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Review: Ella Fitzgerald: Just One of Those Things

Ella Fitzgerald: Just One of Those Things is the latest in a slew of solid if not particularly groundbreaking music documentaries celebrating the life and legacy of a pioneering artist. The film highlights Fitzgerald’s challenging childhood, her personal and professional struggles and triumphs, and the vocal talents that made her an international star during some turbulent times in American history. But it only soars when Ella sings. Jazz, swing, blues, scat, broadway theater music. It’s easy to understand how she came to be known as “The First Lady of Song” aka “The Queen of Jazz” aka “Lady Ella.”

Review: Onward

I may be slightly out of step with the masses on this one. Time will tell. I liked Onward, but I didn’t love it, and I’m not so sure the majority of kids will either. Onward definitely scores points for sparking the imagination and conjuring up some magical messaging. But will kids grasp the concept of a half-dad depicted by a pair of khakis? I don’t know.

Mainstream Chick’s Top Movie Picks of 2019

2019 was a good year for movies. I liked a lot of what I saw, and I saw a lot. 200+ films. Blockbusters, documentaries, foreign films, indies. However, for the first time in several years, I don’t have any runaway favorites. No definitive number ones, twos or threes. It’s more like a 10-way tie for number five that could easily have been a 30-way tie. So take the list (and the order) with a grain of salt, knowing that I enjoyed all these films – and many more – for different reasons at different times depending on my mood and cinematic headspace.

Spoiler-free Review: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Chances are, if you’re reading this review (and I use the term loosely), you’ve already seen The Rise of Skywalker (so now it’s okay to look), you couldn’t care less about the film and are looking for validation, you trust that I won’t give anything away because you’ve read enough of my stuff to know better, or, you’re somewhat curious if you should see the movie, at least eventually. To the first group I say, “Hope you enjoyed it. How ‘bout that ending?!” To the second group, I say, “You probably haven’t seen a Star Wars movie since 1977 (if at all) and that’s okay. No need to start with this one.” To the third group, “I couldn’t spoil it if I wanted to; I’m just a casual fan, familiar with the broad strokes of the epic saga but not obsessed with the minutiae; and to the fourth group, here’s the deal: “If you saw Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens and Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi then you should definitely see The Rise of Skywalker (aka Episode IX), for closure.

Review: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood sticks with me today as much as it did a month ago when I pegged it as one of my favorites at the Middleburg Film Festival. Cheesy and sentimental as it may sound, there’s no denying the power of – and need for – the film’s inspirational and aspirational message that it only takes one person to inspire a world of kindness. It doesn’t hurt to have that message conveyed by Hollywood’s Mr. Nice Guy, Tom Hanks, channeling children’s television icon Mr. Fred Rogers.

Mainstream Chick’s 2019 Middleburg Film Festival Recap

There’s something addictive about the Middleburg Film Festival. It’s not like I rank among press that is comped for transportation, put up in the festival’s home base – the swanky Salamander Resort & Spa – or extended an invitation to the private parties (crashing them notwithstanding). No, I must take a break from my ‘day job’, make the hour-plus drive from Maryland into Virginia horse country, and plant myself (along with a couple of equally budget-conscious movie gal pals) at a Hampton Inn about 18 miles southeast of the bucolic venues – all for the privilege of waiting in long lines to watch a slew of movies on straight-backed wooden chairs with minimal posterior padding.

And oh what a privilege it is. For real!

Brittany Runs a Marathon

Brittany Runs a Marathon starts off strong and finishes with a flourish of feels. But the “inspirational comedy” – inspired by true events – veers off course a few times as the film struggles with the same sort of identity crisis that plagues its lead character, Brittany Forgler (Jillian Bell). She’s funny. She’s misunderstood. She’s everyone’s best friend. She’s her own worst enemy. She’s motivational. She’s mean. She’s broken. She’s fixed.

Review: The Art of Racing in the Rain

The Art of Racing in the Rain is based on a book that’s apparently reduced plenty of readers to a puddle of mush since its publication in 2008. The film adaptation aims to do the same – and succeeds, to some degree. Complicit in the drive to unleash the waterworks is a cast that includes the king of the half-crooked smile, Milo “Jack Pearson” Ventimiglia (This Is Us) and a sweet, philosophical golden retriever whose mix of comical and poignant inner thoughts are voiced by Kevin Costner. It’s a heartfelt, bittersweet tale that pet owners can easily appreciate and relate to. But it’s also sad – and at times maddening. Way more so than I expected (having not read the book), especially for a film rated PG. Maybe that stands for ‘Pet Guidance’ suggested. So be sure and ask your dog if the material seems suitable for family viewing.

Review: Toy Story 4

A part of me did not want a Toy Story 4. I was afraid it would diminish the legacy of a storied franchise that left me in a heap of weep in 2010. Toy Story 3 won the Oscar that year for Best Animated Feature, having brought the story of Andy and his precious – and precocious – toys to a perfectly poignant conclusion. As Andy set off for college, he donated Woody, Buzz, and the rest of the gang to a toddler named Bonnie. It was the end of an era; but as we now know, not quite the end of the story.

Review: Echo in the Canyon

When I lived in Los Angeles, I frequently drove through Laurel Canyon on the way to and from work and I knew that over the years it had been famous for its arty inhabitants. I even looked at a rental house or two there, since I loved the counterculture vibe of the place. Echo in the Canyon is a documentary celebrating the musicians of the mid-60’s who lived there and invented folk-rock together and separately. The Byrds, The Beach Boys, Buffalo Springfield, The Mamas and the Papas and so many of the biggest groups of the day were there, creating and collaborating. The film is hosted by Jakob Dylan, lead singer-songwriter of the band The Wallflowers. He sits down for chats with an array of famous 20th century musicians – including Brian Wilson, Ringo Starr, Michelle Phillips, Eric Clapton, Stephen Stills, David Crosby, Graham Nash, Roger McGuinn, Jackson Browne, and Tom Petty in his very last film interview. And those interviews are intercut with the making of an album and a 2015 Los Angeles tribute concert with contemporary artists (Beck, Fiona Apple, Cat Power, Regina Spektor and Norah Jones) performing some of the songs made famous by those musicians of the canyon. It’s a lot of fun.