And the Oscar Goes To… Not a Clue

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Quickie review: Crime Story

Sometimes the right ingredients do not make the tastiest meal. That’s the sad case in Crime Story, a revenge thriller starring Oscar winners Richard Dreyfuss and Mira Sorvino. He’s  reformed mobster Ben Myers who’s drawn back to his violent ways when thieves stage a home invasion and steal his stash while his beloved memory challenged wife Nan is home. His estranged daughter Nick (Sorvino) is a cop who’s currently working with a Congressman’s election team, and she’s trying to get Ben to step up for his other daughter’s kids, since she’s in hospice. Neither of them is going to get what they want. The basic plot is a clever series of twists and turns, and in the hands of a better director, it might have worked, but the film is a sad miss on so many levels. 

Mini-review: Siberia

The bromance between director Abel Ferrara and Willem Dafoe has reached its zenith with their latest collaboration. Each year for the last three in June I’ve watched Dafoe play a man adrift. In Pasolini he was the noted director wandering through Rome right up to his death. In Tommaso he was Ferrara’s stand-in, rambling around Rome again as his marriage crumbles and he struggles with his latest film. This time he’s a man hiding out in Siberia roaming through his own mental landscape to try and find himself. As with the previous films, there’s not much of a clear story line, just a series of scenes that you can arrange into a story of your choosing. I wish I’d chosen to turn it off sooner.

Quickie Review: Stars Fell on Alabama

It could’ve been worse. I could have paid to see Stars Fell on Alabama in a theater. Instead, I was able to float mindlessly through this romantic dramedy as if it were just some leftover entry in the Hallmark/Lifetime/Netflix Christmas movie rotation. Except there is no holiday. Just a high school reunion – and a junior varsity version of the much, much, much better romantic drama Sweet Home Alabama. Please don’t get them confused.

Review: The Midnight Sky

Not sure what George Clooney thought he was making, but this post-apocalyptic drama is a slog. In it a heavily bearded Augustine Lofthouse (Clooney) is left behind at an arctic research outpost by choice after everyone else evacuates. He’s got only one goal and that is to alert Sully and the rest of the astronauts on a distant space mission that they can’t come back to earth because an unnamed disaster has made it uninhabitable. But he can’t reach them. And then he finds a cute little girl named  Iris (Caoilinn Springall) who’s been left behind and the two of them have to make it to another research station across the unforgiving frozen landscape to get to a stronger antenna. Meanwhile, up in space Sully (Felicity Jones) and her crew that consists of her husband Tom (David Oyelowo), Sanchez (Demian Bichir), Maya (Tiffany Boone), and Mitchell (Kyle Chandler) are happily heading home from a mission to scout out a habitable planet, oblivious to what’s happened back home, but growing more concerned each day that they aren’t able to reach NASA – or anyone else for that matter.

Review: Rebecca

If you haven’t seen the classic version of Rebecca, you might be entertained by this latest melodramatic take. But that 1940 film starred Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine and was directed by Alfred Hitchcock, and it won an Oscar for Best Picture. This new version won’t be up for any awards. It stars Lily James (Baby Driver, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again) as the young wife who is never named and Armie Hammer (Call Me by Your Name, On the Basis of Sex) as her husband Maxim, the haunted widower-owner of the storied Manderley estate. Kristin Scott Thomas (The English Patient, Gosford Park) takes on the role of the sinister Mrs. Danvers. And it’s a fairly plodding take on what should be an absorbing psychological drama.

Quickie Review: Guest of Honour

Somewhere in this movie from director Atom Egoyan (The Sweet Hereafter) is a decent story, but you really have to work to find it. It’s a father-daughter melodrama about Jim (David Thewlis – The Harry Potter series) and Veronica (Laysla De Oliveira) that cuts back and forth in time as she tells a priest (Luke Wilson- Legally Blonde, Rushmore) the story of their lives so he can deliver Jim’s eulogy. Jim is a lonely food inspector who spends his days testing the temperature of meat and hunting under kitchen cabinets for rat droppings. Veronica is a music teacher who willingly goes to jail for a crime she didn’t commit out of a sense of guilt for something she did do. He visits her in jail and tries to understand why. She can’t forgive him for a transgression she misunderstood in childhood. Ultimately, it’s a bleak and not very coherent story buoyed ever so slightly by David Thewlis’s nuanced performance.

Quickie Review: Tommaso

I know I’m the Arty Chick, but this one is too arty for me. I’ll admit from the get-go that I’ve never been a big fan of Abel Ferrara. He’s too brutal and revels in making his audiences uncomfortable, and he peoples his films with deeply flawed men in an ugly world. Tommaso is the latest of these. Only this time, the central character is Ferrara as played by Willem Dafoe. Like Ferarra, Tomasso is a filmmaker living in Rome, married to a much younger woman (played by Ferrara’s wife), and having a hard time with his latest screenplay. His daily routine is a mix of writing, teaching some sort of improv class, his Buddhist practice, playing with his adorable little girl (played by Ferrara’s daughter), and going to AA meetings to regale the others with his tales of messing up. And that’s pretty much the whole film. Intrigued?

Quickie Review: Arkansas

Arkansas is one of those indie flicks that somehow finagled a pretty impressive cast – Liam Hemsworth, Vince Vaughn, John Malkovich, Vivica A. Fox – even though it’s directed by a first timer, Clark Duke (actor from Hot Tub Time Machine, The Office), who also wrote the adaptation and took one of the lead roles. It’s the story of a couple of low-level drug runners Kyle (Hemsworth) and Swin (Duke) who bumble their way through the Southern drug world working for a mysterious guy named Frog (Vaughn). Along the way they meet Ranger Bright (Malkovich) who becomes their direct boss and local nurse Johnna (Eden Brolin, Josh’s daughter) who somehow falls for Swin. It’s a film that might have worked if the director/writer had a better sense of timing and character development, but it’s ultimately a waste of talent and time.

Mini-review: A Patient Man

This one is so very indie. Not a recognizable big-name actor in sight. That’s sometimes a good thing. You don’t know where to look, who is the important person. Sadly in the case of this film, you wish there had been a more recognizable, better actor in the lead. For a thriller, it comes off as less than engaging because you never connect with the central character. I can’t tell you the particulars because, it’s is one of those films that the less you know going in, the better, since things unfold slowly as the story drops a clue here and there. But the gist is that a man is returning to work after having been in a horrible traffic accident and he’s trying to piece it all together. But he’s also trying to figure out who is to blame and how to punish them.

Quickie Review: The Kitchen

The Kitchen. Just stay out of it.

As much as I’d like to support a film helmed by a woman (Andrea Berloff in her directorial debut) and led by a strong ensemble cast featuring a trio of talented women (Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish, Elisabeth Moss)… I can’t find any reason to recommend The Kitchen.