Review: Olympic Dreams

Olympic Dreams is an odd little indie meet-cute that takes elements of a romantic dramedy, sports movie and documentary, puts them in a blender, and spits out an uneven story that is overshadowed by a very cool setting: the 2018 Winter Olympic games in PyeongChang, South Korea. It’s about a relationship that develops between cross-country skier Penelope (Alexi Pappas) and volunteer dentist Ezra (Nick Kroll). They are two lost souls at a crossroads in life.

Snapshot Review: The Photograph

The Photograph is a fairly straightforward romantic drama that is slow to develop and fails to rise above ho-hum despite its very likeable and very attractive leads – Issa Rae and Lakeith Stanfield. She plays a New York museum curator named Mae; he plays a rising-star journalist named Michael. They are brought together by the mystery of an old photograph of Mae’s recently-deceased mother Christina (Chanté Adams), a renowned photographer whom Michael has been researching for a story. The film intertwines Mae and Michael’s budding romance with flashbacks from a past romance involving Mae’s mother and a young beau in Louisiana.

Review: Beanpole (Дылда)

War is hell. And life after war is, too. Most war films concentrate on the effects that the carnage has on men, but this Russian melodrama looks at how the women are scarred, too. Set in Leningrad just after World War II has ended, when the Siege may be over, but the people are still dealing with the hunger and deprivation, Beanpole is a character study of two young women, friends from the battlefield, both trying to make sense of their lives after the war.  Iya affectionately known as Beanpole (Viktoria Miroshnichenko) works in a hospital tending the wounded. She has a cute little boy at home that she dotes on. But she is afflicted with a condition caused by an explosion that makes her “freeze” from time to time – staring into space and making tiny clicking sounds until she comes back to life. And it causes her to make a tragic mistake. But then her wartime buddy Masha (Vasilisa Perelygina) arrives back from the front, and though it begins as a warm reunion, their relationship takes some very dark turns.

Review: Downhill

If you head into Downhill expecting a raucous, LOL comedy filled with humorous gaffes and charming banter between Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Will Ferrell, you’re in for an uphill climb. Downhill is a slow, occasionally poignant, occasionally funny remake of the critically-acclaimed Swedish dark comedy Force Majeure. If you saw the 2014 Swedish film, you probably saw the better version.

Mini-reviews: 2020 Oscar-Nominated Short Films

If you’re planning to watch the Academy Awards this weekend, chances are you haven’t had a chance to catch the shorts. I mean, who does? Unless you’re lucky enough to go to a lot of the festivals where they’re shown or search out the few that are streaming online, you only have a week in the theaters before you have to fill in a ballot at your Oscar party. And how are you supposed to win that pool without a bit of help?

There are three categories – Live Action, Animation, and Documentary. And short is really a misnomer for some of them. They can be up to 40 minutes and several of them are right at the limit. But I always enjoy watching them, and this year’s were a more diverse selection than the last few years. So here’s my yearly plea to theater owners out there: “Please start showing a short before the feature!”

And here’s my rundown/cheatsheet for Oscar night:

Review: Birds of Prey

There wasn’t much to like about Suicide Squad back in 2016, other than Margot Robbie’s scene-stealing performance as Joker’s crazy cartoonish girlfriend Harley Quinn. Three and a half years later, Harley is front and center, stealing the whole show as Joker’s crazy EX-girlfriend in Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn). The movie takes characters from the DC Extended Universe to all sorts of wild and wacky extremes, fueled by #GirlPower – in front of the camera, and behind it. It’s an R-rated girl gang action movie that’s quirky and irreverent and violent and self-aware and for the most part, frenetically entertaining. Obviously, it’s not for everyone. Think Deadpool meets John Wick – if John were a Jane dressed as a clown princess. You either jump in and buckle up and enjoy the ride… or choose a more sedate alternative.

Review: The Assistant

The Assistant is the #MeToo movement’s searing indie alternative to Bombshell. It’s a slow observational drama that follows a day in the life of a junior assistant to a powerful media executive who is never named, or even seen. The boss-man is just sporadically heard, feared, revered and referred to by various people in the office, where actors, production executives and pretty young things wander in and out throughout the day to conduct “business” – however that may be defined.

Review: The Rhythm Section

Think of your heart as the drums, your breathing as the bass. That’s pretty much my only takeaway of note from The Rhythm Section and I’m still not sure how it works. Then again, I’m no musician. Or assassin.

The film, based on the popular novel by Mark Burnell, stars Blake Lively as Stephanie Patrick, a broken young woman bent on revenge and craving redemption after she learns that a plane crash that killed her entire family was no accident. I’ve heard the book was quite good. Unfortunately, the movie is not. The ‘rhythm’ is off on everything – from the plot, to the editing, to the music and the casting.

Review: The Last Full Measure

I really wish I could bestow high critical honors on The Last Full Measure because I totally support what it aims to do: share the story of a true American war hero and the decades-long effort to have his sacrifice acknowledged with a Congressional Medal of Honor. However… while the movie is inspired by actual events, it leans too heavily on character composites, over-dramatization, creative license, and one righteous speech after another by a cast of heavy-hitters. Christopher Plummer, William Hurt, Ed Harris, Samuel L. Jackson, Diane Ladd, the late Peter Fonda. Each delivers passionate dialogue that feels like something you’d see on a Memorial Day tribute to the nation’s fallen. Or a star-studded made for television movie. It feels exactly like what it is: a passion project that finally made it to the big screen as a low-budget indie. The key takeaway: U.S. Air Force Pararescue Jumper William H. “Pits” Pitsenbarger risked – and gave – his life to save dozens of men caught in an ambush in the jungles of Vietnam on April 11, 1966. He deserved a Congressional Medal of Honor, and his parents finally got to accept one on his behalf 34 years later. A very rare honor for an enlisted Airman.

Review: Citizen K

In his latest documentary award winning director Alex Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, Taxi to the Dark Side) takes his audience into the world of the Russian oligarchs and their contentious relationship with Vladimir Putin. The citizen K of the title is Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was at one time the richest man in Russian and one of the 7 oligarchs who controlled 50% of the country’s economy. They stepped in when the Soviet Union collapsed and took advantage of the vacuum, taking over the media, the oil industry and all the state’s most valuable assets. And they were flying high during the 90s, but when Putin came to power with their help, they expected that it would be business as usual. Boy, were they wrong!