I’m not a huge connoisseur of courtroom dramas about wrongfully accused defendants, similar to why I don’t like war movies. I already know war is hell, and that the U.S. justice system is rotted by corruption. When convinced by my friends that I have to see a movie – such as Netflix’s “The Trial of the Chicago 7” – I just hope there’s comic relief and other layers amid the messaging about how horribly unjust everything is.
I’m not the target audience for “Emma,” but given how good Anya Taylor-Joy is in everything – most recently, TV’s “The Queen’s Gambit” – I figured if she can’t hook me on this Jane Austen classic, nobody can. Well, actually, I am an admirer of “Clueless” (1995), but probably more for the modernized aspects than the core elements.
Archaeologist Nora Kelly enters the pantheon of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child’s heroes in “Thunderhead” (1999), an early and still great example of their Southwestern mystery adventures. In 2019, she’d still be going strong in “Old Bones,” the first of a series marketed with Nora as the lead character. I picture her in my head like “Lost World: Jurassic Park”-era Julianne Moore.
With “The Haunting of Bly Manor” (Netflix) – his spiritual (pun intended) sequel to 2018’s “The Haunting of Hill House” — Mike Flanagan continues to solidify his status as a horror auteur tapped into the tragic beauty afforded by the genre. A damp, dark-haired, white-dressed, hidden-faced woman in a Flanagan work is more than a scary ghost: She symbolizes the bittersweet tragedy of a forgotten past. (SPOILERS FOLLOW.)
Riptide” (1998) is one of the few Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child books to not feature characters who appear elsewhere, but it shouldn’t be overlooked. Featuring coastal Maine (where Preston makes his home for part of the year), “Riptide” is an early P&C blend of medical mystery, geographical oddities, history lesson, codebreaking and treasure hunt.
In giving one of his many great performances of the 2010s, Michael Keaton brings to life one of the most compelling business stories of the mid-20th century: Ray Kroc’s expansion of McDonald’s from a local into a national enterprise. Like all great biopics, “The Founder” (2017) – written by Robert Siegel and directed by John Lee Hancock – is fascinating for its contradictions. Kroc made possible a corporation that now does demonstrable good – providing cheap food and entry-level jobs (a significant number of my most successful friends started at “Mickey Dee’s”).
Didn’t “Fargo” used to be kind of a comedy? I mean, I know it’s always had its dark and violent side, but damn. Season 4 (Sundays on FX), which premiered with two episodes totaling 2 hours and 40 minutes, is slow, grim and slathered in midcentury racism as it chronicles the budding war between the Italian and black crime syndicates in Kansas City. (Season 2 chronicled a modern version of the K.C. syndicate that emerges from the continual cycle of power grabs.)
Having proven himself in the Joss Whedon school (“Buffy,” “Angel”) and with crowd-pleasers (“The Martian”), writer-director Drew Goddard tries his hand at a Quentin Tarantino-style epic in “Bad Times at the El Royale” (2018). The Tarantino comparison doesn’t serve the film well, especially when “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood” is on my mind. There’s a fine, subjective line between artistic and indulgent filmmaking, and “Bad Times” too often falls on the wrong side of that line to be worth repeated watchings.
ALeague of Their Own” (1992), based in spirit if not specifics on the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League of the 1940s, is easy to pick apart once you give it some thought. But director Penny Marshall keeps the broad humor and luscious period detail coming at enough of a clip that the flaws don’t hurt it. Ultimately, it’s a bittersweet slice of a time that truly existed and bizarrely – for reasons the film doesn’t address, adding to the poignancy – has never returned: the mainstreaming of women’s baseball.