Sunday, June 30, 2019



Watching Yesterday is like listening to a famous singer forget the words: The artistry is still dazzling but there's something off. The hard edges of director Danny Boyle and the cloying sweetness of writer Richard Curtis are constantly clashing, so Yesterday feels unsettled and incomplete despite being enjoyably fulfilling.

Yesterday begins with a hint of Twilight Zone fantasy as a global power outage hits for exactly 12 minutes. When the power comes on, everything seem the same, except that no one remembers massive pop-culture icons like the Beatles and Coca-Cola. Then this wonderful fantasy set-up is almost completely forgotten.

Jack (Himesh Patel) is a typically struggling songwriter who plays pub gigs arranged by his erstwhile manager (Lily James), whose infatuation with him has long been ignored. When the lights go out, Jack is knocked down by a bus and wakes up with the chance to single-handedly become the Beatles by "writing" and recording their songs to an unsuspecting public.

The pure rom-com elements are played up and some of the most intriguing elements are barely addressed: What does a Beatles-less world look like? What would have happened to pop music? Pop culture? Jack's understandable "imposter syndrome" is little more than a plot device.

Then there's an emotional gut-punch toward the end of the film that captures everything that could have been ... and it's over far too soon. You go into Yesterday hoping for a revolution and leave mostly content to just let it be, sweet yet not quite satisfying.

Viewed June 29, 2019 -- AMC Universal City


Sunday, June 16, 2019



The new documentary 5B, by directors Dan Krauss and Paul Haggis, joins a short list (along with David Weissman and Bill Weber's We Were Here and David France's How to Survive a Plague) of essential films about the AIDS crisis.

It's been just over 20 years since anti-retroviral drugs turned a definitively deadly disease into a chronic, though often debilitating, illness. Memories are short. 5B is a sobering reminder of just how devastating the AIDS crisis was; it killed hundreds of thousands of people, and scarred the psyche of everyone, gay or straight, who lived through it.

The earliest days of AIDS were fraught with fear and paranoia the likes of which anyone born after 1985 can't comprehend. 5B recalls a group of nurses at San Francisco General Hospital who stood firm against AIDS in a simple yet radical way: By refusing to give in to the fear. The founders of the first hospital ward specifically created for AIDS patients, they made a point of touching, interacting with and caring deeply about people who had been discarded from society.

5B uses an astonishing array of contemporary film footage interspersed with new interviews with the nurses to create a deeply moving portrait of people with extraordinary empathy. Along with these vivid characters, the filmmakers even find a compelling "villain" (one who's not named Ronald Reagan, the easy fallback in AIDS documentaries) to assemble a beautiful movie whose story of prejudice and bigotry rings disturbingly true today.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019



There's something distinctly disturbing about Ma that goes beyond what's on screen. It's 2019 and we've got a youth-oriented horror film that suggest women over 40 all become shrill hags, dead-end waitresses or, worse, homicidal maniacs who never got past the worst moments of high school.

Ma offers up a dim view of humanity. It also manages to make an equally depressing (but possibly unintended) commentary on Hollywood's own attitude toward women of a certain age: Not one but two Oscar-winning supporting actresses, Octavia Spencer and Allison Janney, star in this blood-soaked horror film, and a third nominee, Juliette Lewis, is also one of the leads.

Spencer plays Sue Ann Ellington, a small-town veterinary assistant who has an unhealthy obsession with high-school kids, for whom she buys liquor before inviting them to her house to party it up. The kids don't ask questions or find it odd that a single woman wants them to get drunk in her basement. The movie slowly sets up the backstory for "Ma," and it's a credit to Spencer and Lewis, as well as the kids (particularly Diana Silvers from the infinitely superior Booksmart) that for a while they actually make it work.

The first hour builds interest, but Ma goes hopelessly off the rails in a ridiculously violent third act, when "Ma" starts to bear an uncomfortable resemblance to the "hagsploitation" flicks of the 1960s, in which aging, has-been actresses went crazy, because that's what audiences assumed happened to over-the-hill actresses. Have times changed so little?

Viewed June 11, 2019 -- ArcLight Sherman Oaks


Saturday, June 8, 2019

"Late Night"


Amazon Studios produced Late Night, and it's a movie that may play much better on TV than on the big screen, because at least on TV you can turn it off.  It's a toothless movie that exerts massive effort to be sweet and effervescent, like the character Mindy Kaling so frequently writes and plays -- which is exactly what she does here.

Maybe the origins of Late Night are Kaling's own experiences working in television, but they could also be in too many repeat viewings of The Devil Wears Prada. Late Night presents one of its two main characters, Emma Thompson's Katherine Newbury as a late-night TV talk-show-host version of Meryl Streep as Miranda Priestly, while Kaling herself co-stars as the eager, put-upon, endlessly harassed young outsider who thinks she can change things.

The trouble is, the screenplay won't commit to making Thompson's character vile, and Thompson isn't convincing as a talk-show host -- particularly one who is allegedly America's favorite. She's dull and humorless, and of her all-white-male writing staff men, only one (John Early) shows even glimmers of comedic ability.

Like Katherine Newbury, Late Night wants to be topical, prickly and cutting, but it's bland and choppy -- some scenes last just a couple of moments. Neither woman has much of a character to play, and Kaling's chipper appeal doesn't seem to run deeper than surface-level. There are a few jokes that land, but just a precious few, and that just isn't enough.

Viewed June 7, 2019 -- ArcLight Hollywood


Saturday, June 1, 2019



Rocketman is the reason we go to movies. It is a joyful, exhilarating, imaginative, captivating, moving, nostalgic success, a journey to a music-filled planet that revolves around the sun of Taron Egerton's spectacular central performance. Egerton has had leading roles in movies like Kingsman and Eddie the Eagle, but to watch Rocketman is to see him for the first time and to witness a star being born.

Last year's distressingly homophobic, disappointingly sanitized Bohemian Rhapsody got a mind-numbing number of accolades, and also had a substitute director named Dexter Fletcher, who quietly helped finish that film even while he was making this one. And this one is everything that one was not: It is bold, stylish, and within the confines of an R rating, frank and revealing.

What's most surprising (and moving) about this musical recounting of the life and times of Elton John is that it's so strongly rooted in a dimensionalized person: a talented boy named Reginald Dwight who heeds early advice, "You've got to kill the person you were born to be in order to become the person you want to be."

Enormously satisfying musical numbers -- overflowing with energetic dancing, kinetic camera work and real cinematic flair -- punctuate the story of John's rise from obscurity to global superstardom. Rocketman may play fast and loose with the facts, but never betrays the complexity and feeling in the story of a massive star who, in the end, wants nothing more than to figure out who he is.

Viewed June 1, 2019 -- AMC Burbank 16