Mamet Monday: ‘Phil Spector’ (2013) is a Pacino showcase and a bizarre, gripping condemnation of juries without actually showing the jurors (Movie review)

P

hil Spector” (2013), the last film from writer-director David Mamet before what has become the longest filmmaking hiatus of his career, manages to be a compelling murder-trial biopic without digging as far into the case as one would assume. Mamet focuses on building a character portrait of legendary music producer Phil Spector (Al Pacino), someone who is brilliant, strange, mostly off-putting, occasionally terrifying, occasionally kind, and possibly murderous.

Continue reading “Mamet Monday: ‘Phil Spector’ (2013) is a Pacino showcase and a bizarre, gripping condemnation of juries without actually showing the jurors (Movie review)”

Peter Farrelly’s ‘Green Book’ a sweet story of friendship against backdrop of mid-century American racism (Movie review)

W

riter-director Peter Farrelly smooths out the excesses of his filmmaking traits for the surprisingly mainstream and easy-to-like “Green Book” (2018), now back in theaters and also available for home viewing. It’s not as funny as his best films like “Dumb and Dumber” and not as high-concept as the likes of “Stuck on You” and “Shallow Hal.” It’s possibly a crass grab at mainstream and critical acceptance, but it’s hard to quibble with the finished product.

Continue reading “Peter Farrelly’s ‘Green Book’ a sweet story of friendship against backdrop of mid-century American racism (Movie review)”

‘The Favourite’ critiques timeless governmental power plays, but isn’t as sharp or funny as it could be (Movie review)

A

lot has been made about how horror (“Get Out” last year) and superhero (“Black Panther” this year) films are making inroads with the Oscars, but – in terms of percentage of all films released – comedy remains the most snubbed genre. “The Favourite” (2018) finds a path to Academy attention, though, by chronicling the royal court of Britain’s Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) in 1708, replete with gilded paintings, frilly dresses, pancake makeup and powdered wigs. Oscar-film trappings, in other words.

Continue reading “‘The Favourite’ critiques timeless governmental power plays, but isn’t as sharp or funny as it could be (Movie review)”

Malek, music are the stars of too-formulaic ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ (Movie review)

P

rior to seeing “Bohemian Rhapsody” (2018), I was hardly a Queen fan. The band’s popularity had faded before I was old enough to appreciate it, and growing up, their music was not something I was into.  My knowledge of Queen was limited to knowing they had a handful of decent songs and a few overplayed stadium anthems, and were led by one of the most eccentric frontmen of all time.  That said, I’m a huge music fan in general and had heard good things from friends about the film, so I was excited to learn about the legend of Queen.

Continue reading “Malek, music are the stars of too-formulaic ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ (Movie review)”

‘The Disaster Artist’ tells the bizarre success story of a strange man, but it lets many questions linger (Movie review)

T

he Disaster Artist” (2017), now available for home viewing, starts with various actors marveling over the horrible 2003 movie “The Room” and the fact that people still talk about it years later. They also raise the central question behind the phenomenon: Who is Tommy Wiseau, the man who saw this debacle from concept to finished film? Two hours later, you will have had a great time watching “The Disaster Artist,” but disappointingly, you won’t have the answer.

Continue reading “‘The Disaster Artist’ tells the bizarre success story of a strange man, but it lets many questions linger (Movie review)”

‘I, Tonya’ turns Harding’s life story into a delicious tragic comedy (Movie review)

H

istorical sports dramas – say, “42” or “Battle of the Sexes” — tend to be played straight; the true story alone is dramatic enough, and that’s why a movie is being made about it. “I, Tonya” (2017), now available on home video, is different. Tonya Harding’s life story is so bizarrely off the beaten path of sports biographies that if you told it straight, no one would believe it.

Continue reading “‘I, Tonya’ turns Harding’s life story into a delicious tragic comedy (Movie review)”

‘Darkest Hour’ review

“Darkest Hour” – Gary Oldman is the best part of Joe Wright’s stridently ordinary  biopic about Winston Churchill. The film is a paint-by-numbers affair that shows Churchill’s journey from awkward political interloper to the legend celebrated by many today. Oldman supplies all the gravitas the role calls for and then some under makeup that is alternatively good and reminiscent of Fat Bastard from “Austin Powers.” The film around him doesn’t live up to the standards he sets. It feels  like a solid made-for-TV film more than a powerhouse Oscar contender.

– Michael Olinger, March 1, 2018

‘The Disaster Artist’ reviews

John’s “The Disaster Artist” review, March 31, 2018

***

“The Disaster Artist” – In 2016’s “La La Land,” Emma Stone belted a tune dedicated to “The Fools Who Dream.” In 2017, James Franco took it upon himself to introduce us to the most notorious of those fools. Tommy Wiseau is not a good filmmaker, not even a competent one, but he had big dreams and he went for them in a big way, and Franco’s film celebrates that. This is a love letter to anyone whose ambitions ever outstripped their talents, to all those who have more bravery than common sense. It doesn’t pull any punches either, and has no compunction making Wiseau look like a vain, moronic jerk at times. Franco’s performance engenders sympathy for Wiseau, though, even at his worst. He manages to transcend impersonation of an admittedly very mockable person to find the humanity underneath.

– Michael Olinger, Top 20 films of 2017, Jan. 21, 2018

‘Molly’s Game’ review

“Molly’s Game” – Aaron Sorkin is a man who knows his way around a sentence, and his directorial debut is full of his trademark crackling, whip-smart dialogue. The movie hurtles forward at a breakneck pace through the rise and fall of Molly Bloom, deftly played by Jessica Chastain. It comes across almost like a feminist “Goodfellas,” with Bloom the stand in for Ray Liotta’s Henry Hill. It takes great pleasure in showing us the glamorous, hypnotizing shimmer that can make seedy things look so appetizing.

– Michael Olinger, Top 20 films of 2017, Jan. 21, 2018

‘I, Tonya’ reviews

John’s “I, Tonya” review, March 28, 2018

***

“I, Tonya” – Allison Janney. I just need to say her name. I need to say it first before saying anything else about this film, because as good as it is, that is how much better she is. She gives the best performance of 2017 in this film as Tonya Harding’s brutal, wicked, domineering mother. She manages to pull off a performance that is equal parts funny, tragic and infuriating, finding slivers of humanity in the person of an essentially irredeemably evil character. Margot Robbie is also excellent as Harding, and the film’s themes of the pernicious whims of the American public regarding who they celebrate and demonize are expertly explored.

– Michael Olinger, Top 20 films of 2017, Jan. 21, 2018