Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice
I sat through this documentary transfixed. Linda Ronstadt IS the voice. She took that voice successfully across musical genres; pretty much any genre she chose. There was rock, country, R&B, folk, opera (“The Pirates of Penzance”), songs described as “standards” arranged by Nelson Riddle, and Mexican classics (to celebrate her heritage) – the last a measure of her determination to diversify and challenge herself. Her 1987 album “Canciones De Mi Padre” stands to this day as the best selling non-English language musical album in America.
The film pays homage to Linda from any number of sources – producers, record moguls, music critics, songwriters (Linda did not write, but elevated the work of others), contemporaries (Dolly Parton, Emmy Lou Harris, Don Henley) – and portrays her just as we saw her throughout her career; the consummate professional, a feminist, albeit unassuming and unspoiled by her success.
Linda in the preceding at the peak her fame. She is 73 years old now and retired from performing 10 years ago. She has Parkinson’s Disease and suffers only for not being able to sing. You will sit through this film with smiles, laughter and tears, and above all you will hear that voice. There are none like it. Below: Linda as she appeared in this year on “CBS Sunday Morning.” Grateful for a life well-lived.
Rotten Tomatoes gave this film an 87 (critic’s score) and 99 (audience score). The New York Times critic, A.O. Scott, said of the film (and of Linda), “The political intelligence and matter-of-fact feminism that emerge in this portrait are among its most intriguing aspects. Her clear-eyed, down-to-earth thoughts on her profession, her family and American culture (musical and otherwise) make her someone you want to know better.” Yes, you would.
Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood
A Quentin Tarantino movie will guarantee at least two things; it will be violent, and it will endure in your thinking. Recall “Reservoir Dogs” (violence), “Pulp Fiction” (remarkably non-linear, violent, and not without humour), “Kill Bill” (Volumes I and II) and one of my favourites, “Inglourious Bastards.” All this from a guy, who, in his early years, spent five of them working in a video store.
“Once Upon a Time” takes you in directions you cannot predict: A complicated plot that provides a completely different (and completely satisfying) spin on the Manson murders, as fact gives way to fiction. The Guardian reviewer wrote, “And then we get the finale, a piece of bloody mayhem which leads to a bizarre denouement which might well have you replaying the entire film in your head. It’s entirely outrageous, disorientating, irresponsible, and also brilliant.”
You will sit through this with a newly found appreciation for pit bulls and flame-throwers. Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio are the stars, with Pitt the more appealing of the two (his appeal with the ladies enhanced as he removes his shirt to repair a TV antenna. As an aside, my grandchildren have no idea what a TV antenna is). There are some fascinating bits and pieces: An eerie visit by Pitt’s character to the Charles Manson compound that causes you to want to cry out, “get the hell out of there!” Then a nice scene between DiCaprio and a young actress (played by Julia Butters) that goes deep for both him and the audience. And another great scene where Pitt’s character takes on Jackie Chan. Poor Jackie. I had to see this movie twice.
I am a fan. Sunday nights, when not blessed with Sunday Night Football, were usually devoted to “Downton Abbey” on Masterpiece Theatre. Having missed a few episodes over six seasons, I went out and bought the DVD set. And now we have the movie.
The reviews have been mixed. The NY Times reviewer wrote, “Viewers who have faithfully followed the genteel tribulations of the Crawley clan for six seasons of glittering television will need no encouragement from me to re-immerse themselves in the show’s warm bath of privilege. Those who prefer their ablutions minus the scum of entitlement can safely give this big-screen special a miss.” Perhaps a little too harsh, and certainly not very Republican. But it is the NY Times.
The Roger Ebert reviewer gave the film three and a half stars out of four and wrote that, “The star rating at the top of this review is not for people who don’t like “Downton Abbey,” have never seen it, or grew tired of watching it long before it finished its six-season run.” I agree with the star rating, along with the millions who have now seen the movie. I would see this again just to have the pleasure of watching Maggie Smith in action. Here is Dame Maggie (as Violet Crawley) in the following photo enjoying repartee with Penelope Wilton (as Isobel Merton). With her crisp way of delivering dialogue, she takes sarcasm to new heights. “Downton Abbey” the movie is worth your time, if you are at the very least a romantic, if you love happy endings, and if you think it is acceptable having the people living in your basement see to your every need. Oh, and if you are a fan.
“Judy” has had generally positive reviews. Rotten Tomatoes rated it 86% for audiences and 83% among critics. I regret to say I sat through this thing hoping it would end prematurely. I didn’t dare leave my seat early however, for two reasons: I thought the film might get better; and it was pretty obvious to me that I was the only male in the small theatre audience and I didn’t want to be jeered. I was more concerned about the latter.
I have a lot of admiration for Renee Zellweger (above), she of “Chicago” and “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” and at the outset, I thought, “what a brilliant choice for playing Judy Garland!” But after an hour or so of having Renee, with lips pursed and eyes in a perpetual squint (as I thought only Alec Baldwin could manage), I had had enough. A Judy Garland biopic could have been so much more: More of the early years as a youthful vaudevillian, more of the Andy Hardy years, more of her rapid descent from innocence, more about what a terrific actress she was (“A Star is Born,” “Judgement at Nuremberg”) and less about the final weeks of her life. I will remember Judy Garland for “The Wizard of Oz,” and not at all for “Judy.”
Todd Phillips directed “The Hangover” and its two sequels, “Old School,” ‘Starsky and Hutch,” and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for “Borat.” He is credited with producing, writing and directing “Joker,” which debuted in theatres in October. “Joker” came with some fanfare, as it won the Golden Lion (the highest award) at the Venice International Film Festival. Many outside of Italy, and Venice in particular, wonder why. The NY Times critic, A.O. Scott, wrote, “Are you kidding me?” The Guardian headlined “Joker” as “The most disappointing film of the year.” I tend to agree with the critics at the Times and the Guardian. I have to admit to liking “The Hangover” and even “Starsky and Hutch.” And loved “Borat.” But Mr. Phillips comes up short on this one. Or maybe it’s overkill. Subtlety is not his forte. Social and economic inequities, lack and loss of civility, the refusal to deal with those suffering from mental illness – are themes that have been dealt with more successfully elsewhere.
I believe Jaoquin Phoenix is a brilliant, albeit intense actor, but a little Jaoquin goes a long way (in much the same fashion as Renee Zellweger squinted her way through “Judy”). Hard to recommend this one, although Joaquin showed some nifty dance moves.
The Kominsky Method
Now in its second season on Netflix, “The Kominsky Method” features Michael Douglas and Alan Arkin as septuagenarian best friends; Douglas’ character (Sandy Kominsky), a former actor now running an acting school, and Arkin’s character (Norman Newlander), Sandy’s agent, and a recent widow, in what seems like constant (and often witty) conversation with each other. Those are the gents above, all dressed up for the 2018 Golden Globe Awards, for which Michael Douglas won the Globe for Best Actor in a Television Series Musical or Comedy. I would have chosen Arkin, who has “droll” down to perfection. But no matter, “The Kominsky Method” is fun to watch. The fun is enhanced by a great supporting cast (Sarah Baker for one), and a parade of character actors. Danny DeVito plays Sandy’s urologist; Nancy Travis is Sandy’s love interest; Jane Seymour as the new woman in Norman’s life; Lisa Edelstein (from “House”) as Norman’s daughter, in and out of rehab; and in a great casting move, Kathleen Turner as Sandy’s ex-wife (who can forget Douglas and Turner (Kathleen below) in “Romancing the Stone?”).
As I was leaving the theatre after watching “Jojo Rabbit,” I asked two elderly ladies walking alongside me whether they liked the movie. Their answer, in unison, “Yes!” I agreed with them, but added, that as much I enjoyed “Jojo Rabbit” I might find it difficult to recommend. They nodded their agreement, while I am sure they were thinking, “Wasn’t it nice of that young man to ask?”
Taiki Waititi directed “Jojo Rabbit,” following on his efforts directing “Thor: Ragnarok” and “The Hunt for the Wilderpeople.” I truly enjoyed the latter, but have not seen the former, which was a tremendous box office success.
“Jojo Rabbit” has been described as an anti-hate satire, offering a balance between fantasy and drama. The movie is set in a small town in Germany during the last days of the Second World War. Johannes (“Jojo’) is a ten year Nazi zealot with an imaginary friend (Adolf Hitler as played by the director himself), and whose mother (Scarlett Johansson), a fervent anti-Nazi, is harbouring a young Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie as Elsa) in an attic space. It is when “Jojo” discovers Elsa that the movie takes off.
The reviews for “Jojo Rabbit” are generally positive, yet seem cautious considering the subject matter.
Time magazine’s reviewer had this comment: “Even though filmmakers as revered as Charlie Chaplin and Ernst Lubitsch have made movies that lampoon the Nazis and their one-note obsessions, Holocaust humor is still a delicate proposition. Laughter may be one of humankind’s best survival mechanisms, but jokes about Hitler and those who did his bidding aren’t an easy sell–their crimes are too inhumane to allow for laughs.” The review went on to write, “It’s Waititi’s ability to balance unassailably goofy moments with an acknowledgment of real-life horrors that makes the movie exceptional.”
The critic Richard Roeper wrote that the movie “draws upon the past to make salient points about the state of the world today, with Waititi urging us (sometimes in not so subtle ways) to pay attention to history, to learn from it, to strive to be better. Hardly a new message, but still one well worth delivering.”
Roman Griffin Davis portrays “Jojo,” and plays him well. And yes, I would urge you to see “Jojo Rabbit.”