Apollo 11 (A). Longtime readers of this blog know The Movie Snob doesn’t hand out the “A” very often. This new documentary was a solid “A.” It consists almost entirely of film footage and a few photographs from the first moon landing back in 1969. The first 20 minutes of the film’s efficient 93-minute run time lead up to lift-off. We briefly meet the astronauts and get lots of footage of the rocket, the control room, and the many, many ordinary folks who camped out to watch the historic event. Did you know there were a couple of pre-lift-off alarms about a leaky valve? Neither did I! But the countdown continues, and then we’re off and running. Even though we all know what happened, I was on the edge of my seat for every key moment of the mission–the rocket burns, the spaceship separations and dockings, and of course the landing of the moon lander itself. And there’s no contemporary voiceover; just a couple of snippets of Walter Cronkite’s reporting. It’s like a time capsule from 50 years ago. Check it out.
Metropolitan (A-). Well, your reviewer was feeling a bit under the weather, so I wanted something light and cheery. I had fond memories of this 1990 indie flick but hadn’t seen it in years, so I pulled down my unwatched Criterion Collection DVD and gave it a spin. Suffice to say, it was as good as I remembered it being. It is about eight young people—four girls and four guys, early college-age, as best I can tell—who gather almost every night in Manhattan over one Christmas break to go to various debutante parties or balls or whatever they are. We don’t see too much of the parties themselves—the focus is on the after-parties, where the youngsters earnestly discuss all sorts of things you might not expect, like Jane Austen, the existence of God, and the relative merits of the bourgeoisie. Hm, I’m not really selling the movie very well. There are plenty of romantic complications too as sweet and inexperienced Audrey gets a crush on group newcomer and professed socialist Tom, who is still hung up on his ex-girlfriend Serena, who was last known to be dating the repellent Rick Von Sloneker. And the dialogue really is very funny, at least if you think it’s funny to hear lines like “Ours is probably the worst generation since the Protestant Reformation” delivered by very young people with drop-dead seriousness.
Writer-director-producer Whit Stillman went on to make two other excellent films in the 1990s, Barcelona and The Last Days of Disco, (starring Chloë Sevigny and Kate Beckinsale). Enough people took notice of his work to result in the 2002 publication of a book called Doomed Bourgeois in Love: Essays on the Films of Whit Stillman. Stillman then went quiet for a long time. Then in 2011 he released Damsels in Distress, which I thought was good but not as good as his prior work, and then in 2016 he released the better Love & Friendship. IMDB.com doesn’t show that he has anything new in the works, but I’m holding out hope. If you are new to his work I recommend you start at the beginning and give Metropolitan a try!
That Thing You Do! (A-). Today was way too cold to venture out and do anything, so I decided to revisit this old favorite. I could hardly believe it was released in 1996! Anyway, if you like feel-good movies, you should keep this one within arm’s reach at all times. Tom Hanks (A Hologram for the King) wrote, directed, and starred in this rags-to-riches story about an Erie, PA garage band that hits it big circa 1964, with the help of a mostly benevolent manager (Hanks). Tom Everett Scott (Hallmark TV’s Christmas Connection) plays the band’s drummer, a good-natured jazz-lover; Steve Zahn (Sahara) is the goofy guitarist; and cute little Liv Tyler (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King) plays the girlfriend of the band’s moody leader Jimmy (Johnathon Schaech, Flight 7500). The film also features Charlize Theron (Atomic Blonde) in a very early role as the drummer’s girlfriend. Bryan Cranston (Argo) also pops up in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him role (as astronaut Gus Grissom!). The DVD also contains a short making-of featurette, two trailers, several commercials, and two music videos of songs from the movie. This movie is guaranteed to put a smile on your face, so get yourself a copy!
Lady Bird (B+). Indie actress Greta Gerwig (Mistress America) wrote and directed this indie dramedy about a high-spirited girl’s tumultuous senior year in a Sacramento Catholic school and her rocky relationship with her mother. I enjoyed it, and it moved along with a brisk 94-minute run time. Saoirse Ronan (The Way Back) shines as the title character (she’s named Christine McPherson, but she insists on being called Lady Bird), and we follow the ups and downs of her experience in Drama Club, her crushes, her relationship with her best friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein, Neighbor 2: Sorority Rising), her college aspirations, and most of all her relationship with her mother, a hard-working and long-suffering psychiatric nurse (Laurie Metcalf, TV’s Roseanne). Based on Ms. Gerwig’s IMDB biography, I’d say this movie has a strong autobiographical component. It also has a 94 score over on Metacritic.com, so what are you waiting for?
Dunkirk (B+). Having recently read a newish history of WWII, I definitely wanted to see Christopher Nolan’s movie about the 1940 evacuation of 338,000 Allied troops from the beaches of Dunkirk, France. It’s a pretty effective ground-and-ocean-eye view (except for a few scenes involving a heroic RAF fighter pilot played by Tom Hardy, Mad Max: Fury Road) of those events. Much of the movie follows a nameless British soldier who is desperate to escape back to England and is not entirely scrupulous about how to do it. 860 civilian vessels took part in the evacuation, and so we also get to follow one of them, a smallish boat called Moonstone captained by an older gent named Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies). Things get tense fast when Dawson picks up a lone soldier from a wrecked ship, and the shell-shocked soldier (Cillian Murphy, The Dark Knight) freaks out when he realizes the boat is heading towards Dunkirk instead of England. Kenneth Branagh (My Week with Marilyn) pops up in a few scenes as a high-ranking British guy stuck on the beach with his army. I enjoyed it. For another view, calling it an “astonishing filmmaking achievement and an epic narrative failure,” you can click here.
Logan (A-). Yes, this is an awfully high grade to give a rated-R comic-book movie with all sorts of severed heads and spurting arteries and such. But what can I say? I thought this movie was excellent. Hugh Jackman (Scoop) returns for his millionth turn as Wolverine, the irascible, indestructible mutant with the retractable claws. Only now he’s not feeling so indestructible. The year is 2029, and he is old and sick and not regenerating like he used to. He’s lying low somewhere near the U.S.-Mexico border taking care of Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart, Excalibur), who is not only old and sick but also having seizures that cause all sorts of mayhem for everyone around him because of his uncontrolled psychic powers. All the other mutants we’ve come to know and love in the other X-Men movies are apparently dead, and no new mutants have been born in many years. Wolverine is just trying to scrape together enough money in his job as a limo driver so he can buy a boat and sail out to sea with Professor Xavier (thereby saving mankind from the effects of Xavier’s seizures, I think). Then everything goes sideways when a desperate woman finds Wolverine and begs him to transport a young girl to Canada—a girl with mutantly powers awfully reminiscent of Wolverine’s. Of course, there are bad guys hot on her trail, and the movie quickly turns into a quasi-remake of Children of Men (which is not a bad movie to borrow from, if you’re going to borrow). Despite all the crazy, bloody fight scenes, the movie really worked for me as a meditation on mortality and the meaning of family. And newcomer Dafne Keen does a nice job as the mysterious little girl with anger-management issues.
P.S. I forgot to mention this when I initially posted this review–I think this is the first time I have ever seen a movie in the United States that features Spanish subtitles. Some of the movie was in Spanish, and those parts had no subtitles. I wonder if those parts were subtitled in English in other showings?
The Movie Snob checks in with a new review of an old movie.
Gaslight (B+). This 1942 classic stars the beauteous Ingrid Bergman (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) as Paula Alquist. In the opening scene, we see a very young Paula being escorted away from the London townhome where she has just discovered the body of her murdered aunt (her guardian since birth). Flash forward a few years, and Paula is living in Italy. She has followed in her aunt’s footsteps by studying music and singing, but we learn she has just been swept off her feet by a debonair foreigner named Gregory Anton (Charles Boyer, Fanny). Anton is strangely eager to move to London, and into the townhouse Paula inherited from her aunt. And once they are ensconced there, Paula seems to start to lose her grip on her sanity, and Gregory becomes ever more controlling. What is happening? Straight-arrow Scotland Yard detective Brian Cameron (Joseph Cotten, The Third Man) senses something is amiss, but can he figure it out in time to help Paula? I quite enjoyed this classic old noir. Watch for a young Angela Lansbury (TV’s Murder, She Wrote) as a saucy housemaid.