Reviews: 'The Favourite,' 'Mary Queen of Scots' and 'Into the Spider-verse' vie for your holiday dollars, Dec. 14
It's hard to believe that we are just a few weeks away from 2019, but don't sleep on 2018 just yet...there are over 20 movies (including seven this week!) that still will see release between now and when the ball drops on New Year's Eve. And there is something for everyone, from the animated family fare, to R-rated comedies turned into family fare, to straight-up award-season contenders both seeing release in theaters and at home on Netflix.
So let's get to it! Here are reviews of new movies seeing release this Friday, Dec. 14th, 2018:
"Once Upon a Deadpool"
'Tis the season for more Deadpool! In one of the most inventive marketing schemes in years (and sooo Deadpool), 20th Century Fox is releasing a special 12 day theatrical run of "Once Upon a Deadpool," which is essentially a re-cut PG-13 version of the R-Rated "Deadpool 2" released earlier this year.
The major difference - apart from the lack of gore, sexual references or swear words - is that this new film is framed a la "The Princess Bride," complete with Fred Savage himself. The conceit is that Deadpool has kidnapped Fred Savage and is reading a PG-13 version of "Deadpool 2" to him - on a reconstructed set that matches the set in "The Princess Bride - in the same way that Peter Falk read the "Princess Bride" book to a then child-aged Fred Savage some 30 years ago.
The new scenes are very funny, and it showcases how Fred Savage deserves to be a bigger star (this critic is still bitter that his recent under-appreciated TV show, "The Grinder," was canceled...). But the whole ordeal is just very...curious. So...they're trying to remake an R-rated super-hero movie so that kids can access it, but then they choose to reference a movie made back in 1987, well-before said kids were even born? Like, is "The Princess Bride" still a thing with teenagers today? The entire Fred Savage premise is likely going to fly over their heads, and if only the adults get the joke, then...why PG-13? (Funny enough, Deadpool explains why in the above Trailer, a scene that is suspiciously missing from the final cut of the new movie).
That aside, "Deadpool 2" works surprisingly well as a PG-13 film, although Deadpool is best when he is left to be his sarcastic, vulgar self...let us not forget that what makes Deadpool so refreshing in the first place is that he is NOT like the rest of the super-heroes, so here's hoping that they keep Deadpool firmly planted in the R-rated zone moving forward.
And like always with a Marvel film (or quasi-Marvel at least), stay for the end credits. Not only is there an additional Fred Savage scene inserted, but there is a touching tribute to Stan Lee, who passed away just a few weeks ago.
"Deadpool 2" Original Grade: A-
"Once Upon a Deadpool" Grade: B+
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy. Run Time: 1 hour 59 minutes.
Starring: Fred Savage, Ryan Reynolds, Josh Brolin, Morena Baccarin.
Directed by David Leitch ("Atomic Blonde").
It's no surprise that "The Favourite" keeps turning up on year-end "Best of" lists. It's a movie with style, bite, and it features one of the best ensembles of 2018...three of whom may just find their way into crowded award categories together.
It's 18th century England, and Queen Ann (Olivia Colman) is still monarch, despite not quite being all that capable mentally or physically. Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) is her closest advisor and by all measures is the "acting Queen." She is in the Queen's favor, that is, until the unbridled servant Abigail (Emma Stone) shows up, and quickly manipulates herself all the way up the social ladder and to the Queen's side. This doesn't go over all that well with Lady Sarah, creating quite the pickle.
Director Yorgos Lanthimos ("The Lobster," "The Killing of a Sacred Deer") puts his fingerprints all over this tale, shooting scenes from awkward angles and framing the story as a comedy-within-a-tragedy. His "style" is almost over-bearing at times, as if he didn't realize that his ensemble could carry the picture on its own. While Colman is great, it's really the relationship between Weisz and Stone that makes the movie worth watching...it's hard to imagine this film without these particular actresses in these particular roles. "The Favourite" as a film meanders a bit and isn't nearly as perfect as its cast, but the performances endure.
Genre: Biography, Comedy, Drama. Run Time: 1 hour 59 minutes.
Starring: Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, Mark Gatiss, Nicholas Hoult.
Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos ("The Killing of a Sacred Deer," "The Lobster").
Though the new fantasy-adventure "Mortal Engines" has Peter Jackson's name attached to it, that's about all it has going for it.
"The Lord of the Rings" director Peter Jackson did co-write the screenplay, but this film - adapted from a popular young-adult novel by Phillip Reeve - is set in a post-apocalyptic high-tech universe, where much of the Earth was destroyed and massive mobile cities now prowl the landscape. Hera Hilmar, Robert Sheehan and Hugo Weaving star, but the real star is the impressive CG effects and the sprawling, inventive machinery that we bear witness to.
First-time director (but long-time special-effects person) Christian Rivers is too focused on technical wizardry, and the result is headache-inducing chaos. Though it is based on a book, audiences won't be able to help but notice how much of the plot feels lifted from other, better movies...the last half-hour in fact, seems like a steampunk re-imagining of "Star Wars" and "The Empire Strikes Back," complete with a "I am your father" reveal that led to laughter in the screening room.
Don't think too hard about things either, because the entire premise of "Mortal Engines" requires you to suspend your belief far beyond plausibility. That's a problem when that's the entry point for this convoluted misfire.
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy. Run Time: 2 hours 8 minutes.
Starring: Hera Hilmar, Robert Sheehan, Hugo Weaving, Jihae, Ronan Raftery, Stephen Lang.
Directed by Christian Rivers (feature-film debut).
Director Alfonso Cuaron's latest, most personal film is now streaming on Netflix. "Roma" is based on memories that Cuaron draws on, from the Roma district in Mexico City where he grew up in the early 1970s, centering on a maid (Yalitza Aparicio) of a middle-class family that echoes Cuaron's own upbringing.
Filmed in black-and-white (and sub-titled), the movie does play like a dream. It features some heart-wrenching sequences and minimal cuts, and there are some harrowing moments that will stay with you long after viewing.
And while Cuaron is surely a master of his craft, don't buy all of the hype you may be hearing about "Roma." While it is an achievement, to be sure, Cuaron tells the story using camera techniques that were distracting and borderline pretentious. The camera moves rhythmically throughout the film, and it creates some beautiful imagery, but not necessarily consistently engrossing cinema. Many of the performances are off-putting, under-whelming or dare I say "one-note." In fact, this critic predicts that the vast majority of movie-goers (and especially Netflix-watchers) will not find "Roma" accessible at all...another "critic" movie that applauds abstract art and serves in-part as Cuaron hero-worship.
Is "Roma" a well-made film worthy of some praise for Cuaron's ability to tell a personal story on such a large scale? Yes. Is "Roma" the best film of the year? The answer to that, for me, is clearly black-and-white.
Genre: Drama. Run Time: 2 hours 15 minutes.
Starring: Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira, Diego Cortina Autrey.
Written and Directed by Alfonso Cuaron ("Gravity," "Children of Men," "Y Tu Mama Tambien").
"Mary Queen of Scots"
Two queens are at odds with one another but share common bonds in the historical drama "Mary Queen of Scots." Saoirse Ronan is stellar in the title role, as is Margot Robbie as Queen Elizabeth I, who is envious of the brave Mary. The film is shot beautifully, but meanders a bit from time to time under the hand of first-time director, Josie Rourke.
History buffs will love this re-telling though, and the engaging performances and compelling stories that parallel modern times make "Mary Queen of Scots" one of the more surprising December entries this season.
Genre: Biography, History, Drama. Run Time: 2 hours 4 minutes.
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Margot Robbie, Jack Lowden, Simon Russell Beale.
Directed by Josie Rourke (feature-film debut).
"Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse"
"Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse" is quite the achievement: It's not only the best animated film of the year, it's one of the best overall films of 2018.
Based on a story by Phil Lord (one of the filmmakers behind "The LEGO Movie"), "Into the Spider-verse" pays homage to all of the artistic renderings and incarnations of the famous superhero that have graced our screens big and small, and have appeared in our comic books since the 1960s. While many of the film's messages may feel familiar, this is an absolutely brilliant crafting, with a script that - if the Academy had any guts at all - deserves recognition as one of the most original and impactful stories of the year.
The film features an all-star voice cast and some ground-breaking visuals...Phil Lord's ambition and confidence just permeates through every phase of the movie. It's funny yet poignant, exciting yet family-friendly. It's proof that old ideas can be made new again, and that new generations can experience the same wonder that we did as kids growing up, when we first read about "normal" people becoming superheroes by various means.
The late Stan Lee would be proud, that "Into the Spider-verse" stands as everything he could have ever hoped for, and it reconfirms the notion that Spider-Man - and all of his creations - are timeless, given the right story-teller.
Genre: Animation, Action, Adventure. Run Time: 1 hour 57 minutes.
Starring: Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Mahershala Ali, Brian Tyree Henry, Lily Tomlin, Zoe Kravitz, John Mulaney, Nicolas Cage, Kathryn Hahn, Liev Schreiber, Chris Pine.
Directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman.
Looking for a specific movie or review?