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Review: The Two Popes

At the Middleburg Film Festival this year, The Two Popes was my top pick and if that’s any indication, it will win the Oscar. My favorites won the last two years. This sure to be a crowd pleaser is a somewhat imagined tale of the friendship that developed between the most recent Popes, Benedict and Francis, after beginning as rivals, and stars two actors at the top of their game — Anthony Hopkins as Benedict and Jonathan Pryce as Francis. And it’s by turns warm and funny and heartfelt. A total delight.

Arty Chick’s Middleburg Film Festival Download 2019

Another super tiring weekend in the bucolic Virginia hamlet of Middleburg watching more films than I should! I predicted early on that this festival would outgrow itself and I think it has come to that point. Too many people know about it and the growing pains have become chronic overcrowding at venues without room for expansion. I’m already searching for another festival for next year. (All suggestions are appreciated.) I saw fewer films this year, too, just nine — Marriage Story, The Capote Tapes, The Aeronauts, Frankie, Waves, The Report, The Two Popes, Atlantics, and Knives Out. I only gave one of them four stars and several were surprising disappointments. For too many it was great cast and great performances in an otherwise just okay movie. Here’s my list with trailers and my preliminary impressions. Full reviews of select films will come later, so check back.

(Spoiler-free) Review: Thor: Ragnarok

What exactly is Ragnarok? I’m not quite sure and I don’t really care. What I do know is this: Thor: Ragnarok is a very funny superhero action-adventure sci-fi fantasy movie that zips to the top of my list of ‘guilty pleasure’ popcorn movies for 2017. Is it ‘THE BEST MARVEL MOVIE EVER!’ as some have proclaimed? No. But it is one of the most entertaining, as long as you’re familiar – to some degree – with the Marvel universe (i.e. the Avengers, Hulk, Iron Man, Captain America, Doctor Strange, etc.) and have a solid appreciation for the tongue-in-cheek tone of a Deadpool or Guardians of the Galaxy. The more Marvel movies you’ve seen, the more you’ll get out of Ragnarok. It’s packed with hidden gems, celebrity cameos, sly innuendos, inside jokes and character development that builds off relationships established in earlier films featuring the various Avengers working solo or as a team. No spoilers. Just the gist:

Noah

I’m no biblical scholar, but I’ve heard the story of Noah and the flood a few times. I suspect there are not many who haven’t. In a nutshell: “The Creator” talks to Noah. He tells him to build an ark. He does and there is a flood. And there are a lot of animals involved. In the latest cinematic iteration of the story, there are not a lot of surprises. But there are some big time special effects and this one feels like Transformers meets A Beautiful Mind with a touch of Lord of the Rings and a heavy dose of your faith of choice. Noah is not a Cecil B. DeMille reverential telling, but a Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan, Requiem for a Dream) psychological/environmentalist drama. It’s loud and messy and pretty entertaining.

Thor: The Dark World

If you’re a fan of the science-fiction-fantasy-action-adventure-superhero genre, then you’ll get a kick out of the latest Thor flick. It’s not the best of the ‘Avengers’ movies, but it still holds its own as a source of mindless entertainment. No disrespect intended for those who actually grasp the mythology of Asgard, the Nine Realms (including Earth), and characters with names like Malekith, Odin, Sif, Fandral and Volstagg. It’s just that I tend to get a bit lost in the universe best understood by Comic-Con aficionados. Overall, I enjoyed Thor: The Dark World, but there’s really no need to see this one in 3D. Put the extra cash toward popcorn. The ‘eye candy’ comes with the price of admission. I’m not sure why Thor (Chris Hemsworth) felt compelled to take his shirt off in one particular scene, but hey, I’m not complaining.

Hitchcock

This time of year, there’s a lot of really good stuff out there (or on its way). So while Hitchcock is a perfectly okay film, it’s not good enough to cut through the clutter… even if it does showcase the making of one of the most iconic knife-wielding scenes in cinematic history. Shower, anyone? That said, if you’re a fan of Alfred Hitchcock in general and/or Psycho in particular, then you’ll probably get a kick out of Hitchcock. It stars a heavily-padded and prosthetic-ized Anthony Hopkins as the acclaimed director and Helen Mirren as Hitch’s wife and collaborator during the making of the 1960 horror movie Psycho. It’s part ‘inside Hollywood’, part love story, part biography, and (probably large) part dramatic license.

Thor

Thor isn’t a chick flick by the classic definition, but it is two hours of harmless fun with the very easy to look at Chris Hemsworth in the lead. So I think chicks in the mood for a mindless cinematic escape will enjoy spending a little time with the God of Thunder.  (Although be forewarned, as one of my friends insisted on pointing out, he takes his shirt off just once in the entire movie.) If, however, you’re looking for something a little more meaningful, you can skip it without a second thought. 

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger

Woody Allen’s latest is set in London and in early voiceover we are treated to a quote from Macbeth. “Life’s but a walking shadow …a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Woody might have been reviewing his own film. You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger isn’t really full of sound and fury but ultimately isn’t about anything except life. It takes a family and follows their individual stories as they split up, marry, lust from afar and get on with it.