Saturday, December 28, 2019

2019, A Film Odyssey: American Idols

And you thought Cats was creepy...

This year's hits you may have missed, flops that you should avoid, hidden gems to discover and more, plus where to watch 'em...

Real American heroes:

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (in theaters now):
This not-really-a-Mr.-Rogers-biopic focuses instead on angry journalist with daddy issues Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) who has the (for him) undesirable task of interviewing beloved children's television host Fred Rogers for Esquire magazine. Tom Hanks is charged here with the unenviable task of embodying said TV icon and (like his similar role of Walt Disney in Saving Mr. Banks) what seems like an ideal match of actor to part falls short of expectations. As Disney Hanks didn't try hard enough, but as Rogers he tries too hard; it's like Hanks wandered out off a SNL sketch and into a dull estranged father/son reconciliation melodrama. (5/10)

Apollo 11 (now streaming on Hulu):
The titular mission, which saw astronaut superstars Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin become the first men to walk on the moon, is brought vividly to life in this accomplished compilation of archival footage, including some previously unseen 70 mm sequences. Director Todd Douglas Miller presents it all sans narration, interviews or reenactments, which is commendable but at times renders it all a bit dry. And one can't help feeling some déjà vu seeing this just a year after the Oscar winning effects team recreated most of it in the Armstrong biopic First Man. (7/10)

Harriet (available on Blu-ray and DVD January 28):
A theatrical feature based on the life of Harriet Tubman, the former slave who saved many of her people via the Underground Railroad in pre-Civil War era America, has been long overdue. So it's perplexing that the end result goes well beyond the usual Hollywood hagiographic approach and turns her into, well, a superhero. Yes, an actual superhero, complete with her own "Spidey sense" (which is actually, wow, based on fact) and a sneering supervillain thirsting for revenge. Gratefully, Cynthia Erivo's powerful, raw performance as Tubman grounds the film through its many indulgences. (6/10)

Reviews by Kirby Holt, Movie Dearest creator, editor and head writer.

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