Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Weekend Movie Guide

Emily Blunt stars in Mary Poppins Returns

Roma - 4 Stars. Alfonso Cuarón recreates his childhood in middle class Mexico City (during the early 1970s) and the nanny he & his family loved.

If Beale Street Could Talk - 4 Stars.  Award worthy dramatization of James Baldwin's 1974 novel of struggle and injustice.

Green Book - 3½ Stars. New York bouncer drives jazz pianist on a concert tour of 1962 pre-civil rights South. Each man emerges better for the experience.

Mary Poppins Returns - 3½ Stars. Disney's update of "Mary Poppins" delights. The musical numbers merit applause, and Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda fill the bill.

Vice - 3 1/2 Stars.  The story of Dick Chaney's rise told with astonishing performances.

Can You Ever Forgive Me? - 3½ Stars. Melissa McCarthy nails the story of writer Lee Israel, who faked a series of celebrity letters, when her career sputters. Funny and charming.

Bohemian Rhapsody - 3½ Stars. Irresistible (but clichéd) celebration of Freddy Mercury and Queen.

Widows - 3½ Stars. Viola Davis must pay her dead husband's debt to the mob with one last heist. A thrilling, dense thriller.

Maria by Callas - 3½ Stars. Beautiful documentary on the gifted diva's life, told in interviews with her from over the years.

A Star Is Born - 3 Stars. Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga make this remake a charm.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs - 3 Stars. Delightful series of western-themed, mostly comic but always surprising stories. Wonderful cast. (streaming)

Instant Family - 3 Stars. Surprisingly enjoyable comedy about a couple adopting a teen and her younger siblings.

Free Solo - 3 Stars. Climbing without a rope. Hold on to your seat.

The Mule - 2½ Stars. Clint Eastwood as a 90-year-old, driving drugs for the cartel.

The Favourite - 2½ Stars. Sex, power and petulance in Queen Anne's court.

Mary Queen of Scots - 2½ Stars. Showcase for excellent Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie drags, and gets hard to follow.

Once Upon a Deadpool - 2½ Stars. Deadpool 2 with the dirty words bleeped out, plus a few new scenes. Nothing new, but still funny.

Ralph Breaks the Internet - 2½ Stars. The further adventures of the video game character and his best friend, transferred to the net.

Boy Erased - 2½ Stars. Lucas Hedges goes to gay conversion therapy. "Boy Erased" avoids the usual sledge hammer approach, with fine performances including Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe as Hedges' parents.

On the Basis of Sex - 2 Stars.  Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's early triumph for equal rights can't compare to the documentary "RGB." 

Ben Is Back - 2 Stars. Addict Lucas Hedges comes home too early from rehab. Julia Roberts enables. Hard to watch, with a sappy ending.

Beautiful Boy - 1 Star. Steve Carell as writer David Sheff, trying to deal with the drug addiction of his almost perfect son (played by Timothée Chalamet.) These good actors can't quite take this beyond manipulative.

Vox Lux - Zero Stars. Natalie Portman grows into a tantrum-throwing pop star after a childhood trauma. Who needs this?

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Mary Poppins Returns Review - 3½ Stars

Look! Up in the sky! It's Mary Poppins! She's returning for the holidays and a box office bonanza. This kind of project, cashing in on the beloved 1964 classic, could have gone wrong in a hurry. I'm glad to report it's lighter than air. Emily Blunt takes the Julie Andrews role. Her singing sounds fine. Her character brings a wry spiciness to the story. Blunt teams with Lin-Manuel Miranda, who plays one of Dick Van Dyke's apprentices. Miranda mugs a little too often: He might feel more comfortable on stage. Mainly, he stays out of the way. Poppins returns to save the family of the children from the first film. The new Mr. Banks (played by Ben Whishaw) must recover from the death of his wife, an event that caused him to mortgage the family home. If he doesn't come up with the money, mean old Colin Firth will foreclose. Blunt and the children share animated musical interludes... some so good, they made the audience applaud. The production features surprise cameos and a lovely segment with Dick Van Dyke, who does a little dancing and a lot of charming. The holidays need this kind of return. "Mary Poppins Returns," 3½ stars, rated "PG." Does it deliver what it promises? Exactly. Is it entertaining? Certainly. Is it worth the price of admission? Count on it.

The Mule Review - 2½ Stars

Clint Eastwood seems made for the role of Earl Stone in "The Mule." Based on a true story, Eastwood's character starts the story as a successful horticulturist, specializing in lilies. Flash forward a few years, and the Internet has changed the world and put him out of business. By chance, he gets an offer to work as a cartel drug "mule," driving sacks of drugs from Texas to Illinois. His 90 years give him cover, because nobody pays attention to old people in America. Speaking of old, Eastwood growls racist insults and complains about the modern age. He sings songs on the road and entertains hookers at motels. He's not politically correct, and I imagine that's the ways his fans want it. A great cast includes Bradley Cooper as the DEA agent trying to catch him, Alison Eastwood (his real daughter) as his angry daughter (hmm,) Dianne Wiest as his very unhappy ex-wife, and Andy Garcia as the cartel head who takes an interest in the old man. The movie rolls out economically. It's Eastwood, straight with no chaser. "The Mule," rated "R," 2½ stars. Does it deliver what it promises? Eastwood in an Eastwood movie. Is it entertaining? Easy to watch. Is it worth the price of admission? Not Oscar material, but very watchable.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Mary Queen of Scots Review - 2½ Stars

"Mary Queen of Scots" arrives with high expectations, starring two of the best actresses of our time. Saoirse Ronan plays the lead... in history, the only legitimate, living child of King James V. Her cousin (Queen Elizabeth I) pushes Mary out, after marriage makes Mary Queen Consort of France. Margot Robbie, an equally exciting A-list actress, plays Elizabeth with bile and cunning. She holds the Crown, thanks in part to Mary Stuart's Catholicism. The power struggle intensifies when Mary returns to Scotland. Ronan gets the showier role with more screen time. Robbie holds our attention as events lead to a face-to-face encounter. Their showdown feels like a let down, as the two debate in a room filled with sheets. We finally gets the stars together, but we can't see them. "Mary Queen of Scots" presents a complicated, difficult-to-follow struggle.  It may be good for you, but it takes a lot of effort to choke down.This is the movie equivalent of spinach. "Mary Queen of Scots, rated "R," 2½Stars.  Does it deliver what it promises?  Two great actresses in a historic drama. Is it entertaining? Difficult to follow. Is it worth the price of admission? The price of spinach.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Ben Is Back Review - 2 Stars

Lucas Hedges surprises his family for Christmas in "Ben Is Back." The surprise is, Ben has broken out of rehab. Most of his family don't approve of the visit, but Ben's mother (played by Julia Roberts) determines to make it work. Her hovering feels like enabling. Ben, of course, walks right into the triggers that turned him into an addict. The conclusion rings false... only in the movies. "Ben Is Back," rated R, 2 stars. Does it deliver what it promises? Family drama. Is it entertaining? Anxious. Is it worth the price of admission? Misses the mark.

Vox Lux Review - Zero Stars

"Vox Lux" presents a cautionary tale of pop rock fame. Raffey Cassidy plays a high school music student who witnesses and survives an awful event. She responds to her grief with song. Her song goes viral. Soon, managers & trainers take over and turn her into a pop sensation. We skip ahead 20 years. Natalie Portman replaces Cassidy as the grown up version, still performing, but not very happy about it. We learn her life has turned into a series of tantrums, rehabs and hospitalizations. Now she aims desperately for a comeback. Portman screams, acts out, and runs over those around her. The film concludes with a pop concert of the worst music I've heard in years. "Vox Lux" made me appreciate "A Star Is Born" for threading the needle of a show business rise-and-fall story, rather than in the case of "Vox Lux" missing the mark by a mile. "Vox Lux," rated "R," zero stars. Does it deliver what it promises? Ugly story and bad music. Is it entertaining? Grating. Is it worth the price of admission? In a word, no.