David Crosby: Remember My Name – 5

Why a biopic on David Crosby?, I wondered before I saw the movie, and 90 minutes later the question remained unanswered. Crosby’s life, as told here, is neither inspiring, entertaining, nor cautionary. His talent is obscured, the cause of his drug addiction unexplored, and the one overriding fact of his life – that everyone hates him – is unexplained. Yes, the film is warts-and-all honest, I suppose, but why should we care? Crosby is a footnote to Stills, Nash & Young, and I suppose McGuinn and Hillman, too. His music leaves me cold and he’s not much to look at or listen to.

Once Upon A Time…in Hollywood – 8

You are immediately in the hands of a master filmmaker and storyteller and are in for 2:40 of fun plus :05 of trademark Tarantino violence. The story is not much. The setting is pretty much everything: August 1969 in Hollywood, with tons of vintage cars, songs, marquees, famous people and those old metal ice trays with handles you pulled and cubes that came out fractured. There is approximately one interesting character: “Pussycat,” played by Margaret Qualley (Andie MacDowell’s daughter!). The bulk of acting is left to Tarantino regulars Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, together for the first time. As I find DiCaprio’s performances generally a parody of acting, he fits the “don’t-take-this-seriously” vibe of the film. By contrast, Pitt is surprisingly the solid one (compare this to Inglorious Basterds, where he came off as the goof in a serious movie) despite never changing his expression and is easy on the eyes. Margot Robbie is a nonentity, while the other cameos are nothing more than fun to spot. As I said, this is a time-and-place movie, an amusement park ride that’s fun while it lasts, but not much to think about the next day.

Wild Rose – 6

Perfectly pleasant, rather conventional character study of a would-be country singer who was too immature or irresponsible to be much of a mother. Since the dialogue was in Glaswegian English it was a bit like watching a foreign film without subtitles. I don’t think I missed much, though.

Yesterday – 7.9

Two hours of Lily James as the new generation’s Keira Knightley is reason enough to watch Yesterday. Then there is the music of the Beatles, never better, even though sung by Himesh Patel rather than John and Paul. And the cherry on top is Kate McKinnon, chewing scenery like it’s cotton candy. Nothing in the plot makes any sense – so this can’t be rated as a serious film – but once you accept the nonsense premise, the ride is totally enjoyable. One could do a term paper on “How Not to Be a Rock Star’s Parent” with examples now from Yesterday, Rocketman and Bohemian Rhapsody.

Late Night – 7.5

Emma Thompson is eminently watchable and typically impeccable as an imperious but fading late-night talk-show host, and the humor is practically non-stop and of my favorite variety: mocking frat-boy, white-male privilege. Having Paul Walter Hauser in the cast is a good start, and the film slips in a few substantive issues to consider along the way. On the downside, I didn’t need John Lithgow or his portrayal of Parkinson’s Disease. The cigarette scenes were wildly gratuitous (see Movie Butts). And I could have done without the manufactured happy ending – the entire last 20 minutes, in fact – topped off by Thompson’s year-later hairdo.

Booksmart – 3

Bookstupid is more like it. Every line tries hard to be funny, but very few are. The characters and situations are absurd, from the initial premise to every scene I saw before I walked out.

The Biggest Little Farm – 6.5

A sweet, family-friendly parable of doing well by doing good, as natural, organic farming methods restore barren earth and, fertilized by patience and love, make it bountiful. Coyotes a problem? Redirect them from your chickens – bad – to your gophers – good! Throw in a baleful-eyed dog and an Earth Mother pig and the story becomes even more personal (or anthropomorphic). If this movie were a fiction, I’d dismiss it as unbelievable. As it is, I couldn’t get over the logistical hurdles that simply disappear – starting with where the money is coming from (selling eggs only gets you so far) and then the time and manpower. The chronology also threw me for a loop, a la Rocketman. The nature photography is lovely (if a bit hokey), and who can’t appreciate the message and admire this couple for embarking on such a project and sharing it with us.

Gloria Bell – 7

Smartly edited small movie about not much: Gloria has a job, goes dancing, meets a guy, deals with her grown-up kids and her ex-husband; then things are resolved, in not terribly satisfactory or exciting fashion, and life goes on. The movie is all about Julianne Moore’s performance, which is fine, except she is much too pretty for the plain-Jane role. The music is good, especially the final, full-length rendition of Laura Branigan’s title song.

Rocketman – 6

Disappointing. There’s no attempt at rock history, as Elton John’s songs are shoehorned into the plot wherever a lyric suggests relevance, regardless of chronology. OK, so it’s a fantasy (a la Baz Luhrmann), not a biopic. But there’s not much of a plot, either; it’s a therapy session in which Elton relives his unhappy childhood, lack of love and addiction to drugs and alcohol. It would be nice if there were a cathartic denouement, in which rock’n’roll triumphs, Elton discovers himself and becomes a star. But no, he’s a star from the start; his performances seem more forced than euphoric; and the big finale number is “I’m Still Standing” – probably the 53rd best song in his catalogue. By that point, we are fully tired of the Busby Berkeley dance numbers, which are repetitive, uninventive and not always appropriate. Do we really need a choreographed dance sequence in the hospital following a suicide attempt? Taron Egerton’s singing is fine, but the songs carry surprisingly little emotional heft: I couldn’t help but compare how I felt hearing “Tiny Dancer” here, with semi-naked bodies gyrating a la Woodstock at Mama Cass’s Laurel Canyon retreat, to the scene on the touring bus in Almost Famous. I was never a fan of Queen, while I purchased four of Elton’s first five albums on release; but Rocketman can’t hold a candle, in the wind or otherwise, to Bohemian Rhapsody.

 

The Souvenir – 5; Photograph – 7.5

Both these movies, which we saw back-to-back one afternoon, are primarily about a relationship: a callow and sneakily beautiful young woman falls in love with an older, more experienced and perhaps inappropriate man. Except one relationship is toxic, while the other is sweet. Needless to say, the latter movie, Photograph, is the enjoyable one.

The Souvenir moved with the pace and misdirection of Last Year at Marienbad. Maybe there weren’t dream sequences or movies-within-the-movie, but I never knew for sure what was going on. All I knew for sure was that the male love interest, “Anthony,” was thoroughly despicable, on the surface and below. Yes, we know love may be blind, but we still won’t enjoy its making a fool of someone, in this case the wonderful Honor Swinton Byrne. Hearing he had died of an overdose was the only happy moment of the two-hour slog.

By contrast – restoring our faith in movie-going – Photograph was easy to follow, with a plot you’ve seen many times before. The film admits as much when, in the last scene, the lovers walk out in the middle of a movie and the man says he knows how the story ends, even though he hasn’t seen that particular film before. We are left to wonder whether this story, against all odds, will have that predictable happy ending, but ultimately we don’t care. We like the characters so much – they are both so thoughtful, with just the right amount of spunk and a palpable connection – that if this flirtation turns out to be just one bright, shining moment in otherwise humdrum lives we are grateful to have shared it with them. Even India, for the moment, doesn’t seem quite so grim.