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November 2017

Mini Movie Reviews: Holiday Season 2017

Hope you had a wonderful weekend! My Thanksgiving was nice and relaxing and the only drama occurred onscreen, with my trying to catch up on movies being touted as award contenders. If you’re wondering what to see this holiday season, perhaps this guide will be helpful.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

If writer-director Martin McDonagh’s name is on a movie, I will run to the theater without passing Go or needing to know what the movie’s about. In Three Billboards, my choice for the year’s best picture, Frances McDormand plays the mother of a murdered teenage girl who puts up billboards to force the police to explain why they haven’t solved the case seven months after the crime.

Original, fiercely acted, and darkly funny, it makes you think it’s about one thing until you realize it’s about something else altogether, something bigger and more profound. McDonagh, McDormand, and Sam Rockwell (as a cop the mother antagonizes) are all sure bets for Oscar nominations.


This is surprisingly dark for a Disney movie—a kid is in a literal life-and-death situation and there’s a murder—but I appreciated how Coco tackles death and the afterlife in a complex, vibrant, moving, and almost comforting way. At some point, adults will have to explain death to their kids; take them to Coco. But make sure they’re older than 8. The 4-year-old next to me started crying after 10 minutes and had to leave.

Lady Bird

Greta Gerwig wrote and directed this funny and poignant semiautobiographical movie about a 17-year-old girl from Sacramento who’s told she’s average in every way and advised to aim lower in life. But she’s determined to get out of “the Midwest of California” and go to Columbia University.

Gerwig captures that feeling of being on the cusp of adulthood, the impatience to leave home and then realizing afterward how precious home was. The beauty lies in Gerwig’s compassion toward her characters, judging neither the parents who want to shield their daughter from disappointment nor the teen who wants more. Saoirse Ronan is the perfect alter ego for Gerwig, with Laurie Metcalf and Tracy Letts turning in subtle, nuanced work as the parents.


After being homeschooled for years, a ten-year-old boy born with craniofacial deformities goes to school for the first time. Let’s just say not all his classmates are nice to him. In another time, I might’ve found this too afterschool-special, but in our current atmosphere of hate, this uplifting movie was something I needed. Without getting too schmaltzy, Wonder reminds us to choose kindness, and that it saves us when we least expect it.

Jacob Tremblay, superb as the kid in Room, makes Auggie’s light shine through heavy layers of makeup. Julia Roberts provides the heart as his mom, and Owen Wilson brings the humor as Auggie’s dad.

The Man Who Invented Christmas

A debt-ridden Charles Dickens needs a book to save his career and comes up with A Christmas Carol. There’s nothing new here, the inspirations seem too obvious—a handicapped boy practically has an arrow pointing to him and a caption saying “Inspiration for Tiny Tim!”—and the performances, including Dan Stevens’s as Dickens, are forgettable.

Also—I hope it’s not a spoiler because we all know he finished the book, right?—I experienced an editor’s horror when Dickens, under a ridiculously tight deadline, writes the last word and then rushes the manuscript straight to the printer so copies could be printed in time for Christmas. What, no revisions? No proofreading??

Molly’s Game

Aaron Sorkin is hit-or-miss for me but I can’t deny he writes smart dialogue. He’s directing for the first time here so he also gets to guide actors through his trademark long speeches. Molly’s Game is based on the real story of Molly Bloom, who ran high-stakes poker games in New York and L.A. until she was busted by the FBI.

Because I know less than nothing about poker and everyone talks fast, I struggled with understanding all the machinations, in and outside the game, but the lead actors—Jessica Chastain as Molly, Idris Elba as her attorney, and Kevin Costner as her father—do compelling work.

Which movies are you planning to see?

Photos: Coco/Disney-Pixar, Three Billboards/Fox Searchlight, Lady Bird/A24, Wonder/Lionsgate, Man Who Invented Christmas/Bleecker Street, Molly’s Game/STX Films



I’ve been attending lots of award-season screenings and am behind in reviews, so I’ll do some in this format. Below are my quick thoughts on Justice League.

What you want to know up front: I liked it. It’s not even close to being as good as Wonder Woman, but is much better than Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, which was garbage.

More info: Thanks to Joss Whedon coming in to finish the movie and oversee post-production (director Zack Snyder stepped away when his daughter committed suicide), Justice League is lighter in both tone and palate. I can actually see the details in scenes instead of them being all murky and dark.

The plot is inconsequential and the villain is a bland CGI monster, but I enjoyed seeing the heroes in action. Ezra Miller steals the show as The Flash and nerdy comic relief. He could crack me up with only his eyes behind a mask.

I love me some Wonder Woman, but as the only female, she mostly has to act as den mother so Gal Gadot doesn’t get to display much of her fun side. At least she remains fierce.

Jason Momoa doesn’t work for me as Aquabro but I don’t think that’s his fault. He’s playing the role as written, and the powers-that-be tried too hard to hip up Aquaman, with the long hair, tattoos, dudespeak (“My man!” and “All right”), and heavy rock music every time he appears. I just rolled my eyeballs.

Ray Fisher does his best with Cyborg but the character can be summed up as Sulky Strong Hybrid Guy.

Difference between men and female directors: In JL, Diana wears tight leather pants and a cleavage-baring top, with the camera sometimes lingering on her butt during a walking shot, and there’s at least one upskirt shot of WW. Both Mr. PCN and I noticed this and it made us uncomfortable. Patty Jenkins never objectified WW or Diana that way.

Conclusion: See it if you’re into DC superheroes. It has fun moments. Then go home and rewatch Wonder Woman on Blu-Ray.

Photo: Warner Bros.


Nerdy Special List November 2017

It blows my mind Thanksgiving is in a couple of weeks and Christmas is next month—I’m still wearing shorts!—but this is my favorite time of year so I say bring on the holidays. With time off, maybe we can catch up on eating reading.

To that end, here are the November books we recommend.

From Jen at Brown Dog Solutions:

Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance by Ruth Emmie Lang (St. Martin’s Press, November 7)

Ruth Emmie Lang’s fictional realism debut is heartwarming and inspiring at a time when we could all use a little hope. Weylyn Grey is an orphan raised with wolves before re-integrating into the human realm.

Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstances tells his life story through the voices of those who were a part of his unusual life: a foster sister, a teacher, employers, a young boy and the love of his life. Lang has crafted a rich story with sparkling language, robust characters, and a fascinating plot. It’s a story that will ignite a spark of magic inside each of its readers.

Garden of the Lost and Abandoned by Jessica Yu (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, November 7)

Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker Jessica Yu makes her book debut with a true story about an amazing woman making a difference in the lives of Ugandan children.

Gladys Kalibbala is a journalist who writes a weekly “Lost and Abandoned” column in Uganda’s largest newspaper, trying to reunite homeless, orphaned children with their families. Gladys goes to extremes—most of the time at her own expense—to find relatives, provide medical assistance, education, and basic needs like food and clothes, and to let these children know someone cares. Gladys’s compassion and selflessness make her a role model for us all, and Garden of the Lost and Abandoned is a fitting tribute to this beautiful human being.

From Rory at Fourth Street Review:

Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich (Harper, November 14)

Cedar Hawk Songmaker is pregnant, living in a near post-apocalyptic world. Evolution is seemingly running backward, with the flora and fauna looking downright prehistoric, and the government is ruled by religion. Pregnant women are being captured and monitored. Cedar knows she has to protect her unborn baby, but how? What, where, and who is safe?

Erdrich has written a timely, disturbing, and bleak novel about the degradation of women and the environment. Its relevance is what makes it both difficult and wonderful to read. I’d highly recommend Future Home of the Living God for fans of Margaret Atwood (the comparisons are unavoidable) and P. D. James.

From Lauren at Malcolm Avenue Review:

The Savage by Frank Bill (FSG Originals, November 14)

A follow-up to the bare-knuckled badassery of Donnybrook, Frank Bill’s The Savage is set only several years on but light years away. The US dollar and power grid are worthless, and power-and-land-hungry hordes are savaging what and who remains.

Against this backdrop, Bill explores the competing interests of (mostly) men living in the madness, and how they survive in light of their histories and the type of men their fathers taught them to be.

The Savage is soaked in vengeance and unapologetic violence. Bill writes in a unique voice that takes the reader to the heart of the brawl, but from the safety of the other side of the page, you’ll look forward to every hit.

PCN recommends:

The Woman in the Camphor Trunk by Jennifer Kincheloe (Seventh Street Books, November 14)

Check out this killer opening line: “Anna Blanc was the most beautiful woman ever to barrel down Long Beach Strand with the severed head of a Chinese man.” This captures the tone of the book—whimsical but deadly.

It’s 1908 Los Angeles, and assistant police matron Anna’s investigation of a murder leads her to Chinatown. Kincheloe strikes just the right balance between dark and light, commenting on serious social issues while keeping Anna madcap but never, ever dumb. Woman is as smart as it’s entertaining.

What are you reading this month?