Note to readers: I currently am not willing to risk my health (I’m 62 and an asthmatic) by visiting a theatre. All films that I have seen for review have been screened in my home. I am not going to tell you whether or not to attend a theatre. Just be aware of the risks, do your research, and follow the instructions to the letter.
Familyfaire: The Croods: A New Age (2020) PG Your favorite prehistoric family, the Croods, are back! There is a new family in the neighborhood, the Bettermans, led by Hope (Leslie Mann) and Phil (Peter Dinklage), who claim to be better and more evolved. Can Grug (Nicolas Cage) and Ugga (Catherine Keener) keep their family on the right track, or will their kids lose their way when shown how the Bettermans live? I liked the first The Croods film, immensely enjoying the antics of Grug, voiced by Nicolas Cage, who as the dim but caring caveman made the film seem fun and enjoyable. This time around, there isn’t much to add to the story other than the Bettermans, a modern-like family that makes the Croods seem like, well, cavemen. The Croods: A New Age isn’t a bad film, it just doesn’t bring much more to the storyline. Kids will enjoy the movie, and there are plenty of colorful, wild animals to keep the smaller kids involved. My Rating: Bargain Matinee The Croods: A New Age Website The film is currently playing in select theatres.
My View: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2020) R In 1927 Chicago, tensions rise between Ma Rainey (Viola Davis), her ambitious horn player, Levee (Chadwick Boseman), and the management determined to control the headstrong Ma Rainey, the ‘Mother of the Blues.’ It’s hard to take a stage play and make it work on the screen, but boy, this film makes it work. Boy, does it! The late Chadwick Boseman gives us one last performance, and it is one for the ages. Using all his energy and charisma, Boseman provides us with a man who has talent and lets everyone know it, but there is something wrong with Levee, a man who is haunted by his past. Not to be outdone, Viola Davis, almost unrecognizable behind all the makeup and costume padding, is powerful and commanding as the demanding Ma Rainey, a woman who knows she has a gift and is willing only to share that gift when her demands are met. This is a film that will move you and, at times, will shock you. It is a fitting tribute to a man who we will all miss, and once the movie ends, is filled with the sadness of knowing that a great career was cut way too short. My Rating: I Would Pay to See it Again Ma Rainey's Black Bottom Website The film is playing exclusively in the Atlanta area at Landmark Midtown Art.
Indiefest: Stardust (2020) A young David Bowie (Johnny Flynn) comes to America for the first time in 1971 on a trip that inspires the invention of Bowie’s iconic alter ego Ziggy Stardust. It’s hard to make a film about a legendary musician like Bowie without playing his songs, but that’s what we get with Stardust. Johnny Flynn does a fine job playing Bowie, and his singing voice is a nice copy, but the problem is that we never get the feeling from the film why Bowie was such a magnetic force on stage. The movie just slowly moves along, as we get depressed as much as Bowie does when he realizes that his dreams of becoming a big star are crumbling away. The film never finds its footing, and while we get a short vision of Bowie’s creation of an alien rock star named Ziggy at the end of the film, it has nothing of the impact that it should have. David and Ziggy deserve more than what this film gives them. My Rating: Cable Stardust Website The film is currently playing in select theatres.
Indiefest: Last Call (2020) Before there were rock stars, there was writer Dylan Thomas (Rhys Ifans). In 1953, Dylan Thomas is on his final tour, where he was captivating audiences with his poetry and stories. In New York City, Thomas walked into a Tavern and pondered his life as he downed eighteen doubles scotches. This is not an easy film to watch as a man slowly before our eyes drinks himself to death. I’m not a big fan of Thomas’s work and therefore didn’t enjoy the constant reciting of his work as we flashback to his performances before an audience on his tour. The film feels somewhat like a stage play, as most of the action takes place in the bar as Thomas downs each shot, giving the bartender and the other fellows at the bar his thoughts of love, life, and death. It’s a mesmerizing performance by Rhys Ifans, but it's not enough to keep the film moving at even a slow pace. The film becomes almost repetitive as we watch Dylan keep downing his drinks. The film moves from the bar to flashback to happier or sad times in his past, along with imagined appearances by his wife, Caitlin (Romola Garai). The film slowly moves along, and like Dylan Thomas, it very quickly wears out its welcome. My Rating: Bargain Matinee Last Call Info The film is currently playing in select theatres.
My View: Uncle Frank (2020) R In 1973, college professor Frank Bledsoe (Paul Bettany) and his Eighteen-year-old niece, Beth (Sophia Lillis), journey back to South Carolina to attend Frank’s father’s funeral. Frank has many secrets that he wishes would remain hidden, but this trip home will be painful, and those secrets will spill out. Uncle Frank is an interesting film because even though Beth is the narrator of the film and the first third of the film is from her viewpoint, the main story and character is her Uncle Frank. Frank has a secret, one he has kept hidden and is ashamed of. It’s a shame because I really enjoyed Beth and her view of the world. The switch to focus on Frank is a bit sudden, and we never quite get the focus back on Beth. Instead, it’s Frank's story for the rest of the film. Bettany shines as the likable but troubled Frank, and his journey back home brings back memories that he would like to forget. It’s a complex performance that is full of passion and pain. Because of the performances in the film, it’s worth taking a road trip with Beth and Uncle Frank. My Rating: Full Price Uncle Frank Website Available on the Amazon Prime platform.
My View: Happiest Season (2020) PG-13 Harper (Mackenzie Davis) and Abby (Kristen Stewart) are in love, so much so that Abby is going to propose to Harper when they go to Harper’s childhood home for Christmas. The problem is that Harper’s family doesn’t know Harper is a lesbian, and now Abby will have to pretend that she and Harper are just roommates. What could go wrong? This is a nice addition to the ‘home for the holidays’ genre with a wonderful twist on the romantic comedy to spice it up. Davis and Stewart have brilliant chemistry on screen together, and while a few of the comedy pieces are a bit too broad, the film is still fun, sweet, and a blast to watch. Mary Steenburgen is funny as the high-strung mom trying to coordinate not only a Christmas holiday but also her husband's (Victor Garber) bid to become mayor. The cast that stand out are Dan Levy as the gay best friend of Abby, who is more interested in his problems until he realizes Abby’s world is crashing down and Mary Holland as the odd, overeager younger sister Mary. Both bring an energy to the storyline and are a delight to watch. So grab some cocoa, put up the stockings, and watch Abby and Harper try to survive the holidays. My Rating: Full Price Happiest Season Info Available on the Hulu platform.
My View: Hillbilly Elegy (2020) R The story of J.D. Vance (Gabriel Basso), who goes back to his Appalachian home to revisit his childhood and the two women, his strong-willed grandmother (Glen Close) and his troubled mother (Amy Adams). What a colossal waste of talent. The film moves back and forth from when J.D. is a kid and in the present where J.D. is in law school. The biggest problem is while the younger J.D. is somewhat enjoyable as a kid who needs guidance and love, the adult J.D. is a stupid jerk who is mad at the world and doesn’t deserve his loyal and loving girlfriend. The film feels like one of those movies that can’t live up to the book's complexity. The storyline seems skimpy as we never get enough depth to understand why the characters are the way they are. Sure, there are some flashbacks, but the film seems like just trying to throw as much stuff on the screen as it can without a lot of substance. I was bored by this film, didn’t care about its characters, and wanted it to end as soon as possible. My Rating: Cable Hillbilly Elegy Website Available on the Netflix platform.
Indiefest: Zappa (2020) Documentary that looks at the life and work of legendary rock musician and composer Frank Zappa. Zappa was a very complex man who put out an incredible amount of music in his lifetime, which makes tell his story so hard to do. Filmmaker Alex Winter, who has already had a good year with his documentary Showbiz Kids and starring as Bill in Bill & Ted Face the Music, tries to give us the life story of a man who was a rock legend but considered himself a composer. Using vast amounts of previously unseen home movies, concert footage, and behind-the-scenes rehearsal footage, the film is a treasure trove of sights and sounds for any Frank Zappa fan. The film using past interview recordings, let’s Frank tell his own story because if there was one thing that Frank liked to talk about, it was himself. The documentary interviews band members, fellow musicians, and Gail, Frank's long time wife. The film doesn’t pull punches as we find out that Frank considered only his immediate family as his close friends, and that he wasn’t shy about sleeping with other women while on the road. I learned a lot about Frank from this film; his strange childhood (he liked to make bombs), that he never studied music but was self-taught (impressive for a man who composed for orchestras), and while Frank loved his family, he wasn’t close to them. In fact, his daughter Moon Unit made Zappa’s only hit Valley Girl with him just to get him to pay attention to her. The film is packed in its little over two hours run time with information, but it doesn’t seem like enough time as his early career is given the bulk of the film, and what some consider his best work in the late 70s into the 80s is barely talked about. Frank Zappa wasn’t for everybody; in fact, often, he pissed off audiences at his concerts as he played what he wanted to, not what they wanted him to. This film also isn’t for everyone, but if you are a fan or want to know more about a fascinating musician whose work is vast and impressive, this is a movie for you. My Rating: Full Price Zappa Website The film is currently playing in select theatres.
Forgotten Film: Columbus (2017) Jin (John Cho) is a Korean-born man who finds himself stuck in Columbus, Indiana, because his father is in a coma. He meets Casey (Haley Lu Richardson), a young woman who is staying in Columbus because she has to support her mother, who is a recovering addict. Writer/director Kogonada brings us a magical film about family, relationships, and dreaming of things that you think can't come true. The film takes place in Columbus, Indiana, the “Midwest Mecca of Architecture,” and it's magnificent buildings are the backdrop for this film. Every shot utilizes these brilliant buildings, making you feel a part of the landscape. What I love about this film is that the two characters slowly peel back the layers of Jin and Casey as their conversations continue. The characters become part of the architecture, interacting with it and exploring it. Casey has even-numbered her favorite buildings like a film lover would rate movies. Columbus is a movie that will hold you spellbound as it explores the importance of relationships, the ones we honor, and the ones we have to leave to better ourselves. My Rating: I Would Pay to See it Again Columbus Info
Weird Credits: From the credits of Stardust: Intimacy Coordinators
Coming Soon to a Screen Near You: Let Them All Talk (2020) R A famous author (Meryl Streep) is having trouble writing her latest book. She decides to go on a cruise trip with her two best friends (Dianne Wiest, Candice Bergen) and her nephew (Lucas Hedges). On it, she hopes she finds inspiration, reconnects with her friends, and maybe even come to terms with her troubled past. The film is directed by Steven Soderbergh (Traffic, Erin Brockovich) and stars Meryl Streep. I think that is all I need in a movie. Let Them All Talk Info