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Movie Review: ‘A Brilliant Young Mind’

The hero of “A Brilliant Young Mind” is loosely based on a boy who director Morgan Matthews featured in “Beautiful Young Minds,” his 2007 documentary about participants in the International Mathematics Olympiad. Despite that real-world back story, this coming-of-age drama strives more for amiability than authenticity. While the performances are convincing, the script is packed with too-good-to-be-true developments.

Nathan (“Hugo” star Asa Butterfield) is a British math prodigy who’s on the autism spectrum. If his social awkwardness weren’t trouble enough, Nathan is also haunted by memories of watching his beloved father die in the seat next to him during a car crash. His surviving parent (ever-bubbly Sally Hawkins) is devoted, but can’t connect the way Dad could.

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Assisted by a teacher (Rafe Spall) with abundant problems of his own, Nathan eventually gets a shot at the Olympiad. The teenager is sent to math boot camp in Taipei, Taiwan, a city the boy and the movie find fascinating.

There’s one girl each on the British and Chinese squads, and they both fall for Nathan. That’s great for his confidence, but confounding to the skeptical viewer. What’s more, the kid teaches himself Mandarin, seemingly overnight, and picks up piano without a lesson. Nathan is implausibly brilliant at almost everything.


Boosted substantially by the naturalistic Taiwan sequences, “A Brilliant Young Mind” is less stuffy than the usual cinematic ode to British smarts and schooling. But that still can’t save this tale of eccentric genius from being profoundly conventional.

★ ★ out of ★ ★ ★ ★

Unrated. Contains obscenity. In English and occasional Mandarin with subtitles. 112 minutes.

Publishers Weekly Best-Sellers

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Publishers Weekly best-sellers for week ending September 13, 2015:


HARDCOVER FICTION

1. “Make Me” by Lee Child (Delacorte Press)

2. “The Girl in the Spider’s Web” by David Lagercrantz (Knopf)

3. “Go Set a Watchman” by Harper Lee (HarperCollins)

4. “X’‘ by Sue Grafton (Marion Wood Books/Putnam)

5. “Undercover” by Danielle Steel (Delacorte Press)

6. “The Girl on the Train” by Paula Hawkins (Riverhead)

7. “Star Wars: Aftermath” by Chuck Wendig (Lucas Books)

8. “The Solomon Curse” by Clive Cussler and Russel Blake (G.P. Putnam)

9. “Purity” by Jonathan Franzen (Farrar Straus Giroux)

10. “Friction” by Sandra Brown (Grand Central Publishing)

11. “Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie (Random)

12. “Alert” by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge (Little, Brown)

13. “Robert B. Parker’s The Devil Wins” by Reed Farrel Coleman (Putnam)

14. “Devoted in Death” by J.D. Robb (Putnam)

15. “The Nightingale” by Kristin Hannah (St. Martin’s)


HARDCOVER NONFICTION

1. “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo (Ten Speed)

2. “Rising Strong” by Brene Brown (Spiegel & Grau)

3. “Plunder and Deceit” by Mark R. Levin (S&S/Threshold)

4. “Exceptional” by Dick Cheney and Liz Cheney (Threshold Editions)

5. “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates (Spiegel & Grau)

6. “For the Love” by Jen Hatmaker (Thomas Nelson)

7. “Guinness World Records 2016” by Guiness World Records

8. “Paula Deen Cuts the Fat” by Paula Deen (Paula Deen Ventures)

9. “Selp-Helf” by Miranda Sings (Gallery Books)

10. “The Wright Brothers” by David McCullough (Simon & Schuster)

11. “The Mind Connection” by Joyce Meyer (Hachette/Faith Words)

12. “Being Mortal” by Atul Gawande (Metropolitan)

13. “Accidental Saints” by Nadia Bolz-Weber (Convergent)

14. “Destiny” by T.D. Jakes (Faithwords)

15. “Martha Stewart’s Appetizers by Martha Stewart (Clarkson Potter)


MASS MARKET PAPERBACKS

1. “Gray Mountain” by John Grisham (Dell)

2. “The Escape” by David Baldacci (Hachette/Vision)

3. “The Cinderella Murder” by Clark/Burke (S&S/Pocket)

4. “The Martian” (movie tie-in) by Andy Weir (Broadway)

5. “The Eye of Heaven” by Cussler/Blake (Berkley)

6. “The Lost Key” by Coulter/Ellison (Jove)

7. “Wildest Dreams” by Robyn Carr (Harlequin MIRA)

8. “A Little Bit Country” by Macomber/Thayne (Mira)

9. “Mean Streak” by Sandra Brown (Grand Central)

10. “Only a Kiss” by Mary Balogh (Signet)

11. “Sierra’s Homecoming” by Linda Lael Miller (Harlequin)

12. “Love Letters” by Debbie Macomber (Ballantine)

13. “Wicked Lies” by Lora Leigh (St. Martin’s)

14. “Insatiable Appetites” by Stuart Woods (Signet)

15. “Never Die Alone” by Lisa Jackson (Kensington/Zebra)


TRADE PAPERBACKS

1. “The Complete Cook’s Country TV Show Cookbook” (America’s Test Kitchen)

2. “Grey” by E.L. James (Vintage)

3. “The Martian” by Andy Weir (Broadway)

4. “Fervent” by Priscilla Shirer (B&H)

5. “It IS About Islam” by Glenn Beck (Threshold Editions)

6. “The Battle Plan for Prayer” by Stephen Kendrick (B&H)

7. “The Martian” (movie tie-in) by Andy Weir (Broadway)

8. “Gray Mountain” by John Grisham (Dell)

9. “The Photograph” by Beverly Lewis (Bethany House)

10. “One Nation” by Ben Carson (Penguin/Sentinel)

11. “Big Little Lies” by Liane Moriarty (Berkley)

12. “Creative Cats Coloring Book” by Marjorie Sarnat (Dover)

13. “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson (Random/Spiegel & Grau)

14. “Stress Relieving Patterns” (Blue Star)

15. “War Room” by Chris Fabry (Tyndale)

Movie Review: ‘Sicario’

‘Sicario” certainly knows how to make an entrance.

The movie opens with a SWAT truck crashing through the front wall of a drug lord’s house, prompting a chaotic gunfight. Before the audience has even gotten its heart rate under control, a sickening discovery is made: Forty-two bodies have been hidden behind the drywall, each one with a plastic bag covering its decomposing head.

And that’s before a bomb, rigged as a booby trap, rips off a man’s arm.

Is this a horror movie or an art-house morality tale? The reputation of director Denis Villeneuve — the man behind “Incendies,” “Prisoners” and “Enemy” — suggests that it’s the latter. But the distinction won’t make your nightmares any less hideous.

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The leader of that unfortunate FBI tactical team is Kate Macer (Emily Blunt). A by-the-book agent based in Arizona, she’s frustrated with losing the war on drugs, which inspires her to volunteer for a mysterious interagency task force. The head of that team, Matt (Josh Brolin), dresses like a surfer and refuses to share many details of their mission with Kate, other than the fact that they’re heading to San Antonio.

They’re not. With little explanation, they drive across the Mexican border to Juarez, where bodies are shown hanging from bridges and where they don’t technically have jurisdiction. So much for following rules.

For the viewer, Kate is a proxy, struggling to figure out why she was recruited for this vague, possibly illegal assignment and what, exactly, Matt’s job is. Does he work for the CIA or Defense? And who is his mysterious right-hand man, the aloof, lupine Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro)? When Kate asks the Mexico native whom he works for, he tells her, “I go where I’m sent.” And that’s one of their more substantive conversations.

In “Sicario,” which translates as “assassin,” the suspense is relentless, propelled by a driving score by Academy Award nominee Jóhann Jóhannsson. As Kate, Alejandro, Matt and a team of military operatives recently returned from Afghanistan barrel through the streets of Juarez in black SUVs, the pounding beat recalls a war drum. The sound alone is enough to induce sweaty palms.

Villeneuve keeps the audience on edge by alternating quiet moments with sudden bursts of action. Just before that truck tears through the house at the beginning of the movie, for example, the camera settles on a solitary man watching television in his living room. Every scene of calm, potentially, is trip-wired for an explosion.

But for all its chilling tension and horrific imagery, “Sicario” is also a beautiful movie. Maybe cinematographer Roger Deakins will finally win the Oscar he deserves. (The 13th time’s the charm?) His work here is stunning, whether the camera is capturing dust floating around a sunny room or framing the silhouettes of agents disappearing into the horizon at dusk, as if they’re being swallowed whole by the land.


If “Sicario” falters, it’s only in its attempt to be more than a thriller. Villeneuve’s movies occupy a spectrum between thought-provoking and mind-bending, and it’s clear that he wants to guide Taylor Sheridan’s script into similar territory. The movie makes occasional detours away from Kate to show the everyday life of a Mexican police officer (Maximiliano Hernández) at home with his wife and young son in Sonora. Inevitably, that man’s story and the main narrative will intersect. But the collision course isn’t provocative enough to justify the diversion.

The movie works best when it sticks with Kate, whose fear is palpable and contagious. In the grim world of “Sicario,” the life-or-death situation that she finds herself in may not be the most geopolitically shocking, but it makes for electrifying drama. And sometimes that’s enough.

★ ★ ★ out of ★ ★ ★ ★

R. Contains strong violence, grisly images and language. In English and some Spanish with subtitles. 121 minutes.

Movie Review: ‘Cooties’

The horror-comedy “Cooties” — a genially low-budget tale of teachers fighting off a pack of elementary-school-age zombies — milks its midnight-movie aesthetic for all it is worth, mixing obviously fake gore and over-the-top violence with macabre, pop-culture humor. “I blame rap music,” cracks science teacher Doug (co-writer Leigh Whannell), after the kids at his school have turned into a pack of the flesh-eating undead, courtesy of a tainted chicken nugget in the cafeteria.

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Whannell, best known as a writer and actor from the “Insidious” films, plays second fiddle to Elijah Wood, who portrays the movie’s ostensible hero, an aspiring novelist relegated to teaching at his alma mater while he works on a manuscript about a possessed ship. But it’s Rainn Wilson who steals the show as the cocky physical education teacher who takes charge when the pint-size monsters corner him and his fellow educators.


The acting, by an ensemble that also includes Jack McBrayer of “30 Rock,” Nasim Pedrad of “Saturday Night Live” and Jorge Garcia of “Lost,” is broad and campy, in the spirit of a movie that’s best washed down with beer, as will be likely served up at the area’s only theatrical engagement at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema.

★ ★ out of ★ ★ ★ ★

R. Contains violence and gore, obscenity and drug use. 92 minutes.

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