Friday, December 6, 2019

Marriage Story

Offering as much commentary on divorce at large as its effect on his two main characters in Marriage Story, writer/director Noah Baumbach explores the dissolving marriage of theater director Charlie Barber (Adam Driver) and actress Nicole Barber (Scarlett Johansson) who struggle through change in humorous and heartbreaking ways. While their separation is mutually understood from the opening scene, a particularly good use of narration that allows us to get a sense of both characters, Charlie seems less able to deal with the changing realities of the family dynamic while Nicole relocates from New York to Los Angeles with their son Henry (Azhy Robertson) for work on a television pilot and begins to take the lead in the divorce by hiring a ball-busting attorney (Laura Dern).

There is still affection between the pair, but there is also hurt, resentment, and anger which only increases as the divorce becomes more litigious. Providing some of the film's more humorous scenes, Alan Alda and Ray Liotta both appear at times as Charlie's lawyers taking on Dern's character in court (proving the old adage that the only ones who win in divorce proceedings are the lawyers).

The Aeronauts

The Aeronauts is equal parts celebration of dreamers, disaster movie, grand adventure, romantic comedy, overcoming fears and past mistakes, and scientific exploration. Not surprisingly, this proves to be a few too many balls for writer/director Tom Harper to keep aloft while attempting to juggle the various aspects of the script (which could have been streamlined quite a bit) and still provide a singular, if historically inaccurate, vision of James Glaisher story.

Based loosely on real events, Eddie Redmayne stars as scientist James Glaisher who was obsessed with proving his meteorological theories. Taking the place of the actual balloon pilots who took the scientist high enough to shatter the world record, Felicity Jones stars as the fictional Amelia Wren on-hand to both fly the hot air balloon and offer some spectacle to the crowd to increase interest. An amalgamation of multiple balloonists, the fictitious Wren allows for the re-teaming of of Redmayne and Jones (who previously starred together in The Theory of Everything) providing some nice moments between the pair high above the clouds (and also some questionable drama stumbling around on Earth).

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Dark Waters

Dark Waters is an interesting story that isn't always told in an interesting way. Based on real events, Mark Ruffalo stars as corporate lawyer Robert Bilott who gets roped into taking on the kind of client his firm usually argues against when a farmer shows up in his offices with a story to tell how his land is being poisoned by the small town's main employer, DuPont. Much like the court case itself, the film drags on as any movement in events happens at a glacial pace over decades (eventually the movie begins to increase the rapidness of its fast-forwards to alleviate some of the on-screen stagnation).

The script by Matthew Michael Carnahan and Mario Correa showcases how a big corporation flaunts its wealth and privilege, while ignoring any responsibility, even when solid proof of their wrongdoing is exposed. The other aspect to the film, not as well explored, is how the case changes Bilott's life, both professionally and at home, when he decides to take on a case that eventually becomes more of a crusade he feels obligated to see through. The film's set-up reminded me of 1998's A Civil Action (among other films) which explores many of the same themes.

Arrow - Purgatory

The final pre-Crisis episode of Arrow takes Oliver Queen's (Stephen Amell) back to Lian Yu in and episode that attempts (somewhat clumsily) making sense of the various missions and locales Oliver and his friends have returned to over the course of the season. On the island the group will race to complete a weapon for the the Monitor (LaMonica Garrett) while literal ghosts from Oliver's past arise to cause complications. The farewell tour brings back a couple of familiar faces in Yao Fei (Byron Mann) and Fyers (Sebastian Dunn), but in an episode (and season) devoted largely to fan service (when not advertising a big crossover), I was disappointed not to see Shado (Celina Jade) earn a final cameo.

Dolemite is My Name

Eddie Murphy stars as entertainer Rudy Ray Moore who reinvents his dated struggling stage show to find new success by assuming the role of a character named Dolemite on stage (inspired by stories told on the streets in the 1970s about a foul-mouthed pimp who wouldn't take shit from anyone). The success of the character would lead to three racy comedy albums, which larger studios feared to touch due to their explicit nature, and even feature films.

The script by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski follows Moore from working in a local record store to the rising popularity of his new act and the struggle to self-finance and star in Dolemite (a critically-panned niche film which would go on to become instantly successful in black communities). Rudy Ray Moore is a perfect role for Murphy at this time in his career, and the film works as a heartfelt goofy story of Moore enjoying his sudden popularity after years of anonymity. Given its similar themes, Dolemite is My Name may have felt a bit fresher if it hadn't come out two years after The Disaster Artist, but that's a small complaint for watching Moore, and Murphy, regain a bit of swagger.