Young Clara’s (Mackenzie Foy) late mother leaves her a special gift, which she opens on Christmas Eve. It is a bronze egg with a note that reads: “Everything you need is inside.” But it requires a special key to open. Clara and her father go to the home of her godfather, Drosselmeyer (Morgan Freeman), an engineer, for the traditional party and opening of gifts. Drosselmeyer tells Clara, who loves physics and mechanics, that he made the egg for her at the direction of her mother and that she must seek the key. Clara follows a string with her name on it into a parallel universe.
Just when she sees the key, however, a mouse grabs it and runs away. She crosses a frozen lake to find a soldier, Captain Philip (Jayden Fowora-Knight), guarding the bridge to the Fourth Realm, or Land of Amusements, but they cannot get the key. Philip leads Clara to the palace where she meets Sugar Plum (Keira Knightley), the regent of the Realm of Sweets; Hawthorne (Eugenio Derbez), regent of the Land of Flowers; and Shiver (Richard E. Grant), regent of the Land of Snowflakes. She learns that her mother created this magical place and every creature in it with a gigantic engine that she built.
The regents are at war with Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren), regent of the Land of Amusements. Because the key needed to turn on the machine is like the one for her egg, Clara and Philip retrieve the key from Mother Ginger, and Sugar Plum starts up the engine. But things are not as they seem.
The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is a kind of beautiful mess. While the story is based on E.T.A. Hoffmann’s 1816 story “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King,” this most recent derivative does not feel organic; it feels forced and forged together by too much money and too little plot.
Though I liked the idea of a young girl with an interest in engineering, the integrated cast, and the ballet showcase, surely Disney can produce classic stories with more depth and feeling in ways that reflect their considerable resources.
A-2, PG • Fantasy battles, peril.
Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen) is a bouncer at the Copacabana in Manhattan in 1962. When the club is closed for renovations, he hears about a job as a chauffeur for Dr. Don Shirley (Oscar-winner Mahershala Ali), who lives above Carnegie Hall. Tony is an uncomplicated man with limited cultural and educational experiences. When he shows up for the job interview at Dr. Shirley’s apartment, he is confused by the African decor and is amazed when Dr. Shirley enters the room dressed as an African chief.
Tony tells Dr. Shirley he can drive anything, from dump trucks to snowplows. Dr. Shirley explains that he is a psychologist and musician who is embarking on a two-month concert tour through the Deep South, sponsored by his record label. Tony takes the job. Dr. Shirley’s valet, Amit (Iqbal Theba), hands Tony a green paperback book as he leaves, which is a special motel guide for Negro motorists in the South who are not permitted to stay in whites-only establishments. Things go well at first, with most of the comedy and drama occurring as Tony and Dr. Shirley get to know one another. Tony enlightens Dr. Shirley on the wonders of eating Kentucky Fried Chicken with your fingers; Dr. Shirley helps Tony finesse his diction and letter-writing skills to his wife.
When their car is stopped by cops, Tony hits one of the officers, and the men are thrown in jail. Dr. Shirley calls the one person he knows who can help—Robert F. Kennedy, the attorney general of the United States. Dr. Shirley reprimands Tony for using violence. The musician is ashamed for having to call Kennedy, and his loneliness grows.
Green Book is one of the best films of 2018, with Ali and Mortensen giving brilliant and profound performances, both confronting and challenging their African American and Italian stereotypes at the same time. Director Peter Farrelly’s empathy for the story and ability to draw such striking and nuanced performances from the actors will inspire audiences. This film will surely be remembered during the awards season.
A-3, PG-13 • Racism, suggested sexuality, language, violence.
Lisbeth Salander (Claire Foy)—a Swedish genius and recluse who was sexually and physically abused as a child—is at work, tracking down men who abuse women and exacting vengeance. She is hired by Frans Balder (Stephen Merchant), a computer programmer who developed a program called Firefall that can access the world’s nuclear launch codes for the National Security Agency (NSA). He has come to regret his invention and wants Lisbeth to steal it back so he can destroy it. But a mercenary street gang steals it from her and almost destroys her high-tech loft in the process.
Ed Needham (Lakeith Stanfield) of the NSA tracks down Lisbeth just as the Swedish Security Forces place Balder and his son, August (Christopher Convery), into a safe house while they try to track down Firefall. When Lisbeth’s estranged sister, Camilla (Sylvia Hoeks), along with an international crime syndicate, become involved, this cat-and-mouse action thriller amps up the tension.
For this reviewer, The Girl in the Spider’s Web lacks heart and compassion, choosing action over development of the flawed characters fans have come to love. Seeing Foy very competently play the vengeful, caring, and scarred Lisbeth is startling because we are used to her as the most elegant and refined Queen Elizabeth II in Netflix’s The Crown.
Not yet rated, R • Child abuse, extreme violence, language, brief nudity.