Movie Reviews: New Releases for Nov. 24 | Buzz Blog
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Movie Reviews: New Releases for Nov. 24

House of Gucci, Encanto, Power of the Dog, C'mon C'mon and more

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Lady Gaga and Adam Driver in House of Gucci - MGM PICTURES
  • MGM Pictures
  • Lady Gaga and Adam Driver in House of Gucci
C’mon C’mon ***
As the title of writer/director Mike Mills’ low-key drama eventually makes its way into the narrative, it serves as a slightly more succinct interpretation of “fake it ’til you make it.” Joaquin Phoenix plays Johnny, a journalist who begins trying to patch up a strained relationship with his sister (Gaby Hoffman) by agreeing to care for her 9-year-old son, Jesse (Woody Norman), while she attends to Jesse’s father (Scoot McNairy) as he deals with a mental-health crisis. The uncle/nephew interaction takes the form of a geographic odyssey, as Johnny’s work takes them from Los Angeles to New York to New Orleans, for a project that involves interviewing kids and teens about big issues like death and their worries about the future. It’s an effective device for emphasizing that adults generally are muddling along themselves, although the “kids say the darndest things” dynamic wears a bit thin, especially when combined with Jesse’s motor-mouthed neediness. The film is much more effective when Phoenix’s restrained performance is at the forefront, as his struggles with Jesse expose his feelings about the fragmented relationships in his life; it’s richly emotional watching the two siblings slowly mend their connection via phone calls. The stakes are resolutely low—to the extent that Jesse briefly getting lost makes up not one, but two of the most dramatic moments—but C’mon C’mon works as a warm hug to anyone who’s convinced they’re screwing up their lives, or the lives of their kids, with a reassurance that we’ve all been there. Available Nov. 24 at Broadway Centre Cinemas; Dec. 3 in wider release. (R)

Encanto ***
See feature review. Available Nov. 24 in theaters. (PG)

House of Gucci **
Maybe it was meant to be a dark comedy of manners; maybe it was meant to be a more-than-vaguely Shakespearean tragedy. Whatever it’s meant to be, the pieces just don’t come together in director Ridley Scott’s version of this fact-based story about a woman named Patrizia (Lady Gaga) marrying Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver)—scion of the fashion empire created by brothers Rodolfo (Jeremy Irons) and Aldo (Al Pacino)—in the 1970s and subsequently launching a chain of events that would change the company forever. The Lady Macbeth vibe radiates off Patrizia from the outset, so it’s no shock that the story will revolve around her machinations, and the impact on nice-guy Maurizio of his wife’s ambition. Yet so many pieces here just clank and grind together: a constant sense that Scott is the wrong director for the tone this seems to require; herky-jerky pacing (and jumping years forward in time without a sense for why); weird needle-drops that feel both thematically and temporally inappropriate. And then there’s Jared Leto’s heavily-made-up, “whatsa-matta-you”-accented performance as Maurizio’s buffoonish aspiring-designer cousin, which is at times mildly entertaining, at times hugely irritating, and always at odds with everything else that’s going on in this story. Some solid performance moments can’t help unify something that feels like a bunch of scenes, rather than a whole movie. Available Nov. 24 in theaters. (R)

Julia ***
Following in the tracks of their previous documentaries about influential women, RBG and My Name is Pauli Murray, co-directors Julie Cohen and Betsy West offer up a profile of groundbreaking cookbook author and TV chef Julia Child that’s consistently engaging, even if it feels somewhat less than revelatory. The narrative here is pretty much cradle to grave, starting with Julia’s birth into privilege in 1910s California, her unique path choosing military service over the pre-assigned path of upper-class wife, her marriage to diplomat Paul Child, and her subsequent years in France that turned her on to the delights of cooking. West and Cohen spend a fair amount of time on the unique-for-its-time relationship between Julia and Paul, respecting his role as supportive of a wife who ultimately outshone him. But this is Julia’s show, and her easily-imitated ebullient on-screen persona keeps all of the archival footage fun to watch even when it’s kind of repeating the same basic notions about the barriers she broke—as a woman in a male-dominated field, as an American fighting 1960s prepared-food culture, as middle-aged woman becoming a TV star. It’s all basically informative, breezy and easily accessible for a mass audience—so basically, the perfect way to represent who Julia Child was. Available Nov. 24 in theaters. (PG-13)

Love It Was Not **1/2
I don’t entirely blame director Maya Sarfaty for not being entirely clear how to pitch the tone for this documentary, considering the combination of a potentially sensationalistic logline—“Auschwitz inmate and SS officer have an affair!”—and the inherent seriousness of any tale involving the Holocaust. She introduces the story of Helena Zitron, a Slovak Jew sent to Auschwitz in 1942, and who subsequently catches the eye of Franz Wunsch, who came to serve as her protector even as he brutalized other prisoners. Though Helena, Wunsch and many of the other principals died more than a decade ago, Sarfaty has plenty of first-hand archival interviews that offer a full picture of the relationship, as well as interviews with Helena’s fellow inmate survivors talking about how they responded to Helena’s preferred status. And things get even more potentially complicated in the second half, chronicling Wunsch’s 1972 trial in Austria for war crimes, and how Helena would respond to a request by Wunsch’s wife that Helena testify on his behalf. There’s just a muted quality to the emotions involved here, as though the fear of being insensitive overwhelmed the desire to make a compelling movie. Sarfaty makes one compelling creative choice, built around Wunsch’s propensity for creating paper dolls out of his favorite photo of Helena, but this often feels like a case where a fictionalized dramatization would end up being much more watchable than the recollections of talking heads. Available Nov. 24 via SLFSatHome.org. (NR)

Benedict Cumberbatch in The Power of the Dog - NETFLIX
  • Netflix
  • Benedict Cumberbatch in The Power of the Dog
The Power of the Dog ***1/2
Writer/director Jane Campion’s adaptation of Thomas Savage’s 1968 novel keeps unfolding layers of loneliness, until the cumulative effect feels tragic in a completely unexpected way. In 1925 Montana, brothers Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch) and George Burbank (Jesse Plemons) are running a cattle ranch in relative isolation, until George marries widowed Rose Gordon (Kirsten Dunst), whose arrival—along with that of her son, Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee)—changes everything. The wide open spaces of the setting lend themselves to some evocative compositions for cinematographer Ari Wegner, spiked with simmering menace by Jonny Greenwood’s score. But the real power here comes from the complexity in these characters, and how the performances tease out that complexity. Cumberbatch brings to Phil a subtle cruelty built on self-loathing, manifested in seeking out a point of sensitivity in everyone around him that he can skewer; Dunst finds a fragility in Rose that might doom her; Smit-McPhee might be the stealth MVP as the seemingly pampered mama’s-boy evolves into something darker. Most thrillingly, the power dynamics in their respective interactions keeps shifting, built on the bits and pieces of Phil’s history that Campion parcels out. If you think you know who the villain is here, after just a few minutes—or even if there actually is a villain—you’re probably wrong. Available Nov. 24 at Broadway Centre Cinemas; Dec. 1 via Netflix. (R)

The Unforgivable **1/2
The British TV miniseries adapted here ran only 135 minutes in total, yet it still somehow feels like there’s an attempt to pack too much plot and character into just 110 minutes. Sandra Bullock plays Ruth Slater, a woman just released after 20 years in prison for murdering a sheriff in Washington state, and trying to find the only purpose she has left in reconnecting with her sister Katherine (Aisling Franciosi), who was just 5 years old when the traumatic event occurred. Bullock’s performance is authentically lived-in as a tightly-wound ex-con, and director Nora Fingscheidt conveys her life from halfway house to work (at a seafood processing plant) and back again with an eye to its seeming hopelessness. But there is a lot going on around the edges of Ruth’s story: the decisions faced by Katherine’s adoptive parents (Richard Thomas and Linda Emond); possible designs on vengeance by the two sons of the sheriff Ruth killed; a lawyer (Vincent D’Onofrio) deciding to help Ruth over the protestations of his wife (Viola Davis); a tentative relationship between Ruth and a co-worker (Jon Bernthal). Every one of those subplots feels like it’s given exactly one scene to flesh out everything it needs to say, and at the expense of digging more deeply into Ruth’s psychology. It’s solid drama that maybe needed to be an even longer miniseries. Available Nov. 24 at Megaplex The District; Dec. 10 via Netflix. (R)