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Movie review: ‘The Greatest Showman’ is dazzling spectacle

AUDIO: Tim reviews “The Greatest Showman” on the “KQ Morning Show” with Tom Barnard. Segment beings 8 minutes in.

“The Greatest Showman” (PG)

Given the number of liberties the filmmakers take with circus impresario P.T. Barnum and his work in the film, it’s hard to exactly call “The Greatest Showman” a musical biopic. Instead, it’s more of a musical drama that’s inspired by different points in Barnum’s life that’s set, naturally, in the 1800s, yet incorporates modern music. If it sounds like a massive challenge, it is — yet ultimately, “The Greatest Showman” becomes a dazzling spectacle that works wonders.

A passion project for Hugh Jackman, who sings, dances and emotes as Barnum, “The Greatest Showman” has been in development for years, and thanks to the good buzz and eventual acclaim and fortune experienced by “La La Land,” the timing is perfect for an original musical. Better yet, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the songwriters who wrote the Oscar-winning music for “La La Land” also wrote the music for “The Greatest Showman,” which explains why the music in the film is so engaging. And while the not all the tunes in “The Greatest Showman” are stellar or destined to become standards, the songs work within the context of the film, and are the keys to its success.

If you read up on Barnum, you’ll find out that he had a pretty eventful life apart from the circus, including that of a newspaper owner and a politician. The film, of course, focuses on the events that led up to the formation of his circus, which began as a museum for strange inanimate objects that didn’t do so well. When he introduced people of all shapes and sizes into the mix with different oddities into the mix, however, the show took off, but wasn’t entirely embraced by the public.

Directed by Jackman’s fellow Aussie Michael Gracey,  “The Greatest Showman” also focuses on Barnum’s traveling promotion of opera singer Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson), which was his attempt to legitimize himself in the eyes of the hifalutins and critics, who weren’t so kind to his show of oddities. A key subplot in the film, the inclusion of the Lind story helps flesh out some of the baggage Barnum carried from his youth into his adult life, and further helps balance the film in the showman’s desperate search for acceptance.

Apart from the show’s tunes, the cast is top-notch, from Zac Efron as Barnum’s business partner and Zendaya as an acrobat. The best in show honors in “The Greatest Showman,” though, go to the always-engaging Jackman and Michelle Williams, who plays his supporting wife and greatest confidant Charity Barnum.

Lammometer: 9 (out of 10)

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Movie reviews: ‘The Nice Guys,’ ‘Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising’

Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling in 'The Nice Guys' (Warner Bros.))

“The Nice Guys” (R) 3 stars (out of four)

“Iron Man 3” writer-director Shane Black is back and firing on all cylinders with “The Nice Guys,” a smart and funny action buddy comedy starring the likeable duo of Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling. Set in Los Angeles in 1977, Crowe and Gosling star as a pair of bumbling private detectives trying to unravel the sprawling mystery behind the death of a porn star and people connected with her, and the disappearance of the adult daughter of a high-ranking Justice Department official.

While “The Nice Guys” is certainly a breath of fresh air amid the mostly stale comedies polluting theaters today, it’s actually similar in tone and structure to Black’s far superior 2005 action buddy comedy “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang,” starring Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer. “The Nice Guys” is worthy of attention in theaters, but fans definitely need to mine the

brilliant Black, Downey and Kilmer gem to get the best the genre has to offer.

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“Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising” (R) 1 1/2 stars

Seth Rogen is entrenched deeper than ever in his comedy rut in “Neighbors 2,” a dreadfully unfunny sequel to the dreadfully unfunny comedy hit from 2014. Once again co-starring Zac Efron and Rose Byrne, “Neighbors 2” once again heavily leans on stoner jokes, cracks about body parts and other college party shenanigans, with the only difference being the neighbor frat boys from the first film have now been replaced with sorority girls.

There are only a handful of laughs in “Neighbors 2,” and apart from some layered-in social commentary on the sexist culture of fraternities on college campuses, the film is a complete dud. Chloe Grace-Moretz co-stars as the leader of the sorority and the thorn in Rogen and Byrne’s side.

Movie reviews: ‘No Escape,’ ‘We Are Your Friends’

Pierce Brosnan and Owen Wilson in 'No Escape' (photo - The Weinstein Company)

By Tim Lammers

“No Escape” (R) 3 1/2 stars (out of four)
There’s no escaping the intensity of “No Escape,” a taut action thriller directed and produced, respectively, by Minnesota brothers John Erick Dowdle and Drew Dowdle. Known predominantly for their horror films “Quarantine,” “Devil” and “As Above, So Below,” the Dowdles – who also co-wrote the film – effectively create real-life terror as it follows an American family being hunted during a coup in Southeast Asia.

Owen Wilson stars as Jack Dwyer, a struggling U.S. businessman forced to relocate with his wife (Lake Bell) and young daughters (Claire Geare and Sterling Jerins) to work on a project in an unnamed third world country. Less than a day after they arrive, the prime minister of the country is assassinated and the family is su

ddenly caught in the middle of a bloody, violent coup, where the insurgents want all foreign visitors – particularly Americans – dead.

Interview: John and Drew Dowdle

With only the aid of a mysterious British citizen (Pierce Brosnan) and his friend (Sahajak Boonthanakit) to depend on, Jack and his family find themselves on the run from a large group of rebels, who are out for blood when it is discovered that the company Jack works for is trying to privatize the country’s water supply.

Like most action thrillers, “No Escape” no doubt has its share of outrageous action moments and instances of characters conveniently being in the right place at the right time. But elevating “No Escape” above other films in the genre is a smart script that weaves in narratives that mirror such earth-shattering events like the Fall of Saigon, the desecration of U.S. soldiers at Mogadishu, and the raid on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi (a particularly prophetic scene, since the Dowdles conceived the film seven years ago). In the middle of it all is a vulnerable family with no particular set of skills, a la Liam Neeson, which makes the frightening scenarios all the more relatable for the film’s audiences.

Perhaps the smartest move, though, was a role reversal of sorts, which found Wilson in more of a dramatic part and Brosnan delivering the comic relief. It’s particularly jarring to see Wilson’s character resort to doing some very bad things in order to protect his family, and showing much more range from the actor than we’ve ever seen before. In film world filled with so many cookie cutter action thrillers, it’s refreshing to see a pair of filmmakers like the Dowdles reconfigure the mold.

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“We Are Your Friends” (R) 1 1/2 stars (out of four)
An aimless plot keeps spinning ’round and ’round in “We Are Your Friends,” a hapless millennial drama about an aspiring club DJ (Zac Efron) who wants to escape his humble confines in California’s San Fernando Valley, and find fame and fortune in Los Angeles, and eventually, the world. A movie tailor-made for the teen/twentysomething demographic, the film is about as one note as the singular, monotonous Euro beat that drives its soundtrack. It’s an hour-and-a-half of hipster hell.

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Review: Tim Lammers talks ‘Neighbors’ on KARE TV

Zac Efron, Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne in 'Neighbors' (photo -- Universal Pictures)

Tim reviews the raunchy comedy “Neighbors” on KARE 11 TV (NBC) in Minneapolis.  See the review of the film, starring Seth Rogen, Zac Efron and Rose Byrne, below (print version on BringMeTheNews.com).

Also hear Tim’s review with Rider on 96.3 K-TWIN below.