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Quickie Review: The Old Man & The Gun

It’s Robert Redford, visibly older but still charming and fun to watch. And Sissy Spacek, visibly older (to a much lesser degree) but still charming and fun to watch. So, if you can forgive the lack of drama and stakes in this largely based-on-a-true-story heist film, then by all means, sit back, relax and enjoy what Redford, 82, says is his final on-screen performance, though we firmly support his right to change his mind.

Quickie Review: Free Solo (Documentary)

You slip, you fall, you die. That’s the simple truth at the heart of the sometimes meh, sometimes gripping (pun intended but also accurate) documentary Free Solo, about American rock climber Alex Honnold. The film follows Alex as he prepares – mentally and physically – to attempt his lifelong dream of climbing the face of the 3200-foot rock El Capitan in Yosemite National Park – without a rope. Is he nuts?

Review: Hal

In the 1970s, there was a director who made an extraordinary series of socially conscious and brilliantly entertaining films. His name was Hal Ashby. From Harold and Maude to Being There, his films have endured, yet when people speak of filmmakers from that era, Scorsese and Coppola are most often the names that come up. Most likely that is because they continued to make great films while Ashby’s glory days lasted only a decade. Nevertheless, Hal is a great reminder of his creative genius and the still contentious relationship between art and commerce.

Review: Night School

Pass or Fail? Depends on how high (or low) you set the bar for a formulaic comedy with the likeable yet totally predictable Kevin Hart. If really low (like, lower than Ride Along 2), then Night School eeks out a passing grade. Otherwise, skip it. Or at least wait until you’re stuck on an airplane or a long car/bus/train ride and want to kill a couple hours with a weak but relatively harmless ensemble comedy featuring Girls Trip breakout star Tiffany Haddish.

Review: Colette

Colette is considered to be the greatest French writer of the 20th century, and how she rose from her humble country girl roots to be the toast of Belle Époque Paris society is a truly entertaining and inspirational story. Bringing her to life in this fine biopic is Kiera Knightly in one of her best performances. Colette was an early fighter for women’s equal treatment and the film is a beautifully shot #GirlPower story. This not the big biography of Colette though. It’s the first chapter of her story, the story of how Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette became Colette, how she became a writer, and how she became an independent woman. There is so much more to her story, but this small part makes for a fun ride.

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Review: The Children Act

The Children Act is a quiet and thoughtful drama starring two of the most versatile actors of our time: Emma Thompson (Sense and Sensibility, Howards End, Saving Mr. Banks, Harry Potter) and Stanley Tucci (Big Night, Spotlight, The Hunger Games). Thompson plays Fiona Maye, a British High Court judge tasked with making difficult, time-sensitive decisions involving the health and welfare of children. Her job is all-consuming, and her devotion to it has taken a heavy toll on her 20-year marriage – to the point where her loving but frustrated husband Jack (Tucci) tells her he is going to have an affair. The pronouncement sends Fiona into an emotional tailspin just as she’s getting swept up in the high-profile case of a teenage boy dying of leukemia.

Review: Love, Gilda

I loved Gilda Radner! She’s the only celebrity whose death has ever made me weep. So when I heard there was going to be a documentary about her, I was thrilled. But while Love, Gilda is a nice walk down memory lane, it doesn’t really capture the magic that made so many of us adore Gilda. It’s a fairly chronological telling of her life story with a wealth of of archival footage and audio. And a lot of the film, despite being about one of the funniest, most joyful people ever, is kind of a buzz kill. But maybe it works best for people who didn’t know and love her from way back, with no memory of her boundless heart, like the director herself who only came to appreciate her after doing fundraising videos for Gilda’s Clubs, the cancer support centers started by Radner’s  husband Gene Wilder after her death.

Review: Kusama: Infinity

This documentary was full of surprises for me. I’ve been an art lover for as long as I can remember, but somehow missed knowing one of the most critically acclaimed artists of our time. Her name is Yayoi Kusama, and this film about her is eye-opening, even if you’ve seen her work in museums (as I apparently had without remembering her name.) Now in her late 80s and still working, her installations and retrospectives regularly sell out at top museums and galleries around the world. But her journey to acceptance was anything but easy. Hers is a story of overcoming personal trauma by turning it into a life’s work and embracing her unstoppable creative genius. It’s well worth seeing.

Review: Life Itself

Don’t let the trailer fool you. Life Itself is not This Is Us. Yes, it is a multi-generational family drama written and directed by This Is Us creator Dan Fogelman, and yes, you will need tissues. But even Fogelman will tell/warn you that Life Itself is darker and heavier than his serial television weep-fest. It’s a melodramatic soap opera of a film that tells the story of two families – in New York and Spain – whose lives are connected by tragedy. It’s heartbreaking, but ultimately uplifting even as it seeks to manipulate our emotions with a heavy-handed theme that ‘Life’ is an unreliable narrator of our story. The film is broken up into “chapters” to drive the point home.