Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris – 6

Call me stonehearted, but I wasn’t touched by Mrs. Harris or her story. The good guys were too sweet, the bad guys too ugly and nothing met the plausibility test. Individually, however, the characters were charming, especially Natasha, and the clothes were almost worth the price of admission.

Where the Crawdads Sing – 7

Much better than I expected.  The action takes place from 1953 to 1969, and the film feels like it. When was the last time we saw a hero as decent, sincere, handsome and blond as Tate? The story is just as implausible as it was in the book, but the imperfect crime at its climax is finessed more adroitly. The biggest plus of the film is David Strathairn’s performance as the Gregory Peck/Sam Waterson lawyer. In fact, echoes of To Kill A Mockingbird echo through the marsh. Daisy Edgar-Jones, in a hard role, is fine.

Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song – 7.8

The title acknowledges the film’s duality – one part about the man, the other about the song. The former is interesting but leaves the singer as inscrutable as he was going in: ladies’ man? Zen monk? fraud victim? poet? The story of the song is more satisfying, and the song is great. I wonder, however, if I wouldn’t have been happier listening to Jeff Buckley, or Brandi Carlile, or John Cage singing more of the alleged 160 verses than getting teased, time and again, with the same two. Talking heads were purposefully and tastefully integrated, and Cohen’s music, which generally defines “lugubrious,” comes off quite well.

Flux Gourmet – 3

An absurdist comedy about a “culinary collective” that was too far off the mainstream for me. One of those films where you feel the director has a cult of 17 followers, and you’re not one of them.

Nope – 3

I fear for the movies, when this is counted as the major release for the month, and the four trailers previewed are all for horror films that seemingly favor special effects over real people or situations. A thriller(?) depending upon an alien spaceship is especially hard to take seriously at the same time we are seeing images of the cosmos from the Webb telescope, but Daniel Kaluuya as a Hollywood horse wrangler didn’t make much sense from scene one. If there was a point to the movie, anywhere, I couldn’t find it. I liked the inflatable tube men, but that was about it.

The Gray Man – 2

How many people can you kill without any discernible justification or plausibility seems to be the calling card of this Netflix franchise-wannabe, featuring Ryan Gosling in the Bourne/Bond role and a slew of other actors who are either bad (e.g., Rege-Jean Page as Carmichael) or as cliched as the plot.

Official Competition – 8

Hilarious! Antonio Banderas steals the movie, as well as the movie-within-the-movie, in a master class of actors acting at acting–all very meta. A bewigged Penelope Cruz is perfection as a dominatrix director, and Argentinian actor Oscar Martinez holds his own against showboat performances from his Spanish co-stars. The plot is a stage for a string of laugh-out-loud jokes, each set up with care, that linger deliciously after the movie ends–or does it? The architecturally minimalist set was probably suggested by Covid filming, but it suits the purity of the satire.

Watcher – 7

A tight and satisfying little horror film. The bloody denouement doesn’t really make sense–this isn’t Hitchcock or Wait Until Dark–but the more realistic tension is in the marriage: how can the husband bring his bride to Bucharest, where she knows no one and doesn’t speak the language, and ignore her isolation? Santa Barbara-born Maika Monroe is in every scene and, helped by the score, conveys terror while looking pleasantly gorgeous.

Elvis – 4

A ridiculous cartoon version of Elvis Presley’s life that, amazingly, is neither fun to watch or listen to. The real Elvis was sexy, dangerous and larger than life; Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis is mild, pretty and vanilla, a seeming leftover from the cast of Beverly Hills 90210. Elvis’s stage presence and movements were electric; Austin Butler’s hip-wiggles and shimmies just look silly. Perhaps worst of all: with one of the greatest musical catalogues of all time presumably available, Luhrmann repeatedly trots out two of Elvis’s least melodic songs–That’s All Right, Mama and Hound Dog–and covers the credits with hip-hop! Instead of Don’t Be Cruel, Love Me Tender, Marie’s the Name, Don’t, I Want You, Need You, Love You, All Shook Up, I Can’t Help Falling in Love, etc., we are force-fed the odious character of Col. Tom Parker. Tom Hanks is hard to watch on a good day, but adding 100 pounds around his middle, eventually removing his hair and giving him a stupid, from-nowhere accent made me back off the picture every time he showed up–and for some reason Luhrmann has chosen to tell the story through Parker’s ugly eyes. In the end, this is more a horror film–The Grip of the Zombie–than a film that was either joyous or tragic about Elvis. As the NY Times reviewer noted: Elvis is as much a biopic as “Heartbreak Hotel” is a Yelp review.

 

Good Luck to You, Leo Grande – 6

A one-joke movie (if you can call it a “joke”) that proceeds slowly, in a direct line, without subplot or supporting cast (maybe a Covid project?). As adroit as Emma Thompson’s acting is, her character is scarcely believable, from premise to finish. If, on the other hand, you take this as a Disney fantasy, and look on “Nancy Stokes” as a flesh-and-blood version of Jasmine, or Ariel or Elsa (names I’m making up), then you might find this charming, especially, I think, if you’re a woman.