“CREED II” Rated PG-13. Grade: B
One week after “Green Book,” “Creed II,” another American fable of racial healing, arrives, and while not nearly as powerful (or novel) as “Creed” (2015), it’s a decent, if totally predictable, “Rocky”-based boxing picture about fathers and sons. Robert “Rocky” Balboa, the character Sylvester Stallone created and played in the Academy Award-winning 1976 film, is back as the trainer and coach of surrogate son Adonis Johnson Creed (Michael B. Jordan, “Black Panther”). Adonis “Donny” is the son of Rocky’s most memorable opponent, Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers). Back in Ukraine, a defeated and aged Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) has trained his 6-foot-4, 245-lb. son Viktor Drago (charismatic Romanian boxer Florian “Big Nasty” Munteanu) to be devastating in the ring, where he is undefeated. With the encouragement and help of American promoter Buddy Marcelle (Russell Hornsby), Drago issues a challenge to Creed and Rocky. Meet us in the ring for a Creed-Drago revenge match.
“FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD” Rated PG-13.
The “magi-zoologist” and wizard Newt Scamander (Academy Award winner Eddie Redmayne) is back to bore us yet again in “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.” Once again directed by David Yates of those dreary, incoherent “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” films and once again scripted by Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling, this installment begins in 1927 New York City, where the transport of the dangerous super-villain prisoner Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) goes horribly wrong in ways that are hard to see because of the editing, dubious and extensive CGI, and the almost constant murky visuals with dark backgrounds. Get ready to squint at lot at things you don’t really care about.
“THE FAVOURITE” Rated R. Grade: A
Yorgos Lanthimos’ “The Favourite” is the best film I have seen this year. Set in the opening of the 18th century in England during the costly War of the Spanish Succession, “The Favourite” tells the tale of three Englishwomen: Queen Anne (a delightfully batty Olivia Colman), Queen of England, Scotland and Ireland; Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz), Duchess of Marlborough, the queen’s confidante and best friend; and Abigail Hill (Academy Award winner Emma Stone), Sarah’s penniless cousin, who was sold into slavery by her degenerate gambler father and arrives at Queen Anne’s court a kitchen servant. Colman is sublime. Stone delivers the film’s occasionally anachronistic, often vitriolic dialogue with superb malice and wit and gives another award-worthy turn as the wonderfully sharp-tongued Abigail.
“GREEN BOOK” Rated PG-13. Grade: A
Based on a true story, “Green Book” is, first of all a “Driving Miss Daisy”-like tale of racial reconciliation released at a time of renewed (if it ever went away) racial divisiveness in the United States, fueled by ghastly political forces seeking to benefit from it. The film is the story of two very different men: happy-golucky Copacabana bouncer Frank “Tony Lip” Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen, who put on Robert De Niro-like poundage for the role) and concert pianist Dr. Donald Shirley (Academy Award winner Mahershala Ali), who dresses impeccably and lives in an ornately decorated apartment above Carnegie Hall. Temporarily out of work and with a loving wife, Dolores (a great Linda Cardellini), and young family to support, Frank reluctantly takes a job driving and serving as unofficial problem-solver for Shirley, who has a concert tour taking him and his trio through the Deep South. The culture police will call “Green Book” a whitewash and a fairy tale. Bigots will bigot. But it was one of the most enjoyable films I have seen all year.
“THE GRINCH” Rated PG. Grade: C+
Can the people who bring us the “Despicable Me” films (i.e. Illumination Entertainment) do justice to “The Grinch,” the animated character with a heart “two sizes too small,” who is even more despicable because he steals Christmas? As this new disappointing Grinch film opens, we are reminded that Whoville, the town that is home to the Whos, is just like your town “if your town was a dream.” On an even higher peak of Mt. Crumpit next door dwells the lonely, furry and very green Grinch (Benedict Cumberbatch in a role previously voiced by the legendary Boris Karloff and more recently played live-action by Jim Carrey). Cumberbatch, who more successfully voices Smaug in “The Hobbit” series, makes the Grinch sound like a country yokel who somehow got to be a school principal.
“ROBIN HOOD” Rated PG-13. Grade: D
This disastrous new “Robin Hood” from director Otto Bathurst (“Peaky Blinders”) was apparently conceived as a graphic novel or a big screen computer game. It’s the only explanation I have for the film’s complete and utter ridiculousness in almost every department. The 13th/14th century action begins when Robin “Rob” of Locksley (a charmless Taron Egerton) falls madly in love with Marian (Eve Hewson in heavy makeup), whom he catches trying to steal a horse. Following a ludicrous makeout montage, Rob is drafted into the Third Crusade, where he barely survives a battle with Moors using a crossbow version of a machine gun and meets and bonds with a fierce Muslim fighter, whose name “translates” as John (Jamie Foxx) and who stows away on an English ship for three months shortly after losing a hand in battle.