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Enjoyable, as long as you know upfront it's primarily not a comedy
First, and most importantly, know this is not a comedy, it's a serious, purposefully slow-moving character study with a few very funny, even laugh-out-loud moments. Knockout scenery (and if you've ever been a skier you'll be craving time on the slopes immediately after viewing), this is the kind of film that inspires wanderlust, but some will find it too subtle and quiet. I liked it, but there were elements that bugged the heck out of me, especially the non-development of the two sons as important characters--they remain blank stares and mysteries for the entire film. Julia Louis-Dreyfus is very good here, Will Ferrell good but mostly one-note: The film is definitely given a shot in the arm by actors in supporting roles. Overall a recommended watch if you enjoy character studies where simple, subtle facial expressions and body movements are as important as dialogue.
Gorgeous, memorable, and even startling cinematography, but surprisingly underdeveloped as the "deep" character and class study it pretends to be. Depressing nihilism. Director/writer clearly has given up all hope of modern civilization ever rising above the swamps of despair and manipulation. That's his right to an opinion, of course, but in this particular film his vision feels simplistic and seems to exist for no other reason than to provoke and wallow.
Like a Boss (2020)
Great cast, a director I've enjoyed in the past: what happened here? Flat and uninspired filmmaking, and a lazy comedy.
Little Women (2019)
Solid acting, but non-linear screenplay a minus on first viewing if you're unfamiliar with the story
This is a beautiful film, and I highly recommend it, but for those of us who read "Little Women" decades ago and don't vividly remember the storyline Greta Gerwig's new time-traveling screenplay makes the experience more of an occasionally jarring, confusing experience than an enjoyably immersive one. (Update: saw it again a week later and realized the idea works beautifully if you do know the story--I loved the film on second viewing). The entire cast is very often spectacularly talented and watchable, and the direction is undeniably assured, so all is forgiven for that first-time viewing disorientation, and I definitely now recommend a second viewing for those of us who left the film confused and a bit unsatisfied the first time around. Turned out to be one of my favorite films of the year after that second viewing.
Talented cast, quietly delightful
A darkness-before-the-dawn experience of melancholy and hopeful, tentative joy. In my view the true leads (despite the trailers and advertising suggesting otherwise) are Francesca Hayward and Robbie Fairchild, who I'd never heard of before now, and they both bring noticeably skilled and assured acting and dancing abilities to their central roles. I loved it, and hope it finds its audience. Saw it on a huge screen with an excellent sound system, and that's the way to experience it.
Last Christmas (2019)
Now this is a Christmastime celebration!
What a wonderful surprise! My best friend and I trusted this would at least be worth seeing when we read that Emma Thompson was one of the writers, and featured in a role in the film as well, but it then turned out to be one of our favorite film experiences of the year. We agreed on exit that it was a 10 out of 10 for both of us (which is rare), and also that this would be a Christmastime film we could imagine looking forward to seeing annually to help celebrate and get into the mood of the season. And what a cast! Everyone, even those in the smallest featured roles (and there are a ton of them) are joyous, committed, and clearly having a ball creating the film, and that joy spills over to us in the audience.
A beautiful San Francisco and laugh-out-loud fun
Saw "Jexi" on a bargain Tuesday today with zero expectations because of the pile-on negativity of the critical reaction to it. Why did I still go? Because as everyone knows comedy is personal, and I wanted to see if it happened to connect with my personal sense of humor (plus I usually find Adam DeVine, Rose Byrne, and Wanda Sykes reliably funny). Glad I took the chance: I laughed out loud multiple times, loved the fact it was actually filmed on the streets of San Francisco (a city I've grown up loving the look and feel of since I was a kid), and even had a momentary mini deja-vu flash reminder of one of my favorite comedies of all time, Peter Bogdanovich's "What's Up, Doc?" during an out-of-control bicycle stunt on one of The City's steepest streets. I'm still cracking up remembering scenes and lines from the film days later.
I'm grateful for this kind meditation on a troubled life
A kind and compassionate meditation on what it might have been like to live Judy Garland's celebrity (and studio system) life, both as a child and adult. Both Renee Zellweger and the young woman who plays Judy as a young star are excellent, and Zellweger is so good she had me feeling as though I was watching Judy herself returned to life and navigating the twists and turns (and hopes) of the life she lived near the end. I was especially taken by the memorable extreme closeups the director and cinematographer used at crucial moments in the film: The idea worked for me, creating indelible, focused intensity that stayed with me after leaving the theater. I feel like this biopic was one of the most successful I've seen in trying to give the viewer an opportunity to understand what might have gone on in a fading star's head as she lived her final months, and exactly how she may have accidentally ingested too high of a dosage of the pills she had known since her childhood in the studio system. By the way, I thought this would inevitably, definitely be a difficult, sad watch as a film, but I left the theater feeling thoughtful and peaceful, and grateful for this tribute to someone who had been so stereotyped, ridiculed, and dismissed by many, especially near the end of her life, and after. "Judy" makes a touching effort to flesh out the real human being who went through all of this, and lets us decide how we choose to remember her.
It Chapter Two (2019)
A watchable mess, but just barely
Note that I wasn't a fan of the original theatrical "It" this is "Chapter 2" to, as the mix of shape-shifting Pennywise goofiness mixed with heavy drama just didn't set well with me, and I thought it ultimately failed both as a horror film and serious character study. Pennywise and his various forms just aren't that frightening to me, and some of the heavy drama is downright brutal compared to the shapeshifting silliness. It's jarring, and just doesn't work. This new chapter, without getting into spoilers, also manages to add a depressingly mixed, confused, and vague message to viewers about hate crimes that is truly queasymaking. Bill Hader is the standout for acting among the adults here, but the character he plays is also given a too-vague treatment. The subtlety means some (maybe even many) viewers will not even realize what his character's epiphany is as a person. I will say I wasn't bored watching it, even at almost 3 hours long, but I was put off by the lack of clarity and some of the more ridiculous, loud, silly monster moments. This film also veers wildly between extremes of heavy drama and some completely goofy monster and demon special effects and noise, just like the first, and, again, the combination just doesn't work.
Plays it safe when it shouldn't
The filmmakers seemed to have had a hard time deciding if this is a comedy, tragedy, horror film, or serious character study, so it never quite hits its stride. Octavia Spencer is always watchable, and I'm glad I saw it, as it does linger in my memory and haunt me a bit, but, wow, with the ending section going for "Carrie" territory, the prior set-up should've had Spencer reaching for Piper Laurie's intensity in that film rather than pulling back.
What's Up, Doc? (1972)
Genuinely a comedy classic, a wonderful memory of the past
This film holds up and frankly gets better with each viewing. I now appreciate what a perfect moment in time it was when all of this came together more than I did when it first opened. The huge cast of gifted comedians spark some of the funniest moments I've ever enjoyed onscreen, so it means even more to me now that many of them have passed on and I realize how much I miss them. Plus the G-rated, idealized view of San Francisco preserved here was always a joy that reminded me of my sunny view of The City as a magical place I loved visiting when I was a kid. Madeline Kahn's performance is the standout for me, but that's not meant to slight anyone else in the cast--this is, for me, (and forgive my use of a cliche) Comedy Heaven.
Late Night (2019)
Earned, satisfying laughs. An intelligent comedy.
My idea of a great adult comedy: intelligent, well-cast and acted, and laugh-out-loud funny. I don't use the term "tour de force" lightly, so it's a big personal deal that was the thought that came to mind for Emma Thompson's performance when the director's credit hit the screen at film's end. Not to slight anyone else in the cast, as all were excellent, and Mindy Kaling's script is so good both of us said we're up for seeing it again soon, to catch all of the wonderful detail on a second viewing.
A Dog's Journey (2019)
Left the theater feeling exhilarated
The first film, "A Dog's Purpose," was so emotionally draining for dog lovers like me (but ultimately worth the rollercoaster ride) that I admit hesitating to see this sequel. My best friend leaned toward seeing it when we were looking for a movie to see this weekend, though, so I agreed. Now I'm so glad I did. While "Journey" is also a rollercoaster ride of life's ups and downs, the overall effect by film's end is exhilaration and joy--and hope. I highly recommend throwing yourself into this particular journey. Strong performances from all of the cast, both canine and human, careful and thoughtful direction, beautiful cinematography, and the story a very compelling view of the human-canine connection in this life.
The Hustle (2019)
A goofy romp with Wilson & Hathaway
Haven't seen the previous versions of this remake, but I enjoy Wilson & Hathaway together so much (their recent James Corden birthday "one-up" sketch on his talk show was a hoot of an example of their comedic chemistry) I had to give this a shot. I was rewarded with a consistently-amusing and gorgeous to look at film (and a couple of gut-busting moments) bolstered by good supporting-character performances and a noticeably standout buoyant score as well. I even enjoyed the old-fashioned opening-credits artwork and hijinks. Overall, a very pleasant diversion from all the current nastiness in the world news.
Pure joy and celebration
Left the theater feeling great, and grateful to all involved in the creation of this film. "Poms" is a joyous middle finger to cynicism and bitterness.
Long Shot (2019)
Amusing, timely R-rated adult fun
Somewhat spoiled by a few groan-inducing moments of self-indulgent, clueless, and Trump-like verbally-cruel references to real-life pop and political figures, overall this film is a fun couple of hours that also manages to leave you wondering what might happen if one of the dozens of current 2020 presidential candidates did ignore their handlers, consultants, and polling and talked (very) frankly with us, the voters. Would we be thrilled to discover that at least one politician is a real human we relate to and not a glossy, polished approximation of human, or would we be horrified, retreat, and continue to vote for the polished versions carefully groomed to appeal to us?
Relaxing, amusing fun
All of the cast are comedically talented and clearly committed to the film, making it a worthwhile, easy watch. Unfortunately, it could have used some attention to pacing at times, and I'm surprised they didn't hear that from test audiences and heed it before they completed the final cut. It's genuinely enjoyable overall, though, and a lighthearted escapist visit to the movies. (And I'm personally thankful for some relief from way too many DC and Marvel flicks clogging up theater screens everywhere).
Apollo 11 (2019)
Reviews had me thinking I would be blown away by this new doc, but I was, instead, quietly mesmerized by it. Using no talking heads, no narrator, it simply uses reportedly newly-found 65mm film footage to take you on a start-to-finish depiction of the Apollo 11 mission. There are moments of awe, and the lasting effect is of just how fortunately perfect the mission went, which appears to be like clockwork here. As others have mentioned, viewers are also reminded of how it did seem like the world truly came together for those few days, and that's a quiet revelation, too. Being a longtime "2001: A Space Odyssey" fan I was also reminded of how both this real-life mission and that film's fictional one had me contemplating the realities of space travel.
A heckuva lot of fun for fans of Huppert and Moretz
Simply put, this is a thriller where you sense while watching it the cast and director had a blast making the film, the actors loved playing their roles, and you get to share in that upbeat energy while viewing it. (I hope for a behind the scenes "making of" short as a bonus feature when the film is released for home purchase, based on one story Moretz recently told on a talk show about Huppert's ongoing devilishly playful behavior on set.) More good news: I will report (without spoiling anything) there were two major moments where the film surprised me with unexpected plot twists--and I'm a guy who figured out the supposed famously hidden twist in "Sixth Sense" in the first few minutes. I enjoyed every moment of "Greta" for multiple reasons, but the committed performances were what elevated it to pure joy.
Happy Death Day 2U (2019)
Jessica Rothe does it again...wow!
Discovered the original "Happy Death Day" accidentally in theaters during its initial run when looking for something to see and half-heartedly choosing it, only to be wowed and thoroughly entertained. My best friend and I both agreed it was one of those under-the-radar gems you are lucky to find only once in a great while. While the entire cast's game performances added up to an entertaining whole, lead actress Jessica Rothe's all-in performance was the revelation. The script had her juggling horror, comedy (not to mention slapstick physical comedy), drama, and rom-com genres, sometimes switching between them in a moment's time, and she made it seem effortless. This was a character you came to truly care about and root for. When we saw the trailer for this sequel we were hopeful, but, frankly, the trailer was so frenetic we thought they might've gone too far, risking losing the balance of the original. Happily, that's not the case. While "Happy Death Day 2U" does go for broke in continuing to juggle so many genres you think it can't possibly hold together till the end, it does, and the character Rothe created only grows even more sympathetic and appealing. We found ourselves rooting for her even more, and, once again, came away dazzled and thoroughly entertained--and hoping for another sequel to come!
Stan & Ollie (2018)
For my taste, a perfect film
I wouldn't change a moment of this film. Left me appreciating Laurel and Hardy more than I already did. This is a beautiful, and incredibly moving, picture. The closing scene and the final credits in particular contain moments I hope to never forget. Thank you to all involved, but I'm also going to single out the editor in particular: the pacing, cutting, and choice of shots used in that closing scene were breathtaking.
Zimna wojna (2018)
Reminded me of "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" throughout. But this film pushes you away, and leaves you feeling empty, and cold. I realize it's depicting a sense of deepening despair, and ultimately, hopelessness, so it does succeed on that level, if that was the filmmaker's core, and only, intent.
The Kid Who Would Be King (2019)
It's OK for an adult to admit they enjoyed it!
Many of the critics' reviews and even user reviews, while mostly praising the film, seem cautious to admit they, as adults, had a rollicking good time viewing it, citing it almost dismissively as a good "kid's" film. Where is your Arthurian bravery, folks? (Did you learn nothing from the film? LOL) I, as a full-grown adult even, freely admit I enjoyed it tremendously. It reminded me of why I've loved well-made adventure films (and comedies) my whole life, and tapped into fond memories of everything from "Excalibur" to many of the Monty Python films. Go see it on the biggest wide-screen CinemaScope screen you can find, and make sure they have a great sound system, too--the score is just one of the many delights. Feel free to hide just how much you enjoyed this "kid's" flick, if you must, but I vote for bravery!
On the Basis of Sex (2018)
A perfect rainy-day, curl-up-in-your seat film
Almost missed this one after the mixed reviews, but ended up glad I didn't. Enjoyed every moment of the film, lost and engrossed in thinking about what it must've been like to be a short-in-stature but towering in strength and determination Ginsburg during the years depicted here. I thought the film did a terrific job of putting viewers in her shoes, and definitely think it will be an inspiration for those of us who still value honest hard work, ethical behavior, kindness, and joy, for generations to come.
Mary Poppins Returns (2018)
Relieved to discover it's a joyous continuance of Poppins
Based on some others' reviews prior to my viewing I was hesitant to see this new Poppins, as the original is a longtime favorite, and I didn't want its memory tarnished by a lackluster new Poppins or story. After viewing this new story and Emily Blunt's take on Poppins for me it only adds to the positive memory of Julie Andrews' take on the character and the joyous memory of the original film--this entire new production feels like a loving nod to the original. It also made me long for a big-screen viewing of the original and I hope that in-theater double-feature is Coming Soon. This new Poppins is also pure joy and kindness--I loved it. And the spontaneous applause around me (and from me) in the theater at the end tells me I'm not alone.