TheWrapAlonso Duralde – TheWrap https://www.thewrap.com Covering Hollywood Sat, 24 Feb 2018 03:56:36 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.4 ‘Game Night’ Film Review: Winning Action-Comedy Passes Go, Collects $200 https://www.thewrap.com/game-night-film-review-rachel-mcadams-jason-bateman/ https://www.thewrap.com/game-night-film-review-rachel-mcadams-jason-bateman/#respond Wed, 21 Feb 2018 02:00:59 +0000 Alonso Duralde https://www.thewrap.com/?p=1817328 We play games because we can’t always predict who’s going to win, and movies can offer similarly exciting surprises. There are a million reasons why, on paper, “Game Night” might feel like a run-of-the-mill studio comedy, but it’s anything but.

Fast and funny, filled with memorable characters, and able to balance slapstick and violence without spilling too far in either direction, this frenetic R-rated farce is that rare comic gem that lands on all the spaces without ever going to jail.

Viewers would be forgiven for their hesitance to see another movie from the directors of the “Vacation” reboot, but John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, working from a pitch-perfect screenplay by Mark Perez (“Accepted”), have crafted an ensemble comedy that lives up to its high-concept premise while giving a gang of talented actors — including the gifted Jason Bateman, so rarely employed to great effect on the big screen — fun characters and big, outrageous moments.

On the surface, “Game Night” seems like an amalgam of ideas from other movies, both good (the illusion-vs.-reality of “The Game” and “The Man Who Knew Too Little”) and bad (the frantic suburbanites of “Sex Tape”), but it never feels gimmicky or contrived or dully familiar. It nails the jokes, yes, but on a higher degree of difficulty, it also nails the plot.

Bateman stars as Max, a hyper-competitive game player married to the equally intense Annie (Rachel McAdams). They meet as rival trivia team captains, before courting each other through a montage of Risk and Pictionary nights. Now married, the two are having a tough time conceiving, perhaps because Max feels overshadowed by the one person he can never beat: his slick brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler).

Investment banker Brooks comes breezing into town (driving the vintage Corvette Stingray that has been Max’s lifelong dream car) and takes over Max and Annie’s weekly game night. He offers the couple and their friends — married high-school sweethearts Kevin (Lamorne Morris, “New Girl”) and Michelle (Kylie Bunbury, “Pitch”), lovable dolt Ryan (Billy Magnussen, “Ingrid Goes West”) — the opportunity to compete for the car by solving a fake kidnapping that’s about to happen.

The men who storm Brooks’ house and take him are not, however, from the murder-mystery games company he hired; they’re actual goons dispatched to nab him for a shady deal he brokered. But no one else knows this, so the friends let the kidnapping take place before they start following the clues. By the time the three couples — Ryan has brought along co-worker Sarah (Sharon Horgan, “Catastrophe”), under the impression that all British people are automatically smart — figure out that (dun dun dun) the game is real, they’re immersed in a world of actual guns (and gun wounds), underground fight clubs, smuggled intel, and long-buried secrets involving sex with celebrities.

Perhaps most vexing to Max and Annie is that they are forced to go to their cop neighbor Gary (Jesse Plemons) for help; Gary’s ex-wife was their game-night friend, but now she’s gone and they’re stuck with this pill who plays terribly, speaks in a creepy monotone, and seems obsessed with his fluffy white dog, who becomes part of one of the film’s many hysterical sight gags.

In a lesser movie, Plemons’ ingeniously off-putting performance would handily steal the show, but in “Game Night,” it’s just one of many great turns; Bateman’s patented slow-burn plays well off McAdams’ upbeat charm (when holding bad guys at gunpoint, she forces them into Child’s Pose), while Magnussen’s inspired idiocy perpetually finds new depths. Horgan, as a newcomer to this circle, gets her fair share of wry put-downs, and the movie even finds an organic excuse for Morris to do his killer Denzel impersonation.

It could have been very easy for the stakes and violence that eventually surface to undo the film’s delightful silliness, but there’s a brilliant balance of the many tonal shifts involved. It certainly helps that this is a movie that feels actually written and not, like so many studio comedies of recent vintage, simply made up as it goes along by a cast of comedians. Perez’s screenplay sets up gags and pays them off all the way through to the very end, and its core of well-established central characters allows us to follow them through some dangerous situations, laughing all the way.

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‘Red Sparrow’ Film Review: Jennifer Lawrence Swans About in Silly Spy Tale https://www.thewrap.com/red-sparrow-film-review-jennifer-lawrence/ https://www.thewrap.com/red-sparrow-film-review-jennifer-lawrence/#respond Fri, 16 Feb 2018 17:00:47 +0000 Alonso Duralde https://www.thewrap.com/?p=1815118 I’m sorry, “Red Sparrow,” but you can’t just throw out a brilliantly terrible line like “You sent me to whore school!” — spit out angrily by Jennifer Lawrence, in a Russian accent, no less — and then not live up to that level of wildness for your entire running time. Neither intelligent enough to be involving nor fun enough to be trashy, this is a movie that would only work if it were a little worse or a lot better.

As it is, Lawrence’s reunion with director Francis Lawrence (the second through fourth “Hunger Games” movies) does at least amp up the sex and violence in an attempt to cover up the fact that the story feels grafted together from any number of spy sagas, not to mention the USSR flashbacks from “The Americans” and “The Avengers: Age of Ultron.”

Ultimately, this brand of dazzle camouflage is no more successful than casting Aussie actor Joel Edgerton as CIA agent Nate Nash (no, really) to make it less noticeable that most of the Russians are played by Americans, Brits and Belgians. “Red Sparrow” is the sort of sumptuous, globe-trotting production that takes us to the Bolshoi, Budapest and London — not to mention the aforementioned “whore school,” where would-be spies are trained to be both deadly and seductive — but it’s the sort of listless affair where it’s easy to tune out and start noticing locations from other movies. (Ooo, it’s the apartment where Melissa McCarthy fights that guy in “Spy”!)

Jennifer Lawrence stars as Dominika, a star ballet dancer whose career is cut short by an onstage calamity. Faced with losing her Bolshoi-provided apartment, as well as health care for her sick mom Nina (Joely Richardson), Dominika accepts an assignment from her creepy uncle Vanya (no, really) a higher-up in the intelligence service. Vanya (Matthias Schoenaerts) sends Dominika to seduce an oligarch and steal his cell phone, but when the man tries to rape her, a mysterious intruder enters the hotel room and murders him.

Now that she’s a witness, Dominika has the choice of being killed or joining the government’s “Sparrow” program for sexy secret agents. Matron (Charlotte Rampling) tells Dominika she’ll have some catching up to do, since her classmates are mostly military-trained, but the former dancer takes an abbreviated curriculum (or maybe the editing badly conveys the passage of time) before she’s sent out into the field to find the identity of the Russian mole who’s feeding intel to Nate Nash.

The Russians think that Dominika can be trusted (particularly after they torture her at one point), and the Americans suspect they can turn Dominika for their own purposes, but she clearly has an agenda of her own. The screenplay by Justin Haythe (“A Cure for Wellness”), based on the novel by Jason Matthews, focuses on the double-crosses and in Dominika and Nate’s relationship, despite the fact that Jennifer Lawrence and Joel Edgerton have zero chemistry.

But the only plot of genuine interest involves Dominika getting herself and her mother out from under the thumb of her uncle, who clearly has quasi-incestuous designs on his niece.

It also doesn’t help that the film is so desperate to be taken seriously. Any movie that is clearly grafting Jennifer Lawrence’s face onto a pirouetting ballerina’s body, or taking the actress from brunette to blonde with one box of Hungarian drugstore hair dye, could easily tip into delicious campiness; Rampling’s Lotte Lenya realness suggests she knows what this silly saga should be, as do the winking turns by Mary-Louise Parker as a boozy American turncoat and Jeremy Irons as a steely general.

Had “Red Sparrow” dared to have a little fun along the way, this hard-R thriller might actually have thrilled.

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‘Black Panther’ Film Review: Supporting Players Steal Show in Marvel’s Excellent African Adventure https://www.thewrap.com/black-panther-film-review-mcu/ https://www.thewrap.com/black-panther-film-review-mcu/#respond Thu, 15 Feb 2018 14:30:47 +0000 Alonso Duralde https://www.thewrap.com/?p=1806725 It used to be that once characters became established stars in the world of comics, publishers would create anthology titles like “Superman Family” or “Archie’s Gals and Pals,” thus allowing readers to get not only new stories about the title character but also ancillary tales about, say, Lois Lane or Principal Weatherbee. I bring this up because “Black Panther” does such a great job introducing the fascinating supporting characters in his orbit that it can barely find time to dig into its purported protagonist.

Black Panther (played by Chadwick Boseman) was introduced to the Marvel Cinematic Universe in a fairly brief appearance in “Captain America: Civil War,” in which his father, King T’Chaka of the African nation of Wakanda, was assassinated. This mostly rousing solo adventure, directed by Ryan Coogler (who co-wrote with Joe Robert Cole, “American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson”), surrounds our hero with such a terrific cadre of gals and pals — and sidelines him for a chunk of the third act — that he almost gets shoved to the background.

As the film opens, Boseman’s Prince T’Challa is returning to Wakanda, where he will succeed his father both on the throne and as the possessor of the powers of the Black Panther. (This is one of the few superheroes who is also a head of state.) What makes “Black Panther” unusual is that there are no personal hurdles our hero has to overcome; he’s ready, willing and able to inherit both titles, with no need to overcome hubris or fear or arrogance. Thankfully, we’re spared yet another Joseph Campbell-style reluctant hero’s journey.

What does stand in T’Challa’s way are the harsh realities of politics and statesmanship, as he learns a dark secret from his father’s past that casts a pall over a land that is a paradise on Earth. Wakanda, you see, was built on the site where a meteorite made of pure vibranium (the metal from which Captain America’s shield was forged) crashed. It’s made the Wakandans technologically advanced, but they’ve kept their wealth and wizardry a secret from the world.

One of the most dramatic — and relevant — storylines the film explores is whether or not advanced societies owe it to the global community to share their discoveries rather than keep their bounty to themselves. (Or as one character asks, putting none too fine a point on it, do we build bridges or erect barriers?)

T’Challa’s ex-girlfriend Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), a spy we first see liberating captured women and child soldiers, thinks it’s the duty of Wakanda to use its resources to help those less fortunate. And when a villainous black-ops assassin with the catchy nickname Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) shows up, he also wants Wakanda to share its wealth — by putting its high-tech weapons in the hands of black revolutionaries the world over.

Coogler (who previously directed Jordan in “Creed” and “Fruitvale Station”) plunges us into the wonders of Wakanda, and in doing so, gives us three women in T’Challa’s orbit who steal his onscreen thunder: besides Nakia, there’s Okoye (Danai Gurira, “The Walking Dead”), the intensely dedicated (and drily funny) warrior general, as well as the new king’s younger sister Shuri (Letitia Wright, “The Commuter”), a tech genius who serves as this movie’s Tony Stark.

Or, if you prefer, Q: “Black Panther” features at least one sequence that out-007s the recent James Bond movies. Shuri outfits T’Challa with some new gizmos just in time for him, Nakia and Okoye to travel to a casino in Busan, South Korea, where they get into a brawl with arms dealer Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) before a breathtaking car chase ensues. (Among that sequence’s thrilling aspects is Black Panther riding on top of a driverless sports car that Shuri is handling via remote control from her lab in Wakanda.)

It’s these thrilling moments that make the film’s occasional pacing lapses forgivable; not to give away too much of the plot, but the story is structured in a way that several key moments are repeated or revisited from another angle. (There’s a lot of rule-of-threes in the storytelling here.)

But when “Black Panther” works, it’s thrillingly alive, whether it’s the dazzling colors of the vivid costumes by Ruth E. Carter (“Selma”) — in Wakanda, the Basotho blankets emit force-fields — or the eclectic and vibrant music choices; the score by Ludwig Göransson (“Creed”) vacillates smoothly between European strings and African percussion and woodwinds, while the songs put Kendrick Lamar and The Weeknd side by side with South African performers like Babes Wodumo and Sjava.

One reason the charismatic Boseman doesn’t register as much as his counterparts might be his mask. We don’t get to see his face during fights the way we do Nyong’o’s or Gurira’s. (In some of the film’s less successful VFX moments, it’s obvious that the fighting figure of Black Panther is pure cartoon.) But who can complain when the film offers up Jordan’s Killmonger, one of the MCU’s most fascinating villains to date, as part of a powerful ensemble that includes Angela Bassett, Daniel Kaluuya, Winston Duke and Sterling K. Brown?

“Black Panther” boasts a lot of black talent on both sides of the camera, which is unusual enough for a big studio movie, but this is also one of the most Africa-centric films Hollywood has ever produced. Outside of “Queen of Katwe” — would that a tenth of the “Black Panther” audience had bought a ticket for that lovely film two years ago — or “Sense 8,” American viewers don’t get much of a look at one of the planet’s most gorgeous and populous continents, so it’s exciting to see the wildly popular Marvel movies take us there.

Like many of the best of the MCU movies, “Black Panther” doesn’t waste time laying out a lot of groundwork for films to come (still, stay for those closing credits) and it doesn’t assume that you’ve seen and memorized the previous 17 movies (still, if you have, you’ll pick up on a thing or two that others might miss). It’s already been announced that Black Panther will fight alongside the Avengers in the upcoming “Infinity War,” but here’s hoping he brings as much of his entourage with him as possible.

Watch the rest of our film team’s reaction:

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‘Early Man’ Film Review: Aardman Scores a Rare Whiff With Caveman Soccer Story https://www.thewrap.com/early-man-film-review-aardman-eddie-redmayne/ https://www.thewrap.com/early-man-film-review-aardman-eddie-redmayne/#respond Thu, 15 Feb 2018 00:15:07 +0000 Alonso Duralde https://www.thewrap.com/?p=1783652 Britain’s Aardman ranks alongside Pixar and Studio Ghibli as one of this generation’s greatest animation studios, from early shorts like “Creature Comforts” to the ongoing adventures of Shaun the Sheep and Wallace & Gromit to such beloved features as “Chicken Run” and “Arthur Christmas.” So it’s more than a little disappointing that Aardman’s latest, “Early Man,” is so crushingly mediocre.

When a studio has made some of the finest animation in the history of cinema, it’s quite a letdown to describe their new movie as better than the “Ice Age” series but not quite up to “The Croods.”

Like those other titles, this is a tale of cavemen, although in this case the Stone Age comes butting up against the Bronze Age. And while there are countless paths by which one could portray such a clash of cultures, Aardman vet Nick Park and a trio of writers decided the best way to tell this story was with … a soccer game. (Sorry, football.)

Dug (voiced by Eddie Redmayne) is a member of a tribe that subsists on rabbit; it’s a bit of a miracle that they have managed to survive since, despite their smooth teamwork as hunters, they would appear to be fairly inept. (To say nothing of the fact that one little bunny is expected to feed a dozen or so people.) Despite the tribal chief (Timothy Spall) poo-poohing Dug’s dreams of hunting mammoths, mammoths come to them as the beasts of burden of Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddleston), a higher-up in a nearby kingdom that has fully embraced bronze mining and production.

Dug and his friends are kicked out of the valley by Lord Nooth’s mining interests, and Dug realizes the only way to get his home back is to challenge Lord Nooth’s champion football team to a match. The cavemen are hopeless at first, but Goona (Maisie Williams) — who dreams of being the first female footballer — whips the knuckle-dragging team into shape. But can Dug still lead the squad after he realizes that his tribe’s ancestors not only invented football but were also terrible at it? Will Lord Nooth’s cheating keep these underdogs from winning the day?

Had “Early Man” chosen to satirize sports-movie tropes rather than merely indulge in them, the results might have been more fun. There’s so much familiarity to the proceedings that by the time we get to the requisite kid-movie messaging (you are not a slave to destiny, teamwork is good), it’s all the more apparent that there aren’t enough solid jokes or interesting characters or careful plotting to distract us from the inevitable.

The titular early men (and women) are mostly interchangeable, and even our protagonist Dug never really changes or learns all that much over the course of the film. Over in the more civilized area, Lord Nooth isn’t a particularly interesting villain; he’s merely greedy and somewhat effete. Even the preening divas on his football team are fairly flat star-athlete archetypes.

It’s immediately apparent that the trademark Aardman humor is in short supply, since the first five minutes feels like leftover shtick from “The Flintstones” (baby crocodile clothespins) and Douglas Adams (the opening cards tell us we’re in “The Neo-Pleistocene Era” (beat) “near Manchester” (best) “around lunchtime”). The visuals and the character designs are unspectacular — those piggy noses on most of Dug’s tribe are distractingly awful — as is the high-profile voice cast.

Rob Bryden (“The Trip to Spain”) easily steals scenes as a message bird (which mimics its sender’s voice) and a pair of football commentators. (Their jokes about cricket and Man United will no doubt play better in the UK than in the States.)

There’s a mild chuckle every so often in “Early Man” — “You’ve barely touched your primordial soup!” — but overall the movie collapses in a heap of familiarity and lackadaisicalness. Park is an animation legend, but even the greats occasionally whiff it.

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‘Double Lover’ Film Review: François Ozon’s Perverse Thriller Features One Woman, Two Shrinks https://www.thewrap.com/double-lover-review-francois-ozon-jeremie-renier/ https://www.thewrap.com/double-lover-review-francois-ozon-jeremie-renier/#respond Wed, 14 Feb 2018 18:49:53 +0000 Alonso Duralde https://www.thewrap.com/?p=1813153 You might think that a movie that opens with a close-up of a cervical exam (that dissolves into a shot of the heroine’s eye, filmed sideways) has nowhere left to go, but in “Double Lover,” French filmmaker François Ozon (“Swimming Pool,” “8 Women”) is just getting started.

While the film’s obsession with twins (and occasional moments of body horror) might call to mind David Cronenberg’s darkly brilliant “Dead Ringers,” this new film focuses less on a pair of twin psychiatrists (both played by Jérémie Renier) and more on the patient-turned-lover (Marine Vacth) whose obsession with them mounts to dangerous levels.

This is the sort of thriller that constantly sideswipes you with dream sequences and hallucinations, but if you’re willing to go on Ozon’s ride, it’s an unpredictable journey.

Loosely adapting Joyce Carol Oates’ “Lives of the Twins,” Ozon (and collaborator Philippe Piazzo) have crafted the unsettling tale of Chloé (Vacth), a former model who is sent to a psychiatrist when there appears to be no physical explanation for her stomach pains. She sees Paul Meyer (Renier) and pours out the story of her difficult relationship with her mother, her need to be seen and appreciated.

Paul says very little in these sessions, but when Chloé says she is feeling better, he violates any number of medical ethics by telling her he loves her. The two move in together — she brings along a cat that Paul doesn’t particularly like — but she feels that he is keeping secrets, particularly when she finds an old passport with a different last name.

Soon, she thinks she sees him with another woman, but it turns out to have been another psychiatrist, Louis Delord (Renier), who claims to be Paul’s twin, even though Paul never mentions having had a brother.

The further involved she gets with Louis — and the more she tries to get Paul to open up about his past — the more Chloé seems to spiral into madness. But is she being violently played by two diabolical brothers, or is she trapping herself in a web of her own making? Ozon brilliantly zigs and zags, keeping us uncertain about what we’re seeing, what Chloé does and doesn’t know about the men in her life, and where this mania will lead.

Before the introduction of Louis, “Double Lover” is already playing with the idea of doubling and overlapping, whether it’s in the subtle split-screen of Chloé’s sessions with Paul — sometimes we see each of their faces as she speaks, other times we get two different angles on her face — or with the multiple mirrors that seem to appear almost everywhere Chloé goes. (It’s no spoiler to say that there’s a climactic shout-out to the famous finale of “The Lady from Shanghai.”)

With its blend of the stylish and the psychological, “Double Lover” falls squarely in Ozon’s wheelhouse, with actors who know how to convey his brand of chilly ambiguity. (Vacth starred in “Young & Beautiful,” Renier in “Potiche.”) There’s a chic frigidity to most of the sets, with the notable exception of the mumsy apartment of Chloé’s cat-lady neighbor, and that glacial crispness bleeds into the sound design as well.

Chloé eventually gets a job as a gallery monitor in an arts space featuring beautiful and horrifying close-ups of surgeries, which turn out to be a perfect metaphor for “Double Lover,” a film that’s occasionally grotesque but always precise.

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‘Maze Runner: The Death Cure’ Film Review: Action Soars While the Story Bores https://www.thewrap.com/maze-runner-the-death-cure-film-review-dylan-o-brien-james-dashner/ https://www.thewrap.com/maze-runner-the-death-cure-film-review-dylan-o-brien-james-dashner/#respond Thu, 25 Jan 2018 17:10:15 +0000 Alonso Duralde https://www.thewrap.com/?p=1788185 The third and final film in the “Maze Runner” series, subtitled “The Death Cure,” gets it half right as an action movie. The stunts, the explosions and the chases are all exciting and elaborately mounted; there’s just not much of a movie to go with them.

When it was announced that last chapter of the on-screen “Divergent” saga was going straight to live on a farm upstate — or, rather, directly to television — it seemed like we’d heard the last gasp of the once ubiquitous, now exhausted YA genre. But no, here comes “The Death Cure” to pound the final nail in the coffin of teenage chosen ones fighting zombies in a post-apocalyptic dystopia. Goodbye, and good riddance.

“The Death Cure” provides no exposition or title cards up front to bring you up to speed if you missed the previous chapters or if, like me, you saw them but can scarcely remember the slightest detail about them, apart from a maze and some running. Nonetheless, we’re plunged right into the first of several splashy stunts, wherein a plucky band of rebels hijack a train, capture a futuristic fighter plane and liberate several dozen pre-adolescents.

That this entire operation involves the train, the plane and various feckless bad-guy soldiers winding up in exactly the right place at exactly the right time is the least of the film’s concerns. The one detail that Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) and his cohorts miss is getting the train car that contains their friend Minho (Ki Hong Lee, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”); realizing his mistake, Thomas wants to try another rescue mission, even though it will take him and his friends into the heart of “the last city,” a walled stronghold controlled by the wicked WCKD corporation, which has been attempting to use all of these untainted teens to wipe out the virus that’s turned most of the planet into half-dead bloodsuckers.

For those who have been paying attention and have any emotional investment, “The Death Cure” brings back some surprise characters, offers redemption to some (if not all) of the villains and winds up with an emotional coda that pays tribute to the brothers- and sisters-in-arms lost along the way. And we know it’s emotional because the score by John Paesano (“The Star”) keeps whipping us in the face with tear-jerking semaphore flags.

For everyone else, there’s the action, and it’s here where “The Death Cure” makes its strongest case for existence. There are cranes and buses and explosions and shoot-outs and hand-to-hand battles and invasions and demolitions, and they’re all delivered with a verve that is otherwise missing.

Director Wes Ball’s entire feature output has been these “Maze Runner” movies, and he definitely seems to have been learning on the job. He (and a no doubt very talented second unit) teams with editors Paul Harb (“The Expendables 3”) and Dan Zimmerman (“The Dark Tower”) and a top-flight visual effects crew to jolt the movie back to life every 15 or 20 minutes with another thrilling sequence.

In between, alas, T.S. Nowlin (“Phoenix Forgotten”), adapting James Dashner’s novel, mostly goes through the YA motions. The plot is so by-the-numbers and the dialogue so forgettable that the talented cast of character actors – including Lee, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Patricia Clarkson, Giancarlo Esposito, series newcomer Walton Goggins, and one more who can’t be mentioned since it’s a spoiler – seem to be mainly biding their time until a more interesting and possibly less lucrative project comes along.

As for O’Brien and co-star Kaya Scodelario, they’ve been reduced to beautiful blanks over the course of this entire series. If it turns out that they have a post-YA resurgence along the lines of what Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson have achieved since “Twilight,” more power to them.

The world of “Maze Runner” was never particularly unique or interesting. The best thing that “The Death Cure” does is blow it up spectacularly.

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‘Ophelia’ Film Review: Daisy Ridley Gives Shakespeare’s Tragic Heroine a Provocative Do-Over https://www.thewrap.com/ophelia-film-review-daisy-ridley-naomi-watts/ https://www.thewrap.com/ophelia-film-review-daisy-ridley-naomi-watts/#respond Tue, 23 Jan 2018 04:59:09 +0000 Alonso Duralde https://www.thewrap.com/?p=1793469 We’ve had “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” and “Fortinbras Gets Drunk,” and now there’s “Ophelia,” an intelligent and gorgeous spin on Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” from the point of view of the melancholy prince’s beloved.

“Hamlet” of course has its share of memorable characters — recall the bit player who claimed that the play was about a grave digger who meets a prince — but this provocative adaptation of Lisa Klein’s novel gives an oft-maligned character purpose and agency. It is not betrayal and madness that bewitches this Ophelia but toxic masculinity.

Director Claire McCarthy (“The Waiting City”) and adapter Semi Chellas (“Mad Men”) give us an Elsinore Castle and its court that’s as handsomely mounted as any number of straightforward Shakespearean adaptations, but they cleverly tweak the proceedings to make us reexamine key moments from an entirely different angle. (Hamlet’s advice that the girl get herself to a nunnery gets a whole new context, and when Ophelia goes mad, she’s crazy like a fox.)

Our heroine grows up a commoner in the castle, running wild with older children after her beloved brother Laertes begins studying in the library, which is off-limits to girls. After she’s caught crashing the going-away banquet for college-bound young Hamlet, Queen Gertrude (Naomi Watts) takes the little tomboy under her wing and makes her a lady-in-waiting. Played by Daisy Ridley as a young adult, Ophelia is mocked by her peers for not being of noble birth, but her ability to read makes her a close confidant to the queen.

That gives her a front row seat to Gertrude’s fear of getting old, which makes the monarch susceptible to the seduction of her brother-in-law Claudius (Clive Owen). And while Hamlet (George MacKay, “Captain Fantastic”) starts out being merely flirty, he later pledges his true love to Ophelia despite their difference in station.

Brimming with palace intrigue and fascinating backstory (Claudius has skeletons in his closet from well before his fratricide), “Ophelia” gives the character new depth, even letting her experience some of the play’s big moments, whether it’s encountering a ghost on the battlements or eavesdropping on important conversations from behind a tapestry.

The film is rich with detail, from the ornate (yet lived-in) interiors to the gorgeous costumes by Massimo Cantini Parrini (“The Leisure Seeker”). McCarthy has a high-concept story to tell, but the images tell a story of their own, from the time-lapse sunset over the face of King Hamlet to the occasional flocks of birds that seem to announce danger.

Ridley is simply extraordinary, and she and MacKay give us a younger, lustier Ophelia and Hamlet than we usually get on the big screen. (At times, they call to mind the age-appropriate Romeo and Juliet from the 1968 Franco Zefferelli version.) She’s a girl angling to survive and to make her way through a complicated system that is designed to destroy the likes of her, and this Ophelia is nobody’s fool.

Watts, so often misused of late, finds the many layers of Gertrude (as well as another character) while Owen brings an appropriate brutishness to the throne room. And as the adult Laertes, Tom Felton gets a juicy grown-up role that takes him further away from his indelible portrayal of Draco Malfoy.

Ultimately, “Ophelia” is the story of a woman who offers all of herself and all of her love to a man who wants her — but who wants vengeance and violence more. It’s a tragedy that has played out countless times, but it feels fresh and powerful in this telling.

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‘Skate Kitchen’ Film Review: Female Skateboarders Find Freedom on Four Wheels https://www.thewrap.com/skate-kitchen-film-review-jaden-smith/ https://www.thewrap.com/skate-kitchen-film-review-jaden-smith/#respond Mon, 22 Jan 2018 06:20:39 +0000 Alonso Duralde https://www.thewrap.com/?p=1792133 At the end of Bruce Beresford’s 1981 coming-of-age film “Puberty Blues,” two teenage girls who had been relegated to surfer-groupie status grab their own boards and defiantly charge into the waves. More than 30 years later, young women are still fighting for their corner of extreme sports, and “Skate Kitchen” celebrates female skateboarders who demand their right to grind and pop and kickflip whether the boys like it or not.

The narrative debut of documentarian Crystal Moselle (“The Wolfpack”), “Skate Kitchen” celebrates the liberation and the sisterhood that comes with skateboarding, with a mostly refreshing take on how teen girls deal with parents, boys and each other.

Young phenom Rachelle Vinberg stars as Camille, a shy, bespectacled Long Islander who is nonetheless skilled and fearless. In the opening scene, we see her wipeout after attempting to jump over a set of stairs; the board gets her between the legs (another character refers to this as “being credit card-ed”), causing some minor bleeding. Even though a few stitches takes care of the problem, Camille’s mom (Elizabeth Rodriguez) wants her to give it up, lest she become unable to bear children.

But it’s too late: Camille has already discovered a pack of skater girls in Manhattan whom she sneaks off to join at the park or in the streets. (Note to parents: Camille keeps photos of herself at the library in her phone to throw off her mother’s scent.) When she’s finally caught coming home late and lying, Camille runs off to live with her new friends. Her new life becomes complicated, however, when she falls for sk8er boi Devon (Jaden Smith), who happens to be the ex of her friend Janay (Dede Lovelace).

The fallout between Camille and her new friends over Devon feels like a bit of a misstep: female filmmakers and film critics have long bemoaned the fact (even before there was a Bechdel test) that too many movies about strong women’s friendships have been spoiled by girls fighting over a boy. The subplot feels like the film’s sole commercial concession, particularly since “Skate Kitchen” is the product of a female director and writers. (Moselle shares script credit with Jen Silverman and Aslihan Unaldi.)

There is interesting friction between the male skaters and the female ones, and while Camille becomes a pariah to the latter, she begins to build a bridge between both communities. It would have been nice if the film’s emotional climax had been less rushed; much of it takes place off-screen after a single text message.

For the most part, however, this is a gorgeous exploration of a young woman coming into her own via her skills and her sisterhood. The script has a funny looseness to it, capturing girl-talk in a way few features manage to; when one of the skaters admits to being hesitant about an upcoming gynecological exam, outspoken lesbian Kurt (Nina Moran) takes a quick peek and declares her friend’s genitals “valid.”

Cinematographer Shabier Kirchner gives the New York locations a welcoming glow, and when Camille skates, the film seems to leap from gritty reality to transcendent lyricism, accompanied by ASKA’s soaring score or a handful of well-chosen pop songs (including Junior Senior’s “Move Your Feet” and Khalid’s “Young Dumb & Broke”).

The cast is mostly made up of skaters from the real Skate Kitchen collective — check out Moran’s TED Talk on the subject — and you’d never know they weren’t experienced actresses; their rapport with each other and with the camera is utterly relaxed. Rodriguez (“Orange Is the New Black”) has great moments with Vinberg, both loving and adversarial. As for Smith, the film’s one marquee name, he seems a lot more comfortable than he did in “After Earth,” and his work here makes for an interesting entry in a very eclectic on- and off-screen career.

“Skate Kitchen” is a funny and stirring saga of female empowerment that will no doubt delight young women who skate while inspiring many more to pick up a board. It also heralds Moselle as a director who can easily switch stance on both sides of the fiction/non-fiction divide.

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‘Jane Fonda in Five Acts’ Film Review: Doc Explores the Many Lives of the Actress-Activist https://www.thewrap.com/jane-fonda-in-five-acts-film-review-hbo-documentary/ https://www.thewrap.com/jane-fonda-in-five-acts-film-review-hbo-documentary/#respond Sun, 21 Jan 2018 16:34:28 +0000 Alonso Duralde https://www.thewrap.com/?p=1791999 “Jane Fonda in Five Acts” could easily have been a 10-hour miniseries; it would take at least two hours merely to go through each of her 50 or so film performances. As a second-generation star, an outspoken activist, an entrepreneur and feminist icon, Fonda almost seems like a living metaphor for the uneasy and constantly changing post-WWII era.

If she didn’t actually exist, Jane Wagner and Lily Tomlin would have had to make her up as a character in “The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe.” But she does exist, and she’s still here, and documentarian Susan Lacy (“Spielberg”) digs deep into Fonda’s life to create a film (for HBO) that’s an audio-visual supplement to the actress’ fascinating 2005 memoir (“My Life So Far”), a frank examination of Fonda’s personal evolution, and a celebration of her role in popular culture.

It’s a story of highs and lows, successes and regrets; yes, Megyn Kelly, Fonda wishes she hadn’t had plastic surgery, noting that she loves “lived-in faces,” like the one on her dear friend Vanessa Redgrave, after whom she named her oldest daughter. Her relationship with her daughter also counts as a regret, but it’s taken Fonda a lifetime to understand her own mother, and she hopes that it’s not too late to make up for her own mistakes.

The first four acts of the title refer to the men who guided Fonda through most of her life: her father, Henry, an iconic screen presence in his own right; her first husband, French filmmaker Roger Vadim, who guided her through her Euro-sex kitten period (and it’s a delight to hear her trill part of the “Barbarella” theme song); her second, activist Tom Hayden, whom she met during her own agitation against the Vietnam War and for the rights of indigenous peoples; her third, billionaire Ted Turner. The final act belongs to Fonda herself, who left her final marriage when she realized she was finally ready to guide her own destiny.

It’s a whirlwind trip through the Actors Studio, Paris, Hanoi, Beverly Hills, Three Mile Island, aerobics studios and Montana, among other stops, and we see the progression from a little girl who felt distanced from her parents (dad cheated, mom was diagnosed with what we now know as bipolar disorder), to a young ingénue who had chops but not confidence, to a vocal spokesperson for causes that had meaning for her.

Fonda admits that during the early years of her activism, she was “starving and speedy,” eating very little and taking Dexedrine to suppress her appetite. And even as a vocal feminist, she still spent much of her life craving validation from men.

While “Jane Fonda in Five Acts” in no way acts as a substitution for the book, it does allow for other voices; we hear from Hayden and Turner, friend and producer Paula Weinstein, and Fonda’s son (with Hayden), Troy Garity, who supplies some of the film’s most hilarious and poignant observations on its subject.

It was surprising to see, at Sundance no less, interviews with Robert Redford about his decades-long friendship and collaboration with Fonda, particularly since Weinstein calls him out at one point; according to her, it was Redford not fighting for Fonda to get the role in “Legal Eagles” over the younger, newer Debra Winger that made Fonda realize that her years as a big-screen leading lady were behind her.

But Lacy and Fonda aren’t afraid to go to the uncomfortable places: We see footage of angry Americans who demanded exile (or execution) for Fonda after her visit to Hanoi during the Vietnam War, and Fonda herself admits that allowing herself to be photographed with an anti-aircraft gun was a huge mistake and her one regret of the trip.

She’s also got a lot to be proud of: Besides her work as an actress and activist, she produced “Coming Home” and “The China Syndrome” and “9 to 5” to tell stories she felt were important, and it would be hard to find someone working in movies now who is similarly committed to marrying issues and entertainment. And at the age of 80, she’s still getting laughs (opposite Tomlin) on Netflix’s “Grace and Frankie” and showing up at Standing Rock and other hot spots to loan her spotlight to causes that need them.

The movie opens with makeup artists attaching Fonda’s false eyelashes before her appearance at a recent Golden Globes, and that scene lets us know that the film’s subject is going to let us in on pretty much everything. Hers is a lot of life to try to capture in one movie, but “Jane Fonda in Five Acts” certainly covers her emotional arc with thoroughness and compassion.

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‘Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind’ Film Review: HBO Doc Remembers Comic Actor With Tough Love https://www.thewrap.com/robin-williams-come-inside-my-mind-film-review-hbo-documentary/ https://www.thewrap.com/robin-williams-come-inside-my-mind-film-review-hbo-documentary/#respond Sat, 20 Jan 2018 19:37:18 +0000 Alonso Duralde https://www.thewrap.com/?p=1791682 Free association has rarely been freer than in the mind of Robin Williams, whose gift for improvisation made him one of the most respected comedians and dramatic actors of his generation. And in “Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind,” director Marina Zenovich (“Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired”) pops the hood and shows us some of what made this artist tick.

It’s a film that, early on, feels like a standard catch-a-rising-star celebrity hagiography, but as the story continues — and the impressive line-up of interviewees get deeper into their memories of Williams — the film achieves a balance between celebration and unfiltered recollection. His addictions to cocaine, alcohol and even the very act of getting a laugh are explored by friends and family as well as, in voice-over, by Williams himself in frank archival interviews.

Most fans know the general outline: Marin County kid goes to Juilliard, where John Houseman picks Williams and his roommate Christopher Reeve as his most promising students. Classically-trained improv actor becomes stand-up comedian who jumps from subject to subject to impersonation to outrageous physicality with lightning speed. A one-episode stint as Mork from Ork on the hit sitcom “Happy Days” leads to his own show. The movies, the nanny, the heart surgery, the Parkinson’s diagnosis, and the tragic suicide in 2014 at the age of 63.

Zenovich fills in some of the blanks: Williams grew up spending a lot of time alone, entertaining himself with characters he would create for his toy soldiers. Later, he attended an all-male college and started taking theater classes because they were the only ones that were co-ed.

And then there’s the film’s impressive array of interviews: David Letterman recalls thinking that he’d picked perhaps the worst time to move to L.A. to become a comedian after seeing Williams onstage. Elayne Boosler talks about being Williams’ girlfriend while acknowledging his need to have other women, including another girlfriend in San Francisco, Valerie Velardi, who eventually became his first wife.

Eric Idle and Billy Crystal and Steve Martin speak in awe about Williams’ gifts while acknowledging his personal demons. (Crystal recalls Williams’ dependence on audience response, noting he always needed “that one extra-special hug you can only get from a stranger.”) Pam Dawber remembers having to tell Williams that John Belushi died of an overdose not long after Williams had visited him.

Velardi reveals that her privacy kept her from correcting press reports at the time that Williams had left her for their former nanny, Marsha Garces, even though Velardi and Williams had already been separated for a year and that Garces hadn’t worked in that capacity for them in quite some time. It’s an overdue correction, but it’s also understandable that she would have wanted to avoid that media scrum at the time. (Velardi and Williams’ son Zak also shares touching memories of his dad.)

“Come Inside My Mind” offers some revealing bloopers (the Elmo/”Sesame Street” outtakes are priceless) that demonstrate Williams’ unique train of thought and how he was always reaching for some beautiful moment of truth and absurdity. You would expect him to be cutting up between takes of, say, “Patch Adams” (it’s a little heartbreaking to see the late Philip Seymour Hoffman lose his composure), but it’s jarring to see Williams shtick it up on the set of the intense “One Hour Photo” — director Mark Romanek recalls that Williams just had to get the wackiness out of his system, and the relaxed glow he got after getting a laugh fed into his dramatic focus.

Apart from one radio interview with Williams’ friend (and “World’s Greatest Dad” director) Bobcat Goldthwait, “Come Inside My Mind” doesn’t spend quite enough time explaining the connections between the Lewy body dementia (brought on by the Parkinson’s) that led to his suicide. It also would have helped if any of the stand-up or movie clips peppered throughout featured years alongside the titles to let those less acquainted with his career know where and when we are over the course of his life.

These are minor drawbacks, however, to a film that’s compassionate without being fawning, and poignant without being sentimental. It’s less a lament over his loss and more a celebration that he existed at all.

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‘Lizzie’ Film Review: Chloë Sevigny Makes the Infamous Killer a Rebel With a Cause https://www.thewrap.com/lizzie-film-review-chloe-sevigny-kristen-stewart/ https://www.thewrap.com/lizzie-film-review-chloe-sevigny-kristen-stewart/#respond Sat, 20 Jan 2018 17:30:42 +0000 Alonso Duralde https://www.thewrap.com/?p=1791319 A lesbian spin on the legendary Lizzie Borden murder case is nothing new — Ed McBain posited the notion in a 1984 novel — but the stylish and haunting “Lizzie” paints a provocative portrait of a woman driven by passions and left with few options in a society that gave her little agency.

In “Lizzie,” we come to know Borden’s inner turmoil, not only by her periodic “spells” but also in the way that the camera captures a bewitching Chloë Sevigny. She’s often off-center in the frame, or reflected in mirrors, or out of focus in the foreground as she imagines what’s happening far behind her.

Screenwriter Bryce Kass (“Outlaw Prophet: Warren Jeffs”) and director Craig William Macneill (2015’s “The Boy”), like everyone else who has tackled this story, are left to their own conjectures and theories as to the how and the why behind the murder of Borden’s father and stepmother, but they’ve turned the puzzle pieces into a haunting, horrifying romance.

Six months before Andrew Borden (Jamey Sheridan) and his wife Abby (Fiona Shaw) faced that fatal ax — and despite the famous rhyme, each received far fewer than 40 blows — housemaid Bridget Sullivan (Kristen Stewart) reports for duty. While most of the household refers to her as “Maggie” (the generic name given to all Irish servants, much as all Pullman porters once answered to “George”), Lizzie (Sevigny) immediately calls her by her given name.

Right away, there’s an electricity between them; as Lizzie reaches out to adjust one of Bridget’s hairpins, it’s clear that there’s already a connection. The unmarried Lizzie tests her father’s patience with her willfulness, daring to go to the theater unescorted and constantly questioning his authority. (Being “sent away” for her infractions is a constant threat being dangled over her.) Andrew’s a monster — he visits Bridget’s room in the middle of the night to rape her on multiple occasions — and he’s upset over a series of anonymous threatening notes that have come to the house.

When those notes compel Andrew to name his late wife’s ne’er-do-well brother John Morse (Denis O’Hare) as the executor of his will, putting him in charge of the financial well-being of Lizzie and her also-unmarried older sister Emma (Kim Dickens), Lizzie is furious. When she catches him in Bridget’s room, she breaks a mirror and spreads the glass on the floor in barefoot Andrew’s path. And on a hot day in August, Andrew and Abby will die in a murder that we see Lizzie commit, even though the courts never found her guilty.

Cinematographer Noah Greenberg (“Most Beautiful Island”) paints a captivating picture, from the aforementioned off-kilter framing of Lizzie to a sudden burst of hand-held camera when she tears through the house looking for jewelry she can pawn as a way to escape from her father. Greenberg also works with an astonishingly broad array of options within natural light. (Andrew Borden was infamous for being a penny-pincher when it came to illuminating his own house.)

When Lizzie hears Andrew in Bridget’s room, she clutches a single candle, and the light illuminates her Botticelli curls with Caravaggio-like menace. By the time she’s wielding the hatchet, Lizzie has become both avenging angel and mad warrior, both slasher and final girl, both Salome and the executioner of John the Baptist.

Between the camerawork and the subtle performances, “Lizzie” could very easily have been a silent film while still telling its story as effectively. But Kass’ dialogue is terrific, from Lizzie and Bridget’s tentative (then passionate) courtship to the sick burn Lizzie delivers to Andrew when he calls her “an abomination” for her affair with the maid.

Sevigny and Stewart are intensely affecting as women of different stations who are both nonetheless choked by the demands of the patriarchy; they also create a palpable erotic tension, particularly early on when Bridget is buttoning up Lizzie’s blouse for dinner. Their performances are powerfully supported by the extraordinary ensemble, which also includes Jeff Perry (“Scandal”) as the family attorney.

There has been a long and rich cinematic history of women who kill, in films ranging from “Thelma and Louise” to “La Cérémonie” to “Sister, My Sister” to “Butterfly Kiss” to “Monster.” Sometimes the two are lovers, sometimes one or both of them is a domestic, but in almost all cases, they are driven to murder to stay ahead of a world that would just as soon snuff them out first. With “Lizzie,” Lizzie Borden and Bridget Sullivan join their fierce, blood-stained ranks.

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‘Blindspotting’ Film Review: Ambitious Oakland Tale Suffers from Too Many Ideas https://www.thewrap.com/blindspotting-film-review-daveed-diggs/ https://www.thewrap.com/blindspotting-film-review-daveed-diggs/#respond Fri, 19 Jan 2018 05:07:26 +0000 Alonso Duralde https://www.thewrap.com/?p=1790209 Having too few ideas has been the downfall of many a film, but sometimes too many can be just as much of a problem. “Blindspotting,” which premiered on opening night of the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, puts far more on its plate than it knows how to handle.

It’s a story about gentrification, police violence, the rules of being a white person growing up surrounded by black culture, the criminal justice system, institutionalized racism, guns in the home and the semiotics of hair, jolting with jarring artlessness between witty comedy and intense drama. Co-stars and co-writers Daveed Diggs (“Wonder”) and Rafael Casal have a lot to say, much of it funny and/or provocative, but neither they nor first-time feature director Carlos López Estrada can figure out a way to shape all this material into a cohesive film.

We open with Collin (Diggs) being released from prison on probation; he has to live in a halfway house for a year, remaining employed and obeying a curfew, after which time he will be fully released. Jump ahead eleven months and 27 days to the last 72 hours of his probation, where he’s trying to get out of a car where his lifelong friend Miles (Casal) is buying a gun. It’s a hilarious scene, one that’s as much about their local burger joint going vegan-umami as it is about firearms.

As Collin is hurrying home to make his 11:00pm curfew, he gets stuck at a red light, where he witnesses an unarmed man get shot four times by an Oakland cop (Ethan Embry). Knowing that, as a parolee, he’s in no position to make trouble with the police, he tries to forget the incident, but it begins to weigh on him more and more. Meanwhile, the gentrification of Oakland continues apace, with $10 green juice at the corner bodega and tech billionaires getting the same neck tattoo Miles has had for his entire life.

“Blindspotting” doesn’t know how to move back and forth between breezy but often tired gags about Whole Foods and goat cheese and the intensity of Collin’s nightmares about cemeteries filled with hoodie-clad black men. These topics could certainly play off each other, particularly in scenes where we see white developers discarding the photo albums and other memorabilia of the black families that used to live there, but the tone shifts are frequently far too jarring.

By the film’s final act, it’s too busy overexplaining its own themes (the exchange in which the title is explained ranks among the cinema’s clunkier explaining-the-title scenes) before setting up a grand climax in which Collin spits out a defiant, half-crazed rap about his fear and anger at the police and other white power structures. Diggs nails the performance — he’s a “Hamilton” alum, after all — but the context and circumstance in which his outburst take place feel artificial and not properly set up.

Both Diggs and Casal are electric performers, but as writers they’ve given themselves all the best lines. Even with such talented actors as Tisha Campbell-Martin and Janina Gavankar on hand, the only other cast member who gets a meaty monologue is the very funny Utkarsh Ambudkar. (And his speech is all about Collin.)

One consistent virtue of the film is the cinematography by Robby Baumgartner (“The Guest”) who captures the many sides of Oakland with grace and beauty without veering into chamber-of-commerce territory.

The creators of “Blindspotting” fall into the trap of many a first-time filmmaker by taking every notecard off the bulletin board and putting them all into one movie. One hopes they’ll get plenty more opportunities to parcel those notions out a little more stingily.

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‘Forever My Girl’ Film Review: This Southern Romance Is a Country Crock https://www.thewrap.com/forever-my-girl-film-review/ https://www.thewrap.com/forever-my-girl-film-review/#respond Wed, 17 Jan 2018 23:00:15 +0000 Alonso Duralde https://www.thewrap.com/?p=1788972 An international superstar and tabloid target returns to his picturesque hometown, where he encounters the long-estranged high-school sweetheart who despises him before finding herself back in his arms. If this basic plot scenario sounds familiar, it’s because “Forever My Girl” is one ice-carving contest away from being a Hallmark Channel Christmas movie.

That’s not even fair to the Hallmark movies, which would have at least given the female lead something of a personality and a plot arc; this movie’s all about the celebrity and his emotional journey, while the woman stands around like a prize waiting to be won, the Blessed Hometown Honey.

It’s a surprise, then, that the writer-director of “Forever My Girl” is a woman, Bethany Ashton Wolf (“Little Chenier”), whose main accomplishment here is making a movie that seems like a faith-based story (the country singer is a preacher’s kid) but isn’t (alcohol is casually consumed, Jesus is barely mentioned).

Eight years ago, Liam Page (Alex Roe, “The 5th Wave”) bolted from the small town of St. Augustine, Louisiana, ditching his fiancée Josie (Jessica Rothe, “Happy Death Day”) at the altar to pursue his dreams of fame. Now he’s packing arenas and turning up on the cover of supermarket magazines — the art department does a terrible job mocking up fake versions of People and Us — and completely miserable.

When he learns that a childhood friend has died in a car accident, Liam walks out on his tour to go home for the funeral, where he’s forced to face not only Josie but also his disapproving father Brian (John Benjamin Hickey). It’s not long before Liam encounters Josie’s seven-year-old daughter Billy (Abby Ryder Fortson, “Ant-Man”); doing the math, both Liam and Josie figure out what’s up — he had no idea Josie was pregnant when he walked out — and the two begin tentatively forging a father-daughter relationship.

Even a casual Hallmark viewer will track this story through every predictable beat, from Josie allowing Liam to sweep her off her feet to the revelation of past secrets that conveniently explain Liam’s bad behavior to the moment where it looks like all will be lost. (There’s even a dead rose garden that’s brought back to life, lest anyone miss the metaphor.) Movies like this are about the journey rather than the destination, yes, but as road trips home go, this one’s a slog.

Roe has matinee-idol looks — he comes off like a lab-splicing experiment involving Joshua Jackson, Jason Priestley and a set of eight-pack abs — and the British-born actor nails the Louisiana accent well enough, but he’s never convincing as either the love of Josie’s life or the kind of music dynamo who can enrapture thousands of people from the stage. It certainly doesn’t help that the movie can’t decide whether or not Liam has a substance-abuse problem.

Meanwhile, both Rothe and Forston give it their all for a script that lets both down; Josie comes off as something of a non-entity while Billy says the sort of adorably precocious bon mots that only happen in bad screenplays.

Cinematographer Duane Manwiller (“The Walking Dead”) bathes the small town in a golden light, but the camera isn’t always where it needs to be: when Liam and Josie first reunite, she gives him a well-deserved punch in the stomach, but it’s shot from behind Liam, and at a bit of a distance, which diminishes the moment.

Even Liam’s country hits are fairly forgettable, although “Forever My Girl” does throw in a Travis Tritt cameo so that fans of the genre don’t go home completely empty-handed. Aficionados of Nicholas Sparks movies may swoon over this film’s distressed T-shirts and kudzu-choked back roads, but lovers of love stories deserve much better.

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‘The Commuter’ Film Review: Liam Neeson Train Thriller Ultimately Runs Out of Steam https://www.thewrap.com/the-commuter-film-review-liam-neeson-2018/ https://www.thewrap.com/the-commuter-film-review-liam-neeson-2018/#respond Thu, 11 Jan 2018 16:10:54 +0000 Alonso Duralde https://www.thewrap.com/?p=1765490 You may not know the name Jaume Collet-Serra, but the Barcelona-born filmmaker has become, without question, one of our great living B-movie auteurs. From the lurid shocks of “Orphan” to the woman-vs.-shark tension of “The Shallows,” Collet-Serra is a genre master, placing relatable characters into larger-than-life scenarios for maximum impact.

He’s also the unsung architect of Liam Neeson’s post-“Taken” career as an action superstar. While the sequels to Luc Besson’s 2008 hit were an exercise in diminishing returns, Neeson’s collaborations with Collet-Serra — “Run All Night,” “Unknown” and my personal favorite, “Non-Stop,” in which air marshal Neeson has to find the terrorist on a packed international flight — have been lean-and-mean action-movie standouts in an industry that often seems to have forgotten how to portray thrills and mayhem without burying everything in over-the-top CG effects.

Collet-Serra’s fourth team-up with Neeson, “The Commuter,” represents neither man’s finest work, but at its best, it suggests the snap and fun they’ve brought us before. Plot-wise, the movie most resembles “Non-Stop,” with the airplane replaced with a multi-car commuter train heading out of Manhattan toward upstate New York.

Neeson stars as Michael MacCauley, a retired NYPD detective turned insurance agent, happily living a cozy suburban life in Tarrytown with wife Karen (Elizabeth McGovern, underutilized) and son Danny (Dean-Charles Chapman, “Game of Thrones”). The MacCauleys have a second mortgage, and Danny’s headed to Rutgers in the fall, so it’s a devastating blow when 60-year-old Michael is downsized five years before his retirement.

No wonder, then, that he’s momentarily intrigued by a proposition from a stranger that afternoon on the train: Joanna (Vera Farmiga) wonders if Michael would undertake a certain assignment for her, one where he wouldn’t have to harm anyone but he would have no idea what would eventually happen to that person. He just has to find a specific passenger on the train, plant a GPS on him or her, and then collect the $25,000 that Joanna has hidden in one of the restrooms (as a down payment for an eventual $100,000).

Michael demurs, but he eventually seeks out and then finds the cash, sealing him in a devil’s bargain. Even though Joanna has left the train, she’s got eyes on Michael, and the consequences to his family and his fellow passengers escalate the longer that he refuses to do her bidding.

Like “Non-Stop,” this is a 21st century spin on the popular “Die-Hard”-on-a-[blank] genre, as Michael goes up and down the train cars searching for clues (the passenger he seeks has a ticket punched through to the end of the line in Cold Spring) and trying to prevent anyone else from getting hurt. (Naturally, his phone gets stolen from him early on, and his other attempts to alert the authorities are thwarted.)

Where “The Commuter” goes awry is in keeping Michael (and the audience) in the dark for so long. The screenplay (by a trio of writers) and editor Nicolas de Toth (“Stoker”) maintain the suspense and the uncertainty from the moment that Michael steps onto the train, but delaying the exposition means that the movie comes to a halt in the third act so that conspiracies can be explained and double-crosses can be crossed.

For much of its running time, however, this is a solid story, from an opening montage of Michael’s day-in-day-out (clock-radio awakenings, breakfasts, shaves, and train rides) to a tense stand-off with the police. (Naturally, they’ve been convinced by Joanna’s shadowy cabal that Michael is an unhinged kidnapper who’s keeping his fellow passengers hostage.)

Neeson can do this sort of thing with one arm tied behind his back at this point, but he gamely carries the film, even allowing himself (and his stunt team) to take almost as many punches as he delivers. (The fact that Michael is 60 comes up often, and while he’s a bad-ass former cop, he’s no superhero.) Farmiga makes the most of her one on-camera scene opposite Neeson before becoming a voice on a phone, and Patrick Wilson and Sam Neill turn up as Chekhov’s Character Actors, making a seemingly benign appearance in Act I for an eventual Act III payoff.

Collet-Serra’s movies have often been the highlight of an otherwise draggy January or February, and he’ll no doubt lift those winter doldrums again in the future. With “The Commuter,” however, he mainly seems to be just along for the ride.

Related stories from TheWrap:

Netflix in January: What's Coming and What to Watch Before It's Gone (Photos)

'LA to Vegas', 'The Resident' Get January Premiere Dates From Fox

'Star Trek: Discovery' to Beam Up Chapter 2 in January

Universal Shifts 'Insidious: Chapter 4' From October to January

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‘The Post’ Movie Review: Steven Spielberg Spins a Lean and Mean Fourth Estate Yarn https://www.thewrap.com/the-post-movie-review-steven-spielberg-meryl-streep-tom-hanks/ https://www.thewrap.com/the-post-movie-review-steven-spielberg-meryl-streep-tom-hanks/#respond Wed, 10 Jan 2018 03:20:15 +0000 Alonso Duralde https://www.thewrap.com/?p=1750439 Something of an origin story/prequel to “All the President’s Men,” Steven Spielberg’s “The Post” tracks the moment that the Washington Post transformed from a cozy regional publication to a journalistic powerhouse that would take on — and eventually take down — the government.

While the screenplay by Liz Hannah (“Guidance”) and Josh Singer (“Spotlight”) doesn’t always slip in necessary exposition in the most graceful way, it nonetheless offers suspense and rich characterizations to an all too timely examination of the importance of a free press and of the constant obligation to speak truth to power.

The film opens with the Post having access issues with the 1971 White House – over the coverage of Tricia Nixon’s wedding; there are objections to the Post reporter over her alleged previous crashing of Julie’s reception. Meanwhile, The New York Times has much bigger fish to fry with the publication of the Pentagon Papers, a leaked Rand Corporation study showing that administration after administration, dating back to Truman, was failing to craft successful policy on Vietnam, and that the war raged on mostly to prevent humiliation over a U.S. loss.

Post editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) is furious over being scooped, but when the Department of Justice temporarily halts the Times’ publication of the papers, he senses an opening. After the Post tracks down its own copy of the documents, Bradlee and his staff have about a day to sort information that the Times had for months, but whether or not the Post can publish becomes another matter altogether.

Publisher Katherine Graham (Meryl Streep) had just taken the paper public, and while her family still owned the Post, investors could have conceivably backed out of their investments over a “catastrophic occurrence,” which would include the publisher being arrested for treason. Not to mention the fact that the Pentagon Papers are an embarrassment to Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood), an old friend of Graham’s. Both she and Bradlee had also been intimates with JFK; the publication of the papers would forever end an era in which the Post’s execs were quite so cordial with the politicos they’re supposed to be covering.

Inasmuch as “The Post” often calls to mind the gritty thrillers and procedurals of the 1970s, Graham’s story also places the film in that decade’s tradition of tales of feminist awakening. Kay Graham’s father left the business not to her but to her husband, and it was only after his suicide that she assumed leadership.

It’s unusual to see Meryl Streep playing a woman lacking in self-confidence, but over the course of the film, we see this socialite bloom from quiet and reticent to outspoken and firm in her convictions. (As portrayed here, this is a woman who changed the course of American history while wearing a gold caftan.)

This is by definition a quieter character than Margaret Thatcher and Julia Child and other real-life characters Streep has tackled, but her work here is some of her most riveting; the way Kay avoids conflict, and then later leans into it, offers Streep new ways to captivate.

Spielberg has crafted a solid piece of work that skillfully juggles both suspense and Big Ideas, and his team of collaborators delivers, from John Williams’ horn-heavy score (creating either tension or heroic awe, as needed) to Janusz Kaminski’s camera sliding its way through newsrooms and dinner parties, all lit with that particular brand of early 1970s drabness.

Hanks (wonderfully irascible, and landing at least one trademark Hanks-ian laugh line) and Streep lead an incredibly deep bench of acclaimed character actors, including Bob Odenkirk and David Cross (framed together at the beginning of the film — who knew Spielberg was a “Mr. Show” fan?), Greenwood, Tracy Letts, Michael Stuhlbarg, Carrie Coon, Sarah Paulson, Bradley Whitford, Michael Cyril Creighton, Stark Sands, Jesse Plemons and Matthew Rhys, to name but a few.

“The Post” passes the trickiest tests of a historical drama: It makes us understand that decisions that have been validated by the lens of history were difficult ones to make in the moment, and it generates suspense over how all the pieces fell into place to make those decisions come to fruition. (“Darkest Hour” doesn’t do either half so well.) On the other hand, the script forces one character to tell another character something that he or she already knows — Ben reminds Kay of her chumminess with past presidents; Ben’s wife Tony (Paulson) explains to him the risk Kay is taking by approving the publication of the papers — purely for the benefit of the audience.

Still, as clunky as those scenes are on the page, they’re being acted by powerhouse performers, which makes them go down easier. And if “All the President’s Men” hadn’t already been made, it would be a treat to see this cast come back for the next chapter of this saga.

Related stories from TheWrap:

That Time Meryl Streep Said Dustin Hoffman Groped Her When They First Met

Meryl Streep Condemns Harvey Weinstein's 'Inexcusable' Behavior, Says She 'Didn't Know'

Ron Meyer, Tom Hanks, Jason Blum Named to Academy Museum's New Board of Trustees

Tom Hanks Calls Movie Press Junkets 'Merciless': 'You Lose It After a While' (Video)

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‘Insidious: The Last Key’ Movie Review: Lin Shaye’s Ghostbuster Battles Some Personal Demons https://www.thewrap.com/insidious-the-last-key-movie-review-lin-shaye-blumhouse/ https://www.thewrap.com/insidious-the-last-key-movie-review-lin-shaye-blumhouse/#respond Wed, 03 Jan 2018 17:00:21 +0000 Alonso Duralde https://www.thewrap.com/?p=1771573 Whether or not writer Leigh Whannell, the writer of all four “Insidious” movies, intended it from the get-go, this horror series has become an exploration of the backstory of Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye), who has viewed her gifts for seeing, speaking to and confronting the dead as both a blessing and a curse. (Imagine the “Poltergeist” franchise, if it had been about Tangina, the spiritual housecleaner played unforgettably by Zelda Rubenstein.)

Making the movies all about Elise turned out to be a smart move, since Shaye brings such a depth of feeling and empathy to each film; it’s been said that horror movies are one of the few genres that where female characters consistently get to be active and interesting, and Shaye’s work in the series — including “Insidious: The Last Key,” the fourth and latest outing — has been the main reason to get enthusiastic about each new sequel.

Elise got killed off at the beginning of the first “Insidious,” but the series has managed to keep her alive with prequels and sidequels; “The Last Key” brings the character right up to the events of the first “Insidious,” but that’s not to say that if this one does well, we won’t see more of Shaye in another time-hopping prequel. (Particularly since this chapter gives her a new relative who’s also a poltergeist whisperer.)

This movie is, thankfully, much less interested in myth-building than it is in character development, giving us more of a look at where this woman comes from and how her abilities have shaped her life.

We open in a flashback to 1950s New Mexico, where young Elise (Ava Kolker, “Girl Meets World”) first realizes her gift for talking to the dead via the spirits of the prisoners being executed in the neighboring penitentiary, where her cruel father Gerald (Josh Stewart, “Shooter”) works as a guard.

While he wants Elise to suppress her paranormal activities, her mother, Audrey (Tessa Ferrer, “Grey’s Anatomy”), offers nothing but love and encouragement to Elise and her younger brother Christian (Pierce Pope).

Tragedy strikes at the hand of a demonic creature who passes between dimensions — much of the “Insidious” saga deals with a purgatory that Elise calls “the Further” — and Elise runs away from home to escape Gerald’s abuse.

But in 2010 (when “The Last Key” is set), she gets a call to return to that house to deal with the evil that still dwells there, and in doing so, she must encounter an embittered Christian (Bruce Davison), from whom she has been estranged for decades.

Whannell doesn’t break much new ground here — he’s written more shtick than usual for himself and Angus Sampson to play as the sidekicks, clearly to keep himself interested — but he and Shaye have created a fascinating character in Elise, and both of them apparently relish the opportunity to fill in some of the blanks in her backstory.

New-to-the-franchise director Adam Robitel (“The Taking of Deborah Logan”) and returning editor Timothy Alverson have fun with the mechanics of the PG-13 jump-scare; there’s one show-stopping scene in particular in which they make you wait for it, and wait for it, and it’s all the more satisfying when it finally comes.

The scares here are mild and kid-friendly, and there’s virtually no gore. Whannell’s screenplay touches on the idea of humanity being as monstrous as anything that goes bump in the night, but ultimately the worst things that men do here are blamed on supernatural forces beyond their understanding or control. It plays as a bit of a cop-out in a film that otherwise makes some interesting points about the power of love and family in a cold and chaotic universe.

Hardcore horror audiences won’t find much that’s frightening in “Insidious: The Last Key” — there’s not even that wonderfully unsettling shriek of violins under the title this time — but as a delivery system for more great work from Lin Shaye, it more than accomplishes its mission.

Related stories from TheWrap:

Horror Icons Robert Englund, Lin Shaye to Star in 'The Midnight Man' (Exclusive)

'Insidious: Chapter 3' Review – Lin Shaye Shines as the Original Female Ghostbuster

All 8 'Saw' Movies, Ranked From Worst to Best (Photos)

'Sabrina the Teenage Witch' Horror Series Moves From CW to Netflix

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12 Best Movies of 2017, From ‘Dunkirk’ to ‘Call Me by Your Name’ (Photos) https://www.thewrap.com/12-best-movies-2017-dunkirk-call-name-photos/ https://www.thewrap.com/12-best-movies-2017-dunkirk-call-name-photos/#respond Fri, 29 Dec 2017 02:45:53 +0000 Alonso Duralde https://www.thewrap.com/?p=1757141 2017 was a strong year for cinema, with achievements that can be measured on many yardsticks: It was the year a Wonder Woman got to rock the seemingly unassailable superhero genre, the year a black sketch comedian became a massively profitable writer-director, and the year when Tiffany Haddish ascended to the comedy cosmos. Corporate filmmaking may continue to choke Hollywood (and a Disney-Fox merger isn’t good news in that department), but this was a year when there was always something to recommend, whether it was blasting to the big screen or streaming to a smaller one.

The runners-up (alphabetically): “Beach Rats,” “Blade Runner 2049,” “BPM,” “The Florida Project,” “God’s Own Country,” “Graduation,” “I, Tonya,” “Ingrid Goes West,” “The Killing of a Sacred Deer,” “Phantom Thread,” “Professor Marston and the Wonder Women,” “Sieranevada.”

10. “My Happy Family”: Currently streaming on Netflix, this import from Georgia features one of the year’s most powerful performances: Ia Shugliasvili stars as Manana, a wife and mother living in an overcrowded Tbilisi apartment with her parents, husband, and adult children. She shocks all of them by moving out and getting her own place in this powerful and often darkly funny character study.

9. “Dunkirk” and “Detroit”: Amidst the popcorn fluff of summer, we got two auteurist films that dropped audiences into the middle of historical brutality. Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk” was a suspenseful, staccato WWII story presented from a variety of perspectives, while Kathryn Bigelow’s “Detroit” was a hard-to-watch horror-show about police brutality in 1967 that rang all too true in 2017 America. Both films were illuminating, visceral experiences.

8. “Personal Shopper”: This very contemporary ghost story — where are those texts coming from, and how recently were they sent? — reteamed Kristen Stewart with director Olivier Assayas, who previously guided her through the acclaimed “Clouds of Sils Maria.” Stewart is never less than brilliant as a millennial medium who is as trapped between life and death as she is stuck between career paths.

7. “Brad’s Status” and “The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)”: Mike White and Noah Baumbach strengthened their reputations as two of the leading voices of graying white Gen X-ers with these hilarious and heartbreaking character studies of middle-aged men facing regrets, paths not taken, and the angst of sending your kid off to college. Adam Sandler (in “Meyerowitz”) and Ben Stiller (in both movies) are given the opportunity to offer some of their most heartfelt, adult acting.

6. “Marjorie Prime”: Lois Smith’s heartbreaking performance deserves notice, but there’s a lot more to this poignant and provocative look at the end of life and how we often become the unreliable narrators of our own lives. The extraordinary ensemble also features Jon Hamm, Geena Davis and Tim Robbins, all under the subtle and humane direction of Michael Almereyda (adapting the play by Jordan Harrison).

5. “Get Out”: It’s a brilliant horror movie that follows the Blumhouse rules – maximum scares on as few sets as possible – but this chiller is so much more. Making his debut as writer-director, Jordan Peele crafts a prickly, hilarious and terrifying metaphor for American life in 2017; what Ira Levin did for feminism with “The Stepford Wives,” Peele does here for #BlackLivesMatter.

4. “Their Finest”: Of the three Dunkirk movies I saw this year, this one’s my favorite. Unlike so many of the valentines to filmmaking we’ve seen lately, this one cannily sends up its subject – wartime propaganda movies – while telling a story that pushes all the same buttons. (It’s as stirring, funny, romantic and poignant as anything turned out by the War Office.) Gemma Arterton shines as a copywriter who gets promoted to the pictures, and Bill Nighy is, as always, a charmingly roguish ham, but it’s Sam Claflin who makes the most of his meatiest role to date, proving he’s more than just a YA crush object.

3. “The Shape of Water”: A hauntingly beautiful salute to just about everything that’s come out of the Hollywood dream factory – from monster movies to silents to musicals – and the best movie Guillermo del Toro has made since “Pan’s Labyrinth.” Sally Hawkins suffuses her mute character with longing, Richard Jenkins upends gay-best-friend clichés, and the beauty of 1962 design hides men’s ugliest impulses in this breathtaking creature-feature romance.

2. “Lady Bird”: Greta Gerwig has been dazzling arthouse audiences for years in vehicles like “Frances Ha” (which she co-wrote) and “Damsels in Distress,” but no one was quite prepared for how lovely or heartfelt her solo debut as writer-director would be. Saoirse Ronan dazzles anew in this smart and unsentimental coming-of-age tale, and Lucas Hedges and Timothee Chalamet provide key support as boys who cross her path, but it’s Laurie Metcalf’s brusquely funny turn as a frazzled mom that allows this stage and TV legend a rare chance to shine at the movies.

1. “Call Me By Your Name”: First love is awkward, and it involves lots of second-guessing and misreading of signals and badly hidden obsession. Movies don’t usually get that part right, but Luca Guadagnino’s 1983-set tale of a teenager and his slightly older crush traverses the terrain of the inexperienced heart with subtlety and sensitivity. James Ivory’s script (from the novel by André Aciman) and the two astonishing lead performances by Timothee Chalamet and Armie Hammer make this a romance to remember.

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https://www.thewrap.com/12-best-movies-2017-dunkirk-call-name-photos/feed/ 0 2017 was a strong year for cinema, with achievements that can be measured on many yardsticks: It was the year a Wonder Woman got to rock the seemingly unassailable superhero genre, the year a black sketch comedian became a massively profitable writer-director, and the year when Tiffany Haddish ascended to the comedy cosmos. Corporate filmmaking may continue to choke Hollywood (and a Disney-Fox merger isn't good news in that department), but this was a year when there was always something to recommend, whether it was blasting to the big screen or streaming to a smaller one.

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2017 was a strong year for cinema, with achievements that can be measured on many yardsticks: It was the year a Wonder Woman got to rock the seemingly unassailable superhero genre, the year a black sketch comedian became a massively profitable writer-director, and the year when Tiffany Haddish ascended to the comedy cosmos. Corporate filmmaking may continue to choke Hollywood (and a Disney-Fox merger isn't good news in that department), but this was a year when there was always something to recommend, whether it was blasting to the big screen or streaming to a smaller one.

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The runners-up (alphabetically)

“Beach Rats,” “Blade Runner 2049,” “BPM,” “The Florida Project,” “God’s Own Country,” "Graduation," “I, Tonya,” “Ingrid Goes West,” “The Killing of a Sacred Deer,” “Phantom Thread,” “Professor Marston and the Wonder Women,” "Sieranevada."

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The runners-up (alphabetically)

“Beach Rats,” “Blade Runner 2049,” “BPM,” “The Florida Project,” “God’s Own Country,” "Graduation," “I, Tonya,” “Ingrid Goes West,” “The Killing of a Sacred Deer,” “Phantom Thread,” “Professor Marston and the Wonder Women,” "Sieranevada."

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10. “My Happy Family” 

Currently streaming on Netflix, this import from Georgia features one of the year’s most powerful performances: Ia Shugliasvili stars as Manana, a wife and mother living in an overcrowded Tbilisi apartment with her parents, husband, and adult children. She shocks all of them by moving out and getting her own place in this powerful and often darkly funny character study. 

]]>
10. “My Happy Family” 

Currently streaming on Netflix, this import from Georgia features one of the year’s most powerful performances: Ia Shugliasvili stars as Manana, a wife and mother living in an overcrowded Tbilisi apartment with her parents, husband, and adult children. She shocks all of them by moving out and getting her own place in this powerful and often darkly funny character study. 

]]>
9. “Dunkirk” and “Detroit” 

Amidst the popcorn fluff of summer, we got two auteurist films that dropped audiences into the middle of historical brutality. Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk” was a suspenseful, staccato WWII story presented from a variety of perspectives, while Kathryn Bigelow’s “Detroit” was a hard-to-watch horror-show about police brutality in 1967 that rang all too true in 2017 America. Both films were illuminating, visceral experiences.

]]>
9. “Dunkirk” and “Detroit” 

Amidst the popcorn fluff of summer, we got two auteurist films that dropped audiences into the middle of historical brutality. Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk” was a suspenseful, staccato WWII story presented from a variety of perspectives, while Kathryn Bigelow’s “Detroit” was a hard-to-watch horror-show about police brutality in 1967 that rang all too true in 2017 America. Both films were illuminating, visceral experiences.

]]>
8. “Personal Shopper” 

This very contemporary ghost story -- where are those texts coming from, and how recently were they sent? -- reteamed Kristen Stewart with director Olivier Assayas, who previously guided her through the acclaimed “Clouds of Sils Maria.” Stewart is never less than brilliant as a millennial medium who is as trapped between life and death as she is stuck between career paths.

]]>
8. “Personal Shopper” 

This very contemporary ghost story -- where are those texts coming from, and how recently were they sent? -- reteamed Kristen Stewart with director Olivier Assayas, who previously guided her through the acclaimed “Clouds of Sils Maria.” Stewart is never less than brilliant as a millennial medium who is as trapped between life and death as she is stuck between career paths.

]]>
7. “Brad’s Status” and “The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)” 

Mike White and Noah Baumbach strengthened their reputations as two of the leading voices of graying white Gen X-ers with these hilarious and heartbreaking character studies of middle-aged men facing regrets, paths not taken, and the angst of sending your kid off to college. Adam Sandler (in “Meyerowitz”) and Ben Stiller (in both movies) are given the opportunity to offer some of their most heartfelt, adult acting.

]]>
7. “Brad’s Status” and “The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)” 

Mike White and Noah Baumbach strengthened their reputations as two of the leading voices of graying white Gen X-ers with these hilarious and heartbreaking character studies of middle-aged men facing regrets, paths not taken, and the angst of sending your kid off to college. Adam Sandler (in “Meyerowitz”) and Ben Stiller (in both movies) are given the opportunity to offer some of their most heartfelt, adult acting.

]]>
6. “Marjorie Prime” 

Lois Smith’s heartbreaking performance deserves notice, but there’s a lot more to this poignant and provocative look at the end of life and how we often become the unreliable narrators of our own lives. The extraordinary ensemble also features Jon Hamm, Geena Davis and Tim Robbins, all under the subtle and humane direction of Michael Almereyda (adapting the play by Jordan Harrison).

]]>
6. “Marjorie Prime” 

Lois Smith’s heartbreaking performance deserves notice, but there’s a lot more to this poignant and provocative look at the end of life and how we often become the unreliable narrators of our own lives. The extraordinary ensemble also features Jon Hamm, Geena Davis and Tim Robbins, all under the subtle and humane direction of Michael Almereyda (adapting the play by Jordan Harrison).

]]>
5. “Get Out” 

It’s a brilliant horror movie that follows the Blumhouse rules -- maximum scares on as few sets as possible -- but this chiller is so much more. Making his debut as writer-director, Jordan Peele crafts a prickly, hilarious and terrifying metaphor for American life in 2017; what Ira Levin did for feminism with “The Stepford Wives,” Peele does here for #BlackLivesMatter.

]]>
5. “Get Out” 

It’s a brilliant horror movie that follows the Blumhouse rules -- maximum scares on as few sets as possible -- but this chiller is so much more. Making his debut as writer-director, Jordan Peele crafts a prickly, hilarious and terrifying metaphor for American life in 2017; what Ira Levin did for feminism with “The Stepford Wives,” Peele does here for #BlackLivesMatter.

]]>
4. “Their Finest” 

Of the three Dunkirk movies I saw this year, this one’s my favorite. Unlike so many of the valentines to filmmaking we’ve seen lately, this one cannily sends up its subject -- wartime propaganda movies -- while telling a story that pushes all the same buttons. (It’s as stirring, funny, romantic and poignant as anything turned out by the War Office.) Gemma Arterton shines as a copywriter who gets promoted to the pictures, and Bill Nighy is, as always, a charmingly roguish ham, but it’s Sam Claflin who makes the most of his meatiest role to date, proving he’s more than just a YA crush object.

]]>
4. “Their Finest” 

Of the three Dunkirk movies I saw this year, this one’s my favorite. Unlike so many of the valentines to filmmaking we’ve seen lately, this one cannily sends up its subject -- wartime propaganda movies -- while telling a story that pushes all the same buttons. (It’s as stirring, funny, romantic and poignant as anything turned out by the War Office.) Gemma Arterton shines as a copywriter who gets promoted to the pictures, and Bill Nighy is, as always, a charmingly roguish ham, but it’s Sam Claflin who makes the most of his meatiest role to date, proving he’s more than just a YA crush object.

]]>
3. “The Shape of Water” 

A hauntingly beautiful salute to just about everything that’s come out of the Hollywood dream factory -- from monster movies to silents to musicals -- and the best movie Guillermo del Toro has made since “Pan’s Labyrinth.” Sally Hawkins suffuses her mute character with longing, Richard Jenkins upends gay-best-friend clichés, and the beauty of 1962 design hides men’s ugliest impulses in this breathtaking creature-feature romance.

]]>
3. “The Shape of Water” 

A hauntingly beautiful salute to just about everything that’s come out of the Hollywood dream factory -- from monster movies to silents to musicals -- and the best movie Guillermo del Toro has made since “Pan’s Labyrinth.” Sally Hawkins suffuses her mute character with longing, Richard Jenkins upends gay-best-friend clichés, and the beauty of 1962 design hides men’s ugliest impulses in this breathtaking creature-feature romance.

]]>
2. “Lady Bird” 

Greta Gerwig has been dazzling art-house audiences for years in vehicles like “Frances Ha” (which she co-wrote) and “Damsels in Distress,” but no one was quite prepared for how lovely or heartfelt her solo debut as writer-director would be. Saoirse Ronan dazzles anew in this smart and unsentimental coming-of-age tale, and Lucas Hedges and Timothée Chalamet provide key support as boys who cross her path, but it’s Laurie Metcalf’s brusquely funny turn as a frazzled mom that allows this stage and TV legend a rare chance to shine at the movies.

]]>
2. “Lady Bird” 

Greta Gerwig has been dazzling art-house audiences for years in vehicles like “Frances Ha” (which she co-wrote) and “Damsels in Distress,” but no one was quite prepared for how lovely or heartfelt her solo debut as writer-director would be. Saoirse Ronan dazzles anew in this smart and unsentimental coming-of-age tale, and Lucas Hedges and Timothée Chalamet provide key support as boys who cross her path, but it’s Laurie Metcalf’s brusquely funny turn as a frazzled mom that allows this stage and TV legend a rare chance to shine at the movies.

]]>
1. “Call Me By Your Name” 

First love is awkward, and it involves lots of second-guessing and misreading of signals and badly hidden obsession. Movies don’t usually get that part right, but Luca Guadagnino’s 1983-set tale of a teenager and his slightly older crush traverses the terrain of the inexperienced heart with subtlety and sensitivity. James Ivory’s script (from the novel by André Aciman) and the two astonishing lead performances by Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer make this a romance to remember.

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1. “Call Me By Your Name” 

First love is awkward, and it involves lots of second-guessing and misreading of signals and badly hidden obsession. Movies don’t usually get that part right, but Luca Guadagnino’s 1983-set tale of a teenager and his slightly older crush traverses the terrain of the inexperienced heart with subtlety and sensitivity. James Ivory’s script (from the novel by André Aciman) and the two astonishing lead performances by Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer make this a romance to remember.

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Now be sure to check out Alonso Duralde's picks for the worst movies of 2017.

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Now be sure to check out Alonso Duralde's picks for the worst movies of 2017.

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12 Worst Movies of 2017, From ‘The Emoji Movie’ to ‘Baywatch’ (Photos) https://www.thewrap.com/worst-movies-2017-baywatch-emoji-transformers-chips/ https://www.thewrap.com/worst-movies-2017-baywatch-emoji-transformers-chips/#respond Fri, 29 Dec 2017 02:30:02 +0000 Alonso Duralde https://www.thewrap.com/?p=1754826 How great was 2017 for movies? Adam Sandler starred in a movie that made it to my Best List. How lousy was 2017 for movies? I had to cram a dozen titles into a 10 Worst roster.

10. “War Machine”: This would-be satire presumably had something to say about the hot mess that is the War on Terror, but between Brad Pitt’s never-not-pulling-a-face performance and the screenplay’s heavy-handed and excessively-narrated attempts at political insight, the results were an unfunny mess that wasted a stellar cast.

9. “Home Again”: Reese Witherspoon was the queen of the small screen this year with “Big Little Lies,” but her cinematic outing in the directorial debut of Hallie Meyers-Shyer (whose only apparent qualification for the gig was being the offspring of two filmmakers) left her stranded in a cutesy (and deadly dull) tale of a newly-separated mom falling for a brash young would-be director.

8. “CHIPS” and “Baywatch”: The “Jump Street” movies made mining comedy out of a terrible old cop show look so easy that we got stuck with these two miserable failures that lacked laughs and a point of view. The funniest thing about “Baywatch” was when the producers tried to blame Rotten Tomatoes for the film’s embarrassing opening-weekend numbers.

7. “The Last Face”: The road to hell has rarely been paved with such good intentions; director Sean Penn cast Charlize Theron and Javier Bardem as super-photogenic doctors falling in love and saving lives in African war zones, but the dialogue was so vapid and over-ripe that audiences giggled uncomfortably when they weren’t averting their eyes from grotesque battle footage.

6. “Friend Request”: A teen witch torments a popular young college girl via social media in the kind of movie where we’re supposed to be struck by the tragedy of the heroine’s Facebook friend spiraling downward to zero. Your attention will go on a similar trajectory. It’s the kind of horror movie where the comic relief isn’t funny, but almost everything else is.

5. “Transformers: The Last Knight”: The makers of “King Arthur” should have sent a muffin basket to the “Last Knight” crew for making this latest giant-robot saga the year’s dumbest movie partially set at Camelot. Otherwise, the only reason for this film to exist is so that we can finally hear Sir Anthony Hopkins summon his decades of theatrical training to pronounce the word “Megatron.”

4. “The Space Between Us” and “The Only Living Boy in New York”: If only 2016’s dreadful “Collateral Beauty” had come out a few weeks later, screenwriter Allan Loeb could have scored a trifecta of mawkish dramas about sensitive boy-men who learn to love (and audiences who are shocked, shocked to learn in Act 3 that Character A and Character B have been secretly related all along).

3. “The Emoji Movie”: There’s nothing inherently wrong with the idea of taking those faces in your phone and building a movie around them, but you’d actually have to make them into characters and give them a plot that mattered if you didn’t want to wind up with this dreary and inane kiddie adventure that’s less interesting than 90 minutes of watching someone else play Candy Crush Saga.

2. “The Assignment”: Action legend Walter Hill turns gender-confirmation surgery into the stuff of leering exploitation in this seamy tale of a hitman given a woman’s body against his will. Even if the treatment of trans issues weren’t so repellent, this cheapie was poorly shot and clumsily edited, with actors like Michelle Rodriguez and Sigourney Weaver doing their very worst.

1. “The Book of Henry”: Believe the hype: Colin Trevorrow’s one-for-me follow-up to “Jurassic World” was the kind of embarrassment that made bad-movie lovers run to the theater. Henry dies midway through the movie — trust me, it’s not a spoiler, it’s a selling point — but still leaves really explicit instructions for his flighty mom to murder their abusive neighbor, the police commissioner. If James Franco wants to make a “Disaster Artist” sequel, he might start here.

 

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https://www.thewrap.com/worst-movies-2017-baywatch-emoji-transformers-chips/feed/ 0 How great was 2017 for movies? Adam Sandler starred in a movie that made it to my Best List. How lousy was 2017 for movies? I had to cram a dozen titles into a 10 Worst roster.

]]>
How great was 2017 for movies? Adam Sandler starred in a movie that made it to my Best List. How lousy was 2017 for movies? I had to cram a dozen titles into a 10 Worst roster.

]]>
10. "War Machine"  

This would-be satire presumably had something to say about the hot mess that is the War on Terror, but between Brad Pitt's never-not-pulling-a-face performance and the screenplay's heavy-handed and excessively narrated attempts at political insight, the results were an unfunny mess that wasted a stellar cast.

]]>
10. "War Machine"  

This would-be satire presumably had something to say about the hot mess that is the War on Terror, but between Brad Pitt's never-not-pulling-a-face performance and the screenplay's heavy-handed and excessively narrated attempts at political insight, the results were an unfunny mess that wasted a stellar cast.

]]>
9. "Home Again"

Reese Witherspoon was the queen of the small screen this year with "Big Little Lies," but her cinematic outing in the directorial debut of Hallie Meyers-Shyer (whose only apparent qualification for the gig was being the offspring of two filmmakers) left her stranded in a cutesy and deadly dull tale of a newly separated mom falling for a brash young would-be director.

]]>
9. "Home Again"

Reese Witherspoon was the queen of the small screen this year with "Big Little Lies," but her cinematic outing in the directorial debut of Hallie Meyers-Shyer (whose only apparent qualification for the gig was being the offspring of two filmmakers) left her stranded in a cutesy and deadly dull tale of a newly separated mom falling for a brash young would-be director.

]]>
8. "CHIPS" and "Baywatch"  

The "Jump Street" movies made mining comedy out of a terrible old cop show look so easy that we got stuck with these two miserable failures that lacked laughs and a point of view. The funniest thing about "Baywatch" was when the producers tried to blame Rotten Tomatoes for the film's embarrassing opening-weekend numbers.

]]>
8. "CHIPS" and "Baywatch"  

The "Jump Street" movies made mining comedy out of a terrible old cop show look so easy that we got stuck with these two miserable failures that lacked laughs and a point of view. The funniest thing about "Baywatch" was when the producers tried to blame Rotten Tomatoes for the film's embarrassing opening-weekend numbers.

]]>
7. "The Last Face"  

The road to hell has rarely been paved with such good intentions; director Sean Penn cast Charlize Theron and Javier Bardem as super-photogenic doctors falling in love and saving lives in African war zones, but the dialogue was so vapid and over-ripe that audiences giggled uncomfortably when they weren't averting their eyes from grotesque battle footage.

]]>
7. "The Last Face"  

The road to hell has rarely been paved with such good intentions; director Sean Penn cast Charlize Theron and Javier Bardem as super-photogenic doctors falling in love and saving lives in African war zones, but the dialogue was so vapid and over-ripe that audiences giggled uncomfortably when they weren't averting their eyes from grotesque battle footage.

]]>
6. "Friend Request" 

A teen witch torments a popular young college girl via social media in the kind of movie where we're supposed to be struck by the tragedy of the heroine's Facebook friend spiraling downward to zero. Your attention will go on a similar trajectory. It's the kind of horror movie where the comic relief isn't funny, but almost everything else is.

]]>
6. "Friend Request" 

A teen witch torments a popular young college girl via social media in the kind of movie where we're supposed to be struck by the tragedy of the heroine's Facebook friend spiraling downward to zero. Your attention will go on a similar trajectory. It's the kind of horror movie where the comic relief isn't funny, but almost everything else is.

]]>
5. "Transformers: The Last Knight"

The makers of "King Arthur" should have sent a muffin basket to the "Last Knight" crew for making this latest giant-robot saga the year's dumbest movie partially set at Camelot. Otherwise, the only reason for this film to exist is so that we can finally hear Sir Anthony Hopkins summon his decades of theatrical training to pronounce the word "Megatron."

]]>
5. "Transformers: The Last Knight"

The makers of "King Arthur" should have sent a muffin basket to the "Last Knight" crew for making this latest giant-robot saga the year's dumbest movie partially set at Camelot. Otherwise, the only reason for this film to exist is so that we can finally hear Sir Anthony Hopkins summon his decades of theatrical training to pronounce the word "Megatron."

]]>
4. "The Space Between Us" and "The Only Living Boy in New York"

If only 2016's dreadful "Collateral Beauty" had come out a few weeks later, screenwriter Allan Loeb could have scored a trifecta of mawkish dramas about sensitive boy-men who learn to love (and audiences who are shocked, shocked to learn in Act 3 that Character A and Character B have been secretly related all along).

]]>
4. "The Space Between Us" and "The Only Living Boy in New York"

If only 2016's dreadful "Collateral Beauty" had come out a few weeks later, screenwriter Allan Loeb could have scored a trifecta of mawkish dramas about sensitive boy-men who learn to love (and audiences who are shocked, shocked to learn in Act 3 that Character A and Character B have been secretly related all along).

]]>
3. "The Emoji Movie" 

There's nothing inherently wrong with the idea of taking those faces in your phone and building a movie around them, but you'd actually have to make them into characters and give them a plot that mattered if you didn't want to wind up with this dreary and inane kiddie adventure that's less interesting than 90 minutes of watching someone else play Candy Crush Saga.

]]>
3. "The Emoji Movie" 

There's nothing inherently wrong with the idea of taking those faces in your phone and building a movie around them, but you'd actually have to make them into characters and give them a plot that mattered if you didn't want to wind up with this dreary and inane kiddie adventure that's less interesting than 90 minutes of watching someone else play Candy Crush Saga.

]]>
2. "The Assignment" 

Action legend Walter Hill turns gender-confirmation surgery into the stuff of leering exploitation in this seamy tale of a hitman given a woman's body against his will. Even if the treatment of trans issues weren't so repellent, this cheapie was poorly shot and clumsily edited, with actors like Michelle Rodriguez and Sigourney Weaver doing their very worst.

]]>
2. "The Assignment" 

Action legend Walter Hill turns gender-confirmation surgery into the stuff of leering exploitation in this seamy tale of a hitman given a woman's body against his will. Even if the treatment of trans issues weren't so repellent, this cheapie was poorly shot and clumsily edited, with actors like Michelle Rodriguez and Sigourney Weaver doing their very worst.

]]>
1. "The Book of Henry" 

Believe the hype: Colin Trevorrow's one-for-me follow-up to "Jurassic World" was the kind of embarrassment that made bad-movie lovers run to the theater. Henry dies midway through the movie -- trust me, it's not a spoiler, it's a selling point -- but still leaves really explicit instructions for his flighty mom to murder their abusive neighbor, the police commissioner. If James Franco wants to make a "Disaster Artist" sequel, he might start here.

]]>
1. "The Book of Henry" 

Believe the hype: Colin Trevorrow's one-for-me follow-up to "Jurassic World" was the kind of embarrassment that made bad-movie lovers run to the theater. Henry dies midway through the movie -- trust me, it's not a spoiler, it's a selling point -- but still leaves really explicit instructions for his flighty mom to murder their abusive neighbor, the police commissioner. If James Franco wants to make a "Disaster Artist" sequel, he might start here.

]]>
Now be sure to check out Alonso Duralde's picks for the best movies of the year.

]]>
Now be sure to check out Alonso Duralde's picks for the best movies of the year.

]]>
12 Christmas Movies That Definitely Aren’t for Kids (Photos) https://www.thewrap.com/10-christmas-movies-not-for-kids-adults-r-rated-bad-santa/ https://www.thewrap.com/10-christmas-movies-not-for-kids-adults-r-rated-bad-santa/#respond Mon, 25 Dec 2017 13:30:50 +0000 Alonso Duralde https://www.thewrap.com/?p=1360744 10 Christmas Movies That Definitely Aren’t for Kids (Photos)

Sure, Christmas is a time of joy for children of all ages, but that doesn’t mean that grown-ups can’t have the cinematic equivalent of a spiked egg nog. After you’ve packed the little ones off to bed, enjoy these movies, from the hilarious to the horrifying, that are aimed at adult audiences.

A Bad Moms Christmas (2017): The bad moms just want to have fun, even when their own bad moms come rolling into town to celebrate the season. Santas will strip, and the egg nog will be spiked.

Better Watch Out (2017): This clever holiday horror-comedy takes the youthful sadism of “Home Alone” and ratchets it up a few notches, with teenage Luke (Levi Miller, “Pan”) hiding some real darkness behind that sweet face.

The Ref (1994): Cat burglar Denis Leary is forced to play marriage counselor to bickering spouses Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis in this pungently hilarious farce.

Some Girls (1988): Long before he was McDreamy, Patrick Connelly played a horny college student bewitched by three sisters (played by Jennifer Connelly, Sheila Kelley and Ashley Greenfield) in an early Sundance hit that’s still underappreciated (and still sexy).

The Silent Partner (1978): Bank teller Elliott Gould and robber Christopher Plummer play a deadly game of cat-and-mouse; this twisty thriller was an early success for the late Curtis Hanson, who scripted.

Metropolitan (1990): Writer-director Whit Stillman scored a dynamite debut — and made a low-budget indie look great by shooting in holiday-decorated Manhattan — with this smart and sprightly tale of young debutantes in love.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005): One of Robert Downey’s best pre-Marvel roles was as a struggling actor caught up in a Christmastime conspiracy, trading quips with scene-stealers Val Kilmer and Michelle Monaghan.

Go (1999): Writer John August and director Doug Liman keep the twists and the wisecracks coming in this ensemble piece about young L.A. types chasing down ecstasy. The cast is full of before-they-were-famous folks.

Eyes Wide Shut (1999): If you don’t think of this as a Christmas movie, you haven’t seen it lately; director Stanley Kubrick inserts twinkle lights and trees all over this sexual thriller starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman.

Christmas Evil (1980): John Waters’s favorite Christmas movie involves a Santa obsessive (Brandon Maggart, Tony nominee and dad of Fiona Apple) who takes his naughty list to homicidal extremes.

“Black Christmas” (1974): A decade before making the classic “A Christmas Story,” director Bob Clark invented the holiday slasher with this still-chilling cult fave about sorority sisters fending off an obscene phone caller.

“A Christmas Tale” (2008):
Catherine Deneuve isn’t the usual mom-with-cancer; this matriarch demands her kids give her a bone marrow transplant in this biting, brilliant family story.

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https://www.thewrap.com/10-christmas-movies-not-for-kids-adults-r-rated-bad-santa/feed/ 0 Sure, Christmas is a time of joy for children of all ages, but that doesn't mean that grown-ups can't have the cinematic equivalent of a spiked egg nog. After you've packed the little ones off to bed, enjoy these movies, from the hilarious to the horrifying, that are aimed at adult audiences.

]]>
Sure, Christmas is a time of joy for children of all ages, but that doesn't mean that grown-ups can't have the cinematic equivalent of a spiked egg nog. After you've packed the little ones off to bed, enjoy these movies, from the hilarious to the horrifying, that are aimed at adult audiences.

]]>
"Black Christmas" (1974) 

A decade before making the classic "A Christmas Story," director Bob Clark invented the holiday slasher with this still-chilling cult fave about sorority sisters fending off an obscene phone caller.

]]>
"Black Christmas" (1974) 

A decade before making the classic "A Christmas Story," director Bob Clark invented the holiday slasher with this still-chilling cult fave about sorority sisters fending off an obscene phone caller.

]]>
"The Silent Partner" (1978) 


Bank teller Elliott Gould and robber Christopher Plummer play a deadly game of cat-and-mouse; this twisty thriller was an early success for the late Curtis Hanson, who scripted.

]]>
"The Silent Partner" (1978) 


Bank teller Elliott Gould and robber Christopher Plummer play a deadly game of cat-and-mouse; this twisty thriller was an early success for the late Curtis Hanson, who scripted.

]]>
"Christmas Evil" (1980) 

John Waters' favorite Christmas movie involves a man obsessed with Santa (Brandon Maggart) who takes his naughty list to homicidal extremes.

]]>
"Christmas Evil" (1980) 

John Waters' favorite Christmas movie involves a man obsessed with Santa (Brandon Maggart) who takes his naughty list to homicidal extremes.

]]>
"Some Girls" (1988) 

Long before he was McDreamy, Patrick Dempsey played a horny college student bewitched by three sisters (played by Jennifer Connelly, Sheila Kelley and Ashley Greenfield) in an early Sundance hit that's still underappreciated (and still sexy).

]]>
"Some Girls" (1988) 

Long before he was McDreamy, Patrick Dempsey played a horny college student bewitched by three sisters (played by Jennifer Connelly, Sheila Kelley and Ashley Greenfield) in an early Sundance hit that's still underappreciated (and still sexy).

]]>
"Metropolitan" (1990) 

Writer-director Whit Stillman scored a dynamite debut -- and made a low-budget indie look great by shooting in holiday-decorated Manhattan -- with this smart and sprightly tale of young debutantes in love.

]]>
"Metropolitan" (1990) 

Writer-director Whit Stillman scored a dynamite debut -- and made a low-budget indie look great by shooting in holiday-decorated Manhattan -- with this smart and sprightly tale of young debutantes in love.

]]>
"The Ref" (1994) 


Cat burglar Denis Leary is forced to play marriage counselor to bickering spouses Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis in this pungently hilarious farce.

]]>
"The Ref" (1994) 


Cat burglar Denis Leary is forced to play marriage counselor to bickering spouses Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis in this pungently hilarious farce.

]]>
"Go" (1999) 

Writer John August and director Doug Liman keep the twists and the wisecracks coming in this ensemble piece about young L.A. types chasing down ecstasy. The cast is full of before-they-were-famous folks.

]]>
"Go" (1999) 

Writer John August and director Doug Liman keep the twists and the wisecracks coming in this ensemble piece about young L.A. types chasing down ecstasy. The cast is full of before-they-were-famous folks.

]]>
"Eyes Wide Shut" (1999)  

If you don't think of this as a Christmas movie, you haven't seen it lately; director Stanley Kubrick inserts twinkle lights and trees all over his sexual thriller starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman.

]]>
"Eyes Wide Shut" (1999)  

If you don't think of this as a Christmas movie, you haven't seen it lately; director Stanley Kubrick inserts twinkle lights and trees all over his sexual thriller starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman.

]]>
"Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" (2005)  


One of Robert Downey's best pre-Marvel roles was as a struggling actor caught up in a Christmastime conspiracy, trading quips with scene-stealers Val Kilmer and Michelle Monaghan.

]]>
"Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" (2005)  


One of Robert Downey's best pre-Marvel roles was as a struggling actor caught up in a Christmastime conspiracy, trading quips with scene-stealers Val Kilmer and Michelle Monaghan.

]]>
"A Christmas Tale" (2008)  


Catherine Deneuve isn't the usual mom-with-cancer; this matriarch demands her kids give her a bone marrow transplant in this biting, brilliant family story.                                                                                                                 

]]>
"A Christmas Tale" (2008)  


Catherine Deneuve isn't the usual mom-with-cancer; this matriarch demands her kids give her a bone marrow transplant in this biting, brilliant family story.                                                                                                                 

]]>
"Better Watch Out" (2017) 

This clever holiday horror-comedy takes the youthful sadism of "Home Alone" and ratchets it up a few notches, with teenage Luke (Levi Miller, "Pan") hiding some real darkness behind that sweet face. 

]]>
"Better Watch Out" (2017) 

This clever holiday horror-comedy takes the youthful sadism of "Home Alone" and ratchets it up a few notches, with teenage Luke (Levi Miller, "Pan") hiding some real darkness behind that sweet face. 

]]>
"A Bad Moms Christmas" (2017) 

The bad moms just want to have fun, even when their own bad moms come rolling into town to celebrate the season. Santas will strip, and the egg nog will be spiked.

]]>
"A Bad Moms Christmas" (2017) 

The bad moms just want to have fun, even when their own bad moms come rolling into town to celebrate the season. Santas will strip, and the egg nog will be spiked.

]]>
‘It’s a Wonderful Life': Why America Needs More George Baileys in Trump Era https://www.thewrap.com/its-a-wonderful-life-70th-anniversary-donald-trump/ https://www.thewrap.com/its-a-wonderful-life-70th-anniversary-donald-trump/#respond Sun, 24 Dec 2017 02:45:53 +0000 Alonso Duralde https://www.thewrap.com/?p=1407907 I have no doubt that, among the millions who shed a tear every December for the plight of poor Tiny Tim in Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” some of them are billionaire hedge-fund managers whose mortgage default swaps left countless people without a roof over their heads. There’s an amazing disconnect between loving a story and not realizing which character you’re playing in your own life. (That’s the joke behind one of my favorite headlines from The Onion: “Affluent White Man Enjoys, Causes the Blues.”)

And so, as “It’s a Wonderful Life” further cements its place in the culture as our national Christmas movie, I can’t help wonder how many of its fans remain blissfully aware that they are Mr. Potter — or, at least, elected him to the highest office in the land.

There’s a tendency to shrug off Frank Capra’s films as sentimental “Capra-corn,” but what he had to say about the world’s crushing forces remains as timely as ever, whether it’s the back-room political manipulators of “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” or the billionaire trying to take over a populist movement to promote his own 0.1 percent agenda in “Meet John Doe.” (The latter, incidentally, is Capra’s other great film in which the hero attempts to commit suicide on Christmas Eve.)

If conservatives embrace “It’s a Wonderful Life,” they no doubt convince themselves that George Bailey and his neighbors help each other rather than running to the government for handouts. But the film celebrates collectivism, as well as the idea that everyone is entitled to basic human dignity, starting with a decent home in which to raise a family, and that such niceties don’t create a society of moochers.

“You’re all businessmen here,” says George Bailey (James Stewart). “Doesn’t it make them better citizens? Doesn’t it make them better customers? You … you said … what’d you say a minute ago? They had to wait and save their money before they even ought to think of a decent home. Wait? Wait for what? Until their children grow up and leave them? Until they’re so old and broken down that they … Do you know how long it takes a working man to save $5,000? Just remember this, Mr. Potter, that this rabble you’re talking about … they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community. Well, is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath?”

Potter (Lionel Barrymore), meanwhile, refers to the working-class citizens of Bedford Falls as “rabble” and “garlic eaters” (a Breitbart-ian bit of coded racism) and uses his wealth to intimidate politicians and judges while buying up everything in town that he can. In George’s nightmare, we see the results of an unfettered Potter in the nightmarish Pottersville. (A real estate mogul sticking his name on everything, imagine that.)

Somehow, there’s still a library, but beyond that, it’s a town of cheap flash and cheaper thrills, where the citizenry is dead-eyed and doomed, stuck in substandard housing or forced to take in boarders. Potter doesn’t care, so long as the money keeps coming in; if fracking had been invented in 1946, he’d probably do that too.

It’s an interesting side note that one of the other stories that Capra was considering before making “It’s a Wonderful Life” was “It Happened on Fifth Avenue,” a comedy about WWII veterans clashing with yet another New York real estate mogul. That film’s celebration of united working people standing up to wealth and power was so left-leaning that one of its screenwriters was actually hauled before the House Un-American Activities Committee.

So if you love “It’s a Wonderful Life,” please take a second and think about the people in your own life. Are you being a helpful George Bailey, giving them a leg up even if it means giving of yourself and your dreams? Or are you Mr. Potter, knocking down everyone in your path and caring only about yourself? We are about to enter America’s Pottersville years, and the world needs more George Baileys.

Related stories from TheWrap:

Hitchcock's 'Vertigo' Ends 50-Year Reign of 'Citizen Kane'

Beverly D'Angelo Recalls Real Heat, Fake Snow on 'Christmas Vacation' 25th Anniversary (Video)

Mark Harris on 'Five Came Back' and Hollywood Collaboration With the Military: 'The Era of Good Feeling Did Not Last'

'SNL': Chance the Rapper Wants You to Enjoy the Last Christmas Before Trump (Video)

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20 Essential Movie and TV Scrooges Through the Years, From Alastair Sim to Bill Murray (Photos) https://www.thewrap.com/20-essential-best-scrooge-movie-tv-christmas-carol-alastair-sim-bill-murray/ https://www.thewrap.com/20-essential-best-scrooge-movie-tv-christmas-carol-alastair-sim-bill-murray/#respond Sat, 23 Dec 2017 13:15:31 +0000 Alonso Duralde https://www.thewrap.com/?p=1757090 In 2018, Charles Dickens’ classic novella “A Christmas Carol” turns 175, but its utility as a springboard for movie and TV adaptations shows no signs of slowing down. It’s a classic story of regret and redemption, and its lead character Ebenezer Scrooge offers an arc from misery and cruelty to love and kindness that’s catnip for any actor or actress. (I watched a sleighful of Scrooges for my book “Have Yourself a Movie Little Christmas” and am doing you the service of keeping the Barbie and “All Dogs Go to Heaven” versions off this list.)

Here’s a look at 20 performers who have put their own unique spin on “Bah! Humbug!”

Seymour Hicks, “Scrooge” (1935): There were a few silent versions, but this was the screen’s first talking Scrooge, in a version that’s early-talkie through and through, from the technical limitations (the camera doesn’t move much, and there’s not even an attempt to show Marley’s ghost) to the big, theatrical performances, Hicks’ included.

Reginald Owen, “A Christmas Carol” (1938): Owen was best known for comedy, so there’s a sprightliness to his take on the role, even though his Ebenezer is certainly a crabby old skinflint for much of the film. This 69-minute feature from MGM is a good non-animated starter version for kids.

Alastair Sim, “A Christmas Carol” (US)/”Scrooge” (UK) (1951): Generally acknowledged to be the greatest of the screen Scrooges, and he deserves the reputation. There’s a real commitment to the role’s extremes of both wickedness and joy, and Sim is never less that magnetic in the role. (It helps that this is, overall, a terrific adaptation.)

Basil Rathbone, “The Stingiest Man in Town” (1956): This made-for-TV musical version rarely surfaces these days, and that’s a pity, particularly since Rathbone’s patented brand of hammy villainy suits the character so very well. If you can’t find this one, check out Rathbone’s equally Scrooge-y turn in the Christmas-set comedy “We’re No Angels” (1955).

Mister Magoo (voiced by Jim Backus), “Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol” (1962): Even though the character of Mister Magoo was kindly (if terribly near-sighted), the producers of this very first animated holiday program produced for television wanted his name value, so the set-up is that Magoo is playing Scrooge onstage in a Broadway musical (with songs by the legendary Jule Styne); the results are delightful.

Albert Finney, “Scrooge” (1970): A personal favorite, at least partly because Finney is one of the only actors to play the character both as a young man and as the craggy old coot he later becomes. Seeing him start out full of vitality before becoming stooped with greed makes the story all the more poignant.

Henry Winkler, “An American Christmas Carol” (1979): This version transposes the story from Victorian England to Depression-era America, and while the old-age makeup isn’t the most convincing, Winkler successfully puts a Yankee stamp on this most British of characters. (Not to be confused with the dreadful 2008 right-wing propaganda piece, “An American Carol.”)

Scrooge McDuck (voiced by Alan Young), “Mickey’s Christmas Carol” (1983): Well, talk about a performer who was born to play the role. McDuck works his trademark Scottish-cheapskate-isms into what has become a favorite version for generations of kids who grew up watching it.

George C. Scott, “A Christmas Carol” (1984): This lush made-for-TV version (directed by Clive Donner, who edited the Alastair Sim version) is anchored by a fearsome and funny turn by Scott, who seems to delight in Scrooge’s penny-pinchery more than most. Where other performers shout, he traffics more in quiet menace.

Bill Murray, “Scrooged” (1988): As network exec Frank Cross, Murray oversees vulgar and idiotic holiday-themed programming while ignoring his family and overworking his put-upon assistant (played by Alfre Woodard). There’s no middle ground on this broad performance; either it works for you — and for many, it does — or you’ll change channels.

Michael Caine, “The Muppet Christmas Carol” (1992): Caine makes for a fearsome old skinflint, and what makes the performance work is that he never behaves as though there’s anything strange about the fact that his co-stars are a frog and several mice and a bear and a pig and a…whatever Gonzo is.

Susan Lucci, “Ebbie” (1995): The “Scrooge is a ruthless career woman” sub-genre starts here, and Lucci is one of the best at playing a heartless climber faced with learning some hard lessons at Christmastime. Her performance as a cold-hearted department-store magnate is one of the TV movie’s strongest assets.

Cicely Tyson, “Ms. Scrooge” (1997): You would think that an actress as formidable as Tyson would take to the role of cruel moneylender Ebenita Scrooge like a goose to stuffing, particularly since she’s reteamed with John Korty, who directed her in “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.” Alas, she overplays (and sounds jarringly like W.C. Fields).

Patrick Stewart, “A Christmas Carol” (1999): Onstage, Stewart played all the roles, but in this made-for-cable film he’s a younger (but no less meaner) Scrooge than usual. His delight in rolling Dickens’ original dialogue around in his mouth is infectious.

Vanessa Williams, “A Diva’s Christmas Carol” (2000): This playful transposition of the story into the world of turn-of-the-21st-century pop — the Ghost of Christmas Future is an unflattering episode of VH1’s “Behind the Music” — benefits greatly from Williams’ delightful hauteur as the titular diva.

Tori Spelling, “A Carol Christmas” (2003): You might be shocked to learn that Spelling is surprisingly effective as the host of a tacky daytime talk show who gets knocked down a peg after visits from ghosts played by William Shatner and Gary Coleman. This movie’s tongue may be firmly in cheek, but its heart is in the right place.

Kelsey Grammer, “A Christmas Carol: The Musical” (2004): This made-for-TV production must have looked good on paper, between Grammer’s mellifluous hambonery to a talented supporting cast (Jane Krakowski, Jason Alexander, Jesse L. Martin) to original songs by Alan Menken and Lynn Ahrens, but it never coalesces. And neither does Grammer’s performance.

Jim Carrey, “Disney’s A Christmas Carol” (2009): The rubbery faces and dead eyes of director Robert Zemeckis’ motion-capture characters don’t help matters much here, and neither does Carrey overacting as broadly here as he did playing another iconic holiday villain in “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” (Too much to be contained by just one character, Carrey also plays the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future.)

Emmanuelle Vaugier, “It’s Christmas, Carol!” (2012): The phrase, “Well, she’s no Tori Spelling” isn’t uttered too often, but it’s a fair critique of Vaugier’s fairly featureless performance in a TV-movie so low-budget that the late Carrie Fisher’s Marley-esque character has to take on all the ghost duties single-handedly.

Christopher Plummer, “The Man Who Invented Christmas” (2017): In this fairly tedious movie about the writing of “A Christmas Carol,” Scrooge mainly hangs around to harangue Dickens (Dan Stevens) over how long it’s taking him to finish the story. But Plummer is so delectably diabolical that you’ll wish someone would just build a straightforward adaptation around him.

Related stories from TheWrap:

'The Man Who Invented Christmas' Film Review: Scrooge's Origin Story Is a Bit of a Humbug

Ice Cube to Put His Spin on Scrooge in Universal's 'Humbug'

Did Disney's 'Uncle Scrooge' Inspire WB's 'Inception'?

Bill Maher Shows Donald Trump an Alternative Reality ala 'A Christmas Carol' (Video)

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https://www.thewrap.com/20-essential-best-scrooge-movie-tv-christmas-carol-alastair-sim-bill-murray/feed/ 0 In 2018, Charles Dickens' classic novella "A Christmas Carol" turns 175, but its utility as a springboard for movie and TV adaptations shows no signs of slowing down. It's a classic story of regret and redemption, and its lead character Ebenezer Scrooge offers an arc from misery and cruelty to love and kindness that's catnip for any actor or actress. (I watched a sleighful of Scrooges for my book "Have Yourself a Movie Little Christmas" and am doing you the service of keeping the Barbie and "All Dogs Go to Heaven" versions off this list.)

Here's a look at 20 performers who have put their own unique spin on "Bah! Humbug!"

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In 2018, Charles Dickens' classic novella "A Christmas Carol" turns 175, but its utility as a springboard for movie and TV adaptations shows no signs of slowing down. It's a classic story of regret and redemption, and its lead character Ebenezer Scrooge offers an arc from misery and cruelty to love and kindness that's catnip for any actor or actress. (I watched a sleighful of Scrooges for my book "Have Yourself a Movie Little Christmas" and am doing you the service of keeping the Barbie and "All Dogs Go to Heaven" versions off this list.)

Here's a look at 20 performers who have put their own unique spin on "Bah! Humbug!"

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Seymour Hicks, "Scrooge" (1935)  

There were a few silent versions, but this was the screen's first talking Scrooge, in a version that's early-talkie through and through, from the technical limitations (the camera doesn't move much, and there's not even an attempt to show Marley's ghost) to the big, theatrical performances, Hicks' included.

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Seymour Hicks, "Scrooge" (1935)  

There were a few silent versions, but this was the screen's first talking Scrooge, in a version that's early-talkie through and through, from the technical limitations (the camera doesn't move much, and there's not even an attempt to show Marley's ghost) to the big, theatrical performances, Hicks' included.

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Reginald Owen, "A Christmas Carol" (1938)  

Owen was best known for comedy, so there's a sprightliness to his take on the role, even though his Ebenezer is certainly a crabby old skinflint for much of the film. This 69-minute feature from MGM is a good non-animated starter version for kids.

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Reginald Owen, "A Christmas Carol" (1938)  

Owen was best known for comedy, so there's a sprightliness to his take on the role, even though his Ebenezer is certainly a crabby old skinflint for much of the film. This 69-minute feature from MGM is a good non-animated starter version for kids.

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Alastair Sim, "A Christmas Carol" (U.S.)/"Scrooge" (U.K.) (1951)  

Generally acknowledged to be the greatest of the screen Scrooges, and he deserves the reputation. There's a real commitment to the role's extremes of both wickedness and joy, and Sim is never less that magnetic in the role. (It helps that this is, overall, a terrific adaptation.)

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Alastair Sim, "A Christmas Carol" (U.S.)/"Scrooge" (U.K.) (1951)  

Generally acknowledged to be the greatest of the screen Scrooges, and he deserves the reputation. There's a real commitment to the role's extremes of both wickedness and joy, and Sim is never less that magnetic in the role. (It helps that this is, overall, a terrific adaptation.)

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Basil Rathbone, "The Stingiest Man in Town" (1956)  

This made-for-TV musical version rarely surfaces these days, and that's a pity, particularly since Rathbone's patented brand of hammy villainy suits the character so well. If you can't find this one, check out Rathbone's equally Scrooge-y turn in the Christmas-set comedy "We're No Angels" (1955).

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Basil Rathbone, "The Stingiest Man in Town" (1956)  

This made-for-TV musical version rarely surfaces these days, and that's a pity, particularly since Rathbone's patented brand of hammy villainy suits the character so well. If you can't find this one, check out Rathbone's equally Scrooge-y turn in the Christmas-set comedy "We're No Angels" (1955).

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Mister Magoo (voiced by Jim Backus), "Mister Magoo's Christmas Carol" (1962)  

Even though the character of Mister Magoo was kindly (if terribly near-sighted), the producers of the very first animated holiday program produced for TV wanted his name value, so the set-up is that Magoo is playing Scrooge on stage in a Broadway musical (with songs by the legendary Jule Styne); the results are delightful.

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Mister Magoo (voiced by Jim Backus), "Mister Magoo's Christmas Carol" (1962)  

Even though the character of Mister Magoo was kindly (if terribly near-sighted), the producers of the very first animated holiday program produced for TV wanted his name value, so the set-up is that Magoo is playing Scrooge on stage in a Broadway musical (with songs by the legendary Jule Styne); the results are delightful.

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Albert Finney, "Scrooge" (1970)  

A personal favorite, at least partly because Finney is one of the only actors to play the character both as a young man and as the craggy old coot he later becomes. Seeing him start out full of vitality before becoming stooped with greed makes the story all the more poignant.

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Albert Finney, "Scrooge" (1970)  

A personal favorite, at least partly because Finney is one of the only actors to play the character both as a young man and as the craggy old coot he later becomes. Seeing him start out full of vitality before becoming stooped with greed makes the story all the more poignant.

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Henry Winkler, "An American Christmas Carol" (1979)  

This version transposes the story from Victorian England to Depression-era America, and while the old-age makeup isn't the most convincing, Winkler successfully puts a Yankee stamp on this most British of characters. (Not to be confused with the dreadful 2008 right-wing propaganda piece, "An American Carol.")

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Henry Winkler, "An American Christmas Carol" (1979)  

This version transposes the story from Victorian England to Depression-era America, and while the old-age makeup isn't the most convincing, Winkler successfully puts a Yankee stamp on this most British of characters. (Not to be confused with the dreadful 2008 right-wing propaganda piece, "An American Carol.")

]]>
Scrooge McDuck (voiced by Alan Young), "Mickey's Christmas Carol" (1983)  

Well, talk about a performer who was born to play the role. McDuck works his trademark Scottish-cheapskate-isms into what has become a favorite version for generations of kids who grew up watching it.

]]>
Scrooge McDuck (voiced by Alan Young), "Mickey's Christmas Carol" (1983)  

Well, talk about a performer who was born to play the role. McDuck works his trademark Scottish-cheapskate-isms into what has become a favorite version for generations of kids who grew up watching it.

]]>
George C. Scott, "A Christmas Carol" (1984)  

This lush made-for-TV version (directed by Clive Donner, who edited the Alastair Sim version) is anchored by a fearsome and funny turn by Scott, who seems to delight in Scrooge's penny-pinchery more than most. Where other performers shout, he traffics more in quiet menace.

]]>
George C. Scott, "A Christmas Carol" (1984)  

This lush made-for-TV version (directed by Clive Donner, who edited the Alastair Sim version) is anchored by a fearsome and funny turn by Scott, who seems to delight in Scrooge's penny-pinchery more than most. Where other performers shout, he traffics more in quiet menace.

]]>
Bill Murray, "Scrooged" (1988)  

As network exec Frank Cross, Murray oversees vulgar and idiotic holiday-themed programming while ignoring his family and overworking his put-upon assistant (played by Alfre Woodard). There's no middle ground on this broad performance; either it works for you -- and for many, it does -- or you'll change channels.

]]>
Bill Murray, "Scrooged" (1988)  

As network exec Frank Cross, Murray oversees vulgar and idiotic holiday-themed programming while ignoring his family and overworking his put-upon assistant (played by Alfre Woodard). There's no middle ground on this broad performance; either it works for you -- and for many, it does -- or you'll change channels.

]]>
Michael Caine, "The Muppet Christmas Carol" (1992)  

Caine makes for a fearsome old skinflint, and what makes the performance work is that he never behaves as though there's anything strange about the fact that his co-stars are a frog and several mice and a bear and a pig and a...whatever Gonzo is.

]]>
Michael Caine, "The Muppet Christmas Carol" (1992)  

Caine makes for a fearsome old skinflint, and what makes the performance work is that he never behaves as though there's anything strange about the fact that his co-stars are a frog and several mice and a bear and a pig and a...whatever Gonzo is.

]]>
Susan Lucci, "Ebbie" (1995)  

The "Scrooge is a ruthless career woman" sub-genre begins here, and Lucci is one of the best at playing a heartless climber faced with learning some hard lessons at Christmastime. Her performance as a cold-hearted department-store magnate is one of the TV movie's strongest assets.

]]>
Susan Lucci, "Ebbie" (1995)  

The "Scrooge is a ruthless career woman" sub-genre begins here, and Lucci is one of the best at playing a heartless climber faced with learning some hard lessons at Christmastime. Her performance as a cold-hearted department-store magnate is one of the TV movie's strongest assets.

]]>
Cicely Tyson, "Ms. Scrooge" (1997)  

You would think that an actress as formidable as Tyson would take to the role of cruel moneylender Ebenita Scrooge like a goose to stuffing, particularly since she's reteamed with John Korty, who directed her in "The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman." Alas, she overplays (and sounds jarringly like W.C. Fields).

]]>
Cicely Tyson, "Ms. Scrooge" (1997)  

You would think that an actress as formidable as Tyson would take to the role of cruel moneylender Ebenita Scrooge like a goose to stuffing, particularly since she's reteamed with John Korty, who directed her in "The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman." Alas, she overplays (and sounds jarringly like W.C. Fields).

]]>
Patrick Stewart, "A Christmas Carol" (1999)  

On stage, Stewart played all the roles, but in this made-for-cable film he's a younger (but no less mean) Scrooge than usual. His delight in rolling Dickens' original dialogue around in his mouth is infectious.

]]>
Patrick Stewart, "A Christmas Carol" (1999)  

On stage, Stewart played all the roles, but in this made-for-cable film he's a younger (but no less mean) Scrooge than usual. His delight in rolling Dickens' original dialogue around in his mouth is infectious.

]]>
Vanessa Williams, "A Diva's Christmas Carol" (2000)  

This playful transposition of the story into the world of turn-of-the-21st-century pop -- the Ghost of Christmas Future is an unflattering episode of VH1's "Behind the Music" -- benefits greatly from Williams' delightful hauteur as the titular diva.

]]>
Vanessa Williams, "A Diva's Christmas Carol" (2000)  

This playful transposition of the story into the world of turn-of-the-21st-century pop -- the Ghost of Christmas Future is an unflattering episode of VH1's "Behind the Music" -- benefits greatly from Williams' delightful hauteur as the titular diva.

]]>
Tori Spelling, "A Carol Christmas" (2003)  

You might be shocked to learn that Spelling is surprisingly effective as the host of a tacky daytime talk show who gets knocked down a peg after visits from ghosts played by William Shatner and Gary Coleman. This movie's tongue may be firmly in cheek, but its heart is in the right place.

]]>
Tori Spelling, "A Carol Christmas" (2003)  

You might be shocked to learn that Spelling is surprisingly effective as the host of a tacky daytime talk show who gets knocked down a peg after visits from ghosts played by William Shatner and Gary Coleman. This movie's tongue may be firmly in cheek, but its heart is in the right place.

]]>
Kelsey Grammer, "A Christmas Carol: The Musical" (2004)  

This made-for-TV production must have looked good on paper, between Grammer's mellifluous hambonery to a talented supporting cast (Jane Krakowski, Jason Alexander, Jesse L. Martin) to original songs by Alan Menken and Lynn Ahrens, but it never coalesces. And neither does Grammer's performance.

]]>
Kelsey Grammer, "A Christmas Carol: The Musical" (2004)  

This made-for-TV production must have looked good on paper, between Grammer's mellifluous hambonery to a talented supporting cast (Jane Krakowski, Jason Alexander, Jesse L. Martin) to original songs by Alan Menken and Lynn Ahrens, but it never coalesces. And neither does Grammer's performance.

]]>
Jim Carrey, "Disney's A Christmas Carol" (2009)  

The rubbery faces and dead eyes of director Robert Zemeckis' motion-capture characters don't help matters, but Carrey overacts as broadly here as he did playing another iconic holiday villain in "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." (Too much to be contained by just one character, Carrey also plays the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future.)

]]>
Jim Carrey, "Disney's A Christmas Carol" (2009)  

The rubbery faces and dead eyes of director Robert Zemeckis' motion-capture characters don't help matters, but Carrey overacts as broadly here as he did playing another iconic holiday villain in "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." (Too much to be contained by just one character, Carrey also plays the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future.)

]]>
Emmanuelle Vaugier, "It's Christmas, Carol!" (2012)  

The phrase, "Well, she's no Tori Spelling" isn't uttered too often, but it's a fair critique of Vaugier's featureless performance in a TV-movie so low-budget that the late Carrie Fisher's Marley-esque character has to take on all the ghost duties single-handedly.

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Emmanuelle Vaugier, "It's Christmas, Carol!" (2012)  

The phrase, "Well, she's no Tori Spelling" isn't uttered too often, but it's a fair critique of Vaugier's featureless performance in a TV-movie so low-budget that the late Carrie Fisher's Marley-esque character has to take on all the ghost duties single-handedly.

]]>
Christopher Plummer, "The Man Who Invented Christmas" (2017)  

In this fairly tedious movie about the writing of "A Christmas Carol," Scrooge mainly hangs around to harangue Dickens (Dan Stevens) about how long it's taking him to finish the story. But Plummer is so delectably diabolical that you'll wish someone would just build a straightforward adaptation around him.

]]>
Christopher Plummer, "The Man Who Invented Christmas" (2017)  

In this fairly tedious movie about the writing of "A Christmas Carol," Scrooge mainly hangs around to harangue Dickens (Dan Stevens) about how long it's taking him to finish the story. But Plummer is so delectably diabolical that you'll wish someone would just build a straightforward adaptation around him.

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‘Downsizing’ Review: Matt Damon Is the Incredible Shrinking Everyman https://www.thewrap.com/downsizing-review-matt-damon-alexander-payne/ https://www.thewrap.com/downsizing-review-matt-damon-alexander-payne/#respond Tue, 19 Dec 2017 02:00:35 +0000 Alonso Duralde https://www.thewrap.com/?p=1699912

“Let’s get small” is more than just an old Steve Martin joke in “Downsizing,” the new Alexander Payne comedy that explores a world in which scientists have figured out a way to shrink human beings to a fraction of their former size. A miniaturized populace might save the earth from extinction, but if we’ve learned anything from science fiction, it’s that whatever journey humanity takes, it has a way of bringing both its best and worst aspects along for the ride.

Science fiction might feel like a leap for the very grounded Payne (working once again with co-writer Jim Taylor), but “Downsizing” operates from the recognizably humane level of such films as “Nebraska,” “Sideways” and “About Schmidt.” The genre’s finest work uses the science of the future to illuminate the world of today, and this film explores its subject and its characters on, literally, a micro and a macro level.

After Norwegian scientists discover a way to shrink lab mice — and then start their own tiny colony for five years before announcing their findings to the world — the planet slowly begins to adapt to the idea. For Omaha couple Paul (Matt Damon) and Audrey (Kristen Wiig), downsizing seems like an answer to their prayers. Paul had to give up pre-med to take care of his sick mom, and as an occupational therapist, he hasn’t been able to buy Audrey the home of their dreams.

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When they visit Leisureland, a New Mexico suburb for the shrunken (downsized human beings are 0.0364 percent the size of their full-sized counterparts), they learn that their six figures in equity translate into eight figures once they become small. But while Paul goes through the complicated procedure, Audrey has a change of heart halfway through, abandoning him to his new life (and taking a chunk of their shared savings in the divorce).

Through his hedonistic upstairs neighbor Dusan (Christoph Waltz), a slick Serbian specializing in mini-cigars and booze, Paul meets Ngoc Lan (Hong Chau, “Big Little Lies”). A Vietnamese dissident who was shrunken against her will and smuggled into the U.S. inside a TV box, Ngoc Lan was a cause celèbre for a moment, but now she cleans the apartments of Leisureland’s wealthy. Hoping to use his therapy skills on her prosthetic foot, Paul grows close to her and discovers that even a tiny community has an exploited workforce and unaddressed poverty issues.

“Downsizing” presents a world that’s falling apart — even if Leisureland does boast three Cheesecake Factory locations — but Payne and Taylor bring their trademark acidic empathy; this film may share the darkly ironic “no matter where you go, there you are” message of a film like John Frankenheimer’s “Seconds,” but Payne and Taylor clearly believe in the power of people looking outside their own little worlds and taking in the big picture.

They also take great pains never to lose sight of the many ramifications of their premise: While pundits on TV tackle economic, environmental and political issues, Audrey’s father worries about never seeing her again. A drunk at a bar insists that the downsized deserve only a fraction of the vote. (Thankfully, he doesn’t suggest that they’re only three-fifths of a human being.) And even in Paradise, someone’s got to clean the toilets.

Cinematographer Phedon Papamichael (“The Huntsmen: Winter’s War”) contrasts the planned-community sheen of Leisureland with the grim surroundings of Ngoc Lan’s slum apartment with the serenity of the original Norwegian colony (which Paul and Ngoc Lan eventually visit). The visuals allow the film to segue from near-absurdity (Paul is one of dozens of men simultaneously going through the miniaturization process, and the parade of gurneys resembles a Busby Berkeley number) to bleakly apocalyptic moments. Thankfully, Payne is selective about his big-small visual gags, so when they appear — as in a tiny cargo boat hauling a pyramid of six normal-size Absolut bottles — they land.

The ensemble couldn’t be better, from Damon in paunchy-dork mode (think “Contagion” rather than Jason Bourne) and a joyously sleazy Waltz to brief but memorable appearances by the likes of Margo Martindale, Jason Sudeikis, Udo Kier, Laura Dern, Niecy Nash, Kerri Kenney and Neil Patrick Harris. If there’s a standout here, it’s Chau, taking a character who could easily have been a saintly martyr and making her funny, bristly, moving and occasionally profane. As awards season kicks up, she should definitely be part of the conversation.

“Downsizing” sees Payne and Taylor working on a larger palette than usual, but like their shrunken characters, the filmmakers’ humor and their sharp observation of the human condition have survived the change in size and scope.

Related stories from TheWrap:

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Kathy Griffin Withdraws Apology for Decapitated Trump Photo: 'I Am No Longer Sorry' (Video)

Joel Osteen Opens Megachurch Doors to Hurricane Victims After Harsh Criticism

Fox News Will No Longer Air in the UK Due to Low Viewership

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All 9 ‘Star Wars’ Movies Ranked, From ‘New Hope’ to ‘The Last Jedi’ https://www.thewrap.com/all-9-star-wars-movies-ranked-worst-best-new-hope-rogue-one-last-jedi/ https://www.thewrap.com/all-9-star-wars-movies-ranked-worst-best-new-hope-rogue-one-last-jedi/#respond Sun, 17 Dec 2017 01:53:38 +0000 Alonso Duralde https://www.thewrap.com/?p=763498 Disney promised a new “Star Wars” movie every year after it acquired Lucasfilm, and the saga keeps on keeping on with “Episode VIII: The Last Jedi.” But while many would call themselves “Star Wars” fans, even they will admit that the movies in the saga are by no means created equal.

In reverse order, here is a rundown of the best and worst that these films (not counting the cartoons, the Ewok spin-off or the infamous Holiday Special) have to offer.

Fox

9. “Episode I: The Phantom Menace”
We waited 16 years for George Lucas to return to this universe, and what did we get? Trade routes and political intrigue, blood tests for the Force, and perhaps worst of all, Jar Jar Binks. “Menace” isn’t terrible because it’s a kid’s movie; it’s terrible because it’s a terrible kids movie.

Highlight: The light-saber battle between Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and Darth Maul (Ray Park) – they’re the two most interesting characters the movie has to offer, so naturally both get killed off before the closing credits roll.

Worst Part: Any utterance of the word “Yippee!” whether by Jar Jar or by pre-pubescent Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd).

Fox

8. “Episode II: Attack of the Clones”
A slight improvement over its predecessor, in the same way that a stubbed toe hurts less than a migraine. This installment introduces a hockey-haired Hayden Christensen as a petulant Anakin, smitten with Senator Amidala (Natalie Portman), despite her noting, “To me, you’ll always be that little boy on Tatooine” upon their reunion. Also, there are clones.

Highlight: The fight between Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and Jango Fett (Temuera Morrison), which feels like a genuine clash of equals. Close second: Yoda’s lightsaber battle with Count Dooku (Christopher Lee).

Worst Part: Anakin woos his lady in a CG meadow that looks like the set of a toilet paper commercial. (No one can forget the immortal line, “I don’t like sand.”)

7. “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”: Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) and a rag-tag group of rebels set out to steal the plans for the Death Star to prove that Jyn’s father Galen (Mads Mikkselsen) did indeed booby-trap that thermal port so that one day Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) can blow up the whole mama-jama. This first non-“Episode” movie in the series is less a film than a series of Easter eggs for hardcore fans to find and enjoy; the rest of us wound up less entertained.

Highlight: The climactic battle sequence, spotlighting the extraordinary combat skills of [SPOILER REDACTED], whose proficiency with The Force makes up for [SPOILER REDACTED].

Worst Part: The fact that the film prioritizes plot details over character — especially since the existence of “Episode IV” assures that we already know how this one ends.

Fox

6. “Episode VI: Return of the Jedi”: Han Solo (Harrison Ford) is unfrozen from carbonite, Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) is briefly enslaved by Jabba the Hutt (and forced to wear the infamous metal bikini), and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) resists the temptations of the Dark Side and brings his dad, Darth Vader, around to defeat the sinister Emperor Palpatine. If only so much time weren’t spent with those cutesy Ewoks, whose annoying presence presages the juvenile tone of the prequels.

Highlight: The speeder chase through the forests of Endor, one of the most breathtakingly exciting sequences in the entire saga.

Worst Part: The Empire seems a little less threatening when they have such a hard time standing up to a bunch of teddy bears with ropes and pulleys.

5. “Episode III: Revenge of the Sith”
Anakin completes his journey toward becoming Darth Vader as the Empire succeeds in its hostile takeover of the Republic. Christensen remains as pouty as ever, but there are moments in “Sith” that support the notion that if Lucas had made just this one prequel rather than three, we wouldn’t think so poorly of his return to this galaxy far, far away.

Highlight: Anakin faces off with Obi-Wan for a final confrontation that leaves that younger man beaten and dismembered. Also, the “unmasking” of Chancellor Palpatine as “The Phantom Menace” by a phalanx of Jedi who are made short work of (including Samuel L. Jackson‘s Mace Windu) by the evil Sith Lord.

Worst Part: A reconstructed Anakin bellows, “Nooooooooo!!!!!” when he awakens in his Darth Vader armor, in a ham-fisted homage to/ripoff of Boris Karloff in James Whale’s “Frankenstein.”

Disney

4. “Episode VII: The Force Awakens”
The first of the post-Lucas adventures sees director and co-writer J.J. Abrams connecting some familiar faces from the previous films to a new set of fascinating characters, both good and evil. The film bears more than a few structural resemblances to “A New Hope,” but it’s no less thrilling for its moments of familiarity. If George Lucas cribbed from serials, Errol Flynn and Akira Kurosawa, Abrams pulls ideas from George Lucas.

Highlight: Either when General (formerly Princess) Leia is reunited with Han Solo or when Rey (Daisy Ridley) realizes her destiny.

Worst Part: R2-D2 spends too much of the movie in sleep mode, becoming fully present only at a plot-convenient moment late in the story.

3. “Episode VIII: The Last Jedi”
After Ewoks, a disappointing prequel trilogy, and an entertaining rehash of the original movie, the eighth entry in the franchise brings energy and passion, mixing all the thrills and excitement of the best of these movies with genuine character depth and surprising sacrifices. It’s with “The Last Jedi” that the new-school movies start to come into their own.

Highlight: When [SPOILER] battles [SPOILER] and then [SPOILER] [SPOILER] [SPOILER].

Worst Part: Most of the scenes in which Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) is thrust into the middle of the action for seemingly no reason than to make us love a new character.

20th Century Fox

2. “Episode IV: A New Hope”
Or, to those of us old enough to have seen the film upon its original release in 1977, simply “Star Wars.” Lucas’ original space-spanning saga has become such an iconic American movie that it’s joined the ranks of “The Wizard of Oz” — nearly every moment, camera set-up or line of dialogue has been quoted, referenced or lampooned by another movie over the years.

Highlight: Who can choose? I’m a big fan of Luke and Han manning the turret gun in the Millennium Falcon as Chewbacca evades the Empire’s TIE fighters, but if you prefer the escape from the garbage disposal or Darth Vader’s hands-free strangulation of Admiral Motti (Richard LeParmentier), you’re not wrong either.

Worst Part: Princess Leia’s British accent and Luke’s nasal whining indicate that Lucas hadn’t quite yet pinned down the specifics of these characters.

Fox

1. “Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back”
Having created these worlds in the previous movie, Lucas (working with screenwriters Lawrence Kasdan and Leigh Brackett and director Irvin Kershner) could let these characters and their relationships grow richer and more interesting, while simultaneously ratcheting up the stakes and the excitement. Here’s a sequel that enhances its predecessor rather than attempting simply to re-create it.

Highlight: Again, so much to choose from, whether it’s the AT-AT walkers on Hoth, Han Solo’s evasion of the Imperial fleet via an asteroid field or Luke’s apprenticeship under Jedi Master Yoda (voiced by Frank Oz).

Worst Part: I was 13 years old in 1980, and that cliffhanger ending — with the knowledge that the next sequel was a full three years away — really stung. (Not to mention that guy carrying an ice cream maker during the evacuation of Bespin.)

Related stories from TheWrap:

First Reactions to 'Star Wars: the Last Jedi' Are In: 'I Can't Wait to See It Again'

24 Actors You Probably Didn't Know Were in 'Star Wars' Movies (Photos)

What the Hell Is It About 'Star Wars' That Makes Us All Crazy? (Commentary)

JJ Abrams Reveals Why He Really Returned to Direct 'Star Wars Episode IX'

Carrie Fisher's Beloved Dog, Gary, Will Appear in 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi' (Photo)

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‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ Movie Review: The Thrills Are Strong with This One https://www.thewrap.com/star-wars-the-last-jedi-review-episode-viii/ https://www.thewrap.com/star-wars-the-last-jedi-review-episode-viii/#respond Fri, 15 Dec 2017 03:37:44 +0000 Alonso Duralde https://www.thewrap.com/?p=1754894 How much you enjoy “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” may hinge on how seriously you take this franchise, and that’s good news for those of us who are casual users and not religious adherents. Writer-director Rian Johnson steps into this ongoing saga with an eye seemingly more aimed at the “Flash Gordon” serials that originally inspired George Lucas than at the terminal self-seriousness that so many fans inflict upon the material.

If having pure fun at a “Star Wars” movie is wrong, I don’t want to be right. So for me, “The Last Jedi” falls right behind “The Empire Strikes Back” and maybe the original film in providing the thrills and the heartbreak, the heroism and villainy, and the romance and betrayal that makes these films such a treat even for those of us who can’t name all the planets or the alien species or even the Empire’s flunkies. (Sorry, the First Order’s flunkies.) And make no mistake: This is an entertaining chapter, but it also features loss and sacrifice and devastating consequences.

Johnson skillfully balances quite a few characters, all operating at various points of the universe, and he and editor Bob Ducsay (“San Andreas”) weave between them without losing the thread. At 150 minutes — the longest “Star Wars” movie yet — the pace never drags, but even all that real estate doesn’t allow for the inclusion of all the characters we’ve come to know by this point. (Make sure not to blink, fans of Lupita Nyong’o‘s Maz Kanata.)

We pick up where “The Force Awakens” finished, with Rey (Daisy Ridley), Chewbacca (now performed by Joonas Suotamo) and R2D2 finding Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) in self-imposed exile. Rey wants to be trained in the ways of the Jedi, but after Luke’s experiences in trying to be a master to Ben Solo, aka Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), he would prefer to leave his past behind him.

Meanwhile, the First Order, under the command of General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson), has tracked down the last remaining rebel base, but General Leia (the late Carrie Fisher) and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) aren’t giving up without a fight. Part of battling the First Order’s attack relies upon a secret mission being undertaken by reformed stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) and maintenance worker Rose (series newcomer Kelly Marie Tran). And while Rey works to get Luke to mentor her progress, she finds herself surprisingly linked to someone else, in a mental and perhaps spiritual bond that could change the very nature of the conflict.

At one point, Kylo yells, “Forget the Jedi! Forget the Sith! Forget the First Order!” in the hopes of forging something entirely new, and while it’s tempting to think that the “Star Wars” films could ever actually do such a thing, Johnson at least succeeds at making the personal stakes matter as much as the intergalactic ones do. And while a few scenes may ring familiar — instead of Luke seeking training from Yoda, Rey seeks it from Luke; instead of a scuzzy cantina, Finn and Rose visit a swanky, Monte-Carlo-in-outer-space casino — the accusations of “The Force Awakens” being a redo of the original “Star Wars” (yes, yes, “A New Hope,” whatever) can’t be leveled here.

The cast is certainly game, from the veterans to additions like Laura Dern, but it’s very often Fisher’s show, and not merely for the sentimental baggage we can’t help bringing with us into the theater. Leia has rarely gotten this much to do in these movies, and here she’s not only capable of extraordinary feats (the Force is strong with this one) but she’s also as wry as we knew the actress to be off-camera.

If there’s a bum note here, it’s the introduction of Rose: it’s certainly praiseworthy for the Skywalker saga to include such a prominent Asian character — particularly since Kurosawa’s “The Hidden Fortress” was such a key influence — but she’s shamelessly a fan avatar. Her introductory scene involves her getting all gushy over meeting Finn for the first time (although she promptly tases him when she realizes he’s trying to hijack an escape pod), and later, the script uses her mainly as a plot convenience. If she sticks around, here’s hoping she’s given some more layers.

Visually, “The Last Jedi” is a feast. There’s a reason why the color red is so prominently featured in the posters, from the faceless Spanish Inquisition-esque guards for Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) to a planet where a layer of snow covers a surface of crimson salt, leading to a spectacular climactic ground battle. We’re also introduced to a fascinating menagerie of new creatures, including premature fan favorites, the Porgs. In his best previous films, Johnson has demonstrated an ability never to let his art get in the way of his genre pleasures, and once again he’s crafted a good-looking movie that ultimately serves both the characters and the sensations.

(Not that there aren’t ideas to be found here — that casino is loaded with people who got rich off the arms trade, and Finn is taken aback to discover that the same merchants who sell TIE fighters to the First Order are also profiting off X-wings for the rebels. In war, no one’s hands are clean.)

This is button-pushing at its finest, the kind of manipulation so skillful that you don’t even mind being manipulated. As “Star Wars” changes hands from the old guard to the new, the series remains the gold standard of mass-market popcorn thrills.

This review originally published on Dec. 12.

Related stories from TheWrap:

All the 'Star Wars' Behind-the-Scenes Shakeups Since Disney Bought Lucasfilm (So Far)

Inside the 'Star Wars' Director Problem, and How Lucasfilm Might Try to Fix It

'Thor: Ragnarok' Director Mocks How Lucasfilm Has Handled 'Star Wars'

Does 'Star Wars' Need to Be Saved from Lucasfilm? (Commentary)

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10 Best Documentaries of 2017, From ‘Faces Places’ to ‘Kiki’ (Photos) https://www.thewrap.com/best-documentaries-2017-faces-places-kiki/ https://www.thewrap.com/best-documentaries-2017-faces-places-kiki/#respond Wed, 13 Dec 2017 20:55:27 +0000 Alonso Duralde https://www.thewrap.com/?p=1756192 From the intimate and personal to the vast and far-reaching, spanning life and death and hope and anger and artistry, 2017’s best documentaries captured struggle and triumph and the creative drive. Non-fiction storytelling pushed boundaries and buttons, asking the important questions and inspiring us to seek justice and to broaden our horizons.

10. “Bones of Contention”: Director Andrea Weiss used the search for the remains of legendary Spanish author Federico Garcia-Lorca as a way to ask a bigger question that haunts the nation: Where are the mass graves of Franco’s victims in the Spanish Civil War? And is the country ready to heal its figurative and literal wounds from that conflict, nearly a century later?

9. “Kiki”: A quarter of a century after “Paris Is Burning” explored the New York drag ball subculture, this vibrant, dazzling documentary shows us that the balls are still alive and kicking, with a new generation of talented young people strutting their stuff and building on the houses and the chosen families that came before them.

8. “Dina”: As autistic adults Dina and Scott prepare for their upcoming wedding day, filmmakers Antonio Santini and Dan Sickles give us the opportunity to get to know Dina, a brassy, complicated woman navigating her way through whatever life sends her way. There’s nothing condescending about this fascinating portrait of a couple working through their issues on the way to the altar.

7. “Obit.”: This look at the writers at The New York Times who chronicle the dead becomes a celebration of life and its fascinating twists and turns, even as the impending death of the print medium lingers in the background. What it takes for a writer to capture someone’s life — and what an obituary says about how that life was lived — makes for a riveting yarn.

6. “Strong Island”: Filmmaker Yance Ford compellingly mashes up the first-person and true-crime documentary genres in his investigation into his brother’s murder. Part family history, part exploration of race and gender in America, this haunting tale keeps coming back to Ford’s expressive face, reliving personal horrors and driven to seek justice.

5. “Chavela”: The life and career of legendary Mexican ranchera singer Chavela Vargas makes for fascinating viewing even if you aren’t familiar with her famous pipes or heartbreaking songs. Boldly flouting convention in her choice of clothing (she favored men’s suits) and partners (Frida Kahlo was one of her many female lovers), Vargas became an female icon and role model in a conservative and patriarchal time.

4. “The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson”: Both a celebration of the life of the larger-than-life LGBT activist and an examination of the ongoing investigation into the circumstances behind her passing — the NYPD called it suicide, many are convinced it was murder — this latest work from David France (“How to Survive a Plague”) is a stirring call to action.

3. “Whose Streets?”: The smartphone is revolutionizing citizen journalism and documentary filmmaking; this look into the protests in Ferguson, Mo., following the murder of Michael Brown has a fly-on-the-wall immediacy that’s breathtaking and heartbreaking. A searing portrait of race relations and the power of community in the face of official indifference.

2. “Ex Libris: The New York Public Library”: Legendary director Frederick Wiseman takes his camera everywhere from the gala fund-raisers and high-profile author appearances in Manhattan to after-school programs and job fairs in the Bronx for this portrait of this era’s most valuable currency, information, and an examination of who wields it and who can access it.

1. “Faces Places”: One of the last surviving filmmakers of the French New Wave, Agnès Varda turns her camera on herself and installation artist J.R. (her co-director here) as they travel around France plastering the faces of farmers on barns and factory workers on brick walls. Varda and J.R. celebrate people and their stories, the places we take for granted, and the spirit of creation and community. For me, no other film in 2017 called up as much emotion and delight.

]]>
https://www.thewrap.com/best-documentaries-2017-faces-places-kiki/feed/ 0 From the intimate and personal to the vast and far-reaching, spanning life and death and hope and anger and artistry, 2017's best documentaries captured struggle and triumph and the creative drive. Nonfiction storytelling pushed boundaries and buttons, asking the important questions and inspiring us to seek justice and to broaden our horizons.

]]>
From the intimate and personal to the vast and far-reaching, spanning life and death and hope and anger and artistry, 2017's best documentaries captured struggle and triumph and the creative drive. Nonfiction storytelling pushed boundaries and buttons, asking the important questions and inspiring us to seek justice and to broaden our horizons.

]]>
10. "Bones of Contention" 

Director Andrea Weiss used the search for the remains of legendary Spanish author Federico Garcia-Lorca as a way to ask a bigger question that haunts the nation: Where are the mass graves of Franco's victims in the Spanish Civil War? And is the country ready to heal its figurative and literal wounds from that conflict, nearly a century later?

]]>
10. "Bones of Contention" 

Director Andrea Weiss used the search for the remains of legendary Spanish author Federico Garcia-Lorca as a way to ask a bigger question that haunts the nation: Where are the mass graves of Franco's victims in the Spanish Civil War? And is the country ready to heal its figurative and literal wounds from that conflict, nearly a century later?

]]>
9. "Kiki"

A quarter of a century after "Paris Is Burning" explored the New York drag ball subculture, this vibrant, dazzling documentary shows us that the balls are still alive and kicking, with a new generation of talented young people strutting their stuff and building on the houses and the chosen families that came before them.

]]>
9. "Kiki"

A quarter of a century after "Paris Is Burning" explored the New York drag ball subculture, this vibrant, dazzling documentary shows us that the balls are still alive and kicking, with a new generation of talented young people strutting their stuff and building on the houses and the chosen families that came before them.

]]>
8. "Dina" 

As autistic adults Dina and Scott prepare for their upcoming wedding day, filmmakers Antonio Santini and Dan Sickles give us the opportunity to get to know Dina, a brassy, complicated woman navigating her way through whatever life sends her way. There's nothing condescending about this fascinating portrait of a couple working through their issues on the way to the altar.

]]>
8. "Dina" 

As autistic adults Dina and Scott prepare for their upcoming wedding day, filmmakers Antonio Santini and Dan Sickles give us the opportunity to get to know Dina, a brassy, complicated woman navigating her way through whatever life sends her way. There's nothing condescending about this fascinating portrait of a couple working through their issues on the way to the altar.

]]>
7. "Obit." 

This look at the writers at The New York Times who chronicle the dead becomes a celebration of life and its fascinating twists and turns, even as the impending death of the print medium lingers in the background. What it takes for a writer to capture someone's life -- and what an obituary says about how that life was lived -- makes for a riveting yarn.

]]>
7. "Obit." 

This look at the writers at The New York Times who chronicle the dead becomes a celebration of life and its fascinating twists and turns, even as the impending death of the print medium lingers in the background. What it takes for a writer to capture someone's life -- and what an obituary says about how that life was lived -- makes for a riveting yarn.

]]>
6. "Strong Island" 

Filmmaker Yance Ford compellingly mashes up the first-person and true-crime documentary genres in his investigation into his brother's murder. Part family history, part exploration of race and gender in America, this haunting tale keeps coming back to Ford's expressive face, reliving personal horrors and driven to seek justice.

]]>
6. "Strong Island" 

Filmmaker Yance Ford compellingly mashes up the first-person and true-crime documentary genres in his investigation into his brother's murder. Part family history, part exploration of race and gender in America, this haunting tale keeps coming back to Ford's expressive face, reliving personal horrors and driven to seek justice.

]]>
5. "Chavela" 

The life and career of legendary Mexican ranchera singer Chavela Vargas makes for fascinating viewing even if you aren't familiar with her famous pipes or heartbreaking songs. Boldly flouting convention in her choice of clothing (she favored men's suits) and partners (Frida Kahlo was one of her many female lovers), Vargas became an female icon and role model in a conservative and patriarchal time.

]]>
5. "Chavela" 

The life and career of legendary Mexican ranchera singer Chavela Vargas makes for fascinating viewing even if you aren't familiar with her famous pipes or heartbreaking songs. Boldly flouting convention in her choice of clothing (she favored men's suits) and partners (Frida Kahlo was one of her many female lovers), Vargas became an female icon and role model in a conservative and patriarchal time.

]]>
4. "The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson"  

Both a celebration of the life of the larger-than-life LGBT activist and an examination of the ongoing investigation into the circumstances behind her passing -- the NYPD called it suicide, many are convinced it was murder -- this latest work from David France ("How to Survive a Plague") is a stirring call to action.

]]>
4. "The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson"  

Both a celebration of the life of the larger-than-life LGBT activist and an examination of the ongoing investigation into the circumstances behind her passing -- the NYPD called it suicide, many are convinced it was murder -- this latest work from David France ("How to Survive a Plague") is a stirring call to action.

]]>
3. "Whose Streets?" 

The smartphone is revolutionizing citizen journalism and documentary filmmaking; this look into the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, following the murder of Michael Brown has a fly-on-the-wall immediacy that's breathtaking and heartbreaking. A searing portrait of race relations and the power of community in the face of official indifference.

]]>
3. "Whose Streets?" 

The smartphone is revolutionizing citizen journalism and documentary filmmaking; this look into the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, following the murder of Michael Brown has a fly-on-the-wall immediacy that's breathtaking and heartbreaking. A searing portrait of race relations and the power of community in the face of official indifference.

]]>
2. "Ex Libris: The New York Public Library" 

Legendary director Frederick Wiseman takes his camera everywhere from the gala fund-raisers and high-profile author appearances in Manhattan to after-school programs and job fairs in the Bronx for this portrait of this era's most valuable currency, information, and an examination of who wields it and who can access it.

]]>
2. "Ex Libris: The New York Public Library" 

Legendary director Frederick Wiseman takes his camera everywhere from the gala fund-raisers and high-profile author appearances in Manhattan to after-school programs and job fairs in the Bronx for this portrait of this era's most valuable currency, information, and an examination of who wields it and who can access it.

]]>
1. "Faces Places" 

One of the last surviving filmmakers of the French New Wave, Agnès Varda turns her camera on herself and installation artist J.R. (her co-director here) as they travel around France plastering the faces of farmers on barns and factory workers on brick walls. Varda and J.R. celebrate people and their stories, the places we take for granted, and the spirit of creation and community. For me, no other film in 2017 called up as much emotion and delight.

]]>
1. "Faces Places" 

One of the last surviving filmmakers of the French New Wave, Agnès Varda turns her camera on herself and installation artist J.R. (her co-director here) as they travel around France plastering the faces of farmers on barns and factory workers on brick walls. Varda and J.R. celebrate people and their stories, the places we take for granted, and the spirit of creation and community. For me, no other film in 2017 called up as much emotion and delight.

]]>
‘Ferdinand’ Movie Review: Charming Kids’ Cartoon Is Bullish on Non-Conformity https://www.thewrap.com/ferdinand-movie-review-2017-john-cena-kate-mckinnon/ https://www.thewrap.com/ferdinand-movie-review-2017-john-cena-kate-mckinnon/#respond Wed, 13 Dec 2017 20:30:41 +0000 Alonso Duralde https://www.thewrap.com/?p=1752045 You won’t be surprised to learn that “Ferdinand,” the new animated feature based on the beloved 1936 children’s book, manages to find a way to put the titular bull into a literal china shop. What might shock you, however, is that that sequence features some of the most brilliantly sustained slapstick of any movie in recent memory.

Perhaps even more surprising, given recent cinema’s tendency to stretch short-and-sweet kids’ stories into ungainly three-act behemoths, “Ferdinand” figures out how to fit nicely into a feature-length movie. (Perhaps to excess, but more on that in a moment.)

It’s a simple tale of a bull who would rather sit in the shade and sniff flowers than face off with matadors in the ring, and while this choose-your-own-life’s-adventure trope has been somewhat overused since “The Iron Giant,” there’s enough energy and silliness to keep this latest tale humming. It certainly doesn’t hurt that director Carlos Saldanha (“Rio 2”) imbues the film with a visual style (both in character design and the backgrounds) so often missing from the three “Ice Age” features bearing his name.

Given its setting, it’s somewhat of a disappointment that “Ferdinand” can’t be as Spanish as “Coco” is Mexican; the movie nails the Iberian nation’s topography and the faces of its citizens, to say nothing of those distinctive orange Madrid recycling bins, but the lead voice roles went to the very funny, but very Anglo, John Cena and Kate McKinnon.

When we meet young Ferdinand (voiced by Colin Murphy), he and several other young bulls are training at the Casa del Toro; the other calves want nothing more than to follow their fathers into the arena to face off with matadors, but Ferdinand has a kind soul and would rather take care of plants. (Cows are nowhere to be found in this universe.) Ferdinand’s father (Jeremy Sisto) is the most understanding pop this side of “Call Me By Your Name”: when Ferdinand says he doesn’t want to fight, dad says, “I wish the world could be like that for you,” but the other young’uns taunt and, well, bully him.

After his father gets picked to fight — and doesn’t come home — an upset Ferdinand runs away and eventually meets Nina (Katie Silverman), whose father just happens to own a flower farm. Girl and bull become inseparable, and their coziness (Ferdinand sleeps in her room, Ferdinand sticks his head through the kitchen window for snacks) leads to some hilarious sight gags when Ferdinand becomes full-grown (and voiced by Cena), and huge even by bull standards.

When he accidentally destroys the village’s annual flower festival (including his hilariously ungainly mustn’t-break-anything acrobatics in that aforementioned china shop), Ferdinand is sent back to the Casa del Toro, where “comfort goat” Lupe (McKinnon) takes it upon herself to become his coach. But when Ferdinand discovers that getting sent to the bullring is no better than being shipped off to the local slaughterhouse (or “chop shop,” in this film’s parlance), he hatches a plan to spring himself and his bovine brethren.

“Ferdinand” could lose 10 or 15 minutes, easily, and there’s no question where the trimming should happen: the four-legged dramatis personae. In addition to Lupe the goat, there are five fellow bulls in the barn (voiced by Bobby Cannavale, David Tennant, Anthony Anderson, Peyton Manning and Tim Nordquist), plus Nina’s irritated sheepdog (Jerrod Carmichael), and a trio of wacky thieving hedgehogs (Gina Rodriguez, Daveed Diggs, Gabriel Iglesias). I would have happily swapped the hedgehogs for more scenes involving the three snotty dressage horses (Boris Kodjoe, Sally Phillips, Flula Borg), whose idea of an anti-bull insult is “I bet his parents weren’t even related!”

Still, if you can get through the excess of characters, and the requisite butt jokes, car chase and tween pop songs, the film does keep both the physical and the verbal comedy coming at a steady pace. And while it’s the animals’ story, the people here have great faces, from the arrogant toreador to the wildly nearsighted ceramics vendor. (Between the pomp and grandeur of the matadors to the inescapable gay subtext of a story about a big bruiser who would rather smell flowers, one longs for the Pedro Almodóvar version of this tale.)

“Ferdinand” will keep children and their parents entertained – young non-conformists in particular will take this hero to heart – and the growing anti-bullfighting wave in Spain and elsewhere will no doubt find this empathetic tale to be a handy recruiting tool. It’s not a movie that rewrites the rules of animation, but as a charming fable for children, it passes the sniff test.

Related stories from TheWrap:

Pixar's 'Coco,' 2 Lego Movies Top List of 26 Oscars Animation Contenders

Women Animators Pen Open Letter on Sexual Harassment: 'This Abuse Has Got to Stop'

Disney Cancels 'Jack in the Beanstalk' Animated Film 'Gigantic'

'Bob's Burgers' Headed to the Big Screen in Animated Feature Film

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‘The Shape of Water’ Film Review: Guillermo del Toro’s Glorious Romance Blends Horror and Delight https://www.thewrap.com/the-shape-of-water-review-guillermo-del-toro/ https://www.thewrap.com/the-shape-of-water-review-guillermo-del-toro/#respond Thu, 30 Nov 2017 16:40:22 +0000 Alonso Duralde https://www.thewrap.com/?p=1700577 In the opening sequence of “The Shape of Water,” Guillermo del Toro’s lovely genre-bending love story, there’s a fire at a chocolate factory, prompting a character to note that the smell of toasted cocoa in the air blends “horror and delight.” And while the line might be a tad on the nose, it’s a perfect prompt for the gorgeous and grotesque romance that del Toro (and co-writer Vanessa Taylor, “Hope Springs”) unspools.

There are elements of “Beauty and the Beast,” “E.T.,” “Amélie” and “The Creature from the Black Lagoon” at play here, but as always, del Toro takes the stories and the images that formed him and crafts them into something utterly his own. There’s something here for lovers of all kinds of movies — even silents and musicals — but the director transcends mere pastiche to craft a work that feels like the product of our collective film-going subconscious.

Unlike other filmmakers with an eye to recreating the past, del Toro puts his movie love at the service of, rather than a replacement for, his characters and his story. You can dissect all the beautiful moving parts — the evocative set design, the themes of outsider-dom vs. conformity, the color palette and the judicious use of period music, to name just a few — and you’re still left with a heart and a soul that permeate throughout.

Sally Hawkins stars as Elisa, who works the graveyard shift as a cleaning woman at an imposing-looking laboratory. In her tiny apartment above a movie palace, her days are regimented and repetitive (including a daily moment of bathtub self-pleasure while her hard-boiled eggs are cooking). Her only friends are co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer), who talks enough for the both of them, and her neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins), a lonely gay illustrator with a crush on the counterman at their local diner.

One day, scientist Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg) and security chief Strickland (Michael Shannon) arrive at the lab with a top-secret asset: an “Amphibian Man” (as the credits call him) captured from a river in South America, where the locals revered him as a god. Elisa immediately bonds with the creature, befriending him at first with eggs, and later with jazz records, communicating with him by teaching him sign language.

It’s 1961, so of course the creature becomes the object of a Cold War tug-of-war between Americans who want to vivisect him and Soviets who want to kill him before the Americans can learn anything from him. Elisa must summon her resources to save him — and, along the way, to understand the depths of her feelings for him.

“The Shape of Water” understands a fundamental truth about 1961 America: the furniture, the outfits, the cars and other elements of design looked great, but society was ugly. The film tells a color story, from the lab’s New Look green to an awakened Elisa’s red high-heel shoes, but there are no rose-colored glasses in place: TV news shows civil rights protesters being blasted with fire hoses, lunch counters turn away black patrons, and Giles rightly notes that he was born too early or too late to lead his life as a gay man in this country.

(Of course, that color story would have worked even better had del Toro and Taylor hadn’t had two different characters point out that green is the “color of the future,” but it’s a rare self-explanatory lapse in an otherwise touching screenplay.)

This is a Fox Searchlight release, so naturally the musicals-loving Giles is always turning his TV dial to vintage classics from the Fox library starring Betty Grable, Carmen Miranda and Alice Faye; the latter’s “You’ll Never Know” becomes the plaintive soundtrack of the orphaned Elisa’s love for the Amphibian Man. Hawkins communicates so much without speaking, and there’s never any preciousness about the emotional nakedness she conveys with her every facial expression.

Jenkins gets to be funny and anguished, and his droll line readings make a potent counterpoint to Hawkins’ silence. And you know that Spencer wouldn’t take on another cleaning-lady role — Strickland at one point refers to Zelda and Elisa as “the f–cking help” — if it didn’t give her the opportunity to be intelligent and witty and heroic. And who but Shannon could give a pill-popping, candy-chewing, female-harassing, Cadillac-coveting, Norman Vincent Peale-reading atomic-age sadist like Strickland such vivid villainy?

As for Doug Jones, his fish-man may call to mind his performance as Abe Sapien in del Toro’s “Hellboy” movies, but here he really gets to unleash his gifts as a mime, allowing him to access a full range of emotions and desires without ever uttering a word. This is a motion-capture performance that stands alongside Andy Serkis’ work in the “Planet of the Apes” films as the apex of this relatively new form of acting that contains endless potential.

“The Shape of Water” is a romantic fable for adults and a heartfelt saga for everyone who understood why Kong died loving Fay Wray. Even if you find del Toro as someone who loves old movie genres from a distance, there’s no denying the whole-heartedness with which he plunges into this underwater tale.

Related stories from TheWrap:

'Downsizing' Review: Matt Damon Is the Incredible Shrinking Everyman

'First Reformed' Review: Paul Schrader and Ethan Hawke Channel Robert Bresson

'Maudie' Review: Sally Hawkins Saves an Otherwise Missed Opportunity

20 Eye-Popping SXSW Portraits, From Ansel Elgort to Octavia Spencer (Photos)

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‘Call Me by Your Name’ Film Review: Senses Working Overtime in Lush Summer Romance https://www.thewrap.com/call-me-by-your-name-film-review-timothee-chalamet-armie-hammer/ https://www.thewrap.com/call-me-by-your-name-film-review-timothee-chalamet-armie-hammer/#respond Wed, 22 Nov 2017 19:15:46 +0000 Alonso Duralde https://www.thewrap.com/?p=1744751 Director Luca Guadagnino makes sensual epics in every definition of the adjective. In his previous films “I Am Love” and “A Bigger Splash,” he makes movies that audiences don’t merely see and hear; these are experiences to be touched, felt, even smelled. His characters exist in a specific natural context, and he conveys their reactions to their surroundings.

His latest feature, the masterful “Call Me by Your Name,” ups the ante on Guadagnino’s sensuality. We can feel the grass under bare feet, smell lake water and perspiration on exposed skin, and taste the fresh apricots. (And yes, the peaches — there’s a scene involving the fuzzy fruit that takes the eroticization of the grapefruit in “Girls Trip” to a whole new level.)

As always with the director’s work, the tactile and olfactory elements of the film never overpower the story, but instead support the characterizations; he makes us privy to awakenings of mind, body and spirit and to the dizzying rush of new love and sexual discovery.

Experiencing all those feelings is 17-year-old Elio (Timothée Chalamet, “Miss Stevens,” “Lady Bird”), a musical prodigy spending the summer in northern Italy with his father, Professor Perlman (Michael Stuhlbarg), and mother Annella (Amira Casar, “Versailles”), a translator. Every summer, a grad-student intern comes to live with them and to work with the professor, and this year it’s 24-year-old Oliver (Armie Hammer).

Elio is both drawn to and taken aback by this newcomer: he’s tall and handsome (and somewhat awkward in his movements — this film has already inspired the “Armie Hammer Dancing” gif meme), he’s a blond preppy (but like the Perlmans, he’s Jewish, sporting a Star of David pendant), and his seeming insouciance (he ends every encounter with a breezy “Later”) might well be a constructed façade. The teenager is fascinated, annoyed, obsessed.

Guadagnino and legendary screenwriter James Ivory (adapting the novel by André Aciman, who turns in a cameo here) are in no hurry to bring these guys together. The director’s go-to editor, Walter Fasano, lets scenes play out in long, uninterrupted takes, capturing the feeling of those glorious summer days that seem to stretch out into eternity. That summer feeling emerges from scene to scene as well, as the days occasionally blur together, leaving us to look at Elio’s T-shirts for an indication of whether or not the film has moved forward in time.

Cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom (“Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives”) gives us all the sunlight-rippling-off-rivers we could ever want for a film set during an Italian summer, but he also throws in some experimental flashes of light and shadow and polarization to portray the shifting sense of memory; this is the kind of love story that inspires reminiscence and nostalgia even as it’s still unfolding.

A romance does, of course, travel on the weight of the lovers, and Chalamet and Hammer both give extraordinary, intricate performances as two people unsure about themselves and each other who eventually discover their truest selves in each other’s presence. When Oliver suggests the exchange that gives the film its title, it illustrates that deep passion by which two lovers can be together and lose track of where one begins and one ends.

As we enter into award season, there are many performances that will stand out because of their bombast or because of the actor’s physical transformation, but the extended take on Chalamet’s face under the closing credits of “Call Me By Your Name” offers some of the most delicate yet heart-achingly moving work anyone has ever done on screen. (It immediately enters the Close-Up Hall of Fame.) Hammer, meanwhile, has never been this open or empathetic on-screen, and Stuhlbarg and Casar both register understated moments in which these worldly and wise parents acknowledge what’s happening in their son’s life.

First love is as much about hesitancy as it is about exuberance – maybe even more so – and Ivory and Guadagnino perfectly capture that sweet turmoil, aided by a gifted ensemble. This isn’t just an instant LGBT classic; this is one of the great movie love stories, for audiences of all stripes.

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‘The Man Who Invented Christmas’ Film Review: Scrooge’s Origin Story Is a Bit of a Humbug https://www.thewrap.com/the-man-who-invented-christmas-review-charles-dickens-scrooge-christmas-carol/ https://www.thewrap.com/the-man-who-invented-christmas-review-charles-dickens-scrooge-christmas-carol/#respond Tue, 21 Nov 2017 23:00:47 +0000 Alonso Duralde https://www.thewrap.com/?p=1730156 “The Man Who Invented Christmas” needed to accomplish two tasks: Tell the story of how Charles Dickens created the beloved classic “A Christmas Carol,” and in turn illustrate how the story’s popularity helped turn December 25 into a cultural behemoth.

Alas, it succeeds at neither, even though its source material (the non-fiction book by Les Standiford) excels at both. As a portrait of an author on the verge of a breakthrough, this is a run-of-the-mill, occasionally clumsy biopic; as for contextualizing Christmas, it never explains how it functioned before Dickens and only briefly mentions how it changed after him.

(When one of Dickens’ publishers shrugs off Christmas as a minor holiday, my very educated sister-in-law turned to me at the press screening and asked, “Wait, what?”)

The history of Christmas is a fascinating one, from the biblical account of Jesus’ birth, to the church’s moving of his birthdate so as to capitalize on the popularity of pagan holidays like Saturnalia and Yule, to the Puritans banning it as a feast of licentiousness, to the abundant, familial celebration we know today. Standiford touches upon all of this, and on how the immense popularity of “A Christmas Carol” changed the culture around the holiday, but screenwriter Susan Coyne (“Anne of Green Gables”) and director Bharat Nalluri (“Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day”) gloss right over it in a way that will leave most viewers befuddled by the film’s title.

While Dickens (played here by Dan Stevens) was a well-established writer by 1843, the author was in something of a slump before he decided to take a crack at writing a Christmas story. “Barnaby Rudge” and “Martin Chuzzlewit” were slow sellers, and his essays about his trip to America hadn’t flown off the shelves either; meanwhile, he and his family were grandly restoring a new house, and his constantly-in-debt father John (Jonathan Pryce) was one of many people in Dickens’ orbit with hands perpetually out.

Having decided fairly late in the year to write “A Christmas Carol,” Dickens had relatively few weeks to get the story written and published, so there’s certainly some suspense involved in the book’s creation. And as Coyne and Nalluri tell the story, each new character Dickens created followed him around, waiting for him to figure out how to finish his tale. The most notable of these fictional hangers-on is, of course, Ebenezer Scrooge, brought to life with such delightful biliousness by Christopher Plummer that “The Man Who Invented Christmas” should, if nothing else, exist as an audition reel for a straightforward adaptation with Plummer in the lead.

There are aspects of the film that work, from the very convincing period interiors to a terrific ensemble of British character actors, including Miriam Margolyes (as Dickens’ housekeeper), Simon Callow (as John Leech, whose memorable illustrations are an essential ingredient to “A Christmas Carol”) and Miles Jupp (hilarious as Dickens’ smarmy rival William Makepeace Thackeray). All this talent on hand serves to highlight the blandness of Stevens in the central role. A writer writing is, admittedly, a mostly thankless task in movies, but given how this particular book connects to Dickens’ bleak youth working in a factory while his father was sent off to debtor’s prison, this character offers plenty for an actor willing to dive in; Stevens — here, anyway — seems content to bob at the surface.

Cinematographer Ben Smithard (“Goodbye Christopher Robin”) commits the sin of many a made-for-TV adaptation of “A Christmas Carol” by making industrial London far too bright and shiny; it’s a little hard to swallow Dickens’ complaints about the “damn London fog” when there are Malibu levels of sunshine coming in through the window behind him. London itself gets short shrift, since it appears to be about three blocks wide, unlike in more sumptuous productions that take over all the studios at Pinewood or Shepperton to recreate the city in all its 19th century glory and grime.

Most frustratingly, “The Man Who Invented Christmas” is the sort of author biopic that reduces the artist to a stenographer. People around Dickens spout off zingers like “Are there no workhouses?” or “A poor excuse to pick a man’s pocket every 25th of December,” and it’s like the book writes itself. That book, nearly 175 years later, remains an essential element to the holiday; this movie about its creation will be forgotten by Boxing Day.

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‘Wonder’ Film Review: Anti-Bullying Tale Is a Tasteful Tear-Jerker https://www.thewrap.com/wonder-film-review-julia-roberts-jacob-tremblay/ https://www.thewrap.com/wonder-film-review-julia-roberts-jacob-tremblay/#respond Thu, 16 Nov 2017 19:45:16 +0000 Alonso Duralde https://www.thewrap.com/?p=1739254 When a comedy pulls out the stops to get laughs, or a horror film goes to extremes to frighten its audience, we accept and even applaud these tactics as an inherent part of these respective genres. So if “Wonder” wants to be a tear-jerker — and that desire is stamped into pretty much every scene of the film — we can’t fault its single-minded desire to provoke a response.

Giving the film credit where it’s due, “Wonder” never cheats in its pursuit of emotion. It’s (almost) never mawkish or manipulative, and its characters are so well-established both in the writing and in the performances that the movie ultimately does the hard work of earning those damp Kleenexes. As with horror and comedy, those who are resistant to this kind of film will definitely resist this one in particular.

Adapting the novel by R.J. Palacio, director Stephen Chbosky (“The Perks of Being a Wallflower”) and his co-writers Steve Conrad (“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”) and Jack Thorne (“Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”) throw out a wide net of compassion. “Wonder” is a story about a kid who’s different, yes, but it’s also about the people around him as well. Even the bullies get backstories and a shot at redemption.

The different kid is Auggie (Jacob Tremblay, “Room”), born with a congenital disorder that has caused him to have 27 surgeries in his 10 years of life, allowing him to breathe and to hear and also to reshape his face. But it’s still an unusual face, one that he prefers to hide from the world in his astronaut helmet. He’s got a loving family — and one of the biggest New York brownstones ever, even by movie standards — but it’s time for Auggie to meet the world.

His mom Isabel (Julia Roberts) has home-schooled Auggie all his life, but since fifth grade is a year when all the students will be attending a new school, she’s decided it’s time for her boy to leave the nest. The school’s principal Mr. Tushman (Mandy Patinkin) is supportive, although Auggie’s classmates do a lot of staring and then looking away. He’s actively bullied by rich-kid Julian (Bryce Gheisar, “A Dog’s Purpose”) but may find a friend in scholarship student Jack Will (Noah Jupe).

“Wonder” isn’t just Auggie’s story, though; we learn what it’s been like for his older sister Via (Izabela Vidovic, “The Fosters”) to grow up in a family where her younger brother and his medical issues get all the parental attention; how Isabel put her thesis aside to become a full-time mom (it’s been so long since she worked on it that it’s still saved on a floppy disk); who’s raising Jack Will and Julian and how that impacts their actions and attitudes; and why Via’s best friend Miranda (Danielle Rose Russell, “The Last Tycoon”) put pink streaks in her hair and dumped her former BFF.

It could have been very easy for this to be the sort of film that merely allows audiences to take a good, long look at a character with facial defects (while encouraging us to judge characters who do likewise), but instead, this is a celebration of empathy, a reminder that even the people who might be making us miserable have their own problems and their own people who are making them miserable. Its secret weapon is Tremblay, whose big, Keane-painting eyes defy you not to melt over Auggie and his travails, but it’s a solid ensemble through and through.

Nobody pivots from tough-as-nails to quivering mass of tears like Roberts, and she and Owen Wilson make for dream parents. (What Wilson does for a living, and how it allows him to keep this gigantic house while also spending so much quality time with his son, is never explained.) The other kids are all great as well, particularly Jupe, who was the only notable facet of “Suburbicon”; there’s nothing actor-ish about his curious eyes, and when Jack Will stands up for Auggie, we know our hero is in good hands.

Auggie’s health issues represent the closest thing to uncomfortable reality that “Wonder” would care to address. Cinematographer Don Burgess (“Allied”) gives us a picture-postcard Manhattan, where all the seasons have luster and all the streets are tree-lined and filled with nice folks. If the film strays too far toward shamelessness, it’s in putting a beloved pet in danger as well as giving us not one but two scenes with that dreaded cliché of uplift, the standing ovation.

If you can get past those, though, “Wonder” deserves its own round of applause for its unabashed emotionalism and kindness. It’s hard to traverse this ground without turning into a greeting card, but this is that rare film that juggles sentimentality and restraint.

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‘Give Me Future’ Film Review: Major Lazer Rocks Havana https://www.thewrap.com/give-me-future-review-major-lazer-diplo-havana-cuba/ https://www.thewrap.com/give-me-future-review-major-lazer-diplo-havana-cuba/#respond Thu, 16 Nov 2017 19:15:51 +0000 Alonso Duralde https://www.thewrap.com/?p=1454395 It’s no less true for being a cliché: art has the power to bring people together. And that power is at the center of the joyous “Give Me Future,” a film about electronic-dance wizards Major Lazer bringing their act to Havana, Cuba. What results is that rarest of creations: the feel-good documentary.

In following the EDM combo — Diplo, Walshy Fire and Jillionaire — to Cuba, director Austin Peters (“Haim Forever”) goes beyond the usual concert movie beats. Major Lazer’s 2016 live performance in downtown Havana is electrifying, to be sure. But “Give Me Future” — which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January — is just as interested in the logistics involved in putting on a show there, as well as in the culture and the people of the country itself.

For the three musicians behind Major Lazer, playing Cuba was a long-standing dream, one they had well before President Obama began reopening U.S. relations. With their roots in South Florida and the Caribbean, the group had already played everywhere else in the region. (This is the kind of combo whose world tours live up to the name; besides the usual stops, they hit places like Pakistan, Croatia and Ethiopia.)

Besides the expected bureaucratic hoops, the band also has to contend with the fact that Cuba has been isolated from much of the rest of the world, although it turns out you can still get your music heard in a country with a tightly-controlled state-run media. The film introduces us to “the paquete,” a hard drive created by one Cuban techno geek; every week, he fills a one-terabyte drive with the latest international movies, TV shows and music, and it’s copied and distributed throughout the country, in what’s probably the world’s most extensive non-online network.

The paquete’s motto is “no porn and no politics,” but as one interviewee notes, this is a case where the medium is literally the message, with American reality shows and Korean telenovelas and Euro-pop making its way to a hungry audience that is deprived of such pleasures via official means.

“Give Me Future” shows us a Cuba we wouldn’t necessarily expect — when Diplo asks the sea of fans at the Major Lazer show to hold up their cellphones as the sun sets, seemingly everybody has one — although some aspects of a totalitarian country don’t change: A political rapper with a large national following bows out of performing at the last minute, lest he spontaneously say something that gets the whole concert shut down. (Major Lazer provides stage time for several Cuban acts, and the film introduces us to some of these musicians as well.)

Cuba’s cultural isolation perhaps comes through most vividly when Major Lazer plays a can’t-miss 1990s party jam, and the audience fails to respond because it’s a song they’ve never heard, even though it was a huge hit everywhere else in the world. Still, the Cuban promoters and musicians represented in the film are never portrayed as closed-off or provincial; they’re all striving to create no matter what their circumstances, and their thrill in performing is evident.

“Give Me Future” culminates, of course, with Major Lazer’s Havana show, and it’s an exuberant event; the audience (of hundreds of thousands, stretching out over several blocks and occupying every balcony within sight of the stage) explodes with enthusiasm, and Peters and cinematographer Deering Regan’s camera make that delight infectious. Even if you’re not a big fan of EDM, it’s hard not to respond to the chord it strikes with everyone who comes out for the show.

The buoyancy and electricity of “Give Me Future” will no doubt win Major Lazer new converts, but the film also offers hope that political and social gaps can always be bridged. Especially when there’s a good beat, and you can dance to it.

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‘The Star’ Film Review: Fail, Mary https://www.thewrap.com/the-star-film-review-animated-nativity-oprah-steven-yeun/ https://www.thewrap.com/the-star-film-review-animated-nativity-oprah-steven-yeun/#respond Thu, 16 Nov 2017 14:00:17 +0000 Alonso Duralde https://www.thewrap.com/?p=1741389 The first Christmas has always been something of a challenge for big-screen treatments. Treated too reverently, there’s not enough drama to make the birth of Jesus all that interesting. (I’m zero-for-two at staying awake through the well-intentioned “The Nativity Story.”) Filmmakers who tweak the material, on the other hand, can expect the kind of placard-waving protestors that greeted the U.S. premieres of “Monty Python’s The Life of Brian” or Jean-Luc Godard’s “Hail, Mary.”

So now we get “The Star,” which attempts to retell the Nativity story through the eyes of some sassy talking barnyard animals, and the results are an uncomfortable mixture of sanctimony and silliness. One senses director Timothy Reckart and screenwriter Carlos Kotkin (“Rio 2”) trying to split the difference between Sunday school and the Cartoon Network, but the results meet the standards of neither.

The youngest of viewers won’t mind the transitions from poop jokes to angelic visitations, but their parents will be forgiven for finding the proceedings erratic when they’re not just plain dull. Even at 86 minutes, “The Star” often feels like it’s taking the long way around to its destination of the Bethlehem stable.

We open (the film’s most solid gag is the title card that tells us its “Nine Months B.C.”) on a wide-eyed mouse (voiced by Kristin Chenoweth) bounding into the home of young Mary (Gina Rodriguez), who shares a scrap of her bread with the rodent. Before either can eat, however, the shiny outline of Gabriel appears to tell Mary that she’s going to bear the Messiah, news that the teen takes relatively in stride.

Meanwhile, in a barn across town, a donkey (Steven Yeun, “The Walking Dead”) walks in a circle grinding down grain but dreams of one day marching among kings with his best pal, Dave the dove (Keegan-Michael Key), flying overhead.

The donkey injures himself while escaping from the miller who owns him, and it’s newlywed Mary who tends to the ass (and names him “Bo”) over the objections of her husband, Joseph (Zachary Levi). Joseph, for his part, is a bit gobsmacked to discover that his new wife is not only pregnant but also carrying the son of God, but the Lord quickly talks him off the ledge.

When the Magi show up early with gifts and tip off Herod (Christopher Plummer) that there’s a new king in town, he sends out an assassin (leading vicious dogs voiced by Ving Rhames and Gabriel Iglesias) to find and kill the baby. So it’s up to Bo and Dave and their sheep pal Ruth (Aidy Bryant) to save the day as Mary and Joseph travel to Nazareth to participate in Herod’s census.

If the jokes were smarter or the spirituality subtler, there’s no reason why this amalgam couldn’t work. The various animals are, after all, baked into the story, and the notion of them communicating with each other was already the basis of a 1970 TV special, “The Night the Animals Talked.”

But “The Star” puts us through the basic plot beats of most kid’s movies (believing in yourself and dreaming big are major themes here) while throwing in Biblical messages with an ungainly thump. (When all seems lost, Bo looks skyward with his big eyes and says, “I guess I could try…praying?” A better spin on the line might have been, “Are you there, God? It’s me, donkey.”)

The all-star vocal cast is a very mixed bag, with Bryant’s sincere eccentricity making the most impact. The bad guys are bad, the wise-crackers are snappy, and Oprah Winfrey (as a camel) gets assigned the most unctuous lines about the impending birth of the Christ child.

And as if the dialogue weren’t heavy-handed enough, the song choices tend to be quite on the nose — you can pretty much guess where “Mary, Did You Know?” is going to turn up.

As an animated feature, “The Star” isn’t much to look at; the character design is fairly personality-free and the Biblical locations don’t pop with specificity or artistry. Linus Van Pelt tells this same story with far more heart in “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” and he wraps it up in less than two minutes.

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‘Justice League’ Film Review: DC Superheroes Battle in Vain Against the Power of Zack Snyder https://www.thewrap.com/justice-league-film-review-dceu-gal-gadot-ben-affleck/ https://www.thewrap.com/justice-league-film-review-dceu-gal-gadot-ben-affleck/#respond Wed, 15 Nov 2017 07:50:13 +0000 Alonso Duralde https://www.thewrap.com/?p=1740338 If “Wonder Woman” provided a glimmer of hope that DC Comics movies might start looking, moving and sounding differently than before, “Justice League” plops us right back into “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” territory, albeit with a little more wit and humanity. But if you like your superhero battles in deep dark tunnels or under skies purple with alien soot, director Zack Snyder is back with yet another installment that looks the way Axe body spray smells.

Not that there isn’t a little more levity, and a touch more interest in character this time around — and whether or not those attributes can be credited to Joss Whedon’s additional photography can be interpreted by those who will read this sequel like it’s the Dead Sea Scrolls — but much too much of this team-up adventure is given over to ridiculous posing and posturing as our heroes battle a not-very-interesting villain over, you guessed it, the fate of the world itself.

In the script credited to Chris Terrio (“Argo”) and Whedon, based on a story by Snyder and Terrio, the world is still reeling from the death of Superman at the end of “BvS,” and with new threats on the horizon, Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) feels called upon to assemble individuals who can pick up the Kryptonian’s mantle. He’s already in touch with Princess Diana of Themyscira, a.k.a. Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), of course. Then there’s troubled teen Barry Allen (Ezra Miller), who mainly uses his super-speed powers to work several jobs in the hopes of getting a lawyer for his wrongly imprisoned dad (Billy Crudup).

Bruce also tracks down troubled young adult Victor Stone (Ray Fisher), a former college football player who was in a car accident and can now barely control the robot body (featuring Kryptonian tech) created for him by his widowed scientist father Silas (Joe Morton). There’s also Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa), the king of the seas; Bruce tracks him to an Icelandic village but the Aquaman, at first, has no interest in meddling with land-locked affairs.

That all changes when Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciarán Hinds) shows up; the alien has some nefarious plans that call for three Mother Boxes, devices so powerful that putting them together would destroy all life on the planet. Ages ago they were divided up: one went to Themyscira, one to Aquaman’s domain of Atlantis, and one was hidden by humanity. Steppenwolf’s shopping spree is over before you know it, and it’s soon evident that even this team of heroes isn’t going to be enough to stop him. But hey, would one of those Mother Boxes have the power to bring Superman back to life?

On the pages of DC Comics, the Justice League has seen countless permutations, from heroic to gritty to the self-aware and jokey. (The latter, exemplified by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis’ run from 1986-1992, might be my favorite version of the team, but I’ve enjoyed the print Justice League in a variety of flavors.) What the movie version of this cohort of superheroes will eventually become is anyone’s guess, but Snyder gives us far more set-up than payoff. And when he does finally get everyone together for the big battle, he once again drowns the proceedings in murk. Neither cinematographer Fabian Wagner (“Victor Frankenstein”) nor the army of digital post-production artists lets enough light into these proceedings.

The one note Snyder seems to have taken from “Man of Steel” was “maybe don’t have superheroes destroy densely-populated areas,” so the climax takes place in a mostly abandoned, Chernobyl-like area of Russia. That gets bystanders out of the way, yes, but it also plops the action into a featureless arena.

When “Justice League” comes to life the most is in the interaction of its players, more often than not when they’re out of costume. (Although any fan of the comics will be forgiven for feeling a little giddy at seeing these titans share the screen.) Affleck and Gadot give genuine performances, and their scenes together have real weight, particularly when he grills her about why she spent the century after the events of “Wonder Woman” in hiding. (Gadot also wins the film’s ass-kickery sweepstakes early on, as Diana literally defuses a hostage situation involving a gaggle of uniformed schoolgirls straight out of “Madeline.”)

Diane Lane and Amy Adams, as the two most important people in Superman’s life, also manage to carve out some moments of heartfelt humanity. We’ll soon find out whether or not Momoa’s undersea-bro strutting can be endured for the length of a stand-alone “Aquaman” movie, and if Miller wants to be the comedy relief of this franchise, he might consider bringing the mugging and the double-takes down from a nine to a six.

Meanwhile: Who is Steppenwolf? And why should we care? And who is Victor Stone — who will eventually become known as Cyborg — as a human being, let alone as a half-robot superhero? The screenplay breezes along as though these questions had been addressed, let alone answered. And giving Joe Morton the line, “I’ll never tell you!” in response to Steppenwolf’s demand for the location of the Mother Box plays like a scene from a film about a great actor who gets stuck playing a thankless role in a ridiculous movie.

Warner Bros. doesn’t seem to have settled on a consistent tone — or even a range of tones — for their superhero epics in the way that their distinguished competition at Marvel has, but what works here comes very close to overpowering all the things that don’t. (Believe the rumors about Henry Cavill’s badly-digitally-hidden mustache, though.) “Justice League” may not represent the alchemic assemblage that “The Avengers” was, but now that these super not-quite-friends have saved their universe, they might eventually rescue their cinematic one as well.

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‘Daddy’s Home 2’ Film Review: Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell Listlessly Pack This Stocking With Coal https://www.thewrap.com/daddys-home-2-film-review-mark-wahlberg-will-ferrell-mel-gibson/ https://www.thewrap.com/daddys-home-2-film-review-mark-wahlberg-will-ferrell-mel-gibson/#respond Fri, 10 Nov 2017 00:00:02 +0000 Alonso Duralde https://www.thewrap.com/?p=1737335 Somewhere, there’s a parallel universe where the Will Ferrell-Mark Wahlberg movie that became a series is their 2010 collaboration “The Other Guys” — and in the words of Tina Fey, “I want to go to there,” if only to be spared any future sequels like “Daddy’s Home 2,” a painfully unfunny follow-up to the painfully unfunny 2015 movie.

I laughed a total of three times during this witless trudge as it went through its predetermined part-two paces — gotta make the friends into enemies again so they can become friends all over again — and found myself wishing I was re-watching “A Bad Moms Christmas,” another sequel with a very similar premise that nonetheless mines far more mirth and meaning from its sitcom set-up.

Like the first “Daddy’s Home,” the movie addresses the nature of combined families and the hazards of step-parenting, but it constantly does so in a way that makes “Full House” seem like a Frederick Wiseman documentary. But for those keeping score: Dusty (Wahlberg) used to be married to Sara (Linda Cardellini). Their two kids, Megan (Scarlett Estevez, “Lucifer”) and Dylan (Owen Vaccaro, “Fun Mom Dinner”) are now being raised by Sara and her second husband Brad (Will Ferrell), with plenty of intervention from Dusty, who has gone on to marry Karen (model Alessandra Ambrosio), who has a daughter, Adrianna (Adriana Costine, “The Hollars”), with her previous husband Roger (John Cena), who hates Dusty.

Since what this story clearly needed was more characters, we get a Christmas drop-in from two surprise visitors: Dusty’s dad Kurt (Mel Gibson), a womanizing former astronaut, and Brad’s father Don (John Lithgow), a retired mail carrier and chatterbox. The kids adore Don and his corny jokes, but don’t know what to make of Kurt, who rarely appears and isn’t remotely warm. So Kurt decides to take the extended family up to a snowy mountain cabin for the holidays.

Calling what ensues “hijinks” would be an insult to hijinks. Brad falls down a lot and gets hit in the head with various decorations. (And by the way, for a rental property, there’s an insane amount of Christmas decorations on hand.) Kurt tries to poison Brad and Dusty’s “co-dad” relationship. Don has been keeping secrets. Everything culminates on Christmas Day, when everyone finds themselves snowed in at a remote multiplex showing a (heard, but never seen) Liam Neeson action epic called “Missile Tow.”

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Director Sean Anders (“Horrible Bosses 2”) and his co-writer John Morris (“We’re the Millers”) execute what are supposed to be the laughs with blunt force. The jokes announce themselves with heavy footsteps, and almost none of them land, stranding a talented cast with terrible material that they’re straining to sell. Lithgow can be one of the subtlest performers around, but here he’s forced to deliver every line with the booming gusto of his Progresso soup commercials, while Wahlberg, Cena and Gibson portray disheartening variations on cartoonish toxic masculinity. (The women, once again, are mainly instructed to stand around and pout.)

And while we’re on the subject of Gibson: since the industry has apparently exonerated him for his past sins of hate speech (not just to Malibu police officers but also to journalists and to his ex-wife), he has offered interesting work on both sides of the camera. His performance in the wonderfully grungy “Blood Father” allowed him a fittingly dark grindhouse turn, and “Hacksaw Ridge” gave him another opportunity to work out his inner conflicts of faith and fury on a large scale.

But in a family comedy, in which his anger and homophobia are never far from the surface — Kurt recoils every time Brad and Don show each other affection — there’s nothing cute or funny or “irascible” about him. Gibson carries with him a very R-rated rage that doesn’t play in this PG-13 setting, and his every appearance gives the film a grim and unintended subtext.

Not that “Daddy’s Home 2” is otherwise any good, of course, but Gibson weighs down what is already a sinking ship. Comedies, and Christmas, deserve better.

Related stories from TheWrap:

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‘Lady Bird’ Film Review: Greta Gerwig Crafts a Lovely Portrait of the Artist as a Young Woman https://www.thewrap.com/lady-bird-review-greta-gerwig-saoirse-ronan-laurie-metcalf/ https://www.thewrap.com/lady-bird-review-greta-gerwig-saoirse-ronan-laurie-metcalf/#respond Fri, 03 Nov 2017 21:57:22 +0000 Alonso Duralde https://www.thewrap.com/?p=1735350 There’s an often-true stereotype about directorial debuts by actors: they’ve got great performances and plenty of moments for a talented cast to make an impact, but such movies don’t yet necessarily reveal any visual flair or cinematic storytelling style.

Stereotypes are made to be broken, of course, or shattered, in the case of Greta Gerwig’s powerful first-time efforts with “Lady Bird.” In her first outing as a writer-director, Gerwig displays not only skill at working with her fellow thespians but also a real understanding of the many tools at a director’s disposal. A quick montage of prayers and pledges of allegiance and scripture readings, for example, captures the Catholic high school experience in about a minute of screen time.

And in much the same way that kindly Sister Sarah Joan (Lois Smith) praises our protagonist Christine (Saoirse Ronan) for a college essay that so skillfully captures the essence of Sacramento, Gerwig and cinematographer Sam Levy (“Maggie’s Plan”) show us California’s capitol in its many facets and shadings. This is a movie about a young girl who wants to get as far as she can from her stifling hometown, but the film itself makes it look like a nice place to grow up.

(Gerwig herself, it should be noted, is a Sacramento native who moved away to New York City, but she insists the film isn’t autobiographical. So be it.)

Christine — but please, call her “Lady Bird” — is starting her final year at a Catholic high school and desperate to go east where, she thinks, all the writers and thinkers are. Her senior-year adventures include shining on her lifelong best pal Julie (Beanie Feldstein, “Neighbors 2”) for popular rich girl Jenna (Odeya Rush, “Goosebumps”); falling in love with drama-club Danny (Lucas Hedges, “Manchester by the Sea”) and sullen rocker Kyle (Timothée Chalamet, “Call Me by Your Name”), both of whom have teen-boy issues of their own; and squabbling with her mom, psych nurse Marion (Laurie Metcalf), who defends her constant (but affectionate) criticism of her daughter by saying, “I just want you to be the best version of yourself that you can be.”

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With dad Larry (Tracy Letts) between jobs, much of the conflict between Marion and Christine comes down to money. In fact, the economy pervades much of “Lady Bird” (which is set during the 2002-2003 school year), from worries about paying for college to Danny discovering that Christine is being literal when she describes her family as living on the wrong side of the tracks. There’s some “Pretty in Pink” happening here, but filtered through Nicole Holofcener and the Dardenne brothers.

Not surprisingly, the acting here is consistently superb, from Ronan adding another wonderfully complicated character (with a perfect American accent) to her repertoire to a supporting turn from Metcalf that gives her the rare opportunity to dig into her talents on the big screen in the way she gets to on stage and television. As a writer, Gerwig is humane and generous, giving even sideline oddball characters their own moments to show depth and compassion while still being eccentrically amusing.

In films like “Damsels in Distress” and the sublime “Frances Ha,” Gerwig the actress skillfully pivots between the wacky and the poignant, so it’s no surprise that Gerwig the auteur so delicately balances hilarity and heartbreak. Life and love and money can grind you down, “Lady Bird” notes, but there’s always a tearful sing-along to a pop hit or a shopping spree for items you have no intention of actually buying to make you feel better.

As we follow Christine through the highpoints of a key year in her life — Christmas, prom, the school play, Ash Wednesday (it’s a Catholic school, remember?) — we get to see that cusp where a self-involved teenager starts taking those tentative first steps to being an adult, and seeing the world through grown-up eyes. Gerwig has an eye for every step of this character’s journey, and in so doing, sets out on her own path toward what promises to be an exciting directorial career.

Related stories from TheWrap:

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Saoirse Ronan and Elisabeth Moss' 'The Seagull' Flies to Sony Classics

'On Chesil Beach' Toronto Review: Saoirse Ronan Drama Only Starts Out Like a Sex Comedy

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‘Thor: Ragnarok’ Review: Cate Blanchett’s Campy Villainess Steals the Thunder https://www.thewrap.com/thor-ragnarok-review-cate-blanchett-chris-hemsworth-mcu/ https://www.thewrap.com/thor-ragnarok-review-cate-blanchett-chris-hemsworth-mcu/#respond Fri, 03 Nov 2017 13:00:52 +0000 Alonso Duralde https://www.thewrap.com/?p=1726803 One of the joys of the old 1960s “Batman” TV series came from watching the reruns twice: eight-year-old me was enthralled with the excitement, suspense and heroics, but as a teenager, I understood that the show was arch, absurd and calculatedly ridiculous. It’s not hard to imagine a young audience completely losing their minds over the thrills and action of “Thor: Ragnarok,” and then loving it all over again when they realize how funny it is.

Directed by Taika Waititi (“Hunt for the Wilderpeople,” “What We Do in the Shadows”) with tongue firmly in cheek, this latest outing for the thunder god plays more to the giddy “Guardians of the Galaxy” crowd than to those who prefer their superheroes to be grim and gritty. But Waititi and screenwriters Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle and Christopher L. Yost know how to balance stakes and silliness, which is exactly what this movie needs. Audiences committed to the ongoing expansion of the Marvel screen universe will come away feeling respected for their devotion, while those who aren’t interested in the set-up for the next ten movies in the franchise can have fun and get on with their lives.

(Viewers who are here for the Norse mythology should have bailed on this series well before now. For a story about gods, there sure are a lot of aliens and spaceships here.)

We open on Thor (Chris Hemsworth) returning home to Asgard, where statues have been built and plays performed to praise the heroism of his trickster half-brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston). It doesn’t take long for him to figure out that not only is Loki alive, he’s also been assuming the form of their father Odin (Anthony Hopkins).

After a quick sojourn to Earth to find where Loki has hidden the real Odin — a trip that involves a visit to a certain Master of the Mystic Arts’ Greenwich Village digs — Thor and Loki find themselves face-to-face with another of Odin’s children: Hela, Goddess of Death.

Hela (Cate Blanchett) belongs to Odin’s warrior past, and she’s bound and determined to overrule Asgard’s kinder, gentler ruler in favor of some good old murdering and pillaging of everyone else in the universe. And she’s got the power to do it: one squeeze of her fist turns Thor’s mighty hammer Mjolnir into so many cookie crumbs.

As Hela takes off to make Asgard her deadly base of operations, Thor and Loki find themselves on a planet run by the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum), where Thor must become a gladiator who faces off in the arena with the Grandmaster’s champion – none other than the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo).

“Thor: Ragnarok” brings back the characters we know and love, including Heimdall (Idris Elba), while bringing plenty of new ones to the table; in addition to Hela and Grandmaster, we meet rock-encrusted alien Korg (voiced by a drily witty Waititi) and the Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson, “Creed”), an Asgardian exile who is every much the fighter as Thor, not to mention his superior when it comes to snappy banter.

Both the banter and the fighting, it should be noted, are excellent, so whether you go to superhero movies for the glossy escapism or the pulse-pounding action, you’ll get your large soda’s worth. Editors Zene Baker (“Snatched”) and Joel Negron (“The Shallows”) keep the pace lively, with a delightfully self-aware score by Mark Mothersbaugh bolstering and exaggerating the grandeur at every corner. (Between this and “Brad’s Status,” Mothersbaugh has delivered two of the fall movie season’s most striking soundtracks.)

Hemsworth continues his streak (both in the Marvel movies and in the “Ghostbusters” remake) as a daft performer who knows how to use his almost exaggeratedly perfect physical features as part of the joke. (Balancing, and intertwining, sex and humor make him the 21st century version of Marilyn Monroe or Jayne Mansfield.) His comic rapport with Hiddleston, Ruffalo and especially Thompson goes a long way toward making the film such a screwball delight.

And if the old “Batman” gave us campy turns by Milton Berle as Louie the Lilac or Ethel Merman as Lola Lasagna, both Blanchett and Goldblum take full advantage of their Special Guest Villain status to go gloriously over the top. Goldblum’s trademark brand of stammering deadpan fits perfectly into this scenario, while Blanchett walks away with the movie; verbally, she plays like Dame Diana Rigg channeling both Joan Crawford and Eve Arden, and her physical slink (in one of Marvel Comics’ most wonderfully baroque costumes) calls to mind the sexy evil robot from “Metropolis.”

You don’t have to have seen the lead-ups to “Thor: Ragnarok” to enjoy yourself, nor will your delight depend upon another five future movies to be announced later. There’s little pomp and even less circumstance, but its goofy pleasures are more than enough.

Related stories from TheWrap:

'Thor: Ragnarok' on Track for $90 Million-Plus Opening Weekend Next Month

Hulk Smash (Your Phone): Mark Ruffalo Accidentally Livestreams Part of 'Thor: Ragnarok' at Premiere

'Thor: Ragnarok' Director Mocks How Lucasfilm Has Handled 'Star Wars'

Robert Downey Jr. Confirms Gwyneth Paltrow and Jon Favreau Are in 'Avengers: Infinity War'

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‘Suburbicon’ Review: George Clooney Overplays His Hand With Grotesque ’50s Noir https://www.thewrap.com/suburbicon-review-george-clooney-matt-damon-julianne-moore-coen-brothers/ https://www.thewrap.com/suburbicon-review-george-clooney-matt-damon-julianne-moore-coen-brothers/#respond Wed, 25 Oct 2017 19:40:19 +0000 Alonso Duralde https://www.thewrap.com/?p=1701583 Like those talented pop singers who keep making valiant stabs at being actors — and vice versa — George Clooney can’t seem to stay away from the director’s chair. His filmmaking career started promisingly enough with “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” (helped greatly by its Charlie Kaufman screenplay), but since then it’s been a parade of adequacies (“Good Night, and Good Luck,” “The Ides of March”), mediocrity (“Leatherheads”) and downright catastrophe (“The Monuments Men”).

Clooney’s directorial legacy won’t get any help from “Suburbicon,” a garish and overblown crime melodrama that combines clumsy noir with lame jabs at 1950s suburban conformity and racism, two subjects whose satirical sell-by date are now decades past. (Is racism in the United States as toxic as ever? Absolutely. Is pointing out the existence of racism in the gleaming Eisenhower era the stuff of dramatic counterpoint or groundbreaking observation? Nope.) Written by Joel and Ethan Coen and Clooney and Grant Heslov, the film veers back and forth between the obvious and the ridiculous.

In the quaint mid-century planned community Suburbicon, the white residents have a collective meltdown when the first black family moves into the house next door to the Lodges. But the Lodges have problems of their own: Home intruders show up in the middle of the night, tying up Gardner (Matt Damon), his wheelchair-bound wife Rose (Julianne Moore), their young son Nicky (Noah Jupe, “The Night Manager”) and Rose’s sister Maggie (also Moore — shades of her early work as twins on “As the World Turns”).

The robbers chloroform the family, but they go heavy enough on it for Rose that she winds up dying. Maggie sticks around to help out with Nicky, but the kid grows suspicious when the robbers turn up in a police lineup and Gardner and Maggie pretend not to recognize them. Gardner and Maggie, it turns out, have clumsily killed Rose for the insurance money, but loan sharks want it — assuming that there’s even a payout, since claims investigator Roger (Oscar Isaac) smells a big, fat rat.

There are plenty of ways that “Suburbicon” could have gone to have fun with this premise, but it chooses none of them — or, rather, it chooses all of them simultaneously and the mix never works. If the movie is intended to be a black comedy about an incompetent crime, then the ugly scenes of racism don’t fit. If it’s supposed to be a nightmarish tale of a child who knows something terrible but has no one who will believe him — think “The Fallen Idol” or “Parents” — Gardner’s crime is so sloppy and so quick to fall apart that the movie never builds upon the kind of tension necessary to tell that story.

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And if it’s supposed to be a will-they-get-away-with-it crime drama, that evaporates once people get fireplace-pokered to death in the middle of the street and fire trucks start exploding. It’s all too much in too many directions, and the result is a mess, albeit an exquisitely art-directed one.

The name actors here commit themselves to their roles, despite the fact they all seem to be in different movies. (There is a nice bit of cat-and-mouse between Roger and Maggie, as he gets her to say more than she should about her poor sister’s “accident.”) Top honors go to young Jupe, who faces tragedy and terror, registering it all in his very expressive eyes.

The production design by James D. Bissell (“Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation”) nails the era without getting too cartoonish about it. There’s a tendency for movies set in the post-WWII boom to go crazy with the kidney-shaped coffee tables and the starburst light fixtures, but he lets the post-war design elements come out in little details like the coffee cups, the cocktail tumblers and Maggie’s checkout-girl uniform.

Composer Alexandre Desplat channels Bernard Herrmann as hard as he can to provide this movie with some genuinely suspenseful underpinnings, but the music winds up offering far more than the film can handle.

Just about everyone involved with “Suburbicon” has done and, one hopes, will do better. But here they’ve given us a mish-mosh of genres that should have been abandoned at the city limits.

Related stories from TheWrap:

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'Downsizing' Review: Matt Damon Is the Incredible Shrinking Everyman

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‘Boo 2!’ Review: Tyler Perry Leaves a Flaming Bag of Poo on Your Doorstep https://www.thewrap.com/boo-2-review-tyler-perry-madea-halloween/ https://www.thewrap.com/boo-2-review-tyler-perry-madea-halloween/#respond Fri, 20 Oct 2017 16:48:37 +0000 Alonso Duralde https://www.thewrap.com/?p=1726863 It’s hard out here for a sporadic Tyler Perry apologist. Yes, his funniest films are his dramas, where he gives the leading ladies of “Temptation” or “For Colored Girls” HIV for skipping church or whatever, but his Madea still hasn’t gotten her due as a genuinely outrageous comic creation. When Perry-as-Madea is firing on all cylinders — as in “Madea’s Big Happy Family” or “Boo! A Madea Halloween” — the character’s comedic energy is enough to raise the boats of Perry’s sluggish direction.

The success of last year’s “Boo!” has given Perry 12 months to crank out a sequel, and even by his own iffy standards, “Tyler Perry’s Boo 2! A Madea Halloween” feels rushed and thrown together. Imagine an improv class where students sit in clusters, waiting for something funny to be said or to transpire, and you’ll have an idea of how this haphazard mess plays out.

Bratty teen Tiffany (Disney alum Diamond White) has turned 18, and apparently she’s learned nothing from the events of the previous “Boo!” because she’s still talking back to her doormat dad Brian (Perry) and hell-bent on hooking up with the partying frat boys from the first movie. Given a car by her mom over Brian’s objections, Tiffany and her pals take off for Lake Derrick, the site of multiple child murders and also the fraternity’s chosen location for this year’s Halloween bash.

Brian and fellow dad Victor (UFC fighter Tito Ortiz) take off in pursuit, as do a quartet of seniors featured in most Perry comedies: Madea (Perry), Brian’s father Joe (Perry), Bam (Cassi Davis) and Hattie (Patrice Lovely). The kids, meanwhile, find themselves facing a greatest-hits posse of horror-movie creeps, from drowned girls with long stringy hair in their faces to chainsaw-wielding psychos.

Most of the interminable running time of “Boo 2!” breaks down like this: scene of the teens sitting around a campfire, with the horny frat boys making propositions that good girl Gabriella (Inanna Sarkis) keeps shooting down; then a scene of the senior citizens in Madea’s Cadillac, arguing over whether or not they should get out of the car; then back to the teens; then back to the oldsters. Over and over, forever and ever, amen.

It’s already a general rule that Madea movies are never all that funny whenever Madea isn’t on screen, but even when she and Joe are at the center of the action, they’re batting about .250 when it comes to punchlines. When they do occasionally land a laugh, it occurs in a scene that inevitably runs too long, draining the energy out of the joke and the air out of the movie. (The usually reliable Davis and Lovely aren’t given much to say or do this time around.)

It certainly doesn’t help that the film’s PG-13 rating apparently involved some clumsy post-production dubbing, where it become obvious that “bullcrap” isn’t the word that came out of Perry’s mouth on set. These clumsy dubs occur throughout, turning “Boo! 2” into the in-flight version of itself.

So much of what’s on screen feels awkward and clunky: at the party, a group of rappers entertain the crowd, but they hold their mics in a way that we never see their mouths move, so that any song can be laid over them. The one Perry eventually picks has fewer vocalists than we see onstage, giving the whole sequence a tossed-off “Sharknado” vibe.

Even the usual Tyler Perry moral lessons feel thrown in at the last minute: Gabriella turns down a cocktail with, “I don’t drink, I’m a CHRISTIAN!” and later on Victor asserts that all the college students had drugs on them, even there’s been no indication of this at any point in the story. And in true Perry form, the movie ends with several women admitting they were wrong and promising the patriarch they’ll do better in the future – unless the box office demands a “Boo 3!,” and that’s a prospect far scarier than anything in this movie.

Related stories from TheWrap:

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Anne Frank Halloween Costume Removed From Store

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‘Only the Brave’ Review: Josh Brolin Firefighter Saga Digs Deep https://www.thewrap.com/only-the-brave-review-josh-brolin-miles-teller/ https://www.thewrap.com/only-the-brave-review-josh-brolin-miles-teller/#respond Thu, 19 Oct 2017 18:45:43 +0000 Alonso Duralde https://www.thewrap.com/?p=1722552 Wind, humidity and any number of other factors can transform a forest fire in unpredictable ways. And sometimes, movies like “Only the Brave” also find ways to stray from the path we’re expecting them to take.

Based on Sean Flynn’s GQ article about the first municipal fire department to become an elite “hot-shot” squad sent in to extinguish huge and deadly forest fires, this film starts out so safely square (and square-jawed), that it feels like a World War II movie about a colorful squadron heading to Normandy. But as the story builds, these characters become richer and more complicated — and the stakes become more deadly — resulting in a movie with a delayed but no less potent dramatic punch.

Director Joseph Kosinski (“Tron: Legacy,” “Oblivion”) and writers Ken Nolan (“Black Hawk Down”) and Eric Warren Singer (“American Hustle”) set up characters we think we know, from Eric Marsh (Josh Brolin), the tough-but-fair superintendent who always seems to know more about fires than everyone around him; to Amanda (Jennifer Connelly), Eric’s veterinarian wife who rescues horses and frets about her husband’s safety while he’s putting himself in harm’s way; to Brendan (Miles Teller), a drug-using screw-up who tries to get his life together when a recent fling results in his becoming a dad.

And given that this is a men-who-are-good-at-their-jobs movie, with the firefighters showing their exemplary abilities before and after they achieve “hot shot” status, and a film where the fires themselves seem both vivid and deadly, “Only the Brave” could easily have coasted on bravado. Even in these politically divided times, red and blue audiences alike can agree to root for the first responders and against the flames.

In an era where the words “based on a true story” can give seasoned filmgoers a sinking feeling, however, this is a film where the complications and messiness of reality add genuine heft to the drama. Amanda, for instance, is no shrinking violet or blandly supportive wife; she constantly challenges her husband, all in the name of keeping their relationship alive over issues he would frequently rather not discuss. And while Brendan follows the familiar plot thread of the callow youth becoming a man, he faces conflict once he realizes that being a firefighter is turning him into the kind of absentee dad he swore he’d never become.

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Once “Only the Brave” takes a turn that makes its characters more vivid, it becomes clear that that the genuine life-and-death stakes of a firefighter’s life will intrude upon the story; what starts out as old-fashioned and rah-rah becomes, by the final scenes, genuinely devastating and intensely poignant. These people aren’t cardboard do-gooders; they’ve got complicated pasts, and they’re haunted by regrets, and they have wants and needs and real dimension.

There’s an extraordinary ensemble here, led by Brolin and Connelly, whose scenes together positively crackle, and Teller, whose turn is deeply felt but never showy. But almost all of the firemen get their moments to create vivid characters as well, as the film assembles a great team of character actors, including Taylor Kitsch, James Badge Dale, Geoff Stults, and Scott Haze, to name just a few. Jeff Bridges, of course, waltzes off with every moment of his screen time without breaking a sweat.

It’s worth spotlighting Eric Barba and his visual effects team; about the only times I notice bad CG effects is movies these days are when fire or explosions are involved, and for an entire movie about fire and explosions, I never once saw the seams. Cinematographer Claudio Miranda (“The Life of Pi”) and editor Billy Fox (“Straight Outta Compton”) make each conflagration distinct from one another, but they all capture at least the essence of the terror involved in facing such perilous situations in such close quarters.

Kosinski, never one to shy away from visual spectacle, finds other elements besides the fires on which to focus his directorial eye. An overhead shot of a helicopter’s blades whirring as an extended hose sucks water out of a swimming pool, and a sweeping forest vista — Brolin tells his recruits to take a good look, since this will be the last time they’ll look at trees as anything but fuel — provide some of the many breathtaking moments amid the action.

“Only the Brave” goes beyond simple-minded uplift to portray the genuine conflicts and sacrifices involved among those rare individuals who go running toward danger. Those heroes deserve no less.

Related stories from TheWrap:

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Jeff Bridges Channels The Dude to Call for Peace in Donald Trump's America

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‘The Meyerowitz Stories’ Review: Adam Sandler Nails Noah Baumbach’s Comedy of Dysfunction https://www.thewrap.com/the-meyerowitz-stories-review-adam-sandler-noah-baumbach-ben-stiller/ https://www.thewrap.com/the-meyerowitz-stories-review-adam-sandler-noah-baumbach-ben-stiller/#respond Fri, 13 Oct 2017 19:11:05 +0000 Alonso Duralde https://www.thewrap.com/?p=1724460 It’s tempting to call Adam Sandler “Halley’s Actor,” since he makes us endure one wretched, inane comedy after another in between his all-too-occasional impressive performances with filmmakers outside of the Happy Madison stable.

But while the waiting can be agony, the payoffs are worth it, in the case of Sandler’s triumphs in “Punch-Drunk Love” and “Funny People” (and in the less overall-successful “Spanglish” and “Reign Over Me”). Add “The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)” to the list of movies that prove that The Artist Formerly Known as Opera Man has real chops.

Not that the film is crafted as a showcase for Sandler; he’s one piece of a brilliant ensemble that writer-director Noah Baumbach has brought together for a bitingly funny family story; it might call to mind Woody Allen or J.D. Salinger along the way, but in the end, this is pure Baumbach, from its compassionate analysis of broken families to its empathetic insistence that even the most broken can still find redemption.

As we open “The Meyerowitz Stories” — rest assured, the intertitles and literary narration are used sparingly and never preciously — the family is in flux: retired sculptor-turned-academic Harold (Dustin Hoffman) and his current wife Maureen (Emma Thompson) want to sell the New York apartment and move upstate. That’s upsetting news for Danny (Sandler), whose daughter Eliza (Grace Van Patten, “Tramps”) is heading off to college; her departure from the household spells the end of both Danny’s marriage and his career as a stay-at-home dad, and he had hoped to crash with Harold and Maureen for a while.

While Danny and his sister Jean (Elizabeth Marvel), both the children of Danny’s second wife, have stayed close to their father and taken care of him, Harold has always favored Matthew (Ben Stiller), his son with third wife Julia (Candice Bergen). Matthew has separated himself from Harold both spiritually (he gave up on art to go into finance) and physically (he lives in L.A.), but Harold still dotes on him with the affection and attention he denies his children who are closer at hand.

There is a plot here, involving secrets from the past, and a possibility of a gallery show for Harold, and some brushes with illness, but for the most part “Meyerowitz” is about the complicated bonds of family, and the choices that adult children make about hanging onto resentments or letting them go. Harold seems locked into his choices — like many an aging dad, he insists on seeing the world as he decides to and won’t be talked out of it — but Danny, Jean and Matthew still have options.

Baumbach places the Meyerowitzes within the context of a larger world, from Eliza’s college boyfriends to Harold’s old rival L.J. (Judd Hirsch), who went on to much greater success in the art world, and whose daughter Loretta (Rebecca Miller) continues to catch the eye of Danny, who grew up with her. The writer-director, with his cinematographer Robbie Ryan (“American Honey”), places his characters firmly inside a bubble of Manhattan flats, lakeside country houses and verdant college campuses, but they remain messy and complicated and capable of change. (And while any movie looks better on the big screen, of course, this one maintains its visual strength if you stream it on Netflix, who produced it.)

What’s left of the repertory-house community could easily double-bill this film with “Brad’s Status,” another bittersweet comedy that allows Ben Stiller to find the darker underbelly of the entitled-yuppie characters he has played so often. As always, Baumbach knows how to elicit sides of Stiller we don’t always get, and when Danny (who has kept his feelings tamped way, way down) and Matthew finally release their resentments in a drug-fueled showdown, it’s achingly hilarious.

Hoffman gets one of his best roles in years, as an uncompromisingly cantankerous and solipsistic artist who should probably never had children in the first place; it’s a blisteringly unsentimental yet recognizably funny piece of work. And after watching Elizabeth Marvel conquer D.C. politics on both “House of Cards” and “Homeland,” she’s mesmerizing as a woman with remarkable depths, despite having spent a lifetime hiding her light.

Baumbach’s films may reflect a prickly brand of humanism, but they’re humane all the same. In an era of untrammeled cynicism, each new release feels like an all-too-brief moment of hope.

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