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Lightning Round

Animated shorts and schoolyard fisticuffs




OSCAR ANIMATED SHORTS. Aliens, seabirds, alcoholics and the headless can be seen among the eight animated short films nominated for this year's Oscars, films that range from delightful to disturbing.

The program opens with Borrowed Time, a beautifully animated 3-D movie by two Pixar animators about a suicidal sheriff with a painful past, and it just gets better from there. Most are from the U.S., with a couple of French/Canadian collaborations thrown in. One student film is in the mix: Once Upon a Line, a fun meditation on male-female relationships. It's impressive considering it had to compete with the likes of Pixar's Piper, an insanely cute film about a baby sandpiper.

Asteria, a French film about a couple of astronauts who land on a new planet and encounter aliens, was beautifully animated but it didn't quite grab me as the others did. For some reason, the film was dubbed in English, so the characters' mouths didn't match up to the dialogue. (A YouTube clip shows the original in French with subtitles and it works much better.)

Some films were allegorical, such as Blind Vaysha (Canada), about a girl born with the ability to see only the past and the future, but not the present. I was especially moved by a French film by Franck Dion called The Head Vanishes, in which an elderly woman takes a trip to the seaside. As the main character narrates her story, we begin to understand why she is carrying her head under her arm.

Most were under 10 minutes but the program finale was a 35-minute illustrated short story called Pear Cider and Cigarettes by artist Robert Valley about his decades-long friendship with a daredevil whose antics lead him to the brink of destruction. The movie (the only non-PG entry) was fully animated in Photoshop, an unusual choice that gives it a comic book look.

I enjoyed the wide range of animation, from the beautifully rendered birds and people in the Pixar films to the comic book-like presentation of Pear Cider and Cigarettes, the scratchy drawings of Blind Vaysha and the simple moving lines of Once Upon a Line. In a short film, you don't have very much time to make an impression and these films were likely chosen for their ability to pack a punch quickly. If you're ready for a little bit of roller-coastering on a rainy day, they're just the thing. PG/NR. 86m. MINIPLEX.

FIST FIGHT. If you're already thinking of next year's Oscar picks, here's one you won't be seeing on any short list. If, having read a synopsis of this film or seen a preview, you were hoping there would be a plot twist somewhere along the way, or that a character might learn something about him or herself, or that things won't be as they seem, you'll want to go to another movie.

Fist Fight opens on the last day of high school, also known as Senior Prank Day. Students have basically taken over and chaos reigns. They're watching porn, greasing the hallway floors and letting horses run wild through the school. That is, until Ice Cube, I mean, Mr. Strickland, shows up snarling. In fact, he doesn't stop until the credits roll. We quickly learn of rumors that Mr. Strickland is a former gang member, a sadistic ex-cop, and that he may or may not have killed Saddam Hussein's sons. In other words, he's a bad dude. But, like all teachers, he just wants kids to learn. So he intimidates his coworker Andy Campbell, a nervous and squeaky-voiced teacher played by Charlie Day, into helping him fix a problem with the AV system in his classroom so that he can show his ungrateful and impolite students a Ken Burns Civil War documentary that they couldn't care less about. But this doesn't work out because the kids are playing a prank, so Ice Cube, I mean, Mr. Strickland, grabs an axe and busts up a desk. When Andy rats him out to the principal (Dean Norris from Breaking Bad) in order to keep his own job, Strickland challenges Andy to a fist fight after school.

The rest of the movie is about Andy trying to avoid the fight. Will they or won't they? Meanwhile, word has gotten around the entire world, via YouTube, about the impending skirmish. In the movie's only subplot, Andy is scheduled to appear with his 7-year-old daughter in a talent show. Will he make it? This leads to the funniest scene in the film and a respite from fighting.

There are a few things (like the aforementioned scene) that save this film — just barely — from being a complete waste of time. While Ice Cube spends the entire film scowling at everyone and bullying Andy (no one, including the police, seems to take the threat of violence seriously, even when Strickland suggests he might go after Andy outside of work), a stellar supporting cast provides comic relief. There's the scene-stealing Jillian Bell in the role of a teacher with an addiction to teenage boys and drugs. Then there's Kumail Nanjiani (Silicon Valley, Portlandia), who is hilarious as the school's security guard. Christina Hendricks is perfectly cast as a plotting, evil teacher, though her role is sadly undeveloped. Still, she has that walk. Tracy Morgan, the high school coach, is goofy as ever. Dennis Haysbert, in a cameo as a school superintendent more intent on bragging about his golfing and fishing conquests than actually superintending, is also fun to watch.

With such a great cast, it's too bad the script didn't have some smarter elements. There are plenty of characters who could have done something to complicate the plot but instead they're forced to sit idly by. Bullies can be interesting, if portrayed as actual people with conflicting emotions. But the bullies in this movie are all predictable, from Ice Cube's one-dimensional violent character down to basically every student in the entire high school who seems to be able to one-up Andy. Even Andy's daughter has her own personal bully. The message of the film appears to be that it's better to stand up for yourself than not — then again, you might get your head bashed in. Not exactly a new idea. R. 91m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

— Kristin Kirby

For showtimes, see the Journal's listings at or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456; Richards' Goat Miniplex 630-5000.


COLLIDE. After a car accident, a backpacker (Nicholas Hoult) becomes an Autobahn mule for drug dealers and gangsters from whom he must rescue his girl (Felicity Jones). With Ben Kingsley and Anthony Hopkins. PG13. 99m. BROADWAY.

GET OUT. A young African-American man (Daniel Kaluuya) meets his white girlfriend's parents (Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener) and things go from interracial-awkwardness to Southern Gothic horror. R. 103m. BROADWAY.

THE RED TURTLE. This Studio Ghibli animated feature about a lone shipwrecked man features the sounds of his island surroundings but no dialogue. PG. 80m. MINOR.

PATERSON. Jim Jarmusch's film about a routine-bound bus driver (Adam Driver) and his mercurial wife (Golshifteh Farahani). PG. 120m. MINOR.

ROCK DOG. Luke Wilson and Eddie Izzard voice an aspiring mutt musician and his feline mentor in this animated comedy. PG. 120m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (1952). Gene Kelly, Donald O'Connor and Debbie Reynolds star in the iconic backstage musical about the rise of the talkie. PG. 103m.


A CURE FOR WELLNESS. A young man (Dane DeHaan) visiting a clinic in the Swiss Alps is drawn into the creepy, hallucinatory and sinister goings on. R. 146m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

A DOG'S PURPOSE. Watching the dog die in any movie is the most gut-wrenching part, so let's do it over and over until we are dry husks devoid of tears. PG. 120m. BROADWAY.

FENCES. Denzel Washington and Viola Davis put on an acting clinic in this August Wilson adaptation about an African American family's bonds and frustrations. FORTUNA, MINOR

FIFTY SHADES DARKER. Not even the 1990s soft-core sex scenes can distract from the poor plotting. The ostensible female perspective collapses into male-dominant wish fulfillment. Gross. With Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan.

THE GREAT WALL. A Western mercenary (Matt Damon in an unfortunate ponytail) aids Chinese mercenaries in their battle against hordes of lizards and carrying their own movie. With Tian Jing and Willem Dafoe. PG. 104m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

HIDDEN FIGURES. Indelible performances Taraji P. Henson, Janelle Monae and Octavia Spencer make up for lack of style in this compelling story about the black women whose calculations were vital to the space race. PG. 127m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK MINOR.

JOHN WICK CHAPTER 2. Picking up a week after the events of John Wick, the sequel raises the bar for action and inventive ways for Wick (Keanu Reeves) to be the baddest. R. 122m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

LA LA LAND. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone make real movie magic in this lush, candy-colored and sublimely giddy musical about an aspiring actress and jazz-loving pianist in Los Angeles. PG13. 128m. BROADWAY.

LATINO INTERNATIONAL FILM FEST. Three films on Latino immigration to the U.S. Discussion. NR. MINOR.

THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE. The plastic Dark Knight (voiced by a gravelly Will Arnett) takes on a partner in this brick-filled animated feature. With Micheal Cera. PG. 104m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

LION. Dev Patel stars in the genuine, moving and beautiful true tale of a young adopted man searching for his roots and his family in India. PG13. 118m. MILL CREEK.

OSCAR DOCUMENTARY SHORTS. Nominated films of 2017. NR. 81m. MINIPLEX

OSCAR LIVE ACTION SHORTS. Nominated films of 2017. PG13. 130m. MINIPLEX

SALESMAN. Married Iranian actors (Taraneh Alidoosti and Shahab Hosseini) rehearsing for Death of a Salesman struggle with the aftermath of the wife's brutal assault. PG13. 125m. MINIPLEX.

SPLIT. James McAvoy plays a kidnapper with multiple personalities and who is probably already dead in this M. Night Shyamalan movie. PG13. 116m. BROADWAY.

— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill

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