Thursday, December 30, 2021

The Tender Bar (AMAZON PRIME) - 3 1/2 stars - December 17, 2021

Based on the memoir of J.R. Maguire, The Tender Bar begins as J.R. and his mother move into his grandfather's rambunctious Long Island home.  The nine-year-old J.R. (played by a winning Daniel Ranieri) immediately takes to his Uncle Charlie, played by Ben Affleck.  Uncle Charlie runs a local bar, where he introduces the kid to a Cheers like cast of characters, tutoring him in the ways of the world as he knows it. Growing into adulthood, Tye Sheridan takes over as the older version of a boy who likes to read and wants to write.  The Tender Bar tells an easy to watch, easy to like story.  George Clooney directs what I suspect is exactly the kind of story he loves.  Me. too. I think I'll read J.R. Maguire's memoir next.   

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Ten Great Movies from 2021

Movies I watched in 2021 that I'd happily watch again, and probably will: 

CODA - (APPLE TV) - Touching coming of age story with Emilia Jones as a high school senior struggling to explain to her non hearing family why she wants to study singing.  

THE POWER OF THE DOG - (NETFLIX) - Cruel rancher Benedict Cumberbatch meets his unexpected match in Kodi Smith-McPhee, the effeminate son of his sister-in-law. 

LICORICE PIZZA - (THEATERS) - Ambitious 15-year-old boy meets immature 25-year-old woman.  Fun and adventure ensue in L.A.'s 1970's San Fernando Valley.  Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman debut. 

BELFAST - (Streaming - $19.95) - Kenneth Branagh memories of growing up in Northern Ireland during the 1960's civil unrest.  

NIGHTMARE ALLEY - (THEATERS) - Guillermo del Toro revives the 1947 film noir of of a carnival con man's rise and fall.  Outstanding performances include Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara and Toni Collette.  

SUMMER OF SOUL - (HULU) - Questlove restores footage of the 1969 Harlem Music Festival, revived with commentary on how those times relation to ours.  

WEST SIDE STORY - (THEATERS) - Steven Spielberg restyles one the great musicals of the 1950's. Ansel Elgort and Rachel Zegler honor Leonard Bernstein's music and Stephen Sondheim's lyrics.   

PASSING - (NETFLIX) - Ruth Negga and Tessa Thompson deal with the color line of 1920's New York.  A story of Blacks and Whites told in Black and White. 

THE CARD COUNTER - (STREAMING - $5.99) - Oscar Issac fascinates as a small-time gambler drawn to avenge his training as a military interrogator.  

THE FRENCH DISPATCH - (STREAMING - $5.99) - Wes Anderson pays tribute to a New Yorker style magazine in three delightful vignettes.  

Monday, December 27, 2021

2021 Movie Guide

Licorice Pizza - 4 Stars - THEATERS DECEMBER 25th - A hustling 15-year-old boy finds his soulmate in a woman ten years older.  And the screwball comedy adventures begin.    

Nightmare Alley - 4 Stars - THEATERS DECEMBER 17TH - Update of the 1947 film noir far surpasses the original.  Bradley Cooper leads a grand cast in the rise and fall of a carney con man. 

The Tragedy of Macbeth - 4 Stars - THEATERS DECEMBER 25TH - Shakespeare doesn't get much better than this moody atmospheric triumph with Frances McDormand and Denzel Washington.  

The Power of the Dog - 4 Stars - NETFLIX - Cruel rancher Benedict Cumberbatch dislikes his brother's new wife and son in a grand epic with a shocking finale.    
Coda - 4 Stars - APPLE TV - 17-year-old girl discovers her passion for singing in Coda, which stands for Child of Deaf Adults. Break out star Emilia Jones soars in this heart warmer about the tension between ambition and family duty.  With Marlee Matlin.  Heart-warming.     

Summer of Soul - 4 Stars - HULU - One of the greatest concerts films ever culled from footage shot during the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival - a series of free concerts held over six weekends in a Harlem city park. The music captures the great cultural changes in society during that time.  The footage intended for syndication languished in the wake of Woodstock - held the same summer.  This is better.  

Come From Away - 4 Stars - APPLE - Video of the Broadway Performance, based on the story of the people of Gander, Newfoundland, who take in 7000 residents on 9/11.  Uplifting. 

Belfast - 3 1/2 Stars - Kenneth Branagh's touching memoir of growing up in Northern Ireland during the Irish civil war.   

West Side Story - 3 1/2 Stars.  Steven Spielberg reimagines the iconic musical in some wildly creative new ways.     
The Tender Bar - 3 1/2 Stars---Satisfying coming of age story.  Long island bar owner Ben Affleck mentors Tye Sheridan on his road to becoming a scholar and writer.  
Barb and Star go to Vista Del Mar - 3 1/2 Stars - HULU. Gloriously silly comedy with Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo.  A Saturday Night Live Skit write large. 

Passing - 3 1/2 Stars - NETFLIX - Provocative story of a Black woman passing for white in 1920's society and her friendship with a Black doctor's wife.  Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga amaze.      

King Richard - 3 Stars - HBO MAX - Will Smith as Richard Williams, father of tennis stars Venus and Serena and his determination that they succeed. 

Being the Ricardos - 3 Stars - AMAZON PRIME - I love Lucy backstage lore revisited with Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem.  J. K. Simmons stands out as William Frawley. 

Cyrano - 3 Stars - THEATERS - Peter Dinklage updates the classic romantic drama.  Instead of a big nose, he must deal with his short stature.  This version's a musical, adding to the creative surprise.  

The French Dispatch - 3 Stars - THEATERS - Wes Anderson shaggy dog tale of three stories within the context of a fictional magazine.  Sometimes flags but often amuses.      

The Card Counter - 3 Stars - THEATERS - Dreamlike thriller with Oscar Issacs as a gambling prodigy wracked with guilt over his war crimes in the middle East.  

Mass - 3 Stars - ON DEMAND - Two families who lose children to a mass shooting share their grief.  Strong acting, especially Ann Dowd and Martha Plimpton. 

Don't Look Up - 2 1/2 Stars.  Astronomers Jennifer Lawrence and Leonardo DiCaprio discover a comet the size of Mount Everest headed our way.  Life on earth will end, but nobody listens.  Some laughs and some groans.  

The House of Gucci --- 2 1/2 Stars - Lady Gaga married a member of the Gucci family and the fireworks begin and go on for a long time.   

The Electrical Life of Louis Wain - 2 1/2 Stars - Amazon - Benedict Cumberbatch as eccentric turn of the century British artist, who specialized in cats.  Quirky, cute, and a little slight.  

C'Mon C'Mon - 2 Stars - Juaquin Pheonix goes on an NPR style road trip with his bratty nine-year old nephew.  
Spencer - 2 Stars - THEATERS - Kristen Stewart makes a credible Princess Diana in a depressing meditation of the  unraveling of her marriage to Prince Charles and her dislike of life in the royal family    

The Eyes of Tammy Faye - 2 Stars - THEATERS - Jessica Chastain goes over the top as over the top Televangelist Tammy Faye Baker.  This story overlooks the victims of the scams pulled with husband Jim Bakker, played by Andrew Garfield.   

The Green Knight - 2 Stars - THEATERS/ON DEMAND - Widely praised fantasy with Dev Patel as Sir Gawain who faces beheading by the Green Knight.  Dark, slow, and tedious.

The Many Saints of Newark - 1 Star - HBO MAX - The Sopranos it aint.    


Friday, December 24, 2021

Licorice Pizza - 4 Stars - THEATERS - December 25, 2021

Licorice Pizza comes out of the gate full speed as Cooper Hoffman (son of the late Phillip Seymore Hoffman) meets Alana Haim.  Hoffman plays Gary, a 15-year-old hustler who begins hitting on Alana the moment he sees her.  Never mind she's ten years his senior, he insists on taking her to dinner.  Their back and forth matches the best of the classic screwball comedies.  Somehow, they become friends and embark on a series of adventures that include a showbiz appearance, a waterbed store, and a pin ball parlor.  Set in the San Fernando valley in the early 1970's, Licorice Pizza often feels like American Graffiti a decade later.  Newcomer Alana Haim steals this show.  Like Gary, you won't be able to take your eyes off her.  The friendship between a 15-year-old boy and a 25-year-old girl has never been this entertaining.  

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Nightmare Alley - 4 Stars - THEATERS - December 17, 2021

 I confess.  I love film noir - the gritty crime dramas of the 1940's.  The 1947 version of Nightmare Alley (starring Tyrone Power) was one of my favorites --- until I watched Guillermo del Toro's update.  Wow!  This update sizzles---this cautionary rise and fall tale of a carnival con man goes deeper and darker than the original dared.  Bradley Cooper plays Stan Carlisle, working alongside Zeena the mind reader (Toni Colette), whose drunken husband (David Strathairn) holds back the act.  An accident eliminates the husband and paves the way for Stan to take Zeena's secrets on the road.  He drops Zeena, for good-hearted Molly (played by Rooney Mara) a beloved young woman who grew up in the carney community.  Soon, the couple hit the big time as star attraction of a hotel night club.  The Great Stanton amazes audiences with his power to read minds.  He meets his match when psychologist Lilith Ritter arrives.  Cate Blanchett vamps within an inch of high camp as the story's femme fatale.  Assessing Stan with an icy gaze and a gash of lipstick the color of a traffic light, Lilith suggests scamming millionaire Ezra Grindle, played by Richard Jenkins, in a beyond the grave seance.  This Nightmare Alley update looks wonderful, with color drenching the screen, highlighting carnival grime and art deco brilliance.  Great actors pop up in small roles in the lavish cast.  Del Toro improves the script, going where the original didn't dare.  4 Stars and a wow for one of my favorite films this year.   

Thursday, December 9, 2021

Cyrano - 3 Stars - THEATERS - December 10TH

 Peter Dinklage plays the unlucky in love swordsman and wordsmith in this update of the classic drama.  You'll be surprised to learn this version is a musical, based on an off-Broadway production from 2019.  Originally Cyrano possessed a giant nose ruining his romantic prospects.  In this version, Dinklage must deal with his unusually short stature.  Peter Dinklage has distinguished himself as a fine actor. He'll break your heart in this creative surprise.