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period film

Rocketman (2019)

DIRECTOR: Dexter Fletcher

CAST: Taron Egerton, Richard Madden, Jamie Bell, Bryce Dallas Howard

REVIEW:

Is someone in Hollywood trying to build a ’70s rock star cinematic universe? Close on the heels of last year’s Oscar-winning (albeit somewhat overrated) Bohemian Rhapsody, now comes Rocketman, covering one of the few ’70s-’80s musical icons who rivaled or surpassed Freddie Mercury for over-the-top flamboyance: Elton John. Director Dexter Fletcher, who took over finishing up Bohemian Rhapsody in place of a fired Bryan Singer but gets full creative control here, takes a different approach, styling Rocketman as a musical fantasy rather than a strictly conventional biopic. And of course, like Bohemian Rhapsody, Rocketman will take some nostalgic fans of the featured artist down memory lane.

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The Best of Enemies (2019)

DIRECTOR: Robin Bissell

CAST: Sam Rockwell, Taraji P. Henson, Babou Ceesay, Anne Heche, Wes Bentley, Bruce McGill

REVIEW:

Quick on the heels of recent Best Picture winner Green Book comes yet another one of those standard-issue, well-intentioned 1960s “based on a true story” race relations dramas that are all the rage these days. Given the current political climate, a movie about a die-hard racist and an equally aggressive black activist getting past their enmity isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but even more so than Green Book (an enjoyable, inoffensive little movie which was not, in my opinion, Oscar material), The Best of Enemies is standard issue and a little trite and does nothing to distinguish itself from all the other movies covering similar subject matter in recent years. It’s easily lumped in with the likes of The Help, Hidden Figures (also starring Taraji P. Henson), and Green Book, and doesn’t linger in the memory.

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Dumbo (2019)

DIRECTOR: Tim Burton

CAST: Colin Farrell, Eva Green, Danny DeVito, Michael Keaton, Alan Arkin, Nico Parker, Finley Hobbins

REVIEW:

Dumbo began life as a children’s story published in 1939, written by the husband-and-wife duo of Helen Aberson and Harold Pearl. In 1941, Walt Disney, looking for something that could be slapped together quickly and cheaply to shove out into theaters to help offset mounting costs of his expensive flop Fantasia, bought the rights and the Dumbo animated film debuted in theaters, running a slim 64-minutes. While remembered fondly, it was arguably the most simplistic and juvenile of the Disney animated features of the time, so while this remake (of sorts) is the latest in Disney’s line-up of live-action recreations of its animated classics (following Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella and Bill Condon’s Beauty and the Beast and soon to include Jon Favreau’s The Lion King and Guy Ritchie’s Aladdin), the brevity of the source material required Tim Burton and screenwriter Ehren Kruger to do a lot of padding. The result, as one might expect from a padded-out reimagining of a simplistic and juvenile cartoon, is a middling affair that contains enough special effects and lively sequences to entertain children but whose generic and uninspired narrative has less to offer for their parents. Adults accompanying their children may be sufficiently engaged to not be suffering in silence for their children’s sake (which alone bumps Dumbo up above some other theatrical options for family movie night), but adults attending alone may be less enthralled.

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Robin Hood (2018)

DIRECTOR: Otto Bathurst

CAST: Taron Egerton, Jamie Foxx, Ben Mendelsohn, Eve Hewson, Jamie Dornan, Tim Minchin, Paul Anderson, F. Murray Abraham

REVIEW:

Much like Lex Luthor, who should not be as difficult to adapt to screen as he has often seemed to be, Hollywood has had a hard time coming up with a good rendition of what should be as simple and straightforward as the legend of Robin Hood.  1991’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves had its charms, but marred by a whiplashy tone and a miscast Kevin Costner.  Ridley Scott’s 2010 “reimagining” tried to turn it into a Braveheart-esque epic historical drama at the expense of jettisoning any sense of fun.  Unfortunately, Otto Bathurst’s latest rendition of the oft-told tale has gone to the opposite extreme, a generic action flick, watchable and moderately engaging in the moment but forgettable and disposable in the way a dime a dozen generic action flicks are.  Panned by critics and making only $51 million against a $100 million budget, the latest telling of “The Hood” is as destined for the dust bin as last year’s King Arthur.

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Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (2018)

DIRECTOR: David Yates

CAST: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Alison Sudol, Dan Fogler, Ezra Miller, Zoe Kravitz, Jude Law, Johnny Depp

REVIEW:

In my review of 2016’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, I said that it was an enjoyable stand-alone adventure, but that its status as a franchise-launcher was in doubt.  Unfortunately, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald has no allayed those concerns.  An overstuffed mess as unwieldy as its title, this is as good an example of any as a “middle chapter” that suffers from obsessing over set-up and moving all the pieces into position on the chessboard to the detriment of actually telling much of a story.  There’s also unfortunately a little of “George Lucas Star Wars Prequel Syndrome” creeping into J.K. Rowling’s screenwriting, as well as falling prey to the overindulgent excesses of when Peter Jackson returned to the Middle Earth trough with his laboriously expanded and drawn-out Hobbit “trilogy”.  It’s possible that when all is said and done (there are supposedly still three more films to go in this Harry Potter spin-off series), The Crimes of Grindelwald may be perceived more favorably in hindsight, but as things stand now, the idea of three more movies of this feels more laborious than exciting. Continue reading

Green Book (2018)

DIRECTOR: Peter Farrelly

CAST: Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali

REVIEW:

Like such films as The Help and Hidden Figures touching on similar subject matter, Green Book‘s PG-13 rating and the “feel good” tone it’s aiming for holds it back from ever getting too dark or graphic in its depiction of 1960s racism, but also like the above films, it effectively serves a purpose providing a little history lesson illuminating the systemic racism of the 1960s Jim Crow South, wrapped up in a crowd-pleasing odd couple/buddy movie format. It’s nothing original or groundbreaking, but it’s an engaging and enjoyable film with the most earnest of intentions and bolstered by strong performances from its virtual two-man show of dual Oscar nominees Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali.

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Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

DIRECTOR: Bryan Singer

CAST: Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy, Joseph Mazzello, Allen Leech, Tom Hollander, Aidan Gillen, Mike Myers, Aaron McCusker

REVIEW:

Bohemian Rhapsody, obviously taking its title from possibly the most iconic song of the band it chronicles, doesn’t transcend the genre of a standard-issue band biopic, but it’s a breezy and rousing love letter to Queen that rises above some narrative cliches and historical fudging with a committed lead performance by Rami Malek and electric concert sequences.  Queen neophytes might not be engaged, but Queen fans should enjoy themselves. Continue reading

First Man (2018)

DIRECTOR: Damien Chazelle

CAST: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Kyle Chandler, Jason Clarke, Corey Stoll, Ciaran Hinds, Lukas Haas, Shea Whigham, Cory Michael Smith, Patrick Fugit, Pablo Schreiber, Ethan Embry, Brian d’Arcy James

REVIEW:

First Man would make an excellent companion piece to other docudramas about the 1960s NASA space program, including 1995’s Apollo 13 (whose mission took place only nine months after the climax of this film) and 1983’s sprawling The Right Stuff, which some consider definitive (although it portrays an earlier phase of the space race than First Man and Apollo 13, meaning one could watch the three as a sort of loosely-connected trilogy).  The primary difference is that, while those films were ensemble casts giving a broader overview of the workings of NASA, both on Earth and in space, First Man is more tightly-focused on the professional and personal life of the first man on the moon, Neil Armstrong, offering an intimate look at a man who sometimes seemed as remote as the bleak, barren lunar surface. Continue reading

Operation Finale (2018)

DIRECTOR: Chris Weitz

CAST: Oscar Isaac, Ben Kingsley, Melanie Laurent, Nick Kroll, Haley Lu Richardson, Michael Aronov, Joe Alwyn, Lior Raz, Torben Liebrecht, Greg Hill, Greta Scacchi, Peter Strauss, Russell Simon Beale

REVIEW:

Operation Finale is a well-crafted, sure-handed, engaging spy thriller chronicling in unvarnished docudrama fashion the (mostly) true story of the 1960 mission by agents of Mossad (Israeli secret service) to track down, apprehend, and extradite fugitive Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann from his hiding place in Argentina.  It’s not the first production about this subject (there is a 1996 TV movie, The Man Who Captured Eichmann, starring Arliss Howard as lead Mossad agent Peter Malkin and Robert Duvall as Eichmann), but it’s the most big-budget and the best quality.  It’s a good starting point for anyone unfamiliar with the story, and worth a watch for those who already are, even if it doesn’t really bring much new to the genre. Continue reading

The Post (2018)

DIRECTOR: Steven Spielberg

CAST: Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks

REVIEW:

The Post won’t appeal to everyone—it’s a predominantly dry, talky affair full of scenes of stressed-out people in smoky rooms and stacks of papers debating the course of action—-but for those who appreciate docudramas celebrating the triumph of investigative journalism over power, it’s a stirring spiritual brother to movies like All the President’s Men (to which it serves as a sort of direct prequel) and Spotlight.  In its portrayal of the free press versus an American President skirting the limits of his authority, The Post feels timely and relevant, and stresses the importance of an independent press.  The Supreme Court’s 1971 ruling that “the press exists to serve the governed, not the governors” is worth recalling today. Continue reading

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