I've been a behind on my Capsule Reviews of a much of movies I've seen recently at the Writers Guild ('tis the season, after all), so here are four notable ones to get caught up.
I enjoyed A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. It’s well-done and filmed with charm. And man, what a career and persona Tom Hanks has had to play both Walt Disney and Mister Rogers. Just know that the story turns out not to be about Mister Rogers but the journalist, played by Matthew Rhys. Fred Rogers is more of a supporting character. It's "inspired by" an article in Esquire magazine, and I went to read it after the film. The article has zero to do with the plot of the movie which I’m guessing is entirely made up, including the story of the journalist. What’s from the article and used in the movie are the insights about Fred Rogers and details of his encounters with people that inform the film throughout with interesting, telling scenes. It's written by Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster, who I featured in last weekend's Third & Fairfax podcast from the WGA here.
Side note: There is a scene when Fred Rogers and the journalist have breakfast in a restaurant. At one point, there's a shot of an older, gray-haired woman looking at them. If you see the movie, know that that is Joanne Rogers, the real-life wife of Fred.
Bombshell is a very interesting film. It's the true story of several women at “Fox News” who helped bring down Roger Ailes (and also Bill O’Reilly). The movie is pretty straightforward, but is told in a bit of an off-beat way with characters occasionally turning to talk to the camera. It's written by Charles Randolph who wrote The Big Short and has a bit of the sensibility of that. Lots of excellent, small cameos playing Fox personalities and lawyers, which is also some of the fun of the film. It stars Charlize Theron as Megyn Kelly, Nicole Kidman as Gretchen Carlson and Margot Robbie – all very good, but especially Theron -- and John Lithgow who’s absolutely great as Roger Ailes. If enough Academy voters see it, I think he could get an Oscar supporting consideration.
Last Christmas is a charming holiday movie that stars Emilia Clarke (from Game of Thrones) and Henry Golding (from Crazy Rich Asians). Both are very good, but Clarke especially is absolutely adorable, but not in a treacly-sweet way, and believable with edges. Her character is full of ability, but a bit self-centered and is sort of stuck in her life as a result, until she crosses paths with Golding. It's written by Emma Thompson (who has a small role as Clarke's Eastern European mother), and directed by Paul Feig. The story is smart and funny, though it has a plot twist that I really don't buy. However, it's done with enough flair that I think most audience will be able to get past the low-believability. (And now, it's not a Santa Claus or elves thing.)
Ford vs. Ferrari is surprisingly extremely good, with three caveats. It tells the story of the Ford Motor Company's aggressive effort to develop a high-end car fast enough to beat Ferrari at the Le Mans 24-hour race in France, and move the company from being seen as just a safe, boxy, family car. Matt Damon plays racing legend and car designer Carroll Shelby, and Christain Bale is racer Ken Miles. They're both terrific, though the story is probably a bit more about Miles. (Fun Fact: you may recognize Carroll Shelby's name from his second career -- he became an award-winning chili cook, and packaged an excellent bag of make-at-home mixings. The film is written by Jaz Butterworth & John-Henry Butterworth and Jason Keller.
The first caveat is that the movie is ridiculously long. It's 2-1/2 hours. Mind you, it's not boring and always keeps your interest, so the length isn't a problem. It's just that it's...well, long. It's hard to explain why this is a caveat. The best I can do is that an hour in, I looked at my watch (not because it was feeling slow, in fact it had been very full and interesting) and thought, "Oh, God, there's still another hour-and-a-half to go." So, again, it's good and not boring, just that I think it's longer than, to me, it felt it had to be. The second caveat is plot related and so I won't tell you. But it's a couple hurdles the film is going to have to deal with. And the third caveat is about what drives the plot -- as much as you're interested in the two main characters and their struggle, I think it's going to be very hard for some people to build up a level of caring for the team to succeed because what sets this all in motion is that the awful, anti-Semitic, deep reactionary Henry Ford II felt insulted by Enzo Ferrari and so decides he wants to beat him. I just couldn't care -- most-especially for 2-1/2 hours -- if he develops a faster race car and wins. So, I tried as much as possible to block Henry Ford out (played very well by Tracy Letts) and focused on the other two who are worth the effort.
(Side Note: Tracy Letts is an actor from the Steppenwolf Theater Company in Chicago, and has been in a lot of film including as the father in Lady Bird, but he also writes -- extremely well, most notably winning the Pulitzer Prize for August: Osage County and the play Superior Donuts which was adapted into the TV sitcom.)
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Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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