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BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY
"It Isn't Just The Wind That Blows Here"
1 stars
Peter Sobczynski says... "With his raw and undeniable charisma, his unabashedly sexual presence, his ability to command the attention and focus of anywhere he stood, from a recording studio to the stage of the mammoth Live Aid concert, and, of course, that knockout voice that filled arenas throughout the world with a series of raucous anthems that continue to be played and celebrated decades after they were recorded, Freddie Mercury, the late lead singer of the hugely popular rock band Queen was, even by the oftentimes outlandish world of contemporary music, a performer who could legitimately be considered one of a kind. For anyone trying to put together a biopic centered around Mercury, that leads to the inevitable problem of trying to find someone capable of perfectly emulating all of those aspects that made Mercury stand out amongst his peers while at the same time delivering a convincing dramatic performance. This is no doubt the reason why “Bohemian Rhapsody” took so long to get made—there are precious few actors out there who would even seem to qualify for consideration (I have always thought that the only ideal person would have been the “Rocky Horror”-era Tim Curry) and the ones that might have been able to pull it off—Sacha Baron Cohen reportedly flirted with the part for a while—presumably bailed because of the extremely high risk of failure." (more)
NUTCRACKER AND THE FOUR REALMS, THE
"Don't Try So Hard"
1 stars
Peter Sobczynski says... "Over the years of my existence, I have seen more permutations of the holiday favorite “The Nutcracker,” ranging from readings of the original E.T.A. Hoffmann short story “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” to several live productions of the ballet adaptation staged by legendary choreographer Ruth Page to more film versions than I care to recall, including a clinically insane 2010 take that somehow managed to work Nazis, Albert Einstein (played by Nathan Lane, no less) and the augmentation of Tchaikovsky’s legendary music with lyrics by the slightly less immortal Tim Rice and then presented it in exceptionally ugly 3-D to boot. I must confess that I have never particularly cared for the story, regardless of the format—my favorite version is probably the one they did on “SCTV” in which they used it as a framework to skewer the increasingly hacky stylings of a certain comedic genius in an elaborate film parody entitled “Neil Simon’s Nutcracker Suite”—but I have seen enough of them to tell when one isn’t working for me just because of my general antipathy towards the material (such as the Ruth Page productions, which I dutifully attended as family events because my younger brother, perhaps inevitably, adored it) and when one is working because it is just bad. Until now, I would have named that aforementioned version that included Nazis and Einstein (and which also included John Turturro as the Mouse King, as I recall) as the impossible-to-beat nadir but now that I have seen “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms,” I have to admit that we have a new winner for that deeply dubious title. At least with the one with Einstein, it was of such a screw-loose what-could-they-have-been-thinking? badness that it compelled you to watch, if only to see how much more frothing mad it could get. This one, on the other hand, is such a misshapen lump of ham-fisted “fun” that the mere act of sitting through it becomes actively painful after a while—imagine having a three-ton gumdrop sitting on your lap for 90-odd minutes and you can only begin to fully conjure the horror that this movie inspires." (more)
SUSPIRIA (2018)
"Dance Girl Dance"
4 stars
Peter Sobczynski says... "Even at a time when it seems as if every horror movie with an even vaguely recognizable name has either gone through the remake process or has one waiting in the wings, the announcement that Dario Argento’s 1977 masterpiece “Suspiria” was going to be getting one was so wildly absurd on every possible level that the news raised more eyebrows than ire among genre buffs. More of a cinematic fever dream than a coherent narrative, the film had a basic story idea—an American ballet student travels off to study at a remote dance academy in Germany that turns out to be the cover for a coven of witches—that it used as a simple laundry line from which to dangle a number of elaborately staged and extravagantly gory set pieces in which unspeakable things happen to the characters. The genius of the film—and I do not use the word “genius” lightly in this context—is that, with its lurid visual style, the throbbing musical score by Goblin and grisly tableaus that suggested the works of Thomas de Quincey as adapted by Sam Peckinpah, Argento created a fever dream of a film that was impossible to watch passively—you truly felt all of the shocks along with the characters and when it was all over, you probably could not explain most of what you had just seen (such as why a ballet school would have a room filled with nothing but barbed wire) but you knew that you had just gone through a true cinematic experience that you would be hard-pressed to forget anytime soon." (more)
SISTERS BROTHERS, THE
"Sounds silly, but unfortunately isn't."
3 stars
Jay Seaver says... ""The Sisters Brothers" is not even a quarter as playful as you might expect it to be from its title, but at times it seems like it's trying to be, a set of eccentric characters guided by a script whose every attempt to be darkly comic only winds up making everything more sad. But even taking that as the filmmakers' true intent or a beneficial side-effect, perhaps the most unfortunate thing to happen is that it's not even a powerful, affecting sadness very often." (more)
SHOPLIFTERS
"Walks away with more than you might expect."
4 stars
Jay Seaver says... "After last year's experiment in telling a more conventional, plot-oriented story, Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda hs returned to the sort of decentralized look at an unusual or makeshift family that has long been his forte, and once again he's clearly at home telling a story this way. It's a specific sort of boutique-house dish that he makes better than most, and maybe not quite so abstract as it looks." (more)
RAFIKI
"A much-told story from a different place."
4 stars
Jay Seaver says... "We need more films from Africa hitting American screens in general, and not just because it's the corner of the world that often seems least represented. The poppy colors, general attitude, and rhythms of the language on display in this movie are like nowhere else, and even those of us without much personal connection to Kenya richer for experiencing them, and it being a fairly charming little story about two Nairobi girls in love doesn't hurt at all." (more)
HALLOWEEN (2018)
"A fine revisiting."
5 stars
Rob Gonsalves says... "Funny how the new "Halloween" seems to unfold in a present trapped in the past." (more)
COLD WAR (2018)
"Quite good, but too one-sided."
4 stars
Jay Seaver says... "Pawel Pawlikowski's "Cold War" is not quite so good as his previous film "Ida", perhaps because it often seems so ambivalent rather than focused, even as a grand love story. Everyone goes back and forth, alternately toward and away from their goals, creating their own obstacles despite positioning the conflict as what's between them. There's tragedy in that, the sort that even those who don't have as complicated a relationship with a nation and its repressive government as the person they love can attest to, though not always the most cinematic drama." (more)
CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?
"Love Letters"
4 stars
Peter Sobczynski says... "“Can You Ever Forgive Me?” is a film that recounts the real-life misadventures (and occasional felonies) of a woman who was so prickly, so off-putting and so brazenly anti-social that if you wound up standing in line next to her while waiting to get coffee, you would not only flee the premises long before your order was called, you would probably vow right then and there to never drink the stuff again so as to prevent the possibility of that ever happening again. Considering how aggressive contemporary American movies are these days in making sure that the main characters are as “likable” as can be, even when such an approach is inappropriate at best (even “Gotti” tried to position the real-life organized crime kingpin at its center as just a regular neighborhood guy who occasionally had to whack people, most of whom deserved it), that is a positively radical approach for one to take these days. Instead of trying to create a false sense of sympathy, this inventive and highly entertaining biopic is more concerned with presenting its central character as is, warts and all, and then trying to get viewers to empathize with her and her frequently poor choices and gradually understand, if not excuse, what drives her to such behavior in the first place. Aided in large part by a first-rate performance by Melissa McCarthy that is arguably her finest work to date, the film does just that and the result is an uncommonly fascinating character study of the kind of person that most people pray that they never come into contact with under any circumstances." (more)
BORDER
"Strange and terrific."
5 stars
Jay Seaver says... "Based upon a short story from the writer of "Let the Right One In" and adapted by the filmmakers behind "Shelley", "Border" certainly has the pedigree to be fine art-house horror, though that's no guarantee - hitting the right balance of myth and metaphor is tricky business. Happily, this one is genuinely peculiar from the start and reveals more intriguing, resonant depths even as it builds its mythology in detail." (more)

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