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DESTROYER: NICOLE KIDMAN GIVES HER ALL—FOR NAUGHT

I don’t know if Nicole Kidman would describe herself as a method actor, but her commitment to a role is nothing less than 100%. Destroyer is just the latest example, made notable by her physical transformation. The parched skin and hollow eyes that hide her natural beauty are just an external clue to the troubled person inside. The screenplay, by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, parcels out clues to her backstory in its own sweet time, which I found more frustrating than enlightening.  The discovery of a dead body leads LAPD officer Kidman to the (correct) conclusion that a heartless criminal she sent to prison years ago is back on the streets. Her strange behavior and solitary ways isolate her from her colleagues, so she…

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CAPERNAUM GOES STRAIGHT TO THE HEART

Small wonder that Nadine Labaki’s Capernaum won the Jury Prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and is now the official Oscar entry from Lebanon. We’ve seen stories about youngsters having to fend for themselves before. In this film, a boy who has been hardened by life on the streets of Beirut is suing his parents for bringing him into the world. If that sounds tough, it is. Zain, who’s about 12 years old (no one knows for sure), endures more than any kid should have to. Life at home is unbearable, and when his parents sell off his beloved 11-year-old sister to the landlord’s son to be his wife, he bolts.  Labaki’s camera follows the boy unobtrusively through a series of unfolding episodes. He…

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ON THE BASIS OF SEX: A CONVENTIONAL PORTRAIT OF RBG

On the Basis of Sex is a pretty good movie that has the distinction of being eclipsed by a recent documentary on the same subject: Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. This dramatization was sanctioned by Justice Ginsburg, in part because it was written by her nephew, Daniel Stiepleman, but that endorsement doesn’t deliver a fully satisfying film. Felicity Jones has taken considerable heat for her somewhat bland performance, and it’s not hard to think of other young actresses who might have risen to the challenge of portraying this remarkable woman. Jones isn’t bad but she doesn’t possess the inner fire that distinguishes the singular person she’s pretending to be.  Stiepleman opens the film in 1956, when Ginsburg entered Harvard Law School, already married and…

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VICE: HEIGHTENED REALITY FOR SATIRE’S SAKE

It isn’t difficult to recognize Vice as the work of the man who wrote and directed The Big Short, Adam McKay. This is McKay in dark-satire mode, a far cry from his collaborations with Will Ferrell. He presents us with an audacious look at the career of Dick Cheney, a carousing young man who drops out of Yale and only gets his act together when prodded by his sweetheart (and future wife), Lynne, well played by Amy Adams. We witness the evolution of his character and the hardening of his cynical outlook. This is a man who craves power; once he gets a taste of it, he wants more and more.  He makes important alliances with such high-profile players as Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell) and…

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FIVE NEW DISNEY BOOKS—AND MORE

MICKEY MOUSE: THE ULTIMATE HISTORY by J.B. Kaufman and David Gerstein, edited by Daniel Kothenschulte. (Taschen) This gigantic tome is hard to lift but easy to love. The authors set out to document all facets of Mickey Mouse’s 90-year career, from 1928 to the age of video games and streaming services. Being perfectionists, they have done a masterful job. There is a film-by-film entry for every one of Mickey’s 122 theatrical shorts accompanied by startlingly rare illustrations: story scripts, thumbnails, layouts, concept art, advertising and publicity campaigns and much, much more. Separate chapters deal with Mickey as king of merchandising, his foray into comic strips and then comic books, all around the globe. The sheer size (11.4×15.6”) and reproduction quality, on heavy coated paper, puts…

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MARY POPPINS: GOOD BUT LESS THAN PRACTICALLY PERFECT

I wish the Disney company would stop remaking and rehashing the gems in its vast library. Do we really need a live-action version of The Lion King? Did anyone ask for a sequel to Mary Poppins, one of the best-loved movies of all time? The answer, in both cases, is no. That said, I must admit that Mary Poppins Returns is pretty good. A sequel, not a remake, it does no disservice to the 1964 classic; in fact, it does everything imaginable to copy it. Movie newcomer Lin-Manuel Miranda is utterly charming as a lamp-lighter who invites us into the film’s stylized environment by singing a charming song, “(Underneath the) Lovely London Sky.” A great opening, bookended by an even better finale, “Nowhere to go but Up.” If the very…

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IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK

James Baldwin was eloquent and poetic; he was also a complex and frustrated man who expressed his feelings in both essays and works of fiction. Impassioned filmmaker Barry Jenkins, who won an Oscar for his breakthrough feature Moonlight, has translated Baldwin’s 1974 novel If Beale Street Could Talk for the screen with newcomers in the leading roles and scored a bull’s-eye. This is s a story of star-crossed lovers who began as childhood best friends but eventually realize they are soulmates. But fate, which seldom smiles on black characters in this period, deals them a terrible blow: Fonny is arrested for a crime he didn’t commit, and Tish discovers that she is carrying their baby. There are further complications, primarily from his judgmental family, but…

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