Monday, October 4, 2021

The Many Saints of Newark - HBO MAX/THEATERS - 1 Star - October 1, 2021

 The Sopranos, it ain't.  David Chase's new story of the origins of the HBO crime family headed by James Gandolfini as Tony gives us a look at the roots of many of the characters we loved on the series. Set in Newark during the summer of 1967, touching on the urban riots of that time but not beyond a touch, the tale unfolds in voice over by Christopher Moltisanti reprised by Michael Imperioli.  We meet Christopher as an infant.  In voice over he tells us Tony Soprano will chock him to death.  The plot centers on Christopher's father Dickie Moltisanti as played by Alessandro Nivola.  Fans of the original series' violence won't be disappointed.  Dickie commits some break-taking (literally) killings.  Ray Liotta snags a double role as Dickie's father and uncle.  Most appropriately we meet Tony as a young boy and later as a teen played by James Gandolfini's son Michael.  I'm glad Michael's going into his father's business, but he's too much of a teddy bear for this role.  The Many Saints of Newark sets impossibly high expectations.  The result disappoints.  

The Card Counter - 3 stars - THEATERS - September 10, 2021

The Card Counter rolls slow, almost dream-like.  The actors mumble and deliver most of their dialog seated.  Oscar Isaac plays William Tell, a gambling prodigy wracked with guilt over his war crimes as a military interrogator.  Traveling a casino circuit, Isaac seems content winning just enough to cover expenses and a little more.  Tiffany Haddish recognizes his talent and agrees to stake him to bigger games, an offer that promises a better life and even relationship.  The tension begins when a young man named Cirk (Kirk with a C) played by Tye Sheridan, recognizes Isaac.  He proposes a revenge scheme against William Defoe, the officer who led men in the "enhanced interrogation" techniques that land them in prison.  Paul Schrader keeps this slow steady tale fascinating, tightening his grip on us as The Card Counter races to its conclusion.  Don't expect any uplift but do expect a mesmerizing time.  

Monday, September 13, 2021

Come from Away - 4 Stars - APPLE TV - September 10, 2021

 Apple TV presents a video performance of Come from Away, the uplifting Broadway musical based on the story of the small town of Gander, Newfoundland.  On September 11, 2001, thirty eight airliners diverted to the once bustling but now rarely used Gander airport.  The planes and their 7000 accumulated passengers sat in limbo, until word arrived they would stay until further notice.  The town turned out to house, feed and entertain the passengers.  This musical combines exhilarating and poignant song with human stories:  a couple meet and fall in love, a mother fears for her firefighter son's life, a man dreams of a pay it forward charity.  As with Hamilton and other videos of Broadway musicals, the production directs the eye and gives the viewer a more focused view than that in person.  Come From Away deserves its place among the reminders of the events of 9/11 and how our world changed since for better and worse.  

2021 Movie Guide

Coda - 4 Stars - APPLE TV - A 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.  Possibly the year's best movie.  

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. 
 
Worth - 3 1/2 Stars - Michael Keeton as Kenneth Feinberg, the lawyer who distributed payments to victims of the 9/11 attack.  A memorial to 9/11 from a different angle that stay human and avoids sentimentality.  Surprisingly touching.  

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.  

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.  

No Sudden Move - 3 Stars - HBO Max - Old school crime caper directed by Steven Soderbergh.  Don Cheadle wriggles in and out of trouble in a plot much larger than he knows.    

In the Heights - 3 Stars - DISNEY PLUS - Written before Lin-Manuel Miranda stunned the world with Hamilton, In The Heights feels less ground breaking but entertaining nevertheless.  Family and romance and the dream of a better life motivate the residents of Washington Heights.  Some of the musical numbers would make Busby Berkeley proud. 

Annette - 3 Stars - AMAZON PRIME - Wildly creative musical with Adam Driver as an aggressive comic who marries opera star Marion Cotillard.  Their daughter inspires murder and exploitation. 

Respect - 2 Stars - THEATERS - Jennifer Hudson covers Aretha Franklin's greatest hit in a by the book bio-pic.  Long and slow and a little too pat telling a rise and fall and rise again tale.  

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.    

Reminiscence - 1 Star - HBO MAX - The excellent Hugh Jackman can't save this run of the mill sci-fi film noir, with Rebecca Ferguson as a femme fatale with an agenda.    

The Green Knight - 2 Stars - THEATERS/STREAMING - July 30, 2021

 The Green Knight is a dark movie, literally, so dark you can hardly see it.  Based on the medieval story of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Dev Patel plays the young lad called by his uncle King Arthur to prove his character.  The Green Knight (an enormous fir-tree with a voice like Orson Wells) challenges Gawain to lay a blow he will return one year hence.  Gawain beheads the Green Knight, who immediately picks up his head, laughs, and rides away.  Whoops.  Now he faces the same fate in a year.  The months pass and armed with spells and enchantments, his journey begins.  It includes robbery, seduction,  sorcery, and a none too uplifting vision.  This dark story moves at a snail's pace.  Fantasy fans may enjoy, but I found it tedious.  

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Worth - 3 1/2 Stars - NETFLIX/Theaters

Worth asks and comes close to answering; What's a life worth?  Michael Keaton plays attorney Kenneth Feinberg, who volunteered pro bono to oversee the government fund compensating  victims of the 9/11 attacks.  Congress created the fund to shield airlines from hundreds of civil suits, forcing them into bankruptcy.  Approaching his task with a cold eye to compensation charts, Keaton as Feinberg learns the families want more than money. they want their stories told.  Worth starts slow but warms into a new way to look at 9/11.  The first rate cast includes Amy Ryan as a fellow attorney, plus Tate Donovan as an attorney for wealthy interests, and Stanley Tucci as opposition leader, demanding a different approach.  On Netflx and in theaters, Worth tells a thoughtful story. .