Quickie Review: Guest of Honour

Somewhere in this movie from director Atom Egoyan (The Sweet Hereafter) is a decent story, but you really have to work to find it. It’s a father-daughter melodrama about Jim (David Thewlis – The Harry Potter series) and Veronica (Laysla De Oliveira) that cuts back and forth in time as she tells a priest (Luke Wilson- Legally Blonde, Rushmore) the story of their lives so he can deliver Jim’s eulogy. Jim is a lonely food inspector who spends his days testing the temperature of meat and hunting under kitchen cabinets for rat droppings. Veronica is a music teacher who willingly goes to jail for a crime she didn’t commit out of a sense of guilt for something she did do. He visits her in jail and tries to understand why. She can’t forgive him for a transgression she misunderstood in childhood. Ultimately, it’s a bleak and not very coherent story buoyed ever so slightly by David Thewlis’s nuanced performance.

Review: The Old Guard

In the mood for a superhero action movie? Historical fiction? A supernatural flick? A war drama? Sci-fi/fantasy? A message movie? A hint of romance? A high-octane, double-dose of girl power? The Old Guard is all of the above. It stars Charlize Theron as Andy (aka Andromache of Scythia), the leader of a small army of immortal, centuries-old mercenaries who land in the present-day crosshairs of an ex-CIA operative and a cartoonishly evil big pharma CEO motivated by profits.

Review: Hamilton

Let’s be real. Hamilton is critic-proof. Everyone I know who desperately wanted to see it has, by now, seen the filmed version of the hit Broadway musical at least once since its debut on Disney+ in the wee hours of the morning on July third. A slew of others have seen it too, out of sheer curiosity or pop culture public shaming. And some – declaring their independence from peer pressure, or harboring an inexplicable disdain for musical theater – will simply take a pass. That’s okay. You are excused. This show will go on.

Review: Denise Ho: Becoming the Song

This film could not be more timely. Just days ago the Chinese government passed a repressive national security law that essentially kills the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong. I was probably watching this documentary at the same time it was happening. I’ll admit, I know nothing about Cantopop music. And I’d never heard of Denise Ho before I saw this film, but I’m a huge fan now. Not for her music, though some of it is quite beautiful, but for her heroic sacrifice in the name of democracy for Hong Kong. Denise Ho: Becoming the Song is the story of her rise to stardom alongside the story of Hong Kong’s history post-British rule, the creeping power grab by Beijing, and Ho’s evolution from pop star to activist. She’s truly an inspiration.

Review: The Truth (La Vérité)

Director Hirokazu Koreeda’s follow-up to his award winning Shoplifters could not be more different. No longer set in his home country Japan, The Truth is a mother-daughter drama set in a lovely Paris house where an aging actress and her grown daughter come together for the launch of the mother’s memoirs. That the mother is played by the inestimable Catherine Deneuve and the daughter by the equally talented Juliette Binoche makes it a pleasure to watch, despite its fairly well-trodden storyline.

Review: John Lewis: Good Trouble

“When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just — say something, do something…” Make trouble. Good trouble. Necessary trouble. That’s the message from civil rights icon, and longtime U.S. Congressman from Georgia, John Lewis. He’s been talking the talk – and walking the walk – since the 1960s: The 1961 Freedom Rides from DC to New Orleans? Lewis was on them; The historic 1963 March on Washington with MLK? Lewis helped organize it; The treacherous walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama on what became known as “Bloody Sunday” in 1965? Lewis was there – and badly beaten.

Review: The Outpost

The Outpost is a war movie. War movies are hard to watch. They’re especially hard to watch when you can’t tell the characters apart – even with on-screen “lower thirds” peppered throughout to try and alert you to who’s who, and where. But hey- this is war. It’s ugly. And loud. And bloody. And, as with most war movies, it pays tribute to soldiers lost, heroes made, and survivors burdened with the memory of what they’ve been through… in this case, a deadly attack by the Taliban on an “indefensible” Outpost in eastern Afghanistan in 2009. The Outpost is based on the 2012 New York Times best-seller “The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor” by CNN’s Jake Tapper. Everything about this film screams low-budget labor of love. So while I found the acting and dialogue inconsistent at best, I can appreciate what it’s trying to do. And, it’s a story that gains extra resonance in light of recent intelligence reports that Russia has been offering Taliban-linked militants money to kill coalition troops in Afghanistan. If nothing else, this type of film reminds us there is still (for all intents and purposes) a war going on – and American troops are still dying over there – a full decade after the battle depicted in The Outpost.

Review: Force of Nature

Take Die Hard and add a $55 million art heist gone wrong, then set it in the middle of a Category 5 hurricane in Puerto Rico, and you’ve got Force of Nature. It stars Mel Gibson (Mad Max, Braveheart) as a crusty ex-cop who happens to be in the building where the heist is taking place. A couple of other cops have come to try to get him to a shelter when all hell breaks loose, and the rest is a cat and mouse game with the art thieves with lots of guns and killing with a wee bit of a romance thrown in for good measure. It all feels pretty predictable, but it is certainly entertaining for a couple of hours.

Quickie Review: My Spy

My Spy happened to be the last screening I went to in early March, before the coronavirus upended all our lives and, consequently, Hollywood’s theatrical release schedule. In retrospect, My Spy was just what the doctor may have ordered: relatively mindless escapist fun in advance of toilet paper hoarding, sanitizer sticker shock, and mandated #SocialDistancing. My Spy follows the story of a big and burly CIA operative (Dave Bautista, Guardians of the Galaxy) who finds himself at the mercy of a precocious 9-year-old girl (Chloe Coleman, “Big Little Lies”) who threatens to blow his cover unless he teaches her the tricks of his trade. Picture just about any action comedy with the likes of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, John Cena or Arnold Schwarzenegger paired with a clever kid, and you’ll know what you’re in for with My Spy. A porous plot held together with sweet, corny, funny and poignant moments, infused with a solid dose of mayhem perpetrated by kids and adults.

Review: Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga

It had me at Pierce Brosnan and ABBA. Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga doesn’t pretend to be anything more than it is – a campy slice of goofy escapism that pays tribute to a worldwide phenomenon that the U.S. has been remarkably slow to embrace. Long before “American Idol” or “[whatever country’s] Got Talent” or “The Voice,” there was the Eurovision Song Contest, the world’s biggest song competition. It’s been around since 1956, spans more than 40 countries (not just European), and launched the careers of ABBA in 1974 and Celine Dion in 1988. How did I not know this? Anyway, I do now, thanks to Will Ferrell, who got hooked watching Eurovision during summer trips to his wife’s home country of Sweden. Who better than Ferrell (Elf, Talladega Nights, Anchorman) to craft a starring role for himself in a film that celebrates and mocks a global event that features an eclectic mix of talent?