In the Dark: ‘The Favourite’ a powerhouse while ‘Second Act’ offers no surprises

Movies didn’t disappoint over the holidays. There was literally something for everyone with everything from rom-coms to super heroes to family fare. If you define family as anyone from 7 to 70 and beyond then “Mary Poppins Returns” was high on the list of must-sees. It was a true Disney production in the grand old fashion from the full orchestrations of the score to the elaborate set design and costumes. That much did harken back to the glory days of Disney.

While I did enjoy Emily Blunt as the titular character, it seemed there was less of her and more of a busy story involving a lot of rigorous, not very memorable, song and dance numbers. While she captured the ever efficient and magical Mary, there was something intangible missing, perhaps the warmth that Julie Andrews also brought to the character. All said, I didn’t get my wish for a cameo from Andrews. Instead, it was Angela Lansbury as the balloon lady in the park.

“Second Act” was the routine rom-com offering for the holidays. Jennifer Lopez and real life BFF Leah Remini ought to take their gal pal routine on the road after this as they provided the bulk of laughs riffing with each other. Lopez is to form as a 40-something box store assistant manager who longs for greater things. When the opportunity presents itself she’s ready, but if you think you know where this is going there is a nice twist.

This is no stretch role for Lopez and the story of rising up the corporate ladder is tried and true, but it has a happy ending, of course. Some of this seems ripped right out of “Working Girl” sans the mall bangs and shoulder pads. What is there is the attitude and Jenny from the Block has plenty of it.

I’ve been asked about “The Favourite” so many times, I’ve lost track. To see it requires a trip to Houston right now, but it is worth it. This period piece set during the 18th century reign of Queen Anne is one of the best movies of the year thanks to an innovative director, Yorgos Lanthimos, and his three muses — Olivia Colman as Anne, Rachel Weisz as Lady Sarah Churchill, and Emma Stone as the court interloper, Abigail Hill.

This is an invigorating and highly comical take on a triangulated power play that takes place in the court of Queen Anne. Her closest confidant (and more, it seems) is Lady Sarah until Abigail, a much poorer first cousin to Sarah arrives at court seeking employment.

Within weeks she has wriggled her way into Queen Anne’s graces to the dismay of Sarah who enjoys the power that her closeness to Queen Anne gives her. With Anne in the middle enjoying the rivalry, the two courtiers go to battle — one to keep her place and the other to replace her.

While all three actresses are clearly enjoying their roles and the chance to spar with one another in this arch tragi-comedy, it is Colman who is receiving the most attention. As the awards season gears up it looks like she will be facing off against Lada Gaga for “A Star is Born” in the leading actress categories. Weisz and Stone could end up going head to head in the Supporting Actress categories, but it is Stone who has the edge for a nomination.

Having just been selected to replace Claire Foy as the aging Queen Elizabeth II in “The Crown,” Colman is mostly known to British audiences for her steady television work. This is a great chance to see her range as the fussy queen suffering from poor health and loneliness—the latter she deals with by supplanting her 17 miscarriages with an equal number of bunnies allowed to hop about her chambers.

Lanthimos has a keen director’s eye and brings a certain energy to the production. He also employs some camera techniques not frequently used such as the use of a fish-eye lens for some of the wide-angle shots, which causes a spherical distortion. It’s unusual, but not unheard of.

“The Favourite” has become an instant favorite of mine for its over-all production values and the superb acting across the board. This one is a major contender.