Review: Jockey

Jockey is a sports drama that is purposely light on action and heavy on character study. It’s more trot than sprint. More arty than mainstream. Get the picture?

The film follows aging jockey Jackson Silva (Clifton Collins Jr.) as he chases one last hurrah on a potential championship horse acquired by his longtime trainer– and maybe more— Ruth (Molly Parker). Decades of rough riding have taken a toll on Jackson’s body, and it’s probably time to hang up the spurs. But horse racing is in his blood; it’s his entire world. At least, until a young rookie rider named Gabriel (Moises Arias) shows up, claiming to be his son. Jackson takes Gabriel under his wing and teaches him some tricks of the trade. It’s a bittersweet bond, with implications both personal and professional.

Review: Licorice Pizza

This quirky coming-of-age rom-com was one of my favorite films of the year. The leads, Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman, are unknowns, but there are some fabulous cameos from A-listers, particularly Sean Penn and Bradley Cooper. It’s a quietly unfolding love story with an older woman that takes place as a young man hustles his way around town and into her heart. 

Review: Nightmare Alley

I’ve been a big fan of Oscar winner Guillermo Del Toro (The Shape of Water) since he first made his mark with Pan’s Labyrinth back in 2006. He’s a master at creating fantasy-filled narratives in visually striking settings. Nightmare Alley is lacking the fantasy that propelled his previous work. It tries to make up for that with one of the most gorgeous production designs in ages. And Bradley Cooper turns in an awards worth performance as conman Stanton Carlisle who rises from carnival side show mindreader to high society psychic, alongside an all-star cast that also includes Cate Blanchett, Toni Colette, Rooney Mara, and Willem Dafoe. But for all that, it ends up being a whole lot of flash that never pays off.

Review: Red Rocket

Director Sean Baker (The Florida Project, Tangerine) loves stories and characters that Hollywood regularly ignores. And his newest dark comedy Red Rocket continues to plumb the depths of America’s underclass. It’s the story of Mikey Saber, a once high flying porn star whose life has taken a downward turn and ends up back in Texas City begging his ex-wife to take him in while he figures out his next move. Simon Rex who was once a MTV V.J. and went on to act in a series of forgettable films steals the show as Mikey, a charming and self-centered hustler, proud of his porn awards and planning a return to California and his place in the biz. And that plan includes Strawberry (Suzanna Son in a breakout role), a 17-year-old girl he falls for at the local donut shop. Unfortunately, Mikey is not half as brilliant is he believes himself to be.

Spoiler-Free Review: Spider-Man: No Way Home

I’ve been extremely cautious about venturing back into theaters. But I decided to celebrate my COVID booster shot with a limited-capacity IMAX screening of Spider-Man: No Way Home. After myriad viewings in recent months of heavily-touted awards-season contenders, I needed a big ‘escape’ movie. And boy did I get it with Spider-Man: No Way Home. There is a lot going on in this movie, much of which I can’t — or won’t — reveal. Just know that if you’re a fan of the Marvel and Spiderman franchises, you’ve got to see it soon, before spoilers spoil the fun. Not that Spider-Man is all fun. It’s not. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll be genuinely moved and genuinely entertained throughout the 2 1/2 hour run time that includes sitting through all the credits for THREE bonus scenes.

Review: Being the Ricardos

Aaron Sorkin (The Trial of the Chicago Seven, The Social Network) is the undisputed master of clever, snappy dialogue.  And here he turns his gift to telling the story of the It Couple of the 50s — Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. He focuses the narrative on one particular week in 1953 when their world came close to crashing down because of a couple of media stories. Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem star as the power couple prepping for their weekly “I Love Lucy” episode while scrambling to make one huge (and one small) scandal disappear. And while that story is unfolding the backstory of their relationship comes out in flashbacks. Sadly though it should be a lot more satisfying that it ends up being. 

Review: Drive My Car

Adapted from a short story by Haruki Murikami, one of my favorite authors, Drive My Car is a haunting drama about love and grief and reckoning. It centers on two main characters. Actor turned theater director Yusuke Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishijima) is two years removed from his wife’s sudden death and still grappling with the meaning of their relationship when he comes to Hiroshima to direct Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya” for a theater festival. The organizers insist for legal reasons that he use their driver for the duration of his stay. She’s a taciturn young woman named Misaki (Toko Miura) who ended up in Hiroshima after her own personal tragedy. And as she shuttles him back and forth to the theater in his beautiful red Saab 900, they slowly bond over the unresolved sadness in their lives. And I say slowly because the movie clocks in at just about three hours, though it doesn’t feel long at all.

Review: West Side Story

If anyone can get away with doing a new film version of West Side Story— without really changing the story or the era it’s set in– it’s Steven Spielberg. Here, he delivers a solid adaptation/reimagining that feels fresh while also paying homage to the original 1961 award-winning classic. Lest you’ve forgotten, West Side Story is itself an adaptation– of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” the tragic tale of star-crossed lovers whose deaths ultimately reconcile their feuding families. In West Side Story, the star-crossed lovers are Tony (Ansel Elgort) and Maria (Rachel Zegler), caught in a dispute between rival gangs, the Jets and the Sharks, in 1950s New York City.

Review: Don’t Look Up

In this apocalyptic satire from Oscar-winning writer/director Adam McCay (Vice, The Big Short) astronomy PhD student Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) discovers a comet hurtling straight towards the earth. She and her professor Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) try to alert the powers that be of the impending danger, but of course it’s not that easy to get people to listen. After all, it’s just too much of a downer and all that sciency stuff isn’t sexy. And the President of the US (Meryl Streep) can’t see how panicking the public can help in her train wreck of a reelection bid. Meanwhile there’s a tech billionaire (Mark Rylance) in the wings trying to see how it can make him even richer. Can anyone save the earth from the earthlings?

Review: Belfast

This Oscar-bait memoir movie comes from writer/actor/director Kenneth Branagh who takes a look back at a defining year of his childhood. Branagh was just a 9-year-old boy in 1969, living in Belfast, Northern Ireland at the beginning of what became known as The Troubles, a period when there was violent street fighting between the Protestants and the Catholics.  His story is seen through the eyes of his adorable little stand-in Buddy (Jude Hill) whose life is changed forever during that turbulent time.