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Movie Reviews For People Who've Lived A Little

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Tab Hunter Confidential (2015) ***

The 1950s matinee idol narrates his own story of life under the Hollywood studio system.

This Beautiful Fantastic (2017) ***
In this charming tale of a grumpy widower (Tom Wilkinson) helping his hopeless neighbor (Jessica Brown Findlay) revive her disastrous back yard does for gardening what Sideways did for Pinot Noir.

This Changes Everything  (2019) ****

When Geena Davis made Thelma & Louise with Susan Sarandon in 1991, just about everyone in Hollywood crowed, “This changes everything! Finally we’re going to see more female buddy films!” And when Davis’ next movie, director Penny Marshall’s  A League of Their Own, was a runaway smash, pundits raved, “This changes everything! Now we’re going to see lots of women’s sports movies and big-budget films directed by women!” Nearly three decades later, those hopes ring hollow — so hollow, in fact, that Davis signed on to be executive producer of this often-infuriating documentary. Through interviews, news clips, and visually clever analysis of legal documents, filmmaker Tom Donahue crystalizes Hollywood’s dirty secret: It’s not that movies by women, about women can’t be successful at the box office — it’s simply that the industry’s all-powerful boys’ club is determined to keep women out of the driver’s seat. Donahue gets some of Hollywood’s most famous women to step forward on behalf of those who struggle daily against the male-dominated entertainment industry. The likes of Meryl Streep, Jessica Chastain, Sandra Oh and Reese Witherspoon make their indisputable case, but the real hero is Davis, whose nonprofit foundation uncovered groundbreaking statistical proof that women aren’t just underrepresented when it comes to directing, producing and writing films — they are downright invisible. 

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, MIssouri  (2017) *****

Frances McDormand gives an  exposed-nerve performance as an angry, grieving mom. She plays Mildred, a mother who, frustrated with the local cops' inability to solve her daughter's brutal murder, posts her displeasure on three giant billboards on the main road into town. Woody Harrelson, having the best year of his career, is a sympathetic foil as the police chief who tries to reason with Mildred. And perhaps best of all is the glorious Sam Rockwell as a trigger-tempered, yet somehow lovable deputy. Writer/director Martin McDonagh has already made two small masterpieces (In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths). This is his most satisfying film to date. 

Tito And The Birds  (2018) ****

From Brazilian animators Gabriel Bitar and Andre Catoto comes one of the most magical films of any year, the story of a young boy in a desperate search for the cure to an epidemic. The disease  in question is a bizarre affliction that strikes anyone who is seized by fear: They turn into helpless rocks. To make matters worse, fear is running rampant through Tito's country due to the angry rants of the nation's leader, who seems unaware of the trouble he's causing. Yes, it's a cautionary tale, but the animation and characters are so engaging the lessons become secondary to the film's utter charm. 

Tommy's Honor (2017) ****

You don't have to be a golf enthusiast to love this true story of a brash young Scottish golfer named Tommy Morris (Jack Lowden) and his greenskeeper father Tom (Peter Mullan), who virtually created the modern game of golf in the mid-1800s. Sam Neill is a devil-eyed delight as the aristocrat desperate to keep both men in their place. 

Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am (2019) ****

In a lifetime of dramatic accomplishments, you'd expect nothing less of Toni Morrison than to exit this world virtually the same week a new documentary about her was released. You don’t need to have read a word of Toni Morrison’s novels — nor even seen Beloved, the 1998 drama based on her Nobel Prize-winning book — to become enraptured by the drama of her life, and her special brand of good-natured genius. Director Timothy Greenfield-Sanders (PBS’s The Black List) enlists pals like Oprah Winfrey, Angela Davis, and Fran Lebowitz to sing the author’s praises.But it’s Morrison herself, regal and witty, who inspires with her tales of growing up in Ohio, where the landlord set fire to their home — and the family responded by laughing at him. That smile in the face of hatred enlivens this heartfelt portrait. 

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011) ****

In this adaptation of John le Carre´s novel, a haunted George Smiley (Gary Oldman) is called back from forced retirement to sniff out a mole at M16.

Tolkien (2019) *** 

A strong central performance from Nicholas Hoult (About a Boy) can't breathe life into this by-the-numbers telling of the formative years of J.R.R. Tolkien, whose traumatic experience during World War I gave rise to the fantastic realms he created in his Lord of the Rings books. Superfans of the Middle Earth novels may delight in meeting the real-life figures on which Tolkien based his characters, and the author's romance with Edith Bratt (Lily Collins) is sweet, but for better or for worse, a trip to the movies these days demands something more than a Masterpiece Theatre gloss . 

Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am  (2019) ****

In a lifetime of dramatic accomplishments, you'd expect nothing less of Toni Morrison than to exit this world virtually the same week a new documentary about her was released. You don’t need to have read a word of Toni Morrison’s novels — nor even seen Beloved, the 1998 drama based on her Nobel Prize-winning book — to become enraptured by the drama of her life, and her special brand of good-natured genius. Director Timothy Greenfield-Sanders (PBS’s The Black List) enlists pals like Oprah Winfrey, Angela Davis, and Fran Lebowitz to sing the author’s praises.But it’s Morrison herself, regal and witty, who inspires with her tales of growing up in Ohio, where the landlord set fire to their home — and the family responded by laughing at him. That smile in the face of hatred enlivens this heartfelt portrait. 

Touch Me Not (2018) **  

Romanian filmmaker Adina Pintile is primarily a documentarian, but for this exploration of human sexuality she blurs the lines beyond perception: Laura Benson plays a woman named Laura who finds the touch of any man unbearable, and her movie director friend Adina, played by the director, follows her through a rite of passage that finds Laura observing an intimacy workshop at which a dozen or so people, most of them with some sort of profound disability, explore each other’s bodies. She also consults a transsexual counselor and a sex therapist and visits an S&M den. All the actors “perform” under their real names, leaving the audience to imagine what’s real and what is not. Confusion aside, or maybe because of it, the film won the Golden Bear grand prize at the Berlin Film Festival.

Toy Story 4 ****  
Toy Story 3 was such a perfect wrap-up of what we all assumed was a trilogy, it's hard not to on some level resent the appearance of a fourth installment. Yes, it's nice to spend another hour and a half with Woody and Buzz & Co., and Pixar's mastery of computer animation continues to push the boundaries of the miraculous. But there's an air of desperation here, especially in the frayed storyline, which spins off in too many directions with no clear destination — a radical departure from most Pixar films, which are models of streamlined storytelling. First we find Woody stashing himself in the backpack of the toy gang's new owner, a little girl named Bonnie, as she heads of for her first day of Kindergarten. There she creates a new "toy" — really just some googly eyes pasted on a spork and a pair of pipe cleaner arms. Delightfully voiced by Tony Hale (Veep), Forky would  have been a perfectly sufficient focus for the film as he learns that even though he's trash, he's loved by a little girl, and that's enough. But no, soon we're off on a road trip in a motor home, and through some incredible coincidence Woody happens to spot Bo Peep, his old flame from the original Toy Story, in an antique store. But that reunion only leads to a dark tale of a creepy talking antique doll who rules over a small army of hideous ventriloquist dummies. Then there's a made chase through a carnival, etc. etc. The whole thing resembles an explosion in a writers' room — yet there's no denying the moments of visual bliss, and the endearing qualities of the characters, old and new. 

Transit  (2019) ****

 In an outlandish experiment that gets just about everything right, German writer/director Christian Petzold sets this pulse-pounding World War II drama in present-day Marseilles, France. The city is being flooded with refugees trying to escape advancing German fascists, hoping against hope to catch one of the last ships leaving for the Americas.Into this maelstrom, having jumped a freight train from Paris, comes a fugitive named Georg (Franz Rogowski), carrying the passport and transit papers of a Parisian writer, a stranger to him, who committed suicide. He also has papers for the writer’s wife Marie (Paula Beer), who left her husband and fled to Marseilles to be with a world-famous humanitarian physician (Godehard Giese). You don’t have to be a cinephile to hear the echoes of Casblanca here, but Petzold has created an intriguing and deeply involving variation on the theme. In an era when Europe is being riven by mass immigration, he boldly casts Europeans themselves as the refugees, desperately seeking safety beyond their native shores.

A Trip To The Moon (Le Voyage dans la Lune) (1902) ***** 

Most early filmmakers were inventors and technicians — Georges Melies was an artist of the first rank. Seizing on the fanciful possibilities of the medium, he created a series of fantastic, dream-like films unmatched for their sheer originality. He didn't consider A Trip to the Moon to be his masterpiece, but it is the one that continues to capture the imagination of 21st Century movie lovers. 

Trolls World Tour (2020) ***

Quite possibly the most star-studded voice cast in animation history enlivens this followup to 2016's Trolls. Among the folks you'll hear, including holdovers from the first installment, are (deep breath) Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake,  Kelly Clarkson, James Corden, Ozzy Osorne, J Balvin, Rachel Bloom, Esther Dean, Anderson Paak, Anthony Ramos, Sam Rockwell, Kenan Thompson, George Clinton and Mary J. Blige. 

Trumbo (2015) ****
Bryan Cranston is compelling as Dalton Trumbo, the screenwriter jailed and blacklisted during the Red Scare of the 1940s. The film resists demonizing Hollywood commie-hunters in favor of showing how polarizing government policies forced good people to make devastating choices. (FULL REVIEW)

The Truth About Killer Robots (2019) ***

This documentary exploring the implications of increasing autonomy in manufacturing, information, and service industries means to alarm us. But it slips into “The Automobile killed the buggy whip industry” category —  and the “humanoid” robots we are asked to resent seem barely a generation beyond Walt Disney’s audio animatronic Abe Lincoln. 

Tulip Fever (2017) ***
If you think the markets are volatile these days, imagine 17th Century Amsterdam where, for reasons economists study to this day, the sale of a single tulip bulb could set you up for life. Against this backdrop a wealthy and rather cold-hearted businessman (Christoph Waltz) commissions a handsome young artist (Dane DeHaan) to paint his beautiful young wife (Alicia Vikander). Well,you know how that goes — soon the two youngsters are planning to run off together with money they hope to earn in the crazed tulip bulb market. Judi Dench pops up as a worldly nun. Tom Stoppard wrote the script from Deborah Moggach's best-selling novel.  

Tully (2018) ****
Charlize Theron compels as a late-30's mom, overwhelmed by life, who finds solace in the person of a night nanny played by Mackenzie Davis. But because this film is written by Diablo Cody (Juno, Young Adult), you know this ain't no Mary Poppins. 

The Two Popes (2019) ****  

Besides being a compelling account of the transition between conservative Roman Catholic Pope Benedict XVI (Anthony Hopkins) and his more liberal successor Pope Francis (Jonathan Pryce), The Two Popes stands as a master class on screen acting. The settings are sumptuous and the allure of behind-the-scenes modern history is undeniable, but the two stars command the screen with little more than their spellbinding presence. Riffing on a clever and probing script from Anthony McCarten (Darkest Hour, Bohemian Rhapsody), Pryce and Hopkins engage in animated verbal jousts that explore not only the nature of faith, but also what it means to be human. 

Unbroken: Path to Redemption (2018) ***

Angelina Jolie, who directed 2014's Unbroken, is not at the helm of this sequel, nor is the script written by the Coen Brothers. But the life story of World War II hero Louis Zamperini is compelling in anyone's hands, and as a human drama evoking  faith and forgiveness the film still has transcendent moments, often punching well above its weight as a faith-based film. (FULL REVIEW)

Uncut Gems (2019) ***  

Adam Sandler has played straight drama before, but nothing will prepare you for this adrenaline-pumped film that feels like a plunge into a vat of battery acid. It’s a wild ride made all the more disorienting by the presence of Sandler as Howard Ratner, a jittery, jaundiced Manhattan jeweler who is always on the lookout for a quick buck, be it through bad bets or shady business deals. Up to his neck in gambling debt, one step ahead of the bookie’s goons, Howard miraculously finds himself in possession of an opal-embedded rock that, he’s convinced, will enable him to finally pay everyone off. Of course, it’s not that easy. Nor is it easy to sit through Uncut Gems, a movie that explodes from the gate with reckless abandon, then barrels through its course offering little in the way of surprise or reflection before running into the brick wall we’ve never doubted for a moment stood at the finish line. With no reward at the end, we’re left only to marvel at Sandler’s bravura performance — and that’s not quite enough to make the whole ordeal worthwhile. 

A United Kingdom (2017) **** 

Rosamund Pike and David Oyelowo star in a true story of taboo love. (FULL REVIEW)

The Upside  (2019) ****

Bryan Cranston and Kevin Hart make a delightful odd couple in this based-on-fact buddy picture. Cranston stars as a bitterly depressed Manhattan businessman who’s been paralyzed in an accident. Verging on suicidal, he hires a decidedly unqualified ex-con (Hart) as his caregiver, half-hoping the guy will accidentally kill him. Of course they get off to a rough start, but also of course they become the best of friends, learning from each other that life brings rewards no matter how the odds are stacked against you. Nicole Kidman flits in and out as the long-suffering, Harvard-educated executive assistant who clearly has a thing for her oblivious boss. Yes, the critics will howl that this is just another in a long line of Hollywood "Magic Negro" films, in which a benign Black character rescues a socially superior White person from himself while allowing the audience to wallow in self-deceptive pseudo-tolerance. To that I say pshaw. And balderdash. The Upside is about friendship, finding it in unexpected places, and surrendering to its  irreplaceable charms.

Us (2019) ****  

Writer/director Jordan Peele’s 2017 film Get Out was unlike any other horror movie we’d ever seen — but his new film is in some ways similar to just about every other horror movie we’ve ever seen. And that's not a bad thing. In Us, you’ll find echoes of The Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Night of the Living Dead, The Shining, Jaws — and, yes, even Get Out.  Still, Peele is such a skilled storyteller—and his cast is so appealing—that it’s impossible not to be pulled into this creepy tale of a family grappling with the appearance of another family that looks a lot like them — in zombiefied sort of way. As he did in Get Out, Peele again touches on the state of American society— this time he’s warning about the ticking time bomb of America’s growing permanent underclass. But mostly he’s here to scare the dickens out of us. And that he does. 


V.I Warshawski (1991) ****
This hardboiled yarn about a tough-as-nails Chicago private eye who uses her wits as well as her womanly charms should have re-ignited the career of Kathleen Turner. Alas, it did not, but the film stands as one of her most memorable performances. 

Vice  (2018)  *****
By the time Christian Bale finally released his grip on me at the end of  this breathless, irreverent biography of former Vice-President Dick Cheney, I understood how audiences must have felt after seeing George C. Scott star in Patton: This was not just a performance; this was a landmark moment in movie history. Bale doesn't just disappear into the role of the growling, scowling VP; he embodies an entire era of American culture. Hijacking the Presidency of George W. Bush (brilliantly inhabited by Sam Rockwell, who was born for the part), Bale's Cheney follows an internal compass whose magnetic north is his own ambition, tempered somewhat by his devotion to his wife (a brilliant Amuy Adams) and daughters. Writer/director Adam McKay (The Big Short) brings his usual bag of narrative tricks to bear, but he can't overshadow Bale's monumental performance. Opposite any other leading man, Steve Carell would have stolen the show as Cheney's smiling, savvy mentor, Donald Rumsfeld.

Viceroy's House (2017) ***
There's historic sweep and intimate human drama in Indian director Gurinder Chada's telling of the 1947 handover of India from the British Empire. Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey) stars as Lord Mountbatten, the man in charge of the transfer, and he brings a regal sort of humanity to the role. In Chada's telling, Montbatten and his wife (Gillian Anderson) are deeply disturbed by the looming conflict between Muslim and Hindu, and appalled by the slapdash way in which a partition of the nation is being applied ("You Broke It, You Own It" didn't start with Iraq). The upstairs geopolitical story is layered over a Romeo-and-Juliet downstairs romance between Mountbatten's Hindu butler (Manish Dayal) and a palace translator (Huma Qureshi), a drama that illuminates the social conflict that would savage life on the subcontinent for decades to come. As in virtually all movies made in India, the churning streets and explosions of color cannot help but make the country itself the film's central character.

Victoria & Abdul (2017) ****
In her last years, Queen Victoria (Judy Dench) befriended a low-level emissary from India (Ali Fazal) — much to the horror of the Royal court, especially her son and future king Bertie (Eddie Izzard). This telling of that story offers absolutely everything lovers of the Masterpiece Theatre genre will expect: lush settings, cross-cultural conflicts, benevolent members of the Upper Crust and plucky up-and-comers. Director Stephen Frears (The Queen, Philomena, Florence Foster Jenkins) knows his audience and delivers the goods.

Vox Lux  (2018) *** 

Natalie Portman's strong performance as a drug-addled rock star suffered from being released at the same time 2018's A Star is Born came out, but much of its failure is self-inflicted. Director Brady Corbet (Funny Games) immediately creates empathy for the character in a harrowing opening sequence, then squanders the good will by turning her into an insufferable prima donna whose songs aren't all that good.  

Voyeur (2017) ****
Meet Gerald Foos, a friendly guy with an easy laugh — and a motel owner who for decades hovered above each room, peering from his "observation platform," watching his guests in their most private moments. In this spellbinding documentary, writer Gay Talese visits Foos just prior to publication of his book about him. Turns out Talese didn't know quite everything about America's most notorious Peeping Tom. 

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