Here's a look at some recent movies. And books, maybe. If I get around to it.
La La Land ★★★
La La Land ★★★
Finally got around to seeing this movie. It was enjoyable enough, but I wasn't bowled over by it by any means -- so much so that I was following Twitter on my phone for part of it. It starts off well enough as a zippy musical but sort of forgets that after awhile, until finally picking it up in a bravura way at the very end. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling make an attractive enough pair, but there's a lot of formulaic, clichéd feel to this film -- it's boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl, and so on, complete with an obligatory "meet cute" in the very beginning. Pleasant, but not compelling.
"The Zookeeper's Wife" ★★★★
This tale of a Warsaw zookeeper and his wife who save hundreds of Jews from the Holocaust is based on a true story. The narrative is taut, the film-making skilled, though there's nothing path-breaking about the movie. Just a good, solid film. I took off half a point because I can't stand the German actor Daniel Brühl, cast here as the Warsaw couple's antagonist, a Berlin zoologist and SS officer.
"Florence Foster Jenkins" ★★★★½
This is a delightful movie, based on the true story of the eponymous heroine. Very funny, and touching at times. I deducted one-half star for the miscasting of the thinly talented Simon Helberg as Jenkins' accompanist, as he mostly reprises his Howard Wolowitz schtik from "Big Bang Theory." Hugh Grant stretches himself slightly beyond every Hugh Grant character you've ever seen.
Sorry, I think Beatty and Dunaway had it right the first time. (And I haven't even seen "La La Land.") You know what I'd like to see, Hollywood? A black coming-of-age drama that doesn't involve tired tropes like drug dealers, crack whores and prison. The whole gay thing seems like just an excuse for a lot of ponderous dialogue, overuse of Steadicams, sighing violins and long, heavy, meaning-laden looks. This movie goes nowhere, slowly.
"Deepwater Horizon" ★★★½
All around, pretty good disaster flick. Nice job of building tension to the inevitable . . . disaster. Solid performances, though that woman from "Jane the Virgin" plays her character three different ways . . . but I blame the script for being confused about who she really is. Points off for mumbling stuff in indecipherable Southern accents (I'm looking at you, John Malkovich), which made it hard sometimes to follow what was going on.
The chief problem with this movie is that the drama is mostly contrived. The real-life drama -- the crash in the Hudson, and ensuing rescue -- was pretty short-lived. (I mean, the boats were right there.) To fill the rest of the movie, the script spins a tale of the NTSB threatening to cashier America's "Hero of the Hudson." Not bloody likely. Otherwise, it's harmless enough, and Tom Hanks is . . . well, as always, Tom Hanks.
Let's give this movie a gentleman's C. It's really three or four movies in one, part "Castaway," part "Titanic," part I don't know what. Plenty of CGI to keep you diverted from the plot holes and not quite believable climax. Entertaining enough despite itself, as long as you're not plunking down $10 to see it in the theater.
"The Girl on the Train" ★★★★★
This is an excellent film. The screenplay was deliberately perplexing in the early-mid movie, reflecting the deep confusion of Emily Blunt's character. Speaking of Blunt, she gives an outstanding performance as a tortured alcoholic. That she wasn't even nominated for an Oscar is a crime. (She was nominated for SAG and BAFTA awards.) The movie carried the tension convincingly to the somewhat obvious-in-retrospect twist ending. Highly recommended.
Well, count me in the minority (apparently) not bowled over by "Arrival." A lot of ponderous slogging in the dark with very little plot all to get to a dumb conclusion. Also, not really a stretch by Amy Adams (whom I love) -- not enough real acting called for her to have received a Best Actress nomination. Rather than a "thinking person's sci-fi movie," this movie is mostly just a lot of piffle.
"Hacksaw Ridge" ★★
I have to say this film was a major disappointment. It ought to be called "Hackneyed Ridge." Every trite cliché from every World War II movie ever made, weird casting, and way, way, way too long. It is nearly unwatchable at times. The first half of the movie is saccharine, cheesy and interminable. The second half is better, but a real bloodfest à la Mel Gibson. I can't believe this epic fail was nominated for an Oscar.
"Eye in the Sky" ★★★★
I honestly thought this was going to be just another action movie, or maybe an overwrought anti-war movie, but it turns out to be a rather smart film. While somewhat heavy-handed in places, it is, in addition to being intensely suspenseful, an interesting treatise on the political, military and moral ambiguities of the war on terror. Plus, Helen Mirren is just . . . Helen Mirren.