Friday, December 14, 2018

Weekend Movie Guide

Saoirse Ronan stars in Mary Queen of Scots

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

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.

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 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.

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?

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.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Roma Review - 4 Stars

Alfonso Cuarón pays tribute to his family's live-in maid in "Roma. He names this memoir for the middle class Mexico City neighborhood where he grew up in the 1970s. Yalitza Aparicio cooks, cleans, picks up, and cares for Cuaron, his siblings and parents. She works in silence. We watch her world through her eyes. The story emerges gradually, including separation, divorce, revolutionary politics, and tragedy. All present as unremarkable details of life. The film plays in crisp black and white with breathtaking, epic scenes matched with small intimate moments. The gradual pace, and the beauty of the filmmaking give remarkable power to "Roma." Rated "R," 4 stars. Does it deliver what it promises? Captures the mix of big and small events in life. Is it entertaining? Mesmerizing. Is it worth the price of admission? One of the year's very best. A must-see.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

The Favourite Review - 2½ Stars

Oh, that wacky Queen Anne. She ruled 18th century England by whim & petulance, and the suggestions of her favorites in court, including her "loving" cousin lady Sarah. "The Favourite" comes from director Yorgos Lanthimos ("The Killing of a Sacred Deer," The Lobster.) He entertains filmgoers, while making us feel uncomfortable. British actress Olivia Colman plays Queen Anne with cruelty and wicked humor. Rachel Weisz chews the scenery as the Queen's advisor/lover. Emma Stone arrives as a poor cousin, who works her way up from servant to rival. "The Favourite" feels like an erotic twist on "All About Eve." It jolts viewers with out-of-the-blue contemporary references, and throws in an unforgettable dance number destined to leave you shaking your head (or maybe just shaking.) About two-thirds of the way in, the sex, jokes and intrigue wear thin. I had great fun watching "The Favourite," until I didn't. "The Favourite," 2½ stars, rated "R." Does it deliver what it promises? Sex, power, and history (as comedy.) Is it entertaining? Jolting. Is it worth the price of admission? For the art house crowd: Others will walk out, scratching their head.