I Have One Important Thing to Say About ‘The Witches’ (2020)

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The Witches 2020 (CREDIT: Warner Bros./YouTube Screenshot)

Starring: Octavia Spencer, Anne Hathaway, Jahzir Kadeem Bruno, Stanley Tucci, Chris Rock, Codie Lei-Eastick, Kristen Chenoweth

Director: Robert Zemeckis

Running Time: 105 Minutes

Rating: PG

Release Date: October 22, 2020 (HBO Max)

There’s one thing I really want to mention about the 2020 adaptation of Roald Dahl’s The Witches. It’s something that caught me by surprise, and I was happy to have it. It wouldn’t have surprised me if I had seen the trailer ahead of time, but I still would have been delighted by it nonetheless. I’m talking about Chris Rock’s narration! I had no idea he was playing the older version of our hero (who’s named Hero). But oh yeah, I totally approve of the flavor that he added to the mix. And at the end when we got a glimpse of him in the flesh, I was thrilled to see what he’s up to now. The rest of the movie is mostly more-or-less standard kids adventure fare. I would have hoped for something a little weirder from Bob Zemeckis taking on Roald Dahl. Maybe I missed some hidden weirdness!

Grade: 5 Giant Chickens Out of 3 Mice

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Final Portrait’ is a Frustrating Presentation of a Frustrated Artist

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CREDIT: Sony Pictures Classics

This review was originally posted on News Cult in March 2018.

Starring: Armie Hammer, Geoffrey Rush, Tony Shalhoub, Clémence Poésy, Sylvie Testud

Director: Stanley Tucci

Running Time: 90 Minutes

Rating: R for Artistic Frustration F-Bombs and a Few Slips of Nudity

Release Date: March 23, 2018 (Limited)

Can we please, as a society, be done with the idea that artists are just slaves to inspiration that comes and goes as it pleases and is totally beyond their control? Sure, there is something ineffable about sparks of creativity, but the actual act of creation requires discipline and firm decision-making, i.e., things that are within our control. Now, films that portray artists who insist on being totally subject to the whims of the universe are not necessarily in agreement with this philosophy. In the case of Final Portrait, writer-director Stanley Tucci is more interested in the friendship between Swiss painter Alberto Giacometti (Geoffrey Rush) and American writer James Lord (Armie Hammer) than in making any judgment on Giacometti’s chaos. But when such excess is presented matter-of-factly, it tends to be incredibly frustrating.

While visiting Paris in 1964, Lord agrees to be painted for a portrait by Giacometti, who assures him that the sitting will last “an afternoon at the most.” But that afternoon lasts into one more day, and soon enough that extra day has ballooned into a fortnight. Sometimes, Giacometti’s pauses are legitimate, as when he is running a fever or has business to attend to. Other times he just wants to eat, or he doesn’t even bother coming up with an excuse. It is essentially stated at one point that this state of incompletion is where he feels most comfortable. Rush’s wild mane is perfect for Giacometti’s untamed nature, and Hammer is the ideal fit for Lord’s constant bemusement. But overall, we and James are stuck in a dour loop that has us thinking, “Shouldn’t this be over already?” And it certainly does not help that this is taking place during what is apparently the cloudiest two-week stretch in Parisian history.

Elsewhere, there is some business involving Giacometti’s prostitute companion/frequent model Caroline (Clémence Poésy) and his frustrated wife Annette (Sylvie Testud), but hardly anything of note happens in those plot threads. That portion of the film is unceremoniously wrapped up by Giacometti paying off a couple of pimps with huge wads of cash.

There are a few moments that break up the excruciation, like a driving montage set to breezy ’60s French pop music. Giacometti and Lord’s occasional walks are welcome, as it is pleasant to just be outside. Plus, those strolls provide loopy non sequiturs, like Giacometti’s query of “Have you ever wanted to be a tree?” As a portrait of a friendship, Final Portrait has its moments, but as a portrait of a portrait, it never focuses enough on the tension of when James Lord will finally break free.

Final Portrait is Recommended If You Like: Geoffrey Rush Squinting, Armie Hammer’s Face Acting, Watching Someone Quickly Gulp Down Wine and Coffee

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Sitdowns

This Is a Movie Review Review: Beauty and the Beast (2017)

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What up with Disney ransacking its vault to remake its own animated hits into (mostly[-ish]) live-action versions? This is not an inherently bad idea. These are stories that have been told over and over (often in fairy tale form) and will continue to be told over and over, so why not spruce them up with some 21st Century Pizzazz?

What does new-flavor Beauty and the Beast offer over the 1991 toon? Belle’s an inventor, but that does not factor in too much. There is an “exclusively gay moment” for Le Fou, but it is so inconsequential that you might need a study guide to locate it (I certainly did). So ultimately, this is about some legends of acting and singing giving it a whirl. Nothing earth-shattering, but we’re in good hands.

I give Beauty and the Beast 3 Rose Petals out of 5 Snowy Days in June.

This Is a Movie Review: Spotlight

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There is an inherent drama and urgency in the Catholic Church priest abuse scandal that a film about it does not need to do any work to tease out. But just perfunctorily putting the Boston Globe’s investigation of this story does not automatically make for a great movie. Luckily, director Tom McCarthy and his co-screenwriter Josh Singer make plenty of astute filmmaking decisions alongside their similarly tuned-in cast and crew.

Recognizing that the story itself is plenty powerful (the epilogue text detailing the extent of the abuse is perhaps the most overwhelming moment in any movie this year), the actors on the Spotlight team (Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Brian d’Arcy James) keep it understated. As victims’ lawyer Mitch Garabedian, Stanley Tucci is labeled eccentric, but he is actually also low-key. The production design, cinematography, and costumes are all also appropriately drab.

The plot manages to legitimately earn the descriptor “action,” with the editing favoring cross-cutting between various story threads. This plays out as such: Mike Rezendes (Ruffalo) tracks down evidence at the courthouse, and before we find out if he uncovers the right puzzle piece, we check in on Sacha Pfeiffer (McAdams) interviewing a victim, but before she gets out all her questions, it cuts back to Mike, and then it cuts around to the rest of the team. This is just Filmmaking 101, creating tension and establishing engagement. Spotlight makes a difference, and it is thrilling.