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                                       We generally become interested in movies because we enjoy them
                                  and what we enjoy them for has little to do with what we think of as art.
                                                                                                          Pauline Kael,
Going Steady

Well, that's it, isn't it? I'm sure there are a few sad souls who go to the multiplex because they're going to encounter "art" but most of
go in the hope that we'll be amused--and ever more decreasingly, informed or inspired by a movie. Like Russell Crowe in
the only question I ask when go to a movie is, "ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?"

With that in mind, I'm now going to presume to tell you what you shouild go to see. I'm a siimple man. My rating system is equally

GO!    I loved this movie and recommend it highly to you.  (But check to be sure it's age-appropriate.)
CAUTION    I like d this movie, but it might not be your thing.
STOP!    You can do better.  
YIELD    I didn't like this movie very much, but it's entirely possible that I'm not the target audience.  You're on your own.
MARY POPPINS RETURNS  One is always happy to see Mary Poppins, but it's a shame that she's somewhat ill-served by the
mess that currently occupying theaters in her name. It's not terrible, it's just not much of anything, really. After the most excellent
Saving Mr. Banks from a couple of years ago, it was inevitable that anything approaching a sequel would be aimed at the parents as
much as the children. And it is--unfortunately. The Banks children from the first Mary Poppins are now adults with children of their
own, and to say that they're feckless basket cases is being kind. (Kind of makes you wonder if Mary did so great a job with the
children on her first visit.)  So there's that. About an hour and forty-five minutes into the two-hour movie, the people in charge must
have looked at what they have and realized that they forgot to put anything particularly magical in the movie, so they called out
reinforcements (Spoiler Alert: Dick Van Dyke and Angela Lansbury) who saved the whole project from collapsing upon itself. Which
is too bad if you're the person playing Mary Poppins, i.e., Emily Blunt. She kind of disappears in the last half-hour of the movie. The
music isn't objectionable, although it's now two days since I saw the movie, and I don'r remember anything except there are songs
about not judging a book by its cover and something by Meryl Streep about turning turtle. As you can tell, I don't have much
enthusiasm for this movie. Like the music, I suspect that I will have forgotten about it completely in about a month.  (12/25/2018)

MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS   Sigh. As I was walking out of this movie, it occurred to me that there are now probably people in the
world who think they know something about Mary Queen of Scots after seeing this movie. Sure enough, I went from the movie to a
party where someone said that the best part of the movie was the scene where Mary and Queen Elizabeth I meet in a barn (or
something) to talk about how it's tough to be a queen. Yes, that was a good scene.  Too bad that in real life, Mary and Elizabeth
never met. And that's just one thing. Despite the movie being about two remarkable women who fought improbable odds to become
actual heads of state, we're presented with two women who are victims of their situations and the mean men around them. Boo hoo.
I'm sure the movie will be dissected by Women's Studies classes for years to come, which makes it all the more regrettable that the
moviemakers chose to play fast and loose with the facts. Saoirse Ronan is fine as Mary, and Margot Robbie is better in the trickier
role of Elizabeth. The story of Mary, Queen of Scots is fascinating.  I wish we'd heard more of it in this movie.  (12/25/2018)

THE FAVOURITE  I have nothing to back this up, but I suspect that Emma Stone and Rachel Weitz were irritated that they didn't
get the main roles in Mary, Queen of Scots, so they decided to make their own movie about eccentric English queens. The queen in
question is Queen Anne (she of the chairs) who ruled in the early 18th century. Weitz his her mentor/favorite/lover/etc., and gets a
lot of pleasure out of addressing her sovereign with the same term of endearment that Samantha Bee addresses Ivanka Trump. One
fine day, Weitz's neice, Stone, shows up at the palace looking for a position where she can start rebuilding her family's fortunes. She
worms her way into the queen's heart and bed, and hilarity ensues as Weitz and Stone battle who will be The Favourite. I hope
everyone had a good time making this movie.  It looks as if they did.  They get pushed into the mud (and worse) frequently, they
bitch at each other and everyone else, and they general make themselves obnoxious, which is what the movie requires. The
Favourite doesn't presume to be history, but it does presume to be fun.  And it is.  (12/21/2018)

GAME CHANGERS  Who would have thought that the star of the best movie of the year would be Alex Trebek. Game changers is
a ninety-minute visit with the great game show hosts of the past and present. From Bill Cullen to Drew Carey, they're all here.
Trebek is our host as we visit the homes of Wink Martindale, Peter Marshall, Regis Philbin and others to hear their stories, and
shows outtakes from all the great shows. (Yes, even the infamous, "Where's the most unusual place you've ever made whoopie?"
question is here.) As the doc goes along, you find yourself buying into the notion that game shows, even the fancy ones we have
now, are a small pool of light in the increasingly dark world of television and video. It was wonderful to spend an hour and a half
with the men (yep, they were all men, except for Vanna) who made the good old days good. (11/25/2018)

WRECK-IT RALPH: RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET   You know you're in trouble when your main character is the worst
thing about your movie. Video game character Ralph never was much of a personality, and John C. Reilly plays him so lifelessly that
whenever he's on the screen, you just want him to go away. The best character in the movie is the princess, voiced by Sarah
Silverman who has a few good scenes, but eventually gets cloying. This is a long movie, but I'm afraid that if they did anything to
make it shorter, they'd cut the most enjoyable scene in the movie--which really has nothing to do with the plot.  That is scene is a
backstage visit with Disney princesses of the past 30 years, from Ariel in
The Little Mermaid to Ilsa and Anna from Frozen and
Moana. It's a delightful scene, and frankly, it's really the only memorable thing in the movie.  (11/24/2018)

BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY  More responsible reviewers of this movie than I will tell you that the music scenes in the movie (of
which there are many) are wonderful, and the rest of the movie that unpacks Freddie Mercury's personal life is boring.  Well, duh.
Have those reviewers never heard that performers are never more alive than when they're on stage?  That's certainly the case with
Freddie, and his messy personal life was something of a show-business cliche. Some reviewers say that the movie shortchanges
Freddie's life as a gay man, but unless he or she is unconscious, it won't be possible for any reasonable moviegoer to miss that
Freddie as a gay man. I suspect the reviewers I'm talking about wouldn't be happy unless the entire movie was about Freddie's
sexual antics, but speaking for the rest of us, we get it. But the story is the music, and the music is irresistible. You won't be able to
help smiling at the screen whenever someone's playing a tune. Speaking of music: This is the last 20th Century Fox movie I'm likely
to see before Disney takes over the studio at the end of the year. It's going to break my heart not to be able to hear the amazing 20th
Century Fox Fanfare prior to movies. Laugh if you want, but I feel as if I'm losing a friend.  (11/10/2018)

THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER'S WEB  It's a sad, sick world when Lisbeth Salander is only the THIRD creepiest Swedish woman in
a movie. Turns out Salander wasn't even the weirdest girl in her own family. Noomi Rapace established Salander as a weird,
wonderful presence and a movie icon in the original Swedish version of the Dragon Tattoo series, and Rooney Mara didn't do too
much to hurt the franchise in the English-speaking series. But Claire Foy plays Salander as an on-call superhero who goes after the
bad guys (and gals) when called upon.  She's practically a public utility. The movie is engaging, but it doesn't have the brooding or
intensity of its predecessors. One thing the movie gets right is that for all practical purposes, it disposes of Mikael Blomkvist, the
feckless magazine writer and Erika Berger his even more useless editor.  Even in the books, I wondered why Stieg Larsen was so
keen on the characters.  They seemed like a throwback to the 60's when magazine writers were influential and lived in fabulous
apartments. In this iteration, they're kicked to the curb, and the movie is better for it. So while Spider Web pales in comparison to its
progenitors, it is the best superhero movie I've seen this year.

OPERATION FINALE   If you are among the twelve people in the US who might have an interest in the story of the capture of
Nazi Adolph Eichmann by an Israeli Mosad squad in 1963, you may well love this movie. To say that it's quite a step for the director
American Pie, About a Boy and one the Twilight movies (does it really matter which one?), is an understatement.  Weitz tells his
story in a straightforward way, and mercifully, there are few flashbacks to flesh out the characters. Ben Kingsley is outstanding as
the former concentration camp butcher, and Oscar Isaac lives within his role as the leader of the squad sent to Buenos Aires to bring
him back. I liked the movie a lot, but I can imagine that most people would prefer to watch almost anything else. (9/6/2018)

AMERICAN ANIMALS   I commend the p.r. folks who promoted this movie. They did a wonderful job of making the thing sound
like the most important movie of the summer. (I guess that title will now go to
Crazy Rich Asians.)  In case you've managed to avoid
the buzz, American Animals is about four college students in Lexington, Kentucky, who plan to steal millions of dollars worth of rare
books from the library of Transylvania University in 2004.  (We're talking about a first edition folio of
Birds of America, The Origin
of the Species
, a Gutenberg Bible, etc.)  The biggest hitch in their carefully laid plan was that it was drawn up by four numbskulls. I
really stupid numbskulls. So really stupid in fact that I dare you to sit through the whole movie and not sy "What a dope!" at
least once. The debatable genius of the movie's promoters is that they've somehow parleyed this
Jackass-like caper into some sort of
commentary about the millennial generation. Not only do we have four good young actors playing the "gang" members as their
college-age selves, we also have the four original perps offering a running commentary on how it went down. (I kept thinking that
any of the four "real" men could have become a pretty good actor-kind of a bizzarro version of the three soldiers who played
themselves in the
15:10 to Paris.) When the caper eventually collapses on itself (not much of a spoiler), all sorts of people comment
about how this was a typical case of millennials feeling entitled to the fruits of wealth without having to work for them.  The movie
is never dull, and if big chunks of it seem unbelievable, it's because what's being presented is unbelievably stupid. (6/24/2018)

THE SEAGULL   Something about Chekhov's The Seagull has always bothered me.  This rich family is at their summer house on a
beautiful lake outside of Moscow, and the most irritating member of the family goes out and shoots a seagull on the lake so that it
can be used as a tortured metaphor later in the movie.  The distance from Moscow to the Baltic Sea is over 400 miles.  What the hell
is a seagull doing in the middle of Russia?  This, of course, has nothing to do with the movie, but it had to be said.  Anton Chekhov's
stories are sublime reading, but I've never seen one into a sublime movie. God knows this one busts a gut trying.  The cast, led by
Saoirse Ronan and Annette Bening, are fine, and all stops have been pulled out scenery, costume and cinematography-wise to make
it look great. But still, the story just kind of lies there in its Russian novel turgidness and fails to stimulate the audience (an audience
of one, in my case, as I was the only person in the theater).  Russian writers love to pack their stories with characters who talk (a
lot) about the meaning of art and life, but maybe they're just not a "cinematic" topic for discussion. I don't know. But as I said,
filming Chekhov usually doesn't work, and it really doesn't work here either, although spending time with Saoirse Ronan is never
time wasted.  (6/17/2018)

THE INCREDIBLES II  I don't know if it was really part of the movie, but the version I saw of The Incredibles II began with a
film clip of the director of the film and two of its stars, Holly Hunter and Craig T. Nelson, apologizing for the fact that it took
fourteen years to film the sequel. Really?  It was on television practically ever week.  It's not like we had an opportunity to miss
them.  But indeed, they are back and making more money than ever. I wish I could respond to the news with more than a "meh."
The Incredibles really were something new in the world back in 2004, if for no other reason that they were perhaps the first
animated characters ever to hold discussions about personal responsibility. And say what you want, but Edna Mode is a character
for the ages. This time, the only thing that's really new is that the bad "guy" in the piece is a misguided soul who has a pretty good
point about how our society's addiction to
screens is ruining us. Part of me thinks she kind of has a point. Throw in a Disney-style
nod to girl power, and you've got a movie that really is too much like its predecessor to suggest that I should have paid twelve bucks
to see it.  (6/16/2018)

OCEAN'S EIGHT  has style to burn--and it does. This movie asks as little of actors like Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett and Anne
Hathaway as 10, 11 and 12 asked of George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Andy Garcia. It's a piffle, but it's not an unpleasant piffle.  
Absolutely nothing is at stake. It's a good summer move.  But on a note of personal privilege, I will say that there's a plot twist at the
end that changes the nature of the "caper" considerably, using characters you've never seen before--probably because they're guys.
It's a twist that trashes the movie's "girl power" theme, but as the entire enterprise is inconsequential at best, it's nothing to be
enraged about. It'll make you smile. Check it out.  (6/11/2018)

ON CHESIL BEACH  Saoirse Ronan is spectacular in everything, but even she can't avoid being sucked into the quicksand of
inertia that takes this entire movie down with it. More cultured people might tell you that they appreciate the Merchant-Ivory
Wannabe vibe of the movie, to which I say, "If I wanted to watch people doing nothing for two hours, I'd watch Anderson Cooper.

HOTEL ARTEMIS  I really wan't terribly optimistic about this movie going in, but I have to say that I was rather pleasantly
surprised. I'm not sure why Jodie Foster
wanted to be in the movie, but since she is, she elevates it considerably. She plays "The
Nurse" at the eponymous hotel in downtown Los Angeles where criminals go to be patched up after encounters with the police, and
policemen and women themselves are banned. The movie has a mild Blade Runner vibe, and the losers who drift and out of the
Artemis range from Sophia Boutella as the sultry temptress Nice (like the city in France)-she wears evening gowns around the hotel
even when she's not going anywhere to the miscast Jeff Goldblum as Meester Beeg to the ridiculous Charlie Day as-well, Charlie
Day. But it's Foster who makes the movie, and you miss her when she's not on screen. If you just want to waste two hours of your
life (like I did), check it out.  (6/7/2018)

TULLY  Hollywood's love affair with Diablo Cody continues-as does my confoundment. (If that's not a word, I'm taking credit for
inventing it.)
Juno, which was also written by Ms. Cody had a couple of moments, thanks mostly to the efforts of Ellen Page, who
brought life to Ms. Cody's words. Here, she has the great good fortune of working with the irreplaceable Charlize Theron, who
could make any writer look good-and she has. On the other hand, Theron does not play a character named Tully.  That would be a
young actress named Mackenzie Davis, who has appeared un-memorably in
The Martian and Bladerunner. As Tully, she turns up at
Theron's house, starts cleaning and baking cupcakes, and acting very creepy. I
think we're supposed to find her charming, but the
character is so ambiguously written that it's impossible to get any kind of grasp of her character. I suppose that Ms. Cody did this
on purpose so that the moviegoer can read anything into the character he or she wishes, and I suppose that if we knew enough
about her to actually give a damn, that would be a great idea. Instead, she's some combination of downtown hipster and social
worker (and maybe a mermaid), who gets off on watching Theron nurse her baby. Charlize Theron is the only reason to watch this
movie--which makes me think that they should have called the movie "Marlo".  (5/8/2018)

A QUIET PLACE  Director John Krasinski could be charged with nepotism for hiring his wife, Emily Blunt, to play one of the lead
characters in
A Quiet Place, but that would also mean that he's no fool.  The cast of Alien has taken over Earth at some point in the
future, and humans are relentlessly hunted and eaten. The saying that the loss of one sense causes the other senses to sharpen is on
display here as the creatures can here a child knocking over a glass of water, but they can't see or smell. Krasinski and his wife and
two children (with another on the way) live on a remote farm, where engineer/tinkerer dad has created a rather remarkable
environment for keeping the noise level down as he goes about the business of raising what appear to be raising several square miles
of corn. Complicating matters is a daughter who is deaf and thinks that because of her disability, Dad doesn't love her. Exploring this
relationship is the movie's weakest link, but it's also about the only thing keeping
A Quiet Place from becoming plain old schlock.
Krasinski does a good job knowing when and how to make things to jump out of the dark and go "Boo!", but his wife is really the
show. Even when she's doing stupid stuff (like standing in front of one of the creatures with a shotgun and not using it), she's
commands your attention and is the best thing about the movie. (8/6/2018)

STUCK   Rent Meets The Breakfast Club.  Fame Meets Lifeboat.  Pick a metaphor.  Based on the Off-Broadway musical of the
same name, Stuck comes to the stage with Ashanti and noted non-musical actors Giancarlo Esposito and Amy Madigan as three
New Yorkers who are stuck in a subway car together for an hour-and-a-half. By design, they look like any other six people on the
IRT (two Caucasians, two African-Americans, one Korean, one Hispanic), but they all have their stories, and as the movie unfolds,
they all take turns dumping their purses on the table, so to speak-usually in song. And one-by-one, one or another of the riders
begins to provide some sort of healing to the others, and by the time the kumbaya moment at the end, everyone has found some sort
of comfort from the others. Which is great.  The music isn't memorable, but the performers are game, and although it takes a while
to get going,
Stuck eventually pays off. All of this probably sounds like damning with faint praise and maybe it is, even though you'll
get weary of the all the racial stereotyping that precedes it, the movie-like the subway-eventually gets going and takes where you
want to go. (4/22/2018)

BLAZE  was the opening night selection at this year's Louisiana International Film Festival.  It was filmed in Louisiana, and many of
the actors, producers and others were in attendance, although director Ethan Hawke was a no-show. So the audience I saw the
movie with was predisposed to like it. I just wish I had been as well.  The story of "legendary" songwriter "Blaze" Foley is a fairly
standard biopic that does an adequate job of explaining Foley's story of a bayou hippie who lived hard and died young. Director
Hawke has taken special care with the music (swamp pop?), and if you like the music, you can probably deal with the
not-so-memorable story that surrounds it. If the music's not your thing, neither is the movie.  (4/20/2018)

ISLE OF DOGS   After a year of seeing the wonderful trailers for this movie, I suppose it was inevitable that the movie itself would
be a disappointment. Sure, I knew going in that Wes Anderson (
Grand Budapest Hotel) was much better at putting together scenes
than he is in putting together movies, but this one looked so good that I was hoping this one would be different. (Which I suppose is
the definition of insanity.) Others have said that the 100-minute movie is a half-hour too long. Maybe. There are a lot of things that
look like padding that had nothing to do with the main story, but that was okay with me because those other things were kind of
interesting as well. The animation is (just) okay. I'm guessing that the plan was that it should look like an animated Japanese movie.
I've seen some of those, and this looks nothing like them, but it is compelling in its color-blocked style and use of stop-motion. The
dogs faces are great, but beyond that, they all seem to have (with exceptions) the same body. The dogs' voices (Bill Murray, Edward
Norton, Liev Shreiber, et al are great, but they really don't have much to say. In short,
Isle of Dogs is less than the sum of its parts.
It's still just about the most original thing out there, but it could have been a contender! (4/15/2018)

THE LEISURE SEEKER   About ten minutes after the start of The Leisure Seeker, you know how it's going to end, so the best you
can hope for is that Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland will sell the premise and make the trip enjoyable.  Sadly, they don't. Mirren
(trying to look like Laurie Metcalfe, apparently) is unconvincing as a Carolina girl who married a Yankee professor. Sutherland is no
more or less than he's ever been.  You knew that Mirren was going to have to do the heavy lifting in the movie, and God bless her,
she tried, but she just couldn't pull it off. Those in the audience will recognize all the markers of the Alzheimer's journey (and
wonder why the hell Mirren is letting her absent-minded husband drive a 40-year-old Winnebago from Massachusetts to Key West),
but those who haven't made the journey and recognize the symptoms might not connect with the movie at all. There are a few
tender moments (usually during Sutherland's fleeting stretches of lucidity), but there is so much frustration and pain between those
scenes that the downer of an ending comes as a release for everyone. (4/14/2018)

READY PLAYER ONE  Steven Spielberg doesn't seem to be making movies so much as completing his resume. The Post that
came out a couple of months seem to be his (neutered) response to what's going on the in the country. It's timing was so
spectacularly bad that it came out over a weekend when the
actual Post was trying to stop the release of secret FBI papers. Now
he's apparently trying to suck up to the YA's. Why is everyone taking it as a matter of fact that teenagers know more than their
parents. (Pause while we all lament our friends' poor parenting skills.) The kids (I can't call them young adults because they're
idiots) in this movie are so sanctimonious and dismissive of their elders that one contradicts them at one's own risk. And Spielberg
doesn't hesitate to throw even his own best work on the sacrificial pyre. During one scene, our hero (an Ohio teenager) is seen
racing around a digital battlefield in old Delorean, presumably lifted from a video game based on his own
Back to the Future. I
suppose it's meant to be witty or even hilarious, but it the visual gets so lost in the 3-D glop around it that the reference falls flat.
Along with everything else in the movie. I saw
Ready Player One last weekend, and as I write this, I can't remember the face of
anybody in the movie.  Steven Spielberg has given us some of our most memorable and enjoyable moments in screen history.
Nothing in Ready Player One will qualify in either category.  (4/15/2018)

BORG v McENROE  You would be forgiven if your first response to a movie with Shia LeBeouf playing John McEnroe is, "Um,
none for me. Thanks." I totally get that. I felt the same way. But then I saw the movie and remembered that Mr. LeBeouf can be a
damn fine actor when he's sober and straight. Borg is played by a Swedish actor (Sverrir Gudnason) who's a dead ringer for Jared
Leto, and maybe Bjorn Borg. The movie centers around the 1980 Wimbledon finals, regarded as the finest men's tennis match ever
played, in which Borg won his fifth consecutive Wimbledon's Men's Final.  It was the first time it had happened, and it was
considered the greatest moment in Swedish sports history.  (Don't ask me what No. 2 on the list might be.) Director Janus Metz
does a masterful job of showing us how these two men became what they were that day in July 1980. McEnroe had the reputation
for being loud and obnoxious (because he was) and Borg was the Ice King, never showing emotion.  But in a series of flashbacks,
we see that Borg was just as much of a brat in his younger days as McEnroe was, only he had it beaten out of him by a
manager/trainer, played here by Stellan Skarsgaard, who won a Swedish Academy Award (apparently, there is such a thing) for the
role. In any event, he deserves it. We understand that when he grabs Borg and says, "Promise me you'll never show an emotion
again," that Borg will keep the promise and spend the next ten years of life seething internally but never letting show. After McEnroe
came back to win Wimbledon in 1981, Borg retired from tennis at the ripe old age of 26 and presumably has had a wonderful life for
the past half century or so. McEnroe, of course, never had that kind discipline applied to him, and we see that for better and for
worse, he made himself what he was. Although there's not much of a resemblance, LeBeouf is perhaps the perfect choice to play
McEnroe because-let's face it-they both seem to be on the same wavelength. In any event, this is a terrific movie, and I recommend
that you check it out.  (4/12/2018)

THE DEATH OF STALIN   is a small miracle.  It's funny, smart, audacious to the point of ridiculousness. It was filmed at some
expense in Kiev and Moscow, it's stars are character actors like Steve Buscemi, Jeffrey Tambor and Simon Russell Beale, and
there's not an empowered woman in sight. Clearly, it is not an American movie. It claims to be based on a comic book, and most of
its scenes do indeed suggest that somebody had the idea of bringing
Mad Magazine's "Spy vs. Spy" to life. The plot follows the
events before and after the death of Stalin rather faithfully but plays them all for laughs.  And it is funny. The actors (Buscemi is
Kruschev; Tambor is Malenkov; and Beale is Lavrenti Beria, perhaps the funniest of all) are aided and abetted by what appears to be
an entire supporting cast of former Bond villains, and it's clear they're having a good time. Jason Isaacs, the evil British colonel from
The Patriot, as Field Marshall Zhukov seems particularly demented. Now that it's wrapped up its five-day run in the theaters, I have
no idea where you should see this movie, but be on the look-out for it and prepare to have a great time watching it.  (4/2/2018)

THOROUGHBREDS  I think this movie would have you believe that it follows movies  like Cruel Intentions and Rules of Attraction
in tracking overprivileged teenagers who are up to no good. Thoroughbreds isn't nearly as good as either of these movies as the two
central characters connect with no one and nothing-even each other.  At the beginning of the movie, we learn that one of them is
being paid to "befriend" the other. Unfortunately, they don't really connect with the audience, either. They plan a horrific crime, but
they do so in such a dull and vacant way that you get the impression that they're doing it just because they're bored and looking for
something to do. With just a slight alteration in the make-up scheme,
Thoroughbreds could well have been a zombie movie. Neither
of the lead actresses is of sufficiently high voltage to connect with the audience (no one in the movie is), and the script doesn't do
anybody any favors. The highlight of the movie is a scene on the lawn of a McMansion where one of the actresses is playing chess
on a board with human-scale pieces that she lugs around from square to square.  Trying to figure out her strategy for the game is a
lot more interesting than trying to figure out where the movie is going.

BLACK PANTHER   For the umpteenth year in a row, I didn't watch the Academy Awards and went to an actual theater to watch
a movie. Based on reports, I didn't miss much. Does it really matter what I think of this movie? If you'll look over all my movie
comments for the past nineteen years, you won't find many
Avengers movies, and you'll see that I usually blueline the ones I see
because: 1) I haven't seen one yet that I liked; and 2) they're not made for me anyway. Those caveats are particularly appropriate
Black Panther. It's no better or worse than any other Avengers movie-it's not a very high bar. If that's your thing, knock
yourself out.  (3/4/2018)

FACES PLACES  (VISAGES, VILLAGES)  Remember French New Wave director Agnes Varda?  Me neither. According to
imdb.com, she was the writer director of
LeBonheur in the 60's, Vagabond in the 80's and The Beaches of Agnes in 2008. She's 88
now and still going strong. In this movie, she teams up with thirty-something artist JR, whose metier is driving around France in a
truck that's essentially a rolling photo booth.  He stops in towns and encourages people to pose for selfies that he blows up into giant
images and pastes them onto walls, apartment blocks, barns, abandoned German pillboxes from World War ii-what have you. Faces,
Places is allegedly the story of such a trip (in reality, it feels like about ten separate trips) where our dynamic duo travel the
backroads of France to tell the story of the last resident of an apartment block who doesn't want to leave her house, goat farmers
who don't like to remove the horn of their animals, wives of stevedores, and others. The first half-hour is charming, but then around
the time they get to the dockworkers' wives, it starts to feel old. By the end of the movie, they seem to be out of ideas and decide to
pay a call on Jean Luc Godard, an old friend of Varda's. He's either not home or doesn't want to see his alleged friend. In any event,
Godard comes off as someone who's cruel to his friend, and it's not very interesting anyway.  If I were to offer advice to someone
regarding whether or not to see this film, I'd say go and enjoy the first half. (3/3/2018)

RED SPARROW features an amazing cast that includes Jeremy Irons, Charlotte Rampling, Mathias Schoenaerts, Ciarin Hines,
Joely Richardson, Mary Louise Parker. Unfortunately, they all have to fight for screen time with Jennifer Lawrence, who's perhaps
the least compelling character in this movie. I try to steer clear of actors and the stupid things they say (There wouldn't be room left
to say anything else), but Ms. Lawrence seems to have warped into overdrive lately, going out of her way to offend veterans,
policemen, Christians-what have you. I mention this now because it's becoming harder to separate her personal life from what's
presented on the screen.  If I had to find a comparison, I'd say look at Elizabeth Taylor in the 1960's. But Jennifer Lawrence is no
Elizabeth Taylor. She's just a foul-mouth brat with access to social media. In
Red Sparrow, she's sadly miscast as a Russian ballerina
(seriously) who gets recruited to become a spy. It's two hours and seventeen minutes of bad accents interspersed with sadistic
violence. But you don't recoil from the violence on the screen because it's all just so-so-fake.  Some people (not me, obviously) have
been comparing this to last year's
Atomic Blonde. All I can say to that is, they wish. Blonde was one of the best movies of 2017.
Red Sparrow wasn't even the best movie I saw this weekend. (3/2/2018)

GAME NIGHT   is light as air and lots of fun. (I almost hate to say anything too nice about it because it might tempt the producers
to make a sequel.)  Rachel McAdams, Jason Bateman and Kyle Chandler are a pleasure to watch when they're trying to be too
serious.  In this film, they're aided and abetted by four or five other fine actors who are childless friends who get together regularly
for the eponymous evening of entertainment. Into their midst fall Bateman's brother (Chandler) and a next-door neighbor who kick
the gamesmanship up six or seven notches. Of course, it's as improbable as all get out, but your watching this movie just to have
some fun.  And you do.  God bless it.  (2/28/2018)

ANNIHILATION   Something unusual is happening in the swamp near where Johns Hopkins microbiologist Natalie Portman is
watching cells divide by day and cheating on her military husband (Oscar Isaac) at night. When Isaac goes into the swamp (actually
called "The Shimmer" because it looks like a giant bubble, he comes out a
changed man. So Natalie has to go into the Shimmer and
see what's going on. What she finds is in turns mildly creepy, disgusting and revelatory. The big "talking point" (Portman's words)
of the movie is that the team that goes in are all women and includes Gina Rodriguez and Jennifer Jason Leigh. The only problem is
that Natalie Portman is among them. Not for a second do you believe that she could be former soldier turned microbiologist. She just
kind of sleepwalks through the role as she did in
Jackie a couple of years ago. Which is a shame. I watched Beautiful Girls, her
debut film, on DVD a couple of weeks ago.  It still startles me how at the age of 12, she was able to blow Uma Thurman, Mira
Sorvino, and pretty good actors like Matt Dillon and Timothy Hutton off the screen.  I don't know what happened to her (A case
could be made for
Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace), but I kind of wish she'd snap out of it.  Annihilation isn't any great
shakes, but I guess if you like to watch sisters kicking butt and being eaten by bears, you might want to check it out.  (2/26/2018)

15:17 TO  PARIS   You might like Clint Eastwood and his movies.  You might not. Either way, I think you have to respect this
octogenarian auteur for the variety of the projects he pursues and the fearlessness with which he tackles them. Who else has  had
the stones tackle subjects as diverse as assisted suicide (
Million Dollar Baby), the plight of Arabs immigrants in Detroit (Gran
), the London subway bombing (Hereafter), and Nelson Mandela's South Africa (Invictus)--to say nothing of recent projects
Sully, American Sniper-and now 15:17 to Paris. There may be a time in the future when whatever people think they know about
the times we live in now is something they learned in a Clint Eastwood movie. Not that Mr. Eastwood's record is spotless. He's got a
Jersey Boys and J. Edgar's on his tab, but overall, his movies have been straightforward and approachable. 15:17 fits this mold.
It's been criticized by some as being "religious" because it's about people who are religious.  By that logic,
Gone With the Wind could
be called "pro-slavery." Eastwood has done something particularly bold. The three men who performed the original feat of heroism
on the train to Paris play themselves in the movie.  No one would ever mistake them for actors. The performances are sometimes
awkward to watch, but at the same time when every other film you see has something liked "based on a true story" attached to a
bunch of crap that's clearly made up, you know that if the three men who lived the story are reenacting story on film, there's a
pretty good chance that you can trust the veracity of the story. (That an 87-year-old man would choose to direct three unproven
actors in a film is doubly remarkable.) The slow early part of the movie which etches the childhood of these three remarkable young
men is helped immeasurably by the presence of Jenna Fischer and Judy Greer as the mothers of two of the boys.
15:17 to Paris
won't be remembered as Clint Eastwood's best movie-but it might be one of the most interesting.

DEN OF THIEVES  Mysteries have unwritten rules. The most famous is that you never kill the dog. One of the most important to
me is that if you kill a policeman, you pay the price.
 In the first five minutes of this film, policemen are killed responding to a bank
robbery.  Their deaths are not avenged in the course of the film, and the evildoers are enriched. For this reason (and lots of others),
I cannot recommend to
Den of Thieves to you.

PHANTOM THREAD  Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) and his sister Cyril (I am not making this up) have made a
comfortable lives for themselves in 1950s London. Reynolds is a premier designer of women's dresses, and is quite successful,
although he doesn't seem to grasp that his female customers are as interested in possessing him as they are in possessing his clothes.
Cyril runs the business and runs Reynolds. If you weren't paying close attention, you might think you're watching a vampire movie.
But one day, Reynolds become
weary of it all and goes to a country inn, where he finds an Eastern European mushnik named Anna,
inspires him in the creation of truly hideous clothes that would look more in place in 16th century Florence than 20th century
anywhere. Any sane person woman would give Reynolds a wide berth, but Anna senses opportunity, becomes a live-in muse and
continues to inspire. Then something tragic happens. She marries him. I have to trust the movie-makers assertion that it is possible
for these two people to be happy together, but there is absolutely nothing on the screen that suggests that might be the case.
Day-Lewis gives a masterful performance, and he's the only reason this movie doesn't dissolve into a puddle of goo before its
two-plus hour run-time expires. The movie is a mess-but I predict it will win an Academy Award for Sound. Reynolds is so
self-absorbed that the sound of his wife buttering her toast is akin to running fingers down a chalkboard. (1/21/2018)

CALL ME BY YOUR NAME  In a year when Hollywood is wearing its #MeToo hashtag on its sleeve, one of the most celebrated
films of award season revolves around the proposition that 31-year-old Armie Hammer will or will not diddle a teenage boy. After an
exhaustive list of everyone who received tax credits for financing the movie, we're introduced to a family of academics who speak
so many languages that you really can't tell where they're from. Among them is the 15-year-old son who's spending his summer
vacation transcribing compositions by Lizst, swimming, and discovering his homosexuality. Into the mix, is Hammer, an American
graduate student who's alleged to be studying abroad for six weeks, which he somehow manages to squeeze in between card games
with the old men of the town, dancing with teen-age girls and sleeping in the sun. Hammer is a great "accent piece" for Movies-i saw
The Social Network on TV last night, and was reminded that he was terrific as the Winklevii. But when he's asked to carry movies
The Lone Ranger and J. Edgar, he gets real old real fast. Here, he's only expected to be desirable to a teenage boy, and that's
certainly in his wheelhouse. In the short-shorts of the 80's, he looks like he's about eight feet tall. The theme of this movie is
Goethe's admonition that you will never know another's heart, unless you are prepared to give yours. Yeah, well. My own personal
favorite quote from Goethe is "I may not be omniscient, but I know a lot." And I know this movie is a crock. (1/20/2018)

THE COMMUTER   When you go to the movies, you make a bargain with the moviemakers that you're willing to become a citizen
of the world they create for a little world and suspend belief long enough to follow the story they want to tell. Of course, this is
easier to do in good movies than it is in bad ones. The Commuter isn't a bad movie, but at the outset, it asks us to believe that Liam
Neeson is 60 years old and Vera Farmiga is in her mid-30's. (Apparently, Kevin Bacon and Anne Hathaway had already turned down
the parts.) OK, fine, but don't ask me to believe this and then plaster Neeson's 800-year-old mug across an IMAX screen. It makes
me doubt whatever else you're trying to say. Other than that, it's a pretty good movie. The presumably 60-year-old Neeson is laid off
at work and in bad financial straits at home. He's approached on a train and offered the opportunity to earn $100,000 by testing his
ex-policeman skills and identifying a passenger on a commuter train that somebody wants dead. To sweeten the pot, he's told that
his family will die if he doesn't play along. The bulk of the movie plays out in more or less real time as Neeson sorts through the
passengers and tries to think of a way to keep anybody from getting killed.  It's compelling (not IMAX-compelling, but compelling),
and probably what some people call good  old-fashioned entertainment. Neeson, while getting longer in the tooth, plays his usual
Missing character to good effect. Farmiga is always welcome, and even though there was really no reason to keep her in the movie
beyond the five minutes she was required to be there, I wish we could have seen more of her.  (1/17/2018)

PROUD MARY  The trailers and ads for this movie would have you believe that it's a Cleopatra Jones or Foxy Brown for the new
millennium. It's not, and it's really something of a disservice to the movie to suggest that it is. Mary (the indispensable Taraji P.
Henson) mob hit-woman who was taken into the family as a child and brought up to take her place in the organization.  She's good
at her job, and in the early scenes of the movie, we see her putting on great wigs and clothes and cruising around town in a cool car,
offing those who've offended the "godfather" or the organization, Danny Glover. (Quick Digression: There's a scene in Glover's
office in which he's seen in profile and backlit.  His profile looks exactly like Admiral Akbar in Star Wars, who only ever got one
good line--"It's a trap!" It's uncanny.) Anyway, Foxy--I mean Mary makes a hit on a baker in Jamaica Plain who has a young boy
who's now an orphan. Mary takes him under her wing in much the same way that Admiral Akbar had done to her. The rest of the
movie deals with how Mary and the kid get out from under the organization's collective thumb and get away somewhere to start
new lives.  It's a good story. Henson is-as always-wonderful, and you miss her when she's not on the screen. The body count is in
the zillions, and there's a good reason that it's rated "R", bu beyond that, it's definitely worth your while.  (1/16/2018)

PITCH PERFECT 3   It's better than "2", but nowhere as god as the original.  At least these thirty-somethings aren't pretending to
be college students this time.  (1/14/2018)

MODERN AMERICAN ARTISTS  This is a documentary film that you're going to have to look for. I'd love to see it as part of the
Louisiana International Film Festival, but we'll see. Peter Distefano of the group Porno for Pyros took it upon himself  to go out
looking for-well, modern American artists who would be willing to paint him while he jammed on his guitar. He only found
two-Mark Gorman and Alice Asmar-but they were gold. Whether you've heard of him or not, Distefano is definitely someone you'd
enjoy spending time with and he does a wonderful job of getting the artists to open and talk about their passions for painting and life.
These comments don't really do the film much justice; suffice to say that any preconceptions you might have had about art and
artists will be challenged, if not completely overthrown. 88-year-old Asbar (who probably was flattered to be thought of "modern")
had so much to say about living in the moment that I think everyone should be required either to watch the movie or listen to her.
In case you can't tell, Modern American Artists (despite its name) blew my socks off.  I think you'll like it, too.  (1/12/2018)

I, TONYA   I'm so sorry I didn't see this movie last year so that I could have put it on my ten favorite movies list of 2017.  Of
course it's about 90's Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding and the events surrounding the attack on fellow skater Nancy Kerrigan
that were eventually traced back to Harding's camp. Unlike practically every other movie that gets made (that isn't about a
superhero) claims to be "based on a true story."
 I, Tonya takes that claim and goes one better. It claims to be based on the
testimony that Harding, her vicious harpy mother, her psychopathic husband, her psychopathic husband's best friend gave to the
FBI. In the process of protesting their own innocence, every one of these idiots revealed themselves to be people who could not
possibly turned a self-professed Oregon redneck into America's next sweetheart. Although certainly flawed, the most reasonable
person in Tonya Harding's world was-wait for it--Tonya herself. The old saying is that you can't pick your family, but you can pick
your friends. Tonya was definitely screwed in the family department--the scene of her father leaving home when she was a little girl
are really heartbreaking, and the mother she was left with was a trainwreck. But the husband she picked.  Oy. What a yutz. OK, she
married him to get out of the house. But let's just say she should have left the bastard after the sixth or seventh time he beat her. But
we're talking about the movie, not the life, so just let me say, that everybody in the movie is practically perfect.  Margot Robbie as
Tonya is a wonder. McKenna Grace, who impressed in 2017's
Gifted, continues was equally fine as young Tonya. Allison Janney
will probably win an award as the monster--I mean, the mother. Don't even think about allowing a child to watch it, but otherwise, I
can't recommend it highly enough.  (1/7/2018)

THE LAST JEDI: STAR WARS, EPISODE 8   has to be the least entertaining spectacle I've seen since Alabama-Clemson,
Episode 3
.  The movie is two hours and 32 minutes long. Except for a loud snigger when a patron in the casino scene thought that
the droid BB-8 was a slot machine, the first time I actually smiled at the screen was about two hours and 25 minutes into the film,
when the godawful story went away, the credits came up and some of the most amazing movie music ever written filled the
auditorium. If you ask me, John Williams is the Last Jedi. I was kind of sad when I saw Carrie Fisher in her last role (unless they
CGI her into the next one, and if so, curse them), but I couldn't wait for the other member of her family (if you know what I mean
and I think you do) to just
go already. Mark Hamill was a noose around this movie's neck, and this movie certainly didn't need
anything else dragging it down. The characters are uniformly awful-and there are like a million of them.  The action in this movie
actually looks worse than the same scenes did in 1982. Ugh. Well, you get the point.  Not a big fan.  At the end of The Last Jedi,
Princess Leia asks, "What will happen to us?" I'm guessing it'll cost about fifteen bucks to find out.  (1/1/2018)
Top 10 Movies of 2018