Sunday, January 10, 2021

Movie Guide

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom - 4 Stars - NETFLIX - During a tense recording session in 1920's Chicago, jazz artist Viola Davis crosses swords with ambitious horn player Chadwick Bosman, who produces several spine tingling moments.  

Soul - 4 Stars - DISNEY PLUS - Another Pixar delight, with Jamie Foxx as a would be jazz musician who lands in the great beyond with the assignment to mentor a troubled would be soul played by Tina Fey.  Wonderful animation and a touching story.  
Hamilton - 4 Stars - DISNEY PLUS - The film of Lin-Manuel Miranda improves on his ground breaking musical biography of Alexander Hamilton.  The camera directs the viewer's eye to a more understandable experience.  One medium improves on another.  

Promising Young Woman - 3 1/2 Stars - STREAMING JANUARY 15TH(?) ---Carrie Mulligan revenges her best friend's gang rape one hypocrite at a time.  

Mank - 3 1/2 Stars - NETFLIX - Gary Oldman breathes life into the story of the man who created the script of CITIZEN KANE while railing at the Hollywood system that rewards the mediocre. 

Boys State - 3 1/2 Stars - APPLE - 1000 outstanding Texas teens build an imagined government from scratch, engaging in some of the worst excesses of our time. 
The Personal History of David Copperfield - 3 1/2 Stars - PRIME - Beautiful reimaging of the Dickens classic with Dev Patel and a diverse and memorable cast.  
The Trial of the Chicago 7 - 31/2 Stars - NETFLIX - Aaron Sorkin's script recreates the infamous 1969 trial of the leaders of the demonstrations at the 1968 Chicago Democratic National Convention.  Sasha Baron Cohen, Jeremy Strong and Frank Langella help recreate the circus like atmosphere of this hard to believe event.  

First Cow - 3 1/2 Stars - HULU/PRIME - Two woodsmen make their way in the far northwest of two hundred years ago.  A scheme to sell biscuits made with stone milk goes terrible wrong.  This one leaves you pondering.  

The Assistant - 3 1/2 Stars - HULU - Julia Garner will have your stomach tied in knots as a young woman in her first job as a low level go-fer to an abusive entertainment executive.  We never see the men she works for, we only feel her stress in a plot that delivers a gut punch.  

Sound of Metal - 3 1/2 Stars -  AMAZON PRIME - Punk rock drummer loses his heading and finds himself.  

I'm Thinking of Ending Things - 3 Stars - NETFLIX - Creative genius Charlie Kaufman dreams up a shaggy dog story that beings with a couple driving to visit his parents and morphs into a metaphor and then a ballet.  With Jesse Plemons and Jessie Buckley.  Tired of the usual?  Try this. 
Emma - 3 Stars - PRIME/HULU - Playful remake of the Jane Austen comedy of manners.  Anya Taylor-Joy is a delight.  

Bad Education - 3 Stars - HBO MAX - Hugh Jackman plays against type as a talented school superintendent with a taste for the high life brought down by a high school journalism student. And the whole thing is TRUE. 

One Night in Miami - 2 1/2 Stars---Based on the play.  Recreates the 1964 meeting between Malcolm X, Cassius Clay, Sam Cooke, and Jim Brown to discuss their role in the Civil Rights struggle.  Wanders from preachy to exhilarating.  

Blow the Man Down - 2 1/2 Stars -  AMAZON PRIME.  Sisters cover up murder in a fish village full of characters, including whorehouse madam Margo Martindale.

Pieces of a Woman - 2 Stars - NETFLIX.  Vanessa Kirby gives a strong performance in a hard to watch family drama.   

WW84-Wonder Woman 1984 - 2 Stars - HBO MAX - Gal Gadot continues to dazzle, but the script's the same old same old, including a cheesy Donald Trump impersonator and Kristin Wiig as a newly impowered super woman. Two hours and twenty minutes you'll never get back.       

The Midnight Sky - 2 Stars - NETFLIX - Scientist George Clooney stays behind as Earth disintegrates.  Bummer. 

I'm Your Woman - 2 Stars -  AMAZON PRIME - Rachel Brosnahan as mob wife on the run.  A slow murderous downer showing a different side of the "Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" actress.   

On The Rocks - 2 Stars - Light comedy with Bill Murray as Rashida Jones's playboy father. 

Hubie Halloween - 2 Stars - NETFLIX - Adam Sandler in his usual story of loveable loser turned winner.  Somehow the usual plot is a little easier to take this time.  

Jean Seberg - 1 Star - PRIME - Dull biography of American born French new wave actress hounded by FBI for her civil rights activism.  Not Kristen Stewart's best.

Friday, January 8, 2021


 Some of the best so far:

1.  NOMADLAND - (Theaters February, 2021 - Streaming Later) Frances McDormand lives in a van and loves her life on the road.  Part western, part broken promises, all interesting.   

2.  MINIRI - (Theaters January 26 - Streaming Later) A Korean immigrant moves his family to Arkansas in the 1980's hoping to achieve his dream as a farmer.  His wife is not impressed.   

3.  MA RAINEY'S BLACK BOTTOM - (NETFLIX) - Viola Davis and the late Chadwick Boseman deal with music and racism in the 1920's.

4.  SOUL - (DISNEY PLUS) - Pixar considers the thing that makes us us in the story of a middle school music teacher who dreams of playing jazz. 

5.  MANK - (NETFLIX) - classic Hollywood story of art versus commerce in the creation of CITIZEN KANE. 

6.  THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7 -(NETFLIX) - Aaron Sorkin's legal drama belongs with the best of them. 

7.  HAMILTON - (DISNEY PLUS) The film version improves on the extraordinary musical.  American history told in hip hop.  

8.  FIRST COW - (PRIME AND OTHERS) - The frontier of two hundred years ago was a tough place, especially when you steal another guy's milk.  

9.  PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN - (THEATERS/STREAMING MID JANUARY) Carey Mulligan unnerving good in this dark "Me Too" revenge comedy/horror parable that never goes where you expect.  

10.BOYS STATE - (APPLE TV) 1,000 outstanding Texas teens gather to build a government from scratch engaging in some of the worst excesses of our time.    

Honorable Mention: 

Sound of Metal - AMAZON PRIME - Punk rock drummer loses hearing, finds himself.  Never does what you expect.   

The Personal Life of David Copperfield - (PRIME) playful classic remake. 

Emma - (HBO MAX) yet another playful classic reimagined with magical Anya Taylor-Joy 

The Assistant - (HULU) Julia Garner (Ozarks) ducks her head in a sea of workplace menace.  I watched with a knot in my stomach throughout. 

I'm thinking of ending Things - (NETFLIX) Boy meets girl in metaphor turned ballet.  This is not your usual romance.  

Good Trouble - (HBO MAX) Timely documentary of the life of inspiring activist Congressman John Lewis. 

Bad Education - (HBO) Hugh Jackman against type as a slick educator with a taste for the high life. 

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Pieces of a Woman (R) - 2 Stars - NETFLIX - January 7, 2020

Pieces of a Woman begins as Vanessa Kirby portrays the agony of a home birth.  Set in modern day Boston, Kirby plays Martha, a rebel from a well to do family demanding a life lived her way.  That life includes a rough construction worker husband played by Shia LeBeouf, and her desire to avoid a hospital birth.  A substitute midwife (the one they worked with is birthing another child) arrives.  Things progress until a few moments after delivery when the child dies.  For the rest of the film, the couple deals with loss and grief and a domineering parent played by Ellen Burstyn.  Kirby, known especially for her work in the early seasons of The Crown, dominates with an award worthy performance.  Her moods, her attitudes, her presence demand our attention.  Shia LeBeouf, performing behind a full Grizzly Adams beard, makes her husband so much of a jerk that it's hard to accept them as a couple.  Ellen Burstyn has some dramatic somewhat actorly moments.  The best moments in Pieces of a Woman can't overcome a difficult watch that ends on an unbelievable note.   

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Best TV - 2020

2020 didn't do the movies any favors, but TV felt better than ever.  Here's some 2020 favorites: 

1.  Unorthodox - NETFLIX - Shira Haas was fascinating as a young Orthodox bride fleeing an  arranged marriage to find her estranged mother in Berlin.  A gripping family mystery thriller. Only four episodes left me wanting more. 

2.  Mrs. America - HULU - Cate Blanchett unnerving as Phyllis Schlafly, the woman who pushed against the Equal Rights Amendment and kickstarted the Reagan Revolution, paying a shocking price.  Fascinating.   

3.  The Queen's Gambit - NETFLIX - Anya Taylor-Joy, one of my favorite actresses, aces the role of an orphan turned chess prodigy.  

4.  The Crown Season Four - True (mostly) stories so rich I binged into the night.  Olivia Colman remains wonderful as the Queen in a season that includes award worthy roles for Gillian Anderson as Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and Emma Corrin as young Princess Diana.  Bad PR for Prince Charles. 

5.  Challenger:  the final Flight - NETFLIX - The story behind the terrible explosion of the Challenger, killing all on board, told in only four episodes that leave you wanting more.  

Great Series of 2020:

Better Call Saul - NETFLIX - Can't wait to see how this turns out 

Dead to Me - NETFLIX - The comedy/thriller's second season matched the delightful first. 

Succession - HBO - Nice to see the ultra rich knife each other in the front and back.   

BoJack Horseman - NETFLIX - So good I watched all six seasons in a few months.  Hollywood meanness in cartoon form, with layers and layers of smartness. 

Ozark Season 3 - NETFLIX - Hooked me in the first season.  This year's third season hit the heights with a heartbreaking sibling dynamic and a Holy S**t finale. 

Just for Fun:

I discovered the WW2 history/drama A French Village - AMAZON PRIME - It drove me to the history books to study France during the war. 

Ratched - NETFLIX - OK, a cheesy rip off of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, with a lot of Hitchcock Elements, especially Spellbound.  Whatever, Sarah Paulson made this delicious. 

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Promising Young Woman (R) - 3 1/2 Stars - (On Demand January 15th)

The buzz over Promising Young Woman comes with good reason.   A "Me Too" revenge comedy/horror film, Promising Young Woman combines elements of Fatal Attraction, Misery, and Get Out into a candy colored jaw dropping parable for our times.  Carrie Mulligan plays Cassandra ( mythology fans will love the name), a brilliant medical student who quits when her best friend and fellow student kills herself in the aftermath of an alcohol fueled gang rape.  Mulligan feigns drunkenness luring alleged nice guys in bars to take advantage, then teaching a lesson we only imagine, recorded in a notebook with different colored marks. Working in a coffee shop and living at home, Mulligan glides through intentionally odd scenes, wearing make up worthy of Batman's Joker.  A subplot involving a romance with a nice guy played Bo Burnham lulls us into thinking we're watching one thing, then slams us into another.  Cassie will change the culture one hypocrite at a time.  When the finale begins to set up what we expect. Promising Young Woman takes a shocking head spinning turn. This is not your father's Fatal Attraction. 

Friday, January 1, 2021

One Night in Miami - 2 1/2 Stars - PRIME (January 15, 2021)

This really happened.  On the night of February 25, 1964, Malcolm X called Cassius Clay (later known as Malcolm X) to a meeting with Sam Cooke and Jim Brown to discuss their role in the civil rights struggle.  Directed by Regina King, the story opens with thumbnail sketches of the four icons.  A scene involving Jim Brown visiting his home town of St. Simons Island, Georgia teases us into a shocking example of the casual racism of the time. The meeting takes place as Malcolm X separates from the nation of Islam and Clay prepares to announces his conversation to the Muslim faith.  One Night in Miami sparks when he takes the characters outside the motel room meeting.  Inside the room, the talk sometimes weighs down the story, although important issues are at hand.  One Night in Miami posits an intriguing What If? as we don't really know what was said in the room.  The actors distinguish themselves, with Kingsley Ben-Adir as Malcolm X, Eli Goree as Cassius Clay, Aidis Hodge s Jim Brown nd Leslie Odom Jr. as Sam Cooke.  Those who know their history know Malcolm X will die, murdered the next year.  Others may not realize  Sam Cooke died under more mysterious circumstances in an L.A. motel at the end of 1964.