Merry Christmas for those who celebrate it. Here are four films I’ve seen in the last week.
A A Star is Born (2018), Elmwood downstairs
The same old tragedy still carries that emotional punch. The man, a major star but an alcoholic, falls in love with a talented nobody. As his career self-implodes, his lover’s fame skyrockets. This fourth version
(the fifth if you include 1932’s What Price Hollywood) [correction] is at least as good as the 1954 classic starring Judy Garland and James Mason. Lady Gaga holds the screen and proves she’s a movie star as well as a singer/songwriter (she also wrote most of the film’s excellent songs). Co-star Bradley Cooper proves that along with acting, he can sing, write, and direct. Sam Elliott has a major supporting role.
B+ Crazy Rich Asians (2018), Netflix Blu-ray rental
The setup suggests a ’30s or ’40s screwball comedy: When the boy brings his girlfriend home, she discovers his family is filthy rich and his mother doesn’t approve of the match. But the comedy never reaches the madcap intensity of screwball. In fact, if you’re only looking for laughs, Crazy Rich Asians will disappoint you. The film’s pleasures come from the likable characters; especially the super-smart heroine (Constance Wu) who must overcome the formidable and snobbish mother (the great Michelle Yeoh).
B Don’t Look Now (1973), Kanopy
Nicolas Roeg at his most conventional and commercial, and it’s still pretty weird. Don’t Look Now is a horror film, and a fun one – sort of. Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie star as a British couple (well, the husband is obviously American, but that’s never discussed) in Venice trying to get over their daughter’s sudden, accidental death. It’s all about ESP, seeing dead loved ones, and predicting the ghastly future. The film contains what just might be cinema’s longest and most graphic sex scene between major stars – and it feels just thrown in.
B- Mary Queen of Scots (2018), Albany Twin downstairs
Director Josie Rourke and screenwriter Beau Willimon give us a new twist on the oft-told story: If it wasn’t for all the men around the two queens, none of whom truly accepted female monarchs, things may have worked out better. it’s valid point, but the filmmakers fail to turn diplomacy into compelling cinema, despite several scenes of sex and violence. And the main point of the tragedy, the reasons why Elizabeth had to execute Mary (that’s not a spoiler), goes by much too quickly. As you can always expect in this sort of movie, t’s wonderfully acted, especially by Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie as the queens.
Rourke chose to use colorblind casting in the minor parts, making Elizabeth’s and Mary’s courts look much more racially diverse than they were.
C+ 20th Century Women (2016), Kanopy
This film feels like it was written by a Psychiatrist. The five main characters (including a mother and son) share the same house and have their own mental issues to work out. This is all set in 1979, so the younger characters can try to explain Punk. The 17-year-old, sexually-active girl (Elle Fanning) sleeps with the 15-year-old boy virgin (Lucas Jade Zumann), and drives him crazy by refusing to have sex. There’s a lot of concern and comradery, but also a lot of selfish emotions and people failing to see the others properly. Nothing significant happens. Every so often, one of the five narrates their life so we get to know them better; the mother (Annette Bening) even gets to narrate future events.