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Review: Mank

Lovers of Old Hollywood rejoice. David Fincher (Fight Club, The Social Network) has served up a beautiful black-and-white ode to Tinsel Town’s power players and their behind the scenes machinations. Set in the 1930’s and 40s, Mank is the story of the writing of Orson Welles’ debut masterwork Citizen Kane by the alcoholic, bedridden hack Herman J. Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy). His friendship with William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance, “The Crown”, “Game of Thrones”) and his partner Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfried, First Reformed, Mamma Mia) was the basis for the film and their relationship is the backbone of Fincher’s. And as Mankiewicz writes from his bed out in the desert, he reflects back on the past decade of his life when he was a frequent guest at Hearst mansion, tolerated for years despite his loutish behavior because he was so amusing.

Review: First Reformed

It’s that time of year again. The run-up to awards season, when I catch up on all the films I missed for one reason or another. And since First Reformed is already winning top honors in the early year-end critics’ awards, I thought I should watch it. It’s from Paul Schrader who was the hottest writer (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Mosquito Coast) and sometimes director (American Gigolo) in the 70s and 80s and then mostly faded away. But with this film, it’s clear he’s still got it. He knows how to draw a deeply flawed man in a deepening personal crisis, and his Rev. Ernest Toller played masterfully by Ethan Hawke (Juliet, Naked, Maudie, Boyhood) is his best character in decades. Divorced, ill, drinking, and questioning his faith, Toller is circling the drain, while the tiny church he heads is planning its 250th anniversary rededication and one of his parishioners is in desperate need of guidance he’s ill-equipped to give. This is not a happy movie, but it is intensely thought-provoking and a glorious return to form for one of our great filmmakers.

Review: Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

Thank you for the music, the songs I’m singing.Thanks for all the joy they’re bringing.

The story may be lame as heck, but who cares? Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again delivers exactly what I expected: a groovy movie musical with a simple plot built around lyrics to ABBA songs — just like the first Mamma Mia! nearly a decade ago. In some ways, the sequel is even better, thanks to the singing, dancing and acting chops of Lily James (Baby Driver, Cinderella) as a younger version of free-spirited Donna Sheridan, the role inhabited by Meryl Streep in 2008. Streep is back for the sequel, but only for a brief yet poignant scene in the final minutes of the film (no spoilers). And oh yeah, Cher pops in too – as Donna’s showstopper (and scene-stealer) of a Mom.

While We’re Young

While We’re Young is a solid indie that many adults (even of the mainstream variety) should be able to relate to. It’s a comedy/drama about a middle-aged, childless couple named Josh and Cornelia Srebnick (Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts) whose best friends have just had a baby and seem to be drifting away. Then they meet Jamie and Darby (Adam Driver, Amanda Seyfried), a pair of twenty-something hipsters who become their new besties and inject new life into the Srebnicks’ otherwise stagnant personal and professional lives.

The Big Wedding

Ouch. This movie is getting some harsh reviews. So maybe I missed something – or am simply more forgiving – ‘cause I didn’t hate it. I actually thought it was mildly amusing, especially if you’re in the mood for a quirky, formulaic, pseudo-romantic, somewhat raunchy comedy that’s strictly for grown-ups. Sure, it’s not as good as you might expect (or hope), considering the all-star cast. But it’s not as bad as it might have been, thanks to an all-star cast. If you have 90 minutes to kill and want to say “I Do”, here’s the scoop:

Les Misérables

I’ve been somewhat obsessed with Les Misérables ever since I saw the show on Broadway circa 1987. And again in London. And Chicago. And Atlanta. So to say I was looking forward to a big-screen version starring one of my favorite performers, Hugh Jackman, would be a major understatement. In other words, I was an easy sell on this one. It may not be the greatest movie musical of all time, but it is the best in recent memory, despite a few flaws in casting (more on that in a moment).

The Les Miz story, based on the classic novel by Victor Hugo, is a long one, but here’s the gist: It’s the early 1800s in France and a prisoner named Jean Valjean (aka “24601”) is finally being released on parole after 19 years. His crime: stealing a loaf of bread for starving relatives and then trying to escape.

In Time

The “Occupiers” of Wall Street and throughout the world should take a massive field trip to see this movie. I have a feeling they’d like it – a lot.  It definitely delivers a timely and thought-provoking message in an intriguing and entertaining way.

Letters To Juliet

Letters to Juliet is a total chick flick but (thankfully) not a weep-fest, so you can leave the tissues at home and bring on the popcorn! The consensus among the audience of mostly women – of varying ages – was that the movie was “cute”, and I concur. It’s not great. It’s not high art. It’s not particularly thought-provoking. But it is indeed cute. And it definitely left me itching to embark on a road-trip across Italy. (Who’s in?!)

Dear John

Dear John seemed to come out of nowhere Super Bowl weekend to rake in more than $30 million and overtake Avatar atop the Box Office charts. But those aliens of Pandora needn’t worry too much. Movie-goers will write off Dear John way before it gets anywhere near Avatar’s record-breaking totals. Not that it’s a bad movie. It just doesn’t resonate beyond the theater walls. And I didn’t cry once!