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Review: Knives Out

I caught this one at Middleburg, and sadly it was my biggest disappointment of the festival. As whodunits go, the jig is up pretty early on. But it has so much going for it, with a killer cast — Christopher Plummer, Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette and Ana de Armas — and a fun setup, that I kept hoping.  It is of course difficult to review since it depends on the element of surprise, and director Rian Johnson (Star Wars:The Last Jedi) even filmed a “don’t tell anyone the secret” spot to go before the movie. So here’s what I can tell you:

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.

Mainstream Chick’s Middleburg Film Festival Download (2018)

Despite a few (hotel reservation and RSVP) potholes on the road to this year’s Middleburg Film Festival, all’s well that ends well! And what an ending it was. The closing film was my favorite film – by far – securing my only four-star ballot after four days of movie madness in the Virginia countryside.

So, without further ado, here’s what I saw, and how I ranked ‘em:

Review: 12 Strong

It’s Thor! As a soldier! On a horse! That got my attention. And it helped hold my attention while 12 Strong delivered some fairly standard war drama stuff. It’s a middle of the road war movie with a western vibe that draws its strength from the fact that it’s based on a wild declassified true story revealed in the 2009 book, “Horse Soldiers” by Doug Stanton.

Review: The Shape of Water

The Shape of Water is shaping up to be an awards-season contender, though it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea – or water. It’s a mesmerizing adult fairy tale co-written and directed by Guillermo del Toro (Pacific Rim, Pan’s Labyrinth). In a nutshell: the film is about a lonely mute named Elisa (Sally Hawkins) who falls in love with a fantastical sea creature (Doug Jones in a gilled wetsuit) being held prisoner in the high-security lab where she works as a cleaning lady. Sure, it all sounds kinds of weird, and it is – but it’s also a stunning film with some stellar acting.

99 Homes

99 Homes is one of those indies that could easily slip through the cracks at the box office but deserves some word-of-mouth love – even from a ‘Mainstream Chick’. It’s a compelling, timely, and well-acted drama that will surely hit (too) close to home for anyone who lost their home – or came close– during the housing crisis. The film puts a human face on a national disaster that allowed certain individuals and institutions to profit off the misfortune of others who got in over their heads financially, largely due to the failure of banks and government agencies to provide proper guidance, intervention, or oversight.

Man of Steel

The new “Superman” movie is getting some mixed reviews, but here’s the real deal on the Man of Steel: It’s definitely worth seeing – just keep your expectations in check and don’t over-think it. It’s not a perfect movie. It’s probably not the best action-hero movie you’ll see this year. But it is an interesting and entertaining re-imagining of the Superman mythology. He’s still the guy who can leap tall buildings in a single bound (once he realizes he can fly) and fight the good fight for truth, justice and the American/Earthly way. He just goes at it from a slightly different angle.

The Iceman

The Iceman is based on the true story of a psychopath who led a double life. On the one hand, he killed people for a living for the mob. On the other hand, he had a wife and two daughters that he doted on who knew absolutely nothing about what Daddy did for a living. And he pulled it off perfectly for a couple of decades, killing well over 100 people. Michael Shannon plays Richard Kuklinski the man who came to be known as The Iceman. The nickname was based on two things: he froze many of his victims to disguise the time of death, and he was usually totally emotionless.

Mud

Mud is a fairly straightforward adventure/coming-of-age story about a 14-year-old boy’s struggle to understand love and romance, while aiding and abetting a lovelorn criminal. Matthew McConaughey plays a fugitive named Mud, who happens to be hiding out on an island that teenagers Ellis (Tye Sheridan, Tree of Life) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland)) have an interest in. When they meet up, they enter into an arrangement.

Premium Rush

Premium Rush is a fun ride – on two wheels- without brakes. It’s sort of like Speed on a bicycle. The film moves at a steady clip, doesn’t make you think too hard, and stars one of my favorite actors, Joseph Gordon-Levitt (if you haven’t seen him in 50/50, put it on your list!). I was a bit afraid that Gordon-Levitt might have phoned this one in, considering his star turns in the current blockbuster The Dark Knight Rises (playing an idealistic rookie cop) and the upcoming, much-buzzed-about futuristic flick, Looper, which hits theaters in late September. But gosh darn it, he’s so freakin’  cute and likeable that I’ll forgive him a year of potential over-exposure.

Gordon-Levitt plays Wilee, a bike messenger who picks up an envelope that a dirty cop (Michael Shannon) is anxious to get his hands on. The cop pursues Wilee through the streets of Manhattan, determined to get the envelope back before Wilee can deliver it to its intended recipient.