Quick takes on TEN films

The Glass Castle received a number of negative reviews from people who felt it glossed over some of the harsher realities of the memoir it is based from. I never read this book, so having nothing to base it on, I really liked this film. It follows the life of Jeannette Walls in her very dysfunctional home. Her dad is a lifelong alcoholic, who leads his family from home to home to avoid paying bills and also to stay off the grid. He is alternately wonderful and terrible to his wife and kids, and the kids vow to leave as soon as they are old enough to go. The movie is mostly told as a flashback, with adult Jeannette having grown to despise her father. The movie heads towards a storybook Hollywood ending which I didn’t want to see, after all the terrible things the dad did his whole life, but I came around to accept it. Brie Larson and, especially, Woody Harrelson are beyond incredible in this movie, further proof of each of theirs supreme talent.
I didn’t like Landline for many of the same reason’s I didn’t like the same director’s Obvious Child from a couple years ago. This one is about a family that looks perfectly good on the outside, but which is falling apart internally. The older daughters (adult Dana and high schooler Ali) find out their dad is cheating on their mom. At the same time, Ali is delving into harder and harder drugs with her friends, and Dana starts cheating on her fiance too. Both of these movies were very well received by the critics, but I find the characters annoying. They expect to be able to do bad things and receive good results. Jenny Slate (Dana) plays a similar version of the same character in both films, and isn’t likable, despite decent acting chops. I have to disagree with the professional reviewers on this one; I ended up just watching to the end to see how everyone turns out.
Maudie is a biographical film about Canadian folk painter Maud Lewis. Played by Sally Hawkins, she is born with severe rheumatoid arthritis and grows up relying on her family to take care of her. Wanting some form of independence, she takes a job as a live-in housekeeper for a destitute fish peddler, Everett (Ethan Hawke). The two start an unlikely romance, and for the first time in her life, Maud is allowed to paint, which is the only thing to bring her true joy. Hawke is a great actor but isn’t really allowed to shine here, as his gruff, surly character doesn’t do much than grunt and mumble throughout the film, but Hawkins shines as Maud. In really great performances, you stop seeing the actors and become absorbed by their craft in front of you, and this is definitely one of those times. On screen, even Hawke seems to be in awe of Hawkins as Maud overcomes her physical challenges. This isn’t necessarily a movie I’d watch multiple times, but for the lead performance alone, it is definitely worth a watch.
The Journey is based on the true story of a long, winding car ride in 2006, forcing leaders of the IRA and the British loyalists to have a discussion about their differences. Martin McGuinness (Colm Meaney) and Ian Paisley (Timothy Spall) see each other as stark enemies, as all that is wrong with the conflict in Ireland. The close confines of the car force them to see each other as real people, and eventually come to an understanding. The movie is a bit heavy handed, and the side-plot of Tony Blair and his intelligence team monitoring from another location is distracting and laughably bad at times, but Spall and Meaney are utterly fantastic. Spall you might expect, from his many award-nominated and -winning roles over the years, but unless you are a Star Trek fan, you might not have much familiarity with Meaney. Both are fantastic here, at times tense and at each others throats, and eventually, more understanding and open.
The Midwife is a fairly ho-hum French film, starring two of the great French actresses. Catherine Frot plays Claire, a traditional midwife facing a changing medical profession. She loves her patients but is cold to everyone else, with no close friends. Into her routine life plops Beatrice (Catherine Deneuve), the former mistress to her now deceased father. Whereas Claire has rules governing everything in her life, Beatrice lives each moment to its fullest. Despite their disparate past, they grow to become friends, as Beatrice fights to survive an awful brain tumor. The film is very French, with two moving lead actresses and a lot of undercurrent themes, but I couldn’t quite get into it. Fantastic, subtle acting, but a thin plot that doesn’t flesh out well enough.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is everything you heard about it. It features some truly outstanding visuals, hard to do in today’s CGI-filled landscape, but the plot and direction is severely lacking. Taking place hundreds of years in the future when mankind has ventured out into space and met up with thousands of alien species, it follows Valerian, a military major, as he and his partner (and love interest) uncover a plot to wipe out a whole alien race. It is a testament to the visuals, which are so colorful and breathtakingly beautiful on a big HD screen, that I still have to recommend seeing this movie despite being ridiculously dull at times, with some truly awful dialogue and almost child-like hand-fed plot elements. See it for the CGI, but don’t expect much else.
Marjorie Prime is a weird film, albeit a thought-provoking one. It takes place in a future where computer programs, called Primes, can project a holographic impersonation of a deceased love one, bringing comfort to the living. At first the Prime is like a child, only knowing what it is told, but it learns quickly and absorbs everything. Marjorie (Lois Smith) is an older woman suffering from dementia, who has brought back her deceased husband Walter as a prime, though she has chosen a younger version of him (played by Jon Hamm). Her daughter Tess (Geena Davis) doesn’t like it, thinks it weird that her mother finds comfort in a computer program. Tess’s husband Jon (Tim Robbins) understands though, and feeds Walter stories so that Walter can better play the part with Marjorie. This film is all about the shared moments between human and prime, first with Marjorie and Walter Prime, and later, after Marjorie passes, between Tess and Marjorie Prime. The movie makes you wonder what it is that makes us human, and where that will lead with the developing artificial intelligence being created.
The Little Hours is an uncomfortable comedy to watch for anyone with a Christian religious upbringing. Taking place at a convent in the middle ages, it follows a group of young, totally irreverent nuns. They cuss and bully themselves and others, and when a young man is brought in to tend the grounds, their suppressed sexual desires go off the chart. I wasn’t raised Catholic, but I still had to squirm in my seat watching what these young nuns were doing. It stars Dave Franco, Aubrey Plaza, Alison Brie, among others, with Molly Shannon as the mother superior and John C Reilly as the head priest (with Fred Armisen as the visiting bishop). With a cast like that, I should have known to expect nothing but debauchery. If you can get past the constant blasphemy, the movie has its moments, but not a film for the mass(es).
I absolutely adored Patti Cake$, the story of a struggling woman trying to make a career as a rapper. Overweight and unpopular, she isn’t your prototypical star, and she also faces challenges with her alcoholic mother and supportive, but health-failing grandmother. Patti and her tight group of friends finally put together a mix tape, but still every opportunity they get seems to fall apart, often through no fault of their own. This film is raw and emotional, and I give it a pass for some of the typical underdog crutches it leans on, because the acting by lead Danielle MacDonald is fantastic, and the payoff at the end is incredible. Who doesn’t like to root for the unlikely hero?

 

War for the Planet of the Apes is the exciting, and latest film in the rebooted Planet of the Apes series. This one takes place two years after the last one, where increasingly intelligent apes and the struggling humans are living separate, yet hostile lives. A group of militant humans have taken it upon themselves to hunt the smart apes, and when the ape leader Caesar sees his wife and son killed, he retaliates. For my tastes, this film felt a bit long, but it is certainly thrilling, and it seems to lead up to the original Charlton Heston film; in fact, there may only be a few decades from the end of this one and the start of that one. Certainly enough time for yet another sequel if they desire, and if they keep being this good, I’m all for it.

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