MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS: There are a number of commendable attributes in this British historical period film about Mary Stuart (Saoirse Ronan) who became Queen Consort of France and whose claim to the British throne was fatally thwarted by her cousin Elizabeth I (Margot Robbie). The movie has a definite appearance of authenticity owing to Alexandra Byrne’s costume design as well as James Merifield’s production design in collaboration with Gina Cromwell’s set decoration. And Beau Willimon’s screenplay does manage to provide an accurate sort of interpretation of a 16th century where religion played a major part in determining who ruled a country and who lost their head. But the narrative itself doesn’t go all that much into historical depth in favor of portraying events as a sort of royal British soap opera with all the staginess that goes with it. In that sense, it didn’t convey all of the political reasons why Elizabeth I felt it so necessary to kill the title character. Both Ronan (LADY BIRD) and Robbie (I, TANYA) are excellent in their roles and the sparks generated in their interplay, which is historically inaccurate since the two never actually met each other, make us wish that the duo had more scenes together. For this reason, the movie for all its’ technical prowess never quite becomes the compelling Oscar magnet project that it aspires to be even if it is pretty to look at as evidenced by John Mathieson’s cinematography of the Scottish highlands. But its’ feminist tone centered around two strong-willed women in a man’s world creates just enough drama from its’ two lead actresses to make it worth watching. CRITIC’S GRADE: B

DOUBLE FEATURE: What makes director Adam McKay’s (THE BIG SHORT) biopic about Richard Cheney in VICE so absorbing is how it manages to shift so easily from being amusing in one scene to being downright scary in another. McKay’s screenplay has a rather scattershot quality about it going from a Michael Moore (FAHRENHEIT 9/11) like irony-filled description of how Cheney became the most powerful second in command to a sobering and troubling examination of his abuse of power and corruption. Christian Bale’s (THE FIGHTER) physical transformation into the tubby vice-president whose ambitions could only be quelled by the occasional heart attack is simply amazing to behold and Amy Adams (ARRIVAL) makes spouse Lynne Cheney a key figure in helping her man attain his power and wealth. The movie works both as a comedy plus a character study of a doting, supportive family man also capable of executing orders responsible for killing hundreds of thousands of people when he opportunistically exploited the tragedy of 9/11 to enter America into a bogus war with Iraq. When we see his dead heart removed after his transplant lying on the operating floor, it could easily be a metaphor for his enigmatic soul. CRITIC’S GRADE: B+