Aquarela – 7.5

Extraordinary photography from around the world captured a dozen unrelated vignettes, except all had water, which isn’t much of a connection. The photography, augmented by the powerful, mostly dialogue-free soundtrack, forced you to think about, if not feel, The Power of Nature; The Crisis of Climate Change; and Man’s Insignificance. It was also, perhaps, the most plot-free movie I have ever experienced. Why, for example, was there a couple sailing a boat in stormy, icy waters?

Honeyland – 5.5

A rather bizarre quasi-documentary, in which we suspect nothing will ever happen, but then it does, but it isn’t much. There seemed something condescending about making a movie star of a poor Macedonian woman who kept bees and took care of an ailing mother, but maybe that is just me. Was the moral, even a simple life has setbacks and suffers from the greed of others? Or maybe there was no moral.

The Nightingale – 6

A return to the movies, particularly Westerns, of old, where the good guys are blameless and heroic, while the bad guys are evil incarnate, and the only mystery is how vengeance will be reeked. It’s not enough that the villain is a serial rapist; he also must be shown shooting innocent children and killing babies. The overkill includes a lot of killing as well as lack of subtlety and credibility; but the Lonesome Dove-like journey is appealing due to the novelty of time and place: 1825 Tasmania. The taste of someone else’s colonial history, together with fine acting by the heroine and her aborigine guide, made me overlook the paint-by-numbers aspect of the story.

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.