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true story

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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Vice (2018)

DIRECTOR: Adam McKay

CAST: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell, Jesse Plemons

REVIEW:

Vice might be billed as a dark comedy, but the occasional absurdist flair only slightly softens the blow of what is essentially a political horror movie. As he did with 2015’s The Big Short—also starring Christian Bale and Steve Carell—Adam McKay uses a comedy-drama approach to bring flair and panache to what on paper sounds like a dry, dull subject for a movie (in The Big Short, the 2007-2008 financial crisis, here the distinctly uncharismatic former Vice President Dick Cheney). In this regard, there’s a little resemblance to what David Fincher/Aaron Sorkin and later Danny Boyle/Aaron Sorkin did with The Social Network—about Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg—and Steve Jobs—about the late Apple CEO—but suffice to say McKay again puts his own offbeat fingerprints on the proceedings.

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Boy Erased (2018)

DIRECTOR: Joel Edgerton

CAST: Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, Joel Edgerton

REVIEW:

Boy Erased, the second directorial feature of actor Joel Edgerton and based on the memoirs of Garrard Conley (with names changed to protect both the innocent and some not-so-innocent), is not a feel good viewing but a worthwhile and important one.  Conley’s memoirs, and now the film adaptation, shine a light on the long-running practice of so-called “conversion therapy”, a phrase which may not even be familiar to some viewers.  Performed most often on underage children, and roundly debunked by virtually every reputable psychiatrist as both ineffective and unethical and psychologically harmful, conversion therapy aims to “convert” an individual with homosexual or bisexual inclinations into a heterosexual.  To this end it uses a step-by-step program of indoctrination including techniques amounting to both psychological and physical abuse.  While increasingly a discredited practice and banned in a growing number of states, conversion therapy remains legal on the books in thirty-six states.  By telling one former patient’s story, Boy Erased offers both a frank condemnation of the insidious quackery of conversion therapy, and the dramatically compelling true story of one young man who emerged triumphant on the other side.

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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 15:17 to Paris (2018)

DIRECTOR: Clint Eastwood

CAST: Spencer Stone, Alec Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler

REVIEW:

I’ll get the obligatory disclaimer out of the way right up front: it goes without saying to any reasonable person that of course what Spencer Stone, Alec Skarlatos, and Anthony Sadler did on the 15:17 train to Paris in August 2015 is commendable.  That doesn’t mean it needed a movie.  Or at least definitely not this movie.  Veteran actor-director Clint Eastwood, whose right-wing propagandistic “rah rah” tendencies have increasingly permeated both his offscreen persona and his cinematic output in recent years, has churned out an amateurishly stilted, narratively meandering, and often frankly interminably boring misfired attempt at a tribute to the real-life heroes, counting not least among its various flaws the stunt casting of the (non-actor) heroes as themselves. Continue reading

12 Strong (2018)

DIRECTOR: Nicolai Fuglsig

CAST: Chris Hemsworth, Michael Shannon, Michael Pena, Trevante Rhodes, Navid Negahban, William Fichtner

REVIEW:

In some ways, 12 Strong is a bit of a throwback to war flicks of the ’50s and ’60s, rollicking adventures with more emphasis on creating a testosterone-fueled adrenaline rush than going into graphic details of the horrors of war (this slightly “old school” vibe is accentuated by the fact that our heroes spend much of the movie, including the climactic battle, on horseback).  To that end, it is strongly successful.  12 Strong doesn’t completely ignore or brush aside the grim realities of war, but it’s an action movie first and foremost and a substantially less downbeat experience than darker war films such as Platoon or Fury, and for fans of this kind of war flick, it represents an invigorating, solidly engaging couple of hours. Continue reading

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