A barely pre-covid movie set on a cruise ship, haha. Everyone gave the same description of this movie, that it’s about a writer who has to take a trip across the ocean, chooses ship travel and invites her two oldest friends, then invites her nephew to keep them occupied while the writer avoids everyone. Doesn’t sound interesting based on that, but I trusted in the actors and Soderbergh’s rep, and was rewarded with some very natural dialogue mixed with exquisite writing, and an engaging watch despite some clunky bits.

Happy to see Lucas Hedges not end up with spying lit agent Gemma Chan (soon to star in Chloe Zhao’s Eternals, which is hopefully better than The Old Guard). Happy to see Dianne Wiest for the first time in a memorable movie since Synecdoche NY. She and Candice Bergen have scores to settle, which had ultimately less payoff than the Dean Koontz stand-in getting everyone’s respect at the end. Meryl Streep’s second Soderbergh movie in a row (still haven’t checked out The Laundromat). Writer Deborah Eisenberg is a Malick associate, and Soderbergh ought to have a twisty crime drama ready to go when theaters reopen.

Feature film directors (and Meryl Streep) tell the tales of American feature film directors in the 1930’s and 40’s who were sent to war to make documentaries for the homefront… with one of the best motion-graphics-meets-stock-footage opening title sequences. If you’re interested in filmmakers and/or war, the whole thing’s just fascinating.

William Wyler, fresh off the inspirational Mrs. Miniver, rages against racism while Frank Capra is producing Private Snafu cartoons. Working (mostly) under Capra, John Ford and George Stevens are sent to film D-Day. John Huston makes the gritty San Pietro, using mostly reenacted fight footage but real dead bodies. And Citizen Kane cinematographer Gregg Toland proves himself a poor director. Stevens went on to film the liberation of concentration camps, while Wyler snuck a trip home and found the holocaust had killed his family and all their neighbors. In the end, Huston’s final work about emotionally wounded soldiers was censored for decades, Ford returned to make They Were Expendable, and Capra/Wyler/Stevens founded their own Liberty Studio, which immediately went broke on the flop It’s a Wonderful Life.

I’d love to watch a bunch of the original documentaries themselves, all available on netflix: Battle of Midway, Report from the Aleutians, San Pietro, Let There Be Light, The Negro Soldier, The Battle of Russia, Nazi Concentration Camps and Memphis Belle. But that’s six hours of WWII docs, and it’s Cannes Month now, and six movies I want to see opened in theaters this week, and a new season of Mystery Science Theater 3000 just came out, and it’s baseball season…

Kinda lightweight family-crisis drama, but that’s welcome after the too-heavy Rachel Getting Married. This one also tweaks the formula in important ways, using music scenes (Meryl Streep’s Ricki fronts a pub-rock band) for emotional impact, letting the entire songs play out. Streep is great, but she’s out-acted (if not upstaged) by daughter Mamie Gummer, who plays both touchingly depressed and comic-caricature-depressed, depending on the scene.

Streep has abandoned her own family, now tries to return and fix things when her daughter is abandoned by her husband. The two sons are having none of this, and Streep loses a power struggle with ex-husband Kevin Kline’s wife Audra McDonald, and refuses to commit to boyfriend/bandmate Rick Springfield, then between the visit home for Mamie’s divorce drama and Streep’s belated invitation to her son’s wedding a few months later, she manages to change just enough for a happy, all-dancing ending.

Written by Diablo Cody, with Kevin Kline as husband/father. Pretty much none of the critics liked it except Scott Tobias: “Against the machine-tooled blockbusters of summer, Demme’s film stands out for its modesty of scale and its abiding interest in the untidy business of being human … Typical of many Demme films, there are no villains here, just the natural conflict between fundamentally decent people whose choices have put them at odds with one another.”

The stop-motion in Coraline seemed untoppable, and now a few months later this seems untoppable. Coraline felt slicker and this had more rustling animal hair which gave it a rough feel without ever looking less than terrific. Anderson’s controlled compositions and affinity for tiny visual details are a perfect match for the rigorous stop-motion process, and the writing and voices and action were all wonderful – this was better than I dreamed it would be.

So I don’t know the original story, but in the movie Meryl Streep agrees to marry Fox on the condition that he stop stealing livestock from farmers. Years later Fox, still a “wild animal,” has a midlife crisis, enlists his buddy and his nephew and sets out to defeat the security systems of the three farmer fatcats in town. Bandit hats are handed out (seems to steal too obviously from Bottle Rocket) and all kids have major parental issues (Anderson would’ve added those if they weren’t already in the book), and Fox ends up getting all the animals in trouble when the fatcats team up to retaliate. Ends happily with a grocery-store hoedown.

Katy liked it, too.

Okay, so I went overboard in saying this was better than Across The Universe, but I did find it surprisingly tolerable and entertaining and I enjoyed looking at the cool lighting and listening to the songs and watching Meryl Streep whenever she was around, and my mind wandered whenever she wasn’t. There was one great song (not counting the camp greatness of Pierce Brosnan’s awfully earnest singing), and the rest were pretty so-so. Movie is getting mad hatred from web-based critics, fans of good films and classic musicals, but I didn’t go to the screening expecting a good film nor a classic musical so I left unoffended. In that sense, it may not have been better than Across The Universe, but it was better than Indiana Jones 4.