Friday, June 14, 2019

Zombies, two Emma Thompson films and Dad's Day greetings from 'Shaft'

Four paragraphs on an equal number of less-than-stellar movies:

Murray, Sevigny and Driver deal with the "Dead."
In 2013, Akron-area homeboy Jim Jarmusch co-wrote and directed one of the all-time best (and severely underrated) vampire flicks, "Only Lovers Left Alive." Alas, his latest, "The Dead Don't Die," likely won't reach the same stature for fans of zombies, but it's still the most tantalizing of this weekend's debuting quartet. With plenty of droll humor from a sparkling cast -- including Bill Murray, as a small town sheriff, and his drowsy deputies (Adam Driver and Chloe Sevigny) -- there's a lot to laugh at and respect, especially its outright homages to George A. Romeo and his original "Night of the Living Dead." If only Jarmusch's lazy ending wasn't a legitimate wall-breaker, people might talk about his movie as much as they will listen to its same-name title theme. The potential "Best Original Song" nominee comes from the country cat called Sturgill Simpson.

Rated "R": zombie violence/gore, and language; 1:43; $ $ $ out of $5


Two Shafts, Usher and Jackson, try to solve some crimes.
Speaking of original films and awards-caliber music, occasional snippets of Isaac Hayes' Oscar-winning funk classic might be the best thing about the latest rendition of "Shaft," a lowdown, very dirty fifth incarnation, featuring "the bad mutha . . . shut your mouth!" Hey, just talkin' 'bout Samuel L. Jackson, back playing tough and politically incorrect P.I John Shaft for the second time in 19 years. This go-round has his grown-up son (Jessie T. Usher) in tow as an MIT-educated FBI analyst who gives and gets from the ol' man throughout an extremely convoluted drugs, sex and violence caper. The plot becomes woefully less entertaining than the rat-a-tat-tat 'tude offered up by both the consistently cool Jackson and the gifted Regina Hall, as the baby mama Shaft reluctantly left behind. Believe me, you won't remember anything else.

Rated "R": pervasive language, violence, sexual content, some drug material and brief nudity; 1:51; $ $ and 1/2 out of $5


E. Thompson talks, but is anyone listening (or watching)?
The week's most balanced attempt at reason comes in "Late Night," the first of two Emma Thompson comedies (kinda) gracing local screens this weekend. Here, the grande dame plays a TV talk-show host whose nightly venture gets canceled after 28 years. (Yeah, right, it took 'em three decades to discover she's boring?) Enter a chemical-plant manager, believe it or not, who gets hired as a new writer and then shows the existing male staff how it should be done, or something like that. Obviously, the smart Mindy Kaling, charming as the newbie and with her first screenwriting credit in hand after an assortment of  television-script successes, mostly knows of what she speaks. However, much of it plays like a joke book opened for both coasts and nowhere else. For example, an impromptu Thompson stand-up routine had her L.A. movie audience rolling on the floor. Meanwhile, only a giggle or two found air when a packed house watched the scene during a West Side Cleveland theater screening. Folks, it's just not that funny, and a good supporting cast suffers as a result, too. That includes John Lithgow, a superb Amy Ryan, Hugh Dancy and Ike Barinholz.

Rated "R": language throughout and some sexual references; 1:42; $ $ and 1/2 out of $5


Hemsworth and T. Thompson look cool.
Emma Thompson's other appearance today amounts to an early cameo in the never-ending "Men in Black: International," in which she returns to her role of the fashion-savvy Agent O from 2012's "Men in Black III." The franchise's latest title comes from alien-chasing visits to Paris, London, Marrakesh and Naples, but it remains a mess wherever it lands. Naturally it begins in New York, where a brilliant young sci-fi addict (the usually more reliable Tessa Thompson) tricks her way into MIB's secluded headquarters -- and voila! -- is partnering up with another world-wide agency hotshot (the ever-strutting Chris Hemsworth) a few scenes later. Now, fans of these kinds of films know that Tessa and Chris formed a dynamic, charismatic bond in the infinitely funnier Marvel adventure, "Thor Ragnarok." Here, with so few clever words to hang onto, they get lost in a sea of disappointingly dull creatures, that is, unless we count the magnificent toupee that Liam Neeson wears as Agent High T. He's the British Bureau Chief. Get it? Ha-ha!

Rated "PG-13": sci-fi action, some language and suggestive material; 1:55; $ and 1/2 out $5

Friday, June 7, 2019

Shakespeare tale claims 'All is True,' but might it be a play within a play?

Way back in the late 19th century, Mark Twain allegedly coined the phrase, "Never let the facts get in the way of a good story."

So, when William Shakespeare (Kenneth Branagh) says something similar to his wife (Judi Dench) in "All Is True," it's a likely tip-off that what you get from this tale about Bard's retirement years is not necessarily how he really saw it way, way, way back in the early 1600s.

Still, director Branagh and screenwriter Ben Elton spin a decent yarn that also concludes "Family is everything" instead of "The play's the thing." Now that becomes a pointed shift in direction for the world's most famous playwright after his Globe Theater burned to the ground and sent him packing back to Stratford-upon-Avon.

After all, neither his resentful, older bride, nor his adult daughters (Lydia Wilson and Kathryn Wilder) exactly welcome him home with open arms. Real truth be told, his successes kept him in London for decades, doing who knows what else while, at best, staying inattentive to the clan back home.

Years earlier, the writer/director/producer even missed the funeral of his 11-year-old son, Hamnet (not Hamlet), whose somewhat mysterious passing haunts Will like a character from one his most famous works. So, what's a father to do but build and dedicate a garden to the boy he never really knew.

Such hard work takes time, and Shakespearean stalwart Branagh fills some of it with scandals of the day for each daughter, as well as info-filled conversations with visiting pals and patrons. Ian McKellen becomes the notable player in the latter group, as the Earl of Southhampton, a racy conversationalist who may have shared more than money or friendship with Will.

There's also some picture-perfect cinematography from Zac Nicholson ("The Death of Stalin"), whose images gleam in tandem with most of his fellow Brits in the nicely assembled cast.

Rated "PG-13": thematic elements, suggestive material and language; 1:41; $ $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

Friday, May 31, 2019

A superstar, loopy lady, and smart French comedy make it three to see

Elton John's very musical bio, a bravura performance in a creepy, occasionally funny thriller, and the latest from French auteur Olivier Assayas help fill northeast Ohio screens with plenty to watch for this first weekend of June.

Egerton commits to the full John makeover to become "Rocketman."
"Rocketman," named not as much after John's 1972 smash single as the way it describes his sex-and-drug-infused life, will have his fans singing about this authorized biopic and, of course, along with all his hits.

Just about every familiar note is here, from "Benny & the Jets" to "Your Song," with a slew of flashy production numbers highlighted by "Saturday Night's Alright" and "The Bitch Is Back." The latter opens the proceedings and features cherubic Matthew Illesley as little musical wunderkind Reggie Dwight.

The recognizable, therapy-induced plot shows how Reggie became Elton, in spite of  his cold-fish dad (Steven Mackintosh) and cruel, screwball mom (Bryce Dallas Howard), but with the constant encouragement of his loving grandma (Gemma Jones). Sadness, in fact, seeps through much of John's flashback-heavy life until that good ol' in-your-face rock 'n' roll helps get him through in the same way it undoubtedly carries the movie.

Some fascinating visuals certainly help, not to mention the terrific work of Taron Egerton in the lead role. The 30-year-old Brit, heretofore most notable as the guy from the "Kingsman" films, doesn't necessarily look much like John, or even sound like him when he truly sings his heart out. The trademark glitzy wardrobes he gets to wear, though, and the ever-pulsating vibe insisted upon by director Dexter Fletcher (who finished helming "Bohemian Rhapsody" after Bryan Singer was fired) seem a perfect match for Egerton's charismatic flash.

Adding the second best performance to the often outrageous mix is Jamie Bell, as lyricist Bernie Taupin, John's legendary writing partner and "the brother he never had." Bell has worked constantly since making his screen debut as "Billy Elliot" almost 20 years ago in a role that brought him a handful of awards. Expect some strong end-of-year acclaim for his fine supporting turn here, too, in a movie written by Lee Hall, the same man behind the "Elliott" screenplay.

Rated "R": language throughout, some drug use and sexual content; 2:01; $ $ $ $ out of $5

Speaking of awards chances, if a psychotically evil Kathy Bates could win a well-deserved Best Actress Oscar for "Misery," then a similar, if more empathy-provoking Octavia Spencer deserves major consideration as the titled "Ma."

In what might be the performance of the year so far, Spencer puts this disturbing tale on her versatile shoulders and runs away with it, a second movie this week (see "Rocketman" above) that shows what a tormented childhood might incite.

In the case of Ma, an eventual nickname for Spencer's Sue Ann, her initial reluctance to buy liquor for a carload of under-age teens should have been the instinct to follow. Instead, she not only agrees, but then invites the four kids to party at her house.

Is she simply looking for company? A safe haven for the teen-agers? Or are Sue Ann's personal demons, steadily unveiled by way of more flashbacks, already working overtime?

Those are the questions that allow Spencer to go to work herself on an array of possibilities -- and personas -- friend, mentor, confidante, sexual predator, lonely heart, put-upon veterinarian's assistant, and many more, perhaps even serial killer.

As directed by Tate Taylor, who put Spencer through her Best Supporting Actress paces in "The Help," the ever-surprising "Ma" keeps us on our toes, despite a few horror staples and characters you suspect and, perhaps, hope will get their comeuppance.

Among Spencer's competent co-stars, Diana Silvers ("Booksmart") fills the bill as the movie's leading lady for the younger crowd, while Luke Evans, Juliette Lewis, and Missi Pyle connect the dots between generations. "The Help" buddy Allison Janney also sneaks in occasionally as Ma's boss. Nothing else will be revealed here.

Rated "R": violent/disturbing material, language throughout, sexual content, and teen drug and alcohol use; 1:40; $ $ $ $ out of $5

Finally, in what might be a slice of the aforementioned Assayas' prolific career, "Non-Fiction" pits the ever-changing written word against digital publishing with a fun peek into an abundantly conversant segment of French society.
Binoche sparkles again.

As always, that means such intelligent talk comes with unabashed infidelity among most of the worldly players, including a wife and TV actress agreeably inhabited by Juliette Binoche.

One small concern: This is a good movie, but French-speaking viewers likely will call it a great one. The rest of us may find the constant discourse in Assayas' clever screenplay impossible to appreciate without keeping an eye on those bothersome subtitles.

For a bit more on writer/director Assayas, scroll down to the end of my wrap-up of last fall's Toronto International Film Festival, where "Non-Fiction" enjoyed its North American premiere in front of a well-versed packed house.

Rated "R"some language and sexuality/nudity; 1:47; $ $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

Friday, May 24, 2019

'Smart' girls, big 'Little Farm,' and 'Aladdin' on tap for holiday weekend

A very raucous comedy, one imaginative doc, and just a so-so remake headline Memorial Day holiday weekend screen time, and two outta three ain't bad.

Feldstein and Dever trade homework for hijinks on one wild night in "Booksmart."
"Booksmart," the first directorial effort from actress Olivia Wilde, rings the bell as the most pleasant surprise of the year, with a terrific ensemble cast really runnning wild in not just another teen travesty.

Sure, this one features funny foolishness in spades, but it serves as a cover-up for some real truths in the lives of two talented BFFs, Molly and Amy, celebrating much more than their high school graduation.

The nose-to-the-grindstone types, played by Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever, are headed to Yale and a study year in Africa, respectively, so one night of discovering what it's like to party couldn't hurt, right? Check it out to find out, and, I promise, you'll laugh out loud -- a lot!

If Feldstein reminds you just a little of Jonah Hill, please know that she's his sister. Dever, meanwhile, who wowed us before as a smart and sassy young recurring character on cable's "Justified," sort of resembles Michael Cera. Obviously, there are no coincidences in casting, but the clever female pairing here cements the notion that "Booksmart" looks and feels like the distaff version of "Superbad," the 2007 comedy that helped send Hill and Cera on their merry movie way.

Expect even bigger and better from these likable gals down the road. And Wilde behind the camera, too.

Rated "R": strong sexual content and language throughout, drug use, and drinking -- all involving teens; 1:43; $ $ $ $ out of $5

"The Biggest Little Farm" finished just behind the Academy Award-winning "Free Solo" in voting for the People's Choice Documentary Award at last fall's Toronto International Film Festival. Now it's probably in the mix for 2019 Oscar gold as it slowly makes its theater rounds, including today's debut on a couple of northeast Ohio screens.

"Greasy" Rooster and "Emma" Pig become pen pals as two of many "Farm" stars.
The film, as narrated by John Chester, former photographer-turned farmer-turned director, tells the sweet and often amazing story of how Chester and his chef/wife Molly chased the latter's dream "to farm in harmony with nature."

That meant leaving their tiny apartment in Santa Monica and buying and turning a 240-acre piece of just-about deserted property, approximatelty 60 miles up the road in Moorpark, to a kind of ecological jewel they call "Apricot Lane Farms."

To make their tale even a little taller, the Chesters claim that the weird-eyed rescue dog they saved from extinction instigated the move. It's one of many asides and special moments in the charming documentary that incorporates:

Traditional and non-traditional farming practices, ripping out dying trees, restoring a dry old pond, 100 baby ducks, 75 species of fruit, free-range eggs, bull-poop closeups, and hardships that number fire, rain, drought, birds, coyotes, gophers, maggots, snails, toxic algae, a pregnant pig's "horrible diarrhea," and even cancer.

The closing title song, "Sun, Flood or Drought" by the Avett Brothers, offers some awards possibilites, too, in a quick-moving film that's just a bit full of itself but uniquely enjoyable.

Rated "PG": mild thematic elements; 1:31; $ $ $ $ out of $5

Next comes "Aladdin," a live-action/CGI version of the fabulous animated original, which needed to be re-made about as much as this week's shaky versions of "All in the Family" and "The Jeffersons" on ABC-TV.

Massoud and Smith tackle roles in the live-action, musical remake of "Aladdin."
But, we digress badly by even mentioning that other ill-conceived Disney-owned venture. At least this latest "Aladdin" puts major focus on the film's finest player, Princess Jasmine. As brought to life by Naomi Scott, who graduated from a Disney Channel film ("Lemonade Mouth") to the big screen, Jasmine acts, sings, and dances like she belongs. Most importantly, with her Indian origins, Scott appropriately looks the part of a princess from Agrabah.

So does handsome young Egyptian Mena Massoud (from Amazon's "Jack Ryan"), as Aladdin, the street scammer trying to win Jasmine's affections. Alas, Massoud's vocal delivery pales in comparison to his co-star's, especially in the lovely magic-carpet ride rendition of "A Whole New World," the Menken/Rice standard which won the Best Original Song Oscar in 1993.

Maybe that's why the filmmakers, including notable action director Guy Ritchie, who remains on odd choice for this kind of movie, decided to truncate some of Aladdin's other musical numbers.

Still, though, the two-plus-hour running time is 30 minutes longer than the eminently more enjoyable animated feature, which gave comic/actor Robin Williams ample opportunity to display his extraordinary vocal talents as the magnificent Genie from the lamp.

Will Smith works hard at the same, now thankless role here but, after what we've seen and heard from the late, great Williams, Smith's act -- even with some special effects -- wears thin rather quickly.
  
Rated "PG": some action/peril; 2:08; $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

Also opening today is "Brightburn," a franchise hopeful in the sci-fi/horror vein that was not screened for critics. This weekend, we hope to view another new film, "The White Crow," the story of how ballet star Rudolf Nureyev defected. Check Rotten Tomatoes or click here in a few days to see our quick rating of that one.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Cannes film 'Bull' shows tough slices of life from both ends of age spectrum

Regular readers know that, when visiting here, they won't find reviews of movies which have not been released, let alone one that does not even have a distributor.

Such is the case, though, with "Bull," a keen little drama we had a unique opportunity to screen at the same time it remains in competition at the ongoing Cannes Film Festival, where awards will be announced Friday and Saturday.

The ever-stern Morgan shows deadpan Havard how to ride a "Bull." 
The good news about this film from first-time feature director Annie Silverstein (already a 2014 Cannes winner for her short, Skunk") is that it's not just another coming-of-age story. The better news, in fact, is that it also raises some stakes as the rare dealing-with-age tale by focusing as much on a hard-living rodeo bull fighter named Abe, as it does on the tough teen years of 14-year-old Kristal.

Silverstein's two-pronged attack on what some may call marginal existences brims with an urgency often displayed through anger, by acting vet Rob Morgan in the guise of Abe, and the quiet poise of young newcomer Amber Havard, as Kris. The co-lead performances often soar, especially in simple and subtle moments from a wisely minimalist screenplay by Silverstein and Johnny McAllister.

An oddly moving friendship begins with outrage on a typical backwater Texas morning for Kris, whose mother is in prison. That means tending to a playful little sister and giving the daily insulin shot to a dependent grandma. As if Kris needed it, extra loud barking suddenly arises from a meager yard. It's the result of joy from the ugly family dog, now engrossed with a dead chicken the canine thug brought home after digging into a coop owned by a neighbor.

Naturally, that would be Abe, no happy camper and threatening to shoot the mutt if it happens again. Kris silently ignores the threat on her way to school, but soon hatches a revenge plot which gets her in trouble with the law.

Grandma shows some surprising chops by pleading with Abe to "work out a deal to make things right." However, when learning that said deal means helping Abe around his shack, Kris asks the arresting officer, "Can't you just take me to juvie?"

Such telling responses soften as we move into the small time rodeo sequences, where Kris learns more about all that goes along with the literal and figurative aches and pains associated with Abe's chosen field.

From there, Silverstein's sober story takes us into a few predictable spots while still revealing seriously real issues needing to be addressed, resolved and buried. A hopeful co-existence never may help the key characters get where they want to go but, at least for now, keeping a destination in sight remains intuitive and good enough.

Unrated, with drug use, language and nudity; 1:43; $ $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

(This is one in an intermittent series of reviews featuring buzz-worthy films either currently playing the festival circuit or soon to be released. "Bull" is now at Cannes, where it is competing in the "Un Certain Regard" section of the prestigious festival.)

Friday, May 17, 2019

Fine hockey doc will light some lamps; 'Dog's Journey' may warm hearts

Don't talk to any Detroit Red Wings fan about Russian collusion. Chances are they won't believe it, anyway. To understand why, visit the Regal Middleburg Town Square Stadium 16, the rather unwieldy tag for the only local opportunity to watch "The Russian Five," a stirring sports documentary that delivers on and off the ice.

"The Russian Five" was assembled to bring a Stanley Cup or two to Detroit.
Hockey enthusiasts certainly will recognize the name, but the silly notion of actually inviting Soviet players to join a National Hockey League team was just about unthinkable back in the early '80s. That's when Little Caesar's pizza impresario Mike Ilitch bought the Red Wings, a struggling team without a Stanley Cup crown for almost 30 years, and brought in his smart, non-conforming general manager, Jimmy Devellano, to help turn it all around.

The personable GM, freely shown spouting his entertaining memories and philosophies during director Joshua Riehl's fast-moving film, resurrected the former "Dead Wings" and led them back into the playoffs almost immediately. It took seven years, however, for his boldest move, what some called "wasting" a few lower-round draft choices on a pair of Russian stars, quick young center Sergei Fedorov and sturdy defenseman Vladimir Konstaninov.

The rest, as they say, became NHL history, and Michigan native Riehl shoots and often humorously scores with this true tale of espionage, as told by an assortment of talking heads. Actor and lifelong Red Wings fanatic Jeff Daniels is one of the most knowledgeable in offering insights on both blue-collar Detroit and the importance of sports there. Meanwhile, comments from an assortment of Red Wings players, front office personnel and a few members of the not-so-loyal opposition, including legendary Canadian broadcaster Don Cherry with his downright Russophobic remarks, might also ruffle a feather or three.

Anecdotes, personal struggles and interviews with the rowdy Russians -- who became a quintet with another Jimmy D draft pick and a couple of  his shrewd, if controversial trades -- obviously mix in well. So do the big action moments, bigger brawls, huge celebrations and, surprisingly, a few meaningful tears.

Unrated, but with its fair share of sporting language and even some blood; 1:38; $ $ $ $ out of $5


Unless you either hate animals or own the proverbial heart of stone, watery eyes definitely become the order of the day a few times in "A Dog's Journey," the calculating little family film designed to work the ways it does as a sequel to 2017's "A Dog's Purpose."

I did not venture out to see the latter, but it doesn't take a genius to conclude that "Purpose" likely ended with Dennis Quaid owning the same big "Boss Dog" he runs around with during the first reel of "Journey."

That means he's back in good ol' boy mode, after his recent creepy work in "The Intruder," returning again as Ethan, now grandfatherly and living with wife Hannah (Marg Helgenberger) on a huge farm in Michigan. It's also a good  fit for his similarly aging canine, named "Bailey," finding plenty of pasture to exhibit the gentle spirit that thinks aloud (because Josh Gad provides the comic voice), loves kids, and can't understand how some people can become such total emotional wrecks.

Cases in point on both ends of that spectrum are Ethan's little grandgirl CJ (played by Emma Volk as an outrageously adorable toddler), and his widowed-too-young daughter-in-law (Betty Gilpin from "GLOW" on Netflix).

The grief-stricken mom is already essentially in victim mode from the moment we meet her and carries her burdens well into the life of CJ, who manages to grow admirably into adulthood despite it all. A convincing turn from British actress Kathryn Prescott helps a bunch.

Of course, Bailey still gets the top treats by way of funniest lines (from author-turned screenwriter W. Bruce Cameron) and most affecting scenes (as orchestrated by Emmy-winning sitcom director Gail Mancuso). The dog also proudly displays his own acting chops as at least three other memorable mutts named Molly, Big Dog and Max. You'll get it if and when you see it, but let's just add that reincarnation plays a key role throughout, too.

In that regard, it's probably worth a somewhat ironic mention that Peggy Lipton, who passed away six days ago, portrayed Hannah in the aforementioned "A Dog's Purpose." It was her last big-screen appearance.

Rated "PG": thematic content, some peril and rude humor; 1:48; $ $ $ out of $5

Friday, May 10, 2019

Score one for 'Tolkien' over 'Joan' in screen battle of Brit period pieces

Hoult woos Collins through thick and thin of a properly paced "Tolkien."
Two historical dramas open here this weekend, with the author of "The Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit" outdistancing an alleged Soviet spy -- and quite easily, it says here -- in the department of dueling British bios.

"Tolkien," an exceptionally good-looking film, not only features rich performances from Nicholas Hoult and Lily Collins, but also offers an assortment of hints about how the works of the title student/soldier might have been influenced by certain pieces and events in his early years.

It begins in the taxing trenches of World War I, where Lt. John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (Hoult) endures a Battle of Somme-inspired fever dream, overflowing with flashbacks to meaningful moments from his life. Many of Tolkien's hallucinations detail his camaraderie with a trio of energetic school mates and, maybe not so ironically, the most artistically bloody war images quickly become reminiscent of the recent and stunning documentary, "They Shall Not Grow Old."

Of course,  Peter Jackson is the Oscar-winning director behind both that doc and, as everyone likely knows, his enormously successful, fellowship-filled adaptation of "The Rings Trilogy" for the big screen. Now, there's no sin in perhaps borrowing from the best, not to mention the possibility of actually enticing Jackson's fantasy fans back into the theater to learn more about Tolkien's personal history.

Besides, there's much more here than nods to Jackson, et al, including a few fine literary moments for Tolkien's ill-fated mother (a nice brief turn from Laura Donnelly), his sweetly proper romance with Edith Bratt (Collins), and only a couple of sparkling exchanges opposite an Oxford professor (Derek Jacobi), whose expertise in languages should provide learning motivation for all.

Director Dome Karukoski ("Tom of Finland") doesn't exactly make it a connect-the-dots trip to Tolkien's own triumphs, but he does drive a cohesive and entertaining vehicle that the Masterpiece Theater crowd will gratefully -- and likely gracefully -- hop aboard.

Rated "PG-13": some sequences of war violence; 1:49; $ $ $ $ out of $5


On the other hand, there's "Red Joan," a stale and stodgy telling with no real hints of the intrigue or urgency commonly associated with any number of more invigorating stories of espionage.

In fairness, as based on the novel of the same name by Jennie Rooney, this one starts when Joan Stanley is already old enough to be portrayed by the usually grand Judi Dench and living the sedentary life of suburban retirement. It's then that she is arrested suddenly in London and charged with treason for reasons explained in a series of, what else, but considerable and especially supportive flashbacks that might even turn her into a heroine.

In fact, though, the real Joan, on which Rooney's novel is based, truly betrayed Britain, not only by selling secrets to Soviet forces, but by helping them develop their own atomic bomb. As it is, Sophie Cookson plays the young Joan as a Cambridge genius-turned physicist and someone we probably are supposed to admire.

No such luck. Then again, we are, after all, writing about bombs here.

Rated "R": brief sexuality/nudity; 1:40; $ $ out of $5