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.
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.
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….
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 Snows of Kilimanjaro (D). I think this is the first DVD I’ve watched all year, and wow was it a snoozer. I think I picked it up at a big sale at the Dallas Public Library. Whatever I paid, it was too much! Gregory Peck (The Gunfighter, also directed by Snows director Henry King) stars as Harry Street, a successful writer and world traveler who has gotten injured while on safari in Africa with his beautiful wife Helen (Susan Hayward, I Married a Witch). He gets delirious with infection, and most of the movie is told in flashbacks–long ones about the great love of his life, Cynthia (Ava Gardner, Show Boat), and shorter ones about his dalliance with a rich artist (Hildegard Knef, Decision Before Dawn). None of it is very engaging, and Harry himself seems like no great prize to me. There’s lots of stock footage of African wildlife, and the soundtrack was very hard to understand at times. There are no extras on the DVD, either. Maybe I would have liked it better if I had ever read the Ernest Hemingway story on which it was based. Nah.
The Big Sick (B). This is a pleasant and affable little romantic comedy with a couple of twists. First, it’s apparently based on the star’s real life romancing of his wife. And second, the main plot point is that the female lead (Zoe Kazan, What If) gets a mysterious illness that puts her into a coma halfway through the movie. After that, it’s mostly about the fellow, Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani, Life as We Know It) having to deal with the girl’s parents (well-played by Ray Romano, TV’s Everybody Loves Raymond, and Holly Hunter, Thirteen) while their daughter is in potentially mortal danger. Also, he’s juggling his would-be career as a stand-up comedian and his overbearing Pakistani parents’ attempts to push him into an arranged marriage. Not everything totally worked for me, but there were enough chuckles, and the leads were likable enough, that I enjoyed it.
A new movie review from the desk of The Movie Snob.
The Hero (B-). That voice. That mustache. The unmistakable Sam Elliott (Tombstone) has an unusual starring role in this little indie flick. He plays a washed-up actor who spends his days smoking marijuana with a buddy (Nick Offerman, We’re the Millers) and doing voiceover work for commercials. And, we quickly learn, he’s facing a serious cancer problem. So he wants to reach out to his estranged daughter, Lucy (Krysten Ritter, Big Eyes). He also, somewhat less credibly, starts dating a woman about half his age (Laura Prepon, TV’s Orange Is the New Black). Katharine Ross (The Graduate), who is actually married to Elliott, has a very small part as his ex-wife. All in all, the movie is a little pedestrian, a little predictable, a little off at times, but Elliott managed to keep me invested. And at 93 minutes long, it doesn’t overstay its welcome.
P.S. I forgot to give a shout-out to Max Gail, who has a small part in this movie. I don’t know that I’ve seen him since his glory days at Detective Wojciehowicz on TV’s Barney Miller, but I recognized him as soon as he popped up in The Hero. Judging from IMDB, he has been working pretty steadily since his Miller days.