Review: Destroyer

When beautiful actresses make themselves ugly for a role, it’s always hard to see them that way. In Destroyer, Nicole Kidman plays an LA detective whose life took a dark turn after an undercover stint that went terribly wrong. It’s been 17 years since then and she’s still haunted by it. And then the man who made her into the drunk and lonely woman she has become comes back into her life, and she’s on a solo mission to finally take him out. The film jumps around in time, back to when she was undercover and then forward to her pursuit, and it’s sometimes a bit intentionally fuzzy as to the timeline. It’s not a particularly new story, and the script uses a bit too many film noir clichés. But my biggest problem with the film is the way that the filmmakers chose to make Kidman ugly. She’s supposed to be so broken as to not care about how she looks, but she has highlights! And her hair looks like a bad wig, but it’s styled and the grizzled face make-up is just over the top. It’s entirely distracting because is doesn’t look real, and Kidman is on camera the whole time, frequently in close-up. Grrrr!

Review: Aquaman

Aquaman is a bit of a hot mess, but it’s not a total washout. It’s one of those ‘must-see regardless’ movies for fans and followers of the DC comic universe, i.e. the one that includes ‘Justice Leaguers’ Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman. It’s the first full-length feature film to dive into the origin story of Arthur Curry aka Aquaman (Jason Momoa), the half-human, half-Atlantean who wields a trident and can navigate two worlds– one on the surface, the other underwater. As it is, I always have to tread carefully when reviewing superhero movies so as not to inadvertently spoil things for the faithful. So I’ll keep it simple and brief, unlike the movie, which drags on too long, and tries to do too much.

Quickie Review: Border (Gräns)

You probably won’t see a more satisfyingly strange film this year than Border. The main character is Tina, a Swedish customs agent with an extraordinary talent. She can smell fear and deceit, so she regularly catches people bringing in contraband, too many bottles of wine, and even porn. But when a strange man named Vore passes through her line, she knows there is a something there, but she can’t read him. And she’s attracted to him. And the more she gets to know him, the more she learns about herself and why she has always been so different from everyone else. For her it’s a voyage of self-discovery and her first real romance. For him, it’s political. For us, it’s a bizarrely fun ride.

Review: Mary Poppins Returns

Emily Blunt (A Quiet Place, The Girl on the Train) is practically perfect in every way as the practically-perfect nanny Mary Poppins in the long-awaited sequel, Mary Poppins Returns. The film itself, however, is not so practically-perfect, mostly because the songs are far less memorable and joyful than those featured in the 1964 classic starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke. I guess you could say that Mary Poppins Returns is practically okay in every way that counts: it offers up decent family-friendly viewing over the holidays; is reminiscent of that bygone era of heartwarming live-action movie musicals; and is awash in colorful costumes and scenery.

Review: Capernaum (Capharnaüm)

Capernaum in French is used usually in French literature to signify chaos, to signify hell, disorder,” according to Lebanese filmmaker Nadine Labaki, director of this emotionally wrenching film. At the center of this hell is a little boy named Zain (Zain Al Rafeea), a young Lebanese boy who is exploited and miserable. He’s 12-years-old but looks about 8. And his world collapses when the one person that he has a loving relationship with, his 11-year-old sister Sahar (Cedra Izam), is sold off as a child bride. So he runs away from his useless parents and has to fend for himself in a very ugly world. And he finds a temporary haven with an Ethiopian woman named Rahil (Yordanos Shiferaw) and her baby son Yonas (Boluwatife Treasure Bankole), only that, too, falls apart and he ends up in jail for stabbing the “son of a bitch” who stole his sister. And it’s there that he decides to sue his parents for having him. And you totally understand his reasoning.

Review: If Beale Street Could Talk

If Beale Street Could Talk is a beautiful series of vignettes that tell the story of a young black couple in the early 70s in New York. Directed by Barry Jenkins (Moonlight), this adaptation of James Baldwin’s novel is a racial justice story wrapped in a love story that is uplifting and heartbreaking at the same time. At the center are Tish (KiKi Layne) and Fonny (Stephan James – Race, Selma), young lovers just starting their lives together when their world is upended with a false rape allegation. And it’s through a family’s love that things don’t entirely fall apart.

Review: Vox Lux

Vox Lux aka A Pop Star is Born begins in 1999 with a school shooting where young Celeste played by Raffey Cassidy (Tomorrowland, The Killing of a Sacred Deer) is badly injured, but survives. And when she performs a song she’s written with her sister at the memorial to express her feelings, it strikes a chord with the public and before you know it she’s a little pop star, despite having middling talent. The rest of the film is a meditation on our fixation with celebrity and violence and what that does to older Celeste played by Natalie Portman as she lives through it. I can see why the concept would attract a writer to hang a story on it, but unfortunately the execution of the film doesn’t ultimately support such a heavy load.

Quickie Review: Once Upon A Deadpool

There are multiple jokes in Once Upon A Deadpool about lazy writing. So I’m going to rip a page out of Deadpool’s book and compose a review befitting this feeble yet entertaining excuse for a limited (re)release. Once Upon a Deadpool is exactly what it claims to be: a comical retread that downplays the raunch of the R-rated Deadpool 2 just enough to transform it into a PG-13 flick that is, well, family-friendlier. There’s a ban on the use of the “F-word” word; judicious bleeping; strategic pixelating; and a few new zingers that simultaneously mock and celebrate an array of mutant and superhero movies.

Quickie Review: Dumplin’

‘Tis the season to squeeze in a few guilty-pleasure movies alongside the “art” that is your straight-up Oscar bait. Dumplin’ may not win any big awards, but it will warm your heart, and that’s gotta count for something. Plus, you can already stream it on Netflix! Dumplin’ is a formulaic, feel-good film that’s brimming with schmaltz, and topped with a dollop of Dolly Parton. It stars Danielle Macdonald (indie darling Patti Cake$) as Willowdean Dixon, the plus-size teenage daughter of a Texas beauty queen (Jennifer Aniston).

Review: Roma

Director Alfonso Cuarón (Children of Men, Gravity) recreated the Mexico City neighborhood of his childhood to tell the story of Cleo, an indigenous woman who worked for his family and was an integral and loving part of his young life in the 1970s. Shot in gorgeous black and white, the film has all the details of a child’s memory, while foregrounding Cleo’s role and her struggles within the story of a middle class family going through some difficult changes. Roma is populated mostly by non-actors, and Yalitza Aparicio’s performance as Cleo is riveting. You’ll fall in love with her by the end. And I think that’s the point.