Kenneth Branagh’s latest Agatha Christie mystery remake is “Death on the Nile”. It has an all star cast and of course each character has a motive for murder. The film is slick, beautifully filmed and well acted, but a bit slow. It’s the type of movie you watch at home. An interesting prologue shows how Hercule Peroit became the person he is. For me, the stand out was Sophie Okonedo as a jazz singer. A bonus was the jazzy musical numbers. See if you can figure it out. Not great, but enjoyable.
Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg star in the movie version of the video game, “Uncharted”. It’s an action/adventure film with plenty of twists and action. Holland and Wahlberg make a good team and have plenty of chemistry. The plot involves trying to find gold hidden in the 1500’s by the Spanish. One of the things that set this movie apart was that two of the villains are women and they are great. They trick and double trick everybody. It’s a fun movie.
Maggie Gyllenhaal’s directorial debut is “The Lost Daughter” starring Olivia Colman. She plays a college professor on vacation in the Greek Isles who becomes obsessed with a mother and daughter. It reminds her of her relationship with her own daughter, told through flashback. The critics are raving about this film, but I found it boring. Colman, who is usually so good, is basically one note. I found most characters to be unrelateable. I will never get that 2 hours and 2 minutes back.
Paul Thomas Anderson is a director who writes his own scripts. The definition of an “auteur” he usually takes on weighty subjects with a great amount of zeal as in “Boogie Nights”, “Magnolia”, “The Master” and “Phantom Thread”. All of these films are interesting and well acted, but way too long. His latest, “Licorice Pizza”, is a lot lighter than his previous films, and is being touted for best picture. It’s the story of a fifteen year old entrepreneur/actor and a young woman who joins him in his adventures in the early 1970’s. Once again, Anderson could have made the film about a half an hour shorter, but it is obvious no one edits his scripts. Even with the length the film is enjoyable. The two young leads are exceptional. Cooper Hoffman in his debut, is the son of Philip Seymour Hoffman, plays the fifteen year old and he is great. The female lead is Alana Haim and she is a real find. She has a presence on the screen. Her deadpan timing is wonderful and she carries the film. Haim is rightly being touted for a best actress nomination. This is the type of film that can be seen on the small screen. Enjoyable, but long.
Guillermo Del Toro’s latest movie, “Nightmare Alley” is a remake of the 1947 film starring Tyrone Power and it seems an odd choice for the director of “The Shape of Water” and “Pans Labryinth”. Bradley Cooper stars a carnival con artist who makes it big with a mind reading act, but becomes very full of himself. He teams up with a femme fatale psychiatrist played with smarmy charm by Cate Blanchett. The supporting cast is excellent including Willem Dafoe, Toni Collette and Rooney Mara. Its ending is very ironic. One of the best aspects of this film are the sets. The depression era carnival looks dirty and rundown while the later, city scenes are among the best Art Deco sets in recent memory. This is a dark film noir showing the nastier side of society. Not for everyone, but I liked it. Well made and acted but very dark.
“Spider-Man: No Way Home” is the third time that Tom Holland plays the title character. Unlike his predecessors he actually looks like a teenager. This episode features most of the villains from past Spider-Man movies including the Green Goblin, Dr. Octopus, the Sandman and Electro plus a few more surprises. The first half of the movie is pretty standard, picking up from the last one where Peter Parker’s alter ego is known and it makes his life miserable. Half the world hates him, half idolizes him and no one will leave him alone. He enlists the help of Dr. Strange and everything goes haywire. The second half brings him help from surprising sources. That’s when the movie becomes fun and exciting. Lots of action, a few jokes and an interesting story. I loved seeing the villains played by the original actors. This film is for fans of the series, even if you haven’t seen the last few movies. Enjoyable.
Aaron Sorkin, who made “The West Wing”, “The Social Network” and “The Trial of the Chicago Seven”, has a new film “Being the Ricardos” which covers a week during the making of “I Love Lucy”. In this particular week three major things happen to Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. (Actually these things happened at different times, but they are condensed into one week.) Nicole Kidman plays Lucy and Javier Bardem is Desi. In this movie Lucy is not the sweet, funny Lucy Ricardo, but a driven, controlling, perfectionist who is somewhat grouchy. Through flashbacks we learn how they met and some of the troubles that they went through. The acting is flawless. Nicole Kidman not only looks like Ball, but she sounds like her and pulls off the scenes showing her playing Lucy on the T.V. show. Bardem makes Arnaz charming, smart and a brilliant businessman. This is a somewhat real slice of life, beautifully acted, that is a lense into the making of a classic sitcom. Unlike the show, this film is not light or comical. It is not only a look into the show, but into a troubled marriage, the Communist scare of the 1950’s and changes during the infancy of television. It is an interesting piece of history and will be on Netflix in the next few weeks.bI recommend seeing it.
One of the greatest movie musicals ever made was the 1961 version of “West Side Story”. When Steven Spielberg announced that he was going to remake it, I was skeptical. How could he make a film that was not overshadowed by the original? After seeing Spielberg’s version I am here to tell you that he has done an amazing job and this version stands on its own! He has opened up the story, showing a slum in transition, with buildings being torn down and the story taking place in the rubble. The photography is compelling and gives the film a different feeling. The cast is outstanding. Ansel Elgort, who starred in “Baby Driver”, is a much better Tony than Richard Bremer was in the original. He has a nice singing voice. Rachel Zegler is an outstanding Maria; innocent, pretty and a beautiful singing voice. As Bernardo and Anita, Ariana DeBose and David Alvarez have a sexual chemistry that is palpable. Their singing and dancing is phenomenal. I couldn’t take my eyes off of them. The part of the movie I was most concerned about was the choreography. The original choreographer, Jerome Robbins, won an Oscar as co-director. His dances were classic. In the new version Justin Peck matches Robbins’ dance routines, sometimes exceeding them. Finally, Rita Moreno plays an important role, a reimagining and expansion of the candy store owner. In my opinion she is the heart of this movie. See this movie on the big screen. The cinematography, dancing and colors make it worth it. I loved it!
I just watched “The Power of the Dog”, the new film by Jane Campion and starring Benedict Cumberbatch. This film has already won a few awards and is receiving rave reviews. Well, I was not as impressed. I found it slow and the characters were not relatable or interesting. Cumberbatch, sporting an American accent, plays a nasty ranch owner during the 1920’s. He doesn’t have many redeeming qualities. The character is very different from anyone he has played before. Everyone underplays and they are somewhat boring. I cannot recommend this movie.
“Tick, Tick…Boom!” is the story of Jonathan Larson, who wrote “Rent”, before he became famous. It is Lin-Manuel Miranda’s directing debut in film. Essentially a musical, it showcases Larson’s music before “Rent”, when he was trying to get noticed. The songs are pretty good but the real revelation is Andrew Garfield. He can really sing! I was surprised how good he was. Most of the film explores his constant pursuit of the big break and the constant setbacks around his 30th birthday. “Tick, Tick..Boom!” is the name of one of his plays before “Rent”. An interesting story and an incredible performance from Garfield. It can be seen on Netflix.