The Magnificent Seven (2016) **
Chris Pratte, Ethan Hawke and Denzel Washington do a walk-through remake of the classic western (FULL REVIEW)
Maiden (2019) ****
Through sheer determination — often of the most reckless kind — 24-year-old Tracy Edward in 1989 became skipper of the first all-female crew in the Whitbread Round The World Race (now known as the Volvo Ocean Race). Through old home movies, director Alex Holmes introduces us to Edwards as a surly, rebellious teenager who escaped a troubled home life by becoming a cook on private yachts. An aimless existence seemed guaranteed for her until, inspired by a chance meeting with King Hussein of Jordan, Edwards became obsessed with the notion of showing the male-dominated world of yacht racing that women could do a lot more than rustle up grub for macho sailor men. The rampant sexism of the era is reflected in news clips (“How will they avoid cat fights?”) and in the dismissive comments of male counterparts. That condescending tone barely softens even after the crew survives a harrowing passage near Antarctica, but the women mostly refuse to take the bait: They plug along, eyes on the horizon, through seas both smooth and scary. Edwards and her cohorts, interviewed for the film and looking ready to set sail again on a moment’s notice, provide the film’s heartfelt narration.
Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound (2019) ****
Thomas Edison invented the film projector so he could show moving pictures with the sound from his phonograph, but he could never lick the technical demands of matching sound to image. Thus, the so-called “silent era” stretched well into the 1920s, and by the time sight and sound were indelibly combined in early talkies like The Jazz Singer, the soundtrack was considered more of a welcome new appendage rather than an integral part of the cinematic arts. In her clip-tastic documentary, director Midge Costin traces the development of movie sound from the ‘20s through today. Her history lesson seems oddly truncated: Costin implies that stereo sound wasn’t introduced until Francis Ford Coppola’s 1969 magnum opus Apocalypse Now while ignoring Walt Disney’s revolutionary multichannel Fantasound system created for 1941’s Fantasia as well as the many stereo “road show” movies of the 1950s and ‘60s. That nitpick aside, however, when Costin gets around to explaining the astonishing blend of creativity and technology involved in creating, mixing, and editing modern films, the film morphs into nothing less than a master class taught by the most towering talents in the field. After decades of working in obscurity — working aural alchemy in front of computer screens while their cinematographer and editing brethren bask in the sunlight of film geek notoriety — Costin's subjects fairly glow with delight at sharing their secrets, seizing their chance to explain how the sound side of cinema has become as essential as the visual one — and in some cases even more vital.
Mama Mia! Here We Go Again (2018) ***
I don't recall seeing any petitions begging for a sequel to the 2008 big-screen ABBA musical, and yet here it is. Those who care to will recall the original dealt with a young bride (Amanda Seyfried) trying to figure out which of the three long-ago suitors who romanced her free-spirited mother (Meryl Streep) was her biological father. Now, 10 years later, she wants to know the story of how Mom met the Three Lustketeers (played again by Piece Brosnan, Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgard). The convoluted prequel/sequel setup doesn't help, and neither does that fact that most of the songs are decidedly B-side ABBA. And while the addition of Cher as Meryl's mom is a campy coup, it's hard to shake the nagging mathematical reality that she must have given birth to Meryl at age 3.
Mame (1974) ***
Lucille Ball's big screen return in Jerry Herman's musical was doomed from the start: There was no way musical comedy fans were ever going to accept her in the role that made Angela Lansbury a household name. It didn't help that director Gene Saks, who'd made his name bringing Neil Simon comedies to the screen, mounted a plodding production that seemed much longer than its 2-hour, 10-minute run time. But Lucy is still Lucy, and even though she pretty much croaks out the songs that Lansbury belted out so memorably, she commands the screen as few others could. Robert Preston is great fun as Mame's Southern gentleman husband; too bad his character doesn't stick around much longer than the halfway point, when he gets to belt out that memorable title song.
Man of Steel (2013) ***
Well-made, but the fight scenes last longer than the half-life of Kryptonite (FULL REVIEW)
The Man Who Killed Don Quixote (2019) ***
Terry Gilliam spent 25 years trying to realize his vision of a modern-day Don Quixote still fighting windmills across the rugged landscape of Spain. The final product is, if not a masterpiece on a par with his earlier classics (Brazil, Time Bandits), it’s a story well-told by a superb cast. Adam Driver stars as a TV commercial director named Toby who, through a series of mishaps, finds himself in the company of an old man (Jonathan Pryce) who is convinced he is the legendary Don Quixote. There’s much adventure and misunderstanding, and a few spectacular set pieces that recall Gilliam’s glory days as Hollywood’s most visionary director.
The Man Who Laughs (1928) ****
Fresh from the success of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Universal Pictures turned to another Victor Hugo classic, The Man Who Laughs — the dark, at times nightmarish tale of a man (Conrad Veidt) cursed with a permanent, grotesque grin after being hideously disfigured as a child. Veidt is heartbreaking as the man in question; Mary Philbin transcends the histrionic conventions of silent screen acting to create a touching portrait of the blind woman who loves him. German director Paul Leni creates the last great Expressionistic film with angles, lighting, and dreamlike camera movement crisply preserved in this Flicker Alley restoration. The original film score, added for a 1928 release, is offered as a bonus, but the new music from the Berklee School of Music orchestra brings a fresh vibrance to the 92-year-old film.
Manchester By the Sea (2016) *****
Casey Affleck is brilliant as a troubled man forced to take custody of his feisty nephew (FULL REVIEW)
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (2013) ****
In any other year, Idris Elba’s towering performance as Nelson Mandela would land him on anyone’s Best Actor Oscar shortlist. Alas, the dance card is probably already full this time around, but that’s no reason to miss Elba tracing the life of the South African legend from young adulthood through his 27-year imprisonment. Naomie Harris is at times chillingly intense as his wife Winnie, and director Justin Chadwick (The First Grader) continues his love affair with inspiring, true African stories.
Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down The White House (2017) ***
Liam Neeson stars as the lifetime FBI bureaucrat who became "Deep Throat," the unnamed source who helped The Washington Post nail Richard Nixon in the Watergate scandal. The movie over-explains and feels unnecessarily dark, but Neeson creates a compelling character who must decide if betrayal can ever equal loyalty. (FULL REVIEW)
Marriage Story (2019) ****
Two towering performances breathe uncommon humanity into writer/director Noah Baumbach’s study of a marriage on the rocks. Adam Driver explores the darkest corners of a man blindsided by the deep unhappiness of his wife; Scarlett Johansson mesmerizes as a woman emerging from a haze of unhappiness. The pair go at each other with merciless precision, but they never lose sight of their shared devotion to their young son, played by doe-eyed newcomer Azhy Robinson. The flawless supporting cast includes Julie Haggerty as the mother-in-law who just can’t quit her daughter’s ex, Wallace Shawn as a gasbag thespian, and Alan Alda as the kindhearted divorce lawyer no client wants (but really needs).
Marshall (2017) ****
Chadwick Boseman captures the quiet dignity and subtle legal genius of Thurgood Marshall, playing the future Supreme Court justice as a young lawyer, defending a Black man in a racist 1940s courtroom, and once more manages to find the soul of a complex character. Josh Gadd is a delight as Marshall's very Jewish colleague. As the tale unfolds in ultra-conservative Connecticut, the two stars give this conventional courtroom drama an unexpected buddy picture vibe.
Mary Poppins Returns (2018) *****
Remember at the end of Mary Poppins, when Bert the Chimneysweep gazes into the windy London sky and says, "Goodbye, Mary Poppins! Don't stay away too long!" For 9-year-old me, that line started the clock ticking for what I considered the inevitable sequel to Walt Disney's instant 1964 classic. That wait proved to be longer than I expected, but happily, Mary Poppins Returns is well worth the wait; every bit as good as the original and in some ways better. As Ms. Poppins, Emily Blunt lacks Julie Andrews' soaring voice, but she makes up for it in embodying the smoky mystery that surrounds the magical nanny. With her chin tucked down, her eyes peering out mischievously from under her wide-brimmed hat, Blunt's Poppins is a lilting invitation to embrace the unexpected. We're told early on that her old pal Bert — played by Dick Van Dyke lo those many years ago — is off on a world tour. But we thoroughly enjoy the company of his great-nephew, a lamplighter named Jack (played with back-row-reaching enthusiasm by Hamilton creator/star Lin-Manuel Miranda). The film closely follows the template of the original, with a fantastical leap into a bubble bath sea and a visit to a comically quirky relative (Meryl Streep, singing her little heart out). Master musical director Rob Marshall (Chicago) lends this film a masterful continuity that the original Poppins lacked, but he never loses sight of the film's essential mission: To entertain all ages while splashing happily in the puddles of childhood fantasy. (FULL REVIEW)
Mary Shelley (2018) ****
Elle Fanning continues to emerge as one of our most versatile screen actors in this biopic of the woman who defied gender roles to write Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus. (FULL REVIEW)
Matinee ***** (1993)
Joe Dante's warm-hearted comedy about a boy (Simon Fenton) living in Key West at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis is at once a disarming time capsule and a love letter to the B-movie horror flicks that flourished in the early nuclear age. John Goodman plays a schlock producer/director who's premiering his latest atrocity in Key West — and who sees the nation's nuke mania as the ultimate marketing tool. Chuckling in the face of Armageddon, Goodman's character embraces horror in a great big bear hug, while helping the boy face the equally daunting terrors of the teen years.
Maudie (2017) ****
Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke steal your heart as severely arthritic, barely educated Canadian painter Maud Adams and her fishmonger husband .
Maze Runner: The Death Cure (2018) *
The final installment in this teen sci-fi trilogy gave me one reason to rejoice: I never saw the first two. Set in a dystopian future (is there any other kind?), the story of a ragtag group of kids raining hell on a city occupied by corrupt overlords is pretty much a series of set pieces inspired by other, better movies. Here's hoping Patricia Clarkson got paid handsomely for taking a job that, for a lesser talent, could well have been a career killer.
Me Before You (2015) ***
Everyone suffers beautifully in this classy weepie (FULL REVIEW)
The Meddler (2016) ****
Susan Sarandon and J.K. Simmons make a cozy couple in this tale of a mom (Sarandon) still clinging to her grown daugher (Rose Byrne) (FULL REVIEW)
Meeting Gorbachev (2019) ****
You know ‘80s nostalgia has really kicked in when you find yourself at a documentary about the Soviet Union’s last president — and sort of longing for the good old days of the Evil Empire. Warner Herzog is an amiable interviewer, sitting down with the then 85-year-old Mikhail Gorbachev, who has lost none of the jovial bonhomme that endeared him to his countrymen as well as his geopolitical rival Ronald Reagan. Most striking is footage of the “young” 53-year-old Gorbachev taking his place on the Politboro, a human dynamo compared to the decrepit old men flanking him. It soon becomes clear he will be elevated to the top spot if only because he probably won’t die in the next year or two.
The Meg (2018) ***
Name your classic shark movie trope and you’ll find it in this by-the-numbers shark thriller. Panic on the beach? Check. Helpless diver in a shark cage? Check. Need a bigger boat? Check! But when you consider this movie was co-produced by a Chinese company ( nearly half the cast is Chinese) , you have to remember that there are probably a few billion people in China who’ve never seen Jaws, so it's all new to them. In any case, the Chinese cast is easier to understand than British star Jason Statham, who often sounds like he’s got a mouth full of fish and chips.
Megan Leavey (2017) ****
You won't have to be a dog lover to be reduced to tears by the true tale of a U.S. Marine (Kate Mara) and her devotion to the bomb-sniffing dog who saved her life in Afghanistan. (FULL REVIEW)
Menashe **** (2017)
The heartbreaking story of an orthodox Jewish father (Menashe Lustig) in Brooklyn trying to balance his faith with his desire to raise his son is virtually all in Yiddish, yet you don't even need the subtitles to be utterly absorbed. Director Joshua Z. Weinstein's film provides an often perplexing look at a little-seen sliver of American society.
Men In Black: International (2019) ** Nothing to see here — at least nothing that you haven't seen before. The creators of this cops-and-aliens sequel mistakenly feel the franchise is built on flashy weapons and grotesque CGI spacemen. The real appeal was the chemistry between hip Will Smith and his hangdog, world-weary partner Tommy Lee Jones. Stars Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth are appealing, but they, like us, seem somewhat numbed by the clamitous freak show surrounding them.
Metallica Through the Never (2013) ***
A rockapalooza with the quintessential ’80s Heavy Metal band, who will? Go for the music, stay for Kirk Hammett’s hair.
Midway (2019) ***
You go into the theater knowing exactly what to expect from this decidedly old-fashioned World War II movie: Director Roland Emmerich (Godzilla, The Day After Tomorrow) sets up the strategic importance of Midway via sharply delivered speeches from some severe-faced officers, offers up some cursory backstory for the fighting men and women at hand, then lets the CGI gods have their way with diving planes, exploding ships, and churning waters. It's got one of those all-A-minus-star casts (Dennis Quaid, Aaron Ackhrt, Mandy Moore, Woody Harrelson, Nick Jonas) that ensure we'll think less about the cast and more about the splash.
Mike Wallace Is Here (2019) ****
For more than four decades, few things struck fear into the hearts of corrupt politicians and greedy businessmen more than the words, “Mike Wallace Is Here.” That’s the name of this eye-opening new documentary from director Avi Belkin, who goes way, way back into the archives of early TV to create this sometimes stark, sometimes heartbreaking portrait of the man who invented the hard-hitting TV interview. There's a wealth of striking footage from 60 Minutes, the newsmagazine he launched with cohost Harry Reasoner in 1968 and which, he candidly recalls, "No one thought would last." And vintage footage from his gritty 1950s New York City interview show reveal he was honing his interviewing skills long before that. But perhaps most striking are clips of Wallace as a a cheery, chatty 1950s game show host, happily handing out prize money to delighted contestants — or chirpily pitching everything from cigarettes to refrigerated pie crusts. It's at those moments we realize Wallace at some point sat down and, through sheer calculation and determination, invented the steely-eyed reporter that defined his career.
Miles Ahead (2016) ***
Don Cheadle and Ewan McGregor drink and drug their way through the story of MIles Davis. Cheadle gives the performance of a lifetime (FULL REVIEW)
Military Wives (2020) ****
Heartfelt and proud of it, this gentle comedy from director Peter Cattaneo (The Full Monty) follows the real-life story of some British women who formed an impromptu choir to pass the time while their spouses were off fighting in Afghanistan. They got to be pretty good — and ended up bringing down the house at an annual military concert at London’s Royal Albert Hall. Kristin Scott Thomas and Sharon Horgan (TV’s Catastrophe) have nice chemistry as the oil-and-water choirmasters, but Cattaneo has the good sense to give the various women in the chorus plenty of screen time. The subtly sentimental script is co-written by Rachel Tunnard, who wrote and directed the criminally overlooked 2016 comedy Adult Life Skills.
Miss Juneteenth (2020) ****
It’s hard to imagine a more perfectly timed film than this heart-tugging story of a former beauty queen (Little Fires Everywhere’s NicoleBbeharie) who’s grooming her daughter (wonderful newcomer Alexis Chikaeze) to follow in her footsteps as Miss Juneteenth in a small Texas town. Writer-Director Channing Godfrey Peoples lavishes plenty of attention on the movie’s complicated mother/daughter dynamic, but there’s lots more to ponder as she also dissects a society that seems determined to retain old strictures even as it promises better days ahead.
Missing Link (2019) ****
An unqualified delight, this stop-action animated film (from the studio that created the splendid Kubo and the Two Strings and Coraline) packs endless surprises into its brisk hour-and-a-half, a raucous high adventure buddy comedy about a Victorian era explorer (stuffily voiced by Hugh Jackman) who befriends Bigfoot. There are grownup delights aplenty, from the glorious color palate to the refreshingly angular character design. Best of all is the sparkling voice work of Zach Galifianakis, who breathes humor and innocence into Mr. Link. Writer/director Chris Butler paces his story perfectly, allowing Frost and Link plenty of room to develop a sweet if sometimes combative friendship. (FULL REVIEW)
Mission: Impossible Fallout (2018) ***
Take a James Bond highlight reel and superimpose Tom Cruise's head on it and you've pretty much got the latest in the star's 22-years-and-counting action series. By the time he's done clinging to helicopters, dangling from cliffs, racing Doomsday countdown clocks or battling bad guys to the death in a bathroom, we half-expect Cruise's Ethan Hunt to order a martini shaken, not stirred. Then again, that would require the use of dialogue, which here is even less evident than the laws of physics. (FULL REVIEW)
Mr. Holmes (2015) ****
Ian McKellan mesmerizes as 93-year-old Sherlock Holmes, obsessed with his one unsolved case (FULL REVIEW)
Mr. Roosevelt (2017) ****
Noël Wells writes, directs, and stars in this breakthrough comedy about a struggling young LA comic (Wells) who returns to her native Austin, Texas, to deal with a family emergency...and comes face-to-face with the myriad was life has gone on without her. The premise is frothy, but the film is brimming with smart and sneakily soulful observations of how we are all, at one time or another, on the outside looking in. (FULL REVIEW)
Molly's Game (2017) ***
Oscar-winning writer Aaron Sorkin (Moneyball, Steve Jobs) directs his own script for the first time, and surprisingly he does a better job than the other guys of pacing his machine gun dialogue. Still, his telling of the true story of Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain), a former Olympic skier who ran one of America's most exclusive (and illegal) card games, is oddly soulless. Despite heartfelt scenes with her lawyer (Idris Elba) and dad (Kevin Costner), we never really learn enough about Molly to truly care about her. (FULL REVIEW)
Mom & Dad (2018) ****
Writer/director Brian Taylor is really onto something in this whip-smart horror fable, set on the day when, for reasons only hinted at, parents across the country become obsessed with a desire to murder their children. On one level, the plot gives Nicolas Cage license to unleash his full-frontal madman as he chases his two kids with a reciprocating electric saw, screaming, "Sawzall! It really saws all!" On the other, the film mines the deep veins of distrust and resentment that trace beneath the surface of even the most well-adjusted family. It's not quite as artful, but still a worthy second feature to the similarly subversive Get Out.
A Monster Calls (2016) **** Sigourney Weaver costars as the grandmother of a troubled young boy in a dark fantasy/psychological thriller fueled by childhood fears (FULL REVIEW)
Monuments Men (2014) ***
George Clooney's buddy adventure about U.S. soldiers trying to recover stolen art is more fun than a barrel of Monets (FULL REVIEW)
Moonlight Sonata: Deafness in Three Movements ****
Oscar-nominated documentary maker Irene Taylor Brodsky (The Final Inch) turns her compassionate cinematic vision to her own son, who lost his hearing as a young child due to a genetic condition that had rendered both of her parents deaf, as well. Fitted with an implant that enables him to hear once more, the child takes up piano and decides to learn Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata — the piece Beethoven wrote when the same year he suddenly lost his hearing. Brodsky skillfully and sensitively intertwines her son's story with that of Beethoven — and with that of her now-aging parents. Music and deafness would seem to be odd bedfellows for a film, but Brodsky masterfully weds them in this uncommonly beautiful personal portrait.
More Art Upstairs (2018) ****
What if there were an American Idol for visual artists, like painters and sculptors? That’s the idea behind this delightful and inspiring documentary. Each year, the entire city of Grand Rapids, Michigan turns out to judge works by major artists, then votes on who will win a half-million-dollars in prizes — the largest cash award in the art world. Director Jody Hassett Sanchez introduces us to a handful of the contestants, then keeps them — and us — on pins and needles until the winners are announced.
mother! (2017) **
Something is clearly wrong with the remote house occupied by Javier Bardem and Jennifer Lawrence: The walls bleed, as do the floors, and the place makes ungodly noises. But the real problem here is writer/director Darren Aronofsky's ambition to infuse his dark tale with Biblical allusions reaching from Genesis to Revelation, yet somehow forget to provide a meaningful context. (FULL REVIEW)
Mother's Day * (2016)
A truly awful attempt at sentimental comedy results in a film not even a mother could love (FULL REVIEW)
Motherless Brooklyn (2019) ***
Writer/director/star Edward Norton’s lavish tale of a small-time detective taking on the powers that ran 1950s New York city has all the weaknesses of a vanity project and all of the strengths. On the bad side, scenes go too long, others should have been cut completely, and the Norton's infatuation with his own contributions subtracts from the rest of his able cast. Yet Norton has created an undeniably appealing character for himself, and his film is visionary in its reconstruction of bygone New York, particularly in its CGI recreation of the glorious Penn Station. Norton plays Lionel Essrog, a detective afflicted with the then little-understood Tourette’s Syndrome, which causes him to erupt with uncontrollable expletives, along with other physical and verbal tics. But Lionel's disability also focuses his brain with an uncanny knack for problem solving. When his understanding boss (Bruce Willis, gone too soon) is murdered by thugs, Lionel follows the trail of suspects all the way up to the city’s blustery master builder, Moses Randolph.
The Mountain Between Us (2017) ***
It's hard to go wrong watching Kate Winslet and Idris Elba for a couple of hours, but the gimmicky, cloying script about two people stranded in the mountains does its best to squander their talents.
Mouthpiece (2019) ****
Two actresses — Amy Nostbakken and Nora Savada — share the role Cassandra, a 30-year-old woman who has just lost her mother. They play two sides of Cassandra's psyche, which are often at odds with each other. It’s a terrific conceit that starts out a little gimmicky, but by the end the performances become seamless, exploring the daily dialogues we have with ourselves. Director Patricia Rozema masterfully spins a web of plausibility around an outrageous premise.
The Mummy (2017) ***
Tom Cruise gets wrapped up in an ancient Egyptian princess' plot to conquer the world via supernatural powers and zombies. He runs a lot.
Murder Mystery (2019) ***
It appears someone invited Jennifer Aniston and Adam Sandler to spend a few weeks in Monaco and Italy, and all they had to do in return was step in front of some cameras once in awhile and pretend to be a working class New York couple who get caught up in an implausible jet-set murder case. And that's not a bad trade-off, because the two are clearly having a ball in Murder Mystery. The film's creators clearly put as much thought into the title as they did the plot, which wants to evoke Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Expresswhen it's really a lot closer to Neil Simon's Murder By Death. Still, there is enormous fun to be had in the company of two engaging stars, and the backgrounds are to die for.
Murder on the Orient Express (2017) ****
Drinking heartily from the font of Sidney Lumet's lush 1974 version, director/star Kenneth Branagh guides us through Agatha Christie's most famous mystery with a deft and knowing hand. Sporting a moustache that deserves its own billing, Branagh plays detective Hercule Poirot with delightful eccentricity while providing lots of star-type turns for his stellar cast of suspects, including Daisy Ridley, Leslie Odom Jr., Penelope Cruz, Derek Jacobi, Michelle Pfeiffer, Judi Dench and Willem Dafoe. It's no spoiler that Johnny Depp plays the victim, and to his credit he makes us good and glad he's dead.
My Blue Heaven (1990) ***
The Blu-ray release of this offbeat buddy comedy about an effusive gangster (Steve Martin) and the federal agent assigned to protect him (Rick Moranis) won't make the top of anyone's list of achievements by the stars or writer Norah Ephron or director Herbert Ross. But it does serve to remind us how very much we miss Moranis, who hasn't made a movie in 20 years.
My Cousin Rachel (2017) ***
Rachel Weisz is hypnotic as the mysterious woman who may or may not be responsible for the death of a 19th Century British nobleman. The deceased's brother (Sam Claflin) is determined to prove her guilt even as he falls hopelessly in love with her. Daphne Du Maurier's novel has already been a movie (with Olivia de Havilland and Richard Burton) and a TV miniseries (with Geraldine Chaplin); this time around director Roger Michell (Notting Hill) heaps on the incriminating evidence like a Mississippi prosecutor. When he finally raises a shadow of a doubt, right near the end, we feel like a jury that's been lied to.
My Dinner With Herve (2018) ***
Before there was the indispensable Peter Dinklage, the world's most famous actor of similar physical stature was Herve Villechaize, the diminutive sidekick of Ricardo Montalban on TV's Fantasy Island. Now here's Dinklage playing Herve in his last days, boozing, partying, and relating his life story to a reporter (Fifty Shades of Grey's Jamie Dornan) who is hating every minute of this assignment. Director Sacha Gervasi (Hitchcock) — drawing upon his personal experience interviewing Villechaize shortly before his 1993 suicide — paints a tragic portrait of the troubled actor. But with his usual elan, Dinklage brings a troubled sort of dignity to the man who couldn't go anywhere without people insisting he point to the sky and exclaim, "De plane!"
My Favorite Year (1982) ****
Here's a movie that drifts into my mind with remarkable frequency; Richard Benjamin's fond tribute to 1950s TV. Peter O'Toole stars as a booze-soaked faded matinee idol (read Errol Flynn) making a last-ditch attempt at relevance by appearing on a live variety show hosted by a comic named King Kaiser (read Sid Caesar). A studio gofer (Mark Linn-Baker) is put in charge of keeping the fallen star sober. Hilarity of the best sort ensues.
My Name is Emily (2017) ****
A young Irish girl (Evanna Lynch) talks a schoolmate (George Webster) into driving her across the country to see her eccentric dad in this remarkably insightful coming-of-age comedy from quadriplegic director Simon FItzmaurice (FULL REVIEW)
Mystery In The Wax Museum (1933) ****
(Available through wbshop.com/warnerarchive and Amazon)
After years of experimenting, in 1933 Warner Bros. was about to give up on muddy, two-color Technicolor — which at first thrilled, then generally annoyed audiences. But for this lurid horror potboiler, director Michael Curtiz capitalized on the red/green process' limitations. Warner Archive's astonishingly crisp new restoration brings brand-new energy to the film, the muted colors creating an otherworldly atmosphere of peril. Fay Wray (who in just few months would become King Kong's last girlfriend) brandishes her screaming damsel-in-distress chops as a woman in the clutches of the Wax Museum's owner (Lionel Atwill), whose creations are just a tad too lifelike — or should I say...deathlike? Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha!
Mystify: Michael Hutchence (2019) ***
The Australian band INXS was ubiquitous in the 1980s, but somehow they never achieved the beloved status (at least on these shores) of groups like The Police, R.E.M. or U2. From hours of home movies and concert footage, prolific music video director Richard Lowenstein has assembled the definitive INXS documentary, focusing on the tragic life of the band’s front man, Michael Hutchence. A pair of decisions on Lowenstein’s part undermine his obvious labor of love. First, at the outset he chooses not to bring us up to speed on just why INXS mattered as a musical force. Unless you’re a die-hard band fan, it’s unlikely you’ll even recognize many of the group’s greatest hits, so there’s no universal shorthand for establishing why we should care about this story. Second, despite dozens of interviews with family, friends, and bandmates, Lowenstein uses them only as voiceovers, so we need to keep referencing their names at the lower corner of the screen (the usual pattern would be to show the speakers once with an identifying subtitle, then returning to them with facial recognition only). Lowenstein suggests that the contrast between seeing these people back then, when they were so young and sexy, and now, when they are presumably not so, would be too jarring. But the decision robs us of the opportunity to see Hutchence’s sister’s enduring devotion to her brother, or search the eyes of his estranged brother to see any lingering traces of jealousy or resentment.
Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase ****
Captain Marvel may be the most powerful superhero in the Marvelverse, but this screen incarnation of America’s favorite teenaged detective gives us permission to celebrate a world where the only superpowers anyone needs are intelligence, curiosity, compassion and kindness. Nancy is played with homespun good humor by Sophia Lillis, cute as a button as she sets about solving the mystery of a seemingly haunted house, owned by an eccentric but lovable former burlesque dancer (Linda Lavin, who we can never get enough of). (FULL REVIEW)
Nebraska (2013) ****
In a career-defining performance, Bruce Dern is a slightly befuddled fellow who’s convinced he’s won $1 million in a sweepstakes. Will Forte is the good son who offers to drive him from Montana to Nebraska to claim the dubious prize. Amazing performances all around, directed by Alexander Payne (The Descendants, About Schmidt).
Never Rarely Sometimes Always (2020) ****
A top award winner at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival,, this drama from writer/diretor Eliza Hittman (TV's 13 Reasons Why) follows two teen runaways (Talia Ryder and Sidney Flanigan) as they flee from rural Pennsylvania to New York City to deal with an unexpected pregnancy. Ryan Eggold plays the pregnant girl's stepfather.
Never Too Late (2020) ***
Babe: Pig In The City writer Mark Lamprell reunites with his old barnyard friend James Cromwell in this off-kilter Australian caper flick about a group of senior war veterans who decide to bust out of their high-security retirement home — just as they escaped a notorious Vietnamese POW camp back in the day. The most fun here is in watching some seasoned Aussie film actors —including the always-spectacular Jackie Weaver — clearly having the time of their lives.
Night of the Living Dead (1968) ****
Maybe it's because George Romero used borrowed equipment from a Pittsburgh news station and enlisted much of his cast off the street, but there's something uncannily visceral about his low-budget zombie masterpiece. Watch it once, and you'll never view a distant figure walking through a graveyard the same way.
Norman (2017) ****
Richard Gere has found he role of a lifetime in the understated portrait of an enigmatic New York "fixer," a guy who spends his days making seemingly random personal connections with influential people in hopes of someday matching them up in arcane business deals. But the more time we spend with Norman, the more mysterious becomes. In the end, we know only what Norman wants us to (FULL REVIEW)
Novitiate (2017) ****
The film's focus is on a 17-year-old girl (Margaret Qualley) who enters a super-strict convent just as Vatican II begins to loosen things up in the Catholic Church. But the movie's lightning rod is Melissa Leo as the Mother Superior, a terse dictator whose entire identity is wrapped up in tradition, and who is not about to kick the old habits. Alternately infuriated and exhausted by her hopeless battle against Catholic authorities, Leo also conveys the heartbreak of one who believes her one true love, God Himself, has let her down.
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