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Review: The Favourite

The Favourite was another of my top picks at The Middleburg Film Festival. England’s Queen Anne was such a sad queen. But this period dramedy of the fight to be her favorite is wickedly funny and full of Oscar-worthy performances, particularly Olivia Colman (The Lobster, Broadchurch) who plays the gout-ridden, isolated monarch with little interest in doing the job she was born to. Fortunately, she has Lady Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weisz) to take care of her and all those pesky decisions she’s supposed to make. But when Lady Sarah’s cousin Abigail (Emma Stone) arrives at court and finagles her way into the Queen’s good graces, the gloves come off and it’s every woman for herself. And it’s savage and hilarious! The dialogue alone in this film makes it worth seeing, but the direction and attention to detail make it sing.

Arty Chick’s Middleburg Film Festival Download 2018

Another year at a fabulous festival! I wonder how long this little Virginia horse country festival can keep it up. It’s sure to burst its seams soon. This year’s slate was amazing, as usual. I was only able to fit in 10 of the 29 films offered in my three days of the festival and missed quite a few I really wanted to see. But what I saw was impressive. The big winner for me (it won the audience award, too) was Peter Farrelly’s Green Book, which will certainly be vying for the Oscar. But there really were quite a few standout films. Here’s my list with trailers and my preliminary impressions. Full reviews of select films will come later, so check back.

Review: Battle of the Sexes

Battle of the Sexes is okay, but far from the grand slam I was rooting for. I love the story, especially because it’s true: tennis great Billie Jean King agrees to play ex-champ and self-professed male chauvinist pig Bobby Riggs in a high-profile televised event and kicks his butt, scoring a huge victory for the women’s rights movement in the 1970s. That’s not a spoiler. It’s a well-known fact in sports history. Unfortunately, without the dramatic climax that typically drives a sports drama, Battle of the Sexes is forced to look for bonus points off the court. They include: an exploration of Billie Jean’s sexual awakening as a lesbian and the strain that puts on her marriage; Bobby’s marital woes, childish antics and addiction to gambling; and, my favorite part of the film, Billie Jean’s willingness to take a stand for equal rights and social justice by, in part, organizing other players to break from the establishment and form the Women’s Tennis Association.

La La Land

Believe the buzz. La La Land IS the best movie of 2016. It’s certainly my top pick for top honors in the Oscar pool. But here’s the twist. I had to see it twice to fully appreciate the story and the spectacle. The first time I saw it was at the Middleburg Film Festival in October, in cramped seats in a hotel ballroom. About a month later, I saw it again – on a big screen, in a real theater, with a good sound system. And I was hooked. It doesn’t fit neatly into any particular genre. It’s part musical, part drama, part comedy, part fantasy, part romance… all packaged together in a unique, thought-provoking, entertaining and bittersweet film about dreams, relationships, and the paths taken – or not taken – in life.

Reflections from the Middleburg Film Festival

I’m told this was the best slate of movies ever presented at the Middleburg Film Festival. So I picked a good year to make my debut trip into Virginia horse country to partake in four days of film, schmoozing, and lively discussion. Granted, I did not get the full-on glitz and glamor experience, choosing to stay in a lovely $79/night Hampton Inn about 30-minutes from the main venues, rather than the stunning but pricey $700/night Salamander Resort & Spa owned by the festival’s founder. But it was still a solid introduction to a festival that, in four short years, has sown the seeds to compete with the likes of Sundance, AFI, Toronto Film Festival, etc. (I think Cannes is safe). Here’s the blow-by-blow:

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Birdman has no competition, because there is nothing remotely like it out there. It is a semi-fantasy, dark comedy with an amazing cast and a highly imaginative script. Michael Keaton has never been better, and in this role he shows off a kind of raw emotive talent that I would not have guessed he possessed. Playing Riggan, a former mega-star who was known for his role as the immensely popular superhero Birdman a couple of decades back, he has come down to earth and is trying to make a name for himself again, only this time with a Broadway play that he wrote, an adaptation of a Raymond Carver short story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.” He is directing it and starring in it as well. And he may just be losing his mind.

Magic in the Moonlight

I adore both Colin Firth and Emma Stone. Just not together – in this particular movie. Perhaps writer/director Woody Allen didn’t see anything wrong with the obvious age difference (he’s 53; she’s 25) and lack of chemistry between the two stars. But for me, it took the magic out of Magic in the Moonlight, a romantic comedy period piece that drags where it could and should have soared.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

First things first: Andrew Garfield (Peter Parker/Spidey) and his on-and-off-screen love interest Emma Stone (Gwen Stacy) are disgustingly cute together. And it totally works. In fact, their chemistry is key to this sequel to the 2012 reboot, especially for those who aren’t well-versed or deeply invested in the superhero/supervillain comic universe.

The Amazing Spider-Man

Yes, the story is somewhat different. But it’s also kinda the same. And therein lies the rub. There’s nothing wrong with the Spider-Man reboot – it just doesn’t need to be. The incredibly talented cast is wasted on a retread. I mean, c’mon Hollywood, can’t you find just one solid, original script worth taking a multi-million dollar gamble on?

First, for what’s different: The Amazing Spider-Man focuses on the true origins of the Spidey character, including Peter Parker’s quest to understand why his parents left him in the care of good ol’ Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field) when he was just a boy.  When Peter (Andrew Garfield) crosses paths with his father’s former partner, Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), you know that can’t end well. Especially when Dr. Connors starts putzing around with a serum that turns him into a giant killer lizard.

The Help

Fans of the book will be relieved to know that the movie does it justice, evoking all the same emotions – from disgust, disgrace and dignity to honesty, humor and hope.