Song One

Song One feels like one of those low-budget indie flicks that a bunch of college friends got together to shoot in the middle of the night, with the theater class’s star pupil lending her talents to the endeavor. The narrative is (more than) a bit contrived, but you can’t help but root for the film and its characters. Song One is a romantic drama set against the backdrop of Brooklyn’s indie music scene, so it’s sort of like a less gritty, more contemporary Inside Llewyn Davis with a chick-flickier edge.

The Duke of Burgundy

This is definitely not a film for everyone. It is a very arty, beautifully shot story of a lesbian couple who enjoy a rich dominant/submissive sex life. But it is no Fifty Shades of Grey wannabe. Instead it is a surreal, sensual meditation on a loving relationship and lengths people will go to for the ones they love.

American Sniper

War is hell. So is this intensely polarizing movie. You either love American Sniper or hate it. I was one of the latter. Adapted from a biography of the same name, it is the story of U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) who became a hero to many for being our most lethal sniper and killing the most Iraqis. My problem with the film is how the whole situation is portrayed as entirely black and white. Kyle and the Americans are the good guys, and every single Iraqi is evil. I am sure to the men and women who fought there, that was the perfect rationalization for what they did, but as storytelling goes, it leaves a lot to be desired.

The Wedding Ringer

My biggest hang-up with this Bridesmaids-meets-Hangover-esque comedy is that it’s hard not to listen to its star, Josh Gad, and not picture the animated snowman Olaf from Frozen. The ‘characters’ may be different – but their voices are exactly the same. So it takes some getting used to! Do you wanna build a snowman…?

Is that all that’s wrong with The Wedding Ringer? No. But there’s plenty that’s right… including a story that is sweet and relatable at its core, and a cast of characters that generate plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. It’s basically a ‘buddy movie chick flick’ that offers up an entertaining escape from the somber awards-season fare.

Inherent Vice

I have liked Paul Thomas Anderson’s films a lot in the past (Magnolia, Boogie Nights, There Will be Blood,) and Inherent Vice has a lot of the elements he is known for — a great ensemble cast, intertwining story lines, a sense of the world being off kilter. But in this case, it just never seems to come together. By the end of two and a half hours, you are as befuddled as the pothead protagonist, all the while thinking that it has to ultimately make sense. My suspicion is that adapting this (or any other) Thomas Pynchon novel seemed like a great challenge, since no one has done it before. But I think this film should serve as a cautionary tale for future screenwriters who think they’ll be the one who gets it right.

The Interview

If you have a adolescent nephew, this is the perfect flick to share. It is full of dumb laughs and mostly harmless hijinks (unless you happen to be Kim Jong-un.) And it is funny. I laughed quite a bit, between cringes over silly bathroom humor. And as my teenage nephew noted at the end, “It was better than The Hobbit.” (Yep, we saw that too, and the consensus was that it was the weakest of the trilogy.) It does help that we watched The Interview at home on a nice big screen, not paying theater prices, and our expectations were pretty low to start with. But as dumb movies go, it doesn’t suck.

Mainstream Chick’s Christmas Day cheat sheet

Apologies. I’ve been remiss in posting my reviews. So in the interest of time – and a quick read for those planning a Christmas holiday escape to the movies – here are some of my picks, and misses:

Selma – This is, hands down, one of my favorite movies of the year, though it’s only opening in limited release on Christmas (NY, DC, LA, Atlanta) before expanding nationwide on January 9th. If it’s playing at a theater near you, check it out. It’s about the 1965 MLK-led civil rights marches from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama that culminated in passage of the Voting Rights Act. Its message of civil disobedience and non-violence to enact change is relevant, timely and powerful.

Force Majeure

There is a lot of buzz around Force Majeure, a Swedish relationship drama. They LOVED it at Cannes, it is Sweden’s Oscar entry, and the Foreign Press has just nominated it as best foreign language film. But the question to me is, does it appeal more to European audiences than Americans? I liked it and I think it is a well-done film with a compelling question at its center, but best film?

Wild (and Tracks)

I wasn’t particularly wild about Wild. And I didn’t read the best-selling book, so I can’t really compare the two. But friends tell me the book is much stronger in terms of developing the peripheral characters who crossed the path of the real-life Cheryl Strayed. Reese Witherspoon portrays Strayed, a hiking novice who decides that a solo, thousand-mile trek across the Pacific Crest Trail could make her a better person. She’s been dealing with a lot – the dissolution of her marriage (to a good guy) after years of reckless, destructive behavior, and the death of her mother (played in flashbacks by a superb Laura Dern). It’s an ambitious and cathartic adventure that I can admire in theory, but certainly don’t envy or care to emulate. So more power to her! And to her ginormous backpack and bloodied toenails!

Beyond the Lights

Beyond the Lights is somewhat reminiscent of the classic Whitney Houston/Kevin Costner romantic drama The Bodyguard. It doesn’t reach the same heights in terms of story and tension (and Houston high notes), but it still makes for a solid chick flick, largely due to the performances of Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Nate Parker and Minnie Driver. Cool soundtrack too.