Movie Reviews: “Bright,” “The Darkest Hour,” “The Greatest Showman,” “Just Getting Started”

By | December 26, 2017

Some honest-to-God current movie reviews on Alabama Liberal. Will wonders never cease?…

Bright…I’m increasingly unsure what to do with Netflix movies, since I’m starting to feel like the fact that they’re basically free (included with subscriptions) and convenient (I did not wear clothes while watching this movie) is really affecting my grading system. Am I so happy to not pay $16 a ticket (in L.A. movies really do cost that much) and be forced into reserved seating that I’ll grade “Sandy Wexler” more softly than I otherwise would? Well, the fact that I’m seriously considering giving a Will Smith movie about R-rated Orcs a better grade than the latest Winston Churchill biopic should answer that for you. “Bright” is good at creating a high-concept world that feels original, but actually is fully borrowed from Tolkien-meets-every-L.A.-cop-movie-ever. How much you like the movie will depend entirely on how much you want to see an Americanized “District 9” with fantasy rather than sci-fi (and I kind-of did), but I thought Joel Edgerton was terrific doing the thankless task of acting beneath heavy prosthetics and make-up (as Smith’s Orc partner, the first non-human in L.A.’s police force). Without his conflicted performance as an Orc despised by his own people and untrusted by his fellow officers, the movie would be missing a real soul and the real kick of its allegory (which could just as easily be Afghanistan’s new police force as L.A.). I just wish they’d spent more time really laying into the hipster, elitist elves, a potentially scathing parody that the film leaves mostly on the table after an early visit to an Elf neighborhood. Grade: B-

The Darkest Hour…A film that seems to have been designed so Gary Oldman can win an Oscar. While most critics seem entirely knocked out by his performance as Winston Churchill, I thought it was a little broad and bellicose. You may think “but that was Winston Churchill!” but, of course, that’s really more this movie’s intrepretation of him. Old interview, speeches, and candid clips—which people may want to look up—don’t bare much of a resemblance to Oldman’s look, speech, or manner. He’s just missing something nuanced, curious, and a little bemused behind the eyes. The problem is, there’s not a lot else to this movie other than Oldman’s Oscar-calling-card. It’s the least compelling “Dunkirk”-themed film this year, after not only Christopher Nolan’s opus but “Their Finest Hour.” The few interesting scenes where Churchill is talking down his squishy-Hitler appeasing rivals (and you can’t believe these people still existed even after Hitler had broken every treaty he ever signed) are scattered throughout an overlong runtime where the British still seem obsessed with decorum even during impending military invasion and defeat. Maybe that’s director Joe Wright’s—one of the stuffiest stiff-upper-lip prestige directors still out there—point, but it sure doesn’t feel like it. You half way expect Churchill to snap at the complacent royalty and political power brokers around him “Goddamn it, can’t you see we’re at war whether you want to be or not,” but the film portrays Churchill as a back-room brawler, LBJ-type that never actually does anything all that outrageous. Grade: C+

The Greatest Showman…Anyone expecting to learn a lot about P.T. Barnum and the founding of his legendary circus will probably leave this film disappointed. As is, we learn that Barnum grew up feeling economically insecure, took some risks to change that (although the film too quickly has him delegate ringmaster duties to Zac Efron’s character so he can chase pipe dreams of being welcomed into America’s snob society), and that’s about it. The bulk of the film is about Barnum discovering and using freaks, who he never really gets to know or connects with. And if Hugh Jackman was enjoying himself here—he usually does in song and dance roles—it must be a well-kept secret because he seems a little remote throughout. Although Efron, Michelle Williams, and Rebecca Ferguson are solid in their slightly underdeveloped roles. And the moment when Efron and Zendaya sing while doing high-flying gymnastics is transporting, and one of the few moments in the too-stagey film that feels genuinely cinematic, and actually taps into the wonder of a circus. [The whole movie is a little awkward, since it feels as if the makers don’t really believe in the circus, avoiding almost any footage of the animals that became such a cornerstone.] Grade: C

Just Getting Started…You know exactly what this thing is when you go into it: a broad, goofy comedy that Morgan Freeman and an unusually loose Tommy Lee Jones save by sheer force of professionalism. It was pretty much out of theaters the same week it opened, but I think this film’s real audience (people half asleep late on a weekend at home) will enjoy it years down the road when they actually catch it, most likely on TNT. And the great Sheryl Lee Ralph swipes scenes in a cornball sensual performance that suggests Eartha Kitt reincarnated, but the ending is so rushed you almost feel they ran out of money or just gave up, letting the final scene play out over the end credits and only a few lines of dialogue in the scene before that to set it up. Grade: C+

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