Tag Archives: Drama

Movie Review: Creed III (2023)

Now in theatres.

The third movie in the Rocky spin-off series follows a formula (imagine that!), but it’s a handsomely produced sports drama with dexterous dramatic momentum. Michael B. Jordan stars as the title character and directs Creed III (B+), and opposite Jonathan Majors as a childhood friend turned would-be adversary, he orchestrates some Shakespearean subtext between the bouts. The central conflict between two men eclipses and sidelines other supporting players, and Majors additionally overshadows Jordan in the acting department. But the boxing ring clashes are epic, including one with unexpected stylized flourishes, and the cinematic crafts in the dramatic build-up are on deft display. If Jordan’s directorial debut isn’t quite a full-throttle knockout, it’s certainly a crowd pleaser. 

Movie Review: Magic Mike’s Last Dance (2023)

Now in theatres from Warner Bros.

All this tease from a tepid trilogy has revealed Tampa’s titular hero has simply been a frustrated theatrical choreographer all along. Steven Soderbergh is back at the helm for the third and hopefully final outing, Magic Mike’s Last Dance (C-). The director smashes his endowed everyman Channing Tatum against a proposal from a wealthy businesswoman played by Salma Hayek Pinault to direct a West End London adult entertainment revue disguised as a comedy of manners. It’s a convoluted plot when one isn’t really needed, plus it’s punctuated with observational voice-over narration as if it’s an academic exercise tracking the taxonomies of exotic dancers for a medical journal. Since there really is a British live stage show based on the dancing characters from this series, it’s also one of cinema’s most naked commercial cash grabs since Mac and Me and Million Dollar Mystery, ‘80s films that hawked fast food and trash bags, respectively. There’s a nicely shot smooth dance sequence at the beginning and another at the end, and the central romance between the charming leads has a swirl of sweet moments, but most of the film is either dull or misbegotten. A full proscenium of pole dancers still can’t conjure a respectable spectacle. Unlike the first two films when the ensemble is a winning part of the formula, this time the talented dancers are hardly given any speaking parts at all. Of course Soderbergh is trading in fantasy wish fulfillment, but the plot strains credulity and logic in too many ways to be taken seriously or even to function as campy guilty pleasure. The tones are so wildly different in this trio of thong and dance films that they might as well be classified as an anthology loosely based on a similar notion with one common cast member. What started with a g-string and a prayer has packed on so many layers, the series has almost forgotten it’s supposed to be about strippers. This film strains for the graceful exit.

Review of previous film in the trilogy

Review of original film in the trilogy

Movie Review: Spoiler Alert (2022)

Now streaming on Peacock.

Michael Showalter has made a cottage industry of finding the humor and humanity in tough situations such as terminal illnesses, and his latest directorial effort, Spoiler Alert (C+), presents some charming and underrepresented character types facing the Big Sick at the center of what would otherwise be a melodramatic “Movie of the Week” type format. Jim Parsons portrays real-life television critic Michael Ausiello, and Ben Aldridge plays his partner Kit Cowan who faces a cancer diagnosis. The film traces the duo’s unlikely romance, introduces some underused supporting characters including Sally Field as Kit’s mom and flashes to occasional strained sitcom tropes to punctuate the proceedings. Parsons is a wet blanket of a romantic lead, barely capable of bearing the burden of the story on his shoulders. Although often heartfelt and packing a few laughs and tears, the film doesn’t rise to the level of being very magnetic or memorable.

Movie Review: Living (2022)

Playing in Atlanta January 27, 2023.

The new film Living (A-), directed by Oliver Hermanus, has a sterling lineage from an earlier incarnation as an Akira Kurosawa film and a Leo Tolstoy novella, and this fresh telling with the deeply moving Bill Nighy in the lead proves it’s a tale worth retelling. Nighy plays a bureaucrat in 1950s London who re-examines his outlook when he learns he has little time to live. The lead actor is the standout in the ensemble, exhibiting restraint in the most remarkable ways. Aimee Lou Wood is a wonderful foil as a peppy friend and colleague who reminds the protagonist of his youth and happiness. Hermanus frames the film with classic film tropes including the way opening credits and dissolves occur, and this format imbues the story with the feeling it’s just been found in a vault of favorites. The crafts are impeccable, from Kazuo Ishiguro’s crisp adapted screenplay to Sandy Powell’s handsome costumes to Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch’s soaring score. It’s a brisk and inspiring tale with at least one temporal twist shaking things up a bit. It will be remembered for Nighy’s performance and leaving audiences shedding happy tears.

Movie Review: To Leslie (2022)

On demand via Amazon Prime.

A Lone Star State lottery winner spirals out of control in a Texas toast of fits and starts on her journey to recovery from alcoholism in the indie character study To Leslie (B), directed by Michael Morris. Andrea Riseborough is fully committed to the central performance of a failed mother and nomadic barfly, deeply flawed but highly sympathetic. She is a feral force of nature who constantly brushes herself off from homeless nights and grievous gaffes and finds her footing opposite Marc Maron as a kind man who gives her a second chance on the grounds of the ramshackle motel he runs. Allison Janney and Stephen Root provide solid support in small roles as skeptical relatives. Morris grounds his deeply atmospheric story with grace notes transcending his shades of melodrama. There are heartbreaking passages in which Riseborough’s Leslie hits rock bottom plus some glimmers of hope as she climbs out of her despair with help of a surrogate family. The film and its central performance are ultimately quite affecting.

Movie Review: The Son (2022)

Now in select theatres.

Most dramas about epic familial turmoil don’t take place on the planet of Pandora, but the characters in Florian Zeller’s NYC-set (D+) might as well be blue aliens, as they’re completely unrecognizable as behaving like actual people on this earthly world. Hugh Jackman and Laura Dern portray the divorced parents of a troubled teen, relative newcomer Zen McGrath. Vanessa Kirby gets the thankless task of embodying Jackman’s new wife who has a newborn of her own with him, and Anthony Hopkins has a small bit as his mercurial grandfather. No one in any of the film’s generations appears to be capable of rational discussions, and there are conflicting narratives about saving a depressed youth and breaking domestic cycles of dysfunctions, with neither plot line ever finding a satisfying something new to say. A clearly committed performer, Jackman is the primary subject, but his bewildered dad character perpetually asks really boorish and basic questions of his clearly depressed offspring. The script does no favors to McGrath either as its views of mental health feel locked in on discourse from many decades ago. The film never credibly gets inside the head of its titular character and instead focuses on how the situation weighs on pop. Neither flashbacks nor flash-forwards help make the talky screenplay any more palatable. Also if you watch the film on television, disable the close captioning or else you will often see the word “chuckles” describing characters’ frequent awkward laughs punctuating the strained dialogue. It’s indeed a grim watch, made all the more frustrating from strange tonal shifts, a repetitive and reductive story and talented actors misused. It also feels like a play in which much of the interesting stuff happens offstage.

Movie Review: Women Talking (2022)

Sarah Polley’s Women Talking (B) starts like a really long homeowner association meeting with a lingering SWOT analysis and transcends into a bit of a moviemaking miracle about resiliency, triumph and restored faith. Set a decade and a half ago, the story focuses on eight women from an isolated Mennonite colony who grapple with reconciling their reality with their religion after it is revealed that men from their community drugged and raped the community’s women at night for years. It’s solemn material for sure, and Polley makes the stagey cinematic with lush cinematography and a desaturated color palette plus a soaring score by Hildur Guðnadóttir. Rooney Mara and Judith Ivey are luminous standouts in a multigenerational ensemble also getting lots of attention for two women shouting, Jessie Buckley and Claire Foy. Like a war movie, though, the strength is in the composite set of performances and central conflict rather than in the work of any one or two individuals. The final reel is missing some requisite suspense but compensates with bursts of emotion. Overall Polley as screenwriter and director delivers a moving work, grounded in old-fashioned sentiment with a brazen modern touch, that undoubtedly will gain more appreciation over time. 

Movie Review: Emancipation (2022)

Now on AppleTV+.

Antoine Fuqua’s relentlessly violent slavery survival film Emancipation (C) both showcases and demands endurance. It is tonally out of balance, caught between being a prestige piece about a grim time in American history and an exploitative action film. Will Smith is effective in an underwritten role, and the film’s tropes and characters don’t illuminate much fresh light on their subject. Fuqua’s monochromatic cinematography is often expansive and expressive but paints its images over a hollow story. It spends long passages with dogs chasing escaped slaves who must brave forests and swamps and brush fires in an attempted journey back to family. Ben Foster has the thankless task of antagonist in a nightmarish work that doesn’t give anyone much of a showcase. There’s an important and well-intentioned story shrouded in the film, but Fuqua goes about telling it with little new or nuanced.

Movie Review: Babylon (2022)

Stinging in the reign over his cinematic kingdom, “provoc-auteur” Damien Chazelle delivers his famed hometown of synthetic dreams a tart tragicomic valentine box filled with live grenades in the audacious multi-character drama Babylon (B+). This is a movie so singular and sprawling, with so much budget spent on bodily fluids and bacchanalia, that it’s bound to attract polarizing reactions. A trio of Tinseltown’s talkie-era troubadours – an old guard swashbuckler played by Brad Pitt and up-and-comers Margot Robbie and Diego Calva as a starlet and studio gatekeeper, respectively – chews and gets chewed up by the scenery in this occasionally bloated but most often blissful circus maximalist. It’s so completely overstuffed that at one point nobody realizes the elephant in the room is a literal pachyderm. Chazelle creatively crafts an amped-up Wild West moviemaking fantasia and whisks viewers up into an absurdist mile-a-minute travelogue through the underbelly of a mad, mad dreamworld; just when you think he’s dug deep into the city’s noxious center, you recognize he’s just getting started. The voyeuristic whirling-dervish of the camera consistently discovers playful details in its panoramic production designs, finding whimsy even in some of the film’s most uneven passages. Through the slyly observant lens of a filmmaker with lots on his mind, this full and frantic epic wields its poison pen with a brass band syncopation boldly matched by a jazz-infused Justin Hurwitz score . The anachronistic screenwriting about the haves and have nots is hit or miss, but memorable monologues glide like a heat-seeking missile to the luminous Robbie who delivers a spectacular supernova of an unhinged performance. Pitt and Calva are also standout gems at either end of the cynicism spectrum in a crackling ensemble. The film’s more than three hours of running time highlights the evolution of its characters from fresh celebrity flesh to jaded stars with scars. The film’s rumination on the origins of a sometimes scandalous art form is sexy, shrill and everything in between and ultimately holds up its sparkling mirror ball to reflect a bit about that Hollywood flicker that has become resident in all of our collective aspirations.

Movie Review: Aftersun (2022)

The power of memory helps guide the filmmaker’s camera in a profound new motion picture. A modern woman reflects on the shared joy and private sadness of a vacation she took with her father two decades prior in the emotionally affecting drama Aftersun (A+), directed by first-time feature filmmaker Charlotte Wells. Flashbacks real and imagined, plus snippets of camcorder reels, fill in the gaps as the female protagonist tries to reconcile the dad she knew and the man she didn’t. Paul Mescal plays the young father and Frankie Corio his 11-year-old daughter who talk and play at a Turkish beach resort in the late 1990s. Beneath the surface of sightseeing, snorkeling, billiards and pranks, there’s an omnipresent melancholy and mystery undergirding the lively events of a hopeful holiday. The movie juxtaposes a coming of age story in which the little girl experiences friendships and awakenings with a poignant, intimate family portrait of a protective and sometimes idealized father. Mescal is a force of nature in the role, seizing moments of tenderness and pangs of desperation. Corio is funny and bright and hits all the right notes as the pint-sized daughter who idolizes him. Wells captures the beauty of the relationship amidst gorgeous scenery and realistic encounters. Her film leaves an indelible impression and will be a balm and reflection for anyone nostalgic for bygone relationships.

Movie Review: The Whale (2022)

Now on demand.

In parts languid and lyrical, Darren Aranofsky’s The Whale (B) takes its sweet time to arrive at its cathartic thesis, but patient viewers will be rewarded by floodgates of emotion. Brendan Fraser is dexterous and expressive as Charlie, a 600-pound man attempting to reconcile with a broken family as he contemplates a life that has become adrift. The cavalcade of people in Charlie’s orbit include a memorable Sadie Sink and Samantha Morton as his estranged daughter and wife, respectively; Ty Simpkins as a mysterious missionary; and Hong Chau as the protagonist’s friend and caregiver. Incidentally, Chau is a wonderful foil and purveyor of some of the best lines of dialogue. The director films most of the action in the confines of a claustrophobic apartment and in stark close-up. His work is a glorified character study with a few additional sparks stoked by familial and religious conflict. Aronofsky and Fraser generate intense empathy and an indelible central character in the complex Charlie, alternately optimistic and at sea. It’s a soulful drama that will be sure to spark discussion.

Movie Review: The Fabelmans (2022)

Welcome to the Young Steven Spielberg Chronicles, where the proverbial alien is a spouse in a loveless marriage, the cliffhanger action revolves around how quickly one can thwart high school bullies and where home movies captured for the screen can reflect destiny profoundly. Spielberg directs and co-writes his own autobiography as a coming of age drama, changing his family name to The Fabelmans (A-) as one mildly manipulative way to keep tiny flickers of details privately veiled. The film is a rich origin story of an auteur-in-training shaped in unequal measures by his drive to make movies and his reckoning with his formerly fantasy world parents becoming increasingly estranged. Gabriel LaBelle is fully convincing in the central role, often opposite Michelle Williams as his dreamer mom, in an effectively showy and emotional performance. All actors are wonderful including Paul Dano as the pragmatic dad who can fix everything but his family and Judd Hirsch as a scene-stealing uncle who’s a former silent film actor and circus showman and a certain real-life director with some sage advice. Spielberg’s greatest filmmaking gifts are all on display here: depicting wide-eyed wonder, pivoting from triumph to dread within the same sequence and contemplating Big Issues while consistently conjuring entertaining imagery. Strangely, the only underwhelming elements are John Williams’s pretty but subtle score and the mostly perfunctory films-within-the-film. Overall this work is a glorious making of a man with unexpected intrigue. With a lofty screenplay, Spielberg’s co-writer Tony Kushner elevates the tale to the stuff of legend, and in the process the director himself has made a really great Steven Spielberg movie.