Friday, January 19, 2018

Weekend Movie Guide

Chris Hemsworth stars in 12 Strong

Lady Bird - 4 Stars. Greta Gerwig directs a spot-on mother/daughter battle, during a young woman's high school senior year. Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf deliver award-worthy performances.

Darkest Hour - 4 Stars. Set in May 1940, as Winston Churchill becomes Prime Minister and ignores the advice to negotiate with Hitler.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri - 4 Stars. Caustic, often shock comedy, starring Frances McDormand as a woman at war with the town police over the unsolved murder of her daughter.

I, Tonya - 4 Stars. Margot Robbie dazzles as hard scrabble Olympic skater and tabloid queen Tonya Harding.

Phantom Thread - 4 Stars. 1950s fashion artist Daniel Day-Lewis finds his match in waitress Vicky Krieps. Hitchcock would have loved this power struggle romance.

The Post - 3½ Stars. The Washington Post defies the government, and publishes the Pentagon Papers in 1971. Stirring newspaper drama, as well as inspiring rise of Katherine Graham as publisher/leader.

Mudbound - 3½ Stars. Epic drama of poor, white farmers and poor, black sharecroppers in the post-WWII South. Streaming on Netflicks.

Call Me by Your Name - 3½ Stars. Beautifully filmed, languid Italian summer romance.

Wonder - 3 Stars. Family-friendly story of a 5th grader, born with facial deformities, trading home schooling for private school. Jacob Tremblay makes this story winning, with Julia Robert and Owen Wilson as his parents. Told from different points of view, it avoids sentimentality, remaining both funny and real.

Coco - 3 Stars. Pixar takes a deep dive into Mexican culture, in this eye-popping story of a little boy searching for his roots.

The Shape of Water - 3 Stars. Sally Hawkins as a mute cleaning woman, who comes to the aid of a sea creature captured during the Cold War.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi - 2½ Stars. Echoes the best elements of the earlier Star Wars films. Runs long and loud. Fans won't mind.

All the Money in the World - 2½ Stars. Christopher Plummer as J. Paul Getty negotiates with Italian kidnappers for the life of his grandson. Everything has its price. Runs long, but has some brilliant moments.

Murder on the Orient Express - 2½ Stars. Hammy but loving remake of the 1974 Agatha Christie classic.

Molly's Game - 2½ Stars. Jessica Chastain spins a pretty good story about an Olympic hopeful, turned gambling queen. Aaron Sorkin's script starts interesting, but turns exhausting.

12 Strong - 2 Stars. Patriotic based-on-fact story of the special forces team that joined an Afghanistan warlord to fight the Taliban in the weeks following 9/11. Long and hard to follow.

Hostiles - 2 Stars. Christian Bale is ordered to escort Indian Chief Wes Studi back to his homeland to die. Slow and predictable.

Downsizing - 2 Stars. Intriguing Matt Damon fable of a future, in which humans can shrink to less than one percent of normal size, the better to save the planet. Or do they?

Justice League - 2 Stars. Charismatic Gal Gadot returns as Wonder Woman, and joins Batman and several others in another of the usual formula plots to save the world.

Loving Vincent - 2 Stars. Beautifully animates Van Gogh's masterpieces, but uses them to tell a hokey story.

Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool - 2 Stars. Annette Benning portrays the last months of film star Gloria Graham, a hard-to-like, down-on-her-luck one-time Academy Award winner.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

12 Strong - 2 Stars -Review

"12 Strong" tells the stirring story of the dozen special forces soldiers who volunteered to travel to Afghanistan in the days following 9/11 to help a local warlord fight the Taliban.  Chris Hemsworth - best known as Thor - leads the group which includes actor Michael Shannon, playing a nice guy for a change.  Early on the script lays on the cliches:  the men looking on in shock at TV news coverage of 9/11, the wives responding to their husband's call to duty, the children not understanding, the promises to return home or else.  The unique mission put the men on horseback, aiding the war lord on the ground while ordering  tactical bombing in the air. Once the battles start it's hard to tell the warring tribes apart.  This probably relates to the true nature of the battle, but makes for difficult watching.  Hemsworth channels his inner "Thor" actually sounding like the superhero rather than a devoted soldier.  The actors'make up looks fake. The movie runs long.  I can't deny the heroism portrayed in "12 Strong" but I think they deserved a better movie.  "12 Strong" 2 Stars Rated "R"  Does it deliver what it promises?  Cliched war picture.  Is it entertaining?  Slow, long, poorly written.  Is it worth the price of admission?  "12 Strong" will have meaning for military fans, but little connection to many others.

Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool Review - 2 Stars

Not many remember film actress Gloria Graham, whose best years included the role of Violet in "It's a Wonderful Life," followed by a string of film noir successes. In 1952, she won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for "The Bad and the Beautiful." As her career wound down, so did she. This biography finds her in 1979 Liverpool, playing dinner theater and living in a boarding house where she meets decades younger actor Peter Turner. Their affair brings the couple back to California and finally a return to Liverpool, where Graham elects not to treat the cancer that will ultimately end her life. The structure tells Graham's story in flashback, most notably her marriage and divorce from director Nicholas Rey, followed a few years later by her marriage to Rey's son (from an earlier marriage) her one-time stepson. Hmmm, I wonder if that might have made a better story. Annette Benning remains one of our time's great actresses. I suspect she took this role, hoping for another Oscar nomination. Graham comes across needy, usurious and hard to take. "Sunset Boulevard" does this a lot better. "Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool," 2 stars, rated "R." Does it deliver what it promises? Aging star drama. Is it entertaining? Long and tedious. Is it worth the price of admission? I'm waiting for Benning's next great role. This one isn't it.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Phantom Thread Review - 4 Stars

Daniel Day-Lewis declares "Phantom Thread" will mark the end of his acting career. I hope not; but if so, he leaves on a high note. Set in 1950s England, Day-Lewis heads a London fashion house. He creates ball gowns and fancy dresses for the elite. Day-Lewis portrays the designer as an artist. He must have quiet. His every need must be met. Lesley Manville plays the designer's manager, sister, and enabler. As the story begins, his latest mistress is dismissed, for interfering with the master's concentration. On a trip to the country, he meets a country waitress played by Vicky Krieps. He brings her home, creates a dress for her, and installs her as his new love. Will brother and sister force her out as before? This time, when the old pattern gets a twist right out of an Alfred Hitchcock thriller. "Phantom Thread" looks beautiful. The interiors and set design make your eyes pop. The jazzy musical score by Johnny Greenwood sets a perfect mood. The triangle of Krieps, Manville, and Day-Lewis hums. The plot twist made my jaw drop. I left "Phantom Thread" satisfied. "Phantom Thread," 4 stars, rated 'R'. Does it deliver what it promises? Beautiful, weird thriller. Is it entertaining? Holds your attention. Is it worth the price of admission? One of the season's best.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

The 10 Best Movies of 2017

Saoirse Ronan stars in Lady Bird

Not a great year, but a pretty good one. Here's what I liked (best) in 2017.

1. Lady Bird - Touching coming-of-age story, with an award-worthy performance by Laurie Metcalf.

2. Get Out - Sly satire of black/white relations.

3. Phantom Thread - 1950s fashion designer Daniel Day-Lewis discovers his strangest desire.

4. I, Tonya - Margot Robbie knocked my socks off as Tonya Harding.

5. The Post - Meryl Streep (as Katherine Graham) risks her fortune, testing the First Amendment.

6. Darkest Hour - Gary Oldman is award-worthy as Winston Churchill, inspiring England to fight in WWII.

7. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri - Frances McDormand avenges her daughter.

8. The Lost City of Z - Thrilling adventure/mystery in the Amazon.

9. The Big Sick - Family dynamics and the power of romance.

10. Wonder Woman - Superhero delight, thanks to charismatic Gal Gadot.

Honorable Mention: Call Me by Your Name, Columbus, Mudbound, Stronger, Thank You for Your Service and Wind River

All the Money in the World Review - 2½ Stars

Christopher Plummer plays J. Paul Getty, the world's richest man in "All the Money in the World." The story is suggested by the real life kidnapping of Getty's grandson in the 1970s. Getty's daughter-in-law (played by Michelle Williams) appeals to the billionaire for millions to pay the ransom. She's broke, thanks to a lack of financial support from Getty's drug addict son. The old man refuses to pay, channeling his inner Scrooge, even as his grandson's life hangs in the balance. Mark Wahlberg appears as Getty's fixer, working with Williams for a resolution. "All the Money in the World" is getting a lot of attention because Kevin Spacey, originally cast at Getty, was cut out of the movie after shooting. Plummer shot his role in the last few weeks. Christopher Plummer's the right age, with the right amount of bitterness. "All the Money in the World" feels long, but has some stellar moments. "All the Money in the World," rated "R," 2½ stars. Does it deliver what it promises? Real life drama. Is it entertaining? Plummer's great. Is it worth the price of admission? Not bad.