Marriage Story

Netflix

Write what you know. In Marriage Story, writer/director/producer Noah Baumbach follows that mantra and has created an intimate exploration of divorce, something he has lived through twice, once with his parents, and again with the dissolution of his own marriage to actress Jennifer Jason Leigh (the couple divorced in 2013). Baumbach brings every angle of these experiences to this emotional narrative, a no-frills examination of a relationship that features two powerhouse performances from Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson.

Driver plays theatre director Charlie and Johansson plays Nicole, his muse and leading lady. They are the featured players in a tight-knit company in the off-Broadway theatre scene, where she stars in every play that he writes and directs. They have an 8-year old son who they both adore. It all seems to be going great, but we never know them as a happy couple, as we meet Charlie and Nicole as they are embarking on divorce. Throughout the course of the movie, we put all the pieces together as their pieces are falling apart. It is a staggeringly emotional experience, for the audience, to get to know these characters, and, more significantly, their relationship to each other, through the fraction instead of the joy. Most writers would fill the movie with flashbacks, so the audience can get to know the couple in happier times, so it could be contrasted to what they are going through now. But Baumbach does the impossible: he paints the whole picture of their relationship simply by letting it play out, because relationships are not defined by milestones they go through, they are defined by the people in them and their emotional lives within that relationship.

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Ford v Ferrari

Twentieth Century Fox

Movies have loved fast cars for as long as there have been movies. As a child, I heard my Dad talk about the car chases in The French Connection and Bullitt with such reverence, I considered them the gold standard (which they arguably are) before I ever saw them. Fast forward forty years and fast cars are still this nation’s cinematic obsession, with the Fast and the Furious franchise now in its tenth incarnation. It makes sense that car movies are so ubiquitous, since men generally are the ones who make movies and the two things men seem to universally love, other than women, are sports and cars. There have been hundreds of movies about cars and racing, and even more that somehow find a way to squeeze a car chase in for no reason. Cars and movies are intrinsically tied. You can’t have a James Bond movie without a car chase. James Dean died in a car crash. Paul Newman, Tom Cruise and Steve McQueen all were famous actors who dabbled in car racing as a hobby and all made movies about racing. So it’s no surprise that there will always be new movies about thrills on four wheels. The trick at this point is to make one that feels original.

I had high hopes for Ford v Ferrari, the new movie from director James Mangold about Ford Motor Company’s obsession with finding ways to compete with dominant Ferrari on the racetrack in the ‘60s. Mangold, who has directed critically and commercially acclaimed movies such as 3:10 to Yuma, Walk the Line and Logan, is someone who knows how to make movies for and about men and their passions. His specialty is flawed, obsessive and often conflicted anti-heroes. While Ford v Ferrari follows in the Mangold tradition of masculinity gone somewhat awry, it unfortunately can’t live up to some of his past movies, despite stellar performances from its leads.

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The Report

Amazon Studios

Much of the controversy surrounding the new movie Joker is based on the public’s seeming distaste for watching a movie that reminds us too much of the world we’re living in now, one that can be dark, cold and cruel. We are supposed to escape when we go to the movies, right? Well, in Joker’s case, sometimes the job of the movie is to be a commentary on modern society and the effects it can have on the individual. And then there are the kinds of movies which offer neither an escape nor a commentary, but instead are dramatic re-tellings of real events, their purpose being to tell the story of someone or something that may have changed the course of history, or, in the case of the docudrama The Report, shine a light on something that had, until then, been in the dark.

There is no escaping in The Report. Writer/director Scott Z. Burns’ analytical deep dive into the investigation of the CIA’s post 9/11 Detention and Interrogation Program by a staffer of Senator Dianne Feinstein is just as current and flavorless as it sounds. Annette Bening plays Feinstein and Adam Driver plays Daniel J. Jones, who is tasked with looking into the claims that the CIA may have been subverting the Department of Justice mandates against torture while interrogating captured suspected Al Queda fighters. While the details of the report and their findings are fascinating (and truly terrifying), the drama of The Report comes from the political infighting that occurred within our own system, where it seemingly was every agency for itself in a cover-up that ran so deep, the bottom still may never be known.

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Terminator: Dark Fate

Skydance / Lightstorm

The open secret in Hollywood is that the Chinese market is changing movies. The American studio industry sees how influential to their bottom line it can be when a movie is a hit in China, so there has been a tidal shift in the last decade or so to make more movies that appeal to the Chinese audience. Don’t be fooled into thinking the conflagration of superhero movies is because of the power of the American fanboy. Nope, superhero movies are exactly what Chinese moviegoers want from the U.S.: big action, big heroes, big villains and not a lot of complicated dialogue. Oh, and visual effects…lots of visual effects.

So it can’t be a surprise to anyone to see all the reboots of action movie franchises happening. When you run out of original ideas, go ahead and find movies and franchises that were popular in the past and remake them. You gotta keep that pipeline full. So it seems only natural that there would be a reboot of one of the most popular action franchises in history, James Cameron’s Terminator, and that a Chinese movie company would actually be one of the companies producing it.

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Jojo Rabbit

Fox Searchlight

Director Todd Phillips, known for comedies such as Old School, Road Trip and The Hangover trilogy recently made headlines during the press tour for his current movie, the drama Joker, by saying he decided to stop making comedies because “woke culture is ruining comedy.” Thank goodness Taika Waititi doesn’t agree.

Unlike Phillips, writer/director/producer/star of the new subversively and decidedly risky and darkly satirical movie Jojo Rabbit, Waititi thrives on pushing the envelope and challenging—and trusting—his audience to be able to handle subject matter that is eyebrow-raising, and to be able to appreciate the joke. While some may be shying away from doing risky work that may ruffle feathers, Waititi goes all in with a movie that is one of the most daring and committed satires I’ve ever seen.

I don’t want to say too much about it, because it should be experienced as an unexpected ride, but I will paint the picture for you in broad strokes. Waititi has made a movie that is a (dark) comedy about Hitler, Nazis and World War II. I know it’s been done before, most notably by Mel Brooks and Charlie Chaplin, so it’s not like this is groundbreaking stuff. But Waititi’s ability to raise it above farce is what makes this film feel so different. It is a bold and irreverent satire which mocks the Nazis and Hitler, but it also tells a deep and moving story against a backdrop of war. It is equal parts goofy and tragic, outrageous and sweet, heartfelt and horrific. And the Nazis are only a part of it.

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Joker

Warner Bros

I was resisting seeing Joker for some reason. But then I gave in, all the talk of Joaquin Phoenix’s performance and the fact that it will soon pass Deadpool to be the highest-grossing R-rated film of all time made me curious.

I should’ve listened to my gut.

Roger Ebert once published a compilation of his bad reviews called “I Hated Hated Hated This Movie.” I think I’ve got the first chapter of my version.

The buzz about Joker has been evenly divided between masterpiece and piece of crap. All I can say is I am at a complete loss as to how anyone could have enjoyed a single moment of this movie, let alone call it a masterpiece.

Joker is the dreariest, most mind and soul crushing movie experience I’ve had in a long time, if ever. I haven’t come this close to walking out of a movie since Requiem for a Dream. I don’t want to spend any more time thinking about this movie than I have to —as it is, I need a shower—so let me just sum it up for you: DO NOT GO. It is a relentless exploration of human misery, a painful descent into madness with no let up and no payoff.

What really pisses me off is Phoenix is a great actor and I suppose what he is doing here is great, too, but there is no modulation to his performance. He is all out maniacal from the first shot and all you can do is squirm in your seat and hope your skin stops crawling. I realize that’s what they were going for, but it’s not how a normal person wants to spend two hours.

In all fairness, I realize that Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight was insane and twisted, too. The difference between Ledger and Phoenix, though, is that Ledger was entertaining, watchable and textured. Phoenix’s Joker is just all twisted—darkness has enveloped this performance so fully, you will have to fight hard to not get sucked in. It’s just not my idea of a good time.

I had enough of it after 10 minutes and it only got worse. Please, do yourself a favor and spend your time doing almost anything else. Life is seriously too short.

Dolemite Is My Name

Netflix

Four of the last ten Best Picture Oscar winners have been about artists, performers or Hollywood in some shape or form. Artists love to bask in their own glow, so to speak, and if there’s an opportunity to make a movie about the making of a great film or tell the life story of a performer, they will take it. In fact, Hollywood doesn’t even care if the subject is good or not. Two years ago, James Franco made a movie about the worst film of all time and even THAT got nominated for an Oscar.

The only thing Hollywood loves more than movies about itself? Comebacks. Which is why Dolemite Is My Name (in theatres 10/4, on Netflix 10/25) just might be the early Oscar frontrunner, even in September.

Eddie Murphy is in his third career. From 1980 to 1994, he was the world’s biggest star, conquering movies, TV and stand-up comedy specials long before Netflix was even a thing. Then, in 1996, he put the filthy mouth and adult action movies behind him and embarked on a new career as voiceover and PG-13 goofy comedy star, starring in three franchises, Shrek, Nutty Professor and Dr. Doolittle. Then, in 2006, he changed it up again by taking a small supporting role in the musical drama Dreamgirls, a dramatic role that earned him universal kudos for the one thing we hadn’t seen from him yet: serious acting.

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Judy

Roadside Attractions

The main narrative about the new film Judy (opening 9/27) will inevitably be about its star, Renée Zellweger, and how the film marks a career comeback for the Oscar winner, who seemingly fell off the face of the earth a few years ago. What really happened is she just took a 6-year hiatus from making movies from 2010-2016, which, in Hollywood, is tantamount to career suicide, especially when you’re a woman at the peak of your career (i.e. that small window women have for playing lead roles). Never mind that she’d been working non-stop since 1992, starred in a Best Picture winner (Chicago), won an Oscar herself (for Cold Mountain) and was one of the highest-paid actresses in Hollywood—all anyone wanted to know was where she was, what she’d been doing and would she ever be able to come back? In all honesty, it was going to take a lot to get Zellweger back to where she was, especially at 50, in a business that ages people faster than professional football. But she has found a way. She’s back with a vengeance, starring in a new Netflix series, What/If, and, most important, getting all of Hollywood buzzing with her extraordinary performance as Judy Garland in Judy, a role seemingly gift-wrapped just for her and for this moment.

It’s almost too good to be true, Zellweger, emerging from career isolation, playing Garland, the faded superstar who made one last grab for glory (and money) in her last days. While this is far from being Zellweger’s final role (we hope), her performance in Judy is most certainly her best professional achievement yet, a grand statement and impressive feat.

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Hustlers

STX Films

Let’s get this out of the way right at the top: yes, Hustlers is a high-profile movie about women, made by women and starring women. From a business standpoint, although it’s not a big studio movie, that’s still a great

(Not counting all the fur)
thing. It also could be considered an empowering movie, because it’s about women taking control of their own destinies—and succeeding— in a profession that has long been controlled by men. Again, that is a good thing. There are no major male characters and the stars of the movie are two women of color, one of them who’s actually FIFTY. So, yes, Hustlers is, on paper, a great step forward and deserves to be lauded for all of those things.

Which makes it so ultimately frustrating that the movie is so bad.

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Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice

CNN Films

It feels like it doesn’t take much anymore to become famous. Andy Warhol would have either been intrigued or horrified by YouTube if he were alive today. Being famous for who you are and not what you do seems to be the American way in the 21st century so far.

Which is why it’s so refreshing to be reminded of what a true artist looks like, someone with a real talent, who honed a career not out of how many likes she got, but for how many records she sold and how many her music affected.

Even though there have been many singers through the years who have been popular and successful, it just feels like Linda Ronstadt has always been different. It’s simple enough to say that, but when you look at her life and her career in its entirety, as is presented in the new documentary, Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice, you realize the breadth and scope of her talent and depth of her desire to stay true to her art and to who she is. And it’s a heartbreaking sadness, what she’s going through now, as Parkinson’s has robbed her of the one thing that she always believed defined her: her voice. But, as we learn in this documentary from directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, we see that she’s so much more than that. Besides all the awards and gold records, she played a vital role in the music industry in the 70s and early 80s in so many ways that a mere 95-minute documentary can’t even begin to cover what a legendary influence and talent Linda Ronstadt is.

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