Maps to the Stars

Currently browsing posts by Hannah Buchdahl.

Cinderella

“Have courage, and be kind” and you might (spoiler alert!) live happily ever after. That’s the gist of this perfectly pleasant, Disney-meets-Downton adaptation of the fairy-tale classic, directed by Kenneth Branagh. I suppose if Hollywood can keep re-making Spiderman, then Cinderella might as well pop into the picture every couple of decades as well. Even if it’s not exactly necessary. For fans of the musical versions, be advised that this one has little more than the occasional bibbidi-bobbidi-boo. But what it lacks in music and drama (most people are familiar with the key plot points), it makes up for in message. That would be the aforementioned “have courage, and be kind.”

Focus

Focus is a weak heist movie. But it benefits from sharing an opening weekend with the likes of The Lazarus Effect, because the latter makes the former look like Oscar-worthy material. Focus stars Will Smith as Nicky, a seasoned con artist who teaches a novice con artist named (Margot Robbie) the tricks of the trade. The two become entangled romantically, but then Nicky abruptly ditches her. Fast forward three years and they meet again when he is called upon to pull some master con at a high-stakes car race, and she is dating one of the drivers.

The Lazarus Effect

Oh, the horror… that this movie is. So bad, in fact, that I resent the time it’s taking me to write this “review” panning it. To be fair, I don’t like horror movies to begin with. So it’s quite possible that horror movie or B-movie fans will find some redeeming value in The Lazarus Effect. I just didn’t get it. At all. And I put too much faith in the casting. I generally like Olivia Wilde, so I held out hope that it would be entertaining on some level – like the apocalyptic zombie movie World War Z – but no, that was not the case. I’m thinking Wilde must be (really good) friends with somebody connected to the script. Here’s the gist:

Fifty Shades of Grey

Oh, where to begin… I’m somewhat conflicted writing this review because the movie is actually better than I expected. Yet I am extremely bothered by the fact that it’s been promoted so heavily – with such reckless abandon – that a whole bunch of teens want to see it. And they shouldn’t. It’s an adult movie. Granted, the first 45 minutes are quite tame as the twisted romance between virginal college senior Anastasia Steele and the hunky but tormented young billionaire Christian Grey starts to simmer. But when the relationship boils over into Christian Grey’s “play room” filled with assorted whips, chains and handcuffs, then whoa Nelly. This ‘R’ rated film sets sail for what should be considered ‘NC-17’ territory.

Jupiter Ascending

Jupiter Ascending has a couple of hot leads in wide-eyed beauty Mila Kunis and the often-shirtless Channing Tatum (sporting too much eye-liner). But the movie itself is a hot mess, of inter-galactic proportions. Picture a confusing mish-mash of sci-fi and superhero flicks, with a bit of Princess Diaries thrown into the mix.

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 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.

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.

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.