Wrinkle in time

‘A Wrinkle in Time’ – a super-sized Oprah in disappointing touchy-feely movie

Let’s blame Oprah. She gets blamed for so much else, so why not?

The beloved icon arrives in “A Wrinkle in Time” bigger than life and twice as unnatural.  She’s got gold-beaded eyebrows and is dressed in what might be called The-Jetsons-Meets-Game-of-Thrones chic. And she is big — tall as a house, with an imperious (yet down-to-earth and kind-hearted) manner that suggests, well, Super-Sized Oprah.

The Party

‘The Party’ – an eccentric, stage-bound movie in black-and-white

Noel Coward, who famously enjoyed parties where a guest “got blind on Dubonet and Gin and scratched her veneer with a Cartier pin,” would find “The Party” right up his alley. 

For the rest of us, well, it’s hardly difficult to find something to enjoy about a movie that offers Kristin Scott Thomas, Patricia Clarkson, Bruno Ganz, Emily Mortimer, Cillian Murphy, Cherry Jones and Timothy Spall.

Say it loud: Marvel’s brilliant “Black Panther” is more than just another superhero movie

Children need heroes to emulate, in real-life and in the world of make-believe. As a kid, l always admired my heroically hard-working parents but I also desperately wanted to be like Superman, the superhero I watched on TV. Although I looked nothing like the lily-white Man of Steel, that didn’t stop me from “flying” around the house with a red bath towel knotted around my neck, scrawny arms outstretched, ready to fight for truth, justice and the American Way.

Now, more than 50 years later, the groundbreaking release of Marvel’s “Black Panther” movie represents a game-changing social phenomenon for a generation of young people — especially young African-Americans — whose mythology and identity will likely be shaped by a fictional hero who’s more relevant and revolutionary than Superman ever was, or could be.


‘The 15:17 to Paris’ – Clint Eastwood turns great story into mediocre movie

Like its protagonists, “The 15:17 to Paris” is amiable, low-key and kind of aimless.

You may not remember Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler and Alek Skarlatos by name, but you probably remember their real-life 15 minutes of well-earned fame.

One hot August day in 2015, the three friends were traveling by train from Amsterdam to Paris. So was Ayoub El Khazzani, armed with an AK-47, a pistol, a box cutter and 300 rounds of ammunition.

Phantom Thread

‘Phantom Thread’ – Daniel Day Lewis in his last ‘fussy and mysterious’ role

With “Phantom Thread,” Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Thomas Anderson have made precisely the movie they wanted to make.

This is not as easy as it may sound. The variables, in a performance or an entire film, are immense and notably intractable.  The sort of icy control evinced in “Phantom Thread” calls to mind that other master of sub-zero cinema, Stanley Kubrick.

Molly's Game

‘Molly’s Game’ – in poker talk – movie is a royal straight flush

When everyone talks about movies with good roles for women, “Molly’s Game” is precisely the sort of movie they’re talking about. Brash, clever and bristling with sexy insider jargon, the film offers Jessica Chastain the kind of showcase most actors would kill for.

And she’s killer in the part.

Chastain plays Molly Bloom — no, not the Molly Bloom from James Joyce’s “Ulysses”  — but a real-life person. In fact, this Molly isn’t even Irish. She’s Russian Jewish, which comes in handy when she decides to poach some players from the highest-stakes poker game in New York, a legendary Brooklyn-based operation run by the Russian Mob.

Three billboards

‘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

‘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.

Man who Invented Christmas

‘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

‘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 Marsten

‘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.

Brad's Status

‘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

‘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.