Film

In Theaters    All Reviews A-Z

Technically, no films are playing locally, but the ones below are the most recent.

 

Unorthodox (review)

Unorthodox (review)

This story takes place in 2 distinct locations (although it was shot almost exclusively in Berlin): A Hasidic neighborhood in Brooklyn, where a young woman endures an unhappy arranged marriage, and Berlin, where she flees to find her mother. To save the relationship and his dignity, her husband and a cousin travel to Germany to bring her back. In addition to an intimate portrait of this woman (beautifully created by Shira Haas), the film provides captivating insight into the rituals and relationships of this strict Ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect. Even though it’s based on Deborah Feldman’s memoir, the filmmakers have added a different outcome for this protagonist, which sometimes pushes credibility. Still, the performances and the cultural observations make this a compelling drama. (Netflix four 1-hour episodes in Yiddish and English)

 

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)
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Crip Camp and Special (review)

Crip Camp and Special (review)

CRIP CAMP (Netflix)

 

While Tiger King is the reigning doc on Netflix, this one covers a more compassionate and political subject. The first 30 minutes feature footage from the ’60s and ’70s of a special camp for teens with disabilities. Even though the video is sometimes sloppy, that just adds to the charm of this cheery group who enjoys their summer together and talks about their lives. The final hour takes place in the subsequent years, when some of the attendees lead the movement to pass the ADA (which didn’t actually happen until 1990). Their struggle for acceptance and equality is documented with lots of period news footage and current-day interviews. A film covering the disabled could go for the cheap emotional angle, but this well-crafted doc emphasizes the joy and strength of its characters. That being said, the Capital steps scene (among others) are bound to swell the emotions. Informative, as well as remarkable. 4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

 

SPECIAL (Netflix)

 

This comedy series (released last year) covers a similar subject. It’s created by and stars Ryan O’Connell in a largely-autobiographical comedy about his life. He was unashamedly gay, but in the closet about his cerebral palsy (he told his friends he was hit by a truck). As he navigates life on how own, we’re treated to a delightfully sweet character with little self-pity, but plenty of self-depreciating humor. His best friend is (Punam Patel) makes sassy sidekick. At only nine 15-minute episodes, this is an easily-digestible and completely charming little comedy with an big underlying message. 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Coffee and Kareem (review)

Coffee and Kareem (review)

This Netflix original stars Ed Helms as a Detroit cop who’s dating Taraji P. Henson. But most of the action (and there is plenty) revolves around his relationship with her sassy son (played by Terrence Little Gardenhigh). Helms and the aggressively beligerant offspring end up in a zany/dangerous entanglement, when they witness criminal activity. Newcomer Gardenhigh is delightful in his foul-mouthed, streetwise character, while Helms and Henson hold their own. As a bonus, the bad guys are some of the funniest “gangstas” you’ll ever see. Even though it has a family focus, there’s plenty of raunchy dialogue (often from the kid) and mild violence to give it a more mature vibe. Overall, a welcome bit of silly fun. If you say it out loud, the title is a cute pun on their ebony and ivory relationship. 3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

Pigs and Dollars

Pigs and Dollars

THE LAUNDROMAT

Even on Netflix, a lot of people may have missed this Meryl Streep starrer. She plays a woman whose life is upended when a family insurance policy proves shoddy. This leads her into an investigation of the shell companies and offline accounts that shelter fortunes from shady businesses (based around the Panama Papers). Since Steven Soderbergh directed this, he calls upon numerous other stars to round out the cast, including Gary Oldman, Antonio Banderas, Sharon Stone, Jeffrey Wright and David Schwimmer. The film’s focus is on exposing this vast, corrupt financial scheme (as is made even more clear by the statistics screens at the end). Even so, the film still provides a highly-informative and entertaining message. 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

 

OKJA

After he made Snowpiercer and before Parasite, director Joon-ho Bong created this direct-to-Netflix political fantasy. It revolves around a young woman has raised the title character, a giant, genetically-modified pig. When a megacorporation (led by Tilda Swinton) takes it away for “research,” the girl must face all sorts of challenges to rescue her pet. As is typical of Bong, there are obvious fantasy elements, plus political statements and satirical humor. It’s certainly an unusual and engaging story that once again shows the unique and masterful cinematic skills of this great director.  NOTE: Sit thru the credits for one final scene. (In Korean and English with subtitles) 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Tiger King (review)

Tiger King (review)

Last year, I read an article about Joe Exotic in Esquire Magazine. I thought it was a rather bizarre story, but had no idea how insane it truly was, until I watched the documentary series on Netflix. He was also known as the Tiger King, because he lauded over a zoo with hundreds of big cats and other animals. It was open to the public for gawking, and more importantly, to sell the opportunity to pet cubs. Joe is an outspoken, trash-talking, openly-gay, gun-toting redneck with a mullet. An astoundingly assured and completely irrational character. Each episode in the 8-part series sets up a different aspect of his ongoing conflicts with the owner of another animal park and the leader of Big Cat Rescue that specializes in saving tigers who have been raised in captivity. Each episode also reveals new aspects of the story that seem more incredible than the last. The parade of unusual characters and the timeline of outrageous events is highly entertaining (although the episodes could have been shorter).  This is an mind-blowing example that truth is truly stranger than anyone could have written.

 

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

 

Netflix

Two new Netflix features

Two new Netflix features

SPENSER CONFIDENTIAL

 

Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg have teamed up for several well-made action films (Patriot’s Day, Deepwater Horizon & Lone Survivor). They’re back in what may be the first in a series of cop dramas based on the hard-edged ex-police detective from Robert B. Parker’s prolific series of books. Wahlberg plays the title character, who has just gotten out of jail, only to be immediately suspected in the murder of the police chief who put him behind bars. He must scramble, along with 2 helpful friends (Winston Duke and Alan Arkin, turning in another underplayed funny guy) to save his rep and solve the crimes. There’s potential for lots of good action and clever twists (not to mention milking the Boston milieu), but Berg’s script is not especially original or interesting. Sure, there are chases and fights, but none of it lives up to this team’s previous action success. 2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5)

 

 

THE PLATFORM

 

This Spanish import (dubbed in English) takes place in a sci-fi prison that has hundreds of levels of cells, but only 2 prisoners per cell. Each day, a floating platform loaded with a delectable feast passes from the top to bottom with less food remaining as it descends. This unusual concept starts out compelling and continues to captivate for a while. Despite the hallucinatory elements and twisting developments, the existential conversations and dark pacing start to drag it down. About an hour in, I was ready to give up, but wanted to see how it ended…and that was about as murky and confusing as the rest. Not ultimately satisfying but certainly unusual. 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Looking fabulous!

Looking fabulous!

With this week’s launch of the latest fashion competition featuring the hosts of the original show, here’s a look at all 3 of the major options.

 

The grande dame of fashion competitions is PROJECT RUNWAY (Bravo). The first 16 seasons featured model Heidi Klum and iconic mentor Tim Gunn, but they were replaced in 2018 with less interesting model Karlie Kloss and more snarky, fun Christian Siriano as mentor (and 4th season winner). Stalwart judge Nina Garcia and the basic format remains. I’ve watched every show of every season and the most interesting part is the creative process and the judging. I can do without the interpersonal issues and personal dramas, but that’s a staple of reality TV.

 

The first attempt at unseating the original is NEXT IN FASHION (Netflix), which has been streaming since January. Unlike PR, which can pull designers from relative obscurity, this one targets designers with some cred in the biz. Hosts are Queer Eye’s Tan Fran and model (and more) Alexa Chung. This series pulls more of the focus on them and their attempted cute moments, instead of the political interactions of the contestants. The basics are the same, but they work in teams…at least for the 3 episodes I watched before finding it a pale competitor. Also, all episodes are available, making streaming possible but lacking any week-to-week suspense.

 

Ramping up the stakes is MAKING THE CUT (Amazon) which re-pairs Klum and Gunn with a dozen already established designers from around the world. There are several bigger stakes:

– The show travels to several international capitals

– The designers do NOT sew their own work (it’s a design competition), but send them off to pro seamstresses

– The final prize is a million dollars.

 

Naomi Campbell is among the judges and one of the most entertaining new features is hearing the judges comment on the garments as they come down the runway. They also tease the designers with a different approach to judging/announcing the winner/loser (or losers…they claim more than one could go home any week). I also noticed that Tim’s “Make it Work” was never spoken. I imagine that and several other familiar phrases made popular by the original, were not the intellectual property of this show.

 

Taking advantage of the Amazon connection, each week’s winning design is sold on the shopping behemoth’s site (link here). They seem to be priced around $50 each (one was already sold out) and are made primarily of polyester (which keeps the price down). Of local note, RVA designer Martha Gottwald’s is one of the contestants. (RTD article about her) In an attempt to maintain interest the show is being released weekly (like the original).

 

So who’s the winner? Def not Netflix: trying too hard and not especially original (plus, I’m not fan of the Queer Eye guys). Adding Siriano to Runway show makes it more cool (and youthful), but with the power of Amazon behind it, Making the Cut is worth watching…just because it’s so money!

Reviews from inside

Reviews from inside

Since there are no local movies or plays to cover and since I watch a LOT of TV/streaming, I thought I’d review some of it. Maybe it’ll help ameliorate some of the frustration during this at-home confinement.

 

THE STRANGER (Netflix)

It’s based on Harlan Corben’s novel about a mysterious woman who shows up in peoples’ lives with a revelation that causes devastating consequences. It’s compelling right from the beginning (including some red herrings), but requires a bit of patience before the riveting final episodes (I was literally screaming at the TV). It’s also fun to see Jennifer Saunders (creator of Absolutely Fabulous) in a straight role. Basically, this is a quality British crime thriller with interesting characters and a gratifyingly gripping conclusion. 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

 

YEAR OF THE RABBIT (IFC)

Another British crime import, but in a totally different vein. The oafish, bumbling police inspector (Matt Berry) sets about with 2 sidekicks to solve crimes in Victorian London. This is created in the broad style of English comedy that some may not enjoy, but the utter silliness of the interactions and often hilarious moments of “flavor” keep it entertaining. Especially fun is the appearance of The Elephant Man as a raging theatre queen. 3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

 

HUNTERS (Amazon Prime Video)

In a totally different type of police drama set in the 70s, a group of determined Jews (led by Al Pacino) sets out to find former Nazi’s living in America. Even though this is supposedly inspired by true events, they’ve added an almost superhero family of crime-stopping characters. To further the graphic novel approach, there are several detours from the traditional narrative storytelling. Most disturbing are the frequent flashbacks to concentration camps that parallel the storylines of various characters. Overall, the extensive personal dramas override the few moments of actual revenge encounters. Give it 2 or 3 episodes before deciding if it’s for you. 2.5 out of 5 stars (2.5 / 5)

 

THE OUTSIDER (HBO)

Heading even further into the police genre is the thriller based on a Stephen King novel. Jason Bateman (who also directed the first 2 episodes, the best of the series) plays a loving family man who’s accused of the horrible murder of a young boy. The evidence becomes contradictory pretty early on, which leads the characters on a conspiracy that’s more supernatural and terrifying than they can fathom. Ben Mendelsohn and Cynthia Erivo create especially captivating characters, but the overall style and approach of the series add an additional element of apprehension. One of the best recent TV series. 4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

 

Closer to home and NOT a mystery, you can watch my documentary, Spider Mites Of Jesus: The Dirtwoman Documentary, via streaming or DVD. Read more and order here.

Take Donnie home

Take Donnie home

After

– 2 years in production

– 70 interviews

– 7 film festivals

– 4 weeks at Movieland

now you can enjoy SPIDER MITES OF JESUS: THE DIRTWOMAN DOCUMENTARY in the safety of your own home.

 

DVD/streaming is now up for order at DirtwomanDoc.com.

 

It’s also on sale at Mongrel and Plan 9 (Richmond and Charlottesville).

Emma (review)

Emma (review)

This newest adaptation of the Jane Austen classic isn’t really modernized, but feels somewhat updated in attitude. It revolves around the rich, entitled title character whose misguided attempts at romance (for her and others) is the fulcrum of the story. Without a lot of actual laughs, there’s an overall mirthful aspect that makes it pleasantly entertaining. The performances are genuine and their interactions enjoyable. Being a period film, you expect the requisite beauty, but this film’s costumes are outstandingly gorgeous. An agreeable little trifle.

 

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

 

Movie website

Greed (review)

Greed (review)

The film looks like it’s gonna be a smart satire, but ends up being a sharp indictment of the fast fashion industry. Steve Coogan stars as a smarmy, self assured billionaire who’s made his fortune selling cheap clothes. Much of the movie revolves around the extravagant 60th birthday party he’s throwing for himself, but the timeline also bounces between his history of unscrupulous deal making and a public inquiry that’s threatened his fortune and reputation. While the movie is set up to look like a witty send-up (common territory for director Michael Winterbottom), this film, and the rich people who populate it, are mostly mean-spirited, insensitive and entitled. The side stories about their disregard for the poor and struggling begins to overshadow the fun. As a result, the film ends up being a bleak condemnation of the lust for money over humanitarian considerations. There is even a parade of condemning statistics at the end. (Criterion Cinemas only)

 

2.5 out of 5 stars (2.5 / 5)

 

Movie website

Onward (review)

Onward (review)

Pixar has had some stumbles in the past, but this one rates as their biggest fall yet. The concept seemed cool: A modern world inhabited by all sorts of mythical creatures has lost its magic. Two brothers (voiced by Tom Holland and Chris Pratt) set out to cast a spell that will give them one final day with their departed father, while rekindling the enchantment of their forgotten world. None of the characters are especially memorable and there aren’t any cute sidekicks to add wacky charm. The script is rather bland, never funny and tries way too hard to be sweetly emotional. Finally, the animation is seldom beautiful or even cool. Kids might enjoy the high-energy pacing, but there’s not much else to make this one stand out. To flex Disney’s new Fox muscles, there’s rather dumb (literally and figuratively) Simpsons short before the feature (and I’m a big Simpsons fan).

 

2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5)

 

Movie website

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