Thursday, December 22, 2022

Christmas 6-pack: 'Babylon,' 'Corsage,' 'Eye,' 'Boots,' 'Whale,' 'Whitney'

"Babylon" ($ $ $ out of $5): The first 60 minutes of wunderkind director Damien Chazelle's latest three-hour razzle-dazzle is a frenetic masterpiece of lust and probably everything anyone thinks they know about what goes on in Hollywood, even now. The last act ain't too shabby, either, nor are Margot Robbie, Brad Pitt, Jovan Adepo ("Fences") and dashing newcomer Diego Calva, as the four main Silent-Era players not so easily dealing with the advent of talking movies. See it if you dare now at theaters everywhere! (Rated "R") 

"Corsage" ($ $ $ $): Speaking of naughtiness, Vicky Krieps ("Phantom Thread") gives a period-piece performance to behold as the Empress of Austria (in 1878). She's a regal woman turning 40, obsessed with keeping her figure wrapped more tightly than her own smartly irreverent actions. Writer/director Maria Kreutzer obviously toys with historical accuracy in return for some fun during the oh-so serious-minded reign of Emperor Franz Joseph. The ladies' work unspools today in select theaters and (at the Cedar Lee in northeast Ohio) Jan. 6. (Rated "R.") 

"The Pale Blue Eye" ($ $ $ and 1/2): An exceedingly more macabre 19th century story finds Christian Bale portraying a detective and grieving widower hired by haughty military academy officials at West Point to investigate an on-campus hanging that turns shockingly brutal with the details. Cadets appear to be involved on all ends, and one of them, a captivating young soul named Edgar Allan Poe, steals the picture as poetically played by Harry Melling (of previous "Harry Potter" fame). The darkly distinctive thriller will continue its reach into a few theaters until it lands for good Jan. 6 on Netflix. (Rated "R.")

"Puss in Boots: The Last Wish" ($ $ $ and 1/2): Energetic animation and famous voices galore literally offer new life to the swashbuckling title cat during this long-awaited sequel. I mean, it is a full 11 years since Antonio Banderas smoothly gave rich, valiant timber and big-screen adventure to "Puss," who remains "your favorite fearless hero." Or so he immodestly claims -- and sings! Now he proudly prowls anew with the returning Salma Hayek (Kitty Softpaws) and impressive new castmates Florence Pugh (Goldilocks), Olivia Colman (Mama Bear), Ray Winstone (Papa Bear), and John Mulaney ("Big," not little, Jack Horner), among some cool and funny others. The plot's a hoot to boot, including an ending that gives hope to Puss and pals reuniting with the "Shrek" franchise that started it all. (Rated "PG" and in theaters.)

"The Whale" ($ $ $ and 1/2): The year's biggest performance certainly comes with a remarkably moving Brendan Fraser, as a reclusive, 600-pound English professor named Charlie. The tearjerker from director Darren Aronofsky ("Black Swan," "Pi") also includes top-rate supporting turns from the massive patient's tough-love nurse (Hong Chau, most recently in "The Menu"), an estranged daughter (Sadie Sink from "Stranger Things"), and just one fabulous-enough scene with Samantha Morton, chewing up the film's meager interiors, as the ex-wife Charlie left for a male student. None of it is particularly easy to watch, but the gentle humanity in Fraser's demeanor will stay with you a while. (Rated "R" in theaters only.)

"Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody" ($ $ and 1/2): The tragically late, enormously great chanteuse's vocal stylings become the reason to see this so-so biopic, especially since two documentaries about her crowded life and drug-related death in 2011 probably rehashed more than her most devoted fans wanted to know, anyway. Regardless, it's all here -- again -- from Houston's awe-inspiring rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" at Super Bowl XXV to her "Love" medley at the 1994 American Music Awards, which this film uses to bookend itself. In between, too, for good or bad, better or worse, Robin Crawford (the scene stealing Nafessa Williams of CW's "Black Lightning") or Bobby Brown (Ashton Hudson from "Moonlight"), all earn lavish screen time right up to the unhappy end. Unfortunately, where this "Dance" stumbles most, though, comes with the college-try approach of Brit Naomi Ackie, who simply never provides the kind of pop that "Pop Princess" Houston herself almost always delivered. (Rated "PG-13" and in theaters just about everywhere.)

No comments: