Thanksgiving usually means lot of family time and some times you just need a break from your loved ones. So why not retreat to the blissful, talk-free zone of a movie theater? Here’s what I recommend you go see that still available in Philly theaters.
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy) is a writer of biographies and celebrity magazine profiles whose career is in decline. Nobody wants her book about Vaudeville star Fanny Brice, so she’s out of work and about to be evicted from her apartment. Israel starts scrounging for valuables to sell, including letters from famous people she’s profiled, including Katharine Hepburn, and discovers they are worth a month’s rent or two. It occurs to Israel that a talented mimic (and an out-of-work writer) could forge these letters, using the right artifacts and some traced signatures. A few vintage typewriters later, and Israel is up and running — crafting and selling witty correspondence purportedly from Noël Coward, Dorothy Parker and others.
The fraud is pitched (by director Marielle Heller) as good fun, and Israel turns into an unlikely rooting interest. Unlikely because she’s a recluse, a misanthrope, a cat lady/hoarder, a terrible housekeeper, and probably an alcoholic — attributes that McCarthy somehow assembles into a figure who earns our sympathy and affection. McCarthy’s magic trick is to suggest that Israel is a woman who tried, and failed, to meet life halfway
McCarthy makes a truly unlikable character someone to root for, with the help of Richard E. Grant as her literal partner in crime.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Given what we see every week on the evening news, it’s a testament to the genius of the Coen brothers that they can open The Ballad of Buster Scruggs with a story about a gun-carrying “misanthrope” and make us laugh.
It helps, of course, that the tale they tell is a tall one, set in the Old West, or at least the frontier we know from the movies, or from the stories of Zane Grey and Ambrose Bierce — the movie is presented as six chapters in a leather-bound anthology, each prefaced with a color print that prefigures a moving image (the Coens' movie, which is in theaters and on streaming on Netflix, is as usual a gorgeous and inventive piece of craftsmanship).
The first features a singin' cowboy named Buster (Tim Blake Nelson) who rides and plucks a guitar like Gene Autry and Roy Rogers. His horsemanship gives you a renewed respect for their talent, since playing a stringed instrument in the saddle looks so much harder than mere shooting.
Although Buster may do some of that as well. He holds up a poster that identifies him as an outlaw known as The Misanthrope. Is it apt? Best to leave the answer to the Coens, but it’s fair to say that Buster’s story invokes the filmmakers' gifts and predilections — for Westerns, for musicals, for violence mixed with comedy, for a whimsical treatment of complex ideas. And for meticulous foreshadowing. There is a considerable body count, and as the five succeeding Old West stories unspool, death emerges as a theme — first as a punchline, then as a chilling presence.
Gillian Flynn, who cowrote Widows, specializes in dramas (Gone Girl, TV's Sharp Objects) that assert gender equality by suggesting it's sexist to regard women as less capable of anything — including deviousness or depravity.
So right in Flynn's wheelhouse is Widows (adapted from a British TV series), the story of a Chicago woman Veronica (Viola Davis) who loses her criminal mastermind husband (Liam Neeson) then finds out he owes a large sum of money to gangsters who want it back.
Veronica didn’t know much about her husband’s violent world, but she’s willing to adapt, and so she recruits the other widowed members of her husband’s crew (including Michelle Rodriguez and Elizabeth Debicki) to make good on the debt that has the three of them marked for death. At Veronica’s urging and direction, they decide to pull of the heist her husband had been planning, which sure beats a bake sale.
For the rest of the family…
In this sequel to the spin-off, Adonis is doing well as a heavyweight, living in Los Angeles with girlfriend Bianca (Tessa Thompson) in a swanky modern apartment, stopping by the mansion of his mom (Phylicia Rashad) from time to time, beating other boxers when called upon, but for the most part living a glamorous and cozy life.
All is well until word reaches him via ESPN that he’s received a challenge from a fearsome Russian, and not just any Russian. The fellow’s name is Victor (Florian Munteanu), and he’s the son of Ivan Drago, the fighter who infamously killed Adonis’ father, Apollo, in the ring during the events of Rocky IV.
Does Bohemian Rhapsody depict Freddie Mercury's real life? Or is it just fantasy?
Unfortunately, the bowdlerized biopic about operatic British rock band Queen and its flamboyant lead singer feels more like the latter than the former.
And not in a particularly exciting or outlandish way. The movie starring Rami Malek and his prosthetic teeth — Mercury was born with four extra incisors, which he believed aided his dynamic vocal range — has a potentially juicy, and tragic, rock-and-roll story to tell.
But Bohemian Rhapsody doesn't throw itself into the tale of the band with anything approaching the abandon of the boldly unconventional 1975 smash hit that gives the movie its name.
Instead, Bohemian Rhapsody plays it safe in a manner that’s often cliched and always predictable — but not entirely unsatisfying.
What keeps Bohemian Rhapsody going is the crowd-pleasing music. It helps that the actors playing Mercury’s bandmates resemble their real life counterparts, particularly big-haired guitarist-slash-astrophysicist Brian May, portrayed by Gwilym Lee.
Mahershala Ali, Oscar winner for Moonlight, stars in the fact-based Green Book as musician Don Shirley, whose complexity is obviously thrilling, and fun, for Ali to play. Shirley was what you might call an American original, save for the fact that he was born in Jamaica. There, he was spotted early on as a piano prodigy. He was raised in Florida, trained on the piano in Leningrad, and tutored in the classics, composing for the London Philharmonic at age 19, performing for the Boston Pops and at Carnegie Hall, playing with Duke Ellington, turning to forms of popular music at a time when opportunities for a black virtuoso were constrained.
His record company sends him on a concert tour (with a bassist and cellist who formed his trio) of the South, where Nat King Cole had been assaulted just a few years earlier. So Shirley looks for a driver who can also provide brass-knuckle security. He ends up with Anthony Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen), also known as Tony Lip because he talks too much. Vallelonga is a bouncer at the Copacabana looking for work. He’s good with his fists, he knows how to spot and thwart trouble, and he’s a racist.
Ali and Mortensen make the friendship feel real, using some unexpected tools from director Peter Farrelly’s kit. His comedic instincts help the movie tiptoe through some dangerous cultural minefields — I’m thinking specifically of a bit when Tony becomes fixated on the idea of eating Kentucky Fried Chicken in Kentucky. Shirley sits in the backseat with a look of horror, but his disdain gives way to curiosity (or perhaps plain old hunger) as the seductive fragrance of chicken and biscuits fills up the car. What follows is a graceful slapstick of eating and sharing, informed by the in-character gestures of both actors.
It’s the movie in capsule form — you wonder about the nourishment, but it’s hard to resist.
The foster-care comedy Instant Family has more heart than laughs, but enough of the former to squeak by.
home renovators Pete (Mark Wahlberg) and Ellie (Rose Byrne), who decide to foster impulsively, and probably for the wrong reasons. Ellie has been thinking of adoption, which leads her to consider foster care, which leads her to a manipulative website, which leads to red-rimmed eyes and maneuvering designed to bring Pete into her emotional sphere.
Pete and Ellie sensibly sign up for prep sessions run by experienced counselors (Tig Notaro and Octavia Spencer, who make a funny yin-yang pairing). They get encouragement but also key advice about how difficult the road ahead is likely to be. Still, they plunge ahead, taking on a challenge about as tough as it could be — caring for three children, including an older teen (Isabella Moner) who is determined to reunite with a biological mother just out of jail on drug charges.
Director Sean Anders keeps the movie inside the realm of comedy even has he keeps an eye on the underlying seriousness of the situation, and on the inevitable hardships that foster families face. Pete and Ellie are quickly overwhelmed and undermanned (even with grandmother Margo Martindale on hand), and the movie is honest enough to show the couple giving voice to grave doubts.