The Morning After: Dec. 26, 2018

Welcome to The Morning After, where I share with you what movies I’ve seen over the past week. Below, you will find short reviews of those movies along with a star rating. Full length reviews may come at a later date.

So, here is what I watched this past week:

BlacKkKlansman


Long a voice for black America at the cinema, Spike Lee delivers his finest film in several years in the form of BlacKkKlansman, a potent look at the Ku Klux Klan and the hate bubbling under the fabric of American civilization.

Based on the true story of a black police officer in Colorado Springs, Colorado who went undercover as a member of the Ku Klux Klan in order to keep tabs on the insidious organization from the inside. John David Washington stars as Ron Stallworth as the black cop and Adam Driver plays the white cop who does the actual undercover work. Laura Harrier, Topher Grace, Jasper Pääkkönen, Ryan Eggold, Paul Walter Hauser, and Ashlie Atkinson co-star.

Knowing that Washington is Denzel’s son doesn’t alleviate the familiarity he brings to the role. The familiar cadence and acting style of his father comes through clearly, but that’s not to his detriment. His performance here is strong as is that of Driver and the rest of the cast. What shines through more than the performances is the tight direction from Lee and the intense editing work that keeps the film flowing from beat to beat expertly. Lee is no stranger to cinema, having been a director for over thirty years. That experience only intensifies the passionate and humane picture on display here.

Can You Ever Forgive Me?


Anchored by the career-high performances of Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me? is a dramatically comic look at the life of Lee Israel a former literary biographer who took to forging celebrity letters to help make ends meet.

McCarthy plays Israel as she reaches the nadir of her career. Frumpily moving about her daily life, unable to pay her rent or take care of her cat, Israel’s depression worsens until she happens upon an old letter that she attempts to sell to a local bookshop where she’s offered a pittance. Yet, she soon discovers that the more intimate the writing, the more likely it is to fetch a higher price. Embarking on a quest to defraud various booksellers with faked letters and forged signatures, Israel builds a profitable life for her and the gay fop who waltzes into her life at its lowest point.

McCarthy is sensational as Israel, giving the audience an intimate look into a downward spiral of depression that is exemplified in director Marielle Heller’s perfectly paced opening sequence where one unfortunate event after another befalls her intensifying the audience’s empathy for the character. McCarthy is every part of that and her curmudgeonly antisocial personality is expertly infused in every moment of the film.

Grant, as the man whose friendship provides her only source of solace, is incredible as Jack Hock. His dispassionate view of society, intense interest in recreational drugs, and aggressive sociability make the pair a comparable match. Grant brings the kind of humanity and passion to this role that great character actors always do even for little reward.

Apart from Heller’s terrific direction, the script by filmmaker Nicole Holofcener, adapted from Israel’s autobiography with actor Jeff Whitty, is a fiery and succinct look at Israel’s life finding pathos, joy, and remorse in a tidy package.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse


There have been few superhero films since the advent of the Disney/Marvel machine that have felt so genuinely unique and enjoyable. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse introduces Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore) to the universe, an awkward High Schooler forced into a private school by parents wanting him to succeed, but without view of how the limited social interaction might stunt his growth as a human being.

After being bit by a radioactive spider, Miles finds himself working with a slew of alternate universe Spider-Folk to stop the megalomaniac Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) from ripping apart Miles’ home dimension with his particle collider. A fascinating array of different versions of Spider-Man enter the picture as Miles must learn to fly on his own or risk losing everything.

Moore does solid voice work, but Jake Johnson as a love forlorn Spider-Man does much of the heavy lifting, as does Hailee Steinfeld as Gwen Stacy. Mahershala Ali as Miles’ uncle Aaron and Brian Tyree Henry as Miles’ father give the film solid support.

Bolstered by a wonderfully unique animation style, the script by Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman displays expert craftsmanship. The plot moves effortlessly from scene to scene with two long sequences of tear-spawning laughter giving the audience plenty to enjoy and appreciate.

Ralph Breaks the Internet


As Disney continues to gobble up every major entertainment property in existence, films like Ralph Breaks the Internet are given access to some of the most popular characters, which allows the creators to work them into the narrative in fascinating and creative ways.

At the heart of the sequel to Wreck-It Ralph is the relationship between Ralph (John C. Reilly) and Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) as it hits some rough patches after Ralph decides to try to alleviate Vanellope’s bordom and ends up a mitigating factor in the accidental breakage of Vanellope’s game. As the pair enter the vast network of the Internet, their friendship is tested by Ralph’s insecurity about the friendship he’s developed with Vanellope and her desire to seek refuge in another video game where her racing skills are perpetually put to the test.

A superb array of vocal talents provide wall-to-wall laughs in this incredibly meta-minded animated spectacle that drops names at will and which turns the vastness of Disney’s property rights into a series of humorous and plot-relevant diversions.

Mary Poppins Returns


For anyone who grew up with Julie Andrews as the ultimate nanny, Mary Poppins Returns is a bittersweet affair. Andrews chose not to return to the sequel, but we’ve been given a bountiful array of actors to take the place of the original cast.

Picking up the umbrella in Andrews’ place is Emily Blunt who gives the titular character charm, heart, and musical excitement. Taking over for Dick Van Dyke’s chimney sweep is Lin-Manuel Miranda as the lamplighter Jack. Emily Mortimer and Ben Whishaw star as the elder Banks children from the original film, Michael and Jane, now grown 25 years after the first film.

Blunt is superb in the role. So too is Whishaw who displays formidable singing chops. Director Rob Marshall seems the perfect fit for helming this movie as his accessible style is well suited to this affable sequel.

Everything about this film feels like it was cribbed from the original while carving out its own inventive niche. Keeping tone and style is important for a sequel 54 years after the film first released to theaters. While all of the songs weren’t the highest of caliber, more worked than not, which made for a pleasant viewing experience. And the two cameos at the end of the film are delightful.

Roma


Alfonso Cuarón has delved into numerous genres in his lengthy career, but Roma is the first time he seems to be actively trying to evoke the work of a late great cinematic artist: Federico Fellini.

Shot entirely in black-and-white, Roma takes its title from a district in Mexico City where the main character lives, working as a maid for a middle class family with four children. As a central part of their lives, Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) faces all the challenges a young woman should while holding down a live-in job.

A beautiful glimpse into middle class malaise in 1970s Mexico, Cuarón shows an affinity for the simplicity of life then and the complexity that often creates waves. Roma is a visually stunning work and the narrative is involving thanks largely to Aparaicio’s charming performance.

The film moves a bit too slowly at times, which is perfectly understandable given the subject matter, but while Fellini is a certain inspiration, the film seems to blend Italian Neorealism with French New Wave as much of the film looks like something Jean-Luc Goddard might have done at the height of his popularity.

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