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The Upside

In this remake of the French film Intouchables (2012), Phil (Bryan Cranston) is a millionaire who was in an accident that left him a quadriplegic. During his search for a caretaker, Dell (Kevin Hart) barges into an interview being overseen by Phil’s business manager Yvonne (Nicole Kidman); he really doesn’t want the job, he just needs a signature to prove he is looking for work. Phil decides to hire Dell, which is the beginning of their friendship. This is based on the true story of a friendship of two very different men with different backgrounds. The film is okay; the …

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Vice

This film explores Dick Cheney’s rise from his heavy partying and fighting days post-college to his tenure as vice president to President Bush. Actually, it is a film about Dick and Lynne Cheney – his wife seems to have played a significant role in his ascent to power. I had some misgivings on seeing the film – the last thing I wanted to watch was a story about Dick Cheney. I would have been happy to have him retired from my memory. The film overall is a bit of a mess. I found it rather tedious in places, and it …

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Destroyer

Nicole Kidman plays Erin Bell, an LA Police Department cop who was assigned to undercover to a gang in the California desert. Based on a true story, the assignment ended badly. The movie tells the story, mostly in flashback, of the assignment of her and Chris (played by Sebastian Stan) and its impact on Erin’s present-day life. The story is interesting, and is rather similar to other undercover stories, like Drugstore Cowboy. While I enjoyed the movie, I did not think it was great. The screenplay is very “loose” in that there are so many aspects of the story that …

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At Eternity’s Gate

Willem Dafoe plays Vincent Van Gogh in the later and more prolific years of his life. Julian Schnabel, who has brilliantly featured the lives of artists in previous films, does an amazing job of helping us to imagine what it would have been like to be inside the mind of Van Gogh during periods of his life that were incredibly dark and tormented. Dafoe gives a brilliant, award-worthy performance that may be the best of his career. He looks like van Gogh, and it is amazing to see the character that Dafoe commands through is eyes and facial expressions. Schnabel …

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The Green Book

Don Shirley (Mahershela Ali) was a brilliant pianist who headed the Don Shirley Trio. In 1961, he decides to take his band into the deep South and hires Tony Vallelonga (Viggo Mortenson), a bouncer, to drive him. Shirley had hoped that his concert tour would help change the racist practices. “Inspired by true events”, the movie tells the story of the friendship that develops between Shirley and Vallelonga. There has been a fair amount of controversy surrounding the film, given that the director admittedly did not consult with Shirley’s family to verify the events portrayed in the story (and the …

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Bohemian Rhapsody

Rami Malek stars as Freddie Mercury, lead singer of Queen. The film provides, through selected songs, the story of how the band became and retained its fame. Malek gives an incredibly strong and convincing performance as Mercury – at times, I sort of just felt like I was watching Mercury and not Malek performing Mercury. I enjoyed listening to the music and remembering again just how talented the band was. There were also scenes, especially those between Lucy Boynton, who played his life-long love Mary Austin, and those that showed Mercury’s loneliness, that were very powerful. I thought the film …

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Beautiful Boy

This film is based on memoirs of a father (David Sheff, who wrote Beautiful Boy) and son Nic Sheff (who wrote Tweak: Growing up on Methamphetamines). The film opens with David (played by Steve Carell) visiting with an expert on crystal meth addiction to try to understand what Nic (played by Timothee Chalamet). The rest of the film documents, using a lot of flashbacks, how the addiction affected Nic and his family. The film has its powerful moments, particularly when Nic and his father were together. Chalamet is amazing; he has such command of Nic’s character and can seem to …

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Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Melissa McCarthy gives a stunning performance as Lee Israel, who wrote biographies of famous females and, when her luck turned, she began forging personal letters from famous writers and actors. She becomes friends with Jack, a gay homeless man, who eventually becomes her accomplice. I really loved this film. I don’t know anything about Lee Israel, but McCarthy creates this really likeable, down-and-out, funny character who I believe could have been Lee Israel. Richard Grant, who plays Jack, is also excellent. They both do exceptional work alone and in scenes together – they create great chemistry. The script is well-written …

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Boy Erased

Based on a memoir, this is the story of 19-year-old Jared Eamons (played by Lucas Hedges) who spent time at Love in Action, a Christian-based gay conversion therapy camp. After being outed to his parents by an angry classmate, and rather than being rejected by his family, he chose to attend the camp. The film is the story of his experiences there and his relationship with his parents. I had rather mixed feelings about the film. The story is definitely compelling – these kinds of conversion camps are still legal in many states, and children under the age of 18 …

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First Man

This is a biopic about Neil Armstrong (played by Ryan Gosling) and the story of he became a member of the first mission to successfully land and walk on the moon. This was a very interesting choice for the director to film focus this journey on Armstrong, who is presented as a very moody, brilliant, and introverted pilot who had a natural instinct for calmly getting out of bad situations; that perspective is why the film works as well as it does and why it stands out among other astronaut films. The film isn’t perfect, but there are a number …

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