Friday, December 22, 2017

In-Flight Entertainment: Rapid Reviews for the Holidays

There were a lot of movies I didn't get to watch in theaters this year, but I recently spent 40 hours on planes to and from Singapore, which allowed for a lot of in-flight movie watching. Below are some quick-fire reviews of the films I saw, all of which are worth a viewing depending on your mood during the holiday season.

Logan Lucky: From director Steven Soderbergh, this is an excellent heist movie a la Ocean's Eleven, except set in the South, with a bunch of people trying to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway during one of the busiest days of the year. It's exceedingly clever, one of those films you'll probably end up watching a few times in order to understand all of the different nuances of the plan and how they coalesce to help our "heroes" steal piles of money. It also plays with stereotypes - you might start the movie thinking that these unlucky hillbillies don't stand a chance, but by the time you get to the end, you'll no longer have any doubts that they've planned this heist perfectly. Boasting an all-star cast of Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Riley Keough, and Daniel Craig (gleefully leaning into his Southern accent like there's no tomorrow), and including cameos from uber-famous actors that feel like a lot got left on the cutting room floor, this is a funny and engaging movie that will keep you guessing till the end.

Home Again: Few things in life are as guaranteed to provide cozy comfort as a Nancy Meyers film. Well now, her daughter, Hallie Meyers-Shyer, has taken over the family business, writing and directing this glorious movie about a forty-year-old divorcee with two young daughters, who unexpectedly finds herself sharing her house with three aspiring male filmmakers in their twenties. Starring the always stunning Reese Witherspoon, this movie delighted me for many reasons. First, it lets its uptight protagonist let her hair down and have some fun. Then, after the sexy times are over, it focuses on actual friendships, and how these three men start to bond with her and her children and create an odd but charming family unit. And finally, it ends on a marvelously ambiguous note that lets the woman be in charge of her own destiny. Unlike most traditional romantic comedies, you won't get a neat and tidy resolution here, but you will walk away feeling very warm and happy inside.

A Ghost Story: This is certainly the weirdest of the movies I watched, and I can't quite say I liked it. But if you're the kind of person who enjoys surreal indie fare, this is the film for you. This is the movie starring Casey Affleck under a bedsheet, once he dies and becomes a ghost. Yes, you read that right. He dies within the first fifteen minutes, and the rest of the movie consists of him wandering around in a bedsheet. His spirit is unable to let go of the things he left behind on Earth and as you watch the world change around him, going back and forth in time, it's an odd meditation on love and loss. And the meaning of life? Maybe? It's not everyone's cup of tea, but the one thing I will say is that the costume designer of that bedsheet deserves an award. The sad black eyes seemed to speak volumes, and I've never felt quite so moved by such a weird character before.

Girls Trip: Hey girl heeeeey! This movie was definitely the raucous highlight of 2017. Four college friends (Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Tiffany Haddish) reunite after a long time apart in New Orleans for the Essence Festival. Chaos ensues, naturally, involving a great deal of booze, naturally, but also due to a lot of drama of both the romantic relationship and friendship variety. This is your classic buddy comedy except it features four incredible black actresses at the top of their game - none more so than Tiffany Haddish, who steals every single scene she's in, a la Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids. This Haddish performance is a complete assault on the senses from the first frame to the last and she is the reason this movie was the only comedy to gross over $100 million this year. While the film ultimately deals in a lot of cliches and wraps things up a bit too neatly, the journey is well worth it. These women share a genuine chemistry and bond of friendship that shines through the screen and makes this a trip you won't want to miss.

Rules Don't Apply: This movie was meant to be an Oscar contender last year but fizzled at the box office and quietly disappeared by December. However, as someone who is a sucker for old Hollywood stories, I found it rather endearing. Starring Lily Collins as a young naive starlet and Alden Ehrenreich as her driver who ends up falling for her, it's a film that has wild tonal shifts but begins and ends with a lot of promise. Warren Beatty stars as Howard Hughes, who becomes the fly in the ointment of the budding romance, and at times the movie isn't quite sure if it's trying to be a biopic, a romcom, or a drama. But the story is compelling, the actors are all charming, and the eventual conclusion is surprising, bittersweet, and satisfying. It's not a perfect movie, and if you're looking for a more fun glimpse of old Hollywood, you're better off watching the Coen Brothers' Hail, Caesar! But if you don't mind a little schmaltz with your Hollywood history, this movie might suit you just fine.

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