THE FAVOURITE. Lanthimos is a writer and director of comedies not for the faint of heart. He makes movies I find hilarious; others seem to come away despondent at their misanthropy and absurdity. Some might call what he does psychological horror. But to me, the critical distinction lies in his emphasis on humor as a vital and inextricable element of the human experience — a highly nutritive leavening agent that makes his work more satisfying both as entertainment and as commentary. His latest finds him stretching out more than ever — which is saying something, given the high-concept but unassuming world-creation in his work — with a period piece about England in the early 18th century.
The nation is at war with France, though the conflict is but background noise to the drama playing out in the court of Queen Anne (Olivia Colman). She, sickly and weakened by indulgence, addled by tragedy, perhaps a bit dull, if we're being honest, isn't much of a ruler by conventional standards. She spends much of her time tending to her rabbits (surrogate children, really, but no spoilers), eating things that don't agree with her, vomiting and shrieking at her domestics. She leans heavily on her closest confidante, Lady Sarah Marlborough (Rachel Weisz), a shrewd and well-placed viper, when it comes to important decisions of governance. The arrangement suits them both, as it allows Anne to remain a figurehead while withdrawing ever further into the recesses of her memory, as Sarah enjoys the trappings of power with none of the risky exposure.
The balance is upset, though, by the arrival of Abigail (Emma Stone), purported a cousin of Sarah's, a lady of noble birth whose father's bad habits have cost her both title and innocence (she having been sold in payment of a gambling debt to a corpulent German). She enters the palace humbly, muddied and hoping for employment. Sarah assigns her to the scullery, where she finds herself universally disliked and cruelly pranked. But Abigail is nothing if not resourceful. She gradually curries favor both with Sarah and the queen, soon enough becoming indispensable to each. She also ingratiates herself to a potential suitor (Joe Alwyn) and a mincing political powerhouse (Nicholas Hoult). As she gathers her strength, it becomes clear that she is a powerful and equally ambitious adversary to Sarah.
Shot entirely on location in and around insanely appointed British manor houses of the period, The Favourite presents life among the elites of the period with an unflinching eye for detail, both in the design of the physical environment and the grotesquerie of the human behavior therein. Lanthimos, with cinematographer Robbie Ryan, deploys the camera dolly and the fish-eye lens to exquisite effect, simultaneously conveying a sense of ridiculous vastness and punishing claustrophobia. It's a gorgeously arrayed and photographed affair, acted with devastating timing by an impeccable cast (Hoult stands out with a particularly cutting comedic turn). It lives in the dark places; the movie's greatest achievement may be in transcending setting with insights into the venality and status-chasing in humanity at large. R. 119M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK. Barry Jenkins makes beautiful movies; that much is indisputable. His Moonlight (2016) is a clear-eyed, unsentimental examination of easily sentimentalized material. He is an artist with a distinct point of view and sense of style, with something to say about the human condition and contemporary America. He's also got a couple of Oscars on his mantle and enough clout to follow Moonlight with, one assumes, whatever project he chooses.
And If Beale Street Could Talk has an air of unfettered ambition about it: the release of years of rumination on a text that's a cornerstone of one's experience and philosophies (Jenkins adapted James Baldwin's novel). The scope of the narrative is deceptively small but closer examination reveals a wide-ranging, knotty thing — a difficult adaptation to pull off and one I'm not sure is entirely successful.
In early 1970s New York City, a young couple, having known each other all their lives, have fallen in love and gotten pregnant. But shortly thereafter he, Alonzo/Fonny (Stephan James) is wrongly imprisoned and she, Tish (KiKi Layne), with the help of her formidable family (played with tremendous humor and power by Regina King, Colman Domingo and Teyonah Parris), sets out to exonerate him. The futility of their efforts is heartbreakingly palpable — one theme of the piece being blackness in America as a prison sentence in itself — but dissipated by the undercurrent of love and support the characters share.
The movie is lyrically composed, with the camera moving as if carried on the constantly swelling score, and the performances, particularly the leads, are remarkably strong and entirely authentic. But somehow, for all its beauty, Beale Street doesn't achieve the intimacy it's working toward. R. 119M. MINOR.
—John J. Bennett
*Due to the holiday, updated Broadway and Mill Creek listings were not available at press time. See showtimes at www.northcoastjournal.com or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456; Richards› Goat Miniplex 630-5000.
THE KID WHO WOULD BE KING. Boy meets sword, pulls it from stone, must save world from wicked witch. Starring Tom Taylor, Rebecca Ferguson. PG. 120M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
MY COUSIN VINNY (1992). Marisa Tomei snapping her gum and being iconic. R. 120M. BROADWAY.
SERENITY. Beachy noir in which a fishing boat captain's (Matthew McConaughey) femme fatale ex (Anne Hathaway) shows up and asks him to kill her new husband. R. 106M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
STAN & OLLIE. Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly in a backstage biopic of Laurel and Hardy directed by Jon S. Baird. PG. 97M. BROADWAY, MINOR.
AQUAMAN. James Wan directs the butched-up ocean superhero's (Jason Momoa) solo feature with Amber Heard and an army of CG sea creatures. PG13. 143M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
BUMBLEBEE. Transformers spinoff starring Hailee Steinfeld and John Cena. PG13. 113M. BROADWAY.
BURNING. A young man (Ah-In Yoo) is tangled up with a missing woman (Jong-seu Jun) and a rich, mysterious firebug (Steven Yeun) in this beautiful, austere Korean drama adapted from an equally strange Haruki Murakami story. NR. 148M. MINIPLEX.
A DOG'S WAY HOME. Live action drama in which a lost dog (voiced by Bryce Dallas Howard) searches for her owner cross country. Starring Ashley Judd. PG. 96M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
ESCAPE ROOM. A handful of strangers use their wits to make it out of a deadly series of high-tech immersive puzzles. Starring Taylor Russell and Deborah Ann Woll. PG13. 100M. BROADWAY.
GLASS. Director M. Night Shyamalan brings characters from Split (James McAvoy) and Unbreakable (Samuel L. Jackson, Bruce Willis) together to complete the dark superhero set. PG13. 129M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
GREEN BOOK. The cringe-worthy story of a racist white man driving a black concert pianist around the South in the '60s buoyed by Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali's immersive performances. PG13. 130M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
MARY POPPINS RETURNS. The original super nanny (Emily Blunt) takes on the children of her former charges. With Lin-Manuel Miranda and a freakishly spry Dick Van Dyke. PG. 130M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
THE MULE. Clint Eastwood's storytelling is as controlled as his performance as an aging, failed father smuggling drugs for a cartel as the DEA closes in. With Bradley Cooper and Michael Peña. R. 116M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA.
ON THE BASIS OF SEX. Director Mimi Leder's well-acted biopic of Ruth Bader Ginsberg could have reached for its subject's radicalism but even in its conventional form it's a good history lesson. Starring Felicity Jones and Armie Hammer. PG13. 120M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET. More video game hijinks voiced by John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman. PG. 112M. BROADWAY.
REPLICAS. A lemon of a sci-fi thriller with a wafer-thin plot about bringing the dead back in robot form, terrible casting and weak storytelling that fails even as guilty pleasure. Even Keanu Reeves isn't perfect. PG13. 107M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPDER-VERSE. Inter-dimensional spider heroes team up in an animated adventure. Starring Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson and Hailee Steinfeld. PG. 117M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
THE UPSIDE. An inexperienced parolee (Kevin Hart) becomes an assistant to a wealthy man with quadriplegia (Bryan Cranston). With Nicole Kidman. PG13. 125M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill