Spider-Man had a huge box office last weekend and may repeat the feat this time. That gives lots to think about the future of the movies these days, pandemic or not. And we've got another possibly big one this week, No. 4 in the Matrix line. Meanwhile, there's Denzel Washington in two capacities, two attempts at history and only one film targeted for Christmastime. For alternatives, Clifford, the Big Red Dog might still be around somewhere and the Rio has got some favourites, including Die Hard. The streaming services have lots you could check out and here's what's new this week.
The Tragedy of Macbeth: 4 stars
A Journal for Jordan: 2 ½
Licorice Pizza: 4
The Matrix Resurrections: 3
Sing 2: 2 ½
The King's Man: 2
Margrete Queen of the North: 4
THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH: It took me a while to get over the casting. Denzel Washington as Macbeth, Frances McDormand as Lady Macbeth. It didn't feel like Shakespeare for a while, but it won me over. Both deliver tight, sincere acting performances. So do the others, including Corey Hawkins as Macduff, Brendan Gleeson as King Duncan, Harry Melling as Malcolm and Kathryn Hunter as all three witches. Joel Coen, working without his brother this time, directed with the economical, terse style we've seen before.
Most impressive, though, is the look of the film. Black and white all the way, with sharp contrasts and many scenes in silhouettes. You get right up close to the ambitious Scotsman and his cajoling wife. We feel for him as he realizes the trap he's put himself in. The stark look adds to that, and the eerie vision of Birnam Wood advancing adds to that starkness. And the extra drop of madness that McDormand puts into her “out, damned spot” speech is marvelous. It boils with resentment of her husband. He, meanwhile, struggles with regret. It's a very touching and moving representation of the two. (5th Avenue, International Village) 4 out of 5
A JOURNAL FOR JORDAN: Want more Denzel Washington? This one was directed by him and could do as a Christmas movie. It's about family, love, honour and more. But it's also very sappy. An American soldier (Michael B. Jordan) dies on tour of duty in Iraq, and sent home with his body is a journal he kept to tell his son how he should live his life. His wife had bought him the journal; the boy was born after he left.
That sounds promising and, under Washington's direction, partly works. But after all the expectation on what the father has to impart to the boy, we get very little. Near the end of the film, the boy reads a few statements: Why go to war? “That's what heroes do.” And later this: “Family means everything today.” Not the unique, inspirational thoughts I had been expecting. And they're not even the main focus of the film, which spends almost all its time depicting the love affair between the dad and the mom. She was an editor at the New York Times and wrote a column one day about that journal. That led to the movie, which goes back and forth in time so much that the impact weakens. We see the book, watch him write in it and maybe hear a homily from it before the mom even buys it. Nice story, could have been better told. (International Village, Marine Gateway and suburban theatres) 2 ½ out of 5
LICORICE PIZZA: This charmer is going to be very high on my best movies of the year list. Maybe at the top. Two young actors perform a lovely and warm story that's completely opposite what you might expect to see set in Hollywood. It was co-written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, whose work includes There Will Be Blood, Punch Drunk Love and Boogie Nights. So, yes, you're right to expect quality but maybe also a harsher mood. Instead, you get a sweet love story with quite a bit of critical thinking about Hollywood in behind. The two stars are first timers: Alana Haim, who is a singer in a band, and Cooper Hoffman, son of Philip Seymour.
He meets her at class photo day at his high school, where she's the photographer's assistant. She's 10 years older than he, but smitten as he is, he asks her out, explaining that he does have money. He's done a few small acting roles in films and TV and makes them sound important. He's self-assured; she's not. She's still living at home with her parents and sisters. She follows along with his optimistic ways because she feels out of place, with none of the get-it-done attitude she sees around her. He manages to get into the next big thing, the waterbed business. (It's the 1970s).
He also gets her a small movie part, which puts her in contact with a hustling producer (Sean Penn) with an equally gross assistant (Tom Waits). They meet another La La Land type when they go together to deliver a waterbed to a buyer: the producer Jon Peters who, at the time, was Barbara Streisand's boyfriend. The script doesn't disguise the name, and Bradley Cooper has some over-the-top fun playing him. All of that contributes to a caustic view of Hollywood that Anderson projects. There are creeps feeling important with the money and fame around them and becoming corrupted with delusions of their own grandeur. That's behind. Up front is a love story that's well worth enjoying. It's innocent and poignant (International Village, 5th Avenue and a few suburban theatres) 4 out of 5
THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS: In concept, that title is pure meta. The series is revived (it's film No. 4, 18 years after the last one) and with a surprising self-referential bit inside. Although the director, Lana Wachowski, had said she wouldn't make any more, and Neo, her central character, said he wouldn't design any more computer games known as the Matrix, both are right back at it because, as another character, says: "Our beloved parent company, Warner Brothers, is going to make a sequel to the trilogy — with or without us." Well, the fans are into it. One on YouTube spends almost an hour explaining everything that's happened up to this point, and the BBC has a long essay about the cyberpunk aspect of it making repeated references to two authors, one being Vancouver's William Gibson. So the need is there. For some.
I found it fun, although I couldn't make sense of much of it. Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) are no longer dead. They appeared to be last film and may have been brought back by the machines. They're the entities behind the world these characters exist in, which may be a computer simulation. Morpheus, the revolutionary, died in an allied computer game, so he's back in a younger form, played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II instead of Laurence Fishburne. And a major difference: Neo is in a funk and seeing a therapist, played by Neil Patrick Harris, who explains that creative people can get so involved in their work that they can't tell what's real and not real. Just keep taking your pills, he advises, and we're no closer to what's really going on. But it's lively. There are many references back, actual clips playing on screens near the characters and more reflection on technology, used and misused, and its effect on society. Basically more of the same, ponderous at times, not earth-shaking but energetic. (5th Avenue, Scotiabank, Marine Gateway and many suburban theatres) 3 out of 5
SING 2: This animated film is the only new family movie for this holiday season but don't bring the very little ones. What do they get out of a show biz satire with nasty managers and talent agents telling hopefuls “you're not good enough” and exhibiting egotism and hypocrisy? All set in Las Vegas, oh, sorry make that Redstone City, which looks a lot like it. Far down the road, there's a good message--don't give up on your dreams--but they'll be restless before it gets there. And they're not likely to be impressed by the big draw: U-2's frontman Bono voicing a character. (He also brought along a new song, which will interest completists).
In the film, a hapless theater group fails to impress at an audition and its leader (voiced by Matthew McConaughey) suggests something bigger, an outer space musical starring a reclusive rock star named Clay Calloway (Bono). He hasn't been seen in 15 years and theater owner Mr. Crystal (Bobby Cannavale) is excited as only over-the-top show-biz types can be. Problem: who knows where the star is? When he's found, how do you get inside the huge fence around his mansion? And how do you get his attention and participation? It's happens, Mr. Crystal spends big money, offends the prospective co-star (Reese Witherspoon) by putting his own daughter (singer Halsey) in her role and pushes this idea: “What you've got here is an opportunity to make me happy.” And so it goes. It's worth waiting though for the show that emerges. It's gigantic, taking us to four planets, all in one theater and through spectacular special effects. Along the way we hear 40 songs, boomer hits mostly. There's easy-to-take nostalgia for you. (International Village, Marine Gateway and suburban theaters) 2 ½ out of 5
THE KING'S MAN: The movies are known for mangling history, but I've never before seen them absolutely throttle it like this. Want to know what caused World War I? Is that even on people's minds right now? This film's answer is so far out there it might have been dreamed up in a drug-induced trip. Chortle away in class about this plot: one man causes the war. He leads a group of villains, including Rasputin, Mata Hari and the assassin Gavrilo Princip. Lenin is also in there, not clear how, and if that's not enough, catch an extra scene with him and a really nefarious character during the end credits.
How Ralph Fiennes got involved with this is a mystery. He plays a British aristocrat who became a pacifist after his wife was killed in South Africa and tries his best to keep his son from joining the army out of a sense of duty. War is “not fighting,” he says. “It's dying.” That admirable attitude gets tested before this loony movie ends.
He gets into a sword fight with Rasputin that looks like a ballet, almost dies in a parachute drop and has his life saved two separate times by mountain goats (yes). In a complete change of tone, the son is seen fighting in the trenches. Meanwhile, Russia wants out of the war, and the U.S. is trying to stay out. That's true, just not how this film tells it. It's a third entry in a series drawn from a graphic novel (unreliable for sure) and shows the origins of the private intelligence group in the first two. Gemma Arterton, Rhys Ifans, Matthew Goode, Tom Hollander and Daniel Brühl are in it, and Matthew Vaughn brought style, action and major craziness as writer-director. (Scotiabank, Marine Gateway and suburban theatres) 2 out of 5
MARGRETE: QUEEN OF THE NORTH: History is treated respectfully in this one, and the result is invigorating. You learn something new. Back in the 15th century, the three Nordic countries — Sweden, Norway and Denmark — were together. The Kalmar Union, named after the town where the deal was signed, lasted 126 years and was started by Queen Margrete to block any invasion by German forces. (World War II wasn't all that original, it seems).
The film shows the efforts she had to make and the intrigues she had to fight off to keep the union in effect. One or another of the partners were liable to secede. An alliance with England would also help block any Prussian aggression, and marrying her son to a very young daughter of King Henry was her plan to bring that about. Two problems: England demanded too much in return, and a long-missing figure reappeared. He was the Queen's son, believed to be dead (by her orders, according to some rumours). She had put an adopted son on the throne as king. How could England ally with a country that doesn't even know who rules? Is this a plot by Germany to stop that alliance? Is the man really her son? And a bigger question: if she tries him for treason, does she have the backbone to execute him? You'll be completely engrossed. The film is from Denmark, is rich in its settings and moves vigorously under the direction of Charlotte Sieling. (Rent or buy from the Cineplex or iTunes sites) 4 out of 5