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Grinned ear to ear or laughed out loud through the entire thing. Hilarious, sweet, sentimental, even ingratiatingly corny, and powered by Eddie Murphy’s relentless, optimistic, “let’s put on a show in the barn, kids” performance. Loved it.

On Netflix streaming now.

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Rian Johnson’s (Brick, Looper) modern update to the Deathtrap/Murder on the Orient Express-style whodunnit is clever, tight, witty and consistently engaging. The wealthy family of a famous mystery author (Christopher Plummer) is suspected of having offed him at a get-together in his ornate mansion (a cop observes “Look around. The guy basically lives in a clue board!”) and the investigation centers on his nurse, Marta (Ana de Armas), who is alternatively claimed and condescended to by the clan. The investigation is a wellspring of black humor, biting cynicism and hilarious family drama. Everyone (and everyone seems to be in this) is excellent, particularly Daniel Craig as a Southern drawling Hercule Poirot.

Two nits. First, in a mystery, having a character who is congenitally incapable of lying is an egregious cheat. If it weren’t for Johnson’s ingenious plotting, I’d have been more put off. Second, the politics are for the most part deft but also a little clunky. The family fighting about Trump was funny and authentic, with its hypocritical righty who digs Trump and treats Marta as a maid and his lefty cliche’ amping to 11 and invoking the Nazis. It was also even-handed – a leftie social justice warrior who has befriended Marta ends up being a true Judas . Still, Johnson rhetorically over-dunks on the lot of the Richie Riches at the end, which is the only misstep in what is otherwise a seamless, lively flick.

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A touching and heartfelt tribute to a matriarch.  Smart, deep and without an ounce of treacle, this is the holiday movie you should watch instead of the grotesque Love, Actually.  Upon hearing of the terminal cancer diagnosis for her Nai Nai (grandmother), Billi (Awkwafina), who left China when she was seven, returns from New York with her family (along with other family members from abroad) to say their goodbyes.  The twist is that, per custom, no one can reveal the diagnosis so as not to upset Nai Nai in her final months.  Indeed, Billi, a struggling student who has just been rejected for a fellowship, was specifically asked not to make the trip because her parents thought she was too emotional and incapable of adhering to the compact.

What follows is a loving and funny rendering of Billi’s family as well as her own mmersion into Chinese culture and the clash that comes with it.  First time writer-director Lulu Wang’s second feature is confident and multi-layered, and her visual sense, depicting China in an almost dreamlike state, emphasizes Billi’s trepidation and confusion.  The film is also slyly funny, capturing the idiosyncrasy of family that survives no matter the time apart or the geographical separation.  One of the best of the year.

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Great premise.  A failing singer-songwriter discovers he’s the only person who knows The Beatles music. They existed for him and him alone. And so, he pawns their songs off as his own on his way to superstardom.

So far, so good. Then, straight to the ditch, for so many reasons.

The “being the only person who knows the Beatles thing” happened because, well . . . we don’t know. There is some sort of worldwide electrical short and that’s that. Apparently, Coca-Cola and cigarettes never existed either.  Incredibly lazy.

The lead (Himesh Patel) is weak, uninteresting and one-note (confusion and skepticism are how he reacts to most everything) and as much as Lily James (his manager) tries, there is no connection, no chemistry. She’s been mooning after him since grade school and it is hard to glean why.  He’s kind of a drip.

His own music is bland.  They should have done more with this, with him struggling to accept that until he could cadge The Beatles catalogue, he was a pretty bad musician.

Kate McKinnon is funny. But as the slimy LA music exec, she’s way over-the-top and atonal, just this side of an SNL character. The music industry is, of course, portrayed as shallow and cynical, but in such a cartoonish way, it doesn’t work.

There is a “me or stardom” scene between James and Patel that is nonsensical. There was no need for the ultimatum, but it is given and then immediately reneged upon.

The film is surprisingly boring, with a lot of filler montage as Patel gets bigger and bigger.  However, we get none of the perils or glitz of stardom.  He could have met anyone in the industry, and the producers selected Ed Sheeran, a red-headed Ambien?  He doesn’t meet Jagger?  Come on.

The end is atrocious. Patel has an inexplicable visit to the real John Lennon (who became a sailor) and as a result, turns his debut performance into a confession to the crowd, followed by a rejection of riches (he releases all his Beatles tracks on line for free).  On the subject of riches, the real Lennon was quite eloquent:

PLAYBOY: “But that doesn’t compare with what one promoter, Sid Bernstein, said you could raise by giving a world-wide televised concert… playing separately, as individuals, or together, as the Beatles. He estimated you could raise over $200,000,000 in one day.”

LENNON: “That was a commercial for Sid Bernstein written with Jewish schmaltz and showbiz and tears, dropping on one knee. It was Al Jolson. OK. So I don’t buy that. OK?”

PLAYBOY: “But the fact is, $200,000,000 to a poverty-stricken country in South America…”

LENNON: “Where do people get off saying the Beatles should give $200,000,000 to South America? You know, America has poured billions into places like that. It doesn’t mean a damn thing. After they’ve eaten that meal, then what? It lasts for only a day. After the $200,000,000 is gone, then what? It goes round and round in circles. You can pour money in forever. After Peru, then Harlem, then Britain. There is no one concert. We would have to dedicate the rest of our lives to one world concert tour, and I’m not ready for it. Not in this lifetime, anyway.”

Now, how they should have done the film is as follows.

* The Beatles work is erased from the public consciousness

* Patel steals the songs and becomes famous

* He loves, loves, loves it but starts to fall apart from the fact that he knows he’s a fraud (and the cocaine and chicks and the loneliness)

* James comes to save him and then, he confesses

* The walls start closing in as four old men from Liverpool named Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starkey, who have all grown up to be different things, hold a press conference explaining that Patel must have stolen some of their songs because they wrote some of them (they have notes from their childhoods, some lyrics, but since they never coalesced, at best, it is old, Quarrymen stuff)

* The media treats the 4 men as jokes, because they seem ridiculous

* Patel becomes more unnerved

* After one of his shows, Lennon and McCartney corner him and beat him up

* At that point, James convinces Patel to make it right

* He does, by forming the band The Beatles with the real Beatles and holding his own concert on the roof

DARK ENDING

* They suck

* Patel says, “Sorry guys, I tried” and they thank him for the opportunity

HAPPY ENDING

* They’re awesome and they’re huge!

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A gut-busting, loose re-make of Superbad, this time with girls (Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever standing in for Jonah Hill and Michael Cera). It’s hard to overpraise the chemistry these two have, which enhances the laughter that comes in the set pieces as well as the seams.  This is their movie, and the bond and brilliance is evident form the first time we see them together.

They’re supported by a troupe of high school classmates so smartly drawn and crisply written, the whole “graduation night blowout” endeavor feels fresh. First-time director Olivia Wilde not only has an effortless command of pace and movement, but she also dazzles with three ingenious vignettes – a brief bad trip where the girls become Barbie dolls, Dever underwater in a pool (echoing both The Graduate and Boogie Nights) and Feldstein in a charming musical dance sequence.

The film is also very sweet and dare I say, uplifting. 

Masterful fun.  One of the best of the year.

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We always loved Baby Boom because the toddler reminded us so much of our daughter, in that she was adorable. I concede, one’s own daughter is always adorable. But our daughter was and is, objectively, adorable.

I digress.

Baby Boom is currently on the Showtime rotation and in watching to see the facsimile of our daughter, we caught the entire picture. The little girl is still cute. The 1987 film, however, does not travel as well as the kid.

Diane Keaton is the go-go Manhattan executive on an upward trajectory when a long lost and recently deceased relative delivers her a beautiful little girl via will.

It’s a broad comedy.  I can accept that a baby would be delivered at the airport at the mere stroke of a pen. I can accept that the cutest baby in the world would almost be transferred from a Manhattan agency to a cold, poor, backward Iowa couple. I can accept that James Spader in a suit is a villain. Well, that last one is a requirement for 1980s films.

But after Keaton keeps the baby, she is so inept – as demonstrated by numerous silly vignettes of a Weekend at Bernie’s stripe –  it becomes unfunny.  She deposits the baby at a coat check. She can’t negotiate a disposable diaper. She feeds the doll pasta and red sauce.  Hilarity does not ensue

It’s just easy, schlocky and weak. And when she is jettisoned by her company, you don’t have the sympathy for her that you should.

After getting demoted, Keaton takes the baby to Vermont, buys a dream house that is actually falling apart, meets rustic veterinarian Sam Shepard, fights with him until he forcibly kisses her, then has rewarding and fulfilling sex with him, and then starts her own successful baby food chain, all to the standard twinkly saxophone and Kimball organ score of the time. Whereupon, the corporate heels call her back to offer her the moon for her little company.

She declines, delivering a confused declaration of independence, a stemwinder announcing that 1) she should not have to choose between family and work; 2) she should not have to move operations from quaint Vermont to Cleveland; 3) James Spader is a rat; 4) she may just take her baby food company national herself; and 5) oh, she’s having rewarding sex with Sam Shepherd.

Except 1) they offered her $3 million and a COO job at nearly $1 million per, but it was the opening offer and she could have asked double, while getting a ceremonial board seat or do-nothing exec slot with an ample salary; 2) they said at the outset the move to Cleveland was negotiable; 3) she could have insisted Spader work the account and tormented him unmercifully, or she could have asked for his head to seal the deal; 4) there is no way she could take this company national; she can’t operate a pair of Pampers; and 5) swooning, with an actual sigh, about Sam Shepherd in a business meeting reinforces a lot of the stereotypes the stemwinder was supposed to rebut.

But the baby is adorable.

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One of the best of the year, powered by Melissa McCarthy’s misanthropic turn as a struggling biographer in the leanest of times. Unemployed, unpublishable and unliked, McCarthy (playing writer Lee Israel) hits upon a scheme to forge letters from the ranks of Noel Coward and Dorothy Parker and soon, her money woes are over. The endeavor also fills an artistic void. She takes pride in her turns of a phrase and bon mots, her work put in the mouths of giants, and she is invigorated. It all goes bad, as it must, but it is eventually to the good.

I can’t say enough about McCarthy. She inhabits the skin of Israel, with a vicious self-protective quality and a reflexive meanness. Yet you invest in her. Her bitter exchanges with her agent and attorney are both hilarious and poignant.

There is good in her, and a hell of a lot of hurt, both of which are unearthed by her chance friendship with an elegant scammer and libertine, Richard E. Grant.  McCarthy and Grant were rightfully nominated for Oscars and it is a joy to watch him match McCarthy’s desire to be left alone with an insistence that they will be friends.  Their hi-jinx and commiseration are the heart of the film.

I was blown away by the fact that this is director Marielle Heller’s first major feature.  It felt like the work of an old hand, steady, confident and mature. The movie skips with ease but pauses for moments of true beauty and consideration.

This is an elegant movie, folding how much people need each other into a very funny, well-told story.