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La La Land is joyous, Lion will move you, and Fences gives chatty high drama

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August Wilson wrote the play and, just before he died in 2005, the screenplay. Denzel Washington took on the directing job but first starred in a Broadway revival. Both he and his co-star Viola Davis won a Tony and repeat those performances here. They’ve already won a few more awards and a pile of nominations. Denzel’s character is bitter about what the racial divide in the US has dealt him. He talks it up to everybody, tries to pass it on to his sons and eventually we find out where it came from. His wife is loyal and doesn’t object a great deal until a new revelation comes and it’s a stunner. She can’t be compliant now and the acting by Davis will leave you breathless. The movie’s ending is debatable but there’s no argument that we’ve met some compelling people. (International Village, starting Sunday) 3 ½  out of 5       

SING: It’s not the best work by the makers of Despicable Me and The Minions but it is great fun. It’s the  story that’s weak. Everything else is super. Your kids will love it, especially if they’re the type who love to get up and act like a star with a microphone and a hit song. There are 65 in here, most of them just short fragments (good for short attention spans) but still recognizable. Tunes by The Beatles, Lionel Ritchie, Carly Rae Jepson, even Leonard Cohen and Dave Brubeck, and many recent hits, they’re all here. Must have cost a bundle to get the rights.

 

A collection of superbly-animated animals perform them, like Johnny the Gorilla, voiced by Taron Egerton. He’s trying to stay out of his dad’s bank-robbing business by participating in a singing contest. It’s like American Idol and organized by Buster Moon (a koala with Matthew McConaughey doing his speaking) to save a money-losing theatre. Reese Witherspoon, Seth MacFarlane, Scarlett Johansson and Jenneifer Hudson are among the many singers. There are lots of gags along the way, a sequence that would fit into a disaster movie and lots of plucky resolve to make things happen. Perfect for the holidays. And you get a Minions cartoon as an opening act too. (International Village, Marine Gateway) 3 out of 5              

PASSENGERS: You get two big stars (Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt), a director (Morten Tyldum ) who cracked the enigma machine in his last movie (The Imitation Game) and some top notch set design and special effects. So why then is this film so lame? Simply put: it sets up intriguing scenarios and fails to explore them.

 

Pratt and Lawrence play passengers on a spaceship, two of 5,000 on their way to a new life on a colony planet. Since the trip will take 120 years, they’re asleep in hibernation pods, until he, and later she, are brought out of their slumber. He can’t get the ship’s talking devices to believe he’s there because, as you know, systems do not fail. She’s not all that attracted to him so romance is underdeveloped even as they dance, share meals and listen to Michael Sheen spout platitudes as an android bartender. Why are they on the trip? Their reasons aren’t too interesting. Why has a private company set up this trip and why, as a video says, is it now the most profitable business on Earth? No answers. And with all the technology on board, how come malfunctions aren’t detected? So you can get great visual scenes that’s why, a spacewalk to fix a door among them and swimming pool water erupting in a gravity drop.  (Scotiabank, Marine Gateway and suburban theatres) 2 ½ out of 5   

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