Entries by Eleanor Ringel

‘The Shape of Water’ – flows with Guillermo del Toro’s ‘poetic’ style

It would be easy to joke around and say “The Shape of Water” is like “Mad Men” meets “The Creature From the Black Lagoon” with a “Dr. Strangelove” gloss.

But Guillermo del Toro’s sublime fairy tale romance/Cold War commentary is so much more than that. It’s an utter original and not really what we would expect from the director of such memorable fantasy-tinged horror films like “Pan’s Labyrinth” and “The Devil’s Backbone.”

‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri’ – movie written for Frances McDormand

There are still those of us old enough to remember the sequential side-of-the-road billboards for Burma Shave or South of the Border. They were pseudo-cheeky, pretty stupid and, well, impossible to ignore. Even if you were going 80 mph.

In “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) takes something of the same approach. She rents three peeling billboards on a deserted road and plasters her own very personal message across them. In order, they read: Raped While Dying; And Still No Arrests; How Come, Chief Willoughby?

‘Lady Bird’ – a smart coming-of-age movie well worth seeing

Not surprisingly, a movie written and directed by Greta Gerwig, based on her own experiences as a high school senior, is a lot like a Greta Gerwig performance. It sneaks up on you. It’s sly, a little sideways, grudgingly poignant in places, and uproariously funny when you least expect it, 

Granted, Gerwig’s not exactly a household name (like, say, a judge on “Dancing With the Stars.”) But you’ve seen her — mostly in well-received indie movies like “France Ha,” “Maggie’s Plan” and “Mistress America.” You may not like any or all of her films (I don’t), but her work is always interesting. And I mean interesting in a good way, not in that uncomfortable I-know-I-should –like-this-but-I-just-don’t way.

‘The Man Who Invented Christmas’ – a crowd-pleasing tale of Charles Dickens

Genial and inviting, “The Man Who Invented Christmas” has the same sort of old-fashioned appeal as Coca Cola’s iconic Santa Claus.

But this isn’t a story about Santa or the historical Saint Nicholas or even Clement Clark Moore, whose ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” filled our heads with sugar plums and eight tiny reindeer.

According to director Bharat Nalluri and writer Susan Coyne, the man who transformed Christmas from a minor holiday to a major phenomenon was none other than Charles Dickens.  And he did it by writing his immortal tale, “A Christmas Carol.”

‘Goodbye Christopher Robin’ – an ode-to-England piece that gets it right

Well, you may not “fwoe up” as Dorothy Parker so famously wrote in her book review of “The House at Pooh Corner.”

But you might come close.

Well-intentioned as it is, “Goodbye Christopher Robin” could put a Pooh Lover off Winnie-the-Pooh permanently.

A.A. Milne’s much-loved children’s books have been required bedtime reading for generations of children (and, let’s face it, many adults).  Written in the aftermath of World War I, the adventures of Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore, Tigger and, of course, Christopher Robin have as firm a place in classic literature as “Alice in Wonderland” or “Peter Pan.”

‘Professor Marston and the Wonder Women’ – good performances in ‘mish-mash’ movie

The mish-mash that is “Professor Marston and the Wonder Women” isn’t likely to take the wind out of the sales of this summer’s grrrl-power blockbuster 

In fact, it isn’t likely to do much of anything.

It’s an origin story. A true one, apparently. Sometime in the late ‘30s-early’40s, a Harvard psychologist named William Moulton Marston (Luke Evans) dreamed up the super-heroine best known for her star-spangled costume, her golden lasso and – most importantly for this picture’s purposes – her handcuffs.

‘Victoria & Abdul’ – Judi Dench ‘a wonder’ as Queen Victoria in UK-India cultural tale

The last time Judi Dench made this movie, it was with Billy Connolly and a Shetland pony.

This time, it’s with a limpid-eyed Indian.

Connolly and the pony worked better.

Taking place some years after “Mrs. Brown,” (Dench’s first foray as Queen Victoria), “Victoria & Abdul” cheekily claims to be “based on real events…mostly.”

Blade Runner 2049 – a visually stunning sequel of the 1982 classic

“Blade Runner 2049” is admirable and occasionally astonishing. But there is nothing in its entire 163 minutes that matches the gut-wrenching power of Rutger Hauer’s final speech in the original movie.

Ridley Scott’s sci-fi cult classic, “Blade Runner” was originally released in 1982 (since then, there have been one or two revised versions). It was set in the future (2019) in a rain-drenched world of neon and noise.  And human-like androids called replicants.

‘Brad’s Status’ – Ben Stiller movie is ‘worth a look’

Sometimes, you just have to see a Ben Stiller movie.

Mostly, because he just won’t stop making them.

But “Brad’s Status” is something of a surprise. And while it may not change your mind about Stiller, it could entice you into giving him another look. His movie is certainly worth a look.

The Brad of “Brad’s Status” runs a reasonably successful non-profit in Sacramento. Actually, given that he drives a BMW, “reasonably” is likely a low-ball estimate.

‘The Battle of Sexes’ explores Billie Jean King’s challenges – on and off the court

The so-called “battle of the sexes” tennis match, between women’s champ, Billie Jean King, and aging former men’s champ, Bobby Riggs, was an insulting stunt when it happened in 1973.

The movie “Battle of the Sexes.” starring Emma Stone as King and Steve Carell as Riggs, isn’t a stunt and it’s only mildly insulting. But it’s certainly a missed opportunity.

‘Mother!’ – strong female cast in a long, chaotic movie

Darren Aronofsky certainly needed to get something out of his system… and here it is.

What it is, exactly, I’m not sure.

“Mother!” (yes, the exclamation point is part of the title, like, say, “Oliver!”) takes place in a remote Victorian fixer-upper where Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) does most of the fixer-upping and her husband, Him (Javier Bardem), a world-famous poet, struggles with writer’s block.

‘Letters from Baghdad’ – how Gertrude Bell helped shape today’s Middle East

Gertrude Bell was the nasty woman of her era.

Her contemporaries  — among them, T.E. Lawrence and Winston Churchill — admired her. However, they also deemed her arrogant, rude and “not very likable.”

It’s likely you’ve never heard of Gertrude Bell  — something the absorbing documentary, “Letters From Baghdad” hopes to change. Born in England in 1868, she spent the last decade of the 19th century and the first quarter of the 20th criss-crossing the Middle East, getting to know the tribal factions and their power plays.

‘Ingrid Goes West’ – a trip to the selfie world via social media

“Ingrid Goes West” is “All About Eve” for the Instagram era.
 
That’s not exactly a compliment. Or necessarily a put-down.  It’s merely an observation, with a soupcon of social sting.
 
In the Oscar-winning “All About Eve,” a young actress named Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter) insinuates herself into the life of an established Broadway star, Margo Channing (Bette Davis). Eve’s intentions are not honorable.

‘Wind River’ dazzles as it comes from nowhere, heads for fame on video-on-demand

Just as he exploded genre expectations of drug-bust movies with “Sicario” and New West we-rob-banks flicks with “Hell or High Water,” Taylor Sheridan has turned the thriller/social comment film inside out. “Wind River” is the sort of picture nobody expects – and that’s what makes it so good.

‘Atomic Blond’ – a spy thriller featuring Charlize Theron as a M16 agent

How do you top playing Imperator Furiosa in 2015’s jaw-dropping “Mad Max: Fury Road?”
 
The answer is, you don’t.  But if you’re Charlize Theron, you give it one heckuva try.
 
In “Atomic Blonde,” Theron plays Lorraine Broughton, a MI6 agent (same level as James Bond).  The year is 1989 and the Berlin Wall is about to tumble. But before it does, she must retrieve a list of names that could compromise an entire network of agents, double agents, triple agents…you get the idea.