Movie Mondays ~ Monday, February 25, 2019

Movie Mondays ~ Monday, February 25, 2019

This has been an unusually busy movie viewing week. The #OscarRun is officially over. There were seven films I wasn’t able to see in order to complete my 10 Oscar nom categories (IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK and COLD WAR in general feature; MIRAI and RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET in animated features; FREE SOLO, OF FATHERS AND SONS and HALE COUNTY, THIS MORNING, THIS EVENING in documentary features). Overall, I saw 18 of the 25 films I needed to see to complete the 10 categories I set out to see. Not too bad. It has been one busy #OscarRun season.

 

Usually, I write my reviews right after I see them. However, this week, I got a little behind.Since I have so many to review this week, I’m going to keep each review a little briefer than usual overall. Without further delay, here is my latest set of reviews, all nine of them. As always, thanks for reading. ~ Chris K.

 

FILMS VIEWED WEEK OF 02/18/2019 – 02/24/2019

 

28. At Eternity’s Gate

Drama (2018)
Willem Dafoe, Rupert Friend, Oscar Isaac

 

Without question, Willem Dafoe is a versatile actor who always delivers a top-notch performance. This film is no exception. He plays painter Vincent Van Gogh in his last few months before his death. Many people who don’t study humanities for a living or for fun may not know that Van Gogh painted some of his most famous paintings in that last year of his life. He was truly ‘in the zone’ creatively even though he struggled with getting recognition for his work while he was alive. Dafoe does a nice job depicting that struggle. Speaking of struggle, I had that experience viewing the film, through no fault of the talented leading man. The director, Julian Schnabel (THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY) makes odd choices with the camera work, creating jerky or sleepy angles that I found tiring to watch, and guides audiences on a film pace that…feels…grueling…and oh…so…long. And the film isn’t even over two hours, but boy, does it feel like a four-hour epic. If you like Dafoe, see it for the great portrayal, but do expect to be somewhat bored or dizzy by the rest of the picture.

 

Score: 75

 

 

29. The Favourite

Genre (2018)
Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone

 

What can I say about this one? I am completely baffled by the positive reviews. This tale that follows Queen Anne of Great Britain (played by Olivia Colman) who reigned over England, Scotland and Ireland in the early 1700s and her two sycophants vying for her attention with their affection, one the long-time friend and confidante played impressively by Rachel Weisz and the other, the former’s cousin who arrives looking for an opportunity after facing a dim future at home and who seeks every opportunity to win the Queen’s favor, with Emma Stone cast well in the role.  The Queen is quite simply a buffoon and glutton who isn’t even aware whether her kingdom is still at war or not. Colman does a good job portraying the nutty and emotional wreck that is Queen Anne, so I don’t fault the three actresses for where this film goes wrong for me — I blame the screenwriters and director. If anyone were the biggest Anglophile, it’s me, so I should love this film, right? I heard it was a comedy and quite dark and bawdy – awesome, that’s right up my alley. But in my opinion, it isn’t funny. And while it may be dark, it does not seem to have a purpose or direction for that darkness even up to the bizarre ending. If you want to see dark comedy a la European actors and filmmakers in a much stronger film, see IN BRUGES.

 

If you do give THE FAVOURITE a shot, I don’t doubt you will find the three leading ladies worthy of their Oscar noms but see if when it is finished if you too have the same reaction as I did. I truly didn’t care a bit for the outcome of any of the plotlines or characters and frankly, couldn’t wait for it to end. A real disappointment. The score given is primarily for the acting.

 

Score: 76

 

 

30. Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Documentary (2018)
Fred Rogers, Joanne Rogers, John Rogers

 

I watched this one smack in the middle of #OscarRun time for a particular reason: I had heard only good things about it and it was expected to be a contender at the Oscars yet never garnered a nom. And what a miss this was by the Academy! The documentary about long-time children’s television personality and show creator Fred Rogers does exactly what a good documentary does: it sheds light on a person’s mission by giving us insight into the man’s background, character traits and actions taken both on and off camera. It is fascinating as a movie viewer but even more a personal treat as someone who grew up watching these shows daily along with “Sesame Street.” I recommend it highly to anyone who has an appreciation for seeing a film that captures the early beginnings of a concept through its flourishing and long-time impact. By film’s end, we realize that perhaps Mr. Rogers was ahead of his time. One thing is certain: we could sure use him now.

 

Score: 89

 

 

 

31. A Star Is Born

Drama, Music (2018)
Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper, Sam Elliott

 

I have a feeling that like my recent review of BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY, this one is probably not going to be greeted too favorably by others. Yeah, I didn’t like it, folks. I really really really wanted to like it. I found Bradley Cooper’s portrayal wonderful as always — I’m really growing into a big fan of this actor and a versatility I didn’t realize he had years ago when I thought he was just a cute face.  Sam Elliott was well, Sam Elliott. I was surprised at the overwhelming gushing out there about this performance. I’ve seen him take on far meatier roles and do good things with them but to me, this performance doesn’t really stand out. But my biggest problem with this film consists of two ‘truths’ I had to accept out of the gate and struggled to do so.

 

The story follows a successful singer who crosses paths with a talented but insecure singer-songwriter who hasn’t felt confident enough to share her talents with the world. Using his own charm and a clever pull onto the stage of one of his concerts, he compels her to join him in singing one of her songs that she has shared with him, and well, you can guess the rest. Soon, instant stardom for her, falling in love with a hard-drinking and complicated musician, yada yada yada. Cooper and Gaga do have chemistry but I had some difficulty seeing Gaga as anything but well, Gaga. First, a disclaimer: I do own Lady Gaga records so this isn’t a Lady Gaga hater talking, okay? So please no disparaging comments aimed my way by misinformed people thinking I don’t like the singer. But I didn’t feel like this performance was ‘all that’ as so many others have been raving. I felt like I was watching Lady Gaga albeit with different hair and clothes being a tamed down Lady Gaga. Whereas I was able to forget I was watching John Legend as Jesus in the recent live TV production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” or Madonna in the film version of EVITA, I could not see Lady Gaga as anything but herself in this role. I suppose some of you out there could say that’s my problem not hers, but I would disagree. I think when you enter a production such as this, it is your job as a performer to overcome the existing perceptions that others will bring to their viewing experience. And it just didn’t happen for me.

 

But I think the biggest hurdle of all I ran into was the believability that a song like “Shallow” would turn someone from a nobody into a superstar. We had to buy into the fact that the caliber of that song was so mighty that it would transform her career completely and I didn’t buy it. Sorry, folks. That was pretty critical to being able to move forward and care about these characters’ lives. Just an aside:  I did think the song “Maybe It’s Time” was a far more interesting song, yet that wasn’t the one that was nominated and won the Oscar for Best Song. Aah well, what do I know?

 

Score: 78

 

32. Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Crime, Drama (2018)
Melissa McCarthy, Richard E. Grant

 

This film really surprised me. I didn’t have very high expectations going into it, but I was far more interested in seeing where this film took me as a viewer than many of the far more touted films. McCarthy and Grant are both wonderful in their roles and very deserving of the Oscar nods though neither won. We follow the path of a novelist who has experienced some success but finds herself struggling to put the words together. She is cantankerous and snarky, not exactly a social butterfly or a neat freak at home, and her best friend is the nearest bottle of liquor or your friendly neighborhood bartender. McCarthy captures this character spot on. We don’t love her. Hell, we don’t even like her. But we quickly become fascinated by her and want to know to what lengths she is willing to go, and boy, is she willing to go far and wasting any friendships along the way to do it once she realizes she has a real knack for writing in the words of some of the most famous writers she idolizes. Just not telling the people buying these historical literary artifacts that she’s the one doing the writing. Whoops!

 

This isn’t the fastest-paced, thrilling or hilarious film you are going to see, but though it is primarily a drama, McCarthy and Grant know how to infuse just the right touch of humor to keep us entertained and invested. Kudos to the screenwriter who adapted the book by the author being depicted (Lee Israel). See it for the acting and to join these performers on the storytelling journey.

 

Score: 81

 

33. Minding the Gap

Documentary (2018)
Keire Johnson, Bing Liu, Zack Mulligan

 

I was only able to see two of the five nominated documentaries this year, RBG and this one. I won’t lie — I was quite bored during the first half following this young filmmaker as he documented his life and two of his friends in the hopes of getting to the heart of their troubled upbringing in their small industrial hometown that each couldn’t wait to escape and build lives elsewhere. By the second half, I realized what the filmmaker (Liu, also one of the young men we’re following) was trying to do and by the film’s end, he shows a montage for each of them showing their different appearances from boy to teenager to young adult, and viewers feel like they have witnessed an evolution in 90 minutes of three lives.

 

 

I can see why the Academy  nominated it. It isn’t often that we can have such an intimate view in people’s lives and truly capture those moments of clarity and greatness, as well as our low points we wish we could forget or even take back, but this documentary manages to do that. Curious to see if this filmmaker expands to fictional storytelling. He has a nice eye and strong editing judgment. I’d really like to see what other stories he could tell outside his own world if given the right vehicle.

 

Score: 80

 

34. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Drama, Music (2018)
Voice talents of Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Maharshala Ali

 

This is not your typical Marvel universe film as of late. For one thing, it’s animated but this animation is out of this world – sophisticated and attention-grabbing. Fused with a killer cast, a soundtrack so fitting for the fast action, wit, grit and purpose this film sets out to achieve, this film is a winner all the way. I won’t lie — I found that I had to be patient with it. I’m sure comic book readers will not agree with me here, but during the first half hour or so, I began to wonder where this film was taking with me and whether or not I would want to go there as we follow likable teenager Miles Morales as he finds himself in a predicament when he is bitten by a radioactive spider and is suddenly faced with the pressures of becoming THE Spider-Man. He gets assistance from some unexpected friends who come along to better explain his new role and he quickly realizes that what he must set out to do is far bigger than he realized. Without giving anything away, I urge you to see this great animated tale of a young man who represents all of us, much more than we may realize. Are we up to the challenges put before us?  We’re stronger than we know, and this film reminds us that we’re all capable of wearing the superhero uniform (no cape required). Go see this one. You’ll be glad you did!

 

Score: 88

 

Spiderman

 

35. Roma

Drama (2018)
Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira

 

Generally speaking, I’m not the biggest fan of foreign language films. I don’t seek them out but occasionally, I stumble upon movies that end up becoming some of my favorites like CINEMA PARADISO and MY LIFE AS A DOG. In the past few decades, films that have been recognized by the Oscars like LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL and IL POSTINO (THE POSTMAN), have simply not impressed me. This one though has truly been the talk of Tinseltown, and I wanted to see it for myself. I had every reason to think it might win Best Picture at this year’s Oscars, so I wanted to know just how deserving it might be, if at all. I will say that ROMA was much better than I expected. I found myself caring about Cleo, the film’s lead played beautifully by the Oscar-nominated Yalitza Aparicio, a maid for a middle class Mexican family living in 1970-71 Mexico City as we follow her through the victories, losses, loves and heartaches that follow both her and the family she lives with and cares for.

 

I’ve heard words like tender and emotional used to describe the film, and those are perfect. Director Alfonso Cuaron has a great eye for capturing that long sweeping scene and compels audience members to search the scene for every detail — and sometimes in the same scene we may see beauty and heartwrenching pain all in one sweeping view. There were at least three occasions during the film that I found myself on the edge of my seat and my heart aching for what might happen next, and while all did not turn out as I might have anticipated, I credit Cuaron for bringing me to the edge of my seat. This is a special film, and I can see myself going back and watching it again to look for anything else in those sweeping scenes I may have missed.

 

Score: 84

 

 

36. Black Panther

Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi (2018)
Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira

 

First, I must note — I did see this film already last year right after it was released. At the time, I gave it a score of 88, so I was a fan going into this second viewing. But it had been so long since I saw it, and given all of my recent Best Pictures seen, I felt it necessary to see this again to compare it to the others nominated in the same category. This is moviegoers’ introduction to the character of T’Challa who rises to the role of king of Wakanda. When his hidden kingdom is challenged, he must defend his people as The Black Panther, accompanied by three of the coolest, smartest, toughest, strongest, badass women on the big screen since Wonder Woman and her Amazonian friends.

 

I love how they work as a team and this particular comic hero does not rely solely on his strength and his intelligence. It is an army of wits and strength that one goes up against when taking on The Black Panther. I do love that about this one. There are definitely Marvel (and DC) films I may find more compelling overall (including CAPTAIN AMERICA: WINTER SOLDIER, LOGAN and THE AVENGERS). However, this film has a special magic about it — assembled from it beautiful production design, costume, score, visual effects and wonderful ensemble cast.  I can honestly say that I enjoyed this film even more the second time around. Good stuff!

 

Score: 89

 

 

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