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.
The Muppet Movie (C). I’m continuing my romp through the classics with this recent offering from fathomevents.com. Although I enjoyed the muppets TV show in my youth, I never saw this, their first theatrical release, which came out in 1979. Turns out I didn’t miss all that much. It’s the story of how Kermit the Frog (voice of Jim Henson) decided to follow his dream of being an entertainer, left his swamp, and hit the road for Hollywood. It’s a road-trip movie, with Kermit picking up a band of oddballs (Fozzie Bear (voice of Frank Oz), Miss Piggy (Oz), Gonzo (Dave Goelz), etc.) along the way while simultaneously being pursued by a fast-food-frog-legs entrepreneur (Charles Durning, O Brother, Where Art Thou?) who wants Kermit to be his front man, er, frog. The jokes and sight gags really aren’t all that funny, but the frequent musical numbers tend to be better (especially Kermit’s wistful “The Rainbow Connection”). There are loads of celebrity cameos, including Edgar Bergin, Bob Hope, Milton Berle, Mel Brooks, Big Bird, and even Orson Welles, but only Steve Martin’s rude waiter is very funny. I’m glad I saw it, but I doubt I’ll ever watch it again. (I might look for “The Rainbow Connection” on iTunes, though.)
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.
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.
Pride, Prejudice and Mistletoe (C). Who doesn’t love a good Hallmark Channel Christmas movie, by which I really mean a bad Hallmark Channel Christmas movie? I didn’t see any new offerings starring Danica McKellar (Coming Home for Christmas) this year, but the Austenite title of this Lacey Chabert (Mean Girls) vehicle reeled me in. Unfortunately, this tale bore no resemblance to Pride and Prejudice that I could see. The diminutive but toothsome Chabert sparkles as Darcy Fitzwilliam, a successful investment broker in the Big Apple. She leaves NYC for the Christmas holiday to visit her family back in small-town Ohio, and she is thrown into preparations for a charity auction that her mom has taken over at the last minute. Darcy is sad because she recently broke up with another money manager named Carl, and, although the doofy-looking Carl hangs around the movie’s periphery, we know by his minimal screen time that Darcy will instead end up with her old high-school debate-club antagonist Luke, who now runs a restaurant in town and of course gets hired to cater the charity auction. Sometimes these movies feature a recognizable star or two in the smaller roles, but this one looked like a cast of nobodies to me. My sister laughed every time Darcy’s dad appeared on screen because of his lamentable lack of acting skills. True, he read his most heartfelt lines like he was reading a menu, but come on! It’s Christmas! I wonder if A Shoe Addict’s Christmas, which we’ll watch later today, will be any better….
Coco (C+). This new Pixar feature is getting a lot of critical acclaim, but I must say it left me fairly cold. The setting is interesting: Mexico on the Day of the Dead. A boy named Miguel comes from a long line of successful shoemakers, but he yearns to become a musician. Unfortunately, his great-great-grandpa was a musician who walked out on his wife and small daughter to pursue his dream, and the family has banned all music ever since. But Miguel persists in pursing his dream on the sly, and through a series of unlikely events he gets catapulted into the land of the dead. He then rushes from place to place, meeting various deceased ancestors and trying to get back to the real world before the sun rises again. The visuals are pretty cool, but I thought the songs were unmemorable and the plot was tiresome. I didn’t recognize any of the voice actors, but they included Gael García Bernal (Letters to Juliet) and Edward James Olmos (Blade Runner 2049).
Born in China (B-). I don’t think I have seen one of these “Disneynature” Earth Day releases in a while. This one focuses on several species indigenous to China. Cranes and a certain kind of antelope get brief coverage, but the movie focuses on the giant panda, the snow leopard, and some kind of snub-nosed monkey I had never heard of before. The photography is exceptionally good, as you would expect, but the narration (provided by John Krasinski, Leatherheads) is way too sentimentalized and occasionally downright goofy. There’s very little gore, but there is still a death that might trouble the little ones and the exceptionally tenderhearted. Personally, based on the previews, I’m hoping for more from Disneynature’s 2018 release Dolphins.