Review: The Children Act

The Children Act is a quiet and thoughtful drama starring two of the most versatile actors of our time: Emma Thompson (Sense and Sensibility, Howards End, Saving Mr. Banks, Harry Potter) and Stanley Tucci (Big Night, Spotlight, The Hunger Games). Thompson plays Fiona Maye, a British High Court judge tasked with making difficult, time-sensitive decisions involving the health and welfare of children. Her job is all-consuming, and her devotion to it has taken a heavy toll on her 20-year marriage – to the point where her loving but frustrated husband Jack (Tucci) tells her he is going to have an affair. The pronouncement sends Fiona into an emotional tailspin just as she’s getting swept up in the high-profile case of a teenage boy dying of leukemia.

Review: Love, Gilda

I loved Gilda Radner! She’s the only celebrity whose death has ever made me weep. So when I heard there was going to be a documentary about her, I was thrilled. But while Love, Gilda is a nice walk down memory lane, it doesn’t really capture the magic that made so many of us adore Gilda. It’s a fairly chronological telling of her life story with a wealth of of archival footage and audio. And a lot of the film, despite being about one of the funniest, most joyful people ever, is kind of a buzz kill. But maybe it works best for people who didn’t know and love her from way back, with no memory of her boundless heart, like the director herself who only came to appreciate her after doing fundraising videos for Gilda’s Clubs, the cancer support centers started by Radner’s  husband Gene Wilder after her death.

Review: Kusama: Infinity

This documentary was full of surprises for me. I’ve been an art lover for as long as I can remember, but somehow missed knowing one of the most critically acclaimed artists of our time. Her name is Yayoi Kusama, and this film about her is eye-opening, even if you’ve seen her work in museums (as I apparently had without remembering her name.) Now in her late 80s and still working, her installations and retrospectives regularly sell out at top museums and galleries around the world. But her journey to acceptance was anything but easy. Hers is a story of overcoming personal trauma by turning it into a life’s work and embracing her unstoppable creative genius. It’s well worth seeing.

Review: Life Itself

Don’t let the trailer fool you. Life Itself is not This Is Us. Yes, it is a multi-generational family drama written and directed by This Is Us creator Dan Fogelman, and yes, you will need tissues. But even Fogelman will tell/warn you that Life Itself is darker and heavier than his serial television weep-fest. It’s a melodramatic soap opera of a film that tells the story of two families – in New York and Spain – whose lives are connected by tragedy. It’s heartbreaking, but ultimately uplifting even as it seeks to manipulate our emotions with a heavy-handed theme that ‘Life’ is an unreliable narrator of our story. The film is broken up into “chapters” to drive the point home.

Review: A Simple Favor

A Simple Favor is a tough one to process and define.  It’s a quirky crime drama that goes quite dark, but in a relatively light way. As weird as it is, it somehow works, because it pairs Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively. Kendrick (Pitch Perfect, Mr. Right, Up in the Air) plays a goody-two-shoes single mommy vlogger named Stephanie who becomes besties with a sly and stylish PR executive named Emily (Lively, The Age of Adeline, “Gossip Girl”, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants). The two have very little in common, except they both have young sons who attend the same school and clamor for a playdate. Whip up a few afternoon martinis, engage in some gal-pal chat about deepest, darkest secrets, and throw in a cute husband (Henry Golding, Crazy Rich Asians), and you’ve got the makings of a stylish, twisty thriller moored in Emily’s sudden and mysterious disappearance.

Review: Peppermint

Peppermint is essentially Death Wish with a chick. Fortunately, that chick is Jennifer Garner. Otherwise, this movie would be a total bust (unless you’re an uberfan of violent revenge movies). I have a soft spot for Garner, ever since her breakout days as kick-ass spy Sydney Bristow in the TV series Alias (2001-2006). So if nothing else, it was kinda cool to see a hint of Syd’s “particular skills” reveal themselves in her role as Riley North, a young mother who goes to great lengths to avenge the brutal murders of her husband and ten-year-old daughter.

Review: Puzzle

Directed by Marc Turtletaub, who produced Sundance faves Little Miss Sunshine and Sunshine Cleaning, Puzzle is the story of Agnes, a woman in her 40s who has yet to push the limits of her proscribed identity of wife and mother. Her life consists of taking care of her husband and two college-age sons and taking part in her local Catholic church. But when she receives a jigsaw puzzle for her birthday, it leads her to begin venturing out and finding that life has a lot more to offer. Kelly Macdonald (No Country for Old Men, Boardwalk Empire ) is simply perfect as the awakening protagonist, putting together the pieces of her new life and realizing her own worth. It’s not a big film, but it is satisfying.

Quickie Reviews: The Wife; The Happytime Murders; Skate Kitchen; Support the Girls

The Wife is a slow-burn drama with a mystery twist that explores the relationship between Joan and Joe Castleman (Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce), a long-married couple who travel to Sweden to collect his newly-awarded Nobel Prize for Literature. The two seem to complement each other in style and temperament, with Joan playing the doting, charming, graceful and diplomatic wife and mother while Joe oozes vanity, selfishness and a philandering spirit. There does appear to be true love at the core of the relationship, but there’s a simmering resentment that threatens to boil over in Joan as the award ceremony approaches. We learn why through a series of flashbacks to Joan and Joe’s courtship and from their present-day interactions with a writer (Christian Slater) who is trying to convince the Castlemans to let him write Joe’s definitive biography.

Review: Juliet, Naked

Ah, what a breath of fresh air! Juliet, Naked is a charming and funny romantic drama that is pure and simple in its development of characters and story. In lesser hands, it might have felt like a Hallmark or Lifetime ‘second chance’ romance. But Juliet, Naked benefits from the talent and affability of its three lead actors – Rose Byrne, Chris O’Dowd and Ethan Hawke. The screenplay is adapted from a novel by Nick Hornby (Brooklyn, About a Boy, Fever Pitch, High Fidelity) whose writing style lends itself well to the genre. There aren’t any real villains here; just humans wrestling with past regrets and coming to terms with who they are and who they want to be.

Review: Crazy Rich Asians

Cue up the sequel. I suspect Hollywood will see enough green from Crazy Rich Asians to justify a speedy greenlight for a second (and third) film based on the popular trilogy by Kevin Kwan. I haven’t read the book(s) but that didn’t hamper my enjoyment of the movie, which is basically a conventional romantic dramedy that happens to feature a majority Asian cast playing a variety of well-drawn characters, several of whom are crazy rich. It’s all very Dynasty-esque, tackling love, romance, pettiness, sabotage, scorn, humor, fashion, palatial digs and a lot of fantastic-looking food. The story revolves around Rachel Chu (Constance Wu, TV’s Fresh Off the Boat), a bright, attractive and very down-to-earth Asian-American Economics Professor who agrees to accompany her bright and charming boyfriend Nick Young (newcomer Henry Golding) to his best friend’s wedding in Singapore. En route she discovers that her longtime beau comes from money – lots and lots of money.