Mortal Engines

⋆⋆½ out of four stars

Rated: PG-13 for sci-fi violence.

 

You’ve never seen a fantasy live-action world quite like this. The movie opens with two cities mounted on giant tank treads chasing each other across the countryside, power-sliding toward the lips of a canyon, until one of them eats the other.

Alas, the story isn’t nearly as original as its surroundings. Underneath all this visual wonderment, you’ll find the blueprints for “The Lord of the Rings” and “Star Wars,” cut into pieces and reassembled in slightly different ways.

The action takes place a thousand years in the future. “Predator cities” roam the planet like pirates, gobbling up smaller municipalities. Hera Hilmar stars as Hester Shaw, a scarred teenager with a vendetta against Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving). She wants revenge, but her effort is thwarted by Tom Natsworthy (Robert Sheehan), a mild-mannered young historian. Tom and Hester snipe at each other as their journey leads them through familiar sci-fi/fantasy tropes.

A movie like this can struggle to find an audience. It’s the kind of bonkers offering that’s often scoffed at during an initial release, only to earn a legion of fans later.

William bibbiani, the Wrap

 

Vox Lux

⋆⋆ out of four stars

Rated: R for profanity, violence, drug content.

 

Brady Corbet’s pop manifesto is heavy with import. But does the film, which swirls around the diva industrial complex, earn that weight? And what, precisely, is it trying to say?

The film is broken into acts. Act I, “Genesis,” which takes place from 2000 to 2001, follows the rise of Celeste as a teen, played by Raffey Cassidy, wounded in a school shooting who becomes a national sensation after singing an original song at a vigil.

Act I is shocking, moody, dark and dreamy. It foregrounds the relationship between Celeste and her older sister, Eleanor (Stacy Martin), her songwriting collaborator, and establishes Celeste as a contemplative, sensitive teen who thinks about death and her own fragile existence.

Which is why it’s such a disappointment when Act II, “Regenesis,” devolves rapidly as soon as Natalie Portman, playing the older Celeste in 2017, arrives on screen. Portman’s performance is a big, big swing — and a huge miss. Her Celeste is abusive, crude, manipulative and offensive — wildly different from the character we came to know in Act I.

This is a film that wants to talk at you, starting with Willem Dafoe’s solemn narration. And while Dafoe explains, Celeste alternates between monologuing and lecturing. It’s wordy, all right, but it feels empty of meaning.

katie walsh, Tribune News Service

 

Anna and the Apocalypse

⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars

Rated: R for horror violence, profanity and sexual references.

Theater: Edina, Lakeville, Oakdale Ultracinema.

 

As zombie Christmas musicals go, this tries too hard to do too much but has more than enough good cheer to get viewers through another holiday season on this troubled planet.

Set in a small Scottish town a few days before Christmas, the movie tells the coming-of-age story of Anna (Ella Hunt), a popular high school senior who plans to take a year off after graduation to travel. Her overprotective father (Mark Benton) worries about those plans, imagining something out of the “Taken” movies. When a virus breaks out during the school’s Christmas pageant, turning its victims into zombies, it appears that Dad has grossly underestimated the world’s dangers.

This is a low-budget affair, which means that the musical numbers lack the precision of, say, “La La Land.” But its scrappy, can-do spirit generates an energy that is both effusive and at times irresistible.

Pat Padua, Washington Post