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 Circle (C-). When this movie ended, I said to myself, “I thought it was just getting started.” The movie never takes off. It is based on a young woman named Mae (Emma Watson, Noah) getting a job at a big brother version of Facebook that basically records and monitors multiple aspects of a person’s life (and physiology) as well as in society. Tom Hanks (A Hologram for the King) channels his inner Steve Jobs as the leader of the technology and social-media giant, making presentations to his Circlers with a coffee cup in hand showing off his latest technology on a stage. You get the gist that he has some sinister plan, but it was never clear to me what exactly it was, but maybe I just got bored. John Boyega (The Force Awakens) plays Ty, who actually founded the Circle but managed to go “off line” and lurk around the Circle mothership without anyone noticing or even knowing who he is for the most part. Ty befriends Mae rather quickly, but the relationship storyline doesn’t really go anywhere for a long time. It appeared to me to be simply a tool used near end of the movie, and then the movie suddenly ends. Overall I found the movie unrealistic and trying way too hard to be cool and mysterious, relying upon its casting over its storyline. Bill Paxton (Aliens) makes an appearance as Mae’s father. This was apparently his last role before his unexpected death and I’ve read that there is a dedication to him at the end of the credits. This movie is supposedly based on a book. If you like reading, I’d suggest trying the book instead.
Noah (B+). If you are of a certain age, perhaps you too remember a movie from your childhood called In Search of Noah’s Ark, which rather sensationally depicted some guy’s story that he had stumbled across the remains of a giant wooden ship in the high snowy reaches of Mount Ararat. I guess he had trouble re-finding the exact spot, because I never heard about any subsequent expedition triumphantly sledding it down the mountain. Anyway, that movie made a big impression on me, and so I was looking forward to seeing this new movie from Darren Aronofsky, director of Black Swan, among others. I thought it was a very interesting take on the story, and pretty exciting considering that we know how it all comes out in the end. Russell Crowe (Les Miserables) makes a good Noah, a man consumed with disgust for mankind’s wickedness and with the desire to know and do the will of the Creator. Jennifer Connelly (Inkheart) plays his long-suffering wife, and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson, This Is the End) plays the grown-up version of a waif adopted by the Noah family in the pre-ark years. Oh, and good old Anthony Hopkins (Thor: The Dark World) turns up as Noah’s grandfather Methusaleh. The movie is rated PG-13 for violence, disturbing images, and brief suggestive content, so don’t take the little ones. And don’t expect complete fidelity to Genesis 6-9. That said, I was quite entertained and intrigued by the film. For a Catholic priest’s review of the film, click here.
Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s Apocalyptic offering is profane, narcissistic, campy, and yes, funny. For me, it succeeded best as a campy horror flick. The premise is simple: James Baruchel visits his buddy Rogen in Hollywood and the two attend a party hosted by James Franco. All the actors play themselves. Also attending the party are: Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, Danny McBride, Michael Cera, Jason Segel, Mindy Kaling, Paul Rudd, David Krumholtz, Aziz Ansari, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Kevin Hart, Martin Starr and Emma Watson. The Apocalypse happens during the party. Some people are immediately sucked up to Heaven in a tunnel of blue light; others fall into a crevice that opens up in front of Franco’s house. The rest (all male with the exception of Emma Watson for a short time in a funny ax wielding performance) are left to navigate the post-Apocalyptic world complete with strange anatomically (enhanced) correct monsters as well as limited food, water and resources. The actors make fun of themselves but primarily the humor is pure frat boy (read: pot jokes, sex jokes, flatulence jokes, masturbation jokes) and the movie drags a bit. Confession: I suspect you will find this movie more funny than I did if you are up on all the roles these actors have played. The ending is bizarre–in a “we-didn’t-know-how-to-end-the-movie” kind of way. The suspense is well timed. This movie deserves its hard R rating. Don’t take your mom or your children!
The Perks of Being a Wallflower (B+). Possible alternative title: “And You Think You Had It Tough in High School.” This is the story of Charlie, a newly minted high-school freshman who has struggled with some sort of mental-health issues in the recent past. He looks to be headed for a lonely four years, but he gets adopted by a group of misfit seniors led by Patrick (Ezra Miller, City Island), who is gay, and his stepsister Sam (Hermione Granger, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone), who has a troubled past and a dark secret. Oh, and it soon comes to light that Charlie’s best friend recently committed suicide. Suffice to say, this is a very dark and heavy movie, and given the central themes of mental illness, suicide, and sexual abuse, I think the PG-13 rating may be misleading. Aside from a few moments that I couldn’t quite buy, I thought this movie was very well done. Logan Lerman (Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief) does a good job as the introverted Charlie. Several other recognizable actors show up, such as Paul Rudd (Our Idiot Brother) as an inspiring English teacher and Mae Whitman (TV’s Arrested Development) as a Buddhist control freak who gets a crush on Charlie. Well worth seeing, but don’t expect to walk out smiling.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I (D). I don’t like the Harry Potter movies; so sue me. The one before this one had a few moments of humor that made it reasonably tolerable. Something about a love potion making the rounds at Hogwarts, I do believe. But this film indicates that the last one was an aberration. HPATDHPI is a determinedly grim and gray spectacle as Harry and his two chums Hermione (Emma Watson, The Perks of Being a Wallflower) and Ron have to go out into the big, wide world to try to defeat the evil Sauron, er, I mean Lord Voldemort. There’s lots of running about, a few fight scenes that are cut so rapidly you have no idea what is happening, and a couple of brief but unpleasant torture scenes. It’s rated PG-13 for a reason, people.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (C+). I should stop reviewing these things because I am sure nobody in the vast throng of people that watch these movies agrees with me. Nevertheless, the critic must attend to his duty. I think I liked this installment a tiny bit better than some of the earlier ones because of the romantic subplots that are developing as the young wizards start to grow up. Those stories were entertaining enough. The heavy stuff about the terrifying evil wizard Voldemort, and the effects-heavy battles that supposedly advance thee plot just leave me cold. Also, I was confused by the arc of this movie — it seemed like the big question was whether Harry (Daniel Radcliffe, December Boys) was going to be able to get some big secret out of Hogwarts’ newest professor, but then it sort of sounded like Dumbledore had already guessed, or at least half-guessed, the facts that were being concealed. Oh well. Hermione (Emma Watson, The Perks of Being a Wallflower) is cute. And Helena Bonham Carter (Alice in Wonderland) seems perfect for her role as one of the evil henchmen.