Category Archives: Movie Review

Ford vs. Ferrari – A BRIEF, PRE-OCSAR Movie Review

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MV5BYzcyZDNlNDktOWRhYy00ODQ5LTg1ODQtZmFmZTIyMjg2Yjk5XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTkxNjUyNQ@@._V1_SY1000_SX675_AL_THIS IS ANOTHER QUICK REVIEW BEFORE THE OSCARS… Ford vs. Ferrari is a movie that The Cinnamon Girl and I were so incredibly excited to see in theaters. Huge fans of Rush (which is a simply terrific movie, in my opinion), we knew that this one was going to be great. We love Matt Damon and Christian Bale and knew that director James Mangold has terrific chops. We circled the date of release on our calendars. But, somehow, we never made it to the movie.

Upon streaming it at home – and, of course, one notes that streaming a movie like this one with its big screen appeal may be a massive mistake – we were underwhelmed. Though technically solid and really well shot, we simply didn’t love Ford vs. Ferrari. The entire movie felt shockingly lifeless. The stakes never seemed particularly high and the conflicts seemed a bit overwrought. Additionally, as the movie progressed and took the audience to the final scene, the manner in which the story resolved itself at the climatic race in La Mans didn’t quite make sense. We wanted to love this one. We stared at the end credits wondering why it had been nominated for Best Picture.

What does work here is the dynamic between Damon and Bale. In fact, it carries the movie. Without these two powerhouses going at it as they do, we may have walked away from Ford vs. Ferrari. They are so good that all the other actors, including an underused Caitriona Balfe fade into the background to such an extent that they are mere ciphers. This is more a fault of the script than of the star power of the two leads. Surprisingly dull and far too distended, Ford vs. Ferrari is my biggest disappointment this year…

FORD VS FERRARI receives TWO PERFECT LAPS out of a possible FIVE

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Judy – A BRIEF, PRE-OSCAR Movie Review

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MV5BYmE0OTE5NWItMGYyZi00MzUxLWFjN2QtYzBkZGRjZGVmMGFmXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjg2NjQwMDQ@._V1_SY999_SX648_AL_HERE IS ONE OF MY QUICK REVIEWS BEFORE THE OSCARS… Renee Zellweger is so magnetic, heartbreaking and terrific playing Judy Garland in Judy that this review should simply say: “See this movie because of her brilliant, Oscar nominated performance.”  Actually, that really should be the only thing I write about this movie because, thought the film is well made and the music (wow, Ms. Zellweger!) is terrific, the only thing worth seeing the movie for is truly the aforementioned performance.

The rest of the movie is rife with cliche and riddled with predictability. When the audience believes a flashback might be coming, sure enough, here it comes! When we suspect Garland needs a comeuppance or a shot in the arm, either shows up on cue. When a song is needed (and songs are always needed here because, after one taste, we are dying to hear Zellweger sing again), strike up the band. It is really unfortunate is that the movie is not as good as its star because Zellweger is unreal. She is almost worth the price of admission. Almost. However, if you do watch Judy, don’t depart before the final number… it is one you will have been waiting for…

JUDY receives TWO AND A HALF RAINBOWS out of a possible FIVE

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The Irishman – A BRIEF, PRE-OSCAR Movie Review

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MV5BMGUyM2ZiZmUtMWY0OC00NTQ4LThkOGUtNjY2NjkzMDJiMWMwXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMzY0MTE3NzU@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,682,1000_AL_HERE IS ONE OF MY QUICK REVIEWS BEFORE THE OSCARS… The Irishman is a great movie and one that, along with The Two Popes, solidifies Netflix’s burgeoning reputation as a real film studio and one that will be a force in Hollywood for years to come. If the studio continues to generate content like this, audiences likely won’t care if they are seeing it on a big screen, small screen or their phones…

My initial reaction after watching The Irishman and now, a few weeks removed from viewing the movie is that is was… watchable. I wanted it to be so much more than that. I was hoping for a movie that changed the way I viewed mob movies, like Goodfellas did. I was hoping to be knocked out of my socks by it. I was hoping I would want to see it over-and-over. Instead, I enjoyed a very good movie that truly could have used some editing and some reigning in. The Irishman is very good. I wanted it to be great.

The performances are absolutely terrific and the CGI work is truly stunning. It is an utter joy to see Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci (thanks for coming out of retirement for this one, Joe!) and Al Pacino working together and to know they are being handled as only Martin Scorsese can handle them. They are all in top form as one would expect and the sprawling supporting cast is terrific, too.  And the direction does not let one down, either. This is a good movie, for sure. It’s worth the audience’s time. It’s simply not great.


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The Two Popes – A BRIEF, PRE-OCSAR Movie Review

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THIS IS THE FIRST OF A FEW, QUICK REVIEWS BEFORE THE OSCARS… The Two Popes is a terrific movie and one that, along with The Irishman, solidifies Netflix’s burgeoning reputation as a real film studio and one that will be a force in Hollywood for years to come. If the studio continues to generate content like this, audiences likely won’t care if they are seeing it on a big screen, small screen or their phones…

The Two Popes tells a highly fictionalized story of the two living popes and the transfer of power between them. Both Johnathan Pryce and Anthony Hopkins are nominated for Academy Awards in their roles as Popes Francis and Benedict respectively and their work here makes the movie. The chemistry between them makes what could have been a long series of dry conversations about religious philosophy into a crackling, energetic and engaging film that educates while it entertains.

Clearly not a documentary, The Two Popes does shed light on a church that is coming to grips with itself and its leadership in the 21st century and both the actors are so terrific that the words they share and the worldviews they debate are validated by the passion they bring. Brilliant performances do not always yield brilliant movies, but The Two Popes sings because of their work.

THE TWO POPES receives FOUR FANTAS out of a possible FIVE

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Knives Out – A Movie Review

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KnivesKnives Out, written and directed by the incredibly talented Rian Johnson, is a terrific whodunit in the mode of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, Clue and Murder on the Orient Express. A star-studded, expansive, twisty and undeniably fun movie, Knives Out is a runaway success because it leans into the conventions of classic mysteries while maintaining a cleverness that is very much 21st century.

Johnson, following up his somehow divisive The Last Jedi, cements himself as a talent to be watched. His movies are crisp and tight. He writes the first scenes of his films with their last scenes in mind and does nothing in between to distract the audience from the propulsive, narrative intent.

Nowhere is that more in evidence than here in Knives Out. And, as this is a murder mystery, that predilection serves Johnson (and the audience) incredibly well.

Beyond the narrative brilliance, Knives Out succeeds because of a truly remarkable and engaging cast. It is clear that the likes of Jamie Lee Curtis, Christopher Plummer, Don Johnson (enjoying a nice, little renaissance), Michael Shannon and Toni Collette are having wonderful times as they chew scenery here. Relative newcomer Ana De Armas  is wonderful and about to break very big as she will be seen very soon in the 007 film No Time to Die. Straight man LaKeith Stanfield steals every scene in which he appears. The entire cast is tremendously good and tremendously funny. They are also wonderfully committed to the world created in this bizarre and quirky movie.

Chris Evans appears in a supporting role that is so far removed from his wholesome, Captain America persona that the star spangled Avenger is all but buried. Evans does not get the credit he deserves for being a wonderful actor, not simply a comic book star. His work here is really terrific.

But the movie all but belongs to the delightful work of Daniel Craig as the mercurial Benoit Blanc, a detective whose creation is on par with the best of Christie. Craig’s Blanc is so good and so riveting that one hopes rumors of a series of movies featuring the fascinating private detective prove to be true. Once he emerges from the shadows in his first scene, it’s impossible to imagine anyone else but Craig in the role. Each time he reveals a piece of evidence or tears at a thread of the mystery, each movement he makes into a room and each conversation he has with a suspect is better and more involving than the last. Craig’s Blanc is a terrific screen creation. I surely hope we see more of him.

Most movies like this collapse under the weight of their own plot devices and, while there are many, many twists and unpredictable turns in Knives Out, it manages to resolve into a satisfying climax, and one that gives its due to each-and-every character. The mystery holds up, the results of it are more than satisfying and the overall package is a riddle wrapped in an enigma surrounded by an amazing story. Credit writer Johnson for this.

Credit director Johnson for making a movie in a delicious visual style that is as deep and rich as the words he wrote. The Trombley manse is a terrific creation, the dark lighting is appropriately somber, the action staged perfectly. Each shot leads to another, more complex one, and each part of the mystery also plays out visually. It’s a great achievement.

Knives Out is a wonderful film. Fun, thrilling and ingenious, it’s the kind of movie of which we need more. Give Johnson free rein on whatever project he chooses next, Hollywood. It is obvious he won’t disappoint.

KNIVES OUT receives FIVE KFC CSI’s out of a possible FIVE

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A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood – A Movie Review

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220px-A_Beautiful_Day_in_the_NeighborhoodIn the realm of “roles born to play,” it is difficult to come up with a better match than Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers. As A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood was opening, it was reported that Hanks and Fred Rogers are actually distantly related.

Color me not shocked.

Following on the heels of last year’s delightful documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood had a challenge ahead of it: to live up to the real story of Fred Rogers and his life and philosophy. The documentary was touching, heartwarming and affirming. Hanks’ project needed to stake out its own space or suffer by comparison.

Clearly the filmmakers understood and embraced the challenge because, rather than offer a Fred Rogers biopic, this movie focuses instead on a different protagonist: Matthew Rhys’ Lloyd Vogel, a slightly disaffected, all business, prickly magazine writer who, at a low point in his personal and professional life, is assigned a profile of an American hero: that hero is Fred Rogers.

Vogel takes the profile assignment promising his editor that he may not turn in the story she’s seeking.

He does not. 
What he does turn in is something far more real and far more beautiful.

Rhys is terrific as Vogel, a character who does not come loaded with redemptive qualities. Angry and frustrated, Vogel is a new father, but not at all sure he wants the role, a tortured son whose own father – played with hard-scrabble grit by the ever enjoyable Chris Cooper – left Lloyd and his mother in a terrible situation and a difficult husband, perhaps not as much in love with the radiant Susan Kelechi Watson as he wants to be.

It is into this crossroads that Hanks’ Mr. Rogers walks. Vogel accepts his profile assignment quite reluctantly and writing the feature, perhaps predictably, changes his life. Through a series of conversations and coincidences Mr. Rogers and Vogel become friends and the influence that the famously friendly and philosophical Mr. Rogers has on Vogel is the gear on which the movie turns. Buy it and you buy the movie.

To be clear: it’s all but impossible not to buy Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers. He does an amazing job embodying the iconic character. He does not slip into parody and makes Mr. Rogers his own while also evoking the spirit of the man who came into so many living rooms for so many years. Hanks seems to understand the gravity of playing the man and gives a performance that may be nominated. He’s simply that good.

Rhys is wonderful, too, and it is the interactions between him and Hanks that carry the movie. The two actors have a timing and a chemistry that works very well and it is very easy to watch them weave this story. When the movie does not feature them together, the audience is aware that it wants more of that interaction. They are terrific.

Equally wonderful are the loving recreations of Mr. Rogers’ set and puppets, of his wardrobe and sweaters, of the world he inhabited. Director Marielle Heller is more than up to the task of lionizing Mr. Rogers and even stages amazing location shots and travel sequences that are right out of the Neighborhood. She directs a lovely movie.

While perhaps not as stunningly good as Won’t You Be My Neighbor? A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is well worth a viewing. Hanks shines, Rhys engages and the story inspires. 

We could use more of these kinds of days…


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Joker – A Movie Review

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MV5BNGVjNWI4ZGUtNzE0MS00YTJmLWE0ZDctN2ZiYTk2YmI3NTYyXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTkxNjUyNQ@@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,674,1000_AL_Joker is a very, very well made movie. It would not have received a standing ovations at the Vienna Film Festival if it was not. Joaquin Phoenix is immediately a Best Actor contender for February’s Academy Awards with his lead performance. Both mesmerizing and repulsive, Phoenix’s Joker is quite a creation and the actor absolutely carries a movie that has far more in common with street-tough fare from the 1970s than it does with today’s comic book films. 

The publicity surrounding the movie as it was awaiting its US release was that it was a glorification of violence and that it romanticized its title character. I did not find either of those concerns founded. Phoenix’s creation might elicit some early sympathy in the film but, as events play out and as Arthur, his character, makes the choices that inevitably lead to him becoming the Joker, those moments are fleeting. The overall impression is that this is an evil, damaged character – one who is aware of what he is doing and is doing these things of his own volition, not because an uncaring society pushed him over the edge. The Joker is cruel and unhinged and those who worry that this movie makes him into some kind of anti-hero for the modern age are missing the point.

Assuming there is a point to be missed. On reflection, I don’t know that there is a broad point here.

I liked this movie and I know it is good. It evokes a gritty time and place and a movie making style years in the past. It borrows from Scorsese and Freidken. It involves the audience in a bleak and dark existence. It leaves nothing to chance as it does so. 

Joker is an accomplishment. 

Director Todd Phillips stated over-and-over that he did not base his movie on any existing comic book material (a statement which seemed to me to belittle the very source material from which he was lifting) and, while I can say there is no direct adaptation of a Joker story line, this movie owes everything it is to the Bob Kane and Bill Finger creation. While Phillips’ movie impresses, he has not impressed so much in dealing with controversy and in trying to somehow suggest his film is somehow better than its origins. You don’t get to have your cake and eat it, too. 

By the end of the movie, Phillips is telling a story the audience has seen before. He is trying to put his own spin on it, yes (because everyone wants to put their own spin on Hamlet), but he finds himself pulled inexorably back to the center of a universe that can support an evil like the Joker.

We all know what is at that center or, rather, who. And, while Joker is impressive and attempts to center itself in a world without a Batman, it cannot quite pull it off. 

Evocative. Exciting. Compelling. Joker  is one of the best films I’ve seen in quite a while, if not the most original.

JOKER receives FOUR HARD BOILED HOMAGES out of a possible FIVE

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