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Film Review

New Films: Three openings, a re-opening and new food options

Perhaps the most remarkable film opening this week in Sacramento is actually re-opening, as the Tower Theatre offers an extra opportunity to see the Academy Award nominated “Room,” reviewed here in November. Having since won a Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Award, Sacramentan Brie Larson appears to be the one to beat in the Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role category at this year’s Oscars.

Oddly, my other most pleasant surprise of the week, in the world of film, wasn’t actually a movie. Approximately a week ago, according to the person who served me, the Regal Natomas added several more substantial food offerings to its concessions menu. Having previously served items such as mini corndogs, pizza, and nachos, the theater has added several fuller meal combinations including chicken tenders, a cheeseburger, and a spicy chicken sandwich, all paired with waffle fries.

I tried the chicken tenders (three pieces) and fries combo, frankly not expecting that much, and found both to be as pleasant as any I’ve had anywhere. The fries were slightly crispy without being at all greasy and the tenders were positively crunchy on the outside while still moist in the center. At three and a half minutes of cooking time, and a six minute total transaction on a slow Friday lunchtime, they were also speedier than most venues might manage. That said, I’m not sure I’d want to select such an item on a busy evening if there was a queue of similar items being prepared ahead of mine.

All three of the new items described here are priced at $7.99, which also surprised me given similar or higher prices in most bars and also given that a large bucket of popcorn costs $8.59. The overall volume of food might be less (and less easy to share) than the largest portable corn silo, but it still feels more substantial. Assuming I’m there in the near future when it’s not too crowded, I’m actually looking forward to trying one of the sandwiches.



Meanwhile, on the actual screen, the splashiest new film is a traditional telling of a true life adventure on the too high seas, in “The Finest Hours.” In 1952, four members of the coast guard set off in seemingly impossible conditions to find the aft end of a fractured oil tanker off the new England Coast. The storm that night was so harsh that their relatively small boat wasn’t even expected to make it safely out of the harbor, let alone to make a successful rescue. It’s an inherently impressive story, with as much to herald on the tanker as on the rescue craft, but it’s oddly non-cinematic in most aspects other than the visual elements. If not following actual events, a screenwriter would have written the characters much larger and the ending much more dramatic, but this is real life where some heroes are quiet and unassuming and sometimes the best part of the story is at the beginning or in the middle. For me, it fell into that category of movies I was pleased to have seen but not one I’d rush to recommend to young audiences raised on today’s non-stop action films – this is probably more appreciated by an older crowd. I also think I would have preferred it in 2D than the 3D press screening I attended, as it’s another dark film screened with what seems to be the typically underpowered (for 3D) multiplex projector bulb.

I had far more fun catching up with the latest in the Kung Fu Panda franchise, a film pleasant enough to almost wash away the painfully awful recent animated experience of “Norm of the North,” a film that seemed to belong on television (preferably on a channel your provider doesn’t offer) rather than in theaters. “Kung Fu Panda 3” manages to revive the storyline with a fresh twist, as Po battles an ancient warrior from the spirit realm, while also finding his birth village. Unlike “The Finest Hours,” I watched this film in 2D but I’m inclined to recommend the 3D version based purely on some pretty impressive scenes that I had seen previously during a 3D preview that ran with the 3D version of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” Bright animation seems to survive the projection roulette better than dark live action dramas.

The worst film I saw this week was “Jane Got a Gun,” a film I enjoyed reading the credits of more than actually watching what preceded them. It’s an interesting project in that regard as it’s co-produced by leading actress Natalie Portman and co-written by leading actor Joel Edgerton. And one of the other names among the 30 (!) listed producers (along with the Weinstein brothers) is the noteworthy (at least far more noteworthy than he is as a film producer) lawyer David Boies (same-gender marriage, Bush-Gore 2000). This disappointing Western stars Portman as the wife of a badly injured man (Noah Emmerich), who enlists her old flame (Edgerton) to protect her against an old nemesis (played by Ewan McGregor and a gallon of black hair dye). Largely told through alternating scenes of her present and her past, the film manages to keep one guessing throughout which of the various time periods is the least interesting. Names like these in a film like this is what gives January at the movies such a bad reputation and, aside from possible contractual obligations or otherwise lofty expectations for a theatrical release, it probably would have found a more comfortable home on Netflix.

About the author

Tony Sheppard

Tony is a Professor at Sacramento State, Co-Director of the Sacramento Film & Music Festival and a long-time writer, primarily on topics related to film and the film industry. He is an active supporter of the local arts community, an amateur photographer, and has an interest in architecture and urban planning topics. He is currently designing a 595 sq.ft. house on a very small infill lot in Sacramento.

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