Colette – 6.7

Like a Monet garden scene, Colette is a lovely period piece, more art than fire. The always beautiful Keira Knightley (how does she look so young!) embodies the turn-of-the-century writer/performer as she explores life and emerges from her husband’s shadow and control. To me, Dominic West’s role – and its contrast with Jonathan Pryce’s in The Wife – was the point of interest. I thought he was a somewhat sympathetic character (Siri didn’t); he certainly could have been painted worse, more Munch than Monet.

Free Solo – 8.5

I’ve awarded the non-Oscar for Best Director of a Documentary to Jimmy Chin for this engaging, gripping drama cum tutorial about Alex Honnold’s obsession to climb El Capitan in Yellowstone without a safety net – e.g., free solo. First, there’s the charming main character, wonderfully ingenuous and open for someone in his position: the best in the world, who calmly and openly faces death for the sake of experiencing perfection. His girlfriend, fortuitously, is easy on the eyes, as well. Second, the director inserts himself and his camera crew discreetly into the film, not to share the glory but to give the viewers a sense of how the amazing photography of Hannold’s ascent is accomplished. They also serve as on-screen stand-ins for us, especially when Mikey Schaefer turns his back, afraid to watch. Third is the dramatic story: how Alex prepared for years for his climb and then pulled it off, in less than four amazing hours. My face was wet with tears, and I felt I’d been through the proverbial wringer by the time we said goodbye to a world we had just discovered.

A Star Is Born – 7

If you like watching Bradley Cooper (with Sam Elliot’s voice) and Lady Gaga (with and without makeup), you’ll find plenty to like in this movie, which owed its feeling of longeur partly to overlong closeups of the two stars. If you’re looking, however, for credible characters, gripping story or particularly good music, you may be disappointed, as I was. The dramatic peak arrives one-third of the way in, when Jack calls the starry-eyed Ally onstage to sing a song they have never rehearsed, to heartwarming effect. Everything curdles after that. Jack’s descent into drugs and alcohol made no emotional sense to me, let alone his suicide after a seemingly successful stint in rehab. And Ally’s looks and songs lose their authenticity, and her final memorial to her husband’s memory is totally forgettable. OK, so maybe A Star Is Born is not meant to be a feel-good movie. Somehow the depressing turn doesn’t jibe, however, with all the closeups of our glamorous stars.

Fahrenheit 11/9 – 7

Michael Moore has packed four movies, four movies, four movies-in-one, at least! There’s Hillary’s defeat; Flint’s water crisis; the Parkland school shooting; and Trump’s neo-Fascism, at least two of which pick up on earlier Moore films. There’s a ray of hope in the person of four emerging radical candidates for Congress and the West Virginia teachers’ strike, balanced by a discussion with a Yale history professor cautioning that our democracy is not a given. As a coherent movie, this doesn’t score very high, but as a collection of clips that make you alternately sad and outraged, it does the job.

The Sisters Brothers – 5

What a strange movie! The rambling plot could best be described as, A Day in the Life of Two Cold-blooded Gunslingers, c. 1851, Who Happened to be Brothers, Although You Wouldn’t Have Guessed It. The main narrative, the pursuit of an alchemist named Herman, petered out two-thirds of the way; then the climactic High Noon showdown evaporated completely when the target died prematurely of natural causes. What we were left with were some beautiful scenes of the (Spanish) West, some unresolved subplots involving horses and girlfriends, and an unconvincing relationship between the Sisters brothers: hard-as-nail Joaquin Phoenix and soft-as-butter John C. Reilly, neither terribly smart but both apparently impervious to gunfire. When there are three people in the theater, including two of us, at the 8 pm show, you wonder how and why a film like this gets made.