Quickie Reviews: Only the Brave; Marshall

Only the Brave is a solid, engaging drama that is all the more impactful in light of the recent wildfires in California. Fire is as much a character in Only the Brave as the 20 Granite Mountain Hotshots– and their families – to which the film pays tribute by sharing the true story of the elite firefighting unit, and their sacrifice on June 30, 2013. Nineteen of the men died trying to protect their community from the historic Yarnell Hill Fire in Arizona. One survived. The movie, based on a 2013 GQ article, features a strong ensemble cast led by the ruggedly charming Josh Brolin as Hotshot supervisor and father figure Eric Marsh. Miles Teller (Whiplash, Bleed for This, and the upcoming Thank You For Your Service) gets one of the more prominent sub-plots as Brendan, a young man with a troubled past who’s determined to turn his life around. He gets his second chance with the Granite Mountain Hotshots (think Top Gun with firefighters instead of fighter pilots).

Review: Victoria & Abdul

20 years ago Judy Dench was nominated for her role as Queen Victoria in Mrs. Brown, a retelling of the Queen’s unconventional relationship with her Scottish groom. Victoria & Abdul is almost a sequel to that film. In it she develops another unorthodox friendship, this time with a handsome, young man named Abdul who has come from India to England for her Golden Jubilee.  Initially hired as a waiter, he quickly becomes her closest confidant and teacher (Munshi), which doesn’t sit well with her family, nor with her government. The film opens with “based on real events – mostly”, and it is that vein that you should view the history in it. Go for Dench’s performance and the warm story.

Review: Lucky

Indie flick alert! Don’t go to see Lucky expecting a real story. Not much happens in it. Go expecting a series of scenes with quirky characters saying meaningful things. And mostly go to see Harry Dean Stanton’s wonderful final performance as an oddball loner looking mortality and life in the face and soldiering on.

Review: Te Ata

Te Ata was the stage name Mary Thompson Fisher took on in 1919 when she left her Chickasaw home in Oklahoma to pursue a career in acting. The film is the inspiring story of her journey to becoming a renowned storyteller who brought the stories of Native Americans to the white population. Played beautifully by Q’orianka Kilcher, Te Ata was a true pioneer, breaking barriers and humanizing her people at a time when the government was still actively trying to suppress their culture. The film lays the racist politics out clearly, but focuses on the story of the unheralded hero. Girl power!

Review: Professor Marston & The Wonder Women

All I knew going into Professor Marston & The Wonder Women was that it was an R-rated drama about the American psychologist who created the Wonder Woman comic book character. It is that – and a whole lot more. Two things are guaranteed: if you see this film, you’ll never look at Wonder Woman quite the same way ever again; and, two, this film is definitely not for kids. Think of it as Fifty Shades meets the TV series Big Love with a bit of Sister Wives thrown into the mix… in the 1930s and ‘40s. The result is a ménage à trois situation that is surprisingly engaging and discussion-provoking and totally off the charts.

Review: Blade Runner 2049

Thirty-five years after the original Blade Runner comes a sequel. Wow! It is a continuation of the original story 30 years on, and it is amazingly faithful to the world of the former while incredibly innovative. I LOVED the first one, and the only thing I miss this time around is Rutger Hauer. But fortunately in the new one, the replicant longing to be human is played by the talented Mr. Ryan Gosling. And it is his story that takes center stage. This is a hard one to review because the story has several twists that you don’t want to know going in. Or I wouldn’t, so here’s the gist: LAPD Officer K (Gosling) is out doing his Blade Runner job, hunting down and eliminating old replicants, when he stumbles upon an impossible secret that could change the world. And to get to the truth he has to track down former Blade Runner Deckard (Harrison Ford), which puts them both in the cross-hairs of some extremely powerful people.

Review: So B. It

Adapted from Sarah Weeks’s YA novel, So B. It is the story of a 12-year-old girl named Heidi (Talitha Eliana Bateman) who lives in Reno with her severely autistic mother (Jacinda Barrett) and a mother-figure neighbor Bernadette (Alfre Woodard) who suffers from agoraphobia. She knows very little about her past or her family since her mother cannot tell her and there’s no one else to ask. But when she stumbles upon an undeveloped roll of film and prints it, she finds the key to her mom’s history. It points her to Liberty, New York, and so she takes off on a cross-country journey to discover who she really is. It’s a heartwarming coming-of-age story, though more ABC After School Special than must-see in a theater.

Review: The Mountain Between Us

There’s plenty to mock and ridicule and dislike about The Mountain Between Us. And yet… there’s a certain entertainment value in watching a combination meet-cute/disaster flick when it stars Idris Elba and Kate Winslet. The two play virtual strangers who get to know each other quite well as the lone human survivors of a small plane crash into a frozen mountainside in the middle of nowhere.

Review: May It Last: A Portrait of the Avett Brothers

This is from one of our occasional Guest Chick reviewers who just happens to be a big Avett Brothers fan. Thanks, Marcianne Miller. In this heart-tugging, intimate portrait of the country’s wildly popular folk-rock act, the music is accessible and clear — and the message that echoes after the film is over– is a welcome reminder that in a few entertainment families, love and appreciation of one another weigh out over ego and fame. Cynics call such a message corny. For me and millions of the Avett Brothers fans, it’s a message worth clinging to and a film that merits repeat viewings.

Review: Year by the Sea

I know there are not enough great roles for women of a certain age, but could someone please write something good for Karen Allen (Indiana Jones, Starman) to act in. Year by the Sea isn’t it. She is so much better than this. In it, she plays a cliched wife/mother whose son just got married and whose husband sells the house without telling her he’s been relocated, just expecting she’ll go along. And so she feels very unmoored and decides to “find herself” by moving to a cabin on an island somewhere up on Cape Cod. Based on a book of the same name, the film is a jumble of tired tropes on menopausal women and empowerment, set against a soundtrack of the songs you were happy to have forgotten from your youth. I cannot imagine why it was made.