Mike at the Movies: Little Women & More

Little Women (PG)

A stunning adaptation of the classic story of the creation of a masterpiece, this film has the additional value of an astounding musical score by Alexandre Desplat plus others too numerous to mention, but including Beethoven. It also has sparkling performances by Saoirse Ronan as Jo March and Florence Pugh as her sister Amy. The other sisters are played by Eliza Scanlen (Beth) and Emma Watson (Meg). The storyline is pretty much the one we all know—oodles of sisters (only four but it seems like a lot more) as Jo pursues her writing career (see Louisa May Alcott) and the other sisters go after their own dreams of painting, acting and housewifery while being pursued by various and sundry males in the neighborhood.

Outstanding supporting roles are played by Meryl Streep as grumpy Aunt March (who has a heart of gold underneath, of course) and Laura Dern as the ever-present Marmee, the girls’ mother.

The whole leads at times to an over-supply of crinoline and pastels, but the marvelous music makes up for it. There is also a lot of dancing in the film as the 19th century is celebrated in various ways. There are also stunning shots of New England and 19th century New York City for the panoramic fans.

But the central story is really one of male domination of the printing industry when Alcott/March tried to invade it as a woman. She is given much advice by her publisher, Mr. Dashwood (Tracy Letts), most of it bad like the following: “If your main character is a girl, make sure she’s married by the end—or dead.”

Jo eventually turns out to be a tough dealer, getting 6.5 percent on royalties and ownership of her copyright.

The story is a very romantic one, of course, with the women all married, most happily, by the end, but the underlying theme of women’s liberation runs heavily throughout the film. For most of the movie, the men in it are merely figures to be sought for marriage or ignored for someone richer and handsomer. Things work out better in the end, so don’t judge too early.

Visually, this is a stunner, musically the same and dramatically the same except for those moments when men seem almost unnecessary. Even the older youngsters will enjoy seeing this and becoming familiar with the outlines of a great classic read.

Spies in Disguise (PG)

Will Smith has the dual role of Lance Sterling, the world’s greatest spy, and the Spy Turned Pigeon in this farcical satire of the spy genre in general. Walter Beckett (Jarett Bruno) is a loser in school. He’s far too serious in his own pursuits, which include making things and fantasizing about using them. Lance turns up and Walter offers him a glass of what Lance thinks is water, but it is charged with Walter’s secret formula that allows things to assume miniature proportions. Walter thinks this is a great cover for a spy: “Pigeons are everywhere and nobody notices them. It’s the most perfect form a spy can take!” OK unless you have not had flying lessons or can tolerate eating what other people have rejected.

Walter hooks up with the pigeon and soon they are on the trail of the evil Kimura (Masi Oka). One of the odd things about this film is that Japanese voices play many parts as many of the characters are Japanese. Kimura at one point admits a weakness, “I peed in the pool!”, a line that gets a big laugh from the younger members of the audience and a smile and even a chuckle or two from the older ones. Walter and the bird pursue Kimura and his men and try to avoid the dangerous drones that fill the set and destroy most of DC. Walter and Lance form “Team Weird” as they succeed (as they must) and form a good partnership for future Lance Sterling films. Smith has his usual good time, the animation is effective and the lines sharp and funny. And watch those prolific pigeons!

Uncut Gems (R)

Adam Sandler breaks his own mold as grifter Howard Ratner, also a “gemologist” and owner of a jewelry establishment with uncertain security issues. In a brilliant performance, Idina Menzel chews up some major scenery as Howie’s long-suffering and fed up wife, Dinah. His mistress and store clerk, Julia (Julia Fox) is pretty but deeply in the shadow of Dinah.

This may be the most-obscene soundtrack in history. The “F-Word” is used so prolifically that several patrons fled the theater. Howie, you see, is mixed up with a group of hoodlums, each trying to cheat the other over a deal Howie is putting together for Kevin Garnett, playing himself, over a group of uncut precious stones embedded in rock. He has it informally appraised for several million dollars since there are several stones in the rock, none as valuable on its own as the black opal that Garnett becomes attached to.

Howie decides to have the stone go to auction and starts to play his prospective profits into other deals, all of which start to go sour. Howie ends up with broken glasses, several bruised eyes, and desperately plots with Julia to make at least some profit by betting on Garnett in the upcoming seventh game of the NBA finals against the 76ers. The game is re-created by old tapes of the event as Howie watches his fortune ebb and flow.

In the meantime, Julia has a moist tattoo of “Howie” on her backside, Dinah tells Howie to take a hike and everything seems to be falling in place. Not so fast, boys and girls. Hang on for an inevitable predictable ending.

 

This is gritty storytelling and a definite departure for Sandler, but it is hard to see him playing this kind of role again. Maybe a mere straight role, not one as loud, obnoxious, unlucky and fated as Howie Ratner. Definitely not for kids under 17 and many of those over 17 won’t like it or understand it. Adults, this one is purely up to your tastes.

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