Spotlight: Lady Gaga

lady_gaga_-_joanne_official_album_coverOnce you’ve listened to Lady Gaga’s album Joanne, you won’t be able to stop. You’ll listen to it during your morning shower, in the car on your way to and from work, and before it’s time to sleep at night. Joanne may be a clear departure from the usual Gaga style of her previous albums, but it’s no less powerful. Songs such as the titular “Joanne” and “Come to Mama” will keep you coming back again and again.

The stylistic change also especially makes far more sense and has far more meaning after watching the Netflix documentary Gaga: Five Foot Two. Experience a year in the life of not Lady Gaga, but Stefani Germonatta. It follows the year in which she was releasing Joanne up until her performance at the 2017 Super Bowl halftime show. You will live, love, laugh, and cry with her up until the very end. Don't have a Netflix subscription? Watch for free using our roku.

Rick Steves’ European Christmas (2005)

Is there a better tour guide than the affable and erudite Rick Steves? I look forward to watching this PBS special every year, and I’m never disappointed with the vicarious tour of Christmas traditions across Europe. But you too can experience the history, music, and food of the season: there’s the Santa Lucia festival in Norway, traditional English carols sung in Bath Abbey, and in the French countryside, the Christmas Eve meal consists of foie gras, and waaaaait for it…filet of beef tenderloin in brioche with truffles. Need I say more? Check out Rick Steves' European Christmas this holiday season!

Big Eyes (2014) PG-13

Amy Adams portrays Margaret Keane, creator of the Big Eyed Waifs, whose talent was unrecognized for years, while her husband Walter (played by Christoph Waltz) took all the credit. Big Eyes follows their romance and the eventual deterioration of their marriage as Walter's drinking, mental health, and the lie they lived became more than Margaret could bear. After reading The Muse by Jessie Burton about a fictitious couple who hide behind the same type of artistic ruse, one wonders how often this has occurred throughout art history. How many great women artists have had to hide their talent with a man's signature?
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The Edge of Seventeen (2016) R

Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) finds growing up in today's modern world challenging, especially in the shadow of her next-to-perfect older brother Darian (Blake Jenner). This coming of age tale in the vein of The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles is candid and honest with humorous moments of what it's like to be a teenager who just wants to have a real conversation with another human being in person and not through social media and their phone.

Her mother (Kyra Sedgwick) is busy with her own problems and oblivious to her daughter's obvious struggles with school, friends, and social life. To make matters worse, her brother and her best friend find a romantic connection—which sends Nadine over the edge. Her one and only confidant, her history teacher (Woody Harrelson), seems to be the only constant in her life who actually pays her any real attention until one day the unexpected friendship of a thoughtful boy gives her a glimmer of hope.

If you enjoyed Juno, watch The Edge of Seventeen.

Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV (2016) PG-13

The film acts as a prologue to the video game Final Fantasy XV but also stands as a full-length film all on its own. The story centers around Nyx Ulric, a member of the king’s personal guard (also known as the Kingsglaive) defending the kingdom of Lucis from incoming invaders from Niflheim. Whether or not you have played a Final Fantasy game in your life, the story in Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV is excellent and moving. Can Nyx save the kingdom? The people of Lucis sure hope so.

The Rookie (2002) G

Dennis Quaid portrays Jimmy Morris, The Rookie’s title character, who is a middle-aged high school coach, married with kids, and living in a small Texas town. His pro baseball aspirations have long been forgotten, and yet, he has this amazing pitch. Jimmy’s players take notice and challenge him to try out for the major leagues. Based on a true story, this is one of those movies that reminds us that strange and wonderful things happen in real life.

We’ve also got other baseball movies and sports documentaries.

 

A Hologram for the King (2016) R

hologramA funny and quirky story about a man and the experiences that change his life while on a business trip in the Middle East. There, he ultimately finds peace and harmony where he least expects it!

A Hologram for the King stars Tom Hanks and is based on a Dave Eggers novel of the same name.
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The Good Lie (2014) PG-13

goodlieInspired by the Sudanese civil war that began in the 1980s and the Lost Boys of Sudan, The Good Lie is a beautiful movie. The story begins in Africa, focusing on three noble children—the sons and daughter of the village chief. When Northern Sudanese soldiers kill most of the people in their village, only a small group of children survives. It is then up to their new chief, himself a child, to lead them hundreds of miles across Sub-Saharan Africa to the safety of a refugee camp in Kenya.

Thirteen years later, four young people from this group are happily sent to the U. S. as refugees. They soon discover though that this country is a totally alien place, with its strange customs and mystifying technology. The film then centers on their struggle to adjust, while still maintaining their sense of dignity and humor, their unity and faith. Reese Witherspoon is brilliant here as the put-upon job agency rep, who is assigned to find this odd and skill-less group gainful employment. A bittersweet treat.
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The Ref (1994) R

refIt’s Christmas Eve and Gus (Dennis Leary) is a burglar whose partner abandons him when their latest heist goes south. He is forced to take hostage Lloyd and Caroline Chasseur (Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis) – who are on their way home from marriage counseling – making them drive him to their home. Slowly, the rest of the family begins to arrive for their annual holiday celebration and Gus pretends to be Lloyd and Caroline’s marriage counselor. Little does he know that he will become the “counselor” for the entire dysfunctional family while he figures out a way to elude capture by the police.

The Ref is a dark comedy that takes the idea of a holiday movie and turns it on its head. The script is biting and sharp. Leary is best known for his sarcastic delivery and shines in the role of Gus. Spacey and Davis also are outstanding as the bickering couple who eventually realize they do love and care about each other. The rest of the cast is top notch and there are a number of well-known actors in cameo or supporting roles: B. D. Wong (Oz; Law & Order) as Dr. Wong, the Chasseur’s original marriage counselor; Christine Baranski (Cybill; The Good Wife) as demanding sister-in-law Connie; and J. K. Simmons (Law & Order; The Closer) as Siskel, the commander of the military school Lloyd and Caroline’s son Jesse is attending (little do they know that Jesse is blackmailing Siskel).

Granted, I know this movie isn’t for everyone. But, if you like dark comedies, a sharply written and delivered script, and something a little different to supplement all the maudlin and saccharin holiday fare that comes on this time of year, give this one a chance. It may just win you over.
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Anatomy of a Murder (1959)

anatomymurderSet in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, this classic courtroom drama features a winning cast of small town characters. Jimmy Stewart plays Paul, the ex-District Attorney who would much rather be fishing or playing jazz piano than practicing law. He is perfectly content with getting by on the odd legal job, but his perpetually tipsy (yet surprisingly astute) sidekick, Parnell, has other ideas. At Parnell’s urging, Paul takes on a local murder case that brings them both out of their semi-retirement.

Other engaging characters abound, including a visiting judge, Paul’s secretary, and of course, the defendant and his wife. These characters along with a well-placed plot, the almost light-and-breezy tone—despite its dark subject matter—and the hip music of Duke Ellington make Anatomy of a Murder just plain fun.

Check out our list of Lawyers in the Movies for other films.

I’ll See You in My Dreams (2015) PG-13

seeyouinmydreamsBlythe Danner portrays widow Carol Petersen, who is grieving multiple losses. She survives her daily struggles with a little help from her friends (played by Martin Starr, Mary Kay Place, June Squibb, and Rhea Perlman). In I’ll See You in My Dreams, 70ish Danner creates a very warm and realistic character in this first leading role of her career. She proves "tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all."

Saving Mr. Banks (2013) PG-13

savingmrbanksSaving Mr. Banks is an engaging drama about Walt Disney's quest to win the movie rights to the classic children's fantasy Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers. Inspired by his daughters' love of the series and motivated by his determined personality, Disney will not relent. Travers (portrayed by Emma Thompson), just as stubborn as Disney, refuses to let her masterpiece succumb to the big screen and most of all, transform into a musical with animated figures. She ignores her grim financial outlook and the encouragement of her agent and remains in seclusion for years.

Finally, she agrees to a short trip to the Disney studio offices in California. Once there, Walt Disney tries everything in his business arsenal to win her over, including a trip to Disneyland. It is finally a very personal insight into both characters that seals the deal. Tom Hanks does an excellent job portraying the many sides of American icon Walt Disney.

Story of G. I. Joe (1945)

storygijoeBased on the columns of popular war correspondent Ernie Pyle (Burgess Meredith), Story of G. I. Joe was released in 1945 at the very end of WWII. The movie follows “C” Company of the 18th Infantry as it fights across North Africa and up through Italy, focusing on a handful of ordinary soldiers and the well-liked Lieutenant Walker (Robert Mitchum). Actual veterans of the Italian campaign, waiting on the west coast for deployment to the Pacific, played extras in the movie.

Check out our spotlight of director William Wellman for reviews of his other war movies. You’ll notice his war films avoid unrealistic heroics in favor of poignant stories of ordinary men under hellish circumstances.

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The Book Thief (2013) PG-13

bookthiefA wonderful story of a young girl living in Germany during World War II. The Book Thief is a story of how her adoptive family teaches her to read and also teaches her the meaning of what is truly important in life.

Also check out the Markus Zusak novel of the same name, which provided the basis for the movie.

And if you enjoy movies set during WWII, we’ve got you covered: find foreign films, the home front, spy movies, and more.

 
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Whiplash (2014) R

whiplashIn Whiplash, an intense drama, promising young drummer Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller), newly accepted into the prestigious Shaffer Conservatory in New York City, is determined to rise to the top of the jazz world. He soon finds himself working under the Conservatory's notoriously tough instructor, Mr. Fletcher. Fletcher (J. K. Simmons) is a dedicated teacher and musician, but is openly abusive towards his students. Andrew must decide the price he is willing to pay to succeed at Shaffer Conservatory and break into the music industry.
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