Review: Rocketman

This one took some serious rumination, because as much I would love to say I loved Rocketman, I can only say I liked it. I’m still thinking about it though, so it’s possible my verdict will change over time, much like my initial reaction toward Bohemian Rhapsody which impressed me more upon second viewing. It’s not fair to directly compare Rocketman and Bohemian Rhapsody however, because even though they share a director (sort of, in part) and touch on similar topics relating to music, addiction, sexuality, excess, friendship, family and betrayal – the movies themselves are quite different, narratively and stylistically.

Review: Always Be My Maybe

The Netflix film Always Be My Maybe unfurls like a pleasant enough romantic comedy of the Hallmark Channel variety – until Keanu Reeves (John Wick, Speed) shows up. He’s like a breath of fresh air injected into the cinematic wind of what might otherwise be dismissed as an utterly predictable and formulaic film. I can’t go into detail about Reeves’ cameo, but the trailer (see below) offers up a quick tease. Always Be My Maybe tells the story of two childhood sweethearts, Sasha Tran (actress/comedian Ali Wong) and Marcus Kim (Randall Park, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Fresh Off the Boat) who reconnect after 15 years on the outs. She’s grown into an ambitious celebrity chef, always on the move; he’s grown into… well… the kind of guy who still lives at home, smokes weed, works for his dad, and plays in a local band that could be more successful if he just took a chance. See where this is going?

Review: MA

My oh Ma! What a departure for Octavia Spencer, playing a lonely, twisted woman in a teen horror flick. The Oscar-winning actress (The Help, Hidden Figures) commands the screen – and the scream – as Sue Ann, a veterinary assistant in a quiet Ohio town who befriends a group of teenagers on a beer run. She agrees to buy the kids alcohol and invites them to hang out in her large secluded basement so they can have a safe place to party. What could possibly go wrong?

Review: Non-fiction (aka Doubles vies)

After seeing Non-fiction, I found IMDB’s description of it to be kind of bizarre: Set in the Parisian publishing world, an editor and an author find themselves in over their heads, as they cope with a middle-age crisis, the changing industry and their wives. Whoever wrote that missed the part that Juliette Binoche is more than just an afterthought wife in this flick. For me, she was the most interesting character. Yes, it’s about the imminent demise of the printed page, and both lead men are in that world, but I’m not sure this film is about any middle-age crisis, but more about how two couples cope with infidelity and commitment. The world of publishing is definitely the milieu, and the many discussions of the digital future in the literary world are pretty fascinating. It’s a smart film, but it’s also extremely entertaining.

Review: Booksmart

Ever dream of a high school do-over? Wonder what you might have done differently in those final years of anxious adolescence? Booksmart tackles the what-ifs in a smart and entertaining way as two best friends – both academic overachievers – suddenly realize they probably could have partied more and studied less, without jeopardizing their futures. Their epiphany comes on the eve of high school graduation, leaving the gal pals one last chance to experience all the fun and hijinx they’ve missed out on the past four years. This isn’t a stereotypical ‘teens transform from nerds into popular kids’ movie. Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) are self-confident and comfortable in who they are and plan to be. They approach their night of fun with the same commitment they applied to their studies, only to learn that book-smarts don’t always translate into street-smarts.

Review: Aladdin (2019)

I must confess I went into Disney’s live-action Aladdin with the lowest of expectations and a great deal of skepticism. I’m an ardent fan of the 1992 animated classic and couldn’t imagine anyone other than Robin Williams – in human or animated form – playing the big blue wisecracking “Genie.” I still think Williams set an unattainable bar for Will Smith – or anyone else who dares to step into Genie’s shoes. And yet… Aladdin 2.0 is quite good, especially if you’re into family-friendly movie musicals (Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, The Greatest Showman, etc.). It pays homage to the old while bringing something new to our “whole new world.”

Quickie Review: A Dog’s Journey

A Dog’s Journey is for dog/animal lovers. It’s a continuation of the heartwarming saga that got us all misty-eyed in the 2017 doggie drama A Dog’s Purpose. In this sequel, Bailey (internal monologue voiced by Josh Gad) is getting up there in years, as is his “boy” Ethan (Dennis Quaid) and Ethan’s wife Hannah (now played by Marg Helgenberger). It’s getting to be that time for Bailey to move on – in body, not in spirit. Knowing that Bailey has a knack for reincarnation, Ethan asks the dog to find and protect his estranged granddaughter Clarity June (“CJ”). And thus begins Bailey’s newest set of lives and adventures. His name, breed and gender may change over the years. But the dog never loses sight of his primary purpose – to keep tabs on CJ (Kathryn Prescott). It’s a mission that evolves into helping CJ reconnect with her childhood best friend Trent (Henry Lau), mend fences with her selfish, alcoholic mother Gloria (Betty Gilpin) and potentially reunite with her grandparents.

Review: Meeting Gorbachev

As a Werner Herzog über-fan, I’m always excited by the opportunity to watch anything he’s involved with, since he usually has a thoughtful and thought provoking view of the world. So when I heard about this film where he sits down with Mikhail Gorbachev, I wondered what kind of strange spin he might put on Cold War political history. Meeting Gorbachev is a series of three sit-down interviews Herzog had with Gorbachev over a period of six months. And those friendly chats between two fascinating people offer some decidedly pointed takes on the history of the fall of the USSR and a timely perspective on world leadership and the danger of what Gorbachev calls “reckless politicians.” It’s a simple and straight forward documentary, intercutting the interviews with archival footage from the time they’re discussing, but it has that Herzogian tone that’s just a little off kilter and keeps you glued to the screen.

Quickie Review: Working Woman

This Israeli #MeToo drama centers on Orna (Liron Ben-Shlush) whose husband’s new Tel Aviv restaurant is struggling to get off the ground, so she takes a job with real estate developer Benny (Menashe Noy) who she knew from her time in the army. At first everything is great. She’s given a lot of responsibility and finds she’s really good at what she’s doing, but then come the unwanted and inappropriate advances and she’s not sure how to react, but hopes they’ll stop once she says no. They don’t. Working Woman is a story that will be familiar to many women. Orna wants the job. She’s given well-deserved promotions and people treat her with respect for the great job she’s doing. But the boss thinks he has the right to treat her however he wants. He knows she’s happily married and has kids at home. He’s married too, and she’s met his wife, but still.

Review: Wild Nights with Emily

The Emily of the title is the 19th century American poet Emily Dickinson, long thought to be a delicate recluse who was afraid to publish her work. But that, the film tells us, is an entirely false narrative devised for profit after her death. In fact, Dickinson was a strong and passionate woman who carried on a life-long affair with a woman who was her childhood friend and later her sister-in-law who lived conveniently next door. Played by miscast SNL alum Molly Shannon, Emily is certainly an unconventional poet, but also an early women’s rights adherent pushing for women to have the same opportunities as men and to be taken just as seriously. While it is a potentially heavy subject, the film has a light tone, which works most of the time. It’s an odd little romcom that plays off the juxtaposition of Emily’s real life with the sanitized version told by Mabel Loomis Todd (Amy Seimetz), Emily’s brother’s sly mistress, who as her de facto biographer took great liberties with Dickinson’s legacy, despite having never actually met her.