Leadership And Courage Are History in “Darkest Hour”

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Although the Winston Churchill portrayed by Gary Oldman in “Darkest Hour” is ten years younger than the Churchill played by John Lithgow in “The Crown” both give one cause to lament the current state of leadership and political courage.

“Hour” is set at a time when Churchill earned his stripes, as a wartime prime minister battling political enemies favoring compromise with the German’s while protecting Great Britain from actual enemies.

The story takes place over the handful of days when British troops are trapped between the ocean and the German army. “Dunkirk” told this story in macrocosm, “Hour” tells it in microcosm, from the home front, as a citizen armada is debated and created and show’s Churchill failure to  recruit an isolationist US to Britain’s cause.

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“Downsizing” Bigger Than Its High Concept Premise

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What sounds ludicrous about “Downsizing” is ludicrous.

But something bigger looms behind its high concept premise.

Its set in a near future where a scientific advancement allows people to be shrunk in size and live in a miniature ecosystem that resembles the larger world at a smaller scale, in order to save the dying planet. It is also potentially lucrative: if you are a thousand-aire in the regular world, you are a millionaire in the smaller one.

But people are not equal there either.

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All The Movie In The World

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In this season’s twist on “A Christmas Carol.” Tiny Tim is kidnapped and Scrooge refuses to pay his ransom. Call “All the Money In the World,” “It’s a Terrible Life,” with the feel bad character of the season.

Knowing that “The Last Jedi” is Carrie Fischer’s swan song subtly affects your perception of it in the same way knowing Christopher Plummer replaced Kevin Spacey after – do I call it “Money” or “World” on second reference? – was already completed.

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“Last Jedi” Adds New Stories To Familiar Mythology

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“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” begins with a joke that could have come from “Spaceballs.”

In it hot headed resistance fighter pilot Poe Dameron, a Han Solo type, trolls Domnhall Gleeson’s Colonel Hux, the imperious stooge in charge of the First Order fleet, in “can you hear me now” fashion that buys time to allow for something big to occur.

The Resistance achieves a Pyrrhic victory at great cost, that is part of a series of battle that they are losing. Carrie Fisher’s Leia is in charge of military maneuvers, and the late actress has a central role and a complete through line.

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Much Ado About Generic “Justice League”

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I’m  old enough to remember when the DC superhero amalgam “Justice League,”  was called Justice League of America, or JLA.

But perhaps to widen the appeal of the franchise to an international audience, it ditched the word “America.”

I wish I could say this latest entry in the DC Extended Universe makes the JLA great again, but it’s another visually dense, narratively generic slog from director Zack Snyder.

Like other DC-EU movies Snyder has directed (“Man of Steel,” “Batman V. Superman”) the self-serious “Justice League” is a storm before the calm affair. You don’t need a weatherman to know it will be dominated by bleak themes, murky visuals and bombastic action, despite hopes otherwise.

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“Lady Bird” A Bittersweet Mother-Daughter Tale

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Saoirise Ronan and Beanie Feldstein

“Lady Bird” is a mother-daughter story in the tough-love tradition of “Juno” and the bittersweet coming-of age story “Gregory’s Girl” by Scottish director (and romcom pioneer) Bill Forsyth.

The thing about kids is that when they learn to walk they begin walking away. Saoirise Ronan plays the title character, a senior at a Catholic high school taking her first defiantly wobbly steps toward becoming who she will be.

Spoiler alert: in real life she became Greta Gerwig, the actress-writer-director whose film is semi-autobiographical and has the sharply drawn details to prove it.

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Manufacturing Catholic Guilt In “Novitiate”

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It’s Roman Catholic week at the Oriental Theatre this week!

Say five Hail Marys.

Tomorrow I’ll discuss Greta Gerwig’s acclaimed “Lady Bird,” about a 17-year old girl at a Catholic high school.

But today’s topic is “Novitiate” an intimate and terrifying look at a cloistered community of nuns in 1964 and the young girls who want to become them. Its writer-director Maggie Betts, described as a “one time New York socialite and daughter of a Manhattan developer,” was named breakthrough director at the Sundance Film Festival, for this her first fictional narrative.

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Waititi Freshens “Thor: Ragnarok” With Quirky Humor

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“Thor: Ragnarok” is a buddy comedy brimming with one liners and offbeat characters and relationships whose mechanical narrative and generic visual design leaves something to be desired.

But the relationships between newly-shorn Thor, played Chris Hemsworth; Hulk and his alter-ego Bruce Banner, played by Mark Ruffalo; his trickster brother Loki, played by Tom Hiddleston; and a Valkyrie, played Tessa Thompson – are given appealing  top spin by director Taika Waititi.

Waititi, a New Zealander of Maori descent, is the first indigenous person to helm a superhero  film.

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Boseman Leaps Off The Screen. “Marshall” Doesn’t.

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In 1967 Thurgood Marshall became the first African-American Supreme Court Justice.

But for 25-years before that he was the chief litigator for the NAACP, arguing civil rights cases in courtrooms around the country. His most famous case was Brown v. Board of Education in which the high court agreed with his arguments that separate but equal arrangements in education were not equal at all. It was one of 29 out of 32 Supreme Court cases he argued and won.

But “Marshall” is about a more sensational,  lesser and little known 1940 case – albeit with life and death consequences – about a black chauffeur, played by Sterling K. Brown, accused of raping a white socialite in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

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Chris Smith’s Andy Kaufman Doc Comes To Netflix

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Milwaukee-based filmmaker Chris Smith’s new documentary will premiere on Netflix on Nov. 17.

The new film is about the making of the Andy Kaufman biopic “Man in the Moon” and actor Jim Carrey’s transformation into the volcanic character.

The full title is “Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond – Featuring A Very Special Contractually Obligated Appearance by Tony Clifton.”

“Jim & Andy” was created from hundreds of hours of unused footage from the 1999 film “Man In The Moon,” directed by Milos Forman. It was edited by Smith’s longtime collaborator and area native Barry Poltermann.

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