Little Women (2019) (A-). I haven’t seen any of the numerous prior dramatizations of Louisa May Alcott’s beloved novel, and I haven’t read the book itself in decades, so I was a fairly clean slate. I just remembered it was the story of four sisters (Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy) living with their mother “Marmee” in the North while their father was off with the Union army in the Civil War. Director and adapter Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird) complicates the narrative by making the “present” some seven years later and having headstrong sister Jo (Saoirse Ronan, Atonement) remember the Civil War-era events in extensive flashbacks.
At first, I didn’t care for the movie very much, but it quickly grew on me. I think it was mainly the story—the little domestic squabbles, setbacks, and victories—that won me over. Aside from Ronan, who’s always good, and Meryl Streep (It’s Complicated…) in a small but fun part as the girls’ rich and crusty spinster aunt, I thought the acting was merely adequate. Emma Watson (This Is the End) didn’t have a lot to do as oldest sister Meg. Laura Dern (Star Wars Episode VIII) mostly just beams happily at her wonderful daughters. And I thought Amy, the youngest sister, was miscast. I vaguely remember her as a flighty, spoiled, kid-sister type in the novel, but Florence Pugh (Midsommar) is a sturdy, husky-voiced gal who seemed more mature than all three of her “older” sisters. I expect she’ll be a better fit for her part in the upcoming Marvel movie Black Widow.
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.
Their Finest (B+). It doesn’t have the grabbiest title, but this picture by Danish director Lone Scherfig (An Education) is my favorite of the year so far. The year is 1940, and Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton, Quantum of Solace) has moved from Wales to London with her artist husband Ellis (Jack Huston, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies). But his dour art isn’t selling, so Catrin gets a job as a screenwriter on a propaganda film about the evacuation of Dunkirk. She clashes with the obnoxious head screenwriter Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides), learns to massage the bruised ego of past-his-prime movie star Ambrose Hilliard (Bill Nighy, I Capture the Castle), and generally gets a crash course in the trials and tribulations of moviemaking. Jeremy Irons (Appaloosa) pops up unexpectedly as a pompous war minister. The sexism of the era is conveyed effectively without being overdone. On the whole, I quite enjoyed the movie.
La La Land (B+). To me, musicals are like Westerns—it’s such a novelty when a new one gets made, you just have to go see it. But when I set out to see this new musical from the director of Whiplash, I had no idea it was getting so much love from the critics. Apparently it has lots of Oscar buzz, especially for star Emma Stone (Magic in the Moonlight). It’s not perfect, but I enjoyed it quite a bit. It hearkens back to the glory days of the movie musical, with a few big, show-stopping song-and-dance numbers, and with the simplest of plots. Aspiring actress Mia (Stone) and jazz pianist Sebastian (Ryan Gosling, Crazy, Stupid, Love) meet in Los Angeles, sing some songs, fall in love, sing some more songs, and hit complications in their relationship and their careers. Stone and Gosling aren’t natural-born singers, but they have charisma and chemistry to burn, and they really make the show work. If Rogue One is sold out, why not give La La Land a try?
Hell or High Water (B+). This is the best movie I have seen in a while–a tense little crime drama about a couple of brothers who go on a bank-robbing spree in various desolate west Texas towns. Jeff Bridges (The Big Lebowski) chews the scenery and steals the show as the grizzled old Texas Ranger (a few weeks from retirement, naturally) who is on their trail, but his Hispanic partner Alberto (Gil Birmingham, Twilight) has some memorable lines as well. The bank-robbing brothers are fine too: loose cannon Tanner (Ben Foster, The Messenger) and thoughtful, relatively honorable Toby (Chris Pine, Into the Woods). What are the brothers really after? Will the Rangers catch up with them, and what will happen if they do? It’s rather like Bonnie and Clyde, I suppose, except I liked this movie even better. Screenwriter Taylor Sheridan also wrote last year’s very good Emily Blunt pic Sicario, so I think he is one to watch.
The Innocents (A-). This French-Polish co-production, which is based on true events, packs a powerful punch. It’s December 1945. A young nun sneaks out of a little Catholic convent in the Polish countryside and hurries to the nearest town, desperately seeking a doctor–and one, she insists, who is neither Polish nor Russian. Against all odds, she finds a young French doctor named Mathilde who is willing to leave her Red Cross station and visit the convent. Mathilde is shocked at what she finds there: seven pregnant nuns. When the Soviet Army “liberated” Poland several months earlier, the marauding soldiers invaded the convent and raped the nuns. Now, the nuns who conceived are reaching full term. And no one outside the convent can know, or else the the convent will be shuttered and the women shunned in society as disgraced. It’s a horrible situation, and still more horrible things happen as Mathilde tries to help the nuns in their hour of crisis. There are a few happy moments, and Mathilde strikes up an unlikely friendship with Maria, the second-in-command at the convent, but the movie is largely bleak and upsetting. Still, I found it a compelling cinematic experience. But please do exercise discretion in deciding whether to see this movie, especially if scenes depicting sexual assault are triggering for you.
If you like this movie, I encourage you to look up Ida, a Polish movie from a couple of years ago, focusing on a single Polish nun discovering some family secrets going back to WWII. Also, A Woman in Berlin, another based-on-a-true-story movie, about the fall of Berlin at the end of WWII and the fate of the ordinary Germans who lived there when the Soviets arrived.
Bonnie and Clyde (B+). I recently got to see a special screening of this 1967 release, directed by Arthur Penn (The Miracle Worker) and starring Warren Beatty (Dick Tracy) and Faye Dunaway (Chinatown). It wasn’t quite what I was expecting, but it was still very interesting and entertaining. Beatty and Dunaway play Depression-era outlaws Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker. The fellow who hosted the screening said the movie should be considered “historical fiction,” but, if wikipedia is any guide, one thing this film gets right is that the Barrow Gang didn’t hesitate to shoot people, even (or especially) police officers, who got in their way. It was considered an unusually violent and graphic movie back in the day, and I thought it was still a little shocking at times. I was also shocked to see Denver Pyle in a small supporting role. I knew him only from TV’s Life and Times of Grizzly Adams and especially The Dukes of Hazzard; I didn’t know that he had ever been an actor. It also co-stars Gene Hackman (Heartbreakers), Gene Wilder (Young Frankenstein) in his film debut, and a kid named Michael J. Pollard who had recently appeared in the original Star Trek episode “Miri.” It’s one of Roger Ebert’s “Great Movies.” Definitely worth seeing, unless you really don’t like shoot-em-ups.
Captain America: Civil War (B+). Wouldn’t you know: every time I start to wonder if the superhero genre is played out, the next superhero movie I see turns out to be entertaining and enjoyable. The plot of CACW was reasonably clear, and the fight scenes were exciting without being too ridiculous. Most of the Avengers seemed to show up for this one, including Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr., Iron Man), Ant-Man (Paul Rudd, Ant-Man), and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson, Vicky Cristina Barcelona). There were also a couple of people I didn’t recognize: Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen, Liberal Arts) and Vision (Paul Bettany, Dogville). They must have joined the club in a movie I missed. Vision was a little troubling to me; he seemed so powerful as to kind of upset the balance of power. I mean, he can shoot lasers and dematerialize at will? But I still enjoyed it, and it didn’t really feel like two and half hours. Martin Freeman (The Hobbit) and Marisa Tomei (The Big Short) pop up in small parts, which was kind of fun. The same directors (Anthony and Joe Russo, of Community fame) also directed Captain America: Winter Soldier, which left me cold, so I’m glad to see they’ve upped their game.
Zootopia (A-). The latest animated offering from Disney is a delight. In a world with no humans, all the other mammals have evolved a technological (and very human-seeming) civilization. Miraculously, predators and prey now live together in peace and harmony. But species-based stereotyping is still a problem, and when rabbit Judy Hopps decides that she wants to become the first rabbit police officer in the great city of Zootopia, she sends cultural shockwaves throughout the department. The visuals of the city and its many citizens are great, and Judy herself is completely adorable. Outstanding voicework by Ginnifer Goodwin (He’s Just Not That Into You) as Judy and by Jason Bateman (Couples Retreat) as a shifty fox on the make also contribute greatly to the success of the movie. Plenty of other celebrities also contribute vocals, including Idris Elba (Thor) and Shakira. Check it out!
45 Years (A-). I didn’t see Room, so I can’t say Brie Larson didn’t deserve the Academy Award for best actress this year. But I must say that Charlotte Rampling’s performance in this quiet, understated British drama is one of the best I have seen in a long while. Rampling (Swimming Pool) plays Kate, a British woman who is only six days away from a big party celebrating the 45th anniversary of her wedding to Geoff (Tom Courtenay, Doctor Zhivago). But then a letter arrives from Switzerland. The body of Katya, Geoff’s girlfriend before he met Kate, has been found. Kate knew about Katya, and that she had died (and disappeared) in a tragic accident while she and Geoff were hiking through the Alps. But the news hits Geoff harder than seems entirely reasonable, and both he and Kate are increasingly distressed as their anniversary party relentlessly approaches. If you like dramas with no lasers or zombies, this is the movie for you.
The Big Short (B+). This movie is entertaining and infuriating and unnerving at the same time. It’s sort of an educational movie in that it tries to explain, at least in broad outline, what caused the housing bubble and the following economic crash in 2007. (Greed, stupidity, and lack of oversight all seem to have played large roles.) When the jargon starts to get too complicated, director Adam McKay lightens the mood by pausing and bringing in Margot Robbie (Z for Zachariah) and Selena Gomez (Spring Breakers) to explain and simplify things for us. But the movie is mainly entertaining because it focuses on a handful of financial outsiders and oddballs who figured out not only that the bubble was bound to burst (and even roughly when it would happen) but also how to cash in when it did. These characters are well played by Christian Bale (American Hustle), Ryan Gosling (Blue Valentine), Brad Pitt (Troy), and especially Steve Carell (Seeking a Friend for the End of the World) as a tightly wound money guy who starts out thinking that the whole world is full of crooks and frauds and eventually realizes he still wasn’t cynical enough. It’s not at all what I would have expected from McKay, director of Talladega Nights and Anchorman 2. All in all, it’s a solid movie, but one that left me a little angry and a little nervous about the future.
Spotlight (A*). It’s time to try to catch up on at least a few Oscar-bait movies, and this is the one I sought out today. It is a terrific movie but a painful and even sickening experience. That’s because it is about the Catholic clergy sex-abuse scandal that became headline news in early 2002. More specifically, it is about a handful of reporters who worked for the Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” project and who did the investigative reporting necessary to write the stories that finally forced the Catholic Church to confront the scandal. The movie features fine performances by Michael Keaton (Birdman), Mark Ruffalo (Begin Again), Liev Schreiber (The Painted Veil), and even Rachel McAdams (The Family Stone), who is not usually one of my favorites. I put an asterisk on the grade only to note that my opinion in this case is very much contingent on how strictly the filmmaker stuck with the facts, and I am in no position to make that call. Assuming director and co-writer Tom McCarthy (Win Win, The Visitor, The Station Agent) stuck closely to the facts, I think this movie is a very impressive achievement. If he didn’t, my opinion of the movie would change quite a bit.
Spectre (B+). This is my favorite James Bond film in a long time. Although it is about two and half hours long, I never looked at my watch. The opening action sequence, set in Mexico City on the Day of the Dead, had me on the edge of my seat, and really all of the action sequences held my interest very well. Daniel Craig (The Invasion) seems completely at home as 007. Although I have apparently seen this installment’s “Bond girl,” Léa Seydoux, in a couple of movies (The Grand Budapest Hotel, Midnight in Paris), I have no memory of her in those films. Here, however, I thought she was quite memorable. I didn’t think Christoph Waltz (Big Eyes) was given enough room to stretch his legs as the head villain, but he did what he could with his few minutes of screen time. I’ll be interested to see if Craig signs on for another installment. I saw somewhere that Spectre has grossed over $800 million worldwide, so I have to think he’d be welcome.
Bridge of Spies (B+). So, I set out to see Crimson Peak, but somehow I got the time messed up and arrived at a theater where it wasn’t playing until much later in the day. Casting about for something else, I saw that I was in time to see this movie, which I knew had gotten good reviews. So I bought my matinee ticket and was pleasantly surprised to learn during the opening credits that Steven Spielberg (War of the Worlds) directed and the Coen brothers (True Grit) co-wrote the screenplay. The movie itself was even more of a pleasant surprise. Based on true events, the film stars Tom Hanks (That Thing You Do!) as Jim Donovan, a Nuremberg-prosecutor-turned-insurance-lawyer. In the late 1950s, a Communist spy is arrested in New York, and the feds recruit Donovan to defend the Commie (Mark Rylance, The Other Boleyn Girl). Needless to say, his vigorous defense of the hated spy doesn’t win Donovan many friends. Then the feds have to turn to Donovan once more when U-2 pilot Gary Powers is shot down over the U.S.S.R. and captured. Can he go alone into East Berlin and negotiate a prisoner exchange? Although this is all ancient history (and the movie clocks in at a lengthy 141 minutes), Spielberg and Co. make it fresh and exciting. Alan Alda (The Aviator) and Amy Ryan (TV’s The Office) pop up in small parts as Donovan’s law partner and wife respectively.
The Martian (A). Woo-hoo! The Movie Snob is back in action. Recently I’ve been taking care of my mom after cataract surgery, so not much time for movie watching. But today I got out and finally saw the latest movie from director Ridley Scott (Alien), and I thought it was great. If you liked Gravity and Apollo 13, you need to get out there and see this film. Matt Damon (Interstellar) plays a modern-day Robinson Crusoe—an astronaut on a mission to Mars who is separated from the rest of the crew in a terrible windstorm. His comrades believe (with good reason) that he has been killed, and they have to blast off to save their own lives. But he survives the storm, and the rest of the movie is about whether he can somehow survive long enough to get rescued. The cast is full of big stars: Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty) as the mission commander. Michael Pena (Ant-Man) as the pilot. Sean Bean (TV’s Game of Thrones) as the earth-side head of the particular Mars mission. Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave) as the overall head of the Mars program (if I understood right). Jeff Daniels (Arachnophobia) as the head of NASA. Kristen Wiig (Bridesmaids) as the NASA public-relations person who mostly stands around and looks concerned. Anyhoo, this movie will keep you on the edge of your seat. I saw the 2D version, but I heard good things about the 3D version. Check it out before it leaves the theaters.
The Movie Snob enjoys a bit of the old ultraviolence.
Sicario (B+). Think back, dear reader, to the winter of 2010. Remember how Benicio del Toro and Emily Blunt teamed up for that lame remake of The Wolfman, and we all thought, “<Sigh> I wish Benicio and Emily would team up for a good movie sometime. Maybe something about drug cartels.” Well, our long wait is over. Blunt plays Kate Macer, an FBI agent working the drug war in Arizona. After one particularly horrific mission, Kate is recruited for some mysterious cloak-and-dagger ops being run by a shady agent named Matt (Josh Brolin, Men in Black 3) and an even shadier Colombian(?) named Alejandro (Del Toro). Eager to go after some kingpins instead of the low-level guys she’s used to dealing with, Kate signs up. But is she in over her head? And will she make it out alive? This is a well-made drama, but it’s not for the squeamish or faint of heart. I must say that Del Toro is particularly good. It’s been a long time since his Oscar-winning turn as a Mexican cop in Traffic, and it seems like war-on-drugs movies bring out the best in him.
Mistress America (A-). Well, here it is, my favorite movie of 2015 so far. It’s an independent comedy by director Noah Baumbach (While We’re Young). I must say, his movies have been growing on me. Like Baumbach’s 2012 effort Frances Ha, this movie stars Baumbach’s girlfriend Greta Gerwig (Damsels in Distress), and the two of them co-wrote it as well. Gerwig plays Brooke, a free-spirited New Yorker who has about a dozen irons in the fire but may have a little problem following through on things. Tracy (Lola Kirke, Gone Girl) is a lonely freshman at Barnard College, and she falls into Brooke’s orbit because they are about to become stepsisters. (Tracy’s mom is engaged to Brooke’s dad). The dialogue is very funny, but there is a serious undercurrent as Tracy begins to write a short story for a college magazine based on Brooke’s life—and then Tracy starts to realize that Brooke is not at all as put together as she pretends to be. The movie reminded me a little of Whit Stillman’s work, but more in the vein of a screwball comedy. I urge you to give it a try and see if it’s your cup of tea.
Mr. Holmes (B+). This movie features an Oscar-bait performance by Ian McKellan (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King) as none other than Sherlock Holmes himself. But this Holmes is 93 years old and has long since retired from his work as a P.I. Now he tends bees in a seaside village, looked after by a widowed housekeeper (Laura Linney, The Nanny Diaries) and her son Roger (Milo Parker, Robot Overlords). There’s not a whole lot of plot, but mainly Holmes struggles with his failing memory and tries to recall the details of his last case—the one that spurred him to retire some 30 years earlier, even though he was still in full possession of his faculties. It is a good little movie, anchored by McKellan’s performance, solidly supported by Linney’s and Parker’s. I say check it out.
Best of Enemies (B+). This may be the first documentary I have seen this year. It is about the Republican and Democratic National Conventions of 1968, and more particularly about ABC’s decision not to provide wall-to-wall, gavel-to-gavel coverage of the conventions, but rather to broadcast only selected highlights from the conventions, followed by “debates” between a well-known provocateur from each end of the political spectrum. Those provocateurs were William F. Buckley, Jr. and Gore Vidal. The movie consists in large part of contemporaneous news footage about the conventions, as well as excerpts from the “debates” themselves. I use scare quotes because, as far as I could tell, Buckley and Vidal used the occasion mainly to insult each other, and certainly not to discuss in depth any of the salient issues of the day. As a long-time subscriber to National Review and admirer of Buckley, I winced when the movie finally got to the most famous exchange between the two, when Vidal called Buckley a “pro- or crypto-Nazi,” Buckley lost his temper, called Vidal a “queer,” and threatened to punch him in the face. The film-makers want to trace the shouting style of modern punditry to the Buckley–Vidal debates, but I can’t imagine things would be much different by now even if Buckley and Vidal had been more civil and actually made arguments. Nevertheless, I thought it was an interesting and well-made movie.