Review of Five Pre-Holiday Movies

We know that big movies come out in the holiday season. There are heart-warming family movies, animated cartoons, magical mystery movies, action films, super-hero flicks and a very few dramas geared to adults. Studios issue most of them for two reasons:

  1. To take advantage of school vacations when bringing kids to the theater is a good way to get them out of the house so Mom can cook in peace or Dad can take a nap.
  2. To qualify for the Academy Awards and to remain fresh in the minds of Academy members who will vote and critics who are assembling their “Ten Best” lists for the annual New Year’s roundup.

The fall season is far less crowded, which means smart studios can make money on a medium-quality film that would get short shrift around Christmas. Or a brilliant underdog can take off and rake in a bundle just because there’s so little competition.

Four Pre-Holiday Movies

My husband and I have seen fewer films this fall but here are five pre-holiday movies in order of how well we liked them:

Green Book 

  • Green Book, Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali, Don Shirley, Tony VillelongaRotten Tomatoes: 82% Fresh / 95% Liked
  • Synopsis: When Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen), a bouncer from an Italian-American neighborhood in the Bronx, is hired to drive Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali), a world-class Black pianist, on a concert tour from Manhattan to the Deep South, they must rely on “The Green Book” to guide them to the few establishments that were then safe for African-Americans. Confronted with racism, danger-as well as unexpected humanity and humor-they are forced to set aside differences to survive and thrive on the journey of a lifetime.”
  • Our Take: We both found Green Book engrossing, engaging, funny, and horrific. We couldn’t take our eyes off the screen as Mortensen and Ali redefine the buddy movie while shining a cold, hard light on the Jim Crow culture of the 1950s South. We found both performances Oscar-worthy. Granted, the screenplay was based on the memoirs of the white guy so he comes out looking great. Pianist Don Shirley’s family is not happy with Green Book. Still, this is a dynamite movie—and one not to be missed 

Bohemian Rhapsody 

  • Bohemian Rhapsody, Freddy Mercury, Rami Malek, QueenRotten Tomatoes: 62% Fresh / 90% Liked
  • Synopsis: “Bohemian Rhapsody is a foot-stomping celebration of Queen, their music and their extraordinary lead singer Freddie Mercury, who defied stereotypes and shattered convention to become one of the most beloved entertainers on the planet. The film traces the meteoric rise of the band through their iconic songs and revolutionary sound, their near-implosion as Mercury’s lifestyle spirals out of control, and their triumphant reunion on the eve of Live Aid, where Mercury, facing a life-threatening illness, leads the band in one of the greatest performances in the history of rock music. In the process, cementing the legacy of a band that were always more like a family, and who continue to inspire outsiders, dreamers and music lovers to this day.”
  • Our Take: I liked Bohemian Rhapsody more than my husband did. The gay sex scenes and flamboyant behavior turned him off. I enjoyed the energy, the creativity and the willingness to push beyond boundaries that Freddy Mercury (Rami Malek) embodied. He was driving force behind Queen and a creative genius who died far too young. AIDS had barely been recognized in 1991 and there was no cure. The concerts—which use the original music—are outstanding. Bohemian Rhapsody has a killer soundtrack.

Bad Times at the El Royale 

  • Bad Times at the El Royale, movie, Jon HammRotten Tomatoes: 74% Fresh / 76% Liked
  • Synopsis: “Seven strangers, each with a secret to bury, meet at Lake Tahoe’s El Royale, a rundown hotel with a dark past. Over the course of one fateful night, everyone will have a last shot at redemption… before everything goes to hell. Jeff Bridges, Chris Hemsworth, Jon Hamm, Dakota Johnson and Cynthia Erivo lead an all-star cast in BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE.”
  • Our Take: This movie started out interesting, with plot twists as quirky as the mysterious hidden corridor that runs behind all the rooms. The story is told from the viewpoints of several of the characters so you get different perspectives on the action. Nothing, of course, is as it first appears. After a while, however, Bad Times at the El Royale turn very bad, indeed, as the excellent cast bites the dust one by one. Unless you like a lot of blood, the movie morphs into bad times for the audience.

The Girl in the Spider’s Web 

  • The Girl in the Spider's Web,. Lisbeth Salander, Claire FoyRotten Tomatoes: 41% Rotten / 42% Liked
  • Synopsis: “Lisbeth Salander, the cult figure and title character of the acclaimed Millennium book series created by Stieg Larsson, returns to the screen in a first-time adaptation of the recent global bestseller.”
  • Our Take: “My name is Salander, Lisbeth Salander.” This movie turns damaged, reclusive, amoral hacker Lisbeth Salander into a junior version of James Bond without the license to kill. In the books, she’s not this action-oriented. Instead, she wreaks vengeance on men who hurt women through her computer skills and a willingness to blackmail the bad guys. Spider’s Web has great scenery and cinematography but too much action and not enough real dialogue to make us care about anybody.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald 

  • Fantastic Beasts: Crimes of Grindelwald, Jude Law, Johnny DeppRotten Tomatoes: 38% Rotten / 61% Liked
  • Synopsis:At the end of the first film, the powerful Dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Depp) was captured by MACUSA (Magical Congress of the United States of America), with the help of Newt Scamander (Redmayne). But, making good on his threat, Grindelwald escaped custody and has set about gathering followers, most unsuspecting of his true agenda: to raise pure-blood wizards up to rule over all non-magical beings. In an effort to thwart Grindelwald’s plans, Albus Dumbledore (Law) enlists his former student Newt Scamander, who agrees to help, unaware of the dangers that lie ahead. Lines are drawn as love and loyalty are tested, even among the truest friends and family, in an increasingly divided wizarding world.”
  • Our Take: We’re always up for good fantasy and science fiction. Alas, I found this movie muddled, and possibly muggled, to death. The production values and special effects are excellent but the plot struck me as murkier than the Great Lake in front of Hogwarts. Somewhere around the middle I grew confused and puzzled. Who is this guy and where did he come from? Why should I care about him? Why are they looking for the exit? Why don’t they just apparate? You get the picture. 

Looking Forward to the Good Stuff

So there you have it: four movies in the fall shoulder season. I’m looking forward to more of the good stuff over the holidays. It’s always a toss-up, though. I had wanted to see Mortal Engines but, as I said before, it turned out to be a grand disappointment, one on which we would not waste our money.

Other movies came out that I would have like to have seen, like Lizzie, but they never came to a theater within driving distance. The same thing might happen with some of the holiday movies. When something like Mary Poppins Returns takes four or five theaters at the cineplex, other movies get locked out.

Fingers crossed for Aquaman.

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About Aline Kaplan

Aline Kaplan is a published author, a blogger, and a tour guide in Boston. She formerly had a career as a high-tech marketing and communications director. Aline writes and edits The Next Phase Blog, a social commentary blog that appears multiple times a week at aknextphase.com. She has published over 1,000 posts on a variety of subjects, from Boston history to science fiction movies, astronomical events to art museums. Under the name Aline Boucher Kaplan, she has had two science fiction novels (Khyren and World Spirits) published by Baen Books. Her short stories have appeared in anthologies published in the United States, Ireland, and Australia. Aline’s articles have also appeared on the Atlas Obscura website. She has been an active member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America since 1988 and is a long-term member of the Spacecrafts science/fantasy writers’ group. As a tour guide, Aline leads architectural and historical walking tours of the city for Boston By Foot, ghost tours for Haunted Boston and historical bus tours of the city. She lectures on Boston history and has appeared in the Boston Globe, as well as on TV for Chronicle, an award-winning television program that broadcasts stories of New England. As a lecturer, Aline has spoken at Brandeis and Tufts universities for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. She has also addressed as service organizations and local meetings. She is a graduate of Northeastern University in Boston and lives in Hudson, MA.

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