A new Christmas movie, “Almost Christmas: A Christmas Journey,” will be watched for years to come, and “Run” provides an escape from all the happiness in a tense thriller in the tradition of Alfred Hitchcock.
It’s Viewing the Videos.
DVD or Blu-ray/Streaming
Almost a year after its initial release, Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” is available on home video.
Because of its three-hour and 29-minute running time, it’s the ideal movie to watch at home so you can, you know, take a break.
However, “The Irishman” is a towering work of art by Martin Scorsese at the top of his game. Whether it joins other Scorsese films as one of the great movies ever remains to be seen, but it’s truly remarkable.
Based on true events, “The Irishman” spans decades to tell the story of mob crime enforcer Frank Sheeran (Robert De Nero) and his life with major organized crime figures
Sheeran becomes right hand man to Teamsters Union leader Jimmy Hoffa, who vanished without a trace in the mid-1970s. Late in his life, Sheeran gave interviews that suggested he killed Hoffa. He was never charged and nothing was ever proven.
“The Irishman” stars De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci, all of whom are older than 70, so extensive and expensive computer work was used to make the actors look younger. It could be distracting, but the “de-aging" is so smooth, so well done that the story moves along without hesitation.
And move along it does. In spite of its lengthy running time, attention doesn’t wander. It’s a good story, but also at least one of those three guys is always onscreen. That level of talent makes sure things keep moving.
A pay-per-view release in October, “Ava” is now available for purchase.
I expected a run-of-the mill low-rent action film about a female paid killer. But it delivers some good action sequences and a very interesting back story of her background. Jessica Chastain stars and heads up a cast that includes some excellent actors who make this above average: John Malkovich and Ewan McGregor.
Much better than expected and a worthy addition to action movies with female leads like Charlize Theron in “Atomic Blonde” and “Mad Max: Fury Road” and Brie Larson in “Captain Marvel.” This is an action movie that gives the viewer something to think about.
Almost Christmas: A Christmas Journey (Hulu)
Hulu delivers a magical musical that stands above most of the mildly diverting Christmas movies: “Almost Christmas: A Christmas Journey.”
Forest Whitaker (who knew he could sing?) leads a talented cast in a story that has just the right mix of drama and ebullient music by Philip Lawrence, John Legend and others.
The story is framed with the great Phylicia Rashad reading a story to her grandchildren, the story of Jeronicus Jangle, the world’s greatest toymaker who lives in the mythical town of Cobbleton. It’s a joyous place and centered around Jangle’s toy shop in the town square. It’s home to dance numbers that are both musically and visually interesting.
Things take a turn for the worse when his youthful apprentice, Gustafson, steals his greatest creation, an animatronic bullfighter with voice and attitude from Ricky Martin.
Years later, after Jeronicus has become a bitter old man, his granddaughter Journey comes into his life to help him rediscover the magic.
Journey is played by Madalen Mills, making her movie debut, who has plenty of charm without being an annoying child actor. Keegan-Michel is the adult version of the apprentice who stole the bullfighter toy who comes to realize the error of his ways.
So many holiday movies that flood our screen at this time of year are about lovers who get together. “Almost Christmas" is different. It’s is in the tradition of “A Christmas Carol,” about a man who reclaims happiness in his life, but it’s so well put-together and acted that it will become a holiday standby of its own.
Four Palm Trees.
On the other hand, if you’re suffering from an overdose of holiday sweetness, “Run” will take care of it with tension and suspense. “Run” is one tense movie, very much in the tradition of Alfred Hitchcock.
Also in the tradition of Hitchcock, although this is a very frightening movie, there’s very little on-screen violence. It’s packed with people sneaking around, hoping to accomplish something without being caught in the act.
A wheelchair-bound teenager, who is homeschooled, begins to suspect that her mother is not telling her something. The mother is played by Sarah Paulson with all the malevolence and suppressed evil that she has demonstrated in “American Crime Story” and more recently, as the evil nurse in “Ratched.”
They live in large house, far from town. Outside, it seems appealing, including a garden where mom grows produce. But inside, the feeling of confinement is emphasized by wide, static shots with the girl being just a small part of the picture.
And what a performance by Kira Allen as Chloe. She’s confined to a wheelchair in real life, and as an actor is able to go head-to-head with Paulson, which is a considerable accomplishment for someone so young who is making her movie debut.
Director Aneesh Chaganty makes us hold our breath or call out “Chloe, hurry up, don’t let you mother catch you.” He also steadily builds the tension and keeps the pressure on throughout a tight one hour and 34-minute running.
If you’re fed up with all the happy holiday movies, this is a great change of pace.
Four Palm Trees.
“Mangrove” tells the story of a significant chapter of racial discrimination in England presented by one of its greatest filmmakers, Steve McQueen.
McQueen, who won a Best Picture Oscar for his take on American race relations in “12 Years a Slave,” has created the Small Axe Collection, a series of five movies dealing with British race relations is in the 1960s. ’70s and ’80s. (Small Axe is the name of a Bob Marley song; many of the minorities in those decades came from the Caribbean.) These films will be released one week at a time on Netflix.
The movie might be a little long at just over two hours, but it has tremendous impact. It reinforces the fact that significant society change comes when those seeking change are willing to keep trying, no matter what the personal price is. It was true with opposition to the Vietnam War, true with segregation and will presumably be true with Black Lives Matter.
In the Notting Hill section of London in the late 1960s, the Mangrove was a restaurant that was a gathering place for the Black community. They were subjected to repeated drug raids by the police in spite of a complete lack of evidence. Eventually a protest was staged, the marchers were arrested, and the charges dismissed. They were re-arrested and charged again as the Mangrove Nine.
In a brilliant piece of strategy, several of the Mangrove Nine elected to serve as their own counsel, which allowed them tremendous freedom to question witnesses and make statements.
This is a remarkable work, along the lines of the recent look at American social unrest in “The Trial of the Chicago Seven.” Both are great works of art and present looks at key times in social history of their respective countries.
Four Palm Trees.
FROM THE VAULT
12 Years A Slave
“12 Years a Slave,” directed by "Mangrove’s" Steve McQueen, won three Oscars, including Best Picture. It’s based on a true story of a man who was kidnapped in 1841 and was a slave until he was released. Chiwetel Ejiofor heads an all-star cast in a movie that will make you think.
HOW WE RATE THE FILMS
Home videos are simply rated recommended or not recommended.
New Releases are rated as follows:
Five Palm Trees: Must see
Four Palm Trees: Worth seeing on the big screen
Three Palm Trees: Recommended for home viewing or on the big screen
Two Palm Trees: OK if you’re not paying
One Palm Tree: Skip it. Save your money and your time.