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  • A woman of letters – ‘Can You Ever Forgive Me?’
    A woman of letters – ‘Can You Ever Forgive Me?’

    Hollywood success can be a double-edged sword. Prominent performers often find themselves pigeonholed by their initial triumphs; the rationale seems to be that if you prove capable of a particular style or type of role, then there’s no reason to ask you to do anything different.

    Melissa McCarthy built her career on a certain style of broad comedy, brilliantly combining physicality and coarseness in 2011’s “Bridesmaids,” only to repeat variations on that theme more or less constantly for the next half-dozen years (the odd “St. Vincent” notwithstanding).

    So it’s refreshing to see her tackle something completely different in “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” It’s the true story of a struggling writer who harnessed her talent for biography into an ever-widening scheme involving the forgery of letters written by literary greats. It is a bleak, sad portrait of talent undone by self-doubt and false bravado, darkly funny with surprising moments of poignancy.

  • Bear unnecessities – ‘Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle’
    Bear unnecessities – ‘Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle’

    Rudyard Kipling’s classic 1894 novel “The Jungle Book” has served as the inspiration for a number of films over the years. Like any good source material, it has come to the attention of multiple filmmakers looking to tell their own version of the story.

    Generally, we’ve seen a new movie about once every generation. Since the early 1940s, audiences have gotten a new version of Mowgli and his jungle brethren every 20-25 years. The iconic Disney animation hit in 1967; another live-action version swung through in 1994.

    But then, “The Jungle Book” fell victim to the dreaded Hollywood disease known to some as ADIMMS (Armageddon/Deep Impact Multiple Movie Syndrome); two too-similar movies released too close together. There was Disney’s CGI-laden remake in 2016, replete with an all-star voice cast and directed by Jon Favreau.

    And now there’s “Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle” courtesy of Netflix. The streaming giant meant for this big-budget outing – a motion-capture extravaganza filled with famous voices and directed by mo-cap maestro Andy Serkis – to be a theatrical release. But circumstances (including the massive success of the Disney film from just two years prior) led to a shift in plans – a very limited big-screen turn followed by a quick turnaround to home availability.

    It’s certainly a darker look for the material than we usually see. But despite that darkness – or perhaps because of it – Serkis and company lose track of the story’s soul. “Mowgli” looks great, but looks aren’t everything. It’s a beautiful package without much inside.

  • Great performances drive ‘Green Book’
    Great performances drive ‘Green Book’

    On first glance, you might think that “Green Book” is fairly typical awards bait. It’s a movie about an unlikely relationship crossing racial divides in the 1960s, a story that can’t help but accrue nominations if it’s executed with the least bit of skill and finesse.

    This film feels very much like a throwback, a movie inspired by real-life events that is content to be driven by the immense talent of its lead performers. And while one can argue that its treatment of race is simplistic in spots, it still offers up a few challenges. It is thoughtful and funny and heartbreaking; a hell of a compelling and emotionally engaging story.

  • An unexciting exorcism - ‘The Possession of Hannah Grace’
    An unexciting exorcism - ‘The Possession of Hannah Grace’

    Finding new ways to tell the same story is one of the biggest obstacles to clear in filmmaking. There are only so many stories, but infinite ways in which to tell them. Horror cinema is particularly vulnerable to that kind of repetition.

    Take exorcism movies, for example. Every one since “The Exorcist” plays out in more or less the same way, hitting the same beats. Some do it well, others not so much, but either way, you’ve pretty much seen it before.

    “The Possession of Hannah Grace” initially seems like it might actually give you something different. It even starts to give it once or twice. But ultimately, it simply shrugs off the possibilities presented by its twist on the story and settles into the same old tumbledown pile of tropes. It’s a little different, yes - but not nearly different enough.

  • ‘Creed II’ an exceptional rematch
    ‘Creed II’ an exceptional rematch

    The success of 2015’s “Creed” was surprising in a lot of ways. The notion of creating a torch-passing sequel to the “Rocky” franchise seemed like a reach. And yet, thanks to the talents of writer/director Ryan Coogler and great performances from Michael B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson and a shockingly nuanced turn courtesy of Sylvester Stallone, it turned out to be an outstanding film.

    After that film’s success, of course we were going to get a sequel to the sequel, which brings us to “Creed II.”

    It’s not the same behind-the-camera team – Coogler is gone, replaced by Steven Caple Jr., while the screenplay was co-written by Juel Taylor and Stallone from a story by Cheo Coker and Sacha Penn – but the on-screen talent remains, with Jordan, Thompson and Stallone all returning. And while this new movie doesn’t quite ascend to the same level as the first film, “Creed II” is an excellent movie in its own right, finding ways to ground its titular character in life’s realities while also presenting him with a terrifying new foe.

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