-Reviews of Victoria & Abdul, Marshall, Only the Brave, Thank You For Your Service, The Snowman, and Suburbicon
VICTORIA & ABDUL
Director: Stephen Frears (The Queen, Philomena, The Grifters, High Fidelity, Dirty Pretty Things, Prick Up Your Ears, Florence Foster Jenkins, Dangerous Liaisons)
Starring: Judi Dench, Ali Fazal, Eddie Izzard, Tim Pigott-Smith, and Adeel Akhtar
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 66%
Stephen Frears has had a late-career resurgence with these friendly, pseudo-political movies that look like they belong on the BBC network. He follows up a few hits in a row in The Queen, Philomena, and Florence Foster Jenkins with this movie, Victoria & Abdul, a story about Queen Victoria of England who befriends an Indian servant in her old age, learning about the Muslim religion and growing more and more open-minded as her immediate political circle begins to question her grip on reality.
A friendly script, accented by strolls through old English architecture and a budding friendship make this movie the screen equivalent of a warm cup of tea in the afternoon. Judi Dench, after picking up a Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild nomination for Best Actress, shows again that she only gets better with age, and her servant Abdul, played by Ali Fazal, is a revelation in a charismatic and charming companion. It’s a story worth telling about being open to all types of culture, and pokes fun at the classical stuffiness most biopics relish in. There isn’t a ton to latch onto, and it isn’t the most exciting movie, but I found it to be breezy and enjoyable.
Director: Reginald Hudlin (House Party, Boomerang, The Ladies Man)
Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Josh Gad, Sterling K. Brown, Kate Hudson, and James Cromwell
with: Dan Stevens, Keesha Sharp, and John Magaro
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 83%
Leave it to the law student to skip the movie about the rise of Thurgood Marshall when it was in theaters, but I just never got around to seeing this one until recently. This doesn’t tell the story about Marshall as a Supreme Court Justice, but rather about his stirring the pot as a young lawyer for the NAACP, traveling from state to state taking on cases and appealing defeats until it got the Supreme Court’s (and the media’s) attention. This specific case was a rape case, where a white woman (Hudson) accused her chauffeur Joseph Spell (Brown). While battling a biased Judge (Cromwell), a hungry prosecutor (Stevens), and the unsettled times, Marshall (Boseman) and his local-lawyer/partner (Gad) attempt to find justice for their client.
Chadwick Boseman definitely has a charisma and presence to him, and you can catch him in Black Panther this month as well. He plays Marshall with a zeal and intensity that underlies any motivated activist, but grounds it in a practiced delivery and polished line-reading. It helps that we also see his distance from his family and friends, traveling from place to place, always on the road for his cases. These details make him more understandable. He brings the most out of Josh Gad as a dramatic actor as well, and makes him fairly watchable.
It helps to have accomplished supporting actors behind the leads like a James Cromwell, Dan Stevens, Kate Hudson, or Sterling K. Brown, but the courtroom scenes always make or break films like these. While the drama is always felt outside the courtroom, director Reginald Hudlin decided to make the courtroom scenes a bit lighter and more entertaining to keep the audience engaged. Although it’s not super realistic, I appreciated the frenzied pace to the in-court scenes, juxtaposed with the well-acted drama outside of it. This is a movie partially about civil rights, but partially about a great man who pushed the boundaries effectively, and is worth watching.
Director: Tomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy)
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Val Kilmer, and JK Simmons
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 7%
Skip this one. The plot makes very little sense. It’s contrived, poorly paced, boring, and immensely full of itself.
Yes, I know the trailers made this movie look like it was going to be one of the year’s best and most suspenseful thrillers, but it was massively mis-marketed. This movie was a huge, pretentious let down. The 7% is warranted. Yikes.
This and The Dark Tower can compete for worst films of the year.
Director: George Clooney (Good Night & Good Luck, The Ides of March, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind)
Starring: Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, Noah Jupe, Glenn Fleshler, and Oscar Isaac
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 28%
George Clooney has had some serious success as a director (The Ides of March is a good political thriller and Good Night & Good Luck is also really, really good), but he misses the mark with this attempted Coen Brothers rip-off. He takes the tone of the Coens’ better films like Fargo, Burn After Reading, etc., and plugs it into a piecemeal story that can’t decide what it wants to be about. On one hand, it wants to talk about the horrors of close-knit suburban communities, where racial tensions begin to flare. On the other hand, it wants to tell the story of an in-family struggle with sabotage, life insurance, an unexpected death, and a totally foreseeable affair. There’re two Julianne Moores in this film, what did you expect?
It marks the second straight miss by Matt Damon in a leading role, and although I did like this a little better than Downsizing, I worry if Matt Damon is starting to rest on his laurels a little bit. He’s just so damn boring. While the film can’t decide what story it wants to tell, however, there are some moments of competence that make this a fun movie to watch, even if it never quite comes together.
I wouldn’t recommend this film to anyone for objective value, but the incessant pulpiness of Julianne Moore’s character is fun, and the dark-comedy tone is appreciated in a year where a Coen movie didn’t come out. It can be your place-holder in between Hail Caesar and whatever they do next year.
Also, the insurance claim investigator scene with Oscar Isaac sensing fraud is one of the most fun scenes in any movie from 2017. It’s a shame it was buried in this mess. It’s a hysterical ten minute diversion that really works.
ONLY THE BRAVE
Director: Joseph Kosinski (Tron:Legacy, Oblivion)
Starring: Josh Brolin, Jennifer Connelly, Miles Teller, James B. Dale, and Jeff Bridges
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 88%
This movie definitely has relevance not only to tell the true story of what happened to these firefighters, but also because of the fires that have been crushing California over the last year. We get a good cast, a good premise, and an often poorly-paced movie that could’ve been much better in different hands.
I’m not saying that the story told here, of the Granite Mountain Hotshots and their heroic behavior during a horrible fire that wrecked parts of Arizona, isn’t worth telling. I’m saying that director Joseph Kosinski in his team attempted to give us a story that gave enough of a backdrop about these characters to get us invested for the third act fight-the-fire. The problem was that I didn’t feel connected to these characters. Even though it’s well acted and the third act is plenty tense, I didn’t feel the stakes like I should have, and that really ruined the movie for me.
I would still give it a passing score due to the pristine visual effects, cinematography, and really solid performance from Josh Brolin as the lead. Brolin is always a sturdy presence, and his supporting characters are decent here, especially Jennifer Connelly as his wife Amanda and Miles Teller as the bad-boy turned hero. I just think it would’ve been a lot better if in the hands of a Peter Berg (see Lone Survivor, Deepwater Horizon, Patriot’s Day) to get the dramatic effect of the movie a little heightened. Most people liked this more than I did, however, so proceed with caution.
THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE
Director: Jason Hall (X)
Starring: Miles Teller, Haley Bennett, Beulah Koale, Joe Cole, and Amy Schumer
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 77%
Save the best for last: this is my favorite of the movies in this post. Thank You For Your Service is a sad, affecting, and brutal story about the effects of PTSD, the dearth of veteran’s benefits, and the people who have to endure it when returning home from combat. Miles Teller is fantastic here as Sgt. Adam Schumann, who commanded a dozen men and comes home to poverty, young children who barely know him, and being behind in a job market where he has no skills. He suffers from PTSD, as does his best friend and fellow soldier Tausolo Aieti (Beulah Koale), and they try to find their way in the world that left them behind.
Schumann’s only solace is in his supportive and patient wife Saskia (a really solid Haley Bennett), who encourages him to get help and figure out a path for himself. As the movie goes on, Schumann comes to grips with his own guilt for other members of the army he saw die, and also comes to grips with the fact that he may not have to go through his recovery entirely alone. Teller is the best he’s been since Whiplash in conveying this wide range of emotional states. He’s really good here.
The director Jason Hall had never been handed a feature before, but likely got this project due to his work on the American Sniper script, and he has another hit. I can’t wait to see his next project, especially if it lies outside of the war genre. (Also, yes, Amy Schumer makes an appearance as a widower. It’s entirely dramatic. I was surprised to see her in this movie.)
Overall, while I think you may really like Only the Brave because so many other people did, and that Victoria & Abdul and Marshall both have their benefits, I would say Thank You For Your Service is the best movie I’ve seen recently which I haven’t previously mentioned on the site.
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