deadbeat (The Beach Bum, starring Matthew McConaughey and Isla Fisher), and a change of heart (Unplanned, starring Ashley Bratcher). What are the critics saying?
In case you haven’t been paying attention these past few years, Disney has gone full steam ahead with a plan to reimagine their library of classic animated fare as live-action films. The results, as expected, have been somewhat mixed, but 2019 is shaping up to be a big year for the endeavor, with remakes of The Lion King, Aladdin, and this week’s big release, Dumbo. Directed by Tim Burton (who also helmed the studio’s do-over of Alice in Wonderland), the film stars an impressive ensemble that includes Michael Keaton, Eva Green, Colin Farrell, Danny DeVito, and Alan Arkin, almost all of whom have worked with Burton before. Of course, the star of the show is the titular elephant, gloriously rendered in CGI, whose unlikely gift of flight (thanks to his oversized ears) makes him an instant celebrity and draws the attention of a circus owner with potentially dark secrets. Unfortunately, despite a handful of magical moments and a wealth of eye-popping visuals, critics say the new Dumbo pales in comparison to the original, and its narrative embellishments don’t quite do enough to make up the difference. That said, the film is earnest in its intentions, and if there’s anyone who can sympathize with the plight of an outcast, it’s Tim Burton, so it’s not all bad news here.
It’s rather difficult to make a film about a real-life terrorist attack that doesn’t devolve into outright exploitation, particularly if you’re trying to wring thrills out of the experience for your moviegoing audience. Fortunately, most critics feel that Hotel Mumbai does a pretty respectable — and respectful — job. In November of 2008, 10 Islamic terrorists from Pakistan opened fire in multiple public locations in Mumbai, India, scattering panicked citizens and tourists across the city. Some of them ended up at the historic Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, where the attackers managed to find their way inside and continue the carnage. Hotel Mumbai stars Dev Patel, Armie Hammer, Nazanin Boniadi, Jason Isaacs, and legendary Indian actor Anupam Kher as various employees and guests of the hotel, who banded together in hopes of surviving the ordeal, and critics say the film succeeds in putting viewers in their shoes. At points, it’s almost too effective, and it can be a difficult watch for some, but it makes for a fairly harrowing experience, even if some of the fictionalized elements aren’t particularly well-considered.
Harmony Korine has been making audiences feel icky and weird ever since he wrote Larry Clark’s Kids in 1995, but it wasn’t until 2013’s Spring Breakers that he had anything close to what one might call “mainstream success.” That movie benefited from the star power of James Franco, Selena Gomez, and Vanessa Hudgens, and for his follow-up, Korine has recruited Oscar winner Matthew McConaughey to make everyone feel kind of icky and weird all over again. The Beach Bum centers on a poet named Moondog who spends his time on Florida beaches drinking, doing drugs, and bedding women. He can do this because, despite his raggedy appearance, he’s earned something of a small fortune from his writing, but when he decides to reunite with his wife to attend their daughter’s wedding, he quickly proves why he doesn’t belong in polite society. Critics say the film comes with Korine’s unique stylistic flair, and star McConaughey seems born to play Moondog, but there a few too many plot detours and, despite the brazen hedonism on display, it all feels uncharacteristically — and even, at times, tiresomely — tame. There are certainly wacky moments to enjoy, but Korine’s films have never appealed to a particularly wide audience, so it’s likely to please those who know what they’re getting into and puzzle everyone else.
In this week’s second film based on true events, we have the sophomore directorial effort of Cary Solomon and Chuck Konzelman, who might be best known as the writers/producers of the God’s Not Dead franchise. Here, they tell the story of Abby Johnson (played by Ashley Bratcher), a one-time director of a Planned Parenthood clinic who, after witnessing an abortion, dramatically shifted her perspective and became an ardent anti-abortion activist. We would love to tell you what the critics think of Unplanned, but it wasn’t widely screened for critics, which of course means it’s time for you to guess the Tomatometer!
Delightfully absurd and ridiculously fun, What We Do in the Shadows expands on the film’s vampiric lore and finds fresh perspective in its charming, off-kilter cast to create a mockumentary series worth sinking your teeth into.
Also Opening This Week In Limited Release