And the Oscar Goes To… Not a Clue

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Review: Spirit Untamed

Spirit Untamed is a conventional family-friendly animated adventure that honors teamwork, friendship and female empowerment. And whoa… there are wild horses. And some catchy tunes. All that makes this second installment of a franchise that began with the 2002 Oscar-nominated film Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron worth the ride. There’s not much new to gain, but nothing to lose either. So if the spirit moves you, saddle up.

Review: The Glorias

There is a line near the end of The Glorias about going in circles – as women, as a society, as a nation. A reminder, underscored in recent days by the death of liberal stalwart RBG and the nomination of a conservative to take her place on the Supreme Court. There’s an inherent, bitter irony in Ruth Bader Ginsburg having helped pave the way for an Amy Coney Barrett to take a seat at the Court and potentially unravel much of what RBG stood for. So perhaps the time is ripe for a movie like The Glorias, imperfect as it may be. The film reflects on the journey of journalist, feminist icon and social political activist Gloria Steinem as she helped build and guide the women’s movement from the 1960s until… well, at the age of 86, she is still alive and very much in the game.

Quickie Reviews: Gloria Bell; Yardie

What’s with all the remakes of decent if not exceptional foreign films lately? In recent months, we’ve seen Americanized versions of the 2011 feel-good French film The Intouchables (remade as The Upside), the 2014 Norwegian crime drama In Order of Disappearance (remade as Cold Pursuit), and now, Chile’s 2013 romdramedy Gloria (remade into Gloria Bell). In the case of Cold Pursuit and Gloria Bell, we’re treated to nearly shot-by-shot, word-for-word redundancy delivered by the same directors who helmed the original, well-received foreign flicks. Hey, let’s just throw in a lead actor popular with American audiences and do it all over again. Box office gold, right? Um, no.

Review: Suburbicon

Clooney. Damon. Moore. The Coen Brothers. Sounds like a slam-dunk, no? Well, not quite. George Clooney’s Suburbicon is entertaining, to be sure, but ultimately it can’t quite seem to decide what it’s trying to say. Set in a 1950s perfectly planned suburb, Matt Damon plays Gardner Lodge, father of adorable preteen Nicky (Noah Jupe, The Night Manager) and husband to invalid wife Rose (Julianne Moore, Still Alice) whose twin sister Margaret is a regular guest in the house. The peace of their idyllic neighborhood is broken suddenly by two unconnected incidents: A violent home invasion at the Lodge’s house and the arrival of the subdivision’s first black family who move in right next door. You would expect that these two things might somehow intersect eventually. You’d be mistaken.

Mainstream Chick’s Quick Takes: Alice Through the Looking Glass; Maggie’s Plan; A Monster with a Thousand Heads

Alice Through the Looking Glass – I didn’t see Tim Burton’s 2010 re-imagining of Alice in Wonderland, but did read up on it a bit before heading into this sequel from director James Bobin (Muppets Most Wanted) featuring the colorful characters created by British author Lewis Carroll. I might otherwise have been quite confused. As with its cinematic predecessor, Alice Through the Looking Glass is not an instant classic by any stretch, but it’s a fine family film that is visually quite stunning and features a strong female lead in Alice, played by the extremely versatile Mia Wasikowska. Mia has a knack for making mediocre movies better than they might otherwise be. In this case, she plays a sassy and headstrong ship’s captain (in 1874 London) struggling to make it in a man’s world. With the fate of her personal and professional life in flux, Alice stumbles across a magical mirror (as opposed to a rabbit hole) that takes her back to the fantastical realm of Underland, where she discovers that her friend the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) is literally dying of sadness because he thinks his long-lost family may still be alive, but nobody believes him. Alice is skeptical, but in an effort to save her friend, she steals a device from ‘Time’ (embodied by Sasha Baron Cohen) and heads to the past to see what became of Hatter’s clan. It’s an ill-conceived plot, a bit heavy-handed with the morals (It’s about time—making every second count; you can’t change the past, but you can learn from it; the only thing worth doing is what we do for others; the only way to achieve the impossible is to believe it’s possible…), but in the end, it’s kind of sweet and sappy in a weird, eccentric, whimsical sort of way.

Maps to the Stars

David Cronenberg has always brought us characters and situations that are unsettling. His early films were smart horror flicks like The Fly and Dead Ringers, and I thought he’d moved into his more mature years with serious dramas like A History of Violence and Eastern Promises. But Maps to the Stars feels like a step backwards or perhaps an attempt to blend his earlier and later genres into one. It is a semi-horror satire of the Hollywood film world run amok, complete with ghosts and murder and incest. Every single person in the film is only out for themselves. And if you’ve never been to LA, Maps to the Stars will make you never want to go near the place.

Still Alice

The reason to see Still Alice, and you really should, is Julianne Moore. She just won an Academy Award for her beautiful and heartbreaking performance as Alice Howland, a successful linguistics professor with a loving husband and several grown children who is stunned to find that she is suffering from early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease. It is the story of her trying to keep it together even though she knows what is coming, and her family trying its best to take care of her as she disappears before their eyes. Alec Baldwin plays the husband who is as helpless as Alice against the disease, but tries to make her diminishing world as livable has he can. And Kristen Stewart is remarkably competent as her youngest daughter, a would-be actress who turns out to be the one who can help her Mom when she needs it most.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1

Hollywood can be so cruel. Splitting the third and final book of The Hunger Games trilogy into two movies feels so… unnecessary. Lucrative, in a “hey, Harry Potter and Twilight got away with it” kind of way. But still, totally unnecessary. Thus Mockingjay – Part 1 is a good movie that could have been great. It’s a means to an end – and that means fans of the franchise will (and should) see it despite my frustrations with a narrative cut short. Then – come next year – we will all surely see it again, as part of a movie marathon, when Mockingjay – Part 2 bows in theaters. Just in time for Thanksgiving 2015! May the odds of remembering what happened in the books – and the first three movies – be ever in our favor.

Mockingjay – Part 1 finds our reluctant heroine Katniss Everdeen (still played brilliantly by Jennifer Lawrence) waking up in the rebel safe haven of District 13 after having put a fork (okay, an arrow) into the craziness that was the Hunger Games – where kid ‘tributes’ from the districts of Panem had been forced to fight to the death as part of some annual penance devised by the autocratic Capitol. Why? It’s complicated. If you really care to know, read the books. See the movies.

Non-Stop

Check your cynicism and plausibility meter at the gate, because Non-Stop is fraught with narrative turbulence. So take it with a grain of salt, and enjoy it for what it is… a guilty pleasure movie. Serious-actor-turned-action-star Liam Neeson plays Bill Marks, a U.S. Air Marshal who is set up to take the fall for murder and hijacking aboard a transatlantic flight from New York to London. He gets a series of text messages en route, indicating someone will die on board the flight every 20 minutes until $150 million is transferred into an off-shore account. Let the countdown… and the body count… begin.

Don Jon

Joseph Gordon-Levitt took on a pretty dicey subject for his filmmaking debut (he wrote, directed and stars!), and came up with an unusual and entertaining film. Starring as the title character, Jon, a porn addict who is looking for love in all the wrong places, Gordon-Levitt brings a depth to his character that could easily have been pretty off-putting. On the surface, Jon is just a working class Jersey boy who likes to hang with his buddies and pick up girls for one-night stands, objectifying them all and comparing their hook-ups with his ideal women on the web. That is until he meets Barbara (Scarlett Johannson.)