(Comedy/Drama: 2 hours, 13 minutes)
Starring: Paul Giamatti, Da’Vine Joy Randolph and Dominic Sessa
Director: Alexander Payne
Rated: R (Strong language, drug use, sexual material)
Discomfort and joy are the themes for this engaging holiday movie that pairs alum Alexander Payne and Paul Giamatti from “Sideways” (2004). Payne was the 2005 recipient of an Oscar in Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay that he shared with Jim Taylor. “The Holdovers” is another gem from the Payne-Giamatti team with writer David Hemingson.
Giamatti plays unlivable instructor Paul Hunham at an elite preparatory school. The upcoming 1970 Christmas holiday has Hunham supervising several students. Soon, just one student remains, Angus Tully (Sessa), a rambunctious 15-year-old who misbehaves often. An arrogant Hunham, Tully, and the school’s cook Mary Lamb (Randolph), who is still grieving her Vietnam veteran son. The trio soon finds comfort in helping each other find ways to cope with pasts.
“The Holderovers” is an atypical holiday screenplay, but it scores points as a heartfelt drama with plenty of humorous moments. Giamatti, Da’Vine Joy Randolph and Dominic Sessa are an impressive cast that delivers emotive and comical moments.
Director Payne gives his movie a 1970s feel. He does this through attire, the set designs and through the manner he uses logos from the 1960s and 1970s. He even uses a 1970’s vintage R-rating MPAA display. Payne and his team are focused on details — the characters and their actions, set designs and the nature of this story about three people stuck together because of a lack of familial connections.
The cast facilitates the narrative with fine acting by Giamatti, Randolph and Sessa. Giamatti is one the most talented actors with no Academy Award. He is engaging again here. Randolph is majestic. She presents a nice regalness, even while playing a cook. Sessa proves he can work with senior actors and be a pivotal player. He is noteworthy as a teen with angst. They are all worthy of accolades during awards season.
Hats off to Payne, the cast and the crew for this enjoyable movie. The story, the characters and the overall presentation are worth seeing this holiday season.
Grade: A- (This fine movie should be an easy holdover well in cinemas.)
(Biography/Drama: 1 hour, 53 minutes)
Starring: Cailee Spaeny, Jacob Elordi and Ari Cohen
Director: Sofia Coppola
Rated: R (Drug use and language)
When teenage Priscilla Beaulieu (Spaeny) meets Elvis Presley (Elordi) in a 1959’s Germany, she is in ninth grade. She is 14, and Elvis is 24 and is already a superstar. They start dating sometime after. After Priscilla graduates from high school, the couple marries years later. The marriage is one of loneliness for Priscilla as she deals with his and her drug usage, Elvis’ infidelity and his abusive actions toward her.
The meteoric rise of Elvis is Priscilla’s waning. This is the nature of Sofia Coppola’s screenplay of the legendary couple. “Priscilla” is a perspective biopic based on Priscilla Presley’s book. The Presley’s marriage appears dreamy to the public, but the coupling was a turbulent marriage.
Much appears to happen in Priscilla and Elvis’s marriage. The book and this movie indicate this. However, the material for both appears to hold back, not wanting to harm Elvis’s reputation while being truthful about his actions towards Priscilla.
Sophia Coppola is the director of. “Lost in Translation” (2003), and “Marie Antoinette” (2006). She ably makes her characters people you want to know. Her actors intimately deliver characters. Coppola achieves this again. Cailee Spaeny and Jacob Elordi offer fine performances, following Coppola’s direction well.
With “Priscilla,” she does so again. Priscilla and Elvis are fascinating, despite both being portrayed in last year’s movie “Elvis” directed by Director Baz Luhrmann.
Coppola makes this couple interesting although too many quiet moments in the latter half. The moments are self-reflective bits for Priscilla and for audiences. They are too plentiful, but these scenes leave audiences wanting more details about the couple’s life. Instead, Priscilla and Elvis are less dynamic and rushed as this drama nears its conclusion.
Grade: B- (Priscilla offers another interesting view behind the doors of Graceland.)
“Inspector Sun and the Curse of the Black Widow”
(Animation/Comedy/Family: 1 hour, 28 minutes)
Starring: Jesús Barreda, Andrea Villaverde and Catherina Martínez
Director: Julio Soto Gurpide
Rated: PG (Action, violence and some suggestive material)
As if a continuation of an Agatha Christie novel, “Inspector Sun” is a mix of “A Bug’s Life” (1998) and “Inspector Gadget.” This animated movie is adventurous, but its hodgepodge of diverse characters makes it difficult to relate to these insects.
After a spider detective Inspector Sun (Barreda) captures his arch nemesis, he boards a seaplane to San Francisco. While on the flight, he must solve a murder which leads to a greater scheme that threatens humans and insects. In the middle of his investigation is Arabella Killtop (Martínez). She is a black widow spider and the main suspect of Spindlethorp’s murder.
“Inspector Gadget” (TV Series 1983–1986), which the titular character was played by Don Adams, who portrayed Maxwell Smart in television’s “Get Smart” (1965–1970). Gadget had Penny, a brilliant young girl sidekick who covertly solved the mysteries for Gadget. Inspector Sun also has a young assistant, Janey (Emily Kleimo), a jumping spider. Again, both the television series and this movie are similar.
Kudos to the producers of this movie for their attempt to produce a mystery movie with the feel of yesteryear. The problem is that the style is not one many children may find gratifyingly familiar, even though parents may.
Grade: C+ (Worth a minor inspection only.)
“The Marsh King’s Daughter” (Mystery/Crime: 1 hour, 48 minutes)
Starring: Daisy Ridley, Ben Mendelsohn, Brooklynn Prince and Garrett Hedlund
Director: Neil Burger
Rated: R (Violence)
“The Marsh King’s Daughter” is a thriller that relies on thrills. Daisy Riddley stars as Helena Pelletier, an adult woman who decides to preemptively go after her father Jacob Holbrook (Mendelsohn) before he can attack her and her family. The movie may be based on a book, but this is one book that did not deserve a screenplay the way it was written.
The first half of the movie is more interesting than the latter half because one doesn’t quite understand what is happening in the first half, so it becomes a little bit of a mystery. That mystery makes more sense once an event happens about 20 minutes into this movie.
However, this screenplay’s first 20-minute setup does not equate to a better remaining hour and 20 minutes. Although this is a revenge movie, the main character’s motivation for her quest is unconvincing. Karen Dionne’s book does not create an atmosphere one cares about these characters to care about their motives.
Grade: C (An estranged pairing.)
“The PersianVersion” (Comedy/Drama: 1 hour, 47 minutes)
Starring: Layla Mohammadi, Niousha Noor and Bella Warda
Director: Maryam Keshavarz
Rated: R (Strong language and sexual references)
This movie starts in 1985 and moves forward with a young Iranian woman is living in the United States. This movie is a comedy. It has laughs scattered throughout. It is a nice feature about cultural differences and the expectations of women in Iran and the United States.
Leila (Mohammadi) is part of a large American family. Her father Ali Reza Jamshidpour (Bijan Daneshmand) is a doctor, and her mother (Noor) is a real estate agent. Eight brothers are also a part of the close-knit family. Leila is thought of as the family “screw-up,” although she has completed graduate school and has a nice profession. Still, she is her parent’s only daughter. She is held to different standards than her brothers. After Leila becomes pregnant, her relationship with her mother disintegrates. An exploration of the past reveals the two women are very similar, independent and intelligent women.
“The PersianVersion” excels because it combines three stories of very strong women who are portrayed by actresses who give nice performances. Layla Mohammadi, Niousha Noor and Bella Warda. Mohammadi is engagingly amusing. Noor is elegant and demands attention. The person who steels scenes is Warda, who delivers a comical irreverence befitting her age.
The story jumps around between decades. The intermixed time sequences are distracting, but the characters’ stories are gratifying enough that they are worth admiring.
Maryam Keshavarz, a New Yorker of Iranian descent, directs and writes this tale. It is an ode to her Iranian heritage and to resolute women who manage their lives and that of their families. These elements create an enjoyable movie.
Grade: B (The Persian persuasion.)
“What Happens Later” (Drama: 1 hour, 45 minutes)
Starring: Meg Ryan, David Duchovny and Hal Liggett
Director: Meg Ryan
Rated: R (Strong language, sex reference, drug use)
Meg directs and stars in “What Happens Later,” which is based on Steven Dietz’s play. It takes place between two characters in an airport. If you think flying and having to travel through airport terminal is bad, this movie is next to that.
William Davis (Duchovny) and Wilhelmina (Ryan) were a couple. They reunite at an airport terminal and have unfinished conversations. The reunion is one of mixed feelings for them as the relationship ended on a lukewarm note. After getting stranded at this airport overnight, the two begin to talk about their past, and their present.
For middle-aged people, both these characters appear adolescent in their behavior. One can see why the relationship did not work.
Moreover, if audiences have something better to do, watching these characters sit around and talk about their lives to a bunch of scenes. This is a good place to wind down to take a nap. This is not because the acting is bad or that the screenplay does not have some merit. It’s just because the entire thing is boring.
Grade: C- (What happens next . . . Who cares?)
“The Marvels” (Action/Adventure: 1 hour, 45 minutes)
Starring: Brie Larson, Teyonah Parris, Iman Vellani and Samuel Jackson
Director: Nia DaCosta
Rated: PG-13 (Action violence and brief language)
“The Marvels” is the 33rd movie from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This edition is similar to last year’s “Thor: Love and Thunder” (Taika Waititi) in its attempt to deliver comical bits with action sequences. “The Marvels” takes a comical spin and dips into fantasy on occasion which is good and inadequate. While Marvel movies remain entertaining, including this one, producer Kevin Feige, since taking over Marvel, has turned the super superhero characters into farces occasionally.
Carol Danvers, known as Captain Marvel, unites with Air Force Captain Rambeau (Parris), and Kamala Khan (Vellani), aka Ms. Marvel. Together, they are The Marvels, and they fight Dar-Benn (Zawe Ashton), a Cree warrior who leads her people to restore their planet after Captain Marvel destroys the Kree’s The Supreme Intelligence.
“The Marvels” is a sequel to 2019’s “Captain Marvel.” It contains characters from the television miniseries “Ms. Marvel” (2022) and “WandaVision” (2021). While audiences may not have a general knowledge of one to two of the main characters, such knowledge is unneeded to enjoy the antics of these superheroes.
The Marvel happens to be an entertaining movie. The problem is that it seems similar to other Marvel movies. That means some supervillain wants revenge and threatens some part of the known universe. Of course, Earth is always threatened it seems. A team of superheroes must unite to save multiple planets.
While Captain Marvel may be known to many because of the prequel to this movie, the other two Marvels, unless one has seen the television series where they existed, may feel the characters are unknown.
That written, “The Marvels” does offer entertaining bits that make it worth it. A song and dance number from a very unusual planet interjects energy into this movie. Otherwise, this movie is not as marvelous as other additions within this franchise.
Grade: B- (Marvelous repeat.)
“Journey to Bethlehem” (Comedy/Musical: 1 hour, 39 minutes)
Starring: Milo Manheim, Fiona Palomo, Joel Smallbone and Antonio Banderas
Director: Adam Anders
Rated: PG (Thematic elements)
“Journey to Bethlehem” is sort of a musical comedy. It is a religious film about Mary and Joseph’s trek to have their baby, Jesus. This is the first holiday movie aimed at Christmas audiences that is not a gift.
Mary (Palomo) and Joseph (Manheim) travel to Bethlehem. Along the way, they must evade the henchmen of Herod (Banderas), who is searching for a young pregnant woman.
Mary is a teen, wanting to avoid marriage, and Joseph thinks similarly at their first meeting. Their scenes appear like moments from Disney’s “High School Musical.” Angel Gabriel (actor-musician Lecrae) is portrayed as an unconfident being. They and other characters seem to be destined for a canceled television program.
This is not because the singing is bad; it is the comical manner this movie takes concerning a very serious subject matter. “Journey to Bethlehem” is “Aladdin” meets a Bible in a musical. Religion is made a farce, and it is not funny.
Grade: C (An irreverent journey.)
“Anatomy of a Fall” (Drama/Crime: 2 hours, 31minutes)
Starring: Sandra Hüller, Milo Machado Graner and Swann Arlaud
Director: Justine Triet
Rated: R (Violent images, some language, sexual references)
“Anatomy of a Fall” is a classic drama in the sense that it presents a mystery with a straightforward story that leaves audiences with something to ponder. It is also a courtroom drama, which the French justice system takes front and center.
The court case is whether Sandra Voyter (Hüller) committed her husband’s murder. Samuel, her husband, falls nearly three stories while renovating a third-floor attic space within their house. The only other witness to what happened is the couple’s son Daniel (Graner), who is legally blind. Daniel happens to be walking the family‘s dog when he returns to find his father on the ground during a snowy winter.
As the court system wrestles with whether Sandra killed her husband or was the fall a simple accident, this arresting drama leaves a mystery for audiences also. This photoplay has a perfect execution to keep one guessing as to what happened.
“Anatomy of a Fall” is just what the title suggests. It has multiple scenes where people examine a deadly fall. The court’s prosecution team aims to show the cause of Samuel’s fall was another person while the defense tries to remedy the situation by showing that the fall was a careless accident.
The result is an intriguing drama. It is a mystery to solve, and audiences must find their own clues.
A talented cast perpetuates this movie. A good cast holds its own, especially Sandra Hüller. She must provide an atmosphere of uncertainty. One believes her while still having a kernel of doubt. Meanwhile, her son has the dubious role of which parent to believe his child’s choice is harder, considering he knows things about the couple the courts do not.
Directed by Justine Triet from a screenplay she co-wrote with Arthur Harari, “Anatomy of a Fall” is worth falling for as a movie. Those who like a good drama should find this pleasing.
Grade: B (Fall into it.)
“Next Goal Wins” (Sports Drama/Comedy: 1 hour, 49 minutes)
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Kaimana and Oscar Kightley
Director: Taika Waititi
Rated: R (Strong language, sexual content and crude material
True events inspired this screenplay about a losing soccer team. “Next Goal Wins” is a typical sports drama, but it tugs at emotional strings. It is inspirational enough to score a goal while not winning the game.
An American Samoa soccer team lost to Australia 31-0 in 2001, the worst loss in World Cup history. The team recruits Coach Thomas Rogen (Fassbender) to turn the team around for the approaching 2014 World Cup. Rogen does not want to coach the substandard team but reluctantly begins to develop the team’s skills.
While Fassbender is frequently interesting in roles, Kaimana becomes the most fascinating character in this movie. She portrays the world’s first transgender footballer Jaiyah Saelua. Kaimana identifies as fa’afafine a gender fluid addition of Samoan culture.
Director and co-writer Taika Waititi is known for mixing light comedy with emotional dramas. The beautifully done “Jojo Rabbit” (2019) is a prime example. “Next Goal Wins” maintains Waititi’s style, but the movie is too comical at moments when pure drama is needed, which is most of the movie, comical bits supersede dramatic instances that perpetuate the movie.
However, for audiences wanting agreeable sports melodrama, this is an affable movie. It is an emotional piece without getting sappy.
Grade: B- (It scores that one goal to save the game.)
“Saltburn” (Drama/Thriller: 2 hours, 11 minutes)
Starring: Barry Keoghan, Jacob Elordi, Archie Madekwe, Rosamund Pike and Richard E. Grant
Director: Emerald Fennell
Rated: R (Strong sexual content, graphic nudity, strong language, disturbing violent content and drug use)
“Saltburn” spins much of its runtime showing how depraved and crazed its main character Oliver Quick (Barry Keoghan) is. Additionally, the screenplay shows how brilliant he is in manipulating his prey, but Oliver’s tactics are revealed through roughly inserted brief flashbacks that act as cliff notes. Despite that, Keoghan’s performance is engagingly noteworthy, but his presentation is overshadowed by a plot that never fully lets audiences in on the mystery.
Oxford University student Oliver Quick (Keoghan) is a solitary student trying to find his place. He befriends a charismatic, handsome and wealthy socialite Felix Catton (Elordi). Quick admires Catton, a seemingly classmate crush. Soon the two are friends and Catton invites Quick to his aristocratic family’s estate. There, Quick begins manipulating the eccentric family of five to achieve his malevolent goals.
Director-writer Emerald Fennell leaves too much to the imagination. Oliver Quick is a very clever murderer, yet audiences are left out of the loop often. How he commits his crimes lurks in the background, leaving the moments to the audience’s imagination.
The biggest omission is the fact Fennell gives one little reason to care about his characters who are being victimized. That acknowledged, Fennell is brave; sexually and violently he allows his main character to exhibit.
Oliver Quick is a disturbed individual. He is a pansexual psychotic who constantly lies. This dramatic thriller stays focused on his goal. A dynamic Barry Keoghan plays the character well and is the only reason to see this movie. His scenes with a talented Jacob Elordi, who plays Elvis in the currently playing “Priscilla,” are the highlights, yet Fennell never gives one enough time to get to know the two as friends.
The performances by the cast outshine the script in which they exist. While Fennell creates a truly deviant man with Oliver Quick, he allows audiences to be shocked more than convinced.
Grade: B- (It is salty and sweet simultaneously.)
Adann-Kennn Alexxandar has been reviewing movies for more than 25 years for The Valdosta Daily Times.