Funny Girl (B). I was back at the Magnolia Theater this past Tuesday night for The Big Movie — the 1968 musical that was Barbra Streisand’s first movie role. In fact, I think this is only the second Streisand movie I have ever seen, the first being What’s Up, Doc?, which I saw on network TV a couple of times when I was a kid. Anyhoo, Funny Girl is a biopic about real life entertainer Fanny Brice, who performed in Ziegfeld’s Follies in the early 20th century. Streisand turns in a rip-roaring performance as Brice and tied with Katharine Hepburn for the best-actress Oscar™. Omar Sharif (Dr. Zhivago) co-stars as the suave gambler who sweeps her off her feet. It was an entertaining movie, but not quite top tier in my book. It’s two and a half hours long, which is kind of long but not long enough to justify the 15-minute intermission we were forced to sit through! Anyway, I say it’s worth seeing if you like musicals.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (B). Well, I’m trying to get back into the swing of regular moviegoing, so I decided to see if the Magnolia Theater is still running its classic-movie series on Tuesday nights. Lo, it is, and I caught this 1969 Western this past Tuesday. I had never seen it before and still don’t quite know what to make of it. It stars Paul Newman (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof) and Robert Redford (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) as the outlaws of the film’s title, and as best I can tell from extensive Wikipedia research the movie is actually fairly true to history. It’s the late 1890s, and Butch, the Kid, and their Hole in the Wall gang are making a living robbing banks and trains—until they irritate some big plutocrat and he hires a very dangerous posse to bring them to justice. So, in the interest of self-preservation, they make some unusual career choices after that. Although IMDB.com categorizes the film as “Biography, Crime, Drama,” it has a strong comedic element, with Newman providing lots of amusing dialogue, Redford being amusingly laconic, and an oddly jaunty soundtrack playing in the background. (“Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” won an Oscar.) And yet, there is quite a bit of shooting and killing, albeit with very little blood visible. Katharine Ross of The Graduate fame drops in for a while as the Kid’s love interest, but Butch shows more interest in her than the Kid ever does, and really this movie is a bromance between Butch and the Kid from start to finish.
Anyway, the film held my interest, but I still think it’s kind of an odd bird. It’s #73 on the American Film Institute’s 2007 list of the 100 greatest American movies, so I guess it’s a classic.
The Greatest Showman (B). This musical has done only so-so with the critics (Metacritic.com score 45/100 last time I checked), but I must say that I was entertained. The versatile and (to me) eminently likable Hugh Jackman (Logan) stars as P.T. Barnum in a film that is apparently very loosely based on the real Barnum’s life. It is exceptionally sentimental, setting up all sorts of underdogs for us to root for—the impoverished child Barnum in love with the daughter of a rich meanie, the slightly less impoverished adult Barnum hatching his first scheme to entertain the masses, the gaggle of differently abled people (unkindly called “freaks” by some characters) Barnum recruits for his show, and even an inter-racial potential couple. There are lots of songs, and I must say they mostly sounded kind of the same to me. And the big song-and-dance numbers featuring Barnum’s performers resemble the big song-and-dance numbers you might see on “Dancing with the Stars,” and the lights and noise pretty well bludgeon you into submission. Michelle Williams (Oz the Great and Powerful) isn’t given much to do as Barnum’s wife, but Zac Efron (Neighbors) and the formerly unknown to me Zendaya (Spider-Man: Homecoming) have nice supporting roles and a nice musical number together. If you don’t mind a little sap and a little schmaltz, I say give The Greatest Showman a chance.
The Disaster Artist (B+). So, back in 2003, an odd and mysterious fellow named Tommy Wiseau wrote, directed, starred in, and bankrolled a very odd movie called The Room. It was a laughably terrible melodrama and should never have been heard from again. But, somehow, it became a midnight-movie cult classic. I even saw it in a Rifftrax live show back in 2015, although I apparently failed to review it for this site. The Room really is jaw-droppingly bad.
Now James Franco (Oz the Great and Powerful) directs and stars in this new movie about Wiseau and the making of The Room. I thought it was very funny, all the more so because it is (based on) a true story. Franco disappears into the Wiseau role, with his weird European accent, strange awkwardness, and apparently bottomless bank account. We see Wiseau primarily through the eyes of his best friend Greg (Dave Franco, Nerve), a wannabe actor who puts up with Wiseau’s weirdness and accidentally inspires him to create The Room. A remarkable list of people signed on for cameos or roles that were barely more than cameos, including: Alison Brie (TV’s Community), Seth Rogen (Knocked Up), Josh Hutcherson (The Hunger Games), Zac Efron (High School Musical 3), Sharon Stone (Total Recall), Melanie Griffith (Working Girl), and Judd Apatow (director, The 40-Year-Old Virgin). Is the movie just a cruel joke as Wiseau’s expense? I don’t know. I’ve read that he approves of the movie, and IMDB says he even had a cameo in it that I missed. In any event, The Room has supposedly made him a lot of movie over the last 15 years, so I guess he’s doing all right. I thought the movie was a hoot.
Tom Hanks embodies Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger in much the way he became Walt Disney. Hanks and Aaron Eckhart (The Dark Knight) as co-pilot Skyles are good partners in this movie. Eastwood does not develop any of the other characters and did not use Laura Linney’s talent–as Sully’s wife, she is seen mostly tearful and on the phone. Anna Gunn (Breaking Bad), as one of the NTSB investigators, is also pretty one dimensional. The movie tells a story we know and still manages to create drama and deliver a hero. Be sure to stay for the credits (surely this goes without saying).
Genius (B). This movie isn’t doing too well with the critics (current score of 56 over at metacritic.com) but I think they are somehow overlooking the fact that Nicole Kidman (Dead Calm) is in the movie. Just kidding! Anyhoo, perhaps my low expectations led me to enjoy it more than I otherwise would have. It’s a biopic about editor Max Perkins (Colin Firth, The King’s Speech) and novelist Thomas Wolfe (Jude Law, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow). Back around the year 1929, Wolfe was a manic would-be writer out of North Carolina with a married mistress (played by Kidman), and Perkins was a buttoned-down family man with five daughters. The movie basically just tells the story of their sometimes-difficult relationship as Perkins shaped Wolfe’s thousands of pages into manageable novels that met mainstream and critical success. Other authors that Perkins edited also pop up, like a washed-up F. Scott Fitzgerald (Guy Pearce, Memento) and a macho Ernest Hemingway (Dominic West, 300). And the always-welcome Laura Linney (Mr. Holmes) has a small part as Mrs. Perkins. I thought it wasn’t a bad movie. It may have helped that I had actually read one of Wolfe’s novels, Look Homeward, Angel; you can read my review here and see if it sounds like your cup of tea.