Review: Mudbound
Review: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Mainstream Chick with Greta Gerwig @Middleburg

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Review: The Man Who Invented Christmas

God bless us, everyone. There’s more than one family-friendly movie worth catching this holiday season. First, there was Wonder, a heartwarming drama based on the best-selling book from 2012. And now there’s The Man Who Invented Christmas, a biopic of sorts about Charles Dickens and the creation of his 1843 classic novella “A Christmas Carol” where Scrooge discovers the true meaning of Christmas after late-night visits from the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come. The story’s been adapted many, many, many times for stage and screen. So what makes this film worth seeing when you kind of know how it all plays out? Dan Stevens (Beauty and the Beast, Legion, Downton Abbey) and veteran actor Christopher Plummer – especially Christopher Plummer – and a script infused with warmth and wit.

Quickie Reviews: Only the Brave; Marshall

Only the Brave is a solid, engaging drama that is all the more impactful in light of the recent wildfires in California. Fire is as much a character in Only the Brave as the 20 Granite Mountain Hotshots– and their families – to which the film pays tribute by sharing the true story of the elite firefighting unit, and their sacrifice on June 30, 2013. Nineteen of the men died trying to protect their community from the historic Yarnell Hill Fire in Arizona. One survived. The movie, based on a 2013 GQ article, features a strong ensemble cast led by the ruggedly charming Josh Brolin as Hotshot supervisor and father figure Eric Marsh. Miles Teller (Whiplash, Bleed for This, and the upcoming Thank You For Your Service) gets one of the more prominent sub-plots as Brendan, a young man with a troubled past who’s determined to turn his life around. He gets his second chance with the Granite Mountain Hotshots (think Top Gun with firefighters instead of fighter pilots).

Review: The Mountain Between Us

There’s plenty to mock and ridicule and dislike about The Mountain Between Us. And yet… there’s a certain entertainment value in watching a combination meet-cute/disaster flick when it stars Idris Elba and Kate Winslet. The two play virtual strangers who get to know each other quite well as the lone human survivors of a small plane crash into a frozen mountainside in the middle of nowhere.

Review: Battle of the Sexes

Battle of the Sexes is okay, but far from the grand slam I was rooting for. I love the story, especially because it’s true: tennis great Billie Jean King agrees to play ex-champ and self-professed male chauvinist pig Bobby Riggs in a high-profile televised event and kicks his butt, scoring a huge victory for the women’s rights movement in the 1970s. That’s not a spoiler. It’s a well-known fact in sports history. Unfortunately, without the dramatic climax that typically drives a sports drama, Battle of the Sexes is forced to look for bonus points off the court. They include: an exploration of Billie Jean’s sexual awakening as a lesbian and the strain that puts on her marriage; Bobby’s marital woes, childish antics and addiction to gambling; and, my favorite part of the film, Billie Jean’s willingness to take a stand for equal rights and social justice by, in part, organizing other players to break from the establishment and form the Women’s Tennis Association.

Review: Rebel in the Rye

I vaguely recall reading “The Catcher in the Rye” in High School. But I must not have been overly impressed with teen-angst icon Holden Caulfield because unlike characters in, say, “To Kill a Mockingbird” or “Lord of the Flies,” Holden and his story failed to stick with me into my adult years. Perhaps that’s because the 1951 novel (that’s sold more than 65 million copies) was never adapted for film! At least now I understand why, thanks to the mildly intriguing biographical drama, Rebel in the Rye, about famously reclusive author J.D. Salinger who steadfastly refused to sell theatrical rights to his most famous work.

Quickie Reviews: The Hitman’s Bodyguard; Logan Lucky; Patti Cake$

The Hitman’s Bodyguard falls into the bucket of mindless summer entertainment that offers a decent-enough cinematic escape for anyone willing to accept the movie for what it is and not over-analyze its foibles. Ryan Reynolds channels his Deadpool sarcasm to play Michael Bryce, a down-on-his-luck “protection agent” (i.e. bodyguard) who is called upon to safely transport his nemesis, notorious hitman Darius Kincaid (Samuel “Snakes on a Plane” L. Jackson) to the Hague so he can testify against brutal East European dictator Vladislav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman). It’s a familiar formula: The clock is ticking. If the witness doesn’t get to the Hague before a 24-hour deadline, the evil dictator will surely walk free. Cue the overlong gun battles, myriad car and motorcycle chases, and outlandish boat escapes as Dukhovich’s cronies take aim at Bryce and Kincaid.

Quickie Reviews: The Glass Castle; Wind River; The Fencer; A Taxi Driver

I’m generally a fan of (or maybe a sucker for) movies based on real people and events, so that could be why I had a pretty good week at the movies with two mainstream dramas and two foreign films. First up: The Glass Castle, based on Jeannette Walls’s best-selling memoir about her unconventional upbringing and coming to terms with the complexities of her relationship with her dysfunctional parents and remarkably normal siblings. The film features a stellar cast that includes Brie Larson (Room), Chandler Head and Ella Anderson as Jeannette (through the years), Woody Harrelson as her fundamentally flawed but occasionally well-meaning father, and Naomi Watts as her eccentric artist mother. The parents are the types to define homelessness and squatting as a ‘lifestyle choice’. I haven’t read the book, but those around me who did seemed satisfied with the way the film played out. Others, however, (while still acknowledging the strong performances) criticized the movie for glamorizing or romanticizing what they saw as dangerous, irresponsible and often cruel parenting. I thought it walked the line fairly well, in much the same way as last year’s well-received indie Captain Fantastic.

Quickie Reviews: The Dark Tower; Brigsby Bear; Detroit; Step; An Inconvenient Sequel; Escapes

The Dark Tower. I’m not a Stephen King purist so I didn’t go into this movie with the same high expectations as those who’ve read the series of books that The Dark Tower is based on. Perhaps that’s why I liked it – not a lot, but enough to slot it into the “acceptable summer cinematic escape” category for the 12-and-up crowd. It’s an action adventure fantasy flick with a confounding plot that boils down to a physical and psychological battle between good (Idris Elba as gunslinger Roland) and evil (Matthew McConaughey as creepy Man in Black) across parallel universes.

Quickie Reviews: Wish Upon; A Ghost Story; City of Ghosts; The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography

For those who don’t go bananas over blockbusters like War for the Planet of the Apes, there are some alternatives out there. But, be careful what you wish for.

Wish Upon This creepy horror movie from the director of Annabelle starts out with a fair amount of promise, but quickly deteriorates into a dud. It stars Joey King (White House Down) as Clare Shannon, a High School teen whose widower dad (Ryan Phillippe) gives her an old Chinese music box that he found while dumpster diving. She’s able to decipher enough of the Chinese lettering on the box to know that it will grant her seven wishes. But for some reason, she doesn’t clue into the second part of the message, which basically warns that for every wish, there’s a blood price to be paid. So she starts making the typical teen wishes (to get the shallow stud muffin to fall in love with her, to be rich, to be popular, etc.) and people die. Gruesome, twisted deaths. Oops.

The Big Sick Review

The Big Sick is an offbeat romantic dramedy based on the real-life courtship between Pakistan-born actor/comedian Kumail Nanjiani and his therapist-turned-writer/producer wife, Emily V. Gordon. The pair co-wrote the script that dramatizes – in a clever and witty way – the struggles they went through to overcome cultural differences, and a major health scare, to find their happily ever after. Kumail is played by Kumail Nanjiani (not necessarily the smartest casting decision) while Emily is played by Zoe Kazan, who has much stronger acting chops, even though she’s in a coma for half the movie. The film is bittersweet and also rather timely as a platform for showcasing misconceptions about Muslim culture.