Quickie Review: Once Upon A Deadpool

There are multiple jokes in Once Upon A Deadpool about lazy writing. So I’m going to rip a page out of Deadpool’s book and compose a review befitting this feeble yet entertaining excuse for a limited (re)release. Once Upon a Deadpool is exactly what it claims to be: a comical retread that downplays the raunch of the R-rated Deadpool 2 just enough to transform it into a PG-13 flick that is, well, family-friendlier. There’s a ban on the use of the “F-word” word; judicious bleeping; strategic pixelating; and a few new zingers that simultaneously mock and celebrate an array of mutant and superhero movies.

Quickie Review: Dumplin’

‘Tis the season to squeeze in a few guilty-pleasure movies alongside the “art” that is your straight-up Oscar bait. Dumplin’ may not win any big awards, but it will warm your heart, and that’s gotta count for something. Plus, you can already stream it on Netflix! Dumplin’ is a formulaic, feel-good film that’s brimming with schmaltz, and topped with a dollop of Dolly Parton. It stars Danielle Macdonald (indie darling Patti Cake$) as Willowdean Dixon, the plus-size teenage daughter of a Texas beauty queen (Jennifer Aniston).

Review: Roma

Director Alfonso Cuarón (Children of Men, Gravity) recreated the Mexico City neighborhood of his childhood to tell the story of Cleo, an indigenous woman who worked for his family and was an integral and loving part of his young life in the 1970s. Shot in gorgeous black and white, the film has all the details of a child’s memory, while foregrounding Cleo’s role and her struggles within the story of a middle class family going through some difficult changes. Roma is populated mostly by non-actors, and Yalitza Aparicio’s performance as Cleo is riveting. You’ll fall in love with her by the end. And I think that’s the point.

Review: First Reformed

It’s that time of year again. The run-up to awards season, when I catch up on all the films I missed for one reason or another. And since First Reformed is already winning top honors in the early year-end critics’ awards, I thought I should watch it. It’s from Paul Schrader who was the hottest writer (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Mosquito Coast) and sometimes director (American Gigolo) in the 70s and 80s and then mostly faded away. But with this film, it’s clear he’s still got it. He knows how to draw a deeply flawed man in a deepening personal crisis, and his Rev. Ernest Toller played masterfully by Ethan Hawke (Juliet, Naked, Maudie, Boyhood) is his best character in decades. Divorced, ill, drinking, and questioning his faith, Toller is circling the drain, while the tiny church he heads is planning its 250th anniversary rededication and one of his parishioners is in desperate need of guidance he’s ill-equipped to give. This is not a happy movie, but it is intensely thought-provoking and a glorious return to form for one of our great filmmakers.

Review: Creed II

I wouldn’t be surprised to see a Creed 2 hitting theaters by 2018.” That’s the last line of my 2015 review of Creed, the solidly entertaining spin-off of the Rocky franchise starring Michael B. Jordan as up-and-coming boxer Adonis Creed (son of Apollo) and Sylvester Stallone as his mentor, Philly boxing legend Rocky Balboa. As predicted, here it is – Creed II. And while not as strong as its predecessor, Creed II is still very satisfying, especially if you’re a fan of Rocky IV, one of my favorite films of 1985!

Review: Becoming Astrid

This lovely Swedish biopic tells the story of the challenging early life of Astrid Ericsson (Lindgren) who would go on to write the children’s classic Pippi Longstocking and a slew other memorable books. Born in a rather idyllic if strict farming community, at 16 she was offered a job at the local paper and fell for the married editor. Though it was reciprocated, an unplanned pregnancy caused her to make some very difficult decisions that colored the way she saw children and undoubtedly made her the writer she was to become. Played by Alba August (The Rain), Astrid is initially brimming with curiosity and energy, but her pregnancy and the choices she is forced to make with the child take a heavy toll. Fortunately, it all works out by the end, or we wouldn’t have her wonderful books.

Review: The Favourite

The Favourite was another of my top picks at The Middleburg Film Festival. England’s Queen Anne was such a sad queen. But this period dramedy of the fight to be her favorite is wickedly funny and full of Oscar-worthy performances, particularly Olivia Colman (The Lobster, Broadchurch) who plays the gout-ridden, isolated monarch with little interest in doing the job she was born to. Fortunately, she has Lady Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weisz) to take care of her and all those pesky decisions she’s supposed to make. But when Lady Sarah’s cousin Abigail (Emma Stone) arrives at court and finagles her way into the Queen’s good graces, the gloves come off and it’s every woman for herself. And it’s savage and hilarious! The dialogue alone in this film makes it worth seeing, but the direction and attention to detail make it sing.

Review: Shoplifters

This film from Japanese director Hiorkazu Kore-eda (Nobody Knows) is a beautiful drama about what family means. I saw it at Middleburg, and it’s stayed with me. The story is about a group of people living together on the edges of society, with pretty fluid ethics but enormous hearts, and it’s both uplifting and heartbreaking.

Review: Green Book

Who’d have thought that the director of Dumb and Dumber would bring us the best movie of 2018? With two great performances from Viggo Mortensen (Eastern Promises, Captain Fantastic) and Mahershala Ali (Moonlight), Green Book is based on the true story of a working-class New York Italian bouncer (Mortensen) who was hired to drive a classically trained black pianist (Ali) on a tour through the Jim Crow South. It’s the best road trip flick in ages as it explores race and class through an unexpected friendship. And it is by turns sad and funny and sweet and horrifying. It’s a must see!

Review: Can You Ever Forgive Me?

We’re so used to Melissa McCarthy being the funny actress, that’s it’s hard to imagine her otherwise. But nobody’s going to question her acting chops after her turn as Lee Israel, true life best-selling author turned celebrity memorabilia forger. While there are certainly funny moments in this adaptation of Israel’s book about her descent to the remainders table and her newfound skill writing faux letters in the voices of some of the great authors of the 20th century, McCarthy’s Israel is a caustic misanthrope whose only friend is her cat. That is, until she meets aging party boy Jack (Richard E. Grant, Gosford Park, Withnail & I) who becomes her drinking buddy and partner in crime.