Mike at the Movies

Love, Simon (PG-13) ****

One of the better, wittier and more sensitive of high school pictures that’s come along in a long time. Nick Robinson is Simon, a high school senior wistfully making it to graduation while protecting his secret sexual identity. Only one other person knows his secret, and he is an anonymous Web chat partner known as “Blue.”

Simon’s friends are sensational: Leah (Katherine Langford), Abby (Alexandra Shipp) and Nick (Jorge Lendeborg, Jr.). Their characters are each fleshed out beautifully with avoidance of most of the usual high school clichés, a welcome feature of the film. Jennifer Garner sizzles as Emily, Simon’s mom, and Josh Duhamel as Jack, his dad, plays his role perfectly. A surprise is Talitha Eliana Bateman as Nora, Simon’s little sister. Given few moments, she makes the most of them.

The supporting cast is wonderful as well. Look for standout performances from Logan Miller as theater nerd Martin and Tony Hale as a wacky vice principal Mr. Worth.

Much of our attention throughout is drawn by the quest for the identity of “Blue” and the discovery is as rich as the rest of this script. Simon has to come out but one of his friends, in a fit of jealousy and anger, outs him on a chat room. Mom says, “I always knew you had a secret” and philosophizes, “You get to be more you than you’ve been for a long time.”

This is a very human, character-driven youth movie with plenty of humor, and it will appeal to a wide audience. Robinson can’t dance a lick but he does a great job of letting us know why everybody loves Simon.

I Can Only Imagine (PG) ***

Bart Millard (J. Michael Finley) is a Christian singer and songwriter and wrote the song that became his first hit about his father, Arthur (Dennis Quaid). Arthur was, as Bart tells us, “a monster” made whole by coming to Jesus late in life as he suffered with pancreatic cancer. “Don’t think you’ve found your voice. Write THAT kind of song,” says avuncular Brickell (Trace Adkins) like every manager before him. “Pack the room with every youth group you know,” Brickell advises the band.

They do and make a hit. Amy Grant (Nicole DuPort) gives some glamour to the film and to Bart’s life, yet she passes up the opportunity to perform the debut in Nashville, ceding the chance to Bart, of course, even though she wanted the song originally because she needed a “comeback song.” As if you couldn’t already guess, the rest of the story writes itself from here.

Tomb Raider (PG-13) ***

This one gets a third star only because my wife liked it. As for me, I have seen so many of these derring-do pseudo-thrillers that I must admit I’m getting jaded.

Alicia Vikander as Lara Croft is fine. She has done a lot of interviews on how much fun it was to do an action flick for a change after more high-brow roles in such films as “The Light Between Oceans” and “The Danish Girl.” Lara finds herself on the hunt for her absent father (Dominic West) on a mysterious island, trying to figure out how to neutralize Queen Himiko, mother of all bad girls, Japanese style. She runs into labor camps mining something run by the evil Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins) and staffed by Japanese fishermen, all of whom incredibly speak English, many with an American accent! Amazing what you find in the jungle.

Things go swimmingly until the gang tries to get into the Tomb. They are then beset by spiders, skulls, spears, chasms, collapsing floors, color-coded “keys” and a coffin holding the Queen. Getting out is even tougher, and Lara has to do it alone.

By then, I had checked out due to CGI overload. The final blow was an extended sequel set-up for Kristin Scott Thomas (Ana Miller) so Lara will ride again. All the standard suspense film uses of camera, lighting and sound are used in the final half of the film and none of it is believable, but my wife liked it! I have to take her to more CGI stuff so she gets as bored with it as I have become.

Tyler Perry’s Acrimony (R) ***

It’s nice that Perry’s ego demanded that he put his name in the title of this film: It makes it easier to know who to blame for the awful ending. Taraji P. Henson stars as the mentally screwed up Melinda, married to Robert (Lyriq Bent) whom she accuses of being unfaithful. He has a dream of selling his super battery design to Prescott, a big tech firm, but constant wheedling to get an interview with the head man, Prescott (Douglas Dickerman), meets with nothing until he meets Diana (Crystle Stewart), a real beauty and an officer in the company.

Much of the “action” in the movie consists of Melinda blowing her top at Robert and her sisters joining in a fearful chorus. Can Robert really be that bad? Of course not. Melinda is crazy as a loon. Perry keeps that secret for as long as he can, but eventually the truth ekes out leading to the final reel, about as dumb and unbelievable as it is possible to be.

The only blessing of this film is that Perry only wrote it and directed it. He doesn’t appear on screen at all. Like I said, the only blessing.

Ready Player One (PG-13) ***

It may take a gamer to figure out what’s actually going on here, given that so much of the action in this film is virtual and the transition from virtual to real is often too quick to follow. Also confusing are the switches from virtual injury to actual injury and what connects the two in a player.

The action takes place in 2045, allegedly in Columbus, Ohio. There is nothing recognizable in Columbus after a cyber revolution started by the mystical and largely legendary Halliday (Mark Rylance) who created the virtual community of OASIS. The prize winner of his contest, involving finding three keys and locating a Golden Egg, gets control of OASIS and trillions of dollars. The path to the Egg is impossibly complicated, accomplished largely in a trailer by gamers including Parzival (Wade in real life) and his eventual virtual and real heartthrob Art3mis/Samantha (Olivia Cooke).

The film is a spectacular display of CGI, skillfully exhibited by Steven Spielberg. Though Cooke is a comely heroine and Wade a stalwart gamer, the story is so complex that a chart would help sort out who’s who and why.

It’s even harder to find a character to care about. The kids leading the hunt for the Egg are likely candidates but their characters are not developed enough for the audience to bond with them.

This will probably thrill the gamers and those who like complex, futuristic plots that they can argue about incessantly, as well as Trivial Pursuit players who like to focus on the past cultural events and argue about them. There are scads of references in the film, but not enough to keep this viewer enthralled, sorry.

Sherlock Gnomes (PG) **

Sometimes British humor (excuse me “humour”) is excruciatingly funny, sometimes not. This is a not.

An incredible cast of voices has been nominated to play the animated parts, and Emily Blunt as Juliet is terrific. Mary J. Blige (Irene), cast to sing Elton John’s song, has trouble making her lines believable in her role. James McAvoy and Johnny Depp as Gnomeo and Gnomes do serviceable jobs, but the film seems to be a collection of sketch ideas that mostly make no sense. What is a collection of Asian fighting cats doing in a gnomes movie? Nothing helpful.

The loose theme of the film is to trust friends with responsibility and loyalty. Both Gnomeo and Holmes are quietly castigated for making their partners seem secondary. Moriarty (Jamie Demetriou) is the arch-villain of the piece, allegedly, but he is an amorphous blob who comes and goes. The Elton John featured tune comes off as mere filler and the main reason to hire Blige to play the part. One final caveat: the varied British accents may be difficult to interpret for the intended audience of kids.

God Is Not Dead: A Light in the Darkness (PG) **

This film has a threatening beginning. We are told at the start, “There is only one truth: Jesus Christ.” From that viewpoint, the film continues to ignore all other religious answers. The film stars, among others, Jean Pirro of Fox and Dana Loesch of the NRA.

This is the third in a series of “God Is Not Dead” films with David A.R. White as the Reverend Dave Hill. The major flaw in the film, for me, was its premise: The campus church of Hadleigh University, St. James, is blamed for religious controversy. This is a liberal arts college that actively opposes a relatively peaceful church and some celebrate its destruction in an accidental fire that also kills a guest preacher from Kenya, Jude (Benjamin A. Onyango). Things get testy between Reverend Dave and his friend and chairman of the Board at Hadleigh, Thomas Ellsworth (Ted McGinley).

Meanwhile there are religious doubts all over the place, eventually including the Reverend Dave, of course. His brother, Pearce (John Corbett), comes down from Chicago to sue the college for taking over the church location. He has become a non-believer. The college plans to tear down the ruined church and build a new student center on the property while the Reverend Dave, citing the fact that his father used to be the pastor there, fights to keep the church where it is and rebuild.

All the while, I kept asking: “What’s wrong with a softly denominational church on a liberal arts campus?” The assistant pastor, Josh Wheaton (Shane Harper), does most of the out-and-out preaching in the film and he is as tedious as that sounds. The entire film, not surprisingly, is intensely preachy.

The Reverend Dave eventually talks to God, which clears everything up—for him—and romances bloom under the force of love. This film is only for the devout, I’m afraid, though I was the only audience member on the opening night. Oh, and for those of you who wonder how Tatum O’Neal is doing, she has a bit part in the film. This is a cheaply shot film with far too much use of hand-held cameras and very little dramatic tension.

Pacific Rim: Uprising (PG-13) *

Obscure dialogue about obscure subjects with an obscure cast makes for an agonizing near-two-hour cyborg-fest that makes no sense at all. John Boyega as Jake mumbles his way through inane dialogue about computer circuits and Kaiju-speak to emerge a heroic savior of the world—again! Scott Eastwood (Nate) is an instructor who should know what he’s doing, but newcomer Amara (Cailee Spaeny) out-intuits him and becomes a co-hero.

Who they are fighting is not important; only the most discerning can determine who is what in this constant fight fest, accompanied by successive thunderous minor chords with all brass and synthesizers blazing until the final cyber-blast at Mt. Fuji settles things for this episode. Yes, I hesitate to tell you that there will be a sequel if the end of the film is in any way prophetic.

The script is a series of non-sequiturs with horrible mystic references mixed in with the computer talk―complete gibberish. The plot is straight out of the WWE. I simply detested this film as there is far better stuff on Netflix at home—Like “Girls’ Guide to Divorce.” Is Beau Garrett hot or what? Sure beats watching this garbage.

Midnight Sun (PG-13) *

This movie made me angry from the start. It is simply one of the most manipulative, cynical films I have seen recently. It is a remake of a Japanese film by the same name from a decade ago. Same disease (Xeroderma pigmentosum), even though it is six times more prevalent in Japan than in the US. Same plot—hopelessly mired in kitsch and melodrama, so targeted to tear production that you can’t help but either succumb to what you know is going to happen or do as I did and start shaking your head at the manipulation.

Cute girl, Katie (Bella Thorne), with an awful singing voice, boyfriend with strong DNA credentials (Patrick Schwarzenegger), and a soapy, sloppy, predictable script― what could go wrong? Most of the dialogue is embarrassed, tentative, cutesy and predictable, especially for two eighteen-year-olds, one of whom is going to Berkeley.

The only semblance of adult behavior is Kate’s friend, Morgan, winsomely played by Quinn Shephard. Rob Riggle as Kate’s father tries his best but has some of the most insipid lines to read.

I soon lose respect for films when I know what’s happening next and why. This movie telegraphs every punch and, though it is almost certain to make teens cry like mad, they’d have to be mad to enjoy this slop. Perhaps the soupiest moment of all comes when Katie, showing signs of her deterioration from one touch of sunset, tells her dad that she’s setting him up on a dating site. We all know what that means—another case of telegraphing everything. Avoid like sunrise.