Monday, October 15, 2018

'Free Solo,' 'Minding the Gap,' 'Wild Wild Country' top BFCA doc noms


The Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA) and the Broadcast Television Journalists Association (BTJA) have announced the nominees for the third annual "Critics’ Choice Documentary Awards." 

Alex Honnold is a man alone in the doc nomination-leading "Free Solo."
Winners will be presented their awards at a gala event, hosted by science educator and television personality Bill Nye on Saturday, Nov.10, at BRIC in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Free Solo, a thrilling mountain-climbing doc, leads this year with six nominations and one honor, including Best Documentary, Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi for Best Directors, Best Sports Documentary, Most Innovative Documentary, Best Cinematography, Best Editing and a Most Compelling Living Subject of a Documentary honor for Alex Honnold.

Recognized with five nominations each are Minding the Gap, a powerful film with skateboarding as its centerpiece, and Wild Wild Country, the six-part Netflix series about the separation of church and state.

At the gala ceremony, filmmaker Stanley Nelson, one of the foremost chroniclers of the African-American experience in nonfiction film today, will be presented with the "Critics’ Choice Impact Award."

As previously announced, multi award-winning filmmaker Michael Moore will be honored with the "Critics’ Choice Lifetime Achievement Award." 
Nominees for the third annual Critics’ Choice Documentary Awards are:
BEST DOCUMENTARY
Crime + Punishment – Director: Stephen Maing (Hulu)
Dark Money – Director: Kimberly Reed (PBS)
Free Solo – Directors: Jimmy Chin, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi (National Geographic Documentary Films)
Hal – Director: Amy Scott (Oscilloscope)
Hitler’s Hollywood – Director: Rüdiger Suchsland (Kino Lorber)
Minding the Gap – Director: Bing Liu (Hulu)
RBG – Directors: Julie Cohen, Betsy West (Magnolia Pictures, Participant Media)
Three Identical Strangers – Director: Tim Wardle (Neon, CNN Films)
Wild Wild Country – Directors: Chapman Way, Maclain Way (Netflix)
Won't You Be My Neighbor? – Director: Morgan Neville (Focus Features)
BEST LIMITED DOCUMENTARY SERIES
America to Me (Starz)
Dirty Money (Netflix)
Elvis Presley: The Searcher (HBO Documentary Films, Sony Pictures Television)
Flint Town (Netflix)
One Strange Rock (National Geographic)
The Fourth Estate (Showtime Networks)
The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling (HBO)
Wild Wild Country (Netflix)
BEST ONGOING DOCUMENTARY SERIES
30 for 30 (ESPN)
American Masters (PBS)
Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown (CNN)
Frontline (PBS)
Independent Lens (PBS)
Making a Murderer (Netflix)
POV (PBS)
The History of Comedy (CNN)
BEST DIRECTOR
Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi – Free Solo (National Geographic Documentary Film)
Bing Liu – Minding the Gap (Hulu)
Morgan Neville – Won't You Be My Neighbor? (Focus Features)
Kimberly Reed – Dark Money (PBS)
Rüdiger Suchsland – Hitler's Hollywood (Kino Lorber)
Tim Wardle – Three Identical Strangers (Neon, CNN Films)
BEST FIRST-TIME DIRECTOR
Cristina Costantini and Darren Foster – Science Fair (National Geographic Documentary Films)
Heather Lenz – Kusama – Infinity (Magnolia Pictures)
Bing Liu – Minding the Gap (Hulu)
Stephen Nomura Schible – Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda (MUBI)
Rudy Valdez – The Sentence (HBO Documentary Films)
Chapman Way and Maclain Way – Wild Wild Country (Netflix)
BEST POLITICAL DOCUMENTARY
RBG – Directors: Julie Cohen, Betsy West (Magnolia Pictures, Participant Media)
Dark Money – Director: Kimberly Reed (PBS)
Fahrenheit 11/9 – Director: Michael Moore (Briarcliff Entertainment)
Flint Town – Directors: Zackary Canepari, Drea Cooper, Jessica Dimmock (Netflix)
Hitler’s Hollywood – Director: Rüdiger Suchsland (Kino Lorber)
John McCain: For Whom the Bell Tolls – Directors: George Kunhardt, Peter W. Kunhardt, Teddy Kunhardt (HBO)
The Fourth Estate – Directors: Liz Garbus, Jenny Carchman (Showtime Networks)
BEST SPORTS DOCUMENTARY
Andre the Giant – Director: Jason Hehir (HBO)
Being Serena (HBO)
Free Solo – Directors: Jimmy Chin, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi (National Geographic Documentary Film)
John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection – Director: Julien Faraut (Oscilloscope Laboratories)
Minding the Gap – Director: Bing Liu (Hulu)
The Workers Cup – Director: Adam Sobel (Passion River)
BEST MUSIC DOCUMENTARY
Bad Reputation – Director: Kevin Kerslake (Magnolia Pictures)
David Bowie: The Last Five Years – Director: Francis Whately (HBO Documentary Films)
Elvis Presley: The Searcher – Director: Thom Zimny (HBO Documentary Films, Sony Pictures Television)
Lynyrd Skynyrd: If I Leave Here Tomorrow – Director: Stephen Kijak (Showtime Networks)
Quincy – Directors: Alan Hicks, Rashida Jones (Netflix)
Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda – Director: Stephen Nomura Schible (MUBI)
Whitney – Director: Kevin Macdonald (Roadside Attractions, Miramax)
MOST COMPELLING LIVING SUBJECT OF A DOCUMENTARY
(ALL LISTED IN THE CATEGORY WILL BE HONORED AT THE EVENT) 
Scotty Bowers – Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood (Greenwich Entertainment, Kino Lorber, Starz!)
Ruth Bader Ginsburg – RBG (Magnolia Pictures, Participant Media)
Alex Honnold – Free Solo (National Geographic Documentary Film)
Joan Jett – Bad Reputation (Magnolia Pictures)
Quincy Jones – Quincy (Netflix)
David Kellman and Bobby Shafran – Three Identical Strangers(Neon, CNN Films)
John McEnroe – John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection(Oscilloscope Laboratories)
Leon Vitali – Filmworker (Kino Lorber)
MOST INNOVATIVE DOCUMENTARY
306 Hollywood – Directors: Elan Bogarin, Jonathan Bogarin (PBS, El Tigre)
Free Solo – Directors: Jimmy Chin, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi (National Geographic Documentary Film)
Hitler's Hollywood – Director: Rüdiger Suchsland (Kino Lorber)
Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda – Director: Stephen Nomura Schible (MUBI)
Wild Wild Country – Directors: Chapman Way, Maclain Way (Netflix)
Won't You Be My Neighbor? – Director: Morgan Neville (Focus Features)
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
306 Hollywood – Cinematographers: Elan Bogarin, Jonathan Bogarin, Alejandro Mejía (PBS, El Tigre)
The Dawn Wall – Cinematographer: Brett Lowell (The Orchard)
Free Solo – Cinematographers: Jimmy Chin, Clair Popkin, Mikey Schaefer (National Geographic Documentary Film)
Minding the Gap – Cinematographer: Bing Liu (Hulu)
Pandas – Cinematographer: David Douglas (Warner Brothers)
Wild Wild Country – Cinematographer: Adam Stone (Netflix)
BEST EDITING
Dark Money – Editor: Jay Arthur Sterrenberg (PBS)
Filmworker – Editor: Tony Zierra (Kino Lorber)
Free Solo – Editor: Bob Eisenhardt (National Geographic Documentary Film)
John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection – Editor: Julien Faraut (Oscilloscope Laboratories)
Three Identical Strangers – Editor: Michael Harte (Neon, CNN Films)
Won't You Be My Neighbor? – Editors: Jeff Malmberg, Aaron Wickenden (Focus Features)
“We are thrilled to celebrate this year’s outstanding documentary work at the upcoming event,” said Broadcast Film Critics Association President Joey Berlin. “The year 2018 has been called ‘The Year of the Documentary,’ and we are so happy to give these films and shows the recognition and high praise that they deserve.”
The Critics’ Choice Awards are determined by qualified members of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA) and the Broadcast Television Journalists Association (BTJA), and feature multiple categories across both television and film. Qualified members of BFCA and BTJA will choose the winners from amongst the nominees in voting from Nov, 7-Nov. 9.
For the first time, the Critics' Choice Documentary Awards also has introduced "Catalyst Sponsorship," a program for industry leaders to support the event. The inaugural sponsors include Focus Features, National Geographic Documentary Films, Netflix, Curiosity Stream, and others.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Talking moon shot, bigotry, bank heist nostalgia and low-rent criminality

Four quick takes on a quartet of films opening today on northeast Ohio screens:

"First Man" soared with audiences last month during its Canadian premiere at the 43rd annual Toronto International Film Festival, but it says here that wunderkind director Damien Chazelle's third straight showcase movie isn't as thoroughly gripping as his previous "Whiplash" and "La La Land."

Ryan Gosling portrays Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon and a native of Wapakoneta, Ohio (which is never mentioned), but the casting seems a bit off. So does Armstrong, whose '60s-era minimalist emotions play about as far away as the space target that members of his now-famous Apollo 11 crew were trying to reach.

Corey Stoll and Lukas Haas are OK as Buzz Aldrin and Mike Collins, respectively, leaving the movie's bravura performance to "The Crown" Emmy-winner Claire Foy, as Armstrong's sturdy wife. The way it unfolds from Chazelle and screnwriter Josh Singer ("Spotlight"), the death of the couple's very young daughter plays as huge a role as the moon landing itself almost a decade later, and Foy's Janet easily becomes more there for her husband than he is for her every, uh, giant step of the way.

It's all based on the late-Armstrong's authorized bio (by James R. Hansen), which apparently concentrated on the astronaut's scientific career and breathtaking flight achievements. So, when the director and his cinematographer (Linus Sandgren) focus on all the possiblities in those visually stunning moments, their movie really comes alive -- from its grand opening test-flight sequence to the make-us-all-proud main event on our big yellow satellite in the sky.

The truth is, "First Man" is such a gem technically that it demands viewing on a big screen. Find it in IMAX if you can.

Rated "PG-13": some thematic content involving peril and brief strong language; 2:18; $ $ $ and 1/2 out of $5 

Amandla Stenberg
The young-adult geared "The Hate U Give," a film that floats somewhere between an after-school special and a serious look at race relations, or lack thereof, features a sparkling performance from Amandla Stenberg (most recently in "The Darkest Minds"), acting as our spot-on guide through both venues.

In fact, Stenberg actually gets opportunities to weave her skills through various scenarios and serious subjects as a 16-year-old African-American lass who lives in a ghetto, attends a mostly white private school, witnesses the trigger-happy police shooting of a close friend (Algee Smith), has a caring mom (Regina Hall) and strong, ex-con dad (Russell Hornsby) teaching her Black Panther tenets, remains close to a nice-guy uncle (Common) who happens to be a cop, is constantly monitored by a drug kingpin (Anthony Mackie), and seems genuinely taken with her whitebread boyfriend (K.J. Apa), likely the weakest character in the whole shebang.

George Tillman Jr. ("Notorious," "Soul Food") directs the screenplay -- from recently deceased Audrey Wells ("Shall We Dance"), as based on Angie Thomas' best-selling novel -- and turns it into a lengthy but watchable story of hope. It deserves an audience.

Rated "PG-13": mature thematic elements, some violent content, drug material and language; 2:12; $ $ $ and 1/2 out of $5 

In "The Old Man & the Gun," Robert Redford gets a role he could sleep through (and maybe occasionally does) as the title character continually on the lookout for one more score.

Wearing a wardrobe he might have shown off in "The Sting" and a persona certainly reminscent of a younger rascal called "The Sundance Kid," Redford's reported last onscreen role has him consorting with fellow elderly cons (played by the competent likes of Danny Glover and Tom Waits) and enjoying a comfortable fling with a lovely widow (Sissy Spacek).

Redford and Spacek make a pit stop.
After a September screening at the afromentioned Toronto Film Festival, Redford explained that the role "just fits with my own sensibilities," adding that, "I've always been attracted to outlaws."

Well, imagine that. Similarly, the laid-back Casey Affleck plays the gentle police detective who takes on the challenge of capturing what he calls the "Over the Hill Gang" to end their penchant to rob banks whenever there's not much else to do.

Certainly director and co-writer David Lowery, who put Affleck through his paces mostly under a sheet in last year's beguiling "Ghost Story," takes it all slowly again in this one, a wistful, true tale that serves his fine cast well. Finding an audience might not be as easy.

Rated "PG-13": brief strong language; 1:33; $ $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

Last and probably least, "Bad Times at the El Royale" opens intriguingly enough, with a man in a hurry burying bags of cash under the floorboards of a hotel room before meeting a demise that anyone with a brain knew would go down quickly.

Ten years later, four strangers check in at the same once popular joint, which sits literally on the border of California and Nevada, a gag that allows writer/director Drew Goddard to kill too much time while setting up his long, rambling story.

Main characters played by Jon Hamm (with a bad Cajun accent), Jeff Bridges (as a priest who registers at the hotel like no man of the cloth would) and Dakota Johnson (selling herself as a total bad ass) give away too much too soon the same way that an assortment of '60s clips (Nixon, Viet Nam and some horrible stabbings, hint, hint) will introduce another major player long before he shows up on screen.

Hamm, Bridges and Ervo check into the "El Royale."
Through it all, bleak hallways and sordid peeping Tom portals give the film a creepy-crawly feel that's obviously more smarmy than smart.

Faring best of the ensemble lot is Cynthia Ervo, playing a career-long backup-singer who has learned to take care of herself after years of trying to make it big. The British Ervo, a Tony winner for "The Color Purple," sings like she really means it in a movie that merely flirts with the wealth of opportunities it had at its disposal.

Rated "R": strong language violence, language, some drug content and brief nudity; 2:21; $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

Also opening here Friday is "Colette," a period piece starring the queen of period pieces, Keira Knightley.

Somehow we missed it in Toronto and then the local press screening, too, (when we instead opted to watch the Cleveland Indians lose the first of three straight playoff games to the world champion Houston Astros).

"Colette" is rated "R" (for some sexuality/nudity), runs 1:51, and co-stars Dominic West.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Cooper, Gaga help make 'Star' shine; 'Venom' veers away from Marvel-ous

There's a lot to love in "A Star is Born," a fourth film incarnation that grabs you hard in the first half-hour, lets up a little, then comes on even stronger down the stretch.

Cooper and Gaga sing, suffer and soar in a "A Star is Born"
Certainly, a big reason is the presence of pop princess Lady Gaga in the title role, and her first-act version of "La Vie en rose" becomes almost worth the price of admission alone. But, please, don't shortchange Bradley Cooper, either.

He holds his own in the vocal department as rock/country legend Jackson Maine; his sturdy performance definitely will break some hearts as the movie glides through the overnight love story between Maine and Gaga's waitress-turned singer-songwriter Ally; and the chemistry with his legitimate co-star simply goes off the charts.

Cooper's first-time directing talents become quickly evident, too, not to mention his common sense as co-writer (with "Forrest Gump" Oscar-winner Eric Roth) to include some of the best moments from two earlier "Star" films, the 1954 telling with Judy Garland and James Mason and the 1976 go-round with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson.

Throw in an awards-buzz ensemble comprised of veteran scene-stealer Sam Elliott, as Maine's frustrated brother/manager; comic Dave Chapelle seriously playing his best friend; Anthony Ramos (of Broadway "Hamilton" fame), as Ally's giddy drag pal; and Andrew Dice Clay, as her proud, blue-collar dad, and voila, a story for today is also born.

Expect nominations all around, with actor/writer/director/producer and songwriter Cooper on the verge of a boatload, maybe even for contributing to an eclectic, sure-to-be-soaring soundtrack.

Rated "R": for language throughout, some sexuality/nudity and substance abuse; 2:15; $ $ $ $ and /12 out of $5

From the other end of today's cinematic spectrum comes a film that includes a line from a peripheral character who proclaims: "It's worse than I thought."

Those telling words also become the only delicious piece of irony in the entire disappointing deliverance of "Venom," another Marvel Comics-produced venture and likely the most incoherent in the whole generally super heroic bunch.

The bewildered and bewildering Hardy kind of talks to himself in "Venom."
This one has the usually brilliant Tom Hardy ("Dunkirk," "Locke" and many others) woefully playing Eddie Brock, a multi-proclaimed "loser" who somehow gets a hit TV show as an investigative reporter, then has his own being invaded by an alien "symbiote" as a result of snooping into his girlfriend's computer.

Yes, it's truly as awful as it sounds, and even said main squeeze, as portrayed by thrice Oscar-nommed Michelle Williams (here heavily made up and wearing a silly-looking wig) can't save the day. (Still, she comes off eons better than Hardy, who continually walks like he has a full load in his pants and talks as if he's Paul Newman playing boxer Rocky Graziano in a terrific '50s film called "Somebody Up There Likes Me.")

Well, nobody's gonna like this one, except perhaps those who will be thrilled when the final credits start rolling at the 1:31 mark and the apparent end of a movie that was supposed to run two hours and 20 minutes. (Gosh, you think somebody decided to do some heavy editing to try to salvage this sci-fi experiment gone wrong?) Nice try.

Rated "PG-13": intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action and for language; 1:42; $ and 1/2 out of $5

Monday, September 17, 2018

‘Green Book’ opens to awards talk as TIFF People’s Choice winner

By now you might have heard that Peter Farrelly’s Green Book was named the “Grolsch People’s Choice Award” winner at yesterday’s closing ceremony for the 43rd annual Toronto International Film Festival.

What you might not know is how the prize probably sets up the extremely entertaining pairing of Viggo Mortensen, as a kind of Copa bouncer-turned driver, and Mahershala Ali, as a brilliant but eccentric musician, for end-of-year award possibilities.

I mean, nine of the last 10 “People’s” choices have gone on to earn Best Picture Oscar nominations, including Academy Award winners Slumdog Millionaire, The King’s Speech and 12 Years a Slave. Those latter two entries also won acting Oscars for at least one of its principles, as did TIFF-winning Precious, Silver Linings Playbook, Room, La La Land and last year’s “People’s” winner, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, which brought home Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor victories.
Here are some personal choices among more than 30 TIFF movies seen:

Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali dominate "Green Book."
Favorite films: The people got it right again with Green Book, whether you call it “The Sopranos Meets Driving Miss Daisy” or appreciate its sad but true tale of racism in the early ‘60s, it says here that it will go down as the “Hidden Figures” of 2018. A Star is Born is another one that will grab you from the get-go, as first-time director and co-writer Bradley Cooper keeps the best of the 1954 and 1976 versions to fashion a crowd-pleaser for today.

Very good ones to see: Destroyer (with Nicole Kidman as a tortured and relentless cop); Free Solo (“The People’s Choice” for Best Documentary keeps you almost breathless watching Alex Honnold climb mountains alone, without ropes);  The Sister Brothers (a funny and violent western with a heart, sort of); and Widows (Steve McQueen’s first film since “12 Years a Slave” soars with a remarkable cast in a terrific crime caper).

A couple whose length got in the way: Alfonso Cuaron’s sleepy Roma, and Damien Chazelle’s technically grand, but emotionally lacking First Man.

Wish I’d seen ‘em: “People’s Choice” runner-up If Beale Street Could Talk (from “Moonlight” director Barry Jenkins), and doc runner-up The Biggest Little Farm, which everyone seemed to be raving about.

Sorry I did: The Front Runner. Didn’t we see enough of politician Gary Hart 35 years ago? Besides, its first half never shuts up, and the second half rarely says anything.

Actors’ accolades: Bradley Cooper (A Star Is Born), Viggo Mortensen (Green Book), Robert Redford (The Old Man & the Gun), and John C. Reilly (The Sisters Brothers)

Actress attention: Viola Davis (Widows), Lady Gaga (A Star is Born), Nicole Kidman (Destroyer), and Melissa McCarthy (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)

Superior support: Mahershala Ali (Green Book). Elizabeth Debicki (Widows), Sam Elliott (A Star is Born), Claire Foy (First Man), and Richard E. Grant (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)             

Best Party: The Blue Ice Pictures event at a sensationally swanky restaurant called Copetin, whose chef apparently is a judge on “Master Chef Canada.” Certainly the food was to die for; then there was a vodka called Beattie’s (from a little potato farm in Alliston, Ontario) that recently won the 2018 World Beverage Competition. Very smooth!

Olivier Assayas' "Non-Fiction" stars Juliette Binoche and Guillaume Canet. 
A typically TIFF tale: When Festival Director and CEO Piers Handling, who is stepping down after 25 years, introduced director and screenwriter Olivier Assayas before the screening of his Non-Fiction last week, the French helmer never even discussed his film, a literate comedy about book publishing in the digital age.
Instead, Assayas, who has placed an astounding dozen movies at the Toronto Festival since 1989, chose to praise Handling “for (your) support, generosity and understanding of our work.”
The filmmaker then turned his attention toward the sold-out crowd with, “who would believe that you’d see a full house at a movie screening at 9:30 in the morning on a Wednesday?  It doesn’t happen anywhere else, and that’s why we all love coming to Toronto.”
Assayas was right on both counts: Handling’s leadership has been essential to the growth of TIFF into its world-class standing, and audience response – to every film shown -- is nothing short of phenomenal, not for just one weekend, but for an entire 10-day run every September.
Their enthusiasm must be seen to be believed. And, of course, so does the quality of their films. Information on any and all of them, including an entire list of award-winners, remains available at www.tiff.net. Otherwise, that’s a wrap from TIFF 43! 

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

We're headed for Toronto and so is the last film in: 'A Private War'

TORONTO — TIFF announced today that Matthew Heineman’s "A Private War' will make its world premiere at the 43rd Toronto International Film Festival on Friday, Sept. 14, at Roy Thomson Hall — joining the Festival’s Gala Presentations lineup.

The movie marks the feature narrative debut of critically acclaimed director Matthew Heineman ("Cartel Land," "City of Ghosts"), whose previous work in documentary filmmaking has earned him an Academy Award nomination, two Primetime Emmy Awards, and two DGA wins for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Documentary Award.

Rosamund Pike stars in "A Private War," last flick in at TIFF 43.
"A Private War," a biopic based on the true story of award-winning war correspondent Marie Colvin, stars Rosamund Pike ( "Gone Girl," "Hostiles") in one of her most intense roles to date. Based on a "blistering" 2012 Vanity Fair article by Marie Brenner, the drama follows Colvin to the front lines of conflicts around the globe as she risks everything to reveal the truth. Pike is joined by a supporting cast that includes Jamie Dornan ("The Fall," "Fifty Shades of Grey"), Stanley Tucci ("The Lovely Bones," "Spotlight"), and Tom Hollander ("The Night Manager").

The film is the last of almost 260 features added to a solid, star-studded lineup that runs from Thursday night, with the world premiere of "Outlaw King," through Sept. 16 when the festival closes with "Jeremiah Terminator Leroy." If it means anything, the final film added to the Toronto festival agenda at this time last year was "Roman J. Israel, Esq." which earned a Best Actor nod for Denzel Washington.

By the way, yours truly will be attending TIFF for a 25th consecutive year. Watch for a wrap-up here in mid-September and follow my regular reports from Toronto at wkyc.com. (Coverage will be linked continuously at left.)

Friday, August 24, 2018

'Happytime Murders' brings no joy to Muppetland in a late-August misfire

Mixing silly and mostly tasteless film noir with an Agatha Christie-like plot certainly does no favors for an extremely R-rated band of Muppet relatives in “The Happytime Murders,” a rag-tag comedy whose late-August release blends perfectly with its ineptitude.

McCarthy and partner Phil Philips chase clues among the clueless.
I mean, there are maybe two big laughs in the whole shebang. A very loud one is produced right at the outset when a put-upon puppet shouts a well-placed expletive at an L.A. creep who rudely pushes him away from the cab each is trying to hail. Coming about an hour later, there's a gross, yet perfectly timed warning about the mirror being used to snort sugar, believe it or not, the drug of choice in a dirty den masquerading as a crack house.

Otherwise, there's nothing remotely perfect about some of the year's most incoherent screenwriting and a pair of totally outrageous sight gags -- both of which can be called sexually explicit, even as performed by some other puppets in a LaLa universe where humans treat them like scum-stained socks.

The most amazing -- and disappointing -- aspect of it all is that the guy pulling the strings here is director Brian Henson (who previously helmed so-so films called "The Muppet Christmas Carol" and "Muppet Treasure Island"). Of course, Brian is the son of the late Jim Henson, creator of all those lovable Muppets (including Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy), not to mention the education-oriented gang featured on PBS-TV's long-running and equally embraced "Sesame Street."

Now, we all know that the elder Henson always sought out a more adult audience, including by introducing those odd-looking creatures on "The Land of Gorch" sketches in a few very early episodes of "Saturday Night Live." What is so hard to believe about the current "Murders," though, is that Jim Henson actually would allow such poorly executed cinema to hit the big screen.

This is just shoddy filmmaking, folks, despite a premise that could and should have been a laugh riot, particularly with its (anti)hero, foul-mouthed puppet private eye Phil Philips, looking like a cross between Harvey Keitel and Count von Count (from the aforementioned "Sesame Street").

Longtime Muppet vocal whiz Bill Barretta effectively gives raunchy resonance to "disgraced" ex-cop Phil, investigating a string of serial murders opposite an assortment of allegedly real actors: Leslie David Baker, Elizabeth Banks, Joel McHale, Maya Rudolph, Michael McDonald and, primarily, Melissa McCarthy. By the way, Ms. McCarthy now has been credited as a producer on four consecutive largely humorless comedies.

Rated “R”: strong crude and sexual content and language throughout, and some drug material; 1:31; $ and ½ out of $5

Friday, August 17, 2018

'Scotty' and 'McQueen' docs boost today's movie scene; 'Mile 22' does not

Did you ever wonder about the sex lives of some of your favorite old movie stars? Of course you haven't! But you will, if and when you see an engaging little film called "Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood," one of two documentaries opening here today.

Personable Bowers and his longtime wife still live in not-so-secret Hollywood.
Spencer Tracy and (alleged longtime love) Katharine Hepburn, Ava Gardner, Walter Pidgeon, Charles Laughton, Rock Hudson, Lana Turner, Cary Grant and considerably more are among a long list of famous movie names associated with the titled "Scotty" Bowers, a WWII veteran-turned "pimp for the stars."

As based on Bowers' 2012 best seller, "Full Service," the doc claims that Pidgeon pulled into a Hollywood Boulevard gas station one fateful afternoon, took a liking to the handsome Marine working there, and offered him a ride that would change Scotty's life forever.

The way director Matt Tyrnauer tells it, Bowers basically got the idea to start hooking up movie stars with vets like himself after his own fling with fellow bisexual Pidgeon, and that meant all comers in both sexes. Most importantly for Bowers, who has been telling his story on various legitimate TV and radio talk shows for years now, is how he kept his life and loves secret throughout the Golden Age of Hollywood, when spilling the beans would have ruined careers, if not an entire industry.

Certainly his conquests -- and clients -- now all long gone, owe him a debt of gratitude. Currently well into his '90s, and given show biz's penchant for hyperbole, Bowers actually might be called a legitimate living legend. In fact, seeing how the man still putters around with what his wife of 35 years calls "a constant twinkle in his eye," such ongoing good nature somehow even lends credence to what unfolds in this fascinatingly well-told film.

Not rated: 1:37; $ $ $ $ out of $5

On the other hand, if fashion keeps you more involved than gossip, then the dark-tinged "McQueen," a second bio doc making its debut appearance today on northeast Ohio screens, might be more your movie cup of tea.

"McQueen" works best when fashion is at his fingertips. 
This one showcases the relatively brief career of young and outrageous designer Lee Alexander McQueen, a hip Londoner who founded his own label in 1992 after rising from the ranks of tailor and even before working as the chief designer at Paris-based Givenchy for five years.

The shadiness of it all comes from the creative mind that made significant splashes with an assortment of collections inspired by the likes of Jack the Ripper, books about the murder of women and even the sordid crime of rape. It's no wonder McQueen was called "the hooligan of English fashion," but his own personal tragedy, which included mental illness and addiction, are revealed as well.

Together it all becomes a mostly absorbing analysis of facts, offered up by friends and family, easily mixed with many good-looking film remembrances of McQueen's still-famous signature fashions.

Rated "R": language and nudity; 1:51; $ $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

Meanwhile, in the realm of mainstream action candy, Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg continue their movie bromance with "Mile 22," the fourth and, perhaps, least appealing pairing of the producer/director with his certified producer/star.

Unlike "Lone Survivor," "Deepwater Horizon," and "Patriot Games," their latest collaboration is not based on actual events, although it might play like it is with a lengthy pre-credits sequence that has Wahlberg's tough-as-nails secret squad of CIA types taking out seven KGB operatives on American soil.

Wahlberg shoots but rarely scores in "Mile 22."
From there Berg moves us into "Indcocarr City" (allegedly in Southeast Asia) where, now 16 months later, Wahlberg keeps acting like a total nut job in barking out commands and asides during a prelude to moving an "asset" (played by Iko Uwais from "The Raid" films, both much sharper pictures). Naturally, the trip  to an airfield and apparent safety takes the titular 22 miles.

Team members along for the weapons-heavy, ultra-violent ride include Lauren Cohan (TV's "Walking Dead") and former MMA-turned WWE badass Ronda Rousey who, honestly, probably should stick to her day job.

Cohan, though, as a rugged mom very anxious to return home to her little girl, and martial artist extraordinaire Uwais combine to nearly save the day, at least in terms of making the movie-going experience something more than gaping at an oddly edited mish-mash of motion (without the "e").

Rated "R": strong language and violence throughout; 1:30; $ $ and 1/2 out of $5