Director: Tim Miller
Release: November 1st, 2019
As much as we want this movie to be good, we need to start mentally preparing ourselves for the truth; it won’t be. The first two were great, obviously, but the rest are trash, and this latest addition will be no different.
Director: Robert Altman
Starring: Every British Person
I was impressed by Gosford Park when I watched it as a teenager and as a budding movie buff, probably because of the complexity of the social situations Julian Fellowes was able to weave between the upstairs aristocracy and the downstairs service class, a relationship that I had never even considered before. How he (and Altman to some extent, although he’s never impressed me as a director, and you can feel that this is Fellowes’ baby, especially given what we now know about what he would go on to do) was able to create this world made up of two parts, and how he depicted them struggling against one another, is pretty spectacular, and is the key reason to watch this film. The other is the cast, because it’s enormous and talented, but that’s really where the positives end; unfortunately Gosford Park doesn’t stand up in the post-Downton era.
At Gosford Park in England in the 1930s, tradition still clings on for dear life while the times change around the old manor house, its estate, and the people who call it home. Not as many nobles still hold land, title, money, or to the old ways, but William McCordle does, and he’s throwing a grand party with all of his family in attendance, which means all the people who rely on him for their wealth are coming to grovel and beg, cheat and steal. Each invitee brings with them their own staff; maids, valets, the whole nine yards. That means, underneath the main house, a warren of passageways is alive with activity, washing clothes and preparing meals and putting out fires. The staff have their own lives, their own troubles, which are bound to mingle with those of the upper dwellers, that’s just human nature, whether the rich want to acknowledge the poor or not. And when the master of the house winds up dead, it may be the least likely candidate who did the deed; in other words, maybe this time the butler really did do it.
Gosford Park is less a who-done-it and more a who’s-who, which is fun in its own right, no one was asking for Clue 2, but also isn’t exactly what I would have preferred. I remember liking it more when I was young than I did this time around, partly because it only dabbles in comedy, only touches on murder mystery, never committing to any one course of action, always falling back on the idea that we’ll be impressed by the English manor atmosphere and the stellar cast. And I was intrigued, I would go on to love Downton Abbey, and this was the start of that great show, so give credit where credit it due, but this is almost a first draft, where Downton is the incredible final product. This film is often just a tease, not a bite, and that’s no good, especially with all this talent (too much probably) ready to create wonderful characters, if they had just been allowed more time/more of a chance. Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, Kristin Scott Thomas, Charles Dance, Tom Hollander, Bob Balaban, Ryan Phillippe, Stephen Fry, Kelly Macdonald, Clive Owen, Helen Mirren, Eileen Atkins, Emily Watson, Derek Jacobi, Richard E. Grant, Jeremy Swift; holy cow. One of the strongest casts ever, a superb idea that would become a near-perfect show, and a film that was nominated for tons of awards; but I think it watched better when it was brand new and impressive because of that, it doesn’t quite hold up after seeing Downton Abbey through and knowing what more can be done with more time and more detailed backgrounds. I would recommend the show, not the movie, because although the comparisons are many, the qualities don’t match up.
Author: Charles Portis
True Grit is one of the easiest novels I’ve ever read, and I don’t mean because it was so simple it took no effort to read, I mean that the time I spent with it in front of me felt like time I spent listening to a fascinating person tell their equally fascinating story with a smooth flow and an honest charm that kept me from being able to even blink, I was so curious to hear what happened next. It’s less a book and more a memory, and it feels every inch our own true story, like we were along for the ride every hoof print of the way. Charles Portis barely wrote a thing other than this book, but it doesn’t matter, he gave us something special, and for that he will always be remembered. So will True Grit, a simple tale with only three real characters, and a Western experience like no other.
Mattie Ross is not the type of girl to take life’s punches and not punch back, even during the time of the American West, when women weren’t expected to say boo. Mattie has much more to say than that, and she has a knack of getting her way in any situation, even aged only 14 years. When her father is robbed and killed by a hired man while traveling on business, Mattie makes up her mind to travel herself; first finishing the business and then tracking down her father’s murderer. To help her, she enlists the aid of Marshall Rooster Cogburn, a man known to understand the territory they will be forced to travel in to catch the crook and seen as a rugged peace officer who has, as they say, grit. But he’s not the only one, Mattie is herself a tough cookie, and along with another lawman, a Texas Ranger named LaBoeuf but pronounced LaBeef, they will set out on an adventure of a lifetime.
Like no other book I can think of, True Grit feels like sitting around a campfire and listening to a mighty Western tale, one full of simple choices and brave deeds in turn, one told with embedded language that you begin to understand as you listen along, and which begins to feel like your own story by the time it winds down. Mattie is an awesome character, just awesome, and Rooster is no less so, this bear of a man who you quickly understand is all Teddy underneath. And talk about history; if you’re into this sort of thing this book reads like a time capsule or time travel, as you learn more about guns and vittles and horses and outlaws than you ever knew you wanted to know. A combination of adventure and instruction, wry humor and real heart, Portis’ claim to fame is not simply worth your time, it’s worth your bookshelf.
Director: Marc Forster
Christopher Robin is a combination of Goodbye Christopher Robin and Paddington, which can’t be said to be a terrible thing. But neither is it a very inventive thing, and therefor falls somewhere between cute and good where lies a gray area of films we won’t remember for long. Winnie the Pooh has won our hearts over countless times, and will do so again, using that story is akin to holding up a puppy and expecting a wide smile. Filmmakers know they have us on the ropes when they mention Pooh or growing up or loving our children, so that can’t really be listed as a strength; rather, it’s a given. You’ll have to do more for us than remind us of what you already knew we loved before we’ll remember you fondly after we turn away, and that’s something that Christopher Robin perhaps almost did, but also failed to do completely.
Christopher Robin, the boy now having become a man, has grown into a version of himself he never imagined becoming. He works all day, he ignores his family, he never has any fun, he has to always be efficient, and it’s draining the color away from the beautiful illustration that was once his life. The latest sad incident is staying behind in London for the weekend to work at laying off employees while his family goes to a cottage in the woods; not the future little Christopher Robin saw for himself all those years ago when he told his friend Pooh that it was time to leave the Hundred Acre Wood. But, luckily, Pooh hasn’t forgotten his friend or the role he once played in his life, so he’s come to London to save Christopher from himself. The pair are reunited and begin a journey together, with the goal being the return of love, laughter, and childhood innocent to a world grown awfully cold.
This film is at the same time lovely and also a little repetitive. It feels very similar to Paddington, minus the villain, and also very emotionally connected to Goodbye Christopher Robin, without being a true story. It’s somewhere in the middle between the two, and is a perfectly lovely movie, especially with family by your side, without exactly earning the title of “great”. We’ve seen so much from Pooh before, we’ve already cried what we’re going to cry, and although we can always appreciate the walk down memory lane, I’m not sure audiences will ever love a piece of this same pie again. McGregor is a solid Christopher, Jim Cummings’ voice work is always fantastic, and wow was the animation top-notch; they made the characters look like pieces of imagination and like pieces of old, well-loved cloth at the same time, which was svery impressive. The story was simple, linear, pleasant, enjoyable, and my fam was really entertained, so hats off to all involved; I think they made a strong addition under the umbrella, although I don’t think we had really been asking for more.
Director: Emmanuel Mouret
If you liked Love & Friendship for its comedic take on the period piece genre, a lighthearted look at love and intrigue, you’ll love Lady J for doing the same thing better, while still staying grounded in darker reality. If I’ve said it once I’ve said it a hundred times; the single element that most proves the genius of Shakespeare to me is his mastery of tragedy and comedy, how one balances out the other, how laughing now makes you cry harder later, and definitely vice versa. We can’t stay with one emotion too long, we get bored, so layering feelings give audiences permission to vacillate, and that often leads to a great experience. Lady J takes us on a roller coaster, but one that has a definite path, and is prepared to blast away the barriers of style and forge ahead to somewhere much more interesting.
An extremely wealthy widow, alone in a giant country house for the first time, enjoys the company of a charismatic marquis, who has a reputation as a Libertine, a wooer, and a rascal. But that doesn’t stop their friendship from growing, and eventually the madame begins to fall for the marquis, knowing full well that she ought to be on her guard, that his promises have fooled countless women before. But love is love, and the couple falls into each other’s arms. For a time, the marquis seems to have left his womanizing behind him, but as time passes he gets bored, is often away, and when tested, admits that his feelings have faded. Understanding that she has been duped, the madame sets up an elaborate scheme to enact her vengeance, using the marquis’ own inexhaustible lust for beautiful young women against him.
Whereas Love & Friendship is purely comedy, Lady J takes bolder turns, and often enters the grim places of the human heart, which only makes it stronger. Still, it is a refreshingly funny take on the stuffy period piece genre, when what we usually get is so moldy and melancholy. Not this time around; this story is fun, adventurous, sexy, well-planned, and fascinating, as of course things don’t go perfectly, but within the mistakes lie important revelations on the human condition. Those looking for period drama elements won’t be disappointed; the costumes, sets, manners, houses, etc. are all extraordinary. But there’s more than just the backdrop to this film; the acting is excellent, the plot is tricky, the accents are to die for, and by the end you won’t be sure who to root for. Trying this film means trying something a little different than the Hollywood or British formulas we’re used to, but you know what they say about variety.
Director: Dome Karukoski
Tolkien is being described as a polite biography with absolutely no innovation to offer, and that’s hitting the nail directly on the head. This film is like a guy you think is nice, has good qualities, there’s nothing wrong with him, you just can’t get excited about dating beyond a cup of coffee. There’s just nothing exciting, either to the senses or the imagination, being offered at any point in the story, and the true events themselves aren’t enough to pull audiences through. Director Dome Karukowski usually makes his films in Finnish, he’s not experienced in the Hollywood style, and that shows not in how unlike American films Tolkien turns out to be, but by how closely is clings to standard recipes and refuses to venture out in any interesting directions at all.
This is the true story of the coming-of-age of J.R.R. Tolkien, from his childhood through his marriage, and during all the pivotal moments in between. Tolkien was orphaned at a young age, and was brought up as the ward of a rich woman in London, along with with younger brother. He attended a fancy prep school, in which he did not fit, and tried to make friends with the other boys there, with whom he had nothing in common. But his intelligent personality combined with his love of the arts led him to develop a bond with three other budding artists, though they knew their lives were destined for more mundane things. Tolkien knew no such thing; he had to scrape to get by, both financially and academically, never knowing what the next year would bring. Later, love and The Great War would come his way, and ever experience would help form a fictional land and language that were developing inside his head, just waiting for their chance to escape onto paper.
Tolkien really is too pleasant for its own good, lacking anything other than niceties, which are by definition nice, but aren’t all that exciting. And I don’t mean heart-pounding action; we don’t need high drama to get invested in the story, but we could use a little motivation if we’re going to make the effort to dive into your film. There was never any reason not to simply stand on the edge and look in, the movie flowing fluidly along without a ripple, but all the more boring for that. Karukoski failed to bring anything to life, to breathe fresh air into a tale we could read about in five minutes on Wikipedia, to give us a reason to watch beyond our slight interest in how The Hobbit was written. Even that, the meat and potatoes of “how”, was left a little out of the narrative; the film focused much more on the personal aspects; young love, new friendships, struggles at school, heading off to war. And while that’s slightly interesting, it’s also no different than any other biopic, and that’s not good. This is a genius writing the greatest fantasy in literary history; surely there’s more to see than standard biography fluff.
For the most part, apart from Hoult, the actors didn’t help the film, and were mostly b-list grinders who couldn’t elevate a scene if they sat in on a cherry picker. Hoult was the exception, I thought he did a fine job, but even he wasn’t much to write home about; he was the best in the cast but I guess really didn’t have much competition. Collins was dull, Gibson was fake, the adults were throwaway, and no one was given much to work with anyway, their lines weren’t exactly brilliant. Tolkien was more boring than it was revelatory, when what we wanted was a bit of magic thrown our way in the form of a true story, not a cookie cutter drama with the tiniest tease of something about to happen years in the future, just hold on, it’s coming, I promise. We love these books, we love this man; The Hobbit is one of my all-time favorites, and I know I’m not alone in having read it a dozen times. But counting on our patronage isn’t enough, you need to give us something more, or else the line to the theatre stops at the backs of the devoted fans, and the exposure you get from us might not be completely positive.
Director: David Anspaugh
The team of director David Anspaugh and writer Angelo Pizzo brought us two of the greatest sports film ever made: Hoosiers in 1986 and Rudy in 1993. That would be about it, they wouldn’t go on to do much meaningful work after that, but I’d call what those two movies achieved more than 15 minutes of fame each; I’d say they both became legends. Hoosiers for basketball, Rudy for football, and probably Field of Dreams for baseball, although that’s not about playing the game as much as it’s about the love of the game, but still. I remember watching Hoosiers with my dad years and years ago, how excited by the game he was, and how much he wanted to be a coach like that. It’s that kind of story, the kind of movie that inspires, that makes you believe that you can do great things, at least for as long as the wonderful characters do just that.
Norman Dale moves to Hickory, Indiana to coach high school basketball, after some time in the Navy and many successes as a college ball coach. He’s looking for a second chance, since his win-no-matter-what attitude has burned many bridges behind him. What he finds in this hick town is a love for the game and an unparalleled support for the kids who play it. Basketball is everything at Hickory High, and the fancy new coach better win now, or else he’ll be run out on a rail. And it won’t be easy; his methods are unorthodox, his style is brash, the best player in the district has called it quits after the death of the former coach. Both the boys and their coach have a lot to learn; about basketball, about each other, about work ethnic, and about what it means to be a part of a team.
To balance out the big names cast in this movie, the filmmakers did something truly intelligent; they hired non-actors to be the boys on the team and they shot everything right in Indiana. The townsfolk, the team, the farms, the rundown hoops; it all feels so authentic, because it really is, and that’s the best thing they could have done to help win our hearts over and to allow us to see this as something other than another sports movie. Not that the stars weren’t appreciated; Hackman is perfect, Hershey is solid, Hopper is a great sidekick with his own small story line. But the magic happens on the court; learning the fundamentals, buying in to what the coach is selling, playing as one unit, trusting each other, growing more mature with each obstacle, and finally pulling big dreams so close that they start to shrink down to a more manageable size. Hoosiers is a sports drama like no other, a chance to cheer for fictional heroes while learning valuable lessons, and it’s an experience I’ll never forget.
Author: John Christopher
Technically this is a quadrilogy, with a prequel written 20 years after the original trilogy, telling about the origins of the Tripods and their conquest of Earth, but I don’t consider that to be a part of the foundation of the franchise; the first three books are where the magic happens. I read them in school when I was young; technically I think my Gifted teacher read some or all of them to us, which is a nice memory, and I’ve always remembered this story as one of the first sci-fi series to have an affect on my taste level and my reading interests. I recently read them to my kids, so now I’ve passed that love along, and I got to enjoy the stories all over again as well. This trilogy should be considered foundational, a coming-of-age tale set amid a dystopian future, and one of the better young-adult fantasy epics out there.
Will has never known life without the Tripods’ presence, has never questioned their absolute authority over the lives of the people of his village. Why would he; the adults in his life are happy, they don’t mind the metal caps on their heads, the Tripods almost never interfere, war and hunger have been eliminated, tales of the Ancients and their very different existence seem far away and unimportant. But when a vagrant man comes through town telling Will the truth of the Tripods, and of a place where free men still hold out hope of defeating this otherworldly enemy, Will is filled with a passion to join them, and to fight against those who have made his race their slaves. So begins an adventure to join a battle that will decide the fate of mankind; first a journey to the stronghold of free man in The White Mountains, then a dangerous mission to The City of Gold and Lead, and finally the discovery of The Pool of Fire, which may be the key to defeating the Tripods once and for all.
The Tripods Trilogy is such a fun fast-forward to a world that’s been conquered and barely remembers us, that sees the Ancients (modern humans) as a people full of troubling war and unnecessary disease. Christopher quickly puts in perspective the relatively happy world of controlled man, but at a cost, which is, of course, the crux. Will emerges as a great vehicle for us as readers, with his youthful energy and his rash nature, wanting to prove himself sometimes more than he wants to help. But as he grows and matures he begins to understand the dangers all around him, and how he must become a piece of the puzzle if he ever wants to be truly free. This series is a wonderful introduction to fantasy, dystopia, sci-fi, whatever genre you’d like to place it in, because it takes its time and weaves a fascinating tale, letting us live in this future world among the characters until we understand their plight. It’s written strongly, has just enough action, some solid introspection, and takes us all over the world as humans fight Tripods, with the fate of Earth in the balance. I enjoyed my re-read, I enjoyed sharing this with my kids, and I will always remember the trilogy as an important cornerstone that paved the way for so many more to come.
Director: Clint Eastwood
Million Dollar Baby ought to have been Clint Eastwood’s swan song, because it’s only been downhill from there. Who am I to tell a legend when to hang ’em up, and it’s easy to say this in hindsight, I know that, but he’s lost the touch, and I really don’t think he’s gonna get it back. His films and his starring roles since Million Dollar Baby have been mostly poor, with a few mediocre thrown in, and it seems obvious that he needs to follow Robert Redford’s lead and go out on his own terms before audiences simply aren’t interested any more. The Mule is just another example of a poor movie done by an icon who doesn’t have what it takes any longer, and who needs to admit it to himself.
Based of a true story, an elderly veteran and horticulturalist named Earl Stone becomes a drug mule for a large cartel, avoiding capture due to his age and impeccable driving. Earl chose job over family years ago, becoming big in the flower world, but despised in his own home, failing repeatedly to show up for his wife, daughter, and granddaughter when they needed him most. Facing the eventual failing of his business, the prospect of losing everything, and having nowhere to turn, this old man would chance upon a seemingly simple job; just drive. Don’t ask what’s in the back of your truck, don’t make too many stops, don’t speed, just drive, leaving your truck at a hotel for an hour and returning to an envelope of cash. It was so easy, and also addictive, as Earl began running drugs for a cartel, never completely grasping the extreme danger he was putting himself in, and never knowing that the DEA was right behind him.
Clint Eastwood will be 89 this month, and while I have no interest in being ageist, I just wonder if time is up for this legend of the screen. He no longer packs the emotional punch in his roles and in his films that he used to, and there has simply got to be a point where you’ve given all you can give to the art. More power to him if he wants to work until the moment he drops dead doing what he loves, I can get behind that, but I can’t really get behind watching his movies unless they improve. The Mule is an interesting story, but other than that has very little to offer. Eastwood is fine as Earl, but kind of racist, Cooper is fine as a special agent, but kinda boring, and the rest of the cast is pretty bad: Dianne Wiest, Alison Eastwood, and Taissa Farmiga are all absolutely awful. And the plot is pretty dull after a while, not leaving audiences with anything to grab onto or enjoy, it almost isn’t enough to warrant comment, a toss-away flick that’s below the talent once displayed by this man.