Jackie is a film about finding inner strength, grace, and courage at the exact time millions of us need much of the same. For the youngsters among you who don’t know, the single name “Jackie” identified First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy long before the fateful “day in Dallas” when her husband, President John F. Kennedy, was shot and killed. Director Pablo Larrain recreates that fateful day—and the somber minutes, hours and days that follow, with nuanced artistry. Shot on 16 mm film, the images are reminiscent of ones shot at the time, but artfully constructed in the director’s masterful collaboration with screenwriter Noah Oppenheim, cinematographer Stephane Fontaine, composer Mica Levi and lead actor, Natalie Portman.
Using Pacific Island voice talents and heightened sensitivity to Polynesian heritages, Disney has created a fable of a strong, powerful and mystically-guided teen heroine who boldly goes where no woman has gone before. Moana communes with the ocean itself to venture into the deep and dangerous waters beyond the reef on a quest to retrieve the goddess Te Fiti’s heart from the powerful and mischievous demi-god, Maui. Along the way she must grapple with the responsibilities of being the chief’s daughter, ferocious coconut warriors, voracious crabs and the lava monster, Taka. The animation is masterful, the songs (by Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda and Samoan musician Opetaia Foa’i) are whistle-worthy, and the characters are much more positive than Elsa, the wildly popular selfishly vindictive snow princess from Frozen. So enter the theater with your heart and soul and inner child ready to embrace and revel in the totality of this outstanding film.
From the inventive mind of J.K. Rowling comes Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a tale of a British wizard (Eddie Redmayne) arriving in the middle of the Jazz Age in New York City circa 1926 smuggling a suitcase overstuffed with growling mystical beasties through customs. When (surprise surprise) some of these creatures escape, the mild-mannered wizard must find his way around and through flappers, speakeasies, machine guns and a cadre of witch-hating naysayers using only quietly whispered words of tenderness and love. It’s a magical ride, with parallels easily made about a time and place which openly despises newly arrived immigrants and their old-fashioned, secretive manners and muddles.
Shuhlberg, Mark O’Brien Director: Denis Villeneuve Ever since H.G. Welles wrote his War of the Worlds, we humans have been trained to believe that space aliens are coming to Earth to kill everyone (or, in the classic B-movie mindset, enslave our beautiful women). I am pleased to say that the notable exceptions to this atavistic fear (E. T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind, etc.), include a worthy newcomer—Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival. When eight alien craft appear in the skies above our home planet, the military doesn’t immediately respond with guns and rockets, it wakes a female linguist (Amy Adams) up in the middle of the night, shoots her full of antibiotics, encapsulates her in a space suit and sends her to meet the aliens armed with only her wits, her intelligence, and a Magic Marker. At her side is an astrophysicist (Jeremy Renner) who serves as her gofer, while safe within the command center, Forrest Whitaker is the military commander with his finger twitching over the attack button. Unlike the big-eyed bipedal creatures we have seen before, these aliens are “something completely different.” With no sense of time as we know it (i.e. past, present, future), their written “language” looks like inkblots, and the secret to communicating with them is to “show, not tell.”
Dr. Strange (PG-13) Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Tilda Swinton, Rachel McAdams, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Mads Mikkelsen, Benedict Wong, Benjamin Bratt Director: Scott Derickson Famed for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes, Hamlet, and the mathematician who cracked the Nazi’s Enigma Code, Benedict Cumberbatch dons the “Marvelous Cloak of Levitation” playing the Marvel Comic super-magician, Dr. Strange. The first two-thirds of the film are great fun, as a slew of instantly recognizable actors add their skills to the astounding feats of legerdemain. The last third falls into the seemingly unbreakable requirement that all movies in the so-called “Marvel Universe” end with senseless CG battles between “Good” and Evil” that cause inestimable amounts of collateral damage to hapless “mortals” (like you and me). On a positive note, the horrific car crash that destroys Dr. Strange’s surgical skills, is a strong public service message for avoiding texting while driving. 3 pieces of inventive and magical toast
Three women coping with the physical and emotional limitations imposed by living in Montana’s Big Sky Country, intersect in Kelly Reichart’s Certain Women. Laura Dern plays a lawyer who finds herself smack in the middle of a hostage situation. Michelle Williams is a wife and mother who is refocusing her thwarted dreams by building a house using “the finest local materials available.” Kristin Stewart teaches a night class where a cowgirl has a crush on her. Propelled by superb acting, a literate script and a director who knows exactly what she is doing, you shouldn’t expect a Hollywood-type resolution. We are only allowed carefully chosen glimpses into these lives—leaving us wanting to know “what happens next.”
In Hannes Holm's A Man Called Ove, a Swede's numerous suicide attempts keep getting postponed by the goings-on of his rule-bending next-door neighbors. Ove’s only joy in life was provided by Sonja, a full-of-life woman who died and left him alone again. Now his days are filled with maintaining order in his pedestrians-only cul-de-sac—including berating the afore-mentioned neighbors for driving their car to their house to unload the groceries and two cute kids. The story arc is predictable (misanthrope is coaxed back into living life again by the love and honesty of ordinary folk), but the flashbacks of Ove railing against the bureaucratic “white shirts” and the tender scenes of loving Sonja, make this import very special.
I’ve enjoyed watching (and writing about) British actor Timothy Spall for decades. His Mr. Potato Head face has never been more rotten-looking than playing Holocaust denier David Irving in Mick Jackson's Denial. In 1996, Irving sued historian Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) and her publisher for libel for branding him with that term in her book. Adhering to British law, Irving must prove to the Court that the Holocaust did in fact, occur. Seems simple right? Except that the Nazis painstakingly expunged all records of genocide, and modern day Germans, Austrians and Poles are convinced that so-called “death camps” never existed. Filmed in a “just the facts,” style that would have pleased Jack Webb, Spall provides the much-needed emotion as he chews up the scenery playing a man so sure of his own belief system, that he could run for office as Britain’s Prime Minister in today’s political madhouse.
In a set up that Alfred Hitchcock would like, in Girl On the Train, Rachel (Emily Blunt) is a divorced, vodka drinking young woman who dresses in a business suit to ride the commuter train each day. She no longer has the job she needed for the suit, but she enjoys peering in the houses that pass by—especially the one inhabited by her former husband and his new family, and the lusty young couple who live next door. When she spies the neighbor woman flirting with another man, Rachel goes on a bender and wakes up with a bloody head wound, a loss of memory and a detective asking pointed questions. The rest of the film is a Rashomon-like recollection from each of the women involved with director Tate Taylor deftly elaborating the book’s inner dialogues by opening them up onscreen. You will quickly learn that memory is a very elusive commodity.
An old, crumbling building on a mysterious island once was the site of Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children. As 16-year-old Jacob explores the ruins, he discovers the supposedly long-dead residents not only possessed supernatural powers, but are still “alive” in a parallel time-warp. Of course not all superheroes can run faster than a speeding bullet, leap buildings in a single bound, and bend steel with their bare hands. Some, like the time-frozen children in this film have an extra mouth filled with sharp teeth on the backs of their heads, are immune to all poisons, can bring dead things back to life, see the future in their dreams, or be invisible all the time. The set-up in the first half is slow, but the last part is Tim Burton at his most Burtonesque.