Review: The Two Popes

Review: Bombshell

This movie has so much going for it – a knock-out cast, a ripped from the headlines #metoo #girlpower story, a humiliating takedown of the creator of Fox News – so why in the world isn’t it more compelling? Bombshell is taken from a true story. In case you missed it, a couple of years back, Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) one of the blondes of Fox News was fired and rather than just take it on the chin, she sued her boss, Fox founder Roger Ailes (John Lithgow), for sexual harassment and opened the gates for a flood of other women within the organization to come forward with similar stories, culminating in his ouster. At about the same time another of the beautiful women of Fox, Megyn Kelly (channeled here by the amazing Charlize Theron) decided to have her very own #girlpower moment during a Republican presidential debate when she famously asked GOP candidate Trump about his sexist treatment of women and was the recipient of one of his memorable disses about “blood coming out of her wherever.” You might think these two women would be natural allies then. But it seems that at Fox News it was every woman for herself.

Review: CATS

Speaking of memories…

I still have my ticket stub from the July 27, 1983 performance of CATS at the Wintergarden Theatre on Broadway. It was a Wednesday matinee and my orchestra seat cost $35. Betty Buckley played Grizabella the Glamour Cat. She sang “Memory.” I was hooked. I will always be a fan of the music. I will continue to defend the songs, the dancing, and the whimsical appeal of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s classic stage production.

I can’t, however, defend the movie. It simply doesn’t work.

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: Queen & Slim

Worst first date ever! Queen only went on the date because she had a bad day and didn’t want to be alone. But Slim (Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out) was having a decent time anyway. Then on the way home they get pulled over by a racist cop who shoots Queen in the leg when she gets out of the car, and Slim is afraid he might be next, so he wrestles the cop’s gun away from him and shoots him in self-defense. And the couple are suddenly on the wrong side of the law. The whole thing was caught on dash-cam video, so there’s no question what physically happened, but their guilt or innocence is a question of perspective, and once the video goes viral they become folk heroes to the black community. Queen & Slim turns Bonnie and Clyde on its head, with the hunted couple being innocents fleeing a broken justice system. And intertwined with the couple on the run for their lives narrative is a love story that blossoms between the two whose fates become one in a tragic instant.

Review: Uncut Gems

Adam Sandler is one of the most exasperating actors out there. He’s made a slew of horrible, stupid movies (The Waterboy, Billy Madison), and yet every now and again he proves that he can actually act (Punch-Drunk Love, Spanglish). Now he’s getting all kinds of awards season love for his performance in Uncut Gems and deservingly so. It’s one of those roles where you’re simultaneously rooting for the guy and hoping for his comeuppance. His Howard Ratner is not a good guy. He’s a loud, frenetic gambling addict who’s cheating on his wife (Idina Menzel) with one of his employees (Julia Fox) and taking advantage of everyone he meets. But when he procures a huge black opal smuggled in from Ethiopia with plans to auction it off to settle his considerable debts, he feels like things are finally going his way. But from the moment the stone comes into his life, everything spins even further out of control than it was before. And you’re with him for every single anxiety inducing minute of it.

Reflections, Ruminations and Review: Richard Jewell

This movie hits close to home on so many levels. I was living in Atlanta in 1996, freelancing in news, and was even supposed to be volunteering as a pseudo security guard at Centennial Park on the night of the bombing. I still have the uniform, though I never “served” – opting instead for a paid gig with NBC NewsChannel, helping local affiliates cover the Olympics from a rooftop about a half-mile away from the park. I remember getting home from work after midnight, turning on the TV and a short time later, hearing about the bombing. I remember transitioning from NBC to CNN when the Games ended. I remember the media frenzy surrounding Richard Jewell, who lived with his mother in an apartment complex off Buford Highway, close to my favorite bowling alley. I don’t remember to what extent I believed or shared the details about Richard Jewell’s alleged role in the bombing. But I do recall having great faith in our sources at the FBI and ATF, and in the reporting of our hometown paper, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. They all said he did it. He didn’t.

Oops doesn’t quite cut it.

Review: Jumanji: The Next Level

This one’s easy. If you saw and liked the 2017 film, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (which I rented this week as a primer), then it’s totally worth taking a couple hours to play along, again. The Next Level is not as good as Welcome to the Jungle; it drags a bit in the second half as the narrative gets convoluted. But it’s still an entertaining ride that – like its predecessor – has plenty of family-friendly action, humor and heart.

Quickie Review: The Aeronauts

The Aeronauts is one of those movies that plenty of folks will like, but a lot of critics will wrestle with. It’s good, but it’s also disappointing. I saw The Aeronauts at the Middleburg Film Festival immediately following a screening of A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood and that may have clouded my foray into the clouds with Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones. Mister Rogers is a tough act to follow! Redmayne and Jones (co-stars in The Theory of Everything) play a pair of adventurers trying to set a world record – and prove you can predict the weather – by sailing a hot-air balloon thousands of feet up into frigid skies in 1862. Oxygen deprivation is never a good thing. The Tom Harper-directed film, inspired by true events, has some great special effects and cinematography but overall drifts more than it soars.

Review: The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open

This is a total indie gem. It’s the story of two Indigenous women who meet by chance on a street in Vancouver as one of them is fleeing domestic abuse. What follows is told in real time as Áila (Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers, also the co-writer/director) tries her hardest to help Rosie (Violet Nelson) see her situation for what it is. The film was inspired by Tailfeathers’s real life experience in a similar situation. It’s a story told from the perspective of a middle-class Indigenous woman who is trying to bond with another Indigenous woman of a lower class. Though they share a deep cultural connection, their lives could not be more different. It’s a powerful film.

Review: Knives Out

I caught this one at Middleburg, and sadly it was my biggest disappointment of the festival. As whodunits go, the jig is up pretty early on. But it has so much going for it, with a killer cast — Christopher Plummer, Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette and Ana de Armas — and a fun setup, that I kept hoping.  It is of course difficult to review since it depends on the element of surprise, and director Rian Johnson (Star Wars:The Last Jedi) even filmed a “don’t tell anyone the secret” spot to go before the movie. So here’s what I can tell you: