New movies this week: 'American Assassin,' 'Mother!' and 'Beach Rats' in theaters, Sept 15
Paramount Pictures, 2017.

Last weekend, it was "It" that dominated and shocked at the box office, pulling in a record 123 million, the highest-grossing R-rated September opening ever (see our review of "It" here). "It" looks to hold on to the top box office spot this weekend two, despite several good movies seeing release...one of which may be the most divisive and talked-about movie of the year.

Here are reviews for the movies opening in theaters on Friday, September 15, 2017:

 


"American Assassin"

Based on the best-selling book, "American Assassin" doesn't necessarily break any new ground...the plot - about a terrorist group who is itching to get a nuclear bomb and the secret government agency set to stop them - is pretty much the gold-standard for international action movies these days. But this episode of "24" starts with a bang, and on the strength of its cast and some clever writing, "American Assassin" manages to successfully sneak up on you.

Everyman Mitch Rapp (Dylan O'Brien) has his life ripped apart at the hands of a terrorist cell, but instead of playing the victim, he dedicates his life to taking down the men that caused him pain. He literally takes on the bad guys himself, in the absolute form of American fantasy where one's personal anguish can be weaponized against our enemies. Having gotten close to his target, he pops up on the CIA's radar and impresses Deputy Director Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan), who tries to recruit him. He becomes the understudy of Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton), the leader of an elite special ops counterterrorism unit, but Rapp's tendency to "go rogue" makes him quite the loose cannon.

Dylan O'Brien shows that he has what it takes to be a leading man, and he brings an intensity to the role that will make the audience beg for a "Bourne"-like film franchise. And 20 years ago, who would have thought that Michael Keaton would be getting such juicy roles? After "Birdman," "The Founder," and "Spider-Man: Homecoming," Keaton is apparently just entering his dramatic prime. Taylor Kitsch is also an effective antagonist, as a former underling of Hurley's who knows exactly how to take down his adversaries. The film begins strong, ends with one of the most impressive and surprising CG sequences in recent memory, and throws in a torture sequence that will leave audiences squirming. It may be a conventional CIA thriller, but "American Assassin" hits a satisfying bullseye.

Grade: B+

Rated R.
Genre: Action, Thriller. Run Time: 1 hour 51 minutes.
Starring: Dylan O'Brien, Michael Keaton, Taylor Kitsch, Sanaa Lathan.
Directed by Michael Cuesta ("Kill the Messenger").


"mother!"

There are only a handful of films that have ever been made with an exclamation mark in the title, but unlike "Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot" or "That Darn Cat!" the new Darren Aronofsky masterpiece "mother!" really earns its use. It will surely be one of the most talked-about movies of 2017 and surely, one of the most divisive.

Like other movies, "mother!" does have a plot that can be described on the surface, but unlike many movies, what's really going on is much deeper, and far more complex to try to summarize. On it's face, it is about a couple (Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem, both doing award-worthy work, as always) whose relationship is tested when a strange couple (Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer) show up on their doorstep. To say more would be ruin where this strange, psychological mystery ends up going.

Aronofsky has created some of the best, dark character studies in recent years (think "Black Swan" and "The Wrestler") and some of the most out-there, disturbing films ever (think "Requiem for a Dream," "Pi," or "Black Swan" again). With "mother!," he offers up very little for free and demands that the audience find meaning within this eerie, claustrophobic setting that he has created. For some, it will be too much work...a pretentious piece of horror-fantasy that requires way too much focus. But for those that like movies that challenge their minds, "mother!" is as good as it gets. This is definitely a movie to talk about with friends, and be skeptical if any of them pretend to know all the answers. I sure don't (like, what is Kristen Wiig doing in this movie?). But I've never been so entranced and compelled to unravel the deeper meaning of a film. Aronofsky, Lawrence, Bardem and the rest of the cast have created something brilliant, I'm just not exactly sure what.

Grade: A-

Rated R.
Genre: Drama, Horror, Mystery. Run Time: 2 hours 1 minutes.
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer, Domhnall Gleeson, Kristen Wiig.
Written and Directed by Darren Aronofsky ("Noah," "Black Swan," "The Wrestler," "Requiem for a Dream").


"Beach Rats"

The indy drama "Beach Rats" is just as riveting, just as powerful as last year's Oscar winner for Best Picture, "Moonlight." That's high praise, but "Beach Rats" deserves every bit of it.

There are just certain types of films that feel real...as if the camera is just dropping in on life as it happens. In this movie, we eavesdrop on Frankie, a closeted teenage boy who is wrestling with his identity and his sexuality. Where "Moonlight" showed us the progression of a young man into adulthood, "Beach Rats" leaves us trapped in a specific time, and much like what Frankie is going through, there is no escaping.

Frankie is played by Harris Dickinson, a young filmmaker in his own right, but who most American audiences won't recognize. They need to. His is a breakthrough performance and the best thing about the film. When we meet Frankie, we see he's a tough street kid, who hangs out on the beaches on the edge of Brooklyn. He is mixed up in drugs and prioritizes getting high. His dad is dying of cancer. When a pretty young girl (Madeline Weinstein) starts hitting on him, he goes along with it...not because he's interested, but because he knows he should be. It's at night, when Frankie is alone and by himself on his computer, where we see the vulnerable side of his personality. He frequents gay chat rooms and at first is so shy he can't show his face, but he eventually ends up meeting several different men for sexual encounters at the beach in the middle of the night.

It's a harrowing existence and writer/director Eliza Hittman captures it without sugar-coating. "Beach Rats" is a raw and gritty film of a boy living in shadows, but it's a film worthy to be given the spotlight.

Grade: A-

Rated R.
Genre: Drama. Run Time: 1 hour 35 minutes.
Starring: Harris Dickinson, Madeline Weinstein, Kate Hodge, Neal Huff.
Written and Directed by Eliza Hittman ("It Felt Like Love").


"Rebel in the Rye"

This film was not reviewed.

Rated PG-13.
Genre: Biography, Drama. Run Time: 1 hour 46 minutes.
Starring: Sarah Paulson, Zoey Deutch, Nicholas Hoult.
Co-Written and Directed by Danny Strong (feature-film debut).



All of these movies open locally on Friday, September 15, 2017. Check here for show times.

Next Week's Reviews Include: "Kingsmen: The Golden Circle" and "The LEGO Ninjago Movie."