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Review: The Personal History of David Copperfield

Some stories seem to attract actors and directors over and over, year after year. Charles Dickens’ semi-autobiographical “David Copperfield” is one of those. It’s been adapted for the screen at least 14 times, beginning in the silent era, as features, series, animation, and probably the most famous version by George Cukor (My Fair Lady, The Philadelphia Story) with W.C Fields as Mr Micawber! So you might think it didn’t have anything new to offer. You’d be wrong. In the hands of Armando Iannucci (The Death of Stalin, In the Loop), the story takes a decidedly humorous and absurdist turn and breaths a fresh life into the classic tale of an orphan’s coming-of-age in Victorian England.

Review: The Dead Don’t Die

Anyone who’s been a fan of Jim Jarmusch’s movies over the years – Stranger Than Paradise, Down By Law, Mystery Train – knows he has an off-center view of the world and it’s events. So going into his take on a zombie flick, you don’t expect the usual Night of the Living Dead scare-fest. And you don’t get one. What you get is a deadpan Sheriff (Bill Murray) and his pessimistic Deputy (Adam Driver, Star Wars: The Last Jedi) dealing with their small town being overrun by hordes of their friends and family from the nearby graveyard, all watched from afar by the town’s wise Hermit Bob (Tom Waites). It’s a fairly straight zombie apocalypse story, but it’s peopled by a slew of wacky Jarmusch characters and told with a wink and a nod. All in all it’s sometimes fun, but definitely not a film for lovers of the horror genre it’s making fun of the whole time.

Review: Souvenir

When 20-something Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne) meets somewhat older Anthony (Tom Burke) at a film school party early on in Souvenir, you know exactly what their relationship will be all about. He’s pretentious and she’s attracted to that. She’s a young woman from a privileged background and an aspiring director, and he has some sort of important government job that they never really talk about. And their relationship develops with the understanding that he has the power. She’s fine with him telling her who she is and what she should want. She’s young and naive and he’s a user in every sense of the word. It’s the early 80s in London, too early to talk about toxic masculinity and mansplaining, but Anthony is the man for whom both concepts were invented. You find yourself wishing Julie would dump the guy from nearly the first moment they get together. But of course it’s not that simple. It’s a disturbing film, a series of moments in a dysfunctional and obsessive relationship that somehow you can’t look away from.

Review: Isle of Dogs

What a fun movie! I don’t think Wes Anderson has made a film I didn’t like, so that’s no surprise, but the creative choices he made in this one are even more entertaining than usual. The story takes place in a town in Japan and all the humans speak untranslated Japanese, except for some public occasions where there is a simultaneous translator. Only the dogs speak English, voiced by a veritable A-list cast. (Bryan Cranston, Harvey Keitel, Bill Murray, Ed Norton, Greta Gerwig, Scarlett Johansson, and many more) The only thing that’s clear is that Mayor Kobayashi hates dogs (cat lover!) and he’s determined to rid his town of every last one, exiling them to a garbage covered island. But human hero to the rescue! Kobayashi’s 12-year-old nephew/ward Atari goes in search of his beloved pooch and uncovers a conspiracy at the highest levels.

Review: Okja

In his audacious new film, Bong Joon Ho (Mother, Snowpiercer) pits a little Korean girl and her beloved super-pig against a corporate food mogul (Tilda Swinton). Okja is the name of a giant pig hybrid that little Mija (Seo-hyeon Ahn) has brought up for ten years high in the mountains of South Korea. That Okja is a GMO experiment makes no difference to her. He’s just her enormously fun pet. And in the opening scenes of the film, they do have big fun. But when the owner of the pig sends an envoy to give Mija’s grandpa a prize for best pig and decides to take Okja back to the US, Mija isn’t having it. She’s out to save her best friend. It’s wacky and the second half doesn’t entirely work, but at its heart it’s a sweet story of a girl and her super-pig.

Doctor Strange

Fanboys and Fangirls will certainly make an appointment to see Marvel’s Doctor Strange, and they won’t be disappointed. The superhero movie du jour features a character I was completely unfamiliar with, but it turns out he’s a rather engaging bloke, in an ‘Avengers meets the mystical world’ sort of way. I still love my Avengers more (Iron Man, Captain America, Thor…), but Doctor Strange is a solid, entertaining action-adventure sci-fi fantasy, especially for fans of the Marvel universe, where bad stuff happens and the heroes win out, without all the intense violence, darkness, and brooding that has come to characterize the DC Comics’ caped crusaders (Superman, Batman, etc.).

Mainstream Chick’s Quick Takes: Money Monster; A Bigger Splash; High-Rise

Money Monster is a satisfying crowd-pleaser that definitely benefits from the established rapport between lead actors George Clooney and Julia Roberts and the solid direction of Jodie Foster. Clooney plays an outlandish, self-centered, Jim-Cramer-Mad-Money-type financial TV host named Lee Gates who shares stock tips with what he thinks is an adoring public. Roberts plays his producer/director Patty. She’s the one who keeps Gates and the show on track from her seat in the Control Room. Their usual routine is disrupted on live television when a disgruntled investor named Kyle (British actor Jack O’Connell looking and sounding as American as apple pie) gets into the studio, straps an explosive vest on Lee, and demands to know the source of a so-called ‘glitch’ that caused a particular stock – and his investment- to implode. The result is a tense conspiracy thriller with enough light moments peppered throughout (including some funky dance moves from Clooney) to boost the overall entertainment factor. Money Monster doesn’t really need to be seen on the big screen, but it’s the best of the week’s new offerings for anyone just looking for a solid, well-paced drama with star power.

Hail, Caesar!

The Coen Brothers are prolific filmmakers, but for me their films are hit or miss. I loved No Country for Old Men, and Fargo was amazing. But then there are those utterly forgettable flicks – The Lady Killers, or Burn After Reading. I’d put Hail, Caesar! somewhere in between. It’s plenty entertaining but it isn’t going on the shelf with The Big Lebowski. It’s a lovely walk around 50s era Hollywood with a star-studded cast having a lot of fun. And if for nothing else, you should see it for Channing Tatum’s dance number.

Trainwreck

Trainwreck cruises along at a raunchy but entertaining clip for a solid hour or so. Then – about two-thirds of the way through – it veers off track. Not catastrophically. But enough to derail what might otherwise be a more enthusiastic review. Fans of the suddenly-everywhere Amy Schumer will likely get a kick out of her first foray into leading actress territory. After all, she wrote the movie. So it’s pure Schumer shtick, guided by the direction of Judd Apatow, known for movies like The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Bridesmaids, This is 40, and Pineapple Express. If those titles don’t ring a bell – or ring the wrong one – then you should probably skip Trainwreck. If you’re in the mood for a bawdy romantic dramedy that reverses the conventional gender roles but is otherwise quite formulaic, then punch your ticket for Trainwreck. Or wait for the rental. It doesn’t really need to be seen on the big screen.

Snowpiercer

I really wanted to like this movie. It has a top notch cast with Chris “Captain America” Evans, Tilda “Chameleon” Swinton, Octavia “Oscar” Spencer, John “Gravitas” Hurt and Ed “Reliable” Harris, and I LOVED director Bong Joon Ho’s last film, Mother. But dystopian future movies need to have an internal logic and this one just doesn’t. It is a two hour battle from one end of a train to the other without anyone I could give a damn about.